Reviews — July 4

Upon recommending “Wolf of Wall Street” to me, a friend called it a modern day “Citizen Kane.” While that’s an overstatement, the films do tackle a similar theme: How far the greedy can fall when their kingdoms crumble. 

Leonardo DiCaprio gives a stunning performance as amoral stockbroker Jordan Belfort, the most despicable brand of robber baron. Jonah Hill contributes a great comedic presence as Belfort’s business partner. 

From the beginning, it’s easy to see that Belfort’s story will end at rock bottom. But on the way up, watching his hubris and narcissism play out against a backdrop of unbridled capitalism is intoxicating. I even found myself almost rooting for him.

At times, though, the movie feels like little more than a frat party on steroids. By the second hour, the 1,001 creative ways to take cocaine and Quaaludes began to grow tiresome, and near the end I just wanted the movie to be over. The last drug scene is the best and funniest scene in the film; it just should have come 45 minutes sooner.

“Wolf” joins a recent crop of movies pointing out the dangers of excess to a recession-battered nation. Whether it will become a seminal document of a time and place is unknown, but for now, as the country struggles to recover and too many folks still lack jobs, it shows that Hollywood is at least thinking about the consequences.

If nothing else, it reminds us once again that we will never have our Rosebud.

“Wolf of Wall Street” (2013) Directed by Martin Scorsese. Starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Jonah Hill, Margot Robbie, Matthew McConaughey, Kyle Chandler. 180 minutes. Rated R.  


Have you ever put your foot in your mouth? Failed to mention one of your faults when you met someone new? Started talking, realized you’re spewing nonsense, but not been able to stop? Accidentally burned down a beloved landmark?

If you’ve ever done any of these things, you’ll appreciate “An Arsonist’s Guide to Writers’ Homes in New England.” Even if you don’t like the book, you have to love the title — it’s one of those that will stop you in your tracks at the library: No need to go all the way to the stacks, just grab this book and head for the check-out desk.

The title is hugely funny, so the novel must be, too. Right?

Well, I thought so. Not everyone does. Online reviewers are very polarized — some love it and some really, really hate it.

Which main character/narrator Sam Pulsifer would probably appreciate. Everything he does is either over the top or completely low key; there’s really no middle ground here.

Sam grew up in Amherst, Massachusetts, hearing horror stories about the local literary landmark, the Emily Dickinson house. At 18, he decides to see for himself, sneaking in at night to find out what all the fuss is about. Unfortunately, he’s also trying to learn to smoke to fit in with his peers. He drops a cigarette, and up goes the iconic structure. Very, very unfortunately, docents Mr. and Mrs. Coleman go up with it.

A decade later, Sam gets out of prison. Since his parents don’t want him at home, he goes to a hilariously inept college, majors in packaging science (think of high-tech items such as the unbreakable mayonnaise jar) and finds a mate. They settle down in a bleak subdivision optimistically named Camelot and live happily.

But not ever-after. The Colemans’ orphaned son shows up to take his revenge. Then it’s a wild, wacky and extremely wordy tumble to the conclusion.

The book might have benefited from a trim of 10 to 20 percent. I’d start by axing the foul-mouthed, Twain-hating literature professor.

On the other hand, how could you lose sentences like this:

“The snow had stopped falling sometime earlier, and the sky had cleared, so that you could name the stars above, assuming you’d learned their names in the first place.”

It kept me laughing all the way through.

“An Arsonist’s Guide to Writers’ Homes in New England,” by Brock Clarke, Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 2007.

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