Weekly Mini-reviews: “The Wolf of Wall Street,” “All is Lost,” & More

December 29, 2013- January 4, 2014

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The Wolf of Wall Street | Martin Scorsese | 2013 | ★★★½

There are a lot of things to admire about The Wolf of Wall Street. For one, it’s Martin Scorsese’s most wild and energetic film in years and it’s as impeccably made as one could expect from him. It also features all-time great performances from Leonardo Dicaprio and Jonah Hill, and an equally great supporting cast made up of character actors who finally get a great opportunity to stand out. All in all, it’s a fantastic comedy, and one of the better films of the year. However, when it was all said and done, I could not help but say, “That’s it?” Ever since it started screening people could not stop talking about how it’s more shocking than anything you have ever seen or other stuff like that. The truth is that with the exception of a couple of scenes, it’s all the debauchery on screen is tame in comparison to what Harmony Korine put up on display with Spring Breakers. The other reason is that at although it’s three hours, it just feels like Scorsese has so much more that he wants to say on this story. I think they could have easily shaved another 30 to 45 minutes from this footage and it would have been a tighter film. Or they should have just let him release the four-hour cut he and Thelma Schoonmaker had once upon a time.


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Saving Mr. Banks | John Lee Hancock | 2013 | ★★★

I wasn’t really interested in Saving Mr. Banks as I didn’t really care for Mary Poppins the one time I watched it a few years ago. And really, Disney making a film about the making of a Disney film that involves Walt Disney? There’s no way this would be anything other than an exercise in self-promotion. While the film is ultimately that to a much lesser degree, the whole product is a fine piece of entertainment. The scenes that involve Emma Thompson’s P.L. Travers working with the screenwriter and the composers to make the film work in a way that pleases her are very fun and harsher than I though a fact-based Disney film would be. They work because Thompson is very committed and gives a career-topping performance. She could have gone over-the-top and played the character as a cartoon, but she ultimately gives a thoughtful and layered performance that holds the film together. Also, I liked how writer Kelly Marcel didn’t portray Walt Disney as the king of nice, and is just like any other human capable or manipulation and contempt. Tom Hanks does a nice job of portraying this multi-layered Disney even if his work is ultimately what you would expect. In fact, the whole cast is very good and you kind of forget that you are watching Jason Schwartzman, B.J. Novak, Bradley Whitford, and the others acting. It’s also has nice costume and production design that put you in the time this takes place in and don’t call attention to themselves.

I did have a couple of problems, both relating to director John Lee Hancock. The first one is that he didn’t handle the transitions from the main story to the flashbacks involving Traver’s past. Sometimes they came out of nowhere and marked a significant shift in tone and they tended to take me out of the movie. The other is that despite the fine production values and performances, the film is very much anonymous. While it’s not like, say, The Amazing Spider-Man where it was obvious the guys in the conference room were calling the shots, there’s no distinct visual signature that makes the film stand out.

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All is Lost | J.C. Chandor | 2013 | ★★★★

All is Lost may not have the wow factor and exemplary form of Gravity, but I found it to be an equally impressive and thrilling story of survival. While Alfonso Cuaron’s film relies on the visual effects and Sandra Bullock’s performance, director J.C. Chandor put the whole weight of the film on Robert Redford’s shoulders. This proved to be the right choice. His role is virtually silent (except for one great use of “fuck”) and there’s no background to the character, but Redford gives plays him with such grace and his face carries all of his years of experience that you I could not help but get involved in his journey and feel his desperation and brief moments of happiness. It’s one of the best films of the year.

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48 Hrs. | Walter Hill | 1982 | ★★½

Not much to say about this one. It was a drag until Eddie Murphy’s character was introduced, but even then it doesn’t take off until the set piece on the train station. It’s overall good, with a fantastic sense of time and place, and the neon-lit climax was great.

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Bevery Hills Cop II | Tony Scott | 1987 | ★★½

Not much to say about this one either. It was better than the first one because Tony Scott brought a better visual style to the story, even if it didn’t always fit the story. It was fun, with Judge Reinhold being the stand-out of the whole thing.

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The Flintstones | Brian Levant | 1994 | ★★½

I hadn’t seen this since I was a child, almost 20 years ago. I used to love it back then so I thought I’d give it a shot now. For the first 20 minutes, however, I was regretting that decision because, well, it’s obviously not the cartoon, and although I had seen it before, seeing John Goodman, Rick Moranis, Elizabeth Perkins, and Rosie O’Donnell in these roles and dressed the way they are dressed was jarring. But ultimately I got in the groove of things and I enjoyed myself despite the fact that it’s just not a very good movie. Besides, this is just about as good a movie based on The Flintstones was going to get, and there are a couple of things to admire about it such as the visual effects, dated though they may be, and the set design is clever. It also happens to be Elizabeth Taylor’s big screen swan song, which although it is far from her greatest role, it was a fun one to go out on (there have certainly been worse). Overall it’s fun. I’ll watch it again in 20 years.

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2 thoughts on “Weekly Mini-reviews: “The Wolf of Wall Street,” “All is Lost,” & More

  1. Wow, “Spring Breakers” showed more debauchery than “The Wolf of Wall Street”!

    “Saving Mr. Banks” was my #1 awaited film of 2013. I noticed you said you didn’t really think much of “Mary Poppins” when you saw it, so just curious, what would you consider to be your favorite live-action theatrical Disney film (purely Disney though, not like Marvel or Touchstone)?

    • Saving Mr. Banks did make me want to give Mary Poppins another look sometime soon.

      As for my favorite live action Disney film… I don’t know. I’m not too educated on them and frankly not many of them interest me. But from what I’ve seen I’d say Bridge to Terabithia, a genuinely great film. After that maybe Gore Verbinski’s four films at the studio.

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