The Casual Blog

Tag: Leonardo DiCaprio

A wintry mix, musical Mormons, and Wall Street wolves

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It started to snow and sleet in Raleigh around noon Wednesday, and Red Hat and many other businesses shut down that afternoon. There were many who got stuck on the road and lost power, but I was able to walk home, which was cozy and warm. The next morning Larisa couldn’t make it to our personal training session, so I worked out in the little gym on our building’s top floor. Just after sunrise, I got some pictures of clouds and ice.
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It was windy and cold, and the sidewalks were icy, when I walked to work on Thursday. The office was officially closed. It was pleasant to have some uninterrupted time to think, read, and write. I worked on an amicus brief for the Supreme Court concerning a complex legal and social problem, and felt the flow. I’d been scheduled to do a speaking engagement for the NC Bar on Thursday afternoon, but this was cancelled on account of weather, so I could make some good progress on the brief.
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On Friday we went to see the musical The Book of Mormon in Durham. Diane, my mother-in-law, generously treated us to the seats. I was glad to see the show, which had some good laughs. But the things I thought were good were mostly in the dialog and lyrics. The music was almost willfully unoriginal. At its best, it sounded like a really good commercial for a new Ford. But I will say the soaring anthem, I am a Mormon (and a Mormon just believes) is, however derivative, a truly clever, and sort of moving, hoot.

I expected to feel a little guilty for being complicit in making fun of a minority religion, especially when there are people who I really like and respect who subscribe to it. But the Mormons actually come off as mostly likeable, responsible, and with high ideals, and with the same problems as everybody else. Of course, the doctrine seems bizarre to non-believers. But a lot of the barbs could easily be read as aimed at religion in general.
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There was an interview with Leonardo DiCaprio in the Saturday NY Times about The Wolf of Wall Street, which we saw last weekend. While I didn’t think it was a movie for the ages, and did think it was too long, I also found myself thinking about it through the week which means it touched something.

The subject matter is the rise and fall of a penny stock boiler room fraudster, and the atmosphere is one of extreme excess – the biggest mansion, biggest yacht, most exotic cars, most beautiful prostitutes, and lots and lots of cocaine. LD is in almost every scene, and holds our interest, as a character with incredible drive and confidence, and an absolute indifference to the plight of the people he’s exploiting. He’s addicted, not only to drugs, but even more to money. He’s sick, but also recognizably human.

I suspected, and the interview tended to confirm, that Scorsese and DiCaprio viewed the penny stock king as emblematic of the more-difficult-to-dramatize Wall Street shenanigans of the mid-2000s leading up to the crash of 2008. Of course, pure stock fraud and financial engineering + speculation aren’t the same thing, but they both run on greed and require similar heedlessness and indifference to others.
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A sweet but sick dog, a touching movie, and a concert of Renaissance music

Stuart Tiller feeling better

Sally believes that Stuart has the most friends of anyone in our building, and from our elevator rides down to take him out to pee, I’m certain that more people know his name than know mine. He’s a Bassett-Beagle mix, with short legs, long ears, and big brown eyes. He’s nine now, and not as athletic a leaper as he used to be, but he still has a lively step and a perpetually wagging tail. He’s a sweet, curious, affectionate little dog. His three great passions are eating, going for walks, and being petted. Yes, he’s prone to barking loudly when visitors first arrive, but nobody’s perfect.

Earlier this week Stuart got very sick. We’re familiar with bouts of digestive problems when he eats something inedible off the street, but this was different. In the afternoon, he seemed subdued, moving about very slowly with his back arched and his tail down. That night, he woke us in the wee hours with high-pitched whining — a sound he’d never made before. When I got up and knelt beside him to pet him, he suddenly let out a loud bark that sounded like a scream. He seemed to be in agony.

The sweetest dog not feeling at all well

We discussed taking him to the emergency vet and decided to wait until morning. He still seemed to be in pain when we got up, but Sally doubted that the vet would be able to easily diagnose the problem, and might cause additional discomfort from probing and testing. By that evening, he had quit whining and seemed to be out of the crisis. He seems to be most of the way back to normal now.

On the subject of caring for those less fortunate, on Friday night we watched a Netflix move — What’s Eating Gilbert Grape. Released in 1993, it stars Johnny Depp, Leonardo DiCaprio and Juliette Lewis. Depp plays Gilbert Grape, who lives a hardscrabble life in a small town with his family and is charged with caring for Arnie, his retarded younger brother played by DiCaprio. I missed it when it originally came out, when I think I thought it was about something else. It was surprisingly honest about the deceptions and indignities of small town life, and also about the hates and loves of family life.

DiCaprio, who got an Academy Award nomination, is completely believable, and somehow manages to give the younger Grape a sweetness and inherent dignity beneath the surface of unregulated id. I have a hard time putting to one side his character in Titanic, but this is a reminder that he’s a actor with considerable range.

On Sunday afternoon we went over to Durham to hear a concert by the Tallis Scholars in Duke Chapel. The outstanding group of ten singers and director Peter Phillips did a program of music of William Cornysh and Jean Mouton, court composers of Henry VIII and Francis I respectively. The monarchs met in June 1520 for political discussions and a festival that featured their finest music. In short, it was early Renaissance music. The concert was a time machine that brought to life an ancient world.

The music was gorgeous. The Scholars blended into one extremely subtle instrument. The prevailing mood was more melancholy and introspective than I expected from the description of the Henry-Francis summit, but that was OK. I was happy to hear these great musicians and this rich, almost unknown repertoire. I was also happy to see that several hundred people showed up to hear this out-of-the-mainstream entertainment.