Archive | December, 2013

The Wolf of Wall Street

26 Dec

‘The Wolf of Wall Street’: greed, lust, envy, hubris in Scorsese’s best since ‘Goodfellas’

By Tom Meek
December 25, 2013

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“The Wolf of Wall Street” is everything “American Hustle” wanted to be and more. It’s smart, mean and makes a pointed political statement while rolling in the excess of its characters. As far as drama goes, let’s face it, rags to riches and success isn’t so alluring. No one wants to see a nice guy make it – they want to see someone claw their way up, live large and fall hard. Look at “Scarface,” “Goodfellas” or “Wall Street” to name a few. “Wolf” and “Hustle” are less violent and black and white, but the elements of greed, lust, envy and hubris are all there in fine, fermented form.

122513i The Wolf of Wall Street

The two films too are based on true stories and take place in New York City during high-flying eras that predate cellphones and the Internet. “Hustle” jogs through the Abscam scandal of the 1970s via a petty con who, ensnared by the feds, helps draw in corrupt pols. “Wolf” is smaller fare, following the hilariously self-destructive travails of a hungry wannabe who, from humble origins, gets his brokerage license on the eve of the Black Friday market crash of 1987 and instead of cashing out and moving on to something more surefooted, goes on to parlay his smooth cold-calling skills into a pump-and-dump scheme, manipulating the penny stock market and making a killing on the 50 percent commissions. The sad underlying truth to “Wolf,” as wonderfully articulated by an over-the-top broker (a blazing Matthew McConaughey, adding to his banner year) teaching the naive “Wolf” pup the ropes over a five-martini lunch, is that money in motion is change in your pocket. Always be selling and always be buying; forget about value added. If money is made, good, but it’s all about movement.  Continue reading

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Inside: Llewyn Davis

26 Dec

‘Inside Llewyn Davis’: An impassioned troubadour with real couch jumping skills

By Tom Meek
December 20, 2013

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If there’s one thing about a Coen brothers movie, it’s never boring and usually a fresh spin on something that’s been dogeared and begging for a makeover. Sure, they’ve had some arguable miscues (”The Ladykillers” and “The Hudsucker Proxy”), but you have to admire the brothers for their panache, appetite and diversity. Their southwest thriller, “No Country for Old Men,” exceeded the vision of Cormack McCarthy’s laconic prose, “The Big Lebowski” become an instant cult staple and “Blood Simple” was a perfect Hitchcock homage without egregiously lifting. And of course there’s “Fargo,” perhaps the crowning jewel of the duo’s quirky repertoire. If the brothers Coen decided to step in and helm the next chapter of “The Expendables” franchise, even if addled by a script by series star Sylvester Stallone, I’d be the first in line to buy a ticket. You can’t go wrong. Whatever they do, it might not be your cup of tea, but it will stir your gray matter.

122013i Inside Llewyn DavisFor their latest, “Inside Llewyn Davis,” Joel and Ethan have wound back the clock to bohemian New York circa 1960, as doo-wop fades, mixes with the passion of the beats and folds in with the rising folk rock movement. It’s a time of discovery preceding Vietnam, counterculture rebellion and free love, yet still rooted loosely in post-World War II morality. The film’s titular hero, Llewyn Davis (Oscar Isaac), is an idealist and a self-absorbed asshole who’s intermittently sympathetic. By trade he’s a merchant marine shipping out with a gunny sack for long hauls, but he’s also an impassioned troubadour, plucking gentle, heartfelt ballads about daily misery and eternal yearning.  Llewyn takes himself quite seriously, and he’s also quick to take a handout and has no qualms about bitting the hand that feeds.  Continue reading

Walking with Dinosaurs

18 Dec

Published at 1:38 PM on December 17, 2013

BY TOM MEEK

<i>Walking with Dinosaurs</i>

Walking with Dinosaurs yields an alluring mashup of divergent facets, a cinematic Frankenstein that engrosses with vigor as it repels with inanity. Even the project itself is a hodgepodge of odds and ends. Produced by the BBC Earth team that created the similarly named documentary series that aired on U.S. educational outlets like NatGeo and the Discovery Channel, the film, which cost north of eighty million, almost didn’t get made as studio problems threatened to kill the funding, but aggressive ticket pre-sales carried it through. How great is that, a film that has paid for itself before even hitting theaters? And that’s probably why we’ve been seeing the trailers for it since mid-summer. 

Nebraska

13 Dec

This road trip’s payoff doesn’t come from the Publishers Clearing House

In his films, Alexander Payne has shown a strong predilection for men somewhere north of their prime, still adrift and looking for grounding. The roots of which took hold with “About Schmidt” (2002), got whacky and whiney with “Sideways” (2004) and then moved out onto the island of Hawaii with a more dour tone in “The Descendants” (2011). Payne’s latest, “Nebraska” may be the ultimate in mature male malfunction and, in a sweet elegiacal way, ties back to “Schmidt” as its protagonist, Woody Grant, played by a game Bruce Dern now nearing eighty, has a dry, fly-away comb-over reminiscent of Jack Nicholson’s hair-challenged Schmidt and ironically, in both films, those men’s wives were played by the same actress, June Squibb, who practically upends and nearly steals “Nebraska” as it sails into the third act.   Continue reading

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

12 Dec

The Hobbit‘s second installment is better than the first

An Unexpected Improvement

by 

Here's hoping the latest Hobbit doesn't look like a giant video game

One might think Peter Jackson is a man obsessed with trilogies. Out of J. R. R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy, he fairly spun three sweeping epics — one per book. Now circling back to Tolkien’s seminal The Hobbit, he’s gone and protracted that single volume into a three-part movie miniseries. There’s something inherently anti-climactic about serving up Lord of the Rings backstory after the heft of those movies themselves, but Jackson and his team of writers, including Pacific Rim director Guillermo del Toro and Jackson’s wife Fran Walsh, seem bent on creating mayhem out of what is actually a simple quest story. It slowly took root in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, and now with The Desolation of Smaug they’ve loosened the strings and opened up the throttle. Jackson too, behind the camera and at the cutting board, seems more assured. The result is bolstered by enthralling thrills and timely whimsy and is a marked step up from An Unexpected Journey.   Continue reading

Best of 2014

11 Dec

The Top 10

The Wolf of Wall Street
12 Years a Slave
A Hijacking
Blue is the Warmest Color
Spring Breakers
Rush
Blackfish
Short Term 12
Fruitvale Station
Blue Caprice  

…the contenders

Francis Ha
Gravity
Beyond the Hills
Blue Jasmine
The Act of Killing
Enough Said
The Butler
Stories  We Tell
Nebraska
Before Midnight

…also

Boston Film Critics’ 2013 picks