The Wolf of Wall Street
In the go-go ’80s, Jordan Belfort wants to make a lot of money, and there’s no better way than going into finance and joining an established Wall Street firm. But even a kid as ambitious as Jordan can’t survive post–Black Monday layoffs, which is how he finds himself selling penny stocks, putting together a scheme with a bunch of fast-talking, weak-minded goons, and eventually making millions of dollars a month by way of some extremely shady practices.
Leonardo DiCaprio earned his latest Best Actor Oscar nomination for playing Jordan; joining him was Jonah Hill, a Best Supporting Actor Oscar nominee for his turn as Jordan’s cousin-marrying cohort Donnie. Other nominations include Best Director for Martin Scorsese, Best Adapted Screenplay for Terence Winter, and Best Picture. (But it was shut out on all five.)
You will note that the film was not nominated for Best Film Editing, perhaps because it clocks in at a shocking 179 minutes. (I guess the full three hours would have been self-indulgent?) Maybe you will be so entranced by the story that you won’t spend (all) that time cutting it down in your head. I wasn’t.
Wesley Morris: “The opportunity to say or do something about the predations of the banking industry would push a lot of directors into righteousness and solemnity. Maybe it should. But Martin Scorsese turns national tragedy into farce, and rarely in a way that feels itself distasteful.”
New and Notable
The Book Thief
If all you knew about The Book Thief was what you can see on the poster, you’d think it was the touching tale of a sweet-faced young girl of yesteryear, who’s so obsessed with reading that she can’t help stealing volumes to feed her wholesome addiction. Turns out she’s in the Hitler Youth!
OK, there’s more to the story than that — the titular thief’s foster family harbors a Jewish friend of hers, and nothing good happens to her Hitler Youth buddy — but … even though it’s about a kid and seems targeted to kids, this might not be a great choice to watch with your kids unless you want to spend the weekend answering some very uncomfortable questions.
Wesley Morris: “As fine as Rush and Watson are, there’s just no emotional centerpiece. So the incidents pile up in a way that appeals to your moral senses. But the movie lacks the nerve to treat death as anything more menacing than the tooth fairy.”
David Wozniak’s life is not great. He has an unimpressive job driving a delivery truck for his family’s butcher company, and he’s $80,000 in debt to some unsavory characters. And things don’t get better when he finds out that about 20 percent of the 533 children conceived with his sperm — which he’d sold back in college — are suing the operation to disclose his identity. And then things get REALLY crazy!
In this remake of the French Canadian hit Starbuck (the protagonist’s sperm-bank alias), Vince Vaughn plays David, who ends up stalking his various progeny to see what they’re up to. And if you were bummed out to see How I Met Your Mother’s charming Cobie Smulders in a nothing role in The Avengers, it probably won’t cheer you to learn that, now that she’s here playing David’s pregnant girlfriend, she’s officially entered her Julie Bowen Years.
If you liked the Armor of God movies but wish someone would make a sort-of reboot AND cast Jackie Chan again, then I am about to make your whole weekend, because someone did! And they also got Oliver Platt!
Twelve bronze heads representing the Chinese zodiac, stolen in the 19th century, are up for auction. Jackie Chan plays an operative for a corporation that … probably puts him in a variety of situations he’ll have to fight his way out of. Also, it’s not subtitled; it’s dubbed. You’ve been warned.
Early/“In Theaters” Releases
Mistaken for Strangers
When a band has the kind of breakthrough success the National has seen in the past year or so, it makes sense that it would aim to expand its reach with a tour documentary. But when the group assigned the directing gig to Tom Berninger, brother to frontman Matt, they might not have expected that the resulting film would have so little to do with the band and its tour, and so much to do with the relationship between the Berninger boys.
Mistaken for Strangers (on VOD the same day it opens in theaters) opened the Tribeca Film Festival last year and has been praised by Michael Moore as “one of the best documentaries about a band that I’ve ever seen.” Just don’t count on seeing a whole lot of concert footage amid the troubled family dynamics.
At an undetermined time in American history — might be the 1960s, except for the references to Jim Jones — four troubled people try to cure the maladies that ail them, from forbidden love to secret transvestism to writer’s block to muteness. And Catherine Keener’s in it, so — interesting, right?
Well, maybe. But here’s what else you need to know about Maladies, which is out on VOD simultaneously with its theatrical release: James Franco — WAIT WHERE ARE YOU GOING? He plays a soap opera star turned novelist (he’s the one suffering writer’s block), and the film’s director, who just goes by “Carter,” advised him to get a role on a soap to prepare for this film, which I guess is why he had that whole arc on General Hospital. So is this really a movie, or is it an art project? “Can’t it be both?” Normally, sure. But it’s James Franco.