Brooklyn Nine-Nine: Sitcom Gold or Flash in the Pan?


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Brooklyn Nine-Nine: Sitcom Gold or Flash in the Pan?

Album Review – Better than the Wizards


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Review: Better than the Wizards

Album Review – El Moth: Life’s a Ride


Review: El Moth: Life’s a Ride

Album Review – The Angels: Talk the Talk


Review: The Angels: Talk the Talk

Album Review – Women in Docs: Carousel


Review: Women in Docs: Carousel

Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom Review – The Elba Enigma


Director: Justin Chadwick

Writer: William Nicholson (screenplay), Nelson Mandela (autobiography)

Stars: Idris Elba, Naomie Harris, Tony Kgoroge, Riaad Moosa


Release date: January 3rd, 2014

Distributors: 20th Century Fox, The Weinstein Company

Countries: UK, South Africa

Running time: 146 minutes


 

 

2½/5

Best part: Elba and Harris.

Worst part: The confused narrative.

Throughout the 20th century, certain political figures and celebrities reached for the stars. They ignored backlash and threats to conquer their dreams and make the world a better place. This may seem sappy, but humanity’s more positive aspects can reshape the world’s structures. One such person was Nelson Mandela. Mandela comes to mind at opportune moments. Mandela proved that one person really could make a difference. With his death shattering the world last year, he was an inspirational public figure and determined human being. Inevitably, biopics about this spectacular man, over the past decade, have come thick and fast.

Idris Elba.

Idris Elba.

The most recent entry in this blissfully specific genre, Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom, wholeheartedly strives to blanket his immense life story. This broad and aimless docudrama travels down a familiar road. Covering typical biopic trappings, the movie becomes a vacuously unsuccessful Oscar-hungry monster. Looking back on Mandela’s significant life story, the movie’s wavering and untrustworthy reach exceeds its weak grasp. However, despite the wasted potential, it still features several overwhelmingly commendable qualities. Despite this enthralling tale, the movie explores and comments on too much at once. Despite my harsh words, these criticisms are warranted. To take on a project of this magnitude, studios must step back, hire commendable writers and directors, and let certain biopics follow specific paths. Sadly, this production’s producers and studios sugarcoat this fascinating narrative. Long Walk to Freedom begins with a teenage Mandela embracing South Africa’s rich tribal culture. Becoming one with the four elements, Mandela convinces himself he’s ready for a purposeful and daunting life. The movie then jumps forward, and a 30-something Mandela (Idris Elba) is presented as the black community’s spirited saviour. Standing up for innocent civilians in court, he becomes a prolific symbol of black power and freedom. Protesting legislation changes as part of the African National Congress, Mandela promotes equality whilst speaking out against apartheid.

 

Naomie Harris.

Naomie Harris.

Biopics usually go one of two ways: either focusing on specific parts of a person’s life (Lincoln) or depicting timelines covering everything from humble beginnings to untimely deaths (Ghandi). Despite this story’s commendable aspects, Long Walk to Freedom doesn’t deliver new information. Everyone with some knowledge of global affairs is aware of Mandela’s immense power and courage. Relying intensely on well-known facts and archival footage, the movie delivers a broad and underwhelming account of Mandela’s journey. The movie’s tagline reads: “Revolutionary. Prisoner. President”. Sadly, the movie provides precious little depth beyond these three significant words. Here, Mandela’s actions, motivations, and internal conflicts are under-utilised. The movie never examines Mandela’s ethical, spiritual, and moral codes. Presenting this strong-willed man as an all-encompassing symbol, the movie resembles a statue. Admittedly, this is a strange statement. However, like a statue, the movie presents a towering presence without utilising emotional weight or humanistic qualities. In addition, Long Walk to Freedom is just as static. Despite its inspirational narrative, this cumbersome biopic is inflicted with clumsy pacing and jarring tonal shifts. Screenwriter William Nicholson (Gladiator) inconsistently juggles this story’s cognitive and note-worthy qualities. Awkwardly lurching from one important event to the next, Mandela’s life is summed up in brief sequences. Throughout the first third, this biopic shifts from one incident, momentous moment, and ideal to another without warning. Confusingly, Mandela himself hurriedly transitions from womanising lawyer, to sensitive family man, to proud revolutionary. Despite the speeches and exposition, the movie doesn’t deliberate on his story’s most informative and miraculous qualities. Unfortunately, Long Walk to Freedom becomes The Butler’s slightly more interesting counterpart. Sharing similar structural, thematic, and dramatic issues, these movies delve only skin deep into all-important narratives.

“It is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.” (Nelson Mandela (Idris Elba), Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom).

Idris Elba & Naomie Harris.

Idris Elba & Naomie Harris.

Obviously, Mandela’s journey is a significant part of black history. Recently, Hollywood has explored this overarching topic to uncover relevant stories whilst developing inspired creations. From big-budget fare (Django Unchained) to enrapturing docudramas (12 Years a Slave), cinema has placed an effecting stranglehold on this conquering issue. With minorities receiving harsh treatment across the globe, historically impactful stories defy prejudice and social anxiety. Despite its narrative shifts, Clint Eastwood’s Invictus, by depicting one specific period of Mandela’s life story, captured his ideologies and motivations. Despite its social, political, and cultural value, Long Walk to Freedom inadvertently presents itself as ‘yet another’ Mandela biopic. Unfortunately, like J. EdgarLong Walk to Freedom stumbles before reaching its subject’s most remarkable conflicts. Thankfully, the stellar production design provides several stimulating intricacies for this tedious biopic. Director Justin Chadwick (The Other Boleyn Girl) revels in this time period’s distinct colours, moods, and flavours. Presenting remarkable scenic vistas and tangible city settings, Chadwick’s attention to detail delivers an unconscionable portrait of apartheid-stricken South Africa. Each setting and costume efficiently bolsters this uncompromising and accurate depiction of Mandela’s journey. In particular, the prison sequences are painful reminders of man’s overwhelming inhumanity throughout history. Thankfully, this shapeless biopic is salvaged by two invigorating performances. Elba, known for conquering TV series’ (LutherThe Wire) and entertaining action flicks (Pacific RimThor), boosts this dreary and conventional biopic. Despite lacking Mandela’s distinctive appearance, Elba overcomes previous roles whilst immersing himself in this breathtaking journey. Exploring Mandela’s native language and distinctive accent, Elba’s towering portrayal unconscionably elevates this confused Oscar contender. Elba – thanks to his impressive physique – presents Mandela as a fighter and fearsome leader. Naomie Harris also delivers a charismatic performance. As Mandela’s determined wife Winnie, Harris embodies her character’s searing pain and overwhelming courage.

Sporting two impressive performances, stark production values, and an impactful marketing campaign, Long Walk to Freedom hurriedly immerses its mass audience into this sprawling tale. Unfortunately, the movie lacks the intelligence, sturdy structure, and efficient screenplay needed for this intriguing premise. Despite the writer, director, and Weinstein Company’s commendable intentions, this biopic is obliterated by hasty studio decisions, gigantic preconceptions, and tedious biopic cliches.

Verdict: A meandering and insipid biopic. 

RoboCop Review – Rewired Revenge


Director: Jose Padilha

Writer: Joshua Zetumer

Stars: Joel Kinnaman, Gary Oldman, Michael Keaton, Samuel L. Jackson

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Release date: February 12th, 2014

Distributor: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Columbia Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 118 minutes


 

3/5

Best part: The exhilarating action sequences.

Worst part: The heavy-handed messages.

Despite his on-set temper and direction’s occasional clunkiness, Paul Verhoeven, in the late 1980s and early 90s, was one of Hollywood’s most versatile and entertaining directors. From sex-fuelled thrillers (Basic Instinct), to satirical action flicks (Starship Troopers), to warped sci-fi extravaganzas (Total Recall), Verhoeven’s style injected flair, punchiness, and wit into intriguing premises. Shaping contemporary audiences to fit new styles and sub-genres, his kitschiness pushed modern moviemaking into overdrive. Sadly, since then, his prized works have been beaten beyond recognition. After Len Wiseman’s lacklustre Total Recall remake bombed miserably, the oncoming RoboCop remake lost credibility and viewer interest.

Joel Kinnaman as Alex Murphy/RoboCop.

In addition, crippling production issues threatened to throw this remake’s ambitions into disrepute. Hollywood, delivering several big-budget movies with major production quarrels last year, inexplicably illuminates its own embarrassing missteps. Beyond this obvious “blockbusters kill cinema!” agenda, major studios contain enough resources to overcome minor issues whilst delivering engaging final products. Unfortunately, controversy strengthens the link between major studios and the media. My ‘perfect world’ aspirations, unsubtly, connect with RoboCop‘s distorted universe. Despite the obvious agenda, I must commend this remake for immediately hitting its stride whilst developing original ideas. Despite the over-the-top reboot/remake/reimagining PR debacle, I became inexplicably entranced by this explosive action flick. RoboCop, despite its overwhelming flaws, becomes an engaging and exhilarating thrill-ride unafraid of negative hype. Despite exploring the original’s veracious intricacies, this is an ambitious, dour, and inferior remake. Here, the plot delves head-on into its overwhelming thematic aspects. Set in the not-too-distant future, the remake becomes a visceral and slick buddy cop flick. Detroit detective Alex Murphy (Joel Kinnaman) scours his city for criminals and corruption. Murphy and police partner Jack Lewis (Michael K. Williams) are tasked with tracking down vicious mobster Anton Vallon (Patrick Gallow). Convinced that several co-workers are tied to Vallon’s organisation, Murphy’s pragmatic style lands Lewis in hospital. After a horrific car explosion, Murphy’s physical, emotional, and mental structures are destroyed. Meanwhile, technology conglomerate OmniCorp looks down on America’s liberal ideals. Pushing for robotic lawmen to patrol American cities, OmniCorp CEO Raymond Sellars (Michael Keaton) strives for a revelatory creation. Against Chief Scientist Dr. Dennett Norton(Gary Oldman)’s valued opinion, Sellars develops a half-man-half-machine invention. From this point forward, the movie transitions into a thought-provoking and intense sci-fi actioner. After turning Murphy into a cyborg warrior, Norton and Sellars’ conflict reaches breaking point.

Gary Oldman & Michael Keaton.

Their feud, sparked by ethical and moral differences, drives the narrative. Bravely, this remake takes the methodical and heavy-handed route. Here, sci-fi tropes are examined and deconstructed to develop this laboured story. Despite its positive elements, the original vastly exceeds its tech-savvy remake. The 1987 original’s ridiculousness, style, satirical edge, glorious violence, and humour elevates Verhoeven’s feature above predictability and tedium. Despite towering over the Total Recall remake, unexplored ideas and generic modern-blockbuster tropes savagely infect RoboCop. With frustrating studio methodologies rejecting original ideas and effective storytelling motifs, this remake becomes another po-faced and forgettable action flick. The narrative, borrowing from the original and other influential sci-fi flicks, takes several uninspired twists and turns throughout its exhaustive run-time. Courageously elevating this repetitive story, director Jose Padilha (Elite Squad) effectively re-creates the original’s most note-worthy sequences. Changing specific scenes’ most iconic aspects, Padilha’s affection for 80s sci-fi cinema becomes a vital asset. Here, Murphy’s attempted murder, avoiding the original’s pulsating gore, is a quick and costly event. However, Padilha awkwardly handles several major references. Including the original’s most famous line (“Dead or alive, you’re coming with me”), the movie debilitatingly stalls during these ineffectual moments. In addition, the movie mishandles its brash political agenda. Sitting atop the Bald Eagle’s right wing, this crowd-pleaser impulsively projects jingoistic and overblown messages. Mistaking thematic relevance for satire, Padilha and screenwriter Joshua Zetumer’s creation jarringly shifts from punishingly serious to heartily enjoyable and vice versa. Commenting on gun control, military power, totalitarianism, foreign policy, government practices, corruption, and ethically questionable medical tests, the movie leaves no stone unturned. Breaking the fourth wall, Samuel L. Jackson’s aura salvages the movie’s blunt attempt at satire. The Novak Element, featuring Jackson’s Bill O’Reilly/Glenn Beck-type character Patrick Novak, deliberates on the movie’s outrageously fascist ideologies.

“Dead or alive, you’re coming with me.” (Alex Murphy/RoboCop (Joel Kinnaman), RoboCop).

Samuel L. Jackson.

Despite RoboCop‘s outlandish agenda and cliched narrative, Padilha’s direction bolsters this listless remake. Known for relentless action sequences and startling grittiness, his style lends this remake a punchy and electrifying identity. Unfortunately, the original’s sprawling violence and unflinching practical effects aren’t included. This bloodless and brainless remake sorely lacks emotional weight and creativity. This blatant studio decision, attracting a family-wide audience, lacks the original’s more memorable and significant aspects. Thankfully, the remake’s action sequences, ignoring the original’s clunky shootouts, are the movie’s most valuable assets. Borrowing from John Woo and Neill Blomkamp, Padilha’s clever and kinetic action-direction immerses us into emphatically dangerous situations. Despite its family-friendly violence, Padilha’s style throws surprises and “f#ck yeah!” moments into each set-piece. Despite its prominence in the trailer, the abandoned warehouse sequence is an energetic and adrenaline fuelled segment. Here, Murphy/RoboCop becomes an intelligent and enthralling symbol for justice and heroism. The movie’s kick-ass moments, including its explosive prologue and pulsating climax, elevate RoboCop above similar sci-fi action remakes. Unfortunately, Padilha’s direction doesn’t elevate the movie’s inconsistent performances. Kinnaman, known for TV series The Killing, excels as the family man/robotic crime-fighter. With his unique physical presence and gruff tone, Kinnaman pushes through several of the movie’s worst lines. Meanwhile, collecting hefty paycheques, Oldman and Keaton deliver enjoyable performances in valuable supporting roles. Known for separate Batman franchises, their monumental talent and instant chemistry elevates the mediocre material. Unfortunately, Jackson, sporting Mitt Romney’s hairdo, delivers his loudest performance since his controversial Bet 365 commercials. Despite his inherent charm, his character is a useless and ineffectual obstacle.

Brushing past preconceptions and negative hype, the RoboCop remake is an enjoyable action flick. However, Zetumer’s screenplay delivers concentrated doses of right-wing paranoia and sci-fi blockbuster cliches. Thankfully, Padilha’s electrifying direction rescues an otherwise forgettable remake. Hopefully, if given greater control, Padilha can create more memorable and relevant action flicks in the not-too-distant future.

Verdict: A cloying yet enjoyable remake. 

47 Ronin Review – A Beheaded Beast


Director: Carl Rinsch

Writers: Chris Morgan, Hossein Amini

Stars: Keanu Reeves, Hiroyuki Sanada, Tadanobu Asano, Rinko Kikuchi

 


Release date: January 16th , 2014

Distributor: Universal Pictures

Countries: USA, Japan

Running time: 118 minutes


 

1½/5

Best part: Reeves and Sanada.

Worst part: The convoluted plot.

Inexplicably, the Western world looks down upon the East. In our ever-so-racist culture, we destroy cultural and social links due to prejudice, anxiety, and judgement. Despite multiculturalism’s benefits, we continually place people and communities into stereotypes. Thankfully, Hollywood is avoiding this dated societal practice. Thanks to China’s influence on the box office, big-budget extravaganzas are now aiming for international audiences. In fusing two contrasting cultures, Asian actors and characters are receiving significant attention. Unfortunately, Hollywood’s latest cultural mash-up, 47 Ronin, is an exorbitant waste of time and money. Sadly, the cast and crew are being named and shamed for their efforts.

Keanu Reeves.

Despite the final product’s overall quality, it’s difficult to blame everyone at once. Admittedly, there are flashes of brilliance in this otherwise disastrous action flick. Some cast and crew members aimed to develop an ethnically friendly and entertaining cinematic endeavour. Unfortunately, this $175 million catastrophe is the result of an untested director and hack writers. Despite Universal Studio’s commendable intentions, the company’s reach exceeds its grasp. The studio’s predictable actions and typical ideologies prove costly here. With 47 Ronin a critical and commercial bomb, executives, writers, and directors could face the chopping block. Outlining 47 Ronins wasted potential, the movie is loosely based on Japan’s most influential historical tale. Clinging onto a haunting and enlightening tale, 47 Ronin immerses us into the Bushido code (way of the warrior). There’s a reason why I didn’t mention the Samurai elements earlier. Sadly, the movie is bafflingly disinterested in this enigmatic and respectable ancient culture. 47 Ronin hurriedly immerses us into 18th Century feudal Japan. After the exposition heavy and confusing prologue, the movie introduces its only white character. Escaping from a dangerous mystical society, half-cast child Kai is rescued by the honourable and domineering Lord Asano (Min Tanaka). Asano’s Samurai protectors treat adult Kai (Keanu Reeves) with distain. Teaching himself to follow the Samurai code, Kai becomes a distinguishable and skilled warrior. Reeves, overlooking the debilitating racial divide, delivers an enjoyable performance in his underwritten role. Delivering purposeful mannerisms, he allows his Japanese co-stars – Hiroyuki Sanada, Tadanobu Asano, and Rinko Kikuchi, in particular – to propel this disenfranchising fantasy epic.

Hiroyuki Sanada.

Thanks to its obvious and repetitive opening scenes, the movie swiftly descends into chaos. The awkward prologue, defined by poor animation, describes the narrative’s all-important intricacies. In fact, the overt narration specifically states: “To know the story of the 47 Ronin is to know the story of old Japan”. Featuring the movie’s only worthwhile line, the narration throws the besotted audience into this conquering story. Despite the intriguing premise and inspired concepts, the execution is beyond atrocious. In typical modern-fantasy-epic fashion, Kai falls for Asano’s remorseful and sullen daughter Mika (Kou Shibasaki). With forbidden love frowned upon by Japanese customs, Kai banishes himself into the woods. Damaged by this cliched peasant-and-princess-love-story sub-plot, the narrative abruptly transitions into a vengeance, discipline, and honour fuelled epic. After Asano is tricked, by sadistic witch Mizuki (Kikuchi), into attacking despicable master of ceremonies Lord Kira (Asano), Kai and Asano’s 47 brave protectors are banished from Shogun Tokugawa Tsunayoshi(Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa)’s territory. With the Samurai warriors disbanded, Oishi (Sanada) finds Kai and convenes with his fellow ronin. From this point on, the movie delves into potentially graphic and enigmatic material. Fortunately, the narrative shifts out of its cloying and heavy-handed first third. Its many underdeveloped plot-strands and characters are sparingly introduced, set up, and shifted around. Despite the interesting premise, the movie’s absurd twists and turns distort this preposterous action flick. Thanks to its wavering pace and jarring tonal shifts, the first third stalls the entire narrative. With multiple character arcs and plot-strands alluding to specific revelations, Chris Morgan and Hossein Amini’s conventional and unintentionally laughable screenplay delivers overblown dialogue, tiresome cliches, and a broad presentation of ancient Japanese culture. After its tedious first act, the movie transitions into a conventional and exasperating fantasy-adventure flick.

“I will search for you through 1000 worlds and 1000 lifetimes!” (Kai (Keanu Reeves), 47 Ronin).

Rinko Kikuchi.

Thanks to botched production and post-production schedules, this sprawling concoction of cliches, bizarre directorial ticks, and half-constructed studio decisions becomes almost unwatchable. Despite the following two third’s eclectic pacing and fun set-pieces, 47 Ronin never examines intriguing or thought-provoking aspects. Throughout its 2-hour run-time, the quest-based narrative follows a one-dimensional formula. Despite this tale’s heart-breaking messages, the movie’s emotionless and ignorantly offensive aura damages its beguiling action-adventure concept. Beyond the insignificant screenwriting tropes and directorial ticks, the movie’s ethical and moral conundrums lodge themselves into the consciousness. Each year, Japanese entertainment mediums deliver iterations of this inspiring story. Known as Chushingura, this practice, unlike 47 Ronin, examines and celebrates this spiritually commendable tale. Despite the story’s culturally specific roots, the movie, inexplicably, ignores Japanese culture’s most intriguing and informative elements. This Americanised and sugarcoated version of Japan’s most influential tale insults the Samurai code, Japanese history, and world cinema. Lacking any Japanese dialogue, this fusion of Japanese and Hollywood moviemaking tropes becomes a soulless creation. Honestly, hasn’t Japan suffered enough this decade? Constructing his first feature, commercial director Carl Rinsch (YouTube video The Giftpoorly grapples with vital moviemaking mechanics. Handling its incoherent production design and wavering structure, Rinsch’s disjointed and derivative style dampens the premise. His messy visual style borrows from contrasting influences and genres. The movie transitions from Chanbara flick, to exhausting sword-and-sandal romp, to inorganic fantasy adventure. Featuring bright, joyful, and alluring visuals, 47 Ronin insufficiently fuses Throne of Blood, 300, Clash of the Titans, Pirates of the Caribbean, and Snow White and the Huntsman. Following mentor Ridley Scott’s methodology, Rinsch’s sprawling and eye-catching compositions elevate certain sequences. Clashing colours, impressive creature and set designs, and sumptuous locations provide pleasurable distractions for this otherwise underwhelming blockbuster. 

Delving into potentially entertaining material, 47 Ronin could, and should, have been an entertainingly gritty action-adventure flick. However, this derivative, messy, and uninspired fantasy epic wears Hollywood’s most aggressive and perplexing impulses. Like After Earth and The Lone Ranger, 47 Ronin presents a unique idea ruined by poisonous execution. Making a bad blockbuster is simple. However, this movie, despite the quick and hefty profit, isn’t even worth the admission cost.

Verdict: A silly, uninspired, and preposterous action flick. 

The Wolf of Wall Street Review – Cons, Cars, & Cocaine


Director: Martin Scorsese

Writer: Terence Winter (screenplay), Jordan Belfort (autobiography)

Stars: Leonardo DiCaprio, Jonah Hill, Margot Robbie, Matthew McConaughey


Release date: January 23rd, 2014

Distributor: Paramount Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 180 minutes


 

5/5     

Best part: Scorsese’s direction.

Worst part: The slightly exasperating run-time.

In reality and fiction, the 21st century has delivered several influential and controversial moments, personalities, and conundrums. So far, this century has crafted polarised communities, disgraced political figures, and bizarre celebrities. Despite the past 13 years’ pros and cons, what separates this century from previous ones? It’s simple – the world has significantly expanded. Before I continue divulging into this pressing debate, I’ll link my point back to this century’s cinematic efforts. I’ll do so because, in this case, it matters. Anti-hero characters deliver brutally vile personas and enviable traits.

Leonardo DiCaprio.

Leonardo DiCaprio.

Movies like The Wolf of Wall Street  reach out and grasp optimistic and enthusiastic filmgoers. Throwing punches, they remind us that heroes and villains control reality. In both realms, people continually fend for themselves. In The Wolf of Wall Street, the characters learn life’s greatest secrets and keep them to themselves. Though most anti-hero stories are fantastical and disarming, we turn to them for inspiration, escapism, and suspense. Blurring the line between reality and fantasy, the movie relishes in absurdities and overarching messages. Tying into modern media’s obsession with controversy and attentiveness, this docudrama examines the 21st century’s unique perspectives and promising artistic trends. Reflecting cultural, economic, and social desires, the movie succinctly and engagingly analyses the American Dream’s true power and potential. Unbelievably, The Wolf of Wall Street is based on a true story. The movie chronicles stockbroker-turned-motivational-speaker Jordan Belfort’s rise to power and fall from prominence. Based on Belfort’s best-selling memoir, the movie examines his life story’s unconscionable twists and turns. The movie begins by listing this businessman’s enviable possessions. Comparing elaborate mansions to gorgeous wives and illicit drugs, Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio) is living proof that money does buy happiness. Living the dream, Belfort believes his explicit lifestyle will never end.

Jonah Hill.

Jonah Hill.

The movie jumps back several years, and Belfort is a fresh-faced go-getter. Arriving in New York City via bus, the humble and optimistic youngster strives for stock-market success. On his first day, he becomes infinitely entranced by Wall Street’s immense chaos. Becoming head stockbroker Mark Hanna(Matthew McConaughey)’s protege, Belfort re-structures his pristine image. After a stock-market crash, he applies for a Long Island boiler room dealing specifically in penny stocks. Wowing his co-workers, Belfort becomes an ambitious and zany hotshot. Befriending Donnie Azoff (Jonah Hill), Belfort ambitiously builds penny stock company Stratton Oakmont, Inc. Over time, Belfort, like DiCaprio himself, develops a debaucherous and enviable lifestyle. Despite the company’s blissful ascension in the corporate world, its party-hungry and grotesque stockbrokers threaten to destroy Belfort’s emphatic image. Unquestionably, DiCaprio’s infatuation with the material is gleefully ironic and playful. With DiCaprio being a relentless womaniser and acting titan, Wolf of Wall Street‘s Meta shades ring alarmingly true. DiCaprio’s involvement, defined by a bidding war over the rights, injects tangibility and gravitas into the uncompromising narrative. Eventually, Belfort, despite being married, befriends and seduces Naomi Lapaglia (Margot Robbie). Despite the extravagant lifestyle and conquering business, Belfort’s overwhelming existence hits several obstacles. Fortunately, thanks to a raucous opening scene, this perplexing docudrama immediately kicks into gear. We, as hyper-aware filmgoers, witness wealthy actors playing destructive and stupefying characters. This relentless black comedy elevates 2013’s anti-hero trend (American Hustle, Spring Breakers, Pain & Gain). Thanks to its blind-siding tendencies and attention to detail, The Wolf of Wall Street delivers intriguing surprises, laugh-out-loud lines, and baffling set-pieces. 

Leonardo DiCaprio, Margot Robbie, & John Bernthal.

Obviously, director Martin Scorsese is responsible for the movie’s significant quality. Scorsese is, unquestionably, modern Hollywood’s greatest director. As an A-list celebrity and film aficionado, Scorsese is a commendable individual. Beyond these traits, his multi-layered and memorable filmography is worth flicking through. Scorsese’s works – whether they’re stone cold classics (Raging Bull, Taxi Driver), moody dramas (Bringing out the Dead), thrillers (Cape Fear), or charming adventure flicks (Hugo) – continually bolster cinema’s reputation. Here, Scorsese returns to his effervescent best. Scorsese, striving for laughs and exhilarating moments, returns to the crime-drama and black comedy genres. Reminiscent of Goodfellas, Mean Streets, and Casino, The Wolf of Wall Street celebrates ludicrous behaviour, temptation, brotherhood, and honour. Despite his characters’ disgusting behaviour, Scorsese insistently examines the anti-hero mindset. Separating traditional and modern anti-hero tropes, the movie never displays the victim’s perspective. Despite Scorsese’s impressive aura, his 21st century efforts are startlingly hit (The DepartedThe Aviator) and miss (Gangs of New YorkShutter Island). Ably balancing appropriateness and accuracy, this exhilarating dramedy fuses visual stimulus, relevance, and edge. Receiving criticism for The Wolf of Wall Street‘s moral and ethical dexterity, Scorsese’s attention to detail, nuanced style, and confronting perspectives outweigh the movie’s ethical conundrums. Scorsese deliberates on the economic downturn, US government, and capitalism. Here, consequences are obliterated by Belfort’s greed, mean-spiritedness, and manipulative persona. Ably handling Belfort’s memoir, The Wolf of Wall Street unflinchingly depicts a horrifying, relentless, and thought-provoking story. The movie’s non-linear structure provides intensifying titbits and intricacies. Driven by temptation, greed, and malice, Stratton Oakmont is history’s most exciting, debilitating, and deplorable workplace. 

“The year I turned 26, as the head of my own brokerage firm, I made $49 million, which really pissed me off because it was three shy of a million a week.” (Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio), The Wolf of Wall Street).

Matthew McConaughey.

Matthew McConaughey.

Finding loopholes and creating pump-and-dump scams, Belfort and co. endlessly revel in the rewards. With money pouring in, shirtless marching bands and dirty hookers become essential to the office space on an average Tuesday. Excavating Belfort’s vicious lifestyle, Terence Winter(Boardwalk Empire co-creator)’s eclectic screenplay provides laughs, shocking moments, and heart-breaking turns. Here, Winter updates the rise-and-fall narrative for a new generation. Fortunately, the story balances exhilarating highs and crushing lows despite Belfort’s exasperating existence. Soon enough, The FBI becomes essential to this baffling story. Separating fact from fiction, the FBI slaps the movie’s blissfully ecstatic audience. Scorsese’s New York is more concentrated than Belfort’s disarming concoctions – depicting the Big Apple as a gleefully unapologetic hellhole. Breaking ethical and performative boundaries, the cast also elevates itself above the material. DiCaprio delivers a career defining performance as this dangerous and charming lead character. Stretching his comedic muscles, DiCaprio’s dexterous charisma and unique physical structure provide several memorable moments. As the all-encompassing leader hooked on Quaaludes, his thundering speeches and one-liners ring throughout the cineplex. Hill, with oily skin, phosphorescent teeth, and sickening enthusiasm, excels as Belfort’s psychopathic sidekick. With an insatiable appetite for cocaine, hookers, and goldfish, Azoff becomes a disastrous and darkly comic enabler. McConaughey exceeds expectations in his all-too-brief role. Robbie is revelatory and frightening as Beflort’s audacious second wife. In addition, Jean Dujardin, Ethan Suplee, Joanna Lumley, Jon Bernthal, P.J. Byrne, and Cristin Milioti deliver ingenious highlights in small roles. Surprisingly, directors Rob Reiner, Spike Jonze, and Jon Favreau also elevate valuable sequences. 

The Wolf of Wall Street, beyond the gut-wrenching imagery and commendable nuances, proves that big-shot directors, writers, and actors can obsess over and produce overwhelming excess. With Belfort’s story wrought with ambivalent characters, temptations, and hefty consequences, Scorsese, Winter, and DiCaprio throw brutal punches and learn from one another. Despite the egregious 3-hour run-time, this visceral farce becomes Scorsese’s best effort since The Departed. He is, undoubtedly, the greatest veteran director working today.

Verdict: An absurd, kinetic, and entertaining docudrama. 

Philomena Review – Trial & Resolution


Director: Stephen Frears 

Writers: Steve Coogan, Jeff Pope (screenplay), Martin Sixsmith (book)

Stars: Steve Coogan, Judi Dench, Anna Maxwell Martin, Sophie Kennedy Clark


Release date: December 26th, 2013

Distributors: The Weinstein Company, Pathe

Countries: UK, Ireland

Running time: 98 minutes


 

4/5

Best part: Coogan and Dench’s chemistry.

Worst part: The wavering messages.

From Philomena‘s opening frame, its pressing arguments and perspectives fascinated me. I’ll explain why, despite my obvious and enthusiastic subjectivity, by deliberating on journalism itself. As one of history’s most intriguing and necessary professions, great journalistic endeavours, as Philomena suggests, can destroy organisations, illuminate fascinating people, and build glorious monuments to human potential. However, as this dramedy proudly asserts, harmful preconceptions and controversial actions destroy journalism’s reputation. Despite Philomena‘s wavering viewpoints, journalism’s overwhelming power and influence turns this dramedy’s weakest aspects into intriguing intricacies.  

Steve Coogan.

To define this argument, I’ll deliberate upon the media’s involvement with Philomena‘s creation. In 2009, polarising British actor/comedian/ writer Steve Coogan looked through the Guardian Weekend Magazine’s online hub. While net surfing, he found one of notorious journalist Martin Sixsmith’s human-interest articles. The article, The Catholic Church Sold my Child, remarkably transfixed Coogan beyond online media’s boundaries. After reading Sixsmith’s book on the same subject, The Lost Child of Philomena Lee, Coogan obtained the rights. Coogan’s immense pride and valour become cognitive to this adaptation’s production. Based on Sixsmith’s intensifying words, Philomena is an impactful, charming, and distinctive dramedy. The movie immediately solidifies this story’s emotional stranglehold. Sixsmith (Coogan), at his general practitioner’s office, delivers reasons for his significantly morose state. Fired from a Labour government adviser position, Sixsmith faces damaging legal issues. With government and media officials staring him down, his reputation needs a conquering boost. Conversing at a friend’s party, he discovers a meaningful article idea. The movie then leaps into Philomena Lee(Judi Dench)’s haunting life story. With flashbacks revealing her heart-aching journey, her elderly self is a repressed and stupefying individual. Conversing with Philomena and her daughter Jane (Anna Maxwell Martin), Sixsmith discovers this story’s glorious potential. Travelling across Britain, Ireland, and the USA, Sixsmith and Philomena become contrasting yet inseparable buddies.

Judi Dench.

Despite the tiresomely cliched premise, the movie examines the story’s punishing twists and turns. Receiving disgraceful condemnation from critics and the Catholic Church, Philomena organically shifts from comedically fruitful road-trip dramedy to heart-breaking mystery. Thankfully, it’s never afraid to be honest, thorough, and revelatory. The narrative, fuelled by comedic sensibilities, hurriedly delves into the story’s broadly accessible aspects. Certain scenes, peppered with awkward silences and cutting dialogue, establish this situation’s blatant absurdity. Here, Sixsmith’s perspective becomes a stable and likeable resource. Sixsmith’s motivations, turning friends into enemies, are presented as cynical and disenfranchising facets. In the first third, the story divulges into clues and characters important to Philomena’s horrifying ordeal. Handling unique characteristics, the narrative distorts and enhances road-trip comedy cliches. Replacing cars with planes, this journey turns into a haunting and expansive odyssey. Sixsmith and Philomena, divulging into deft exposition and thought-provoking revelations, bond over this expansive research project. Director Stephen Frears (High Fidelity, Dangerous Liaisons) thoughtfully examines potent human connections whilst leaping between genres. With valuable docudramas, romantic adventures, and kinetic comedies outlining his filmography, Frears’ style combines range and intelligence. Here, he becomes startlingly infatuated with the main characters. Shifting gracefully from comedic hijinks to sickening darkness, his movie illuminates life’s most ingenious and refreshing moments. Surprisingly, this Best Picture nominee contains other contenders’ tropes. Featuring a discomforting road trip (Nebraska, Inside Llewyn Davis), wacky character relationships (Saving Mr Banks), and socio-political messages (Dallas Buyers Club), this entertaining concoction becomes the Weinstein Company’s pet project.

“But I don’t wanna hate people. I don’t wanna be like you. Look at you.” (Philomena Lee (Judi Dench), Philomena).

Our two plucky heroes.

On celluloid, Catholicism, journalism, and odd-couple relationships are meaningful and understandable subjects. This movie, righteously and ambitiously, delves into all three topics. From the hysterically witty opening, the movie states and examines its blunt agenda. Establishing its lead character as a brash and abrasive journalist, this docudrama almost delves into heavy-handedness and cynicism. Unafraid of criticism, the movie delivers vicious editors, scandals, and the ratings vs. integrity debate. Despite presenting multiple perspectives, the movie hurriedly changes its mind at opportune moments. Not to be outdone, the movie’s atheism vs. religion debate is an affectionate and thought-provoking strand. As this heart-breaking narrative’s twists are unveiled, religion’s pros and cons become vital to Philomena’s character arc. With the convent becoming a prison-like fortress, the nuns are necessarily depicted as horrific cretins. Shockingly, we become valuable witnesses to 50-year-old crimes. Ethics, principles, and convent rules are strictly enforced by Philomena’s church. Despite prejudices and cultural indifference, organised religion viciously clashes with modernity. Despite the rich subjectivity, the movie’s gripping conclusion allows for unique and dexterous interpretations. Despite its intelligent viewpoints and phenomenal plot-strands, the two lead actors heartily grapple this project. Drawing large audiences into this well-meaning dramedy, the two leads lend wit, charm, and malice to this unforgettable story. Coogan, a discomfortingly polarising comedic actor, becomes a delightfully brash presence here. As a writer, producer, and lead actor, Coogan’s intentions and verve are mercifully injected into the final product. Here, his sarcastic aura boosts this enjoyable narrative. Playing a psychologically and morally damaged character, Coogan elevates this familiar role. Alluding to the News of the World scandal, the character conveys Coogan’s agreeable viewpoints and forceful determination. Delivering another Oscar-worthy turn, Dench launches head-on into Philomena’s destructive journey. Dench, as this sympathetic character, lends tangibility and potency to confronting revelations. In addition, without being irritating, Philomena becomes a wide-eyed companion for the world-weary Sixsmith. Explaining tiny details about loveable novels, her optimism and glee deliver several hysterical moments. Like most travellers, Philomena’s curiosity pushes her through pressing situations.

Despite the wavering agenda and conventional road-trip narrative, Philomena contains enough charm, laugh-out-loud moments, and emotionally powerful surprises to elevate it above similarly light-hearted dramedies. Outdoing their previous performances and dramedies, Coogan and Dench become an intriguing, eclectic, and comedically savvy duo. This odd couple – arguing incessantly over politics, ethics, religion, and personality ticks – delivers understandable moments and heartening identities. As this Oscar race’s dark horse, Philomena is charming and appropriate enough to compete with its enrapturing competition.

Verdict: An enlightening and impactful dramedy.

All is Lost – I’m On A Boat


Director: J. C. Chandor

Writer: J. C. Chandor

Star: Robert Redford


Release date:  October 25th, 2014

Distributors: Lionsgate, FIlmNation Entertainment

Countries: Canada, USA

Running time: 105 minutes


 

4/5

Best part: Robert Redford.

Worst part: The manipulative score.

In an Oscar season chock-a-block with dark docudramas, deftly comic road-trip movies, and visceral crime-thrillers, few movies have been brave enough to stand out from the pack. Despite the Oscar contenders’ overwhelming quality and relevance, movies that balance an entertaining action-adventure narrative with stark rawness become instant success stories. Delivering an engaging survival story, All is Lost delivers Oscar-calibre moments and thrilling set-pieces. It’s extremely difficult to mix these qualities together into a meaningful artistic endeavour. However, two geniuses reached out and grasped this fruitful opportunity.

Robert Redford.

With pulsating concepts and cultural preconceptions in hand, All is Lost delivers edge-of-your-seat thrills whilst occasionally remembering to take deep breaths. This intricate balance places All is Lost in the realm of memorable and confronting survival-dramas. The story itself is incredibly straightforward. However, in an age of convoluted and self-indulgent blockbusters, simple yet effective action-adventure movies are indelibly refreshing. The movie kicks off with a man (Robert Redford) deliberating upon his dying wishes and deepest regrets. Why to himself? He writes these haunting words on a scraggly piece of paper before placing the note in a jar. These revelations become his final statements whilst his life raft floats across the Indian Ocean. The movie then jumps back eight days, and the man’s priceless yacht, Virginia Jane, crashes into a floating, bright-red cargo container. Filled with cheap shoes, the tough container tears an excruciatingly significant hole into the boat’s starboard side (right, I researched it). With guile and quick thinking, the man repairs the hole with a glue-like concoction and scraps. Unfortunately, the soft patch is far from the man’s most exasperating issue. Soon after, he sails into a gigantic thunderstorm. Tossing his boat into impactful waves and currents, the thunderstorm tests the man’s steely reserve. However, the boat is nowhere near as strong as its captain. With the boat’s final voyage concluding disastrously, the man must choose between a memorable life and a horrifying death.

More Robert Redford.

Survival tales blend intriguing, multi-layered relationships with celluloid’s emphatic potential. With metaphorical and literal conflicts eviscerating the big screen, their varying twists and turns deliver enlightening and punishing rewards. Spiritually enriching journeys (Life of Pi127 Hours) and discomforting life-or-death situations (Buried) define this beguiling genre. With these movies becoming major box-office hits, this popular and note-worthy genre strives to grasp its true potential. All is Lost – defined by groundbreaking technological achievements, captivating set-pieces, and an invigorating performance – continually delivers emotional impact and thematic resonance. Here, the survival narrative rests on an understandable and harrowing scenario. With retirees and ambitious sailors taking around-the-world trips each year, horrific casualties continually arise. Despite the ambitious idea, tumultuous conditions and poor preparation deliver significant risks. All is Lost, ideally, focuses on a specific point in time. With its limited scope and enriching authenticity, this action-adventure conveys specific points about morality and mortality. Director J. C. Chandor (Margin Call) immerses us into one pressing and heart-breaking situation after another. Sticking with the boat throughout its 106-minute run-time, Chandor’s vision is astoundingly touching. Becoming Gravity‘s ocean-dwelling relative, All is Lost similarly transforms into a soulful, exhilarating, and modest survival-thriller. To examine this movie’s most engaging aspects, the viewer must recognise the valuable details that remain missing. The movie never travels to other setting or characters. We are never introduced to relatives, friends, enemies, or even strangers. Efficiently, Chandor seems wholly fascinated by Redford’s idiosyncratic features. Assuredly, the narrative effectively tests the character’s survival skills, will power, patience, and faith. Mutedly, this survival-thriller, like our main character, looks upward for an explanation. Is God punishing this man? Is God solidifying his internal strength? Or, realistically, did the man make wrong turns during his voyage?

“All is lost here, except for soul and body, that is, what’s left of them, and a half day’s ration.” (Our Man (Robert Redford), All is Lost).

Even more Robert Redford.

Lacking stupefying exposition, useless supporting characters, and obvious titbits, the movie allows the audience to piece together this mystifying puzzle. Pushing his only character to breaking point, Chandor’s latest feature tests humanity and Mother Nature’s boundaries. With thunderous weather patterns, dwindling supplies, waterlogged equipment, and predatory creatures affecting this journey, the movie, by pummelling Redford’s character, wallows in its harshly constructed world. Chandor’s style develops a picturesque and damaging reality. Here, Earth’s elements stand between the main character and a continued existence. Immediately stating that he is: “1700 nautical miles from the Sumatra Straights”, this atmospheric journey becomes an exasperating cinematic experience. Searching for land and/or passing vessels, this captain becomes a humanistic and conquering force of nature. Credit goes to Redford for delivering another textured and naturalistic turn. Reaching beyond his sub-par directorial efforts (The Company You Keep), Redford’s all-important physicality and charisma shine through this near-wordless role. Thankfully, Chandor’s directorial flair also provides an assuring and unconscionable aura. Exposed to the lead character’s drastic actions and recognisable reactions, we become one with his impressive yacht and amicable life raft. Frank G. DeMarco’s uncompromising and unique cinematography elevates unquestionably intense moments. Emphasising the man’s critically arduous situation, the camera commendably fuses with the movie’s desolate settings. Kept in close-up, the yachting sequences become heart-pounding and nail-biting roller-coaster rides. However, once the raft becomes key to the man’s survival, the camera dives into the ocean and soars into the sky. Immaculate pans and zooms establish this ordeal’s otherworldly impact. Graciously, chillingly powerful sound effects highlight crashing waves and tumbling vessels. However, the score becomes an unnecessarily overt distraction. The manipulative rhythms distort this otherwise organic and potent drama. 

Elevating itself above the already intriguing premise, All is Lost is a gritty, realistic, and unflinching insight into mankind’s most absurd and thought-provoking endeavours. Despite queasiness becoming a major concern, Chandor’s style hurls the audience into the movie’s discomforting and perilous journey. Most importantly, Redford’s towering performance silences the critics – illustrating his immense star quality and intense range. Despite the quarrels, this is a purposeful and delirium-inducing thrill-ride.

Verdict: An intensifying and creative survival tale.