Tag Archives: Leonardo DiCaprio

The Wolf Of Wall Street

WolfOfWallStreet

If you thought Martin Scorsese’s new epic The Wolf Of Wall Street was going to be a heavy and serious critique of the excesses of the banking sector in the last few years think again. It’s based on the memoir of the stockbroker Jordan Belfort which came out before the big crash of 2008 and details his working practices, fraudulent activities and jaw-droppingly unrestrained playboy lifestyle in the years of plenty…plenty being a euphemism for industrial-scale misselling of stocks and shares of highly dubious potential.

Leonardo DiCaprio plays Belfort as a slick, ambitious and hyper-confident salesman who’s convinced that the world is for his taking as long as he can make his pitch irresistible. As it turned out, he was right: within a few years of starting his career by coldcalling gullible clients with honeyed promises from scuzzy offices converted from garages he was making millions a month, able to afford a mammoth mansion in upstate New York, a yacht the size of a shopping centre and a constant cycle of uproarious parties and sleazy liaisons, fuelled by a regime of illegal stimulants and relaxants. All of this is rendered on screen with gusto and panache, with the scenes set among the coked-up, aggressive dealers on the trading floor barely less feral than the bacchanalian orgies that follow (the dwarf-tossing party actually occurs in the workplace, while trading is open). This film is very much in Scorsese’s comfort zone, and with its tale of the rise and fall of an outsider through a vicious hierarchy of power it’s highly reminiscent of Goodfellas, even down to the cocky voiceover and the freezeframes, and I also recognised the same tone of heightened mania that runs through The Aviator. What it’s lacking, despite all the luxurious trappings, beautiful models and top of the range sportscars, is glamour – DiCaprio and an unexpected cameo from Joanna Lumley aside, all these chancers look and act like slobs. At times it’s a gallery of flab, bad hair, base appetites and self-centredness, with Jonah Hill’s performance as Belfort’s bizarre right-hand man Donny a particularly fascinating study in creepiness. The good times of course can’t last, and the FBI gradually get wind of Belfort’s insider deals and failure to declare mountains of cash, making for a denouement that may be inevitable but is still pretty dramatic, and along the way there are at least half a dozen setpiece confrontations and capers that seem destined to become classics (Belfort’s return home from the country club down the road from his house had me cackling in my seat).

The Wolf Of Wall Street is a riot, three hours of outrageous and reprehensible behaviour that had me gasping, laughing and occasionally even cheering throughout despite the misgivings of my impeccably right-on inner Guardian reader. Politically correct it isn’t but hilarious it most certainly is and there’s just enough self-awareness and punishment for its loathsome lead characters for the viewer not to feel too bad about it.

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Django Unchained

DjangoUnchained

I sort of tuned out from Quentin Tarantino’s films somewhere around the preposterous, gleefully violent and painfully stretched out Kill Bill double-header, writing him off somewhat as a flashy attention-grabber who wasn’t really up to the job of sustaining a two hour plus movie without the help of either a talented co-writer (Roger Avery on the brilliant but maybe over-celebrated Pulp Fiction) or some classy source material (Elmore Leonard’s novel Rum Punch, on which the brilliant and definitely under-celebrated Jackie Brown was based). His new one Django Unchained has however been getting some good notices, so I figured I’d make the effort this time. I was glad I did. Django, on which QT gets a sole writer’s credit, is as preposterous and gleefully violent as anything that came before, but it’s also gripping, tense, wickedly funny and formidably well acted and shot. It’s just about as downright entertaining as anything I’ve seen in a cinema this century.

What we have here is kind of Roots put in a blender with Once Upon A Time In The West and a couple of lorryloads of ketchup. It’s set in the deep South of America a couple of years before the civil war, with the Django of the title a slave who finds himself unexpectedly freed by a decidedly unconventional and charmingly loquacious German bounty hunter, Dr King Schultz. Dr Schultz needs Django to identify some law breaking overseers with a price on their heads, but he finds himself warming to the freed man and admiring his facility with firearms and eventually agrees to help him locate his wife, who has been sold to a plantation owner in Mississippi. After tracing the woman they hatch a plan to retrieve her, but this will mean putting a con over on the ruthless and capricious Calvin Candie and you just know it’s not going to end peacefully with a gentlemanly handshake.

Django is a long film, but it doesn’t mess about: the tone is set from the first scene, an immediately unnerving confrontation between the unfailingly urbane and courteous Schultz and a pair of suspicious slave traders. Tarantino has a real gift for concocting scintillating and unpredictable stand-offs in which one can sense the violence seething beneath the verbal exchanges, waiting for the slightest of false moves or facial tics as an excuse to erupt, and in this film he’s thankfully been able to come up with a compelling through line into which he can work them. And for the most part he also sticks to the rule book as regards letting a story flow and not getting all non-linear on our ass – while the jigsaw timeline aspect of Pulp Fiction was actually really refreshing and unusual at the time, these kind of games seemed to get pretty wearying pretty quickly, and it’s nice that Django proceeds in broadly chronological order, save the handful of flashbacks necessary to avoid an unnecessarily distended running time. This story has at its heart a highly perilous confidence trick, and while the scenes required to put all the elements in place unfold at an unhurried pace it’s well worth the preparation for the nailbiting and startlingly explosive climax at Candie’s lavish ranchhouse.

QT has also got a fairly impeccable talent for casting, and here he really excels. Jamie Foxx broods and smoulders mightily as the wronged Django, but he also allows the intelligence of the character to show through, and he’s not half bad with a shooter either. Leonardo DiCaprio renders Candie as a truly vile and preening bully, but he’s charming as well, and knows when he’s better off making a tactical retreat. The standout performance of the lot is Christoph Waltz, sporting an exceptional beard as Dr Schultz, a man who appears able to talk his way round or out of any extreme situation but is also perfectly comfortable when the only course of action available is to use the pistol concealed up his sleeve. Schultz is one of those rare movie characters you feel like spending quality time with – you’d be happy to have him round for a takeaway, or to sort your tax returns, or to fix your plumbing while simultaneously explaining references in Goethe. Give this man an Oscar now.

It does of course all end with some viscerally bloody action sequences, which might put even hardened Tarantino watchers off their tea. The last half hour or so was for me probably the least interesting bit of the film as all the dramatic tension has now been released, but you can’t fault it for not being a big finish, and I would rate these as one or two of the most pleasingly lurid and dynamic shootouts I’ve yet seen on screen. Did remind me a bit of Monty Python’s “Sam Peckinpah directs Salad Days” skit, though.

Overall however Django is some kind of triumph, and respect is due to Tarantino for carrying on ploughing his furrow with such unapologetic vigour, wit and expertise. Everything’s fair game and shocking the audience is part of the job –  for example, it’s telling that the end credits begin with an assurance that no horses were harmed in the making of the movie. If true, there are some pretty sophisticated special effects going on here that passed me right by.

Inceptual difficulties


So I had another  crack at Inception, hoping to get more out of it this time. Part of my initial disappointment with this film was that it really should have been a slam-dunk for me, what with it being a high concept affair about dreams within dreams and my general admiration (Memento, Batman Begins) and occasional love (The Prestige) for the films of Christopher Nolan. Even better, it’s a wholly original big budget sci-fi piece not adapted from a novel or a comic or a TV show, and is therefore pretty much unique amongst recent blockbusters.

But I still didn’t like it much. Didn’t hate it, it didn’t offend my sensibilities particularly and I can see that they spent a lot of time and effort thinking through a unusually complicated plot and making sure everything in it was consistent and accessible, but even so…when I watched it in the cinema I was yawning and checking my watch by the time the James Bond style snowy scenario turned up, and it wasn’t any better this time. The problem is certainly not that the film demands an unusual level of attention in order to keep up with the various dream levels that it takes place within and the rules that determine how events in one level affect another – it’s just that the way it’s all presented is not that entertaining. More or less every line of dialogue in this film is there to explain the plot, and none of the characters exhibit anything in the way of personality, with the exception of Tom Hardy’s who does get to crack a few wry jokes. Worse, the dream scenarios presented are uniformly bland (a city street, a snowy mountainside, a hotel lobby would you believe) – they’re like video game levels from a few years ago, before PCs could render curves and textures adequately. The only dream sequence which shows a bit of flair is the one set in Paris, but this is quickly closed down as Leonardo DiCaprio’s character sternly forbids his pupil from making the dream too interesting. Despite all the expensive special effects these could be the most boring, laboured and over-explained dreams ever realised on film. The Imaginarium Of Doctor Parnassus might have been a bit of a dog’s breakfast but it towers over this in terms of showing you alternate realities that fire the imagination.

So my opinion wasn’t changed by the second viewing, and I still felt similar to how I felt after The Matrix: if this was an episode of Red Dwarf it would have got to the point a hell of a lot quicker, been much funnier and only have taken up half an hour of my time.