Ep. 129 – Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood, The Farewell

July 29, 2019 by  
Filed under Podcast

]

The CineSnob Podcast returns with reviews of the latest Quentin Tarantino movie “Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood” and “The Farewell.”

Cody and Jerrod also discuss dynamic ticket pricing and Marvel’s Phase 4.

Click here to download the episode!

The Wolf of Wall Street

December 27, 2013 by  
Filed under Jerrod, Reviews

Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Jonah Hill, Margot Robbie
Directed by: Martin Scorsese (“The Departed,” “Hugo”)
Written by: Terence Winter (“Get Rich or Die Tryin’”)

As Jordan Belfort, the so-called Wolf of Wall Street, Leonardo DiCaprio asks the question we’re all thinking when it comes to the complicated maneuverings of Wall Street: “Was all this legal? Absolutely not!” 

Directed in full “Goodfellas”-mode by Martin Scorsese, “The Wolf of Wall Street” charts the true-life meteoric rise and fall of Belfort and his firm, Stratton Oakmont, during the ‘80s and ‘90s. With his best friend Donnie Azoff (Jonah Hill) at his side, Jordan runs a years-long scam involving selling penny stocks to unsuspecting average citizens at a heavy commission, knowing full well the shares are garbage from go-nowhere companies based out of garages and basements. As his personal wealth grows, Jordan slides falls further and further down a rabbit hole of drugs, prostitutes, sex, and even more drugs. When the firm finally grows large enough to warrant the attention of a straight-arrow FBI agent (Kyle Chandler), Jordan’s life begins to unravel.

At just under three hours long, “The Wolf of Wall Street” could have easily overstayed its welcome, but a fun script from Terence Winter and hilarious performances from DiCaprio and Hill keep things interesting. Winter, an HBO veteran who served as a writer on “The Sopranos” and creator of “Boardwalk Empire,” turns in another Tony Soprano/Nucky Thompson-style likeable anti-hero in Jordan that the audience can’t help but pull for in the early going—in spite of all the horrible things we see him do.

Scorsese slips into this filmmaking style—“Wolf” is basically a spiritual sequel to both “Goodfellas” and “Casino”–like it’s a well-worn shoe.  No one does it better, and with a game DiCaprio in front of the lens, there’s an awful lot to like about this film.

The Great Gatsby

May 10, 2013 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Tobey Maguire, Carey Mulligan
Directed by: Baz Luhrmann (“Australia”)
Written by: Baz Luhrmann (“Australia”) and Craig Pearce (“Moulin Rouge!”)

For having a reputation of delivering gaudy visual feasts even when his scripts aren’t always spot on, filmmaker Baz Luhrmann has surprisingly become a party pooper with his adaptation of “The Great Gatsby,” the classic tale by F. Scott Fitzgerald set in the early 1920s. In the past, Luhrmann has been able to take a celebrated writer like William Shakespeare and turn a story like “Romeo and Juliet” into his own fantastical creation. His work might feel overblown to some (“Moulin Rouge!,” especially, may cause a few epileptic seizures), but his more-is-more approach without apology is what makes the Australian director spectacular despite his flaws. Still, in “The Great Gatsby,” Luhrmann promises a grand circus and shows up with some really expensive silly string.

The year is 1922 in New York City. Business is booming, liquor is cheap, and the roaring jazz music is turning everyone into wild animals. For a good time on the weekends, most find their way to the mansion of Jay Gatsby (Leonardo DiCaprio), a mysterious millionaire whose shindigs are the bee’s knees. When Jay meets his new neighbor Nick Carraway (Tobey Maguire), he seizes the opportunity to become his friend in hopes of reuniting with Nick’s cousin Daisy (Carey Mulligan). Daisy is a girl from Jay’s past who is now married to Tom Buchanan (Joel Edgerton), a hulking polo player and philanderer who beings to question Jay’s new-money success.

Considered one of the great American novels, Luhrmann somehow squeezes all the romance and emotional value from “The Great Gatsby” and diminishes it to a series of soap opera-like encounters. Where other renditions capture at least some of Fitzgerald’s social commentary (the most famous being the 1974 version starring Robert Redford and Mia Farrow, which isn’t groundbreaking either), Luhrmann hides his under era garb and confetti just long enough for indiscriminate viewers to get sidetracked by the fireworks (and the Jay-Z hip-hop).

That’s not to say a more contemporary soundtrack brimming with anachronistic hits is never welcomed. Director Sofia Coppola did a fantastic job spinning Bow Wow Wow songs inside the walls of Versailles in 2006’s “Marie Antoinette,” but Luhrmann seems to use the music in a much broader way rather than have it support the narrative. Sure, a song like “$100 Bill” drops Gatsby’s name, but it all feels very overproduced and forced.

As Carraway, Maguire is a boy in men’s clothing. Never do we get a sense of the person he is or why he is enthralled with Jay’s lifestyle. He becomes a fly-on-the-wall kind of character and an afterthought long before the credits roll. While DiCaprio is sufficient as the leading man, he, too, is unable to assemble the emotion needed to make Jay’s longing for Daisy soar. It’s not until his two hot-blooded scenes with the well-cast Edgerton that DiCaprio lifts the vale from his enigmatic character. By then, however, all the Cristal has finished, everybody’s gone home, and not even Luhrmann’s decision to scroll Fitzgerald’s poetic words on screen can give another cinematic “Gatsby” reason to exist.

Django Unchained

December 29, 2012 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Jaime Foxx, Christoph Waltz, Leonardo DiCaprio
Directed by: Quentin Tarantino (“Inglourious Basterds”)
Written by: Quentin Tarantino (“Inglourious Basterds”)

Filmmaker Quentin Tarantino (“Inglourious Basterds”) takes a no-holds-barred approach to the topic of slavery in “Django Unchained,” a sharply-written, ultra-violent spectacle masked as a spaghetti western. Sergio Leone would be both proud and traumatized.

As a film about racism in America, it’s a welcomed punch to the gut unlike the seriously overrated Oscar-winning 2004 drama “Crash,” which also bashes you over the head with the subject matter, but with far less blood and entertainment value. When conveying slavery on the big screen, not many directors would have the backbone to present it as a savagely dark comedy and gun-blazing action flick. These topics are serious issues about our nation’s dark past. But what Tarantino is able to do here is monumental. By taking something as revolting as slavery and turning it on its head, he uncovers the ugliness of the era in a way we can all appreciate. It’s cynical, cartoonish and shocking at times, but Tarnantino knows how to get our attention and keep it till the last body is riddled with its fair share of bullets.

In “Django Unchained,” Academy Award-winning actor Jaime Foxx (“Ray”), in a title role that was actually written for Will Smith (who wussed out of the movie), stars as Django, a pre-Civil War slave who is given his freedom by German bounty hunter Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz) in exchange for helping him track down a trio of murderers. Once the job is complete and Django and Dr. Schultz have developed a kindly partnership, Django teams up with him to go on more bounties so he can make enough money to go buy back his wife Broomhilda (Kerry Washington) from whatever slave owner has acquired her.

Upon their journey, Django and Dr. Schultz learn that Broomhilda has been purchased by Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio in a terrific supporting role that should garner him an Oscar nom), one of the most well-known slave owners in the American South who gets his kicks in watching able-bodied male slaves brutally fight each other to the death. Once infiltrated onto the plantation of Candieland by pretending to have an interest in buying one of Calvin’s fighters, Django and Dr. Schultz scheme a plan to save Broomhilda before Calvin’s house slave Stephen (Samuel L. Jackson) figures out what’s really happening.

While the film loses steam in the last half hour (and includes a ridiculously unfunny cameo by the always arrogant Tarantino), the exaggerated elements of the filmmaker’s narrative, dialogue and style remain much like they have been over the last 20 years. Sure, it’s not in the top tier of what he’s done in the past (“Kill Bill” is a lot more fun and “Pulp Fiction” will forever be his masterpiece), but Tarantino’s films are imaginative and unique. Until he stops serving that up – even if it is the form of a moronic group of Kl Klux Klan members – I’ll have a few scoops.

Inception

July 16, 2010 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Ellen Page
Directed by: Christopher Nolan (‘The Dark Knight”)
Written by: Christopher Nolan (‘The Dark Knight”)

Filmmaker Christopher Nolan is known for the complex worlds he creates, but nothing can prepare you for the trippy and surreal adventure he guides us through with “Inception,” the seventh feature film from the London-born director whose narratives sometimes feel like the cinematic equivalent of mathematical proof theories.

Unlike filmmaker David Lynch (“Blue Velvet”) who can become nonsensical at times, Nolan provides us with all the answers. While there is some wiggle room for interpretation, Nolan’s approach is more forthright. Still, if his other films like “Memento” and “The Prestige” required a couple of viewings before everything really added up, it shouldn’t be surprising to anyone if mainstream moviegoers walk out of his latest intricate offering with looks of bewilderment. It might be as frustrating as it is awe-inspiring, but there’s no doubt once you stitch the pieces together it’s remarkable.

In “Inception,” dreams and reality become limitless in the hands of Nolan who introduces some lofty ideas into this espionage mind thriller. Leonardo DiCaprio stars as Dom Cobb, a man whose job it is to enter the dreams of individuals and steal their ideas and secrets. When a wealthy industrialist Saito (Ken Watanabe) confronts Cobb and asks him to enter the dreams of a business competitor (Cillian Murphy) and plant an idea in his mind (a technique known as inception) Cobb takes the challenge, although his right-hand man Arthur (Joseph Grdon-Levitt) is sure it can’t be done.

Also entering the dreamscape with Dom and Arthur is Ariadne (Ellen Page), an intelligent college student who is brought onto the team as the architect of the dreamy scenarios they will enter. Ariadne is also the only one on the team who knows that despite Cobb’s masterful talent, their work can all be destroyed if he allows the memories of his dead wife (Marion Cotillard) to affect him while he is navigating around in someone’s subconscious.

It would be pointless to explain any more about “Inception” other than these basic points. It’s a film to be experienced not clarified. It’s unfortunate there will probably be plenty of people that will dismiss the narrative as too confusing to fully enjoy, but the originality of “Inception” carries it through to the end even when some of its more emotional aspects end up being a bit underwhelming.

Shutter Island

February 19, 2010 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Mark Ruffalo, Ben Kingsley
Directed by: Martin Scorsese (“The Departed”)
Written by: Laeta Kalogridis (“Alexander”)

There are times during Academy Award-winning director Martin Scorsese’s (“The Departed”) thriller “Shutter Island” where you can feel the anxiety of the picture frothing up inside your gut. Once Robbie Robertson’s disturbing Hitchcockian score and Robert Richardson’s misery-stricken cinematography merge to create the ominous tone during the opening scenes, it is obvious Scorsese plans to keep you as uneasy as he possibly can for as long as he can.

There is only so much, however, that a masterful director like Scorsese and a few members of his technical crew can do before its foundation collapses from under them. Adapted from the Dennis Lehane (“Mystic River”) novel of the same name, screenwriter Laeta Kalogridis (“Alexander”) rides Scorsese’s coattail as far as she can before the work itself shrinks back into predictable dark corners. The twist and turns might be sharp, but that doesn’t make them any less dull.

Collaborating for the fourth time with Scorsese, Academy Award nominee Leonardo DiCaprio (“The Aviator”) plays Teddy Daniels, a U.S. marshal investigating the disappearance of Rachel Solando, a murderess from a mental hospital known to house the most criminally insane patients. Teddy’s new partner Chuck (Mark Ruffalo) joins him on his tour through the facilities where he plans to interrogate every one who knows Rachel, including psychiatrists Dr. Cawley (Sir Ben Kingsley) and Dr. Naehring (Max von Sydow) who aren’t exactly cooperating with Teddy’s methods of inquiry.

Teddy, however, has more to worry about than unsupportive head doctors who seem to be hiding the truth. Nightmares of his dead wife (Michelle Williams) and his time in the war begin to haunt him as he and Chuck end up stranded on the island during a vicious thunderstorm. They are the type of hallucinations that would easily be dismissed if they were in any other horror-type movie, but since Scorsese is directing the scenes we’re led to believe that they should be considered more artistic than overly-stylistic. However you want to identify them, they have no bearing on any emotional aspect of the story, which is unfortunate since they are revisited numerous times.

Most of the emotional pull comes from DiCaprio’s performance itself. Walking a fine line between awareness and madness, his on-the-spot portrayal of a man uncertain of his own mental welfare as he caves in on himself is frightening. Still, the suspense refuses to take another step forward once the pieces start fitting together more obviously. Once that occurs, it is only a matter of waiting out the rest of the unsubstantial plot points in “Shutter Island.” By then, all the dread has subsided and that ball of nerves that was floundering around inside you earlier feels more like bad indigestion.

Revolutionary Road

December 28, 2008 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Kate Winslet, Michael Shannon
Directed by: Sam Mendes (“American Beauty”)
Written by: Justin Haythe (“The Clearing”)

Married with a house and a mortgage and 2.5 kids. It might sound like the standard version of the American Dream for any conventional couple, but for the characters of Richard Yates’s best-selling novel, it is their prison.

In “Revolutionary Road,” directed by Academy Award-winner Sam Mendes (“American Beauty”), Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet (their first film together since 1997’s “Titanic”) give life and discontentment to Frank and April Wheeler, a seemingly happy husband and wife living in a Connecticut suburb during the mid-1950s.

It’s a peaceful facade from the outside, but like Mendes’s “Beauty,” there are unseen thorns under this bed of roses. Although they seem like the perfect couple to their friends, Frank and April are miserable. Frank is stuck in a job in office sales and having an empty affair with a naïve young girl at the company, while April, who once dreamed to become an actress, is trapped at home caring for her two children and making the best of a life she finds unfulfilling.

Despite the Wheeler’s marriage coming to an obvious end, April believes it can be saved if they just had a change in scenery. One night, she spontaneously proposes to Frank that they pack up and move to Paris to start over. She sweetens the deal by telling him that she will be the one to work and provide for the family while he discovers what it is he wants out of life. The plan sounds illogical, but Frank and April know that if it doesn’t work out their marriage won’t survive by simply “playing house” and accepting their apathy for each other as natural relationship wear-and-tear.

Through emotionally draining and depressing scenes, DiCaprio and Winslet scrape away at each other until both become fragile and feel worthless. Both are astonishing in their roles. The X-factor in this devastating story comes from supporting actor Michael Shannon, who plays “certified lunatic” John Givings, the manic son of one of the Wheelers’ neighbors who cuts the couple down to size and expresses opinions to them as if he was reading their minds. He talks to the Wheelers unlike anyone has ever dared to before. At first, the his candidness is appreciated, but when John finds his way into the heart of their problems, the confrontations become frightening.

Just as Frank and April keep each other on the brink of madness so will “Revolutionary Road” do to the audience as they watch the couple refuse to resign from life. Scored by “American Beauty” composer Thomas Newman and shot by “No Country for Old Men” cinematographer Roger Deakins (both should get Oscar nods), small town suburbia becomes a story of psychological survival between two self-delusional lovers backed into a corner.

Body of Lies

October 17, 2008 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Russell Crowe, Mark Strong
Directed by: Ridley Scott (“Gladiator”)
Written by: William Monahan (“The Departed”)

The pieces seem to all be in the right place. Russell Crowe and director Ridley Scott, a duo who win Oscars together, are set in motion while box office draw and talented actor Leonardo DiCaprio is sharpening his claws for his first film since garnering his own Oscar nod for “Blood Diamond.”

But not everything on paper works well as a final product as we see in “Body of Lies.” It’s a decent espionage thriller that should probably throw all the chips in on its leading men and not necessarily on the volatile and familiar story.

Based on the novel by David Ignatius, “Body of Lies” follows CIA operative Roger Ferris (Leonardo DiCaprio) as he keeps tabs on terrorists in the Middle East. Roger is in constant contact by phone with his boss Ed Hoffman (Russell Crowe) who sends him on missions while living the easy life back in Washington D.C. out of harm’s way. (Think of Ed as the tubby man-boy living in his mother’s basement playing MMORPGs all day, covered in junk food and not having any sense of the real world outside his cocoon).

When Roger goes on another mission to hunt down a terrorist leader named Al-Saleem (Along Abutbul) in Jordan, he recruits the help of a local intelligence chief named Hani (Mark Strong, who reminds me too much of Andy Garcia) to infiltrate the hard-to-reach locales he must venture. To mislead the terrorists (and to prove he is always one step ahead of everyone) Roger forms his own faux terrorist cell so Al-Saleem, known as “the white whale,” can come out of the woodwork to find out who is trying to undercut his regime.

While this is the central idea of “Lies,” Oscar-winning screenwriter Monahan manages to scramble second-rate political jargon into the talky action film, which is not as intelligent as it leads us to believe.

With DiCaprio as his puppet, Monahan is also able to string us along through the deceptive war with some obscure plot twists and cliché storytelling. Recent films like “The Kingdom” and “Traitor” treaded on the same international concepts, and even with above-average performances by DiCaprio and Crowe, they all feel like they’ve spawned from the same societal need to cover global terrorism cinematically. While “Lies” is a worthy attempt, it is overwritten and very shifty.

Thirteen years after “The Quick and the Dead,” the reunion between DiCaprio and Crowe was actually more intriguing to me that the “Righteous Kill” one with Al Pacino and Robert DeNiro. It might not be nearly as silly as “Kill,” but one thing the two have in common is heavy-hitting headliners that can only do as much as the script allows.