Men, Women & Children – LFF Review

Men, Women & Children

Jason Reitman’s directorial career was going so well. His first four films from Thank You for Smoking to Young Adult were each remarkable in their own way and it seemed that he could not put a foot wrong. And then he did. Earlier this year saw the release of Labor Day; an out of character romantic drama that showed Reitman trying something a little different and failing in the process. This year he returned to the London Film Festival with a new contemporary family drama Men, Women & Children. The question this film had to answer was, has Jason Reitman got his groove back?

In Men, Women & Children men, women, and children (I’m for the Oxford comma) find their personal relationships sabotaged by an over reliance on technology. Jennifer Garner* is a neurotic mother who monitors her daughter’s every move online, even going so far as to delete messages before they reach her. Her daughter Kaitlyn Dever feels oppressed and uses a secret Tumblr account as her only outlet while starting a sweet offline romance with Ansel Elgort. Ansel has abandoned the school football team in favour of playing online computer games after his mother abandoned him and his dad, Dean Norris, and became more a Facebook friend than a parent. When not worrying about his son Dean is flirting with Judy Greer who manages a questionable modelling website for her celebrity-in-waiting daughter, Olivia Crocicchia. Olivia meanwhile is sexting high school jock Travis Tope who is struggling to find real sex appealing having become addicted to a particular strand of porn. Travis’ parents Adam Sandler and Rosemarie DeWitt are failing to connect and so are contemplating exploring online escorts and extramarital affair sites respectively. If that weren’t nearly enough we also have Elena Kampouris who visits thinspiration websites and suffers from anorexia and low self-esteem but she doesn’t fit as neatly into the chain of relationships as everyone else.

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As you can tell from the above there is a lot going on in Men, Women & Children and every storyline involves someone’s life being worse off thanks to the internet. An ensemble drama can work but only when dealt with carefully. In this case the fact that a small group of interlinked individuals are all experiencing some form of cyber woe makes the whole exercise feel inauthentic and implausible. Now might well be the prime time for a film exploring the internet’s effects on human relationships but this heavy-handed attempt at highlighting the possible dangers online is not that film. Jason Reitman wants you to reflect on how you are damaging your own relationships and he will beat you round the head with an iPad until you do. Few films are this preachy and condescending which, having now sat through this public service announcement of a film, is a great relief.

There are moments of charm and humour but they are lost in amongst the endless scenes of characters making bad choices because their modems made them do it. Men, Women & Children is not about the real world or real people. It is Reefer Madness for the internet age and is every bit as overblown and undercooked. In an attempt to add levity to proceedings Reitman has added narration courtesy of Emma Thompson in the hopes that her accent describing sex acts will be enough to soften the rough edges of this melodramatic catastrophe. Sadly even Thompson’s authoritative voice can’t distract from the mess Reitman has made.

No character is given enough screen time to become fully rounded and nearly everyone involved at some point does something so utterly stupid and unrelatable that the audience is left floundering looking for someone to relate to. The minute you think you have found your cypher to guide you through Men, Women & Children they will do something unforgivable or seemingly without motive. The film is unlikely to stop anyone from going online but may well turn people away from going to the cinema again.

Men, Women & Children is misogynist, paranoid, and pretentious. Jason Reitman can do so much better.

*There are too many characters for me to have remembered any names.

Men, Women & Children has a UK release date of 28th November 2014.

BFI LFF 2014

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.

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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

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.

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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.

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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

Out Now – 17th October 2014

Palo Alto

The Best of Me
Two hour long contemporary American romantic drama. Yes it is another Nicholas Sparks adaptation. RUUUUUNNNN!!!

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
Childhood memories are there for a reason. Because you’ll never get round to rewatching the shows you loved as a child and any modern-day version will fail to recapture the magic. Don’t go see this in the cinemas, just sit at home with your memories instead.

The Judge
Robert Downey Jr. does some of that Robert Downey Jr. magic in this film starring Robert Downey Jr. as a lawyer returning home to defend his father, a judge who has been accused of murder. Robert Downey Jr. Also, Robert Duvall.

Northern Soul
“Set in 1974, an authentic and uplifting tale of two friends whose horizons are opened up by the discovery of black American soul music.” Sounds a lot like the 2010 Felicity Jones film SoulBoy right? Or did only Kat and I see that one? I swear there were at least 6 of us in the screening…

Citizenfour
Documentary featuring brand spanking new interviews with Edward Snowden! Edward Snowden leaked all that information about how US and UK governments are spying on what we do and say online. I do not endorse Edward Snowden. Just in case anybody at MI5 is reading this.

Palo Alto
Indie drama adapted from a collection of short stories by James Franco and directed by a Coppola. Think sexy hipster fables; lots of American Apparel and cigarettes.

My Name Is Hmmm
French drama with interweaving stories including an 11-year-old runaway, an absent mother, an abusive father, a field trip, an initiatory journey, a chance meeting, new encounters, and a Scottish truck driver. No idea.

United We Fall
“A mockumentary about five arrogant overpaid homophobic racist ex-Manchester United players who had the chance to become heroes in 2010 – and failed spectacularly.” Maybe it is because I am currently at the film festival and knee-deep in quality films but this week’s releases just don’t seem to be trying.

The Battles of Coronel and Falkland Islands
1927 war drama about some stuff that happened 100 years ago in 1914. (I gave the year for those of you unable to do simple maths.) You’ll never guess what events The Battles of Coronel and Falkland Islands is about.

Black Butler
Cinematic adaptation of what I am told is a popular manga series. “An orphaned aristocrat summons a demonic butler to aid her, at the price of her soul.” Honestly I think she could have worked out a more reasonable fee. She is an orphaned aristocrat after all.

Björk: Biophilia Live
Another quite self-explanatory title here. If you need more specifics then you will be watching Björk perform songs from her eighth album. She will not be performing live. You will be watching a recording of when she at some point sang those songs. She will not be able to hear you if you clap at the end. You have been warned.