The Wolf of Wall Street (review/discussion)

Coming in at a tick under three hours, The Wolf of Wall Street is a long movie. One of my oft repeated mantras is: “A great three hour film feels shorter than a bad ninety minute movie.” Is The Wolf of Wall Street a great film? No, but it is very good, and maybe a tad long. No spoilers, but the butler story could have been excised from the film and no one would notice. The only reason I can think of for its inclusion is to show how “gangster” Jordan Belfort can be. Or is he “gangsta”? You be the judge.

Some would say, “It’s a Martin Scorsese film, let him do what he wants.” I agree–up to a point. It’s that sort of thinking that put some studios in a financial hole in the late Seventies. Maybe that is why there were so many low budget comedies in the early Eighties.

Terence Winter’s screenplay is based on the memoir The Wolf of Wall Street, by Jordan Belfort. Other than the stuff that is public record, I have no idea how much of the story is true. Belfort made a fortune by lying to clients; who’s to say he is telling the truth now? In the movie, Belfort isn’t depicted as a saint, but I wonder if his depictions of others hold up to scrutiny.

Fresh out of college, Jordan (Leonardo DiCaprio) gets a job with the brokerage firm L.F. Rothschild. He catches the eye of his boss, Mark Hanna (Matthew McConaughey in possibly his most McConaugheyesque role). Mark becomes a guru/role model to Jordan, and not in a good way.

When the stock market takes a dump on “Black Friday,” the firm folds, and Jordan finds himself unemployed. The only firm hiring is one out on Long Island, which happens to be located in a strip mall. That should have been Jordan’s first clue.

Jordan is wearing an Armani suit, while the other “brokers” are dressed like they should be selling drugs to tweens out behind the strip mall. This isn’t what Jordan expected, but when the office manager (Spike Jonze) tells him they are on fifty percent comission, Jordan shows the yokels how it’s done in the big city. He teaches his techniques to the other employees, and soon they are raking in the cash.

Jordan’s neighbor, Donnie Azoff, joins up and they soon strike out on their own. They start a firm with the posh name of Stratton Oakmont, and Jordan recruits some buddies for help. This when Jordan really starts making serious bank.

A lot of people aspire to be “prostitutes and drugs” rich; Jordan was “tossing little people” rich. At one of Jordan’s parties, he meets Naomi (Margot Robbie). Much like homes and cars, Jordan needs to possess Naomi. They begin an affair, and when Jordan’s wife (Cristin Milioti) finds out, she is none too pleased. After the divorce, Jordan marries Naomi. He thinks he has the perfect life and the perfect wife. Boy, is he wrong.

If Jordan is the lowest of the low, what does that make Donnie? Donnie feels that he can get away with anything, since his buddy is the boss. Basically, Jonah Hill is playing the Joe Pesci role from Goodfellas.

Jordan is not a sympathetic character, but I can see some people idolizing him in the same way the real Belfort looked up to Gordon Gekko from the film Wall Street. There are those who may view The Wolf of Wall Street not as a cautionary tale, but as a blueprint. They vow not to makes the same mistakes–they’ll quit while they’re ahead, or keep it on the down low–but there is always the lure of one more deal.

Donnie was an asshole before the money, drugs, and sex–they just amplified his personality deficiencies. At the end of the film, what you take away from The Wolf of Wall Street depends on what you bring into it.

World War Z

I saw World War Z during its theatrical run, and in the two years that have past, I had forgotten that it was directed by Marc Forster. Yes, the same guy who directed Quantum of Solace. I watched World War Z on blu-ray recently and thought, “I guess Forster must have been paroled from Director Jail.” It’s funny how people tend to remember the failures more than the successes. (George Lucas, anyone?) Martin Campbell still gets the crap kicked out of him over Green Lantern, while people forget that he directed the two of the best James Bond films of the last twenty years–GoldenEye, and Casino Royale.

One thing I didn’t forget about World War Z is how awesome it is. I am a fan of Shaun of the Dead, Zombieland, and the films of George A. Romero, but World War Z is my favorite zombie movie. These zombies aren’t walkers or roamers–they’re fast! Not Barry Allen fast, but if I was Usain Bolt, I’d lace up my Pumas extra tight.

World War Z takes just enough time to establish that Gerry Lane (Brad Pitt) used to have a job that took him to dangerous places around the world, but now he would rather stay at home and make pancakes for his wife Karin, (Mireille Enos) and their two daughters. As Gerry and Karin are taking the kids to school, stuff starts blowing up. Why? I don’t know. It’s just one of those things that happens in these kind of movies. I’ve learned to just go with it.

The Lanes leave Philadelphia and head for Newark. Why? Umm . . . Plot? When they arrive, Newark has pretty much gone to hell. Then again, it could have been a random Wednesday. The supermarket there looked like a Walmart on Black Friday, when people are fighting over the last pair of size 42 jorts.

Just let it go, folks. It’s not worth it

Along the way to Newark, Gerry had been contacted by his former boss at the United Nations. It turns out that Gerry had been an investigator, and the UN wants hims to figure out how this whole zombie mess started.

The bad news for Gerry is that where ever he goes–trouble follows. Trouble that starts with “T,” which rhymes with “Z,” which stands for “zombie.” Unless of course you pronounce “Z” as “Zed,” in which case, I wasted a perfectly good musical interlude.

Each of Gerry’s destinations has its own zombie attack set piece. That’s not to say World War Z is episodic; it’s more like a video game. But in a good way.

It is well known that World War Z was beset with delays, script rewrites, and a third act reshoot. This is often a warning sign, but it’s better to catch these things early, than to deliver an inferior product. Far too often, they try to “fix it in the edit,” but that almost never works. My blog is living proof of that.

Baby, It’s Cold Outside

It seems that winter has officially arrived, which will probably cheer up the people around here. Why? I have no idea. I don’t like bundling up, but I look so good in winter clothing; isn’t that ironic?

It was like forty-something degrees this morning, and I saw some dude wearing shorts–there’s one in every crowd. Why? I didn’t ask, and I didn’t care. I’ve known people like that for as long as I’ve known people. I heard about this one guy who wore shorts year ’round, because one time some woman said he had nice legs.

There are some people who drive around with their windows down or the doors off on their Jeep because they are getting ready for hunting season. I am not anti-hunting, I am just anti-freezing. Just because you are in “training” doesn’t mean I should have to dress like a mountain climber while carpooling to work.

One thing I do like about winter is sitting by a warm fire and watching NFL games that are being played in a blizzard. It also helps to have a warm beverage. During these games the linemen for the home team usually play with bare arms in order to “intimidate” the opposition. This is especially true if the other team is from a warm weather city or play home game beneath a dome. Does this actually work? I have no idea. I always find this funny because once on the sidlines, these players are usually found gathered around a heater. I don’t know what the big deal is. Didn’t they ever see those NFL Films programs with the Vince Lombardi era Green Bay Packers on the sidelines, standing around while wearing long coats? I miss those.

The same goes for soccer. A lot of players are criticized for wearing long sleeves–God forbid if they are also wearing gloves. Of course, most of the supporters at the match are wearing scarves and drinking hot tea. Or Bovril.

I’m probably going to get in trouble for this, but here goes: I once worked in a place that was not unlike the TV series The Office. I didn’t work in the office, I was on the manufacturing side of the building. Some of the women who worked in the office would wear short skirts year round. There is nothing wrong with that, and it was none of my business. I just found it funny that when they would come over to the other side, they would be wearing parkas or North Face jackets. One would even wrap up in a blanket. Once again: none of my business.

Spectre (discussion with spoilers)

I liked Spectre more than I thought I would. When details about the movie were posted online after the Sony hack, I didn’t like what I read. I’m glad I knew as much about the movie as I did, because with time comes perspective. That doesn’t mean I agree with everything about Spectre, I just don’t want to waste time and energy being upset.

Spectre did partially address an issue I had with Skyfall–the Aston Martin DB5. In Skyfall, it appears that James Bond (Daniel Craig) had stored the car himself, and the scene came out of nowhere. In Spectre, the remains of the car are in Q’s lab, and Q (Ben Whishaw) says to Bond, “I told you to bring it back in one piece, not bring back one piece.”

Anyone who knows anything about the Bond films and novels knows that Ernst Stavro Blofeld is the head of Spectre; or SPECTRE, as it was known back in the day. Why did everyone involved in the film feel the need to keep it a secret? This put Christoph Waltz in an awkward position, since he had to tell interviewers that he was playing Franz Oberhauser. He wasn’t lying, but he wasn’t entirely truthful either.

The problem is that the Blofeld reveal makes no sense storywise. It looks like screenwriters John Logan, Neal Purvis & Robert Wade, and Jez Butterworth would have known that since they aren’t stupid. The audience isn’t stupid either. It seems that someone had the idea to have a “neat” reveal for the longtime fans, as opposed to a surprise for Bond.

Imagine if Mr. White (Jesper Christensen) tells Bond that some bloke called Blofeld is the head of Spectre, and he has it out for Bond. Bond then tells Moneypenny (Naomie Harris) to run a check on Blofeld, and she says that she can’t find anything–not even birth records. They both conclude that “Blofeld” is an alias, and they try to figure out who he really is. The way it plays out in Spectre, Oberhauser reveals to Bond that he is now known as Ernst Stavro Blofeld, but that name has no meaning, since it has never been mentioned in the movie.

Speaking of Mr. White: It seems that Bond is back to carrying his standard issue Walther PPK, instead of the newer model with the fingerprint ID. Whatever works for the story I guess.

Spectre (review)

The mixed early reviews for Spectre seemed to confirm my worst fears that the movie was not going to be good. My reasoning was based on information the people who hacked into Sony Pictures had put online. But when I walked into the theatre, I put my preconceived notions aside, and decided to judge Spectre as if I had no clue as to what would happen. When it was over, I thought it was pretty good. I actually liked it. Surprise! It’s amazing what happens when you leave your inner butthurt fanboy in the lobby.

That being said, if you go into Spectre expecting another Skyfall or Casino Royale, you will be disappointed. But Spectre is no Quantum of Solace either. If anything, Spectre is the closest to a pre-Daniel Craig era Bond film so far. It’s your mission, if you decide to accept it, to figure out if it’s the sort of thing you’re looking for.

In the three previous Bond movies, there have been allusions to a shadowy organization that has been working behind the scenes of the various plots 007 was tasked with foiling. For a while there, it was a group called “Quantum,” but now that Eon Productions has the rights once again to use the name Spectre, things have changed. It’s only a small retcon, but I went with it.

The head of Spectre is Franz Oberhauser (Christoph Waltz). If you know anything about SPECTRE from the Bond films or novels, you know who Oberhauser is. Why the filmmakers thought that keeping it a secret was a good idea is anyones guess, but I will save spoilers for a future post.

Another plot point is the one involving Max Denbeigh (Andrew Scott). Denbeigh is a government official who wants to merge MI5 with MI6, and do away with the “00” program. It’s one of those things that pops up from time to time in the Bond series. Some character feels like it’s time for 007 and his ilk to call it a day, and Bond has to prove them wrong.

Along the way, Bond has to protect Dr. Madeleine Swann (Lea Seydoux) from Spectre, because (minor spoiler). Monica Bellucci also appears in Spectre–all too briefly.

Ralph Fiennes, Naomie Harris, and Ben Whishaw reprise their roles as M, Moneypenny, and Q, respectively. Whishaw has quite a bit to do in Spectre, and I for one am glad. He’s a great actor, who is perfectly cast in the role that the late Desmond Llewellyn made famous.

Dave Bautista plays Mr. Hinx, who is basically the Odd Job or Jaws of Spectre. The character’s name is never mentioned in the movie, but thankfully we didn’t have to wait until the action figure was released to find out.

Spectre isn’t quite as dark as the previous three Bond movies; but it’s not campy either. The humor comes from character moments and not set pieces. I think that this is a good thing since Bond is not a man without humor. I don’t want to see Bond driving a gondola down the street, but I don’t want to see unrelenting darkness either.

In some ways, Spectre, directed by Sam Mendes, looks like an old school Bond film. Part of this is due to the locations, and partly because it was shot on film by director of photgraphy Hoyt van Hoytema. His work, along that of production designer Dennis Gassner, at times reminded me of Stanly Kubrick. When 007 infiltrated the Spectre board meeting, Eyes Wide Shut came to mind; and the requisite torture scene would not have been out of place in A Clockwork Orange. But for the most part, Spectre has the feel of classic Bond, and that’s a good thing.

I think.

What’s the Deal with Boba Fett!?

Life Day is coming up on November 17, and I thought I should take the time to discuss the Star Wars Holiday Special.

Just kidding. I can’t do that to you. I am sure that some of you love it, and that’s okay; it’s not my cup of blue milk. There are those who feel that the only redeeming feature of the Holiday Special is the cartoon that introduced Boba Fett to the world. It wasn’t the most auspicious of starts, but it got the fans talking.

Speaking of talking: Boba Fett said more in that short cartoon than he did in the original trilogy. It’s hard to believe it’s the same character. Then again, it’s hard to believe that Luke, Leia, Han, Chewie, et al., are the the same characters from A New Hope.

Prior the the release of The Empire Strikes Back, the Boba Fett action figure was a highly sought after item. The hype surrounding him almost overshadowed the film; it was as if he had his own PR department. The thing is, he didn’t have sweet f.a. to do in Empire. And all he did in Return of the Jedi was die in an overly comedic fashion.

Years later, Boba Fett became a cult figure. It was around the same time that the Tasmanian Devil and Marvin the Martian got hot. I didn’t understand that either. I guess some people watched the Star Wars films so many times that they got bored with the main characters, and decided to latch onto someone else. Why not Nien Nunb?

I don’t have anything against Boba Fett, I just don’t understand where this reputation as a badass came from. He is an enigmatic character–you got to give him that. Where does this reputation come from? Many point to the scene in Empire where Darth Vader singles out Boba Fett and says, “And no disintegrations.” That doesn’t mean he’s a badass; for all we know, he could be a big derp: “Ermahgerd! I done blowed ’em up!” After all Boba Fett did die like a big derp.

That’s right, he was knocked into a Sarlacc pit by a blind man. It’s not exactly the high point of the Star Wars films. Then again, Vincent Vega died just after dropping a deuce. So, who’s to say?

Boba Fett did track Han to Cloud City, but he didn’t capture him. Lando handed him over to Vader, and Boba Fett just stood there when Han fired his blaster. Vader has Han encased in carbonite, then gives him to Boba Fett, who takes him to Jabba the Hutt. You can’t even call Boba Fett the galactic version of the Transporter, because Frank Martin occasionally gets his hands dirty.

Maybe the reason Vader warned Boba Fett about disintegrations is because he is a badass who once had a bad day. For all we know, Boba Fett could have been transporting someone to Jabba, when his land speeder hit a bump, and he shot the dude in the face.

If Boba Fett was really such a badass, he would have shot Sy Snootles right in the lips. Had he done that, he would be my hero.

Star Wars: To Retcon or Not To Retcon

WARNING! Contains spoilers for the novel Smuggler’s Run, and The Clone Wars animated series.

In the Star Wars novel Smuggler’s Run, written by Greg Rucka, it turns out that Chewbacca did receive a medal after the destruction of the first Death Star. When I read this, my first thought was: “Seriously?” I didn’t hate the idea, but I felt it was a bit forced (no pun intended).

Many Star Wars fans thought George Lucas should have corrected this in the Special Editions–and then leave everything else alone. Some who read Smuggler’s Run saw this as correcting an oversight, while others saw it as a retcon.
I don’t know what I think.

Darth Maul was one of the highlights of the prequels, but he died in The Phantom Menace. Years later, he reappeared on The Clone Wars. Huh? When I heard about this development, I thought it was the worst idea since Greedo shot first.

When Darth Maul killed Qui-Gon Jinn, it was devastating. I thought back to A New Hope, when Obi-Wan Kenobi was killed by Darth Vader. Near the end of The Phantom Menace when Obi-Wan cut Darth Maul in half, it felt like justice. If you want to get all psychological about it, Darth Maul’s death gave Obi-Wan a sense of closure. To bring Darth Maul back seems less like a crutial plot development, and more like a “Wouldn’t it be cool if…” sort of thing. But I could be wrong. After I watch The Clone Wars, I’ll get back to you.

In Return of the Jedi, Boba Fett fell into the Sarlacc pit, and hasn’t been seen since. Years later, in one of the Expanded Universe stories, (now called “Legends”) we find out Boba Fett survived. As everyone knows, the Legends series is not considered canon–until it is. Until he appears in a canonical story, Boba Fett is Shrodinger’s bounty hunter.