The Wolf of Wall Street reviews

Mister Tee
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Re: The Wolf of Wall Street reviews

Postby Mister Tee » Tue Dec 17, 2013 11:49 am

Variety

Old-school Scorsese style and an unhinged Leonardo DiCaprio juice a cynical tale of Wall Street bad boys behaving badly.

Scott Foundas
Chief Film Critic@foundasonfilm

Even Gordon Gekko looks like a veritable lap dog compared to Jordan Belfort, the self-proclaimed “Wolf of Wall Street” whose coked-up, pill-popping, high-rolling shenanigans made him a multi-millionaire at age 26, a convicted felon a decade later, and a bestselling author and motivational speaker a decade after that. Now, Belfort’s riches-to-slightly-less-riches tale has been brought to the screen by no less a connoisseur of charismatic sociopaths than Martin Scorsese, and the result is a big, unruly bacchanal of a movie that huffs and puffs and nearly blows its own house down, but holds together by sheer virtue of its furious filmmaking energy and a Leonardo DiCaprio star turn so electric it could wake the dead.

Arriving six weeks past its original November release date and still showing signs of editing-room haste, “Wolf” should ride a high want-to-see factor and generally admiring reviews to solid holiday B.O., though its length and extreme content may keep the reportedly $100 million production from reaching the rarefied aerie of “The Departed” ($289 million worldwide) and “Shutter Island” ($294 million worldwide).

After going unexpectedly kid-friendly for 2011’s “Hugo” (his first PG movie in two decades), Scorsese could hardly have followed with a more dramatic about-face than “Wolf,” which skirts the very outer limits of the R rating with its nonstop barrage of drug-fueled decadence, all put across with a sinister smile. In the first reel alone, which aptly sets the tone for what’s to come, Belfort (DiCaprio) can be seen snorting coke off a prostitute’s backside, getting fellated while driving his white Ferrari, and nearly crashing his private helicopter while high on a homemade cocktail of Quaaludes, Xanax and morphine (the last one “because it’s awesome”). If some of the advance hype suggested that “Wolf” was going to be a kind of “Goodfellas” on Wall Street, in reality it’s more like the jittery, paranoid third act of that movie stretched out to three hours, starting at a fever pitch and heading toward the nuclear.

In the prologue to “Wolf,” the first of two volumes of memoirs, Belfort wrote that he hoped his story would serve as “a cautionary tale to the rich and poor alike,” though there was little in the 500 pages that followed (or in the cover line, “I partied like a rock star, lived like a king”) that suggested contrition. Nor have Scorsese and screenwriter Terence Winter brought any retroactive moralizing to bear on the material. Rather, they take Belfort on his own questionable terms, seeking to reproduce the atmosphere of crazed, alpha-male intensity that engulfed the trading floor at Stratton Oakmont, the Belfort-founded brokerage house which, in “Wolf,” comes to resemble a Boschian Rome before the fall. It is the sort of office where a bathroom placard kindly reminds everyone not to engage in intercourse on the premises during office hours — right where the “Employees Must Wash Hands” sign usually goes.

The movie begins in medias res, with Belfort and his devoted minions blowing off steam in an office dwarf-tossing competition, before flashing back to give us a brief glimpse of the young and relatively innocent Jordan, who arrives on Wall Street in the fall of 1987 as a “connector” — basically a glorified phone dialer — for the old-money trading firm of L.F. Rothschild. It’s there that the eager rookie gets his first sense of the wild life to come when a mad-hatter senior broker (Matthew McConaughey) takes him out for a three-martini lunch that also includes enough white powder for a killer day at Big Bear. And even though he’s no longer quite boyish enough to play someone in his early 20s, DiCaprio is convincingly green here, like a wide-eyed Candide lunching with McConaughey’s debauched Dr. Pangloss.

But no sooner has Jordan settled in than Black Monday arrives and the bottom falls out, of the market and L.F. Rothschild, sending him back to the help-wanted ads at a time when nobody seems to be looking for stockbrokers. Nobody, that is, save for a storefront brokerage in a Long Island strip mall, where the slovenly staff unloads worthless penny stocks on cold-called clients for 50% commissions, and where Belfort sticks out like a Savile Row suit on a Kmart clearance rack. But the genial proprietor (an uncredited Spike Jonze) agrees to give him a shot, not quite realizing he’s just let a wolf in the door.

It isn’t long before Belfort branches out on his own, starting the tony-sounding Stratton Oakmont in a declasse former gas station, resolving to go from “selling garbage to garbagemen” to targeting the deep-pocketed one percent. He assembles a merry band of brokers comprised of petty thugs, drug dealers and high-school dropouts who, when trained in Belfort’s precision-scripted tactics, prove to be remarkably effective salesmen. Riding herd on them all is Donnie Azoff (Jonah Hill), a buffoonish caricature of a Jew in WASP Land, decked out in garish bleached teeth, clear-lens horn-rims and a sweater tied ever so carefully around his neck. (Belfort’s own Jewishness and WASP aspirations, a running theme in the book, have been omitted from the film.) After offering his services to Belfort out of the blue in a local diner, Donnie becomes the Wolf’s most trusted associate, and it’s Hill who gives the movie’s most flamboyant (if slightly one-note) comic performance, unzipping his schlong, swallowing a live goldfish, and otherwise boldly exploring the gray area between mankind and our nearest relatives on the evolutionary scale.

Clocking in at 179 minutes, “Wolf” sets a record as Scorsese’s longest fiction film (one minute longer than “Casino”), but that doesn’t make it his most ambitious or deeply felt. It lacks the dynamic emotional range of a “Mean Streets” or “Goodfellas,” or the intricate plotting of a “Casino,” and for all its amusing guest stars (Rob Reiner as Belfort’s combustible dad, Jean Dujardin as a pompous Swiss banker) and caper-like episodes, almost everything unfolds in the same manic register. Even when the movie is really cooking (which is often), there’s a feeling that scenes are being held for a few beats too many, that Scorsese and his ace editor Thelma Schoonmaker simply didn’t have enough time to do the elegant fine-tuning they’re accustomed to (an impression reinforced by several conspicuous continuity gaffes and badly matched cuts throughout the film).

Still, considering how familiar this milieu of fast-talking, hard-selling hucksters is from the likes of “Wall Street,” “American Psycho,” “Boiler Room” (which was also inspired by the Belfort case) and “Glengarry Glen Ross,” it’s surprising how lively Scorsese manages to keep things throughout. In terms of style, the movie is almost self-consciously Scorsesean — even more than “The Departed” — with d.p. Rodrigo Prieto’s camera tracking elaborately, freeze-framing, dollying in fast and whip-panning even faster, while a quadruple album’s worth of classic rock and blues fill up the soundtrack (veteran Scorsese collaborator Robbie Robertson more than earns his “executive music producer” credit) alongside DiCaprio’s running first-person narration. This is very much iconic, old-school Scorsese in full bloom, but what’s missing is the marvelous empathy the filmmaker managed to conjure for even those films’ most reprehensible characters — the sense that this former seminarian could see the good and ill in the souls of troubled men, even finding some kind of tormented nobility in the psychopath Travis Bickle.

In “Wolf,” that empathy has been replaced by an overarching cynicism — cynicism for the swindlers who do the swindling and the schmucks who get snookered, cynicism for the empty allure of the good life, and cynicism for a system that allows for so many clean getaways. (Belfort’s nominal downfall notwithstanding, those wishing to see the character get his real comeuppance will still be waiting after the end credits have rolled and the lights have come back up.) Make no mistake: “Wolf” is as much a gangster movie as any Scorsese has made, with Belfort as a Bill the Butcher who slices and dices people’s bank accounts, a Nicky Santoro who puts your savings in a vise. But on some basic level, he’s a cipher whose drug-fueled binges regularly put others (including, in one harrowing scene, his own young daughter) in harm’s way, and who thinks nothing of recruiting his wife’s British aunt (an excellent Joanna Lumley) as a front — or, in the movie’s distinctive patois, “rathole” — for his offshore accounts. As dramatis personae go, Belfort lacks a tragic dimension: This latter-day Gatsby stares out from his own extravagant Long Island enclave and sees only a blinking green dollar sign.

But a talented performer can do much to camouflage such shortcomings, and that’s precisely what DiCaprio does here. A reliably good actor who too often shows you all the hard, technical work he’s put into creating a character, the DiCaprio of “Wolf” seems loose and uninhibited and freed of premeditated mannerisms. In his fifth collaboration with Scorsese, he’s a constant joy to watch, whether crawling across the floor like a baby while his bombshell second wife (appealing Australian newcomer Margot Robbie, who deserves more screen time) engages in a particularly cruel form of cock-blocking, or rallying his disciples with an impassioned variation on Gekko’s “Greed Is Good” speech. DiCaprio doesn’t just play this part; he inhales it, along with everything else that goes up Belfort’s nose and into his bloodstream.

For anything resembling gravitas, though, one must instead look to the dogged FBI agent Patrick Denham (Kyle Chandler), who sets Belfort in his sights early on and gradually closes in. In one of the movie’s best scenes, a cocksure Jordan goes so far as to invite the G-man on to his yacht and comes within a hairsbreadth of bribing him. And Chandler, who projects the effortless, middle-class virtue of a 1950s leading man (a Robert Stack type), plays the scene with a wonderfully sly poker face, leading Belfort the egomaniac to believe he’s actually buying what he’s selling. But the sting of “Wolf” comes in Denham’s realization that, while he may have gotten his man, it’s Belfort who may well have the last laugh.

Moments like those keep “Wolf” buoyant and lithe in spite of its redundancies and excesses. But if there’s one scene here that is sure to end up in future Scorsese career-achievement montages, it’s the epic drugged-out setpiece in which Jordan and Donnie experience a delayed reaction to decades-old Quaaludes, obliterating their motor skills and culminating in an explosively funny battle for control of a kitchen telephone. This live-action variation on the old Looney Tunes cartoon in which Bugs Bunny and the mad scientist get high on ether fumes reveals heretofore unknown reserves of physical comedy in DiCaprio. But more than being just a great gag, it’s a representative image: Call it infantile capitalism.

Despite its high price tag, the pic’s physical production is more modestly scaled than the likes of “The Aviator,” “Gangs of New York” and “Hugo,” save for one elaborate, CG-intensive sequence in which Belfort’s yacht nearly capsizes in a violent Mediterranean storm. Otherwise, most of the movie is confined to trading floors, boardrooms and suburban McMansions, rendered by Prieto and production designer Bob Shaw (“Boardwalk Empire,” “The Sopranos”) with the bright, Windexed sheen of strip-mall, office-park America. The redoubtable costume designer Sandy Powell has everyone looking suitably snazzy, in keeping with Stratton Oakmont’s policy of inhouse custom tailoring for its employees.

Mister Tee
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The Wolf of Wall Street reviews

Postby Mister Tee » Tue Dec 17, 2013 11:44 am

For those who wondered, would Scorsese ever make another film in his 70s/80s style...the answer is aparently yes.

The Wolf of Wall Street: Film Review

8:00 AM PST 12/17/2013 by Todd McCarthy

The Bottom Line
The wages of greed and excess portrayed in grand, operatic, often very funny style.

At nearly three hours of pushing the R rating, Martin Scorsese's film leaves no storytelling trick unused while watching Jordan Belfort embrace Wall Street's cutthroat ethos.

At the very least, Leonardo DiCaprio can claim to have cornered the market on 20th century Long Island gazillionaires. Having begun his year portraying Jazz Age mystery man Jay Gatsby, he closes it by serving up a wild portrait of a poster child for '90s financial excess in The Wolf of Wall Street. Nearly as extravagant as the characters it depicts, Martin Scorsese's comic, operatically-scaled film is, on a moment-by-moment basis, often madly entertaining due to its live-wire energy, exuberant performances and the irresistible appeal of watching naughty boys doing very naughty things.

At the same time, the dramatic strategy of titilating an audience with salacious behavior for 90 percent of the time, only to deliver a wages-of-sin message at the end, is older than Cecil B. DeMille, while the hopped-up visuals, editing and music feel like the stylistic equivalent of doubling up coke and Viagra. Without a doubt, Paramount's sybaritic, three-hour Christmas Day release will divide audiences, but the now five-film DiCaprio-Scorsese collaboration should continue to yield pretty strong returns commercially.

Although never the household name he'll now become with a big movie made about him, Jordan Belfort was nonetheless emblematic of the unrestrained financial shenanigans of the final years of the American century, when the idea of any consequences for lid-off monetary opportunism seemed unthinkable (it's quite likely that Wolf could be a giant hit in China, Russia and other markets where the spectacle of American irresponsibility will be most appreciated). A working-class New York kid, Belfort enthusiastically embraced the cutthroat Wall Street ethos in his early 20s and eventually formed a respectable-sounding company, Stratton Oakmont, featuring a boiler room ethos among employees that was thoroughly drilled in their leader's take-no-prisoners sales approach.

Indicted in 1998 for securities fraud and money laundering, Belfort got off easy by ratting out many associates to the FBI and served but a brief sentence in a country club-like prison facility where his bunkmate was Tommy Chong. He's now a popular motivational speaker, his fee no doubt about to soar.

The format of Terence Winter's ever-percolating script closely resembles those of two major Scorsese films about underworld figures, Goodfellas and, especially, Casino. Wolf is wallpapered with first-person narration, takes pains to explain how the business and scams work and positively wallows in the pleasure of elaborating the minutiae of self-gratification through criminal and otherwise depraved activity, the immorality and illegality of which have been totally waived away by the characters. This approach works on the viewer by providing what feels like privileged access to individuals you'd abhor in real life but who, as inhabited onscreen by charismatic actors, are undeniably fascinating for how they get away with so much for so long. It's the gangster formula, here applied to white collar types.

Scorsese's point of view toward these characters, and his reasons for returning to them time and again, could profitably be analyzed further. It's safe to say, however, that, at 71, the director is still making the films of a much younger man and is showing no signs of turning toward a more reflective, meditative style.

Effectively setting both the iniquitous attitude and the adrenalized acting style that will predominate is Matthew McConaughey, who, in his one big scene as a successful drug-drink-and-sex-addled broker, tutors the 22-year-old greenhorn Jordan (DiCaprio) at a very funny lunch on what it takes to become a whiz in the money business.

Jordan has just gotten a taste of Wall Street life when Black Monday hits in October, 1987, sending him back to square one. Married and desperate for any income, he sets up a few desks in a Long Island garage, slaps the "classy" name of Stratton Oakmont on it and instructs a few young guys, most notably eager acolyte Donnie Azoff (Jonah Hill), in the high-pressure art of selling penny stocks to suckers over the phone. It's the start of something very, very big.

From the outset, the parties and celebrations are totally debauched; throughout, Scorsese pushes to the outer limits of the R rating (the film did require cutting to avoid an NC-17) in showing drug excess perhaps outdone only by Scarface and rampant sex, including in the workplace. Even when the firm grows to a thousand employees, the office filled with white-shirt-and-black-tied men more often resembles a mosh pit more than a place of business. Jordan's ferocious inspirational speeches to his troops are among the film's highlights, and the boss gets his greatest satisfaction from seeing the men (there are a few women) go ape with abandon at the prospect of their unethical practices reaping ever-escalating profits. Greed is all-pervasive and is held as life's greatest virtue.

With success for Jordan comes a trade-up trophy wife; Naomi Lapaglia (promising Australian newcomer Margot Robbie) is as gorgeous as can be, although her lower-class roots show whenever she opens her mouth. The charter flight to Vegas for a $2 million wedding party sets a new high bar for R-rated debauchery (this was reportedly one of the scenes most heavily trimmed for the ratings board) and the sky's the limit on other expenditures as well: mansions, the fanciest cars, a helicopter and a yacht to which Jordan invites FBI agent Denham (an excellent, low-key Kyle Chandler) when authorities decide to put him in their sights.

One particularly tasty side story involves Jordan's use of Naomi's stylish British aunt Emma (Joanna Lumley) to systematically stash large sums of cash in Swiss banks. A proud survivor of the Swinging Sixties, Emma is a wonderful character in this context, one whose eyebrows are scarcely raised by the younger generation's antics because she's seen it all—and no doubt participated in it—before. An innuendo-laden scene between her and Jordan in a park is a classic of alternating voice-over inner dialogue.

Scorsese leaves no storytelling device or trick unused except for understatement. The real-life story being told may be dramatic, but much of it is played for comedy, sometimes to the edge of farce, notably in a hilarious scene in which Jordan, under the effect of vintage Quaaludes to "the cerebral palsy stage," agonizingly drags himself out of a country club, tumbles down a flight of stairs and attempts to drive home. It's hallucinatory slapstick under the influence of Jerry Lewis and Jacques Tati, and one of the director's most inspired film buff interpolations here is to intercut Jordan's drug ingestion with a clip of Popeye downing a can of spinach.

Even after he's indicted in 1998 and is forced to give farewell speech to his disbelieving staff, Jordan has at least one more surprise up his sleeve, which extends the film right up to the three-hour mark. There are a few scenes and minor character subplots that could have been lost, particularly a protracted dispute between Donnie and a tough-guy underling that looks like it was meant to be funnier than it is and diverts attention from the central character for too long. But Scorsese clearly intended this to be a comedy-lined epic maxed out to grand opera proportions, so a little excess more or less wasn't going to make much difference. Jordan would scarcely disagree.

This is undoubtedly DiCaprio's largest and best screen performance, one in which he lets loose as he never has before, is not protective of vanity or a sense of cool and, one feels, gets completely to the bottom of his character. Caution was not an option with this characterization; the word does not exist for the actor or the character.

Unlike most of his screen work to date, Hill is not (just) comic relief here but a credible, if weird, figure, an eager young man perennially keen to prove to his boss that he's willing not only to embrace but exceed his high standards of waywardness. The actor's timing is terrific and he keeps offering surprises and nuances to the end. Even though it's hard to believe he could have fathered DiCaprio, Rob Reiner is a hoot as Jordan's old-line accountant dad. Even in this context, Jean Dujardin is a bit over-the-top as the smarmy Swiss banker.

Production values are, expectedly, top of the line across the board. However, coming from a filmmaker as meticulous as Scorsese, it's surprising to see so many small but noticeable mismatched cuts in some of the dialogue scenes here.

Jordan Belfort's story inspired the indie film Boiler Room in 2000.


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