The Bye Bye Man
The Bye Bye Man is the kind of film that is so boring and bereft of anything of possible interest that it becomes infuriating.
Martin Scorsese's "The Wolf of Wall Street" is abashed and shameless, exciting and exhausting, disgusting and illuminating; it's one of the most entertaining films ever made about loathsome men. Its star Leonardo DiCaprio has compared it to the story of the Roman emperor Caligula, and he's not far off the mark.
Adapted by Terence Winter from the memoir by stockbroker Jordan Belfort, who oozed his way into a fortune in the 1980s and '90s, this is an excessive film about excess, and a movie about appetites whose own appetite for compulsive pleasures seems bottomless. It runs three hours, and was reportedly cut down from four by Scorsese's regular editor Thelma Schoonmaker. It's a testament to Scorsese and Winter and their collaborators that one could imagine watching these cackling swine for five hours, or ten, while still finding them fascinating, and our own fascination with them disturbing. This is a reptilian brain movie. Every frame has scales.
The middle-class, Queens-raised Belfort tried and failed to establish himself on Wall Street in a more traditional way—we see his tutelage in the late '80s at a blue chip firm, under the wing of a grinning sleazeball played by Matthew McConaughey—but got laid off in the market crash of 1987. He reinvented himself on Long Island by taking over a penny stock boiler room and giving it an old money name, Stratton Oakmont, to gain the confidence of middle- and working-class investors. Per Wikipedia, at its peak, "the firm employed over 1000 stock brokers and was involved in stock issues totaling more than $1 billion, including an equity raising for footwear company Steve Madden Ltd." Belfort and his company specialized in "pump and dump" operations: artificially blowing up the value of a nearly worthless stock, then selling it at a big profit, after which point the value drops and the investors lose their money. Belfort was indicted in 1998 for money laundering and securities fraud, spent nearly two years in federal prison and was ordered to pay back $110 million to investors he'd deceived.
Taking its cues from gangster pictures, "Wolf" shows how Belfort rose from humble origins, becoming rich and notorious (the title comes from an unflattering magazine profile that caught the attention of federal prosecutors). This Robin Hood-in-reverse builds himself a team of merry men drawn from various sundry corners of his life. All have both given names and Damon Runyon-esque nicknames: Robbie Feinberg, aka "Pinhead" (Brian Sacca), Alden Kupferberg, aka "Sea Otter" (Henry Zebrowski), the dreadfully-toupeed "Rugrat" Nicky Koskoff (P.J. Byrne), "The Depraved Chinaman" Chester Ming (Kenneth Choi), and Brad Bodnick (Shane Bernthal of "The Walking Dead"), a DeNiro-esque neighborhood hothead who's known as the Quaalude King of Bayside. His office enforcer is his volcanic dad (Rob Reiner), who screams about expenditures and workplace sleaze, but often seems to live vicariously through the trading floor's young wolves.