Jason Reitman’s profile as a director appears to have plummeted almost as quickly as it rose. After two big success stories garnering multiple Oscar nominations with Juno and Up in the Air, his decent 2011 film Young Adult failed to garner much attention at all, and now he’s taken on a dreary awards bait drama that follows a single mother (Kate Winslet) and her son who find their lives interrupted by the arrival of a runaway convict (Josh Brolin). It might be Reitman’s attempt at a serious film but it contains the most laughable sequence he’s filmed; a creepy cooking-come-love sequence involving peach cobbler, that’ll likely be all anyone remembers from Labor Day.
The Fifth Estate
I actually saw The Fifth Estate just after Devils Knot and they share a real similarity in that both dramatise stories that were told far more effectively in recent documentaries. In this case, Alex Gibney’s We Steal Secrets: The Story of WikiLeaks explored the breadth of the site’s impact and history of its founder in much greater detail than Bill Condon’s drama. Unlike Gibney, Condon keeps Julian Assange, competently played by Benedict Cumberbatch, the focus throughout (though neither film has his participation), but the film is never as interesting as we know as examination of its subject matter should be.
Out of the Furnace
Christian Bale leads an impressive cast in Crazy Heart director Scott Cooper’s sophomore film. It focuses on a large group of characters in a little seen, poor small-town area of America where future prospects are bleak. His situation becomes infinitely worse when he winds up in prison while his younger brother (Casey Affleck) struggles with debt. Clearly influenced by seventies dramas (there’s even a deer hunting scene), Out of the Furnace captures the mood of that era, and generally feels to take place in an indistinguishable time period, though there are some giveaways. There are occasional clips from 2008 news, touching on the war and the financial crisis but the film doesn’t take these much further. In its first half, the plot takes a number of quite unexpected directions, but becomes considerably more generic in the final act. Boasting a great score and top performances; particularly Woody Harrelson channelling his sinister side, it’s a promising progression for Cooper, which attracted Leonardo DiCaprio and Ridley Scott to come aboard as producers.
We are the Best!
It looked like we might be losing director Lukas Moodysson for a moment there. After two promising, upbeat dramas (Show Me Love, Together) he delivered his masterpiece in Lilya 4-ever, then decided to go all experimental with A Hole in My Heart and Container. I can’t even recall his 2009 film Mammoth getting any kind of release and haven’t ever seen it, but he’s now returned to the spirit of his early films for the 1982-set We Are the Best!. Adapted from a graphic novel by his wife, the film centres on a couple of rebellious, misfit girls in their early teens, who decide to channel their energies into forming a punk rock band, despite everyone telling them it’s an outdated idea and them having no musical prowess to speak of. Moodysson successfully captures the spirit of youth using his naturalistic style and the strong work of his young leads. We Are the Best!’s greatest strength is that the girls always feel genuine, not some adult’s idea of what kids are like. This extends to the girls’ music which manages the tricky feat of actually sounding like something an angry, passionate but talentless 12-year old would write. Cute but never cutesy, the film touches on some more serious issues too. Aside from them inviting a quiet, Christian girl to join the band and the consequences thereof, the film doesn’t have a great deal of plot to speak of, but it’s enough to just hang around with these girls at a key stage in their lives. A definite comeback for Moodysson.