Monthly Archives: January 2014

Film Review: The Wolf of Wall Street

After losing his job as a Wall Street broker on Black Friday, Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio) goes it on his own selling penny stocks. Together with his best friend Donnie (Jonah Hill), they become rich beyond their wildest dreams and embark on a lifestyle of utter debauchery.

There aren’t many directors out there who attract such attention when they release a new film. Normally, the focus is firmly on the actors starring in the film rather than the person calling the shots behind the camera. However, Martin Scorsese unleashes a new film, the world sits up and takes notice.

And once you’re sat up, The Wolf of Wall Street slaps you round the face, snorts cocaine out of your arse and doesn’t let you sit down again for its entire three-hour runtime. Those of a sensitive disposition should definitely go see something else.

Drugs, prostitutes, dwarf tossing, sex, drugs, bribery, sports cars, public masturbation, and drugs. Pretty much every kind of excess and debauchery is present and correct and Scorsese doesn’t hold any of it back. He rarely ever does.

It’s pretty easy to see that The Wolf of Wall Street owes more than a small debt to some of Scorsese’s previous work, such as Goodfellas and even The King of Comedy, in offering us somewhat of an anti-hero and charting their rise to success (or perceived success) and subsequent downfall. Some of Scorsese’s directorial choices, such as sweeping long takes also instantly recall many of his earlier films.

For much of the film, Belfort is a repugnant character, yet there’s something in there that draws you to him. His hedonistic lifestyle of excess is absurd and totally unsustainable, yet you still want to see which direction it’ll take next. It’s almost impossible to look away, and much of the credit for that has to go to Mr DiCaprio.

The Wolf of Wall Street marks Scorsese’s fifth collaboration with DiCaprio, and this could well be a career best for the actor. At the outset we see Jordan Belfort fresh faced and eager on his first day in Wall Street but it’s not long before he becomes arrogant and drunk with power, and this is where Leo’s acting really goes full throttle. An already renowned scene in which he takes some out-of-date drugs is physical comedy at its best that is reminiscent of Chaplin or Keaton.

But it’s not just Leo on top form; Jonah Hill also has to take a lot of credit for proving he can hack it in a (relatively) serious role. Donny has some of the best lines in the film and Hill delivers them perfectly. In other supporting roles, Margot Robbie and Matthew McConaughey also give excellent performances as Jordan’s wife Naomi and slightly psychotic Wall Street trader Mark Hanna respectively.

This is clearly a film of excess and that description extends to its runtime, too. It throws a lot at you and at three hours it does feel a little on the lengthy side. It’s never boring but some of the fat could be trimmed to no detriment to the film.

There’s no doubting that The Wolf of Wall Street is a somewhat shallow experience, but it doesn’t need to be anything else. It’is crass, debauched and misogynistic, but my word it’s a hell of a lot of fun.

Pros

  • Brilliant performances from DiCaprio and Hill
  • Laugh-out-loud funny
  • Huge amounts of fun
  • Margot Robbie

Cons

  • A little on the lengthy side

4 and a half pigeons

4.5/5 pigeons

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Amazing Minimalist Film Posters

Over the past few years, a trend has emerged for creating minimalist film posters, and some of them are absolutely fantastic. In fact, a lot of them are better than the official posters for the films. Most are just done by movie and graphic design fans but some, such as Olly Moss, have forged a career from such posters (as well as some pretty awesome other stuff). So here are just a few of some of the amazing minimalist movie posters out there that I take absolutely no credit for whatsoever…

Jaws

Jaws

Star Wars

Star Wars

A Clockwork Orange

A Clockwork Orange

Inception

min-poster-1

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Film Review: 12 Years a Slave

Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor), a free black man living in America in the 1700s, is kidnapped and sold into slavery where he remains for 12 years. During his time he is tormented and tortured by slave owner Epps (Michael Fassbender) who also has an unhealthy obsession with Solomon’s fellow slave Patsey (Lupita Nyong’o).

Director Steve Mcqueen’s previous two features, Hunger and Shame, were intricate character examinations, delving into the human condition but from a very particular viewpoint.

However, with 12 Years a Slave McQueen tackles a much broader subject, that of slavery, and looks at it from a more expansive viewpoint. It’s still a character examination, and a deeply personal one at that, but this time around we’re shown a wider world and some of its more horrendous aspects.

And much of it truly is horrendous. McQueen takes an unflinching look at Northop’s story and has no qualms in presenting us with a piece of cinema that is genuinely uncomfortable and in many ways repulsive. On more than one occasion we’re shown the atrocities that Northop and his fellow slaves had to endure and we’re not spared any of the details.

McQueen has become known for his long takes and he uses them here to devastating effect. One scene in which we see Northup being hung whilst life blithely goes on around him lingers for what seems like an eternity. Similarly, when we see Patsey being sadistically whipped by Epps, every inch of your being screams for it to stop, but McQueen forces us to watch every last crippling lash. This does make for an incredibly difficult watch but is all the more powerful for it.

The performances are also hugely responsible in delivering the film’s message. Chiwetel Ejiofor is heartbreakingly genuine as Solomon as he wrestles with coming to terms with the fact he’s now a slave and may never see his family again. Another long take showing Solomon’s conflict in joining in singing ‘Roll Jordan, Roll’ with the other slaves is simply masterful. Michael Fassbender also gives yet another fine performance in his third collaboration with McQueen as the hateful slave owner Epps. In a similar way to Northup, Epps is conflicted, particularly when it comes to his feeling for Patsey and Fassbender is fantastic at showing this underlying vulnerability. Lupita Nyong’o, in her first film role, is a revelation as Patsey and seeing her subject to such abhorrent abuse is just crushing.

There are faults with the film, though, and blame must fall at the feet of McQueen and writer John Ridley. Solomon is kidnapped and sold into slavery very early on in the film which doesn’t really allow us to get a sense of his family life. His wife and children are afforded very little screentime and so we don’t really get much of a sense of Solomon as a family man and more importantly a free man. Also, there’s very little to indicate the passage of time throughout the film. Solomon was a slave for 12 years, but in the film it could just as easily have been 12 days. This doesn’t really help us get a sense of how long he was in slavery for and consequently lessens the impact when he finally regains his freedom.

It’s difficult to say 12 Years a Slave is a film one can enjoy. There’s plenty to admire and respect but it’s hard to glean much enjoyment from it. However, it’s an undeniably powerful piece of cinema and further proof that Steve McQueen is one of the most evocative directors working today.

Pros

  • Outstanding performances from Ejiofor, Fassbender and Nyong’o
  • Beautifully shot
  • Immensely powerful and heartwrenching

Cons

  • Not enough time spent with Solomon and his family in the outset
  • Little to indicate the passage of time, lessening the impact of just how long Solomon was away.

4 pigeons

4/5 pigeons

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Film Review: American Hustle

american-hustle

Con man Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale) and his partner Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams) are forced to work with FBI agent Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper) after being caught out running a loan scam. However, what starts out as a straightforward sting operation soon becomes embroiled in the world of Jersey powerbrokers and mafia.

In the opening scene of American Hustle, we see an overweight Christian Bale meticulously attaching a hairpiece to mask his baldness. So much attention is paid to each strand of hair; it’s a work of art. By the end of it, he actually looks pretty good, and that perfectly sets the tone for the rest of the film.

See, practically everyone in American Hustle is hiding behind a façade, whether it’s part of a con to bring down corrupt politicians, or simply in the privacy of their own home. Everyone is putting on a front, be it for self-preservation or to attract or please the ones they love. It’s an interesting theme and one that really lets you get inside the characters, their motivations and their aspirations.

This depth to the characters is essential as American Hustle’s story isn’t really its strong point. The ‘hustle’ part of the story is loosely based on a true story, the Abscam operation of the 1970s and 80s, but never really has the required depth and thus feels rather shallow. I found it difficult to really care about the actual con and the payoff at the end was somewhat underwhelming. The pacing is also a little erratic with certain sections that lull and feel too drawn out.

first-tv-spot-for-american-hustle-question

However, as with all David O Russell films, the story is largely of little consequence; it’s the characters who form the basis of the drama, and this is where American Hustle really excels. O Russell has assembled quite the cast and pretty much everyone delivers a stellar performance. Christian Bale as the overweight, balding lead is magnificent as we see him transform from confident grifter in the outset to someone who’s way out of his depth once the operation gets into full swing.

Amy Adams, who plays a quasi femme fatale character, is also brilliant as she constantly keeps you (and the other characters) guessing where her allegiances really lie. Bradley Cooper plays, well, Bradley Cooper whilst Jennifer Lawrence is superbly trashy yet vulnerable as Irving’s wife. Robert De Niro also crops up in an uncredited role and absolutely steals those scenes, which almost makes you wish he had a more prominent role.

Many have claimed that American Hustle plays a little like a Scorsese-lite film, borrowing heavily from films such as Goodfellas but without the same substance and depth, and there is some truth in this. There are definite nods to Scorsese’s films but American Hustle does manage to find its own identity, sticking its tongue firmly in its cheek as it does so.

As with O Russell’s previous film, Silver Lining’s Playbook, American Hustle’s story might only get you so far but the ensemble’s performances ensure you become invested in characters you care about even if they’re tremendously flawed and not altogether likeable, and that’s not an easy feat.

Pros

  • Stellar performances, particularly from Bale and Adams
  • Great period setting, clothes, hairstyles, etc
  • Jennifer Lawrence singing Live and Let Die

Cons

  • Somewhat weak story and climax
  • Dodgy pacing at times

4 pigeons

4/5 pigeons

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What is… Scenery Chewing?

Scenery chewing or scene chewing is a phrase used to describe overacting. It comes from the thought that those who are so wrapped up in their own acting performance leave teeth marks in the scenery and props.

Scenery chewing can be unintentional, which is often down to bad acting, or can be intentional when a role calls for an exaggerated performance.

Here are some examples of actors chewing the scenery, both in a good way and a bad way…

Intentional scenery chewing

This scene from The Shining is a classic example of scenery chewing but one that is totally required for the role, and has since become an iconic piece of cinema. Madness and insanity is a common source of scenery chewing, but most of the time it’s essential to get those emotions across.

Jim Carey is one of the most obvious examples of overacting, and this example from Ace Ventura: Pet Detective sums him up. No doubt the role calls for this kind of overacting but many would no doubt also argue it’s Carey’s dodgy acting as well.

Sir Anthony Hopkins won an Oscar for his role as Hannibal Lector in Silence of the Lambs despite only being on screen for about 16 minutes. His twisted portrayal of the serial killer is another example of how scenery chewing can help show mentally unstable characterisation.

Unintentional scene chewing

Hayden Christianson is just one of many things wrong with the Star Wars prequels and this clip shows why as he delivers his lines with the emotional weight of a beach ball.

Not only is Jon Voight incredibly pervy and creepy in this scene but it’s so over the top it makes J-Lo look like Cate Blanchett.

The Ultimate Scenery Chew. Nic Cage in the remake of The Wicker Man is truly a sight to behold and is well worth a watch just for how unbelievably laughable it is.

Are there any examples of scenery chewing that stick in your memory? If so, drop a comment below…

For more entries in the ‘What is…?’ series, click here and (hopefully) learn a little bit about deep focus, chiaroscuro, German Expressionism, and more.

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Film Review – Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues

Ron Burgundy (Will Ferrell), along with his trusty news team Brian (Paul Rudd), Champ (David Koechner) and Brick (Steve Carell), are back and are about to become the face of a new televisual sensation – 24-hour rolling news. However, the course of good news never did run smooth…

Gone are the days when a simple trailer, a couple of posters and maybe a few press interviews would make up the entirety of a film’s marketing campaign. Now it often seems the case that more effort is actually put into the marketing than the film itself. Unfortunately that feels the case with Anchorman 2.

The backdrop of Anchorman 2 is the 1980s but it actually has something to say about the state of news today, and this is where it has more substance than the first film. It makes a comment on the way we are fed news but also how we consume it. Once upon a time, much of what we consider ‘news’ wouldn’t even be entertained in newsrooms, but it’s now become something for that very purpose – to entertain – and that’s the message at the core of Anchorman 2.

EP-312239998

But we’ve not come along for that, have we? We’ve come along for the jokes, which unfortunately are a very mixed bag. Now, the film does have some very funny moments, but too often does its jokes labour or miss the mark completely. What we get is jokes recycled from the first film or overplayed so that they no longer become funny. For example, Ron struggling to come to terms with having a black boss is amusing at first, but after the third or fourth instance, the joke gets a bit thin. There’s also an incredibly bizarre 20 minute section involving a lighthouse and a shark which just seems ridiculously out of place and consequently feels unnecessary.

But Anchorman 2 isn’t a disaster by any stretch of the imagination, and for fans there are plenty of laugh-out-loud moments. Brian showcasing his collection of condoms is a particular highlight, whilst Steve Carell’s Brick is still one of the funniest things about the whole film. There are also a couple of interesting new characters, namely Jack Marsden as young and stylish anchor Jack Lime, and Kristen Wiig’s Chani Lastnamé as a love interest for Brick.

Whether Anchorman 2 ever becomes as beloved as the original film remains to be seen, but there’s nothing here to convert those who aren’t already big fans of Ron et al. Even when the film isn’t working, there are still laughs to be had, but just like watching 24-hours news, it can start to feel a little stale all too quickly.

Pros

  • Interesting comment on the state of news
  • Very funny in places
  • Steve Carell’s Brick

Cons

  • Not as funny as it needs to be
  • Recycled jokes
  • Starts to feel a little long by the end

3 and a half pigeons3.5/5 pigeons

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Quickie: Frozen

frozen-poster-smallAfter Queen Elsa’s (Idina Menzel) icy powers inadvertently trap the town of Arendelle in an eternal winter, Elsa’s sister Anna (Kristen Bell) teams up with man of the mountain Kristoff (Jonathon Groff) and snowman Olaf (Josh Gad) to track down Elsa and return summer to Arendelle.

With the huge success of Disney Pixar films over the past two decades, it can be easy to forget that Disney are capable of creating some pretty great films on their own, and Frozen is a perfect case in point.

The Mouse House has made a concerted effort to include strong female protagonists in recent years and Frozen continues this trend. Elsa and Anna have very different personalities but are both very headstrong and perfect for young girls to look up to.

In terms of the other characters, the only other real standout is Olaf the snowman. Whilst largely incidental to the film’s plot, Olaf provides much of the film’s humour and it’s impossible to imagine the film being as successful without him.

As you’d expect, Frozen is sprinkled with some fantastic musical numbers with highlight ‘Let It Go’ sure to have you humming away for days afterwards.

Although likely to be more seasonal than most other Disney films, Frozen is very much in the mould of other established Disney stories, such as Beauty and the Beast and Aladdin. However, it feels plenty original enough to sit proudly alongside those classics.

4 pigeons

4/5 pigeons

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Film Review – The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage) and his band of merry dwarves, along with Hobbit Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) and wizard Gandalf (Sir Ian McKellen) continue their quest to reclaim the dwarf homeland of Erebor from the clutches of the mighty dragon Smaug.

Stepping back into Middle Earth in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey was like meeting an old friend after several years. However, just like bumping into an old chum, things often are never the same and you long for how they used to be. An Unexpected Journey was good but it definitely wasn’t to the standards we remembered from The Lord of the Rings trilogy.

The good news is The Desolation of Smaug is a definite improvement over the first chapter, although there are still a few issues here and there.

One criticism of An Unexpected Journey was that it was too slow and plodding, particularly at the start. Well The Desolation of Smaug  has no such problem and jumps straight into the action, which is what you’d expect from the second part of a trilogy. This films also ramps up the threat level, which is another needed improvement over the first film. Here our heroes actually feel in danger whether from pursuing orcs or that scaly British dragon.

In terms of performances, everything is pretty much as before. Martin Freeman is still perfect as Bilbo, whilst the rest of the cast also perform admirably. This time around we do get a few new faces (and a voice) in Evangeline Lilly’s Tauriel the elf, Luke Evans’ Bard and of course Smaug the dragon, voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch. Both Tauriel and Bard are interesting new additions and help to add depth to the overall story.

One issue that also cropped up in An Unexpected Journey is the use of CGI and how surprisingly poor it is. The Lord of the Rings trilogy tended to opt for more practical effects than CGI, but both Hobbit films thus far have significantly increased the amount of special effects and a lot of it looks rather cheap. Whether this is due to time or budget constraints is unclear, but the CGI often doesn’t blend well with its surroundings which does pull you out of the film. It should be noted, however, that Smaug himself, however, is superbly rendered and looks fantastic.

Is making The Hobbit into three films stretching the story too much? There is definitely an element of that, and certain sections of both films so far do feel overly long and drawn out. However, it’s still a pleasure to experience Middle Earth and if you’re a fan of the franchise then The Desolation of Smaug should keep you well entertained and eager for the final installment.

 Pros

  • Interesting new characters
  • Increased level of threat
  • Martin Freeman’s Bilbo
  • Smaug

Cons

  • Some dodgy CGI
  • Too drawn out at times

 

4 pigeons4/5 pigeons

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My Top 10 Films of 2013

As is customary at this time of the year, most people put together their ‘best of the year’ lists, and so here’s mine. Of course, there are plenty of films that came out in 2013 that I haven’t seen yet and there are some that have already come out in other countries that we haven’t had in the UK yet, but these are my 10 favourite films of 2013…

10. The Way Way Back

This was a real surprise for me, as I’m sure it was for many others. There are plenty of coming of age stories knocking around but fantastic performances from Steve Carell, Alison Janney and, in particular, Sam Rockwell ensure this one stands out from most. Read my review here.

9. Captain Phillips

Tom Hanks gives a brilliant performance in Paul Greengrass’s dramatisation of the real life hijacking of the Maersk Alabama. Mention should also go to first time actor Barkhad Abdi who is superb as lead pirate Muse. Read my review here.

8. Philomena

philomena-feat

Inspired by a heartbreaking true story, Philomena may not be the flashiest film of the year but it’s without a doubt one of the most affecting. Dame Judi Dench gives a wondeful titular performance, whilst Steve Coogan is also excellent as the standoffish journalist Martin Sixsmith. Read my review here.

7. Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa

This is one for the Alan Partridge fans, of which I am one, rather than the everyday filmgoer. A big screen appearance for Norfolk’s finest has been on the cards for some years but it was only in July 2013 did it finally materialise. Granted, the character may be slightly better suited to TV but there are still belly laughs a-plenty here. Full review here.

6. Gravity

GRAVITY

This may well be a lot higher in some other ‘best of’ lists, and if this list was purely based on visuals then this would be right at the very top. However, some story and dialogue issues prevent it from being any higher, although an excellent performance from Sandra Bullock should be noted. Full review here.

5. Before Midnight

A near perfect conclusion (maybe?) to Richard Linklater’s ‘Before’ trilogy. Before Midnight takes a slightly different direction to its predecessors, Before Sunrise and Before Sunset and reveals some chinks in the armour of Jesse and Celine’s relationship. Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy are astounding in the lead roles as usual. Read my full review here.

4. The Hunt

Not a particularly easy watch due to its rather emotive subject matter, but one you can’t tear your eyes away from as you root for Mads Mikkelsen’s Lucas to clear his name after he’s accused of being a paedophile. A fantastic performance from Mikkelsen and one that fully deserves any awards attention it receives. Full review here.

3. Mud

Matthew McConaughey has gone from rom com laughing stock to Hollywood hot property in no time at all and Mud shows exactly why. A brilliant performance on his part, as well as from youngsters Tye Sheriden and Jacob Lofland, added to gorgeous cinematography and rattling soundtrack make Mud one of 2013’s underrated gems. Read my review here.

2. The Act of Killing

Definitely not the most uplifting film of the year, but undoubtedly one of the most unique and important. The Act of Killing is a documentary telling the story of the genocide of millions of Indonesians in the 1960s at the hands of the military. However, the story is told by the killers themselves as they recreate their atrocities in the style of American films they love. Truly shocking. Full review here.

1. Rush

RUSH

By no means technically the best film of the year, but no other film got my heart beating as fast as Rush. Dramatising the rivalry between Formula 1 drivers James Hunt and Niki Lauda, director Ron Howard perfectly captured the sound and speed of F1, whilst also telling the story of two characters who were equal amounts loveable and loathable. Chris Hemsworth’s beautiful face gave a great performance but it was Daniel Brühl who really stole the show and could be a dark horse for an Oscar nomination. Read my review here.

So there we have it – my favourite films of 2013. Disagree? Want to shower me with loving praise? Either way, leave a comment below and let me know your thoughts.

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