Category Archives: Film Reviews

86th Academy Awards – David Wendelman’s Oscar Picks

2013 was a golden year for cinematic storytelling.  From writing, to picture and sound, to directing, to editing, these Oscar nominated films raised the bar and set new standards for the art of filmmaking:

  • “American Hustle”
  • “Gravity”
  • “Captain Phillips”
  • “12 Years A Slave”
  • “Nebraska”

2013 also brought us memorable, Oscar worthy performances from:

  • Cate Blanchett (“Blue Jasmine”)
  • Sally Hawkins (“Blue Jasmine”)
  • Amy Adams (“American Hustle”)
  • Jennifer Lawrence (“American Hustle”)
  • Lupita Nyong’o (“12 Years A Slave”)
  • Sandra Bullock (“Gravity”)
  • Matthew McConaughey (“Dallas Buyers Club”)
  • Jared Leto (“Dallas Buyers Club”)
  • Chiwetel Ejiofor (“12 Years A Slave”)
  • Christian Bale (“American Hustle”)
  • Bradley Cooper (“American Hustle”)
  • Tom Hanks (“Captain Phillips”)
  • Bruce Dern (“Nebraska”)

But the film that encompassed everything that I love about cinema was “La Grande Bellezza”, directed by Paolo Sorrentino, music composed by Zbigniew Preisner and Lele Marchitelli.

Movie Poster for "La Grande Bellezza"

Toni Servillo gives a hypnotic performance as aging journalist Jep Gambardella who while inviting us into his eccentric, rarefied life among the Roman elite, becomes the perfect tour guide of an ancient city whose tragic beauty has been forever frozen in time.


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Nebraska – Comedy from the Heartland

Born in Omaha, Nebraska, filmmaker Alexander Payne has a knack for finding poetry and wit in the everyday mundane lives of ordinary Americans.  So, he’s the perfect director for Bob Nelson’s story from the Heartland titled “Nebraska”, filmed entirely in black and white.

Screen legend Bruce Dern plays Woody, a man in his senior years who like so many ordinary Americans today, finds himself at the end of a long road of missed opportunities, dashed dreams and futile choices.

Bruce Dern (Woody) and Will Forte (Dave) in Alexander Payne's "Nebraska".

Bruce Dern (Woody) and Will Forte (Dave) in Alexander Payne’s “Nebraska”.

A road trip, “Nebraska” follows Woody and his son Dave (played by Will Forte) as they drive across the open bluffs and pastures of the Midwest to collect money from a mail-sweepstakes prize that really doesn’t exist.  A journey that challenges a father and son’s dysfunctional relationship and forces each of them to examine their own personal struggles to “be somebody” in life.

I attended the 2013 AFI FEST Gala screening of “Nebraska”.  And having grown up in the Midwest myself, it’s refreshing to see a film that so accurately portrays its people and culture, and with such grace and humor.

Bruce and Will are supported by an equally talented cast of actors, which include Bob Odenkirk, Stacy Keach and June Squibb.

Out of the Furnace – Has True Grit

Saturday night, I attended the 2013 AFI FEST’s Gala Premiere of director and screenwriter Scott Cooper’s “Out of the Furnace”.


“Out of the Furnace” Director Scott Cooper with cast members Casey Affleck, Woody Harrelson, Forest Whitaker, Zoe Saldana and Tom Bower at the 2013 AFI FEST Gala Premiere.

Cooper’s blue-collar film paints a stark reality that is relevant to our modern times.  This gritty, powerful story set in a languishing mill town in Pennsylvania follows the Baze brothers — steel worker Russell (Christian Bale) and Rodney (Casey Affleck) an Iraq War veteran — who struggle to survive a world that seems pitted against them.  Woody Harrelson plays the kingpin of a crime ring whose merciless act of violence sends Christian Bale’s Russell Baze on a suicidal mission of personal redemption and justice.

The cast includes strong performances by Forest Whitaker, Zoe Saldana, Willem Dafoe and Sam Shepard.  Among the film’s notable producers are Leonardo DiCaprio and Ridley Scott.

August: Osage County – A Tour de Force

For playwright Tracy Letts, “August: Osage County” has been a labor of love.  Now Letts has adapted his Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award winning play into a screenplay, and with Director John Wells at the helm, Letts’ beloved masterpiece about the dysfunctional Weston family has been made into an equally funny and deeply moving film.

I just attended the AFI FEST’s Gala screening of “August: Osage County” at the TCL Chinese Theater in downtown Hollywood, where Director John Wells introduced the film’s Academy Award winning Producers George Clooney and Grant Heslov, and some of the cast.

"August: Osage County" Director John Wells with cast members Juliette Lewis, Dermot Mulroney and Julianne Nicholson.

“August: Osage County” Director John Wells with cast members Juliette Lewis, Dermot Mulroney and Julianne Nicholson and Producers George Clooney and Grant Heslov.

The ensemble cast of the film “August: Osage County”, which includes Meryl Streep, Julia Roberts, Ewan McGregor, Chris Cooper and Benedict Cumberbatch, is a tour de force.  As I experienced the film, I couldn’t get over how perfectly and meticulously the actors had been matched with their characters.  You couldn’t hope for a better adaptation of an already perfect play.

“Gravity”: Humans in 3D

This big 3D sci-fi movie delivers a heart pounding, cinematic thrill ride that’s perfect for IMAX theaters.  But stripped down to its core “Gravity” is a simple, human story of surrender, liberation and rebirth.

As Astronaut Ryan Stone, played by Sandra Bullock, fights for seemingly insurmountable cosmic survival, we watch her rise from the ashes of her own personal tragedy to embrace life.

“Gravity” also stars George Clooney.  Directed by Alfonso Cuaron.  Written by Alfonso Cuaron and Jonas Cuaron.

Revisiting Milos Forman’s 1965 Comedy “Loves of a Blonde”

Recently, I’ve been revisiting vintage films that have become celebrated as seminal, classic cinema.  Milos Forman’s 1965 comedy “Loves of a Blonde” completely blows me away with its simplicity and raw honesty.

In the story, an impressionable young woman Andula (Hana Brejchova) has a one-night stand with Milda (Vladimir Pucholt), a young but worldly jazz pianist she meets at a dance in her small working class town.  The next day, Milda returns to his home in Prague.  But Andula is so taken with him and his talent for poetic flattery–I mean, this dude really pours it on–that she goes looking for him, and shows up unannounced at his crowded little apartment where he’s still living with his parents.

Milda is not there at first and much to the displeasure of his parents, Andula waits for him.  But by the time their son gets home it’s too late to send her away and the parents insist that she stay the night.  Milda, of course, has no interest in Andula anymore and is mortified that she’s there.

The scene where Milda squeezes uninvited into the middle of a crowded bed with his disgruntled parents because he doesn’t want to be near Andula and because there’s nowhere else to sleep, is one of the funniest moments I have ever seen in a film.  It’s also one of the most heartbreaking moments, because the whole time Milda is in bed bickering with his parents, he’s also bad mouthing Andula.  She can easily hear them from the other room and she’s humiliated.

If you enjoy comedies that explore humor in realistic human relationships as much as I do, you should definitely add “Loves of a Blonde” to your viewing library.

“Blue Jasmine”, a perfect “Stories of Everyday Madness”

“Blue Jasmine” written and directed by Woody Allen is in my view a perfect “Stories of Everyday Madness”.  Cate Blanchett literally chews up the screen as the “vapid and narcissistic socialite” who moves in with her financially strapped sister played spot-on by Sally Hawkins.  As one sister slips into genuine madness, the other one desperately defends her ordinary, unimpressive life.  The result is a frenetic and intense story about deeply flawed relationships that artfully delivers both human absurdity and tragic comedy at its best.  The Oscar bound performances of Blanchett and Hawkins are supported by an equally brilliant cast, which includes:  Alec Baldwin, Bobby Cannavale and Peter Sarsgaard.