The Wolf of Wall Street (Book Review)

The Wolf of Wall Street (Book Review)

Having recently written a long overdue review of the film version of The Wolf of Wall Street, a great Scorcese/DiCaprio film (my review is here https://gatsbyfuneral.wordpress.com/2014/04/26/the-wolf-of-wall-street-film-review/), I can now write about the original material for the film, as I have just completed the reading of Jordan Belfort’s memoir of the same title.

Not often is a film better than the novel, but this just might be one of those cases.

While Belfort has an incredible tale to tell, he is not a writer, and there are times in the novel where this shows. There is too much repetition (ok, Jordan, we get it, the Duchess is very attractive), and sometimes the figurative language is forced, but it does not really take away from the story. As with the film, it is the story of a rise and fall of the man they called the Wolf, who took Wall Street for millions, illegally, and then eventually had to pay the price. His story is one of greed and debauchery, about having it all and then wanting more.

wolfBelfort is a very smart man, and in the novel, we see a little bit more into how clever he was in manipulating the stock market to make himself millions of dollars. We are able to read more detail about the anarchy and decadence of his firm and his loyal Strattonites. This may seem like a surprise, because there was no shortage of drugs and sex in the movie, but trust me, there is even more in the book.

It is sometimes hard to tell is Belfort is bragging about the things he has done, or if he is a man who has paid the price and has really learned a lesson. It is tough to tell which person he is: the caring rich guy who was willing to help out anyone who needed it, or the pretentious millionaire who looked down at those who weren’t as obsessed with money as he was.

Is Jordan the hero, or the villain of his own story?

The advantages of the book are that we get to know the characters with some more depth than we do in the film. In the movie version, they are caricatures of people who exist in real life, yet we don’t really get to know who they really are. We also get a lot more insight into Jordan himself, as he is able to describe his thought process in a way that the narration in the film was unable to do. And we get to see a little bit more of the genius that this man possessed, something I argued against in the film version.

A downside to the book is that sometimes it seems we are simply reading a list of conquests that one man has. Yes, he sleeps with many women. Yes, they are beautiful. Sure, they are primarily prostitutes, but it still counts, right? Sure, he did a lot of drugs and got away with some pretty strange and heinous things (the plane to Switzerland incident being one of them- imagine that kind of behavior on a flight now!). Even delving deeper into the person that Belfort is, by the end of the book, as with the movie, we are forced to ask ourselves if we actually like this character.

He is charming, and has a silver tongue, and it would be difficult to resist these things. But does he do the things he does because of his addiction problems, or because he knows that he is rich enough to get away with them? Perhaps a little bit of both. His second wife, Nadine, the Duchess, is no angel, but the way that he treats her is laughable. He knows the choices he makes will get him into trouble, and that it will send her into a rage, yet he does it anyways, because he knows that she will not leave him, and that after a few days of anger, she will calm down and things will be fine again. These are the actions of a bad person. Sure, the incidents he lives through are humorous, but dangerous. Not only to himself, but to others as well. Should he be celebrated or hated?

I guess this is the main point of the book. When we can seemingly do whatever we want, who wouldn’t go ahead and go for it?

The Wolf of Wall Street is a pretty entertaining read, for all of its faults. It is not the best written book out there, but it is full of enough incidents that it makes for a pretty decent narrative. I don’t know that I would recommend it over the film version, since that was so good, but if you are looking for something to read over the summer, and have seen the movie, but wanted to know more, then go ahead and give this one a read.

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Midnight in Paris (Film Review)

Midnight in Paris (Film Review)

For me, Woody Allen has always been pretty hit or miss, but I find myself in the occasional mood where I want to watch one of his quirky movies.

For months now, Midnight in Paris has been on my Netflix list, just waiting for the day when I would feel like watching it. I knew there wasn’t much I wouldn’t like about it. Like our protagonist, I love the 1920’s era, believing that if I had my own Delorean and flux capacitor, this would be the era I would be traveling to, in hopes of hanging out with the literary giants of the century, enjoying the partying, music, and ideas.

paris-poster1The story is about a writer, played by Owen Wilson, who is in Paris with his fiancee (a pretty bitchy and unlikable Rachel McAdams, a definite departure for her, she does very well to be subtly detestable in the film) as they prepare for their upcoming wedding. A successful film script writer, Gil is trying to write a novel for the first time, and is getting there without getting there at the same time. One evening, at midnight, he is essentially transported back in time, to the Roaring 20’s, when Paris was inhabited by all of the great writers of the era: Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Stein. The painters are there as well, such as Dali and Picasso.

Well, this is a dream come true for Gil, as he has never truly been satisfied in his own era, and was one of those people who believed that they were better off had they been born at a different time, whenever that may be. For Gil, it had always been the 20’s, and this was his chance to meet, and hang out with, all of his heroes.

The idea for the film seems pretty ridiculous, and I can’t say that it is too often that Woody Allen ventures into films about time travel, but it really isn’t about that. Midnight in Paris is a love story, and a story about being lost where you are. In some way, we all hope that we could have been born at a different time, for whatever reason. Maybe it is the 20’s for the art, or you wish you could have been a teenager in the 60’s and 70’s for the hippie movement, and the endless classic rock music that was all over the place. Perhaps you wanted to go back even further, the fin-de-siecle eras. Whatever it may be, many of us feel that another era would have suited us better.

The point of the film is that wherever you are, you probably always want to be somewhere else. People find their lives boring. And we always want to escape. While one era would look impressive from the outside, being pulled into it may be something completely different, and this is something that Gil is forced to deal with once he finds a romantic interest (Marion Cotillard) in the 20’s, who is as bored with her era as he is of his.

It is quite a clever way of doing things by Allen, and he doesn’t lose his quirkiness throughout, as he never does through the million movies he has made in his career so far.

Allen captures Paris very well, both in modern and 20’s times. He understands the beauty, and magic, of the city, able to look past the graffiti to see something incredible. That really is, in my opinion, what Paris is all about. The same goes for Gil. He quickly falls in love with the city and wants to live there, while McAdams barely tolerates it and wishes for her life back in the States.

A quirky story, and a chance to interact with legions of famous people from the 20’s is what makes this movie fun to watch. Seeing Hemingway and Picasso fight over a woman, seeing Fitzgerald dote over Zelda, Stein being the backbone of the group, Dali being eccentric as we would have expected him to be, it helps to bring us to that place that we will never truly get to see. Allen found good actors to play all of these parts, and they were done with a certain cheekiness that made all of the characters likable.

Midnight in Paris won an Oscar for the Best Screenplay (which shows how poorly I have followed the awards shows over the past few years) a couple of years ago. It is a highly regarded film, and I would agree with the reviews. It is fun, it has a great cast, and it does make us wonder about where we truly belong.

Is it in this era, or another? Or does it really matter anyway, since we do need to live in our current one.

NHL Playoffs Round 2: Habs vs. Bruins

NHL Playoffs Round 2: Habs vs. Bruins

Since we will have quite some time before the first round of the playoffs is complete, as there are some close series that will probably go the distance, I might as well take a look at the first series of the second round.

The one that all hockey fans were hoping for.

Round 2 will feature the ancient, Original Six rivals, the Montreal Canadiens and the Boston Bruins. Both teams polished off their opening series pretty quickly. While I didn’t think the Habs would be able to take down the Tampa Bay Lightning, they proved me wrong by sweeping them in four games. From my predictions, I actually got one right in the Bruins beating the Detroit Red Wings in 5 games, so I will hang my hat on probably the only one I will have guessed right by the time the playoffs are over.

Habs-Bruins is a fantastic rivalry in the NHL, and there is no doubt that series will be hard fought and live up to some of their previous battles. Over the course of the regular season, the Canadiens surprisingly took three of the four games from the President’s Trophy winning Bruins. One would not imagine that the Habs would pose a serious threat to the mighty B’s, but they do.

habs2bruinsMontreal is a very well balanced team. They can roll four solid lines out there, and even without a superstar in their forward lineup, they have guys who can produce. They are a team of solid and specific roles, and all the players play their roles perfectly. On the back end, they of course have the reigning Norris trophy winning defenseman, in PK Subban. The kid is a wild card, and he can produce offense almost at will. He is a force to be reckoned with, and someone that the Bruins will need to shut down, especially on the power play.

In net, Carey Price is trying to continue his great season, where he probably just narrowly missed being a Vezina Trophy finalist, and has already won an Olympic gold medal as a member of the dominant Team Canada in Sochi. Price is a goalie that has ice in his veins, and is difficult to rattle with any kind of pressure. He should be able to at least steal a game for Montreal in this series. He has that ability, to truly dominate, even though he is just typically solid. If I were the Bruins, my goal would be to throw everything at him, and create anarchy in front of the net.

On the Bruins side, they are a tough team. Full of hard-working, hard-hitting players, they all seem to play their roles perfectly as well. They have speed, skill, defensive ability, strong special teams, outstanding goaltending, size. It is tough to find a weakness on this team, which is why they were the best during the regular season. Then proceeded to shut down the Wings after a surprising Game 1 loss. This team will be tough to beat.

It is impossible to ignore the regular season matchup numbers between these two teams, but I feel that in a seven game series, the Bruins will simply wear down the Canadiens with their physical play. They won’t stop coming, and this will grind down the smaller Montreal team.

Plus, as good as Carey Price is, and has been, Tuuka Rask has been better. Right now, he is the best goalie in the league, will easily win the Vezina (in my opinion), and dominated in the first round series. The Bruins have an advantage in every aspect of the game.

I think Montreal puts up a big fight in this series, and it has moments that will remind us of all those battles over the years between these two teams. But my early prediction for this series will be for the Bruins to win it in 6, advancing them to the Eastern Conference finals.

But, based on my predictions so far, it could end up being the complete opposite. I look forward to seeing some of this series. It should be a barn burner.

The Wolf Of Wall Street (Film Review)

The Wolf Of Wall Street (Film Review)

With going to the theater a more rare thing for me, it often takes me a long time to see films that people have been raving about for months. And I am okay with that. I can wait to hear all the reviews about a movie, wait for the awards season to come and go, hear about who was robbed and who earned their statues, etc. And then I can finally sit back, and enjoy a film based on what I want to think of it, without any of the hype getting in the way. Waiting to see big movies has made me a lot more objective.

wolf-of-wall-street1The Wolf of Wall Street is typically the type of movie I would have rushed out to see back in the day. I love all films directed by Martin Scorcese, and I particularly enjoy those in which he has worked with Leonardo DiCaprio, who I believe has become the best actor of this generation, or perhaps tied with Daniel Day Lewis. The movies that these two have made together have all been excellent, and there isn’t a single one that I didn’t enjoy.

In this film, I believe DiCaprio may have given his best performance to date. At least, in the first half of the three-hour movie he does. After the climactic events of the film, he regresses a little to the DiCaprio that we are more used to seeing, and he seems far more hinged and held back than the crazed, greedy, maniac he is in the first half.

The plot of the story is typical for a Scorcese film, and really isn’t that different from Goodfellas, set in a different locale. Man starts from nothing, rises up to be the best, and then the inevitable downfall. There is nothing new here when it comes to the story, but as with all Scorcese films, the best part is how he brings it all out.

For Wolf, he does it through the debauchery of the lead characters’ (Jordan Belfort) life. He loves drugs, and women, and money. He goes on major Qualuude benders, snorts tons of cocaine (from some pretty interesting locations, as well), drinks like a fish, and goes through hookers like candy. Jordan is an insatiable person, in all aspects of his life. He became a self-made, millionaire trader on Wall Street, and lived life in the finest lap of luxury. Before it all blows up in his face, as these things tend to do. But prior to his fall, he gets everything a human could want. The crazy mansion, an armada of impressive sports cars, the gorgeous wife (played impressively by Margot Robbie, who has an awesome Long Island accent, and a beauty that steals several scenes).

Margot-Robbie-Leonardo-Di-CaprioThe rest of the supporting cast in this film is strong as well. Even though I really don’t like Jonah Hill, he was pretty good in his role. The same goes for Matthew McConaughey, who doesn’t get much screen time, but creates a likable character pretty quickly.

I really enjoyed this movie. Even though it is very long, it is definitely entertaining. We like watching Belfort to terrible things to himself and to those around him, because a part of the film is about how he really is a good person, and helpful to those around him. There is a world-record amount of swearing in the film (because apparently people have counted the number of f-bombs in here, and all other movies), tons of drugs, and tons of nudity. A little something for everybody.

My biggest complaint about the transition of this book in to a film (I am currently reading the novel written by Belfort that served as the source material for the movie, I will write a review of the book when I complete it) is that there isn’t much explained about how Jordan managed to make all of his money and this leaves us not really understanding his true genius. Whenever the screen version of Belfort begins to explain how he is messing with the system in order to make millions, he cuts himself off, telling the audience that we either don’t really care about the details, or that we wouldn’t understand it. I believe this took  a lot away from him, because while we know he is clever, we don’t know how clever. Was a lot of his money a fluke? How good was he? For those of us who don’t really understand Wall Street, but want to know more, this movie missed an opportunity to detail a little bit more about the ins and outs of the business. Think of how Oliver Stone’s Wall Street educated us in the sneakiness of insider trading. I wanted some more of that. I didn’t want to be treated as a simple audience member who wouldn’t understand everything. Sure. perhaps I wouldn’t understand it all, but I wanted to at least be given the chance (this rings true in the novel, as Belfort brushes over a lot of the details on how his money was made, although he describes intensely how he went about moving it to the Swiss accounts). Maybe more explanation would have meant an even longer running time, but I would have sacrificed another twenty minutes to find out how the man called the Wolf became the man called the Wolf.

This is not Scorcese’s best movie. I think the story was too simple for it to be that. It misses out on some of the layers that his other work has provided us with, in films such as The Departed. The story is simple, and perhaps it leaves us wanting more. Because we know what is going to happen, perhaps he could have provided us with more insight into the characters. For example, there is a scene described in the novel where Belfort confesses all of his problems to Aunt Emma (or Patricia in the novel). This gives us insight in to him, and their relationship, and the reasons he does so much of what he does. In the film version, all we get is him wondering if she is hitting on him, and him confessing that he is a drug and sex addict. There could have been more here, so that we would care about Belfort in the way we cared about Ray Liotta in Goodfellas, or Robert DeNiro in Casino. For a movie that was this long, there could have been more about this man that we were watching, and loving, on screen. And we all know that DiCaprio has the chops to create a layered character that we can love, or even love to hate.

I truly enjoyed The Wolf of Wall Street. I probably believe that DiCaprio should have finally got his Oscar for this film. God knows he should have had three or four by now, but that is neither here nor there.

If you are on the fence about watching this movie, see it. It lives up to the hype that was created around it, and it will eventually be considered a quintessential part of the Scorcese/DiCaprio collection.

Concert Review: Black Sabbath in Edmonton

Concert Review: Black Sabbath in Edmonton

Black Sabbath are the originators of heavy metal. There is no doubting that. Without their combination of doom, gloom, groove, and distortion, there would be so many fewer bands who explored and excelled in the genre. Many bands owe Sabbath a major debt of gratitude, for breaking down barriers for decades.

The original Princes of Darkness came to Rexall Place in Edmonton on April 22nd, and they left a loud crowd happy after a rousing set that incorporated most of their major songs, along with three of the newer ones.

Black Sabbath play Rexall Place in EdmontonWhile their latest reunion effort, 13, is a solid metal album, almost picking up where they left off with Ozzy Osbourne at the helm (while we continue to ignore the Dio days), playing only three songs from the album was the right choice. When you see a group of legends live, you want to hear the classics, not only the new ones. There was a noticeable difference in the audience when they would belt out something that has been around forever compared to a new one. The audience gobbled up the hits, like “Iron Man,” “N.I.B.,” “War Pigs,” and “Paranoid.”

To begin the show, crowds were met with incredible lineups outside of Rexall Place. Personally, when I arrived at the show at 8PM, the line was easily 4,000 people deep, spanning from the doors of the stadium, across the long foot bridge, into the adjoining parking lot, where it swerved for what seemed to be an endless line of black-clad, anxious, fans. This prevented us from even getting a glimpse of the opening act, Reign Wolf. He must have been playing to a nearly empty stadium, which is unfortunate, because he would have been worth checking out. Surprisingly, the line moved at a reasonable pace, but it still took 45 minutes to get inside. It was a surprise, as Rexall is home to many concerts, and having a line like that was a major failure on their part.

The plus side, is that once inside and seated, it wasn’t a long wait until Black Sabbath took the stage. They began with Ozzy shouting for some noise, before the gloomy, opening chords of “War Pigs” ran through the arena. And the show was on.

Personal highlights included the constant, heavy, and underrated riffing of the timeless legendary guitarist, Tony Iommi. He brought the thunder on every single song. The sound was perfectly balanced, which is rarely the case in Rexall, and all the elements of the band were easily heard. Too many times had it been difficult to hear the vocals there, or have the guitar be buried under too much low end. But this one was balanced perfectly, and the sonic gloom was resonating through the whole arena.

Most of the songs were hits, and there were very few misses by the band. While the drum solo could have been shorter, the quick bass solo leading into the beginning of “N.I.B.” was pretty cool. The slow, grinding, eponymous song “Black Sabbath” was one of the highlights, and led to a brief reflection on how advanced this band was back in the day. That song is some serious evil, and would have been unheard of for audiences of the early 70’s. Impressive.

As for the lead singer that I love to hate, Ozzy was on his game. Or, at least, on as much game as he has left. He is old. You can’t help but feel bad for him as he shuffles around the stage, hunchbacked and moving like an old woman. He has to be on his last legs, which really is another reason to see this band on this tour. I almost wanted him to stand at his mic stand, because it looked genuinely painful every time he moved.

But the old man can still command an audience. His banter with the crowd is repetitive and canned (it basically consists of yelling to see everybody’s hands, clapping in rhythm, chanting “hey” at the right times, and asking everyone how they are doing over and over), but they always managed to elicit a strong reaction from the crowd. People love Ozzy, seemingly forgetting the caricature he turned himself into on reality TV, and respecting him for what he has done for metal, and for music. While his voice was never very good, it is still the same now as it was decades ago. The songs still sound the same with him singing them. His voice has not disappeared after all of the years of abuse, which so many vocalists can’t say.

Once the band closed with their most famous song, “Paranoid,” balloons and confetti rained down from the ceiling, creating an impressive view from the 200 level, where I was sitting. It may have been a bit odd that such bad ass songsters, known for their darkness, had balloons and confetti, but it looked cool.

This was a fun show to watch. Black Sabbath has so many good songs, that it is worth going to the show. The new tunes may not be too well known, but they are good, and there is such an impressive catalogue, that there were few dull spots in the show. Very well done, by a very classic band.

A couple of quick notes: Sabbath took the stage at about 8:50 PM, and they played about 13 songs (I don’t remember exactly, but it was about that). They were on stage for approximately 2 hours.

See them while you still can.

RIP: Hurricane Carter

RIP: Hurricane Carter

Today, Rubin “Hurricane” Carter died at 76 years old.

He will be remembered as a fierce middleweight boxer, a man wrongly convicted of murder, for which he served 20 years in prison, and a man who continued to fight the battle of his life from behind bars, in order to gain the freedom that he so rightly deserved.

hurricaneThe Hurricane has been memorialized in a number of ways, including the famous Bob Dylan song, the film The Hurricane, starring Denzel Washington, and his auto-biography, The Sixteenth Round.

By his own accounts, Carter lived a life of anger, and took up boxing as a means to control this, and to get over the fact that he was constantly made fun of for having a speech impediment as a younger man. He rose to the top of the boxing world, known for his speed, flurries of jabs (hence the nickname), and raw aggression. His life changed forever when he was arrested and convicted of murder in 1966. He spent 20 years in prison as an innocent man, wrestling with his rage, and with his demons, before deciding to fight for his freedom. Eventually, Carter was released. Reading accounts of the trial depicts racism and a broken legal system, something that Carter continued to fight against for the rest of his life as an activist.

While impossible to imagine losing 20 years of your life for something you didn’t do, Carter was inspirational in his overcoming his anger, and putting together the fight of his life, to clear his name, and to walk the streets again. It is said that every year, on the anniversary of his release, he would telephone the judge who let him go, to thank him for doing the right thing.

Hurricane Carter had one of the most interesting life stories, a sports battle unlike any other.

As for learning more about his life, reading The Sixteenth Round is well worth it, as he tells his entire tale, from his troubled youth, to his time on top of the world in the ring, to his wrongful imprisonment, and eventual release. Reading it in his words is something special, knowing what he was going through, and how he overcame it. We cannot blame him for some of the rage he felt…who wouldn’t? Also, the film adaptation of his life is a worthwhile biographical film. Denzel Washington is at his best in his portrayal of Carter.

A strong man who never broke, Carter should be an inspiration to many.

The U Updated Look

The U Updated Look

Among the several new sets of football uniforms released over the past couple of weeks (Florida State, Syracuse, Washington), are new duds for my favorite college team, the University of Miami Hurricanes.

It is always kind of frightening when a team you care about gets some new uniforms, because there is always that chance that they are actually pretty terrible. But there is no doubt that the U needed some new unis this year, as they have been trotting out some pretty bad combos over the past few seasons, and it was time to refresh everything. It has been a while since they have redone their main uniforms, at least in terms of how quickly teams seem to rebrand these days, so the fresh look would be welcome.

On first look, I didn’t like them. At all.

But after seeing the details, and the different parts of the new looks, they quickly grew on me. I think that they will look sharp on the field once again.

uSome notes:

  • Orange and green is one of the best, most recognizable colour palates in the game, so I’m glad they didn’t try and introduce something new in there.
  • I was originally offended that the helmet was different. I have long thought that the all white helmet with orange and green U on the sides was the best helmet in all of football. Observing it more closely though, I think it’s pretty cool that the U is a little bigger, shinier, and has the ibis symbol underneath it. Overall, it looks pretty sharp. The orange helmet will be a cool addition to the family.
  • I hate how Nike always shows their images as monochrome pant and jersey combos. Show us what the combinations will look like! Not many teams go full monochrome during games, so I want to know what the white jersey and orange pants look like. And all the other various combos out there.
  • I could definitely live without the fourth set, the black/grey look. Too many teams are doing it, and there is no point in my mind. The U isn’t black or grey. They are brightly coloured teams that are unmistakable with their egos, swagger, and look. The black just mutes the team.
  • I will miss the helmet stripe down the middle. It looks pretty blank from the front without it.
  • Good job at getting rid of the more annoying parts of the previous sets, like the random bib lines on the front and back of the jerseys. That piping always looked awkward, and I’m glad it’s gone.
  • There is potential for some really great combos here. Orange on top and green bottoms should look really good, as with any of the unis with white pants.

Overall, nicely done. I am happy with the changes, and am glad that the Hurricanes will look fresh and new this season, as the team continues to rebuild itself towards relevance and supremacy. They should have a pretty good team on the field, and at least we will know that they will look better than they have over the past few years.