Posts Tagged ‘film’

Actually, the real title is: “Is Violence in Movies Okay as Long as it Involves Good Guys like Soldiers, Superheroes, cops, etc.?” 

You can see why I decided to keep cut it down to a couple of words. When I was a kid, I lived on Saving Private Ryan, Band of Brothers, and Black Hawk Down. The only other movies I watched beside those involved dinosaurs. (Land Before Time and Jurassic Park marathon, anyone?) However, I wasn’t allowed to watch movies with gangsters until I was much older. When I was allowed to watch those types of movies, I was accompanied by my parents, and that too had a price to pay: a long lecture on why I shouldn’t be a criminal entitled, “Crime Doesn’t Pay.”

Why? Any ideas of mine to become a gangster or a con man were squashed whenever I watched movies like the Godfather, Goodfellas, or shows like the Sopranos or Breaking Bad. They are the single greatest testaments of why you shouldn’t become a criminal. Michael’s descent into the darkness after he is forced to take over the family business is reason enough for anyone to go “straight”. You can see it in his anguished reaction when his pregnant wife is killed. You can see it in the haunted stare he gives his wife in the closing scene.

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It sends a clear message. “You may have a mansion, but are you really ready to deal with losing everything you hold dear?” I have watched the Godfather over a dozen times, and I still ask myself that same question after each viewing. This question is also asked in Tv shows. In the past decade, we’ve experienced a growth in ‘prestige television’. The Birth of the Antihero technically began over fifty years ago with Alfred Hitchcock Presents, wherein he regularly made ‘good people’ do bad things. There was an episode called ‘Revenge’ where a woman is raped (implied, of course. This was the 50’s. Everything was implied), and when she and her husband are driving, she spots the rapist walking down the street. Her husband pulls over, and they kill him. They get back in the car, and drive away. A few minutes later, she points again, and says she’s spotted her rapist. 

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In that single episode of an anthology suspense series in the 50’s, it approached the subject of rape, psychological trauma, vigilantism, and of course, revenge. So, as you can see, we’ve had morally ambiguous characters for a very long time. I remember watching the Sopranos for the first time. My Dad was worried that I might resort to a life of crime because of it, but I simply kept asking myself the same question I asked during Godfather.

The thing that makes the Sopranos so addicting and visceral to watch is the fact that I would never do anything like it, and the realization that Tony Soprano never thought he was capable of doing it either. He’s unhappy with his family, his work, and more importantly, himself. There is a scene where Christopher (his nephew) talks about his trauma after killing someone, and Tony oh-so-subtly asks him if he ever feels depressed. His sideway glance at him says: “Did I do this?”

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Why is it okay for thousands to die in superhero movies (the best example right now is Man of Steel. I assumed by all the screaming and falling buildings that a couple thousand died there), but it’s deemed immoral for a gangster to kill a few people in a movie? Why are children allowed to watch Captain America kill hundreds with barely any effort (as long as there’s parental guidance), but watching Al Pacino shoot the man who tried to kill his Dad and a corrupt cop not allowed? Of course, there’s also a matter of sexual content in some of these movies, and also the amount of swearing. For years, Goodfellas had the most curses in film history. I think Django Unchained got the crown in 2012, but Scorsese stole it back with Wolf of Wall Street. 

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I hope someday there will be a PG-13 movie centered around a gangster. I’m not saying it’ll be any good, but the idea behind it will be more than enough. In Captain America: The Winter Soldier (my favorite superhero movie, by the way), no one talks about how Steve Rogers is a cold-blooded killer. It’s mentioned here and there, but our thoughts don’t dwell on the number of men he casually kills. Why? Because they’re bad, and he’s a superhero. 

I’m not asking Marvel to pull a DC, and force Chris Hemsworth to talk like someone kicked him in the throat over a dozen times. (In the eternal Marvel vs. DC debate, I’m with Marvel all the way.) I just think it would be interesting if people took a look at what they’re already allowed to get away with in PG-13 movies, and took it to a different level. There was talk about a Deadpool movie, and how it would be impossible to do a PG-13 version. I think they’re right, but if it’s acceptable to show a dinosaur munching on some random guy, why isn’t it acceptable to show a morally ambiguous character doing morally ambiguous things? (“How ambiguous!” the posters say.)

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In the first Hunger Games movie, they used shaky cam a lot to avoid getting slammed with an R-16 rating because of images portraying children killing other children. Ya know, usual PG-13 stuff. Why can’t we do that? I hate shaky cam, but it’s obviously possible to show that kind of stuff, so why hasn’t anyone tried it? As an experiment, it doesn’t have to be big budget. 

Here’s where the big divide between mainstream films and indie films come in. There seems to be this unspoken rule in indie films that they need  to have mature content. It’s as if the director and writer wants to make sure the viewer knows they’re watching an indie movie. “Okay, let’s show them changing clothes here, and talking about killing their estranged father. They’ll never mistake us for the new Avengers movie now!” 

Indie movies are supposed to be showing you something new and different from mainstream movies, but more and more mainstream movies are adopting an “indie” feel. The Wolf of Wall Street is a mainstream film based on its HUGE budget alone. But, its mature subject matter, morally ambiguous main character, and… well, everything in it shouldn’t be allowed. At this point, if indie movies truly want to be different, they should try a PG-13 movie with a hitman as a main character. It could be a failure, but indie movies are already risking a flop every time. It’s strange how they’ve fallen into their own little pattern, or their own safety net. I sometimes feel like you could take ten indie films, switch the actors and titles, and it’d still be the same. 

I grew up watching Saving Private Ryan. I wasn’t mature enough to understand a lot of the things in it, but the images have remained with me after ten years. I despise the idea of war because of it. I understand its necessity in certain situations, but as much as possible, I would avoid war like the plague. Because it is a plague. 

I think it’s time for people to understand that kids aren’t as impressionable as people think they are. I haven’t heard of a thousand kids jumping off skyscrapers to imitate Thor or Superman, so I think they’re smart enough not to copy Tony Montana in Scarface. 

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~Jian

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Non-Stop is misleading, just like its characters. Upon looking at the poster and blurb, my first assumption was that it was an action movie in the vein of the Taken movies. I saw a version of the poster where a blurb mentioned something about everything being taken from him (just to make sure everyone would watch it on the basis of it being exactly the same as Taken, I bet), but it’s not a non-stop action movie. It’s a smart, suspenseful thriller. I was kept guessing throughout the entire film, which is something a lot of modern thrillers can’t claim. 

Let’s start with the plot. The movie begins with Liam Neeson mixing a mug of bourbon and draining it entirely after an angry phone call to his supervisor. He whizzes past airport security, and in this scenes, you can see the majority of the main cast in the background. You can even hear Julianne Moore talking about getting a window seat. 

It was a shaky beginning, literally. The camera shook while Liam Neeson walked, and considering the way it uses extreme close ups and how it leaves most of the background out of focus, I was starting to think this was going to be another Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit.

However, my fears were completely uncalled for. It began to redeem itself during the takeoff of the plane. The camera, of course, shook. But, it shook in a controlled way so you could still keep track of everything. The sound was realistically loud, but you could still hear Liam Neeson talking about his daughter giving him a ribbon for good luck while Julianne Moore sits beside him and attempts to calm this huge action star that gets nervous during takeoffs.

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It was shaping up to be a good film. I was already wondering what’s going to happen, and looking forward to the rest of the film. (I didn’t read a summary before going to the movie, so I was going in blind.)

With the lights turned off so that everyone can sleep, Liam Neeson suddenly gets a text. I realize I keep referring to the actor, but that’s because the actor completely encompasses the movie. He’s playing essentially the same character he’s always played, but it’s all right. Because it’s always interesting.

Anyways, the text is from an unknown number, and after the usual round of questioning, the mysterious figure reveals that he’s going to kill someone every twenty minutes unless 150 million dollars gets wired into his account.

Interesting premise. Liam Neeson notifies the pilots, and they report it to their superiors. I’m afraid I can’t go into anymore detail about the movie from this point because I’d risk giving you enough time to figure out the killer(s). This is as suspenseful as they come. It’s similar to Air Force One in the sense that it’s on a plane, but that’s where the similarities end really. 

It takes a really unexpected path with how it doesn’t rely on Liam Neeson killing a hundred people with only a scratch on his face. He actually has to try to figure out the killer for a change, and you’ll find your stomach in a knot trying to figure the mystery out for yourself. So, let’s talk about the characters. The principal characters include Julianne Moore as a smart woman that has to have the window seat (you’ll see why), and because she was asleep beside Liam Neeson when he got a text, she’s one of the few people he can actually trust. Their dynamic is pretty good, and Julianne Moore delivers a great performance. (As expected.)

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Liam Neeson looking very somber.

Michelle Dockery (Downton Abbey) plays a stewardess that’s had relations with the co-pilot, and she’s on the very short list of people Liam Neeson can trust. 

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Another point goes to the film for the fact that it acknowledges racial profiling. A Middle Eastern passenger is on the plane, and in his first appearance, everyone looks at him suspiciously. One of the other passengers, Corey Stoll (House of Cards) even makes a remark about it later in the film. Is it groundbreaking? No, but it doesn’t avoid it, either. 

It’s true. It’s been awhile since 9/11, and it seems like movies and shows have been given the green light to talk about it (The Golden Boy, Blue Bloods, Homeland are but a few examples of this), but it’s still a sore subject. So, the fact that the film acknowledges that the system isn’t perfect is really refreshing.

I’ve praised this film. Now it’s time for the flaws. Here’s a slight warning. The following isn’t really a spoiler, but it can be construed as spoiler-ish, so it’s just a heads up. I don’t pick on plot points or anything, so feel free to skip this section. 

POSSIBLE SPOILER ZONE

The fight scenes are really well done, but like most action movies, it suffers from the Invincibility Syndrome. Die Hard 5 is the pinnacle of this example. John and his son kill hundreds of enemies, but oh no, their clothes are a bit blackened from all the explosions and they have a few cuts! Poor guys. Let’s drag ‘em to the emergency room! The Taken movies are also fine examples of this. Oh, yeah, I’ve absolutely decimated the entire population of Bulgaria, but I’m fine. See you in the next movie!

In this movie, Liam Neeson gets into some pretty unbelievable fights that end with him having a tiny little bruise at the corner of his forehead. Meanwhile, his enemies are… well, let’s just say they didn’t get off with a bruise. So, that doesn’t really damage the film as a whole, but I would’ve enjoyed it much more if he was, I don’t know, limping or bleeding a lot more at the end? 

I understand that action movies can’t end with the main character in a coma, but I’m sure I’m not the only one that wishes they looked like they went through the ringer a bit more. 

END OF POSSIBLE SPOILER ZONE

The final verdict is that this is a great movie. I had maybe twenty possible suspects, and I still didn’t expect the ending. That makes it a really well planned film, if you ask me. Are there flaws? Yup. Liam Neeson makes some decisions that really don’t make me think he’s the sharpest tool in the shed, but it’s very entertaining. For me, it’s definitely better than the Taken movies. He doesn’t have as good of a hook as in Taken (“I don’t know who you are…), but my interest was definitely held for a lot longer here. 

If you need any more reasons to watch it… it’s a Liam Neeson movie. There you have it. 

4 out of 6

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The Lego Movie is one of the most ambitious films I’ve seen in awhile, and it delivers on the promise of a lot of laughs. It’s a dystopian sci-fi movie, a Western extravaganza, a good old fashioned romance, and just plain funny. The ‘funny’ part cannot be understated.

The beginning starts off a bit awkward. It was focused on showing how completely all the citizens were being manipulated, and that even among all these blank slates, the main character is even blanker. 

Chris Pratt voices the main character, Emmet Brickowoski. He’s a regular construction worker whose favorite song is Everything Is Awesome, just like everybody else. 

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Chris Pratt manages a fine performance in the portrayal of the blank hero. He does a believable job of an Everyman, but manages to avoid sounding dull or fake throughout the entire film.

The beginning may not be funny, but it’s the setup for a lot of great lines. After five hours of singing his favorite song, Emmet hears a strange noise, and he goes in search for said noise. He finds a hooded individual, and consults a manual telling him that he should report any mysterious people. He’s about to sate his intentions when the hooded individual removes the hood, and exaggerated slow motion ensues as Wyldstyle (Elizabeth Banks) shakes her hand to straighten her head. 

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Elizabeth Banks delivers a great performance in the “insecure” Master Builder with the name of a DJ.

She leaves, and when he tries to follow her, he falls into a ditch. He sees a strange object, and slowly moves to touch it. Below him, we can see the page in the manual specifically advising against such a thing, but completely entranced, he grabs unto it. 

Different images intercut together follow, and he’s woken up by a gruff Liam Neeson playing the Bad Cop who is in the middle of interrogating him, apparently.

Emmet points out that he is a real expert from watching cop shows, and notes the absence of a Good Cop. Bad Cop then swivels his head, and the “Aww-shucks” Good Cop appears. This is an example of the directors (Phil Lord and Christopher Miller – the makers of Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs) using their subject matter to its utmost advantage. Sure, it’s not the most innovative thing in the movie, but it was a nice touch. It showed self awareness that these characters were all legos, and that unlike with a lot of toys, you can do plenty of different things with them.

The interrogation is interrupted when Wyldstyle rescues Emmet, and tells him about a prophesy naming him as the Greatest, Most Talented, Most Specialest Person Ever. Yeah. At least they aren’t simply using the Chosen One, I guess… There’s a really cool chase with Emmet and Wildstyle on a makeshift motorcycle while cars and helicopters tail them.

The action sequences in this film are really good. There are a few issues here and there, such as the fact that certain characters move too fast. You get used to it, but it’s initially difficult to track them across the wide screen. (Especially if their attire blends into the background.)

They escape through a tunnel, and enter The Wild West. Apparently, there are other realms in the Lego World, and it was a real treat to see images of the actual box sets of the different “realms”. Ah, childhood. They track down Vitruvius, the blind Master Builder as portrayed by Morgan Freeman. 

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Vitruvius feels like Morgan Freeman’s way of poking fun at his “wise, practically omnipotent” characters in the past. Shows that even someone with the perfect voice for narration can have a sense of humor.

They perform something similar to a Vulcan Mind Meld, and enter Emmet’s mind. Which is… completely blank. When asked to envision something he always thought was good, he conjures up an image of a Bunkbed Couch. Wyldstyle promptly tells him that it’s a bad idea, but Vitruvius interrupts her. 

Instead of saying that it’s just an abstract idea, he actually says much harsher words than her, calling it the worst idea ever. I’ll stop describing everything in detail here. I just felt it was necessary to describe the beginning because the potential for so much more is apparent from just these scenes. Don’t even get me started on the rest of the movie. (Unless you REALLY want to, because I’ll be happy to oblige.)

The villain is portrayed by Will Ferrel. I don’t how he does it, but he can mispronounce the most simple words, and make it seem completely unintentional and natural. He does it in such a convincing way that when he calls a Nail Polish a “Na-eel”, it seems completely normal. You begin to start asking yourself the question, “Why would I think he’d pronounce it that way?”

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As he’s shown in Megamind, Will Ferrel can play a really funny, great sympathetic villain.

He is President Business, and he wants to use the Kragle (a tube of Krazy Glue with the Z, Y, and U scratched off) to permanently keep everything in place. He wants to bring order into chaos. Honestly, it’s a rather good evil plot. To demonstrate this to Bad Cop, he uses the Kragle to glue the feet of Bad Cop’s parents. When prompted to glue them completely, the Good Cop refuses to do so, and that’s when his face is brutally erased. 

The Lego Movie, on the story and characters alone, would be considered imaginative and creative. However, it took it to a different level with their use of stop motion animation (probably thanks to their recruitment of Robot Chicken veteran, Chris McKay), and other cool stuff that I won’t spoil. 

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Considering the reception Ben Affleck received, Warner Bros. might want to consider Will Arnett as a replacement.

At the end of the day, this movie is funny, charming, and something that the whole family will enjoy. Sure, the parents will have to deal with being pestered to buy more legos, but that’s a risk they’ll have to take for some really good entertainment. Frozen deservedly received a lot of fans and critical acclaim, and the Lego Movie feels like a fitting followup to that great animated movie. 

I think that children should have more movies like the Lego Movie and Frozen, and that’ll only happen if we make the effort to tell people to watch them. (Although, at this point, Lego Movie and Frozen are huge successes. And Lego Movie isn’t even out of the theatres yet…)

Watch this for the quirky characters (Unikitty. All I’m saying), the hilarious superheroes (the love/hate relationship between Superman and Green Lantern, the brooding artist that is Batman), and legos. Watch it for those reasons, and you won’t regret it.

4.5 out of 6

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My problem with Leonardo DiCaprio is that every time I watch his latest movie, I immediately think it’s his best performance to date. And the Wolf of Wall Street is no exception. 

The Wolf of Wall Street is the true story about Jordan Belfort (based on his book), with a script written by Terence Winter (Boardwalk Empire, the Sopranos), and directed by Martin Scorsese (think of a gangster movie besides Godfather, it was probably made by him.)

The movie begins with Leonardo DiCaprio telling us that he made 49 million in a year, and he was really pissed off because it was three million shy of a million a week. He has a white ferrari, a huge yacht, an amazing house, and an equally amazing wife. 

He’s living the dream, really, and then he recounts how he got there. Earlier this year, I reviewed American Hustle, written and directed by David O. Russell. I mentioned how much he channelled (truth is, he copied) Martin Scorsese, and this movie proves why directors like David O. Russell can’t replace Martin Scorsese yet. I feel like Martin Scorsese saw American Hustle, and decided to make a movie to show David O. Russell how it’s done.

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I’m not even the biggest Scorsese fan. I liked Goodfellas and the Departed, but I’m definitely not a huge fan by any means. Wolf of Wall Street has made me want to watch more of his movies.

All right. Let me explain a little bit about the plot. Jordan Belfort is an ambitious young guy looking to make money quick, and he sees Wall Street as the way to do that. On his first day at work, he’s already hooked on the adrenaline in the room. I have to interject with a warning. If you find cursing uncomfortable, it’s safe to stay away from any Martin Scorsese movie. The first fifteen minutes of the movie feels like it’s warning you about what’s to come, so I just thought I should mention that to anyone that’s squeamish about that sort of thing. Moving on… He’s taken as a protege by Mark Hanna (portrayed by Matthew McConaughey), and he quickly learns the ropes. Matthew McConaughey’s performance really is more of a cameo, but man, it’s a great cameo.

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He teaches Jordan an anthem that comes up throughout the movie, and I have to say, it is really catchy. You can hear it in the trailer, I think. 

Right after Jordan’s promotion, he’s loses his job (because of Black Monday), and he’s forced to look for a new job. His wife suggests that they sell her engagement ring, but his pride does not allow such a thing. From this scene alone, you could probably guess that his pride will come back later to bite him in the ass. He finds a job at a small business dealing in penny stocks. Penny stocks belong to the companies that aren’t big enough to qualify trading at Wall Street, and because of this, the traders get a 50% commission. Belfort picks up the phone, calls a random client, and the room quiets. Another stockbroker takes out a notepad and begins writing down what he’s saying, and by the time the phone call is over, he’d made over a thousand dollars. 

He gets a new car, and while eating at a diner, meets Donnie Azoff (Jonah Hill). With phosphorescent teeth, a voice that sounds like gravel being poured through a garbage disposal, he provides much of the movie’s comic relief.

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He becomes Jordan’s selfish, crack addicted sidekick after he quits his job when Jordan shows him proof that he makes over 70k a month. 

Jordan starts a new company called Straton Oakmont, and pretty soon, he has a huge office and too much money to spend. (It’s a different kind of money problem…)

DiCaprio addresses the audience directly, saying: “The question is… was any of this legal?”

He smiles, and says: “Absolutely not!”

It isn’t long before his private investigator learns that he’s being investigated by a straight arrow FBI Agent, and Jordan stupidly invites him to his yacht to bribe him. Thankfully, he was at least smart enough not to mention an exact figure, but not smart enough to listen to his PI. 

It reminded me of another Leonardo DiCaprio movie, Catch Me If You Can. He played a gifted young con artist being hunted by a dedicated law enforcement agent (played by Tom Hanks). It isn’t much of a spoiler to tell you not to expect the same amount of… playfulness between Belfort and the FBI Agent. 

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Sure, they fake politeness in their initial meeting, but there’s no interesting banter here. There’s just plain animosity between the two of them, and it was refreshing to see this done after watching so many movies doing the Catch Me If You Can formula. (I loved that movie, by the way.)

DiCaprio is my favorite actor. I think he’s the best actor of my generation (well… technically it’s my sister’s generation), and I love all of his movies. However, I’ve come to expect a little something from his roles. His movies are generally serious, and while his acting for each character varies greatly, they all have the same feel about them. They all had the sense that the entire world was on their shoulders.

In this movie, he shows that it was all intentional. When Jordan Belfort parties, he parties. He’s superficial monster that doesn’t care about the people he steals from. It’s also DiCaprio’s funniest performance to date, and one of his most dramatic.

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After flying a helicopter drunk on alcohol and pills, he wakes up to his wife (played by Margot Robbie) tossing a glass of water in his face. His reaction here is just brilliant. I have two other favorite scenes, but I won’t even hint about them. You should just watch the movie and see it for yourself. They’re too good to spoil. (Even for a huge spoiler like me.)

In these types of movies with a criminal protagonist, it’s always the same. It shows the rise, the peak of all their achievements, and inevitably, the fall. It’s unavoidable. *coughs Like A Certain Scorsese movie coughs*

People need to see the bad get their comeuppance, and I always thought that this was the most enduring formula of movies. So, it isn’t a big spoiler to tell you that things do start to go awry for Jordan Belfort. He has to make a deal with the SCC, and still face criminal charges from the FBI. His relationship with his wife starts to go downhill. 

I don’t believe in karma, but even I have to admit that karma finally caught up to him. He left his loving wife for Naomi, and you can see that he really loves her. He cheats on her… but he really does love her. And maybe it’s karma that his wife doesn’t love him as much, if at all. 

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The ending, though, is really good. I won’t describe it to you, but it’s one of my favorite endings of all time. (Coincidentally, my other favorite ending is the ending of the Departed.) Now, I hope Leonardo DiCaprio gets an oscar for this, but considering the hype of the other performances, it’s not likely. I think this is the best Martin Scorsese movie I’ve seen, and having watched a few of the other nominees for Best Actor and Best Picture, I really do think this movie deserves to win. (Don’t let me get started on Gravity…)

I just hope that Christian Bale doesn’t beat DiCaprio for Best Actor. Yes, he gained a lot of weight, but come on. I guess I’m biased when I say that DiCaprio’s acting in this movie beats almost everything Bale did in American Hustle. Just saying. That’s what I think.

In conclusion (do you like how I suddenly became very professional?), this is an amazing movie. My favorite of 2013, and probably going to be one of my favorites for 2014. It’s already earned a place in my Top 15 Favorite Movies, and it might even rise in my list after viewing it a few more times. If you like great black comedy, great performances, great writing and directing, you’ll like Wolf of Wall Street.

If you hate watching an evil man get a lot of money, a huge amount of cursing, drug abuse… You probably won’t like this movie. It is not for everyone, but if you don’t mind any of that, then this is worth a watch. 

 

6 out of 6

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~Jian

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American Hustle is David O. Russell’s newest movie, and stars Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, and Jeremy Renner. It is a movie about two con artists (Christian Bale as Irving Rosenfeld and Amy Adams as Sydney Prosser) who are forced by Detective Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper) to help him catch other criminals in the act of bribery. The plot is actually a lot more complicated than that, made all the more complicated by the eccentric characters which populate the movie. 

Let’s talk about the characters, then. Christian Bale has always dedicated himself to his movies… to the point that it’s rather unhealthy. In the Machinist, he lost sixty pounds for the role, and then gained it all back within a year for Batman Begins. 

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Yeah, looks pretty drastic to me. In American Hustle, he’s taken to gaining a lot of weight. And unlike in Batman Begins, he did not use that weight to build muscle. That isn’t the only thing he does in this movie, of course, and his acting here is just amazing. Sure, it can feel a bit fake at certain points in the movie (mostly during the beginning), but you’ll forget all about that when you watch a scene of his with Jennifer Lawrence, who plays his crazy wife. 

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I know, people overuse that word nowadays. But she is crazy, and Jennifer Lawrence pulls it off magnificently. It’s so believable, which is why Christian Bale’s performance is enhanced whenever they’re in a scene together. It’s hard not to believe that this woman isn’t nuts, so his own reactions seem authentic and… rather comical with a dramatic overtone. 

You’ll know what I mean when you watch it. Let me talk about the plot again for a moment. The movie begins with Christian Bale making an elaborate combover, and immediately throws you into the middle of a sting operation. Oh, and Bradley Cooper messes up Christian Bale’s combover.

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David O. Russell is nothing, if not brave. It takes a lot of guts to just do that, and trust that whatever you’re watching is interesting enough that you don’t shrug and walk away. 

It’s here that you truly see Martin Scorsese’s influence on David O. Russell. The beginning reminds me of Goodfellas, although a lot funnier, and pop songs from the 70’s undercut a lot of emotional scenes. This can get a bit annoying, if I’m being honest. At times, it’s really awesome. Especially if you like the song, and think, “Exactly! That’s what I would’ve chosen!”

But, the soundtrack feels… impatient. There are plenty of scenes in the movie where you felt like an emotional punch was delivered to your gut, but the scene was disturbed by some obnoxious song. Why not let Amy Adams just act? The actors are too great to be dubbed over with music, and it brings me to my next point. American Hustle is entertaining, fast-paced, dramatic, and funny. 

And a little empty. It’s hard to explain, but I’ll try to do my best. Silver Linings Playbook, David O. Russell’s previous directorial feature, was an amazing movie starring Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence. It was simple, really. It was about a guy that beat up his boss, who was having an affair with his wife. He gets out of a mental institution, and ends up training for a dance competition with a nymphomaniac. (In retrospect, it doesn’t sound that simple.) It also cost very little to make (especially in comparison to American Hustle’s budget), and garnered some awards. (Jennifer Lawrence got an Oscar for it.)

And it’s better than American Hustle. Yes, I normally like movies with some violence, some intrigue, and some con men. The Sting is one of my favorite movies of all time, but American Hustle just feels hollow in comparison to Silver Linings Playbook. I feel like David O. Russell was pressured to up the stakes, rightfully so. But the music, the unreliable narration, the elaborate outfits… They’re all supposed to be icing. They’re not supposed to make up the cake entirely. 

That isn’t to say that this isn’t incredibly entertaining. Like I said, the acting here is incredible. Bradley Cooper essentially plays the villain, and I’m not going to say: “But he makes you feel sorry for him.”

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Not at all. He wasn’t written to be sympathetic, or even realistic. Almost none of these characters are realistic, but he plays his role with such relish and unpredictability that I can’t help but hope that he was the protagonist. Louie C.K. plays his superior in the movie, and you’ll see in their scenes together why I think that.

When Bradley Cooper asks for 2 million dollars, his boss tries to tell him an ice fishing story from his youth. He interrupts him halfway through, and guesses what the ending is. Flustered, his boss tells him that he’s wrong, and he doesn’t deserve to hear the story. Later on in the movie, Cooper asks Louie about the ice fishing story, and again, interrupts him to make up his own ending for the story. It tells you everything you need to know about this character. He’s a control freak, and with his fast-talking personality, he gets away with it most of the time. He can’t stand it when someone else is talking, and he tries to show that he’s smarter than everyone. 

If you’re looking for a sympathetic character, you could look to Jeremy Renner. His character is one of the more realistic portraits of the movie. He plays Mayor Carmine Polito, and Christian Bale is tasked with the difficult job of piling evidence against him to put him and his colleagues behind bars. He’s a corrupt politician, but he does what he does for the city of New Jersey. It made me think of something Christian Bale’s character said to Bradley Cooper. 

I’ll paraphrase, since my memory isn’t good enough that I can remember it perfectly. But, it went something along the lines of:

“The world isn’t black and white. It’s extremely grey.”

Pretty much every antihero in movie and television shares the same view (I do, as well), but I think what makes this morality speech stand out from most is that it doesn’t really refer to Bale. Or Adams. Or Lawrence and all the others. It refers to Carmine Polito. He’s a good guy that does illegal things for good. He’s a big slap to the face of Bale, and I thought it’s one of the smarter things in the movie. All these characters are grey, but Polito’s character is the only one that seems realistically so. 

That’s probably the downfall of this movie, but don’t let this movie’s little faults scare you away. It’s ridiculously entertaining, and I was laughing throughout the movie. If Cooper, Bale, Adams, and Lawrence win awards for it – I won’t be surprised in the least. They acted their asses off, and they deserve them.

But I just don’t think the movie really deserves any more awards than Silver Linings Playbook received.

~Jian

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Saving Mr. Banks is amazing. I know that, as a reviewer, I should first summarize the whole thing for you, and then tell you my thoughts on it in a detailed and intelligent way. But, there’s just no denying that – for me – this movie is awesome. 

So, now that we have that out of the way, I’ll summarize the movie for you. Saving Mr. Banks is a behind-the-scenes biopic of how Mary Poppins was made. P.L. Travers (the great Emma Thompson), the author of the Mary Poppins books, received offers for the movie rights of her beloved books for twenty consecutive years until she was finally convinced by her agent to give Walt Disney (the brilliant Tom Hanks) a chance. That’s the basic plot of the movie, and with those two actors working together, it was already a guarantee for me that it’d be a great experience.

However, one of the biggest surprises was Colin Farrell’s performance as Travers Goff, P.L. Travers’ father. Her childhood is told in a series of flashbacks, normally starting when P.L. Travers is annoyed by a section of the script, and the flashback then shows why she’s annoyed with it. It’s pretty interesting, and it’s easier than some voiceover narration or a lengthy conversation where Emma Thompson is forced to explain every one of her choices. The rule, “Show, don’t tell,” was clearly taken to heart by the writers and director.

Back to Colin Farrell. I thought he was great in In Bruges, but it wasn’t one of those mind-blowing performances that you tell your friends about for months until they forcibly stop you from telling them any more. His performance in Saving Mr. Banks, however, is one of those performances. He plays an alcoholic that dotes on his daughters very much, but seems to be unable to escape the urge to drink. The character is both haunted and happy, angry and contemplative. 

There’s a great scene in the movie where his children are chasing a hen, and he tells them, jokingly, that it’s no hen. It’s their evil Aunt! Later, when he’s about to go to bed with his wife (Ruth Wilson, Luther), it’s revealed that she’s been pleading for him to let her ask her sister for help. There are a few more surprises in the movie, but I won’t spoil them for you.

Back to the present. (Or the 1960’s.) The first scene where Walt Disney appears in the movie is a favorite of mine. The scriptwriter, Don, tells Travers it’s not a good idea to call him Mr. Disney. He likes to be called Walt. Disney then rushes out of his office, and in the background, you can see an entire shelf of oscars, polished as can be. They go out of focus, and you see Tom Hanks’ best smile. 

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I think it was then that Travers decided to do her best to make his life miserable. She calls him Mr. Disney, and continues to do so even though he keeps insisting he call her by his first name. In a masterful scene, Travers lists her demands, and you can see the look on Hanks’ face as she insults his life’s work. Tom Hanks version of Mr. Disney is very interesting. Unlike a lot of actors, he never overdoes it. When he becomes angry near the middle of the movie, you know it. But he doesn’t fly off the handle. After all, you don’t get your own theme park if you throw a temper tantrum every time someone is being unreasonable. 

Emma Thompson, however, has the most difficult role of all. She has to play a difficult, cold… hag. There’s really no other way to put it. I mean, even Emma Thompson admitted that Travers was a bit of a hag in an interview on Graham Norton. But, despite that, she manages to put a lot of heart into the performance. This is a woman that’s seen things, as a child, that she never should have seen.

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As such, she spends her life writing books for children so they won’t have to see the horrible things around them. She uses the joy and wonder that she still possesses in her heart on her books, while putting on a facade of detachment and bitterness when interacting with other people. There’s a wonderful scene in the movie where she starts letting her guard down around her driver Ralph (Paul Giamatti). 

When she first met him, she made it very clear that she did not want to be there. When they see some beautiful scenery on the way to Walt Disney studios, Ralph cheerfully says: “Isn’t it beautiful?”

“If you like that sort of thing,” she replies promptly.

“Well, I do,” he says slightly crestfallen.

But he ends up her only friend, anyhow. I can talk for much longer about this movie, but to do so would mean telling you about some really interesting scenes and I want you to discover those scenes for yourself. The score is beautiful, and the main song is both happy and somber, just like Disney and Travers.

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~J.A. Romano