Archive for 2013

Cutie and the Boxer

Posted in Biography, Documentary, History with tags on January 29, 2014 by Mark Hobin

Cutie and the Boxer photo starrating-3stars.jpg“The Boxer” is 80 year old Neo-Dadaist artist Ushio Shinohara. “Cutie” is his long suffering wife Noriko Shinohara. The two live and work in New York City and have ever since they originally met in back in 1973. Both were transplants from Japan. Back then he was 41. She was 19. He was a painter and sculptor – a rising star in the art world. She was a student. They got married and she not only became his wife but his de facto assistant as well. For you see, she put her own vocation on hold so she could support her husband’s career.

Ushio is still producing art. While he struggles to affirm his legacy, Noriko is finally getting some deserved recognition. We see him creating his paintings by punching the canvas with boxing gloves dipped in paint. He also creates “junk art” sculptures composed of found objects with garishly colored paint. Motorcycles are a common theme. Her work consists of a progression of whimsical drawings depicting her own life with Ushio entitled ‘Cutie and Bullie’. Light animation has these figures parallel their real life counterparts at appropriate times throughout the documentary. Her voice representing a quietly fuming display of resentment.

Cutie and the Boxer is not so much a story about artists but rather people in a 40 year relationship. The couple is a most curious pair. Ushio is small but physically scrappy. Although his work has been displayed at high profile museum exhibitions, his creations haven’t seen a great deal of monetary success. We see the two converse in a cluttered apartment in Brooklyn, surrounded by sculptures, scattered materials and cats. Their marriage comes across like a series of “what-coulda-beens”, “if-onlys” and “I -wish-I hads”. In speaking with the camera, Noriko detail a singular existence obsessively focused on her husband’s art career. She admits it has had an effect on their now 39 year old son. Alex is also a struggling artist and clearly uncomfortable on screen. His uncharacteristic upbringing hampered by his father’s alcoholism which now seems to afflict him.

Cutie and the Boxer is mildly interesting, but it’s a depressing watch. There isn’t a lot of insight, but there is nuance. The director’s POV sides with Noriko for having set aside her own ambitions to take care of essentially two children, her son and husband. Ushio is seemingly oblivious or perhaps indifferent to his wife’s regrets. Her own artistic pursuits only now receiving some attention. Together the couple exhibit a competitive alliance regarding their individual careers. Because of all this, the production has an air sadness to it. Yet it’s a relationship that has endured for quixotic reasons, but there is hope here. Ushio inquires of Noriko, if Cutie hates Bullie. “Ah, Cutie loves Bullie so much,” she responds.

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The Invisible Woman

Posted in Biography, Drama, Romance with tags on January 29, 2014 by Mark Hobin

The Invisible Woman photo starrating-3andahalfstars.jpgBiographical romance spotlights Charles Dickens and his clandestine relationship with English actress Ellen Ternan, or Nelly. By 1857 Charles Dickens had been married to his wife Catherine for over twenty years. They had 10 children together. Dickens meets Nelly, a struggling young actress who is performing in one of his plays, The Frozen Deep. He is 45, she is 18. Immediately taken with the girl, he ever so delicately pursues her in the most gradual way possible. Slow, methodically plotted story truly emphasizes the great lengths that Dickens took to tread lightly in his advances toward the woman. Based on Claire Tomalin’s book of the same name, this handsomely mounted costume drama is actor Ralph Fiennes directorial follow-up to Coriolanus.

In essence the film is about lust. But it‘s presented in the most carefully articulated way so as not to disturb societal conventions. There aren’t obvious displays of tremendous passion. Dickens’ pursuit of Nelly progresses through glances and things not said, but understood. Despite his best efforts, his attraction to the young woman does not go unnoticed by her mother portrayed by Kristin Scott Thomas. Mrs. Frances Ternan regards his intentions with a mixture of cautious uncertainty.  Frances is a small role but the inspired casting choice grants Thomas the opportunity to share the screen with the actor with whom she famously co-starred in 1996’s The English Patient.

For half the movie Nelly and Charles refrain from physically acting upon their desires. She initially rebuffs his advances. At a key juncture, Dickens brings Nelly to friend and author Wilkie Collins’ (Tom Hollander) home, where Collins’ lives in an openly unmarried affair with his mistress Caroline (Michelle Fairley). Nelly is visibly appalled that Dickens would take the liberty to expose her to it. They are clearly falling for each other, however, as their slowly growing emotions are perceptible. They keep their feelings hidden from the public sans overt demonstrations of their love. This isn’t the type of love affair we’re used to seeing, but that is what makes this production unique.

Dickens is a charismatic presence, particularly in Ralph Fiennes’ hands. In public he commands attention. He captivates a crowd in town who swarm around him like a rock star. Privately however, Dickens was surprisingly insecure and shy. Felicity Jones isn’t as acclaimed as her co-star, but she superbly proves herself every bit his match in the title role. She exhibits a wide eyed innocence that gives way to moral turmoil. Together the couple are static vessels externally hiding powerful emotion kept tightly within. The much lauded novelist, comes up decidedly short as a husband. Joanna Scanlan is quite memorable as Dickens’ wife Catherine. She beautifully conveys the heartbreaking realization of her husband’s infidelity in one devastating scene. The visit she pays the ingénue is mortifying. Catherine’s subsequent declaration to Nelly is heartbreakingly pragmatic.

The Invisible Woman details a specific period of a particular time. The 13 year relationship between Nelly Ternan and Charles Dickens is not just a tale of love but of pain and regret as well. Occasionally the focus on this exclusive detail of the author’s life doesn’t always sustain the narrative. But more often than not, the production captures an era when traditional moral attitudes were held dear. Outwardly, Dickens was the passionate defender of home and family. But secretly his heart belonged to another . Even after separating from his wife, he continued to keep his association with Nelly a secret for fear of damaging her reputation. There were rumors, but he consistently maintained in public that Nelly was nothing less than a chaste woman. This endured for the rest of his life until 1870 when he died. These conventions seem archaic to modern audiences, but those social mores made this couple’s guarded behavior necessary. Breaking implied codes of decency would condemn a woman’s standing in the community. The threat forced people at least to maintain the appearance of adhering to accepted societal customs. I can understand why someone wouldn’t appreciate the film’s deliberate pace but that is precisely what I loved about it.

August: Osage County

Posted in Comedy, Drama with tags on January 8, 2014 by Mark Hobin

August: Osage County photo starrating-4stars.jpgAugust: Osage County won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama and the Tony Award for Best Play in 2008 It’s an actors showcase. The cast assembled is a veritable who’s who of great thespians. Meryl Streep is 65 year old Violet Weston, an aging mother and matriarch. Because she suffers from mouth cancer, she is taking a variety of medications. Prone to mood swings, it’s unclear just how much of her argumentative personality can be blamed on her prescriptions. After her husband Beverly goes missing for five days, several generations of the Weston family converge on the house to offer support.

I enjoy saying that Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts put the “fun” in dysfunctional families. There’s some truth to that as there are laughs in Tracy Letts’ adaptation of his own play. His screenplay is amusing but the humor exploits the darkest observations. He mines a most acerbic wit. It can be depressing and touching in equal measure as it focuses on the strong-willed women of the Weston clan.

“Every woman needs makeup,” Violet instructs her ordinary looking daughter Ivy. “The only woman pretty enough to go without makeup was Elizabeth Taylor, and she wore a TON.”

Everyone puts in a fine performance with Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts at the forefront. Their back and forth banter is whip-smart. They wield words as weapons to verbally attack one another. As Violet, Meryl Streep saves her revelations when they can hurt the most and then unleashes them at unexpected times. She calls it “truth telling” but she is an absolute shrew of a woman whose nasty temperament is unyielding. Sometimes the malevolence can almost get a bit excessive. Right when you think things can’t get any more dysfunctional, another revelatory bomb is dropped and family members are left to pick up the pieces. Some roles are meatier than others, but there isn’t a weak link in the entire company. A few characters bear special mention: Juliette Lewis and Julianne Nicholson as Violet’s other daughters and Margo Martindale as her sister.

August: Osage County is not a heartwarming drama about family. It’s bitter and caustic, but yes funny too. Tracy Letts’ play is a distant cousin to Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? with the vitriol multiplied by 10. It can get cruel, but there is just enough humor and honesty mixed in to make this script palpable. There is a is a lot of skill at work here. In the hands of lesser actors, this might leave the audience emotionally cold, but watching this group of incredible acting talent work together is a joy. This ensemble meshes as a well oiled machine. The lines are delivered with such conviction, it becomes mesmerizing. There are moments where people give it back as good as they get it. That fiery intensity keeps you watching, like a horrible accident from which you cannot turn away.

P.S. My pick for best movie poster of 2013.

The Act Of Killing

Posted in Crime, Documentary, History with tags on January 7, 2014 by Mark Hobin

The Act of Killing photo starrating-4stars.jpgThe Act of Killing is hard to watch, espeically when you know the history behind it. By the early 1960s President Sukarno’s support and protection of the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI) was to the objection of the army and Islamic groups. In 1965, a group calling itself the September 30th Movement tried to overthrow the government. The attempted coup d’état was countered by Suharto-led troops and was blamed on the Indonesian Communist Party. This led to the destruction of PKI and Sukarno’s replacement by Suharto himself. Suharto’s anti-Communist stance won him the economic and diplomatic support of the West during the Cold War. However what wasn’t widely reported was the subsequent suppression.

Estimates vary, but in the weeks following the coup from 1965 and on through 1966, somewhere between 500,000 to 3 million alleged communists were murdered. The victims, which included ethnic Chinese and intellectuals, were basically anybody the government decided they didn’t like. They were simply labeled a communist to make the carnage more acceptable. That’s the history behind this chronicle, but it’s not the focus. No this presents the boasting of the actual thugs who were directly responsible for the massacre of millions of souls by their own hands. These self styled gangsters point out that the word ‘gangster’ means free men. Free to rape torture and murder in the name of suppressing communism.

The Act of Killing is a documentary based on over five years of filming. Petty thugs Anwar Congo and Adi Zulkadry were scalping movie tickets before they were promoted to leading the most notorious death squad in North Sumatra. One of director Joshua Oppenheimer’s conceits is that he has those responsible reenact their killings utilizing a variety of different film genres: western, gangster, musical. Herman Koto is another hooligan that is heavily featured in these replications. Hefty in size, he repeatedly performs in drag wearing a tight satin gown. Other more serious large scale productions take place on the very same killing fields where the bloodshed occurred. These include small children and extras ostensibly descendants related to those murdered. The concept is shocking enough and the resulting display is even more surreal.

These aren’t even the most successful parts of The Act of Killing. There are moments here that will leave you absolutely dumfounded. I’m struck by a scene where Anwar Congo demonstrates how he strangled his victims with wire to avoid spilling too much blood. As he watches it back on a TV monitor, he complains that he shouldn’t have worn white pants during their reenactment. In another scene he instructs his grandsons to apologize to some baby ducks they accidentally hurt while handling. Later Congo wraps a wire around his own neck and asks Koto to tug on it in order to mimic what he did. “Josh, is that how my victims felt?” Congo asks the filmmaker. (long pause) “Well I’d say they felt much worse because while you were pretending, they knew they were going to die.” By the end, Congo gets the dry heaves as he is supposedly coming to terms with what he did. I didn’t buy the sincerity of that gesture for a second, but it still doesn’t make his “performance” any less telling.

The Banality of evil is a term coined by philosopher Hannah Arendt meaning that evil occurs when ordinary people are put into corrupt situations that encourage their conformity. The phrase was used after he witnessed the trial of high-ranking Nazi Adolf Eichmann who seemed to him as the most mundane individual whose heinous deeds were orders dictated by the state. That idea floats throughout this documentary particularly when Congo happily speaks as if he is a hero because his behavior was backed by the government.

The Act of Killing is one of the most disturbing films I have ever seen. I suppose there are at least two responses one could greet Joshua Oppenheimer’s examination into the mind of these killers.

•    Reaction #1 These people are monsters and director Joshua Oppenheimer is unfortunately giving them indefensible attention.

•    Reaction #2 The only way to have the murderers open up like this is to make them believe that they are being celebrated. In this manner, the director allows the death squad to expose themselves for what they truly are.

I’ve had time to reflect and I’ve come to the conclusion that I side more with reaction #2. At times the documentary can be a bit obtuse as it’s not always clear where Oppenheimer is going. But ultimately what comes through is that this shines a light on a pernicious evil that has gone unaddressed for far too long. It refuses to look away and while providing a voice for the murderers, it indirectly provides a voice for the incredible number of people whose lives were ended. Not only were these perpetrators of mass violence never prosecuted for their crimes, but many Indonesians view them as heroes today. Conversely this also shows that many citizens continue to live in abject fear of them as well. This chapter of Indonesian history has been mostly shielded from public view. It’s good this document exists. I’m glad that I saw it. Now I never want to see it again.

The Great Beauty

Posted in Drama, Foreign with tags on January 5, 2014 by Mark Hobin

The Great Beauty photo starrating-3stars.jpgThe Great Beauty is director Paolo Sorrentino’s ode to finding the beauty in one’s own existence. The production reunites the filmmaker with his frequent lead star (and muse) Toni Servillo in a character study. We’re presented a contemporary version of Rome through the eyes of Jep Gambardella. The aging bon vivant once wrote a masterpiece novel in his twenties. However he hasn’t written anything of note in the 40 years since. Now the well dressed playboy has retired to infrequently writing cultural columns, and is living the good life in an incredible apartment overlooking the Coliseum.

There is a euphoria to the party scenes that is captivating. Rome is a stunning backdrop——the cathedrals, the museums, the amphitheaters. I’d almost defy any filmmaker to make an ugly movie here. These stately monuments of the old world contrast with the vacuous people of the new world. Jep is cultured, intelligent and parties until dawn nearly every night with the country’s well-to-do. Their lives an intoxicating mix of celebration, superficiality and emptiness. We first meet Jep as he’s celebrating his 65th birthday. He experiences reality as an observer lamenting his current situation. He’s searching for that intangible revelation. The script contrasts Jep’s despondency with the enthusiastic zeal of party revelers. The opening soirée is a dazzling mélange of music and merriment. It presents an energy that is palpable.

There’s little substance, only style to this beautiful looking film. I suppose that’s the point. It’s not about narrative thrust, but more of a feeling, a vibe. The plot is just a running account of what Jep sees and says during his often surreal urban wanderings. He surrounds himself with various oddballs: a nun with two crooked teeth, a clever stripper, a self-described “dwarf”. We see a young girl unhappily creating avant-garde paintings by throwing herself at a canvas in front of an audience. Through wisecracks and cynical smirks, Jep breezes through life. “The best people in Rome are the tourists” he offers casually. You’re meant to hang on his every word, but he’s a bit self involved. Occasionally he says something great. He tells a pretentious performance artist exactly what he thinks of her work and it’s refreshingly pragmatic. Unfortunately his lamentations put him in a melancholy state. Of course he doesn’t have any real problems and that lack of conflict tugs at your brain throughout the 142 minutes. For the most part, The Great Beauty is more of an art house feast for the eyes than the mind.

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

Posted in Adventure, Comedy, Drama, Fantasy with tags on December 31, 2013 by Mark Hobin

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty photo starrating-2andahalfstars.jpgI have no desire to write this review. I’ll give you a little insight into my creative process. I really enjoy evaluating movies I am passionate about, 4 stars or more. And I’ll admit I take some delight in assailing a production that is an affront to my sensibilities. That’s 1 ½ stars or less. The ones that earn 2-3 stars from me are the most difficult critiques to compose because those flicks merely exist. That’s not to say there aren’t moments of brilliance in them, but by and large they fail to truly engage me as a moviegoer. The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is one of those films.

This is the 2nd time that James Thurber‘s short story has been made into a feature. Apparently bringing the comedy back to the screen again was a tough nut to crack. The origins of this long developing remake go back at least as far as 1994 when its producers had Jim Carrey in mind for the title role. The director included everyone from Ron Howard to Chuck Russell (The Mask) to Steven Spielberg. The lead actor changed as well. Owen Wilson, Mike Myers, Sacha Baron Cohen had each been attached. It wasn’t until April of 2011 that Ben Stiller was tapped for the lead. A year later he stepped up to direct as well. The current screenplay by writer Steve Conrad (The Pursuit of Happyness) is less an adaptation of the original short story and more of a modern rewrite. Walter still has a predilection to daydream. However it’s updated to a 21st-century milieu by setting it amongst the modernity of corporate downsizing and eHarmony online dating. The latter of which hopefully paid for all the free advertising they get here. 

Ben Stiller is a proven talent that knows how to connect with his audience. Tropic Thunder was a prime example of an innovative comedy that brought something new to the table. Conversely, it’s hard to believe this production is from the same director. The nicest thing I can say is that it’s inoffensive. Stridently bland and mild, the picture’s grand design is to serve up some special effects-laden setpieces whereby a milquetoast learns to find himself. Our protagonist manages the photographic negatives at LIFE magazine where he has a crush on his coworker Cheryl played by Kristen Wiig. She is quite likable in the part. Walter has a new boss Ted Hendricks (Adam Scott) at work.  Writer Steve Conrad has envisioned his part as a smug jerk. I think Ted is supposed to be amusing, but he’s just annoying. He’s also got a ridiculous looking beard. Actually his whole adversarial team have beards. Anyway, it looks fake, like it was darkened by a magic marker. I was distracted by how ugly it was. The tale is set against the backdrop of the magazine’s final print issue as it converts to online status. (Incidentally this occurred in real life for the 3rd and last time on April 20, 2007 when LIFE was a newspaper insert).

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is the whimsically labored chronicle concerning a daydreamer who finds himself. The screenplay is annoyingly twee. His amusing daydreams permeate the beginning. Some of these fantasies are kind of inventive while others are kind of random. In one he has the “Benjamin Button” condition where he ages in reverse, leading him to imagine growing old with co-worker Cheryl whom he fancies. He‘s sitting on her knee, as an old geriatric baby. However these delusions dissipate after a while and then we’re left with the reality of Walter Mitty. His goal?  To find a photographer! Zzzzzzzzzz. He flies to Greenland and knowingly boards a helicopter being maneuvered by a drunk pilot. Once in the air, he accidentally jumps out of that chopper and fights a shark in the water below, then takes a boat up to Iceland where heads to a volcano. The non existent drama is populated by overly precious scenarios without much substance. The story ends up having very little narrative heft. Ben Stiller’s Walter Mitty is an inconsequential fellow, much like the picture. His character has the soul of a dreamer, but the film itself has no soul.

The Past

Posted in Drama, Foreign, Mystery with tags on December 29, 2013 by Mark Hobin

The Past photo starrating-4andahalfstars.jpgThe incredible promise that Director Asghar Farhadi demonstrated with 2011’s A Separation has proven to be no fluke with his subsequent follow-up, The Past. He recounts human behavior with the precision of an absolute master. The plot is artfully straightforward. Four years after separating from his ex-wife Marie (Bérénice Bejo), an Iranian man from Tehran named Ahmad (Ali Mosaffa), arrives in Paris to finalize his divorce. Marie has 2 daughters from her previous marriage and is currently in a relationship with Samir (Tahar Rahim), an Arab man. Samir’s wife is in a coma and he has a son with her. Director Farhadi’s understanding of the human heart makes the sentimentality of modern movies look like ersatz emotion. The Past is ambitious in its desire to portray human feeling so honestly. It’s ironic because this is about the façades that people put up to mask their genuine desires.

The Past is an intensely intimate drama concerning 3 key people: Marie, Samir, and Ahmad. As was the case with A Separation, everyone’s point of view is displayed. No one is a villain. We tend to identify with ex-husband Ahmad since that is the person through which most of the action is filtered. However each character has their own merits. Bernice Bejo is quite moving as mother Marie. She is a sympathetic, maternal presence that is immediately affecting. She has two daughters from an even earlier marriage before Ahmad. One is a little girl, the other a 16 year old. Bejo portrays an intelligent woman that seems to have everything in order. Then the cracks begin to show. Older daughter Lucie (Pauline Burlet) has the warmest regard for her former step dad. The bond with her mother is strained because Lucie disapproves of her mother’s current boyfriend Samir. You’ll find yourself vacillating between the various characters trying to decide whose side you’re truly on. What originally appears as the picture of accord, is a woman gently unraveling at the seams.

Iranian director Asghar Farhadi has a knack for extracting fervid passion from our everyday lives. His talent for constructing a fascinating tale from a deceptively simple scenario is nothing less than genius. He starts with routine domestic problems. Then offers an endlessly compelling saga with unflinching honesty. The criteria by which we judge human drama has been elevated. It sets the new emotional high bar by which all other movies must now aspire. Director Asghar Farhadi presents the narrative unencumbered by elaborate devices. Sans music, costumes, special effects, flashbacks, nonlinear storytelling and other stylistic flourishes, he strips the production bare and serves it up to an audience for perusal. Much of the true feeling that percolates beneath the surface is evident not from dialogue, but from body language and gestures. The chronicle considers how we put up walls that impede effective communication. Once again, you think you know the story. As it unfolds, layers are exposed. As developments are revealed we’re drawn deeper into their crumbling relationships. Then the daughter reveals something that threatens to change everything. This is humanity and you cannot look away.

The Wolf of Wall Street

Posted in Biography, Comedy, Crime, Drama with tags on December 28, 2013 by Mark Hobin

The Wolf of Wall Street photo starrating-4stars.jpgThe spectacular rise and fall of stockbroker Jordan Belfort is the subject of this dark comedy based on his memoir of the same name. In 1991 Forbes magazine dubbed him the “Wolf of Wall Street”. The article was meant to incriminate the tycoon, but ironically only ended up adding to his allure. He didn’t even work on Wall Street—he operated out of Long Island. Stratton Oakmont was a New York “over-the-counter” brokerage house founded after the stock crash of 1987 by him and his business partner Danny Porush. Jonah Hill is Donnie Azoff modeled after the very real Danny Porush. The financial institution became the largest OTC firm in the country during the late 1980s and 1990s. Employing more than 1,000 young impressionable money-hungry types at its peak, the firm operated as a boiler room. Their racket? Encouraging potential investors to buy mostly penny stocks, pumping up the price with exaggerated claims and then selling quickly leaving investors holding worthless stocks.

Director Martin Scorsese considers the true story, then extracts every ounce of hype and offers it to the masses as a fascinating piece of flamboyant entertainment. It’s a fictionalization of Jordan Belfort’s life and Leonardo DiCaprio embodies that man. This marks the 5th collaboration between director Martin Scorsese and his current muse. The two are a partnership made in cinematic heaven as this elicits DiCaprio’s finest performance in a Scorsese film, and possibly ever. He is simply amazing in the role. All intense wild-eyed coked up intensity, he perfectly conveys the magnetic intensity of the man that became a multi-millionaire at age 26. He displays a manic energy dialed up to eleven. Jordan’s take no prisoners approach to getting investors is at once abhorrent and captivating as he commands a roomful of wannabe Gordon Geckos who hang on his every word. We the audience cannot look away either, even when he is spouting the sort of business tactics that would make him a convicted felon a decade later. He doesn’t ask for your attention. He demands it, then smacks you in the face for not listening sooner.

The Wolf of Wall Street is never boring, but it is overlong. The picture was originally scheduled for release on November 15th. That date was pushed back six weeks to Dec 25th when the production was still unfinished. The pressure to get it out before the year was over to qualify for the Academy Awards was building. The finished 3 hours show signs that it didn’t spend enough time in the editing room. It’s easy to see where cuts could’ve been made. It’s not so much that all the lasciviousness occupies a high percentage of the action, because it doesn‘t. But in showing Jordan’s seduction into a drug-fueled and sexual decadence, brief examples pop up continuously throughout. We get it. Jordan snorted a lot of cocaine and <bleeped> a lot of whores. There’s grace in the art of restraint especially in a saga about excess.

The Wolf of Wall Street presents the sensationalism, but what keeps it interesting is the levity. There’s a crazy sense of humor as things are spiraling out of control. The financial institution becomes sort of a bacchanalian orgy where office practices are decidedly less than professional. The movie opens with a large group of brokers playing a dwarf tossing game where they throw little people onto a board with a dollar sign for a bulls-eye. Slimy Swiss banker Jean Jacques Saurel (Jean Dujardin) and stylish British aunt Emma (Joanna Lumley) are memorable side roles. Jordan interacts with each of these characters separately. The scenes feature alternating voice-over inner thoughts that add a humorous layer to the outer dialogue. But the most memorable scene in the film, and perhaps of the year, is when Jordan overdoses on expired Quaaludes and enters what he labels the cerebral palsy stage. What follows is terrifyingly hilarious or hilariously terrifying, depending on your point of view.

The narrative gently chastises Jordan for immorality and the illegality of his depraved lifestyle, while subconsciously seducing the viewer with temptations. Hookers are his weakness. Cocaine and Quaaludes are his vices, but his ultimate drug of choice is money. It’s an indictment of greed. He and his buddies ultimately get their comeuppance. Although it’s served with a frustrating helping of mercy. Screenwriter Terence Winter (Boardwalk Empire) adapts Jordan Belfort’s memoir that supposedly lectures us on the wages of sin, then proceeds to show a guy having the time of his life. The cautionary tale gets a bit lost in the 3 hour runtime but it’s a fun ride while it lasts.

Online Film Critics Society Awards 2013

Posted in OFCS with tags on December 28, 2013 by Mark Hobin

OFCS

2013 has been a very good year. I was inducted into the Online Film Critics Society back in August. The OFCS is the largest, most respected organization for movie critics whose work appears primarily on the Internet. It’s been one of the greatest things to happen to me as as a blogger and more importantly as a movie lover.

The 17th Annual OFCS Awards Winners were announced on December 16, 2013. I participated in the voting process and here are the results:

Winners and nominees

Best Picture

12 Years a Slave

Best Director

Alfonso Cuarón – Gravity

Best Actor

Chiwetel Ejiofor – 12 Years a Slave

Best Actress

Cate Blanchett – Blue Jasmine

Best Supporting Actor

Michael Fassbender – 12 Years a Slave

Best Supporting Actress

Lupita Nyong’o – 12 Years a Slave

Best Original Screenplay

Her – Spike Jonze

Best Adapted Screenplay

12 Years a Slave – John Ridley

  • Before Midnight – Julie Delpy, Ethan Hawke, and Richard Linklater
  • In the House – François Ozon
  • Short Term 12 – Destin Daniel Cretton
  • The Wind Rises – Hayao Miyazaki

Best Foreign Language Film

Blue Is the Warmest Colour

Best Documentary

The Act of Killing

  • 56 Up
  • At Berkeley
  • Blackfish
  • Stories We Tell

Best Animated Feature

The Wind Rises

Best Cinematography

Gravity – Emmanuel Lubezki

Best Editing

Gravity – Alfonso Cuarón and Mark Sanger

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The announcement on the Online Film Critics Society web page can be found here.
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Lone Survivor

Posted in Action, Biography, Drama, War with tags on December 26, 2013 by Mark Hobin

Lone Survivor photo starrating-1andahalfstars.jpgLone Survivor is the depiction of a United States maneuver during the War in Afghanistan in 2005. Labeled Operation Red Wings, a group of Navy SEALs are tasked to capture or kill high ranking Taliban leader Ahmad Shah. The story is based on Marcus Luttrell’s 2007 book about the failed mission. First let’s address the elephant in the room. I’d be hard pressed to name a more spoiler heavy title than Lone Survivor. It’s a pretty efficient buzzkill. There’s Death of Salesman perhaps, but then that play had so much more to offer intellectually. We’re introduced to a team of four Navy SEALs played by Mark Wahlberg, Taylor Kitsch, Emile Hirsch and Ben Foster. Right from the start there’s this nagging feeling that we probably shouldn’t get too attached to at least three of these guys.

This is a pretty simple plot. Four guys go in. Only one comes out. Basically everything that can go wrong, does go wrong. Director Peter Berg (Battleship) never met a bullet going through flesh that he didn’t want to film in slow motion. The death of Ben Foster’s character is particularly gruesome. As he’s gasping for breath, blood pouring out, we watch as he is hit not once, not twice but three shots with grisly brutality. A veritable pastiche of sound effects highlights detonations, guns shooting, bullets whizzing by. Several scenes show soldiers tumbling down the side of a mountain. This tableau is repeated several times in fact. Their bodies somersaulting like rag dolls with bones crunching against every rock along the way in glorious sonic clarity. In one of the production’s quieter moments, Wahlberg performs surgery on his leg with a knife.

Lone Survivor is a weird mix of jingoism and “war is hell” mentality. The opening crawl of actual training footage feels like a military recruitment film, but then the senseless escalating body count screams otherwise. Our team of four Navy SEALs are robust models of tough American masculinity. Their male bonding, rah-rah, “let’s go kick some Taliban butt” mindset is occasionally interrupted by exclamations of “Muthaf–ka!” and “F–k You!” For the second half, it’s seemingly the only words they know as the action is mainly punctuated by the sound of bodies exploding while bullets pierce their skulls in blood splattering detail. The soundtrack has the audacity to play the quietly solemn beats of a noble drum march in the background as if that makes all the carnage more meaningful. There are admittedly two examples where expectations are subverted and humanity is displayed. In those minutes, we realize what this picture could have been. Then it’s back to bloody business as usual. In the end, the overriding conclusion is that Operation Red Wings was a tragic waste of life and this movie is a tragic waste of time.