LFF 2017 Highlights Part 1

It is just about half way through the BFI London Film Festival, and there have been some great films shown. Here are some LFF 2017 highlights from the first week of screenings…

LFF 2017 Highlights – Unmissable

Call Me By Your Name

Luca Guadagnino’s Call Me By Your Name is undoubtedly one of the most romantic films of the year. Starring Armie Hammer and Timothée Chamalet, the film offers wonderful storytelling, beautiful imagery, and great performances. READ MORE

Mudbound

Dee Rees’ Mudbound is a film with heart. The screenplay has a poetic quality, and is ably backed up by Rees’ directing and performances from the talented cast. READ MORE

Brigsby Bear

Dave McCary’s feature debut perfectly balances comedy with a sweet and sincere tale. Brigsby Bear is very, very funny without diminishing its dark premise. Co-writer and star Kyle Mooney stands out in particular. READ MORE

LFF 2017 Highlights – Best of the Rest

Spoor

Agnieszka Holland’s wonderful Spoor blends mystery and comedy with a thriller to create a rather memorable film. With a great central performance from Agnieszka Mandat, Spoor is a very enjoyable film. READ MORE

Wonderstruck

Todd Haynes’ adaptation of Brian Selznick’s novel is the right kind of whimsy. Transporting the audience to the New York of the 1920s and 1970s, Wonderstruck features some great performances. READ MORE

Ingrid Goes West

Aubrey Plaza shines as a social media-obsessed young woman in Ingrid Goes West. Matt Spicer’s debut is achingly contemporary and a lot of fun. READ MORE

Loving Vincent

Loving Vincent blends technical achievement with an engaging narrative. Marvel at the hand drawn animation in the style of Vincent Van Gogh, whilst learning about his final days. READ MORE

The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected)

Noah Baumbach delivers yet again, with the brilliantly The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected). The film features an enviable cast, and includes Adam Sandler’s best performance for years. READ MORE

The BFI London Film Festival runs from 4th-15th October 2017. See the full programme here.

Film Review: The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected)

With The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected), Noah Baumbach delivers another great comedy drama. Strong performances and excellent writing combine to generate a absorbing picture. 

Harold Meyerowitz is a retired sculptor and a dysfunctional father. His adult children try to organise an exhibition of his work, but are hindered by their relationships with each other, Harold’s wife Maureen, and Harold himself…

Writer-director Noah Baumbach tackles family dynamics with his latest film. The Meyerowitz Stories centres on ageing sculptor and his three middle-aged children. Viewers get to explore various dynamics as the film progresses, although the action is focused on Harold and his two sons.  

The relationship between the family is revealed at a good pace. Baumbach is careful not to reveal too much too early. Yet it works well that viewers hear about the prodigal son before he appears on screen. What also functions well is that the audience see interactions between Harold and his sons separately, before these siblings share screen time. 

Characters in the film are developed in a natural way. Viewers are presented with initial archetypes, but these develop in a convincing manner, and are fleshed out beyond any stereotype. The writing is fantastic; characters converse in a natural manner. There is welcome humour among the serious conversation and dramatic realisations. The film could have done with more of Jean; there is certainly more to this character than the snapshot which is revealed.

Themes of extended family disagreements and a father with shortcomings play out well. The Meyerowitz Stories reaches a conclusion that feels realistic, rather than a forced ending. Dustin Hoffman is great, as are Adam Sandler and Ben Stiller. Yet it is the women who intrigue in supporting roles. Emma Thompson is wonderful, and Elizabeth Marvel stands out as Jean.

Noah Baumbach delivers yet again, showing a continuing talent for astute writing and assured directing. 

The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected) is being screened at BFI London Film Festival in October 2017. The film will be released in selected cinemas and on Netflix on 13th October 2017.

Film Review: Men, Women & Children

MEN, WOMEN, AND CHILDREN

Jason Reitman’s Men, Women & Children is a treatise on the negative aspects of the internet. The drama is slow-burning, with characters that engage throughout.

A group of high school students navigate the modern world, with their lives played out and guided by online activity. Their parents too navigate the impact the internet has had in their lives…

In previous films, director and co-writer Jason Reitman has exhibited a knack for depicting authentic characters, not all of whom are entirely likeable. Reitman continues this trend with Men, Women & Children, albeit with an ensemble cast rather than one or two protagonists.

Men, Women & Children distributes its run time fairly evenly between parents and their kids. The film takes a little while to develop the characters, given the numbers involved in the storylines. Nevertheless, as the film progresses, the characters are fleshed out sufficiently to make them appear authentic.

Reitman’s film is abundantly clear in its views of the impact of the internet. As a fable on the negative aspects of the internet, Men, Women & Children feels like it has arrived a little late. Whilst the far-reaching impact of the internet on modern society is a topic ripe for investigation, the film seems reductive in its moralising. It is obvious the type of relationship which is endorsed by the film, and the types that are considered unhealthy.

Performances in the film are strong. The ensemble cast performs well, particularly Judy Greer and Elena Kampouris. Jennifer Garner is also decent, as is Adam Sandler; it is refreshing to see him in a more subdued role.The film’s soundtrack works well.

Although it does have its merits, Men, Women & Children is not at the same level as some of Jason Reitman’s previous films. A more nuanced depiction of the theme would have no doubt been an improvement.

Men, Women & Children is being screened at the BFI London Film Festival in October 2014.

London Film Festival 2014 – Preview of Coming Attractions

Second Coming

The full programme for the BFI London Film Festival 2014 was announced today, and it is brimming with fascinating artifacts. A total of 245 fiction and documentary features, including 16 World Premieres, are being screening during the twelve day festival, as well as 148 shorts. Opening the London Film Festival 2014 is The Imitation Game, starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Keira Knightley. The festival closes with David Ayer’s Fury, starring Brad Pitt and Shia LaBeouf. The BFI London Film Festival 2014 runs from 8th-19th October. Here are my picks from the programme…

Men, Women & Children

Following the success of Young Adult and Labor Day, Jason Reitman’s latest film is an adaptation Chad Kultgen’s novel. Focusing on emotional isolation in the digital age, Men, Women & Children features an ensemble cast that includes Jennofer Garner, Adam Sandler and Judy Greer. 

Second Coming

Second Coming is Debbie Tucker Green’s directorial debut. The British drama stars Nadine Marshall and Idris Elba as a London-based couple living with their teenage son. Second Coming is one of the film’s shortlisted for the London Film Festival 2014’s First Feature Competition.

Whiplash

Whiplash

Damien Chazelle’s Whiplash is about the relationship between a musical prodigy and his teacher. Starring Miles Teller and J.K. Simmons, the film won the Grend Jury and Audience awards at this year’s Sundance Film Festival.

Dear White People

Writer-director Justin Simien’s Dear White People is a satire which tackles the issue of race in contemporary America. Set at an Ivy League college, the film concerns a sole-black fraternity which is to be diversified.

White God

A film about a dog. When young Lili goes to stay with her dad, he is not interested in looking after her pet dog Hagen. Deciding to leave the dog at the side of the road, this sets off a eye-opening series of events in director Kornél Mundruczó’s White Dog.

Tickets for the BFI London Film Festival 2014 go on sale to the public on Thursday 18th September 2014. For the full schedule, and details of events, see here.

Film Review: Blended

Blended

There is something about Drew Barrymore that makes casting Adam Sandler opposite her bearable. Blended does not recapture the charm of The Wedding Singer but, but fans should know what to expect.

On their first blind date for years, both Jim and Lauren decide quickly that they do not want to see each other again. However, when chance throws the pair and their families together, everyone must try to get along…

Blended is the type of film that certain cinema-going demographics will avoid like the plague. Certainly, the film is predictable. But it is not horrendous viewing.

Humour in Blended is hit and miss. There are some jokes that work. Nevertheless, director Frank Coraci returns to jokes that are not funny in the first place, which is tiresome. The one-dimensional African characters leave a bad taste. Blended would have been much more palatable to either give these characters more depth, or not to try and garner humour where there is little to be found.

The pacing in the film could have been tighter. Exploration of the different family dynamics is necessary to some extent, although some of these scenes could have been trimmed. There is some abrupt editing in the Africa scenes which is rather noticeable. In this way, Blended is a curious mix in feeling overlong at times, whilst noticing cuts in other places.

There is no doubt that Blended is loaded with schmaltz. If viewers give in to this level of sentimentality, there is no doubt they will be moved by certain moments. For those less invested, these scenes may come across as trite.

Drew Barrymore is as adorable as ever as Lauren. Adam Sandler puts in his usual performance, whilst Bella Thorne is well cast as Hilary. Kevin Nealon brings some humour as Eddy.

There will be few who go into Blended not knowing what to expect. If the film was less predictable and tasteless at times, and more humorous it would have been a much more enjoyable experience.

Stuff To Look At

Plenty of pre-Christmas visual treats this week, including the Dawn of the Planet of the Apes trailer, 22 Jump Street, How To Train Your Dragon 2 and more…

A New York Winter’s Tale

A New York Winter’s Tale is a upcoming fantasy starring Colin Farrell and Jessica Brown Findlay. The film is the directorial debut of screenwriter Akiva Goldsman, who also wrote the screenplay based on Mark Helprin’s novel. A New York Winter’s Tale is out in UK cinemas on 21st February 2014.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

Here is the first Dawn of the Planet of the Apes trailer. After the success of Rise of the Planet of the Apes, it makes sense that a sequel would follow. It is unclear whether this new film will bridge the gap between Rise and the original Planet of the Apes films, but one thing is clear: Cesar looks angry. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is due for release in July 2014.

22 Jump Street

Warning: this is the red band trailer. The film reboot of 21 Jump Street was something of a surprise success in that it actually worked well as a comedy. In sequel 22 Jump Street undercover cops Jenko and Schmidt go to college. The film is out in UK cinemas on 6th June 2014.

How To Train Your Dragon 2

How To Train Your Dragon was a great animated adventure, so I have high hopes for its sequel. This trailer for How To Train Your Dragon 2 does not reveal much in terms of plot, but it looks fantastic. How To Train Your Dragon 2 is set for release in June 2014.

Blended

What is Blended you ask? Well it is a new comedy that once again teams up Adam Sandler with Drew Barrymore. The thing that is giving me some hope is that it is directed by Frank Coraci, helmer of guilty pleasure The Wedding Singer. Blended is out in the UK on 23rd May 2014.

Grudge Match

Above is a featurette for upcoming movie Grudge Match. The film pits Robert De Niro against Sylvester Stallone when they are offered a chance to re-enter the boxing ring. So basically Raging Bull versus Rocky. Grudge Match is out in UK cinemas on 24th January 2014.

Mr Peabody and Sherman

I want Mr Peabody to adopt me! Frankly what is not to love about this film? A talking dog, who is also the smartest person in the world. Fantastic. Let’s hope Sherman isn’t too annoying. Mr Peabody and Sherman is released in the UK on 7th February 2014.

Film Review: Zookeeper

Zookeeper is pretty much what you would you would expect from a film starring Kevin James and produced by Adam Sandler. It is mildly entertaining fare, and not as funny as it should be.

Griffin is a zookeeper at Franklin Park Zoo. Five years ago, he had his heart broken by Stephanie when she turned down his marriage proposal. She is back on the scene in the run up to Griffin’s brother’s wedding, but Griffin is clueless about how to act. His beloved animals see this, and reveal a crucial secret: they can speak. The animals make it their duty to help Griffin with his love life…

Zookeeper follows a strict formula, which makes it predictable. Director Frank Coraci relies on stock archetypes to populate his film. Both the humans and the animals are very stereotypical, offering little in terms of innovation. Zookeeper is very much by the numbers, which would not be much of a problem if the film was funnier.

As it stands, the film lacks consistent humour. There are a few fairly amusing moments, but the film can never be described as hilarious. Many of the jokes rely upon the personalities of the animals. If you do not find these characters amusing, you are unlikely to find the humour funny.

Despite the presence of talking animals, perhaps what is most difficult to believe is that two very attractive women would be in a love triangle with Kevin James. This may seem like a shallow contention, but the women are both very attractive. Moreover, Griffin is not a particularly charming character. He is a nice guy, but he does not have a fantastic personality. And, for the misfortune of the two female characters and the entire audience, Griffin is not funny.

The casting in Zookeeper is hit and miss. Sylvester Stallone and Cher are most appropriate as the lions Joe and Janet. Nick Nolte brings some presence to the film as Bernie the gorilla. Adam Sandler, however, is abominable as Donald the monkey. The character has some of the best lines, which are ruined by Sandler’s sub-par delivery. Kevin James delivers his usual routine as Griffin, while Leslie Bibb is suitably one-dimensional as Stephanie. Rosario Dawson is decent, but restricted by her underdeveloped role.

Zookeeper does offer good special effects as well as some great animal actors. Nevertheless, it lacks the humour really required in a film such as this.

Film Review: Just Go With It

A rom-com starring Adam Sandler and Jennifer Aniston sounds appealing to only the sickest members of society. Just Go With It isn’t terrible, but it isn’t highly recommended either.

Plastic surgeon Danny wears a fake wedding ring in order to bed women without the complication of relationships. When he meets the beautiful Palmer, Danny decides he wants to date her. As Palmer has seen the ring, Danny persuades his assistant Katherine to pose as his ex-wife…

Just Go With It is typical of many of the films that both Sandler and Aniston appear in. It is a predictable rom-com that shows no ingenuity. There are however a few amusing moments, although Just Go With It is never downright hilarious.

All the genre’s archetypes are present in Dennis Dugan’s film. Just Go With It features the friendship that develops into love narrative, the kooky best friend, the ditzy but beautiful girl, the cheeky kids that manipulate the situation, to name but a few of these. Although the situations present the requisite humour, there is little spark to the film. It is passable, but never elevates itself above this station.

Some audience members might take exception to the depictions of some of the characters. Just Go With It requires viewers to suspend disbelief enough to accept that beautiful young Palmer (played by Brooklyn Decker) might fall the significantly older Danny.  What might be harder to stomach, however, is that both Palmer and Katherine would parade around in their bikinis for his pleasure. Brooklyn Decker, Jennifer Aniston and indeed Nicole Kidman all don skimpy attire in what appears to be a slow-motion swimwear competition. Danny and Eddie (frequent Sandler co-star Nick Swardson) meanwhile lap it all up, thankfully staying fully clothed. More concerning are the overtones of homophobia in a supposedly humorous moment at the end of the film. Rather than coming off as amusing, the attempted joke leaves a sour taste.

Jennifer Aniston and Adam Sandler have surprisingly good chemistry. Their roles are not much of a stretch for either of them, however. Nicole Kidman has an interesting little role than sees her playing against type, while Brooklyn Decker is effective eye candy. Griffin Gluck and Bailee Madison are quite annoying as Katherine’s two children, but this has more to do with the writing and directing than their acting skills.

Just Go With It will satisfy fans of Sandler and Aniston, but is unlikely to exceed expectations. Entertaining enough, but problematic in areas.