Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Margin Call

J.C. Chandor, 2011 (8.2*)

Another spooky film about how flimsy and corrupt western capitalism is at the top levels, those megalithic banking corporations that control everyone’s money and who always start what they like to call “investor panic”, when it’s really just the pros themselves making all the panic moves to cover their own assets.

This story involves massive layoffs at the trading floor of a major unnamed banking corporation. As one departs, he tells an underling he was working on something big and to be careful; the the junior risk analyst checks it out, the ripples become immediate and far-reaching.

Stanley Tucci is the laid off analyst, who unfortunately doesn't have a large enough part here. Dr. Spock look-alike Zachary Quinto (Star Trek) is the junior analyst whose work starts the whole cookie crumbling. Simon Baker (British accent and hair and all) is miscast as a division head bereft of any ethics. Jeremy Irons is credible, though untaxed, as the CEO of the entire corporation, who is, of course, self-serving and short-sighted. Demi Moore is perfect in a small part that added little to the story other than a female actor. Kevin Spacey is seeming a little tired in his too familiar part, as a experience trading group manager, a long time corporate employee with a little conscience remaining, since he came from the old school.

This repeating mistake usually involves someone big basically admitting all the “paper” they’re holding is generally worthless, whether it’s corporate bonds, mortgages, credit swaps, derivatives, and other worthless stuff they seem to invent daily while the feds look the other way - so they decide they have to start dumping theirs, and anything else they're holding, before everyone else does, and salvage what they can in the ensuing debacle.

This is sadly the recurring story of western capitalism: people with too much concentrated money and therefore financial power start taking too much risk for the amount of actual money they have. When they either collapse or start liquidating everything, it has ripple effects throughout all financial markets and millions of people lost trillions in wealth in a few hours. For some reason, this sort of sociopathic insanity is not only endorsed but seems to be allowed to control of nearly every western economy – or more accurately, has gained control of every western economy.

This version of the inner workings of high finance will be boring to many, but I found it quite riveting and totally credible. It is rumored to be the story of Merrill Lynch, who basically became bankrupt and was turned over to Bank of America for resurrection. (We don't allow corporate failures, just millions of individual ones by average citizens).

This story has happened far too often in my lifetime of 60 years. After awhile, you realize this is the scam. You extract as much money as you can from a corporation, then declare bankruptcy. If you an figure out a self-sustaining scam, you'll succeed longer - but remember that the world first corporation, The Dutch East India Trading Company (who are the 'bad guys' in the Pirates of the Caribbean series), also declared bankrupcty after years of success, so the pattern and con is as old as the first time it was pulled off. It's the oldest grift in the west and legal if you can get away with it.

First time director J.C. Chandor (left) won seven awards for this, and received an Oscar nomination for screenplay directly for the screen (it lost to Woody’s Midnight in Paris). For a debut film, this is quite professional, and bodes well for the films of Chandor’s to follow.


Saturday, July 7, 2012


Lars von Trier, 2011 (8.4*)
This is a rarity among films, a science fiction film that has little to do, really, with that aspect of the story. Instead, the fact that a hidden planet has emerged from behind the sun and is heading on a path toward earth really is little more than a metaphor for the characters psychogically complex stories.

Von Trier has created his most mesmerizing film to date, full of dreamy, surrealistic images more reminiscent of painters like Magritte, De Chirico, and Dali, than any film references (see film still at the bottom) – except perhaps early Antonioni. 

Kirsten Dunst won five acting awards for her gutsy portrayal of a newlywed bride mired in her own melancholia, and whose dysfunctional personality seems to deteriorate as the planet, named Melancholia, moves closer to earth. Charlotte Gainsbourg plays her long-suffering sister, who seems determined to take care of her sister in spite of the apparent hopelessness of the situation, as her personal demons seems to have no cause or origin.

Like most of von Trier’s films, this one is also slow to develop, and eerily like a Bergman film of introspection and inner turmoil, and may not hold the attention of the average viewer, but if you stick with this one you will be surprised and rewarded, I believe, especially in comparison to his other efforts. This is the type of film rated higher by critics (80 at Metacritics) vs fans (7.2 at IMDB), but those are often the more unique and unforgettable films, as critics see so many of the mundane variety that it takes something different to wake them up from mediocrity.

One of the many surrealistic and artistic images in Melancholia


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Artist, photographer, composer, author, blogger, metaphysician, herbalist

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These are the individual film reviews of what I'm considering the best 1000 dvds available, whether they are films, miniseries, or live concerts. Rather than rush out all 1000 at once, I'm doing them over time to allow inclusion of new releases - in fact, 2008 has the most of any year so far, 30 titles in all; that was a very good year for films, one of the best ever.

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