Review: ‘Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny,’ starring Harrison Ford, Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Antonio Banderas, Karen Allen, Toby Jones, Boyd Holbrook, Ethann Isidore and Mads Mikkelsen

June 29, 2023

by Carla Hay

Ethann Isidore, Harrison Ford and Phoebe Waller-Bridge in “Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny” (Photo courtesy of Lucasfilm)

“Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny”

Directed by James Mangold

Some language in German and Greek with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in 1969 (with some flashbacks to the 1940s), in various parts of universe, the action film “Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with some people of African, Middle Eastern and Latino heritage) representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: American hero Indiana Jones fights Nazis, as he tries to regain possession of a powerful time-travel artifact called the Archimedes Dial that has been stolen by his British con-artist goddaughter. 

Culture Audience: Besides appealing to the obvious target audience of “Indiana Jones” franchise fans and Harrison Ford fans, “Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny” will appeal primarily to people who don’t mind watching formulaic action movies that lack original ideas.

Mads Mikkelsen in “Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny” (Photo courtesy of Lucasfilm

“Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny” should be renamed “Indiana Jones and the Long-Winded Cash Grab.” It’s an overstuffed pile-on of formulaic action, insipid dialogue and ripoff ideas. It’s an utter failure of originality. And with a total running time of 154 minutes, only the most die-hard Indiana Jones fans will feel like this repetitive film is worth the very long ride that over-relies on Indiana Jones nostalgia instead of doing something truly bold and creative with this franchise.

Directed by James Mangold, “Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny” is the fifth movie in the “Indiana Jones” series, which began with 1981’s “Raiders of the Lost Ark”—still the best movie in the franchise—which was about an American hero battling against treasure-stealing Nazis. “Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny” is the first “Indiana Jones” movie that isn’t directed by Steven Spielberg. The screenplay for “Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny” was co-written by Mangold, Jez Butterworth, John-Henry Butterworth and David Koepp. The movie had its world premiere at the 2023 Cannes Film Festival.

“Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny” begins somewhere in Nazi-occupied Europe during World War II, with a very misguided action sequence that lasts for about 15 to 20 minutes. The sequence shows a middle-aged Indiana “Indy” Jones (played by Harrison Ford, with de-aging computer imagery in these scenes) fighting off Nazis with his longtime British friend Basil Shaw (played by Toby Jones, also de-aged in this sequence), who is an archaeologist and an Oxford University professor. In this sequence, Indiana does things such as fight Nazis on the roof of a moving train. Basil has been captured by the Nazis. But of course, Indiana is able to rescue Basil.

Indiana and Basil want to get a hold of the Archimedes Dial, an artifact that is believed to have the ability to open time portals. The Nazi contingent is led by Colonel Weber (played by Thomas Kretschmann), who is in charge of stealing valuable art and artifacts from Nazi-occupied countries and sending these treasures to Germany. One of the star subordinates of Colonel Weber is Dr. Jürgen Voller (played by Mads Mikkelsen, also de-aged in the 1940s scenes), who comes across Indiana Jones in the battle over the Archimedes Dial.

While still on top of the moving train, Indiana finds himself at the mercy of Jürgen, who has a gun and demands that Indiana Jones hand over the Archimedes Dial. Indiana abides by this request, and Jürgen escapes by sliding down a nearby pole. The conclusion of this fight immediately looks phony, because if this fight had happened in real life, a ruthless Nazi such as Jürgen would have immediately killed Indiana and Basil after getting the dial. But there would be no “Indiana Jones” sequels if that happened, so expect Indiana Jones to escape death again and again in unrealistic action scenes.

Another glaring reason why this sequence is very misguided is that it will make viewers wonder, “How long is this movie going to show a younger (fake-looking) Indiana Jones instead of the senior citizen that Ford is in real life?” It’s an example of how “Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny” relies too heavily on nostalgia. This high-energy action sequence will only just remind people of how the earlier “Indiana Jones” movies from the 20th century are better than the “Indiana Jones” movies released in the 21st century.

After this overly long trip down memory lane of how Indiana Jones used to look, “Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny” fast-forwards to the year 1969, when Indiana Jones is a cranky, bitter old man. He’s an archaelogy professor at Hunter College in New York City. He’s on the verge of retiring after teaching at Hunter College for the past 10 years. And he lives alone, because he’s separated from his wife Marion (played by Karen Allen), who met him in the story depicted in “Raiders of the Lost Ark.” “Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny” explains later why Indiana and Marion have separated. (Hint: She left him.)

Someone who shows up unexpectedly in one of Indiana’s class sessions is Helena Shaw (played by Phoebe Waller-Bridge), who is Basil’s daughter. Helena is also Indiana’s goddaughter. She’s looking for the Archimedes Dial, which is believed to have been lost over the French Alps. As shown in the opening sequence, Jürgen thought he had the Archimedes Dial, but somehow Indiana fooled him by giving him only half of the dial. Indiana really kept the other half of the dial. Basil (who is deceased in 1969) lost the other half, so now Helena wants to find both halves.

The rest of “Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny” is about this quest, which includes a lot of bickering and backstabbing from the very annoying Helena, who is a con artist. Of course, we all know how this is going to go in the end, since Helena has the story arc of “Can this con artist be trusted? Can this con artist be redeemed?” Another question that comes to mind when watching Helena is: “Can this con artist get any more irritating?”

And once again, the Nazis (this time, neo-Nazis) are on the hunt for the Archimedes Dial too. Jürgen has another identity hiding his Nazi past. He’s now a physicist named Dr. Lehrer Schmidt, who works in the United States’ outer-space program. Jürgen/Lerer has a generic right-hand man named Klaber (played by Boyd Holbrook), who zips around cities on motorbikes as if he thinks he’s a Nazi version of James Dean. Jürgen/Lerer also has a henchman named Hauke (played by Olivier Richters), who also does a lot of the dirty work.

Along the way, Indiana Jones encounters a CIA operative named Agent Mason (played by Shaunette Renée Wilson), who is undercover as a Black Power militant. It’s just a sorry excuse for the movie to have Agent Mason say the word “cracker” as a racist term used to describe a white person. It takes entirely too long for Agent Mason to figure out that Klaber is a Nazi who is working undercover as U.S. law enforcement. This isn’t spoiler information, since the trailer for “Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny” clearly shows that Klaber is one of the villains.

A former excavator named Sallah (played by John Rhys-Davies), an old friend from Indiana Jones’ past, used to live in Cairo but is now a taxi driver in New York City. (And you know what that means when the movie has inevitable chase/action scenes in New York City.) Sallah shows up in the movie to check off more nostalgia boxes for “Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny.” Antonio Banderas has a cameo as Renaldo, a sailor/fisherman who gives advice to Indiana on how to find an expert diver in Greece. It’s a role that really just celebrity stunt casting.

“Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny” recycles the formula of giving Indiana Jones an adolescent male sidekick, who is a smart alecky motormouth. Qe Huy Quan had that role in 1984’s “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom,” the second movie in the series. Shia LaBeouf had that role in 2008’s “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull,” the fourth movie in the series. And in “Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny,” Ethann Isidore has that role, as Teddy, a bratty teenager who doesn’t trust Indiana at first because he’s a friend of Helena’s. No one seems to question how creepy it is for Helena to be hanging out with a kid this young when he’s not related to her.

The acting performances in the movie are nothing special. Everyone seems to be playing their roles as if they’re video game characters. Expect to see the usual “race against time” action sequences, people yelling at each other, and narrow escapes from death that don’t look realistic at all. One of the more ridiculous action sequences is Indiana riding a horse in a New York City subway station as if he’s in the Kentucky Derby.

Sure, “Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny” is supposed to be an escapism adventure movie. And sure, people can enjoy seeing Ford returning to a character who is way past his prime. And sure, the globetrotting scenes are eye-catching. (The movie was filmed in Morocco, Sicily and the United Kingdom.) But “Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny” is an example of how computer technology cannot replace a good story. Compare “Raiders of the Lost Ark” to “Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny” to understand why “better filmmaking technology” doesn’t always equal “better filmmaking.”

Walt Disney Pictures will release “Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny” in U.S. cinemas on June 30, 2023.

Review: ‘Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore,’ starring Eddie Redmayne, Jude Law, Mads Mikkelsen, Ezra Miller, Dan Fogler, Callum Turner and Jessica Williams

April 5, 2022

by Carla Hay

Jessica Williams, Callum Turner, Jude Law, Fionna Glascott, Dan Fogler and Eddie Redmayne in “Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore” (Photo by Jaap Buitendijk/Warner Bros. Pictures)

“Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore”

Directed by David Yates

Culture Representation: Taking place in the 1930s in the United Kingdom, New York City, China, Germany, Austria and Bhutan, the fantasy film “Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with some black people and Asians) portraying wizards, witches and Muggles (humans with no magical powers).

Culture Clash: In this prequel movie to the “Harry Potter” series, good wizard Albus Dumbledore assembles a team to do battle against his former lover Gellert Grindelwald, an evil wizard who wants to oppress Muggles and take over the world. 

Culture Audience: Besides appealing to the obvious target audience of “Harry Potter” universe fans, “Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore” will appeal to viewers of fantasy films about battling wizards, but viewers of this jumbled movie will be very confused unless they saw or know what happened in 2018’s “Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald.”

Mads Mikkelsen in “Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore” (Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures)

Messy and often tedious, “Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore” stumbles and fumbles around like a franchise in search of a coherent plot. It’s ironic that this sequel about battling wizards has lost the magic of the first “Fantastic Beasts” movie and doesn’t even come close to the best “Harry Potter” movies. The “Fantastic Beast” movies, which are the prequels to the “Harry Potter” movies, began with 2016’s “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” and continued with 2018’s “Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald” and 2022’s “Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore.”

David Yates, who directed the last four “Harry Potter” movies, directed all three of these “Fantastic Beasts” movies, and he has been announced as the director of more “Fantastic Beasts” movies. Unfortunately, “Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore” looks like a movie where, even though many of the same filmmakers from previous “Fantastic Beasts” movies are involved, they’ve gotten too self-satisfied with their financial success and are just churning out uninspired mediocrity. “Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore” is a perfect example of a movie with “sequel-itis,” where there’s little to no effort to surpass the creativity of the first (and usually best) movie in the series.

“Harry Potter” and “Fantastic Beasts” book series author J.K. Rowling has been the screenplay writer for the “Fantastic Beasts” movies. For “Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore,” Rowling and Steve Kloves are the credited screenwriters. However, they make the mistake that a lot of movie sequel screenwriters make when crafting a story: assuming that everyone seeing the movie saw a preceding movie in the series.

If you don’t know who Grindelwald and Dumbledore are, if you wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between a magician and a Muggle, and you don’t care enough to find out, then “Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore” is not the movie for you. But if you are new to the franchise and are curious, then you probably still need to go and watch the previous “Fantastic Beasts” movies to fully understand what’s going on in “Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore.” Otherwise, too many parts of the film will be baffling to you.

What is easy to understand is that “Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore” has the predictable cliché of a good leader versus a bad leader, who wants to take over the world/universe/fill-in-the-blank space with whatever population. If it’s a fantasy film, various supernatural powers are used and/or spells are cast. And then, it all leads to a big showdown that has the expected outcome. The End.

“Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore” follows the same formula, but it doesn’t care enough to inform new viewers about meaningful backstories of the main characters. Viewers would have to know in advance that magizoologist Newton “Newt” Scamander (played by Eddie Redmayne) is a British Ministry of Magic employee, who works in the Beasts Division of the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures. Viewers would also have to know that Newt is the protégé of Albus Dumbledore (played by Jude Law), a highly respected member of the British Wizarding Community and a professor at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, where he teaches students how to defend against the dark arts. (It’s the school that’s later attended by Harry Potter and his friends.)

Viewers would also have to know that Dumbledore is gay and that he and his ex-lover Gellert Grindelwald (played by Mads Mikkelsen, replacing Johnny Depp in the role), who were a couple when they were in their late teens, are now sworn enemies, because Grindelwald is now an evil wizard who wants to take over the world. One thing that “Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore” does explain more than adequately (and repeats to the point where it insults viewers’ intelligence) is that Dumbledore and Grindelwald made a blood pact when they were a couple to never directly harm each other. This pact manifests itself in the movies with thorn-like chains around their wrists and a pendant that gets pulled out to show from time to time.

Viewers would also have to know that in this world populated by secret and not-so-secret wizards and witches, human beings with no magical powers are called Muggles. One of these Muggles is Jacob Kowalski (played by Dan Fogler), a lovelorn baker who has been Newt’s ally in all of the “Fantastic Beasts’ movies. However, Jacob has mixed feelings about helping Newt in “Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore.” That’s because he’s in love with a witch named Queenie Goldstein (played by Alison Sudol), who was in a forbidden romance with Jacob because it’s taboo for wizards and witches to have romantic relationships with and marry human beings.

Viewers would also have to know the backstory about Newt’s sometimes tension-filled relationship with his older brother Theseus Scamander (played by Callum Turner), who is considered an upstanding employee of the British Ministry of Magic. By contrast, Newt is considered an unpredictable, somewhat roguish employee of the British Ministry of Magic. As explained in “Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald,” Newt and Theseus fell in love with the same woman named Leta Lestrange (played by Zoë Kravitz), whose fate is shown in that movie.

And then there’s the complicated history of Credence Barebone (played by Ezra Miller), whose real name was revealed to be Aurelius Dumbledore in “Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald.” He’s been caught in a tug-of-war between good and evil. In the beginning of “Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore,” Credence/Aurelius (who is very dour and mopey) is on evil Grindelwald’s side. And so is Queenie, the love of Jacob’s life.

What does all of this mean? Dumbledore is going to assemble a team to defeat Grindelwald, who is a political candidate in the upcoming election for supreme head of the International Confederation of Wizards (ICW). This election is supposed to show that Grindelwald is not going to operate in the underworld, but he wants to become part of the establishment government in power. Grindelwald’s two opponent candidates in this election are Brazil’s minister of magic Vicência Santos (played by Maria Fernanda Cândido) and China’s minister of magic Liu Tao (played by Dave Wong), while the outgoing ICW supreme head is Anton Vogel (played by Oliver Masucci), who is Germany’s minister of magic.

In addition to Newt and Jacob, the others who are on Dumbledore’s team are Professor Eulalie “Lally” Hicks (played by Jessica Williams), a sassy teacher at Ilvermorny School of Witchcraft and Wizardry; Yusuf Kama (played by William Nadylam), an even-tempered Senegalese French wizard; and Bunty Broadacre (played by Victoria Yeates), who is Newt’s loyal and trustworthy assistant. Queenie’s sister Porpentina “Tina” Goldstein (played by Katherine Waterston), a love interest of Newt’s, makes a brief appearance toward the end of the movie. Aberforth Dumbledore (played by Richard Coyle), Albus’ somewhat estranged brother and the owner of the Hog’s Head Inn, is in the movie as an explanation for more of the Dumbledore family history.

And you can’t have a movie called “Fantastic Beasts” without some magical creatures running around. In “Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore,” the creature at that’s the center of the story’s intrigue is the rare Qilin (pronounced “chillin”), which looks like a combination of a horse and a dragon. The Qilin has the ability to read someone’s heart and determine if someone is good or evil. In the beginning of the movie, Newt discovers a Qilin that has given birth. However, Grindelwald wants to kill any Qilins, to prevent Grindelwald’s dark heart and sinister intentions from being exposed.

There’s also the Manticore, a three-eyed beast that’s up to no good and looks like a combination of a crab/lobster and a scorpion. And there’s a shape-shifting avian creature called a Wyvern. Returning to the “Fantastic Beasts” series are the Bowtruckle named Pickett and the Niffler named Teddy. Although these creatures all contribute some way to the story, the visual effects for these creatures and the battle scenes won’t be winning any awards.

The opening scene of “Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore” is an example of how drab the movie is when in areas it should be electrifying and intriguing. The scene shows Albus Dumbledore and Grindelwald meeting each other at a restaurant. A scene that should sizzle with unresolved feelings between these two former lovers just ends up fizzling with dull dialogue.

Dumbledore tells Grindelwald of their blood oath to never directly harm each other: “We can free each other of it.” Dumbledore adds, “I was in love with you.” Grindelwald is unmoved and expresses his disgust of Dumbledore interacting with Muggles: “Do you really intend to turn your back on your own kind?” Grindelwald sneers. And of the human customers in the restaurant, Grindelwald asks Dumbledore if he can “smell the stench [of humans] in the room.”

“Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore” has more monotonous conversations throughout the movie, which makes the characters’ personalities very hollow and formulaic. The story has a lot of globetrotting to several countries to distract from the weak plot. The pacing is too slow in areas where there should be a higher level of intrigue. Many of the action scenes are poorly staged and look too forced and awkward. There’s nothing wrong with any of the cast members’ performances in “Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore,” but there’s no real spark to anything about this movie, which plods along until its very predictable conclusion.

The movie’s biggest failing is not adequately explaining crucial backstories. (At one point in the film, Lally does a rushed “exposition dump” by giving a babbling summary of what happened in the first two “Fantastic Beasts” movies.) The film’s lackluster dialogue and trite action scenes don’t help matters. The end result is a movie that seems to take its loyal fan base for granted and doesn’t really make new “Fantastic Beasts” viewers feel welcome.

Warner Bros. Pictures will release “Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore” in U.S. cinemas on April 15, 2022. HBO Max will premiere the movie on May 30, 2022.

Review: ‘Riders of Justice,’ starring Mads Mikkelsen

June 2, 2021

by Carla Hay

Nicolas Bro, Nikolaj Lie Kaas, Lars Brygmann and Mads Mikkelsen in “Riders of Justice” (Photo by Rolf Konow/Magnet Releasing)

“Riders of Justice”

Directed by Anders Thomas Jensen

Danish with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in unnamed cities in Denmark, the dramatic film “Riders of Justice” features a nearly all-white cast of characters (with a few characters of Egyptian heritage) representing the middle-class and the criminal underground.

Culture Clash: A grieving widower, whose wife died in a train crash, teams up with three strangers to get revenge on the gang that they believe is responsible for the explosion.

Culture Audience: “Riders of Justice” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in well-acted and slightly quirky revenge stories that have unpredictable twists and turns.

Pictured clockwise, from bottom left: Albert Rudbeck Lindhardt, Gustav Lindh, Lars Brygmann, Andrea Heick Gadeberg and Nikolaj Lie Kaas in “Riders of Justice” (Photo by Rolf Konow/Magnet Releasing)

The usual clichés of vigilante dramas get a sly and occasionally far-fetched treatment in “Riders of Justice,” which is about coping with grief as much as it is about getting revenge. Written and directed by Anders Thomas Jensen, the movie sometimes veers into being a satire. But at its core, “Riders of Justice” is a mostly somber meditation on what can happen when trauma is left untreated.

The movie opens in Tallinn, Estonia, where an elderly man and his niece (played by Marta Riisalu) are looking at a red bicycle to buy as a possible Christmas gift. The niece says that she would prefer a blue bicycle, so the niece and uncle leave without buying the bike. Wanting to make an eventual sale to these potential customers, in case they come back, the bicycle shop owner (played by Kaspar Velberg) makes a call to an unknown person.

The next scene is somewhere in Denmark, where two men wearing hoodies step out of a white van. There’s a blue bicycle chained at a train station. The men break the chain and steal the bicycle, which they put in the van and drive off. It’s soon revealed that this blue bicycle belongs to a girl named Mathilde Hansen (played by Andrea Heick Gadeberg), who’s about 15 or 16 years old.

Mathilde lives with her mother Emma Hansen (played by Anne Birgitte Lind), while Emma’s husband/Mathilde’s father Markus Hansen (played by Mads Mikkelsen) is serving in the Danish military in the Afghanistan War. (This movie takes place before 2014, when Denmark withdrew from the war.) One day, Markus calls his family to tell them that the military has ordered him to stay in Afghanistan for three more months. Emma tells Markus that Mathilde’s bike has been stolen.

Mathilde has this reaction when she hears that her father Markus will be staying in Afghanistan longer than expected: “At least he won’t be sitting in the barn, staring into space like a vegetable.” It’s the first indication that Markus might have some issues with his mental health and that there’s tension in his relationship with Mathilde. Not much is shown about Markus and Emma’s marriage, but it appears to be a solid relationship.

The next day, when Emma is about to go to work and take Mathilde to school, the car won’t start. And so, Mathilde and Emma decide to take the train instead. In the mid-afternoon, when Mathilde and Emma are about to go home together, the train is fairly crowded, and a man politely offers Emma his seat. His name is Otto Hoffman (played by Nikolaj Lie Kaas), and he is a nerdy statistician who has recently given an ill-received presentation to an automobile manufacturing company about which demographics are most likely to buy certain car brands.

On the train, a major tragedy happens when the train derails and crashes into a parked freight train. In total, 11 people die in the crash. Emma is one of the deceased. Markus gets the news and rushes home from Afghanistan. Based on what happens later in the movie, it’s implied that a grieving Markus requested an honorable discharge from the military because he has to take care of Mathilde as a widower with no one else who can help him with childcare.

Emma’s death has devastated Markus and Mathilde, but they have very different ways of coping. Mathilde wants to talk about her grief and possibly get therapy, but Markus has the opposite reaction. Mathilde is open to finding some religious and spiritual comfort for her sadness, while Markus is a staunch athiest. Markus and Mathilde don’t even agree on when she should go back to school, because when she’s ready to go back, Markus thinks she should stay at home.

Adding to the tension, Markus doesn’t really approve of Mathilde’s teenage boyfriend Sirius (played by Albert Rudbeck Lindhardt), because he thinks Sirius is too emotionally sensitive and wimpy. Markus and Mathilde’s relationship, which was already troubled before Emma’s death, starts to get worse. They argue and can’t seem to agree on much because they are both stubborn in their beliefs. When Mathilde tells Markus that she misses her mother, Markus’ idea of comforting his daughter is to tell Mathilde: “You might as well learn now that unless you die at a young age, you will end up burying most of the people you love.”

During all of this family angst, it’s been reported on the news that two of the people who died in the train crash were former gang member John “Eagle” Ulrichsen and his attorney. Eagle had been scheduled to testify in court against his former gang called Riders of Justice, in a Kaalund Street murder case that killed four Turkish men. The leader of Riders of Justice is Kurt “Tandem” Olesen (played by Roland Møller), who is facing the most serious charges in the murder case because he is accused of being the mastermind of these killings.

Authorities have determined that the train crash was an accident. However, statistician Otto has calculated that the odds are next to impossible that it was an accident. He remembers seeing a suspicious-looking male passenger on the train. The man exited the train at the station that the train went to before the train derailed.

Otto doesn’t think it’s a coincidence. He begins to suspect that the train was tampered with, in order to kill Eagle, who was the star witness in the Kaalund Street Murder case. Otto takes his suspicions to the police, but two officers who listen to Otto’s theory don’t take him seriously at all. The cops are not impressed with Otto’s statistic that there was a 1 in 234, 287, 121 chance that the train crash was an accident.

Because he’s not willing to let go of his suspicions, Otto finds out more about Eagle and discovers that the former gang member was a creature of habit who always sat in the same train seat and he frequented a gym called Fitness World. Otto asks an eccentric colleague of his named Lennart Nielsen to hack into the Fitness World surveillance video system to prove that Eagle was obsessive compulsive with his routines. Otto and Lennart also get video surveillance footage from the train station to get a closer look at the man whom Otto suspects was involved in planning the train crash.

It isn’t long before Lennart gets caught up in this conspiracy theory too. Because the authorities have officially ruled the train crash an accident and the police don’t think it’s worth any further investigations, Otto and Lennart decide to visit Markus to tell him their theory. They’ve never met Markus before, but Emma’s name was reported in the news media as one of the train crash victims. Otto and Lennart were able to find out her address through computer database searches.

Otto also wants to visit Markus because Otto feels “survivor’s guilt” that Emma was in the seat that he offered to her on the train. And because Otto thinks the train crash was intentionally rigged, Otto also wants to see if Markus wants to help in this investigation over who might be responsible. When Otto and Lennart show up at Markus’ place, Markus’ reaction to the conspiracy theory is skeptical, to say the least. Markus somewhat gruffly sends Otto and Lennart away.

Undeterred in their mission, Otto and Lennart enlist the help of their former colleague Ulf Emmenthaler (played by Nicolas Bro), who’s an expert computer hacker, to use still images from the train video surveillance to get a photo of the “suspect.” Emmenthaler (who doesn’t like to be called Ulf) has facial recognition software that Otto and Lennart want Emmenthaler to use to find out who this mystery man is. At first, hot-tempered Emmenthaler thinks it’s a waste of time. But Otto and Lennart persist in asking Emmenthaler to help them, and he eventually does.

The only result for the facial recognition match, with a 99% certainty, is for a 38-year-old clinical dental technician named Aharon Nahas Shadid, who lives in the Egyptian capital of Cairo. Otto can’t believe that the person they’re looking for lives in Cairo. He asks Emmenthaler to lower the probability match to 95% certainty to see if there will be a match to anyone who lives in Denmark.

Sure enough, the match also comes back to a man named Palle Olesen (played by Omar Shargawi), who happens to be the brother of Riders of Justice gang leader Kurt “Tandem” Olesen. And when the three amateur sleuths find out that Palle has an electrical engineering background, it’s further information that they think points to Palle as being the one to rig the train so that it would derail. Otto takes this information to Markus, who is now convinced of this conspiracy theory too.

It isn’t long before Markus, Otto, Lennart and Emmenthalar show up unannounced at Palle Olesen’s house to confront him. They arrive together in Markus’ car. An argument breaks out, Palle pulls a gun on the four men, and Markus kills Palle by breaking his neck. (This isn’t spoiler information, since it’s in the “Riders of Justice” trailer.)

Palle’s murder was not planned in advance, so when it happens, there’s some panic among the four men. Lennart is the most paranoid about leaving behind any DNA or other evidence, so he insists on cleaning up before they leave. The other three men wait in the car. They’re all in various levels of shock over what just happened.

While cleaning up inside the house, Lennart sees a naked young man, who is bound, gagged and bent over on the arm of a couch. It’s clear that this man, who is in his 20s, witnessed the murder and was being held captive by Palle for some kind of sexual activity. Lennart and this mystery man make eye contact, and the expressions on their faces indicate that they both know exactly what this witness saw.

Lennart decides not to do anything about this witness and leaves him still bound and gagged in the house. But it won’t be the last time that this vigilante quartet will see this witness. His name is Bodashka Lytvynenko (played by Gustav Lindh), he’s a Ukrainian immigrant, and his story is eventually revealed in the movie.

The rest of “Riders of Justice” is about how the four men react to the murder by deciding they’re going to kill the rest of the Riders of Justice gang. Markus is the one who comes up with this idea, and he convinces the others to help him. What would drive these four previous law-abiding citizens to go on this vigilante rampage? It’s shown in various parts of the movie that all four men are emotionally damaged in some way.

Markus has the most obvious motive to go on this revenge killing spree, but there were hints that he was becoming mentally unhinged before Emma died. Mathilde (who does not know about Palle’s murder and this vigilante plan) senses that something is very wrong with her father, and she thinks that Markus needs therapy, but he refuses. And it turns out that Otto, Lennart and Emmenthaler (who are all bachelors) used to work at the same company and all got fired around the same time.

Otto has a tragedy from his past that left him unable to use his right arm. Lennart is still dealing with trauma from his childhood, when he was abused by his father. Emmenthaler has a lot of pent-up rage against people he perceives as bullies, because he has been bullied and mistreated for much of his life.

Markus and his three cronies use the barn on his property as the headquarters for their planning. It isn’t long before computer whiz Emmenthaler has the barn decked out with all kinds of computer hacking equipment. The four men also use Markus’ property for target practice with their guns.

Otto, Lennart and Emmenthaler spend so much time with Markus on his property that Mathilde gets suspicious. Emmenthaler and Lennart spontaneously lie to Mathilde and say that they are therapists and they have been meeting with Markus for grief counseling. Mathilde is thrilled that Markus is getting therapy, so she asks Emmenthaler and Lennart if they can give her counseling her too. Emmenthaler says that he only treats adults, but Lennart says that he can help Mathilde.

In reality, Lennart has no training as a psychiatrist. But privately, it’s mentioned that he’s been to so many psychiatrists in his life, he feels like he knows all the right lingo to say in a therapy session. Lennart’s lie to Mathilde leads to a comedic subplot where he starts giving her psychiatric “therapy.” Mathilde and Lennart become so attached to each other, Lennart practically acts like her uncle. Mathilde prefers to spend time with Lennart more than her father Markus.

The dark comedy of “Riders of Justice” is most prominent when it shows the unexpected and odd surrogate family that forms as a result of these four men’s vigilante goals. Markus appears to be the most cold and calculating of the four, but he’s like a ticking time bomb. As for the murder trial that star witness Eagle was going to testify in against his former gang cronies, the outcome of that trial is mentioned in the movie. This outcome is also a catalyst for much of the action in the story.

Some elements of “Riders of Justice” are very predictable, while others are not. Viewers will have to suspend disbelief at some of the shootout scenes, where police don’t show up when they would in real life. Markus, Otto, Lennart and Emmenthaler also don’t make any effort to hide or disguise their faces when they start killing people—and that carelessness doesn’t make sense when they spend so much time meticulously planning other aspects of their crimes.

These plot holes can be excused because the movie’s main attraction is to see how these three men came into Markus’ life and awakened something in him that makes him feel alive and purposeful again, for better or worse. All of the cast members do well in their roles, but Mikkelsen is the most riveting to watch because his Markus character doesn’t express his emotions easily, so his character is at times the most unpredictable.

“Riders of Justice” doesn’t glorify violence, nor does it make vigilantism look glamorous. Nielsen’s directing and screenwriting achieves a hard-to-balance dichotomy of juxtaposing Markus’ double life, with gritty assassination scenes followed by “wholesome” family scenes. The real story in “Riders of Justice” isn’t how many of the gang members are killed but what kind of emotional toll this revenge mission takes on the vigilantes who decided the only way to get justice is through murder.

Magnolia Pictures’ Magnet Releasing released “Riders of Justice” in New York City and Los Angeles on May 14, 2021. The movie’s release expanded to more U.S. cities and on digital and VOD on May 21, 2021. The movie was released in Denmark and Mexico in 2020.

Review: ‘Another Round,’ starring Mads Mikkelsen, Lars Ranthe, Magnus Millang and Thomas Bo Larsen

April 18, 2021

by Carla Hay

Mads Mikkelsen in “Another Round” (Photo courtesy of Samuel Goldwyn Films)

“Another Round”

Directed by Thomas Vinterberg

Danish with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in an unnamed city in Demark, the dramatic film “Another Round” features a predominantly white cast (with a few black people and South Asian people) representing the middle-class.

Culture Clash: Four middle-aged men, who are friends and teachers at the same high school, decide to drink more alcohol as an experiment, but they begin to abuse alcohol, which causes problems in their lives.

Culture Audience: “Another Round” will appeal primarily to people interested in watching well-acted and realistic movies about alcoholism and how people deal with mid-life crises.

Mads Mikkelsen, Lars Ranthe, Magnus Millang and Thomas Bo Larsen in “Another Round” (Photo courtesy of Samuel Goldwyn Films)

When there are movies about the culture of people who binge-drink alcohol in groups, the stories usually focus on young people who get into misadventures because of their drunken antics. The Danish dramatic film “Another Round” defies that stereotype with a compelling tale about four middle-aged men who become binge drinkers together. And these four pals find out how quickly their lives can be consumed by alcohol addiction.

Directed by Thomas Vinterberg (who co-wrote the screenplay with Tobias Lindholm), “Another Round” is more than just another mid-life crisis story. It’s a sharply observant commentary on what can happen when people are bored and unsatisfied with their lives, and they live in a society where heavy drinking is not only accepted, but it’s also encouraged. Anchored by exemplary performances from the primary actors, “Another Round” stands out as a highly unique film about the causes and effects of alcohol abuse.

That’s not to say that the filmmakers of “Another Round” have portrayed Denmark as a country with too many drunks. But it becomes clear from watching the film that the country has laws about drinking alcohol that are much more lenient than other countries. Denmark’s minimum legal age to drink alcohol in public is 18 years old, while children ages 17 and younger are legally able to drink alcohol in private settings, such as in homes.

It’s in this alcohol-permissive society that viewers meet the four friends who are at the center of the story. They all work as teachers in the same high school in an unnamed city in Demark. And they are all experiencing some kind of dissatisfaction with their lives, which leads them to make an unusual pact to drink enough to have at least a 0.05% alcohol level in their blood every day.

The four friends are:

  • Martin (played by Mads Mikkelsen), who is in his mid-50s, is a history teacher at the school. He and his wife Anika (played by Maria Bonnevie) have two sons together: Jonas (played by Magnus Sjørup) is about 16 or 17, while Kasper (played by Silas Cornelius Van) is about 14 or 15.
  • Tommy (played by Thomas Bo Larsen), who is in his late 50s, is a physical education teacher at the school, and he also is a soccer coach for children in the 8-to-10-year-old age range in elementary school. Tommy is a bachelor with no children.
  • Peter (played by Lars Ranthe), who is in his early 50s, is a music teacher at the school. He is also a bachelor with no children.
  • Nikolaj (played by Magnus Millang), who celebrates his 40th birthday in the movie, is a psychology teacher at the school. He and his wife Amalie (played by Helene Reingaard Neumann) have three sons under the age of 8 years old, including a newborn.

Why are these men going through a mid-life crisis?

Martin and Anika’s marriage has become cold and distant, which also describes how Martin currently feels about teaching. His sons and his students don’t seem to respect him very much, since they barely listen to him. Viewers will get the impression that Martin has been in the same job for years without a promotion.

And recently, Martin has come under criticism by several of his students and their parents, who have a meeting with Martin to pressure him to bring their children’s grades up in the history class, so that their children can get into the universities of their choice. The parents want to blame Martin for not being a better teacher, but he answers defensively that maybe the students who are floundering just aren’t paying attention in class: “It’s not easy to learn when you’ve got your head stuck in your phone.”

Tommy is getting close to retirement age and he doesn’t have much to show for it except for his elderly dog and a house where he feels lonely. Out of all of the four friends, Tommy seems to care the least about what other people will think about him. He can be fun-loving, but he has a grouchy side to him too.

Peter laments that he hasn’t found his true love yet. He also expresses regret that he isn’t a parent. And he feels sad that his students (whom he sees somewhat as his surrogate kids) seem to forget about him after they graduate. Peter is the one in the group who is most likely to be sensitive to his students’ needs and is willing to give them extra help outside of class hours. There’s a subplot in the movie about Peter taking an interest in counseling and advising an anxiety-prone student named Sebastian (played by Albert Rudbeck Lindhardt), who’s feeling pressure to pass a certain class or else he will be held back from graduating for another year.

Nikolaj is frustrated (and sleep-deprived) by the demands of being a father of three very young children, which means that he has less free time to himself. His two older sons (who are bedwetters) sleep in the same bed with Nikolaj, while his wife has recently been sleeping in the same bed as the baby. A few of the movie’s more comical scenes are about bedwetting moments at Nikolaj’s house. And when Nikolaj is drunk, it’s not always the kids who are urinating in the bed.

One evening, the four buddies have a fateful dinner at a restaurant to celebrate Nikolaj’s 40th birthday. Nikolaj admits that he should be happy with his life: He has a beautiful and healthy family, he likes his job, his wife comes from a wealthy family, and they live in a nice seafront house. However, Nikolaj feels somewhat “trapped” by his routine life.

During this dinner party, it’s brought up in the conversation that the school’s faculty have heard that Martin is under scrutiny by parents of his students for not being an effective-enough teacher. Martin’s eyes starts to well up with tears, and his friends comfort him and ask him what’s really bothering him. He confesses that his marriage has gotten stale, he feels lonely, his kids don’t appreciate him, and he thinks he could have accomplished much more in his life. When someone asks Martin if he’s thought about having an affair, Martin replies that he’s not interested in cheating on Anika.

“I don’t know how I ended up like this,” Martin says with a defeated tone of voice. Peter mentions that years ago, Martin was expected to become a research professor at a university, but it never happened. Peter asks Martin why he didn’t live up to that potential. Martin says that at the time, his children were young and he just didn’t apply to grad school to get a Ph.D.

It’s also mentioned during the dinner that Martin used to take jazz ballet lessons. Tommy says that Martin’s dancing was so good, that Martin could have passed as a professional dancer. Martin endures some good-natured teasing from his pals, who try to get him to show some jazz ballet dance moves at the dining table. Martin laughs but ultimately refuses. However, since all of them have been drinking alcohol at this dinner, their inhibitions are lowered, and Tommy and Peter get up and briefly give separate dances at the table.

It’s at this dinner that Nikolaj comes up with an idea that will be the catalyst for the rest of the story: He talks about the real-life theory of Norwegian philosopher/psychiatrist Finn Skårderud, who thinks that human beings are born with a blood deficiency of 0.05% alcohol. And therefore, it’s in people’s best interest to maintain at least 0.05% alcohol in their blood content every day. Skårderud believes that alcohol can generally make people more relaxed, more open to possibilities, and more creative.

Nikolaj suggests that they all try out this theory by drinking enough alcohol every day to have a constant blood alcohol content of at least 0.05%. They all go back to Nikolaj’s house to immediately begin testing the theory. Nikolaj goes to his computer to take notes, as if he’s taking this experiment seriously enough that he could write a research report about it. But over time, any “scientific research” that was intended quickly turns into excuses for the men to get drunk instead of tipsy.

That first night that they test the theory at Nikolaj’s place, he laces the drinks with absinthe. They all get “happy drunk” and have a good time. But the experiment requires that they drink during the day, which is something that Martin is uncomfortable with at first. They also have their own breathalyzers, and the movie has frequent on-screen indicators showing what their respective blood-alcohol levels are.

Eventually, all four men end up drinking while they’re on the job. They hide their liquor in the school’s gym depot that Tommy and only a few other school staffers have access to during regular school hours. It should come as no surprise that another school employee finds this secret stash of liquor. The movie shows what happens after this discovery.

At first, the four pals’ increased alcohol consumption seems to have positive effects. Martin becomes more confident and entertaining in his class. His enthusiasm is infectious to the point where he can get the entire class to laugh at his jokes. Martin and Anika also rekindle their love life, and it looks like the passion has returned to their marriage.

Tommy becomes a more jovial and motivational coach instead of being a grump with a tendency to give a lot of critiques. Peter comes up with more ideas to inspire his music students. Nikolaj also seems to be getting better results as a teacher, although he has the least number of movie scenes that show him as a teacher.

One day, Nikolaj is walking in the school hallway when he passes by Martin’s class and hears Martin’s students roaring with laughter at a joke that Martin told. Nikolaj looks surprised and a little envious. Not long after that, Nikolaj announces to the other three friends that all four of them should increase their blood-alcohol content as far as they can. It’s easy to guess what the results will be, but it’s no less riveting to watch.

“Another Round” takes place over the course of an academic school year (about nine months), and the movie shows how quickly alcohol abuse can turn into addiction. What started out as an experiment so that the men could gain confidence and creativity through alcohol turns into a dependency on alcohol where they start to lose control in major areas of their lives. Unlike their young students (who are shown binge drinking in the movie’s opening scene), the four middle-aged pals do not have the metabolism to bounce back as quickly from hangovers.

Their addiction to alcohol comes out in ways besides binge drinking. In their conversations, they start talking about famous drunks/alcoholics who excelled in their careers while they had a drinking problem. Martin and Nikolaj in particular like to come up with examples, as if to justify what they know is their own increasing addictions to alcohol. Ernest Hemingway and Winston Churchill are mentioned frequently in these discussions.

Martin also tries to ingratiate himself with his students during his class lectures, by mentioning alcohol binge drinking as an acceptable way to relax and be creative. He gets them to open up to the rest of the class about how much alcohol they drink on a weekly basis, and he doesn’t judge students who admit to excessive drinking. In fact, Martin jokes with them about their drinking habits.

And there’s a memorable scene where Martin asks the students which one of three unnamed political candidates they could vote for if they had the choice. He describes Candidate No. 1 as someone who has polio, drinks a lot, and cheats on his wife. Candidate No. 2 is an alcoholic who isn’t well-liked by his political peers and has already lost several elections. Candidate No. 3 almost never drinks, is kind to women, and has a reputation of being very focused on his job. Not surprisingly, the students say that they would vote for Candidate No. 3, until Martin reveals that Candidate No. 1 is Franklin D. Roosevelt, Candidate No. 2 is Winston Churchill, and Candidate No. 3 is Adolph Hitler.

In this scene where Martin points out that many powerful leaders were actually drunks, “Another Round” director Vinterberg shows a wry sense of humor by inserting some real-life video news montages or photos of world leaders drinking alcohol while on the job or appearing to be intoxicated in public. In photos, Angela Merkel is shown holding up a stein of beer; Richard Nixon and Leonid Brezhnev are toasting each other with liquor. There’s also archival footage of Boris Yeltsin stumbling and slurring his words at government appearances.

“Another Round” realistically shows the highs and lows of what Martin, Peter, Tommy and Nikolaj experience as they have similar yet different reactions to their alcohol “experiment.” All of them get hooked on drinking alcohol every day, but two of the men want to quit the experiment after they see the negative effects of their alcohol dependency. Because the movie is mainly from Martin’s perspective, the movie gives the most screen time to how his alcohol addiction changes his life.

There are good times and bad times for all of the four friends. The alcohol makes them want to forget the bad times and create good times that they want to remember. However, the alcohol increasingly becomes the cause for the bad times. And that’s why the alcohol addiction (or any addiction) becomes a vicious cycle.

Mikkelsen’s fascinating portrayal of Martin is one that many viewers can find relatable, even without the alcohol addiction. It’s an outstanding performance of a character who sees himself as an “ordinary” person. One of the highlights of the film is a scene where Mikkelsen has to show a lot of impressive physical agility. What’s even more admirable is that Mikkelsen did not use any stunt/body doubles for this scene, according to the “Another Round” production notes.

“Another Round” doesn’t judge alcoholic behavior as much as it lays bare what attracts people to alcohol, how peer pressure plays a role in many alcohol addictions, and how people handle the problem of addiction differently, depending on the individual. The cinematography from Sturla Brandth Grøvlen adds realism to the movie, since the entire film was shot with hand-held cameras. Therefore, when Martin or some of the other characters are drunk, the camera sways along like an intoxicated person too, so viewers can almost experience what these characters are feeling in that particular scene.

What’s most authentic about “Another Round” is that it doesn’t follow a stereotypical narrative that movies tend to have when they’re about people who become alcoholics. Yes, the movie does show consequences to the reckless actions that happen because of alcohol intoxication. But even if something bad happens, it doesn’t necessarily make people want to suddenly stop drinking alcohol.

“Another Round” poses a lot of questions, knowing that there are no easy answers, because so much depends on the complexities of individuals. What’s the difference between a heavy drinker and an alcoholic? Can an alcoholic quit drinking without rehab or any counseling? At what point should someone get an “intervention”? Regardless of how people feel that about the ways that binge drinking and alcoholism are portrayed in “Another Round,” the movie succeeds in telling these characters’ stories in such an impactful way that it will make viewers think about these characters long after seeing the movie.

Samuel Goldwyn Films released “Another Round” in select U.S. cinemas on December 4, 2020, and on digital and VOD on December 18, 2020. The movie’s DVD release date was March 30, 2021. “Another Round” is also available for streaming on Hulu.

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