Tag Archives: leonardo dicaprio

Revolutionary Road – Review

2 Sep

To me, some of the coolest kinds of movies take subjects that seem completely normal and uneventful and completely flip them on their heads to show a much more unsettling look at normalcy. In 1999, director Sam Mendes graced the world with a masterwork of film making, American Beauty, which took a darkly comedic look at the sometimes tragic follies of suburban living. After this great success, Mendes would revisit similar themes with his 2008 film Revolutionary Road. While it does share similar elements to his earlier film, Revolutionary Road is a much more serious and unsettling look at marriage, mental health, and the idea of “settling down.” It’s an overwhelming experience that is bound to leave you drained by the end.

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After Frank Wheeler (Leonardo DiCaprio) meets April (Kate Winslet) at a party, it doesn’t take long for them to fall in love and start their life together. They move into a nice house on Revolutionary Road in the suburbs of Connecticut. Frank gets a job as a salesman for Knox Machines and April stays home taking care of their two young kids. It seems like the perfect nuclear family. What’s happening behind closed doors is less than perfect. Frank and April’s relationship is completely disintegrating, and this disintegrations is causing a lot of hate to boil to the surface. This hate has to remain hidden from their friends and neighbors. Their final solution to this is to pack their things, get out of the mundane life they created and move to Paris. While this idea brings them closer to the happiness they desire, a promotion offered to Frank once again puts their relationship in jeopardy as their desires and feelings become even more at ends and their lives begin to spiral out of control.

What Mendes did for more modern suburban life with American Beauty, he does for the nuclear family in Revolutionary Road. This film takes a tough look at what is labeled as the “perfect American life.” The Wheelers are a close family that live in a nice house in a nice neighborhood, and that’s ultimately what seems to be their downfall. Everything is just too nice. It also shows the long term consequences of decisions that seemed like a great idea at the time, like quickly getting married or hastily taking a job that you have no interest in. I feel like I’m rambling a little bit, but that’s one of the more interesting parts about this movie. Everything seems so mundane and ordinary at first glance, but this mundanity is what’s helping to tear this family to shreds. Revolutionary Road also takes a critical look at relationships. It doesn’t condemn them even a little bit, but it forces the audience to examine what makes them actually work and how too much focus on yourself, no matter how right or wrong you may be, can wreak the foundation a relationship is built on. In a nutshell, Revolutionary Road is a film about the extraordinary dark side to an otherwise ordinary life, which may seem all to real to some people.

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Revolutionary Road is an emotionally exhausting film, and I guarantee that by the end you’re going to need either eat an entire tub of ice cream or take a really long nap. There are scenes in this movie that are so intense and real and uncomfortable that I was looking at it through my fingers. When a movie isn’t a horror film and it elicits that kind of reaction, then something was done very right. While it is very intense and tragic in many scenes, there are times where it got to be a bit too much. That’s probably my only complaint with this film. It goes from being highly dramatic to too predictably melodramatic. This only happens a few times throughout the course of the movie so it really isn’t that big of a complaint at all. Most of the scenes hit the dramatic intensity just right, while a select few kind of just go too far. One major contribution to the drama is Thomas Newman’s excellent score that fits right in with the film’s onscreen action.

Watching this movie, it isn’t hard to believe that before working in film, Mendes was a prolific director of stage plays. He, along with the help of master cinematographer Roger Deakins, films this movie like something that could be found on stage. It works great for the film and really allows that actors to work with the limited space that is given to them DiCaprio and Winslet have already shown their chemistry in Titanic, and now show a much more matured version of that chemistry in Revolutionary Road. They give outstanding performances that, I feel, have become under appreciated since the time of this movie’s release. I was surprised to see Michael Shannon, who has grown to be one of my absolute favorite actors, shows up for a little bit. He’s only in a few scenes, but he absolutely owns the screen whenever he’s on, and for this small performance he was given a Best Supporting Actor nomination.

Revolutionary Road is one of those movies that really hits you where it hurts. At times, the drama could get a little heavy handed and the writing could stray into the “no one really talks like that” category. Even with the rare heavy handedness, this is a really interesting and upsetting film that succeeds in exactly what it was trying to do. Not only is this film shot very well, but the acting is superb and the production and costume design really get you into the era that the film takes place. Mendes is a film maker that understands the more subtle terrors of normal life, and he uses them very well in Revolutionary Road.

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The Revenant – Review

19 Jan

Last year, Alejandro González Iñárritu took film making to a whole new level with his Academy Award winning film Birdman. That film really blew me away, and continues to do so every time I watch it. Could it be possible that Iñárritu has topped himself just a year later? Well, yeah. He did with The Revenant. Now nominated for 12 Academy Awards and already winning Best Drama at the Golden Globes, I was more than a little excited to see it. Now that I have, it may be my new favorite movie of all time.

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In 1823, an American hunting party is traveling through the wilderness of the unexplored north western territories of the United States. After being attacked by a hostile Native American tribe, the party’s numbers is drastically reduced. While scouting ahead to make sure the coast is clear and possibly find food, Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio) is mauled by a mother grizzly bear trying to protect her cubs. Glass survives the bear’s attacks but is left severely injured and close to death. Three volunteers, including Glass’ half Native American son Hawk (Forrest Goodluck) decide to stay behind and give Glass a proper burial. Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy), one of the volunteers, is desperate to get home and get paid betrays Glass and leaves him for dead. What Fitzgerald wasn’t counting on was Glass’ will to live and desire to get his revenge.

What makes The Revenant a perfect movie in my honest opinion is that it sets out to do everything a movie should, and succeeds in doing so. For two and a half hours, this movie kept me 100% captivated. I felt like I was right there in the middle of the wilderness with Hugh Glass, which made it more than just watching a movie. It made it feel more like an experience. The reason for all of this excitement is because The Revenant is both an artistic masterpiece, but also tells a grueling story of betrayal, vengeance, life, and death that is filled with the rawest performances of humanity that I may have ever seen onscreen.

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Like with Birdman, one of the main reasons to check this movie out is the mind blowing cinematography. The Revenant is photographed by a name everyone should know, and that’s Emmanuel Lubezki, who won consecutive Academy Awards for his work on Gravity and Birdman. It would be pretty wild if he won three years in a row, but he honestly deserves it. Like in the previous films he’s worked on, The Revenant has a lot of really long takes where so much is put into one shot, which makes it feel even more like I was watching something straight out of reality. To add more complications, Iñárritu wanted the entire film to be shot using all natural lighting, which is a truly remarkable feat. I really can’t praise the cinematography enough.

Finally, the moment you’ve all been waiting for. Yes Leonardo DiCaprio is just as fantastic in this movie as you’ve been led to believe. It’s one of those times where I wasn’t watching DiCaprio act anymore. He looked and acted like he completely became Hugh Glass, and that’s not the first time he’s done that with a character. While it isn’t the first time, it is the fullest transformation he’s ever made. Another actor that really makes the movie work is Tom Hardy. Hardy had quite a year in 2015 and has shown himself to be one of the prominent blockbuster actors. Now in The Revenant he plays a villain that is so easy and fun to hate, which makes Glass’ story of revenge that much better.

It may just be the excitement talking, but The Revenant is one of the best movies I’ve ever seen and may have taken the top spot for my favorite movie I’ve ever seen. It has everything I look for in a movie from the story, to the art design, and the acting. This is a very intense, gritty, and real movie that at times feel hard to sit through, but that’s sort of the whole point. Alejandro González Iñárritu has really outdone himself this time and ended 2015’s film year with a resounding bang.

The Aviator – Review

5 Jan

Making a movie about the life of Howard Hughes, one of the most eccentric and brilliant figures in American history, wouldn’t be an easy task because of how much he actually did. Leave it to Martin Scorsese to, not only attempt, but succeed and bringing this larger than life figure to silver screen with The Aviator. Combining a story about film and aviation history and mental disease, this is an epic and hugely impressive biopic that captures the essence of film almost perfectly.

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As the sole heir to the Hughes Tool Company, Howard Hughes (Leonardo DiCaprio) has a lot of extra cash to throw around, and ends up using it to create on of the first truly epic films, Hell’s Angels, after years of production. While living a life in Hollywood and beginning a relationship with the likes of Katharine Hepburn (Cate Blanchett), Hughes isn’t one to forget his true passion: aviation. Soon, Hughes becomes involved with government plans to build many different types of aircraft that will become essential in World War II. Meanwhile, Hughes has his own plan to create the Hercules (aka the Spruce Goose), the largest plane ever created, but only after he can control his deepening paranoia and OCD.

The Aviator begins with what can only be described as a film buff’s dream come true. The first part of the movie shows Howard Hughes almost killing himself and going bankrupt in order to complete Hell’s Angels. Along the way, though, we get to see him interact with some major stars of the time. We get to see Jude Law as Errol Flynn, Gwen Stefani as Jean Harlow, and later on Kate Beckinsale as Ava Gardner. This isn’t my favorite part of the movie, but it’s easy to see how much fun Martin Scorsese is having with the material, the likes of which he would prove his loyalty to in Hugo some years later. It was a wild time in Hollywood and it’s done so well in this movie. Cate Blanchett especially is note perfect as Katharine Hepburn.

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After the story moves past Hughes’ work in Hollywood, it moves onto his career in engineering airplanes for the military. While this is still a very interesting part, it begins to get a little confusing. One of the big problems is that there’s a point in the movie where it doesn’t say what year it is. This is all happening during the days of World War II, so depending on what year it is is important to what Howard the government are doing. Since I didn’t know what year it was, it got a little tricky to follow along at some points. Still, I had an understanding of what he was doing and it was still awesome to see the genius at work, building up an empire, even while his world seemed to be crumbling all around him.

The most interesting part of The Aviator to me was the depiction of mental illness. Mental illnesses and genius together is a huge interest of mine, seeing how one affects the other, so it was really interesting seeing a depiction of Hughes’ paranoia and obsessive compulsive disorder take a toll on his life. This is OCD in a way that I’ve never seen depicted before, a dangerous, life altering OCD. It’s almost hard to watch scenes when Hughes forces himself to say certain sentences over and over again or even struggle to get out of a bathroom in the most germ free way he can. It puts that entire disorder in perspective and how damaging it can really be.

It’s not surprising that The Aviator turned out as great as it did. With Scorsese and his cast of actors along with an amazing human being as the subject, it has all of the ingredients for an interesting and entertaining movie, even clocking in at 3 hours. There’s a lot of history in this movie, and it may not be told in the most coherent of ways at times, but most of this ride is really something memorable. It celebrates history, achievement, and Howard Hughes himself.

The Wolf of Wall Street – Review

18 Jan

Martin Scorsese has a way of creating these epic stories of crime that may stretch on for a very long time, but somehow he can keep people’s undivided attention the whole time. That’s exactly how it was for me with The Wolf of Wall Street. I had no doubts that Scorsese’s latest crime epic was going to be anything less than entertaining, but what I saw was not only one of the best films of the past year, but may very well be one of my new favorite movies. It’s funny, dramatic, and not afraid to go places other films dare not tread.

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Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio) has dreams of making a name for himself, and also of making as much money as he possibly can. After the business he is working for as a stock broker, run by his mentor Mark Hanna (Matthew McConaughey), is shut down after the events of Black Monday, Belfort finds himself working for a boiler room that deals in penny stocks. Belfort sees potential in these penny stocks, and how the commission that he makes is far more than he can make with a legit business on Wall Street. Jordan starts up his own business, Stratton Oakmont, and along with his right hand man, Donnie Azoff (Jonah Hill), starts making millions in these illegal stocks. His life of debauchery, prostitutes, money, and drugs seems to be going fine, until FBI Agent Denham (Kyle Chandler) begins investigating the dealings at Stratton Oakmont and sees potential to crumble Belfort’s empire.

What makes this movie all the more appealing to me is that it is all based off of a true story of a man who actually did this. Jordan Belfort’s memoirs is the source material for The Wolf of Wall Street, and the unapologetic amount of excess that Belfort engaged in could never be boring to witness. Martin Scorsese obviously does not approve of Belfort’s actions and means of income, but the way he is presented in this movie might be deceptive at first. Rise and fall stories are very interesting to me, like Scarface and the entire arc of all three Godfather movies, and this one is no different. At first, we almost seem to want to be a part of Belfort’s life, but towards the end we can’t even stand looking at him. He’s amoral, but so much fun.

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This movie is so full of energy, it actually made me all hyped up after it was over. Leonardo DiCaprio is at the top of his game here, and I’d go so far to say that he deserves the Academy Award for his performance. It carries the entire movie and he seemed willing to really make a goof out of himself. Of course he has Jonah Hill by his side to keep the energy alive, and it’s really interesting to watch Hill’s career grow as an actor. He’s no longer just a funny guy. He’s quite a serious actor. Not to mention McConaughey’s brief screen time is some of the best the movie has to offer.

The stars behind the camera are just as effective. Everyone and their mothers know that Martin Scorsese is one of the best film makers of all time. There’s just no disputing that. His sweeping camera work has just as much fluidity and energy as the rest of the cast, and the different choices of lenses for certain scenes as another fun layer of creativity to the entire experience. Terrance Winter, the creative mind behind HBO’s hit series Boardwalk Empire (one of my favorite shows), brings his A-game to the table for The Wolf of Wall Street. His dialogue is sharp as a tack and extremely quick. An exceptional instance of his writing is the first time Belfort and Agent Denham first meet on Belfort’s yacht. It’s an amazing word duel that I will never forget. Finally, I need to mention Thelma Schoonmaker’s editing. The intercuts and crazy editing keeps the film feeling kinetic. It’s perfect.

The Wolf of Wall Street was an excellent film that was one of the most fun times I’ve had watching a movie in a long time. It’s kinetic film making at its finest, and Martin Scorsese once again proves why he is cinematic titan. DiCaprio’s and Hill’s performances solidify their Hollywood talent, and I really want to see this get some recognition at the Oscars in terms of acting, writing, and editing.

J. Edgar – Review

26 Aug

J. Edgar Hoover is one of the most famous, important, mysterious, and occasionally hated men in American history. With a very distinct personality and set of regulations, he seemed to single handedly establish the FBI and make it into a law enforcement agency to reckon with. Clint Eastwood and writer Dustin Lance Black attempt to bring to light some of the mystery behind Hoover in a biopic that may be well filmed, but hardly memorable.

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The story is told by J. Edgar Hoover (Leonardo DiCaprio), himself, for a memoir that he wants to tell his side of the story. As he dictates his words to agency ghost writers, flash backs begin to show the audience important moments of his life. At a young age, and early in his career, he meets Helen Gandy (Naomi Watts), who became his longtime secretary and closest associate. He also meets Clyde Tolson (Armie Hammer), Hoover’s second in command and personal confidante, whom Hoover may or may not had a secret sexual relationship with. On the business side, we see the founding of the FBI, Hoover’s push for the deportation of Communist supporters and potential terrorists, his involvement with the Lindbergh kidnapping, and many other events that formed the tapestry of Hoover’s life.

As a biopic, J. Edgar is expected to cover a lot of ground. Dustin Lance Black has proven that he has the ability to write films like this with his previous work as the screenwriter of Milk, which I consider to be one of the most successful biopics ever to be made. J. Edgar isn’t difficult to understand, but it seemed very scattered. This isn’t too much of a problem since the outcome is being able to see a complete arc in Hoover’s life. One thing that was more problematic was that there wasn’t really a stance on Hoover’s activities. There was a clear opinion that the movie had. By the end of J. Edgar, I don’t feel like I know enough to form my own opinion. In that way, the movie fails.

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I remember when this movie was first released, there was a lot of talk about the make up. Leonardo DiCaprio, Armie Hammer, and Naomi Watts all play older versions of their respective characters, so they all had to undergo many hours in the make up chair. There are a lot of jokes that I’ve heard about the make up and people saying it looked terrible, but in my opinion, it looked pretty damn good. There were scenes, especially with DiCaprio, that the make up did seem to become more noticeable, but most scenes he looked just fine. Naomi Watt’s make up, however, looked outstanding and was completely believable.  All of the costumes really worked, and Clint Eastwood’s apparent love for desaturating his movies beyond what seems reasonable works very well to get the old time vibe across.

It’s pretty obvious that this movie was intended to be Oscar bait, although that didn’t really happen as well as everyone expected. Before I saw the movie, I was sure that DiCaprio would get an Oscar nomination, but after seeing it, I understand why not. His performance was very heavy handed, verbally. His actions and expressions were all great, but I just couldn’t buy whatever accent he was doing. It just sounded odd. As for everyone else, there isn’t really anything special to say. They all did fine without really giving any incredibly memorable performances.

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J. Edgar is not a bad movie, but it doesn’t quite achieve the expectations that it put forth. It’s not too difficult to follow, as I expected it would be, but everything just doesn’t feel as great as it could have been. It can’t be easy making a biopic about a man as secretive as J. Edgar Hoover, but by the end of the movie, I don’t really feel like I learned too much about the man, but more about his more public actions. It was interesting to see the history of the FBI, but as for the subject of Hoover, I’m still as much in the dark as everyone else.

Django Unchained – Review

1 Jan

Quentin Tarantino has made a name for himself as being one of the most bizarrely creative film makers of our age. His genre bending films have combined all sorts of styles from samurai films to war dramas, but all of them have what I like to call the Tarantino Twist. He takes the genres we all know so well and tun them on their heads to make them entirely his own. With Django Unchained, he takes on the spaghetti western.

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Django (Jamie Foxx) is a slave on his way to a plantation when all of a sudden he is saved by a wandering bounty hunter, Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz). Together, the two become an infamous bounty hunting team, until Django once again focuses his gaze on his most important goal: finding his wife (Kerry Washington) and freeing her. Schultz finds her at one of the most known plantations in all the South run by Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio), and the two men hatch a plan to get onto his plantation and get her to safety.

From the get go, this feels like a Tarantino movie and I was immediately ready for the insanity that I knew I was about to experience. From beginning to end, Django Unchained rarely slows down. This doesn’t mean that it’s full of non stop violence and action, but the dialogue is just as intense as any of the bloody shoot outs. This is typical of any Tarantino movie, and I couldn’t help but get sucked into the thickly layered dialogue only to be shocked back into reality by a sudden explosion of gunfire.

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One thing I really need to point out is that this is a very long movie, and it really didn’t need to be. There is definitely a big story that Tarantino is trying to tell that takes place in one of the worst times of American history, but I’m surprised that it was stretched out so long. The last twenty minutes of the movie absolutely, positively did not need to be there. There were a couple different times where I said to myself, “This has to be the end of the movie.” I was wrong. It kept going and going, but these scenes that felt tacked on didn’t have the intensity that the rest of the movie had making it feel very unnecessary.

While this very long and unnecessary ending doesn’t feel too great, I can’t help but love this movie because of all that happens before it and the outstanding characters portrayed with out of this world performances. Jamie Foxx is adequate as Django, but nowhere near steals the show. Waltz shows once again that he is the master of line delivery making each of his lines sound important and necessary. DiCaprio is insanity incarnate as Calvin Candie and he plays it just as he should. Finally, Samuel L. Jackson will piss you off as a character, but you can’t help but dig the performance. The make up and physical acting he does is great.

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Django Unchained was everything I hoped it would be even though it doesn’t seem to end. The characters and dialogue are some of Tarantino’s best creations and the violence will have viewers laughing harder than they may have expected. While I don’t think it tops Inglourious Basterds, which I consider Tarantino’s masterpiece, I will say that it’s an exceptional piece of work by this now legendary writer/director. You definitely should not miss out on Django Unchained.