06
Feb
14

Red Band Redux: Jan 2014

0206_01-JanRedux

January. The first month of the year usually doesn’t have all that much to offer at theaters since the studios pretty much just dump anything on us in favor of focusing on their awards plays and Oscars. For me, January is usually focused on catching up with stuff from the previous year that came out in late December or other films from the previous year that I’ve heard good things about, but just didn’t have the time to see. All told there were still some decent flicks to check out in January.

The Wolf of Wall Street

It's about the Ludes old sport!

It’s about the Ludes old sport!

I’m always down for a Scorsese flick since Marty consistently puts out a good product. Though I definitely like some of his films (Goodfellas, Casino, Hugo) more than others, I can’t help but marvel at the myriad types of projects the man has decided to undertake. While I didn’t quite know what I was in for with The Wolf of Wall Street, with Scorsese’s track record I was fairly confident that I was going to be entertained. And boy was I.

The film hits you from the get-go with Leonardo DiCaprio‘s character Jordan Belfort snorting cocaine out of a prostitute’s anus. Talk about audacity. From there the outrageousness doesn’t stop and only gets amped up for the duration of the film.

Speaking of DiCaprio, I thought that this was one of his best performances to date. The way he portrays Belfort as this savvy and brash stock broker who is bent on being as rich as he can possibly be was pretty amazing. In one scene he’ll be in total control, inspiring and pushing his brokers to sell, and in the next he’ll just be bat-shit crazy hopped up on cocaine, ludes, or both. Yet in other scenes where he has to deal with his wife and family, he’ll be totally tortured by the way his wife makes him feel. Though Leo faces stiff competition in this year’s Oscars, I’d love it if he took home a statue.

While Leo is quite good, the story itself is fascinating to watch. Here you have a guy who pretty much builds himself up from nothing into a multimillionaire with a lucrative brokerage firm. Of course the way that Belfort goes about acquiring all this isn’t the most ethical or legal and that’s where the film does raise a lot of interesting questions: For a guy this smart and this savvy, why resort to illegal activities? With a wife that hot, why still have sex with prostitutes? In the beginning of the film Belfort is advised that these types of activities are necessary to do this type of job. Maybe it’s just me being naive or totally not understanding of this type of world, but while I was internally shaking my head at it all I couldn’t look away as it was all so interesting to behold.

Leo is of course supported by some great performances in the film, most notably from Matthew McConaughey as Belfort’s early mentor, Jonah Hill as Belfort’s faithful yet awkward right hand man, and Margot Robbie who plays Belfort’s wife. I totally loved McConaughey and wish he had a larger role. The lunch scene with him and DiCaprio was one of the high points for me. McConaughey sort of plays his typical self, but only way cooler and with a lot more style. Hill has been turning in real solid work as of late and though I thought this performance was a little forced, he was still pretty good lending a lot of comedy to the film. Robbie meanwhile stood her ground pretty well with DiCaprio, specifically in the scene where she goes to throw a glass full of water into Belfort’s face–totally in control of the entire situation.

With a great story and a phenomenal cast, The Wolf of Wall Street is one of Scorsese’s best films in recent memory.

4.5/5 stars (One of the best films from last year. See it if you haven’t!)

—-

The Legend of Hercules

Are you not entertained by my sword?

Are you not entertained by my sword?

I never go into movies hoping for a bad movie, but sometimes you know a movie is not going to be great from the trailer, subject matter, actors in the film, and the studio or distributor that is releasing the film. Such is the case with The Legend of Hercules.

I think the best thing I can say about this film is that it is not bad. The highlights: some great fighting scenes that crib a little from 300, but there’s enough that they do different to make it fun to watch.

The lowlights: With films like Gladiator and 300 firmly imbedded in our hearts and minds, this film unfortunately has way too many similarities to those films, from 300-esque Spartan fight styling, Gladiator-esque arena fight styling, and with the plotline of Hercules being sold into slavery and then winning his freedom though the arena; many times it seemed as if nothing was original.

What’s unfortunate is that there’s definitely franchise building going on here and it really affects the film in the sense that there’s hardly anything from the Hercules mythology which in and of itself is so rich. The film instead gives us the scorned brother/father storyline which made Gladiator so dramatic, but here makes this film seem tired.

Finally there’s Kellan Lutz. Yeah he’s good looking (so I’ve been told), and that’s about it. The ladies might love him for that in the film, but acting-wise, he didn’t bring anything to the table for me in that department. While his Hercules mirrored Maximus, he did had none of the authority, intensity, or badassery that made Maximus so good.

All in all while it looks like I’ve been bagging on the film, nothing in here is egregiously bad. I wouldn’t rush out to theaters to see it or even buy it on blu-ray. Maybe one day in the future if it was on TV, I might have it on in the background while I was working on something else. It’s totally a ‘have on in the background’ kind of movie.

2/5 stars (I guess if you’re into Greek mythology you’d like it)

—-

Lone Survivor

0206_04-LoneSurvivor

Even though I like this film, there was something missing from it that didn’t make me put it with other current war films that I truly love. It’s not something that I can really put my finger on, but it definitely doesn’t fit with the vibe I get from other films such as Black Hawk Down and The Hurt Locker.

Regardless, Lone Survivor is still a great movie. The film does a really good job of putting you in the right frame of mind from the very beginning with the introduction of the training that the SEALs go through. Right away you know, for the guys that eventually move on to become SEALs, it will take A LOT to bring these guys down. I mean, during the film you definitely feel these guys’ pain as they get shot up and throw themselves down a mountain to escape the Taliban. With their backs up against a wall (quite literally) these guys never stop giving it their all.

“Put some dirt on it and suck it up!”

The performances from everyone all around are pretty solid. You might think the four leads (Wahlberg, Kitsch, Hirsch, Foster) are just there for looks but once shit hits the fan and their characters fall back on their SEAL training, they make you seem like you’re there on the mountain with them dodging gunfire and painfully falling on rocks.

I think that with the outcome of the film right there in the title, that could be a big reason why I’m not as high on this film as with others in the genre. Granted, like Black Hawk Down, Lone Survivor is also a film that depicts an operation where our military didn’t have a victorious outcome. With Black Hawk though, even though that was based on a real event and I could have looked up what had happened, with Lone Survivor the idea that only one of them would make it was always at the end forefront of my mind. Which one of them would be the one? How did the others die? There’s a certain sense of helplessness I felt since I had already knew the general outcome of the film.

4/5 stars (Worth your time if it’s still in theaters)

—-

American Hustle

0206_05-AmericanHustle

I don’t know what it is about David O. Russell, but man is this guy on a role. Not only does he assemble the heavy hitting actors that he’s used from past films, but he always gets a ton of mileage out of them as well. All of the leads in the film do a really great job with their characters with Bale and Lawrence all but disappearing into their roles.

All the time these people were on screen I just had to think that I was watching an acting clinic going on. It was a joy to watch Bale with his character’s ‘oh-so cool’ attitude wax poetically about how their business should be conducted. The scene where he describes how he’s like the Viet Cong had me smiling. Lawrence on the other hand, she’s just so good as a New Jersey housewife who really knows how to give Bale’s character a hard time–I mean she’s like scary good (science oven fire anyone?). Adams was solid with her British con woman persona and brought emotional heft when she needed to. Cooper, though pretty good here, I felt did a much better job in last year’s Silver Linings Playbook. In Hustle he was a little all over the map, especially in those scenes where he had to freak out.

The actors and their performances were definitely the highlight of the film. Even when the story goes a little off the rails a bit, the performances is what kept me in it. Ok, so it doesn’t go off the rails so much as gets a little confusing when Richie (Cooper’s character) gets way too over zealous and complicates things by going after bigger crooks.

Having said all that I really enjoyed all the period flourishes in the film from the clothes, to the hairstyles, and all the music in the film; it really makes you feel that you’re in a particular place and time. Overall a real fun movie with a lot of great talent in it.

4/5 stars (Again, another top film from 2013. Definitely see it.)

—-

Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit

0206_06-JackRyan

Alec Baldwin, Harrison Ford, and Ben Affleck have all taken on the role of Jack Ryan; arguably Tom Clancy’s most hallowed literary creation (I discount his Rainbow Six, Ghost Recon, and Splinter Cell series since I’ve never played them). Now Chris Pine gets his shot in the reboot of the long standing Jack Ryan cinematic franchise.

With the exception of Sum of All Fears, I’m actually quite fond of the Jack Ryan series of films. More of a thinking man’s James Bond who works from behind the scenes rather than out in the field; Jack Ryan is sort of your smarter than average everyman who just happens to work for the CIA. In this incarnation of the CIA analyst, the plot is a Hollywood original unlike the previous four films that were adapted from Clancy’s books. This could be why the story seems a lot tighter and leans on more of the action aspects of Ryan’s background as opposed to more of his analytical background that seemed more of his style in the previous films.

As far as action films go, Shadow Recruit does a pretty good job of delivering the goods. There are two major operations in the film that give both a sense of ‘edge of your seat suspense’ with a good amount of butt kicking action. Nothing groundbreaking, but entertaining nonetheless.

One thing I liked but also didn’t like at the same time; the introduction of Jack’s wife Cathy into his mission. While we always get the secret agent who keeps his work a secret from his significant other, here we get the conflict of the two of them having to deal with the life that Jack has chosen. On the opposite side of that I found it a little unbelievable that the CIA would put an untrained civilian right in the middle of an important operation to aid in the thwarting of a terrorist attack. Bad storytelling choices aside the only other thing bugged me was the near Siri-like way that Jack deduced where the final target was. I know he’s a pretty smart guy and he had the CIA database at his disposal, but I just found it a little hard to believe that he came up with everything that fast.

On the acting side, everyone was just okay here. Chris Pine wasn’t as cheeky as his role on the bridge of the Enterprise, but he did show the most spark out of everyone on screen. I was actually a little disappointed with Kevin Costner’s role as Ryan’s commanding officer; he didn’t really bring all that much to the table in regards to character or personality.

When trying to decide where in the filmic Jack Ryan canon this film stands with me, it’s either gotta be in the third or fourth spot (out of five films). It definitely doesn’t have the cerebral and intense chess match-like suspense from The Hunt for Red October (my first favorite Jack Ryan film) or the intriguing SEAL Team war on drugs like Clear and Present Danger (my second favorite film), but it does have enough action and analyzing to put it near the middle of the pack.

3/5 stars (There’s been better spy movies. Wait till it hits Netflix.)

—-

That Awkward Moment

0206_07-AwkwardMoment

I was really pretty stoked to see this film as the trailer provided a pretty enticing premise: Miles Teller, Michael B. Jordan, and Zac Efron as a bunch of guy friends who swear off getting girlfriends. While the premise isn’t anything all that new in the rom-com genre, I really like Teller and Jordan and was intrigued to see what this movie would be.

And for the most part the movie does deliver on what the trailer is selling, guys being guys, guys finding romance, and testing of their relationships both with each other and their prospective love interests. As expected Miles Teller and Michael B. Jordan are pretty good. They don’t have too much heavy lifting acting wise in this film while Zac Efron is playing your typical Zac Efron-y character (the cool player type that doesn’t want to be tied down). However, Teller’s and Efron’s characters aren’t the most lovable guys. I mean, yeah sure they’re playing the typical single guys who are trying to play the field and will sleep with as many woman as they can; so you expect that behavior from them. I just didn’t think they earned the relationships they got in the end, or maybe I just didn’t fully believe it.

The humor in the film will give you some funny stuff to laugh at with the jokes throughout the film being hit or miss for me. There were definitely times where jokes didn’t land well and it seemed like they were really trying too hard to come up with that specific joke or kept ad libbing for too long.

At the end of the day That Awkward Moment is a fun little comedy that will entertain you, if you’re not looking for anything too serious or a real relationship from a film.

2.5/5 stars (It’s a fun date movie.)

—-

Also reviewed last month: Gimme Shelter.

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