The Wolf of Wall Street

This R-rated tribal rite of passage shows the un-annointed how the rapacious "real" men of Wall Street behave when they smell blood. My biggest problem (and I have a couple) was my repugnance at watching the unbridled adolescent behavior of allegedly grown men who no longer have limits set by parents, teachers, police or good manners. (BTW, this script contains a record-setting total of 506 "F" bombs.)

Martin Scorsese has worked successfully with Leonardo DiCaprio before ("Shutter Island" and "The Departed"). It's time for someone to have the courage to tell the biggest gorilla in the Hollywood jungle that he needs an EDITOR! This 180-minute film is too long by half. I easily could have edited some of those motivational talks, the drug sessions, the bacchanals and the orgies without damaging the story one iota. Bottom line: this is basically a 90-minute cautionary tale about ego, drugs and power based on Jordan Belfort's autobiographical "The Wolf of Wall Street." The main points don't need to be hammered home with endless, repetitious (and boring) scenes.

We see:
  • Matthew McConnaughey ("The Lincoln Lawyer") does a brief scene at the beginning that sets a standard for our hero to admire.
  • Leonardo DiCaprio ("J. Edgar") as Jordan Belfort, our titular "Wolf," who unflinchingly shows us the downside of drug use: the bloodshot eyes, the drooling, the crawling, the garbled speech and the repulsive behavior which evolve when there are no limits.
  • Jonah Hill ("Moneyball") is his sidekick, long on ambition and short on common sense.
  • Margot Robbie ("Love Actually") is our hero's second wife, gorgeous, smart and trying to make a life.
  • Jean Dujardin ("The Artist") is a French-speaking Swiss banker who holds American "scum" in contempt.
  • Joanna Lumley ("Absolutely Fabulous") is Aunt Emma, a Brit who is more than willing to help hide those ill-gotten gains in a Swiss bank.
  • Kyle Chandler ("Super Eight") is a tenacious FBI man who should not be underestimated.
We are dealing with top-notch talent and a compelling story, but personally, I am going to a pleasant little dramedy later today to cleanse my palate. ...smile...
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Here is a sample:
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The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

This was one of the first humorous grown-up stories I "imprinted" on when I was a child. Up until then, I thought I was the only one who could go off on wild adventures without ever leaving the house. Author James Thurber showed me otherwise.

Our day-dreaming Caspar Milquetoast imagines PG-rated heroic actions, brilliant strategies and a love story for the ages in order to escape the boredom of the job he has held for sixteen years. Writer Steve Conrad ("The Pursuit of Happyness") has wisely set his story in a current corporate down-sizing situation, fraught with job loss and grief for a magazine that will no longer have a print edition (Life Magazine). The organization taking over is staffed by heartless suits who only see numbers, not the real people who had made the magazine a success.

We watch:
  • Ben Stiller ("Arrested Development") as our eponymous hero who "spaces out" occasionally. His humdrum job is in the basement of the Time-Life building. He has a passport but he has never gone anywhere.
  • Kathryn Hahn ("We're the Millers") is his sister who wants to audition for Rizzo in an off-off Broadway production of "Grease."
  • Kristen Wiig ("Saturday Night Live") has just been hired at the same magazine; she has a three-legged dog and a two-legged son.
  • Adam Scott ("Parks and Recreation") plays the new broom that is going to sweep everything clean. He is cold, demanding and has no clue about the history of the company he's helping take over.
  • Shirley MacLaine ("Downton Abbey") is Walter's sweet mom, being moved (with a piano that is waaaay too big) to an assisted living facility.
  • Patton Oswalt ("Young Adult") works at the computer-dating service where Walter is a subscriber; he wants our hero to have a more interesting résumé.
It has long been a Hollywood dream to commit this fantasy-laced story to film (the one with Danny Kaye really doesn't count). Now with unfettered Computer Generated Imaging, director Ben Stiller has finally achieved the dream. I would point out however, that the best parts are the "plain" scenes, the red car on a lonely road, the skate boarder going down that long hill, the runner crossing the bridge, those are remarkable scenes that have stayed in my head long after the happy ending. Oh... And the volcano!

Yup, we have people to root for, with no gunfire, no vehicular mayhem, no profanity, no blowie uppie stuff and no sweaty bodies; just Entertainment (capital "E").
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Watch his imagination take over!
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Writer/director Spike Jonze (with a post-production boost from Steven Soderbergh) directs this sweetly weird but much-acclaimed story about a lonely writer in the process of a divorce, who buys a new operating system which provides him with an electronic companion. The more he talks with the OS, the smarter it gets. This unique and unpredictable film holds our attention from the very beginning.

We see (and hear):
  • Joaquin Phoenix ("Walk the Line") stars as Theodore, the mildly depressed fellow with the new operating system; he selects a female voice and names it "Samantha." I've never seen Phoenix laugh so freely.
  • Amy Adams ("Man of Steel") brings us Amy, a friend in his residential tower who is married to a control freak.
  • Rooney Mara ("The Social Network") is his soon-to-be ex. All they have to do is sign the divorce papers but they have never discussed what went wrong.
  • Olivia Wilde ("Butter") plays the charming blind date who doesn't want to be a flash in the pan. She would really like a relationship.
  • Scarlett Johansson ("Don Jon") voices Samantha, the irresistibly sweet and funny OS, who becomes the light of his life.
  • Chris Pratt ("Delivery Man") is Paul, totally happy to go on a double date, even though his friend Theodore is dating an operating system.
This has been nominated for three Golden Globes, so let me add my own comments: the editing is brilliant. Subtle expressions which flit across Phoenix's face, reflect his reactions to Samantha's voice as she speaks. There are many long, long takes of just his face and voice reacting to Samantha. You will NOT be bored unless you have a hearing problem, in which case either go to a theater with closed captions or wait for the DVD. By the way, in another auditorium (same complex) the next day, I saw previews for this one and could hear every single word. Maybe it was the copy we saw at the screening. Hmmm....

Shot in Shanghai and Los Angeles, augmented by some green screen work, this gives us a frightening peek at the not-too-distant future, with everyone totally involved with his or her hand-held electronic device; there is no human interaction on the street, in the train or at the desk. Scary.... (Have you walked down the street lately?)
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Here is a preview:
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American Hustle

First we see: "Some of this really happened." And it's true. This chaotic R-rated mess was inspired by the late 70s Abscam mess which involved the FBI, the Mafia, a Middle Eastern Sheik and many elected officials. I never got it straight when it was happening and I scarcely did much better today.

Nominated for seven (7!) Golden Globes: Best Picture - Comedy or Musical; Best Actor and Actress; Best Supporting Actor and Actress; Best Director and Best Screenplay; I would suggest they also include Best Hair. In my opinion this one is head and shoulders above many other high-profile films because it's so much fun! Director David O. Russell ("The Fighter") keeps things humming along and draws extremely natural performances from his cast.

We enjoyed:
  • Christian Bale ("The Dark Knight") as Irving (the names have been changed to protect the innocent), a two-bit flim-flam man lured into an entrapment scheme by an ambitious FBI agent. This time Bale is a stooped, paunchy, married schlub with the most tortured toupee and cockamamie comb-over I have ever seen.
  • Jennifer Lawrence ("Silver Linings Playbook") is his wife Rosalyn, who knows Irving has a mistress but can't see why that should have any effect on their marriage. He has adopted her son and doesn't want to lose him. Her hairdo is a stylist's combo of "Big Hair" and "Outrageous Hair." She HATES that new-fangled "science oven" (microwave) because she ignored the warning and tried to heat a foil container. Eek!
  • Amy Adams ("Her") is Sidney, Irving's partner in crime, both in and out of bed. Sometimes she's British, sometimes she's from Albuquerque. We see a LOT of Sidney in this one (double-sided tape prevents many wardrobe malfunctions)! She spends a lot of time with her hair in huge rollers.
  • Bradley Cooper ("The Hangover") is Richie, the manic FBI man. He moves the outlandish plot forward by sheer force of will and is unforgettable with his hair in those teeny permanent wave rollers. Cooper and Adams generate some real sexual heat in this one. Whew!
  • Michael Peña ("End of Watch") is Paco, a Hispanic from California recruited to play the Sheik. His hair is covered by a pseudo white cloth with a black band to make him look Middle Eastern.
  • Jeremy Renner ("The Town") is the Mayor. He is the only (sorta) "Good Guy" in the bunch, with a glamorous wife and five children, all of whom he adores. Check out his heroic pompadour!
ALL of the fashions, men's and women's are to die for. Sometimes I lost track of the story, I was so taken by the clothes!

...and the music! Kudos to Susan Jacobs for assembling the wonderful sound track: Everything from Duke Ellington and Steely Dan to "Yellow Brick Road" and "Live and Let Die." Loved it!
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Take a peek:
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Inside Llewyn Davis

The Coen brothers are geniuses (genii?) who knew there was a movie star lurking out there, tragically overlooked. Their Oscar-winning music arranger T-Bone Burnett ("O Brother, Where Art Thou?") was a sure- fire gold-plated winner. With numerous nominations and wins for this film at festivals in Europe, and the Gran Prix (Audience Award) at Cannes under their belt, it was time to bring this baby home. And what have they done with all this bounty? They consigned Garrett Hedlund to a bit part as a chain-smoking driver! I was soooo looking forward to hearing this gifted guy sing again. To me, HE is the one tragically overlooked. Aarghhh!

The story is a week in the life of a folk singer striving for a breakthrough in 1961 Greenwich Village, at a time when folk music is in decline.

The cast:
  • Oscar Isaac ("Won't Back Down") is the Coen's "discovery." This fellow has worked third-tier roles for years. If he is just learning to sing and play guitar, why learn to do it with his eyes closed? I find it mannered and annoying!
  • Carey Mulligan ("Never Let Me Go") is the lovely singer every- one wants (and gets!).
  • John Goodman ("Trouble With the Curve") is a jazz musician who derides folk music while nurturing his own demons.
  • Garrett Hedlund ("Country Strong") is totally, utterly wasted here. There must be more to this choice than I have been able to find. This talented singer/actor could easily have replaced any of the other singers in this cast!
  • Justin Timberlake ("Runner Runner") is here for two songs and does them well. If only the rest of the film had such entertaining music.
  • Stark Sands (Lots of TV) impressed me with his sweet ingenuous character. A Tony-nominated performer ("Kinky Boots" and "Journey's End"), he has been in musicals since high school.
This R-rated drama/musical has lots of profanity, discussions about abortions, adult language and an irritating "hero" who is adrift. T-Bone Burnett mounts the music with his usual verve and uncanny ear, but... sigh....  I hesitate to disclose what little story there is, because anything I say would be a spoiler.

Oh well, the 60s are nicely re-imagined: the vintage cars, the S&H Green Stamps, the clothes and the furniture. See? I can find things that I like. Oh! ...and the cat! (Which the Coens admitted they put in because there wasn't much story.)
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Here is a sample:
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When a JayFlix.net participant tells me to see a movie, I usually do! This time is no different, and, as usual, I'm really glad I did. (And the Golden Globes agreed with five nominations.) In my personal experience, I have... TWICE... heard that someone had won a sweepstakes, only to discover that it was early onset senile dementia or in the other case, Alzheimer's. This is what we suspect when our elderly hero sets out for Lincoln, Nebraska to collect his million dollars. Problem is, he no longer has a working vehicle, nor does he have a driver's license, so he's walking...from Montana. His son is pulled into the story by his besieged wife.

Full disclosure, I spent my early years on a farm in South Dakota, so the production design, the clothes, the speech patterns, the scenery, the pace, the people, and the small faded towns of Montana, Wyoming, South Dakota and Nebraska evoked fond memories. (No, I didn't have an unhappy childhood, sorry...)

We watch:
  • Bruce Dern ("Madison") is the booze-addled curmudgeon who wants his million dollars. Dern has worked for decades before landing this role of a lifetime. He won "Best Actor" at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival for this performance.
  • Will Forte ("Saturday Night Live") is his unfortunate son, unable to talk his father out of that haywire obsession.
  • June Squibb ("About Schmidt") is the wife with a tongue like barbed wire. She has lashed her husband for decades until he rarely hears a word she says.
  • Bob Odenkirk (Lots of TV) is the "good" son who has landed a job as a television newscaster. When he gets into a fight he shouts, "Don't hit the face!"
  • Stacy Keach (Lots of television) is a former business partner who sees this unexpected windfall as a way to get some money from our hero.
It's difficult to realize that all those authentic relatives and neighbors are actors! Director Alexander Payne ("Sideways") has evoked astonishingly pure performances, bona fide settings, and credible situations. This tiny little R-rated domestic dramedy is no more than a tempest in a teapot, but we come to care a great deal about what happens to these people.

Payne doesn't often make movies, but when he does....Oh My!
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See for yourself:
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Saving Mr. Banks

Doesn't Tom Hanks ever just sit down and relax? After the grueling "Captain Phillips," what does he do for an encore? He gives us Walt Disney (with a regulation mustache) during the time he clashes with P.L. Travers, the feisty woman who wrote "Mary Poppins." (I never heard about that, did you? Evidently this battle was waged over a 20-year period, as their respective fortunes waxed and waned.)

The doughty author is an unbending, sharp-tongued shrew who flings insults with arrogant abandon but expects to be treated with deference and respect. "I am Mrs. Travers, NOT Pamela!" She intimidates everyone she encounters and marches out of meetings without compunction. The pears in her complimentary fruit basket at the Beverly Hills hotel are lobbed off the balcony. Her outrageous demands are legendary: "There will be no RED in this film!"

We follow:
  • Tom Hanks ("Cloud Atlas") as Walt Disney, beset by a cantankerous dame who will not trust him to do justice to her beloved character. It takes his insight and shared memories of mutually unlovable fathers that allows him to finally make a tiny dent in her armor.
  • Emma Thompson ("Nanny McPhee") is P.L. Travers who swears she will make sure her creation is treated with reverence. To her, Disney is the personification of a Hollywood machine that will mangle her magical nanny beyond recognition. (He first proposed an animated version.)
  • Annie Rose Buckley ("Home and Away") is Ginty, the name her doting father called our author when she was a child in Australia. We see numerous flashbacks that illustrate her hardscrabble childhood.
  • Colin Farrell ("Dead Man Down") is Travers Goff, her beloved banker father who colors her childhood with his affection and his drunkenness. Farrell continues to dazzle me with his range and skill! He even makes his drunken character lovable.
  • Ruth Wilson ("Luther") is Margaret, our author's long-suffering mother, living at the lonely end of the railroad line in Australia.
  • Rachel Griffiths ("Brothers & Sisters") is Aunt Ellie, umbrella and bottomless carpetbag in hand, come to that miserable house to help sort out the struggling family. The moment we see her rigid silhouette at the front door, we KNOW who inspired Mary Poppins!
  • Paul Giamatti ("Romeo and Juliet") is Ralph, the first American to face Travers' withering scorn; he is her limo driver. She isn't impressed by California; when she sniffs the air, he tells her she is smelling jasmine, she thinks it "smells of chlorine and sweat!"
"Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious" is hidden from Mrs. Travers because she won't tolerate nonsense. Disney's talented but thoroughly cowed songwriters (played by Jason Schwartzman and B.J. Novak) are out- witted, out-foxed and out-maneuvered by this wily, determined, and exasperating woman.

The screening audience often laughed at her acerbic (PG-13) wit. Me, not so much; I missed a lot because of the soundtrack. I found myself longing for closed captions; I know I'll love my DVD when it becomes available.

Oh! Mr. Banks is the children's father in "Mary Poppins." He's a banker. Did you remember that?
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Would you like to see a preview?
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Love Actually

This feel-good holiday classic was written and directed by Richard Curtis ("Notting Hill") who realized that all of the phone calls during 9/11 were to express love to family and friends, not to settle anything petty. This led him to develop his screenplay and give us this much-loved film about eight couples and what constitutes love among them.

His roster includes:
  • Bill Nighy ("The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel") won a Golden Globe for his portrayal of Billy Mack, a wacked-out pop star who promises to perform nude if his fans come through. Every scene with him is brilliant.
  • Gregor Fisher ("The Merchant of Venice") is Joe, Billy Mack's frantic manager.
  • Liam Neeson ("Non-Stop") is Daniel, a bereaved widower who now has to worry about his little son's heart (the kid is lovesick).
  • Thomas Brodie-Sangster ("The Maze Runner") is Sam, that motherless little boy with heart trouble.
  • Keira Knightley ("Bend it Like Beckham") Juliet is a giddy bride who wants to see the pictures their wedding photographer took of the happy event.
  • Chiwetel Ejiofor ("Kinky Boots") is Peter, the happy groom.
  • Andrew Lincoln ("The Walking Dead") is Mark, their unhappy photographer with a wrenching secret.
  • Emma Thompson ("Sense and Sensibility") Karen has been happily married to Harry for a long time. She has never had any reason for doubts.
  • Alan Rickman ("Truly, Madly, Deeply") Harry has been married for more than seven years, but the seven-year-itch has started to trouble him.
  • Hugh Grant ("Notting Hill") The Prime Minister has a visit from the American President to worry about.
  • Martine McCutchen (Lots of TV) Natalie serves the tea at #10 Downing Street.
  • Billy Bob Thornton ("The Judge") is President of the United States.
I could go on and on because there are so many enchanting stories. Be warned though, one of the couples are actors in porno films. Actually they are so "ho-hum" about it, we feel that way, too. This lovely mess defies description so take a look at the trailer.
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Here is a small but wonderful sample:
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