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Horrible Squared

On Thanksgiving night, I was in Dillsburg, Pennsylvania, so there were some slim pickin’s for movie viewing.  The group consensus ended with Horrible Bosses 2.  I wasn’t totally upset with the outcome of the vote as I was pleasantly surprised with the first installment.

I wish I could rave about Horrible Bosses 2 as I have raved about the last few movies I have seen or even liked it as much as I liked the first, and I really wanted to be able to, but I can’t, I just can’t. I wish Hollywood would pull its head out of its ass and realize sequels are not the answer.  The film is a two hour incessant argument between Jason Bateman, Jason Sudeikis and Charlie Day.  Even if you like all three of them, after 30 minutes you will be praying for them to shut up.

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This installment finds the boys working for themselves trying to market their new invention, The Shower Buddy – it’s like an automatic carwash for a person’s shower.  Naively believing everyone has their best interests at heart, the boys agree to sell their product to Bert Hanson’s (Christoph Waltz) company, Boulder Stream.  At this time, we are also introduced to Rex (Chris Pine), Bert’s son, who may or may not want to follow in his father’s footsteps.  If we learn anything from this movie, it is that Chris Pine has no range as an actor.  He couldn’t even play slimey douchebag very well.  That good looking, clean cut download (10)All-American image just kept poking through and you never really believe him.   I was hoping that Christoph Waltz would be a supremely evil villain playing Bert Hanson and up the ante, but alas, he phoned in his performance, even the small amount of time he had on screen.  Kevin Spacey was much worse in the first film and steals all of his scenes in this one.  Despite actually being on a jail phone in all of his scenes, and from the outtakes, most likely reading all of his lines, he is still better than Christoph.

download (11)After Bert inevitably screws the boys, they decide to exact their revenge, thus, begins the obligatory visit to Motherfucker Jones (Jamie Foxx in another phoned-in performance) and their plan is put into action.  Instead of killing their boss this time around, they decide that kidnapping his douchey son, Rex, and asking for the exact amount of money they lost to Bert is the way to go.  Yeah, it’s not really a good plan.

HorribleBosses2trailerscreenshotJenniferAnistonLSWarnerBrosThe bright shining light in this mess is Jennifer Aniston as Julia, the sex addict dentist.  The boys need nitrous to knock out Rex so they decide to steal it from Julia’s office.  It also just so happens to be at the same time as Julia’s Sex Addicts Anonymous meeting.  You will be pleased to know that Julia’s addiction is far from being tamed and the words that come out of her mouth are priceless.  I wish she was in every scene.

The bottom line is this movie is not the worst movie of the year by any means, but you would have more fun and save yourself some money by re-watching Guardians of the Galaxy for the fifth time as it is available for digital download now.  Starlord, anyone?

After you view the new indie film Whiplash, you will never watch a Farmer’s Insurance commercial the same way again.  J. K. Simmons is so ferocious as Terrence Fletcher, the conductor of the elite Studio Band at Shaffer Conservatory, his performance will increase your adrenaline for an hour and a half and haunt you for days.  Who knew an indie film about jazz drumming could do that?Whiplash-5547.cr2

If you have never heard of Whiplash, you are probably not alone.  It is a small indie film which began as a short film written 01and directed by Damien Chazelle in 2013.  After winning the Short Film Jury Prize at Sundance that year, Chazelle and Simmons re-collaborated for the feature film, again taking it to Sundance a year later winning the Audience Award and the Grand Jury Prize as a result of Simmons’ tour de force performance that will most likely garner him a little gold man for Best Supporting Actor come February.

Filmed in 19 days for about $3 million, Whiplash follows Shaffer Conservatory freshman, Andrew (a not so annoying Miles Teller), an aspiring jazz drummer who dreams of greatness and wants to follow in the footsteps of Buddy Rich and Charlie Parker.  He is a shy kid who still goes to the movies with his dad, played by a welcomed Paul Reiser, but may have that one thing that could make him great.

Dressed all in black, Fletcher is a master manipulator – he learns all he can about someone only to use it against them to break them down in to a puddle of emotions.  Fletcher spies Andrew rehearsing and invites him to practice with the Studio Band – the most coveted jazz band in the school.  Andrew should have known something was up when he showed up for his first practice at 6 am and the rest of the band did not arrive until 9 am.  Things just go intensely downhill images (5)from there.  So not to spoil any of the phenomenal scenes between Fletcher and Andrew all I will say is Whiplash is basically Full Metal Jacket set to jazz.

The longer Andrew survives working with Fletcher, we see his determination and his demons rise to the surface. Dismissing all other matters in life, including the girl he finally got the courage to ask out, practicing begins to consume him.  He sheds blood, sweat and tears to get Fletcher’s tempo just right.  But is the price worth the pay off?  What makes one great as opposed to insane?Miles-Teller-Whiplash

Ultimately, it is Simmons’ performance, not the overall film itself that will stick with you.  You will remember his lines, none of which I want to spoil here.  He is menacing simply by raising his hand.  One can, and should, argue that Simmons should really be nominated as Best Actor because the film is the relationship between Fletcher and Andrew, but with Micheal Keaton and Eddie Redmayne already fighting it out in the category, Simmons name will be submitted fordownload (8) Supporting Actor to get him the win.  Christoph Waltz in Django, anyone?  I’m actually not going to argue against it for Simmons’ performance deserves the accolades, even though Edward Norton has more of a traditional supporting role in Birdman.  Not to leave the other performance out, Teller is great as Andrew and the fact that he does his own drumming stunt work helps with the authenticity of the film.  It is the first role that Teller has not thoroughly annoyed me (Anyone remember his turn as a teenage alcoholic in The Spectacular Now?  Yeah, I didn’t think so.), but don’t expect his name to be on any short lists of nominees anytime soon.  He got the part because he can drum, not because he is the next great actor of his generation.

sundance - whiplash 1Despite the performance, it may be your love or hate of jazz that makes or breaks this film for you.  I do not particularly care for jazz, so I definitely thought there was too much, but I guess you can’t make a movie about a jazz drummer without playing some jazz, so I can let that one pass.  Overall, I highly recommend the film, and it is must-see for awards season as I predict you will be hearing Mr. Simmons’ name called quite a bit when envelopes are opened in the next few months.

rose

454970686I am such a  fan of Jon Stewart (yes, as Bill O’Reilly would say, I am one of the callow youth that watches his show) and I have been following the story of Maziar Bahari since 2009 that I rushed to the overpriced 10:15 a.m. showing of Rosewater this morning.  Just me and the elderly.  It really is the best time to lose yourself in a movie – a whole row to myself, I had my breakfast from Starbucks on one side and my trusty little notebook on the other.  Unfortunately, Jon underdelivered in his directorial debut.

Rosewater is the story of Iranian journalist Mazier Bahari and his arrest and incarceration in Evin Prison in Iran from June to October 2009.  From 1998 to 2011, Bahari was Newsweek’s Iran rosewatercorrespondent.  By 2009, Bahari was living in London and married with a child on the way.  He planned a weeklong trip to Iran to visit his mother and cover the Iranian presidential elections between incumbent Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and opposition candidates Mir-Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi.  During his stay in Iran, Bahari meets with young Iranians educated at Dish University, an area of Tehran with hidden satellites so they can view the “real” news from around the globe.  He also agrees to an interview with Jason Jones for The Daily Show in which Jones pretends to be a spy.  On Election Day, despite numerous reports that Mousavi, the candidate of the young, had taken the lead, before the polls even close, Ahmadinejad is declared the winner.  The Iranian Green Movement of Mousavi supporters take to the street and despite the mostly peaceful protests, the Basji, a paramilitary Iranian group, began to use force – pepper spray, batons and even firearms.  Bahari is able to film some of the violent footage and transmit it to London.  The next morning, he is arrested at his mother’s home and so begins his 118 day imprisonment at Evin Prison.  His crime:  bearing witness.

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The film mainly focuses on Bahari’s 118 day solitary confinement and daily interrogations by his assigned “Specialist.” Accused of being a spy for the CIA, MI6, Mossad and Newsweek, Bahari was tortured during this time, but it was more mental rather than physical and that is what he wants to convey:  solitary confinement is just as torturous as being physically beaten, water-boarded, and whatever else springs to mind when torture is mentioned.  Yes, Bahari did suffer physical torture at some points during his imprisonment and it was most definitely occurring at the prison, but it was nothing compared to the mental anguish.  At one point, the Specialist is instructed by his superior, “you must not just take his blood, you must take his hope.”  Interrogated daily by his Specialist while blindfolded, the only clue Bahari had to his identity was the scent of Rosewater.  A scent Bahari recalls that was showered on the faithful and only the utmost pious carried. He was a little off on that one, to say the least.

images (4)In order to break up the monotony of a person alone with himself in a cement room, scenes of Bahari having conversations with his late father and sister, both of whom were imprisoned in Iran for political dissonance, are interspersed between the interrogations.  They are touching and poignant and help convey Bahari’ s inter-monologue, but clearly used as a crutch by Stewart.  Gael Garcia Bernal, or as my friend Liz would say, GGB, is fantastic as Bahari, although a bit younger than the actual Bahari at the time.  However, I don’t think the little gold man will be knocking on his door this year.

Overall, Rosewater is a solid film that tells a story that should be heard, that is if you don’t already know about it.  However, it is not stellar.  It’s not overly dramatic, hell, it’s not melodramatic.  There is no overbearing score to emphasize the important scenes.  I would even suggest that had it been helmed by anyone other than John Stewart it would have slipped into oblivion with a September release.

john-oliver-geckos-lwtTo be honest dear readers, my favorite part about this film has nothing to do with the film or performances at all.  This film will always hold a special place in my heart, my soul even, because without it, the world never would have gotten to know John Oliver!  For without John Stewart taking time off from The Daily Show last summer to direct this Geckos-in-Spacemovie, John Oliver would never have had the chance to guest host for 3 months, and in turn would never have been “discovered” and there never would be Last Week Tonight – A show that I live for each week – it is my goodnight hug every Sunday night to end my weekend. Frozen sex geckos, anyone? #GoGetThoseGeckos

All in all, and unfortunately even, I actually enjoyed watching the The Daily Show’s episode about Rosewater more than I did watching the actual movie.  Before heading to the theater, check it out here at http://thedailyshow.cc.com/full-episodes/ddhqcw/november-13–2014—maziar-bahari—gael-garcia-bernal.  Then, if you have gotten in all of your required awards season viewing, give Rosewater a viewing at an early matinee; otherwise, you can wait for Redbox.

Interstellar: A Gargantuan Mind Bender

do-not-go-gentle-into-that-good-nightDo not go gentle into that good night.  This is Dr. Brand’s (Michael Caine) inspiring speech to the astronauts of the Endeavor as they take off to explore a wormhole near Saturn in hopes of finding an inhabitable planet on the other side to save humanity from itself. It’s apt, for do not go gentle into this film, for you are in for a get wrenching, mind-bending, head-scratching journey.  Before I get into the meat of my review, which will not be in-depth as not to give anything away, I want to warn you that no matter what you read below or how you perceive my review, you ultimately should go see this film.  It’s 2 hours and 43 minutes, so make sure you are prepared – wear layers in case the theater is cold, bring some snacks (you can never go wrong with Combos), do not drink a lot of fluids beforehand and make sure your bladder is completely drained before a single frame commences.  Then sink back into your chair and prepare to have your mind blown by Christopher Nolan in one way or another for the next 3 hours, for you will be cursing him infinitely after that.-98caac85-f5ed-419a-8a2e-672a10473ea3

There is a reason that I went to law school – I never quite grasped advanced mathematics, beginning with calculus, and I could have cared less for physics, and even less for quantum physics and the space-time continuum, except what I learned about it from Doc in Back to the Future.  Unfortunately, I do not understand the theory of relativity or quantum physics with any more clarity after viewing Interstellar.  Honestly, I just left the theater with more questions and tried to Google answers which I found in relatively small bits and pieces, mainly due to the fact that the plot of this film has been under lock and key since its Inception.  (Oh see what I did there?  haha).

interstellar_18So what is Interstellar about?  I really can’t tell you more than you probably already know – the Earth is dying – sometime in the not so distant future there is just a steady blow of dirt.  The wheat died and the blight came.  The last crops of okra are being harvested before they are consumed by blight and all that is left is corn, and corn farmers.  Enter Mr. McConnaughey as Cooper, a widowed (or is widowered?) farmer raising his 2 kids, Murph and Tom, along with his father-in-law, Donald (John Lithgow).  It is alluded to that Cooper was a pilot in his early life and an engineer, but the excess of the 20th century has made it impossible for people to pursue fancy careers, such as engineering, in order to help keep the human race alive, so they do what needs to be done and grow and harvest the food.

interstellar-christopher-nolanIn a fortuitous turn of events, Cooper and Murph discover that NASA is still operating, underground of course, because who has money to fund the experiment of space travel when people are starving?  Since it just so happens that Cooper can pilot an aircraft he is recruited for a mission to save the human race.  Dr. Brand Sr. convinces Cooper that if we can harness the power of gravity, he may be able to save everyone.  I’m not really sure what he said or how it works, but I got the gist of it.   So Cooper, Dr. Brand Jr. (Anne Hathaway), Dolye (Wes Bentley) and Romilly (David Gyasi) decide that their individual lives are not as important as at the future of humanity and leave everything that is near and dear to them on Earth.  Their mission:  enter a wormhole by imagesSaturn, which in itself is a 2 year journey, to try to find scientists that previously undertook this mission under the name Lazarus, to see if the planets they may or may not have found in the other galaxy can sustain life.  Now Dear Readers this is the place in the review where we leave the plot and any discussion on the questions the film asks the audience to consider…I can’t tell you anymore as I feel it would be a disservice to Mr. Nolan’s film images (3)and the whole experience of it.  Okay, I’ll give you a teaser – the first planet they explore Kevin Costner was probably somewhere on it trying to find dry land, and on the second, I’m sure if they looked hard enough they could have found a Tauntaun to survive on if needed and may have found the abandoned Echo Base.interstellar.black_.hole_

If the quantum physics goes over your head, should you spend your money for 3 hours of confusion?  Yes!  The movie overall is a brilliant film, even though if may make you feel dumb – the visuals and score by Hans Zimmer are worth the Interstellarprice of admission.  Plus, trying to reconcile how spending 1 hour on a planet near a black hole is equivalent to 7 years on earth could be a fun brain bender for the days or weeks to come.  It is one of those films that defies categorization in that is is just a good movie.  It’s not all drama, not all sci-fi – it just is.  Matthew is awesome – playing that everyday man experiencing extraordinary events without making you feel quite so dumb because he makes you feel.  He coaxed more than one tear out of my eye in those 3 hours.  However, you can’t view this film without being reminded of a similar movie of his about time travel in wormholes – Contact – an underrated movie that has been a personal fave since the first time I saw it.  Lo and behold, in my Google research today, I learned that both movies are based on works by theoretical physicist Kip S. Thorne – who I can credit as the source for 100% of my images (2)knowledge about travel by wormhole and the relativity of time.  I don’t think this role is going to garner Mr. McConnaughey his second gold statue, but that should not be a reason for skipping this film.

On the other hand, if you don’t like Anne Hathaway, and really, who does anymore after her “performances” during the 2012 awards season, she will not earn back that space in your heart after this film.  So rest assured, we will not have to suffer through any of her grating acceptance speeches this year.  In case you need a reminder of just how bad is was, check out this link:  http://www.newnownext.com/anne-hathaway-acceptance-speech-oscars-awards/02/2013/.  And one more tidbit to make you feel better, she developed download (6)hypothermia while shooting the scene above in Greenland because her space suit had a hole it in.  She really does suffer for her work, and in case you forgot, she can sing live.

Finally, there is Jessica Chastain, a personal fave. She is the older Murph Cooper who still cannot accept that her dad left her to save the world when she was a little girl.  In order to cope, she joins in the fight to survive and find an answer.  Her performance is nuanced, full of grace and she can play hardened bitch as good as Julianne Moore.  She doesn’t have much screen time so of course I just wanted more of her.  I am still not satisfied with what I got.

Overall, spend a November afternoon in the dark wrapped up in the mind-bending Interstellar, ponder the black holes in the plot, if love transcends time and space, the emotions that make us human and if man is really his own worst enemy.  Then re-emerge into the light shaking your fist screaming “Damn you, Christopher Nolan, damn you!”

Dear Readers,

I know it has been a long time since we talked and I’m sure most of you have probably given up on me, but fear not, I am still here.  I have three excuses for being gone so long….1.  2014 has not been a good year for movies; 2.  I have tons of work to do at my real job that pays the bills; and 3.  I moved into a house, so that has been taking up a lot of my spare time.  Thus, it was really hard for me to make it to movies on opening weekends and who wants to read a review of a movie that has been in theaters for 4 weeks?  But, let’s go back to 1..seriously, what good movies have you actually seen this year?  Sure, I liked Guardians of the Galaxy – with a soundtrack titled Awesome Mix Vol. 1, how could you not, and discussing whether we did or did not see Ben Affleck’s penis in Gone Girl, but they weren’t great movies.  However, awards season is just beginning, so it’s time to get serious again.and-the-oscar-goes-to-could-birdman-be-the-first-superhero-movie-nominated-for-best-picture

First up, Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance).  How did Michael Keaton end up here?  Alejandro González Iñárritu, that’s how.  I could be cliche and say Keaton soars as Birdman, but I’ll refrain.  Birdman is the story of washed up action star, Riggan Thomson, trying to revive his career by adapting and directing the Raymond Carver play, What We Talk About When We Talk About Love.  It’s his Broadway debut, and for download (3)a man that made his livelihood playing a winged superhero, he is in over his head on the Great White Way.  The film starts as the previews of the play begin and follows Riggan through opening night.  Riggan is not happy with his male costar and an injury fortuitously paves the way for Mike Shiner (Edward Norton) to join the cast and steal the show.  Get ready to see Edward on a lot of red carpets in the next few months.  I am predicting a Supporting nomination coming his way.  Also ladies, he may or may not get naked in this film….

As highly publicized, Iñárritu, shot the film with steadicams so it appears to be one continuous shot.  This is an awesome idea, but it can make you sick and we see a lot of backs of heads.  The more I read and hear about how the actors had to prepare to shoot this movie, the more I love this technique.  Not only did they have to memorize up to 15 pages of dialogue per scene, but they had to memorize the number of steps to take and have cameras in their faces in almost every scene.  According to Michael Keaton, the nightly preparation was rigorous and scary.

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And speaking of Michael Keaton – I read the article in Entertainment Weekly in which he stated that Riggan Thomson is the m-keaton-birdman-680-promocharacter he identifies with the least throughout his entire career.  At first, I called bullshit – how can he not identify with Riggan?  An actor famous for donning a bird suit who hasn’t been seen in anything in a while, come on!  However, after viewing the film, I am having second thoughts.  I want to believe that Michael Keaton does not crave celebrity and wanting to be relevant or that Batman does not talk to him, but, even if he did, I have a feeling we’ll never know and he’ll deny it to the grave.  Not that I am a Hollywood expert, nor do I claim to know any stars intimately; however, I sense this film rings true for more people who care to admit it.  Grasping for fame and needing to be relevant is probably as common as boob jobs and cheek implants.  This role is clearly no Beetlejuice or Jack Butler (220. 221. Whatever it takes.), but Keaton tackles it with perfection.  Plus, I am a sucker for isolated men struggling with their inner demons.  And it makes you question the divide between celebrity and actor – in case that is something you ponder often.

download (2)Not only is Michael Keaton back on top of his game, his supporting cast is stellar – Zach Galafianakis as his BFF and producer, Naomi Watts as his co-star who wants to succeed on download (1)Broadway just as much as Riggan, Andrea Riseborough as Riggan’s current girlfriend, Amy Ryan as Riggan’s ex-wife, Emma Stone as Riggan’s daughter fresh out of rehab with a predilection for rooftops, and Lindsay Duncan as Tabitha, the NY Times theater critic who will make or break a play.  The scene between Riggan and Tabitha is the pinnacle of the movie and asks the most important question:  What has to happen in a person’s life to become a critic?  Well, that is a post for another day.

Until the next one….

 and the oscar goes to

Another year has gone by and it’s been a helluva a year for movies!  One of the most exciting years for cinema in recent history.  But again, for some reason, I wasn’t asked to join the Academy, so I will just share my votes with you.

Best Supporting Actress:images (8)

Sally Hawkins – Blue Jasmine

Jennifer Lawrence – American Hustle

Lupita Nyong’o – 12 Years a Slave

Julia Roberts – August:  Osage County

June Squibb – Nebraska

Probably the most hotly contested race of the evening.  My vote is going to Lupita Nyong’o for her role as Patsey in 12 Years a Slave – everyone involved in this film pushed this young woman to give the performance of her life, Steve McQueen,  Alfre Woodard, Chiwetel Ejiofor and Sarah Paulson and Michael Fassbender, each torturing her in their own sick way.  Plus, I can’t wait to see what she wears.  She better bring it.  However, I think the Academy is going to give it to their darling, Jennifer Lawrence, maybe for the only reason so that she can redeem herself for her fall last year.

Jared Leto as Rayon in Dallas Buyers ClubBest Supporting Actor: 

Barkhad Abdi – Captain Phillips

Bradley Cooper – American Hustle

Michael Fassbender – 12 Years a Slave

Jonah Hill – The Wolf of Wall Street

Jared Leto – Dallas Buyer’s Club

Well, if you know me at all, or even if you read this blog, you know who I am voting for…my man, Michael Fassbender.  Now, I know he’s not going to win, but I am still holding out hope.  He should win just for being snubbed for Shame.  Damn you Academy and avoiding NC-17 films.  Come on, Steve McQueen called him a genius in his acceptance speech at the Independent Spirit Awards.  I so agree with you, Mr. McQueen, but with all due respect, you bring out his genius.  But since my man is not going to win, who is?  Jordan Cantalano of course!  But I cannot be sad about that, Jared’s performance as Rayon was brave and heartbreaking and if you didn’t cry when he asked his father for money (spoiler alert), you have no heart.  Like Anne Hathaway from last year’s awards season, Jared, you know you’re going to win, so your speech better be damn good!

Best Actress:

BLUE-JASMINEAmy Adams – American Hustle

Cate Blanchett – Blue Jasmine

Sandra Bullock – Gravity

Judi Dench – Philomena

Meryl Streep – August:  Osage County

Well, this category doesn’t seem to be much of a race as Cate has won EVERYTHING this year.  But wouldn’t it be awesome if Amy Adams or Sandra Bullock pulled the upset?  I don’t think it’s going to happen, but it’s fun to dream.  When I initially saw Blue Jasmine, I hated it.  I hated everything about it, Woody Allen, the premise, and Cate’s gratingly annoying performance that made me want to turn off my dvd player.  However, as I have had time to sit with it, I realized that my visceral reaction was the result of her performance and maybe, just maybe, she did give the performance of the year.

Best Actor:

131101_BROW_DallasBuyersClub.jpg.CROP.promovar-medium2Christian Bale – American Hustle

Bruce Dern – Nebraska

Leonardo DiCaprio – The Wolf of Wall Street

Chiwetel Ejiofor – 12 Years a Slave

Matthew McConnaughey – Dallas Buyers Club

Again, I think this category is a lock for Matthew and he does deserve it.  However, it can be argued that Chiwetel Ejiofor’s performance is superior, I mean, he made audiences uncomfortable everywhere.  I have loved Chiwetel since his turn as Lola in Kinky Boots, before it was a musical.  Then there is Leo.  The man is deserving of a statue for his body of work alone, but he just can’t catch a break.  His performance as Jordan Belfort was pretty great, but I wouldn’t count it as the best performance of his career.  I would vote for Blood Diamond – that is when the world realized Jack grew up and could indeed act.  Again, I would not be disappointed with an upset and it would be exciting, but I don’t think it’s going to happen.

Best Director: download (1)

David O. Russell – American Hustle

Alfonso Cuaron – Gravity

Alexander Payne – Nebraska

Steve McQueen – 12 Years a Slave

Martin Scorcese – The Wolf of Wall Street

Since Gravity is probably not going to win Best Picture, the Academy is going to reward the film with Best Director.  It is a technical masterpiece, physics of space be damned.  The performance he coaxed out of Sandra Bullock was impressive.  Her breathing deserves its own Oscar.  I just hope his speech is as good as it was at the Globes!

Best Movie: 12-years-a-slave-quad

American Hustle

Captain Phillips

Dallas Buyers Club

Gravity

Her

Nebraska

Philomena

12 Years a Slave

The Wolf of Wall Street

I am sticking with my prediction from October – 12 Years a Slave is going to take the big one.  It is too important of a movie that the Academy cannot ignore it.  The only film that could catch it is Gravity, but I don’t think the older Academy voters cast their ballots for the technologically advanced film.  Now I liked  the other nominees, except for Her, but I didn’t LOVE them.  There also wasn’t a film that moved me as 12 Years did.  All of the performances in it are masterful and since most of the cast is going to be disappointed, the Academy is going to reward the film as a whole.      

Agree or Disagree?  Leave your thoughts in the comments below.  Whoever you are voting for, I hope your evening is filled with red carpet viewing, good friends and good food.  If the weather holds out here in Pittsburgh we will be paying homage to the 1970’s and all things McConnaughey at my house.  Alright, alright, alright…..

If you love Meryl Streep and dysfunctional families, you will love August:  Osage County.  Hell, you only have to love one or the other.  In fact, even if you just love good acting, this film is for you.august-osage-county-meryl-streep-600x400

Meryl Streep plays Violet, pill popping matriarch of the Weston clan of Osage County, Oklahoma.  We open with Beverly Watson (an all too brief Sam Shepard) preparing his new live-in Native American housekeeper for life with Violet and Bev – She takes pills and I drink.  However, Bev disappears as he has been known to do on and off over the years, and the rest of the family is called in when his body is found in the local lake.  Then let the good times begin with the family reunion.

The three Weston girls and their respective families, Barbara (Julia Roberts), Ivy (Julianne Nicholson) and Karen (Juliette Lewis), along Aunt Mattie Fae (Margo Martindale) and her husband Chris (the always brilliant Chris Cooper) come together after Bev’s funeral, more to air their grievances than to share their grief.  If you think your family is fucked up, spend 2 hours with the Westons and you will feel much better.  Although we learn bits and pieces about Violet and Mattie Fae’s childhood, it is not enough to shed any light on how they became the women they did.  However, it is quite clear why the Barbara, Ivy and Karen turned out how they did.  Barbara, the hardened cynic, Ivy, the insecure plain Jane who si ready to get out of Oklahome and Karen, the vapid baby sister.8ba94bdf-36bf-4104-aed7-ee60fde5a8d4_august-osage-county-dinner

b99163486z.1_20140109112347_000_g7r49aqa.1-1All of the women in this movie give strong, noteworthy performances that I could spend paragraphs picking apart; however, I will follow the herd and say this is Meryl’s movie through and through.  She had nothing to prove taking this role, except to cement the fact that she is the greatest actress alive today, if not ever.  The nuances she brings to a role make you believe she is that character, not an actress portraying someone.  She even lights her cigarette like  the Oklahoma drug addict Violet Weston is.  She uses every part of her body to give her performance and it is breathtaking.  While you are watching this film, remind yourself that this is the woman that played Miranda Priestly in The Devil Wears Prada, sang to Pierce Brosnan in Mama Mia and brought Julia Child and Margaret Thatcher to life on the screen and she still transformed herself into this hardened addict.

Then there is Julia, who hasn’t given us much lately, but gives her all in this performance.  The first half of the film consists more of eye-rolling at her mother, but the second act is where she really shines.  Is Barbara standing up to Violet and breaking the cycle or slowly turning into her before our very eyes?  Julia goes toe to toe with Meryl and holds her own.  She has some acting chops of her own and this film proves she is not a one Oscar wonder.  Do I think she’ll take home a little gold man this year?  I’m not sure, but I know she’ll give J Law a run for her money.

1380135318_CooperFinally, there is Chris Cooper.  Sometimes I forget how good he is, then I reminded when he punches me in the face with a performance like the one he gave of Chris Aiken.  Or maybe it is just Meryl that brings it out in him, as he did win his Oscar when he hunted orchids and romanced her in Adaptation.  He is not on the screen for long periods, but when he is, he takes up all of it and not afraid to lay it all out there.

The film was adapted for the screen by Tracy Letts, from his Pulitzer Prize winning play of the same name.  Some critics have argued that 215px-Bugposter2007download (2)the play is so big in itself that it did not need to be adapted to the screen and all it is is awards season fodder.  I disagree.  Yes, of course it attracted big stars and they acted their hearts out; but that is more a testament to Mr. Letts, than to the actors.  He gave them the material and if any of them win, they better be thanking him first for these big, juicy, crazy roles.  If you have never heard of Tracy Letts until now, be sure to check out his other work, Killer Joe and Bug – both are 2 hours of twisted cinema that will keep you talking days later.

I highly recommend spending a snowy January afternoon in a dark theater with the Westons.  You will laugh, you may cry and you will definitely leave the theater feeling better about your family!

So my friend, Christina, saw The Wolf of Wall Street a little over a week ago and immediately texted that Leo was finally going to get his Oscar with his performance in this movie.  Naturally, this piqued my interest and I was counting down the days until December 25th when I could see the movie.  As per our family tradition of seeing a debaucherous movie on Christmas Day, we made our way to the first screening at the local theater.  Three hours later, I had to text Christina to tell her that I disagreed with her assessment.  While Leo gives an over-the-top performance (because that is the only type of performance he could have given with the provided material), I still do not think this is his year.the-wolf-of-wall-street-2222303_large

The Wolf of Wall Street tells the tale of Jordan Belfort, a stockbroker from Queens who made millions off the backs of working class Americans through his firm Stratton Oakmont in a pump and dump scheme in the 1990s.  I do not want to sugar coat it for your Dear Readers, the man is a bonafide asshole.  The movie is based on his memoir that he wrote at the behest of Tommy Chong, as they were cell mates in federal prison.  (On a side note, I actually attended Tommy Chong’s sentencing hearing in the Western District of Pennsylvania in 2003.)  The story, to say the least, is completely over the top and the lines between fantasy and reality start to blur.  

DCF 1.0The story begins with Belfort telling us that he took 20 Quaaludes per day, as well as Xanax, methaqualoneAdderall, pot, morphine and mounds of cocaine and still continued to function.  And that’s when I started to question the remainder of the story.  Also, note that the author and filmmakers fool us with the title, The Wolf of Wall Street, when in fact all of this took place on Long Island and Stratton Oakmont  never had a Wall Street address.  In fact, in the grand scheme of things, Jordan Belfort was small potatoes and a blip on the Wall Street scene.

the_wolf_of_wall_street_trailer_tDon’t get me wrong Dear Readers, the film is excellent.  It is classic Scorcese – I mean, when you want Scorcese, go to the real thing and not a knock-off (see American Hustle).  Leo is his brilliant self and plays Jordan Belfort probably better than he wrote himself.  The energy he brings to the role is infectious and jumps off the screen.  You should know by now Dear Readers that I do love me some Leo, so I’ll stop now with my accolades.  I will say though that I will not be casting my vote for him.  While the role is Oscar-worthy, it just does not quite compare to Matthew McConnaughey in Dallas Buyers Club or Chiwetel Ejifor in Twelve Years a Slave.  Also, one just comes to expect greatness from Leo and Marty – anything less would be a disappointment.

wolf-of-wall-street-dicaprio-hillThe two surprising performances of the film were Jonah Hill as Donnie Azoff (Danny Porush in real life) and Matthew McConnaughey as Mark Hanna.  Hill plays Belfort’s right hand man, Donnie Azoff.  A greedy little man who married his cousin.  Hill plays annoyingly creepy perfectly.  Normally, I am not the biggest Jonah Hill fan, but he redeemed himself for me in this movie.  

wolf-of-wall-street-trailer-matthew-mcconahay-1McConnaughey is great, albeit too brief, as Mark Hanna, Belfort’s first Wall Street mentor who gives him some friendly advice:  The only way to survive the rat race of Wall Street is Cocaine, Hookers and Masturbation – at least twice a day.  The scene between Leo and Matthew is cinematic gold!  It was mainly improvised, but I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.  I could watch it over and over.  This performance also just adds fuel to the McConnaughey Oscar fire this year.  This is his year and the man can do no wrong.

So overall, I loved the movie and highly recommend a viewing, but what I have a problem with is Jordan Belfort himself.  Bottom line:  He’s an asshole.  I am having a bit of a moral dilemma in promoting this film that glorifies this lifestyle of excess and taking from the working man to line the pockets of the wealthy with even more.  However, that is my dilemma, so I recommend that you go see it and decide how you feel.

Jordan Belfort and Danny Porush

Jordan Belfort and Danny Porush

Jordan and Nadine Belfort

Jordan and Nadine Belfort

 

Looking to kill 90 minutes this holiday season and not be disappointed?  I would suggest filling them with Stephen Frears’ latest, Philomena.  What can I say, I have a soft spot for movies that appeal to elderly people around the holidays, mainly because this would be the movie my grandma would make me take her to if she was still alive.

philomena-600-220This film is based on the true story of Philomena Lee, an Irish woman who is searching for her son that was taken from her by horrible God-fearing nuns in Ireland in 1955 and Martin Sixsmith, the journalist, author and ex-government advisor who reluctantly becomes the champion of her cause.

philomena_2702002bSteve Coogan wrote and stars in the film as Martin Sixsmith.  Recently the victim of a government scandal, Sixsmith is in need of a job so goes back to his roots as a journalist and takes on a small human interest story.  Judi Dench, fabulous as always, plays the tortured Philomena, a woman who reveals her 50 year secret that she had a child in 1952 that was put up for adoption by the nuns

The real Philomena Lee and Martin Sixsmith

The real Philomena Lee and Martin Sixsmith

running the convent she was sent to due to her pregnancy.  The convent was far from ideal and she was basically forced into slave labor for four years to pay off her debt to the nuns for taking her in and delivering her child.  She was allowed to spend one hour a day with her little boy, Anthony, before he was adopted when he was three years old.

What starts off as an innocent tale of reuniting an estranged mother and son turns dark when it is uncovered that the nuns were selling the children to wealthy Americans and then deliberately burned the records so mothers and children had no chance of being reunited.  Much to my dismay, the film conveniently skims over this part of the story and focuses on Philomena’s modern day search for her son.

Philomena’s journey takes her to America where she learns about her son’s childhood, career and if he ever thought of her and Ireland.  Does she find Anthony?  Did he ever think of her?  Well, you’re going to have to see the film for the answers to those questions.Judi Dench in Philomena

It is a heartwarming movie for the holidays, especially if you are not in the mood for the debauchery of The Wolf of Wall Street or the monotonous American Hustle.  Dame Judi Dench is nominated for a Globe for her role, but I think Steve Coogan has a better shot of winning a Best Screenplay statue , if this film wins any awards at all.  I’m not saying that there are no flaws with the film, it is wrapped up in a nice little bow and skips over facets of the story that I wish would have been explored more in-depth and ignores the complete tragedy and intricacies that was nuns selling children for money.  However, it is not a bad film and worth your 94 minutes, perhaps not in the theater, but definitely one to watch on a snowy or rainy afternoon with a cup of tea.  Or better yet, take your mom or grandma to see it and spend some quality time with them this holiday season.

 

It had been 26 days since I was in a darkened theater so the pick for the return of my absence was going to be a good one…or so I thought.  I have been dreaming of David O. Russell’s American Hustle since February – the reuniting of Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence and David O. Russell, plus Christian Bale and Amy Adams, what is not to love?american-hustle-cast-slice

However, the trailer cons us and makes us believe that this is the film of the year, and like Christian Bale says in the film, “People believe what you want them to believe” and I wanted to believe this was going to be my favorite film. While I loved most of the individual performances, the costumes, hair and makeup, I was sadly disappointed with the overall product.

People believe what they want to believe

People believe what they want to believe 

In a nutshell, it tries too hard to be Goodfellas, and it’s just not.  David O. Russell, you are not Martin Scorcese, please do not try to be him.  You are a great director in your own right you do not have to copy another’s very specific style of long steadycam shots and too much music of the time to tell your story.  The problem with the film was not the cast, they were wonderful.  However, the script needed tightening, as it dragged on at times, as well as the direction.  About 90 minutes into the movie, I couldn’t wait for it to be over.  I almost shed a tear I was so disappointed.

american-hustle-jlawThe individual performances is what makes this film worth seeing, if at all.  While Bradley Cooper, Christian Bale and Amy Adams are the leads, Jennifer Lawrence steals the movie in all of her scenes.  american-hustle-jennifer-lawrence-amy-adams-600x400She is definitely going to be a front-runner in the Best Supporting Actress Oscar race, if not win.  I couldn’t wait for her to come back on screen.  When watching her, remember that this girl is only 22 years old and the maturity she is able to convey is amazing.   The scene with her and Amy in the bathroom is why I love movies!  To quote Jon Stewart, “No one should be that good at anything at 22.” Plus, I loved her hair.

3022901-inline-s-1-from-perms-to-toupees-how-seventies-style-big-hair-defines-american-hustle-charactersBradley Cooper as Richie DeMaso wasn’t too shabby himself.  It was nowhere near the tour de force performance he gave in Silver Linings Playbook last year, but it is good.  He talks fast and thinks faster, which is his character’s fatal flaw.  He proves that he can hold his own with seasoned vets, Christian Bale and Amy Adams; however, his performance just does not quite warrant that nomination this year.  His scenes with Louis C.K., who plays his supervisor at the FBI, are some of the best in the movie.  And speaking of Louis C.K., his turn in a dramatic role was the surprise of the year.  Keep it coming Louis.

Amy AdamsAmy Adams, on the other hand, deserves a nomination, but probably not quite a statue.  She plays Sidney/Edith with depth and grace.  She captures the anguish of a woman in love with a married man perfectly and her struggle to figure out who’s American-Hustle-8conning who is superb.  She is such a great actress that most of her performances go unnoticed because she makes it look easy.  This film allows her to stretch her skills and lay them all out for the world to see.  However, I think Sandra or Meryl are going to best her come February.

Finally, there is Christian Bale.  Just like Amy, he is just always so good, but I do not think he will be taking home a second gold man this year.  However, his comb-over and his beer gut should get an honorable mention, mainly because I think that the secret to Donald Trump’s comb-over is finally revealed.  There is no arguing that the man transforms himself into a role, but like Amy, he is so good at it we start to overlook it.  But come February, it’s going to be a fight between Chiwetel, Matthew and possibly Leo (I’ll have more on that Christmas Day).  Christian should just be grateful to be nominated this year.

Because I have not seen all of the recently released movies, I cannot be 100% in recommending skipping this movie as I’m not sure what else is out there.  I hope to make up for that in the next few days.  What I can say is that if you go in expecting Silver Linings and an overall spectacular film, you are going to be sorely disappointed.  David O. Russell and the editors of the trailers conned us all.

American Hustle: Christian Bale, Amy Adams and Bradley Cooper walking in street

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