Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Movie Review: American Hustle

American Hustle 
Starring:  Christian Bale, Bradley Cooper, Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, Jennifer Lawrence, Louis C.K., Jack Huston, Michael Peña, Shea Whigham, Alessandro Nivola, Elisabeth Röhm, Paul Herman, Saïd Taghmaoui, Matthew Russell, Thomas Matthews, Adrian Martinez, Anthony Zerbe 
Director: David O. Russell 
Columbia Pictures, Annapurna Pictures, Atlas Entertainment, USA, 2013. 
Irving Rosenfield (Christian Bale) is an con artist, who scams crooked businessmen by promising them loans that require some arranging fees. He gets a collaborator to add some style to his operations, a sexy redhead Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams). Both of them have had to reinvent themselves to survive in life. After an ambitious FBI-agent Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper) arrests them, they have to co-operate with him to bust bigger con artists and other criminals. However Richie is planning to have a shining career so he aims to bust the Mayor of New Jersey Carmine Polito (Jeremy Renner) for corruption. After political scandals and economical recession in USA, Irving would rather see things starting to get more optimistic for the people. 
Christian Bale
Hairstyle is important for Irving
Christian Bale and Amy Adams
Irving meets Sydney Prosser
Bradley Cooper and Amy Adams
Richie DiMaso and Sydney
Irving and Sydney are lovers, but Irving is blackmailed by his bimboish wife Rosalyn. Sydney gets angry at Irving after hearing that he is married, and starts to seduce Richie to avoid going to jail. The moral problem for Irving is that Carmine is a politician everyone likes and who works to improve his city and create new jobs for the poor people. So Richie is trying to corrupt a good guy to advance his own career. The operation gets larger and things start to get dangerous when the Mob gets involved. 
Jennifer Lawrence and Jack Huston
Rosalyn Rosenfeld with gangster Pete Musane (Jack Huston)
Jeremy Renner
Mayor of New Jersey Carmine Polito
The movie is loosely based on the Abscam ( operations that FBI used  to combat corruption in the 1970s. After the operation FBI was accused for using entrapment tactics and guidelines for sting operations had to be formed. The acting in the movie is great. While in "The Machinist" Christian Bale was skeleton-thin, this time he is overweight and wears an amusing toupee. Bale is charismatic as Irving and Amy Adams is great as his seducing colleague. Jennifer Lawrence makes a good role as Irving's manipulative wife.  There is also a cameo appearance by Robert De Niro as a Mafia boss. The 1970s cool atmosphere is great with great music and stylish costumes. Also the hairstyles add to film's atmosphere. The movie is an entertaining an interesting caper story in the tradition of classic caper movies.
Robert De Niro
Robert De Niro has a cameo role as a Mafioso
Rating: Very good

Monday, December 29, 2014

Movie Review: The Wolf of Wall Street

The Wolf of Wall Street 
Starring: Leonardo Dicaprio, Jonah Hill, Margot Robbie, Matthew McConaughey, Kyle Chandler, Rob Reiner, Jon Bernthal, Jon Favreau, Jean Dujardin, Joanna Lumley, Cristin Milioti, Christine Ebersole, Shea Whigham, Katarina Cas, P. J. Byrne, Kenneth Choi, Brian Sacca, Henry Zebrowski 
Director: Martin Scorsese 
Paramount Pictures, Red Granite Pictures, Appian Way, Sikelia Productions, EMJAG Productions, USA, 2013.
Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio) is a fresh stock broker in Rothschild company. He is mentored to his job by cocaine-powered older stock broker Mark Hanna (Matthew McConaghey). Mark motivates Jordan by pounding his chest and humming, a technique Jordan also uses later to motivate his own workers. 
Leonardo DiCaprio and Matthew McConaghey
Jordan Belfort and Mark Hanna pounding thir chest
After the Black Monday in 1987 he is fired and gets a new job in a company trading penny stocks. Using hype and selling unrealistic dreams Jordan becomes successful and wealthy. A moralless toy salesman Donnie Azoff (Jonah Hill) wants to work for him after he hears how much money Jordan earns. 
Jonah Hill
Jordan hires Donnie Azoff
This is how you respect your customers
Jordan and Donnie start their own investing company. They also hire some part time drug-dealers. The Jordan's employees are idiots but arrogant enough to sell worthless stocks to the unsuspecting common people (they think the rich are too smart to buy them). But Jordan begins also to scam the rich people with his new company Stratton Oakmont. The firm grows and Jordan rewards the employees with wild parties full with strippers and drugs. And midgets. He parties like modern Caligula. Jordan also cheats his good wife Teresa (Cristin Milioti) with sexy lingerie designer Naomi (Margot Robbie). 
One of the tamer parties
Cristin Milioti
Jordan's first wife Teresa learns the ugly truth
Margot Robbie and Joanna Lumley
Jordan's new wife Naomi and her aunt Emma (Joanna Lumley)
The FBI-agent Patrick Denham (Kyle Chandler) gets interested about Jordan's businesses. At the half point the movie turns into a crime drama because Jordan and his pals have to laundry the vast amounts of illegal money. At this point the ineptness of his colleagues Donnie and Nicky "Rugrat" Koskoff (P. J. Byrne) begins to work against him. 
This movie spawned also the hilarious Meshuggah meme
Money, money, money
The movie is largely based on Jordan Belfort's book he wrote about his career. Most of the insane stuff happening in the movie is actually a bit toned down from the book version. The movie shows Jordan's quick transition from fresh stock broker into a sleazy businessman who is addicted to sex, drugs and money. Considering the amounts of drugs he has taken, unsafe sex with prostitutes and and almost crashing his helicopter while flying under influence (in addition to crashing other vehicles) it is a miracle that Jordan Belfort is still alive. It is also remarkable that after being punished for his financial crimes with a little more than a slap on the wrist, he is nowadays a well-paid host of seminars on sales techniques. It is truly a mad world. 
Leonardo DiCaprio
Would you buy an used car from this man?
Consider once more
The movie is based on the same scam that was also depicted in the movie Boiler Room. However this movie takes the overindulgence much further, the movie feels like a combination of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Caligula, Goodfellas and American Pie. DiCaprio makes one of his wildest roles ever. Scorsese has directed another great crime film and an portrait of an immoral businessman. However the numerous orgies and drug use may be too much for some viewers. The movie is based on Jordan Belfort's own viewpoint, and at least in the movie he thinks he is not doing anything wrong. Compared to almost aristocratic Gordon Gekko in Wall Street movies, Jordan is like an immature brat. He gets everything, but he does not respect anything or anyone. He does not respect his customers, his women or the law. He and his friends turn the pursuit of American Dream into a charade. In the movie Jordan's opponent Special Agent Patrick Denham acts as his moral opposite, although Denham is not rich at least he knows he is doing the right thing.

Review: Very good

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Movie Review: Scrooged

Starring: Bill Murray, Karen Allen, John Forsythe, John Glover, Bobcat Goldthwait, David Johansen, Carol Kane, Robert Mitchum, Nicholas Phillips, Michael J. Pollard, Alfre Woodard, Mabel King, John Murray, Jamie Farr, Robert Goulet, Buddy Hackett, John Houseman, Lee Majors 
Director: Richard Donner
Paramount Pictures, Mirage Productions, USA, 1988.
scrooged title
IBC TV station boss Frank Cross (Bill Murray) is not a nice guy.  Frank wants to produce a live-TV version of Dickens' "Christmas Carol" to be shown on Christmas TV. He plans to advertise it using shock-horror adverts. Eliot Loudermilk (Bobcat Goldthwait) criticizes Frank's plan so Frank fires him. Frank is selfish, arrogant and cruel to his underlings. His assistant Grace Cooley (Alfre Woodard) has to work overtime for him. Her son Calvin (Nicholas Phillips) is the "Scrooged" version of Tiny Tim. Frank's brother James (John Murray, Bill's real-life brother) invites him to spend family Christmas, but Frank cold not care less. Frank is going to get more than lumps of coal in his Christmas stocking.
Bill Murray
Frank Cross
Bobcat Goldthwait
Eliot Loudermilk
John and Bill Murray
James and Frank
Frank gets visited by his dead ex-boss Lew Hayward (John Forsythe) who tells Frank to change his evil ways. Frank will get visited by three Christmas ghosts. Panicked he calls his old girlfriend Claire Phillips (Karen Allen) who is a charity worker. However he fails to console with her.
Karen Allen
Claire Phillips
Frank's day gets worse when his boss Preston Rhinelander (Robert Mitchum) hires an assistant Brice Cummings (John Glover) who is trying to get Frank's job. The Ghosts of Christmas Past (David Johansen), Christmas Present (Carol Kane) and Christmas Future appear and show why Frank is what he is today and what will happen if he does not change.
Robert Mitchum
Preston Rhinelander
David Johansen
Ghost of Christmas Past
Carol Kane
Ghost of the Christmas Present
Scrooged is a good modern version of "Christmas Carol" with added black comedy elements and Twilight Zone style light horror. Frank is really nasty guy first, but he begins to gradually get more likable after the ghosts show him his faults. There are some satiric pokes at TV-industry, for example Preston wants to attract more viewers from cat and dog audiences.
Don't mess with Santa!
John Glover and Alfre Woodard and Bill Murray
Brice Cummings, Frank and Grace Cooley
Bill Murray is great as cynical TV-boss and Karen Allen as his nice ex-girlfriend. Also Bobcat Goldthwait is good as a tragicomically unlucky guy. One of the memorable supporting characters is the Censor controlling the lewdness of Frank's programs (Kate McGregor-Stewart) who gets injured at every scene. She goes a bit naughty at the final scenes under the mistletoe! 

In the early parts there are adverts for programs on Frank's channel, those are a bit different kind of Christmas specials! There are some appearances of celebrities, such as Lee Majors, John Houseman and Mary Lou Retton. In one of the promo videos a singer Robert Goulet is seen, he looked a lot like Yello singer Dieter Meier (giving me an excuse to insert a "Like Two Peas in the Pod" image here).
Like Two Peas in the Pod Robert Goulet and Dieter Meier
Rating: Very good

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Movie Review: Jingle All the Way

Jingle All the Way 
Starring: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sinbad, Phil Hartman, Rita Wilson, Robert Conrad, Jake Lloyd, James Belushi, Martin Mull, Danny Woodburn 
Director: Brian Levant 
1492 Pictures, Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation, USA, 1996. 
Howard Langston (Arnold Schwarzenegger) is a busy mattress salesman. Workaholic Howard is neglecting his family and he is always late for his son Jamie's (Jake Lloyd, who played later Anakin Skywalker in Star Wars Episode I) karate lessons. Jamie is not happy.
Arnold Schwarzenegger
Howard has forgotten something important
To console with his son, Howard must get a very popular Turbo Man action figure for Christmas present. Howard's wife Liz (Rita Wilson) already told Howard to buy the action figure weeks ago, and the toys are getting sold out fast. Howard also has an annoyingly perfect neighbour Ted (Phil Hartman) who is the favourite of the local single mothers. Ted is trying to woo Liz while Howard is away.
Superhero Turbo Man (performed by Daniel Riordan)
Rita Wilson
Jake Lloyd
Howard notices that he is not the only one doing last minute shopping. The gleeful store clerks are getting their fun from humiliating the searchers of Turbo Man. Howard gets a fierce competitor, a crazy mailman Myron Larabee (Sinbad). Howard gets also a Nemesis, motorcycle cop Hummell (Robert Conrad). Mall Santa (James Belushi) and Tony the Elf (Danny Woodburn) introduce Howard with the gang of shady Santa Clauses running illegal toy business. 
Phil Hartman
Annoying neighbour Ted
Sinbad and Arnold Schwarzenegger
Myron is a postal worker
Gang of Santas lead by James Belushi
This is a surprisingly funny and entertaining movie about last minute shopping spree. Of course it wouldn't be a real Arnold movie without Arnold beating up some opponents or kicking down doors. There is a lot of parody on Arnold's character in action films. The finale goes a bit over the top with the cartoonish special effects, but still it kind of fits the story. There is a lot of Home Alone style comic slapstick. Near the end there is also a short scene where parade performers dressed as Christmas decorations check their knocked down friend, for some reason it looked terribly cute and amusing. 
Oh dear, Peter the Package fell down.
Chris Parnell
Runner up for the Best Customer Service of the Year (Chris Parnell)
Arnold Schwarzenegger
Shop 'til you drop!
The satire of the movie is on commercial Christmas, if Howard does not bring Jamie the toy he wants he will grow up to be a loser like Myron! Even Howard's marriage depends on getting the toy. So the stakes are high. And wait for the punch line after the end credits!

Rating: Good

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Movie Review: The Grinch (or Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas)

The Grinch (or Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas) 
Starring: Jim Carrey , Taylor Momsen, Kelley, Jeffrey Tambor, Christine Baranski, Bill Irwin, Molly Shannon, Clint Howard, Josh Ryan Evans, Mindy Sterling, Rachel Winfree, Rance Howard, Jeremy Howard, T.J. Thyne, Lacey Kohl, Nadja Pionilla, Jim Meskimen, Anthony Hopkins (voice) 
Director: Ron Howard 
Universal Pictures, Imagine Entertainment, LUNI Productions GmbH and Company KG, USA, Germany, 2000. 
In the mountains of Pontoos there is a town called Whoville. The Whos love Christmas and spend a lot of money for shopping. Up in the mountains lives naughty Grinch (Jim Carrey) with his dog Max (Kelley). Annoyed by the trespassing Whos, Grinch goes to Whoville and begins to sabotage the Christmas party. Daughter of postman Lou Lou Who (Bill Irwin), little Cindy Lou Who (Taylor Momsen) begins to wonder why Grinch hates Christmas. 
Jim Carrey Grinch
The Grinch
Max the dog (Kelley)
Grinch's romantic interest in the school was Martha May Whovier (Christine Baranski). She tells that Grinch was bullied at school because of his strange looks. Cindy Lou wants to invite Grinch to the Christmas festival. Mayor Augustus Maywho (Jeffrey Tambor) opposes the idea. When Grinch is humiliated in the festival, Grinch gets crazy and steals all the presents. But Grinch and the Who's have to learn the true meaning of the Christmas spirit. 
Bill Irwin
Lou Lou Who
Taylor Momsen
Cindy Lou Who
Christine Baranski
Martha May Whovier
Director Ron Howard does a nice job with the classic Dr. Seuss story. Jim Carrey plays his improvised maneuvers manic and energetic as usually, this time behind a thick rubber mask. Also the Whos have some enhanced noses and cheeks. Taylor Momsen is good as adorable Cindy Lou. On the minus side most of the inhabitants of Whoville are quite generic characters, their costumes are imaginative though. The candy-coloured city of Whoville looks a bit Tim Burtonesque. Grinch criticizes the Christmas consumerism, the unwanted presents arrive near Grinch's cave through a garbage chute! Max the dog acts (or at least tries to act) as a kind of Grinch's version of conscience similar to Jiminy Cricket. Being a family film everyone has good time in the end. 
The people of Whoville
Rating: Good

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