'Who can keep up during Christmas?' I asked in my column over at Towleroad yesterday and after some mumbling about mystifying release strategies for platforming properties (read it if you can't get enough of me) I got to the heart of the matter with two wide releases. They are reprinted here with a bit of embroidery to fill out my thoughts...
THE SECRET LIFE OF WALTER MITTY
Ben Stiller stars and directs in this fable about the shy titular photo editor at Life Magazine who is prone to elaborately staged daydreams wherein he battles his demeaning boss (Adam Scott with a fake beard) or seduces his dream girl (Kristen Wiig, who is dreamy and, um, a girl). When Walter loses an important negative sent from a legendary photographer (Sean Penn, perfectly cast), he's forced to live an actual adventure rather than dreaming about one. The movie is weirdly stuffed with product placement (a compromise for what looks like a gargantuan budget?) but if you like comic fantasy and family friendly uplift and everyone has already seen Frozen, this is your best bet on Christmas weekend.
Full Disclosure: I recently took a studio-sponsored trip to visit the filming locations of this particular film in Iceland. My jaw would have dropped permanently from all the beauty if my face hadn’t been so tightly wrapped in multiple scarves, hats and hoods. The point is this: if you don’t mind the cold, Iceland is an absolute must for a weekend getaway.]
THE WOLF OF WALL STREET
Presenting Director Martin Scorsese and star Leonardo DiCaprio's fifth film together! Their latest is a raucous true-story about insatiable greedy stockbrokers and their crimes. The movie isn't the duo's best (that honor still belongs to Best Picture winner The Departed) or their grandest (that's the old Hollywood glam from The Aviator) but it's definitely their boldest. No stuffy Gangs of New York Oscar-baiting this time around. Wolf is three straight hours of coke-snorting testosterone-heavy insanity as Jordan Belfort (DiCaprio) and his equally scummy friends (most notably Jonah Hill as his amoral co-conspirator) screw endless hookers, milk poor saps of their life savings, spew enough homophobic and misogynist dialogue to power a dozen R rated movies, and throw several 'anything goes' lewd parties. All the raunch proves really good for Leonardo DiCaprio. The actor had been falling into a repetitive rut, which we've lampooned here before as "The Dead Wives Club", but comes thankfully unstuck, even to the point of unhinged. He's giving his most energetic and physically committed star turn in at least a decade and toxic comedy is a good look on him.
The Wolf of Wall Street is memorable, for sure, but it's bloated with repetitive scenes all played at the same shouty volume. I suspect it wants to be a satirical condemnation but it spends so much time parroting Belfort's self-serving point of view -- he narrates the proceedings, often directly to the camera -- with endless shots of adoring people fist-pumping and cheering on his every crime, that it often reads as a glib ‘Oops, my bad. Boys will be boys’ celebration. Since the movie is sexist (or reflects sexism, whichever), I'll go there too: it's the bro equivalent, if you will, of a pretty girl batting her eyelashes to avoid a speeding ticket. The difference being that this Wolf destroyed thousands of lives.
As satires about capitalism go I'll stick with the sublimely grotesque American Psycho but The Wolf of Wall Street is not without its pleasures, most of them actor-based. The ensemble is really wonderful (pity that SAG didn't honor them) but I'd like to single out five: Kyle Chandler’s visible bullshit-meter as an upstanding FBI agent is a special treat; Australian actress Margot Robbie's baby-talking sex doll who has one heel in DiCaprio’s face, one hand in his wallet, and her other hand.... um... elsewhere is instantly a "star" actress [more on her and Scorsese's women here]; Jon Bernthal (The Walking Dead) is a surprising standout as the least sycophantic member of Belfort's gang of crooks; ubiquitous Matthew McConaughey's monologue on masturbation with impromptu song-chanting is deeply entertaining; and the ingeniously cast Oscar winner Jean Dujardin (The Artist) delivers a pitch perfect cameo as a smiling shady Swiss banker.
But should you choose to attend this debauchery, know that you can’t unsee Jonah Hill’s prosthetic wang. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.