Tuesday’s Reviews – Rough Night (2017)

bullshit, drugs, films, fucking awful, fucking ridiculous, Kate McKinnon, meh, Scarlett Johansson, silly, women

There’s a lot to be said for my love of Kate McKinnon. I was almost 100% sure that I didn’t want to ever watch Rough Night but every time I saw the trailer I couldn’t help but think “Kate McKinnon though…”. So I decided to just go with it. Best case scenario: it’d be the new Bridesmaids. Worst case scenario: well, I’ve seen both of the Sex and the City movie and it’s got to be better than that, right? Don’t even ask me how that happened but it did. When you’ve seen those films and Mama Mia it becomes really difficult to imagine a film that I can hate quite as much. With every second of SATC2, each cell in my body started to shrink into itself out of anger and embarrassment; embarrassment for the people who made it, the people who liked it and for me, for making the decision to watch it. The good thing about writing this blog over the years is that I have a different range for what is good and bad. It’s like studying novels of sensibility during my Masters degree. I suddenly found a new appreciation for all of the books I thought were rubbish because they all had something more than just countless stupid young women fainting at the slightest sound. Once again, provided nobody in Rough Night fainted in the arms of their creepy uncle/step father then this definitely wouldn’t be the worst story I’ve ever experienced. So that’s something.

For one moment back in 2011 it seemed as though the world was finally ready to accept that women deserved to be given the chance to be a outrageously funny as men. As though everyone else was as sick of seeing the guys from films like The Hangover get into drunken capers and were as desperate to let the ladies have a go. Unfortunately, the change never really happened and the path towards gender equality in terms of comedy films has been a slow and painful one. It’s not as if people haven’t tried. Hell, Paul Feig is and Melissa McCarthy are trying desperately to make the raunchy female lead comedy land. It hasn’t quite worked in the way we wanted. Look at the internet’s reaction to a female only Ghostbusters for fuck’s sake. Clearly, that glass ceiling is still as thick as ever.

But that doesn’t mean Hollywood isn’t willing to give these types of films as chance when they arise. The latest is Rough Night from the writers of Broad City and boasts a great cast of female talent. It is also, in its basic form, like a female reworking of the 1998 Jon Favreau film Very Bad Things with a slight hint of The Hangover. A while ago I read a comment on the internet, probably YouTube, that was basically an outcry from some guy about remaking Very Bad Things with women. Now I can just about get that people were worried about Ghostbusters because it’s such a classic. But Very Bad Things? Nobody is worrying about that reputation being ruined. I mean it’s not exactly gone down in cinematic history. Who’s thinking “oh, I vividly remember watching Very Bad Things for the first time and don’t want my important memories to be destroyed”? Yeah, no one.

But, as it happens, Rough Night actually builds on the Very Bad Things legacy by being forgettably bad. The film is set around one night on the bachelorette party of wannabe Senator Jess (Scarlett Johansson). It is being planned by her college roommate Alice (Jillian Bell) who is feeling neglected by her old friend. Joining the pair are their fellow college friends, Blair (Zoë Kravitz) and Frankie (Ilana Glazer), who are battling with their messy romantic past as well as problems in their current lives. A random element turns up in the shape of a woman Jess befriended during a year studying in Australia. Pippa (Kate McKinnon) is a bit of a weirdo and instantly puts Alice’s nose out of joint by appearing to be much closer to the bride-to-be. After a night of cocaine, drinking and choreographed dance routines, the group return to the house they’ve rented to carry on the fun. Blair orders Jess a stripper but, a ridiculous accident, causes his untimely death. The ladies are then left with a body on their hands.

From the outset, Rough Night is desperate to prove that these women are ready to party and there is no underlying sense of judgement going on. The women are all allowed to enjoy their night out without the audience getting the feeling that it’s wrong. It also helps that the characters naturally fit together on screen. Their attempts at typical lad banter feels more natural than it does in a lot of these types of films. Rough Night isn’t a terrible film and there are plenty of funny moments. However, most of these moments are the smaller, throwaway gags that get lost in the mess. The rest of that mess is catered to specific criteria set about for commercial purposes. There is the generic slapstick silliness from the trailer and the cringey attempts to bring big laughs to all the idiots that are rushing out to see this film. It’s mostly just a big miss and the best moments are brushed aside for supposedly “guaranteed” laughs.

Rough Night isn’t the worst movie of this type around and, thanks mostly to the cast, manages to create some positive and memorable moments. However, it is a film that is clearly at odds with itself. It is written by clever writers who know how to bring the humour out of weirdness and stars actors willing to get a bit freaky. However, it ends up playing too close to the stereotypical humour of these R rated comedies. It’s a bit too big and brash to really work completely. Everyone is working overtime to make it come together but it’s a runaway train of outrageous comedy. As the narrative moves forward and more insane subplots keep popping up it just gets out of hand. Rough Night is trying so hard to be The Hangover that it’s forgotten the heart that made Bridesmaids so appealing. It’s so annoying in it’s desperation to appeal to everyone that is forgets to be funny or sweet. Although, there are some positives to take away. Most notably the relationship between Blair and Frankie, which is played out more naturally than most same-sex romances you see on screen anymore. This film could have been good had it focused a bit more on emotions and character than on trying to compete with the guys.

TBT – Live and Let Die (1973)

drugs, fucking weird, in memoriam, James Bond, meh, Roger Moore, spy, TBT

This week, amidst all of the horrors of the terrorist attack in Manchester, we got the terrible news that actor Roger Moore had died at the age of 89. Moore has become a household name thanks to his numerous television and film roles but it is his time playing James Bond that cemented his place in the annals of pop culture history. Everyone has their own favourite James Bond but I guess Sean Connery and Roger Moore are two of the more iconic names associated with the role. Connery was the first Bond and created the basis for the character. However, it was Roger Moore who stepped in, after George Lazenby’s forgettable attempt, to give the character his own spin. For my part, I think Moore is my ultimate Bond. I mean a huge part of me will always love Pierce Brosnan because it’s Pierce fucking Brosnan. He’s ridiculous but wonderful. I’d also be so bold as to say that Brosnan and Moore both approached the role in similar ways, which probably explains why they’re both my favourite. I understand why people think Sean Connery is the best and, I admit, he’s bloody great. I just prefer my Bond to be a little sillier and that’s one thing we came to expect from the Sir Roger. Bur you know what, I’ll be honest, I think it really just comes down to the eyebrow.

If you don’t count Never Say Never Again, which a lot of people don’t because it isn’t canon, then Roger Moore played James Bond in the most films. If you do count it then he ties for first place with Sean Connery. No matter how petulant you are, it’s clear that these two actors are pretty important when it comes to the character of James Bond. Both had very different approaches to the role and, in quote you’ll have seen a lot since his death this week, Roger Moore himself suggests that Connery played the character as a killer whilst he played him as a lover. I think this sums up the differences quite well. Sean Connery had fun with the role but it was Roger Moore that really got to grips with the funny. He played to his strengths and presented the character as suave, sophisticated and very silly. Moore’s own sense of humour is evident in his interviews and he was always well aware of the absurdity that went with the Bond brand. So he used it for all it was worth.

As he got older, Moore’s bond relied on humour more than the physical side and some of his films are up there the best of the franchise. His first film, on the other hand, is fairly forgettable and. until I rewatched it for the purposes of this blog, I couldn’t have told you a lot about it. James is called into action after 3 British agents die in mysterious but connected circumstances. He finds that a dangerous Caribbean dictator, Dr Kananga, is running around town as his drug baron alter ego Mr Big. The plot itself is very convoluted and overly complicated. We see Bond stick out like a sore thumb in African American communities as the Bond franchise embraced the blaxploitation films of the era. It makes for kind of uncomfortable viewing nowadays but the film was a financial success at the time.

The problems with Live and Let Die aren’t necessarily that it’s a bad film. I mean it’s not great but there are some interesting ideas floating around. The main issue is that it’s a bad James Bond film. We lack that super villain presence and the crazy gadgets. Instead we just have groups of drug smugglers chasing Bond through the Louisiana marshes in speedboats. It’s exciting to a point but we’ve had better chases. And ones that weren’t punctuated with the world’s most annoying and stereotypically Southern Sheriff. This is a film that just doesn’t really know where it’s going or how to make it big enough. People had come to expect great things with James Bond and they wanted to see him fight a villain who could destroy the planet. Instead we see him chasing voodoo loving drug dealers. We were on more realistic ground but the simplicity of the plot gets lost in a confusing narrative. It should have kept things more basic.

Roger Moore takes some time to get used to the character and this is definitely not one of this greatest moments. Although, there is a certain twinkle in his eye that suggests he is constantly aware of how crazy this all is even if he keeps his poker face on for the entire film. It’s got all the aspects that will become Moore’s trademark but he isn’t quite self-assured enough to pull it off yet here. There are some pretty great moments, though, and it’s a good start. He also works really well alongside his female co-star, Jane Seymour. As much as I hate the huge 24 year age gap between the pair, I think they have great chemistry. and Seymour has to be up at the top of the most beautiful Bond girls of all time.

After watching this film again after so long, I’m kind of upset that I picked this film to celebrate the life of Roger Moore. It’s an overly complicated, lengthy and fairly forgettable film in the entire franchise. There are some great elements and some fantastic scenes but it never really feels like it’s on steady ground. It has a lot of things we’ve come to expect from a Bond film but it lacks the finesse and grandeur of the rest. It’s just not outrageous enough. We’ve seen with the Daniel Craig era that realistic Bond can be successful but it still needs to be over-the-top to give the character room to move. Instead, things just awkwardly plod from one location to the next. Despite all this, I still love Roger Moore and, when it comes to James Bond, nobody does it better.

TBT – The Diary of a Teenage Girl (2015)

drugs, fucking funny, Kristen Wiig, TBT, teen movie, teenagers, women

When The Diary of a Teenage Girl came out last year I was desperate to see it. Of course, I didn’t see it at the time and it has been calling to me every time I opened Netflix recently. The graphic novel has been in my Amazon basket for months as well. It’s exactly the kind of thing I was bound to get obsessed with. You know the score by now: feminism and shit. Although, upon its release it caused something of a controversy as all the best things do. The critics loved it but the 18 rating was a fairly controversial topic in the UK. The film was given a high rating for its sexual content. However, as a film about a teenage girl coming to terms with her own sexuality, it meant nobody that this story was relevant to would have seen it at the cinema. Even the film’s star Bel Powley came out to urge teenagers to sneak into the film to embrace its message. I mean, really, it’s a fair point. Yes, there’s a lot of dark and adult themes running through the film but, it’s not more sexually suggestive than many of the films out there with a lower rated. I realise that we live in a world where we try and protect people from certain things but it always seemed fucked up that people were trying to keep this film from the people who it was made for. Still, that doesn’t matter now it’s been out for so long. Anyone can see it now and, without wanting to spoil anything, they all should.

The Diary of a Teenage Girl is set in the 1970s and is the story of 15 year old Minnie Goetz (Bel Powley) as she starts to explore her sexuality. The object of her misguided affections is her bohemian mother’s (Kristen Wiig) 35 year old boyfriend, Monroe, (Alexander Skarsgård). Minnie makes the choice to loser her virginity to Monroe. Minnie is desperate for affection and love so quickly falls into a torrid and emotionally unstable relationship. She further descends into a world of drugs, alcohol and sex to come to help her understand who she is becoming. It’s a difficult, dark and real portrayal of what it is to be teenage girl. I mean it’s not exactly everyone’s story but it gets to the heart of teenage identity and female sexuality that has often been hidden in films like this. We’re used to representing young men accepting their role as Lothario but women are still being encouraged to keep their virtue. It’s about time we had a healthy view of growing up as a girl.

It makes for uncomfortable viewing at times thanks to the morally questionably major relationship. It’s not always easy to watch as Minnie falls deeper into a spiral of destructive behaviour. However, the film is still incredibly watchable and enjoyable. Deep down there lies plenty of love and comfort beneath the addictive behaviour and toxic relationships. It is still a funny and unashamedly bawdy story but it so well made that it works remarkably well. First time director Marielle Heller understands the message at the heart of Minnie’s story and she knows how to work with it. Acting as writer as well, she has managed to forge a great and multi-layered script out of Phoebe Gloeckner’s graphic novel.

Although, really, this film is made on the performances and the main trio are all equally fantastic. Alexander Skarsgård never overplays his position of an adult man entering into a sexual relationship with a teenage girl. Equally, Kristen Wiig is strong as Minnie’s mother who has left a stable marriage to a scientist in favour of a life of drugs, alcohol and relationships with dodgy men. She laments her lost youth and is increasingly jealous of her blossoming daughter. She can’t make her mind up between showing Minnie affection or being hard and cold. In Charlotte we see the problems that come from growing up believing you are nothing better than your looks and the man you’re with. Wiig is astonishing in her role. But it is Bel Powley who is standout and is breakthaking in the role of Minnie. She is funny, confused and scared. It’s a great performance that, even within the context of a drug-influenced lifestyle, is recognisable for anyone who grew up as a female.

The Diary of a Teenage Girl is the kind of film we need to embrace for he sheer fact that is presents a side of female identity that is often hidden away. It manages to do it in an incredibly sensitive way and without placing any judgement on its main character. Bel makes mistakes but it is never her undoing. She likes sex but never finds herself becoming the social outcast because of it. The film doesn’t end with her fall from grace but with her confidently accepting her sense of self. She learns a lot about who she is and who she can be. It’s empowering and I am really fucking sad it wasn’t made when I was still in my teens. Any teenage girls out there who haven’t see it, see it as soon as you can.

TBT – Leprechaun in the Hood (2000)

B movie, drugs, fucking awful, rap, review, TBT

Recently my inbox has been filled with emails concerning special green-based promotions taking place on various websites. This can only mean one thing: St Patrick’s day is coming up. Yes, that one day of the year when everyone pretends to be Irish so they have an excuse to drink a fuck load is upon us again. The one night where people pretend to love Guinness despite the fact that it’s a fucking meal in a glass. In honour of this special day this TBT is all about one of my favourite franchises of all time: the Leprechaun films. Admittedly, I’ve only seen the 3rd, 4th and 5th of the 6 but I can tell you its part of my bucket list to finish them one day. Hell, we’ve all got to have something to live for.

I remember the first Leprechaun film I ever saw: it was Leprechaun 4: In Space. It’s fair to say I’d been drinking. My 17 year old friends and I were channel-hopping and came across a film that started with a fucking Leprechaun emerging from some dude’s dick. Can you honestly tell me you wouldn’t feel compelled to continue watching it? Anyway, as it turned out, Warwick Davis playing a homicidal Leprechaun was both the worst thing I’d ever seen and the fucking greatest. Especially when for some reason he becomes fucking gigantic.
Needless to say we tracked down other films in the series and, unsurprisingly, I was drawn to the next film in the series: Leprechaun in the Hood. I’m not shy in admitting that it’s my favourite of the ones I’ve seen so far and, I’m fairly comfortable presuming, the entire series. A small amount of research (i.e. a quick look on Wikipedia) showed me that this year is the film’s 15th anniversary. Fucking fate.
As the title suggests, Leprechaun in the Hood puts our favourite Irish killer in the world of hip hop and, to make the point even more obvious, it stars fucking Ice-T. It also stars the guy who went on to play Ensign Travis Mayweather inStar Trek: Enterprise but I can see how that’s a much less interesting fact. We have good old fashioned gangsta rap and a young group of wannabe hoping to fill the world with their respectful lyrics. We’ve got fucking social and musical commentary here, guys.
Unsurprisingly, the plot isn’t really that important to the proceedings as it’s just a random chain of events that allows the Leprechaun to fuck shit up. Our titular villain is looking to get his magic flute back after producer Mac Daddy stole it some years later. The power of the flute has ensure Mac Daddy’s great success over the years by essentially hypnotising his listeners. Unfortunately, our three hopeful rappers get caught up in the violence after they steal the flute and become overnight sensations. That’s pretty much all there is to this film. 90 minutes of bad rapping, Zombie Fly Girls, and Warwick Davis speaking in rhyme. It’s fucking awful but it’s also the best thing you’ll ever fucking see.
For a supposed horror film,Leprechaun in the Hood, is hardly what I’d call scary but none of the best B movies ever are. There is so much to love about this film: the shitty effects, the shitty Irish accent, the shitty rapping, and the shitty acting. Then there’s the script: Leprechaun in the Hoodoffers some of the most unbelievable dialogue I’ve ever heard. For your consideration:

“Look at all these glittering goods – I’ve got more loot than Tiger Woods! 

“I’ll take it from you, homie, you’ll see, cause you know the Leprechaun is the real O.G.”

“A friend with weed is a friend indeed, but a friend with gold is the best I’m told.”  

So you see, there is a great deal of writing skill on show here. It’s fucking amazing. In all honesty, I think the phrase “Chucky on crack” is perhaps the best thing I’ve ever heard. What’s not to like?
So yes, Leprechaun in the Hood isn’t exactly a masterpiece of modern cinema, something highlighted by the fact that it was a straight to video feature. However, it is life changing. It has that great B movie charm where everything is obviously done on shoestring and is so fucking cheap and nasty. It’s politically incorrect, relies on awful stereotypes and manages to be neither intentionally funny or scary. The moments when it’s not trying to be funny are, of course, some of the greatest Leprechaun-based moments of comedy you’ll ever see. So I implore you, once you’re all liquored up on St Paddy’s day, sit down with your friends and experience something beautiful together. I think, ultimately, that’s what the Leprechaun would have wanted.

Revival by Stephen King

books, death, drugs, religion, review, Stephen King

 I never really know what to think about Stephen King. I have a great deal of respect for him as a writer and for his attitude towards the publishing world in general. However, the last few of his books that I’ve made my way through have never quite delivered the promise that his reputation makes for them. I fell in love with the gorgeous, pulpy cover for his 2013 book Joylandbut found the final twist to be really fucking dull. Am I missing something? Or is this King of contemporary horror just a little pedestrian these days? Not terrible by any means but nothing to get excited about. Although, he always has this way of drawing me back in. My fucking huge TBR pile has prevented me from buying Mr Mercedes so far, his first 2014 release, but every time I see it on the shelf I get a little bit closer. It was the connection to Frankenstein and HP Lovecraft that persuaded me to break my book buying ban for Revival. If something connected to Mary Shelley then I’d probably be tempted to break anything to try it.

The Riot Club (2014)

alcohol, drugs, Max Irons, meh, posh, review, Sam Claflin
No matter how much I loved An Education,I have to be honest, I never wanted to see The Riot Club. Unfortunately, a friend of mine was desperate to see it because “she loves posh boys”. As the only alternative film I had in my arsenal was the new and most likely disappointing Woody Allen film, I couldn’t change her mind. Still, considering Douglas Booth has a fucking beautiful jawline (who’s with me, ladies?) I was pretty sure I could work with it. Besides, who doesn’t enjoy a bit of social commentary on a Wednesday afternoon?

The Riot Club is based on Laura Wade’s hit play Posh. When Wade’s work first opened back in 2010, everyone made a massive deal about the possible connections between its central society and the infamous Oxford Bullingdon Club. Set up as social and political commentary, Lone Scherfig’s The Riot Club is less of an important debate than it is a brash reintroduction of tired, old stereotypes.

Adapting her original narrative for the big screen, Wade starts by turning The Riot Club  into some kind of cheesy college-rom com. Miles (Max Irons) and Alistair (Sam Claflin) are newly arrived freshers who don’t get off to the best start. Instantly fighting to get the attention of lovable state school student, Lauren (Holliday Grainger), the pair fall into an uneasy rivalry. Unfortunately for the pair, they are both prime candidates for the mysterious and exciting Riot Club.
The plot quickly descends into a dark and unrelenting portrait of the excessive and irresponsible nature of those young men who are used to making problems disappear with their trust funds. Descending on a country gastropub, the boys get more out of control and riled up because, as we all know, rich people just fucking hate the poor. Indulging in a bacchanalian mixture of drinks, drugs, 10 bird roasts and hookers, the evening comes to a dramatic and life-changing conclusion.
The plot doesn’t really benefit from the move to the big screen and misses a big opportunity to do something clever and original. Scherfig pushes the dramatic juxaposition between the Roman excess of the Club and the warmth and calm of the rest of the pub for all she can. However, none of her fancy directorial tactics can help the latter half of the film transcend its staged origins.
The performances of the main cast are fine for a group of young men clearly chosen for their square-jawed, floppy haired looks than their ability. There are a fair few weak points within the club itself but the two main players, Irons and Claflin, provide a strong enough base.
The problem arises with the characters themselves; the portrayal of both classes are flawed and unbelievable. The non-moneyed are relegated to charming yet naïve Northerners who find themselves with the intelligence to get into Oxford but lacking common sense. Then we have the public school boys embracing their final chance for public debauchery before they enter the political world. However, the film never really convinces that they believe in the world they inhabit.
For all the talk of political satire, The Riot Clubnever provides a subtle new layer to the old class debate. Rather than offer an intelligent portrait of the idle rich, Wade falls back into hyperbolic stereotypes intended to rile up those who already possess an unhealthy hatred for privilege. The Riot Clubjust becomes a cinematic version of fucking bear baiting. By all means see it for the pretty, young men but don’t expect it to promote healthy discussion of British society.

The Wolf of Wall Street (2013)

drugs, Jean Dujardin, Jonah Hill, Leonardo DiCaprio, Martin Scorsese, Matthew McConaughey, review

When it comes to saucy films my boss has strange ideas about what classes as outrageous. In his mind The Inbetweeners Movie is about as filthy as cinema gets simply because of the male stripper that appears about half way through. (With that kind of attitude I’d love to hear his reaction to Steve McQueen’s Shame.) He affectionately referred to Martin Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio’s fifth collaboration as “an orgy movie”. I’m not normally one who likes to agree with his hyperbolic and slightly priggish nature but I have to admit that he has summed up the film fairly well. So when another colleague announced that she was going to see the film with her father I couldn’t help but think the entire experience would be utterly cringey. I’d probably have run off to the toilets after 10 minutes and stayed there for the duration.

Wolf of Wall Streetis based on the 2008 memoirs of Jordan Belfort, a stockbroker who was found guilty of defrauding investors and laundering an insane amount of money in the 1990s. After making a deal to bring down his colleagues, Belfort only ended up spending 22 months in jail and was ordered to pay back $110 million to those he cheated (a sum he has only paid about 10% of so far). His memoirs became a huge success on their release and presented his story in humorous, rude and lascivious detail, giving an in-depth look at the money, drugs, cars, houses, yachts and hookers that made-up Belfort’s life for so many years.

Scorsese and DiCaprio remain pretty faithful to the book with their adaptation. There is an undeniable sense that this is Jordan Belfort’s film rather than a film about him, something only highlighted by the relentless voiceover explaining his exploits from start to finish. The Wolf of Wall Street is a raucous, incredibly caffeinated yet shallow epic that jofully embraces bad taste. The narrative twists and turns at break-neck speed through a series of events that make up Belfort’s life at that time. Scorsese presents us with an entertainingly outrageous look into the utterly debauched world of capitalist America.
After teaming up with his neighbour Donnie Azoff (Jonah Hill), Jordan finds himself with a new bro and business partner. They create a small team of money-hungry novices and work their way up from an abandoned warehouse to a multimillion dollar operation. These offices quickly become the setting for their newly adopted hedonistic lifestyle: housing drugs, gigantic parties, parades of dancing girls and gaggles of prostitutes within their walls. Eventually, Belfort finds his unfettered lifestyle is under threat from the Securities and Exchange Commission and an interfering FBI Agent (Kyle Chandler). Jordan and his friends are forced to take measures to hide their ill-gotten gains and smuggle their wealth to a Swiss banker (a delightful yet smarmy Jean Dujardin) with the help of family and friends (including a charming appearance from Joanna Lumley despite that weird romantic clinch).
Scorsese’s approach here feels much straighter that a lot of his work. There is an increased focus on the
script and an increase in longer shots and more intimate scenes. It is hardly his most subtle work to date but there can be no doubt it is one of his most exhilarating and energetic. It is also his most obviously funny work with several glorious moments when DiCaprio proves his talent for physical comedy. Take, as an example, the scene in which Jordan, off his face on an extremely rare form of Quaalude, must drag himself back to his car after losing control of his limbs. Then we have the glorious face-to-face of Belfort and the investigating agent aboard his yacht. It is a sharp, witty and tense scene that lifts the entire film. It is clear to see that the director’s early energy has come flooding back. This is the kind of film that was made for Scorsese: a criminal’s story of survival. Like much of the great director’s filmography, it involves an antihero who constantly pushes our sympathy to the very limits. It is only thanks to the team involved that the three hours you spend in Jordan Belfort’s company doesn’t drag.
DiCaprio was a bold choice for the despicable Belfort and the actor is able to use his inherent charm to ensure that no matter how outrageous Jordan’s behaviour is never feels completely unpalatable. Belfort uses the same silver-tongue that helps him defraud investors to win the audience round to what he has to say. You never really like the guy but there is something about him that you can’t help but admire. With obvious references to the current cult of celebrity, the film places Belfort in the role of a rock star where you see him addressing rooms full of excited and adoring employees. It isn’t a film that exonerates Belfort but there is a certain amount of flattery within the condemnation.
Of course, this film would never hold up if its lead man wasn’t willing to go all out and Leonardo DiCaprio once again proves that he has an awful lot to offer. For the second time in his career moves into the murky water of playing a dislikeable character (the first being his triumph in Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained) and he is clearly relishing it just as much as he did the first time. This is without a doubt one of the performances of his career.
Wolf of Wall Streetmay have easily become a career highlight for DiCaprio but it isn’t quite up there with the very best of Scorsese. There are moments when this simply doesn’t feel like a Martin Scorsese film. In no way a failure for the accomplished director but lacking the finesse and polish of his vast back catalogue. The editing can hardly be described as sloppy but there are moments when it feels as if something is missing: a fact that is easily explained considering Scorsese has an additional hour of material to add to his director’s cut. There is also a slight confusion in the regards to the function of Belfort’s voice-over. He stops the story whenever he feels the need and commentates on all of the action occurring on screen. However, it is never clear who exactly Belfort is meant to be talking to and what this voice-over is trying to achieve.
Nevertheless, this is still a Martin Scorsese film and there is never a moment when you feel everything is
getting out of control. He is clearly still in command and his close relationship with DiCaprio has provided us with some fantastic examples of filmmaking. To aid his talented leading man, Scorsese has assembled one of the most incredibly well-rounded ensembles imaginable. First and foremost we have Jonah Hill playing Belfort’s hedonistic and slightly nerdy sidekick who manages to create some memorably comic moments whilst never going all-out goofy. The brief but amazing scenes featuring a still emaciated Matthew McConaughey at the start of Belfort’s story are some of the best of the film. Despite the fact that McConaughey’s presence is fleeting it is deep-seated: he is not only hysterical but also the initial inspiration for Jordan’s future professional and personal choices. Finally, Margot Robbie stands-out from the crowd and not just because she is the most significant female character on screen. She is excellent in the role of Belfort’s wife who slowly becomes the only real emotional and moral compass in the film.
Of course, the question of morality has been a key one since the film’s release with the major argument being that Scorsese glamourises Belfort’s world rather than criticising it. There is a darkly comic tone to the film thanks to Belfort’s unwillingness to show remorse and the lack of any real narrative reprisals. However, we can hardly believe that Scorsese is continually throwing such outrageous depravity in his audience’s face to push them towards that lifestyle. As I have suggested, this is a re-enactment of the events of Jordan Belfort’s life rather than a comment on his actions. The audience willingly inhales every grain of Belfort’s story but, as with every high, there is the inevitable and debilitating comedown. After overindulging on Belfort’s indulgent and extravagant lifestyle you are bound to have that same feeling you get after eating too much at Christmas dinner. Yes, there may be no definitive critique of Belfort but Scorsese is too good a filmmaker to think that the message isn’t there to see.

Flight (2013)

Bruce Greenwood, Denzel Washington, drama, drugs, John Goodman, review, Robert Zemeckis

In my opinion, Flighthad a pretty terrible marketing campaign that presented it as something much worse than it actually is. The first time I saw the trailer I was completely put off. It looked silly and badly written and, let’s be honest, any trailer that places John Goodman in a prominent role is realistically likely to be disappointing.  The best way I could describe the idea I had about this Robert Zemeckis film was as something written by the two lazy film writers from That Mitchell and Webb Look. (“We wanted to write a film about a pilot that survives a crash but we don’t know anything about aeroplanes. We were super busy so we just thought sod it.”) Then it went and got great feedback, Oscar nominations and glowing recommendations from friends. It seemed only fair to ignore my first impression and give it a go. Denzel Washington deserves that much at least.

Flight is Zemeckis’ first foray into the world of live-action film-making after a decade spent playing with motion-capture. Whilst it advertises itself as a lazy and mindless drama revolving around air-travel, it actually turns out to be a sombre look into the tortured life of pilot Whip Whitaker (Washington). It has been described my many as an intensely adult film to help the director move away from the family friendly material he’s been distributing recently. To make this point even clearer, Zemeckis starts his film with boobs.
Those boobs belong to sexy flight attendant Katerina (Nadine Velazquez) who has accompanied Whip on a wild night indulging in a combination of drink, drugs and sex. The pilot wakes feeling slightly worse for wear but easily jolts himself back into action with a swig of stale beer and two lines of cocaine. After an argument with his ex-wife (his marriage being a victim of his addictive lifestyle), Whip leaves his hotel room so he can take his seat in the cockpit of a flight departing for Atlanta. Whip further prepares himself by taking a hit of oxygen. Whip has clearly become adept at hiding his problem and, despite his co-pilot’s (Brian Geraghty) suspicions, manages to get himself together enough to project an air of professionalism and authority from behind his aviators.
The first half hour or so is put together by Zemeckis to continually mess with the audience by building and lowering the tension until the inevitable happens. Not only must we live with the knowledge that our trusted pilot was snorting the white stuff only moments before stepping on board but he is then forced to take evasive action on take-off to avoid turbulent weather conditions. When the plane finally starts to fail your emotional will already have been put through the ringer in a way that Alfred Hitchcock would have surely been proud. Zemeckis, as we know, has experience with grounding planes but this certainly outweighs anything we saw in Cast Away. The crash itself is an amazing example of dramatic cinema; a tense nose dive, during which Zemeckis barely moves out of the cockpit.
Thanks to some quick-thinking and a rather swish idea to invert the plane (plus an extra large dose of Dutch courage thanks to some stolen bottles of vodka), Whip manages to land after a mechanical failure sends it into plummeting to the ground. It was Whip’s ability to keep calm in the face of certain death that allowed him to save all but six of the souls on board his craft. A feat that we are later told no other pilot succeeded during a simulation of the crash conditions. We are forced to face the terrifying reality that the results were as happy as they were not despite of Whip’s intoxicated state but, rather, thanks to it. This is the ethical conundrum that runs throughout Flight. After all, if he managed to land an unlandable plane, how much of a problem does he really have? Certainly, in his own view, Whip is in fine with his lifestyle and the aftermath of the crash only pushes him closer to self-destruction. In order to avoid life in the limelight Whitaker takes up residence at his grandfather’s farm where he takes part in some soul-searching and trips down memory lane; in between binges, of course.
Flight can basically be described as the study of a broken man living in denial; Whip’s constant flight from the truth of his sorry personal situation. The film has an unending focus on Washington who remains on screen for almost the entire run time. He, of course, was Oscar nominated for his performance and it is easy to see why. He’s on fine form and plays the role with a subtlety that would be lost had a lesser actor taken the role. He is thoughtful and emotive rather than in-your-face and angry. Washington lets his eyes take the focus in a way that none of Zemeckis’ recent motion-capture monstrosities could ever hope to replicate. Despite your frustration towards his actions and attitude, Washington plays it in such a way that you’re always willing Whip to change. It’s a performance that shows us the pilot’s weaknesses, denial and meanness (alcohol induced) whilst containing more than a glimmer of the actor’s own charisma. You know you shouldn’t like Whip but there is something about him that stops you from walking away.
Unfortunately, you can’t get away from the sense that Whip is being allowed a little too much time to wallow and, at 2 hours 20 minutes, it does feel rather bloated and self-indulgent. There can be no getting away from the feeling that large sections of Flight are both dull and completely redundant. Most notably being the heroin addict with a heart of gold (played by the hugely talented Kelly Reilly) who Whip philosophises with in a hospital stairwell before rescuing her from her squalid life. For her part Reilly plays the cliché with a gritty determination but she is both horribly underused and completely unnecessary to the plot. The same can be said of the rest of the supporting cast who, aside from John Goodman who has a couple of scenes to let loose, are left floundering  in the background as Washington naturally demands all of your attention. Bruce Greenwood and Don Cheadle both offer fine performances as Whip’s friend and a ruthless lawyer respectively but their potential is limited because the focus is solely on the main man.
Despite being somewhat hampered own its own alcohol-induced bloat, Zemeckis’s film does provide an interesting moral argument and contains moments of cinematic genius. It is a film made by its main star and, thankfully, Washington is more than up to the task. Managing to keep the film moving despite a lengthy running time, a flabby plot and a script littered with off-putting religious symbolism. Flight is by no means a terrible film but there were certain aspect that could have been sharper or better thought-out to make it a film worthy of its lead performance and instead of its misleading trailer.