“FROST/NIXON” (2008) Review

n7VX5nsHUiQargJKVCJ5dcsa39o

 

“FROST/NIXON” (2008) Review

Beginning on March 23, 1977, British journalist David Frost conducted a series of twelve (12) interviews with former U.S. President Richard M. Nixon, in which the former commander-in-chief gave his only public apology for the scandals of his administration. Some 29 years later, Peter Morgan’s play – based upon the interviews – reached the London stage and later, Broadway, with rave reviews. Eight years ago, Ron Howard directed the film adaptation of the play, starring Frank Langella as Nixon and Michael Sheen as Frost. 

I first became interested in Nixon and the Watergate scandals in my mid-teens, when I came across a series of books that featured columnist Art Buchwald’s humorous articles on the famous political scandal. As I grew older, I became acquainted with other scandals that had plagued the American scandal. But it was Watergate that managed to maintain my interest for so long. Ironically, I have never seen the famous Frost/Nixon interviews that aired in August 1977 – not even on video or DVD. But when I saw the trailer for ”FROST/NIXON”, I knew I had to see this movie. There was one aspect of the trailer that put me off – namely the sight of Frank Langella as Richard Nixon. For some reason, the performance – of which I only saw a minor example – seemed rather off to me. However, my family went ahead and saw the film. And I must admit that I am glad that we did. Not only did ”FROST/NIXON” seemed only better than I had expected. I ended up being veryimpressed by Langella’s performance. And Michael Sheen’s portrayal of Frost merely increased my positive view of the film.

Speaking of the cast, ”FROST/NIXON” had the good luck to be blessed with a cast that featured first rate actors. Matthew MacFadyen gave solid support as John Birt, David Frost’s friend and producer for the London Weekend Television. I felt the same about Oliver Platt’s slightly humorous portrayal of one of Frost’s researchers, Bob Zelnick. Rebecca Hall gave a charming, yet not exactly an exciting performance as Frost’s girlfriend, Caroline Cushing. One of the two supporting performances that really impressed me was Kevin Bacon, who portrayed former Marine officer-turned Nixon aide, Jack Brennan. Bacon managed to convey Brennan’s conservatism and intense loyalty toward the former president without going over-the-top. Another intense performance came from Sam Rockwell, who portrayed another of Frost’s researcher, author James Reston Jr. Rockwell’s performance came as a surprise to me, considering I am more used to seeing him in comedic roles. And I must say that I was very impressed.

But the two characters that drove the movie were Richard M. Nixon and David Frost. Both Frank Langella and Michael Sheen first portrayed these roles in the Broadway version of Peter Morgan’s play. If their stage performances were anything like their work on the silver screen, the theatergoers who had first-hand experience of their stage performances must have enjoyed quite a treat. As I had earlier stated, I originally harbored qualms about Frank Langella portraying Richard Nixon. What I did not know was that the man had already won a Tony award for his stage performance of the role. After watching ”FROST/NIXON”, I could see why. Richard Nixon had possessed a personality and set of mannerisms that were easily caricatured. I have never come across an actor who has captured Nixon’s true self with any real accuracy. But I can think of at least three actors who have left their own memorable stamps in their interpretations of the former president – the late Lane Smith, Sir Anthony Hopkins and now, Frank Langella. One of Langella’s most memorable moments featured a telephone call from Nixon to Frost, in which the former attempts to further psyche the journalist and ends up delivering an angry tirade against the wealthy establishment that he had resented, yet kowtowed toward most of his political career. Michael Sheen had the difficult task of portraying a more complicated character in David Frost and delivered in spades. Sheen’s Frost is an ambitious television personality who wants to be known for more than just frothy talk show host. This reputation makes it impossible for Frost to be taken seriously by Nixon, Zelnick and especially the judgmental Reston.

I also have to compliment Peter Morgan for what struck me as a first-rate adaptation of his stage play. Morgan managed to expand or open up a story that depended heavily upon dialogue. The movie could have easily turned into a filmed play. Thankfully, Morgan’s script managed to avoid this pitfall. And so did Ron Howard’s direction. I must admit that Howard did a great job in ensuring that what could have simply been a well-acted, would turn out to be a tightly paced psychological drama. Hell, the interactions between Frost and Nixon seemed more like a game of psychological warfare between two antagonists, instead of a series of interviews of historical value.

I am trying to think of what I did not like about ”FROST/NIXON”. So far, I am hard pressed to think of a flaw. Actually, I have thought of a flaw – namely the usually competent Toby Jones. Considering how impressed I had been of his performances for the past decade, it seemed a shame that his Swifty Lazar seemed more like a caricature than a flesh-and-blood individual. Perhaps it was a good thing that his appearance in the film had been short. Also, knowing that Frost had questioned Nixon in a series of twelve interviews, it seemed a shame that the movie only focused upon three of those interviews. Naturally, Howard and Morgan could not have included all twelve interviews for fear of dragging the movie’s running time. However, I still could not help but feel that three interviews were not enough and that the film could have benefited from at least one more interview – one that could have effectively bridged the gap between Frost’s second disastrous interview, until the third that led to his own triumph and Nixon’s rare admission.

”FROST/NIXON” could have easily become dialogue-laden film with no action and a slow pace. But thanks to Ron Howard’s direction, Peter Morgan’s adaptation of his play and the superb performances of the two leads – Frank Langella and Michael Sheen, the movie struck me as a fascinating character piece about two very different men who had met during the spring of 1977 for a historical series of interviews that seemed to resemble more of a game of psychological warfare.

 

 

Advertisements

Boston Creme Pie

1503928458081

Below is a brief look at and recipe for the famous New England dessert called the “Boston Creme Pie”:


BOSTON CREME PIE

Judging by the name of this famous dessert, one would assume that the Boston Creme Pie was created in Boston, Massachusetts. And one would be right. However, there is a slight confusion over the dessert’s origins. According to John F. Mariani’s 1999 book, “Encyclopedia of American Food and Drink”, the Boston Creme Pie originated during the Early American period and was known as either the “Pudding-Cake Pie”; or when made with a raspberry jelly filling, “Mrs. Washington’s Pie”.

But the current dessert that features the chocolate topping is known as the Boston Creme Pie. And according to many cookbooks, Armenian-French chef M. Sanzian created the dessert at Boston’s famous Parker House Hotel in 1855 or 1856. Like the Pudding-Cake Pie and Mrs. Washington’s Pie, the Boston Creme Pie is actually a pudding and cake combination that comprises at least two or three layers of sponge cake filled with vanilla flavored custard or crème pâtissière. In the case of the Boston Creme Pie, the cake is topped with a chocolate glaze called Ganache. The Commonwealth of Massachusetts declared the Boston Creme Pie as its official dessert in 1996.

The following is a recipe for the dish from thehungrymouse.com website:

Boston Creme Pie

Ingredients

Cake
1/2 cup butter (that’s 1 stick), softened on the counter for 20 minutes or so
1 cup sugar
3 egg yolks
1 tsp. vanilla extract
3/4 cup milk
2 cups cake flour
2 tsp. baking powder
pinch of salt

Cream Filling
1/2 cup sugar
4 egg yolks
6 Tbls. flour
1 1/2 cups milk
2 tsp. vanilla extract

Chocolate Frosting
4 oz. semisweet chocolate, chopped
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 Tbls. butter

Preparations

Cake
Preheat your oven to 375 degrees. Spray 2 8-inch round cake pans with oil, then line with circles of parchment paper. Set them aside. Combine the sugar and butter in the bowl of your mixer. Beat them together until well combined. Add in the egg yolks. Beat again until well combined and kind of fluffy. Scrape down the sides of your bowl with a spatula. Add the milk. Combine the flour, baking powder, and salt in a small bowl. Stir them together with a whisk to combine well. Toss the dry mixture into the butter/sugar in the mixing bowl. Mix on medim-high for maybe 20 or 30 seconds to combine, just until the batter comes together.

The batter will be relatively thick and stiff. Give the batter a stir or two with a spatula to be sure that it’s mixed well and no dry ingredients remain in the very bottom of the bowl. Divide the batter evenly between your two prepared cake pans. Smooth it down with a spatula so it fills the whole pan and is relatively even. Bake cake the 2 cakes for 20-23 minutes at 375 degrees.

They are done when they are golden brown on top and feel firm (not jiggly) in the middle when pressed with a finger. When inserted in the center, a toothpick should come out clean. Cool the cakes in the pans for about 10 minutes. Then, gently run a knife around the whole edge to loosen it, and remove each cake from the pan. (Because you lined each pan with parchment paper, this should be easy). Set the cakes on a rack to cool completely. If your cakes wound up a little crusty on the edges, like this, don’t worry. You’re going to trim those crisp edges right off when you assemble your Boston Cream Pie.

Custard
Fill a medium-sized pot with a few inches of water. Set it on the stove over high heat to bring it up to a boil. Then put the sugar and egg yolks in a large heatproof bowl. Whisk together until well combined. Add the flour. Whisk to combine. Pour in the milk. And the vanilla. Whisk to combine. When your pot of water is boiling, drop the heat to low. Set the bowl on top of the pot of water. Whisk it constantly for 5-7 minutes until it starts thicken. Keep whisking until the custard gets very thick. It’s done when it coats the back of a spoon. Give it a taste. It should have a nice custard-y taste, without any hint of raw flour. When it is done, take it off the heat. Cool it on the counter to room temperature, then pop it in the fridge to chill it completely.

Chocolate Frosting
Fill a medium-sized pot with a few inches of water. Set it on the stove over high heat to bring it up to a boil. If you are making the frosting right after the custard, just use the same pot of simmering water. Chop up the chocolate. Put it into a large heatproof bowl. Pour in the cream. When your pot of water is boiling, drop the heat to low. Set the bowl on top of the pot of water. Toss in the butter. The chocolate should start to melt almost immediately. Whisk to combine. Keep whisking until all the chocolate is melted and you have a uniform mixture. Set the chocolate frosting aside to cool. As it cools, it will thicken up. If you put it in the fridge, keep a close eye on it. It can go from nice and thick to solid fudge in no time flat.

Assemble the Dessert

Do not do this until all of your components are completely cool. If you try to put it together when any piece is warm, you will wind up with a slippery, drippy mess.

Start by trimming your cakes. Carefully set them one on top of the other. With a serrated bread knife, cut the edges off. Go slowly and press down on the top of the cake with one hand to keep it from ripping. Should you have an accident with one of the cakes, like this, do not fret. Just use that cake as the bottom layer. The custard filling will help glue the whole thing together once it gets cold in the fridge.

Set one cake on your serving platter, bottom side facing up. Do this so that your custard goes on a flat—not slightly domed—surface. Grab the custard filling from the fridge. It should be nice and thick. Spoon it out onto the cake. Reserve a few spoonfuls of custard for later, to help stick the almonds to the side of the cake. Spread the custard to the edges with a rubber spatula. Put the second cake right on top. Grab your chocolate frosting. Spoon it out onto the top of the cake. Spread it around until the top of the cake is covered. Pop two toothpicks into the cake to hold the layers together for now, until it’s completely chilled. With your finger, brush the leftover custard onto the edges of the cake, so it’s covered in a thin layer.

Note

According to this recipe, the Boston Cream Pie is best served on the day that it is put together. The dessert has three parts – the cake, the custard filling and the chocolate frosting. Following the preparation of all three parts, they need to be completely cooled before the dessert is assembled.

 

36954888370_76fefe41de_b

 

“BOTTLE SHOCK” (2008) Review

1095350_800

 

”BOTTLE SHOCK” (2008) Review

If someone had suggested I go see a movie about California wines and its impact upon the business in the mid-1970s, I would have smiled politely and ignored that person. As it turned out, no one had told me about the 2008 comedy-drama, ”BOTTLE SHOCK”. Two years would pass before I found myself intrigued by it, while watching the movie on cable television. 

Directed and co-written by Randall Miller, ”BOTTLE SHOCK” told the story of Jim and Bo Barrett and how their Chardonnay became the first American-grown vintage to win a famous blind wine tasting contest now known as ”the Judgment of Paris”. The contest was sponsored by a British wine connoisseur named Steven Spurrier and held in France. Spurrier wanted to use the contest as a means to be accepted by the French wine connoisseur community. The movie also chronicled the Barretts’ difficulties in maintaining their vineyard, the Chateau Montelena, in the face of mounting debts, Jim Barrett’s reluctance to participate in Spurrier’s contest, and the efforts of a Barrett employee named Gustavo Bambini and his father to start their own vineyard. The desires of the Barretts, Bambini and Spurrier centered on the latter’s blind wine testing competition that made history for the Barretts and California wines.

While reading about ”BOTTLE SHOCK”, I discovered that the movie had received a standing ovation following its screening at the 2008 Sundance Film Festival. Personally, I believe that Miller and fellow screenwriters Jody Savin and Ross Schwartz did an excellent job in creating a heartwarming movie filled with sharp humor, adversity, human drama, some romance and a good deal of warmth and whimsy. More importantly, Miller, Savin and Schwartz, along with the cast, gave the movie such energy and drive that I found myself developing interest in the topic of wine growing – something that would usually bore me to tears. There have been complaints about some of the historical accuracy in the movie. Why bother? ”BOTTLE SHOCK” is a movie, not a documentary. I have yet to come across a movie or play with a historical backdrop that was completely accurate.

Cinematographer Michael J. Ozier did a marvelous job in capturing the warmth and natural beauty of Napa Valley, with its rolling hills and vast vineyards. With different lightning, he captured the cool elegance of Paris and the French countryside. And costume designer Jillian Kreiner had the more difficult job of capturing the basic styles of the mid-1970s. This was at a time when fashion was in a transition from the wild, Age of Aquarius styles of the early 1970s, to the more ersatz elegance of the latter part of the decade and the 1980s. By the way, one should keep an eye on Dennis Farina’s loud, leisure suits that seemed to symbolize the entire decade . . . at least for me.

I had felt a bit confused over the identity of the film’s leading man. I could not decide whether it was Alan Rickman, Chris Pine or Bill Pullman. In the end, I decided to view all three as the film’s leads. And they led a very fine cast that included Rachael Taylor, Freddy Rodriguez, Dennis Farina, Miguel Sandoval and Eliza Dushku. I had a ball watching Rickman’s portrayal of the sharp-tongued wine connoisseur, Steven Spurrier, who found himself dealing with a new culture in California wine country and the possibility that European countries like Italy, Germany and especially France were not the only places to produce fine wines. At first, Chris Pine’s portrayal of the young Bo Barrett reminded me of a possible dress rehearsal for his performance as a loutish James Kirk in 2009’s ”STAR TREK”. Thankfully, his performance as the younger Barrett proved to possess more nuance, as Pine revealed him to be a vulnerable young man that seemed unsure about whether he was ready to embrace his father’s passion for winemaking, as his own. My only problem with Pine was the blond wig that he wore. I found it atrocious and wished that he had been allowed to portray the character with his natural hair. I personally believe that Bill Pullman gave one of the movie’s two best performances as the complex Jim Barrett – the man who originally injected new life into the Chateau Montelena during the 1970s. His Barrett was a proud and stubborn man that was passionate about his vineyard and who masked his insecurities with a great deal of pig-headed behavior.

Also providing top notch performances were Dennis Farina (of the loud leisure suits), who provided a great deal of amusement and wit as Spurrier’s fictional American friend in Paris and fellow wine connoisseur, Maurice Cantavale; Rachael Taylor as Sam Fulton, the free-spirited intern at Chateau Montelena and Bo’s object of desire; Miguel Sandoval, who was deliciously sardonic as Mr. Garcia, another worker at Chateau Montelena; and Eliza Dushku, who gave an amusingly edgy performance as a local bar owner named Jo. At last, I come to Freddy Rodriguez, who portrayed the Barretts’ ambitious employee, Gustovo Bambini. He gave the movie’s other best performance, conveying not only his character’s ambition and wit, but also a raging passion for wintry and a short temper.

What else can I say about ”BOTTLE SHOCK”? I laughed, I cried and I managed to enjoy both the story and the performances, thanks to Randall Miller and the script he co-wrote with Jody Savin and Ross Schwartz . But more importantly, I found myself surprisingly interested in a topic that I would not have usually wasted time even discussing. On that point alone, I would heartily recommend this film.

 

tumblr_lhbk3ssXYy1qdqf08o1_500

 

“THE BOURNE IDENTITY” (1988) Review

MV5BNzY1YmE5MWQtOGM4YS00MjMwLTgxZDYtOTllMTcyZGU0OGQ3XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyODI1OTk4MTQ@._V1_

 

“THE BOURNE IDENTITY” (1988) Review

Years after Robert Ludlum’s famous literary trilogy about an amnesiac CIA agent was published, Matt Damon starred in the movie versions of those novels between 2002 and 2016. Naturally, they became big box office hits and turned Damon into a full fledged action star. The ironic thing is that the three movies bore scant resemblance to the novels they were based upon. 

Fourteen years before Damon’s first movie was released in the theaters, ABC Television aired a two-part miniseries based upon the first novel – “THE BOURNE IDENTITY”. This miniseries starred Richard Chamberlain as David Webb aka Jason Bourne, the amnesiac CIA agent. And Jacyln Smith portrayed Marie St. Jacques, a Canadian economist who becomes his ally and lover.

As you can see, the first difference between the miniseries and the 2002 movie has been spotted. In the miniseries, Marie was an economist from Canada. In the movie, Franka Potente portrayed Marie as an unemployed German traveler trying to get into the U.S. Another major difference between the miniseries and the movie is that in the former, Chamberlain is a CIA operative who works for a black-ops organization called Treadstone 71. Treadstone’s job is to flush out the notorious assassin named Carlos. They recruit another assassin named Jason Bourne. But the real Bourne proves to be an uncontrollable asset and they kill him. Treadstone replaces the real Bourne with David Webb – Chamberlain’s character – who impersonates the dead assassin. In the movies, Bourne is nothing more than an alias for CIA/Treadstone assassin David Webb (Damon). As anyone can see, the miniseries’s plot – which adhered a lot closer to Ludlum’s novel – is a lot more complicated. Both versions begin with the shooting of one David Webb aka Jason Bourne aboard some boat in the Mediterranean. In this version, Webb/Bourne floats toward a fishing village off the coast of Southern France, where he is turned over to an alcoholic former doctor played by Denholm Elliot. The doctor discovers a chip embedded in his hip that contains a Swiss bank account number. Once Webb/Bourne recovers, he heads for Zurich to access the bank account. And there, his troubles begin. By the second half of the story Bourne/Webb finds himself not only hunted by Carlos and his minions, but by the police and the CIA.

From the first time I saw this miniseries in February 1988, I fell in love with it. It was an exciting and well written thriller about a man trying to come to terms with his past, while struggling to find his identity. Many critics tend to point the length of this version of ”THE BOURNE IDENTITY”. Considering that this version was created as a two-part miniseries and the complexities of the plot, I fail to understand why they have made such a fuss. Yes, ”THE BOURNE IDENTITY” is long in compare to the 2002 movie. It has a running time of three hours and five minutes. But this version’s length gave the producers the chance to air a rather close version of the novel without cutting out too much. And if I must be honest, I was never aware of the miniseries’ length, considering how well paced it was, thanks to director Roger Young and screenwriter Carol Sobieski.

Another criticism directed at the miniseries by certain fans was that the miniseries seemed outdated in compare to the 2002 version. Chamberlain’s version had been filmed fourteen years before Damon’s version. What did they expect? The only aspect of the miniseries’ plot that seemed outdated was the main villain, Carlos. Although the real Carlos was at large when the miniseries aired in February 1988, he was eventually caught six years later. The Alfred Hitchcock thriller, “NOTORIOUS” was filmed and released in 1946. In fact, there is a moment in which the film reveals the time period in which the film began – April 1946. Yet, hardly anyone complains about this.

As I had stated before, the miniseries is a tight and exciting thriller boasting fine performances from Chamberlain and Smith. The pair – who has been featured in a score of television miniseries and two successful TV series in the past – created a sizzling chemistry on the screen. I am amazed that they had never worked together before . . . or since. Chamberlain’s Bourne is a more openly emotional character than the one portrayed by Matt Damon. One could say that Chamberlain has a more theatrical style of acting. Although there were moments I found it a bit hard to take, I really enjoyed his theatricality in a scene that featured him and Anthony Quayle, who plays a high-ranking French general married to Carlos’ mistress. Another thing I noticed about Chamberlain’s version of the character is that he seemed more inclined to use aliases and disguises to reach those from whom he need information – whether he was impersonating an employee of a New York furniture moving company, a Texas millionaire or a harried American businessman. Although I have never been that impressed by Jacyln Smith as an actress, I believe that she did some of her best work in this miniseries. As Marie St. Jacques, Smith was able to overcome her usual monotone style to infuse a great deal of passion and emotion into the role of a woman who desperately wants to help her lover, yet is constantly repelled by his profession. The supporting cast seemed to be top-notch. I especially enjoyed Anthony Quayle as the passionate French patriot who discovers the truth about his wife’s connections to Carlos; Denholm Elliot as the drunken ex-doctor who befriends Webb/Bourne at the beginning of the story; Peter Vaughn as Carlos’ Swiss-born right-hand man, and Donald Moffat as Webb/Bourne’s compassionate yet very harried boss/mentor, David Abbott.

Most fans of the Bourne saga seem to be divided on their preference between the two versions. There are some who prefer Damon’s take on Bourne as a super spy/assassin who tries to distance himself from the villainous Treadstone/Blackbriar black-ops operations. And there are those who prefer Chamberlain’s take on the character, which adheres a lot closer to Ludlum’s original novel. Frankly, I am a fan of both the miniseries and the movie. And I hope that one day, I might encounter Jason Bourne fans who harbor the same views as me.

 

1066283_300

“THE WOLF OF WALL STREET” (2013) Review

2013-Wolf-of-Wall-Street-The-02

“THE WOLF OF WALL STREET” (2013) Review

I can think of only three other times in which one of director Martin Scorsese’s films has courted controversy. The first time the director courted real controversy was the release of his 1976 film, “TAXI DRIVER”. He also encountered controversy from two other movies – “THE LAST TEMPTATION OF CHRIST” (1988) and 1997’s “KUNDUN”. Scorsese and controversy have met once again . . . this time in the form of his latest release, “THE WOLF OF WALL STREET”

As the world now knows, “THE WOLF OF WALL STREET” is a film adaptation of the memoirs of Jordan Belfort, a New York stockbroker who ran a firm that engaged in securities fraud and corruption on Wall Street in the 1990s. The movie begins when Belfort lands a job as a stockbroker at a Wall Street firm. His boss, Mark Hanna, advises him to adopt a lifestyle of sex and cocaine in order to succeed. Unfortunately for Belfort, the firm fails after the stock market crash of Black Monday within a few months. Now unemployed, Belfort is pushed by his wife Teresa to take a job with a Long Island boiler room which deals in penny stocks. Belfort’s aggressive pitching style soon earns him a small fortune and he also befriends Donnie Azoff, a salesman who lives in the same apartment building. The pair decides to start their own firm together and name it Stratton Oakmont. They recruit some of Belfort’s friends – among them, experienced marijuana dealers, colleagues from the boiler room and his parents as accountants. Despite the respectable name, the firm is basically a pump and dump scam. The movie depicts the decadent lifestyle enjoyed by Belfort and his employees, the break-up of his marriage to Teresa and his second marriage to lover Naomi Lapaglia. However, due to an exposé in Forbes magazine, Stratton Oakmont attracts more enthusiastic employees and the attention of F.B.I. Agent Patrick Denham.

What can I say about “THE WOLF OF WALL STREET”? I thought it was one of the most outlandish and crazy movies I have seen in years. Out . . . landish! And I loved every moment of it. Well, most of it. Who would have thought that after forty years as a director and producer, Martin Scorsese could still astonish moviegoers? Or even piss them off? I had first heard about the negative reactions to “THE WOLF OF WALL STREET”, when I read about veteran actress Hope Holiday’s angry post on her Facebook page about the Motion Picture Academy’s screening of the film. But her reaction was not the first. I have come across a good number of negative reactions to “THE WOLF OF WALL STREET” since learning about Holiday’s reaction. Curious over the hullabaloo, I found myself becoming very eager to see the film. And it did not fail.

It is possible that some might assume that I enjoyed the film simply for the characters’ excess – the sex and drug use that could have easily turn this film into one with a NC-17 rating. Actually, I did not feel one way or the other about the characters’ exercises in degeneracy. I simply accepted it, due to the fact that his excesses had been a part of his life during those years as head of Stratton Oakmont. And from what I have learned about the financial world of the super rich, such excesses were and still are very common. Some have claimed Scorsese had not only glorified Belfort’s lifestyle and crimes, but also allowed the character to get away with the latter with very little punishment – less than two years in a “Club Fed” prison, before becoming a motivational speaker. The U.S. government is responsible for Belfort’s scant punishment, not Martin Scorsese. And I cannot accept that the director glorified Belfort’s lifestyle. All I saw on the movie screen were a bunch of silly men behaving like a bunch of overindulged adolescents with too much money and too many “toys” (namely women, drugs and other expenses) on their hands. Thanks to Scorsese’s direction and Terence Winter’s screenplay, Belfort and his cronies merely struck me as pathetic and infantile.

More importantly, Scorsese’s movie frightened me. Belfort’s willingness to exploit the desires of ordinary men and women to satisfy his own greed struck me as off-putting. Scorsese emphasized this negative aspect of Belfort’s profession by conveying the latter’s lack of remorse toward his victims. I am not lacking in compassionate when I say that I did not need to see the effects of Belfort’s machinations toward his clients. The amoral attitudes of the stock broker and his employees seemed more than enough for me to get an idea on how much those clients suffered. I still have memories of that bizarre scene in which Belfort and the Stratton Oakmont staff treated shoe designer Steve Madden with great contempt, as Belfort expressed his intent to invest in Madden’s company . . . a scene that almost left me shaking my head in disbelief. But if there is one scene that scared me senseless was the one that featured the business luncheon between Belfort and his boss at L.F. Rothschild, Mark Hanna. In this scene, Hanna gave the newly hired Belfort tips on how to become a successful stockbroker. A good deal of those tips involved the use of drugs and sex. But the one tip that really comes to mind was Hanna’s instructions that Belfort prevent clients from cashing out their investments for the profit of the firm and the stockbroker. Hanna’s advice reminded me of how Las Vegas casinos try to keep even winners playing so the latter would eventually lose what they had gained – something I learned from Scorsese’s 1995 film, “CASINO”. That was some scary shit. One other scene proved to be just as scary . . . the last one that found post-prison Belfort hosting a sales technique seminar in Auckland, New Zealand. That last shot of the audience drinking in Belfort’s words they believe will make them rich struck me as a sure symbol of the greed in human nature that really never dies – even if humanity would rather pretend otherwise.

I certainly cannot complain about the movie’s production values. “THE WOLF OF WALL STREET” proved to be a sharp and colorful looking film, thanks to the crew that contributed to the movie’s visual style. Cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto is the man mainly responsible for that sharp and colorful look that I had commented upon. But I also have to commend both Bob Shaw’s production designs and Chris Shriver’s art direction for taking movie audiences back to the excessive greed era of New York during the 1980s and 1990s. Legendary costume designer Sandy Powell contributed to this look by basing many of the men’s costumes on Giorgio Armani’s archives from the 1990s. I also enjoyed her costumes for the female cast members, especially those for actress Margot Robbie. Long-time Scorsese collaborator Thelma Schoonmaker took a movie with a four-hour running time and managed to trim it into a movie one-minute short of three hours. She did an excellent job, although I believe the movie could have benefited with another twenty minutes or so trimmed from its running time. In fact, the extended running time is my one major complaint about the film – especially the sequence that featured Belfort’s downfall.

Other than the frank portrayal of Jordan Belfort’s career as a stockbroker and the financial world of the 1990s and Martin Scorsese’s excellent direction, the one other major asset of “THE WOLF OF WALL STREET” was its talented cast. Once again, the man of the hour is Leonardo Di Caprio, who gives one of the best performances of his career as the charismatic and corrupt Jordan Belfort. When I say it is one of his performances, I damn well mean it. Not only did he give an excellent performance throughout the movie, he gave one of the funniest and probably the best acting moment during the entire year of 2013 – namely a sequence in which Belfort, high on Quaaludes, struggle to get into his car and drive home in order to prevent his partner Donnie Azoff from revealing too much during a telephone conversation bugged by the F.B.I. My God! It was hilarious.

Portraying Donnie Azoff (who is based on Danny Porush) was comedy actor Jonah Hill, who proved he could mix both comedy and drama with great ease and hold his own with the talented Di Caprio. His portrayal of Azoff’s forays into excess and egotistical behavior was a marvel to behold. Margot Robbie, who I remembered from the ABC series, “PAN AM”, portrayed Belfort’s second wife, Naomi Lapaglia (based on Nadine Caridi). She really did an excellent job in portraying the sexy, yet very tough Naomi – especially in one difficult scene in which her character had to deal with marital rape before she put an end to their marriage. The always impressive Kyle Chandler portrayed F.B.I. Special Agent Patrick Denham (based on Special Agent Gregory Coleman), the man responsible for Belfort’s arrest. Superficially, Chandler’s Denham seemed like a quiet, straight-laced type whose dogged investigation brings Belfort to his knees. But Winter’s screenplay and Chandler’s subtle performance allows a peek into the possibility that Denham, who had harbored ambitions to become a stock broker, envies the lifestyle that Belfort managed to achieve, despite the corruption that surrounds the latter.

The movie also featured outstanding performances from Jon Bernthal, who portrayed Belfort’s muscle-flexing Quaaludes dealer. I was amazed at how much Bernthal resembled a younger and better-looking Danny Trejo. Joanna Lumley gave a charming performance as Belfort’s British in-law, Aunt Emma. I especially enjoyed one scene in which Belfort asked her to engage in money laundering on his behalf and both ended up wondering about the other’s attraction. Jean Dujardin gave a sly and funny performance as Swiss banker, Jean-Jacques Saurel, whom Belfort used to hide his money from the Federal authorities. The movie also featured solid performances from Cristin Milioti (“The Mother” from “HOW I MET YOUR MOTHER”), Kenneth Choi (from “CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER”), P.J. Byrne, Jon Farveau, Rob Reiner (who was especially funny as Belfort’s accountant father), Shea Whigham and Christine Ebersole. But the one supporting performance that really had me rolling with laughter came from Matthew McConaughey, who portrayed Belfort’s L.F. Rothschild boss, Mark Hanna. Despite the scary content of Hanna’s advice, I must admit that McConaughey really did a great job in making the most in what almost proved to be a cameo role.

“THE WOLF OF WALL STREET” proved to be appreciative enough for the Academy of Motion Arts and Pictures to give it several nominations, including Best Picture. And there seemed to be a good number of people who seemed to understand what this movie is really about. But I get the feeling that too many are determined to write off this film as nothing more than a glorification of Jordan Belfort’s excessive lifestyle and corruption. I cannot share this feeling. I believe that Martin Scorsese, Terence Winter and the first-rate cast led by Leonardo Di Caprio gave us a movie that many should view as a cautionary tale. I mean, honestly . . . if I ever consider investing my money in stocks, I will whip out a copy of this film to remind me there are plenty of people like Jordan Belfort in this world – even in reputable investment firms – who would not blink an eye to separate me from my money for their benefit. I once read an article that compared stock investments to casino gambling, to the detriment of the latter. After viewing “THE WOLF OF WALL STREET”, I cannot help but wonder if both means of “gambling” are a lot more similar than we would like to believe.

tenor

 

1970s Costumes in Movies and Television

 

2b9cbf247cfe4929b8967b5339ec373a

Below are images of fashion during the 1970s, found in movies and television productions over the years:

 

1970s COSTUMES IN MOVIES AND TELEVISION

image

“Apollo 13″ (1995)

 

image

“Casino” (1995)

 

image

“Austin Powers in Goldmember” (2002)

 

image

“Dreamgirls” (2006)

 

image

“Rush” (2013)

 

image

“American Hustle” (2013)

 

image

“X-Men: Days of Future Past” (2014)

 

image

“The Astronaut Wives Club” (2015)

“THE INFORMANT!” (2009) Review

the-informant

“THE INFORMANT!” (2009) Review

As a rule, I am not particularly fond of whistleblower films. I find them rather boring and unoriginal. Then I saw Steven Soderbergh’s 2009 movie, “THE INFORMANT!” and concluded there might be one whistleblower film that I do like. 

Based on true events and the 2000 non-fiction book, ”The Informant”, by journalist Kurt Eichenwald, the movie is about Mark Whitacre, a rising star at Decatur, Illinois based Archer Daniels Midland (ADM) in the early 1990s who wound up blowing the whistle on the company’s price-fixing tactics, only after his wife forced him to. Soderbergh cast Matt Damon as Whitacre and Scott Bakula as FBI Special Agent Brian Shephard, the man to whom he ratted out ADM.

The movie began in 1992 when the FBI was brought in to investigate a possible case of corporate espionage against ADM. The espionage case later was found to be groundless, but during their investigation, Mark Whitacre, under pressure from his wife, told an FBI agent named Brian Shephard that he and other ADM executives were involved in a multinational conspiracy to control the price of lysine. So far, this plot struck me as no different than any other whistleblower movie. But what made ”THE INFORMANT!” unique to me was the character of said whistleblower – Mark Whitacre. The movie’s first half portrayed him as an eccentric man and enthusiastic executive who seemed reluctant to expose his superiors at ADM. But he eventually dedicated himself into assisting the FBI into spending years in gathering evidence by clandestinely taping the company’s activity in business meetings at various locations around the globe such as Tokyo, Paris, Mexico City, and Hong Kong, eventually collecting enough evidence of collaboration and conspiracy to warrant a raid. Following the raid, it all went downhill for Whitacre. The stress of being the FBI’s mole for three years led him to react to the media in a bizarre manner. More importantly, the FBI and the public discovered that Whitacre had embezzled millions of dollars from ADM.

When I first saw the billboards for ”THE INFORMANT!”, I thought it would be some kind of espionage film like the Jack Ryan novels or something like 1974’s ”THE CONVERSATION”. I eventually learn that the movie might have more to do with industrial espionage . . . and the fact that it was another whistleblower film. Why I did not bother to skip this film upon hearing this, I do not know. Perhaps I was willing to give it a chance due to the fact that Soderbergh and Damon (who did the three ”OCEAN’S ELEVEN” movies) were working together, again. And you know what? I am so glad that I gave it a chance. What started out as an amusing, yet detailed account of Whitacre’s years as a whistleblower for the FBI, ended in a chaotic character study of a very intelligent man who turned out to be a chronic liar and embezzler. As much as I enjoyed the movie’s first half, I really enjoyed the second half that exposed Whitacre’s crimes. The plot – or should I say Whitacre’s character – began to spiral out of control once the whistleblower tried to deflect himself from fraud charges in hilarious ways. By the time the movie ended, I did not know whether to be astounded or amused by how it all fell apart for Whitacre.

”THE INFORMANT!” featured a pretty good solid cast that included Scott Bakula as the long suffering FBI agent Brian Shephard who had recruited Whitacre to act as an informant for his agency . . . and lived to regret it. Joel McHale portrayed his partner, the more outgoing FBI agent Robert Herndon. It was interesting to see comedians like Thomas F.Wilson, the Smothers Brothers – Tom and Dick, Allan Harvey, Patton Oswalt and Scott Adsit all in serious roles. I enjoyed Tony Hale’s performance as Whitacre’s first attorney, James Epstein. Watching his reaction to the growing chaos that seemed to surround Whitacre was rather funny. And Melanie Lynskey gave a strong performance as Whitacre’s wife, Ginger, who seemed to act as the whistleblower’s conscious and backbone. But who am I kidding? The movie is owned lock, stock and barrel by Matt Damon’s brilliant performance as Mark Whitacre. I cannot even describe how good he was in capturing this complex, deceiving and yet, sympathetic personality. I found it criminal that Damon was not nominated for an Academy Award nomination for his performance.

Do I have any quibbles about ”THE INFORMANT!”? Uh . . . I can only think of one or two complaints right now. I found Soderbergh’s cinematography rather uninspiring. Yep . . . that is what I had said. The film’s director had also acted as the photographer. And I found it dull and slightly metallic at times. If Soderbergh honestly considers himself a genuine cinematographer . . . well, I would suggest that he stick to directing and producing. And I must admit that right before the FBI had decided to arrest some of ADM’s executives, the pacing became so slow that it nearly dragged the film. Aside from those complaints, I really enjoyed this movie. But I must warn you . . . if you are expecting it to be another ”THE INSIDER” or ”DEFENSE OF THE REALM”, you are going to be sadly disappointed. ”THE INFORMANT!” struck me as possessing an unusual and highly original story for it to be viewed as another whistleblower film.