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« Merry Christmas from The Film Experience! | Main | Year in Review: The Bad, The Worse, and the Ugly »

Reviews: Walter Mitty & The Wolf of Wall Street

'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...

introverted dreamer, extroverted swindler 

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.]

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.

Merry Christmas!


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Reader Comments (11)

The Jonah Hill Wang Alert! Thank you for saving me from the unpleasantness in a public venue. My money can be reserved for seeing HER again in a less expensive theater—all those limited release places can be a bit more than the already overpriced mega multiplexes.

December 25, 2013 | Unregistered Commenter3rtful

three hours? the two and a half minutes of dick measuring douchebaggery in the 'wolf..' trailer was more than enough to make me recoil from the screen

December 25, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterpar3182

Reviews of this are either that its amazing, best Scorsese since Goodfellas, or too long and offensive. The one constant is how good Leonardo is, especially with comedy. Can not wait to see it tomorrow. If he is that great, hopefully there is not another ridiculous AMPAS snub, along the lines of Shutter Island or Django.

December 25, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterKatie

It's his best work in years and he'll probably be snubbed, just to spite me. I'm usually blasé about Leo, but I really liked what he does in this, and for all three hours of it.

December 25, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterPaul Outlaw

Dujardin! Yay! I hope he continues to get cast well, he could really liven up things in good character roles.

December 25, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterRebecca

Nathaniel, silly prediction note: you asserted that costume designer Michael O'Connor had one nomination/one win. He's actually been nominated twice (Jane Eyre and The Duchess). Not a big deal.

I'm still looking forward to Wolf of Wall Street - I suspect that Martin Scorsese's a bit richer than "yay douchebags" and the reviews for DiCaprio's performance are really exciting.

December 25, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterArkaan

Maybe Paramount should've just looked at the 4 hour cut it had and brokered a deal with HBO/AMC/FX some prestige cable network and made a 2-part miniseries than rush it out into theaters. This seems like it can be released any time of the year and not be hurt critically or financially. The Scorsese-philes are getting downright snippy online in defending it. I love Martin Scorsese, but I can easily see if the 4 hour cut felt like it had to be the final cut, then it should've stayed that way and not be under the scrutiny of Academy voters.

'Jonah Hill prosthetic wang'- MERRY CHRISTMAS!!!!!!!

I might wait for this. Rather see Her or Inside Llewyn Davis. Not too wrapped up in DiCaprio/Scorsese as I am with Jonze or the Coens.

December 25, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterCMG

I was not prepared for Mr. Hill's wiener. Prosthetic or not.

December 26, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJoey

I'm getting a strong Tracy Letts or (to a much lesser extent) Kick Ass vibe from The Wolf of Wall Street where I'm just asking myself "Are you commenting on this horrible behavior you're depicting or are you just...depicting it?" I'd be more than happy to be pleasantly surprised, but I'm so just...not looking forward to this. At all.

December 26, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterThe Pretentious Know it All

I feel like Wolf and Nebraska should be viewed back to back so the latter can function as a sobering reminder of who were the people who foot the bill for the lavish parties and hookers and drugs. Unlikely cinematic twins those two, but they feel attached to the hip to me.

December 26, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterCarmen Sandiego

Agree with so much of your Wolf review. "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." - Perfectly put. Oscar worthy? Not sure, but I wouldn't be upset if he was nominated (depending on who wasn't, of course). And thank you for singling out the other stand-outs in the cast, as this was a very well-cast and well-acted movie.

Maybe because I had low expectations (I have to spend 3 hours with these assholes?), but I enjoyed it way more than I thought I would and the running time didn't drag on nearly as much as it could have. Hell, at times American Hustle felt longer than this one (I know, I know, you hate AH/WOWS comparisons, but can't we at least compare the running times of overly-long Oscar bait?). But since I literally just saw it this afternoon, I'm still undecided as to whether the film merely depicts these sexist assholes, glamorizes them or condemns them.

December 29, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterDJDeeJay

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