By Marc S. Sanders

You People has me wondering how we could have stepped so mind bogglingly far back in social tolerance and understanding.  I give people far more credit than the foundations that Jonah Hill and Kenya Barris, who wrote the film together, describe in this movie.  (Barris directed, as well.) People cannot be this cruel and stupid, can they?  Someone give me hope! Give me assurances, please!!!!!

You People is a send up of the Meet The Parents formula, or more specifically Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner? In the latter example, an African-American doctor is brought to the home of his Caucasian fiancée to be introduced to her parents.  Later, the woman meets his parents.  There is an understandable sense of surprise for the characters in both scenarios.  Yet, none of the parties carry the instinct to embarrass each other or allow them an opportunity to lie just to impress and speak with moronic naivety.  The film was never catered for big laughs, but rather more towards awareness and understanding. 

With a cast that includes Jonah Hill, along with Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Eddie Murphy, all well known for huge comedic achievements, You People is designed for the laugh out loud moments.  That’s great.  It sounds very promising, and it was a movie I was looking forward to watching.  However, did the comedy have to come at the expense of stereotyping Black Muslims as angry and intimidating and freely dropping the N-word, while White Jews are dumb, ill informed, clumsy lying cocaine users?

The pattern of Barris’ film is very structured.  For every scene of father-in-law to be Eddie Murphy paired with Jonah Hill, there is also a scene on the other side of mother-in-law to be Julia Louis-Dreyfus paired with Lauren London, portraying Hill’s fiancé.  Murphy does his comedic best in expression and stature with or without dark sunglasses on, while Hill sits very uncomfortably next to him, whether it is in the car or at his bachelor party getaway in Las Vegas where his buddies ask him to call his cocaine dealer.  Cuz, you know, all Jewish guys have a go-to cocaine dealer on speed dial. 

Julia Louis-Dreyfus does her comedic best trying to impress Lauren London by acting aware of what a black person has had to endure and over-complimenting her hairstyles and appearance.  She’s ready to go all “Karen” at the front desk of a luxury spa when she suspects racial discrimination towards London’s appearance.  Later, she will commit slapstick sin by accidentally pulling off the hair weave extensions of one of London’s friends.

I refer to comedic best because the two SNL alumni are so good on camera even if their script is nothing but insulting junk, devoid of validity.  Their expressions are reminiscent of Murphy’s best stand up routines and Louis-Dreyfus’ hilarious sitcom portrayals.  However, these collection of scenes are written with an obnoxiously overabundance of cringe and discomfort.  How these characters treat one another is utterly disgraceful.

Upon an initial meeting at the dinner table, a comparison of suffrage by means of black slavery vs the Holocaust is brought up.  You know what?  Neither incident within our world history is worse than the other.  They’re both horrendous and could never merit comparison.  Yet, here they are being presented as punchlines for outrageous comedy in terms of one upmanship.  Murphy’s character, along with Nia Long as his wife, will announce their admiration for Louis Farrakhan, while Julia Louis-Dreyfus will point out the speaker’s antisemitic doctrines.  In response, she will accidentally light fire to Murphy’s prized Muslim hat gifted by the minister.  If I were to translate this mathematically, Black Muslims celebrating antisemitic gospel equates to White Jews as insensitive klutzes. 

You People is nothing but one insulting moment after another.  In every scene, someone is the punchline at the expense of the writers’ unfair and incorrect blanket approach categorization for what these two demographics must be like. What a huge misfire. 

These are some of my favorite comedic actors.  Lauren London even looks like she can hold her own in scenes with her co-stars.  The potential for talent is hard to match here.  There could have been debates as to who should officiate the wedding and what themes the reception should have, or what the bride and groom should wear. Imagine an argument over the cake topper.  Actually, as I recall there are moments like this in the film.  Nevertheless, they dwindle into conclusions that demonstrate Black Muslims should be feared while White Jews are clueless morons. 

As a conservative Caucasian Jew myself, none of what is depicted in You People could be further from the truth.  I’ve known a few Muslim people and I never caught this kind of vibe from them or who they associate with, or what they practice.  I’ve also never felt uncomfortable in their presence.

The failure of this film lies within the insensitivity of its ignorant script.  This movie could have demonstrated a clash of cultures.  Instead, it relies on moments to squirm at uncomfortably with some of the worst people any of us could ever know.

The next time Jonah Hill and Kenya Barris want to make a movie, they need to read a book and speak with who they select for their subject matter.  Even better, just turn on the camera and let Eddie Murphy and Julia Louis-Dreyfus start talking…about anything!  They are far more intelligent and creative than anything on display here.


By Marc S. Sanders

When a person carries on with his/her life knowing full well that practically every action is illegal, immoral and harmful, it’s a story that must be told. Jordan Belfort, The Wolf Of Wall Street is such a person.

Leonardo DiCaprio explodes with rages of drug use, drinking, more drug use, banging prostitutes, even more drug use and pink slip stock trading along with some drug use. To get this manic, this wild, and this crazy requires a certain kind of energy to perform. The real Jordan Belfort must have had a massive amount of stamina to live this life. After all, he’s still alive today. DiCaprio, portraying the on-screen persona, throws himself into it. There’s no way he got to this pinnacle of hyperactivity on cue, with director Martin Scorsese’s call for action. DiCaprio had to thrust himself into this debauchery. It takes a certain skill to not let up on this. Pay attention to a hilarious scene where his quaaludes have paralyzed him to the point where he can’t even crawl to, much less open the door to his car. It’s a hilarious display of crippling physicality. DiCaprio maxed out on his Belfort portrayal, thereby earning his Oscar nomination. I thought he should have won that year. He lost to his cameo co-star, an excellent Matthew McConaughey for Dallas Buyers Club.

DiCaprio is so good that he yanks the entire cast into comparable craziness as well. Jonah Hill plays Jordan’s sidekick Donny: a buffoon of a guy who’ll whip out his member at inopportune times for attention and display. Hill doesn’t hold back either in his earned second nomination as well.

Scorsese, with a script by Terrance Winter based on Belfort’s book, is not concerned with necessarily showing a story arc where characters question their actions. Instead, he focuses on the hubris of all of this. Crashed helicopters, crashed cars, crashed planes and crashed luxury yachts not to mention endless office orgies, including one in first class on a commercial flight to Switzerland. It’s filmed very well, and while it is one over the top thing after another, it is nonetheless very funny and very entertaining.

The nerve of this guy, right? Yet that’s the thing about The Wolf Of Wall Street. Right from the get-go, Belfort is strongly urged to let up as the FBI easily closes in, and he doesn’t. It’s kinda crazy, really. Belfort put himself in an unwinnable situation and his addiction to money, drugs, ridiculous sex, and the ease by which he does it all calls to him to stay in the game until the lights just turn off.

This film marked the highly visible introduction of Margot Robbie as Jordan’s wife. She’s excellent with a New York accent (Robbie’s Australian) who loves the money and glamour but is not so stupid. Following up with a nominated role in I, Tonya (which she should have won against an aggravating Frances McDormand in Three Billboards…) and offering the best moments of Suicide Squad, it is easy to believe that she could go toe to toe with DiCaprio here. They have great arguments on screen together; funny but true.

Scorsese offers up his signature narrative voiceover from DiCaprio just as he did before in Goodfellas and Casino. His editor Thelma Schoonmaker is great at keeping the energy alive by taking advantage of the legendary director’s quick cuts and great music samplings.

The cast is just right with memorable moments from Jon Bernthal as Jordan’s tough guy friend and errand boy, Brad. (Bernthal is a great character actor all together. Check him out in Baby Driver, too.). Kyle Chandler is the modest element as the FBI agent who brings it all down. He knows he doesn’t have to exert himself too much. Belfort is doing all the work for him. Still, he spells it out harshly and honestly. No bullshit. He just cuts to the chase.

Other great appearances include Rob Reiner, Jon Favreau, Jean Dujardin, Joanna Lumley and I have to recognize Stephanie Kurtzuba. She offers a scene not widely recognized, as a disciple of Belfort’s team who is full of pomp, and confidence that far exceeds any of the guys alongside her. It occurs midway through and it’s an important moment because it really shows the power of influence Belfort had with his stockbrokers. He made them criminal millionaires overnight and to them he’s a Messiah. When Kurtzuba’s moment occurs, she solidifies the power of Belfort’s misdeeds.

It’s very easy to succumb to this lifestyle. Scorsese and Winter show how easily and quickly lots of unclaimed cash can be made at the expense of innocent people. It’s really fascinating. There’s no dimension to Belfort and his cronies of losers who would follow him anywhere despite the cost and the damage. That’s okay for me here. Simply because it fascinates me that he had the chutzpah to continue on with this immoral trajectory.

The Wolf Of Wall Street is a no holds barred, great film.


by Miguel E. Rodriguez

Director: Bennett Miller
Cast: Brad Pitt, Jonah Hill, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Robin Wright, Chris Pratt
My Rating: 9/10
Rotten Tomatometer: 94% Certified Fresh

PLOT: The general manager of the Oakland A’s attempts to assemble a winning team on a lean budget by employing computer-generated analysis to acquire new players.

On paper, Moneyball should not work as a movie. What have you got?  A feel-good sports story about the 2002 Oakland A’s utilizing the science of statistics to assemble the right combination of players to get them into the playoffs.

I mean, really?  Specifics aside, a Cinderella story about an underdog sports team trying to make it to the big game is one of the oldest, most predictable tropes in film.  Shall I count them off? Major League, The Bad News Bears, Bull Durham, The Mighty Ducks, Little Giants, Cool Runnings, Hoosiers…need I go on?

And in Moneyball, we barely even get to see any baseball action itself.  The movie is more concerned with the behind-the-scenes action, beating the trade deadline, shaking up the scouting crew, trying to get the manager to believe in the new system.  We don’t really see any major baseball action until we get close to the finale.

[SPOILER ALERT…unless you’re a HUGE baseball fan, in which case you were already aware of this.]

And let’s talk about that finale, while we’re at it.  The A’s make it to the 2002 ALDS elimination game, and what happens?  They LOSE.  Say what???

So why, oh why, does Moneyball work the way it does?

…no, really, I’m asking.  Because I’m not 100% sure myself.  Let me just tick off my thoughts as they occur to me here.

  1. There’s the screenplay.  Here’s some good advice: when you want to make a movie about a potentially dry subject, get both Steven Zaillian AND Aaron Sorkin to write your script.  The pace of the movie is stately, even sedate, but the dialogue is crisp, clean, and precise, getting to the point as efficiently as possible without being flashy.  In one memorable scene, someone walks up to the General Manager’s office and says just one word: “Peña,” and then walks away.  The GM takes it in, says, “Okay”, and calmly stands and flips his desk over.  The whole thing is over in 15 seconds.  I can imagine another movie wasting a lot of time with extra words or edits, but not “Moneyball.”  (SPARTAN.  That’s the word I’m thinking of.  The dialogue is spartan.)
  2. There’s the editing.  The dialogue is sleek and uncluttered, but there is a lot of information that has to be conveyed to those audience members who may not know what a box score is, or what a DH is, or why Billy Beane (the GM, played by Brad Pitt) doesn’t CARE whether his new first baseman can even field the ball properly, as long as he gets ON BASE when he’s batting.  Rather than use flashy editing to generate false suspense or excitement, the Oscar-nominated editors use more of that spartan vibe, with occasional jumps to real-world film clips of the actual team or individual players.  This is especially helpful when the film’s middle section details the woeful first half of the season under the new statistics-based system.  Again, not flashy, but effective.  Very hard to pull off, and deservedly recognized.
  3. There’s the structure…which I guess points back to both the screenplay and editing, but I’m just saying.  As I said, it’s a classic, well-worn trope.  Good guys get knocked down for the count – the A’s flat-out suck for the first half of the season – but then they suddenly start winning games and crawling back into contention.  As many of these films that I’ve seen, I still found myself unwittingly getting caught up in the spirit of the comeback.  In actual fact, the 2002 season is the one where the real Oakland A’s threatened to break the American League record for longest winning streak.  And it all comes down to one at-bat in the bottom of the ninth.  Because of COURSE it does.
  4. …and that sort of brings up another point.  Is there another sport that has as much innate mythology as baseball?  Sure, football has its share of comeback stories, and so does hockey and everything else.  But with baseball…lemme tell you.  A few years ago when the Chicago Cubs were on the verge of winning their first World Series in a hundred-and-eight years, I watched Game 7, rooting for the Cubs.  For those Cubs fans who watched as well, you’ll recall: that game was unmerciful.  The Cubs blew a three-run lead, they ended nine innings in a 6-6 tie, and then there was a RAIN DELAY before the 10th inning started.  But I will never forget that moment when the Cubs made the final out, and they wound up winning 8-7.  It was glorious.  …well, watching Moneyball, watching that section when the A’s are creeping up to winning twenty games in a row, I found myself grinning and laughing spontaneously, without even realizing I was doing it, and I remembered what it was like to watch the Cubs win.  And a big part of it has to do with that unexplainable psychic connection we have to the game itself, that sense of the romantic when someone clobbers a game-winning homer, or makes a dramatic catch to save a no-hitter, or when a relief pitcher retires the side with bases loaded.  I’m not a true baseball fan, I’ll admit…but I know good drama when it happens.  Moneyball gets that aspect of the game just right.

(I haven’t even mentioned the sterling performances from the principal actors, particularly Jonah Hill, who nabbed an acting nomination for one of the most underplayed characters in history.)

In the end, Moneyball is exactly like the Oakland A’s in the film.  It’s an unlikely combination of talent that generated surprising results and was critically acclaimed, gathering six Oscar nods.  It failed to win a single Oscar…much like the A’s were eventually eliminated from the playoffs in 2002.

But in the end, it’s not the shutout at the Oscars that I remember.  It’s the fact that this is still one of the best sports movies I’ve ever seen, and definitely one of the top 2 or 3 baseball films I’ve ever seen.