Thursday, 30 January 2014

The Wolf of Wall Street: Excessive Success

DiCaprio and Scorsese come out to play again, and TWOWS is another addition to the dinky director's long list of masterpieces. You're only supposed to have ONE masterpiece, Marty. Greedy.

The film tells the story of Jordan Belfort: Stockbroker as he works his way up the precariously balanced Wall Street ladder to success and excess. 

Many have accused the film of glamourising Belfort's selfish, superficial lifestyle, but I'm willing to bet that being an ultrarich dickbag is probably a pretty glamourous way of life. If the movie appears to have no conscience regarding the people Jordan fleeces and steps on on his way to the top, it is surely only because Jordan himself has none. 

Some of my favourite lead performances this awards season are unconscionable wangbrains (hey, Llewyn Davis) but Belfort is the king. Anybody looking for an indictment of the lifestyle in the film needs to look beyond the cars and the hookers and the expensive suits and simply see DiCaprio's barnstorming performance. 

Belfort is a man seduced by his own ego, a man who believes his own legend whole-heartedly, and the film presents us with an unflinching look at a roaring, maniacal man-child who is neither as smart as he thinks he is nor as evil as we'd like him to be. Belfort is a self-aggrandising chancer, and the movie allows DiCaprio to manifest that self-delusion in a hilariously unctuous, drug-frenzied performance which is possibly the actor's best. 

DiCaprio attacks each scene with a vigorous physicality which will surprise many, delivering coke fuelled speeches like a be-suited frat leader, body-popping like an over-confident uncle and, in the already legendary Quaalude binge setpiece, exhibiting the slapstick skills of a wreckhead Buster Keaton. 

Against the combined might of slavery and AIDS, DiCaprio will probably not win best actor at the Oscars, but he flipping well should. If only for the bit where he gets his foot stuck in the car door. 

DiCaprio is ably supported by Jonah Hill - providing a much more nuanced performance than his comedy gnashers and poolside masturbation might suggest - as a toady sidekick, Margot Robbie proves herself much more than a pretty face as Belfort's radiant but prickly lust-interest, Rob Reiner is amusingly irate as his long-suffering father, and there are amusing few-sceners from people like Matthew McGarnickle and Spike Jonze. 

Scorsese remains the most consistent movie maker of his, and perhaps any generation. While his peers retire to their vinyards, tread artistic water or sell their back catalogue to the mouse house, Scorsese is knocking out vital and varied cinema that most directors half his age couldn't conceive of. A freewheeling improvisational tone and a jukebox of 90s hits combine with the customary Scorsese visual panache to create a piece that can rest easy alongside Marty's best. 

It's three hours of frothy, garish nihilism devoid of any visible morality, and it is ceaselessly entertaining. Belfort learns no lessons and resolutely refuses to grow as a character, but maybe that's the point? Don't we live in a world where the money men are free to do whatever the hell they want and walk away with minimal or non-existent punishment?

This is a film about how greed, exploitation and self-obsession are the routes to power in western society. Belfort is a caricature of the 1%, having all the fun on the unseen, huddled masses' dime.

We don't see Belfort's victims on the screen because they're in the audience.

Tuesday, 28 January 2014

Inside Llewyn Davis: That's All Folk!

Inside Llewyn Davis may sound like a Welsh hairy-hand flick, but it is infact an American hairy-face flick. it's the story of a fetchingly bearded man wandering a frozen 1960s New York, trying to make his way in the folk music scene. He basically spends the whole film grouching around like a sourpuss hipster douche, chasing cats, mooching off his friends and annoying pretty much everyone. And he plays some songs.

And that's about it.

And it's flipping brilliant.

This is, in many ways, the Coen Brothers' spiritual sequel to "O Brother Where Art Thou?", a similarly meandering and seemingly futile oddysey punctuated with beautifully selected and performed folk music. There's a lot less gurning and falling over, though.

The titular Llewyn is a surly bundle of selfish frustration and is brought to vivid life by Oscar Isaac, who does the impossible by making this prick always watchable even when he's unlikable, and even winning our sympathy as we learn more about the hapless troubadour. It's great to see Isaac finally taking centre stage after Drive and best-thing-in-a-shit-film turns in Sucker Punch and Robin Hood. Remember Robin Hood? The Ridley Scott one? No? What was I talking about?

A host of quality actors drop in and out of Llewyn's ramble from coffeeshop to music studio to gutter and back, from Carey Mulligan and Justin Timberlake as long-suffering "friends", John Goodman as a grumpy jazz snob, the honey-monster looking bloke from Tron: Legacy and Neelix from out of Star Trek: Voyager. As you'd expect from the Coens, everyone is perfectly cast and even those with previous poor form raise their game accordingly.

A palpable atmosphere is concocted by flawless production design capturing period detail, washed out cinematography evoking the long, dark New York City winter of Llewyn's troubled soul and the smoky dives he sets up in. It's one of those films that looks Instagrammed. You can almost smell the coffee and knitwear.

And as for the music, the "Please Mr Kennedy" scene alone is the best depiction of musicians working since a Guy and a Girl sat down at a music shop piano in Once.

The film is probably best described as a black comedy,  as Llewyn stumbles through a series of unfortunate events (many of his own making) becoming increasingly disillusioned with his lot in life
and ever more cynical towards his musical calling, but the bleak and absurd laughs are always there to temper any sentimental drifts.

The tragi-comic tone of the film is perhaps best encapsulated in a seemingly simple visual gag revealing that Llewyn's attempts to stash a box of surplus copies of his LP under a table are being thwarted by somebody else's similar box already stashed there. Everybody's chasing their dreams, but not everyone's going to catch them.

This isn't the folk 8 Mile. But you might lose yourself in the music.

Thursday, 23 January 2014

Skyfall: Bond Begins. Again.

(I just found this review. Must've been on my old phone when it got nicked. Better late than never.)

James Bond is the Don of secret agents. Actually, he's so fucking nails that he doesn't bother with the "secret" part, he just strides up to the bad guy, introduces himself using his REAL NAME, has a drink, punches the shit out of some incompetent douchebags, fucks the villain's girl and then blows up a building or summat. ON EVERY MISSION.

Yes, Bond is back and, thanks to Roger Deakins' painterly cinematography, he's better looking than ever. Sam Mendes has decided to honour the traditions of the franchise, whilst also attempting to delve a little deeper beneath the armour that Vesper stripped from wee Jimmy. For the most part, it works.

It's been well noted that, if Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace were Bond via Bourne, this is Bond via Batman, with Jimmy being revealed to have much in common with bereaved Bruce and Javier Bardem's Silva being more akin to Ledger's Joker in elaborately planned personal vendettas than your average world-dominatey Bond villain. This is no bad thing, and it's always fun to see Bond lose his cool, so the raised stakes and more intimate sense of threat brings an urgency we haven't seen since perhaps Licence to Kill.

Bardem has a whale with Silva, who could've easily been another relatively bland "Nega-Bond" character (a shadowy reflection of the spy in question, just like Red Grant, Scaramanga, Sean Bean and the rest of them), attacking everything with relish, reptilian menace and obsessive insanity. I think he's the first Bond antagonist in a while to appear genuinely, dangerously crazy and not just, y'know, a bit of an evil dick.

Daniel Craig is the boss of this film, of course, kicking arse and blowing shit up as he should, whilst also managing to humanise the ultra-spook more than any of the previous actors. Craig crumpling in pain during a rehabilitation workout is a long way from Connery humping a vibrating desk wearing only a towel.

The drawback comes in the shape of a final act which takes the story off on an unprecedented tangent, delving not into some underground lair, but into Bond's past and his increasingly freudian relationship with Judy Dench's M. Some may find this change of pace a breath of fresh air in the fusty annals of Bond tradition, focusing on character rather than armies of henchmen doing judo and firing lasers/harpoons at each other. Others might feel it a case of too much information. Do we really need to know about Bond's murky history? Isn't a non-specific origin an aid to his archetypal nature?

Others have claimed this as the "BEST BOND EVER" and stuff. It's not. It's definitely in the top five, though.