Thursday, 23 January 2014

Pirates of Somalia

True stories are always a draw for movie makers and lovers alike, especially when they involve exciting things like the military, heroism, or pirates. Today’s film involves all of the previously stated. This is Captain Phillips.

Captain Phillips (Tom Hanks) is simply a man doing his job. Sailing his cargo ship round one of the most dangerous points of Africa, an area ripe with pirates. Unfortunately a group of these pirates decide to make Phillip’ ship their target, but the captain will not go down without a fight. Using everything he knows about boats and pirates, he resists their boarding as hard as he can. However, pirate leader (Barkhad Abdi) will not be put off so easily. With only three men, he storms Phillip's giant metal ship and what follows is a tense true story of one man’s bravery, or arguably, stupidity.

The irony of being led into a lifeboat at gun point...

There are few actors out there with the talent and experience of Hanks. From romantic comedies, to animation, to Oscars, he has done it all. And here he shines again. Phillips is a not extraordinary in any way. He is just a family man that just sticks to his training but Hanks brings him to life when disaster strikes. He creates an air of authority with his voice alone while his face shows the fear that he is experience. The pinnacle of his performance comes towards the end of the film in a truly intimate and devastating sequence of events that turns Phillips on his head. Captain Phillips shows all of Hanks' incredibly impressive range without a hitch. Abdi, in his debut in the acting world, is astonishing - and completely horrifying. Horrifying in two senses. Firstly, Abdi creates an entirely despicable man. Determined to do, what we would consider, evil and completely unrelenting. Secondly, he is terrifyingly human. Piracy and kidnapping are his only options, and in his time with Phillips in the hotbox of a lifeboat, there is a devastating sympathy developed for him. Together, Hanks and Abdi's chemistry forces the viewer to question the terrible cultural differences in our world.

The Boatstreet Boys are back and grittier than ever.

This, of course, is helped hugely by Billy Ray's screenplay and Paul Greengrass' direction. A brilliant adaptation of Phillips' book by Ray which is then paced perfectly by Greengrass to keep you on the edge of your seat for most of the two hour runtime. Greengrass roots the story where it is; it does not cut away to side plots or stories, just what we need to see. The pirates preparing, the ship sailing, the attack, the navy's response. Even these scenes are only kept to the essentials, the moments that matter. There is never a wasted second of film. An impressively claustrophobic atmosphere is created as well, despite being out in the open sea. The camera is rarely on the exterior of the ship, and inside we see the cramped rooms, full of seamen tucked into corners. Even on the bridge, the place with the most room, still seems to have no space with close ups of Phillips, and any shots of the outside of the bridge filmed through the windows or binoculars. The message is clear: there is no escape - no where to go. 

A thrilling adventure of courage, fear, bravery, heroism, stupidity, honour, humanity, and culture. Captain Phillips does more than tell a true story of a pirate attack, it looks at the people involved. It develops all the characters and blurs the lines of evil acts.

Best Bit? In terms of Hank's performance, the very end of the film. But the true desperation we see in Phillips when he makes a bid for freedom is hauntingly powerful. 

Tuesday, 21 January 2014

I'll Huff And Puff And Sell You Stocks

Despicably wild sex, Drugs and Money. Is your eye caught yet? Well this true story about stock brokers has all of the above. Really? Stock brokers? Yes. This is The Wolf Of Wall Street.

Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio) is a young confident stock broker. Fresh to the floors of Wall Street, he is ready to make money. Briefly mentored by (Matthew McConaughey) before the company they work for goes under, leaving Belfort out of a job. However, the discovery of how much money can be made through penny stocks inspires him. Within no time, himself and his partner, Donnie (Jonah Hill), have more money than they know what to do with. Was it all legal? Well, as the trailer tells us, absolutely not. But with a several serious drug addictions, especially Quaaludes, an obsession with sex, a model wife, Naomi (Margot Robbie), and an FBI agent, Patrick Denham (Kyle Chandler) surrounding his daily life, who can help but caught up in a roller coaster of a rock and roll life style? It is time to beat your chest, hum, and make some money.

Belfort discusses phoney accounts with his partner. 

DiCaprio at his finest is a difficult expression to use, especially here, for two reasons. Firstly, when is DiCaprio not at his finest? He is one of the modern greats and has been since he first appeared on the silver screen, so it really goes without saying that he is 'at his finest'. Secondly, Belfort is such a disgusting person that 'fine' is never really a term that can be used to describe him, especially when he is drooling and slobbering from his drugs. However, it is DiCaprio's fantastic performance that perfectly balances Belfort's horrid nature with enough charm and charisma to make us sympathise with him. In someone else's hands, Belfort could easily have become a monster, which would have cleared a lot up for those who thought that the film glorifies Belfort's actions, but who wants to watch that film? The ensemble around DiCaprio, too, are excellently cast. Hill, as Donnie, uses the acting skills he showed in Moneyball and his famous drug-loving comedy persona in one character to hilarious effect, creating a truly loveable character, despite the law-breaking and things. Robbie, as Naomi, connects brilliantly with DiCaprio's Belfort but at no point does she become like the other women in the film - dependant on men and money. She is a loving mother as well as a (mostly) strong woman, fully in charge of her sexuality. (Helen O'Hara writes excellently about the women in the film for Empire Online.)

When you are rich, you can eat, literally, anything you want.

Scorsese has changed a lot over the years, but perhaps the last two years show the biggest jump. Hugo, the film for the children, to The Wolf Of Wall Street, the sex, drugs, and greed based adaptation of the memoirs of a multi-million dollar criminal. But what a jump it was. Scorsese's clever condemnation of all thing Belfort, and on grander scale, the whole of Wall Street, is a packed three hours that draws to light the problems of living life to the full and the corruption that greed can cause. Combined with Terence Winter's screenplay, we are let into a world that most of us will never experience. The world with too much money. But we are shown how it can destroy a soul as it did Belfort. This is never glorification of Belfort's lifestyle, but rather an experience of it. We simply tag along for the ride whilst Scorsese takes us on a trip, excuse the pun. With an incredible use of the soundtrack, which jumps between emphasising a scene and completely juxtaposing it, The Wolf of Wall Street oozes its gritty yet charming atmosphere out into the world and you cannot help but get sucked in with it.

The film is like the cocaine that Belfort snorts. It hypes you up and when the high it causes is over, you will be begging for more. One of the few films that runs around three hours that you would want to watch again straight after. The ensemble are magnificent and Scorsese is back on his best form. Not for those who dislike foul language. There are 506 uses of the varieties of 'fuck', as well as every other curse word under the sun

Best Bit? There are plenty of moments, but DiCaprio and Hill are revolutionary in a sequence that involves driving high and wrestling over the phone. It is one part hilarious, one part horrifying, but most of all, DiCaprio provides some of the finest physical acting in recent years. 

Tuesday, 14 January 2014

Big Screen Secret Life

Comic actors have been known to switch their style over their careers and sometimes that can be a big change - whether it is taking on more serious roles like Jonah Hill in Moneyball or directorial positions like Zach Braff with Garden State (and the upcoming Wish I Was Here). Today’s film is directed by and stars a big comic actor playing a serious role. This is The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty.

Walter Mitty (Ben Stiller) is a normal man. A normal man with a normal job working with the negative rolls of photos for Life Magazine. He spends his time zoning out and day dreaming about being someone interesting or admitting his feelings for Cheryl (Kristen Wiig). But when Life Magazine starts going through a transitional period to become an online publication, the company and Walter's job becomes threatened. Head of the transition period, Ted Hendricks (Adam Scott), pesters Walter for famous photographer Sean O'Connell's (Sean Penn) new photo for the final cover of Life but it is missing. Suddenly, Walter jumps (sometimes literally) into an adventure to find the negative and his simple business man life will never be the same. 

The negative part of the film... Literally. 

Ben Stiller has never hid his acting talents, but he has veiled them behind his comedy. Not here. Stiller is in top form as Mitty, capitalising on all aspects of the character from boring workman to adventurer, the change between the two never feeling forced. His heartfelt adventure is fuelled by dedication and loyalty as well as an overwhelming dedication to Wiig's Cheryl, all of which Stiller portrays without a hitch. Wiig, too, is endlessly likeable, the polar opposite of Scott's Hendricks, who is perfectly horrid. He is rude, arrogant, and ignorant, whilst Wiig's Cheryl is supportive, friendly, and kind when no one else is. It is the balance of these two that spur Mitty's adventure and fortunately the balance is just right. The audience can identify with Mitty, they feel the same anger towards Hendricks that Walter does, as well as the same level of loyalty to Cheryl.

Stiller's hottest role to date.

But what Walter's adventure excels in is its minor characters. An extremely drunk pilot, a seaman, an E-Harmony employee, a simple hotel worker. Steve Conrad's screenplay make these characters completely irreplaceable. It is not just that Walter needs them and their to get through his adventure, Stiller's direction and Conrad's writing give them such heart you cannot help but fall in love with all of them. Whether it is Todd constantly calling from the E-Harmony call centre trying to update Walter's profile because it is so dull or the helicopter pilot singing loudly into a karaoke machine, drinking a boot of beer, they are fully realised characters, despite the tiny screen time.

'And what?'

The film is also visually stunning. It is always helpful to be set in the volcanic regions of Iceland at points in the film, but the camera work is so gracefully presented, and combined with such a brilliant soundtrack of soft indie music, the film overwhelms the audio-visual senses with perfect technicality. The story telling is only one aspect of film-making; how it is made is equally important and Stiller has completely understood this. However, the romance between Mitty and Cheryl often feels forced, especially nearer the end of the film. It is an unneeded aspect of an otherwise lovely film. Remove the romantic development and the film loses nothing of worth. Is friendship between a man and a woman such a scary thought for Hollywood? Either way, the films artistic merits outweigh the flaws. The first act of the film, Walter's daydreams mash through all genres of film proving that Stiller, as a director can do, pretty much, anything. Intimate fight scenes, superhero fight scenes, Benjamin Button, and so on.

A truly delightful film. There is soul in The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty that has led it to be described as a new Forrest Gump. Of course, it is not quite the classic standard that Gump is, but there is no way one could leave the cinema without a smile on their face. Mitty takes us on a journey and it is completely captivated.

Best Bit? There's several moments, but his time spent in Iceland easily comes out top. There's karaoke, a performance of Major Tom's (David Bowie) Space Oddity, a drunk pilot, and a hilarious sequence that involves jumping onto a boat and sharks. Either that or the superhero fight sequence.