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

Having your Cake and Eating it too in Django Unchained

Why I do declare!  Leo is a VILLAIN!

Why I do declare! Leo is a VILLAIN!

In 1858, somewhere in the Texas wilderness, a German immigrant dentist (Christoph Waltz) comes across some fellas transporting slaves and begins to curiously inquire about a certain one named Django (Jamie Foxx).  Turns out that dentist is a bounty hunter, and he needs Django to identify some targets.  Turns out that Django, once unshackled, is more than happy to oblige.  Thus begins the start of a beautiful friendship in Quentin Tarantino’s latest bit of exploitative hipster shock-schlock historical revisionist revenge fantasy.  In his own signature absurdist self-referencing way, Tarantino combines many of the good elements that made Inglourious Basterds his masterpiece with many of the bad elements of every other overrated film he’s ever made.

See that dentist ain’t such a bad guy, wielding his own brand of justice, and Django has his own personal mission to track down his wife (Kerry Washington, allowed only to cry and get pushed around) who was sold down river in Mississippi to a one Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio) of the infamous plantation called…you guessed it…Candie Land.  Thus an episodic journey begins culminating in an overly elaborate scheme to free Django’ wife, and for the first well-paced two hours it’s a pretty damn entertaining ride. Continue reading

J. Edgar Snoozer

Naomi Watts as Helen Gandy in J. Edgar

Clint Eastwood’s latest Oscar grab bag, J. Edgar, is proof positive of how a bad screenplay can sink even the sturdiest of ships.

Aimlessly leap-frogging around a fifty year time span covering the entire career of FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover (Leonardo DiCaprio, delivering a workmanlike performance), Dustin Lance Black’s screenplay utilizes the clichéd framework of the title character dictating his memoirs.  In an attempt to cover so much 20th century history, the story touches on so many things that it ends up enlightening nothing.  Half-hearted efforts to give us glimpses into Hoover’s psyche and background (Surprise! He had a domineering mother represented by a phoned-in performance from Judi Dench) shed little light on the rumors that have always been out there.  Was he a closeted homosexual?  Probably.  Was he a cross-dresser?  Probably not.  The film tries to anchor itself around his relationships with Clyde Tolson (Arnie Hammer – almost comical in his depiction) and his long-suffering secretary Helen Gandy (played admirably by the long-suffering Naomi Watts who seems to always get these thankless supporting gigs in high-profile disappointments) – but neither are treated in any kind of sophisticated way and we’re left with surface-level treatments of these characters who obviously (in their own different ways) loved and were ruled by Hoover. Continue reading

The Inception of Dreams

Slick marketing evokes Lang's Metropolis.

Roughly twelve years following their first feature films, these legendary directors delivered the following:  

Fritz Lang:  M   

Alfred Hitchcock:  The Lady Vanishes   

Stanley Kubrick:  2001: A Space Odyssey   

Twelve years after Following, Christopher Nolan invites us to dream along with him through Inception.  And while it’s operating on different levels than the Lang and Kubrick pieces, it shares in Hitchcock’s sense of dark fun and could easily be considered Nolan’s most ambitious and devilishly clever piece of work to date.  He’s an auteur with a full blessing from the studio and his audience, and the project he devised in this rarefied air is awe-inspiring.  Though there are some minor flaws, if you can’t find a way to overlook them and latch onto something meaningful in at least one layer of the dreams on display, then you have no business sitting in a darkened theater watching movies.   

Christopher Nolan’s decked-out and high-concept new film brings new meaning to the idea of stealing ideas.  In his futuristic universe, technology has developed where you can enter the mind of another through dream invasions and steal their ideas.  It’s espionage…it’s dangerous…but what’s even more intriguing is the idea of diving deep into dreams within dreams and implanting an idea that can then spread like a virus and alter the shape of one’s universe.  Whoever implanted this idea into Nolan’s mind, we thank you.   

Continue reading

Shutter Island Part Two: The Film

Ashes to ashes...dust to dust.

In 1950’s Boston, two U.S. Federal Marshals (Leonardo DiCaprio and Mark Ruffalo) get trapped on an island that is home to a hospital for the criminally insane during a hurricane while investigating the disappearance of a psychotic patient (Emily Mortimer) in Martin Scorsese’s long-awaited screen adaptation of Dennis Lehane’s best-selling novel. 

How long was the wait?  Well, it was long enough for me to read Lehane’s book between the original and actual release dates.  And was it worth it?  Oh, you betcha!  And let’s get another thing straight, boss.  Shutter Island is a “lesser” Scorsese…as in Full Metal Jacket is a “lesser” Kubrick.  It also means this is the Scorsese I fell in love with as a kid.  Yup, my first exposure to the greatest living American director was Cape Fear, another “lesser” film.  Continue reading

Shutter Island Part One: The Novel

Upon sterling recommendations from fellow film blogger John Greco and fellow independent Philly-based novelist Christopher Tait, I decided to make the most of my time waiting for Martin Scorsese’s adaptation of Dennis Lehane’s novel, Shutter Island, to be released in theaters by…well, would you look at that…reading the novel.  I was a big fan of previous film adaptations of Lehane’s books, Mystic River and Gone Baby Gone, so I was eager to finally dive into the source material.  Continue reading

A Review of Sam Mendes’ Adaptation of Richard Yates’ “Revolutionary Road”

Leo tells Kate, No, Honey, you cant see Europe from the shores of Long Island.

Leo tells Kate, "No, Honey, you can't see Europe from the shores of Connecticut."

They’ll Never Have Paris, 3 January 2009
8/10
Author: David H. Schleicher from New Jersey, USA

In one of the classiest pieces of stunt casting in recent years, Oscar-winning director Sam Mendes reunites his wife, Kate Winslet, with her Titanic shipmate Leonardo DiCaprio to play the Wheelers in his screen adaptation of Richard Yates’ novel Revolutionary Road.  It adds an appealing accessibility to an otherwise depressing tale.

The film opens boldly enough, spending just a few fleeting moments showing us how the Wheelers met before throwing us head first into their disaster of a marriage. April (Winslet) always had dreams of being an actress and Frank (DiCaprio), well, Frank always had some vague idea of living in Paris. The film chronicles their sad story. The Wheelers are meant to represent the post WWII generation who during the prosperous 1950’s created suffocating lives due to dreams deferred in exchange for chasing the so-called “American Dream” that they never really believed in. Everyone else in the film is in some sort of love with the Wheelers and their picture perfect lives, but the Wheelers hate themselves, each other, their neighbors, and what they have become. It’s a damning little portrait that has been painted before in literature and film, but never quite so acutely.

I haven’t read Richard Yates’ novel, but I am currently reading his collection of short stories which address many of the same themes and bear his hallmarks present here: cutting dialog, keen insights into the psyche of his sometimes despicable or just plain sad characters, and obsessive attention to details of time and place. In terms of the tone of Yates’ writing, Mendes is successful in his translation. However, that tone that worked so well on the page doesn’t always work on screen. We’re never sure if we’re meant to sympathize with the Wheelers or if Mendes wants us to view it as a dark comedy where we watch in sick delight as the popular kids who always thought they were more interesting than everyone else grow up to be horribly dysfunctional and cripplingly normal. Much of the audience I saw the film with laughed to break the tension during some of Mendes’ trademarked “uncomfortable dinner table scenes”, but we all watched in horror as the film spun out of control into its downer of a climax.

Ultimately one sits through a film like this for the acting, and it doesn’t disappoint on that level. Taking a line from the film, DiCaprio is a “cracker jack” playing for the first time a husband, a father, and a hopelessly average Joe. Winslet is on more familiar ground, but never has she been given so much range to roam, and her director husband lets her run wild and free. It’s a neurotic, brave, and sometimes questionable performance that is a rare sight to behold. At times it seems as if Mendes is directing a stage-play rather than a film, and he lets the whole cast scream and holler against his finely detailed period backdrops, but it’s still entertaining for those who enjoy watching polished professionals (including Michael Shannon portraying a man on leave from an insane asylum in a perfect pitch) stretch their acting muscles.

One watches the grim dissolution of this marriage wondering if there isn’t some subtext to explore with regards to Winslet and Mendes’ own seemingly perfect Hollywood marriage. And as unlikable as they are at times, and no matter how much we would rather laugh at then relate to another human being, one can’t escape the sickening feeling that there might be a little bit of Frank and April Wheeler in all of us.

Originally Published on the Internet Movie Database.

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Check out my reviews of Sam Mendes’ previous films:

American Beauty (1999)

Road to Perdition (2002)

Jarhead (2005)

Doubt and Revolution Plague The Duchess

SPOILER ALERT:  Her hair does catch on fire!

With the debates and baseball playoffs still holding most of my attention, films have had to take a backseat.  So I’m eschewing my traditional review format here for the moderately successful The Duchess.  Saul Dibb’s “inspired by a true story” costume drama about the Duchess of Devonshire is a fairly entertaining run-of-the-mill feminist bodice-ripper.  It’s one of those movies impeccably shot, full of costumes and pageantry, and featuring A-class acting that is hard to dislike, but just doesn’t have that special “it” due to our familiarity with this stereotypical story of a woman of immense wealth and power who is forced to chose between her true feelings and what society demands of her.  In the titular role, Keira Knightley acts the hell out of her part, and for the first time, seems to fully inhabit that old-school “Movie Star” mold.  Ralph Fiennes, as the Duke, delivers a master-class in the portrayal of an elitist creep.  It’s another classic turn from the chameleon-like British thespian who really should have had an Oscar on the mantle a long time ago.  Featuring hearty doses of smarmy satire and stuffy 18th-century social mores, The Duchess is no Barry Lyndon, but it fits the bill as an HBO-style production of Masterpiece Theater.

However, I couldn’t help but think the best things about this recent trip to the cinema were the trailers, and thoughts of the film teasers oddly plagued my devouring of the main course.  Yes, there was the preview for Oliver Stone’s inexplicable W (opening next week) which looks funnier and funnier with each new TV spot.  But there were also two subtly thrilling trailers for some prime-time Oscar bait:  In one corner, we have what looks to be a stunning film adaptation of a controversial stage-play that touches on the Catholic abuse scandals among other heady topics starring a habited Meryl Streep, a frocked Philip Seymour Hoffman, and a perfectly cast Amy Adams as a naive nun.  I have faith no art-house film buff will want to miss Doubt.  In the other corner is Sam Mendes seemingly stirring and evocative adaptation of Richard Yate’s novel, Revolutionary Road, staring Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet as a young couple on the brink of emotional ruin in a 1950’s suburban purgatory.  The cinematography and the acting in this, as in Doubt, looks to be amazing.  While a perfectly adequate The Duchess will quickly fade from memory, these two films, based on their trailers and pedigree, look to be the type that viewers and critics will write home about at the end of the year.  I can’t wait.

To watch the trailers, visit:

W:  http://www.wthefilm.com/

Doubt:  http://www.apple.com/trailers/miramax/doubt/

Revolutionary Road:  http://www.revolutionaryroadmovie.com/

CAPTION:  Thank god we’re off that sinking ship!

Mongolian Trailer Park

CAPTION:  Ghengis Khan is all up in this yurt.

So last week I saw that flick Mongol, you know, the new epic about Ghengis Khan made by a Russian director (Sergei Bodrov), starring a Japanese dude (Tadonubo Asano), nominated for an Oscar, and inexplicably released stateside in the middle of the summer movie season.  It was a pretty good movie that held my interest for two hours by exposing me to a culture I know little about and featuring a well played out historical epic story arc complete with requisite kick-ass battle scenes.  Sitting there getting frosty in the air-conditioned theater while the heat and humidity raged outside, I couldn’t help thinking this was a movie better suited for the prestigious autumnal season.  With the most gluttonous of film seasons in full swing (is The Dark Knight out yet?), I decided to take a look ahead at my favorite season in film and weather. 

Here I present my list of most anticipated movies for Fall 2008:

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1.  The Miracle at St. Anna  (scheduled release date:  9/26)

The Director:  Spike Lee

The Stars:  Derek Luke, John Leguizamo, James Gandolfini, Joseph Gordon Levitt, some cute Italian kid, Alexandra Maria Lara, and a boatload of other people and familiar faces

The Scoop:  Okay, so I will admit it right here, right now.  I love Spike Lee.  I even liked She Hate Me.  He’s a cunning provocateur who’s had numerous peaks and valleys in his career but just won’t stop no matter what and always seems to get his name in the papers–witness Clint Eastwood telling him recently to “shut his face”.  Spike is coming off the most commercially successful film of his long career with Inside Man.  With this adaptation of the novel by James McBride about a group of African-American soldiers trapped in Tuscany during WWII, he’s giving us his first epic since Malcom X.    The trailer for this film is a smashing success that manages to sell the film as both a murder mystery and a searing Saving Private Ryan style WWII drama.  This latest Spike Lee Joint has so many great things going for it:  an auteur on the precipice of a personal artistic and commercial Renaissance (much like the one Scorsese recently went through with The Aviator and The Departed); a great storyline that has the potential to provoke discussions of history, race, religion and politics in a historic Presidential election year; and a multi-ethnic cast that includes a cute Italian kid, and as a special bonus for me, the devastatingly seductive Alexandra Maria Lara, whose beauty alone made Francis Ford Coppola’s recent debacle Youth Without Youth worth watching.

Watch the trailer:  http://www.imdb.com/video/imdb/vi3941007641/

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2.  The Curious Case of Benjamin Button  (scheduled release date:  12/19)

The Director:  David Fincher

The Stars:  Brad Pitt, Cate Blanchett, Tilda Swinton, Julia Ormond

The Scoop:  This is the fantastic case of a gimmick film (it tells the not so simple story of a man who ages backwards, folks) with a literary pedigree (adapted from a story by F. Scott Fitzgerald).  I first saw the trailer for this in front of the latest Indiana Jones flick, and the packed house was so quiet you could hear a pin drop.  Its epic scope appears to be a complete departure for director Fincher, and its unique story and images sweep over you in the masterfully crafted trailer-much kudos thus far to the marketing team.  This film has the potential to be monumentally huge or just another curiosity grabbing for Oscar gold at Christmastime.  Will Fincher (robbed of an Oscar nod for Zodiac last year) and uber-star Pitt (robbed last year for The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford) finally get their due?

CAPTION:  Two Oscars please, my good man!  Oscars for me and the Finch!

Watch the trailer:  http://www.apple.com/trailers/paramount/thecuriouscaseofbenjaminbutton/

Official Site:  http://www.benjaminbutton.com/

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3.  Australia  (scheduled release date:  11/14)

The Director:  Baz Luhrmann

The Stars:  Nicole Kidman, Hugh Jackman, Australia!

The Scoop:  Baz the Spazz changes gears completely with this big historical epic depicting heroism and romance against the backdrop of a Japanese attack on Australia during WWII.  The trailer sells the imagery and scope of the film very well, making it look Gone with the Wind Down Under, though the frame story of Kidman telling a fairy tale to the Aborigine girl seems a bit strained (and remarkably similar to Tarsem’s The Fall.)  Luhrmann appears to have abandoned his hyper kinetic style for the dreadful sumptuousness that always seems to sell tickets during the big holidays at the end of the year.  Kidman and Jackman certainly look the parts, and lord knows they could both use a big hit.   Will critics be eager to embrace the new Luhrmann after a seven year hiatus?  More than any other film, I think critics have the chance to make or break this one.

Watch the trailer:  http://www.imdb.com/video/screenplay/vi2917663001/

Official Site:  http://www.australiamovie.com/

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4.  The Soloist  (scheduled release date:  11/21)

The Director:  Joe Wright

The Stars:  Robert Downey Jr., Catherine Keener, Jamie Foxx

The Scoop:  Brit Joe Wright atones for his period pieces by making this American set musical biopic.  Downey Jr. is back on the A-list, the director is taking on a genre held in high favor in recent years, and playing a schizophrenic musical genius seems right up Foxx’s alley.  There are no trailers or official sites yet, but I can’t wait to see what kind of tracking long shots Wright cooks up for this one–I’m picturing a shot the begins with an overhead dolly and travels down and through the crowd and orchestra at a grand concert hall.

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5.  Revolutionary Road  (scheduled release date:  12/26)

The Director:  Sam Mendes

The Stars:  Leonardo DiCaprio, Kate Winslet

The Scoop:  I have to admit, the plot of this one (from a novel by Richard Yates) sounds like a snore-fest:  a young couple in 1950’s Connecticut deal with problems and such.  However, Mendes has yet to make a bad film, suburban dystopia is his bread and butter (American Beauty, anyone?), and the reunion of Titanic stars Leo and Kate in a Christmastime release give this film some palpable buzz.  No trailers or official site have appeared yet. 

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Other Films of Interest:

Changeling:  10/31.  The latest from Clint Eastwood has some mixed buzz coming from its Cannes’ premier.  This 1920’s set psychological thriller about a mother who begins to doubt the identity of her young son who has been returned to her after going missing will have a hard line to tow while it tries to convince people it’s not a remake of a horror film with the same name and is instead a prestigious Oscar bid for its uber-star Angelina Jolie.

Defiance:  12/2.  Yet another WWII epic, this one is based on a true story and staring Daniel Craig.  Directed by Edward Zwick, the film of course reeks of quality, and the trailer has been getting some good buzz (at least amongst my friends and family), but it looks nobly cliched to me.  If that new Spike Lee Joint strikes a cord, this runs the risk of being overshadowed as the later release.

Watch the trailer for Defiancehttp://www.imdb.com/video/imdb/vi2008154393/

Oh, yeah, there’s also a new James Bond flick (Craig again) idiotically entitled Quantum of Solace (11/7), and a wacky crime caper from Oscar darlings the Coen Brothers zanily called Burn After Reading (9/12) and staring, you guessed it, Brad Pitt.

Watch the Quantum of Solace trailer:  http://www.moviefone.com/movie/quantum-of-solace/26922/trailer?trailerId=2150289

Written by David H. Schleicher

A Review of Edward Zwick’s “Blood Diamond”

This is Africa?, 26 December 2006
7/10
Author: David H. Schleicher from New Jersey, USA

An Edward Zwick film always reeks of quality. Think of his “Courage Under Fire,” the first big film to address the Gulf War, or the Tom Cruise starer “The Last Samurai.” Both were very good films, but didn’t quite reach the epic status they seemed to be aiming for. Zwick commonly has compelling stories with big stars and a big budget…but his films are always missing that special something–the visceral jolt or that artistic flair that separate the good movies from the great movies. “Blood Diamond” tries very hard to be a pulse-pounding and heart wrenching political thriller in the vein of last year’s “The Constant Gardner,” but in its earnest and noble attempt to bring to life the plight of Africans involved in the mining and smuggling of diamonds, it falls short.

The writers deserve credit for trying to highlight so many compelling tangents of this hot-button story that touches on price gouging, corporate “funding” of civil war, enslavement of native Africans in their own land, and the brutal indoctrination of child armies by radical rebel forces. Zwick, always competent staging a tense battle scene and realistic violence, unfortunately directs everything else in a pedestrian manner that hinders the inherent compelling nature of the plot. An uninspired music score and two false endings don’t help.

The superb cast helps keep things slightly off kilter and interesting for the audience. Leonardo DiCaprio as the suddenly conscious-stricken diamond smuggler has become one of those uber-stars who is always better than expected in spite of himself. He sports and unidentifiable accent (is it supposed to be a Zimbabwe accent, or someone from Zimbabwe doing a bad impression of a South African accent?) that isn’t as nearly distracting as it was in the previews for the film. Following his masterful turn in “The Departed”, Leo has somehow managed to wipe away his pretty-boy image and become a very reliable man’s-man actor-intense and brooding and ready for action. It’s also nice to see the stunning Jennifer Connelly in a role other than that of a tortured middle class woman with dark secrets. She’s underused here as the wily reporter looking to make a difference with her “big story,” but her always slightly subversive line readings are effortlessly enticing, and she’s become one of those rare actresses who looks even sexier as she ages. To round out the ensemble, there’s Djimon Hounsou, always riveting in his typecast role of a passionate and angry African willing to do anything for his family.

“Blood Diamond” is ultimately one of those movies that is greater to talk about than actually sit through. It has some fine performances and a compelling story that gives much food for thought, but isn’t as well executed as it should be. Like all Zwick films, it has a brain and a keen eye, but its heart seems strangely insincere.

Originally published on the Internet Movie Database

http://imdb.com/title/tt0450259/usercomments-147