The Wolf of Wall Street

The_Wolf_of_Wall_Street-poster-4

Release: Christmas Day 2013

[Theater]

Hand over the ‘ludes, dude, and no one gets hurt!

One of this generation’s most gifted actors teams up once again with the legendary Marty Scorsese with the hopes of stirring up yet another potent cocktail — this time, a film set in the 1980s in the immediate wake of the stock market crash, with Leo playing the part of the profusely wealthy and ambitious Jordan Belfort. With a collection of powerful films already fading in their rearview (The Departed, Shutter Island, The Aviator), this dynamic duo of actor-director is found in 2013 wanting to steer in a slightly different direction — into the neighborhood of genuine comedy and away from the effective but familiar drama.

Leo may be pushing forty but you’d never guess it based on this role. Scorsese’s latest sees him binging on cocaine, alcohol and pills in amounts and in situations that make National Lampoon’s Animal House look like study hall. If blowing coke off strippers and swallowing pills the size of walnuts were his job, he’d be the. . .oh, who am I kidding?! It WAS his job. The job description of a 1980s stock broker at Stratton-Oakmont might have read something like: “Drug addict, womanizer, thief/cheater/manipulator, with a burning desire to out-nasty and out-live the next greedy son-of-a-bitch in line.”

Indeed, Jordan’s first impressions of life on Wall Street fit that profile to a T. As he’s being brought in for his first day at his first brokerage firm, the notion that employees (like him) are “lower than pond scum” is flaunted by the higher-ups; the high-pressure intensity gets drilled into his head as a sergeant would intimidate a fresh set of boot camp trainees. As one might imagine, this particularly cut-throat industry doesn’t allow for a great amount of respect and decency amongst colleagues.

Scorsese and DiCaprio take that concept and run wild with it, conjuring up scene-after-scene of unbridled debauchery and mouth-watering imagery that will cause many viewers to question whether this is a mirror of reality or simply a visual predilection toward the young, rich and powerful.

While it may seem that Leo et al are getting high off of the fact that they are playing characters living in the fast lane, the real impact of this gargantuan (read: party) movie comes from the director’s ability to remain relatively neutral towards the subject. While DiCaprio pulls a Heath Ledger Joker as he dives headfirst into this substantially nasty role — one which audiences are likely to be at least temporarily enamored by — Scorsese is hard at work behind the camera, making sure that this elegant portrayal is captured in raw detail. Not only that, but, contrary to some of the events that go on here, he’s taking great pains to ensure that his characters are very much still grounded in the real world. This outing may not appear to be as dark and brooding as some of his other works, but then again, the misleadingly upbeat and comedic tone is rather intentional.

Also on board to help with Scorsese’s ambitious film is an ensemble cast threatening to erase the memory of what David O. Russell, Lee Daniels, Steve McQueen and heck, why not — even Ridley Scott — had going on for them in each of their respective 2013 efforts. For starters, Jonah Hill — who plays Jordan’s right-hand man, the greasy and hauntingly white-teeth-possessing Donnie Azoff — steps his game up notably in a supporting role that’s likely to garner him an Oscar nom. While he still holds onto many of the spasmodic breakdowns and childish rants that have characterized his on-screen persona over the last decade, the material this time around boosts him to another level entirely. Put up against a man of Leo’s stature, and Hill is not overshadowed like a great many are going to presume he will be.

Then start throwing in the likes of Rob Reiner, Matthew McConaughey, Kyle Chandler, Jon Favreau, Jean Dejurdin and Margot Robbie and the party seems to naturally take on the life Scorsese was probably seeking prior to principal photography. The best news of all is that not only does the cast look phenomenal, it turns in work that essentially gives birth to the hectic pace of this film. McConaughey’s Mark Hanna, one of the first Wall Street heavyweights that a young and then-naïve Jordan Belfort runs into at his first place of employment, is primarily responsible for awakening the beast that dwelled within this handsome, upstart stockbroker. He’s not quite as striking as he has been this year in things like Mud and the recent Dallas Buyers Club, but he suits the moment perfectly and in limited screen time winds up leaving one of the greater impressions upon Jordan’s future and thus the film.

The Wolf is a film where first impressions are pretty important, but what lurks underneath the surface is far more significant. It doesn’t appear to be a brutal film, as it quickly gathers a vibrant, giddy and at times hilarious energy from the very opening shot; yet, the sum totality of the experience is brutal. Brutality manifests itself in the physical as much as it does in the verbal. It would probably be the most accurate usage of the phrase “handsome devil” to describe Leo’s character in this film, because in many instances, that’s just what he is: the devil. What he says and does sometimes is simply unforgivable and at other times, even unthinkable. Ditto that for Donnie Azoff, though he’s not as likely to sucker-punch his own wife in the stomach.

To put it simply, The Wolf is going to go down as one of the most divergent undertakings Marty has ever been a part of — an avenue that is likely to pay off come the Oscars. At the very least, it’s one of (if not) the largest and most intelligently and fervently crafted pieces of the year. The fact that it passes by with the brevity of a 90-minute flick says something about the talent behind the camera as well as that of those who are put in front of it. Not to mention, the brilliant writing of one Terence Winter, who’s responsible for episodes of The Sopranos as well as Boardwalk Empire.

I’m already going through post-movie withdrawal. . .will someone pass the damn ‘ludes already?!

cheers-to-that-shit

4-5Recommendation: The Wolf of Wall Street offers up so many reasons for why we go to the movies. It’s not only an absurd amount of fun, there’s a fascinating yet troubling story to be told, as well as beautiful people, fantastic performances and a host of gorgeous locations to feast the eyes upon. Scorsese has been in the film business for awhile and yet, for whatever it’s worth, this is a sign that the man is not done yet. Not even close. Despite the lengthy run time, most audiences should find something they will love about this masterpiece.

Rated: R (for rude and risqué)

Running Time: 179 mins.

Quoted:  “I’ll tell you what, I’m never eating at Benihana again. I don’t care whose birthday it is.”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.pinterest.com; http://www.imdb.com 

TBT: The Santa Clause (1994)

Screen Shot 2013-12-26 at 3.14.23 PM

Jolly ol’ Saint Nick crashed into my roof late the other night. When he squeezed his wide self down the chimney and caused a mess with equal gracelessness minutes later, the two of us had a chat about his job and how under-appreciated it really is. After I got over my initial shock about the fact that the guy was actually real, we sat down and I cracked a beer, while the big man gorged himself on milk and cookies that for years I swear were always going to waste at the fireplace. The chat would be quite brief as he obviously had many millions of other homes to get to over the course of the night (stressful much?) but in the end, I got excellent insight into the true identity of the man, the myth and the legend Santa Claus. Turns out, his image had been concealed the entire time. Actually an alcoholic by the name of Tim Allen, his festive alias had been successful covering up incidences like this one for centuries. To prove this was the case, he took a big swig of my 40-oz Old English, threw his toy bag over his shoulder and headed out the front door, asking kindly for a ladder so he could access the roof once more and head on out. I obliged and bid farewell to the bumbling man behind the bushy beard. 

Today’s food for thought: The Santa Clause.

1351367809_1

Release: November 11, 1994

[VHS]

When up on the roof there arose such a clatter, Scott Calvin reluctantly dashed outside to see what was the matter. . . .

Looking back, it seems strange now to imagine the great Bill Murray magically transforming into the beloved and iconic role of Santa Claus in this Disney classic. In fact it’s impossible.

Maybe Tim Allen’s seemingly natural fit for this role is enhanced by the realization that this was his big-screen debut. Anytime one thinks about the man’s acting chops, they are likely to think back to The Santa Clause, the serendipitous tale about a man whose family life is falling to the wayside when suddenly he’s given a second chance after he inadvertently kills Santa and takes over his duties having donned the big red coat.

Scott is recently divorced and only gets to see his son, Charlie (Eric Lloyd) over the holiday season. His ex-wife Laura (Wendy Crewson) is now seeing a shrink. . .and not for the therapy sessions, either. Dr. Neil Miller (Judge Reinhold) is a psychologist, a nice man with an apparent taste in tacky sweaters, and a skepticism of Scott. The Millers represent something of the perfect Christmas family, one that’s likely to receive nothing but nice gifts; whereas Mr. Calvin over here is doomed for a stocking full of coal.

All of that would soon change following his initial half-hearted completion of Santa’s route across the planet that one fateful Christmas Eve.

To think that someone with a criminal record could play the role of St. Nick is a little disconcerting, especially for those making the film. This is like learning the guy who played Barney the purple dinosaur detested children, or that Steve from Blue’s Clues enjoyed a cocaine high perhaps a bit too much. However, Disney and director John Pasquin felt more comfortable with this particular casting choice than paying attention to some little gray area and hence, Allen’s big screen break.

The casting of the former Home Improvement star is particularly amusing in the first installment as we get to witness the transformation. Allen’s character reluctantly goes from regular guy on the street to a mythical, jolly and lovable spirit. The way the film handles such a transition is perhaps the most enjoyable aspect to The Santa Clause because we get to see the practical implications of his physique. We see his belly rapidly expanding and his facial hair growing as if he’s experiencing a second bout of puberty — times ten! One particular shot of him on a park bench watching Charlie play is priceless.

Allen is good here, no doubt about it. He’s an actor with some great comedic timing, an asset put to good use in this film. However, that’s not to suggest he was starring in a perfect one. Far from it, in fact. The Santa Clause has been accused of excessive sentimentalism, some rather lame joke-telling, and one or two questionably adult themes (the ‘1-800-SPANK-ME’ line apparently caused a real-life outrage) that tended to mix awkwardly with material that was clearly aimed at the more youthful crowd. There’s no steering your sleigh around those facts; this movie dangerously towed the line between dark drama and inane comedy (going to the North Pole proved to be a great example of the latter in the significantly worse sequels), and made this film more unbalanced than it needed to be.

All the same, one can’t deny the twinkle that Allen had in his eyes when the transformation was finally complete. Touching moments abound when Scott finally lets go of all of his previous misconceptions about the holiday, and this is especially true when his identity is eventually revealed to the public (or at least, the people who matter — like the Millers) the very next Christmas. Seeing adults react to the knowledge that Santa is indeed a real person was one of my favorite experiences with this film as a child, an effect that has only moderately weakened over time. The Santa Clause may not be the definitive Christmas classic, but it does just fine on its own.

Creepy Claus . . .

Creepy Claus . . .

3-5Recommendation: An admirably clever way to break down some of the mystery surrounding one of the most fabled characters of all time, Pasquin’s full-length feature debut is certainly more desirable over his next outing with Tim Allen (the downright atrocious Jungle 2 Jungle). It also manages to entertain adults and children alike, even though the emphasis is unarguably on the latter. Still, grown-ups could do a lot worse than this as far as kids movies are concerned.

Rated: PG

Running Time: 97 mins.

Quoted: “Well, isn’t that a pretty picture, Santa rolling down the block in a PANZER! Well kids, I. . .I certainly hope you have been good this year, cause it looks like Santa just took out the Pearson home. Incoming!”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.imdb.com 

American Hustle

American-Hustle-Poster

Release: Friday, December 20, 2013

[Theater]

Catch Me If You Can‘s little brother decides to show its face in 2013, sporting a cool name, a slick, sexy visage and the necessary wardrobe/make-up department to cover up all the acne pimples and skin blemishes its suffering from as it starts to stumble awkwardly into adolescence.

To that end, little bro has turned out to be quite the attention whore as well (if guys can be whores). My, how the previews have hyped this one up; puffed up its chest to the point where one might think if it were pricked by a pin, the entire thing would explode. But the only thing that would rush out — don’t worry, it wouldn’t be all gory and bloody — would be a substantial amount of air. That would be the sound of an ego slowly deflating as the excessive two-hour runtime plods ever onward.

The story of American Hustle is similar to the story of Frank William Abignale, Jr., at least structurally, in that it purposely meanders, it likes to take its time developing, and (here’s some great news) it makes outstanding use of a cast that is to die for. That last quality applies more to David O. Russell’s follow-up to Silver Linings Playbook, considering it has possibly the best one of the year.

Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale) is a con man with a hairline not many would be jealous of. His fashion-oriented, equally cunning partner-in-crime Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams) finds the man to be a little physically out of shape but his confidence and mental tenacity far outweigh his belly. Together they con people out of thousands of dollars, posing as art appreciators or collectors. . .or, whatever they are. Getting hung up on those details is not so important. What is, though, is the fact that their good luck of making money illegally eventually will run out, and indeed they get busted by the loose cannon FBI Agent Richie DiMaso (an incredibly fun Bradley Cooper).

DiMaso strikes a deal with the pair, telling them that if they apply their skills to a sting operation in which he’s targeting some of the nation’s most crooked politicians and power brokers, both Irving and Sydney will be pardoned of their previous crimes. They need four major busts, which will include nabbing Mayor Carmine Polito (Jeremy Renner). They soon embark on a wild journey through some of the most politically corrupt and criminally-linked tiers of society that inhabit the streets of 1970s New York City.

While it features a grab-bag of talent, little bro is pretty reluctant to get out of bed in the morning. The opening act drags us deeply into the slightly questionable relationship between Irving and Sydney. But O. Russell realizes we need to have an anchor point somewhere with a cast this large; he attempts to root our emotions the deepest with this only slightly more empathetic duo. But once we are through the first thirty or so minutes, the real fun and glamour commences.

American Hustle seriously benefits from O. Russell’s direction, as he cleverly infuses a substantial bit of humor with some scenes of solid tension and applies it to the entire colorful cast in nearly equal measure. Jennifer Lawrence plays up Irving’s unstable wife Rosalyn perfectly — it’s nearly impossible to think the actress is a mere 23 years old (two years older than my little brother for crying out loud), as her performances, perhaps capped off by this one, are marks of an incredibly matured, seasoned actress. The director’s hand and the talented cast blend for some truly brilliant scenes that make up for American Hustle‘s otherwise rather bland and frankly disappointing story.

After you strip down the fancy clothes, the over-the-top characterizations and lush, elegant settings, what you have left might be best described as a pissing contest between professional liars and cheaters. Who shall come out on top? Chances are, it won’t be the ones most are expecting from the outset. And chances also are that none of them are quite as adept as Frank William Abagnale, Jr., to invite yet another comparison. Unfortunately such comparisons are hard to avoid when the essence of the story is so similar. This may be a more glamorous cast to stick with, but expectation levels are so high with this film that anything less than perfect feels a little like a con in itself.

True that the art of conning is made more complicated here, since it will involve the government (whereas DiCaprio’s character was constantly outlasting and outsmarting it). Still, there’s a lot left to be desired when this one concludes.

American Hustle is nonetheless a pretty fun time at the movies. Reiterating, there are some sequences and moments that shout Oscar potential and there’s no denying each incredibly talented performer here is having a blast with the material. A lot of that can also be pinned down to what they get to wear, though. Brad Cooper’s hair in curlers is downright chuckle-worthy. The banter back and forth between Cooper and Bale is priceless. The last thing that springs to mind when seeing Lawrence here is Katniss Everdeen. Heck, even Amy Adams is decent.

Throw in a couple of silly cameos and you’ve got a little brother that flaunts his swagger so casually you don’t really mind because you know he’s putting it to good use more than you are.

american-hustle

3-0Recommendation: American Hustle is a raucous comedy that is mostly successful in bringing forth the laughs. It’s story is a little confusing at times and it won’t be until the very end that things become clear (if they do at all), but as long as you go in with an open mind and expectation levels at a reasonable height, this should be the fun you might necessarily expect out of all this excess bullshot. 

Rated: R

Running Time: 129 mins.

Quoted: “I believe that you should treat people the way you want to be treated, didn’t Jesus say that? Also, always take a favor over money. Effin’ Jesus said that as well.”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.moviehdwallpapers.com; http://www.imdb.com 

TBT: Home Alone (1990); Home Alone 2 (1992)

Screen Shot 2013-12-19 at 5.00.20 PM

Oh, ho ho what fun we have tonight on this, the last Thursday before Christmas itself! In trying to come up with a review for the ultra-classic Home Alone franchise, I knew I couldn’t really do one film and avoid the other (come on, just admit it. Home Alone 2 is more than a worthy sequel. . .), and so I’ve enlisted some help in covering my bases here. Mark from the fantastically-written and always informative Three Rows Back has kindly joined me in taking a look back at these days of innocence; when Macaulay Culkin had a career; when ‘Christmas spirit’ meant getting to run around the house with your pants off and setting booby traps; when being ‘home for the holidays’ took on a completely different meaning altogether. Mark has chosen to remind us of the greatness of the original, while I took on its only mildly-less classic sequel in the second half. Hope you guys enjoy this one, this week’s a lot of fun! 

Today’s food for thought: Home Alone; Home Alone 2.

Home-Alone-home-alone-30911985-1024-768

Release: November 16, 1990

[VHS]

Christmas just wouldn’t be Christmas without Home Alone, right?

As much a festive tradition as roasting chestnuts on an open fire and receiving socks from granny, Chris Columbus’ monster box office hit had a seismic impact on Hollywood and helped to usher in a gamut of family friendly flicks hoping to ride the wave.

The home invasion movie was hardly a new concept, but writer and producer John Hughes sought to lighten up this normally dark sub-genre with a pair of bungling burglars and a protagonist whose early years and cutesy smile disguise a natural aptitude for home security and a hunger for sadistic violence.

The kid in question is eight-year-old Kevin (Macaulay Culkin), who’s left to fend for himself in his palatial home after being accidentally left behind by his family when they fly to Paris for a Christmas vacation. While Kevin’s guilt-ridden mom (Catherine O’Hara) tries to get back home by any means necessary, the wee lad goes about protecting his castle from a pair of notorious burglars called the Wet Bandits (Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern).

unnamed

Although Culkin was a known entity to Hughes, having appeared in his 1989 comedy Uncle Buck opposite John Candy (who gets a cameo here as Gus Polinski — ‘the Polka King of the Midwest’), his casting in Home Alone was nevertheless a considerable gamble due to the demands of having to hold the audience’s attention for long periods with no support. It’s a test for any actor to pull this off, but when that performer is a kid the challenge is immense.

Culkin didn’t become the biggest child star since Shirley Temple for nothing, though. With a cherubic all-American face, cheeky attitude and natural on-screen confidence, Culkin is a perfect fit for the role of Kevin. He might not have the acting chops of many of today’s child actors, but when all he’s got to do is put his hands to his face and pull that over-the-top shocked expression now and again (and again) he doesn’t need to worry about it.

The film does a nice job early on of showing how an eight-year-old would probably react when left home alone. When he isn’t tearing around the house and eating big bowls of ice cream Kevin’s making his own entertainment, like sledging down the stairs.

Kevin must soon come to realise, however, just how important family is, especially at Christmas time. After wishing they would all just go away (his brother Buzz calls him a “flem-wad” and, when asked by Kevin if he can sleep in his room, is told: “I wouldn’t let you sleep in my room if you were growing on my ass”), he’s soon pining for them. He also learns the importance of not judging books by their covers, especially the slightly odd guy next door who actually turns out to be a kind old man.

unnamed

Life lessons aside, Home Alone is, for all intents and purposes, a cartoon, with Culkin’s mannered performance complementing the Laurel and Hardy shenanigans of Pesci and Stern (it’s hard to believe this came out just a couple of months after Goodfellas, which saw Pesci portray a rather more unhinged bad guy).

The film spends a long time teasing the audience before letting rip with Pesci and Stern’s Wacky Races-esque attempt to catch Kevin (instead of the pigeon) in the final act. Needless to say, it’s the most entertaining part of the film, with a gleeful Kevin parading around as the blundering burglars walk into trap after trap and mutter indiscernible obscenities in the same manner as Dick Dastardly’s dog Mutley.

The violence unleashed is quite nasty in places, in particular when an iron drops on Stern’s head, which in normal circumstances probably would have killed him.

Criticising Home Alone is like taking candy from a baby; it’s easy but you feel bad about doing it. For all its faults – and it has a few – it’s a guilty pleasure you don’t feel too bad about indulging when the festive season comes around.

3-0Recommendation: Home Alone is one of those films that, when viewed under the right circumstances (ideally with the family on a sleepy Sunday afternoon), goes down as easily as apple pie. This isn’t a film made with cinephiles in mind; it’s a movie aimed at families about the importance of the family unit. Besides, if you watch it with a sibling you can always take inspiration from Buzz when it comes to classic put-downs. Flem-wad!

Rated: PG

Running Time: 103 mins.

Quoted: “Keep the change, ya filthy animal!”


home-alone-2-lost-in-new-york-poster

Release: November 20, 1992

[VHS]

Oh God, not again!

Isn’t this every parent’s worst nightmare, letting their son out of their sight for just two minutes and wham! — he’s on a flight to New York instead of Miami? I guess where insult gets added to the injury is the point at which the McCallister family recalls a similar disappearing act happening a mere two years ago, when Kevin failed to make it even out of the house with the family on their last Christmas vacation.

Still, Hollywood must cash in where they can on original ideas, and this time they take the home invasion premise and sort-of flip it on it’s head — ‘sort of,’ because this isn’t so much about protecting one’s home this time, as it is just having an opportunity to up the ante with the pranks. Admittedly, that’s the sole purpose of this sequel existing. The prospect of seeing the Wet Bandits facing another round of ridiculous traps set by the hands of someone a third their age proved to be too overwhelming a temptation for the execs at 20th Century Fox.

At this point, Kevin has proven himself as a remarkably resourceful little ten year old, and this time around he even had the sense to grab a hold of dad’s wallet, board a plane to a different city, and get himself set up in a nice room at the Plaza Hotel in the Big Apple. Suspending all disbelief for a while, this kid has become a professional at avoiding his family.

home_alone_2_lost_in_new_york_1920x1080

While Kevin familiarizes himself with the likes of New York City, even making friends with a local toy store owner named Mr. Duncan and a weird pigeon-keeping lady, trouble is lurking around the corner yet again, as Harry and Marv have somehow tracked down the little snot that got away from them last time. What are the odds, finding the kid in this big of a town?

The contrivance and questionable conveniences of the storytelling which arise from a studio’s go-ahead for making a “guaranteed-to-be-popular” sequel reaches an all-time high here, but we can easily overlook this because we had a lot of fun in Home Alone. Logic should follow that the second should be a good deal of fun too. And it is, though the novelty of the premise does show some signs of wear and tear.

First of all, the general plot outline here is quite predictable. The final act, wherein Kevin’s dim-witted assailants find and attack him in his uncle’s townhouse, feels like the same blueprint as its predecessor, only with a few slightly different instructions to follow through on. Watch Home Alone 2 to see Marv get lit up by an open electrical circuit Kevin rigged to a random sink (his goofy-looking skeleton still haunts me to this day, in a very crappy 1990s-CGI kind of way. . .), or witness Harry barbecue himself alive after dipping his flaming head into a toilet filled with gasoline. Ouch.

And see, that’s the other thing about the follow-up. Do the stakes become too high in the writing? When do things go from funny to “alright, this little ten-year-old is actually torturing adults?” Are his actions righteous? Supposedly they are, because his attackers just won’t quit. However, one can’t help feeling that one of the things that are Lost in New York is the spirit of Christmas. What happened to this being the season of mercy?

home-alone-2-daniel-stern-as-marvs-skeleton

As far as comedy sequels go, though, one can do a lot worse than Home Alone 2. It still features America’s favorite ten-year-old (at the time) Macaulay Culkin as Kevin McCallister doing what he does best. Pesci and Stern convert their bodies into one slapstick joke after another, a sacrifice that doesn’t go under-appreciated even after twenty-plus years.

As well, the general spirit that made its predecessor a smash hit is more or less present. Kevin learns that he does indeed need family to get by through the holidays, as much as they drive him up the wall and vice versa. At the end of the day, all’s well that ends. . .well? Yes. Because after all of these ordeals, the McCallisters finally are able to put aside their differences. So there is resolution this Christmas season. Extremely contrived resolution, but again. . .’tis the season to forgive and forget.

Speaking of, let’s forget about the beyond-depressing fact that there followed another three sequels after this film, none of which featured any of the original cast. Those who gave the green light to those ideas hopefully received nothing but lumps of coal in their stockings those years. For shame.

3-0Recommendation: It lacks a little of the charm and originality of the first, but still it’s undeniably good old fashioned family entertainment, especially if you’re wanting to stow away all the classics that made Culkin such a prominent success in the early 90’s. Movies like these, though, do beg the question — whatever becomes of former child stars? (I guess we should turn to Dicky Roberts to answer that.)

Rated: PG

Running Time: 120 mins.

Quoted: “You can mess with a lot of things, but you can’t mess with kids on Christmas.”


Once again I’d like to thank Mr. Mark Fletcher for participating in this week’s throwback, it was a lot of fun getting to read his thoughts on one of my personal favorite Christmas movies of all time. Be sure you all check out his site and show some love over there as well. Since this is the last TBT post before the holiday, make sure you all have a lovely Christmas/holiday season and I’ll see you next week, the 26th, for another edition of TBT. 


All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.imdb.com 

Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues

Anchorman-2

Release: Wednesday, December 18, 2013

[RPX Theater]

Baxter! Bark twice if you’re in this movie!

“Woof-woof!”

. . .and, oh how he is! Baxter and the entire Channel Four News team assemble for the much-anticipated follow-up to Adam McKay’s 2004 smash hit. Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues. . .is, to put it completely unbiased-like and everything, well. . .it’s exactly the product you were expecting, but quite possibly funnier.

While the decades may have changed — the likes of Ron, Brian, Champ and Brick are now gone from Channel 4 News, doing their own thing, finding themselves slightly displaced with the 70s behind them — the characters that made the first movie so hilarious sure haven’t.

Sure, originality has faded a little since the prospect of seeing the guys “again” by definition means we are already accustomed to the antics and shenanigans that are likely to come our way. McKay does not take his audiences for fools, despite what some may think of the quality of his work. That we are already acclimated to this feverish silliness coming into the second film is really an advantage, since that leaves him with one option: making sure that we get to know the characters on a deeper level. That might not be something to necessarily expect from a sequel to a slapstick comedy like Anchorman, but that’s just what we get out of our second time around the block with four of Hollywood’s funniest forty-somethings. Well written, familiarly yet painfully hilarious, and perhaps even a touch more sincere than its predecessor, Anchorman 2 delivers the good news, and quickly.

The sequel can only be described as the natural succession in Will Ferrell’s most successful comedy outing. Mr. Burgundy and his former colleagues find themselves struggling to make ends meet in the new decade; that is, until Ron gets hired by a major 24-hour news station, GNN (Global News Network). He wants to reunite his team and deliver New York, and the world, the best damned news one mustache could provide.

Of course that means pitting his San Diego resume against that of the slick, professional and comically un-intimidating Jack Lime (hehe. . .Jack Lame). Ron soon finds that its going to take some serious news anchoring to get his name out, especially when he learns that his team is given the worst time slot to be on air (from 2 to 5 in the morning). Ron quickly discovers that no matter what time they’re getting to report the news, wouldn’t it be better to give the people greater quantity of “what they want” (like high-speed car chases and celebrity gossip) instead of what “they need” (high-profile interviews and clearly more quality stories like the ones Veronica Corningstone is trying to nail)? What is Ron going to sacrifice to get to that prime-time spot on GNN?

Fortunately none of the guys sacrifice their comedic wit in this second outing. McKay and company, much to their credit, bring back a lot of the jokes that helped make its predecessor so outrageous, and while that sounds like potentially lazy filmmaking, in this case it was a good idea. Familiarity can breed contempt, but rare are the dull moments when you’re around Ron and his dim-witted colleagues. Their antics are met with greater opposition at this station, as the four of them are overseen by a particularly no-nonsense station manager by the name of Linda Jackson (Meagan Good). . .and in comparison to others, the four seem to be the station’s least successful contributors.

That is, yes, until Ron discovers the secret of news reporting. Though set in the 80s, the heart and soul of this cackle-inducing comedy very much riffs on the state of more contemporary news outlets and the way they present information to the masses. It’s the soft news being spewed out by the likes of TMZ, MTV and even to some extent more reputable sources like NBC that get targeted by Ferrell and McKay’s still sharp and witty script. For the most part, it is as successful a formula as the one they came up with roughly a decade ago.

The only thing this film will likely not do is compete with the first’s quotability factor. While there are some epic moments here to remember, there are no glass cases of emotion to be found, nor one liners of pure gold such as “where did you get those clothes, at the toilet store?” Much to its credit though, this film’s sight gags are far more plentiful and these alone are worth paying for a ticket. One particular side-story is responsible for one of Ferrell’s most bizarre yet hilarious running visual jokes (that’s a pun, actually), a sequence which culminates in the most satisfying of comic climaxes. If you thought the scale of the last news team battle (and the list of big-name extras) was impressive in the first movie, just you wait.

The Legend does indeed continue. This is everything that a sequel to a comedy should be, and thanks to the reuniting of McKay with the same guys who helped make him a success in the early 2000s, the line between remaining reliably funny and becoming pretentious about what it’s trying to achieve is carefully avoided. It’s not a film that has a great amount of purpose, but it’s a deliciously entertaining film that shows a progression of the relationships between the guys from the Channel 4 News desk. It also makes some great use of supporting roles in Meagan Good and Greg Kinnear, bearing witness to some of the most brazenly racist and childish behavior any news team member has ever seen at GNN. You almost feel sorry for these two. Almost.

Long live the mustache, and most importantly, long live Baxter — the coolest dog any movie has ever seen.

anchorman-2

3-5Recommendation: This section is remarkably easy for this one. If you were a fan of the first, this will more than satisfy. If you weren’t, here’s one this December you can probably skip out on. The silliness is back in fine form here and although we had to wait nearly a decade to see a sequel, it’s more than great news that what awaited was not simply a ship waiting to sink.

Rated: PG-13

Running Time: 119 mins.

Quoted: “Suicide makes you hungry, I don’t care what anybody says.”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.screencrush.com; http://www.imdb.com 

Nebraska

nebraska_xlg

Release: Friday, November 15, 2013 (limited)

[Theater]

“Back in my day, sonny, black-and-white films were all we had. You had no idea if it meant a film was going to be good or not. But you always knew that corn was going to be.”

With Nebraska being the great Alexander Payne’s follow-up to The Descendants — a gorgeous film which happened to snag an Oscar trophy for Best Screenplay in 2012 — it’s natural to assume it will be a product of the utmost quality. That’s a safe assumption to make, by the way, because this 2013 effort from the Nebraska-born director — one that provides a beautiful yet somber cross-section of life in the corn belt — is, for the lack of a better word, brilliant.

Every film has its own rubric for how it shall be remembered. No matter how effective or ineffective these are, there’s always going to be that one element that sticks out like a sore thumb, the one thing that the overwhelming majority of filmgoers will remember about their experience. Some works like to boast their visual effects (what’s that one movie that Alfonso Cuarón just did. . .I hear it was a good one), while others tout their A-list cast as if it were a banquet of performances on which worldwide audiences shall feast (American Hustle; Out of the Furnace; Lee Daniels’ The Butler being some of the prime examples this year). Others still bank on the strength of their screenplay to achieve a desired effect. In these cases, the talent of the cast can range from questionable to award-winning, but ultimately the performances will fall second place to the story at hand as characters function more as chess pieces on a massive game board (The Hobbit, anyone?).

While films certainly will have great strength in other areas — the second installment in the Hunger Games franchise is a great example of a strong cast executing a spectacular story (even if it’s not an entirely original one) — at the end of the day, one element tends to outweigh the rest, becoming the take-away, ultimate last impression. Especially when talking about the casual movie goer. In the case of Nebraska, while it’s no journey to Mt. Doom or Battle Royale, Woody Grant (Bruce Dern)’s mission to get to Lincoln, Nebraska to claim his prize money of one million dollars in any way possible is very much a moving story that uses actors who don’t necessarily jump off the screen but are perfect fits for the narrative at hand.

Never before has sleepytown U.S.A. seen such excitement. When Woody comes rolling through Hawthorne, Nebraska on his way to collecting what he thinks are his earned winnings via some random sweepstakes, he finds himself quickly becoming the talk of the town. Old friends, family members and neighbors alike come out of the woodwork to “congratulate” Woody on this news. Fortunately his sons David (Will Forte) and Ross (Bob Odenkirk) reflect our concerns about his delusion. However, after seeing his father on multiple occasions walking dangerously down busy roads in an attempt to reach his destination on foot, David reluctantly drives the fragile, stolid man to Nebraska, fully aware this is a wild goose chase. In an attempt to divert Woody’s attention for just a brief bit, he stalls in Hawthorne and the family has a big get-together, mostly to see Woody. Considering his deteriorating mental and physical state, David has no clue how long his old man will be around for and figures a family reunion could end this obsession with the sweepstakes coupon.

It is in this ever-eroding town, a culture that is ingeniously enhanced by Payne’s decision to shoot in grayscale, where the problems begin to arise. It’s one thing for Kate, David and Ross to be concerned (read: frustrated) by Woody’s ignorance here, but quite another for an entire town to be let in on the secret. Despite David’s best efforts to keep it quiet, the least perceptive viewer should realize that it’s a matter of inevitability before everyone knows about Woody’s sudden good fortune.

The story is deceivingly complex, and equally so enriched with humanity. While the primary thread is about Woody trying to get his cash, this is more importantly a study of a way of life in the American mid-west that seems to be on the verge of extinction. In multiple beautifully captured shots, one can sense the dust and cobwebs climbing up and over everything, burying underneath it a longstanding history of humbled tradition, one that prides itself on its dedication to manual labor and small-town mom-and-pop business. Obviously, corn is a priority. But that’s not what the big picture is here. What’s more startling than anything is how much these places seem to have fallen by the wayside with the advent of technology in the 21st Century. This is a film set in present day, but it could just as easily have been set in the 1960s; the forties. There’s something about Payne’s choice of location that is timeless — not in the romantic sense, per se, but more so in the dog-with-three-legs kind of way.

But that last paragraph is more extrapolation than anything else. What really runs deep is the journey to discover what makes the Grant family tick.

In a place where gossip spreads like wildfire due to a lack of other avenues of entertainment, the biggest challenge facing the Grants concerns the town’s potential reaction to what we all might assume is the reality of his situation: he’s not a millionaire. He’s just a sad, confused man, desperate to cling on to something, anything in his last years. In the process of getting to Lincoln, there is so much to be discovered about the relationships between father and son, between wife and husband, and perhaps most troublingly, that of the one between Woody and his friends. . .namely, Ed Pegram (Stacy Keach), a man he enlisted in the Korean War with.

Payne continues to refine his ability to balance gloom-and-doom with comedy in this Bruce Dern-led drama. This film brings tears to the eye as effortlessly as it wrings laughter from a deadpan script. A great deal of the comedy stems from Squibb’s disproval of her husband, but these moments never feel anything less than genuine. The same can be said about the particularly low moments. There is heart ache abound in this low-key drama about the true despair of aging and the importance of family. At the end of the day, Nebraska is one great example of a film relying on the strength and authenticity of its storytelling. Audiences are going to latch on to many aspects of this movie (the performances are truly excellent), but in this case, the most resonant aspect is the crushing blow to the ego that lotteries and sweepstakes provide more often than not. The money (especially the lack thereof) doesn’t necessarily make the man.

nebraska-2

4-5Recommendation: While it helps to be a follower of the Alexander Payne school of film, Nebraska is a thoroughly well-made film that deserves a wider audience than it’s getting. Quiet, unassuming and surprisingly emotional (surprising, given the setting), the story of Woody Grant is extremely touching. One of this reviewer’s favorites of 2013 to be sure. Go see it.

Rated: R

Running Time: 114 mins.

Quoted: “C’mon, have a beer with your old man. Be somebody.”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com 

TBT: Bad Santa (2003)

new-tbt-logo

Growing up, one of the harshest realities we all had to come to grips with was the fact that jolly ol’ Saint Nick was in fact, not real. But oh boy, is he! He comes to life on the big screen in this knock-out raunch-fest in ways no good little Johnny or Jenny should ever know. . . at least not until they hit puberty. This might be one of the all-time greatest darkest Christmas comedies ever made, and I apologize in advance for the insane amount of gushing that is to come. In an effort to tone that down a little, I want to do something a wee bit different here with this TBT. Therefore, we will have a letter in response to this movie, written by an 8-year-old Tom Little (because, unlike many, I’m not ashamed to admit that that was the age when I finally resigned to Santa being nothing more than my parents’ best-kept secret).

Today’s food for thought: Bad Santa

BAD SANTA

Release: November 26, 2003

[Theater]

Dear Santa, when did you turn into a depressed, raging alcoholic?

I thought you were supposed to be jolly! Instead what I am seeing here is one, big, fat jerk!!! Actually, you seem to be too skinny to be Santa. And that beard that hangs awkwardly underneath your chin. . . . are you sure you are the real Santa?

When I first saw you in this movie, I didn’t know what to think. Mostly because I was sad. You dashed the hopes of millions of children like me. How could Santa be such a mean, uncaring person — a man who likes to drink more than deliver gifts; a man who, when saying “Ho-ho-ho!” is really meaning something else, I think, because he always says it when he’s around girls. I don’t understand what this means, but you’re not being nice I don’t think.

But not only is there scene-after-scene of you being a grumpy old bugger, but you steal! You are obsessed with fancy, pretty jewelry! Maybe it’s because I am young and don’t understand yet — is this how you give people gifts so easily in one night, you just take things and then give them to others? Can I get a piece of jewelry?  Also, for being jolly old Saint Nick, boy do you swear a whole lot! I don’t think there’s anything weirder to me than seeing you yelling and cursing at all those innocent kids that sat upon your unhappy lap in the mall. Except for one kid in this film, you seem to hate everyone. How big is your ‘Naughty’ list? How small is your ‘Nice’ one? I wonder which one I would get put on to. . .

Don’t you get any joy at all getting to hang out with your elf-friends. . .or midgets? Er, no, I think they are elves. I have never been to the North Pole, so I don’t know what a real Santa’s helper is supposed to look like. All I see you do here is go to bars and say rude things to people — even your short little elf pal who helps you steal stuff from stores you work in. Bad Santa. Very bad.

There’s another really big question I have. Is the lady that’s in this movie who is on the DVD cover putting her tongue in your ear — is she Mrs. Clause? Why is she doing that kind of stuff? Is that some sort of adult secret I don’t know about yet? I have to say, Santa, the way she acts around you kind of makes me uncomfortable. But she must like you because she always is near you and tries to make you feel happy.

Anyways, a lot of what I am finding out about you, sir, shocks me. I do have to say, though, it was nice to see you actually sort of trying to be nice and be a role model of sorts to this one fat awkward kid named Thurman Merman. He reminds me of some of my friends, who get bullied. For some reason, other people think it’s fun to be mean to those around them and make them feel really badly about themselves. But this is one time where you, “Santa,” actually stick up for something. This makes me a bit more happy. You probably aren’t the best role model ever but it kind of looks like you are trying to do the right thing towards the end of the movie.

I hope you eventually do cheer up and start enjoying yourself. You have a pretty special life, and you should make the most of it! You might not like your job but I don’t think a lot of people do. Please stop drinking so much because I am afraid that one day you might crash your sleigh into someone’s roof and get the reindeer all hurt. No one wants that!

Sincerely,

A concerned kid named Tom.

34038_gal

Naughty List:

  1. Not a film for everyone by any stretch of the imagination. This movie really limits its potential audience with the vast sea of profanity, depressing themes and Willie T. Stokes (Billy Bob Thornton)’s excessive alcohol abuse.
  2. This movie ain’t for kiddies, and is the epitome of what it feels like to be disillusioned. If you believed in Santa Clause before this movie, you sure as hell won’t afterwards.
  3. The plot is paper-thin but we’ll let it slide. Its “story” takes a backseat to the outrageous comedy.
  4. Santa’s not only mean, but racist. In the parking lot scene he accuses his assailant of being the reason his brother lost an arm fighting the Vietnamese back in the day. The guy was clearly from the Middle East.
  5. The passing of both Bernie Mac and John Ritter makes watching this movie now a very bittersweet proposition.

Nice List:

  1. Billy Bob Thornton goes against-type in one of the most offensive, but painfully funny lead roles he’s stepped into. His completely amoral, alcoholic mall Santa who doesn’t like kids is rather ingenious, and, dare I say it, refreshing.
  2. The Thurman-midget fight scene is one of the funniest things I’ve personally ever witnessed. From what little I remember of being in this theater ten years ago, I do recall nearly peeing myself in this moment.
  3. That Thurman actually ends up bringing Willie out of his deep, dark depression is kind of heartwarming. Emphasis on “kind of.” Everything in this movie is relative, so this relationship mostly is built on tough love. But it works, and its nice to see Willie actually have a change of heart.
  4. John Ritter and Bernie Mac contribute to the film’s comedy, but they offer different kinds of comedy, rather than the dark, bleak style that Thornton’s anti-hero and Tony Cox’s midget-elf offers. Their interactions with the wayward Santa makes for some pretty memorable moments.
  5. Even Santa needs a pick-me-up. In this case, it’s the cute bartender, Sue (Lauren Graham).

fuck-this

3-5Recommendation: It’s possible this is one of the most sacrilegious films ever made, but if you’re into that kind of thing, Bad Santa makes for gleefully offensive entertainment. Thornton’s performance churns out a line-o-rama that most kids shouldn’t be able to repeat after watching, but then again, kids are hardly this film’s target audience. Understandably viewed by opponents as an unnecessarily vulgar product and maybe even a waste of time, this is one strictly for the cynics.

Rated: R

Running Time: 91 mins.

Quoted: “Is granny spry?” 

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.imdb.com 

The Armstrong Lie

hr_The_Armstrong_Lie_1

Release: Friday, November 8, 2013 (limited)

[Theater]

In one of the more infamous press conferences involving the disgraced cyclist, Lance boldly made the claim that one of the reporters who had just asked him a tough question “was not worthy of the seat he sat in.” The irony of that biting statement is not lost on the rest of us, since no one anymore believes Lance is worthy of the one he once sat upon, either.

Before anything else is said, it should be noted that there’s not a great deal presented in this surprisingly dark documentary that the public hasn’t already known — unless you’re crawling out from under a massive rock, you are well aware this was one of, if not the greatest deceptions in all of sports history. And, spoiler alert, there’s no great argument presented that attempts to defend Lance. Based on the gravity of his actions and the way he went about handling the effects of them, he may be one of the most indefensible athletes in the era of televised sports.

An incredibly intimidating figure, Lance was not only infamously good at cheating an already broken system (plenty of bikers in the 90s were doping, and the film points out an alarming number of them), but perhaps the more important takeaway from all of this — the more disturbing motif of his life story — was his ability and desire to crush any opponent who dared cross him. If this happened on the bike, it would almost always guarantee you came in second place to the Plano, Texas-born rider. If ever you were unfortunate enough to blow the whistle on him off the bike, however, quite simply there’d be hell to pay. You’d rather Lance not know you.

Despite the air of familiarity, and the fact that the press has successfully plastered his image all over the globe by now, the quiet power of The Armstrong Lie is mostly derived from exclusive footage of the man himself. And, despite his true character, it feels almost like privilege to see Lance relaxing in a hotel room, discussing race strategies, considerations. . . such as how he’s going to transfuse his blood somewhere along the way. (Faking a transportation issue between race stages is one way to do it.) Multiple discussions are had between himself and his team about whether or not his doping will actually be a factor in the upcoming Tour de France. The frankness of such conversations might be best described as eye-opening.

We may all have some big picture idea of this guy and how his legend (rather, the lack thereof) is going to proceed him, but Alex Gibney managed to put himself in a position, both throughout the many stages of Lance’s penultimate Tour de France (2009) and throughout his day-to-day life across several critical years, a perspective that gives us little extra glimpses of a man we wished he could have been instead of what he became. Thanks to Gibney’s persistence in shadowing Lance, viewers officially have a more intimate window into the life of one of the world’s most efficient, professional and perverse deceivers currently walking around.

The word ‘perverse’ seems appropriate because of the many groups he has taken along for a ride (uh…pun intended?), the most disturbing of which undoubtedly being the organization he created to help cancer victims.

Debating whether he truly cared for other cancer patients sadly is academic when the overriding narrative is so heinous (though it’s a little difficult to think he didn’t, considering the terrible state he was in throughout his own extensive treatment). The man lied about his natural abilities on the bike and, natch, everything seems to come in second place to that fact. As a result, the foundation — formerly known as the Lance Armstrong Foundation — has been renamed to reflect the severity of his fall from grace. It’s now titled Live Strong, and Lance has lost all connections to it. Old news, yes. Still, there’s a lot of rare footage contained herein that allows the viewer to get closer to the rider than they might have otherwise been able to.

Perhaps the most crucial moment of all, both in the film and in Lance’s turbulent last ten years, revolves around one particularly embittered former teammate and friend, Floyd Landis, who rode with Lance on the USPS team. As Landis had also been involved in doping, he too faced punishment, though nothing to the extent his more notorious teammate would ultimately deal with. Landis’ 2006 Tour de France title was stripped and after several years of struggling to find another team to take him on after he admitted to continual drug use, his professional career more or less slipped away, in no small part due to the complicated relationship with Lance. His testimony is not only emotional, it’s difficult to comprehend. It is in these moments of the documentary we can get an idea of just what it was like living the professional cyclist’s life in the shadows of someone like Lance Armstrong.

One of the more poignant observations made here is that this is not a story about drug abuse, this is a story about power and the loss of control that fame can give someone. In some ways it is impressive to think about how he managed to hold things together for as long as he did. As an audience, the greatest reward for sitting through this depressing affair might be just getting to hear the words of defeat coming from the man’s mouth. Yes, it’s somewhat of a foregone conclusion that he would not get away with such a profoundly huge lie, but there is a sense of finality derived from this film that you might not get by sampling all the bad press he has on the internet and elsewhere.

Originally titled The Road Back, and intended to detail the miraculous recovery of this athlete and his improbable return to glory on the bike, Gibney’s The Armstrong Lie proves instead to be a thoroughly damning product, and one that shouldn’t be missed, if you can help it.

douchebag

4-0Recommendation: Not likely to move audiences in the sense that we might see something about the supposed seven-time Tour de France winner that we haven’t known about him. There is no positive takeaway, but this well-constructed story certainly adds color to an already dramatic event that effectively tarnished the sport of professional cycling in its entirety. I’d recommend it to those who hate his guts. I’d even recommend it to Landis.

Rated: R

Running Time: 122 mins.

Quoted: “I like to win. But more than anything, I can’t stand the idea of losing, because to me, that equals death.”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com 

Out of the Furnace

Out-of-the-Furnace-Movie

Release: Friday, December 6, 2013

[Theater]

Sneaking up on you quietly, toxically, like steam billowing from the chimneys that scratch and tear at a skyline of charcoal gray, this original screenplay from Scott Cooper is most likely not the product most people were expecting. It is a solemn look at the not-so-quiet life in the Appalachian region; a story that’s as laced with brilliant performances as it is populated with shots of its gorgeous, rustic backdrop.

That the affairs ongoing in this unrelentingly dark tale might lead anyone other than Russell Baze (Christian Bale) to the breaking point much sooner than the two hours it takes for him is not really the surprising factor that I refer to. A title like Out of the Furnace is — yes, okay, grimly poetic — but moreso foreboding, and the title alone should be enough for most people to realize that what they are laying down $10 for is not for the sake of comedy.

Just as the thick plumes of smoke snake ever higher into the air, eventually to caress and blend in with the clouds, expectation levels of this particular story have similarly soared. Not that that was an unexpected phenomenon, or anything. Cooper’s ensemble cast in 2013 far and away outdoes that of his critically more successful debut film in 2009, and is probably one of the best casts of the year. Understandably, it’s difficult not to imagine a film featuring a cast like this offering up dramatic and epic grand gestures, scene after scene.

That’s not the case here, though. There is such a thing as actors also humbling themselves.

If the main impetus for seeing Out of the Furnace is for the performances, then it is going to be equally difficult to consider this an underwhelming experience. The talented cast should leave audiences speechless, as only one this good can.

Bale in particular is exceptional. In fact, he might be less recognizable as this down-and-out, soft-spoken countryboy than he was behind a cape and cowl. As Russell, Bale plays the elder brother to Rodney (Casey Affleck) with a heartbreaking tenderness and vulnerability that should virtually wipe clean any memory that he was indeed our Dark Knight.

He works a dead-end job at the local steel mill in an effort to keep a roof over his and his beautiful girlfriend Lena (Zoe Saldana)’s heads. At the same time, his family life burdens him. Russell splits his time working longer hours to pay off Rodney’s ever-mounting debts — for reasons he doesn’t quite know — and caring for their terminally ill father. As if this isn’t stress enough, Russell is for the longest time left oblivious to the real reasons his younger brother is in such debt. Until the day Rodney goes missing in New Jersey.

Rodney, desperate to pay off the debt himself and already having fallen in with a tough crowd, forces local bar manager John Petty (Willem DaFoe) to put him into a legitimate street fight in which he could stand to win good money. Rodney’s been serving in the military for years and whenever he’s back home he fights for money, finding himself unable to take up a normal job or joining his brother at the steel mill. Unfortunately his pride, blind determination and short temper land him in a ring overseen by the notoriously violent and demented redneck Harlan DeGroat (an ice-cold Woody Harrelson). He’s told to take a dive (intentionally lose) in this match, but will his ego be too big to obey this simple request?

Out of the Furnace examines these issues — pride before the fall; showing mercy versus seeking vengeance; the deliberate counting of one’s own sins — using a myriad of characters facing a different set of circumstances to show what they would do to right the wrongs. In so doing, the film takes a much more graceful, deliberate pace than many might be expecting to undergo. It might be difficult to understand that each of these brilliant actors, each with a legend preceding them, are much less of a “key” factor in the story as they more quietly assume puzzle pieces in a tragic story — much like the gigantic cast of Prisoners. Instead of jumping off the page as we all might expect them to do — an exception might be Harrelson, as he’s truly the personification of vile filth here — they end up passionately coloring in an otherwise black-and-white story of loss and redemption.

There are more than enough emotionally charged and nuanced performances that, even if are unsuccessful in breaking your heart, will at least make it ache.

The last thing screenwriters Scott Cooper and Brad Ingelsby are likely to be accused of here is a convoluted script. The hotheaded Rodney falls into the wrong crowd and it is up to Russell to try to bail him out. While the describable “problem” that arises out of the story is about as simple as that, the overarching story is actually an emotional journey that is something to behold.

The steam that belches out of the factories suitably obscures good guy from bad here. The moral ambiguity on display runs fathoms deep; hence, the beauty of this film. Each character, acting on his or her own reasons, is rendered with deep flaws, some perhaps more severe than others. DaFoe operates as a bartender, yet he finds himself balls-deep in debt with DeGroat and several nasty fellas up north as he spends a lot of money betting on bad street fighters. . .namely, Rodney. Saldana’s limited role as Lena is not without complication, either. Undoubtedly though, Bale’s character is the one who stands to lose the most, and becomes the centerpiece to this grim tale.

It’s not a film without its shortcomings, however. Forest Whitaker, as Sheriff Wesley Barnes, feels a little underused to say the least. As does Saldana. In fact, trailers seem to be quite misleading as the cut that is used in a rather dramatic moment involving Whitaker’s character does not actually make final cut. (This appears to be one of the movies that suffers from a pretty misleading trailer, in terms of its editing anyway.) Suffice it to say, though, that the limited screen time Whitaker gets he uses to its full potential. Ditto Saldana. The two add more concrete evidence for the argument that each character involved is deeply flawed, on some level.

There are also a few moments that feel a bit drawn out and redundant, but mostly these boil down to editorial issues rather than the innate elements that compose this surprisingly harrowing story. It’s again nothing to do with how unwelcome these people will likely make you feel; these are their woods you are trespassing in, and Harlan DeGroat’s neck of the woods is the meanest of all.

The acting is inspirational. It’s cinematography almost dreamlike. Cooper’s follow-up film respectably relies on its remarkably talented cast to bear the weight of the heavy emotions that penetrate these small towns and unstable relationships. It doesn’t need to lean on big-budget police chases, the high-stakes dramatic stunts and whatever else may go into what may be getting misperceived as a blockbuster film to get its brooding message across.

out-of-the-furnace-woody-willem

4-0Recommendation: The film is quite simply incredible, while still possessing a few dents in the armor. Look to this film for it’s powerful performances and beautiful scenery; the story may be a bit lacking for some, and it’s likely this will become more obvious on repeat viewings; however it’s more than easy to overlook simplicity for the sake of some of the year’s most provocative performances.

Rated: R

Running Time: 116 mins.

Quoted: “The people up in those hills, they have their own breed of justice, and it does not include us.”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.wegotthiscovered.com; http://www.imdb.com 

TBT: Jingle All the Way (1996)

new-tbt-logo

This particular usage of the former Mister Universe is so much fun I almost want to dedicate all TBT‘s this month to Arnie. Although I would simply love to analyze his endearing accent to death all month long, it is December after all and, let’s face it — I couldn’t really get away with not seeking out all movies mistletoe-y and Santa Clause-y. These films are all going to be movies that I flat-out love (though the critical score at the bottom may not always show it), and the goal here is to start with my “least” favorite-favorite, and move towards what I believe is the film that defines this particular season; coincidentally it’s one of my favorites ever made. Despite premature Christmas jingles being more annoying than having your prized action figure snatched out of your hands by some overzealous mail delivery dude, there’s nothing wrong with getting into the spirit of things early by diving headfirst into the season via movie reviews. . . right? I don’t think there is, anyway. And now that I’ve got that out of the way, IT’S TURBO TIME!!! 

Today’s food for thought: Jingle All the Way

Jingle-All-The-Way-PS

Release: November 22, 1996

[VHS]

Arnie and Sinbad team up to provide a holiday comedy that is nearly too silly for it’s own stockings. Both star as fathers turning to desperate measures to obtain their kids’ Christmas gifts, which just happen to be this year’s mega hot item. And yes, it may look like a fictitious rip-off of a Power Rangers action figure, the Turbo Man doll is actually the coolest, most awesome gift you could get your child this holiday season. Unfortunately, Arnie, as Howard Langston, always puts work before family and is consequently not involved in his son Jamie’s life too much. He has this one opportunity, though, to prove A) he’s not a completely absentee dad and B) that he can maybe even avoid divorce, as his relationship with wife Liz (Rita Wilson) isn’t exactly great either.

Sinbad plays a similarly desperate father. Myron has poor relationships with family too, and after spending all day determined to get a hold of this special Turbo Man doll, he insists that he and Howard are the same person deep down. More than Howard cares to admit. The two chuckleheads come across one another while waiting for stores to open on Christmas Day, because both have appropriately procrastinated in getting their precious doll until now. Surrounded by a mob of equally crazed shoppers, Howard and Myron start off exchanging pleasantries until it becomes clear to Howard that this guy might be mentally unstable.

It turns out not to be such an easy task, claiming one of these highly sought-after plastic toys. Situations slowly get out of hand as despair changes from the mob mentality to becoming a personal battle between Myron and Howard. While it’s difficult to say whether Myron and Howard’s relationship was really legit from the start, as the day progresses things get hilariously more hostile between the two.

jingle_all_the_way

I don’t recall Arnie starring in a Christmas-zombie film, but this looks spectacular.

Along the way they bump into some other caricatures that help set Jingle All the Way a few mistletoes apart from other Christmas comedies. I can’t go as far as saying there’s material in here that’s offensive, but a few moments — particularly the Santa showdown scene — offer up lines that adult viewers will find more comical than the film’s necessarily younger, less mature target audience, and more importantly, worthwhile sitting through this Christmas farce.

Fortunately, this is mostly “for the kitz,” as Howard would say in his thick Austrian accent. The movie’s slapstick humor conveniently and, for the most part, successfully diverts the viewer’s attention away from the fact that this movie skimps on character development, dialogue and story, and more towards just having a good time. Oh, what fun it is to ride in Howard’s SUV as he charges around the city finding someone who will sell him a little plastic action figure. And to also poke fun of all the ways in which selling Christmas is downright kitschy. Indeed, this is a film that oftentimes shows the dark side to what is otherwise perceived as the happiest, brightest time of the year.

jingle_all_the_way_fighting_dementor

Buzz Light-who? Sinbad as the Dementor is far more classic. . .

Naughty List:

  1. The Mall of America scene. Bad Arnie, don’t you know people generally frown upon grown men chasing children (who are not their own) through an indoor playground? The little kid may have the lottery number you need, but you’re lucky all you got was beaten by angry mothers and their purses.
  2. Feeding reindeer beer. Shame on you, Mr. Langston. That’s sick.
  3. Sinbad’s bomb in the mail trick. Sure, it was only grumpy Officer Hummell, but this particular gag might have been a bit overreaching, particular in light of recent national tragedies. Still, it was kind of funny at the time.
  4. Not showing up to your kid’s karate class graduation.
  5. Sinbad as the Dementor. What a bully. Was it just inevitable that he wound up symbolizing evil after all he and Howard go through together. . .? Methinks not.

Nice List:

  1. Justified violence as comedy. Fighting counterfeit toy-makers disguised as Santa Clause(s) was actually an act of self-defense and thereby justifiable. Otherwise, this would go on the Naughty List because who in their right mind would sucker-punch St. Nick?!
  2. Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s wife. Literally. More justified violence in the form of hot coffee in the face may become necessary when your name is Ted and you’re knowingly making inappropriate advances on Howard’s wife.
  3. Howard eventually does offer an apology to Officer Hummell. . .dressed as Turbo Man.
  4. “. . .AND A ROCK-EM, SOCK-EM JETPACK!!!”
  5. Jamie gives the doll to it’s rightful (?) owner at the end, because he’s got the real Turbo Man at home!

jinglealltheway1.jpg

I’ll leave you with this.

3-0Recommendation: Kudos to director Brian Levant for trying to parody Christmas shopping and the stress it puts on people, even if it goes far and beyond reasonable at times. Jingle All the Way cannot be viewed as anything other than a silly 90-ish minutes to gather family around and watch Arnie get his over-sized body out of bizarre situations. One of my favorites from my childhood, I shamefully have not returned to this for years.

Rated: PG

Running Time: 88 mins.

Quoted: “Put that cookie down. NOW!”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.pinterest.com; http://www.imdb.com