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The Wolf of Wall Street (2013)
Great in many ways, but a bit interminable... and could backfire
The Wolf of Wall Street is a fantastic showcase. It showcases all the artists who create and inhabit the world depicted, including the tech (set/prop/etc.) folks.
The writing/direction is good. Expressionistic/over-the-top, fun; effective at what it does.
The only problem I had was that the flick seemed to be a kind "Hangover" with money. In other words, it's this interminable expose of a hollow man; and that's not enough to take the film to the next level. You are treated to this cavalcade wild ride of big money adrenalin and bizarre drug abuse, and wind up sort of lost in that kaleidoscopic maze... for a long, long time. Then the film ends. It was a great vehicle for all the people involved, and I enjoyed it, as such. But bear in mind that, in the end, it's a kind of hollow snack.
How is it hollow? Let's think about the moral dimension for a bit. It seems like Scorsese is trying to lay bare the amorality (at best; immorality at worst) of high finance. But doesn't this flick really just wind up scapegoating an over-the-top talisman of Wall St. excess? Aren't we supposed to chase the Wolf over the cliff, and then feel cleansed of sin? No: That wouldn't work; not with folks who think about the hard implications of Mammon worship. Which means, actually, that I'm wrong: "The Wolf of Wall Street" would work just dandy, at a deep, subconscious level, with altogether too many people. And that is an unfortunate key effect Scorsese's approach to this story that actually bothers me.
I like to think of Scorsese as a complex, challenging voice of moral conscience; but he seemed to have sort of lost his way with this flick. I think its effect is a perverse inverse of what a "voice of social moral conscience" would intend. I think, for all the out-of-it, abusive, egregious affronts to decency, that the downstream effect is an apologetic for those affronts.
I often think of one of my fave, direct, cinematic expressions of this kind of moral inoculation: THX 1138. There's a scene where one of the denizens of that underworld are flipping around the TV, and encounters a 24/7 channel which shows robocops beating up citizens. The idea is that, after being exposed to so much overt abuse, you speedily go through your cycle (rage, bewilderment, internalization) and then can get on with your passive role as a cog in a system. That's how I feel about the depiction of excess in "Wolf". Sadly, I think Scorsese missed the boat: We're already inoculated. Wall Street has long, long, long accepted a significant disassociation from human value; they don't need Scorsese's help.
Hot story, great production
Summary sez all, but I guess I gotta flesh it in a bit.
I'm reminded of the stage play, "How I Learned to Drive", a story about childhood sexual abuse. I remember getting ready to make the drive downtown to see the show and thinking, how in the heck are they going to tell this story and make it work? In a sense, Philomena has some of the same hurdles; an unspeakable circumstance, people who want to find out the truth, people looking for a redemptive angle and the seemingly impossible upstream swim that implies.
Another beautiful aspect of the flick is the story-within-the-story; that it's about Philomena's backstory... and yet also about the present day, and a sort of triumvirate: The Journalist, the Catholic order that acts under an assumption of divine fiat, and (between them, sort of), Philomena. So we get two craftily aimed firehoses of narrative in one film; an embarrassment of storytelling riches!
Now, I'm giving this flick a '10', overriding my usual resistance to giving more than a '9' to any flick that lacks in any department. And, sitting here typing this, I'm not exactly sure what's lacking. There's a lingering reservation on some point of technique or other. Perhaps a lackluster edit, here or there. But this story is too important. The masterful writing for character, the direction of those characters, and the quality of the writing that blasts away the fog and reveals the hard reality, means that I have to override these nit-picky reservations and concur with other thoughtful consumers of film that Philomena is a rare burst of light that illuminates the moral landscape in a timely way. Timely, not because it shows a contemporary moral lapse, but because even grand moral lapses of the past have a way of reverberating through all time, including our own; and this one does.
Bravo, and looking forward to more wonderful expositions on these kinds of mere human interest stories.
Enjoyed it; fascinating look into that weird world
Nice to get some background info on something that formed part of the background of my youth. I dinked around with the ultra-fundie mindset when I was 14; woke up out of it around the time I turned 17.
Nice to see Hal Robins, a great artist, and no doubt subtly influenced by Chick; and Rev. Stang.
Some believers--and, really, that's all they are; they can't really be considered "people of faith"--may balk at this flick. But in fairness it's important to note that at least the film is honest enough to drop that other shoe. At one point, one of the fan/collector guys comes right out and summarizes the twisted amoral center of the black hole where Chick lives. He tidily points out the total jackass "god" plainly depicted in the tract "Holy Joe". So, yeah, this flick holds Chick out at arm's length while basking in the eerie glow of his stark cartooning style and bizarre, contempt-permeated theology.
It's great that they were able to bring in some of Chick's collaborators; especially the smokingly whacked out Dr. Brown.
I was reflecting on Chick's oft'-touted popularity, when it struck me: Fundamentalism eludes moral accountability by various tricks, such as mercurially morphing a civil, rational facade, when so pressed. So, even now, tact/circumspection inclines you to stay your hand and give these "believers" the benefit of a doubt; a benefit they would fain reciprocate, btw! The reality of Chick's stunning popularity aptly belies the facade. These people really believe that god hates you and doesn't give a rat's a55 about your pretensions to honesty or integrity. And they are legion.
Watch this and get a little background.
Oh, a moment to comment on the production values: It's pretty much a string of interview snippets, vaguely put into an order that imparts a sense of forward motion; damning with faint praise, eh? The audio and video tech is fine. So the thing isn't the most artfully done. But it still offers a decent window into Chick Publishing. Check it out.
Fairly Entertaining, but Ultimately, a Bit Vapid
From time to time, I'm thankful that Aldous Huxley coined the term "feelie" to describe a movie that thinks it can dispense with artful narrative and bull through with breathtaking scenery, general film technique, disconnected comedic chops, and "aw, shucks" sentimentality. If Thurber saw "Walter Mitty", I'm sure he'd agree that it's a feelie.
I'm not saying it's a bad movie, just that it's not a good one; certainly not a great one. Tone is mismanaged, which is inevitable when you mold a script, paper mache-like, over the scaffolding of Thurber's concept, with a mere handful of plotty-twisty elements thrown in; like the rather tepid will-they-or-won't-they romantic interest that feels like it fizzled long before it arrived.
In general, all the hard work folks did on this flick was doomed to mediocrity by lame scenario work and scripting--which I have no doubt was executed with great valor under looming deadlines, but still, "no cigar".
A side negatory: The product placement really stuck out like a sore thumb; sorta adds to the "feelie" factor, as well....
The good stuff? Some great scenes; some wonderful acting, much by unknowns; occasional swashbuckling adventure action stuff that was kinda fun to watch; I found the unexpected intrusions of the e-Harmony support guy to be a hoot. I enjoyed the scenes with Penn; he's a matchless professional.
I would tend to recommend that you not waste your time, IFF you feel your movie-going time is precious, and prefer really *great* flicks.
Perfect for What It Is
This is a fantastic, intelligent wedding of word and image. It's like a genuine synthesthetic experience, like the animator wanted us to have a cogent, dependable hallucination of Chomsky's brilliant, eloquent statements. From time to time I would sort of "forget" whether I was hearing Chomsky or seeing what he was saying; they sometimes switched places... or (perhaps more accurately) truly merged in my mind, like finally having the image of one of those 3D "art" images pop out at you when your eyes finally settle into the correct parallax and focus mix. I found that when I was relaxed and letting the flow of ideation wash over me, my experience was "of a piece"; almost psychedelically.
What can I say? It's just a lovely way to mainline a genius' thinking; the filmmaker succeeds in his quest to enhance and tease out the intuitive aspects to technical/scientific thinking; and that's downright inspirational!
Check it out.
Machete Kills (2013)
Beautifully Outrageous... as Usual
It's a simple thing, really: Robert Rodriguez can do no wrong.
He has his aesthetic down *tight*, and he can deliver every time. Yeah, it's got all the drive-in trash elements in tow: It's so over-the-top, it soars like an eagle. The most amazing thing is how his storytelling style seems to inspire the acting talent: They all give it everything they've got, imbuing every line, every move with transcendent camp. The whole picture glows, red-hot, with that spirit.
As is usual for these flicks, the effects are great, the music is simultaneously thrilling and yet full of subtle artistry, the plot may reek of drive-in conventionality, but still dependably drives the flick decisively forward.
Check it out.
Bound for Glory (1976)
Great filmmaking. Fine story, writing, acting, directing, sets, costuming, etc.
After all these years, finally got around to watching it. Lovely to see Carradine as a young guy, having seen him in Kill Bill I/II. Haven't seen _Kung Fu_ (yet).
I was struck by the great, great script. The writing makes the characters both human and mythic, at every level, from storyline motivation to the poetry of utterance under the sway of passions, both conventional and visionary.
The film put me under its spell of biographical story arc, and held me. That's rare and beautiful.
The only production false notes were fleeting instances of the fight choreography failing to convince. Besides that, writing to direction to acting feels "of-a-piece" and seamless. Add to this the set work and costuming and you are absolutely immersed in a great story.
One other disappointment: According to an IMDb "goofs" note, it seems the screenwriter pulled a punch re Guthrie's relationship with the station manager over content: In reality, the rift was apparently not over support for the migrant workers, but over support for the nascent "workers' paradise" in the Soviet Union. I think they should've hewed to history on that one. Maybe it would've put some folks off, but it would also have given the lefties something to really chew on, vs. this sterilized portrait. I'm left-leaning myself, and love the tempering that bits of real history like this impart. The screenwriter/producers should have "nutted up" and eaten this one.
Anyway, check it out.
Young Adult (2011)
Reitman slows things down a bit; straight up drama
Liked it. I've always enjoyed Reitman's crackling expressionism, and was surprised to see something a little more like straight-up drama in Young Adult. It seems folks don't care for it as much as his earlier work (not cracking 7.0 in the IMDb ratings), but I'm giving it an 8. Everything about it is balanced and effective: You get under the skins of the characters, and stay there. Some of the dramatic dialog is dynamite.
The big question is: Does the script succeed in getting you to see Mavis's way forward? I, for one, saw myself in Mavis--and I'll try to use her example to help tease myself a little more forward.
Check it out.
Drunk History (2013)
Wow. I'm normally a bit hypersensitive to "make-work" programs for talented thespians, and "Drunk History" could sorta be described that way.
But it somehow comes off like a genuine labor of love. And, for that, I can forgive a lot of things.
And, speaking of things needing forgiveness, what else may need to be forgiven in these productions of "Drunk History"?
Not much, if'n you asks me! The production is excellent; the adaptation of the drunken interviews to screen action is ingenious. Skilled folks are brought to the task of polishing up the final product. The sound and camera work are fine. The selection of lively targets of inebriation and exhortation to hold forth lovingly (if a bit sloppily) on fascinating bits of history seems inspired.
I've seen 6 of the produced episodes, and they're all winners. There are typically 3 segments per episode, which is impressive; this represents a lot of hard work! Maybe not every segment scintillates, in my mind, but each show has at least 3 or 4 "wow" moments, which make the shows well, well worth watching, in my book.
Check it out. If you're a history buff, you might find yourself secretly wishing Derek Waters would come a-knockin' on your door, with camera crew in tow, offering *you* an opportunity to dip our toes in yet-another limpid pool of "Drunk History"!
Breaking Bad (2008)
All the good stuff of the best storytelling
It's great. It's what people have always wanted from crime drama; it's about pride, desperation, decision, obsession, escalation, and the toll on relationship--including relationship with one's self--that ensues.
The writing is great. On rare, rare occasions there might be a shadow of a false note; either an "off" usage, or a foray into character exploration that seems a little ill-considered. But even these add genuine color to the product. Think of them as a blue tinge to a very pure artistic product.
The production values are great, and all personnel deliver, from top to bottom. As I write they're rolling out the final half of season 5; just saw episode 10, and it utterly rips your heart out.
Breaking Bad will go down as classic television; amongst the best ever.