• Following Us

  • Categories

  • Check out the Archives









  • Awards & Nominations

“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.

Continue reading

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – Rapture (Review)

Faith can be a tricky issue.

At one point in Rapture, the primary cast take a moment to reflect upon it. Kira tries to explain her belief in Sisko and the Prophets to Dax and O’Brien. She struggles. They have difficulty understanding how Kira can invest so much certainty in something so intangible. Eventually, Worf interjects. “Do not attempt to convince them, Major,” he urges her. “They cannot understand.” Dax is a little surprised by Worf’s interest in the topic. “Since when did you believe in the Prophets?” she asks. Worf responds, “What I believe in is faith.”

Gotta have faith.

Gotta have faith.

It is a short conversation, but one that reveals a lot about Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. As a rule, the Star Trek franchise tends towards a strong atheism, rejecting notions of religion and spirituality as the hallmarks of an underdeveloped civilisation; Return of the Archons, The Apple, For the World is Hollow and I have Touched the Sky, Who Watches the Watchers?, Devil’s Due, False Profits, Chosen Realm. This makes a certain amount of sense, given that the franchise prides itself on its rationalism. However, it also feels a little narrow-minded.

Rapture might just be the franchise’s most compelling exploration of unquestioning faith, a harrowing portrayal of devotion and inspiration that captures at once the ecstasy of unwavering belief and the discomforting aspects of watching someone embrace something outside a rational frame of reference. Rapture is a mesmerising piece of television.

"I, for one, welcome our new Klingon overlords."

“I, for one, welcome our new Klingon overlords.”

Continue reading

Star Trek: Voyager – Sacred Ground (Review)

This February and March (and a little bit of April), we’re taking a look at the 1995 to 1996 season of Star Trek, including Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and Star Trek: Voyager. Check back daily for the latest review.

Sacred Ground is a rather strange episode.

In a way, this is where the second season of Star Trek: Voyager dies. This is certainly true in a literal sense; it is the last of the four episodes held over from the end of the second season, buried between a quarter and a third of the way into the show’s third year. However, the episode also closes out some of themes that were bubbling through the first two years of the show. Michael Piller had imbued the first two seasons of the show with a new age spirituality, mostly through the character of Chakotay. Sacred Ground closes that out.

Holy plot.

Holy plot.

There is a sense that the show is uncomfortable with Sacred Ground. Although it was the first of those four carryover episodes to be produced, Sacred Ground was the last of the four to be broadcast. While the decision to air Basics, Part II at the start of the season makes logical sense, it is strange that the production team would choose to bury the episode as far into the season as possible. Of those four episodes, the production team were ready to air False Profits before Sacred Ground. That is a frightening thought.

It is understandable. Voyager‘s previous attempts at new age mysticism had not gone well, reducing Chakotay to a Native American cliché in episodes like The Cloud and Tattoo. However, it is also quite frustrating, as Sacred Ground comes closer to working than any of Piller’s earlier attempts.

Burying the consequences.

Burying the consequences.

Continue reading

The X-Files – Via Negativa (Review)

This October/November, we’re taking a trip back in time to review the eighth season of The X-Files and the first (and only) season of The Lone Gunmen.

Why no! I never thought other than
That God is that great absence
In our lives, the empty silence
Within, the place where we go
Seeking, not in hope to
Arrive or find. He keeps the interstices
In our knowledge, the darkness
Between stars. His are the echoes
We follow, the footprints he has just
Left. We put our hands in
His side hoping to find
It warm. We look at people
And places as though he had looked
At them, too; but miss the reflection.

– R.S. Thomas, Via Negativa

Facing the axe...

Facing the axe…

Continue reading

Harsh Realm – Reunion (Review)

This November, we’re taking a trip back in time to review the seventh season of The X-Files and the first (and only) season of Harsh Realm.

So that in the first place, I put for a general inclination of all mankind a perpetual and restless desire of Power after power, that ceaseth only in Death. And the cause of this is not always that a man hopes for a more intensive delight than he has already attained to, or that he cannot be content with a moderate power: but because he cannot assure the power and means to live well, which he hath present, without the acquisition of more.

– Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan, The First Part, Chapter XI

Reunion continues the sense that Chris Carter envisioned Harsh Realm as something of an allegorical episodic adventure series through a post-apocalyptic reflection of contemporary America.

Carter quite clearly wanted to use Harsh Realm as a vehicle to explore and comment upon certain aspects of the American experience. Inga Fossa touched on the links between projected masculinity and violence; Cincinnati will find Santiago’s “manifest destiny” brushing up against the country’s Native American population. Even scripts like Three Percenters and Manus Domini feel tied into Carter’s large oeuvre, touching on the writer’s recurring fascination with homogeneity and spirituality in the modern world.

Things come to a head...

Things come to a head…

Reunion is very consciously a critique of excessive and abusive capitalism, presenting a vision of America built upon the economics of slave labour reinforced by the rhetoric of freedom and competition. In some respects, Reunion feels like Harsh Realm is channelling the spirit of classic science-fiction television like Star Trek or The Twilight Zone. Its central allegory is hardly subtle, but there is a goofy charm in carrying these ideas well past their logical extremes. The vision of labour presented in Reunion is grotesque and exaggerated, but it is not completely fantastical.

Reunion also reaffirms the link that exists between the digital world and the real world, suggesting that perhaps the world that we inhabit is not as far removed from the horrors of the virtual reality as might hope.

Family matters...

Family matters…

Continue reading

The X-Files – all things (Review)

This September, we’re taking a trip back in time to review the seventh season of The X-Files and the first (and only) season of Harsh Realm.

Say what you will about The X-Files, but the show was never afraid to be weird.

all things is a very odd piece of television. It is moody and atmospheric, philosophical and meandering. It is hard to contextualise, even within the framework of a season as eccentric and disjointed as the seventh season of The X-Files. It doesn’t really work, but that’s not a big problem. The seventh season is full of episodes that don’t quite work. There is definite ambition here, and a clear desire to say something that means something to actor (and director and writer) Gillian Anderson.

Walk o' life...

Walk o’ life…

Anderson exerts a very conscious gravity over all things. She is not the first actor to write and direct an episode of The X-Files, but she is the first to write and direct an episode centring on her character. all things is an episode written and directed by Gillian Anderson, with a heavy emphasis on Scully. This is as close to a treatise on the character as the actress is ever likely to produce. Perhaps this accounts for the heavy atmosphere and solemn tone of the piece.

all things is a mess of an episode, but it is an interesting mess. It is an episode that feels consciously at odds with both the show around it and the character at its centre. It is an awkward (and occasionally ridiculous) piece of television, but it looks and feels utterly unlike any other episode of The X-Files. That has to count for something.

The beating of the world's heart...

The beating of the world’s heart…

Continue reading

The X-Files – The Sixth Extinction (Review)

This November, we’re taking a trip back in time to review the seventh season of The X-Files and the first (and only) season of Harsh Realm.

The fate of individual human beings may not now be connected in a deep way with the rest of the universe, but the matter out of which each of us is made is intimately tied to processes that occurred immense intervals of time and enormous distances in space away from us. Our Sun is a second- or third-generation star. All of the rocky and metallic material we stand on, the iron in our blood, the calcium in our teeth, the carbon in our genes were produced billions of years ago in the interior of a red giant star. We are made of star-stuff.

– Carl Sagan’s Cosmic Connection

Sea of blood...

Sea of blood…

Continue reading

Harsh Realm – Leviathan (Review)

This November, we’re taking a trip back in time to review the seventh season of The X-Files and the first (and only) season of Harsh Realm.

The first three episodes of Harsh Realm are an interesting combination, and not just because they were the only three episodes of the show to air before cancellation.

All three episodes are written by Chris Carter. The first two are directed by Daniel Sackheim. Taken together, they form a loose triptych. They are effectively three separate stories that come together to form a three-part pilot for the show. It is only by the end of Inga Fossa that Thomas Hobbes (and the audience) fully accept the virtual world into which they have been placed, embracing the hero’s journey that lies ahead. It isn’t until Kein Ausgang that the show really offers the audience a sense of how it might work on a weekly basis.

Fading out...

Fading out…

This is not to suggest that the events of The Pilot flow elegantly into Leviathan, nor that the events of Leviathan bleed over into Inga Fossa. All three episodes of television are discreet and individual; foreshadowing the format that the show would take in its relatively brief life. Interestingly, Carter does not take advantage of the show’s video game structure to enforce more rigid serialisation. If anything, most the nine episodes (particularly the back six) are rigidly episodic.

Leviathan is particularly relaxed in its structure. The Pilot offered all the spectacle and exposition necessary to establish Harsh Realm. In contrast, Leviathan is a bit more focused on mood and atmosphere. There is an impressive action sequence to close out the episode, but there is a larger sense that Leviathan is about establishing what day-to-day existence must be like in this virtual world.

General problems...

General problems…

Continue reading

Millennium – Seven and One (Review)

This July, we’re taking a trip back in time to review the sixth season of The X-Files and the third (and final) season of Millennium.

Seven and One is the last episode of Millennium to be written by Chris Carter and Frank Spotnitz.

That is a pretty big deal. Frank Spotnitz had been a vital part of Ten Thirteen since the second season of The X-Files. He had also been the only X-Files writer apart from Chris Carter, Glen Morgan and James Wong to cross over to work on Millennium. He would become one of Carter’s most trusted associates, also contributing scripts to Harsh Realm and The Lone Gunmen. When The X-Files: Fight the Future took Carter’s attention away from Millennium in its second season, he proposed Spotnitz to run the show in his stead.

Here's Frankie!

Here’s Frankie!

Chris Carter had created Millennium, and it was clearly a show that meant a lot to him. While The X-Files was populist and accessible, Millennium always felt like more of an auteur project. It was solemn, abstract, contemplative. There is a sense that he was quite disappointed when his attention was diverted away from the show in its second year. Carter has talked time and time again about how he created Millennium as an examination of evil in the world. Appropriately enough, Seven and One finds him circling back around to that idea right before the show concludes.

Seven and One might be the most overtly religious script that Carter and Spotnitz have ever written. It seems to foreshadow the closing themes of Carter’s script for The Truth, the final episode of The X-Files. It emphasises just how essential religious themes are to Carter’s work.

Eye spy...

Eye spy…

Continue reading

Non-Review Review: Signs

You know what? Even though history and experience has retroactively soured the movie, with M. Night Shyamalan’s career entering freefall and Mel Gibson’s personal problems clouding his career, I kinda like Signs. In fact, I’d go so far as to argue that the movie represents Shymalan’s last good film. That said, it’s a well-constructed and engaging little thriller that is, unfortunately, hugely flawed. Some of these flaws are so fundamental that they’re hard to ignore, but I think that this movie was the last time that Shyamalan demonstrated a real organic talent and skill for film making.

Shine a light on it...

Continue reading