Category Archives: Leonardo Dicaprio

Movie Review: The Wolf of Wall Street

Image via Slate

“The Wolf of Wall Street” is the rare film in which its trailer is not misleading. If you came anticipating flying midgets and strippers with money taped to them, that is exactly what you will get.

Although he has dipped his toes into very different territory over the years (“The Aviator,” “Hugo”), Martin Scorsese returns to the world of crime and money again and again. Each time, he seems to have something new to say about it, and gives us another rags to riches villain to engrain into our memories.

Meet Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio), a middle class kid from Bayside, Queens who just wants to make millions. His ambition brings him to Wall Street where he meets a broker (Matthew McConaughey) who teaches him how to survive on Wall Street, mainly through increased sex and drug intake.

Through some successes and failures over the next few years, Belfort finds himself in the penny stock business and eventually, he becomes a multimillionaire. He begins to live a life of excess as opposed to luxury. Those with enough money are comfortable. Then there are people like Jordan Belfort, who have more money than they can spend, and thus have wealth-induced anxiety. I hate that I am about to type this, but I feel like I have to: more money really does mean more problems.

Scorsese fights excess with excess. With a running time that just hits the three hour mark, he revels in the insane behavior that took place at Stratton Oakmont and then reprimands it. “The Wolf of Wall Street” embodies the truism that crime doesn’t pay, and it has such a fun time in doing so. “The Wolf of Wall Street” is a comedy, through and through, and by far one of the funniest movies of the year. This is a satire with consequences. It allows its actors to show off comic skills that you knew or didn’t know that they ever had.

Scorsese’s films with DiCaprio has proven to be one of the most successful actor-director collaborations ever, and about as close to the pairing that Scorsese and DeNiro once had. DiCaprio has never had a real comedic role before, which is a shame; he has never been funnier than he is in “The Wolf of Wall Street.” His drug-addled physical commitment to his performance turns Jordan Belfort into the weirdest kind of cartoon – the kind that will slink and slither as much as he needs to so long as it helps him put more money in his pocket. And while DiCaprio could probably make a rock seem charismatic, he has especially good chemistry with Jonah Hill, who plays his sidekick, Donnie Azoff. Many of the scenes are focused on Hill’s ability to bounce off another person in long banter sessions. He is as good with DiCaprio as he has been in past comedies with Michael Cera and Channing Tatum.

“The Wolf of Wall Street” proves that age has nothing on Scorsese. He recently said that he thinks he only has a few films left in him. However, his directorial style is as fresh today as it was when he first started. His view of the world lends itself to so many different times and places. However, it is fantastic to see him back in his home turf. Whether it is the 1860s in Five Points or the 1990s on Wall Street, Scorsese knows New York better than anyone. He captures the neighborhoods, the accents, and the attitudes. His hyperactive directing style lends itself so well to the chaotic energy of the city.

This film has been compared many times to “Goodfellas,” you know, that movie you will watch to completion anytime it is on cable. While the comparison sets “Wolf” up for high expectations, it is a fair one. “Wolf” is filled with criss-crossing perspectives and multiple voiceovers. This is Jordan’s story, and he gets a chance to try and justify himself with the perspective of time. However, allowing the side characters to comment is a sly way to let the audience know that the narrator cannot be trusted.

In the world of “The Wolf of Wall Street,” stockbrokers are the new gangsters: kids aspire to be them, women want to be with them. They see what they want and they take it. However, Henry Hill is something of a sympathetic figure, while Jordan Belfort does not come close to being sympathetic. The fact that the film is able to get this across is part of what makes it so good. While “Goodfellas” showed that gangsters could be average guys who found some short cuts to success, “The Wolf of Wall Street” portrays criminals as reverse Robin Hoods who got rich by ripping off the working class. “Wolf” is really about class warfare. The scene where Belfort and his gang launch little people for their own entertainment struck me as biting, yet sad comedy. It is about the equivalent of the scene in “History of the World: Part I” where King Louis shoots peasants for fun, the same people he is supposed to be looking out for.

Nobody contradicts himself for artistic gain quite as well as Scorsese does. Throughout the film’s run, quaaludes are snorted and orgies are had, and we get to experience the feeling of being involved in all of these. Scorsese has an amazing ability of being able to boil down the business of crime into something understandable. Sure, little pieces could have been trimmed off of the film here and there, but no scene really needed to be removed completely. There is never a boring moment in the film, something that cannot be said for most films that are half the length of “The Wolf of Wall Street.” You will enjoy every moment of what is on screen, and then question why you enjoyed something about a subject so dark. This is provocation done right in one of the best films of the year.

Brain Farts From The Edge (Minor Spoilers/Spoilers For Real Life Ahead)

  • Matthew McConaughey is barely in the film, but he still deserves an Oscar nomination. I also like how most directors seem to have given up on trying to get him to drop his Texas accent.
  • As Always, Kyle Chandler plays the authority figure. Luckily, he has more of a personality than he did in “Argo” and “Zero Dark Thirty.” Plus, he gets to curse. Go coach!
  • The chimp in roller skates needed more screen time. He is as intriguing as the llama they always show backstage on “Saturday Night Live” but never explain.
  • Apparently, Belfort’s main influence for his get rich quick scheme was Gordon Gekko of “Wall Street.” This once again proves that people are really, really bad at understanding simple irony.
  • The quaalude tripping scene is unbelievable. From the Popeye reference to Belfort’s attempt to gain control of his own body, this is one of the funniest scenes of the year. Like tear-inducing laughter. It’s like a slightly more down-to-earth version of the drug trip sequence from “21 Jump Street.”
  • During the drug trip, one very long lasting shot weirdly reminded me of the hanging scene in “12 Years a Slave.” Talk about two very different kinds of struggles.
  • Something about this movie really makes me want to go eat in a diner in Queens.
  • I immensely enjoyed the scene where Rob Reiner yelled at his wife over the TV show. It is really fun to watch old Jews argue.
  • On that note, I don’t know what “The Equalizer” is, but I would totally watch it.
  • One scene I could have done without (SPOILERS!): After Naomi (Margot Robbie) tells Jordan she wants a divorce and Jordan tries to steal his own daughter. It felt both unnecessary and painful to watch. At this point, I didn’t need any more evidence that he was selfish and pathetic. This scene just felt like overkill.
  • The storm scene. Terrifying. “The Perfect Storm” has nothing on this. (Note: I have never seen “The Perfect Storm,” so it’s probably best to ignore this).
  • I really enjoyed that nice little bit of subway symbolism in the end.
  • The fact that this escaped an NC-17 rating is beyond me.
  • F***ing Benihana.
  • Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m gonna go watch “Goodfellas.”

Six Movies You Won’t Want to Miss in December 2013

Image via Business Insider

Well, it’s almost Thanksgiving again. And you know what that means: time to start thinking about Christmas!

December is always an exciting movie month. Its when the less explosion-y blockbusters come out, and the small movies that normally wouldn’t get much publicity finally get the spotlight. This looks like a particularly good December that will hopefully make up for some of the more lackluster months of 2013. Come on Hollywood, this is when you get to show everyone that movies are still relevant!

In order to ensure a great holiday season, here are the December releases that I am most excited to see. Join me in the excitement, people. It’s the least you can do since, you know, I can’t celebrate Christmas:

6. The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

As a director, Ben Stiller has become more and more ambitious. “Walter Mitty” looks more serious than funny, and I know that Stiller is up to the task, both in front of and behind the camera. Mostly, this looks like an exciting adventure story that could appeal to just about anybody. There is something about Sean Penn’s weird finger summoning that makes me crack up every time I watch the trailer. However, I will forget I ever saw this, because “Walter Mitty” also stars Adam Scott, who plays a huge d-bag in it. Adam Scott seems like such a nice guy, but he also plays d-bags better than just about anybody else.

5. Her

I am willing to forgive Spike Jonze for “Where the Wild Things Are,” partly because this is the same guy who also directed “Being John Malkovich” and “Adaptation.” Also, “Her” looks so strange yet so fascinating. Joaquin Phoenix falls in love with a computer voiced by Scarlett Johansson? Relevant social commentary? No further questions.

4. Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues

Sure, America didn’t need a sequel to “Anchorman.” But Americans also don’t need most of the things that we have. I would be lying though if I said that I didn’t shriek with excitement the moment I saw the first trailer for “Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues.” To put it simply, “Anchorman” might just be the comedy of my generation; ask just about anybody my age about it and they will immediately start to quote it by heart. “Anchorman” is to the ’00s what “The Jerk” was to the ’70s and “Airplane” was to the ’80s.* Comedy sequels do have a bad habit of getting it wrong. For now, I am confident that “Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues” won’t be anything less than hilarious.

3. The Wolf of Wall Street

Finally, it is safe to say that “The Wolf of Wall Street” will be released in 2013, and will also be eligible for the 2013 Oscars**. More importantly though, I will finally get to see “The Wolf of Wall Street,” which I have been anticipating for months. Here’s a story of Wall Street corruption that will probably be a lot more entertaining (or certainly funnier) than “Wall Street.” I mean, there’s flying midgets and a chimpanzee in roller skates. Reportedly, “The Wolf of Wall Street” is three hours long, which would make it the longest film Martin Scorsese has ever directed. 46 years into his career, and Scorsese still finds ways to top himself.

2. American Hustle

David O. Russell has been on fire lately. His last two films (“The Fighter,” “Silver Linings Playbook”) were wonderful, and it seems like he’s found a batch of performers that just know how to work with him (sorry, Lily Tomlin). The trailer itself, from fat Bradley Cooper to “Good Times Bad Times,” gets me excited enough (even if it’s hidden all evidence that Louis C.K. is also in it). David O. Russell has become one of those directors who is consistently exciting to watch, and his name alone is enough to get me to race over to the nearest theater. Speaking of directors who meet that criteria…

1. Inside Llewyn Davis

Joel and Ethan Coen. That’s about all it takes for me to get excited for a movie. To make it even better, “Inside Llewyn Davis” is about the Greenwich Village folk scene in the 1960s. Then, to make it even even better, this marks yet another collaboration between The Coen Brothers and John Goodman, who haven’t done a movie together in years. If there’s one thing that the Coen Brothers are definitely good at, it’s directing John Goodman in a period piece.

Did everyone in the ’60s have facial hair?
*Maybe those aren’t the right movies for those times. I am just assuming they are. Maybe its actually “Animal House” for the ’70s, and “Ghostbusters” for the ’80s? Somebody please confirm. 
**Good! Getting a gold statue of a bald man handed out by an old bald man is the most important thing in life! But really, I want an Oscar. Where can I buy one?

Movie Review: Django Unchained

For any of you who think I have a severe Quentin Tarantino bias, let me just say that I disliked “Death Proof.”

Now that that’s out of the way, “Django Unchained” may have just stolen the top ten list of the year in one fell swoop. It may lack the audacious perfection of “Inglourious Basterds,” however this messy masterpiece is bold and brilliant in its own right.

“Django Unchained” rightfully opens with the theme music from 1966′s “Django,” a film that is similar with this Django only in name. This is the first time that Quentin has made a Western that actually takes place in the appropriate era and locale. This is not modern-day Los Angeles, Tokyo, or Nazi-Occupied France. This is Texas in the years just before the Civil War.

Django (Jamie Foxx), a quiet slave with a sharp tongue and a deadly grin, is freed by Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz). Foxx is fantastically deadpan and unpredictable as Django. Unsurprisingly, Waltz displays his incredible way with words as the verbose dentist-turned-bounty hunter. There is a giant tooth on top of his carriage. I don’t why any of that is important, but it sure is funny.

Like Quentin’s other films, “Django Unchained” is less a story and more a series of cause and effect vignettes. Schultz at first frees Django because he is the one man who can help him identify and track down the ruthless Brittle Brothers, whom he is hired to kill. The mission allows Django to prove himself to be a great shot, as Quentin opens the doors of a slave revenge fantasy of the highest sort.

As his career progresses, Quentin’s films have gotten bigger and more ambitious. During a stretch of the film that is surprisingly quiet on a Tarantino standard, “Django Unchained” takes a beautiful detour into the American frontier as Django and Schultz cross the country.

“Django Unchained” is also Quentin’s funniest film. A scene involving an attempted lynching by a proto-KKK group (which includes Don Johnson and Jonah Hill) quickly dissolves into pure farce. Even with all of the gruesome violence, what shocked me most about “Django Unchained” was all of the moments I found myself laughing and feeling giddy when I probably shouldn’t have. The film is full of comic moments framed around serious moments. Laughing at these demons helps remove their power.

More than any other of his past films, Quentin has challenged himself here, by making a film that takes place before movies. Without the cushion of his typical pop culture references, he goes to some new and interesting places. Surfer movies and Elvis are traded for The Three Musketeers and German fairytales as “Django Unchained” is a mashup of western, southern, and European legends. When Django asks Schultz to help him rescue his wife, Schultz remarks that the name of his wife, Broomhilda (Kerry Washington), is the name of a character from Germany’s most famous folktale.

Just when the film couldn’t get any more exciting, Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio), the Mississippi slave master who currently owns Broomhilda is introduced. Candie reminds me of the villain that Waltz played in “Basterds” but on a whole different level of delusion. DiCaprio, so good at conveying southern hospitality, making Candie seem like a kind and reasonable man even when he clearly isn’t. It is this charm that makes him even more terrifying. He hosts slave fights and doesn’t blink an eye when he orders the violent execution of a rebellious slave. There were many times I forgot that it was even DiCaprio in the role. In a perfect world, the Academy would just hand an Oscar over to him already.

Without the cushion of film, Quentin delves deeper into overanalyzing historical issues with excessive dialogue. Several scenes are so good, yet so dense, that I have to watch them again. His dialogue can explain simple things in such eloquent ways.  Without pop culture, you can see Tarantino’s dialogue for what it really is: a cross between indulgence and intellectualization.

Very few films have been made about American slavery. “Gone with the Wind” and “Roots” are the only ones that have truly stuck, and even those feel a little outdated. Even if it carries some extreme historical inaccuracies, “Django Unchained” is the most interesting and complex portrayal of slavery ever put out by Hollywood. Even when Tarantino intentionally overlooks historical truths, he does wonders with the details. Every costume and set is given so much loving and painstaking detail that I I felt myself becoming deeply immersed in the era. Tarantino shows the slave owners as white trash in fancy outfits, and their accompanying women are exaggerated southern belles.

And then there is Samuel L. Jackson as Stephen, an old slave who is also racist. This character totally topples the terrible archetypes in American fiction of the “Magic Negro” and the “wise, old black man.” Stephen has been Candie’s slave for so long and is so close to the man that one might argue that he believes that he is white. However, I think it is deeper than that, and it greatly shows why Tarantino’s history benders are so marvelous and so filled with depth. It is as if slavery rewarded those with loyalty by creating an immense fear of the outside world, and immense comfort on the plantation. Stephen is more than just an excuse for Samuel L. Jackson to curse and say the n-word a lot. Though, watching him do both of those thing is predictably entertaining.

“Django Unchained” does to slavery what “Inglourious Basterds” did to Nazis and The Holocaust.  It is also the most perplexing and entertaining film of 2012. Nobody combines high and low brow as well as Quentin Tarantino. Only in one of his films could a Mexican standoff segue into a conversation about racism and French culture. After 20 years as a filmmaker, Quentin still knows how to pull the rug out from under the audience. “Django Unchained” constantly change our opinions of who the bad guys are. It may not totally rewrite history or change the way movies are made, but it does go way past the point in which it should have ended, and then gives great reason as to why it does just that.

How I Rank Quentin Tarantino’s Films:
1. Pulp Fiction- Still Tarantino’s best film, “Pulp Fiction” is still as brazen and funny as it was when it first came out. This pop culture tribute has become an indelible part of pop culture.
2. Inglourious Basterds- Jews kill Nazis. Christoph Waltz is introduced to the world. History is rewritten. What’s not to love.
3. Kill Bill 1 & 2- Part one is a breathtaking action spectacle. Part two is the most emotional film Tarantino has ever made. Altogether it’s the film that kicked off my movie obsession.
4. Reservoir Dogs- The place where it all began. Still one of the best directorial debuts ever.
5. Django Unchained
6. Jackie Brown- This was not loved when it first came out, but it’s hard to follow “Pulp Fiction.” “Jackie Brown” holds up well on repeat viewings.
7. Death Proof- This is where Tarantino went a little off the rails. It’s the weaker half of “Grindhouse.” This ode to trashy cinema forgot to be fun.

Top 5: Most Anticipated Holiday Movies

December is an exciting time. Not only because everyone is decorating their trees, lighting their Menorahs, or doing whatever people who celebrate Kwanza do. This is the time when studios release the very best films they have to offer. Often, the closer we get to the Oscars, the better the quality of movies get, until the dumping ground season of January begins. Here now is my list of films that will make December 2012 memorable, even if the world doesn’t end:

5. Les Miserables

I’ve never been a big fan of musicals, but the history buff in me really wants to see a big, epic musical about the French Revolution. I never saw “Les Miserables” on Broadway, but seeing that the French Revolution was not a very happy time in world history, this definitely won’t be a musical where people sing and dance and suddenly all of their problems disappear. A song certainly can’t stop a guillotine. “Les Miserables” is directed by Tom Hooper. I still think it’s unfair that his “The King’s Speech” beat out both “Black Swan” and “The Social Network” for Best Picture, but that guy truly has a gift for bringing the past to life.

Coming to Theaters: December 28

4. Not Fade Away

“Not Fade Away” is David Chase’s directorial debut in film. If you don’t know who David Chase is, you really should: he created “The Sopranos.” “Not Fade Away” brings him back to New Jersey, and even reunites Chase with the state of New Jersey Tony Soprano (James Gandolfini) himself. But those expecting a profanity-laden tale of gangsters might be disappointed, as this is instead a coming-of-age story about a rock and roll band. I saw another coming-of-age story about a band earlier this year  called “Fat Kid Rules the World.” I was thoroughly disappointed by it, but I have a feeling that “Not Fade Away” will be infinitely better. It has “Almost Famous” potential. Plus, with a title inspired by a Rolling Stones song, it seems that “Not Fade Away” has its head in the right place.

Coming to Theaters: December 21

View the top 3 after the jump:

3. This Is 40

Judd Apatow is still the reigning king of comedy. I admire the ambition of his last feature, “Funny People,” even if it could have used another visit to the editing room. Luckily, “This Is 40″ is a spinoff of Apatow’s superior “Knocked Up.” It follows married couple Pete (Paul Rudd) and Debbie (Leslie) a few years down the road. This seems to be Apatow’s most personal film yet, and it even stars his two daughters. This may be more mature than Apatow’s other works, but the fact that the poster has Paul Rudd on a toilet gives me faith that he hasn’t totally abandoned his sense of dirty hilarity. Over the past two decades, Apatow has altered comedy in both film and television. Could the Oscars be the next step for him?

Coming to Theaters: December 21

2. Zero Dark Thirty

“Zero Dark Thirty” is Kathryn Bigelow’s first feature since she made history and won an Oscar for “The Hurt Locker.” Back during the 2010 Oscar season, I dissed “The Hurt Locker” so much that people might have the impression that I didn’t like it. I did very much, I just thought that every award it won belonged to “Inglourious Basterds.” But I digress. Bigelow has a talent for realism, which makes her the perfect candidate to capture the mission to kill Osama Bin Laden on film. I was worried that this film seemed a little rushed to be released, but the trailer gives me chills every time I watch the soldiers stand outside Bin Laden’s compound. I am not expecting to have fun watching “Zero Dark Thirty,” but I am expecting a seriously dark thriller that pulls absolutely no punches.*

Coming to Theaters: December 21

1. Django Unchained

I’ve expressed my love of Quentin Tarantino films way too much on this blog, so I won’t bore you with that. But I will say that “Django Unchained” looks about as spectacular as I expected it to be. I nearly stood up and cheered when the trailer started blasting the theme from the original “Django.”** I think it’s about time that Quentin teamed up with Leonardo DiCaprio. Maybe he can finally get DiCaprio his first Oscar. Only Quentin can turn a dark time in our nation’s history into something exploitative, entertaining, and hilarious. This is also the first time that Quentin is working in a time period before movies existed. What will his characters banter about? If Quentin can pull off a full film without his signature pop culture talk, then he can officially be cemented as a master. Not that he wasn’t one already.

Coming to Theaters: December 28

*Can’t wait to see who shouts “AMERICA!” in the theater after Bin Laden is brought down.
**”Django Unchained” is not a remake. Qunetin Tarantino just loves to steal. He is an artistic kleptomaniac.

It’s Here! The Premiere of the Django Unchained Trailer

I definitely didn’t need a trailer to get me excited for “Django Unchained,” but I’m not complaining about the fact that the first trailer has finally been released.

While the trailer for Quentin Tarantino’s last film, “Inglourious Basterds,” misled viewers to believe that it was nothing but a Brad Pitt fest, the “Django Unchained” trailer seems to be showing exactly the kind of film everyone expected it to be. And no, that is not a bad thing at all. “Django” looks to have a perfect mix of serious and awesome action and hilariously inspired exploitation. It also opens with a Johnny Cash song and includes Christoph Waltz channeling Hans Landa and Leonardo DiCaprio saying “rambunctious” in the most sinister way possible.

But it’s time for me to shut up now, and time for you to watch this trailer*:

Note: This trailer comes via The Film Stage, a site dedicated to movie reviews and news. I began contributing to it today. Check out the site here:

The Plot of Quentin Tarantino’s Next Movie

Two posts in one night? I must be crazy. No, this only happens when something truly newsworthy comes along.

The plot for Quentin Tarantino’s next film, entitled “Django Unchained,” has been released today. All that was known before was that it was a slave revenge film. Here is what that actually entails:
Django is a slave who’s liberated by a German dentist-turned-bounty hunter and taught the tricks of the trade by his mentor. Django’s major goal in life is to recover his wife, and to do it he needs to get past the villainous ranch owner Calvin Candie (DiCaprio), who runs Candyland, a despicable club and plantation in Mississippi where female slaves are exploited as sex objects and males are pitted against each other in “mandingo”-style death matches. Candie is a slave’s worst nightmare, and that [sic] is where Django’s wife Broomhilda is an abused slave. [Deadline]

Yes, whenever Quentin says he is making an historical epic, it is not just some historical epic. Earlier this week it was announced that Jamie Foxx would play the lead role. While he did win an Oscar for “Ray,” he also starred in “Booty Call.” Then again, this is from the same director who turned John Travolta into a hitman after starring in “Look Who’s Talking.”

The rest of the cast is enticing. Of course, Samuel L. Jackson will be fantastic, as long as he is given a Bible or some dialogue that he can shout unnecessarily loud. While I have never seen DiCaprio play a flat out villain, his acting has improved with each film he does, so I have a feeling he can do this. As for Christoph Waltz, I have a feeling the German bounty hunter role was written directly for him. And yes, he can act his way out of a paper bag.

For now, it seems too hard to tell what direction this plot will take the film in. Is Tarantino aiming for a classic Grindhouse experience like “Death Proof,” or a classier revenge fantasy like “Inglourious Basterds”?

Something that I wonder even more about, however is what Tarantino will do filming in a time period before movies even existed. In “Basterds,” he was able to find conversation in the films of G.W. Pabst, but what will the 19th century characters of “Django Unchained” discuss? Maybe the characters can sit around a southern manor and discuss the significance of “Moby Dick.”

Whatever he decides to do, I will be there on opening weekend.

Oscars ’10: The Snubs

With every set of Oscar nominations comes a set of even more ridiculous snubs. Even with another year of ten best picture nominations, there were still plenty of egregious snubs to go around.
On this day, the day the Oscar nominations are announced, I would like to recognize not those were selected, but those who strangely missed the mark. Not everyone can make the cut, but these people and films certainly deserved to:
Andrew Garfield (The Social Network)

This one seemed like a sure thing. The man who is destined to be Spider-Man broke out this year and brought the pathos to “The Social Network.” With Zuckerberg being mainly emotionally cold, Garfield made Eduardo a character impossible not to connect with. Every emotion he injects into the film, he also injects into the audience. Then when his character turns from nice to angry in the film’s dramatic climax, the transformation is so believable that it makes the already devastating conclusion even worse. “The Social Network” might’ve been about Mark Zuckerberg, but it’s hard to believe there ever would’ve been a great story without Eduardo Saverin and Garfield’s performance.

Chloe Moretz (Kick-Ass)

There should have been room for two teenage actresses who could use a weapon in this year’s Oscars. So many have praised Hailee Steinfeld, but forget the almost similar performance given by Chloe Moretz as Hit-Girl in “Kick-Ass.” She managed to act lightyears more mature than her superiors while always maintaing child-like innocence. She showed off the kind of creepy excitement a typical tween might have over Robert Pattinson while slicing off limbs and dropping the c-bomb. Fourteen-year-olds don’t typically steal the show in a film, but Moretz did enough so that it was at times hard to remember that the movie is called “Kick-Ass” and not “Hit-Girl.”

Christopher Nolan (Inception)

Seriously, what does Christopher Nolan have to do to get a Best Director nomination? Is turning a confusing, mind-f***ing idea into both a work of art and a $300 million grossing summer blockbuster not enough? How about changing the rules of physics? Or how about returning blockbusters to their original state in which they began in the 1970s? The Best Screenplay nomination for “Inception” can be disputed, but few would argue if Nolan finally got his long deserved Best Director nod.

Leonardo DiCaprio (Shutter Island)

To this day, people have trouble taking DiCaprio’s performances seriously. The common excuse is his youthful looks make it hard for him to seem mature. If anyone still argues this, they obviously haven’t watched “Shutter Island” yet. DiCaprio went from good actor with some talent to great actor with soul. He was so smoothly able to handle the massive transformation of his character without loosing the ambiguity. Then there is the way he delivers that final line, “which would be worse, to live as a monster or to die as a good man” which is delivered in a way that is so heartbreaking that it could almost produce tears. With maybe a few more films, DiCaprio can truly become Scorsese’s new De Niro.

Danny Boyle (127 Hours)

Over directing usually isn’t an admiral trait in a director. Unless of course your name is Danny Boyle. Boyle made a story about one man in one location epic enough to be engaging for its entire running time. He injects every frame of this film with so much life. Everything from a drop of water to the desert sand seem to be living, breathing, interacting characters. That’s how you make a movie about a man stuck in a hole. Boyle, like a great director, realizes this essential fact: a good film is about what it’s about; a great film is about how it’s about.

Inception: On Backlashes, Second Viewings, and Dead Cats

Warning: Do not read on unless you have actually seen “Inception.” And even if you don’t care about spoilers, I command you to proceed with caution.

So, here we are. “Inception” has officially been in theaters for two weekends. It’s also been a little over a week since I first laid eyes on it and made it out to be a magnum opus unlike any we’ve ever seen (or, unlike any we’ve seen since Kubrick or Scorsese and Coppola in their prime). Since then, the film has made a killing at the box office, and has been called both an epic masterpiece and an overrated piece of crap.

Yes, many have dared to call “Inception” overrated. Others have dared to call it resistant to criticism. This just shows how no one seems to know what “Inception” really is. And let’s hope it stays that way.

I am going to assume that most everyone who has decided to read this article has either already seen “Inception” or just doesn’t care if anything gets spoiled at all. I will be light on the spoilers, but a little more specific than last time. I don’t know if I’m qualified enough to write about “Inception” again. Even after seeing it again, and I feel like I understand a great deal more, I still feel like I know nothing. Yet “Inception” is just one of those movies you have to talk and write about as much as possible after viewing them.

It is safe enough to say that “Inception” has received an overwhelmingly positive response. Some make legitimate arguments. Others are just hating for the sake of being contrarian. Others are exposing everything that is wrong with modern film criticism.


It is not just one group of people who are causing the problems. The haters seemed ready to hate “Inception” since before it was even released. This goes even beyond Armond White, the now notorious critical contrarian. I won’t spend too much time on White, but I will say that it’s one thing to not like a movie because it is flawed, and another to not like it because you feel it has enough love already.

And then there are those people who think that “Inception” should be shielded from all criticism. These people seem to think just because it is so unique that nobody should be allowed to point to its problems. Well, everyone has a right to their opinion, and in a time where the art of film criticism is in danger, telling a critic to shut it seems kind of dangerous. As much as I love Rotten Tomatoes, I might have to blame this on them. There is a sort of feeling these days that if a movie doesn’t receive a perfect 100%, then it is no good. Right now, “Inception” stands at 87%. Most movies would dream to have that much approval.

But enough with the triviality of reality. It’s time to delve into the world of movies. Specifically, the world of “Inception.” And what a world it is. Even on a second viewing, there was still something amazingly unique about it. While some movies that are full of surprises feel less surprising on a second viewing, “Inception” is still filled with new things.

If you’ve only seen “Inception” once, chances are you are really confused. It makes sense why anyone would be confused after just one viewing, but the funny thing is that no one should be. With a close listen to the dialogue, you can see that almost everything is totally spelled out for you. Almost every single line of the film is pure exposition. Yet, it seems even breezier and more fascinating on a second listen. Exposition can be fine if it’s actually interesting.

I found on a second viewing that I was paying less attention the spectacle and more attention to the actual story. Yes, the folding city and zero gravity fighting are still awesome, but there’s nothing quite like seeing scenes like that fresh. But when you look at the scenery, you really can miss the depth. Many have found “Inception” to be weakest in its story. That might be thought of in one viewing. But there really is more than meets the eye.

What really stood out now were the film’s themes. The central question goes well beyond is this reality or a dream. It is more like when does reality start and subconscious set in, and vice versa. The question could even extend to whether or not one or the other doesn’t even exist, or whether they exist in the same place.

This can be seen when paying very close attention to Mal (Marion Cotillard). She’s more than just a projection, she is Cobb’s totem. While Cobb is constantly spinning the top to see if he is dreaming or not, that was Mal’s totem. In that sense, he doesn’t use it so much to see whether or not he is in a dream, but whether or not he will get to see his wife again. Perhaps the reason he didn’t even pay attention to whether or not the top was going to fall in the end was because he had totally let go of his wife. Whether or not she showed up was irrelevant.

In the relationship between Cobb and Mal lies the film’s true heart. And while others didn’t notice, it is beating. In addition, despite the fact that the scene where Fischer (Cillian Murphy) confronts his dying father was imagined, there was something extremely satisfying about the revelation reached at the end of it. Fischer, like Cobb, could not function on his own without getting rid of the weight of his troubled past. Dreams are where we go to escape our troubled pasts, and our even more troubled presents.

Something that is harder to notice is the film’s very keen sense of humor. Most of the jokes are quick enough that only someone who has viewed the movie twice can really catch them. They also manage to work well in part of the actors. Tom Hardy as the forger Eames added a dry sense of playful British humor to every scene he was in.

But the second time around, one laugh I didn’t expect came at the end. After waiting in anticipation to see the fate of the spinning top (even though I knew the ending, I was still at the edge of my seat), the whole audience began to laugh once the screen turned black. They weren’t laughing at the movie, but rather with it. Perhaps Nolan actually intended that ending to be a sick joke. Maybe the moment the screen faded to black the top either fell or kept spinning.

Yes, that final shot is just one tiny shot. But it really needs to be discussed. It is more of a paradox than the infinite staircase. Yet, at that point, it almost didn’t seem to matter whether or not Cobb was dreaming or awake at that point. The last shot was a sort of Schrodinger’s Cat: the ending is both relevant and irrelevant at the same time.

The top is so important because this tiny toy encapsulates the whole point of the movie. Perhaps the most important line in the film is when Mal tells Cobb there are three options in life: what you believe, what you want to believe, and what you know is real. In the case of whether or not the top keeps spinning or collapses, I could say I believe that Cobb is in reality, I want to believe that Cobb is dreaming, and I know that it’s impossible to ever know which one it actually is. Any of these three answers, even the one about what is real, can be altered in some way. Just like dreams have different meanings to different people, the whole of “Inception” can mean so many different things. By opening up the possibility to us that nothing we saw took place in reality, Nolan was in effect performing inception on the audience.

That leads to a theory that’s been widely discussed and is extremely plausible: “Inception” is a metaphor for the act of filmmaking itself. Each person who serves a role could also serve on a film set. Both involve artists meticulously creating worlds from scratch and keeping them from falling apart.

For one more second, back to that ending. There is indeed proof of multiple conclusions. Notice how the light in Cobb’s house shines in the same way it did when him and Mal woke up. Notice also that this time, his children turned around while in his dreams they never did. Then again, maybe that’s because he never bothered looking in his dreams.
So maybe it is too early to call “Inception” one of cinema’s greatest. “Citizen Kane” wasn’t called the best film in 1941. I’m not saying “Inception” has quite the impact on filmmaking as “Citizen Kane” did. But I do know that it will forever effect the way I watch and process film. It truly did push boundaries both visually and narratively. It simultaneously achieved mirror-breaking self-reflexiviness and it also became an allegory for the world we live in. I don’t think I’m over-analyzing when I say that “Inception” reflects a world where people are more interested in creating their own worlds than fixing the one they actually live in.
Now, who here is ready for round three?

Movie Review: Inception

Dreams are not reality. Movies are not reality. They are both part of what he have in life, and mostly what we really want. That’s why they’re constantly a focus in movies. Though the whole “it was all a dream” ending had worn out its welcome. That is until “Inception” landed in theaters and completely redefined reality and imagination.

“Inception” is a film that’s been hyped up for months. It brilliantly showed us gripping footage while keeping us totally in the dark. For once in your life, you’ll feel like you walked into a movie not knowing a single thing about what it really is. It’s more than the thriller you thought it would be. It’s, well, maybe you should be kept in the dark about that.
I will give you something, maybe slightly more than you could get from some commercials. “Inception” brings us to what may or may not be a futuristic dystopia. Or else it is a slightly altered version of our own time. In this world, technology exists that allows one to enter the human mind through dreams and use that to gather and manipulate ideas. It’s called Inception. Two “architects,” Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) and Arthur (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), are experts at this. Cobb is addicted to exploring the world of dreams, so much so that it causes strains between him and his family.
Cobb and Arthur are hired by a shady businessman (Ken Watanabe) to find some information for them. The two team up with a bright, young student (Ellen Page) to embark on a mind-bending, possibly dangerous journey into the human subconscious.
It’s hard to know where to begin with “Inception.” The way to enjoy “Inception” is to suspend reality and be engrossed into the many worlds you are introduced to. That’s why the set pieces and camera are so crucial. This is a rare film that actually uses its sets properly. And much of what you see is done without the aid of CGI. Christopher Nolan decided to go the old-fashioned way and actually build real sets. For that, I applaud him.
Every location and every shot of the film feels so authentic, and so imaginative. The laws of gravity and physics no longer apply. Cities runoff into the sky. People can float. Objects can move at any pace they want. This is a world without rules.
With the infinite possibilities that lie within dreams, Nolan is given the freedom to bring the story into whatever direction he wants. Most directors seem to stop at certain points because they don’t want to lose their audience. Nolan doesn’t care if you’re following or not. He’ll go as far as he wants, for however long he wants to.
Nolan though is trying to unite two different crowds: those who want a thought-provoking movie, and those who want high-class entertainment. “Inception” amazingly caters to both needs.
As an action movie, “Inception” keeps you in constant suspense and constant shock. Fight scenes, whether real or imagined, are given time and detail. They aren’t filled with the insanely fast cuts that made movies like “The A-Team” almost unwatchable. Nolan lets the audience savor every blow delivered.
The one action piece you won’t stop thinking about involves a hallway and a lack of gravity. Any amount of description I provide can’t possibly ruin it for you. It looks accurate enough to have been a green screen.
“Inception” proves a conclusion that has already been reached: Nolan is a master. He knows how to turn spaces into haunting visual nightmares. The looming shots of Tokyo and other metropolises might as well be Gotham City. He can then take those landscapes and fill them with incredibly complex stories.
Nolan’s narrative techniques are as interesting as his directing. Much of the dialogue in the film is expository, but hearing every step of the process is so fascinating that you won’t mind. Intertwined is some enlightening discussion about the nature of dreams and the human mind. It’s the kind of information that must’ve taken years of research. How Nolan could fit all that in while making two “Batman” movies is a mystery to me.
The plot of “Inception” unfolds very slowly. As the characters enter deeper levels into the dream world, new layers of plot unfold. Strangely, the more chaotic things get, the clearer the story becomes.
It’s kind of hard for any one actor in this film to truly shine, as Nolan and the visuals totally steal the show. That’s not to say there isn’t some fine acting. “Inception” boasts a few of the most talented young actors working today. With both “Inception” and “Shutter Island” this year, DiCaprio has proven himself an actor responsible of mature and psychologically complex roles. He knows how to play people so torn up that they can barely even function as humans. He is starting to become the DeNiro of our generation. Gordon-Levitt and Page meanwhile, provide a perfect counterbalance of wit and charm along with both understanding and total confusion.
All of this leads me to say that beyond all of the action, “Inception” is truly a human story. It is about loss and regret and the dream being an outlet to both conceal and confront the darkest parts of our lives. Dreaming can be a means of both escape and confrontation.
“Inception” reminded me for the first time in a long time what a true moviegoing experience is like. The theater exists for a reason. That reason is when you have a story this complex and sprawling, you need a gigantic screen to fill the room and truly take in everything being shown. It is in a space like this where we are most able to suspend reality. Plus, when you have a film this good on a screen big enough, it can truly suck you into the story. At a time like this in a film like this, 3D seems irrelevant. Your mind creates the illusion of being in a third dimension.
To call “Inception” the best movie made in a very long time would be an understatement. Nothing has changed the rules of cinema this much since “The Matrix.” It combines so many genres into one mesmerizing whole. At so many points it could’ve fallen apart but Nolan keeps it intact.
“Inception” is a thriller of the mind that won’t leave your mind. After some movies end, you immediately know you have to see it again. Only with “Inception” will you know that from the very first scene.
If You Liked this Movie, You’ll also Like: Memento, Mulholland Dr., The Dark Knight, 2001: A Space Odyssey, The Matrix, Shutter Island, Fight Club, Blue Velvet, Blade Runner
For more awesome mind-bending movies, check this out.

Movie Review: Shutter Island

Sometimes, the language of film, and the language of literature, just fit together like a puzzle. When I think of great directors and great writers with similar visions, I usually just think of the Coen Brothers and Cormac McCarthy over “No Country for Old Men.” Now, I can add Martin Scorsese and Dennis Lehane, over “Shutter Island.”

In novel form, “Shutter Island” was a crackling and suspenseful psychological mystery that never took the obvious route. As a film, it is both a psychological thriller and an ode to a genre that seemed to have died ages ago. “Shutter Island” is set in the year 1954. Miles off the coast of Boston, there is a place called Shutter Island. It houses a mental institution for the criminally insane. The most dangerous patient, Rachel Salondo, has somehow escaped. U.S. Marshall Teddy Daniels (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his partner Chuck Aule (Mark Ruffalo) have been assigned to crack the case.
Before going on there are a few character points, rather than plot points, that need to be explained. Teddy is a war hero, haunted by what he saw when liberating Dachau. His wife (Michelle Williams) recently died in a fire. So yeah, this guy has problems. Meanwhile, Salondo murdered her children.
Over the years, Scorsese’s directorial skill has been put into question. Yes, he’s made a few flawed pictures (“Gangs of New York,” “The Aviator”), but even those are more watchable than most of the films that come out today. Truth is, most of his recent stories do not even come close to his old ones. However, could anyone ever make a film as good as “Taxi Driver” or “Raging Bull” ever again?
“Shutter Island” clicked for me because I feel it has something for everyone: a little bit of entertainment and a little bit of depth. It’s the kind of film that you walk out of wanting to talk to someone about the ending. It’s also the kind of film where you know, in the end, your money has been well spent.
“Shutter Island” shows that Scorsese, more than ever, knows how to work a camera. Not only that, but turn it into a form of art. Here, he brings back the long shots he used so masterfully in “Goodfellas” and does a few other camera techniques that bring out the ever growing sense of chaos.
This also shows how Scorsese is one of those rare directors who make movies with the self-awareness of being a movie, and being so inspired by movies of the past. The dark, smoke-filmed rooms totally bring out the film noir of the 1940s and 50s. I originally thought the music was somewhat overdramatic but when I think about it, I think it is meant to evoke the somewhat over-the-top nature of old thrillers.
Also, there is a very poor green screen in the backgrounds of some shots. It may evoke the Golden Days of Hollywood. However, it may also evoke some things about the character which I will not spoil for you. But only a director like Scorsese could use something so faulty and make them inspired and ironic.
Along with Scorsese’s direction, the acting was also fantastic. DiCaprio is truly proving himself to be a great leading man now. He corresponds well with Scorsese’s direction by constantly bringing out the trembling darkness within Teddy.
Also scoring a great performance by Ben Kingsley as the head doctor. I think it’s his line delivery that did it for me. The way he says, “it’s like she evaporated, straight through the walls,” is one that sounds both entirely innocent and oddly disturbing.
Back to Scorsese for a minute, because he is truly what makes this movie for a work. I want to use one specific scene to show his great direction. In one scene, Teddy is climbing down a steep, rocky cliff. We know the hero can’t die this early, but Scorsese puts a big, fat question mark to that possibility. He shoots this scene from very tight, claustrophobic angles and we feel like we’re there with him, climbing down those rocks. He takes a scene that might have made the viewer feel nothing, and packs it with suspense.
I believe the story goes from page to screen so well because Scorsese takes Lehane’s story and themes and makes them into his own style. Through the characters of Teddy and Rachel Solando, Lehane finds characters searching for redemption and trying to come to terms with their pasts, and their selves. Teddy’s own struggle with the horrors of war he’s seen could mirror what Travis Bickle had to live with in “Taxi Driver.” Through this, we can understand the character of “Shutter Island” even better.
The story of the film of “Shutter Island” isn’t much different than it was in the book. However, the fact that Scorsese can take Lehane’s style and mold it into his own is what makes this a truly faithful, truly successful adaptation. Scorsese takes Lehane’s dark message about human nature, and turns it into a haunting (and even relevant) message about how today’s world works.
Of course, there is quite a surprise of an ending. Even for somebody who read the book and knew the ending, I was still surprised when the big moment came. Scorsese masterfully knew how to both hide the truth and even make it seem very apparent at other times.
The more I think about “Shutter Island,” the more I like it. Scorsese has truly made a movie for everyone: it’s both simply entertaining, and complexly thought provoking. Quite simply, it is the ultimate experience for those who love movies.