Month: August 2017

Marn Grook — footy’s predecessor?

Over the years, numerous observers have commented on the uniqueness of Australian rules football, and there have been several theories as to how the game was developed. I’ve already touched on Gaelic football being a major influence on footy, but one of the more intriguing — and controversial — theories is that the development of Aussie rules was influenced by Marn Grook, an indigenous game that was popular among Aboriginal communities in rural Victoria.

Very few concrete details have survived about Marn Grook, but based on a handful of eyewitness accounts, the game was very fast-paced and placed a large emphasis on kicking and catching a ball. Many players took spectacular leaps over each other to catch the ball and focused on never letting the ball touch the floor. Like modern footy, the game was played by numerous athletes over a very large area.

The 1878 book The Aborigines of Victoria quoted William Thomas, a local politician who represented Aboriginal groups at the time. He saw a game of Marn Grook and was very intrigued:

The men and boys joyfully assemble when this game is to be played…the players of this game do not throw the ball as a white man might do, but drop it and at the same time kicks it with his foot, using the instep for that purpose. …The tallest men have the best chances in this game….some of them will leap as high as five feet from the ground to catch the ball. The person who secures the ball kicks it….this continues for hours and the natives never seem to tire of the exercise.

The game was reportedly quite popular among Aboriginal tribes on the outskirts of what is now Melbourne. Robert Brough-Smith, a 19th-century author and geologist, saw a game of Marn Grook played at Coranderrk Mission Station, where Aboriginal elder William Barak encouraged the playing of indigenous sports over the country’s imported sports, such as cricket.

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In 2007, an image was accidentally discovered at a Melbourne museum that portrayed a group of Aborigines playing Marn Grook. The caption described the sketching as being taken in 1857 and stated that the purpose of the game was to never let the ball touch the ground.

“What I can say for certain is that it’s the first image of any kind of football that’s been discovered in Australia,” footy historian Greg de Moore said at the time. “It pre-dates the first European images of any kind of football, by almost ten years in Australia. Whether or not there is a link between the two games in some way, for me, is immaterial, because it really highlights that games such as Marn Grook — which is one of the names for Aboriginal football — were played by Aborigines and should be celebrated in their own right.”

Fellow historian Geoffrey Blainey has also commented that the feature of spectacular marking in footy was first started in the late 19th century after players observed Aborigines in South Australia performing the high leaps required to take a “spekkie.” However, this theory is mostly circumstantial.

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Another prominent theory revolves around Tom Wills, the acclaimed Melbourne cricketer who was one of the pioneers of Aussie rules in the 19th century. Wills grew up on a large colonial ranch near modern-day Moyston, Victoria, where he was the only white child for miles around and grew up playing sports with Aboriginal kids. Therefore, many historians have believed that Wills was influenced by sports such as Marn Grook when developing the laws of Aussie rules football. Footy historian Col Hutchison was a major proponent of this theory, and a quote from him is featured at a monument to Wills in Moyston:

While playing as a child with Aboriginal children in this area, [Wills] developed a game which he later utilised in the formation of Australian Football.

Many of Wills’s descendants still adhere to this belief, noting that Wills was frequently caught in the middle of cultural upheaval in the world of Australian sport — having to constantly reconcile his unique multicultural upbringing against what was then a largely segregated society, especially in sports.

They also have claimed that Wills used his childhood experiences as a basis for a similar, fast-paced game of football that is known and loved by Aussies of all backgrounds to this day. This has arguably been the biggest lightning rod in the debate over the roots of modern-day footy, with many arguing that the evidence surrounding Wills is purely circumstantial.

Here’s what we do know:

  • While Marn Grook appears to have been very popular with indigenous tribes in the rural fringes of modern-day Melbourne, there’s no immediate, conclusive evidence that specific ball game was played as far north as Moyston (although it’s likely that similar ball games were played by numerous Aboriginal tribes, including in New South Wales and Central Australia). This was backed up (somewhat controversially) by AFL historian Gillian Hibbins in 2008, stating that “understandably, the appealing idea that Australian Football is a truly Australian native game recognising the indigenous people, rather than deriving solely from a colonial dependence upon the British background, has been uncritically embraced and accepted. Sadly, this emotional belief lacks any intellectual credibility.”
  • The fact that the anthropological evidence is so thin regarding the actual details of Marn Grook gameplay have proven to be a roadblock for historians who want to make the case that footy was born out of a prior, uniquely Aboriginal sport.
  • The debate over the spectacular mark being a strictly indigenous creation is inconclusive, as the “spekkie” itself did not become a staple of Australian football until the 1880s.
  • Other historians, such as Barry Judd and Chris Hallinan, have stated that allowing or admitting the Mark Grook connection would certainly have been frowned upon, especially amid the ongoing racial tensions between Anglos and Aborigines in 19th-century Australia. In 2008, writer and commentator Jim Poulter even went as far as to say, “If Tom Wills had have said ‘Hey, we should have a game of our own more like the football the black fellas play,’ it would have been killed stone dead before it was even born.”

 

In my opinion, footy is an exciting blend of multiple sports, with early forms of rugby, Gaelic football, and various indigenous influences combining to create a truly unique and distinctly Australian sport.

Regardless of the possible Marn Grook connection, Aboriginal players have long played a huge role in the popularity of Aussie rules — only about three percent of Australians identify as Aboriginal, but roughly 10 percent of AFL players are of at least partial Aboriginal descent. Some of the game’s biggest names in the modern era are indigenous players, including Eddie Betts, Lance “Buddy” Franklin, Cyril Rioli, Travis Varcoe, Steven Motlop, Anthony McDonald-Tipungwuti, Chad Wingard, and Patrick Ryder.

So in conclusion, regardless of the sport’s origin, Aussie rules football has proven to — perhaps inadvertently — help give indigenous players a spotlight and bridge the gap among various races and backgrounds in Australia.

 

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Art from adversity: The making of the original MAD MAX

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Plenty of great films over the years have had extremely troubled productions, but have gone on to be hugely successful and influential — films such as Star WarsApocalypse Now, or Jaws. The old saying “art from adversity” is frequently cited in these cases — the idea that you have to suffer through a somewhat-crazy production in order to enjoy the high moments of a well-received film. It’s Murphy’s law of filmmaking, really: that things will inevitably go wrong, but that the payoff is all the more satisfying in the end.

The three aforementioned movies were all unique in their own ways. George Lucas and Steven Spielberg were both considered young up-and-comers; they had been mentored by industry giants, but still had plenty of doubters from major studios — and it didn’t help that both Jaws and Star Wars were beset with problems from the get-go. On the other hand, Francis Ford Coppola was an Oscar winner on top of the world when he made Apocalypse Now, but the director still dealt with mercurial actors, political unrest, and inclement weather when making the Vietnam epic in the Philippines.

And then, every once in awhile, a film changes everything from the unlikeliest of places and from complete industry outsiders. Which brings us to George Miller, the Australian doctor-turned-filmmaker who created and directed the Mad Max series.

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Mad Max and its resulting sequels have become so iconic and important in action movie culture that it’s increasingly hard to look at it with fresh eyes. Basically every post-apocalyptic sci-fi or action movie since has been influenced by the Mad Max series. For many years, the original Mad Max (released in 1979) held the Guinness World Record for most profitable film on a budget-to-box-office ratio: over USD$100 million worldwide on a budget of AUD$380,000.

Miller, now age 72, was a complete neophyte when he was making the original Mad Max film in the summer of 1977. Miller was an ER doctor in residence at a hospital in Sydney and frequently treated car accident victims. He met producer Byron Kennedy, a self-taught filmmaker from Melbourne, in 1971 at a summer film course. Kennedy and Miller made a short action film shortly thereafter, which won several awards and gave them enough confidence to helm a feature on their own terms and with their own money.

Miller had wanted to make a road film within the context of a realistically bleak, post-apocalyptic Australia, where fuel and water are in short supply, violent biker gangs rule the streets, and rogue policemen are the only major line of defense. Miller — who co-wrote the script with James McCausland — claimed that he wanted Mad Max to feel like “a silent movie with sound,” meaning that the story would be inherently simple, with the visuals reigning supreme.

McCausland was also inspired by the worldwide oil crisis of the late 70s, which hit Australia well before it hit the US (in 1973).

A couple of oil strikes that hit many pumps revealed the ferocity with which Australians would defend their right to fill a tank….George and I wrote the script based on the thesis that people would do almost anything to keep vehicles moving and the assumption that nations would not consider the huge costs of providing infrastructure for alternative energy until it was too late.

Both Miller and Kennedy were able to raise a mixture of their own funds and some small contributions from state film bodies in Australia, who thought that the film had potential. Still, this was very much a micro-budget affair; Miller estimated that the final budget was AUD$380,000.

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Casting Mad Max proved to be very difficult, as Miller was putting all options on the table in order to stay within budget and still cast the right people for each part. The director even made a brief trip to Los Angeles, but eventually decided against casting American names due to the high cost. Instead, Miller and casting director Mitch Mathews found a group of recent graduates of the National Institute of Dramatic Art (NIDA), which included a 21-year-old Sydneysider named Mel Gibson.

Gibson had trained strictly as a theatre actor at NIDA and had only appeared in one feature film at that point, while his friend and classmate, Steve Bisley, was also cast in the movie. Three other cast members were Hugh Keays-Byrne, Vincent Gil, and Roger Ward, who played members of the biker gang; they had also previously appeared as bikers in a 1974 film called Stone that inspired Miller.

Due to the tiny budget, Mad Max had only ten weeks to shoot — six for first unit shots and four weeks strictly dedicated to the chase sequences and stuntwork. Much of the film was shot in country Victoria, including the outskirts of Melbourne and the towns of Little River and Clunes.

Four days into the shoot, Rose Bailey, who was originally cast as Max’s wife Jessie, got injured in an off-set accident and had to be replaced. The production was put on hold for two weeks until Joanne Samuel was hired to replace Bailey. In the end, the filming only took six weeks overall in the summer of 1977, with six more weeks on second unit footage. Some stunts had to be re-staged and more second-unit work had to be done in May 1978.

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The shoot was guerrilla filmmaking at its finest, as the crew didn’t even have permits and Miller and Kennedy had to continuously sweep down the rural roads themselves. Thankfully, the Victoria Police didn’t shut anything down and were even able to help the crew escort the many stunt vehicles to set. Costumes were simple as well due to the limited budget, with almost all of the police jackets made of vinyl leather rather than real leather.

Many of the biker extras featured were actual members of outlaw biker gangs and rode their own motorcycles in the film. Due to the prohibitive cost of flying in extra talent for short periods of filming, Miller had to ask the bikers to drive the 10-hour trip from Sydney to Melbourne for the production.

Post-production was even more of an adventure. Miller and Kennedy co-edited the majority of the footage themselves and also collaborated on the sound editing at a friend’s apartment in Melbourne. Kennedy’s father, an engineer, helped construct a home-built machine for editing purposes. “Byron would cut sound in the lounge room and I’d cut picture in the kitchen,” Miller recalled.

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Eventually, Miller and Kennedy were able to to bring in outside talent. Editor Tony Patterson helped work on Mad Max‘s post process for four months, but eventually left due to prior commitments. Miller and a friend, Cliff Hayes, worked on the editing for a few more months before completing the final cut with Kennedy. Sound engineer Roger Savage was then brought in to do the sound mixing.

Mad Max‘s musical score was composed by Brian May (not to be confused with the famous Queen guitarist), whose earlier work Miller had admired. “George was marvelous to work with,” May said in a later interview. “He had a lot of ideas about what he wanted even though he wasn’t a musician.”

Mad Max was released through Roadshow Entertainment in Australia, American International Pictures in the US, and Warner Bros. in the rest of the world. Concerned that the majority of American audiences wouldn’t understand the Aussie slang in the film’s dialogue, Mad Max was re-dubbed with American accents for its theatrical release. Because Gibson was not a star at the time, American trailers for Mad Max chose to emphasize more of the action sequences and the post-apocalyptic landscape of the movie, as opposed to focusing on a singular actor.

Dubbing aside, Mad Max didn’t do too well in the US at first and received a polarizing response from critics. However, the movie was a massive hit in its native country, grossing over AUD$5 million and receiving three Australian Film Institute Awards in 1979 (Best Editing, Best Sound, and Best Musical Score).

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As we all know, the film became a cult classic and spawned two successful sequels also starring Gibson, as well as 2015’s long-awaited and acclaimed Fury Road, which starred Tom Hardy as Max. Miller, along with fellow director Peter Weir, is credited with opening up the market for Australian New Wave cinema to a worldwide audience. The Mad Max series continues to influence the look and feel of many sci-fi, action, and chase films, and helped introduce Gibson to American audiences.

And it all started because of a couple of doctors and their wild passion for filmmaking.

The Belko Experiment (2016)

 

A large group of international white-collar employees are forced into a game of kill-or-be-killed as part of a greater, twisted form of social Darwinism.

Mike (John Gallagher Jr.) works a desk job at an international company called Belko Industries with his girlfriend Leandra (Adria Arjona). The company employs numerous workers from a number of different countries and is located in a remote office building on the outskirts of Bogotá, Colombia. Due to the high rate of drug trafficking in the country, new employees at Belko are implanted with a type of tracking device in case they are kidnapped, and the office building is surrounded by high levels of armed security.

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Eighty employees work at the office on this particular day, and once the 80th arrives, a loud, monotone voice crackles over the intercom. The voice informs all of the employees that they have two hours to kill two of their co-workers, or else others will be killed at random. Most of the employees laugh it off as a prank, but soon, the windows and doors are shuttered with steel plates.

Suddenly, four employees are killed seemingly at random. While it first appears that they were shot, Mike soon realizes that their heads were blown apart by their tracking devices being detonated. The voice informs the group that they must kill 30 people within the next two hours, or else 60 will be killed. Mike and Leandra attempt to keep order amid chaos and flatly refuse to kill their innocent co-workers. Belko’s COO Barry Norris (Tony Goldwyn) feels that desperate times call for desperate measures, and eventually gives in to the voice’s demands. He, along with Wendell (John C. McGinley) and Terry (Owain Yeoman), attempt to take out their co-workers before the voice’s macabre deadline strikes. What ensues is a bloody free-for-all that will leave plenty of bodies in its wake.

The Belko Experiment premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival last September, but didn’t get a theatrical release here in the States until March 2017. The film is the brainchild of acclaimed director James Gunn, who wrote the screenplay, and was directed by Greg McLean. I was very impressed by McLean’s first film, an Australian independent grindhouse feature called Wolf Creek, so I was intrigued to see The Belko Experiment when I picked it up at Redbox recently.

This film certainly has a number of strengths and weaknesses. It’s reasonably well-written and acted, and I love the way McLean builds suspense in the opening act. It’s both well-paced and has some pretty solid cinematography, despite being quite low budget ($5 million).

However, several characters aren’t very well-developed and, while the stakes are certainly high throughout, the film became a tad uneven towards the end. It’s also a premise that, while inherently entertaining, just might not be believable for certain audiences. The Belko Experiment is very gory and will certainly please fans of the psychological horror/slasher genre, but others might find it too depraved for their liking. Ultimately, the movie offered enough for me to appreciate it as a decent genre film and delivered pretty much what I expected.

Grade: B-

  • Directed by Greg McLean
  • Written by James Gunn
  • Produced by James Gunn and Peter Safran
  • Director of Photography — Luis David Sansas
  • Music by Tyler Bates
  • Edited by Julia Wong
  • Starring John Gallagher Jr., Adria Arjona, Tony Goldwyn, John C. McGinley, Melonie Diaz, Owain Yeoman, Josh Brener, Michael Rooker, David Dastmalchian, David Del Rio, James Earl
  • Rated R for strong bloody violence throughout, language including sexual references, and some drug use.

Coaches on the hot seat – 2017

In relation to my previous post, here are the hot-seat coaches entering the 2017 season.

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Todd Graham, Arizona State

Graham (39-26 overall) came to Tempe in 2012 following a brief, controversial tenure at Pittsburgh. While his first three years at ASU were a resounding success — winning two bowl games during that time period — Graham’s program has since gone in reverse, posting losing records in the past two seasons. The primary problems have been a porous secondary and numerous misses on the recruiting trail; Graham’s staff has struggled to keep the top Phoenix area talent home.

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Kevin Sumlin, Texas A&M

A 44-21 record in five years is good, right? Not when you’re in the meat-grinder that is the SEC and when your teams have taken annual nosedives in November, which is why Sumlin occupies what could be the hottest seat in the nation right now. The Aggies have finished 8-5 for the past three years despite starting undefeated all three times, and while Sumlin continues to flex his recruiting muscle, fans are getting restless. A&M hasn’t finished above fourth place in the SEC West since Sumlin’s debut season in 2012, when his offense was led by Johnny Manziel….say, whatever happened to that guy, anyways?

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Kliff Kingsbury, Texas Tech

Turns out College Station isn’t the only town in Texas where fans are disgruntled. Kingsbury (24-26 overall) had a sweet homecoming when he came back to Lubbock in 2013, this time as a head coach after previously being a record-smashing QB at Tech in the early days of Mike Leach. However, he has had little consistent success since then, with only one bowl win and routinely terrible defenses. What else can you say about a team that can put up 50-plus points multiple times and still lost by double digits? Tech will always light up the scoreboard, but they simply haven’t had any type of sustained momentum under Kingsbury.

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Paul Haynes, Kent State

Haynes (12-35 overall) simply hasn’t made much of an impact at his alma mater. A former defensive coordinator at Ohio State and Arkansas, Haynes has made a nice enough impact on that side of the ball. But the offense has been mediocre at best during his tenure, and the Golden Flashes have repeatedly lacked adequate athleticism at the skill positions. Haynes might be out of a gig if he can’t get the Flashes to their first bowl game since 2012.

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Mark Hudspeth, Louisiana-Lafayette

Hudspeth (24-31 overall), a Mississippi native, made a big splash when he was hired. His first three seasons were huge, helping lift the Ragin’ Cajuns to three straight bowl games for the first time in school history. However, the celebration was short-lived — the Cajuns had to vacate 22 wins due to the actions of former assistant coach David Saunders, who committed academic fraud in order to recruit otherwise-ineligible junior college players. Since then, the Cajuns have gone 10-15 in the past two years under Hudspeth, missing the postseason both times. And if that wasn’t enough, 13 Cajun players were arrested on misdemeanor theft charge earlier this summer, stemming from the dorm room robbery of a recently-dismissed player. Hudspeth might need a winning season to save his job and quiet the well-deserved noise surrounding the program.

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David Bailiff, Rice

It’s easy to feel bad for the 59-year-old Bailiff (overall 56-69), who has built a historically-awful Rice program into a respectable and competitive team, even securing two 10-win seasons in 2008 and 2013. However, it’s safe to say that most of the magic has been lost, with the Owls having lost 13 of their past 17 games; they started last season 0-6 before stumbling to a 3-9 record. Bailiff might need to win big this season in order to keep his job under new athletic director Neil Brodeur.

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Sean Kugler, UTEP

Kugler (18-31 overall) is a UTEP alum with NFL connections, which is a nice start. He’s earned kudos from the El Paso community by recruiting lots of local kids, but the Miners have honestly been mediocre under Kugler’s watch. A 2014 bowl game notwithstanding, UTEP hasn’t been able to take advantage of Kugler’s smash-mouth brand of football. They have particularly struggled on defense, and bringing in veteran coordinator Tom Mason last year did little to improve the situation.

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Matt Wells, Utah State

Wells (28-25), a Utah State alum, took over the program after a record-setting 2012 season, which earned then-coach Gary Andersen a job at Wisconsin. Wells took the Aggies into uncharted territory in the Mountain West, but they have been up-and-down since. USU won 19 games in their first two years of Wells’s tenure, but in the two years since, the Aggies have gone 9-16, including a below-.500 mark in the conference. Logan is a hard place to win consistently; has Wells’s program hit its peak already?

 

Coaches on the rise – 2017

The 2017 college football season is almost here, so now is as good a time as any to examine which FBS coaches are on the rise entering the season.

 

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Neal Brown, Troy

Brown (14-11 overall) enters his third season at Troy coming off the winningest campaign in school history — the Trojans finished 10-3 and beat Ohio in the Dollar General Bowl last year. Brown is a disciple of the Air Raid offense, earning his stripes under offensive gurus like Mike Leach and Hal Mumme. Look for the 36-year-old Brown to get his chance in the near future, presumably at a program that needs a shot in the arm offensively.

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Scott Frost, UCF

It may be too early to judge Frost’s tenure at UCF, as he’s only entering his second year as head coach (6-7 overall). But what a debut season it was — Frost took over a winless program and got the Knights to a bowl game in one season. The highest-rated recruiting class in school history was the icing on the cake in February. Frost was previously an offensive coordinator at Oregon, where he helped mold Marcus Mariota into an NFL-caliber starter and Heisman winner.

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Chris Creighton, Eastern Michigan

Creighton (10-27 overall) didn’t get much love nationally, but the man can seriously coach. He was hired at EMU in 2014 and walked into a trainwreck, but he earned his stripes at lower levels of football, including the FCS. Last year, the rebuilding project paid off, with the Eagles earning their first bowl berth since 1987 and first winning record since 1995. At EMU and his previous stops, Creighton has been acclaimed for his ability to overcome limitations such as lack of adequate facilities and low levels of fan support. It’s safe to say that he’s a rising star for a reason, and he’s still relatively young by head coaching standards (48).

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Mike Bobo, Colorado State

So far, so good for Bobo (14-12 overall), who took over a loaded roster from Jim McElwain in 2015 and has since guided the Rams to back-to-back bowl games. Bobo was Mark Richt’s long-time offensive coordinator at Georgia and has successfully used those southeastern recruiting connections to his advantage at CSU. The Rams will be opening a brand-new $220 million on-campus stadium in 2017, giving Bobo a much-larger stage to show off his exciting brand of football. Watch out for him.

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Craig Bohl, Wyoming

Everyone loves stories about the Little Program That Could, right? Well, Bohl has made a career out of it, first at FCS juggernaut North Dakota State, where he won three national titles and unearthed a hidden gem in future NFL QB Carson Wentz. Now, Bohl is quietly building a contender in the equally isolated terrain of Laramie, Wyoming — he won Mountain West Coach of the Year honors last season after leading the Cowboys to a spot in the conference championship game. His recruiting prowess and coaching lineage are not to be underestimated — plus, he played for Tom Osborne at Nebraska back in the 70s.

 

The Wolf of Wall Street (2013)

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Based on real-life events, Martin Scorsese’s black comedy focuses on the rise and fall of Jordan Belfort, a Wall Street mogul who operated a pump-and-dump scheme in the late 80s and was subject to FBI investigation.

Queens-born Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio) is young, handsome, and insanely ambitious. He comes from a modest background, but desires to get to the top as much as anyone. In 1987, he lands a stockbroker job at L.F. Rothschild, working for the charismatic Mark Hanna (Matthew McConaughey), who entices him with a win-at-all-costs attitude.

However, on Black Monday, the company suffers extreme losses and Belfort is out of a job. Discouraged and struggling to pay the bills, he catches on with a boiler room brokerage firm on Long Island that specializes in penny stocks. While a far cry from his previous job, the determined Belfort succeeds almost immediately and amasses a small fortune.

Soon enough, Belfort strikes up a professional relationship with his neighbor, Donnie Azoff (Jonah Hill), and together with several of Belfort’s friends and colleagues, they start their own business. The basic method that they use is a pump-and-dump scam, artificially inflating stock prices and scamming investors in order to make quick cash. In order to avoid possible probes into their illegal activity, Belfort gives his new company the respectable-sounding name of Stratton Oakmont.

The firm starts out very successfully, and Belfort is soon the subject line of numerous articles and newspaper columns, including a non-flattering portrait and exposé in Forbes. Nonetheless, 20-somethings and recent college grads flock to Stratton Oakmont in record numbers, wanting a piece of the action.

Belfort and his colleagues became astonishingly successful, raking in millions of dollars and indulging in decadent lifestyles of cocaine, prostitutes, and expensive yachts. The SEC and the FBI begin to take an interest in Stratton Oakmont, even going so far as to interview Belfort personally, but with little concrete evidence tying him to illegal activities, they’re unable to do anything further. Together with his new wife Naomi (Margot Robbie), Belfort develops more and more ambitious schemes to stay one step ahead of the feds and remain the head of his own personal kingdom.

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I recently rewatched The Wolf of Wall Street and I’ve gotta admit, this film is still one of Martin Scorsese’s best. It is one of the most entertaining black comedies of the past decade, while still having an emotional core and working as a pretty vicious satire. It also shows Scorsese’s versatility as a director; people always associate him with his award-winning crime/mafia films, such as Goodfellas, The Departed, and Casino, but Scorsese has made some outstanding films in many different genres.

The Wolf of Wall Street also marked the fifth collaboration between Scorsese and DiCaprio, the latter of whom also co-produced the film. DiCaprio had secured the rights to Jordan Belfort’s memoir back in 2007 and had wanted to bring Scorsese onboard for quite sometime. The movie had been in pre-production for several years, and Scorsese had worked on several script rewrites with screenwriter Terence Winter. However, Warner Bros had not given the green light for production dates, frustrating Scorsese, and he eventually moved on to other projects, including Shutter Island and Hugo. In 2010, the studio offered it to Ridley Scott to direct, with DiCaprio starring.

Scott ended up passing on the project, and Scorsese came back on board when notable independent company Red Granite Pictures became involved; this gave Scorsese free reign without fear of studio censorship. Eventually, Paramount distributed the film in the North American market.

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The Wolf of Wall Street was a massive financial success when it was released in December 2013, and to this day is Scorsese’s highest-grossing film ever ($392 million worldwide). The movie received five Oscar nominations, including for DiCaprio and Scorsese, as well as Jonah Hill’s first nomination in the Best Supporting Actor category. Numerous critics praised the film as a brilliant black comedy and it appeared on many end-of-year top ten lists. While DiCaprio did not win the Best Actor Oscar, he did win the Golden Globe for Best Actor in a Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy.

While a resounding commercial success, The Wolf of Wall Street received some controversy from critics and audiences alike, focusing on the apparent morally ambiguous tone of the film. I disagree with this; I feel like Scorsese and Winter handled the source material very well and didn’t make excuses for the characters’ actions, and here’s why:

While based on a real story and real person, The Wolf of Wall Street does succeed as a smart, biting satire of Wall Street indulgence. Some people may feel that presenting such irresponsible actions as comedy is setting a poor example, but I don’t really feel that way. Yes, the movie has some serious adult content that is inappropriate for young viewers, but the fact of the matter is that this film is supposed to be over-the-top, because it’s a story that wouldn’t be considered believable if it took itself too seriously.

Several real-life victims of Belfort’s schemes (or relatives of victims) also criticized the film’s portrayal of the characters, feeling that they were simply portrayed as rowdy, coke-addicted fratboys rather than career white-collar criminals, as well as refusing to focus on the ruined lives of Stratton Oakmont’s victims. Both Scorsese and DiCaprio denied these allegations, arguing that focusing too much on the victims would distract from the actual actions that directly led to the downfall of Belfort and his empire.

The bottom line is that The Wolf of Wall Street is about a guy who wanted to have it all and eventually became obsessed to the point of destroying himself, his business, and his family. DiCaprio even mentioned that, in his performance as Belfort, he was inspired by another famously decadent, power-hungry film character — Malcolm McDowell’s Emperor Caligula in the infamous 1973 film of the same name.

Some might consider the film’s serious language, sexual content, and drug use to be a deal-breaker, and I understand that. But, to me, Scorsese balanced the line between satire and drama very well, aside from a few tonal inconsistencies from scene to scene. The Wolf of Wall Street is also three hours long and may be difficult to sit through for certain people, but overall, this is another intelligent, entertaining achievement from Scorsese that still deserves the acclaim it initially received.

Rating: B+

  • Directed by Martin Scorsese
  • Screenplay by Terence Winter
  • Based on the book by Jordan Belfort
  • Produced by Martin Scorsese, Leonardo DiCaprio, Riza Aziz, Joey McFarland, and Emma Tillinger Koskoff
  • Director of Photography — Rodrigo Prieto
  • Editor — Thelma Schoonmaker
  • Starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Jonah Hill, Matthew McConaughey, Margot Robbie, Kyle Chandler, Jon Bernthal, Rob Reiner, Jon Favreau, Joanna Lumley, Jean Dujardin, Ethan Suplee, Brian Sacca, Christine Ebersole, Kenneth Choi, P.J. Byrne, Cristin Milioti, Jake Hoffman
  • Rated R for sequences of strong sexual content, graphic nudity, drug use and language throughout, and for some violence.