THE WOLF OF WALL STREET

The raunchiest cautionary tale ever put on film, The Wolf of Wall Street is brilliant! The narrative takes a page from “Goodfellas” but instead of cutting to horrific acts of violence, Wolf shows us the jaw dropping life of excess led by Jordan Belfort. This guy is a prick and the movie does nothing to show otherwise. DiCaprio is fantastic playing this despicable man who is always looking for an angle and cares only about himself. It’s shocking and at times hilarious but does not glorify the man or his lifestyle. Half of the laughs come from the shock of what you’re seeing and the way Leo justifies it in the voiceover. Jonah Hill is also excellent as his partner in crime. By the end you’ve seen how low some people can go in this life and if you’re human, you are outraged. An excellent film (that will win zero Oscars). 
Stormy Curry

If Bernie Madoff was younger and more drug addled he would have been Jordan Belfort. The penny stock king was dubbed THE WOLF OF WALL STREET in a Forbes Magazine article. His schemes made him hundreds of million and also landed him in prison. But, this movie isn’t about his financial chicanery. It is about the unbridled debauchery that went along with that financial success. It is three hours of sex, drugs and parties. Midget tossing? Check. Hookers? Check. Monkeys? Yup. Even a marching band in its skivvies shows up. I’m sure I’m forgetting something because it is overwhelming. I just became numb to everything I was seeing after a while, like Belfort on quaaludes. Cars, boats, helicopters. Think of an awesome toy of the super wealthy and it is here. Martin Scorsese captures it all on film as only he can. Leonardo Di Caprio is Belfort. He is fantastic. His sales meeting speeches made me want to grab a phone and try to con a retired school teacher out of his money. He is crazed and crazy. The one thing i didn’t really get is why. Other than a 1980’s obsession with gathering wealth, I wasn’t clear on what Belfort’s motivation was. Maybe that was it, but I would have liked to have seen some more depth of his character. The real treat here is Jonah Hill. He is once again nominated for Best Supporting Actor and one of these years he will win. Hill is more than a foil for Judd Apatow style comedies.  He is a damn fine actor and I really believed how absolutely insane he was as Belfort’s lieutenant Donnie Azoff. Overall, this is a pretty darn good movie, just be prepared to be overwhelmed by it all. Maybe take a ‘lude to calm you before you go. (Just kidding). — Alan Yudman



AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY

Tracy Letts AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY didn’t just win a Tony. Her play about a completely screwed up family won a Pulitzer and is widely considered one of the best American plays of the last quarter century. But does a great play make a great movie. Hmm. Not always. Meryl Streep is Violet, the completely psychotic matriarch of the Weston family. The family rushes back to their home in Oklahoma after the patriarch, Beverly disappears. No wonder two of Violet’s three daughters moved away. She is boorish, a drug addict and filled with vitriol. And she is not hesitant about being brutally honest with anyone in her path. She verbally brutalizes everyone. Her daughters, her son-in-law.. no one is safe from Violet’s wrath. Her oldest daughter Barbara (Julia Roberts) is the only one who seems to fight back. Everyone else seems to shrug and just accept it. Streep is absolutely amazing. She commands the screen in every scene. Anyone who wants to know what great acting is all about, just watch her performance. It’s a master class in acting. Everyone else is good, bordering on great. The cast is a who’s who of great actors. I could list them all, but isn’t that what IMDB is for? There are two problems I have with the film. There isn’t one likable person in the bunch. Everyone is damaged. Everyone is ready to fight at every turn. But I could accept that. What really doesn’t work here is that there is more dialogue than in a Mamet play. No one ever shuts up. There is no silence. No space to breathe. I felt exhausted by it. So, the acting is first rate. But this could have been better adapted. It is like a play on film. That’s not bad, but it’s not a movie either. — Alan Yudman


THE HUNGER GAMES: CATCHING FIRE


As long as we’ve had this website, there have only been a handful of movies for which I just couldn’t get it up to write a review, and not even because I disliked them. (Are you listening, WORLD WAR Z?) That was almost the case here, and though I feel obligated to weigh in on what is, after all, one of the signature blockbuster series of recent times, I was heartened when chatting with Alan last week, who told me he had also seen CATCHING FIRE, also enjoyed it, but was similarly unmotivated. I could tick off the boilerplate positives: a still-absorbing story, solid acting, cool costumes, etc. But thinking back, not much has stayed with me. Stanley Tucci is a sure high-point, so oily and overly hearty as the Games’ M.C. (His laugh alone deserves a Supporting Actor nomination.) Elizabeth Banks gets to briefly show some sensitivity underneath Effie Trinket’s grating ditziness. And at 23, Jennifer Lawrence’s future seems limitless. But after the first half which emphasizes the Evil Empire’s internal politics in the face of growing dissent among the people, THG:CF devolves into an extended version of “Survivor”. It’s this “adventure” part of the movie that interested me least, leading to a rather sudden surprise development that had me thinking there was still more to play out. Since I’d already been watching for two hours-plus I sneaked out for a nature call — and to my shock upon returning, the audience was streaming out of the theater. The movie had ended! — Jeff Schultz

The first HUNGER GAMES movie was good mainly because it featured Jennifer Lawrence and a truly bizarre/awesome performance from Stanley Tucci. It held my interest for the most part even though at times during the “Games” portion it became a little overly sentimental. The second film THE HUNGER GAMES: CATCHING FIRE doesn’t suffer such problems. The premise is Katniss and Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) are targeted by the government after their historic win in The Hunger Games because it has sparked a revolution. To deal with it President Snow decides to stage a kind of All-Star Hunger Games. But, the real purpose here is to kill Katniss and Peeta. Mainly Katniss, who has become a major pain in Snow’s ass. The start of the movie is good, but unlike the first movie the action and interest level really picks up after the Games begin. The movie is good, held my interest and once again features wonderful performances from Lawrence and Tucci. I will say I guessed Phillip Seymour Hoffman’s role in the drama almost as soon as he showed up. It didn’t kill the movie for me, but it was a fairly predictable plot twist. This wasn’t the number one movie of 2013 for no reason. Can’t wait to see how it all plays out in MOCKINGJAY this fall and next. — Alan Yudman


THE HOBBIT: THE DESOLATION OF SMAUG

It’s not Smaug who is left desolate at the end of this second-in-a-trilogy; it’s the desolation the dragon will soon reap as it flies off on a mission of massacre. “What have we done?” asks Bilbo Baggins in the film’s final line, which left me barking “No!” as the credits rolled. I was totally into the movie and wanting to see what would come next — even though it had been running for more than two-and-a-half hours. Many people were disappointed by the first HOBBIT because of its measured pace that refused to get to Point B until every single aspect of Point A had been explored. That’s why I loved it so; Part One’s total immersion into the world of Middle Earth entranced me. In SMAUG, however, Peter Jackson got out his spurs and kicked this thoroughbred project into a stampede. There is a set piece in the middle, a fight-and-chase sequence involving dwarves in barrels hurtling down a river’s rapids, that has got to be among the greatest action scenes ever filmed. It keeps topping itself so many times that the audience while letting out hoops of excitement was also laughing at the sheer impossibility of what they were seeing. It’s that amazing. Every dime in the budget seems to have made it on screen (including an entire chasm of gold coins and loot under which the dragon sleeps). The flawless cast includes some of Martin Freeman’s best work — especially when he isn’t talking, but merely reacting; you can read his facial responses like text. Only Howard Shore’s thumpy, uninspired score falls short, but there’s a lovely song, “I See Fire” by Ed Sheeran, at the start of the final credits. — Jeff Schultz

The first HOBBIT movie was a mess. It was long, bloated and worst of all, boring as hell. THE HOBBIT: THE DESOLATION OF SMAUG fixes most of those problems. There is plenty of action. The set pieces are all well done and string together nicely. The story holds your interest and leads to a menacing cliffhanger. Maybe one reason is the addition of Benedict Cumberbatch as the voice of Smaug. Even though it is digitally enhanced, he brings a gravity to what could have been a “mail it in” performance. There are also new characters introduced that also keep things interesting. I saw it in the high frame rate. While some complain that it flattens out everything and washes color out of the film, I found the effect captivating and appropriate for the story. While I dreaded having to sit through SMAUG, I now cannot wait for “THERE AND BACK AGAIN”. — Alan Yudman

MOB CITY

Whatever led to Frank Darabont’s being fired off THE WALKING DEAD, his talent is all over this 6-part mini-series on TNT. At first, a retelling of the Busgy Siegel-Mickey Cohen connection in corrupt 1940’s Los Angeles may seem like retrodden old ground — one more homage to film noir. But visually, Darabont and Guy Ferland (who directed two of the episodes) and their creative team have added a new element: color. Most classic noirs were shot in black-and-white, an atmospherically apt choice. But the “eye mood” here is compelling in a new way. The storyline is fascinating: an attempt to solve the ongoing mystery of who murdered Siegel with a fictional backstory that ends up making perfect sense. And the casting is so good, it’s hard not to single out all the major characters. Edward Burns as Siegel, Jeremy Luke as Cohen, Jon Bernthal and Milo Ventimiglia and relative newcomer Alexa Davalos. But special attention must be given to the knockout performance by Robert Knepper as gang enforcer Sid Rothman. One scene in particular, a police interrogation during which Knepper goes on a riff about Keaton, Chaplin and Laurel & Hardy, has such bravado, I played it back four times. The six parts are fully contained, but also set up a second season, if TNT executives are feeling generous. Let’s hope they do. — Jeff Schultz

FROZEN

Kids love it, adults love it, critics love it — and why not? Disney’s (not Pixar’s) latest animated feature follows BRAVE and TANGLED with another strong female heroine, and while the PC-ish (but laudable) theme of XX-chromosome empowerment is on display once again, the message is neatly delivered with zest, beauty and great good humor. Credit for the story is duly given to Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Snow Queen”, to which the filmmakers have added enough fully-realized songs (at least 3 of which are showstoppers) to turn it into a full-fledged musical. The best of Disney’s efforts include side-splitting side characters (the crows in DUMBO, Genie in ALADDIN, Maximus in TANGLED), and here we have Olaf the snowman, whose doesn’t-understand-the-concept dream is to dwell in a warm, sunny climate. Olaf is hilariously voiced by Josh Gad, who joins a bang-up cast including Kristen Bell as Anna and Jonathan Groff as handsome Kristoff. (Kristoff has the grossest line of dialogue in the movie, and if you stay through the credits to the end, there’s a very funny “disclaimer” about a certain icky activity.) — Jeff Schultz

THE LONE RANGER

Let’s begin with what annoyed me. The use of the framing device of Old Tonto telling the story to the little kid at the carnival. The fact that the movie is almost 2 hours and 30 minutes. The fact that this is more about Tonto than the Lone Ranger. It’s just so disappointing on so many levels. The constant shifts in tone made my head spin. Is the Ranger a buffoon? Is he a hero? Is Tonto really the hero here? Is this a action adventure western or a comedy? Or is it both and neither at the same time. As you can see, I have a lot of questions and not many answers. And that’s really bad when the movie is, as I said, 2:25 minutes long. The movie seems less about telling what isn’t a bad story of a Texas Ranger thought to be dead who then seeks justice in the old west from behind a mask, than it is about giving Johnny Depp another Jack Sparrow-like character to play around with. Armie Hammer isn’t bad, but it’s hard to tell because he seems to be the straight man for Depp’s one liners. The set pieces are pretty well staged, but there again, when Verbinski brings in the classic William Tell Overture, it seems forced and gimmicky and cringe-worthy. I don’t mind retelling classic hero myths in a new way. But this retelling is more reinventing. And it doesn’t work at all. So what did I like about THE LONE RANGER? Um, not much. — Alan Yudman

Okay. I don’t get it. In a summer where critics fall over themselves praising Iron Man 3 and the latest Fast and Furious movie, why we’re they so quick to fire silver bullets at The Lone Ranger? I’m not saying it’s a masterpiece but the narrative actually makes MORE sense than Tony Starks latest adventure and it’s a lot more fun! I really expected this movie to be as stiff as the crow on Depp’s head but it’s actually an entertaining ride. It’s a bit too long but other than that, I may be a “lone” in my opinion that this Ranger got an unwarranted bad rap. 

Stormy Curry

RED 2

Maybe it was no accident that RED 2 came out the same week Twinkies were put back on supermarket shelves. Both are full of empty calories and will be here long after their intended shelf life. RED was a fun and funny action comedy. RED 2 has lots of action, but the comedy will elicit more of a chuckle than a guffaw. Sometimes not even chuckle-worthy. This movie opens with Bruce Willis in Costco with his girlfriend Mary-Louise Parker. Another metaphor for how boring RED 2 is? Probably unintended. Willis seems content in retirement, until John Malkovich surprises him and tells him that someone is targeting the both of them. Parker seems bored with the retired life and Willis is overprotective. Their relationship leaves everyone wondering why he is so intent on protecting her, because she clearly has some skills. I’d go into more detail, but its all quite dull. Anthony Hopkins is supposed to be a crazy sociopathic maniac, but never really rises to that level. Willis, Malkovich, Parker and Helen Mirren seem to be sleepwalking through the whole exercise. Catherine Zeta-Jones apparently would rather be home with Michael Douglas, because she totally mails this one in. The stunts are well done, but even those are boringly efficient. In RED, there was a cool shot of a car spinning and Willis emerging from it with guns blazing. In RED 2 there are several spinning cars. It seems like the studio liked this and said, “give me more spinning cars!” The only things left spinning were my eyes and my head. The studio should have left well enough alone. Just because a movie is a hit, doesn’t mean there should be a sequel. And if there is one, try to at least get the cast interested in reprising their roles. RED 2 should have been fun. No one seems to be having fun, especially the audience. — Alan Yudman

The first Red was a fun flick that did not leave itself open for a sequel. That being said, the second one is just as fun as the first. Willis, Mirren, and the gang ham it up while Anthony Hopkins pops up and does what he does best. In a summer of overdone sequels, Red sticks to the formula and ends up being one of the summer’s most entertaining guilty pleasures. 

Stormy Curry

LEE DANIELS’ THE BUTLER

The “buzz” has already begun. LEE DANIELS’ THE BUTLER is already being whispered about in “Oscar Circles”. The question is it worth it? Well, the film definitely has those moments that will create the buzz. Sentimental scenes that tug at your emotions. But, it also has some quieter scenes that are skillfully acted by Forest Whitaker, Oprah Winfrey and David Oyelowo. That is where “The Butler” shines. The analysis of the family dynamic as it relates to the civil rights battles of the 1960’s is a fresh take that is worth sitting through the movies slower parts. Those slower parts involve all but one of Whitaker’s interactions with the Presidents. ONly James Marsden give a credible performance. The rest of off the wall caricatures that seem more fitting for a Saturday Night Live sketch. The most outright bizarre is John Cusack’s portrayal of Richard Nixon. He looks nothing like him, and he’s made no apparent attempt to become Nixon physically. But I will say he nails Nixon’s paranoia, social awkwardness and flat out bat-shit craziness. Overall LEE DANIELS’ THE BUTLER is a very good movie, it’s just not the great film that it aspires to be. — Alan Yudman

The message of The Butler is as subtle as a sledgehammer but it’s also as hard hitting. It not only tells our nation’s ugly history of racism, it also shows a dysfunctional father son relationship riddled with misunderstanding,  stubbornness,  and pride. Although Lee Daniels pushes obvious buttons to get a reaction and looks at history in a Forrest Gump type of way at times, The Butler is a movie you can’t take your eyes off of. One of the best of the year. 

Stormy Curry

PARANORMAL ACTIVITY: THE MARKED ONES

Wasn’t it one of the SAW sequels whose twist ending was that the whole thing had played out simultaneously with one of the earlier SAWs ? Something like that seems to be going on here, based on the final few seconds (literally) when Katie Featherston and Micah Sloat (the couple from the original PA) wrap things up with a shriek — this version’s nod to a thread that presumably ties all the PA’s together. Does the whole by-now-five-film structure hold together? I want some geek who’s seen each picture three times and can recite the plots to tell me. Otherwise, what this one has going for it is its change of scene to an L.A. Latino neighborhood. The apartments are grittier and the dialogue very Spanglish-y, funny and fast, thanks especially to actor Jorge Diaz (from the tv series “East Los High”). As long as you know “bruja” means witch, you’ll understand everything else. The “found footage” gimmick is increasingly hard to sustain and probably needs to be retired. (But then, would it be a PARANORMAL ACTIVITY movie?) It’s not very scary, and there aren’t very many scares regardless. But at a little less than an hour and half, it moves along and doesn’t make you snort. — Jeff Schultz