I, TONYA (2017)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 2 hours

MPAA Rating: R for Pervasive Language, Violence and some Sexual Content/Nudity

Directed by: Craig Gillespie

Written by: Steven Rogers

Starring: Margot Robbie, Sebastian Stan, Allison Janney, Julianne Nicholson, Caitlin Carver, Bojana Novakovic, Paul Walter Hauser, Bobby Cannavale & Ricky Russert

After headlines about Lorena Bobbitt cutting off her husband’s penis and before headlines about O.J. Simpson’s double-murder trial, tabloids and mainstream news outlets were talking about Tonya Harding and the scandal regarding an attack on her teammate. It was only a matter of time before someone made a film about Tonya Harding (I’m still waiting on that Lorena Bobbitt film), but I don’t think anybody could have anticipated that the Harding biopic would be a dark comedy. However, this odd genre choice fits right in with the stranger-than-fiction material about trashy people doing idiotic things and winding up as a sideshow attraction for all of society to gawk at.

Tonya Harding (Margot Robbie) is a figure skater who sticks out like a sore thumb among her competition. This is partially because she doesn’t fit the figure skater stereotype at all and mostly because of her hot-headed attitude that frequently gives way to profanity-laden outbursts. Though Tonya might be able to pull off amazing stunts on the ice, her home life is another story entirely as her abusive mother LaVona Golden (Allison Janney) constantly berates her and redneck husband Jeff Gillooly (Sebastian Stan) beats her on a daily basis. When Tonya’s spotlight progressively begins being stolen away by rival teammate Nancy Kerrigan (Caitlin Carver), Jeff and his idiotic best friend Shawn (Paul Walter Hauser) decide to take drastic measures…and an “incident” soon gives way to a media circus.

The best thing about I, TONYA is easily Margot Robbie’s performance. Robbie has played bad people in the past with the villainous Harley Quinn (one of the few things in SUICIDE SQUAD that most people agreed was great) and the crime-dabbling trophy wife in WOLF OF WALL STREET. I, TONYA lets Robbie off the leash though and allows her shine on the screen in a performance that just might go down as the most memorable role of her entire career. Robbie injects honest-to-god humanity into Tonya Harding and gives her a sympathetic side, but also constantly reminds the audience that we shouldn’t necessarily feel completely sorry for her. There’s one interview monologue about being a constant victim that really resonated and seemed to have the entire theater audience questioning why we all rushed out to watch a movie about Tonya Harding in the first place.

TONYA’s supporting cast members aren’t slouching either, because it’s a toss-up as to which side performance is the best. They’re all great across the board. However, Allison Janney plays possibly the most despicable human being in the film as Tonya’s super abusive mother. The unapologetic way in which she verbally puts down and physically abuses her daughter is horrifying. Sebastian Stan shines as scumbag husband/ex-husband Jeff. Paul Walter Hauser elicits big laughs as a total idiot who has a huge role in the headline-making incident. Finally, Julianne Nicholson plays the only good person in the entire film as Tonya’s caring coach (who seems more like a mother figure than Tonya’s actual abusive mother).

I, TONYA’s non-linear narrative helps boost its darkly comedic angle as the film frequently cuts back to interviews with the characters (which in turn were based on real-life interviews with the actual subjects). Lots of laughs come from characters downplaying what actually happened or looking back on horrible events with casual indifference. The only film that I can think of that’s similar in structure to I, TONYA is Gus Van Sant’s underwhelming TO DIE FOR. Whereas that film was a bit of an unfocused mess, I, TONYA uses its unusual structure as a huge strength and cuts down any potential slow spots with its frequent jumps back-and-forth in time.

If someone had no idea who Tonya Harding was and what she’s infamous for, they might easily mistake the first half of I, TONYA as a sports biopic with a nasty edge. The film gives us plenty of interesting development on Tonya Harding’s life, her rise to fame, and her struggles on-and-off the ice. However, the film falters in an area that’s distracting enough to take viewers out of the flow for a few minutes. Every single skating scene tends to have a few effects that don’t look convincing, whether they be CGI spinning or Margot Robbie’s head clearly being placed on a stunt skater’s body. These moments aren’t frequent enough to ruin the experience, but they did look weird…to say the least.

Despite a handful of skating sequences that include iffy effects work, I, TONYA is a great film about a not-so-great person. Margot Robbie’s performance alone makes this movie worth seeking out and the rest of the cast deliver awesome acting as well. The story is compelling and its structure allows for lots of sick laughs, along with the more serious side of this idiotic crime story. If you are at all interested in Tonya Harding or in seeing just how phenomenal actors can be in a story that’s populated by irredeemable idiots, then I, TONYA should be right up your alley!

Grade: A

SUICIDE SQUAD (2016)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 2 hours 3 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for Sequences of Violence and Action throughout, Disturbing Behavior, Suggestive Content and Language

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Directed by: David Ayer

Written by: David Ayer

(based on the SUICIDE SQUAD comics by John Ostrander)

Starring: Will Smith, Jared Leto, Margot Robbie, Joel Kinnaman, Viola Davis, Jai Courtney, Jay Hernandez, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Cara Delevingne, Karen Fukuhara, Adam Beach, Ike Barinholtz, Scott Eastwood & Ben Affleck

SUICIDE SQUAD has been one of my most anticipated films of 2016. It should be mentioned that I wasn’t exactly sold on Jared Leto’s Joker and strongly disliked BATMAN v SUPERMAN. Still, there was something about this supervillain team-up film that had me stoked! The marketing was great and showcased crazy energy that would be essential for a movie like this. Though generally negative reviews have gotten this third DC Extended Cinematic Universe entry rated lower than BATMAN v SUPERMAN on Rotten Tomatoes, I had a blast watching SUICIDE SQUAD. The film isn’t free of flaws (all of which I’ll discuss in a moment), but it also has a lot of things to like! So far, this is my favorite installment of the new DC Cinematic Universe.

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In response to the world’s growing superhuman phenomenon, government operative Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) assembles a team of very bad people who she believes can do some good. This secret task force, dubbed the Suicide Squad, is led by hard-headed veteran Rick Flagg (Joel Kinnaman) with sword-wielding Katana (Karen Fukuhara) at his side. Under Flagg’s command are: psycho-clown Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), sharp-shooter Deadshot (Will Smith), human torch El Diablo (Jay Hernandez), drunken bloke Captain Boomerang (Jai Courtney), human-reptile Killer Croc (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje) and grappling expert Slipknot (Adam Beach). This ragtag team of supervillains must work together if they wish to save the world from the evil Enchantress (Cara Delevingne).

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The main quality that sets SUICIDE SQUAD apart from tons of other superhero films is that these protagonists are out-and-out supervillains. These characters committed horrible crimes in their past and don’t necessarily feel bad about any of the evil things they’ve done. Instead of saving the day for the right reasons and out of the goodness of their hearts, these bad guys wish to regain their freedom and aren’t above contemplating plenty of ways to murder Flagg and escape. Instead of being a story of good vs. evil, SUICIDE SQUAD is all about bad vs. worse.

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As far as the team members go, there are definite stand-outs, cool supporting characters and disappointingly glorified cameos. The best performances come from Margot Robbie as fan favorite Harley Quinn and Will Smith as Deadshot. Both of these Batman villains have never been featured in a live-action blockbuster before and they make a grand big-screen entrance here. Margot Robbie remarkably encapsulates every mannerism that Harley Quinn has in the comics and cartoons, while also doing a perfect voice for the character. Will Smith actually gains a bit of sympathy as Deadshot by playing the assassin as a loving father who happens to earn money from heartlessly executing people.

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Jay Hernandez delivers unexpected humanity as former gangster turned peaceful pyro El Diablo. This character was given more development than the other supporting characters thanks to a well-executed tragic backstory. El Diablo’s reluctance to engage in violence makes him an interesting character to watch. Meanwhile, Jai Courtney brings his best performance yet (not exactly high praise) as comical Captain Boomerang. This character got the biggest laughs out of me, even more than Harley Quinn. Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje’s Killer Croc doesn’t get much to do aside from looking cool in the background. Meanwhile, Viola Davis is solid as amoral Amanda Waller and Joel Kinnaman is likable enough as Rick Flagg.

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Though it’s a lot of fun and very entertaining, SUICIDE SQUAD has major problems in two big areas: the villain and the editing. Concerning the former, Enchantress is cool to look at. The constant special effects surrounding her, the mindless drones she controls, and the magical havoc are all very neat to the eyes. However, her motivation is nothing more than the typical world domination that we’ve already seen plenty of times from other supervillains, especially in the past couple of years (e.g. Ultron, Dr. Doom, and Apocalypse). In the end, she’s a generic villain with an awesome look.

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As for the sloppy editing, that’s a direct result of Warner Brothers’ desperation after BATMAN v SUPERMAN slightly underperformed at the box office. In an effort to combat the possibility of SUICIDE SQUAD flopping and disappointing more people, multiple cuts of this movie were made and then glued together in the messy theatrical version. This isn’t annoying to a degree where the movie is outright terrible or bad, but it’s definitely noticeable. For instance, Viola Davis gets five seconds of voice-over narration in the prologue and never receives any more throughout the entire running time. In a far more egregious decision, every Joker scene seems butchered or totally excised from the film. I still can’t tell you what I honestly thought of Jared Leto’s new take on the clown prince of crime, because I’ve less than five minutes of screen time from him.

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Even with its undeniable problems taken into consideration, SUICIDE SQUAD remains a thoroughly enjoyable summer movie filled with energy, cool visuals and humor that works. It’s a crazy comic book flick that definitely could (and should) have been better, but functions on being fun and entertaining! I’ll take that over dull, dreary and bloated any day of the week!

Grade: B

THE LEGEND OF TARZAN (2016)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 49 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for Sequences of Action and Violence, some Sensuality and brief Rude Dialogue

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Directed by: David Yates

Written by: Adam Cozad & Craig Brewer

(based on the TARZAN novels by Edgar Rice Burroughs)

Starring: Alexander Skarsgard, Margot Robbie, Samuel L. Jackson, Djimon Hounsou, Jim Broadbent & Christoph Waltz

Hollywood loves to revisit classic characters (e.g. The Lone Ranger, Zorro, The Shadow, etc.), so it’s a bit odd that we haven’t seen a big-budget, live-action Tarzan film since 1984’s GREYSTOKE. It should be noted that a Tarzan reboot has been in the works since the early 2000’s, but kept running into various production problems and fell in development hell multiple times. This July, we finally have a new Tarzan film. However, this new adventure has been receiving negative reviews and might wind up as a box office flop. That’s a bit depressing, because THE LEGEND OF TARZAN is endearingly old-fashioned entertainment that is bound to make you laugh, get your adrenaline pumping, and feel the unique brand of movie magic that only good summer blockbusters can bring.

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In 1889, Tarzan (Alexander Skarsgard) has become civilized into London life. Now going under the name of John Clayton III and sipping tea with his pinky out, Tarzan hasn’t been back to the jungle or African Congo villages in years. Instead he spends his days at a sophisticated manor with his lovely wife Jane (Margot Robbie), but that changes when Tarzan receives an invitation from King Leopold of Belgium. Accompanied by Jane and American freedom fighter George Washington Williams (Samuel L. Jackson), Tarzan soon learns that the royal summons was not exactly what it appeared to be. If he wishes to save his wife and countless people from the tyranny of evil Captain Leon Rom (Christoph Waltz), Tarzan will have to revert back to his wild ways and trek through the treacherous jungle.

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LEGEND OF TARZAN is directed by David Yates, who also helmed the latter half of the HARRY POTTER series. Injected with a grand visual style and capturing the sense of jungle adventure that its main character represents, this Tarzan story is simple to a fault and packs a ton of entertainment into less than two hours. What’s even more impressive is that it tells an origin story through flashbacks, while giving us a fresh adventure at the same time. The non-linear structure allows for well-placed flashbacks to fill us in on Tarzan’s beginnings and first encounters with Jane, while the main plot shows John Clayton III reverting to his old animalistic ways to save the day. If handled poorly, this approach could have backfired in a horribly misguided way. However, the flashbacks and 1889 storyline are perfectly balanced in that when one story begins to slow down, we are given more of the other narrative.

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Alexander Skarsgard is a likable lead as Tarzan and looks massive compared to everyone else around him. Though I praised how cool the non-linear story is for a classic character like Tarzan, this structure doesn’t leave a lot of room for supporting characters. Samuel L. Jackson serves as comic relief and gets a lot of hilarious moments, trying to keep up with Tarzan as he ventures through the jungle to rescue Jane. Speaking of which, Margot Robbie isn’t necessarily good as Jane. She’s plays a damsel in distress, which I guess was her character’s sole function to begin with, but I didn’t see a believable romantic connection between her and Tarzan. Jane also seems to get captured more than Lois Lane.

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On the villainous side of things, the always great Christoph Waltz plays sinister Captain Rom. Waltz seems to elevate any movie he’s in, especially when he’s playing a diabolical antagonist. That being said, I’d be lying if I said that Rom wasn’t a bland baddie. He just wants money and power, only receiving a handful of scenes to show off his evil chops. The only unique thing about his character is a strange weapon of choice, but that feels underdeveloped as well. Waltz is a fun enough villain, but I wish more time had been spent developing the character of Rom. Still, he seems entirely fleshed out when compared to Djimon Hounsou’s violent tribal leader who receives a whopping two scenes and better motivation for his villainy in a single less-than-a-minute-long flashback.

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As far as the look of the film goes, LEGEND OF TARZAN was clearly put together with a lot of attention to detail and fantastic CGI. The animals look completely realistic, even when they’re doing things that animals wouldn’t normally be doing, such as engaging in a one-on-one fist fight with a human being. The action isn’t strictly limited to apes, elephants, and cheetahs either, as other wildlife pops up purely for exciting action, a satisfying villain comeuppance, and comic relief that’s actually funny. Even though the film wasn’t shot in Africa, the locations come off as totally believable. The film is gorgeously put together all around and an atmospheric soundtrack adds a further air of sophistication and excitement.

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THE LEGEND OF TARZAN is one of the summer’s biggest surprises thus far. The film is exciting from start to finish, capturing the viewer’s imagination through an entertaining adventure that doesn’t feel the need to modernize itself through cheap jokes and revamped origins. The humor works on a timeless level. Samuel L. Jackson steals the show in certain scenes. Alexander Skarsgard plays a compelling Tarzan. The non-linear storytelling keeps things interesting and doesn’t simply retread a familiar origin story. Even in its faults, the film is still a lot of fun to watch. Christoph Waltz is always entertaining as a villain and the same can be said about his one-dimensional character here. Margot Robbie is simply a damsel in distress, but does what she can with those limitations. LEGEND OF TARZAN is simply a great adventure on the big screen and should satisfy those looking for pure old-fashioned entertainment.

Grade: B+

Z FOR ZACHARIAH (2015)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 35 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for a scene of Sexuality, partial Nudity, and brief Strong Language

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Directed by: Craig Zobel

Written by: Nissar Modi

(based on the novel Z FOR ZACHARIAH by Robert C. O’Brien)

Starring: Margot Robbie, Chris Pine & Chiwetel Ejiofor

Z FOR ZACHARIAH immediately caught my attention for a number of reasons. I had heard solid word-of-mouth when this film premiered at Sundance and it was directed by Craig Zobel. That name might not ring a bell, but Zobel is responsible for one of the most controversial movies to come out of the new millennium, COMPLIANCE. I saw that film at Sundance 2012 and found it to be an incredibly disturbing movie with something important to say. Z FOR ZACHARIAH boasts a solid premise that sounded ripe for Zobel to get his hands on. The marketing only confirmed that this would probably be the case, but that’s not what this film is at all. Instead of a psychological dystopian thriller, Z FOR ZACHARIAH is more of a contained drama that happens to use mild science-fiction elements.

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A nuclear apocalypse has wiped out most of the world. Not all of the human race is gone though, because Ann Burden is an innocent farm girl living on an unsoiled piece of land. She’s been surviving on her own for years, harvesting what crops she can grow, and hunting with her dog. One day, she comes across a man in a radiation suit who has discovered her little patch of paradise. The man’s name is John and he immediately takes a shine towards Ann. Seeing as they may be the last two people alive on the planet, John decides that he’ll do what he can to preserve a healthy friendship (hopefully more) with Ann. However, the living situation becomes complicated when another survivor, Caleb, strolls across the farm. Ann begins to spark a potential relationship with Caleb, while John becomes jealous. The trio of survivors try to cooperate together, but it appears that tensions are boiling beneath the surface.

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Z FOR ZACHARIAH sounds like a thriller. The trailer and poster made it out to be a thriller. Judging from the director, I thought this was going to tackle heavy subject matter and it does…to an extent. Z FOR ZACHARIAH is more of a drama that happens to use science-fiction in its premise. That’s not a bad thing, but the movie does occasionally drag at a snail-like pace. The moral complications about how far our characters will go to make Ann’s land (which they happen to be guests on) more comfortable is intriguing as well as the obvious tensions between two men competing for the affection of one woman. The movie is mostly driven by conversations and those are hit-or-miss depending on the scene. The biggest problem I have with this film comes in the final 10 minutes which feel anti-climactic. I wish there was more to the story than what the screenplay decided to conclude on. Apparently, the novel that this film is based on is totally different from the movie seen on the screen (much like last year’s phenomenal UNDER THE SKIN).

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The strongest pieces of Z FOR ZACHARIAH come in two of the three performances. Margot Robbie adopts a Southern accent to play the sweetly naïve Ann who has grown up accustomed to her own way of living. She just happens to be a survivor in the apocalypse. Though her character can be ditzy, that’s all part of who she is and leads to the main moral dilemmas in the story. Even better than Robbie is Chiwetel Ejiofor as John. Chiwetel was incredible in 2013’s 12 YEARS A SLAVE. Here, he plays a character who displays patience, pain and frustration all in equal measure. You can feel sympathy for his situation, but he’s also a difficult character to read in the latter half of the movie. The weakest performance comes from Chris Pine, but I actually blame the script for that. While Ann and John were given time to develop, Pine’s Caleb just shows up out of nowhere to serve as more of a plot device than an actual character. He didn’t seem to have much of a personality and I really didn’t care about his story arc.

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Z FOR ZACHARIAH is not the movie that has been sold to us. This is far from a thriller or a deep science fiction story. Instead, this come off as a bit of a morality play crossed with a drama that happens to be set in the apocalypse. Honestly, I might have preferred to see an honest adaptation of the novel this film took its inspiration from, because that sounds far more interesting than this whole movie. However, I can’t deny that I was interested to see where things would eventually go and there are two great performances here (from Robbie and Ejiofor). Pine’s one-note character and the slow pacing might turn some people off, but I thought Z FOR ZACHARIAH was a decent little flick. Not nearly as good as it could or should have been, but decent nonetheless.

Grade: B-

FOCUS (2015)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 45 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Language, some Sexual Content and brief Violence

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Directed by: Glenn Ficarra & John Requa

Written by: Glenn Ficarra & John Requa

Starring: Will Smith, Margot Robbie, B.D. Wong, Rodrigo Santoro, Robert Taylor & Gerald McRaney

The marketing for FOCUS made the film out to be a disaster. First, there was definite confusion over exactly what genre this film fit in. Is it a romance? A comedy? A crime caper? All of the above? Then there was a lack of a clear plot evident in a trailer as well as Will Smith starring in a role that seemed to allow him to be over-the-top one-liner spewing Smith that we already know far too well. I don’t know what film the trailers for FOCUS were advertising, because the movie I sat through was far better than it originally looked. FOCUS is a throwaway crime-romance, but it also happens to be fairly enjoyable while it lasts.

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Nicky Spurgeon, a professional con artist, meets Jess Barrett, an amateur thief, at a bar one night. After hitting it off through her failed attempt at stealing from him, Nicky takes Jess under his wing to show her the ropes of how to properly con someone. It is the dawn of the Superbowl, which ensures lots of potential suckers will be together in one place to prey on. Nicky, Jess, and the rest of his crew plan on pulling off some big cons, which might blow up in their faces. What I’ve described could have been the entire plot of the film, but it only serves as the premise for the first half. The second half radically shifts into a different storyline with the same characters in Argentina. While the film is entertaining, this unfocused narrative is one of the main problems I have with FOCUS.

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The script revolves around a group of con artists and their expensive exploits, but there is a clear romantic angle front and center. This is actually where FOCUS gets most of its strength. Will Smith and Margot Robbie have great chemistry together that comes across in their characters. Though he’s become known for playing over-the-top action heroes, Nicky is actually Smith’s best role in years. He’s an anti-hero, but also has enough good qualities surrounding him that you can’t help but root for him. Meanwhile, Jess is just as compelling and Margot Robbie brings her to convincing life. She can be naïve and foolish, but I loved the character of Jess as well. In the big bad department, this criminal couple get mixed up with a variety of dangerous people including an eccentric Chinese gambler, a wealthy billionaire (played especially well by Rodrigo Santoro), and said billionaire’s paranoid body-guard. All three of these antagonists are enjoyable in their screen time, but don’t necessarily take up as much of the film as they probably should have.

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The biggest problem with FOCUS is the dual narrative that’s split right down the middle of the running time. This feels like two scripts got shoved into one movie and while neither of those scripts is necessarily bad, they don’t flow well together with only a “Three years later…” tag connecting them. FOCUS’s screenplay doesn’t only suffer from lack of a steady storytelling pace, but also from a couple of far-fetched moments that bring significant plot holes. Characters try to explain these logic gaps to the audience with weak excuses, but I wasn’t buying them. There’s one twist too many by the conclusion that had me rolling my eyes.

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A definite style and confidence is present though. The crime scenes are well executed with huge laughs in how elaborate the cons are. FOCUS felt like it was in the same vein as OCEAN’S ELEVEN and I could definitely see that target audience eating this film right up. The glossy cinematography looks beautiful, including one early scene in snow-covered streets and the latter half set in gorgeous Buenos Aires. The soundtrack works half of the time (with a certain Rolling Stones song used to great effect) and going into downright distracting territory during other moments.

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FOCUS is a decent crime-romance that suffers from narrative problems and a couple of plot holes. The film’s overall style and chemistry between the leads save it from being mediocre. There are many scenes that do work in this film and I can’t say that I was ever mad or bored at any point (even though there is a pretty dumb twist in the final 10 minutes). For fans of crime capers or those looking for a good date movie, FOCUS should work just fine.

Grade: C+

THE WOLF OF WALL STREET (2013)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 3 hours

MPAA Rating: R for Sequences of Strong Sexual Content, Graphic Nudity, Drug Use and Language throughout, and for some Violence

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Directed by: Martin Scorsese

Written by: Terence Winter

(based on the book THE WOLF OF WALL STREET by Jordan Belfort)

Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Jonah Hill, Matthew McConaughey, Jean Dujardin, Margot Robbie, Kyle Chandler, Rob Reiner & Jon Favreau

Martin Scorsese is 71 years old. Let that sink in. In a time where most veteran filmmakers feel so content to play it safe or have taken a long fall from grace (cough, Francis Ford Coppola, cough), Scorsese has pumped out amazing movie after amazing movie. With the combination of his 90’s mafia classics (GOODFELLAS and CASINO) he seemed to have perfected a style in how to tell a story about real-life criminals. Even with his later films THE DEPARTED (a crime masterpiece) and HUGO (one of the best family films in the past decade), Scorsese never seemed to falter or lose his talent. Everybody has a few flops, but Scorsese’s amazing hits more than make up for some of his lesser work. Martin Scorsese has delivered a combination of dark comedy and white-collar crime that is nothing short of a masterpiece with THE WOLF OF WALL STREET.

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This film is based on the memoirs of Jordan Belfort, a corrupt jerk who pulled off one of the most infamous money laundering schemes in the history of Wall Street. We open with a 26-year-old Belfort making his way into the titular Wall Street as a stockbroker. He quickly acquires the verbal tools of the trade and just as quickly finds himself out of a job due to Black Monday (a day when stock markets around the world crashed). Discovering the world of penny-stocks (loser companies in which the stock broker makes 50% commission), Jordan creates his own firm of an abandoned auto-body shop that blossoms into a full-fledged money-making machine. The film chronicles everything from Jordan’s humble self-made beginnings to his downfall in crime, drugs, and sex addiction. Instead of painting a bleak picture from the get-go, Scorsese delivers an impressively hilarious dark comedy that makes the three-hour running time fly by.

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WOLF OF WALL STREET is crude and very explicit. We do see many of Jordan’s sins which range from sniffing cocaine off a hooker’s breasts to abusing Quaaludes achieving such an extreme high that he encounters a “cerebral palsy” phase. This is a movie about a scumbag in every sense of the word. So why is it so amazingly entertaining all the way through? Well, we’ve seen plenty of other scumbags ranging from mobsters (Henry Hill in GOODFELLAS) to serial killers (Patrick Bateman in AMERICAN PSYCHO) and Jordan Belfort is far from the depths of evil that those characters were. Told in a certain style, nearly any story can be made hilarious and enjoyable to watch. This is the magic Scorsese injects into THE WOLF OF WALL STREET. It could have been a dark brooding downfall crime drama, of which we’ve seen so many, but WOLF is a frantically exciting and engaging. It’s by far the most entertaining movie I sat through in all of 2013!

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A director is only as good as his cast and it certainly helps that every single performance rings true to what was required of the cast. Jonah Hill’s character is a perverted lunatic who has no problem devouring a co-worker’s goldfish or marrying his attractive cousin, let alone introducing Jordan to a variety of new drugs that will forever make him an addict. Matthew McConaughey also is a foul-mouthed presence in the film for the first 30 minutes (which winds up being a sixth of the film’s total running time), but marks some memorable scenes.

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Of course, the real standout is Leonardo DiCaprio. This man has long distanced himself from being just a pretty-boy actor and really deserves the Oscar for best actor. He simply disappears into the skin of Jordan Belfort, frequently breaking the fourth wall to address the viewer (much like Henry Hill did in the courtroom scene in GOODFELLAS). He also proves himself to have a knack for comedy in this film, one scene of which had me in tears from laughing so hard. Leo owns the real-life character of Jordan Belfort and makes every second count of the 180 minutes on-screen.

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I could gush and gush for hours about how much I loved THE WOLF OF WALL STREET, but I’ll let the film speak for itself from here on out. If you’re a fan of Scorsese, you’ll absolutely love it. If you want proof that Leonardo DiCaprio can act his ass off, then prepare to be schooled. If you simply want to be entertained by one of the funniest dark-comedies in years, then you won’t be disappointed. This is one of my new favorite movies!

Grade: A+

ABOUT TIME (2013)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 2 hours 3 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Language and some Sexual Content

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Directed by: Richard Curtis

Written by: Richard Curtis

Starring: Domhnall Gleeson, Rachel McAdams, Bill Nighy, Lydia Wilson & Lindsay Duncan

ABOUT TIME is a charming romantic comedy with a science-fiction premise. There is something inherently charming and entertaining about the film, but it some problems bring it down significantly as a whole. Take into account that this could be the definition of a chick flick, which is what the advertising might lead many to believe. That description should pretty much tell you if this movie is suited towards your cinematic taste.

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Tim is an awkward, hopeless romantic. It is on the dawn of a bright new year that Tim’s father calls him into the study for a serious discussion, breaking a family secret to him. All of the males in Tim’s family can travel through time, but it can only be at one point in their past and there are a few complications. Tim is told to use it as he wishes to make his life the way he wants it to be. So when he spots Mary, it’s love at first sight between the two of them. Tim won’t let a relatively little thing like time stand in his way from winning her heart.

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That’s pretty much all I care to give away about the plot, because there are a few unexpected twists along the way. Ironically, it is here where the movie has some holes in it’s somewhat flimsy script. There’s something whimsical in ABOUT TIME and this is mostly brought out in the former half, when Tim is trying out his powers and using them to his advantage. When the movie takes a bit of a depressing turn as Tim tries to help those around him, it gets a bit complicated and points out some set-in-stone rules about the time travel. However, these rules are forgotten in the blink of an eye, when it’s convenient to forward the plot.

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This is where another problem with ABOUT TIME surfaces. As a film, it’s far too long. It feels like there could have been a good 20 or 30 minutes trimmed out and it would have made for a much tighter, far more enjoyable motion picture. Again, the first half of the film is the better half, because it was moving at a steady pace and had enough content in it to keep the viewer intrigued.

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Domhnall Gleeson (son of Brendan Gleeson) and Rachel McAdams are convincing enough as a young couple madly in love with each other. The stand out is Bill Nighy though, as Tim’s eccentric and loving father. The supporting characters are also more than just cardboard cutouts, including Tim’s nature-loving sister and a struggling foul-mouthed playwright roommate.

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If it weren’t for four F-bombs (one above the regulated three F-bomb PG-13 limit) and a picture of a topless woman that’s shown for one brief second, this movie would have been a PG-13 chick flick and currently be banking at the box office (the theater I saw it in had about seven patrons, including myself). If the film’s logic didn’t eat itself by the end of the film, then I’d feel comfortable saying that this could be a smart romance that should be a giant box office success. It’s not a bad movie by any means and shouldn’t be failing as hard as it currently is stateside.

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Finally, the film has an at-times blatantly manipulative soundtrack in both the song choice and music. This is more of a nitpick, but when the soundtrack is actually taking the viewer out of the film, it’s a problem. I can’t kick ABOUT TIME too hard though. It’s got a fair share of tender moments and the film never screws anything up beyond repair, but there are some annoying plot holes and the pacing lags in the latter half. It’s a sweet, charming bit of romance that tries to be smarter than your average chick flick. ABOUT TIME is a good date movie, but that’s about all it is. Take that as you will.

Grade: B-

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