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Joaquin Phoenix Pimp Walks His Way Through ‘The Immigrant’: A Review

Joaquin Phoenix Pimp Walks His Way Through ‘The Immigrant’: A Review

Joaquin Phoenix Pimp Walks His Way Through ‘The Immigrant’: A Review

James Gray’s latest film The Immigrant, is yet another which stars the incredible talents of Joaquin Phoenix. It’s set in New York in the early 1900’s. A beautiful immigrant, Ewa (Marian Cotillard) and her sister flee Poland to the US, but fresh off the boat and due to strict rules, they face deportation. Phoenix plays Bruno Weiss, a man of potentially troubling motives, who offers Ewa a chance to stay in the US and make a living if she so pleases. Soon, Ewa is tossed into a role as burlesque star/whore for Weiss’ troupe of successful theatrical ladies. Weiss is essentially a pimp of his era.

Ewa trusts nobody, especially Weiss, and lives only to see her sister freed from the infirmary at the prison in which she is being held. She will do whatever it takes to survive, whether stealing, fighting or earning her keep in such a despicable manner to her soul. Ewa constantly wants to flee Weiss’ clutches, but his fancy for her and his ability to keep her fed and earning is tough to leave. A typical but powerful conundrum to be sure.

 

The Immigrant

The US can be a lonely place without a companion, as depicted in “The Immigrant.”

Eventually, a travelling magician, Emil (Jeremy Renner), who also happens to be Weiss’ cousin, falls for Ewa, creating a love triangle, the likes of which Gray is so famously good at bringing to the screen. The usual themes of jealousy, deceit and redemption are at play here. The film, aided by a sepia tone look, remains interesting, though paced a bit deliberately until a climax that also is right up Gray’s alley.

Joaquin Phoenix is perhaps the best actor working today. With the passing of Philip Seymour Hoffman, to me, Phoenix immediately ascends to the top of the heap, if nothing else, sharing the crown with a handful of other acting greats. Phoenix’s Weiss is tortured with an internal gnawing that reveals itself in a brilliant final scene of acting. Though the movie may not payoff in a manner satisfying to audiences, Phoenix makes Weiss as human as possible in a moment of significant catharsis. For that alone, I give The Immigrant a pass.

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Cate Blanchett Sparkles in Woody Allen’s 2013 Film ‘Blue Jasmine’: A Movie Review

Cate Blanchett Sparkles in Woody Allen’s 2013 Film ‘Blue Jasmine’: A Movie Review

Cate Blanchett Sparkles in Woody Allen’s 2013 Film ‘Blue Jasmine’: A Movie Review

There’s a thing I like to call “getting to a place” in acting. This primarily refers to an actor attempting to cry on film. Some are naturally far better at it than others. In Woody Allen’s latest film Blue Jasmine, Cate Blanchett reaches this crescendo over and over in a sterling performance. Too bad the rest of the film doesn’t quite do enough to keep up.

In Jasmine, Blanchett plays Jasmine French, perhaps not her real name, though this is never entirely explained. Jasmine is down on her luck, supposedly broke and forced to move to a menial location in San Francisco to live with her estranged and kind-hearted half sister, Ginger (Sally Hawkins). Jasmine is coming off of a tumultuous “break up” where her ultra rich, bastard of a husband (Alec Baldwin) deceived countless people in money laundering schemes, including Ginger and her then husband, Augie (Andrew Dice Clay). The movie focuses on Jasmine’s present while flashing back to her past to show how she got here.

blue jasmine blanchett

A picture of isolation and despair, Jasmine (Blanchett) deals with her comeuppance.

Jasmine is saddled with drinking and drug problems, tumbling from high society to trying to find real work and put her life back together. Along the way she encounters good people and bad, while she always has an opinion of others shaped by her past. While Ginger works as a grocery bagger and sees a regular Joe greasy monkey, Jasmine desires to return to her past, seeking a man of substance and success. Once this finally happens, we wonder whether she has the fortitude to keep the relationship together and Allen’s film answers that question in pinpoint fashion.

Blanchett gives the performance of a lifetime in Jasmine, constantly under self torture and duress. She carries nearly every scene of the film, so while her character struggles to change, her acting echoes the same traits admirably. She was rightfully at least acknowledged for her work come awards season. The film however is a little too one note, if more the fault of the story than anything else. Everyone involved brings their A-game, but the story doesn’t reach the heights that Allen can sometimes touch and that ultimately keeps the film from being must-see entertainment. While Jasmine “gets to a place,” your emotions watching the film will be far more subdued.

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Michael Bay’s Mark Wahlberg-Led ‘Pain & Gain’ (2013) Movie Review

Michael Bay’s Mark Wahlberg-Led ‘Pain & Gain’ (2013) Movie Review

Michael Bay’s Mark Wahlberg-Led ‘Pain & Gain’ (2013) Movie Review

What happens when a couple of dumb bodybuilders decide to kidnap a rich man and take all his money? That question is answered in the Michael Bay action-comedy Pain & Gain. P&G features events based on a true story, in which Mark Wahlberg’s gym-running Daniel Lugo recruits some friends to pull off a get-rich-quick heist. The heist in this case is a big money scheme involving one of Lugo’s jerk-off fitness clients Victor Kershaw (a detestable Tony Shalhoub). Lugo, inspired by a telemarketing genius, gathers his boys to push further and further down the rabbit hole until pulling off the scam is seen as the only viable option for a better life. They’ll commandeer Kershaw, get him to sign away his life and live happily ever after.

If there was ever a hard to believe story, this is it; not so much in the kidnapping, but the truly bungling abductors. Lugo’s keystone roid-heads include Paul – the brilliant Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson – and Anthony Mackie’s Adrian. The born-again Paul, yoked and fresh out of prison, fights his coke addiction and desire for a more faithful life, all the while toeing the fine line between good and bad. His manic and funny performance is the highlight in this caper. Mackie and Wahlberg also hold their own, each providing yeoman’s work, as well as the gorgeous semi-newcomer Bar Paly, as stripper/temptress Sorina. From the moment these grunts decide to kidnap Kershaw, nothing could go less smooth.

bar paly pain and gain

A little taste of the powder leads to later problems in ‘Pain & Gain.’

What is supposed to be an easy day job, turns into weeks of failed capture, then torture, then bungled murder attempts. When they finally go through with the plan and execute it, Kershaw miraculously (you have to see it to believe it) survives and thus, there goes the group’s chance for a simple escape. Eventually, the law (in the form of Ed Harris) and raised stakes/blown cash catch up to them. They want to pull another bigger caper but things couldn’t go any worse when they try miserably to follow up on their plan.

It’s remarkable that this story exists, embellished as it may be. Here, Michael Bay shows few “Bay-like” traits, instead letting the story speak for itself. Unfortunately, what is supposed to be funny often misses the mark (the dreadful and one note Rebel Wilson features here) and the action portions of the film lack drama or intensity, though you do remain entertained by the hi-jinx of the trio. Pain & Gain couldn’t be a more literal title, and the film is shocking in it’s small, indy feel from the biggest and brashest of visual directors. It’s not a great film, and maybe not even a good one, but it’s enough to stay tuned for two hours and sometimes that is enough.

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Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s Directorial Debut ‘Don Jon’ (2013) Movie Review

Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s Directorial Debut ‘Don Jon’ (2013) Movie Review

Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s Directorial Debut ‘Don Jon’ (2013) Movie Review

Don Jon is director Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s love letter to proper lovemaking. This is perhaps slightly odd given his personal life but nevertheless, the results here are mixed. The film focuses on JGL’s Jon, a New Jersey based “Don Juan” of sorts who always hooks up quality tail at the clubs. Getting girls and having plenty of sex is not Jon’s problem, his issue is his addiction to porn. Jon frequently visits Internet porn sites to get his fix, even post-coitus. This is where his actions really catch up to him, as he is caught watching porn by the woman he thinks he has fallen in love with. Barbara (not Bush), who is played by the fetching Scarlett Johansson, is of Catholic values (in some ways, as is Jon, who frequents confession weekly) and watching porn is a no-no. Hence, in order to be with Barbara, Jon needs to kick his habit.

don jon pics

Sans ink, Don Jon nails the Jersey-boy look and ethos as far as I can tell.

The film has Barbara pulling strings on Jon, or Jon willfully changing, depending on your perspective. Jon ditches his trim-chasing friends for Barbara, he goes back to school, and finds himself telling her he loves him. Some of this happens long before they have actually had sex. The film frustrates like this, as it feels more an exercise for teens that for two would be experienced mid-twenties adults possibly on the verge of marriage and family. You can understand Jon being pussy-whipped on Barb, as ScarJo has likely never looked better on film, but probably not to the degree that he is, given his supposed streak bedding “8’s or better” whenever he goes out.

There are a few fun scenes, including one surprisingly sexy flirtation at a doorway that guys can probably relate to (not that I’d know). A solid cast, including Tony Danza as Jon’s Dad, and some realistic grappling and issues are at play here, but ultimately the film lacks true punch. It’s message, which is to say that making love is more important than trying to “fuck” like a porn star, is fine but the execution is a little muddled. When Jon meets an older woman (Julienne Moore) who imparts said wisdom to him, it doesn’t quite hit the right notes. There are also some missteps in dialogue and story, though for the most part, JGL gives a solid first go sitting in the directorial chair. The acting talent is there all around and the sentiments are admirable, but the end result is like a premature ejaculation (from what I’ve been told). Yeah, you got what you needed but it wasn’t in the best way possible.

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Movie Review: Hip-Hop Documentary ‘Something from Nothing: The Art of Rap’ (2012)

Movie Review: Hip-Hop Documentary ‘Something from Nothing: The Art of Rap’ (2012)

Movie Review: Hip-Hop Documentary ‘Something from Nothing: The Art of Rap’ (2012)

In the documentary, The Art of Rap, long time, legendary gangster(a) rapper Ice-T attempts to do what might be impossible, dive into the understanding of rappers and their art form. Most notably, T tries to get MCs to explain how they approach the craft of writing their raps. This, in many ways, seems like an effort in futility and that is borne out in the documentary itself.

T, a legend in his own right, who has been around since the very early 80’s, is not known for his rapping to many in the modern day. He is known as an actor. Interestingly, he was never really known much for wordplay and artistry in his raps, but more so for causing controversy and pushing boundaries. This makes him a questionable man to take on this task on the surface. But alas, the man, in his mid-50s these days, has a track record in the industry and obvious clout and contacts that few others could parallel. So as T begins his journey to discovery on the East Coast, most notably skipping throughout various NY boroughs, his ability to reach influential people comes into play.

Ice-T spits fire off the top of the dome (perhaps).

T talks to originators in the game, from Grandmaster Caz and Melle Mel, to more well-known artists to many, like Q-Tip of A Tribe Called Quest. The various interviews take place in people’s homes, studios, on the street, wherever T can grab a minute of their time. In the end though, that’s all this usually amounts to, a minute or so of somebody answering a question and then diving into a (often well written) freestyle rap. True information and insight is at a premium, but braggadocio and the N word is not. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy a lot of this, just because it is always good to take a trip down memory lane for someone who has knowledge of the game stretching back to T’s (that’s not bragging, but fact BTW). Still, there wasn’t much “insight” into creation of the art form and rap writing itself. Yes, we “witness” Caz penning a rap and it’s about as thrilling as it sounds. I do that shit on my own time, with my own mind, drop dimes while hitting dimes with sick lines. (Copyright 2014, this author.) See, its really not all that fun.

When T takes it to Detroit for his sole stop outside of LA or NY and meets up with Eminem and cohort Royce, there was actual slight insight into answering the question of how writing takes place and the creative process, but really still nothing that will blow you away and feel like info was revealed and now you too can become an MC or at least have a greater understanding of what it takes to do it. It’s mostly gladhanding, vague answers and the ever-present freestyle from almost every MC interviewed. These are fun, but not much into delivering on the promise of the premise. For real hip-hop fans there is value here with some amusing lines dropped and surprise appearances in some unexpected places. For instance, a few NY MCs are interviewed in LA and its funny that almost all NY MCs rock a Yankee fitted and LA heads rep similarly for their coast. But for the casual filmgoer or doc seeker, you probably won’t get much out of it. I prop T up for going into the project full bore and getting numerous names to speak up on the topic (relatively speaking) but in the end it doesn’t add up to much. That’s real game, bitches.

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50 Cent Vehicle ‘How To Make Money Selling Drugs’ Review (2013)

50 Cent Vehicle ‘How To Make Money Selling Drugs’ Review (2013)

Movie Review: How To Make Money Selling Drugs (2013)

Who doesn’t want to learn how to make money? Who doesn’t want to learn how to sell drugs? Why not combine the two? How To Make Money Selling Drugs is a documentary that purports to be able to do just that. What results is a film that is high on promise and middling on execution. Drugs features Hollywood stars like Susan Sarandon, 50 Cent and “The Wire” creator David Simon waxing on drugs and the politics behind them. The film centers around a structure of how you or I can sell drugs to make money from beginning as a small timer to becoming a mogul/czar who’s worth millions, if not billions. I’m in!

There is a multi-step methodology (something like 8 steps) which serve as chapters in the doc, essentially. The film begins with someone who started out as a kid in his teens looking up to guys who took and sold drugs, getting involved as a runner. Then the runner gets his own stash, then the man with the stash gets a corner and learns how to dodge/deal with the cops, eventually becoming a local star dealer then going overseas and importing and finally becoming above the law, or something along those lines. Various personalities, read: dealers and the like, talk about their experiences in the process at different levels. For instance, a Compton gang member is a focus on an earlier level, whereas a Mexican cartel-type dude is at the final level.

Detroit drugs

A Detroit dealer weighs some dope for quick sale. Easy ca$h.

Some of this is comical and ridiculous, while other parts are certainly eye-opening, if not entirely entertaining. Then there is Susan Sarandon, speaking on her experiences with drugs and how some should be legal. A cop turned activist features prominently on how to game the system and catch corrupt cops. Then David Simon waxes on how government and lawmakers are abusing the system for political gain costing the country billions of dollars. Some of this is maddening and scary, quite frankly, while other parts amusing or glossed over.

The film tries to do too much and goes too many places, eventually finishing with Eminem talking about his drug addiction, which while semi-interesting to me as a fan, has little to do with the promise of the premise so to speak. In the end, there is considerable food for thought, but if this was broken down into a 4-part mini-series (for example) by a more talented filmmaker, there would be more meat to chew on ultimately. It is an eye-catching title and you may want to buy in, but in practice a little too thin in the meat and potatoes areas that are described. It’s worth seeing but asks far more questions than it answers. I guess I won’t be slanging crack rock soon, however tempting it may be.

 

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Terence Malick Leads Ben Affleck in ‘To The Wonder’ Review

Terence Malick Leads Ben Affleck in ‘To The Wonder’ Review

‘To The Wonder’ Review: Where Viewers May Wonder Whether They Can Sit Through It All

Director Terence Malick’s visual poetry reaches new heights in the Ben Affleck-led To The Wonder. The result is a near silent piece of filmmaking that uses images to rattle our emotions, challenging viewers to draw conclusions to a very loosely plotted exercise.

Affleck stars as a man caught between his foreign lover and an American childhood friend. Malick uses imagery and some light voiceover to set most of the story up. Things happen over time so there is not a true plot line that is discernable up front, which forces the viewer to stay incredibly tuned in to the material in order to uncover the meaning.

To The Wonder pic

The stars wonder what they have to do to get fed some lines.

The film is a meandering one, with characters often walking around seemingly aimless and mute. They use their vision and touch to interact or not. This can be a challenging experience for any filmgoer not to mention the actors, including Javier Bardem, Rachel McAdams and Olga Kurylenko. The whole thing is not without its merits, however.

Bardem’s priest struggles with his faith and desires for a female lover. Kurylenko loves Affleck but can’t seem to capture his heart and thus their commitment is tested. The whole thing is interesting but still leaves you wanting some form of traditional storytelling. Even though Malick’s lens gives you some usual visual treats, the sometimes mundane setting of what appears to be a Texas town can’t compare to his last effort Tree of Life.

If that film left you challenged, then this film is not for you. This is a mood film that you must be open minded for. If you simply can’t have enough of The Thin Red Line director, then have a look, but be prepared for a completely unique “movie.”

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Charlize Theron in Young Adult Movie Review

Charlize Theron in Young Adult Movie Review

Charlize Theron Downplays Her Sexy Looks in ‘Young Adult’ Movie Review

Young Adult never really latched on with domestic audiences, and it’s understandable why. The film earned just $16m in the U.S. despite a recognizable star (Charlize Theron) and an emerging named director and writer. The film is difficult to classify. It was sold as a comedy, but it’s definitely dark – if and when you are laughing. Meanwhile, it carries the pacing of a drama. Its lead is an adult who thinks she’s still young, in part due to her profession and in part because she really appears to be mentally challenged and depressed. This is a film with a strange tone, very independent in nature though seemingly aspiring to bigger audience appeal. What results is a middling film that struggles to find its footing with an audience. It tries to be too many things at once and ends up hitting singles and doubles instead of home runs most of the time. What laughs there are do hurt deliciously though.

Theron does “her thing” – which is to play against her considerable looks. Her Mavis Gary is a ghostwriter for a once popular teen series of books. So, while she has the money from a seemingly successful career, she doesn’t really have the recognition. A writer’s life is lonely. She is of a small town who moved on to write in big, bad Minneapolis. However, her loneliness leads her to return home to said small town to try to win back her high school flame, Buddy (Patrick Wilson). Unfortunately, as Mavis is well aware, Buddy has a newborn and a wife to contend with. Alas, she intends to breakup his marriage and be with Buddy.

‘Up In The Air’ Director Jason Reitman and ‘Juno’ writer Diablo Cody Team Up for ‘Young Adult

While Mavis arrives in said small hometown, she meets Matt (Patton Oswalt) at a bar. Matt was a former classmate who Mavis barely remembers. Oh yeah, Matt is a “cripple”, due to an unfortunate beating he took in high school. Matt is every bit as depressed as Mavis is, without the delusions of grandeur. You can already tell where their relationship is heading and that is one of the saccharine issues with Young Adult. It’s obvious Mavis, who thinks like a “Y.A.” as she calls it, does so because she is a writer attempting to get into the mind of teens for her book series. Her delusion takes on a real form though, due to a failed marriage of her own along with massive amounts of Maker’s Mark – a stiff whisky for those not in the know.

Charlize Theron in Young Adult

A writer in her element. Charlize's Mavis eavesdrops on a convo in 'Young Adult.'

Ultimately, Mavis chases Buddy, while Matt looms. The conclusion to the drama is coming from a mile away, but that’s not always the point. The beats the film hits are typical and expected. However, the movie still has so many moments of awkward discomfort that there is redemption to be had. The juxtaposition of small town and big town is at play. The idea of giving up who you were and moving on from your past. There are some real themes explored in Young Adult and the film is mostly successful at this exploration.

Still, its not an entirely fun ride getting there – director Jason Reitman lacks visual flair, simply portraying small town America as a place few would seemingly want to be, yet most are. The punch to Diablo Cody’s writing is biting but errs on sadness rather than humorous. You wanted to laugh more than you were allowed to. That ultimately settles the film into middle of the road fare, kind of like it’s small town and local denizens. They’re either happily dimwitted or occupied with repressed depression and neither is a particularly pleasurable place to be.

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