The Wolf Of Wall Street (Film Review)

The Wolf Of Wall Street (Film Review)

With going to the theater a more rare thing for me, it often takes me a long time to see films that people have been raving about for months. And I am okay with that. I can wait to hear all the reviews about a movie, wait for the awards season to come and go, hear about who was robbed and who earned their statues, etc. And then I can finally sit back, and enjoy a film based on what I want to think of it, without any of the hype getting in the way. Waiting to see big movies has made me a lot more objective.

wolf-of-wall-street1The Wolf of Wall Street is typically the type of movie I would have rushed out to see back in the day. I love all films directed by Martin Scorcese, and I particularly enjoy those in which he has worked with Leonardo DiCaprio, who I believe has become the best actor of this generation, or perhaps tied with Daniel Day Lewis. The movies that these two have made together have all been excellent, and there isn’t a single one that I didn’t enjoy.

In this film, I believe DiCaprio may have given his best performance to date. At least, in the first half of the three-hour movie he does. After the climactic events of the film, he regresses a little to the DiCaprio that we are more used to seeing, and he seems far more hinged and held back than the crazed, greedy, maniac he is in the first half.

The plot of the story is typical for a Scorcese film, and really isn’t that different from Goodfellas, set in a different locale. Man starts from nothing, rises up to be the best, and then the inevitable downfall. There is nothing new here when it comes to the story, but as with all Scorcese films, the best part is how he brings it all out.

For Wolf, he does it through the debauchery of the lead characters’ (Jordan Belfort) life. He loves drugs, and women, and money. He goes on major Qualuude benders, snorts tons of cocaine (from some pretty interesting locations, as well), drinks like a fish, and goes through hookers like candy. Jordan is an insatiable person, in all aspects of his life. He became a self-made, millionaire trader on Wall Street, and lived life in the finest lap of luxury. Before it all blows up in his face, as these things tend to do. But prior to his fall, he gets everything a human could want. The crazy mansion, an armada of impressive sports cars, the gorgeous wife (played impressively by Margot Robbie, who has an awesome Long Island accent, and a beauty that steals several scenes).

Margot-Robbie-Leonardo-Di-CaprioThe rest of the supporting cast in this film is strong as well. Even though I really don’t like Jonah Hill, he was pretty good in his role. The same goes for Matthew McConaughey, who doesn’t get much screen time, but creates a likable character pretty quickly.

I really enjoyed this movie. Even though it is very long, it is definitely entertaining. We like watching Belfort to terrible things to himself and to those around him, because a part of the film is about how he really is a good person, and helpful to those around him. There is a world-record amount of swearing in the film (because apparently people have counted the number of f-bombs in here, and all other movies), tons of drugs, and tons of nudity. A little something for everybody.

My biggest complaint about the transition of this book in to a film (I am currently reading the novel written by Belfort that served as the source material for the movie, I will write a review of the book when I complete it) is that there isn’t much explained about how Jordan managed to make all of his money and this leaves us not really understanding his true genius. Whenever the screen version of Belfort begins to explain how he is messing with the system in order to make millions, he cuts himself off, telling the audience that we either don’t really care about the details, or that we wouldn’t understand it. I believe this took  a lot away from him, because while we know he is clever, we don’t know how clever. Was a lot of his money a fluke? How good was he? For those of us who don’t really understand Wall Street, but want to know more, this movie missed an opportunity to detail a little bit more about the ins and outs of the business. Think of how Oliver Stone’s Wall Street educated us in the sneakiness of insider trading. I wanted some more of that. I didn’t want to be treated as a simple audience member who wouldn’t understand everything. Sure. perhaps I wouldn’t understand it all, but I wanted to at least be given the chance (this rings true in the novel, as Belfort brushes over a lot of the details on how his money was made, although he describes intensely how he went about moving it to the Swiss accounts). Maybe more explanation would have meant an even longer running time, but I would have sacrificed another twenty minutes to find out how the man called the Wolf became the man called the Wolf.

This is not Scorcese’s best movie. I think the story was too simple for it to be that. It misses out on some of the layers that his other work has provided us with, in films such as The Departed. The story is simple, and perhaps it leaves us wanting more. Because we know what is going to happen, perhaps he could have provided us with more insight into the characters. For example, there is a scene described in the novel where Belfort confesses all of his problems to Aunt Emma (or Patricia in the novel). This gives us insight in to him, and their relationship, and the reasons he does so much of what he does. In the film version, all we get is him wondering if she is hitting on him, and him confessing that he is a drug and sex addict. There could have been more here, so that we would care about Belfort in the way we cared about Ray Liotta in Goodfellas, or Robert DeNiro in Casino. For a movie that was this long, there could have been more about this man that we were watching, and loving, on screen. And we all know that DiCaprio has the chops to create a layered character that we can love, or even love to hate.

I truly enjoyed The Wolf of Wall Street. I probably believe that DiCaprio should have finally got his Oscar for this film. God knows he should have had three or four by now, but that is neither here nor there.

If you are on the fence about watching this movie, see it. It lives up to the hype that was created around it, and it will eventually be considered a quintessential part of the Scorcese/DiCaprio collection.

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Veronica Mars (Film Review)

Veronica Mars (Film Review)

The largest Kickstarter campaign ever comes to fruition in the film version of the TV show that quickly became a cult classic during its three-year run on the air, the Veronica Mars movie leaves no disappointment for fans of the series.

Ten years after leaving Neptune, Veronica has left her private detective life behind her, and is on the verge of becoming a high end lawyer in New York. Her life has been a success, as we all knew that it would be. She has a degree in psychology, and is weeks away from taking the bar exam. She is interviewing with top firms in NYC, on the cusp of a great career.

Until the call comes in.

“Veronica? I need your help.”

marsDrawn back to Neptune to help out Logan Eckles, her ex-love, who is again facing a murder rap when his former girlfriend and pop singer is found dead in her bathtub (Carrie Bishop, from the original show, although she is no longer played by Leighton Meester, one of the few disappointments in the movie). Of course, Veronica begrudgingly accepts to help him out with finding a lawyer, which turns into a much longer stay than she had intended.

Veronica Mars has everything one could want in a YV series-turned feature film. This was, after all, mostly funded by the fans, who raised millions of dollars to see this made. That is a dedicated fan base.

All of our favorite characters are back, and Kristen Bell, as Veronica, is in her finest form. She is as sharp and witty as ever, now able to say some of the things that she couldn’t on TV (I always enjoy hearing TV characters swear, it is partially unnatural, and partially awesome, because we know it’s what they would have really said, anyways). Even ten years after the first season began, we still love Veronica. She is still the underdog, despite the success in her life. And she continues to fight for what she believes to be right, which is the part of her character that we probably always admired most, even if we didn’t realize it.

There are great nods to the fans, even mentioning the cancelled fourth season where Veronica was to be an intern at the FBI. In the opening minutes, she even calls herself a Marshmallow, the name Veronica Mars fans have adopted for themselves. These subtle nods are fantastic, as they are not punch-you-in-the-face obvious, and it would not detract from a person watching the film as their first exposure to the character. In fact, this film does a good job of being a somewhat stand-alone production, in that you could watch it with someone who was not familiar with the series, and they would easily be able to follow along and enjoy it.

As for the story, and the mystery, it is as solid as always. There are some twists, and it is a good murder mystery, as was nearly every episode of the show. There is no let down here. At an hour and 45 minutes long, it is basically watching two back-to-back episodes, with an entire murder plot crammed in. But it doesn’t feel to rushed. And for fans of the show, watching back-to-back episodes is something that we have all done. Probably more than once. Ok, maybe some of us have managed to watch an entire season in one sitting (that’s a lot of sitting, but it got done!).

Not many actresses really own their character in the way that Bell owns Veronica. She is her. And even though she continues to act, and hasn’t been pigeon-holed due to the success of this show, there will always be a part of Kristen that truly is in a part of this character. We want to see them as the same person, because she is so good as her. Veronica Mars is the girl with the smart answer to everything, but who can also be fiercely loyal and loving at the same time. She uses her sarcasm as a mask, something too many of us are able to identify with. She is the outcast who never should have been the outcast in the first place, but wears her letter with pride, and always manages to hold her head up high, not ashamed of who she is. She is a true television hero.

One of my favorite things about the film is that they did not deviate from the formula of the show. This is exactly what people wanted to see. And they got it. They did not try to go crazy just because there was some more money and a built-in audience. They knew how Veronica Mars worked, and they stuck with it.

As usual, Veronica narrates the film, as the did on the series. She compares her need to help, to be near Logan, near Neptune, as an addiction, something that she dealt with in her life with her mother, and the various issues that floated around the elites of Neptune. It is a clever under-current to the story, the tale of a girl who wants nothing more than to get away, and stay away, but can do nothing of the sort. Another layer to the story, that is great entertainment.

For any fan of Veronica Mars, this movie is an absolute must-see. For those who never watched the show, you can count on a pretty solid murder mystery with some good comebacks and wit.

Just as the show always was.

Smashed (Film Review)

Smashed (Film Review)

Ah, Netflix. I love you because of your random suggestions. Since I watched Drinking Buddies, I might also like…

Smashed.

A quick film about a young married couple (Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Aaron Paul), who have issues with drinking. Like, they enjoy it too much. Both of them are alcoholics, and the film centers around Winstead wanting to get clean, Paul’s refusal, and the way in which alcohol, or the lack of it, drives them apart.

smashed_headerAt the beginning, Smashed seems like it will be a harrowing journey into the lives of alcoholics, in the way that so many substance abuse movies are. We will watch them have fun, then things will turn bad, then they will go through the torturous withdrawal on their way to redemption. I will give this movie credit, in that it isn’t as cookie-cutter perfect as it could have been.

The movie opens with Winstead waking up hungover, getting ready for work, drinking in her car, then throwing up in front of her grade 1 students. Seems like our abuse film is right on track. This leads to a side story, where Winstead says she is pregnant, causing her to be ill. While the story line initially seems kind of pointless, it does lead to a redeeming part later on, so there is definite purpose. Later on, she smokes crack with a stranger. A quick escalation, and we see that she could easily become a complete train wreck.

The best part of the movie is Winstead’s performance. She is confused, and angry, with the choices she has made, and she comes across as genuine throughout the film. She is able to create the performance of someone who is broken, and ready for a change. She drank because it made her feel good. And then it made her feel bad. So she stopped.

And this is the problem with the film. It all seemed too easy for Kate. She went to a couple of meetings, with the guidance of a fellow teacher (played awesomely by Nick Offerman- he has the most memorable, and most awkward, scene in the movie when he is in the car with Kate and admits he has a crush on her), found a great sponsor, and got clean. Sure, there is the inevitable relapse, but Smashed keeps us away from the physical pain of detox. There is no real indication that Kate as any issues with being around others that drink, which I would imagine, is one of the most difficult things for a recovering alcoholic to do. She carries on with her life, does better at her teaching job, before the drift with her husband occurs.

It is nice to see the opposite side of the coin, however, in that alcohol was the thing that kept this couple together. We are more used to seeing how the presence of booze will drive a couple apart. For the most part, it becomes the absence of alcohol that creates their marital issues, as it was something that they could bond over for so many years. For that, Smashed offers a slightly different perspective on the issue.

For the most part of the movie, Aaron Paul is underused. He is a good actor, but the majority of his performance is basically a spinoff of the early Jesse Pinkman on the first couple of seasons of Breaking Bad. He could have been more. He gets to show his acting chops as the movie progresses, but for the most part, I feel he could have done more.

In all, Smashed is just ok. It could have been dark, and gritty, but it only gave us glimpses into that side of alcoholism. This film is carried by the actors that are in it, and for them, it is worth viewing. As a movie that focuses on the pain and desperation of addiction, it does fall a little flat.

Drinking Buddies (Film Review)

Drinking Buddies (Film Review)

There is nothing about the premise of this film that I do not like. Friends who own a brewery, their complicated love lives, a “they belong together but are they clever enough to figure it out” relationship, beautiful women, strong acting performances.

drinking-buddies2
Johnson definitely as scruffy in this photo as he is in the film. He gets to sport an awesome beard.

Drinking Buddies, which is now on Netflix Canada, is a very strong movie, and it is led by the amazing performance by Olivia Wilde. In this film, she is best defined as being a beautiful disaster. She definitely isn’t glammed up at all in the movie, spending most of it with bags under her eyes, hungover, and in some fairly ratty tank tops. But there is still something about her that is incredibly desirable, and that speaks to the level of her performance. She is a complete mess, going through a breakup with her boyfriend, who could possibly the most boring human ever, and has no chemistry with her. But she is a mess that you want to know, because she is a cool girl, and one who is willing to down beer after beer with her friends. You can’t help but love her.

The movie also has a great supporting cast, including the always great Ron Livingston (seriously, him in Office Space and Band of Brothers is amazing) as Wilde’s dull and ill-fitting boyfriend, Jake M. Johnson (from New Girl) playing Wilde’s co-worker and best friend, and the always fantastic and sedate Anna Kendrick (if you are not yet a fan and only know her from Twilight, you are missing out. Check her out in Pitch Perfect and Up in the Air). The foursome makes this movie what it is, which is a quiet story about friends and falling in love.

This is Olivia Wilde's best performance.
This is Olivia Wilde’s best performance. Even roughed up, she is still beautiful.

Throughout the film, there is an understated jealousy between all of the characters, based on the nature of their relationships, and this provides the depth, and the warmth, of the film. There is nothing over-the-top to be seen here. There is no scene where the characters are running through an airport trying to tell someone that they love them before they leave their lives forever. No hammy romantic gestures that destroys the relationships that we learn to respect over the course of the hour and a half run time.

The movie is calm, and understated. Not a collection of drunken adventures. It is based in realism, and this is why I liked this movie so much. It is something that can happen, that has happened, and will definitely happen again. So many of us have been in situations like this before, where we don’t necessarily realize that the thing that is most perfect for us is sitting right before us. Sometimes it is painful to watch the realism, but this is the way things are in real life. It isn’t always fireworks and crazy hookups and insane parties. Sometimes it’s quiet conversations about the possibility of marriage, getting too drunk and trying to make a bonfire, or running into the ocean after far too many. Sometimes it is all about sitting quietly next to your friend over lunch.

This simplicity is what makes Drinking Buddies a movie worth watching. If you are in it for a rip-roaring drinking comedy, keep searching. This is not that film. This one is definitely something more than that, something that feels a little bit more important.

Well worth a watch.