Wolf of Wall Street-A Movie Review

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Feb 122014

wolfofwallstreetThis is the true story of the outlandish rise and non-stop pleasure-hunting descent of Jordan Belfort, the New York stockbroker who, along with his merry band of brokers, makes a gargantuan fortune by defrauding investors out of millions. Belfort transforms from a righteous young Wall Street newcomer to a thoroughly corrupted stock-pumper and IPO cowboy. Having quickly amassed an absurd fortune, Jordan pumps it back into an endless array of aphrodisiacs: women, Quaaludes, coke, cars, his supermodel wife and a legendary life of aspiration and acquisition without limits. But even as Belfort’s company, Stratton Oakmont, soars sky-high into extremes of hedonistic gratification, the SEC and the FBI are zeroing in on his empire of excess.

In Theaters: December 25, 2013; MPAA Rating: R (for sequences of strong sexual content, graphic nudity, drug use and language throughout, and for some violence); Genres: Drama, Crime, Biopic, Adaptation; Run Time: 2 hours and 59 minutes

Director: Martin Scorsese
Writing Credits: Terence Winter (screenplay), Jordan Belfort (book)

Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Jonah Hill, Jean Dujardin, Rob Reiner, Matthew McConaughey, Kyle Chandler, Jon Favreau, Margot Robbie, Jon Bernthal, Cristin Milioti, P.J. Byrne, Ethan Suplee, Kenneth Choi, Jake Hoffman, Christine Ebersole, Shea Whigham, Barry Rothbart, Danny Abeckaser

Me and Lay watched this movie at the AMC Regency 20 in Brandon. The theater was less than half full, yet amazingly a couple had to sit in our row, and talk through the entire movie, and the woman had to fire up her cell phone screen from time to time. (And these were adults.) Continue reading »

Fair Game – A Movie Review

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Dec 142010

As a covert officer in the CIA’s Counter-Proliferation Division, Valerie Plame leads an investigation into the existence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Valerie’s husband, diplomat Joe Wilson, is drawn into the investigation to substantiate an alleged sale of enriched uranium from Niger. But when the administration ignores his findings and uses the issue to support the call to war, Joe writes a New York Times editorial outlining his conclusions and ignites a firestorm of controversy.

Genres: Drama, Thriller, Adaptation, Biopic and Politics; Running Time: 1 hr. 48 min.; Release Date: November 5th, 2010 (wide); MPAA Rating: PG-13 for some language.

Starring: Naomi Watts, Sean Penn, Noah Emmerich, Liraz Charchi, Nicholas Sadler

Directed by: Doug Liman

We saw this in the theater the first weekend it was out. There was a decent crowd, but the theater was not packed.

The movie follows the story based on testimony and other public information.. On the other “side,” we have a list of claims that even at the time were discredited and are still discredited, but there is no “version” of how and why this country went to war with Iraq. The film leaves no argument because there is no other side. And to date, we still do not have a reason as to why the administration chose to stand before the world and make claims they knew to be discredited.

The events leading up to the declaration of war take up about half the film’s running time. In the first half, we see what Valerie Plame does at the CIA. It’s surprisingly detailed and candid and came across as authentic.  It shows how operatives are often recruited to work with inteligence services. While these various operatives are fiction, we assume they are close to the truth. And the outcome for them when the Bush Administration’s cover is blown makes one very ashamed of our leaders.

The second half of the film omits the sensational allegations concerning journalists Judith Miller and Robert Novak since neither of the principles in the film ever had contact with them. Valarie Plame and Joe Wilson were only their victims. And as the heads begin to roll the relationship of the Wilson’s takes center stage. While that’s interesting, it’s not what concerns us the most in this story. Joe Wilson, played by Sean Penn, is more gentle than the person we saw on media outlets. While Penn conveys the idealism of Wilson.

Naomi Watts, as always, gives a terrific portrayal of a woman who lives two lives. The Valerie Plame we saw at the Senate Hearings is in Watt’s performance, but we also see the strength, intelligence and commitment she makes to a job that requires her to play many sides of the same fence. For instance, there’s a domestic scene where Wilson complains about the danger of his wife’s job and he never knows where she’s going or if he’ll ever see her again. Plame patiently listens and then says, “I’m going to Cleveland.”  It’s a rich and likely accurate illustration of what it must be like to be married to someone who works for the CIA.

As he always does, Penn just stepped right into the persona of Joe Wilson. I don’t know how he does it, but he looked a lot like Wison, and just seemed to have the mannerisms I remember from Wilson’s various TV appearances down pat. The guy is just an amazing actor all around.

In the end, we leave the theater hearing only one side of the argument, and that’s because the Bush Administration has never been called to account for why they insisted on the war with Iraq. We do see why they needed to destroy the lives of these two people, and in doing so harmed much more than a married couple in Washington, DC. This is well acted, tightly written and directed with straight-forward finesse making it one of the finest films of the year.

1 Star2 Stars3 Stars4 Stars5 Stars6 Stars7 Stars8 Stars9 Stars10 Stars (1 votes, average: 8.00 out of 10)

The Social Network – A Movie Review

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Dec 132010

On a fall night in 2003, Harvard undergrad and computer programming genius Mark Zuckerberg sits down at his computer and heatedly begins working on a new idea. In a fury of blogging and programming, what begins in his dorm room soon becomes a global social network and a revolution in communication. A mere six years and 500 million friends later, Mark Zuckerberg is the youngest billionaire in history, but for this entrepreneur, success leads to both personal and legal complications.

Genres: Drama and Biopic; Running Time: 2 hr.; Release Date: October 1st 2010 (wide); MPAA Rating: PG 13 for sexual content, drug and alcohol use and language.

Starring: Jesse Eisenberg, Justin Timberlake, Andrew Garfield, Joseph Mazzello, Armie Hammer

Directed by: David Fincher

I went to see this movie quite a while back at the theater. I took a Friday off, and went in the afternoon. I love to do that. I don’t know why, but seeing a film on a weekday afternoon gives me a real sense of “playing hooky.”

This film which shouldn’t work, but it does, and very well. A story centred on a teenager who becomes the world’s youngest billionaire, a web site that reaches a million users in two years, and a cast of real life characters with names like Zuckerberg and Winklevoss just shouldn’t be possible. A convoluted tale of raw conflict on the origins of a new type of web site should not lend itself to an expensive movie as opposed to a television documentary. It succeeds because it is not about the technology but about creativity and conflict and about friendship and betrayal. It succeeds because of a magical combination of accomplished direction, scintillating dialogue and superb acting.

The direction comes from David Fincher who has had variable success, all the way from “Alien 3″ to Se7en”, but here he is right on form with a flashy, but tightly structured, presentation that never fails to command your attention and interest. The all-important script is courtesy of Aaron Sorkin who gave us “The West Wing” – the best television series ever – and yet apparently does not do social networking.

At the heart of the movie is a great performance from Jesse Eisenberg as the 19 year old Harvard student Mark Zuckerberg, the genius behind “The Facebook” (the social network), the unsympathetic anti-hero of the adventure, a borderline sociopath variously described by women characters as “an asshole” and someone “just trying so hard to be” one. Andrew Garfield is excellent as Zuckerberg’s Harvard roommate and co-founder of the site Eduardo Savarin; thanks to the wonders of CGI, Arnie Hammer manages to be terrific as both the twins Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss; while singer Justin Timberlake is a revelation as the Napster founder Sean Parker. This is a testosterone-charged fable with room for women only in minor support roles – ironic in that getting girls was the impetus for the Facebook project.

I would recommend this movie.
1 Star2 Stars3 Stars4 Stars5 Stars6 Stars7 Stars8 Stars9 Stars10 Stars (1 votes, average: 9.00 out of 10)

Amelia – A Movie Review

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Feb 232010

Click to watch the movie trailers at Yahoo MoviesAfter becoming the first woman to fly across the Atlantic, Amelia was thrust into a new role as America’s sweetheart – the legendary “goddess of light,” known for her bold, larger-than-life charisma. Yet, even with her global fame solidified, her belief in flirting with danger and standing up as her own, outspoken woman never changed. She was an inspiration to people everywhere, from First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt to the men closest to her heart: her husband, promoter and publishing magnate George P. Putnam, and her long time friend and lover, pilot Gene Vidal. In the summer of 1937, Amelia set off on her most daunting mission yet: a solo flight around the world that she and George both anxiously foresaw as destined, whatever the outcome, to become one of the most talked-about journeys in history.

Genres: Drama and Biopic; Running Time: 1 hr. 51 min.; Release Date: October 23rd, 2009 (wide); MPAA Rating: PG for some sensuality, language, thematic elements and smoking.

Starring: Hilary Swank, Richard Gere, Ewan McGregor, Christopher Eccleston, Joe Anderson

Directed by: Mira Nair

I wanted to see this movie when it was out in theaters, but we never made it. I downloaded it from Amazon, and Lay and me watched it Saturday night. We were both disappointed.

This film had so much on its side. Excellent actors, a fascinating subject, in fact the whole thing reeked of Oscar-Worthy…until I saw it. I can tell an attempt was made at an epic movie, but it falls short.

Swank gives a solid performance as the flying ace. She both looks the part and acts the part very well. I must say that I did not know an awful lot about Amelia Earhart other than the common knowledge about her, but I feel like Swank embodied pretty much what I would expect Amelia to be, and her physical likeness to Amelia remarkable. But the director failed to remind Richard Gere that he wasn’t playing Billy Flynn in “Chicago”, coming across as a shallow opportunist whose emotion for Amelia seemed forced, as he was only in love with money. Ewen McGregor was no less wooden, appearing as just another rich sleazebag in search of a shag. Add in a faint hint of lesbianism, dropped completely no sooner than it was picked up, so why bother? Add in an excessive amount of focus on Gore Vidal, maybe to try and portray Amelia’s suppressed maternal instincts, but again, merely toyed with in the bedroom scene, in which I genuinely thought she was about to break into “whistle a happy tune”!

“Amelia” is a highlights reel of Amelia Earhart’s life, faithfully chronicling all the significant events of the famed aviatrix’s career. However, it is hollow and nowhere is this more apparent than in the depiction of Earhart’s relationships. Or the lack of it. There’s no buildup, no exposition, no sort of character interaction to motivate any kind of bond or love forming between individuals. Things just kind of happen. Amelia falls in love, falls out of love, and falls in love all over again, all without any sort of event or prompt to motivate it.

In fact, that’s the problem of the entire film. Things just happen with little or not buildup or motivation in between. Poignant moments come and go with no warning or conclusion, rendering them meaningless and out of context. It seems almost as though the director Mira Nair tried a little too hard in the wrong direction.

The script fails with the jumping around in time. While this can be an effective technique, it did not work here because we weren’t given queues as to where/when we were in each scene until later in the scene. We were both disappointed in this film.

1 Star2 Stars3 Stars4 Stars5 Stars6 Stars7 Stars8 Stars9 Stars10 Stars (1 votes, average: 4.00 out of 10)
Apr 262009

Movie Poster for The SoloistJournalist Steve Lopez discovers Nathaniel Anthony Ayers , a former classical music prodigy, playing his violin on the streets of L.A. As Lopez endeavors to help the homeless man find his way back, a unique friendship is formed, one that transforms both their lives.

Genres: Drama, Musical/Performing Arts, Adaptation and Biopic; Running Time: 1 hr. 57 min.; Release Date: April 24th, 2009 (wide); MPAA Rating: PG-13 for thematic elements, some drug use and language.

Starring: Jamie Foxx, Nelsan Ellis, Michael Bunin, Robert Downey Jr., Rachael Harris

Directed by: Joe Wright

While we’d both been anxious to see this movie, Lay was especially looking forward to it. We decided to take it in at an afternoon showing yesterday, to avoid a packed theater. We did avoid the crowds, but unfortunately at least two groups (at least was two older ladies) did manage to talk quite a bit throughout the movie (where have manners gone).

That was hardly enough to spoil a great movie though, and I was completely sucked into the story. This is a powerful, heartfelt, emotionally moving, human drama with two very talented actors who pour themselves into the story. It lives up to it’s promises, and is definitely one of the best films of the year. If you’re looking for an inspiring story, then look no further. This is Director Joe Wright’s best film. I’ve always known Jamie Foxx and Robert Downey Jr. are two great actors respectively but the mix of two is like combining two different formulas that compliment each other and create an atomic chemistry only described as something that no one else will ever manage to replicate.

Downey and Foxx play a newspaper columnist and homeless man who come together in a most unusual way. Downey is a newspaper columnist looking for something original and interesting to write about it. He finds it when he sees Foxx beautifully playing a battered two-stringed violin along 3rd street in downtown L.A. Foxx has been there for years but on this day grabs the eye of the columnist because the columnist himself is experiencing hardship and doubt related to his own position. He begins to write about this talented but troubled man who fills the thick air around him with harmony. They become friends but keep in mind this is not fiction. The friendship hits many bumps that continue to this day. Nathaniel Ayers (Foxx’s character) may be a brilliant, educated musician, but he suffers from bouts of schizophrenia that manifest at any time. Downey’s character accepts this as it adds more intrigue to his columns. Then he accepts it on a personal level. Their friendship ultimately becomes real and meaningful. You sense that Downey’s character needs the friendship even more than Foxx’s homeless man does. In the end, Downey’s Lopez can see the positive effect his work has brought to the plight of the homeless, yet he wonders personally how much better he has made Nathaniel. His reflections make us think also.

As someone who’s volunteered at a homeless shelter, I’ve seen much of this story play out. I even remember one of the clients as a young man who could sit down at the piano they had in the shelter, and play nearly any song you could name, and play it beautifully. There is no great final climax to this film, as is usually the case in life, and as with many people who find themselves in Ayers’ situation, the story is complex and difficult, and rarely resolves itself to everyone’s satisfaction. It’s important to remember that “normal” is something relative.

It’s also important to remember that these are real people, still alive today, and still friends. So the story continues to play out.

This is Jamie Foxx’s best performance since Ray, and I’d vouch for a second nomination on the horizon. Robert Downey Jr. proves that he’s versatile, that he’s more than just Tony Stark, Superhero. Wright’s directing is superb. He understands the plot and how the actors should respond to whatever conflict that may surface. The locations chosen or how a scene would play out, his vision of it all is borderline perfect. The portrayal of the skid row and how the camera moves from one homeless guy to another and take us on this view of the forgotten little kingdom is quite humbling. Those of us who’ve seen the real LA would not find this to be an exaggeration.

It is an extremely well told story, and worth every minute you spend in the theater.

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Dec 292008

In a country in the grips of evil, in a police state where every move is being watched, in a world where justice and honor have been subverted, a group of men hidden inside the highest reaches of power decide to take action. Based on the true story of Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg and the daring and ingenious plot to eliminate one of the most evil tyrants the world has ever known.

A proud military man, Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg is a loyal officer who serves his country all the while hoping that someone will find a way to stop Hitler before Europe and Germany are destroyed. Realizing that time is running out, he decides that he must take action himself and joins the German resistance. Armed with a cunning strategy to use Hitler’s own emergency plan – known as Operation Valkyrie – these men plot to assassinate the dictator and overthrow his Nazi government from the inside.

With everything in place, with the future of the world, the fate of millions and the lives of his wife and children hanging in the balance, von Stauffenberg is thrust from being one of many who oppose Hitler to the one who must kill Hitler himself.

Genres: Action/Adventure, Drama, Thriller, Biopic and War; Running Time: 2 hrs.; Release Date: December 25th, 2008 (wide); MPAA Rating: PG-13 for violence and brief strong language.

Cast: Tom Cruise, Bill Nighy, Tom Wilkinson, Carice van Houten, Eddie Izzard, Thomas Kretschmann, Terence Stamp, Christian Berkel, Kenneth Branagh, Halina Reijn, David Bamber, Kevin McNally, Jamie Parker, Tom Hollander, David Schofield, Werner Daehn, Harvey Friedman, Matthias Schweighoefer, Waldemar Kobus

Director: Bryan Singer

Lay and I went to see this movie on Christmas Day at its first showing in Gastonia, NC, so the theater wasn’t packed.

A story such as this can be a very difficult story to tell. Because it is based on a true story, it only has credibility if the movie is true to the story, but that can be difficult when the topic is complex, and so much of the story known only to a few. Because the outcome is known, it can be hard to maintain the suspense and tension needed to make a good movie, and a movie about a takeover attempt like this is hard to setup, as the real action doesn’t come until the event itself.

Despite these challenges, Singer does a good job putting out the story. I’m no historian, but have read a couple of reviews by people who purport to be historians, and they seem to feel the movie was reasonably true to the actual events. Perhaps the one gripe (and this is understandable due to the time constraints of a movie), in some cases the approach to possible fellow-conspirators was rather abrupt. I would expect more caution in such situations.

Singer managed to maintain a surprising level of tension and drama throughout the movie, and I found myself rooting for the conspirators and forgetting that the plot actually failed. It was also interesting to learn of the many considerations involved in such an action that go beyond the mere killing of Hitler.

I thought all the actors did an excellent job with their parts. I’ll admit to having been a Cruise fan for a while after “Risky Business” (but then what gay man wasn’t hot for Tom Cruise after the underwear scene in that movie), but my attitude towards him has cooled. But he did a nice job playing the part. The other actors carried off their parts in a very believable fashion.

All in all, a movie well worth seeing.

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Cadillac Records – A Movie Review

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Dec 282008

The rise and fall of Chess Records, which launched the careers of Muddy Waters, Etta James and Chuck Berry. Leonard Chess scoured the South, checking out the various blues scenes and selling records from the back of his Cadillac.

Genres: Drama, Musical/Performing Arts and Biopic; Running Time: 1 hr. 48 min.; Release Date: December 5th, 2008 (wide); MPAA Rating: R for pervasive language and some sexuality.

Starring: Adrien Brody, Jeffrey Wright, Beyonce Knowles, Gabrielle Union, Columbus Short

Directed by: Darnell Martin

While this film lacks an original framework (it’s “Ray” and “La Bamba”), both the subject–a seminal recording label–and the performances make this entertainment worth watching. This story is not a documentary of Chess Records, but a story about their music.

Jeffrey Wright finally gets a role that hopefully will secure his stature. It’s overdue. As Muddy Waters his sill both as a character and an actor are very impressive here. Mos Def is a charming Chuck Berry; he really communicates the charisma that Berry exuded to his adoring female fans. Eamonn Walker is terrific, and appropriately intimidating, as Howlin’ Wolf. Walker electrifies the screen with his every morsel of screen time; I wish that after they’d finished “Cadillac Records,” they had just kept the sets up and kept the cameras running and began a biography of Howlin’ Wolf with Walker in the lead. Beyonce Knowles is very beautiful and pays worthy tribute to Etta James, the singer she plays.

The film drags and there are just too many story lines, so no single character or storyline gets the attention it deserves. I understand why Darnell Martin tried to put it all in (these were the stories that collectively made up Chess Records), but it is highly fictionalized anyway, so maybe concentrating more on fewer characters would have been more effective.

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Dec 272008

His life changed history. His courage changed lives. In 1977, Harvey Milk was elected to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, becoming the first openly gay man to be voted into public office in America. His victory was not just a victory for gay rights; he forged coalitions across the political spectrum. From senior citizens to union workers, Harvey Milk changed the very nature of what it means to be a fighter for human rights and became, before his untimely death in 1978, a hero for all Americans. Milk charts the last eight years of Harvey Milk’s life. While living in New York City, he turns 40. Looking for more purpose, Milk and his lover Scott Smith relocate to San Francisco, where they found a small business, Castro Camera, in the heart of a working-class neighborhood. With his beloved Castro neighborhood and beautiful city empowering him, Milk surprises Scott and himself by becoming an outspoken agent for change. With vitalizing support from Scott and from new friends like young activist Cleve Jones, Milk plunges headfirst into the choppy waters of politics. Bolstering his public profile with humor, Milk’s actions speak even louder than his gift-of-gab words. When Milk is elected supervisor for the newly zoned District 5, he tries to coordinate his efforts with those of another newly elected supervisor, Dan White. But as White and Milk’s political agendas increasingly diverge, their personal destinies tragically converge. Milk’s platform was and is one of hope–a hero’s legacy that resonates in the here and now.

Genres: Drama, Biopic and Politics/Religion; Running Time: 2 hrs. 8 min.; Release Date: November 26th, 2008 (limited), December 5th (expands)

Starring: Sean Penn, Allison Pill, Josh Brolin, Emile Hirsch, James Franco

Directed by: Gus Van Sant

We had kept watching the movie theaters for this movie to show up. We finally went to see it last week, but had to drive nearly to Clearwater for a theater showing the movie. I don’t know why it wasn’t being shown at Veterans 24 or Westshore, but it wasn’t. There was a good crowd for the showing, and I was impressed that there were many straight couples there, including some older folks.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but this was a GREAT movie. Now I admit you probably need to take my review with a grain of salt. Let’s be clear, I’m gay and liberal, and Harvey Milk’s politics is a nice fit for me, so I enjoyed the movie from that perspective.

But much more than that, it was a great story that was well made and well acted. All the actors did a great job, but Sean Penn (someone I’ve grown to respect a lot) just did an outstanding job. He looked and sounded so much like Milk it was uncanny. I just can’t imagine anyone else playing the roll, and this was definitely an Oscar-worthy performance. But Penn was beautifully and expertly supported by the other actors as well.

Van Sant did an outstanding job pulling together the film. He had a lot of material to cover, and it did it well. He capture the feel of the time and place perfectly, and his use of actual news footage was blended perfectly, and didn’t feel at all out of place. Again, it was an Oscar-worthy story told by an Oscar-worthy director.

On an related point, I’d like to note how I found Milk to fit in today with the recent passage of all the anti-gay initiatives. There are many things that have made it difficult to organize a sustained and effective opposition to these initiatives, but I think one of those is the lack of a central unifying figure. There are many people activists today (paid and volunteer) that do a wonderful job for gay rights. This is not meant to take anything away from their efforts, but I can’t name a single activist today that has the national profile of Harvey Milk. Barney Frank probably comes closest in terms of visibility, but he’s just not the electrifying force that was Harvey Milk. Our movement would be better off if someone like Milk emerged today.

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