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Movies: 'The Wolf of Wall Street,' 'Anchorman 2' & 'The Secret Life of Walter Mitty'

Published 3:29 pm, Friday, December 27, 2013

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  • "The Wolf of Wall Street," starring Leonardo DiCaprio and directed by Martin Scorsese, is based on the memoir of a Wall Street trader who served time in jail. Photo: Contributed Photo / Westport News contributed
    "The Wolf of Wall Street," starring Leonardo DiCaprio and directed by Martin Scorsese, is based on the memoir of a Wall Street trader who served time in jail. Photo: Contributed Photo

 

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Following are Susan Granger's reviews of the latest movies playing in area theaters:

"THE WOLF OF WALL STREET"

In the "Hollywood Reporter," Leonardo DiCaprio referred to this raw, 165-minute cinematic bacchanal as a "modern-day Caligula." That's an apt description for the hedonistic Wall Street saga, which is peppered with wild orgies, as crude, money-hungry, drug-fueled swindlers cavort, celebrating how they've deluded and cheated naive investors, spending their money on hookers, liquor, cocaine, heroin and Quaaludes.

When sinister, smooth-talking stockbroker Julian Belfort (DiCaprio) and his sidekick Donnie Azoff (Jonah Hill) make a killing with penny stocks, it's only the beginning. Soon their Stratton Oakmont brokerage house is raking in millions every minute, epitomizing America's amoral addiction to the acquisition of wealth.

Based on Jordan Belfort's self-serving memoir and scripted as an episodic black comedy about moral corruption by Terence Winter (creator of HBO's "Boardwalk Empire"), it's directed by Martin Scorsese as a gleefully vulgar glorification of the Seven Deadly Sins -- primarily greed, plus pride, gluttony, sloth, envy, wrath and lust -- with sex/nudity scenes that earn its MPAA hard-R rating.

In addition to needless repetition and despicable excess, there are no sympathetic characters, no contrition and no redemption. Indeed, after arrogant Belfort spends 22 months in a country-club prison for securities fraud and money laundering, he's eager to carve out a new career: motivating future salesmen to fleece the flock.

This is the fifth collaboration between 38-year-old DiCaprio and 72-year-old Scorsese, who share a similar irreverence about utilizing film as an art form -- in this case, depicting obscenely ostentatious debauchery. DiCaprio and Hill authentically embody their obsessive, detestably narcissistic characters, while additional participants include scene-stealing Matthew McConaughey and suave Jean Dujardin -- along with Kyle Chandler, Margot Robbie, Rob Reiner and Jon Favreau.

On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "The Wolf of Wall Street" is a cynical, unconventional, edgy 8 -- and it's incredibly polarizing. While some men may relish the exuberant, alpha-male energy, many women will find the depravity not only disgusting but also repugnant. Greed is not good -- it's horrifying -- and absurdly hilarious.

"ANCHORMAN 2: THE LEGEND CONTINUES"

You have to admire how Will Ferrell has been relentlessly promoting this sequel to 2004's "The Legend of Ron Burgundy." His 70 different Dodge Durango commercials upped Chrysler's year-over-year sales 59 percent in October and 36 percent in November. Indeed, Ferrell has established his arrogant news anchor persona as part of our pop culture, just as Peter Sellers was indelibly identified as bumbling Inspector Clouseau.

This begins in Manhattan in 1980, when Ron Burgundy (Ferrell) and his co-anchor wife, Veronica Corningstone (Christina Applegate), are summoned to the office of the head news honcho (Harrison Ford), where Veronica's promoted but Ron's fired. Furious, Ron deserts Veronica and their son Walter (Judah Nelson), departing for Sea World back in San Diego, where he once again fumbles. But then an enterprising producer (Dylan Baker) offers him a gig on Global News Network, the first 24-hour cable news channel, allowing him not only to reunite his old team for this new venture but also to try to win back Veronica, who has taken up with a psychotherapist (Greg Kinnear).

The visionary secret of Ron's success this time 'round is simple: "Why tell people what they need to hear? Why not tell them what they want to hear?" As long as ratings rise, that works for GNN's Aussie owner (Josh Lawson) and general manager (Meagan Good), while humiliating Ron's vain rival (James Marsden).

Fearlessly scripted by Ferrell and director Adam McKay, it's a distinctively character-driven comedy, focusing on the improvisational quirkiness of investigative reporter Brian Fantana (Paul Rudd), sportscaster Champ Kind (David Koechner), and wacky weatherman Brick Tamland (Steve Carell), who falls desperately in love with an equally daft GNN secretary (Kristen Wiig).

All this builds to a crescendo when the competing news teams confront one another, aided and abetted by an impressively star-studded cluster of surprise cameos, including the ghost of Stonewall Jackson and a Minotaur.

On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues" is a slyly silly, subversively stupid 6, which is exactly what you'd expect.

"THE SECRET LIFE OF WALTER MITTY"

There's fun galore as Ben Stiller re-imagines humorist James Thurber's whimsically poignant 1939 New Yorker short story about a daydreamer, living a life of quiet desperation.

Meek Walter Mitty (Stiller) is a backroom office staffer at Life magazine in New York. He has a crush on co-worker Cheryl Melhoff (Kristen Wiig) but is too shy to ask her out on a date. Instead, he fantasizes about how he could woo and win her heart. His exotic, romantic reveries are in stark contrast with the economic reality that Life will soon go digital and, according to callous executive Ted (Adam Scott), all non-vital employees will be fired. But there's one last print issue -- and Walter, as the magazine's "negative asset manager" -- has somehow misplaced the pivotal photograph for the final commemorative cover that was sent by revered, peripatetic photojournalist Sean O'Connell (Sean Penn). Determined to retrieve the missing shot, he pursues elusive O'Connell, following him to Greenland, Iceland and Afghanistan.

Cleverly adapted by Steven Conrad and adroitly directed by Stiller ("Zoolander," "Tropic Thunder"), it's filled with quirky, wistful wonderment. While the message is far from subtle, it's heartfelt and exhilarating, particularly when timid Walter realizes his own potential: jumping out of a helicopter with a drunken pilot (Olafur Olafsson), swimming with sharks and -- best of all -- skateboarding toward an erupting volcano. For film aficionados, there's also a spoof of "Benjamin Button." While the strong supporting cast includes Patton Oswalt, Shirley MacLaine and Kathryn Hahn, it's really all Stiller's show.

Hollywood history: back in 1947, Samuel Goldwyn's "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty" became one of playful Danny Kaye's most popular comedies, featuring Virginia Mayo and Boris Karloff. Over the years, there have been plans for remakes starring Jim Carrey, Owen Wilson or Sasha Baron Cohen -- but, until now, none panned out.

On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty" is a sincerely sweet, if somewhat sappy 7. It's a zany holiday fantasy that should amuse the whole family.