Sunday, February 09, 2014

don't worry -- be happy

Some family traditions die hard.

Saturday was Go to Town day.  When I was growing up, we would put on our town clothes whenever our feet would hit our small town center.  Maybe not our Sunday Best.  But, at least, our school clothes.

I was scheduled to sit in the dentist chair in Manzanillo for the followup of my tooth extraction.  So, on went my big boy pants.  Town is no place for shorts.

On Saturday I felt fine.  But I told the dentist that in the middle of the week, the gum was swollen and both of my sinuses felt severely infected.  My headache was bad enough that I had almost driven down for an early examination.

Her reaction?  "Well, your gum and bone are healing quite well.  The sinus pressure may be some blood still draining -- or it could be an infection.  But you are taking your antibiotics -- and you feel fine now.  So, what is there to worry about?"

She didn't even bat an eye when I told her about the specimens I have hacked up that would have qualified me for admission to a TB ward in 1912.  "Don't worry.  It will all be fine."

And my continued dizziness?  "You lose a bit of blood during an extraction.  Your body will build new blood.  Don't worry."

Now, that is my type of doctor.  No Cassandra warnings about impending coronaries or diabetes.  Bobby McFerrin in a smock.

Having received my good news, I stopped at my big three -- Walmart, Comercial Mexicana, and Soriana -- to buy insect spray, a few groceries, and a Fort Knox quantity of printer ink.  When I was shopped out, I realized I had enough time for my favorite activity in Manzanillo.  A movie.

When I walked in, the line at the concession stand made me look carefully at my choices.  I really had no desire to be surrounded by the Mexi-teen gang.  The choice was simple -- The Wolf of Wall Street.

I have long been a fan of Leonardo DiCaprio's acting skills.  With the exception of Jack in Titanic, he always amazes me.  In this film, his physicality astounded me.  It was as if Buster Keaton had been reborn. 

But I had put off seeing the movie because I thought it would be just another stereotypical swipe at capitalism.  However, this was not an Oliver Stone film.  It was Martin
Scorsese.  How could I go wrong?

Overall, I am glad I saw it.  It turns out the film is not about Wall Street at all.  The script is taken from the story of Jordan Belfort, a stock broker who loses his job in the 1987 stock crash.  He then re-builds a fortune in the unregulated penny stocks market -- a business the Wall Street types consider to be several steps below prostitution.

And speaking of prostitution, the movie pulls no punches when it comes to Belfort's telling of his stories.  The illicit and explicit sex.  The language that would shock and shame a sailor.  Greed that does not take into account losses incurred by investors.  And enough drugs to feed -- well, the appetites of penny stock salesmen.

In an odd way, the film is a poke in the eye of the Wall Street elite.  Belfort's salesmen are about as populist and blue collar as you can get.  But that does not make them any more likeable.  In fact, anyone with a sense of conscience will not find much to like in this gang at all.

And that is the point.  They are scumbags.  But they are fascinating scumbags.  And it is completely understandable why investors would trust this unlikely lot with their life savings.

Let me give you one example.  Belfort drives his Lamborghini Countach while severely under the influence of Quaaludes.  When he sees the damaged car the next morning, he sighs in relief:  "It was an absolute miracle I wasn't killed."  And then a throw away line with no sincerity: "And an even bigger miracle I hadn't killed anyone."

I have seen some reviews that claim the film is a morality play that capitalism is evil. 
Scorsese does not make that type of cartoon movie.

This story is as old as Greek tragedy.  It is a tale of personal destruction.  And not destruction that comes unbidden.  The moral is that people who have no other god but materialism are doomed to their own destruction.  A destruction they build themselves.

You can hear its echo as Belfort exhorts his salesmen: "I want you to solve your problems by becoming rich."

If that sounds too Sunday school, Scorsese adds his own twist at the end.  After serving his time in a country club prison, Belfort is out on the speaking circuit winning new converts to his religion of salesmanship.

And the FBI agent who brought down the narco-nosed Duke of the penny stocks?  He is condemned to commuting in a sweaty subway.  Perhaps, with a certain self-righteousness.  But the viewer is left to ponder who is the representative of success?

The movie is not for everyone.  If you are offended by strong (and I mean industrial strength) profanity, do not see this movie.  If sex scenes just shy of an X-rating might offend you, do not see this movie.  If drug use in all of its manifestations cause moral concern for you, don't see this movie.  If greed makes you weep, do not see this movie.

But if you can see each of those as merely plot and character devices to put on a morality play that will cause you to question who you are, you will have an interesting experience.  Plus you get to see one of DiCaprio's best acting workshops that I have seen.

For me, it was the whipped cream on my Saturday sundae.

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