Posts Tagged ‘American Hustle

02
Mar
14

Favorite Films of 2013

"You can't repeat the past." "Can't repeat the past? Why of course you can old sport."

“You can’t repeat the past.” “Can’t repeat the past? Why of course you can old sport.”

Whatever films the Academy chooses to award honor tonight, at the end of the day their decision is simply that–their decision. Like any art form, how people interpret and perceive a film is a personal experience unique to them. We all have our likes and dislikes so no matter what one group of people decide, know that the only person who’s opinion truly matters is your own.

We often throw the word ‘Best’ around like we’re some kind of authority on something, “this place has the BEST loco moco.” Or “that was the BEST movie.” And granted, I’ve been guilty of it myself (see the titling for yesterday’s post). With that in mind and in an effort to be better representative of talking about decisions, lists, and preferences that are personal to one particular person (myself) . . .

I give you my favorite films from 2013:

10. This Is The End

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I knew that when I first saw This Is The End, one of the very first opinions I formed about it was that it wasn’t just a funny movie–it was a smart one as well. It could have been the fact that at the very end of the movie there’s a cameo that I thought was just totally off the wall hilarious. After a second viewing though, the film only grew on me. Part of the fun of it definitely is the self referential humor that the guys bring–while I don’t think that’s actually how they are in real life, they are definitely playing off their personas somewhat. Another aspect of the film I love is just how smart the comedy and story actually are. From the practicalness of their reasoning, to how they react to certain situations, to how they intermingle with one another; there are some very smart decisions going on that make the film really fun, and elevates it above a lot of comedies that we get these days.

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9. Her

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What I like about Her is that aside from the whole technology aspect of it, I think it’s a great vision of how our society is and where it’s heading. What I like even better than that are the questions about technology and relationships that the film asks us to look at. Can a human have a personal and intimate (a “real”) relationship with a piece of technology? While watching the film the answer isn’t as easy as you might think and I love that director and writer Spike Jonze is asking us the question. Joaquin Phoenix is just wonderful as the quiet and introverted human while Scarlett Johannson’s voice work is pretty soulful.

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8. Pacific Rim

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I wasn’t having all that much fun last summer until I saw Pacific Rim. I was just gobsmacked by the creativity, action, and spectacle that was in the film. The movie is pure fun to watch and classic summer blockbuster fare. Seeing these huge metal robots go up against even larger sea monsters made me feel like a little kid again. Guillermo del Toro has a great sense of imagination and you can feel that seeing the Jaeger’s and Kaiju battle it out on screen.

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7. The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

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Part of it is the sci-fi aspect of the dystopian society, part of it is the story itself, yet still another part of it is that Jennifer Lawrence anchors a pretty solid cast in a film that further develops a potentially great series. While I liked The Hunger Games well enough, Catching Fire takes things to another level. This second outing isn’t encumbered by setting up the story and world building that the first film had to go through and you definitely get a sense that the cast is more comfortable this time around with the story a little more epic in scope. Throw in the fact that Lionsgate kicked in extra budget for the sequel (you know I love my production value), and Catching Fire is not only an exciting sequel, but one of those occasions where the second one is better than the first.

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6. The Croods

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From the first time I saw it, I utterly fell in love with The Croods. For starters I think the animation is on par if not better than Dreamworks Animation’s beloved film from a few years ago, How to Train Your Dragon. But more so than that, I was really into the story of family and change that The Croods presented, and I’m not going to lie, my heartstrings got pulled a litte towards the end. While the film features a wonderful voice work from the likes of Emma Stone, Ryan Reynolds, Catherine Keener, Clark Duke, and Nicholas Cage; it’s the characters they embody that really made me laugh and enjoy the film.

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5. American Hustle

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Hypothetically speaking, even if American Hustle didn’t have a plot to speak of, I would still watch this film just to see this group of actors perform. It’s no wonder that the film won the Best Ensemble acting award from the Screen Actor’s Guild as it truly is an acting showcase and great to see actors at this high of a caliber working with one another in the same film. Everyone in the film really gets into their roles and gives rich and nuanced performances. While the story was a little muddled at times, having this cast kept me in it the entire time, making me want to see what would happen next.

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4. Gravity

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While the film is a technological achievement in cinema, I prefer to focus on what was presented to me in the theater when I saw Gravity–an intense roller coaster ride of a film that had me on the edge of my seat the entire time. Through the magic of a dark theater, 3D, and surround sound (yes, despite the fact that there is no actual sound in space because there’s no air); Gravity is an awe-inspiring theatrical experience. If you didn’t tell me that this was done in a studio with lots of green screens, it’s exactly what I imagine space to be. The entire time Sandra Bullock’s character is struggling to make it home, I was hoping she would make it to the next station, grab on to some handhold, or magically understand Chinese because the film had me so immersed in her experience of fighting for her life in vastness of space.

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3. The Wolf of Wall Street

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Though I’m always down for Scorsese, nothing could have prepared me for the joyride that is The Wolf of Wall Street. Played charismatically and ferociously by Leonardo DiCaprio, film gives us a look into Wall Street that we all suspected to be true during our economic downfall six/seven years ago, but couldn’t be sure about until this film. Yes, while I’m sure the film does take artistic license into Jordan Belfort’s life, it’s still nonetheless intriguing and entertaining. It’s like watching a spectacular train wreck with all the debauchery and criminality going on–I couldn’t look away yet I was enthralled and entertained by the disaster of it all.

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2. Captain Phillips

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“I’m the captain now.” With those words Barkhad Abdi’s haunting portrayal as the Somali pirate Muse sets up much of the tension in Captain Phillips that doesn’t let up until the climatic rescue at the end of the film. While Gravity was a roller coaster of a ride itself, I think Captain Phillips ups the degree of difficulty (and suspense) since we know what the outcome of the film is before we see it. Paul Greengrass puts together a taut film that places you in the same claustrophobic and nerve-racking confines that Captain Phillips and his crew are in and doesn’t let you go.

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1. Short Term 12

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What can I say other than that I was utterly enchanted with Short Term 12. The film felt so authentically real and personal that I just couldn’t help falling for it. Brie Larson and John Gallagher Jr. are just superb as two counselors at a halfway house who day in and day out are trying to all they can to make sure the kids they look over get a second chance. Broken themselves and coming from the same world of which they also work in, Short Term 12’s sublimeness comes from the relationship between the two leads, and the heartfelt emotion they get from working at Short Term 12. No other film touched me more last year than this one did.

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So that’ll about do it for 2013. Here’s to hoping we get as many good films in 2014 that we got in 2013.

Did you enjoy any of these films from 2013? Let us know or tell us what your favorite films of 2013 were in the comments.

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28
Feb
14

Oscar Watch 2014: Best Picture

With the Victory Tour all but over; in our final Oscar Watch before we give you our selection for the Best Picture winner of the 86th Annual Academy Awards.

With the Victory Tour all but over; in our final Oscar Watch we give you our selection for the Best Picture winner of the 86th Annual Academy Awards.

Well this is it, the big enchilada. Academy member votes were due this past Tuesday so while voting is done, all we can do now is wait with bated breath for the statues to be awarded on Sunday.

How does one go about choosing a Best Picture winner? And the end of the day, it basically comes down to people. Not people like you or me, but a select group of people–members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences (AMPAS aka The Academy). We’re not talking about what you think the Best Picture of the year is, we’re trying to guess what they deem the Best Picture of the year. With that in mind, there are a few things you need to consider:

  • Demographics: In a study conducted by the Los Angeles Times two years ago, they determined that a large majority of Academy members are white males over the age of 50.
  • Voting Blocks (Yes & No): The Academy is broken up into 17 different branches. A new twist to this year’s awards will be the fact that for the first time, any Academy member (regardless of which branch they belong to) can vote on any or all awards–not just Best Picture and those limited to their branch. Previously you could look at guild awards as a predictor on how the Academy might vote in certain categoes; with everyone being able to vote for everything, this is no longer the case.
  • Storylines: This is where Oscar races get real interesting–trying to figure out which storylines will carry films across the finish line. In the voting process, almost everything about a film comes in to play, even its baggage. From performances to how the films are crafted, to stories of how producers got funding or how long it took a director to finally make a film; any storyline about how a film came into being can be the thing that Academy members latch onto when they vote.
  • History: While it’s easy to look back on how the Academy has voted in the past and use that to predict the future–you can’t always go by history. However, this is something you still need to consider and can’t dismiss. A good prognosticator knows when to let history guide you, and when to discard it.

And now, without any more fanfare, and no ado whatsoever . . .

What Should Win: The Wolf of Wall Street

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Out of all the nominees for Best Picture, The Wolf of Wall Street has everything that I would want in a Best Picture winner. It’s got some of the finest acting of the year with Jonah Hill, Margot Robbie, and Leonardo DiCaprio (and in my humble opinion a Best Actor winning performance). It also presents subject matter that I think this compelling and thought provoking (Jordan Belfort–does the film glamorize his lifestyle or is it indifferent?). And it’s also got a lot of humor. It’s not a perfect film, but the movie as a whole is greater than the sum of its part and I think it’s Scorsese’s best film in years (even better than his 2006 Best Picture winner The Departed).

On everyone else . . .

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  • American Hustle: With a number of great performances from the ensemble cast, American Hustle has garnered a lot of love from the actor’s branch perfectly illustrated by its Screen Actors Guild award (SAG) for Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture (the actor’s guild equivalent of the Academy’s Best Picture). With seemingly a large branch behind them can American Hustle pull off a victory? It’s definitely in the mix with Gravity and 12 Years a Slave with a lion’s share 10 nominations. Alas, acting aside, while the film is a huge crowd pleaser that the general public can relate to, I don’t think Hustle carries the same type of “prestiege” that the Academy thinks a Best Picture winner usual has. Also, it doesn’t have a lot of tech branch (visual effects, sound, etc) support like Gravity does so I just don’t see it making the cut. Granted it’s a period piece which the Academy loves and sure it’s got weaves and combovers, but bad hairstyling does not a Best Picture winner make.
  • Captain Phillips: As much as I love Captain Phillips (more so than Gravity), it’s fate was sealed when Tom Hanks’s name failed to nab a best actor nomination. Surprising to some, but ultimately a casualty of a really good and really crowded field this year (Robert Redford, Oscar Issac, and Michael B. Jordan are keeping Hanks company off the ballot), Phillips does not carry the actor’s branch support that 12 Years and American Hustle do. No actor love, no award.
  • Dallas Buyers Club: The McConaissance and Leto’s larger than life Rayon are the two things that this film has going for it and the Academy should be rewarding them accordingly (maybe even throw in an award for Makeup & Hairstyling as well). After that there’s not that much more to talk about here. Dallas Buyers Club has some phenomenal acting, but it doesn’t have anything else to carry it into Best Picture territory.
  • Gravity: Let’s be real here, Gravity is one of three, maybe even two films that are vying for the Best Picture award. With it’s ten nominations in tow (a majority in the tech categories) it’s right up there in nomination count along with American Hustle (10) and 12 Years a Slave (9). Out of all the Best Picture nominees it has the highest box office gross out of all of them (over $269 million to date) which gives it mass appeal like American Hustle. With the giant undertaking of the film as a whole and it’s long road to the screen, director Alfonso Cuaron is a shoo-in for Best Director and has the potential for taking home the most awards of the night (due to the love from the aforementioned tech branches). Gravity is definitely in the driver’s seat and I won’t be surprised if it wins on Sunday.

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  • Her: Ah Her, such a good little movie. I really wish we had more films like this being recognized. Sadly, I think the real honor for this film will be if it wins Original Screenplay. While personal and emotional, it just does not have the scope that the Academy looks for in Best Picture winners. I mean, they certainly aren’t going to award a film where the lead is basically just talking to himself. No, what I’d really like to see, is Scarlett Johansson win for best actress for Her. Is it too late to resurrect that campaign?
  • Nebraska: Like Philomena and in a more general sense like Her, Nebraska biggest hurdle is that it suffers from small picture syndrome. While you’ve got a great storyline in Bruce Dern’s journeyman like record from solid role player to meteoric leading man with a nomination, a surprising turn in drama by Will Forte, and a supporting actress nod for June Squibb, all of that can’t elevate Nebraska to much talked about “prestige” level that the Academy has for its Best Picture winners.
  • Philomena: Many people wonder how Philomena even snuck into the awards race. I’ll tell you how: old people. Like Nebraska, Philomena has a small, but personal and emotionally charged story backed by a great lead performance–that’s it. With the Academy’s older demographic and with a dame like Judi Dench in the film, it’s easy Oscar bait for the Academy to vote into contention, but not necessarily for a win.
  • 12 Years a Slave: With it’s dark subject matter and stellar performances, 12 Years is the other serious front runner to win Best Picture. Nominated in nine categories, this film certainly does have a lot of boxes that the Academy like to check off for Best Picture winners. Is it a period piece? Check. Is it based on a real life person? Check. Does it have solid acting performances? Check. Does it have scope and range? Check (it covers 12 years doesn’t it?). Is the director recognized? Check (McQueen may not be an Oscar winner, but all his films are critically acclaimed). However, the biggest hurdle for this film will definitely be it’s mass appeal. There have been many rumors that Academy members have not watched or find it hard to watch the film due to the unflinching look at slavery that it presents. Will that have a large enough effect on its awards chances? We’ll find out.

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What Will Win: 12 Years a Slave

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In a race this close, picking either Gravity or 12 Years is essentially splitting hairs. Both are worthy, but since the Academy has already stated there will be no ties in the Best Picture race this year, I’ll tell you why I think 12 Years a Slave will be your Best Picture winner for 2013.

It starts with the other awards of the night: The boys from Dallas Buyers Club will beat out Chiwetel Ejiofor and Michael Fassbender in the actor categories, Cuaron will beat out McQueen for director, and The Great Gatsby looks real good to take the awards in the two tech categories that it shares with 12 Years (Costume Design & Production Design). This leaves potentially Lupita Nyong’o to take the film’s lone acting award (maybe) and an adapted screenplay award for the film (again maybe). With Gravity taking home a lion’s share of tech awards, that only leaves potentially two for 12 Years. In a year so strong, I can see the Academy spreading the wealth around and giving Gravity tech awards and director, but giving Best Picture to 12 Years a Slave. That’s been the case thus far with it’s win for best picture at the Golden Globes and BAFTA’s.

Also working in 12 Year‘s favor, you know all that “prestige” talk I’ve mentioned previously? That is the exact sort of weight 12 Years a Slave can give to the Academy’s Best Picture win category. It is the type of film people automatically look at and say, “Yes, this is a Best Picture winner.” It’s not showy, it doesn’t have special effects, it just has really good acting, a compelling story, was well put together, and carries an important message.”

And as for all that talk of Academy members not being able to watch or sit through 12 Years a Slave; just because they can’t sit through a film doesn’t mean they won’t vote for it. Like I said, with the whole prestige thing in play and potentially tons of peers telling them that a film is deserving, what’s stopping them from voting for a film that’s more of an artful and socially conscious choice?

Besides, you remember the last time a studio sci-fi space film took on a smaller independent picture . . . Avatar ended up losing.

Did we get it right? Or are we totally off base? Give us your thoughts on our picks and yours in the comments.

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Check out the rest of our 2014 Oscar Watch posts for this year:

Actor in a Leading Role
Actress in a Leading Role
Actor in a Supporting Role
Actress in a Supporting Role
The Academy Hustle
The Nominations

27
Feb
14

Oscar Watch 2014: Actress in a Supporting Role

Oscar Watch looks to break down the different categories for the 2014 Academy Awards. We’ll do our best to give you the inside track for your Oscar pools. Above: Jennifer Lawrence in American Hustle.

Oscar Watch looks to break down the different categories for the 2014 Academy Awards. We’ll do our best to give you the inside track for your Oscar pools. Above: Jennifer Lawrence in American Hustle.

Who Should Win: Jennifer Lawrence, American Hustle

I know what you’re probably thinking . . . “Matt, you’re in love with JLaw, of course you’d give her the Academy Award!” If she were being nominated for her Catching Fire performance, or if there was someone who really, I mean REALLY, blew me away in the Supporting Actress category, then I’d say, yes, you’re proclamation would carry some weight. The fact of the matter is that Jennifer Lawrence is really damn good in American Hustle. She simply fades into the role of Rosalyn, Christan Bale’s unpredictable New York housewife. While she’s very good in the “science oven” scene where she nags at Bale’s character with that smug and chirpy voice; it’s probably the lunch scene with her new beau Pete where she laments her fear of change where she really hits it out of the park.

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On everyone else . . .

  • Sally Hawkins: For Hawkins, since I haven’t seen her performance, I can only go off of what I’ve heard and read, which is that though she is well respected by her peers, this is a case of where the nomination itself is the reward. Having been passed over for her lead performance in the 2008 film Happy-Go-Lucky, many feel this nomination is an overdue mulligan from The Academy.
  • June Squibb: Squibb is a funny and overbearing wife in Nebraska, almost too funny at times. In fact in one scene involving speaking about deceased relatives as she stands over their graves, she goes a little over the top by flashing a headstone and taunting the person in it. Could it have been a convention of the screen writing and not the actress? Could be, but even still, I can’t help but feel she has a bunch of Betty White-like moments in the film–creating laughs by having an old white lady saying raunchy things. It’s humor derived from a convention more than a performance; good enough to get you nominated, but not Oscar worthy.
  • Julia Roberts: Though the former Oscar winner has a juicy role as Meryl Streep’s daughter in August: Osage County, that’s about all Roberts has going for her in this race. Before the season August was seen a potentially powerful Oscar contender. After opening to mixed/lukewarm reviews from critics, only a pair of actress nominations remain for the film. Roberts is probably bringing up the rear on this one so it’s good that she’s got a statue to comfort her already.
  • Lupita Nyong’o: Supporting actress is really a two horse race between Jennifer Lawrence and Lupita Nyong’o. I’ve talked about JLaw’s performance already and Nyong’o’s is as good if not better. You would be hard pressed to not to feel a deep sense of pain for the suffering her character goes through in 12 Years a Slave. As the fast picking cotton slave, Nyong’o’s Patsey is a shining star and favorite to master Edwin Epps, which puts her in many difficult situations–including one that is literally hard to watch. Nyong’o’s got a Screen Actors Guild (SAG) award in her back pocket so her performance in the film is being recognized by her peers.

Who Will Win: Jennifer Lawrence, American Hustle

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Conventional wisdom might tell you that the chances The Academy would award someone so young acting Oscars in back to back years is slim to none. When you take into account that the last person to do so was Tom Hanks (Philadelphia in ‘93 & Forrest Gump in ‘94) and that no one has ever done it across acting categories, it’s a pretty bold prediction. Hell, at first blush I knew this would be a major hurdle for her awards chances. But here’s where I think it’s very plausible . . .

As I mentioned previously, the is race between Nyong’o and Lawrence. They both have really great performances and on any given day you probably could pick one over the other. Calling that a wash and throwing that out, we now have to look at everything else.

The big award that Nyong’o has going for her is that she won the SAG award for her category–which could portend that The Academy acting branch is behind her. However, Lawrence has two awards to Nyong’o’s to lone one: a Golden Globe and a BAFTA (British Academy of Film and Television Arts). I don’t believe in the Globes, but in the awards race they do account for something. The bigger award for Lawrence here is her BAFTA win. This could be a signal that the British block of Academy voters (a subset of the acting branch) could throw their weight behind her.

Moving on to broader speaking terms, American Hustle is a film that has more mass appeal than 12 Years a Slave. I sincerely hope the rumors of Academy members not watching 12 Years due to it being a ‘difficult watch’ are quite frankly that–rumors; but if they’re not then more voters will have seen Lawrence’s role than Nyong’o’s. More viewers should equate to more votes.

Finally, while it’s not generally a category that’s prone to race discrimination (Octavia Spencer, Mo’Nique, Jennifer Hudson, and Whoopi Goldberg have all won the award; Spencer, Mo’Nique, and Hudson within the last ten years), you never know when it could rear it’s ugly head. Remember now, we’re talking about group of people who are predominantly older and white. In a tight race between an African-American actress and a caucasian actress can we say with a 100% certainty that race won’t be a factor? I hope to God it won’t, but when you’re analyzing the system you have to take things like this into account.

With great performances for Nyong’o and Lawrence, Lawrence’s two awards wins to Nyong’o’s one, mass appeal of American Hustle vs 12 Years, and the ugly head of racism rearing its ugly head; that is why I think a second Oscar, and back to back, win for Jennifer Lawrence is very possible.

What are you thoughts on our best supporting actress prediction? Give us your thoughts on the category in the comments.

06
Feb
14

Red Band Redux: Jan 2014

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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!)

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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)

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Lone Survivor

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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)

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American Hustle

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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.)

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Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit

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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.)

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That Awkward Moment

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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.)

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Also reviewed last month: Gimme Shelter.

21
Jan
14

Oscar Watch 2014: The Academy Hustle

"Mr. Disney clearly stated my bonus kicks in if I don't get an Oscar nomination."

“Mr. Disney clearly stated my bonus kicks in if I don’t get an Oscar nomination.”

Bitching about the Oscar nominations is really just a pointless endeavor since the whole damn thing is political anyway, just like any other job industry. But unlike, say, bitching about Target credit card breaches or unemployment bill passages, Academy Award bitching is way more fun. So here goes 2013’s ranting and raving.

This is the sound of Oscar ignoring you.

This is the sound of Oscar ignoring you.

My personal biggest slight: Short Term 12. Not even a screenplay nomination? And while we love Meryl Streep, was she really all that great in August: Osage County? No, she wasn’t. Brie Larson deserved that Best Actress slot. In this 1% society, Ms. Larson made social work a heroic and even noble occupation while at the same time, falling apart under her own baggage from the past; a exquisitely layered performance.

Second personal biggest slight: How the heck could American Hustle have been ignored in the Best Makeup and Hairstyling category? That opening sequence of Christian Bale carefully adhesive-ing his weave? Priceless.

Perm vs Weave

Perm vs Weave

What did get nominated in Makeup and Hairstyling? In addition to Dallas Buyers Club, Jackass Presents Bad Grandpa and The Lone Ranger. Who woulda thunk those two movies could put “Oscar nominated” on their DVD packaging?

Best Costume Design for American Hustle was truly deserved though. Amy Adams did not have a single wardrobe malfunction for almost three hours. That’s an achievement. (Or just industrial strength double-stick tape.)

This is the most SFW pic we could find.

This is the most SFW pic we could find.

On a more expected snub, none of the actresses in Blue is the Warmest Color got nominations and arguably, they really deserved it. Then again, Academy voters probably couldn’t spell their names (Adele Exarchopoulos and Lea Seydoux). Plus, said voters were probably put off by a whole lot of graphic NC-17 lesbian scissoring.

James “Look at all my shit!” Franco got snubbed for Spring Breakers, but again, that little piece of nastiness probably wasn’t Academy members’ cup of tea. And “Barkhad Abdi” is slightly easier to spell.

It was nice to see “Happy” get nominated for Best Original Song, (Wouldn’t it be wonderful if Pharrell Williams performed it for 24 hours?), but Lana Del Rey got totally robbed for “Young and Beautiful,” which was thematically essential throughout The Great Gatsby. (Gatsby was also the most criminally underrated movie of 2013, but that’s an argument not to be fought here. Leo acted his ass off in Baz’s epic adaptation, as opposed to simply screaming and partying in The Wolf of Wall Street.)

Leo really looks like he wants to drop an F-bomb.

Leo really looks like he wants to drop an F-bomb.

My bitching can go on forever, old sport. Lone Survivor might have gotten more substantial notices had it opened wide earlier. The vanilla but still sincere Saving Mr. Banks basically got the shaft. Then there’s Fruitvale Station, Robert Redford and Blackfish: All ignored.

Just to keep things in perspective, let’s just remember the real reason we watch the telecast, and why the Oscars are still relevant—Tina Fey and Amy Poehler. Oh wait . . .




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