The Wolf of Wall Street (2014)

The Wolf of Wall Street (2014)

It’s always interesting when animals are shown to be humans. Not in the bizarre way that people dress up dogs to make them look like they’re going diving or for a round of golf, more in a “The Wind in the Willows” way. I mean, who could forget Mr. Toad? No-one! There are so many other stories of animals taking on some cooky role. Danger Mouse is another example that instantly springs to mind, as does anything featuring Donald Duck or the fabulous Scrooge McDuck. Ok, I’ve lost some of you here haven’t I? You’re sitting there thinking “what have you been blasting into your Phagey nostrils?” and you’re questioning my integrity as a (self-appointed) film critic. Well… there’s a link… and there’s even a link to blasting stuff into my nostrils. Yes, we’ve finally ventured out to see a film about a wolf. Sadly, it featured no wolves, just a very coked up broker. Welcome to The Wolf of Wall Street

The Wolf of Wall Street (2014)

Yes, weird intros aside, The Wolf of Wall Street tells the tale of the “wolf” Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio) as he schemes and manipulates his way up the ranks of the stockbroker world, just as the real guy did back in the 1990’s to amass millions from playing the system. We see the rise of Belfort and how he leads his gang of fellow brokers, notably including Donnie Azoff (Jonah Hill), and how he battles to elude the long arm of the FBI, headed up by Agent Patrick Denham (Kyle Chandler). I’ve probably made the story sound very staid and dull, but I can assure you it most certainly isn’t… This is a Martin Scorsese movie afterall…

First, let’s deal with the impression the trailer gives you about the film: high octane comedy featuring midgets, hookers, drugs and Matthew McConaughey. All of these elements are indeed in there (more of the drugs and hookers than the others), but the trailers do The Wolf of Wall Street a slight disservice, as this isn’t a laugh-a-second film. It certainly has some laugh out loud moments and some truly bizarre scenes with a paralytic DiCaprio sprawling around the floor with Jonah Hill. These parts actually reminded more of Pineapple Express than any other film! But as I say, this is a Scorsese film, so you’re getting a lot more depth here. I’d go as far to say that this is one of his best works, just because it flows so seamlessly and tells a truly interesting story over its 3 hour run time.

The Wolf of Wall Street (2014)

Yes: 3 hours. This will be enough to deter some folks; especially those that were expecting a comedy. Although the run time is long, and some might say “indulgent”, I thought it worked well. I found myself wanting to know how the plot was going to progress and was glad of the extra minutes to really detail more about Belfort’s life and extravagances. What really drew me in here was DiCaprio, as he really owned the screen every moment he was on it. Belfort, as a character, should be a vile and despicable beast, but DiCaprio gives him heart and soul. Although you probably won’t empathise with him, especially so in the latter scenes of the movie, DiCaprio shines in making him at least relatable, even if you wouldn’t call him “loveable”. Then there’s a turn from Jonah Hill sporting some of the most bizarre teeth I’ve seen. I’ve had a lot of time for Hill since his great turn in Moneyball opposite Brad Pitt, and this does more to cement him in my mind as a solid actor. Hell, the fact that he was reported paid only $70,000 for this role (he just wanted to be in a Scorsese film and didn’t care about the fee) is testament to his dedication.

The Wolf of Wall Street (2014)

Bringing these types of gritty crime-inspired stories to life has always been the forte of Martin Scorsese and The Wolf of Wall Street is no different. Whilst it veers into comedy at times, it still retains the man’s signature “feel”. I also think that the pairing of Scorsese and DiCaprio benefited the film immensely, leading to one of the most enjoyable Scorsese films in recent memory… and indeed one of the most enjoyable films period. As for how this will do in the upcoming Awards… well, time will tell, but after the stellar year we’ve had, I think it’s going to be a tough sell…

The Wolf of Wall Street is a vividly boisterous film that will enthral film lovers and deter those looking for quick, easy laughs. Although it’s certainly a lengthy tome, it’s entirely needed to really bring the story to life. It also helps having a fantastic cast to boot. What would be the point of a great story if it was acted out by chimps? Actually…

The Chimps of Chelsea… The Bears of Broadway… The Dolphins of Detroit. Yes, I can see many exciting extensions to this film, and I can see those hoighty toity chimps with their monocles, those bears blasting out show tunes and those dolphins… erm… talking at length about the once great automotive hub that was Detroit? Ok, maybe that last film isn’t a winner. Unless you gave them some hookers. Dolphin hookers… they make it hard to look at blow holes the same…

Phage Factor:

4.5 Stars

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Django Unchained (2013)

Django Unchained (2013)

Everyone has their favourites. Whether it’s their favourite actor, director or brand of cereal. Life’s eclectic like that. Me? Well, I’d struggle to pick out a single actor; I’ve got way too many favourites. Cereal? Well, I’m not really a cereal fan, but I’d go with something containing almonds and is crunchy enough to break at least five teeth per serving. As for director? Well, that’s quite easy: Quentin Tarantino. The guy has had his hand in some of my all time favourite movies and has also propelled certain actors into the ranks of my favourites too, owing to his screenplays. So when a new Tarantino movie rolls into town, I sit up and take notice, as they nearly always guarantee a slice of cinematic gold. Can Django Unchained continue the trend?

Bad Boys... Texan style.

Bad Boys… Texan style.

Before I get down to brass tacks, let’s discuss the premise of this particular movie… as if you don’t already know! The film follows the life of the titular Django (Jamie Foxx) – a slave who is liberated by a dentist-come-bounty hunter, Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz), in order to track down three targets. But what does Django want to do when the task is accomplished? Well, he wants to go off and find his wife Broomhilda (Kerry Washington) – a fellow slave of the pre-Civil War United States. It just happens to be that Broomhilda is the property of a Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio): owner of the appropriately named Candie-Land plantation. Can the dynamic duo rescue her from his clutches? Or will Stephen (Samuel L. Jackson) the loyal house slave, figure out their game?

Quite simply, Django Unchained is a formidable work of cinema. It won’t be to everyone’s tastes, but I loved every last moment of it. It had the perfect storm of great plot and fantastic casting, complete with Tarantino‘s brilliant scripting flourishes. So let’s kick off with the acting skills on show here. Much was made of the casting of Django himself, with Will Smith apparently in the running for the part in the early days. This made a lot of people sit up and take notice; owing to Smith‘s established fan base and ability to make massive returns at the box office. But for whatever reason, he never tried out for the part. This led to the hiring of Jamie Foxx for the role. Whilst Foxx isn’t the brightest star in the film, he fits the role perfectly. He’s just “right” for the part – he’s a fit, both physically and vocally. For me, his portrayal of Django was spot on. But as I say, he’s not the eclipsing star here. That accolade in fact belongs to three supporting actors: Christoph Waltz, Leonardo DiCaprio and Samuel L. Jackson. Waltz is bankable. He was sublime in Inglorious Basterds and put on a great show in Carnage. He’s a talent to be reckoned with. Whilst I found the role of King Schultz to be compelling, I never felt the same “wow” as I did with Inglorious Basterds‘ Hans Lander. Still, you can’t fault his performance here.

Django Unchained (2013)

I think I was most impressed with Leonardo DiCaprio, though I’m not surprised. For too long this guy was seen as a flash in the pan – only famous because of Titanic and how much the ladies loved him. But nothing could be further from the truth. He’s shown us countless times how he can step up to any role, so it was great to see him as a detestable character. Candie is sinister, intelligent and at the same time, incredibly naive. DiCaprio pulls it all off with aplomb. Finally, it’s brilliant to see Samuel L. Jackson in another defining role. As I’ve mentioned previously, it seems the guy picks films out of a hat, as opposed to scrutinising a script, as some of his films have been less than palatable. But Tarantino again brings the best out of Jackson. Just like Joss Whedon has his favourite rotating cast, I’m glad that Tarantino has the same. It’s familiar, but it’s always different… if you understand me.

Django Unchained (2013)

Plot / script-wise… it’s Tarantino. Come on – you know what you’re getting here. Ultra-violence, a heap of beautifully crafted dialogue and some great music choices. Some have derided the choice to include Rick Ross‘ 1000 Black Coffins (a modern hip hop song) in the middle of a film smattered with oldie-worldie sounding tunes. But it works! Come on, you can’t say you weren’t surprised to hear “Stuck in the Middle With You” during Reservoir Dogs can you? It was a massive juxtaposition – a guy’s ear being cut off with a cut throat razor with such a jolly song over the top. The same is true here, I’d argue.

The one thing that is definitely very “un-Tarantino” is the fact that he opts for a chronological story. We’re all well accustomed to his flair for Chapters in his films – ones that switch back and forth in time. They’re oddly absent here – something that must have been a deliberate choice on his behalf, of that I’m certain.

Oh, and anyone spot the massive tie in to the rest of the Tarantino universe? You know – where he makes a nod to a certain character / event in another of his films? No? Yes? It’s three points for a correct answer… OK, here’s a clue: King Schultz. Now go back and watch Kill Bill Vol. 2 with that in mind. All should become apparent.

Now, my verdict was never going to be an obvious choice based solely on the fact that Tarantino is the man writing the script, but it certainly raises expectations. Expectations can either be met, exceeded or never met. But Django Unchained never wanes and never bores over its lengthy run time. If anything, I’d have loved more time with those characters in their world. As I say, it’ll have its detractors, but what film doesn’t?

Thankfully, the Tarantino brand is still a mark of quality. Django Unchained is one of the best movies he’s ever put his name to. I’m not going to declare it “the” best, because his catalogue is too strong and it’s ultimately like picking between your favourite children… But we all do have a favourite don’t we? Cute little P. Fiction is mine…

Phage Factor:

5 Star

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