'Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps': Mother of All Evil

This being Oliver Stone's long-gestating, self-important sequel to Wall Street, Jake will be learning some harsh life lessons.

Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps

Director: Oliver Stone
Cast: Michael Douglas, Shia LaBeouf, Josh Brolin, Carey Mulligan, Eli Wallach, Susan Sarandon, Frank Langella
Rated: PG-13
Studio: 20th Century Fox
Year: 2010
US date: 2010-09-24 (General release)
UK date: 2010-10-15 (General release)

Not only does money never sleep. Money's a bitch, too. So proclaims Gordon Gekko (Michael Douglas). He goes on to warn, she keeps one eye open at night, watching you, and if you don't pay close attention, "some night she'll be gone." Gordon makes this little speech on a subway: he's riding with Jake (Shia LaBeouf), instructing and baiting him. The kid's caught off guard: "Gee," he mumbles, "I never thought of money as a she!"

Of course not. He's only enraptured by making it, thrilled to be considered a special young dynamo, and oh yes, engaged to marry Gordon Gekko's daughter, Winnie (Carey Mulligan). Near the start of Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps, Jake's cool with all he has and will have, his money shaping his daily life and his expectations. He likes his grandfatherly mentor (Frank Langella) and supports his mother (Susan Sarandon), even when she makes bad real estate sales decisions. When Dr. Masters (Austin Pendleton), a scientist working on green "fusion" technology out in California, phones him to ask for money, Jake doesn't blink, promising he'll deliver $100 million. In a week. "You just keep building that baby star," Jake assures the man he believes will change the world. Jake, as they say, has "got this."

Until he doesn’t. This being Oliver Stone's long-gestating, self-important sequel to Wall Street, Jake will be learning some harsh life lessons, beginning with that gnarly one about money's gender. While you know how venal Gordon has been, and Winnie resents him for being a bad dad, Jake is confused. Initially living in the (fictional, pre-recession) world Gordon made, he's like all the other hotshots on Wall Street, believing that the old man might have take some short cuts and broken a law or too, but still, his understanding of the system is awesome.

Despite your previous knowledge, the movie helps you to share Jake's perspective, first by following Gordon's exit from prison. Locked up for eight years, he emerges with his effects in a bag (a silk handkerchief, a watch, a gold money clip with no money in it, and a mammoth mobile phone from the olden days. It's a cute visual gag, intimating that Gordon's a dinosaur, or missed too much time on the beat to be relevant. But as soon as he steps outside the gate, watching his fellow releasees greeted warmly by relatives and, in the case of a gangsta type, a limo bearing large men in gaudy jewelry, the camera tips up and begins to circle him. Set against an empty sky, Douglas's face is frankly breathtaking, weathered and magnificent. This is the reason to make this movie, this one shot.

And then it's over, and Gordon's awesomeness turns less impressive, more banal, and definitely more Oliver-Stoneian. Never subtle (Elias with his arms up, Wayne Gale reduced to bloody pulp, Willie Beamen watching Ben Hur), the filmmaker here ups his own slam-bang-symbols ante. Gordon asserts the significance of time: you see hourglasses and calendars. The economy is about to collapse: you see children blowing bubbles. Jake's employer goes under (à la Lehman Brothers) and the room full of cocky, frustrated suits includes Henry Paulson and Tim Geithner lookalikes.

That room also includes Josh Brolin as Gordon's emotional heir, a monster named Bretton. In his next-generation battle with Jake, the abjectly iniquitous Bretton hires him in an effort to own and exploit the kid's smartness, while Jake is rather Bud-Foxish in his waffling (he doesn't go so far as to wonder on a balcony, "Who am I?" but maybe only because he doesn't have a balcony). His interest in green tech suggests he has a conscience, in a global, abstract sort of way, but his intermittent insensitivity regarding Winnie suggests he's essentially a lout too. As he seeks out Gordon as a mentor (under the guise of reuniting him with his daughter, to help her heal), Jake can't help but trip over himself.

Repeating the pattern of the first film, the boys battle it out (literally, they race motorbikes, leaning over their handlebars in leather jackets, looking utterly silly). And poor Winnie, emblem of Jake's aspirational decency, appears in tears in nearly every scene. She runs a leftish website (when she tells her dad it's nonprofit, he practically gags). She's absent from those scenes when major decisions are made whether regarding investment banks or her own future. Because he loves her, however ineptly, he's okay. Her dad loves her too, sort of, and he's more okay than he was in Wall Street. The sequel hints that he's reformed, then that he hasn't, as he's pitching his new book, titled Is Greed Good?. (Answer: depends on who's benefitting.) "You're the NINJA generation: no income, no job, no assets," he chides an audience of Jake's-age Gordon wannabes.

They cheer and smile, exchanging looks with each to check their understandings of what Gordon's saying (cheating is inevitable and righteous). A rock star, Gordon's so in love with himself he's unable to imagine the pain he's caused his daughter (he lectures her on how hard his life has been) and not a little proud of the havoc wreaked by his already-ancient role-modeling. Not his fault the system broke down, he reasons, because "No one is responsible because everyone's drinking the same Kool-aid." The crisis has been caused, he goes on, by "steroid banking." And again, "The mother of all evil is speculation."

Um, yes. The sheer blandness of Gordon's insights into the recession makes you wonder why anyone was waiting for him to get out of prison. Or why anyone was thinking this movie was a good idea.


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In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Editor's Note: Originally published 30 July 2014.

10. “Bedlam in Belgium”
(Flick of the Switch, 1983)

This is a massively underrated barnstormer from the boys off the much-maligned (unfairly, I think) Flick of the Switch. The album was missing Mutt Lange, but the Youngs did have his very capable engineer, Tony Platt, as co-producer in the studio at Compass Point in the Bahamas. Tony’s a real pro. I think he did a perfectly fine job on this album, which also features the slamming “Nervous Shakedown”.

But what I find most interesting about “Bedlam in Belgium” is that it’s based on a fracas that broke out on stage in Kontich, Belgium, in 1977, involving Bon Scott, the rest of the band, and the local authorities. AC/DC had violated a noise curfew and things got hairy.

Yet Brian Johnson, more than half a decade later, wrote the lyrics with such insight; almost as if he was the one getting walloped by the Belgian police: He gave me a crack in the back with his gun / Hurt me so bad I could feel the blood run. Cracking lyrics, Bon-esque. Unfortunately for Brian, he was removed from lyric-writing duties from The Razors Edge (1990) onwards. All songs up to and including 2008’s Black Ice are Young/Young compositions.

Who’ll be writing the songs on the new album AC/DC has been working on in Vancouver? AC/DC fans can’t wait to hear them. Nor can I.

9. “Spellbound”
(For Those About to Rock We Salute You, 1981)

"Spellbound" really stands as a lasting monument to the genius of Mutt Lange, a man whose finely tuned ear and attention to detail filed the rough edges of Vanda & Young–era AC/DC and turned this commercially underperforming band for Atlantic Records into one of the biggest in the world. On “Spellbound” AC/DC sounds truly majestic. Lange just amplifies their natural power an extra notch. It’s crisp sounding, laden with dynamics and just awesome when Angus launches into his solo.

“Spellbound” is the closer on For Those About to Rock We Salute You, the last album Lange did with AC/DC, so chronologically it’s a significant song; it marks the end of an important era. For Those About to Rock was an unhappy experience for a lot of people. There was a lot of blood being spilled behind the scenes. It went to number one in the US but commercially was a massive disappointment after the performance of Back in Black. Much of the blame lies at the feet of Atlantic Records, then under Doug Morris, who made the decision to exhume an album they’d shelved in 1976, Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap, and release it in-between Back in Black and For Those About to Rock.

In the book Phil Carson, who signed AC/DC to Atlantic, calls it “one of the most crass decisions ever made by a record-company executive” and believes it undermined sales of For Those About to Rock.

8. “Down Payment Blues”
(Powerage, 1978)

This is one of the best songs off Powerage -- perhaps the high point of Bon Scott as a lyricist -- but also significant for its connection to “Back in Black”. There are key lines in it: Sitting in my Cadillac / Listening to my radio / Suzy baby get on in / Tell me where she wanna go / I'm living in a nightmare / She's looking like a wet dream / I got myself a Cadillac / But I can't afford the gasoline.

Bon loved writing about Cadillacs. He mentions them in “Rocker” off the Australian version of TNT and the international release of Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap: Got slicked black hair / Skin tight jeans / Cadillac car and a teenage dream.

Then you get to “Back in Black”. Bon’s dead but the lyrics have this spooky connection to “Down Payment Blues”: Back in the back / Of a Cadillac / Number one with a bullet, I’m a power pack.

Why was Brian singing about riding around in Cadillacs? He’d just joined AC/DC, wasn’t earning a lot and was on his best behavior. Bon had a reason to be singing about money. He was writing all the songs and just had a breakthrough album with Highway to Hell. Which begs the question: Could Bon also have written or part written the lyrics to “Back in Black”?

Bon’s late mother Isa said in 2006: “The last time we saw him was Christmas ’79, two months before he died. [Bon] told me he was working on the Back in Black album and that that was going to be it; that he was going to be a millionaire.”

7. “You Shook Me All Night Long”
(Back in Black, 1980)

Everyone knows and loves this song; it’s played everywhere. Shania Twain and Celine Dion have covered it. It’s one of AC/DC’s standbys. But who wrote it?

Former Mötley Crüe manager Doug Thaler is convinced Bon Scott, who’d passed away before the album was recorded, being replaced by Brian Johnson, wrote the lyrics. In fact he told me, “You can bet your life that Bon Scott wrote the lyrics to ‘You Shook Me All Night Long’.” That’s a pretty strong statement from a guy who used to be AC/DC’s American booking agent and knew the band intimately. I look into this claim in some depth in the book and draw my own conclusions.

I’m convinced Bon wrote it. In my opinion only Bon would have written a line like “She told me to come but I was already there.” Brian never matched the verve or wit of Bon in his lyrics and it’s why I think so much of AC/DC’s mid-'80s output suffers even when the guitar work of the Youngs was as good as it ever was.

But what’s also really interesting about this song in light of the recent hullabaloo over Taurus and Led Zeppelin is how much the opening guitar riff sounds similar to Head East’s “Never Been Any Reason”. I didn’t know a hell of a lot about Head East before I started working on this book, but came across “Never Been Any Reason” in the process of doing my research and was blown away when I heard it for the first time. AC/DC opened for Head East in Milwaukee in 1977. So the two bands crossed paths.

6. “Rock ’N’ Roll Damnation”
(Powerage, 1978)

It’s hard to get my head around the fact Mick Wall, the British rock writer and author of AC/DC: Hell Ain’t a Bad Place to Be, called this “a two-bit piece of head-bopping guff.” Not sure what track he was listening to when he wrote that -- maybe he was having a bad day -- but for me it’s one of the last of AC/DC’s classic boogie tracks and probably the best.

Mark Evans loves it almost as much as he loves “Highway to Hell". It has everything you want in an AC/DC song plus shakers, tambourines and handclaps, a real Motown touch that George Young and Harry Vanda brought to bear on the recording. They did something similar with the John Paul Young hit “Love Is in the Air”. Percussion was an underlying feature of many early AC/DC songs. This one really grooves. I never get tired of hearing it.

“Rock ’n’ Roll Damnation” was AC/DC’s first hit in the UK charts and a lot of the credit has to go to Michael Klenfner, best known as the fat guy with the moustache who stops Jake and Elwood backstage in the final reel of The Blues Brothers and offers them a recording contract. He was senior vice-president at Atlantic at the time, and insisted the band go back and record a radio-worthy single after they delivered the first cut of Powerage to New York.

Michael was a real champion of AC/DC behind the scenes at Atlantic, and never got the recognition he was due while he was still alive (he passed away in 2009). He ended up having a falling out with Atlantic president Jerry Greenberg over the choice of producer for Highway to Hell and got fired. But it was Klenfner who arguably did more for the band than anyone else while they were at Atlantic. His story deserves to be known by the fans.

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