Deepwater Horizon


The moment when you realize that your crazy uncle is coming to Thanksgiving dinner.

The moment when you realize that your crazy uncle is coming to Thanksgiving dinner.

(2016) True Life Drama (Summit) Mark Wahlberg, Kurt Russell, Gina Rodriguez, John Malkovich, Kate Hudson, Ethan Suplee, Dylan O’Brien, Joe Chrest, James Dumont, J.D. Evermore, Douglas M. Griffin, Brad Leland, Jason Pine, Jason Kirkpatrick, Dave Maldonado, Robert Walker Branchaud, Jonathan Angel, Jeremy Sande, Juston Street, Stella Allen. Directed by Peter Berg

 

On April 20, 2010 the Deepwater Horizon semi-submersible mobile offshore drilling unit exploded, paving the way for one of the worst ecological disasters in history. Most of us know about the aftermath and the damage to the Gulf Coast, to the fishing industry and to wildlife. But what of those who were on the rig at the time?

Mike Williams (Wahlberg), an oil rig electronics technician, is getting ready to leave his wife (Hudson) and daughter (Allen) to go and spend 21 days on the oil rig Deepwater Horizon. He reports to Jimmy “Mr. Jimmy” Harrell (Russell), a grizzled non-nonsense kind of guy who depends on his electronics technician to keep the various systems running on the rig, which is no easy task; many of the systems are outdated and are badly in need of overhauling, systems including waste disposal (i.e. the toilets) all the way up to telecommunications and even the computers. Although Williams grouses, he keeps the rig going and running as efficiently as possible.

But British Petroleum, who is leasing the oil rig, wants their exploratory well finished and the Deepwater Horizon is already five weeks behind schedule. BP representative Vidrine (Malkovich) is putting pressure on Harrell and Jason Anderson (Suplee), the control room supervisor, to finish running the various safety checks – Harrell is a stickler for safety – that he feels are redundant and slowing down the operations that he is tasked to complete.

Both Harrell and Williams are concerned that a concrete plug hasn’t been installed and those who were supposed to install it have left the rig at Vidrine’s insistence. That Vidrine seems more concerned with profit rather than safety gets under Harrell’s skin, but Vidrine seems perfectly content to let Harrell run the tests he wants to run to make sure that the drill is secure. Harrell goes to take a shower and all hell breaks loose.

Massive blow-back in the line leads to a series of explosions on the rig, crippling it. Fire rages everywhere and an abandon ship order is issued. Navigator Andrea Fleytas (Rodriguez) desperately tries to keep the floating rig in place so as not to rupture the pipe and release the petroleum into the Gulf but with the power failing and her boss, anxious to protect his ass, waiting for orders rather than disconnecting the pipe from the crippled rig, the stage is set for a disaster that will continue to have repercussions on the Gulf Coast for decades to come.

Eleven people died aboard the Deepwater Horizon and there are some concerns that a movie like this will exploit their memories. There are also those who think that Leftie Hollywood will use the movie as a springboard to jump on the offshore oil drilling business in general, but I think both concerns should be allayed. The movie is not about the oil spill (it is barely mentioned in the film) but about the heroism of those aboard who took care of each other and performed extraordinary deeds of courage in the face of terrifying events. People running into infernos to rescue injured comrades, climbing aboard cranes swinging like pendulums to save those awaiting rescue – it is hard not to take great faith in human nature because the movie illustrates the higher aspect of people rather than their baser natures.

Sure, Vidrine is something of a villain here but not out of malice; he’s just trying to do his job and while he isn’t well-liked by the crew of the Deepwater Horizon, he also agrees to safety checks and acts on the information that those tests give him. While the Justice Department would later rule that BP acted recklessly, the movie doesn’t show a lot of that.

Russell and Wahlberg make an effective team. It doesn’t seem that long ago to me that the Mike Williams role would have gone to Russell – has it really been 35 years since Escape from New York? Russell’s performance recalls his work in Tombstone as Wyatt Earp; same kind of gravelly intensity here. As for Wahlberg, roles like Mike Williams are tailor-made for him. He has settled into a niche which suits him perfectly; if you look at most of his roles over the last five years they are very similar in that we’re talking about ordinary family men placed in extraordinary situations that give them an opportunity to do heroic deeds. This won’t be remembered as Wahlberg’s finest hour, but it is certainly right in his wheelhouse.

The Deepwater Horizon set is absolutely amazing. The production designers recreated it at 85% of scale and it may be the largest set ever built for a single film (although the Egyptian set for Intolerance may have given this a run for its money but the special effects crew does some amazing work here. It’s hard to believe the actors didn’t get burned on a regular basis.

The ending features a tribute to the survivors as well as those who didn’t and while I think that one is necessary, there’s a bit of mawkishness to those final scenes that precede it that was a bit off-putting to me. Still, it is clear that the movie was made respectfully and as far as entertainment value goes it is a solid work in that sense. However, I’m not sure how to feel about being entertained by a film depicting real events in which eleven people lost their lives. I suppose it’s no worse than being entertained by a film about a war in which millions lost their lives, or by Titanic in which a thousand people lost their lives – but it may be that the events of April 20, 2010 may be too fresh in the minds of the friends and families of the victims for this to be the right time to release this movie.

REASONS TO GO: The set is absolutely amazing. The film concentrates on the heroes aboard the doomed rig rather than at pointing fingers at those that doomed it.
REASONS TO STAY: The filmmakers don’t really look at the repercussions of the disaster with any depth. It’s a little too manipulative at the end.
FAMILY VALUES:  There is disturbing disaster imagery and sequences of violence, as well as some brief profanity.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT:  This is the first time Kate Hudson has appeared in a film with her stepfather Kurt Russell; they only share one scene together however.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 11/5/16: Rotten Tomatoes: 83% positive reviews. Metacritic: 68/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Perfect Storm
FINAL RATING: 6/10
NEXT: Birth of a Nation (2016)

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New Releases for the Week of September 30, 2016


Deepwater HorizonDEEPWATER HORIZON

(Summit) Mark Wahlberg, Kurt Russell, John Malkovich, Dylan O’Brien, Gina Rodriguez, Kate Hudson, Ethan Suplee, Joe Chrest, J.D. Evermore. Directed by Peter Berg

When an offshore oil drilling platform explodes in the Gulf of Mexico, it results in the worst oil spill in history, a spill whose effects continue to be felt all up and down the Gulf coast. What many people don’t know however is the story of the men and women who were on that platform when all hell broke loose. This is their story, one of heroism and sacrifice and of lives saved and lives lost.

See the trailer and clips here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: True Life Drama
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: PG-13 (for prolonged intense disaster sequences and related disturbing images, and brief strong language)

The Dressmaker

(Broad Green/Amazon) Kate Winslet, Liam Hemsworth, Hugo Weaving, Judy Davis. A haute couture dress designer returns to her small Australian hometown to discover the truth behind how her reputation was made to be notorious. The longer she stays, the more she discovers that not everything in the town is what it appears to be and that the people of the town have skeletons of their own hiding in hidden closets.

See the trailer, clips, interviews, featurettes and B-roll video here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Drama
Now Playing: AMC Altamonte Mall, Regal Winter Park Village

Rating: R (for brief language and a scene of violence)

Harry and Snowman

(FilmRise) Harry DeLeyer, Harriet DeLeyer, Andre DeLeyer, Marty DeLeyer. After the end of World War II, Dutch immigrant Harry DeLeyer wandered into a horse auction and on the spur of the moment bought a plow horse for $80 that was bound for the glue factory. Instead, within two years, he’d won the triple crown of Show Jumping, beating horses from blue blood estates with distinctive bloodlines. He tells the story of how that plow horse, whom Harry named Snowman, redeemed him.

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Documentary
Now Playing: AMC Loew’s Universal Cineplex
Rating: PG-13 (for brief language and some thematic material)

M.S. Dhoni: The Untold Story

(Fox Star) Sushant Singh Rajput, Kiara Advani, Disha Patani, Ram Charan. One of the greatest stars in the international sport of cricket is M.S. Dhoni. From the humble background of being a ticket taker at a stadium to being one of the greatest stars in it, his rise to captain of the Indian national team is the stuff of legend.

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Biographical Drama
Now Playing: AMC Loew’s Universal Cineplex

Rating: NR

Masterminds

(Relativity) Zach Galifianakis, Owen Wilson, Kristen Wiig, Jason Sudeikis. A bored armored car driver, falling for the flirtations of a work crush, becomes embroiled in a scheme put together by a group of half-baked criminals whose plan is flawed to say the least. Nonetheless against all odds he gets away with $17 million only to discover that he has been set up as the fall guy in this ludicrous scheme. Evading the cops and an incompetent hit man, he must find away to turn the tables on these guys before he falls in even further than he already is.

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Comedy
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: PG-13 (for crude and sexual humor, some language and violence)

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children

(20th Century Fox) Asa Butterfield, Eva Green, Samuel L. Jackson, Judi DenchA young boy discovers a mystery involving alternate realities, the nature of time and the existence of children with amazing powers who have been put into a place where they are protected – but that safety is an illusion. The boy will have to find his own special and peculiar ability and protect the kids or lose them to a dark, sinister being. Tim Burton is the director.

See the trailer, clips, interviews and a featurette here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Fantasy
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: PG-13 (for intense sequences of fantasy action/violence and peril)

Morris from America

(A24) Craig Robinson, Markees Christmas, Carla Juri, Patrick Goldenberg. A young boy is torn away from everything he knows when his father accepts a job in Germany, putting the boy’s burgeoning hip-hop stardom plans on hold. However, he finds that life in Germany is much different than he expected – and his dreams of being a rap star are much closer than he realizes. A hit at both the Sundance and Florida Film Festivals earlier this year.

See the trailer and clips here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Dramedy
Now Playing: Enzian Theater

Rating: R (for teen drug use and partying, sexual material, brief nudity and language throughout)

Queen of Katwe

(Disney) David Oyelowo, Lupita Nyong’o, Madina Nalwanga, Martin Kabanza. Phiona Mutesi, a ten-year-old living in the slum of Katwe in the Ugandan city of Kampala, has really no expectations for a life different than the one she’s always known. However, when she shows a natural aptitude for chess, it may prove to be the ticket out of poverty for her and her family – if she can master the discipline of being a grand master, that is.

See the trailer, interviews and B-roll video here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Biographical Drama
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: PG (for thematic elements, an accident scene and some suggestive material)

Train to Busan

(Well-Go) Yoo Gong, Soo-an Sim, Yu-mi Jeong, Dong-seok Ma. A businessman takes a train with his young daughter to see her mother, but a virus breaks out on the train, turning peaceful passengers into ravening zombies. The father teams up with some of the other survivors to protect his daughter and survive the trip to Busan.

See the trailer and a clip here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Horror
Now Playing: Enzian Theater

Rating: NR

True Story


Jonah Hill takes James Franco's order in the studio commissary.

Jonah Hill takes James Franco’s order in the studio commissary.

(2015) True Life Drama (Fox Searchlight) Jonah Hill, James Franco, Felicity Jones, Maria Dizzia, Ethan Suplee, Conor Kikot, Charlotte Driscoll, Stella Rae Payne, Robert John Burke, Byron Jennings, Gretchen Mol, Betty Gilpin, Seth Barrish, Robert Stanton, Michael Countryman, Steve Routman, Genevieve Angelson, Adam Mucci, Auden Thornton. Directed by Rupert Goold

It is the journalist’s calling – or at least their job – to seek the truth, or at least the truth that can be proved by facts. It isn’t always easy to do, particularly when you’re dealing with clever liars and master manipulators.

Mike Finkel (Hill) was a respected reporter for the New York Times – he’d written eight cover stories for the coveted Sunday magazine. It was the eighth that got him into trouble; feeling the pressure to make the story readable, he’d consolidated events and characters into a single kid while doing a piece on abuses at a West African cocoa plantation (in reality, the real Finkel got in trouble for a piece on the continued slave trade coming out of Africa). His career in tatters, he runs home to his wife Jill (Jones) in Montana. It appears that he will have to find something else to do with his life.

Then he gets a call from Pat Frato (Suplee), a journalist at the Portland Oregonian who delivers some startling news. Apparently Christian Longo (Franco), a man accused of brutally murdering his entire family, had been apprehended and apparently had been masquerading as a former reporter for the Times  – three guesses which one and the first two don’t count.

Curious as to why Longo would choose his identity to steal, Finkel arranges to get some interview time with Longo. Finkel becomes fascinated – Jill might say obsessed – with the charismatic and handsome Longo, who seems to have everyone around him wrapped around his little finger. He seems to be genuinely and deeply grieving for his murdered family. He also is taking an interest in learning how to write, the more to be like Mike.

The more time Finkel spends with Longo, the less certain he is of his guilt. Finkel begins to dig into things and discovers eventually that not everything – nor everyone – is as it seems around these parts. Soon Mike must make the choice as to whether he thinks that Longo is a master manipulator who is playing the tune that everyone around him dances to, or if he is truly innocent and bereaved.

This is based on the real Mike Finkel’s memoirs about the case and his experiences with Christian Longo. In all honesty, there are a lot of fact fudges in here which is a bit ironic because the whole theme of the movie is trust and lies. First time filmmaker Goold has extensive experience directing stage plays and in most of the interior pieces it shows with literally just a succession of one and two shots that shows little understanding of the depth of the big screen compared to the stage.

What is more disturbing is the lack of energy displayed here. Yes, the setting is the Pacific Northwest and there is a constant shroud of rain and fog on the exteriors, and we don’t see the sun in virtually any of this film other than flashbacks or New York City. But it seems like the cast is in the fog as well; not quite zombies but like everyone pulled an all-nighter and is falling asleep where they’re standing.

Hill and Franco are more or less the exceptions, and the chemistry they have together is undeniable but long story short it isn’t enough to elevate this film which is actually adequate enough in terms of entertainment value mainly because of the two leads and the compelling story. Unfortunately the attempts to make it a morality play kind of fall a bit flat.

REASONS TO GO: Hill and Franco make a good team. Nice Pacific Northwest vistas.
REASONS TO STAY: Lacks energy and inertia. Doesn’t really inspire passion in the audience.
FAMILY VALUES: A fair amount of foul language, some disturbing images and unsettling thematic material.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The fingerprint pattern on the movie’s poster is actually made up of the word “LIES” printed over and over again.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 4/27/15: Rotten Tomatoes: 47% positive reviews. Metacritic: 50/100
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Murder in the First
FINAL RATING:
6/10
NEXT:
Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter

New Releases for the Week of April 17, 2015


Paul Blart Mall Cop 2PAUL BLART: MALL COP 2

(Columbia) Kevin James, Raini Rodriguez, Eduardo Verastegui, Daniela Alonso, Neal McDonough, David Henrie, D.B. Woodside, Nicholas Turturro, Ana Gasteyer. Directed by Andy Frickman

After six years of keeping his mall safe, you’d think Paul Blart would have earned a vacation. Given the opportunity to speak at a security officers convention in Vegas, he decides to bring his teenage daughter with him for one last family vacation before she goes off to college. However, when Blart gets wind that a security professional is planning a major heist, Blart goes into high gear to detect, observe, detain and…oh, what was that again?

See the trailer, interviews, clips and B-roll video here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release Formats: Standard (opens Thursday)
Genre: Comedy
Now Playing: Wide Release
Rating: PG (for some violence)

Child 44

(Summit) Tom Hardy, Joel Kinnaman, Gary Oldman, Noomi Rapace. A 1950s-era Soviet secret policeman, exiled to a remote provincial outpost for refusing to denounce his wife as a traitor, joins forces with an army General to find a serial killer that preys on young boys. The problem is that officially speaking, there are no serial killers in the Soviet Union and so they find themselves fighting their own government to protect those who need protection the most.

See the trailer, interviews and B-roll video here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Thriller
Now Playing: AMC Altamonte Mall, AMC Downtown Disney, Regal Winter Park Village
Rating: R (for violence, some disturbing images, language and a scene of sexuality) 

Monkey Kingdom

(DisneyNature) Tina Fey (voice). Focuses on a young mother and her newborn son who are part of a troop of monkeys that live in the ruins of an ancient temple. Low standing on the social ladder puts them near the bottom of the food chain, so the two face constant starvation and threats from other monkeys. Then, when the whole tribe is forced out of their ancestral home into a more urban environment, everything changes.

See the trailer, clips, featurettes and B-roll video here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release Formats: Standard (opens Thursday)
Genre: Nature Documentary
Now Playing: Wide Release
Rating: G

The Squeeze

(ARC Entertainment) Jeremy Sumpter, Christopher McDonald, Jillian Murray, Michael Nouri. A caper film about a notorious gambler who discovers a modest young man in a rural town with astonishing golf skills. While the golfer dreams of winning the U.S. Open, the gambler knows it would be far more lucrative for him to become involved in high stakes match play. However, the stakes continue to grow higher and higher until they become life or death.

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Dramedy
Now Playing: AMC Downtown Disney
Rating: PG-13 (for some sexuality, language, drug material and thematic elements)

True Story

(Fox Searchlight) Jonah Hill, James Franco, Felicity Jones, Ethan Suplee. A disgraced New York Times reporter discovers to his shock that a serial killer has taken his identity. When he goes to interview the man who claimed to be him when he was arrested, the reporter embarks on a deadly game of cat and mouse with the accused and as the reporter sets out to unravel the tangled skein of the killer’s deceptions, the balance will teeter between redemption and loss.

See the trailer, clips and a featurette here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release Formats: Standard
Genre: True Life Drama
Now Playing: AMC Altamonte Mall, AMC Downtown Disney, Cinemark Artegon Marketplace, Regal Oviedo Mall, Regal Winter Park Village
Rating: R (for language and some disturbing material)

Unfriended

(Universal) Heather Sossaman, Matthew Bohrer, Courtney Halverson, Shelley Hennig. When the video of a vicious bully getting drunk and doing things not in her character are posted online, the girl commits suicide. A year later, a group of her victims are chatting on Skype when they are stalked by a mysterious figure who wants to know which one of them posted the video. As the friends are bumped off one by one it soon becomes apparent that they aren’t dealing with an earthly threat.

See the trailer and a promo here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release Formats: Standard (opens Thursday)
Genre: Horror
Now Playing: Wide Release
Rating: R (for violent content, pervasive language, some sexuality, and drug and alcohol use – all involving teens)

While We’re Young

(A24) Ben Stiller, Naomi Watts, Adam Driver, Amanda Seyfried. The latest from indie darling Noah Baumbach finds a middle aged couple having their lives and their points of view changed by the friendship of a younger, hipper couple. Their newfound friends remind them that of who they were and what they’ve become; and they kinda prefer their old selves to their new.

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Comedy
Now Playing: Cinemark Artegon Marketplace, AMC Downtown Disney, Regal Winter Park Village
Rating: R (for language)

Yellow (2012)


Beware of yellow in the pool.

Beware of yellow in the pool.

(2012) Dramedy (Medient) Heather Wahlquist, Melanie Griffith, Sienna Miller, Gena Rowlands, Lucy Punch, Ray Liotta, David Morse, Max Thieriot, Daviegh Chase, Riley Keough, Brendan Sexton, Ethan Suplee, Elizabeth Daily, Cassandra Jean, Onata Aprile, Gary Stretch, Nancy De Mayo, Malea Richardson, Bella Dayne, Tonya Cornelisse. Directed by Nick Cassavetes

Florida Film Festival 2014

There are those of us who live mainly in our heads. What must that be like if they are constantly bombed out of their skulls on drugs and alcohol?

Mary Holmes (Wahlquist) is a substitute teacher who fits that description. She brings her yellow painkillers and bottles of alcohol to school with her. Some of the teachers at the school think of her as the school bicycle – everybody’s had a ride. When one of the parents partake of her pleasures, she loses her job.

Mary copes with an often harsh reality by escaping into fantasy. School meetings turn into opera; a bike ride in the neighborhood becomes a psychedelic animation. She talks with her non-existent children, all of whom were aborted. When she goes home to Oklahoma to lick her wounds, her family is perhaps more eccentric than she – a hyper-religious grandmother (Rowlands), a sister (Punch) who is mentally ill and a mother (Griffith) who is as far away from reality as Mary herself.

Nick Cassavetes is a talented and promising director. His father John was known as one of the founders of independent cinema and was a tremendous actor and director in his own right. In many ways, this film hearkens back to the freak-out cinema of his father’s era.

I’ve been deliberately vague about the plot. I think the movie works best when you don’t know so much about what’s coming. Some of the movie’s best moments come out of left field so I’ve left the plot description short and, hopefully, sweet.

David Morse, who plays Holmes’ therapist, is always a welcome addition to any cast. You will quickly realize the truth about his character if you’re reasonably observant and maybe have seen a movie or two. Melanie Griffith looks as good as she has in years, and this is one of her best roles ever. She is manic when she needs to be, nurturing at least on the surface and carries the wounds of a sordid past deep in her eyes. It’s a terrific role, particularly as the movie begins to divulge details about Mary’s past.

There are times that it is difficult to distinguish between Mary’s active fantasy life and reality. There is one point where the film violates its own internal logic and that has to do with Mary’s bitchy older sister Xanne and Mary’s illusory children. That’s a big no-no, but it only happens once thankfully.

The effects are pretty nifty (considering the minuscule budget the movie surely had) and the cast is impressive as well, again considering the budget. The movie looks awfully good. My issue with it is that the characters are just so damned unlikable. Nearly everyone in the movie has some sort of mental or emotional instability to varying degrees, enough so that I felt like I needed a shower after the screening was done.

Yellow was actually made in 2012 and is only getting to the festival circuit now. There hasn’t been a great deal of press on the movie thus far, at least that I could find, but nearly all of it has been highly laudatory. That should tell you something. Critics have a tendency to like films that are different. For most audiences, this is going to be a bit of a stretch. The movie didn’t connect with me personally and I found most of the characters to be repellant. There wasn’t anyone I could really latch onto and identify with which makes it difficult to engage with the film. Some of you out there won’t have that issue and will find this imaginative and innovative. I have no argument with that. However, I don’t believe that most audiences will feel the same. If you like things out there, a bit different and a bit edgy, you’ll be in heaven. Most audiences will find this bleak, confusing and too cerebral. Me, I found it to be a movie whose aims I respected but the execution for which I found unsatisfying.

REASONS TO GO: Imaginative. Some of the sequences are funnier than frack.

REASONS TO STAY: May be too out there for most.

FAMILY VALUES:  There’s drug use – lots and lots of drug use – and plenty of foul language with some sexuality as well.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Wahlquist, who co-wrote the screenplay, is Cassavetes’ wife and of course Rowlands is the director’s mother.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 5/30/14: Rotten Tomatoes: no score yet. Metacritic: no score yet.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas

FINAL RATING: 5/10

NEXT: Blue Ruin

The Wolf of Wall Street


Leonardo di Caprio knows he's getting an Oscar nomination.

Leonardo di Caprio knows he’s getting an Oscar nomination.

(2013) True Life Drama (Paramount) Leonardo di Caprio, Jonah Hill, Margot Robbie, Matthew McConaughey, Kyle Chandler, Rob Reiner, Jon Favreau, Jean Dujardin, Kenneth Choi, PJ Byrne, Jon Bernthal, Joanna Lumley, Cristin Miloti, Christine Ebersole, Shea Whigham, Katarina Cas, Brian Sacca, Henry Zebrowski, Ethan Suplee, MacKenzie Meehan. Directed by Martin Scorsese

We are all aware that there is something broken on Wall Street; it is often depicted as a kind of testosterone-infused drug-fueled locker room in which over-stimulated men essentially rob America blind. While there are plenty of honest stockbrokers, there is some truth to the notion that the culture of greed exists.

Jordan Belfort (di Caprio) is the poster boy for that culture. He starts off as an ambitious stockbroker, taken under the wing of a successful broker (McConaughey) who initiates him in the cult of screw you – making the customer money is not the first order of business. Getting his fees are. And keeping those fees coming in even if that means selling some poor schmuck stocks he can’t afford or worse, stocks the broker knows are going to lose money.

Belfort quickly realizes that the real money is to be made in owning his own firm and that selling penny stocks were a vastly underserved market in which the brokers can make a huge amount of money in a short amount of time. With partner Donny Azoff (Hill) Belfort founds Stratton Oakmont, a literal boiler room where brokers make high-pressure sales of penny stocks.

Belfort found that defrauding his clientele was far more profitable for him personally than actually working for it and soon finds himself with more money than he knows what to do with. Of course, men with more money than they know what to do with usually find things to do with it – drugs, prostitutes, a luxury yacht, a trophy wife. In Belfort’s case, the latter turns out to be Naomi (Robbie), a Jersey shore princess and model.

As Belfort’s shenanigans grow more egregious he and his firm attracts the attention of the FBI in the person of dogged agent Patrick Denham (Chandler). Constantly in a drugged haze of cocaine and Quaaludes, Belfort and Azoff decide to launder their money and use drug dealer Brad (Bernthal) and a loathsome Swiss banker (Dujardin) to do it. But as those who ride too high will tell you, the fall is inevitable and not very pretty when it comes.

Scorsese has delivered another masterpiece in his storied career. Frequent collaborator (this is the fifth movie they’ve done together) di Caprio is at his best. His manic portrayal of Belfort is almost certain to get an Oscar nomination later this month and is at the moment the odds on favorite to win the gold.

He is mesmerizing every moment he’s on the screen and this with a character that is basically a douchebag. He basically thumbs his nose at everything decent and does everything to the point where you could charitably call him evil and yet di Caprio is so good that we can’t turn away. Belfort is a train wreck of a human being and di Caprio keeps our eyes glued on him.

Hill also delivers what might be a superior performance to his Oscar-nominated turn in Moneyball. His Azoff is smarmy, smart but not as smart as Belfort and a bit cowardly. He is the kind of guy who wants to live the high life but doesn’t have the brains or the charisma to get it himself so he rides on Belfort’s coattails. At the end of the day, Hill makes this guy less of a rat and more of a flawed human being whose mantra of every man for himself informs his every decision.

I’ve noticed that conservative viewers tend to look at this movie as a liberal Hollywood hatchet job on Wall Street so those who tend to get their information from Fox News might want to give this one a skip. While the excesses here seem over-the-top, they are all documented – by the real Jordan Belfort himself. I must also add that while Belfort bilked his customers out of more than a billion dollars, he did go to jail for it. Some of the Wall Street bigwigs from established firms stole far more from their clients and damn near bankrupted our economy yet none of them are in jail. I guess it’s all in who you know.

Part of the downfall for Belfort is his drug use and that is depicted pretty graphically here. If the sight of di Caprio snorting a line off of a naked woman’s breasts is uncomfortable for you, if the idea of seeing the results of Quaalude intoxication makes you queasy, this might not be the movie for you. I must admit that a scene late in the movie in which Belfort and Azoff take some powerful Quaaludes that don’t have a reaction in the normal amount of time turns into one of the funniest scenes of the year. I have to admit I felt a little guilty about laughing at it; watching a drug addict having a seizure after an overdose sounds cruel but I suppose if you can’t laugh at someone who has to roll their way down a staircase and only able to communicate in a kind of hooting grunt, who can you laugh at?

Like some of Scorsese’s best films, there’s a hint of controversy involved and the movie definitely isn’t for conservative Wall Street apologists. However for everyone else, there is something to be said for watching someone playing so fast and so loose without a care for the consequences of his actions get his which leads to my next point; if I have one gripe about the movie it’s that there isn’t anything about the very real human consequences to Belfort’s clients. That aspect might illustrate the real tragedy of the Jordan Belfort story in that the people who paid for his crimes and continue to do so never really get a face.

REASONS TO GO: Di Caprio and Scorsese hit another one out of the park. Hysterically funny in places, heartbreaking in others.

REASONS TO STAY: Belfort is such a scumbag it’s really hard to identify with him let alone root for him.

FAMILY VALUES:  More drug use than you thought humanly possible, graphic nudity and sex, enough profanity to make Lenny Bruce blush and even a little violence for good measure.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Footage of the actual beach party in the Hamptons depicted here with the real Jordan Belfort can be found on YouTube.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 1/4/14: Rotten Tomatoes: 75% positive reviews. Metacritic: 75/100.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Boiler Room

FINAL RATING: 9/10

NEXT: The Punk Singer

The Dry Land


The Dry Land

Ryan O’Nan and America Ferrera look towards an uncertain future in the Heartland.

(2010) Drama (Freestyle) Ryan O’Nan, America Ferrera, Melissa Leo, Jason Ritter, Wilmer Valderrama, Ethan Suplee, June Diane Raphael, Diego Klattenhoff, Ana Claudia Talancon, Evan Jones, Zion Sandoval, Benito Martinez, Barry Shabaka Henley. Directed by Ryan Piers Williams

 

Some see war as a grand exercise in duty and honor, a means of achieving personal glory or perhaps advancing a cause through battle. Those of that mindset are not the ones usually on the front lines. Those warriors who actually fight, who risk life and limb are the ones who pay the price – even if they survive.

James (O’Nan) has returned home to Texas from his tour of duty a damaged soul. His body is OK, but the trauma of surviving unscathed sometimes is just as bad as the trauma of suffering grave injury. He can’t stop thinking about an ambush in which his buddy Henry (Klattenhoff) got hurt.

His wife Sarah (Ferrera) is only happy to have her man home at long last but it doesn’t take long for her to notice that he’s not the man who left for war all those months ago. He’s changed; he has become distant and brooding. She tries her hardest to break through; his best friend Michael (Ritter) tries as well but to no avail.

He takes a job in his father-in-law’s (Martinez) slaughterhouse but the scenes of death and butchery only serve to remind him of the carnage he witnessed in Afghanistan. He also begins to get suspicious of Sarah and Michael, wondering if they have a different agenda than his well-being.

James starts turning towards people who might have some frame of reference in understanding him, like his combat buddy Raymond Gonzales (Valderrama) who has returned home to a neighboring Texas town as well. Raymond is a volatile powder keg who is steadfast in his loyalty to his friends but with an unbelievably short fuse when it comes to everyone else. Together they decide on the spur of the moment to go visit Henry in the VA hospital. That meeting has unexpected consequences that lead to both James and Raymond going in unexpected directions – and Sarah may end up being caught in the crossfire.

The return of veterans home from war has been fodder for Hollywood for ages and none did it better than The Best Years of Our Lives which in essence set the template for movies like this one. In all honesty, I’m not sure what sort of experience Williams has with the military – whether he himself served or someone close to him – but he has the feel of it right.

Williams captures the camaraderie between brothers – as those who serve under fire inevitably are – with brevity and depth. There isn’t a lot of posturing here, the kind of lovefest you might find between drunks which is often how Hollywood portrays it. Instead there’s that simple, quiet knowledge that something has been shared that nobody else can understand unless they were there.

It helps that his cast does an excellent job here. There are no histrionics, no grand speechifying – just people trying to live their lives as best they can, keeping their heads down as much as possible and in general just getting on with things. It’s a quintessinally American outlook, the U.S. version of the stiff upper lip and Williams captures the attitude well.

I’ve been a big fan of Ferrera since I saw her in Real Woman Have Curves during Roger Ebert and Richard Roeper’s Floating Film Festival several years back and this might be her best performance to date. Sarah is a complicated character, a good woman who wants to be a good wife but one who has been alone for a long time and who now finds herself alone even though her husband is back home. It’s a heartbreaking performance and the emotional center of the movie.

O’Nan plays James as a cypher who keeps his emotions close to his vest. It’s not always an easy task to figure him out, but I think that it’s an honest portrayal; James should be difficult to peg. It gives the viewer a sense of what his family and friends are going through. It’s not a sympathetic performance maybe but it is a gutsy one.

Leo is one of my favorite actresses today and even though her part is small and very much in the vein of part she has been cast in seemingly every time out, she at least gives it enough subtle shading to make it unique. Ritter is showing signs of breaking out into legitimate stardom; he could be one performance away from achieving it.

The bleak and barren Texas landscapes are fine companions to the brutal images of the slaughterhouse. Some of those images might be disturbing to the sensitive; I understand the need for them though, although I might have used them a bit more sparingly. A little brutality goes a long way in a movie as understated as this one is.

Not everything works. Some of the more talky scenes seem to be at odds with the overall feel of the movie. The Dry Land is at its best when it is quiet. This isn’t a movie about bombast and noise; it is a movie about people quietly and perhaps desperately trying to cling to something while the world strips them of their dignity and even their humanity. There are some powerful messages to be had here when the movie is at its best; I would have wished for some more consistency  but there is enough worthy material to warrant keeping an eye out on Williams as  a potentially great filmmaker in the nascent stages of his career.

WHY RENT THIS: Taut performances from nearly all the cast. Some tremendous images, disturbing and otherwise.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Uneven. The reach exceeds the grasp but just by a little bit.

FAMILY VALUES: There is a good deal of bad language, some sexuality and violence as well as some disturbing situations.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: A number of the lead actors are TV sitcom veterans (Ferrera in “Ugly Betty,” Valderrama in “That ’70s Show” and Suplee in “My Name is Earl”).

NOTABLE HOME VIDEO EXTRAS: None listed.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $11,777 on an unreported production budget; I’m thinking this wasn’t profitable.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Brothers

FINAL RATING: 6.5/10

NEXT: Wild Target