Category Archives: New Releases

MOVIE REVIEW: LOGAN (2017)

MOVIE REVIEW: LOGAN (2017)

**CONTAINS MASSIVE SPOILERS**

I wasn’t a massive fan of the Brian Singer directed original X-Men series which began in the at the birth of the Millennium. However, as big budget popcorn fodder the early cinema offerings were highly entertaining and the idea of good and bad Mutants with special powers battling each other was very exciting. Of course, the biggest villains were the humans – politicians, scientists or military – attempting to control the mutant population as their kind were seen as dangerous outsiders; like multi-coloured and multi-skilled vermin who must be destroyed.

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So, thematically, the X-Men comics and films are very strong as they represent the worst side of humanity which attempts to vanquish that which is different and does not fit into the hegemonic, natural and conventional norm. Indeed, human beings have (including Deadpool (2016) throughout ten films both attempted to weaponize or destroy the mutants, but it hasn’t worked! There are many more films to come.

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Having said that this, I have read, is Hugh Jackman’s final adventure as Jimmy Howlett AKA the Wolverine. Jackman’s presence alone is worth the admission fee on Logan and his physical prowess and acting ability, allied with his jaded wreck of a persona make this outing an entertaining, if slightly over-long popcorn muncher. I had somewhat higher expectations based on other reviews and fan responses on social media I had read. Because here was a different Wolverine film apparently, full of depth and sadness and real emotions. Well, it has that but essentially it’s another chase movie with the requisite explosions, spiking deaths and mighty roars!

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So while James Mangold and his army of writers package the usual generic and nefarious mercenaries (led by Boyd Holbrook) and a mad Scientist (Richard E. Grant) in pursuit of Wolverine, aged Professor X (brilliant Patrick Stewart) and a young girl (impressive newcomer Dafna Keen), we do get some swearing and fantastically brutal violence that really added to the enjoyment of the movie. The action scenes are also expertly handled and the surprising mutant baddie who appears is a frightening joy.

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The opening scenes of the film were my favourite as Wolverine, Charles Xavier and their albino assistance Caliban – portrayed with pale compassion by an unrecognisable Stephen Merchant – are holed up on a desert-based industrial complex just trying to survive day-to-day. With Professor X’s health failing his mind is a ticking time-bomb as what seems to be Alzheimer’s takes a grip. I thought if most of the film had been like this it would have been a risky yet rewarding character drama. Indeed, the quieter moments are the best such as Logan putting his ‘father’ Xavier to bed and when they momentarily play “happy families” at the dinner table. Yet, it’s not long before the soldiers arrive again to spoil the peace and all hell breaks loose.

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Overall, Logan (2017) is not as good as X-Men: First Class (2011) or Days of Future Past (2014) in terms of sheer cinematic joie de vivre in my opinion. However, the power of Jackman’s, Stewart’s and Merchant’s performances ground the film in a pathos and believable humanity many comic book adaptations lack. While I’m more of an Avengers fan it will be sad not to see Jackman and Stewart back in their iconic roles. While this is a very good X-Men genre film the opening scenes offered something far deeper than the chase movie we got. So, while it has some sad stuff it’s probably not as deep as everyone says it is. But it is an enjoyable film and a fitting finale for Jackman’s muscular-cigar-chomping-head-splitting-cynical-mutant-with-a-giant-adamantium-heart called the Wolverine. (Mark: 8 out of 11).  

SCREENWASH FILM REVIEWS: JOHN WICK 2 (2017) & HIDDEN FIGURES (2016)

SCREENWASH CINEMA REVIEWS: JOHN WICK 2 (2017) & HIDDEN FIGURES (2016)

** CONTAINS SPOILERS **

JOHN WICK: CHAPTER 2 (2017)

I’ve got to admit that I thought the last Bond film Spectre (2015) was extremely underwhelming for a committed fan to the franchise. It was overlong, disconnected and while the stunts were orchestrated brilliantly at times; overall, it lacked energy and a proper wow factor. Thus, when Keanu Reeves came along in the first chapter of John Wick I was fantastically surprised by the action, energy and fireworks on show. It was simple, effective, brutal action filmmaking of the highest order and more importantly got the box office buzz it deserved for sheer entertainment alone. A grieving man sets about killing the gangsters who killed his dog! I mean what more do you need from a popcorn movie?  But despite the lack of plot depth the film had a terrific style, thudding soundtrack and some fantastically over-the-top kills.

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John Wick 2 decides nothing is broken thus there is little to fix in the format. It is structured like a classic Bond movie complete with Q-style weapons shopping scene, as Wick this time must overcome all manner of bad guys fixing to square up a historical marker owed to an Italian crime lord. Brilliant set-piece after set-piece ensues as a battered Wick brings the noise again but this time to the streets of Rome and New York. It’s an undemanding story and probably overlong but the Assassin’s underworld is developed further with wit, colour and humour, and there are some fantastic cartoon violence on screen involving guns and pencils. Also, the final set-piece in the art installation is worth the admission alone and stylistically blew the latest Bond out of the water.

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Keanu Reeves knows his limitations as an actor and revels in the physical demands, dextrous gunplay and dialogue-sparse role as he faces off against all manner of dark-suited foes. There’s also world weary pathos to his character as someone unable to escape his past crimes and history as a hired gun, thus the only way out is to kill absolutely everyone. Ultimately, John Wick 2 is like a comic-book Shakespeare – if you replaced ALL the words with bullets! I look forward to the Chapter 3 with great anticipation. (Mark: 8.5 out of 11)

HIDDEN FIGURES (2016)

Like the story of Desmond Doss in Hacksaw Ridge (2016) the narrative of Hidden Figures (2016), was all the more enjoyable because I knew absolutely nothing about the specific history, characters and outcome. Indeed, the human interest aspects of both stories were so rich and heartfelt it was impossible not to leave the cinema without a warm glow inside. Of course, Doss’ WW2 exploits were heroic and in more bloody surroundings while saving comrades lives during the battle of Okinawa. Yet, the endeavours of the three ladies who take focus in Hidden Figures – Katherine G. Johnson (Taraji Henson), Dorothy Vaughan (Octavia Spencer), Mary Jackson (Janelle Monae) – is also incredibly brave as during the Space Race with the Russians they broke down social barriers to help their country despite being segregated by the despicable laws in place during 1960s U.S.A.

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Katherine, Dorothy and Mary are three exceptionally intelligent individuals who battle against the tide of white dominance and raise their game to contribute their expertise and intelligence to the project. The film has some great scenes notably when Katherine wipes the floor with the other Space Task staff over complex equations; Al Harrison (ever-reliable Kevin Costner) smashing down the segregated Blacks only toilet; and the sparky Mary challenging the law over whether she can attend business school. In fact, throughout there are many “fist-pump” moments for the characters.  I mean, my mathematics skills are not great so I am always in awe when people are able to work out these bemusing and massive equations.

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I am of the position that no person should be discriminated against whatever their background, culture, age, social status, religion, gender or sexual persuasion. Our worth as a human should be judged on our actions, what we do and how we treat others. So, this film encapsulates my philosophy totally. Indeed, what the writers, director Theodore Melfi and the amazing cast show in this story is that whatever the obstacles are we will succeed if we ignore any perceived differences and work together. Personally, I am not a fan of the whole space programme and arguably the politics of the day could perhaps have been featured slightly more, so, the film lacks the socio-political punch of say Selma (2015) or Malcolm X (1992). Yet, overall, this is an unashamed uplifting movie which invests so much empathy and compassion in our hidden heroines that no one can deny them their rightful place in history. (Mark: 8.5 out of 11)

SCREENWASH ROUND-UP! REVIEWS OF: FENCES, MOONLIGHT & SPLIT

SCREENWASH CINEMA REVIEWS OF: FENCES, MOONLIGHT & SPLIT

**CONTAINS SPOILERS**

FENCES (2016)

Denzel Washington’s honest, down-to-earth and heart-cracking drama is a formidable character piece and acting tour-de-force. Adapted from August Wilson’s prize-winning play, the narrative bristles with authentic working class lives of 1950s Pittsburgh, and is littered with some wonderful stories and dialogue. At the heart of the drama are Denzel Washington’s complex character Troy Maxson and his long-suffering wife, Rose; portrayed with significant humility and pathos by Viola Davis. Great support comes also from Mykelti Williamson as Troy’s mentally impaired brother, Gabriel.

Troy’s character is very charismatic and he delivers some hearty yarns from his past, but he’s also bitter and a drinker and, while he has had a hard life, he bullies everyone around him. His sons and more importantly his wife Rose put up with it but eventually he grinds everyone down, pushing them away with his boorish “I-know-best” arrogance and aggression. With her quiet power Viola Davis more than matches Denzel Washington’s grandstanding and Rose’s heartfelt speech toward the end of the film is a stunning retort to her husband’s continual tirades and emotional neglect.

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I’ve seen some criticisms of the film stating it is too “stagey”. Well, as it is based on a play that is understandable, yet, August Wilson’s words are a thing of beauty and therefore deserve focus. I think, while directing, Denzel Washington could quite easily have opened up the settings and had conversations on the street, but the decision was made to “fence” in the characters to create a sense of claustrophobia and intensity. By keeping the players mainly in the yard and the house we feel as trapped as they are by society, social status and their life decisions. It’s an intimate film about proper characters and real lives and overall the performances alone make the film feel cinematic. (Mark: 9 out of 11)

MOONLIGHT (2016)

Barry Jenkins low-budget contemporary drama is another brilliantly acted character memoir; although when compared to Fences it benefits from a more complex structure and cinematic style.  Split into a trio of linear timelines from the same characters’ lives we get three different actors representing the life and changes which occur in Chiron’s existence; with chapters named, Little, Chiron and Black.

Each section draws us into the characters’ world as Chiron searches for meaning, identity and direction as to who he really is as a person. With his father absent Little Chiron (Alex Hibbert) cannot find satisfaction via his mother, an angry and lost woman portrayed brilliantly by Naomi Harris. Small for his age he is also at the mercy of school bullies and while a random meeting with a local drug dealer, Juan (Mahershala Ali) provides Little with a mentor to connect with it doesn’t sustain. Ali as Juan, like most of the performances, delivers a subtle realisation of a character trapped by his life choices and perhaps sees some redemption in ‘Little’. Alas, due to his lifestyle and ‘job’ he is clearly not the role model ‘Little’ needs.

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In the second and third sections Chiron’s relationship with his best friend Kevin comes to the fore both in terms of some powerful drama and intimate sexual connections. Barry Jenkins framing, colour design, use of music and editing choices all commit to create a poetic and fragmented style, further drawing me into Chiron/Black’s story. Chiron’s continual search for identity and meaning in the world reflects the most essential of human needs: the search for identity and love. Overall, this is a film of harsh and beautiful moments and each segment was layered with so many emotions and so skilfully told that I wanted to see more of the characters. (Mark: 9 out of 11)

SPLIT (2016)

Split (2016) is an altogether different film about the search for identity. In fact the lead character portrayed devilishly well by James McAvoy has TWENTY-THREE different people battling around his mind and something is about to give. Let me say that a film like Split won’t be challenging the Oscars because in essence it is a terrifying B-movie thriller, however, McAvoy gives a performance of such quality it reminded me of Anthony Hopkins as Hannibal Lecter in his cannibal pomp. McAvoy’s twisted ability to switch between the many personalities was a real guilty pleasure as he earned his acting fee over and over and over again.

The story concerns three girls, Casey, Marcia and Claire (including an excellent Anya Taylor-Joy) who are kidnapped and imprisoned by the various personalities in Kevin Crumb’s head. Some – including OCD driven Dennis – are more dominant than others and attempt to wrestle total control, which is where McAvoy’s sly switches are a real joy to watch. As a cat-and-mouse plot bleeds out we also get some intriguing back-story flashbacks into Casey traumatic past. These events really add colour to the main narrative and ramp up the tension and suspense. The scenes between Kevin, his personalities and sympathetic Doctor Fletcher (Betty Buckley) also add some dark humour to the story. By the end though all humour is gone and we get a stunning and believable supernatural turn as Kevin’s mind unleashes an altogether different personality.

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Writer/Director M. Night Shyamalan’s dalliance with big-budget-franchise-Hollywood-pictures – including: After Earth (2013) and The Last Airbender (2010) – did not do his career any favours. But with Split he is back on terrific form as he takes a simple abduction plot and renders it full of horror, twists and fantastical ideas. While I did not enjoy his previous film The Visit (2015) – mainly due to the stupid kid rapping throughout a decent horror story – this one is highly recommended for psycho horror fans and for McAvoy’s performance alone. (Mark: 8.5 out of 11)

STAR WARS: ROGUE ONE – CINEMA REVIEW

STAR WARS: ROGUE ONE – CINEMA REVIEW

**THIS CONTAINS SPOILERS**

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After the biggest budgeted fan film of all time was released last year with The Force Awakens (2015), I approached Rogue One (2016) with a sense of scepticism. After all, JJ Abrams directed Star Wars movie was essentially a block-to-block remake of A New Hope (1977) but this time substituting Luke Skywalker for a young woman, Rey, (Daisy Ridley) and Darth Vader for a younger more angst-ridden version in Adam Driver. Abrams spectacular epic delighted fans on emotional and aesthetic levels despite the sandcastle plotting, gaping story holes and illogical incompetence of the First Order. For example, why build a ‘Death Planet’ with the SAME weaknesses as the Empire’s Death Star?  It did not make sense to me.

Nonetheless, JJ Abrams safety guaranteed reboot broke not only the internet but also box office records worldwide. It’s a safe and impressive spectacle with bland leads and a nostalgic mix of familiar and new characters. The action was breathless and pristine but the weaknesses in the story ruined the enjoyment of The Force Awakens for me. While it made sense to focus the narrative on the children of the original trilogy, and it was great to see Harrison Ford reprising Han Solo, I wasn’t as impressed by Abrams blockbuster as many were. Of course, compared to George Lucas’-rise-and-fall-of-Annakin-Skywalker-prequel-trilogy it was pure cinema gold.

Talking of prequels Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is just that – Star Wars: Episode 3.5 as it were.  The action takes place after Revenge of the Sith (2005) but just before A New Hope.  We open with Ben Mendelsohn’s Orson Krennic pursuing Mads Mikkelsen’s ‘farmer’, Galen Erso, on the planet Lah’mu. Krennic is an Imperial executive working on the Death Star and he requires Erso’s expertise to complete the work so kidnaps him, leaving behind his young daughter Jyn Erso, alone and abandoned.

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As per many other stories in the Star Wars galaxy themes relating to war, family, loss, orphans and hope propels the characters in Rogue One. None more so than Felicity Jones’ grown up Jyn Erso, who inhabits her character with a credible depth and pain throughout. She has clearly had to fend for herself and has become world-weary for one so young, yet she is also tough and very handy in a fight. Against her will she is thrust into the rebellion fight and embarks on a last-ditch mission to locate the plans of the Death Star. Here the story harks back marvellously to the derring-do of WW2 movies such as The Guns of Navarone (1961), Where Eagles Dare (1968) and The Dirty Dozen (1967). That was when I knew this was my kind of movie.

Accompanying Jyn are a ragtag bunch of characters who could arguably been given more backstory but are cast very well. My personal favourite was Donny Yen as Chirrut Imwe as the blind, elegant and formidable ‘monk’ and Diego Luna’s battle-drained rebellion officer who refuses to go down without a fight. With the plot thrusting along at some pace we still have time for reflection by the characters, especially from Luna and Jones. Meanwhile, on the dark side, Ben Mendelsohn gives an intriguing performance as a middle manager unable to grasp the power he so craves.  Darth Vader’s scenes too were fantastically handled in my view and while initially jarring the CGI appearance of Grand Moff Tarkin/Peter Cushing was a curious treat.

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Whereas JJ Abrams skilfully emulated the emotions of the original Star Wars films, Gareth Edwards (and apparently re-shoot director Tony Gilroy) really imbue a sense of menace and doom to the Rogue One mission.  The stakes are incredibly high, and while we know the outcome, most of the characters are given enough purpose to make you care for them. From the stark landscape of the opening scenes to the stunningly bleak midpoint set-piece on the base facility of planet Eadu, pathos, shadow and death inhabit the film’s core. Indeed, it reflects the darker side of the franchise like The Empire Strikes Back (1980) so succinctly.

Of course, the story is all building to an incredible final act where Jyn and her crew seek those darned plans which are inconveniently kept in an impossible-to-breach fortress protected by battalions of Imperial Stormtroopers, droids and weaponry. As our heroes battle for their lives and the future of the rebellion, we cut breathlessly between the space dogfights we have come to love and the explosive conflict on the planet surface. Do they complete their mission? Well, you know the end; however, amidst the fast-paced action and special effects there is time for a sense of loss and a series of spectacular and heroic deaths.

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Where, in my opinion, A Force Awakens was Disney playing it safe, this film takes a few more chances within the corporate conservatism of the movie market. While it has a darkness in its’ heart Rogue One still meets the classic Hollywood “standardization and differentiation” model which has served big business since the dawn of time. Overall this isn’t just a great Star Wars film but a brilliant movie too. It’s very much in the vein of Captain America: Winter Soldier (2014), as it transcends the franchise while delivering a pulsating, heroic and emotional experience. While the canonized Skywalker arcs continue to concentrate on expanding the Jedi family tree, the stand-alone anthology series, of which Rogue One is the first, offer an opportunity to perhaps go darker and experiment with form, character and themes.

SCREENWASH SPECIAL- ARRIVAL, DR STRANGE & NOCTURNAL ANIMALS REVIEWED

SCREENWASH – NOVEMBER CINEMA SPECIAL – by PAUL LAIGHT

I often have all my reviews for the month in one place but occasionally I split them, as is the case here. I haven’t seen that many films at the cinema this month but the three I did see were all excellent in their own way. Here are my reviews with marks out of eleven.

**CONTAINS MILD SPOILERS**

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ARRIVAL (2016)

The wonderfully serene Amy Adams portrays, Louise Banks, an academic linguist whose standing is such that when Earth is visited by twelve spaceships, she is called in by the military to attempt communication. Governments all over the world try various methods in which to discover whether the aliens are intending to attack. What are their primary intentions or targets? Are they friends or foe?

As it is directed by the supremely talented Denis Villeneuve the film moves at a careful but considered pace. When Adam’s accompanies Jeremy Renner’s physicist, Ian Donnelly we at first see the inside of the alien craft and it’s not long before we are faced with the strange-looking cephalopod-type creatures. The narrative meat becomes a series of attempts by Banks and Donnelly to try and crack the visual alien code. Meanwhile, the Chinese and Russians are becoming impatient and, like the Americans, considering attacking the spaceships in a pre-emptive military measure.

I won’t say any more because it would risk ruining the story but what unfolds is a clever and mind-bending turn of events which upsides genre expectations. The intriguing premise, brilliant script, ambient score, stylish effects, subtle cinematography and purposeful direction make this one of the best films I have seen all year. It is an intelligent and emotional science-fiction drama with a beautifully constructed narrative which constantly surprised and moved me.  It also asks big questions on the nature of time, existence and love; informing us that not all extra-terrestrial life in movies has to be monstrous and deadly.  (Mark 10 out of 11)

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DR STRANGE (2016)

Marvel, like they did with Ant-Man (2015) take a lesser known character in Dr Stephen Strange and turn it into one of the most entertaining and spellbinding blockbusters of the year.  To be honest none of this should work, however, it is a testament to the work of a committed director in Scott Derrickson and formidable heavyweight acting cast including: Benedict Cumberbatch, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Rachel McAdams, Mads Mikkelsen and imperious Tilda Swinton, that this mystical soufflé works so well.

Cumberbatch, filtering his Sherlock persona wonderfully, is a gifted, yet arrogant neurosurgeon who following a bone-crunching automobile accident finds his gifted hands are no good to man nor beast. His attempts at physical rehabilitation prove unsuccessful so he goes on a spiritual journey to Nepal in an attempt to fix his damaged body and soul. There he meets Mordo (Ejiofor) and subsequently The Ancient One (Swinton) and that’s where the real fun starts.

I thoroughly enjoyed every minute of this. Its pacey plot zips along rapidly with some fine comedic one-liners. Cumberbatch and Swinton stand out amongst a fine cast with both of them imbuing their characters with a depth beyond your usual super-hero film. While the origins story is standard genre stuff the magical gifts and capes Dr Strange uses are wonderful fun, as are the hallucinogenic visuals, eye-popping Inceptionesque fight scenes plus mystical marvels straight out of the end of 2001: A Space Odyssey. Lastly, Derrickson deserves praise for several cracking set-pieces notably the out-of-body fight in the hospital and complex temporal-twisting combat with inter-dimensional beast Dormammu. Strange days are indeed upon as Marvel spellbinds us with yet another big comic-book hit. (Mark 9 out of 11)

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NOCTURNAL ANIMALS (2016)

Filmmaker Tom Ford’s debut film A Single Man (2009) was an eloquent character study of grief, loneliness and existential romance; beautifully photographed, styled and constructed with Colin Firth’s heartfelt performance providing the thudding beats of pathos and pain. It was a film I only saw recently but knew that the director was definitely one to follow, and thus, his second film Nocturnal Animals promised much.

Nocturnal Animals is an altogether colder beast centring on separation of love rather than the meditation on loss like A Single Man. The once again brilliant Amy Adams is a privileged art gallery owner married to Armie Hammer’s rich, yet absent, businessman. She is a hollow woman musing about her failed previous marriage to writer Jake Gyllenhaal and the apparent emptiness of her life, career and the people around her. It is a testament to Ford and Adams that they extricate empathy for such a seemingly spoilt character, but they ably demonstrate that wealth does not defeat loneliness or the guilt of past actions.

Adams’ Susan Morrow is similar to Firth’s George Falconer in that she is lost and flailing in her first world but very human problems. Thrown into the mix is the about-to-be-published book her former husband has written and sent her. So, we end up with two stories for the price of one as the events in the manuscript come to life in Susan’s mind. As she reads it, Jake Gyllenhaal’s (yes, he plays two characters) family are terrorized on a backwater freeway by Aaron Johnson’s violent gang. Michael Shannon also pops up as a busted lung of a cop sick of the scum and his turn is a delight.The sun-bleached, desert and neo-Western style in these episodes provide a fascinating and stylistic juxtaposition to shadowy, cool darkness that is Susan Morrow’s life in Los Angeles.

The two stories collide, compare and contrast each other to fascinating effect as Ford weaves literary and cinematic tropes, brilliantly adapting the original novel on which is it based – Tony and Susan – written by Austin Wright. This, overall, is about storytelling being used as a means not only to haunt and create guilt, but also wreak revenge. It’s a complex watch but beautiful, cold creature to look at. Yet, despite the privilege of Amy Adam’s character I was thoroughly absorbed by her crumbling psyche, while the book within the film is totally gripping too. (Mark 9.5 out of 11)

THE WOLF OF WALL STREET (2013) – Paul Laight’s Movie Review

THE WOLF OF WALL STREET (2013) – Movie Review

**THIS REVIEW CONTAINS MASSIVE SPOILERS + MOVIE CLIPS PLUS REFERENCES TO SEX, DRUG USE, GREED & BRILLIANT FILMMAKING**

To say The Wolf of Wall Street has its coke and eats it is a massive understatement. It’s black-belt-bukakke movie-making of the highest order. A voracious sexy beast of a film which showers the audience with one incredible scene of excess after the other.  To put it bluntly: it’s Goodfellas fucks Scarface and Wall Street then gives birth to a movie bastard of epic proportions.

Based on a memoir by disgraced human scum Jordan Belfort –  a drug-addicted-sex-addicted-thieving-stockbroker-par-excellence – The Wolf of Wall Street  follows the same rise-and-fall structure of mafia classic Goodfellas as DiCaprio’s Belfort schemes and sells his soul to power up through the snakes and ladders of Wall Street.  As the superlative scene with Matthew McConaghey demonstrates the Stock Exchange is a “fugazi” – a fake.  The main aim is to make more and more money while screwing the investors.  The best traders are wolves in a vicious snakepit swimming with sharks ripping off a house of fools.

As Belfort’s firm Stratton Oakmont becomes out of control so does his wealth as he and his motley crue of traders manipulate and connive and deceive to create a monstrous company of wolves who regale in dwarf-throwing, blow-jobbing, lude-swallowing mania.  The extreme is only halfway for these people.  The superb cast including: DiCaprio, Margot Robbie, Jean Dujardin and Jonah Hill, play these venal cunts with such charm and humour you often find yourself complicit with their nefarious behaviour almost willing the characters to push further and further with their depravity.

But as the drug use, debauchery and money increased so did my hatred for these greedy capitalist pigs.   On the one hand I was enjoying the rollercoaster ride of the story but on the other I was horrified at the fact such people and behaviour exist on this planet.  That is the skill of the filmmakers though:  making these Wall Street monsters likeable, funny, believable and human.  Indeed, Belfort himself is ultimately a sorry figure shown to be a monstrous addict who is powerless to stop himself from indulging in every drug and hooker under the sun.  But Scorcese and DiCaprio don’t give Belfort any kind of redemption. He’s still a massive prick at the end of the film; a free prick walking the earth but just not as rich as he once was.

Martin Scorcese is one of the greatest living filmmakers still working today and The Wolf of Wall Street feels like a greatest hits package combining all of the finer ingredients from his other films.  You’ve got the classic swooning camera moves;  the direct address to camera; cat-and-dog couples fighting as seen in Casino and Goodfellas; the boat-in-peril sequence as seen in Cape Fear; the multi-character voiceovers;  the dumb criminals putting themselves in the shit;   characters turning on each other and ratting each other out as seen most recently in The Departed; plus many many more.   But whereas Scorcese used to deal with outsiders and oddballs like Travis Bickle or Rupert Pupkin he is now dealing with Insiders, Gods and members of the Master-Race.  Aside from Kyle Chandler as the dedicated FBI Agent there are no honest characters in this film and at times the it feels like a depressing advert for the greed-is-good-Gordon-Gekko-philosophy.

Personally, I wanted a little more focus on the kind of crimes that were being committed plus more of comeuppance or death for Jordan Belfort.  But in real life he essentially got away with everything having served a pretty short sentence for his “pump and dump” machinations; mainly because he became a dirty rat.  I suppose the subtext of the film does ask the audience:  does this monster deserve a second chance?

But this is NOT a heavy analysis of socio-economic morality and values but rather a bullet-paced black comedy filled with cracking scenes and razor-sharp one-liners delivered by a stellar cast. There are some great big performances and fine supporting players like: Joanna Lumley, Matthew McConaghey, John Bernthal, Rob Reiner and Spike Jonze to name a few.  But this is Leonardo DiCaprio and Martin Scorcese’s film. As they demonstrated in The Aviator, The Departed, Shutter Island etc.  they are a formidable team.  DiCaprio deserves an Oscar for sheer consistency of performances but the Belfort character has already had enough success in his lifetime and threw it all away because of greed. Surely awarding an Oscar to such a heinous character would be TOO MUCH wouldn’t it?  But as this film demonstrates TOO MUCH is never enough!

AMERICAN HUSTLE (2013) – Paul Laight’s Film Review

AMERICAN HUSTLE (2013) – Film Review

I was looking forward to seeing American Hustle for a number of reasons:

1)  The brilliant ensemble cast featuring Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Bradley Cooper, Jeremy Renner, Jennifer Lawrence, Louis C.K. etc. excited me greatly.

2) I love David O. Russell’s film-works such as Flirting With Disaster (1996), The Fighter (2010), Three Kings (1999) and Silver Linings Playbook (2012). I even liked I Heart Huckabees (2004), I think.

3) I love ‘con’ movies; the twisty-turny-step-sister of the crime thriller genre.  My favourites include:  The Sting (1973), Matchstick Men (2003), House Of Games (1987), The Grifters (1990) and my all-time favoritest the Argentinian con-film Nine Queens (2000).

So in short I really really wanted to enjoy American Hustle and must say I did greatly.

The plot in a nutshell finds 1970s confidence-tricksters Irving Rosenfeld (Bale) and Sydney Prosser (Adams) ripping off small businessmen behaving like a High Street Bank for lowlifes.  Their behaviour mirrors the sub-prime market of the Noughties; robbing the skint to fund an extravagant and hedonsitic lifestyle.  In short they are scum; in Prosser/Adam’s case very sexy scum.

Eventually, like the greedy-bastard banks Rosenfeld and Prosser go bust when they are nicked by Bradley Cooper’s hyper-permed-FBI agent, Richie DiMaso.  In order to avoid jail they agree to become ‘bait’ to help capture some bigger fish including Jeremy Renner’s family and community driven politician, Mayor Carmine Polito. That’s where the fun really begins as all manner of cons, sleight-of-hand, bribes, palm-offs, seductions, stake-raising twists and turns begin as each character tries to outwit the other with crazy scheme piled upon crazy scheme.

The film opens with a hilarious set-piece as Christian Bale’s Rosenfeld goes to work by applying his rather extravagant stunt-hair. In fact, the wig work in this film is a joy and while it’s cheap and easy pickings at the expense of stupid 70s hair and clothes I loved it. Bale is very theatrical in this movie and I would describe his performance as a masterclass in over-the-top restraint.  The application of the wig and display of his paunch are his equivalent of Laurence Olivier’s hunchy Richard III:  “An Oscar! Oscar! My dignity and six-pack for an Oscar!”

Indeed, like O. Russell’s other movies this is a real actor-fest.  He just winds them up and lets them go in one entertaining scene after another.  Amy Adams is a real vulnerable-hot-like-fire-cold-bitch while Jennifer Lawrence steals the show with her ditzy-loose-cannon-flick-hair-nut-job portrayal of Rosenfeld’s wife.  Bradley Cooper follows up his great work in Silver Linings Playbook with a fine comic turn as the delusional and over-ambitious DiMaso.  While the most naturalistic and believable character and in turn empathetic portrayal is Renner’s politician. There’s some great support too especially from Louis C.K and Jack Huston.

One would probably argue that this is more of a comedy than a drama as the film retains a sense of fun throughout with some great physical performances and a sparkling script littered with zinging one-liners.  But there is some meaty drama and a serious subtext to the movie, and like O. Russell’s Three Kings which mixed humour with war, American Hustle has a message. Admittedly it is quite well hidden amongst the wigs and funny accents but that message is America is built on the con and that while everyone is trying to out-do each other perhaps they should just work together.   The law, the gangsters, the politicians and the business folk of the United States are all on the take and the American dream is simply a pyramid scheme built on sand.  That’s what I got from it anyway.

David O. Russell takes genre movies and applies a wonderful sense of chaos to the order allowing his actors free reign to express themselves.  His films are like watching Barcelona play football inasmuch as you’re really enjoying the pretty patterns being made by the players and then bang – the ball’s in the net! This is indeed Champions League movie-making with O. Russell’s wonderful style of direction giving all the cast their moment in the sun to shine with wonderful over-the-top characterisations, wigs, costumes and performances.

American Hustle is an entertaining movie which had the audience I watched it with laughing throughout. It works best as a crime-comedy with a bit of suspense; as well as being a mildly damning indictment the American dream. Ultimately, this film shoots, hits the mark and scores!