The Wolf of Wall Street
Not only a disappointment, but dishonest. It’s a disappointment because it’s Martin Scorsese and also because it’s three hours of numbing, repetitive hedonistic behavior with about five minutes of punishment or redemption at the end. It’s like one of those reality hour shows about Super Nannies, where the first 55 minutes are the child out of control breaking shit and causing chaos and driving everyone nuts, and then the last five minutes he has miraculously been tamed and is a repentant saint. The premise being we just want to see the bad behavior over and over and over again like pigs in slop. Wrong. Boring.
The dishonesty is casting a movie Adonis like Leonardo DiCaprio as the lead. The movie is based on a true story about a toxic little gremlin from Queens, but would you really want to watch a Jason Alexander snorting coke off a woman’s ass or having sex with beautiful naked chicks for three hours? Not a chance. But that would have been a more honest depiction of how the lust for money corrupts and ultimately is hideous. How do we know all those gorgeous women weren’t hopping onto his lap because… because he’s freakin’ Leonardo DiCaprio!? I read where DiCaprio defended the picture by saying you’re supposed to get disgusted with the guy. But if you really wanted to send that message, why not have all those naked models hopping on top of Gilbert Gottfried? Then I would be disgusted and I might also get the point.
Also, did Scorsese actually think he was making a comedy allowing his actors to do improv-like schtick for way too long in each scene? It didn’t work, and just came over as grating and undisciplined from an editing point of view.
Pass the goombah hair gel, because David O Russell just out-Scorsesed Martin for a three hour film that holds up both thematically, visually and with fantastic ensemble acting. The lead here is also a nebbish, but at least Christian Bale has made himself out to look like a putz, with an ugly comb over, glasses and 60 extra pounds of flab. So by the time the hot babe Amy Adams hooks up with him to pull the fast cons, we get that she’s in it mostly for the game. The theme that everyone is playing everyone else, whether in a money con or a marriage con comes across both humorously and profoundly. That’s how you make your point. Here’s a director firing on all cylinders at the top of his game, and pulling career performances out of an ensemble of actors doing the same.
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
This festival of innovative action sequences was far more entertaining than the first Hobbit film. I still dislike films that overuse CGI instead of real stunts, but at least this film is SUPPOSED to be a fantasy. The barrel chasing scene down the river with the dwarves was fantastic to the point where I would need to study the storyboards just to catch all the clever little bits of action that were off-handedly thrown in. The dragon sequence, which filled almost the last whole third of the film, was also a revelation in the good use of CGI enhanced with the ironic twist that Dr. Watson (Martin Freeman) was facing off against
Sherlock Holmes (Benedict Cumberbatch as the voice of Smaug).
You still feel a bit cheated when a film ends in a cliffhanger that just whets your appetite for the next installment, but it doesn’t come as a shock and we all trust Peter Jackson to deliver the goods. Plus, I’m old enough to remember when the Flash Gordon serials played at the movie theaters and always ended with a cliffhanger. And those model rockets on strings were a hell of a lot less convincing than a CGI Smaug. But it also just goes to show how much audiences used to have to contribute their own imaginations to form the reality on screen without the technology doing all the work it does today.
I confess that the only reason I even saw this film was because I was given the wrong time for the film I was trying to see (Wolf of Wall Street) and I just had to find the next convenient film showing. That is not enough reason to justify seeing this dreck.
The only way it conceivably would have been funny to me is maybe watching after a six pack of beers in a theater full of giddy drunk frat boys. It’s the same basic joke over and over – Ron Burgundy is clueless – but without any cleverness. And why have such a great ensemble of comic talent like Paul Rudd and Steve Carrell if you’re going to hog the entire picture for yourself?
The main gripe I have with this picture is personal: It never fails that when a comic performer is successful, they suddenly think they can WRITE. So instead of seeking out or giving the gig to original material written by a refreshingly new or experienced comic screenwriters (hint hint) who have carefully woven something with great structure and sustaining twists and turns for a comic star, they hog all the action and the money. They just sit in a room with their buddies and make it up as they go along (you too, Seth Rogan). And it shows. There’s just no way to sustain two hours of Will Ferrell mugging. Never mind that no comedy should exceed ninety minutes or risk wearing out its welcome, period. No comedy sequel should be made built on something other than a finished and polished script before cameras roll. If you want to self-indulgently or metaphorically masturbate on film, don’t assume we want to watch. Jokes only work in service of a good story, not the other way around.
Here’s the perfect film to cleanse the palate. Real characters you actually care about. I love the odd couple combination of a cynical younger atheist writer and a remarkably accepting and gracious elderly woman who has infinitely more reason to be an atheist or cynical, but sticks to her faith instead.
How do they affect each other when joining up to search for a son she felt she had no choice to give up more than 50 years ago? I heard the real Philomena interviewed on NPR talking about the scene where she last saw the son she raised until 3 years old looking out the back window of the car as it was driving away forever. How could she ever get over that? How could she ever forgive herself? Or others who forced her hand? And how can you miss Dame Judith Dench fully inhabiting the role of Philomena to show you just how movingly she did. You will never forget, either.
– A. Wayne Carter