The Wolf of Wall Street: Review

Scorsese’s latest biopic, The Wolf of Wall Street, is an intimidating, three-hour long beast which grips you in its jaws, drags you into a pitch-black cave and refuses to let go until it’s much too late.

The film features a confident, awards-hungry performance from Leonardo DiCaprio as Jordan Belfort, a man with an insatiable appetite for sex, drugs and money (or “fun coupons”, as he calls them). Starring alongside DiCaprio is Jonah Hill, who continues to impress with his capability in more dramatic roles. He is entirely worthy of his second Academy Award nomination for his portrayal of Belfort’s right-hand-man, Donnie Azoff.

Surprisingly, for a film that’s a whole three hours in length, there is no slow build-up. We’re thrust headfirst into Belfort’s life, as he goes about making and then blowing his millions in various questionable ways. The manic environment at Stratton Oakmont, Belfort’s infamous penny-stock brokerage, often resembles the inside of a cramped monkey cage; complete with the alpha-male and his gang of screaming, chest-thumping primates. This hyper-masculine and money-drenched environment often leads to some of the film’s funnier scenes, with the gang participating in increasingly bizarre and quite ridiculous displays of excess, such as dwarf tossing and raunchy office parties.

Many will no doubt argue that the film glorifies the debauched lifestyle of Jordan Belfort. Were it not for the final thirty minutes, it’d be hard to disagree. The vast majority of the film is two hours and thirty minutes of pure escapism, as Scorsese invites us all to live vicariously through Belfort and his cohorts. However, the final thirty minutes are like an icy wave that crashes through the silver-screen and washes the audience up on the bleak shores of reality. You suddenly realise you’ve been laughing the entire time; willingly going along for a ride, led by a manipulative, selfish man who fucks hookers, extorts people, takes drugs and has absolutely no regard for his wife and kids.

The Wolf of Wall Street is no celebration of masculinity. In fact, Scorsese’s latest film is an exquisitely dark fable, teaching us all what a pathetic example of a man Jordan Belfort really is.

In three words:  Depraved, Hilarious, Fascinating

Wider Reading

Superbad

Why? Jonah Hill’s star persona. Roles as overweight, awkward teenagers, such as his performance in Superbad, shot Hill into the limelight. Rather than allowing himself to become typecast, he has instead been able to completely transform into an Academy Award nominated dramatic actor.

Taxi Driver

Why? Representation of masculinity. Both films have the same director and are set within the same city. However, Taxi Driver’s Travis Bickle is poor, frustrated and unsuccessful with women – the complete opposite of Jordan Belfort.

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Film Review: The World’s End

Gary says:

Following 2004’s bloody brilliant rom-zom-com brainwave Shaun of the Dead and 2007’s action-packed comedy cop caper Hot Fuzz, booze-fuelled sci-fi The World’s End calls last orders on writer/director Edgar Wright’s hilarious and much-loved Cornetto Trilogy.

Simon Pegg stars as Gary King, a carefree drunkard approaching his forties and refusing to grow up; like a pissed-up Peter Pan. Nick Frost is Andrew Knightley, Gary’s tee-total former best friend. In the summer of 1990, the pair and three other schoolmates attempted and failed to complete the infamous Golden Mile – a legendary pub crawl that covers twelve drinking establishments across their hometown of Newton Haven.

Since then, Andy and his friends have moved on, got married and built careers, but Gary is intent on conquering the Mile. Determined, he tracks the old gang down one by one and reassembles his band of merry men for one last crack at the crawl. However, upon returning to Newton Haven, it soon becomes apparent that much has changed in this once idyllic village.

The film features an impressive ensemble cast of British stars, with several returning from previous Cornetto films, such as Paddy Considine and Martin Freeman. There are also some new faces to the trilogy, including walking caricature Eddie Marsan as the pricelessly pitiful Peter Page, and an appearance from Pierce Brosnan as the gang’s old school teacher; with whom Gary had a special bond. The World’s End also provides plenty of fan appreciation, with a multitude of cameos from stars of cult-classic TV comedy Spaced.

Edgar Wright has clearly learnt much from his time spent directing the outstanding Scott Pilgrim vs the World. The camerawork is mindblowing, particularly during the dynamic, entertaining fights between humans and the blue-blooded blankbots, who have taken over Newton Haven. The story is perhaps not as strong as Shaun of the Dead’s, but it’s an incredibly funny and richly detailed film that includes an interesting, underlying social commentary celebrating the diversity and flaws of the human race, all whilst bemoaning the ‘Starbucking’ modern society we live in. If you’re a fan of Wright’s previous work, you’ll love The World’s End; a fitting finale to a thrilling trilogy.

Tom says:

With The World’s End, Edgar Wright, Simon Pegg and Nick Frost dish up the final serving in their Three Flavours Cornetto trilogy and, after the incredibly satisfying Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, The World’s End acts as the delicious dessert in this three-course meal of Blood and Ice Cream.

Woven with the same apocalyptic and sinister thread of the two previous films, The World’s End is the story of five childhood friends getting back together in later life to re-attempt a pub crawl that they failed to complete in their adolescence. Andrew (Nick Frost), Steven (Paddy Considine), Oliver (Martin Freeman) and Peter (Eddie Marsan) are rounded up by Gary King (played brilliantly by Simon Pegg), a black-haired, shades and trenchcoat-wearing alcoholic who, unlike his four mates, is still a teen at heart. Gary takes them “home” to Newton Haven on a mostly-one-man quest to conquer the Golden Mile, but an apparent robot invasion gets in the way.

Having seemingly learned a lot from his work on Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, Edgar Wright isn’t afraid to flaunt his penchant for extravagant fight sequences in The World’s End, with plenty of time spent on man vs. robot bar brawls. Unlike many fight sequences in modern movies, however, the fights in this film feel dynamic and fluid which, alongside the multiple-stage-based linear structure (which is reflective of the boss battles in Scott Pilgrim), provides a constant sense of progression.

Fans of the hilarious sitcom Spaced, as well as the other two films in the trilogy, will no doubt spot a few familiar faces in The World’s End, which of course boosts the chemistry between the characters, making the already funny lines even funnier with their rapport. One small gripe I do have about the casting, however, is with Nick Frost’s character Andrew. With Frost being so comfortable playing Simon Pegg’s goofy sidekick in their previous work, it feels a little strange seeing him play a straight-edge humourless businessman – thankfully he does loosen up after a while.

As expected from Wright, Pegg and Frost, The World’s End doesn’t fail to provide a fitting conclusion to their decade-spanning trilogy and, although maybe not reaching the incredible heights of Shaun of the Dead, they clearly haven’t lost their ability to create visually-entertaining and quick-witted comedy.

by Gary Woodcock & Tom Woodcock

Film Review: Monsters University

With previous work such as the delectable Ratatouille and the refreshing and immersive Finding Nemo, Pixar was once a studio renowned for their exciting, new ideas and their ability to create ambitious and beautiful worlds, packed with interesting characters, which captivated both children and adults alike.

However, a recent hit-and-miss shift towards money-spinning spinoffs and sequels has left audiences wondering what happened to their once famous creativity. This trend of treading old ground continues with Pixar’s first prequel, Monsters University, which falls somewhere in between the nostalgic brilliance of Toy Story 3 and the unnecessary disappointment that was Cars 2.

John Goodman and Billy Crystal once again lend their voices to Monsters Inc.’s future top scaring duo, Mike Wazowski and James “Sulley” Sullivan.  Since he was a very young monster, Mike has always had his eye on becoming a scarer. However, no matter how much he studies, he’ll never be fearsome enough. Sulley is the brawn to Mike’s brain; the large and overconfident natural scarer with a ferocious roar.

Both majoring in Monsters University’s scaring program, the two monsters initially dislike each other as they compete to become top of the class. However, when the pair crosses the supremely menacing dean of the scaring program, Ms. Hardscrabble (excellently voiced by Helen Mirren), they are removed from the course. They join Oozma Kappa, a hilarious fraternity of outcasts and misfits, and are forced to co-operate in the university’s Scare Games as they attempt to regain their place.

The plot isn’t particularly inventive, but Mike and Sulley’s early rivalry and growing friendship is one of the film’s stronger points, as it provides both an entertaining premise and a strong backstory to the superior original. Steve Buscemi returns as Randall Boggs, Sulley’s intimidatingly slimy nemesis in Monsters Inc. but, unfortunately, he is practically invisible in a much less prominent role. The lack of the adorable Boo is also disappointingly noticeable, although some of the new characters, such as Oozma Kappa members Art (voiced by Charlie Day) and the lovable Squishy, are almost enough to fill the void. The university setting is also a very educated decision, given that childhood fans of the original are now probably students themselves.

Although their storytelling has regressed slightly, Pixar has massively upped the ante in the visuals department. Monsters University looks incredible and is an enormous upgrade from twelve years ago. The film is also preceded in typical Pixar fashion with a short film directed by Saschka Unseld, titled The Blue Umbrella. Frankly, it’s a work of art; a mesmerisingly simple piece, with a beautiful soundtrack and almost photorealistic visuals.

Monsters University is enjoyable enough, but it lacks the magic and creativity that made the original an animated classic. Hopefully, The Blue Umbrella is a true sign of things to come, and proof that the creative juices at Pixar are still flowing.

by Gary Woodcock

Film Review: Pacific Rim

Gary says:

When enormous alien creatures, known as Kaiju, emerge from deep beneath the Pacific Ocean and start smashing their way through an A-Z of the most important cities on earth, humanity develops a fleet of colossal, mechanical fighting machines to fend them off.

Termed the Jaeger Program and effectively led by the authoritative Stacker Pentecoast (played by Luther’s Idris Elba), this defence is initially very successful and the pilots of the Jaegers are idolised and worshipped like rock stars. However, the tide turns when the monstrous Kaiju grow bigger and their attacks become more frequent. Pilots start dropping like flies as the world begins to lose the war; leaving the Jaeger Program facing the scrapheap.

Despite slightly rusty performances from Charlie Hunnam and Rinko Kikuchi, the film’s diverse group of characters are a well-oiled unit and are suitably troubled by the deadly effects of the Kaiju war. Ron Perlman, who previously worked with director Guillermo del Toro in the Hellboy series, is cool and slick as Hannibal Chau – a black market trader who has profited hugely from the conflict. Charlie Day is also great at bringing his trademark comedic energy to the role of the Kaiju-mad scientist, Dr Newton Geizler.

The dramatic, spectacular battle sequences in Pacific Rim are like a ten-year old boy’s imagination is being projected from the toy box and onto the big screen. They are tense and exciting, with some surprises and impressive special effects that see buildings broken down as easily as Lego. The vivid and eye-catching use of colour really helps this blockbuster stand out amongst the bland, desaturated wastelands typically seen in the apocalypse genre.

Pacific Rim is del Toro’s enthralling and visually stunning love letter to classic Japanese monster movies. The plot and characters are very engaging, the battles are incredibly intense and it deserves to make a gigantic splash at this summer’s box office.

Tom says:

Guillermo del Toro returns to directing in style with Pacific Rim, a beautifully stylized war story between monster and machine on a gargantuan scale.

In Earth’s near future, colossal monsters, or “Kaiju”, began pouring through a portal at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean and laying siege to cities all over the world. The Earth’s governments started the Jaeger Program to combat this threat, building gigantic mech-suits, the two pilots having to share minds – which is a great way of providing key back-story for important characters – to control the machine and storm into the sea to slay the alien beasts before they reach the shore. But the monsters began spawning faster and faster until the Jaegers became too overwhelmed with the attacks, and the Jaeger Program was terminated. This is all nicely explained in the first 5 minutes of the film as we, the viewer, are thrown into the deep end of a world on the brink of defeat.

One thing I love about this film is that del Toro makes it clear that these events are not taking place in our current time. The entire world has been affected by the kaiju: the language has adapted, kaiju bones have been fitted into the architecture, the Jaeger pilots are celebrated like sports stars – it really does feel like another chunk of the Earth’s history. And del Toro also makes it clear that it is the Earth in this war, not just the army of a superpower. The Jaeger pilots are ordinary people from all over the world, specifically trained to control these machines. Because of this, Pacific Rim is as human as a monster movie can be.

But the greatest thing about Pacific Rim is the visuals; even on mute, this film would make a captivating watch. del Toro proves that the apocalypse doesn’t have to be grim by saturating the picture with a colour palette that spans the entire spectrum, which is especially noticeable in the neon-infused city of Hong Kong and, even though I don’t usually enjoy fight sequences, the wide variety of the bio-luminescent monsters and unique Jaegers make sure the fights feel fresh and fascinating.

Although perhaps Charlie Hunman and Rinko Kikuchi were not the best choices for lead actors, and there are a few clichéd plot points throughout, Pacific Rim stays inventive enough, with its incredible visuals and fictional history, to ensure that it is a monster of a movie.

by Gary Woodcock & Tom Woodcock

Film Review: The East

Tom says:

In Zal Batmanglij’s The East, former FBI agent and intelligence operative Sarah Moss, played by Brit Marling, is tasked with infiltrating an anarchist group known as The East in an effort to discover their next target. In this politically-charged thriller, we see Sarah’s loyalties and morals tested as she gets to know The East and what they stand for. As formidable as The East sound, they certainly give off a different air when we see them in person.

Although there are around 10 members of The East in total, the main four members are Izzy (Ellen Page), Doc (Toby Kebbell), Luca (Shiloh Fernandez) and the leader Benji (Alexander Skarsgård), who resembles Jesus in both status and appearance. As well as being anarchists, The East are devout environmentalists, and their attacks, or “jams”, are often reactions to environmental abuse.

Although I agree with these philosophies, The East tend to take it too far. With their dumpster diving, mutual body washing and dinners while wearing straitjackets, the group sometimes feel less like fierce anarchists and more like a bunch of university students that decided to become hippies. Of course people do make these drastic life changes in real life, but perhaps the film would have benefited from adding an older member to the group. The great thing about this film, however, is that no side is either definitively good or bad. If you don’t agree with The East’s pro-environment sentiments, then it’s perfectly fine to root for the corporations. Like Sarah Moss, we have this choice.

But the best part of The East has got to be the jams themselves. Scenes such as the corporate party in which The East attempt to dose a pharmaceutical company with their own faulty drug will have you on the edge of your seat and perhaps even questioning your own morals.

In summary, The East is a fairly entertaining eco-anarchist thriller that has some great suspenseful moments. Unfortunately the group themselves don’t live up to their reputations.

Gary says:

The East is a thought-provoking and politically-relevant thriller starring Brit Marling as Sarah Moss, an undercover agent who is assigned the job of locating and infiltrating a mysterious group of anarchic eco-warriors known only as The East, in order to obtain knowledge of their upcoming targets, as well as their true identities. However, Moss struggles with her own sense of morality when she eventually locates and joins the group, and finds herself sympathising with their cause.

Under the charismatic and caring leadership of Benji, played by Alexander Skarsgård, the group proceed to hatch some truly thrilling, eye-for-an-eye plans (referred to as ‘jams’) against several seedy corporations, with the aim of gaining revenge for the harmful injustices they have caused to the Western world. Their questionable methods and self-righteous attitude create an interesting dilemma for both Moss and the viewer, as it’s often difficult to fully determine which side to root for.

The great cast provide strong, believable performances as the cult-like East, who live in a secluded area of the woods and partake in some frankly bizarre rituals. However, the breakdown of Sarah’s relationship outside of her undercover work, and eventual romance with Benji, would have benefitted from further development.

Drawing inspiration from their own personal experiences with the ‘freeganism’ movement and their time spent as part of anarchist groups, director Zal Batmanglij and co-writer Marling make their eco-friendly message clear throughout. The film opens with upsetting shots of oil-drenched birds, which understandably provoke sadness and anger but, although the intentions are mostly good, the script is heavily polluted with an overbearing, anti-corporate message that does eventually become fairly tiresome.

by Tom Woodcock & Gary Woodcock

Film Review: Now You See Me

A mysterious, hooded figure assembles the ultimate illusionist dream team in Louis Leterrier’s Now You See Me – a frustratingly flawed thriller which, despite an entertaining first half and strong cast, ultimately loses its way and ends up with very little up its sleeve.

Jesse Eisenberg is up-and-coming magician J. Daniel Atlas, the gang’s charismatic and cocky leader with an irritating lack of eyebrow control. Then there’s Woody Harrelson, who injects some much needed laughter as old-timer hypnotist and master of mind-tricks, Merrit McKinney. Isla Fisher brings the sex appeal as Atlas’s glamorous former assistant Henley Reeves, and Dave Franco is the young, wily and street-wise Jack Wilder; whose main trick appears to be his ability to throw cards really fast. When they all receive a card from ancient magical order ‘The Eye’, the quartet joins forces and, thanks to the financial clout of millionaire benefactor Arthur Tressler, played by the legendary Michael Caine, they become the Four Horsemen – Las Vegas’ hottest new magicians (move over Penn & Teller).

After staging an elaborate trick which sees the Horsemen apparently teleport a male member of their audience to France, where he helps them rob a Parisian bank, FBI agent Dylan Rhodes (Mark Ruffalo) is assigned to distinguish between spellbinding showmanship and the potentially criminal reality. He is partnered with French Interpol agent Alma Dray, played by Inglourious Basterds star Melanie Laurent, who has a slightly suspicious fascination with the magical arts. Rhodes and Dray enlist the assistance of former-magician, turned TV debunker of illusions, Thaddeus Bradley (Morgan Freeman) to help them make sense of the Four Horsemen’s impressive heist. Sounds good so far, right?

Unfortunately, this very exciting premise soon makes way for a ludicrous second act, with an overly complex plot, that ends up tying itself in more knots than a balloon animal.  Now You See Me is at its best when it focuses on the exploits of the Horsemen and their growing camaraderie; with the witty and often snarky performance of Harrelson as McKinney being particularly enjoyable. Their glitzy stage shows, in spite of occasionally dubious special effects that remove some of the intended magic, are also thrilling and compelling spectacles. However, the film then proceeds to abandon the things it was doing so well in favour of some unnecessary, action-packed fight scenes and a high-speed car chase.

Attention also shifts from the four magicians and onto the less interesting investigations of the seemingly hapless Agent Rhodes, who is always several steps behind the Horsemen and constantly made to look ridiculously incapable of doing his job. There is also very little on-screen chemistry between Ruffalo and Laurent, which causes their inevitable romance subplot to feel awkward and contrived. The film seems to think it’s cleverer than it actually is, and the unexpected and frankly laughable ending is surprising for all the wrong reasons.

Most great magic shows leave the audience exiting the theatre with a plethora of tantalising questions; Now You See Me provides only disappointing answers.

by Gary Woodcock

Film Review: Chasing Mavericks

Curtis Hanson and Michael Apted’s Chasing Mavericks is an overly-sentimental and clichéd biographical surfing film that attempts to ride Gerard Butler’s celebrity wave, but finds itself crashing against the rocks due to its lifelessness and bad writing.

Jay Moriarty (played by Jonny Weston in the film) was a Californian surfer who gained notoriety in 1994 when he attempted to ride the infamous waves known as Mavericks at the age of 16. In Chasing Mavericks we follow Moriarty from when he first became interested in surfing at 9-years-old, until the big moment 7 years later, which is made possible due to the intense training from his mentor and friend, Frosty Hesson (Gerard Butler).

I’m sure, in real life, Jay Moriarty had a pretty interesting life, but this film doesn’t reach the same peaks. The script is packed full of trivial (though intended to be inspirational) talk and is anything but subtle; when Moriarty’s friend tells him his dream girl is too old for him, and Frosty dictates that he won’t train Moriarty to ride big waves, the film is blatantly telling us what is going to happen. Unfortunately those big moments are building far in the distance and there’s nothing we can do but wait for them to reach the shore.

If you have no interest in the mechanics of surfing, then you may find yourself, like I did, completely bored until the last 30 minutes – which is admittedly thrilling. Many of the scenes take place, expectedly, in the sea, but the writing is as dead as the water that Moriarty and Frosty often find themselves in. The two of them seem to be unable to have a normal conversation and, even though I agree with the sentiments of being passionate about hobbies and goals, they take it to another level. Chasing Mavericks breaks right through the barriers of seriousness into completely cringe-worthy cheesiness.

The writers and directors did seem to realise that you can’t make a film consisting entirely of conversations while treading water, so they tried to keep things fresh with some extra story-lines. However, this filler content is comprised of a clique rivalry and a childhood sweetheart love story that feel like they have been pulled straight from a high school drama on the Disney Channel.

One thing the producers didn’t seem to realise was the importance of casting. Not including Gerard Butler, who acted comfortably, the cast didn’t seem experienced enough to make anything out of the badly-written script, and many of the actors, even the main star Weston, found themselves being overly-dramatic. As a whole, there is a strong sense that the film is taking itself a little bit too seriously.

The good moments, rare as they are, all seem to happen near the end of the film. There are some big character developments, and with the huge finale you will find yourself caring (even if just a little) for characters that just weren’t interesting for the first hour-and-a-half. But this great gasp for air at the end doesn’t save Chasing Mavericks from its inevitable fate.

by Tom Woodcock