Monday, March 10, 2014

Finished My Oscars Reviews!

Wow... does that loose fitting shirt make me look fat - I'm not fat!



Nothing quite like writing a blog and searching for a job in front of my parent's fireplace! Yes - that means I'm in Michigan doing my part to help out here. Now that I'm well - I can do that! Huzzah! I can actually be of some use to the people that genuinely need my help and not someone that holds no loyalty to a faithful employee that needed to help a family member! Looking at YOU former contract employer!!!






So what happened to me a week ago? I was on a roll there with the blogging and reporting about the Best Picture movies and the hula hoops and the dungarees and the kids with the boom boxes making trouble... well, maybe not that last part. But I was writing about the Best Picture movies. So what did happen? I got tired! I was still pretty sick and keeping that pace of watching at least two movies a day was getting kinda exhausting. ALSO my wife got to Her before I did and loved it so I really wanted to make that a "date night" kind of movie for my viewing and sadly - that didn't happen in time for a Friday post.

SO - here we go. I know it's long past the Oscars and the Best Picture has been chosen already, but I hate to leave things unfinished - if you ever see my story notebooks you'll understand how crippling it is for me to look through those years after I write down an idea. Anyway - here we go for my reviews of Her and The Wolf Of Wall Street and followed by my analysis of the whole shebang.

First up - Her

Her is the story of Theodore played incredibly by Joaquin Phoenix, a lonely romantic that writes love letters for people as a living - who is also in the process of getting a divorce. In a moment of absolute loneliness - Theo purchases the latest OS to hit the market that just so happens to be intelligent and self aware that also chooses its own name - Samantha; voiced perfectly by Scarlett Johansson . What starts out as a friendship of discovery and understanding between Theo and Samantha blossoms into something sexual as well as into something that genuinely resembles love. But can it really be love? Samantha doesn't really exist - or does she? After all, she has feelings, emotions, and behaves and thinks as an individual being would - or does she? She is programmed after all, however she exhibits all of the key functions and behaviors of a living breathing sentient being. So, is she real? Is this a "real" relationship?

I ask all of these questions because this movie is so brave and incredibly creative to ask them but not spell out the answers to the audience. Written and directed by Spike Jonze, this, if I had to pick a "favorite" of the Best Picture nominees - I think this would have to be it. As much as I loved Gravity - I can easily say I will be watching Her many, many more times once it arrives on home video. This is also a fantastic expression of top quality science fiction. It takes place in a very real, tangible, possible future that doesn't depend on creating gigantic floating cities or super advanced space craft. It just exists. It feels real. If feels like our world does now - only 50-60 years further in the future.

And, like any good work of science fiction, it asks serious questions about the current state of humanity without feeling the need to placate and insult the intelligence of its audience by spelling everything out in big colorful magnetic letters. It's subtle, but it doesn't pander. Currently, we live in a world of 6 billion+ people, and we feel alone, alienated and separate from all of them. We struggle to meet and hold onto just a handful of these people to call our friends and possibly even our lover(or lovers if you're into that). With the internet, people are finding that missing piece to fill a lot of those gaps in our personal lives. Why do you think social media has exploded? It's not because we want to be marketed to more efficiently by companies - we want to reach out and connect with other people. Even if they're the people we see and talk to every day of our lives, Facebook, Google +, Twitter etc. are just some of the tools we have to do that.

This film is a beautiful extension of where we currently are. Is Theo and Sam's relationship real? Does this relationship not exist because Samantha isn't a physical being and only a conscious being? Is that tangible physicality the single base requirement for an emotional relationship? These are the kinds of questions that are going to pop in your head days and weeks after seeing this film. And these are the questions you're going to have to ask for yourself - this movie will not answer them for you, and it shouldn't. In my view the biggest task of our time and our lives is constantly being spent figuring out who we are for ourselves - and no one should do that for you. It's your journey. It's your life. You live it.

Can you tell I was taken away by this movie yet? Because I was! It's just incredible. Should it have been nominated for Best Picture? Hell yes! Should it have ultimately won? Tough call, it was a prime candidate. I think in any other year where there may not have been a 12 Years A Slave or a Dallas Buyers Club to contend with - it would have and should havewon. As it stands, I am incredibly happy to see that it won best original screenplay. How Joaquin Phoenix didn't get an Oscar nomination is beyond me, his emotional transformation and personal journey was no less compelling than any of the other nominees up there. If you haven't seen this one yet. GO NOW! I for one will be buying this one on Blu-ray day and date it comes out - and I will be watching it for years to come.

Next up - The Wolf Of Wall Street



So, when The Wolf Of Wall Street started entering my consciousness wasn't around the time of it's start of filming, or the announcement that Martin Scorsese was teaming up again with Leonardo DiCaprio for the bazillionth time. It came to my awareness when the studio was apparently going to hold off the release of the movie to re-edit. They weren't going to re-edit because it was clocking in at 3 hours. Nope. They were going to re-edit because they were doing everything they could to avoid an NC-17 rating! And, even in this R-rated cut, I can see why they were worried.

The Wolf Of Wall Street tells the tall-but-true tale of Jordan Belfort - an extremely unscrupulous unethical, stock trader who built his fortune illegally goading people into risky investments and skimming his percentage off the top detailing his rise and ultimate fall and imprisonment. He also has quite the addiction to numerous chemicals and a better than slight penchant for sleeping around with any willing female that walks on two legs. So why is this movie Best Picture worthy? Because it is so damn entertaining!

Leonardo's Jordan Belfort, just like his real life counterpart, is not a likable guy. In fact, most of the time you should hate him. You would hate him, but he is just so damn charming and fun. Even when the FBI starts breathing down his neck issuing indictments and every amount of pressure to tame this wild man, you end up rooting for the guy to dial his antics up to 11. And that's the amazing thing about this movie - you want a scumbag like Jordan Belfort to win. Make no mistake, he is a scumbag, and in no frame of this movie do DiCaprio and Scorsese try to hide that fact. They show us everything! And by everything - I mean that in every sense of the word. So, if you are sensitive to depictions of excessive drug use, sexuality, debauchery and sin - this is not the movie for you. However, if you're a fan of watching a train wreck as soon as it leaves the station - this is an incredible piece of cinema.

Make no mistake - you're not supposed to root for this guy. It may seem like he's being presented in this fun, partying, care-free way that he's just a guy making millions and having a good time. But what the movie is deftly doing - is making you analyze yourself and your own behavior. If you're entertained but ultimately sickened or repulsed by the behavior on screen, then you're probably pretty well adjusted and on sturdy ground. If you find yourself at all intrigued or coming to the defense of this man's behaviors, then you might need to reexamine some of your life's priorities. Just keep in mind - this movie was put together very carefully. Based on Belfort's memoirs - and also according to interviews I read with screenwriter Terence Winter - most of the worst, extreme behaviors exhibited by Belfort and his friends actually happened and continue to happen! Really, truly, that's not something to celebrate. So if it seems like this movie is putting this guy up on a pedestal - it's really not. What should be celebrate here is the filmmakers' and the cast's willingness to portray everything and not shy away from it.

Upon it's initial reception, this movie was met with what I consider an overly vitriolic reaction to the content with it's incredibly frank depiction of drug use, how those drugs are used, what parts of a woman's anatomy drugs are sniffed and snorted off of or even out of on top of the rampant sexual acts. Cool your jets folks. You're not supposed to be turned on by this exposé of frank sexual indulgence, you should be pretty horrified by it! That's the point. To be honest, there is just no way to show this man's life, to detail real events, how some in wall street actually act and then ultimately condemn that behavior without showing everything in gruesome detail. There just isn't. Sure there is an incredible long scene depicting a hilarious reaction to quaaludes - but - everything else in this movie should horrify you. At just over 71 years old, I have to stand up and applaud Martin Scorsese for being not only willing but also being brazen enough to bring this film to the world the way that he did. A lot of filmmakers would either shy away from the material, or would dull it down to a palatable place that there would just be no point in the endeavor. On top of that - most studios probably wouldn't have touched this movie with a 10 foot poll had it not involved Leonardo and Scorsese. To put in one way, this is Martin Scorsese at his most Paul Verhoeven without being so over the top that the work becomes a cartoon.

I saw this movie with my wife, and we both loved it. It's a riot. It's the kind of movie you watch to keep you away from that lifestyle, not to embrace it. But at the same time, everyone kinda likes to watch a nonlethal car accident when it happens. You know you do it, everyone does. That's why people gawk on the road as they pass by. You look at the mess, and you thank the gods that it wasn't you. That's this movie. You're supposed to watch and be thankful you're not them. Yes these guys were making money hand over fist, but they were also complete ass clowns that did everything they could to scam money out of hard working people and didn't care one ounce for anyone but themselves and maybe, perhaps a couple of choice prostitutes. You should leave this movie hating those guys and gals, but at the same time, you should be also looking at yourself, and see if you can't identify parts of your life that might need to have a little more attention paid to it.

Should this be up on the Best Picture list? You bet. This is outstanding filmmaking from one of America's cinematic masters. Is it his best? Nope. As incredible as it is, it's just not that incredible when compared to the rest of the competition. Ultimately I put it a rung above Captain Phillips and Philomena. It's not the "worst" of the bunch - it's just not as important as the rest - in my opinion that is.

And with that, I come to what I felt about the actual Oscars over all. All in all, while not a big surprise, it was a fine show. Ellen did a great job as host. I loved that she did her usual thing and took the show into the audience. I thought that was fantastic - I would have loved it if she went further back down the aisle than Brad Pitt and interacted with people that the rest of the world doesn't know - but that's cool - there's always next year!

As for the big question - do I support 12 Years A Slave for Best Picture? You bet. 100% yes. Could Dallas Buyer's Club have won and I be equally happy? Sure thing, but still, 12 Years A Slave is the kind of filmmaking that needs to be supported in Hollywood. All too often now, it has become common place for studios to get behind the works that draw in the largest possible audience, and that audience includes 8 and 12 year old kids. Adults like movies that are geared towards actual adults, not 13 year old kids that think they're going to get a look at naked boobies. Does that mean every adult film need to be rated R? No, but nor should it mean every movie intended for an adult audience be rated PG-13 either. For the simple reason that there was a movie that dealt with a serious part of American history in a frank and honest way and didn't shy away from it like 12 Years A Slave is extremely important and should be celebrated - not debated.

Here is my personal list of the Best Picture nominees from best to - well not worst - but least, and not in a bad way.

1: 12 Years A Slave
2: Dallas Buyer's Club
3: Her
4: Gravity
5: Nebraska
6: American Hustle
7: The Wolf Of Wall Street
8: Philomena
9: Captain Phillips

Well that's it ladies, gents, and germs - There is my list. Glad to finally have this little project done and over with! It was fun - but whoa is it hard to maintain this kind of schedule. I'll be back again, if not tomorrow, hopefully soon enough depending on how well my family member is recovering. All of you take are out there, be good, and enjoy some movies!


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