The Wolf of Wall Street (2013)

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The Wolf of Wall Street

Directed by: Martin Scorsese

Written by: Terence Winter

Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Jonah Hill, Margot Robbie, Matthew McConaughey

The life of a corrupt New York stock broker is the focus of Martin Scorsese’s newest feature. There’s a lot of drugs involved, which is ironic because viewers feel like their on cocaine for the entire film. It’s all over the place, it’s disorganized, but mostly it’s fun! Viewers are guaranteed 180 minutes (yes, 3 hours) of pure fun. Scorsese takes viewers on even more of a ride than normal even for him. It’s not typical Scorsese, but it’s just as much of a ride as any of his other works of art.

Terence Winter’s script surprisingly received an oscar nomination for best adapted screenplay. I personally thought the direction and acting made up for the hectic writing. The script constantly seemed lost and there are certain scenes that I’m still scratching my head as to why they weren’t cut from the film itself. The script also failed to portray Jordan Belford as the deceitful douche bag that was his true character. Nobody likes to root for the bad guy, but this film gives you a bad man and does not show you how bad he actually was.  Maybe the academy felt like they had to honor anyone who is willing to write a movie that is 3 hours long.

Margot Robbie (left) and Leonardo DiCaprio (right)

Margot Robbie (left) and Leonardo DiCaprio (right)

Leonardo DiCaprio officially establishes himself as one of (absolutely top 10) the best living actors with his performance. He took a man that was clearly deranged, and gave him an unbelievable flare that could only be accomplished with a performance of this class. Jonah Hill’s performance goes along well with DiCaprio’s, but the decision to nominate him came as a surprise to me as well as many others. Margot Robbie officially established herself as one of the best looking people on the planet with her appearance and she’s an impressive actress as well. McConaughey is fantastic as always in his supporting, very supporting, role.

Don’t expect The Wolf of Wall Street to bring back the feeling that caused you to fall in love with movies. Instead expect it to expose a different kind of love that can be brought forth from watching cinematic art. Scorsese and DiCaprio are back together this time saving a script that could have brought the whole operation down. Any other duo wouldn’t have been able to accomplish what these two did with The Wolf of Wall Street.

Best Picture Reviews: 85/100

Her (2013)

After a long break, I’ve acquired some free time and am happy to be back to writing reviews. Due to the appropriateness of the season, the next reviews will be on the nominees for Best Picture. Starting with Her…

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Her

Written and Directed by: Spike Jonze

Starring: Joaquin Phoenix, Rooney Mara, Amy AdamsScarlett Johansson

All the greatest filmmakers are those that craft their films as though the film is their child. Spike Jonze has the potential to go down as one of the top filmmakers of his generation, and Her was a step in that direction. The concept of love is something that is explored far too often in movies and television, which makes the basic concept of Her appear to be a drag on paper. It just took one look at the trailer to make me see the concept in a whole new light. Jonze showed a stunning ability to work with his actors, and got performances that fit the tone of the film. He showed his true leadership by making the decision to cut the original voice of Samantha (recorded by Samantha Morton) and replace it with Scarlett Johanson’s voice. Also, cutting a big name actor like Chirs Cooper shows that he will not allow anyone to get in the way of his vision (IMDb trivia)

MV5BMTYxMTEwODk5OV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMDkwNjM3MDE@._V1_SX640_SY720_Joaquin Phoenix, coming off of his game-changing performance in The Master, proves once again how lucky the film industry was to get him back as an actor. This performance, one of the best of his career, came with an extra level of difficulty due to the fact that half of the films scenes were filmed with him talking to someone that does not actually exist. The film would not have worked without an incredible performance out of Joaquin. The other actors feed off of the tone that Joaquin sets, which leads to stunning performances from everyone involved.

Her is the best love story to hit the screens in a long time. I dare anyone that is put off by the premise to go see the film and tell me that you still don’t understand how a man can fall in love with an operating system.

Best Picture Reviews: 87/100

Now You See Me (2013)

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Directed By: Louis Leterrier

Written By: Ed Solomon, Boaz Yakin, and Edward Ricourt 

Starring: Jesse Eisenberg, Mark Ruffalo, Woody Harrelson, Melanie Laurent, Isla Fisher, Dave Franco, Michael Caine, and Morgan Freeman

Now you don’t…

Four of the nation’s greatest magicians (Eisenberg, Harrelson, Franco, Fisher) are brought together by an unknown person, and instructed to do 3 grand shows. They get financial backing from a multi-millionaire insurance company owner (Caine), and before the film is 20 minutes in, they are doing their first sold-out  show in Las Vegas. In this first show, they, “rob,” a bank using their magician skills. Don’t worry: This movie does not actually believe in magic, well not really at least. The film then goes on a roller coaster ride through the story of the 4 magicians, the FBI crew (Ruffalo, Laurent) that tries to stop them, and one magic debunker (the one and only Morgan Freeman).

Louis Leterrier direction brings a fresh, new feeling to this story that shares those qualities. His visual crafting is part of what draws viewers in for the 115 minute ride. Right from the beginning, Leterrier knows what direction he wants to take the film. Having a vision as a director is imperative to critical success of a film. Of course director’s need far more than vision, but that is one aspect that Louis Leterrier thrives in capturing. His flaws lie in the action sequences, but fortunately, we don’t see too much of those.

The trio of writers, find success in the basic plot line, but as the plot begins to develop, viewers will see their flaws. The attempt to be too witty and tricky is found far too often, especially in the mystery/thriller genre. While Now You See Me is no exemption, it’s strengths out weigh its weaknesses in writing department. The film struggles with knowing when to stop, and ends up making far too many twists for its own plot. The script, however; can be very witty, and at times the motor behind the film.

Highly talented actor, Jesse Eisenberg, in Now You See Me

Highly talented actor, Jesse Eisenberg, in Now You See Me

The cast, not surprisingly, is the strongest aspect of the film. The film is flowing with some of my personal favorite actors including Eisenberg, Harrelson, Freeman, and Caine. The entire cast fulfills their roles perfectly. Without this entire cast, driven by Jesse Eisenberg, the film would inevitably drown in its own flaws. The cast turns a mediocre film into a good film, and that is how it always should be. In this modern day, there is no excuse for poor acting. Casting directors have enough people to choose from. Oh, and more quality roles for Jesse Eisenberg, anyone? When Jesse is on, he might be my favorite young actor in the business.

Overall, Now You See Me will thoroughly entertain its viewers, and will leave them feeling as if it was $12 well spent. That is given that these viewers recognize that it is May, and entertainment is simply all you can ask for. The film’s pros ultimately outweigh its cons, and eh, who doesn’t love a little bit of magic?

IMDb: 7.5/10

Rotten Tomatoes: 47%

Metacritic: 50/100

Best Picture Movie Reviews: 73/100

White House Down (2013)

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Directed By: Roland Emmerich

Written By: James Vanderbilt

Starring: Channing Tatum, Jamie Foxx, Maggie Gyllenhaal,  Joey King, James Woods, Jason Clarke, and Richard Jenkins

The White House is under attack. And no… It’s not Arabs, which the movie takes a couple pokes at. Readers might be thinking: Didn’t this movie come out in March? Well, yes it kind of did. The March release was Olympus Has Fallen, but the differences between the two do not outweigh the overwhelming similarities. Regardless of the remarkable similarities between the two, they are two of the action movies that Hollywood has thrown at us during the first half of this year. The premise does not need to stretch much beyond that; however, as the simple storyline is that a bunch of  (white) American haters have attacked the White House seeking revenge on the entire nation.

Writer James Vanderbilt (writer of The Amazing Spiderman) did one thing very right with White House Down, he did not allow the story to take itself too seriously. With a very touchy subject such as terrorism, it is very difficult to find a balance between what is acceptable and what is not. Many would argue that a movie that involves a terrorist attack on the president should never be made. This reviewer’s argument would be that it can be made, but only as long as it takes itself with a punch in the should now and again. The film is full of cheesy one-liners and unrealistic scenarios, which would be a flaw for most films, but it actually adds to the entertainment value of White House Down. The script even takes pokes at some classic White House legends, which is highly comical in and of itself. The unrealistic action scenes and the remarkably convenient timing also adds to the fun of the film. My hat goes off to Mr. Vanderbilt for taking a nearly impossible topic, and making it immensely entertaining.

Let's see how much fun the CGI guys over at Sony can have with this bad boy...

Let’s see how much fun the CGI guys over at Sony can have with this bad boy…

The key thing that viewers need to see with White House Down was that it was never trying to get your vote for best action story or most realistic action thriller. It knew its place, which was what I seemed to struggle with when I reviewed Fast & Furious 6 on Tuesday. I think some action movies try too hard to please everyone. White House Down knew what it was going for, and it achieved its goal quite well.

Director, Ronald Emmerich, does a great job of continuing James Vanderbilt’s vision. He crafts the action scenes, and leaves it to his visual effects buddies to make the magic happen. He takes a liberty in showing viewers the inside of the White House, while not allowing the artifacts to conflict with his vision.

White House Down might be the movie that officially establishes Channing Tatum as an A-Lister. His name is quickly going around worldwide, and I have to be honest in saying that he’s not half bad. Jamie Foxx is completely unconvincing as the leader of a nation, but he manages to have fun with his role. The villan’s are pretty spot on with their performances, and present a hatable very well.

Perhaps I’m being overly generous to White House Down because I walked into it, and expected the worst. I was genuinely entertained by an action movie with a decent length running time (131 min), and did not check my watch once.

Overall, viewers need to enter White House Down with one goal: to be entertained. If viewers begin to attempt to think through all the illogical plot point in the story, they will not have a good time. Take it for the fun ride that it is, and accept it for what it is. White House Down did all that I could have expected for a mid-summer release, but nothing more.

Rotten Tomatoes: 49%

Metacritic: 52/100

Best Picture Movie Reviews: 65/100

Fast & Furious 6 (2013)

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Directed By: Justin Lin 

Written By: Chris Morgan and Gary Scott Thompson

Starring: Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, Dwayne Johnson, Luke Evans, and other various supporting actors

Well that was realistic…

They’re back and they’re the good guys. That’s right. Leave it to Hobbs (Johnson), a special forces cop, to get Toretto (Johnson) and his crew back to work. They are working to capture Shaw (Evans), a military-trained criminal, that is out to steal a chip that is capable of shutting down an entire country for 24 hours. This chip would be capable of essentially destroying that respective country. The stakes are high, the muscles are big, and the cars go fast.. What could go wrong, right?

To answer the previous question, a lot more than viewers would think. I’m struggling to tell the difference between action movies anymore. Just about everyone has begun to feel the same. Fast & Furious 6 is no exemption. The storyline is washed out and utterly disappointing. The attempt to differentiate itself by switching the setting (again) backfires on them (again). While I like watching big guys kick each others asses as much as everyone else, I can simply not get over the redundancy of the series.

The first Fast & Furious is a good-watch and one of the better action movies of 2001. The second, third, and fourth installments were very disappointing (especially three). I take my hat off to them for their perseverance for sticking with a series that had three consecutive disappointing efforts. Fast Five brought back viewers interest in the series. The Rio setting was appealing and people were  again drawn in by the badass thieves.

Unfortunately, the only aspect of the fast & furious series that was even somewhat original was removed in Fast & Furious 6. They are now the good guys. It’s human nature to want to be a badass, so when the protagonist(s) are bad guys, the movie instantly becomes more exhilarating. Take that aspect away, and it might as well be  Mission Impossible 5: Fast Cars.

The action scenes make no effort to be the slightest bit realistic. In fact, it is just the opposite: It is almost as if the writers made an effort to be unrealistic. I mean, didn’t we already see the ending of this movie in Toy Story? And Argo? In what would be taken by many as the most climatic scene, my theater began to laugh uncontrollably. The writing of the story is embarrassing and the directing could not save it. Just Lin’s direction is perfectly good. He does the best he could with what he had, but he didn’t have much.

The acting is typical action crap. Don’t Worry! Dwayne Johnson is just as awful at acting as he is at hiding his steroid use (nothing new). Paul Walker continues to do his best with a series that seems especially exhausted. Jordana Brewster is still a babe, but we don’t see her much in her relatively minor role. The acting is simply nothing to speak of.

Overall, Fast & Furious 6 can not successfully follow in Fast Five’s foot steps. Bad decisions with the characters mixed with general poor writing made the film just another mediocre summer action flick.

IMDb: 76/10

Rotten Tomatoes: 70/100

Metacritic: 61/100

Best Picture Movie Reviews: 63/100

Series Roundup: With every new addition, I like to rank every film in the series from Best to Worst:

1. Fast Five (2011)

2. The Fast and the Furious (2001)

3. Fast & Furious 6 (2013)

4. 2 Fast 2 Furious (2003)

5. Fast & Furious (2009)

6. The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift (2006)

American History X (1998)

american-history-x-1998Directed By: Tony Kaye

Written By: David McKenna

Starring: Edward Furlong and Edward Norton

Nominated for 1 Academy Award (Best Actor)

I apologize for my lack of posting. Finals are coming to an end, so things should be back to normal.

And you thought that racism was a thing of the past…

After losing their father to murder by an African American man, Derek Vinyard (Norton) decides to get involved in a neo-nazi skinheads in Venice, California. The skinheads essentially hate everyone that it is not white. After Derek is given 3 years in prison for a triple homicide of three black men, his brother, Danny (Furlong), attempts to continue his legacy and joins the skinheads himself. After thinking that his brother will come back proud of him, there is an obvious change of heart that his brother experienced in prison. He is suddenly not so supportive of the skinheads and their message. Danny’s principal, Bob Sweeney (Brooks) gets involved and the story turns into a thrilling mess.

The story written by producer David McKenna is flawless. With how fantastic the script is, it shocks me that McKenna has written no other major titles. This film was by far the biggest snub at the Oscars in 1998. The headline was Saving Private Ryan not winning, but when nominations were announced the headline was American X not getting nominated. This was disappointing, but not particularly surprising. A more recent Oscar-snub comparison for American History X is Drive. Just like American History X, Drive only received one nomination, which was just the Academy’s way of saying, “great movie, but we’re too conservative to encourage you.” Being a huge fan of the Academy, I hate having to say things like that, but when movies like American History X and Drive are not nominated, they leave me no choice. McKenna’s snub was perhaps the biggest one of all. The idea and execution were fantastic and he did not only deserve to be nominated, but to take home the golden trophy as well.

Edward Norton in American History X

Edward Norton in American History X

Edward Norton is very hit or miss with me. I can’t deny that I am mainly a fan of educated actors (i.e. Matt Damon, Will Smith) and not a fan of uneducated ones (i.e. most Hollywood actors). Knowing that Norton studied history at Yale automatically increased my interest in him. What I’ve found is that there are times that there is no denying his brilliance (i.e. Fight Club, The Illusionist), but at other times he is simply obnoxious (i.e. The Italian Job, The Incredible Hulk). With that being said, American History X is by far the best work of his. He drives the movie through every scene and the film would truly be different with out him. Aside from Norton, everyone, especially Furlong, is at their best. To make a film that will stick with you for hours after viewing, filmmakers need the best out of every actor involved, and that is what they got with American History X.

Maybe it makes the film even better that the director, Tony Kaye, has not worked on any major projects since American History X. He brings a style of direction that viewers are not used to seeing, and it only adds to the brilliance of the film.

Whether it be the capturing story, the world-class performances, or the fantastically original directing, American History X succeeds in tapping into viewers emotions, and spitting them out feeling different than they were when they entered.

IMDb: 8.6/10 (#33 on the top 250)

Rotten Tomatoes: 82/100

Metacritic: 62/100

Best Picture Movie Reviews: 90/100

Iron Man 3 (2013)

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Directed By: Shane Black

Written By: Drew Pearce and Shane Black

Starring: Robert Downey Jr., Guy Pearce, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Don Cheadle

He’s back.. and with a heart (pun intended).

The third installment in the Iron Man series does not provide much variation from the other two. Tony Stark (Downey Jr.) is all over the place in this one. At one point he is the same, cocky, arrogant, lovable guy that we’ve seen in the previous films (especially the first), but in the very next scene he is breaking into full on anxiety attacks. Stark and Pepper Potts (Paltrow) are now in a committed relationship, which takes away from any random Tony Stark one-night-stands (unless there’s a flashback..). Who’s the villan? Well, there’s a new terrorist in town that fans of the comic book will know that goes by The Mandarin (Ben Kingsley), and viewers will be shocked when they get to meet him. There’s also an unappreciated villainous mastermind in Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce) that comes in to shake things up. Iron Man 3 has one of the better superhero plots, but its lack of execution is where the problem lies.

Would you really trust a relatively unknown director with your $200 million? Marvel did, and it did not pay off. There are moments in Iron Man 3 that had great written potential (i.e. plane rescue scene), but the execution was flawed. The only fault that can attribute to this is the director. My only advice to Marvel can be to get some more experienced people working on their projects. Or is it possible that no acclaimed director wants to take up a film with so much hype surrounding it? Is that why The Dark Knight trilogy was so successful? This is the only reason this reviewer can provide for Marvel’s decision.

With that being said, the writing was far from perfect. Can someone please explain to me why for two movies in a row, the Iron Man movies have not featured very much Iron Man? Until viewers meet The Mandarin, he is a fascinating character, but his comical entrance is ultimately disappointing. Writers Drew Pearce and Shane Black rely too heavily on cheesy one-liners. At the end (or during) every “exciting” scene there is an unnecessary one-liner given by Tony Stark or sometimes Pepper Potts.

Stark and Potts (Downey Jr. and Paltrow) at the Paris premiere of Iron Man 3.

Stark and Potts (Downey Jr. and Paltrow) at the Paris premiere of Iron Man 3.

Stark is not the same cocky piece of shit that we’re used to, and I miss that. I have no problem with character advancement, but we’d be lying if we said we didn’t miss the old Stark. The Stark from this scene is what I crave, and while you get glimpses of him, I wonder if he will ever return. Robert Downey Jr. delivers another steller performance as always, but he fits the repetitive feel of the movie. He does not add anything new to Stark, and simply delivers his lines in the way he always had. The performances in this action flick are all up to par, but one new man must be noted. Guy Pearce adds so much to Iron Man 3. Perhaps I like him because he is the only taste of variation found in Iron Man 3. Whatever the reason, his performance in Iron Man 3 is the highlight of the film, and it is good to see Guy Pearce back in a leading role.

I might just be overly harsh on Iron Man 3. It was light years better than the second film, so maybe I’m just sick of it. Not just Tony Stark. Maybe I’m sick of Marvel. The Avengers (great film) might have just been the end for me. Whether it is Iron Man, Thor, or Captain America infront of the camera, every scene begins to feel the same. Is it overkill? At the end of the day, every movie will entertain viewers and everyone will keep seeing them. And if we all keep seeing them… they’ll just keep throwing them out there. Whether or not that is a bad thing depends on the viewer.

Overall, I’m not dying to see Stark or his suit(s) anytime soon. Iron Man 3 does not hurt the marvel series in any way, but it does not add anything new to it either.

IMDb: 7.8/10

Rotten Tomatoes: 77/100

Metacritic: 62/100

Best Picture Movie Reviews: 71/100 (Expectation: 75/100)

Series Roundup: With every new addition, I like to rank every film in the series from Best to Worst:

1. Iron Man

2. Iron Man 3

3. Iron Man 2