December 2013 - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies

The Wolf of Wall Street (2013)

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The Wolf of Wall Street


There are two things to make clear up front before getting into my thoughts on The Wolf of Wall Street, and they both have to do with the controversy it's been generating since its release. First there was the story of outrage at an official Academy screening, then an open letter chastising Scorsese from the daughter of one of the main character's former associates. The movie has been maligned as a glorification of real-life protagonist Jordan Belfort's exploits as he defrauded investors and, it would seem, attempted to recreate the decadence of Rome in his own Wall Street office. Or apartment. Sometimes airplane.

These complaints are based on the argument that the many sequences of drug-fueled debauchery and turbo-wealthy excess (and boys-club misogyny) that make up a majority of the first 2/3 of the film are intended to be entertaining in that two-faced way so many modern movies are—a Scarface-esque celebration of the very amoral materialism the movie claims to condemn. Which leads me to the first thing I want to clarify: If you are watching this movie, and for any extended period you think, “Yeah, that seems pretty good—I want to be a part of that,” you are deeply troubled. Speak with someone. The second is that, despite the above complaints being based on a fundamental misunderstanding of the film's motives, The Wolf of Wall Street still can't help being—to paraphrase my favorite expression from Roger Ebert—an (often) horrible experience of (nearly) unbearable length.


Inside Llewyn Davis (2013)

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Oscar Isaac – Inside Llewyn Davis

At this point it may be hard for the Coen brothers to do any wrong, and they reinforce that notion with Inside Llewyn Davis, which offers a sometimes novelistic look at an aspiring singer-songwriter ambling through the early 60s Greenwich Village folk music scene. This is territory the Coens are comfortable with—characters living unnoticed but not really on the fringe, with a lifestyle and landscape distinctly their own.

Aside from the typical strengths—the colorful supporting performances, the quirky turns of plot that offer subtle revelations about a character, the strong dialogue—Oscar Isaac is the engine behind the film. He embodies Davis as a man who can so successfully act the part of the damaged, down and out folk singer that he may actually be afraid of testing himself with success. With no place of his own, he makes the rounds staying with friends and acquaintances (all he has to do is ask “got a couch?” of a fellow musician he's just met, and they both understand each other). He's created a persona that allows him (and others) to excuse his unreliable, non-committal ways and to brush off his shameless freeloading as harmless, semi-charming mooching. In one scene, after discovering he's gotten his friend Jean (Carey Mulligan) pregnant and needs money for an abortion, he asks her boyfriend Jim (Justin Timberlake, who I wish was in a few more scenes) for a loan—the boyfriend doesn't know what it's for, just that Llewyn needs it and that “he can't tell Jean.”


Frances Ha (2013)

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Goodbye pastAndrew LIKE BannerI've entered my adult years growing along with the words and characters of Noah Baumbach.  His is a world filled with highly literate people who are successful in a way, but always dissatisfied.  There's a perpetual air of melancholy throughout his first film, Kicking and Screaming, that eventually evolved into full-blown cynicism in Greenberg.  But Baumbach has never allowed his films to wallow in that point of view.  No matter their challenges, his view is just as critical of their subject's as it is receptive to their emotional state.

That reception has marked his continued growth into Frances Ha, a film that may be confused as slight, but is really one of this year's true delights.  If his previous films were entertaining slices of angst and occasional misanthropy, Frances Ha is the fairy tale that those characters might tell each other on their better days.  It's delightfully funny, but still mired in the same kind of awkward transition period that marred the progress of his earlier characters.  But humor isn't a new facet to the Baumbach world, the unbelievably sunny Frances (Greta Gerwig) is.


2nd Opinion – This Is the End (2013)

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Last MealAndrew LIKE BannerRyan already tackled This Is the End in a review earlier this year, but I couldn't resist rounding out this year with another apocalyptic comedy after The World's End and Rapture-Palooza.  The former was an excellent drama and a good comedy, the latter dragged out unfunny scenes to painful lengths.  Craig Robinson manages to pull off a pretty neat trick with his appearance in This Is the End.  After providing Rapture-Palooza with its one, and only, chuckle his presence here is an affirmation that he is a very funny man who usually works with equally talented people.

For those in doubt, This Is the End is hilarious and bold in a way.  I was surprised that it managed to be so raunchy without actually being offensive.  There's the potential for a lot of dudebro gay panic and sexist humor but despite the many sex jokes, and presence of one demonic appendage, its more willing to poke fun at its leads than anything else.  The meta-humor went from the broad, like a running gag about Seth Rogen basically playing the same guy - to the weirdly specific.  One gag involves James Franco repeating a line from Spider-Man 3 that works both as an in-joke for those familiar with both films, to a joke that's similarly funny in the context of him trying to vomit back up a bit of Milky Way.


Battle of the Year (2013)

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Blind luckAndrew DISLIKE BannerViewed through the lens of schadenfreude, Battle of the Year is a slammin' entertainment.  There is nary a frame that goes by without an embarrassment to the great art of acting, cinematography, or screenwriting.  The holy trinity is dashed to pieces through a beaten and depressed-looking Josh Holloway, terrible dance scenes, and dialogue so direct it makes you wonder why there are visuals to go with the film at all.  It’s a depressing experience, but one that brings up the questions about who thought they were getting a good shake out of the film.

I can’t bring myself to look at the film in only that fashion.  As I’ve demonstrated, I love modern dance films.  I’ve never cottoned to the Busby Berkeley films of old but one breakdancing and hip-hop started got more exposure I knew that I’d found the kind of dance I love to watch.  Step Up 3D is, without irony, one of the best films ever – a perfect fusion with the joy of dance and people who know just how to make it pop onscreen.

Battle of the Year is a tease when it comes to dance.  You’d think that would be a point of worry when the film markets itself as a dance movie, but that would get in the way of the overabundance of product placement and stagnant dialogue that tumbles through many joyless minutes.  It’s more than thirty minutes before we see a full dance that isn’t reconstructed through reused stock footage.  Most of that footage comes from director Benson Lee’s much better 2007 documentary Planet B-Boy.