Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps

Gordon Gekko is back and so is Oliver Stone. After losing the baseball in the lights with W., this sequel to the 1987 film Wall Street has upped his stock in my book. Maybe he will always be more at home as a director when thinly fictionalizing reality, rather than doing a kabuki version of it.

Either way, once again we are treated to a masterful drama of family and human relationships set against the current Wall Street climate. Last time it was Charlie Sheen as Bud Fox, eager to make a buck, corrupted by Gordon Gekko (Michael Douglas). This time, Shia LeBoeuf is in the hot seat. Only Gekko seems to have been changed by his eight year stint in prison. Now he’s a Nassim Taleb-like prophet of doom, with a book preaching the truth about market shenanigans.

Gekko wants back into his daughter Winnie’s life. Winnie is played by the winning Carrie Mulligan and she is betrothed to Shia’s Jake Moore. Jake wants to help her find some closure, and maybe trade that for some tips that will help him get revenge on Churchill Schwartz, the thinly-disguised version of investment bank Goldman Sachs, which, in this film, has a hand in sinking the thinly-disguised version of Lehman Brothers Bear Stearns.

What’s nice is that the Wall Street stuff is all accurate, as near as I can tell, but it takes a back seat to the relationships between people. Stone, as screenwriter/director, seems to be advancing the philosophy that much of Wall Street trading is based on the human currencies of rumor, greed and revenge. And his thesis about how to get through this crisis is optimistically human… make babies.

The filmmaking is masterful, even if it does indulge in Stone’s trademark over-the-top flourishes. There are useless graphics, snap zooms and spinning helicopter shots. (The d.p., Rodrigo Prieto, who also worked with Stone on Alexander seems to be having fun mirroring Wall Street’s sudden rises and falls.) There are also lovely bits of detail. I love the ballad of earrings in the gala scene, as telling of Wall Street excess as any Ducati chase scene.

Other than some bit players, the acting is superb. Josh Brolin’s mannered Bretton James character is phenomenal, and Susan Sarandon makes an impression in just two brief scenes. I’m surprised I haven’t heard any Oscar buzz yet about this film. There is much worthy of awards recognition, and what’s more, the movie contains a vision of Wall Street which is worthy of recognition by Main Street.

More: Economist Tyler Cowen’s view

Catfish

I knew next to nothing going into Catfish and that is how I recommend seeing the movie, because following the story zigzags the young filmmakers behind it have put together is fun, surprising, suspenseful, intriguing and, ultimately, touching.

I saw it at a screening where the editor, Zachary Stuart-Pontier, spoke about shaping the surprising tale from hundreds of hours of footage and then refining it with executive producer Andrew Jarecki (Capturing the Friedmans). Once you see the film, you’ll understand how great a job the team did in telling this story with humor, computer graphics, and even some poetic cinematic moments. Stuart-Pontier says the rumors are untrue. There was nothing faked. There was discussion between the filmmakers, for example, that in some scenarios X Y’ing Z might be a good scene. But the things that happen in the scene where X Y’es Z are all genuine.

I will say only this about the plot: Because it involves facebook, it will make a great companion to The Social Network. One more facebook movie and we’ll have a hat trick!

IF YOU REALLY WANT SPOILERS: Thinksplosion Review