The Wolf of Wall Street: Scorsese and DiCaprio take greed is good to another level

we-saw-wolf-of-wall-street-with-a-bunch-of-wall-street-dudes-and-it-was-disturbingHead to a bar. Order a shot of tequila. Chuck some tabasco in it, some pepper, maybe some lighter fluid. Open one eye wide and shoot the shot straight into your eyeball. The experience you’ll have is nothing like watching this film, but it’s the best I can do and gets you in the right mindset for the madness.

What this film is, let’s be honest, is an insane, orgasmic orgy of debauchery; a heady rush of excess and depravity. This is mainlining pure DiCaprio and Scorsese straight into your bloodstream – and within the first few seconds you’re hooked.

Charting the life of young stockbroker, Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio) in the late ’80s/early ’90s – with a smart screenplay by Terence Winter – it’s been described, aptly, as ‘Goodfellas on steroids’. Indeed, near the start of the film to set the scene Belfort frequently jonah-hill-leonardo-dicaprio-the-wolf-of-wall-street-600x400directly addresses the camera in much the way Ray Liotta’s Henry Hill did in 1990. There’s drugs, money, gambling, women, more drugs. And those pesky chaps at the FBI of course, trying to ruin everyone’s fun.

However, instead of gangsters here we get stockbrokers – the modern white collar equivalent. And, in the way that Goodfellas is perhaps dominated by moments of violence, The Wolf of Wall Street, more often than not, gives way to comedy. I mean, who has a genuine business meeting about the best way to toss a dwarf at a dartboard?

To properly portray the reprehensible Jordan Belfort you need a man like DiCaprio who oozes charisma. A man whose screen presence is unquestionable: the way his wolf pit of brokers hang on his every word is a sight to see. In one scene, taking a leaf from his mentor’s notebook (the rascally Matthew McConaughey, who else?), he has his entire sales force thumping their chests, like some sort of tribe.

???????????????????????Belfort is shocking in every sense, yet mesmerising. Almost to the point that you’re rooting for him to make it and come good before he falls foul of the feds. Scorsese treads a fine line here but, to be honest, we all know Belfort isn’t going to have a happy ending. He’s too arrogant, too sure of himself, too full of drugs to do anything but keep going.

And part of the thrill here is letting Scorsese and DiCaprio take us on that journey. Never have three hours of drugs, hookers and madness looked so much fun. (Your office on Monday morning will seem like a tomb in comparison.) Obviously the film is a cautionary tale, a nod to the excesses that ultimately led to the current financial crisis but… like in the film, before we get all technical, all you need to know is that what these guys were doing was bad. But boy, how did bad end up looking so good?

DiCaprio carries the movie along like a man possessed, but the supporting cast were also impressive. Newcomer 23-year-old Australian Margot Robbie was perfectly cast as Belfort’s wife, Naomi.THE WOLF OF WALL STREET Looking like a cross between Olivia Wilde and Cameron Diaz, she played her part like a seasoned pro. No doubt we’ll be seeing a lot more of her in the near future (she’s rumoured to be Jane to Alexander Skarsgard’s Tarzan in an upcoming film of the same name. She’s also apparently replaced Amanda Seyfried as the lead in a forthcoming sci-fi flick Z for Zachariah).

And, along with the wife let’s not forget Belfort’s trusty best friend, Donnie Azoff (Jonah Hill). Seems he’s come a long way since the days of Superbad in 2007, with Moneyball (2011) and a smart remake of 21 Jump Street (2012) providing a perfect platform for him to leap headfirst into a Scorsese movie. And leap he did. You wonder just how wild Belfort would have been without Azoff by his side, egging him on. In an early scene where the two haven’t been friends for long, ludesDonnie says he has a gift for Belfort – this turns out to be smoking crack in the middle of the day.

And Hill plays him wonderfully. You almost feel DiCaprio had to up his comedy game to keep up with Hill, but that often made for some truly hilarious moments. Without spoiling it, there’s numerous scenes where the pair do one too many ‘ludes’ aka quaaludes (a pill – now no longer in production surprisingly – that robs you of your motor skills), which left them – how shall we say – without the ability to function in pretty much all senses of the word.

It’s not surprising that this film is up for a stack of awards. Banker bashing and morals aside, what it is – as a cinema experience – is pure hedonistic fun. This is Scorsese with his hair down and the wind in his sails. All we can do is hang on and enjoy the ride.

Viva Las… Blackpool!

donkeyblackp460Funny story. A few weeks ago I was catching up with friends and we were discussing that mighty rite of passage; the stag do. Conversation turned to when one of the lads (let’s call him chap 1) might pop the question, given the fact he’d always said his would be Vegas. Another lad (chap 2) – also getting married around the same time – said he was a bit stuck on location. I mean, how can you top Vegas?

I jokingly suggested the Vegas of the UK, Blackpool. Then watched with amusement as the idea took hold. With chap 2 sorted that left chap 1; would he ever pop the question? Then it happened; all the guys at the table simultaneously received a text, ‘Get ready for Vegas!’. Chap 1 had showed his cojones and she’d said yes. Vegas was on, Blackpool was on… all in all, a productive Sunday.

This got me thinking. As pre-trip ‘homework’ we should watch Vegas films to get us fired up. But then, what about Blackpool? And so… to compare and contrast, here’s my selection of film and TV that’s featured these two hedonistic and beguiling locations. Make of them what you will.

LAS VEGAS

That glittering, filthy jewel in the heart of the Nevada desert. The glamour, the lights, the debauchery. Vegas has featured in many films over the years, here’s a few of my favourites.

SwingersSwingers (1996)
Vince Vaughn largely broke onto the scene with this film, written by Jon Favreau (who went on to direct Iron Man) and directed by the under-appreciated Doug Liman (who went on to direct The Bourne Identity). Ultimately it’s a buddy movie about how a guy gets over a break up with a little help from his friends. There’s a lot of these type of films for women but not many for guys. In one part Trent (Vaughn) persuades Mikey (Favreau) to take a trip to Vegas to take his mind off his ex. What follows are some sweet scenes where the two hang out and chat up women, with Mikey failing in increasingly embarrassing ways.

Fear And Loathing in Las Vegas (1998)
fear-and-loathing-in-las-vegasBoth Martin Scorsese and Oliver Stone tried to get this film off the ground and failed. It took the wonderful weirdness of Terry Gilliam to get it made. As your attorney I advise you to get wasted and watch this film. It’s a melting pot of insanity. Based on a Hunter S. Thompson novel it sees journalist (Johnny Depp) go on a series of psychedelic escapades round Vegas with his attorney (Benicio del Toro). Thompson shaved Depp’s head himself for the role, and that’s among one of the film’s most normal anecdotes.

Knocked Up (2007)
Continuing the drug-addled theme, although not quite to the extent of the last film, this one features scenes with Seth Rogen’s Ben and Paul Rudd’s Pete, as they head to Vegas to escape their women and cut loose. mouthfist1Their idea? Tickets to Cirque du Soleil and a bag of mushrooms. They return to their hotel where Pete takes stock of the room’s chairs and Ben verbally abuses him on his inability to accept love. If you’ve had mushrooms before you’ll agree this is one perfectly observed and hilarious scene.

Casino (1995)
Take a moment to consider the talent: Martin Scorsese, Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci, Sharon Stone, James Woods, yes, even him. This came five years after Goodfellas, yet to me always felt like a companion piece. Pesci was on searing, frightening form as unhinged gangster Nicky Santoro, casino-1995-10-ga perfect foil to De Niro’s buttoned down casino owner Sam ‘Ace’ Rothstein. Throw a wild harridan of a wife, Stone’s Ginger McKenna in the mix with Scorsese at the helm, and you’ve got one of the finest movies about gangsters, gambling and casinos ever made. Looking back, it’s films like this that get me excited about Scorsese’s forthcoming The Wolf of Wall Street.

Ocean’s Eleven (2001)
Remaking the ’60s Rat Pack original is no easy thing. You’re going to need someone with oodles of charisma. Step forward George Clooney. Hell, if you’re going to cast one Mr Charisma, why not two? Step forward Brad Pitt. Need substance as well as style? Step forward director Steven Soderburgh. This film not only looked like an ace in the hole on paper, but boy did it deliver. Oceans-11Bright, breezy, sassy, smart, stylish, and packed with brilliantly written and performed scenes. Sadly the sequels got a touch too smug and self-referential, but that takes nothing away from how fun and watchable the first one was. It holds up to repeat viewings too. A modern classic.

Finally on Vegas, there’s two more I’d like to mention: The Hangover (2009) should get a nod as a top-notch comedy, partly responsible for launching the career of Bradley Cooper. Paul Verhoeven’s Showgirls (1995) should also get recognition. A film so clearly revelling in its own gloriously terrible trashiness, you can’t help but love it.

VIVA BLACKPOOL!

Anything the Americans can do, we can do better… ahem. Ok, perhaps what we can do is wholeheartedly embrace our Britishness, with all its glorious quirks and eccentricities. Hopefully summed up in fine fashion with this list.

thetrip_rbrydon_gq_5aug10_bbc_btThe Trip (2010)
Comedy giants Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon wandering around the countryside of Lancashire, Cumbria and Yorkshire, hanging out in restaurants doing impressions galore. What more do you need? Not only are their impersonations quite brilliant, but the chemistry and banter between the two is a joy to watch. This semi-improvised series contained some real gems, such as the Richard Gere scene. ‘I’m listening to you in an interesting way, continue.’

Boy A (2007)
Before Andrew Garfield became everybody’s favourite spider-based superhero, his career largely began with this film, based on a novel of the same name. boy aIt charts the life of Eric Wilson ‘Boy A’ on trial for murder as a young lad. Upon release from prison as a young man he focuses on becoming a better person, but the past comes back to haunt him. The film deals with how society views crime, punishment and rehabilitation, and it’s not a stretch to say it puts you through the emotional wringer. Indeed, Garfield won a Best Actor BAFTA in 2008 for his performance. The full movie’s now on YouTube, watch it here.

Nowhere Boy (2009)
Another British lad-turned-good-in-America. Before Aaron Taylor-Johnson pulled on his lycra and kicked ass with Hit-Girl, he turned in a cracking performance as a young John Lennon, nowhere-boy-lennon_1513287calongside legend-in-her-own-right Kristin Scott Thomas. The film focuses on his teenage years – from 1955-1960 – and begins with a day visit to Blackpool with his mother, Julia, which kick-starts Lennon’s love for rock ‘n’ roll. The rest, as they say, is history. Watch Taylor-Johnson’s thoughts on the film.

So there’s my somewhat epic list. Hopefully there’s some gems in there you haven’t seen, or would like to revisit. I have to say, writing this piece has obviously got me excited about Vegas, but also proud to be British. Some great stuff has come out of Blackpool and, whilst it’s not as glamorous or exotic, I for one will hold my head high on that particular stag do. Viva Blackpool indeed.

On my mind… Leonardo DiCaprio

With The Great Gatsby just out and The Wolf of Wall Street on the way, it got me thinking about the career of the lead in both; one Leonardo DiCaprio.

kid quick deadTalk about an impressive CV. Since the early ’90s, he’s dazzled us with a wide range of performances across numerous genres. His filmography reads like a cinephiles ‘best films of the last 20 years’ collection.

And as such I’d like to respectfully nod to his performances that have not only stood out but also stood the test of time. Therefore let’s commence with the first in a series of ‘cinematic living legend’ posts, paying tribute to my favourite roles and performances from actors that just keep on getting better and better.

  • KidThe Quick and the Dead (1995)
    Young, cocky, but with undeniable screen presence in Sam Raimi’s western, little Leo comfortably held the screen alongside big names: Gene Hackman, Russell Crowe and Sharon Stone.
  • Jim CarrollThe Basketball Diaries (1995)
    His first performance that truly blew me away. When this came out I was 13 and loved basketball. Admittedly the gradual descent into drugs and sleeping rough on the streets was something to which I couldn’t as readily relate.
  • frankcatchmeifyoucanFrank Abagnale JrCatch Me If You Can (2002)
    With Gangs out quite soon after, this was an impressive year for Leo. This time going toe-to-toe with Tom Hanks with Spielberg at the helm. Bit of a dream partnership resulting in a fantastic performance and movie.
  • Amsterdam VallonGangs of New York (2002)
    Whilst DiCaprio’s star was flying high by this point, it was never going to be easy going up against a true heavyweight of cinema in Daniel Day Lewis. Nonetheless, his performance as Amsterdam was highly watchable.
  • Howard HughesThe Aviator (2004)
    A consummate and wholly engrossing performance at the top of his game. He got Hughes’s mannerisms and tics spot on. Watch this original footage of Hughes then compare it to Leo’s similar scene – a master at work.
  • Billy Costigan JrThe Departed (2006)
    This marked his third collaboration with Scorsese and – for the pair of them – their most profitable partnership to date. An impressively raw and aggressive performance befitting a cop mentally unravelling whilst undercover as a gangster.
  • blooddiamondDanny ArcherBlood Diamond (2006)
    Often overlooked, yet well received critically and commercially, Ed Zwick’s diamond smuggling war film not only showed DiCaprio in a more mature light with a commanding performance, but was an engaging action tale too.
  • Teddy DanielsShutter Island (2010)
    Based on a Dennis Lehane novel, this psycho-thriller saw Scorsese direct Leo again and come up trumps. I’ve heard this described as a B-movie with an A-list director and star. Unfair and unjust – it’s genuinely spooky and thrilling.
  • CobbInception (2010)
    Another bumper year following Shutter Island, helping DiCaprio tick another ‘greatest living director I’ve worked with’ off his list in Christopher Nolan. du-ac-000125_lgQuite a restrained, nuanced and tender performance, possibly a career best.
  • Calvin CandieDjango Unchained (2012)
    Sadistic, charming, brutal with a god complex – the first time Leo has really had the chance to play a villain and he lapped it up. Tarantino at the helm was no doubt a draw, but his performance, whilst unsettling, was truly mesmerising.