Taking Stock

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In recent years, Martin Scorsese’s output has been very patchy. His last film, Hugo, fell between the stools. It was halfway between a children’s film and one aimed at cineastes, so it didn’t really work. The Wolf of Wall Street, based on the book by Jordan Belfort, is a warts and all look at the career of Wall Street trader Belfort, played by regular Scorsese collaborator Leonardo DiCaprio. He began his career in a huge broking agency but then it all turns pear shaped when Black Monday hits. The rest of the film shows how Belfort built himself up by creating his own company and the film has been criticised as a celebration of the man’s life (which included lots of drugs, women and drink). However, if you watch it, you can see that, like Goodfellas, The Wolf of Wall Street is all about Belfort’s hubris, which eventually proves to be his undoing. It is very long, clocking in at three hours, but it doesn’t drag as the director has lost none of his deft touch for action and drama. DiCaprio is excellent as Belfort, holding everything together with an omniscient narration reminiscent of Goodfellas. Support from Jonah Hill as Belfort’s second-in-command Donnie Azoff and Jon Bernthal (formerly of The Walking Dead) as Brad is very strong and Scorsese manages to inject the film with enough comic moments to keep the pace rolling along. Screenwriter Terence Winter (Boardwalk Empire) also manages to display his sureness of touch with characters that has become his trademark. It isn’t quite as exceptional a piece of work as Goodfellas, as its running time could have been cut without sacrificing anything dramatically and sometimes what is happening is unclear to the layman viewer but it is definitely the most impressive Scorsese film since Casino back in 1995. Also, some of the more graphic scenes don’t add that much to proceedings, although perhaps it could be argued that Scorsese has set out to make a film that matches the craziness of the time and the behaviour of the people on Wall Street. During this time of year, when so many weighty dramas and significant films are released, it is obvious that the director is trying to make a serious point here and his ambition should be applauded. The Wolf of Wall Street shows that Martin Scorsese has lost none of his cinematic nous even this late in his career.

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CHILD’S PLAY?

I went to see two prominent children’s films over the last couple of weeks so I thought it would be interesting to compare and contrast the two in terms of approach and assessing whether they work.
First is Puss In Boots, a spin-off of Dreamworks’ successful Shrek animated movies featuring the swamp’s most likeable character. Voice talent Antonio Banderas returns as the ginger swashbuckling cat in a tale (pardon the pun) that gives us his origin story. Director Chris Miller throws the eponymous hero in a story that owes a lot to Jack and The Beanstalk with his partner in crime Humpty Dumpty, a fellow fairytale orphan who betrayed Puss years ago and seemingly wants to set things right. Voiced by The Hangover‘s Zach Galifianakis, Humpty has an accomplice, Kitty Softpaws (Penelope Cruz), who is a very talented cat thief. So they decide to steal Jack and Jill’s magic beans to allow them to reach the giant’s castle. The film is a clever pastiche of classic westerns and obviously things like Zorro and Miller has a deft hand for action and character. There is chemistry between Banderas and Cruz (not the first time they’ve collaborated) and Zach Galifianakis acquits himself pretty well as do Billy Bob Thornton and Amy Sedaris as Jack and Jill. The 3D animation works nicely and visually Puss In Boots looks lavish and cinematic. Now that Shrek has been retired from the big screen, expect to see more outings from the ginger furry lothario. Puss In Boots is an enjoyable, occasionally smart and very likeable mainstream animated feature…
Hugo, based on illustrated book The Invention of Hugo Cabret, is director Martin Scorsese’s first foray into children’s films. The Hugo of the title is an orphan who lives in the works of a fictional Paris train station, making sure that the clocks run on time, who has spent a number of years trying to unravel the mystery of his father’s untimely death. His life appears to change when he meets curmudgeonly watch seller Georges (Ben Kingsley) and his young charge Isabelle (Chloe Moretz). It’s a very strange film: it starts life as an epic mystery seemingly about Hugo’s father (played by Jude Law) and an automaton that he was obsessed with and then changes tack and direction about halfway through. It is being shown in 3D but the 3D doesn’t add a lot to proceedings except when Scorsese is showing off the inner workings of the station. Asa Butterfield as Hugo is very good on screen but Moretz tries far too hard as she plays against her usual type. Kingsley is excellent: rather than chewing the scenery and the script as he usually does, he underplays what is arguably the pivotal role here, and you do feel genuine sympathy for him. The cast is a bit of a mixed bag: Sacha Baron Cohen as the station inspector with a clockwork leg, shows that he isn’t an actor, merely a comic turn but a small cameo from Christopher Lee as the sinister-looking Monsieur Labisse at the grand age of 89 makes you wish they did more with the character. Stepping outside of Scorsese’s comfort zone of gangsters and killers doesn’t quite work as some of Hugo feels very artificial but it is still a very charming film with mostly a strong cast and some well-excecuted ideas. It isn’t as creatively successful a kid’s film as Tintin but at a time when Hollywood blockbusters usually consist of giant robots beating the shit out of each other or meteorites destroying the Earth, there is something refreshing about what is such a nostalgic affair. Hugo passes two hours very pleasantly indeed and will do decently at the box office for cinemagoers looking for something a little bit different to the usual fare…

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ME AND MARTIN SCORSESE
October and November have been interesting months. Apart from going to New York in October, I got to meet Michael Moorcock in London (something which I’ll save for another post) but I also was lucky enough to go to an event at BAFTA in London to commemorate the reissue of Michael Powell’s Peeping Tom, the critical reaction to which caused Powell to stop making films in the UK. It is 50 years since its release and it is coming to Blu-Ray after a cinema rerelease on November 19th. The event at BAFTA was introduced first by Professor Ian Christie, who used to work at the BFI, Thelma Schoonmaker, Michael Powell’s widow, and finally by Martin Scorsese, who has been instrumental in getting the film rereleased over the past three decades. I go to lots of press screenings and press events but this was different as it was a BAFTA event and so it was a little bit more exclusive. Even though we didn’t get to speak to Scorsese, it was fantastic even to be in the same room as him and I did get a couple of really good shots of him in the BAFTA cinema. Peeping Tom was definitely a film ahead of its time as it deals with voyeurism and lack of privacy in modern society and watching it now is a wonderful time capsule of London in the late fifties. Karlheinz Böhm or Carl Boehm as the central figure, Mark Lewis, the man obsessed with photographing the world around him, is suitably creepy while Anna Massey as his girlfriend, Helen Stephens, is very watchable on screen. Powell’s direction is very assured and the script and plot still have something to say even five decades after its release. If anything, what it has to say is even more relevant now than it was back in 1960. Peeping Tom is a great social document and, if you are able to catch it at the cinema when it gets rereleased from 19th November, it’s recommended. A must for serious cinephiles…
http://www.optimumreleasing.com/

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ISLAND STRIFE

Martin Scorsese is a director responsible for one of my favourite films of all time, Goodfellas. While his output has been up and down for the last couple of decades, his films are still nearly always worth watching. Shutter Island is an adaptation of Dennis Lehane’s 2003 novel of the same name. His work has been adapted to the big screen before (Mystic River and Gone Baby Gone) and it is because his writing is so filmable that his books keep getting optioned. Shutter Island is set in the Fifties and starts with Leonardo DiCaprio as Marshall Teddy Daniels investigating the escape of a prisoner from secure hospital Ashville, located on an island in the Atlantic Ocean near Boston. Accompanied by his partner Chuck Aule (played by Mark Ruffalo), he encounters enigmatic head doctor Cawley (Ben Kingsley) who appears to be hiding something. In fact, you are thrown off-balance from the start: this is the first case that Aule has worked with Daniels and at times his partner seems like the only person Daniels can trust. Scorsese and his regular collaborator Dante Ferretti have done a great job of creating a place rife with paranoia and terror. Some critics have had a pop at Scorsese because Shutter Island is a deliberate pastiche of many of the director’s favourite film noirs but this is not something I had a problem with. Also, it’s a bit rich that when Tarantino does something similar in his clumsy but almost unversally feted Inglorious Basterds, he is celebrated but apparently that’s not acceptable with Shutter island. While not a movie classic like Goodfellas or Casino, this film is still the director’s best in some time with another magnificent performance from DiCaprio and solid support from people like Rufalo and Kingsley. Admittedly, the twist at the end, which I won’t spoil here, is foreshadowed throughout the script but the journey is enjoyable enough for this not to matter. If you enjoy the sort of films that Shutter Island tips its hat to (North By Northwest, Spellbound, Out of The Past) and want to kill two hours with a solid movie, you could do worse than check out this film…