It's a good hour into The Wolf of Wall Street, following a deep dive into Jordan Belfort's early days in the stock market game — that being the most appropriate word for it — and festive indulgence in the most carnal manifestations of human desire, that we're hit with the title card, "18 months later..." Here, it is solidified that the years we have spent inside Martin Scorsese's world of toxic capitalism have all been, up to this point, set-up. Fuel. This brief flash of text, the longest instance of silence in the cacophonous sewer system that is Belfort's story, is the first real sign that a fire is coming.
By this time, Scorsese's willful defiance of the "show, don't tell" method has introduced us to every one of the doe-eyed crook's countless vices. He has no qualms stealing from those who can't afford it, lying to those who trust him, cheating on his wife, cramming every substance known to modern science into his bloodstream, and wholeheartedly endorsing (to his adoring audience) all of the above. All the while, we bound between delight and disgust. The delight comes not so much in the material victories of Belfort and his cronies — that has the latter effect, in fact, as every antic is so vividly laced with Sodom-level depravity — but in watching them like zoo animals. In fact, The Wolf of Wall Street's principal undoing might be that it is simply too much fun.
For that, we have to thank Leonardo DiCaprio. DiCaprio had managed terrific performances all his career, but this is one of the first in years to actually surprise us. Opening his tale as an ambitious and firm-shouldered young buck, the likes of which you'd find in any Horatio Algers novel, and devolving into the Financial District's answer to Beetlejuice, the actor exhibits corners of his performing ability that we have always dreamed we'd see. In the months leading up to DiCaprio's turn as the dastardly dandy Calvin Candie in last year's Quentin Tarantino picture Django Unchained, fans anticipated an unprecedented kookiness that never seemed to show. Turns out, DiCaprio was saving that mania for Wolf of Wall Street, in which he lambasts justice and judgment in the form of an elastic child at his most tempered and a rabid kangaroo on those nights of the especially hard partying.
And of course, there's that scene with the Quaaludes. Without giving too much away — although the experience is so visceral that all the contextual spoilers wouldn't rob the scene of its emphatic humor — DiCaprio manages a feat of physical comedy so extensive, demanding, and gutterally f**king hilarious that you'll wonder tearfully what might have been had the rising star shirked Titanic for a career in slapstick. But the surplus joys derived from this scene might, in fact, be Wolf's undoing. In a story that is meant to lather on the horrors inherent in the human's propensity for self-serving greed and gluttony, it can soften the blow when we're allowed to take a break from our disgust to spend a few moments in vivid, unabashed delight. Yes, the scene in question involves drug abuse, intoxicated driving, criminal activity, and a near-death experience. But it's so damn funny that we're kept from toppling down into what might have been the darkest crevasse of the film's story and enduring the pathos that might come with it.
The dilution of Wolf's message comes at the hand of its comedy (with no affair a bigger culprit than the one described above) and its tendency to meander. Although Scorsese works to shove the very idea of "excess" down our throats with seemingly endless scenes of Belfort and his pals harassing flight attendants and dehumanizing little people, the ad nauseum effect doesn't always hit home as powerfully as imagined, instead allowing the viewer to fizzle out from time to time through Wolf's three-hour tour. We're drowned, slowly and steadily, in Belfort's tragic pleasures while, as the "18 months later" interstitial suggests, we keep expecting to combust with them.
It's always a risky endeavor for a film or television show to indict crooked characters not through narrative penalties but through a tacit communication of their behavior or psychology as bad news. The risk comes in the form of audiences challenging artists for letting their villains get off scot-free, or even for glorifying undesirable lifestyles. Ultimately, while Belfort does get some semblance of his comeuppance, he wins in his nefarious game. The Belfort we leave at the end of our journey adheres to the tenets he spouts from the beginning, reveling in a legion of former colleagues beaming at him in collective awe and new students of his self-centric theology zealously eating up his every word in hopes of becoming the very same kind of demigod. To Scorsese, and to any an audience member willing to estrange him or herself from the bounties of wicked humor, this is just the fire we were promised. Belfort's image is ignited by the instances of theft, deceit, betrayal, substance abuse, sexual crime, and a spiralling descent into sub-human madness. But there are a few too many laughs along the way to keep the flames from reaching their full, hottest potential.
But hey, when you're complaining about a movie for being too much fun, you've got a pretty good movie on your hands.
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It was the trickle of pee heard around the world. Cannes attendees were aghast and/or amused an infamous scene from The Paperboy that shows Nicole Kidman urinating on Zac Efron; this is apparently a great salve for jellyfish burns which were covering our Ken Doll-like protagonist. (In fact the term protagonist should be used very loosely for Efron's character Jack who is mostly acted upon than active throughout.)
Lurid! Sexy! Perverse! Trashy! Whether or not it's actually effective is overshadowed by all the hubbub that's attached itself to the movie for better or worse. In fact the movie is all of these things — but that's actually not a compliment. What could have become somethingmemorable is jaw-droppingly bad (when it's not hilarious). Director Lee Daniels uses a few different visual styles throughout from a stark black and white palette for a crime scene recreation at the beginning to a '70s porno aesthetic that oscillates between psychedelic and straight-up sweaty with an emphasis on Efron's tighty-whiteys. This only enhances the sloppiness of the script which uses lines like narrator/housekeeper/nanny Anita's (Macy Gray) "You ain't tired enough to be retired " to conjure up the down-home wisdom of the South. Despite Gray's musical talents she is not a good choice for a narrator or an actor for that matter. In a way — insofar as they're perhaps the only female characters given a chunk of screen time — her foil is Charlotte Bless Nicole Kidman's character. Anita is the mother figure who wears as we see in an early scene control-top pantyhose whereas Charlotte is all clam diggers and Barbie doll make-up. Or as Anita puts it "an oversexed Barbie doll."
The slapdash plot is that Jack's older brother Ward (Matthew McConaughey) comes back to town with his colleague Yardley (David Oyelowo) to investigate the case of a death row criminal named Hillary Van Wetter. Yardley is black and British which seems to confuse many of the people he meets in this backwoods town. Hillary (John Cusack) hidden under a mop of greasy black hair) is a slack-jawed yokel who could care less if he's going to be killed for a crime he might or might not have committed. He is way more interested in his bride-to-be Charlotte who has fallen in love with him through letters — this is her thing apparently writing letters and falling in love with inmates — and has rushed to help Ward and Yardley free her man. In the meantime we're subjected to at least one simulated sex scene that will haunt your dreams forever. Besides Hillary's shortcomings as a character that could rustle up any sort of empathy the case itself is so boring it begs the question why a respected journalist would be interested enough to pursue it.
The rest of the movie is filled with longing an attempt to place any the story in some sort of social context via class and race even more Zac Efron's underwear sexual violence alligator innards swamp people in comically ramshackle homes and a glimpse of one glistening McConaughey 'tock. Harmony Korine called and he wants his Gummo back.
It's probably tantalizing for this cast to take on "serious" "edgy" work by an Oscar-nominated director. Cusack ditched his boombox blasting "In Your Eyes" long ago and Efron's been trying to shed his squeaky clean image for so long that he finally dropped a condom on the red carpet for The Lorax so we'd know he's not smooth like a Ken doll despite how he was filmed by Daniels. On the other hand Nicole Kidman has been making interesting and varied career choices for years so it's confounding why she'd be interested in a one-dimensional character like Charlotte. McConaughey's on a roll and like the rest of the cast he's got plenty of interesting projects worth watching so this probably won't slow him down. Even Daniels is already shooting a new film The Butler as we can see from Oprah's dazzling Instagram feed. It's as if they all want to put The Paperboy behind them as soon as possible. It's hard to blame them.
Wallace busted in dustup
Veteran 60 Minutes correspondent Mike Wallace, 86, was handcuffed and driven to a police station in New York Tuesday after arguing with city inspectors over where his driver had parked, The Associated Press reports. The dispute began as Wallace was leaving a Manhattan restaurant and saw two inspectors questioning his driver, whom they said was double-parked. The Taxi and Limousine Commission told WCBS-TV that Wallace became "overly assertive and disrespectful" and interfered with the inspectors. At one point, Wallace even lunged at one of the inspectors, according to the commission. The other inspector then detained Wallace and drove him to a police station, where he was issued a summons for disorderly conduct, AP reports. He was later released.
Vanessa Williams, Rick Fox divorce
Former Laker Rick Fox has filed for divorce from actress Vanessa Williams, Reuters reports. The couple has been married for five years and have a 4-year-old daughter named Sasha, Fox spokeswoman Staci Wolfe said. "They are both extremely devoted parents, so the most important thing to them right now is the welfare of their child," Wolfe said. "They are committed to working out what's best for her." Williams, 41, also has three children from her previous union with Ramon Hervey. The former Miss America had no comment about the split, her spokesman said.
Andre 3000 voted world's best-dressed
According to Esquire magazine, Outkast's Andre 3000 is the world's best-dressed man. "He's a complete individual," Nick Sullivan, Esquire's fashion director, told AP. "That's really the point." Other best-dressed men include Today co-anchor Matt Lauer, Prince Felipe of Spain, Afghanistan president Hamid Karzai and San Francisco mayor Gavin Newsom. The list, which for the first time includes an international faction, was compiled by a panel of fashion experts and Esquire editors.
Zeta-Jones stalker tested by psychiatrist
A Los Angeles judge ruled on Tuesday that the woman accused of sending death threats to actress Catherine Zeta-Jones is to be examined by a psychiatrist to determine whether she is fit to stand trial, Reuters reports. Criminal proceedings were suspended in July after Dawnette Knight, 32, took a barbiturate overdose in her jail cell and her lawyer accused Zeta-Jones of driving Knight to attempt suicide. Knight, who is said to be obsessed with Zeta-Jones's husband Michael Douglas, faces a 25-count charge of stalking the actress through threatening letters and phone calls over an 18-month period. A Los Angeles judge said the psychiatrist appointed on Tuesday should file a report by Sept. 15 on whether Knight is competent to stand trial. Knight is in jail in lieu of $1 million bail.
Lil' Kim launches designer watch line
Rapper Lil' Kim has entered the world of fashion, launching her own line of designer watches, AP reports. "I love fashion and wanted to create a designer watch collection that would translate my personal style into a product which would appeal to stylish women everywhere," said Lil' Kim, whose real name is Kimberly Jones, in a statement Tuesday. The rapper will work with celebrity jeweler Jacob Arabo to manufacture the watches, which will range in price from $1,800 to $3,500, AP reports.
Janet Jackson makes Will & Grace appearance
Janet Jackson is set to make a guest appearance as herself on the hit NBC show Will & Grace, AP reports. In an interview with Access Hollywood, Jackson said her part involves Sean Hayes' character, Jack McFarland, "trying out as a dancer." "There's a little bit of a routine and they go on to do their thing from there," she said. "It's so funny. I have to catch myself because I'm cracking up in rehearsals. It's just funny to watch them. It's hilarious." The episode will air on Sept. 23.
Buffy, Grace clear charges of indecency
Speaking of Will & Grace, the show was recently cleared by the FCC on charges of indecency (let's just hope Janet behaves herself), along with the now defunct Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Reuters reports. The complaints filed by the Parent Television Council and Americans for Decency were dismissed in a 5-0 vote because the commission found the shows didn't violate indecency regulations. The episode of Will & Grace in question involved a "woman photographer [who] passionately kissed [a] woman author and then humped her (what she called a 'dry hump')," the complaint read, while the episode of Buffy showed the characters Spike and Buffy fighting before having sex. Both shows aired in primetime.