Since the 2010 release of the last film that Wes Anderson directed, “Moonrise Kingdom,” I have been looking forward to seeing what his next film would be.
Jason Bateman marked his directorial debut with “Bad Words,” a wickedly funny comedy that, despite the rather crude humor, manages to pack in a decent emotional message and pulls strong performances from its cast.
There’s an old French idiom that describes an overly ambitious person as one who has long teeth. “The Wolf of Wall Street” has long teeth. Jordan Belfort, the stockbroker whose life story inspired the film, was found guilty of manipulating the stock market and defrauding investors through a brokerage company called Stratton Oakmont.
Martin Scorsese, nominated for an Oscar for “Best Director” for the film, is a master of documenting how people get themselves into trouble, and DiCaprio’s character may be his most obnoxious troublemaker so far.
The film showcases quite a bit of slow-motion shots featuring financial brokers in drug-induced deliriums, accompanied by background opera music. Not to mention, the movie comes with a ton of swearing (Variety Magazine reported that “The Wolf of Wall Street” used the word f*** more than any feature film ever made.) The film’s comedy is instantly gratifying—just like the protagonist’s moneymaking schemes must have been – while at the same time leaving a bad taste in your mouth.
The film isn’t about DiCaprio’s character’s overindulgence in drugs, women, or boats. It’s about a powerful man who is crippled by his ad dictions. His obsession with money is nothing new; DiCaprio’s character is a younger, more carefree and glamorous version of Gordon Gekko (whose signature line was: “greed, for lack of a better word, is good”).
“The Wolf of Wall Street,” for lack of a better word, is good. It was recently nominated for an Academy Award for “Best Motion Picture,” among other honors. However, these nominations may have been awarded thanks to a well-timed release. While Dicaprio’s character made his mistakes in the 90s, it is fitting to watch bankers messing up in the post-recession era.
While Belfort’s fixation on money is nothing new, the film calls attention to the public’s lack of concern towards the boring, technical side of financial ethics. The script often has the protagonist beginning to explain complex financial terms to the audience only to stop midway through, declaring that all we want to see is the naked girls, drugs, and money anyways. This theme is repeated at the end of the film, when the FBI agent that led the investigation against Belfort flips through the newspaper to discover that the story about Belfort’s conviction is just a short blurb in the business section. It is likely that this incident truly occurred when the real Belfort, who is now a motivational speaker, was convicted. Not many people took notice.
The public did take notice of Hollywood’s depiction of the event though, and the movie has already grossed more than $175 million worldwide. You’re probably going to want to watch this film just because everyone’s talking about it. Go ahead, satisfy your curiosity, and just don’t bring high expectations or grandma with you to the theater.
Watching “Nebraska,” the new film from director Alexander Payne, is a bit like flying home to visit your family at Christmas. You’ll laugh, you’ll get weepy, you’ll love till it hurts, and you’ll probably — more than once — feel an intense desire to punch someone in the face. “Nebraska,” in short, takes every emotion and experience of a family get-together and paints them liberally, with both Midwestern grit and artistic nuance, into a breezy 110-minute film. It’s deliriously good.
The film stars acting legend Bruce Dern (you may recognize him from a brutal cameo in “Django Unchained”) as Woody Grant, a crotchety, increasingly senile old man on a mission: to get from Montana to Lincoln, Nebraska in order to claim $1 million from one of those bogus sweepstake ads. Along the way, he visits his rapidly disappearing hometown in addition to his equally antiquated extended family. Dern carries the film with equal parts hardheaded swagger and fragile vulnerability: a role that truly shows his talents as an actor. Dern won a well-deserved Palm d’Or, the highest prized award, at the Cannes Film Festival for his performance. I’ll be shocked if he isn’t considered an Oscar frontrunner.
Despite his lofty win, Dern spoke humbly about his achievement as a reflection of the entire film, praising writer Bob Nelson’s script: “The French — they got it, which surprised me because they’re reading subtitles…You just do the story; the story’s on the page.”
The film is shot in black and white, which, although probably not essential, does give the viewer the sense of the stark, disappearing Midwest.
The film also stars Will Forte as David Grant, Woody’s youngest son, who agrees to drive him to Nebraska. Forte, best known for his wacky characters and impersonations on “Saturday Night Live,” proves that he is perfectly capable of providing some seriousness. His performance is completely genuine, and I look forward to seeing more of him in similar roles.
Fortunately, despite getting teased from Dern (“He’s out in Cloudy with Meatballs Part Two — I mean, how dramatic do you want him to be?”), Forte seemed enthusiastic about this change of pace for his career. “I’m really so proud to be in this movie. I would love to have more opportunities like this,” said Forte.
The supporting cast is top notch as well. June Squibb plays Kate Grant — Woody’s wife and David’s mother — a foul-mouthed, miserably married woman dealing with Woody’s dementia and pig-headedness. Squibb is a true, live wire.
Stacy Keach also makes a memorable appearance as the scheming Ed Peagram, Woody’s old business partner. Despite acting pleasant and pleased for Woody, Peagram quickly takes advantage of him, trying to weasel out a cut of the money. When asked if either of them had experienced a similar kind of pressure, Forte and Dern had differing responses. Forte complimented his friends and explained his growing ability to choose the right people with whom to spend time: “I have a wonderful group of friends. You just kind of evolve as a friend-chooser.” Dern, however, has gotten plenty of requests. “Can you get me an interview with him? Can I meet Jack [Nicholson]? They press their advantage.” Dern also admitted, with a wry smile, of being “just as much a whore as anybody.” He once crossed off Harry Dean Stanton’s name from a casting director’s register and put his own name down, taking Stanton’s prime 3 o’clock slot.
Overall, “Nebraska” is excellent at creating comedy out of everyday family experiences. Nothing feels forced and most of the jokes are simple — the kind of thing that would naturally happen and cause a quick giggle to ripple across a dinner table. (You couldn’t keep a straight face if you heard a karaoke version of “In the Ghetto” at a cheap steakhouse, could you?) The obvious contrast between Woody’s sons and his Nebraskan relatives also provides some of the funniest moments in the film, as does Woody’s increasingly poor ability to pay attention.
The film is shot in black and white, which, although probably not essential, does give the viewer the sense of the stark, disappearing Midwest. It also contributes to the difficult relationship between Woody and his son. Alexander Payne’s film is very nuanced, with nearly every shot set up to provide artistic or emotional depth. It is a graceful film, full of warmth and heart, and one that anyone could and should enjoy.
Image courtesy of Paramount Pictures
The trailer for Wes Anderson’s latest indie flick, “The Grand Budapest Hotel,” was released last week. For those of you who are not familiar with Wes Anderson, here is a brief guide on the film director and his incredible movies.
Wes Anderson has created, written, and directed many iconic pieces of cinema. It all started when he met actor Owen Wilson in college, and decided to write and direct a short film. When “Bottle Rocket” was released in 1994, it was well-received, and Anderson and Wilson were given money to make it into a feature film. This was the first film Anderson directed, and the first film you should watch when diving into the world of Wes Anderson. The story is about of three friends and their overly elaborate plan to pull a very simple robbery and make a run for it. The main characters are brothers Luke and Owen Wilson, who appear in a majority of Anderson’s work. “Bottle Rocket” is a hysterical crime comedy that will give you a sense of the unique, artistic style that all of Anderson’s films possess.
“The Royal Tenenbaums” is Anderson’s most star studded movie featuring: Gene Hackman, Anjelica Huston, Ben Stiller, Gwyneth Paltrow, Luke Wilson, Owen Wilson, and Bill Murray. The film tells the story of an estranged family of prodigies who reunite after their father, Royal Tenenbaum, announces that he has a terminal illness. The screenplay is exceptional, and the humor is distinctive to Wes Anderson. You are guaranteed to laugh. The characters in “The Royal Tenenbaums” are so well-developed that you really feel like you know them by the end of the film. This is a one-of-a-kind movie and a must-see.
If you like extremely quirky humor, “The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou” is perfect for you. Starring Bill Murray, the film is about Steve Zissou, an oceanographer who lost his partner to a mythical shark creature. He rallies a team of people, including his ex-wife (Anjelica Huston) and his “maybe” biological son (Owen Wilson), to find his partner. “The Life Aquatic” is an adventure, drama, and comedy all balled up into one enjoyable film. Murray’s performance as the irreplaceable Steve Zissou is phenomenal as he makes the film his own.
Anderson’s films are whimsical, and it is almost like he paints the scenes to create the highly stylized visuals that are present in his films. “Moonrise Kingdom” is a perfect example of this, and is definitely my favorite Wes Anderson film. “Moonrise Kingdom” is a love story between two young pen-pals who are unhappy with their current lives. They live on the small, secluded island of New Penzance, and decide to run away together and journey through the island trails. Sam Shakusky and Suzy Bishop have a love story unlike any other, and the madness that ensues after their escape is hilarious. Their running away incites a search party that involves the entire island and turns into a crazy chase for the two kids. The music composed by Alexandre Desplat (“The King’s Speech”) complements Wes Anderson’s artistic style. People of any age can enjoy the humor in this film, and it is arguably the best film Anderson has directed.
A few other notable films to watch are the family cartoon “Fantastic Mr. Fox,” “The Darjeeling Limited” and “Rushmore.”
Once you get through the sequence of films leading up to the newest, “The Grand Budapest Hotel,” you should be familiar enough with Anderson’s style to fully appreciate it. “The Grand Budapest Hotel” is the complex story of Gustave H, a concierge at a grand hotel, and his lobby boy, who becoms his most trusted ally. This movie has a lot of hype surrounding it and I do not doubt that it will live up to Anderson’s other films. It also features an all-star cast and is bound to be a great.
Hop on Netflix, grab some popcorn and immerse yourself in the world of Wes Anderson. “The Grand Budapest Hotel” is set to be released early 2014.
In It’s a Wonderful Life, James Stewart learns that, despite all of his economic woes, he is both loved and needed in his community. By the end of the film, Stewart finds that his life really does have meaning and importance by virtue of his worth to the community around him. Although he faces some personal trials, Stewart realizes that it’s the intangible things – love, friendship, and faith – which are truly important.
In Die Hard, John McClane faces his own trials by virtue of his fear of flying. A nearby passenger with a dim grasp on foot anatomy advises McClane to toss away his shoes in favor of “making fists with his toes” as an antidote to the fear, and our protagonist reluctantly takes the advice. After callously abandoning all footwear, McClane suddenly learns that what he’s taken for granted all his life is what he needs most…when he has to run barefoot across glass!
Both It’s A Wonderful Life and Die Hard espouse the same philosophy: you shouldn’t take things – yourself, your value to the community, shoes – for granted; yet Die Hard does it in a much more effective way: with extravagant torture.
All notions of giving and receiving aside, many movies hold that the real purpose of Christmas is to emphasize togetherness and family. In Die Hard, the giant blond terrorist, Karl, learns that all the untraceable bearer bonds in the world are not nearly as important as his dear brother. Unfortunately, he learns this after John McClane casually murders his sibling. Karl is so overcome by vengeance and grief at this realization that he abandons all thoughts of self-preservation and dies futilely while trying to kill Bruce Willis. He was so torn apart by the loss of his family that he wasn’t thinking logically, and was thus killed easily. So you see, John McClane also knows family is important; that’s why he makes sure to take them out first.
Christmas is, by and large, a celebration of the birth of Jesus. It is a day to give all acknowledgement and glory to the Lord. Bruce Willis screams “Jesus Christ!” like eighty times in Die Hard. That counts. Mark it.
Die Hard, likewise, is absolutely riddled with Christmas Miracles: Hans Gruber has absolute faith that the FBI will cut the electricity to Nakatomi Plaza and they do it right on schedule, Argyle has faith that he’ll be the first jive-talkin’ black sidekick in cinematic history not to die a horrible, disposable death, and he is still alive as the credits roll, while John McClane regularly demonstrates remarkable faith that the laws of physics will temporarily suspend themselves every time he manages to survive his reality-bending acrobatics.
So when you finally arrange for your close ones to gather in the living room by the familiar warmth of the fireplace with a copy of John McTiernan’s Die Hard, try to look beyond the mindless violence and machismo and surely you will discover the true values of the Holidays deeply imbedded in the fabric of Bruce Willis’ action-flick.