Monday, January 20, 2014

John Frankenheimer: The Train

Growing up with action films in the ‘80s and ‘90s — memorizing every John Woo slow-mo gun battle, every world-weary Bruce Willis character quip, every Ah-nold one-liner, and every single frame of something like Lethal Weapon — I didn’t have to look hard to see the influence that Frankenheimer’s approach to the action film in The Train had on the films that I remember so fondly from my formative years. I love what Matt Zoller Seitz says in his remembrance of The Train, calling it: “A huge, roiling, clanking, screeching, rumbling hulk of mayhem that seizes you from frame one and never lets go, the film takes such visible delight in the image of small, desperate men blowing huge things sky-high that it amounts to the very first Joel Silver picture.”

Indeed, The Train does remind one of those early ‘80s/’90s Joel Silver produced actioners, but it’s also something that those movies so often fail at being: it gets you to care about the characters without spending a whole lot of time on character development. There’s something to be said about the way Frankenheimer keeps his film moving at the clip it does but also makes sure to stop long enough so that the viewer is always able to get their bearing and be sure what the characters’ motivations are. This isn't just a fun action movie because stuff gets blowed-up real good; it’s an impressive technical spectacle because, to be sure, but it's also impressive in how it gets you to care about what's happening despite its economy of dialogue and character development. Again, I’ll invoke the great Matt Zoller Seitz here: The Train “balances intellectualized suspense and primitive violence, so that one quality reinforces the other in a never ending cycle of mechanized frenzy and spooky stillness.”

I’ll get back to that “spooky stillness," first, though, the plot: Set in occupied France during the last days of Nazi control, The Train concerns itself with Paul Labiche (Burt Lancaster), a French railroad engineer and Resistance fighter who must keep a train filled with valuable art from leaving France for Germany. Colonel von Waldheim (Paul Scofield), is the German military officer in charge of the train, and he carries a special affinity for the art collection that he watched over in occupied Paris. His plan is to take art back to his homeland despite orders to the contrary; however, Labiche and his team try to thwart his efforts.
It’s a pretty simple premise, really, and that’s what is so refreshing about it. The motivations for both characters are clear, and we get the classic cat-and-mouse game between Labiche and von Waldheim that would be just as at home in something like (to pick a random ‘90s action movie that I love) Andrew Davis’ Under Siege. And because of The Train’s simplicity, the temptation is there to see the movie as nothing more than impressive setpiece after impressive setpiece.

But Frankenheimer gives us moments that challenges this all-style-no-substance argument like the exchange between our two main characters at the end where von Walheim says, "Those paintings mean as much to you as a string of pearls to an ape!" This statement makes the viewer question Labiche’s motives throughout the film. He may indeed “feel” nothing for the art, so what his motivation then? His sense of duty? Mere revenge? Is it a moral stance (the film does seem to be about the value of life being more important than the value of art). These are questions that most action films don’t ask their audiences to consider, but Frankenheimer does, and he has summed up his reputation as an action director in numerous interviews, calling himself a director of “character-based action movies.”

These deeper character aspects of the film were intended to be more overt during the film’s initial production. Due to the disappointing returns after making Luchino Visconti’s The Leopard, Burt Lancaster was extremely cognizant of his waning stardom. When he signed on to do The Train, the film’s initial director, Arthur Penn, was much more interested in making it a small-scale character study. Nervous that this would only compound his run of bad box office, Lancaster fired the director and called in his favorite for-hire filmmaker Frankenheimer. I have made mention of this before, but their working relationship always makes me laugh. Perhaps Lancaster brought Frankenheimer on because he knew that Frankenheimer would let him do his thing and instead focus on the technical aspects of the film.

And so it was: Frankenheimer asked the studio to shut down production in order to allow him the appropriate amount of time to rewrite the script, turning The Train from small-scale character study to larger, more ambitious action film. But again, that doesn’t the mean the film is without heart, nor does it mean that Frankenheimer’s only imprint on the film is from the technical side of things. The Train’s character's aren’t merely cutouts designed to stand in front of large-scale setpieces where lots of things explode.

In fact, Frankenheimer has said, “Actually, all of my films have the same theme, and that's a definite choice on my part. I take a character and push him to his physical or emotional limit, to see how he reacts. I think that's the only way you can ever really reach the limits of a human personality, and that's what I'm interested in exploring in my films." So instead of making the film a smaller-scale character study, Frankenheimer heightened the action in order to achieve the same goal that Penn was going for.

A quick note about the actors playing those characters: Both Lancaster and Scofield are great as two stubborn men engaged in a battle of wills (there is a small role for Jeanne Moreau, playing an innkeeper , who assists Labiche, but it feels like another shoehorned female role in an all-male movie a la Ava Gardner’s role in Seven Days in May). Once the action starts, and the motivations for both characters becomes more about defeating the other, The Train never lets up, and neither do the characters. Von Waldheim and Labiche both suffer from a case of severe tunnel vision and are willing to go to great lengths (and in some cases even kill) in order to win their cat-and-mouse game, disregarding the effect it has on those around them. I love the way Scofield utters that final line to Lancaster’s Labiche (stated above); it’s his final attempt to differentiate himself as being better/different than Labiche. Lancaster is equal to the task (I’m warming up to him the more and more I see him in these strong, silent type roles) and a real physical presence on the screen (I also love that he doesn’t even attempt to do a French accent). Lancaster’s performance, in fact, gives credence to the notion that The Train is a masculine action film at its very core.

I want to get back, for a moment, to that phrase that Matt Zoller Seitz used in his essay on the film: “spooky stillness.” Yes, the film is masculine (Burt Lancaster being the avatar for such masculinity as it sure seems like he’s doing his own stunts here, and pay attention to the scene where he is panting like a madman as he crawls up a steep hill and then takes a dangerous fall down the hill in, again, what looks like the actor doing his own stunt), but it also slows down for more reverent moments. And this is due in large part to the way Frankenheimer frames his shots or slows down just enough so that we let the power of a scene wash over us while only hearing the mechanical noises of the train.

The framing in the film is classic Frankenheimer — as we’ve discussed numerous times during this retrospective, he frequently uses wide angle lenses and shoots characters in a basic two shot but employs deep focus — and the most effective of these framing devices is when the elderly train engineer, Papa Boule (Michel Simon), is executed. While Labiche pleads with Colonel von Waldheim, we see in the background the three German soldiers shoot their guns, and then from behind a wall we see Boule’s body slump down. It’s a powerful moment — made more so by the way Frankenheimer frames it and then isn’t in a hurry to rush to the next scene. “Spooky stillness,” indeed.

The Train is one of the most brilliantly kinetic action films I’ve ever seen. And even if one chooses to disregard its obvious (or “low hanging,” an annoying term that so many poo-pooers like to say and then pat themselves on the back) existentialist tone and themes, it still has its technical merits to fall back on — it still can be regarded and studied as an important and masterful piece of filmmaking purely based on its technical merits. Every frame of this black-and-white beauty has something interesting to look at: the characters faces (again, often shot close-up and in a two shot with deep focus), the grimy and gray setting that fills the frame, the way the action drives the narrative (the editing is really something). It’s a film with some serious impact — there’s a real tangible quality about the film — as Frankenheimer gives us shots of the giant train barreling towards the camera (we understand early how massive this piece of machinery is), or showing in high angle long shots of the train barely escaping huge explosions and a potentially disastrous derailing (which, as shots go, must have been hell setting up for). It’s truly a piece of filmmaking that holds up — not only does it hold up, but it puts nearly every modern action film to shame — and showcases what Frankenheimer was best at. The Train, like the best actioners from any era, is a film you feel.

Frankenheimer would return to the paranoid thriller with his next film, Seconds (it would conclude his unofficial “paranoid trilogy”), but would close out the decade with more elaborate, setpiece oriented films like Grand Prix and The Gypsy Moths. But neither of those films are quite as good at balancing the character elements with the technical elements, making The Train one of Frankenheimer’s best, most memorable films of his very prolific and successful run during the ‘60s (we’ll talk more about this with his other films, but the ‘60s were an interesting time for Frankenheimer — perhaps the last decade where he was a real “known” filmmaker before the Scorsese’s and Spielberg’s and Friedkin’s and Coppola’s burst onto the scene kind of leaving him in the dust).

Monday, January 6, 2014

John Frankenheimer: Seven Days in May

Based on the best-selling novel by Fletcher Knebel and Charles Waldo Bailey II, Seven Days in May is sometimes referred to as Frankenheimer resting on his laurels by following up his previous film — the masterful The Manchurian Candidate — with yet another paranoid political thriller. That’s a bit unfair, though. Seven Days in May doesn’t have much in common with The Manchurian Candidate. It takes itself too seriously to be a satire, and it seems that Frankenheimer and his screenwriter, Rod Serling, are too busy emphasizing Big Important Speeches than ensuring that there’s any kind of drama or intrigue in the film. The film has a great cast and a fantastic opening sequence, but it ultimately is just too talky. Some of those talky scenes really work thanks to the acting (especially a scene near the end between Burt Lancaster and Frederic March), but ultimately the film feels a lot like Frankenheimer’s previously flawed films like The Birdman of Alcatraz: a film heavy on exposition with some good acting and good setpiece mixed in — but there isn’t much more to it than that.

The premise of Seven Days in May is as follows: Lancaster plays General James M. Scott, who is convinced that President Jordan Lyman (March) is too soft on America's enemies. He feels so deeply about this that he plots a military takeover of the United States. Every time President Lyman gets close to figuring out the scheme, though, he is derailed by political protocol. Eventually, Lyman seeks the aide of the man who first uncovered the plot: Colonel "Jiggs" Casey (Kirk Douglas), who is more of a reluctant aide as his ties are very strong to the General.

You see, General Scott has formed a secret base in New Mexico, which serves as headquarters for his plan to overthrow the government. But Colonel Casey begins to think things are odd when he hears of this base — which he is unfamiliar with — as well as references to other bases and units and suspicious protocols that he is unfamiliar with. All of this piques his interest, concerning him to the point where he has no choice but to set aside his loyalty to the General and tell the president about his suspicions that General Scott is planning a military coup d’etat under the guise of a military exercise. 

Seven Days in May is one of the first paranoid thrillers, but it’s not one of the better ones. There are parts where the film really moves — especially in a “The West Wing” kind of a way where there isn’t a whole lot happening on screen, but the acting is so good and the delivery of the dialogue so stellar, that it’s hardly noticeable that we’re essentially just watching people sit/stand around and talk.  The film may feel a bit dated (unlike Manchurian) to some since — as Frankenheimer admitted in the DVD commentary — modern audiences would never be able to accept the premise because such a secret plan in the modern technological age could never go by undetected the way it does in this film. He also stated that audiences would never accept the premise because modern opinions of politicians is lower than it has ever been, so audiences would simply roll their eyes at the President’s speech that ends the film.

But I don’t know that I agree with Frankenheimer. Audiences bought Aaron Sorkin’s idealized White House in “The West Wing,” and as I mentioned above, the film’s emphasis on big speeches about honor and duty and other bits of exposition underlining American Pride is something that would be right up Sorkin’s alley — so the film doesn’t feel too dated.

And whether or not the film may or may not be dated isn’t even the film’s biggest flaw — that would be Rod Serling’s (best known for “The Twilight Zone,” obviously) script and the unconvincing deus ex machina ending. A lot was changed from the source material, actually, most notably the ending where General Scott gets into a car and simply drives home—his name disgraced and career over after his plan has been outed—whereas in the novel Scott drives his car head-on into another car, killing himself. There’s also the matter of the totally unconvincing subplot concerning General Scott’s former mistress, which feels like nothing more than a way to shoehorn Ava Gardner into the film (otherwise it would have been all men in the film). In addition to these flaws, the film is just too talky in parts and is a bit of a slog through the middle portions where it becomes a pretty dull procedural, but that soggy middle is bookended by some great moments that make the film worth seeking out (and make it so much more than a mere Manchurian clone). 

The opening of Seven Days in May — a protest outside of the White House (which was legitimately shot outside of the front gate of the White House without problems thanks to Pierre Salinger’s, President Kennedy’s Press Secretary, insistence that President Kennedy wanted the film made) gone awry — is one of Frankenheimer’s standout setpieces. It’s really the primary reason to check out the film. In my previous essay on The Manchurian Candidate, I brought up the quote from Jonathan Rosenbaum where he said that The Manchurian Candidate could “conceivably be the only commercial American film linked to the French New Wave.” Here, that link is more overt than ever. The immediacy Frankenheimer and his DP Ellsworth Fredericks give the scene and the way they free their camera from the tripod is really quite jarring when you consider the small, talky movie that follows.

Here, Frankenheimer once again relies on his experiences with live television as he moves through the crowd of protesters, making it feel like we’re right there in the fight, and at one point even mounts his camera on the back of police motorcycle. The scene is chaotic (and reminds the viewer of the aesthetic choices used in the fantastic ending to Manchurian), and it is no doubt exciting stuff for the time, but, unfortunately, it is also the most exciting and intriguing thing about the film as every scene that follows fails to live up to this great opening.

Frankenheimer's style of direction is perfect for this film. He uses the same framing techniques and deep focus and wide-angle shots as well as low camera angles that he’s used in all of his previous films. He also worries about the filmmaking and lets his actors act. In an interview with Frank Sinatra on the DVD for The Manchurian Candidate, Sinatra noted how impressed he was with Frankenheimer that he trusted his actors to make the right choices when it came to the script. This is probably because Frankenheimer is a director that is more concerned with the technical aspects of the film than with choices the actors make (why else would he continue to work with Burt Lancaster when the two didn’t really see eye-to-eye?) , and even though the opening scene is a great example of Frankenheimer’s gift for memorable setpieces, Seven Days in May is also a great showcase for its actors, showing that Frankenheimer could facilitate some great performances out of a low key character drama.

Douglas is great as Colonel Casey, displaying an array of conflicting emotions as he juggles loyalty to his country and loyalty to the General. He was also more invested than if this were just a normal job, for he was one of the major driving forces in getting the film made. Initially he was to play General Scott; however, he insisted that Burt Lancaster be in the film and take the much juicer role. This was all very much to the chagrin of Frankenheimer, who, as we’ve discussed in other entries of this retrospect, had some major problems with the star. Ironically, Douglas and Frankenheimer would be the ones that would butt-heads on the set, while Lancaster would continue to collaborate with Frankenheimer on two more films (The Train and The Gypsy Moths).

Lancaster and Frederic March have a fantastic verbal confrontation at the end that, in addition to the opening protest sequence, is the other highlight of the film. I loved the was Lancaster just barrels through the President’s arguments because he knows he’s right, and portrays this character as a man obsessed with his righteousness.It’s not just Douglass, Lancaster, and March that are worth watching, though: Seven Days in May also has a couple of nice supporting performances. Character actors Martin Balsam and Edmond O'Brien are great as President Lyman's advisors.

In wrapping this up, I don’t want it to sound like I’m ragging on Seven Days in May too much. There’s a lot to like here, but the film is a bit of let down coming on the heels of The Manchurian Candidate. Still, the opening is fantastic, and the acting is top notch. Ultimately, it feels a bit like a film Frankenheimer needed to get off of his chest and then move on something less political. However, Burt Lancaster would call upon the filmmaker to rescue yet another one of his films (read: let Lancaster do whatever he wanted), this time from Arthur Penn, as Frankenheimer was brought on for a complete overhaul of The Train, taking it from in-depth character study to action film. The results are a finished product that is certainly the opposite of Seven Days in May.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

The Wolf of Wall Street

I want to hold off on making any kind of declarative statements about The Wolf of Wall Street until I see it again. It reminded me a bit of when I saw Django Unchained last year (coincidentally another film released on Christmas day that has a great performance from Leonardo DiCaprio): here’s a film from one of my favorite American filmmakers, but something just felt off about it. The pacing felt all wrong at times in Tarantino’s film, but I chalked that up to the fact that it was, sadly, the first time he had to work without his go-to editor Sally Menke (who had tragically died in 2010), whose absence was quite noticeable. Martin Scorsese, however, didn’t have to replace a long-time collaborator and good friend at editor, so he doesn’t have that excuse, for Thelma Schoonmaker did work on The Wolf of Wall Street. Which makes the whole thing so confounding: how in the hell did these two think this version of The Wolf of Wall Street resembled a complete film? Not only does the film resemble something hastily stuck together with scotch tape, it also lacks the headlong energy of the film it is most being compared to, Casino.

I’m not saying it’s bad — because there are many, many times throughout its three hour runtime that I was enthralled (or laughing my ass off, for the film is very funny). But it doesn’t really earn its length. I never felt like Casino was a three hour film, but boy did I begin to feel that final 60 minutes of The Wolf of Wall Street. And I think one of the film’s biggest flaws is that it think excess is a subtle substitute for that kind of headlong energy found in Casino or Bringing Out the Dead. It uses some of the same narrative tricks that Goodfellas implemented (there’s a moment where DiCaprio talks directly to the audience, explaining what was going on in the room where he works, Henry Hill-like) like multiple voice over narrations, but it lacks the urgency in how that story is told. The film is lacking something; there’s no getting around it. Perhaps my concerns would disappear with another viewing. Like I said, I want to see The Wolf of Wall Street again. It almost demands a second viewing because of just how much happening on the screen while you watch it.

But the story of Jordan Belfort (DiCaprio) and his merry band of Hedonists (most notably Donnie Azoff played by Jonah Hill), and all of the debauched yens they succumb to, begins to tread water after about the 150 minute mark. The movie feels so disjointed at the end (I thought it had ended two different times). Oh, here’s Belfort on a boat in a storm; here he is sitting at a table talking to some federal agents; here he is making an infomercial; here he is talking to those same agents again; here is wearing a wire; here he is getting arrested...and so on. All of those moments feel so disconnected; or, better yet, they feel like they’ve been dropped in on the viewer with their larger context removed. Those scenes with Belfort made me shift in my seat (I never checked the time, but I was tempted to) because they kept coming on the heels of what felt like natural endings for the film. It wasn’t as bad as Return of the King, but it made me think of it.

Over and over, the film would gain momentum and then screech to a halt; its rhythms in certain sections felt so uncharacteristically off. Perhaps this is because of the locked-in release date for the film, and so Scorsese and Schoonmaker just threw together what they could (apparently the film had to go from a four hour cut to a three hour cut) and it looks every bit a slapped together effort in parts. The aforementioned scene of Belfort and Azoff riding out a storm on Belfort’s yacht seems so superfluous (my wife turned to me at that point and just asked, “what the hell is this movie?”). And I get it, I mean that’s probably the point of Scorsese’s film: everything about these people’s lives is superfluous. But boy did that scene just come off as flat to me. Again, excessiveness on the screen does not necessarily equate to energy emanating from the screen. So I was just waiting for that scene to come to an end and put me out of my misery.

Similarly, there are some odd cuts at the end. When Belfort wears a wire and is told to incriminate all of his co-workers, there is a moment where he’s eating lunch with Azoff, and he writes a note on a napkin that informs him he’s wearing a wire and that he shouldn’t say anything that can incriminate him. Well, the next scene is Belfort being awoken by the federal agents (led by Kyle Chandler of “Friday Night Lights”) holding the napkin, informing Belfort that he’s going to jail. Okay. How did he get the napkin? Did Azoff rat out Belfort? Was it found with the feds raided the building (probably)? I don’t need a beat by beat explanation of how they got the napkin, but it’s such an odd cut that feels designed to do nothing more than quickly tidy up the movie.

Okay, I’m getting too negative here. Like I said, there is so much to like about The Wolf of Wall Street. Primarily, this is Leo’s movie. He owns every scene and seems to be having a helluva time playing Belfort. Make no mistake, the film depicts these men as the douchebags they are, but that doesn’t automatically disqualify the film as comedy. The Wolf of Wall Street is really funny in parts, and that’s almost all due to the sheer enthusiasm and energy brought to the performance by DiCaprio. It’s the best thing I’ve seen him do, and it may just go down as the one performance he’s most remembered for.

Specifically, I am thinking of two scenes that are  brilliant displays of physical acting. The first is a moment where Belfort, via voiceover, informs of his morning ritual with his wife (the fantastic newcomer Margot Robbie): an hilarious argument where Belfort, perched on his knees (its almost like he’s in a constant position of asking for forgiveness), argues with his wife about the name Venice. She wants to know if he’s been messing around on her because he’s been saying this name in his sleep. While he tries to think of a way to weasel out of the precarious spot he’s in, Scorsese cuts away to one of the film’s more wild (and wildly hilarious) scenes where Belfort has hot wax poured on him by a dominatrix named Venice. The energy that DiCaprio expends in this scene is nothing short of phenomenal, mostly because DiCaprio’s face turning red and his neck veins bulging, it never feels he’s overacting in a bad way. And that’s why it works so damn well. It’s one of the best scenes in the film, particularly in the way that Robbie plays off DiCaprio, milking the gag of her throwing cold water on this wild animal, and him getting more and more pissed each time she does it.

Don’t get me wrong, though, it’s absolutely over-the-top, but it is so in the best possible way — the way in which Scorsese so brilliantly and singularly does excessive. And perhaps the best scene in the film (and certainly the one I’ve heard the msot people talk about) is the scene where Belfort, hopped up on Quaaludes (“I discovered a new phase: the Bell’s cerebral palsy.”), tries to make it home before Azoff, who is also hopped up on Quaaludes and is using Belfort’s recently tapped phone, says something stupid (likely) that could incriminate them both. It’s a showcase scene for Leo, who I really want to see do a physical comedy now after witnessing his contorted efforts to get to his car. The scene is some seriously brilliant physical acting by DiCaprio, and it is a scene that somehow pulls off being hilarious, sad, and pathetic.

I don’t understand the complaints levied against Scorsese and co., saying that he doesn’t condemn these characters enough. Honestly, how can anyone watch the scene where Belfort explains via voice over that Brad (Jon Bernthal from “The Walking Dead”, who is really great in this) commits suicide and then segues to the next scene with a nonchalant, “Anyway,” and think that Scorsese is letting these guys off easy. The final hour of the film felt like nothing but condemnation. In fact, the only character that I was remotely happy to see show up near the end was Bernthal’s Brad because at least his crimes felt petty enough that you didn’t mind laughing at him. There is an argument between him and Azoff near the end of the film that takes place in a parking lot that seemingly goes on forever. I was so tired of Jonah Hill by this point that all I wanted to do was yell at the screen, “Just give him the damn briefcase already!” It’s another example of how some scenes at the end could have been tinkered with, but I also think Scorsese is doing something here that is just as deliberate as the scene with the yacht in the storm: he’s making sure we’re sick of seeing these characters. They are deplorable, and the scene in the parking lot was like finger nails on a chalkboard to me, and I think that’s the way Scorsese and his writer Terence Winter (the two work together on “Boardwalk Empire”) want it to come across.

At the beginning of the film, I was laughing a lot at/with these characters. So kudos to Scorsese and Winter for making sure audiences turn on these people. This isn’t a tragedy because we feel bad for these characters (I love the pseudo-tragic tone and the way Scorsese shoots the scene where Belfort attempts to kidnap his own child — there’s nothing tragic about it; it’s merely pathetic) and what comes of their lives; it’s a tragedy because nothing is learned in this movie. These men and their lifestyles and their twisted ethos is perpetual. By the end, nothing has changed (I love the callback to the “sell me this pen” moment at the end), and Belfort is simply just peddling the same bullshit in a different arena. We’re not supposed to think their antics are cute or funny, but that doesn’t mean we’re not supposed to laugh during the film. And since the film is funny and I did laugh a lot, that doesn’t mean I believe that the filmmakers are making light and condoning Belfort’s escapades.

I’ve seen The Wolf of Wall Street described as a three hour version of the memorable cocaine-induced montage that marks the end for Henry Hill in Goodfellas. I don’t know. There are too many moments during The Wolf of Wall Street that lack that kind of frenetic energy. Besides, I think Scorsese already made that movie — it was called Bringing Out the Dead (Scorsese’s most criminally underrated films). I think the sloppiness of the film’s editing gets in the way of The Wolf of Wall Street being on a par with the exhilarating craziness of Bringing Out the Dead or, as I alluded to above, the headlong energy found in Casino with its great musical cues, patented Scorsese whip pans, or other techniques the old master usually employs. Again, I really feel like the editing here is showing us all the excess in order to mask how un-energetic it comes across. Which, again, may have been Scorsese’s intent.

Rhythm and pacing is such an odd thing to criticize when discussing a Martin Scorsese/Thelma Schoonmaker collaboration. But no matter how tempted I may be to give Scorsese a pass because I know what he may have intended to do based on his previous films, there’s just no getting around the biggest hang-ups I had with The Wolf of Wall Street. And I think this is why I’m so excited to revisit the film. Now that I know Scorsese’s endgame, I’ll be curious to see if the film works on me differently a second time. Perhaps I won’t be so distracted (in a good way) by DiCaprio’s acting that I’ll be able to focus more on what Scorsese was trying to say with his aesthetic choices (I admit, even though I didn’t think music worked the way it usually works in a Scorsese film, I loved his use of the Lemonheads’ version of “Mrs. Robinson”), and maybe not just understand more fully what Scorsese was going for, but to see if I’m wrong in my assessment that The Wolf of Wall Street is a sloppy film filled with some spectacular scenes that never quite coalesce into the kind of finished product we come to expect from the American master.