Tag Archives: Martin Scorcese

Cash, Hoes, and Coke: Reconciling the Realness of The Wolf of Wall Street

28 Dec

People really hate this movie.  Martin Scorcese’s three-hour opus to money, drugs, and sex is The Wolf of Wall Street, and oh my, how people hate it.  I use the Fandango app to check on movie times at my favorite theaters, and some of the reviews written by moviegoers sum up the main reasons why people hate this movie:

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Essentially, people hate this movie because of the sex, drugs, and profanity.  Some of the anti-sex comments in these reviews are ridiculous and point to the highly puritanical views held deep within the American consciousness.  Middle America does not find amusement in the depiction of sex of any kind, even though sex is happening at all times and in all places.  Despite the nudity and depictions of threesomes, homosexual sex, and blow jobs, this movie is not simply about sex.  It’s about drugs, too.  And money.

The film follows the story of the rise and fall of Jordan Belfort, a penny stock trader who recruited a group of buffoons he knew in Queens to push crappy penny stocks on unsuspecting victims, eventually targeting the wealthiest one percent of Americans.  Although Jordan Belfort is far from a notorious financial criminal like Bernie Madoff, he certainly made some enemies at the peak of his trading scam, from the late 1980s to the early aughts, when he eventually went to prison (country club prison, natch) for a total of 22 months and received a sentence to pay $110 million in restitution.  The problem that many have with this film is the establishment of Belfort as the protagonist.  This of course stems from the assumption that the protagonist of a story must always be virtuous, which is simply not the case.  In fact, Jordan is a problematic protagonist, and the audience knows right away that his focus is money, and that he’ll go any length to get it.  We know that he’s an asshole, but guess what? He’s a likable asshole!!! This is the crux of the film, which everyone seems to have overlooked.  Not only is this film satirical, but much of its satire is found in the behaviors of Jordan himself.  This is a man so full of himself that he breaks the fourth wall to tell his own story, and what a gloriously vain story it is.  Jordan Belfort is certainly no Gordon Gekko, but, referencing that famed Clint Eastwood quote, he’s a legend in his own mind.  What Belfort is is just an ambitious blue collar kid from the Bronx, not yet knowing that swindling his clients is the only way to make real, tangible bank on Wall Street.  On his first day on Wall Street, Mark Hanna (Matthew McConaughey) provides Jordan with sleazy advice (accompanied by a Native American war chant that recurs throughout the film) to simply take money from your clients and keep it.  This is the mantra Belfort adopts, and he begins to target people who he deems to be idiots – people dumb enough to dump thousands of dollars into penny stocks that will go nowhere but down.  He is twenty-two, hungry, and willing to stop at nothing.

From Slate.com

DiCaprio as Jordan Belfort.

One of my friends found this film to be a poorly executed attempt at satire.  He found that the “choices” made by Marty and Leo were simply too much, and did not work at all.  He felt that the film glorified debauchery.  That is indeed what this film does, but the satirical aspect of what Scorcese is trying to say is easily overcome by the stunning visualizations of what money can indeed buy.  Money can buy Lamborghinis, cocaine, and hookers, in an infinite amount, and this movie contains all of that and more.

Like my friend, many are saying that Jordan is glorified throughout the film, however, there are many scenes and incidents that show how much of an asshole he really is.  The reason why the audience ends up liking him is the great irony of what society thinks of money: we hate the assholes who have it, but having it is everyone’s ultimate goal.  We all secretly want to be that kind of asshole who can fill a wastebasket with hundred dollar bills.  Jordan is both who we would never want to be and who we really want to be when we daydream of riches.  Jordan thusly represents that great paradox of contemporary society.  Conspicuous consumerism is pushed relentlessly upon Americans, even in the years following a deep recession.  Even though no one seems to have any money, and stories of loss and poverty flood the mainstream media, companies are still pushing their products, rap stars still flaunt ice and cash, and kids carry around iPads instead of books.  Capitalism is still king.

Another argument my friend makes is that none of the female characters have any depth or anything to say.  That is indeed the very point of how the women are meant to function in the film – Jordan’s wife and the other women are little more than trophies with nothing more to say or do than to spend the money their husbands earn from the work of others.  They are not meant to act as great insightful wells of knowledge.  However, Jordan’s second wife, Naomi (Margot Robbie)  appears to completely understand her role as a sexual object in Jordan’s life.  She uses her sexuality as a tool in order to get the things she wants, and she does not carry guilt about this.  Naomi embodies “pussy power” that she holds over her man, and she uses it to get whatever she wants, including those fly Gucci boots she so knowingly unzips.

As far as the drug use depicted in the film, it was hardly shocking.  Drugs are commonplace among those with money, hell, they are commonplace among those without money.  Maybe I know too much about drugs, maybe I understand all too well that women are really nothing more than tits and ass to many men, or maybe I am simply too jaded to find anything to get angry about in regard to this film.  The acting and editing was great, the script was quite good, and the message of the film is there, as long as you take your time to sift through the orgy of cocaine and hundred dollar bills left behind by Marty.  This is a film that blatantly points out the obsessively capitalist things that are morally remiss in our culture; however, in glorifying cash, hoes, and coke, Scorcese and Terrence Winter, who wrote the screenplay, are sending the message that what our culture obsesses over is not necessarily a good thing.

Shutter Your Mouth Island

24 Feb

Last weekend, just like $40 million worth of American moviegoers, I wandered into my local theater to see the latest offering from my betrothed, Leonardo DiCaprio, and his betrothed, master filmmaker Martin Scorcese. Despite having ruined the film for myself well over a year ago by clicking on a fateful IMDB thread, Shutter Island was not a disappointment. The acting is solid, the visuals are very 2010, and the story is for a thinking person.

Leo hates it when someone texts in his movies.

However (yes, the dreaded “however”), I could not help but be completely annoyed by the constant talking to my right, which was accompanied by heavy breathing and coughing that came straight out of Napoleon’s typhus-ridden retreat from Russia. Why is it that people do not follow proper etiquette in movie theaters? I could rant about this for days – poor theater etiquette is my biggest pet peeve. I, and I assume most people, do not go to movies to listen to a chorus of “What just happened?”, “What did he say?”, or “Happy Birthday, Jessica!” (Aside: At a late showing of Jennifer’s Body at Village East Cinema*, a group of pubescent Long Island girls screamed “Happy Birthday, Jessica!” at midnight. There were no survivors.) We have become a nation of mouth-breathers, coughers in desperate need of a Halls cough drop, askers of annoying questions, and serial users of cell phones at the most inopportune times.

Cell phones are the biggest problem, and although the heavy breathing from the other day was unrivaled, the glow of tiny screens is visible to EVERYONE in the theater. It only takes one 13-year-old little shit with a Sidekick to ruin the experience of a movie. And who do these 13-year-olds text, anyway? I know that when I was 13 the only person I called on my cell phone was my mother. And mothers generally cannot text unless you spend a painstaking two hours explaining T9. (Which I had to do the other day.)

Enough of my white hot rage, and back to Shutter Island. SPOILER AHEAD!

One scene in particular is still bothering me. In the scene in which Teddy (my main man Leo) is interrogating the older female patient who murdered her husband, the woman asks Chuck (Mark Ruffalo) for a glass of water. Chuck obliges and returns with a full glass. The woman appears to pick up the glass, but a shot of her drinking reveals that her hand is empty and cupped around thin air. When she puts her hand down, an overhead shot of an empty water glass is shown. However, the camera then cuts to a wide shot, in which a full glass of water is seen on the table. I am unsure if any part of this could be a simple continuity error, or if everything was intentional. I spent a long time arguing with someone about the lack of a glass in the actress’ hand. If anyone noticed the anomalies of this scene, please feel free to discuss. Did Martin Scorcese make a mistake? I am likely going to see the movie a second time to decide for myself.

*In one funny distraction that occurred during a viewing of The Soloist, Bobert accidentally almost entered the theater after a bathroom break though the exit door located directly next to the screen. Polite giggles were recorded in the synapses of my mind.