“The Wolf of Wall Street” is everything “American Hustle” wanted to be and more. It’s smart, mean and makes a pointed political statement while rolling in the excess of its characters. As far as drama goes, let’s face it, rags to riches and success isn’t so alluring. No one wants to see a nice guy make it – they want to see someone claw their way up, live large and fall hard. Look at “Scarface,” “Goodfellas” or “Wall Street” to name a few. “Wolf” and “Hustle” are less violent and black and white, but the elements of greed, lust, envy and hubris are all there in fine, fermented form.
The two films too are based on true stories and take place in New York City during high-flying eras that predate cellphones and the Internet. “Hustle” jogs through the Abscam scandal of the 1970s via a petty con who, ensnared by the feds, helps draw in corrupt pols. “Wolf” is smaller fare, following the hilariously self-destructive travails of a hungry wannabe who, from humble origins, gets his brokerage license on the eve of the Black Friday market crash of 1987 and instead of cashing out and moving on to something more surefooted, goes on to parlay his smooth cold-calling skills into a pump-and-dump scheme, manipulating the penny stock market and making a killing on the 50 percent commissions. The sad underlying truth to “Wolf,” as wonderfully articulated by an over-the-top broker (a blazing Matthew McConaughey, adding to his banner year) teaching the naive “Wolf” pup the ropes over a five-martini lunch, is that money in motion is change in your pocket. Always be selling and always be buying; forget about value added. If money is made, good, but it’s all about movement. Continue reading
If there’s one thing about a Coen brothers movie, it’s never boring and usually a fresh spin on something that’s been dogeared and begging for a makeover. Sure, they’ve had some arguable miscues (”The Ladykillers” and “The Hudsucker Proxy”), but you have to admire the brothers for their panache, appetite and diversity. Their southwest thriller, “No Country for Old Men,” exceeded the vision of Cormack McCarthy’s laconic prose, “The Big Lebowski” become an instant cult staple and “Blood Simple” was a perfect Hitchcock homage without egregiously lifting. And of course there’s “Fargo,” perhaps the crowning jewel of the duo’s quirky repertoire. If the brothers Coen decided to step in and helm the next chapter of “The Expendables” franchise, even if addled by a script by series star Sylvester Stallone, I’d be the first in line to buy a ticket. You can’t go wrong. Whatever they do, it might not be your cup of tea, but it will stir your gray matter.
For their latest, “Inside Llewyn Davis,” Joel and Ethan have wound back the clock to bohemian New York circa 1960, as doo-wop fades, mixes with the passion of the beats and folds in with the rising folk rock movement. It’s a time of discovery preceding Vietnam, counterculture rebellion and free love, yet still rooted loosely in post-World War II morality. The film’s titular hero, Llewyn Davis (Oscar Isaac), is an idealist and a self-absorbed asshole who’s intermittently sympathetic. By trade he’s a merchant marine shipping out with a gunny sack for long hauls, but he’s also an impassioned troubadour, plucking gentle, heartfelt ballads about daily misery and eternal yearning. Llewyn takes himself quite seriously, and he’s also quick to take a handout and has no qualms about bitting the hand that feeds. Continue reading
This road trip’s payoff doesn’t come from the Publishers Clearing House
In his films, Alexander Payne has shown a strong predilection for men somewhere north of their prime, still adrift and looking for grounding. The roots of which took hold with “About Schmidt” (2002), got whacky and whiney with “Sideways” (2004) and then moved out onto the island of Hawaii with a more dour tone in “The Descendants” (2011). Payne’s latest, “Nebraska” may be the ultimate in mature male malfunction and, in a sweet elegiacal way, ties back to “Schmidt” as its protagonist, Woody Grant, played by a game Bruce Dern now nearing eighty, has a dry, fly-away comb-over reminiscent of Jack Nicholson’s hair-challenged Schmidt and ironically, in both films, those men’s wives were played by the same actress, June Squibb, who practically upends and nearly steals “Nebraska” as it sails into the third act. Continue reading
The Top 10
The Wolf of Wall Street
12 Years a Slave
Blue is the Warmest Color
Short Term 12
Beyond the Hills
The Act of Killing
Stories We Tell
Boston Film Critics’ 2013 picks