Film reviews: Wolf of Wall Street | Tim’s Vermeer

Who’s afraid of big bad Leonardo DiCaprio, who takes on the title role in Scorsese’s Wolf of Wall Street?

Who’s afraid of big bad Leonardo DiCaprio, who takes on the title role in Scorsese’s Wolf of Wall Street?

The Wolf Of Wall Street (18)

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Director: Martin Scorsese

Running time: 180 minutes

Rating: * * *

LAST time we saw Leonardo DiCaprio, he was a gorgeous Gatsby, presiding over a soured American dream. Now he is suited and booted and at the heart of some more truly remarkable parties. If only F Scott Fitzgerald had included a dwarf-tossing interlude, maybe Martin Scorsese would have made The Great Gatsby instead of The Wolf Of Wall Street, based on the fabulously orgiastic life of Jordan Belfort, an amoral city broker who was not so much a wolf as a scavenger, gobbling up the weak and unwary.

He joins the city in his early 20s (Leo please note: you can no longer pass for 20) and is mentored in stockbroker etiquette by an old hand (Matthew McConaughey) over a martini and coke lunch. The coke is not the stuff that comes in cans, obviously. There’s a brief hiccup when Black Friday crashes the Dow Jones and Belfort is out of work but he bounces back and starts again by cold-calling suckers into investing in worthless deals.

Note that we never see any of these investors – Scorsese has shrewdly calculated that acknowledging the real misery caused might dampen the fun. It’s not that Scorsese’s film endorses Belfort’s lifestyle choices – the camera’s there when a woman winces as her head is shaved for $10,000, or Belfort is treated for an escort’s STDs before heading out to his wedding – but he seems enthralled by Belfort’s anecdotes of excess. And perhaps he also senses that if he takes us away from Belfort’s party, he’ll kill the film’s buzz.

The Wolf Of Wall Street makes an effort to explain the financial cons and scams, but if you don’t understand or care what the blag is, it doesn’t matter. Scorsese feels like a man kicking back and having fun watching Leo’s Belfort and his sidekick Donnie (Jonah Hill), who has bleached his teeth until they seem fluorescent.

It’s also the work of a director who is comfortable and open with nudity – provided it is female. This may not be hypocrisy – male frontal nudity tends to make movie certifications a lot more hot and bothered – and there’s a point here about the debauched sexism of that world. Yet if the brokers view women as a source of convenient bare bodies, the movie does too.

From a sweatbox in an industrial estate, Jordan and Donnie build Stratton Oakmont, a deceptively solid-sounding financial empire which funds frat boy fever dreams of compliant women, sports cars, fancy yachts and pills by the handful. At home, Belfort gets through two wives, replacing the smart, helpful, first wife (Cristin Milioti) with younger, blonder, tauter Naomi (Margot Robbie).

By the time he seems destined for his second divorce, I’m starting to feel rather like one of Belfort’s cronies – I’ve had fun but now I’m starting to feel a little exhausted by the hedonism, repetition and the film’s boastful lemme-tell-ya style. Sure, there are still some terrific set pieces to come as we head into the third hour, including a sequence where DiCaprio and Hill gobble down out-of-date Quaaludes that is a physical comedy tour de force. Yet as you watch a numbed man lose all his basic motor skills to a big chemical rush, you can’t help feeling that The Wolf Of Wall Street also needed to cut back on the meds.

On general release from Friday

Tim’s Vermeer (12A)

Rating: * * *

IN A warehouse in San Antonio, a computer and video engineer grinds up some pigment, picks up a brush and sets about painting his first Vermeer.

Art historians have long speculated how the Dutch master achieved his photo-realistic images, applied directly on to canvas without guiding sketches. One theory is that Vermeer used a combination of magnifying lenses and mirrors to fashion an early camera obscura, which projected an image onto a wall, and traced onto canvas. Tim Jenison was first intrigued and then fixated. Over five years he learnt Dutch, flew to the Netherlands to research Vermeer and persuaded Buckingham Palace to give him a private viewing of their Vermeer, The Music Lesson. Oh, and he also built a life-size replica of The Music Lesson’s room in a Texas backlot, from oak-beams and stained window light sources to facsimile period furnishings and his daughter in a wig, clamped into position.

Directed by Teller (of magic duo Penn and Teller), Tim’s Vermeer demands an attentiveness from audiences which may flag when the focus turns to Jenison’s arduous task of colouring in. Certainly when “day 67” appears on screen, the unworthy phrase “watching paint dry” has already formed in your mind.

Still, it does yield a black comic story about the dangers of using a patio heater indoors, and the film recovers to become both a movie portrait of dedicated obsession and a documentary that poses interesting questions about whether using technology devalues art.

Selected release from Friday

Crystal Fairy And The Magical Cactus (18)

Rating: * *

THERE are a few incidental pleasures in Sebastián Silva’s ramshackle road movie. There’s the way Michael Cera’s twitchy American tourist performs nightly wind-down exercises with an aggressive focus more likely to tighten up his springs, or the night out that establishes him as such an annoying bore that even transvestite hookers grab their manbags and bail on spending time with him.

You may feel the same way. In recent years Cera has flirted with unlikeable characters, but Jamie the drug tourist is pricklier than the psychedelic cactus he is desperately trying to track down, to add to his collection of trippy experiences on a holiday in Chile.

Along for the ride are three tolerant Chilean brothers (played by the director’s brothers, Juan Andrés, José Miguel and Agustin) and a dippy hippy earnest free spirit who calls herself Crystal Fairy (Gaby Hoffman). Jamie first spots her at a party, dancing alone with abandon. “She’s like a lonely tornado,” he notes, and invites her to join his trip. He forgets about it, but she turns up, chatting about chakras and wandering around their hotel room completely and serenely nude.

In the course of the film, they both become slightly less grating, in the way that a hangover can become tolerable as it proceeds out of your system. Crystal Fairy is a collaboration between Cera and Silva, conjured up when another, bigger-budgeted project, Magic Magic, stalled for a while. It has the vague, baggy feel of the semi-improvised, and like the San Pedro cactus, boiling this film down to extract its essence takes an age and may hardly feel worth the effort.

Selected release from Friday