Sunday, December 29, 2013

The Wolf Of Wall Street

One of the best for last!    

I didn’t expect to be blown away for my last viewing of 2013, but Director Martin Scorsese’s The Wolf Of Wall Street with a fabulous script by Terence Winter and the usual superb editing of Thelma Schoonmaker has the non-stop energy and brashness to make it one of the best films of the year.

Based on the true story of the corrupt stockbroker and drug addict Jordan Belfort, who bilked clients out of millions in the ‘80s, the 3-hour film moves like lightning with outstanding performances by Leonardo DiCaprio, Jonah Hill, Matthew McConaughey, Margot Robbie, Rob Reiner and a host of others. 

What makes the film truly great is not that you’re pulling for Belfort.  You’re not.  He and his partners are greedy bastards.  But, Scorsese’s artistry takes you on a wild ride to keep you, constantly, enthralled with their bold, outlandish operation and the fact they got away with it for so long. 

The Wolf Of Wall Street is Scorsese at his best and deserves a 5 out of 5.

August: Osage County

No matter whether you have religious denomination or not, you’ll probably go home after viewing Director John Wells’ August: Osage County and give thanks your family is not as dysfunctional as the Westons. 

Tracy Letts, who wrote the award-winning play, broadened it with an excellent screenplay adaption. 

With an August temperature hitting 108 degrees in this Oklahoma county, the dysfunctionality of the Westons is peeled like the skin of an onion and, just when it gets to the point of being too melodramatic, it tops itself with revelations that overcome such an objection.

And, just when I thought Cate Blanchett had the Oscar for Best Actress locked up with her performance in Blue Jasmine, along comes Meryl Streep with an equally fabulous performance as the out-of-control matriarch of the Weston clan.  I’ll have to think long and hard as to whom to give my vote.

Meryl is not alone in her greatness, here.  Julia Roberts’ portrayal of the eldest Weston daughter is worthy of a nomination as Best Supporting Actress.  And, it doesn’t stop there.  Chris Cooper, Julianne Nicholson and Benedict Cumberbatch are superb, as well.

The only problem with the film, unfortunately, came at the beginning with some choppy editing by Stephen Mirrione and the normally great Sam Shepard not giving or being directed to give the right amount of pathos to make his decision for suicide convincing.  I couldn’t help but wish Robert Altman was still around to direct this great cast.

Still, I give August: Osage County a 4+ out of 5.

47 Ronin

We learn about other peoples through their myths and legends.  The feudal action film, 47 Ronin, directed by Carl Rinsch, provides an interesting insight into the Japanese culture.

Based on a true story, writers Chris Morgan and Hossein Amini have created a fantasy complete with a dark witch and demons.  It’s a story about an admirable type of honor, that is denigrated by too much formalism and rigidity and too little heart.  It comes across like the Japanese version of an American Western.  The distinction between the cultures shows up in the Japanese adherence in the letter of the law versus the American belief in the spirit of the law, as well as showing mercy.

In this story, it’s the Shogun or Ruler, who should be committing suicide by seppuku for judging too quickly, not the valiant ronin.

The film is justly criticized for its extraordinarily high budget of $175 million, but that’s the problem of the financiers.  The viewer is treated to sumptuous costumes and sets. And, although first-time feature director Rinsch does not bring forth much depth from Keanu Reeves and the rest of his cast, the film is still a decent actioner.
I give 47 Ronin a 3 out of 5.

Friday, December 27, 2013


Writer/Director Spike Jonze’s thought-provoking Her imagines a not-too-distant world in which there is even less interpersonal exchange than there is today.

Joaquin Phoenix plays Theodore, a lonely man employed as a futuristic Cyrano de Bergerac by, a company that ghost writes clients’ loved ones on matters of love, condolence or whatever the person is unwilling or unable to do for him or herself.
Though good at his job, Theodore’s personal life is in disarray as he is going through a divorce and feeling empty.  Things change, however, when he purchases OS2, the newest operating system that offers a personalized Siri.  

Things start out great as his Samantha quickly learns him and responds to his wishes.  However, “she” evolves with experience just like humans, although at a hyper rate and the question ultimately becomes whether she is willing to stay with what becomes a sub-species and whether he is willing to be with an entity, who has become the operating system for over 8,000 others and is in a “loving” relationship with 631 of them.

Phoenix does an admirable job as the lonelyheart and Scarlett Johansson’s voice creates a superb Samantha.

I give Her a 4+ out of 5.

Sunday, December 22, 2013


Director Alexander Payne’s Nebraska is a real sleeper, meaning it put me to sleep for a while as it developed at a snail’s pace. 

Once it did develop, however, and, thanks to actress June Squibb, who plays the wife of main character Woody Grant (Bruce Dern), who, erroneously, believes he has won a million dollars in the Publisher’s Clearing House Sweepstakes, the film takes off and has many pleasurable moments and lines. 

The real protagonist is not the befuddled senior Grant, but his son David (Will Forte), who decides to humor his father by taking him from his home in Billings, Montana to the Clearing House’s offices in Lincoln, Nebraska.  It’s a possible chance to bond and understand his father before dementia makes it impossible.

Dern gives an excellent portrayal of a man trying to make some meaning of his life and Squibb should gain a Supporting Actress nomination for her role.

The sweet ending makes the initial ennui worthwhile.  I give Nebraska a 3+ out of 5 for the fine performances.