A Most Violent Year – Review

Sometimes all the ingredients come along to make a modern day classic. We have Jessica Chastain, a strong showing from Oscar Isaac, JC Chandor pulling writing and directing duties, a moody 80s New York setting. Add to that an extensive out-pouring of positive critical reviews and nothing can go wrong, right? Wrong. All is not what it seems.

The premise is Isaac and Chastain play Abel and Anna Morales. Man and wife own and do the books for the Standing Heating Oil Company. While she’s juggling ever decreasing numbers on incomes sheets, he faces ever increasing odds to keep the company alive.

He wants to play it straight but his moral code is tested when his vehicles, containing the oil, are repeatedly stolen. With the loot missing, his financial situation is stretched. This becomes a vicious circle when he opts to purchase an oil terminal from a Jewish group but struggles to generate the required capital.

To make matters worse for Abel, David Oyelowo enters the fray as Lawrence who makes it clear he is investigating all his business deals. This prompts Anna to hide the books, even though they protest to playing it clean, and Abel feels the strain from all sides.

What follows is Abel facing attempted hits, one of his beaten drivers taking part in a shootout, and a race against time to keep his creditors at bay and get the cash for the terminal. The driver that secretly carried a firearm was Julian. The news of the impending criminal trial means the bank pull funding for the proposed oil terminal purchase.

Just what Abel needed. It also forms a subplot where Abel tries to find an on-the-run Julian so he can hand him over as a peace offering to Lawrence. Apparently, you’re not a tax evader if you give up gunmen.

It moves along with a steady pace but at times, not helped by the stylization, it feels more like a 70s TV detective movie than a well-produced blockbuster. The odd chase scene doesn’t levitate the film from its constant slumber. What we are left with is the hope Abel gets his money and identifies the thieves just to progress the story.

jessica-chastain-amvyMany people that have been wax lyrical over this have been seduced by the styling – and dare I say it? – believing that applauding this movie is some sort of reference point for being in the know. It’s a certain level of snobbishness that makes a person say this is a good film based on a below average script (it’s riddled with plot holes right up until the last scene), nostalgic cinematography, and a good performance from Jessica Chastain (when does she ever give a bad one?).

1981 may have been the most violent year on record in New York, this film however doesn’t reflect this. Everyone is in too much of a slumber to bother engaging in the violence we have to assume was happening all around them. It should be renamed: A Most Mundane Affair.

4/10

Ghostbusters (1984) – Review

The world is Ghostbusters crazy again. Well, sort of. The relief has been palpable as the reboot of the franchise received good reviews after months of slating. One trailer earned the dubious honour of being the worst ever to air on YouTube. Not to go against the grain here, we’ve decided to look at the original, before taking in the latest incarnation. Nostalgia is creating a haunting spectre, so who you gonna call? Simms View.

It is hard to not be nostalgic when revisiting the 1984 Ivan Reitman movie, written by stars Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis. During childhood, VHS tapes of it were played to destruction. Scenes traversed the line between family and adult, comedy and horror, fun and terrifying.

On reflection, the world has moved on and those lines are more blurred in society than ever before. Ghostbusters is still dark for a kiddies’ movie, the very first ghost we see in the library will still pop chills into younger viewers, but it’s atmosphere surpasses nostalgia.

And it should be noted, that the special effects still stand up today. The reboot has been accused of looking like an Xbox game in parts. Here, the spirits look otherworldly.

That opening scene also sets the tone with some cheesy lines: “Listen, you smell something?” I always smell with my ears. But that had already been preceded with Bill Murray’s ingenious sarcasm, when admiring a spookily tall set of books, “You’re right, no human would stack books like this.”

This is a marker and an insight to the perfect balancing act the film pulls off. Great smarmy wit from the legend that is Bill Murray, action scenes that jump out, slapstick moments (men get slimed), to great confrontations (Walter Peck), and a sense of the mystic.

A strong cast keep it rolling along. Has Sigourney Weaver ever been sexier. Her character is the love interest for Murray’s Peter Venkman and becomes possessed by Zuul. She becomes the Gatekeeper to Rick Moranis’s Keymaster. The scenes before his possession as Louis Tully add the light humour, again, balancing what is to come. His run across New York to escape the beast is one that stuck in the mind from childhood.

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As do countless lines: “And the flowers are still standing.” “It’s a sign all right, a sign we’re going out of business.” “Human sacrifice, dogs and cats living together…mass hysteria!” “Don’t cross the streams.” “I couldn’t help it. It just popped in there.”

The whole team get in on the act, again, perfect balance. Aykroyd’s Ray Stantz brings the childlike enthusiasm to the team and is one half of the technical side. His knowledge is surpassed by Ramis’s Egon Spengler, who can appear too serious but Venkman is the polar opposite – you guessed it: balance.

Ernie Hudson plays the late addition to the team. His character, Winston Zeddemore, is the everyman in need of a job. He does the best with what he’s given but it does feel as if he was shoehorned into the movie. They should have brought him in earlier or given him better screen time. That’s not to say he’s unimportant but he is poorly utilised.

It’s when Winston is sat chatting about the end of days, Mick Smiley’s “I Believe in Magic” starts playing, and the ghosts escape across the city.

Nowadays, the big finale has to be OTT, and often misfires. The original Ghostbusters hits the spot. I mean, how can an ending not be good when you see a giant Stay Puft Marshmallow Man traipse through New York?

Very few popular movies age as well as this one. The anger aimed at a reboot is understandable when you walk through the original again. Time has not diminished the finished product. It isn’t perfect but therein lies some of its charm.

9/10