The Wolf of Wall Street (2013) Review

Martin Scorcesse is a legend of the cinema and I am so delighted to have seen one of his movies in theaters, kind of like how I’m excited to see a Was Anderson movie in theaters. Leaving my fanboy love at the door, I must however concede that The Wolf of Wall Street is not his best movie. That being said, it’s still an amazing movie. A little long, but excessively fun nonetheless.

The Wolf of Wall Street is told from the perspective of Jordan Belfort (Leo Dicaprio), a stockbroker who climbs the ladder of success when he starts his own trading company. The not-so-legal hobbies of him and his coworkers, paired with the not-so-legal practices of his company get the attention of the FBI. And so we see the arc of Belfort as he becomes engulfed with money, drugs, and sex leading to his imminent implosion.

TWOWS follows a LOT of Martin Scorcesse’s cliches. A lot. Imagine Goodfellas mixed with… well again Catch Me If You Can (Even though thats Speilberg). Matthew McConaughey acts as the mentor/rule-establisher. He tells the audience the rules and once the main character breaks them, we know his descent will begin a la Goodfellas. We have the New York centered main character and his big-haired brunette sassy wife, as well as the iconic use of narration and the very intentional use of music. Now these are all cliches yes, but they still make a fantastic movie, so no real complaints here.

TWOWS has one big thing going against it for me. It’s really fucking long. At 2 hours and 55 minutes, this movie is a real endurance test. Thats not to say it feels overly long, in fact it feels shorter then 3 hours, but after a while you do really feel the length. Scorcesse has this interesting style with these biography movies, in that he structures them to be a collection of vignettes that compound onto each other to create this arc. There are subplots that come in and out, but ultimately we hop from scene to scene like each is it’s own episode of a TV series. This is what really helps the movie along, because it keeps the pace brisk. Theres no need for long connections and establishment we just hop into the middle of the action and let the narrator fill in the rest.

Narrators are rarely used these days, at least not continuously like Scorcesse uses them and I really enjoyed it in this mostly due to the actor behind it: good old Leo Dicaprio. He does a fantastic job in this movie. He really is the character and in fact most of the people in the movie do the same. Jonah Hill is unrecognizable as Jordan’s right-hand man and he definitely deserves the Oscar for his performance.

Speaking of Oscars, let me say that this is definitely a far better competitor for the best picture award then American Hustle. While Hustle had energy, this has energy, and charm, and a sense of uniqueness due to the director at the helm. I still don’t think it will win, partially due to 12 Years a Slave being a thing, as well as the elephant in the room that will put off a mainstream audience and the old, rich, white conservatives running the Academy: It’s excessiveness.

TWOWS is balls to the walls insane. Literally. It has no qualms about what it’s showing, because it all fits perfectly into the world we’re looking at. There are no less then 2 orgies in the movie, copious nudity and sex, drugs, violence, language, offensive language and crude jokes. However… it’s god damn fun to watch. Scorcesse has the amazing ability to seduce us into the crazy backwards worlds of delightful sin he shows us and by god if I wasn’t cheering for the main character all the way. Some people won’t be able to handle it and thats fine, but there may be a few hesitant folks that are swept away by the story and characters and will be able to let it slide.

TWOWS breaks no new ground, does nothing innovative or technically spectacular. It’s just a damn good movie from damn good director and by the gods will I watch it again and again. I’m so excited for the DVD to see all the extra vignettes that Scorcesse couldn’t quite fit into the movie. I have high doubts that it’ll win, but if it does I’ll be one happy fanboy. Check this flick out in case by some small chance you weren’t going to already.

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American Hustle (2013) Review

On Friday I saw a Scorcesse double feature, but only one of the films was directed by Martin Scorcesse. The other, American Hustle, was directed by David O Russell, and boy oh boy does he want to be Scorcesse. It’s almost sad really, because maybe if he had taken a few more liberties with this movie, American Hustle could have been something truly great, not just pretty good.

American Hustle is the “true” story of a con man (Christian Bale), his mistress (Amy Adams) and their arrest by the FBI. Rather then go to jail for a long ass time they work with Special Agent Asshole (Bradley Cooper) to ensnare a few people in similar cons. Their first victim is a New Jersey Mayor (Jeremy Reiner) who take a “donation” from their fictional Sheik in order to build up Atlantic City. As their deals go on they realize that they can not only ensnare this mayor, but Congressmen and Mafia bosses too! The game is afoot Watson!

As I stated before, Russell really wants to be Scorcesse, using shots like Scorcesse, characters like Scorcesse, music like Scorcesse, and DeNiro like Scorcesse. Not a bad thing per say, but it’s really noticeable and gives a feeling of unoriginality to the movie that it really shouldn’t have. So while the directing style may be similar to Scorcesse, the story is actually more akin to Catch Me If You Can mixed with Oceans 11. That’s not a bad thing, in fact the movie is fairly well written, with plenty of emotional and intense scenes. The movie doesn’t really get going until about 30 minutes in, but it’s certainly not boring as the charisma of the actors keeps you engaged. What didn’t work for me, and this is something that bothers me about a lot of the twist-ending-con movies, is that the twist at the end isn’t preceded by any indicators whatsoever. It’s like reading a mystery book and the killer is a person we’ve never met before, meaning the audience couldn’t figure it out on their own. American Hustle‘s twist is out of nowhere and it feels like a trick, because you had no clue. It’s a fine line to walk and it’s more a pet peeve then a true criticism of the movie.

This is an Actor/Character driven movie and an effective one at that. The characters are all rather unique and by the end of the movie you’re quite attached to them. Bradley Cooper’s character in particular was rather interesting to watch as his arc led him down a darker and darker path, but not in the stereotypical way. Reiner was a joy to watch, as his mayor was honourable and corrupt all at the same time. Louis CK also has a small role as Cooper’s boss and his is great! It shows that his acting range is a little wider then just a fat comedian dad and I’m excited to see his future film projects. Bale, Adams, and Lawrence are all great of course, but the drama between them was a little eye-rollingly stupid at times and the end was a little too neatly wrapped up for my tastes.

Since this movie is up for some Oscars and that’s pretty much why I saw it I should probably address a few of the categories it’s up for. The production design is absolutely amazing and it definitely should win. It truly feels like the 70s without missing a beat. Christian Bale is pretty good as the lead, but I don’t think he should win over Leo. Amy Adams certainly holds her own in this movie, and pulls off all the emotional twists and turns her character goes through. Jennifer Lawrence was believable in the role despite her age, but her performance was just kinda… meh. It didn’t strike me as particularly oscar worthy, even if it was really good. The editing… is meh for an oscar-nominated movie. There were a few continuity flaws, so hopefully there was a better movie, but I’m just being a prick now.

American Hustle has everything going for it. The budget, the actors, the director, the soundtrack, everything. However, unlike most great films, it fails to become more then the sum of its parts. It’s no Goodfellas, or The Godfather, or even The Sting. It’s a damn good movie, don’t get me wrong and I’ll say right now that everyone should go see it, but it fails to be anything more then just good. Let me emphasize that I’m not criticizing the movie for not being perfect, I’m just stating my reasons for why it shouldn’t win Best Picture.

Enough negativity! American Hustle is a fun movie! It doesn’t take itself too serious and while it is a emotional drama, it’s also a very funny movie. The witty writing and the charismatic acting makes it hard not to enjoy the fun adventure these characters are on. The whole movie has this energy to it thats hard to ignore, and it almost makes up for a lot of the flaws in it… almost. You may not have a best picture winner awaiting you, but you certainly have a film worth the outrageous ticket prices. I can’t recommend it highly enough.