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Recent Movies: The Wolf of Wall Street; Inside Llewyn Davis; American Hustle

February 1, 2014

Recent Movies

The Wolf of Wall Street

This film is based on the book by Jordan Belfort, a white-collar criminal who engaged in stock market fraud during the 1990s in New York.  “The Wolf of Wall Street” is the fifth collaboration between director Martin Scorsese and actor Leonardo DiCaprio.

There is a guilty-pleasure element in watching this film where we witness absolute debauchery without having to face the same consequences as the participants.  The addiction to greed and money is easily met with addictions to drugs and sex.  Scorsese is a master in many engaging techniques including a fast pace, quick scene changes, managing crowd scenes, and giving what some would call a “dirty movie” the appearance of satire, mocking real-life hooligans who should not be given the time of day.

DiCaprio is superb in a very difficult role.  There are other brief performances who shine as well.  Matthew McConnaughey stands out in a very short performance as a sleazy mentor.  Rob Reiner has an opening scene where he reacts angrily to the telephone ringing at an inconvenient time.  This scene alone should go into a Hilarity Hall of Fame.  I could hardly stop laughing at it.

This movie had the potential to be great but its effect is diluted partly due to its excessive length at three hours.  While all scenes were great, the constant sleaziness becomes unwelcome at a certain point.  The film was given a rightful rebuke for insufficient portrayal of the victims of Belfort’s scams.  Had there been more of this portrayal and less debauchery, the film would have been a more complete and greater work.  Nevertheless, “The Wolf of Wall Street” deserves credit for rightly trashing one of the worst collectives of recent times:  the relentless sales and marketing culture of the 1990s.

Rating (out of four stars):   * * *

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Inside Llewyn Davis

The title character is a struggling folk singer in New York’s Greenwich Village in the early 1960s.  His many troubles lead him to bum favours off many people.  “Inside Llewyn Davis” is directed by the Coen brothers.

This film has a handicap like other recent films such as “The Wolf of Wall Street” and “Blue Jasmine” – the main character is very unlikeable.  The other films have various strengths to overcome and rise above this handicap but this is not the case with “Inside Llewyn Davis”. 

Though Oscar Isaac does well in the main role, his character is hard to take for various reasons.  Despite his desperate situation, he lives in the delusion that he is superior to those who don’t share his bohemian lifestyle aspirations.  He also shows little or no gratitude to those who do great favours for him.

As his journey includes negative karma hitting home (in typical Coen schadenfreude fashion) with only a few moments of humour and warmth, this makes for difficult viewing.  He’s not all bad.  Some scenes do show signs of a deeper humanness but they are too few.  The other characters don’t fare much better.  The only characters that might generate empathy are cats.

With little humour or charm to lighten the ride, thankfully the music is the most uplifting part of this film.  Isaac is a superb singer and he performs great songs beautifully as do the film’s other musicians.  The film could also be given credit for using cinematography and other aspects to recreate an era long gone.

There are living folk singers who remember the time and place depicted in this film.  They have  criticized this movie for failing to convey the warmth and friendliness that were a part of this scene.  It’s a relief to know that things were better than what they seemed in this movie.

Rating:   * *

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American Hustle

In New York in 1978, two scam artists are forced by an FBI agent to assist in a sting operation that catches politicians accepting bribes.  This film is based on a true story.

The directing and pace are vibrant and enjoyable enough.  “American Hustle” also boasts four highly acclaimed performances by Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Bradley Cooper,and Jennifer Lawrence.  The praise for the actors is all well deserved.

While this is an okay movie, it’s not as great as the overall praise it has been given.  Each scene is well conducted and they do fit into an overall story.  Some scenes are quite good.  Yet somehow, there is still a feeling of incoherence.  It seems to be missing an broader theme or concern for any of the characters even if they happen to be sleazy on the surface.

It’s certainly not a bad film.  But considering the numerous awards and nominations it was won during this rich awards season, “American Hustle” comes off as rather disappointing.

Rating:   * * 1/2

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One Comment
  1. Mary-Ann permalink

    that’s too bad you didn’t enjoy it to give it a higher rating… I rather liked the writing and I felt the character building was pretty good… Just would have preferred a different ending…

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