Director: Cathy Yan
Starring: Margot Robbie, Rosie Perez, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Jurnee Smollett-Bell, Ella Jay Basco, Ewan McGregor, Chris Messina, Ali Wong
Despite being almost universally panned, the one element of 2016’s Suicide Squad which was consistently singled out for praise was Margot Robbie’s performance as Harley Quinn and it didn’t take long before plans for a spinoff for her character began. That film has arrived in the form of Cathy Yan’s Birds of Pray: And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn. Riding the first wave of female-led superhero blockbusters, this surprisingly violent and profanity-laden film offers a counter to the high ideals of Wonder Woman and Captain Marvel, instead peddling empowerment through fun and irresponsibility. Continue reading
Director: Quentin Tarantino
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt, Margot Robbie, Emile Hirsch, Al Pacino, Kurt Russell, Margaret Qualley, Mike Moh, Austin Butler, Dakota Fanning, Bruce Dern, Julia Butters, Luke Perry, Damian Lewis
As the self-taught filmmaker whose primary education was famously five years working behind the counter at a video store, a deep love of the movies has always been a central part of the Quentin Tarantino mythology. While that love of cinema of all kinds has always been evident in his movies through their eclectic references and homages, with Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, this great lover of the movies finally gets to make his film about the movies. Taking us back to the late 1960s, he captures Hollywood at a moment of seismic generational change and in typically Tarantino fashion, demonstrates a simultaneous fascination with history and an unwillingness to be beholden to it. Continue reading
Director: Craig Gillespie
Starring: Margot Robbie, Sebastian Stan, Allison Janney, Julianne Nicholson, Paul Walter Hauser, Bobby Cannavale, Caitlin Carver
Sporting villains don’t come much greater than Tonya Harding. In the lead up to the 1994 Winter Olympics, rival figure skater Nancy Kerrigan was injured in an attack found to have been orchestrated by Harding’s husband. It was one of the most outrageous sporting scandals in history and brought Harding an infamy far exceeding the profile of her sport. For the many who have only ever known Tonya Harding in relation to “the incident,” Craig Gillespie’s I, Tonya serves as interesting background to one of sports most notorious figures. With an entirely different energy to your traditional biopic, I, Tonya is Goodfellas if it were set in the world of competitive figure skating and populated entirely by morons. Continue reading
Director: David Ayer
Starring: Will Smith, Margot Robbie, Joel Kinnaman, Cara Delevingne, Viola Davis, Jared Leto, Jai Courtney, Jay Hernandez, Adele Akinuoye-Agbaje, Karen Fukuhara
Suicide Squad represents the brave next step in the stuttering DC Expanded Universe as, for the first time, it shifts its focus away from DC’s big two characters, Superman and Batman, instead looking to a band of misfit villains-turned-heroes. Redemption is the theme here. Redemption for these characters and redemption for the studio after the less than glowing reception of Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice.
The US government is still coming to terms with the presence of meta-humans in the world after the climactic events of Batman vs Superman. What happens if the next Superman isn’t such a nice guy? Intelligence agent Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) proposes an initiative called Taskforce X. In exchange for reductions in their sentences, a group of highly dangerous but highly gifted criminals in Belle Reve Penitentiary are engaged to fight America’s most dangerous foes. Continue reading
Director: Martin Scorsese
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Jonah Hill, Margot Robbie, Kyle Chandler, Rob Reiner, Matthew McConaughey, Jean Dujarden
In recent years, with films like The Departed, Shutter Island and Hugo, Martin Scorsese has ventured into the world of narrative-driven filmmaking. However the films upon which his lofty reputation is based – films like Mean Streets, Goodfellas and Casino – were never so concerned with narrative. They were films that created a world and dropped us into it, introducing us to the people, the language and the rituals of that place and time. They had an almost anthropological feel to them. Scorsese’s latest film, The Wolf of Wall Street, is a return to this type of storytelling. It has that old-fashioned Scorsese flavour to it with one additional ingredient, humour.
The Wolf of Wall Street is a biting satire of a culture that values personal gratification above all else and gives little thought to the consequences. The film explores the rise and fall of stockbroker Jordan Belfort. We meet Jordan on his first day working at L.F. Rothschild where he starts at the bottom of the ladder. On the very day that he gains his trading license, 19th October 1987, the stock market crashes and he finds himself out of a job. He starts to rebuild by selling “penny stocks,” hustling suckers who can’t afford it into buying worthless stocks at huge margins. Things really take off when he founds his own firm, the evocative but meaninglessly named Stratton Oakmont, and employs the same tactics with blue chip stocks to land much bigger fish. The film doesn’t require you to understand how their operation works, it doesn’t even try and explain it, just to know that it was all quite illegal. With Jordan and his team of hucksters making a lot of money very quickly it was only a matter of time before they caught the eye of the FBI.
Based on the confessional memoir of the real-life Jordan Belfort, The Wolf of Wall Street is told entirely from Jordan’s point of view. It is DiCaprio’s voiceover narration that guides us through the film and he regularly turns to the camera to directly address the viewer. It is in this subjectivity that the root of much of the film’s controversy lies. As in the past, when sections of the audience have accused Scorsese’s film of celebrating gangsters, The Wolf of Wall Street has been attacked for the way in which it indulges in the extravagant excess of these characters lives, an excess which is funded by illegal practices. Despite being a cautionary tale, it is not a didactic or judgemental one. With Belfort himself showing no genuine remorse or contrition for the effects of his actions, the subjectivity of the film likewise does not judge him or apologise for him. The victims of Jordan’s crimes are as invisible to us as they are to him. Instead, the character of Jordan Belfort, through telling his own story, tries to charm, schmooze and woo us as viewers into siding with him despite our understanding of the despicable selfishness of his lifestyle.
The Wolf of Wall Street is a confronting film in its examination of a completely amoral life of excess. Much has been said about the over the top sex, drugs and in particular language of this film – it was well documented that it had set a new record with 506 variations of the F-word – but arguably the more confronting aspect of the lifestyle on display is its misogyny. Whether The Wolf of Wall Street is a misogynistic film, a film about a misogynistic world, or a bit of both is open to discussion. Regardless, it is an intensely male film in which women, regardless of their relationship or role, are regarded primarily as commodities and sexual objects. There is only one female character, Joanna Lumley’s Aunt Emma, who has a level of authority equal to that of the male characters.
Leonardo DiCaprio is one of the finest actors going around at the moment, but this fifth collaboration with Martin Scorsese has afforded him the opportunity to display his versatility. Much of his success in the past has come from playing tortured loners, but Jordan is the ultimate people person. He thrives on the energy of having people around him and being the centre of attention. So DiCaprio is called upon to play the extravert in a way we don’t regularly see. The bigger surprise though is the ease with which he handles the film’s comic material. DiCaprio has always radiated seriousness as an actor, but here he gets to have some fun. In doing so he shows a surprising talent for physical comedy, bordering on slapstick, which very few would have imagined was in his repertoire.
DiCaprio is ably supported by a strong cast. Jonah Hill continues to show he has serious acting chops, while his background in improvisational comedy adds to the spontaneity of some exhanges. The relatively unknown Australian Margot Robbie turns heads as Belfort’s trophy wife more than holds her own in a number of scenes with DiCaprio. Rob Reiner threatens to steal the movie at times as Belfort’s short-tempered father, and cameos from the likes of Matthew McConaughey, Jean Dujarden and Jon Favreau add colour to intricately constructed world.
While The Wolf of Wall Street is undoubtedly Scorsese’s funniest movie, it is by no means a comedy. It is a drama with humour – there are plenty of laughs while Jordan is living the high life, but when things turn bad its gets serious. While it won’t be to everyone’s’ liking, it is arguably Scorsese’s best film in two decades.
Rating – ★★★★☆
Review by Duncan McLean