‘Phil’s Quick Capsule Review’ (a nod to legendary comedian Bill Hicks who coined the phrase when he reviewed ‘Piece Of Shit’ movie Basic Instinct)… where a perfect 10 is rarer than a rain free British summer!
Written by Phil Hobden – UK based podcaster, writer and former filmmaker. Part of the All Things Film network…
Phil’s Quick Capsule Review: It wasn’t that long along that Matthew McConaughey’s name above a film poster meant piss poor romantic comedy. No more. Dallas Buyers Club sees McConaughey not just at his best but marking himself out as one of the best actors working today and in a film that also included a career best performance from Jared Leto that’s saying something. Dallas Buyers is a superb film, one of 2014’s must see movies.
Best Bit: McConaughey, gives a career best performance.
Rent, Borrow, Buy, Stream: Buy
If you liked this try: Wolf Of Wall Street; Saving Mr Banks; 12 Years A Slave
The Review: Cate Blanchett stars as Jasmine in Woody Allen’s latest dramedy – a sort of retelling of The Prince and the Pauper, brought up to date to analyse just how far a fall from grace can land you in an unexpected place. Jasmine is a deeply complex character – precisely because she’s maddeningly straightforward; a lady of luxury, married to a wildly successful business, she’s living the high life in their fancy houses and dozens of cars.
She’s from modest means; an adopted child, along with her non-biological (and non-biodegradable, as it turns out) sister, Ginger. However, the bottom falls out of the good time and her husband is arrested for fraud, her son flees home to avoid the disgrace and Jasmine finds herself stripped of absolutely everything… and on the doorstep of her bohemian sibling in San Francisco. She has nowhere to go and must now acclimatise herself to a life of extreme poverty – in her eyes, of course. To us, this modest, happy-go-lucky (with every pun intended) is fairly routine. But what if you had everything and then lost it?
Allen of late has been like a pinball in a mixed-genre machine; from crime caper, to the downright farcical (the less said about Snoop, the better) it’s fair to say he’s not been at his best since the near-perfect Crimes and Misdemeanours of the late eighties. A number of reasonable spikes – including Match Point, Vicky Cristina Barcelona and, arguably, Midnight in Paris – have not sold me on a return to the glory, heady days of Annie Hall and Bananas in the long term.
Yet – somehow – Allen achieves gold here with Blue Jasmine. I suppose when you make a film a year on a stream-of-consciousness assembly line, the stars will align eventually to produce a fascinatingly brilliant drama. Blue Jasmine is that film. Consider a character as rich in conceit as Jasmine herself; she’s somehow very unlikeable to us and everyone she meets, but she plays it up on the understanding that this is a career; a life of luxury is not handed to you on a silver platter, even though your three main meals are. Cate Blanchett dominates the role; alternately passive and mad, yet somehow we still root for this ditzy, spoiled witch. And then there’s her sister played in scene-stealing fashion by our own Sally Hawkins. Her Ginger is a twee, goofy solid gold lump of adorableness; the better of the two halves.
In reality, we all know these two people, somewhere, but rarely have to siblings been more at odds with one another. This paves the way from some quality drama between the pair, as they both hope off their previous love boats (Alec Baldwin in typical greasy smarm-overdrive, and a wonderfully sharp performance by Andrew Dice Clay) and on to their new prospects (Stellan Skarsgaard in typical greasy smarm-overdrive, and a wonderfully blunt performance by stand-up Louis C.K.).
Woody Allen knows, seemingly, that he’s struck gold this time around. His labours of “like” in the previous years have been exactly that; stop-gaps in time till a story he lands on truly becomes a story worth telling.
Cate Blanchett and Sally Hawkins alone wrestle the movie away from Allen’s clutches – yet his script and deft, dry – near passive – direction wrestle it back from them, until both parties agree to let go and climb on the back and run with it. It really ought not to be as captivating and insolently fascinating as it must surely sound on the page, but the movie is truly something very special.
It’s a story of family, greed and sheer apathy – and a welcome glisten of hope to a return to form for Allen which, I dunno about you, I thought had long since departed.
The Review: Bull rider Ron Woodruff waits in the wooden wings for his shot to break the eight second record, and as he waits, he has two young temptresses in the shadows, screwing them alternately. He peers through the wooden slats at the current rider, who’s having his ass kicked by the bull. Ron finishes and clasps his hands together, ready for the challenge.
The real challenge comes a day after the bull ride. An electrician by day, Ron receives a shock that lands him in hospital. The doctors deliver another nasty shock.
It’s difficult to know if this opening sequence is precisely the moment Ron acquired HIV – worse still, might this have been an occasion where he’s passed it on. We may never know.
Set in 1985 Dallas, Texas this extraordinary film charts the story of Woodruff’s realisation, character dismantling disease; a time when rednecks like Woodruff and, indeed, society at large thought the AIDS virus to be exclusively passed around by homosexuals and sharing of needles. When a redneck is hit by this news, it has major repercussions with his friends and his community. His trailer home is daubed “faggot blood” as he’s out trying to steal the wonder drug drug AZT.
Dallas Buyer’s Club could easily play as a companion piece to How to Survive a Plague – a documentary from 2013 that takes the same route regarding AZT; a drug, it transpires, that is deeply toxic, but a perfect antidote to big pharma’s slack response to the ever growing epidemic.
Ron is played by Matthew McConaughey – it must be said, with fierce career-defining gusto – having clearly lost as much weight as Cristian Bale did for The Machinist. He’s a charming, passionate and humorous fellow dealt an exceptionally shitty hand by fate; a doomed slap in the face that could, unbeknownst to anyone who knew him at the time, affect absolutely anyone. In his quest for acquiring AZT illegally, he’s given the heads up by an orderly of a struck-off doctor in Mexico who’s set up shop trying anything to find ailment-prohibiting drugs with limited success. Ron takes a big risk smuggling these back to Dallas to start The Club of the title; $400 per month membership for real results in halting the AIDS process. And all of this is a true story.
Dallas Buyer’s Club is a masterpiece. Directed by relative unknown Jean-Marc Vallée, and written by newcomers Craig Borten and Melisa Wallack, the movie packs a hell of an emotional wallop. It’s gloriously understated in its direction and blissfully subtle in all the right places. The script is superb and stuffs so much plot into its perfectly reasonable 110 minute run-time. McConaughey – for all his previous romcom nonsense here is a revelation; a bold, daring middle-finger to the stereotypes of old; it’d be curious to see how the fans of his previous work take to a story like this. Especially when he happens across the paths of pre-op transvestite Rayon; a drug-taking wild-at-heart liberal who sets up the club with him.
Rayon is played by Jared Leto and Leto in this movie is a revelation; his performance is Earth-shatteringly astonishing. If ever he found work drying up on the silver screen, then he could easily migrate to drag/stage work anywhere in the world. But beyond the make-up and behind the frilly exterior beats the heart of a truly dismantled, beautiful monster. Leto turns in the performance of a lifetime as Rayon; at once sweet and endearing, and yet wild and rambunctious on his collision course to the inevitable with his drug use. If Leto doesn’t win Best Supporting Actor this year the Oscars, it’d be a crime; possible a crime as big as the FDA committed two decades ago in halting a perfectly legal, comfortable, non-toxic drug to help alleviate the HIV/AIDS sufferer’s ailments.
And so, with that – a mere three days in to 2014 – we have the best film of the year so far <!> in Dallas Buyer’s Club; a film so taut, stuffed to the gills with career-best performances in a movie that will have you laughing beer through your nose and socking you in the stomach and heart alternately.
It is a masterpiece and you absolutely must check it out, if, for no other reason, than to marvel at Jared Leto and Matthew McCounaghey’s performance. Oh, who am I kidding, you’ll be marveling at EVERYONE’S performance – on and off screen. It’s absolutely brilliant ★★★★★★★★★★
The Review: I’m not a fan of Formula One; I’ve never watched it and none of my friends watch it, either. The extent of my knowledge of the whole thing was hearing about Ayrton Senna being killed in a race in my youth listening to the radio at bath time. I know it’s dangerous and I can definitely see the appeal.
Fortunately for Ron Howard’s “Rush” it seems the director and writer Peter Morgan quite possibly fall into the same category as me; they too haven’t been associated with F1, but they at least can see the appeal. This time around, the focus is largely not on the driving, but the competitive element. Sure, this has been done to death in quasi-biopics a zillion times, but when it’s done well it makes for superior entertainment.
Wisely circumventing the need for breadth of the entire lives of James Hunt and Niki Lauda, Morgan writes a honed piece deftly concentrating on the 1976 season during a number of hair-raising near-misses and collisions, all culminating in a showdown at Mt. Fuji in Japan where everything hangs in the balance. It’s almost as if the forces were looking down on them that rainy, dark day with a view to making a non-fiction race thriller three decades later.
Who’d have thought that Chris “Thor” Hemsworth would make such a convincing and excellent James Hunt, anyway. A recent trip to YouTube to dig out interviews with the late madman of racing confirms that Hemsworth’s nailed the performance, right down to the height. Sure, on the odd occasion, the Aussie accents seeps out – but you can’t have everything. Rush, however, in terms of performances is dominated by Austrian Daniel Bruhl as Niki Lauda; a serious, nerdy, logic-obsessed scientist determined to win at any cost (in this case, personal and financial – and, sadly, facial). Bruhl steals the show and drives off with it. It’s one of the year’s best performances.
At a neat 110 minutes, “Rush” is slightly melodramatic as you’d expect – and the Howard/Morgan stable take a curious pit-stop with some of the races and instead flash up title cards explaining who won the race. This gives them time to focus on the races that actually mattered, but to me, it felt a bit of a cheap trick. This is a minor niggle, however, in an otherwise solidly entertaining and message-thumping movie. Stephen Mangan, Julian Rhind-Tutt, Olivia Wilde and Colin Stinton turn up as welcome bit-part players for the Hunt team.
Is it the film of the year? Not remotely. It might make the top five… maybe. But is it fun, pacey, racy and full-on entertainment? Absolutely.
The Review: Chiwetel Ejiofor plays Solomon Northup, a freeman in upstate New York with a wife and two very young children. He’s living the good life and is a passionate musician.
His service in his music capacity is requested by two men who want him to play in a traveling band; they insist it isn’t a circus. He takes them up on the offer. During the trip, he’s drugged and awakes in chains, and shipped to the deep south where he’s sold as a slave to a variety of backward, wayward white men working on their plantations. It’s 1841, and for the next twelve years, Solomon will be stripped of his identity, family, his name and a large quantity of skin off his back courtesy of some of his master’s whips.
Steve McQueen’s film is not an easy one to endure. However, it is fascinating that 12 Years A Slave comes more or less exactly one year after Django Unchained. I am sure Tarantino is breathing a sigh of relief because, if this had been the other way around, Django would have suffered a major parody impact. Slave is based on a novel by Northup himself and everything that plays onscreen, we are in little doubt, is actually quite true. The plantation owners were despicable characters – one in particular named Epps, played by Michael Fassbinder, who truly saw them as property. Epps sees one black girl in particular as an object for lust and decides he has the right to have his wicked way with her. Epp’s wife can sense this abomination and develops an utter hatred for her and, by proxy, most of the others.
Before Northup meets Epps, he spends time working for Master Ford, played by Benedict Cumberbatch. Ford is undeniably the lesser of the two evils. This was a time when the outmoded days of obfuscated interpretations of slavery were beginning to become transparent; these slaves are human beings, too, as they’re beginning to realise. They’re uniquely at odds with the way society views the situation; the altruism and heckled conformity is desperately at odds with the human spirit. Ford and Epps, respectively, make this clear; it’s a matter of luck who you’re born to, and of which stock and colour. It’s then a matter of societal perjury just how damning and downright hostile your next master may be.
Sound familiar? In a sense, yes. We continue to this day to live in a parallel existence. It remains true that we are all an offspring of good fortune. Consider the fact that you are able to read these words on your computer, or iPad. There are those that cannot. The quality of our education is defined by where and to whom we were born; by virtue, our future paths will be informed by this, and we will spend the rest of our adult, working days either following commands or barking them at others. 170 years on, McQueen seems to suggest, we’re still all slaves anyway. It is a heartfelt and passionate sucker punch of a film. Ejiofor’s Northup embodies a fighter true to his fighting spirit. He is richer than Jamie Fox’s Django, and less pantomime, obviously. A lot of the sets from that film seem to have been used here. But it’s all in the “how” and not the “what”. And it’s done it in forty minutes less time than Tarantino managed. Arguably, the movie’s score is far more alert; mixing music of the time with a more contemporary dramatic lift.
Ah, the comparison here, I’ve decided, to Django Unchained is unfair:- it’s akin to comparing Michael Bay’s Pearl Harbour to Spielberg’s Schindler’s List. The underlying sentiment seems to be there, but the undeniable tour de force from all involved will leave you reeling. 12 Years a Slave is a brutal watch in places; one extremely jarring one-take, camera whirling whipping will take the wind out of your sails.
The final home stretch – in more ways than one – will crack even the hardest nut in the audience. A strong Oscar contender to be absolutely certain – Ejiofor seems to have the phrase “Best Actor” carved into his back with a whip in a sort of perverse 1840s way – but then, I guess, deservedly so. 12 Years a Slave is not perfect, but it is at least earnest, heartfelt and wonderfully performed.
The Review: You know what? Sometimes a film comes along with performances so good that it elevates what could otherwise be an over sentimental slog. Saving Mr Banks is just that film. From Thompson (giving the performance of 2013) to Hanks, Farrell to Giamatti everyone is on the top of their game here. And it’s a pleasure to watch.
The story, that of Walt Disney’s attempts to woo Mary Popins writer PL Travers into giving him the rights to her much loved story, is told well enough and the film directed in such as way that the (mostly) true to life tale can take centre stage rather than flashy visuals (American Hustle take note) , but it’s heart and soul comes from what will be a trophy cabinet filling performance from Thompson. Divine, vine from start to finish, she injects just the right amount of heart to make you fall in love with a woman who, for the most part, is pretty unloveable.
That said, her performance centrally benefits from Hanks as Walt Disney. Charming, charismatic and dashing (in a very 60’s kinda way), Hanks delivers a Walt Disney minus the rough edges and whilst that may not sit well with purists of the Golden Age, it doesn’t detract from a stirling effort by the former Forrest Gump. And yes that problem is prevalent elsewhere, in that as often you find with films of this ilk the truth often makes way for narrative construct and the need to protect those that need protecting (Saving mr Banks is produced by Disney) . So don’t expect the big guy to be lighting up anytime soon.
This are small gripes however in what is a very enjoyable 2 hours. So come for the performances and stay for the film which is, in truth, a lovely story about simpler times. And animated penguins.
The Review: We know almost nothing about the poor elderly sod trapped all alone on his little boat awaiting certain death. In recent conversations I’ve had about All is Lost, JC Chandor’s follow-up to his debut Margin Call, the topic of empathy has cropped up: how can we care so much about a man we do not know about? Does he have family? Does he even have a name?
It’s quite an interesting answer to contemplate. We all know how very, very hard movies try to make us sympathise with their characters. But here, all adrift and on the road to screwsville, it’s almost irrelevant. Quite how pertinent it is to feature a man who is, to quote Chris Morris’ deadpan observe in The Day Today “… being old they would have died soon, anyway…”, is anyone’s guess. Might All is Lost have had the same dramatic impact if it had been a quadriplegic thirtysomething? Or an adolescent stranded at sea about to die because his smartphone has become waterlogged, and 1700 miles out to sea means a 3G connection can’t get you to Google to search on how to distill your contaminated water supply?
Ah, well, this is thing here – and Chandor knows it, evidently. This isn’t a story. It’s a parable. A fable as old as time itself; without your requisite toys, bells and whistles – all is for nothing if you have no survival instinct and indeed the will to survive. It’s almost ball-bustingly shoved down our throats; 90 odd minutes of Robert “I’d Like to Thank the Academy” Redford screwing up his face on a quest to find out just how many variations of facial muscle pulling can convey – telepathically – that God is a twat for putting him in this position. And, to be quite fair, Redford has acquired many wrinkles over the decades to pull this off in a variety of ways. There’s the forlorn stare at the skies. There’s the slight twinge in his thirteen wrinkle on his left eye seeming, somehow, to indicate that he may have sussed out how the distillation process can take place with a knife.
There’s also that thousand yard stare when he wakes up and surveys the answer to what bollocked his boat in the first place: a dead on stare-out with a broken piece of container ship that has pierced his own. The look on his face says “This is all-too seemingly a small accident. I think this may actually kill me”.
Contrarily speaking, though, all is not lost. Oh, don’t misunderstand me; Redford will have to earn his journey to the last gasps of the final act’s last moments, but he’s quite happily found himself afloat in an all-too-shocking calm Indian ocean, floating all sunburnt northward into a known path of cruise liners. Life of Pi this is not. No tigers, and not nearly has many crushing, death-rolling waves come hurtling his way. This is a more contemplative disaster movie.
Some may compare All if Lost to Gravity – after all, they’re set in in terrain that is altogether inhabitable by humans. The odds are exactly against them. If it were you or I we’d have been killed within moments. But these characters know how to survive. Whether they deserve to survive is quite a different matter altogether – because, like Gravity (and don’t read into this next bit, it’s no indication of the outcome one way or another) All is Lost is a message; hold tight, fight it off, stick it out and you’ll come up trumps.
These nameless characters; their survivalist mitochondria – two in the same year… so if the message is the same, yet the technicalities are at ends of the spectrum, then it matters not; in space, or at sea, the stakes and the score remain the same.
The Review: Okay so the Award For Overrated Film Of 2014 goes to… American Hustle. Much like Silver Linings Snore Fest last year, this is a film that did nothing for me. Yes it looked nice (Gravity), yes it was well acted with a great soundtrack (Playbook) but fuck me after an hour I couldn’t care less about the characters or what they did, let alone the story that went nowhere fast.
It’s the smuggest film of the year (okay the year is but a day old but trust me year end no film will out smug this), from a smug director who everyone seems to think can do no wrong.
As you may have heard (in the somewhat over flattering press surrounding this movie) Amy Adams and Jennifer Lawrence are great, turning in real career highlight performances, and it’s nice to see Christian Bale acting again with his talent rather than his creepy bat voice, but seriously there are only so many shots of women in front split dresses and no bra (Bra budget for this movie =$0) that I can take and after about 15 mins (about 150 shots of said offence) I’d had enough. Which is roughly also the point where i start dot get bored.
This is the point where usually I’d recap the story. I can’t. It went something like… Someone cons someone then get’s taped up by the FBI to con someone else. Sound riveting? No. Not really.
But wait! Don’t worry about the story listen to this LOUD song from our GREAT SOUNDTRACK. Or look at this CAMEO. Whatever you do don’t focus on the story…
Director Russell has turned in a karaoke version of a Scorsese film without the heart or talent. It just made me want to watch Casino or Goodfellas again. In fact American Hustle is like a great receipt the filmmakers once saw on TV then years later tried to cook it again… they got the ingredients right (other than the dash of Cooper which turned out to be a full smug bottle full) but they just had no idea how to put them together into something that is more than a sprinkling of flash (okay food references over).
Wait! STOP! Over here! Look at Amy Adams in a front split dress and no Bra! Just ignore the story.
In my book Russell has made ONE good film – Three Kings, one okay film (The Fighter) and two of the most over praised films of the decade.
Side note: Also my bug for 2013/14… can directors please use different cast members in films. Even Scorsese gave DeNiro a break from now and then. Having almost the whole cast of Silver Linings PlayBook just annoyed me, whilst reminding me that Cooper overacts at ever chance.
Emperors new clothes? Sadly no… see the films greatest con is actually convincing the press (and cinema goers) that what they are seeing is something great when in fact it’s a polished turd. A nice looking one. But a polished turd none the less.
The Review: In what seems like a very short space of time, the 3D experience has become a huge part of both the cinema and home viewing experience.
However, very few films have used the technique to its full potential and studios have seen it as merely a cash cow by churning out last minute conversions on films that have left the public jaded and cheated by this lazy attempt to justify a more expensive ticket.
So now we have the latest in 3D wizardry in the shape of Gravity. A much hyped sci-fi tale of stranded astronauts in space.
Alfonso Cuarón directs after a 7 year gap since his masterpiece Children of Men, resulting in a great deal of attention from the industry as to what he would produce next.
The story revolves around two astronauts, Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) and Matt Kowalski (George Clooney) who are carrying out routine repairs above the earth’s atmosphere.
A freak accident suddenly causes a vast amount of satellite debris to be knocked into their path resulting in Stone being detached from the crew and fighting for her life.
To say any more about the plot would spoil the experience, but what is important is to focus on the breathtaking visuals in the film.
This is a film that is all about the audience experiencing a thrilling 3 dimensional ride.
As soon as the film begins we are presented with a silent beautiful view of earth from above. We then begin to see the shuttle and Clooney drifting into shot where we continue in one take and witness the crew go about their repairs.
The fluid one take shots are outstanding, the camera never staying still and drifting with the crew as they communicate with each other and with NASA. I’ve no doubt this is as close as you will get to experiencing what these brave individuals go through from the comfort of a chair.
Sound design and score have been carefully crafted with moments of deathly silence only to be jolted from your seat with the booming sound and sights of space debris.
The film does however have some issues with pacing and also character development.
The focus is very much on Sandra Bullocks’ character, a novice astronaut with a tragic past. However it is Clooneys’ character that needed more development. His wisecracks and charisma work early on in the film but later on when the situation turns even darker, his reaction to the situation simply didn’t ring true for me.
The film is saved however by the final act, a truly nerve shredding and emotional finale that sees Bullocks’ character fighting for her life.
Visually the film has certainly done something that I have never seen before and to an extent has restored some faith in 3D filmmaking. However, the hype machine is simply not justified and that comes down to the script which needed to go through a few more drafts to develop the characters more.
Alfonso Cuarón is a masterful director no question, but I do hope he doesn’t focus too much energy on pushing the technology in his future work and lose the human touch that he has displayed in his previous films.