Newly unemployed and priced out of the New York housing market, married couple George (Paul Rudd) and Linda (Jennifer Aniston) head south to Georgia, where George’s obnoxious brother has promised him a job. One unexpected pit-stop at a hippy commune later, Linda is embracing her inner Earth Mother, while George is fascinated by the commune’s concept of free love, especially when he’s propositioned by Eva (Malin Akerman). Can the pair adapt to the freewheeling lifestyle practised by Seth (Justin Theroux) and Carvin (Alan Alda)? The idyllic lifestyle on the commune quickly begins to grate on George’s nerves, but this is a comedy with Big Ideas to peddle, with the biggest being whether it’s possible to outgrow social conditioning and learn to live for and within a group as opposed to selfishly pursuing individual needs and wants. A zesty opening showcases Aniston’s talent for comedy, and she and Rudd spark well off one another, but the story quickly becomes bogged down in poking fun at the commune dwellers as it enters its second act, as all the commune dwellers are established as stereotypically stoned, simplistic geeks. What undermines the story more than anything is that in order to adapt to the commune’s lifestyle, George and Linda are shoehorned into stereotypes too, which makes a mockery of the film’s central premise. Clichéd and self-indulgent, and wasteful of its leads’ comic talents, the movie meanders towards its inevitable ending with all the drive, pace and entertainment value of a smouldering joss-stick.
Reese Witherspoon is another fine comic actress whose talents have been largely wasted in recent times, and This Means War (15A), directed by McG, is no exception. A successful consumer affairs expert, Lauren is still pining for her ex-boyfriend when she has the very great fortune to bump into two very eligible bachelors, Tuck (Tom Hardy) and FDR (Chris Pine). Unbeknownst to Lauren, Tuck and FDR aren’t just best buddies, they’re also CIA agents who both fall head over heels for Lauren. And so, while Lauren employs her skills as a consumer affairs expert to decide which of the men is the best fit for her, the chaps declare war, each one utilising his spy-craft in order to undermine the other’s best efforts at sweeping Lauren off her feet. It’s difficult to work out who exactly this movie is being pitched at: there’s far too much time spent on the spy/thriller aspect for it to qualify as a romantic comedy, and yet the story is ostensibly Lauren’s, as the plucky heroine tries to decide which of the almost-perfect men she’ll allow to woo her. Charmless, abrasive and jaw-droppingly implausible, This Means War is a misfire from all concerned.
Michael (16s), written and directed by Markus Schleinzer, engages with the recent history of the director’s native Austria with a drama which explores the consequences when a chillingly methodical paedophile, Michael (Michael Fuith), kidnaps a 10-year-old boy, Wolfgang (David Rauchenberger), and installs him in his pre-prepared basement. Deliberately understated, and featuring long, static shots of domestic scenarios to emphasise what Michael perceives as the normality of the situation and his relationship with the boy, the film is a stomach-churning horror which is intended to evoke memories of the Austrian monster, Josef Fritzl. Schleinzer focuses on the tiny details of the ‘relationship’, creating heartbreaking moments from the most banal of scenes, such as when the man and boy wash and dry the dishes together in the kitchen. For the most part the story concentrates on the emotional and psychological suffering of the child, and the result is a film that is by turns a terrifying and poignant investigation of the banality of true evil, with Fuith and Rauchenberg superb in very difficult roles. It’s not for the faint of heart, but Michael is an early contender for one of the films of the year.