Archive for Leonardo DiCaprio

The Revenant: Proof That It Really Could Always Be Worse

Posted in 7, Action, Drama, Horror, Ratings, Reviews with tags , , , , on February 10, 2016 by mducoing

Revenant - IMDBThere is beauty in misery. For the most part, this sums of Alejandro González Iñárritu‘s latest film, The Revenant, which basically follows a colonial version of Job through every horror one can imagine. Beautiful, engaging but also exhausting and ultimately over-the-top.

Premise: A frontiersman on a fur trading expedition in the 1820s fights for survival in pursuit of revenge. Result: A dark, emotional draining crucible of horror and madness that is both beautiful and traumatic.

Iñárritu‘s newest film forgoes much of the brilliant, often esoteric meta-tale of one man’s personal woes in favor of a far more direct route. Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his “half-breed” Native American son are trackers who appear to be the only hope of a band of American fur traders out in the Northern Wilderness who have just been trounced in one of the most jarring camp raids to hit audiences in recent memory. Observers will be shaken by the powerful and painful direction and will welcome the subsequent low-burn tension that pits Glass against John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy), who has declared his opposition to Glass’s recommended plan in spite of Captain Andrew Henry’s (Domhnall Gleeson) decision to side with Glass.

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Golden Chalice Award – Top Performances of 2013

Posted in Articles, movieMixology Awards, The Golden Chalice Awards with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 16, 2014 by mducoing

GoldenChaliceLogoWhile there were certainly many phenomenal films in 2013, there is little doubt that many of these would have been nothing without the mesmerizing, often stupefying performances that defined them.  This year’s winners of the Golden Chalice, as well as their nominated peers, gave us some of the best acting in recent memory.

Below you will find those impressive performances divided by male and female performances (although the distinction between supporting or lead is not part of the criteria.)  You can see last year’s winners (2012), dominated by The Master.

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The Wolf of Wall Street: The Way Sh$t Shows Are Meant To Be Done

Posted in 9, Comedy, Ratings, Reviews with tags , , , , , , , , , on January 2, 2014 by mducoing

Wolf of Wall StreetIn recent years, director Martin Scorsese has hit a few cinematic road bumps.  Shutter Island was an underwhelming thriller at best and Hugo, while beautiful, was one of the most boring, preposterous wastes of time in recent memory (this despite an Oscar nom for Best Picture!?!?!)

Yet none of this can be said about The Wolf of Wall Street.  This film is Scorsese at his best, firing on all cylinders and somehow making each moment count in the most unforgettable ways.  While based on the “truth”, it is only someone like Scorsese armed with an all-star cast of that caliber who could so successfully bring to life such an insane story.

Premise: The Tru-ish story of Wall Street Madman Jordan Belfort. Result: On Screen Chaos for Three Hours has never felt so good.

Wolf is the story of self-made, Wall Street con-man Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio), who become the Picasso of fast-talking bullsh$t. With the help of creepy, equally over-the-top Donnie Azoff (Jonah Hill) and several other goons like Brad (Jon Bernthal), Rugrat (P.J. Byrne), Chester Ming (Kenneth Choi), and Sea Otter (Henry Zebrowski), he created an empire of greed, corruption, addiction, and perversion.

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The Great Gatsby: There Is a Remarkable Beauty Behind All That Glitz

Posted in 7, Drama, Ratings, Reviews with tags , , , , , , , , on June 24, 2013 by mducoing

The Great GatsbyDirector Baz Luhrmann (Moulin Rouge!, Australia) is not often accused of toning things down.  This is certainly truer than ever with his latest film The Great Gatsby.  Adapted from the F. Scott Fitzgerald classic, Luhrmann’s Gatsby is replete with almost overwhelming glitz and glamour, but to the diligent observer, a brilliant, painful story lies beneath.

Premise: The tragic story of the mysterious Gatsby as he longs to reunite with his lost love Daisy. Result: A stunning visual display that may distract from the depth of the actual picture itself, but to those willing to pay close attention, there is much more than meets the eye.

The opening of Gatsby thrusts observers into a surreal world of bright colors, astonishing architecture and preposterous panorama.  Like a modern day Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory spread over massive expanses, Luhrmann’s treatment of the story is instantly larger than life.

And it is this sentiment that may strike most observers in those first few moments, lingering and festering throughout the film, infecting perception and ultimately distracting from the true beauty that lies beneath the cinematographic gilding.

We are introduced to our narrator, a Mr. Nick Carraway (Tobey Maguire), a man ruined by some trauma experienced in his time in New York, a summer where his joie de vivre was drained from him mercilessly.  He utters his story to his psychiatrist and ultimately writes his story as a form of needed therapy.

And so he takes us back to the preceding summer, where he had taken to living in a dilapidated house, content to start a meager career on Wall Street after a failed career in writing. He lived next to a bizarre, mysterious Jay Gatsby (Leonardo DiCaprio)  and across the bay from his cousin Daisy Buchanan (Carey Mulligan) and her wretched, lecherous husband (and former school buddy) Tom Buchanan (Joel Edgerton).

He is introduced to the dual nature of opulence, the debauchery that Tom and his mistress Myrtle Wilson (Isla Fisher) rain upon him juxtaposed with the strange misery and ennui that seems to linger over Daisy and her friend Jordan Baker (Elizabeth Debicki). There is always a sense that Luhrmann fully understands the Fitzgerald critique upon American society, that the nature of unchecked affluence brings with it a desperate darkness.

At this time Gatsby also reaches out to Carraway through Baker in an attempt to befriend him, although his ulterior motive, to meet Daisy, is painfully evident. The remainder of the film, like the novel, is ultimately focused on the truth behind Gatsby, a man obsessed not only with Daisy, but with overcoming his station in life; yet somehow, despite his accomplishments, Gatsby never truly rises above the feeling that he is second rate.

This is really the genius behind the film. The glitz and glamour, the outrageous, stunning cinematography is purposeful: we are overwhelmed, just as Nick was, by the beauty, only to find that soon it fades, crumbling as the truth seeps through.  It is all meant to be larger than life because it is our perception of a mirage, the mind telling us something is real when it is not; it is our drunken intoxication with the dream that we, through Gatsby, want to be so real.

Luhrmann allows us to see behind the curtain ever so subtly, as Gatsby is time and time again forced to face his demons, his anguish, his regret, his shame. A shame that ultimately consumes him.

DiCaprio is quiet successful as Gatsby, allowing himself to be both larger than life as well as all too human depending on which moment you catch him.  It is in the pain in his eyes or in the intricacy of his gestures or expressions that we come to realize this is not about beauty, but about true, withering pain.

Mulligan is strong as Daisy, once again illustrating a broad emotional range and demonstrating that no one can shed a tear like her on screen.  And yet she is also vile in her weakness, an unusual twist for a woman who gains strength in misery.

Edgerton is equally yet more overtly vile throughout, a triumph for a man who typically plays the more likable sort.  Jason Clarke, for his limited time as George Wilson, the cuckolded husband broken by circumstance, is actually quite riveting, adding to the film yet another man ruined by the world in which they lived.

Maguire on the other hand is fairly flat.  Whether it is the nature of one of the less interesting roles or simply the decisions Maguire makes about his character, Carraway never really has much on screen presence.

In the end, Gatsby is an esoteric film that will likely be lost on most observers.  It is very easy to dislike Luhrmann’s strategy, to overwhelm with visual stimulation, almost to the point where the characters are more like caricatures or cartoons.  But there is subtlety in this film that ultimately shines through; and while the film is a bit longer than necessary, it is powerful, memorable and ultimately a testament to the classic tale.

Rating: 7- A refreshing Champagne that a cute bartender comp’d you!

 

 

Django Unchained: A Fairytale in the World of Historical Horror and Awesome from Start to Finish!

Posted in 9, Action, Comedy, Drama, Ratings, Reviews with tags , , , , , , , , on January 8, 2013 by mducoing

DjagnoWriter/director Quentin Tarantino (Pulp Fiction, Kill Bill Vol. 1 & 2) has created yet another masterpiece with Djano Unchained. From the catchy, poignant soundtrack, to the clever dialogue to the exhilarating action and brilliant performances, Django is an unforgettable thrill ride unlike others we’ve seen.

Premise: Bounty Hunter Shultz and ex-slave Django team up to bring criminals to Justice and save his wife, Broomhilda. Result: An action-packed fairytale that fully exceeds expectations.

The film focuses on Django (Jamie Foxx), a slave who has been sold away from his wife Broomhilda (Kerry Washington) by the vile Old Man Carrucan (Bruce Dern) after a failed escape.  He is discovered in the winter of 1858 by bounty hunter Dr. King Shultz (Christoph Waltz) after a long, arduous journey and -in one of the most humorous introductory segments in recent film history- brought into the life of a bounty hunter.

Ultimately, as the story unfolds, Django is given a proposal: help Shultz find and kill the Brittle Brothers and he will set Django free.  The scenes around this first pursuit are consistently gripping and hysterical and the characters such as Big Daddy (Don Johnson) are spot on.  They essentially focus on a discomforting juxtaposition of misery and situational comedy that reduces hideous scenes of slavery to absurd events while still somehow preserving a respect for their true darkness.  And this only sets up the phenomenal story to come.

As the two become friends and partners in a winter’s long campaign of bounty hunter justice, Django tells Shultz more of his wife. This reminds Shultz of a German fairytale of a warrior who saves his beloved bride Broomhilda ater undergoing inexplicable misery to do so; their friendship, as well as the desire to participate in this real life “fairytale”, propels Shultz to pledge his support in the rescue plot. A plot that must be seen to be believed.

The true intrigue therefore centers on “Hildy” who has been purchased by the repellent Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio) and kept on his infamous Candieland Ranch in Mississippi. Their plan is to masquerade as Mandingo traders and acquire Hildy under the guise of acquiring a fighter from Candie.  While the rouse seems fool proof, it is a difficult undertaking when pitted against Candie and his allies including the vile servant Stephen (Samuel L. Jackson), who is much more than meets the eye.

Tarantino does a fantastic job of pacing through his signature directorial style that seems to dramatize every scene beyond life while still preserving a gritty sense of reality through grainy, edgy cinematography. Each scene is more intriguing than the last not only filled with action, but brilliant, unique character development and tantalizing dialogue.

The acting in this film is of particular note.  Jamie Foxx delivers one of his better, more intriguing performances through Django, consistently demonstrating poise, humor, wit, strength and fragility in a single character and making audiences root for him throughout.  He becomes our hero and is everything an action star should be.

Waltz is flawless.  After winning his first Academy Award for an evil German (Nazi) in Tarantino’s last film (Inglorious Basterds), he now plays a good German (so to speak), a man with implacable manners and pedigree yet capable of shooting a man at point-blank range without batting an eyelash. He delivers every line with stunning facility and transforms the character on screen into one of the most memorable of the decade.  This may be the best performance of his career.

DiCaprio is also quite strong in his role, delivering just the right amount of dainty and darkness, offering a few scenes where his menacing, smug demeanor is deliciously unbearable.

Come into my parlor...

Come into my parlor…

But it is Samuel L. Jackson who delivers what can only be described as evil.  His role as Stephen is nuanced with countless dimensions, often exceeding all expectations.  He is both bumbling fool and brilliant mastermind but in each scene he captures audience attention unapologetically.  In one scene in particular, Jackson becomes a monster, frightening observers to their very core. 

It should be noted that there has been much complaint of Tarantino’s fairly liberal take on factual events in Slavery America.  Director Spike Lee, in fact, while pointing out that he was boycotting the film, argued, “”All I’m going to say is that it’s disrespectful to my ancestors to see that film…” and on Twitter: “American Slavery Was Not A Sergio Leone Spaghetti Western. It Was A Holocaust. My Ancestors Are Slaves. Stolen From Africa. I Will Honor Them.” (Read more)While the liberal use of the “N-word”, the unclear veracity of Mandingo fighting in Slave America, and other such concerns are valid as opinions, they really should not diminish the impact of this film.   Slavery in America is blight on our social history, a horror that is undeniable among educated peoples and by no means minimized by Tarantino.

If anything, the “N-word” is quite historically appropriate in this film as this was how people who devalued and demeaned other humans to a race of sub-humans or worse would likely speak. While there are many laugh-out-loud moments, no one is making fun of the hardship of Slavery or minimizing it; if anything, this film calls into question why Americans as a whole are not more cognizant of its horrors.

In the end, Django is an exhilerating, shocking, fast-paced, tale that faces one of the darkest days in American history fearlessly.  It is brilliantly written and while it may be a bit long (at 2 hours 45 minutes), there are few films able to better keep audience attention throughout.

The performances, dialogue, action, plot, and general nature of the film come together into an undeniably successful finished product, and the level of controversy it has created speaks further to its impact.  Tarantino proves yet again that his work can not only withstand any controversy, but thrives because of it.

Rating: 9 – An expensive red wine and juicy steak that someone else is paying for and where you don’t have to put out

J. Edgar: The Powerful Story of a Sad and Brilliant Man

Posted in 8, Drama, Reviews with tags , , , , , , on November 14, 2011 by mducoing

Director Clint Eastwood (Million Dollar Baby, Gran Torino) along with screenwriter Dustin Lance Black (Milk) produce in J. Edgar one of the most powerful, elegant films of the year.  On the backs of a brilliant cast, this film delivers a coherent, infectious narrative that is likely to have the Academy buzzing.

Premise: The story of J. Edgar Hoover, feared and revered Director of the FBI who held deep secrets. Result: A powerful, well-developed narrative that presents a nuanced image of one of the most influential men in American history.

J. Edgar is Eastwood and Black’s attempt to create a vivid and true account of the life of infamous FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover.  By most measures they succeed, delivering a nuanced and emotional version of the man’s life.  The film begins rather slowly, likely because of its style, a hop-scotch through time as Hoover (Leonardo DiCaprio) presents an auto-biographical account of his life building the FBI.  It is not clear early on what this film will be, and this makes the initial twenty minutes crawl by.  However, it is not long before the true focus of the story, Hoover himself, and not simply the origins of his institution, comes front and center.

Hoover, by virtually all accounts, was a very peculiar person, suffering from stuttering that forced a rigid speech pattern and a social anxiety that today may have been suppressed with numerous medications.  There is a level of deep, disturbed insecurity that seems to control him, festering perniciously just below the surface.

However, just as strange and dangerous, he was also intensely brilliant, and his prescience, particularly in the field of forensic analysis, changed the world forever.  There is also a deep rooted Justice set in the man, a deep sense of love for his Country, although it should also be noted that right and wrong can sometimes be indistinguishable in the fog of a relentless  man’s mind.

It is this inherent battle between Good and Evil within Hoover’s mind that colors the film, making his actions both shocking and eerily admirable.  The film is constantly switching time periods, giving us both the actual events (or at least as Hoover tells them) and compares them a present day (then 1972) and does so rather deftly as Eastwood gains momentum in the telling of the tale. 

We explore Hoover’s obsession with radicals, initially with the anarcho-syndicalists of the 20s, where his methods are ruthless yet devastating to his enemies.  After the fall of A. Mitchell Palmer, the Attorney General under which Hoover learned his trade, Hoover is appointed to head the department he loved and remake it in the image he saw fit.

 Ever the speechmaker and charmer, Hoover engages in a relentless campaign to centralize his power in this new bureau and create a different brand of soldier, the FBI agent, perfectly suited to deliver Justice against the enemy. Nevertheless, his means are far from question and there are times it is difficult to tell if Hoover is selling Justice or Snake Oil.  With the Lindbergh kidnapping foremost on his mind it becomes frighteningly clear that he is a man who loves his Country, ultimately almost as much as he loves, or hates himself.

Eastwood also manages to build this story around three distinct personal relationships: his Mother Annie (Judi Dench), his Deputy and Lover Clyde Tolson (Armie Hammer), and his devoted Secretary Helen Gandy (Naomi Watts).  Each relationship deeply affects Hoover, stabilizing and destabilizing him at every turn.  His mother, a loving but ultimately frightening woman provided a rigid and deeply felt moral compass, although ultimately disapproved of his Homosexuality, devastating him. 

Tolson, on the other hand, was what Hoover deeply loved, a love and need that ran so deep that Hoover was both secured and frightened by it.  A particular scene in which he recounts their initial interview is delivered with sweetness and desperate ambivalence as became trademark to the man in such matters. 

His relationship with Ms. Gandy, his personal assistant and one time girlfriend, is more subtle in its effect than the others.  Here it is as much what is said as what is not, but ultimately Hoover trusted her almost more than anyone, entrusting her with his personal, confidential library of devious information he had collected on everyone and everything over his career.  The two shared a silent, profound kinship, the knowledge of a powerful secret that only they knew. 

Towards the end of the film, it is impossible not to understand who Hoover was, the complex, consistent man desperate to be remembered, who would meet all resistance to his objectives with outrage, threats and often implied blackmail.  He exists in a world where no one can be trusted, where loyalty is always in question, a place of deep darkness that brings with it enormous strain.

The acting in this film is ultimately what raises it far above.  DiCaprio is flawless in his role as the notorious Director, embodying his mannerisms and diction so consistently and at times so subtly that it can only be described as master class.  While there is no question that DiCaprio can play famous characters from our past (Howard Hughes in The Aviator, most notably) it is this role that will finally put him permanently in halls of the greats.  .

But with talent of that caliber, it would likely cast shadows on a cast of lesser worth.  This is in no way the case here, proving that Dench (who needed no proof), Hammer, and Watts are performers of immeasurable dexterity.  Dench is impressive, owning the scenes in which she appears so mercilessly and impressively that audiences will sit awestruck with each word. 

Hammer is brilliant as Tolson, capable of a quiet dignity, a devotion that sells Tolson’s love easily and unmistakably.  The chemistry that he and DiCaprio have is palpable. Particularly playing Tolson after a near fatal stroke, Hammer manages to transform the character completely.  Watts, for her part, is faultless, capable of using silence and her eyes as her preferred mode of communication; she manages to take a role that could have been forgettable and makes it anything but.

Ultimately, J. Edgar is a very powerful and masterfully delivered film.  While it often times moves slowly or dwells on events that may not connect deeply with audiences, Eastwood, with the help of a strong script and a dazzling cast, has managed to create a brilliant narrative worthy of the man for whom it is told. 

Rating: 8 – An expensive red wine and juicy steak

Inception: Wonderful, But Almost Too Smart For Its Own Good!

Posted in 8, Reviews, Sci Fi/ Fantasy with tags , , , , , , , on February 6, 2011 by mducoing

Following The Dark Knight and the incessant fan-love adoration and critical acclaim it brought, Christopher Nolan couldn’t wait to set his attention to his next film, Inception.  The film continues his trend of creating riveting cinema with a unique perspective.

Premise: Thieves capable of entering the human mind through dream invasion are confronted with their most difficult challenge yet: Inception.  Result: Donnie Darko on steroids, this film rivets and intrigues while also requiring not only a second and third viewing, but also a steno-pad, a text book, a study group, and a three-credit college class to fundamentally understand its premise.

This is a strong film with an absorbing, unique argument.  Nolan writes and directs Inception and is supremely guilty of taking monumental risks…however, it appears in today’s world of directing, no one has greater pay-offs.  Every scene is thrilling, either for its superb action sequences that push us to the edges of our seats or for the poignant emotionally charged or intellectually gripping scenes that moved a clever and powerful plot.

Nolan uses confusion as a weapon in this film, but as any master will, he uses it largely without the audience’s awareness.  The film begins with scenes that are not meant to make any sense: the audience is a passive observer with little beyond slack-jawed curiosity, like a hillbilly at an art gallery or anyone at anything starring Tom Green.  But we are deeply intrigued, knowing that a director as good as Nolan will not dangle scenes in front of us without their inevitable reappearance later, suddenly transformed into thought-provoking outcomes.  The film continues this rapid sequence of bewildering rivets where the audience realizes they have been tricked, but this knowledge lends itself to more confusion, all the while drawing us in closer as we realize Nolan has put together an idea so unique and well orchestrated that we can’t help but watch.

This “premise” is dream manipulation: a world where the military has developed a technology capable of allowing others to enter and influence the dream sequences of targets and “extract” information from the inner-most recesses of their minds.  Of course, the film is called Inception, not Extraction, and thus Inception is introduced to Cobb (the ever-fabulous Leonardo DiCaprio) as a means to return to his family.  Cobb is the self-proclaimed best extractor, and is keenly aware that Inception is possible.  So he puts together a team of Arthur (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), Eames (Tom Hardy), and Yusuf (Delep Rao) along with neophyte turned dream architecture diva Ariadne (Ellen Page.)  We heart this team not only for their collectively well-written lines or fantastic cast chemistry or just overall sophisticated sexiness…well, really mostly for those things. Hardy is a master at the subtle dry jab; Gordon-Levitt (who, in all honesty, is typically better than this script allows) has at least one great fight scene, and Page is able to demonstrate her lack of Juno-esque singular dimension, owning this character with all the nuance it will allow.

There are ostensibly two competing plot-lines in the film: the supposed caper, as described above, and the ever-evolving baggage Cobb harbors for his deceased wife Mal (Marion Cotillard).  As the film evolves, the plot-lines dance in spirals, intermingling, casting shadows here and there to perplex the audience, and in doing so largely thrill.  Fascinating and fecund concepts are introduced such as dreams within dreams within dreams, and time across these dream worlds, and the concept of ideas and the human mind’s ability to recognize their origins. 

Nolan crafts a brilliant storyline but in some ways, too brilliant for the medium.  The premise he develops – the twists within twists within twists – are probably too much for audiences with such limited exposure to the story.  A book, for instance, would allow the reader to re-read, review, re-think; in the film, we watch and if any point is missed, Nolan’s point is lost.  Additionally, the film, at times, appears as if it is being shown incorrectly to general audiences, where instead, it should have been shown to “sleep” professors or super geeks who are experts in the ideas presented and thus capable of fully following the film to its logical terminus. 

It all becomes harrowing, much like sitting down to a table of experienced gamers as they play out a game of Dungeons and Dragons and trying to understand anything at all; to them, the rules are simple due to experience and so bending them or finding loopholes is now not only allowable but required to keep it interesting – to them.  There is almost an inside knowledge required that most people wouldn’t ever have access to.  Nolan attempts to handle this with long, dry scenes where characters attempt explanations that both hinder the pace of the film and flirt with being “a little too late.” In this case, having the audience not know what is coming isn’t necessarily good if they don’t even know what is happening now; ultimately, the mystification takes an edge off the curve balls.

Overall, this film is fantastic and lives up to the hype.  It is intelligent, interesting and riveting – qualities that few directors can manage effectively.  But sometimes there can be too much of a good thing.  Even in our dreams.

Rating: 8 – An expensive red wine and juicy steak

 

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