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“He’s Smart, You’re Dumb!” The Cynical Idiocy of “The Wolf of Wall Street”…

The podcast that I co-host, The 250, just finished a season of coverage of director Martin Scorsese. The weekend before last, we discussed Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street. It’s a fun, broad discussion that digs into the movie in a lot of depth. However, watching the film and talking about the film got me thinking about the film’s portrayal of Jordan Belfort.

Martin Scorsese was seventy-one years old when The Wolf of Wall Street was released, and had a filmography that stretched across six decades.

As such, it is heartening that Scorsese had a film like The Wolf of Wall Street in him. The film runs three hours, but moves with an impressive and exhausting energy. Critic Robbie Collin described The Wolf of Wall Street as “a picture that would have exhausted a director half his age.” Indeed, it seems fair to say that the film exhausted quite a few of its audience. The Wolf of Wall Street was the highest-grossing movie of Scorsese’s career, but there is some evidence it was divisive with audiences – earning a controversial “C” CinemaScore.

Indeed, the film earned no shortage of outrage. Scorsese himself was reportedly accosted at a screening for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences by veterans chanting “shame on you!” The film’s portrayal of greed and excess prompted something of a moral panic. There legitimate concerns raised about where the money to fund the movie came from. There was also the reasonable observation that Scorsese had constructed The Wolf of Wall Street in such a way as to obscure the victims of Jordan Belfort.

Of course, this is something Scorsese’s films have always done, and a way in which they have consistently made the audience uncomfortable by effective immersing them in a world governed by characters who are hostile and dangerous. Taxi Driver seldom allowed itself to step outside Travis Bickle’s head, with the audience forced to confront “god’s loneliest man.” Raging Bull refused to pathologise or explain Jake LaMotta, declining to reduce his psychology to trite cause and effect. Henry Hill took centre stage in Goodfellas, but the film itself suggested he was not to be trusted.

Scorsese’s output is often framed in religious terms, and there is a strong spirituality that runs through his work. It is obviously most apparent in films like The Last Temptation of Christ, Kundun or Silence, but it is a constant throw line – even where religious authority is defined by its absence, with Casino feeling like a story about what happens when man believes that God is not watching. However, Scorsese’s films also trade in doubt, challenging the audience with the fear that there may be no external arbitrator to balance the scales.

The Wolf of Wall Street offers little in the way of emotional catharsis, little by way of reassurance that people like Belfort will be punished for their crimes or that the victims will be compensated. After all, even by 2013, it was obvious that nobody actually responsible for the financial crisis would be held to account. Scorsese stated in interviews that the anger that The Wolf of Wall Street generated was part of the film’s point. “It should touch a nerve!” he insisted in interviews around the film’s release, explaining why he declined to offer a more moralistic movie.

Of course, like Taxi Driver and Raging Bull and Goodfellas before it, The Wolf of Wall Street does condemn its subjects. Of course there are plenty of reports of stockbrokers on Wall Street loving the movie, just as many gangsters loved The Godfather. However, it seems highly unlikely that any reasonable person leaving The Wolf of Wall Street could feel any sympathy or warmth for Jordan Belfort, or that anybody paying attention to the film could imagine that his lifestyle would lead to anything other than disaster and betrayal, even if he avoided jail or bankruptcy.

More than that, The Wolf of Wall Street is notable for its refusal to glamourise Belfort himself. The film consistently portrays its subject as a moron defined only by his ravenous id, all impulse and no control. Indeed, some of that Scorsese spirituality shines through. Belfort often seems less than human, incapable of the reasoning, self-control and empathy that elevates a human being. Indeed, to frame the portrayal in Catholic terms, the elements that suggest the existence of a soul. The Wolf of Wall Street is about an animal more than a man.

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211. The Wolf of Wall Street – Summer of Scorsese (#142)

Hosted by Andrew Quinn, Jay Coyle and Darren Mooney, with special guests Luke Dunne and Aoife Martin, The 250 is a (mostly) weekly trip through some of the best (and worst) movies ever made, as voted for by Internet Movie Database Users. New episodes are released every Saturday at 6pm GMT.

This time, concluding our Summer of Scorsese with his most recent film on the list, Martin Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street.

Martin Scorsese is one of the defining directors in American cinema, with a host of massively successful (and cult) hits that have shaped and defined cinema across generations: Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, Goodfellas, Casino, Kundun, Gangs of New YorkThe Aviator, The DepartedShutter IslandHugo, The Irishman. The Summer of Scorsese season offers a trip through his filmography via the IMDb‘s 250.

Jordan Belfort developed a reputation as one of the most amoral stockbrokers working in the financial industry, wearing the name “the Wolf of Wall Street” as a badge of honour. Belfort is afforded the chance to tell his own side of the story, of the gaudy excess and tasteless indulgence that defined the industry for so many years.

At time of recording, it was ranked 142nd on the Internet Movie Database‘s list of the best movies of all-time.

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207. The Aviator – Summer of Scorsese, w/ The Movie Palace (#—)

Hosted by Andrew Quinn, Jay Coyle and Darren Mooney, The 250 is a (mostly) weekly trip through some of the best (and worst) movies ever made, as voted for by Internet Movie Database Users. New episodes are released every Saturday at 6pm GMT.

This time, continuing our Summer of Scorsese season, a special treat.

Darren appeared on The Movie Palace podcast back in march, discussing Martin Scorsese’s The Aviator. This was before we kicked off our Summer of Scorsese, but we thought we’d share it with listeners. The bulk of the episode is a discussion between Carl and Darren over The Aviator, but we did record a special intro with Andrew and Jay just to offer a brief discussion of the film.

At time of recording, it was not ranked on the Internet Movie Database‘s list of the best movies of all-time.

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New Escapist Column! On Disney’s Chinese Gambit with “Mulan”…

I published a new In the Frame piece at The Escapist this evening. With the release of Mulan as a premium video on demand this weekend, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to take a look at what the film represents in terms of Disney (and larger Hollywood’s) relationship with China.

The streaming release of Mulan is just one prong of Disney’s rollout strategy for a film that reportedly has a larger budget than The Lion King or Beauty and the Beast. The company has an eye on the Chinese box office, which makes sense given that China has become a global powerhouse in terms of box office. Mulan has been consciously tailored to appeal to Chinese audiences, but this is really just the culmination of Hollywood’s long-running courtship of Chinese censors and audiences, a trend that has been in motion for over a quarter of a century.

You can read the piece here, or click the picture below.

192. Hamilton: An American Musical – This Just In (#20)

Hosted by Andrew Quinn and Darren Mooney, and this week with special guest Deirdre Mulomby, The 250 is a (mostly) weekly trip through some of the best (and worst) movies ever made, as voted for by Internet Movie Database Users.

This time, Thomas Kail’s Hamilton: An American Musical.

Reconstructed from a pair of live theatrical recordings and additional material compiled in June 2016, Hamilton features one of the last performances from the original Broadway cast of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s record-breaking smash hit cultural sensation, available on streaming for the first time.

At time of recording, it was ranked 20th on the list of the best movies of all time on the Internet Movie Database.

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New Escapist Column! How Disney Have Monetised Spoiler Culture…

I published a new piece at Escapist Magazine over the weekend. I’ve been thinking about this for a little while, since the release of Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame, and it came bubbling to the surface with the announcement that the first episode of The Mandalorian would include “a dramatic Star Wars-universe spoiler in the first episode.”

This got me thinking about the way in which, more than any other mass media company, Disney have weaponised spoiler culture as a selling point, to create urgency among consumers and to use that to drive the market. They have also used it to shape the conversation, to control what can or cannot be said about their films and at what point. Spoiler culture has grant Disney a surprisingly strong control of the fandom-driven market. It’s an incredibly canny move from the company, one which has exploited a core part of current nerd culture.

You can read the piece here, or click the picture below.

“The 250 Live: Twin Peaks – The Return”, 23rd March 2019 in Support of the Irish Cancer Society

As a fundraiser for the Irish Cancer Society’s annual Daffodil Day, the Irish popular film podcast The 250 is hosting a live eighteen-hour podcast covering David Lynch’s groundbreaking television series Twin Peaks: The Return from 2pm GMT (8am EST/5am PST) on Saturday 23rd March.

Twin Peaks: The Return is considered a landmark in modern popular culture. Originally broadcast on Showtime in May 2017, The Return has been described as “one of the most groundbreaking TV series ever” by Sean T. Collins at Rolling Stone. Matt Zoller Seitz argued that it was “the most original and disturbing to hit TV drama since The Sopranos.”

However, there is also an argument that it transcends television, and is in fact an eighteen-hour film. Those who worked on the show have suggested that director David Lynch (who directed all eighteen episodes) saw it as a single eighteen-hour movie. Film magazines like Cahiers du Cinéma and Sight and Sound ranked Twin Peaks: The Return among the very best films of the year.

What better way to hash out this debate over whether Twin Peaks: The Return is an eighteen-hour film than with an eighteen-hour podcast?

Over the course of those eighteen hours, guests will wrestle with everything from the question of whether these eighteen hours are film, television or something else entirely, take a broader look at David Lynch’s filmography, explore the themes of the series/film, and even try to make sense of the wealth of imagery within. “We’re hoping to create an experience that will appeal to both casual fan and eager enthusiast,” explained co-host Darren Mooney. “The eighteen-hour podcast should offer something for everybody. I’m very excited. And maybe a little terrified. But it’s for a good cause.”

The event will be broadcast live on The 250’s Mixlr, and an edited version of the entire podcast will be released for public consumption on The 250’s Soundcloud after the fact. Donations can be made to the Irish Cancer Society through The 250’s Just Giving in both the lead-up to and during the event itself.

The live broadcast will begin at 2pm GMT on Saturday 23rd March and run through until 8am GMT on Sunday 24th March, bringing the podcast up until midnight in Washington State. Darren and Andrew will need some damn fine coffee and cherry pie to get them through the night, which is being thoughtfully provided by the Camerino Bakery.

Although the schedule is subject to change, due to the nature of live broadcasting, at the moment it looks like:

  • 2pm: “Home.” Nostalgia and Twin Peaks: The Return, with guests Niall Glynn and Richard Drumm (HeadStuff, Quantum of Friendship)
  • 3pm: “It’s Happening Again.” Fire Walk With Me as a prelude to Twin Peaks: The Return, with guest Niall Glynn
  • 4pm: “Damn Good Coffee.” Food in Twin Peaks as a slice of Lynch’s American, with guest Caryna Camerino
  • 5pm: “We’re in the version layer.” Actor Amy Shiels (Candie) talks about working with David Lynch and her career.
  • 6pm: “This is the man I told you about.” Discussing Cooper, masculinity (and apparently Wally Brando) with guest Charlene Lydon (Element Pictures, The Lighthouse)
  • 7pm: “Not where it counts, buddy!” Discussing David Lynch’s filmography, and The Return‘s place in it with guest Donald Clarke (The Irish Times)
  • 8pm: “What is that thing?” “A glass box.” Discussing whether The Return is an eighteen hour film, an eighteen part series, or something else entirely, with guests Brian Lloyd (Entertainment.ie) and Jenn Gannon
  • 9pm: “Gotta light?” Dissecting Part 8 with Phillip Bagnall and Jason Coyle (Scannain)
  • 10pm: “Next on the Roadhouse playlist…” Analysing the musical choices of The Return with guest Cian (Selected)
  • 11pm: “What’s going on around here?” Does The Return make literal sense? Does it have a single correct meaning? Does it have to? With guest Phillip Bagnall
  • Midnight: “… is that one of the Marx Brothers?” Balancing genre, tone and pacing in The Return. With guest Phillip Bagnall.
  • 1am: “… drink deep and descend.” Alone at last, Darren and Andrew discuss Andrew’s first binge through the series, from The Pilot to the end.
  • 2am: “We’re not anywhere near Mount Rushmore.” The Return as a portrait of America, particularly modern America, and as an extension of Lynch’s vision of the country.
  • 4am: “… the evil that men do.” Andy Hazel (Twin Peaks Season 3) stops by to talk about evil as it exists in Twin Peaks.
  • 5am: “Wrapped in plastic”; Laura Palmer and the trope of the dead girl, and the engagement of The Return with that.
  • 6am: “… a long way from the world.” Darren and Andrew discuss some of their favourite moments and characters from the series, especially those neglected in earlier hours.
  • 7am: “What year is this?” Is Twin Peaks finished? Could it come back? Do we really want it to? Will it take another twenty-five years? Is the ending the best place to leave it?

Important/useful links:

Non-Review Review: All the Money in the World

All the Money in the World is an intriguing and uneven anthropological study of wealth.

Ridley Scott’s drama documenting the abduction of Paul Getty treats its subjects as members of a different species. In an introductory voice-over, the character of Paul Getty explains that the truly rich may as well come from “another planet.” They might look the same, but they are fundamentally different from ordinary people. At one point, John Paul Getty recalls an argument on how a publisher tried to change the title of his book from How to be Rich to How to Get Rich. Getty complains, “Getting rich is easy. Any fool can get rich. Being rich, that’s something else entirely.”

A Plum(mer) Role.

This idea simmers through All the Money in the World, the notion that there is something more than just a bank balance that separates the wealthy from the poor. “Money is never just money,” reflects advisor Fletcher Chase, and All the Money in the World suggests as much repeatedly. Throughout the film, journalists and paparazzi stalk the Getty family like wildlife photographers trying to snap a picture of some rare beast in its natural habitat. The Getty’s stand apart, and that sense of otherness is compounded by some measure beyond a balance in any account.

All the Money in the World is fascinating in its exploration of this idea, but it suffers from a lack of focus and clarity. All the Money in the World feels more like a series of vignettes than a single narrative story, a set of compelling sequences that never add up to a fulfilling whole. There is something intangible missing, as if the figures don’t quite add up. Then again, that flaw seems perfectly suited to the characters at the centre of the narrative.

Oil’s well that ends well.

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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – In the Cards (Review)

In the Cards is the perfect penultimate episode to a sensational season of television.

One of the more common observations about Star Trek: Deep Space Nine is that it is the most dour and serious of the Star Trek series. It is the grim and cynical series of the bunch, with many commentators insisting that the series rejects the franchise’s humanist utopia in favour of brutality and nihilism. This criticism is entirely understandable. The series is literally and thematically darker than Star Trek: The Next Generation or Star Trek: Voyager. Even at this point, it is about to embark upon a two-year-long war arc, the longest in the franchise.

Jake and the Ferengi Man.

Jake and the Ferengi Man.

However, this is also a very reductive reading of Deep Space Nine. The series is more willing to criticise and interrogate the foundations of the Star Trek universe than any of its siblings, but it remains generally positive about the human condition. Governments and power structures should be treated with suspicion, but individuals are generally decent. Positioned right before the beginning of an epic franchise-shattering war, In the Cards is the perfect example of this philosophy. In the Cards elegantly captures the warmth and optimism of Deep Space Nine.

Deep Space Nine is fundamentally the story of a diverse and multicultural community formed of countless disparate people drawn together by fate or chance. In the Cards is a story about how happiness functions in that community, how the bonds between people can make all the difference even as the universe falls into chaos around them. It is also very funny.

Pod person.

Pod person.

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Non-Review Review: The Wolf of Wall Street

In 1987, Oliver Stone’s Wall Street was arguably too subtle in its criticisms of the Wall Street mentality – the philosophy that “greed, for lack of a better word, is good” or that enough can never really enough. After all, the film apparently inspired a whole generation of stock brokers and investment managers, with quite a few aspiring to be their generation’s Gordon Gekko – when the movie’s central point was that Gekko was hardly an idol to worship.

This would seem to explain the rationale of Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street, a film that makes Stone’s brutal evisceration of Wall Street excess seem positively mild-mannered. Indeed, the film all but directly acknowledges this fact in an early scene where a “hatchet job” of an article from Forbes (the same article that would lend Belfort his sobriquet “Wolfie!”) prompts a massive upsurge in job applications for Belfort’s Stratton Oakmont.

The money shot...

The money shot…

So, understanding the need to go a bit bigger and larger, The Wolf of Wall Street introduces us to its protagonist, Jordan Belfort, snorting cocaine out of the bodily orifices of a prostitute, and yet somehow descends deeper and deeper into acts of debauchery and excess. It’s an unrelenting and energetic film, that is exhausting and exhilarating. It’s less of a structured story and more a three-hour laundry-list of depravity.

While the last hour of the film (the inevitable “it all comes tumbling down… or does it?” act) can’t maintain the forward moment that make the first two so exhilarating, The Wolf of Wall Street remains proof that Scorsese is an incredible film maker with an almost impossible vigour and enthusiasm for the medium.

Drinking it in...

Drinking it in…

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