Music by: Luis Bacalov – Theme song sung: by Rocky Roberts
***MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS***
As the crooning voice of Rocky Roberts soars on the soundtrack, a lone figure adorned in dark clothes appears, saddle on his back, dragging a coffin across thick sand. Is he a hero or a criminal or a personification of death? Well, he is all three and his name is Django – the ‘D’ is silent. The opening credits and imagery of Sergio Corbucci’s cult Western, DJANGO (1966), is morbidly iconic, perfectly introducing us to the darkness, intensity and sardonic humour of what is to come.
The narrative of Django (1966) takes the tropes of a singular, tough, uncompromising anti-heroic ex-soldier, who has returned from the American Civil War, moving from town to town searching for the next payday. In the process he plots and wreaks havoc and death to all who stands against him. In his breakthrough role, the cool, handsome and blue-eyed, Franco Nero, is brilliantly cast in a similar part that would make a star of Clint Eastwood in A Fistful of Dollars (1964). The similarities do not stop there as Sergio Leone’s Spaghetti Western was, like Django (1966), heavily influenced by Akiro Kurosawa’s famous Samurai film, Yojimbo (1961). Yet while the stories owe much to Kurosawa’s seminal classic — as the Ronin character sets two opposing gangs against each other — both Leone and Corbucci instil their own distinctive style into their respective films.
Corbucci’s vision is even more cynical and violent than Leone. While Nero’s striking good looks glow like a silent matinee idol, he seemingly kills more soldiers, bandits and assorted bad guys than the Civil war itself. Django is a one-man killing machine and he never flinches at the sight of vermillion carnage. In fact, as a hollow and bitter man who has tasted the tragedy of senseless war, one can assume that killing is the only thing Django is good at now. It’s a barren muddy wasteland Django, and such adversaries as Major Jackson and General Hugo Rodriguez, exist within and nobody comes out of it clean. Mud and bullets and blood and burning crosses stain the land as the body count goes up and up as the film progresses. Redemption and hope are rarely even suggested in the hearts of the characters.
Corbucci presents chaos with style. There are a number of fantastic shoot-outs and set-pieces all directed with vibrant energy; all zooms, whip-pans and rapid cross cutting. You want to immediately know what is in THAT coffin at the start. You WILL find out and revel in the mayhem which ensues. Indeed, Django (1966) is not for the faint-hearted. Of course, when watching it now, it is nowhere near as shocking as many contemporary films, however, at the time of release the British Board of Censors saw fit to ban Django (1966). It did not get an official release until 1993. That’s a shame as Bacalov’s score alone provides glorious support to the brutal visuals. Finally, Django (1966), Corbucci and Nero’s cult legacy was secured when Quentin Tarantino delivered the incredible, DjangoUnchained(2012), an altogether different, but equally violent and memorable Western classic.
Who doesn’t love a film montage!? The passage of time edited and set to a memorable soundtrack is fine cinematic tradition. Not only is a montage a great way to tell a story visually, it can also give pace to a narrative, provide a perfect cinematic bridge to the final act or even supply emotional impetus at the start and middle of a film.
Here I choose six of my favourite movie montages. All have been selected due to both the style and content of the sequence, plus the music accompanying the montage. Of course, I could have chosen a more artistic aspect to montage by including examples from Eisenstein, Kubrick or the incredible editing in the TheGodfather (1972), when Michael Corleone wipes out his rivals during his nephew’s baptism. That I will save for another day.
No film franchise has exploited the fight montage and training sequence to the max like Rocky. I could have chosen others, but the original remains the best. I love the urban locations and the Philadelphian streets are just so gritty as Stallone’s down-on-his-luck boxer gets a crack at the championship of the world! That music just soars too!
With a combustible screenplay written by Oliver Stone, Scarface (1983), is a cocaine driven and incendiary viewing experience. Everything is ramped up to eleven, including: the violence, shouting, swearing, shooting, politicking, drug-taking, sex, killing, avarice, cocaine, money-making, decadence and corruption. It is an epic film with many classic scenes, but the 80’s pop-synth-driven montage here adds real pace to the brutal proceedings.
THE KARATE KID (1984)
Another fighting film and another John G. Avildsen pick! More than just a teenage Rocky rip-off, The Karate Kid (1984) is a terrific rites-of-passage drama that incorporates a love story and a boy overcoming bullies with the help of a wise mentor. Joe Esposito’s song, “You’re the Best” was originally chosen for Rocky III, but ultimately ended up here in the fantastic fighting tournament montage.
FERRIS BUELLER’S DAY OFF (1986)
John Hughes fast-paced-set-in-one-day-comedy-classic has some brilliant dialogue and is anchored superbly by Matthew Broderick’s cocky lead performance as mischievous Ferris Bueller. For all the craziness on show one of my favourite scenes is when Hughes slows the pace down at the museum. Here we get some wonderfully framed shots, sly humour and a beautiful instrumental version of The Smiths’ song, “Please, Please, Please, Let Me Get What I Want!”
So many films struggle to establish empathy for their characters either through bad writing or poor creative choices. Pixar, however, are masterful at establishing both character identification and motivation. None more so than in this classic montage featuring the mostly blissful life of Carl and Ellie Fredericksen. With Michael Giacchino’s iconic score called “Married Life” providing energetic and poignant emotional support, this is one of the most moving four minutes in movie history.
DJANGO UNCHAINED (2012)
Tarantino’s epic Western runs the gamut of action, violence, comedy and drama, even throwing a buddy-buddy dynamic in there for good measure. While often known for his quotable dialogue, Tarantino’s films always feature crisp editing and a powerful visual storytelling too. I love this montage in Django Unchained (2012), with Django and King Schultz framed against the wonderful snowy vistas as Jim Croce sings his catchy tune.
Produced by: Debra Martin Chase, Daniela Taplin Lundberg, Gregory Allen Howard
Screenplay: Kasi Lemmons, Gregory Allen Howard
Cast: Cynthia Erivo, Leslie Odom Jr., Joe Alwyn, Janelle Monae, Clarke Peters, Zackary Momoh, Vondie Curtis-Hall etc.
**CONTAINS HISTORICAL SPOILERS**
With $100 million being spent on the film Midway (2019), which I haven’t seen, and $160 million being spent on The Irishman (2019), which I have, it’s kind of shame that a way bigger story like that of Harriet Tubman is only afforded a mid-budget tribute adaptation. Because, even if this story is only 10% true, Harriet Tubman’s character deserves so much more. In fact, I am shocked that it has taken this long for her achievements to reach the cinema screen. Especially because we had to endure another rendition of Lincoln (2012), in Spielberg’s recent ponderous epic.
That isn’t to say that old Abraham isn’t deserving of praise. I’m just an ignorant Englander, but Harriet Tubman, as represented by Cynthia Erivo’s sterling performance and Kasi Lemmon’s and Gregory Allen Howard’s fizzing screenplay, is a tour-de-force encapsulation of empowerment. That isn’t to say that the film isn’t without flaws. Indeed, this is an amazing story which is professionally told. However, it seems to have been short-changed on budget and marketing possibilities here in the U.K. I mean Frozen 2 (2019) is on about a million screens, whereas I struggled to find one for this film.
Araminta “Minty” Ross was born in 1820 and into the slavery that blighted the “United” States. Eventually this humanitarian stain would lead to civil war in the U.S.A and the film charts Minty’s legacy from slavery to escape to freedom fighter, during the build up to this fierce conflict. Her character is one of guts, determination, fight and she also has the gift for second sight. Indeed, if the period setting wasn’t so well evoked, you could be mistaken for feeling like the film was using the beats of a superhero origins film.
But that is what Harriet Tubman becomes; a superhero and saviour to her family, friends, slaves and the abolitionist movement as a whole. A superhero needs a nemesis though and white slavers have now become the new Nazis. They are the bad guys and villains we boo and hiss and hate. Here they are represented by Joe Alwyn’s Gideon Brodess. While not as charismatically dastardly as Tarantino’s Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio), he remains a benign, matter-of-fact vision of evil. Perhaps, the brutality could have been heightened, but this is more of an inspirational and empowering tale, rather than one that wallows in the misery and genius of Steve McQueen’s 12 Years A Slave (2013).
Overall, the film is a fine tribute to an incredible human being. There are some issues in the telling of the story. It feels rushed like a “greatest hits” package. I mean I just wish they could have developed a longer television series for this character or given it the running time Harriet’s plaudits deserved. Plus, some of the direction is a little flat in places. Where suspense and fear could have been ratcheted up a bit, in certain scenes Lemmons rushes through them. Nevertheless, I was thoroughly absorbed by the subject matter, themes and character throughout. Special praise goes to star-in-the-making Cynthia Erivo too. Via Harriet Tubman’s incredible actions Erivo has broken out in more ways than one.
TELLING STORIES WITH STYLE: THE TROPES OF TARANTINO
**CONTAINS MOVIE SPOILERS**
Quentin Tarantino is a powerhouse of cinema. He has proved consistently, since his debut film Reservoir Dogs (1992) right up to his most recent film The Hateful Eight (2015), a filmmaker of incredible invention. His works are well known for their references to pop culture, TV shows, music, fashion, and quoting in general from an array of cinematic influences. Indeed, his films are always firmly planted in genre, from: war films to Martial Arts to Western to crime and B-movie pictures. However, despite utilising other genres as a springboard for his writing, Tarantino instils his own style within his work. This creates a paradoxical form of originality, making him what I would call a postmodern auteur. The postmodern auteur not only quotes, borrows and steals from other influences but they are able to present them in a fashion so as to make them feel fresh and somehow original.
It would be easy to write an essay of Tarantino-style bingo pointing out which films and genres he has used and stolen or quoted from, thus, as an alternative, I would like examine the narrative tropes he employs to tell his screen stories. Tarantino isn’t simply a cultural magpie throwing in arbitrary pop references but he has a magic box of narrative tricks gained from cinema, stage, literature and music. In this essay I would like to explore some of these methods and how he diverts from the linear narrative style represented by the classical Hollywood norm. I will also examine his work in general and scenes from his films to show how he has created some fascinating means of telling stories.
Tarantino differentiates his films from the classical narrative style in a legion of ways. Such tropes include: “Chapter Headings”; non-linear timelines; unreliable narrators; and what I have termed “the long game” scene or sequence. Along with his perpetual references to various genres, specific films and the use of soundtracks from other movies, such devices work brilliantly to propel the narratives of his films. It may seem quite a simplistic device to use, but “Chapter Headings” are a very effective story device. It’s obvious to say Tarantino has borrowed from literature in order to structure his films this way, but the ‘Chapter’ introductions establish the nature of storytelling and literally inform the audience of a change in scene, time, place and character.
While classical Hollywood works to immerse us in the invisibility of filmmaking, Tarantino calls attention to the form with “Chapter Headings.” He does this not as a Brechtian distanciation device but rather as a means to include us in the story intellectually. The “Chapter Headings” also create humour, mystery and suspense. For example in Kill Bill: Volume 2, one chapter is called The Lonely Grave of Paula Schultz, which immediately conjures a mysterious and eerie story to come. It turns out to be just that as Beatrice ends up buried alive as the segment further reveals more of her fascinating back-story. In an ingenious aside in Tarantino’s “Universe”, Paula Schultz is in fact the wife of King Schultz from his own Western Django Unchained (2012).
“Chapter Headings” also seek to cement and bind another of Tarantino’s tropes: the non-linear or fractured timeline structure. Here, fractured events are portrayed out of chronological order and do not follow the direct causality pattern of the events in the standard narrative model. Non-causality is as old as the hills with Homer’s The Iliad in the 8th century BC being one of the first examples of such a narrative device. Indeed, it’s easier to pick out a Tarantino film that doesn’t follow a non-linear structure than not. However, even his most linear film Jackie Brown (1997), which follows the eponymous protagonist’s attempts to stay out of jail and alive, finds the narrative splintering into a triptych of varying perspectives during the final act.
Often non-linearity is used to show dreams, flashbacks, time-travel and explore splintered identities or point-of-view; nonetheless, the non-linear narratives of, for example, Reservoir Dogs (1992), Pulp Fiction (1994), Kill Bill (2003/2004) and Inglorious Basterds (2009) contain fractured timelines from mainly a creative and aesthetic choice. But they are not just style for style’s sake as they create a dazzling intellectual response and activate the viewer to piece the stories together like a jigsaw. Reservoir Dogs (1992) is especially ingenious in breaking the rules of genre as it’s one of the only films I’ve seen about a robbery which shows us everything aside from the actual crime. It is important, however, to say that while Tarantino knows the rules of linearity he chooses to break them, on the whole, to enhance the cinematic experience. Interestingly, in my opinion, his most satisfying films are those which are his most linear. Tony Scott proved this when he re-wrote and re-ordered Tarantino’s script of True Romance (1989), while Django Unchained (2012), aside from a few brief illusory dream sequences and momentary flashbacks, builds powerful emotions as Django hunts down his slave captors and wreaks revenge in order to be reunited with his wife.
A narrative off-shoot of fractured timelines is Tarantino’s use of stories within stories and unreliable narrators. The device of the unreliable narrator is another means in which Tarantino differentiates his narratives from classic storytelling. In 1981, William Riggan, created a study of various unreliable types, including: The Picaro, The Madman, The Clown, The Naif and The Liar. The Picaro will typically be a bragger, similar to the Liar but not as heinous. The Madman or Mad Woman, however, will be more sinister but The Clown and The Naif will either be playing for laughs or in the latter’s case, telling their story from a naïve position. Tarantino takes great joy with narrators, unreliable or otherwise, telling lies; something seen brilliantly in both Reservoir Dogs (1992) and his most recent film The Hateful Eight (2015).
In Reservoir Dogs (1992), Tim Roth’s “Mr Orange” is revealed to be an undercover Police officer. “Orange’s” cop superior actively tells him to invent a story – because you “gotta have a story,” – to inveigle his way into the Joe Cabot’s gang. Thus, he invents a shaggy dog tale about the time he almost got bust by cops in a toilet. Tarantino presents a dishonest character delivering a story in a false reality providing both suspense and entertainment from a wholly unreliable basis. More ambiguous and vile is the story Samuel L. Jackson’s Major Marquis Warren tells to Bruce Dern’s irascible Confederate, General Sandy Smithers, in The Hateful Eight (2015). Sworn enemies while occupying opposing sides during the American Civil War, Warren, raises the dramatic stakes by regaling the story of how he strips, sexually humiliates and then kills Smithers’ own son. We flash-back to this incident and must consider if this is actually real or invented in order for Warren to provoke Smithers to grab a gun; thus allowing the Major to shoot him self-defence. These devices are tremendously effective narrative tools for creating shifting emotional responses to characters and again mark Tarantino’s work outside the classical norm.
The Hateful Eight (2015), given it is virtually set in one location, is very theatrical in feel. Marrying the influences of the Western genre in such television shows as Bonanza with Agatha Christie’s novel And Then There Were None (1939), the film also evokes principles of the “Shaggy Dog” story and Chekhov’s gun theory where every element of a narrative has cause effect irreplaceability. Consequently, the whole film feels like one long sequence of scenes and event with a massive and particularly violent payoff at the end. Indeed, this narrative conceit is a major styling of Tarantino. While most basic screenwriting books will tell you to get in and out of a scene as quickly as possible to move the narrative along, Tarantino disregards this rule throughout his oeuvre. This, I call the “Long Game” scene where lengthy dialogue gives way to a spectacular punchline at the end.
A perfect example of the “Long Game” scene is the beginning of wartime epic, Inglourious Basterds (2009). We open with the “Chapter Heading”: Once Upon a Time in Nazi Occupied France and are introduced to Christophe Waltz’ SS Office Hans Landa. At first Landa is amiable and charming in his inquisition of a French farmer. Indeed the scene moves slowly and not without humour as the German takes out his over-sized pipe and drinks the farmer’s delicious milk. But, as this is Tarantino we know suspense is building to a slow but startling crescendo. When the reveal of the hidden Jewish family below the timbers is shown, we realise that Landa is not the affable German he acts but a devious murderer and the nemesis within the narrative. With machine guns firing and splintering wood in slow motion, the soundtrack swells operatically as the scene ends with Shosanna (Melanie Laurent) sprinting away, her family butchered by the Nazis. Such “Long Game” scenes are one of Tarantino’s memorable tropes and he achieves this through his brilliant handling of conflict, dialogue and expert use of cinematic form and content.
Overall, Tarantino has had an exceptional film career by using established means of telling stories, both inside and outside the rules of standard narratives. He uses devices like those discussed to invigorate and entertain the audience. There is also much pleasure to be had from experiencing the tropes such as: “Chapter Headings”; unreliable narrators; non-linear structure and the “Long Game” scenes. Thus, using theatrical, literary, cinematic and musical narrative influences Tarantino proves himself a master of storytelling as demonstrated in his impressive body of work.
SCREENWASH – NOVEMBER 2016 – DVD & ON DEMAND REVIEW ROUND-UP
In addition to my cinema reviews I also watched an eclectic mix of TV shows, big movies and art and indie flicks this month. As usual I have packaged them into bitesize chunks for your perusal. As usual marks are out of eleven.
AMANDA KNOX (2016) – NETFLIX
The despicable murder of Meredith Kercher caused a media and legal storm in Italy over ten years ago now. Amanda Knox and her then-boyfriend, Raffaele Sollecito were charged and convicted before appealing against the crimes. This intriguing documentary lifts the lid on a case where the media and Italian legal system are on trial as much as Knox herself. (Mark: 8 out of 11)
CIRCLE (2015) – NETFLIX
Well-written-one-location-low-budget film finds many strangers in room fighting for their lives. Social, religious, gender and ethnic demographics become key to the choice of “who dies next”; in a nifty, intelligent thriller which critiques humanity in an entertaining fashion. (Mark: 7.5 out of 11)
DJANGO UNCHAINED (2012) – NETFLIX
Tarantino’s classic revisionist slave western gets better on every watch; and I would have to say that it is arguably, amidst the stylistic flourishes, his most satisfying narrative as a whole. The bone-crunching violence and bloody shootouts are a joy, yet Tarantino also draws emotional power from the love story between Jamie Foxx and Kerry Washington’s enslaved couple. Meanwhile, Christophe Waltz and Leonard DiCaprio ride off into the sunset with the acting honours. (Mark: 10 out of 11)
ENTER THE DRAGON (1973) – TCM
I loved this Bruce Lee Kung-fu classic when I was growing up. Now, it just seems like a slightly tired James Bond rip-off in terms of plot, however, Bruce Lee was a martial arts master and movie star; so it is his charisma and fighting skills which really shine through now. (Mark: 8 out of 11 – for Lee!)
GOOSEBUMPS (2015) – SKY CINEMA
This is a pretty decent meta-fictional comedy-action film with Jack Black hamming it up as a mysterious writer whose creations wreak havoc on a small town. (Mark: 7.5 out of 11)
GOTO – ISLAND OF LOVE (1969) – DVD
This is a very surreal drama from critically acclaimed Polish filmmaker Walerian Borowczyk. In the past I would have loved insane stuff like this but I couldn’t get my head around the weird inhabitants of a prison colony acting out warped love rituals while trapped on an island. (Mark: 5 out of 11)
THE GUEST (2014) – FILM FOUR
The Guest (2014) is a smart, funny and violent B-movie which makes merry hell of its’ “cuckoo in the nest” plot. Dan Stevens is brilliant and has all the charm and looks of a bona fide movie star in the making and a good shout for the next James Bond. I’ve seen this a few times now and it is a genuine under-rated classic. (Mark: 9 out of 11)
THE LAKE HOUSE (2006) – ITV2
Soppy time-travel love story which kind of does and doesn’t make sense stars Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock. It’s a likable film with fun concept and pleasant moments. (Mark: 7 out of 11)
MATCH POINT (2005) – NETFLIX
Woody Allen’s excellent London-set thriller builds slowly and pays off wonderfully by the end. The characters are well drawn as Jonathan Rhys-Meyers young existential tennis pro darkens his soul through poor life decisions. Emily Mortimer, Scarlett Johannsson, Brian Cox and Matthew Goode complete an attractive cast in the excellent Dostoyevsky-laced crime drama. (Mark: 8.5 out of 11)
PEOPLE JUST DO NOTHING – SEASON 1 (2014) – NETFLIX
This is a funny Gervais-influenced-Office-style-mockumentary-comedy which follows the shenanigans of a West London pirate radio station. Satirizing youth culture and we get a peek into the lives of the likes of MC Grindah and feckless mates. (Mark: 7.5 out of 11)
SAW (2004) – SKY CINEMA
While it started a tortuous never-ending-cash-cow-franchise, never forget the original Saw is a genuine horror classic from James Wan and Leigh Whannell. You get two guys, one cell and a hell-of-a-dangerous serial killer on the loose that leads to some great twists and bloody murder. The ending alone is still a gob-smacking treat as you put together Jigsaw’s fiendish plan. (Mark: 9 out of 11)
SIN CITY 2: A DAME TO KILL FOR – SKY CINEMA
Roberto Rodriguez and Frank Miller’s sequel to the mind-blowing violent-noir-comic-book-digital-backlot-splatterfest Sin City (2005) was eagerly anticipated by me. This had the same hard-boiled dialogue, bone-crunching violence and some fantastic imagery, but aside from Eva Green’s terrific femme fatale it lacked the impact of the first film and fell a bit flat. (Mark: 6 out of 11)
SONS OF ANARCHY – SEASON 3 (2010) – NETFLIX
The third revving-crunching-porno-shooting-explosive season had Jax and the other gang members battling the Mayans, the FBI and going on “holiday” to Ireland to take on the “Real” Irish Republican Army. It’s a real soapy mix of violence, bullets and familial-led drama with enough plot turns and jaw-dropping set-pieces to keep you entertained throughout the fast-paced episodes. (Mark: 8 out of 11)
THE FINEST HOURS (2016) – SKY CINEMA
This Disney disaster movie set in the 1950s is a very watchable human drama sensitively directed by Craig Gillespie. It flopped at the box office, yet Chris Pine and Casey Affleck are on very good form in the leads and there are some great set-pieces too on the sea. The real star is Carter Burwell’s epic music but in my opinion the film deserved a bigger audience. (Mark: 8 out of 11)
TO THE WONDER (2012) – DVD
This is a beautifully shot yet overlong and pretentious love story with banal Olga Kurylenko and a depressive Ben Affleck sleep-walking through his role. Terence Malick is a fine auteur but despite the wondrous scenery and vaguely interesting structure this bored me overall. (Mark: 6 out of 11)
In this occasional series I regale my favourite actors and select some of their memorable performances. Leonardo DiCaprio is an actor who has just got better and better in each role he’s been in. I admire his craft because he has seamlessly moved away from star-crossed heartthrob roles such as Titanic (1997) shifting to meaty, dramatic roles the likes of which I will list here. DiCaprio has good looks, charisma and a sparkling smile yet doesn’t avoid the darkness and can easily play the good guys, bad guys and – where humanity is concerned – the ugly guys too. Here are five great roles he’s played and I could quite easily have chosen five others such is the quality of his acting CV.
**THERE BE SPOILERS AHEAD**
BLOOD DIAMOND (2006)
Aside from this one and Titanic (1997) DiCaprio doesn’t do enough action type movies with big explosions and mayhem. Perhaps he doesn’t like running around and prefers the meatier roles? Then again, his character Danny Archer had an impressive character arc amidst the fireworks within this Edward Zwick directed anti-war film. Initially, he is a selfish mercenary only out for the money until he comes into contact with Djimon Hounsou and his desperate search for his son. Together they hunt for a priceless diamond in war-torn Sierra Leone and in the process Archer/DiCaprio learns some humanity along the way. It takes a broad approach politically but, amidst the well-stage battle sequences it successfully highlights the horrific attitude of Western capitalism to Africa: a place to be plundered for wealth and damned the consequences. Yet, for me, this works best as a classic war film with DiCaprio’s anti-heroic soldier ultimately finding redemption by the end.
DJANGO UNCHAINED (2012)
DiCaprio’s turn as ‘The Kid’ in Sam Raimi’s Leone Western homage The Quick and The Dead (1995) almost made this list as he was just so young and cheeky and his death scene was very touching; but I’ve gone with his badass rendition of nefarious plantation owner Calvin Candie instead. It’s an over-the-top and theatrical ripper of a performance as he takes great glee playing the baddest, racist, capitalist pig around. Indeed, Tarantino cast him perfectly as he used DiCaprio’s charisma to counteract the murderous psychosis of the devilish Candie. In the hands of another actor the whole film could have been just damned nasty but with his Southern accent, golden glint in his eye and finger-twiddling moustache-come-beard he almost steals the show. The mercurial Christophe Waltz won the best supporting Oscar for his role and deservedly so, however, DiCaprio must have been close to breaking his Academy cherry here with this grandstanding and dastardly turn.
THE AVIATOR (2004)
I hated this film the first time I saw but soon realised I was an idiot; on 2nd and 3rd viewing the pure genius of the Scorcese and DiCaprio combination shone through every time. With a brilliant John Logan screenplay it depicts the early years of Howard Hughes’ flamboyance, follies and failures. DiCaprio has often portrayed characters on the edge of a nervous breakdown or full-blown mentalists like Teddy Daniels in Shutter Island (2010) and here he captures Hughes at the height of his film and aviation glories only to find his obsessive-compulsive disorder swallowing him up and dragging him into the pits of hell. This step-by-step disintegration is portrayed with such intelligence and impact I felt this was the role DiCaprio should have won Best Oscar for. It’s a brash and loud performance with Hughes’ big personality to the fore, however, underneath the mental issues which would make him a recluse in later years are beginning to show through and the actor draws out these subtleties in a devastating and very sad way.
CATCH ME IF YOU CAN (2002)
This was a just a humdinger of a film which had everything: humour, romance, drama, crime, cat-and-mouse chases, pathos, brilliant cast, sex and at its heart DiCaprio playing a teenage con-boy to perfection! Once again he is perfectly cast as the little-boy-lost who is devastated by his parents’s break-up and goes on the lam perfecting his counterfeiting skills on the way. Frank Abagnale Jnr is arguably the role which finds DiCaprio grow on-screen from a lad to a man. In it he imbues the arrogance of youth yet also reveals the pain and drive of a child attempting to come to terms with his feelings. His instinct is to run as fast as he can and his crimes such as: impersonating a pilot; faking cheques; practising law and medicine are presented as a means of escaping his internal turmoil. Steven Spielberg illustrates this incredible story with style and pace and DiCaprio is just a treat as he lies and cheats and cons his way into and out of the most entertaining of scrapes with Tom Hanks’ dogged agent never far behind him.
THE WOLF OF WALL STREET (2014)
DiCaprio doesn’t DO superheroes. He does anti-superheroes; and none more so than in this 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 (1990) as DiCaprio’s Belfort schemes and sells his soul to power up through the snakes and ladders of Wall Street. 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. This is DiCaprio and Martin Scorcese’s film and as they demonstrated in The Aviator, The Departed, Shutter Island etc. they are a formidable team. What DiCaprio does incredibly well is making this Wall Street monster likeable, funny, believable and human. Indeed, I felt DiCaprio deserved an Oscar 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!
To accompany the list of my most entertaining films I saw last year I’ve also compiled a few nominations for best this and that!
**** CONTAINS MASSIVE SPOILERS ****
BEST PHOTOGRAPHY – ONLY GOD FORGIVES (2013) What it lacks in plot it makes up with one incredibly designed scene after another. And the violence is something else!
MOST HEART-WRENCHING SCENE – FLIGHT (2012) The film opens with a tremendously staged plane crash. However, the scene where Denzil battles a miniature bottle of booze has almost more riding on it dramatically. Tension, suspense and the agony of human frailty are all in this scene. The moment we’ve all been through where we are battling our demons and trying to do the right thing is centre to the scene. Will Denzil pick up the bottle? Will the angels or demons win out?
BEST CINEMATIC EXPERIENCE – GRAVITY (2013) All I can say is wow! This film was just wow! Some have criticized a lack of plot and characterisation but this is a movie which just takes your breath away. As I said, wow!
MOST BEAUTIFUL SCENE – RUST & BONE (2012) Marion Cotillard’s Killer Whale trainer reconnects with nature in this serene moment from a compelling drama. It’s a beautiful moment for the audience visually and also the character.
BEST ENDING/BEST CAST – CAPTAIN PHILLIPS (2013) Whether the film is truth or fiction Tom Hanks’ acting throughout is superb. He’s none better than in the final scene when he reaches the medical bay. The way he releases the tension it so memorable. His co-star Barkhad Abdi has to get an Oscar nod too for Best Supporting Actor.
BEST MOVIE PLOT + TWIST – SIDE EFFECTS (2013) This film genuinely pulls the rug from underneath your feet! Fantastic storytelling! It starts seemingly as a critique of the pharmaceutical industry but then becomes a nasty, lurid Hitchcockian thriller with great performances from Jude Law and Rooney Mara.
BEST BRITISH FILM – BERBERIAN SOUND STUDIO (2012) Both a tribute to Italian Horror and the Foley Artist this is a disturbing arthouse horror which generates its’ scares through the sound. You think you’ve seen something scary but haven’t. Incredibly constructed and recommended for cinephiles all over.
BEST GAG – ANCHORMAN 2
I couldn’t find a clip but Brian Fantana’s gag was the funniest joke I heard at the cinema all year. The News Team’s attempt at 24 hour News has seemingly failed and in the scene Brian is asked what he will do next. He replies:
“I’m going to cruise round with my friends O.J. Simpson, Robert Burke and Phil Spector. We call ourselves the LadyKillers!”
BEST MOVIE SOUNDTRACK – WORLD’S END (2013) Pegg and Wright’s highly entertaining apocalyptic comedy is touching, action-packed and amusing. It gets a bit silly by the end but there’s a great energy and some funny dialogue and physical humour throughout. The soundtrack is a cracker featuring the Stone Roses, Primal Scream, Sisters Of Mercy and the Soup Dragons to name just a few. It’s like the perfect Indie Disco in the cinema!
BIGGEST MOVIE LET-DOWN – MAN OF STEEL (2013) A great cast and stupendous effects could not save the broken-backed Superman story crash and burn. Henry Cavill was a terrific Kal-El but the filmmakers ruined the whole piece by cramming too much into a few hours of screen time and not allowing the cast, characters or story to breathe. It was sensory overload and bogged down with too much exposition. The Batman v. Superman film under Zack Snyder’s direction could possibly signal the end of the comic book boom of recent time. The bubble is going to burst at some point I tells ya!
FILM MOST F*CKED BY THE CRITICS – LONE RANGER (2013)
This mega-budget update of the old radio/TV show from yesteryear was nowhere near as bad as the critics made out. It followed the ‘PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN’ template but perhaps the problem was Johnny Depp playing deadpan rather than drunken Pirate. The critics didn’t go for it and nor did the audience as it kind of bombed as well. However, Gore Verbinski directed with verve and energy and the final set-piece on the train is one of the best action sequences of the year.
BEST SCREEN CHEMISTRY – SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK (2012)
I was tempted to say BREAKING BAD but Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence were electric in David O. Russell’s bipolar romantic drama/comedy. The whole cast were great in fact including Robert DeNiro as the bookie father and Chris Tucker as a friend of Cooper’s character. But Cooper and Lawrence made the film their own with their portrayals of damaged but very human couple finding each other in a crazy world.
BEST MOVIE WITHOUT A SCRIPT – WORLD WAR Z – (2013) Brad Pitt’s travelogue around the World avoiding a zombie plague was actually really entertaining in places with some great set-pieces but it had a lousy script with essentially no story or plot. They genuinely feel like they’re making it up as they’re going along. Having said all that I really enjoyed it at the cinema even though Pitt was miscast and this really needed a decent action-hero like Schwarzenegger in his prime to really boost the movie.
BEST FEMALE ARCHER – THE HOBBIT 2 (2013)
I love an action women especially one with a bow and arrow and this award came down to a toss-up between Jennifer Lawrence in HUNGER GAMES 2 and Evangeline Lilly. In the end I came down on the side of Tauriel the Elf in Peter Jackson’s behemoth production of THE DESOLATION OF SMAUG. Jumping, spinning and diving about firing and killing Orcs for breakfast, lunch and dinner. What a woman!
BEST DOUBLE ACT – RUSH (2013) RUSH was indeed a big rush cinematically but the casting of Daniel Bruehl as cool Nikki Lauda and Chris Hemsworth as fiery James Hunt motored this movie along off the track too. The characterizations dealt solely in binary but provided much entertainment along the way. Of course Ron Howard and his creative team served up some wicked action as well.
BAD-ASSEST REVENGE – DJANGO UNCHAINED (2012)
Tarantino’s fantasy Western saw Jamie’s Foxx’s eponymous hero rise from that of a chained-in-pain slave to a kill-crazy-bounty-hunting-dancing-horse-riding-bad-ass-mutha-fuKKKa! Everything about this film was a hoot and so entertaining! It also has arguably the funniest scene I saw all year too with the racists on horseback including Jonah Hill arguing about the quality of their hoods.
BEST VILLAIN – DJANGO UNCHAINED (2012) Calvin Candie was a horrific character and played with genuine charm by the masterful Leonardo DiCaprio. HE should have won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor in my view as Christophe Waltz already had one! Candie’s character was not only a vain, insane, murdering slave trader but there was a sense of an incestuous relationship with his sister. He got his just desserts in the end but alas DiCaprio didn’t from the Academy.
BEST FRANCHISE SEQUEL – IRON MAN 3 (2013) 2013 was big on Franchise equals, sequels and prequels including FAST & FURIOUS 6, THOR 2, HUNGER GAMES 2, STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS and THE HOBBIT 2. They were all really really entertaining but my favourite was the ever dependable Robert Downey Jnr as Tony Stark. It had some cracking one-liners and decent villains plus a lovely little twist which had all the fanboys up in arms because of Director Shane Black’s irreverent treatment of the Mandarin character.