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December 26, 2013


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One of the most provocative moments of cinema for me in recent years is the music at the end of Please Give. As mother finally gives in to daughter's need for $200 bluejeans, the score swells with happiness and resolve. The moment of capitulation to the shallow, entitled privilege the mother has been wrestling with and against the whole movie loses any and all satiric or critical bent (and the score is not sacrcastic, just, as it were, approving). It's simply a beautiful mother/ daughter moment, end film. Man, I thought, this is either a big mistake, or just shows huge, "figure it out for yourself" balls.

Lewynn Davis, same thing. "I hated it," a friend said. Guy was an asshole. So? I said.

I think (again, sorry) the difference for some people is that Lewynn Davis is the sort of asshole some of us don't mind seeing, especially knowing there are not literally thousands of boorish scum out there waiting to dribble and holler with excitement at seeing an asshole of their own go up on what for them is a pedestal, which would be the case even if the movie was overtly critical by all accounts. (Although that really has no bearing on whether I want to see 3hrs of fratboy assholism verses Holofcener's or the Coens' characters. I guess there would be times I might, depending, but this just doesn't look like one of them. I really think that's what a lot of the resistance is, but maybe it's just me.) Instead of blasting out "these people are MORONS" takedowns of particular reviews, whatever the merits of that is, I think it's fair to acknowledge that a lot of critics out there, like A.O. Scott, are recommending the movie with the same caveats that people who don't recommend it offer. But I'm willing to receive that he and I are morons as well...


Please make that "WHILE you are blasting out takedowns...", not "Instead." That was a stupid thing to write.


Saw WoWS today, and it seems insane that anyone can interpret Scorsese's view of these guys as anything but one of disgust. I'm thinking about the moment after the secretary gets her head shaved and the prostitutes come in and as the action goes into slo-mo, the sound drops out and gets replaced with this rather disturbing animal roar. All throughout the movie, Scorsese clearly shows the Stratton Oakmont crew as little better than animals.

And yet, I couldn't shake the feeling that Scorsese just didn't know when to stop. In the flight to Geneva scene, we see Belfort acting like a drugged out asshole as he boards, fucking with the stewardesses and the crew, followed by a quick cut to him strapped to his seat. Which is then followed by a flashback explaining why he's strapped to his seat, showing him acting like a drugged out asshole, fucking with the stewardesses and the crew. There's the scene when Jonah Hill is baiting Belfort's friend and courier in a parking lot, that seems to go on for 10 minutes even though Scorsese telegraphs exactly how it will end at the very start and definitely could have trimmed it by a few beats. I did feel that Scorsese repeats himself a lot throughout the movie, or lets scenes play out well after they made their point.

While I admired Scorsese and DiCaprio for being so committed to, and inventive in, showing us the ugliness of these greed heads, I did feel a monotony settle in after a while. It was often the quieter scenes, like Belfort's first meeting with Agent Denim, or the meeting with Swiss Bankers, or DiCaprio's brief scene with McConaughey, that ended up having the most impact for me. I actually felt disappointed when great scenes like those were followed up with yet another tight close up of a rolled up dollar bill hovering up a line of coke, or of quaaludes dropping into someone's hand. The focus on the excess of it all, the too-muchness of everything, finally beat me.


I shared your reaction Jose. The film was too repetitive for me to be entirely successful. Though I wonder if that monotony is essential in order to drain the pleasure from the excess represented. The film does have a lot of say about capitalism and fantasies of wealth. The final shot is brilliant and makes clear that a lot of us would become the same as Jordan. It's a great way to end such a long film and probably not something a lot of critics want to hear.

I am not sure I could sit through it again as I left feeling angst ridden and depressed. That people think it is a celebration is really baffling. Even if Scorsese can be too fascinated by masculine energies, he also clearly shows how destructive and horrible they are.

Matthew Fisher

For me, the final shot recalled same of L'ARGENT—you might say they rhyme in more ways than one.


Finally someone else says what I felt - the last moments of L'Argent however also included the axe (murder weapon) being thrown into the water, which to me felt a little like Bresson's goodbye to the cinema - throw the camera off the cliff and walk away. Others have brought up the last moments of SEVEN WOMEN to compare with. I feel this is premature. Marty, god willing, has a lot more to say and we need to listen. But the film is attempting to operate on this level - the plateau reached by a 70-something year old master film maker. Rather than be so dramatic about it however, what if this is more RIO LOBO to RIO BRAVO territory? Is that so horrible? GOODFELLAS and RAGING BULL aren't going anywhere. This film either entertained you or it didn't.

The cardinal sin of American cinema is to cease to entertain its audience. TWOWS my have crossed that line. But maybe it is time that line got crossed. We've "entertained" our culture and society into a nation of Jordon Belforts who all want to get f-ed up and get laid and entertained endlessly. How green was my valley, indeed.


I enjoyed THE WOLF OF WALL STREET while I was watching it earlier today. Still afterwards I wondered about my reactions. I kept thinking of CASINO, another movie almost three hours long, also about people who can't control their impulses and which also received a certain coldness from certain critics. There are two objections to CASINO. The first one is that it doesn't really do anything different from GOODFELLAS. The second is that there is a certain indulgence towards its protagonist. If THE GODFATHER movies are supposedly how the mafia would like to see themselves, CASINO is what Henry Hill dream of what he would like to be. Pesci is still Pesci, Stone is an unconscionable bitch who betrays her husband, while Hill both cheated on and corrupted his wife. And while Hill was just a parasite, Rothstein is an incredibly cool parasite with genuine talents and considerable competence. His only flaw is that he is betrayed by everyone around him, which is hardly a flaw at all, and he gets to pontificate on the fate of his Las Vegas.

I would say of THE WOLF OF WALL STREET it answers the second criticism, while being open to question about the first. It is a point in its favor that Belfort is not only corrupt and greedy, but at various points callous, irresponsible, brutal, treacherous, demagogic and generally sociopathic, and that we live in a world where he doesn't really get his comeuppance. And this in turn deals with one of the problems with both TAXI DRIVER and GOODFELLAS, that the charisma of the protagonists undercut the criticisms those movies were trying to make. I will say in its favor that it works better than THE AVIATOR, arguably more problematic in its connection to the great man myth of Howard Hughes. It's better than THE GANGS OF NEW YORK, which in retrospect appears as failure of the historical and political imagination. It's easier to enjoy than KUNDUN or HUGO, though I wonder whether it is actually a better movie.

Since Glenn mentioned directors identifying with movie characters, I want to make an aside about the Coen brothers. I'm not a Coen brothers fan. What I disliked about FARGO was how it treated the William Macy character. He wasn't contemptible because his actions led to the deaths of innocent people. He was contemptible because he was such a pathetic schmuck he shouldn't have dreamed of trying to move above his station. (I had the same problem with TO DIE FOR and A SIMPLE PLAN.) This kind of snobbery, of the cool kids' contempt, is what I really don't like about them. I haven't seen INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS, and it may be brilliant. But watching a movie about someone talented, but dickish and (deservedly?) unsuccessful, from someone talented but dickish and wildly successful does not sound promising. (It's also not a good sign that John Podhoretz gave it such a good review in the latest WEEKLY STANDARD, since sneering at the sins of people more talented and creative than they are is a long Podhoretz family tradition.)

Jason Melanson

I found the film to have some similarities to THE CHOIRBOYS. It's the constant cackling of laughter from these animalistic characters, the awful misogyny and homophobia of the characters, the way they abuse and mistreat anyone who is lower on the social food chain than they are. But mainly it is the rage that you referred to in your earlier post that seems to link the films. I felt Scorsese's rage and disgust quite palpably throughout this film and that's certainly the case of the Aldrich as well. Others seem to balk at this idea that Scorsese isn't reveling in this behavior but for me it seems so clear that he is repulsed by these reptiles. Of course I think the Scorsese film is quite excellent whereas the Aldrich film seems more like an interesting failure to me.

Jason Melanson

I'm going to backtrack slightly on my statement that the Aldrich film is an interesting failure because I do actually like the film quite a bit. I was just using that phrase because it's supposedly a comedy that's not funny but I think it has something else going for it. I'll leave it at that since this is supposed to be a discussion of WoWS.


"We were playing on the idea of evil being attractive and dangerous." -- Scorsese on 'Cape Fear'


Regarding the sexual politics of the film, I was amazed (and encouraged) to see the scene where Belfort has intercourse with his trophy wife "for the last time," as this was a scene with a real emotional exchange that occurred while two characters were copulating. When is the last time we've seen that in a studio film? I see that scene alone as a reason why this film is worthy of contemplation and conversation. Sex is almost always an excuse to show two characters NOT having any exchange in most films other than the implied closeness, or what-have-you that goes along with some score music and some soft focus montage. A more timid film would have shown that exchange ("I want a divorce") going down as pillow talk only. Scorsese and the actors instead portray it in real-time to devastating effect, building on the theme of the picture. Bravo.

Again, when is the last time we've seen an emotional exchange that complex in a film, with a sexual component to it openly seen and integral to the scene? This breaks ground for other film makers, something Scorsese has been doing for decades.

Bob. Courtney

Not a prude by any stretch of the imagination,...but...how many times can you say "fuck" in a movie before it becomes monotonous and fails to add anything to the story? The bulk of the film was boring, but the last 45 minutes or so brought it back up to a "C" movie. How many times was "fuck" said in the movie anyway?

Ryland Walker Knight

probly still coulda been more dicks tho... just saying!


The Forbes smear piece and the resulting swarm of applicants to Stratton Oakmont seems to me to be Scorsese's answer to the "glorification/criticism" question, which is that no matter how one tries to reveal the grotesqueries of these type of people, there are going to be a lot of people out there who want nothing more than to be part of it.


I've also seen complaints that this movie's not "about" the post-2008 financial crisis because its subject is not one of the big Wall Street banks. How literal do Winter and Scorsese need to be? The movie is clearly set during a period when bankers started to care less about long-term fiduciary obligations to clients, and more about profiting off their clients' lack of sophistication. Sure, the subject here is penny stocks, but the leap from penny-stock fraud to Goldman Sachs' Abacus deal is infinitesimal. If necessary, just watch Margin Call first, slog your way through analyst monologues, and then enjoy a real movie like WOWS. And I agree with Ettinauer. The cut from that Forbes article to the young men thundering in Stratton's waiting room with their resumes was heartbreaking to me--a clearer "downfall of America" sequence than any of the movie's orgies.

Don R. Lewis

I try not to read much on films I've yet to see so although I knew there was some people freaking out over WOWS, I didn't really know what the hullabaloo was all about. I had heard of walkouts, general disenchantment but I avoided reviews and "think" pieces on it.

After seeing the film Friday night I dug back through some of the attitudes and reviews and was completely stunned that people think this movie is glorifying what these guys did and who they are. Matt Zoller Seitz nails it when he says there's an attraction/repulsion thing so I guess the negative reaction to "glorification" is akin to pornography. Those who like it (WOWS or, porn) but are also turned off by it to the point where they're getting all shrill and weird need to look deeper into what they're REALLY upset about.

Plus, if the movie is what's pissing you off you're clearly mad about the wrong this as this kind of behavior is STILL GOING ON.

Great film.

Andrew Wyatt

I kind of think that part of the difficulty critics have had in talking about WowS with one another is varying definitions of ""justice," "comeuppance," and "getting what he deserves". Personally, I don't need to see Belfort get put away for life in some grimy hellhole, or get shivved by one of the people whose lives he casually destroyed. That would be justice in the sense of Greek tragedy sense of the word, I suppose, but tragedy seems to require that the protagonist be at least a little sympathetic to the viewer. Scorsese goes out of his way to make Belfort as *unsympathetic* as possible. It's the rare film told from a villain's point-of-view which does not invite us to feel for the guy in any way. (I quipped to a friend after seeing the film that Frank in MANIAC gets treated with more empathy than Belfort in WOLF.)

At any rate, it seemed to me that Belfort's deranged level of excess is itself a kind of comeuppance. I mean, who looks at the depravity in this film and thinks it looks appealing? It doesn't matter how attractive the women are, how mind-blowing the drugs are, how heavenly the liquor is, how opulent the manor and yacht. Nothing he does looks *fun* in any sense I recognize (and I have been known to enjoy the, uh, finer things in life in my time). Belfort and his minions aren't having fun--they're yawning chasms of need who have convinced themselves that relentless consumption equals fun. Every orgy in the film has the reek of flop-sweat on it. I wouldn't trade places with Jordan Belfort for anything, even if I only got to experience the dizzying highs. It looks awful. And that's the film's strange achievement, I think: It makes my stomach churn at the idea of being filthy rich. That's kind of brilliant in its way.


"Three hours of horrible people doing horrible things."

You mean like THE GODFATHER?


Or like 'Barry Lyndon', 'The Birth of a Nation', and 'Magnolia'?

('The Godfather' is showing on UK TV for New Year's, incidentally.)

Michael Dempsey

Barry Lyndon does many horrible things, but he is far from totally horrible.

Adam Zanzie

"It's worth noting that prior to Wolf of Wall Street Scorsese was not known to use female nudity a whole hell of a lot. Nude scenes were frowned upon by his friend and mentor John Cassavetes."

Exactly. Aside from "Who's That Knocking at My Door?", "Boxcar Bertha" (both of which only had female nudity because Roger Corman requested it, if I recall), "Mean Streets", "After Hours", "The Last Temptation of Christ" and "Gangs of New York", Scorsese is actually pretty modest about this sort of thing. When I first started watching his films in my early teens, it occurred to me that more often, he tends to cut away from his sex scenes before we really see anything (see: Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, Life Lessons, Goodfellas, Cape Fear, The Age of Innocence, Casino, The Aviator, The Departed).

I'm reminded of those idiotic comments Gore Vidal made about Scorsese a few years ago: "He's an absolutely sexless director. Can you think of a sex scene that he ever shot?" (For the record, the subject came up when Vidal badly overstated a defense Roman Polanski by calling Samantha Geimer a "hooker"). I think the real reason sex isn't as prominent in Scorsese's filmography as it might be (aside from maintaining his actresses' dignity) is that sex is never really a theme of the films. It's only an important theme in "Last Temptation" and in "The Age of Innocence" (the latter of which focuses entirely on the lack thereof).

There was no sex or female nudity in most of his gangster films because the heroes cared more about money, drugs and violence. Replace "violence" with "sex" and you get WoWS. My point is that it's maddening how Scorsese once got slammed by Vidal for being "sexless"... yet now when he includes sex in a film where it's essential to the story, he's accused by others of being a misogynist and degrading towards women. I think if Vidal had lived to see WoWS, he'd have taken back what he said about Scorsese -- though he'd probably also try to offer a homosexuality theory about Jordan and Donny, a la "Ben Hur". Which reminds me: Robin Wood would have loved WoWS.


The immorality [of 'The Godfather'] lies in the presentation of murderers as delightful family men -- the criminal is the salt of the earth -- and to our shame we rub it into the wounds of our Watergate-world mortality and even ask for more."
-- Judith Crist, 1974


Why does Glenn Kenny give off such appalling, finger-stabbing-in-the-sternum, hot onion-ring breath bathing, sweaty sweatpant stinking, yowly, howly, baroquely pugnacious HOSTILITY in the midst of....a PRAISEFUL review? Kenny's praise is more vilely bellicose than his pans. Because the praise is a thin layer of cellophane covering his real objective: using words to mimic physical violence against Those Who Do Not Understand. Who, of course, are really merely Those Who Disagree. So, for example, those who deign to critique "The Wolf of Wall Street" are really "classist" Wasps sneering at the "uneducated" Scorsese--is there really a person alive who considers the encyclopedic master of film history Scorsese "uneducated"? No, but it serves Unkle Kenny's purpose: so another kitchen sink is heaved in. What one cannot escape with Kenny is a bellicosity that escapes all ideas, ideologies, tastes, thisses-rather-than-thats. He is just pissed. And he wants to rut and grunt and beat his big chest, McConnaughey style, for the world to see. His admirers are junior drooglets.

Glenn Kenny

Wow, this comment is almost exactly like running into someone you used to drink with, and he's still totally wasted.


Why does "Schwabinsurance" give off such appalling, finger-stabbing-in-the-sternum, hot onion-ring breath bathing, sweaty sweatpant stinking, yowly, howly, baroquely pugnacious HOSTILITY in the midst of....well, you get the idea.


Is everyone just being polite and hoping he'll go away by not mentioning this?


By the way, if you Google "Armond White," Glenn's name and image come up in "People also search for"

I wouldn't take it personally.


I don't recall this much of a fit of the vapours over a movie since 'Crash' and 'Trainspotting', both 18 years ago. The outrage then was all too predictable, coming from a Conservative-led Britain in 1996, but America in 2014?

Another disappointment: what's the US coming to when a bunch of French aesthetes can vote to expel Claude Autant-Lara but film critics from New York won't do squat about Armond White?

Wil M.

The film I kept thinking of was Scorsese's favorite horror film, Robert Wise's "The Haunting" and its unreliable narrator. Multiple times it was revealed that what Belfort was telling us, and what the reality was were two different things. I haven't seen this mentioned anywhere else, but it's all I could think about while watching it. 'What's really happening, since I can't trust this guy?"

By the way, best picture of the year. I saw it three weeks ago and can't get it out of my head.


Will finally catch this tomorrow, after work.

The number of times I had to reserve a (non-festival) cinema ticket, you could count on the fingers of one hand. I decided to in this instance because the film opened in London just last week and a lot of the showings seem to be selling out (a good sign, I suppose).


Glenn: A few years ago, I posted to this blog (maybe twice) a concern that you write far more about how other film critics (ones you adore and ones you decidedly don't) are misguided/stupid/just plain wrong than you write about films themselves. I acknowledged that a critic is necessarily in dialogue, implicitly or explicitly, with other critics (and audiences and etc.). But I felt that Some Came Running had been b(l)ogged down with potshots and internecine squabbles of heated interest to a few and trying/exhausting for many more. I wished for a shift in emphasis. You responded well and noted that writing more about films and less about other critics is something you'd try to do. If I recall correctly you've made several promises along those lines; one of them might even have been in the form of a new year's resolution.

If you made good on that promise, it was only for a few fleeting posts. The almost immediate return to critic vs. critic (no squabble too small!) depressed me. I stopped reading your blog and haven't read it again for a year or two.

Today, I thought I'd check in to see what you had to say about Wolf of Wall Street, and I discover that, for the most part, it's same-old, same-old: you appear to get more kick about of criticizing other critics' takes on a film than just patiently making a positive case for your own. Or maybe it's just easier to write about the former than the latter.

You are a smart person, a strong writer, steeped in knowledge of film history and popular culture (I tend to think these are requisites for a good film critic). So why not use your thoughts and energies to write a piece on how "Wolf of Wall Street" constructs its characters, what it leaves out and what it doesn't, how the directors "attitude" toward his subjects is demonstrated in the mise-en-scène, the cinematographer, what have you? A sensitive, subtle analysis (even a quick-and-dirty one) would make your case more strongly than a survey of how other critics are wrong, wrong, wrong (or even how some are right, right, right). Another advantage of this: you'd avoid the tiresome game of questioning the motives and sense of those you disagree with.

I write this with little hope that you will take it to heart—and even less hope that, if you do take it to heart, that you'll finally be able to make good on your promises and stop devoting many (most?) of your blog posts to taking potshots at/whining about other critics. But I'm just going to throw it out there again.

This has nothing whatsoever to do with what I just wrote but FWIW I felt like Wolf of Wall Street was a diminished retread of familiar ground, occasionally exciting in a stylistic-jazz-hands sort of way but scarcely ever thought-provoking, often (as in some of the longer set pieces that could easily have been excised, but also in every scene of marital drama) tedious.

There was one scene I really did like: the one where the FBI agent visits Belfort on his yacht. Both characters are dissimulating, and the actor playing the special agent had to convey two things at once. He had to make it credible that Belfort did not catch on, until late in the conversation, that the agent was pulling him along hoping that we would make a self-incriminating statement on the records. But he also had to make it clear to the audience that he was the captain of the conversation, that he was in control and not about to succumb to Belfort's attempts to entice him. The actor (whose name I don't know) did this with just enough subtlety to make it occasionally ambiguous to the audience, giving the scene a charge of suspense. This one scene suggested the carefully-tuned character drama that the film as a whole decidedly was not. I'm not expressing a preference for intimate drama over punchy cartoon, just noting that this scene held my attention and interest much more than the Dionysian stuff around it which couldn't help but feel slack by comparison.

I don't think Scorsese has made a strong film since Casino, and I don't think he's made a great one since After Hours. (Though to be fair Wolf of Wall Street was better than the endless, soporific white elephant that was Hugo.) I tend to think that Scorsese, despite his obvious directorial signatures, is largely at the mercy of his scripts, and it's been a long while since he had a really good one.

A lot of people would vehemently disagree with my assessment and I'd bet those folks will dismiss my opinion and that's fine. I sure hope Scorsese keeps making box-office gold, since it means he can continue supporting film preservation and restoration. We have him (and Kent Jones, and Criterion, and lot of other folks around the world) to thank for that recent World Cinema Foundation set, after all.

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