Valdosta Daily Times

January 1, 2014

Movie Review: ‘Wolf of Wall Street’ is howling good

Adann-Kennn Alexxandar
The Valdosta Daily Times

VALDOSTA — “The Wolf of Wall Street” (Biography/Comedy: 2 hours, 59 minutes)

Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Jonah Hill, and Margot Robbie

Director: Martin Scorsese

Rated: R (Profanity, crude humor, violence, drug and alcohol usage, strong sexual content and graphic nudity. Caution: this is not for those under 18.)

Movie Review: True story of Jordan Belfort is the basis for this uniquely rendered tale by legendary director Scorsese. Belfort (DiCaprio) starts his fortune by selling penny stocks in the late 1980s. He would eventually rise to a wealthy stockbroker involved in illegal trading, drugs, booze, sex, women and money. Belfort and his business associates are addicted to things. They are making money and living high, but their standards of decency are low. Belfort and his associates’ days may be numbered. The FBI is watching.

A fine line exists between creative and crazy. A more seasoned Scorsese walks that fine line with “The Wolf of Wall Street,” a comical adaptation of a real Wall Street mogul’s life. If anybody other than Scorsese had directed this film, it would have an NC-17 rating. Parts of this film are pure porn or other perverse moments.

Anyone with a moral center sitting in this audience should find some of the crude moments repulsive. This is the genius of Scorsese. He wants you to see how disgusting these people are. In an Occupy Wall Street manner, Scorsese portrays Wall Street as a place of greed, corruption, illegal drug usage and sexual promiscuity. Scorsese and writer Terence Winter (television’s “The Sopranos,” 1999) wants to show just how depraved their characters are. They succeed.

Again, these characters are very crude. They have sex, use drugs and constantly commit unethical acts against people. The problem is that their antics go over the top. Moreover, this three-hour movie shows these people’s deviant behavior throughout the runtime. The attempt was to show that these people do not change, even when their circumstances dictate they should. These people are addicts. They cannot stop. Once more, Scorsese, et al, achieve their goal.

That is great, but three hours to show this is 45 minutes more than needed. The problem is that Scorsese goes overboard, although the comedy is plentiful.  

A plus is the acting. DiCaprio is superb, but he is superior with over-the-top performances. See his performance in “Revolutionary Road” (Director Sam Mendes, 2008). He is Oscar-worthy at least for a nomination. Jonah Hill and others also provide good performances, but this is DiCaprio’s show.  

The Scorsese-DiCaprio team has produced some good films: “Shutter Island” (2010), “The Departed” (2006), “The Aviator” (2004), and “Gangs of New York” (2002). “The Wolf of Wall Street,” like the latter three, is powerful. It is also lengthy and over-blown like many of Scorsese’s films, exaggerated character studies.

“Wolf” is lengthy but never boring. However, it does test other limits, such as audiences’ ability to handle perverse scenes continuously. Moviegoers might want to avoid taking a priest, preacher, rabbi, monk or imam to see this. It is not for the timid. This is a Scorsese creativity unbound and gratuitously fashioned.

Grade: B- (This irreverent wolf is howling mad but intriguingly amusing.)


“Justin Bieber’s Believe” (Music/Documentary: 1 hour, 32 minutes)

Starring: Justin Bieber, Scooter Braun, and Usher Raymond

Director: Jon M. Chu

Rated: PG (Brief language and mild thematic material)

Movie Review: In 2011, “Justin Bieber: Never Say Never,” also directed by Jon M. Chu, debuted. It was a pleasant review of a young Bieber’s life and musical talents. This 2013 version is a publicity stunt, a long infomercial for a performer still early in his career.

“People want to see you fall.” These are words of a young Bieber. They are true to an extent. When several friends asked did I see this film, they had nothing but negative comments toward Bieber. Perhaps, a number of males are envious of Bieber. He has become a modern alpha male by entertaining, being wealthy and having a youthful handsomeness. Even more, many women think he is the best thing since the smart phone.

Bieber is causing his own demise with recent acts where he urinates in a bucket and gets into a fight with paparazzi. If he keeps going, will he be his own downfall? The film misses a big opportunity to explore why he did these things. This documentary spends about three minutes on each situation without really giving an explanation. It would be nice if a hardcore media reporter could have questioned him.

In a nice candid but truthful moment, Bieber’s mother, Pattie Mallette, offers some good advice to her son. She tells him to pull up his pants. This is the film’s most real moment.

Of course, this film is about music and not Bieber’s misbehaving. In this sense, all is just Bieber making his music, from writing it to singing it, and young women screaming and crying.

Those screaming fans have one good quality. They will keep you from falling asleep, for sure.

Grade: C- (Not a believer.)

“Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom” (Drama: 2 hours, 20 minutes)

Starring: Idris Elba, Naomie Harris, and Fana Mokoena

Director: Justin Chadwick

Rated: PG-13 (Strong language, brief nudity, violence and sexuality)

Movie Review: Based on Nelson Mandela’s autobiography, this chronicle of Mandela’s life spans his childhood in a rural village in Mvezo to his inauguration as the first democratically elected president of South Africa. Mandela is an impressive figure. Actor Elba does him justice, but Mandela’s life is grand to a point that trying to capture it all in one movie is overwhelming. Justin Chadwick (“The Other Boleyn Girl,” 2008) and scripter William Nicholson (“Gladiator,” 2000) earnestly try.  

The bulk of this story revolves around Mandela’s relationship with his second wife, Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, played excellently by Harris (“Skyfall,” 2012), which is more than noteworthy. The film shows their relationship as one of tribulations and terror. They were apart for most of their marriage. This film shows how they operated separately — briefly together — to end South Africa’s apartheid from roughly 1942 until the 1990s. Intermixed with nice South African landscape views, the film also shows how Nelson and Winnie Mandela disagreed on how to end the racial segregation of their country.

Often movies take people and make them into towering heroic, virtuous people, leaving out their less than desirable traits. This screenplay does not. It shows Mandela, a towering figure, as human.

His film does a nice job with the relationship between Nelson and Winnie Mandela. It also does well with scenes involving Nelson Mandela dealing with President Frederik Willem de Klerk and members of his administration. However, the film is not as impressive elsewhere. A stronger screenplay would have kept the focus on the relationship of Nelson and Winnie and their battle against a South African apartheid.

Instead, this screenplay conveys too much. The film loses the emotive element it could have had. It jeopardizes good dramatic moments that could make it more endearingly powerful for a sheer sequence of events.  

Grade: C+ (A nice historical overview that never reaches its apex.)


“Grudge Match” (Comedy/Sports: 1 hour, 53 minutes)

Starring: Robert De Niro, Sylvester Stallone, Kim Basinger, Kevin Hart and Alan Arkin

Director: Peter Segal

Rated: PG-13 (Profanity, crude humor, violence and sexual innuendo)

Movie Review: Sylvester Stallone, also known as Rocky Balboa, returns in another boxing film. This one is an entertaining but mild comedy directed by Peter Segal (“Tommy Boy,” 1995; “50 First Dates,” 2004).

The last time Henry “Razor” Sharp (Stallone) and Billy “The Kid” McDonnen (De Niro) boxed was in 1984. Thirty years later, they prepare to fight again because of a quick-talking promoter, Dante Slate Jr. (Hart). Sharp and McDonnen are older now, but they are determined to show the world they can still fight. More importantly, they have a score to settle with each other. McDonnen slept with Sharp’s girlfriend, Sally (Basinger), three decades earlier. Plus, each man’s only boxing loss was to the other, so they also want to settle the question of who is a better boxer this time.     

The best jokes for this comedy happen during the end credits. The ones before fall flat often. This is not because the actors do not try. They are a talented group, yet they deliver the jokes with little energy.

Only one player delivers his lines with energy, Hart. The problem is that he is playing his usual self. He plays the same character in every film, as if he’s on stage doing stand-up routines. An over-played process, Hart quips with Arkin, whose lines appear repetitive otherwise. Their lines are funny, but the men do not always deliver them with potency.

De Niro and Stallone are believable as older men returning to the ring. This is a good feature. They inspire laughs, and the plot becomes emotive. Too bad, a number of the jokes do not work for a comedy with this much talent in it.    

Grade: C+ (Fun but no knockout.)