Sunday, December 29, 2013

The Wolf of Wall Street Review

The Wolf of Wall Street Review
Director : Martin Scorsese

Cast Headliners: Leonardo DiCaprio, Jonah Hill, Margot Robbie, Jon Bernthal, Matthew McConaughey

Original Release Date: December 25th, 2013
            Ah, the stock market. The real Wall Street is a high energy world of big money being moved around and many people moving around huge rooms.  As Michael Douglas once said in a very similarly titled film however, “greed is good.”  The Wolf of Wall Street both provides an often heard of but seldom seen side of the stocks, as well as provoking some interesting thoughts about what money can do to people.
            Jordan Belfort is the main character of the film, played by Leonardo DiCaprio.  The film’s plot uses some interesting time jumps, portraying Jordan’s rise then fall then rise again through the world of the Wall Street stock markets.  His company Stratton-Oakmont evolves along with him, going from something small and rough into an empire.  It is an empire built on lies though.  Jordan is not a good man at all and is incredibly conniving, egotistical, and most of all greedy.  For sure the main point of commendation should be given to DiCaprio here. He is awesome, with incredible range and charisma.  He is just simply firey as he plays Jordan falling into the vices of any rich businessman: sex, drugs, and rock and roll with a massive emphasis on both of the first two.  The film has a shocking amount of partying, narcotic-isation, and fornication taking place.  But from the darkest of debaucheries to the most zany of shenangins, DiCaprio lights up the screen with his words from this fascinating character.   He delivers strongly, but the supporting cast isn’t too shabby either with the equally insane characters of Mark Hanna (played in a unfortunately brief appearance by Matthew McConaughey), Donnie(Jonah Hill), Brad Bodnick(Jon Bernthal) and many more.  It seems that everyone in the cult of personality that is built around Jordan at Stratton-Oakmont is a wild hedon, and it makes for some great chuckles and a form of spectacle.
            The humor comes from the great dialogue, as expected from a Martin Scorsese film.  Scorsese has created a fast-paced movie in both its words and its filming. So many witty words are said in this movie, with most conversations feeling heated as they should.  It’s impressive that stocks, an arguably boring subject, is made into a very thrilling experience, almost like a bank robbery heist, fittingly so considering how Jordan manipulates his victims.  There is also some great moments of extreme insanity that must be seen, quaaludes are a hell of a drug as there’s this one paticuliar part involving them that is an knee slapping outrageous display of both Scorsese’s direction and DiCaprio’s acting.
            The quality of Scorsese is felt but that editing wasn’t one hundred percent perfect however.  The Wolf of Wall Street was supposed to come out a month before its original release date, apparently facing a problem of having way too much content filmed.  And so to fix it, it was delayed to cut it down to improve it since the original draft is said to have been over well over 4 hours long. The print in theaters is at about an exact three hours, and it can be said that maybe more things should have been trimmed.   It seems like the “first part” of the plot takes way longer than the exciting twists near the end, so while I don’t really know what could have been done maybe that is because of some behind the scenes work Scorsese had to juggle with.  This is only a minor grievance however, as all plot points are explained and followed through. There’s just really “so much” to the film that it can be overwhelming.  An example would be many nearly identical scenes of raucousness, we get the point Scorsese.
            What this film is though is a solid Wall Street story, and of this Jordan fellow. It is a mostly great example of an “anti-hero.” It is held mainly up by Leonardo DiCaprio.   It’s a long crawl, but by the end it is very much worth it.  8.75 out of 10

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Anchorman 2 Review

Anchorman 2 Review
Director : Adam Mckay

Cast Headliners: Will Ferrell , Steve Carell, Paul Rudd, David Koechner, Christina Applegate 

Original Release Date: December 18th, 2013, seen early December 4th

            The world’s most beloved news anchor ever returns for an ambitious sequel.  Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues reunites Will Ferrell as the titular character with the entire main supporting cast from the last film.  I would call the first one a great comedy. This one brings more of the same, but perhaps can be said to be even better.
            The suave 1970’s have come and gone. The film takes into account the real time between the release of its past entry by moving the time period up to the risky and changing world of the 1980’s.   The legend Ron Burgundy himself is of course the main focus, with Will Ferrell really careering the film and causing laughs with every single world that comes out of his mouth.   His pals Brick Tamland (Steve Carrell), Brian Fantana( Paul Rudd), Champ Kind (David Koechner), and now-wife Veronica Corningstone(Christina Applegate) all return for more chuckles.  There are even more re-appearances that must be seen, I recommend seeing the first one as there are many jokes and references which make it even better for a prior fan.    I think another amazing, and true highlight of the film, is its “cameo” sequence. Fans of the first will know what this means. Like much of the film, it takes that first one and puts it on steroids.
            It’s more of the same, and that’s both a good and not so good thing. More than a handful of jokes are just variations on what has been said before, a common pitfall of comedy sequels although the writing and humor here are overall quality. I do wish the setting of the 1980’s had been involved more as it could lead to more good jokes, instead though it is mostly in the background as the humor is about the many weirdly wonderful characters of the Anchorman world.    Some jokes are slightly stupid, while others cause minutes of laughter.  But one knows what kind of humor to expect from Will Ferrell: weird, wacky, extreme, and yes pure silly fun.
            Ron Burgundy of course is the highlight, but I would say that Brick, already amazing in the first film, is possibly even funnier here. And I mean the funniest.  He really is focused on as a sort of second protagonist with even his own plotline and love interest. It’s quite something to see.  Steve Carrell deserves a shoutout for his amazing hilarious contributions to scenes.
            Like its jokes, the plot twists and turns but like most comedies can’t be truly called “amazing.” It in itself is a large joke, with its tales of how Ron and company change the world with their new 24 hours news format.  There are some occasional emotional moments, but don’t worry on it veering into the melodramatic as it all has a good humorous feeling.   This movie amplifies the amount of cameos, “Extremeness” (you’ll see), and its story scope to a largely good result.  It is an very long film and it can drag on at times, perhaps containing just a bit too much Burgundy power. Overall however, it really is the quality comedy film it looks like. The secret of Harrison Ford is something that is highly recommendable to discover.  8.5 out of 10

The Hobbit:Desolation of Smaug Review

The Hobbit:Desolation of Smaug Review
Director : Peter Jackson

Cast Headliners: Martin Freeman, Ian McKlellan , Richard Armitage, Orlando Bloom, Luke Evans, Evangeline Lilly

Original Release Date: December 13th, 2013
  The Lord of the Rings trilogy of films was a stellar adaption of quintessential fantasy novels.  It worked then since each of the epic three novels were translated into a single movie each, with some things being shuffled around or included into the extended director home video cuts.  Now with these Hobbit prequels, it’s all been made screwy. Originally meant to just be a two part straight up conversion, the singular Hobbit book is now an intricate trilogy of films.  I did enjoy the first part An Unexpected Journey from last year very, very much but that was more of a traditional movie. Because it is pretty obvious that this film was cut from material not meant to standalone, though it has worked out quite well, I will not review it in a normal way. Instead, here are the thoughts of a hardcore Tolkein fan on this crazy creation Peter Jackon has made, The Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug:
- Beorn, woah cool fellow!
- Gorgeous Peter Jackson scenery and aesthetic
- Amazing visual effects during action sequences
- Darker vibe than the previous film
- Legolas, ludicrously awesome
- Tauriel, an interesting and cool character
- Gandalf’s entire plotline, fan dream to see the Necromancer stuff on screen and makes sense
- The Wood Elves in general, and King Thrainduil
- Oh out of order, but an great spider battle very reminiscent of the bug scene from King Kong, which is a good thing
- When Bilbo has a chance to take, great as always thanks to Martin Freeman
- Lake-town’s vibe and its new characters of Bard(the underrated Luke Evans) and the Master(the wonderful Stephen Fry)
- SMAUG, wow. Amazing choice to use Benedict Cumberbatch who has followed up his performance as Khan with another great villain role. And also the most awe inspiring dragon ive ever seen on film. 
- The ending Smaug action sequences, wow
- The Legolas/Tauriel vs Orcs, well done finale

-          The very fact it exists in the first place as assembled from other footage, in this case over a third of the film was meant for AUJ
- Not enough Beorn, very rushed and seems much was rushed
-          Less humor/small moments for the characters aka telling the dwarves apart.  Some are still very mysterious, show us more!
-          The darker vibe makes it feel odd, neither hobbit nor LOTR at times and thus nebulous
-           Bilbo needed more dialogue and focus this time
-           The Kili/Tauriel/Legolas love triangle, eugh total fan fictionish on Peter Jackson’s part and largely uneeded
-           Cliffhangers actually being slightly lame, making it feel tense but unfinished!
-           Perhaps at times the final action set pieces ran a bit long
-           Evidence of the stretch to three films
Overall, I had a great time seeing it. One can’t deny Peter Jackson’s ability to craft an epic blockbuster. This film contains some of the novel’s best moments, and it comes through to a largely great though not perfect effect.  It feels a bit hodge podge at times, but it really is bursting with a lot of happenings.  It’s one of those middle parts that needs to happen for the final part of the story to work.  This is the “build up” film, and so I take that into consideration when critiquing it.   Because of how LOTR’s final film turned out, I am incredibly excited for the film of next December.  If you’re a fan, you’ll most definitely love it.  If you’re not, don’t see it too much ruckus.   9.05 out of 10

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Oldboy Review

Oldboy Review
Director : Spike Lee

Cast Headliners: Josh Brolin, Elizabeth Olsen, Sharlto Copley, Samuel L Jackson

Original Release Date: November 27th, 2013
            Remake films are tricky business.  It is a careful balancing act.  The elements which made the original so great have to be preserved, while also something fresh should be included to avoid it being a simple carbon copy of its source.  The matter is made even more difficult when the source film is from another country, like in this case of Oldboy where it was a South Korean film originally based on a Japanese manga.  The story of Oldboy has now travelled between two mediums and three cultures, and because of this a point of concern for this version may be that it would turn out as a train wreck of mediocrity.   I can say, as a massive fan of Park Chan-wook’s 2003 original that it could have turned out much worse. That’s in a “good way.”
            Josh Brolin plays the protagonist Joe Doucett, an advertising executive.   His life isn’t exactly the best with an venomous relationship with his wife and making some mistakes in his profession.  One such mistake sets him over the edge, and he gets incredibly drunk.  Now, I can say Brolin is one of the best aspects of the movie as Joe.   His character nearly completely transforms over the course of the plot. However, the acting during these drunken scenes felt very exaggerated.  This segment dragged on for a bit too long.  The wonky dialogue reared its head in not just this portion.  It is a shame, since it is about a halfway split between quality writing and “zany” writing.   I would also like to point out that Joe changes from a more interesting seedy character into…. a generic angry action hero. More on that in a moment.
            In many ways Oldboy can be said to be a character study of Joe.   The events of that night lead to the main crux of the film that being the fact that he is mysteriously locked in a hotel-like prison for 20 years with only cereal and Chinese dumplings to eat.    This part, as the original, is incredible.   Some of the finest bits of the film come from Joe’s descent into madness. It is like a dark twisted version of The Count of Monte Cristo, and with his attempted escape that element comes to mind more than the original Korean film.   He has literally no contact for years, which makes this section extremely emotional. I would call it a series of great montages. Director Spike Lee made the smart choice to not directly use the scenes from the original, and instead create new equally dark and surreal imagery.
            His time in his prison shapes Joe into something new. He submits to his isolation at first but soon forges himself into a strong warrior with a mission of revenge.  Soon, he is freed. But his adventure only just started.   I did enjoy the fact that there are a few parallels and references to the original film that I infer to be meant specifically for fans of the original.   For example, to say one, there is no “octopus scene” here, but there is an octopus.  There are also some scenes omitted or occasionally reworked to negative effect. One action sequence copied from the original is the “hammer fight”. But where that fight took place in a single hallway and was beautifully shot in real time, a cinematic achievement, this version uses many special effects and takes place across a few floors of the facility where Joe breaks into.   It feels very much like the blockbuster  “America” version,  and this is not the only other time where this takes place.
            However, some other changes enhance the film over its source. There are additions to the narrative which show how certain things happened or how people got to places.  It would also take much to explain, but the motivation of the villain receives some changes (once again with an element of American larger-than-life exaggeration) which actually make it interesting in its own way.  I will say that Sharlto Copley is great as always in his villain role, and also Samuel L Jackson gives a classic SLJ villian performance as well.  His use of his favorite “m word” is appropriate given the dark and gritty style of the film.   I also think Joe’s soon-ally Marie (Elizabeth Olsen) gets more depth to her than the Korean version.  She is a compassion contrasted to Joe’s brute force.    Ironic that where Marie has a bit more to here, Joe is largely just an angry, though this is what Brolin does best, guy with a grudge.
            There are issues with some of the translation of scenes, and objectively with some of the pacing and dialogue. But these are complimented with a great dark tone, a twisting narrative every bit as engaging as the original, and some bloody action.  A word to describe it would be crazy.  Sometimes, it’s a bit too all over the place.  There were times when the tone jumped from pure black to black comedy; perhaps a trademark of Spike Lee but this isn’t always the place for it.  I also want to mention that where the original had some deep moral messages and introspections, this version eschews that mostly. It’s become a straightforward thriller but is worth it for Josh Brolin , the action, and those plot elements which still carry through.  In my opinion, far from bad if a bit flawed. 7.45 out of 10