Trailer Tuesday: The Wolf of Wall Street

Every Tuesday, I will post a trailer I saw in the past week that I felt was worth sharing.

A new trailer for a Martin Scorsese movie, starring Leonardo DiCaprio? How could I resist?

By now, it is becoming clear that the partnership between Scorsese and DiCaprio is going down in movie history as one of the most successful. Since Gangs of New York, they put out a string of movies that are, simply put, undeniable. It has been a while since 2010’s Shutter Island, which was a remarkably strong thriller, and Leo did not appear in 2011’s Hugo, but it’s of no surprise to anyone why he was asked to play the lead in The Wolf of Wall Street; since his initial surge in popularity as a teen idol, he’s proved himself to be one of the most charismatic and iconic actors of American cinema today, and his collaboration with Scorsese has everything to do with that.

Neither is Jonah Hill’s appearance a surprise, actually, which could not have been said just a few short years ago, when the actor was making his name in Judd Apatow comedies. In fact, aside from Seth Rogan, one could argue he was the actor that’s gotten the most attention from those films. Hill received a supporting actor nomination for Moneyball in 2011’s Academy Awards, and I see more of the same in his future, as he continues pursuing other dramatic roles. He seems to be wearing some prosthetic teeth in The Wolf of Wall Street, and it looks awkward here, but I think it will work well as a look-defining characteristic in the movie.

Overall, I love the sleaze, the 90s vibe, McConaughey’s appearance in the trailer, the musical choices… It seems to me, Scorsese is doing to Wall Street here what he did to the mob with Goodfellas, by turning the entire thing into something of a dark farce. I can’t imagine the movie not doing well or being good, and I for one am looking forward to seeing it.

The Wolf of Wall Street is currently set to be 165 minutes long, and comes out Christmas Day this year (aww, Martin, you always know just what to get me); though there have been rumors of a delay.

Shutter Island

By now, it should come as no surprise that the combination of Martin Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio delivers. Their previous collaborations (Gangs of New York, The Aviator, and The Departed) have all garnered critical acclaim and awards. While Shutter Island is most likely not going to make a grab for the Oscars next year, it instead represents a time in the life of one of the most prolific filmmakers to relax and stop trying to impress, as he has by now surely proved himself to everyone he possibly could. By that, I certainly don’t mean that this film lacks effort, but merely that it is fairly simple. It is well directed (as always), well acted, and a sackful of good, clean, gothic fun.

The film is about a U.S. Marshal Teddy Lewis (DiCaprio), and his partner (more than competently portrayed by Mark Ruffalo) investigating the mysterious disappearance of a patient of a high-security hospital for the criminally insane. While on the first pass the facility is normal, and even very humanitarian, it soon takes on a shroud of extreme menace. What gives it away? Oh, the usual thing – strange comments of staff and patients, a potentially ex-Nazi doctor, a storm, the movie’s trailer… As the investigation thickens, Teddy begins to realize he may have difficulty leaving the island regardless of what he uncovers.

Probably the greatest treats in the film were the sections that allowed some room for Scorsese’s inventiveness to live to its fullest – I’m speaking here particularly about the dream sequences, which were absolutely superb. Times like these, audiences truly thank whatever higher power they believe in for digital cinematography and CGI, when these tools are placed in the hands of geniuses. The dream scenes, along with the wonderfully surreal and simultaneously terrible flashbacks create the core of this film’s uniqueness. They also add to the already omnipresent sense of doom, created by the gothic setting, and of course, a storm.

Things are also well on the acting front – the cast is led by Leonardo DiCaprio, who over the past decade emerged as a more than capable actor under support of Scorsese. His portrayal of the tortured Marshal is almost beyond reproach, and as the leading man he delivers perfectly on his number one duty – holding the audience’s attention, keeping them engaged in his character. In the wings, we have Mark Ruffalo, who does his job well, though the way the character was written the job is really not much. Sir Ben Kingsley plays the head doctor with ease, but does not exceed expectations. The ultimate feat in this role is being a very friendly, but scary villain, which is obviously not an easy task.

If I have a point of contention with the film, it is the screenplay, and the twist-ending, which anyone knowledgeable in the genre anticipates and dreads. We do want our protagonists to win and be in the right, and a movie that spends two hours getting us to identify with the character is not going to win favor by showing us that all we had believed was wrong, surprising though it may be to some. All the same, perhaps this is a standard because that is the way the story must end to pacify some ancient god of archetypes. If this is the case, so be it – as a fairly straightforward psychological thriller, it is easily on the top of the genre, thanks to Scorsese’s undeniable finesse.

Django Unchained

At it’s heart, Django Unchained is a rather naïve film. Not that any of Tarantino’s earlier films have specialized in emotional sophistication, but this is really the only film he’s ever made that is, at its heart, a romantic fairytale about a hero on a semi-mystical quest to save his damsel in distress. Of course, anyone that’s seen the world’s most famous homage artist’s previous work will recognize that’s too simplistic for Tarantino – this particular film is a Germanic legend, wrapped in a 70s spaghetti western, wrapped in social justice served up with a side of bad-ass.

From the first line of the movie “Who’s that stumbling around in the night,” we are in a fairytale, in the middle of a deep, dark wood, with a couple of bad, bad slaver wolves leading a group of slaves through a cold night in 1858. Suddenly, a magically eloquent, knowledgable Dr. Shultz (Christoph Waltz), who seems at first glance to be a dentist, but in actual fact is a bounty hunter, appears. He’s looking for a trio of villains, whom Django (Jamie Foxx) is in a unique position to point out. As the slavers are less than enthusiastic about parting with their newly acquired stock, they are quickly and effortlessly dispatched. The good doctor releases the slaves, and promises Django his freedom upon the dispatching of the no-good Brittle brothers.

This, of course, is merely the inciting incident. The pair quickly become a duo of successful bounty hunters, and after a number of adventures together, set out to find and rescue Django’s young wife, Broomhilda (Kerry Washington), who is apparently, at the moment, owned by the not-a-little disgusting Monsieur Candy, played to a fault by Leonardo DiCaprio – the one time teenage heartthrob playing a villain that would put Darth Vader to shame. He is unlikeable to a fault, cruel, vain, and frankly not very intelligent.

Along the way to the rescue, Django has a series of hallucinations of his wife watching him, a happy smile across her lips. These visions seem to drive the bounty hunter ever further into the surreally racist territory of Candyland. The evil of the place is palpable enough for a viewer to believe that bringing down that onerous establishment would contribute substantially to the betterment of African Americans in slavery everywhere, terrible though their conditions are throughout the rest of the South the film explores.

Jamie Foxx’s performance as the eponymous Django is characterized by enormous poise and swagger, he becoming the epitome of cool towards the end as he exacts vengeance on the wrong-doers. The last man he punishes in the film is, paradoxically, a black man as well, played by Samuel L. Jackson, who portrays a house slave that bends over backwards to please his master. He seems to lead a rather comfortable live among his owners, at the price of brutally ruling over the other slaves on the plantation.

The major aspect that makes this movie memorable beyond an average spaghetti western is, of course, the exploration of the practice of slavery in the American South. There is no question that in that regard, Tarantino is exaggerating for effect. He takes a practice that is already despised by every decent person, and piles additional half-truths on top of it. To some viewers, this is likely to be off-putting. It isn’t unreasonable to, when watching two men fight to the death for other’s amusement, for example, to ask oneself, “why would I watch this? Why, indeed, would anyone?” Particularly when this isn’t, in actual fact, a historically accurate practice. The answer, of course, is revenge. We watch a film that is in many ways about cruelty so that we may watch those we despise be destroyed in a spectacularly dramatic fashion, so we may experience justice for an event for which we no longer have anyone but our ancestors to blame. This retroactive justice was already explored by Tarantino in Inglourious Basterds, and it is as bloody satisfying in Django.