Smile Politely

What to Watch: January 21-24


The Wolf of Wall Street (Savoy 16 IMAX and Carmike 13): This film is directed by Martin Scorsese and tells the story of Jordan Belfort (played by Leonardo DiCaprio). Belfort was a key player on Wall Street, and this movie chronicles his rise to power and eventual fall from grace.

Why to Watch: As Martin Scorsese gets older, I wonder with each film he whether he will continue to move from strength to strength. At age 71, Scorsese shows no signs that his storytelling prowess is weakening. DiCaprio gives the best performance of his career as Belfort, and the level of enigmatic energy that he displays throughout the film baffles me. DiCaprio gets these moments to be subtle, and they are just as powerful as his moments of drug-fuelled anger and obsession with wealth. The thing that makes this movie so compelling is the way Belfort explains why his wealth is necessary and what it means to control the wealth he has. How DiCaprio as Belfort slickly motivates the team to be workhorses for profit astounds me; at a few points, it even made me eager to join in the chaos. I should mention some outstanding cameos by actors like Matthew McConaughey and Iron Man director Jon Favreau, as well as brilliant supporting work by Jonah Hill and relative newcomer Margot Robbie as the ultimate trophy wife. Scorsese is wise enough to let these actors act and build the story of why Jordan’s cockiness will be his downfall. This film is three hours long, and it feels like two. And you’ll wish it were four.

A Clockwork Orange (The Art Theater Co-op): Stanley Kubrick’s classic study about a gang leader named Alex (Malcolm McDowell) and his obsession with sex, violence, and drugs.

Why to Watch: This is a very tough cinematic experience. Alex is one of those kids everyone feels would never exist in modern society. I feel that any evening spent watching the evening news proves otherwise. A story and a film far ahead of its time showcases what kinds of cruel acts can be inflicted on a human being and why the character inflicting the pain feels so unaffected by it. For Alex, it’s just another night of fun. I like this picture because it shows the audience human nature at its darkest and most primal. Alex feels no remorse for his actions; and, when he is forced to, it literally drives him insane. A Clockwork Orange was never just a film about testing human limits to seeing intolerable acts on screen; instead, it was about what causing that damage and pain does to one person and whether “saving” him makes a difference. See the film to learn whether it does.

Inside Llewyn Davis (The Art Theater Co-op): This film is the story of folk singer Llewyn Davis and how he endured life as a struggling musician in Greenwich Village in the winter 1961.

Why to Watch: We all go on a journey in life.  For some people, it’s to try and find their place in the world. For others, it’s about figuring out what they can be good at. Llewyn Davis already knows what he’s good at; he already has a passion for being a folk artist. It’s really just a matter of whether audiences embrace what he offers them. At the center of this film are the trials and tribulations that Llewyn Davis (Oscar Issac) faces every day. He wants badly to be important in the music world, but what I found so compelling is how he struggles to support the people who need him most. Music is all he wants, and all his financial and social struggles are at the front of it. What makes Inside Llewyn Davis compelling is not the music (though it is fantastic) but rather all of the mistakes and unwise decisions Davis makes trying to reach music notoriety. His journey is circular–much like a lot of mankind–but while some may find the idea of this a turn off, watching Davis face all of his obstacles is compelling.  See this journey, and go on one for yourselves.

Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit (Savoy 16 IMAX and Carmike 13): Newly minted CIA Analyst Jack Ryan is sent on a mission to stop a Russian terrorist.

Why to Watch: The Jack Ryan franchise is the perfect trilogy of three good films starring Alec Baldwin and Harrison Ford as Jack Ryan. What’s that? There was a fourth film? Well who was Jack Ryan? Ben Affleck? When was it made? 2002? Huh. (Watches Sum of All Fears.) Oh, so that’s why it took 12 years to make this new one. Makes complete sense now. Knowing full well that most of the slow-paced thriller elements have now been traded for an action-thriller style, I was pessimistic about this latest entry in the now aging franchise. Hiring Chris Pine to play Ryan was a smart decision, as he can showcase the vulnerability Ford often expressed during his tenure as the character. Is the character reckless? Yes, but it’s not a problem because he is brand new to the occupation of being an active operative in the CIA. This film is tons of fun and is only helped by the fact that the villain is played by the film’s director, Kenneth Branagh, as a Russian economic terrorist. When are we going to stop using Russians as an enemy for every action movie? The cliché, for me, is tired and is the only negative that looms over a rather successful rebranding of the franchise. Keira Knightley does her best impression of an American accent and impressed me in her role as Jack’s girlfriend. This reinvention had minor flaws but was entertaining enough to make me curious about where the series goes next. I spy a good time at the cinema with this film.

Ride Along (Savoy 16 IMAX and Carmike 13): This comedy centers around a man who goes on a police ride along because he wants the approval of his girlfriend’s brother for her hand in marriage.

Why to Watch: Ice Cube and Kevin Hart can be funny. The reason they are funny is that their characters are obviously written to play at every strength they have. Ice Cube’s specialty is his witty and biting examination of urban culture in the Friday franchise. Hart’s strength lies in complaining about how women don’t understand men. The problem with Ride Along is that, while these two have chemistry, Hart is doing all of the comedic heavy lifting. (And he’s short, so that’s a huge load on his shoulders.) Nothing about this film feels unpredictable or surprising, but, despite this fact, I know that it is almost impossible not to laugh at the one-liners Hart uses to deflate the ego of Cube’s tough cop. You know how the movie will end: Hart has to get the girl but the friendship he gains with her brother will be more important. See this film for the jokes told by Kevin Hart because, without them, this film would be dead on arrival.


Frozen (Savoy 16 IMAX and Carmike 13): Based on Hans Christian Andersen tale, the story involves a woman who is chosen to be queen but is ostracized because she has the power to freeze things. Her sister is the only one capable of breaking the spell that froze the entire kingdom indefinitely.

Why to Watch: Frozen is the second feature by Disney to be a mixture between hand drawn animation and CGI (the first being Tangled). This new approach worked well for Disney, and it succeeds again here but only because the film has such a strong story to tell. Kristen Bell voices the heroine, Anna, who is out to rescue her sister, Elsa (voiced by Tony winner Idina Menzel). This film again harkens back to the 90s’ Disney feature catalog and reminds us why we love those movies so much. For me, it’s the fact that the characters stand for something and seem like people who could learn from if they existed in reality. Most of the film’s comedic moments are provided by a snowman named Olaf, voiced by Josh Gad. Olaf is a Disney supporting character treasure and I’d be more than happy to see this film multiple times just for his antics. See this film with the whole family. You’ll have a great time.

Her (Savoy 16 IMAX and Carmike 13): A film about a man named Theodore Twamly who purchases a new operating system for his computer. A system that also learns while it works with you and has thoughts and feelings of its own.

Why to Watch: I know a lot of people define this film as “that movie where the guy falls in love with his computer.” This is not a film about love; it’s about what it means to feel when you’ve spent months ignoring the world around you. Spike Jonze has always been a very visual filmmaker. Take a look at his directing filmography for reference, and you’ll understand why I say this. Jonze is especially adept at creating worlds that seem like they could be a parallel version of or a commentary on our own society. Joaquin Phoenix does a terrific job as Theodore in this near future version of earth, showcasing all of what he doesn’t feel and how his OS Samantha makes him come alive and be adventurous. While Scarlett Johansson voices Samantha in the film and does a fantastic job acting without any of the film’s footage to guide her, the real credit should go to actress Samantha Morton (who was originally chosen to voice Samantha). Though she was replaced in post-production by Johansson, Morton was on set with Phoenix every day of shooting and acted as Samantha during the film. This simple act by Morton has provided Phoenix with his most honest and accessible performance to date, and he excels in a film that could have easily been cliché. Ultimately, this film is attempting to show the audience where our constant consumerism-related actions and dependency on technology for companionship can lead us. While I would never want to live in the future presented in this film, I have happily revisited its environment several times attempting to learn not only from Theodore Twamly but also Samantha.

Nebraska (Savoy 16): Woody Grant (Bruce Dern) was told he won a sweepstakes and has to go from Montana to Nebraska to collect his winnings. Woody’s son (Will Forte) agrees to drive his aging father to collect the winnings even though he suspects there isn’t money to receive.

Why to Watch: Nebraska is a film that is funny in an awkward way. Characters in this Alexander Payne feature feel very natural. The relationship between a father who made mistakes in the past and his son who is desperately trying not to repeat them is some of the most heartwarming film writing I have witnessed in the past year. Dern’s Woody is a marvel. Not only is he a cantankerous old coot who only wants things to go his way, but he’s also a man with a lot of regrets and pain that are clarified as the film moves along on its deliberately slow pace. I found myself completely engrossed in the lives of these people. I love the melancholy nature of this film, which isn’t about how relationships define a person’s life but rather about building a relationship where it hadn’t existed in someone’s life.

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