Fury – LFF Review

Fury

It is April 1945 and allied troops are slowly making their way across Germany. The crew of one tank find themselves one man down and rookie soldier Norman (Logan Lerman) joins as assistant driver. Norman is a former office clerk and wholly unprepared for battle. Reluctantly taking on new blood into their tank Fury are Wardaddy (Brad Pitt), Bible (Shia LeBeouf), and the unpleasant duo consisting of Coon-Ass (Jon Bernthal) and Gordo (Michael Peña). The job of Fury and its occupants are to move in convoy from village to village evacuating Germans who surrender and killing those that fight back.

Initially Norman is not accepted by his fellow soldiers. His reluctance to kill and desire to surrender or die make him a liability but through the toughest of love his team attempt to turn Norman into a real soldier. Each soldier treats Norman with utter contempt but as they are bonded together through the horrors of war mutual respect is found. As Fury and company moves from village to village the tanks come under attack as our band of brothers is truly put to the test and Norman is given a baptism of fire.

Fury 2

As war films go Fury is perfectly acceptable but little more. The action scenes are suitable bloody, muddy, and violent as heads, limbs, and other extremities are shot off and numerous soldiers set on fire. Capturing the brutality of war is Fury‘s strongpoint and it does so with gusto, loud noises, and nerve-shredding frenzy. What threatens to weaken the action is the fact that our lead cast are always inside the tank during battles; while explosions and carnage rage outside the five main characters are mostly sitting and shouting. The final battle aside the inside of Fury always felt relatively safe, particularly in comparison to the war zone in the fields outside.

Writer/director David Ayers may have done well at making war seem like a bad thing but he does less well when it comes to making the characters feel like real people. Each of the five is a different caricature and yet their personalities still struggle to maintain consistency. In what seems to be an attempt to add layers of complexity to the characters they all have occasional flashes where they change their attitude completely. This normally takes the form of an unpleasant type suddenly being nice to Norman as if keen to let the audience know that they aren’t all bad really. The dialogue is riddled with clichés, patriotism, and variations on the “war is hell” theme. Despite solid performances, even from Shia LaBeouf, the script lack enough authenticity for the actors to come across as anything but actors.

Fury certainly passes the time and provides plenty of spectacle though not on a scale we haven’t already seen before. It’s hard to know what the film is trying to say and what it has to offer that is not just treading old ground. If we can all agree that war is unpleasant then you can probably give this one a miss.

Fury has a UK release date of 22nd October 2014.

BFI LFF 2014

Night Bus – LFF Review

Night Bus

Welcome to the night bus: a place where tired people returning from alcohol-fuelled nights out inflict their heightened emotions on their fellow passengers. Mild Concern is no stranger to this form of London public transport and I was intrigued to see what kind of film could be spun out from it. Turns out that it’s one that is very like its inspiration: bleak, a bit uncomfortable and filled with annoying characters.

All the action occurs on a bus taking the (fictional*) N39 route towards Leytonstone late on a rainy Friday night. As someone with more than a passing knowledge of east London, the complete disregard for its geography was very distracting. The bus essentially appeared to be circling Stratford and it definitely wasn’t going south, as the driver once claimed.

The film takes the form of dropping in and out on the various passengers and their conversations, and the timeline is fractured and jumbled up. All the typical passengers are there, from arguing couples, to singing drunks, to youths playing music through their mobile phones, to those who just want-to-get-home-with-the-minimum-of-fuss-thank-you-very-much. While occasionally clunky, the dialogue is structured well enough to give a solid sense of what’s going on in so many characters’ lives. Almost all of the performances are pitch perfect – realistic in both dialogue and tone. Unfortunately, as virtually everyone you’re forced to share a real night bus is very irritating, this means so is almost every character in Night Bus.

Night Bus 2

There is no plot to speak of, just prevailing themes, and after a while only seeing snippets of the lives of these (mostly unhappy) people feels a bit pointless and sad. There are funny moments, particularly the many ways people who don’t have the bus fare try to get a free ride, but my overriding emotion by the end was sympathy for the bus driver.

Night Bus is a very London-centric film and as such it’s hard to imagine anyone without the same experience having much patience with these characters. As a Londoner myself, it served mostly as a reminder of how good nights out can end in a dispiriting manner; while bad nights out are capped off with almost unbearable journeys. I admire how well the film has represented the reality but this is also its downfall – it’s hard to think of a reason why anyone would want to spend more time on the night bus than they have to.

*The 39 actually shuttles between Putney Bridge and Clapham Junction in the south west and it doesn’t operate a night route.

Night Bus has no UK release date yet.

BFI LFF 2014

No/Gloss Film Festival 2014 – Festival Debrief

5 Ways 2 Die

This weekend saw the third annual No/Gloss Film Festival, and for the second year in a row I went along as Mild Concern’s Northern Correspondent. No/Gloss is very much a festival about the whole experience rather than just the films; while the selected features and shorts are obviously what ultimately drives whether or not the weekend is a success, the choice of venue, artists and food vendors all play a big part in that.

This year’s festival had a very different feel to last October. Where last year’s Canal Mills venue kept the whole thing contained under one roof (plus an outdoor area for food), this year at Templeworks things were split up a little, making the festival feel more epic and giving us more to explore.

The introduction in the programme guide reveals that the festival directors felt “a distinct dark theme” throughout the 700 titles submitted for consideration. Reading that at the start of play on Saturday and knowing there were two full days ahead of me, I’ll admit I was a little concerned that it might be a bit hard work. I needn’t have worried. While naturally some of the selections were definitely just dark, dark, dark, many of them made great use of black humour to keep up the energy across both days. There were even one or two happy endings!

Pictures of Superheroes

Like last year there were two different screens to consider and I know I made some tough choices when deciding where to go and when. I managed to catch a little over half of the selections – 31 out of 58 – and there are certainly things I missed that I’ll be keeping an eye out for in the future.

By lunchtime on day one I was starting to notice the dark themes I’d heard so much about – zombie apocalypse, schizophrenia, social anxiety, OCD – and they continued into the afternoon, evident in my day one highlights.

Pictures of Superheroes is a completely absurd and totally enjoyable seventy minute comedy that’s essentially based on the main character’s life falling apart. When Marie is dumped and fired on the same day, she’s quickly employed by overworked businessman Eric to take care of the house he can’t seem to keep clean on his own. Marie discovers that’s mostly down to Joe, the room-mate that Eric has forgotten ever existed, and she quickly becomes completely entangled in their ridiculous lives.

Triangles of Happiness

My second highlight from Saturday was Triangles of Happiness, which I’m fairly confident is the funniest comedy about the financial crisis you’re likely to see. This one is a Danish production and I loved the extremes that Hanne and Carsten are willing to go to in order to keep up the appearances of their happy, wealthy, suburban lives.

I mentioned before that No/Gloss is about the whole experience and not just the films. Another memorable choice from day one was the chicken and chorizo paella from Las Paelleras who were sadly only in attendance on Saturday. Then on Sunday I sampled the delights of a Streatza woodfired pizza. I opted for the meat feast (one-third American ham, one-third pepperoni, one-third Napoli salami), and my only regret is not having the chance to buy one of their Shakshuka festival breakfasts. I’ll be keeping my eyes peeled for Streatza at future events!

Back to the films. For day two I’d planned my schedule around Reception, as I was keen to see the story of hotel night receptionist Victor and his unpredictable foreign guest. As a former night duty receptionist myself I was drawn to it, and I’m glad I managed to catch it – a lot of it was very familiar!

Pebble Moon

There were two wonderfully quirky animations vying to steal the crown from last year’s top pick Frau Schwein Geht In Die Scheissedisko, On Loop and The Missing Scarf. I particularly enjoyed the way the fragmented animation (and a little live action) of On Loop made it easy to see through the eyes of the insomniac protagonist. The Missing Scarf was narrated by the delightful George Takei and his soothing tones were perfect for the black comedy that played out while Albert the squirrel looked for his missing scarf.

Another favourite from Sunday was 5 Ways 2 Die – in which Makis explores different ways to commit suicide. Despite the worrying synopsis, this is a black comedy that looks great and will keep you chuckling right up until the surprising ending. And finally, I couldn’t end without a mention for Pebble Moon, a successful Kickstarter project and final year dissertation project for six students from the University of Leeds. Pebble Moon is a story told through the eyes of Lily, a young girl who is happy to tell anyone who asks that she has no mummy, just two daddies. There’s a bittersweet contrast between the world as Lily sees it and the things that we see as adults looking through a window into her life.

I could go on – each of the thirty-one films I saw had clearly earned their place at the festival and I’ve got good things to say about all of them, even those that weren’t to my taste. It was great to hear that No/Gloss received so many submissions and I can’t wait to see what 2015 brings!

The Satellite Girl and Milk Cow – LFF Review

The Satellite Girl and Milk Cow

While I explain the plot of Korean animation The Satellite Girl and Milk Cow I ask that you have faith that I am not making this up.

A satellite is orbiting in space when it picks up a beautiful song. So moved is the satellite that it wants to seek out the source of the melody so crashes down to earth and transforms into a teenage girl with the ability to fly and fire her arms at enemies. Unfortunately the young boy who sang the tune is broken-hearted and has been turned into a cow. This has led to him being hunted down by both an incinerator robot whose fuel is the broken-hearted, and a human villain who uses a plunger to extract the livers of animals.

“How will this robot girl and talking cow survive?” I hear you cry. Fear not. Our dynamic duo have the aid of a powerful wizard called Merlin who has also suffered a transformation recently. Into a roll of toilet paper. I don’t think any film I have seen at this year’s festival has had quite such a tantalising set up and The Satellite Girl and Milk Cow is every bit as silly and enjoyable as you might imagine.

The Satellite Girl and Milk Cow 2

The Satellite Girl and Milk Cow is not a film that requires too deep an analysis and I am struggling to think of much more to say than that it was a lot of fun. The visuals are reminiscent of Japanese animation with the style of a low budget Studio Ghibli film. This may not be the most original aesthetic but the plot certainly makes up for this with fresh ideas in spades. While undeniably a children’s film the humour is silly and funny without being too childish. Even the toilet humour has just enough sophistication to be actually funny and not repulsive. I laughed but never groaned and that is all I ask from a comedy.

What this film has in abundance is charm, heart, and magic. The bad guys are truly bad and the good guys are a little bit more complex. Our hero, the young boy in the shape of a cow, makes mistakes and hurts those who care for him but gets it right in the end. The Satellite Girl and Milk Cow is endlessly endearing and offers something a little different in familiar packaging.

Go on, indulge your inner child.

The Satellite Girl and Milk Cow has no UK release date yet but screens at the London Film Festival on the 18th of October 2014.

BFI LFF 2014

The Great Museum – LFF Review

The Great Museum

Vienna’s Kunsthistorisches Museum is one of the world’s largest and most renowned art museums. Between 2011 and 2013 documentarian Johannes Holzhausen filmed at the museum capturing the day-to-day activities of the large art institution as it geared up for the reopening of the Kunstkammer collection. Setting himself the rule of not featuring any works of art unless in the context of the museum’s employees’ work Holzhausen avoided gratuitous shots of art in favour of capturing the minutiae of running the museum, managing the staff, and restoring its works of art. The documentary also lacks any narration or score instead relying on the actions and sounds of the museum to speak for themselves.

If this all sounds a little familiar then you might be thinking of Frederick Wiseman’s National Gallery which is also showing at the festival. The two films are definitely related and share a similar style and rule set but where National Gallery failed to keep me engaged The Great Museum succeeded with flying colours.

While spending some time within the exhibition space of the museum Holzhausen only does so when following members of staff as they show people round or plan out exhibitions. The bulk of the time we spend at the museum is in departmental meetings, which I adore, and deep in the museums archives or restoration studios. In the meetings we witness managers debating the aggressive nature of the number 3 as printed on new promotional material and see how different departments feel isolated from the rest of the staff. In the museum’s archives it is revealed just how much art the museum owns that is not on display. Elsewhere we get a detailed look at just how painstaking the work of restorers is and how passionate they get when things do not go to plan. By the end of the film you feel as though you know the Kunsthistorisches Museum and its people. You know the effort that goes into every detail and the little dramas that take place every day.

The Great Museum 2

While I don’t want to linger too much on Wiseman’s rival film I think that The Great Museum comes out of the comparison well. This film has a more manageable running time of ninety minutes and as such has much less down time and filler. The Great Museum also has a more structured narrative, as much as an observational documentary can, as it follows the preparation of the Kunstkammer from the moment walls are knocked down to reshape the exhibition space to the grand opening of the collection. Finally and most importantly The Great Museum has a much greater variety of personality and roles to explore. We get to see every level of museum staff and how they spend their days; exploring everything from office politics to how pieces are obtained for the museum.

The Great Museum offers a unique perspective behind the scenes of one of the world’s greatest museums. By not including any commentary the audience is allowed to really take in everything we see. The background hum and clatter of the building is all the soundtrack we need. The film allows for subtle moments of humour simply by letting people be themselves in a non-self conscious way. By not asking anyone to speak to the camera Holzhausen allows his subjects to forget the camera is there and behave in an uncensored fashion. In amongst grand works of art people are still human and end up being far more fascinating than any of the artifacts on display.

A fascinating and entertaining documentary which allows its subjects’ personalities to dictate the tone.

The Great Museum has a UK release date of 12th December 2014 and screens at the London Film Festival on the 18th of October 2014.

BFI LFF 2014