Line(s) of the Day #TheWolfofWallStreet

The Wolf of Wall Street

Jordan Belfort: [to the waiter] Oh, I’m good with water for now.
Mark Hanna: It’s his first day on Wall Street. Give him time.

Leonardo DiCaprio and Matthew McConaughey in the film biopic The Wolf of Wall Street (2013). Nominated for five Academy Awards, it tells of Belfort’s wild ways and continued excess after he becomes a stockbroker in New York.

Django Unchained – Review

Django UnchainedConsidering how often he has spoken of his love for westerns it’s a surprise Tarantino has waited so long to put his own spin on things. But then the master of violence has always taken delight in following his own rules and he more than makes up for lost time in this wildly entertaining and visually striking story about racial identity, unlikely friendship and yep, violent revenge. Nobody does stylish death scenes quite like Quentin.

And he sure knows about entrances too. Beginning with a scene of slaves being transported like convicted cattle, dentist Dr King Shulz (played by the magnificent Christoph Waltz) quietly arrives in an assuming little mobile cabin that even has a quirky swinging tooth on top. Inquiring about Django (Jamie Foxx), one of the slaves, Django, he meets resistance by their ignorant owners, the hapless Speck brothers. It’s not long before the fun begins and the polite and well spoken Schulz shows his combat skills and quick reflexes to get control of the situation and killing one of the owners. Turns out Schulz hasn’t practiced dentistry in years and this softly spoken German is perfectly happy to let the now freed slow avenge themselves by executing the remaining brother.

Schulz has more pressing concerns and needs Django’s help to hunt down the Brittle brothers and kill them. It’s not long before the bounty hunter Schulz and the determined Django bond. There is a touching scene where they open up and share a beer but Tarantino veers away from being sentimental by reminding everyone of the overt racism and the shooting dead of a bureaucratic official.

The death of the Speck brothers is less of interest to Tarantino than showing the bigoted negro haters getting their just desserts. The film’s arguably best and certainly funniest scene is the parody of the white sheet and hat group (led by Spencer ‘Big Daddy’ Bennett, played with flair by Don Johnson) which gloriously mocks the simple-minded sheep-following mentality. The KKK may have formed after the film’s setting of 1858, but the creative license works a treat. And It’s been ages since anyone looked as good in a blue suit as the one Django chooses for himself.

From there the film gets more serious. Schulz decides to train Django to become his partner in crime and giving him a cut of the profits, before he agrees to help Django rescue his wife Broomhilda (Kerry Washington). She is being forced to work in the Candyland plantation, run by the deviously charismatic Calvin Candie (an impressively acted Leonardo DiCaprio, complete with a neat Southern accent). Not wishing to be overpriced they decide to come up in advance with a cunning plan of being interested in his fighting slaves, but run into trouble as they face opposition from Candle’s fiercely loyal senior house slave Stephen (Samuel L Jackson).

Released around the same time as Lincoln, Tarantino’s films never shurks the brutal, ugly racism endemic there at that time. While Spielberg’s biography of the final few months of the celebrated president focused on the moral and legal aspects of fighting slavery, Tarantino highlights just how terrifying being black those days was. The scene where a wounded slave gets caught trying to escape and is punished by being torn apart by a pack of wolves is startling. Even though we don’t see the actual mauling, the sound of tortured screams is harrowing enough. Whilst there are plenty of moments for fans of Tarantino’s bloodbath shootout killings (and look out for one blown away into the next room!), Tarantino has made a film about a point in American history that in his own style and very much blue, white, and all kinds of blood red.

The Great Gatsby – Review

Great Gatsby

And so, nearly 40 years after the last major attempt to capture F Scott Fitzgerald’s iconic ‘The Great Gatsby’, Hollywood tries again. This time it’s Baz Luhrman who throws a majestic, flamboyant and grandiose effort into the ring, as the director best known for Romeo, Moulin Rouge and Strictly Ballroom tries to hosts the most epic of adaptations.

And he sure goes all out. In 3D, with a largely hip-hop soundtrack, exquisite costumes, lavish settings, and fast paced cutaways, it certainly captures the glamorous excess of those searching for the American Dream. Nowhere is the more evident in which the naive (a solid though unspectacular Tobey Macguire) meets the enigma that is James Gatsby (Leonardo di Caprio). Money falls from the ceiling, music is cranked to the max, dancers jostle for attention as Luhrman is in his element of creating the glitz and glamour of the Jazz Age. When Jordan Baker (newcomer Elizabeth Debicki) says to Carroway: “And I like large parties. They’re so intimate. At small parties there isn’t any privacy,” Luhrman was clearly taking note.

Such a pity then that so much else falls flat, and worse still, right from the start. Things begin dubiously with an alcoholic Carroway in a sanatorium, sad, forlorn and still longing for Gatsby. Showing no signs of recovery, he is persuaded by his doctor to tell the story.

Through flashback we see how a restless Carroway moved to West Egg to works in bonds on Wall Street. Intrigued by the seemingly mystical world inhabited by his next door neighbour, he takes up an invitation to one of the parties and is shocked by Gatsby’s youth and relentless drive. It soon becomes clear there is a method to the apparent madness of hosting parties he seems to be indifferent to. Gatsby has been desperately looking for a way to meet his former love, Daisy Buchanan (Carey Mulligan) and he sees the opportunity he has been waiting for when he realises Carroway is her cousin. Things are complicated by Daisy’s husband, the philandering Tom Buchanan (well captured by Joel Egerton) and troubling rumours of Gatsby’s past that refuse to go away.

There are pointless interruptions of the story with short scenes of Carroway with his psychiatrist, but the main failing of the film is addressing the main heart of the story. Carroway’s famously unreliable narrator is just far too removed and asexual to be a convincing character, and the script by Luhrman and Francis Ford Coppola doesn’t explore Daisy’s character enough to explain the obsessive hold she has over Gatsby. The regular motif of having words on the screen fails to resonate, and the gimmick feels more like a music video. Fewer tedious camera zooms would have been nice too.

This won’t go down as Di Caprio’s finest. Thought the perfect choice, his portrayal is of someone unsure of how to play it. Mulligan plays Daisy as a far more sympathetic character than the book, meaning the film loses some of the edge and subtlety. Egerton is the stand out. His portrayal of the “old school money” Tom Buchanan is a delight and helps begin to understand the moral complexity at the heart of the twisted love story. When Tom and Gatsby get confrontational in the tea room late on in the film, nothing is held back and we finally see a hint of the genuine drama lurking beneath the decadence. When Daisy and Gatsby first meet, we see that Luhrman can do subtetly, and is undoubtedly the film’s most touching moment.

Maybe the book’s magic will always be best left on its pages. Sadly, we’re still waiting for an adaptation commensurate with our capacity to wonder.