Cinematic Greats: Wall Street

AND SPEAKING OF Wall Street, it is a magnificent film for which Michael Douglas very deservedly won a Best Actor Oscar.  The follow-up to Platoon, it is one in a succession of great films shot by Oliver Stone through his remarkable young career.

Wall Street is also very near and dear to my heart; in college we had practically memorized it.  It even derailed one physics-major ‘buddy’ of mine (pun intended) so much that he switched to econ.  Highly recommended, very entertaining, and essential viewing.  Hitchcockian good.  Make sure to watch a crisp print.

Wall Street still


New Scorsese Pic

Anyone who’s been to the theater in the last month or so has probably seen this.  It looks like it could be good; I’m anticipating it as both Scorsese’s Wall Street and a modern rethinking of the disappointing Great Gatsby from earlier in the year.  The Wolf of Wall Street opens Nov. 15.

Hand Me Proof

Proof poster

AN INTERNET MEME is running around leveling charges that Gwyneth Paltrow is “annoying” or “hated” (example here).  Now maybe it’s just because I haven’t seen Country Strong, but I’ve always like Gwyneth, and I still like Gwyneth.  I was very happy that she won the Best Actress Oscar for the lovely and wonderful Shakespeare in Love.  And I also really liked her in the food-based travelogue Spain… on the road Again, with chefs Mario Batali and Mark Bittman, and rounding out the foursome, the enchanting Spanish actress Claudia Bassols.  Taking it further, I like her little expressions and even bought her cookbook.

I am not saying that she is necessarily the highest-caliber actress around, but I like her.  And I liked her in Proof (2005), where she plays the daughter of a gifted professor (Anthony Hopkins).  This movie has an interesting dynamic where we’re not sure if her character — or her father’s — is a loon or a genius.

I was a little surprised to find that Roger Ebert gave his highest rating:

John Madden’s “Proof” is an extraordinary thriller about matters of scholarship and the heart, about the true authorship of a mathematical proof and the passions that coil around it. It is a rare movie that gets the tone of a university campus exactly right, and at the same time communicates so easily that you don’t need to know the slightest thing about math to understand it. Take it from me.

It’s been a while since I’ve seen this picture, so I cannot render an exact rating, but I don’t recall being as completely impressed as Ebert was.  But this is a good movie — check it out for yourself.

Film Brief: Fruitvale Station

Fruitvale Station won the top prize at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, which means one of three things: 1) The contest is rigged.  Sundance was in the film credits, a direct conflict of interest;  2) There weren’t any good movies at Sundance this year; or 3) The judges are incompetent.

On the positive side, the performances and general production of the movie were very good.  My problem is that the story was weak, and the star of the story is not a sympathetic character.  5/10.

Essential Sci-Fi: Alien

Alien poster

Alien is quite entrenched in the vernacular of science fiction fans, and of movie fans in general.  If by chance you have not seen it, make sure to do so.  It is about as good as it gets.

If you’ve seen any of the sequels (Aliens (1986), Alien 3 (1992), Alien Resurrection (1997)), try to separate in your mind this original Alien from the followers, and consider it on its own.  You should also bear in mind when it was made — 1979 — to understand what a seminal film it was.

The original Alien is an essential film of the sci-fi genre, and universally recognized as such.  Therefore, there is already an endless stream of praise and criticism that’s been written about it.  At this point, I will add no more.  A terrifically great film.

An Enigmatic Sleeping Beauty

Sleeping Beauty poster

On my queue for some time, I finally got round to watching Sleeping Beauty, starring Emily Browning.  It is a great and terrific film, an enigma and a mystery — but this is no whodunnit.  It is the mystery of adventure — and again, not the Indiana Jones type.   Instead the adventure, the mystery is in following the star of the show, Lucy, who has even more irons in the fire than Ryan Gosling’s character in Drive.  She’s a college student who also does both waitress and office administrative work, medical experimentation, and possibly prostitution, or at the least sex with strangers.   And we’re just getting started: always seeking additional work, Lucy then pursues a position that we find out is a ‘lingerie waitress’ for an elite set of clients.  This is where the film begins its journey as a sort of female-perspective counterpoint to the Kubrick masterwork Eyes Wide Shut.

Sleeping Beauty stillThe mystery of this film is twofold: one is Lucy’s character.  Though she endeavors in an array of occupations and is in debt to a number of people close to her, she’s also “flush,” able to afford an apartment when she needs to, and to literally burn money for her amusement.  She also has an issue with alcohol and drugs, though it’s unclear exactly what toll the toxins are taking on her; she generally is able to brush off the effects and by the following morning regain the utmost decorum and facility.  Herein lies one problem with Sleeping Beauty:  I didn’t completely buy the alcohol use.  She is never shown becoming drunk — though the film cuts away well before she would be, but she also seems to recover too easily.  Perhaps her resilience can be attributed to youth.

In any case, Lucy is one complex young woman with a number of contradictions.  What puts this movie over the top is the other source of its mystery: the positions Lucy engages in.  I was riveted watching her, and when she begins work for rich clients as a private waitress, and then as a ‘sleeping beauty’, I was drawn in ever more deeply.

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Sleeping Beauty is a first-class American horror story.  OK, it’s an Australian movie, but the country of origin does not matter here — this story could take place in any first-world country.  It is a disturbing film, but not disturbing in a gory, Martyrs or Skin I Live In way.  There is a lot of skin, but it is not being excoriated, surgically removed, or otherwise tortured.

This movie has been labeled divisive, controversial.  Some critics have called it exploitative misogyny, but I think they offend too easily.  It stars an excellent, A-list actress who’s already established herself.  It’s directed by a woman, and produced by another woman.  If you dismiss Sleeping Beauty as misogynistic, you just didn’t get it.  Nonetheless, I offer fair warning that you might be strongly turned off.  Also be aware that the film is unrated — there is a relatively high amount of nudity, though it never crosses the line to pornography.

It’s divisive, yes, and will strongly turn off some because it is such a strong film.  It does everything that good cinema and good art should do — it ventures boldly, unapologetically, and with a mission.  I don’t see how anyone can watch Sleeping Beauty and think, ‘meh’.  So-so.  I hate to use the cliché, but you’ll probably either love it or hate it.  I’m in the loved it camp.  9/10

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Comparison Notes: Eyes Wide Shut, The Skin I Live In, Belle de Jour, Breaking the Waves

Into the Wild for 127 Hours

I think of 127 Hours (2010) as a sort of sequel to Into the Wild (2007), on which I posted in May.  They’re both free-spirited true stories of adventure by a single young man alone in the wilderness, and tap into that full potential of meeting nature face to face.  127 Hours did not have as deep a storyline or emotional complexity as Into the Wild and is a much shorter movie — by nearly an hour.  But there’s nothing wrong with brevity — 127 Hours packs a punch.  It’s great and very entertaining.

Ebert liked this movie even more than I did, giving it his highest rating (SPOILER ALERT — his review gives away too much, I think with the assumption that most people already know what ends up happening):

Is the film watchable?  Yes, compulsively.  Films like this don’t move quickly or slowly, they seem to take place all in the same moment.

Ebert ends his review with:

He did what he had to do, which doesn’t make him a hero.  We could do it, too.  Oh, yes, we could.

This makes me reflect on the movie, and really what a great movie about life it is.  The difficulties Roger Ebert went through late in life gave him the legitimacy, the right to make the above statement without it ringing hollow — a right that most other critics and Ebert himself at a younger age do not have.  What a loss it is to have Ebert gone.

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A note on the director Danny Boyle.  The marketing on this movie touts him as the director of Slumdog Millionaire.  If you’re one of the people (like me) that thinks Millionaire was highly overrated and just not very good, and if you also thought that his Olympics Opening Ceremony was a big let-down, don’t be discouraged against 127 Hours.  First of all, Millionaire and 127 Hours are ‘chasms’ apart (I couldn’t resist).  And bear in mind that Boyle put his name on the map with the groundbreaking indie triumph Trainspotting.  Point being, he’s a mixed bag, and this movie’s one of his gems.