(Dir. Oliver Stone, 2010)

Spoiler Alert!: This review gives away a number of key plot points because, well, I just don’t care.

Last year I wrote that a sequel to Oliver Stone’s seminal 1987 WALL STREET was one of 10 sequels to classic movies that should not happen. Despite that I had a tiny sliver of hope inside that the controversial director might pull off another timely indictment of America’s financial system.

Sadly, the return of Gordon Gekko to the silver screen is no such film. It’s as unnecessary a retread as BLUES BROTHERS 2000, which incidentally also began with the prison release of a major character.

In 2002, Michael Douglas as Gekko, 67 years old with his lion’s mane of hair now gray, walks out of Sing Sing Maximum Security Prison after serving 8 years to find nobody waiting for him. The camera circles his head to let this sink in.

The film flashes forward to 2008 and for a while it’s Shia LaBeouf’s movie. LaBeouf is an ambitious trader – think Charlie Sheen in the first film but with more ethics – engaged to Douglas’ activist blogger daughter (Carey Mulligan).

LaBeouf’s mentor (Frank Langella) at his firm commits suicide after rampant rumors cause the company’s stock to crash.

Josh Brolin, as an old school Gekko-ish hedge fund manager, is suspected by LaBeouf as being the source of the rumors. Going behind Mulligan’s back, LaBeouf consults with Douglas who wants to be close to his daughter again.

Mulligan wants nothing to do with her father. She blames him for the overdose death of her brother and she’s vehemently against the Wall Street world which makes it hard to believe that she’s surprised to find out that her fiancé is a “Wall Street guy”.

LaBeouf wants to avenge Langella, make a name for himself, and sincerely help a renewable fusion-energy company run by the always nice to see Austin Pendleton – in the same manner that Sheen wanted to help out his father’s ailing airline.

Upon learning that Douglas set his daughter up with a Swiss trust fund worth $100 million, LaBeouf finds himself caught in a web of convoluted double crossings.

Stone uses every visual trick up his sleeve to shape this material – at a point in one of several flashy montages full of split screens, tangled neon cable news ticker tape, and computer animation I felt like I was trapped in a MSNBC hall of mirrors.

The problem is that what made the first movie great is that Gordon Gekko was not a redeemable character. He was a symbol of corporate evil and a necessary one, for there are horrible fiscal creatures out there that destroy thousands of people’s lives with no remorse.

If Gekko truly isn’t a sociopath (as his daughter calls him early on), but a visionary that predicts the economic collapse in 2008 and can be won over by a disc containing his future grandson’s ultrasound – what does he symbolize now?

Douglas’s Oscar winning performance of Gekko in the first film was named by AFI as number 24 of the top 50 movie villains of all time in 2003. After his defanged depiction here that number will surely drop next time they update the list.

It’s understandable that Stone and Douglas wanted to revisit this terrain, but with its predictable plot and pat happy ending this is more than a missed opportunity – it’s a failed follow-up of epic proportions.

One of the only enjoyable elements is the soundtrack provided by David Byrne and Brian Eno. As the first film ended with the Talking Heads’ “This Must Be the Place (Naive Melody)”, this one obviously tries to match the mood with a fine selection of the duo’s collaborations. When these melodies appear it’s the only time that this film feels anywhere near the league of the original.

Beyond that, WALL STREET: MONEY NEVER SLEEPS (awful title) has little point to it, except maybe to unleash a bunch of new Gekko-isms on the public.

Of the many so called pearls of wisdom the slick slimy Gekko spouts – “Idealism kills every deal” – sticks out. By sparing us the true cutthroat nature of the beast in favor of trite sentimentality, the deal is definitely dead as a doornail here.

More later…

Nitpicking On NetFlix

I recently received the 1st DVD of season 1 of the much buzzed about HBO show Flight Of The Conchords from NetFlix. The 6 episodes on the disc were very funny with crazily catchy songs by the kooky kiwi folk/rap duo – but trouble was that I had waited for it for 3 months! That’s right – since it was released on December 17th, 2007 it had been at “very long wait” in my queue. I enjoyed it but can’t quite say it was completely worth the wait. During this “very long wait” I had composed a rough draft list of 10 complaints about NetFlix but abandoned it because it wasn’t really thought out and also the next day my next DVD came broken in half – so I thought karma was against me. And I hadn’t even posted it! So being newly frustrated with the DVD mailing program I decided to refine the list of pet peeves and pair it down to 5 complaints. Now, don’t get me wrong – I love NetFlix and think overall they provide an excellent service. I do think some other high volume users and film buff geeks like me will find something to relate to in this persnickety list which I call:

5 Snivelling Bitchy Beefs About NetFlix

1. Lack Of New Release Special Editions Of Undeniable Classics – I noticed that the 50th Anniversary Edition of 12 ANGRY MEN – the 1957 Sidney Lumet Best Picture winning cinematic standard – has just been released on March 4th and contains 2 hours of bonus material. There’s a new transfer of the best available print, a commentary by historian Drew Casper, and 2 “making of” featurettes. Sounds pretty sweet, huh? Well, NetFlix doesn’t carry it. They only have the 2001 non-anamorphic Vintage Classics release that has only the trailer as bonus material available. Wha? Also, NetFlix doesn’t carry The 40th Anniversary Edition of THE GRADUATE, The WALL STREET (20th Anniversary Edition), and even the 26th Anniversary of THE JERK is nowhere to be found! Okay, so maybe they have something against anniversary editions but Criterion re-releases are often dissed too – THE ICE STORM – Criterion Collection, set to be released tomorrow (March 18th), is nowhere on their schedule. The idea that NetFlix doesn’t upgrade from the old original releases to the new enhanced editions with better transfers doesn’t give the impression that they are catering to the real film fan. Seems like these titles would get more action if their definitive new models were available. To their credit they did have BLADE RUNNER: THE FINAL CUT available right off the bat.

2. The Removal Of Their Upcoming New Releases page – What gives? When I previously went browsing under the tab that says “New Releases” I used to have the option to see upcoming releases on a page that wasn’t flashy, just informative about all the releases coming out the next week. Now that page is gone with just a basic showcase, movable by arrows, that shows 4 titles at a time – none of which are either brand new or upcoming just labeled as “Popular New Releases”. It seems like they don’t want us to know what to put in our queue in advance – the lack of a release date on say, GRACE IS GONE (Availability – Unknown) when Amazon lists it as May 27, 2008 seems a bit suspicious. Just sayin’.

3. No Saturday Service – Yes, they specify this on their website that they process “rental returns Monday through Friday, except holidays, via the United States Postal Service”. Okay, but damnit for the “world’s largest online movie rental service, providing more than seven million subscribers access to more than 90,000 DVD titles plus a growing library of more than 5,000 choices” – shouldn’t Saturday be added to the workweek? I mean I hate that if I mail a disc on Friday (or sometimes Thursday) they won’t get it until Monday and I won’t get my next movie til Tuesday or Wednesday possibly! I mean, I just hate that.

4. Odd Inventory Practices – Sometimes as a heavy user a transaction can be a bit baffling. I had FACTORY GIRL, a movie that was not a hit or critical success in my queue at “very long wait” last year and it’s status kept changing – availability: “short wait” then “now” then back to “very long wait”. I got many releases in the meantime that were much more popular and sometimes sent to me on the Monday before their release while FACTORY GIRL kept hanging back. When it finally came the actual disc had printed on it: “Sale copy – not for rental”! Uh, NetFlix – is that even legal? I mean, I’m just wonderin’.

5. They Turned My Site Down To Be A NetFlix Affiliate – Yep, sour grapes.

Okay! So that about sums up my issues with the San Francisco based corporation that is successfully annihilating Blockbuster as well as Ma and Pa videostores across the map. And I’m all for that – videostores are pretty anachronistic and irrelevant these days and will soon be extinct for a lot of technological advances they can’t adapt to. From the point of view that to truly love something one can see its flaws all the more and shouldn’t be afraid to point out what could be improved I hope this isn’t taken the wrong way. Otherwise I just may have to get used to an empty mailbox.

More later…