Thursday, 23 January 2014

The Wolf Of Wall Street (Review)

 

Being a greedy arsehole isn't normally a quality you find in a film's lead character but Leonardo DiCaprio's character in The Wolf Of Wall Street has taken to being a greedy arsehole to the extreme.

Leonardo plays Jordan Belfort, a stockbroker from the 1980s who's only interest is maximising his profit. His lifestyle and the style of the film on the whole was similar to watching a rapper in a music video. Large chunks of the film seemed to ignore the plot while instead we watched Jordan and his friends boast about how wealthy they are as they take drugs and laze around in yachts. Both me and my friend spent most of the film wondering when something was going to happen or go wrong but nothing ever really did. They basically got away with being extremely greedy arseholes and doing whatever the hell they wanted.

Party And Bullshit
Don't get me wrong sometimes his drug-driven escapades were funny even if the only source of humour was how ridiculously self-obsessed Jordan was. In one memorable scene he takes so many drugs they he can't even walk to his car. I laughed out load a couple times but this sense of humour isn't really aimed at someone like me because most of the time I was distracted by how pathetically self-absorbed Jordan was.

Jonah Hill Is SuperBad
Personally I can't watch another film featuring Jonah Hill. His annoying brand of smutty awkward comedy is starting to really grate on me. And with a terrible 80s haircut and stupidly white teeth he becomes the perfect hate figure in this film. Watching him and Leonardo acting like idiots while shitting on other people to get to the top made me feel sick with anger. 

The Story Of A Stockbroker
The story starts with Jordan trying to get his first job as a stockbroker which made me wonder why director Martin Scorsese didn't show us more of his background. Maybe if we had seen more about his upbringing we would have discovered why he became so money hungry. Although a few of the conversations he had with his dad in the film did give us a clue, it would have been a good contrast to see more of what his life was like before he became super-rich.

Angry Audience
Audiences go to the cinema to feel many different emotions, whether it be happy, scared or sad but The Wolf Of Wall Street only made me feel angry and anger is such an unpleasant feeling I would usually try to avoid it. That a character like Jordan Belfort - who is driven only by his selfish desires - could get everything he wants made my skin crawl. That was clearly the intention of the film - to make Jordan as unlikeable as possible and then let you know that him (and his ilk) got away with it. But the only problem in this scenario, was that it felt like Scorsese was actually celebrating Jordan's obnoxiousness and rubbing the audience's faces in it. Jordan didn't seem to care that his life was totally empty.

Leonardo didn't disappoint. He managed to make a rather cartoonish character seem totally real. But while I think he deserved an Oscar nomination for his performance I can't help hoping he doesn't win, because I think he's made much better films than this. 

I feel this film was meant to be making some kind of back-handed social comment about the western world's obsession with wealth and living the high life - but it was so back-handed that sometimes the film seemed like more of a showcase promoting the world of greed and excess that it was supposed to be condemning. 

And no film should ever be three hours long. My ass is still sore.

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Thursday, 21 November 2013

Frozen (Review)


Rating: ½

Disney is once again turning to fairy tales as the source of their next animated adventure. This time it's Hans Christian Andersen's The Snow Queen that is getting the Disney treatment. But in an attempt to make the classic tale a little cooler has Disney lost track of what makes it so enchanting?

Cool As Ice
With a catchy new title, Frozen is the story of two sisters. One is called Elsa. She is struggling to control her ice powers and so runs way to hide in the mountains where she can't hurt anyone. The other is called Ana. She is desperate to find Elsa and bring her home to undo the icy damage she has left in her wake. On her travels Ana meets the lovable talking snow man Olaf and the lonesome ice farmer Kristof. The story turns into a classic quest very similar to Disney's wildly successful film Tangled. Maybe even slightly too similar to Tangled. For example: Ana's personality and appearance are nearly identical to Rapunzel's, not to mention that her relationship with Kristof is the same as the one Rapunzel has with Flynn Rider. You could almost call Frozen Tangled in the Snow? 

Snow Song
Something that Tangled did fall a little flat on was the songs whereas Frozen is a return to form with songs such as Let It Go rivalling some of Disney's classics. The spine-tingling musical numbers were written and composed by the husband-and-wife songwriting team of Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez who have had previous success with The Book Of Mormon and Avenue Q. Let It Go is the uplifting ballad Elsa sings as she releases the full force of her ice powers. Similar to Defying Gavity from Wicked the number will leave you frozen in awe. The least successful number though was Fixer Upper which although it was catchy seemed a little pointless and unnecessary.


Sisterly Love
Kristen Bell does a brilliant job bringing to life the quirky Ana. Idina Menzel on the other hand gave a good performance but I found her miscast as Elsa. She has a very distinctive voice and it is just too recognisable as Elphaba in Wicked the role that she originally became famous for. Elsa's songs are already very similar to the ones in Wicked but I think casting Idina was a step too far. A lesser known actress might have given the part a little more individuality.

In fact my number one problem with Frozen was Elsa! I think the decision to make the Snow Queen misunderstood instead of outright evil was incredibly disappointing. I was hoping for her to be regal and malevolent similar to other great Disney villainesses such as the Evil Queen or Maleficent. Instead Elsa was pathetic and doe-eyed. Clearly Disney just wanted another damsel to add to its popular princess line. I think Elsa would have still been a popular character even as a villainess. And Disney should learn from their early work, and realise that children nowadays enjoy being scared as much as they did in the 1930s - and shouldn't shy away from having the occasional evil leading character. Also, surely the most powerful element of the original fairytale is the ice-cold wickedness of Andersen's Snow Queen, so it's a shame that Disney decided to water her down so much.

Josh Gad was hilarious as Olaf the snowman! Even though he contributes little to the story he was clearly a favourite of the children in the cinema as they roared with laughter whenever he was on the screen.

Winter Wonderland
I'm a big fan of animation so I have to talk about the visuals for a moment. In some points in Frozen I found the animation a little lackluster. Maybe after Tangled, the second most expensive film of all time (no joke), Disney was trying to cut corners to save a little money. Elsa's ice palace was beautifully detailed and her stunning ice powers are a definite highlight of the film. Although the ice and snow looked very realistic the fabric the characters wore seemed stiff and some of the extras had clearly been duplicated. But people who aren't animation geeks probably won't even notice.

Heart As Cold As Ice
The film had a magnificent opening sequence which continued to build momentum brilliantly until about halfway through the film, but then it started to lose focus as too many elements were added into the plot and far too much of the conflict between Ana and Elsa is caused by misunderstandings and accidents. Sadly, this diluted the drama making it less satisfying than it should have been after that fantastic beginning.

I know I've been pretty critical of Frozen but it's only because I have such high expectations for Disney animated fairy tales. Overall it was great fun and it's message of sisterly love was heartwarming. I think maybe I would have enjoyed it more if it wasn't meant to be an adaptation of the Snow Queen because I'm a big fan of the original story which is so epic and could have made a great film. Frozen is a cool adventure for all the family, but it could have been so much more.

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Tuesday, 9 July 2013

Star Trek Into Darkness (Review)


Rating: 

NuqneH - which is 'hello' in Klingon. Four years after the first installment of the Star Trek reboot the second film is finally reached blast off. But will Star Trek Into Darkness hit 'warp speed' or will it crash and burn?

Chris Pine's Captain Kirk leads his team on a mission to find Benedict Cumberbatch's evil genius Khan.

Future Fans
I myself am not a Star Trek nerd, I mean fan, but I can completely understand why someone would be. The characters have a great dynamic and their futuristic world is exciting and imaginative. It invites you in until you feel like part of the crew on the USS Enterprise. But during Star Trek Into Darkness I started to think that this format must have worked a lot better as a TV series, especially because the plot of the film seemed so disjointed. The characters were the driving force of the film but the story overall didn't really have much of an arc. But what it lacked in plot it made up for in epic sci-fi action scenes.

Even though some of the accents were a little dodgy it was nice to see such a diverse cast in an action film.

Cosmic Comedy
Simon Pegg's character Scotty provided the comic relief and he does a good job especially in one scene when he is trying to distract a guard. But even though he is the joker of the group he is actually a really well-written clever character and for me a highlight of the film. Although Simon's new Scottish accent was a bit distracting.

Galactic Girls
I felt like feminism took a major hit in Star Trek Into Darkness. Firstly Uhura played by Zoe Saldana is the ship's smartest, strongest and bravest female crew member but she totally lets her emotion get in the way and spends half the film obsessing over her boyfriend Spock's selfish action. Which is weird because the romance between Zachary Quinto's Spock and Uhura seems so mismatched. But nothing is more annoying than seeing such a strong female character reduced to the role of nagging girlfriend. And the only other major female character (Alice Eve's Carol) is a archetypal blonde bimbo who goes about changing her shirt for no apparent reason. Come on Star Trek, you're better than this, we're in the 21st century now.

Sherlock In Space?
And what was Sherlock doing in this movie? Benedict Cumberbatch is fantastic in BBC's Sherlock. It is one of my favourite shows because of its brilliant writing and complex characters but in future maybe Benedict should just stick to the BBC. He basically just plays a less witty version of Sherlock called Khan. Sherlock is the perfect antihero, but Cumberbatch comes across as humourless and boring in this.

The Twisted Twist
And without giving any plot twists away, I found it really annoying that there was a huge, climatic scene at the end, which turned out to be a great big cheat. And the same stupid tactic has been used in far too many action movies recently. Once you see this movie you'll know what I mean, and you'll probably feel cheated as well.

Overall, this felt very much like a middle movie, with not very much happening - it basically ends the same way it began, leaving me feeling a bit dissatisfied. And I wouldn't be at all surprised if they were planning to boldly go and turn this into a trilogy.

It does have some nail-biting action scenes but despite those I was a bit bored. Not to mention the excessive use of lens-flare that was constantly upstaging the action.

To get this franchise back on track, I really think they need to come up with a more original plot which is more fluid and less jammed together, like this outing. And next time I see Benedict in a film I'd like to see him branching out from Sherlock - unless we're talking about Sherlock The Movie!

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Monday, 17 June 2013

Epic (Review)


Rating: ½

If you liked The Borrowers then I'm sure you'll love Epic. The story of a human girl who shrinks down to the size of a leaf to save a world of tiny people who live in the forest.

I am a self confessed Disney addict and normally judge any animated film that doesn't come out of the mouse house very harshly but Epic was an exception. In my opinion most family films these days lack a lot of emotional depth and suffer from very stereotypical characters and generic plots but this film had all the beauty and wonder of a Disney classic.

The animation is astounding. Blue Sky Animation had clearly done a lot of research into plants and natural light to make their forest world as realistic as possible. It definitely paid off because I was amazed by the realism and beauty of the animation. The magic aspects of the world they created were truly enchanting as if it were pulled straight from a child's imagination. And the 3D effects were a definite bonus.

Even though it was on a small scale, the action was thrilling and above all epic. The drama was engaging enough to have adults and children completely enthralled. And the clever intricate design of the tiny civilisation was brilliant to behold: as if it had been designed by J.R.R Tolkien.

The main problem I had was that the lead heroine, M.K., was too annoying and desperate. It was clear that the filmmakers wanted her to seem cool and hip but I was not impressed. Sometimes she would say funny lines at the most inappropriate moments and she always appeared slightly unimpressed by all the amazing things that were happening around her. For example after one of the lead characters dies she is sat there trying to sound funny and I just wanna tell her to get lost. This has nothing to do with the fact that I'm not a big fan of Amanda Seyfried, the actress who voiced M.K. Also M.K.'s love interest Nod, voiced by Josh Hutcherson, was way out of her league. He was daring, athletic and smart and she turned out to be just an annoying daddy's girl.

Beyoncé did a great job voicing Queen Tara but her voice is slightly too recognisable. She was clearly cast because she has such a big fan base but the fact that she is a world famous singer is a bit distracting. But then again who doesn't love a bit of Beyoncé! She also sings the song that plays over the closing credits so you can get your full Beyoncé fix.

The villain was a half-rat, half-human monster who was truly terrifying - particularly cool was the fact that he killed any plant life he touched.

Chris O'Dowd as Grub and Pitbull as Bufo made fantastically comical slugs who added to the story while also providing some lighthearted comic relief.

I definitely think that Epic relied too much on its star power. Every character was voiced by a well known performer but the story was strong enough to work without those distracting trimmings — and I don't think that star power can outweigh acting ability. I'm sure kids don't even care who voices their favorite cartoon characters.

All the plot points where neatly tied together at the end and I left the cinema feeling uplifted and satisfied. I laughed and I cried and that's all you really want from your family entertainment.

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Saturday, 15 June 2013

Man Of Steel (Review)


Rating: ½

Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No it's another reboot of the Superman franchise...

SuperMess
As I've said before in my Dark Knight Rises review, I don't get what the big deal is with making DC comic books into such dark depressing films. Producer Christopher Nolan has clearly tried to replicate his success with the Batman franchise by mimicking its edgy style in Man Of Steel. But I don't think it works for one fundamental reason: Batman is human, he has faults and weaknesses, whereas Superman does not. A lot of the problems I had with this film stems from that, and its incredibly messy plot.

Original Story  
Man Of Steel had a lot of potential but on most counts it fell short. I felt like most of the characters were very underdeveloped. We got to see a lot of Superman's past but it didn't give us much of an insight into his psyche and most of the flashbacks were hollow. After two-and-a-half hours I still didn't really know Superman. I think when you factor in his relationship with his foster father and his life growing up, there was a lot more potential for Superman to feel conflicted about becoming a hero, which was badly explored in this film. To be honest, I think Man Of Steel was robbed of a lot its emotional resonance. His relationship with Lois Lane was especially disappointing. It came completely out of nowhere because they hadn't even spoken that much before they suddenly became a couple. Superman seemed only to like her because she was the only person to show him any compassion other than his parents.

Action To Get Worked Up About
It had some eye-popping action scenes that are overwhelmingly epic. If you love watching massive explosions and buildings collapse then this is the film for you. But a lot of it could have been cut out. The film was already way too long and it was a shame that they seemed to fast-forward though all the character development and then dwell so long on these fight scenes, whcih were thrilling but very repetitive. I didn't feel at all invested in the action because Superman is invincible so there was no sense of peril. And oh my goodness there was so much collateral damage it was hard to see how Superman could be such a peacekeeper but still let all of this destruction happen.


Alienate The Audience
A lot of the main plot points could have been made more clear earlier on in the film. For example the fact that Superman was the only person on his planet that hadn't been genetically bred and so was the only Kryptonian to be truly free is a very big deal, but it wasn't really developed. That is a shame because it's a very interesting concept. It was strange that so much of Man Of Steel was set on the alien planet of Krypton or on Kryptonian space ships because it made the film feel less like a superhero film and more like a sci-fi Independence Day kind of film. But I did quite like the nostalgic feel this movie had, which was reminiscent of Superman's original 1930s style.

Superman's foster parents were the two most boring self-righteous drips you have ever seen. Constantly giving out cheesy lines of wisdom to anyone who would listen. Not to mention Diana Lane, who plays Superman's foster mum – she did some terribly hammy 'old lady' acting towards the end of the film. I feel like I've seen the role of the wise old mother about a million times in super-hero movies! I would have liked to see an actress do something a bit different with the role.

Highlight Cavill
Henry Cavill does a great job portraying Superman considering the character is quite plain. He is very well cast in the role of the all-American good guy and I'm sure any female audience member will find him very watchable. Whereas Lois Lane was a massive disappointment. Although I don't think this is Amy Adams' fault. The character was set up at the beginning to be a daring badass journalist but as the film went on she lost all her charisma and became a rather lifeless damsel in distress. The funny thing is, I still think Amy would make the perfect Lois Lane, it's just a shame the story or plot didn't help her out a little.

Russell Crowe was pretty wooden. How many franchises can he kill before someone stops casting him? I don't think he's a bad actor, I just don't  think he's cut out for action movies. It just comes off looking weird. Gladiator was as good as it's gonna get.

Super Shaky
Director Zack Snyder had clearly tried to add to the realism by having the camera constantly off a tripod so that every shot would have that shaky documentary-like vibe. But it made me feel like sometimes I wasn't getting the full effect – especially in the lacklustre scene where Superman learns he can fly – and sometimes in the action scenes I had no idea what was going on or where the action was taking place because the camera just wouldn't stand still.

Overall I thought the plot and characters where badly put together and all that God-like perfection was very difficult for a modern audience to relate to. I can see that with Superman being such an icon it can be hard not to make it too hammy, but this adaptation seemed slightly soulless. On the other hand, I think that Man Of Steel might benefit from a second viewing because some of its main messages and themes where highlighted close to the end, especially as the story wasn't told in chronological order. So I might feel completely different if I saw it again – but a two-and-a-half hour film is difficult to sit through twice. You would have to be Superman.

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Monday, 3 June 2013

The Great Gatsby (Review)


Rating: 

Baz Luhrmann has invited everyone to a party at Gatsby's house! And when Baz turns party planner the result is sure to be dramatic, romantic, energetic and completely drenched in glitter and sequins.

The American Dream
F. Scott Fitzgerald's classic novel The Great Gatsby was a perfect choice for a film adaptation by Baz Luhrmann. His decadent, famously fanciful film-making style worked perfectly to bring to life the lavish indulgences of the rich and famous in Roaring Twenties New York. But more importantly The Great Gatsby is also a love story and Baz has had much success with tragic romances such as Moulin Rouge and Romeo + Juliet. The story is told from the point of view of Nick Carraway, a wide-eyed Yale graduate who becomes fascinated by the infamous Jay Gatsby after moving in next-door to his mansion on Long Island and attending some of his wild parties. What Nick doesn't realise is that the enigmatic Gatsby's many secrets are all wrapped up in his past involvement with Nick's beautiful playful - and married - cousin Daisy Buchanan.

The King Of Long Island
Tobey Maguire does his best performance since Seabiscuit as the youthful starry-eyed Nick. I found him a bit drippy as Spider-Man (who had the idea to cast him as a super hero?) but his soft-spoken, naive appeal is much better suited to play Nick. But Leonardo DiCaprio was born to play Gatsby given his many layers and the emotional intensity of his story.

Razzle-Dazzle
Baz Luhrman's style is like Marmite, you either love it or you hate it. Because of its dazzling fairytale quality I personally love it. On the other hand I can see why some viewers might find Baz's style a bit garish but I felt it totally fit with the wildly glamourous setting of this movie. Similar to the nightclub scenes in Moulin Rouge, the party scenes in Great Gatsby are utterly amazing. I suggest that you plan a night out after seeing this film because all the sparkling decorations, stylish costumes and wicked music will definitely put you in the mood to go out.

Jay-Z And Jazz
Some people have criticised the use of modern music but I think Jay-Z's arrangements compliment the story well and makes it more accessible to a 21st-century audience. The music was actually a highlight for me. It was like another character, helping you to feel truly swept away in the moment, which is what Gatsby's story is all about. I especially loved Lana Del Ray's haunting love ballad Young And Beautiful which became a theme that recurred throughout the film, and was both weirdly uplifting and yet desperately sad by the end.

Crystal Clear
There are two things about this film that you have to know before you see it. The first is that it looks a lot better in 3-D. I have never been a fan of this cheap gimmicky add-on but in the case of The Great Gatsby I have to say that it is crucial you pay the extra £3 for the full, stunning experience. The second thing you should know is that you will enjoy the film a lot more if you have read the book. I hadn't read the book, so when I first saw the film, I couldn't understand where the story was going or what the characters were getting so worked up about. The second time I saw it, I had a much better understanding of what was going on and so I felt a lot more involved with the characters and the drama. Now I wish I had just read the book in the first place.

Crazy In Love
Although I think Carey Mulligan is a great actress, her portrayal of Daisy seemed a bit inconsistent. Overall she was a rather selfish vacuous character and I wish they had made this more apparent early on in the film. I still would have understood why Gatsby loved her, because I think he was more in love with an ideal, instead of the actual person, who he seemed to know very little about. This adaptation seemed to want to make Daisy more sympathetic, the victim of the love triangle, and she does cry an awful lot, but I was confused about whether she loved Gatsby or was just very immature. I think Baz wanted to make the romance more equal and turn it into a doomed lovers kind of story. But for that to be the case, the ending has no resonance, and just becomes a little confusing because it's like Baz wants you to feel sorry for Daisy, when actually her behaviour is incredibly callous - or careless - as Nick points out in his final narrative.

But Daisy's confusing behaviour aside, this was an incredibly complex story - bringing together  huge themes of love and obsession and class -  and I don't think Baz lost sight of that in all the razzle-dazzle. This wasn't style over substance - it was substance and then style. Particularly on the second viewing I found myself totally drawn into the story and the emotional intensity, but also into that mad party lifestyle that had so intrigued Nick, and seduced Gatsby - because Daisy had become an embodiment of all the things he had strived his whole life to achieve.

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Wednesday, 8 May 2013

Aladdin (Blu-Ray)


Rating: ★½

It's been over 20 years since Disney first invited audiences on a magic carpet ride over Agraba. And even though traditional drawn animation has hit turbulent times, Aladdin is still flying high as one of the most beloved family films. (Sorry about all the flying puns!)

Diamond In The Rough
Aladdin was released in the middle of what has become know as Disney's second golden age. The Arabian rags-to riches folktale of a young thief called Aladdin who finds a genie. The Genie, who is comically brought to life by Robin Williams' vocal talents, turns Aladdin into a prince so that he can  win the heart of Princess Jasmine. Jafar the Sultan's sinister advisor is desperate to steal the throne and will do whatever it takes it stop Aladdin from getting in his way. It has all the elements of a brilliant classic Disney film: amazing scenery, catchy songs, a beautiful princess, an evil villain and of course a happy ending.

A Whole New World
Composer Alan Menken did some of his best work in Aladdin. The music helps to drive the story and is what made the film such a massive success. The Arabian twist on these musical theatre-style songs will transport you to exotic lands. None more so than the wonderfully uplifting A Whole New World - one of the most well known Disney songs of all times. It's a little on the cheesy side but a little cheese never hurt anyone and this is the best kind. The Genie's larger than life Vegas-style numbers 'Friend Like Me' and 'Prince Ali' make it no surprise Aladdin is soon to become Disney's next Broadway stage show.

Trouble In Agraba
Although everything seems magical and happy in the world of Disney, Aladdin has actually sparked a few controversial debates. Critics complained that some of the characters and more specifically the lyrics to the opening song 'Arabian Nights' played to derogatory Arab stereotypes. But sometimes I think cynics are simply reading too much into these films and also that Disney is an easy target because of its iconic place in popular culture. I can sympathise with them but I also commend Disney for at least attempting to explore different cultures in their films. Disney said themselves Aladdin was the first Hollywood film in decades to feature an Arab hero and heroine but I definitely don't think they would be portrayed with such a lack of cultural awareness now — especially the character of Jafar. The biggest problem for me was actually the cultural imperialism implicit in having all the good characters voiced with American accents and all the bad ones either with British or Arab accents.

Three Wishes
Robin Williams deserves a special mention for his incredibly funny and animated performance as the Genie. It was one of the first times a major star provided the voice for an animated character and was allowed to improvise around the script. Now with Jack Black in Kung Fu Panda and Mike Myers in Shrek this technique has become pretty commonplace. But in my opinion the Genie will always be the best.

The beautiful animation and background art in Aladdin is the perfect example of why Disney should return to this magical art form. The vibrant colour and rich texture are a treat for the eyes but sadly I don't think it's gonna happen any time soon.

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