Tag Archives: Josh Brolin

Everest (2015)

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I never got into mountain-climbing and I have never really got why people would be so into it. That has definitely not changed after Everest, the true story of the 1996 commercial expedition to climb the world’s highest mountain.

It’s a well-knowing incident, but as this is Spoiler-free Reviews, I’m going to assume nothing. That said, the fact that a movie was made about it means everything obviously wasn’t smooth sailing.

The biggest draw card of Everest is the star-studded ensemble cast, one of the most impressive of the year. There’s Aussie Jason Clarke, who doesn’t put much effort into his Kiwi accent as New Zealand guide Rob Hall, and Kiera Knightley, who plays his pregnant wife. There’s Josh Brolin, who plays American climber Beck Weathers, with an almost unrecognisable (especially if you have been watching House of Cards) Robin Wright as his wife.

I would say those two are the primary focus, with supporting roles filled out by Jake Gyllenhaal, John Hawkes, Sam Worthington, Michael Kelly, Emily Watson, Martin Henderson and Elizabeth Debicki. It’s an impressive list, but it doesn’t feel like a film merely trying to attract audiences with big names.

The start of the film plays out like you would expect, educating us about Everest while introducing to us all the various characters. The problems with the film, however, emerge quickly after that.

The feeling I got was that Icelandic director Baltasar Kormákur tried too hard to make a film that is not only realistic but more importantly remains respectful to the real-life people involved in the incident. People often complain when a movie “based on a true story” deviates too far from what really happened, and Everest probably suffers from the reverse of that because it just feels like nothing particularly exciting actually happens. The decision to take very few liberties (at least this was the feeling I got from watching it) and sticking to facts inevitably takes a lot away from the movie experience. It actually made me wonder whether they should have just made a documentary with some dramatic re-enactments instead.

To be fair, it’s not an action movie and the film is much more about the dramatic elements and the psychological anguish than anything else. However, Everest doesn’t quite get that right either, as I felt it lacked the emotional punch I had been hoping for. It stems from the plodding narrative and the simple fact that there are too many characters to keep track of, thereby diluting the connection to each individual character and their respective predicaments.

And I don’t know if this only applied to me, but there were also times when I struggled to tell who was who because everyone was dressed in full snow gear with their faces covered and ice pelting down on them.

The result is a film that never comes close to heart-pounding suspense and moving drama it was marketed as having. Despite the great cast and solid performances all round, Everest ends up being a well-made and respectable true-story film but also ultimately a hollow affair.

3 stars out of 5

Sicario (2015)


Feels like a million years ago when Steven Soderbergh gave us Traffic, a gritty, dramatic thriller set in the world of drug trafficking. One thing that stood out from that awesome film was the performance of Benicio del Toro, who would go on to win Best Supporting Actor at the Oscars for the role.

Fast forward 15 years, and I’m pretty sure Del Toro has at least another Oscar nomination coming his way. Once again, he plays a pivotal role in a drug trafficking film, this time, Sicario, directed by Denis Villeneuve (Prisoners, Enemy, and the upcoming untitled Blade Runner sequel!).

I remember loving Traffic at the time, and I love Sicario. It’s one of the tensest, most heart-pounding thrillers I’ve seen in years. Fueled by three magnificent performances, a compelling plot and a dash of political intrigue, it’s the type of film that makes you forget how to breathe — in a good way.

Sicario, a term used to represent a Latin American cartel hitman, focuses on the brutal border war by US agents against drugs coming in from Mexico. The narrative is driven by FBI special agent Kate Macer (Emily Blunt), who gets in way over her head when she is recruited to join a mysterious unit headed by Matt Graver (Josh Brolin), a Department of Defense consultant. Along for the ride is another consultant played by Del Toro, whose purpose and motives appear to be quite murky.

From the very first sequence in the film you can tell it’s going to be one of those dark, morbid, gripping crime thrillers where lines are often blurred and crossed. The world depicted is brutal and unforgiving, and viewers need to be prepared for some very uncomfortable, chilling and terrifying moments. Villeneuve adopts tactics that are often seen in horror movies, with no shortage of grotesque images, great use of atmospheric silence, and loud artillery noises that can make you jump out of your seat at any second. The tension is executed so well that even during the slower moments you’re still on edge because you remain fearful that something terrible might happen.

All of this ugliness is contrasted by some magnificent cinematography (Academy Awards, take note) by Roger Deakins, who already has 12 Oscar nominations to his name including Shawshank, Fargo, No Country for Old Men, Skyfall, Prisoner and Unbroken. The sprawling aerial shots of Mexico, the desert landscapes, the desolate night views — it brings a quiet beauty that accentuates all the relentless violence and death. Some of the images in this film have been etched deep into my memory.

Another thing worth noting is the film’s use of sound and music. Sicario has a haunting soundtrack by Jóhann Jóhannsson (The Theory of Everything) that’s extremely effective because of how minimalist it is. Each beat adds to the adrenaline without being overwhelming or taking the attention away from the story at hand.

What really makes Sicario stand out, however, is Villeneuve’s ability to humanise each character, no matter which side they are on. Everyone has a weakness, a vulnerability that others exploit. Good and bad is not clear cut — it’s more a matter of your individual point of view, and doing what you think is right and what it takes to survive.

Full credit to Blunt, Brolin and Del Toro for their riveting performances and the casting department in getting it right. After Edge of Tomorrow, it’s easy to see Blunt as a badass, and I love her complex mix of courage and fear as a woman in the man’s world of drug cartels. It really brings a different perspective and tone to the story.

Brolin’s of course solid as always, and he gets to be a little more laid back than we’re accustomed to seeing him as of late. But it is of course Del Toro who steals the show — as much as the show can be stolen from the other two — with his typical “what the hell is he thinking” facial expressions and brooding, physical presence. The dude is just an absolute legend and I can’t wait to see what he brings to the table in Star Wars Episode VIII!

I’ve been racking my brain to try and think of things I didn’t like about this movie. I can’t. It’s not the easiest movie to watch or the most entertaining movie out there, but just everything about Sicario is borderline masterful; I loved the performances, the stylish direction, the cinematography, the sounds, and above all the numbing tension. It is without a doubt one of the year’s best films.

4.75 stars out of 5

Movie Review: Sin City: A Dame to Kill For (2014)

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It’s hard to believe, but Sin City, the mini masterpiece based on Frank Miller’s graphic novels, was released back in 2005. It was stylistic, brutal, violent, lurid, sexual, and unlike anything we had seen before. It was obvious that a sequel was forthcoming, though no one expected that it would be another nine years before Sin City: A Dame to Kill For would take hit the big screen.

A lot has happened over the last nine years, including the release of several comparable movies, most of which have not been very memorable. As a result, much of the anticipation that would have come from a Sin City sequel had it been made immediately after the original has dissipated. Without the advantages of surprise, novelty and unique visuals, Sin City 2 never really had a chance to live up to its predecessor. The fact that it was a box office flop confirmed my suspicions.

That said, I still had quite a good time with this one. I only remember bits and pieces of the original, and I am glad to say it did not matter all that much. Again, it’s more about the style than the substance, the titillation than the emotion. And there’s nothing wrong with that.

Sin City 2 brings back some old faces and introduces some new ones in essentially two separate stories of revenge. The first one revolves around Josh Brolin’s character Dwight,  a tough guy still smitten with the woman who broke his heart. The woman, Ava, is played by the smoking Eva Green, who does an excellent job of making audiences believe that she is indeed a dame who can make a man kill for her. Other characters in this story are played by Rosario Dawson, Jamie King, Ray Liotta, Christopher Meloni, Jeremy Piven, Dennis Haysbert (President David Palmer from 24!) and Jamie Chung.

The second story focuses on Joseph Gordon-Levitt, a cocky young gambler who seems to always have luck on his side — that is until he runs into ruthless crime boss Senator Roark (Powers Boothe), the father of the Yellow Bastard from the first film. Bruce Willis returns in what is essentially a cameo, and Jessica Alba does slightly more this time than just dance without stripping, though not much more.

Both stories are interesting in their own way, but they don’t have much of a connection other than Mickey Rourke’s character Marv, who appears throughout as a bridge between the different acts. I think that the scattered narrative was also the approach in the original, but for some reason I remember it to be darker, more violent and more captivating.

The sequel’s still a very stylish film that emulates a lot of what made the original successful, including visuals featuring animation, black and white spliced with an eye-catching primary colour, and loads of bone-crunching violence to go with the squishy sound effects. The characters are comic book caricatures, but they’re very intriguing caricatures played by great actors. Despite possessing so many of the same elements as its predecessor, however, the impact this time around is just not the same.

To be honest I think the film would have worked much better had it be turned into a late-night TV series, with each act representing one 30-minute episode. As a 102-minute feature it just felt like they were forcing several unrelated stories into an uncomfortable package that doesn’t even try to live up the the hype and anticipation built up over the last nine years. Still, as someone who really enjoyed the original I must say I didn’t mind the sequel at all, as un-epic as it was. All style and very little substance rarely works, but in the case of Sin City: A Dame to Kill For it’s about as good as it can get.

3.5 stars out of 5

2013 Movie Blitz: Part III

Diana (2013)

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Sixteen years after her tragic death, someone finally decided to make a big Princess Diana movie. But of all the types of films that could have been made, director Oliver Hirschbiegel (The Invasion) went for a sappy, melodramatic borefest that focuses on a very short period of her life.

Look, Diana is not as bad as some critics have made it out to be (ie, worst movie of the year), but it has been understandably panned because of expectations. Based on the book Diana: Her Last Love by Kate Snell, the film targets the tumultuous love affair between Diana (Naomi Watts) and British Pakistani doctor Hasnat Khan (Naveen Andrews, henceforth referred to as Sayid from Lost!!!).

So basically, the movie starts after Diania has divorced Prince Charles (who’s not even in it) and ends at her death a couple of years later. It suggests that she really only went out with Dodi Fayed, her last boyfriend, because she was trying to make Sayid jealous (and you don’t want to do that to Sayid!).

The problem with the movie is not that it is a romance. The problem is that it’s a very boring romance. They eat, they talk, the have sex, then they fight because Sayid doesn’t like the attention that comes with dating the most famous woman in the world. Then she wins him back, and the same cycle continues.

Naomi Watts delivers a good, albeit unconvincing performance as Princess Diana. By that I mean she did her best with the hair and the mannerisms and so forth, but she still looked and felt like Naomi Watts to me. Sayid, on the other hand, was great – at torturing people, that is — this time with boring conversations and tamper tantrums.

People who go into Diana thinking they are watching a biopic about the Princess’s life will be bitterly disappointed because it’s actually a romance that spans for just two years of her life, with the only other thing it touches upon being her fight against eradicating land mines. People who go into the film knowing all of this will still be disappointed because it’s crap.

2 stars out of 5

Oldboy (2013)

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I haven’t seen the original Korean version of Oldboy, which is based on a Japanese manga and widely regarded as a cult classic, but by all accounts it is miles better than Spike Lee’s US version, one of the biggest critical and box office bombs of 2013.

The premise behind Oldboy is fascinating enough, which is why I guess they decided to adapt it for American audiences. A fat douchebag played by Josh Brolin is imprisoned in a hotel room for reasons unknown to him for a whopping 20 years, with nothing but basic amenities and a TV set. When he is eventually set free after doing nothing except preparing for vengeance, he goes on a violent spree to find out who ruined his life, and why.

The problem with Oldboy is that the tone of it is all over the place and never feels quite right. It’s a crazy premise with a lot of gaps in logic and common sense, and the film can’t figure out whether it wants to be realistic or surreal. There are moments when the film feels like a comical farce, such as when Brolin takes on whole gangs of goons, but there are other times when the film feels dead serious and very disturbing.

And as for the mystery itself, though it keeps up the film’s intrigue factor it’s not really anything mindblowing, and the motivations actually turn out to be quite simple in the end. That said, the whole process of getting to that point is so ludicrous that the film falls apart when it is revealed why Brolin was imprisoned for so long. You also know that there is of course a twist, but it’s pretty easy to guess if you ask me.

Brolin is a good actor so you know he delivers here, but physically and with his performance, but it’s surprising how little he ages over the course of the 20 years, looking old when he went in and young when he came out. Elizabeth Olsen (younger sister of the twins), who was brilliant in Martha Marcy May Marlene, is also very good but feels underutilized as this is such a male-dominated movie. In terms of the supporting cast, I was surprised to see Sharlto Copley put on a fake British accent, but I was very happy to see Samuel L Jackson launch some of his patented expletives while being tortured.

I don’t know if I will see the Korean original now that I’ve seen Lee’s version, but my guess is that if you’ve seen the Korean version you should avoid the American one. I don’t deny that Oldboy starts off on a fascinating note and is occasionally entertaining, but there were simply too many obvious problems with it for me to be fully engaged with it.

2.75 stars out of 5

PS: I find it interesting that both Lee and Brolin were annoyed that the studio cut the film from its original length of 140 minutes, which they believed was a superior version, to a more manageable 105 minutes. Perhaps a director’s cut will better do the film justice.

Fruitvale Station (2013)

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I remember seeing a shaky, grainy video of a young black man being pinned down and then shot by police a few years back, but like many of these viral videos it was quickly shifted to the back of my mind. Little did I know that the short piece of footage would go on to inspire a critically-acclaimed film that would in the Grand Jury Prize and the Audience Award for US dramatic film at 2013 Sundance.

Fruitvale Station, written and directed by Ryan Coogler (in his feature debut), tells of the story of what happened to 22-year-old Oscar Grant on the final day of his life. It could have easily been boring, or worse, melodramatic and manipulative, but instead Coogler has produced a powerful film driven by a dynamic performance from Michael B Jordan (whom I had seen recently in the underrated Chronicle).

The impressive thing about Fruitvale Station is that the events leading up to the shooting, which take up the vast majority of the 85-minute running time, do not feel like pointless filler. We get to learn what kind of person Oscar Grant is, what he has been through and what he has ahead of him. He isn’t painted as some kind of hero or flawless guy – he’s just a normal African American male from a disadvantaged background trying to get through life and be there for his young daughter.

There is a sense of inevitability running through the first part of the film, but it conjures up a feeling of dread rather than predictability. And when Oscar and his friends are accosted by police at Fruitvale Station, the “incident” itself is handled with a lot of raw emotion but also even-handedness. It doesn’t try to portray the cops as super evil or play up the race angle – it’s just one of those things where egos got the better of both sides and someone ended up doing something incredibly stupid and tragic.

I don’t know how accurate the film is compared to the real events, though some have criticized the film for inaccuracies and omissions, arguably to drive the filmmaker’s agenda for victim’s rights. All I can say is that from what I have seen, Fruitvale Station is a very impressive debut, a devastating, poignant drama that goes far beyond what was captured on a mobile phone camera back in 2009.

4 stars out of 5

Despicable Me 2 (2013)

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I was pleasantly surprised by the first Despicable Me, which, like many recent animated features, decided to focus on a villain (voiced by Steve Carrell) who’s not really such a bad guy. It was funny enough in places, sweet because of the little kids he eventually adopts, and cute because of those crazy minions, who are about to get their own spin-off movie.

Despicable Me 2 did not have to be made, but the success of the original guaranteed it. It follows on from the first film, with Carrell’s ex-villain, Gru, trying to juggle the responsibilities of looking after three little girls (Margo, Edith and Agnes). To get the ball rolling, the writers went for the most obvious plot device, which is to get the authorities (in this case the Anti-Villain League, or AVL) to recruit Gru and his villainous talents to help them catch a new villain.

I didn’t find Despicable Me 2 as funny as the first one. The story, largely surrounding Gru and his potential love interest Lucy (voiced by Kristen Wiig), felt a little forced, and the attempts at humour appeared more geared towards younger audiences.

People who like the minions will get a kick out of this one, but personally I think a lot of their charisma has already dried up because it’s obvious they are trying too hard to be cute. Even the efforts to make the trio of little girls sweet may have gone overboard, making the overall tone of the film somewhat saccharine.

I’m surprised the film has been nominated for Best Animated Feature at the Oscars this year. I’m not saying that it’s bad, but for me it was just serviceable and at best a fairly average sequel that’s clearly just trying to cash in.

2.75 stars out of 5

Movie Review: True Grit (2010)

They say remakes seldom better the original, but it’s hard to imagine the 1969 John Wayne classic (which I haven’t seen) being better than the new version from my favourite filmmaking duo.  True Grit is vintage Coen Brothers, more No Country For Old Men than The Big Lebowski but still funny and quirky.  And when it comes to dialogue, human interactions and suspense, few can compare with Joel and Ethan Coen.

Based on Charles Portis’s 1968 novel of the same name, this version of True Grit is supposedly truer to the original source.  It tells the story of young Mattie Ross (Hailee Steinfeld), a wise-beyond-her-years 14-year-old who seeks to avenge the death of her father by tracking down and killing Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin).  To do so, she seeks the assistance of Rooster Cogburn (Jeff Bridges), a merciless but drunk and out-of-shape Deputy US Marshal.  Tagging along for the ride is Texas Ranger LaBoeuf (Matt Damon), who is chasing Chaney for an unrelated crime.

I’m not usually a fan of Westerns, but True Grit had me hooked from the beginning.  It moves with at a pace similar to No Country, which might be on the slow side for some, but whichever way you look at this film — whether it’s the screenplay, the performances or the direction — it’s top notch.  And all through out was that trademark Coen Brothers touch, that unexpected, random hilarity that I can never get enough of.

Jeff Bridges and Matt Damon were expectedly excellent (as were Josh Brolin and Barry Pepper in smaller roles), but it was the remarkable performance of young Hailee Steinfeld that carried the film from start to finish.  Good to see that she received an Oscar nomination, but how it was for Best Supporting Actress as opposed to Best Actress (considering she was in just about every scene) beats the hell out of me.

My only complaint was that it felt like the film needed subtitles at times because of the excessive mumbling (mostly by Jeff Bridges) which made the conversations difficult to follow.  But apart from that, an awesome experience.

4.25 stars out of 5

End of Year DVD Blitz: Part I

I’ve been watching too many movies lately and I don’t have the time or energy to review them one by one…and hence, here is my ‘End of Year DVD Blitz’…Part I!

Do you remember when Jonah Hex seemed like a promising film?

Jonah Hex (2010)

 

I remember when I first saw the trailer for this comic adaptation starring Josh Brolin, Megan Fox and John Malkovich and thought it was going to be one of the biggest blockbusters of the year.  And I waited and waited for its release until the entire film vanished in a puff of smoke and never made it Australian cinemas.  Somehow, Jonah Hex, a film that cost $47 million and featured three big stars, went straight to DVD.

After watching this fantasy western, I can see why.  Jonah Hex, the titular character, is a scarred hero who is after revenge and killing bad guys.  Megan Fox plays herself as a crackwhore.  Even John Malkovich couldn’t save this mess of a film, which was all over the place, confusing and unengaging.  There were some visually impressive elements, a few good ideas and several valiant attempts at action sequences, but on the whole Jonah Hex was an uneven failure, which is a shame considering how much promise it appeared to have.

2 stars out of 5

Lots of great posters for Pandorum, but this is my favourite

Pandorum (2009)

Here’s an underrated sci-fi horror that few may have heard of, but it’s a good one for hardcore fans.

Not an entirely original premise — Earth is running out of natural resources and send a colony of humans to the only Earth-like planet they’ve found in the galaxy.  But as usual, something goes wrong, and when Ben Foster and Dennis Quaid wake up from their hypersleep (or whatever it is), the ship has become a dangerous survival ground.

Pandorum works well as a dark, atmospheric and thrilling sci-fi action horror.  It’s entertaining, frightening and sickening, and it’s made stylishly, with good performances (including from German babe Antje Traue and MMA star Cung Le) and special effects all round.

Some might find it derivative or a bit ‘out there’ for them, but for me, it’s exactly the type of film that I can really get into and enjoy.

4 stars out of 5

The Japanese poster for this movie made it look fairly good

Tekken (2010)

The first ever game I got on my PS2 back in the day was Tekken.  I never thought it was a great game, but I was still intrigued when I heard that Americans had decided to make a film about it.  Street Fighter, Mortal Kombat — I don’t know what possessed me to watch this one, but I guess I deserved what I got in the end.

Tekken was horrible horrible.  Horrible.  It stars a British, half-Asian martial arts guy by the name of John Foo, who decides to enter  the ‘Iron Fist’ (in Japanese that’s ‘Tekken’) tournament for revenge.  His mother is one of the ladies from The Joy Luck Club (Tamlyn Tomita) and his love interest is the lovely Kelly Overton (mostly from TV), also a contestant in the tournament.  And one of the bros from Bros (Luke Goss) is his ‘sponsor’.

There was basically no plot, just a bunch of okay-choreographed fights and guys and girls looking pretty.  The script, seriously, was like a ninth grade school project.  The acting was awful, but I blame a lot of that on the dialogue.  Except for John Foo.  In a world where everyone spoke in American accents, including his mother, this guy couldn’t even make an effort to disguise his distinctive British bite.

No wonder Katsuhiro Harada, director of the video game series, tweeted that he thought the film was a piece of crap.

1 star out of 5

 

You're the loser

The Losers (2010)

Another comic book adaptation, one that didn’t look particularly interesting to me.  However, The Losers is fun, and it doesn’t pretend to be anything more than popcorn entertainment.  I read that the film drew comparisons to The A-Team, but I actually thought this was better.

Yes, it’s silly, over the top, and the characters take themselves way too seriously, but the action is good and the laughs are decent — plus there is one saving grace, which I will get to shortly.  The Losers stars Jeffrey Dean Morgan (Watchmen), Zoe Saldana (Avatar) and Chris Evans (Push), and the absolute standout — Jason Patric, who is simply hilarious as the villain.  I haven’t seen Patric in such terrific form since that sauna scene from Your Friends and Neighbors, which I have taken the liberty of posting below.

The Losers is a slightly above average comic book action movie, but including the extra half-star just for Jason Patric, I’m gonna give it 3.5 stars out of 5

There’s going to be at least two more instalments in this DVD Blitz.  At least.  Stay tuned.  Anyway, here is Jason Patric from Your Friends and Neighbors.


Movie Review: Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps (2010)

Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps (let’s just call it Wall Street 2) is one of those sequels that probably didn’t have to be made.  It’s well-made with good performances and all, and it takes advantage of the GFC to tell a story, but at the end of the day, it didn’t have a whole lot to offer.

The plot is relatively simple.  Gordon Gekko (Michael Douglass) is released from prison after his misdeeds from the first film.  Jacob Moore (Shia LaBeouf) is a stock broker (the ‘new’ Charlie Sheen) dating Gekko’s daughter Winnie (Carey Mulligan).  Josh Brolin is some ambitious rich dude from a big bank.  Throw in the GFC and some Oliver Stone mastery, and there’s your movie.

For me, what made the first Wall Street so memorable was that trading floor intensity, that cut-throat environment, the making and breaking of fortunes in an instant — essentially, the adrenaline rush of Wall Street (the street, not the film).  I didn’t get any sense of that in Wall Street 2, even though, 23 years after the original, there were a lot more zeros at the end of all the numbers.  For the majority of the 127 minute running time, the film felt slow, flat and uninvolving.  We all knew what was going to happen.  That didn’t mean the story couldn’t be exciting, but I never really got into it.  Maybe it was because I just had no sympathy for any of the characters.

Gordon Gekko is a terrific character, and it was an interesting angle to see him rejoining a society that appeared to have moved on without him.  Michael Douglass injects that same slickness into the character he did 23 years ago, but makes him an even more sad and pathetic man this time.  That said, I still knew what was going to happen, and was not at all surprised by the turns in the film.

Shia LaBeouf felt wrong for the part.  I liked him in Disturbia and thought he was well-suited to Transformers, but I couldn’t picture him in this role.  To me, he still seemed too young, too scrawny, too juvenile.  Don’t get me wrong, I still think he is a terrific actor, but he didn’t convince me as Jacob.

As for Carey Mulligan, well, she played a pretty thankless character.  I know she’s the next big thing but I didn’t like her in this movie.  Again, solid performance, but I had no sympathy for her as Gekko’s daughter.  And she always had these retarded expressions on her face that really irritated me.

The standout had to be Josh Brolin.  The dude can flat out act and he was by far the most interesting character in the whole film.

So as I said at the start of this review, Wall Street 2 didn’t have to be made.  It was well-executed, well-acted and provided an insight into the nature of greed at one of the most tumultuous economic times in history — but for me, it didn’t add anything to the Wall Street legacy, and it wasn’t much more than average.

Oh, and I hated the ending.

2.75 stars out of 5