Friday, January 29, 2016

SPOTLIGHT


In 2002 a small investigative unit on the Boston Globe published a series of articles in which they proved that the Catholic Church has systematically covered up hundreds of cases of child sex abuse by dozens of priests over decades. The story helped create an outpouring of testimony that exposed just how global the scandal truly was - with abuse and cover-ups in many American parishes, but also in most every other country. For that reason alone, this film is an important one.

But in focussing on the Spotlight team, and the scandal in Boston, the movie is saying about the kinds of community where all the institutions act as a closed shop of mutual self-interest and authority cannot be questioned.  To that end, I could see strong parallels to how the scandal played out in Boston and Ireland. Because what was worse than the abuse, was the way in which the Church used all the levers of power - police, law, press - to suppress the story and silence the victims.  In doing so, the initial crime was massively accelerated as priests were left in the community to continue offending.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

LEGEND


2015 was the year of Krays films and the one I anticipated was LEGEND, starring as it did Tom Hardy and both Ronnie and Reggie, beloved 1960s East End gangsters who infiltrated the highest levels of English society until they finally got banged up.  But I'm sad to say that the movie is boring to the point of switching off, bar a few good set pieces.  Unlike most critics I don't think it's the fault of Hardy.  Some have called his portrayal of Ronnie - a heavily doped up, heavy drinking, violent paranoid schizophrenic - too broad.  On the contrary, from the books I've read and documentaries I've watched, Hardy seems to get Ronnie just right. He loved his brother. He loved being a gangster. He loved the protection his aristo lover gave him.  But he was very very sick and almost impossible to control. I think there's no doubt that Reggie would have had a long and successful career as a criminal if it weren't for his brother running around with impossibly ambitious American schemes and generally running successful ventures into the ground.  And then, of course, there were the murders. That Hardy also manages to portray Reggie is a testament to his skill at essaying a subtler but still menacing character who was unfailingly loyal to his brother, even at the expense of his tragically doomed wife Frances.

THE BIG SHORT


We here at the blog formerly known as Movie Reviews For Greedy Capitalist Bastards have often taken a rather contemptuous tone with movies covering the financial sector.  Too often they have unintentionally glamourised the very profession they purported to condemn. And with very few exceptions they have failed to show the reality of what to many of us is life in financial services.  Away from the yachts and the blow and the strippers of cinema, most bankers are just insecure over-achievers, suckered into aligning their self-worth with a big-name brand, running on a treadmill where the big bonus is never as much as the next guy, increasingly doing twenty hour days, working weekends and trapped in a one percent bubble.  There was systematic fraud in the last crisis and plenty of people new their was a gigantic conflict of interest. But a lot of junior bankers were just people trapped in a complex system trying to do optimise their profit and impress their boss.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

THE REVENANT


In the 1820s much of north west was harsh country, fought over by various colonial and native american factions.  There was money to be made though - trapping animals for their skins - and military outposts to guard the frontiers and protect trade.  One trapper, Hugh Glass, became incredibly famous for surviving a real life bear attack and somehow managing to get back to camp despite being abandoned by his colleagues. That story in turn become a novel by Michael Punke, and now a film written by Mark L Smith and directed by Alejandro Gonzales Inarritu (BIRDMAN).

The resulting film is epic.  It is meticulously grounded in authentic reality - from Emmanuel Lubezki's natural light photography to the incredibly violent, raw depictions of human and anima violence.  And yet the story itself is absurd, taking the real story of Glass and making it bigger, crazier, larger at every turn. Whether you enjoy this film therefore depends on how far you can allow the former to trump the latter.

To speak of the film's strengths is to start and end with Inarritu's visual direction and the central performances. In BIRDMAN Inarritu created a technique of circling his actors with a fluid and expressive camera, and for creating shots that felt never-ending.  He uses that technique here to bring us up close to a key character, pans around to show us what they are seeing, and then pans back by which team we see them already reacting, moving away or into action. It creates an amazing feeling of being inside the action and reaction of this organically unfolding story.  Another thing is that Inarritu is fearless when it comes to showing us violence - an arrow through the head - a bear ripping up a man's back - a man sealing up a gash in his throat with dynamite - to name but a few.  

When it comes to the performances, this is a lead role that asked Leonardo di Caprio to experience and portray hardship, as he keeps telling us in his Oscar campaign. It's a very good, gritty, nuanced performance. But the guys who really steal it for me are Tom Hardy as the cynical but interesting trapper that leaves Glass behind and Will Poulter as the young man he co-erces to help him.  What's amazing about Hardy's performance is that here's a guy who does things we hate. But he's also a man who survived being near-scalped. So in a sense he's a commentary on how war brutalises us all, as is the entire movie.  And as for Will Poulter, his career is quite impressive. He's done broad comedy in WE'RE THE MILLERS and pure drama in this and WILD BILL. An actor to look out for.  So from my perspective, the direction, cinematography and performance by Hardy deserve Oscars. I suspect it's Dicaprio who will get one.

Turning now to the annoying.  I get that Inarritu is probably one of the few directors to actually treat his native American characters with anything like respect and to give them fully developed motives but did Glass really need a son and lots of Terence Mallick-style quasi-spiritual shots of wheat fields and floating wives and whatnot. It's just derivative nonsense designed to make Glass the good guy because not only does he not share the colonial views of the bad guy he can visibly display this in protecting his son. It's all so unnecessary. The Glass story is great enough without making him some kind of anachronistic earnest liberal.

THE REVENANT has a running time of 156 minute running time and is rated R.  The movie went on release in the USA on December 25th 2015 ad went on global release throughout January.

Monday, January 11, 2016

SLEEPING WITH OTHER PEOPLE


SLEEPING WITH OTHER PEOPLE is a romantic comedy from first time director Leslye Headland. She also wrote the piss-poor rom-com ABOUT LAST NIGHT but seems to have done far better when not shackled with the pressure of adapting David Mamet. That said, this movie definitely drinks deep from the well of WHEN HARRY MET SALLY and has all the basic cultural conservatism of all those so-called transgressive Judd Apatow comedies that basically end up with the romantic leads, well, getting together in wedded bliss. 


STRAIGHT OUTTA COMPTON

STRAIGHT OUTTA COMPTON is a well-acted, well-directed but highly selective biopic that takes many of us down a path of music nostalgia and puts west coast gangsta rap back in its context of the Rodney King riots and law enforcement outrage.  Produced by Ice Cube and Dr Dre, the movie ungenerously foregrounds their contributions to the iconic rap group NWA at the expense of Arabian Prince and MC Ren.  Eazy-E (Jason Mitchell) is portrayed as a kind of musical genius but one soon brought under the sway of evil white businessman Jerry Heller (Paul Giamatti) who has understandably sued the film's producers for his unflattering portrayal as a scheming dishonest money man eager to cut Ice Cube out of the action. As for Cube, he's played by the rappers own son O'Shea Jackson Jr who as well as looking the part brings so much energy and conviction to the part he steals the movie.  In a sense, this becomes his movie, as he realises he's being stiffed out of royalties, leaves the group, records his own diss record and achieves success.  Meanwhile, Dr Dre (Corey Hawkins) almost blends into the background in a role so manicured as to become bland. He becomes the dutiful son and the voice of conscience trying to get Eazy-E to see what Heller's doing.  It's okay for Apple to say Dre's sorry for his abuse of women during this period but it's also profoundly dishonest not to show it. Still, the basic underlying misogyny can't be totally airbrushed out of the film. Women exist as groupies, light-skinned and pretty if in the foreground.   When the band's about to reconcile, Eazy-E tragically dies of HIV, and the movie goes all syrupy. But there are no deathbed tears for the women he infected. 

STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS - Some thoughts

STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS is not a movie that I can review with any kind of objectivity. STAR WARS is the universe that I grew up in and escaped to as a kid. It's beyond emotional - it's part of me.  And so factors that others might find negative in this new movie - the fan-service, the derivative plot - well, to me that's just coming home. So rather than a review, here are some thoughts on the new film.

The power of the original Star Wars trilogy was its appeal to bored small-town kids.  You too might just be whisked off into an adventure. In the words of Bowie, you could be a Hero. And the film was cast in those terms - mythic terms of dark versus light.  These were the stories of cowboys and Indians, superheroes and supervillains, but it was also subversive.   It was set in a lived-in world of beaten up spacecraft and mechanical failures.  It's vision was a Utopian one.  There was a mysterious Force that united us all, and it could tempt us to the dark side.  But this was a world in which the bad guy could be redeemed. Where a band of friend could outwit a totalitarian power.  The original trilogy fought the political battles of the seventies.  This was a galaxy in which a human might fight alongside a Mon Calamari with equal respect and where the pilot who blew up the second Death Star was black.  It was a world in which the Princess who needed rescuing could pick up a blaster and rescue herself just fine. And if she was put in a slave's bikini she could use her shackles to strangle her oppressor.

Sunday, January 03, 2016

JOY

There's this thing David O Russell does where he captures the gonzo craziness of everyday family life in real families - where's the too much to do and not enough time, and a lot of love but also a lot of bickering and irrational emotional lashing out.  He somehow captures the too many loud voices and freewheeling chaos. He did this is SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK and does so again at the start of JOY, where we see Jennifer Lawrence's harassed single mom cut her fingers on a shard of glass as she mops up a spill and get the inspiration for the miracle mop.  The movie starts with such energy and such crazy larger-than-life characters that I was prepared to let myself get swept up on the wave of this most improbable biopic. I loved that Joy had an estranged latino husband (Edgar Ramirez) who still somehow had her best interests at heart. And that her feckless father (Robert de Niro) has a hardball rich widow girlfriend (a scene-stealing Isabella Rossellini) who didn't give Joy a dime without asking some tough questions.

But somewhere after the first half hour the movie descends into a pretty cheesy underdog story in which every set piece is predictable.  How did we somehow know that when Joy first appears on TV home sales network she's gonna bomb, or that she's gonna triumph when she realises that she needs to take off all the wardrobe and make-up and just be a housewife on TV?  And it's all too predictable that her family are gonna become jealous and try to rip Joy off or otherwise put her in a precarious situation.  And maybe that's the problem with the latter half of this film.  Joy is perfect.  She survives and survives and survives despite her feckless family and thieving manufacturers.  And at the end of the day it's her ever loyal ex-husband and best friend who stick by her, because why?  I just felt the movie kind of ran out of steam. Yes Joy is successful and saintly in helping other single moms find their dreams. But where's the resolution?  I also feel - and maybe this is unfair - that I've seen too much of Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper on screen together to the point that I found whatever manufactured sexual tension might have been between the two characters hard to stomach.  I feel that this small David O Russell repertory company needs to be disbanded for its own good.

JOY has a running time of 124 minutes and is rated PG-13. It is on global release in the USA, Greece, Israel, Canada, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, New Zealand, Egypt, France, the UAE, Bahrain, Germany, Hong Kong, Hungary, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Oman, Qatar, Taiwan, South Africa, Austria, Estonia, Finland, the UK, Ireland and Latvia. It opens later in January in Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, Australia, Colombia, the Czech Republic, Macedonia, the Netherlands, Portugal, Serbia, Singapore, Slovakia, the Ukraine, Bulgaria, Spain, Mexico, Pakistan, Poland, Romania, Turkey, Belgium, Argentina, Bosnia, Bolivia, the Dominican Republic, Peru, Puerto Rico, Uruguay, Venezuela, Brazil, Russia, Slovenia, India, Lithuania, Italy and Ecuador. It opens in February in Chile, Croatia, Malaysia, the Philippines, South Korea, Thailand, Vietnam and Kazakhstan; and in Indonesia in March.