LFF 2018 Day 3 – Out of Blue | The Spy Gone North | Duplicate | Green Book

Day three of the London Film Festival saw me avoiding the big hitters in search of a hidden gem before hitting up the surprise film in the evening. As you’ll see I had mixed success…

Out of Blue


Carol Morley’s first film, The Falling, marked her out as a new talent with an uncompromising style and introduced the world to the wonderful Florence Pugh. In her follow up she turns her attention stateside and treads more familiar ground with a noir murder mystery. Clarkson stars as a detective investigating, with magnifying glass and everything, a killing that brings to the surface repressed memories from her own life.

I wanted so badly to like this film that it hurt all the more that I couldn’t. If most aspects of a film jar does that make it coherent? The dialogue was heavy-handed, some of the acting from supporting parts was ham-fisted, and the visuals, in sharp contrast to The Falling, were bland. When a whodunnit becomes a whocares you know you’re in trouble.

I’m sorry. I can’t go on.

Out of Blue screens at the festival on 13th, 14th, and 16th October.

The Spy Gone North

It is the mid 1990s and a South Korean spy is recruited to head North and find out what their nuclear capabilities are. With the code name “Black Venus” our spy, played by Hwang Jung-min, deliberately gets himself into a crippling level of debt before reinventing himself as a businessman with an interest in trading with the DPKR. Before long we are deep in a plot involving numerous briefcases of money, advertising deals, and a few appearances from Kim Jong-il himself.

The film looks nice and glossy and is filled with period detail and good actors in boxy suits. The plot at times gets more complex than my tired brain could follow and the film dispenses with tension in favour of endless reams of dialogue. The result is a spy thriller that delivers a history lesson rather than many actual thrills.

The Spy Gone North is a fascinating peek into the history of relations either side of the border in Korea but is a film that could do with a little less conversation and a little more action. Bonus points however for a lovely bromance that holds the film together across the DMZ.

The Spy Gone North screens at the festival on 11th, 13th, and 16th October.

Duplicate

In our first example of HeKniSciFi of the festival Ansel Elgort stars as both Jonathan and John; two brothers who share the same body for 12 hours a day each. Only able to communicate via video messages the two brothers live a life of strict routine and a few simple rules. Their carefully controlled world starts to crumble when Jonathan suspects John of lying to him and the brothers find themselves in conflict. What do you do when you fall out with the person closest to you, and you share the same body?

Duplicate is a lovely example of what I would call proper Science Fiction; it explores an idea to see where it leads without the distractions of spaceships, flashing lights, or killer robots. I won’t spoil how things unfold but Duplicate sticks to its remit and explores emotions over explosions and offers up a healthy dose of self reflection.

A smart slice of science fiction that is pleasingly unsoiled by genre trappings.

Duplicate screens at the festival on 14th, and 16th October.

Green Book

The big surprise about this year’s surprise film was that it was a film I had never heard of, and a film I probably have never gone to see if I had. Even more surprising was the fact that it is a film directed by Peter Farrelly that is a relatively straight drama without any scenes of semen in hair.

Green Book is set in 1960s America and follows the tentative working relationship between touring classical pianist Don Shirley (Mahershala Ali) and his new driver/valet Tony Lip (Viggo Mortensen) as they drive between gigs in the American South. But wait, there’s a twist! Don Shirley is an African-American which makes his time in the South complicated and Tony is a massive racist (to begin with at least) which makes his time working for Shirley a fraught experience.

Through the film we repeatedly see Don Shirley experience a strange mix of respect and discrimination; often performing at venues at which he cannot use the same facilities as his audience. Meanwhile Tony gradually becomes (spoiler alert!) less and less racist as he finally gets to see what life is like for someone on the receiving end of his prejudices.

The film is well made, built on top of two solid central performances, and filled with plenty of laughs with a final tug on the heartstrings at the end. I can’t decide if it oversimplifies Tony’s transformation or not and whether that even matters. Green Book is a fun film with a serious heart. It isn’t going to trouble the Oscars or my DVD shelf but it not to be sniffed at either. A solid “it’s OK” from me.

Green Book is released in the UK on 1st February 2019.

Insurgent – Film Review

Insurgent

Before we begin I think I should tell you my YA credentials so you know where this review is coming from. I have read all the Hunger Games books and seen the first two films which I don’t rate too highly. I have read all the Divergent books and liked them more than the Hunger Games though the previous film left me a little cold. As for Shailene Woodley and her troop of men in the world of YA I have read and watched both Spectacular Now and The Fault in Our Stars and have mixed feelings for the former pair and moderate praise for the latter. I’ve done my fair share of reading and watching YA and in particular watching Woodley starring in their film adaptations.

Insurgent, and to a greater extent the Divergent trilogy of four, does not stray far from the dystopian future familiar to YA fans. This second instalment finds Tris (Shailene Woodley), our uniquely gifted female lead, hiding as an outlaw while plotting to bring down the Machiavellian Jeanine (Kate Winslet), our evil leader, and shake up their society which has naturally been split into a number of houses districts factions. Along the way people die, secrets are revealed, and allegiances are tested.

The test of a YA film is arguably not in its originality but in how well it executes what we know is coming. Is the action suitably thrilling? Is the plot understandable to those who have not read the books? (Let’s ignore anyone who hasn’t seen the first film, they are on their own.) Can the actors convince us that the world is real? Does the film ever slip into boredom, ridiculousness, or outright confusion?

For my money Insurgent largely succeeds. It takes the plot of the book and streamlines it so that rather than having characters dotting around back and forth the film has more forward momentum and less down time for the audience to lose interest. The action scenes are exciting and Insurgent makes the most of having the half of its set pieces taking place in virtual reality. The CGI is mostly convincing and lends a hand in creating a real looking world for the action to take place in. With the film confined to a city the size of Chicago (because it is Chicago) a few swooping camera shots help to give the audience a lay of the land and get to grips with the dystopia at hand. As a structure the film is all good and just needs the right cast to populate it.

Insurgent 2

Setting aside Kate Winslet and Naomi Watts who pop up occasionally to add credibility to the film, and a franchise to their filmography, the casting for the young characters is pretty impressive. For the most part. Woodley herself has a track record for bringing strength and soul to a literary character and does more of the same here. The film really does rest on her shoulders and she, and her sad eyes, do not disappoint. Theo James reprises his role of Four, the love interest, but I couldn’t help but feel as though the film-makers had wisely minimised his screen time. James is not this cast’s strongest performer and isn’t asked to do much more than look sad/angry and generally be but. Woodley’s frequent co-stars, and love interests elsewhere, Ansel Elgort and Miles Teller provide solid support as Tris’ brother and rival respectively. Teller in particular bring a special quality to his performance as the unreadable Peter and provides the only humour in what is otherwise a very dark film.

And boy is it dark. I lost count of the number of people we got to see being shot in the head. All shooting happens just off-screen of course, this is a 12A. Despite the family friendly age certificate Insurgent doesn’t hold back too much as adult themes of death and (OMG!) sex are never far from cropping up. I realise death is part and parcel of the YA genre but here the killing felt that bit more direct.

Overall Insurgent is perfectly fine. A strong cast, a decent pace, and enjoyable set pieces help Insurgent stand out from its predecessor. All is not perfect, there are plenty of convenient coincidences and sometimes everyone seems a little too serious, but for the genre you could do a lot worse.

If you’ve seen Divergent or read the books then there’s no reason not to see Insurgent. For everyone else… good luck to you.

Insurgent is in UK cinemas now.

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.

Men, Women & Children 2

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