Indie Fresh List

Indie Fresh List: The Courier, Happily, and Operation Varsity Blues

Check out the latest Fresh indie releases, including what's in theaters, what's on VOD, and what's coming soon.

by | March 18, 2021 | Comments

Join us weekly as Rotten Tomatoes reports on what’s indie features are streaming. From promising releases by new voices to experimental efforts from storied filmmakers – or perhaps the next indie darling to go the distance for end-of-year accolades – we will break it all down for you here each week.


This week for our Indie Fresh List, we have a dark rom-com, a period spy thriller, and a documentary that details the 2019 college admissions scandal that involved actors Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin. In our spotlight section, we bring back the freshly Oscar-nominated foreign language comedy about getting tipsy – Another Round. We also spoke to the director Thomas Vinterberg about the film and particularly star Mad Mikkelson’s now-iconic drunken dance on a pier.


New This Weekend

Happily (2021)

69%

BenDavid Grabinski’s work as writer for the rebooted Nickelodoen series Are You Afraid of the Dark (Fresh at 100%) marked him as a new genre filmmaker to watch, and this weekend, his feature directorial debut Happily hits select theaters and VOD. The dark comedy stars Joel McHale — to whom we spoke about the project — and Kerry Bishé as a long-married couple who can’t keep their hands off each other. Understandably, everyone around them is sick to death of their very public – bordering on performative – relationship. But when a dead body, a duplicitous stranger, and a lot of questions erupt over a vacation, the couple loses faith in everything they know. “Grabinski takes full advantage of his seasoned and talented comedic cast, but it is his dry wit and timing which throws us that curveball when we least expect it that makes it so much fun,” writes Pamela Powell of Reel Honest Reviews.

In select theaters and available on VOD now.


The Courier (2020)

86%

Reminiscent of his role in the Oscar-nominated Tinker Tailor Soldier SpyBenedict Cumberbatch is back in theaters this weekend with another espionage thriller, The Courier. The based-on-true-events spy flick tells the tale of an ordinary British businessman who was recruited by the UK’s MI-6 and a CIA operative to conduct a covert partnership with a Soviet officer in an effort to provide crucial intelligence to hopefully defuse the Cuban Missile Crisis. Cumberbatch delivers an engrossing performance as he “gives body and soul itself to the role of Wynne, in a performance that ranks among the actor’s best work,” according to Larry Carroll of Looper.

In Select theaters.


The college admissions scandal of 2019 rocked not just newspaper headlines and nightly news but also Hollywood, as stars Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin were named among the parents accused of buying their kids’ entrance into elite universities. Dubbed “Operation Varsity Blues” by the FBI, the investigation revealed that the families in question faked sports involvement, cheated on tests, and used other nefarious methods to further rig the system already set up in their favor as wealthy, well-connected families. A blend of documentary interviews and re-enactments, Operation Varsity Blues: The College Admissions Scandal is “audacious, outrageous and goddamn sensational,” according to Daniel Hart of Ready Steady Cut.

Streaming now on Netflix.


Spotlight Pick

Fresh off their expected Best International Feature nomination and the unexpected but well-deserved Best Director nomination for director Thomas Vinterberg at the Academy Awards, Another Round is back on our list this week as our spotlight pick. We’re offering a subtle reminder for those who have yet to watch the dark comedy that will leave you smiling drunkenly through your tears. Mads Mikkelsen turns in a hilarious and tragic performance in what Lewis Knight of the Daily Mirror calls “a riotous and thoughtful study of alcohol consumption that balances comedy and character study, anchored by a versatile lead performance from a top-form Mads Mikkelsen.” We recently sat down with Vinterberg to talk about the film, the drunken boot camp they held, and the incredible dancing scene.

Jacqueline Coley for Rotten Tomatoes: Mads is just incredible in the film. Can you talk about casting him and how he signed on?

Thomas Vinterberg: Mads and I first talked about the idea in 2013. Back then, it was intended to be a tribute to alcohol, but the story wasn’t really formed yet. Mads was intrigued. He was a part of this film from the beginning. In fact, I had those four actors in mind since the early stages of writing. I tend to like that way of working, where I write my scripts for specific actors. It has become a bit more difficult because they’ve gotten rich and more famous, and now want to read a script before they attach. But in this case, actually, Mads and the three others all attached very early in the process, without a script. Their characters were called their respective names right up until the shooting draft.

How do you direct people to be “drunk?” Is there an audition process? Do you need to know about their drinking history prior to signing on?

Vinterberg: These four actors are all friends of mine. I’ve known them for years, and we’ve had drinks on various occasions. It’s really difficult for actors to play drunk and do it convincingly, especially capturing the nuanced changes in manner and physicality that accompanies their characters’ escalating inebriation over the course of the film. Prior to the shoot, we watched a lot of YouTube videos of drunk people, and we did some alcohol rehearsals, like a “booze boot camp,” or whatever you want to call it, in order to figure out the specific behavior of these specific actors at these specific levels of intake. We filmed it, and we had fun with it, but it was also a lot of hard work. As in most cases, where you see something that works naturally on-screen, it’s a result of a lot of hard work.

How do you calibrate that? Did they have a BAC number on the call sheet?

Vinterberg: No BAC on the call sheet, but a pretty specific idea about how to move forward with each level of inebriation. Once we had the boot camp and had a feel of the different levels and their corresponding actions, we knew where we were heading. We also improvised a bit, of course, in order for it to feel more believable, because sometimes the realistic levels would seem too low for their onscreen behavior.

Let’s talk about Mads drunkenly dancing on the pier. How did you do it?

Vinterberg: Knowing that Mads was a dancer, and knowing that I was making a movie about inspiration and ecstasy and breaking free of your normal, repetitious patterns, I felt it was kind of called for, that he should be dancing at the end. Though, we were all very cautious about it. Particularly Tobias Lindholm and Mads were afraid it would become cliché. We had a dance choreographer for the dance moves, but I, together with Mads, choreographed the to-ing and fro-ing to make it look real. It needed to look like a slice of life. Which is also why the dance is not pitch-perfect. After some hesitation, towards the very end, he lets go entirely. Everyone was so great in that moment. And Mads, of course, in particular, is absolutely outstanding, dancing alone, with no dance-doubles or anything. And yet still behind this cathartic weightless moment, there is this shadow, a sense of this deep tragedy.

The film has global appeal. Is that because alcohol (which is thought of differently around the world) is a catalyst, not the crux?

Vinterberg: You are right. The film is supposed to be about more than just drinking, of course. Spirit means more than alcohol and is embedded in the “inspiration” too. My wife, who is in the film, is also a priest, and a lot smarter than I am. She told me what my movie’s actually about. She said, “There’s less and less room for the ‘uncontrollable’ in modern life. More and more is scaled or measured. Being inspired or getting an idea, are examples.” And I said, “What’s so special about getting an idea?” She said, “Well, it’s something you get. It’s not something you buy or prepare. You get it from somewhere.”

Another great example she gave me is falling in love. You fall, you “lose control,” and you meet something grand. If you’re a young person, you have to appear on social media 40 times a day and you’re being graded all the time. When I walk around, my phone counts the number of steps I take. So much in our lives is measured and controlled. So, if this movie is anything, it’s a fight for “the uncontrollable,” for letting go. And one of the reasons it might land pretty well right now is because it talks to a very confined, problematic world where people have to stay home and behave rationally. Not only are we in a very measured society, but on top of that, we’re isolated. And there’s, I guess, a sort of need for dancing in the streets and embracing each other and whatever else those crazy drunk Danes do.

Finally, what’s on your Indie Fresh List?

Vinterberg: I’m a member of the Academy, so of course I’ve seen the international contenders, and find many of them extremely good. The Father from the main section moved me a lot, and Sofia Coppola’s On the Rocks definitely did, too.

Streaming now on Hulu and available on VOD.


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