Starred Up

starred-up_1109This week I got gifted to a free preview screening of this new prison drama starring Jack O’Connell. Eric (O’Connell) is a young offender with a real violence issue who is transferred for the first time to adult prison. He is prematurely transferred as the term ‘starred up’ means he has caused too much trouble for the juvenile prison to contain him. Things don’t go well to begin with at the new prison and then he runs into his father, Neville (Ben Mendelsohn), who is himself very quick to anger and has caused Eric some real emotional trauma in the past by being absent (presumably behind bars). An anger management counsellor, Oliver (Rupert Friend), tries to take Eric under his wing and begins to make real progress but Neville doesn’t like to think that someone is doing a better job with his son than he is and what follows is a gripping, gritty and important prison drama for our times.

In all the reviews I’ve read for the film so far the acting has been the main source of praise, and it’s hard to argue with that. O’Connell’s troubled youngster is so believable its hard to separate the actor from the character. A perfect example of the kind of kid that society has given up on. Mendelsohn is also brilliant, his Neville is short on brains and an obvious pointer to why Eric is the way he is, he’s made into a fully fleshed human being by Mendelsohn and is exactly the kind of character you imagine would exist in jail. The writing deserves commendation as well creating a simple plot that remains gripping throughout and really manages to gain an emotional attachment with the audience, it is only let down by an abrupt ending that seems a bit out of place and far-fetched, it’s as though they previously thought the ending didn’t have enough punch and ended up rushing an over dramatic set piece finish. That said it’s not enough to make you view the film as a lesser piece of work, this is one of the most complete British drama’s you will find at the cinema this year.

You’d be forgiven for thinking Starred Up would be a cheaply written, youth oriented prison drama for the Kidulthood generation but in reality this is a gripping, realistic portrayal that brings forward some important issues about our society. One of the very few great British dramas around, go and see it!

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The Wolf of Wall Street

The-Wolf-of-Wall-Street-Trailer7aSo this week for me saw the reuniting of Scorsese and Di Caprio in a film that I was ridiculously excited for. With it being the height of Oscar season this was the one that I thought looked as though it’d be the most entertaining. However in the build up to finally seeing it some of the reviews around sprouted some doubt in my mind. Many people saying that it’s lead character was too hard to sympathise with and the film was too long.

I, however, had no problem with either of these factors. While Jordan Belfort (Di Caprio) is an entirely unlikable character I think the movie does well to make him appear as a casualty of the American Dream, someone who’s insatiable need for material things and lust for women provides him with a quick fix of happiness but it’s not long before it all comes crashing down around him. In many ways it isn’t entirely his fault, it’s the consumerist ideals of the Wall Street mob and he just figured out how to be on top of the game. I don’t think its correct to say that the film glamourises his lifestyle either much of the humour comes from just how ridiculous his life, and for me it was more a laughing at than a laughing with. The Wolf of Wall Street is one of the funniest, most entertaining films I’ve seen in ages, the performances from everyone are absolutely top notch. Jonah Hill is stupidly hilarious as is Di Caprio, something I’ve not seen him do before but he manages it perfectly. Also worthy of a mention is romantic interest Margot Robbie who is so stupidly beautiful it’s impossible to get her out of your head. And also what you’re treated to in this film is typical Scorsese storytelling. He is simply the greatest living director and he can tell a story like no other, every scene brings something to the table and the pacing is just perfect.

While it could be argued that 12 Years is a better film, The Wolf of Wall Street is the most fun I’ve had at the cinema since last years Sightseers and is strong contender for my film of 2014 despite us only being in January! It may not bag the awards but I love it.

 

The Bling Ring

the-bling-ring-image02When news of The Bling Ring first spread, I must admit, I actually got pretty excited. Not only has Sofia Coppola proved herself as a restrained and artistic director with the likes of Lost in Translation and Somewhere, but also because it boasted Emma Watson looking ridiculously fit as a rich Hollywood bitch. That aside though it did seem an interesting premise for a movie, based on the real group of teens who burgled celebrities homes by following their twitter feeds and finding the houses on google maps. But it also seemed an unusual choice for Coppola whose previous best outputs have been arty, sentimental affairs with slow moving plots, instead exploring human emotion on a more basic level. Perhaps that’s why, then, that The Bling Ring is ultimately a confused movie.

When it begins we are bombarded with some bass heavy music that sets up a super stylised vision of life for these teenagers growing up in Hollywood, surrounded by celebrity and greed. From the off, Coppola’s comment on social media is made clear and throughout the film facebook, twitter and smart phones are never far. One of the films most insightful scenes comes in the mid-section when the group go for a night out and there are moments where every single one of them are on their phones, an all too familiar scene for me! But while at points the film does make some very acute social comment what it doesn’t quite grasp is a mood and style of it’s own. As the robberies continue, getting larger and larger each time and things start to get a bit more serious for the gang we start to get these prolonged slo-mo shots of the characters standing on their own, or in one particularly strange moment the one of the characters singing into their webcam and while this attempt to change the mood could have been successful Coppola still attempts to keep this youthful pop video feel to the other scenes. Meanwhile the story gets lost amongst it all, having only read a few small articles about the real Bling Ring I was hoping for the movie to show me something I didn’t know, I was bitterly disappointed. It seems that plot wise Sofia has only just scratched the surface of what was going on in these guys minds. The long slo-mo’s worked well in other films like Lost in Translation because the movie was about emotions but here this is a movie about real people and she fails to give us a proper insight into their lives.

While The Bling Ring isn’t unenjoyable to watch and it’s cast does perform well with such a limited script and muddled direction (that said Watson’s accent occasionally doesn’t quite work) the movie doesn’t quite do what I had expected. There’s a much better movie to be made about this group of desensitised youths of the information age and Coppola doesn’t manage to dig beneath the surface.

 

Only God Forgives

OnlyGodForgivesGoslingFightbig5993It was right in the middle of my Freshers fortnight when Drive came out here in the UK and as I was attempting to make some new friends at uni I organised a little trip with some mates, persuading them to come to this instead Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. Drive starts off very slow, you’ll know if you’ve seen it, which had me worried having talked my new buddies out of TTSS. But little did we know what it was all building up to; a gripping summary packed with stylish violence, gorgeous cinematography and Ryan Gosling in the form of his life. Two years down the line and the guys I went to see Drive with are now my best mates, and the film is one of my all time favourites. But more importantly, Nicholas Winding Refn and Ryan Gosling have returned with Only God Forgives. An epic, yet abstract crime opus set in Hong Kong. We follow Julian (Gosling) a drug dealer who hides his business by hosting boxing matches. In a twisted tale of revenge his brother is killed and his mother (Kristin Scott Thomas), a stubborn bitch to say the least, turns up and forces Julian to avenge his death.

It’s a much more artistic movie than Drive using visual metaphors and dream like scenes with characters you’re never sure are real or not as Julian battles both inner demons and outer in a a bloodthirsty thriller. It’s not completely unlike Drive, there is very little dialogue as Refn lets his actors and his cinematography do most of the talking with artistic expression and flourishes of brutal violence are to be found throughout. There are major differences though, Only God Forgives is not a film that’s going to please mainstream audiences. It’s not an easy film, it demands thought and time invested in it and most audiences, even a large number critics it seems, haven’t been willing to give this movie the time it deserves. While Drive was really an extremely well executed action movie Only God Forgives is an arthouse movie which takes as much from Lynch movies than it does from the action greats. It’s a dark, bitter film that may leave you with a bad taste in the mouth but it’s done so well that I can’t understand why it hasn’t got the deserved reception.

Nicholas Winding Refn can never be accused of being boring and now with a sizeable filmography behind him he has made himself one of the most interesting auteurs out there, with the minor blip of Valhalla Rising all his movies are great watches and manage to be vastly different from each other while still holding the same themes but looked at in different ways. He knows how to make a completely intriguing lead character and base a whole movie around them with very little dialogue and his cinematography just keeps getting better. For me I might slightly prefer Drive but Only God Forgives is not far off, don’t listen to the critics this is a great movie brings Refn’s name even greater clout.

Trance

TRASA-767.DNGNow Danny Boyle is probably the biggest British director around after the success of Slumdog Millionaire and the small matter of the Olympic opening ceremony. It may seem strange then that his latest film, Trance, is a relatively low-budget affair costing a mere £13 million showing that no one can predict what the Academy-award winning director is going to do next. Trance is another new territory in terms of theme for Boyle as well, having already covered drug culture, sci-fi, zombies, romance and a man chopping off his own arm with Trance he goes right inside the mind with a twisting, turning plot of hypnosis and amnesia. The film is about Simon (James McAvoy), an art auctioneer, who is in charge of getting paintings to safety in the event of a robbery, when this happens however he bares the brunt of a blow to the head and when he comes to it turns it he was in on the whole thing but has completely forgotten what he’s done with it. With  criminal, Franck (Vincent Cassell) and his gang breathing down his neck to remember the group decide they’re going to have to try something drastic in order to trigger Simon’s memory. They choose Elizabeth (Rosario Dawson), a psychiatrist, to hypnotise him in the hope she might somehow get the information out of him but end up getting a lot more than they all bargained for, the further we go on the more we find out that what we know about the events are not at all what they first seemed.

The film is incredibly plot-heavy and every ten minutes something new is revealed that gives everything a new meaning, at times it gets a bit much and there are various points where I was getting annoyed at the fact that we kept seeing the same things over and over but each time we’re told that the way we’d seen it before was wrong begging the question of why we needed to see it in the first place. On the other hand though the tension is built superbly throughout so when you begin to actually find out some genuine information about what went on it feels incredibly rewarding, when everything comes to a head in the films finale Boyle’s experience shines through and it results in a tense and action-packed few scenes that really get your pulse raging. It’s a shame then that overall the plot is over-heavy with twists and by the time it actually ends it all feels over explained when things could easily have been rounded off slightly earlier and the film would have been better for it. Trance has everything else going for it but unfortunately it lets itself down.

It’s not a complete failure, I was entertained the whole way through and there were moments were it was exceptional. Cassell’s performance was a stand-out and there are visual flourishes that look so good you’d be hard done by to look past them because of the over-exuberant story. It’s unfortunate that Trance does not quite stand up against its directors body of work but it’s not his biggest misfire by any stretch and it still manages to showcase his unique film-making talent that seems to lend itself to any kind of film you could imagine.

 

The Fear

The Fear

 

Channel 4’s four-part miniseries tells the story of Richie Beckett (Peter Mullan), a Brighton-based entrepeneur who has a history of organised crime, and his two sons  Matty (Harry Lloyd) and Cal (Paul Nicholls). The series begins as a fairly normal British crime story with our three protagonists getting themselves involved in some less than savoury goings on but it’s not really until episode two that the show gets its own unique identity. The difference being that Richie is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s causing him to lose control of his actions and memory, his reformed personality starts to merge with his ruthless past and his worsening memory means he doesn’t know some of the crazy stuff that he’s doing through it all.

The performance from Mullan is the shows greatest triumph as he masterfully portrays both sides of the character. On the one side he’s a violent, unpredictable mob boss who doesn’t mind getting his hands dirty and on the other he’s a poor, old man trying to do right by his family but can’t because of the state of his mind. It’s not really till the final episode that we see the character’s full sensitivity. Unfortunately his supporting cast are not quite of the same calibre, both Lloyd and Nicholls are often unconvincing and nearly always generic in their roles and are completely eclipsed by Mullan. I found I didn’t care about these two only their dad.

Overall it’s the shows inconsistency that means it doesn’t fill it’s potential. While the idea of this character falling further in dementia and the way it is dealt with is superb the other areas of the plot just don’t have enough about them to be memorable. All the criminal goings-on feel bland and un-inventive. What is an incredible premise for a programme is unfortunately not fully realised by it’s more generic plot areas. The ending as well seemed a bit of a let down. For The Fear there is as much to praised as there is criticised ultimately making it an entertaining watch but nothing much more than that.