Day 117: The Wolf of Wall Street


I had good intentions, moving Best Picture Nominated Movie night to Sunday, thinking I’d be able to watch the movies earlier in the day and get the blog post out in a timely manner. That hasn’t exactly worked out like I’d planned! Severe weather moving into the Joplin area, with tornadoes touching down, moved movie watching this evening to a later time. I’d just come out of a restaurant with family as the tornado sirens sounded. My weather spotting class served me well as I identified the wall cloud to the west and we watched as a small tornado spun out from that low hanging cloud and dropped to the ground. We sought shelter with a neighbor who has a storm shelter, although truth be told, we all gathered instead outside the garage to see what happened. The tornado stayed to the west and moved off toward the north. Heart pumping event, indeed!

And for tonight, I had The Wolf of Wall Street, with a run time of almost three hours! I have to say, this movie held the least interest for me, out of the nine nominated films. Once committed, there is no turning back for me, so after the weather scare and then meeting clients to sign a contract, I settled down to watch this movie.

The Wolf of Wall Street stars Leonardo DiCaprio, Jonah Hill, Margot Robbie, Matthew McConaughey, Kyle Chandler and Rob Reiner and was directed by Martin Scorsese. It was nominated for 5 Academy Awards including Best Actor for DiCaprio, Best Supporting Actor for Hill, Best Director for Scorsese, Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Picture. It did not win in any categories. The film is rated R and has a run time of 2 hours and 59 minutes.

This was a challenging movie for me to watch. And while I really can’t recommend it, due to its well deserved R rating for strong profanity, nudity, sexual situations and heavy portrayal of drug use, it is a film that doesn’t hold back in showing what a life lived in excess looks like. It’s not pretty, or glamorous. It literally made me feel ill, and deeply uncomfortable, watching a brilliant, charismatic man take himself down a path of destruction.

Based on actual events, this film follows the life of Jordon Belfort, a young Wall Street stockbroker desperate for glory, fame and wealth. Lots of wealth. He admits, as his character narrates the movie, that he is an addicted man. Yes, he has addictions to drugs, alcohol, women and an over the top lifestyle. But he reveals his deepest addiction as he pulls a $100 bill from his pocket and unfolds it. He couldn’t get enough of the green stuff. The sad thing is, Jordon Belfort was a gifted speaker and salesman, with the confidence and drive to succeed on Wall Street. He chose to amass his wealth by taking shortcuts that defrauded his investors. He had amazing leadership qualities and a compassionate heart that was revealed in the way he treated his employees. But his addiction drove him to acquiring more and more money and that compassionate heart was never extended toward his clients. All addictions lead to ruin, and Jordon was eventually arrested for fraud. He received leniency and a short prison term in exchange for supplying information about his colleagues. After prison, sober and clean, Belfort now makes a living hosting financial seminars, writing books, and speaking.

Leonardo DiCaprio and Jonah Hall give fine, albeit dark and gritty, performances. And interestingly, the real life Jordan Belfort has a brief cameo near the end of the film. There are nuggets of deeper truths distributed throughout this film, if one can bear to witness the destruction of lives because of Jordon’s cardinal rule: you deal with your problems by becoming rich.  There is not enough money in the world to buy the solutions or the kind of happiness that Jordon sought. I can only hope the real life Mr. Belfort truly has learned that lesson.

Day 103: Nebraska


I decided this week to move Best Picture nominated movie night from Monday night to Sunday evening. I’ve struggled the last few weeks to finish work, watch the movie and get the blog posted before midnight! Last week, it was way past that before I got the blog up and even later when I crawled into bed. Sunday evening works better! And tonight, I finally made it back to the movie Nebraska, number five out of nine nominated movies.

Nebraska stars Bruce Dern, June Squibb, Will Forte, Bob Odenkirk, and Stacy Keach and was directed by Alexander Payne.  It was nominated for six Academy Awards, including Best Actor for Dern, Best Supporting Actress for Squibb, Best Director, Best Picture, Best Cinematography, and Best Original Screenplay. Bruce Dern won an Oscar for his portrayal of Woody Grant. The film is rated R and has a run time of 1 hour and 54 minutes.

With the threat of severe weather this afternoon, I hoped electricity would stay on and I’d be able to watch this movie that I first attempted to watch March 24. I was beginning to wonder if I wasn’t supposed to see this movie! I’m very glad I did. Shot in black and white and using a cast mostly made up of little known actors, this film is called a comedy drama road movie. I found Nebraska to be a poignant, touching look at family relationships in the Midwest.

Dern’s character, Woody Grant, is a tired, aging man who never has been known for saying much. He receives a sweepstakes letter in the mail stating he has won a million dollars. He just needs to show his winning number to claim his prize. Woody refuses to trust the postal system with a million dollars, and when no one in his family will drive him to Lincoln, Nebraska to claim his prize, he sets off on foot. Several times. Kate, his sharp tongued wife of many years, berates him for foolishly believing he’s won a million dollars and threatens to have him put into a nursing home. Played by June Squibb, Kate is a woman seemingly at the end of her patience with her often confused, taciturn husband who finds solace in alcohol.

Woody’s son David, played by Will Forte, offers to drive his father to Nebraska. He doesn’t believe his father has won a prize either, but hopes to use the road trip as an opportunity to spend time with his father and ease his confusion. When a fall during the trip sidelines Woody for a couple of days, the pair spends the weekend in Hawthorne, Nebraska, Woody’s hometown. He still has brothers and old friends living in this tiny town. And David begins to learn who his father really is from local townspeople, friends and foes, and an old flame.

I expected this to be a sad film, especially with it being shot in black and white. The simplicity of that choice heightened the starkness of Woody’s life, the quiet pain in his eyes. The character actors and extras in the film came across as ordinary people right off the streets of Smalltown, USA. I could almost believe I was watching a home movie at times, of the Grant family. When Kate rants at her son about the craziness of his father’s belief that he’s won money, and asks why, David’s answer touches the heart of the movie. “He just needs something to live for.” It becomes apparent, in this movie, that that statement is true for each character. They’re all caught in one small story after another, searching for something, anything, to live for.

David comes to see his father differently. And that changes the way he feels about his dad. I found myself hoping, as the pair finally arrives in Lincoln, Nebraska, that Woody really did win that million dollars. He’s been ridiculed and subjected to greed from his immediate and extended family, and most of the tired residents of his hometown. And he’s revealed to his son the real reason he wants the million dollars: he wants to be able to replace an air compressor that was stolen from him years ago and he wants a new truck….something nice to leave to his two sons when he dies.

I won’t tell you whether he won or not. I will tell you, the love of a son for his father overcomes all the trials, all the heartaches of the trip. When Woody drives his new truck slowly, and with quiet dignity, down the main street of Hawthorne, for all the town folk to see, I smiled, through tears, along with David. Nebraska isn’t just a sad movie, it is a triumph. And it isn’t just about a road trip to claim a prize. It’s about going home, and going within, and finding something larger to believe in and live for. It’s about love within the family, even an atypical family. Because, what does a normal family look like anyway?