Monday, January 13, 2014

The Wolf of Wall Street review

Jonah Hill
     The Wolf of Wall Street (2013) has a familiar ring to it. It harkens back to the criminal antihero structures of Goodfellas (1990) and Casino (1995) without being as prescient or foreboding as Oliver Stone's Wall Street (1987) which gets at least one tip of the hat in Scorsese's sex, drugs and Elmore James-fueled romp through the underbelly of penny stock boiler rooms.

The biggest problem for me, next to the film's gargantuan and unwarranted length (scenes stretch on and on for what feels like an eternity), were the moments intended to shock and amuse (snorting cocaine out of a hooker's asshole) that seemed less grotesquely funny than some of the same bits of college humor I've already seen done more constructively in the Harold & Kumar (not to mention Jackass) franchise.

Everything in the film is intended to be real (stockbrokers flipping their clients off on the phone) yet comes off as flippant and cartoony because that's the way the characters and performances are drawn. There is a genuinely funny scene at a country club where DiCaprio (who for most of the film floats bewteen manic-De Niro, Sam Kinison and Carrot Top mode) can't get into a Lamborghini because he's just taken too many Quaaludes. Incidentally, DiCaprio has already picked up the Golden Globe for his performance.

The rest of the principle cast (introduced in similar Goodfellas roll-call narration fashion) is largely interchangeable with one another except for Jonah Hill whose Chiclet-toothed, Lawng Island-accented caricature overstays its welcome. I was most surprised to see Rob Reiner in an extended cameo that for me stole the whole film.

Jon Favreau, another actor cum director gets a small bit too, and seems to have come full circle from his breakout performance in Swingers (1996) where his character once extolled the virtues of a classic Scorsese film (as evidenced by the shit-eating grin the actor wears on his face the whole time he's on screen in The Wolf of Wall Street: I made it, Ma...I'm finally in a Scorsese movie...top of the world!!!).
 
Favreau, DiCaprio & Reiner
At least to his credit, DiCaprio does have one or two moments in the film that reminded me of his What's Eating Gilbert Grape (1993) potential. Unfortunately The Wolf of Wall Street makes me pine for lesser Scorsese works of recent years that were more artistically successful; films like The Aviator (2004) and Gangs of New York (2002) that were at least ambitious failures; unlike Best Picture winner The Departed (2006) which was an unambitious, overrated facsimile.

Still, the material here, straight from real-life ex-con Jordan Belfort's book (manufactured or otherwise) seemed destined for a Hollywood feature. If not Scorsese, than by some other less polished auteur. At least with Scorsese we get to hear a few snippets of Howlin' Wolf and Billy Joel on the soundtrack.

The truth is, I'm getting a little tired of new Scorsese films. I haven't been in awe or thoroughly enjoyed one since Casino, which at the time I felt was a little derivative of Goodfellas, which in turn could be considered a riff on Mean Streets (1973). Is Scorsese really just a jazz musician with a lens finder (does a film director even use a lens finder anymore)?

Are his latest offerings really just the fanciful mix-tapes of an expert musicologist? Could he really just be a great cover artist? If that's true, I guess it still makes him the Miles Davis of Hollywood. I just hope he has one more Bitches Brew left in him. Sadly, The Wolf of Wall Street feels more like another greatest hits compilation.

Marty's walls

     Several framed movie posters hang on the walls of Martin Scorsese's office, seen in this photograph published by The Hollywood Reporter: Vincente Minnelli's The Bad and the Beautiful (1952) and Billy Wilder's Sunset Blvd. (1950). Many consider these particular films (both early portrayals of Hollywood's dark side) to be two of the most culturally significant films in cinema history. There is another framed movie poster hanging in his office (not shown in this photo) of Jacques Tourneur's classic film noir Out of the Past (1947). Scorsese once called The Bad and the Beautiful

"the best drama about Hollywood's creative battles"

Films like these prove that some battles, creative or otherwise, are worth fighting. 

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