The Wolf of Wall Street

Bill I’s Review – 4 out of 5

Leo Dicaprio gives an unforgettable performance as Jordan Belfort, the real life broker who rose from middle class “pond scum” errand boy at LF Rothchild to create his own empire at Stratton Oakmont, a high class name where he can teach other middle class millionaire wannabees to sell shit (aka stocks) to the greedy clients who don’t know any better. In one of the best scenes of the film, in fact of any film, his mentor, played wondrously by Matthew McConaghay, schools him that the point is not to increase the clients’ wealth but to increase his wealth by pushing the clients to keep making deal after deal, thereby generating COMMISSIONS for the broker. Jordan learns fast, and jumps into penny stocks where the commissions are much more, with much more opportunity to skim. This 3 hour film takes its time in seeing how these ravenous, mostly testosterone fueled, sales folks get pysched up for the game, much like a high school football team, except this is fueled by coke and hookers (well, unlike most high school football teams). Jonah Hill is fantastic as his partner in crime. The is a Scorcese film of course, with a voiceover like Goodfellas; in fact, with a protaganist like Ray Liotta’s character in Goodfellas, who comes from the middle class to strike it rich and goes out of control with his drugs, women and most of all unstoppable lust for the game. The downfall is also fascinating, with an unforgettable, and hysterical,  scene of Jordan and Jonah taking too many qualudes and then trying to make some quick decisions. A highlight for me was the newcomer, Margot Robbie (an Aussie with a believable Long Island accent), who believably stuns Jordan when he first lays his eyes on her, and of course, sets his mind to have her as one of his prize possessions. She never falls into caricature as a one dimensional jewelry obsessed bimbo, and in some ways serves as the audience’s point of view as Jordan spirals down.

I don’t think it’s among Scorcese’s top 3 films, or maybe even top 5, but it’s fun as hell and better what most other directors can do on their best day.

PS, for a sobering insightful perspective from the daughter of one of Belfort’s cohorts, read this: http://blogs.villagevoice.com/runninscared/2013/12/an_open_letter_1.php

Bill C’s Review – 3.5 out of 5

This is great film making if not a great film.  Scorcese is fearless in the choices he makes and he gets the most out of his cast.  DiCaprio is definitely deserving of an academy award nomination and it wouldn’t surprise me if Jonah Hill gets a nomination for the second year in a row.  He’s not just a funny man, he can really act.

I read the letter in the link that Bill included and I came away with a different view then the letter writer.  I didn’t view this as glorifying Belfort and his cohorts as they came across as pretty despicable, screwed up, selfish  and sad characters (while admittedly they had a good time along the way).  As Belfort narrated the movie I guess this took more of his view of the activities and was not supposed to be a portrayal of actual events as EVERYONE at his firm  (including the women)  seemed to get caught up and approve of the debauchery going on around them (drugs, sex and throwing little people  is frowned upon where I work).

I read that the initial cut for the film was 4 hours!  Even at 3 hours this movie definitely could have been tighter and shorter.  While I didn’t need it this movie did remind me to check the RunPee app on my phone before the movie stated so I would be prepared.  I think Bill originally recommended this app and it is a worthwhile app to have.  In addition to letting you know slow parts in the movie in case you need a break  it also lets you know if you should stick around at the end of the movie due to any added scenes at the end of the credits.

Definitely not his best but definitely worth seeing if you like Scorsese.

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Here’s Margot Robbie as a service to our male readers:

Her

Bill I’s Review – 3.5 out of 5

This is a love story, between a man and ultimately his life. As we first meet Theodore (Joaquin Phoenix, in a tour de force, he’s in literally every scene),  he’s shuffling through his day-to-day blah existence, from his weirdly creative job (creating “handwritten” letters for other people) to his hotel room-like condo where he plants himself on his couch to play an interactive reality video game until he’s ready for sleep in a high rise in some not too distant future where men wear high waisted pants and almost everyone is talking on their invisible phones while they walk around. There’s no background noise, which sets an ethereal, plastic world feel, no garbage or poor people in sight,  and apparently no one watches TV or listens to the radio. Where’s Howard Stern when you need him. As it turns out, Theodore is an emotional, sensitive guy who’s having trouble getting over his split from his ex-wife and still friend, played by the lovely Rooney Mara. He ends up buying an “operating system” that is intuitive, so much so that he falls in love with her, named Samantha. Scarlett Johannson is incredibly evocative as this ultimate fantasy partner who can, and does, do everything possible to cater to his needs. (all wives should pay attention!) Kudos to a couple of small parts: Olivia Wilde plays a beautiful, charming girl Theo dates once (till she gives a hint into her obsessed psycho mind) and Kristen Wiig (I didn’t realize tlll the credits) histerically plays a sexy girl he has phone sex with. The film has an ending which I won’t give away, except to say that it doesn’t involve procreating little half human, half software beings. It captured my attention throughout, had quite a few funny moments, and ultimately delivers a message that we need to get the most out of the life we are given.

 

Lone Survivor

Bill C’s Review – 3.5 out of 5

Lone Survivor is based on the true story of a failed SEAL operation to capture or kill a Taliban leader in Afghanistan in 2005.

This is a very patriotic movie showing incredibly courageous men on a mission where things went wrong.  Probably two-thirds of the movie is devoted to the mission and the battle. This is one of the more realistic war battles filmed—not quite up there with Saving Private Ryan, but pretty good.  Even though the outcome is clear from the beginning, there is tension throughout.  The battle is grittily filmed up and down the tree-lined mountain terrain.

This film has a first-rate cast led by Mark Wahlberg and including  Emile Hirsch, Taylor Kitsch and Ben Foster.  They did spend some time  developing the characters, but could have done a bit more in that area.

If you like realistic war movies, this is a movie you should see.

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American Hustle

Bill I’s Review: 4.5 out of 5

This is a perfect movie. Not perfect technically, as it has some questionable plot points and diversions. Perfect in that it enthralled me throughout and I left the theater smiling. It’s like going to your neighborhood restaurant and experiencing a transcendent gourmet meal. You don’t expect it, since it’s a typical dish (plot about some con men, corrupt politicians and FBI sting), but the ingredients are high quality (top actors, Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Bradley Cooper, Jeremy Renner, Jennifer Lawrence, all great), the atmosphere and lighting are perfect (the music, the cinematography), the service impeccable (David O. Russell directing) and by the end you walk out realizing that everything combined so that you had the best meal (film) experience you can remember. It’s based on the Abscam sting of congressmen taking bribes, aided and trapped by the FBI, but it takes liberties so that it poses as fiction. Reminiscent of Goodfellas (the 70’s style, the voice over, the mobsters getting in and out of trouble. and of course Robert Deniro), it carries you along from scene to scene while you watch in glee as Bradley Cooper goes from obsessive love to mamma’s boy to batshit on his boss, Christian Bale as the con man with the comb-over and pot belly fast talks his marks into giving him money for nothing, Jennifer Lawrence goes from nagging wife to manipulating, drunk bombshell. It’s a comedy, one of the best of the year. I want to see it again!

Bill C’s Review – 4.5 out of 5

This is a very entertaining movie and becomes only the second movie to get a  coveted 4.5 rating from both of us.

There’s not much to add to Bill’s review.   I loved the directing of Russell and his use of music from the period (It added to the Scorsese feel of the film).  All the actors were great.  In addition to the ones Bill called out Amy Adams and Jeremy Renner were right up there with the others.

This is one you shouldn’t miss.

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Christian Bale (left) as Irving, Amy Adams as Sydney, and Bradley Cooper as Richie DiMaso make Abscam-era fireworks.

Anchorman 2 – The Legend Continues

Bill I’s Review – 3 out of 5

Where have I seen this before? Hmmm, oh yeah, Anchorman, the original. This is a sequel with the same premise, and the jokes come every 90 seconds or so like clockwork. Pretty funny throughout, but not great. Actually it has a point to make, not subtly, that at one point not too long ago (maybe in the 70’s with the first Eyewitness News in New York), the nightly news shows started assembling a formula of stories about celebrities, crime, graphics and sensationalism that pumped up ratings. Ron Burgundy embodies this anti-Cronkite figure, with his band of idiots (Steve Carell takes the cake as an over the top idiot, this time paired with his soul-mate idiotess played by Kristen Wiig, who seems to be playing one of those SNL skits that air at 12:25 am). Christina Applegate plays it straight in a thankless role, and to that end I think she’s miscast. Wouldn’t someone like Zoe Deschanel or Rebel Wilson be much better? Plot gives way to schtick with an overload of celebrity cameos popping up towards the end. Bottom line, fun film, stupid but not stupid or original enough. Suggest they retire Ron after this one.

Bill C’s Review – 3.5 out of 5

The key words in Bill’s review were: ‘fun’ and ‘stupid’.  This movie had plenty of both fun and stupidity and went way over the top at the end with the battle of the news teams.  But overall I enjoyed this a little more than I expected.

It is interesting to think of the evolution of news with 24 hour news stations (as well as twitter, etc.)  and the evolution of what and how things are covered.

For those in Austin (or any city with an Alamo Drafthouse) I definitely recommend seeing this there as they have an excellent pre-show with lots of Will Farell stuff and real news outtakes (including Sam Donaldson, Bill O’Reilly and many more).

Bill is also right this series should be retired while they still are successful.  Not only are the two movies enough, with all the exposure that Will Ferrell has gotten on various outlets as Ron Burgundy enough is enough!

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Out of the Furnace

Bill C’s Review – 2 out of 5

Out of the Furnace is a mediocre film (at best) with a really good cast. Any movie with Christian Bale, Casey Affleck, Woody Harrelson, Zoe Saldana, Sam Shepard, Willem Dafoe and Forest Whitaker should be better than this. Bale, Harrelson and Affleck were excellent and probably got this up to a mediocre rating.

The film centers around two brothers, played by Bale and Affleck. They live in a dying steel mill town and their lives are spiraling out of control. After Affleck’s character disappears,  Bale decides to take matters into his own hands and seek revenge.

This film clearly had high aspirations. I think director Scott Cooper was emulating The Godfather and going heavy on the symbolism during one sequence when he kept cutting between a deer hunting sequence and a pivotal scene for two characters. This also had a heavy Deer Hunter-feel as a story about a couple of lost souls.  But this film didn’t live up to those aspirations. I thought the movie was slow and didn’t think the plot was very good.  While most of the plot was straight-forward, the last frame of the movie (as pointed out by one of our readers) was really confusing and lacked clarity. There are many movies where ambiguous endings work, but this was not one of them.

Bottom line is if you haven’t seen this movie yet, skip it. There are a ton of other movies just opening that look a lot better.

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Best Man Holiday

Bill I’s Review – 3 out of 5

I didn’t expect much, but was pleasantly surprised. The story is straightforward, with a conventional message that friends, family and faith conquers all. What makes it worth watching is the excellent actors and occasionally outrageous scenarios. Most of the characters have a secret, or a flaw that needs to be fixed, no one is as perfect as they look, and I was tempted to not care for most of them when they act at their worst. But when the cute kids chime in with the Christmas songs in front of the decorated tree, it’s touching and the family bonds help everyone to swallow their pride and value their friends. So, not a waste of time, but careful about bringing kids under 13 to this occasionally raunchy film.

Best Man Holiday: Regina Hall and Harold Perrineau

Philomena

Bill C’s Review – 3.5 out of 5

Philomena is based on the true story of Philomena Lee (played by Judi Dench). As a Catholic in Ireland in the 1950’s, she was forced to give up her son for adoption, promise never to search for him, AND work for the church for no pay for four years. Helping her on her search is Martin Sixsmith (Steve Coogan), a former reporter and government spokesman who has recent been forced from office in a political scandal.

The film recounts her time working for the nuns and when they took her son, and fifty years later deciding once again to search for him despite the nuns’ denial of any knowledge of what happened to him.

The performances by Dench and Coogan are excellent. Besides their search, what makes the movie interesting is the interaction between the two characters. Despite the horrific things the church has done to her, Philomena still has her faith and is much more forgiving. Sixsmith take a much harsher view of their actions.

This is a well-written movie; Coogan co-wrote the script. I expected this to be a real tearjerker, but due to her faith, the humor in the script, and the bonding between the two main characters, this had a much different feel than I expected.

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PHILOMENA

The Great Beauty

Bill I’s Review – 4 out of 5

It’s surreal, there’s not much of a plot in the traditional sense, and the co-lead is a city (Rome). The cinematography is incredible, with many scenes that are pieces of art (including the closing credits, don’t rush out), and a perfect backdrop of music. There’s a message in this film, which is that there is beauty to be found in this life, and we should recognize it before it’s too late. Paolo Sorrentino is the director and writer, and he’s created an homage to Fellini. I remember seeing Roma years ago, and this film doesn’t seem to be quite such a masterpiece. The leading character, Jep, is the king of high life, with a day job as a journalist, having written a hit novel that he has never been able to duplicate. He lives in a cool apartment overlooking the Coliseum, and everyone seems to adore him, and ask him to write the next great novel. He turns 65 and has a fabulous party, but starts to reassess his sybaritic lifestyle, wondering what happened to his first (and apparently only) true love. The vignettes are extraordinary – a super high end botox parlor, a high end party (the only kind in this film) by a renowned modern art collector who forces his 10 year old daughter to perform for his guests (she splashes paint like a young Jackson Pollack on angel dust), a flock of resting flamingoes (?) that are seemingly at the beck and call of a Mother Theresa like figure. I could go on, but this is not a film that can be easily described. Don’t see it unless you are prepared to be dazzled and have the patience for 140 minutes while no one gets shot, screwed (at least on screen) or chased in a car. Oh, there’s some funny moments, of the absurd variety.