Monday, December 23, 2013

THE WOLF OF WALL STREET -- my review

'Tis the season for movie critics to fawn all over iconic filmmakers. Not surprisingly, most are in love with WOLF OF WALL STREET, the latest from director Martin Scorsese that opens on Christmas Day.

They’re half right.

Two hours of this film is spectacular. Great scenes, wonderful performances, sharp dialogue, funny lines, and nudity.

Unfortunately, the other hour is boring, excessive, unnecessary, and takes the whole movie down with it. By the tenth party/orgy scene I was even bored with the nudity.

What you ultimately have here is GOOD FELLAS with Italian suits. All the cocaine, paranoia, and Lorraine Bracco/brunette/townie/first wife were there, but none of the fun extreme violence and crowd-pleasing gunplay. It was the world’s longest episode of WHITE COLLAR.

Along the way there are sensational scenes. Matthew McConaughey gives his best performance EVER in a lunch sequence with star Leo DiCaprio. Leo invites FBI agent, Kyle Chandler to his yacht for a one-on-one and every moment is delicious. (By the way, my daughter Annie observed that since he won an Emmy, every movie that Kyle Chandler is in he wears a badge.) Leo gives a speech to his staff that is mesmerizing. Unfortunately, he gives five more speeches. And that’s the problem. Many of the scenes get repeated.

Scorsese is a master of detail and as usual every shot is a work of art. Scenes are beautifully cut to get the maximum impact. But the job of a director is more. Ultimately, he has to keep the big picture in mind. He has to tell the overall story in a way that holds our interest. It’s not enough to grab us at the beginning (which he always does masterfully), he has to keep the story compelling. It’s a tough job, especially when your film is three hours. And that’s where Marty dropped the ball with this one. The story just goes and goes and goes, told in a very straightforward linear fashion.  After awhile you're checking your watch. 
I could easily chop an hour out of that movie.

I’m sure many film critics would disagree. I’m just not smart enough or sophisticated enough to appreciate the brilliance of Mr. Scorsese. The theme and commentary on the state of America were too far above a Joe Lunch Pail like me. One reviewer called him a “master storyteller.” Uh huh. Another reviewer gushed that “it holds nothing back.” To me, that’s the problem. Other critics tossed around words like “visionary,” “epic artistry,” and “genius.” Of course they also said that about THE AVIATOR.

Still, THE WOLF OF WALL STREET is worth seeing. Just not worth running to see. Just know you’re in for a long ride.  But along the way you’ll be treated to some great sequences. And if too many orgy scenes are one of the biggest problems, this isn’t the worst movie you’ll see this year. Or even this week.

34 comments:

luciuspaisley said...

I think the worst movie I would have seen this year would have been that Aubrey Plaza one, if I had seen it.

I walked past the television as my wife was watching it, I think it might have been called "I Play Aubrey Plaza In EVERYTHING" or "I'm Like A Female Rob Schneider" or something like that...

Anonymous said...

You DARE say Scorsce's movie was too long, right after your Las Vegas vacation post?!

bmcmolo said...

Aww, I loved The Aviator.

Haven't seen this one yet. Our 9 month old precludes us from getting out to the movies too much. This put a serious crimp in our 2013 movie-going. (We did catch Sharknado, of course!)

Jeff C said...

I'm not sure there's ever been a 3-hour movie that needed to be 3 hours, but just saying that, I'm sure I'll be inundated with examples that should make me shut up. But I'm wondering just from the clips and trailer I've seen why in the name of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart I should care about any of these guys. Does the movie provide an answer?

Hamid said...

We don't get The Wolf of Wall Street for another few weeks in the UK. In the meantime, I saw and loved Anchorman 2. A priceless joke about OJ Simpson, Phil Spector and Robert Blake had me in hysterics.

VincentS said...

I'm sure Matthew McConaughey does an excellent job in this movie, Ken - I always thought he was underrated and underused. But you might want to see DALLAS BUYERS CLUB before you call it his best performance ever. He is fast turning into an American Daniel Day-Lewis.

Anonymous said...

The overly-long problem is not unique to this film. Studio execs are ball-less creatures incapable to telling artistes "No."

gottacook said...

Not having seen this yet, my first thought was that Scorsese had switched editors for some reason. But apparently Thelma Schoonmaker was his editor on this, as she has been for almost his whole feature film career. Not that she hasn't turned out needlessly tedious films before. The enduring qualities and influence of Goodfellas are in large part a testament to her abilities. BUT… she also edited Casino, which was a drag and shouldn't have been - although perhaps its gross overuse of voice-over narration by two (or three?) of its main characters wasn't something she got to vote on.

(Question: Does DiCaprio narrate this whole damn movie too, in the same manner?)

skarab said...

Looking at your watch while watching a movie is a pretty good indicator that the director (and movie) are not doing their job! If the stakes for the protagonist aren't being raised at each crisis point, a movie gets boring pretty fast.

I like Scorsese, but not 100% of the time, and I may skip this one.

Erika said...

I kind of agree with you that every scene in this movie didn't feel essential. Scorsese kept it entertaining though. The movie didn't feel three hours long to me. However, its original length of 4 hours and 10 minutes seems absurd. I can't imagine what more there was to tell. I don't think it's anywhere near as good as Goodfellas because the characters aren't as interesting. Leo did his best but Jordan Belfort is kind of a one note guy. He's no Henry Hill. He's not that complex of a character. He's pretty much a douche from beginning to end. The overall story was interesting, but I think it would've been more compelling if the characters actually grew. Also, this movie lacks a Karen Hill. There's not one woman in this movie that you really feel for. The first wife comes close but she's barely in the movie. Every other woman is an idiot or just set decoration. I guess you could argue that we're seeing everything through Belfort's eyes. He doesn't care about any of these women, thus the film doesn't either. Overall, I thought the movie was good, but it's definitely not one of the great Scorsese films. I also noticed that Kyle Chandler, unfortunately, has mostly played one dimensional authority figures in almost every film since Friday Night Lights went off the air. The one exception being The Spectacular Now where he showed he absolutely has the ability to do more than that.

Erika said...

gottacook... Yes, he narrates the whole thing which is a little bit much.

Wendy M. Grossman said...

Yeah, I gotta. IIRC ONCE UPON A TIME IN AMERICAN was far better in its full near-four-hour length (with planned intermission) than in the shorter version seen in US theaters. LAWRENCE OF ARABIA doesn't make any sense in the shortened version I first saw. GONE WITH THE WIND I thought was too long, but I would think that if it were only a 10-minute short. THE GODFATHER PART II. TTANIC was torture for every frame at any length. But TESS, SHORT CUTSm abd SPARTACIS deserved their length.

So it's like anything: it's all about the skill of the person doing it. And sometimes, perversely, shorter feels longer if the story is botched by cuts.

wg

Hamid said...

I remember looking at my watch during Avatar to find that only 25 minutes had passed. I knew it wasn't a good sign. And I was right. Fucking boring movie.

Stephen Robinson said...

A friend asked me to see GRAVITY with her and afterward I said, "At least it was short." This was not damning with faint praise. I've known films to run twice as long and accomplish just as much.

Perhaps it's my journalism training, but I applaud brevity. GATSBY is 182 pages. Woody Allen's best comedies are less than 90 minutes.

I do enjoy films and plays that are more than three hours long if tightly plotted. A rambling movie -- more so than a book, which I am not expected to digest in one sitting -- is simply not entertaining to me.

David said...

Erika beat me to it, but yep, Annie must have missed Chandler in THE SPECTACULAR NOW.

Cap'n Bob said...

I've always thought Scorcese was overrated. His movies are always badly flawed, at least the ones I've seen. Maybe I'm incapable of appreciating his genius. Yeah, that must be it. Right.

Dale said...

If Scorcese was a meal, it'd be a hamburger.

The last of his films I saw was Aviator. Never again.

Brian said...

As a writer, I'm surprised you give so much credit and blame to Scorsese. It still bothers me that critics do it, but they don't know any better. As a film writer, doesn't it bother you that directors get the bulk of the credit? At best, they are putting the visuals and pacing to the scripts blueprint. Good scripts can get by with mediocre visuals (sling blade). Sometimes even mediocre directing. But the best director can do nothing with a bad script. It's the same as being a conductor, but they never take credit for "creating" a Mozsrt symphony.

pumpkinhead said...

A movie doesn't have to be short or long to be good. It has to be the RIGHT length for whatever it is, just like a song doesn't have to be fast or slow, just RIGHT. Apparently this movie is not the right length.

Canda said...

Scorsese may paint beautiful pictures, but that often keeps you from becoming part of the movie. He and DeCaprio consider themselves such artists that they did an hour with Charlie Rose on his PBS talk show, rather than any commercial venue that would be far more popular. In Charlie, they found the perfect intellectual to fawn over them (no doubt out of his gratitude that they were on the show).

Everyone loves GOODFELLAS, which was gratuitous in its violence, malevolent in its Italian stereotypes and portrayals, and is such a lesser film that the GODFATHER (and GODFATHER 2), it shouldn't even be mentioned in the same breath. GODFATHER, for all its violence, portrayed many real scenes from Italian culture, particularly the wedding, was a triumph of storytelling, and even had a coherent theme of how evil has consequences.

Did you really feel ANY emotion when Pesci gets it in the end of GOODFELLAS? Of course not. It was as stylized and distant as the rest of the film.

Lorimartian said...

I, for one, am a fan of Scorsese. I saw "Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore" before I was paying attention to directors. I was surprised to discover later on that Scorsese directed it. "After Hours" is one of my favorite films, too.

While I'm disappointed to hear that "Wolf" is too long (I trust your judgment, Ken), sometimes the good parts in a film are so good, one can forgive a little self-indulgence. It's frustrating to think, however, that someone might have suggested cuts that Scorsese couldn't see would improve the pace. I hope he's not losing his objectivity completely at this point in his career.

Storm said...

Cap'n Bob said: "I've always thought Scorcese was overrated. His movies are always badly flawed, at least the ones I've seen. Maybe I'm incapable of appreciating his genius. Yeah, that must be it. Right."

Get the bunker ready, Martha, I think the end is near-- I completely agree with Cap'n Bob about something! HA! It's a Christmas miracle!

To be fair though, Lorimartian mention the two that I really do love; "After Hours" is SO damn funny (I'm a sucker for any story about someone going an all night adventure; I love "Into the Night" as well), and "ADLHA" came out at about the same time my mother dumped my bio-father, and she and I kinda bonded over it. It was the first thing I'd ever seen that showed me how hard it was to be a newly-single Mom (though in Alice's case, she was a widow), and it made me try a little harder not to be such a little bite in the ass.

I didn't want to see this BEFORE I found out it was ANOTHER Marty And Leo Lovefest; the ads make it seem like it's an assholey movie about a bunch of assholes assholing around. Woo frickin' HOO. Here's my money, I don't deal with enough assholery IRL.

Cheers, thanks a lot,

Storm

wv: "chemical hindderp" = a failed attempt at anal sex while fried out of your mind?

Jeffro said...

You guys are all wrong! The last and ONLY good movie Scorsese made was The Last Waltz.

Greg Ehrbar said...

Scorsese is brilliant, and the thing I most appreciate about him is his dedication to the legacy of film. "Hugo" was a favorite.

"Wolf" did have a lot of repetition. Another grotesque orgy? Another failed attempt to convict this guy? ANOTHER self exposure by Jonah "Brundon" Hill? Ewww.

My concern is that young viewers might see this as a twisted blueprint for superficial success and their perception of high living by any means possible.

Michael Douglas said he is continually horrified when business people tell him what a role model Gordon Gecko was to them. How many of them were and are responsible for so much of what has happened in the business world?

Pumpkinhead's comments were echoed by Samuel Goldwyn. When asked how long a movie should be, he replied, "How long is it good?"

Kyle Chandler stole the movie by being the Cheshire Cat in the midst of Mad Hatters. The scene on the yacht is great. His presence permeates the narrative, tracking every move of DeCaprio's character. Shades of Gary Cooper and Columbo.

Does DeCaprio's character really win in the end? That's a moral question of what is really important in life. But do young aspiring jerks get the message or do movies like this help manufacture more jerks -- and people who are duped by them through lottery fantasies?

Barry Traylor said...

Three Hours!!!!

Hamid said...

Barry Lyndon is an example of a 3 hour film that justifies every second of its running time.

Wendy M. Grossman said...

In case my posting wasn't clear GODFATHER 2 was worth every second. (I have no idea, also, why there were so many typos in that message. I know how to spell SPARTACUS.)

AFTER HOURS is the perfect Manhattan nightmare.

wg

Dana Gabbard said...

Brian, directors work with their writers. Hitchcock and Capra both gave input, suggestions. This is well documented. In film the director generally lead the creative process. In TV showrunners are the ones who do that. Ken's emphasis is understandable.

Zack said...

How was Jonah Hill in this one? In the trailer he seemed like he was trying too hard to look and sound like a Scorsese character, if you know what I mean. All the squinting and that affected accent.

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cadavra said...

WOLF is the fastest three-hour movie I've ever seen. Just how much is "too much?" Did anyone ever sit through a James Bond movie and think, "Oh, Christ, he's gonna schtup another broad?" Or a Bruce Lee film and think, "Hasn't he beaten up enough guys already?" Or a Gene Kelly musical and think, "Oh, shit, he's gonna DANCE again?" You have to obey the material, and they did what was right for the story.

Anonymous said...

Mary in New Hampshire, a couple people walked out of the movie tonight. After 90 minutes I googled the length of the movie, 180 minutes, I then went into the lobby to ask if it was really that long. This is by far the worst movie I have ever seen. There actually were some funny scenes but any idiot could have cut the first 90 minutes into 20 minutes. In a sense the story still hadn't really started because you basically just see over and over again what a scumbag the guy is. Many parts were disturbing, and I guess that is how some movies are but I found the disturbing things kept happening over and over. They really beat a dead horse for over 90 minutes. I can't say much more about the movie because after 100 minutes my friend and I left the movie and all I could think was I will never get that 100 minutes back! I actually searched the Internet to it to see what other people had to say. The sad thing is I went to see a different movie but it was sold out. I am even considering calling the movie theatre for my money back. This movie should have had an NC 17 rating, because the content was that bad. I would never have gone to a movie like this and rated R was not suitable for it. Save you money and most of all your time and don't bother with this movie.

Unknown said...

You could chop out half of the book too. Scenes are likely repeated in the movie because that's as they were presented in the book.

Alan Lewis said...

Scorcese has become way too addicted to spectacle and technique, at the expense of veracity, character, and dramatic structure. The kinetic energy of Wolf sustained interest better than the meandering, pointless set pieces of Hugo and Gangs of NY, but only because orgies. Oh for the jewel-like economy of Mean Streets and After Hours.