Leonardo DiCaprio

The Wolf Of Wall Street

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2013

Paramount Pictures

Directed by Martin Scorsese

Produced by Martin Scorsese, Leonardo DiCaprio, Riza Aziz, Joey McFarland, Emma Tillinger Koskoff

Screenplay by Terence Winter

Based on “The Wolf of Wall Street” by Jordan Belfort

I suppose it had to happen sooner or later. With THE WOLF OF WALL STREET this now makes five movies Martin Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio have collaborated on and I’ve enjoyed all of them (yes, even “Shutter Island. So there.) up to now. It’s not that THE WOLF OF WALL STREET is a bad movie. At this point I don’t think that Scorsese or DiCaprio are capable of making a bad movie. But for me this wasn’t a very enjoyable or even satisfying movie.

It’s the story of Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio) who in 1987 becomes a stockbroker at a well-established Wall Street firm. He’s as green as a Christmas tree until he’s mentored by his boss, Mark Hanna (Matthew McConaughey in a totally hilarious extended cameo) who introduces Belfort to cocaine and encourages him to adopt a lifestyle totally dedicated to making money and then spending it in as lavish a lifestyle as that money will buy.

To achieve this, Belfort decides to open his own firm, going into partnership with Donnie Azoff (Jonah Hill) and hiring his friends, most of them petty drug dealers who Belfort trains to become as ruthless as he is in selling penny stocks. What are penny stocks you ask? Don’t worry if you don’t know. In one of the many breaking the fourth wall scenes in the movie, Belfort looks right at us in the audience and explains what they are and how he is able to manipulate them to grow his firm from working out of a dilapidated garage into a billion dollar company.

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And as the company grows, so does the excess. Belfort throws lavish parties in his home and in the office. Parties with plenty of drugs, hookers and booze. Belfort quickly becomes hooked on coke, Quaaludes and prostitutes but his real addiction remains making and spending money. Money that comes in so quickly and in such quantity that he soon is being investigated by FBI agent Patrick Denham (Kyle Chandler) With the help of Brad Bodnick (Jon Bernthal) another one of his drug dealing friends, Belfort begins transferring money out of the country and into a Swiss bank. Belfort is starting to hear words from friends and family he doesn’t like. Words like “securities fraud” and “stock manipulation” which can earn you a twenty-five year government sponsored vacation, if you know what I mean. With the threat of the FBI breathing down his neck and his home life in shambles, what’s a multi-millionaire drug addict to do?

 

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THE WOLF OF WALL STREET isn’t a story with a lot of surprises or twists and turns in the plot. We’ve seen it all before in other movies. In fact, if you’ve seen 2000’s “Boiler Room” starring Giovanni Ribisi, Vin Diesel and Ben Affleck then you have seen it as that earlier movie was also based on Jordan Belfort’s story. But for me it really isn’t a movie with much of a story at all. And even though I enjoy scenes of debauchery as much as the next guy, after the ninth or tenth scene of DiCaprio and his cohorts banging hookers while snorting blow offa their boobs I was tired of it already. You don’t have to keep hitting me over over the head with it. I get it, these guys like getting high and screwing prostitutes. Okay, fine. Let’s move on and tell the story.

I will say that when the movie goes into comedy mode it is very funny. There’s a scene where Belfort overdoses on Quaaludes that is absolutely hysterical and had not only myself but the entire audience Patricia and I saw the movie with crying with laughter. Yes, it’s that funny. As I mentioned earlier, Matthew McConaughey is also very funny in his brief but pivotal scenes. Jonah Hill continues to amaze me as I don’t find him funny at all in his comedies but he always makes me laugh when he’s being funny in a drama. Rob Reiner and Kyle Chandler also provide more than able backup in supporting roles as does Margot Robbie as Naomi Belfort. She’s a triple threat in that she’s unbelieveably gorgeous, wonderfully talented as an actress and gloriously uninhibited. I was pleasantly and delightfully surprised to see Jon Favreau and Joanna Lumley also show up doing their usual excellent work.

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But this is a movie that has a story that we’ve all seen way too many times already. It’s the rags-to-riches story of a guy with no conscience who rises to the mountaintop of power and wealth and brought down low by his flaws and weaknesses. There are plenty of individual scenes I liked a lot and made me laugh but taken as a whole, THE WOLF OF WALL STREET disappointed me. Still, it is a Scorsese/DiCaprio collaboration so that makes it worth one viewing at least. But if I were you, I’d wait to Netflix it. This isn’t a movie you have to rush to the theaters to see unless you’re a major Scorsese or DiCaprio fan.

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One word of advice: the movie is rated R but I honestly think that it earned and should have gotten the NC-17. There are many scenes with graphic language, drug use and explicit sex. This is a movie that pushes the R rating as far as it can go and I ain’t lying. In fact, I can’t remember the last movie I saw before this one that used the ‘F’ word and it’s variations so many times. So don’t go see it and then complain about the language, nudity, sex scenes and drug usage ‘cause I’m telling you. It’s there, there’s a lot of it and Martin Scorsese ain’t the least bit shy about showing it to you.

Rated R

179 Minutes

 

 

 

 

Django Unchained

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2012

Written and Directed by Quentin Tarantino

Produced by Reginald Hudlin, Stacy Sher and Pilar Savone

At the end of the day after we’ve finally put to bed all the complaints about Quentin Tarantino’s use of the word ‘nigger’, the stylized ultra-violence and placing the story of DJANGO UNCHAINED in the pre-Civil War, slavery infested American South ultimately it comes down to one thing: is DJANGO UNCHAINED a movie worth your time and money seeing? I think it is. And I recommend it highly. But you have to keep in mind that I’m a confirmed Quentin Tarantino fan and so I tend to overlook a lot of the flaws in his movies. And they do have flaws, as do all movies as there’s no such thing as a perfect movie. It’s just that Tarantino gets so many things right in his movies I’m totally willing to cut him much slack on those flaws. And I just love his attitude about making movies. He just goes ahead and puts it all out there, manically throwing in so many influences from so many things that you can’t rightly point at a Tarantino movie and say that it’s strictly a crime story or a revenge drama or a war movie. And in the case of DJANGO UNCHAINED it’s a spaghetti western, a comedy, a romantic quest, a revenge saga and a surprisingly honest look at slavery as it existed in the period before the Civil War. That honesty comes with a whole lot of brutality and pain and Tarantino doesn’t turn away from it.

DJANGO UNCHAINED has nothing to do with the classic 1966 spaghetti western “Django” save that the protagonists share the name. There is a subtle passing of the torch in a nice little scene between Jamie Foxx and the original Django, Franco Nero himself but it’s not at all necessary to have seen the earlier movie. This new Django is a black man, a slave with no future save to work and die. But he’s given a new life when he is freed by Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz) a dentist turned bounty hunter. Schultz is hunting three men who have sizeable bounties on their heads. He’s never seen them before but Django has. Schultz makes a deal with Django who is frankly bewildered by this loquacious, articulate white man who treats him with respect and speaks to him as an equal. If Django helps him find the three men, he’ll give Django his freedom and part of the bounty money.

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During the course of their hunt for the Brittle Brothers, Schultz teaches Django how to shoot and how to track men as he discovers that the ex-slave in his words is “born for this line of work” and shortly the two men are full partners in bounty hunting. Their friendship grows such a degree that Schultz agrees to help Django rescue his wife Brunhilde/Broomhilda (Kerry Washington) who was separated from her husband and sold to Calvin J. Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio) master of the fourth largest plantation in Mississippi, Candyland. Candyland is famous for the Mandingo fighters Candie trains and it’s by pretending that they are interested in buying one of his fighters that gets Django and Schultz inside Candyland. But due to the suspicious nature of Candyland’s majordomo Steven (Samuel L. Jackson) the partners may not make it out alive, much less accomplish their mission.

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I have to admit again that I’m a sucker for the reckless operatic nature of any Tarantino film and DJANGO UNCHAINED is no different. It looks and feels like a big movie should and it has the acting power to back it up. And in addition, Tarantino has put away his toolbox of his usual stylistic visual effects to just tell his story and trust the strength of that story and the performances to back it up. Christoph Waltz I fell in love with five minutes into the movie. At first I thought it was a little risky for Tarantino to put the beginning of this film on his shoulders the way he did in “Inglourious Basterds” but Waltz quickly establishes that this is a totally different character and does it very well with a quirky edge that is both very funny and very dangerous.

Leonardo DiCaprio and Samuel L. Jackson appear to have some sort of private side bet to see who can out-ham the other in their scenes together and I mean that in the best possible way. They’re having fun with the material and their characters and it shows in their outstanding performances. I’ve never been much of a Jamie Foxx fan but I liked his performance a lot here. His transformation from raggedy slave to professional bounty hunter to avenging angel is thrilling to watch. And I thought it really refreshing to have as a protagonist an heroic black man who is motivated by the love he has for his wife and wants her back. It gives the movie an emotional core that puts it on a level above a simple revenge or hunt for gold plot.

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If there’s anything in the movie I can point to and go, “say wha now?” it’s Kerry Washington’s performance in the movie. Not that it’s a bad one. Or even a good one as there simply isn’t enough there for me to say one way or another. Considering that it’s her character’s plight that gets the story going, Kerry Washington has surprisingly few lines and even fewer scenes. Oh, trust me when I say that she works with what she’s been given but it just struck me as odd that more wasn’t done with her character.

What else? There’s the parade of familiar and not so familiar faces in the movie. I didn’t recognize Lee Horsley, Tom Wopat, Robert Carradine, Tom Savini or James Remar. But I did recognize Dennis Christopher, Bruce Dern, Walton Goggins and James Russo. And I most certainly did recognize Don Johnson and Jonah Hill in an absolutely side-splitting scene  involving The Klan and a discussion about the proper way to cut eyeholes in a hood that is hilarious enough to be worthy of Mel Brooks.

Two more things and I’ll let you get back to what you were doing. The language is extremely raw and graphic and ‘nigger’ is used freely, often and by every member of the cast. If you are offended by the word then I strongly urge you to give the movie a pass. However, if you can accept the usage of the word considering the period of American history the movie is set in as one where the word was used commonly, fine. Mind you, I’m not condoning or condemning the use of the word. But I do consider it my duty as a reviewer of the movie to inform you that the word is used and used a LOT.

The violence. I’d heard a lot about the violence in DJANGO UNCHAINED and maybe I’ve become desensitized due to all the violent movies I’ve seen but I actually didn’t see anything in DJANGO UNCHAINED I hadn’t seen before. The gunfights are obviously inspired by Peckinpah’s “The Wild Bunch” and there are some grisly scenes of mayhem and torture that actually could have been worse if Tarantino had lingered on them. But he stays on the shot just long enough for you to get the idea and then he cuts away to let your imagination fill in the rest.

So should you see DJANGO UNCHAINED? Chances are that if you’re a Quentin Tarantino fan you’ll already made up your mind to see it and if you’re not then I doubt anything I’ve said here will change your mind. But for me, it’s another home run for him. Quentin Tarantino hasn’t yet made a movie I haven’t enjoyed and I immensely enjoyed DJANGO UNCHAINED.

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Rated R

165 minutes

The Aviator

2004

Warner Bros.

Directed by Martin Scorsese

Produced by Michael Mann, Sandy Climan and Charles Evans, Jr.

Written by John Logan

THE AVIATOR doesn’t compare with past Scorsese masterpieces such as “Goodfellas” or “Taxi Driver” of course, but it’s a tremendously entertaining piece of work that is a good example of the storytelling power of Martin Scorsese. He’s very good at doing these period pieces and as he’s proved in past movies like “Gangs of New York” “The Age Of Innocence” and “The Last Temptation Of Christ” he’s wonderful at immersing us into the reality of whatever time period he’s dealing with. Nothing seems out of place and in THE AVIATOR he brings the larger-than-life quality of the 1920’s and 1930’s to brilliant life. It was a remarkable time in American history where movie stars were royalty and guys thought nothing of designing and building their own airplanes and flying around the world as the young Howard Hughes did.

As the movie begins, Howard Hughes (Leonardo DiCaprio) is hip deep filming his World War I epic “Hell’s Angels”. Howard is looked upon by Louis B Mayer and the rest of the old school Hollywood crowd as something of a crackpot dilettante. A young Texas millionaire with more money than he knows what to do with, Hughes is advised to put his money in the bank and stay out of the movie business. And indeed, Hughes’ obsession with “Hell’s Angels” borders on insanity as he holds up shooting for months waiting for the clouds to be just right and spending days and days editing miles of aerial footage. And even after the movie is done, a new thing arrives on the scene, a talking movie called “The Jazz Singer”.  Without missing a beat Hughes goes back out and reshoots the entire movie with sound.

The gamble pays off and Hughes is immediately catapulted into Hollywood superstardom, a world in which he is clearly uncomfortable but it allows him to meet some of the most beautiful woman of that day such as Jean Harlow (Gwen Stefani) Katherine Hepburn (Cate Blanchett) and Ava Gardner (Kate Beckinsale) who he romances with the same manic energy he attacks moviemaking as well as his other major love: airplanes.

Hughes designs revolutionary aircraft for commercial travel as well as military applications and one of his dreams is to build a gigantic troop and equipment transport plane called The Hercules that is made entirely out of wood and weighs 400,000 pounds. Why wood? Well, it’s being built during wartime and a plane that big would take up too much aluminum vitally needed elsewhere.  Hughes grandly envisions the plane as a ‘magnificent flying Spanish galleon’ while his advisors stand behind him making corkscrewing motions with their index fingers pointing at their temples.

But in the meantime Hughes keeps himself busy breaking every existing aviation record on the books, buys controlling stock in TWA, has public and private battles with his main competitor Pan Am president Juan Trippe (Alec Baldwin) and his paid for pet politician Senator Ralph Owen Brewster (Alan Alda). But there’s a darker battle being waged inside of the brilliant eccentric as his minor quirks, phobias and compulsive acts grow more and more pronounced and increasingly stranger, threatening his sanity as he is called before a Congressional hearing to face charges of war profiteering.

A lot of what makes THE AVIATOR so enjoyable is Scorsese focusing on the young Howard Hughes during his days as a daredevil pilot/businessman/playboy/adventurer/filmmaker. I only knew of Howard Hughes from his later years when he was reclusive and hid out in his Las Vegas penthouse, rarely seen by anybody until his death and knew very little about his early years. One thing THE AVIATOR did is spark an interest in me about the early days of Howard Hughes and I did do some reading about him, as I had no idea of the tremendous influence Hughes had on modern day aviation. If the movie can be believed (and I take my movie biopics with a big grain of salt) it was Howard Hughes who first conceived of non-stop coast-to-coast flights and commercial overseas flights.

But you don’t wanna hear a history lesson. You want to know if THE AVIATOR is worthwhile movie entertainment and I’d definitely have to say yes. Leonardo DiCaprio is excellent as Howard Hughes. DiCaprio is a likeable, strong actor and he takes us through the many different aspects of Hughes, from the early scenes where Hughes hits Hollywood like a runaway comet to the later, more disturbing scenes where Hughes has locked himself for days in a projection room, lost in his obsessive compulsive behavior, watching his movies over and over again.

But strangely enough, most of the supporting actors come off as being sort of bland and they didn’t stick with me. Kate Beckinsale shows up as Ava Gardner and while it was really nice to see Miss Beckinsale act with human beings for a change instead of CGI werewolves and vampires, there wasn’t anything about her performance that really made her stand out.

John C. Reilly plays Hughes’ right hand man Noah Dietrich but he’s badly underused here. His only function seems to be to yell and bitch at Hughes about how much money they’re losing or to continually give Hughes bad news. I never got to see why Hughes places so much trust in this guy or why he’s supposed to such a business genius. Ian Holm barely gets anything to do as Professor Fitz, except for one extremely brief scene where Hughes passes him off as a mathematical expert to explain why Jane Russell’s breasts aren’t any larger than any other Hollywood actress. Jude Law shows up as Errol Flynn (THE AVIATOR was one of the movies in the 2004 Jude Law Film Festival) but if you sneeze you’ll miss him and Gwen Stefani is simply awful as Jean Harlow.

But Cate Blanchett as Katherine Hepburn is wonderfully goofy and downright nutty. You get the impression that Katherine Hepburn was as eccentric as Hughes and if it hadn’t been for Spencer Tracy (Kevin O’Rourke) coming along; she might have been able to keep him grounded in reality. Next to DiCaprio, it’s the best performance in the movie and unfortunately, once Katherine Hepburn takes up with Tracy and leaves Hughes, the movie loses some of its zip as Hughes’ relationships with Ava Gardner and Faith Domergue (Kelli Garner) aren’t nearly as interesting.

What are way more interesting are the scenes with Howard Hughes building and flying airplanes. Guys who design, build and fly their own planes are unbearably cool and there are a lot of terrific scenes with Hughes delighting in the sheer freedom of flying his planes, especially near the end of the movie where he proves to the world that his five story tall superplane (which has been mockingly nicknamed ‘The Spruce Goose’) actually can fly.

So is THE AVIATOR worth your time? I certainly think so. It’s a Martin Scorsese movie, which should automatically place it on your Must See List, and it’s an extraordinarily well-made movie full of period detail told with energy and excitement. DiCaprio, Blanchett and Baldwin all turn in strong performances and I think that if nothing else, the movie will intrigue viewers enough to want to find out more about Howard Hughes on their own. Most definitely check it out.

And after you watch THE AVIATOR and want to know more about Howard Hughes I highly recommend “Howard Hughes: The Secret Life” by Charles Higham.

Rated PG-13 There’s no violence except for one horrifying crash scene, no real profanity and no sex. There’s some nudity but nothing that would offend anybody’s sensibilities

170 min.