Before the Flood

before-the-flood-movie-poster

Release: Friday, October 21, 2016 (limited)

[YouTube]

Written by: Mark Monroe

Directed by: Fisher Stevens

Oscar-winning documentarian Fisher Stevens won’t change the world with his ambitious but overly familiar and ultimately underwhelming examination of man’s impact on the global environment, but his efforts aren’t completely in vain. Before the Flood uses the immense popularity of bonafide Hollywood A-lister Leonardo DiCaprio to raise its profile as the actor embarks on a three-year mission around the globe to educate himself on the most pressing environmental concerns of our time.

The central thesis is familiar but nonetheless significant, one that’s fundamentally concerned with man’s over-reliance on unsustainable sources of energy such as fossil fuels, a pattern that has for years now been linked to rising global temperatures, rising sea levels and the destruction of the natural world. In pursuit of causality Before the Flood, executive produced by DiCaprio and Martin Scorsese among others, stresses the interconnectivity of our global ecosystem, the politicking that goes into climate change denial (not everyone wants to believe 8 billion people can have such a profound impact on one planet) and how various parts of the world are often left to clean up the messes created by others.

In the process of touring through many devastating sites DiCaprio narrates his experiences via a somber, if not overly pessimistic voiceover. He explains how Hieronymus Bosch’s ‘The Garden of Earthly Delights‘ served as a creative inspiration for the film’s thematic explorations. This stunningly ornate triptych traces the evolution of humanity as it depicts man’s origin in the idyllic Garden of Eden in the first frame, merging into a colorful display of excess, celebration and blissful ignorance in the second before eventually transitioning into a frightening scene filled with death, destruction and suffering in the shocking third panel. DiCaprio elaborates, explaining how man’s current state places us firmly in the center panel and ruminating on how long it might be before we find ourselves entering the third.

What’s most impressive about the film is watching one of the world’s most established thespians mute himself enough so that he is firmly a part of the picture. In other words, while his celebrity status undoubtedly will draw in viewers who might not necessarily watch this sort of thing, his ego is nowhere to be found. DiCaprio is extremely humbled by what he finds, and more than humbled he is legitimately bothered. His perturbation comes across genuine, if not in his pursed-lip/silent nod reactions to what he witnesses in Canada, Indonesia, Greenland and India (among other locales) then in the amount of questions that pour out of him along the way. Some may find his lack of knowledge a barrier but if anything his acknowledgment of that very ignorance opens the film up considerably.

And yeah, you can probably accuse DiCaprio of hypocrisy if you really wanted to. If you’re looking for some way to make his involvement more about Hollywood than the environment, you might note the irony in DiCaprio likely making another film in the coming year(s), in him traveling around in luxury cars and luxury private jets and being involved in an industry that creates a massive ecological footprint, be it the electricity consumed to light sets or the amount of material required to make scenes believable. It’s also not entirely unreasonable to suggest that if the actor truly wants to make a difference, he might have to consider a hiatus from acting, permanently, in order to fully pursue efforts to fix things. And given everything he says in Before the Flood, it seems like Leo really wants to get his hands dirty (in a good way).

DiCaprio’s position in the entertainment industry enables him to speak with some of the most prominent environmental activists and climate-conscious politicians — Senator John Kerry is interviewed and there’s a brief Al Gore sighting. Aside from these figures, he speaks briefly with President Obama and one of the film’s highlights surfaces in a candid chat with Indian environmentalist Dr. Sunita Narain — where he’s met with compelling resistance as Narain argues that meeting the most basic demands of India’s bulging population is a concern that supersedes the need to find alternate sources of energy. He also interviews scientists and specialists who each share their unique perspectives, almost all of which confirm the notion that humanity is indeed reaching a critical point where it needs to learn how to adapt or the damage done will likely be irreversible. With a rapidly swelling global population these concerns are only going to become more challenging in the years and decades to come, and so the urgency of addressing and finding solutions to them in the here and now naturally becomes a big stressor . . . lest we face the reality of regaling our grandchildren about how Alaska used to be covered in cerulean yet crystal-clear icebergs.

Circling back to the contradiction of seeing a major film star touting environmental awareness: Before the Flood is most compelling when we are taken behind the scenes of Leo’s most recent (and Oscar-winning) film, The Revenant, which, aside from presenting one of the most visceral and singular cinematic experiences in recent memory, focused on the impact early settlers had on their surroundings: poachers destroying everything in their path on their journey to make ends meet; settlers slashing-and-burning forest. That shoot was infamously challenging but for reasons other than the obvious. Director Alejandro González Iñárritu and crew were forced to relocate hemispheres — from the Canadian Rockies to the Andes in Argentina — in search of snow when they experienced unseasonably high temperatures in the north. Listening in on these conversations gives an entirely fresh and direct perspective.

If that’s not convincing enough, perhaps the fact that Indian farmers watched their crops washed away, leaving dozens of families — children — starving after they received their entire annual rainfall over the course of a day will sober you up. Or that entire, neighborhood-sized chunks of ice in the Arctic Circle are melting faster than you can measure them. Rising global temperatures and the rapid shrinking of the polar caps continue to strain Inuit fishermen’s livelihood as they hunt bears, a population that has been dwindling in response to changing conditions. There are other examples as well, but these are among the most undeniable, the most disturbing.

DiCaprio is a great mascot but ultimately the production he’s passionately become involved in doesn’t give us much in the way of revelation. Fisher likes to dwell on the gloom-and-doom talk seemingly more than he wants to find solutions and the solemnity eventually becomes off-putting. The numbers and statistics and graphics that accompany the vast sea of information we’re provided don’t really add impact. They add to the science, sure, but Before the Flood lacks the actual urgency that its message all but demands. There is, however, a glimmer of hope and human ingenuity when we step inside the Tesla Gigafactory 1, an enormously cavernous space that will house the production lines of millions of electric vehicles and energy-efficient lithium batteries. The latest venture of Tesla founder Elon Musk opened in July of 2016 and, once operating at full capacity in 2020, it will manifest as the world’s largest building. He judges that 100 such facilities spread throughout the world would make a significant impact on energy reduction and would lead to massive curtailing of raw material usage.

Like a great many of the “it’s so obvious” revelations that we’re bombarded with in the face of all this maddening destruction, DiCaprio’s deduction that “[100 gigafactories] seems manageable” is a tad too naive. The intent behind the film is good, it’s sincere, but Before the Flood settles for inciting immediate reaction. It wants to see us flap our arms in panic and despair rather than inspire us into action and perhaps even legitimate activism.

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“Dude, that’s not a prop.”

Recommendation: Activists, behold a famous actor who truly seems to give a damn about the only place we will ever call Home. Only time will tell just how for real he is, but I want to believe in him. I think Before the Flood is a force for good but it should have been more potent than it actually is. Still a decent recommendation from me, and one you should definitely spend time with no matter your political leaning, something that’s well worth tracking down as it is available for free on so many different platforms (at least for now). 

Rated: PG

Running Time: 96 mins.

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

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

The 88th Academy Awards: What did we learn, anything?

oscar-2016-07Like an M. Night Shyamalan plot twist Chris Rock did in fact show up to host the 88th Academy Awards, and the event did go off without a hitch — no crazed protestor drove their car into the Dolby Theater anyway. This night wasn’t at all Billy Crystal-y; this was definitely more Degeneres-ish with Rock shouting loudly from the stage, shouting his way through the cues that were going to make him the evening’s secondary centerpiece hopeful (the main attraction obviously being the sight of Leo with the Oscar in his hands finally). And there was a lot of talk about the lack of racial diversity amongst this crop of nominees, stuff that once sounded like rumors were now things Chris Rock was spurting out loudly on stage — calling out Jada Pinkett Smith and by extent William over there, and other actors who were protesting the Oscars for the lack of inclusion of black nominees. He got some kind of a mild reaction from the audience.

Rock was good though, even after a somewhat Rock-y start (cha-ching!). He hesitated not one second to delve right into the controversy of the perceived white-washing of the nominations — not even Comedy Central’s comparatively conservative usage of the ‘bleep’ button would’ve allowed him to say what he wanted to say here. Rock does address the issue and he even (considerately) redirects the focus away from the nature of this year’s nominees and towards an industry that continues to struggle including more roles (not necessarily high-profile ones) for a variety of ethnicities.

Interesting how this ceremony didn’t for one second address the even smaller chunk of the Role Playing pie, those representative of the LGBT communities. Successes like Tangerine are just going to have to sit tight for now. Those minorities will be addressed at the next telecast. Rock’s an odd choice though for this event, as his performance recalls his meta performance in his recent comedy/drama Top Five. With that, naturally, come the expectations of profanity and vulgarity and in these ways he’s certainly restricted but he makes some pretty good stabs with some visual gags and a trio of Asian kids who essentially become props to one of his jokes.

In the brightest spotlight imaginable Rock largely succeeds as a host, he doesn’t tiptoe around as if there’s broken glass everywhere. Rock’s never been one to care if a feeling or two gets maimed in the process. So while this definitely wasn’t, and was never going to be the Obscenity-Laced Oscars this was about as memorable as any other and there is already speculation as to who will be the host next year. There were surprises while some really good guys were finally rewarded for their efforts (and patience). Fury Road won like, everything. Someone sang. There were too many commercials. Too many names mentioned during the In Memoriam segment that I did not recognize. And there definitely weren’t enough Girl Scout Cookies.

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WINNERS — WHAT ARE THE ODDS?!

(Winner / What I picked)

Original Screenplay: Spotlight / Spotlight

Adapted Screenplay: The Big ShortThe Big Short

Supporting Actress: Alicia Vikander Alicia Vikander

Costume Design: Mad Max: Fury Road Mad Max: Fury Road

Production Design: Mad Max: Fury Road / The Martian

Hairstyle/Makeup: Mad Max: Fury Road Mad Max: Fury Road

Cinematography: Emmanuel Lubezki Emmanuel Lubezki

Film editing: Mad Max: Fury Road The Big Short

Sound Editing: Mad Max: Fury Road Mad Max: Fury Road

Sound Mixing: Mad Max: Fury Road Mad Max: Fury Road

Visual Effects: Ex Machina Mad Max: Fury Road

Animated Short Film: Bear Story World of Tomorrow

Animated Feature: Inside Out Inside Out

Supporting Actor: Mark Rylance Mark Rylance

Documentary Short Film: A Girl in the River . . . . . . um . . . .yes

Documentary Feature: Amy Amy

Live Action Short Film: Stutterer . . . um . . .sure

Foreign Language Feature: Son of Saul Son of Saul

Original Score: Ennio Morricone (The Hateful Eight) John Williams (Star Wars: The Force Awakens)

Original Song: Writing’s on the Wall (Sam Smith) ‘Til it Happens to You (Lady Gaga)

Best Actress: Brie Larson Brie Larson

Best Actor: Leonardo DiCaprio LeoSchmardo DiSiprico

Best Director: Alejandro G. Iñárritu Alejandro G. Iñárritu

Best Picture: Spotlight Spotlight

(16/24) 


 OBSERVATIONS FROM THE NIGHT (like a Twitter feed but way less redundant)

 

Chris Rock seems uncomfortable. Wow he’s jumping into the race thing head-on, eh?

Jacob Tremblay is standing up in his seat to get a better look at C-3P0 and R2-D2 when they come on stage. Heh. That was funny-bone-tickle worthy.

Chris Rock is currently shamelessly selling his daughters’ Girl Scouts Cookies to random members in the audience, meanwhile Olivia Munn is hoarding them by the box.

Chris Rock seems uncomfortable again.

Why is Mad Max winning everything?

Pete Docter seems to be the only one (so far) who has really grasped the concept of the Academy tweaking the acceptance speech formats (scrolling across the screen a list of the names the winners would like to thank and thus saving all of us from listening to that trollop). Good for you, Pete. I hope others follow because really so far nothing has changed.

Ennio Morricone seems genuine. That was a highlight moment, especially because I totally didn’t peg his work as the winner this year. Cool.

Hooray for Emmanuel Lubezki and Alejandro G. Iñárritu on their back-to-back wins. That’s three in a row for the incredible cameraman and dós for Iñárritu for his expertise in the director’s chair. Birdman and The Revenant couldn’t be two more different films; this is an incredible filmmaker who has seriously earned himself a new fan. (He did last year, actually.)

Who’s the most deserving of their awards? I’ll list my Top 5: 1) Leo (Best Actor); 2) Brie Larson (Best Actress); 3) Spotlight (Best Picture); 4) Jenny Beavan, Mad Max: Fury Road (Best Costume Design); 5) Inside Out (Best Animated Feature)

Leo got the Oscar you guys. His acceptance speech was about as quality as his name being called was predictable, but predictable sounds really negative. His words were from the heart and certainly important and powerful. Good for him for, as per usual, using the stage to talk about something much bigger than himself and his chosen profession.

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What were your thoughts of the winners and the overall show this year? 


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

Photo credits: http://www.comingsoon.net; http://www.peoplemagazines.net 

The Lucky 13 Film Club: The Revenant

 

Dear loyal DSB-ers. . . DSB-ites . . . DSB-ians. . .(what’s the correct syntax here?)

I am delighted to bring you a link to a discussion I was fortunate enough to be part of over at Cindy Bruchman, an absolutely outstanding site discussing many different aspects of film and the culture that surrounds it. If this post is the first time you’ve heard of the site, you really should take a little time to check out what Cindy is doing. It’s fabulous work.

This piece today, part of her Lucky 13 Film Club, discusses aspects of the recent survival drama The Revenant. I’d be elated to hear what you guys have to say about our thoughts on it. Thank you.

Cindy Bruchman

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The Revenant

The Revenant movie poster

Release: Friday, January 8, 2016

[Theater]

Written by: Alejandro González Iñárritu; Mark L. Smith

Directed by: Alejandro González Iñárritu

There are some things in The Revenant that you can’t un-see. Like the bloody confrontation between the Arikara tribe and Captain Andrew Henry’s men in the very first scene. Or a human body torn apart by monstrous bear claws. These moments transcend shock value, they go beyond the call of dramatic duty, depicted so authentically so as to become genuinely upsetting.

Alejandro González Iñárritu’s follow-up to his Oscar-friendly Birdman doesn’t get any less haggard as it plods onward, but the bloodletting slows just enough for us to catch our breath and get our feet back under us. Through a protracted adventure across harsh winterscapes, one that favors physical over verbal communication, Iñárritu’s epic vision confirms those who tough out the opening half hour will be well-equipped to handle everything Leonardo DiCaprio’s Hugh Glass must go through in the ensuing two-plus hours.

Acclaimed cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki, Alfonso Cuarón’s right-hand man, drops us into the early 1800s. It’s man against nature; us against the sprawling, unforgiving territory of the Louisiana Purchase. Even from a distance and in comfy theater chairs, feeling cold and exposed is an inevitability. Lubezki’s fiercely uncompromising artistry — a refusal to use anything but the natural light a pale sun and dusty, white-washed landscapes provide — ensures that of all the things we are going to feel, safe won’t be one of them. This is his movie as much as it is the director’s (and Leo’s). Iñárritu directs a script he co-wrote with Mark L. Smith, one that tells of a remarkable true story of survival and human courage.

The premise is simple, one of those one-line blurbs that could present a problem to those who weren’t enthralled by the chase in Mad Max: Fury Road; this is an all-out crawl against the odds as Glass hunts down the man responsible for killing his son Hawk (Forrest Goodluck) after Glass is mauled by a bear and left for dead by Henry (Domhnall Gleeson) and his men. The Revenant isn’t interested in making things complicated because society at this stage isn’t exactly what you’d call civilized. People get by on raw bison liver and don the skin of bears they’ve just killed for protection from the elements.

Yet, there is a reward for enduring, not just in terms of its occasionally stomach-turning imagery. The bulk of the narrative pivots around Glass’ interactions with the great outdoors, the pace often slowing to a literal crawl but not once does it become lethargic. Of course, come the end we still hope the wait has been worthwhile — will we get that ultimate showdown between good and evil? How will justice be meted out? As much as we want to shield our eyes from the next confrontation, the trifecta of superior directing, acting and photography simply doesn’t allow it.

In a film like this, the protagonist is only as good as the villain he must face. While nature is in itself a force to be reckoned with, The Revenant has been gifted Tom Hardy, who plays John Fitzgerald, a thoroughly despicable fur trapper whose ideological differences with Glass’ headstrong explorer type drive the narrative forward. The tension between them can at times be unbearable, the look in Hardy’s eyes frightening and proof that Charles Bronson was merely practice for the big leagues. But the hostility of Native American tribes might well take the cake in terms of driving home the tragedy of what America once was.

So, what of Leo then? And why have I put off discussing him for so long? It should come as no surprise that some of the film’s best-kept secrets — many thankfully avoid ruination by not featuring in the overplayed trailers — hinge on what Leo does and does not do with his body. Imagining a role where an actor must do more to convey the physicality of early American life is nigh on impossible. As he inches his way from one life-threatening obstacle to the next, his Quaalude-induced spasms in The Wolf of Wall Street become a far crawl from true greatness. But Leo’s not just another decomposing body in a picture filled with death and decay.

Glass is a fiercely protective father. His paternal instinct is his trump card, a tenderness and passion for rearing his child the right way offering balance to a character with great potential to come across all too heroic and mythological. Whatever distances we try to put between ourselves and the brutes we face here, there’s no denying little has changed about the fact parents are willing to do anything to protect  their children from the indiscriminate terribleness of the world. DiCaprio is nothing less than incredible here. (I won’t say Oscar-winning lest I jinx the whole damn thing.)

It’s well-known The Revenant was a very difficult movie to make, though not for financial reasons. The cast and crew suffered brutal conditions. The shoot was described as “hellish.” If the actors look like they’re very uncomfortable in their respective scenes, that’s probably because they are. Many of the original staff didn’t see the project to its end. Shot on location in the Canadian Rockies and in Argentina, the film pulses with a vitality that’s impossible to stage. Natural beauty brilliantly disguises the film’s black heart. Every time I had to shield my eyes — I’m somewhat embarrassed to admit it, but yeah, I did — I then reminded myself what a thing of beauty it was that I was witnessing.

things start getting hectic in 'The Revenant'

Recommendation: This film is not for the squeamish. Raw power, visceral imagery and blunt honesty combine with legendary performances to create a film that will be impossible to forget, much less imitate. I haven’t seen the Mexican auteur’s full filmography yet, but I have this nagging feeling he might have just hit a career high with this stripped-back and naturalistic production. A must-see for fans of DiCaprio. 

Rated: R

Running Time: 156 mins.

Quoted: “You came all this way just for your revenge, huh? Did you enjoy it, Glass? . . . ‘Cause there ain’t nothin’ gon’ bring your boy back.”

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

The Danish Girl

The Danish Girl movie poster

Release: Friday, November 27, 2015 (limited)

[Theater]

Written by: Lucinda Coxon

Directed by: Tom Hooper

The Danish Girl, at least at a glance, looks poised to pull a Dallas Buyers Club and receive recognition, and possibly even win top prizes for both leading categories next February. The field is getting pretty stacked though, and if Leo can just get a word in edgeways . . .

Even though he’s in the lead here, Eddie Redmayne recalls Jared Leto, who last year transformed himself from 30 Seconds to Mars vocalist to Oscar-deserving thespian on the back of his scintillating turn as a transgender prostitute. Even with Leto’s prior roles considered, the story of him becoming Rayon was one of the highlights of 2014. He couldn’t do it alone though as surely he fed off of Matthew McConaughey’s own intensity.

Similarly in The Danish Girl Redmayne is half the picture, entirely dependent upon the chemistry he shares with his Swedish co-star Alicia Vikander, who officially gives Marion Cotillard something to worry about. No longer does the race for first place in the Best Leading Lady poll seem like such a given. Vikander is arguably best in show in a film that will be remembered for heartwarming (and breaking) performances first and story second.

Slight in build but dapper in a suit, Redmayne is introduced as an upstanding but quite shy young man, a talented painter named Einar Wegener whose landscape portraits are fairly highly sought after. He lives in 1920s Copenhagen with his wife of several years, Gerda, herself a painter. The story is very much one that takes place behind closed doors, chronicling Einar’s transition from a man into a woman and becoming one of the earliest recipients of gender reassignment surgery, a journey inspired by Gerda’s insistence her husband stand in temporarily as a model to allow her to finish off a painting. He dons high heels and stockings, pretends to wear a dress and appears altogether comfortable doing so.

The Danish Girl isn’t made with impatient viewers in mind, nor purists who believe biopics have an absolute obligation to recount every single fact as they happened. Over the course of two hours the film massages an ache into a deeply seated pain, transforming a seemingly ordinary, loving marriage into a relationship fraught with doubt and tested to its very limits as Einar begins to more deeply embrace a new identity.

While there is strong focus on the moment, the film isn’t suggesting a simple game of dress-up was the moment the artist first realized something about them was different. Einar simply believes now more than ever he was born a woman and would prefer to identify as such. Gerda, meanwhile, has a difficult time accepting the game is no longer a game. Director Tom Hooper wisely introduces issues that had potentially been ongoing for years, such as the couple’s infertility problems, among other things. Einar adopts the name Lili Elbe to reflect another phase in her own personal evolution.

Lili also experiences chronic physical pain on a monthly basis, prompting her to seek medical advice. Of course, these are more austere times and as far as doctors are concerned, there’s something psychologically wrong with Einar for believing he’s been born a woman. Homosexuality isn’t exactly viewed in a positive light, much less the concept of a man (or a woman for that matter) identifying more strongly as the opposite gender. These circumstances were considered, at best, exotic fantasies generated by feeble or perverted minds. Supporting actors playing doctors may be on the fringe, but they contribute significantly to that sense of intolerance and it can be pretty uncomfortable.

Hooper’s weaving of fact with fiction works very well all things considered — there’s little mention of the couple’s marriage being annulled by Danish courts in light of Wegener’s groundbreaking surgery, and the real Lili underwent four procedures instead of the two the film implies she had. The Danish Girl blends two powerful performances with a keenly observed screenplay that places a premium on dignity and courage. This is an extremely human movie, perhaps presenting more layers to a single person than any other film this year.

The intimacy is palpable, and not just in terms of the performances. Danny Cohen’s camerawork deserves recognition, for he assembles a patchwork of beautiful shots of the natural world, a few the source of inspiration for some of Einar’s work, and life in romantic European cities such as Copenhagen and Paris. The Dresden Municipal Women’s Clinic, where the surgeries were performed, looks like a castle cloaked in thick tree cover. Elegant cinematography expertly parallels the inner beauty the deeply conflicted Girl so desperately seeks.

Indeed, and much like Jean-Marc Vallée’s exploration of the societal stigmas surrounding HIV/AIDS, this is a beautiful production in more ways than one, its committed performances so clearly sympathetic toward their subjects. Structurally sound but not particularly inventive, in its pursuit of the depth and complexity of the things that make people what they are The Danish Girl bears significant weight.

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Recommendation: Another showcase for Eddie Redmayne and Alicia Vikander (who is arguably better than her male co-star), The Danish Girl is putty in the hands of critics. Moving in the way that you deeply care about the fates of all involved. Dazzlingly shot. Some scenes are highly predictable and formulaic but there is no denying this is a winner. (All the same though, Eddie I’m sorry but my allegiance will still probably lie with Leo come February.) 

Rated: R

Running Time: 120 mins.

Quoted: “I’ve only liked a handful of people in my life, and you’ve been two of them.”

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: Titanic (1997)

black_and_white_sailboat_on_a_lake_0515-0909-2901-5443_SMU_Fotor

Welcome boys, girls. . . . and all others, to another sappy, tear-filled romantic edition of Throwback Thursday. (I know, gross, right?) The whole idea behind today’s post is about being subtle. . . . . . as subtle as a 40-foot-tall iceberg protruding from the chilly North Atlantic water. As subtle as that scene where Jack paints a picture of Rose. With Valentine’s Day right around the corner, I know all of you are just chomping at the bit to read something mushy and heartrending. (I know I am!) Well, you certainly get it here in James Cameron’s preposterously successful, epically-imagined, prodigious smash-hit, a.k.a.

Today’s food for thought: Titanic.

titanic-movie-poster

Getting that sinking feeling since: December 19, 1997

[VHS]

Like an aftershock ripping through L.A. the power of James Cameron’s great water-bound tragedy strikes me today with a force seemingly laying dormant since my first viewing. When I was a wee lad and watching this gigantic mess unfold for the first time (‘mess,’ in this case being a huge compliment) I am pretty sure I hated Titanic for its prioritizing of love over visual spectacle. I wasn’t into critiquing movies of course but I already resented Cameron for turning what I saw as a simple disaster film into a needlessly saccharine romantic epic.

Ah, behold this wonderful thing called hindsight. I would never have described the whirlwind courtship between Jack Dawson (Leo) and Rose Dewitt Bukater (Kate Winslet) then as genuine, truly tragic, or even ‘good;’ before puberty hit me like a ton of bricks I was frequently annoyed by sappy stuff on TV and in films and would just as quickly dismiss the love angle as stupid and pointless as I would the overall experience as a waste of my time as well as of its own potential. Looking back, that’s just too dismissive. I realize now that the only valid argument I do have against this iconic work has everything to do with the movie running over three freaking hours long. It was one of the first films I was aware of actually having its own intermission. (There’s a throwback for you.)

Silly little Tom — Titanic wasn’t a movie; it was an experience. Accidentally or not, it burgeoned into an industry unto itself. Back in the day you couldn’t hold a conversation without being obligated to eventually talk Titanic. Those who were opposed, either ideologically or merely put off by its overwhelming popularity, seemingly had more on their minds than those who went with the explicit purpose of getting their Romeo and Juliet fix. Simultaneously one of the highest-grossing films of all time (adjusting for inflation, it ranks fifth behind cinematic trivialities like Gone with the Wind and Star Wars), and doing battle with William Wyler’s Ben Hur as one of the most Oscar-friendly films ever made, taking home 11 of its 14 potential golden statues, Titanic granted its Captain passage into the theretofore uncharted waters of the billion-dollar club in terms of worldwide gross. Statistics sort of speak for themselves though, so what about the emotional state it left us all in? (Now I can say ‘us’ because I too am a believer.)

I’m only now coming around to accepting that what the young starlets accomplished was indeed a good thing for this world, and I can’t imagine what it was like for the ’90s teens swept up in their own fantasies of being with the then-Hollywood heartthrob in those frigid North Atlantic waters. How they would gladly take his place in the water. Or at the very least, help him climb on to the door (come on, that thing is not going to go under with two small people on it). I can time and again look to Titanic for a number of examples that support the cliché how it may indeed be unhealthy to take one’s entertainment so seriously.

When you have Celine Dion belting out a tune at a wine glass-shattering pitch I guess I shouldn’t be taken aback by the phenomenon of entire blogs being devoted to Jack and Rose. Is there any more damning evidence of me softening in my late 20’s than the fact that her voice, those lyrics, rather than annoying me actually haunt me? There’s (and yes, I’m going to say it) something epic about her song, some part of it that has never quite left my body since I first heard it as that wee lad. I can’t recite much beyond the chorus, but seriously — why does that matter? It’s impressive that after all of this time passed, there are elements and aspects to Titanic that I’m finding more and more intriguing, and more crucial to the general health of romance in contemporary film.

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There’s a reason the passionate romance outweighs the sinking of the ship. Jack and Rose living on in cinematic infamy, their reward for being so damn good-looking and inseparable. Superglue fails to provide the kind of bond that these two were able to form and in such a short amount of time. I suppose jealousy and envy could apply to me as a youngster when I watched these two steam up a car window and proceeded to fast-forward though this bullshit, though I think it’d be more accurate to say I just didn’t appreciate the gravity of this blossoming romance. Now, I can’t see another duo encapsulating, at the very least, the sheer joy of being young and carefree out on the open waters. No two performers would be Jack and Rose like Leo and Kate were Jack and Rose.

I’m not sure what you call it when a ship pulls a total 180 in the water and heads back in the opposite direction, but that’s exactly what has happened with my outlook on this voyage. There’s style and beautiful cinematography to ogle over, but these things I’ve never had an issue with. Titanic looks and feels classy in every way it possibly can. But today Cameron’s decision to place the star-crossed lovers front-and-center has finally struck me as not only appropriate, but creative. It’s the only way to bring millions of viewers on board the ship, as well as into the lives of many a doomed seafarer who had plans of arriving in the Big Apple.

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4-0Recommendation: A tragedy of R.M.S. Titanic-proportions, James Cameron’s vision just has to be applauded. As if I need to endorse this thing. Seriously? Why is this the second film in a row here where I pretty much don’t need to write anything in this section? Actually, it’s kind of nice. I don’t have to do this extra work now. Cool.

Rated: PG-13

Running Time: 194 mins.

TBTrivia: After finding out that she had to be naked in front of Leonardo DiCaprio, Kate Winslet decided to break the ice, and when they first met, she flashed him.

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

TBT: Romeo + Juliet (1996)

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It’s a little difficult to outfit TBT with a ‘romantic’ theme without turning the spotlight on *the* romance movie. . . or at least without recognizing one of cinema’s most popular, ill-fated couples. I’m sure if I were to ever nominate the Baz Luhrmann adaptation as the romance film to end all romance films I could expect to see that comment box at the bottom fill up with many an impassioned, even hateful, hurtful comment. I probably wouldn’t blame them either. It’s kind of a mystery as to why I’m going with this one but sometimes spontaneity is just what this blog needs. While this modern approach is hardly a patch on old Will’s play I think there are one or two interesting elements worth talking about with

Today’s food for thought: Romeo + Juliet.

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Seriously, these two have been kissing since: November 1, 1996

[VHS?]

Since the dawn of time, man has always . . . .

No. There’s absolutely no way I’m going that route. But at a certain point doesn’t the mere mentioning of the names Romeo and Juliet in any kind of discussion feel like a cliché in itself? There’s really no point in going through this post by ticking off the usual boxes: the quality of the overall experience, the effectiveness of its major elements (cast, setting, score, editing, etc.), any of its lingering effects . . . yadda-yadda.

I’m much more keen to talk about what I think the big man (no, not God — Shakespeare . . . which, for some, I guess the two could be interchangeable) would think of what Mr. Flamboyant has done with his timeless examination of two of the strongest human emotions, love and hatred. Would the world’s greatest writer take offense in knowing how many times his ideas have been revisited? Revised? Butchered (or just a little battered and bruised)? Would he spin in his urn knowing one particular film starred a version of Leonardo DiCaprio prior to him becoming one of the great thespians of the 21st Century? What about the concept of integrating ye olde dialogue — the stuff we largely accept now as archaic and impractical — into a modern context, would William approve or would he face-palm from beyond the grave?

Ignoring some factors only we modern audiences are likely to criticize — why couldn’t Leo be as good then as he is now? — there are a few tweaks that the great playwright maybe wouldn’t “get.” Take for instance the hallucinogenic Romeo takes at a party which sets him on a collision course with a most tragic fate. “Ecstasy? What, pray, is this ecstasy of which you speak? Doth thou hold no interest in retaining logic, for very little of it is produced in thinking one can swallow thine own happiness in a physical manner. Return this ‘ecstasy’ from whence it came; scrub this fantasy from the deepest recesses of thou perversed mind! Me be damned to mine own coffin, I do believe the kids got fucked up on wine.”

Oh, but Good Sir I must retort: the spirit of Romeo and Juliet still lives! Just because wine has little place in Verona Beach, that does not mean this city has no place for love. In fact the heart beats ever stronger for a couple as mesmeric (and pretty) as DiCaprio and Danes. The Capulets and Montagues are still fiercely at war with one another, through staunch ideological differences of the seedy mob-world variety. Ted/Caroline and Fulgencio/Gloria, in this day and age now tied in with the mafia who have ‘legitimate’ business competition, still hate each other. And their hatred is almost proportional to the intense feelings their offspring hold for something that is apparently forbidden: seeing past a rivalry and accepting the individual for who they are. Good Sir, that has been a sentiment echoed throughout the ages, and it does more than just enhance this modern adaptation of arguably your greatest work. Blind devotion comes to define the picture, as it ought to.

This, despite other, more notable deviations. You should rest easy knowing that even if Luhrmann wanted to swap out a couple of Capulets for some Montagues (and vice versa) the essence of this complicated family dynamic isn’t distorted or diminished. I don’t claim to understand why he wanted to make some name changes, but if anything it helps to distinguish this one particular entry from the legions of other versions. There are no friars here, nor swords. We have public officials and more advanced weaponry to not only elevate but contextualize this timeless drama.

Romeo + Juliet certainly is more lavish in its design, more heavy-hitting in its violence and yet more relatable in terms of Lords and Ladies being unable to sweep the dirt of the past aside in order to allow for even a single flower to grow. It’s a testament to the strength of your writing, Good Sir, that even a bizarre and controversial decision to modernize a film while retaining the original dialogue and basic story structure can still make us feel that our own hearts have been poisoned too.

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3-5Recommendation: Not everyone may see this is as a worthy adaptation, but I certainly do. It’s also one of the only things Baz Luhrmann has produced that I’ve really felt suits his particularly colorful style. Romeo + Juliet doesn’t particularly add anything significant to the ever-increasing canon inspired by the play, but its devotion to the spirit of the classic, combined with a fresh environment is enough to set it apart from other, much duller attempts. If you haven’t seen this yet I suggest taking a look. If nothing else it’s funny to see a few familiar faces in this before they really blew up (looking at you in particular Leo, and also Paul Rudd, who plays Juliet’s would-be suitor, Dave Paris).

Rated: PG-13

Running Time: 120 mins.

TBTrivia: Apparently Natalie Portman was originally cast for Juliet Capulet, but after watching some of the footage, it was deemed that the age difference between Leo and her was great enough to make the romance not only unbelievable, but it gave the appearance as though Romeo was quote, molesting her in several scenes. So they recast it for Claire Danes. There. Much less molesting.

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Photo credits: http://www.cinematerial.com; http://www.film-grab.com  

TBT: The Basketball Diaries (1995)

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The fourth and final installment in the NBApril segment of Throwback Thursday is already here. Well, goodbye April. Sorry you couldn’t stick around for longer. . . . . . . . . . . And also, apologies that this month could not have ended on a better note. I guess this is just going to be one of those times where a little bit of forethought or organization to the list of movies I was planning on watching this month might have helped. A little secret: not all of the films on this feature are ones I have seen before and technically speaking they are brand-new films to me, and therefore some reviews may be different than the ones I might or could write if I had memories about the film in question. Therefore, I kind of am breaking my rules for the TBT set-up a little bit, but I’m young and unruly and get out of my way or you’ll pay, listen to what I say. And with that attitude in mind, let’s jump right into blabbering on about 

Today’s food for thought: The Basketball Diaries. 

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Release: April 21, 1995

[Netflix]

Less about basketball than it was about addiction to hard drugs, The Basketball Diaries was a tough film and an even tougher film to appreciate, much less enjoy. Though it boasted a thoroughly gripping performance from an incredibly young Leo and saw Markie-Mark transitioning nicely from hip-hop headphone to the grainy celluloid of the mid-90s, the film ultimately failed to amount to anything more than an aggressively anti-drug public service announcement.

The Basketball Diaries is the kind of movie I imagine would function fairly effectively as a freshman and/or sophomore phys-ed or wellness class educational film. The St. Vitus Cardinals might have gone down in high school legend as the definitive cautionary tale of students pondering a life road less traveled. . .for damn good reason. I

Granted, this was a fact-based adaptation — a loose one at that — of the autobiography written by Jim Carroll, who had later gone on to become a published writer after a brush with death when he fell into a serious drug addiction at the age of 13, quit his basketball team and dropped out of school.

Clearly, the film had no commitment to presenting any sort of crowd-pleasing elements considering it was charged with depicting such terrible and alarmingly commonplace poor decision-making in the underprivileged youth. This was (and remains) a disturbing reality for millions, though after sitting through The Basketball Diaries just one time, one wished they had had just a little more time to prepare themselves for the unexpected sermon that was to come.

An in-diapers DiCaprio was tapped to portray 12-to-16-year-old Jim Carroll, who’s first seen as part of an unstoppable high school basketball team in New York’s Lower East Side. Twenty-one-year-old DiCaprio imbued Jim, a young boy with few healthy outlets or interests, with an aggressive and voracious appetite for finding trouble. Jim’s refusal to play by the rules was impressive work considering it was little Leo’s fourth or fifth big-screen appearance. Jim’s friends were perhaps even worse, particularly the loud-mouthed and brutish Mickey (Wahlberg). A quiet kid named Pedro (James Madio) and the comparatively level-headed Neutron (Patrick McGaw) — ohhh!!! I get the nick-name now! — rounded out the rat-pack of tragic city-bound gadabouts.

The Basketball Diaries made one simple but glaring error in its harrowing depiction of several lives corrupted by narcotics. It forgot to create empathetic characters. Equally possibly, it refused to. Mark Wahlberg’s Mickey in particular was impossible to care about as he remained a character with no redeeming qualities whatsoever. (Rare is it in a film when one finds themselves so turned off by the characters they wind up rooting for their demise.) Jim and company fall so hard the punishing scenes later on became redundant.

The film’s sloppy, underdeveloped writing didn’t help matters either. While the stalwart performances from Leo and Markie-Mark managed to make up for whatever character depiction was also probably missing in the script, the two budding actors couldn’t save the film’s lack of true suspense-building as every step of the way was one predictable fall from grace to the next. Slumming it through The Basketball Diaries felt akin to playing a game of Mario where all you do is fall down the levels, never able to catch a break and ascend back up.

Well-intentioned, The Basketball Diaries was frustratingly one-note and challenges the viewer to the extreme in terms of offering reasons to empathize, provided the obnoxious characters and the cold indifference of their self-created realities. The script made stabbing attempts at making Jim three-dimensional at the very least, using the occasional voiceover by DiCaprio to instill some sense of passion for life that the boy still clung to, even during his most desperate days. The rest, meanwhile, remained helpless as the script damned them to their predictable fates. Since getting close to these people wasn’t possible, it felt more like good riddance than it did good-bye.

Unfortunately, the film failed to go to the more thoughtful, reflective places more often. Jim’s ability to write about his world offered fleeting moments of lucidity and even hope, though wallowing in darkness and despair was favored more often, as was relying on the cold calculations of the world to provide answers to whatever it was these lost people were looking for in life. A largely unsatisfying yet jarring film experience.

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2-5Recommendation: The Basketball Diaries is an effective piece of D.A.R.E. propaganda (with which I have no arguments against, death at the hands of hard drugs like heroin is a terrible tragedy) but it borders on being too heavy-handed and monotonous. Leo DiCaprio fans should probably see it for another good, early performance but for anyone out of the loop on this, they aren’t missing much by not venturing down this dark avenue.

Rated: R

Running Time: 102 mins.

Quoted: “You’re growing up. And rain sort of remains on the branches of a tree that will someday rule the Earth. And it’s good that there is rain. It clears the month of your sorry rainbow expressions, and it clears the streets of the silent armies… so we can dance.”

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

The 86th Academy Awards Afterparty: Will there be pizza?

Despite my fascination with film, I consistently have never really cared for the awards ceremonies as I’ve always seen them as rather trifling procedures. The night of Sunday, March 2 barely amounts to more than a shallow beauty pageant. The proceedings inside L.A.’s famed Dolby Theater are in effect an incredibly expensive circus in which wealthy people converge on a single venue to watch their extremely well-off colleagues accepting gold statues as a way of validating that their work was actually experienced by more than just the people in that stuffy little room.

And don’t even get me started on the actual reporting on the event beforehand. Christ, the quality of the news on the Red Carpet makes a mockery of journalism to the highest degree. There isn’t an apology to be found or heard. Ever. Cameras (and conversations) prefer to be aimed towards fashion trends, intentionally converting performers into walking billboards for the young and impressionable. People aren’t really people in these moments. But that’s okay. . . .I guess. After all, these centers of attention are the same folks who gave us those great moments in the films we liked over the past year. Now it’s fun seeing Jennifer Lawrence stumble all over her real-life awkwardness. Or how about seeing sworn on-screen enemies pal-ing around together over a drink? That’s the stuff that causes the warm, fuzzy feeling in your tummy to grow intensely, apparently.

In spite of my ranting, the end-of-the-film-year presentation is actually greatly entertaining to watch. Why is that, you ask, understandably now confused.

Perhaps its partly because of the phenomenon of the fourth wall still protecting these successful and talented individuals from the claws of the public. We have a right to see our favorite action hero star stripped of his/her dramatic veil so we can get a better look into that person’s mind and see how they do what they do so well. Harrison Ford struggling to look sober during this year’s Oscars is one such insight that might well cause an obsession-fueled Twitter thread. Then there was Ellen Degeneres doing something as mundane as delivering pizza to certain members in the first few rows of the audience while Brad Pitt humbled himself by serving plates and napkins that caused us to nearly soil our pants from laughter.

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They aren’t on the silver screen at the moment, yet the likes of Amy Adams, Chris Hemsworth, the aforementioned Lawrence who can’t seem to catch a break from intentional or unintentional public embarrassment as Degeneres appeared to roast her before kicking off the ceremony this year, or a legend like Robert DeNiro — they all still possess a mystique we can never hope to chip away completely because they are in some way, shape or form still performing for us, the humble viewers. They give possibly the most honest performances of their lives before these particular cameras, but we will never get to be at the Oscar afterparty with them when they all shed the burden of the pretense and of the pomp and circumstance. And, possibly their clothes, too.

As a person who loves film I have been notorious for either accidentally or purposefully avoiding these sorts of events because a great majority of the time I either vehemently disagree with the ultimate selections or I just have no comment on what is going on at the time. There’s also that little issue I have with the false emotion surrounding it all. But nevermind that for a bit. This year I watched the Oscars from start to finish, even tapping into the Red Carpet action (which I will probably never do again, based on the intro paragraphs above). But with a few staggeringly honest acceptance speeches delivered by gold statue recipients, my faith in what these people are doing with their lives has been reinvigorated.

There were obviously the requisite number of speeches that dragged on for far too long, some that became dangerously close to sounding arrogant, and some that were borderline unintelligible. But thanks to highlights in Jared Leto (who took the stage for his snagging of the Best Supporting Actor Oscar), Lupita Nyong’o (with her remarkable work in 12 Years a Slave garnering her a Best Supporting Actress Oscar) and the potentially crowd favorite Matthew McConaughey (the McConaissance can now be officially acknowledged following his Best Actor prize) this year’s Oscars offered up strong doses of humanity and humility, a display of appreciation that extends to those who have spent any amount of time paying attention to them — that includes us bloggers! There comes that warm, fuzzy feeling again. . .

Dedicating three hours to watching the awards ceremony proves that this movie-watching business is indeed an addiction. It is equal parts exciting and frustrating knowing that famous names are to receive even greater plaudits than they have already earned in being cast into money-making machines. Such is the nature of their jobs. Everyone should save themselves a pat on the back for me. Especially Mr. McConaughey. I say good for him.


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Photo credits: google images 

The Wolf of Wall Street

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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?!

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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.”

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