Spring Breakdown: The Beach Bum (dir by Harmony Korine)


February is over!  Welcome to March!

Now, the first two weeks of March is, traditionally, when most schools give their students a week off for Spring Break.  I have a lot of good Spring Break memories and, to be honest, I’ve always kind of resented the fact that Spring Break is something that only schools do.  To me, it should be like a national holiday where everything stops for a week and everyone hangs out at the beach for a few days.

Of course, this year’s Spring Break may be a bit of a disappointment, what with everyone freaking out about …. well, everything.  That’s a shame but fear not!  You may not be able to leave behind your fears long enough to go down to the beach but at least you can still watch movies about the beach, right?  So, with that in mind, over the next two weeks, I will be reviewing some films for Spring Break!

It’s time for Spring Breakdown!

Let’s get things started with the 2019 film, The Beach Bum.

The beach bum of the title is an always stoned, alcoholic poet named Moondog (Matthew McConaughey), who spends his time wandering around the Florida Keys.  Moondog has been working on a book for several years and he’s a bit of a local celebrity.  Everyone that he meets tends to like him, or at least they do until he ruins their lives.  Moondog is irresponsible, immature, and apparently some sort of genius as well.  Moondog is also extremely laid back.  Even when he finds out that his wife, Minnie (Isla Fisher), cheated on him with his best friend, a singer named Lingerie (Snoop Dogg), Moondog is okay with it.  He’s always loved Minnie but he’s never had a problem cheating on her so why shouldn’t she do the same to him?

After Moondog shows up late for his daughter’s wedding and goes out of his way to make a scene, he goes for a drive with Minnie.  Of course, since Moondog is drunk off his ass, he ends up crashing the car and killing his wife.  In her will, Minnie leaves half of her fortune to their daughter, Heather (Stefania LaVie Owen).  She leaves the other half to Moondog, with the stipulation that Moondog will only get the money after he finishes his book.

The rest of the film follows, in an episodic fashion, Moondog as he tries to finish his book and get his money.  Along the way, he commits crimes, dabbles with various jobs, and spends time in jail and drug rehab.  He meets a host of eccentric and destructive characters, almost all of who are the type of outsiders who seem as if they’re destined to eventually be the subject of a “Florida man” headline.  For instance, Flicker (Zac Efron) is a pyromaniac.  And Captain Wack (Martin Lawrence) hosts dolphin tours but, unfortunately, cannot tell the difference between a dolphin and a shark.

When The Beach Bum was first released in March of last year, it was eagerly anticipated because it was Harmony Korine’s first film since 2012’s Spring Breakers.  Despite the fact that Spring Breakers and The Beach Bum both take place in Florida and feature a lot of beach action, the two films might as well be taking place in separate universes.  The Beach Bum is as laid back as Spring Breakers was violent.  If Spring Breakers was a film that seemed to be fueled by ecstasy and cocaine, The Beach Bum is a celebration of getting high and enjoying life.  If Spring Breakers was all about being young, The Beach Bum is about growing old without giving up your individuality.

In many ways, The Beach Bum is the ultimate Matthew McConaughey film and how you react to the film will depend on how much tolerance you have for Matthew McConaughey at his most McConaugheyest.  Indeed, if you like Moondog, it’ll probably be because you like Matthew McConaughey.  As a character, Moondog is a jerk.  He nearly ruins his daughter’s wedding.  He drives drunk and kills his wife.  He refuses to take responsibility for being a general fuck-up and, from what little we hear of his work, he appears to be a subpar poet as well.  And yet, Matthew McConaughey brings enough of his own natural charm to the role that it’s tempting to forgive Moondog.  You can understand why some people in the film are willing to tolerate him, even though he’s basically a pain in the ass to have around.

The Beach Bum is not a film for everyone.  I appreciated Matthew McConaughey’s performance and I also appreciated the fact that Harmony Korine didn’t try to remake Spring Breakers.  At the same time, the film was a bit too loosely constructed to really hold my interest and a little bit of Moondog goes a long way.  I saw this film last year and I’ve really had no desire to rewatch it.  That said, the cinematography frequently makes Florida looks like the most beautiful place on Earth and, regardless of what you may think about his poetry, at least Moondog just keeps on L-I-V-I-N, livin’.

Add to that, Moondog’s going to enjoy Spring Break, no doubt about it.

Lisa Reviews An Oscar Nominee: The Wolf of Wall Street (dir by Martin Scorsese)


Suck it, The Big Short The Wolf of Wall Street is the best film to be made about Wall Street this century.

Martin Scorsese’s 2013 financial epic tells the true story of a group of rather sleazy people who got rich and who basically, to quote Robert De Niro from an earlier Scorsese film, “fucked it all up.”  Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio, giving what I still consider to be the best performance of his career) is the son of an accountant named Max (Rob Reiner).  Fresh out of college, Jordan gets a job on Wall Street.  Under the mentorship of the eccentric (but rich) Mark Hanna (Matthew McConaughey), Jordan discovers that the job of a stock broker is to dupe people into buying stock that they might not need while, at the same time, making a ton of money for himself.  With the money comes the cocaine and the prostitutes and everything else that fuels the absurdly aggressive and hyper-masculine world of Wall Street.  Jordan is intrigued but, after the stock market crashes in 1987, he’s also out of a job.

Fortunately, Jordan is never one to give up.  He may no longer be employed on Wall Street but that doesn’t mean that he can’t sell stocks.  He gets a job pushing “penny stocks,” which are low-priced stocks for very small companies.  Because the price of the stock is so low, the brokers get a 50% commission on everything they sell.  Because Jordan is such an aggressive salesman, he manages to make a fortune by convincing people to buy stock in otherwise worthless companies.  As Jordan’s boss (played, in an amusing cameo, by Spike Jonze) explains it, what they’re doing isn’t exactly regulated by the government, which just means more money for everyone!  Yay!

Working with his neighbor, Donny Azoff (Jonah Hill, at his most eccentric), Jordan starts his own brokerage company.  Recruiting all of his friends (the majority of whom are weed dealers who never graduated from high school), Jordan starts Stratton Oakmont.  Using high-pressure sales tactics and a whole lot of other unethical and occasionally illegal techniques, Jordan soon makes a fortune.  When Forbes Magazine publishes an expose that portrays Jordan as being little more than a greedy con man, Stratton Oakmont is flooded by aspiring stock brokers who all want to work for “the wolf of Wall Street.”

And, for a while, Jordan has everything that he wants.  While the Stratton Oakmont offices become a den of nonstop drugs and sex, Jordan buys a huge mansion, a nice car, and marries a model named Naomi (Margot Robbie).  His employees literally worship Jordan as he begins and ends every working day with inspirational (and often hilariously profane) sermons, encouraging his people to get out there and sell no matter what.  Of course, making that much money, Jordan has to find a way to hide it from the IRS.  Soon, with the help of Naomi’s aunt (Joanna Lumley), he is smuggling millions of dollars into Switzerland where a banker (Jean Dujardin, who is both hilariously suave and hilariously sleazy a the time) helps him hide it all.

When Jordan learns that the FBI and SEC are looking into his dealings, Jordan invites Agent Patrick Denham (Kyle Chandler) to come visit him on his yacht and, in a scene that launched a thousand memes, the two of them have a friendly conversation that’s largely made up of passive aggressive insults.  Jordan taunts Denham over the fact that Denham washed out when he tried to get a job on Wall Street.  Denham laughingly asks Jordan to repeat something that sounded like it may have been a bribe.  When Denham leaves the boat, Jordan taunts him by tossing a wad of hundred dollars bills into the wind….

And here’s the thing.  Yes, the media and our political class tells us that we’re supposed to hate that Jordan Belforts of the world.  One can imagine Bernie Sanders having a fit while watching Jordan brag about how he cheated the IRS.  If Adam McKay or Jay Roach had directed this film, one can imagine that they would have used the yacht scene to portray Jordan Belfort as pure evil.  (McKay probably would have tossed in Alfred Molina as a waiter, asking Belfort if he wants to feast on the lost future of the children of America.)  But the truth of the matter is that most viewers, even if they aren’t willing to admit it, will secretly be cheering for Jordan when he throws away that money.  DiCaprio is so flamboyantly charismatic and Scorsese, as director, so perfectly captures the adrenaline high of Jordan’s lifestyle that you can’t help but be sucked in.  He may be greedy and unethical but he just seems to be having so much fun!  Just as how Goodfellas and Casino portrayed life in the mafia as being an intoxicating high (as well as being more than a little bit dangerous), The Wolf of Wall Street refrains from passing easy judgment and it steadfastly refuses to climb onto a moral high horse.  Jordan narrates his own story, often talking directly to the camera and almost always defending his actions.  As a director, Scorsese is smart enough to let us make up own minds about how we feel about Jordan and his story.

Of course, when Jordan falls, it’s a dramatic fall.  That said, it’s not quite as dramatic of a fall as what happened to Ray Liotta in Goodfellas or Robert De Niro in Casino.  No one gets blown up, for instance.  But Jordan does lose everything that gave his life meaning.  By the end of the film, he’s been reduced to giving seminars and challenging attendees to sell him a pen.  (“Well,” one hapless gentleman begins, “it’s a very nice pen…..”)  During the film’s final scenes, it’s not so much a question of whether Jordan has learned anything from his fall.  Instead, the movie leaves you wondering if he’s even capable of learning.  At heart, he’s the wolf of Wall Street.  That’s his nature and it’s really the only thing that he knows how to do.  He’s a bit like Ray Liotta living in the suburbs at the end of Goodfellas.  He’s alive.  He has his freedom and a future.  But he’s still doesn’t quite fit in.  Much like Moses being denied the opportunity to physically enter the Promised Land, Jordan’s punishment for his hubris is to spend his life in exile from where he truly belongs.  And yet, you know that Jordan — much like Henry Hill — probably wouldn’t change a thing if he had the chance to live it all over again.  He’d just hope that he could somehow get a better ending while making the same decisions.

Unlike something like The Big Short, which got bogged down in Adam McKay’s vapid Marxism, The Wolf of Wall Street works precisely because it refuses to pass judgment.  It refuses to tell us what to think.  I imagine that a lot of people watched The Wolf of Wall Street and were outraged by the way Jordan Belfort made his money.  I imagine that an equal number of people watched the film and started thinking about how much they would love to be Jordan Belfort.  The Wolf of Wall Street is a big, long, and sometimes excessive film that dares the audience to think of themselves.  That’s one reason why it’ll be remembered after so many other Wall Street films are forgotten.

The Wolf of Wall Street was nominated for best picture of the year.  It lost to 12 Years A Slave.

6 Good Films That Were Not Nominated For Best Picture: The 1990s


Continuing our look at good films that were not nominated for best picture, here are 6 films from the 1990s.

Dazed and Confused (1993, dir by Richard Linklater)

 An ensemble cast that was full of future stars, including future Oscar winners Matthew McConaughey and Ben Affleck.  A killer soundtrack.  A script full of quotable lines.  Dazed and Confused seemed like it had everything necessary to score a Best Picture nomination and perhaps it would have if the film had been set in Los Angeles instead of the suburbs of Atlanta.  Unfortunately, Richard Linklater’s classic was overlooked.

Casino (1995, dir by Martin Scorsese)

Martin Scorsese’s epic gangster film had all the glitz of Vegas and Joe Pesci to boot!  Despite being one Scorsese’s best, the Academy largely overlooked it, giving a nomination to Sharon Stone and otherwise ignoring the film.

Normal Life (1996, dir by John McNaughton)

Life, love, crime, and death in the suburbs!  John McNaughton’s sadly overlooked film featured award-worthy performances from both Ashley Judd and Luke Perry and it definitely deserves to be better-known.  Unfortunately, the Academy overlooked this poignant true crime masterpiece.

Boogie Nights (1997, dir by Paul Thomas Anderson)

Paul Thomas Anderson first made a splash with this look at the porn industry in the 70s and 80s.  Along the way, he made Mark Wahlberg a star and briefly rejuvenated the career of Burt Reynolds.  Though both Reynolds and Julianne Moore received nominations, the film itself went unnominated.  Oh well.  At least Dirk Diggler got to keep his award for best newcomer.

Rushmore (1998, dir by Wes Anderson)

Though the film was nominated for its screenplay, the Wes Anderson classic missed out on best picture  Even more surprisingly, Bill Murray was not nominated for his funny yet sad performance.  Murray would have to wait until 2003’s Lost In Translation to receive his first nomination.  Meanwhile, a Wes Anderson film would not be nominated for best picture until Grand Budapest Hotel achieved the honor in 2015.  (That same year, Boyhood became the first Richard Linklater film to be nominated.)

10 Things I Hate About You (1999, dir by Gil Junger)

This wonderful take on Shakespeare not only introduced the world to Heath Ledger but it also proved that a teen comedy need not be stupid or misogynistic.  Because it was viewed as being a genre film (and a comedy to boot!), it didn’t get any love from the Academy but it continues to be loved by film watchers like me!

Up next, in an hour or so, the 2000s!

Film Review: White Boy Rick (dir by Yann Demange)


Last night, as a part of my attempt to get caught up with the films of 2018, I watched White Boy Rick.

As you might guess from the title, this film is about a white boy named Rick.  It’s based on the true story of Richard Wershe, Jr., who grew up on the streets of Detroit.  His father sold guns out of the trunk of his car and, by the time he turned 14, Rick was running with drug dealers and street gangs.  (The fact that he was white while all of his friends were black is what led to him getting his nickname.)  Rick became an informant for the FBI and, according to Wershe, the government helped him build up his reputation by supplying him with the drugs that he would then sell on the streets.  When the FBI eventually decided that Wershe was no longer a useful asset, he was arrested for dealing and sentenced to life in prison.

The story seems like one that has the potential to say a lot that needs to be said about not only the economic realities of life in a dying city but also about the role that race plays in America’s often misdirected “war on drugs.”  Unfortunately, the film falls flat because, with the exception of a few scenes, it never really convinces us that Rick was really worthy of being the subject of a film.  While the film surrounds him with interesting supporting characters, Rick himself remains something of a cipher.  Rick is played by a young actor named Richie Merritt.  Merritt’s has the right look for the character but you never get the feeling that there’s anything going on underneath the surface.  Rick comes across as just being a moron who got lucky and then, eventually, not so lucky.

The supporting cast fares a bit better.  For instance, Matthew McConaughey plays Rick’s father with just the right amount of manic energy and Bel Powley has a few harrowing scenes as Rick’s drug addicted sister.  Bruce Dern and Piper Laurie don’t get to do much as Rick’s grandparents but it doesn’t matter because they’re Bruce Dern and Piper Laurie.  (All Bruce Dern has to do to make a character interesting is look at the camera.)  Jennifer Jason Leigh plays one of Rick’s FBI handlers with the perfect hint of subversiveness.  You’re never quite sure whether she’s messing with Rick’s life because she’s incompetent or because she’s enjoying it.  Unfortunately, the supporting characters are often so interesting that Rick often gets overshadowed.  He’s a bystander in his own story, which may have been the film’s point but, from a storytelling point of view, it hardly makes for compelling viewing.

Admittedly, there are a few memorable scenes to be found in White Boy Rick.  At one point, Rick goes to a wedding at the mayor’s mansion and he’s a sight to behold in his blue tuxedo.  In another scene, it’s explained to Rick why, when it comes to being arrested, charged, and incarcerated, the stakes are very different when you’re black than when you’re white.  In scenes like that, you kind of get a hint of White Boy Rick could have been if it had been centered around a more compelling character.

As it is, though, White Boy Rick is well-made but kind of dull.  It’s definitely a missed opportunity.

 

Trailer Round-Up: Captive State, The Beach Bum, The Boat, Her Smell


This week, we have already shared trailers for Fuck You All: The Uwe Boll Story, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, and The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina.

Here’s the best of the rest:

Captive State is the latest science fiction epic from director Rupert Wyatt.  Wyatt previously proved himself with Rise of the Planet of the Apes so I am looking forward to seeing what he can do with the story of an Earth that has been taken over by aliens.  Captive State will be released in March of 2019.

Harmony Korine returns to the beach with The Beach Bum.  Starring Matthew McConaughey, Zac Efron, and Snoop Dogg, this appears to be an unexpectedly light-hearted film from the mind behind Kids, Gummo, and Spring Breakers.  The Beach Bum will be released on March 22nd.

Judging from the trailer, The Boat appears to be Christine-in-the-water.  The Boat will be released on September 22nd.

Finally, a legendary punk rocker struggles to stay sober in Her Smell.  Judging from this teaser, it does not appear to be working.

Here’s The Trailer For White Boy Rick!


Here’s the trailer for White Boy Rick!

Now, White Boy Rick is based on a true story that’s actually pretty interesting.  At the age of 14, Richard Wershe, Jr. was the youngest criminal to ever become an informant for the FBI.  Of course, once the FBI got what they wanted from him, Wershe was left on his own and, when he was 17, he was arrested for selling cocaine and sentenced to life in prison.  Wershe, who was finally paroled in 2017, claims that the harsh sentence was politically motivated and that he basically learned how to become a successful drug dealer through his work for the government.

It’s a great story and, with more and more people questioning both drug prohibition and national law enforcement, a timely one.  The film’s got a good cast, with Matthew McConaughey, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Bel Powley, Rory Cochrane, Piper Laurie, and Bruce Dern all in supporting roles.  The director, Yann Demange, previously directed the great ’71 and is definitely an up-and-coming filmmaker.  Rick is played by a Richie Merritt, who will be making his film debut in the leading role.

As for the trailer itself, it’s effective.  I had a hard time understanding some of the dialogue and it’s hard to really judge Merritt’s performance based on what’s present here.  But I like the look of the trailer and the music is damn near perfect.

Some are saying this movie might be an Oscar contender.  We’ll have to see!

Playing Catch-Up With The Films of 2017: The Dark Tower (dir by Nikolaj Arcel)


What the Hell was The Dark Tower about, anyway?

It’s a legitimate question.  I know that the film was technically a continuation of Stephen King’s overrated Dark Tower books.  Matthew McConaughey was Walter, the Man in the Black, the man who is kidnapping psychic children so that he can weaponize their powers and destroy The Dark Tower.  Idris Elba was Roland, the last of the gunslingers, who is obsessed with killing Walter because Walter killed his father.  And Tom Taylor is Jake, an eleven year-old boy who lives in New York City and who keeps having visions of the Tower, Walter, and Roland.  Walter wants Jake.  Roland wants Walter.  Jake wants to understand it all…

And that’s pretty much the entire movie.  Jake switches back and forth between his world and Roland’s world.  Walter occasionally pops up in New York so that he can kill Jake’s family and assure that Jake won’t have any reason not to continue traveling with Roland at the end of the movie.  It all basically feels like the pilot for a television series and, to be honest, it probably wouldn’t be that bad of a show.  For one thing, if The Dark Tower was a tv show, there would be more of an opportunity to develop the characters of Roland, Walter, and Tom.  The Dark Tower movie only last 95 minutes and the majority of those minutes feel very rushed.

Obviously, if you’ve read Stephen King’s Dark Tower books, this film will be easier for you to follow than it will be for people who have never had to suffer through them.  I know I’m in the minority as far as this is concerned but I find The Dark Tower series to be King at his most pretentious.  Interestingly enough, a little bit of pretension probably would have helped the film version of The Dark Tower.  As it is, The Dark Tower is almost too workmanlike and straight-forward.  It could have really used a pointless Stephen King-style soliloquy about faith, innocence, and horror.  At the very least, they could have had someone in the background, droning on about politics in a Maine accent.

I have to admit that I really, really, really wanted to like The Dark Tower.  I love Idris Elba.  I love Matthew McConaughey.  Even more importantly, I love being a contrarian.  Whenever a film gets as many negative reviews as The Dark Tower, my natural instinct is always to assume that it has to be a secret masterpiece.  I mean, seriously, who trusts critics?  I really wanted to watch The Dark Tower and then write a 1,000-word defense of it.  I was hoping that, much like The Counselor, it would turn out to be a masterpiece that only I could recognize.

Sadly, that didn’t turn out to be the case.  I will say that Matthew McConaughey seemed to be having a sincerely good time playing the bad guy.  And Idris Elba had just the right mix of weariness and compassion to play Roland.  But otherwise, the movie just felt so pointless.

Overall, this has been a pretty good year for Stephen King film adaptations.  It deserves to be nominated for an Oscar, though it won’t be.  Gerald’s Game made people thankful for Netflix.  The Dark Tower, though, will be quickly forgotten.