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Hello! Here you will find occasional film reviews together with a few other things I notice along the way.

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The 39 Steps

This is a Hitchcock film from way back in 1935.

The fact that is from another era of cinema completely is quite apparent in a few of ways. Firstly, look at that poster! Yikes! Secondly, it is really quite difficult to watch – the dialogue is hard to make out and the picture is so bad it strains your eyes at times. Thirdly, it is looks like a play in a number of scenes and it even left me wondering if some things were portrayed badly on purpose or not! “Was that stabbing supposed to look like it was poorly carried out, meaning the character could still be alive, or was it just badly portrayed?”.

The characters were quite interesting though and it never took itself to seriously. Very farcical at times. The story concerns a man in London who tries to break a spy network and goes on the run to protect his innocence.

Not the best film ever though, I couldn’t really recommend it.

2 on 5

Info
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Starring: Robert Donat, Madeleine Carroll, Licie Mannheim, Godfrey Tearle, Peggy Ashcroft, John Laurie, Wylie Watson UK Release: 18th November 1935

The Wolf Of Wall Street

The film starts with a short montage giving a taster of the life of excesses, luxuries, sex and drugs of stockbroker Jordan Belfort (played brilliantly by Leonardo DiCaprio). We then wind back to him starting out on Wall Street as a trainee for an established firm. What he experienced in that first day shapes the rest of his entire career. He loves the buzz of the office, the disrespectful and foul-mouthed culture, and when his boss meets him for lunch he is eager to be guided: “Move the money from your client’s pocket into your pocket”. He takes Jordan’s desire for wealth, points him I’m the right direction and gives him a kick up the ass.

However, shortly afterwards there is a stock market crash and Jordan finds himself jobless almost before his career has started. He manages to find a job for a small firm selling penny stocks, taking advantage of the desperate and making a 50% cut. His gift of the gab salesmanship has the office enthralled from the first day and Jordan is on the rise again, shortly setting up his own firm with his new right hand man Donnie (also excellently played by Jonah Hill) and a band of old mates who he can mould into his form, speaking from the office floor to his acolytes into a microphone with the crazed fever of a cult preacher. It is this arc that sustains most of the film’s running time.

Along the way Jordan hires his father, Mad Max, to stifle the worst of his excesses and that of the management team, but this is a futile role as the parties, drugs, prostitutes and spending goes through the roof. He is introduced to us in a hilarious scene at home in just one of the very funny moments in the film. It has a fast-paced, dynamic, darkly comic, sometimes slapstick feel as the protagonists lurch from one caper to the next. It’s not a film to watch with your parents though – swearing, naked flesh, drug taking in every scene – and it does lack strong female representation (perhaps a little inevitably as it is based on the true story of a male stockbroker in the late 80s) but Margot Robbie and Joanna Lumley do play female characters who have strength and self respect.

Entirely without morals, Jordan is only motivated by greed and the adulation of his workers and the interesting thing is that there is no progression in his character at all from the moment he picks up the phone at his first job to the last shot of the film. He is a train wreck waiting to happen for a long time, but he can’t resist standing on top of the carriage and whooping as it flies along the tracks. The only person who appears to have a moment of self-reflection (and regret almost) is the FBI agent investigating Jordan after the whole affair is over.

Rather than being a critique or glamorisation of Jordan’s life, it is more a comment on the industry and society that is allowing this sort of situation to occur, but it’s a fun ride!

4 on 5

Info

Director: Martin Scorsese
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Jonah Hill, Margot Robbie, Matthew McConaughey, Kyle Chandler, Rob Reiner, Jon Bernthal, Jon Favreau, Jean Dujardin, Joanna Lumley
UK Release: 17th January 2014

The Way, Way Back

A film that follows the story of 13 year Duncan being dragged on summer holiday with his mum’s new idiot boyfriend. He finds a way to escape the situation working at the local waterpark, hanging out with the laid-back Owen, played by Sam Rockwell.

It’s a lazy summer holiday film with a central performance that’s a bit of an exercise in minimalism for the young Duncan (Liam James). I like Sam Rockwell but his character here was a bit unfinished, hard to understand and a little bit weird, verging on the creepy in places. Steve Carrell plays a really good a-hole and Toni Colette is good as the insecure mother.

It’s fairly innocuous if a little bit basic, but probably resonates loudly with teenagers trying to cope with being dragged on holiday with their parent and their new idiot partner as that is essentially what the film concerns.

3 on 5

Directed by: Nat Faxon, Jim Rash
Starring: Steve Carell, Toni Collett, Liam James, Allison Janne, AnnaSophia Rob, Sam Rockwell, Maya Rudolp, Rob Corddr, Amanda Peet
UK release: 28th August 2013

Silver Linings Playbook

Why they’ve added the word ‘Playbook’ to this film is unclear, before and after viewing in fact. What is clear from the outset is that the protagonist Pat (Bradley Cooper) is a bit of an arsehole! Pat is introduced to us as he is released from a mental health facility after his parents agree to be responsible for monitoring him. He’s determined to be well behaved, get his life back on track and get his estranged wife back, but will he be able to? It begins with a bit of a lecturing tone to be honest.

Robert De Niro plays Pat’s Father, Pat Senior, and Jacki Weaver his Mother, Dolores. They’re both great, believable characters and Rob De Niro is actually very funny. Jennifer Lawrence plays the similarly neurotic and troubled Tiffany, who is a warm and kind character and she is fantastic as always. Good casting then, but it wasn’t so clear during pre-production who was going to fill the main roles. Initially director David O Russell had Vince Vaughn and Zooey Deschanel pencilled in (Christ…) but thankfully fate intervened.

There is a big exposition scene where Pat’s parents and Tiffany meet and despite it being a little shoe-horned and false it is quite enjoyable.

As the film went on I became quite endeared to it to be honest. The logistics of the production were quite evident sometimes (close up conversation shots with obviously post-filming inserted vocals for example) and the path was clear from early on, but nonetheless it was quite enjoyable by the end.

3 on 5

Info
Directed by: David O. Russell
Starring: Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Robert De Niro, Jacki Weaver, Anupam Kher, Chris Tucker UK Release: 25 December 2012

Shutter Island

Leonardo Di Caprio teams up with Martin Scorsese again for an old fashioned psychological crime thriller. Leonardo plays US Marshal (a bit like a cop) Teddy Daniels who starts the film travelling on a ferry to the titular island with his new partner Chuck Aule to investigate a missing person from the hospital for the criminally insane. Once on the island the staff appear to be polite but obstructive and secretive, leading Teddy to believe there is more than meets the eye to this investigation.

The film is directed beautifully as you appreciate with the hindsight of the fullness of the whole story that it has to get the actors to tread a fine line with their performances, which it manages very well. From the moment we are introduced to Teddy he looks strained and a little unwell and the atmosphere of the island serves only to make him feel more so. It is set in the years immediately post-WWII where Teddy served as a soldier and the terrible things he witnessed clearly influence who is is now and also make him intolerant of human injustices.

Ben Kingsley is absolutely fantastic as Psychiatrist Dr. John Cawley who simultaneously comes across kind and sinister, keeping you wondering what’s going on and Michelle Williams has a great supporting role as Teddy’s wife.

The soundtrack is full of parping and harrumphing as if you’ve never left the ferry from the opening scene and the story has some pretty abstract visuals. In fact, this is not for the faint hearted as there are some disturbing and sad moments.

The 2 hour running time flies by and the big final act of the film is a joy to watch.

4 on 5

Info
Director: Marin Scorsese
Starring: Leonardo Di Caprio, Ben Kingsley, Mark Ruffalo, Michelle Williams, Max von Sydow, Emily Mortimer, Patricia Clarkson, Jackie Earle Haley, Ted Levine
UK Release: 12th March 2010

Interstellar

Christopher Nolan is the director of some great films and someone who clearly holds cinema very dearly and wants it to not just survive but to thrive. After a string of hits he is apparently more or less able to make the films he wants the way he wants, but I can’t help thinking that the old adage that constraints help creative thinking applies a little bit here. I mean, take a look at the graph below.

There’s a worrying trend there! So let’s cut to the chase – this film could have done with loosing 40 minutes and not just because it’s too long – the entire last act didn’t really work for me. I found that there was an awful lot of completing the circle that didn’t need to be done: more than that, would have been better not done. Which is a shame because there are some spectacular and enjoyable sections and it is certainly an ambitious film that lives up to the epic name.

It starts in a near-future dystopian landscape of failing crops and dust storms in what is presented as a world of corn fields and a diminished human species. At the same time there are vox-pops reminiscing about the times of hardship, so we already know that we are watching the past as far as the film universe is concerned and that there is a better outlook in the present.

Matthew mcconaughey is convincing as Cooper, the former NASA pilot running a farm but desperate to punch out of the stifling, future-less world. Cooper’s father-in-law Donald (Jon Lithgow) is resigned to the current situation, his son wants to be a farmer too but his daughter’s dreams are in the stars.

After a lot of scene-setting we seem to leave the farm all at once and it is then exciting as things are building, which helps to hide the large amounts of exposition at times. This is where the film shines with some spectacular settings, realistic in-film mechanics and inspired plot devices (but some dodgy robots!). Hans Zimmer’s score is much more stripped down than previously and there are a lot of loud simple organ sounds which will no doubt become familiar over the next few years.

And then it’s a shame as we arrive at the last 40 minutes or so and the pages of the plot seem to come apart and flutter away in the breeze. It’s an enjoyable watch for most of the film, but ultimately ephemeral.

3 on 5

Info
Director: Christopher Nolan
Starring: Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Jessica Chastain, Bill Irwin, Ellen Burstyn, Michael Caine, Matt Damon, Casey Affleck UK Release: 29th October 2014

20,000 Days On Earth

Presented as a sort of day in the life documentary, this film has Nick Cave ruminating on his childhood, his love of performing music and his career so far at the milestone of 20,000 days on earth (just shy of 55 years). It also shows some insights into the creative process of writing music and some studio performances of whole songs on the new Nick Cave And the Bad Seeds album Push the Sky Away.

And it’s really good! It’s very interesting spending time with Nick, driving along the coast road in Brighton, getting insights into his playful character and his constructed stage personality. As he plays with a new idea for a song at one point his band mate tells him it sounds like a Lionel Ritchie song and that’s it ruined! He is one of the few people that would write lyrics about driving down to Geneva with the Higgs boson blues, manage to work in references to Hannah Montana and somehow make it all work. The music is great too and the studio sessions feel very open and intimate and the film culminates with a live performance, crescendoing with a wall of noise.

Nick’s constructed world might not be to everyone’s liking, but I really enjoyed it.

4 on 5

Info
Directed by: Iain Forsyth & Jane Pollard
Starring: Nick Cave, Susie Bick, Warren Ellis, Darian Leader, Ray Winstone, Blixa Bargeld, Kylie Minogue UK Release: 19th September 2014