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Category: Oliver Stone

Oliver Stone moves away from politics. Is that a good thing?

March 29, 2011 |  7:45 am

It's been a long time since Oliver Stone has made a film about a subject that isn't rooted in fact. Eleven years, actually, during which time he explored Latin American leaders ("South of the Border"), the global financial collapse ("Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps"), the U.S. war in Iraq ("W.") and Sept. 11 ("World Trade Center").

Now, with several outlets reporting that Universal Pictures is poised to finance and distribute Stone's "Savages," a thriller involving pot growers that could shoot as early as this summer, Stone takes a step back from explicit politics. The movie, which so far stars Aaron Johnson and Benicio del Toro, centers on a pair of marijuana growers so adept that a drug cartel kidnaps their female friend to force the growers to work for them.

Anytime Oliver Stone is concerned, his own history inevitably becomes both a selling point and hurdle for marketers (one can imagine the director's own admission to past drug use will surface as this movie is rolled out). But how will the film itself turn out?

Some online commentators have begun to cheer Stone's departure from politics, though when you consider the director's last three movies not rooted in recent history ("Alexander," "Any Given Sunday," "U Turn"), it remains to be seen whether that deviation is a good thing.

In fact, his most influential and perhaps best work comes when he makes films that are animated by the zeitgeist but just aren't freighted by historical details -- the Vietnam War cultural digestion of "Platoon," media-age violence in "Natural Born Killers," the master-of-the-universe bravado of "Wall Street." 

In that sense, at least, the marijuana-trade setting of "Savages" fits right in.

-- Steven Zeitchik



Oliver Stone's unlikely right-wing appeal

With Hitler remarks, Oliver Stone provokes, then apologizes

Oliver Stone, a man you can respect even as you shake your head

Photo: Oliver Stone and Hugo Chávez. Credit: "South of the Border"

Oliver Stone's unlikely right-wing appeal

September 28, 2010 |  3:41 pm

There's no way to know for sure, but if a man with the name of Michael Moore had turned out a movie about a group of greedy bankers conspiring to save their own hides, it probably wouldn't have drawn the broad box-office support that 'Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps" received this past weekend.

As it turned out, the man who made that movie was, of course, Oliver Stone. At the moment, there might be no mainstream creative type more reviled by large segments of the right and center-right of the U.S. populace (including Moore). Just a few months ago, Stone's documentary "South of the Border" inspired an angry backlash — here's a small sampling — for its kid-glove treatment of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and its pot shots at American foreign policy. And then Stone threw an anti-semitism controversy on the pile for good measure. If you were trying to tell a director with a big studio movie what not to do in the months leading to his film's release, you'd pretty much come up with this list.

And yet when "Wall Street" opened, it landed a solid $19 million in its first weekend. That number wasn't just strong for a sequel to a 23-year-old movie, it was also Stone's best-ever opening in his 35 years of making movies.

The strong box office may reveal a truth about how Stone polarizes us. While his politics are decried by many, unlike Moore he's seen as a storyteller first. As long as he's giving that to audiences, they'll think nothing of shelling out eight or 10 bucks to see his movie, even if he slips in a little politics on the side. (We suppose you could argue that "Wall Street" would have grossed more had it not been Stone's name capping the credits. But when more than 2 million people pay to see your movie on a September weekend, you can't be that alienating.)

It's hard not to wonder, though, if there's something more going on here than moviegoers checking their politics at the theater door. For all the Wall Street excess that Stone's new film depicts, the movie (spoiler alert — skip ahead to the next paragraph if you'd rather not know) in many ways offers a benign, even uplifting message about the Street. Sure, the fevered speculation drives one old-timer to take his life. But the movie ultimately tells the story of a young idealist -- and one who gets the money and the girl to boot.

Even one of moviedom's all-time unrepentant characters, the Wall Street sharpie Gordon Gekko, seeks, and (after a lapse) gains, redemption. Compared to the original, which sees said sharpie sent off to jail, this chapter of his story is  almost.. heartwarming. Big business and the financial industry may have a deep skepticism for the current Democratic administration. But there's little for them to dislike in a movie about them from the most outspoken of left-wing filmmakers.

(It may be no coincidence, then, that so many on Wall Street cooperated with Stone. As screenwriter Allan Loeb told us this morning, "I wasn't sure sure how a new movie would go over on Wall Street. I was afraid I'd have to go back to the studio and say this isn't a good idea. But instead they said, 'The time has come. How can I help?' ")

It's not the first time Stone has shifted gears to such salable effect. Four years ago the director gave us "World Trade Center," a triumph-of-the-spirit tale that also centered on a hot-button political topic, and was not only not condemned by the right but got them hailing Stone for his patriotism. Just like "Wall Street," that became his biggest grosser to date.

So our question about the Wall Street box office perhaps should be less about the public putting ideology aside and instead about how Stone did the same. The director has savvily figured out how to play down his ideology when working in the studio system; as Loeb told us, "Working with Oliver, nothing was ever discussed in terms of politics." Stone may play an ideologue in real life, but at the multiplex, he's all pragmatist.

There's little doubt that Stone will continue angering the right with his public comments and documentaries. When it comes to features, however, he knows (like any good Wall Streeter) that it's best to follow where the market is headed.

— Steven Zeitchik


Photo: Oliver Stone. Credit: Jason Kempin / Getty Images.


Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps wins weekend box office

Wall Street insiders open up for Money Never Sleeps

Oliver Stone: A man you can respect even as you shake your head

Critical Mass: 'Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps'

September 24, 2010 |  1:00 pm


The years have not been kind to Gordon Gekko, as we see from the opening moments of Oliver Stone's "Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps." The '80s bad boy who once famously boasted that "Greed is good" is now an ex-con, recently released from prison into a world even more cutthroat than the one he left.

The same could be said for Stone's film, which attempts to recapture the magic of the 1987 original but seems to have cleanly divided the critics. They generally still love Michael Douglas' Gekko but could pass on the rest of the stuff Stone adds to his plate.

The Times' Kenneth Turan found the sequel to be unfocused and sloppy: "The film has more moving parts than a pricey Rolex, and they are not all in sync." But he does have high praise for the bad guys, if only we could see more of them. "So let's hear it for Josh Brolin's Bretton," Turan says. "And some applause for the fearless 94-year-old Eli Wallach's Julie Steinhardt, terrifying when he makes eccentric bird noises and talks about the crash of '29 and the end of the world. And we can't forget Michael Douglas as Gekko Redux, at least in those moments when the film allows him to be as bad as he ought to be."

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With Hitler remarks, Oliver Stone provokes, then apologizes

July 26, 2010 |  6:39 pm

On Sunday, Oliver Stone once more caused a firestorm with remarks about Hitler.

In an interview with the paper's Camilla Long promoting his pro-leftist South American doc "South of the Border," he reportedly said that it was “Jewish domination of the media" that kept the Nazi leader as a villain, noting that in point of fact that there were other forces that should be apportioned a lot more of the blame for World War II deaths.

"Hitler was a Frankenstein, but there was also a Dr. Frankenstein. German industrialists, the Americans and the British. He had a lot of support," the director reportedly said.

Stone went on to suggest that the power of pro-Israel lobby AIPAC was the reason why foreign-policy coverage looked the way it did. “They stay on top of every comment, the most powerful lobby in Washington. Israel has ... up United States foreign policy for years,” Stone reportedly said. (The story is behind the Sunday Times' paywall.)

Jewish groups quickly condemned the director — Anti-Defamation League watchdog  Abraham Foxman noted that Stone's comments "conjure up some of the most stereotypical and conspiratorial notions of undue Jewish power and influence" — and on Monday, Stone went into apology mode.

"In trying to make a broader historical point about the range of atrocities the Germans committed against many people, I made a clumsy association about the Holocaust, for which I am sorry and I regret.  Jews obviously do not control media or any other industry," he said.

Stone continued, "The fact that the Holocaust is still a very important, vivid and current matter today is, in fact, a great credit to the very hard work of a broad coalition of people committed to the remembrance of this atrocity — and it was an atrocity."

This particular controversy isn't entirely new  for Stone — in January, while promoting his Showtime program "Secret History of America," he said that Hitler was an "easy scapegoat" — prompting many of his critics to say that the director's theories about American international relations go deeper than his favored topic of leftist politics in the latter half of the 20th century.

We'd actually interviewed Stone for "South of the Border" a few weeks ago, and while he didn't make anything resembling these eyebrow-raisers, he had a similar kind of off-the-cuff bombast. At one point in the interview, he suggested that the reason the New York Times had covered Hugo Chavez in the way that it had did lay with a closet racism — prompting one of his representatives to get on the phone afterward and ask that the on-the-record comment not be printed.

Part of the point of sending out Oliver Stone to promote a film is, of course, to catch attention for it. But shock-publicity is a double-edged sword, and sometimes it cuts the other way.

"South of the Border" is already a niche play. With these comments, a lot more people have now surely heard of it, though we're not sure that means anyone new will see it.

— Steven Zeitchik


Photo: Oliver Stone with Hugo Chavez. Credit: Cinema Libre Studio.


Oliver Stone, a man you can respect even as you shake your head

Oliver Stone: Financial system is suffering from congenital heart failure

Oliver Stone tragets U.S foreign policy in documentary 'South of the Border'

Oliver Stone, a man you can respect even as you shake your head

July 2, 2010 |  5:44 pm

Why wait for September to cause a ruckus when you can get one going today? That might be the mantra for Oliver Stone and his (sometimes) good-natured rabble-rousing.

Stone will get the Fox News set agitated (his publicity team hopes) with his indictment of the financial system in "Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps" in the fall. But in the meantime, he has a new documentary titled "South of the Border” — a shameless if genial piece of agitprop about leftist leaders in South America and Cuba — that opens this weekend in Los Angeles (with a few scattered protests thrown in for good measure).

In the film, Stone crisscrosses South America lobbing mainly gentle questions at six leftist leaders. It’s a survey course of modern Latin American politicians and their relationship with America and Americans, but after a fashion; those hoping for context on the opposition or even the people these leaders govern will be forced to look elsewhere.

For his part, Stone says that the point of the film is not to explore every wrinkle in modern Latin American society but to offer a cinematic corrective to stateside perceptions of U.S. foreign policy. “This issue is much larger than these six countries,” Stone said in an interview. “We’re still subscribing to the Bush, Cheney and Wolfowitz doctrine of unilateral control of the world. Obama is a puppet president in that regard.”

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Cannes 2010: Oliver Stone: Financial system is suffering from congenital heart failure

May 14, 2010 |  8:11 pm


Few Hollywood figures are as polarizing as Oliver Stone. But few messages go down as smoothly as the one the "Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps" director offered about the financial sector, and the attempts to overhaul it, at the Cannes Film Festival on Friday.

"It was a triple bypass," Stone said of the financial crash of 2008. "They put a stent in it but I don't think they solved it."

Like Michael Moore and other polemicists, Stone didn't have all the answers for how to fix the financial system that has brought the economy low (while leaving many in the banking sector untouched) — a system that continues to vex and divide both Congress and the White House. But in his Cannes news conference, the filmmaker — who since his "Wall Street" came out back in 1987 has been a one-man chronicler of greed and the system's ill-fated attempts to curb it — had an impressively level-headed assessment of what's broken, drawing from the personal as well as the philosophical.

"My father was a real broker and he was a real economist," said Stone of his father, Louis Stone, who worked as a stockbroker. "He believed in serving his clients. And that's gone. There are no clients."

Stone added that bankers were initially supposed to serve as intermediaries but wound up with too much power. He also spoke knowledgeably about a number of Wall Street issues, including the eroded firewall between research and investment divisions; love him or hate him, he's a director who does his research. (In fact, the production sought access to, or conversations with, several major U.S. investment banks, including Goldman Sachs, but were turned down by all the biggies; only a smaller outfit north of the border, the Royal Bank of Canada, welcomed the production.)

In the from-the-hip session, Stone also spoke about his desire to make a documentary about Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, an effort that had gained some traction before negotiations with the Iranian president became "ridiculous."

Stone wound up going on to make "South of the Border," a film about Latin American leaders, instead — as well as, he revealed at his news conference, a third installment in his interview series with Fidel Castro, which he said found the Cuban president physically ailing but mentally lucid. But the taste of his previous effort lingers. "It's an ugly situation," Stone said of the discussions to shoot Ahmadinejad. "I don't know who's lying and who's telling the truth."

— Steven Zeitchik


Photo: Oliver Stone at a Cannes Film Festival news conference. Credit: Cannes Film Festival

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Cannes Critical Consensus: 'Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps'

May 14, 2010 |  3:26 pm


Oliver Stone's "Wall Street" sequel may share some thematic ideas with "Robin Hood," particularly when it comes to money and power, but the two Cannes Film Festival premieres are attracting mostly different (but still very mixed) notices.

While many critics were less than impressed with director Ridley Scott's reimagining of Sherwood Forest, a few reviewers are treating Stone and star Michael Douglas' update of Gordon Gekko, which had its first festival screening Friday morning, a bit more kindly.  Opening Sept. 24, the sequel comes more than two decades after the first film. The long lag between the movies, some critics say, cuts both ways.

Here's a summary of prominent critics' notices:

Owen Gleiberman, Entertainment Weekly: "Like the original 'Wall Street,' it’s a darkly exciting steel-and-glass vision of piranhas in the water, of ruthlessly wealthy, nattily dressed men doing whatever it takes to make themselves wealthier. Stone, working from a screenplay by Allan Loeb and Stephen Schiff, conjures that same breathless atmosphere of dramatic liquidity, of a plot that hurtles along at the speed of information."

Kirk Honeycutt, The Hollywood Reporter: "...'Money Never Sleeps' is that rare sequel that took its time -- 23 years -- so it not only advances a story but also has something new to say. The film overheats now and then but blame this on filmmaking passion. One senses a fully engaged filmmaker at the helm, driving the movie at a lightning pace as if in a hurry to get to the next scene or next aphorism that further illuminates this dark world."

Michael Phillips, The Chicago Tribune: "Weirdly -- and this may hurt the film’s chances this fall -- 'Wall Street 2' goes soft on its main reason for existing. It would’ve been dull seeing the same old Gekko, to be sure. But his matchmaking duties this time out, however shadowy, defang the man. And wouldn’t this character at least betray a teensy bit of envy for all millions made by the hedge-fund wizards who came up after him? That’s the irony: So many legally sanctioned Wall Street gamblers made their hay after buying, wholesale, the glamorously unscrupulous image put forth by the original “Wall Street.”

Kate Muir, The Times of London:  "I wonder how this will play with a generation that has not seen the original, and whether the drama works without all the comic references to the past, when mobile phones were huge white bricks with aerials. But 'Wall Street 2' gets four stars for old time’s sake — and for its music by David Byrne and Brian Eno, an appropriately retro choice."

Peter Bradshaw, The Guardian: "...despite the pious waffle about market craziness being like cancer, no one is ever shown enduring the actual misery of losing money. Everyone gets rich, well, everyone except Jake's (Shia LaBeouf) chuckle-headed estate-agent mom, played by Susan Sarandon, and she gets to go back to her morally pure low-paid job of nursing, the kind of unsexy altruism which is exclusively appropriate for the womenfolk. Money looks like it's dozing a little here: my advice is "sell".

David Gritten, The Daily Telegraph: "The film’s emotional relationships feel awkward and forced. Carey Mulligan does her best in the role of Winnie, who is meant to be pivotal – the battleground between Gekko and Jacob. But she’s essentially a liberal cipher, and somewhat passive. (This is, of course, primarily a film for and about men.) LaBeouf is just about old enough to play a smart young trader, and does so efficiently, if not particularly interestingly. "

Todd McCarthy, IndieWire: "...the new film initially takes good and opportunistic advantage of contemporary financial woes to detail the malfeasance of bankers and traders. But the script feels like a pasted-together hodgepodge of elements that co-exist without credibly blending together, topped by a climax that feels particularly hokey in its effort to leave audiences comfortable rather than disturbed by what they’ve just seen."

-- John Horn

Photo: Shia LaBeouf, left, and Carey Mulligan star in "Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps." / Twentieth Century Fox

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Cannes 2010: 'Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps' issues its wake-up call

May 14, 2010 |  9:01 am


Oliver Stone's "Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps" premiered Friday morning for the media ahead of its public unveiling Friday night, bringing some much-needed topicality and even more badly needed celebrity to the Cannes Film Festival.

Stone's follow-up to his 1987 classic has been maligned and hyped in equal measure. Whatever you wind up thinking of the film, it offers the rare spectacle not only of a star-driven studio sequel that's also serious-minded, but a Hollywood movie that lands right in the middle of a news cycle, not years after it.

The film starts with the release from jail of Michael Douglas' Gordon Gekko before cutting to a rather elaborate plot involving Shia LaBeouf as the young trader with (some) scruples, who's rising in a world that just happens to be collapsing at the same time, as investment banks run by the likes of Frank Langella and Josh Brolin (both excellent) teeter under the weight of the 2008 financial crisis. The story then carefully weaves in more and more Gekko (who, conveniently, also happens to be LaBeouf's future father-in-law, a dad to LaBeouf's on-screen fiancee, Carey Mulligan).

Without giving away too much of the plot, we'll say that the film is undeniably fun and slick, and establishes enough continuity to the '80's story line without forcing in (too many) artificial connections, so that it all feels like a genuine continuation of previously laid track  For at least the first two-thirds, Stone does an admirable job spinning the twin plates of a financial thriller and a family drama (not to mention a cautionary tale) before an ending -- several endings, actually-- that seem false and on the nose.
The movie also offers the fun of several Easter eggs and the cameos: 80s media mainstay Graydon Carter turns up, as does Charlie Sheen, there to parody his own Bud Cox character -- or is it himself -- by appearing at a party, a woman on each arm, perfectly content in his own lecherousness.

At a post-screening news conference attended by the filmmakers and the cast, Stone acknowledged the two-handed trick he was trying to pull off. "This is a story about people balancing their love of power and money with their need for love," he said. (More from Stone and the cast later in the day and through the weekend, including the director's views on what exactly is wrong with the financial sector.)

Stone also offered a persuasive defense of making a sequel after several decades. "Twenty-three years is a long time," he said. "But the greed factor has multiplied, so you can walk away and come back." (Douglas speculated that many of the people currently in senior positions at these troubled banks were probably inspired to join the industry by the original film.)

There was a fundamental irony to the first film, which sought to warn of the Wall Street game and its excesses, but in many ways was read as glorifying it. Douglas noted that "Oliver and I were pretty stunned after the first one how they perceived Gekko. ... We never anticipated that all these MBAs would rant and rave that these are the people they wanted to be." It's not unreasonable to think the shiny world shown in the new film, even with all that we now know about the legal and ethical thin ice coating Wall Street, will do more of the same.

Even more relevant for Fox is the question of timing. "Money Never Sleeps" comes to the festival after the studio postponed its release date to allow for the Cannes premiere, as it decided to release the film in the fall instead of in April. Among other questions it raises is a marketing one; with financial scandals and reform so prominently in the news, there's an argument for releasing it right now.

The principals offered their best spin on why it was best to wait. Stone noted the fourth-quarter was historically the most volatile on Wall Street, and Douglas said he thought some distance from the news cycle was actually preferable because since film-goers would be more likely to come out to the movie if they didn't feel they had already seen it all on CNBC.

That may or may not turn out to be true. But at least at Cannes, it's refreshing to find that amid all the movies that fit into the insular world of cinema, there's at least one that reaches out to the wider world of current events.

-- Steven Zeitchik, reporting from Cannes, France


Photo: Michael Douglas and Shia LaBeouf in "Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps." Credit: 20th Century Fox

Oliver Stone to get under right-wing pundits' skin again

March 24, 2010 |  3:22 pm

Documentaries aren't exactly the most welcome form at movie theaters these days, especially documentaries about starchy subjects like South American leaders.

StoneBut those wishing to see "South of the Border," Oliver Stone's look at Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez — his background and the various perceptions of him — will now have their chance. A lefty-oriented distributor named Cinema Libre — they also released Robert Greenwald's "Outfoxed" in its limited theatrical run — has acquired North American rights and will release "Border" this summer. The movie will come to Los Angeles on July 2 after opening in New York the previous week; it will subsequently expand to about eight more cities.

The film, which made several stops on the festival circuit last fall, features conversations with Chavez and other South American leaders, including Brazil's Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva and Argentina's Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner.

With left-right partisanship growing fiercer by the day (see under: a certain item about James Cameron and Glenn Beck),  it remains to be seen whether the Stone imprimatur prompts people to buy tickets to the movie or to protest it (or buy tickets because they're piqued by the protests). And it's an open question as to what effect any backlash could have on Stone's "Wall Street 2," which after a release-date change now comes out in September, after "Border" is released. Let's just say we don't expect Stone on Glenn Beck's show any time soon.

— Steven Zeitchik

Photo: Oliver Stone. Credit: Rungroj Yongrit/EPA


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Preview review: 'Wall Street 2: Money Never Sleeps'

January 29, 2010 |  5:13 pm

Ever since it was announced that Oliver Stone was finally ready to tackle a sequel to the classic 1987 film "Wall Street," film fans have questioned how the director will handle a new and arguably more challenging economic climate. While a newly released trailer for "Wall Street 2: Money Never Sleeps" doesn't give much away, it does drop us right back into the fast-paced, "Greed is good" world of executive Gordon Gekko.

As seen in the trailer, Michael Douglas' character -- reprising the role that scored him an Oscar -- emerges  from a long stint behind bars. He's eager to return to his old ways, but the trailer makes clear that it's not going to be easy for Gekko to immediately get back into the swing of things: As he exits jail, he's handed his clunky old mobile phone and there's no limo ready to pick him up.

Other than flashy aerial shots of New York City, we don't get to see much of the film's other players: Gekko's daughter (Carey Mulligan), whom he's trying to reconnect with, and her fiance (Shia LaBeouf), whom he befriends. We see the least of Mulligan, who is only shown in a flimsy oversized boyfriend shirt, typing away at a laptop in her swanky apartment. LaBeouf, who plays a character named Jacob, is shown dressed in expensive-looking tailored suits, riding through the city streets on a motorcycle or flying above them in a helicopter. We get the sense LaBeouf''s character will attempt to serve as some type of moral compass for Gekko, or at least a worthy adversary: "No matter how much money you make, Mr. Gekko, you'll never be rich," he tells his soon-to-be father-in-law in the trailer.

By comparison, it's pretty amusing to watch the trailer for the original 1987 film starring Charlie Sheen, who makes a cameo in the new film. (Check out the old school cellphones and computers!)

So, do you think the new film will be able to live up to the original? Is Shia LaBeouf as charming a leading man as Charlie Sheen was over two decades ago? Will a film about the greed on Wall Street prove to be timely or didactic? Weigh in in our poll below.

-- Amy Kaufman


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