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Category: Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps

'Margin Call': A movie for the Occupy Wall Street movement?

October 11, 2011 |  6:00 am


In 2009, when director J.C. Chandor and producers Zachary Quinto and Neal Dodson were trying to raise the financing for "Margin Call," their $3.4-million thriller about the 2008 financial crisis, the conventional wisdom in Hollywood was that audiences were likely to lose interest in Wall Street stories.

"The initial response from agents was, 'You know they’re making 'Wall Street 2,' right?'" said Dodson. Also in the works were other downturn-focused projects, such as "Company Men," "Inside Job," Michael Moore's "Capitalism: A Love Story" and HBO's "Too Big to Fail." "They’re like, 'Can the market hold another film about this subject?'"

Fast-forward two years and "Margin Call," which opens Oct. 21 and stars Quinto, Penn Badgley, Kevin Spacey and Paul Bettany as investment bank workers on the eve of the crisis, is starting to look perfectly timed as the Occupy Wall Street protests continue to grow.

The protest movement, now in its fourth week since launching in New York City's Zuccotti Park in mid-September, has grown from its downtown Manhattan roots to include several other cities, including Los Angeles and Washington, D.C. The chief complaint of the protesters — that government and financial sector policies contribute to income inequality — is addressed by "Margin Call," in which Quinto plays a financial analyst who makes a frightening discovery about his firm's overly optimistic economic projections.

"None of us could have anticipated the timing, with Occupy Wall Street happening right now and all of these people rising up to demand that this be looked at and dealt with," Quinto said in an interview at the Silver Lake offices of his production company, Before the Door, last week. "It’s incredibly vitalizing for me to have this upheaval and  all this attention being paid to this sector of the culture. I feel really energized by that."

Quinto was on his way to New York to promote the film, where his costar, Badgley, has already visited the Occupy Wall Street protests to take in the scene.

"I’m not opposed to going down there myself and seeing what the energy is like and talking to people," Quinto said. "I can just imagine myself handing out fliers for 'Margin Call,' like, 'If you’re unhappy… .' We’ll see. Hopefully they’ll find their own way to it. "

While "Margin Call" attempts to explain the human choices that helped create the current economic malaise, that doesn't necessarily mean that financially frustrated audiences will rush to see it.

"It’s a little nerve-racking," said Chandor, who wrote the script and whose father worked in the financial industry. "This is essentially a character piece. It’s trying to look into why people make the decisions that they do. In a lot of cases it’s not about pure greed. We hope there’s not fatigue, that people aren’t seeing so much mayhem in their real lives that they aren’t willing to see this movie."


Movie review: 'Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps'

TV review: 'Too Big to Fail'

-- Rebecca Keegan


Photo: Zachary Quinto, left, and Penn Badgley in "Margin Call." Credit: Walter Thomson.

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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Cannes 2010: Shia LaBeouf: We botched the last Indiana Jones

May 15, 2010 |  3:48 pm

The last time Shia LaBeouf came to Cannes, in 2008, it was to promote "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull," the revival of the swashbuckling adventure franchise that went on to earn a whopping $787 million around the world. LaBeouf is back on the Croisette this weekend to flog "Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps," another revival of a classic from several decades ago. But he's not willing to forget about what he says were rampant problems with Indy 4 -- and he doesn't expect fans to, either.

"I feel like I dropped the ball on the legacy that people loved and cherished," LaBeouf said, explaining that this upped the ante for him before he began shooting the "Wall Street" sequel. "If I was going to do it twice, my career was over. So this was fight-or-flight for me."

Meeting with reporters Saturday on a terrace at the Hotel du Cap, he had some strong, confessional words about his acting in the film, which he said he felt didn't convince anyone that he was the action hero the movie claimed him to be. "You get to monkey-swinging and things like that and you can blame it on the writer and you can blame it on Steven [Spielberg, who directed]. But the actor's job is to make it come alive and make it work, and I couldn't do it. So that's my fault. Simple."

LaBeouf said that he could have kept quiet, especially given the movie's blockbuster status, but didn't

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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: Has class consciousness become the festival through-line?

May 14, 2010 | 10:41 am

 Class consciousness has certainly stormed the Croisette this season.

Housemaid_7 First there was "Robin Hood," or "Robin du Bois," as it's known here, with Russell Crowe playing the mythic figure as a freedom fighter bent to take down King John, who taxes his people indiscriminately to pay for foolish foreign adventures. Then there's Oliver Stone's "Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps," in which the baddies are ethically challenged Wall Street billionaires. Now comes "The Housemaid," a South Korean twist on the same theme, about a young, naive maid who's seduced by her Korean master, a wine-swilling, Beethoven-playing Korean Master of the Universe. 

A piece of lurid fun, "The Housemaid" is actually a remake of a famous 1960 Korean film that stormed that nation the year it premiered. The 2010 edition has a certain kitschy flair, with some exceptionally tony villainess — i.e. the master's doll-like wife and her manipulative mother who have a positively lethal hissy fit when they discover their maid is pregnant. 

Hollywood films tend to finesse class differences to the point of erasure. For instance, in "Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps," the hero is Shia LaBeouf, who's character ostensibly grew up poor. Yet once the movie actually begins, he's a loaded young trader who loves fast motorcycles. By contrast, "The Housemaid" presents a vision of feudal-like servitude amid modern-day Korean oligarchs, a condition that ultimately enrages those on the lower end of the social spectrum. Director Im Sang-Soo is clearly a devotee of Hitchcock, so the anti-elitist furor goes down with spooky, spine-tingling panache.

— Rachel Abramowitz

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


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