Sunday, December 29, 2013

The Wolf of Wall Street (9/10)

The Wolf of Wall Street is yet another amazing film from one of the best directors of all-time, Martin Scorsese.  I'd say it's easily his best since the 2006 flick The Departed.

The Wolf of Wall Street is the fifth collaboration between Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio and DiCaprio's performance in this film is nothing short of astounding. He plays Jordan Belfort, a stockbroker who made millions but eventually served time in prison for fraud. Belfort is a real person and the film is based on his memoir. Terence Winter, who worked with Scorsese on Boardwalk Empire, wrote the script.

DiCaprio carries the movie on his shoulders, but the supporting performances are all solid as well. Jonah Hill is great as Belfort's right hand man and Matthew McConaughey is surprisingly effective in a role that basically amounts to an extended cameo.

Scorsese doesn't shy away from showing the sexual and drug-related excesses that went along with Belfort's riches and this had led many to complain that the film is glorifying criminal behavior. However, this seems to be missing the point.

Firstly, no one should be surprised at this point that a Scorsese film features immoral acts shown in an entertaining way. Also, the very final shot of the film showing an enraptured audience at one of Belfort's motivational talks seems to be indicting the film's viewers for this kind of thinking. And there are several moments that make it clear that Belfort is not that sympathetic of a character.

There's also been a fair amount of controversy of the sexual content. Some have felt that the film should have been rated NC-17. There are quite a bit of sexual scenes, but none of them really go past what could be acceptable in an R-Rated movie. Undoubtedly, Scorsese also has some pull with the MPAA and got away with more than an up and coming filmmaker could. Reportedly he did have to make some cuts in order to avoid the NC-17 rating, which would have severely hurt the box office take.

The Wolf of Wall Street also features 506 uses of the word "fuck". According to Wikipedia, this is by far the most uses of that word in a non-documentary, non-pornographic film.

So far, the movie has made over $34 million worldwide since its release on Christmas Day. The reviews have been mostly positive; the Rotten Tomatoes score is currently at 76% and the Metacritic rating is a similar 75 out of 100.

RATING: 9/10

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Monday, December 23, 2013

American Hustle is David O. Russell's best

The newest film from director David O. Russell, American Hustle, is easily his most mature work. Russell also directed Three Kings, I Heart Huckabees, The Fighter, and Silver Linings Playbook. Most of his previous films were solid, but none reached the heights of Hustle.

As usual with David O. Russell, there's a strong ensemble cast. The main character is con-man Irving Rosenfeld, played by a transformed Christian Bale. Bale gained what looked to be a decent amount of weight for the role and has an obnoxious comb-over. He does an excellent job of creating sympathy for what might otherwise have been an alienating character. This is Bale's second collaboration with Russell, after starring in The Fighter. Rosenfeld's wife Rosalyn is played effectively by Jennifer Lawrence and Amy Adams portrays his partner/lover Sydney. 

They con people out of thousands using the promise of loan for more, until they get caught by an FBI agent, played by Bradley Cooper with a perm. His boss is comedian Louis C.K. who does very well in a small role. Cooper's agent forces Rosenfeld and Sydney to assist him in taking down other con men and corrupt politicians. Jeremy Renner appears as the politician they're trying to take down. There's even a small surprise cameo from none other than Robert Deniro, who was uncredited and not mentioned in any of the advertising.

The movie is based on a true story, but many details have been altered, including the names of the characters. As onscreen text indicates at the very beginning, "Some of this actually happened."

As previously mentioned, American Hustle is more mature than Russell previous works, and has a distinct style. The cinematography is excellent, and a bit slower than usual for Russell. He seems to be taking cues from P.T. Anderson. Russell also strikes an interesting tone; the film can be quite funny, but I wouldn't call it a comedy. Hustle is definitely one of the best of the year. It deserves, and will probably garner, a Best Picture nomination. However, it's not quite as good as the absolute best of the year, such as 12 Years a Slave or Gravity.

American Hustle is getting excellent reviews and currently has a 94% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. At the box office, it's made slightly over $20 million.

RATING: 9/10

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Monday, December 16, 2013