Monday Movies Spent $76,520 on Booze, Dancers, and Whores

Margin Call — A masterful, quiet drama about the first 24 hours of the financial crisis, and one of the rare films to use the word “capitalism” in dialogue. A high-rolling Wall Street firm executes a round of cuts, leaving skeleton crews in its various departments. As a manager in Risk Management (Stanley Tucci) gets the axe, he passes a thumb drive to his surviving junior, an MIT-trained engineer-turned-quant (Zachary Quinto). The thumb drive contains evidence of what we now all know — that this emblematic anonymous firm is leveraged far beyond value or reason, and that the piper could ask to be paid at any minute.

The cast is magnificent, but it’s not at all a star vehicle. In addition to Quinto and Tucci, there’s Kevin Spacey as a bulldog trader, Paul Bettany as a profligate apologist, Demi Moore as Tucci’s bitter fall-guy boss, Simon Baker (TV’s Mentalist) as upper-middle management, John HurdJeremy Irons as the big boss, proudly innumerate, ruler by virtue of viscera. As a 23-year-old on the lowest rung of the ladder, Penn Badgely is hilarious as a kind of window-character naif, baldly asking everyone what they make and how they spend it.

The movie has the ecological feel of a John Sayles film, eliciting how people function in an equilibrium, and how their world, unbalanced, reveals their character. It takes place over a little more than 24 hours; when Quinto comprehends the firm’s position, he calls his supervisor back from a bar, who calls his boss, who calls his boss, until it’s 3 in the morning and the helicopters are showing up. Everyone reacts with conscience, perspective, and some degree of humanity, but no one transforms, and no one says no to the money.

Samsara — From the makers of Koyanisqaatsi and Baraka, another wordless, globetrotting visual feast. There are a couple of montages that are heavy-handed — a run that goes from factory farms to obese Americans in a mall food court, another one that goes from the manufacture of bullets to a horribly scarred veteran at a military cemetery. But there’s also a beautiful and equivocal running motif of “mass ornaments,” connecting the shapes of dance routines in Filipino prisons, military parades, and temple dances to individual body modifications, Real Dolls and Buddhist sand mandalas. The filmmakers have a wonderful eye for eyes, too — the opening shot, of a trio of dancers whose faces are as key to their art as the rest of their bodies is unforgettably hilarious.

Seen any moving images lately?

3 thoughts on “Monday Movies Spent $76,520 on Booze, Dancers, and Whores

  1. Jeremy Irons doesn’t warrant a mention? By the way, did you see the NYT Magazine piece about how Lehman is still “winding down” and will likely take a further five years to fully settle accounts? Quinto might still have his job.

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