Tag Archives: wall street

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-

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Money Monster – Review

24 May

Last year, Adam McKay’s The Big Short took the financial crisis of 2007 & 2008 and made it into something that is both easy to understand, yet close to impossible to comprehend how something like that could’ve happened. It was a very smart movie that was also sharp with its comedy. We now live in a time where movies based around unfair economic system in America are a great and accessible way to get other people involved and talking. Most recently, we’ve gotten Jodie Foster’s Money Monster. This film isn’t quite as sharp or intelligent as other movies concerning this topic, but it’s still a relevant and entertaining thriller that kept me engaged for most of its run time.

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Lee Gates (George Clooney) is the host of an off the walls finance show called Money Monster where Gates gives investors all the advice they need to know when it comes to buying and selling stocks. On a day like any other, the show begins and for a while seems to be going just fine, up until a disgruntled investor named Kyle (Jack O’Connell) storms the studio and holds Lee at gunpoint while also strapping a vest armed with a bomb to the terrified host. After the show’s director, Patty Fenn (Julia Roberts), evacuates all the staff not needed to continue the broadcast, Patty and Lee do whatever they can to keep the gunman at bay and also hopefully find the answers he’s looking for before the police decide to enter the studio.

Money Monster is a very topical movie that fits in very well with the world we live in today, especially concerning finances and all the different forms of media from journalism to viral videos. I compared certain elements of this movie with The Big Short, but this movie is very far from being The Big Short. This is a popcorn movie through and through, even though it does have some brain power backing it up. You won’t see any new argument in this movie and it still shows how corrupt Wall Street is, but doesn’t really break new ground. For what Money Monster is, however, that’s completely fine. It’s much more fun looking at this movie as a real time hostage movie that reminded me of something between Dog Day Afternoon and The Negotiator.

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The cast in this movie are perfectly casted, and I really wouldn’t have had it any other way. Clooney still seems to be playing a version of Clooney, but he still is a very believable character and plays all of his scenes with precision acting. Julia Roberts, who I normally really don’t care for, was great here, and a lot of that was due to the way the character was written. Dominic West, who is known for The Wire but is known to me as the hilariously over the top Jigsaw in Punisher: War Zone, doesn’t have much screen time but makes the best of what he has. I recently saw Jack O’Connell in ’71, so I was excited to see him in Money Monster. Needless to say, he did not disappoint. O’Connell is the strongest part of this movie and gives a devastatingly real performance that I could never forget.

There’s a lot of really intense stuff in Money Monster and some of the most shocking and well written things all happen in the confines of the studio. Movies that have stories stuck in one location make things feel really closed in and immediate. Save for a pretty cool third act, there’s a lot of stuff in between that is important to the story, but didn’t really make me feel anything. All of these scenes revolve around a character named Diane Lester, who was the chief of communications for the main antagonist. As she works to learn more of the truth that has been covered up and her scenes get longer and more frequent, I felt more compelled to just speed the movie up just so I could get back to the scenes with Clooney, Roberts, and O’Connell.

Money Monster certainly isn’t here to change anyone’s lives, but there’s a chance that it may come across as acting smarter than it really is. What this movie works at being is a very topical hostage thriller that fits in very well with different problems going on in the world today. It’s a movie that we’ll be able to look back on and compare with worldly events that will better help the viewer analyze the film. Money Monster is full of tension, excitement, and great performances with some weak scenes thrown into the mix just to mess with the audience. It isn’t the best movie you’ll see about Wall Street or corruption, but it’s still a good deal of fun.

The Big Short – Review

5 Jan

If I had some choices about who would be responsible for making a movie about the financial crisis of 2007, my first thoughts would go to Martin Scorsese since he tackled Wall Street in his film The Wolf of Wall Street or Aaron Sorkin because of his countless works on politics, journalism, and business. One of the last people I’d think of is Adam McKay, who is known for some very funny movies like The Other Guys and the Anchorman films. Here we are, however, in the weird alternate universe where McKay is apparently just the right man for the job and the end result is The Big Short. This is one of those rare movies that takes very serious subject matter and makes something of a joke out of it, but this is also a very intelligent and upsetting film that has become one of the highlights of film in the past year.

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Over the course of a few years in the mid-2000s, there was a group of people who saw the inevitable collapse of the housing market, and decided to use that to their own advantages. Michael Burry (Christian Bale) is a hedge fund manager who first notices this and creates a credit default swap market to bet against the housing market. Because of this audacious movie, Jared Vennet (Ryan Gosling), a big shot trader, and Mark Baum (Steve Carell), another hedge fund manager, also start betting against the housing market. Baum, however, has a much more personal vendetta against the banks and makes it quite clear in his ventures. Finally, two young investors, Charlie Geller (John Magaro) and Jamie Shipley (Finn Wittrock) are hoping to get rich quick off this and enlists the help of retired banker Ben Rickert (Brad Pitt) to help with the major financial decisions, much to his chagrin. This is the group that got rich off of this, but also fought to show the real problems with the system.

A movie about this recent financial crisis has all the potential to be way over my head and not entertaining in the least, but McKay handles this material in such a way that everyone should be able to feel involved in the story. The characters, while all based on real people, are very vivid to the point of sometimes being a little over the top, but that sort of works in really illustrating who these people were. Another problem I thought I was going to have with The Big Short is that everything just wasn’t going to make sense to me. I know next to nothing about how all this stuff works, but the makers of this movie realized a lot people don’t. In a way that’s completely in character and funny, the characters of this movie often break the fourth wall to explain things in the most basic of ways. It’s an interesting stylistic choice and one that really helped the movie a lot.

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My only complaint with The Big Short is that sometimes it felt a little bit too over-stylized. The condescending voice overs were funny and the kinetic time lapses worked well, but there were a lot of unexpected jump cuts that I wasn’t really feeling. It was just weird to have a really good, dramatic scene happening and then it’s all of a sudden cut short for the sake of style. The emotions were working just fine in the scene, and a jump cut wasn’t needed as some strange exclamation point. Still, the editing was one of the stand out aspects of the movie. It helped to convey the confusing, nonstop, and almost ADHD kind of living that these people did before the big crash.

Finally, this movie is getting a lot of buzz for the acting. This Sunday coming up is the Golden Globes, and this movie has two nominations for acting. These are for Steve Carell and Christian Bale. Really, the acting in this movie is what makes it really great. The writing and humor is all spot on and the message really hits home, but seeing all of these actors transform themselves into different people yet again is really a treat. Steve Carell gives the most dramatic performance in the movie and really walks a fine line between being hilarious and tragic. Christian Bale does exceptional work as Michael Burry by using a lot of nervous energy to really make the character whole. Ryan Gosling also steals practically every scene he’s in with all of his character’s sickening machismo. The only person that is underutilized is Brad Pitt, which is upsetting since he could’ve done a lot more.

The Big Short succeeds in everything it set out to do. It’s both funny and upsetting, chaotic and quiet, large and personal.  The performances are all top notch and deserve major recognition while the writing really breaks the story down in ways that everyone can understand it. I’m really very impressed by Adam McKay and expect to see a lot more work like this from him in the future. While there are some minor flaws that can be nitpicked, The Big Short is a big success.

The Wolf of Wall Street – Review

18 Jan

Martin Scorsese has a way of creating these epic stories of crime that may stretch on for a very long time, but somehow he can keep people’s undivided attention the whole time. That’s exactly how it was for me with The Wolf of Wall Street. I had no doubts that Scorsese’s latest crime epic was going to be anything less than entertaining, but what I saw was not only one of the best films of the past year, but may very well be one of my new favorite movies. It’s funny, dramatic, and not afraid to go places other films dare not tread.

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Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio) has dreams of making a name for himself, and also of making as much money as he possibly can. After the business he is working for as a stock broker, run by his mentor Mark Hanna (Matthew McConaughey), is shut down after the events of Black Monday, Belfort finds himself working for a boiler room that deals in penny stocks. Belfort sees potential in these penny stocks, and how the commission that he makes is far more than he can make with a legit business on Wall Street. Jordan starts up his own business, Stratton Oakmont, and along with his right hand man, Donnie Azoff (Jonah Hill), starts making millions in these illegal stocks. His life of debauchery, prostitutes, money, and drugs seems to be going fine, until FBI Agent Denham (Kyle Chandler) begins investigating the dealings at Stratton Oakmont and sees potential to crumble Belfort’s empire.

What makes this movie all the more appealing to me is that it is all based off of a true story of a man who actually did this. Jordan Belfort’s memoirs is the source material for The Wolf of Wall Street, and the unapologetic amount of excess that Belfort engaged in could never be boring to witness. Martin Scorsese obviously does not approve of Belfort’s actions and means of income, but the way he is presented in this movie might be deceptive at first. Rise and fall stories are very interesting to me, like Scarface and the entire arc of all three Godfather movies, and this one is no different. At first, we almost seem to want to be a part of Belfort’s life, but towards the end we can’t even stand looking at him. He’s amoral, but so much fun.

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This movie is so full of energy, it actually made me all hyped up after it was over. Leonardo DiCaprio is at the top of his game here, and I’d go so far to say that he deserves the Academy Award for his performance. It carries the entire movie and he seemed willing to really make a goof out of himself. Of course he has Jonah Hill by his side to keep the energy alive, and it’s really interesting to watch Hill’s career grow as an actor. He’s no longer just a funny guy. He’s quite a serious actor. Not to mention McConaughey’s brief screen time is some of the best the movie has to offer.

The stars behind the camera are just as effective. Everyone and their mothers know that Martin Scorsese is one of the best film makers of all time. There’s just no disputing that. His sweeping camera work has just as much fluidity and energy as the rest of the cast, and the different choices of lenses for certain scenes as another fun layer of creativity to the entire experience. Terrance Winter, the creative mind behind HBO’s hit series Boardwalk Empire (one of my favorite shows), brings his A-game to the table for The Wolf of Wall Street. His dialogue is sharp as a tack and extremely quick. An exceptional instance of his writing is the first time Belfort and Agent Denham first meet on Belfort’s yacht. It’s an amazing word duel that I will never forget. Finally, I need to mention Thelma Schoonmaker’s editing. The intercuts and crazy editing keeps the film feeling kinetic. It’s perfect.

The Wolf of Wall Street was an excellent film that was one of the most fun times I’ve had watching a movie in a long time. It’s kinetic film making at its finest, and Martin Scorsese once again proves why he is cinematic titan. DiCaprio’s and Hill’s performances solidify their Hollywood talent, and I really want to see this get some recognition at the Oscars in terms of acting, writing, and editing.