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Monday, April 15, 2013

Wall Street

Hello, everyone out there in Internet land, and if you happen to be living in the United States, I want to wish all of you a Happy Tax Day!

(Well, okay, if you have been audited, it's not exactly going to be a “happy” one. And, even if you did get a huge refund, the steps that you took to get that refund probably isn't considered to be a happy experience either.)


Yes, in the United States, April 15 is the absolute deadline for filing your income tax papers for the year (Fear not, Canadians, you still have two more weeks to go, as tax day for us isn't until April 30). And, let's face it. Nobody really likes doing taxes. I bet even the accountants at H&R Block and other businesses dedicated to filing people's taxes despise doing them. But, alas, taxes is one of the things in this world that one simply cannot avoid. The other thing being death.

Wow...that sounds bleak and depressing, doesn't it?

At any rate, since today is tax day, I thought that for the subject of today's blog entry, I would try to talk about a topic that is also linked to money, finances, and the lengths that some people go to in order to be filthy rich.

And, I can only think of one movie right off the bat that does exactly that.

First, a question for you. How many of you have owned (or currently own) stocks in the stock market? Come on, don't be shy! I actually own some stock in the company that I work for. It isn't much, mind you. Since I entered the company's stock program a year and a half ago, I've only managed to accumulate seven shares. It's pocket change compared to most people, but I'm okay with that. The fact that I have a smidgen of shares in what can be an unstable venture is fine with me...

...well, at least until the stock prices go crashing down, that is.

The truth is that the stock market can be a really fickle place, and it involves just as much gambling as a night out at a casino, or buying hundreds of those Powerball lottery tickets. And, to be completely honest, as much as the gamble can potentially pay off, I'm not that much of a risk taker to put all of my savings into the stock market.

Mind you, the savviest of stockbrokers have done their research and come into the New York Stock Exchange well prepared and researched into what companies are doing hot, and what companies are...well, not.

But even the most intelligent brokers can't rely on the Wall Street Journal alone to make huge decisions in the stock exchange. A little bit of luck is involved as well. Sometimes luck can make the difference between making a small fortune, or losing a big one.

And, sometimes events happen that can cause huge hardships, no matter how great your stock portfolio is. Just take a look back at the October 1929 crash which sent the world into a Great Depression for the better part of a decade. See also the crashes of 1987, 2001, and 2008 as well – the latter one being one that we're still feeling the effects of five years later. And the 2001 collapse of Enron also destroyed the lives of many people due to the accounting scandal that saw the price of the stock drop from $90 a share to below 90 cents a share by the beginning of 2002.

And, that's where the risks come into play. It's easy enough to decide to purchase shares in the stock market. As long as people remember the rule to buy low and sell high, that should ideally be a feasible guideline to go by. But, that doesn't take into account the possible insider trading, sweetheart deals, and other corrupt behaviour that can take place on and off the trading floor. I would like to think that most stockbrokers know how the game is played and try to win the game as fairly as possible, but there are always going to be people who want to win at all costs no matter how many lies they tell or how many people they throw under the bus.

That scenario seems to be the main theme in Oliver Stone's “Wall Street”, which was released in theatres on December 11, 1987. The film was a box office smash, making $44 million on a budget of $15 million. The film had some real star power as well, with already established actors Michael Douglas and Daryl Hannah being cast in the film, as well as then rising star Charlie Sheen.

The film was critically acclaimed by many well-known critics including Jay Scott, Richard Corliss, and Roger Ebert, and nearly a quarter of a century later, the film spawned a sequel, with Douglas and Sheen (in a cameo) reprising their roles and Shia LeBeouf and Carey Mulligan as the new faces on the street.

The film also exhibited the general mantra of the 1980s in general. Greed is Good. Say it with me, people.

Thank you, Mr. Douglas!

The film begins in the year 1985. Bud Fox (Sheen) is an up-and-coming stockbroker who works for Jackson Steinem & Co, who wants nothing more than to become a real player on Wall Street. Despite his blue-collar upbringing by his father (played by Sheen's real-life father, Martin Sheen), who serves as president of the machinist's union at Bluestar Airlines, Bud has decided to idolize a man who could not be more unlike his old man. Gordon Gekko (Douglas) is a ruthless Wall Street trader who would not stop at anything to nail down a huge money making deal, even if he resorts to illegal measures to do it.

The partnership between Bud and Gekko begins as Bud pays him a visit and is given an interview. However, Gekko remains stoic and unimpressed by Bud's pitch...until Bud hands Gekko some insider information on Bluestar Airlines (that was casually mentioned in a conversation between Bud and his father. Gekko immediately starts purchasing Bluestar stock and becomes a client of Bud. Soon after, Bud is given an assignment by Gekko to spy on a British corporate raider and predict his next move so that Gekko can get dibs first. The tactic works, and Bud and Gekko quickly form a partnership and allegiance.

At first, things couldn't be going better for Bud. Thanks to the perks that Gekko promised him for doing his dirty work, Bud finds himself with a corner office, a Manhattan penthouse, and a beautiful blonde girlfriend named Darien (Hannah). But Bud's tactics – which include using friends as straw buyers and trading insider information illegally – attract the attention of the Securities and Exchange Commission, which immediately puts Bud on their watch list.

Still, Bud feels no guilt over anything he has done, content to living the high life as one of New York's most successful brokers, albeit attached to Gekko the same way that a marionette would be attached to its strings.

Things begin to unravel in the Bud/Gekko partnership following an idea that Bud had to purchase and expand Bluestar Airlines with Bud as president. Bud even persuades his father to get the union on his side. But Gekko pulls the wool over everyone's eyes when he reveals his plan to dissolve the company and sell off its assets to access cash from the company's pension plan, which would leave the entire staff of Bluestar unemployed and penniless...including Bud's own father. Bud quickly switches allegiances and tries his best to save his father's company...but when you have Gordon Gekko as an enemy, it won't be easy.

And, that's where I'm going to end this piece off. The ending is satisfying though, I promise you that.

Since I still have some space left, why not end this look back on Wall Street with this set of behind the scenes trivia.

01 – This was the very first feature film to feature the cell phone! Well, a cell phone that was big, bulky, and weighed three pounds!!!

02 – Before Michael Douglas won the role of Gordon Gekko, Oliver Stone really wanted either Warren Beatty or Richard Gere for the part.

03 – Tom Cruise really wanted the role of Bud in “Wall Street”, but Stone had already promised the role to Sheen. Stone and Cruise would later work together three years later when the movie “Born On The Fourth Of July” was released.

04 – The film's original title was going to be “Greed”.

05 – Michael Douglas won the Academy Award for Best Actor for his performance in the film.

06 – On the flipside, Daryl Hannah won the Golden Raspberry Award for Worst Supporting Actress. Ouch.

07 – Oliver Stone's son, Sean, plays the role of Rudy Gekko.

08 – Oliver Stone had two actors in line to play the role of Bud's father. One was Martin Sheen, and the other was Jack Lemmon. Stone gave Charlie Sheen the choice as to which actor he wanted. Gee...can't imagine what went into his decision...

09 – Many people apparently came up to Stone to tell him that they felt Daryl Hannah was miscast as Darien, but Stone stood by his decision.

10 – Heck, not even Daryl Hannah was happy being cast in the role, as she felt that she was nothing like the character she was playing. Hmmm...maybe that's why she ended up with the Razzie.

11 – Sean Young was cast as Gordon Gekko's wife...but she really wanted the part that Daryl Hannah was cast in, and she made it very clear at every opportunity. Geez, what is it with Sean Young causing havoc on every movie set she was a part of? In every single Monday Matinee that I've done featuring Young as one of the actresses, she's always had something scandalous written about her!

12 – The film was finished five days ahead of schedule, as Stone had increased the hours of filming in the movie's last few weeks of shooting, partly due to a looming Director's Guild strike on the horizon.

13 – Charlie Sheen's character was originally named Joe Fox. It had to be changed after a real-life trader with the same name refused to let the film use his name.

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