THE WOLF OF WALL STREET. It's a remarkable thing that Martin Scorsese, 40-odd years in, should come out with the most youthful, exuberant, hilarious movie of his career. It's an epic drug comedy with a lavish late-'80s Wall Street backdrop, and I love it.
Based on the autobiography of penny-stock and pharmaceuticals enthusiast Jordan Belfort — played with ferocious aplomb by Leonardo DiCaprio — Wolf is the story of the American Dream writ large, in all its ragged, nasty glory. Belfort becomes a broker and hits The Street just in time for the 1987 downturn. When he can't find work with a reputable firm, he winds up at a sketchy strip-mall brokerage, cold-calling random numbers to unload high-volume, low-value stocks. Belfort quickly distinguishes himself, and in no time he's pulling down serious numbers. Soon enough, he recruits an assortment of lunkhead cronies, sets up his own shop and begins a meteoric rise — followed, of course, by an equally impressive fall.
Belfort's road to riches is paved with naked girls, Italian cars, yachts, helicopters and unfathomable quantities of every drug available. His firm becomes a den of debauchery, with Belfort as a little Caligula. In addition to the hookers and chemicals, Belfort and company make shocking amounts of money, much of it in cash, much of it illegally. This attracts the attention of the Securities and Exchange Commission and the FBI. All good things must come to an end.
Wolf is a monumental movie. It's Scorsese at his best, returning to the hurtling rhythms of Goodfellas with deceptive ease. He doesn't push the style, always knowing exactly where to put the camera, when to cut, when to draw things out. Masterful stuff, all the more impressive in the service of comedy. DiCaprio gives one of the funniest, fullest performances I've ever seen — yeah, I said it. Jonah Hill, as Belfort's cap-toothed, oddball partner in crime, finds a perfect balance of slapstick and pathos. When the two of them binge on some especially potent Quaaludes, it results in canonically classic physical comedy.
But this is also a clever, subversive comment on greed in America. Even if the good guys win, they still have to ride the subway home while the bad guys take the private jet. Taken as an indictment of the bankers and brokers who precipitated our current financial morass (very few of whom will ever answer for it), this is pretty searing stuff. R. 180m.
THE SECRET LIFE OF WALTER MITTY. I haven't seen it in many years, but I fondly remember the transporting quality of the 1947 Danny Kaye version's escapist fantasy sequences. That nostalgia and Ben Stiller's gifts as the put-upon everyman had me looking forward to a new Mitty adventure. While it isn't without merits, this version made me want to go back to the original.
Stiller's Mitty is a photographic negative manager at Life magazine. He and one assistant are responsible for receiving and processing every negative that could potentially make it into the magazine. In the final days of the print version, with a corporate hatchet man (Adam Scott) breathing down his neck, Walter loses track of a critical negative. The importance of locating it challenges his tendency to withdraw into his imagination and forces him to really engage with the world.
There's a lot of potential here: Stiller is well-suited to the part, as is Kristen Wiig as his love interest; Sean Penn and Patton Oswalt make entertaining cameos; the settings and cinematography are often startlingly pretty. It's a kind-hearted, family-friendly adventure story. But it's not as good as it could be. The narrative suffers when the movie becomes preoccupied with its postcard-pretty imagery, and there's too much discordant product placement. The fantasy elements are the strongest parts, but they are disappointingly underused. There just isn't enough substance to Walter Mitty to make me care about his awakening. He's likeable enough, sure, but what difference does it make? PG. 114m.
47 RONIN. I am among the small group of people who saw this preview and thought it might be fun. A samurai/magical-realism mash-up starring Keanu Reeves? Sign me up. So it's all the more distressing that the movie turned out to be, of all things, boring.
Reeves plays Kai, a half-English, half-Japanese man who was abandoned as a baby. Left to die in a haunted forest, he was adopted by demons to demonstrate the deficiencies of humanity. He escapes as a boy, and is raised by a reluctant but benevolent master. Said master is eventually betrayed by a neighboring shogun. His disgraced, master-less samurai — ronin — set out to avenge him, with Kai as their unlikely leader.
There's a lot of Japanese tradition on display here, and the design and costuming are pretty top-notch. Some of the mythological elements play effectively, but the scale of the production dwarfs the storyline. In spite of some exciting battle sequences, the plot drags and makes it hard to stay awake. PG13. 119m.
— John J. Bennett
Film schedules not available at press time due to the holiday. Check northcoastjournal.com/movietimes for updated listings.
PARANORMAL ACTIVITY: THE MARKED ONES. More demonic possession and "found footage" when young Jesse (Andrew Jacobs) bumps into things that bump in the night. R. 84m.
AMERICAN HUSTLE. David O. Russell takes a stellar cast, including Bradley Cooper and Amy Adams, back to the '70s for an ambitious and entertaining ABSCAM-inspired caper. R. 138m.
ANCHORMAN 2: THE LEGEND CONTINUES. Will Ferrell and his street-fighting news team keep it classy and skewer info-tainment. Goofy fun that's mustache and shoulder pads above the competition. PG13. 119m.
FROZEN. Kristen Bell voices a girl who braves the snow to save the kingdom from her sister's frosty spell. Standard Disney Princess fun with a Josh Gad as a slapsticky snowman. PG. 108m
THE DELIVERY MAN. A subdued Vince Vaughn sires 533 children and it's not a horror movie — just disappointing without his manic edge. With Chris Pratt as his doughy foil. PG13. 103m.
GRUDGE MATCH. DeNiro and Stallone as boxers of a certain age in a rematch that relights the fire in their varyingly ripped bellies. With Alan Arkin as a grumpy old trainer. PG13. 113m.
THE HOBBIT: THE DESOLATION OF SMAUG. Impressive beards and exciting action as Bilbo and the dwarves go after a treasure-hoarding dragon. Director Jackson ups his game with this sequel. PG13. 161m.
THE HUNGER GAMES: CATCHING FIRE. Katniss and Peeta are back in the dystopian fray. The actors are game, but with a sanitized production, the odds are not in their favor. PG13. 146m.
JUSTIN BIEBER'S BELIEVE. Will he ever be a real boy? Strictly for Beliebers who need to see the haircut and budding dirt-stache on the big screen. PG. 93m.
SAVING MR. BANKS. Tom Hanks and Emma Thompson bring engaging characters and affecting drama to what might have been merely Disney propaganda. PG13. 125m.
WALKING WITH DINOSAURS. Prehistoric CG fest about a runt in a migrating dinosaur herd. Voiced by Charlie Rowe and Karl Urban. PG. 87m.
— Jennifer Fumiko Cahill