Monday, January 13, 2014

The Big Bad Wolf

1.  The Wolf of Wall Street is a three-hour-long master class on how portraying is not dramatizing. 

2.  It is a window into every kind of excess imaginable.  Unfortunately, building a window is carpentry, not storytelling.  And one of the excesses on display is directorial, like Scorsese made it while he was on drugs you and I can't even afford.   

3.  Too bloated to be dramatic, too unfocused to be satire, the movie totally succeeds as a dumb, amoral supposedly-unbiased unreliable-narrator success story in which the main character is adored because he knows how to game the system.

4.  Scorsese’s made this kind of “The main character is a bad guy” film before.  But he’s never done it without a counterweight.  It’s like he said to himself, “I’m going to do Wall Street right—I’m going to portray Gordon Gekko entirely from his point of view, without any of those boring, forgettable subplots about morality and ethics.” Which is like saying “I’m going to do Othello right—I’m going to portray Iago without any of that boring Othello stuff.”

5.  The only counterweight, the only voice against rampant plutocratic excess?  He gets a final scene which serves as an echo to an earlier remark, and you’d expect that it would carry some kind of thematic weight: is it a defeat or a triumph? Watching this moment made me think, “Of course; this has to be here. But what is it saying?  Because it feels like a defeat.  Which means that the world view of the main character that there is no nobility in poverty is justified.  Which is pissing me off right now.”  So if that’s what Scorsese was going for, he succeeded.

6.  Remember the moment when The Departed went off the rails—when the character that Jack Nicholson was playing suddenly became JACK NICHOLSON ON DRUGS AND BOOZE?  This whole movie is kind of like that.
7.   This is the most Jack Nicholson performance DiCaprio has ever given.  That is not necessarily a compliment.

8.  This movie takes place in a world where a man can proclaim to a room with women in it that the supreme image of success—driving a high-priced car with a beautiful woman by your side—is totally male, and not one of those women will object to the image.

9.  Sadly, that pretty much sums up Corporate America in a single sentence.

10.  So does the fact that (yes, it's true) every male in Corporate America has been to at least one conference room meeting during which the entire table has chanted the words: "We accept her! We accept her! One of us! One of us! Gooble-gobble, gooble-gobble!"

We've all been there.

11.  If it's the road of excess that leads to the palace of wisdom, Scorsese  makes it a point to park his limo in every rest stop along that road, and linger over the same fast food meal without ever once glancing into the kitchen to see how it’s prepared, before his driver honks the horn and he says "Oh right—I'm on the way to wisdom!" and then gets into the car and cries: "Step on it!  But slow down when we get to the next rest stop!" 

12.  This movie is nothing but selfies.  It’s a three-hour Facebook post with all-caps oversharing.  And just like a Facebook post, it’s designed to make you think you’re missing out on something by not being this cool, this happening, this elite.

13.  This film is to Scorsese what 1941 is to Spielberg.

14.  You will miss out on something very special by not seeing this movie.   That is not necessarily a recommendation. 
I prefer this kind of bad wolf.


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