Margin Call (Film Review)

Margin Call (Film Review)

I’ll admit that I don’t really understand the business world. To me, it is so complex, and terms are thrown around that I have no idea what they mean. But that doesn’t mean I don’t love me a good movie about Wall Street people doing sketchy things. There has been a solid history of movies about financial fraud or insider trading, that I decided to give Margin Call a shot.

The story is based around a problem discovered by one of the risk analysts of a large firm, just prior to the collapse of the markets in 2008. Margin Call is sort of the last hurrah for this company before everything goes bad, and the rest of the markets follow suit, causing one of the largest financial crises in American history. Now, to describe the issue that was discovered, I revert to the wonders of wikipedia: “That night, Sullivan finishes Dale’s project and discovers that current volatility in the firm’s portfolio of mortgage backed securities will soon exceed the historical volatility levels of the positions. Because of excessive leverage, if the firm’s assets decrease by 25% in value, the firm will suffer a loss greater than its market capitalization. He also discovers that, given the normal length of time that the firm holds such securities, this loss must occur.”

marginSo, what I got out of all that was that things were going to be bad, as they were selling things that weren’t really worth that much anyway.

Margin Call could have taken some time to more deeply explain the problem here, for those of us who are not financial experts. Regardless, even without completely understanding what the central problem was, this was still an enjoyable film. There is an all-star cast here, and the movie was nominated for the Best Original Screenplay Oscar. Based on the strong writing, and the superb acting, seemingly unimportant things become highly suspenseful, and it is exciting to watch and see what the firm is going to do in order to either solve all of their problems, or cut the line and hope for some damage control afterwards. Careers are ended, scapegoats are made, and problems are solved, all with an eye on still being able to make some money once everything settles down.

It is an interesting look at what could have been going on behind the scenes when everything went bad on Wall Street in 2008, seeing how quickly massive, life-altering choices were being made, in order to minimize the damage. Of course, there are ethical issues, whereas the people buying the parts of the company as they attempted to liquidate everything in one day after discovering the glitch, were essentially buying something that was worthless. It is not surprising to see how little value is placed on the end users of these large deals.

Even by the end of the film, I didn’t really understand everything that had happened. Margin Call is definitely for someone who is smarter than me. There was no spoonfeeding of the way things work as there was in other comparable films, such as Wall Street. 

But that didn’t change things from being quite entertaining. Again, with a cast that includes heavyweights like Kevin Spacey, Jeremy Irons, Paul Bettany, Demi Moore, Stanley Tucci, and Zachary Quinto, it is hard to go wrong.

I randomly gave this one a shot on Netflix, and was not disappointed. A very strong, well written, and well acted look at those last moments on Wall Street, when people started to realize that things were going to go south in a big hurry, and the way that they reacted to it.

Worth a watch.

My Week With Marilyn (Film Review)

My Week With Marilyn (Film Review)

I am not a believer that Marilyn Monroe is a person worthy of the female worship that she receives on daily Facebook posts and updates. The quotes attributed to her demonstrate a strong woman, in constant control, aware of how the world is manipulating her image, and how she, in turn, manipulated it. In reality, Marilyn was a wreck. Crippling insecurity lead to failed romance and drug addiction throughout her life, leading to her early, and mysterious, death.

But this is not to say that Marilyn Monroe is one of the most fascinating people in Hollywood during the 20th Century. She was. She was the biggest star on the planet, the ultimate blonde bombshell, a great actress in her own right, and was able to develop the persona of Marilyn to become the most desired woman on the planet.

In My Week With Marilyn, we get to see all sides of her, in a wonderful film set during the height of her career, when she went to England to film a movie with the legendary Sir Laurence Olivier (played brilliantly by Kenneth Branagh). Here, we get the behind-the-scenes view of how fragile Monroe was, even in the earliest days of her marriage to famed writer Arthur Miller. She was a disaster on set, frequently being late, and always needing the advice of her acting coach on every small detail of the film. This drove Olivier crazy, claiming that it was impossible to teach Marilyn how to act. He would go into frequent rages, berating her, before he would try to placate her, in order to get he film done. He knew that the movie was a light comedy, and didn’t need the depth that Monroe was trying to put in to the role, as the tried to become the “best actress that she could be.” It wasn’t everyday that you could make a movie with the world’s biggest star, so he fought through until completion of the film.

With Marilyn in England, she is taken care of a determined young man (played by Eddie Redmayne), who worked his way from nobility, into the film business, as a third assistant director on the film. Young and with stars in his eyes, Colin Clarke gets to know Marilyn, and what he believes to be the real version of the woman outside of the film set. Here he, and we, are able to see her at her more human, and more vulnerable, as they tour around the English countryside, including a stop off at Eton, where she obviously creates quite a distraction for the boys. We can see how she could turn her persona on and off, being a real person one minute, posing up against a wall and shaking her hips for the crowd the next. She knew the Marilyn that people wanted to see, and part of her life’s drama was being able to distinguish between the two people. This also caused the issues in her love life, because men simply fell in love with who she was on the screen and in the papers, instead of the actual version of her.

MY WEEK WITH MARILYNThe entire cast of the film is very strong, and star-studded. The central role, played by Michelle Williams, is truly well done. While she may have caused second thoughts once it was announced that she would be playing Marilyn, she was able to bring her breathless beauty to the screen, as well as her intricate and often subtle mood changes, about perfectly. Williams truly embodied who Marilyn was, and she was rewarded with an Oscar nomination for the role, and deservedly so. It was Williams’ second nomination in a row, after being tapped for her role in Blue Valentine the year before. Michelle Williams, made famous for her role on the teen drama Dawson’s Creek, has really emerged as a strong actress. One thing I thought while watching this, and seeing her version of Marilyn smiling and having fun onscreen, was that it was nice to see Williams being happy in a performance. She typically takes sadder, more introspective roles, and it was kind of fun to see her glammed up here and truly performing.

All of the secondary characters live up to their star billing as well, giving smaller, but very good performances to keep up with the dazzling Williams. Emma Watson is strong in her small role as the love interest for Colin, playing hard to get and essentially losing a battle of hearts to the most desired woman on the planet. Dame Judy Dench also appears, as do Julia Ormond, Dougray Scott, and Jim Carter (who is still awesome, even outside of his Downton Abbey garb).

With a very strong cast, it covers up the fact that the plot of the movie is fairly simple and straightforward. Star comes to a new place, struggles to get film done, makes innocent boy fall in love with her, she teases him, she leaves. Boy feels that he got to know the true version of her, and is a better person for it.

marilyn2
Still from the original film, recreated perfectly in “My Week With Marilyn.”

But it is not the plot that we watch this movie for, even though it is pretty entertaining throughout, despite its simplicity. It is to spend that week with Marilyn, along with the other characters. To feel like we know her in the same way that the people in her private life knew her. And it speaks volumes about the performance of Williams, that by the end of the film, we do feel this. Marilyn is intoxicating, and it is easy to see how someone could fall for her immediately after meeting her. She could take you in with her beauty, and her charm, and her ability to make people feel as though they were the most important person in the world at that very moment in time.

I loved My Week With Marilyn more than I thought I would. It is a superbly acted film, brought together by incredible costumes, and all wrapped neatly by Michelle Williams’ great performance. If you are a fan of Marilyn, and want to see beyond the glitzy side that we all know, this is a great film. For others, it is definitely entertaining to be brought into the world of Marilyn Monroe, if even only for a week.