REVIEW: Margin Call

17 03 2012

If anyone ever wanted to know about the problems facing rich white people, tell them to pop “Margin Call” into their DVD player.  When it’s not faintly allegorizing what “Inside Job” had the balls to hit dead on, it’s dealing with the pathetic plight of financial sector employees like 23-year-old Seth Bregman (Penn Badgley) who is only bringing home $250,000 per year at an entry level position.  Clearly he can related to little orphan Annie when she sang that it’s a hard knock life for us.

Writer/director J.C. Chandor, in his first feature, narrates the film much like a play, letting the principal characters guide the story.  Aside from maybe one line from a security guard, you won’t hear the voice of the people who will be most affected by the actions in this movie.  There’s one scene in an elevator where Demi Moore’s Sarah Robertson and Simon Baker’s Jared Cohen gravely discuss the implications of their conduct, and in between them is a cleaning lady.  In one of the few great touches of the film and with an almost macabre sense of dark humor, Chandor makes sure that she is totally oblivious to the grave implications of what’s happening in the building she cleans.

“Margin Call” was the beneficiary of chance when the Occupy movement began right around its October 2011 release date, and there are several lines which I feel could have been ripped straight off their cardboard signs.  His portrayal of the investment bankers are shallow, simply becoming more evil and out-of-touch with the more money they make.  The sweeping generalizations of the film are about as ill-conceived as his “magic formula” that predicts the coming of the 2008 financial crisis; I’m wondering if even he knew what on earth it was.  There’s no attempt to explain what a CDO is, or even what on earth these traders do.  There’s great complexity to the system beyond his adaptation of “Baby’s First Guide to Capitalism,” believe it or not.

There are some decent acting moments that make “Margin Call” a watchable movie, and the script has just above the requisite amount of intrigue to keep your attention.  But with all these “one percenter”s just talking about how to spend their millions in convertibles, you wouldn’t think that the world economy was about to collapse.  I know that exists, but if you want to demonize rich people, why not just make a movie only about CEOs of investment banks in September 2008.  C

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REVIEW: The Joneses

14 09 2010

American culture gets a good examination every once in a while from some ambitious writers and directors. But in Derrick Borte’s “The Joneses,” culture doesn’t get examined so much as it gets slapped in the face. It’s an address on the state of the American Dream in 2010 where the goal is no longer to better ourselves but to be better than everyone else.

Our image-driven consumer society hasn’t been so heavily satirized in quite some time, and because it’s a movie that speaks to our recession-weary minds, “The Joneses” arrives at the perfect time. Companies with something to sell hire family units like the Joneses to promote their products in affluent neighborhoods. Much like staging a house to sell it, the Joneses move into a neighborhood to sell an image. They are a true model of excess, decked out with the latest gadgets, fashions, and utilities. Reflecting the corporate values that more things makes you happier, each member of the family waltzes around town with a fixed smile and an aura of mystery, arousing curiosity and spiking sales.

The movie is spot-on with its lambasting of consumerism, yet it shows a few minor flaws when trying to delve into typical romantic comedy territory with subplots. It’s just business between “Kate” (Demi Moore) and “Steve” (David Duchovny), but he wants to add a little bit of pleasure to their fake relationship despite her insistence on keeping everything matter of fact. Much more tolerable are daughter “Jenn” (Amber Heard) and her scandalous affair on the side and son “Mick” (Ben Hollingsworth) as he struggles with identity issues.

In spite of everything, though, “The Joneses” still emerges victorious as it hammers the main focus home through and through, even daring to deliver a heartbreakingly devastating and jarring conclusion. Borte integrates humor and a thought-provoking critique of contemporary society so flawlessly that you’ll wonder why all comedies can’t be this good. A- /