Video

My Rant at the Oscar Nominations….

So The Road to the Oscars has begun. I personally have never been a crazy fan for any of the Institution-based awards shows and this video will probably prove it as my friend Malcolm catches me ranting, in a very ashamedly profane manner, for the nominations now.

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The Reception of The Wolf of Wall Street (2013/dir. Martin Scorsese/USA): A Defense and What It Means for Satire in Cinema

So,  straight to the chase, on Christmas, about half a month ago, The Wolf of Wall Street was released as Martin Scorsese’s latest cinematic outing.

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His return to comedy since the 80s release of After Hours and The King of Comedy, Scorsese’s film was a focus on the real-life illicit financial activities of Jordan Belfort (Leonard DiCaprio), the founder of Oakmont-Stratton and career fraudulent stock salesman. The movie’s focus largely was based on the extravagant manner in which Jordan carried his life, business-wise and privately. The stylistic approach was reminiscent of Scorsese’s classic Goodfellas, where Henry Hill and Jordan both express a fascination with their own business atmospheres and where they each pursue their dream jobs (if you can call such illegal professions jobs) with a hunger unmatched, reach their goal and then, like Icarus, fly too close to the sun, resulting in their spiral dive downward (humorously foreshadowed in Wolf’s opening by an ill-advised coke-fuelled helicopter flight manned by Belfort). The rest of the movies’ running time has Hill and Belfort, respectively scrambling to land on their feet.

I overall enjoyed The Wolf of Wall Street. I found it be a lot of fun and a very surprisingly successful experiment in comedy for DiCaprio (an actor I don’t usually go as crazy for as the rest of the world does), Jonah Hill (an actor I’m finding myself enjoying more and more after disliking his earlier works) and Martin Scorsese, who proves he can still make people laugh. There were some editing “wut” moments for the film, which I credit to the rushed post-production process, acting as distractions, but overall, it was a 3-hour movie that felt like an hour and a half. I seem to not be alone in this enjoyment of the film – On Sunday, The Wolf of Wall Street garnered a Golden Globe for DiCaprio’s performance after receiving two nominations (the other nomination was in Best Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy; which I personally thought it should have won among the other nominees). Peter Travers and the American Film Institute have both placed the movie on their 2013 Top Ten Lists.

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The problem is that there seems to be a significant vocal opposition to the film’s existence on the stance of morality. The film has been received by many audiences as a glorification of the criminal activities of Belfort through the music video stylizations, the focus on Belfort being free of scrutiny and, according to some people, a lack of a severe punishment for Belfort’s actions. As a result, they found the film severely amoral.

There’s a lot I find to disagree with this and I can’t really support my statements without spoiling the movie, so if you have no watched it yet – heads up. Also heads up to the people who wish to find this review in a scholarly manner, because I’m about to abandon that form. My apologies for lack of professionalism in the case that I cross that line.

To begin with, I don’t need to be told Jordan Belfort is a bad person. If you do need to be told that someone who cheats people like Belfort does many times throughout the movie, who doesn’t care about others, who possibly rapes his wife and then afterward beats her as he attempts to kidnap their child and who does the excessive amounts of adultery and drugs that Belfort does is a bad person, you have a problem with needing your hand held. This is not the Hays Code anymore. We shouldn’t have to abide to conservative lens in less-than-admirable lifestyles. The late thrash metal guitarist Jeff Hannemann said it better when his band Slayer was put under scrutiny for writing a song about Josef Mengele in an omniscient tone. And he’s right. The fact that the person is a bad should be obvious, the actions he performs victimizes others and the lifestyle he lives is absolutely decadent and self-serving. It’s as plain as day on your face.

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That’s ignoring the fact that the artist has very little responsibility of the audience. There will probably be some people who misinterpret the story the wrong way and take it as a promotion of the glitzy lifestyle of a criminal stock broker, much like Gordon Gekko and Tony Montana were made a cultural icon when Wall Street and Scarface came out in 1987 and 1983, respectively. But unfortunately, misinterpretation is a part of art and the artist’s devotion is only to communicating his own message and clearly as possible. Scorsese’s message is not missed by a strict majority.

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He’s humiliating the characters. Scorsese is humiliating Belfort and Donnie Porush (portrayed in the movie under the name “Donnie Azoff” by Jonah Hill). This is a comedy. This is a satire. Stratton-Oakmont is a stock firm of buffoons who are only able to work well because they idolize the one man who tells them how to walk and talk. They have no honor among thieves. They prove that they essentially are just a pack of wolves who are looking for the next out.

Which, to go against the consequences argument, is exactly what happens to Belfort. He finds out the hard way that Donnie is not trustworthy – Donnie first gets Brad Bodnick (Jon Bernthal) imprisoned through his foolishness, nearly incriminates Belfort in a foolhardy phone call on drugs and then betrays Belfort to FBI Agent Patrick Denham (Kyle Chandler) at the moment where Belfort is looking out for him most. Jordan discovers the snake that his closest partner is, let alone the loss of his income and family from his own deceitfulness and aggressive behavior. Belfort gets his just desserts at the end of the movie. He has to start from square one, unhappily teaching people how to sell pens in the gaping grinning eyes of an audience far from his home nest of New York.

But, even that is ignoring what the true message of the satire is, when it’s staring right at us in the final shot of all the happy people.

We are the suckers. We let this guy take our cash watching this film when we should have been on the lookout for people like Belfort who look for anyway to gain a quick buck. Like the ending of Fritz Lang’s M condemns us for putting our children in an easy spot to be murdered, the ending of The Wolf of Wall Street condemns us for being put on an easy spot to be fooled and shaken empty by men like Belfort.

Luckily, that’s not the real-life case with the movie, as Belfort is legally required to give up royalties for the film to pay damages for his victims, a deed he was previously willing to perform without court orders. But it insists we keep ourselves on our toes. After all, its our lives, not Stratton-Oakmont’s. As far as they’re concerned, they owe us nothing.

Now that I am done defending the movie, what does this reception for The Wolf of Wall Street say about how we as an audience take satire? Is satire truly a good thing in art? Is it really helping in the manner that the filmmaker intends it to help?

Look at all the miscommunications with recent films – People have been inspired by Baz Luhrmann’s adaptation of The Great Gatsby to create copy-cat parties, CoverGirl has been using the Hunger Games series’ Capitol celebrations as inspiration to unveil a new line of obnoxious make-up. It’s not something new to satire neither – Copycat Fight Clubs have been existing since the film’s opening, people took Natural Born Killers and Dexter as inspirations to go on mass murder sprees. Even the film Watchmen was made by Zack Snyder in an opposing tone as the original satirical graphic novel, despite copying the exact same look page for page. People condemned A Clockwork Orange for the same reasons as The Wolf of Wall Street. I actually have a humorous memory of arguing for Fargo‘s value as a film to a high school classmate of mine before surprising him by explaining the movie was a comedy and not a drama.

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Like, I say, the artist’s devotion is only to his material and that’s where all his responsibilities lie. But it is still somewhat unpleasant to witness such messages be misinterpreted, especially in the case where it causes more social disorder or pain and suffering or the actions portrayed in the film to actually be recreated in a nightmarish Monkey See, Monkey Do scenario.

The silver lining is in the idea that a movie’s message is not missed by anyone. And if some people understand the point of the satire and communicate it to others, then perhaps all is not lost in art.

I don’t have a complete answer for the qualms with satire and I do want to acknowledge but it seems that culture is incomplete without satire, whether somebody gets it or not. To treat a severe topic with humor, sarcasm or wit is to provide a new form of wisdom that is previously unheard of. Some movies do fail to outright communicate the satirical nature of its work (*cough*ZackSnyder’sWatchmen*cough*), but different perspectives is important to any culture and we should not allow ourselves to shut it out from art simply because the message is missed. The signals are always going to come off as mixed, the people are rarely going to completely understand… their interpretation is of their own hand, much like the artist’s style is of his own.

They said what they felt they need to.

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Geometria (1987/dir. Guillermo del Toro/Mexico)

So, while looking up Mexican Visonary Guillermo Del Toro’s early picture Cronos (which I intend to find a library copy of and watch soon), I discovered that he has a very much earlier short picture that he made in 1987 called Geometria (Geometry). So far and disappointingly, my downward mood and events in my life have led me to only see one horror movie this month, Spielberg’s ever adventurous stalker shark picture Jaws (one of my favorite movies for so many reasons). This premise itself sounded unusually wacky for a Del Toro picture, whose works (the masterpiece Pan’s Labyrinth,CronosThe Devil’s Backbone, etc.) usually center on anti-establishment, fantastical escapism and insane designs bordering between the modern and ancient that you really don’t see these days. The closest thing to silliness that the man has made was the Hellboy series and well-enough, he gave it such a human treatment – especially with the two inhuman leads, with help from the surprisingly magnanimous (in consideration of his numerous villain roles) Ron Perlman and the master of movement dynamics Doug Jones – that we can treat it as a relatable tale of not letting how you came unto the world define who you are as a person (possible racial message? or broken home? Maybe I’m reading too much into it) while the second Hellboy picture was classic Del Toro in design and treatment, in the same way Batman Returns was Tim Burton’s self-indulgence. Granted, Blade II was not really one of those Del Toro pieces, but I just treat that one as a bad movie I really like anyway.

One of my favorite filmmakers.
Look at him, he’s just one of us. Another nerd who loves what he does.

So, when I hear Del Toro’s short was about a high school kid (Fernando Garcia Marin) who summons a demon to keep himself from failing geometry, I’m wondering how Del Toro’s going to treat it like a social piece like he does with any movie he makes. Sure, enough I find the director’s cut (in Spanish, a language I don’t understand, but I trust in Del Toro’s visual language to keep watching anyway) on YouTube and find that it’s completely farcical yet still enjoyable. Del Toro had fun with it, it’s like a comic book by Dario Argento is how it is. There’s a really funny little movie-in-a-movie that the boy’s mother (played by Guadalupe del Toro – I don’t know if she has a relation to Guillermo at all, possibly his mother) watches in the other room that happens to be a bootlegged version of the Exorcist, complete with an obnoxious all-synthesizer rendering of Mike Oldfield’s ‘Tubular Bells’. The bubblegum chewing demon of the picture, despite being played by a man – Rodrigo Mora, seems to himself be a throwback to the Pazuzu-possessed character by Linda Blair.

Qué un día excelente para un examen de geometría.
I so wish that were a line in the movie.

Halfway through the picture, a zombie version of the kid’s dad, looking like something out of a 50s Science Fiction Monster movie, comes in and the fakest, least gory style kills the mother to the ominous 80s synthesizer score. It’s laughably bad and yet really great to see how imaginative Del Toro was even at his roots to treat this demon story with such a homage-riding yet inspired style that fits the content so very well. The Super 8 footage of the movie’s rendering and the red and blue shadowy cinematography of Mario Bava’s wet dreams beg this movie to have some kind of an old-school VHS release, which I know will never happen but one can dream. Eventually, I found a youtube version (a 9-minute original version that Del Toro reportedly did not like) with English subtitles and was able to follow the story more thoroughly than what I already could tell.

The twist of the film, despite leading to an extremely grim ending, was enjoyably novel. That was creative writing on their part and I found myself chuckling along with the demon when he delivered the facts that sealed the fates of the other characters. I couldn’t help it. It was ironic, I’m sure you’d all do the same.

All things said and done, this short I’d give a 8 out of 10. Considering where it started and what kind of a filmmaker eventually came out of it, it’s a treat to see, particularly on a month which I made a habit of watching horror movies. It’s not perfect, but in my eyes, it’s very very close. Fun fact: Despite my current mathematical status, I failed my freshman geometry course once (out of sheer laziness), so I somewhat relate.

I have a friend whose favorite movie, from what I understand, is Pan’s Labyrinth. Who could argue with that? Anyway, he mentioned that if he ever met Del Toro, he would ask him why his movies are so depressing. I personally disagreed, mentioning that he seems to show great sympathy for the characters in his movies (even sometimes the villains) and my friend rebutted that with a particularly good argument on the editing and shot choices in Pan’s Labyrinth. Then we both humorously mused on whether or not he realized it, given his usual jolly manner and subtle humor in many of his pictures despite the horrific themes, and how he’d react to such a question and it ended up somewhat like ‘I had no idea they were depressing… huh.’

‘I will look into it and address this issue.’

Geometria can be watched at this link. In the case that any of the individuals involved in the ownership or creation of the short film see this and ask me to remove the link (possibly to salvage sales for Cronos‘ Criterion release), I will politely oblige on request.

THE MOTORS OF 2013

I have now begun a celebratory manner of retrospect after each year passes on this blog. A major form of self-satisfying recognition for what movies made me enjoy them and how. I call it the Motors cause I’m classy like that. An alternate Oscars of sorts for each year to come, 2013 gets to be lucky number one with this new tradition of mine.

It’s largely opinionated and solely based on the movies I have seen this year with no compromise based on outside influence.

Ladies and Gentlemen… THE 2013 MOTORS

I limit maximum ten nominations per category. Winners are in bold.

BEST ORIGINAL SONG

  • “Please Mr. Kennedy” – T-Bone Burnett (Inside Llewyn Davis) – For being another piece of a perfect reflection in the struggle of independent art and goddamn catchy to go with.
  • “Let It Go” – Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez (Frozen) – For demanding the character-based gusto of Idina Menzel while also giving her room to display her voice’s immaculate shine.
  • “I See Fire” – Ed Sheeran (The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug) – For being a proper mix of modern pop sensibilities, Suffolkian folk and Tolkien language (both musical and verbal), heralding both young and adult fans.
  • “Ordinary Love” – U2 (Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom) – For respectfully tributing one of the world’s greatest revolutionaries in a surprisingly tasteful and moving manner, from one of the bands known to get carried away sometimes.
  • “Becomes the Color” – Emily Wells (Stoker) – For providing an eerie and trippy leitmotif for the film’s atmosphere that reestablishes what is wrong with the subjects and haunting you with its beat long after you leave the theater.

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BEST COSTUME DESIGN

  • William Chang – The Grandmaster
  • Mobolaji Dawodu – Mother of George
  • Paco Delgado – Blancanieves
  • Catherine Martin – The Great Gatsby
  • Richard Taylor & Ann Maskrey – The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

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BEST MAKE-UP

  • 12 Years a Slave
  • American Hustle
  • Dallas Buyers Club
  • Evil Dead
  • Metallica: Through the Never

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BEST SOUND MIXING AND EDITING.

MIXING

  • All Is Lost – For trying to be just as obvious a moment of loneliness as Gravity.
  • Frozen
  • Gravity – For making even the safest company like George Clooney or areas like the shuttles and stations seem the loneliest and emptiest zones in existence.
  • Inside Llewyn Davis – Because that’s sort of how you mix music and soul.
  • The Lords of Salem

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BEST VISUAL EFFECTS

  • Ender’s Game
  • Gravity
  • Man of Steel
  • Pacific Rim – For finally realizing the dreams of modern kaiju fans on the big screen, from the heart of the kaiju cult itself.
  • Star Trek Into Darkness – For bringing us back a riveting vision of our favorite frontier and yet for also never downplaying the severity of the heavily destructive acts of Khan and Vengeance in the film.

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BEST PRODUCTION DESIGN

  • The Grandmaster – For mixing in the romanticism of Wong Kar-wai with the cultural differences between the East and West of China.
  • The Great Gatsby – For being another Baz Luhrmann production that demands your wonder and then for being a movie that brings out all the more visual touches of Fitsgerald’s storytelling you previously could only read about.
  • Inside Llewyn Davis – For having the world reflect the state of Davis’ journey and never letting up.
  • The Lords of Salem – For being a glorious collection of movie and music pastiche that makes me want to live in it.
  • Pacific Rim – For making what seems like an incomplete fantasy seem not only complete but totally immersive and surrounding.

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BEST FILM EDITING

  • Peter Beaudreau – All Is Lost – For making a singular event so exciting and running like a champ.
  • Alfonso Cuaron & Mark Sanger – Gravity – For having the sense to move from long sweeps to short intimate cuts as the visual music calls it.
  • Glenn Garland – The Lords of Salem – For the devious “ha ha!” of those final montage moments.
  • Joe Hutshing – Metallica: Through the Never – For, inspite of its shortcomings in pacing, doing the impossible with concert footage editing and juggling four shows in order to tell a story about the heart of metal music and having the performances reflect that.
  • Lauren Zuckerman – Don Jon – For pulling out all the stops in storytelling through editing, from flashes of euphoria to montages of chauvinism.

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BEST ORIGINAL SCORE

  • John 5 and Griffin Boice – The Lords of Salem – For shaking your vertebrae indefinitely the deeper the movie goes.
  • Mike Patton – The Place Beyond the Pines – For grabbing hold of the audience as the one true guiding anchor of these generational tales and matching the character’s thoughts with each flicker of the eye.
  • Steven Price – Gravity – For being a comfort in the air of the film’s danger and yet feeling just as fragile as the lifelines of the two characters. In the meantime, for also sweeping our fears and perils in the film while also providing a percussionary sound to all the silent destruction around us.
  • Rob – Maniac – Are you sure that music wasn’t just lifted from the 80s?
  • Hans Zimmer – Man of Steel – For feeling like the tale of Superman as told by Vangelis.

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BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY

  • Shane Carruth – Upstream Color – For the sharpest form of study to the events that lead up to Kris and Jeff’s meeting and for having us know all the things they don’t know.
  • Bruce Delbonnel – Inside Llewyn Davis – For making us feel coldest in the outside world and warmest when the guitar begins strumming.
  • Emmanuel Lubezki – Gravity – For once again having space become as breathtaking as when we saw it live on the screens or as when we saw it in the classics like 2001. And for forcing us into the perspective of the fated drifters of space.
  • Mauro Pinheiro Jr. – Southwest – For having the sensibility to make the most magical moments seem like a focused dream.
  • Bradford Young – Mother of George – For god damn if that ain’t one of the best usages of color to coordinate emotion I’ve seen since Yi Yi.

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BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR

  • Barkhad Abdi as Abduwali Muse – Captain Phillips (dir. Paul Greengrass) – For making the most intense character film also seem the most aware.
  • Dane DeHaan as Jason Cankam – The Place Beyond the Pines (dir. Derek Cianfrance) – For being the most watchable part of the moment in the movie when a lead actor was lost and audiences feared lost interest.
  • Michael Fassbender as Edwin Epps – 12 Years a Slave (dir. Steve McQueen) – For portraying unrestrained cruelty in a fashion that never seems over-the-top nor cartoonish.
  • Nick Frost as Andy Knightley – The World’s End (dir. Edgar Wright) – For becoming the grounded character and retaining a grown-up manner, even when it comes to rolling up sleeves.
  • Dwayne Johnson as Paul Doyle – Pain & Gain (dir. Michael Bay) – For completely going all over the range of comedic acting, from fear to derilection to naivete and then back to enlightenment in blind faith.

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BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS

  • Scarlett Johannesson as Barbara Sugarman – Don Jon (dir. Joseph Gordon-Levitt) – For becoming another piece of the atmosphere of the film, likened to Marisa Tomei but without the cartoonish buffoonery of the likes of South Park’s Jersey episode.
  • Nicole Kidman as Evelyn Stoker – Stoker (dir. Park Chan-wook) – For a spiteful and jealous personification of a mother who forgets that she is a mother or a widow.
  • Jean Malone as Johanna – The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (dir. Francis Lawrence) – For being the punk of the film, giving an edge to everything that comes at her in a manner that would come off as action heroine bullshit if utilized by a lesser actor.
  • Sarah Paulson as Mary Epps – 12 Years a Slave (dir. Steve McQueen) – For being such a goddamned outrageously human bitch with the humanity in her.
  • Lea Seydoux as Emma – Blue Is the Warmest Colour (dir. Abdellatif Kechiche) – For making it very very obvious and natural how someone could both fall for her and then fall out of her graces without ever tipping to sympathetic balance of the film.

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BEST ACTOR

  • Chiwetel Ejiofor as Solomon Northup – 12 Years a Slave (dir. Steve McQueen) – For a never-ending riveting battle of survival laying in the face of Ejiofor.
  • Ethan Hawke as Jesse – Before Midnight (dir. Richard Linklater) – For portraying a character a third time, but with still new elements of his personality to discover and new philosophies to state. (see: Julie Delpy)
  • Oscar Isaac as Llewyn Davis – Inside Llewyn Davis (dir. Joel & Ethan Coen) – For being a great singer, a great songwriter and a great character who is never able to learn how great he is.
  • Tom Hanks as Richard Phillips – Captain Phillips (dir. Paul Greengrass) – For being half the symbol of the working class man under the worst pressures.
  • Robert Redford as Our Man – All Is Lost (dir. J.C. Chandor) – For telling a relatable story of fear and courage in all its forms without ever uttering a word.

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BEST ACTRESS

  • Amy Adams as Sydney Prosser – American Hustle (dir. David O. Russell) – For being the centrifrugal force of the lead characters and bringing the con artist movie into a romantic triangle, all insecurities and vulnerability attached.
  • Julie Delpy as Céline – Before Midnight (dir. Richard Linklater) – For portraying a character a third time, but with still new elements of his personality to discover and new philosophies to state.
  • Adèle Exarchopoulos as Adèle – La Vie d’Adèle – Chapitres 1 & 2 (dir. Abdellatif Kechiche) – For being a source of disordinary spontaniety in a film that collides two personalities in a fascinating form.
  • Danai Gurira as Adenika – Mother of George (dir. Andrew Dosunmu) – For being the heartbreaking look of the pressures of motherhood before it’s even granted.
  • Zhang Ziyi as Gong Er – The Grandmaster (dir. Wong Kar-wai) – For stealing the show from the legendary martial arts grandmaster the film supposedly is meant to follow.

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BEST ORIGINAL AND ADAPTED SCREENPLAY – For remembering that film is as much about what it says as it is about what it shows.

ORIGINAL

  • Joel & Ethan Coen – Inside Llewyn Davis 
  • Tobias Lindholm – A Hijacking
  • Richard Linklater, Ethan Hawke & Julie Delpy – Before Midnight 
  • Simon Pegg & Edgar Wright – The World’s End
  • David O. Russell & Eric Singer – American Hustle

ADAPTED

  • Abdellatif Kechiche & Ghalia LaCroux – Blue Is the Warmest Colour
  • Billy Ray – Captain Phillips
  • John Ridley – 12 Years a Slave 
  • Terrence Winter – The Wolf of Wall Street

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BEST DIRECTOR – For making certain of what we saw in their films.

  • J.C. Chandor – All Is Lost
  • Alfonso Cuarón – Gravity
  • Eduardo Nunes – Southwest
  • Joshua Oppenheimer – The Act of Killing
  • Rob Zombie – The Lords of Salem

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BEST PICTURE – For being more than films this year…

  • 12 Years a Slave (USA, dir. Steve McQueen)
  • Before Midnight (USA, dir. Richard Linklater)
  • Frances Ha (USA, dir. Noah Baumbach)
  • Gravity (USA, dir. Alfonso Cuarón)
  • Inside Llewyn Davis (USA, dir. Joel & Ethan Coen)
  • The Lords of Salem (USA, dir. Rob Zombie)
  • Southwest (Brazil, dir. Eduardo Nunes)
  • Upstream Color (USA, dir. Shane Carruth)

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THANKS FOR READING, GUYS, AND LET’S RING IN THE NEW YEAR!!!