DVD

DVD review: Mid90s

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After graduating from the Judd Apatow school of stoner comedy, Jonah Hill has gone onto work under some of the biggest filmmakers in the business. Now he has transitioned behind the camera to write and direct coming-of-age drama Mid90s. Set across a summer in Los Angeles, the plot centres around thirteen-year-old Stevie (Sunny Suljic) who is taken in by a tightknit but troubled skater group as he struggles to find his place in cultural society.

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DVD review: Sausage Party

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  We’ve come to know what to expect from films written by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, and their stoner brand of comedy has become instantly recognisable. The latest project from the pairing sees their signature humour animated in Sausage Party, directed by Conrad Vernon and Greg Tiernan. Taking place in a supermarket called Shopwell’s, the plot follows Frank (Seth Rogen), a sausage who is packed alongside pork pals Carl (Jonah Hill), Barry (Michael Cera) amongst others. His hotdog bun girlfriend Brenda (Kristen Wig) sits on the same shelf with her doughy friends, and the couple eagerly await being picked up by a human, referred to here as ‘Gods’, and to be taken through the exit to ‘The Great Beyond’ where they can come out of their packaging and be together. After an incident on aisle three, Frank clashes with Douche (Nick Kroll) which leads to a shocking discovery that will change their lives forever.

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DVD review: War Dogs

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Todd Phillips is known for directing the acclaimed Hangover trilogy, and although he adds his comedic bromance flavourings again, he is now taking on much weightier material in crime-drama War Dogs. Loosely based on the book Arms and the Dudes by Guy Lawson, the plot follows two twenty-something friends who become international arms dealers working with the American government. David Packouz (Miles Teller) is struggling to make ends meet, working as a masseuse in Miami. At an old school mate’s funeral, he reunites with former high school best friend Efraim Diveroli (Jonah Hill), who appears to be making a real go of his life having left town a few years earlier. Eager for the taste of success, he agrees to work for him, joining the firm to buy and sell guns and make a fortune.

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DVD review: True Story

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If you see that Jonah Hill and James Franco are in the same film, you’d be forgiven for assuming it would be a lightweight comic affair, given their mutual associations and previous work. However, in artistic theatre director Rupert Goold’s first foray into film, laughs are nowhere to be found. The mystery thriller ‘True Story’ is based on the memoir of the same name by former New York Times writer Mike Finkel, following his journalistic fall from grace. After losing his job due to fabricated storytelling, Finkel (Hill) discovers that Christian Longo (Franco), who is awaiting trial for the murder of his wife and three children, is using his name as an alias. Eager to explore the matter further, he arranges a prison visit, which triggers a psychological meeting of the minds that changes both of their lives forever.

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DVD review: 22 Jump Street

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 After the huge success of 21 Jump Street in 2012, it came as no surprise that developments were soon underway for a sequel. Would it live up to the original or will it be doomed to become yet another unimaginative paint-by-numbers comedy follow-up? In a way, both boxes are ticked but the self-awareness of repeating the formula cleverly causes the audience laugh at and with the film simultaneously. The first saw cop duo Schmidt (Jonah Hill) and Jenko (Channing Tatum) go undercover in a high school to investigate a drug problem, based on a 1987 television series. This time around, they do the same, but in a college! Hardly a leap forward in plot development, as the writers and characters will be first to admit, but there are more than enough big laughs to make it work.
  The budget thrown at a second go becomes a recurring joke and despite the gag, the stronger product value is evident in the film itself also. Proceedings open with a hilariously exhilarating chase sequence and a lot of fun has been had with the freedom of milking the profits of the predecessor. Flavours of other recent pictures of the same ilk are to be found, with the frat-pack humour of Bad Neighbours and a finale in Spring Breakers territory, so it seems the Apatow University alumni still don’t mind referencing the work of friends and collaborators. The directors, Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, are known mainly for their work in animation, such as the Lego Movie, and this unrestricted manner lends a playfulness and creativity to their work. Inventive cuts and transitions often add to the amusement, juxtaposing the styles and statures of the leads, and a whacky split screen trip segment involving a fashionable new drug known as WHYPHY is among the highlights.
  Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum are both on spectacular form, as Tatum again adapts seamlessly into the improvisational approach to comedy that Hill is associated with. Their partnership, on paper, shouldn’t really be as natural as it appears on screen but you get the feeling that their friendship is genuine which helps the humour on its way. They are joined by a solid supporting cast including Ice Cube who is fantastic as crazed police chief, Dickson. The sub plots are typical but well judged, as are the cameos which get better continuously until the brilliant closing credits which carries the franchise longevity joke further than you could imagine. The magic of ’22 Jump Street’ is that it doesn’t try to be anything it’s not, and because of this, it doesn’t overreach. It already has a winning formula so simply repeats itself, and self-parodies with the wit needed to get away with it, making it the funniest in-joke of the year.
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DVD review: The Wolf of Wall Street

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 In what is the fifth project from the dream team of Martin Scorsese and his muse Leonardo DiCaprio, they present ‘The Wolf of Wall Street’; an epic retelling of the stockbroker Jordan Belfort’s memoir of the same name. It follows the rises and falls of the exuberant entrepreneur in Wall Street throughout the late eighties and early nineties as well as the highs and lows in his turbulent social life. Leo produces and stars as Belfort alongside Jonah Hill as his friend and business partner, Donnie Azoff. Scorsese is arguably better known for his past glories rather than his more recent works but here, he is back to his best. His direction is fresh and energetic and his trademark style is taken to another level, which is complimented by Terence Winter’s jet-black comedic script, and of course the astounding central performances.
  We have everything you would expect from a Marty film and more, from the troubled lead to the trophy wife blond, and technically, from the use of slow motion to the pop-rock soundtrack and velvety smooth voice-over narration. Belfort’s big personality fills the screen and he guides you through his methods of corruption, breaking through the fourth wall and boasting to the audience about how much money he has, loving every minute of it. Some may protest that this glamourises his deception, taking from the poor to fund his excessive drug and alcohol habits but Scorsese rarely makes films about good honourable men, or role models, so why would this be any different now? Personally, I am more drawn to villains than heroes which is possibly why his work appeals to me so much.
  When Belfort’s illegal activities catch up with him, and his home life descends into chaos, we see the creative techniques cleverly become distorted. For example, Belfort’s adversaries grow internal monologues to combat his, and in one scene, his wife openly responds to a thought in his head. It is these small but effective innovations that make this film so refreshing and exciting to watch as it is impossible to predict which trick the crafty filmmaker will pull off next.
  Leo DiCaprio has a history of playing deeply conflicted men, disturbed by past traumas, and he is also no stranger to playing wealthy men. Tackling Jordan Belfort combines these qualities, like Gatsby crossed with a monster, a wolf in designer clothing, and even though the character himself may be incredibly shallow and materialistic, DiCaprio’s performance has layers upon layers and has moments which show off his talent in a whole new light. Cool on the outside, calculating on the inside, Leo captures the money-hungry persona and takes us through a whirlwind of emotion with him. His sheer charisma is extraordinary and his on-screen relationships with co-stars are great.
  When next to Jonah Hill, they are both hilarious and bring the dark dialogue to fruition in flowing conversation. Leo rarely shows his capacity for comedy but bouncing off Hill’s excellent improv-chops, he is very good. Donnie, the bespectacled motor mouth with a taste for crack serves as a creditable sidekick to Jordan and despite his controversial philosophies and questionable morals, he is wickedly funny and I am a big fan of the character. Belfort’s reactions to Azoff’s outlandish comments are fantastic, as is his two-hander scene with Matthew McConaughey where the camera zones in on a young Belfort’s naive awe-struck expressions as eccentric stocks boss Mark Hanna takes him under his wing and delivers a motivational introduction into Wall Street leading to a mad chest-pumping chant which you will no doubt find yourself humming days later. In contrast to this, his chemistry with stunning newcomer Margot Robbie is intense. Scorsese has a knack for directing arguments and reminds us with a few brilliant confrontations between Belfort and fiery wife number two Naomi Lapaglia.
  At a whopping three hour running time, this film is packed with money, fun, drugs, sex, jokes and more drugs and is, in a way, a gangster flick – but where the power is greed, and the guns and fedoras are exchanged for briefcases and braces. It is long without becoming overlong but the length does result in some frenetic editing which crams everything into a suitable cinema duration. I couldn’t get enough and when the original four hour cut featured on the hard copy release hits the shelves, I will be first in line to indulge in the extended version. The Wolf provides only further proof of the genius of Martin Scorsese that in unfortunately nearing the end of his filmmaking career, he can still create a masterpiece worthy of his prime.
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DVD review: This Is The End

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A comedy apocalypse film featuring a host of actors playing themselves. The premise for ‘This Is The End’ is ridiculous but somehow, it is genius. Based on the 2007 short ‘Jay and Seth Versus the Apocalypse’ by Jason Stone, this also stars Seth Rogen and Jay Baruchel but is co-directed by Rogen and frequent collaborator Evan Goldberg who also worked on Superbad, Knocked Up and 50/50. When Jay visits Seth in LA, they are invited along to a housewarming bash thrown by James Franco, and although Jay doesn’t feel welcomed into the Hollywood scene, he reluctantly accepts. When disaster strikes, he and a selection of other guests including Jonah Hill, Danny McBride and Craig Robinson are forced to stick together and ride it out with hilarious consequences.

Now when in a cinema in front of the latest comedy, it’s the norm to find parts incredibly funny, admiring the jokes and the delivery, though in recent years good comedies have been very few and far between. It is however unusual, for me personally anyway, to physically laugh consistently and at times uncontrollably, almost from start to finish. ‘This Is The End’ delivers in a big way, from its self-parodying gags to the deliberately shoddy CGI. There are, as expected, hordes of knob jokes and a lot of childish humour but the chemistry between the stars makes it extremely watchable. After the initial OTT burst of destruction in the opening third of the film, the focus changes to a survival theme, the gang gathering their resources and putting together a plan, rationing supplies of water, beer, hallucinogens and a Milky Way. They go on to discover that it is Judgement day, and only a show of sacrifice would allow them access to be ‘sucked up’ into heaven, leaving only the selfish egos of LA behind to die.

Rogen is as effortlessly fun as he always his, this time happily joining in with making fun of the typecast hash smoking roles and the ‘Seth Rogen laugh’ which have become synonymous with his work. His slowly flowing dialogue links nicely with the rest of the players, particularly James Franco, and this is built upon when they playfully discuss a Pineapple Express sequel. Baruchel takes the ‘straight man’ role, which is needed in the midst of the surrounding jokers and he gets it down to a tee. The rest of the cast runs off like an Apatow conveyor belt of names in the initially party scenes, Jonah Hill reuniting with Michael Cera and Christopher Mintz-Plasse for a brief, but fantastic segment. Jonah Hill is the stand out, taking centre stage in a comical Exorcist spoof sequence, though Robinson and McBride also provide bags of laughs. The bit part cameos recur and without giving anything away, a poster boy gives us his career best performance.

The more I think about ‘This Is The End’, the more I love it and I am still finding myself quietly chuckling over certain moments. I recommend this highly, but it is not for the easily offended and requires a certain mindset, so that the audience can take the film as seriously as those involved, which is not a lot at all, but that is not to say it has been taken lightly. Just when the Rogen/Goldberg writing bromance was thought to be running its course with recent hiccups such as The Green Hornet and The Watch failing to achieve the critical acclaim of their earlier pieces, they’re back again reminding us what they can do with the funniest film I’ve seen in years.

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DVD review: Django Unchained

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The latest addition to Quentin Tarantino’s filmography, ‘Django Unchained’, set in 1850s America, ticks all the boxes and features everything you would expect: strong bloody violence, punchy dialogue and Samuel L Jackson. Here, QT pays tribute to the ‘spaghetti western’ genre and tells the epic story of Django (Jamie Foxx), a freed slave and Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz), a German bounty hunter, who come together on a journey to rescue Django’s wife from a brutal plantation owner.
   A ‘road movie’, a ‘buddy movie’, ‘gangster film’: ‘Django…’ can almost fall into each of these categories but could only have been made by one writer/director. With trademark cinematography, a killer soundtrack and excellent plot tangents (one involving a hilarious scene poking fun at the Ku Klux Klan and getting away with it) this is unmistakably Tarantino. He even has his own minor but explosive cameo as a slave trader, putting his own dodgy slant on the Australian accent, however, he has overstepped the mark with the blood and gore a little, cheapening what is an extremely well made film. The bubbles and splats of guts and brains are out in full force as per and sadly try to overshadow the performances and script.
  As the eponymous Django, I feared that Jamie Foxx would get lost alongside the blockbuster names and after my first viewing, I thought he had fell short of the podium with Waltz, DiCaprio and Jackson taking gold, silver and bronze respectively. However, after watching again, the character seems to have grown on me and I found myself rooting for him more on my second viewing. Will Smith fortunately turned down the lead role and was later replaced by Foxx who plays the transition from downtrodden slave to cocky, and sometimes arrogant, bounty hunting hero very well. Waltz is effortlessly magnificent as the educated trilingual killer, whispering words of wisdom to Django throughout and for me, he steals the show and fully deserves his Oscar for ‘Best Supporting Actor’. His gain is Leo’s loss, as despite playing the schmaltzy but sadistic Calvin J Candie to perfection, he is second best on this occasion. I thought it would be difficult to take Di Caprio seriously in a villainous role as we are so used to seeing him as the hero but here he shows his versatility and is at times terrifying, particularly where the violence is there but hidden, rather than flaunted. He appears to be an ideal choice. Unusual casting decisions have paid off for QT in the past, such as reviving the career of John Travolta playing Vincent Vega and Brad Pitt as Lieutenant Aldo Raine in ‘Inglourious Basterds’, and this time it is no different. No hesitation is shown in taking an established Hollywood ‘heartthrob’ and giving them a character which nobody would expect them to portray. I should also mention Samuel L Jackson who plays a blinder as the house slave with misguided loyalties. Visually, he is almost unrecognisable but his voice instantly stands out and he enjoys his share of the witty one liners.
 This will slot in nicely alongside Pulp Fiction and Reservoir Dogs in an impressive portfolio, although whether it will live up to Tarantino’s high expectations of his own work as ‘the greatest Western of the 21st century’, only time will tell. He has shown again he can take the most serious of subjects and add his own personal touch, whilst keeping the harsh reality of the topic at hand. This film may be remembered for the silly shoot out physics instead of the bouncy conversations exchanged between Schultz and whoever he parleys with. Tarantino can nearly be seen as an overrated director but an underrated writer. A terrific piece of cinema nonetheless.
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