Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Film Tally 2013

Ah, another year has come and gone in an instant. Seems like it was January only yesterday. Anyway, my year had its ups (Toronto Film Festival!) and downs (the passing of my father), and I managed to get in a slew of good (and not-so-good) films. Going by month, they are as followed:

The Wolf of Wall Street

You gotta hand it to Martin Scorsese. Back in 2011, he finally does a film that's appropriate for the whole family. And what does he follow it up with? The bawdiest, foulest, absolutely insane piece of filmmaking of his extensive career: The Wolf of Wall Street.

Seriously, every single aspect of the film is through the fucking roof. (And don't think I'm fucking kidding either.) You know how Goodfellas showed the lust and greed of being on top of the world? Yeah, well, The Wolf of Wall Street is like that but completely amplified by, say, a thousand. (Again, I'm not fucking kidding.)

As expected from most Scorsese films, the roster of the many supporting actors of The Wolf of Wall Street is just as insane as the film itself. Margot Robbie, Kyle Chandler, Rob Reiner, Matthew McConaughey (two scenes, steals the whole fucking show), Jean Dujardin, Joanna Lumley...everyone's at the top of their game here. (And that's only a few of the actors Scorsese enlisted.) But of the many supporting actors, the best of the bunch is definitely Jonah Hill. (Not sure why, but I got some serious John Turturro vibes from his performance. Maybe it was the accent.)

Which brings me to the main event: Leonardo DiCaprio. He unleashes fifty shades of batshit crazy here, even more than in Django Unchained last year. To hell with all of the heavy, angsty dramas; DiCaprio needs to do more roles like this. (Special mention must go to his manic expression and delivery of: "Get the LUDES.")

Long story short, The Wolf of Wall Street is the most insane film Scorsese's ever churned out. (Most directors over 70 usually tone it down.) Ah, debauchery never looked so appealing.

My Rating: *****

Tuesday, December 24, 2013


Alexander Payne's debut Citizen Ruth starred Laura Dern as someone who won't let life little inconveniences get in the way of their personal world. And in an ironic twist of fate, Payne has cast Laura's father Bruce Dern in a very similar role for his new film Nebraska.

When an actor is in their twilight years and they show they still have a good performance in them, that's always a good sign on the director's part for still having faith in said actor. (See also Robert De Niro in Silver Linings Playbook and Robert Redford in All Is Lost.) In the case of Dern, an actor I'm not overly familiar with (outside of his Oscar-nominated work in Coming Home), I think it's suffice to say he gives his best work in Nebraska. (Boy, I sure hope he gets nominated.)

This is common amongst Payne's films actually. Usually whomever is playing the lead for one of his films, the actor(s) will end up giving the best work of their career. (See also Laura Dern in Citizen Ruth, Matthew Broderick and Reese Witherspoon in Election, Paul Giamatti in Sideways, and George Clooney in The Descendants.) So how does Dern join these other actors? He takes a role any actor could play and makes it his own.

And like Payne's other films, the supporting work is great as well. It's obvious that Dern will get most of the attention when it comes to awards, but I sure hope that Will Forte and June Squibb will be equally recognized. (One can dream, can't they?)

Everything about Nebraska is great. From Payne's direction to the performances to Phedon Paramichael's absolutely gorgeous cinematography, the film just works on so many levels. Easily, easily one of the best films of the year.

My Rating: *****

Saving Mr. Banks

Drama behind the scenes. It happens on practically every set for a film or a TV show. Disputes with the higher powers, romantic entanglements, chaos on the set...hey, there's no business like show business.

John Lee Hancock's Saving Mr. Banks depicts the (mostly fictionalized) troubled production of Mary Poppins. The film features the disputes between author P.L. Travers (Emma Thompson) and Walt Disney (Tom Hanks) throughout the production's stormy early stages. Even though a good chunk of Saving Mr. Banks is purely for drama, it's certainly an interesting story to be told.

It's a good film but I think what's mildly frustrating about Saving Mr. Banks is its portrayal of Travers. Maybe since it's a Disney film (and badmouthing the studio's founder wouldn't exactly be wise) they have to portray Walt Disney in a positive light. Therefore Travers must be depicted as a bitter shrew of a woman wrought with emotional problems. Come on, Disney. Weinstein has more dignity than that.

But I will say that Thompson makes the most of her thin role. (It's also nice to see her in general.) Hanks in turn displays his usual charisma, which is essentially required when playing Walt Disney. Though I would like to highlight Colin Farrell's supporting work as well.

It's not the best film from this year, but Saving Mr. Banks isn't a complete loss. It's mostly redeemed by the performances, but certain depictions might rub people the wrong way. (It certainly did for me.) But it's still worth a look though I'd wait until DVD.

My Rating: ****

Sunday, December 22, 2013

American Hustle

"Some of this actually happened." These words open David O. Russell's American Hustle. These words guarantee that the viewer will be in for a very wild ride. These words promise a very insane film.

And Russell certainly held up to that promise. It's a film that revolves around living the American dream of living a life of wealth and luxury. Simple, sure, but nobody stated you had to earn that wealth and luxury legally...

It's amusing because when I first saw the trailer, I thought it would just be an abundance of bad fashion and worse hairstyles. Granted, I did get just that but Russell also provides a partly factual story. (I wasn't well-read on the real life story beforehand, but I still enjoyed the film.)

Even though his reputation with actors is less than stellar, Russell always knows how to get top-notch work from his actors. And American Hustle is no exception. We have Christian Bale abusing his body once again, Amy Adams shying very much away from her usual goody two-shoes roles, Bradley Cooper proving he's more than just a pretty boy movie star, Jeremy Renner being the unwitting pawn of a grand scheme, and Jennifer Lawrence basically stealing every scene she's in. They're all great but my attention stuck solely on Cooper. (I must also mention Louis C.K.'s scene stealing part and Robert De Niro's lone scene.)

It gets a bit chaotic towards the end but American Hustle is overall a very solid film. It's certainly not everyone's cup of tea but it's one hell of a film. It'll also be stuck in your head for God knows how long.

My Rating: ****1/2

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

Sequels aren't always desired by many. Sometimes it's because the first film wrapped up the storylines with no open ends. Other times the first film wasn't well received financially and/or critically. Either way, sequels will pop up sooner or later.

That said, Peter Jackson's The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug is a welcoming entry. Now don't get me wrong, I very much enjoyed An Unexpected Journey (unlike some people I know of).It just left me wanting more. (Granted, the ending certainly whets one's appetite.)

And The Desolation of Smaug not only fills said appetite but also leaves the viewer very satisfied. (Well, I'm only speaking for myself.) An Unexpected Journey might not have satisfied some The Lord of the Rings fans, but The Desolation of Smaug certainly will.

I just need to take this time to mention the work from Benedict Cumberbatch as the titular dragon. Yes, Smaug doesn't show up until much later in the film but holy hell, it's so worth the wait. I mean, if you have a voice like that, you might as well use it for a role that's absolutely terrifying.

Long story short, I just loved The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug. There were a few things that weren't really needed, but they didn't change my overall opinion of the film. Oh, and there's one more thing. Think An Unexpected Journey ended on a massive tease? It's got nothing on the ending for The Desolation of Smaug.

My Rating: *****

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Joan Fontaine: 1917-2013

The Academy Award-winning actress, best known for such films as Rebecca, Suspicion and Letter from an Unknown Woman, died today from natural causes. She was 96.
~ October 22, 1917 - December 15, 2013 ~

Peter O'Toole: 1932-2013

The eight-time Oscar nominee and star of such films as Lawrence of Arabia, The Lion in Winter and The Ruling Class, died yesterday following a long illness. He was 81.
~ August 2, 1932 - December 14, 2013 ~

Thursday, December 12, 2013

The Petrified Forest

Every now and again, you come across a film where everything just works. The performances, the dialogue, everything. Most of the time they're films not many people have seen. Archie Mayo's The Petrified Forest is one such film, and the three major performances prove that.

The first performance comes from Leslie Howard, reprising the role he originated on stage. Like some of his other roles, Howard plays an intellectual that gets philosophical throughout the film. But what makes Alan Squier different from Philip Carey or Henry Higgins is that Alan is much more compassionate. This has probably become a favorite performance of Howard's.

The second performance comes from Bette Davis in a role that's noticeably lighter from some of her other works. As Gabrielle Maple, she plays a woman content with her life but longs to see the world. It's also nice to see her and Howard being civil to each other. (For those not getting the reference, go see Of Human Bondage.)

The third performance comes from Humphrey Bogart, also reprising his stage role and in one of his early film roles. As Duke Mantee, he makes his presence known whenever he's on screen. (No surprise as to why this role had him playing gangsters throughout his career.) Also doesn't hurt that said lasting presence is a trait that'll be forever present in his work.

Long story short, I loved the work from Howard, Davis and Bogart in The Petrified Forest. Hell, I loved everything about The Petrified Forest. It's a simple film that just works. Go seek it out and watch it.

My Rating: *****

Wednesday, December 11, 2013


Stephen Frears' films are often ones I'm bound to like. He always garners lasting performances from his actors, a scenario I've noticed from every film I've seen by him. (I hope that's common amongst all of his films. Well, most of them.)

That trend continues quite strongly with his new film Philomena. As well as showcasing the work of its two leads, the film also takes a relatively heavy subject and adds a few well-placed touches of humor. (Though considering who one of the writers is, it makes sense.)

As many would know by now, Judi Dench is one of the best actresses working today. Here in Philomena, she adds yet another great performance to her long career. She balances the film's dramatic material and the script's comedic touches with ease. (Not many actors are capable of that.) Although Notes on a Scandal is my personal favorite, her work here can easily change that.

But the performance I was most surprised by was the one from Steve Coogan. Only familiar with him from 24 Hour Party People, I was really impressed by his compassionate work. Holding his own against Dench is one thing; giving one of the best supporting performances of the year is certainly another.

Philomena is simply one of those films that in the wrong hands would fail miserably. But thanks to Frears, Dench and Coogan, the film is easily one of the best films released this year. Be sure to see it.

My Rating: *****

Out of the Furnace

When Scott Cooper released Crazy Heart back in 2009, some people became curious as to what future films he'll be offering. So when details for his new film Out of the Furnace started to come out, many were intrigued.

But with a number of films that have hype, it doesn't exactly deliver. Perhaps it was because of the roster of actors Cooper acquired for his film that caused the hype to go through the roof. (This is why I try not to get too excited for a film based solely on its cast.)

Speaking of the cast, it is a rather impressive one regardless of the film's strength. The actors include Christian Bale, Woody Harrelson, Casey Affleck, Forest Whitaker, Willem Dafoe, Zoe Saldana and Sam Shepard. They all make the most out of the flimsy script, Bale especially.

Going back to the script for a moment. I could slightly see the point Cooper and Brad Ingelsby were trying to make but it was too all over the place for me to fully understand it. Maybe a bit more work on the script would have had me singing a different tune.

Anyway, Out of the Furnace isn't anything really special but it's also not a complete loss. There are good performances from the actors but in fairness, that's about it. I can already see this as one of those films played on TV on an infinite loop.

My Rating: ***1/2

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Blue is the Warmest Color

Behind every great film, there's controversy. In the case of Abdellatif Kechiche's Blue is the Warmest Color, it was the behind the scenes drama between Kechiche and stars Adele Exarchopoulos and Lea Seydoux in regards with the equally controversial sex scenes. Overlooking these uproars, there is so much more to the film.

Blue is the Warmest Color revolves around confused teenager Adele (Exarchopoulos) as she tries to get control on her personal life. When she meets artist Emma (Seydoux) she thinks her life is now in order. (Note the word "thinks".) But does she really?

As with any other film revolving around a relationship, it all depends on the dynamic between the two lovers. It's not just about those scenes (which, save for one, feel rather unnecessary) but rather the emotional bond formed between them. And thanks to Exarchopoulos and Seydoux, they bring the love affair between Adele and Emma to life.

Speaking of the two leading ladies, they're quite simply fantastic here. Seydoux displays both an aggressive and quiet side in her Emma. But it's Exarchopoulos that's the star of Blue is the Warmest Color. So many shots linger on Adele's conflicted face and they speak volumes.

Blue is the Warmest Color is one of those films where the subject matter is annoyingly undermined because the controversy it managed to stir up. (Brokeback Mountain, anyone?) Thankfully, there have been a majority of viewers who saw past the uproars and recognized what the film truly is: a portrait of conflicted love.

My Rating: ****1/2

Sunday, December 1, 2013


I know I haven't been blogging as much lately. It's mostly because of lack of drive, and I apologize for it. But that doesn't mean Defiant Success is closing its doors. There is, however, something I want to say in regards with the blog.

As some of you may know, I do a book and movie comparison post at the beginning of every month. Well, I've decided to tone down the frequency of said feature. Instead of every month, it will now be whenever I feel like doing such a post. On a similar note, I intend to review more books for this blog.

Blogging shall resumed later this week.