Welp, The Wolf Of Wall Street (imdb | rotten tomatoes) isn’t gonna make my best films of 2013 list. It’s not even in the ‘near misses’ category. It was overlong, excessive (even by Scorsese standards), and swung for the wrong fences. I wanted about ten more scenes of a mental battle with Kyle Chandler’s character, along with — and I can’t believe I’m saying this — about ten fewer extraneous scenes of naked women. They gambolled about like lost lambs and were just as disposable to these guys as their bags of Quaaludes and it was depressing.
The only things that almost saved the movie for me were 1) Matthew McConaughey’s cameo, and 2) Jonah Hill, who was flat-out amazing. With the fake teeth I actually kind of forgot it was him. So, bravo to two guys who a few years ago were just in no position to play these kinds of parts.
Cover photo by Patrick Bell, used under Creative Commons license
Every year the Academy Award nominees are announced, and every year the lists are picked apart. There’s always a name or two from each category that the punters think should have made it, but this year I noticed one that struck me as particularly off: best actor in a leading role. The actual nominees are:
Christian Bale for American Hustle
Bruce Dern for Nebraska
Leonardo DiCaprio for The Wolf Of Wall Street
Chiwetel Ejiofor for 12 Years A Slave
Matthew McConaughey for Dallas Buyers Club
But really, would anyone have been surprised if the list had been these five?
Tom Hanks for Captain Phillips
Oscar Isaac for Inside Llewyn Davis
Michael B. Jordan for Fruitvale Station
Joaquin Phoenix for Her
Robert Redford for All Is Lost
Or Matthew McConaughey for Mud, come to that?
Cover photo by Rachel, used under Creative Commons license
Last night we sat ourselves in the stellar TIFF Bell Lightbox theatre to see Inside Llewyn Davis (imdb | rotten tomatoes), the latest from the Coen Brothers. In addition to always wanting to see anything they do, I was interested to see the (loose) telling of the story of Dave Van Ronk. I only knew of Van Ronk from my dad’s stories, about how he was such a big part of the burgeoning early-60s NYC folk music movement but never became widely known. Stories of insider-respected but mostly-unknown people fascinate me, and they seem right in the Coen’s wheelhouse too.
I didn’t love the whole movie at first: there were parts I absolutely adored (Adam Driver during a studio session, for example, or the astonishing Oscar Isaac’s final verse of “The Death Of Queen Jane”), but other parts where it lost me (like the weird side trip to Chicago, or any time Carey Mulligan was on screen…we were being made to hate her character so much that it felt false and inorganic). Still, the parts that missed are fading quickly while the most moving moments — mostly centred around Isaac singing — won’t leave my mind. I even had “Please Mr. Kennedy” — the lone song played for laughs, no less — stuck in my head this morning for hours. I felt compelled to download the soundtrack immediately, and am listening to it as I write this. You should really buy it. I could never wish for the Coen brothers to stop making films, but if they decided to do nothing but musical collaborations with T Bone Burnett, I could live with that.
Cover photo by dhelling01, used under Creative Commons license
Last night we tried the hot new place in our ‘hood: The Carbon Bar. We’d had plans to do so just before the new year but one of our party wasn’t feeling up to it. Turns out the same thing could have (should have, maybe…Nellie was already feeling sick by mid-afternoon) happened last night, but we were determined to finally try this place. We met our friends JP & Sue for an early dinner.
First: the space is amazing. Crazily high ceilings, warehouse-sized floor plate, and little hints of the building’s past lives — Electric Circus writ in neon, Disney figurines, glowing Baby Blue signs, etc. It’s an impressive place, no doubt.
The place has built its reputation on meat. Well, among foodies anyway; it’s also become something of a hot spot for clubby types, but David Lee’s grilling has attracted people — like us — looking for his take on southern bbq. And man, did we get some of that. Here’s what we ploughed through:
Crisp chicken skins w/ sweet chilli vinegar
Cabrito Papusa (goat-stuffed masa tortilla, tomatillo salsa, guajillo date jus)
The starters and sides were good. The platter of meat, however, was spectacular…there wasn’t a single thing on there that wasn’t amazing (well, maybe the pulled pork, but it was still damned good). The brisket might have been the best we’d ever tried, and I would have eaten a pound of that sausage. Unfortunately Nellie had gone from feeling poorly to almost passing out during the meal, so she couldn’t really partake. Given that, despite looks of longing from JP and I, we didn’t even try to finish it. Half of what was left is in my fridge right now, just waiting for me to eat it. Anyway, we had to cut the night short because Nellie needed to get to bed, but it was a pretty impressive first visit. We’ll definitely be going back.
Cover photo by Lisa Ray (yes, that Lisa Ray…she was there last night too)
We continue to work our way through the best-reviewed films of 2013, and yesterday we watched two which immediately found their way onto my revised best-of-2013 list. Highly recommended if you can find them.
Mud (imdb | rotten tomatoes) flew completely under my radar. I don’t even remember hearing about it when it came to Canada last May. What a damn film, though. Textured, real, with this feel of being so familiar but practically on another planet (or, I guess, southeast Arkansas). Also: I don’t know what spirit quest Matthew McConaughey went on in 2010, but man did it do him some good. After a whole string of shite romantic comedies (culminating with Ghosts of Girlfriends Past in 2009) he started a tear in 2011 that included The Lincoln Lawyer (not great, but not bad either), Bernie, Killer Joe, Mud, Dallas Buyers Club, and The Wolf Of Wall Street. OK, fine, The Paperboy and Magic Mike happened in there too, but at least they were edgy. Ish.
Fruitvale Station (imdb | rotten tomatoes) was director Ryan Coogler’s first feature, though you wouldn’t know it. He told the story of Oscar Grant‘s shooting at the Fruitvale BART station in Oakland so expertly — fiction and fact intermingled, certainly, but skilfully — that you’d think him a veteran director. Also very impressive: Michael B. Jordan, who I only knew from Friday Night Lights, Chronicle, and (vaguely) The Wire. He pulled off something amazing: despite knowing what happens — the film opens with the now-public cellphone footage of the shooting, which can also be found on YouTube — Jordan makes us, over the course of the flashed-back day prior to the shooting, understand and like and empathize with Grant so much that we root for time to unfold differently, for the shooting never to happen. But then Coogler guides you through it, and it’s just wrenching.
Cover photo by Wayne Hsieh, used under Creative Commons license
Over Christmas I finally picked up Laura MacDonald‘s Curse Of The Narrows (indigo | amazon), a Christmas gift from my parents a few years back. I always think of the Halifax explosion much more each year after December 6th, and especially once the first snowfall hits. I’ve read several books about the explosion, but reading MacDonald’s book was like learning about it all over again. Anecdotes from observers, survivors, doctors, relief workers, and average Haligonians gave me a more vivid picture of the event than whatever I’d read before.
Not that we should be in the business of prioritizing tragedy, but since Canadians now tend to associate December 6 with the École Polytechnique massacre, it seems the 97-year-old Halifax Explosion — the greatest disaster in Canadian history — has increasingly slipped from our country’s collective memory. For anyone who chooses to remember, I recommend books such as MacDonald’s.