Archive for the FILM Category

Financial Crisis Actors

Posted in FILM, Politics with tags , , , , on May 25, 2018 by dcairns

What follows is an extract from INSIDE JOB, the excellent documentary by Charles Ferguson on the 2008 financial crisis. Since so few of the truly guilty bankers and regulators choose to appear in the film, the dean of Columbia’s business school, R. Glenn Hubbard kindly steps forward to assume to role of villain. This is slightly disingenuous of him since his part of the film’s argument is at best a sidebar: narrator Matt Damon talks about how banking abuses have not only nearly destroyed the world economy, but corrupted even the teaching of economics.

Even within this small section of the film, there are more obvious antagonists. Frederic Mishkin has already come to the audience’s attention for his (disastrous) role as a Federal Reserve board governor. It transpires that he published an article entitled Financial Stability in Iceland, without disclosing that the piece was funded by the Icelandic Chamber of Commerce. Also, after Iceland’s economy abruptly went down the salerni, the article appeared on Mishkin’s CV as Financial Instability in Iceland. Economists make brilliant prophets, as long as their prophets only refer to things that have already happened.

But, ladies and gentlemen of the jury, look at Mishkin —He’s so affable, so professorial! His downward smile when he ruefully suggests that his self-serving alteration of a paper’s title is a mere “typo” is so charming! His only brief moment of surliness is when he declines to state how much the Icelanders paid him. ($124,000, not even a half-decent NDA’s worth, although at least the Icelandic Chamber of Commerce don’t insist on physically fucking you, just ethically.)

Mishkin looks bad, certainly — but he convincingly blurs the line, at least sometimes, between hapless incompetence and outright corruption. You feel you should hate him, but your anger isn’t as intense as by rights it ought to be. He has charm.Hubbard is doing fine until things turn against him, at which point he inexplicably decides that the best policy is to be a huge swinging dick on camera. I think “They’ll never use this!” must have been going through his mind. However much he knows about business, he clearly has no understanding of documentary. “Give it your best shot,” sneered through a pugilistic expression, is cinematic gold.

Hubbard was chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers under George W Bush, which already sounds ominous. Still, in early comments in the film he seems mild, reasonable, a model of probity. We wait eagerly for him to be smeared with the filth of his own intellectual dishonesty. Asked if there’s a conflict of interest problem in the discipline of economics, he at first doesn’t understand the question. Then he catches on and argues that most economic educators aren’t “wealthy business-people,” which I would think might make them more prone to temptation. Matt Damon, our friend and humble narrator, cuts in and says that Hubbard makes $25,000 a year from the board of Met Life.

Hubbard takes the high ground: everybody should disclose if they do have any financial conflict regarding a topic they’re weighing in on. “But if I recall, there is no policy to that effect?” inquires the interviewer. “I can’t imagine anybody not doing that,” says Hubbard, with Great Seriousness. “There would be significant professional sanction for failing to do that.” It’s here that the clip begins, with the interviewer pointing out Hubbard’s outside activities mainly consist of consulting and directorship for the services industry. And Hubbard’s immediate reply is that those jobs AREN’T LISTED on his C.V. Like, that’s his defense.

And then it all kicks off. Enjoy!

It’s just really interesting to see someone confronted with something about themselves that might look bad, and NOT taking the opportunity to even attempt to clear his name, just expressing snarling resentment that he’s been found out. This middle-aged business professor isn’t really a convincing tough guy, but there’s no denying his ferocious hostility to any suggestion that he ought to be accountable for his actions.

Footnote: I can’t find any suggestion that Hubbard has faced any “significant professional sanction.” Instead, all we have is the clip above, which will live with Hubbard all his life and hopefully play on a loop on a video screen embedded in his tombstone so passers-by can see what kind of individual lies beneath the sod.

Footfootnote: having enjoyed and been horrified by INSIDE JOB, I then watched THE BIG SHORT, hoping to understand the terminology better. I’ll write that one up next.

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Happy Feet

Posted in Dance, FILM with tags , , , on May 24, 2018 by dcairns

The latest Anatomy of a Gag video, written by me and edited by Stephen Horne, is up at Criterion’s revamped website, here. And will be followed by more, on a roughly monthly basis!

This one deals with Chaplin’s terpsichorean side — features Extraordinary Vocal Contribution by Randall William Cook. Please have a look and comment.

Thanos: The Hand of Fate

Posted in Comics, FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on May 23, 2018 by dcairns

How about a Cronenberg superhero team? Brundlefly, Mugwump, Revok and Rose from RABID, led by Dr. Brian O’Blivion?

Yes, I was lured into seeing AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR by the promise of seeing Edinburgh onscreen, a mild enthusiasm for the Russo Bros, and a mild investment in these superheroes. And yet I never saw (so far) THOR: RAGNAROK, GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY II or BLACK PANTHER so I’m not yet a hopeless case, even though those three are probably better than CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR which I *did* see.

Certainly the Guardians provide the most solid entertainment of all the army of supes on display here. Of the Avengers, Hawkeye is absent, and Black Widow and War Machine and Falcon don’t really get anything memorable to do. This post is going to be full of spoilers, by the way.

Characters who do get amusing business:

Bruce Banner is suffering from a kind of erectile dysfunction: he can’t hulk out, which means he’s basically a scientist in this film. They can’t find a convincing way to write such a character and Mark Ruffalo, so effective and immediately right in the role in the first AVENGERS, seems a little uncomfortable with the sillier stuff, but his embarrassment at the big green guy’s sudden shyness is very funny.

This never happens.

Alongside the third-generation Hulk is the third-generation Spiderman, who’s quite good. Emphasising that Peter Parker’s a teenager makes Tom Holland stand out. He sounds a bit like the teenage clerk in The Simpsons.

As you might predict, encounters between the very similar Dr. Strange and Iron Man — two alpha male jerks — turn into dick-measuring contests. After all, they’re both Sherlock Holmes. Thor and Starlord’s banter plays out the same way, except Starlord is obviously plagued by feels of inadequacy. Dave Bautista as Drax homoerotically rhapsodising over Thor’s muscles is amusing. But there are no actual gay, bi or trans people in this movie, and no real sex, either. There’s a sweet, non-threatening romance between Scarlet Witch and Vision, which is the Edinburgh bit, and Gwyneth Paltrow does a walk-on for some interrupted wooing with Downey Jr. Other than that, the only hint of lasciviousness comes from the tight costumes. The musclebound characters don’t sem quite human to me, so the sexiest people from my viewpoint were probably the lithe Vision and Nebula, a robot and an alien cyborg, respectively.

Nebula (Karen Gillen) is basically the only Scot in the film, since the version of late-night Edinburgh we get is completely unpopulated. This struck me as implausible — a few bellowing drunkards would have added a welcome touch of realism — and it gives the lie to Thanos’s (big purple chin)  claim that the galaxy, or was it the universe, is running out of resources and so the ONLY POSSIBLE SOLUTION is to disintegrate half of everybody alive. Many people have pointed out how silly his plan is (he could, just for example, sterilize 90% of everybody, or, with his godlike powers, he could maybe rustle up some more resources. But no.

Josh Brolin underplaying a behemoth with a giant purple chin with grooves in it like he tried to carve it into a beard, with a ridiculous masterplan, is actually really compelling as a character. A real triumph of acting and mocap and animation etc, over character design. (As a character in comics, Thanos doesn’t look ridiculous at all, or at least no more ridiculous than his surroundings. The movies ought to have tweaked his appearance slightly, or differently.)

Gee, I’m getting tired of writing about characters called Scarlet Witch and Starlord. Probably a good thing I didn’t go into comics.

Oh, other amusing things: Peter Dinklage plays a twenty-foot tall dwarf (Thor, who is slightly shorter than twenty feet, call him a dwarf). To make his acting to scale, Dinklage overdoes his Game of Thrones English accent by 4000%.

CIVIL WAR bored me because it was mostly about heroes smashing stuff up, in a meaningless fight in which you knew they wouldn’t kill each other. Very obviously, a lot of innocent bystanders would have to have been killed, but the movie airbrushes this aside. This one is more enjoyable because there is a variety to the action, it’s not all smashing property and a lot of it is in space. It’s the opposite of MISSION TO MARS: the best stuff is in space.

Fake kebab shop.

But it’s striking that the movie has neither a beginning — we start at the end of a battle we haven’t seen (was it in RAGNAROK?) and end with the bad guy triumphant (well, more like quietly contented, because Brolin is underplaying). It’s a seemingly devastating conclusion (quite effective, because there ARE a lot of nice actors in these party costumes who can look genuinely traumatised as their friends turn to unconvincing CGI ash). The “ending” is sort of bold, because I can imagine some small kids and dumbasses not understanding that it’s all going to be undone in the sequel, the only question being whether they’ll resurrect the characters who didn’t disintegrate and merely died from stabbing, brain-gouging or falling from a high place.

At the end of this, by a wild coincidence that’s sort of amusingly contrived, the characters left standing, apart from a couple of Guardians of the Galaxy, are basically the original Avengers line-up plus Don Cheadle.

Will I end up seeing the sequel? Maybe… maybe I need my Jeremy Renner fix. He’s not in this one, so I immediately watched THE BOURNE LEGACY when I got home. It was the best Bourne film, apart from Jeremy Renner.