Friday, 21 February 2014

Oldboy (2013)

Title: Oldboy
Director: Spike Lee
Released: 2013

Starring: Josh Brolin, Elizabeth Olsen, Sharlto Copley, Samuel L. Jackson, Michael Imperioli, Pom Klementieff, James Ransone, Max Casella, Linda Emond, Lance Reddick

Plot: Joe Doucett (Brolin) an advertising executive is kidnapped and imprisoned in an isolated hotel room. His only contact to the outside world being through the TV in his room, Joe soon discovers that he has been framed for the rape and murder of his wife, while his daughter is adopted. Now twenty years later Joe finds himself suddenly released and given 72 hours by a mysterious stranger (Copley) to discover why he imprisoned Joe.

Review: Unsurprisingly when the news was broke about an English language remake of the highly memorable yet alone much beloved Park Chan-wook original it was an announcement greeted with much distain by the fans of the original who rightfully saw it as yet another unneeded cash in. Still the studios rumbled on regardless as for awhile it looked like Steven Spielberg would team up with Will Smith for an adaptation of the original manga by Garon Tsuchiya and Nobuaki Minegishi, only to step away from the project leaving it open for Spike Lee to take on the project. Certainly a fitting director choice, especially as it takes a certain kind of ego to think that you can better an undisputed classic like the original is rightfully seen as not only by foreign cinema fans, but by people who would normally not even consider watching a foreign film, much less an undubbed one.

So with this in mind I really entered into this film expecting the worse, even more so when I have never exactly been the biggest fan of Lee’s films, which for myself hit their high water mark with the Oscar snubbed “Malcom X” and have since then been pretty much hit and miss. At the same time his frequently opinionated attitude (especially when it comes to racial politics) often leaves little too warm to. So now having finally seen this film it is something of a surprise to report that honestly it’s not that bad. Okay first off it should be noted that this review is based were possibly purely on this film alone, without trying to draw comparisons to the original especially when the two are so incomparable especially when both directors approach the material with two different spins on things.

Interestingly then than rather than trying to adapt the original source Manga, Lee here chooses instead to adapt Chan-Wook’s original film. It has to be noted though that on the credits it is listed as “The Korean film” rather than name checking Chan-Wook. Lee also notably leaves off his usual trademark “A Spike Lee Joint” title which seemingly was Lee’s protest of choice for the studio hacking 35 minutes off his original 140 minute cut. Where these cuts were made I couldn’t say, especially as nothing seems to be noticeably missing

Noticeably more violent than the original, the hammer blows are frequently shown in graphic detail much like nearly all the violence which has none of the savage beauty which Chan-Wook brought not only to the original film but his vengeance trilogy on the whole. Here Joe is a blunt weapon of raw vengeance fuelled with a single minded determination to find out who imprisoned him. It is interesting though to see that Lee rather than simply recreate the memorable brawls of the original instead reworks them in his own vision, so that the Joe’s first chance to test out his fighting skills is not with a group of thugs but instead a bone breaking showdown with a group of lacrosse players. Now as for the memorable one shot corridor fight, here it becomes a multi-level fight as Joe works his way down a series of ramps battling thugs, which Lee ambitiously also shoots as single shot. A sequence which reportedly brought Brolin to tears, while also sequence which suffered under the cuts imposed by the studio, but honestly I couldn’t see where the cut had been made as it remains still a standout sequence if perhaps too clustered in places, as the ramps frequently give the thugs the opportunity to surround and pile in on Joe.

Unsurprisingly some of the more memorable scenes like the squid eating scene are noticeably absent, though the squid is teased as Joe goes on a marathon dumpling sampling session to try and find the restaurant which supplied the dumplings he has been forced to live off for the last 20 years. A reminder once again that there are still somethings you can’t do via the Hollywood studio system that you can do in the Asian film industry. Needless to say when the film does have a memorable moment, it is frequently do to it being a reworked scene from the original, as when attempts to emulate Chan-wooks stylish violence as seen during a particularly sadistic torture session carried out by Joe on Samuel L. Jackson’s hotel manager / jailer the result comes off largely flat and lacking any of the morbid beauty that Chan-wook’s films have frequently brought to such matters.

While the film might frequently fail to capture the spirit of original, it cannot really be blamed on the assembled cast who despite being given what is ultimately watered down material to work with, they still manage to provide some great performances with Brolin easily carrying the film with his testosterone driven antics while still having the acting chops to take us on a journey with the character of Joe, who starts of as an portly alcoholic arsehole, who through his forced captivity is forced to face up to his personal demons while preparing himself for his eventual revenge. True he might not play it with the same feral roughness (he does get a pet mouse though) that we get with the original, but he still perfectly sells the final twist, which sees Brolin pulling the character to the complete opposite end of the scale in reaction to the final twist. It is however one which here like so many aspects is reworked into what I guess Lee saw as being a more acceptable ending for Western audiences. One major and unquestionably shocking aspect of the original’s ending, which I won’t reveal for those of you who havn’t seen it (the fans will know already which one) is kept intact and nicely worked in just when you think that they wouldn’t include it.

As the villain of the piece Copley continues to prove himself as a human chameleon as he continues to never play the same kind of role twice. Here he plays a camper but none the less calculating villain who shares similar motive to Lee Woo-Jin in the original but here Copley is a lot more playfully tormenting of Joe and takes great delight in the trails Joe is forced to go through, were as Lee Woo-Jin played it cool throughout. While Copley is on great form here, he does lack the memorable presence even though he is frequently delightfully evil and comes with a devilish bodyguard (Haeng-Bok) who sadly gets a chance for a great showdown with Joe squandered.

A flawed yet strangely watchable remake and even despite entering the film with a low opinion it still turned out to be a surprisingly enjoyable experience. True it might be a more edited version than Lee would have liked (if we are to believe his latest rants) and I would be interested to see what got cut and if it improved or detracted from the film (something which was certainly the case with the “Donnie Darko” director’s cut). Still as remakes go this is certainly one of the better ones out there, even if its unwanted status will mean that many will avoid it out of loyalty for their love of the original. This film however is worth a curious watch, only if to reinforce your love for the original the talent of Park Chan-wook all the more.

Sunday, 16 February 2014

Elwood's Essentials #6: Se7en

Title: Se7en
Director: David Fincher
Released: 1995
Starring: Brad Pitt, Morgan Freeman, Kevin Spacey, Gwyneth Paltrow, John C. McGinley, Richard Roundtree, R.Lee Ermey

Plot: Homicide detectives Somerset (Freeman) and Mills (Pitt) find themselves pitted against a serial killer using the seven deadly sins as the basis for a series of gruesome murders.

Review: There is a line towards the end of the film which I personally feels defines this film.

“What I've done is going to be puzzled over and studied and followed... forever.”

While this is kind of a throwaway line muttered by the sins obsessed serial killer John Doe (Spacey), it is one which almost encapsulates my love for this film, as even though I have seen it numerous times it still maintains the same thrills I got the first time I watched it. So seeing how the folks over at "French Toast Sunday" are holding a month long David Fincher retrospective what better time to revisit than now.
Coming off his loathsome experience making the fan base dividing “Alien3” few expected this film from Fincher whom at this point in his career was still better known for directing music videos than feature films. I would however upon its release soon mark him out as a talent to watch and one which many had wrongly dismissed with the release of his feature debut. This film equally forms for myself part of the his most exciting period of work, which started with “Alien3” and reached its peak with “Panic Room” before his work started to lose its edge with films like “Zodiac” and “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”.

Set in an unnamed city yet drawing inspiration from New York, it is a morally devoid place which literally seems to be rotting like an exposed wound with buildings left in a state of permanent decay while the constant rain only further gives the impression that it is in some way trying to cleanse itself of the countless sins it holds within its city limits. All of which makes it the perfect playground for John Doe to carry out his murderous sermon. It is a landscape perfectly realised by production designer Arthur Max while only further complimented by the cinematography of Darius Khondji which sees him drawing inspiration from his earlier work on “Delicatessen” and “The City of Lost Children”.

While it could be seen as a hopeless place it is still one which both Somerset refuses to give up on, even when faced with a society sinking forever further into the depths of depravity. Of course it could be just that he has become numb to his surroundings, or the wall of interlect he has built around himself as he keeps an ever quizzical mind, while frequently proving himself to be well read, something which comes in especially handy when dealing with a fellow interlect like John Doe. This is not to say that Somerset doesn’t see his surroundings as he carries in his wallet a picture of a rose which in a deleted scene was shown to have been cut from the wallpaper of a house outside of the city he plans to retire to. Elsewhere his first conversation with Mills is to question why he would want to transfer there, especially when it seems everyone is busily trying to get out. Mills of course though is the polar opposite to Somerset, with Pitt playing him as every bit the youthful rookie, eager to carve out his career in the big city, which seemingly is something he feels he couldn’t do in his rural hometown. At the same time he is hindered by his hot headedness and brash attitude, something which is frequently played against him by John Doe, something which came as something of a surprise in many way, especially when Somerset is on a similar intellectual level let alone as equally well read, but then I guess this would play against the end game.

Still the odd couple partnership is nothing new in the crime genre, yet here it still feels fresh, thanks to the extreme opposites Mills and Somerset are to each other, with Mills just starting his career while Somerset’s is coming to a close with his retirement at the end of the week and while the chase to capture John Doe is frequently a thrilling and shock filled one, it is equally fascinating to see how the case also brings the two detectives to what could almost be seen as a middle ground with Somerset losing his zen like cool and slowly showing more aggression and frustration as John Doe gets closer to completing his masterpiece. Meanwhile Mills is seen trying to smarten himself up to reach Somerset’s interlectual level, as he sends out for Cliff notes for the major texts which John Doe seemingly is drawing inspiration from. The two finally reaching this desired middle ground as they share a joke while shaving their chests in one of the great underrated scenes of Fincher’s filmography.

Needless to say it is the murders which overshadow everything in this film, thanks mainly to them being so memorable, even if like Mills and Somerset we only get to see the aftermath of John Doe’s handiwork and with each murder being based around a different sin creative is certainly one way of describe his work. Of course it is a morbid curiosity going into the film to see how each of the sins is represented, even if some have now become more iconic than the film as certainly the case with “Sloth” which finds an alternative use for car air fresheners. It is of course something of a shock when we finally meet Spacey’s John Doe, who here continued on from his roll of playing memorable rolls which he started with “The Usual Suspects” and finished by playing Lester in “American Beauty” before his rising popularity saw him taking on more traditional roles. The casting of Spacey though is a great as he is perfectly able to project the intellect of Doe, while at the same time carrying the air of doubt around whether he is who he claims to be or if it is just another game. Of course Fincher plays up such moments giving us more insights into the killer psyche, via John Doe's rambling journals and fractured title sequence than he does actual shots of the man until the very end, which is a gamble which certainly pays off in spades in the memorable finale.

Written by screenwriter Andrew Kevin Walker while on his daily commute to his then day job at Tower Records, the film really embodies the distain he felt for New York at the time even if the film never mentions the name of the city. Sadly while this film would serve to revitalise Finchers’ career after the misfire of “Alien3” this would sadly be to date the high point of Walker’s career, with his follow up “8MM” falling foul of the studio system, with director Joel Schumacher siding with the studio over the darker elements of the script, unlike Fincher who fought to keep the script in tact. Since then he has mainly worked script rewrites and several shorts aswell as the forgettable wolfman remake and in many ways becoming a cautionary tale for screenwriters especially when this script shows so much potential, its sad to see it being crushed by the studio system. The real genius of the film though is that it is still as watchable after the 100th time as it was the first time I saw it, which honestly is something of a rarity for thrillers and when combined with such memorable visuals and plotting which etch their way into your mind it truly is an essential watch.

Thursday, 13 February 2014

Pain and Gain

Title: Pain and Gain
Released: 2013
Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Anthony Mackie, Dwayne Johnson, Tony Shalhoub, Ed Harris, Rebel Wilson

Plot: Based on a series articles published in the Miami New Times by Pete Collins, this black comedy tells the story of three bodybuilders Daniel Lugo (Wahlberg), Adrian Doorbal (Mackie) and Paul Doyle (Johnson) all with their eye on claiming their piece of the American dream, which Lugo has planned to achieve by kidnapping his latest wealthy gym client Victor Kershaw (Shalhoub) and force him to sign over his fortune and estate to him and his crew.

Review: What is it about Michael Bay that people hate? Sure he specialises in movies packed with explosions and blatant product placement, but he is also the man behind some of the biggest blockbusters of recent years, let alone single handed raising Will Smith’s profile to megastar status with his feature debut “Bad Boys”. Perhaps because he specialises in summer blockbusters it has somehow marked him down as a lesser director. So when he announced that he was finally getting to make his pet project, there was a great sense of curiosity surrounding this film, even more so when it was used as part of  an agreement to secure him for the yet to be named Transformers 4.

The three largely clueless crooks at the centre of this plot are certainly a colourful bunch especially when they come with their own personal quirks, with ringleader Lugo being the real brains of the operation or so he would have you think especially when he openly confesses in his voice over that he is essentially winging it. Not that he should worry of course seeing how he looks like a genius when compared to the dim-witted Doorbal and Doyle. Lugo’s drive though stems from his body building obsession which see’s him classing being fat as “unpatriotic” which spouting out buzz phrases from the get motivational speaker seminars he attends. Doorbal has convinced himself of his own stud status, despite his continual steroid abuse now having left him impotent, while man mountain Doyle is the most emotionally unstable of the three having become a born again Christian after a stint inside, only to soon find old demons stirring as he becomes more involved in the plot.

The casting here is really spot on with Wahlberg getting a rare opportunity to play a darker and certainly more morally questionable character, while Johnson is equally given a break from the recent string of tough guy roles as he tackles the emotionally complex Doyle’s character who over the course of the film, switches from tough guy bravdo to at times becoming an emotional and gibbering wreck all of which Johnson proves himself more than capable than most doubters would expect from him, even  more so if they havn’t seen the similar performance he gave in “Southland Tales” which is probably the last time he was given a character with so much emotional range and the sort of character I would love to see Johnson playing more often.

The supporting cast is equally strong with Shalhoub who is probably best known for playing tv’s mild mannered detective “Monk” seems to relishing the opportunity to play such a sleazy character like Kershaw, snarling out such great lines like “You know who invented salad? Poor people” while only becoming more disgusting and volatile after his run in with Lugo and his crew. The always wonderful Rebel Wilson, unsurprisingly plays things for laughs as Doorbal’s nurse girlfriend while also randomly getting to show off her real life nun chuck skills.  Elsewhere a grizzled Ed Harris is perfect as the Rottweiler like private investigator Ed Du Bois recruited by Kershaw after the police refuse to believe him.

Despite the opening title card proclaiming “Unfortunately, this is a true story” the facts are adapted by screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, into a more slimed down version of the real life events, changing names to seemingly protect their real life counterparts, but of course this is nothing a quick Wikipedia search doesn’t reveal along with the details of the more numerous members of the Sun Gym crew who carried out the crimes covered in the film, with two members being merged with Doyle’s character.  As such it is best to view the film in much the same way as “Domino” in that while they might be based on real events and people, there is still a healthy dose of fiction to help the story roll along, though to this films credit it hardly pushes these differences to the same extremes that “Domino” did. The real meat of the story is seeing how this bumbling trio managed to pull off the kidnapping and the events leading to their eventual downfall thanks to a combination of personal demons and general stupidity.

Shoot on what could almost be seen as an indie budget for Bay seeing how it was shot for 26 million, which might not seem like an indie budget, but when compared to the size of the budgets we have become accustomed to seeing Bay work with such as the 195 million spent on “Transformers: Dark of the Moon” this is a noticeable drop aswell as an intentional one seeing how Bay wanted to make a small and inexpensive (apparently that word means something different in his world) film as a change of pace. Still you can’t fault Bay’s enthusiasm for the project which also saw him taking a pay cut along with Wahlberg and Johnson in order to keep the budget down.

So can Bay work on a smaller budget?  Honestly yes he can, while more surprisingly is that this smaller budget has also brought with it a Tony Scott style visual flair, as Bay works with quick edits and a variety of shooting styles to tell his story in a style reminisant of Scott’s “Domino”, aswell as in a first for Bay, he also heavy utilises the use of voice over to ensure that each of the certainly colourful key players get to give their own insights on the story. While this might not be the true crime story some might be expecting it is still a suitably fun and dark humoured ride, while also one featuring a surprisingly high gore quota, featuring limbs being barbequed and crushed skulls, but this is mainly cartoonish violence, ensuring that it doesn’t take away from the largely fun tone.
On the downside Bay is still as much of a voyeur here as ever, as he ensures there is plenty of flesh on show, be it ripped muscle or silicone enhanced bodies, while frustratingly he still seems to be under the impression that homophobic based humour is still the way to go, which may only further the opinion the detractors have of his work already as being juvenile and disposable.

It would have been interesting to see how this film would have fared without the strength of Bay’s name being attached as director, much more if the film hadn’t still been released as part of the summer schedule as it was in the states, while the UK only got to see it at the time that US audiences were getting a DVD release, while the reasons for this delay is still unclear especially in these times were fans are more than happy to rip copies from the net, than wait for a delayed cinema release.  Yes it might still not be high art, but it is none the less entertaining than the other films in his back catalogue, though whether this  marks the start of a series of smaller films for Bay is doubtful, but it is certainly enough to challenge the cinema snobs opinion of Bay’s work as a producer of disposable celluloid fluff.

Sunday, 9 February 2014

Big Bad Wolves

Title: Big Bad Wolves
Director: Aharon Keshales and Navot Papushado
Released: 2013
Starring: Tzahi Grad, Rotem Keinan, Lior Ashkenzai, Dvir Benedek, Kais Nashif, Guy Adler, Doval'e Glickman, Nati Kluger, Menashe Noy, Gur Bentvitch

Plot: Following a series of violent murders of young girls, three men soon find their lives on a collision course with each other. Gidi (Grad) the father of the latest victim now fuelled with a lust for revenge, Miki (Ashkenzai) a rouge police detective and Dror (Keinan) a school teacher and main suspect, who despite being arrested once already by Gidi only to be released due to Miki and his teams’ vigilante actions. Now Dror finds himself captured again by Gidi and the now suspended Miki who are determined to get him to confess to the murders they believe he is responsible for.

Review: While Israeli cinema might not be over well renown outside of World Cinema fans, it certainly seems to be something which directors Aharon Keshales and Navot Papushado are trying to change, as having launched their careers by making Israel’s first horror film with their debut “Rabies” they now follow it up by essentially giving the country its second with this film, which also comes with a glowing recommendation from Quentin Tarantino who proclaimed it as being the “Best Film of The Year”.

Opening to the slowed down footage of children playing hide and seek, while one of them is kidnapped, the film is attention grabbing from the start especially when combined with the sinister score provided by Frank llfman, who also provided the soundtrack for “Rabies” and whose score is equally memorable here aswell, as it perfectly sets the mood for the film throughout. From this memorable opening we first meet Miki and his team carrying out their own brand of outlaw justice as they attempt to interrogate Dror in an abandoned building and attempting to beat a confession out of him, only to have the plug pulled before they get the answers they want, while more grudgingly being forced to apologise and release Dror. It is a surprising scene to open with and one only made the more surreal by the rich vein of black humour which flows throughout this scene. This scene though is really a taste of what is to follow as the film balances out scenes of brutal torture with pitch black humour making it a kind of torture porn with jokes.
This of course is the most loosest of descriptions as this film is equally a taut thriller and one which grabs you from its opening moments right down to its final chilling twists. Needless to say it is also a film were its directors choose to play their cards close to their chest throughout giving out small and seemingly unimportant hints, only to pull them all together during the finale as they suddenly become a lot more important than first perceived. Equally the actual guilt of Dror is one left worryingly under a cloud of presumption bringing back memories of Donna Tartt’s second novel “The Little Friend” which told its own tale of revenge against a subject seemingly picked at random, though thankfully this film does finally reveal the answer regarding Dror’s guilt by the closing credit, but certainly not after making the audience question the actions of Gidi and Miki.

While the film works perfectly well with these three main characters, we also get the surprise appearance of Gidi’s father who arrives to drop off soup while staying to weld a blowtorch.  At this point Gidi has already had time to show his dark side as he sets out to seemingly cross off every grisly detail of the police report by re-inacting them on Dror. Gidi’s father however soon reveals his own darker side as he joins in, while also providing numerous darkly comedic moments, such as an impromptu argument with his wife over the phone about taking his medication and a sudden lust for Barbeque after showcasing an alternative use for the blowtorch.

Of course such asides could easily derail the film and its only a further credit to the directing duo that nothing is lost by the frequently random aside, such as a local wandering Arab, a drugged cake or the frequent comical moments such as Miki receiving a dressing down by his superior and their son. These like the frequently interrupting ringtones instead help to relieve some of the tension, especially as certain members of the group begin to doubt their actions, while equally stopping the film from getting too heavy or away from its dark comedy core.

Needless to say the torture is certainly a key element here and while it might not be as voyeuristic as that seen in Eli Roth’s “Hostel” trilogy. The film does however really come with quite a bite in some of these scenes, several of which left me squirming in my seat as I waited for a sudden cut away which never comes.  While these scenes certainly come with an unexpected brutal edge, there is constantly an undertone throughout the film questioning whether such actions are ever truly effective methods of interrogation? Needless to say it is a popular subject of debate as of late something which has been looked at in several films as of late such as “Zero Dark Thirty” and one continued here if abet more subtley and certainly without the preachy edge.

The real strength of this film through lies in the casting in particular the three central characters who for the most part are left to carry the film themselves.  A feat not especially easy to carry out and while none of the cast might not be known outside of their native Israel it only further works to the films advantage as it allows the audience to view these characters with no preconceptions. This especially works to the advantage of Grad who comes off when we first meet him as the kind of slow witted parental figure. Needless to say he perfectly sells Gidi’s turn to the dark side of vigilantism aswell as his single minded determination to get Dror to reveal the location of his murdered daughters head. What is more remarkable though is that no matter how brutal the acts he carries out there is still a part of you which sides with him, even as his actions become frequently more questionable. Ashkenzai meanwhile gets to play things largely for laughs as the rouge detective and helps to stop the mood from getting too dark, especially as he finds himself increasingly deeper than he no doubt would like, even more so when he finds himself becoming an unwilling observer when he also gets chained up in the basement by Gidi. Finally Keinan is through ally convincing as the accused Dror and really keeps you guessing as to if he is the killer or not.
A confident and stylish film, it clearly proves that their debut was no fluke while certainly making me curious to see were they go next, while making me curious to know what other cinematic treats Israel might be hiding. At the same time I wouldn’t exactly agree with Tarantino’s branding this the “Film of The Year” it is still a gripping thriller and unquestionably one of the better films, though for myself the heavier torture scenes really took away from my enjoyment of the film and rating it higher, but unquestionably this is brave and exciting film making at its best.

Thursday, 6 February 2014


Title: Primal
Director: Josh Reed
Released: 2010
Starring: Zoe Tuckwell-Smith, Krew Boylan, Lindsay Farris, Rebekah Foord, Damien Freeleagus, Will Traval, Mark Saunders

Plot: Anja (Tuckwell-Smith) and her friends are looking for a remote collection of cave paintings in the bushlands of the Australian outback, unaware of an ancient evil lurking in the area, which soon turns the fun loving Mel (Boylan) into a primal savage who soon starts hunting the rest of the group.

Review: When it comes to producing great horror Australia has frequently been able to pull out surprising and original horror films, even if the output of the country has been more sporadic since the glory days of the Ozploitation era. This film however is not one of the more memorable films as of late. Frustratingly this is not a bad film, but rather a decidedly average one, which for every great idea it throws out there, it then proceeds to throw something stupid into the mix and inturn throwing the film off.

Opening with the usual setup of friends heading out to some remote location, only to soon find themselves way out of their depth, it essentially doesn’t deviate from the usual checklist which once again left me wondering when we will actually have a horror film, were you don’t have every character figured out within the first five minutes. Still it is not too long before Mel suddenly takes on a more savage form with  director Reed wasting no time on a gradual transformation as she goes from bubbly blonde to frenzied killer in a matter of minutes. True it isn’t a huge change seeing how this monstrous form basically consists of a pair of black contacts and a set of monstrous teeth which is no discredit to the film as while a simple change it is still an effective one and one fitting of the savage nature she takes on.

Here of course lies the first of the many issues with this film, in that the reason for this sudden change is never really explained, outside of suggesting that the evil spirit / worm thing in the caves has the power to turn anything which comes into contact with the nearby lake into a primal beast. Sadly the only things we see it affecting other than Mel and later group leader Dace (Traval) is a couple of rabbits, a bunch of leaches and the midge population which suddenly develops the ability to eat anything from tents to car tyres. The confusion is only added to by the random scenes of Mel tossing half eaten carcasses in the cave entrance to supposedly please whatever it is that lives I the cave. Half-baked plot ideas though are frustratingly the order of the day here and frequently proved to drag the film down every time it seem to established the direction the story was going to go, even more frustratingly when it seemed to have established a plot line involving trying to capture Mel, using a variety of Guerrilla tactics which felt in many ways like a nod to “Predator” especially when they construct a net trap which bizarrely seemed to be as far as their planning goes though in surreal moment, this lack of forward planning is even acknowledged by Dace and Warren (Freeleagus), who look up at the now trapped Mel and question what to do next. I mean seriously how can you build any kind of non-lethal trap without planning on what to do when it actually works?!?

On the flip side of these plotting issues the film does manage to pull out a few surprises mainly in the form of personality switches between characters, with the carefree joker actually having a sensitive side and a seemingly bookish member actually hiding an inner badass in one the more memorable confrontations between the group and their primal former friends. Honestly this did help break up the predictability of the plotting which sticks largely to the usual character clichés, while equally failing by this same effect to give us a satisfying final girl as neither of the remaining female characters manager to step up while one seems to be kept around for the sole purpose of cramming in an unwanted monster rape plot line (complete with mutant fetus). Such a disappointing lack of noticeable final girl has a lot to do with the casting, as none of the cast are particularly memorable, but this seems to be just another sign of the times when it comes to modern horror, especially when every new horror frequently seems like a GQ spread, with actors being seemingly chosen for their physical appeal rather than acting ability. This of course is unless you’re in an Eli Roth movie and then it’s more about your willingness to get naked.

Ultimately this film is forgettable at best and outside of a curious watch, it is doubtful that it will hold your interest to warrant a second. True there is a number of good idea, but these have to be found amongst the numerous half-baked ones, which frequently take away from the film, much like the lack of connection I felt with any of the characters and hence found it even harder to care about the situation they are in, much less find the enthusiasm to write this one up so approach with caution.

Sunday, 2 February 2014

The Wolf of Wall Street

Title: The Wolf of Wall Street
Director: Martin Scorsese
Released: 2013
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Jonah Hill, Margot Robbie, Matthew McConaughey, Kye Chandler, Rob Reiner, Joanna Lumley, P.J. Byrne

Plot: In the mid-1990s, Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio) and the rest of his associates from brokerage firm Stratton Oakmont became the very definition of excess and debauchery, their offices a boiler room fueled by cocaine and greed. High pressure sales tactic and less-than-legal behind-the-scenes manipulation bred plenty of twenty-something millionaires, and Belfort built himself an empire at the top of the heap. This the story of his rise and fall.

Review: So Oscar season is upon us again and this year sees one of the most mixed fields that we have seen in a while, aswell as one which has caused much debate amongst pundits with many favouring “12 Years a Slave” for “Best Film” or “2 hours of shame” as its has come to known by some critics, while some have gone as far as to dismiss it as pretentious tosh.  As for myself as much as I enjoyed “Her” I believe that this will be the film to watch.

Gordon Gecko proclaimed “Greed Is Good” in Oliver Stone’s classic “Wall Street” and now 27 years later it seems that nothing has changed apart from here greed isn’t so much good, but rather bloody divine as Martin Scorsese gives us the surprisingly true story of stockbroker Jordan Belfort (DiCaprio), charting his rise as wealthy stockbroker through to his inevitable fall which resulted in him serving a 36 month stint in prison for defrauding investors.  Of course such falls from grace have frequently been a favourite theme for Scorsese and while the focus of those films has larger been on the mafia and their various devious activities, it could still be argued as to if there really is much difference between their activities and the ones seen being portrayed by these white collar crooks.

Based on the Belfort’s autobiography of the same name, the film has the unique honour of being the only Oscar nominated picture to open with a spirited round of dwarf tossing! Still from here we go back to Jordan’s first day on Wall St, as a fresh faced and aspiring stock broker in training and showing none of his deviant tenancies which come to dominate him in the years which follow. Such dark temptations though soon start to raise their head when a lunch with his boss (a spirited if brief appearance by Matthew McConaughey) whose questionable advice of frequent masturbation and cocaine use barely has time to sink in before Black Monday hits and Jordan career is reduced to selling penny stocks with a Long Island boiler room. It is from here though that he begins to build his new empire with best friend Donnie (Jonah Hill), while recruiting his friends from their own pot dealing and small time schemes to form his own company as he moulds them in his own sales aggressive image. Of course as the company begins to grow and Jordan and his friends soon have more money than they know what to do with, all the while trying to stay one step ahead of the authorities in particular FBI Agent Denham (Chandler) who is constantly waiting for Jordan to slip to.

A fascinating if cautionary tale of greed and the pursuit of wealth, it is one which truly suits Scorsese’s visual style , especially when Jordan celebrates each successful week on the market by throwing the kind of the parties which put even Caligulia to shame with their levels of depraved behaviour, while handing out cash to anyone willing to humiliate themselves for the amusement of himself and his team, as memorably seen in one seen were he pays one female employee to shave her head.  It is however it is Jordon’s gradual corruption which provide the most interesting moments, especially after he separates from his first wife, who seemingly is his sole moral anchor especially when he only amps up his bad behaviour after they separate, while his new wife Naomi (Margot Robbie) is seemingly only happy to support her husband’s vices as long as he keeps her in good life.
It is of course a downward spiral of self-destruction and greed which Scorsese documents in great detail, while only further credit to his talents that he can still pull off what is essentially three hours of douche porn. True this is a daunting prospect to face going into this film, but honestly the first two hours really fly by with the film only slowing down during its final hour as the net around Jordon slowly begins to draw itself in, while Jordon chooses to frequent ignore advise being given to him in favour of ploughing on regardless of the cost. Disappointingly though for the length of the film, the actual trial and sentencing when Jordon is eventually caught seems surprisingly brief unlike the time he spends charting the Jordon’s rise and actions which lead to his inevitable fall.

Once again it is an astounding cast which Scorsese has assembled here, which again isn’t surprising when you consider the master director level he is still working at, it essentially gives him carte blance when it comes to his casting choices, which might explain why he gives key cameos to fellow directors Rob Rainer, Spike Jonze and Jon Favreau, let alone the surprising appearance of Joanna Lumley.  Equally at the same time a number of actors eager to work with Scorsese dropped pay grades in particular Jonah Hill, who made only $60,000 (the lowest rate allowed by the Screen Actors Guild for his amount of work) something made him a steal for the great supporting performance he gives here and one which rightly has earned him a “Best Supporting Actor” nod as he continues to move away from his frat boy humour routes as becomes recognised more for his acting ability than from just being the tubby sidekick.

This however is clearly DiCaprio’s film as he is front and centre throughout the film, while also serving as the narrator a role which is not limited to just a voice over at frequently and often at random Jordon breaks the forth wall to address the audience directly while Scorsese ensures that such tricks constantly hold the audience’s attention. However real credit has to be given to DiCaprio has certainly come a long way from his Teen heartthrob days, something which it could be argued is largely thanks to being mentored by Scorsese, with this film now marking their fifth collaboration. Here though he manages to make even a despicable asshole like Jordon strangely likeable even as he screws over nearly everyone around him.  Of course with his character being shown in such poor light it only makes it all the more surprising that the real life Jordon Belfort signed off on the film, while also serving as DiCaprio’s onset advisor for several of the films key scenes. Considering that DiCaprio has also been chasing the role since 2007, beating Brad Pitt / Paramount Pictures in the bidding war for the rights to the book. Unquestionably the work DiCaprio puts into this film pays off as he makes for a strong ringleader to this circus of greed and depravity while further highlighting the strength of his partnership with Scorsese.

A fascinating film and one certainly fitting of these financially focused times; it only reinforces the fact that Scorsese is still one of the few consistently great directors currently working today, while at the same time certainly bringing his distinctive style to the film. A strong contender for the best picture Oscar, this is one of the few nominated films which lives up to its hype.
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