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The Wolf of Wall Street

There’s no doubt that Martin Scorsese is one of the greatest directors to have ever lived. From “Taxi Driver” to “Goodfellas” to 2010’s underrated “Shutter Island,” he has given filmgoers some of the best and most memorable movies ever created. He is a force to be reckoned with. With that said, “The Wolf of Wall Street” is his most ridiculous and over-the-top movie yet, with a questionable closing message that echoes (in a decidedly lesser manner) the misguided sentiments of 2011’s “Limitless.” Scorsese has always reveled in the illegal, this time tackling the seedy underbelly of the corporate world, but never has he been so forgiving of his subjects. Though it’s not a bad movie (it is Scorsese, after all), “The Wolf of Wall Street” is surprisingly off-putting, overlong and morally skewed.

Based on the true story of a former stockbroker who would do anything to make a buck, even if that meant breaking the law, “The Wolf of Wall Street” follows Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio), a young up-and-comer who starts his own business, Stratton Oakmont Inc., running a penny stock boiler room. With the help of his assistant, Donnie Azoff (Jonah Hill), they soon strike it rich, but the feds, led by head investigator Denham (Kyle Chandler), are planning on taking them down.

It’s a rather simple story for a movie that takes only one tick under three hours to play out—though one could argue the bloated length compliments the thematic exploration of excess—yet in spite of this length, “The Wolf of Wall Street” never drags. The dialogue is sharp and witty and it comes furiously, almost as if the cars from the “Fast and Furious” franchise transformed into spoken words. Labeled as a “dark comedy,” the film is indeed quite funny, at first. Jonah Hill, being the usually hilarious comedian he is (“The Sitter” notwithstanding), brings the goofiness while DiCaprio, in a sharp turn from his usual approach, chews the scenery like he never has before. His over-the-top performance compliments the film’s over-the-top nature.

But it’s that very nature that eventually starts to degrade the film. As the stakes get higher and the circumstances become more dour, the humor starts to fall flat. Rather than acknowledge the trouble the characters are in, the movie makes fun of it, making light of inexcusable behavior. Belfort, though written to be charming and likable, is a scumbag. He’s a liar, manipulator, thief, heavy drug user and womanizer, one who feels the need to sexually molest woman as he passes them by fondling their breasts. The problem doesn’t necessarily lie in his actions, but rather in the way they’re portrayed: as glamorous, fun and acceptable. To put it simply, the writing does its best to gloss over the repercussions of Belfort’s actions. When you’re supposed to be laughing at the destruction he causes to not only himself, but also those around him, you realize the movie has failed to set a justifiable tone.

Perhaps the strangest part of “The Wolf of Wall Street” is its decision to not just glamorize or make humorous this lifestyle, but to downplay the true effects of it so much that it begins to resemble a cartoon, including a baffling sequence where Belfort speaks what can only be described as telepathically to a Suisse banker, played by Jean Dujardin. It comes as no surprise later in the film when it actually makes a direct comparison to “Popeye,” only with cocaine being the source of power rather than spinach. That sequence is just one of many with a questionable message. Further hurting the overall film is its strange and out-of-place alternative soundtrack consisting of bands like the Foo Fighters, who only fit the film’s tonal intentions if you make the unreasonably large leap that the rock 'n' roll lifestyle matches those portrayed on-screen. Aside from perhaps this year’s “The Great Gatsby,” there hasn’t been a soundtrack that fits this poorly to its visual counterpart in years.

Still, with all that said, “The Wolf of Wall Street” is not a bad movie. In fact, it’s a fairly engrossing one; its issues seem more apparent upon reflection than in the moment. It looks fantastic, its editing is smooth, the aforementioned dialogue is gripping and its supporting cast all knock if out of the park, including an all too brief cameo from Matthew McConaughey, who, even with his very limited screen time, wholly deserves a Best Supporting Actor nomination. What it all boils down to is that “The Wolf of Wall Street” is a clumsy movie full of questionable decisions and shady messages, but luckily, even a clumsy Scorsese movie is a good movie. Just don’t expect it to blow you away. It’s good, but it’s not Scorsese good.

The Wolf of Wall Street receives 3/5


The Artist

I know this is said every year by a number of critics and it’s gotten to the point where people roll their eyes when they hear it, but this hasn’t been a great year for movies. If my favorite movie of the year so far, Warrior, had come out last year, it would have been closer to the ten spot on my “Best Of” list than number one. That’s why, coming just before the new year rolls around, I’m delighted to tell you about The Artist, a delightful, enchanting, marvelous, joyous celebration of the magic of movies, of a time when everything was simpler and stories were told without the assistance of words. It’s not just the best movie of the year, it’s now one of my personal favorites and if all is right with the world, it will be the frontrunner in this coming Oscar season.

The Artist takes place in 1927 and follows George Valentin (Jean Dujardin), a silent film star who is cherished by the world. However, the film industry is about to make a major change; they are about to introduce talking pictures. Like many stars of the day, this departure creates problems for Valentin and he is quickly forgotten. Meanwhile, a beautiful up and comer and former object of affection Peppy Miller (Bérénice Bejo) is hitting it big. Although separated for the time being both physically and professionally, Peppy and George might just end up helping each other in more ways than one.

Admittedly, part of The Artist’s appeal comes from the novelty of seeing a black and white silent film in a world of cinema where the most popular franchises involve robots beating up on each other and a silly romance with sparkling vampires and a shirtless hunk who can turn into a werewolf, but that certainly doesn’t detract from how great it really is. Compared side by side with silent film classics like Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans, The General, and City Lights, The Artist fits snugly in with only a couple exceptions.

When Grindhouse came out in 2007, directors Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino crafted a love letter to old grindhouse films, complete with missing footage and degraded reels. They captured the essence of those pictures down to the letter. The Artist too is an ode to a style of film past, the silent film, but it’s far too visually clean to completely evoke the feeling of one. Similarly, an early inclusion of a woman flipping the bird is out-of-place; classic silent films were never so brash. But to complain about clean and technically impressive visuals seems frivolous and that one instance of tactlessness is so minor, it’s hardly worth focusing on.

On the whole, The Artist is a grand recreation of the beginning of film, before it evolved (or some may say, devolved) into CGI explosion fests and 3D spectacles, and the two lead stars are truly wonderful, capturing the grandiose nature of cinema’s classic stars. Jean Dujardin is handsome and clean as the lead man, but it’s Bérénice Bejo who really shines. She has a simple, yet elegant beauty and a smile to die for. When the world falls in love with her in the movie, it’s easy to understand because you’ve already beaten them to the punch.

The Artist is endlessly delightful, to the point where mere words can’t explain it. There isn’t an adjective in the English language that can describe the euphoria one feels while watching it. It’s heavenly, a splendid romance that puts every other movie to be released this year to shame. It may slow down a bit towards the end, but it never bores, and it does it all without the use of spoken word. If you aren’t left with a big stupid smile on your face when the end rolls around, you may need to check your pulse. The Artist is what going to the movies is all about.

The Artist receives 5/5