October 12, 2010

"Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps"

 From my column in Taki's Magazine:
A cinematic development I hadn’t expected is Oliver Stone evolving into a director who makes movies that are fair, responsible, and forgettable. His sequel Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps, with Michael Douglas returning as reptilian financier Gordon Gekko, falls squarely into all three categories. ...

Surprisingly, Stone has taken some of the criticism to heart. Thus, his recent history-inspired films have been less contrived than, say, The Social Network. Stone’s 2008 biopic about George W. Bush, W, which used mostly public utterances as private dialogue, plausibly blamed the Iraq War on the younger Bush’s Daddy Issues, something Stone knows all about.

Stone’s new movie fictionalizing 2008’s Great Crash is informative and reasonable, with the conspiracy-theorizing kept to the margins. The financial industry, Stone sagely concludes (echoing his old-fashioned stockbroker father whose 1985 death inspired the first Wall Street), should raise capital for industry, not indulge in speculation.

Yet even the most desperate advertising copywriter wouldn’t adorn a movie ad with the quote “Informative and Reasonable!” in 72-point type. And if Oliver Stone won’t indulge in malicious speculation about Wall Street, to whom can we turn? ...

Money Never Sleeps at least does continue Stone’s practice of middlebrow free association, as if he were perusing Wikipedia on acid. Just as Gordon “Greed Is Good” Gekko’s name is a mashup of the lizard and Gordon Getty, once the richest man on the Forbes 400, Josh Brolin’s handsome villain is called “Bretton James,” an apparent concoction of Jamie Dimon of JPMorgan Chase & Co. and 1944’s Bretton Woods trade conference that set up the IMF and the World Bank, so you know he's rich and connected.

Read the whole thing there.


Sylvia said...

Eh, it was pretty mediocre. The only entertaining bit was Gecko being handed his brick-sized cellphone on release from prison.

Also, Shia can't touch Charlie Sheen's forceful performance in the original.

I wish Stone would return to the brilliancy of his 90s films such as JFK, Nixon and Natural Born Killers.

traveling boho said...

I completely shared your disappointment coming out of the theater. The crisis seemed like such a ripe subject for the Stone of JFK.

Even worse, though, was his complete failure to directly engage the causes of the crisis. Why not at least have the main characters directly involved in credit default swaps and mortgage backed securities? Instead, that was all just a backdrop for lame family melodrama.

Anonymous said...

I used to know Gordon Getty. I was on his Christmas list for many years. I think he was sleeping with my ex-wife (that led to her becoming an ex). He wasn't very much like Gordon Gecko. Gordon Gecko is a cartoon character - a rapacious capitalist boogeyman created to scare children.

The real billionaire Getty was just the kind of billionaire that you would want - kind of sweet and silly. He didn't use his great wealth to stir up trouble - that would be George Soros. He withdrew from public interaction so as to devote himself to composing music (mediocre) and singing (utterly disastrous). I remember attending a concert where he sang with my ex-wife. I said afterwards to the person in the seat next to me , "Money talks, money does not sing".

Getty had some political interests -I met Patty Hearst and the man she was soon to marry at a party at Gordon's house. About the only thing I remember was how small she and her fiance were.

Gorden Gecko on the other hand is closer to Dallas' J.R. Ewing than he is to any real billionaire or indeed any actual human being. In Dallas everyone is well dressed and perfectly coiffed and groomed. They then storm into the office of their rival and announce their evil intentions. LOL. In the real world those who have it in for you are seldom so obliging as to announce their nefarious plans to your face.

Gordon Gecko unlike those CEOs who periodically get hauled in front of a Congressional committee, doesn't equivocate and speak in euphemisms -he announces straight out - "Greed is good". Shades of Snidely Whiplash.

I think Stone had to have the Gecko character make that improbable speech lest the audience identify with the handsome, clever, and magnetic villain of the piece. It was quite a task to get the audience to pull for the vapid, listless Charlie Sheen character. Stone had to paint the Gecko character in in garish day-glow colors.

As Whiskey would no doubt point out - the audience would naturally be attracted to the Alpha Gecko character and repulsed by the Beta Sheen character. So he had to make the Gecko character deliver that perfectly villainous sound bite.


Marlowe said...

Man, he had Eli Wallach in this picture and he didn't get him to reprise his best part: Tuco in the Good, the Bad and the Ugly? It could have been Machete (done right) on Wall Street.

Also: I agree with you that Stone apparently lost his stones (sorry) after NBK and the brouhaha it generated. I think Stone giving up powerful, mind-altering drugs also diminished his creativity. I caught NBK on a cable TV channel the other day and enjoyed it quite a bit (I haven't seen it since it came out). One long, hallucinatory road trip, sort of Stone parodying David Lynch (seriously, watching it I thought he had to be intentionally taking the piss out of Lynch's movie Wild at Heart).

MQ said...

"Alexander the Great" was a flawed movie but it had some of the entertaining old over-the-top Stone in it.

"Older, Wiser, and Worse" is a great title and applies to the work of many flamboyant artists.

Bantam said...

Before you look like Michael Douglas, who is battling cancer, shouldn't American patriots try to emulate Solomon Burke?

No, not the singing part.

Whiskey said...

To be fair, it was Michael Lewis's observation that the audience (particularly aspiring Wall Streeters) that identified with Gekko not Charlie Sheen's character.

Anonymous said...

Amazing what happens when a nutso cuckoo-bananas guy flatters your sensibilities - if the conspiracy theory is something you like, he's...responsible! And fair!

Not, you know, a crazy weirdo.

Anonymous said...

Natural Born Killers, Coming to America, Waitress, and Inception are the worst movies ever made. I added Inception to this list after seeing it in the theatres this year- it sucked donkeys.

MacGruber is the funniest film maybe ever but certainly in the last 10 years.

Dan in DC

Anonymous said...

Steve: You can't possibly believe Oswald acted alone. What the hell was Jack Ruby doing? Just righteous avenging?

The account in James Ellroy's American Tabloid always struck me as the most plausible, and ironically would have made a much better movie than JFK.

Anonymous said...

I only go to the comments to search for Albertosaurus's comments.

Always well done. You should have a blog, too.

travis said...

I used to know Gordon Getty... He wasn't very much like Gordon Gecko.

Mash Getty up with a lizard and you might get some thing that resembles Michael Milken

Tarquinius Superbus said...

How about a review of Ebert's "great movies"? I'd appreciate your bookend opinions.

Anonymous said...

"Bretton James"

Nice to know Stone chose a name representative of the Harvard/WASP Mafia that dominates Wall Street!

"Bretton" may remind some people of Bretton Woods, but it will make more people think of Britons, and we all know it was the English who were responsible for the mess we're in. It always is.

A more appropriate mash-up would be a villian named Sanjay Saperstein.

Steve Sailer said...

In the movie, Bretton James is CEO of Churchill Schwarz, which I quite liked.

Fred said...

"Churchill Schwarz" was supposed to be Goldman Sachs, and the company Shia LaBoeuf worked for was a mash-up of Lehman and Bear Stearns -- Lehman because its crash precipitated TARP and Bear Stearns because its refusal to help bailout Long Term Capital Management in '98 got thrown back in its face when it went bust (in the movie, it was Churchill Schwarz that the company refused to help bail out in '00).

Anonymous said...

I only go to the comments to search for Albertosaurus's comments.

Always well done. You should have a blog, too.

Thank you but I am in awe of Steve. I don't want to compete with him. I am launching my own site soon but it's not a blog. I'm not sure what to call it but its subject is music education.


Truth said...

"Natural Born Killers, Coming to America, Waitress, and Inception"

That's quite a wide range.

bruce said...

'plausibly blamed the Iraq War on' the Bushes? Are you kidding me? Do you Americans ever take off your 'world revolves around America' blinkers?

Claverhouse said...

An Anonymous said ( with all the 'Aha !' appearance of having caught you out in a logical trap ):

Amazing what happens when a nutso cuckoo-bananas guy flatters your sensibilities - if the conspiracy theory is something you like, he's...responsible! And fair!

Not, you know, a crazy weirdo.

Humans being vastly more complex than the average conservative understands, and far more so than any liberal comprehends: it is entirely possible to accept that which we prefer to be our truth is still true when stated by someone with whom on other occasion we believe to be dedicated to untruth ( according to our perceptions ) and/or crazy.

The vile semi-sane dictator and traitor Cromwell was an extraordinarily unpleasant little jerk; this doesn't mean he did not speak some truthful insights when it was to his advantage to do so.

And who amongst us would automatically disagree with any jerk if that jerk said it was raining whilst we were getting wet ?

Anonymous said...

Marlowe, I just watched The Good et al again the other day, and Wallach steals the show from Eastwood - no mean feat. Tuco's best line is the almost post-modern aside:
"When you gotta shoot, shoot. Don't talk."

dfasdfasdfasd said...

They should never do sequels like this but filmmakers cannot resist the money and the nostalgic let's-get-the-gang-together-again thing.

The originals present us with badass villains we hate or love-to-hate. But over time, they kinda become folk heroes, and we grow fond of them. So, we don't wanna see them as BAD GUYS again but as good guys or bad-guys-taking-on-even-worse-guys(which makes them good). It's the Godzilla formula. In the first few films, Godzilla was the horrendous monster destroying Japan. But kids came to love big bad Godzilla, so later he became a good monster taking on even worse monsters to save Japan from destruction.

Same with Godfather movies. The original duology ends with Michael gaining the world but losing his soul. He returns in III to win back his soul and our hearts.
In Hannibal, Lecter returns as a rather good guy. Still a cannibal but decent enough to fight and destroy a far worse monster.

And Terminator was badass evil in part I but returned in pt II and III as the good robot.

Maybe it's something pagan in our souls that wants to worship the superior badass figure. Even--or especially--if it's the villain, we want him on our side or we wanna be on his side because the bad guy is more likely to be masterfully, awesomely, and nihilistically badass(without qualms or reservation).

But since we feel kinda uncomfortable identifying with or rooting for an out-and-out villain, we want him to return as a 'good guy'. In a way, Shane was like a sequel without the original. We know that he'd once been a heartles killer but then chose to clean up his act and be a good guy and redeem himself--like the Terminator was programmed to help humans in Part II.(A machine programmed to fight for humans against machines, his own kind; it's kinda like how whites are being programmed to fight against their own kind. White people are suffering from a disease called historical sequelitis. The West is still allowed to be strong and badass but ONLY against its own survival. Like the Terminator in pt II, the game has been rigged so that we can only redeem ourselves by our own destruction.)

Given Shane was a kind of Christian figure, maybe the relation between the original and the sequel in many of these cases exhibit a kind of pagan-christian dynamic.
We are first confronted with the heartless but badass and cool pagan villain. We hate him as the 'bad guy' but admire his strength. After all, when the original Terminator came out, people preferred to dress up as killer Arnold than as his victims for Halloween.

But the sequel in a way Christianizes or redeems the pagan villain into a spiritual figure--even a sacrificial figure, as the Terminator sacrifices himself at the end of II and Hannibal chops his hand off and spares Clarice.

Anonymous said...

I was so dissapointed with this movie is not even a joke. that romance crap doesnt work. Money never sleeps? that shouldve been the name for the first movie.. this one shouldve been, Wall Street legalized greed. or better yet, wall street go to sleep, get married and have a kid, lol… I dont wanna see that crap, i wanna see how Gordon has his sleeves rolled up in his million dollar office talking about how he’s gonna make that money with a doughter following his footsteps theeeeeeeeeen meeting a guy whos also as hungry as her. Competing on who can read the stock market better or make better deals, and then maybe the conflict couldve been about making things right. Although in this case, everything is right.lol
Anyways, only one speech from Mr Gordon was ok and we all know which one it is.. and still was half as good as the one he had in the first movie with all the shareholders, and a fraction of the one in the limo where he mentions that he does not want to make 400k/yr flying first class feeling comfy, he’s talking about 50-100mill……. a player!!! now that’s a line

Burke101 said...

Where is D-Fens when you need him?