Body of Lies: while hunting for a big fish terrorist, power and the upper hand continually shift between the Americans, Jordanian secret service and the man on the ground trying to bridge the cultural gap. It has the look and feel of an action thriller, but there’s not a whole lot of action (although when it’s on, it’s fairly violent). There’s a romance corner, an espionage corner, a cultural differences corner – it juggles quite a few things, which are all are done reasonably well, and fused together nicely. The problem is that with all of these things going on, it feels less focused than something like Zero Dark Thirty – the peripheral stuff detracts from the central terrorist plot. Also, because the whole Jihad genre has had a lot of material lately, they all sort of blend in to one – it took took well over an hour to realise I’d already seen this. Acting wise, you completely buy in to Di Caprio‘s conflicted character; Crowe properly gets on your nerves as the brash and cocksure US agent; and you marvel at Strong’s portrayal of an old-school espionage master. Body of Lies looks and feels as slick as you’d expect from Ridley Scott; it’s also acted beyond what you’d expect from A-listers; unfortunately the plot feels completely borrowed and unimaginative. Despite looking a little worn and generic these days, it’s still completely serviceable modern jihad-thriller.
Wolf of Wall Street: based on the memoirs of a drugged-up banker that did a load of bad things. Most obviously, three hours is just far, far, far too long for this story, which is essentially: motivational speech, loads of drugs, party harder than Andrew WK, repeat x20. The premise is classic Scorsese – rise-and-fall – but they way in which it’s told, what he chose to film, and how he chose to film it is anything but. There’s so much skin, sex, sensationilsm, and alpha-male testosterone in here that it felt like Michael Bay defiling a Scorsese sceenplay. Another huge problem is that the main character – Jordan Belfort – isn’t even remotely likeable or interesting; just a one-dimensional, remorseless asshole. On the plus side the script it great, the casting is magnificent and Scorsese really gets the most from them. It’s also very funny, funnier than most comedies, although it does have a lot of time to play with. Sadly, it feels a bit cheap coming from someone that’s brought us films like The Departed, Goodfellas, Gangs of New York, Taxi Driver… and it made me remember how good a film Boiler Room was. Scorsese – you’re above this. Studios – no director is above cutting empty & pointless scenes from! Not Scorsese, not Tarantino, nobody.
Django Unchained: a German bounty hunter frees a slave, then partners up with him to make some cash and rescue his girl from a flamboyant plantation owner. As expected, Waltz absolutely steals the show with what’s essentially a re-write/reprise of his intelligent, oddly-humorous ‘Jew-hunter‘. Everyone else turns up and does their thing entertainingly enough. While the film pokes a lot of fun at the stupidity of racism (KKK mask scene & Sam Jacksons rant about Foxx sleeping in the house), for me the ‘N-Bomb’ is dropped far, far too often: which may have been accurate of the period, but it’s such a loaded word that drags the tone down – taking it way beyond any ‘light-hearted’ Blazing Saddles similarities. Clocking in at 2hr 45, it’s also far, far too drawn out, for such a simple revenge tale, especially once Dicaprio pops up: some scenes seem to go on forever with rambling, empty, dialogue and plodding shot after shot. While they’re all quintessential Tarantino scenes, it also suffers from his trademark lack of self-censorship. Finally, although, stylistically, most scenes are undeniably QT -and this isn’t really his fault – his style’s been ripped off so many times (funky music, uber-gore and back-and-forth dialogue) that it no longer packs the punch it once did. As a stand-alone film, Django Unchained is a decent film dragged down by its ‘epic’ runtime and the difficult task of balancing racism and comedy. It’s only when you step back and hold it up against a film like Inglorious – equally long, but crammed with great, tense and cinematic moments – that you realise how ordinary Django Unchained is.
Inception: Follows Dom Cob – a man who can enter your mind in the dream state and steal your deepest thoughts & secrets – on his last mission that could finally get him back to his family. The first thing you realise about inception is how original, visionary and well thought out the story is, then worry about how good the film would have to be to pull it all off. Despite the elaborate plot and timelines it’s explained well enough to be understood first time round (if you pay attention), but is still complex and smart enough to be appreciated on multiple viewings. Nolan brings out the best in his outstanding, but not too obvious, ensemble: especially Di Caprio, Cotillard, Levitt, Watanabe & Hardy who all step up and do justice to the great premise. The special effects department deserve a year off after this, and Hans Zimmer’s modern score takes the last 30 minutes to a whole new level. Page is only OK and more could have been made about the infinite possibilities of the dreams but other than that, no real complaints. There’s subtle gestures towards Matrix, 2001, classic Bond, and a whole bunch of crime / noir films. Inception is an iconic, truly original, mind-bending film that has it all, and breathes new life into Sci-Fi, which is currently plagued with sequels & re-makes. My main concern is that this opus will be near-impossible to top, by Nolan, or anyone else. Stunning cinema that surpasses its own massive hype and is easily film of the year.
Titanic: What can you say about this that hasn’t already been said? The continual use of establishing shots and long swoops over the ship confirm that James Cameron was all about the spectacle, size, scale and cutting-edge GCI at the time (sounds familiar…) Although nobody’s looking at her face for the last half hour Winslett’s acting is sketchy at best, DiCaprio out-classes her like you wouldn’t believe but looks sooooo young. It all gets a bit too epic and stupid near the end: gun-fight, child rescue and too many scenes of real-time sinking and survival – although the limp bodies smashing off the railings / propellers are pretty cool! For me, the musician’s sacrifice is the saddest part of the film by a long shot. Overall Titanic is too long, and the present day story’s adds nothing, just serves to deliver some corny / cheesy comedy. Some retrospective tongue-in-cheek comments about Picasso and Freud were a neat touch. It’s a decent story, big spectacle but just too over the top.
Gangs of New York: Scorsese’s star-studded epic tale of one man’s quest for revenge in 1880’s New York. It starts and ends with some ultra-graphic violence and bloody guts – although the end is still quite flat – and pretty much everything in between is all about the drama & story. The cinematography’s more plain and subtle than you’d expect from a master like Scorsese, although the elaborate sets, large cast, costumes and historical references seem meticulous and keep your eyes plenty pleased. Daniel Day Lewis slightly overcooks his character, although was the highlight as usual and the rest of the cast were decent; even John C Reilly and his silly face. Like all ‘foreign’-background roles everyone’s accents oscillated between Americana and Irish (other than the natives Gleeson and Neeson). It’s a great effort, but quite a drawn out affair that lacks depth in both characters and story. Because it’s so specific, New Yorkers would appreciate it most.
Revolutionary Road: obligatory boyfriend viewing – follows a middle-class couple who hate suburbia… living in suburbia. It’s set in the 1950s, a time where men wore braces and top hats, ‘computers’ were exciting, and couples went to social dances with awesome swing music. DiCaprio and Winslet nail the acting, although you really don’t know whether Kate is supposed to be insane or her acting’s lapsing – there’s a few Titanic references: planned ocean voyage and steamy car sex. It’s an OK film but feels like it could be following any ol’ couple in suburbia and although it’s well-made there’s nothing really special on offer, with Mendes’ main technique being the slow zoom, which is totally overused. If you like harrowing melodramas the book would probably be a better bet as nothing about this film really grabs you.