Tag Archives: The Wolf of Wall Street

Joker (2019)

Early buzz on Joker made frequent mention of a guy named Martin Scorsese, a film director you may have heard of, though not one who’s ever actually directed any films called Joker. Partly the comparison stems from the aesthetic of this new grimdark pseudo-origin for Batman’s nemesis, which is set in the ballpark of 1981 in a Gotham that looks suspiciously like the New York of Scorsese’s Mean Streets and Taxi Driver. Partly it’s the theme, too, I suppose, as Scorsese’s obvious preoccupation with insecure males and violence fits Joker‘s bill pretty well. And partly people simply love saying “it’s just like ______!” when a new movie comes out. Heck, the last Joaquin Phoenix movie we reviewed (the phenomenal You Were Never Really Here) discussed exactly that: people said it was “just like Taxi Driver!”

It wasn’t, of course, and Joker isn’t really like Taxi Driver, either. But I’m willing to bet Todd Phillips — Joker‘s actual director — isn’t exactly bummed at the comparison. If anything he’s consciously invited it, crafting Joker as a rip-off spiritual offspring of Marty’s in more ways than one. We might jump to Taxi Driver because of the interchangeable logline — unstable loner is shunned by society and devolves into madness as a result — but the shout-outs to Scorsese’s King of Comedy are even more explicit. Robert De Niro was in Phoenix’s shoes for that one, playing the failed comedian obsessed with Jerry Lewis’s talk show host, but in Joker he fills the exact seat Lewis filled in King. Now may be a good time to note that subtlety is not one of Joker‘s strengths.

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High-Rise (2016)

Having just finished and thoroughly enjoyed The Night Manager, I thought I’d know more or less what to expect from High-Rise. This is due largely in part to the sexy sexualization of Tom “Sexy” Hiddleston, who stars in both and is also sexy. I assumed his character in High-Rise to be the sterling yuppie with the isn’t-it-perfect life structured in service of the concealment of darker, truer impulses. In Night Manager Hiddleston’s attractiveness is essentially made into a plot point; so too, probably, would High-Rise note the perfection of the specimen before delving into a personality far less desirable. A six-pack and a violent extreme, per American Psycho, per marketing stills like this:

High-Rise (2016)
Exhibit A: Sexy

But High-Rise isn’t sexy for very long. The prologue is a glimpse of the messy future, wherein Hiddleston’s Doctor Laing seemingly resorts to making food out of the dog, making paper airplanes out of the electricity bill, and making a ramshackle life in the husklike ruins of the tower block. It is suspiciously unsexy. Then again, though, resorts isn’t the right word: Laing has very definitely chosen this. He’s in a sort of hell and is more or less enjoying it.

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The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (2003)

“The planet of the imagination is as old as we are.”

A writer may find that having a particular way with words is somewhat valuable to the craft, potentially essential, undeniably rare, exhilaratingly natural. Some may be taken aback by the words of others and seek to do the same with their own, maybe even coming to take it for granted if that way with words becomes a familiar way. Writing is sharpening, and just as a pitcher pitches to improve his pitching so too does a writer write to improve his writing. Some, like Ezra Pound, recognize that words are tools and there is a correct tool for a particular job. There is in fact a correct way to tell a particular story. Some, like Alan Moore, recognize that all of that is a crock of bullshit.

Which is not to insinuate that something like The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen is not well-written, at least in the comic format of Moore’s original publication. It is. As with the impressive majority of Moore’s works League seems leagues beyond the typical comic, nurtured with a higher degree of care or just drawn from a more inspired place. It operates on a higher plane. This cannot be said truthfully of the film version, though by now that’s sort of a preconditioned assumption.

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Glengarry Glen Ross (1992)

Al Pacino, Jack Lemmon, Alan Arkin, Ed Harris, and Kevin Spacey all in one movie, each with significant time in front of the camera. Who steals the show? If you guessed none of the above, you either were too afraid to guess or you’ve seen Glengarry Glen Ross. GGR does have all of these actors for the entire movie; it also has Alec Baldwin for one scene.

In the end, three minutes of Baldwin overshadow an hour and a half of some of the greatest actors of more than one generation. His brief, but memorable performance can be likened to that of Matthew McConaughey’s in The Wolf of Wall Street. In both cases, they achieve the goal of all actors/characters — to be memorable in just one scene.

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Hunger (2008)

Although I feel like it cannot be, I have to suppose that it is just a coincidence that this film, entitled Hunger, completely lacks any meat whatsoever. This film had me quite excited to see it; I am a total Fassbender fan and it had garnered a strong 82 Metascore. I thought it was going to be one of those slightly dull, but really fantastically unique and emotional films with great writing and better acting. Well, I got the acting out of Fassbender, but literally every other single aspect of this film fell heavily flat for me. Which did come as a surprise considering who the director is: the great Steve McQueen. With 12 Years A Slave, McQueen, in my genuine opinion, made one of the greatest movies of the twenty-first century. Everything just worked so well, from the otherworldly penmanship to the astounding, Oscar-winning performances. The Wolf of Wall Street was my favorite in 2013, but 12 Years was undoubtedly the best.

The biggest gripe I have with Hunger is probably the fact that it refuses to settle on a protagonist until about thirty minutes in. Inexplicably, the film starts with, and carries on with, the tale of two characters who ultimately become totally irrelevant. Granted, they do set up the scene; their situation portrays how terrible the conditions were for those imprisoned men. That does not change the fact that the exact same effect could have been as, if not more, easily achieved focusing instead on Fassbender’s character, Bobby Sands (the ultimate protagonist). The two initial characters essentially share a few lines of dialogue, smear their shit all over the walls of their cell, and grow long hair and beards.

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Somewhere (2010)

I’ve always been spectacularly underwhelmed by anything within a ten mile radius of Stephen Dorff. He is in a ton of stuff I haven’t seen, to be fair, but then again most of those seem like instantly forgettable action flicks with airy titles relating to crime (Felon, Officer Down, .45) or cars (Brake, Carjacked) or just ambiguously intense shit (Heatstroke, Riders, Deuces Wild). Maybe there’s an unseen masterpiece buried in there somewhere. The things with Dorff I’ve had the distinct pleasure (ahem) of enjoying (ahem) have been Blade, in which he plays the most annoyingly puerile vampire this side of Twilight; Immortals and The Iceman, which I had to look up to make sure he was actually in because I don’t remember him at all; and, of course, those stupid ads for Blu Cigs. To boot, I mix the guy up with Skeet Ulrich, and that’s never good.

And yet Johnny Marco from Somewhere is a categorical douche, and wouldn’t you know it? Dorff is actually a great choice for the part. After he breaks his arm falling down the stairs at a party, Hollywood actor Johnny spends a few weeks at a high-price resort in the Hills getting pampered and watching strippers flail around in his room. He drinks and smokes. He sits. He orders room service and opens another beer and returns to the couch to smoke and sit some more. Every now and then his phone buzzes, receiving texts from a private number that say things like You’re a fucking asshole and You think you’re such hot shit, don’t you? and Johnny hardly manages a shrug as he lounges around his room.

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The Wolf of Wall Street (2013)

This is certainly one of those films that you either absolutely love or downright hate, and I can understand why. Martin Scorsese’s latest work, The Wolf of Wall Street, really isn’t that much different from many of his other pictures except for the intensity of the vulgarity -the literal sex, drugs and rock n’ roll – which turns certain people off from the film. The use of 569 F-words, numerous sex scenes including a gay orgy, the consumption of copious amounts of Vitamin B (posing as cocaine) and Quaalude’s, as well as speeding cars, helicopters and yachts, all add to the excessive feeling and tone that the movie captures so well, love it or hate it. Whether or not you enjoyed this film, you cannot deny how energized it is and that watching it was probably the quickest 180 minutes of your life.

It is easy for someone watching The Wolf of Wall Street to miss many of the film’s truly great aspects due to this vulgarity. The endless bare breasts and drunken and/or high (usually and) benders that the majority of the characters go on may serve as a kind of invisibility cloak for the less well-trained moviegoer. First off, the wittiness, intelligence, and authenticity of the dialogue is likely the most impressive thing about The Wolf of Wall Street. The script, penned by the Sopranos genius Terry Winter, is undeniably phenomenal; see “the McConaughey lunch scene,” “the Jean Dujardin negotiating scene,” “the epic f@#king DiCaprio speech scenes.” At the same time, however, Scorsese encourages his muses to improvise, delve deeply into their characters and bring that necessary authenticity to their performances and the film. It is this combination of impeccable writing and spontaneous inspiration that makes the dialogue in this film so good.

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Filth (2013)

James McAvoy is a good actor. He’s usually playing the good guy, from the excellent biopic The Last King of Scotland to the only-slightly-less-realistic (ahem) X-Men prequels, but in Filth he gets his chance to ditch the morals (who needs ’em?) and become the straight-up despicable Scotland detective Bruce Robertson. Bruce, drug-addled and sex-addicted liar extraordinaire, will do pretty much anything to get a promotion at his job. And McAvoy relishes in the ceilingless grandeur of such a character – but without him Filth isn’t much for originality.

There are two kinds of twist endings in film: those that are truly original and those that are a rehash of Fight Club. In all seriousness, the protagonist-repressing-important-plot-points “twist” is officially tired as hell, and in Filth the rote deployment in Act Three is borderline maddening. The relative believability of the effectiveness of Bruce’s manipulations throughout Filth is what makes them so revolting. Bruce starts hallucinating more and more, and this also lends an interesting angle to his uncivilized crusade – is he as smart as he thinks? Is he as smart as we think? Or has everyone been on to him the entire time? But, oh, wait, nope – the hallucinations actually mean something more, something deep, man. Bruce is deep because he has a Tyler Durden-esque trauma trigger. Get it?

So: ditch the stupid ending and the would-be aha! moments, and Filth is pretty great in a disgusting sort of way. It’s essentially Wolf of Wall Street for McAvoy, a time to go absolutely bonkers and meanwhile find some sort of way to make Bruce somewhat likable, even if it’s just a few percent out of the larger character pie. He does just that, and perhaps it’s the fact that Bruce has some sort of a mission (to get the promotion) that it’s not hard to go along with him on the disgusting rollercoaster of drinking and smoking and sexing and snorting and sexing some more. He has a goal and a lack of morality means he can achieve the goal in any possible way, and it’s fun to watch the dominoes fall uselessly before him.

But the mission seemingly dries up as the all-hallowed twist approaches, and eventually the promotion is given away and Bruce is just doing insane shit because he can. The hope may have been that the twist would carry the momentum through to the end after the aforementioned mission is moot. It doesn’t. McAvoy is likable as Bruce because he goes all the way for the character and he’s good at what he does; the insistence on writing something deeper into his character that manifests itself as a freakin’ hallucination very nearly undoes all of his hard work, and very nearly forces him to stand in line with every other protagonist with the exact same affliction rather than standing out from the crowd.

Filth is worth it for the lead performance alone, and really the final letdown is only so disappointing because McAvoy is so spectacular. Guys like Jamie Bell are in there, too, but are pushed aside. It’s The McAvoy Show. More films would probably benefit from being The McAvoy Show.