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« Oscar's One Hit Wonders or When Bad Nominations Happen to Good Actors | Main | Oscar Symposium: The Fifth Spot (Part One) »
Monday
Jan062014

Podcast: Those Polarizing Wolves on Wall St.

Nick and Joe rejoin Nathaniel & Katey this week to talk about Martin Scorsese's The Wolf of Wall StreetIn the endless twitter battle over whether Wolf condemns or celebrates Jordan Belfort, several interesting questions have been swept aside or glossed over: does it earn its running time?; is Leonardo DiCaprio great or just better than he's been recently?; is Margot Robbie amazing or just sexy; "is it even well made?" Nick wonders, challenging its fans to name even three interesting shots. The gauntlet is thrown down!

Other (brief) topics / shoutouts include the WGA Nominations (Lone Survivor?), Philomena, and why American Hustle & WoWS lovers can't just get along.

Shea Wigham's Amazing 2013: American Hustle, Wolf of Wall Street, Boardwalk Empire, and Fast and Furious 6

Can't we all just get along? If only for Shea Wigham's sake!

Referenced Articles:

Listen right here or download it on iTunes and join the conversation. Next Weekend: one last pre-nomination discussion.

Wolf of Wall Street Discussion

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Reader Comments (42)

I think it shows a lot of little boys who have finally hit pay dirt and cann't handle it ( think golf, basketball, football players,etc ) I do feel they get theirs in the end... as for Belfort, he gets little time in jail, but his having to stoop to informatioal lecturing is certainly not going to make hiima a rich man.

I thought I wanted Matthew McCanaughhey to get Oscar... but I want Leo.... this, for me, was his first adult role he really nailed.

January 6, 2014 | Unregistered Commenterrick

In terms of favorite performances, I would be first in line for the Kimmie Belzer spin off.

I don't know if people have heard McConaughey's NPR interview from last year, but that chest beating thing he does in WOWS is his warm up technique, so that gives credence to the idea that scene is heavily improvved.

January 6, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterWill h

The first DiCaprio leading performance I'm gung-ho about in years, and it's still not universally adored, not even by his fans. I can't win. ("Leonardo DiCaprio: the thinking man's Tom Cruise"?)

One interesting shot, Nick: something about Venice and a candle. ;-) There are more, but I need a screener.

The movie is probably the second easiest three-hour-sit I've ever had at the movies, the first being New York, New York at 163 minutes. Didn't exhaust me at all, quite the contrary.

January 6, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterPaul Outlaw

Thanks for including Shea Wigham. I was wondering what his name, the name of that actor who's seemingly everywhere, is, and you saved me the laborious task of having to IMDb it. ;-)

January 6, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterMareko

How is the Lemmon quaaludes scene not interestingly shot? It's one of the premiere scenes of 2013, as much for the direction as for the content. Or the yacht scene with DiCaprio and Chandler? Or the fight scene where Jordan takes his daughter to the car high? So much rich and varied directorial effort on Scorsese's part here. It's frankly top-tier Scorsese and DiCaprio work, pairing or otherwise.

January 6, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterUrey

Thanks again, guys! (I know, I'm repeating myself but I can't take anything for granted)

I already explained how you are all wrong about Frozen so I won't repeat the details. :p

I have not and will not watch Wolf after Nick gave it a D+ but I still enjoyed the conversation.

I am almost sure Morris liked A:OC (something about the Richter scale re: the performances and the play's structure making it more successful than Perry's stories and the undertow of something deeper than the dialogue itself) more than he didn't. And I really liked his piece too.

And OMG YES for Nick's double top 10! I suspect I'm overestimating how much this will improve my life but it feels like it will - immensely!

January 6, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJames T

It definitely seems like the anti-Wolf crowd is a bit louder than the others. Not to mention that of the 10+ "takedowns" I've read, they all seem to reference the same 3 positive reviews (yes, we get it, you're not dead from the head-up or the neck-down). Not to mention, Joe Reid's analysis is basically "I'm offended by being insulted so I'm going to insult them for insulting me." I haven't insulted anyone! See, how easy it is to take shit so personally? I find statements like "Nick wonders, challenging its fans to name even three interesting shots." to be far more insulting than anything a pro-Wolf person has said. What's odd is that people are being real jerks to others for not finding repugnant characters in a movie satisfyingly repugnant for their tastes.

I don't see what the problem is in enjoying the movie. I don't see why people can just say "Oh I thought The Butler was A+ cinema" and not have to defend it to the extent that this movie has to be defended. I'm not some scum of the earth because I liked a movie and I really resent that these people are vaguely hinting/tip-toeing that I am. I can still be a leftist, anti-racist, anti-sexist person and still enjoy it. I don't see why that dichotomy is so hard to realize or even recognize. I also didn't view this movie as satire - I viewed this movie as a story of a man that everyone wants to be and they don't even know why and after seeing an over-the-top version of his life, the average person still can't figure out why they want to be lecherous animals.

As for three shots I loved from the movie: every shot where he's addressing his employees felt like a Paul Dano scene from There Will Be Blood. The shitty CGI scene with the boat crash is wonderful to me for some reason. And of course when he pours the cocaine all over himself during his Quaalude freakout.

January 6, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterRahul

The party scenes of The Great Beauty are absolutely amazing.

January 6, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterSad man

As predictable (and lazy) as the Wolf of Wall Street and American Hustle comparisons are, I'm more surprised that I've yet to see anyone compare Scorsese's film to The Bling Ring. I was considering this when my own tepid reaction to W of WS made me sort of question myself. Am I being a prude for finding this deplorable behavior such a turnoff to watch? But then I rewatched The Bling Ring, which I can now confirm (to my great surprise) is absolutely my favorite film of 2013. I'm not saying that Coppola's approach to her material would have been a fit for the story Scorsese is trying to tell, but there is a way to portray excess, ultra-wealth and bad behavior in ways that are satirical. And that satire does not have to suggest a hint of "this is wrong...but look how much fun it is!"

The Bling Ring, despite clearly having tongue planted firmly in cheek at various moments, is very interested in who these kids are as characters. After we've spent enough time in that universe, nothing feels random or unmotivated and distinct characterizations have clearly been drawn. Compare that to what eventually came to feel like the paint-by-numbers debauchery in The Wolf of Wall Street that told me very little about who these men are.

I'm not sure who to blame because in looking back at Leo's career, of late especially but kind of...always(?), he's not really interested in showing us character traits. He's very good at certain externalities like accents or attitudes. I'm thinking The Aviator, where he showed me Howard Hughes on the outside but I never quite believed there was the internal turmoil going on that that movie was trying to sell me on. I think The Departed and What's Eating Gilbert Grape? are the only times I can remember Leo letting himself be vulnerable. And I'm not saying I need every actor to be vulnerable. Vulnerability sits very oddly on Tom Cruise's shoulders, for instance. But some kind of lack of veneer...something. Mark Harris wrote a kind of scathing, but very truthful article in 2013 about Johnny Depp burying himself under wigs, prosthetics and special effects, so much so that it makes one wonder what Depp is hiding and why he can't seem to play raw human characters anymore. The same can be said, I think, about DiCaprio, proving that What's Eating Gilbert Grape? may be the intersection of all things. However, for Leo, instead of wigs, makeup and prosthetics, he hides behind safe, generally low-risk projects. He hides behind now established directors who made their names decades ago as risk-takers and groundbreakers. I wonder what he's scared we'll see.

@Rahul: I can't dictate what insults and don't want to, but I would just point out that my grievance with the film's aesthetics has nothing to do with indicting the film's fans on personal or political grounds. My concern is that Scorsese's camera is more flamboyant than interesting, and often it isn't either one -- there are a LOT of visually static shot/reverse conversations in this movie, cut together in weird rhythms because you can tell that an improv'd routine is getting sliced up. From my POV, there are also a lot of overhead and canted shots that don't add anything, a lot of music cues and framings that feel familiar from a lot of movies (including Scorsese's own), and a lot of shots, scenes, and entire sequences that feel redundant here. I felt the same way about Hugo and Shutter Island and long stretches of Gangs and Aviator, so it's not a new disconnect on my part, and has nothing specifically to do with what I think about the film's politics, whether overt or implied. I personally don't think the movie says anything repugnant so much as it fails to say anything, without delivering a movie that I could personally enjoy as an exercise in style or entertainment, for reasons listed above (and others).

You can disagree with all of that (it sounds like you do), but not all negative takes on Wolf of Wall Street are saturated with moralism or intended to insult its fans. I didn't think Wolf was funny, and I do think it sort of glorifies hedonism and pure appetite to no productive end, but I like other movies that do that. I just think this one's a stinker.

@Urey, etc.: from my POV, a shot in which something interesting or hilarious happens is not the same thing as an interesting shot. Not more than twice or three times did I think Scorsese or Prieto or Schoonmaker had made a scene richer or more surprising through their choices with the camera or the cutting, even though they get pretty automatic credit in reviews for "superb craftsmanship," etc., without much proof. And yes, I think so even about the Quaalude sequence, which felt pretty predictable and belabored to me, and would have been funnier to me at half the length or with fresher gags. Give me 21 Jump Street any day.

January 6, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterNick Davis

"I would defy anybody to find 3 interesting shots in 'The Wolf of Wall Street'.."

While I agree the film's mostly pretty uninspired visually - it reminded me stylistically more of a broad comedy, which I get is "part of the point", but does nothing to immerse me in its cinema - there is one shot I found most entrancing and actually lured me into a 2nd viewing because it had me intrigued by some of the techniques Scorsese implements in the film. It's when Jordan sort of throws the camera into the office space and it soars over the ensuing madness, and I was in awe of that moment, but revisiting it, and the rest of the film, I just wasn't so rapturously invested or intrigued in any of it.

Some individual scenes capture my attention. Both Jordan's monologues in front of the office, which act as intriguing counterpoints to each other, having this revolting magnetism that I felt Scorsese was often striving for, but rarely achieving, and it's worth noting it's achieved in spoken words, not gaudy spectacle. I was also really into the boat scene between DiCaprio and Kyle Chandler, because his ego takes on some fascinating shades in those moments. However the film overall does drone on and lose potency, and by the time the film ended I felt like I'd been in the theater twice as long as I had been.

January 6, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterDuncan Houst

P.S. @Rahul: Just to clarify one last thing about where some of us were coming from, when you say "story of a man that everyone wants to be," I really disagree that "everyone" wants to be or live this way, even before the comeuppance. I think that's the point Joe was making, too: the film itself and some of the PR and critical discourse around presume the universal appeal of this particular vision of hedonistic debauchery, as if it's impossible to imagine the viewer who isn't compelled by any of this, even as fantasy. Insisting on the existence of those people isn't the same as lambasting everyone who is compelled by the fantasy, though I'm sure many people are doing both.

January 6, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterNick Davis

There are so many interesting shots in this film. The quaaludes scene? The final image of the audience? How is this question even in dispute? This is top tier Scorsese here! Come on, now Nick. Next.

January 6, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterIvan

You contradicted yourself here: "not all negative takes on Wolf of Wall Street are saturated with moralism or intended to insult its fans. I didn't think Wolf was funny, and I do think it sort of glorifies hedonism". What does that say about its fans that you think it glorified hedonism? Do you think they "didn't get it" or "don't know any better"? That's definitely what it reads like. I didn't think it glorified hedonism since I feel it culminates in his abusive actions to his wife and that's when people kind of snap out of the high they're in. I guess there wasn't enough of a catharsis?

Really, though, why is your opinion right? You didn't find it funny but others did, so it's a bad movie or is it more of a condemnation on what the average person finds funny? Or are we not approaching the film as we should? Are we just not at a level of understanding that would showcase why it's a bad movie? Should people take your word at a higher level because you're more educated on the finer points of cinema?

I'm also not saying that there isn't some truth to a lot of this negativity. I am saying little tidbits like "Scorsese's camera is more flamboyant than interesting" being stated as fact to be quite assy, insulting, and alarmingly condescending regardless of your intention (especially since I offered three shots, so to speak and was dismissed). Demanding people name "3 shots that are good" is just asking for a no true Scotsman fallacy (and underscores the assy/insulting/condescending tone of a lot of the anti-WoWS stuff).

January 6, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterRahul

I think there's possibly a conflation going on here between the idea of "interesting shot" and "being intrigued or interested in what's being depicted on screen." There's a lot to be shocked by, certainly. But is the quaaludes scene shot and framed interestingly? I would say no. It's kind of like the cinematography of Django Unchained last year. Even in the moments where the narrative is coming to life with violent, explosive gun battles which is at least narratively...jarring for a movie that's stagnant for much of its run...I would argue that there aren't a lot of interesting shots in those scenes of violence. The framing and the staging of the scenes is very bland and often static while depicting these scenes of ultra-violence.

Or...not to just pick on movies that I'm not that fond of...I like Titanic a lot. That cinematography Oscar has always seemed a little strange to me and I think a perfect example of this conflation. I'm not sure there's a lot going on visually with the cinematography in that movie, but it deceptively (and to that film's credit) seems like there is because of the splendor and scope of what's being shot.

Rahul -- i probably shouldn't have made Nick's comment seem like such a challenge in my recap because i dont mean to egg this gross conversation on further... people have been mean to each other about it. But i also don't even know what to do with this...

> I find statements like "Nick wonders, challenging its fans to name even three interesting shots." to be far more insulting than anything a pro-Wolf person has said.
I guess we all have our different thresholds for what we find insulting but i dont even know what to do with that. asking someone to name interesting shots in a Scorsese movie (of all things, where they have often found a home)... how is this, which is ABOUT THE CINEMA IN QUESTION more insulting that film critics calling people who don't like something stupid or sexually lacking? I'm genuinely confused how anyone can find the former more insulting but to each their own I guess.

This whole debate is, uncomfortably, reminding me of religion. So many religious types love to cry victimhood when, generally speaking, it's religious people who are trying to oppress others by forcing one point of view on the world. And Wolf of Wall Street fans just seem inordinately touchy to me, after flinging a lot of insults around.

January 6, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterNathanielR

@Rahul: I don't think my opinions are facts. I feel strongly about them, as I assume most people who post here feel strongly about theirs. I said "personally" and "from my POV," etc., quite a bit to make clear that I know people disagree. I didn't call you or anyone "assy." And I admitted I've had basically the same misgivings about most of the recent Scorsese movies, so it's clear that I'm just not jiving with what he's doing or what fans of those movies like about them. I don't know how much more I'd need to do to assert a strongly-held opinion while conceding that it's just my own.

As for your three shots, you said one reminds you of other movies, one is shitty but you like it anyway, and one is "of course" wonderful without saying why. So, no, I can't say that I found that too persuasive. But I think we're agreeing to disagree.

@PKIA: Totally with you.

January 6, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterNick Davis

I wonder if anyone feels like I do re THE WOLF OF WALL STREET where they're just afraid to get into any discussion about it. I keep getting worried about stepping on toes and it's both exhausting and seems to make everyone so angry on BOTH sides of the argument line.

I mean, I agree with parts of what Rahul is arguing. I don't think Rahul is necessarily accusing everyone who doesn't like the film of rooting it in a moralistic argument (correct me if I'm wrong), but indeed many are doing so, and doing the further unwieldy thing of presumptively assuming that those who like it are just de facto Scorsese fan without discernment or a fan of its character's murky morals which isn't helpful for any sort of conversation on the film. I mean, I can have a straight conversation if I disagree with Nick on it being a technically poor film because it's just standard criticism. X is well shot, or X is not well shot and so on. But when it reaches the criticism of reaction to the film or the ethics of the film, any conversation just seems so inevitably cyclical and a bit pointless - at least in how this one is developing.)

Nick, I have to ask, though: in your comment above why do you call the citations for good craftmanship in the film is just an indication of "automatic credit" and not just an unfortunate, but sincere indication of different taste? That's an incidental example, and not to belabour the point, but I feel like so much of the conversation about the movie has just descended into everyone suggesting, even if just implicitly, that those with opposing views have some ulterior motives. Those who like it assume dissenters are predisposed to hate Scorsese or "bro" films those who don't like it assume lovers are "bros" and just like whatever Scorsese does. As I said, it's exhausting.

I'm exhausted just writing this.

(Anyhow, on FROZEN: I think Tim mentioned this in his review somewhat about the music being front-loaded, but does anyone else feel that FROZEN is not really that invested in its musical roots? I've seen it so much with my nephew now, and the "unmusicality" of the second half keeps weighing on me. Not negatively, but it just seems such odd form of the musical.)

January 6, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterAndrewK

Rahul - Nick said that he himself has enjoyed movies that glorify hedonism, so he doesn't accuse anyone of being immoral. Or he says he's immoral too. Kidding.

January 6, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJames T

@Andrew K: I'll use an example from a critic I really love, who has appeared on this podcast: Angelo Muredda. I think his writing is really great, and he makes such detailed, nuanced cases about every movie he discusses. I never care if I agree or not, but I often second-guess myself if we're on different pages, because I respect him so much. Here's his three-and-a-half star review of The Wolf of Wall Street, which I'm still thinking about a lot:

http://www.filmfreakcentral.net/ffc/2013/12/the-wolf-of-wall-street.html

The sentence that I personally would want to hear more about is the one that mentions "Thelma Schoonmaker's finely-tuned cutting," because I simply don't see what's finely-tuned about it. Again, I'm not insisting I'm right about this, but I just saw so little evidence of that in the movie... but I did see a lot of scenes that even fans of Wolf often criticize, like the long, pre-arrest exchange between John Bernthal and Jonah Hill that gets mentioned in this podcast, which seem like real lapses of cutting. Angelo expresses a similar misgiving about the long convo about throwing the guys against the Velcro target. I thought even the Quaalude sequence was full of repetitive shots it didn't need, which killed the humor more than amping it up, like cutting to six people laughing after a joke instead of one. So I'm just eager to hear examples of really smart editing in Wolf that deepens or improves a scene. But Scorsese and Schoonmaker graduated to a level of acclaim a long time ago that makes it easy to say "superb craftsmanship" or "brilliant" or "fine-tuned" without pausing for examples. And if you are a viewer who isn't at all convinced in the present case, as I haven't been for many movies in a row, no adjective is a substitute for an example. That's all I mean to say.

I'm fully expecting people will come up with examples that will put the movie in a better light than I initially saw it, which is why I asked! It wasn't to lord over some superior understanding but to ask people who admire a movie to help me see what they're seeing, as I would in a class. And yes, I'm starting from a place of virtually no admiration, so maybe I'm a feisty judge, but I'm also all the more eager for some help, if it's forthcoming.

(I agree with you that I come to dread talking or writing about movies that seem to make everyone feel bad - and where I'm apparently coming across pretty badly myself! - but rather than clam up I'm trying to show that I really am asking an earnest question and am not trying to be a jerk.)

January 6, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterNick Davis

Jesus fucking Christ.

Interesting shots:

Wide-shot of Jordan's first wife crying in front of the hotel while he stands awkwardly
Extreme close up of dissolving quasludes
The brokers turn into gorillas
The shot of Jordan playing tennis in jail
Long take of Rob Reiner/Jordan's dad trudging back and forth between phone and TV
Long take of Jordan crawling to his car (Fucking patience. Most don't have it anymore)
Slow-mo quaalude freakout by Jonah Hill
Camera swooping , "God's eye" style, while Jordan narrates the different types of hookers
THE LAST FUCKING SHOT OF THE GODDAMN MOVIE!

Is that enough? Should I keep going?

January 6, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterMichael G.

Oh, yeah. And maybe my favorite shot, the gradually-moving in helicopter shot of Jordan leading his buddies in a synchronized hands-in-the-air dance to "Hip Hop Hooray" on his boat.

January 6, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterMichael G.

Am I an asshole if I ask, I see those are a list of shots, but what was interesting about them? What makes the "Hip Hop Hooray" shot your favorite? #RealQuestion

January 6, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterNick Davis

I LOVED "The Wolf of Wall Street" .. "That's all" !

January 6, 2014 | Unregistered Commenterrick

I have yet to see this movie (thought I don't want to particularly), but the idea that everyone wants this guy's life or that if you can't enjoy this you're a prude or something... ugh.

January 6, 2014 | Unregistered Commentermarcelo

marcelo -- yeah. that does make those who dont want it bristle. I mean, i get the fantasy of wealth... but this as specific fantasy? I would rather be poor, no joke. so that does not appeal to me in that way ... this is probably why i'm in the middle ground with the movie. I appreciate the acting and i think the satire is kind of interesting (if not wholly successful) but I just don't personally get off on any of its fantasies/vicarious living

January 6, 2014 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

Well, with the Hip Hop Hooray thing, that particularly shot was aided by the editing too, so I wouldn't describe it as a triumph of pure cinematography or anything. But as a moment, and taken into context with the scene that immediately preceded it, which I believe was a scene where someone is warning Jordan that he has to keep a low profile and settle down if he doesn't want to get in trouble, perfectly encapsulated the feel of the movie.

He's warned of trouble and of the need to lay low and then we immediately this huge, gaudy exercise in pure, base idiocy.

And the way Scorsese shoots it, slowly moving the camera in, where we at first see them from the distance, just far away enough to make out what they're doing, and then slowly moving in -- as if to capture the sheer size of Jordan's wealth, the size of his idiocy, the size of his gang of demented disciples. It reminded me of the way directors typically shoot big warships in epic Hollywood naval yarns, or like a Cecil B. DeMille film showing the pyramids or armies of chariots...plus with Jordan and his entourage doing their little choreographed dance move in a way that's a little too clean to be realistic, but believable in the sense, as many scenes in the film are, that we're looking at a maladjusted memory where things are just a little more exaggerated when they actual are.

The scene between Jordan and his wife is enhanced by the use of a very melancholic amber-brown tone that strongly contrasts with the movie's pastel color scheme. It's one of the few moments of actual sadness in the story, and the shot reflects that.

The shot of Jordan playing tennis in jail begins on the close-up and almost abstract -- a rolling tennis ball -- and moves out to show a mini-country club inside of this white collar resort prison, gradually outlining the impotence of Jordan's "punishment" in a way that's much more effective than just showing him playing tennis in some wide shot.

Long-takes like Jordan trying to get into his car, or Reiner's comic tirade are just basic, classical comedy filming, and if I have to explain why that's funnier or more effective then chopping it up into little two second shots, then I really need to explain starting with square one.

Also, throughout the movie, Scorsese used deep focus in a really effective ways, where we can see Jordan bullshitting some guy on the phone, grinning from ear to ear, while we all see all the small-time brokers react to what he's saying with puzzlement. It's efficient, it's effective, it's hilarious. What's not to love?

Scorsese also used changing aspect ratios to highlight the motif of "America Dream as TV commercial" in a really interesting way. I don't feel like I've seen this particular take on that theme before.


I mean the whole question is kind of cheap, because no matter what anyone else says, you're not going to be convinced, but that's not a failure on our part.

January 6, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterMichael G.

Good discussion even though I am firmly team Wolf and team Katey (as in pro but willing to listen to the other side's complaints about the film).

Anyway, I am surprised nobody brought up something at the end of the film, that credit to Mike Ryan did bring up in a piece on HuffPo, that the lead-up to the final scene has something that even as a fan of the film, the moment I saw it rubbed me the wrong way and feels even worse days after the seeing it and reading that piece. That moment is cameo of the real Jordan Belfort. Not many people will know it's Jordan Belfort and maybe that is the problem for having the discussion. But the sequence of events of what happens to DiCaprio's Belfort and the sight of the real-guy introducing DiCaprio's Belfort to new 'suckers' (my interpretation of the scene) is that after we see a guy get off easy in prison after ratting out those he drew in to this fraud of a company and hit his wife after committing some level of sexual assault on her (I know some people took that sex scene with Robbie as rape and at the very least, it is extremely unpleasant). Now his face is actually in a Scorsese movie in addition to having his name all over it (and who knows what the deal was on the rights to the book, but you notice how American Hustle is spotless from controversy by removing real names and being distant from the real-life ABSCAM figures as possible). I get where Scorsese might be going with sticking to the real things but Belfort actually being present there at that certain point in the film makes me incredibly uncomfortable, especially when it is in an oft-cited moment where the film gains its clout of condemning when I can point to a bunch of choices and ways the film isn't celebrating it. Yet, Belfort's cameo is a dark cloud in that moment for me.

Nick noted that aesthetically it could not be flatter and I think that is a conscious choice. I think Scorsese and Rodrigo Prieto are walking a fine line in not indulging this zoo-like atmosphere. Katey mentions The Great Beauty having fun party scenes, I'll also note that while I will not try or do 99% of what is done in Spring Breakers or The Bling Ring, I have to admit I was seduced by those party scenes because of the way they are shot, the way music is used, and how it is edited. The party scenes in Wolf all just reek of early 90s awfulness. Nearly all of the in-period music is objectively terrible, almost on purpose. Like I personally think The Departed has a weak, uninspired soundtrack but that was shooting for iconic. Those music choices by Robbie Robertson felt like him and Marty imagining what these guys must've listened to. Sandy Powell's costumes could easily indulge on the early 90s nostalgia trip that has taken place in contemporary fashion and nearly all of the men look terrible in those suits. Scorsese's observing the characters, clearly, and the only time where it feels visceral are the drug scenes. There's a lot of those but it's not making me want to take quaaludes.

Also wanted to touch on what Nick said about not really knowing who Belfort is and how such a characterization would work outside the space, I am almost afraid to know who Belfort is. That he is a real person gives me the creeps, hence my reaction to the cameo. I'd rather he stay forever in this space of being a film character but he isn't fictional- which is why I actually doubt the character's legacy can really stretch well like a Travis Bickle or even a Jake LaMotta because that character had some semblance of a rise and fall. I don't mind how the characterization is just Belfort in the pits of hell the entire film. I get the feeling he was always a sociopath and trying to consider him as a normal guy or kid feels like too much to stretch.

I think the film was in a Catch-22 with its decisions. On one hand, the movie would not be getting nearly as much grief as it did if it were a fictionalized satire that changed as many names as it could, including Jordan Belfort. But on the other hand, I think Scorsese would not have made all of those choices I noted earlier if this were not a real guy as the lead character. I actually think Scorsese is contemptuous of Belfort being able to go to a jail with tennis courts and then work that circuit as a speaker, still rich while putting even his closest associates in jail from working in his operation of robbing other people. I like that those choices were made to not make this lifestyle as desirable as it could have really felt. Others will disagree but I found Belfort a loathsome figure and my visceral reaction is, 'What a scumbag!' and 'I cannot believe this man actually exists!'. Maybe there should have been more moments like when the movie questions Belfort's reliability as a narrator (the Lamborghini crash scene) and maybe not have Belfort there in that scene, in that moment, or at all, but it made me angry but at a distance which I am completely fine with. I do want to see it again.

I am surprised Joe notes the McConaughey scene as the signal that the film was really not going to work him. When that chest-thumping chant returns in the film, it is one of the most disturbing parts of the movie where there are a dozen of people in each close-up staring at Belfort doing that same chant. It reminded me of a Lang film and it is so crucial that the scene happens. It shows these very people are as enraptured into Belfort as the suckers are. I don't mind Belfort's backstory being mostly dismissed from the earlier narratives, but I believe these people doing that were at one time people with Belfort as the devil figure (also why I have no problem with Belfort not having a typical narrative rise and fall, screw origins stories- this guy is a super-villain) who led them astray. He's this Elmer Gantry who gives speeches, who gives them the lines (both coke and rhetoric), and gives them a sense of purpose in what they do. It's disturbing the power wielded for Belfort is in that scene and if people do not sense that in the scene, then I just feel like I watched a different film. That's not to accuse Joe of taking that scene differently is wrong, but I can understand even when the movie from the very beginning presents itself on a certain wavelength for the rest of the film that ambivalence can remain such throughout the film. But still, I'm with Katey on that scene being great for McConaughey.

On the other note, as somebody whose favorite film last year was also a source of controversy, Zero Dark Thirty, I am disappointed with how these pro-Wolf critics are not even up to snuff in the department of the pro-Zero Dark Thirty defense pieces were last year. I felt like last year I saw such good writing with so much good faith toward the filmmakers as well as the critics of the film. This year it feels like the opposite. I wrote this before I saw Wolf, but it feels like the bloggers and critics have almost no idea how to engage in this despite the fact Scorsese films are no stranger to controversy and there are plenty of examples set by his movies where critics championing his work serve as a fine template for pro-Wolf critics. It's like picking on an American Hustle (which I like, yes, we people who like both **do** exist) does the trick or calling people prudes for finding the film immoral or rotten to the core. There does have to be a deeper discussion of engagement in the movie and hopefully after the Oscar race is over it can be better dealt with as I have a feeling it will only get worse if Wolf is still a player for the season.

P.S. I have to agree with Nick on the observations of Russell vs. Scorsese. That's exactly it and exactly why I am befuddled by 'Russell's Goodfellas' talk still happening when Hustle **IS** a David O. Russell film that feels much more about performers and much closer to an ensemble film than any Scorsese. Scorsese has much more distance in his whole oeuvre, despite the final act of Goodfellas feeling like a drug trip you are sharing with Henry Hill. Even the drug scenes in Wolf had a distancing effect. It's not to say one is better than the other, I do prefer Wolf, but they are different filmmakers with different influences doing different things.

P.P.S. No Country for Old Men vs. There Will Be Blood totally, totally happened on film message boards that I was apart of. This will pop up on Twitter once in a while where PTA fanboys are mad at the Coens for winning. This despite the fact NCFOM is quite possibly one of the darkest, un-Oscar choices to win Best Picture ever and won by uncompromising auteurs at that. I don't even want to know what Twitter would've been like that Oscar year. I actually think time has been kinder to NCFOM. I love PTA but Dano is kinda bad and DDL is like Meryl to me where I am beginning to see the gears move. I like the story, the themes, and the photography but the characterizations are almost too novelistic despite that NCFOM is Cormac McCarthy. NCFOM just has characters that feel more lived in, aside from Anton Chigurh, but his purpose and representation are quite clear.

January 6, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterCMG

@Michael: When did I say I wouldn't be convinced? I actually like your descriptions of the "Hip Hop Hooray" shot in context and of the wife crying outside the hotel a lot. I'm not as taken with them you are, but that's just down to a taste thing: to me, they're both examples of the movie dialing up an established point with technique, rather than feeding us more layers or complexities through technique. I just tend to like the other better, and that's what I think of Scorsese doing a lot more of in earlier movies. For me, the style in earlier movies felt flamboyant and subtle, which is so hard to pull off, and in the later cases it's usually just flamboyant, if it's anything. But I get exactly what you're saying and it helps to hear the examples. That's all I was asking. You're reminding me that I thought the harsh break with Milioti was a pretty good moment all around, including the blunt cut to Robbie having already moved in. Thanks!

I do specifically disagree about the Reiner and lambourghini shots, not because I wish they were chopped up (I wanted to tighten the shots, not multiply) but because I personally don't think they work in concert with those performers. Reiner to me is just so sitcommy in how he plays that scene, and DiCaprio looks to me like an actor trying to play Whacked Out more than the real deal: holding them in long shots only makes their efforts look more strained in my eyes. But I say that as someone who usually wants more long shots, held for longer. So again, I get it, I just didn't go for that approach on these particular occasions.

January 6, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterNick Davis

@CMG: Pathetically short in response to your comment (and I've clearly said enough!), but just wanted to say I was thinking a lot about Elmer Gantry during this movie, too. Fun to be of like minds with you on that point. Interested by the rest of what you said, too.

January 6, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterNick Davis

Thanks, Nick!

Yeah, I had no idea I wrote that long. Should've given it to Thelma to edit!

January 6, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterCMG

Sorry, but I See the Light and Mother Knows Best shits all over Let It Go. Tangled had plenty of memorable songs. And I just can't with the idea that WOWS has no interesting shots. That's so silly and odd, and thankfully Michael has settled that nonsense.

January 6, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterKST

Nathaniel, I notice sometimes you post the referenced article thing and spoiler timestamps....have you ever considered doing the timestamp thing (a general breakdown of what's being discussed) for other parts like you do for the spoiler sections? I ask because I'm usually about 2-3 weeks behind the podcast schedule so I listen in bits and pieces, and then the full shebang when I finally see the main focus. I realize I am waaaaay in the minority on this.

January 6, 2014 | Unregistered Commenterjtagliere

Also of the party who think this is DiCaprio's best performance and the physicality he brings is almost nothing he has really done before with exception to Gilbert Grape in a physical sense. The Departed and Shutter Island played off of other textures that we have not seen before but to me this was another level. This felt like a mix of Jerry Lewis, Malcolm McDowell, and James Cagney mixed into one potent, paint thinner type of drink.

I liked hearing that the car crawl scene actually was on a day where after DiCaprio collapsed, he injured himself and crawled through the injury and the leg opening was actually never pre-planned, nobody remembered Lamborghinis open up.

January 6, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterCMG

I think The Wolf of Wall Street is flawed but I thought it was much funnier than American Hustle which I found an incredible bore. I saw Wolf with a packed house, probably about 800 people and a lot of them found it funny, too.

January 6, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterGabriel Oak

So many people having a field day taking Scorsese down all over the media. I guess it makes them feel good.

January 6, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterGabriel Oak

Scorsese's a legend and one of the biggest forces behind film preservation globablly. He'll live, just like he lived through Taxi Driver, The King of Comedy, and The Last Temptation of Christ.

January 6, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterCMG

Apologies in advance for a long post, but I just got back from Wolf of Wall Street. I'm sort of loathe to even engage, because the dialogue around this movie is so ridiculously overheated, from both sides. But there is stuff worth engaging with.

I think the film's satirical bent is pretty blindingly clear, and that people complaining about alleged misogyny or homophobia on Scorsese's part are completely missing the point. So are the ones complaining about twee beardo Richard Brody's harmless little provocation of an opening line. Bullying? Has Joe Reid ever seen Richard Brody? People who don't groove on the film's hedonism aren't dead from the neck down, but they might be overly defensive about certain subjects.

Anyway, it seems pretty clear to me that Belfort is a despicable monster, and is intended to be seen that way, and that WoWS is intended as a scalding take down of his whole materialistic ethos, and the world that ethos has given birth to. For a lot of the people who didn't think it was funny, didn't like Belfort, don't identify with his debauched ambitions, it seems like they resent Scorsese for not seducing them, but I think that's rather the point - this movie is not an attempt to seduce, it's an indictment of the people who *do* identify with Belfort, and who therefore require no seduction. They're with the greedy little bastard from jump street, and Scorsese's strategy is to string them along, string them along, until you get to the money sequences - the wife beating, the baby snatching, the betraying of his closest friends. Whether or not the film's arch conclusion - Belfort in prison, Belfort the motivational speaker, hypnotizing another crowd - is effective in that context is something I'll have to reflect on further (it kind of reminded me of the ending of The Departed, with the rat on the balcony, a kind of smart ass wink at the audience that worked for me - I thought it was funny - but rubbed a lot of people the wrong way). I don't know that this indictment is ultimately all that meaningful - the people it's intended to indict likely won't see the movie, or if they do see it they'll hate it for reasons they may or may not understand, and continue doing their thing. For the rest of us, who don't identify with Belfort, who don't think his ridiculous parties are cool, what remains is a clinical autopsy of a way of thinking, a way of life, a cancer that has, since the events depicted in the film, metastasized and taken over the world. If you find that simplistic or too little bang for your buck or stating the obvious or whatever, then fine. I think there's a lot that's worthwhile about it, but different strokes for different folks.

But I actually think that the film's detractors, especially the one complaining about the content, are only actually doing so because of something Nick brought up and is absolutely right about - the film's aesthetic failings, especially in editing. WoWS could've easily lost twenty or thirty minutes of material without bothering me any, but that's only *really* a problem because this is easily some of the least interesting filmmaking Scorsese has ever done. The mismatched cuts don't bother me - that's part and parcel of Scorsese's style and has been for years, and continuity is not the end all be all of editing strategies. But there is a droning sameness to this film that is surprising. It's not that there's no attempt at audience seduction, or persuasion - it's that there's no shaping of the basic dramatic material. Nick is absolutely right in pointing out the rote shot/reverse shot patterns in scene after scene. Even the DiCaprio/Chandler match up on the boat has a lifeless, uninflected quality. When Scorsese does bother to move the camera - zooming over properties, pushing in on brokers as they close a sale - there's an obligatory quality to it. It's unimaginitive, I guess, or feels that way, and I can't decide if that was also an intentional approach that I'm not fully appreciating, or if I'm trying to rationalize bad filmmaking because it's Scorsese. It's easy to fall into the trap of praising a great filmmaker's films even when they're not great. We all have our list of directors for whom that is true (coughDAVIDFINCHERcough).

But I think the failings on a filmmaking level do sap a lot of the power from the narrative, and it also undercuts the performances, which really are the film's strength. DiCaprio is great, fully committed, raw and in the moment. But even I got sick of the dynamic speeches, all shots in the same "long shot of Belfort intercut with close ups of adoring underlings" style.

So those are my early thoughts. Sorry for blathering on like this.

P.S - despite my reservations, I do think there are at least three interesting shots in the film: the birds eye shot of DiCaprio wandering naked through the hotel room, which is probably the purest summation of Belfort's corrupted aspirations; the cop's POV of Hill and Brad squabbling over the brief case, a simple shot, but one of the few examples of the film abandoning the main characters' POV and revealing them for the ridiculous children they are; and the brief shot of Belfort staggering in from the helicopter, slipping and falling into the pool as the flood lights come to life and the alarm blares, a moment of pure visual/physical comedy poetry that I wish the film that indulged more.

January 7, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterRoark

@CMG - thanks for bringing up the point about the real life Belfort. That's been bothering me a lot in the discussion - or lack of - together with the endorsement video Dicaprio shot for Belfort. I wish some of the movie's fans would be able to address these points with honesty. I keep on hearing a lot of people arguing loudly that Wolf does not endorse Belfort, and I agree with them (although not with their tone, most of the time, that has become very unpleasant).

But I haven't yet seen anyone address both points in a way that doesn't condemn the movie. The movie doesn't seem to be endorsing Belfort, but the people behind it definitely did - in a cameo, in a close working relationship, in an endorsement video. How are we, as viewers, supposed to understand that? How are we supposed to separate this very real endorsement from the movie itself? How am I supposed to see the real Jordan Belfort, especially in that scene, and then think, Oh, right. I mean, let's take this to its logical conclusion, shall we? Jordan Belfort appears in the movie, in a scene that is meant to convey how after everything he's done, even after people know what a scumbag he is, they still want to be him, they still dream of his life, telling the audience, this is you. And by having Jordan Belfort in that scene... what? Is the movie acknowledging itself as a part of Belfort's new scheme? Does the movie itself agree with the criticism piled on it? "Don't watch this movie, really, walk away, just walk away, don't watch our movie!'? Why should we celebrate a movie that admits to being a part of Jordan Belfort's new scheme, even if - or rather, especially - when the filmmakers refuse to say so explicitly (the endorsement video, the recent round of interviews, etc)? That's one meta-level too much for me, sorry, although I'd rather that than the other option: that it was done because it was seen as cool, that the filmmakers aren't lying to our face in those interviews and truly believe in what they're saying and really do not see any harm from the close connections between Belfort and the production.

January 7, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterPitry

Pitry- I don't know, I thought I answered your question. That I described it as a black cloud over the film definitively presents my issues with that moment. Personally, I think the movie is in a constant battle for what it is doing and in the end, I feel like had the film had enough time to work out its final product, maybe these things would be more considered.

I saw the DiCaprio endorsement clip. He looked like a hostage. I doubt he had any idea what he was doing and probably did it because he saw Belfort as a recovering addict and was sympathetic.

Again, I have no idea what the deals and details were in Belfort's rights deal but I don't believe it's meta and I also don't believe Scorsese actually likes Belfort. I think it was a misfire that happened. They knew Belfort has no foibles about who he is and just thought, 'Okay, who's the best salesman for Belfort's brand for that scene? Real Belfort!' I can believe that scene in its conception was not intended to be where it was or be at the length it ended up being (it's one of the shortest scenes in the whole movie and stills from that scene show it was potentially way longer by the way DiCaprio was dressed).

Even if this were a 'Scorsese's condemning him right over his head and he doesn't even know it', that should be an equally uncomfortable feeling for anyone, but it probably doesn't bother Belfort at all. Now if his cameo served the purpose of, 'This man is very real', I can see the reasoning for it but again, 95% of audiences will not even know it's Belfort right there.

January 7, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterCMG

So why doesn't anyone complain about the visual ugliness of American Hustle which is really a huge flaw? That film is visually dead even though the characters are wearing supposedly outrageous clothing and wigs.

January 7, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterGabriel Oak

Worst movie of the year!

January 10, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterRRH

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