Monday, 25 April 2016

Film Round-Up #14

Well, I think it's safe to say that if any time is 'Leo Time', it's right now. Fresh off his remarkable performance in The Revenant and having been the talk of the town (and subject of countless Facebook memes) in the subsequent few weeks, the profile of Leonardo DiCaprio has surely never been higher than it is right now? Of course, it doesn't hurt that he has finally (belatedly?) received the Oscar for Best Actor thanks to his turn as the determined (to put it mildly) Hugh Glass.

Is it his best performance? Probably. But is it his most entertaining film to date? I guess that's down to personal taste, but perhaps not. Either way, I figured this was an appropriate time to find that out so I've been looking back at some of his previous films. Here are the first few I've watched with more probably to be seen soon!

The Beach (2000)

One of the first of Leo's films since a Titanic-fuelled career boost was this Danny Boyle-directed effort, adapted from Alex Garland's novel of the same name, and stars him as an American back-packer who, in Thailand, is given directions to a beautiful-but-forbidden island. Of course, he goes there and finds a small community of fellow back-packers living self-sufficiently. He is allowed to stay and join their community, but only if he keeps it secret. All goes well for a while but naturally their perfect little paradise is eventually disrupted by first a tragic incident, then an innocent (at the time) indiscretion. This makes it very much a film of two halves and I enjoyed the first a lot. Leo's character, while as charming as always, is also a bit of an arrogant twonk, but it's still one of those films that makes you want to be there for real. The community's lifestyle is made to look very appealing and the scenery is stunning, but then the tone of the film changes completely in the second half which pretty much destroys what it had built up. I suppose the point is to abruptly take you out of your comfort zone, and it works, but it's done very clumsily and nearly ruins the film for me... 6/10

Catch Me If You Can (2002)

Released as Spielberg's follow-up to Minority Report, this film is the more than remarkable story of Frank Abagnale, Jr who, from the age of 15, embarked upon a career as a 'trickster, forger, and impostor' with amazing success, successfully impersonating an airline pilot, a top physician, government agent, and lawyer, swindling millions of dollars in the process, all before he was 21 years old. He was obviously a smart kid, and highly resourceful, but it was his confidence and charm that had the biggest impact on his ability to pull of his scams, and it's on these characteristics that DiCaprio wisely based his superb performance. Tom Hanks is also great as the FBI agent obsessed with tracking down his young quarry, as is Christopher Walken as the father Frank so looks up to, and Amy Adams is also memorable in what was one of her earliest film roles, but it's Leo's show from start to finish, understandably. He was perfect for the role (apart from possibly seeming a bit too old) and it really is a hugely enjoyable caper from start to finish. One of my favourite Spielberg films to date... 9/10

The Aviator (2004)

Somehow I only watched this one for the first time very recently and it was quickly apparent I should've watched it earlier! It is of course the story of Howard Hughes, the eccentric filmmaker and aircraft designer/enthusiast, and while the former is certainly touched upon, particularly near the beginning, the film focuses on his achievements in aviation (hard to imagine given the title, I know) which included several experimental aircraft and more than one near-fatal crash, as well as his extravagant lifestyle and worsening obsessive-compulsive disorder. The OCD in particular made it a challenging role but, as everyone probably already knew before me, Leo nails it with one of the first of his truly Oscar-worthy performances. It helps that he has great support too, from Cate Blanchett as Katharine Hepburn, Kate Beckinsale as Ava Gardner, and John C. Reilly as Noah Dietrich, friend to Hughes as well as CEO of his business empire, and the result is one of the finest biopics I've yet seen. A captivating look at a fascinating man, and still one of Scorsese's best works... 9/10

Blood Diamond (2006)

Hollywood execs like to try tackling sensitive issues now and then and this is a notable example. Set in Sierra Leone during its devastating civil war, it's centred around the illegal mining of diamonds by rebels who use the profits to fund their war effort. One enslaved miner, Solomon (Djimon Hounsou), finds a huge pink diamond but rather than handing it over, he hides it. Soon learning of the diamond is Danny Archer (Leo), a Rhodesian smuggler who agrees to find and free Solomon's family in exchange for a cut of the diamond. Of course, the rebels are also after it who have 'recruited' Solomon's son as a child soldier, as is Danny's former military C.O., now a mercenary. This makes for a largely exciting, though not exactly original adventure, but the film is more notable for the performances of its two main stars, both of whom are fantastic, and also for its graphic depiction of the horrific atrocities (allegedly) committed during the war. The message is well and truly hammered home and some scenes are hard to watch, but I guess it's not the sort of thing that can be sugar-coated, and nor should it. Some might say the issue was handled a little ham-fistedly, but it's not a film you're likely to find boring in any case, and you're not likely to forget it either... 9/10

The Great Gatsby (2013)

The first thing I should say about this one, in case you didn't already know, is that it's a Buz Luhrmann film. That should give you an idea of what to expect from what is the umpteenth adaptation of the 1925 novel about the enigmatic, almost mythical Jay Gatsby. Like the book, it's told from the perspective of Nick Carraway (Tobey Maguire), a struggling writer who moves next door to Gatsby and soon becomes embroiled in his ridiculously lavish parties and extravagant skylarkings after he takes a liking to him, but finding out who Gatsby actually is proves a much bigger challenge. Gatsby is of course played by DiCaprio and it's another role that relies on his undeniable charm and charisma and it's unsurprisingly another good performance from him (and Maguire, though in a different way) but as a film I'm less sure. Its glitzy, glamorous world is stunning to look at, but it all seems far too theatrical in a fake, unrealistic kind of way as well. That's fine if you just want to be dazzled or watch Leo doing his thing - the film shows both very well - but it doesn't feature a great deal else. I enjoyed it for the most part but I'm not sure I'd watch it again either... 6/10

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