Category Archives: Reviews

The Wolf of Wall Street – Stratton Oakmont is America

There has been a lot of controversy surrounding the glamourisation of the lavish lifestyle depicted in Martin Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street, which charts the true story of young and upcoming stockbroker Jordan Belfort’s rise, as he eventually becomes known as The Wolf (of Wall Street). To say that such Quaalude quaffing behaviour isn’t reveled in here would be an understatement – as we soon come to learn, this is a business that requires the constant consumption  hookers and cocaine to survive – but the underlying theme of greedy self-interest is never lost in the process.

This lack of sentiment for the other 99% manifests itself in a number of ways. An early cameo by Matthew McConaughey, playing Belfort’s boss, tells us of how little importance the workings of the stock market really is – the critical part is the money to be made for those in charge. This is a great scene, and introduces the chest-thumping bravado which will continue to play a role throughout the rest of the film (a ritual which worked its way into the film as this is something that McConaughey does while on-set) as it is then appropriated by Belfort’s own company Stratton Oakmont. Then there is the internal monologue of Belfort, used previously by Scorsese to excellent effect in Goodfellas, which is constantly used to explain that all that matters is personal wealth – after all, Belfort is living in a country which treats everything as a commodity to be sold.

The contrast of this message with scenes of debauchery work really well in providing a work that does not come off as a forceful morality tale; it’s just too damn funny for that. The Wolf of Wall Street is filled to the brim with black humour, particular highlights include the reactions of Belfort and his side-kick Donnie smoking crack in a small room behind a bar together, as well as a later Quaalude-fuelled fight between the two. Credit really must be given to Leo DiCaprio and Jonah Hill for the all-out performances they’ve put in, DiCaprio particularly is on top-form here – it’s difficult to recall a performance of his which was so gleefully exuberant as it is here. Writer Terence Winter should also be commended for his script, there are so many quotable lines of dialogue present here that just when you think you’ve heard one that cannot be bettered, along comes the next.

The Wolf of Wall Street is a glorious work of cinema, one which I’ve seen twice this week and can’t wait to watch again. Wonderfully outrageous whilst always maintaining a social commentary, Scorsese and DiCaprio will have to create something extraordinary in future for this to be topped.


Beats, Rhymes and Life: The Travels of a Tribe Called Quest

In Beats, Rhymes and Life: The Travels of A Tribe Called Quest, director Michael Rapaport documents the formation of the hip hop group right up to the current day. Containing interviews with the three members as well as a host of music stars, including Pharrell Williams and the Beastie Boys, this film shows just how influential A Tribe Called Quest have been to the hip hop genre since the 80s.

Detailing every aspect of their history, from their childhoods in Queens to their many disagreements and Phyfe’s struggle with diabetes, the group do not shy away from any subject matter. It is striking how open and caring each of them seem, often becoming quite emotional when recounting moments from their past.

Rapaport switches between interviews and archival footage, first recounting their musical achievements, influences and album releases before focusing on the band’s split and feud between Q-Tip and Phyfe. This aspect takes up quite a lot of the running time, resulting in a slightly uneven pace but does not stop Beats, Rhymes and Life from being a humorous and meaningful film for all involved and the audience. Complimented with great music, this can be enjoyed for fans of the group and newcomers alike.


Australia has a Black History – Utopia Review

In new documentary Utopia, the Australian journalist John Pilger sets out to examine the suffering felt by his native country’s indigenous population, a problem caused by the British Empire’s colonisation of Australia.

Pilger’s film is a noble attempt to highlight the poverty and awful living conditions felt by the Aboriginal people, an issue that most of the world – and Australia’s European descendants – remain blissfully unaware of. This is made evident when Pilger interviews individuals whilst they are celebrating Australia Day, enquiring as to what the original population should take away from the country’s national day. Each interviewee shows incredible ignorance of the subject, stating that the Aboriginal’s want to live that way – in shacks with no running water or functioning toilet. Pilger also conducts interviews with members – past and present – of Australia’s government whose job it was to protect these people, and failed. Footage of Aboriginal living conditions today compared with that filmed several decades ago seems to show that nothing has changed at all.

In Utopia, Pilger firmly asserts that for such a wealthy country, Australia’s indigenous people should not be living this way; and that, this vast land was in fact never for the taking in the first place. These are issues that everyone should know about, but with a long running time combined with a slow, ponderous pace, the film may not appeal to the audiences that need to be informed.

UTOPIA is in cinemas from 15 November with a Nationwide Q&A with John Pilger on Monday 18 November at Picturehouse Cinemas. Available on DVD 2 December

www.utopiajohnpilger.co.uk

http://www.picturehouses.co.uk/News/item/Utopia_Plus_Satellite_Q_A_With_John_Pilger/


How to Survive a Plague

How to Survive a Plague is a film that was only released in UK cinemas last weekend, but which won a number of awards during last year’s film festival circuit; including the Boston Society of Film Critics best documentary, as well as winning in the same category at the Gotham Awards. It was also nominated for an Academy Award.

The documentary – directed by David France, and written by France, T. Woody Richman and Tyler Walker – provides an overview of the AIDS epidemic in New York City during the 80s, as both the casualties and the heinous reputation of its sufferers grew to extreme heights. As NYC Mayor of the time Ed Koch did little to act on the sweeping infection, activist groups such as ACT-UP (Aids Coalition to Unleash Power) and TAG (Treatment Action Group), led a powerful campaign in order to gain access to medication that was currently being denied to AIDS victims. Their movement also sought to alter perceptions of New York’s LGBT community, whose identity was, and still is, inherently linked to the spread of the virus.

France’s How to Survive a Plague is a work that should be applauded for bringing to our attention a struggle that was so intensively ignored during its time – a period not too long ago, where sick people were turned away from hospitals due to the stigma attached to their illness, and politicians and presidents recoiled in fear and disgust (It might surprise people to learn that Bush Jr did, and continues to do, more work combatting AIDS in Africa than any other US president – much more than he is given credit for) . Praise should also be given to the activist groups featured here, for the ceaseless filming and documenting of their meetings and campaigns; without which this production would not have been possible, and the struggle of this marginalised group would have remained unknown to its audiences. What France’s film ultimately achieves is in showing how meaningful change can occur when people are willing to stand up to their oppressors, a theme of revolution prevalent throughout the entirety of post-colonial American history, but which seems to have gotten lost in this current Twitter-age.

How to Survive a Plague is an affecting snapshot of a period of history, which remains relevant due to the comparable problems posed to others in similar situations today – albeit most likely on a different continent. For further viewing on the problematic relationship between Big Pharma and HIV/AIDS victims in other areas of the world, please see Dylan Mohan Gray’s documentary Fire in the Blood.


Captain Phillips

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The latest film from British director Paul Greengrass focuses on the true story of Richard Phillips, a captain whose cargo ship was hijacked by Somalian pirates four years ago. The plot follows Phillips as he firstly attempts (and succeeds) at protecting his ship and its crew from the attack, before allowing himself to be taken hostage – as the pirates’ somewhat reluctant loot – aboard a lifeboat that the Africans intend to steer back to the Somalian coast. Meanwhile, the US navy track the boat and ‘bargain’ with those on board, as they make efforts to rescue Captain Phillips.

Greengrass’s text is one of two films that I saw over the last 24 hours containing themes of isolation and desperation, the other being Alfonso Cuarón’s Gravity, but I must say that from the two, Captain Phillips was the much more compelling work of cinema. To the casual viewer, the film unfolds like a typical action/adventure narrative, full of the usual  edge-of-seat agitation and nail-biting anxiety.

However, underneath this lies a piece of work ripe for further analysis. To tell a story such as this, it would be easy to go down the well-trodden path of US superiority, where the Navy SEALs inevitably and heroically save the day. This subject is present throughout the film, but Greengrass maintains a level of impartiality towards each party – both American and Somalian –  which makes it immensely difficult to take sides in this conflict. Instead, the director raises subtle political and social issues with the audience – such as the effectiveness of foreign aid, and the disparities between the world’s wealthiest and poorest nations. That Phillip’s tells Muse (the pirate’s leader) that the Somalian cannot be just a fisherman and a pirate, is very telling; for these men there really is no better way of making a living: as they mention, their waters are so over-fished by foreign countries that there is little food left for themselves.

Throughout Phillips’s interactions with his captors, Muse remains true to his word. Their is an honesty and willingness from him to believe in the captain’s instructions that can only be born out of desperation and a lack of options. As he tells Phillips (referred to by Muse as ‘Irish’), he is not Al-Qaeda, he loves America, and states he will go there once making his fortune. There is no agenda on the cards, just want of a better life. The culmination of this is that eventually, the navy shoot to kill all on board the lifeboat, ensuring Phillips’s safety. After having kept the captain alive for days, their lives are taken from them in a second, leaving Phillips splattered from head to toe in their blood. When finally rescued and taken to the US ship’s hospital wing, the doctor asks him if all this blood is his own, to which he cannot reply, but breaks down both physically and mentally.

These final scenes were tough to watch, and were emotionally conflicting. It was surprisingly difficult to feel good following Phillip’s rescue due to the abrupt death of the Somalians whom did not fail to keep their end of the bargain, and I got the sense that he felt the same way. That Captain Phillips managed to tell a somewhat straightforward tale in such a gripping fashion, whilst also raising weighty issues as additional food for thought, makes Greengrass’s directorial effort one of this year’s most intelligent blockbuster(ish) film.

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Of course, we must acknowledge the flawless work of the first-time actor Somalians, whom lended a level of authenticity to the text that would not have existed otherwise.

I must also add, that this work serves as a reminder of Tom Hanks’s acting ability; for it is difficult to imagine any other Hollywood star being able to almost solely carry a 2 1/2 hour film – as of course he has done in the past (Wilson!). The naturalness of Hanks’s talent in Captain Phillips makes it easy to forget that he is indeed completing a job as an actor in a film,  and the intensity of his post-rescue emotions left me unable to speak for quite some time following my Cineworld departure.

I’m sure the film will not have such an effect on many viewers, but Captain Phillips works as both thought-provoking cinema and mindless entertainment.


Breaking Bad Recap: s5e14 – Ozymandias

With only one more episode until the series finale, Breaking Bad is really starting to pick up speed. This week’s episode, ‘Ozymandias’, was quite the nail biter.

The episode picked up where last week’s finished, with Hank and his partner in a stand-off with Todd and co. This was never going to end well, but I was sufficiently shocked at what took place. Not only is Hank dead, but his body now rests in the exact spot that Walt’s barrels of money were formerly buried in. in trying to bargain for Hank’s life by offering Todd’s uncle his hidden cash, Walt showed that while he may be a science whizz, he is sometimes lacking in common sense. Now, having lost most of his fortune, he has little to show for his actions, and the mighty Heisenberg is reduced to scrambling around the desert with his remaining 11 million dollars.

In case anyone was still in doubt as to Walt’s morality, he remains intent on having Jesse killed, despite everything that has just taken place. When Todd decides to take Jesse home to apparently gain information before shooting him, Walt tells Jesse that he watched Jane die – that he was in a position to save her but chose not to do so. This is a spiteful confession to make, and only serves to make Walt seem cowardly: he’s not willing to get his hands dirty, whether that be by killing Jesse himself, or intervening to save someone’s life.

To me it was pretty clear what Todd wanted Jesse for, to cook for him. The moment when Todd brings Jesse to the cooking lab and chains him up made me feel rather uncomfortable, as it seemed like a scene straight out of an Eli Roth film. This episode was so sadistic, it started to make me question my own complicity in the events.

With Walt Junior now not only knowing about Walt’s meth dealing, but actually calling the police after wrestling a kitchen knife from his hands, it’s safe to say that Walt is truly on his own now. This was further noted when Holly, having been kidnapped in a moment of spite – this time towards Skyler – cried out for her mother.

At this point I really don’t have much clue what direction the next episodes are going to take. I was unclear whether Walt intentionally told Skyler on the phone that she was implicated in his doings as much as he is, thus landing her in hot water with the police. In the flash-forwards given at the beginning and middle of the season, Walt has cut a lonely figure; though it is evident that he still has contacts. After the events of Ozymandias though, it seems safe to say that he will no longer have the aid of his family. However, with Breaking Bad, it’s probably best not to make any guesses, as in this world there’s still time for the seemingly impossible to happen.


We’re the Millers

Rawson Marshall Thurber’s We’re the Millers is pretty standard comedy fare, following in the footsteps of  erm  modern classics such as The Hangover II and Crazy Stupid Love.  The plot goes as follows. David (Jason Sudeikis) is a pot dealer whom runs into trouble with his boss after having his drug supply and money stolen by muggers. In order to settle his debt, his boss orders him to travel to Mexico in order to smuggle a load of weed back into the country. David knows he cannot accomplish this task alone, so he persuades his neighbour Rose (Jennifer Aniston) – a stripper – and two teenagers from his neighbourhood to accompany him (Will Poulter and Emma Roberts), in order to maintain the facade of a family holiday. The rest of the film details their journey there and back, and the humourous situations they find themselves in along the way.

We’re the Millers was successful in some respects, as it made me laugh with its silliness, pretty consistently in fact. However, Jennifer Aniston’s role in the film was problematic. Why is it necessary for her to play a stripper? To me Rose seemed competent and well educated. For a grown woman to be happy with such a profession seems awfully simplistic. Furthermore, Rose then quits her job at the club when her boss tells her she must now have sex with the customers due to the new competition the club has – from an Apple store across the street. While this new rule is too much for Rose, her much younger, ‘dumb blonde’ co- worker, is in fact ecstatic at  such a proposition. This results in a glamourised image of such dancers, and serves to perpetuate the stereotype that they are idiotic and sex obsessed. In one particular scene, Rose strips for the group’s Mexican captor in order to create a diversion, claiming that once he sees her perform, she will be “Worth more alive than dead”. It troubles me that Rose thinks of her body as the one asset that will save her. Therefore, while We’re the Millers contains a few laughs here and there, in the end it is just another example of a reductionist Hollywood movie that portrays women as objects to serve men.