In the late 1990s, writer and director Guy Ritchie swaggered onto the scene with his sweary yet stylised brand of black comedy. He married the world’s biggest popstar and managed to carry the Britpop movement forward into movies. Since the turn of the century, his work has been somewhat hit-or-miss but his latest feature The Gentlemen sees him go back to the genre that made him famous.
Directed by: Guy Ritchie
Starring: Matthew McConaughey, Charlie Hunnam, Michelle Dockery
Release: January 2020
Christopher Nolan is undeniably one of the most ambitious, forward thinking filmmakers working in the industry today. Known for writing and directing mind-bending films such as Inception and Memento, his thought-provoking style pushes the boundaries of cinema, challenging audiences to unravel his narratives. His latest picture is sci-fi epic ‘Interstellar’ and it is perhaps his most daring yet. Set on a decaying planet Earth running low on natural resources, Matthew McConaughey takes the leading role as former NASA pilot Cooper and is tasked with the almighty responsibility of finding a new home planet for the human race. After much deliberation with his daughter Murphy (Mackenzie Foy) and persuasion from Professor Brand (Michael Caine), he leaves his family behind for the greater good, taking off with biologist Amelia (Anne Hathaway) for a journey through space and time.
The incredible true story of rodeo cowboy Ron Woodroof’s battle with HIV and with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is one that deserves to be told on the big screen. After a few false starts and years of effort and determination, director Jean Marc Vallée has brought the project to fruition. Matthew McConaughey stars as Woodroof, continuing his remarkable run of form, and gives an awe-inspiring performance. After an accident at work hospitalises Woodroof, he is told he is HIV-positive and given around thirty days to live, but he refuses to give in and accept his cruel fate. He has a thirst for life, as well as bourbon, and his survival instincts lead him to start the ‘Dallas Buyers Club’, where he smuggles drugs into the country and distributes to fellow sufferers including Rayon (Jared Leto), with whom an unlikely friendship is formed.
Never has the term ‘actor’s film’ seemed more apt, as the underlying narrative structure is rather conventional, broken down with days after diagnosis title cards, allowing us an idea of the passing of time and offering a platform for Woodroof’s character arc. Initially homophobic and misogynistic, he is a nasty piece of work but as his condition develops, his narrow-minded outlook on life expands to show courage and compassion as he fights not only for his own life but the lives of all that sign up to his money-making membership club. He recruits Rayon as his right hand woman/man, a flamboyant opportunist with an ever- worsening cocaine addiction. Both turns are transformative, and at times very touching, and are receiving justifiable critical acclaim. Their gaunt frames tug at the heartstrings of the audience, inducing tears and laughter, uniting through adversity. The pharmaceutical discussions are enjoyable, as Ron swirls through legal loopholes to keep his entrepreneurial enterprise intact but aside from the superb acting, there isn’t an awful lot to shout about.
McConaughey himself said proudly that this quickly becomes much more than the ‘McConaughey gets skinny’ film, and I suppose he is right. His portrayal is full of energy and magnetism, pushing the weight loss out of the limelight, though he did shed an amazing 38 pounds for the role. It rounds off the much publicised ‘McConaissance’ which has seen him shrugging off his flimsy rom-com rep to impress in Killer Joe, Mud, Magic Mike, and now this. He will also be at the centre of Christopher Nolan’s next picture which is set to be one of the year’s biggest talking points. Proving himself, he shows great dedication and respect for Ron Woodroof in ‘Dallas Buyers Club’, carrying the film to a very solid standard.
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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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I have avoided the work of Matthew McConaughey in the past, his associations with romantic comedies have put me off to the point that when I see his name attached I tend not to show any interest at all, but as his career has since taken an expected twist, I was intrigued to see ‘Mud’, a story in which two young boys meet a dishevelled man living in a boat come tree house on a deserted island on the Mississippi Delta. Citing Mark Twain as an influence, writer director Jeff Nichols attempts the great American film where adolescent intrigue and curiosity steer the teenage friends Ellis (Tye Sheridan) and Neckbone (Jacob Lofland) to meet Mud (Matthew McConaughey) befriending and assisting him, despite the ‘wanted’ posters in town bearing his face.
Beginning as a Stand By Me-esque adventure tale, Ellis hopping on the back of Neckbone’s dirt bike for a summer of fun, romance at the forefront of the formers pubescent mind, and ‘titties’ on the agenda of the latter. The friendship is magnificent to watch, capturing the humour to a tee but with a genuine essence, and Ellis’ idealistic but naive notion of love holds the narrative together. Though the light-heartedness is short-lived, hinted at early on with symbolic shots of spiders and eerie suspenseful score. The cinematography sweeps us off to the ominous island, crucifixes in the sand leading to the suspenseful encounter with Mud, who with his dirty exterior and scraggy features earns his title. Striking a bond with Mud, going back to the island alone providing food and drink, Ellis escapes from his home life difficulties. His parents are in a turbulent marriage, he has an unrequited crush on the ‘popular one’ in the neighbourhood, and when Mud recounts his quest for happiness with Juniper (Reese Witherspoon) it triggers his true-love-must-prevail attitude which pits him against his family and the criminals searching for Mud.
The performances in Mud are of the highest order throughout, with McConaughey delivering straight from the top drawer. Initially coming across as arrogant, and perhaps a little over confident, as his character develops, his past unravelling, the portrayal continually keeps up, climaxing with a gripping finale. Unwilling to be outshone completely are the two youngsters, Sheridan and Lofland, who are outstanding. It is the norm for these kind of performances to either seem overplayed, or rather flat but the two get the balance spot on, and I think their chemistry helps boost one another, both giving heartfelt, and at times hilarious. With Sam Shepard, Reese Witherspoon and usual Nichols collaborator Michael Shannon filling the back seat in supporting roles, the towering stature of the cast is undeniable. Shannon, for me, was a little underused, as I really enjoyed him in a less serious role, taking the part of Neckbone’s deep sea diving, womanising uncle, offering words of wisdom. It was also very interesting to see Witherspoon used with a different approach, a darker, beautifully trashy side shown, clashing with her customary ‘girl next door’ depictions.
The only criticism I have of Mud is that it overstays its welcome somewhat, the pace dragging along through certain segments, the two hour ten minutes running time perhaps could have benefited with twenty or so shaved the sides. Despite lagging through the domestic scenes in Ellis’ broken home, which I felt were quite heavy handed, the script is at its best during the interchanges between Ellis, Neckbone and Mud, the dialogue exceptional with acting to boot, and it is the connections between these characters and between these three which are long lasting and pull you in, immersing us in their adventure.