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The Wolf of Wall Street (2013)

The Wolf of Wall Street

by Steve Habrat

Just a few short weeks ago, director David O. Russell brought us American Hustle, a sexy, cool, and confident look at a bunch of leisure-suited misfits trying to obtain the good life in the amber glow of the late 1970s. Fast-forward the clocks to the late 1980s and enter legendary director Martin Scorsese with his equally sexy, cool, and confident The Wolf of Wall Street, another comical tale about a money-hungry American who will do whatever it takes to live in the lap of luxury, even if that means breaking the law to do it. At an epic three hours, The Wolf of Wall Street is a slap of energetic entertainment that finds Scorsese at his absolute raunchiest, using the true story of Jordan Belfort as his road map through sex, drugs, and, well, even more sex and drugs. The ringleader at the center of this sleazy circus is Leonardo DiCaprio, who sinks his teeth into the role of Belfort with ravenous comedic fury and an Oscar statute burning in his twinkling eyes. DiCaprio has never seemed hungrier for the award, which makes the word “Wolf” in the title very fitting. While this may be DiCaprio’s show, coming up hot on his heels is Jonah Hill, who delivers another surprising performance as Belfort’s business partner, Donnie Azoff.

The Wolf of Wall Street picks up in 1987 and introduces us to young Jordan Belfort (played by Leonardo DiCaprio), who has just been hired in as an intern at a firm run by Mark Hana (played by Matthew McConaughey). Hana takes an immediate liking to the up-and-coming Belfort, so he decides to take him under his wing and recommend that Belfort embrace a lifestyle of sex and drugs to get him through the workday. Things seem to be going smoothly under Hana, but Belfort ends up on the street after the firm closes in the wake of Black Monday. Determined to find another job, Belfort, with the help of his young wife, Teresa (played by Cristin Milioti), finds a job at Investor Center, a hole-in-the-wall business that specializes in pink slip stocks. Belfort quickly excels with this new company, making a small fortune that allows him to buy a flashy sports car and live comfortably. One day, Belfort is approached by Donnie Azoff (played by Jonah Hill), an owl-eyed salesman who is curious about what Belfort does for a living. The two strike up a fast friendship and together, they decide to open their own firm, Stratton Oakmont, which rakes in millions by using Belfort’s aggressive business tactics. The employees of Stratton Oakmont begin to embrace Belfort’s wild lifestyle, which is dominated with sex, drugs, and wild office parties, all of which catch the attention of Patrick Denham (played by Kyle Chandler), an FBI agent convinced that Belfort is up to no good. Belfort is able to keep the FBI off his back for a while, but when he starts laundering money from the company to pay for his lavish lifestyle, Denham closes in and threatens to bring down Belfort and his merry inner circle.

The Wolf of Wall Street’s main focus is Belfort’s insatiable hunger for wealth and luxury, two things he obtains very quickly. Yet Scorsese explores Belfort’s excessive lifestyle in a comical light, making it seem almost cartoonish as marching bands parade through his office, hookers sprint topless through the cubicles, businessmen snort up cocaine like vacuum cleaners, and sex parties suddenly erupt in the bathroom. And that is just the tip of the iceberg. Belfort starts his career on an honest note, refusing to sip martinis and do cocaine with Hana while the two dine on a four-star lunch that overlooks New York City. Yet you can see that Belfort is intrigued by all the flesh and powder dangled in front of him. He resists it at first, acknowledging it with a smile and a shrug of his shoulders, but after sticking a crack pipe in his mouth, he is sent into overdrive and the endless shower of money makes it impossible for him to control his debauchery. When the parties get bigger, the drugs gets stronger, the women get prettier, and the behavior gets even more reckless, The Wolf of Wall Street becomes absolutely revolting and hilarious in equal measures. One of the more shocking moments comes when the employees of Stratton Oakmont gather at a beachfront mansion for a gonzo party that culminates with a drugged and drooling Azoff coming up with the idea to approach up-and-coming show designer Steve Madden about allowing the company to sell shares of his company’s stock, Belfort meeting the beautiful Naomi Lapaglia (played by Margot Robbie), and the belligerent Azoff pleasuring himself to the gorgeous Naomi in front of the entire party.  It’s unruly and downright hilarious in its extremity, showing off just how monstrous money and power can make people.

The Wolf of Wall Street

As Belfort, DiCaprio becomes a party animal that would make Jay Gatsby blush. Once he snorts that little white line, pops the Quaalude, and downs a glass of wine, he becomes a wrecking ball that just can’t be stopped. Naturally, he develops a drinking and drug problem, at one point proclaiming that he refuses to die sober while aboard a smashing and crashing yacht. He’s wildly materialistic, chuckling at the suggestion that some of the dishes aboard his overdone yacht may get smashed in a particularly bump journey. When he isn’t busy destroying his Lamborghini, he is preoccupied with flying his helicopter home from a hookers-and-cocaine binge that results in him almost crashing the chopper into his home. When the FBI begins breathing down his neck, he contemplates bowing out of his company to avoid prison time, but in the heat of the moment, he just can’t say no to making even more money, something that he already has more than enough of. His destructive and disgusting behavior is egged on by his employees, who look at him like a pin-stripped god that has taken them all to millionaire heaven. Yet through it all, you can’t help but sort of like Belfort, even if he is a brash show-off who won’t listen to anyone. DiCaprio makes him a beam of charisma, even when he is dry humping a stewardess, laughing in the face of the law, or slithering his way out of the local country club in a daze.

As far as the rest of the cast goes, Hill never shies away from the ad-libbed humor that he has become known for. He lobs zingers as the equally excessive Azoff, a foul-mouthed salesman who is married to his cousin and who likes to party just as much as Belfort. McConaughey continues his hot streak as Hana, a fast-talking broker who demands martinis brought to him in rapid succession and who recommends that Belfort embrace a destructive lifestyle of sex and drugs to survive Wall Street. Robbie fogs up the screen as the beautiful Naomi, a goddess who loves money and nose candy just as much as Belfort does. Chandler is bullish and straightforward as Denham, the FBI agent who is convinced that Belfort may not be as squeaky clean as he likes to pretend to be. The secondary players consist of P.J. Byrne as Nicky “Rugrat” Koskoff, another close friend of Belfort who proudly wears an atrocious headpiece. The Walking Dead’s Jon Bernthal stops by as Brad Bodnick, a juiced-up drug dealer who helps Belfort sneak cash into a Swiss bank account. The Artist’s Jean Dujardin turns up as Jean-Jacques Saurel, a Swiss banker who flashes false grins at the desperate Belfort. Rob Reiner gives a snappy performance as Max Belfort, Jordan’s father who tries to keep the boys of Stratton Oakmont in check. In smaller roles, Jon Favreau stops by as Manny Riskin, a seedy lawyer hired to keep Jordan out of prison, and even filmmaker Spike Jonez pokes in as Dwayne, the geeky Investor Center manager who hires Belfort.

In true Scorsese form, The Wolf of Wall Street is a snazzy piece of filmmaking that tickles your peepers with hilarious slow-motion shots, characters talking directly to the audience, and wicked narration from Mr. DiCaprio. Given that the film clocks in at nearly three hours, you’d assume that there may be one or two places where the picture is dragging its feet, but the endless scenes of wild parties never loose their bite, humor, or their entertainment value. You just can’t wait to see what grandiose act Belfort commits next. Scorsese also keeps each and every scene as stylized as possible, making the entire experience go by in a flash. Overall, while it may not be quite as sharp as American Hustle, The Wolf of Wall Street is still a raunchy examination of a man who had everything but still demanded more, more, more. You’ll find yourself buzzed by the racy script from Terence Winter, elated performances from DiCaprio and Hill, and a stinging sense of black humor that keeps you in stitches even when it threatens to cross the line into the inappropriate. The Wolf of Wall Street is a big, shiny Christmas gift from one of the greatest American directors alive.

Grade: A

The Great Gatsby (2013)

The Great Gatsby #1

by Steve Habrat

It has been nearly five long years since we heard from the flamboyant Australian director Baz Luhrmann, the man behind such eye-popping spectacles like the contemporary kids-with-guns retelling of William Shakespeare’s Romero + Juliet, the gonzo jukebox musical Moulin Rogue!, and the historical romance Australia. Well, folks, Mr. Luhrmann has returned to a theater near you in grand fashion with the 3D epic The Great Gatsby, a heavily anticipated big budget sugar rush that is based on the classic 1925 novel by F. Scott Fitzgerald. Hype around The Great Gatsby has been building since last fall, when the shimmering and sparkling trailers crashed into theaters and promised a Christmas release for the Leonardo DiCaprio period piece. At the last second, Warner Bros. pulled the plug on the Christmas release date and pushed the film back to summer 2013 and honestly, the summer movie season is a much better fit for this slick and hip adaptation. With absolutely nothing held back, Luhrmann gives The Great Gatsby a hip-hop makeover, showers it in confetti, fires off a seemingly never-ending amount of fireworks behind it, hands it a Four Loko, and then tosses it to an audience of teenagers raised on MTV, Jay-Z, and smartphones. The result is a gyrating eye-candy romance that will absolutely appall your English teacher and have your girlfriend swooning. It is style over substance every single step of the way, allowing it to feel right at home in a sea of fizzy summer blockbusters.

The Great Gatsby tells the story of Yale graduate Nick Carraway (played by Toby Maguire), an aspiring stockbroker and writer who rents a home in West Egg, Long Island, during the summer of 1922. After settling in to his new home, Nick reconnects with his wealthy and beautiful cousin Daisy (played by Carey Mulligan) and her cigar-chomping husband Tom (played by Joel Edgerton), who attended Yale with Nick. Daisy and Tom quickly begin trying to set Nick up with vampy party-girl golfer Jordan Baker (played by Elizabeth Debicki), who seems to only show minor interest in Nick. Life seems to be going great for the young and naïve Nick, but he finds himself strangely drawn to his wealthy next-door neighbor Jay Gatsby (played by Leonardo DiCaprio), an enigmatic recluse who throws massive parties for the New York City elite yet remains unseen by his drunken guests. One day, Nick receives a personal invitation to one of Gatsby’s wild blowouts, something that is highly unusual for Mr. Gatsby. While wandering through the party, Nick comes face to face with Gatsby and the two form a fast friendship. As the two men bond, Gatsby reveals to Nick that he is in love with Daisy, who he met five years earlier and shared a brief but intense romance. Nick agrees to aid Gatsby in reconnecting with Daisy but in the process, he begins to uncover all the mystery that surrounds Jay Gatsby.

For the first hour of The Great Gatsby, Luhrmann brings new meaning to the phrase “go big or go home.” He zooms between the East and West Egg like a ten-year-old boy who had way too many Snickers candy bars and Pepsi. When he gets bored doing this, he sends his camera flying into a rapidly growing New York City, dancing from skyscraper to skyscraper while Maguire looks up, down, and all around in astonishment. Then there are the party scenes, which are sure to get your heads bobbing and feet tapping. A non-stop stream of confetti is spit out at the audience while hundreds of extras shimmy, shake, and stumble to blaring hip-hop provided by Jay-Z and Kanye West. It is all shown to you in glorious 3D, which will have you fighting the urge to leap from your seat and join the fun. Somewhere in between the spraying champagne and fireworks, there are a few attempts to develop these characters that we are supposed to be invested in, but Luhrmann seems way too wrapped up in throwing the party of the year to pay much attention to them. When it finally winds down, he decides to get serious in extended montages of Gatsby, Nick, and Daisy loosing themselves in an endless summer of high price indulgence. It’s visually intoxicating and it certainly looks romantic, but it is also incredibly exhausting.

The Great Gatsby #2

While the visuals will have you drooling, don’t forget to stop and admire the fine performances from the powerhouse cast. The style threatens to overshadow each and every one of them but they certainly hold their own when facing a mountain of CGI. DiCaprio owns the picture the second he emerges from the glittery shadows and early on, he hams it up in skinny pink suits that looks like they were provided by Gucci. His Gatsby is almost a caricature of the 1920s gentleman; grinning while referring to nearly every single person he meets as “old sport.” You could make a drinking game out of how many times he says “old sport,” although I doubt many people would be still standing by the end. As far as his burning passion is concerned, there certainly is fire in those eyes for Daisy. He attempts to impress her by dazzling her with wealth and promises of doing everything in the world together. When he needs to be tragic, he can certainly switch it on, especially in the last act of the movie. You never doubt that DiCaprio is thrilled to be reunited with his Romero + Juliet director and it is clear he is putting in 110%. A job well done, Mr. DiCaprio!

Then there is Mr. Maguire, who narrates through a raspy and fatigued tone that sounds like he was up all night chugging a bottle of whiskey with Gatsby (Someone grab him an Advil!). He is good with the role he is given but he never holds our attention like DiCaprio does. He simply sits on the sidelines, making observations about all the wild party animals around him. Mulligan is a breathy sunbeam as Daisy, who is caught between two warring millionaires pulling her in two separate directions. Mulligan is naturally talented, but her character never receives the development that it truly deserves which is an absolute waste. Edgerton gives DiCaprio a run for his money as the scowling Tom, who is constantly chomping down on a fat stogie and chasing every pretty girl he lays eyes on. He shares a war of words and wealth with DiCaprio in one of the film’s most intense sequences. Debicki is slinky and sexy as the gossiping golfer Jordan, who loves a big party because they are more intimate than a smaller gathering. Also keep an eye out for small but sharp appearances from Jason Clarke as gas station attendant George Wilson, who becomes a ball of fury in the last act of the film, and Ilsa Fisher as his unfaith sexpot wife, Myrtle, who jets off with Tom to seedy hotel rooms in New York City.

The real problem with Luhrmann’s adaptation of The Great Gatsby is that it is all about panache. There is obsessive detail in the sets, the CGI is mindblowing, and the musical playlist will have audience members rushing home to purchase the soundtrack off iTunes, but this compromises substance. Sure, the idea of love lost and love found again is enticing but it just becomes a whiskey-fueled game of tug of war that conveniently ends with tragedy. To make it worse, it feels tacked on with a heavy sigh from the filmmakers, who clearly would rather be hanging out with scantily clad flappers lip-synching to Beyoncé. But, what else would you expect from someone like Luhrmann? Overall, it may be the nightmare of English teachers everywhere and it definitely rings hollow, but The Great Gatsby is a giddy parade of excess led by a cast and crew clearly having the time of their lives, all while Warner Bros. flits the bill. You’ll certainly get your money’s worth of visuals, but you won’t be moved in the slightest.

Grade: B-

Anti-Film School Recommends This Film…

Django Unchained (2012)

Django Unchained

Hey readers,

After what felt like an eternity (just slightly under four months, actually), Quentin Tarantino’s masterpiece Django Unchained is finally available on Blu-ray and DVD. If you didn’t see my Top 10 Films of 2012 list, then you didn’t know that this ultra-violent and ultra-entertaining spaghetti western was my pick for the best film of last year. Funny, action packed, stunningly well-written, and unflinching, Django Unchained also features some of the best performances from last year (wait until you see Christoph Waltz and Leonardo DiCaprio). The Blu-ray isn’t particularly bursting with features, however, there is a documentary called Reimagining the Spaghetti Western: The Horses & Stunts of Django Unchained, a look at the costume designs from Sharen Davis, and a feature called Remembering J. Michael Riva: The Production Design of Django Unchained. If you’re a fan of cinema or a Tarantino nut, you might want to high tail it over to Best Buy to pick up their special edition that comes in some nifty packaging that will look mighty cool next to your Tarantino XX collection. So, if you wish to read the Anti-Film School review of Django Unchained, click here, and if you’re curious why I picked it as the best film of 2012, click here.

-Theater Management (Steve)

Django Unchained Blu Ray

Django Unchained (2012)

Django Unchained (2012)

by Steve Habrat

For years, Quentin Tarantino has been hinting that he wanted to make a spaghetti western. He constantly gushes about Sergio Leone’s classic epic The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly (it’s his favorite film) and he even nabbed a bit part as a Clint Eastwood type gunslinger in Takashi Miike’s tepid Sukiyaki Western Django. We knew his take on the gritty western was coming but we didn’t know exactly when. Well, that long rumored epic he has been hinting at is finally here and I must say, I think Mr. Tarantino has outdone himself and delivered one of the finest films of 2012. Red hot with controversy (the N-word is used A LOT), Django Unchained is a firecracker of a film that finds the talkative director at his wildest and craziest. For years, audiences have been split over his kung-fu/spaghetti western mash-up Kill Bill, some saying he flew too wildly off the rails (I hear many describe it as “weird”) while others smack their lips at the cartoonish carnage. Me, I was all for a Tarantino western and I couldn’t be happier with the results. Yes, Django Unchained is a difficult pill to swallow with its harsh look at slavery but remember that this is Tarantino’s version of history and that alone should tell you everything you need to know about the film. Django Unchained is ultimately a valentine to a genre that Tarantino adores, which makes it easy to forgive some of the edgier moments of this masterpiece. I would go so far to say this is Tarantino’s strongest film and the one that seems to be the most alive with the spirit of 70s exploitation cinema. Maybe this should have been the film he made for his portion of Grindhouse.

Set two years before the Civil War, Django Unchained begins on a cold Texas night with a group of recently purchased slaves being transported through the countryside by the Speck brothers. As the group shuffles through the night, they are approached by Dr. King Schultz (Played by Christoph Waltz), a German dentist turned bounty hunter who is looking for a specific slave named Django (Played by Jamie Foxx). Schultz is hunting for a trio of deadly gunslingers known as the Brittle brothers and Django is the only one that can identify them. Schultz and Django make a deal that if Django takes Schultz to the Brittle brothers, he will help Django locate his long lost wife, Broomhilda (Played by Kerry Washington), who has been sold to a sadistic plantation owner named Calvin Candie (Played by Leonardo DiCaprio). As Schultz and Django bond, Schultz realizes that Django has a talent for the bounty hunting business and he begins showing him the ropes. The two form a deadly alliance that sends them to Mississippi, where they begin devising a way to infiltrate Candieland, Candie’s ranch that is protected by his own personal army and houses brutal Mandingo fights.

Just shy of three hours, Django Unchained covers quite a bit of ground during its epic runtime. It is jam packed with Tarantino’s beloved conversations, something that he knows he is good at and just can’t resist. The conversations are as fun as ever, but sometimes Django Unchained is just a little too talky for a spaghetti western. It is just odd to me that Tarantino would be making a tribute to spaghetti westerns and then never shut his characters up (For the love of God, his favorite movie is The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly!). I would expect someone like Tarantino to know that the gunslingers from Sergio Corbucci’s west sized each other up through razor sharp stares and not through constant chatter. No worries though, as I am sure that most audience members won’t pick up on this so it doesn’t really damage the overall product. Despite this minor nuisance, if you are a fan of westerns or exploitation cinema, you will be bouncing off the walls with delight. Tarantino zooms his camera in and out of action suddenly (it is hilarious every single time), getting right in a characters face or zooming out suddenly from a close up to reveal a jaw dropping landscape behind them. He laces his film with tunes from Ennio Morricone and Riz Ortolani, two instantly recognizable names if you’re up and up on your Italian westerns and cannibal films from the 60s into the 80s. When the gore hits, it is cranked up to the max. The blood often looks like the red candle wax goop that poured from gunshot wounds or zombie bites in the 70s. Hell, even Franco Nero, the original Django from the 1966 film (if you’ve never seen the original Django, you might want to get on that), shows up for a brief cameo! Are you exploitation nuts sold yet?

Django Unchained (2012)

Considering this is Tarantino’s show, the performances are all top notch and instant classics. I was a little worried about Foxx starring as our main gunslinger Django but he is on fire here. He channels Eastwood and Nero’s silent heroes like you wouldn’t believe while also adding a layer of quivering mad sass to the character (Get a load of the delivery of “I LIKE THE WAY YOU DIE, BOY!”). I loved it every time Tarantino would zoom in to give us a close up of his scowling mug as it chewed on a smoke through tangled whiskers. He wins our hearts through his heartbroken stare and his determination to get poor Broomhilda back from Candie’s clutches. He instantly clicks with Waltz’s Schultz, a devilishly funny and clever bounty hunter who packs a mean handshake and can talk himself out of any situation. Waltz brings that irresistible charm that he brought to Inglourious Basterds and settles into the character quite nicely, a cartoonish cowboy who nabs all the best dialogue. When Foxx and Waltz are on screen together, the chemistry between them unbelievable. One is strong and silent, a pupil who is eager to learn and win back his life while the other is chatterbox joker who is deadlier than anyone could imagine. They alone will lure back for seconds.

As far as the rest of the cast goes, DiCaprio practically steals the film away from Foxx and Waltz as the bloodthirsty Calvin Candie. He is sweet as sugar one minute and the next, he is ordering his men to feed a terrified runaway slave to a pack of hungry dogs. You won’t fully appreciate the power of his performance until you get to the dinner sequence, which finds tensions rising to the point where Candie snaps and cuts his hand on a champagne glass. I honestly think he will earn an Oscar nomination for the hellish turn. Then we have Samuel L. Jackson as Stephen, an elderly house slave that spews more profanity than his character in Pulp Fiction. Along with Waltz, Jackson gets to deliver the feisty lines of dialogue and you can tell he loves every second of it. He disappears in the role to the point where you can’t even tell it is him. The role also serves as a reminder of just how good an actor Jackson truly is. Washington gives a slight and sensitive performance as Broomhilda, Django’s tormented wife. Keep your eyes peeled for an extended cameo from Don Johnson as Big Daddy, another wicked plantation owner who leads a bumbling early version of the Ku Klux Klan. Also on board are Michael Parks, Tom Savini, Jonah Hill, Bruce Dern, Franco Nero, and Tarantino himself, all ready to grab a chuckle from those who will recognize them.

As someone who has been a fan of Tarantino’s work for years, I have to say that I firmly believe that Django Unchained is his best film yet. It is unflinching with how it handles slavery while also staying shockingly lighthearted at the same time. It packs a gunfight that features more blood, guts, and gore than anything he threw at us in Grindhouse and it manages to tell a touching buddy story that creeps up on your emotions. I just wish Tarantino would have paid the extra dough and digitally scratched the film to make it feel even more like an authentic exploitation film. Overall, Tarantino proves that there is still some life left in the western genre and he gives it a massive shake up by fusing it to the blaxploitation genre. It may not be historically accurate but Tarantino has the good sense not to sugarcoat this dark chapter of American history. There are some tough moments but he never shies away from having fun and slapping a big smile right on your face. Long live Django and long live the spaghetti western. Django Unchained is one of the best films of 2012.

Grade: A+

Feature: Steve’s 5 Most Anticipated Movies of 2012

It’s going to be a huge year at the movies, folks. If the world is really ending in December, Hollywood is going out (hopefully) strong with an A-list year. I will be like a kid in a candy store and my inner fanboy will be going crazy. Here are the five films I absolutely cannot wait to see in 2012. These are the films I will sacrifice sleep and my other job to see. I will be in line at midnight for these movies and that, my dear readers, is a promise.

 

5.) Skyfall

Let’s be honest here, the last Bond film was, well, meh. Quatum of Solace felt like heated up leftovers that should have been part of Casino Royale rather than their own stand alone film. Enter moody director Sam Mendes (American Beauty), Javier Bardem as a villain, and Bond going up a much more personal threat and you have the makings for what sounds like a seriously cool Bond flick. Oh, and Miss Moneypenny and Q are most likely in it. Truth is, Daniel Craig is my favorite Bond actor and I love the grittier take on the classic character (It is actually the truest interpretation of Bond (FYI.). I’m crossing my fingers for a car chase that is as cool as what opened Quantum of Solace (It was also the best part of that forgettable film) and a cutthroat swagger that Casino Royale possessed. Bring on more Bond!

 

 

4.) The Amazing Spider-Man

Yes, it does feel a bit early for a reboot of the webslinger but I know you were let down by Spider-Man 3 too. Still a touchy subject? I thought so. Going the darker route (At least that first teaser was pretty grim looking), I’m curious to see what director Marc Webb (500 Days of Summer) does with the source material, as the ominous new poster boasts this will tell “The Untold Story”. Hmmm well I think Raimi covered most of it in his origin tale Spider-Man. With the revelation that is Andrew Garfield (The Social Network) taking over as the friendly neighborhood Spider-Man, the It-Girl of the moment Emma Stone as Gwen Stacy, and Rhys Ifans as new baddie The Lizard, this should shape up to be a truly unique vision of Spidey. With tighter jeans and maybe The Smith’s on the soundtrack.

 

 

3.) Django Unchained

Quentin Tarantino is FINALLY making an all out spaghetti western and it should be nothing more than talky and awesome. What is sure to be drenched in gruesome violence, Tarantino loves this movement in westerns and I’m positive he will do it sweaty and squinty-eyed justice. Rumored to be loosely based on the classic Franco Nero and Sergio Corbucci western where the hero drags a Gatling gun around with him in a coffin, I’m sure Tarantino will do one better and up the ante to absolutely extreme. Boasting a cast that includes Leonardo DiCaprio, Jamie Foxx, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Samuel L. Jackson, Christoph Waltz, RZA, Sacha Baron Cohen, Kurt Russell, Don Johnson, and Tom Savini, this thing will go down as a cult legend.

 

 

2.) The Avengers

I was lucky enough to see some of the sets and filming for this superhero mash-up in downtown Cleveland and I have to say, this will be extremely impressive. Oh, and have you seen the first trailer for it? There should be plenty of shit-talking to each other (Iron Man and The Hulk are rumored to verbally spar. Captain America also appears to get a few jabs at Iron Man), epic science fiction action, and globe trotting awesomeness, The Avengers will be shape up to be the only worthy challenger to my number one pick on this list. Shrouded in secrecy (I was lucky enough to get to see what appeared to be some sort of UFO crashed in the middle of a Cleveland street) and sure to satisfy the ultimate fanboys, this will be a must see just for the towering premise (Thor, Captain America, Iron Man, and The Hulk all in the same movie. Woah!). I will be sporting my Captain America tee while I get in line for this about two days early.

 

 

1.) The Dark Knight Rises

Being a HUGE Batman fan, how could this not be my most anticipated film of the year? For all the nitpicking I hear (We can’t understand Bane! Catwoman looks lame!), my response is go see the Prologue that is now in theaters along with Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol. It will blow your mind with the epic scope and bone shattering action. And Bane isn’t that hard to understand, he just sounds like an even more demented German Darth Vader (Wrap your head around that!). Nolan has promised this will be the final installment in this franchise so I’m sure we are in for a showdown for the ages. If you haven’t seen the badass new trailer that is playing before Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows, you are missing out and are probably the only human alive to have not seen it. Based on everything we have seen, this looks to be even more haunting, darker, vicious, and destructive than 2008’s The Dark Knight, . The Hobbit may make a slight dent and The Avengers will take swipes, but this will be, without question, the biggest film of the year. I promise you that. Strap yourself in; things will go from epic to out of this world in The Dark Knight Rises.

J. Edgar (2011)

by Steve Habrat

With Oscar season comes the unavoidable biography picture, one that zooms in on a controversial figure in history, a figure that is loathed by many and loved by few or vice versa. This year, just less than two weeks in and we have Hollywood icon Clint Eastwood’s J. Edgar, which plops Oscar season veteran Leonardo DiCaprio in the title role as the ornery innovator/director of the F.B.I. The film boasts an all-star cast of A-list actors and actresses in the forms of Judi Dench, The Social Network’s Armie Hammer, and Naomi Watts, all firing on all cylinders and producing performances that match their A-list status. Sounds promising, right? Sadly, J. Edgar is a inconsistent, spotty, and finicky portrait, a film that is inebriated with facade and reckless with its emaciated narrative. Nothing really drives this film, slowly revealing that it has nothing to move it and worse, it instructs the viewer on how they should feel about a man who rose to be one of the most powerful individuals in American history. There is nothing that remains open-ended, nothing that allows me to form my own opinion on J. Edgar Hoover. An icon like Eastwood, who sits behind the camera here, should really know better.

J. Edgar is a film more interested with trivia, minuscule factoids about a multifarious man who was a mama’s boy, closeted homosexual, scheming brute, and devious manipulator. Hoover would stop at nothing to dig up dirt on everyone around him, leaving him with more skeptical enemies than close pals. The film begins with Hoover’s twilight years, all saggy cheeks, furrowed brow, and DiCaprio in the best looking elderly make-up the film has to offer. The reflective innovator is dictating his memoirs in the final years of his life, recalling his early years, awkward dates that lead to alliances, his formation of the Bureau of Investigation, his interactions with his loving mother Annie (Played by Judi Dench), his battle to create the finger print system, his first big case that involves a kidnapping, and more. The film also tracks the hiring of his loyal secretary, Helen Gandy (Played by Naomi Watts), and his number two man Clyde Tolson (Played by Armie Hammer), both who remained by his side until the end.

For a project that was whispered about for the past several years and the hype that built during the making of it, you would have thought that someone that was a part of the crew would have realized that the film lacks structure. It jumps all over the place, painfully lacking a driving storyline. It’s practically overflowing with moments rather than arching story. It feels as though Eastwood crammed as much as he could to the point where J. Edgar feels like it is about to burst at the seams. There is some fat that could have been trimmed from this bird, which also could have made the murky story a little less vague. I applaud screenwriter Dustin Lance Black’s sharp dialogue and piercingly emotional personal moments, but when it shifts over to the technicalities, it stalls out violently, leaving the viewer squinting at the screen and asking, “What is going on?” or worse, “Who is this character?”. It has a burning desire to be an epic character study but falls victim to being too all over the board. It needed to narrow down its focus.

The other element working against J. Edgar is the enigmatic lighting scheme it has, which casts every single scene in heavy shadows to the point where it is impossible to catch a glimpse of an emotional reaction from the characters. At first I figured it was meant as an ode to the old film noir pictures and cast an old school ambiance over the film, but it is so frustratingly distracting that it pulls us out of Hoover’s stories. It was hell on my eyes. Why Eastwood settled on this specific choice I will never know. The make-up department also worked hard to make sure J. Edgar was a dud, placing Hammer’s Mr. Tolson in what appears to be the elderly man mask worn by Johnny Knoxville in Jackass. I can’t fathom why his make-up was approved, as it too is distractingly poor. An audience member in my showing actually exclaimed “IT LOOKS SO FAKE!” I couldn’t agree with you more Miss. Moviegoer. The rest of the art direction is superb, gloriously meticulous when it comes to detail, which makes me angry that the lighting was so awful and the make-up so artificial. Mr. Tolson looks like someone who aged badly after one too many plastic surgeries.

The acting carries J. Edgar over the finish line, giving it some Oscar potential in the acting department (We know it will be laughed at in the make-up department). This film captures DiCaprio at his absolute finest. He completely disappears into Hoover, regurgitating a miserable coot that trusts no one. He is a delusional grump who takes his anger and frustration out on those around him. If he is embarrassed by his agents in any way or shown any disrespect, he punishes by termination of their job. The only affection he shows is for his mother. Watts does a good job with the bit part she has here. She mostly fills the background but it’s always nice to see her. Hammer’s Mr. Tolson is a fascinating chap, one who loyally trails Hoover with wide-eyed wonder, always offering up his own approval of whatever Hoover does. I found myself rooting for him in the romance department, but ultimately Hoover shoots him down. It’s implied that Hoover was disgusted with his own homosexuality. I will give Hammer credit for forcing out some loving support for Hoover, even if he is hidden behind some of the worst make-up work I have seen in a major motion picture. Eastwood, Hammer deserved better than that!

My major beef with J. Edgar is it never let me sculpt my own judgment on the grimacing Hoover. He was a man set to destroy but without a real target. It’s well known he was a glum individual and Eastwood rubs our faces in it as if we were ignorant to this fact. You are practically forced at gunpoint to dislike him. Most of the time, Hoover is plotting who he is going to ruin next, be it Martin Luther King, Jr. or John F. Kennedy. The film does however let you form your own opinion on why he was miserable. Hoover himself suggests that it is because none of the men beneath him look up to him. Hoover was always looking down on them, brandishing his power right in there face. They probably didn’t dare look up because they would have their career destroyed. There is the slight implication that he wanted to be viewed as a superhero, one who was always swooping in and getting the bad guy. The invisible theory thread throughout J. Edgar is that he was living too many lies, which is the theory I side with in this debate.  He would never admit that he could sometimes be a fraud, both in the admitting of his sexuality or his cowardly tendencies. He wore a mask of overconfidence. At least his mask was more convincing than any given mask in J. Edgar.

Grade: B

Must-See Holiday Season Movie…GO!

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