Nil By Mouth (1997)

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Nil By Mouth is a non-linear insight into a miserable cycle of violence, abuse and addiction.

Don’t be mistaken, this is not another piece of British scuzzploitation, far from it. Although it appears comparable on face value, it certainly isn’t within the lowly sphere of Rise of the Footsoldier or The Football Factory.

The film concentrates on Ray (Ray Winstone), his wife Valerie (Kathy Burke), mother-in-law Janet (Laila Morse), brother-in-law Billy (Charlie Creed-Miles) and best friend Mark (Jamie Foreman). Winstone and Burke are both tremendous, they share scenes – one in particular – of harrowing intensity. Ray is a man consumed with rage and jealousy, emotions that have most likely followed him throughout his sorry existence. To summarise the film’s premise/narrative, it is essentially a depiction of the causes and consequences of his latest brutal outburst. Winstone’s  performance is a piece of realist brilliance; some may say he’s one-dimensional, but he really is a rather good actor. Nil By Mouth’s portrait of a deeply violent, self-destructive man is one of the most frightening and brutal I’ve ever seen, more so than even Robert De Niro in Raging Bull (1980).

In a film of hapless victims, Ray’s wife Valerie suffers to the greatest extent. Burke portrays a woman completely servile to her husband, she unfortunately enables his tyranny by interminably tolerating his wayward, selfish behaviour.  It is Kathy Burke’s moments that are the most moving, chiefly a scene where she desperately tells a white-lie – it’s genuinely upsetting.

Another interesting character is Mark. Foreman’s character is a vapid parasite, a little abettor of a man who’s codependent on Ray and his tempestuous emotions.

The dialogue of Gary Oldman’s script has ample profanity, and I really mean ample, with a combination of around 80 c*nts and 428 f*cks, it’s the most profane film ever made. Amongst all the cockney bellowing however are monologues of real poignancy, most notably one delivered by Winstone in which he speaks of his awful, putrid father, reminding the viewer that the misery they’ve witnessed is a toxic generational cycle that’s largely inescapable.

One criticism of Oldman’s script/narrative is that it is a trifle convoluted at 128 minutes, there are a few scenes that contribute little or nothing to the film, including an annoying Apocalypse Now re-enactment and an annoying shouty scene in a dry cleaners (both scenes feature this repellent little tattooed man with a grating hoarse voice.)

The film is rightfully spared of romanticism, it’s completely devoid of poetic licence and elaborate narrative arcs, what you see is pure, candid realism. Ironically, the film isn’t pure at all, it’s gritty and unrestrained in its depiction of violence and vulgarity; one moment being particularly horrifying. To criticise the film for being ‘unfocused’ is missing the point. To me, it was an almost non-linear insight into the human condition, a film woven from the personal experiences of Gary Oldman and delivered with the utmost conviction from Burke, Winstone and indeed the whole cast.

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The Stoke Film Theatre – a beacon of light for local film fans.

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The Stoke Film Theatre is celebrating its 40th birthday this year. It opened its doors in September 1974, a time of great vitality in world cinema. With people like Michael Bay running amok, how well does contemporary cinema serve film fans?

Located in Stoke-on-Trent, Staffordshire, the Stoke Film Theatre has committed itself to showing a wide range of films to the public. It’s a great cultural jewel whose considerable patronage is of all ages. The Theatre’s schedule is split into three parts: Main Programme, Screen Monday and Screen Wednesday. The Main Programme comprises new films that are both obscure and wide releases. Tickets cost £6 or £5 for a concessions ticket. Screen Monday showings are free and vary in content, the latest Monday season is in tribute to the late Philip Seymour Hoffman.

Screen Wednesday, which is also free, is an outlet for the Staffordshire Film Archive, which was founded by Ray Johnson and is situated in Staffordshire University. (For details on what’s showing, visit their website.) Following Staffordshire University’s semesters, the Stoke Film Theatre closes in July and reopens in September.

Grace Jordan has worked with her husband John at the theatre in a voluntary capacity for 40 years. She said: ‘The Film Theatre evolved from The North Staffordshire Film Society in September 1974, it is a non-profit organisation run largely by volunteers, the only paid members being manager Alexandra Scott and administrator Gill Yates.

‘There are 8 teams of volunteers, each comprising 6 people. They run the front of house, managing ticket sales and running the bar. We also have several volunteer projectionists. To conform to industry standards, we had to equip the theatre with digital technology at the expense of around £50,000.

‘Our anniversary is in September, we plan to celebrate this with a collection of films that were shown back in 1974, however we haven’t decided what they are yet.’

Peter Hames has been a governor of the Stoke Film Theatre since 1974 and was also head programmer for over 30 years. Peter, who lives in Stone, was also involved in the creation of the film studies course at Staffordshire University. Peter said: ‘It is the function of the Film Theatre to provide a considerably wider range of films both in terms of country of origin and in terms of subject matter.’

peter hamesPeter Hames has been a Film Theatre governor since 1974.

The Stoke Film Theatre is part of the Europa Cinemas Group, which is a theatre network that focuses on European cinema. It is a vast organisation comprising 1,182 cinemas and 3,194 screens in 682 cities in 69 countries. Europa’s objective is to provide ‘operational and financial support’ to cinemas like the Stoke Film Theatre that are committed to screening European films.

Peter said: ‘Originally the Film Theatre was set up in association with the British Film Institute, who advised on film availability and programme selection. We’ve also always had an advisory programming committee’

The booking of films is done through the Independent Cinema Office, who negotiate directly with film distributors. Peter said: ‘There have been occasional problems with distributors, but generally relations have been okay.’

Peter specialises in Slavic cinema, having written a book titled ‘Czech and Slovak Cinema: Theme and Tradition’. He is the Russian and Eastern European film programme advisor for the BFI London Film festival. When asked his favourite films, Peter named the five films he selected for Sight and Sound’s best films of all time in 2010: ‘The Man in the White Suit’ (UK), ‘The Searchers’ (US), ‘A Tale of Tales’ (Russian animation), ‘Celine and Julie Go Boating’ (France), ‘Daisies’ (Czech). But like so many film fans, he finds such a small number just isn’t enough: ‘I estimate that I would have to select at least 60 with a claim to being representative of ‘the best of cinema’.

Volunteer Beth Walton said: ‘I have been a volunteer at the film theatre for two years now, but I have been an audience member for about eight. I work in the box office selling tickets and occasionally on the bar which is what all the volunteers (apart from the projectionists, who only project) do, but I also keep the Facebook page and Twitter feed up to date with what is going on, along with one other volunteer.

‘Updating these is really enjoyable, especially when we do fun things like the programme board that said ‘Hello to Jason Isaacs’ and got re-posted by Kermode and Mayo, where it got well over 100 ‘likes’!

‘I have also been able to program a couple of our Screen Monday seasons. Every Monday night we show a film for free in seasons of four or five around a theme, usually an actor or director. Back in September we had Monday of the Dead which was really fun. I’ve met so many great people through volunteering at the Film Theatre and count a couple of them as some of my best friends’

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Beth Walton has been a volunteer at the Stoke Film Theatre for two years.

When asked what her favourite films were, Beth said: ‘It is really hard to say what my favourite films are – the list depends on what I’ve been watching recently or what mood I’m in, but today it is: ‘Harold and Maude’ (1971), ‘If…'(1968), ‘Saturday Night, Sunday Morning’ (1960), ‘Cria Cuervos’ (1976), ‘A Streetcar Named Desire’ (1951).’

The Stoke Film Theatre was launched at a time of great invention and transgression in world cinema. The late 60s and 70s were dubbed ‘New Hollywood’, they introduced audiences to levels of realism that had been seldom seen. Sex, violence and counterculturalism proliferated with titles such as ‘The Wild Bunch’(1969), ‘Easy Rider’(1969), ‘Midnight Cowboy’(1969), ‘Bonnie and Clyde’(1967), ‘Deliverance’(1972), ‘A Clockwork Orange’(1971), ‘The Exorcist’(1973), ‘Taxi Driver’(1976) and many more.

Many complain that modern cinema has become excessively commercialised, with some of the harshest criticism levelled at confectionary prices. (Not a problem at the Stoke Film Theatre, they even sell alcohol too!) BBC film critic Mark Kermode has frequently criticised the ‘multiplex culture’, writing whole books about the issue. Scores would agree that the summer blockbuster, which began with the excellent ‘Jaws’ in 1975, has been steadily bastardised with many long, boring and incredibly loud films like ‘Transformers’ inexplicably managing to rake in the cash.

Peter Hames pointed out: ‘Commercial cinema is there to maximise profit and is therefore not going to experiment with unusual (or foreign language) cinema, this is where places like our theatre come in’

Of course, not everything at the Staffordshire multiplexes is directed by Michael Bay (the notoriously explosion-happy director responsible for tripe such as ‘Pearl Harbour’ and the ‘Transformer’ series), there are plenty of interesting films that receive wide releases. But the Stoke Film Theatre, which is a cultural jewel of not only Stoke but Staffordshire, hosts the largest breadth of world cinema in the area. It reassures any dissenting voices that there is still a wealth of interesting, original and challenging cinema being produced.The Theatre has done a sterling job showing the best of the past couple of years, with packed audiences for ‘The Hunt’, ‘Captain Phillips’, ’12 Years a Slave’, ‘Nebraska’, ‘The Act of Killing’, ‘Rush’ and ‘Blue Jasmine’ to name only a few of just their main programme.

Compared to the music industry, cinema is in perfect health. Much like the shouty blockbusters of cinema, the nonsense that is chart music may obnoxiously steal the attention away from the proper artists, but are the proper artists comparable to the proper films like Thomas Vinterberg’s brilliant ‘The Hunt’? I’m not sure they are. If you’re a fan of cinema who’s become disillusioned with the local multiplex, let me assure you that the Stoke Film Theatre is a place with like-minded patronage that go to the cinema to actually watch a film. Visit their website.

The Wolf of Wall Street (2013)

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This film is not a glorification, it’s an observer rather than a judge.

The Wolf of Wall Street is a rather straight forward rise and fall story, it’s Scarface with even more excess but without the M16 with an underslung M303 grenade launcher.

Some have said that this film is a glorification rather than a satire, a three hour parade celebrating Jordan Belfort’s excess instead of a stern condemnation. Despite all the drugs, decadence and vulvas in the film, I don’t think the film glorifies him, and I don’t think it’s a biting satire either.

The film is an observer rather than a judge; it displays Belfort and his minions’ debauchery in a grand three-hour narrative with the energy and gusto of GoodFellas, letting the audience decide what they think of it all. If one leaves the theatre impressed or inspired by Belfort, that’s very much a reflection of them rather than the film.

There is a lot of bad behaviour going on in The Wolf of Wall Street, understandably too much for some people, but over the course of three hours I didn’t find it exasperating like some have. In fact, I think one would possess a certain amount of sanctimony to deny that there isn’t a degree of allure to Belfort’s lifestyle; an element of excess should be everyone’s life, whether it’s occasionally ordering the most expensive thing on the menu or at some point in your life owning a car that does 20 miles to the gallon, just because it makes you feel good.

Of course, that wouldn’t begin to be enough for Jordan Belfort. His ideas on money, relationships and life in general were quite awful during his years at the helm of Stratton Oakmont, his company that employed the ‘pump and dump’ scheme to rob scores of investors of their money. It is Belfort’s obsession with wealth, material goods and just winning that makes him quite a one-dimensionally unpleasant character. The nature of the character made me question the casting of Leonardo DiCaprio.

This is not to say DiCaprio is in bad form here, his performance is teeming with conviction. Leo is in his element during Belfort’s rousing, maniacal speeches to his employees; his frenetic energy reminded me of Evangelical preachers found in the southern states. Of course, there’s nothing remotely Christian to be found in Belfort’s fervent rhetoric, only sentences of remarkable crassness, immaturity and myopia – ‘Does your girlfriend think you’re a fucking worthless loser, good! Pick up the phone and start dialling! I want you to deal with your problems by becoming rich!’ – ‘If anyone here thinks I’m superficial or materialistic, go get a job in fucking McDonald’s because that’s where you fucking belong.’

Despite DiCaprio’s committed performance, I’m not part of the indignant crowd who demand that he finally win the Oscar for best leading man, particularly with this year’s nominations. He’s had a great career so far, he’s worked with Hollywood’s most revered artists and has had a consistent stream good roles.  Although his performances regularly display his great dramatic range, the problem is his huge Hollywood profile means that I feel like I’m watching Leonardo DiCaprio rather than the character he is portraying. It’s the same with The Wolf of Wall Street, Leo is just too cute and popular to play someone like Jordan Belfort – the casting gives a certain amount of sheen to him. Also, DiCaprio didn’t adopt Belfort’s New York accent, which is a pity because Leo’s South African accent in Blood Diamond was impressive.

While there are flashes of gross vulgarity in DiCaprio’s performance, the real Jordan Belfort is worse. To his credit, he is a naturally adroit salesman, he ran a successful meat business in his early twenties, he could’ve probably made a substantial legitimate living with his innate entrepreneurialism. However he didn’t, and now he remarks in interviews and speeches that ‘making money is easy’, what he forgot to add is ‘…when you broke the law like I did’. I’m not preaching here, I’m just reminding the crowds he draws to his motivational speeches that this man’s immense wealth hinged completely and utterly on criminality.

The other reason why Scorsese’s Belfort isn’t hateful enough is because the repercussions and victims of Stratton Oakmont are never shown, and to give a properly three-dimensional depiction of Belfort’s story, they should have been. Scorsese and writer Terence Winter have followed Belfort’s memoir so closely that it’s quite a one-track narrative, perhaps they could have stepped back from the book and explored the extent of Stratton Oakmont’s damage.

So, it is clear that there isn’t a particularly complex figure at the centre of Martin Scorsese’s latest film, but that certainly doesn’t mean it’s a misfire. This is more ‘Casino’/’The Departed’ Scorsese rather than ‘Taxi Driver’/’Goodfellas’/’Raging Bull’ Scorsese.

For me, the film’s terrific energy and vibrant aesthetics manage to carry its three-hour running time. Among this spirited, flashy spectacle are also some very amusing moments, particularly Matthew McConaughey’s great performance as Mark Hanna, a veteran stock broker who teaches an up-and-coming Belfort about his new profession, from ethics to the necessity of masturbation. What’s become one of the larger talking points of the film is the sequence where Belfort, overdosing on Quaaludes and in a state he calls the ‘cerebral palsy phase’, tries desperately to drive his Lamborghini Countach back to his enormous house.

Although the one-dimensional central character and its limited perspective means it is not Scorsese’s best film, The Wolf of Wall Street is an engrossing, sweeping rise and fall tale that is vibrant, funny and very striking.

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