DVD Movie Review: Le Temps du Loup (The Time of the Wolf) (2003)

vlcsnap2010112215h25m10Not with a bang…

As official selection way back in Cannes 2003, Le Temps du Loup (The Time of the Wolf) (2003) was loved and loathed in equal measure. Both sides have a point – director Michael Haneke had not been so aggressive since the nightmarish but hysterical Funny Games (1997). A disquieting tale of a nameless apocalypse that has reduced Europe to third-world poverty, and the capacity for cruelty revealed in the survivors, Le Temps… is not easy viewing.

But the depth of characterization, coupled with Haneke’s willingness to show that people are capable of good as well as evil in extreme circumstances, makes it impossible to dismiss the film as exploitation.

Things fall apart very quickly – a family arrives at their holiday country cottage, only to have a gun held on them by a wild-eyed man, Fred (Pierre Berriau). Despite attempts to defuse the situation (which are, in fact, early indicators that all is definitely not right in the world), the husband is shot dead – whether by accident or intentionally is never made clear. The perpetrator allows the shell-shocked widow Anna (Isabelle Huppert) and her two children Ben (Lucas Biscombe) and Eva (Anaïs Demoustier) to leave – and they are quickly at the mercy of an increasingly hostile environment. With food and clean water scarce, no electricity and money worthless, the outlook is grim.

Huppert excels in a role that combines the steely determination needed to protect her children as best she can with sincere altruistic overtones, as Anna battles to prevent herself from degenerating to the level of an animal. Solid support is also provided from the child stars, who deliver very mature performances. Refreshing also to see the recently under-used Betty Blue icon, Béatrice Dalle, in a role worthy of her talents, as a forthright, painfully honest member of the makeshift commune to which the wandering family becomes attached.

The concept of society’s threads unravelling is powerful, and, with only one or two unfortunate lapses into grand guignol, the otherwise slow-burn pacing and sense of gathering doom make for an uncomfortable but illuminating journey into darkness.

113 mins. In French.

Cinema Movie Review: Youth (2015)

largeAgeing poorly

They say that youth is wasted on the young; I say retirement is wasted on the old. No, I don’t really mean it – other than for myself, of course. In general terms, I mean that people develop a strong work ethic after slogging for many years and they have difficulty retiring. I would like to front-load my retirement and do it now, before it’s too late and my work ethic has been totally and irrevocably formed.

Which brings me to Youth (2015), a film by Paolo Sorrentino. It is about a retired composer and an unwilling-to-retire film director. I had never heard of the director Sorrentino, but had been very tempted – at least by the trailer – by La grande bellezza (2013), but I didn’t get round to seeing it. Have to say that, unless I hear to the contrary, I am really glad I didn’t bother going. Drawing links between a trailer of one film and another full film may seem unfair. Nevertheless, I was impressed by both the cinematography, the beautiful landscapes and what seemed to be a story outside the normal run-of-the-mill. Those benefits aside, I have to say that Youth is truly a very bad film.

It pains me to write this, but not quite as much as it pained me to sit through it – Youth is a very, very bad film (sorry, I may have already mentioned this). I was also a little flabbergasted and disappointed that the cast had signed up for it. For goodness sake, this film had Michael Caine, Harvey Keitel and a few others including Rachel Weisz and Jane Fonda, FFS. How on earth were they persuaded to turn up for this gig? I imagine they all fancied a bit of a holiday in the Swiss Alps. At the beginning I thought this is going to be great, but it wasn’t. A particular low point was the appearance of singer Paloma Faith, who was there as herself – I had to look her up afterwards and find out who she is and, regrettably, she wasn’t misrepresenting herself.

I could tell you a bit about the story…but honestly, I really can’t be bothered, it was so unbelievably dull. I heartily recommend that anyone who admires and respects the afore-mentioned actors avoids this film.

118 mins.

Cinema Movie Review: Irrational Man (2015)

screen-shot-2015-04-29-at-5-58-10-pmCatherine Feore returns with Picturenose‘s 900th post and her thoughts on Woody Allen‘s latest.

Sipping on a beer before the film, I overheard a wonderfully Allenesque conversation – words that he might have given to a character: ‘J’ai jamais fait du sport, je suis plutot intello’ (I’ve never been sporting, I’m more of an intellectual).

This was said without a trace of irony, I think I managed to stifle a giggle. The guy probably was an intellectual, but to utter this phrase in the Anglo-Saxon world would be an open invitation to savage derision (happily, it was uttered in Belgium). This raised a worrying question in my mind – there appear to be two camps when it comes to Woody Allen, those who are generally in the ‘he is so over-rated’ camp and those who are ‘devotees’. Am I an intello, who doesn’t like sport? All I can say is that to one of these questions, my answer is a resounding ‘Yes’.

To those in the haters camp, I might be considered incapable of critical judgement when it comes to Allen’s films. I would have to query this a little, but will confess that while I have found some of his films unsettling and some not quite as good as others, I have always found them interesting and I always get some sort of insight from them – I even liked Melinda and Melinda (2004).

Irrational Man is a reference to a book of the same name by William Barret on existentialism; the film also leans on Allen’s fascination with the novels of Dostoyevsky, in this instance Crime and Punishment. When it comes to films that address existential questions, I would place Allen somewhere between Bergman and the director of The Fast and the Furious 3, let’s say near the top. So, if this is your bag, you are in for a fun night at the cinema.

The eponymous irrational man is Abe, played by Joaquin Phoenix, a philosophy professor who is resigned to the pointlessness of existence; I say pointlessness, because he has already transcended meaninglessness and despair. Refreshingly, Allen has allowed Phoenix to play an angst-ridden man without forcing him to adopt Woody-like mannerisms – other actors have been less able to resist.

Abe’s arrival on campus is widely anticipated – Rita (Parker Posey), a bored chemistry professor, who has been serially unfaithful to her often-absent husband, is particularly looking forward to meeting the new professor and potential conquest. The other main character, Jill (Emma Stone), is a student who sparks Abe’s interest with an essay where she heavily critiques one of his books.

Jill comes to idolize Abe, and fails to see that ‘he’s a wreck and he smells’. Jill is not the most interesting character, especially compared to the sassy Rita. It would be difficult to see Jill’s attraction to Abe, if it weren’t for her insipid and clinging boyfriend. Abe’s capitulation to Jill’s advances is another aspect of his moral decline.

SPOILER ALERT!

Abe and Jill overhear a discussion in a diner, where a women tells her friends about how a judge has given the custody of her child to her ex-husband who has shown little or no interest in his child to date – she has been impoverished by the legal process and sees no point in an appeal, especially since the judge seems unlikely to move and is an acquaintance of the errant father. Abe decides that he is going to intervene and murder the judge. Initially, he verifies that the judge is the despicable person he appears to be, then he starts to follow his movements and plan his crime. Abe is liberated by his action and feels no guilt afterwards, just a new found love for life. Predictably, things start to go very wrong; when Jill discovers what he’s done, she urges Abe to turn himself in.

I can’t say that I enjoyed this film as much as other Allen work; at times it felt like there had been a lot of cutting and pasting from earlier films. There were a couple of brilliant moments, for example when Abe demonstrates how Russian roulette works to a bunch of optimistic, preppy students, but on the whole, there weren’t many laughs and this can definitely be classed as one of Allen’s darker films, alongside Crimes and Misdemeanors (1989).

Feeling nostalgic for cheerier works, I turned to Hannah and her Sisters (1986), my preferred take on existence where – after dabbling with various religions – Mickey (Allen) finds meaning through the Marx Brothers film Duck Soup (1933), concluding: “What if the worst is true, what if there is no God and you only go round once, and that’s it? Well don’t you want to be part of the experience? It’s not all a drag and I should stop ruining my life searching for answers I’m never going to get and just enjoy it while it lasts. And afterwards, who knows…”

Is this a great Woody Allen? No, it is not, but ultimately he is still the best at this kind of stuff – maybe too comfortable with it, as I sometimes felt in this film. To pull off a work that explicitly addresses existentialist  ideas with any aplomb requires skill – I wouldn’t place this movie (his 50th!) in the top ranking of his work to date; however, to my mind, 97 minutes in a cinema exploring existential ideas beats several evenings in reading Kierkegaard.

97 mins.

DVD Move Review: The Dreamers (2003)

maxresdefaultThe Dreamers (2003) is a film you are supposed to experience, rather than watch. There is far too much going on in Bernardo Bertolucci’s piece to process logically, so you needn’t worry about picking holes in the plot, or anything else. A word of warning, though. If you are against a little bit (okay, a lot) of nudity, The Dreamers may not be for you.

Hollywood sometimes gets a bit squeamish about nudity. It is little surprise then that the many people didn’t warm to the film, or more specifically, some of the ideas and imagery portrayed in it. What is most unfair, though, is to scorch the film based on the director’s reputation, which has been done in the past.

In terms of plot, there are two narratives going on here. There first is a little bit of history for you. Matthew (Michael Pitt), is an American film enthusiast and student. He travels to Paris during the Paris student riots, strikes and protests of the late 60s. There he meets and stays with Théo (Louis Garrel) and Isabelle (Eva Green), who are also lovers of film, and happen to be twins. Expect a lot of English and some French. The Dreamers is very much a visual film, so don’t get too bogged down on the interchanging dialogue. The twins end up sharing their new-found friend with one another, in more ways than you might imagine. That’s where the second narrative comes in. Queue the nudity…

Firstly, let’s get the obvious out of the way. How much nudity are we talking about here? Suffice to say, more than a wee bit. Eva Green goes full frontal, and not just from a distance. We’re talking up close camera work. Michael Pitt’s bits are also plastered on the screen for all to see. In my opinion (though apparently, I’m in the minority), none of the nudity is particularly gratuitous, since it does help to paint a very warped picture of the lifestyle of the twins; their curiosity, for instance.

So, yes, that second narrative. This parallel story concerns the relationship which develops between the three main characters. Naturally, there’s a love story going on between Pitt’s and Green’s characters, and you are kind of hoping in the beginning that Théo might just be a third wheel. Isabelle would disagree, though. You see where this is going? Their relationship makes for fascinating, if uncomfortable viewing at times. It has to be said, I find that the chemistry between Green and Pitt is as cold as ice, but it is scary how in tune Green and Garrel were able to work together. For characters are complex as Isabelle and Théo, that is essential.

After a lot of sexual experimentation, and a lot of throwbacks and homages to past movies, the anything goes attitude of the twins and Matthew, culminates in them participating in the aforementioned riots. After all the smoke is cleared, Matthew walks away from the carnage, no doubt returning to America something less of a prude.

The experience Bertolucci takes you on is a puzzler. Initially, via the first narrative, you are led to believe that The Dreamers is merely about a film about students who love films, in a film by a director who also loves pictures. In such a short space of time, it movies on rapidly to something else entirely. It takes you on a journey, all the while you’re trying to decrypt the feelings and emotions of the trio’s relationship to one another. By the time the most extensive and expressive of the nude scenes is over, you have given up. From there out, as I’ve said, The Dreamers is just an experience, not merely a film.

If you can look past that, and some of the more grotesque elements of those scenes, you’ll find it a heart-warming film, and one which has been clearly thought out. The way the two narratives split apart, and come together again are magical. There are also signs in The Dreamers that Bertolucci is trying to show his admiration for classic films. It is just the way he has chosen to do it, through the “you show me yours, and I’ll show you mine” explorative attitude of the characters, which has people turning away from this film.

Deep is probably not the best word to describe The Dreamers. I prefer layered, or perhaps raw. Whatever your taste in films, there are few like this one. Personally, I like it. It’s different, and I’d certainly recommend it. You know, as long as you’re open to experiencing something slightly outside of your comfort zone.

115 mins.

DVD Movie Review: Etz Limon (Lemon Tree) (2008)

Lemon+TreeLemon tree, ‘green line’?

Once, when we lived in Oman on the Arabian Peninsula, writes Gerald Loftus, we visited a village perched in the rocky hills of the interior. We were there to see a falaj, one of the ancient irrigation canals cut into the stony hillsides, carrying precious water to small gardens and orchards. An Omani farmer took a liking to our small children, and offered us lemons plucked from one of his dozen or so trees. In hot, arid climates, these bright beautiful yellow fruit, standing out against the dark green leaves, are things of beauty.

And so it is in the West Bank – or more precisely, on the ‘Green Line’ that on paper separates Israel from the Occupied Territories – where Eran Riklis’s Lemon Tree (2008) is filmed. Never has a glass of fresh lemonade looked so inviting. That’s what visitors to the home of lead character Salma are offered, from her father’s orchard that she has inherited. From trees that she must protect when politics intrude into her simple life.

Riklis has visited this human terrain before, notably in his 2004 masterpiece, The Syrian Bride. Watching Lemon Tree, you have to remind yourself that this is an Israeli film, or rather, a film made by an Israeli director. But, as Riklis said in a Tikkun interview apropos of The Syrian Bride, when asked if it was a ‘political film’.

First and foremost, this is a humane film. It deals with people who are caught inside politics, inside a political world. It’s a pro-people film. On the other hand, of course it contains political elements. In the Middle East in particular, almost everything that you do and refer to is political. Everything has consequences.

The same could be said of Lemon Tree, though it is political to a much greater degree. When you have the ‘Separation Barrier’, the Supreme Court in Jerusalem, and an Israeli cabinet minister as backdrops or characters in a film, it is political. Everything is political in Israeli-Palestinian relations.

Just as Riklis is sensitive to the nuances of the complex relationship between occupier and occupied, he is a particularly talented observer of the relationships between men and women, in both Israeli and Arab cultures. Nazareth-born Hiam Abbass, who has already appeared in Riklis’ films, plays Salma with innate grace and intelligence. Not only does she have to confront Israeli neighbors bent on separating her from her lemon trees, but also has to navigate a male-dominated Palestinian society. Palestinian officialdom is shown as more troubled over matters of propriety than demonstrating any concern for this defiant widow’s attempts to protect her property.

On the Israeli side of the fence (literally), there is tension in the Minister’s household, where wife Mira (played by revelation Rona Lipaz-Michael) begins to see for herself the human costs of occupation. Eventually they must face the question: is it better to look out onto a luscious orchard (owned, admittedly by Palestinians of unknown security credentials) or to enjoy’ the security offered by watchtowers and the Separation Barrier?

At the time, my viewing of Lemon Tree was sponsored by the women of Brussels film club Cinefemme (whose website has an insightful interview with Riklis), and whose members have been invited by the film’s distributor to provide commentary for a DVD ‘bonus’ segment. They will have much to discuss.

Awards: Click here for details.


Gerald Loftus

106 mins. In Arabic, Hebrew, French and English.

Cinema Movie Review: Gone Girl (2014)

rosamund-pike-in-gone-girl-movie-4Gone but not forgotten

It’s usually a pretty good sign when the writer of a top-selling book collaborates on the bringing to the screen of her baby, so it was a relief to find that Gillian Flynn had gone one better and done all of it herself. Good too, to see David Fincher in the director’s chair – a man who finds it difficult to make a bad film but who came very close to pulling it off with Alien 3 (1992). Fincher brought Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross along to add their brand of electro-melancholia to the proceedings, too. Surely this had to be a hit?

Not-really-spoiler alert: It was a hit but wish me luck in getting through the next couple of paragraphs without leaking too much in the way of plot details. Obviously, this wasn’t going to be the standard missing persons fare, with much hand-wringing and gnashing of teeth. Oh, hands are wrung and teeth gnashed for sure but not for the reasons you might expect.

The story opens with Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck) standing, alone, in his front yard, staring into space. The reason for his pensive mood is the diappearance of his wife, Amy (Rosamund Pike). Obviously upset, he does all the TV appearances, co-operates fully with the cops and does what anyone else would do, were their wife gone. in time, it transpires that the press might not believe him to be all sweetness and light and start a campaign of fear, uncertainty and doubt around him.

The constant attention of Desi Collins (Neil Patrick Harris) was always a concern, could he have something to do with Amy’s disappearance? It seems Nick’s only true friend in the whole world is his sister Margo (Carrie Coon). His ‘celebrity’ lawyer Tanner Bolt (Tyler Perry) has hisback but the game he plays isn’t always as savoury as it might be.

Small but pertinent rant begins here

A lot of people seem to have already written reams about how this film is an obvious polemic to feminism and how it portrays how badly women are treated in society. An equal number have written on its misandry, using the same or similar arguments to present the opposite viewpoint. Vast swathes of text also appear in a simple Google search about the number of ‘plot holes’ in the film. My, how the basement-dwelling neckbeards and Fedora-wearers like to rehash everything their friends have said and pass it off as their own unique insight into the creative process. “But it’s all wrong” they bleat into their chosen social media platform, adding to the reams of pointless tosh already writen on the subject.

Tell you what guys (and it largely is guys, sadly) if you don’t feel you can suspend even a little disbelief for a couple of hours and just sit back with your popcorn in one hand and sparkling beverage of choice in the other and just enjoy the fucking movie, stay at home. When we want your opinion, we’ll beat it out of you.

Small but pertinent rant ends here

For the rest (majority) of us, sit back and enjoy the ride. Isms aside, this is a story that plays off man against woman in their respective geder roles, until it doesn’t. or does it? It also relies heavily on the interaction of no more than five characters, in essence. It’s a hard thing to keep going for over two hours, except with a great cast and a director who knows his way around these things like the back of his hand. Aside from my personal suspension of disbelief wavering slightly at the thought of Neil Patrick Harris not being Barney from How I Met Your Mother (2005-14) it’s very easy to wonder where the time went. Ignore the internet nay-sayers and enjoy this creepy and nerve-jangling potboiler.

149 mins.

Cinema Movie Review: Nymphomaniac Vols I+II (2013)

nymphomaniacDeeply unsatisfying
Just like the auteur that he likes to think of himself as being, Nymphomaniac Vols I+II (2013) director Lars von Trier has whined on somewhat about how he did not approve of the release of his film being cut into two volumes, and that the only way to ‘appreciate’ his work completely is to watch his five-and-a-quarter hours version, which received its first showing at the 64th Berlin International Film Festival. Those lucky festival-goers.

The film is the final part of Trier’s self-titled ‘Trilogy of Depression’, preceded by Antichrist (2009) and Melancholia (2011), both of which also star Charlotte Gainsbourg.

Depressing it most certainly is; and not, unfortunately, impressively so. It’s a funny thing, but I have never watched any von Trier film more than once, and once for Nymphomaniac, both volumes, will certainly suffice for this reviewer. Their combination of utter misery, depravity and frequent misogyny negates the fact the both are, in places, quite brilliantly made, in much the same way as Trier’s Antichrist and Breaking the Waves (1996) pushed the boundaries of what anyone could be expected to take from a film.

But Mr. von Trier, provocation does not art make.

The story centres on Joe (Gainsbourg), a 50-something attractive woman whom Spigelman (Stellan Skarsgård) finds badly beaten up in an alleyway. He brings her home to his flat, where he cares for her while asking her about her life. Joe proceeds to tell him over eight chapters (yes, it’s a Lars von Trier film) how, as a self-diagnosed nymphomaniac, she ended up in the alley. Seligman, himself a self-confessed assexual virgin, has read many books, from which he has acquired a deep historical general knowledge, but not of life, and he connects the stories the Joe is telling him with what he has read about. The story is thus divided into two volumes – Volume I follows young Joe as portrayed by Stacy Martin, while the older Joe in Seligman’s apartment is played by Charlotte Gainsbourg, and Volume II follows Joe as portrayed completely by Gainsbourg.

Realizing from a very young age her interest in carnality, close to her loving father (Christian Slater) but distant from her cold mother (Connie Nielson), Joe proceeds to lose her virginity young (aged 15) to Jerôme (Shia LaBeouf younger, Michaël Pas older) in an encounter that is not very satisfying for Joe. Her enjoyment of sex is set to grow hugely, however, when she and her best friend B (Sophie Kennedy Clark) decide to reject all of society’s notions of love in order to pursue nothing else but lust. However, when B realizes that she now believes love to be an integral part of the best sex, Joe rejects her and sets out on her own path which leads her, inevitably, back to Jerôme and far, far beyond…

It’s rather like how shocking you may find the use of the ‘C’ word, quite frankly – in setting out to show us at all costs and repeatedly what has never before been portrayed in mainstream cinema, Trier has unfortunately neglected to offer any real emotional involvement with any of his characters, not even with Joe.

Thus, the film emerges as little more than a cold, uninvolving ‘What the Butler Saw’ style experience, the most striking part of which is when the betrayed wife of one of Joe’s conquests, Mrs H (a brilliant Uma Thurman), arrives at Joe’s apartment with her three young boys in tow to explain how things are going to be different for them all now, to show them ‘Daddy’s favourite place’ (Joe’s bed), and to ask Joe how she believes she will cope with loneliness. An utterly mute Joe watches with, presumably, the same level of cringing, embarrassed horror that you feel as a spectator to this car-crash cinema, which the remainder of the film strives but never manages to duplicate.

And, again this being von Trier, those expecting a happy ending will be sorely disappointed but, again, Spigelman’s final revelation simply did not ring true.

I know you will all watch it, and am not saying you shouldn’t but, whether you go for prurient or philosophical purposes, I am afraid you will be leaving as unsatisfied as Joe.

245 mins.

DVD Movie Review: The Master (2012)

the-master_water

No mastery here

Been a while, but I’m back now, happy to be back, thanks to everyone who has kept it with Picturenose. I just wish I could bring you better news upon my return, but such are the perils of writing about movies – every so often, you’re going to find one that has seemingly everything going for it, including an ensemble cast, a terrific premise and one of the best directors working today, period (Paul Thomas Anderson), and yet emerge from its (near interminable) 138 mins feeling frustrated, even angry, at the waste of time that you have just experienced.

The film is The Master (2012), and both myself and very good friend with whom I went to watch it at Brussels’ excellent Cinematek had both been looking forward very much to catching up with P.T.’s latest. After all, this was the man who had brought us the simply marvellous There Will Be Blood (2007) and Magnolia (1999), and the very sadly departed Philip Seymour Hoffman was cast as Lancaster Dodd, the leader of a quasi-religious movement known as ‘The Cause’ that is gaining popularity and notoriety in the US post World War II, and which should definitely, absolutely not be taken as being in any way referential to L. Ron Hubbard and Scientology.

Both of us were fascinated and settled into our seats eagerly to enjoy the film. Which didn’t happen. At all.

Joaquin Phoenix, it must be said, is well cast and delivers a snarling, twitching performance as WWII vet Freddie Quell who, because of his alcoholism, sex addiction and general misanthropy, is having great difficulty adjusting to civilian life after the war. Stowing away on Dodd’s boat, the pair meet and develop a liking for each other (which is helped by Dodd developing a liking for Quell’s mysterious hooch, which has paint thinner as one of its ingredients). Offering to help Quell sort out his issues with the ‘Processing’ techniques that are an integral part of his philosophical movement, Dodd welcomes him into his life. But Quell is very resistant to change…

I was around 45 minutes into the film when I first realized that I just didn’t care about any of the characters at all – Hoffman plays the spiritual leader with none of the charisma of his earlier performances, nor the charisma that one would expect a guru like Dodd/Hubbard to have. Amy Adams is utterly insipid, quel surprise, as Dodd’s wife and, while Phoenix’s anger and self-destructive tendencies are arresting at the outset, his performance quickly becomes a one-note turn.

What’s more, to our amazement, the film was simply deathly dull and, as we both realized once it was over, utterly pointless. Of course, I am perfectly aware that my take flies utterly in the face of the accepted wisdom concerning the film, namely critical acclaim across the board, but I care not a jot – it just didn’t do it for me. I’d tell you to go and see it, so we could have an argument, but I’m serious when I say that I would not wish that upon you.

138 mins. 

Cinema Movie Review: The Wolf of Wall Street (2013)

15-outrageous-scenes-in-martin-scorseses-wolf-of-wall-street-we-cant-wait-to-seeGone Gonzo

“No sympathy for the devil; keep that in mind. Buy the ticket, take the ride…and if it occasionally gets a little heavier than what you had in mind, well…maybe chalk it off to forced consciousness expansion: Tune in, freak out, get beaten.” Hunter S. Thompson

Martin Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street (2013) is nothing more than Hunter S. Thompson’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas in a fitted suit. Both stories retell the story through the inebriated mind of the criminal protagonist who’s in pursuit of an unreachable destination: The American Dream. Instead of the sleazy, sunburnt cascade of Las Vegas, we’re thrown into the concrete jungle of New York City– the city known for its lack of care and compassion. But which dream is it, you ask? The dream of becoming insanely rich. So rich, so quick that it couldn’t possibly be true and definitely not legal. Sell your soul for an early retirement. Why see your child when you can see your yacht? The plan is to out trick the trickster. Then when caught, deny the whole thing.

Martin Scorsese has proven his ability to transcend genres through his ability to capture his audience’s attention at every turn. In The Wolf of Wall Street, Scorsese has again teamed up with his regular title-card actor, Leonardo DiCaprio (The Departed (2006), The Aviator (2004), Shutter Island (2010), and Gangs of New York (2002)) for the fifth time and created his darkest comedy to date. In both The Aviator and Shutter Island, DiCaprio was tasked with playing the manic sociopath. Instead of saving his own urine or choosing to be a mental patient, Dicaprio knocks it out of the park with his bewildering and drug-enriched portrayal. Just remember that this entire story is based on fact.

Jordan Belfort (DiCaprio) is a young man trying to make a name for himself on Wall Street. Not long after losing his job for a large reputable firm, he spins off and creates a new sector of investing. This sector utilizes Belfort’s greatest asset which is his ability to sell to people by tapping into a part of the psyche where people are most vulnerable – their hopes and dreams. He cons those looking for a sweet deal. The deal that is too good to be true. Those who only have a few thousand in savings and no retirement in sight. Belfort knows that people’s greed will eventually overtake their ability to think critically and when they do he will be there ready to pounce.

Once the dreams have been plundered, the fun can begin. Parties and drugs. Women and boats. At times, The Wolf of Wall Street feels more like a advertisement for cocaine use. Need a lift? Cocaine. Need to sell more stocks? Cocaine. Need something to even out your quaaludes? Cocaine. Cocaine – the miracle drug. I would say that coke should get a supporting acting credit for how much it brought to the table.

Soon enough, the drugs begin to weigh on people’s judgement and poor (i.e. more illegal) decisions continue to be made. Belfort decides to branch out. He creates a monster in his own image: a firm in Manhattan trading penny stocks. He diversifies his liabilities by opening offshore accounts. The success is publicized, but unlike Belfort’s gullible ‘investors’ the FBI knows when an investment is too good to be true and can smell the spoiled meat leftover from ‘The Wolf’.

My favorite scene is when the FBI agent (Kyle Chandler) is confronts Belfort on his million-dollar yacht for a casual discussion on why the FBI has been so interested on Belfort’s dealings. To paint the scene, once FBI agent Patrick Denham and his partner are welcomed aboard, there are two skimpily clad women, a buffet, and all the drinks you could imagine. What begins as a casual discussion, turns into a discreet and cheeky bribe by Belfort, and the ‘aww-schucks’ mentality of the FBI turns out to be part of the ploy. Belfort realizes he screwed up and loses his composure.

Still, for Belfort, the only crime is getting caught. He begins to blame others’ weaknesses and stupidity for his eventual downfall. Never once accepting the blame for evaporating millions in others’ retirement funds. His menace and straight lack of compassion is always expertly placed at the forefront. For all the credit that DeCaprio has gotten, I feel a lot more needs to go to the director.

Scorsese includes two scenes that are completely unforgettable. In their meticulous debauchery, you are unsure whether to laugh or be disgusted. Quaaludes instigate the disasters. Both scenes are as austere and unsettling as Jonah Hill’s teeth; at the same time, the scenes are so well choreographed that Scorsese’s vision shines. The energy jumps from the screen and into your lap (or up your nose).

Although the story reaches unbelievable heights, it isn’t until there’s an ill-timed drug overdose that the film manages to achieve its fever pitch. Things unravel and individuals’ true colours come to light when the money begins to dry up.

The pure insanity of the story has Gonzo in its marrow. Rising above the insanity there is a story wrestling with its morals. But you simply realize that story has no morals. There is no soul. It is nothing more than a buzzed weekend stroll through the desert and into the board room. Still, it is a drug you will not forget.

180 mins.

Cinema Movie Review: Her (2013)

herLove from the machine?

Spike Jonze has created a world in the not-so-distant future where a heartbroken loner like Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix) has the ability to download an operating system named Samantha (Scarlett Johansson) and – voila – has a girlfriend. Although the relationship is not, at first, physical, the two build the kind of rapport most couples only yearn to achieve. While their connection is palpable, the differences in processing their respective feelings become apparent. Samantha transforms to resemble Spock, or some type of robot, who is coping with the experience of having emotions for the first time. Meanwhile, Theodore is trying to avoid the reality that he is dating his cell phone.

Her (2013) isn’t a normal love story even in our tech-savvy world. When reading the film’s synopsis, I envisioned a Craigslist ad from one of the site’s less-than-wholesome offerings. Something to the effect of: “Operating system looking to provide you with a girlfriend experience. Will laugh at all nerdy jokes… No need to pay for my dinners. Just type in your password and I’m all yours.”

All of Jonze’s previous films (Being John Malkovich (1999) Adaptation (2002) and Where The Wild Things Are (2009)) all take on deeply psychological aspects of life. In Her, Jonze presents themes of mortality and explores our relationships– with each other and technology. Several scenes suggest that we are no longer vested in our interpersonal relationships. Perhaps, like Theodore, we vest more energy in our electronics than in those people with whom we interact. Theodore is the face for this lack of personal communication. He is a professional love letter author, but squirms with discomfort when given praise for his writing ability. He no longer knows how to react in a mature manner in various social situations. He has what appears to be one close friend in Amy (Amy Adams), but notices neither her interest in their burgeoning friendship nor her call for help. In contrast, any praise he receives from Samantha is gobbled up and a sense of accomplishment is exuded.

Theodore and Samantha further navigate each other’s networks and soon have a blossoming relationship. Theodore takes Samantha for long tram rides through town, while Samantha returns the favor by leading Theodore for long walks via her camera’s eye. The two’s connection strengthens and the word “love” surfaces.

As Theodore becomes comfortable with his unconventional relationship, he decides to go on a double date with his boss and his boss’ girlfriend. There is an innocent moment when Samantha poses a question which results in a slightly awkward situation for the couple. However, with her and Theodore, there is never an awkward moment, since she is programmed to know exactly what to say. Theodore soon begins to realize that Samantha’s interactions with him are purely manufactured.

The film then shifts to show how people naively believe they are made for eachother, but eventually one of the two in the relationship begins to grow and a decision needs to be made– stick around and be stagnant or release oneself to greater heights. Theodore’s ex-wife (Rooney Mara) left him due to the fact he was unable to emotionally deal with her personal changes. Now Theodore is confronted with an operating system that is eager to learn and process all the information she can handle. Theodore now squirms knowing his operating system is talking to other operating systems and– worse– other lonely people. Decision time.

In Her, it is the warmth that presents itself within the dialogue and cinema that is most intoxicating. It provides a world that is very real, but also one you feel shouldn’t exist. It always feels wrong to be so emotionally vested in an object that is likely to slip out of your hand into the toilet after one too many lagers. Just as in Before Midnight (2013), we see the consequences technology has on the spontaneity and delicacy of relationships.

Spike Jonze has captured a feeling of true loneliness and confusion in his depiction of Theodore finalizing his divorce. He was also able to bottle Theodore’s euphoria when Samantha and he were at their peak. The notion of the film was aptly conveyed, as I found myself reaching for my iphone, ipad, and ibook to shut them all down for the night. Then I found myself reaching out for bisous from my wife and child, feeling fortunate that I don’t have to rely on technology to fulfill my sense of self worth.

126 mins.

Cinema Movie Review: Nebraska (2013)

Nebraska_thumbLGOn the road again

During the 1970s, Bruce Dern‘s reputation as a fine character actor was established by films such as They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? (1969)Silent Running (1972), Black Sunday (1977)The Driver (1978) and Coming Home (1978), for which he was nominated for an Oscar. More recently, he has appeared in Inside Out (2011), Django Unchained (2012) and  From Up on Poppy Hill (2012).

He has also (quite deservedly) received a nod from the Academy for Nebraska (2013), in which he stars as aging, booze-addled father Woody Grant who, convinced that he has won a million dollars in a Mega Sweepstakes Marketing prize scam, takes a trip all the way from from Montana to Nebraska with his estranged son David (Will Forte), in order to collect his ‘winnings’. En route, he is set to visit the small town of his birth, where he is seemingly welcomed by his old friends and family, but soon discovers that they are really only interested in the money they believe he has won. David, meanwhile, while playing along with his father’s fantasy for the sake of spending some time with him, comes to realise that there is much more to the old man than meets the eye.

It’s rare to find such a genuinely sweet, affecting film – Dern is excellent as the cantankerous, bitter but nevertheless proud Woody, as is June Squibb as his long-suffering wife Kate who, while seeming to have no more time for her man, nevertheless has a deep and abiding love for him.

Alexander Payne, who also made the excellent About Schmidt (2002) and Sideways (2004), coaxes moving and real performances from his entire cast, in a film that speaks poignantly of regret, loss and frustration without resort to melodrama – you will be torn, as I was, between rooting for Woody and wishing that he, and his dysunctional family, would simply get a grip, and the ending is unexpected, uplifting and genuinely moving. Best of luck with the gong, old son.

115 mins.