Margin Call – Review

Margin Call (2011) 

Directed by J.C. Chandor. Starring Zachary QuintoStanley TucciKevin SpaceyPaul BettanyJeremy IronsSimon BakerDemi Moore.

This film could work beautifully as a perfect double bill with Charles Ferguson‘s documentary “Inside Job” from 2010, after which you might as well sink into the deepest depression just like our economy has been doing for the last few years…

“Margin Call” is inspired by the 2008 meltdown of the banking system, and although it is officially set in a fictional trading firm somewhere in Wall Street, you can’t help feeling the Lehman Brothers’s shadow lurking over the whole thing. I would not have been at all surprised to read a Merrill Lynch sign at any point during the film. Yes, this might very well be a work of fiction but by the end of it I challenge you not to think that this is exactly how it might have happened.

Despite what is potentially a fairly dry , cold and even complicated subject, “Margin Call” manages to make an absolutely gripping and tense thriller out of what’s essentially a group of people looking at computer screens and talking about things most of us, common mortals, don’t quite understand. Kudos to a tight direction and of course some great stellar cast!

However, unlike many movies where having many big A-listers takes something away from the actual story itself, because of their star persona, here it makes absolute sense to have so many of them, as each of them brings aura of gravitas which makes these characters and their story even more believable and more tense.

The movie confidently relies on the expressions on their faces to convey the power of the drama, more than any other tricky filmic devices or even action scenes.

Stanley Tucci shines as always and makes the most of his little screen time (essentially he only has 2 scenes, but boy he nails them both!) and Kevin Spacey shows us that he can do a lot more than just another caricature a-la-Swimming-with-Sharks. It’s great to see “The Mentalist” Simon Baker playing this kind of part and swearing like we’ve never seen him before and of course Jeremy Irons, who is clearly having a ball playing the ultimate boss of bosses who arrives with a helicopter and delivers the classic line “If you’re first out the door, that’s not called panicking”.

Each of them is a boss of a somebody else: and just when you think we’ve reached to top of the pyramid, a new one comes a long, richer and greedier, even more powerful and more ruthless. However what makes “Margin Call” so compelling is its refusal to play the expected clichés of the genre, to criticise or demonize the people who were behind the economic collapse or worse to attempt any kind of forced redemption at end. This isn’t another Oliver StoneWall Street” (a film which has actually aged quite badly, if you go back at look at it today with a more cynical eye). All these people working in the finance business are not just two-dimensional sharks and though the ending is exactly as we might expect (as it’s now written in the history books), the actual journey is not as obvious.

You really feel the tension on the faces of those people most of whom don’t even seem to understand much about how the economy works (that is quite an unexpectedly fun, if grotesque, twist on the subject) and never for a moment you doubt that it was all filmed in the darkest and earliest hours of the morning.

The script may sometimes be a bit cheap and too much in your face (the lines “please explain it to me in plain English” are quite welcome but they also feel a bit forced), however the film manages to create an atmosphere that it is so tense, so dense that it’s almost palpable. Once again a proof that you don’t need special effects, big twists and action scenes to create a powerful thriller.

This is what Wall Street 2 should have been.

7.5/10

Captain America – Review

Captain America: The First Avenger (2011) 

Directed by Joe Johnston. With Chris Evans, Hayley AtwellTommy Lee JonesHugo WeavingStanley TucciToby Jones

If you are an average viewer with at least half a brain,with close-to-no-interest-whatsoever in comic books, or simply just exhausted by the overload of comic heroes out there at the moment, you might be asking yourself “Do we really need yet another movie adapted  from a comic, and more importantly, can we possibly care less about a film that flashes out that all-American gun-ho/patriotic spirit  right from the word go and proudly shows it even in its title? A spirit which is so out-of-date these days, in a post-9/11-Bush-and-economic-crisis era, like the one we’re all living today. Probably the answer to both questions will be a resounding “No, please!”.

Surprisingly “Captain America” might just be one of the best of its kind and certainly the best comic adaptation of the year (yes, I’d say better than Thor, which actually wasn’t too bad either and 100% better than that shameful Green Lantern).

The film-makers are obviously very aware of the cynical eyes of today’s audience towards jingoism and that slight anti-American feeling that is slowly creeping in beyond their own country. A misstep too far in bringing this latest superhero to the screen might not only jeopardize their international box office takings, but also (and more important) their long-awaited spin-off “The Avengers” (due to be released next year) of which “Captain America” was the last crucial missing link.

So instead of falling into the traps of the obvious patriotic gush and just updating the story for the modern audience, into a modern setting, director Joe Johnston decided to stay true to the origins of his hero and kept the story rooted in 194os, during World War II, deciding to concentrate more on the old-fashion moral decency of the characters than their “let’s kick some ass” type of mentality:  in fact in a few scenes they even make fun of that as Captain America performs in front of live audiences around America, looking more like a clown than a superhero. Of course it’s still propaganda, but of a slightly different kind and certainly less insulting.

The period atmosphere is perfectly recreated (reminiscent of another superhero film the Rocketeer, which interestingly was made  by the same director in 1991) through the sepia tones of the photography, the muted colours of the costumes but also a type of film-making itself calling back to the way the best action films used to be made, before a certain Bruckheimer decided that it was all going to be about one liners, big explosion, idiotic plot-lines, fast editing (so fast that you can’t quite tell how bad it all is!) and sex exploitation (yes, I am not a fan of Transformers, you might have gathered that). This is as much about humanity and characters than it is about big action set-pieces and special effects, because in the end those are only important as long as we care about the people involved in them (I know, this is no news to anyone, but it’s good to remind people about it once in a while).

Yes, of course, it’s all preposterous and plainly silly, but so is a radioactive spider,  a man who can fly, a giant hammer, and a silly mask that only covers your eyes and yet when you wear it nobody seems to recognise you . We are talking about Superheroes after all!! But as long as you can suspend your disbelief, you’ll definitely enjoy this one.

To help it all there’s a splendid array of  supporting characters from Stanley Tucci, to Toby Jones, to Tommy Lee-Jones and even an-over-the-top Hugo Weaver who’s clearly having a lot of fun in this film (putting on a close-to-parody German accent!). And of course Chris Evans in the lead who embodies the physical strength of the hero and yet at the same time he brings enough charisma, warmth and dignity to make you actually care about him and feel for his pain whenever somebody close to him dies. It obviously helps that in the first 40 minutes of the film we get to know him as a frail and skinny men and somehow all that makes him even more sympatetic (with the aid of some truly stunning and seamless Benjamin-Button-Style-Special-FX… If only they had put so much effort into the 3D conversion which was actually rather bland, a part from a few shields flying towards us).

Ironically for an action film, the actual action scenes are rather unimpressive: of course they’re not bad, as I said this is a very competent film (aside from some bad CGI around the train sequence), but in the end they’re not what this film might be remembered for. In fact Captain America runs slightly out of steam in the last part and it feels more and more a collection of set pieces which are not necessarily flowing into each other, and it slowly risks to become an almost by-the-number type of affair, until of course the final coda, which is brings us a step closer to the Avengers… (though at the same time rather sad that it will mean the end of the period setting, which I rather liked).

As popcorn movies go, this is a lot better than you might expect (especially considering the blandness of the original character from the comics) and more enjoyable than most of the stuff that Hollywood tends to rigurgitate over us during summer holidays.

7.0/10

OTHER REVIEWS: 

thor

Green Lantern 

Tron: Legacy

The Avengers

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