Things I Watched This Week

Here’s a bunch of movies I saw recently that I don’t feel like writing in-depth reviews of:

The Wolf of Wall Street (2013):

Everyone on earth has already seen this movie so at this point it would be superfluous to write a review of it, so here’s a (short) review of it. According to ninety-eight percent of the globe this movie is a “modern day classic”, however, it’s mostly just fluff, albeit entertaining fluff. People have made the obvious comparisons to Goodfellas, but it’s not nearly as good, in fact, I would argue that it rips off that earlier classic in a number of ways (either Scorsese now, somehow, lacks confidence, or has become lazy.) The best scene in the film is when Jordan Belfort (Leonardo Dicaprio) is trying to “play” and bribe an FBI agent (Kyle Chandler), but has his head so far up his ass he doesn’t realize that the agent is merely playing along. At the end of the scene Belfort tells the agent and his partner to go screw and as they’re leaving he starts flipping bills into the air in a pathetic attempt to affirm his status. However, for the most part, the film gets too repetitive and the characters simply aren’t that interesting. The ending also isn’t very good, with the camera panning toward the faces of people attending a “get rich” seminar Belfort is speaking at, which is supposed to be a commentary on how people want to be like Leo’s character despite everything. It’s a bit too blunt and forced. Still a fun movie, but even if an hour were trimmed-off it still wouldn’t be as great as Goodfellas for we never get much insight into Belfort’s character.

The Piano Teacher (2001):

Another overrated film, but even more so than The Wolf of Wall Street for, while that movie is at least good, The Piano Teacher is a mediocrity. It’s about a repressed, manipulative woman (Isabelle Huppert) who teaches piano at a music conservatory. She’s obsessed with the music of Schubert whom she spouts highfalutin nonsense about in order to make herself seem like she has an exclusive relationship with the music. She’s also a pervert, making regular visits to a porno shop–later, she scolds one of her students after she catches him there, looking at magazines–she also becomes obsessed with a handsome student (Benoit Magimel) who is smitten over her. It starts out as an interesting character study, but then devolves into a trite depiction of obsession and psychosexuality; the ending is also lousy. I guess what saves the film are the performances and some good moments throughout that give insight into the characters. Not nearly as bad as some other critical favorites, like Lincoln (more like Nixon, if you ask me! Actually, Nixon is pretty good so never mind) and American Beauty (more like Boring and Shitty!), but I’m baffled by all the praise its received.

Dead Ringer (1964):

Old Bette Davis film that’s well-crafted and entertaining. A woman, played by Davis, kills her wealthy twin sister and takes on her name and life. It’s a nice little thriller with some decent characters that aren’t merely cardboard cutouts. However, as well-wrought the script is, there are some holes in the plot, the biggest at the end where the main character is sentenced to death for killing, not her sister, but her sister’s husband (who, ironically, she loved); the problem is that the evidence for her involvement is circumstantial, at best, yet she still gets the gas chamber. It’s a movie that’s probably not going to “stay” with me for very long, but at least it succeeds at what it sets out to do, for the most part.

Amazing Spiderman 2 (2014):

Finally saw this one and it was terrible. Jarring cuts, wretched symbolism and cliches up the ass. The plot is nearly the same as Spiderman 2, except that movie didn’t have to rely on ham-fisted scenes to get its point across, scenes like when Peter Parker is on a building’s ledge, watching her girlfriend crossing the street below only for him to turn and see a building on fire. He has to choose between his girlfriend and his duties as Spiderman, decisions, decisions. Can we stop it with the comic book films for a while? Even the supposed “good” ones like The Avengers and Guardians of the Galaxy are merely passable. The recent X-Men film was good, but I still think that Hollywood should try milking some other cow to death, you know, to spice things up a little.

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5 thoughts on “Things I Watched This Week

  1. Pretty much the same reaction I had to Wolf of Wall Street. If one ranks the Scorsese “slick gangster movie canon” as Goodfellas > Casino > The Departed > Wolf of Wall Street, it’s interesting to see the almost asymptotic descent from such grand artistic heights. Greatness, then a lesser imitation a few years later, then an even lesser retread a decade later, then a pale shadow almost a decade after that. It’s practically mathematical, goddamn.

    Was referred to your blog by my buddy Alex Sheremet. You seem like a pretty sharp dude. I’m always looking to connect with folk that have a decent sense of things, so feel free to email sometime if you ever wanna chat/share thoughts: jacksonhawley@gmail.com

    Cheers,
    Jackson

    • Yeah, there’s a pretty clear artistic descent and it’s sad how blatant and desperate his attempts at reconjuring the “magic” of Goodfellas are. I think with Wolf Scorsese got lazy and knew that, if the movie works stylistically, people would forget that it’s essentially a self-aping. It’s kind of a shame for while Wolf is not a bad film it’s barely a good one that only reminds me of how great Scorsese was in the past.

      Thanks for the comment.

  2. Yeah, it’s strange how Scorsese got to the top of the mountain with Goodfellas, then seemed to have this “What do I do now?” kind of reaction. Wolf’s not really a bad movie, more of just a NOTHING movie. Too long, no real depth, hammy acting from Dicaprio, very obvious images (like Belfort using cocaine to overcome the quaaludes while an episode of Popeye plays in the background), a very unmemorable soundtrack, etc.

    I feel pretty confident in saying that Scorsese doesn’t have another great movie in him, as it’d be pretty much a defiance of human nature to suddenly pare back from the big budgets and total creative freedom that I think many film artists dream about. But I wonder if he has even a particularly good movie in him, and if he is conscious of the step down in quality that he’s taken over the last decade and a half or so.

  3. Weird thing about the soundtrack, I’m pretty sure a Devo song was used somewhere (I forget which scene) which is fine, except he used a couple of Devo songs in Casino. So even when it comes to the soundtrack he’s ripping himself off. He knows what’s memorable about Goodfellas and Casino, but it’s almost as if he no longer knows why they were memorable. It’s not enough to use a Devo song, but how it’s used.

    Maybe he doesn’t even have a genuinely good film in him anymore because I think even a lazy, but once great, director would at least be able to see that the Popeye/quaalude conflation would be too obvious and opt against putting it in a film.

    BTW, have you seen Hugo? I haven’t, but it seems different from everything else he’s done (though I think it was a bomb financially, perhaps why he went back to ripping off Goodfellas.)

  4. I saw Hugo in the theatre, but the only notable thing was that the 3D was pretty well implemented, as it gave the movie the visual profile of a pop-up storybook. Much of it is actually a tribute to the works of Georges Melies and the early pioneers of cinema, which was surprising, but the story, itself, is nothing special. Kinda like Scorsese’s attempt at making a Spielberg movie, almost.

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