Margin Call

Posted on October 20, 2011 at 6:50 pm

A
Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating: Rated R for language
Profanity: Constant profanity and bad language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking, smoking
Violence/ Scariness: Tense confrontations, job loss, betrayal
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: October 21, 2011
Date Released to DVD: May 1, 2011
Amazon.com ASIN: B005FITIGO
Copyright Roadside Attractions 2011

Investors can make bets by promising to buy stock at a higher or lower price than the current day’s valuation.  If all goes well, they never actually have to buy the stock.  They can keep buying and selling the bets with borrowed money without ever having to buy the underlying securities.  But if it does not go well, the investor gets what is known as a margin call and has to come up with the cash.

The financial meltdown of 2008 was like a margin call for America, and we will be paying off that debt for a long time.  This movie, as tightly wound as a thriller, takes us through a fictionalized version of the night when it all tipped over from going well to not going well at an enormous Wall Street company, and it was time to pay the piper and a lot of others as well.

“You guys ever been through this before?” asks Will (Paul Bettany), as some serious looking people in suits start tapping people on the shoulder and saying, “I’m afraid we have to speak with you” to the people in cubicles  “Best to ignore it, keep your head down, go back to work.  Don’t watch.”

“The majority of this floor is being let go today,” says the serious woman in a suit.  She speaks of “certain precautions that may seem punitive.”  She glances down at the paperwork when she speaks of “your — 19 — years” with the (never-named) company.  And then we see people carrying cardboard boxes of belongings out the front door of a shiny skyscraper, their eyes blinking in the unaccustomed sunlight.

This is nothing new, as Will’s comment informs us.  It is a routine, if brutal pruning of the staff.  This is a cutthroat business and periodically some throats get cut.  And periodically Will has to speak to those left behind: “These were good people and they were good at their jobs, but you are better.  We will not think of them again.”  Back to work watching all those screens with all those numbers.

But one of the departed has left something behind.  There is evident irony in the name of the division that has been gutted.  It is the Risk Management group.  And the 19-year veteran who has been shown the door has been working on a new analysis of the firm’s position.  He turns his thumb drive over to the young colleague who has been kept on, Peter Sullivan (Zachary Quinto), a literal rocket scientist with “a PhD in propulsion,” who plugs a few holes in the formula that reveal that the firm is in their terms, “projected losses are greater than the current value of the company.”  In other words, on the verge of collapse.  That is when it gets interesting.  Sullivan has proven that there are going to be some devastating losses.  The question is who will pay for them.

The rest of the long night will be devoted to answering that question.  It is like a long game of musical chairs, except that these people get to decide when to stop the music so they can get to the chairs before everyone else.

The guy at the top is John Tuld (Jeremy Irons).  Given a choice between reputation and money, he has no hesitation in choosing money.  He tells the head of sales, Sam Rogers (Kevin Spacey) to sell the ticking time bomb securities by assuring their clients that they are solid investments, even though Rogers points out that no one will ever trust them again.  “You’re selling something you know has no value.”  “We’re selling to willing buyers at fair market value so that we can survive.”

Rogers is not the only one who raises concerns, moral and financial.  But writer-director J.C. Chandor lets us see when and how each of them topple, and what makes them topple, which turns out to be money.  Dale repeatedly says there is nothing that can get him to go back inside the building and yet there he is, back in the building.  Rogers says he will not sell these risky securities to clients because “you don’t sell anything to anybody unless they’ll come back to you for more.”  But he does.

This could just as easily be set in the scuzzy world of the real-estate salesmen of “Glengarry Glen Ross” or the “leave the gun, take the cannoli” world of “The Godfather.”  Chandor keeps enough of the real story to keep things vivid and meaningful but does not get mired in jargon.  Crisp performances by everyone keep things taut until a surprising detour at the end.  For the first time we leave the world of glass and concrete for an intensely personal moment of loss and grief.  “Our talents have been used for the greater good,” one character says, reminding us that the very selection process that takes people who are capable of more tangible contributions are unable to resist the big money that pays them a many-times multiple for financial engineering over mechanical engineering.  And reminding us, too, that if we let people who care only about money make the decisions they will make decisions that are only about money for them.

 

(more…)

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Zombieland

Posted on February 2, 2010 at 8:00 am

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating: Rated R for horror violence/gore and language
Profanity: Constant very bad language, some crude
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking
Violence/ Scariness: Constant peril and violence, characters injured, killed, and eaten, zombies and other graphic and grisly images
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: October 2, 2009
Date Released to DVD: February 2, 2010

What is it about zombies?

Dating back to 1932’s “White Zombie,” the stories of the relentless, omnivorous undead and the humans who try to escape them have been one of film’s most popular genres, with sub-genres including the flourishing category of zombie comedies, best described as gallows humor, gasps of horror alternating with gasps of laughter. Zombie films turn out to provide many opportunities for some core elements of humor, especially the juxtaposition of dire circumstances with trivial detail and the deconstruction of our assumptions about what we need and the norms of lifestyle and behavior. As its title suggests, “Zombieland‘s” take is darkly comic, with zombie encounters as theme park or video game. It even ends up in a real theme park, the few remaining humans battling the hordes from rides and concession stands.

Copyright 2019 SPHE

One thing about zombies is that they thin out the herd. In this story, only four non-zombie humans seem to be left, which gives them an opportunity to try to band together with people with whom they would otherwise have nothing in common and show each other and themselves that they are capable of more in both physical courage and relationships than they ever thought possible.

The mixed bag, all known only by the names of cities, includes shy college student (Jesse Eisenberg) who tries to maintain some sense of control by compulsively making lists of rules for survival. He meets up with a modern-day cowboy (Woody Harrelson) in search of his favorite Hostess treat and a pair of sisters (Emma Stone and Abigail Breslin) who have their own methods for taking care of themselves. And even though they have not much idea where they are going or why they should go there, they hit the road.

Funny zombie movies can be just as scary as straight zombie movies, but they leaven the terror with humor that comes as the characters try to find some element of normalcy in between double-tapping zombies (one of the rules), grabbing whatever they want among the abandoned cars and grocery stores. It also includes checking out the home of a major movie star who shows up for an hilariously deadpan cameo before one last zombie attack in the actual amusement park — that juxtaposition element again.

The actors, including the movie star, are all superb. Eisenberg and Stone are two of the most talented young performers in movies and they hit just the right notes here. The usual getting-to-know-and-trust-you road trip developments play out in a manner that is both endearing and funny, as when Eisenberg asks Breslin if her sister has a boyfriend as though there are any other possible candidates for dating who would have a very different idea of having her for dinner. It goes on a little too long and does not match the inspired lunacy of “Shaun of the Dead,” but it will keep zombie-philic audiences as happy as finding the very last Twinkie.

Parents should know that this film has extreme and graphic violence involving zombies, guns, characters in peril, injured, killed, and eaten, drinking, smoking, and very strong language including crude sexual references.

Family discussion: Why didn’t the characters use their real names? What do you think of Columbus’ list of rules? What makes zombie movies so popular?

If you like this, try: “Dawn of the Dead,” “Shaun of the Dead,” “I am Legend,” and “28 Days Later”

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