Monday, December 30, 2013

A "Bored to Death" Movie? ... I Want More!

For nearly a year we've been living with the news of a return for one of HBO's most under-appreciated television shows. Back in January of 2013, it was first reported that the once-cancelled, 30-minute comedy show, "Bored to Death", would rise from the grave ... but this time, in feature length form. While any news of a resurrection had my attention, the truth is, I wanted more. Call it greed, call it wishful-thinking, call it whatever you want. Bottom line: "Bored to Death" NEEDS TO MAKE A COMEBACK!

While the television show's typical small-mystery format would translate nicely to a longer feature-length film boasting a more complicated and developed riddle, simply giving "Bored to Death" the movie-treatment is like trying to cover a gunshot wound with a tiny band-aid. Clearly ahead of its time and undeniably original, "Bored to Death" developed a trio of characters that were lovable and laughable all at the same time. Leading star and unlicensed private detective, Jonathan Ames (played by Jason Schwartzman), helped relieve boredom from all of our lives. His quasi-dangerous and often hilarious mysteries transformed the mundane into a spectacle, giving each of its "trapped in a 9 to 5 lifestyle"-viewers a method of escape.

And Schwartzman was hardly the lone highlight in HBO's lost, but never forgotten, masterpiece. Along with his pot-smoking sidekicks George (Ted Danson) and comic-book creator, Ray (Zack Galifianakis), the trio of bone-headed heroes made for some of television's finest moments during its short-lived run from 2009-2011. These three comedic actors are all household names in their own right, yet still, "Bored to Death" feels like the pinnacle of their performing careers. With each progressive season outshining its predecessor, this is truly the best you've ever seen Zack Galifianakis, Ted Danson and Jason Schwartzman ... and I do mean EVER (yes, I'm including The Hangover and "Cheers")!

"Bored to Death" also landed a ton of fantastic cameos from Kevin Bacon, Kristen Wiig, Olympia Dukakis, and the list goes on. In fact, one season three regular, Wedding Crashers co-star Isla Fisher, spoke out emphatically about the show after receiving word of a potential movie in development. Fisher would be thrilled to reprise her role in a "Bored to Death" feature length film, however, fans of the show desperately need to come together and clamor for more.

With the recent string of television show revivals over the past decade, including "Family Guy" and "Arrested Development", now is as good a time as any to band together and stand up for "Bored to Death". Fans of the show, and I know you're out there, need to be vocal in our efforts. Social media has become a modern tool for spreading messages, and I have one message that I want heard LOUD AND CLEAR ...


The time is now.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Oscar Update 12/27

There's a bit of significance in today's date. Oscar voting officially begins and for the second straight year they're going with an electronic voting system. Members of the Academy will be eligible to make their selections in every race until Weds, January 8th. At that point, the votes will be collected and organized over the course of the next week, just in time to make the first official Oscar Nominations announcement on Thursday, January 16th. So now that we understand the process and some key dates along the way, let's examine the 6 major races.

Best Picture

Stone Cold Locks: It feels safe to say that 12 Years a Slave, American Hustle and Gravity are all destined to reach the final field of Best Picture combatants. This 3-headed monster could end up battling it out until the very end.

Safe Bets: At this point the next tiered group of films that you can expect to see in the Best Picture pool are comprised of some Oscar regulars from Alexander Payne's Nebraska and the Coen brothers' Inside Llewyn Davis. Another feature that won't seem to fade away is Captain Phillips, which feels like a strong second rate contender that will definitely find its way into the field.

In the Mix: With at most 10 nominees allowed in the race, the remaining spots expect to be made up of newcomer wild cards Her and The Wolf of Wall Street, or other conventional possibilities such as Dallas Buyers Club and Saving Mr. Banks.

Long-Shots: Blue Jasmine, Philomena, late-year release Lone Survivor and Lee Daniels' The Butler all have an outside chance of sneaking into the the big dance.

Best Director

Stone Cold Locks: There's really only two directors you can count on making it into the final race, they are Steve McQueen (12 Years a Slave) and Alfonso Cuaron (Gravity). The rest are, as they say in politics, "too close to call". 

In the Mix: The Best Director field is awfully crowded this year and it wouldn't feel like a shock to see any of Alexander Payne (Nebraska), David O. Russell (American Hustle), Paul Greengrass (Captain Phillips), Spike Jonze (Her), Martin Scorsese (The Wolf of Wall Street) and Joel and Ethan Coen (Inside Llewyn Davis) rounding out the top 5. 

Long-Shots: Although they seem to be against all odds, there's the slimmest of chances that any of Woody Allen (Blue Jasmine), John Lee Hancock (Saving Mr. Banks), Lee Daniels (Lee Daniels' The Butler) and J.C. Chandor (All Is Lost) could weasel their way into the race.

Best Actor

Stone Cold Locks: There appears to be a trio of lead acting performances that you can bet the farm on making it to the final five. Chiwetel Ejiofor (12 Years a Slave), Matthew McConaughey (Dallas Buyers Club) and Bruce Dern (Nebraska) all solidify a stranglehold atop the Best Actor competition.

In the Mix: The next tier of actors are made up of strong performances that have been acknowledged by all different types of precursors, and we still can't get a handle on who has the inside track to sneak into the final five. Chances are it will be any of Tom Hanks (Captain Phillips), Robert Redford (All Is Lost) and Forest Whitaker (Lee Daniels' The Butler)

Long-Shots: Joaquin Phoenix (Her), Leonardo DiCaprio (The Wolf of Wall Street), Christian Bale (American Hustle) and Oscar Isaac (Inside Llewyn Davis) feel a little less like long-shots and more so right on the heels of the Hanks, Redford and Whitaker class.

Best Actress

Stone Cold Locks: While there's quite a bit of intrigue surrounding most of the Oscar races, Best Actress certainly isn't one of them. The pool of 5 is seemingly set with Emma Thompson (Saving Mr. Banks), Cate Blanchett (Blue Jasmine), Sandra Bullock (Gravity), Meryl Streep (August: Osage County) and Judi Dench (Philomena).

Long-Shots: The only possible threats of dethroning the top 5 are a personal favorite of mine in Brie Larson (Short Term 12), Amy Adams (American Hustle), Adele Exarchopoulos (Blue is the Warmest Color) and Julie Delpy (Before Midnight).

Best Supporting Actor

Stone Cold Locks: The Best Supporting Actor contest is shaping up as a slug-fest between Michael Fassbender (12 Years a Slave) and Jared Leto (Dallas Buyers Club). 

In the Mix: With only 3 remaining spots, it's still too early to count out supporting roles from Daniel Bruhl (Rush), Barkhad Abdi (Captain Phillips), Jonah Hill (The Wolf of Wall Street), Bradley Cooper (American Hustle) and an always difficult to overcome posthumous performance from James Gandolfini (Enough Said).

Long-Shots: As the darkest of horses with the tiniest outside chance of having their names called, I'll still mention Tom Hanks (Saving Mr. Banks) and Will Forte (Nebraska). 

Best Supporting Actress

Stone Cold Locks: While I feel a little less secure calling them "locks" in the Best Supporting Actress race, the pool of 5 appears to be set. It's fair to say that anything less than a competition between Jennifer Lawrence (American Hustle), Lupita Nyong'o (12 Years a Slave), June Squibb (Nebraska), Julia Roberts (August: Osage County) and an overrated turn from Oprah Winfrey (Lee Daniels' The Butler) would be a surprise.

Long-Shots: The only possibilities of taking down one of the top 5 seem to come from Sally Hawkins (Blue Jasmine) and an even darker horse in Scarlett Johansson (Her).

*** Remember to keep checking back for regular Oscar updates and have a safe and Happy New Year!

Thursday, December 26, 2013

2013's Most Underrated Movies

If you're in search of the most underrated movies of the year, then look no further. My specific criteria focuses on films with low box-office totals (usually under $5 million) that you can expect to be ignored by the Academy Awards. This year I'm adding a new "honorable mention" list concerning more well-known and revenue-generating films that I feel were overlooked for whatever reason. Here are my honorable mention selections that didn't meet the original criteria.

Honorable Mention: About Time ($15.3 million), All Is Lost ($5.8 million and potentially Robert Redford/Best Actor), Fruitvale Station ($16.1 million) and potentially The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (which is currently being bashed by critics).

#5. The Sapphires ($2.4 million)

The Sapphires is an Australian comedy about a group of aboriginal girls who graciously accept the teachings of a washed up musician in order to propel their singing career. And with the aid of their new manager Dave Lovelace (played by Chris O'Dowd), The Sapphires venture to Vietnam and perform for U.S. troops during the war. The laughs are plentiful and the drama in genuine with this vastly under-seen indie gem.

#4. The East ($2.3 million)

Boasting an impressive cast including Ellen Page, Patricia Clarkson, Alexander Skarsgard and Brit Marling, The East was a successful early-year release in 2013. The film follows a private intelligence operative (Marling) tasked with infiltrating an anarchist group who specifically targets major corporations. With a charismatic and entrancing leader (Skarsgard) delivering their message of retaliation, the operative begins to question her own morals. The East has all the makings of a standout psychological thriller.

#3. The Kings of Summer ($1.3 million)

If you're a fan of comical absurdity and coming-of-age films, there aren't many better than Jordan Vogt-Roberts' The Kings of Summer. When best friends Joe and Patrick decide they can't take living with their parents any longer, the teenagers construct a new house hidden deep in the woods. They run away from home and engage in the ultimate Summer of independence along with the latest member of their trio, the wildcard Biaggio. Co-starring Nick Offerman, The Kings of Summer is nothing short of a fun-filled viewing experience.

#2. Short Term 12 ($1 million)

Operating under the safe assumption that 21 Jump Street's Brie Larson won't be handed a Best Actress Nomination from the Academy (despite the fact that her performance is beyond deserving), the phenomenal independent drama, Short Term 12, is an absolute must-see! Larson stars as Grace, a loving and caring employee at a foster-care facility for at-risk children. Her job takes courage, patience and understanding, all traits that Grace has an easy time displaying towards these children. However, with enormous demons in her own closet that are building barriers between her and co-worker boyfriend, Mason, Grace must come to grips with her past in order to move forward. Illustrating a perfect balance between its tension-easing comedy and brutally honest dramatics, Short Term 12 is a remarkable debut effort from director Destin Cretton. 

#1. Trance ($2.3 million)

I was extremely torn between my top two selections, but I live by a specific mantra that I, once again, utilized here. The "tie" always goes to my favorite director, Danny Boyle, whose latest film, Trance, is an exceptional mind-bending thriller. James McAvoy stars as an art auctioneer who becomes entangled with mobsters and promises to assist them in a robbery. However, the auctioneer double-crosses the mobsters and hides the painting during the heist. But when a blow to the head destroys his memory of the whole ordeal, the scared-for-his-life auctioneer is sent to a hypnotherapist (Rosario Dawson) to help recall the whereabouts of the stolen art. The twists and turns lead you to a brilliant and almost poetic finale that make it easy to overlook the film's flawed paper-thin script. Trance's mid-section admittedly drags a little, but the conclusion is unforgettable. A regular staple in Boyle's long list of accomplished work. 

Monday, December 23, 2013

2013's Most Underrated Performances

As the end-of-the-year lists start to pile up, I've decided to take a look back at 2013's most underrated performances. Nope, you won't find any of these roles mentioned during the awards season hoopla, yet they're each notable and overlooked in their own right. So let's review the most under-appreciated performances of 2013.

#10. PJ Byrne - The Wolf of Wall Street

While Leonardo DiCaprio and Jonah Hill have the best chances of receiving recognition throughout the road to the Oscars in early March, PJ Byrne's fine supporting turn in Martin Scorsese's The Wolf of Wall Street goes rather unnoticed. The role is small, yet robust. Byrne has floated around Hollywood for a long time now and he finally stands out in this epic tale of greed and debauchery.

#9. John Gallagher Jr. - Short Term 12

One of the most critically loved films of the year is the low-budget indie drama, Short Term 12. This poignant drama is carried beautifully on the shoulders of leading actress Brie Larson. She currently stands as a long-shot to land a Best Actress Nomination, however, an omission would be shameful on the Academy's part. For as brilliant as Larson is on screen, her counterpart feels almost as impressive. John Gallagher Jr. delivers a knockout supporting turn that has gone overlooked by just about everyone. His soulful performance is radiant and uplifting, perfectly complementing all of the depressing aspects of the film.

#8. Moises Arias - The Kings of Summer

Having gotten his start on Hannah Montana, teenage actor Moises Arias broke out in a big way this year as the hysterical driving force in the beloved indie comedy, The Kings of Summer. Arias co-stars as Biaggio, an absolute wild-card who's capable of just about anything. Think Zach Galifianakis in The Hangover, except a little more realistic and he keeps his clothes on. Arias dishes out the humor by displaying a keen sense of comedic timing. It's very natural and superbly effective.

#7. Olivia Wilde - Drinking Buddies

Although I was on the opposite side of the critical love-fest for Joe Swanberg's Drinking Buddies, props must be given to its leading female star, Olivia Wilde. Many have constantly viewed Wilde as nothing more than a pretty face needed to fill out a specific role in films. However, in this irritating tale of sexual tension among co-workers at a small craft brewery, Wilde stands out and proves that she's a very talented actress who can definitely carry a film on her shoulders. I'd expect to see numerous dramatic roles handed to Wilde in the future.

#6. Brit Marling - The East

I haven't quite figured out how actress Brit Marling continually flies under the radar. Year after year and movie after movie, she keeps pushing herself further and it shows on screen. The gifted performer shines once again in the 2013 thriller, The East. As an employee for a private intelligence firm who infiltrates an anarchist group plotting to attack a few major corporations, Marling's character wrestles with her own morals and understanding of right vs. wrong. Intriguing, complex and perhaps even controversial, The East benefits from another dynamic turn by its leading lady, Brit Marling.

#5. Jeremy Renner - American Hustle 

My favorite acting ensemble of 2013 comes from David O. Russell's American Hustle. Although other big-time performers such as Jennifer Lawrence, Christian Bale, Bradley Cooper and Amy Adams have had their names swirling around this awards season, Jeremy Renner easily becomes the most overlooked of the bunch. As a politician with nothing but the best of intentions for his prospering community, Renner's character has the biggest heart of anyone in the film. Watching as he unknowingly gets trapped in the center of an FBI investigation, it leaves an unsettling and unjust feeling in the pit of your stomach. Renner builds a likable character that you sympathize for, a skill that only the masterful performers can achieve.

#4. Tye Sheridan - Mud

It's always exciting to witness breakthrough performances from young actors and actresses. This year's finest youthful onscreen showing comes from 17 year old Tye Sheridan in Jeff Nichols' Mud. Standing toe-to-toe with a talented actor such as Matthew McConaughey is no easy task, yet Sheridan makes it look almost effortless. First in Terrence Malick's The Tree of Life and now with Mud, perhaps we're seeing one of the next generation's most gifted performers.

#3. Chris O'Dowd - The Sapphires

Most people will recognize comedian and actor Chris O'Dowd as Kristen Wiig's police officer love interest in Bridesmaids. However, he's proven time and time again that he can serve up more than just laughs. This year, O'Dowd was phenomenal in the tiny indie film, The Sapphires. Starring as a washed up musician who takes a talented group of Australian aboriginal singers under his wing, O'Dowd displays an enormous amount of versatility. His character faces his own demons while developing a strong bond with the group of singers he's managing. The Sapphires is an underrated film in its own right, and one that stands tall on the shoulders of a standout performance from Chris O'Dowd. 

#2. Bill Nighy - About Time

One of the year's best comes from the unexpected time-travel drama, About Time. And although he's only given a supporting role in the film, the legendary Bill Nighy doesn't waste a second of face time. He continuously impresses and here we get to see him in top form. Nighy's powerful turn packs an abundance of emotion with a sprinkling of his typical charm. It's heartfelt and sincere. It's everything you could ask for from such a talented actor. Nighy is the icing on the cake in one of this year's finest films, About Time

#1. Sam Rockwell - The Way Way Back

Sam Rockwell is one of the most underrated and overlooked actors in Hollywood today. Even when his films are ultimately mediocre, you can filter over his performances and find impressive qualities. Once again, Rockwell offers an astonishing turn in the indie comedy, The Way Way Back. He's immature, non-committal and the owner of a water park. Rockwell's diverse character works wonders and helps transform a shy and awkward teen into a confident young man. Rockwell's bravado is both endearing and delightful. The Way Way Back is simply a solid movie containing one of this year's most under-appreciated supporting performances.

Friday, December 20, 2013

The Wolf of Wall Street

Film: The Wolf of Wall Street

Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio (The Great Gatsby), Jonah Hill (Moneyball) and Margot Robbie (About Time)

Director: Martin Scorsese (The Departed)

U.S. Release: December 25th, 2013 (Rated R)

Genre: Comedy

Runtime: 179 minutes

You can leave your doubts at the door. If you're one of those contemporary Martin Scorsese skeptics who feel like his recent work has diminished greatly, then perhaps the famed director's latest adventure, The Wolf of Wall Street, can set you straight. The undeniable bro-mance between Scorsese and his leading man, Leonardo DiCaprio (who stars in 5 of the filmmaker's previous 6 features), carries on in grandiose fashion. This is both Martin and Leo like you've never seen them before. It's wild, energetic and exactly what the doctor ordered.

Centering on the real-life story of stockbroker Jordan Belfort (DiCaprio), The Wolf of Wall Street follows the rise and fall of this ambitious and carefree go-getter. Determined to become a millionaire and left jobless after the 1980s stock market crash known as "Black Monday", Belfort dabbles in penny stocks and discovers a way to build an empire. Starting his own company with friend and side-kick Donnie Azoff (Jonah Hill), the duo lie and cheat there way to the pinnacle of success, only to find themselves under the watchful eye of the FBI.

For the most part, Scorsese's elongated three-hour affair moves swiftly through the life of Belfort thanks in large part to a surprising amount of comedy infused into the screenplay. The humor is consistent and never-ending, from the moment the film opens, all the way to its final scene. It's misleading to label The Wolf of Wall Street as a drama. Scorsese and company understand that the film's tiresome length and overall success hinge on the effectiveness of its comedic tone. One that is delivered with such excellence and precision. The dialogue is off the charts and the flow is rhythmic, enough so to keep any audience comfortably tuned in to the movie. Furthermore, The Wolf of Wall Street isn't only an enticing and hilarious spectacle for its viewers, the entire cast obviously had a blast while filming all of Scorsese's designed debauchery. It isn't difficult to spot laughs and smiling faces from the "extras" on screen, a sure sign of a fun-filled affair. And although the director's long-time friend and film companion, Leonoardo DiCaprio, is given the keys to the ride, it's actually co-star Jonah Hill who stands out most among the plethora of fine performances. Hill, who has been mostly ignored throughout the early going of this awards season race, offers his finest performance to date, one that will be remembered for its expansive range. Hysterical, dramatic and everything in between, Jonah Hill is certainly deserving of a Best Supporting Actor Nomination. All in all, The Wolf of Wall Street just may be the most engaging three hours you'll ever spend in a movie theatre.

Despite completely captivating its audience, Scorsese's newest feature has a few select shortcomings. For starters, Leo is more than fine in his leading role, however, the gifted actor never creates a sympathetic character. And as a result, The Wolf of Wall Street suffers in the drama-department and relies solely on humor. This is all well and good, yet there's another deeper element that's missing, perhaps one that could have catapulted The Wolf of Wall Street to insurmountable heights. But instead, the credits roll with an unfulfilled conclusion and a gaping disconnect between Belfort and the viewer, which may surely hurt the film during a long journey to the Academy Awards.

Martin Scorsese is a genius and an artist. He envisioned an epic tale of ambition and greed during a period when our nation's economy finds itself struggling to sustain. The timing is perfect for his feature. When the cinematic year has been flooded with mainly cerebral and emotional options, we're handed a seductive treat. With a surplus of nudity and enough cocaine on screen to put the entire country of Columbia to shame, I'm amazed that The Wolf of Wall Street only received an R-rating. But no matter what the MPAA says, be sure to buckle up and prepare for a wild ride, as Marting Scorsese returns to form and delivers the goods.

Stars: 3 and a half stars out of 4

Grade: B+

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Top 10 Christian Bale Performances

There are very few actors with as much talent and commitment to their skill as Academy Award Winner Christian Bale. And with his latest successful acting accomplishment in David O. Russell's Oscar-bound film, American Hustle, hitting theatres all across the country this weekend, it felt like the perfect time to pay a tribute to this fine actor. As huge of a Christian Bale fan as I am (and I was admittedly a little late to the party), I know none bigger than my good friend, and Reel True owner, Greg Rouleau. Therefore, December's Movie List of the Month will look at Greg's Top 10 Christian Bale performances of all-time.

*** Feel free to check out November's Movie List of the Month, which links back through the entire segment's archive.

#10. I'm Not There (2007)

I’m Not There is a unique look at the life and career of Bob Dylan, with six different actors taking on a different aspect and time-period of the folk-singer’s career.  Because of the format, each actor is limited in screen time, but Bale makes an impression with his take on the early beatnik days, and born-again phase of Dylan.  It’s evident in the performance that Bale was dedicated to the role and could have easily portrayed Dylan for an entire film.  

#9. Out of the Furnace (2013)

One of this year’s releases, Christian plays Russell Baze, the older brother of an Iraq War veteran who gets mixed up in the underground world of bare-knuckle fighting.  While the film ventures into familiar revenge story territory, it remains a showcase for another incredible role for Bale.  Russell juggles taking care of an ailing father, pleasing a girlfriend whose patience is waning, and keeping his brother out of trouble.  Bale tackles all of these elements successfully, in addition to nailing down the difficult accent of rural Braddock, PA.  

#8. Batman Begins (2005)

While Bale’s performance remained consistent throughout The Dark Knight Trilogy, it was in the opening chapter where he truly gave us the best all-around showing.  He plays Bruce Wayne in different stages of his life; lost as a na├»ve college student filled with rage and then, as the older Bruce who has learned to harness his anger and turn it into a symbol of hope for Gotham City.  Once he dons the cape and cowl, he easily transitions into a figure that inspires change by fighting crime and finding a balance between hero and vigilante.  With his great turn as both Bruce Wayne and the Dark Knight, audiences were given the best Batman to date.  

#7. American Hustle (2013)

In another 2013 release, Christian plays Irving Rosenfeld who is based loosely on Mel Weinberg, an influential individual in the Abscam operation of the late 1970s.  It seemed director David O. Russell took the real Weinberg and turned him up to 11 in order to give us the character of Irving.  Thankfully, it’s another platform for Bale to show off his incredible range.  What seems to be absent from many of Bale’s roles as of late is some humor, and we see plenty of Christian’s great comedic timing with Rosenfeld.  Torn between an unstable housewife, a mistress he adores, and a hot-headed FBI agent, Bale injects a lot of heart into this character, despite being a sleazy con-man.  We hope for the best with Irv, and Bale is the driving force behind a very great ensemble.  

#6. The Prestige (2006)

Bale’s second of many collaborations with director Christopher Nolan was The Prestige, a film about rival magicians in late 19th century London.  Christian goes toe-to-toe with Hugh Jackman as each becomes obsessed with outdoing the other.  The story takes some dark turns and each man experiences small victories as well as tremendous loss.  Bale plays Alfred Borden and portrays the con-man aspect of magicians perfectly.  He isn’t as fascinated with the presentation as his counterpart, but it’s still an art to him, as we understand.  Throughout his journey, we feel the obsession that drives him as this once friendly rivalry eventually turns deadly.  

#5. The Fighter (2010)

In 2010, Christian would earn his 1st Oscar with his role of washed-up boxer Dicky Eklund in The Fighter.  The Academy loves broad performances and this is Christian’s broadest to date, but that isn’t to say his elusive first statue wasn’t well-deserved.  Bale is like a firecracker when on screen, playing well off of Mark Walhberg’s more stoic portrayal of his younger brother, Micky.  The movie comes to life whenever Dicky is on screen.  His character also has a nice arc as he battles drug abuse, a torn-apart family and fading dreams of making a comeback to the ring.  It’s a truly fun, engaging performance.  

#4. Rescue Dawn (2007)

Perhaps the most underrated performance of the Welsh actor’s career is the war drama Rescue Dawn.  Yet another in the line of dramatic weight-loss required roles, Bale dropped 55lbs to play Dieter Dengler, a pilot whose plane gets shot down over Vietnam and is captured and imprisoned.  There are a few strong supporting turns by Steve Zahn and Jeremy Davies, but this is largely Bale’s movie.  We’re with him every step of the way as he endures torture and struggles to find a way to freedom, making it one of the most inspiring portrayals of survival ever put on film.  

#3. The Machinist (2004)

It’s been well documented how dedicated Christian is to his roles. He packed on the pounds to play the con-artist Irving in American Hustle, and he’s also been known to drop a scary amount of weight to portray some of these characters.  Perhaps the most famous example is his role as Trevor Reznik in The Machinist, where he lost roughly 63 pounds.  As Trevor, Bale plays an insomniac, awake for roughly a year, who begins to slip further and further into madness as his body disintegrates. We also empathize with Reznik because his only real human connection is with a prostitute named Stevie. As a viewer, it almost becomes uncomfortable to see this transformation, yet, it’s even more difficult to turn away.

#2. Empire of the Sun (1987)

This great career that we’ve examined through this list all began with Steven Spielberg’s Empire of the Sun in 1987.  12-year-old unknown actor Christian Bale beat out 4,000 other young actors for the role of Jamie Graham, a wealthy British child obsessed with various fighter planes and aircraft.  As the war between Japan and China escalates, Jamie is separated from his parents and imprisoned in a Japanese labor camp.  Another story of survival, but made all the more impressive by a young, debuting actor.  Bale is fascinating to watch, a spoiled brat as the movie begins, although still charming.  His love for aircraft and his will to survive are infectious.  A couple of the many standout scenes for Bale are when he finds a broken down fuselage early in the film and then the P-51 “Cadillac of the Sky” flies by him later on.  Very few actors are able to carry a 154-minute film, but even fewer are capable at age of 12.  

#1. American Psycho (2000)

One could argue that this performance led to the successful career that Bale now enjoys.  It was said that Christopher Nolan cast him as Batman because he saw the dedication Bale was able to put into a role in American Psycho and that an audience would buy into this man going to great lengths to become a crime-fighting superhero.  Headlining a successful franchise inevitably led to a greater selection of roles, many of which comprise this list.  Another common theme with Bale’s career is dedication, and it’s wildly evident in American Psycho that the actor is willing to go to scary lengths to bring his characters to life, to essentially go “all in”.  He committed to a strict fitness regimen to fully embody the vain, image obsessed protagonist of the film.  In one particular scene where Batemen and some colleagues are comparing their business cards, Bale starts to sweat from the anger swelling up inside of him.  During various takes of the scene, the actor would sweat on cue, which led to director Mary Harron dubbing him “robo-actor”.  Any of the scenes where he describes, in-depth, his love for certain 80s songs are standouts.  Another impressive aspect of Bale’s portrayal is how he so convincingly blends many emotions into one performance.  In Bateman, there’s some terror, dark humor, physical comedy and an actor 100% dedicated to his craft.  

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

American Hustle

Film: American Hustle

Starring: Christian Bale (The Fighter), Amy Adams (The Master), Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence (Silver Linings Playbook)

Director: David O. Russell (Silver Linings Playbook)

U.S. Release: December 20th, 2013 (Rated R)

Genre: Drama

Runtime: 138 minutes

To steal a quote from Woody Harrelson in the 1992 comedy White Men Can't Jump, filmmaker David O. Russell is "in the zone". Russell finds himself in the midst of an unbelievable directorial stretch that will surely bring him his third consecutive Best Picture Nomination when they're officially announced early next year. In his latest masterpiece, American Hustle, the writer/director puts a clever fictionalized spin on the FBI's ABSCAM operation which took place in the late 1970s. So clever, in fact, that we may have found our next Academy Awards Best Picture winner.

After con man Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale) and his seductive mistress, Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams), are arrested for loan fraud by up-and-coming FBI agent Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper), they have two options: either face some serious jail time, or help DiMaso bring down four other high profile criminals. Needless to say Irving and Sydney choose the latter, assisting DiMaso in a sting operation that couples New Jersey politician Camine Polito (Jeremy Renner), countless political officials and dangerous members of the mafia. The only wild card in the matter is Irving's wife, Rosalyn (Jennifer Lawrence), whose instability could put the whole operation in jeopardy.

With David O. Russell's American Hustle, you can expect a big-time splash that will leave a ripple effect on just about every major Oscar race out there. The filmmaker has coached his two previous casts to 7 ... let that sink in for a minute ... 7 Oscar nominations with their work in both Silver Linings Playbook and The Fighter. Current cast members Christian Bale and Jennifer Lawrence understand the greatness of Russell as he helped lead both of them to their only Academy Awards victories. As expected, American Hustle delivers no shortage of fine performances. From top to bottom the cast is excellent. It all starts with leading man Christian Bale who packs on the pounds and shaves the center of his head to truly capture the art of the comb-over. Not only does Bale display onscreen excellence yet again, he continues to remind us of his dedication to the craft. There may not be a more committed actor on the entire planet. But he is far from the only shining star, perhaps Bradley Cooper is most impressive with a towering turn as Richie DiMaso, a young FBI agent who becomes more and more obsessed with making the biggest bust in U.S. history. And let's not forget Jennifer Lawrence. While the young actress moseys along and embraces all of the onscreen recognition and public love she's been receiving, her performance actually feels like one of the least convincing roles in the film, although still fantastic. American Hustle's ensemble is spectacular and, without question, the finest of the year.

You'll need to search for flaws in David O. Russell's American Hustle, but one irritating aspect is the director's fixation on the time period. There's no subtlety to it whatsoever. Russell continually throws the 1970 vibe right in your face by purposely calling attention to it throughout the entire film. In some ways it feels as though he sacrifices substance for style and it's a shame. Furthermore, American Hustle does tend to drag on in its latter stages. You can sense where the movie's headed, but Russell takes his merry old time getting there. Thankfully, the writer/director has mastered the art of story-telling and uses a sharp comedic tone to help balance his out-stretched tale of power, greed and pushing the limits. By the time American Hustle is all said and done, it's obvious that Russell has a winning effort on his hands, one that's assured to garner plenty of attention on its road to the Oscars.

With the clock winding down and the cinematic year coming to a screeching halt, 2013 finally has a film that stands out above the rest. American Hustle is an energetic and hilarious adventure. And despite the fact that its dramatics aren't overly "touching" or "moving", nor should they be, American Hustle is a fun and engaging ride that you won't want to miss.

Stars: 3 and a half stars out of 4

Grade: A-

Sunday, December 15, 2013

An Extensive Look at Christopher Nolan's Interstellar

Once Christopher Nolan officially turned the page on The Dark Knight franchise, the world watched closely as he carefully selected his next project. And the choice was Interstellar, a previous Spielberg project scripted by Nolan's brother, Jonathan. The original idea branched from Cal-tech physicist Kip Thorne's proposed notion that crossing through a wormhole in space can lead to time travel. While Steven Spielberg has set his sights on another sci-fi based project, Robopocalypse, Christopher Nolan has apparently taken over Interstellar and re-worked his brother's script. Anyone who pays close attention to Nolan and his work understand the secretive nature at which he goes about his business. The internet has exploded this week with a long-awaited first look at Interstellar, which isn't slated to reach the big-screen until November 7th, 2014. Although it's very much a teaser trailer, it's still worth checking out!

Much like The Dark Knight Rises, Nolan will be using IMAX cameras for filming. And while many theatres across the country have converted from 70mm IMAX film to digital projectors (this number could reportedly be around 2% in 2014), Interstellar very well may be the last IMAX movie shown in theatres on IMAX film projectors. A sad, but true, reality.

Furthermore, Nolan appears to be trying some innovative techniques while filming with IMAX cameras. The image below demonstrates one such use. As you can see, Nolan has strapped this expensive filming equipment to the front of a Learjet in hopes of obtaining some amazing footage. It's a remarkable idea and a groundbreaking endeavor that will hopefully pay off and add wonders to the visual footage surrounding Interstellar.

Finally, taking an in-depth look at the cast and crew for Nolan's latest film, it's interesting to note that the primary cast members have combined to collect an astounding 21 Oscar Nominations for acting (including 4 wins). With Matthew McConaughey set to star in the film and an anticipated Best Actor Nomination looming for his work in 2013's Dallas Buyers Club, that number will most likely climb to 22 shortly. Interstellar boasts an all-star cast made up of McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Jessica Chastain, Matt Damon, Casey Affleck, John Lithgow, Ellen Burstyn and Michael Caine (who has appeared in 6 straight Nolan films now).

Interstellar also marks the first time since Nolan's lesser-known debut indie feature, Following, that he won't be using cinematographer Wally Pfister. Instead, Nolan has locked up Dutch native Hoyte Van Hoytema, whose credits include Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, The Fighter and 2013's presumed Oscar-contender, Her. With a new eye behind the camera, it will be extremely interesting to see the type of "look" that Interstellar will bring. Despite locking up a new cinematographer, Nolan finds himself re-teaming with his regular composer of choice, the great Hans Zimmer. Zimmer is already on record stating that the score for Interstellar will be different from what we heard in their previous collaborations of The Dark Knight trilogy and Inception. We'll just has to wait and listen.

All of this news surrounding Interstellar leaves only one question remaining ... is it November 7th, 2014 yet?

*** An overwhelming "thank you" is in order for Reel True owner, Greg Rouleau, and his assistance with the facts and development of this story.

Friday, December 13, 2013

The Road to the Oscars 12/13

The road to the Oscars is finally being paved. During the week, nominations for major precursors such as the Golden Globes and the Screen Actors Guild Awards were officially announced. Now that we've seen how the major races are shaping up, let's take a look at the snubs and surprises for both of these small stepping stones on the path to the Academy Awards..

One major difference between the Golden Globes (see a full list of nominees HERE) and the Oscars is their split between dramas and comedy/musicals, giving a wider base for potential nominees. As expected, big-time players like 12 Years a Slave, Gravity and American Hustle found their way into the Best Picture categories. One a more surprising note, the Best Picture - Drama race was rounded out by Oscar-longshots Philomena and Rush. Although I wasn't overly impressed with Philomena when I had a chance to screen it at the Philadelphia Film Festival in October, I was ecstatic to see Ron Howard's Formula 1 racing film receive some recognition. It's held onto the top spot of my personal list of the year's best films for a few months now, and hopefully this type of inclusion can sway the voting body for the Academy Awards into not forgetting about this impressive Fall release. And as far as the Best Picture race is concerned, it's beginning to look like a difficult road ahead for omitted hopefuls such as Saving Mr. Banks, Blue JasmineAugust: Osage County and Dallas Buyers Club.

In the acting races, the Golden Globes handed out nominations to an expected crop of lead actors, while the Best Actress categories have all but confirmed that Brie Larson (Short Term 12) has no shot at being recognized for her fine work in one of the year's most overlooked dramas. With supporting roles, it was an utter shock to see the world's most powerful woman, Oprah Winfrey, snubbed for what very well could be an Oscar winning performance in Lee Daniels' The Butler (even if I disagree with all the acclaim she's been given). Other Golden Globe snubs in the supporting races include Tom Hanks (Saving Mr. Banks) and Jonah Hill (The Wolf of Wall Street).

Finally, diving into the Best Director competition, the Globes surprisingly chose Paul Greengrass (Captain Phillips) over legendary filmmakers Martin Scorsese (The Wolf of Wall Street) and the Coen brothers (Inside Llewyn Davis). In fact, with 4 nominations of its own, Captain Phillips has becomes a huge wild card on the journey to the Academy awards.

On a more meaningful note, the Screen Actors Guild Awards (full list of nominees HERE) certainly has a larger impression on the Oscars' selections in all of the acting categories. This year the SAG showed a shocking amount of love and appreciation for Lee Daniels' The Butler, handing out nominations to leading man Forest Whitaker, Oprah Winfrey and a highly coveted Best Ensemble. Recognition such as this truly boosts the film's Oscar prospects.

There were a handful of other snubs and surprises with this year's SAG Nominations, mainly the overlooking of Robert Redford's remarkable one-man-show in the survival tale All Is Lost and a posthumous recognition for the late James Gandolfini's solid turn in Enough Said. These major precursors have also strengthened the hopes for fringe players in the Supporting Actor race such as Daniel Bruhl (Rush) and Barkhad Abdi (Captain Phillips), while Jonah Hill keeps falling quickly out of contention.

*** Remember to stay tuned over the next 3 months as I'll continue to dissect all of the major races on the road to March 2nd's Academy Awards.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Saving Mr. Banks

Film: Saving Mr. Banks

Starring: Emma Thompson (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2), Tom Hanks (Captain Phillips) and Colin Farrell (Seven Psychopaths)

Director: John Lee Hancock (The Blind Side)

U.S. Release: December 20th, 2013 (Rated PG-13)

Genre: Drama

Runtime: 126 minutes

The Academy Awards is certainly vain. The voting body is continually enamored with movies about the history of cinema. Needless to say, Disney's latest biographical feature, Saving Mr. Banks, which couples the legendary talents of Emma Thompson and Tom Hanks in the story of Walt Disney's exhausting efforts to acquire the rights to Mary Poppins, flaunts it's Oscar-baity agenda with dignified pride. My guess, the Academy will once again swoon over director John Lee Hancock's historical account.

When Walt Disney (Tom Hanks) made a promise to his daughters in the 1940s that he would bring their favorite literary character to the big screen, no one could have imagined the struggles he'd endure along the way. After two decades of begging author P.L. Travers (Emma Thompson) for the rights to her famed character, Mary Poppins, Walt brings the financially strapped author to Los Angeles. While there, he must discover the secrets behind the Banks' family and their whimsical nanny in order to entrust Mrs. Travers that her beloved character is in good hands.

John Lee Hancock has suddenly become the poster boy for sentimental biographical films. In 2009 he guided Sandra Bullock to a Best Actress statue alongside a Best Picture Nomination for his real-life adaptation of the Michael Oher story with The Blind Side. His knack for tugging at the audience's heartstrings returns once again in his latest endeavor, Saving Mr. Banks. Yet, Hancock's lucid game-plan isn't the glue that holds this film together, rather it's the Oscar-caliber performances from Emma Thompson and Tom Hanks that make it stick. With these two lifelong masters of their trade, we've been spoiled rotten, expecting nothing but greatness every time they appear on the screen. Luckily for Hancock, his duo delivers at the highest level imaginable, Hanks with his cheery friendliness and Thompson as an argumentative curmudgeon, which clearly elevates Saving Mr. Banks slightly beyond the realm of mediocrity.

Although the film is an indisputable success that will ultimately find itself in the awards season mix, Saving Mr. Banks is flooded with faults. I'll preface by saying that the feature contains a story that isn't overly elaborate, and nor does it need to be. However, along with director John Lee Hancock, writers Kelly Marcel and Sue Smith unfortunately milk everything they can out of this straightforward tale and transform the film into a ballooned 126-minute affair. Saving Mr. Banks meshes together two non-concurrent stories. One pertaining to the childhood of Emma Thompson's character, and the other paralleling those experiences with her "present-day" struggle of relinquishing the rights to Mary Poppins. The portion of the movie that examines P.L. Travers' youth becomes over-extended and nothing more than a weight on the film. Its purpose is understood, but its execution is lackluster. The "present-day" moments throughout Saving Mr. Banks are what the audience will love and remember. Unfortunately, these highlights are broken up in excess by a middling other half of the feature.

There exists a wondrous aura surrounding John Lee Hancock's Saving Mr. Banks. It's comedic elements are a bright complementing aspect to its dramatic nature. However, an abundance of sentiment and a slight mishandling of the story deter from the movie's otherwise glowing attributes. But thankfully, Thompson and Hanks dazzle just enough to keep that spark alive.

Stars: 2 and a half stars out of 4

Grade: B-

Monday, December 9, 2013

DVD Outlook: December 2013

While November brought very little in the form of worthwhile newly released DVDs, it's a typical expectation as the calm before the Christmas storm. However, as it stands now, December isn't shaping up to be a particularly great month of releases itself. While I was less than impressed with big-named titles like Prisoners (12/17), Elysium (12/17), and the critically-loved indies Drinking Buddies (12/3) and Ain't Them Bodies Saints (12/17), all of these films will be reaching the shelves just in time for the holiday season. But outside of those offerings, here are my DVD selections for the month of December.

Shameless: The Complete Third Season - The Best Show Currently on Television

Last month I had no other choice but to praise the completion of my favorite television drama of all-time, Breaking Bad. Now this month, due to a week offering by the DVD-release gods, I'm sticking with what works and recommending my new favorite show on TV, Showtime's Shameless. This holiday season is as good a time as any to start from the beginning and catch up on an extremely underrated series. Admittedly, the first season is a little strange and peculiar, but stay strong, because season two and three offer some of the best laughs and drama you'll see anywhere on television. The Gallagher family is both lovable and despicable all at the same time. There's no shortage of fantastic character development and you'll be hooked, guaranteed! (December 17th)

Despicable Me 2 - Not Rated - (No review available)

I'm going out on a limb here and giving a blind recommendation for Despicable Me 2. If you're sitting around this Christmas and looking for the type of movie the entire family can enjoy, why not take a chance with Despicable Me 2? It's first installment offered plenty of laugh-out-loud hilarity, and I've heard that the sequel keeps up with a healthy dose of comedy itself. (December 10th)

Don Jon - 2 stars out of 4 - (Read my full review here)

Although I ultimately gave it a completely mediocre review, a lackluster crop to choose from is forcing me to throw Joseph Gordon-Levitt's Don Jon into the ring. He delivers the triple threat as the writer, director and star of his own passion project about a porn-addict who's been discovered by his new girlfriend (Scarlett Johansson). Despite being a heart-warming tale of self discovery and maturation, Don Jon suffers from a cyclic (albeit intended) approach that repeats itself over and over again, to the point of ad nauseam. I was extremely conflicted on this indie, which was fresh out of the Sundance Film Festival, and saw it twice before I could make a final decision. Perhaps you'll find a little more enjoyment in Don Jon than I did. (December 31st)

Honorable Mention: Despite missing out on all of them myself, action fans may want to take a chance on any of The Wolverine (12/3), Fast & Furious 6 (12/10), The Lone Ranger (12/17) or Kick-Ass 2 (12/17). As a huge horror buff I plan to catch the sequel Insidious: Chapter 2 (12/24), even though I was underwhelmed with the ending of the original. And finally, one of the most raved about foreign films of the year is The Hunt (12/10), I hear it's a must see. Until next month, have a wonderful holiday season!

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Out of the Furnace

Film: Out of the Furnace

Starring: Christian Bale (The Fighter), Casey Affleck (Ain't Them Bodies Saints) and Woody Harrelson (Seven Psychopaths)

Director: Scott Cooper (Crazy Heart)

U.S. Release: December 6th, 2013 (Rated R)

Genre: Drama

Runtime: 106 minutes

For a large portion of 2013, Scott Cooper's Out of the Furnace was one of the year's most anticipated releases. It's taken 4 years for Cooper to return from his successful writing/directing debut, Crazy Heart, one that earned Jeff Bridges an Academy Award for Best Actor. This time around he brings an army of reinforcements with an all-star cast of past Oscar Winners and Nominees including Christian Bale, Casey Affleck, Woody Harrelson, Forest Whitaker, Sam Shepard and Willem Dafoe. And although early reviews have been extremely mixed with many critics openly speaking out against Cooper's sophomore effort, I'm here to stand up and say that Out of the Furnace is by no means a bad movie. However, it fails to mask many of its sub-par elements.

Christian Bale stars as Russell Baze, a blue collar mill worker who's struggling to make ends meet in the economically depressed steel town of Braddock, PA. His brother Rodney (Affleck) is a troubled soldier who bears the psychological scars from multiple tours in Iraq. But as Rodney refuses to give in to the steel-worker lifestyle, he finds himself caught up in a dangerous underworld of organized bare-knuckle fighting run by a ruthless criminal named Harlan DeGroat (Harrelson). When Rodney leaves one day and never returns, Russell must desperately take matters into his own hands and confront the ring-leader, DeGroat.

The backbone of Scott Cooper's Out of the Furnace is the director's remarkable capacity to develop strong central characters. It was evident in his first film, where Jeff Bridges stole the show. But here, Cooper has more pieces to work with and, for the most part, he does an excellent job of giving each character a purpose and a voice throughout the movie. Another productive aspect is the manner in which the feature begins. Out of the Furnace is an unmistakably dark and saddening film, a tone that Cooper embraces from the opening scene and never looks back. And as the feature progresses, its story is both captivating and deep, impressively developing in a rather unforeseeable fashion that helps hook the audience. With Bale, Affleck and Harrelson all in premier form, Out of the Furnace is a supremely acted and gripping tale of despair.

Despite an alluring appeal, Cooper's second effort is tainted by many shortcomings. The Baze brothers are both wonderfully developed characters that resonate with the audience, it's Cooper's specialty. Yet, the writer/director leaves plenty to be desired with Willem Dafoe's massively unfulfilled sleazy character, John Petty. Furthermore, the feature is haunted by second rate dialogue, unnecessary inclusions (i.e. Rodney's letter to his brother) and unrealistic sequences that become impossible to overlook (what a convenient butt-dial). Moreover, the scene where Russell searches out DeGroat by organizing a drug deal is so off the mark, it's unforgivable. Clearly, Out of the Furnace is bogged down by blatant errors. However, its intriguing subject matter and strong performances are enough to sustain the film.

While many hoped that Cooper's follow-up to Crazy Heart would shape the awards season outlook, the truth is it won't. In fact, Out of the Furnace will ultimately stand as nothing more than an entertaining film with a fair share of miscues. There are elements to enjoy and reasons to watch, but keep your expectations in check.

Stars: 2 and a half stars out of 4.

Grade: B-