Gekko Duels Cigar-Chomping Banker in ‘Wall Street’ Sequel: Film

Gordon Gekko, once a slick-haired, suspender-wearing master of the Wall Street universe, is now an unshaven, bedraggled ex-convict.

As he leaves prison following an eight-year term for financial crimes, he picks up his paltry possessions: a silk handkerchief, a watch, a ring, a gold money clip and an ancient, brick-shaped mobile phone.

That’s the opening of “Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps,Oliver Stone’s energetic, jumbled sequel to the 1987 film that made “greed is good” a guiding principle for a new generation of money-hungry financiers. While Gekko was sidelined, other predators made him look like a choirboy.

Michael Douglas reprises his role as Gekko, now gray-haired and casually attired in open-collared shirts. He’s lost his fortune, his wife (divorce) and his son (drug overdose), but not his ambition. Gekko gets back in the game through an alliance with Jake (Shia LaBeouf), the boyfriend of his estranged daughter Winnie (Carey Mulligan).

Jake is a gung-ho proprietary trader whose company -- run by his mentor (Frank Langella) -- is sabotaged by Bretton James (Josh Brolin), a smug investment banker who flaunts his wealth by hanging Goya paintings in his office and puffing expensive cigars.

Motorcycle Race

Jake, who’s been pushing his company to invest in alternative energy, conspires with Gekko to bring James down. Their interests intersect: Gekko feeds Jake insider information he can use to hurt James, while Jake tries to help Gekko reconcile with Winnie.

“Money Never Sleeps” and neither does this movie, which speeds along like the motorcycle race between Jake and James in the woods of upstate New York. Sometimes logic gets lost in the rush. Why, for instance, would a left-wing Web muckraker like Winnie who hates her rapacious father be attracted to another Wall Street go-getter? I know opposites attract, but in this case it makes more sense that they would repel.

The feel-good ending also seems false because it marks such an abrupt change for Gekko, who built his reputation by playing hardball, not by showing soft spots.

Still, “Money Never Sleeps” is better than most movie sequels, primarily because the financial crisis provides a logical follow-up. Though some of the new characters are thinly drawn -- Susan Sarandon as Jake’s needy mother and Eli Wallach as James’s old-school boss are wasted in cameos -- Douglas holds the film together with his devilish charm.

“Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps,” from 20th Century Fox, is playing across the U.S. Rating: **1/2

‘Howl’

“Howl” is an audacious movie that turns Allen Ginsberg’s groundbreaking 1955 poem into a stirring visual experience.

James Franco delivers a spellbinding performance as the young, clean-shaven Ginsberg, narrating via a tape-recorded interview in which he talks about his mother’s mental illness, his own asylum nightmare, his homosexuality, Beat Generation friends like Jack Kerouac and Neal Cassady and his use of explicit sexual terms.

Wearing nerdy dark glasses, he speaks in a halting, guttural manner. What he says, though, is eloquent, the heartfelt expressions of a writer on the cusp of greatness.

Co-directors Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Freidman also dramatize the 1957 obscenity trial of the poem’s publisher, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, and use animated illustrations of “Howl” by Ginsberg collaborator Eric Drooker.

The courtroom scenes -- featuring David Strathairn as the strait-laced prosecutor, Jon Hamm as the intellectual defense attorney and Bob Balaban as the fair-minded judge -- are mostly dry discussions about literary meaning and the limits of artistic expression. Much livelier are the animated sequences that accompany Franco’s readings of “Howl,” which capture the poem’s hallucinatory feeling with pictures of men leaping rooftops and chasing butterflies.

“Howl,” from Oscilloscope Laboratories, is playing in New York and San Francisco. Rating: ***


What the Stars Mean:

****          Excellent
***           Good
**            Average
*             Poor
(No stars)    Worthless

(Rick Warner is the movie critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. Opinions expressed are his own.)

To contact the writer on the story: Rick Warner in New York at rwarner1@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Manuela Hoelterhoff at mhoelterhoff@bloomberg.net.

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