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

Going Down in Hollywood: It’s a Girl Thing!

The Wolf of Wall Street

We love a bit of film classification chat here at Mild Concern. The whole idea of judging what age a person can be before they see a film based on the amount of sex, violence, and swearing absolutely fascinates me. We’ve previously looked at the specifics surrounding the age rating for Pulp Fiction, mused about racist remarks, and even tried to calculate the amount of blinking you need in order to use your eyelids as your very own censorship tool.

More importantly we had a proper look at the classification debate for Shame when it came out two years ago. In short the issue was that the film had been given an NC-17 rating in America due to its abundance of sex and nudity. NC-17 is essentially an 18 certificate and while in the UK an 18 for a grown-up film is not ideal but by no means a death sentence, in America there are cinemas that won’t even screen a film branded with the NC-17 label. Frequently films will work with the MPAA (the American film classification association) to edit their film to attain the much more consumer friendly R rating which allows anyone under 17 to see the film if they take an adult with them.

There is an argument for such cuts when a studio is looking to appeal for a mass market and need a lower certificate and yet the whole thing leaves a bad taste in my mouth. When you cut a film not for artistic but for commercial reasons then you are in danger of ruining the vision of the piece for the sake of improving your profit margins. There is a fine line between offering advice on classification guidelines and out-and-out censorship. When you have the power to label a film with a black mark that will severely diminish it’s market value and you do so based upon a questionable moral code then you are essentially holding a film to ransom; if they don’t edit out the bits the MPAA doesn’t like then their movie won’t get seen by very many people.

Film is a murky world where artistic and commercial concerns collide and so often when it comes to a matter of getting an R or NC-17 rating then it is the money men that rule.

Just this week there have been two cases of censorship editing as films strive to get themselves a friendlier rating. The first is the news that Martin Scorsese’s upcoming film The Wolf of Wall Street had been blessed with an R rating after the much lauded director agreed to trim down sex and nudity to avoid being branded NC-17.

Charlie Countryman

In addition to this actress Evan Rachel Wood took to Twitter yesterday to complain about edits that had been made to her new film Charlie Countryman. It would seem that an earlier cut she had been shown included a scene of her receiving cunnilingus from a character played by Shia LaBeouf (soon to trouble censors in Nymphomaniac) but now the film is in cinemas the scene has been edited so that the film could avoid being rated NC-17. Here is what Wood had to say:

After seeing the new cut of #CharlieCountryman I would like 2 share my disappointment with the MPAA, who thought it was necessary to censor a woman’s sexuality once again. The scene where the two main characters make “love” was altered because someone felt that seeing a man give a woman oral sex made people “uncomfortable” but the scenes in which people are murdered by having their heads blown off remained intact and unaltered. This is a symptom of a society that wants to shame women and put them down for enjoying sex, especially when (gasp) the man isn’t getting off as well! Its hard for me to believe that had the roles been reversed it still would have been cut OR had the female character been raped it would have been cut. Its time for people to GROW UP. Accept that women are sexual beings. Accept that some men like pleasuring women. Accept that women don’t have to just be fucked and say thank you. We are allowed and entitled to enjoy ourselves. Its time we put our foot down. Thanks for listening.

I think Wood touches on what is by far the most concerning thing about the way classification and censorship is carried out. While we can probably agree that there needs to be some level of control on what various ages can see, and that studios are well within their rights to ruin a good film with cuts, there is a huge imbalance in what they think should be kept away from the eyes of the young. Violence is much acceptable in the mainstream than sex and nudity as images of hate are seen as far less harmful than images of love. Worse still is the patriarchal and misogynistic attitude that Wood is accusing the MPAA of possessing. She would not be the first as in 2010 it took an appeal for Blue Valentine to be lowered from NC-17 to R without removing its cunnilingus sequence. It certainly looks like there is an uneven policy at the MPAA when it comes to which gender is participating in sexual activity.

Film classification is an important part of the world of film, and something our own BBFC do with admirable transparency, but I find it hard to endorse any system that finds violence to be more acceptable than sex and runs scared when faced with an expression of female sexuality. Cinema is an art form and when edited to suit commercial interests is suffering from censorship plain and simple. In America the MPAA is a shadowy organisation that somehow has gained the power to ruin a film’s box office if the group does not approve of its contents. Unlike the BBFC the MPAA answers to no one and seems to decide for itself what is deemed acceptable.

Fight censorship!

Fight the patriarchy!

Fight for equal rights for oral sex!

Lawless – Film Review

Lawless is the story of a gang of bootleggers in prohibition-era Virginia whose booming business in bootleg moonshine is threatened by the arrival of a new deputy in town. I honestly wish there were a little more to the plot than that but sadly this is what we have to work with. Any subplots are so underdeveloped I don’t want to raise your expectations around them.

“Based on a True Story” is normally a signal that a real life event has been taken and distorted beyond recognition in order to turn it into thrilling cinematic fare. It would seem that this step was skipped as Nick Cave wrote the screenplay for Lawless as while the film may well be accurate it turns a story of drink, corruption, gangs, romance, and violence into a painfully dull two-hour slog.

Shia LaBeouf takes the lead as Jack Bondurant, the young enterprising member of the bootlegging gang and our narrator. LaBeouf is at his least irritating in this role but still isn’t particularly convincing as anything but the affable fool. Tom Hardy is good as ever as his brother Forrest Bondurant and provides a few laughs with his performance as a big strong man who gets flustered around women. Sadly Hardy is given little to do beyond grunt and wander round in a large cardigan from H&M. Saying that compared to the way Jessica Chastain is treated Hardy should be grateful for the character development he gets.

As Maggie Beauford, employee to the Bondurants and love interest to Hardy Chastain arrives without explanation, is given a token nugget of back story, and then after getting her kit off is relegated to little more than set dressing. Gary Oldman is treated just as badly as charasmatic mob boss Floyd Banner we barely see and who is quickly dropped from the film once he has served his purpose. Mia Wasikowska suffers similarly, providing Shia with an uninteresting and inconsequential love interest but having no real story or personality of her own.

Guy Pearce is given a bit more of a role as the evil deputy Rakes but is for some reason playing him as a panto villain. I half expected him to arrive in every scene preceded by a crack and a puff of smoke hiding his face behind a cheap cloak as the audience boo and hiss. And the hair! Pearce has had his hair combed into such a severe and unattractive parting he can’t be anything but the bad guy.

Even with a pantomime villain I struggled to get behind the gang as while they were pitched as loveable rogues the gang were quite happy to remove a man’s testicles in the name of revenge when the time came. Everything about this film is on one level; there is no depth or meaning to be found. The brothers are bootleggers who experience some trouble and little else happens. All secondary characters are seen only when they directly affect the brothers which would be fine but for the fact that the brothers are unsympathetic and at worst boring. I would have been happy to sacrifice a few scenes of LaBeouf pratting about or Hardy’s non-relationship with Chastain in favour of getting to spend more time with Gary Oldman.

With an anticlimactic climax and a strangely wholesome epilogue Lawless lumbers off the screen with as little fanfare as it arrived. In the film as a whole there is no one to root for and a plot so basic it is impossible to become fully engrossed in. I found myself completed bored throughout and frustrated at the wasted acting talent on display. Too many interested threads are left unexplored and characters underdeveloped. Lawless is not a film we will be talking about in ten years time.

Lawless is in UK cinemas on 7th September 2012

Maybe Saying Sorry Can Save Your Franchise After All

Back in July we looked at the Pirates of the Caribbean and Transformers franchises as examples of when the filmmakers have apologised for the quality of previous instalments before the release of the latest film in the series. We wanted to see if the apologies affected the reception of the new films, both in critical acclaim and at the box office.

Because Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides was still in cinemas at the time we could only look at opening weekend gross to gauge the success of the films (taken from Box Office Mojo). This figure was plotted alongside the “freshness” (aggregated critic score) for each film from Rotten Tomatoes to see whether the quality of the film had improved as promised by the film-maker. The original conclusion was that opening weekend box-office continues to decline after the apology with the critics score either continuing to decline or increasing, but not to the heights of the original series.

It looked like saying sorry and admitting your film was bad didn’t work, but things have changed…

Pirates of the Caribbean
The second and third films in the Pirates series were dubbed as confusing by viewers and cast alike, Johnny Depp then promised the fourth film would be more fun and much less confusing. Did they follow through and make a better film, and did this make for a better box office? This time we’ve included Worldwide Lifetime Gross and the Audience Freshness from Rotten Tomatoes, determined by user (rather than critic) ratings.

The first thing to notice is that the general public are a lot more friendly when it comes to rating the films, with none of the original trilogy slipping below 70% fresh. More importantly, despite the quality of the films continuing to decline (as agreed by critics and fans) the total box office went back up after Depp had promised them a better film. We can’t prove causality, but we can wildly speculate!

Transformers
After the second Transformers film came out the critics were falling over each other to pan the sequel and were soon followed by both its lead actor Shia LaBeouf and director Michael Bay. Megan Fox also had plenty to say but was then swiftly removed from the franchise. LaBeouf and Bay did not leave the series, instead they both promised that the third film would be better than its two predecessors and that they had learnt from their mistakes.

While the general audience may have felt that the quality of the films fell after the apologies, the critics were much more forgiving. If critics are to be believed the third Transformers film was much better than the second; not only had Bay and LaBeouf promised a better film, they had delivered. The promise of a better film combined with a film that was indeed an improvement led to a huge increase in total box office gross.

In Conclusion
Using that ability to wildly speculate, we can say that confessing to a lacklustre film and pledging to make a superior follow-up feature will give audiences confidence in your franchise and help you out at the box office. What really seems to help however, is following through on your promise. Both franchises suffered a drop in their opening weekend takings but by actually making a better Transformers film, Michael Bay was able to give the total box office a big increase.

The moral of the story kids; say sorry and keep your promises.

Can Saying Sorry Save Your Franchise?

I’ve hit Excel again, this time to look at the effect that apologising for the terrible quality of a film can have. Apologising for films is all the rage these days, especially if you want to make another sequel. Major recent examples are the Pirates of the Caribbean and Transformers franchises.

Pirates of the Caribbean
After the third Pirates film fans were left a little underwhelmed and completely confused. All I can remember about the plot was a whirlpool, a kraken and a big wide white space. Also Geoffrey Rush came back to life… somehow. Even Johnny Depp was confused, called the films, “plot driven and complicated” and said of the fourth film, “we owed the audience a fresh start… I felt like it was important to eliminate as many complications as possible.” So did Depp keep his promise and did it do any good?

Continue reading

Shia Better Watch Out

Yesterday it was reported that Megan Fox had been booted from Transformers 3, and then she quickly rebutted with the fact that it was her decision to leave the franchise. Considering Fox’s ongoing insults fired at both Michael Bay and the franchise it’s hardly a surprise that she both wanted to leave and was no longer wanted on board. The crew members even wrote a letter defending Bay and slating Fox.

When a star goes as far as saying a director wants to be like Hitler it’s not too hard to believe that they have been fired, rather than given the opportunity to leave their contract. Regardless Fox is gone, though her character may well remain as the role of her boss was recently filled by Patrick Dempsey. Even so I’m sure they can easily just swap her character out for another with no real complaints from fans.

Shia Labeouf should start to be a bit more careful over what he says now too as he recently put down both Transformers 2 and Indy IV. Labeouf  said, “When I saw the second movie, I wasn’t impressed with what we did… There were some really wild stunts in it, but the heart was gone.” He probably saved himself though when he claimed to have real faith in the third installment as it has a great script.

Be careful Shia and Megan, people aren’t going to want you in their movies if your going to be all honest about them afterwards.