Tag Archives: stanley tucci

Margin Call – Review

30 Jun

Many economists believe that the financial crisis of 2007 and 2008 is the worst of its kind since the Great Depression. I don’t find that too hard to believe, but I’m just as much an economist as I am Elvis Presley. In 2015, an adaptation of Michael Lewis’ best selling book, The Big Short, was released, and it told the story of how this all happened using a comedic edge to help unravel the proceedings. Before this movie, however, was J.C. Chandor’s debut film from 2011 called Margin Call. Unlike The Big ShortMargin Call tells a fictionalized account surrounding one corporation while also using very little to no humor to tell its story. I’m not faulting The Big Short at all, in fact, I loved that movie. Margin Call is, however, a much sterner look at the inner workings and failures that made this crisis happen while also being an intriguing and intelligent film.

On Wall Street, a company is facing a day of massive layoffs, much to the chagrin of its employees. Amongst these employees looking down the barrel of a loaded corporate gun is Peter Sullivan (Zachary Quinto), a junior risk analyst who has the potential to be something even greater. After seeing his boss, Eric Dale (Stanley Tucci), get fired, he is given a USB drive by Dale to investigate with the ominous warning to “be careful.” What Peter finds is something that will destroy the company if it is ignored. The calvary is called in which includes the Head of Trading Will Emerson (Paul Bettany), his boss Sam Rogers (Kevin Spacey), and all the other higher ups until CEO John Tuld (Jeremy Irons) arrives. What’s discovered is that the historical volatility of the company, which measures the risk of investments, is stretched incredibly thin and that if assets decrease by a certain amount, the company will go bankrupt. Thus begins the war of morals that takes places in the boardrooms on Wall Street about wether or not to sell these worthless shares or take the hit and lose a fortune.

One of my biggest fears with movies like this is if I’m going to be able to fully understand what’s going on. I haven’t the slightest idea about the ins and outs of Wall Street and trading and the stock market. Luckily for me, Margin Call had an excellent screenplay that deserves a lot of praise. The way the dialogue is set up and the way the actors are delivering their lines helps make a lot of the more technical stuff clear, but it never feels like I’m being talked down to. There’s scenes where stuff is explained, but it never stops sounding like Wall Street traders are having a discussion. When this movie isn’t in financial mode, it dives deeper into its drama and the characters. This isn’t a robotic film that shows these employees just as money hungry thieves that just so happen to be operating in the gray areas of the law. These characters are written as human beings, for better or for worse, and they’re all very memorable with all their faults and achievements.

One of the first things I noticed about this film is its all star cast of really fantastic actors. Zachary Quinto is one of the main driving forces of the entire plot and he sells his role with ease. Alongside him is the always excellent Kevin Spacey in yet another performance where he just commands the screen. He gives two speeches in this movie and while they are cinematic, they also feel natural. Another standout performance is Jeremy Irons in a role that’s the closest thing this movie has to a villain. There’s something about Irons that makes him the perfect choice to play the most reprehensible people. The way he carries himself in this movie is something I’ve seen before in real life. It’s this uncompromising and in your face smug confidence that contrasts his actual lack of important knowledge and human empathy. Probably my favorite performance in Margin Call goes to Paul Bettany, who like Irons, has a lot of confidence but it wavers ever so slightly as the story progresses until we see the real weakness behind people as rich and powerful as these characters.

While the characters in this movie are all top notch and the performers play them very well, this is also where the movie runs into a fault. In the beginning of the film, Stanley Tucci’s character is introduced, and he’s great. Unfortunately, after this beginning scene he’s not in it again until the end, and when he does finally return he doesn’t get a whole bunch to do except deliver a great monologue. After the monologue, he just falls into place with the rest of the cast. Other than underutilizing Tucci’s character, the balance of the cast and how much they are used is done very well. There’s a lot of people in this movie all with unique characterizations, so seeing them all balanced so well was a relief. It’s not rare to walk out of a movie thinking how unevenly represented all of the characters were. I’m looking at you Free Fire.

To put it simply, Margin Call was an excellent movie. After it was over, I had to really push myself to think of a couple negatives. That being said, it isn’t a perfect movie, but it is one of the most intriguing films about Wall Street and financial crises that can be found out there in the zeitgeist. There’s a great cast performing a really interesting story about a company that’s failing, but it’s also a strong tale of morality and the humanity of the people making these decisions. I say definitely give this movie a watch.

Final Grade: A-

Build-Up to The Avengers – Captain America

19 Apr

Well, this is it until The Avengers comes out in a couple weeks. I really could not be more excited, and it’s worth saying that this is a movie I’ve been dying to see since i was 7 years old. I’ve always been a Marvel guy who has been in love with the characters my whole life, and now comes the review for one of my favorite super heroes of all time, Captain America: The First Avenger. Did it live up to my expectations?

Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) is a tiny, sickly, and extremely patriotic citizen of New York in the early 1940s. He dreams of being able to go to Europe and fight for his country in WWII, but his size and health permits him from doing so. Fortunately for Steve, Dr. Abraham Erskine (Stanley Tucci) recruits him, much to the disappointment of the cynical Col. Chester Philips (Tommy Lee Jones) and to the joy of British agent Peggy Carter (Hayley Altwell) to be a part of a new experiment that will be used to create super soldiers to fight for America (which was hinted at in The Incredible Hulk). So Steve Rogers is transformed into the super soldier that is Captain America. At first, he is only used for American propaganda purposes, but soon joins the fight in Italy against the evil Nazi Johann Schmidt (Hugo Weaving), better known as the Red Skull.

After seeing this, I am totally ready for The Avengers. This movie really had everything that a great super hero origin story needs. There was terrific build-up leading to both the experiment that gives Steve Rogers his super abilities and to the unmasking of the Red Skull. I was really looking forward to how these two things were going to be handled in Captain America, and I was not disappointed in the least.

Chris Evans gives a fine and sincere performance, and I can’t think of anyone else that would fit the role of Captain America better, but Hugo Weaving and Tommy Lee Jones are the real scene stealers here. It seems that the character of Johann Schmidt/Red Skull were made for Hugo Weaving. He acts here with such glaring malice that it’s impossible not to take your eyes off him whenever he’s on screen, and I could argue that he is the best Marvel villain portrayed in a movie yet. Then again, the Red Skull has been one of my favorite villains since I was a kid, so my opinion might be a little biased. Besides his performance, the make up for this character looks absolutely fantastic. Tommy Lee Jones hams up his grumpy persona yet again, but he made me laugh a lot, so mission accomplished there.

Captain America: The First Avenger has a really old timey, pulp look to it that I really love to see in movies. Another example with a style that is seen here is in the fantastic and under appreciated film Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow. The CGI background with its different tints of brown, gray, and blue give this film a great atmosphere.

As much as I love this film, it is not perfect. The pacing in the beginning started out great, and I really enjoyed the work they put in the character’s backstory, but once Steve Rogers became Captain America, the film slows down for a little bit before the action gets picked up again. The parts I’m talking about are when he is being used as a piece of American propaganda. I understand that they put this in the film because that’s what Captain America originally was: a piece of propaganda in the early 1940s.

The history, the characters, the effects, and the action makes Captain America: The First Avenger an above average superhero flick. It’s popcorn entertainment with more heart than most summer movies. Captain America has been one of my favorite heroes for years, and it was really exciting to see him in a movie. There was another Captain America film made in the early ’90s, but it was pretty atrocious and didn’t capture what Captain America is all about, which this one did. I definitely recommend this film.

Now I have to wait until May 4th for The Avengers. Expect a review for it right after I get back from the theaters.