Mike Kueber's Blog

April 22, 2012

Saturday Night at the Movies #23 – An Inconvenient Truth and Margin Call

Filed under: Movie reviews — Mike Kueber @ 3:00 pm
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While reading Bill Clinton’s new book, which appears intended to remind Americans of how great a president he had been, I decided to view Al Gore’s old documentary, An Inconvenient Truth, which appears intended to remind America that, although Gore may not have invented the internet, he did invent global warming.  Actually, his Harvard college professor (Roger Revelle) invented it, but Gore is the person who took the ball and ran with it.

Although An Inconvenient Truth is only six years old, it seems outdated, probably because much has changed since its premiere in 2006.  The most significant change is that the scientific community has damaged its credibility by issuing reports that misstate the underlying research. 

Furthermore, the documentary relies heavily on statistics and charts showing that global warming is spinning out of control, which leaves you with the impression that things will be much worse in the near future.  Well, the near future is now, and the reports of the earth’s demise as we know it appear to have subsided.

An Inconvenient Truth won an Academy Award for Best documentary (I remember Gore accepting the award with his Orson Welles film-making look – rotund and hirsute) and 93% of the Rotten Tomato critics liked it.  But only 75% of the RT audience liked it.  Although the movie is somewhat outdated and the scientific community has lost some credibility, I think An Inconvenient Truth is an interesting, informative documentary, and I give it three out of four stars.    

Margin Call is a 2011 movie about an investment bank in 2008 that appears to be left holding a bag of worthless securities that will bankrupt the venerable firm.  But instead of accepting its fate, the bank considers whether to have a 24-hour fire sale of the worthless securities to its unsuspecting, long-standing clients.  Although this may seem like an easy good/bad dichotomy, none of the leading characters are cast as pure good or evil, and the line between good and bad becomes a bit blurry. 

The outstanding ensemble cast includes Jeremy Irons as the CEO, Simon Baker as the precocious #2, Stanley Tucci as the guy who stumbled across securities’ worthlessness, and the Demi Moore as the person who was the firm’s person responsible for managing risk.  Kevin Spacey’s role as the senior manager-cum-moral compass of the firm is probably the most important.  To ensure that Spacey’s character is considered warm, the filmmakers started the movie by showing Spacey agonizing over the ill health of his family dog.  Obviously, in a world of people obsessed with money, that trait sets Spacey’s character apart.

The other character that interested me was Paul Bettany playing a middle manager who served as a buffer between the jaded executives and the naïve traders.  Ever since seeing Bettany in 2001 in A Knight’s Tale, I have disliked the guy because his character was a jerk alongside the noble Heath Ledger.  Bettany reminded me of Tony Goldwyn, who played the bad guy (Carl Bruner) alongside Patrick Swayze in Ghost in 1990 and in my mind is forever typecast as a villain.

Bettany next appeared on my radar in 2001 in A Beautiful Mind alongside Russell Crowe.  Once again, Bettany played a jerk and, even worse, won the favor (in real life) of the movie’s female star – Jennifer Garner.  That reminded me of Bryan Brown, who in 1983 played alongside Richard Chamberlain in The Thorn Birds.  Brown hooked-up in real life with Thorn Birds star Rachel Ward, and in my mind he had stolen her from the noble Father Ralph de Bricassart .

Now in 2012, Bettany seems to have redeemed himself and he comes off as a decent guy.  Furthermore, in researching Bettany (British) and Brown (Australian), I have learned that they remain married w/children to Garner and Ward.  That’s the sort of happy ending I live for.  Unfortunately, the ending to Margin Call is not so happy. 

Margin Call performed similarly to Gore’s documentary in Rotten Tomatoes – it scored 89% with the critics, but only 74% with the audience.  Add my opinion to that of the 74%.  I would give it three and a half out of four starts.


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