This week’s video releases include an animated hit, a Vince Vaughn comedy and director Martin Scorsese’s latest drama.
The Wolf of Wall Street
3½ stars (out of four)
Rated R for sequences of strong sexual content, graphic nudity, drug use and language throughout, and for some violence
Available on: Blu-ray, DVD, digital download and on demand
In “The Wolf of Wall Street,” director Martin Scorsese presents a picture of Jordan Belfort that is so over the top and unapologetically vulgar that it’s easy to write the film off as exaggeration… until one realizes that Belfort says everything’s true.
Belfort is a former Wall Street swindler whose fraudulent actions cost investors approximately $200 million. By his own admission, he was also a sexually promiscuous drug addict at the time of his crimes.
There is the possibility that Belfort is exaggerating his own debauchery for publicity. In fact, he has mentioned in interviews that the Scorsese film is tamer than reality. This is difficult to believe because “The Wolf of Wall Street” is anything but tame. Multiple publications report that the film contains 506 F-bombs, a filmmaking record. Couple this with its depictions of casual sex, drug use, and illegal financial activity, and you have a movie that stands as one of the most morally bankrupt in history.
The dubious deeds of Belfort, played in an Oscar-nominated turn by Leonardo DiCaprio, are not celebrated so much as recorded. There is nothing in the film to indicate that Scorsese and company approve of Belfort’s actions. In fact, one can argue that the man’s comeuppance, makes “Wolf” a cautionary tale. It is not, however, very convincing from that standpoint. Belfort spent only 22 months in prison and he works today as a motivational speaker.
It is best to view “The Wolf of Wall Street” as a film that calls proper attention to a case where both our financial and legal systems failed. It is the true story of a man who swindled people out of millions, paid only a minimal penalty, then used his crimes to become a minor celebrity. And it is a well-told story at that.
DiCaprio’s performance is bolstered by a fine outing from Jonah Hill. Hill plays Donnie Azoff, a fictionalized character based on Belfort cohort Daniel Porush, and his work was recognized by a supporting actor Oscar nod. Other key players include Margot Robbie as Belfort’s second wife, Matthew McConaughey as one of Belfort’s mentors and Rob Reiner as Belfort’s father.
It’s a great cast and Scorsese, as usual, melds their work into an engrossing whole. One’s reaction to “The Wolf of Wall Street” will have a lot to do with one’s tolerance for bad behavior. Although the movie garnered an Oscar nomination for best picture, nearly 25 percent of the critics on RottenTomatoes.com gave the film a negative review, and much of the criticism is centered on the film’s lack of morality. Considering the depth of depravity of Belfort’s character, this is understandable. However, filmgoers will do well to remember that it can be valuable to document the deeds of even despicable characters. Failure to do so makes it that much easier to forget – and repeat – the bad deeds of our collective past.
The DVD release contains no extras. The Blu-ray contains a single, making-of feature.
Rated PG for some action and mild rude humor
Available on: Blu-ray, Blu-ray 3D, DVD and digital download
By now, Disney’s “Frozen” is a well-known commodity. The movie was among the five highest-grossing movies of 2013, and it landed the Oscar for best animated feature. Is it really that good? Yes.
“Frozen” is not only a visual spectacle, it features a well-crafted story and a powerful collection of songs that prompted a Broadway development deal. As good as the show may be on stage, the story will always play best in its original medium. That’s because “Frozen” benefits from a massive scope that follows characters from the aged walls of a fairy-tale castle to the blustery peaks of a snow-covered mountain. This will be difficult to replicate on stage, but Disney animators have done a phenomenal job on screen.
The movie tells the story of Anna (voiced by Kristen Bell) and Elsa (voiced by Idina Menzel), daughters of the king and queen of Arendelle. When viewers meet the girls, they are like any other siblings, except that Elsa has the ability to create ice and snow with a wave of her hand. This becomes a problem when she accidentally strikes Anna with a frozen blast, rendering her unconscious.
Anna is OK, but the girls’ parents decide that Elsa must keep her powers hidden and attempt to control them in private. This leads both sisters to grow up isolated from the outside world. Elsa doesn’t mind because she fears her strange abilities, but Anna desperately wants to experience life outside her castle’s walls. She also longs for her withdrawn sister’s friendship.
When the king and queen are killed during an accident at sea, Elsa inherits the throne, and she is forced to hold a public coronation. Anna is thrilled to meet new people, particularly a handsome prince named Hans (Santino Fontana). Elsa, on the other hand, spends the entire day worried that her powers will be exposed. Eventually, her fears come true, leading visiting royalty to view her as a monster. Frustrated and angry, Elsa runs far away, plunging her kingdom into a deep, dark winter. Confident that she can convince her sister to end the cold, Anna follows. Along the way, she hires a rugged ice salesman named Kristoff (Jonathan Groff), and he acts as her guide.
“Frozen” moves quickly, and key moments are reinforced by a host of terrific musical numbers penned by the husband-and-wife team of Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez. Although the ballad “Let it Go” landed the Oscar for best original song, it isn’t the only noteworthy tune. “Frozen’s” many memorable numbers include “For the First Time in Forever,” “In Summer” and “Do You Want to Build a Snowman.”
Directors Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee tie the story and music together beautifully, using every moment to further their plotting and character development. They also create an appropriate sense of splendor, regularly demonstrating Elsa’s ability to turn the blandest locale into a sparkling ice-covered wonderland.
Along with the wonderful “Despicable Me 2,” “Frozen” represents the best that animators offered in 2013.
Blu-ray and DVD extras include the theatrical short “Get a Horse,” deleted scenes and a music video featuring Demi Lovato, Martina Stoessel and Marsha Milan Londoh singing “Let It Go.”
Rated PG-13 for thematic elements, sexual content, some drug material, brief violence and language
Available on: Blu-ray, DVD, digital download and on demand
Vince Vaughn has such an affable, understated screen presence that it’s difficult to dislike him… or his movies. This is true even when his projects are undeniably light, as with “Delivery Man.”
The film, co-written and directed by Ken Scott, tells the story of David (Vaughn), a financially troubled delivery driver who learns that he fathered 533 children by making paid donations to a fertility clinic. Although the clinic promised him anonymity, the issue is gaining media attention because 142 of his biological children are demanding – with legal action – to know who their father is.
This prompts David to turn to his lawyer friend, Brett (Chris Pratt), for help. Brett advises David to keep quiet, and goes to court in hopes of protecting his identity. In the meantime, David can’t help but look into the backgrounds of his many kids. What he finds astounds him. One child is a professional basketball player, another is a drug addict and yet another is a musician who makes a living busking.
As the film progresses, David must decide whether to reach out to his children or to quietly live in obscurity, knowing that he is disappointing them all. He must also deal with the increasing media coverage surrounding his case.
The plotting isn’t complicated, and the ideas aren’t challenging. Still, the warmth of Vaughn’s performance and Scott’s good-natured approach to the material makes “Delivery Man” a pleasant lark. It isn’t the sort of movie people talk about months after a viewing, but it is the sort of picture that elicits smiles in the moment.
Blu-ray and DVD extras include bloopers and a deleted scene.
ALSO OUT THIS WEEK
“The Great Beauty”: This Italian drama won the 2014 Oscar for best foreign language film. It tells the story of an aging journalist who pauses to take stock of his life and the glories of Rome. Directed and co-written by Paolo Sorrentino.
“Little House on the Prairie” – Season One: Remastered release of the first 24 episodes of the 1970s and ’80s TV series about a small-town, Minnesota family living in the late 1800s. Michael Landon, Melissa Gilbert and Melissa Sue Anderson star.
“Veep” – The Complete Second Season: This political comedy, starring Julia Louis-Dreyfus as the vice president of the United States, returns for a third season in April. This release gives fans a chance to catch up with the 10 most-recent episodes.
“The Freshman”: Criterion Collection release of actor Harold Lloyd’s 1925 silent movie about a college freshman attempting to become a big man on campus. Fred C. Newmeyer and Sam Taylor directed, and Criterion’s release features a new 4K digital transfer.
“Californication” – The Sixth Season: This long-running Showtime dramedy is slated to end after its forthcoming seventh season. That makes this collection of 12 episodes, the lead-in to the end. David Duchovny once again stars as Hank Moody, a novelist whose own vices are his biggest enemy.
“Chinese Zodiac”: Action movie starring Jackie Chan as an adventurer who recovers ancient, Chinese artifacts. Chan also wrote, directed and produced the movie.
“Persona”: Criterion Collection release of writer-director Ingmar Bergman’s 1966 movie about a young nurse (Bibi Andersson) caring for an actress (Liv Ullmann) who has, without explanation, become mute. Presented in Swedish with English subtitles.
– Forrest Hartman is an independent film critic whose byline has appeared in some of the nation’s largest publications. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.