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Sunday, December 29, 2013

Cindy Prascik's Reviews of Grudge Match, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty & The Wolf of Wall Street

Dearest Blog, the holiday movie glut necessitated a cinema triple feature yesterday, consisting of Grudge Match, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, and The Wolf of Wall Street.

Spoiler level here will be mild, nothing you wouldn't know from the trailers.

The schedule dictated that my likely favorite of the three, Grudge Match, be my opener.

Two aging boxing champions, whose only professional losses were to each other, face off in an unlikely rubber match 30 years after their last battle.

Grudge Match isn't out to cash in on any awards season notoriety; it's meant to be a good time at the cinema, and that's exactly what it is.

Sylvester Stallone and Robert De Niro are perfect foils, trading verbal and physical jabs throughout. Kevin Hart and Alan Arkin are hilarious as the fight promoter and trainer, respectively, and each scores several laugh-out-loud moments in the film. The main cast is rounded out by Kim Basinger and Jon Berenthal (that guy is everywhere these days!), both of whom are fine for as much as they're needed.

Grudge Match never veers far from its main course, and is smart enough not to overstay its welcome. There's a subplot for some depth, but the film focuses mostly on the big match. I'm not sure how well the humor would go over well with a younger crowd, but for the target older audience, this one is a bullseye.

Grudge Match runs 113 minutes and is rated PG13 for "sports action violence, sexual content, and language."

If you're exhausted from all the awards season fare and just looking for a fun day at the movies, Grudge Match is the perfect cure for what ails ya. Of a possible nine Weasleys, Grudge Match gets seven and a half.

Next on yesterday's agenda was The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.

After misplacing an important item, a daydreamer with a humdrum life sets out on a series of adventures to try and recover it.

I'm entirely unfamiliar with the 1947 Walter Mitty, so this review is based only on the current version and not how it stacks up against the original. Though I make a point of avoiding others' reviews until I've written my own, I understand this isn't getting great notices, and, in its first week, it's already in the smallest room at my cinema, so I gather it's not setting the box office on fire, either. I can understand both, though I'm not necessarily on board with either.

At first glance, Walter Mitty looked to me a bit like Cloud Atlas, that is, something that seemed like sure awards bait, but somehow misstepped in the execution. To a degree that's true, mostly due to Ben Stiller's failings as a leading man. I've learned to give the guy credit where credit is due (Tropic Thunder is my funniest movie of all time!), but, from an acting standpoint, asking him to carry a film on his own shoulders is still a stretch. He's just not good or likable enough. That aside, the film has one of those absurdly inspiring storylines the Academy usually eats right up, and it's beautifully shot. Throw in critical darling Sean Penn in a small role and, well, it's sort of understandable why this might have been considered a contender in a weaker year at the cinema. For my money, I found it entertaining and--if I wasn't wildly excited by it--I wasn't bored either.

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty clocks in at 114 minutes and is rated PG for "some crude comments, language, and action violence."

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is uplifting holiday fare set to some truly glorious scenery, definitely worth seeing on a big screen. Of a possible nine Weasleys, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty gets six and a half.

Finally, the closer on yesterday's slate was the Martin Scorsese film The Wolf of Wall Street.

The Wolf of Wall Street is based on (I'd guess more "inspired by" from all the disclaimers) the true story of the rise and fall of Wall Street hotshot Jordan Belfort.

Prior to seeing it, I heard a lot about the controversies surrounding The Wolf of Wall Street, specifically that it glorifies the people at the center of these scandals, and that the sex and drug content had to be seriously pared to avoid an NC17 rating. I strongly disagree that this film glorifies its subjects, as their fall is as integral to the movie as their rise (if not as time consuming). As for the sex and drugs, well, I've worked and played closely with a band and a couple hockey teams, so there's no degree of debauchery that can shock or offend me; that content had no bearing on my opinion of the film. What does shock and offend me, apparently enough to influence my enjoyment of this movie, is unmitigated greed, in particular, this brand of greed where someone feels entitled to everything he can take, regardless of morality/legality and the cost to others. I was well aware of the subject matter, but trailers led me to believe the movie would be entertaining enough to get me past it. Sadly, it doesn't quite make it.

Leonardo DiCaprio is magnificent in the lead, as always, simply one of the most watchable stars Hollywood has to offer. There's a LOT of scenery-chewing going on here, but DiCaprio can dial it up or down as necessary, and I was riveted by his every second on screen. Jonah Hill appears to be shooting for another Oscar nom with his supporting performance, but he hardly seems worth mentioning in the same breath with the brilliant DiCaprio. Jon Berenthal turns up again in this one, and, for the second weekend running, Boardwalk Empire's Shea Whigham makes an appearance in the week's biggest opening (much to my delight!).

At almost an even three hours PLUS trailers, The Wolf of Wall Street is bloated, and it might have been easier to take at two and a half. No doubt there's a lot of story to tell, and it would be unfair to say the movie is ever slow; rather the whole thing feels as frenetic as its roomful of coked-up stockbrokers. I'm not suggesting it could or should be a two-hour shot, but three hours is just too much, and there are obvious places it could have been trimmed.

The Wolf of Wall Street runs 179 minutes (you heard me!) and is rated a HARD R for "sequences of strong sexual content, graphic nudity, drug use and language throughout, and for some violence."

The Wolf of Wall Street is a good, or maybe even a great, movie, and I was probably done in by my overly-high expectations as much as anything else. It's likely my being appalled by greed had less to do with my disappointment than the fact that I was a little bored through some of it. Of a possible nine Weasleys, The Wolf of Wall Street gets seven.

So, dear Blog, with two days left in 2013, I have three movies still at my cinema that I'd like to fit in (Frozen, Walking with Dinosaurs, and 47 Ronin), but none that are likely to affect my annual top ten...which is a work in progress as we communicate. A third Hobbit screening is top priority before my return to the real world on January 2nd, so we'll see if I can manage any or all of those other three. Stay tuned!!

Until next time...

All the awards, all the time, to you, sir!

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