Category Archives: 7.5

Movies that score 7.5/10.

Review: Good Will Hunting

Director: Gus Van Sant
Year: 1997
Score: 7.5/10

Rest in peace.

Rest in peace.

I’m listening to Elliott Smith while I write this review. I rarely need an excuse to dive back into Smith, but this time I have two: his songs permeate Good Will Hunting so thickly that I’d be humming him anyway at this point, so I might as well listen instead; and I know of no better mourning music.

The person I’m mourning is, of course, the great Robin Williams. Much has been written about him over the past couple of weeks, and I’m not intending to add to that, except to say that he was a supremely talented man who brought me a lot of joy and will continue to do so as I revisit his work.

I hadn’t seen Good Will Hunting since its theatrical release seventeen years ago, back when I was young and naïve and entirely deserving of the condemnation Sean (Williams) serves Will (Matt Damon) in the park bench scene. Given that, and the fact that it was the film for which he won an Oscar, watching and reviewing it seemed like a fitting tribute.

This is a thoughtful and moving film, probably my favourite of the Gus Van Sant films I’ve seen (though ask me another day and I might choose Milk instead). It’s not short and it sags a little in the second half, especially in scenes without Williams or Minnie Driver. However, the ending is solid and there are some very nice emotional beats along the way.

Williams’ performance is excellent, showing restraint, warmth, pathos, depth and nuance. He truly is the heart of the film (and I was surprised, upon revisiting it, that he doesn’t appear until the 33 minute mark). As for his co-stars, Damon is fine in the lead role; Driver gives the best performance I’ve seen from her; Stellan Skarsgård is memorable if unsubtle; and Ben Affleck is a noticeably weak link.

In fact, Affleck’s character seems entirely superfluous. I recognise the narrative and thematic purpose of Will’s group of friends (or “retarded gorillas”, as they’re labelled at one point), but really, there’s no reason at all for their ringleader to be played by Affleck. He brings nothing to the role beyond a retrospective “hey look, it’s Ben Affleck!”, and the sense that he only got it because he co-wrote the script with Damon. At least his brother Casey is interesting to watch as another of the gorillas (though that may be more to do with my appreciation for Casey’s later work), especially knowing that he apparently improvised quite a few of his lines.

It’s hard not to be impressed by the script, which scored Damon and Affleck Oscars. As far as entries into Hollywood go, their’s was pretty remarkable, moreso when considering the heights they would both go on to reach.

Van Sant’s direction is relatively straightforward, letting the actors do their work and thankfully avoiding stylistic flourishes that might have distracted from or undercut the story. Even when the film loses steam, there’s enough momentum to carry through to the end. Somehow, despite the fake-sounding Boston accents and the familiar nature of many of the key moments and conflicts, it never quite tips over into cliché-ridden or saccharine tosh. Elements such as the liberal sprinkling of Smith tunes – which fit well with the mood of the piece and add an air of melancholy and maturity – are especially helpful in this regard.

Reading this review, my score of 7.5 might seem a touch low, given all the praise. It’s not a perfect film; in fact, I’d hesitate to even call it great. However, it’s iconic, has much to like, and serves as a wonderful showcase for Williams’ non-comedic acting chops. For those reasons, I can wholeheartedly recommend it, especially for fans of Williams or anyone who either hasn’t seen it or hasn’t seen it since its original release.

Review: Battle Royale

Director: Kinji Fukasaku
Year: 2000
Score: 7.5/10

Shamelessly excessive but wholly compelling precursor to The Hunger Games. It doesn’t necessarily all make sense, and giving the audience a coherent explanation for what’s going on hardly seems a priority for director Kinji Fukasaku, yet it’s hard not to enjoy the ultra-violence even when melodrama threatens to overwhelm.

Some of the characters are extremely cool. Some of the dialogue – such as when a dying girl tells a dying boy who she has a crush on that he “looks cool” – less so.

The music is strangely old-fashioned and derivative, as though blending together the scores of Western (as in non-Asian, not cowboys) matinee specials from decades long past. At times I thought I could hear the strains of John Williams’ Star Wars theme.

Apparently Quentin Tarantino has cited this as his favourite film, and its influence (on his work and others’) is plain to see. Look out for a yellow outfit that I assumed was one of the inspirations for Uma Thurman’s get-up in Kill Bill, though apparently the inspiration actually came from the Bruce Lee film Game of Death.

The plot gets silly at times, and in some ways I think The Hunger Games is actually an improvement (sacrilege, I know), but it’s definitely worth checking out. Just try to ignore the parts that don’t add up or tip from the good kind of over-the-top to the embarrassingly bad kind.

Guest Review: Dredd

Director: Pete Travis
Year: 2012
Score: 7.5/10
Reviewer: Drew Pontikis

Dammit I ALWAYS cry at the end of Titanic!

Dammit I ALWAYS cry at the end of Titanic!

I didn’t have particularly high hopes for Dredd. Tainted as the character was by the horrendous iteration that could best be described as Sylvester Stallone with a saucepan on his head, the only reason I actually watched it was because my wife fancied a film before she went to bed and we needed one of a specific length of time. With a sigh, I fired up the 95 minute long Dredd and sat back, preparing myself for what would no doubt be 45 minutes of being bored before falling asleep. As it turns out, Dredd turned out to be much better than I dared hope it would be.

In the violent near future, Judges dish out harsh and instant punishment to criminals on the street. The story follows Judge Dredd and a trainee as they find themselves trapped in a tower block, locked down by ruthless drug lord Ma-Ma. Rather than traditional coke or heroin, the drug of choice is called Slo-Mo; a futuristic reality altering psychedelic that slows down the user’s perception of time. This is cleverly utilised in a plot that builds to a crescendo as wave after wave are thrown at Dredd to try and stop him reaching the summit.

Karl Urban’s Dredd is very different to Stallone’s as there is little to no effort to try and create depth of character; he’s all about justice and PAIN. Cold and abrupt, Dredd is everything that he should be and his relentless progress through the tower block keeps you gripped and filled with suspense throughout.

Dredd feels like it could quite easily accommodate a sequel if the right plot was found; in the same way that The Raid and The Raid 2 build on each other I imagine the same could be applied here. It’s worth a gamble on if you fancy an action film, as it’s solid and it does what it says on the tin.

Drew Pontikis is an avid gamer and film fanatic. A fan of racing sims, first person shooters and horror films, Drew is notable for talking almost exclusively using Futurama quotes. Follow him on Twitter as @drew060609 or read his game reviews at http://obscenegaming.wordpress.com.

Guest Review: The Cabin in the Woods

Director: Drew Goddard
Year: 2012
Score: 7.5/10
Reviewer: Drew Pontikis

"Wow, my hair looks a lot more ginger than I thought it did. Probably due a cut as well."

“Wow, my hair looks a lot more ginger than I thought it did. Probably due a cut as well.”

This is a very intriguing film because the horror is underlying rather than in your face, and so you find yourself almost overlooking the action that’s going on in front of you. As it happens, that’s a testament to how well the film is shot.

As a group of five friends head out to a cabin in the woods (duh), they are watched by what appears to be a team of government officials in some large complex. Once there, they find themselves set upon by zombies and, in a bid to escape, stumble across the real story that they are playing out.

The Cabin in the Woods has a very clever premise and, as mentioned above, is extremely well executed. What may have been a ten-a-penny zombie horror film is wrapped around something much darker, showing the indifference of man towards suffering when it is perceived as necessary. It’s poignant as it’s actually believable; it doesn’t feel like were the governments of the world given a similar situation this would be too far from what might happen (of course I realise this is nonsense but you know what I mean).

At no point does The Cabin in the Woods feel like a horror film, as the horror is incidental to the story. It’s absorbing and it keeps hold of you as it turns from zombie slasher to over the top government conspiracy almost seamlessly, and offers an alternative to a genre that too often becomes lazy and repetitive.

The only comment I have on it though is the clips of Japan; having finished watching it and spent some time thinking about how the plot works, not only does it not make any sense it is completely at odds with the whole premise of the plot. Why roughly 14 seconds of film incidental to the story bothered me isn’t clear, but it did. Just thought I’d mention it.

Drew Pontikis is an avid gamer and film fanatic. A fan of racing sims, first person shooters and horror films, Drew is notable for talking almost exclusively using Futurama quotes. Follow him on Twitter as @drew060609 or read his game reviews at http://obscenegaming.wordpress.com.

Guest Review: The Borderlands

Director: Elliot Goldner
Year: 2013
Score: 7.5/10
Reviewer: Drew Pontikis

"Dammit Mike, I warned you about listening to One Direction! I told you this would happen!"

“Dammit Mike, I warned you about listening to One Direction! I told you this would happen!”

Unlike many proper film people, I’m a fan of ‘found footage’ horror films. The criticism levelled at them is that the shaky handheld aspect of the footage negates the need to have any real cinematic craft, and in many cases this is true. Sometimes however, when they hit the sweet spot, they can throw out something a bit good. And that rather neatly brings me on to The Borderlands, one of the more intriguing found footage horror films that I’ve come across.

The film follows a team of Vatican investigators sent to debunk an apparent miracle that occurred in a small West Country church. All footage is courtesy of head cams and fixed point cameras that are positioned around the church in an attempt to capture/catch out the potential miracle. As they begin to experience paranormal activity occurring throughout the church they desperately search for a rational explanation, and there are some genuinely scary moments generated through a skilful use of the found footage medium.

What is particularly notable about The Borderlands is the ending. Where many films stoop to a lazy jump scare to get their kicks, this has a beautiful crescendo building up over the course of about half an hour that is one of the best I’ve seen in a horror film. You’re built up to a point where you think you’re going to jump, but then it just carries on building and building to the point where you find yourself ready to scream ‘I can’t take it just scare me now!’, and when it actually happens you’re genuinely shocked by the twist that they come up with.

The characters are realistic and easy to identify with, and aside from the horror elements the plot is actually quite deep and absorbing. If you are the kind of person who would normally dismiss a Paranormal Activity style found footage film as not for you, I would urge you to give this a whirl; it may just surprise you.

Drew Pontikis is an avid gamer and film fanatic. A fan of racing sims, first person shooters and horror films, Drew is notable for talking almost exclusively using Futurama quotes. Follow him on Twitter as @drew060609 or read his game reviews at http://obscenegaming.wordpress.com.

Review: Peeping Tom

Director: Michael Powell
Year: 1960
Score: 7.5/10

Fittingly, a film about voyeurism contains cinema's first cameltoe.

Fittingly, a film about voyeurism contains cinema’s first cameltoe.

Controversial British movie about a man who murders women and films their final moments. It bears some superficial similarities to the 1979 film Bloodline, but is far more successful. Though billed as a horror movie, it isn’t scary as such; it’s more creepy and psychologically disturbing. Its real strength lies in its ideas, its willingness to wallow in depravity (reminding me of David Fincher’s Se7en in that regard), and the utterly unpleasant lead performance from Carl Boehm. Some aspects are a touch simplistic (e.g. the Freudian stuff), but it all hangs together fairly well.

It’s easy to see why it would have caused such an uproar when first released, not only for its plot and subject matter, but for the matter-of-fact way in which the seediest parts of British society are depicted. The interpretation advanced by some critics that the whole film is a comment on horror filmmaking, and the voyeuristic position of the audiences of such films, is viable and intriguing. Recommended.

Review: Persepolis

Directors: Vincent Paronnaud & Marjane Satrapi
Year: 2007
Score: 7.5/10

Jichael Mackson, the Ping of Kop, singer of countless hits such as 'Jelly Bean', 'Wheel the Hurled' and 'Whack or Blight'.

Jichael Mackson, the Ping of Kop, singer of countless hits such as ‘Jelly Bean’, ‘Wheel the Hurled’ and ‘Whack or Blight’.

Fascinating autobiographical French animation about a young Iranian girl who grows up during the Iran-Iraq War.

Based on Marjane Satrapi’s graphic novels, it maintains the same art style and transforms it into a uniquely simple yet effective style of animation, perfect for conveying the protagonist’s perspective of the world, immersing the audience within that world, and giving the film its wry tone. Satrapi is an endearing character and her somewhat unusual life makes for an engaging narrative and an interesting window into the events of the time.

Considering the film’s subject matter and the wide acclaim it’s received, I found it didn’t pack quite enough of an emotional punch to be truly great, but nonetheless it’s an admirable and authentic piece of work that deserves to be seen.

Review: Unforgiven

Director: Clint Eastwood
Year: 1992
Score: 7.5/10

For the ten months between the release of Unforgiven in August 1992 and the release of Jurassic Park in June 1993, this was cinema's most inglorious toilet death.

For the ten months between the release of Unforgiven in August 1992 and the release of Jurassic Park in June 1993, this was cinema’s most inglorious toilet death.

Touted as Clint Eastwood’s anti-western, to me this thoughtful film came across as a regular western but one with a clear message: that behind all the bluster and mythologising and storytelling, the Wild West was a harsh, violent world full of cruelty and injustice. The acting is excellent all around (though Eastwood himself doesn’t do a whole lot with an admittedly unflashy lead role), the exteriors are beautifully shot, and the music is quite nice. Some of the events seem to happen a little too easily, but that’s easy to overlook. The line “Deserve’s got nothing to do with it”, used to great effect in a climactic scene, was later reused in The Wire, and I think of it often. Overall, it’s a quality film, probably my favourite of those Eastwood has directed (caveat: I haven’t yet seen Flags of Our Fathers or Letters from Iwo Jima), but I wouldn’t say it deserved to win Best Picture. Having said that, looking at the other films released that year, I’m not surprised it did win, and I’m hard-pressed to pick a better winner; perhaps Glengarry Glen Ross, Malcolm X or The Crying Game? There was also a little animation by the name of Aladdin…

Review: The Seventh Seal

Director: Ingmar Bergman
Year: 1957
Score: 7.5/10

Chess was the knight's idea. Death, who likes multiplayer Euros rather than 2-player abstract strategy games, would have preferred The Settlers of Catan, if for no other reason than that its original German title begins with the word 'die'.

Chess was the knight’s idea. Death, who likes multiplayer Euros rather than 2-player abstract strategy games, would have preferred The Settlers of Catan, if for no other reason than that its original German title begins with the word ‘die’.

Iconic Ingmar Bergman existential drama remains interesting if not wholly profound. Bergman uses the metaphor of a knight playing a game of chess against Death (who cheats, of course), and a medieval setting full of death and injustice and apocalyptic panic (or in some cases, nonchalance), to explore questions of the existence of God, his silence in the face of suffering, the meaning (or meaninglessness) of life, and the inevitability of death. Though I enjoyed much of the film, particularly the exploration of these questions and themes, I didn’t find it emotionally engaging; it didn’t move me, which is precisely what a movie with this premise and ambition should do. Still, there’s some excellent work from Max von Sydow (as the knight), Bengt Ekerot (as Death, a performance that continues to influence how personifications of Death are portrayed to this day) and Gunnar Björnstrand (as Jöns, the knight’s squire), some memorable images, and occasional flashes of solid black humour.

Review: La Dolce Vita

Director: Federico Fellini
Year: 1960
Score: 7.5/10

Presumably this cat-on-the-head costume was the main reason the film won an Academy Award for Costume Design.

Presumably this cat-on-the-head costume was the main reason the film won an Academy Award for Costume Design.

My first experience of Fellini was simultaneously baffling and intriguing. I’ll admit I may not have fully understood what he was trying to say, and I can’t claim to have wholeheartedly enjoyed it – in fact at times it felt like the cinematic equivalent of eating my greens – but it certainly held my attention, and I’ve thought about it often since watching it. Marcello Mastroianni is perfect in the lead role, conveying (often at the same time) sadness, hope, charisma and, most importantly, deep disaffection with his society. Many of the supporting players are also excellent, especially Anita Ekberg and Alain Cuny. Some sequences seem superfluous or overlong, but it’s all put together so precisely that it’s clear they’re all necessary – even if their purposes weren’t immediately apparent to me. Others, such as the famous fountain scene and everything involving Steiner, are both powerful and memorable. It hasn’t turned me into a massive Fellini fan but I’m very glad I watched it.

Review: Prisoners

Director: Denis Villeneuve
Year: 2013
Score: 7.5/10

Oh, deer. According to the credits, "American Humane Association monitored some of the animal action. No animals were harmed in those scenes". Presumably this wasn't one of the monitored scenes...

Oh, deer. According to the credits, “American Humane Association monitored some of the animal action. No animals were harmed in those scenes”. Presumably this wasn’t one of the monitored scenes…

At its heart, this grim drama is basically just a police procedural. Like many of its kin it features red herrings, convenient coincidences, surprising twists, and no proper exploration of the motives of the criminal(s) responsible for the central crime(s). However, it’s able to rise above these genre tropes thanks to strong performances from an excellent cast (Hugh Jackman is especially good; I’ve generally thought poorly of him but this very much redeems him in my eyes), assured direction from Canadian Denis Villeneuve, and some effective emotional moments. The relentlessness of the movie’s bleakness brings to mind David Fincher’s Se7en, and that’s no bad thing. After the revelations in the last half hour, I’m not convinced it all actually makes sense. In fact, it really is that final stretch – with twists and resolutions that don’t really match the power of what precedes them – that lowers this from a potential 8.5 or 9 down to a solid 7.5. Interesting piece of trivia: cinematographer Roger Deakins was nominated for an Oscar and lost (to Emmanuel Lubezki, whose work on Gravity was admittedly outstanding), making it 11 losses from 11 nominations.

Review: THX 1138

Director: George Lucas
Year: 1971
Score: 7.5/10

Shitty 2004 CGI monkeys in a low-budget 1971 sci-fi film? This, George Lucas, is why so many people hate you.

Shitty 2004 CGI monkeys in a low-budget 1971 sci-fi film? This, George Lucas, is why so many people hate you.

Fascinating low-budget dystopian sci-fi drama/thriller that’s as interesting for its actual content as it is for its place in film history as (a) George Lucas’ debut (see what he could make back when he was genuinely creative!) and (b) American Zoetrope’s first disaster. It’s highly evocative of (and, let’s be honest, rips off) Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, and presents perhaps the most vivid and oppressive depiction of a non-apocalyptic dystopia I’ve seen on film. There are some core problems, mostly with the narrative (surprise, surprise!) – structurally it’s not especially coherent, the middle section (featuring our hero in a kind of prison) doesn’t really work, and the final act is disappointing in its simplistic focus on pursuit (featuring Yet Another George Lucas Car Chase™) – but there’s much to enjoy despite them. The sound design is brilliant (the oft-heard snippets of techno-babble spouted by bureaucrats who rule through surveillance are especially effective); there are some great ideas; the satirical elements still seem relevant and on-point; and the final shot is deservedly iconic. Robert Duvall is fine but frequently upstaged by the excellent Donald Pleasance. The version now available is Retcon Lucas’ 2004 reissue, featuring new CGI insertions that are mostly (with the obvious exception of the CGI monkey versions of the shell dwellers near the end) more seamless than those in the Star Wars reissues.

Review: Invasion of the Body Snatchers

Director: Philip Kaufman
Year: 1978
Score: 7.5/10

In a bizarre cameo with no lines, Robert Duvall shows up as a priest playing on a swing surrounded by kids. Because, you know, there's nothing creepy about that at all.

In a bizarre cameo with no lines, Robert Duvall shows up as a priest playing on a swing surrounded by kids. Because, you know, there’s nothing creepy about that at all.

Effectively creepy alien invasion movie has a palpable sense of claustrophobia and hopelessness. Keeping our perspective so localised – forcing us to fearfully imagine what might be going on outside of San Francisco – adds to the tension nicely. Denny Zeitlin’s unusual score also works well. Donald Sutherland and a young Jeff Goldblum are solid, as is Brooke Adams, who I’ve previously only seen in Days of Heaven. For a movie about an invasion, there’s precious little violence. The ending is satisfying and memorable. Caveat: I haven’t seen the 1956 version; I watched this version first, having heard it was superior.

Review: An Officer and a Gentleman

Director: Taylor Hackford
Year: 1982
Score: 7.5/10

If you look closely you can actually see Richard Gere's vagina.

If you look closely you can actually see Richard Gere’s vagina.

Solid if simple drama featuring Richard Gere as a headstrong young man trying to make it through the Navy training course that leads to flight school while falling in love with Debra Winger. Louis Gossett, Jr. won an Oscar for his memorable performance as the tough drill sergeant Gere clashes with. The romance is fine but other aspects – such as Gere’s breakdown and a death toward the end – are more emotionally effective. I would have liked Gere’s hopeless father (played by Robert Loggia, best known to me as Frank from Scarface) to reappear at the end to salute his son; apparently a scene depicting exactly that was shot but cut. The iconic final moment of the film, set to the power ballad Up Where We Belong, is pretty great.

Review: Ghost in the Shell

Director: Mamoru Oshii
Year: 1995
Score: 7.5/10

And that's why you always leave a note!

And that’s why you always leave a note!

Impressive anime that focuses more on its ideas and philosophical discussions than on plot (in other words: not that much actually happens). It also only bothers properly developing two characters, and even they seem useful only for advancing the exploration of the (admittedly quite stimulating) philosophical themes at the film’s core. There are some interesting visuals and a nice meditative tone outside of the action scenes, of which there perhaps aren’t enough. The depictions of female nudity seem a bit fetishistic at times. It’s been highly influential; watching it made me reevaluate my appreciation for The Matrix (one of my favourite films) now that I know the Wachowskis stole so many of its ideas.

Review: Young Frankenstein

Director: Mel Brooks
Year: 1974
Score: 7.5/10

This must have been the first scene filmed, since in every other scene Marty Feldman showed the effects of what happened here (having his neck squeezed until his eyes popped out). On a more serious note: Graves' disease.

This must have been the first scene filmed, since in every other scene Marty Feldman showed the effects of what happened here (having his neck squeezed until his eyes popped out). On a more serious note: Graves’ disease.

The best of the three Mel Brooks comedies I caught up on, probably because it has the funniest gags and the best parodies. Gene Wilder and Peter Boyle are in fine form, with good support from Marty Feldman and others (including Gene Hackman in an amusing cameo). I imagine much of it would fall flat to audiences unfamiliar with the classic horror movies Brooks is poking fun at, but then again they’re so influential and ubiquitous in pop culture that even if you haven’t actually seen them many of the references would probably still be recognisable. The satire is affectionate rather than genuinely critical, and therein lies much of the appeal. It’s quite uneven, with plenty of unfunny stretches, though it remains watchable throughout. The performance of ‘Puttin’ on the Ritz’ is hilarious.

Review: Ain’t Them Bodies Saints

Director: David Lowery
Year: 2013
Score: 7.5/10

You could insert this into a trailer for Malick's To the Wonder and nobody would notice.

You could insert this into a trailer for Malick’s To the Wonder and nobody would notice.

Occasionally devastating drama starring three excellent actors, Casey Affleck, Rooney Mara and Ben Foster. Great to see Keith Carradine (who in my mind will always either be singing ‘I’m Easy’ in Nashville or getting shot in Deadwood) in a supporting role. Ruminative and enigmatic, it brings to mind the films of Terrence Malick (my favourite director), conveying a similar sense of film as visual poetry and deliberate precision in seemingly haphazard juxtaposition of sound and image. It doesn’t reach Malick’s heights by any means, but the ambition is clearly there and there’s considerable merit in the attempt, though I imagine it won’t be to everyone’s tastes. The cinematography is a major asset. I’ll be watching what writer/director David Lowery does next with keen interest.

Review: The Maltese Falcon

Director: John Huston
Year: 1941
Score: 7.5/10

This is a pretty cool optical illusion. Click on this image, make it fullscreen, then stare directly into Wilmer's eyes. After ten minutes, you should see it.

This is a pretty cool optical illusion. Click on this image, make it fullscreen, then stare directly into Wilmer’s eyes. After ten minutes, you should see it.

Fun, engrossing detective story that’s heavy on plot and full of twists and turns. It’s very talky, perhaps too much so; in fact, the fast-paced dialogue barely lets up the whole way through. Sam Spade is a wonderful creation of Dashiell Hammett brought to life memorably here by Humphrey Bogart, but the bizarre supporting characters he encounters along the way are as much as part of the film’s appeal as he is. The furtive, panicky Cairo and the crafty ‘Fat Man’ Gutman (played by Peter Laure and Sydney Greenstreet respectively) are especially enjoyable. Though billed as a film noir, it’s much more lively and full of humour than any other film noir I’ve seen. Well worth a watch if you haven’t seen it.

Review: On the Waterfront

Director: Elia Kazan
Year: 1954
Score: 7.5/10

As this is so clearly Jean-Claude Van Damme, and the movie was made in 1954, I've written to Wikipedia to inform them of the inaccuracy of their claim that Van Damme was born in 1960.

As this is so clearly Jean-Claude Van Damme, and the movie was made in 1954, I’ve written to Wikipedia to inform them of the inaccuracy of their claim that Van Damme was born in 1960.

Powerful drama about personal responsibility in the context of waterfront union corruption. The film is justifiably best remembered for Marlon Brando’s Oscar-winning performance, one that still holds up six decades later for its intensity, dynamism and depth of feeling. Apart from Brando, there are some other good performances, most notably Eva Marie Saint and Karl Malden. The famous car scene (“I coulda had class… I coulda been a contender… I coulda been somebody…”) is as moving as you’d expect, though it’s more understated than I’d been led to believe from my previous exposure to snippets out of context. The story is fairly predictable, as is the romance, but it’s still quite effective. Elia Kazan’s direction is nothing flashy, though it won him a second Oscar.

Review: The Wolf of Wall Street

Director: Martin Scorsese
Year: 2013
Score: 7.5/10

Nice period detail: it's true, back in the early '90s people WERE constantly doing impressions of Macaulay Culkin from Home Alone!

Nice period detail: it’s true, back in the early ’90s people WERE constantly doing impressions of Macaulay Culkin from Home Alone!

This is Scorsese’s best film since The Departed, but that’s not saying much since it only had to beat the mediocre Shutter Island and the terrible Hugo. It’s a largely enjoyable romp about a despicable stockbroker’s rise, debauched antics, and inevitable fall. The acting is hard to fault: Leonardo DiCaprio’s at the very top of his game and it’s difficult to recall a better performance from him (if pressed I might point to Revolutionary Road or What’s Eating Gilbert Grape); Jonah Hill continues to surprise me, showing that Moneyball was no fluke and he’s actually an actor of considerable skill; Matthew McConaughey appears quite briefly but adds yet another sterling performance to his recent body of work (Dallas Buyers Club and Mud were enough to put him into my list of all-time greats, and this is just icing); and even Margot Robbie, in the few scenes in which she wears clothes, is good enough to make you forget she’s best known for being on Neighbours.

Marty certainly knows his craft and the entertainment value is pretty high, but it’s held back from greatness because it’s too lightweight to succeed as a drama in the tradition of Goodfellas (one of his very best films, and the one this resembles most closely in terms of its storyline), and too Goodfellasish – or, perhaps, insufficiently committed to making the audience laugh – to succeed as a comedy, despite a few solid gags (mostly involving drug use, which is never not funny, right?). By the end of the three hours, I’d seen a lot of crazy things and my interest had never flagged, but I was left wondering if there was anything beneath the decadent veneer. In that sense, it felt like the perfect companion piece to American Hustle.