Archive for Matt Damon

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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“Maintain Visual Contact!”

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 16, 2018 by dcairns

Some computer-jockey actually yells that in THE BOURNE ULTIMATUM. He’s having a laugh: director Paul Greengrass is going all-out this time to stop his enemies, the audience, from getting a fix on what the hell is going on in his violently unstable frame. He apparently went so far as to tell his camera operators that if they ever felt like violently reframing a shot, looking at something else, or just messing up the composition, they should do it. A producer opined to me that camera operators, as a breed, if empowered to do whatever they want, will tend to offer up a stable, eloquent and graceful composition, so I think there’s a sense that Greengrass is nudging them towards this chaotic approach pretty sharply.

What makes the idea dumb is that you can TELL the operator is edging around, not to get a better view, but to get a WORSE view, so unlike in THE IPCRESS FILE, we don’t get a feeling of covert surveillance, but one of filmmakers mucking about.He doesn’t go THIS far very often, thankfully. This reminds me of Peter Brook’s back-of-the-head shots in his KING LEAR, intended to fill in spaces whe”re the text is enough,” and any imagery would be too much. A pathetic idea, I always thought, an abdication of the filmmaker’s job, which is to find the right image the way a writer chooses le mot juste. Brook’s choice, like Greengrass’s here, has one main effect, which is to make the viewer wonder what’s gone wrong.

Having said that, I enjoyed this film more than its predecessors. It has a number of completely joyless, garbled fights and chases, but towards the end also delivers the best punch-up and the best car chase in the original trilogy (which has since sprouted two more films). The sequence of Bourne leaping from window to window in Tangiers, crossing streets a storey or more above ground level, is slightly absurd but very dynamic, with the abrupt changes of angle and movement forcing the eye to work hard but not quite defeating our ability to make sense of what we’re seeing.

Was Robert Ludlum obsessed with The Guardian newspaper? John Frankenheimer and George Axelrod’s gloriously ludicrous film of Ludlum’s THE HOLCROFT COVENANT has Anthony Andrews as a journalist who writes “brilliant but mysterious articles on international finance for the Guardian.” Here we have Paddy Considine as a hapless hack who gets in over his head and becomes for Bourne the equivalent of the Act 1 Girl in a Roger Moore Bond film, fated to be unceremoniously offed to create a bit of jeopardy and establish the baddie’s credentials.There’s also David Strathairn, Scott Glenn (moving sideways from NASA and the FBI to the CIA), Daniel Bruhl, Albert Finney, and the return of Julia Styles and Joan Allen. Edgar Ramirez, so striking in CARLOS, is almost invisible here as a thug, as the talented Karl Urban was in the previous film.Regular series scribe Tony Gilroy is credited with “screen story,” making me wonder what the source novel contributed, and various other hands (Scott Z. Burns, George Nolfi, an uncredited-as-usual Tom Stoppard) make this the film with the best dialogue and plot twists too. There’s also a furious amount of retconning — the second film already changed Bourne from a man who refused to be an assassin, to one who actually completed several missions, and now we find out he volunteered to be brainwashed in the first place. The flashbacks, shot with a deliberately malfunctioning camera, make the brainwashing look like waterboarding, adding “contemporary relevance,” which is commendable I guess, but left me unconvinced that drowning someone is good training to set them up for a career in homicide. Plus we learn that Julia Styles was Bourne’s lover before he chose to be brainwashed by Daddy Warbucks (Finney’s mishmash accent contains stray bits of John Huston) — so this is basically THE ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF THE SPOTLESS MIND with added punching.

 

The Ludlummox

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , on May 11, 2018 by dcairns

And so to the ludicrously-named THE BOURNE SUPREMACY. Parlour game: invent a Robert Ludlum property that’s stupid-sounding enough to not be convincing — THE DOBERMANN INCONGRUITY, THE PIPKIN UNCERTAINTY, THE NIFFELNEGGER IMPONDERABLE all sound like they might pass. THE GREENGRASS TREMOR?

Brit Paul Greengrass, fresh from the success of the emotional and effective BLOODY SUNDAY, slides into a director’s chair still warm from Doug Liman’s buttocks. Tony Gilroy takes solo screenplay credit for the one time in the trilogy. I don’t like his ROGUE ONE or DEVIL’S ADVOCATE scripts, but is the acclaimed MICHAEL CLAYTON actually good?

Immediately the team pulls a no-no, killing of Lola Run, leading lady from the previous film. I think the argument against this kind of thing — ALIEN³ is probably the most notorious example — is that when a movie ends happily, the audience is being told that the characters are going to be OK, and when you bump off a major one in the sequel, you make a liar out of the first film and betray your fanbase, the very people invested in your story. Here, I might allow the filmmakers some latitude because (a) I wasn’t very invested in the character or relationship and (2) the death scene is the emotional high point of the film, despite being staged underwater. Casting directors take note: Matt Damon may be our best underwater actor. Partner him with Sally Hawkins immediately.

Now Matt Damon is out for revenge, except that’s not what Lola Run would have wanted, so he’s out to find out the truth and stop himself being killed, which is pretty much same as last time. Karl Urban is his main physical opponent and Brian Cox, returning from film 1, is the bad guy at the CIA. There are two kinds of British bad guy: the kind with a British accent that marks them as untrustworthy, and the kind with an unconvincing American accent that marks them as SUPER untrustworthy. In the third film, Albert Finney pops up and is, obviously, the most untrustworthy man in the galaxy.  Brian Cox hides, pissing off his co-star.

We’re also joined by Joan Allen — effortlessly the best thing in the film — and Julia Styles, who looks like she’s being groomed as the next leading lady for Bourne, only he’s not quite ready for that kind of commitment. So the cast includes Pat Nixon, Judge Dredd, Hannibal Lektor, Lola Run and Damien from THE OMEN’s mom. Bourne is going to have to do some serious head-kicking here.

And he does, but I couldn’t bring myself to care. The fights are all insanely over-cut, not as incoherent as Christopher Nolan at his worst, but messy and no fun to watch. The car chases are even worse, and the music is kinda horrible, so they’re pretty enervating rather than exciting. (John Powell’s score for the third film is a considerable improvement on his work here.) The reason I’d call the editing bad is not just what it does in the fights, but the way it chops a basic action into pieces, using three shots for a man parking his car where one would do. Breaking Sidney Pollock’s Law: Let the boring crap be boring crap. Fact: if you chapter hop rapidly through this film you see cars, trams, airports. You’d think it was a documentary about public transport in Europe. I feel like the DVD was bad quality, with an unpleasant digital look, so maybe I can’t fairly judge DOP Oliver Wood’s work, but my impression is that this whole series is mostly ugly-looking. Even the green-tinged fluorescent lighting, which can be BEAUTIFULLY ugly in some movies, is just yucky here.

The dialogue is better than the previous film — we should probably give Gilroy credit for reducing the corniness. And everything with Joan Allen has a certain credibility. The retconning begins, also — the previous film might have left you with the impression that govt. assassin Bourne crapped out on his first mission, but in fact he’s been a highly proficient murderer for some time, though admittedly he was brainwashed so we shouldn’t blame him too much (although I note that when Indiana Jones drank the Black Death of Kali, he was still able to assert his will and humanity. Maybe the CIA has invented something more powerful than the Black Death of Kali, though I for one find that very hard to believe.Good last scene (Joan Allen features prominently). Moby plays us out. I don’t really know why I watched the third film, but I did. To be continued…