The 8th Annual Davies Awards in Film

A Look Back at 2013:

It angers me when people complain about the state of film today.  Yes, there’s an orgiastic onslaught of celluloid and digital excrement shoveled into multiplexes every year…but if 2013 proved anything, it’s that art finds a way to survive and quite often thrives in the manure laid across the silver screen.  This past year saw both one of the most accessible art films (12 Years a Slave) and one of the most artistic blockbusters (Gravity) of the decade blossom in the verdant soil of cinema.  I mean hell, Gravity proved that a money gouging gimmick (3D) utilized in so much of that dross that strangles viewers every year can actually be used in the correct artistic context to add…fancy that…new dimensions to film.

And survival and blossoming in the midst of a shit storm – thematically that’s what the year in film was about.  Witness surviving: being kidnapped into slavery (12 Years a Slave), outer space calamities (Gravity), adolescence (Mud), young adulthood (Frances Ha), marriage (Before Midnight), the sins of the father (The Place Beyond the Pines), the lonely high seas (All is Lost), Somali pirates (Captain Phillips), and false persecution (The Hunt).  Hmmm…they do say that all great stories are essentially the same story, don’t they?

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If It Was Never New and It Never Gets Old Then It’s a Coen Brothers Film

Inside Llewyn Davis - Oscar Isaac and Cat

The milieu of Inside Llewyn Davis wraps around the Coen Brothers and their audience like a cozy sweater in the dead of winter.  Watching it is akin to sitting down with an old friend you haven’t seen for years during the holidays, perhaps with hot tea or coffee cupped in your chapped hands, a fireplace hopefully roaring nearby, and listening to them tell a story…maybe one you’ve heard before, maybe one that seems new only to reveal the classic themes of your lives, and you’re held wrapt, comfortable, and full of bittersweet feelings.

The film, which chronicles the ups and – well, let’s be honest – primarily downs of gallows humor-laden folk singer Llewyn Davis (Oscar Isaac, perfectly melancholy and full of piss and heartache), is bathed in the soft muted glows and dark greys of wintertime and 1960’s New York City, strung up wall to wall with amazing folk tunes, and filled to the brim with opportunities and love lost.  The Coens, who previously found their hearts tied to music with their blue-grass fueled Southern-fried odyssey O’ Brother Where Art Thou? have never had their love of music tied more closely to their themes – the film (like all of their best films, lest we forget the homespun folksy wisdom of Fargo) is itself a kind of folk song.  There are hints of an odyssey here, too, as Llewyn flounders about from place to place struck with bad luck, bad timing and a perpetual failing when it comes to life’s big decisions, and he finds a bit of a kindred animal spirit in a series of cats who cross his path on their own odysseys through life, and one of the felines is not coincidently named Ulysses. Continue reading

Martin Scorsese’s Jackass or The Wolf of Wall Street

The Wolf of Wall Street - Midget Toss

With The Wolf of Wall Street Martin Scorsese has crafted a three-hour long epic comedy of bad taste about a world-class, rotten to the core douchebag.  Jordan Belfort was a money laundering asshole to the extreme who played fast and loose with people’s money on Wall Street, scammed the poor and the rich alike for his own gain and the gain of his amoral idiot friends, consumed drugs and women and every material thing, got caught, went to jail, wrote a book about it, and now his glorious suck-fest of an idolatrous life is a top drawer film from cinema’s greatest living master.

The Wolf of Wall Street is about excess, excess in crime, excess in life, excess in filmmaking, excess in acting.  Teaming up with Leonardo DiCaprio for the umpteenth time, Scorsese lets the Oscar deprived thespian of this generation loose in ways I never imagined and has him doing things I never cared to see.  The pair take their “relationship” so far over the course of the film’s monstrous runtime that I don’t know if they could ever top what they do here without it becoming illegal.

The film, scripted by Terrence Winter from Belfort’s memoir, contains some howlingly funny scenes and bouts of dialogue, including one where Belfort and his pals discuss seriously the potential legal ramifications of midget tossing at work (which ends in a great little homage to Tod Browning’s Freaks – oddly fitting) and another involving a ridiculously dramatic rescue at sea from a sinking yacht done to the tune of Umberto Tozzi’s “Gloria” complete with Italian jokes.  Rob Reiner also gets some great riotous moments as Belfort’s hot-tempered accountant father.

Scorsese, that old sentimentalist, of course, in recrementitous fashion pays homage to himself.  Continue reading

Everybody’s Hustling Hustling American Style

American Hustle - Cast

Some of this actually happened.  In 1978.

Irving Rosenfeld (an overweight and badly combed-over Christian Bale in total method mode) is a con man with a heart of gold from the Bronx.  He got into the con game as a kid as a way to help his dad’s glass business by breaking windows to drum up customers (awww).  He runs a series of dry cleaners while selling fraudulent knock-off art and running loan schemes.  He fell hard for a young passive aggressive sassy lass named Rosalyn (a delightfully scenery-chewing Jennifer Lawrence with full-on Long Island accent and big hair), married her and adopted her cute baseball card loving little boy (double awww).   But Irving can never show his true self and feels trapped emotionally and financially to his overbearing wife who uses the kid as collateral against Irving jetting off to fantasy land with his new red-headed saucy mistress, Sydney (a never sexier Amy Adams).  You see, Sydney is like Irving’s soul mate or something, a woman who reinvents herself to survive and is now his fully fledged partner in crime posing as a British Lady with banking ties to take the loan schemes to the next level.  This set-up is presented to the audience in crisscrossing voice-overs full of lies, back-handed insults and memoir-esque longing between Irving and Sydney, whose beautiful dry cleaning chemical soaked romance comes to a screeching halt when curly-haired hot-shot FBI Agent Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper, hilariously pent-up) entraps them.

And then the fun starts.  To get immunity, our lovers are forced to bring in more marks for take down to the feds.  And what starts out as “just take down four more guys” explodes with DiMaso’s wacky ambitions and crooked nice-guy Camden Mayor Carmine Polito’s (Jeremy Renner, doing a great South Jersey Italian accent) connections into…you guessed it!  ABSCAM! Continue reading

Why The Hunger Games are Important

Just try to put out this fire.

Just try to put out this fire.

The young-adult fantasy series translation from page to silver screen movement has become one of the most profitable propositions in pop culture over the past decade.  What started with the kid-friendly Harry Potter (whose films contained an admirable Disney-dark magic to them that began to wear off and bore me by the fourth entry) and crested into communal madness with Stephanie Meyer’s malarial Twilight series has become a go-to cash cow for Hollywood.  When I first heard about The Hunger Games, I thought, “Oh, here we go again.”  But then I read up on what they were about – a kind of Atwood-lite dystopian future, pop-Vonnegut if you will, spiced with The Running Man with a dash of Battle Royale.  Finally, a young adult fantasy series with very little fantasy, a dash of satire, and magic replaced by futurist woe and real violence.  And cast in the lead role was Jennifer Lawrence, the most talented young actress of her generation.  And whaddya know, the first film was typically mega-blockbuster flawed but pretty good.  And it was J-Law as Katniss Everdeen who changed the game.

Boys’ fantasies and hero-worship have been catered to forever.  In this day and age they have Harry Potter, Percy Jackson, Ender’s Game, as well as the typical swarm of comic book films and sci-fi flicks featuring superheroes and manly men saving the world and getting the girls.  What have girls and young women had to dream about in similar fashion?  The occasional animated Pixar heroine?  The toxicity of Twilight, which when you strip away the sparkly emo-boyband vampires, teaches teenage girls to stay in abusive relationships?  “Yes, my dear, if you love him hard enough, maybe YOU can change him. You gotta stick by your man no matter how freakish and horrible he is, stick by him even if he kills you.”  Beautiful message, isn’t it?

Well, thank the pop culture gods, because into the modern mythos has stepped Katniss Everdeen.  Continue reading

Boardwalk Empire: Farewell Daddy Blues

Boardwalk Empire - Jack Huston Farewell

Boardwalk Empire: Complete Episode Guide

Boardwalk Empire – Farewell Daddy Blues

Season Four: Episode Twelve (Season Finale)

Directed by: Tim Van Patten

Written by: Terence Winter and Howard Korder

The Spin: The title of the fourth season finale may have been “Farewell Daddy Blues” (and Daughter Maitland blesses us with down-and-out moody blues over the signature closing montage) but “I Can’t Get No Satisfaction” could’ve easily been an alternate title.  If the penultimate episode was a prime example of tight focus on just a few characters, the finale proved how effortlessly Winter and Korder are able to pack so much into a single hour, and how unpredictable their Empire can be.  This hour was a doozy.

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Boardwalk Empire: Havre de Grace

Mr. Gossett Jr. meet Emmy.  Emmy meet Mr. Gossett Jr.

Mr. Gossett Jr. meet Emmy. Emmy meet Mr. Gossett Jr.

Boardwalk Empire: Complete Episode Guide

Boardwalk Empire – Havre de Grace

Season Four: Episode Eleven

Directed by: Allen Coulter

Written by: Howard Korder

The Spin:  Korder again proves to be the best series scribe with this crown jewel of an episode, a tightly focused hour of drama featuring the richest characters Boardwalk has to offer, executed with the skill of a master chef as a slow boiling fifty minutes culminated with a steam whistle in the final five.  This is what television drama is all about in the new golden age – blisteringly cinematic, tight, and dramatic tension crafted from interesting characters we have come to know over the years living on the razor’s edge.

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Boardwalk Empire: White Horse Pike

Stand by your man...

Stand by your man…

Boardwalk Empire: Complete Episode Guide

Boardwalk Empire – White Horse Pike

Season Four: Episode Ten

Directed by: Jake Paltrow

Written by: David Flebotte

The Spin:  As much as Nucky has tried to stay out of the Chaky-Narcisse War, he can’t help but get sucked in when he learns Narcisse is in cahoots with not only Masseria’s clandestine Tampa heroin run (of which he got tipped off by stalwart Sally) but also with his puppet Mayor (whom he learns about from the trusty Willie).  Meanwhile he’s completely oblivious to Eli’s ongoing betrayal.  Elsewhere up in New York, Rothstein makes an interesting deal with a desperate to be independent but still all kind of cutesy-crooked Margaret.  Out in Chicago, a newly confident Muller is in like Flynn with Capone and gang who are celebrating high off the hog, hooch and hookers oblivious to the obvious retaliation brewing in the wake of Obanion’s obituary. Continue reading

Boardwalk Empire: Marriage and Hunting

The Happy Couple

The Happy Couple

Boardwalk Empire: Complete Episode Guide

Boardwalk Empire – Marriage and Hunting

Season Four: Episode Nine

Directed by: Ed Bianchi

Written by: David Matthews, Jennifer Ames and Steve Turner

The Spin:  With the help of Roy (Ron Livingston) acting as her lover and confidant, Gillian (Gretchen Mol) has cleaned herself in her attempt to win the Tommy custody battle, but a shady phone call hints at Roy not being so forthcoming.  Meanwhile, Julia (Wrenn Schmidt) suspects her father’s terminal illness and gets married to Harrow (John Huston), who now comes crawling back to Nucky looking for steady work to support his family.

In other marital news, Muller (Michael Shannon) gets tired of being berated by his wife and bullied by Capone and regains some of his old Van Alden bad-assery.  Continue reading

Boardwalk Empire: The Old Ship of Zion

Dunn dunn dunn....

Dunn dunn dunn….

Boardwalk Empire: Complete Episode Guide

Boardwalk Empire – The Old Ship of Zion

Season Four: Episode Eight

Directed by: Tim Van Patten

Written by: Christine Chambers, Howard Korder and Terence Winter

The Spin:  Sally (Patricia Arquette) surprises Nucky by arriving in AC along with the first shipment of booze from Tampa, but Nucky is still too busy trying patch things up between Eli (Shea Whigham) and his son Willie (Ben Rosenfield).  What he doesn’t realize, though, is that Agent Fox (Brian Geraghty) has been clued into the mysterious nature of Willie’s schoolmate’s death and how his roommate got charged with the murder.  Thus he visits the poor kid in the slammer and gets the real scoop.  This allows Fox to brazenly approach Eli with an ultimatum.

But the really interesting action this evening was the Chalky vs. Narcisse plotline, which got even hotter and heavier.  Continue reading