Quick Critic: “The Wolf of Wall Street”

I recently was able to go see “The Wolf of Wall Street” at long last. Starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Jonah Hill and Margot Robbie, DiCaprio portrays a dishonest stock broker who made a fortune in late-80s and early-90s swindling investors into pouring their money into lower-tier companies. Here are some of my reactions to the film:

– This movie is excessive in every sense of the word. No dimension of the story is mild-mannered. The money, drugs, sex and profanity is about as over-the-top as it can possibly be. It’s a bit over-whelming, and almost takes a bit away from the film as a whole, as you feel like there really are no resting points to catch your breath.

It’s like “Die Hard” meets “Wall Street,” and is exactly as weird as that sounds.

– I couldn’t help but think of the movie “Wall Street” all the while I was watching this, and often wondered how Gordon Gekko would handle himself in comparison to the character of Jordan Belfort.

As it so happens, according to a recent interview, the real life Belfort also asked himself this same question, citing the character of Gordon Gekko as an inspiration for his outrageous money-spending lifestyle. (WWGGD!)

– DiCaprio, as usual, is fantastic. He rarely disappoints anymore, and if he weren’t so outspoken with the press, he’d probably have a couple trophies on his shelf at home by now.

Amazing what a little media love can do when you consider that he’s generally thought of as a decent guy, while high profile names like Sean Penn, Harrison Ford and Tommy Lee Jones are said to be some of the biggest jerks in the business if you get to know them.

– If you saw “Moneyball,” then it should come as no surprise now that Jonah Hill can act a little. If you didn’t see that but do see “Wolf,” prepare to be surprised. It’s a role suited perfectly for him.

– I never get tired of watching Scorsese films, and it’s why he’s one of my favorite directors. Once you pick up on his style, it’s so hard to miss all the little trademarks you find in each of his films. (i.e. Diner scenes, fast-moving sequences set to popular soundtracks of the time period, voiceover monologues, etc.)

–  Finding out after the fact that Margot Robbie is Australian made me appreciate the job she did that much more. Would’ve guessed she was born and raised in Brooklyn had I not learned otherwise. Should probably get used to seeing her pop up now and again.

– Not enough Matthew McConaughey. About 20 more minutes of screen time would’ve elevated what was a pretty fantastic 2013 for him.

– This is the first movie I saw Jean Dujardin in since the “The Artist.” It was a bit jarring seeing him in color and speaking English, but happy he was in a high profile movie and did a nice job in it.

– Jon Favreau should have a small role in every movie.

– Terence Winter wrote this movie. You may also know him as the creator of “Boardwalk Empire” and one again used some alumni here. With the show officially ending after next season, this may be another name you’ll be reading about fairly often from here on out.

– Not to much to say about the overall story other than it seems so completely unbelievable, that it almost comes as no surprise to learn most of it was a fairly accurate portrayal of real life events. And yes, when you see it, all the boat stuff most definitely did happen.

– It’s time for a DiCaprio and De Niro collaboration. Enough beating around the bush, Marty. David O. Russell can spare his new found toy for one feature film with two of your favorite guys.

– This movie is over 2 1/2 hours long. If you plan on seeing it, don’t do a late showing, and prepare yourself accordingly by not imbibing too many liquids before hand.

Overall, “Wolf of Wall Street” is a fast paced, very long, highly over the top test of your sanity. The acting is well done, the story is fairly bonkers, but the direction is smooth and the structure is sturdy. It’s a nice blend of styles, and a good view for those who enjoy the works of Scorsese.

It’s certainly not the best work he’s ever done, but that’s a very difficult feat to overcome when you’ve made masterpieces like “Goodfellas,” “Raging Bull,” and “Casino”. It might enhance the experience if you get a chance to read the book before hand, but by no means do I feel it is necessary. It seems like most of the content here is pretty straight forward, but some of it is difficult to digest. When you think about all the issues the real criticisms Wall Street has been undergoing recently, this movie doesn’t make you feel very bad for the people inside of those buildings, only extrapolating everything to what could be an unfair degree. Trying to remember it’s mostly for entertainment and not a political statement will help you appreciate the film a little more, I think, even as disgusting as some of it may come off as.

Worth Buying a Ticket? = Only if you don’t get offended easily

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Quick Critic: “American Hustle”

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Christian Bale, Amy Adams and Bradley Cooper in “American Hustle”

After seeing two very good movies recently, I wanted to try something new in order to cover enough ground without boring you all with too many mundane details (nod to Cheesehead TV for the inspiration). So without much introduction, here were some of my quick takes on David O. Russell’s “American Hustle”:

– This was a solid all around film. I wouldn’t quite go so far as to say “great,” but it had very few weaknesses; notably a handful of slow stretches that really halted the momentum the movie builds once the main plot gets underway.

– The callback to classic 1970s film once the opening credits start rolling sets the tone really nicely.

– Christian Bale’s dramatic weight gains and loss for his roles have to take a toll on him someday. Hopefully I’m wrong, but that kind of thing just can’t be healthy.

– That said, he is terrific in this movie, and will probably be the least talked about part of it due to other elements shining so brightly.

– When I saw “Enchanted” years ago, I never would have guessed Amy Adams would be where she is now. It still feels like she’s not talked about enough despite how good she is in every movie I’ve seen of hers. Makes me think back to her last movie and how the “Man of Steel” producers really kind of wasted her talent on a one-dimensional character like Lois Lane.

– Same thing can be said for Bradley Cooper, just replace “Enchanted” with “Wedding Crashers.” I wouldn’t quite put him on the same level as Adams yet, but he’s getting there.  He has a good presence about him.

– I’m in love with the soundtrack to this film. The minute Steely Dan started playing, I was hooked.

– I love the soundtrack almost as much as I love Jennifer Lawrence. You know someone’s doing great work when you just despise their character and recognize that this was exactly what they were going for.

– As good as she was though, I can’t envision a repeat Oscar win with Cate Blanchett in the mix for “Blue Jasmine.” That was arguably Blanchett’s best performance ever, and it will be very tough to beat this year.

– Jeremy Renner needs some better roles. I don’t think he’s bad, but his characters are too boring or simple. Would really love to see him take on some more challenging parts like he did in “The Hurt Locker.”

– Louis C.K. as a small town cop: Great – Louis C.K. as an electronics specialist: Pretty darn good – Louis C.K. as an FBI Director: Kinda Weird.

I really am enjoying seeing him in all these shows and movies, but Louis definitely seems better fitted for blue collar workers.

– As you can tell so far, this is a very performance driven movie. I wouldn’t be doing it justice though without talking about the great lengths the crew went to in capturing the ambience of the 1970s.

Major props to the costume department and the decision to shoot on 35mm film. It felt like a lost Scorsese film, especially with all the music cue drops.

– It’s about time Hollywood starting pulling from the brilliant actor pool on “Boardwalk Empire.” Happy to see a couple alums like Jack Huston and Shea Whigham getting work here. Hopefully it’s a trend O. Russell and others continue to follow.

– As a self-proclaimed lover of story, I admit that I enjoyed this film in spite of that being easily the weakest element. Some of the moving parts just seemed out of sync, if not totally random at times. As I mentioned before, it seemed like everything would progress naturally for a while, and then something would come up seemingly out of nowhere and bring everything to a stop just to ensure a character was given ample amounts of depth.

Character dimension is great, but I don’t think we need EVERY emotion and personality trait spelled out for us.

– David O. Russell is the Andrew Luck of directors: potential to be great, has flashes of brilliance, but just not quite consistent enough yet. He’s close, he just isn’t there right now.

– O. Russell is at the point, however, where I will be circling every movie he has coming out from now on.

– Same with Jennifer Lawrence. I mentioned that I really like her, right?

– Robert De Niro is also in this movie. It’s not his most memorable role, but I’m just glad he hasn’t completely given up on doing a good movie now and again. (looking at you, Al Pacino.)

If you’re an avid fan of film and have seen a lot of 70’s cinema, this is a must for you. Even if you’re just a fan of good performances, I would definitely recommend checking it out. I’m not sure if this one will pull out the Best Picture, but it will certainly be in the conversation, and may be considered a favorite by some. (In case you were wondering, I’ve got a sneaky suspicion right now that “Gravity” is going to come out of nowhere and pull out the big one; never underestimate the power of Clooney.)

I don’t think O. Russell quite hit his magnum opus here, but I really hope he gets to reuse much of this cast again, because they are just so entertaining to watch. Even still, a good watch and a fun film, whether you’re with others or watching by yourself.

 

Worth Buying a Ticket = Yes

Where Have All the Cow’boys’ Gone?

Emma Stone and Andrew Garfield

Emma Stone and Andrew Garfield in “The Amazing Spider-Man”

 

Hollywood has changed, and so with it have the movies it churns out year after year. By now, I think we are all well aware of this fact. Blockbusters are no longer pretty expensive movies with ambitious plays on broader ideas; instead, they are now all sequels, remakes and adaptations from other well-known sources with $500 million budgets. This call to familiarity in many studios’ biggest films has resulted in a heavy reliance on trendy, already established names in lead roles, making life much tougher for young actors trying to make a name for themselves on the big screen.

More specifically though, young male actors between ages 18 and 25 are especially having a tough time in Hollywood. Now, this is by no means calling anyone over 25 ‘old’ per se, but in comparison to the impressive group of young actresses currently gracing some of the silver screen’s headlining titles, the crop is rather lean.

Take for instance such female actors as Emma Stone, Jennifer Lawrence and Emma Roberts. Stone is the oldest of that group at the tender age of 25, with Lawrence (23) and Roberts (22) not far behind. The significance, of course, being that all of them are right now closer to 18 than 30 and have already starred in multiple major title movies. Each is impressive in her own way, but more or less have gotten to a point where you can throw them in a movie and they’ll draw a crowd based on name recognition alone. This takes nothing away from other promising young actors like Shailene Woodley (22), Brie Larson (24) or Chloë Grace Moretz (16), only that they have yet to establish themselves to such a degree at this point.

On the flip side of this coin, it’s difficult to name an up-and-coming actor with the kind of acting chops some of these girls bring. And if there is one with that kind of talent, he’s likely over a decade past going through puberty. Some of the most popular male actors from recent blockbuster films you may think fit this bill are not quite as young in reality.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt? 32. Chris Hemsworth? 30. Charlie Hunnam? 33. Heck, even Andrew Garfield and Jesse Eisenberg are both 30-years old already, and each have made names for themselves by playing high school-aged characters. So what exactly is going on here?

It may simply be a question of maturity. By nature, women mature faster than men, and in that same vein, this could also be said for developing emotional composure. This is stereotyping a bit, but a lot of 18-year old boys are rowdy, and they don’t really settle down that much even at 21. But blaming hormones on an inability to perform believably seems a bit outlandish, if not downright silly.

There could be an argument that men in this age range simply look too young to be considered “attractive” by modern society’s standards, but I think the existence of Taylor Lautner and Zac Efron have already debunked that theory. And no, I really wouldn’t include either as an example of someone who fits this category because again, I’m talking about guys who could conceivably step in front of a camera today and walk away with an award in February.

It’s not all about awards, though. It’s more about performing well in their role and portraying someone we enjoy watching. There just doesn’t seem to be enough young men who fit that bill.

Again, part of it could be the kinds of movies that are being made right now. There is a much higher demand for men in their 30s than those in their late teens or early 20s. And if there are roles that call for an actor in these age brackets, more often than not, they go to veteran actors .

The biggest question of all is: has Hollywood has always been this way, or is this is a new trend we are just seeing now?

When Al Pacino first made it big in “The Godfather,” he was already 32. Then in that movie’s sequel, “The Godfather: Part 2,” Robert De Niro has his breakout role after just turning 30. Jack Nicholson got some notice for the first time in a small role in the cult hit, “Easy Rider.” His age at that time? Already 32. Heck, when he finally did have his first major role in “Chinatown,” he was pushing 37. (And in case you wondering, Humphrey Bogart and Jimmy Stewart were no spring chickens by the time their names starting showing up everywhere, either)

It seems strange say that this is the way it’s always been, but perhaps that’s just the way the game is played. Actors like Tom Cruise and Leonardo DiCaprio really seem more like the exception and not the rule when it comes to making a name early in a career. It almost seems like male actors need to be serve a little more time before they really hit their stride, not unlike a young pitcher in baseball. And for the record, that by no means demeans the work of those young actresses I mentioned before. It’d have been all too easy for someone like Elizabeth Olsen to name drop her way into bigger movies right off the bat, but she took on the indy films first just like everyone else did, and got recognized quickly for having the sort of talent to cut it with the big timers.

Perhaps in the end, the talk should be more about the rise of young actresses now rather than the absence of young male actors, as it certainly seems to be a young woman’s show in Hollywood now than at any other time. Of course, that’s just me spitballing off a skimmed surface. But perhaps it is this new phenomenon also puts a magnifying glass over the issue of how rare it is for male actors to break in early on, and it makes one wonder whether this is the way it will always be, or if the tides will change again as film continues to change and develop into this digital age. Only time will tell.

In Defense of the New Dark Knight, Ben Affleck

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I would like to start out this post by saying that I’m not perfect. While I strive for perfection everyday, I know deep down that there are imperfections about that me that I am trying to change or simply cannot change because they are genetic. And in that sense,  it’s fair to say that people in general are not perfect.

Why did I feel the need to share something that deep in a post about a movie casting? Because I felt it was important to remind everyone of that fact. Perfection, more often than not, is unobtainable. It’s a goal we like to set for ourselves, but in reality it’s something we rarely ever see.

Ben Affleck is not the perfect casting for Batman. I openly admit that there are probably a couple different actors I would have liked to see win the role before him. But as it stands, Warner Bros. has made their decision, and coming in 2015, we will have (at long last) the big showdown between two of the most iconic fictional heroes of our time in “Man of Steel 2,” with Affleck wearing the famous cape and cowl of the Dark Knight. End of story. Now we can move on with our lives…right?

Well apparently, that answer is a resounding “no.”

Beyond the jokes made on the day of the announcement (some of which were actually pretty funny before they got repeated over a hundred times), some people have taken it upon themselves to use Change.org to sign a petition and send it to Warner Bros. to get Affleck removed from his new role. Wow. I mean, just wow.

Listen, I understand if you’re passionate about a character or some of other form of entertainment. I certainly can put my hand up as a member of that crowd. One doesn’t really need to look much further than the giant sports venues and theme parks we’ve built to see that we live in a society built upon fandom. But there are times when fandom goes to outrageous lengths, and this is starting to look like one of those times.

For one, Change.org is supposed to be a forum for REAL change. The top trending petitions on there today are for fair labor practices at restaurants, adding wheelchair accessible ramps to public buildings, and opposing Russia’s anti-gay laws for the upcoming Olympics. Where in that realm does “remove actor from fantasy/science fiction film” fit in? That’s just an embarrassing use of a site whose purpose is to remedy the serious issues of society.

I could maybe understand signing if the film itself was controversial, or if Affleck was a convicted murderer/pedophile, but none of those things are even remotely true. It may be your right to voice your opinion through a medium like this, but please, I implore to utilize that energy in doing something a little less self-serving and, in all likelihood, pointless.

It’s not as if Affleck is the worst possible choice for this role either. He certainly has had what one could call an “up-and-down” career, but his most recent (and early) work has shown that he is a very intelligent filmmaker. I would personally say he is a more gifted writer and director, but he is far from a terrible actor. He’s just really not a great one, and I think that’s where people have a problem. They’ve now grown accustomed to bigger profile actors donning the suits of our favorite superheroes. I mean, we had a movie recently in “Iron Man 3” that starred four Academy Award nominated actors (how Guy Pearce hasn’t been nominated for an Oscar by now is beyond me). That’s setting the bar pretty high.

But Affleck has certainly had his acting moments, too. He’s been pretty good in his two most recent directorial efforts, “Argo” and “The Town,” which I think demonstrate a lot in how far he’s come from projects like “Daredevil” and “Gigli.” In fact, I seem to recall quite a few people applauding his acting when “Argo” was in it’s theatrical run.

Will he be good as Batman, though? That’s yet to be determined. The point of this wasn’t to try and persuade you that he is going to kill it. What I’m really trying to say is simply just give him a chance. I mean, how would you feel if you were hired for a high-profile job only to hear everyone else say you’d stink at it before you even got the opportunity to try and do it? That’s a bit unfair, wouldn’t you say? And yes, this is a slightly different situation, because it’s a very high-paying gig for an extremely popular character, and there’s a good body of work to go off of in evaluating the actor himself. But if people weren’t ever given the chance to prove themselves, would anyone ever really feel a sense of achievement?

I mean, I love Batman as much as anyone else. Heck, I’ve liked him since he was played by Adam West in the most goofy, 60’s way possible. I even liked him after George Clooney bared his nipples beneath a skin-tight leather suit. So let’s face it, there have been much darker times than this in cinema for the Caped Crusader. So give him a shot.

After all, were it not for him, we would have never been given the phrase “Argo fuck yourself.” And that would just be criminal.

“The Way, Way Back” – A Coming-of-Age Story for the Modern Day

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It’s hard to get into discussing this film without talking about the writers/directors, Nat Faxon and Jim Rash. Those of you who are unfamiliar with these two names may better know them through the characters they play, or from their most previous written work, the Oscar-winning film, “The Descendants.” Faxon and Rash finally take center stage in this movie – not through the characters they play on screen (although Rash steals a good amount of laughs as the hapless employee, Louis) – but in sharing the director’s chair for their first time ever, which resulted in a very emotional, yet funny film.

It’d be easy to knock on “The Way, Way Back” for being a story we’re all too familiar with: sheltered teenager enters lively surrounding, feels rejected by those around them, meanders off on their own, finds their way through some unlikely circumstance, uses newfound confidence to turn their personal life on its head, and end up winning the day in the end. Ringing any bells? We’ve seen it in several movies over the years from “Dirty Dancing” to “Adventureland,”  It’s the classic coming-of-age film that we all just happen to relate to despite the situation seeming totally unlikely in retrospect. What makes “The Way, Way Back” stand out among the rest, however, is that it captures the best elements from these types of films while eliminating all the worst parts.

For one, it’s not cheesy. You can argue there are situations that are a bit predictable or cliché, but here they seem more earned than convenient. My hat goes off to Liam James, who portrays a kid so awkward that he looks like he legitimately cannot tell his right from his left. The discombobulated, socially isolated character of Duncan delivers a nice blend of cringe-worthy scenes and laugh out loud moments to the audience throughout the film’s run. At times, you really feel bad for him, especially when Steve Carrell’s Trent verbally dresses him down him again and again. And other times, you can’t help but cheer for him when things are finally going his way.

It’s not just James, though. All the actors in this film do a fine job. Each of them embody their characters very well, with special nods to Allison Janney and Sam Rockwell for really delivering some great performances. Janney has become a staple for me in this respect. The more I’ve ventured out into the world of independent film, the more I’ve come across her, and she has yet to let me down. Rockwell, on the other hand, finally won me over here after a slightly tumultuous relationship over many years of watching him. I can’t really put my finger on why, but he just never impressed me until recently. I think part of that is because I feel like I suddenly “get him.” It’s not unlike a long-term relationship with a friend or significant other. After months of seeing them everyday, getting to know their mannerisms and ways of doing things, you start to really understand who they are. Rockwell and I are now old buddies. (If you’ve ever had similar feelings about him, I highly recommend giving this movie a go, or if you’re feeling adventurous, check out “Seven Psychopaths,” another film he really shines in.)

When you ultimately view everything here together on screen, you start to see why “The Way, Way Back” is a more unique composition of elements than it looks like at first glance. The dialogue is smart, the moments feel real, and the story is sucks you in faster than you’d expect. For effort number two on the big screen, Faxon and Rash have really impressed me so far. For two men whose careers are pretty entrenched in comedy, they seem have a firm understanding of who people really are, and how to make these kinds of stories come to life on screen. But don’t just take my word for it; go see for yourself.

Oh, and be prepared for plenty of “colliding train moments.” You know the ones I mean, right? Those scenes that are so hard to watch that you want to look away, but just can’t bring yourself to do it? If you’re familiar with “The Office” (ironically also starring Steve Carrell), then you are already well affiliated with this concept. Prep yourself for them, and enjoy the rest.

“Pacific Rim”: A Unique Spin On Classic Creature Features

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In a summer full of sci-fi/action/adventure thrill rides, it’s hard to not feel a little numb to all the big explosions and larger than life storylines by now. And while “Pacific Rim” is no exception to this type of genre, it still comes off as having a little more heart than some other films to date.

“Pacific Rim” seemed to have a sense of originality. Now, before you go attacking me for that comment, just hear me out first. When I say ‘originality,’ I mean there is no source material for it. Films like “Star Trek Into Darkness,” “Iron Man 3,” “Man of Steel” and “World War Z” all derived their influence from either a previous installment in a franchise, or from some sort of printed material. “Pacific Rim,” on the other hand, is an original screenplay.

Sure, we’ve seen giant robots fighting before in “Transformers,” and yes, Godzilla certainly had his epic battles against other monstrous entities, but this wasn’t the same thing. If anything, the concept for “Pacific Rim” related closer to that of classic anime shows such as “Voltron” or “Mobile Suit Gundam,” which involve human users operating ‘mach suits’ to do battle. If you want a more Americanized vision of this, think of the Megazord from Power Rangers.

So acknowledging this, what exactly IS truly original about “Pacific Rim” that separates it? It’s the story.

Mankind must defend themselves from an invasion of giant alien monsters called “Kaiju,” which are entering the world through a dimensional portal from the depths of the Pacific Ocean. In response, mankind pulls together to manufacture giant robots called ‘Jaegers,’ which soldiers can pilot to combat these monsters. That’s the most generic description of the plot. The real juicy parts of the story come from the characters.

We get glimpses throughout all the tense moments in the movie of the lives of the characters that inhabit this tumultuous future, specifically through what’s called the ‘neural handshake’ that the two pilots of each Jaeger have to perform in order to operate it. The idea is a bit out there, but if you can believe that giant monsters are invading us from another dimension, then you can probably believe that humans can psychically bond through a mind-syncing process.

The protagonist of the film is Charlie Hunnam’s character, Raleigh Becket; about as predictable of a hero as it gets – hard headed, courageous, bold in almost every sense of the word. Not unlike Maverick from “Top Gun.” In fact, he essentially IS Maverick from “Top Gun.” They each come off initially to the audience as a cocky pilot who thinks he can take on the world, then show off a little bit by making rash decisions, and end up paying for it by getting someone they care about hurt, only to make up for it later by becoming a better person because of it. And this isn’t where the movie comparisons end.

What would “Top Gun” have been without an appropriate foil to our hero, Maverick? Part of what made him such a dynamic character was he had a rival of almost equal regard in Ice Man, played by Val Kilmer. Raleigh in “Pacific Rim” also is given a rival in the form of Robert Kazinsky’s Chuck Hansen. What a miserable character this is. He does a great job of being unapologetically douchey at first, and then inevitably change opinions later when he redeems himself for the greater good. Only problem is, he doesn’t. Or rather, you don’t believe it when he supposedly does. The difference between Chuck and Ice Man is that even though Ice Man was an asshole, you kind of liked him because it was Val Kilmer. Chuck was easily one of my least favorite characters/side-stories in “Pacific Rim.”

Raleigh builds a relationship with a budding rookie pilot named Mako Mori, played by Japanese actress Rinko Kikuchi. Honestly, I felt she stole the show a little bit. She’s another strong-willed character with the reservation and resolve of the samurai characters portrayed in Kurosawa classics such as “Seven Samurai” or “Yojimbo.” Kikuchi gave one of the stronger performances of the film, outside of Idris Elba, who played the classic no-nonsense commander who puts the feisty officers in their place. Charlie Day is delightful, but what else is new? His character is somewhat unbelievably a scientist, but he sells it well. He comes more as a fanboy of the Kaiju than an actual scientist, which is more or less what his character is supposed to be. His counterpart, an over the top physicist played by Burn Gorman, is even more ridiculously over the top at times, but just in the right doses. And of course there was Ron Perlman. When is Ron Perlman not entertaining? Never, is the answer. Never.

The enemies are strong, and at some points frightening. These huge monster are a fearsome force and actually feel like a legitimate threat to humanity and a good night’s sleep. It almost seems ridiculous at times that the Jaeger force fighting off these monsters seems undermanned, because if I were in charge in a real situation like this, I’d have been putting all my money and resources into making sure I had hundreds of Jaegers ready to roll in preparation for a large by of these massive creatures (You can never be too careful with the possibility of being invaded by an army of Godzillas).

All in all, “Pacific Rim” is an enjoyable ride. A visual spectacle filled with fun and exciting scenes, and some great character moments, to boot, especially in the growing relationship between Raleigh and Mako. If you enjoyed “Transformers,” then I think you’d like this film even better. The acting is right around par, the story isn’t droll, and while it certainly loves its effects, they don’t wear on you the way a Michael Bay film would.

Episode 1: Everybody Hates Yuni

Oscar Primer

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It’s time for Oscar…Oscar, Oscar!

Are you excited, kids? You should be, because this year’s Academy Awards appear to be WIDE open (well, except for Best Actor, because Daniel Day-Lewis doesn’t come to lose). Which means…anything can happen!

Part of the reason there aren’t any clear cut favorites is because a couple big names have been snubbed. Two of the heavy favorites for Best Picture, “Argo” and “Zero Dark Thirty,” didn’t have their respective directors nominated for their award. I don’t have many complaints about who was selected for Best Director, but more on that later.

The fact is, it’s difficult to predict an award show when the people doing the nominating are handicapping the categories. For instance, Joaquin Phoenix turned in a phenomenal performance for “The Master,” but since that film was excluded from Best Picture, it’s unlikely anyone voting will consider more than whatever scene Phoenix’s people submitted to the Academy. Since I’m getting all my gripes out about this already, I’ll just add in that I would have probably dumped “Silver Linings Playbook” or “Life of Pi” for “The Master,” even though I enjoyed both of those movies. “The Master” wasn’t the best effort of Paul Thomas Anderson (still somehow an underrated director), but it’s still somewhat puzzling to me how it got three acting noms and not one for Best Picture.

Now that we’ve got that covered, let’s get to some predictions, shall we? I’m just going to do a grab bag of some categories, even though I know you’re DYING to hear what my prediction for Best Short Documentary is…

Best Animated Feature Film

  • Brave (2012): Mark Andrews, Brenda Chapman
  • Frankenweenie (2012): Tim Burton
  • ParaNorman (2012): Sam Fell, Chris Butler
  • The Pirates! Band of Misfits (2012): Peter Lord
  • Wreck-It Ralph (2012): Rich Moore

Pretty weak year for animated films. I admittedly haven’t yet seen “ParaNorman,” but I heard good things. Nothing to the extent of ‘outstanding’ or ‘amazing’ that I heard from people on “Wall-E” and “Up.” Of all these films that I did see, I enjoyed “Wreck-It Ralph” the most for its originality. Maybe I’m just a sucker for video games, though.

Who should win: “Wreck-It Ralph”

Who will win: “Brave”

Best Adapted Screenplay

  • Argo (2012): Chris Terrio
  • Beasts of the Southern Wild (2012): Lucy Alibar, Benh Zeitlin
  • Life of Pi (2012): David Magee
  • Lincoln (2012): Tony Kushner
  • Silver Linings Playbook (2012): David O. Russell

There’s a lot of strong candidates here, and I thought they all did a phenomenal job making these films pretty unique. I was actually surprised to find “Beast of the Southern Wild” in this category, having thought that was an original film. Kushner managed to create a full 2-hour affair out of one small part of the original “Lincoln” work, and Magee was able to help Ang Lee make ‘the unmakeable film’. Hollywood is normally a sucker for movies based on true stories, which would have helped Lincoln, it doesn’t quite have the emotional ride that “Argo” has.

Who should win: “Life of Pi”

Who will win: “Argo”

Best Original Screenplay

  • Amour (2012): Michael Haneke
  • Django Unchained (2012): Quentin Tarantino
  • Flight (2012/I): John Gatins
  • Moonrise Kingdom (2012): Wes Anderson, Roman Coppola
  • Zero Dark Thirty (2012): Mark Boal

I lied, I’m not done griping yet. Before I get going though, I feel like I should give you some background. I’m not a fan of Wes Anderson. Some people really love his movies, but I am not one of those people. His humor is dry even by British standards, and his movies can get so stale that I can’t help but just turn them off from sheer boredom.

That said, I actually really enjoyed “Moonrise Kingdom,” and I was pretty bummed to see it get no love at the Oscars this year. It’s not the best of all these screenplays, but it warrants mentioning that it’s a film you should definitely seek out on your own time.

Who should win: “Django Unchained”

Who will win: “Zero Dark Thirty” (for the last ten minutes)

Best Supporting Actress

  • Amy Adams for The Master (2012)
  • Sally Field for Lincoln (2012)
  • Anne Hathaway for Les Misérables (2012)
  • Helen Hunt for The Sessions (2012)
  • Jacki Weaver for Silver Linings Playbook (2012)

Amy Adams is delightful. She really is. Every movie I see her in, I fall in love with her more and more. She’s not just attractive or charming, she’s a pretty dang good actress to boot. This is her 4th Oscar nom since 2006, which is especially good for someone not named Meryl Streep. The funny thing is, she’s been around for a while, and people are just starting to notice her now. Don’t expect her to disappear either: she’s going to be ‘Lois Lane’ in the “Man of Steel,” which comes out later this year.

Anne Hathaway also had a big year, though, and she’s won a lot of people over with her performances in “Les Mis” and “The Dark Knight Rises.” No complaints here when she brings home the gold.

Who should win: Amy Adams

Who will win: Anne Hathaway

Best Supporting Actor

  • Alan Arkin for Argo (2012)
  • Robert De Niro for Silver Linings Playbook (2012)
  • Philip Seymour Hoffman for The Master (2012)
  • Tommy Lee Jones for Lincoln (2012)
  • Christoph Waltz for Django Unchained (2012)

One word for this category – stacked. It usually is anyway, but holy cow what a list this year. De Niro and Jones carry a lot of klout on their own, but Arkin has always been underrated, Hoffman is good in just about everything he does, and Waltz has really burst onto the scene. This list doesn’t even include DiCaprio, who got left off because Waltz was nominated and he’s not nice to the press.

Really tough pick here, and even though Waltz won the Golden Globe (commonly considered the best predictor for the Oscars), I’ve got a hunch this one’s going to Tommy Lee.

Who should win: Tommy Lee Jones

Who will win: Tommy Lee Jones

Best Director

  • Michael Haneke for Amour (2012)
  • Ang Lee for Life of Pi (2012)
  • David O. Russell for Silver Linings Playbook (2012)
  • Steven Spielberg for Lincoln (2012)
  • Benh Zeitlin for Beasts of the Southern Wild (2012)

I’ll reiterate this here: I have no issue with the people who made this list. I thought the newcomers like Haneke and Zeitlin did very nice jobs with their respective films. But the omission of both Ben Affleck (Argo) and Kathryn Bigelow (Zero Dark Thirty) is embarrassing. With apologies to David O. Russell, one of those two deserved to be on this list over him. My guess is that the Academy knew they’d vote for one of those two films for Best Picture, so they figured they’d give someone else a shot here. Screw that. There’s no consolation prizes here. If you want to be the best, beat the best.

For those who did make it…I really jumped on board the Ang Lee train after seeing “Life of Pi.” Another enjoyable film that won’t get much love, and a real treat to see in the theater. Hard to beat ole Stevey though in a movie as epic as “Lincoln.”

Who should win: Ben Affleck or Kathryn Bigelow

Who will win: Steven Spielberg

Best Actress

  • Jessica Chastain for Zero Dark Thirty (2012)
  • Jennifer Lawrence for Silver Linings Playbook (2012)
  • Emmanuelle Riva for Amour (2012)
  • Quvenzhané Wallis for Beasts of the Southern Wild (2012)
  • Naomi Watts for The Impossible (2012)

I admit that I feel like I’ve been second guessing myself a little here. I thought Jessica Chastain would be a shoo-in for this award, and so far it’s proven right at the other shows. I just don’t know, though. Jennifer Lawrence has gained some steam behind her, and it wouldn’t be the first time we see an actor from a foreign film swoop in and snag a big award (Emmanuelle Riva really breaks your heart in “Amour,” just a phenomenal job). I’m sticking with my guns, but cautiously…

Who should win: Jessica Chastain

Who will win: Jessica Chastain

Best Actor

  • Bradley Cooper for Silver Linings Playbook (2012)
  • Daniel Day-Lewis for Lincoln (2012)
  • Hugh Jackman for Les Misérables (2012)
  • Joaquin Phoenix for The Master (2012)
  • Denzel Washington for Flight (2012/I)

Did I even need to post the nominations here? We all know who’s going to win. He always wins. He’s the Harlem Globetrotters of acting awards. Just look at this face. He’s in the zone, AND he’s the president.

I imagine that one of these years, he’s just going to get up on the stage and totally rub one of his wins in his opponents’ faces like he does here.

Who should win: Doesn’t matter

Who will win: Daniel Day-Lewis

Best Foreign Language Film Best Picture

  • Amour (2012): Margaret Ménégoz, Stefan Arndt, Veit Heiduschka, Michael Katz
  • Argo (2012): Grant Heslov, Ben Affleck, George Clooney
  • Beasts of the Southern Wild (2012): Dan Janvey, Josh Penn, Michael Gottwald
  • Django Unchained (2012): Stacey Sher, Reginald Hudlin, Pilar Savone
  • Les Misérables (2012): Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner, Debra Hayward, Cameron Mackintosh
  • Life of Pi (2012): Gil Netter, Ang Lee, David Womark
  • Lincoln (2012): Steven Spielberg, Kathleen Kennedy
  • Silver Linings Playbook (2012): Donna Gigliotti, Bruce Cohen, Jonathan Gordon
  • Zero Dark Thirty (2012): Mark Boal, Kathryn Bigelow, Megan Ellison

Ha! I totally got you, didn’t I? Not that I’d even need to predict Best Foreign Language film when one of the nominees is also in this category. (Spoiler alert: “Amour” is going to win that category running away.)

As for Best Picture, I had to give this one a lot of thought. I had it as a three horse race probably about a month ago, between “Argo,” “Zero Dark Thirty” and “Lincoln.” Then the award shows starting coming around, and then the big snubfest in the Best Director category happened, and it seemed like everyone felt bad for poor Ben. And really, before that, “Argo” seemed like it was going to fade a little.

But now? I don’t think so. A vote for “Lincoln” is just too predictable for Hollywood to make a reality. Not that is has no shot, but I think “Lincoln” has gone from a favorite down to a dark horse over the past couple months. “Argo” has been taking home the big awards at the other shows, and I’d be hard pressed to bet against it here. The word is out, and I think Affleck is looking in the face a complete comeback here. (Seriously, who doesn’t love a comeback story?)

It all makes too much sense right now for the actor/writer/director, and with all due respect to the shocker drama that is “Zero Dark Thirty,” I don’t think anybody stands in his way here.

Who should win: “Argo”

Who will win: “Argo”

The Oscars start at 7 pm this Sunday on ABC. I’ll probably be live tweeting them (like every other major event), so follow along with me here if you’d like: https://twitter.com/TStads20

Have a Happy Oscar Sunday, everyone!

The Difference Between Good and Great

For as long as I can remember, I’ve been a Packer fan. Inherited it through family and been watching them for years. As many fans can attest, particularly those living in the Green Bay area, following the Packers isn’t just a hobby; it’s a way of life.

I love this team. They have great players, great personality, and even greater tradition. Winning the Superbowl recently came with the usual big banners and celebrations, and it was an experience I personally was able to enjoy quite a bit more because I wasn’t really old enough to appreciate it all the last time they won it. But after that huge rush of excitement faded in the months following, fans were clamoring for more. Nobody likes the feeling of being one and done, especially when you get the kind of high that comes with your favorite team winning a championship.

And so the expectations grow. New players join the fray, fans get more excited, and the higher ups works their tail off to try and replicate that level of success. But when is it all enough?

Since winning Superbowl 45, the Packers have gone a combined 26-6 in the regular season and have made the postseason both times. The teams have had their flaws, but overall they’re good teams. Then once they get into postseason play, the flaws turn into problems and the Packers find themselves making an early exit for two straight years. The fans bash the team, the coaches and players make their excuses, and an offseason of disappointment commences. People stew over it for a while and they wonder: “were expectations too high?”

This point is reiterated in an end of the year review by long time Packer scribe, Bob McGinn; a piece in which he calls the Packers “soft” and says they’re not an “elite” team. He even questions the mystique of Lambeau Field a bit. McGinn states that Lambeau is “the place to be seen and all that, but it has been a long time since a visiting coach or player went on and on about how it difficult it was to hear and play in Green Bay.”

At first glance, I was a little taken aback. The people have been good, loyal fans, the stadium additions are nice (if not even a little over the top), and the team itself has been very good as well. So what’s the problem? Go get ’em next year, right?

But maybe that’s the issue at hand here. Everything is good right now, but we as fans want everything to be great. Have things been really been “great”? There’s certainly a history of greatness in all things Green Bay Packers, but past achievements don’t guarantee anything now, as we’ve all well grown accustomed to watching this team flame out the past two years. Vince Lombardi once said that “a man can be as great as he wants to be.” There’s a lot to take from that quote. Everyone involved with this team wants things to be great, but there needs to be an effort to make it happen. Nothing in life is just handed to you, it has to be earned.

I say all this because I don’t think McGinn is far off in his assessments: The Packers do seem a bit soft. The fans do seem a little quieter.

That isn’t to say everyone involved isn’t passionate about the team. After all, how much can you ask out of people in the spirit of a game? And at the end of the day, it is just a game. But if you want success, and you want things to go well, you have to do your part. Maybe a little attitude adjustment is what’s standing in the way of getting things to go from “good” to “great”. I’ve recently come to feel that there is a general sense of entitlement about this team right now, both in the fans and the players. And this certainly doesn’t exclude myself. I’m a fan as invested in the game as the next guy, and reading all of McGinn’s words sort of made me sit back and think about my own feelings on the team (of which you are now reading).

I know people are passionate fans, and when they’re at the game, they need to let that passion show. Get loud when the other team’s offense is on the field, period. Not just on 3rd and 4th down. An electric crowd may not sway a game entirely, but in a sport like football, there is a significant intimidation factor that can come with it. You know why college teams hate playing in Madison? Because it’s loud. It is a loud, rambunctious place full of people having fun and letting the other team have it. And I’m not talking about the swearing chants (of which I absolutely can’t stand anymore); I’m talking about the energy everyone puts into every play. A couple years ago, I was at that game where Wisconsin upset #1 Ohio State. While the result was obviously very memorable, the biggest thing I remember is how incredible the atmosphere was. It was a cold night, but you’d never have noticed with how much energy was running through that stadium. That is my idea of what a playoff game should feel like. I was also at the game against the Giants last year at Lambeau, and while it was awesome being there, the atmosphere didn’t even come close to the one I felt at Camp Randall. People seemed tired and cold, which was to be expected for a night game in the early days of January, but it was also a cool night game when the Badgers stuck it to the Buckeyes.

This certainly doesn’t excuse the team’s play, either. It takes good play on the field to keep the crowd into it, and the Packers performance in the past two NFC Divisional Round games hasn’t been very good.

I remembered receiving a text earlier in the season where a friend of mine noted on Rodgers demeanor in the game, stating that he was playing with a “lack of emotion.” I had defended the reigning MVP then, but after watching the rest of the games this year, I came to see just how often is appears like this team just seems to go through the motions. They’re a pretty sound, disciplined football team, which is never a bad thing, but it just seems as if there’s an overall lack of excitement with them at times. They’re trying to win, sure, but it sometimes feels as though they’re putting too much pressure on themselves, like they’re not having fun. If you walk away with one thing from this post, it should be this: football is fun. It’s a fun game. It’s a fun game to cheer for. When you’re at a football game, stress the difficult situations, but make sure you’re having a good time while doing it.

Maybe that’s all this comes down to. Expectations are fine, and so is being proud or upset at the team. But as a player or fan, don’t forget the most human part of the game: showing emotion. The players need to channel that emotion into their performance and get tough, just like they were against the Texans in Houston. They were physically imposing in all facets of the game that day. As fans, if you wake up the next morning with a hoarse voice, then you’ve done your job. Keep getting up for your team up, even when they’re struggling.

It’s the little things in life sometimes that can make all the difference, and it’s those same things sometimes that can help turn something “good” into something “great.”

The 2012 Green Bay Packers: A Season in Review

With a loss last night to the San Francisco 49ers, the Packers’ season has come to an end. But what a ride, hey?

This year had its ups and downs (as most tend to), but overall it was still a good season by most measures. An argument could be made that this year’s team was more complete than the 15-1 version last year. Sure, the offense wasn’t as electric and kicking became a problem about halfway through, but the defense was much improved, and the rest of the special teams unit seemed more solid as a whole. Come to think of it…did the Packers give up a special teams touchdown to anyone all year? The lack of any memorable big plays given up by the special teams unit is a very good thing.

Not all things were perfect, but they rarely are. The Packers suffered some key injuries once again this season, losing former Defensive Player of the Year Charles Woodson early on for several weeks, as well as linebackers Desmond Bishop, D.J. Smith, and Nick Perry for the season. The linebacker injuries forced some players into unfamiliar roles, such as former outside linebacker Brad Jones converting to the inside where he actually played alright for most of the year. The drop off from Bishop to Jones, however, is a significant one, and everyone got a big whiff of that in the games against the Vikings and 49ers. Aside from that, a rash of injuries to Clay Matthews, Sam Shields, and several defensive linemen also played a role in making the defense play “next man up” for a majority of the year.

On the offensive side of the ball, the injuries weren’t as harsh, losing just starting running back Cedric Benson and starting right tackle Bryan Bulaga for the season. The Packers were able to cover okay for Benson after his exit in week 5, but just couldn’t seem to get it going on the offensive line. Not that all that was just the loss of Bulaga, as Don Barclay actually performed admirably in his place. The Packers depth on the O-line (or lack there of) got tested though, and some under-performance by newly acquired center Jeff Saturday certainly didn’t alleviate this issue. They were able to find some stability by replacing Saturday with backup Evan Dietrich-Smith, but this is clearly an area the Packers will need to improve going forward if they wish to make another Superbowl run anytime soon.

Looking at back at this season though, it’s hard to truly be disappointed with how it went. Yes, everyone had high hopes that the team make up for the letdown finish to last season, but sometimes you have to accept that it just wasn’t meant to be. If anything, these past two seasons should be good reminders of just how hard it is for a team to get to the Superbowl. A lot of things have to go right, and a little luck is needed both on the field and off of it. The key players have to stay healthy, and the team needs to be playing their best football at the right time.

As for what’s next, the Packers have a few big personnel decision to make. For one, the real possibility exists that Charles Woodson, Donald Driver, and Greg Jennings have played their last games as members of the Green Bay Packers. Jennings is an unrestricted free agent, and he’s going to be looking for a significant raise from the 4-year, $26 million he made these past four seasons, but the money might not be there with the impending free agencies of Clay Matthews and Aaron Rodgers. If forced to choose to pay just two players out of Jennings, Matthews, and Rodgers, I think it’s a no brainer to pay the latter two. Unfortunate, but necessary.

Probably shouldn’t expect any changes on the coaching staff. There will be some clamoring for the head of Dom Capers, but I don’t see it happening after four consecutive playoff berths since his hiring. You can throw a lot of stats out there, but the Packers are big believers in consistency

All in all, a disappointing finish, but a successful year none the less. With things as they currently stand, the Packers look primed to break through again one of these years. All they need is to keep improving and have a few little things here and there to go their way.

Let the countdown to next August begin…