The Wolf of Wall Street (2012 dir. Martin Scorsese)

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Sandra’s Verdict

There are a lot of films based on true events out at the moment and The Wolf of Wall Street in that sense is no different. However unlike some of those films, which tend to trace the steps of the virtuous and high-minded as they battle through prejudice and other adversities, The Wolf of Wall Street gives audiences a kind of respite, allowing us to revel in the vulgarities of 1980s and 90s banking. The film is a comical retelling of the antics of amoral Jordan Belfort while he was head of brokerage firm Stratton Oakmont, his debauched nights with prostitutes and friends and his drug addiction right up until his conviction for fraud and money laundering followed by his reincarnation as a motivational speaker. After all the ‘banker-bashing’ that has been going on since the 2008 banking crisis it is refreshing to be able to laugh at these characters and to a certain extent Scorsese has done here with bankers what he achieved  with gangsters in his earlier films. In some ways this film can also be compared to Goodfellas, in that it is amusingly narrated by the main protagonist on whom the film is primarily focused, features a Pesci-like sidekick and  women are either sexual vessels or nagging wives. Scorsese himself has confirmed that there are likenesses between the two films.

Leonardo DiCaprio, who is not known for playing comedy roles, is extremely funny in this film as is the more accustomed Jonah Hill, who plays Donnie Azoff, Belfort’s business partner. There are also some unlikely appearances from the likes of Joanna Lumley, who shares an onscreen pash with DiCaprio, and French actor Jean Dujardin.

The Wolf of Wall Street is an excellent film, filled with energy and wit and should not be missed.

 

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12 Years A Slave (2014 dir. Steve McQueen)

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Sandra’s Verdict

British director Steve McQueen does an excellent job adapting Solomon Northup’s 1853 biographical book 12 Years A Slave about his own experience when he was kidnapped and sold into slavery and sent to New Orleans. Northup, born a free man, lived in New York with his wife and two children, as an accomplished violinist he made his income playing society balls and as a carpenter, but was tricked by two white men and enticed to follow them to Washington to join a fictitious circus, whilst there they got him drunk, destroyed his identification documents and sold him to slave traders under the name of a southern slave called Platt Hamilton.

Chiwetel Ejiofor’s depiction of the conflicted Northup is captivating and heartbreaking as you see him forced to act against his conscience and I expect that he will be nominated for the Best Actor award at the Oscars in March. Likewise I expect Lupita Nyong’o to pick up the Rising Star BAFTA for her portrayal of the brutalised Patsey, the object of slavemaster Epp’s molestations. Fassbender, a McQueen favourite, is on form, as usual, as the cruel alcoholic Epps and Cumberbatch is equally good as the more forgiving but by no means less culpable Ford.

12 Years A Slave is the first Hollywood film to follow a slave narrative and I hope it has paved the way for more to follow. It is an absolute ‘must see’ for the insights, truths and contradictions that it presents. It would be a fully deserving winner of the Academy Award for Best Picture.

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The Cabin in the Woods (2012 dir. Drew Godard)

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Sandra’s Verdict

Okay so I’d waited for over a year to see this film, not only did it have the beautiful and very manly Jesse Williams in, from Grey’s Anatomy and Brooklyn’s Finest, but it was co-written and produced by Joss Whedon, the genius behind the TV series Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel, which I was addicted to throughout university; so, as you can imagine, I had very high expectation for this film. And post-film, having avoided all the trailers and spoiler reviews beforehand, I can say that the long wait was most definitely worth it!

According to Whedon the film was a critique of the horror genre; “I love being scared. I love that mixture of thrill, of horror, that objectification/identification thing of wanting definitely for the people to be alright but at the same time hoping they’ll go somewhere dark and face something awful. The things that I don’t like are kids acting like idiots, the devolution of the horror movie into torture porn and into a long series of sadistic comeuppances. Drew and I both felt that the pendulum had swung a little too far in that direction”  (http://www.totalfilm.com/news/joss-whedon-talks-the-cabin-in-the-woods  retrieved 17/04/12).

This desire to swing the pendulum in another direction has paid off as The Cabin in the Woods is brave and original in its ambition and the audience is kept in the loop about the layers involved in this story without spoiling the surprises. The film is aware of itself and the stereotypic aspects of the genre and while playing up to them in places manages not to take itself too seriously by subverting them with refreshing twists elsewhere.

The direction from Drew Goddard is strong and the characters are believable and likable with enough time to setting them up so that the audience roots for them while they face the delights offered up by the cabin.

This is a good escapism film, that will not bog you down with complicated back stories and spend three-quarters of its running time giving you clues with a short ten minute battle or chase sequence at the end; instead it is laden with gory treats that will trick and tease you keeping you entertained and  amused throughout.

Shame (2011 dir Steve McQueen)

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Sandra’s Verdict 

There are a lot of bits in this film and I’m not talking about the narrative, in fact within the first 2 minutes of the film we get to see a completely nude Michael Fassbender and shortly after it is Carey Mulligan’s turn as McQueen introduces the strangely sexual relationship between the on-screen siblings.

Shame is a tense and emotionally charged British drama set in New York which portrays a few days in the life of the sex obsessed and emotionally dysfunctional professional Brandon Sullivan who can sleep with multiple prostitutes but not with women who he fancies. Cissy (Mulligan) and Brandon both seem to have a very odd relationship to sex and it is suggested, although not developed, that this may be due to a childhood of abuse.

The film contains a lot of graphic scenes designed to cause discomfort and pity for the main characters as they continuously press the self-destruct button.

This is an affecting film that shocks you initially but then draws you in. By the end of the film you are no longer repulsed but instead empathise with the unbalanced characters.

Martha Marcy May Merlene (2012 dir Sean Durkin)

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Sandra’s Verdict

The film is about a young woman, Martha (Elizabeth Olsen), who is struggling to come to terms with life after running from a cult headed by the manipulative Patrick, played by John Hawkes. Both Olsen and Hawke’s performances are impressive, Hawkes as a predatory and abusive leader and Olsen as damaged, self-destructive and paranoid Martha.

The film is shot in two lone locations, the run down farm which is home to the cult and the large riverside holiday home of Martha’s sister Lucy which are coloured with dull tones of grey and brown indicating Martha’s isolation; further presented through the cinematographer’s use of depth of field which often isolates her from her surroundings.

The film is less of a story in the sense of problem and resolution but instead floats in between memory and reality to provide glimpses of the demons that haunt the protagonist and explain her unconventional behaviour.

The film has won critical acclaim including a Sundance Film Festival Award for best director and a Phoenix Film Critics Society Award for best leading actress, both of which are well deserved.

Don’t see this film if you are looking for sensation, do see this film if you are looking for something gritty and exploratory.