The Wolf of Wall Street isn’t a remake. Well, not exactly. It definitely isn’t a remake of the other movie titled The Wolf of Wall Street, from 1929, which stars George Bancroft as a man who gets rich in the copper trade and then loses it all through a misunderstanding with his partner, whom he believes is having an affair with his wife. That sounds like something Martin Scorsese would make, or something we’d want to watch after seeing the latest work by him. Unfortunately, the old film is almost entirely lost. Just a little bit of surviving montage material can be exclusively found on a DVD called Unseen Cinema. WoWS is also not a remake of Scorsese’s early short film It’s Not Just You, Murray!, which I posted yesterday and called a template for this new feature.
The true story that WoWS is based on has been made into a movie before, though, and you can read about that and 11 other titles I recommend you check out after you’ve seen Scorsese’s latest. As always, the following list may contain SPOILERS for the plot of WoWS, as it is intended to be a discussion of the new movie’s plot points as well as similar precursors and earlier works from people involved.
In WoWS when Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio) goes to work on Long Island selling penny stocks, all of a sudden I was reminded of Ben Younger’s underrated 2000 drama. And after Belfort sets up his own firm, I was seeing even more direct parallels. That makes sense because Boiler Room was actually inspired by the same true story of Belfort and his firm, Stratton Oakmont. Here we don’t follow the firm’s founder (Tom Everett Scott), but rather one of the young men (Giovanni Ribisi) wooed by the promise of making it rich there. Unlike in WoWS, we also see the side of the victims of places like Stratton Oakmont in the form of a man who loses everything (Taylor Nichols). Boiler Room is also worth seeing for one of Ben Affleck’s best performances – just a monologue really – and some decent acting by Vin Diesel, too.
This one is kind of obligatory, right? The go-to (narrative) movie about Wall Street before WoWS came along, and one that certainly is referenced in everything since, including Boiler Room (see below) and WoWS. And if you didn’t go back and revisit or introduce yourself to Oliver Stone’s drama about insider trading when the recent sequel came out, then do so now (and maybe avoid the sequel, I don’t know; I didn’t see it). One reason I think it’s a good pick for this list besides the obvious is that it came out at the end of 1987, just after the crash that takes place at the beginning of WoWS. It’s a succession of two different eras and forms of corruption involving the financial world. I can’t wait to see who gives us the defining Wall Street movie about the 2000s.
Rent it from iTunes or stream on Amazon Instant Video
American Psycho or The Rules of Attraction
This is the first of three entries on the list with an option. I was understandably reminded of Mary Harron’s brilliant adaptation of Bret Easton Ellis’s American Psycho. Sometimes DiCaprio’s narration describing his wealth and routine seemed like it was even nodding to Christian Bale’s voiceover as Patrick Bateman. Even if Bateman was an actual murderer, though, he still wouldn’t seem as big a psychopath as Belfort does in WoWS. As for the other Ellis adaptation, directed by Roger Avary, there’s really little connecting it to the Scorsese except it was the first movie where I saw critics panning it solely on the basis that it was about unlikable characters doing horrible things. And that’s obnoxiously happening again with WoWS. I guess if I want to recommend a movie filled with awful people and actions, I could just go with Salo. But I haven’t seen Salo for that very reason and therefore can’t speak for it.
Goodfellas or After Hours
I should only include one of Scorsese’s other movies on this list, so take your pick. Goodfellas, which seems too popular to mention, is 23 years old and it’s quite possible many young people are seeing WoWS without being familiar with the modern gangster film classic. WoWS is also intended to be a companion piece to Goodfellas, according to screenwriter Terence Winter (via Film.com). I think that’s a great pairing, which implicates guys like Belfort as being the same as mobsters. Then there’s the more underrated After Hours, which is more similar to WoWS due to their use of improv (and less similar to Goodfellas because “these people are doing much more damage”), according to editor Thelma Schoonmaker (also via Film.com). I like After Hours a lot, and I’m sure fewer of you have seen it, so I definitely think it’s worth checking out. But I’d have to watch it again to get why it’s being considered as the true companion to WoWS.
When Spike Jonze showed up in WoWS in a cameo as the manager of the penny stock firm Belfort initially goes to work for, I thought this guy is having a very interesting year between this, Her and Jackass Presents Bad Grandpa. It’s even more interesting than 1999, when he made his feature directorial debut with Being John Malkovich and co-starred hilariously in Three Kings. The latter is directed by David O. Russell (and is still his best), who interestingly made the new Scorsese wannabe American Hustle. It is also a movie set in and very representative of the early 1990s with its humorous get-rich-scheme and cultural satire. Looking back at Three Kings, I believe Russell should be making movies more like and as good as WoWS rather than the mess he did release this year.
“One of us! One of us!” I wouldn’t be surprised if more than half the audience of WoWS doesn’t know the origin of that line anymore than I did when I first heard it in The Player more than 20 years ago. In that movie it’s explained, though. Here it’s such a throwaway reference and a lot of the audience probably forgets it soon after anyway. Well, here’s your reminder that you should watch Tod Browning’s disturbing 1932 classic about actual carnival “freaks.” Don’t accidentally rent Freaked instead, though I do love that movie, too.
At one point DiCaprio refers to himself as a Bond villain, which is really perfect after we’ve seen Sharon Jones (portraying Shirley Bassey?) singing “Goldfinger” at his wedding. That’s the theme to the 007 installment in which the bad guy tries to get richer while screwing up the U.S. economy. Not unlike Belfort, right? Well, maybe his intent wasn’t to ruin that many Americans, but he certainly didn’t have a problem destroying a good amount of them.
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas
Normally I don’t like to reuse titles I’ve recommended already, especially not as recent as two weeks ago. How was I to know that Terry Gilliam’s adaptation of Hunter S. Thompson’s gonzo journalism classic was going to be more appropriate for this movie? And I mean really appropriate. That quaalude scene that everyone is talking about? It’s pretty awesome, but it also feels like a descendent of the wildest drug-addled antics of this movie. I don’t know which the connection between the two movies made me want more, a sweded version of Fear and Loathing starring DiCaprio and Jonah Hill or a sweded version of WoWS starring Johnny Depp and Benicio Del Toro.
Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls or I Love You Phillip Morris
Speaking of that quaaludes scene, in a recent episode of the podcast Fighting in the War Room, film writer Matt Patches likened DiCaprio’s physical comedy to that of Jim Carrey’s during a particular moment in this Ace Ventura sequel. I hadn’t seen it before, so I at least watched that moment, which involves the title pet detective crawling out of a fake rhino butt. I don’t think I’ll be checking out the rest, but I’m glad Patches is into that. I’d rather recommend the most apt Carrey movie not referenced by the gang on that podcast episode: the little-seen yet brilliant con artist comedy I Love You Phillip Morris, which is also based on a true story of a man whose life is too over the top to be believed. I’ll agree that I could see Carrey playing Belfort, but who would play Hill’s part? The rhino?
Among the few cameos in WoWS, my very favorite is Fran Lebowitz, who plays the judge near the end. She recently was the subject of this documentary directed by Scorsese that I’m sure very few people saw. If only he made docs as well as he makes narrative films, more people would see them. Not that Public Speaking is poorly made, but it’s not very interesting in a visual sense. It’s just Scorsese talking to the legendary humorist, and it is a pretty good introduction and quite funny. I’ll admit, it got me to buy her books. But it is the sort of movie you can just listen to, unless you have trouble not staring at Scorsese’s eyebrows whenever he shows up in something.
This is another documentary that few people saw, probably because its subject, Marc Drier, is less known than Bernie Madoff, whose similar scandal occurred around the same time and overshadowed Drier’s. Why this doc is more relevant to WoWS than films like Chasing Madoff and Casino Jack and other such works about financial criminals is because it allows Drier to tell his own story and play the victim of society card. It’s not glorifying what he did, either, though it does seem to be more sympathetic than Scorsese is with his character. Ironically, you’re likely to come away more angry with Drier than you did with Belfort. I think it’s always fascinating when you get to hear the bad guy’s side, especially since doing so doesn’t mean you have to agree with it.
Santa With Muscles
One thing that’s never mentioned in WoWS is that Jordan Belfort was a movie producer. In the mid ’90s he co-founded Hit Entertainment (not to be confused with children’s television makers HIT Entertainment), which invested in real estate and entertainment ventures. Through the company, Belfort has eight credits on IMDb between 1996 and 1997, and they’re all clunkers, a couple of them starring Hulk Hogan. The most familiar one by a long shot is this movie in which the Hulkster plays an awful millionaire who is super buff who ends up thinking he’s Santa Claus. I wonder if Belfort believed this to be an autobiographical production. Watch for his his name in the opening credits below.