The Wolf of Wall Street

‘Your only regret is gonna be that you didn’t buy more shares!’

That’s the line Jordan Belfort used to reel in suckers, one after the other. Martin Scorsese’s newest epic, called The Wolf of Wall Street, opened yesterday, and this is a film filled with anything but the Christmas spirit.

Early on, Matthew McConaughey, playing superstar stock broker Mark Hanna lays it all out for Leonardo DiCaprio’s Jordan Belfort, and us, ‘that the name of the game was to move the money from your client’s pocket into your own pocket.

Advice that Belfort not only understood, but fully embraced. Not only embraced but embellished. Belfort had to put in his time as a connector (the lowest of the low in the Wall Street hierarchy), which was all he could do as he was trainee without a Series Seven License. That’s the exam all stock brokers have to pass before being allowed to sell stocks. As a connector his sole job was to dial a number then say, “Please hold for Jerry Fogel”. After that, he’d graduate up to be a cold caller, then upon passing his Series Seven – he’d be a broker. Unfortunately, when that day occurred, it was the very same day of the infamous market crash of 1987, and Belfort was soon out of a job. The firm he worked for, L.F. Rothschild, closed a month later.

His wife spotted a small ad for a broker in the paper, and Belfort went after the job. This was an investment house in name only. It was located in a forlorn strip mall, and was as tacky, as rundown, and as lame as anyplace you’d ever seen. If you had any money, you wouldn’t want to even set foot in this place, much less give your money to these guys to invest for you.

But when he was told that he would earn a 50% commission on each and every dollar he got people to invest, Belfort was all over the job. Having trained with a Master of the Universe like Mark Hanna, Belfort knew every trick in the book. The orders and the money began to roll in big time.

I know what you’re thinking, how could one out of every two dollars the clients invested go as the broker’s commission? That’s a good question. The answer is simple. They were selling worthless stocks that had almost zero chance of gaining value. That is without some assistance from the seller – and that was called Pump and Dump. As the client was buying at inflated values, they, and I mean Belfort and his pals were selling. If the client somehow wanted to cash out, and take his profit – that was fine, provided the client could be talked into reinvesting the original investment and the profit, into an another worthless venture.

Needless to say Belfort and his pals, cronies from his old Bayside, Queens neighborhood, all got spectacularly rich when Belfort opened his own shop, called Stratton Oakmont. Once Belfort decided to target as their clientele, the wealthiest 1% of Americans,  he was on his way. As he called it, America – the land of opportunity.

The words sex and drugs are just the beginning. As some wag, named Oscar Wilde once said, Moderation is a fatal thing. Nothing succeeds like excess. Of course it wouldn’t and couldn’t last. But that isn’t the point of this gem of a film by Martin Scorsese.

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Generation War

Generation War will open in New York on January 15th, then in Chicago on January 24th, and following those dates, the U.S. Film Distributer, Music Box Films will open the film across the nation. This is the theatrical film version of the six part, six-hour, mini-series that ran on German Television last spring. Music Box Films will release the film in two parts.

Simply it is a tale of five close friends who get caught up in the madness that began in Germany. The film begins in 1939 and carries through until the end of World War II in 1945.

What began with idealism and a desire to be heroic, valorous, and courageous would ultimately lead these five people to question their values, beliefs, and sense of humanity, as they realized, and came to understand, their betrayal by their own nation.

None of them could have imagined that they, and millions more, would have begun an adventure that would change them forever, and beyond that, change the face of Europe and the rest of the world.

Here are the five leads –

Wilhelm played by Volker Bruch, is a career officer in the German Army. He will head off to the Eastern front.

Friedhelm played by Tom Schilling, is Wilhelm’s younger brother. He’s a quiet boy, intrigued by books and education.

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Charlotte played by Miriam Stein, is a young idealistic nurse who is in love with Wilhelm. She too will go off to the Eastern front.

Greta played by Katharine Schüttler, is a talented singer who dreamed of becoming the next Marlene Dietrich.

Victor played by Ludwig Trepte, is Greta’s boyfriend, and he is Jewish.

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World Photography by Viviano Villarreal Bueron

I’ve recently returned from Hong Kong and have written at length about places in and around Hong Kong that I visited. But I’ve held back, until now, on one particular topic – Photographer Viviano Villarreal Bueron, who lives in Hong Kong.

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He has traveled to many places in the world and I believe his photographs are exemplary, and worth sharing with you.

On his website you will see the many portfolios of photographs that he has taken in places like Burma, Tibet, Nepal, Japan, Indochina, Palawan, Tiananmen Square in Beijing, Africa, the Middle East, and even some from his own neighborhood in Sheung Wan in Hong Kong.

I believe that Viviano is attracted to bold colors, and people are his favorite subjects. Most of his photos seem a combination of the two. In many cases, he seems to include both horizontal and vertical objects – not as the optical center of the image but more along the lines of background or secondary items for your eyes to notice, absorb, and reflect upon.

However there are always exceptions. Which is a perfect entry point show you some of his work. I will offer images that I have downloaded from his website, or in some cases – images sent to me by Mr. Bueron.

Let’s start with this Burmese Temples (Burma #31 form the portfolio)

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What attracted me to this image was the repetition of the vertical temple spires. In the same way. see the repeated curves of tree tops n the foreground. But what is truly interesting  is how the foreground of the tree tops is dark, and as the eye follows into the sky the images brightens. Not only is this a remarkable image, but factor in the changes in the light, and the image becomes even more spectacular.

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Peter O’Toole Has Died

While the world mourns the passing of Nelson Mandela, we have also lost another person known throughout much of the world. Peter O’Toole, the actor died yesterday. Mr. O’Toole, then a virtual unknown, was cast in the role of the enigmatic T.E. Lawrence by director David Lean for his film called Lawrence of Arabia. This was 1962. From that film, Mr. O’Toole went on to be at or near the top of the acting profession for many, many years.

As a farewell tribute to Mr. O’Toole, I offer an opportunity to remember some of his best films, and his most famous roles.

Lawrence of Arabia (1962) – This is the story of a flamboyant and controversial British military figure and his conflicted loyalties during his World War I service in the Middle East.

After Sherif Ali has explain the well protocols, which angers Lawrence, we have this exchange –

Peter O’Toole as T.E. Lawrence: Sherif Ali!. So long as the Arabs fight tribe against tribe, so long will they be a little people, a silly people. Greedy, barbarous and cruel, as you are.
Omar Sharif as Sherif Ali: Come. I will take you to Faisal.
T.E. Lawrence: I do not want your company, Sherif.
Sherif Ali: Wadi Safra is another day from here. You will not find it, and not finding it you will die.
T.E. Lawrence: I will find it with this.
[showing the compass]
Sherif Ali: [Ali suddenly takes the compass with his stick] Good army compass. How if I take it?
T.E. Lawrence: Then you would be a thief.
Sherif Ali: Have you no fear, English?
T.E. Lawrence: My fear is my concern.
Sherif Ali: Truly.
[Ali gives back the compass to Lawrence]
Sherif Ali: God be with you English.
[And he rides away]

Though this film won 7 Oscars in 1963, including Best Picture, Mr O’Toole did not win for Best Actor in a Leading Role. He lost to Gregory Peck (To Kill a Mockingbird).

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Mob City – TNT’s Event Series

Have you been watching TNT’s Mob City? For those of you unfamiliar with the show, it is a mini-series, or in the parlance of TNT, an Event Series. It will be broadcast on three consecutive Wednesdays – December 4th, 11th, and 18th – with two hours each night.

As Wednesday was the day before yesterday, we’ve now seen the first four hours of the show. Set in Los Angeles and Las Vegas in 1947, the series screams NOIR as loud as it can. The production is filled with period cars, clubs, and clothes. Everyone smokes, all the music is jazz, and the show simply oozes with its overdone neon atmosphere.

Watch for the gal whose apartment overlooks a huge flashing neon sign. I once spent one night in a pensione in Grenoble, France, with a similar sign. But we had no choice. But to rent a place like that and you live there. Not for me. Then again, flashing neon was how it was in 1947 in Lala-land. And this fits perfectly with the entire noir style.

Jeremy Luke as Mickey Cohen

Jeremy Luke as Mickey Cohen

Rather than recap 4 hours, I’ll give you a bit of an introduction/overview. You can always see the chapters you missed via the on demand gizmo from your cable company.

Ed Burns as Bugsy Siegel

Ed Burns as Bugsy Siegel

As I said, it is 1947 LA. Crime is rampant as is corruption. But not every cop is bad or on the take. The gangsters in question for this series are Mickey Cohen (Jeremy Luke) and Bugsy Siegel (Ed Burns). Meyer Lansky is involved too. This is the so-called Jewish Mafia. There are Italian gangsters too, but they’re mostly on the periphery.

Neil McDonough as William Parker

Neil McDonough as William Parker

On the police we have a Mob Squad headed up by William H. Parker who is played by Neil McDonough. At the time of this series, Parker is just a Captain of Detectives. He would go on in real life to become the head of the LAPD. In fact, the Parker Center, the police HQ in LA for four decades was named after him. His number 2 is Detective Hal Morrison played by Jeffrey DeMunn. But the star of the series is Jon Bernthal as Detective Joe Teague, a decorated war hero and former marine.

Jon Bernthal as Joe Teague

Jon Bernthal as Joe Teague

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Wake Up Sid (2009)

Wake Up Sid is a light-hearted romance drama that looks good, feels good, and even sounds good. Nothing unexpected happens and yes, this story of a slacker boy and a grounded and focused woman. ends as expected – in true love – but where is it written that every thing in the world of films must be new and different.

But fear not, if you don’t watch a lot of films from India, then this one will be plenty different with regard to the fact that you will be watching new actors. But boys and girls are very similar and the color of their flag doesn’t mean all that much when it comes to romance.

Sid (short for Sidharth Mehra) is played by Ranbir Kapoor who if ever the term scion of cinematic royalty could be applied – it would be for him. He is the son of Rishi Kapoor and Neetu Singh; the nephew of actors Randhir Kapoor, Rajiv Kapoor, Kunal Kapoor. He is the grandnephew of actors Shashi Kapoor, Jennifer Kendal, Shammi Kapoor, Geeta Bali; besides all of the above, he is also a cousin of actresses Kareena Kapoor and Karisma Kapoor. He is the fourth generation of Bollywood’s highly prestigious first family, the Kapoors. Besides that – the kid can act.

His co-star, Konkona Sen Sharma as Aisha Bannerjee, is also from a film family. She is the daughter of noted film actress-writer-director Aparna Sen, who long ago worked in films directed by the legendary Indian auteur, Satyajit Ray. More recently, Aparna Sen has directed at least a dozen films. But you know what, coming from a film family has only helped Koko. She’s won awards for Supporting actress in two films – Omkara and Life in a Metro, and she’s won a National Film Award, India, for Best Actress in Mr. and Mrs. Iyer. So yeah, Koko and Ranbir have connections but that doesn’t mean they lack ability.

When we first meet Sid, we see that he puts in more time on the party circuit, video games, and drinking than anything else.

He never met a text-book he couldn’t open, then immediately close – preferring instead to take a nap. Finals are coming up, and Sid hasn’t a chance.

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Homeland: Ep 3 x 11 – Big Man in Tehran – It’s What We Do…

Just one more episode remains of Homeland‘s 3rd season. It has surely been an up and down season for the show. Last night’s episode called Big Man in Tehran, was the culmination of Saul’s big plan – which in his own words – has always been a long-shot.

Nicholas Brody, now the most wanted man in the world, has successfully gained entry into Iran. With Saul’s help, and the help of the Israeli intelligence service, the Mossad, and some other aid provided by Farah’s uncle, and Mira’s ex boy friend Alain, Brody is poised to kill the head of the IRGC, the one called General Akbari.

By the way, Carrie is in town, Tehran, as well. Her job was to develop the extraction plan.

But Akbari is very careful. At Javadi’s suggestion, Akbari decides that he will meet Brody face to face. With a lot of cloak and dagger stuff, like neutral ground, armed escorts, diversions at the ready, Brody is finally on the street face to face with Akbari.

Only – Akbari immediately leaves once Brody is with in six feet of him.

I didn’t expect that. neither did Brody, nor Saul, nor any one else in the CIA who was involved in the plan.

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The Blind Detective (2013)

As a long time fan of Hong Kong Film director Johnnie To, I was pleased when I read of his latest film, The Blind Detective, before leaving for a trip to Hong Kong at the very end of October. Sadly, I was unable to purchase the DVD at any of the bigger retail stores in Hong Kong, as every where I looked for the DVD, they were all sold out.

When I returned home, I was able to  track down the DVD on Ebay. I ordered it, and received it, and was eager to see it. This is the fourth pairing of the films stars – Andy Lau and Sammi Cheng – as the stars in a Johnnie To production. At one time, early in the last decade, Andy and Sammi were the reigning King and Queen of the Hong Kong movie industry.

Beginning with Needing You (2000), Love on a Diet (2001), then Yesterday Once More (2004), this twosome was as bankable as any two screen actors working together at the time. While not quite on a par with Spencer Tracy and Katherine Hepburn – Lau and Cheng sold many tickets together.

The Blind Detective reunites them as the working stars in a Johnnie To film. And the results are that this is a mixed bag. Some of it is excellent driven by the remarkable on-screen chemistry of Cheng and Lau. That’s the rom com part.

Then there’s the police procedural part which is driven mostly by Lau’s now blind, and now retired as an official police detective, who is surprisingly named Johnston, recreating crime scenes from the police reports, and his imagination; and also with Cheng’s (who is a police woman named Ho) physical assistance.

Johnston is in it for the cold case reward money which is how he makes a living these days. Ho is in it because she has a missing person case of her own, her friend Minnie had gone missing years back, and Ho, seeing Johnston in action wants to learn from him and possibly use him to help find Minnie.

But wait – there’s more.

Let’s add in the fact that Lau’s Johnston is a foodie. As we have seen before in these Lau-Cheng-To films – eating and drinking to excess is to be expected. On screen nausea is something you can bank on; it is anything but the unexpected. By the way – if you get a chance, have a look at a great Johnnie To cop film was called Expect the Unexpected. It came out in 1998. But back to our film – so don’t be surprised when each of the leads has a ‘puke’ scene.

There was one very funny scene. After Ho had to put Johnston up at her apartment because he had drunk to excess the night before. He awakens the next morning needing to piss badly. After stumbling around the unfamiliar apartment – yes, there’s plenty of that ‘blind man tripping and falling humor’ in the film – Johnston stumbles into Ho’s bathroom where she is having a nice bubble bath. She’s shrieking.

Ho: Get out! I’m taking bath! Get Out! I’m in the bathtub! 

Johnston: (also shrieking) – I have to pee! Where is the toilet?

Ho: Over there. At your nine o’clock.

Johnston (finds it and relieves himself): Relax, I am blind. Can’t see a thing!

Ho: But I’m not blind!

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The Book Thief

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The Book Thief begins in the clouds, literally. As the clouds part, we see a steam engine locomotive pulling a train. There’s a voice over. We learn that this narrator is Death, and he is about to do his thing.

His victim, a passenger on the train, is a small young boy, who is the brother of Liesel Meminger. Yes, having Death do a voice over narrative is a literary device, and I didn’t have any issues with it being in the film.

So begins The Book Thief, a film adapted from the best-selling novel of the same name penned by Markus Zusak. The film was directed by Brian Percival who has worked mostly in television and notably had directed six episodes of Downton Abbey. The screenplay was authored by Michael Petroni.

I was very pleased with the film, especially by the performances of the actors. Sophie Nelisse has the lead role as Liesel. She’s just 13 years old and is a French-Canadian from Quebec. She will capture your heart as this young girl who is sullen and withdrawn and struggling to come to grips with her situation which includes the death of her small brother, the abandonment by her mother, and her relocation to a new home, in a small town near Munich, and new parents as the film begins.

But she will emerge and surely brighten your day. Yes, this is a coming of age kind of film. Sophie will struggle to find a kind of normalcy in a place that is any thing but normal. This is a small German village in the late 1930’s. Children and adults are being shoehorned into a world of Nazis. Their blood-red flags are seen early and often. For most of the populace of this small town, resistance is but a concept, not a reality. Sophie who begins as an illiterate 11-year old child will be taught how to read and write by her new parents.

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