Archive for February, 2011

This is documentary film-making at its best – with none of the cheesy stock footage of something like The Corporation or the manipulative personal stories and comedy stunts of a Michael Moore film (Moore’s own take on the crisis, Capitalism: A Love Story, was pretty mediocre), Inside Job relies almost entirely on well-researched interviews with some of the major players in the events of the last 20 to 30 years that brought the global economy to the brink of collapse, all tied together with a bit of narration from Matt Damon (presumably only chosen to add some Hollywood credibility).

Many of the key players in the crisis and aftermath “declined to be interviewed” but for anyone who read about the financial crisis and the commentary that was going on around it as it was happening there are some big and familiar names – French Finance Minister Christine Lagarde, economist Nouriel Roubini, MD of the IMF Dominique Strauss-Kahn, billionaire George Soros and a host more economists, politicians and ex/current bankers all pitch in with their thoughts.

For anyone still confused by how everything went so badly wrong – sub-prime mortgages etc, this is laid out quite clearly and simply. For anyone looking to apportion blame, this film spreads it around quite evenly between predatory lenders, greedy bankers (briefly mentioning their systemic cocaine-use and prostitution that was often charged to business expenses!), politicians and their advisors (many ex-bankers) who gradually eroded the regulations, and the economists whose “market is king” ideology helped them justify the de-regulation.

Some of the best parts of the film are interviews with the “bad guys” (and clips from their questioning by politicians) whose “um”s and “er”s and “can we switch the cameras off for a second”s say much more than their flimsy rehearsed justifications and blatant lies. We may not get our money back, but it’s a little bit satisfying to watch some of the people responsible squirm!

As a film, although it has a clear agenda and bias, it doesn’t bang the drum too hard and trusts in the viewer’s ability to deal with being presented facts (and to understand people well enough to know when they’re lying!).

The most worrying thing that comes out of the film is how little has changed. It’s still many of the same people in charge, very little regulation has been added back into the system and we all know the bankers have gone right back to paying themselves ridiculous bonuses. Perhaps we’ll see an Inside Job 2 in 10 years or so.

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Apparently a hit with audiences at Sundance way back in 1998, a nice little romantic film about two “soul mates” whose paths keep almost but not quite crossing.

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As I’ve said, I’m not really a big Coen brothers fan but I went to see True Grit anyway and was glad I did. Jeff Bridges and Matt Damon both put in good performances but 14-year-old newcomer Hailee Steinfeld turns in a pretty amazing piece of acting for her age – as some YouTube commenting wag said “every other child star can suck it”.

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Poor Katie Holmes – all of her acting career will be forever judged through the lens of Tom Cruise’s occasional craziness. It’s a shame because she’s actually quite good sometimes.

Written and directed by Peter Hedges of Gilbert Grape, About A Boy and Dan In Real Life fame, Pieces Of April is about an estranged daughter (named April) and her efforts to put on the perfect Thanksgiving for the family who are coming from out of town to visit her and her boyfriend in their run down apartment in the city. April’s mom (an Oscar-nominated performance by the excellent Patricia Clarkson) is terminally and this is their chance to leave behind a past relationship of anger and antagonism to create one last “good memory”. Following April’s struggles to bring together the Thanksgiving meal and the family’s adventures on the road trip to the city we explore what these characters are willing to do and how much pride they are willing to sacrifice for the sake of valuing family and active verb love.

Others may well find this film trite or contrived but if you step away from your cynicism for a second, it’s a film about interconnectedness, relationships and transcending the crap that keeps us apart. I guess I’m just a sucker for a story about grace and redemption.

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The LoveFilm randomiser has sent me two films starring Javier Bardem this week. I suppose I should go see Biutiful at the cinema to make a hat-trick.

I think I’ve finally worked out that I just don’t really get the Coen brothers’ recent films. Fargo and The Big Lebowski, great, but A Serious Man, Burn After Reading and No Country For Old Men all just left me feeling like it would’ve made no difference if I hadn’t bothered. I’m sure the problem is with me and I imagine I’ll still go and see True Grit but if that’s the same then maybe I just need to accept that I’m not the kind of person they’re making films for and give up on them.

Starring Bardem, Penelope Cruz and Scarlett Johansson and making the most of the scenery and architecture of the city of its setting, Vicky Cristina Barcelona is easy on the eye but that’s about it.

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With Darren Aronofsky’s Black Swan doing well at the cinemas, someone at the BBC decided it was time to show this harrowing story of 4 related lives individually and collectively torn apart by addiction to illegal and prescription drugs. Aronofsky’s films don’t pull any punches and certainly by the end of Requiem one of the major feelings you’re left with is relief that it’s over. That’s not to say that it has a happy ending – it doesn’t – there is no redemption for these characters.

The dream whose loss is mourned is the American Dream. Each character’s hopes for the future are laid out for us to see – whether it’s retiring on a pile of ill-gotten drug money, opening a dress shop, or appearing on TV as an example of success – and then shattered by addiction or just the reality of life.

It’s not a film filled with hope or even any kind of narrative philosophy at all. The slow crumbling of these lives is treated very matter-of-factly and as it accelerates the characters become increasingly powerless to stop even when they catch a glimpse of the destruction they are bringing on themselves and their relationships. At the beginning of the film, these are just normal people with hopes and dreams but who, once seduced by the initial glamour of their chosen drugs, find that the slope is very slippery and the reality far from the promise.

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…Yet, most people believe love is constituted by the object, not by the faculty… Because one does not see that love is an activity, a power of the soul, one believes that all that is necessary to find is the right object – and that everything goes by itself afterward. This attitude can be compared to that of a man who wants to paint but who, instead of learning the art, claims that he just has to wait for the right object, and that he will paint beautifully when he finds it.

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