Posts Tagged ‘scorsese’

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When you see a great foreign-language film, you can often sense the Hollywood executive leering over it. It can be both a welcoming and alienating thought upon viewing, and it would be the case for Victoria were it not for its insanely striking aesthetic. Many films use the long-take to wondrous effect, and you can see hundreds of film articles that explore the abilities of Haneke, Thomas Anderson, Scorsese and Iñárritu. Victoria pushes the boundaries completely; a 134 minute take that has surely captured the attention of Hollywood, and should for every film fan.

We follow the eponymous Victoria, a kind-hearted Spaniard living in Berlin. At the start she is letting her hair down, bouncing around to dubstep in an underground club. Moving outside she starts chatting to a group of men, who invite her out for an after-party, which eventually descends into a criminal partnership. If the synopsis sounds as though events unravel quickly and unrealistically, you’d be wrong. You could argue that Victoria is happily submissive to the charms of the guys, but 21st century people live their lives, attracted to the rush of uncertainty. At least that’s how we are supposed to take to the narrative. Based on the interactions you may or may not have had over yours years out, Victoria either seems like a very familiar personality, or is someone you’ve never met or heard of. This is the issue that may prevent Victoria from being a universal cult favourite.

For those supporting the film’s efforts, it is every bit as enthralling as people have said. Perhaps the best thing about the film is not what is technically achieved, but how realistic the characters appear. Laia Costa is a revelation, a beautifully assured actress who takes us on a journey we become so engaged with. As she begins to fall for the chatty Sonne (a wonderful Frederick Lau) we see the most subtle shifts in smiles or discourse, continually changing right up until the end. It is a film of movement and momentum, and seeing Victoria evolve over the two hours is a fascinating piece of entertainment. A lot of the film is improvised in terms of dialogue (Lord knows they couldn’t wing it for some of the technical aspects), and the flow of conversation is as natural as the direction.

Sebastian Schipper directs this film masterfully; to control so much for an extensive period of time is superbly skilful. Most directors will have chance to cut, regroup themselves and the crew, and attempt the shot a couple of times over. Schipper’s effort, in regard to this, along with his DP, Sturla Brandth Grøvlen (who deservedly gets first billing once the credits roll), should be highly praised. This film took three attempts to shoot, and to imagine the frustration when something went awry, and to see the final outcome that is unforgettable, makes you appreciate this dedication to the cinematic form.

As the action amps up, the camera snakes through the bustle and many will become disorientated. For those okay with the speed, it’ll be a nail-biting series of sequences. You can often see snippets of detail that would otherwise go unnoticed with other DPs, but Grøvlen is a clearly an expert. He knows how to control that camera as if it were an extension of himself. There is nothing more exhilarating for a film fanatic than seeing this craft remarkably in operation.

Not everyone will find a relatable element in the film, as its a youthful, anarchic thriller. However, it is also a romantic and innocent look at joie de vivre. The narrative’s development from Before Sunrise-esque romance, to a vérité-infused heist thriller is so unique, it’s bound to have its admirers and critics. One thing, above all else, is that the film should not be missed.

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THE WOLF OF WALL STREETWell, someone’s got their mojo back. After a series of solid if unspectacular films, the diminutive Italian-American has recaptured the verve and energy of his 90’s output. The Wolf of Wall Street can be placed alongside Scorsese’s epic crime sagas Goodfellas and Casino, both in ambition and, more importantly, execution. What’s more, his long frustrating collaboration with heartthrob Di Caprio finally bears some fruit. So often looking like an ill conceived relationship of mutual flattery, we finally see the duo working to both their strengths.

The much discussed story is based on the rise and fall of Jordan Belfort, a self starting stock broker in 80’s New York. Arriving into the city as a starry eyed innocent, Belfort is soon inducted into the hedonistic ways of his charismatic superior (a show stealing Matthew McConaughey). When the company falls prey to the stock market crash, Belfort starts his own company selling dodgy deals to unassuming halfwits up and down the country. Soon the company begins to flourish and the money, drugs and, ahem, female companionship, start to flow.

Ably abetted by his trusted sidekick Donnie Azoff (Jonah Hill), Belfort juggles his burgeoning business with a troubled home life with his wife Naomi (Margot Robbie) and a persistent FBI agent on his trail (Kyle Chandler). The film is structured a lot like Casino and Goodfellas. We have the auspicious beginnings, the ascent into success and hedonism and immorality, then the inglorious fall. A cynic might label it formulaic, but it works. I think as viewers we find a strange pleasure in seeing something constructed, even if what is being constructed is deeply troubling. Belfort’s ascent, with the wild parties, drugs and booze is utterly irresistible.

Keeping in mind the somewhat unfavourable view the public has of the banking system right now, this should go down like a sack of lead. Yet Scorsese’s film making prowess makes the journey outrageously entertaining. All the Scorsese tricks are here; the slow Caravaggio-esque pans across crowds and the raucous rock music on the soundtrack. Yet there is something even more psychedelic about this particular film. To really recreate the hazy comedown of Belfort’s drug years, Scorsese makes use of disjointed editing and gauzy visuals to authenticate the experience. There is a particularly joyous sequence in which Belfort consumes a melee of quaaludes, only to find he has to escape the FBI in his car.

Leonardo Di Caprio turns in one of his greatest performances yet as Belfort. Often he has looked misplaced in Scorsese’s films, a pretty boy trying to act like the tough guy. This role is much more in his domain; Belfort is charismatic, cocky and ultimately, wild. Belfort is much like Ray Liotta’s character in Goodfellas, someone riding their luck and unable to see the end game. Di Caprio manages to instil a charm and pathos in him that makes him hard to dislike. Jonah Hill is also superb as the eager assistant, loyal to the bone and with his own wild streak. He is a perfect comic foil.

There are a few slight niggles. As with many of these macho gangster rise and fall films, the female characters get completely waylaid. You can predict every beat of their relationship with from the off; the seduction, the kids, the descent and the divorce. Although it is loosely based on true events it feels completely cliched- does anyone really care about this sub pot? Probably not. The film ends with a beautifully cheeky moment as Belfort addresses a seminar of people wanting to learn how to become the next ‘Jordan Belfort’. It perfectly conveys the paradoxical nature of the film: one part of us condemns these shysters, and the other part revels in their degeneracy.

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The debate between the advantages of shooting on digital and celluloid is now at the forefront of the film world’s psyche. Filmmakers do not agree on which medium yields the most benefits – Roger Deakins is beginning to favour digital, while Christopher Nolan’s preference for film remains unchanged. While the aesthetic advantages of each format are hotly debated, most agree that digital’s role within the industry will continue to grow. The advantages held by the digital format in economy and practicality are vast, which would seem to suit the studios perfectly – as Martin Scorsese says, “anything cheaper and faster makes sense for the businessman.” However, the champions of film will not be swayed.

Christopher Nolan and his director of photography Wally Pfister assert that digital technology is not yet advanced enough to exceed the visual quality of film, and they are technically right – there is no medium which yields a higher resolution than 70mm IMAX film, which was used in Inception and The Dark Knight Rises. However, filming in 70mm is incredibly costly. Its use is only justifiable in productions with stellar budgets, and even then it is limited to certain scenes. 35mm is still the predominant medium in feature films, and its quality is far more comparable to that of digital. David Lynch and Roger Deakins both consider digital to be equal or superior to 35mm film in its aesthetic, and Deakins even underlines the visual edge the Alexa Arri camera has over film. He explains that the film speed of the Arri allows far greater versatility in extreme light conditions, whether bright or dark. Deakins also believes that the deciding factor in Sam Mendes’ decision to film Skyfall in digital was the clarity that the medium gives the characters’ eyes. Skyfall is among the hot favourites for the Academy Award for cinematography, and if Deakins is successful the tenth time around, it will be a huge achievement for the digital format – three of the last four winners of the award will have been filmed digitally (Avatar and Hugo being the other two).

It would seem, then, that the issue of visual quality is unresolved. Everyone can agree that film and digital stock are vastly different media, and some go as far as to argue that only celluloid constitutes real cinema due to its full, organic look. They certainly have a point: if we reimagine some of the masterworks of cinema in digital – Once Upon a Time in the West, for example – instinct tells us that the result would not be as richly satisfying. Digital is, for now at least, best reserved for certain kinds of projects, whether that be the homemade feel of Cloverfield or the modern, night-time cityscapes of Drive and Collateral. The use of digital in The Hobbit, however, gave the film a sharpness and gloss which felt wrong – film is undoubtedly more suitable for period and fantasy pieces.

Aesthetics are only one of several issues which are central to the debate. The fact that filming in digital is more practical and cost-effective is near undisputable. However, the related issue of the “democratisation” of the filmmaking world is a more contentious one. While the ease of production allows people to create films who would previously have been unable to access or operate the technology, we need look no further than the music industry to see that, once a product becomes too easily produced, it also becomes easily digested and disposed of. There are worries within film circles that democratisation leads to popularisation of the ‘lowest common denominator’. The most viewed filmmakers on YouTube use silly special effects in daft action sequences – and the audience seems to lap it up. On the flip-side, however, a culture in which so many people have the means to produce a film must surely nourish the highest quality of art. Many of the most promising films in this year’s festival lineups were filmed digitally, and it is a fair assumption that some of them would never have been produced if not for the advancement of digital technology.

What must be understood is that film and digital are two entirely different media, and each one can communicate its message in a different way. While the look of celluloid has a certain magic to it, digital cinematography has begun to yield some fantastic results. Selecting the right medium is an artistic choice, and one that directors will hopefully continue to be afforded. The fact that digital technology gives opportunities to a whole new world of filmmakers can be construed in different ways – while it may be too early to tell, it would seem that the democratisation process will simply widen the gulf between true art and mass entertainment. Should we pick sides in what has been called the “battle between digital and film”? Not necessarily – above all we should support intelligent decisions on which medium is most suitable for conveying a particular film’s message.

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