The Wolf of Wall Street (Paramount, Blu-ray+DVD Combo, DVD, Digital HD, On Demand) is, to my mind, the best of the Martin Scorsese / Leonardo DiCaprio collaborations to date. DiCaprio burns through the role of real-life financial fraudster Jordan Belfort, a born hustler and con man who finds his natural place in the world of stock sales and financial manipulation. He and his team don’t have clients, they have marks, in a twisted American success story where being smart enough to get away with breaking the law is reason enough to do it. It’s no surprise that they slip into debauchery (which Scorsese illustrates with a cinematic ecstasy that puts the charge into visual terms). The drugs, the sex, the addictions are a natural extension of a way of life where making money is secondary to the thrill of bilking a chump and skirting the law. The need for constant stimulation becomes an addiction in itself.
“Say what you will about The Wolf of Wall Street — and trust me, people are going to be saying plenty about Martin Scorsese’s loose, lunatic latest film — there’s no denying that in terms of its direction, it’s big and bold and brash and beautiful, full of strength and strangeness and style,” raves Cinephiled film critic James Rocchi. “Scorsese pulls out all the stops here, and there are moments of directorial verve and invention and power here that leap off the screen. Scorsese turns voice-over into character development, storytelling clichés into surprise delights, and gets every drop of charm out of Leonardo DiCaprio’s Belfort much in the same way you can milk a cobra for its poison.”
Jonah Hill earned an Oscar nomination as Belfort’s protégé Donnie Azoff, a sycophant who takes to the lifestyle with a sleazy delight, Margot Robbie is the voracious mistress turned trophy wife disgusted with Belfort’s spiral into non-stop hedonism, and Matthew McConaughey, Rob Reiner, Jean Dujardin, and Joanna Lumley have striking supporting roles.
The Blu-ray edition includes the 17-minute featurette “The Wolf Pack” and a bonus DVD and Ultraviolet Digital HD copy of the film. No commentary or deleted scenes or in-depth documentaries here. Perhaps in a future edition …?
The Past (Sony, Blu-ray+DVD Combo, Digital, On Demand), Asghar Farhadi’s follow-up to his Oscar-winning A Separation, relocates from Iran to Paris to tell an equally nuanced story of the complications of marriage, romance, family, and communication. Ahmad (Ali Mosaffa) has returned to Paris from Iran to finalize a divorce from Marie (Bérénice Bejo) and steps into a family drama involving his soon-to-be-ex-wife’s new man (Tahar Rahim), their angry and resentful kids, and a mystery that is really none of his business, which he investigates with a gentle remove that allows him to gloss over his own baggage until he, too, must confront his own issues and failings. Like A Separation, The Past is a beautifully observed portrait of people who fail to communicate and the assumptions that accrue in the void of understanding, and a sympathetic presentation of flawed people who don’t always make the right decisions and aren’t even always honest with themselves, and he takes his time weaving defining details through the fabric of their lives. Bérénice Bejo, so bubbly and bright in The Artist, is remarkable as Marie, struggling to work through her own resentments after four years of separation with Ahmad.
In French and Farsi with English subtitles. The Blu-ray+DVD release features both formats in a single case plus commentary by director / writer Asghar Farhadi, a filmmaker Q&A from a screening at the Directors Guild of America and the featurette “Making The Past.”
It’s one of Danny Miller’s “10 Best Foreign Films of 2013”
The Great Beauty (Criterion, Blu-ray+DVD Combo, DVD, Digital HD, VOD) was this year’s Academy Award winner for Best Foreign Language film. Directed by Paolo Sorrentino and starring Toni Servillo (who also starred in Sorrentino’s Il divo), it pays tribute to the sixties films of Federico Fellini and the Rome he celebrated in La Dolce Vita and 8 ½, the world of beautiful people and decadent lifestyles, and surveys the present from the perspective of the self-involved Jep Gambardella (Servillo), a novelist and journalist who cashed in his artistic success for celebrity and superficial assignments and now mourns his lost opportunities. Jep is narrator, host, critic, and tour guide to the world he embraced and now sourly deconstructs, shifting his self-criticism to others with cutting, savage wit, on the occasion of his 65th birthday.
Italian with English subtitles. The Criterion release includes a video interview with Sorrentino conducted by Italian cultural critic Antonio Monda (38 minutes) and shorter video interviews with actor Toni Servillo (13 minutes) and screenwriter Umberto Contarello (12 minutes), all in Italian with English subtitles. Also features deleted scenes and a booklet with an essay by critic Philip Lopate.
Juliette Binoche stars in Camille Claudel 1915 (Kino Lorber, DVD, Digital HD, VOD), Bruno Dumont’s portrait of the artist during her imprisonment in an insane asylum and based on her correspondence with her brother Paul Claudel, a poet and Christian mystic whose compassion for his fellow man appears more theoretical than practiced. As Camille, famed sculptor and one-time lover of August Rodin, she is an anxious storm of anger and loss, racked with paranoia (she’s convinced that Rodin and his cronies are engineering her imprisonment and trying to poison her). But her greatest loss is not freedom but the ability to express her artistic drive and she is lucid compared to the other, seriously mentally challenged inmates. Her expression reveals an instinctive revulsion for these fellow patients, no doubt in part for the implicit suggestion that she is one of them, but also a compassion when she faces not the patient but the vulnerable human in need of help. The staff sees it in her too and they trust her to look after one or another of the patients at times. The savage duality of so many of Dumont’s characters and cultural collusions from previous films are seen here, but there’s also caring and compassion, at least until the film shifts to her brother Paul (Jean-Luc Vincent) and the insufferable piety that commits service to God at the expense of those on earth. French with English subtitles.
Junk (Breaking Glass, DVD, VOD), the second film by indie director Kevin Hamedani, leaves behind the Zombies of Mass Destruction for a world he knows personally: the independent film festival circuit. Hamedani and co-screenwriter Ramon Isao also take the leading roles, playing former collaborators and best friends who fell out making their last picture and now have to reconnect when the film is accepted at a film festival where they hope to pitch a new project for a famous producer (James Hong). It’s pretty in-jokey, which will limit the audience to film buffs and festival regulars, but Hamedani and Isao have a great chemistry that suggests a long history just in the byplay of their scenes together. And they have a lot of fun satirizing the egos of anxious filmmakers and the party atmosphere of these kinds of second-tier regional festivals. Hamedani shoots this one in his hometown of Seattle (home to plenty of film fests) and fills it with some great indie faces, including Seattle’s breakthrough director Lynn Shelton (who should definitely act more), actor Jake Johnson, and local performers Sean Nelson and Basil Harris (terrific together in Shelton’s My Effortless Brilliance) as an arrogant filmmaker and his toadying assistant. OK Go provides the theme song and even makes an appearance, which is pretty cool. The disc includes commentary by director / star Hamedini, co-writer / star Ramon Isao and co-star Brett Davern, a featurette, deleted scenes, and OK Go music videos.
The Punk Singer (IFC, DVD) is singer / songwriter / founder of the Riot Grrrl movement Kathleen Hanna, who led the bands Bikini Kill and Le Tigre before stepping out of the spotlight in 2005 due to health issues. Director Sini Anderson’s profile of Hanna casts a light on the often overlooked punk music culture of the nineties along with Hanna’s brand of art and politics and her rough journey through a misdiagnosed ailment that derails her career and her life. A great snapshot of a life and an era with rare clips and rousing music. Includes deleted scenes and featurettes.
Beneath (Scream Factory, Blu-ray, DVD, VOD), which was produced for the cable channel Chiller but received a limited theatrical release. It comes to disc with commentary, a 60-minute behind-the-scenes documentary, and featurettes. I review the film and interview director Larry Fessenden on Cinephiled here.
Viola (Cinema Guild, DVD), from Argentina, is a playful piece about love and intrigue and theater from director Matias Piñeiro, who follows the adventures of a young actress who joins a small Shakespeare theater company in Buenos Aires. With filmmaker commentary, the play that inspired the film and a booklet with an essay by Robert Koehler among the supplements.
Let the Fire Burn (Zeitgeist, DVD) recreates the deadly stand-off between Philadelphia authorities and the radical urban group MOVE, which ended with a destructive blaze started by the police that eventually killed 11 people and destroyed 61 homes, entirely with archival news footage and interviews. Features a Q&A with director Jason Osder and a 2002 interview with the sole child survivor of the conflagration.
Delivery Man (Touchstone, Blu-ray, DVD, Digital HD, On Demand) is Ken Scott’s Hollywood remake of his 2011 French-Canadian comedy Starbuck, with Vince Vaughn in the lead as the manchild who discovers hundreds of offspring from his sperm bank donations.
On Friday, March 28 the documentary Mistaken For Strangers (Starz), a profile of the rock band The National on tour by Tom Berninger, brother of the band’s lead singer Matt Berninger, will be released on VOD and Digital platforms same day as theaters.
The horror sequel Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones (Paramount, Digital HD) is available for Digital purchase before disc release.
Maladies (Tribeca, On Demand), a drama starring James Franco and Catherine Keener, can now be viewed via Cable On Demand while it is still rolling out in theaters.
Available to view VOD and On Demand weeks after disc and digital is The Book Thief (Fox).
Chinese Zodiac (Universal, Blu-ray, DVD)
Welcome to the Jungle (Universal, Blu-ray, DVD)
Walking With Dinosaurs: The Movie (Fox, Blu-ray 3D, Blu-ray, DVD)
Best Friends Forever (Horizon, DVD)
Calloused Hands (Horizon, DVD)
Home (eOne, DVD)
Odd Thomas (RLJ/Image, Blu-ray, DVD)
Geography Club (Breaking Glass, DVD)
The Truth About Emanuel (Well Go USA, Blu-ray, DVD)
Avengers Confidential: Black Widow & Punisher (Sony, Blu-ray, DVD, Digital)
Angels in Stardust (Arc, DVD)
Alien Boy: The Life and Death of James Chase (Breaking Glass, DVD, VOD)
In Search of Josephine (Kultur, DVD)
Crave (Phase 4)
Conspiracy (XLrator, DVD)
Machine Head (Anchor Bay, Blu-ray, DVD)
The Appearing (Lionsgate, DVD, Digital HD, VOD)
Evil in the Time of Heroes (Doppelgänger Releasing, DVD, VOD)