Cafe Society

Director: Woody Allen (2016) BBFC cert: 12A

In his latest comedy drama, writer/director Woody Allen serves up his hallmark witty lines and jazz soundtrack with a sumptuous 1930’s glamour.

Flitting between LA and the Big Apple, the plot turns on a love letter written by legendary Hollywood lover, Rudolph Valentino.

A multitude of deftly sketched characters breeze through a revolving door of family dinners, weekend brunches, pool parties and nightclub cocktails.

Between the name dropping, back stabbing and infidelity, several murders occur and there’s an entertaining encounter with a prostitute.

Kristen Stewart stars as Veronica, a down to earth secretary involved in a love triangle with her boss and his young gopher. Steve Carell plays Phil, a powerful Hollywood agent while Jesse Eisenberg is his neurotic New York nephew, Bobby.

The latter essays the role Allen would once have played himself. Wisely the veteran filmmaker remains behind the camera and engineers a nice turn of mood from breezy romance to poignant longing.

Cafe Society is a pleasant place to while away a quiet afternoon but it’s extreme familiarity may not encourage you to return in a hurry.

@ChrisHunneysett

 

The Big Short

Director: Adam McKay (2016)

Take cover from an atomic bomb of fraud and stupidity in this knockabout drama based on the catastrophic financial crash of 2008.

Based on Michael Lewis’s account published as The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine (pub. 2010) it’s been nominated for five Oscars including best film, best director and best actor for Christian Bale.

Ryan Gosling plays narrator Jared Vennett, an unrepentant bond salesman at Deutsche Bank.

Vennett meets the one-eyed Aspergers sufferer Michael Burry. Played by Bale in a bad haircut,  he’s a maverick hedge fund manager.

Burry’s discovered Wall Street has been selling mortgages to people with no jobs or income.

So he’s ‘shorting’ the housing market, i.e. betting it will crash and anticipates making billions of dollars by betting millions.

Vennett teams up with Steve Carell‘s permanently angry banker Mark Baum to get rich quick.

Yet no-one seems to have fun with the money they’re making or have any idea what to do with it, or even why they’re doing it.

The script wants us to like these guys, showing us their life traumas to garner sympathy.

They’re fictitious versions of real people and we’re encouraged to see them as heroic outsiders, uncovering the impending crisis.

But they willingly keep schtum and treat it as another investment opportunity.

Then the film’s millionaire movie producer Brad Pitt turns up looking like a retired geography teacher and flexing his social conscience, much like he did in his self-produced project 12 Years A Slave (2014).

Pitt plays another banker who makes a min out of the misery of millions..

Financial flicks Martin Scorsese’s The Wolf Of Wall Street (2014) and J.C. Chandor’s Margin Call (2013) have already covered much the same ground as The Big Short.

This hasn’t the blistering riotousness and moral vigour of the former in which Margot Robbie also appeared, and lacks the sober cynicism of the latter.

It’s all very Scorsese light with an up tempo pace and jokey tone created by pop tunes, freeze frames, frantic editing and characters regularly speaking directly to camera.

Plus it’s full of great performances, very energetic and niftily employs a game of jenga to explain what causes the banking meltdown.

But it’s misjudged in its sympathies and patronisingly employs Margot Robbie and Selena Gomez as themselves to explain the maths.

But The Big Short fails to condemn these hypocritical parasites – the bankers not the actresses – and instead dresses them as heroes.

They should be strung up from lamp posts with the rest of the bankers responsible.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Foxcatcher

Director: Bennett Miller (2015)

In this chilly, complex and exceptionally crafted thriller based on a true story, actors more famous for action and comedy give great dramatic performances.

In mood, tone, subject matter and careful execution it is similar to Miller’s Capote (2005) for which the late Philip Seymour Hoffman won the best actor Oscar.

US gold medal wrestling champ Mark Schultz (Channing Tatum) is being coached for for the Seoul Olympics by older brother Dave (Mark Ruffalo).

Aggressive in the ring, the emotionally stunted Mark lacks social confidence and struggles financially. Dave has acted as father as well as brother but now prioritises his wife Nancy (Sienna Miller) and children.

As in American Sniper, Miller demonstrates she’s capable of excellence given the opportunity, it’s a shame that in both films she isn’t given more to do.

At no point does Dave consider himself to be a contributor to Mark’s issues.

Mark is overwhelmed when patriotic multimillionaire wrestling enthusiast John du Pont (Steve Carell) demands to help the US Olympic cause, flying Mark out to his secluded Foxcatcher estate where he has built a state of the art training facility.

From behind prosthetic nose, paunch and grey hair, Carell offers a mesmerising performance, hinting at a complex internal conflcits, not least his feelings towards his emotionally cold mother Jean (Vanessa Redgrave).

Flexing his financial muscle, du Pont brings on board the entire US wrestling team, names them Foxcatcher after his estate and hires Dave to train them for Olympic glory.

The wrestling scenes are convincing and comprehensible while the muted tone, autumnal colours and nuanced performances create a creeping foreboding.

Desperate for affirmation by his wealthy associates, du Pont parades his pet project around town while tension develops between du Pont and Dave as they compete to exercise an unhealthy degree of control over Mark.

With a shocking violence, the cold blooded and tragic end offers further punishment but no redemption.

★★★★★