Welcome to the inaugural post of The Chaz, and what kind of host would I be if I didn’t extend an equally warm welcome to each and every one of you for the main event, 2014. If you know me, you know that 2013 was a big year for young Chaz Kelsey. I discovered I’m actually a pretty big fan of the smooth jazz of Charles Mingus. I also won a scratcher which got me another scratcher, which I lost. To wrap things up, I got deeply offended by Kelly Olynyk’s existence while eating at a Del Taco in Salinas. Overall, it was a high octane year with a high octane payoff, and sometimes even a real rockstar has to ease off the pedals.
So what better way to kickback and usher in the big ’14 in mountain casual style than catching a matinee in Park City, Utah? In less than a month, Hollywood’s finest will assemble to doctor painstakingly assembled independent films and market them back to the same American public that helped Justin Bieber get more followers on Twitter than the entire population of Spain. That, my friends, is the spirit of modern aesthetics. And lets be real, a few shots of Kate Upton and a costume designer on a low budget and I’ll be right there in the theater with the rest of the masses, trying exceptionally hard to pretend it’s reasonable that in decades of production, nobodies figured out that gummy bears are terrible.
Yet never fear, for Hollywood has life in her yet, and plenty of it. And among those who deliver true entertainment into a world where the term has been battered senseless by YouTube, there stands Martin Scorsese in the glimmering proverbial spotlight. Sure, he’s not exactly adapting Life of Pi or Cloud Atlas for the screen. It didn’t hurt that William Monahan re-wrote Infernal Affairs into one of the most captivating screenplays of the 21st century, or that nobody under the age of 75 realized Howard Hughes was a pretty ballsy guy until 2004, or that Jordan Belfort decided to forego all sense of morality and ethics and write it down in a book that shocks even the most battle-hardened fan of the obscene. But Nick Saban doesn’t have more jewelry on his right hand than a narcoleptic Zales employee just because he can call plays. Scorsese is a recruiter, and when gets gets a great script, he knows exactly what to do with it.
Take Henry Hill, ramp up the drug addictions, multiply the cash flow, and drop in a blonde bombshell who is guaranteed to ruin date nights across America for months, and you get The Wolf of Wall Street. Infectiously hilarious, utterly obscene and absurdly inappropriate, the newest collaboration between Scorsese and writer Terence Winter (Boardwalk Empire) doesn’t just break cinematic records for portrayal of the obscene. It smashes them to pieces. Already, the uproar against the lifestyle that’s allegedly glorified in the film is causing Los Angeles to quake. Whether or not the effect was intended, theres no doubt that more than a few impressionable young souls will leave the theater with an added affinity for Adderal, Ferrari’s, trophy wives and financial loopholes. But ultimately, its tough to complain.
Well, to be honest, its nearly impossible to complain. After watching actors like Henry Cavill replace any remote form of charisma with pectoral definition and squander millions of dollars worth of CGI in Man of Steel, the heroics of Leonardo DiCaprio just seem all the more necessary for the modern world. It almost looks like a hail mary attempt at the Oscar he’s never won, and even though it borders dangerously on overacting, the eccentricity of the movie as a whole and the absurdity of the subject matter make it a performance with almost nothing to be desired. Magically, Leo brings sympathy and humanity to a character with absolutely no redeemable qualities whatsoever other than passionate, conquering ambition. There are hints of the eccentric Howard Hughes and delicate undertones of Billy Costigan’s addictive personality, and even remnants of the tragic affluence of Jay Gatsby. But this is Leo on another level entirely. This is DiCaprio on Qaaludes. In all likelihood, Chiwetel Ejiofor will carry home the Academy Award in February, but Jordan Belfort and Leonardo DiCaprio will be canonized among Generation Y in all its rowdy, materialistic glory.
But Leo gets some serious back-up. The Wolf of Wall Street is peppered with outstanding performances by both wildly famous and virtually unknown actors, who sell indecency and greed with gleeful enthusiasm. Matthew McConaughey turns well under ten minutes of screen time into pure gold, boldly taking masturbation, vodka and drug abuse to new comedic heights. Jonah Hill squeezes narrowly across the fine line between amusing and utterly ridiculous as Belfort’s partner Donnie Azoff, dancing around between Superbad and Moneyball almost as if his performance alone epitomizes the entirely ambiguous genre of the whole film. P.J Byrne, Kenneth Choi, Brian Sacca and Henry Zebrowski are riotously funny as “the boys”, and Rob Reiner brings an outstanding level of chemistry to his comedic interactions with his on-screen son, DiCaprio. Jon Bernthal, Margot Robbie and Jean Dujardin round out the main cast with less impressive performances, but with no shortage of zeal. The sheer comedic talent of the cast can’t help but bring a certain level of absurdity and apathy to scenes with more dramatic consequences, and initially its hard to not get a little frustrated when the music fades out and the serious thematic meat of the story starts cooking.
And thats why we have Kyle Chandler. In the first hour of the film, with more laughs packed in than the new Anchorman could squeeze out in its full runtime, its easy to forget that you’re even watching a Scorsese film. Theres crack smoking, theres ugly strippers, and theres even the fat guy from My Name Is Earl. Chandler may not say much in The Wolf of Wall Street, but he packs a punch. As Belfort’s antagonist on the right side of the law, his stoic and simmering dislike of the Wall Street hooligans and their wolf draws the crime element out of the comedy, raising the stakes and the tension in what otherwise starts to resemble Project X without any consequences.
All good things must come to an end, and The Wolf of Wall Street is no different. Unfortunately, the good comes to an end about 30 minutes before the movie does. The first two and half hours might fly by in a blur of sex and cocaine, but the last half an hour comes to a grinding halt. Its almost inconceivable that the film was given a delayed release in order to make cuts down from an even more excessively extended runtime. Winter may have had a little too much fun starting the film, because it really does seem like somewhere around page 150, he still hadn’t realize that he needed to end it. The resolution of the film is muddled and thematically confusing, but serves as as form of necessary evil to bring the Belfort tale in full circle.
Scorsese’s nostalgic romp around his Goodfellas days is guaranteed to be a red carpet favorite as award season hits, rammed down the throats of more conservative critics by the same ones that consistently book Tarantino a table at the Dolby Theater. Terrence Winter may be the only team player that takes home any silverware, but The Wolf of Wall Street will resound nevertheless. When the Academy decides, they will have to ascertain whether the employees at Stratton Oakmont were boldly obscene for the sake of art, or the sake of self-indulgence and shock value. If they go with the latter, throw the confetti and watch as Gravity and 12 Years A Slave clean up, while yet again Leonardo DiCaprio spends a long night developing premature arthritis while being forced to look at another Ellen Degeneres pant-suit. Regardless, The Wolf of Wall Street serves its purpose, and is sure to delight fans of Scorsese and any other male between the ages of 16-30. This is entertainment as it should be, subtle and intelligent comedy that doesn’t need Kevin James falling of some absurdly small motorized vehicle to get a laugh. Ultimately, the message delivered isn’t really a glorification or an indictment of reckless ambition or a hedonistic lifestyle. Whether you like or dislike Belfort and his cronies, there comes a certain point where you have to ask yourself; who can blame them? If the financial system in this country is corrupt and lopsided enough to allow a bunch of unemployed, small-time kids from Queens to rake in $1,000,000 a day with only four years of work, theres a bigger problem at play than the ethical transgressions of the characters themselves. Things have changed since the Belfort years, and the movie is hardly a shrine to historical accuracy, but the Wall Street empire still exists, and maybe Scorsese accomplished enough by just smashing in the boarded windows. Either way, I award The Wolf of Wall Street The Chaz Was Stoked Award, and can’t wait to see what Scorsese pulls out of his goldmine next.