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The Wolf of Wall Street (2013)
Marty... please stop with the voice over narrations already...
Wow, WoWS is getting critically mauled on these user reviews! But indulge my 2-cents: What works: The level of acting is terrific. I'm not a Jonah Hill fan and I'll give his chops (rumor has it he was paid a paltry $60K in what's purported to be a $100 million production--- if true, he was robbed). His Donnie Azoff (aka in real life as Danny Porus) is a difficult character, having no redeeming qualities to draw from. DiCaprio also manages to pull off a convincing Jordan Belfort and as he possesses a face that has refuses to age, we see Belfort as a hungry 23-year old through about 1998. DiCaprio has a firm grip on the guy, and there's one outlandish scene involving a fistful of Quaaludes that kick in at an inopportune moment. Watching Leo chemically melt on a pay phone and throw his body like a mangled Slinky is the one best scene in the film. What doesn't work: The script is pointless. There's no moral center, not a single redeeming character to empathize with. The inevitable outcome happens with no great surprises, no clever plot twists, nothing. These people are all scumbags. A lot has been said about the nudity. I'm no prude and find it sadly amusing that we Americans don't bat an eye at catastrophic body counts in mindless action movies but howl at skin. But okay, WoWS has an unusually high amount of nudity, sex, raunch and Marty seems perfectly willing to give us what he wants. And I will agree that it should probably have been more correctly released as an NC-17 (the fact that this received a R at all makes me question the rating board itself). Another criticism: I've grown tired of the Scorsese narration. It worked in Goodfellas and Casino but without a tighter script, listing to a voice over pieced out over 3 hours weighs the film down. Although I enjoyed it more than most people here, it would've been greatly improved by whittling 25 minutes off a better script.
Easily Stiller's Best...
Living in Chiang Mai, Thailand doesn't lend itself to seeing a wide variety of English- language films. You hit the 4th floor of one of the big malls and cross your fingers... today, this ritual paid off: The Secret Life of Walter Mitty was a thoroughly enjoyable experience (wait, wasn't this the guy to subjected me to Zoolander and Starsky & Hutch?). TSLWM is, at the core, about remaining engaged to life. This 2013 Mitty has little in common with it's 66-year namesake (Kaye's garish Technicolor daydreams advanced the plot line, here they're symptomatic of a 42-year old man realization he's lived disconnected to life itself). Kaye carried his daydreams into his conscious world, Stiller just checks out.-- but this isn't wrong here. Stiller's Mitty is forced to come to grips with the fear of entering middle age and having been nowhere and having practically done nothing. His most significant friend is a freelance photographer (Sean Penn) who he's never actually met--- through 16 years of contact through his work cataloging photo negatives for a dying Life Magazine. His leap into the rest of the world is amazing... taking us to parts of the world unknown to Hollywood (I could add that this is easily the best movie ever shot in Iceland)--- and it's great to see something again that leaves you smiling walking out of the theater (weird phenomenon: no one left until the lights came on! The theater was packed full of us foreigners and not one person left--- I've never seen that happen--- this could also be described as the perfect date movie for middle aged people who met on Match.com).
Johnny O'Clock (1947)
Fell Apart toward the End...
Johnny O'Clock has a lot of what's right about a noir: the illicit setting (here, a high-class illicit gambling den), the right period (Truman years), appropriately well done B&W cinematography with a strong focal character (a particularly steel cold Powell). Lee J. Cobb's on hand in what could be called his classic persona as the dogged detective. There's an unusual hint of homosexuality with Powell's live-in, what? Butler? Assistant? Man-servant? What's wrong? Alas, plenty. The script is barely a whodunnit. The murderer is revealed with a yawn a little over halfway through. Thug Gomez's shoes would've been more convincingly filled by Eddie G. or Edward Arnold--- he's adequate but hollow. The final shoot out is anti-climactic and Cobb's lethargic hunt for a wounded Powell is pretty lame, especially with the accompanying dialog. I love 40's noir and this one probably showed a lot of promise in the first draft (Rossen had little experience at this point in his career), but was desperately in need of a re-write. Look for Jeff Chandler at the 36 minute mark making his film debut. Johnny O'Clock is 'Oh so-so.
Taken 2 (2012)
One of the worst sequels ever made
Taken 2: the audience. It's difficult to say anything positive about this mechanically constructed piece of crap. The fact that it earned over $100 million in profits is a horrid testament to the movie going public who apparently don't mind bad scripts, xenophobia, the suspension of disbelief required to have grenades tossed within a major city and not attract the attention of the police, horrible fight scene staging, and a ridiculously stupid drivers test subplot. This should be used by film schools everywhere as a textbook example of a bad sequel.
What I really hated: the daughter is, in fact, played by a 30 year old actress who happens to look 30. Overprotective Liam obsesses about her having a boyfriend (gasp!) and the impact it has on her all-important drivers test... Yet she drives like an F1 driver with a stick while dodging bullets in Istambul.
The writer-director also managed to relocate Albania and place it next to Turkey.
How people can pass through post 9/11 borders armed to the teeth.
And how it cheats the audience out of the fight scenes, real reason most of them were drawn to the damn thing in the first place. They are flash edited and incomprehensible, robbing any impact that would've made the stinking thing at least somewhat redeemable.
This is a bad, bad, bad movie. I gave it an overly generous 1.
count the anachronisms!
1960? Whoa! Someone needs to study what 1960 looked like. I saw 1962 Ford Galaxy police cars... a '63 Plymouth and in the scene where Quaid knocks the biker off his bike... a 1967 Pontiac Le Mans! What year is it supposed to be? News flash to the producers and set designer: motorcycles in 1960 didn't have disc brakes. You also have the mayor's flunkie driving around in a 1963 Pontiac. I just don't understand how a production can be this sloppy. Go back and watch CRIME STORY... that series got it right. Why do they bother with a period drama if they don't even try to make it look right? Aiiiigh. I realize this may seem trivial but I believe set design matters. For me watching people drive '63 T-Birds in 1960 is like watching a super tanker float by in a viking movie (see Lee Majors' epic The Norseman) or spying William Shatner wearing a Seiko watch in The Barbary Coast.
21 Jump Street (2012)
A good movie...?
21 Jump Street (the series) is notable for just about 1 thing: Johnny Depp, who's matured into an interesting actor. How 21 Jump Street (the movie) rates these glowing reviews is beyond my comprehension. It's dumb... the central characters are not believable as cops or high school students. The plot--- what there is--- involves infiltrating a designer drug operation. The best that can be said about this mess is that it's ---slightly--- more coherent than most other idiotic TV show retreads (Starsky & Hutch being the crap standard against which I measure them all). Hollywood: Please stop making TV show adaptations!!! They all blow! But if anyone's interested I have a boffo idea for a HAZEL update...
Impressive battery life in that video camera...
Okay... here's what's wrong with Chronicle: 1) Urine-poor plot development, especially regarding contact with alien "force." C'mon, the entire episode is distilled down to exploring a hole in the ground. Chronicle makes alien contact almost boring. 2) Headache-inducing use of hand-held video cameras. We've all been Blair witched and Paranormal Activitied to death already (and wasn't there that gimmicky alien Godzilla-type thing a few years back too?). Please stop doing this crap! 3) The kid turns into an alpha predator without a lot of reason. Yes, his dad is a drunken jackass, but c'mon, his wife is dying! 4) There's one long weird pointless scene where the introspective philosophical kid knocks on a girl's door that goes nowhere. It should've been cut. It's useless and left me thinking the reason for it had been left on the editing room floor.
The good: 1) The unknown actors are fine, but ill served by a shallow script. I liked the black kid who did a likable "young Barrack Obama" role, but his presence seemed a little too P.C., like a McDonald's commercial that hits every racial demographic. 2) Special effects are OK. Not terrific, but serviceable.
Not a great movie by any means and clearly aimed at 15-17 year olds. I wish there would've been a product placement for whatever batteries were used in that camera... I can't get 8 minutes out of anything I buy!
Jeanne Eagels (1957)
Jeff Chandler keeps his shirt on...
Hollywood has always had a real problem with biopics. Most of them are factually laughable (Night and Day, Words and Music, Rhapsody in Blue, W.C. Fields and Me, Gable & Lombard, etc.)... the best of the bunch might be 1942's Yankee Doodle Dandy and 1955's Love Me or Leave Me (with Doris Day as Ruth Etting), but even they play fast and loose with facts. Jeanne Eagles is utterly frustrating. It features a top notch director, George Sidney and top notch period set design. Icy Kim Novak, who looks right for the title role, is all over the map. Some of her scenes are merely competent, in too many others she's chewing scenery (reminding me of Elizabeth Berkley's god-awful performance in 1995's Showgirls). Her performance was severely panned in the contemporary press reviews--- in my opinion, justified. The film gets a few things right: Eagles' 18-month Actor's Equity suspension, roughly sketches her rocky marriage to ex-football hero Ted Coy (here transformed as "John Donohue") but emphasizes Eagles' alcoholism over her wildly suspect heroin addiction. Many other facts are ignored (Eagles was never a carnival performer, and she'd been previously married). Interestingly, a reference to her "taking dope" is only mentioned once in the film, by Eagles herself. Most seriously, the script errs in attributing her death at age 39 as a suicide. Jeanne Eagles was undoubtedly a mess and a polyglot substance abuser, so in a perverse way it's fitting the movie suffers a similar fate. Kudos to art directors Bill Kiernan (who later did Funny Girl and The Cowboys) and Alfred E. Spencer; their work substantially contributed to making this watchable. Novak would recover and go on to immortality in Vertigo. Co-star Jeff Chandler (his part is total fiction and he's somewhat miscast here) would make 11 more films only to die unexpectedly of blood poisoning after back surgery in 1961 while his final film was in post production. Jeanne Eagles is not the worst biopic you'll ever see... it just should've been so much better with another star (Kim Stanley perhaps?). 4/10.
Dark City (1950)
Not that old black magic...
Dark City is likely most notable as being Chuck Heston's film debut. But it's also worth seeing for then-supporting actor Jack Webb (actually quite good) teaming with Harry Morgan, some 16 years before they'd pair up in the color reincarnation of Dragnet 1966. It's also significant in the script acknowledging the ugly possibilities of returning to post-WWII society (albeit without the impact of the vaguely similar theme of 1932's I Am A Fugitive Of a Chain Gain and WWI). With the talent involved I'd expected a noir classic... but Dark City solidly misses the mark. What's wrong? I can cite 3 things: The subplot involving grieving widow Viveca Lindfors is all wrong and slows the picture down to a crawl (and frankly it makes Heston look creepy in the pursuit of her--- without giving away why). The suspense of the mystery homicidally-inclined brother just isn't there. And I personally hated the lip sync'd intrusion of Lizbeth Scott's songs (I found myself saying "why weren't these whittled down in the editing room?"). Director William Dieterle's career was inexplicably on a slide by 1950 and his work here could best be described as yeoman-like. There's absolutely nothing wrong with any of the performances... it's just the script needed about 20 pages tossed and the musical numbers dropped.
Murder Over New York (1940)
I'll never go on another case again without a gat....
I love the Chan series but it takes an element of disbelief. You have to either accept (or ignore) the fact that Charlie never seems to spend much time in Hawaii (making one wonder what the Honolulu PD actually pays him to do) and much like Philo Vance or Nick Charles, has some sort-of official status everywhere he goes. And if you watch enough of these, you begin to see the same Fox contract players popping up over and over again as red herrings, jilted lovers and "adventuresses." This '40 entry has Charlie coincidentally meeting up with an old friend (bad omen--- his friends have a shorter life expectancy than the doomed red shirted yeomen beamed down in Star Trek episodes) Scotland Yard on a plane en route to a police convention. Charlie enlists himself in solving his friend's murder and by default, the case he was working on. No. 2 son Jimmy Chan (played by 25-year old Victor Sen Yung) seems to exist to state obvious inane comments or offer wildly improbable facts--- most notably identifying a new poison gas by smell (he must be a whizz undergrad back in California). Watch for Shemp Howard as a phony Hindu in a line up and future Captain Marvel Frank Coghlan Jr. in a bit part as a coat room clerk in a men's club. This is a fair entry but suffers somewhat from the lack of an exotic setting (Paris, Berlin... Reno!) or the occasional supernatural elements found in several of the others (...Egypt, ...Secret, Castle in the Desert). It's one of the most straight forward whodunits of the entire Fox films.