Film Reviews: Devil's Due 'contrived' while 'brilliant' DiCaprio let down
Reviewed this week: The Wolf of Wall Street, Inside Llewyn Davis, Devil's Due
The Wolf of Wall Street
WITH some commentators balking at its lack of finger-wagging and the Academy silverbacks rumoured to be afrown at its liberal cussing, drug-hoovering and whoring, the welcome parade for Martin Scorsese's much-anticipated The Wolf Of Wall Street has been dulled a tad.
Guilty though it may be of these crimes of excess, it is a shame because the great director's fifth outing with Leonardo DiCaprio is a flawed masterpiece that is uninterested in sermonising a point that Glengarry Glen Ross, Wall Street and Boiler Room have exhausted -- the moral bankruptcy of the financial sector. As if we needed reminding.
Gold-painted DiCaprio, who is brilliant in this, busts veins and burns calories as Jordan Belfort, the real-life stockbroking giant who defrauded his way into a fortune in the 1990s. During his fledgling days in LF Rothschild on Wall Street, his youthful idealism gives way to drug-fuelled money lust when he is taken under the wing of a bushy-haired Mephistopheles, played by Matthew McConaughey. Jordan leaves Wall St and goes it alone with moxie-tastic stranger Donnie Azoff (Jonah Hill) who wants a slice of the cake.
The office gets bigger and more unruly, the millions roll in and Jordan and Donnie snort, pop and hump their way into the arms of Kyle Chandler's FBI agent. Along the way, Jordan rouses the troops over the office PA and upgrades wives to trophy blonde Naomi (Margot Robbie).
Scorsese's brushstrokes are everywhere -- the Henry Hill narration, the obscenities of The Departed and Casino's treacherous glamour. But much of TWOWS's excess is committed behind the camera; the three-hour carnival ride is too long and Terence Winter's screenplay is blighted with over-laboured humour.
It's undoubtedly great fun. Just don't expect much in the way of remorse or repentance.
Editor's Pick: Inside Llewyn Davis
The Coen brothers' reputation for consistently mesmeric movie-making spans the decades at this stage. There has been the occasional dud like The Ladykillers along the way, but their latest offering, Inside Llewyn Davis, sees the prolific duo operating at the height of their considerable powers.
Which is much more than can be said about the title character we encounter during the opening stages of this period piece.
Played brilliantly by Oscar Isaac, Llewyn Davis is a folk singer struggling to catch a break in the vibrant Greenwich Village folk music scene of the early 1960s.
We know from a stunning opening track that he's got the talent, but a combination of bad luck and bad attitude means he's fighting a rearguard action against the proverbial slings and arrows.
Of no fixed abode, and thus reliant on the kindness of both friends and strangers, he pinballs his way across their couches leaving a trail of self-destruction and lost cats in his wake.
After alienating most of those closest to him in New York, a road trip to Chicago and the possibility of an audience with a successful music promoter offers a last roll of the dice. Can this change of scene herald a change of fortune for this deeply cynical but frequently hilarious dreamer?
Featuring a quality soundtrack and script that pulls off the difficult trick of being both cerebral and accessible, the Coen brothers have delivered a darkly comic masterpiece that is as pitch-black as it is pitch perfect.
Isaac is simply stellar in the central role, though Carey Mulligan, Justin Timberlake and Coens' regular John Goodman are also worthy of mention.
The pace flags a touch in the middle section, but this is but a quibble, as a collection of magical moments and absorbing characters ensure that momentum isn't lost.
Inside Llewyn Davis may not be a place you'd like to stay but it's a hugely entertaining place to visit.
Opens on Friday
In Grenoble in 1988 a local cinema was running a horror season during which I saw a film called Cannibal Holocaust. It has stuck in my mind as one of the nastiest things I've ever seen. It was so horrible that director Ruggero Deodato was forced to prove that it wasn't a snuff movie. But if no people were actually killed, many animals were.
Ghastliness aside, Cannibal Holocaust, the premise of which was that a film crew was sent to document the search for a missing film crew, was one of the earliest films in the "found footage" horror sub-genre.
The idea is simple, if it looks real and can plant even a seed of reality in the audience's mind, then psychological horror is already heightened. It's been used a lot -- sometimes famously and to great effect as in the Blair Witch Project, Cloverfield and the first Paranormal Activity. It's also been ruthlessly exploited and Devil's Due is a case in point. What's so annoying is that the premise of the film is not actually that bad -- derivative for sure, but they're also remaking Rosemary's Baby so Polanski's original still has legs nearly 50 years later.
Samantha (Allison Miller) and Zach (Zach Gilford) are hopelessly delighted newlyweds who honeymoon in Santo Domingo. Zach films every moment of everything, though apparently doesn't watch any of it. It's only when he is rather desperately seeking clues as to why the now pregnant Samantha is acting so odd that he sees something strange happened on the last, blurry night of their honeymoon.
In what possibly felt like an artistic statement the film-makers present everything via Zachcam, CCTV, someone else's phone or surveillance cameras. It just comes across as tremendously contrived and supremely distracting. What could have been quite scary if done right has had all of the menace framed right out of it. Although there a couple more flaws than that. Save your money.