Countdown to the Oscars 2014!

Feb 24, 2014 | 2014 Articles, Movies

by KRL Staff

It’s that time of year again–time for the Oscars! So once again we are reviewing some of the Oscar nominees this week as we lead up to the Oscars on Sunday on ABC with coverage beginning at 7e/4p. Check back daily for more Oscar movie reviews and check out Oscar 2014 event page for a listing of all of the nominees!

The Wolf of Wall Street

Review by Sarah A. Peterson

Sex, drugs, stock fraud—The Wolf of Wall Street has all three in ample supply.

Martin Scorsese’s fifth collaboration with Leonardo DiCaprio is an exercise in excess—both in its nearly three-hour running time and in its dizzyingly gleeful depiction of moral corruption—but this is a compliment of the highest order. Based on Jordan Belfort’s autobiography of the same name, The Wolf of Wall Street revels in its excesses joyously, taking its audience along for the raucous ride.

Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio) is fresh out of school and married to his college sweetheart (Cristin Milioti) in 1980s New York when he’s introduced to the high-rolling lifestyle that will eventually consume him. With the guidance of a successful Wall Street broker (played with the lazy swagger of a pro by Matthew McConaughey), Belfort ups his game in the ultra-competitive world of the stock market.

That is, until Black Monday kicks Wall Street to the curb in 1987. Now out of a job, he refuses to settle for anything merely mediocre and eventually finds himself selling penny stocks at a bottom-feeder firm. But before long he’s impressed his colleagues with his persuasive selling techniques and amassed a following of scrappy believers led by Donnie Azoff (Jonah Hill), who will become his drug buddy and partner in crime.

Financial success culled from ripping off rich people brings with it a steady diet of cocaine, prostitutes, and bigger and better everything, and from there The Wolf of Wall Street takes off as a wildly inappropriate and entertaining comedy.

Strewn among various affairs of the heart (including a mistress, a divorce, and a remarriage) are a series of jaw-dropping exploits that prove DiCaprio’s talent for pure physical comedy. Whether slithering convulsively out of a hotel after a Quaalude binge or performing CPR in an altered state, the actor delivers one of the most versatile performances of his career.

Scorsese also proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that he can direct just about anything, from historical epic (The Gangs of New York) to gritty drama (The Departed), and now comedic tour-de-force. He coaxes memorable and engaging performances from all of his supporting players as well, including Hill as loose cannon Azoff, Aussie newcomer Margot Robbie as Belfort’s bombshell second wife Naomi, and Kyle Chandler as the hardscrabble FBI agent who finally brought Belfort down in the 1990s.

The Wolf of Wall Street is, above all else, a telling portrait of a man whose self-destructive greed eventually got the best of him—and who lived to tell the tale.

The Wolf of Wall Street is nominated for Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Actor in a Supporting Role, and Best Directing. Check out all other nominated movies on our Oscar Nominations event page!

Sarah A. Petersonis a library assistant with Fresno County Library, with a Bachelor’s in English and a Bachelor’s in Journalism from California State University, Fresno. In her free time, she makes soap and jewelry that she sells at Fresno-area craft fairs. She has written for The Clovis Roundup and the Central California Paranormal Investigators (CCPI) Newsletter.

Despicable Me 2
Review by Sheryl Wall

Despicable Me 2 is a computer animated sequel to Despicable Me starring Gru (voice by Steve Carrel) who is an ex-evil villain and now a parent to three small girls, Margo, Agnes, and Edith.

Instead of being evil, Gru is trying to come up with a new line of jams and jelly. However, all this changes when the Anti-Villain League enlists Gru’s help when a secret Arctic Lab is stolen using a gigantic magnetic ship. Gru is joined by agent Lucy on an undercover operation at the mall. As the movie progresses their relationship doesn’t stay as merely a business partnership. Gru’s main suspect is an owner of a restaurant who he believes is El Macho, an old villain who was thought to be dead. To add to the complications, Margo, Gru’s eldest daughter, falls in love with the villain’s son. Gru tries to stop this romance. He doesn’t want her with any guy let alone his main suspect’s son.

This is a fun sequel to Despicable Me. Though I did enjoy the first one more, this is still a cute and fun movie to go see. The Minions had a lot of silly scenes throughout the movie and seemed to be a big hit with audiences. They were quite funny, though I would have preferred to have a few less scenes with the Minions and have the three girls more involved in the plot. I really like how they turned a villain into a hero through the love of children.

Despicable Me 2 is filled with comedy, action, and romance which makes it reach a wider audience. It is a fun way to spend a hot summer day and is a movie that can be enjoyed by all ages which makes it a perfect family movie.

Despicable Me 2 is nominated for Best Animated Feature Film.

Sheryl Wall is an ongoing contributor to our
Pet Perspective section, providing pet care advice from years of personal experience.

American Hustle
Review by Jesus Ibarra

David O. Russell, director of last year’s hit Silver Linings Playbook, is back with a new drama, American Hustle. Loosely based on the FBI ABSCAM operation of the late 70s, American Hustle stars a fantastic ensemble who give “mind blowingly” amazing performances.

Christian Bale and Amy Adams portray two mid-level successful con artists, Irving Rosenfeld and Sydney Prosser, who are forced with the FBI to stay out of jail. Richie DiMaso, played by Bradley cooper, the agent who caught them lets them off the hook, only if they help him catch corrupt politicians using Irving’s conning methods. Rounding out the cast is everyone’s BFF Jennifer Lawrence who plays Irving’s wife, Rosalyn, who is an unstable manic alcoholic that could bring the operation down on its knees.

This was one of my most anticipated movies of the year, it did not disappoint! This movie was so freaking fantastic. The pacing, story, acting, directing and music were all so top notch that I was completely engrossed in watching these characters try to pull off their con, all while dealing with interpersonal relationships. Taking place in the 70s, I was afraid it was going to try to be a clichéd idea of what the 70s are versus what they actually were, but thankfully that did not happen. Also, all the characters were completely fleshed out so that everything that happens to them in this movie felt organic and right.

I don’t know what it is about David O. Russell, but he is one of those rare directors that can pull the best performances out of actors and just present them on screen. This was such a well acted film, particularly the women. Jennifer Lawrence and Amy Adams steal the show. Bradley Cooper and Christian Bale were good, but Amy Adams and Jennifer Lawrence were amazing. I liked Amy Adams, but I never thought of her as an incredibly compelling actor, but in this movie, she was magnetic. Every time she was on screen it was just so good, and every choice she makes in portraying her characters was freaking perfect.

Jennifer Lawrence continues to show her massive talent and range by blowing her supporting role out of the water. Her character is the queen of manipulation and passive aggressiveness and Jennifer Lawrence gives her these certain ticks and qualities that make you believe it. Not only do you hate her, but you can’t help but feel for her. It also helps that in movie Amy Adams and Jennifer Lawrence have the best scene in the film that could sum up the entire movie. This movie is so good! Go watch it and enjoy two hours of top notch cinema.

American Hustle is nominated for Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Actor in A Supporting Role, Best Actress in a Supporting Role, Best Costume Design, Directing, Film Editing, Best Production Design, and Best Writing (Original Screenplay).

Jesus Ibarra is 21 years old; with a love of all media, he’s always on the lookout for the best finds. You can read more of his reviews on his website.

Review by Chris Lovato

“Houston, I have a bad feeling about this mission.”

Playing on the classic sci-fi trope, Alfonso Cuarón seeks to change the face of the survival/adventure film by taking it to the next level: outer space. The fears a lot of us have about being stranded in open water, drifting away, along with the general chaos that follows Murphy’s Law all collide (no pun intended) in his latest venture: Gravity.

Presumably in the modern day, Dr. Ryan Stone and Lieutenant Matt Kowalski have the honor of leading the Space Shuttle Explorer’s mission to work on the Hubble Telescope, but it’s compromised when they get word from Mission Control in Houston that a Russian missile attack on one of their own satellites caused a wave of debris to enter orbit. Of course, the astrophysical principle of having nothing to slow the shrapnel wreaks havoc on the shuttle and soon, Kowalski and Stone become the only survivors of the onslaught; however, low oxygen levels and the freezing cold of space become their new enemies as the astronauts struggle to find an undamaged spacecraft. Of course, there’s a lot more that happens after that, and Stone’s struggle to stay alive is nothing short of amazing, but I can’t give it all away here, can I?

In a refreshing turn, the film employs only two actors: George Clooney and Sandra Bullock. Clooney brings an over-confident, ladies’ man, swarthy attitude that seems typical of his characters, but towards the end of the movie, viewers might find his presence more comforting than anything. Bullock, on the other hand, grows into her role. One might think her initial reaction to the accident a bit stale, but seconds later, it’s like she slipped into Stone like a second skin and brings the terror to light for the audience. Her harrowing struggle presses her to the limit, and she does a wonderful job adapting.

Gravity brings something else to the genre as well: subtle, yet over-reaching themes. While Stone’s transformation from basement-lab scientist to survivor is apparent in the action, it’s in the visuals as well. In one scene, Bullock takes refuge in a space station’s escape pod, resting in the fetal position; a space suit tether forms the “umbilical cord.” Without giving the ending away, it illustrates Stone’s “evolution” from her “rebirth.”

What would a movie set in outer space be without some amazing visuals? I wasn’t lucky enough to see it in IMAX 3D, but had I the chance, it would have been totally worth it. Cuarón does a wonderful job of capturing the astronauts’ awe at the view, and the Earth vistas are a good enough reason on their own to see this film. The abundant CGI integrates itself seamlessly into the live-action, and both actors executed anti-gravity with grace and style. What most impressed me were the visuals involved in anti-gravity (things floating, liquid and fire) and the spacecraft.

Overall, I can see why this movie was nominated for 10 Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Actor. We’ve got some good films in the running, but Gravity is near and dear to my heart for the awards. Definitely see this movie, especially if you can find it in 3D.

Acting 4.5/5
Plot 5/5
Setting 5/5
Fear Factor 5/5 (I was on tenterhooks after the initial disaster)
Overall 5/5

You can see the trailer on YouTube.

Chris Lovato is a twenty something Coloradan who happens to know how to wield a sword…and a pen. Although more inclined to the dark and macabre, his love is literary fiction (based in the ”real world” with a supernatural twist). You can find his blog at Follow him on Twitter @ceeloroboto.

12 Years a Slave
Review by Jesus Ibarra

12 Years a Slave is drama film and an adaptation of the 1853 memoir of the same name by Solomon Northup. The film tells the story of Solomon Northup a New York State-born free African American who was kidnapped in Washington, D.C. in 1841 and sold into slavery. The film shows Solomon’s (portrayed by Chiwetel Ejiofor) story through the twelve years as he worked on a various southern plantations in Louisiana, before he was freed.

This is such a hard watch, but an important one, because it is one of the most realistic depictions of slavery ever shown on film. However, the beauty of it is that it doesn’t focus on slavery itself, but Solomon’s journey through a variety of plantations as he struggles to remain himself in life that is slowly breaking him down. By not focusing on the institution of slavery and just showing the deplorable conditions the slaves were forced to live by, it was more powerful and riveting. It was also the little things that hit you the most, scenes where they would be picking cotton in field for hours without water and rest and the only respite they had was to sing in unison. It is a completely unflinching in its depiction, showing a variety of slave owners, their cruelty and ideology behind owning slaves, which was often undermined by other characters who viewed slavery as a horrible practice.

Aside from its artistic and cinematic value, it has tremendous acting, cinematography, production values, and an amazing script. Chiwetel Ejiofor’s performance is truly riveting, he imbues Solomon with this quiet strength and as the film, progresses he is able show how that strength is slowly being chipped, dimming the hope that he will be free again. But what has to be the stand out performance of the film belongs to Lupita Nyong’o. She portrays a slave, Patsey, who befriends Solomon, and is the object of the slave owner’s cruel attention. Lupita Nyong’o portrays her with such a powerful grace and nobility that you feel everything that happens to her.

Perhaps what I love most about this movie is its gut-wrenching ending. Solomon is freed and as he leaves, Patsey runs to him yelling his name, he stops gives her one last hug and departs to reunite with his family. Of course, the film ends with Solomon seeing his family, but the moments preceding it are heart wrenching. Mostly because although Solomon got his freedom, you know that more slaves many more slaves did not. They did not have that blessing, instead were forced to keep living their nightmare. In that sense Patsey became the stand in for all of the African Americans that had to live under slavery until it was abolished. The scene of her crumpled on the street as the audience drives away with Solomon still haunts me.

Ultimately, this is essential viewing for anyone who loves cinema, but it isn’t an easy watch by any means. And I believe it is at the top for winning most of the awards it is nominated for at the Oscars.

12 Years a Slave is nominated in the following categories: Best Picture, Best Actor in a Leading Role, Best Actor in a Supporting Role, Best Actress in a Supporting Role, Best Costume Design, Directing, Film Editing, Best Production Design, and Best Writing.

Jesus Ibarra is 21 years old; with a love of all media, he’s always on the lookout for the best finds. You can read more of his reviews on his website.


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