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The Wolf of Wall Street

The Wolf of Wall Street (2013)

Director: Martin Scorsese
Written by: Terence Winter
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio; Jonah Hill; Margot Robbie
Reviewer: Sean Daly

For Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio, in a career best performance), vile protagonist of Martin Scorsese’s  The Wolf of Wall Street, great isn’t good—greed is God.  In Jordan’s case, however, his greed isn’t for the infinite fortune, spacious mansion, or Stanley Cup trophy-level wife Naomi (Margot Robbie) he possesses but, rather, to be worshiped as a deity himself.  It’s a lofty aspiration Jordan, more nihilist than capitalist, spends three hours of screen time attempting to pull off through the cloak of rampant materialism—and possibly does.  Unfortunately Scorsese, one of the finest American filmmakers of all time, doesn’t come as close Jordan to hitting his own ambitious target—making a great film revolving almost entirely around unredeemable characters.

Following the typical Scorsese framing device of a main character voicing over the story somewhere in progress, The Wolf of Wall Street begins where many rise-and-fall films do—with the humble beginnings of the hero/antihero.  For Jordan, this means an entry-level position at a Wall Street firm where he meets Mark Hanna (Matthew McConaughey, excellent as has become his norm), a morally bankrupt stock broker who equates things such as chronic masturbation and drug use as keys to success in the financial world.  Jordan loses his job on Black Monday but not the gist of Hanna’s dubious lesson.  Soon enough, he gathers a ragtag group of friends, including Donnie Azoff (Jonah Hill), to form Stratton Oakmont, a decidedly off-Wall Street firm whose true purpose is to dupe desperate people into buying garbage stocks.  Jordan quickly succeeds with his scheme and makes a fortune.  He also draws the attention of the SEC and FBI Agent Patrick Denham (Kyle Chandler), who seeks to bring him and his cohorts down.  The jeopardy remaining—or so it seems—is will Jordan get away with it?

The film’s biggest problem is that the viewer isn’t encouraged to care.  The Wolf of Wall Street would have benefitted greatly from more attention paid to its primary law enforcement character beyond the heavy handed juxtaposition of crook on yacht vs. good man riding subway.  While the screenplay is based upon the real Jordan Belfort’s book—which understandably reflects only the crook’s point of view—Scorsese, as filmmaker, had ultimate power to ground the story somewhat by devoting at least one scene to Denham’s motivations as a decent public servant who wants to take Jordan down before he swindles more people. Such a scene, however, never comes.  Perhaps Scorsese felt such an approach to be too judgmental, pedestrian, or simple-minded, but, the gravity of people losing their life savings feels too heavy to ignore and providing an emotional anchor, even if small, to counteract Jordan’s hedonistic rampage would have made for a more impactful viewing experience.

Comparisons to Scorsese’s Goodfellas are inevitable and, stylistically, there are similarities.  Where it falls well short of the director’s ultimate masterpiece is by not understanding less is often more when a storyteller intends to shock.  Yes, Goodfellas had a number of notoriously jarring scenes but they were memorable because of their sudden, storm the after calm quality resulting in dire repercussions for multi-faceted characters we cared about despite their flaws.  The end result was an exhilarating experience leaving the viewer wanting more even after three hours.  The Wolf of Wall Street, on the other hand, features mostly flat characters in profane scene after profane scene after profane scene intended to shock but instead numbing the viewer into being very cognizant of the film’s epic length. Of the many supporting characters, only Donnie and Brad (Jon Bernthal), a small time drug dealer and the one member of Jordan’s flock intelligent enough not to buy in, manage to stick out.  The rest of the cast won’t evoke memories of Tommy DeVito or Jimmy Conway, particularly director Rob Reiner as Jordan’s father, a character described as scary but more a loud meathead than anything else.

Such criticisms are not meant to imply that The Wolf of Wall Street isn’t a good movie or worth seeing.  DiCaprio, despite his leading man pedigree, has always been more 70’s DeNiro/Hoffman than 70’s Redford/Newman in terms of having no vanity on screen or concern for image, admirable traits that have never been more apparent than in this film.   He absolutely shines, displaying remarkable physical comedy skills (the scene in which he must drive a car high out of his mind on Quaaludes is an instant classic) and commanding the screen at all times.  His Jordan is a drug addicted, wife-beating sociopath who, despite being highly successful, isn’t terribly intelligent about anything beyond identifying people dumber than he is.  The scenes in the offices of Stratton Oakmont in which DiCaprio delivers speeches to his rapt acolytes border upon mesmerizing, as the actor’s charisma elevates what could resemble something out of a Tony Robbins seminar to rival any great orator who is, nevertheless, completely full of shit and knows it.   On the strength of his work and Scorsese’s ambition (a mediocre-for-Scorsese movie is still better than 95% of most other director’s best work) I give The Wolf of Wall Street, despite its flaws, a rating of two guys.

2guys copy

{ 7 comments }

Bargain_Bin

Welcome to this week’s review from The Bargain Bin! This week’s pick from The Bin stars an ensemble of young actors that you could argue rivals the assemblage of young actors in movies such as “Fast Times at Ridgemont High”, “The Outsiders”, and “Diner”. One of the interesting aspects of the young actor ensemble is the privilege of the movie fan of witnessing the road that is eventually traveled by each actor. For example; the 1982 film Diner, directed by Barry Levinson, stars Steve Guttenberg who went on to star in Police Academy, Cocoon, and Three Men and a Baby amongst other sequels, but the last that I have seen of Mr. Guttenberg is his appearance in a, I believe, Bowflex info ad. Then you have Mickey Rourke who, of course, played the bad boy in Diner. Mickey was actually once likened to the screen legend James Dean but he unfortunately went on to see his own career eventually plummet into oblivion until his it was revived years later by films such as The Wrestler and Sin City. Next you have Paul Reiser who well, went on to appear in Beverly Hills Cop, Aliens, and of course the television sitcoms, My Two Dads and Mad About You. Where has Paul Reiser been lately you ask? I don’t recall this but apparently he was an attorney on the Liberace bio TV movie, Behind the Candelabra. Now, Daniel Stern of Diner went on to star along side Joe Pesci in Home Alone and Billy Crystal in City Slickers although he did star in a favorite film of mine before Diner titled Breaking Away but Diner was the film that put him on the map, more or less. Timothy Daly of Diner went on to star in the nineties sitcom television show Wings along with Steven Weber, Tony Schalhoub and Thomas Haden Church. Besides Wings there isn’t really any other film or television show worth mentioning. And last but not least we have Kevin Bacon who has gone on to star in many memorable films, lead a rock band known as, you guessed it, The Bacon Brothers, and star in the new hit television show, The Following. Not to mention Mr. Bacon has a game named after him known as Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon that, many movie fans, including myself, have spent hours playing for entertainment and eventual self torture. As you can see, there are members of the Diner cast that have gone on to be very successful and others who have not exactly conquered the film and television world. This week’s selection from The Bargain Bin is a film that stars Brendan Fraser, Chris O’Donnell, Matt Damon, and Ben Affleck and like other past young ensemble casts each star has had very similar and very different roads to the present. I guess that my point is, well, these ensemble casts can sure help make for one hell of a Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon game. This week’s flick from The Bin is the 1992 film………..

School Ties

Director: Robert Mandel
Written By: Dick Wolf and Darryl Ponicsan
Starring: Brendan Fraser, Chris O’Donnell, Matt Damon, and Ben Affleck
Reviewer: Joe Sikes

Scranton, Pennsylvania, 1955 and David Greene (Brendan Fraser) finds himself having to defend himself and his religion with his fists once again. David can only hope that this is the last time he has to fight for his beliefs because in a couple of days he will be the new guy on campus at St. Matthew’s Preparatory School in Massachusetts with hopes of going on to Harvard University. A star football player at his high school in Scranton, St. Michael’s has given David an alumni scholarship with hopes of the star recruit leading the prestigious prep school to victory over their old football rivals, St. Luke’s. For David, the challenges at St. Matthew’s won’t only be academic but social as well. You see, David hails from a tough, blue collar town and, not only that, David is Jewish and if there are two things that the students at St. Matthew’s are not it’s working class and they are definitely not Jewish. David’s Dad (Ed Lauter) and football coach (KevinTighe) both advise David to keep his religion under wraps but this task may prove to be much easier said than done.

It isn’t long before David wins over his peers with his charisma and his abilities on the football field. It also isn’t long before David discovers that his new-found friends aren’t afraid to throw around bigoted Jewish jokes. Although tough to ignore, David chooses to look past this character flaw of his new buddies and just move on knowing that if he were to expose the fact that he is Jewish it is very likely that he would be ostracized by his fellow students. Already not exactly accepted by super-jerk bigoted elitist Charlie Dillon (Matt Damon), after having been replaced as starting quarterback by David, now David has fallen for Charlie’s “girlfriend” Sally Wheeler (Amy Locane), who just so happens to have fallen for David as well. Coexisting with his peers at St. Matthew’s is proving to be very complicated for David and this is without anybody having knowledge of his religion. How long can David keep his true religious faith a secret and what will be the consequences when the truth is discovered? Will David be accepted for being a friendly, charismatic young man or will he be rejected for being Jewish? David’s dilemma isn’t the only quandary that presents itself in School Ties but you might have to go Bargain Bin diving to discover, or revisit, the rest of what makes this flick tick.

School Ties presents the sensitive subjects of prejudice and social class elitism without coming across too preachy but by simply telling a hard hitting story about a teenage boy who has to fight to defend himself and his beliefs around every corner just because he practices a religion that frowned upon by small minded individuals. Brendan Fraser leads the talented, young cast of School Ties decently but in the end the movie kind of comes across as a Brendan Fraser vehicle which takes away from the seriousness of the film’s subject matter a bit. That being said, I give School Ties 2 out of 3 Guys. Have a great week and see you next time with another review from The Bargain Bin!

2guys copy

{ 3 comments }

Nothing Left to Fear (2013)

Written By: Jonathan W.C. Mills
Directed by: Anthony Leonardi III
Starring: Anne Heche,  James Tupper,  Ethan Peck                         
Reviewed by: Matt Kenary

Ok, here we got a movie based on the assumption or urban legend that in Stull, Kansas lies a portal to Hell, yes Satan and all that,  And who better to bring us this kind of film than Guns and Roses’ Slash (I guess he’s into movie production and contributed to the soundtrack). I’m not a big G&R fan but I like Slash and  like movies about weird townsfolk, kooky religious factors, and of course portals to Hell.  So in theory, this movie had potential.  I never heard of the Stull legend so I wiki-ed it and got little, so I dug a little further.  Come to find out it’s one of seven “gateways” to hell ( it’s always to have options) and in one of the graveyards there are hidden steps that only reveal themselves at Halloween and the spring equinox. Of course the whole graveyard  is haunted and there is a rundown church that supposedly been a haven for witches and warlocks and the such.  But don’t plan on learning any of this by watching this movie though.

Pastor Dan and his wife (Anne Heche) and their three kids have been reassigned to Stull Kansas to replace their Pastor Kingsman (Clancy Brown).  And oh what a family Pastor Dan has,  they all get along and love each other so much, blah blah blah, yes pretty sickening.  Well while Pastor Dan is getting acquainted with his new congregation, his youngest daughter Rebecca meets Noah, the town hunk who offers to show her around.  Meanwhile the oldest daughter while eating a cake given as a welcome gift, bites into an ancient tooth.  I guess it was supposed to mark her or something because it become quite obvious quickly  that there is something amiss in Stull.  Pastor Dan’s family is there for a reason and it isn’t to preach to the church.  Noah tries to guide Rebecca though this and is uneasy about the whole thing,  meanwhile Pastor Kingsman springs his trap and the gates of Hell or whatever is in it could mean a family apocalypse for pastor Dan and his wife and kids.

The first fifty minutes of this film plays like a WB teen soap opera, very Dawson Creak-ish I might say.  In other words nothing happens at all for the first fifty minutes, no real scares, no build-up, no nothing except gobbily gook and  a laugh out loud phony performance by Anne Heche,  Carol Brady was a more believable mom.  Oooh, once in a while we see some guy standing in the background staring at them.  The next half of the film ups the ante a little when the happenings start happening.  The sinister plot is obvious and there are a few funny scenes where Noah saves Rebecca while stranding the little brother.  The one thing I can’t comprehend is why it is so difficult to get in a car and drive out of town.  I mean at the time there was one demon thing chasing them and it wasn’t very fast,  but I guess constantly deserting the little brother and then backtracking to get him puts a big damper into escaping.  The few effect in it weren’t bad ( not enough to save it) and there was very little blood and gore.  I love Clancy Brown (The Krurgan in the Highlander and the evil preacher in the great, late Showtime Series Carnivale) so it was a small joy to watch him but other than that there’s nothing much to grab onto here.  Even Slash’s soundtrack was uninspiring.  As bad as it was, I did enjoy watching itmostly  because I enjoy train wrecks but calling this movie scary would be like saying 90210 is an accurate depiction of high school life.  I give this 1/2 guy out of 3.

Half_Man_small

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The Lego Movie

The Lego Movie

LegoMoviePoster

Director: Phil Lord, Christopher Miller
Writer: Dan Hageman, Kevin Hageman
Starring: Will Arnett, Elizabeth Banks, Alison Brie, Will Ferrell, Chris Pratt

 

Plot: An ordinary Lego with no exceptional skill is mistakenly recruited as a MasterBuilder, a Lego with extraordinary powers. The MasterBuilder is destined to do battle with an evil tyrant who is bent on gluing the Lego universe together.

 

Rate It:

 

Adam:

2guys copy

Scotty:

2guys copy

Griff:

2guys copy

So what did you think? 

Adam – A fast paced good time for anyone who played with Lego or has kids that play with Lego.  As with most successful kids films this film is approachable for an adult as well as a child.

Scotty - Overall I thought the film was pretty good and my children seemed to enjoy it.  It had a good mix of catchy one liners and a decent story, The Lego Movie is not going to win any awards, I don’t think, but it was a good way to spend some quality family time over the February break.

Griff – It is a fun watch. There is definitely enough going on here to keep both kids and adults entertained. It is at its best when it relies on clever dialogue and funny interactions between the Legos. It falls apart a bit toward the conclusion when it gets heavy on over the top action.

 

 

Any thoughts before you saw the movie? 

Adam – This film is gonna cost me a lot more in Lego bricks than it is theater costs.

Scotty – I had been inundated with lines and a song from the film in my classroom over the past week so I was eager to understand what my students were talking about.  I did think it was a perfect way to cash in on the overpriced lego sets that have been in our house over the last 2 years and simply great marketing for the suits that run the Lego empire.

Griff – I had heard good things and it had a pretty impressive rating on RT. I was expecting a good movie.

Lego Movie Still 1

 

Did you think this movie was fresh and/or innovative? 

Adam – The computer animated stop motion lego effects were out of this world.  I have seen a bunch of previous Lego films and this one certainly raises the bar in both duration and quality of content.

Scotty - This was the first Lego Movie I had ever seen and the special effects were well done.

Griff – Well, when you really break it down, this is the plot of the Matrix so I will have to say no.

 

 

Did you think the script was well written? 

Adam – Did you like the Matrix?

Scotty – The script is pretty  much what you thought it would be, a feel good story with some contribution from some top notch stars like Will Farrell and Morgan Freeman.  Classic nobody becomes somebody.

Griff - Besides the fact that this movie is the matrix with Legos, there are enough changes and so much great dialogue that this movie can stand on it’s own.

 

 

Was there a performance you really liked or really hated? 

Adam – Nice to see Billy Dee Williams getting some work.  However, Will’s made this film for me Arnett and Ferrell really stand out among the voice actors.

Scotty – I really thought that Farrell was great as Lord Business and I enjoyed Morgan Freeman’s part in the film.  Will Arnett (Batman) was also very good.

Griff - The scenes with Batman were the highlights for me.

Lego Movie Still 2

 

Do you remember a song from the film?

Adam – I still cant stop singing Everything is Awesome and you will be humming it for days after seeing this film.

Scotty - Everything is Awesome

Griff - Everything is Awesome! Although it wasn’t so awesome when we got back to my brother’s place and he kept playing the song over and over again.

 

 

What was your favorite line? 

Adam – “If this relationship is going to work out between us I need to feel free to party with a bunch of strangers whenever I feel like it.  I will text you.” Batman (Will Arnett)

Scotty – “I know that sounds like a cat poster, but it’s true.”

Griff – “I liked Emmett before it was cool.”

Lego Movie Still 3

 

What would have made this a better movie?

Adam - Two words; Lego Sex.

Scotty – The film is not changing any lives but if you have children who enjoy Lego Video Games and sets than they will enjoy it.  I wish there was more for adults and that is the only real knock I have of the film.

Griff - It seems like some of the more modern animated films I have seen think they have to go completely over the top with action sequences.  Characters and other things are flying all over the map at break neck speeds like a Michael Bay film on crack. This doesn’t really add anything to the movie and at some point you get so over saturated with it that you just tune out. It becomes a white wash.

 

 

Is it worth seeing in the theater? Or could you have waited for the DVD/Stream?

Adam - Take your kids to the theater, what kind of parent are you?

Scotty – If you have kids take them out to the theater if not don’t bother in my opinion.

Griff – Pack up the kids and put them in the minivan. This one is worth the trip. Lets be honest, if you are parent you are going to be seeing this movie until your eyes bleed once it comes to DVD anyway.

 

 

What other movies would you recommend if someone enjoyed this film? 

Adam – Fans of Lego should check out The Adventures of Clutch Powers (2010).  While not a film the recent Lego Marvel Super Heroes game is pretty amazing for fans of both Lego and Marvel.

Scotty – Any of the Toy Story films is the best I can do.

Griff - The Incredibles, Megamind

Lego Movie Still 4

 

Any final thoughts on this movie? 

Adam – I know some conservative talking heads are all up in arms about the fact that the Lord Business character looks a lot like Willard Mitt Romney.  I am gonna come right out and say it Lord Business is Mitt Romney and deal with it.

Scotty – Overall the film was entertaining and enjoyable but if I did not have kids I would feel like I was wasting my time watching it.  The script is tight and predictable and the characters are pretty solid.  I thought the special effects were decent and I was happy I chose 3D over the standard format.   I was not happy spending $90 at the theater for an hour and a half of entertainment though and I think they should have given you a discount for buying their countless overpriced Lego products or maybe give you a free ticket when you buy hundred dollar Lego sets.

Griff - The movie was fun, it has the magic combination of kid and adult humor so that parents won’t want to tear their hair out before the end of the picture. The movie doesn’t set the world on fire or re-invent the wheel but it is a good escape for a bit and I am sure your kids will enjoy it. Just don’t ever go to Legoland. I hate that place.

{ 9 comments }
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