The Wolf of Wall Street

Some kind of fevered masturbatory fantasy rather than something with anything of value to say

Some kind of fevered masturbatory fantasy rather than something with anything of value to say

The greatest opening line to a movie comes from Goodfellas:

As far back as I can remember, I always wanted to be a gangster

It sets the scene, it draws you into the journey of how Henry Hill became a gangster and then how it destroyed him. The opening line to The Wolf of Wall Street might as well be “As far back as I can remember, I always wanted to be rich”. It’s only a small change but it makes the world of difference. Martin Scorsese seemingly wants to do for Wall Street bankers what he did for the Mafia by filming the story of Jordan Belfort, a self-made Wall Street multi-millionaire who rode the wave all the way to the top and then couldn’t let go, destroying himself in the process. Only he’s not quite as destroyed as many of us might hope.

The film is problematic in many ways, but the first thing to say is that Wolf is a very funny film. Funnier than anything Scorsese has done for some time, and certainly the funniest performance of Di Caprio’s career, including some brilliant physical comedy, something of which I didn’t think him capable. Also, at three hours long, the film does not feel anywhere near as blaoted as one might fear. It rips along at a rare old pace and doesn’t really give you a chance to draw breath. But all of that leads to the however…

However, if Goodfellas is the equivalent of a big fat juicy steak meal (says the vegetarian), something that leaves you full and satisfied, Wolf is something else entirely. It’s full of empty calories. It’ll make you feel sick, it’ll make you fat, it’ll do nothing good for you. Here’s the thing. The film depicts the debauchery that was (is?) common-place amongst Wall Street traders. It is full of sex and drugs and drink and wasted money. It is life turned up not to 11 but 12. It is the thing we (hopefully) would hate to become were we living in a world of unlimited resources.

The better poster. The one that has some art behind it. Less representative of the film though, given it has some art about it.

The better poster. The one that has some art behind it. Less representative of the film though, given it has some art about it.

But the problem is that the film isn’t just depicting these things, it is these things.

The film is packed with nudity but it crosses the line between artistic merit and pornographic excess. Is there a justification for the lengths it goes to? I can’t see one. Likewise, there’s no equality. There’s a difference between portraying misogyny and being misogynistic and The Wolf of Wall Street crosses the line into the latter category. The women are treated pretty abysmally throughout and, ultimately, it comes across as leering and masturbatory. At times one can’t help visualising the other side of the camera as a 71 year old man asks a bunch of naked 20-somethings to do his bidding and it’s not exactly comfortable. This may be a representation of the behaviour that carried on with these people but we got that message in the first half hour. The constant repetition is unnecessary – the very definition of pornography, no? Don’t get me wrong, I’m not anti-nudity in films and neither am I anti-pornography per se, but in this context it is unnecessary and uncomfortable. There needs to be some kind of authorial voice or something.

So The Wolf of Wall Street is a film that was enjoyable, though bloated, but the longer you reflect on it the worse it becomes. A leering and seedy exercise that unfortunately bears a resemblance to the worst of Michael Bay’s “fucking the camera” extremes.

D+

Film Length: 2 hours 59 minutes – Feels like: 2 hours 30 minutes

I’m So Excited!

Los-Amantes-Pasajeros-Im-So-Excited-Posters

Pedro Almodovar is one of the giants of European cinema, starting his career back in the mid-70s, and rising to fame in the late 80s with films such as Women On The Verge of a Nervous Breakdown and Tie Me Up, Tie Me Down. While I haven’t seen anywhere near the entirety of his extensive back catalogue, perhaps my favourite of those I have seen was his last, 2011’s The Skin I Live In, a brilliant, beautiful and sickening sexual revenge fantasy starring Antonio Banderas.

Banderas is present again in the opening five minutes of I’m So Excited, the development’s in his and Penelope Cruz’ relationship leading to the malfunctioning of the landing gear of an aircraft bound for Mexico. While that sounds like the potential set-up for drama and tragedy, the film is positioned somewhere between sitcom, sex comedy, and farce.

The story involves the pilot, co-pilot and three ‘outrageously’ gay air stewards trying to keep six outspoken members of business class under control while the plane tries to find a safe runway to attempt an emergency landing. Among the passengers are a madam/prostitute/dominatrix, a Spanish soap lothario, a mysterious Mexican bandit and a virgin with a sixth sense for death. Somewhere amidst the occasionally frantic goings on is a satire on the poor health of the Spanish economy, with the banks, the government and even the King all fair game, but for those of us with (at best) limited knowledge of Spanish politics, this is all rather wasted on us.

I'm So Excited

Unfortunately, much of the comedy seems to have been lost in translation. The dialogue requires the rat-a-tat-tat delivery of a 50s screwball comedy but suffers from delayed readings (to allow for laughter?) and poorly translated subtitles. It certainly suggests that different cultures breed different senses of humour, and perhaps we Brits just won’t get the joke. But this isn’t the only problem, there are occasional segues off the plane which dull the pace and open storylines which are never really resolved.

That’s not to say there aren’t things to delight in, and while marvelling at the art department’s work is often a way to damn with faint praise, it doesn’t mean that praise isn’t well earned. Equally, there are individual moments of humour that give you a glimpse of either a) what the Spanish audiences will get from the film or b) what the film could have been, depending on your view.

Also, it is hard not to admire the frankness of the sexual expression on view which, when raised in most English language films, is usually either a sign of repression or a desire to shock. Here it would be more appropriate to call it flirtatious and, deep down, I wouldn’t be surprised if Almodovar wanted his audiences to have the same kind of fun in the theatre that his cast do once the mescaline cocktails have been passed around.

One final note – a much touted sequence of the cabin crew lip-syncing to The Pointer Susters’ I’m So Excited is, while well choreographed, a little bit of a let down and I can’t help feeling it would have been better if the stewards had been singing it themselves, in the manner of The Singing Detective and Blackpool.

C+

The Sessions

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The-Sessions

So another swift(er) review. The Wreck-It Ralph one ran to 500 words in the end anyway. Blimey. Let’s see if we can do this a little quicker. I’ve wasted 27 already. That’s four more….

The Sessions might sound a bit of a tough ask on paper. It’s based on the real life story of Mark O’Brien, a writer and a poet who is also a polio survivor who has to spend around 20 hours a day in an iron lung in order to stay alive. He has no muscular control below the neck. Despite all of this, Mark (John Hawkes) is a charmer and a wit. Because of the results of his illness, Mark requires help with everything, and employs a number of carers to perform those roles. His life changes when he employs a new carer and falls in love with her. Unfortunately she doesn’t reciprocate, but it spurs Mark on to a journey of sexual discovery –something that may have been in the back of his mind but he never imagined he could dream of following through on. Eventually Mark employs a sexual surrogate, Cheryl (Helen Hunt, nominated for an Oscar for the role) to help him reach his desire of not dying a virgin.

The film. written and directed by polio survivor Ben Lewin (who is merely crutch-bound), is nigh on perfect. It’s life-affirming where it could have been mawkish. It’s laced with self-deprecating humour and charm where it could have been self-pitying. It’s paced beautifully and always leaves you wondering what direction it might go next. There’s no template for how this story might play out (and that’s not because it’s a true-life story – biopics have plenty of conventions and this doesn’t play up to them) which makes it all the more enthralling.

It hinges on three wonderful central performances – William H Macy as the priest who is asked plenty of awkward questions by Mark being the third – and I find it difficult to understand why John Hawkes has been overlooked at the Oscars when he puts in such a wonderfully nuanced, sympathetic (though not pathetic) and enriching performance. That said, I also find it difficult to understand why the film has been overlooked elsewhere. Granted the direction and editing do nothing flashy, but it’s not a story that demands that – what they do is allow the actors the chance to come alive on screen, to breathe and to exist – but it’s the writing that perhaps demands the greatest recognition.

Anyway, this is a great start to 2013, clocking in as better than anything in 2012 in my book. Track it down if you can, otherwise get the DVD when it comes out. Essential viewing.

10/10 (4 stars)

(I don’t think the trailer does a great job of selling the film, if only because the music is completely wrong for it – I hadn’t seen the trailer before I saw the film, and I think you would be wise to follow the same course, but, if you have to, the trailer is below)