09 October 2010

Don't Go See "Wall Street 2"

What a waste of talent. Michael Douglas, Susan Sarandon, Frank Langella, Josh Brolin all do their best in this balogna, yet balogna it remains.

I was not a big fan of the original 1987 "Wall Street." It seemed a compendium of cliches, starting with Carl Fox, who is the eternal Hollywood idea of the salt-of-the-earth working man, blue collar guy who has apparently acquired an influential position in the union of an aircraft company, and who has done his best to instill in his son, Bud, the values of ... etc.

But of course Bud (Charlie Sheen) wants a better life than the one in which he grew up, and he is dazzled by the Gordon Gekko character's promise to make him a Wall Street big shot.

Bud is led astray, but then just as he seems to be sinking to Gekko's level, he gets a call that his father has had a heart attack, and rushes to the hospital for a bedside visit that changes everything, blah blah blah.

I was not a big fan. Capra did a better job with many of the same tropes, long ago.

Anyway: the sequel is worse. One of the few enjoyable bits was a cameo by Charlie Sheen, where we get an update on the life of Bud Fox, who is enjoying his happy-ever-after.

For the rest: Wall Street 2 is all too complicated and too talky. Gekko, released from jail, gives a lecture about derivatives. There are discussions of solar cells, and of fusion power. There are scenes of soulful staring, usually those in which the good-looking face of Gekko's daughter, played by Carey Mulligan, is tear-stained.

Mostly, it is about the mentor-protege relationship. This theme is even more explicit than it was in the original, but we are worn out by all the permutations. Jake Moore, Winnie Gekko's boyfriend and in time her fiance, is the protege of the Frank Langella character, then effectively of the apparently rehabilitated Gordon Gekko, then he is offered the patronage of the bad guy (we know he's a bad guy because he finances oil companies) Bretton James, played by Brolin.

Maybe if some of the subplots had been shorn off, if the movie had lost about 40 minutes of running time, if Sarandon's part had been beefed up a bit, and we had been given some reason to care about the fate of Langella's doomed character -- and if the screenwriters had not been so earnest about explaining the events of 2008 to us -- something good might have come of all this. Nothing does.

One aspect of the plot may be intended to give Timminco a bit of immortality. The vilain's brokerage firm, mostly devoted though it is to serving the capital needs of fossil-fuel companies, opens an "alternative energy" department as window dressing and invites Jake Moore into it. Jake pitches his fusion-energy ideas to a group of Chinese investors. Another ambitious wheeler-dealer is pitching a competing "green" idea, investment in a new breed of solar cells. Anyway, Jake debunks the solar cell manufacturer, saying they have nothing proprietary and no good prospect of earnings.

The screenwriters may have had Timminco in mind. This was a Canadian company that found its share price rocketing upward in the spring of 2008 on claims of a solar cell breakthrough. When bright reporters like Derek DeCloet of The Toronto Globe & Mail expressed some skepticism, company management threatened lawsuits.

We can say in hindsight that the skeptics were right about Timminco. It is now selling for Canadian pennies a share, not the $30 dollars or more of its brief golden age -- its moment in the sun, if you will, is gone.

And just because I can't let go, I'm putting the stock price chart for Timminco at the top of this post. Its such a neat illustration of the meaning of the word "bubble," something the characters in the movie talk about -- drone on about really -- quite often.

Which brings me back to my point about Wall Street 2. It was awful.

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Knowledge is warranted belief -- it is the body of belief that we build up because, while living in this world, we've developed good reasons for believing it. What we know, then, is what works -- and it is, necessarily, what has worked for us, each of us individually, as a first approximation. For my other blog, on the struggles for control in the corporate suites, see www.proxypartisans.blogspot.com.