Tuesday, December 31, 2013

The Wolf of Wall Street

Release Date: Dec 25, 2013 
Runtime: 2 hr. 59 min. 
Director: Martin Scorsese 
Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Jonah Hill, Kyle Chandler, Jean Dujardin, Matthew McConaughey.

Money may not buy you love but it sure can buy you a heck of a lot of other things, as seen here in "The Wolf of Wall Street," the latest collaboration between Martin Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio. Baring semblance to "Boiler Room," which was inspired by the same events, the film focuses on Jordan Belfort, an American stockbroker convicted of fraudulence. DiCaprio plays Belfort with impeccable arrogancy, commonly breaking the fourth wall to speak of his extravagance. Whether cavorting with prostitutes or in a drug-induced coma, his apathy towards wealth is entertaining, if oddly compelling. It's when the partying gets repetitious that the limelight fades away, revealing the repugnancies of his misdeeds and others out there like him. Scorsese bears no qualms in throwing it all out there, a masterful composition of obscenities506 to be exact. "The Wolf of Wall Street" is loud, belligerent and excessive, much like any power-hungry mogul, and for that it's indifferent of how obnoxious it can be. Yet the audacity of it all is the real reason for its allurement, demanding undivided attention til the last forsaken minute. Clocking in at three hours, it's taxing to say the least, with a bloated plot line that just as easily could've been two. But Wall Street takes no weaklings as neither does Scorsese. It's go big or go homepreferably with some money.

Rating: 4 stars

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

Release Date: Dec 25, 2013 
Runtime: 1 hr. 54 min. 
Director: Ben Stiller 
Cast: Ben Stiller, Kristen Wiig, Patton Oswalt, Shirley MacLaine, Adam Scott, Sean Penn.

Sometimes the smallest of adventures entail the greatest leaps of faith, and for "Walter Mitty," it's all about taking the plunge. Directed by and starring Ben Stiller in the role, it's a loose adaptation of the short story by James Thurber. When we first meet Mitty, he's a habitual daydreamer, fantasizing about ventures of heroic feat. But when his job at Life magazine nears to an imminent end, it's up to him to salvage their last issue at the risk of his wariness. A story about taking chances and living life to the fullest, it's an adage we all strive by in our everyday existence. Augmented by picturesque backdrops and artful motifs, the film's an unexpected turn for Stiller as director. As someone who's mainly focused on outlandish comedies, it's an experimental gamble that graciously pays off. As a result, it's less about the whimsy than having a positive sendoff, which is further enhanced by a memorable soundtrack. That's not to say the film is free from adversities, as it slows and simmers when it's not indulging in fantasies. Kristen Wiig's character lacks any form of substance, primarily standing in as the love interest of our protagonist. Though Stiller's Mitty is no stretch for the actor, he still encompasses the qualities that make him relatable. As we follow him on his quest for self-confidence, it's when we discover our own need to break free from the monotony. Wiig's character sums it best by saying, "life is about courage and going into the unknown." In time, Mitty does learn to let go and explore his potential, giving us a feel good movie that's as simple as that.

Rating: 3½ stars

Monday, December 30, 2013


Release Date: Dec 18, 2013 
Runtime: 1 hr. 59 min. 
Director: Spike Jonze
Cast: Joaquin Phoenix, Scarlett Johansson, Amy Adams, Chris Pratt, Rooney Mara.
Love is a complex emotion. It excites, it aches, it angers...it swallows you whole. We as humans are capable of such sentiment, but can a machine do the same? Can it feel? From the mind that brought us "Being John Malkovich" and "Where the Wild Things Are," comes a modern day love story unlike any other. Joaquin Phoenix stars as Theodore Twombly, an introverted man searching for companionship. He finds it in the most unlikely of places, an operating system named Samantha voiced by Scarlett Johansson. Together they embark on a fascinating journey – of finding love, seeing the world, and learning what it means to be 'human.' Phoenix gives a mesmerizing performance as a person who wears his heart on a sleeve. Through his endeavors, he experiences a gamut of emotions, which are seamlessly conveyed by just a flick of the face. Though Johansson's character is solely heard through her voice, her presence is genuinely felt in its corporeal entirety. Her personality and warmth emit incredible depth, making this reputably her best role to date. Much like Samantha's curiosity of the world, we as an audience can't help but feel enamored by their love and their ever-evolving relationship through the advancements of technology. Jonze, for his part, creates a subtle future, dismissing flying cars and teleportation in lieu of simpler effects. While the story can be viewed as fantastical and highly improbable, its the relevancy of it all that makes it that much conceivable. With all our hi-tech gadgetries and yearn for connection, who's to say we aren't, in someway, 'in love' with our devices?

Rating: 4½ stars

Sunday, December 29, 2013

American Hustle

Release Date: Dec 13, 2013 
Runtime: 2 hr. 9 min. 
Director: David O. Russell 
Cast: Christian Bale, Bradley Cooper, Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, Jennifer Lawrence.

What elevates a film not only relies upon the director but the very actors that bring his or her vision to life. It takes a team collaboration to periodically reel in success but another to assuredly materialize the script. Thanks to a topnotch cast of heavy hitters, that's exactly what we get in David O. Russell's "American Hustle." Loosely based on the sting operation that took place in the late 70's/early 80's, the film centers on a couple of con artists who get duped into advising the Feds. As one of the few directors who adheres to familiarity, it's no surprise to see stars from Russell's prior productions. Starring Christian Bale and Bradley Cooper, just to name a few, it's a convocation of nominees set out for award show resurgence. Bale miraculously transforms himself again for another physically-altering role, a true testament to his dedication as a method actor. Hardly recognizable under his misshapen toupee, his ever-changing appearance is just a fragment of his already prolific career. 2013 has been a big year for Lawrence and Adams, both playing prominent roles in a handful of pictures. That said, they compete admirably here in a battle for female dominance – Lawrence being another standout as the highly impulsive (or crazy) Rosalyn Rosenfeld. If there's one category this film is destined to win, it's for its stellar ensemble cast, unmatched against its fellow competitors. But aside from that, there are other noteworthy qualities: the hair, the fashion, and of course, the soulful music. It's a step back into time as dutifully shown by the old production cards, all of which conjure memories of Hollywood's past. As the film winds down, the main message is clear. Everyone hustles for something, whether it's love or truth. But in the end, we all share one commonality: we all hustle to survive.
Rating: 4 stars

Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues

Release Date: Dec 18, 2013 
Runtime: 1 hr. 59 min. 
Director: Adam McKay 
Cast: Will Ferrell, Paul Rudd, Steve Carell, David Koechner, Christina Applegate, Meagan Good, James Marsden, Kristen Wiig.

Nine years ago, one man changed the face of broadcasting. He read the news, he did it well and he looked good doing it, too. His name was Ron Burgundy, the pride of San Di-a-go. Lover of scotchy scotch-scotch and a friend to Baxter, he had it all: the woman, the hair, the fame. But all legends must gradually come to an end, and regrettably, the time has come for this well-coiffed anchor. Be it, having fan expectations after a lengthy hiatus, it's hard to look past any indicative flaws. The comedy, for one, is surprisingly unsteady, choppy and incoherent even for its outrageous nature. Sure, it has its moments of nostalgic restitution remnants of the first film that are lovingly unforgettable. But these in no way outweigh the inescapable bad forced dialogues of humor as awkward as Brick's ability to think. The extension of characters (Marsden, Good, or Wiig) offer no further consolation, albeit cameos run a dozen in the latter half of the film. One cameo in particular, for which I'll purposely leave unnamed, should stick to their day job if only for the betterment of this world. The story, moreover, is not that different from the first, although it does call upon other stereotypes, ie. race, in the workplace. The great thing about the first "Anchorman" was its incessant staying power, getting better with each viewing and, therefore, more memorable. Maybe in time the sequel can simulate to that effect, but for now it's best to just forgive and forget.

Rating: 2 stars

Saturday, December 28, 2013

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

Release Date: Dec 13, 2013
Runtime: 2 hr. 40 min. 
Director: Peter Jackson 
Cast: Ian McKellen, Martin Freeman, Richard Armitage, Benedict Cumberbatch, Evangeline Lilly, Orlando Bloom, Luke Evans, Stephen Fry.

When we last saw Bilbo (Martin Freeman) he was endlessly on the run, from dangers lurking at every corner. And it's where we continue this much-prolonged journey, not far from where we initially left off. Part two of "The Hobbit" is a filler sequel at best, bridging the gap between the first film and the climactic finale. Equally long and thoroughly detailed, it's a feat on its own considering the brief source material. But where there's a will there's a way and Jackson makes due, offering another engaging chapter in this Tolkien trilogy. Hobbit, Dwarves and Orcs return for this hightailed adventure in action scenes a plenty filled with tension and banter. Furthermore, the inclusion of Legolas (Orlando Bloom) is a welcome sight to see, giving nods to the future, or rather, what has already transpired. Yet perhaps the most anticipated arrival is Smaug himself, the elusive dragon voiced by none other than Benedict Cumberbatch. His deep-set tone effectively personifies the role, as he majestically breathes to life through the help of sleek CGI. Smaug's encounter with Bilbo is easily the high point of the film, with the exception of the barrel roll scene that is notably amusing. Jackson spares no expense when it comes to visual prowess, regularly topping himself with each new installment. But the use of 48fps is still far from appealing, appearing more like a video game rendering than actual movie. At any rate, "Desolation of Smaug" is a gratifying sequel, however stretched it feels to get to the inevitable cliffhanger. The delay is nothing compared to the whole year ahead of us, when "The Hobbit" returns with "The Battle of the Five Armies."

Rating: 3½ stars

Friday, December 6, 2013


Release Date: Nov 27, 2013
Runtime: 1 hr. 48 min. 
Director: Chris Buck, Jennifer Lee
Cast: Kristen Bell, Idina Menzel, Jonathan Groff, Josh Gad, Alan Tudyk.

A great, animated Disney movie usually possesses three decisive qualities: memorable songs, lovable characters and invaluable lessons. They're what reinvigorates our childhood and induces excitement – a simpler time when life was sung by melody. With claims boasting this latest as Disney's best animated feature since "The Lion King," it's a tall order to fill thanks to heightened expectations. But "Frozen" deftly performs above and beyond, and is one of the most charming films to release in recent memory. Similar to "Tangled," it's a modernized fairy tale, based loosely on Hans Christian Andersen's story of the Snow Queen. Lighthearted and sweet, and filled with toe-tapping numbers, it's impossible to watch without a smile on your face. Kristen Bell leads the voice cast of Broadway regulars, including Idina Menzel of "Wicked" fame. Though Bell fits the mold well of Disney standards, Menzel feels miscast in the voice of Elsa who appears not much older than Anna (Bell). Gifted with an incredible voice, she almost seems too 'old' for the role and therefore too powerful. This may be attuned to the given song choices, which sound decidedly younger and somewhat 'pop-pier.' Josh Gad provides the comic relief, as the magical snowman Olaf who brings a majority of the laughs. He's just one of the many gems found in the novelty of "Frozen," and that's in addition to the gorgeous animation. Disney has come a long way from 2D renditions and their 3D has only gotten better. One can't help but get lost in the beautiful, arctic landscapes, especially when paired with the catchy tunes. Though gone are the days of classic animation, it's nice to see the continuance of boundless imagination. Case in point: make sure to catch the short film (only in 3D) before the feature presentation. 

Rating: 4½ stars

Wednesday, December 4, 2013


Release Date: Nov 27, 2013 
Runtime: 1 hr. 58 min. 
Director: Spike Lee 
Cast: Josh Brolin, Elizabeth Olsen, Sharlto Copley, James Ransone, Samuel L. Jackson.

It's one thing to remake a movie and another to remake a cult classic, especially one as revered as "Oldboy," the ground-breaking Korean film based on the Japanese manga. Highly provocative and morally vexing, the original bore no limits when it came to glorifying the violence through the twisted mind of Park Chan Wook. Nevertheless, Spike Lee attempts to brave the impossible and inevitably suffers the common case of déjà vu. In both versions, "Oldboy" tells of a man imprisoned for many odd years only to be released inexplicably to track down his captor. A story doused in mystery and suspense, it's a gripping tale of revenge with an unexpected ending. And here lies the problem that hinders the remake, any element of surprise gone which belittles its sole purpose. Though some details are spared to adapt to a new audience, not much has changed or, more importantly, been improved upon. What made Park's adaptation so arrestingly poignant was its graphic nature and inclusion of metaphors. Lee, on the other hand, has little else to offer, other than a multi-floor hammer scene that still feels inferior. The casting, fortunately, is its only saving grace, as Brolin has epitomized tormented souls for what feels like half of his career (ie. "No Country for Old Men" and "True Grit.") Sharlto Copley continues his turn as villain, mirroring the soft-spoken tormentor played so brilliantly by Yoo Ji Tae. Together they strive towards a resolute ending, each with their own goal and provocation. But in the end it all feels anticlimactic, even with the alteration that perceivably gives some closure. Maybe to unbiased viewers the film will have its merits but to loyalists who were doubtful, there's really not much to see.

Rating: 2 stars