For Reel


The Wolf of Wall Street (2013)
January 17, 2014, 9:23 pm
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Director: Martin Scorsese
4 Stars
The Wolf of Wall StreetA major topic of conversation regarding The Wolf of Wall Street has been asking whether it condemns or celebrates the depravity it portrays–it seems just as likely that an audience member might respond to the excess with a certain envy as much as they would be disgusted by the immorality. Such contradictions are actually commonplace in Hollywood, however, and the give-and-take that happens in the ideological discourses of certain films is often the most honest approach to the issues at hand. Consider the discussion regarding torture in Zero Dark Thirty, which became a Rorschach test for audience members–it didn’t so much clarify its political beliefs as participate in the conversation from both sides. One can say that this approach to cinema is cynical in its pandering to every potential audience, but in the hands of a talented filmmaker such contradictions are necessary to the story they are telling. The debauchery in The Wolf of Wall Street is undoubtedly excessive and, in its misogyny, absolutely tasteless, but Martin Scorsese aspires to show the seduction of such sins, so much so that Jordan Belfort’s (Leonardo DiCaprio) undoing ultimately seems to be the most minor of setbacks. It is unclear who exactly the sucker is–Belfort may be despicable, but by the end his own sort of nihilism seems to be the only appropriate response to a world driven by greed. Belfort and the film’s audience essentially want the same thing, only Belfort is just the kind of sleazebag to dreg his desires up from the pits of depravity to participate in them himself. The Wolf of Wall Street’s biggest risk is making the viewer occasionally admire him for it.



The Last Temptation of Christ (1988)
April 30, 2011, 10:56 pm
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Director: Martin Scorsese

The Last Temptation of Christ was a hugely controversial undertaking for Martin Scorsese, inciting protests after years of suspended development due to written complaints. It is unfathomable to think that an effort this confrontational will ever again be released by a major studio while the box office continues to reward the most generalized, guileless entertainment. The material that caused the most outrage was a lengthy hallucinatory sequence wherein Jesus, while crucified, imagines an alternate universe in which the devil (posing as a young girl) tricks him off of the cross and forces him to face mortality. Although, as a non-believer, I have no authority to speak about the legitimacy of this interpretation from a Christian perspective, I would think that, in humanizing Jesus rather than glorifying him to the extent of caricature, his redemption is rendered all the more profound.



GoodFellas (1990)
April 17, 2011, 8:59 pm
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Director: Martin Scorsese

Revisiting GoodFellas, which has enough of a reputation that I don’t feel the need to defend its artistic merit, the one question that I kept asking myself was whether the film was mocking or romanticizing the gangster lifestyle. As Henry and Karen make their way into the Copacabana through the club’s back door, is this a denotation of celebrity and respect or is it instead one of shame? Henry himself is among Scorsese’s sleaziest characters – although Travis Bickle or Rupert Pupkin are despicable, atleast they show gumption and never compromise their own dignity in the way that Henry does at the trial. In fact, within this world of “wiseguys”, it is perhaps only Jimmy and Paul who come out with their virtue unscathed. Does the film, by depicting Henry’s shame, suggest that he is the anomaly in an otherwise respectable, functional world, or is the environment itself satirized by suggesting that gangster “truths” like loyalty are only paper-thin?