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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.

Birdman-05

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

Matthew McConnaughey lost 38 lbs. to play Ron Woodroof, a Texas man who contracts AIDS in 1985 from having unprotected heterosexual sex.  He worked so hard to lose the weight, so the very least you can do is drop $10 to see the results.  Luckily, you will get to see more than Matthew’s weight loss, you will see a moving film that you will lose yourself in for 2 hours.

An Oscarworthy Transformation

An Oscarworthy Transformation

Matthew embodies Ron in the way Daniel Day-Lewis embodies Lincoln, and every other character he portrays.  You are watching Ron Woodroof, you do not know, nor do you care what actor you are watching.  I seriously forgot it was Matthew – There were no “All right, all right, all right, all right” or “Just keep livin'” uttered during the entire film, and it was refreshing.  And I’m going to call it now, Matthew should win his Oscar.  With his recent body of work, Killer Joe, The Paperboy, Magic Mike (yes, the movie blew, but Matthew’s performance was outstanding), Mud, Dallas Buyers Club only solidifies his acting chops.  I can forgive him for veering off his path to make rom coms and rake in the cash for the last 10 years.  You would do the same thing if Hollywood was beating down your door and paying you millions to smile, be charming and take your shirt off – don’t deny it.  However, that time has passed and now its time the man shows us what he can really do.

The film stands up against Big Pharma and homophobia and it is glorious on both fronts.  We are introduced to Woodroof as a homophobic, white trash oil field electrician who sells drugs and gambles (badly) at the local rodeos.  He rents $100 hookers, drinks too much Jack, snorts too much coke and has a nagging cough that he just can’t shake. After an accidental electrocution at work, Woodroof wakes up at Dallas Mercy Hospital where he is quickly told that he has a T cell count of 9 and has 30 days to live.  And as you have heard in the preview “There ain’t nothin out there that can kill Ron Woodroof in 30 days!”

The real Ron Woodroof in the Dallas Buyers Club office

The real Ron Woodroof in the Dallas Buyers Club office

Film-Toronto PreviewIn 1985, AZT was the only drug American doctors were using to treat HIV and AIDS.  It was an experimental treatment at that time so every patient could not get it and the doses that were being prescribed at that time killed every cell in one’s body rather than just the infected cells.  Ron survives that first 30 days, but barely, and winds up in Mexico seeking alternate therapies.  There he meets an unlicensed doctor who tells him how the rest of the world is treating HIV and AIDS with vitamins, minerals, proteins and other drugs.  Unemployed and dying, Woodroof takes the pills back to the United States, tries to quell his homophobia, and starts to sell the vitamin/mineral/protein cocktails to other AIDS patients in Dallas.

article-0-1B7CC480000005DC-56_634x330Enter Jared Leto as Rayon, a transsexual who Woodroof meets at the hospital during one of his initial stays.  Woodroof shuns Rayon at first, but then enlists her help to find patients to buy his alternative drugs.  The two form a business partnership and a friendship that touches the heart.  I don’t want to spoil anything, but the scene in the grocery store moved me to tears.  And as much as I think Jared Leto appears to be a douchebag in real life, his performance cannot be denied.  jared-leto-skinny-dallas-buyers-clubIf he only wants to act every 6 or 7 years and gives performances like this one, I guess I’m okay with that.  He, too, lost a significant amount of weight for his role, 30 pounds, and flirted with the director, Jean-Marc Valles during a Skype audition to land the role.  He fell in love with the character and lived as Rayon throughout filming.  This pains me to type this, but I think his performance is better than Michael Fassbender’s in 12 Years a Slave so I am giving the edge for Best Supporting Actor to Jared; however, my vote and support will still go to Michael.

As free-wheeling and careless as Ron is in the beginning, he focuses that energy on alternative therapies and travels the world to obtain them and bring them back to the United States.  Along the way, he battles doctors at Dallas Mercy and eventually the FDA.  By treating himself and fighting Big Pharma all the way, Woodroof survives 2,557 days after his initial diagnosis, that is 2,527 days longer than doctors prescribing him AZT predicted he would live.DALLAS-BUYERS-CLUB

This is one man’s journey, friendship and slice of history that is worth your 2 hours and $10.  Due to medical advances and breakthroughs in the treatment of HIV and AIDS, this disease tends to fall through the cracks anymore and the plight of those who contracted it in the 1980s is forgotten.  This film helps keep that memory and fight alive and may just inspire you to Dare to Live!

Check out this interview with the Mathew and Jared…

Steve McQueen did it again, and again, he does not make it easy for the audience.  He takes you on an emotional, gut-wrenching journey that you will not soon forget.  Actually, let me rephrase that, Steve McQueen and Michael Fassbender did it again.  I honestly think that this pair can do no wrong.  They are filmmaking gold.  Their previous efforts, Hunger and Shame,  have been ignored by the Academy and the mainstream public, but not this time.12_Years_A_Slave_36651

If you know me or follow this blog, you may have picked up on my softspot for all things Michael Fassbender; however, I can assure you that this film stands on its own regardless of my personal bias.

Twelve_Years_a_Slave.225x225-75We begin our journey in 1841, in Saratoga, New York, with Solomon Northup, and his family.  Solomon is a musician, and more importantly, a free man.  When his wife and children leave for 3 weeks for a cooking job, Solomon is introduced to 2 fellow musicians/artists, Brown and Hamilton, who ask him to accompany them on a 2 week journey to Washington D.C. to play music.  The offer sounds too good to be true, and after a week of living the good life and one particularly boozy night, Solomon wakes up in chains and his nightmare begins.

If you are expecting Django Unchained, you are going to be sorely disappointed.  McQueen does not sugarcoat it and immediately shows us the brutalities of slavery with Solomon’s first beating.  It makes you flinch and it’s not easy to watch.  Then, in what has become a McQueen trademark, unsexy, full frontal male twelve-years-a-slave03-thumb-630xauto-41996nudity (and it’s not Michael Fassbender, in case you are wondering).  Solomon is promptly shipped to Louisiana on a river boat where upon docking he is purchased by lsave trader, Freeman (an all to brief Paul Giamatti), and informed he will now be known as Platt.  Platt is quickly purchased by Ford (an underutilized Benedict Cumberbatch), a benevolent and conflicted slave owner.  Ford has slaves as that is the custom, but you can see he has a moral struggle with his crimes against humanity.  However, he is not strong enough to even stand up to his head carpenter, Tibeats, (the always creepy Paul Dano), let alone the social structure.12-Years-A-Slave (1)

When Solomon stands up for himself against Tibeats, Ford does the best he can for the man he is.  He fires Tibeats, but still trades Ford to malevolent cotton plantation owner, Edwin Epps (the man who needs no introduction, Michael Fassbender).  As Solomon was not a DF-03057.CR2 DF-03057.CR2laborer by trade, he finds that picking cotton is not his forte.  Thus, like all of Epps’ underperforming slaves, he is routinely whipped at the end of his shift.  If daily whippings were not cruel enough, Epps subjects his slaves to his drunken whims and makes them dance for him and his wife in the middle of the night.  Throw in Epps’ penchant for young black slaves, a wife that enjoys her own form of brutality against the female slaves and it makes for a maniacally crazy, brutal way of life.  Epps has his own demons, alcohol and his wife, but it is the relationship with his wife that partly fuels his brutality.  Michael Fassbender is brilliant – I know I use this phrase too much, but he plays Epps with just the right amount of crazy, never crossing the line making him the stock, slave owner villain.   He deserves the nomination and he keeps his clothes on, so just give it to him Academy!   Plus, Michael Fassbender walking around in a nightshirt in the middle of the day was a highlight.  But then again, I have a thing for ginger-bearded men!

It is only when he meets Canadian carpenter, Bass (a very Amish looking Brad Pitt who financed this movie because he wanted to work with McQueen so much), who is confident enough to debate the intricacies of brad-pitt-12-years-a-slave-trailer-watch-nowslavery and the issues presented when people are viewed as property with Epps, that he feels safe enough to tell his story and admit he is an educated man.  He asks Bass to write letters to his friends in Saratoga and let them know what happened to him 12 years ago.  Bass admits that this request makes him fear for both his and Solomon’s life, but agrees to do it anyway.  Shortly thereafter, the local Sheriff appears with Solomon’s free man papers.  Solomon’s horrendous journey is finally over.  We learn that when he returned to Saratoga, Solomon did not rest on his laurels, but attempted to prosecute the men who kidnapped him and those who held him captive in Washington, D.C.  He then continued to speak out against slavery in the North and worked with the Underground Railroad to free his brethren.

Chiwetel-Ejiofor-12-Years-A-SlaveChiwetel Ejiofor truly does give an Oscar winning performance.  He reaches down to the depths of his soul and honors Solomon.  This is not a story about a slave that stood up for himself and started a revolution, this is the story of a man’s struggle to survive.  Although early on, he tells a fellow kidnapped man that he does not want to survive, he wants to live, he soon realizes survival is essential and sometimes it is ruthless.  My favorite line of the film is when Solomon tells fellow kidnappee, Eliza, a high society slave from Washington D.C. who was separated from her children, “If you let yourself be overcome by sorrow, you will drown in it.”  Thus, Solomon keeps his head low and survives.  You may not always agree with his choices, but neither does he and Ejiofor shows us this.  You feel it with him.

images (6)Surprisingly, I did find one flaw with the film.  The score was almost identical to Shame and the funny thing is that the movies were scored by two different men.  Harry Escott scored Shame, while Hans Zimmer worked on the current film.  The music was so similar I was sure it was Harry Escott, but when I looked further into it, I found out I was wrong.  I am such a fan of Shame, that the music kept taking me back to Brandon on his sex benders, and my mind would stray from Solomon’s moment.  Also, McQueen used the same technique he did at the climax of Shame, where he mutes the extraneous sounds and allows only the score to play with a close up on the main character.  Too soon Steve, too soon.  You did this in your last movie, you can’t do it in every one!  Just a note though dear readers, I listen to the Shame soundtrack endlessly, especially, when I work, so this probably bothered me more than it will the average viewer.

 

I could go on and on about this film, but I will stop now and let you get on with the rest of your day.  The word brilliant is the only word that keeps popping into my head when thinking about how to describe this film.  Ejiofor reaches into his soul and it will touch yours.  You will leave this movie feeling something, whether it is disturbed, guilty, or just happy to have been able to view this work of art, something will have been moved inside of you.  This film is pure McQueen.  I cannot wait to see what this man does next and more importantly, I cannot wait to watch when all of the accolades are heaped upon him and all involved in this masterpiece!12-years-a-slave (2)

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