April 20, 2018

The Wizard of Lies [TV movie] (2017)

Robert DeNiro, Michelle Pfeiffer


Financial crimes are not an easy subject to make interesting. For one thing, the average person doesn't understand what any of it means. Secondly, there's no real action involved. The tension lies in stock prices or backdating or other yawn-inducing descriptions most people don't care about. (Which is also the reason certain people are able to get away with such crimes...)

So kudos to this movie for keeping it as interesting as possible. Aside from The Big Short (which absolutely everyone should watch, btw), this has been the second most interesting financial meltdown movie I've watched. (Grand total in that category: 2)

They do it by focusing more on Madoff's persona relationships--his wife and his two sons--than the actual crimes committed. Personally, I would have liked more nitty gritty details of just how these things were executed and covered up, but I suppose that's what Google is for. Instead, this movie set its sights on showing the involvement of Madoff family members and the toll the entire scandal took on them. It was humanizing without glossing over the viciousness of the crimes committed, which is a hard balance to achieve.

I was relatively young (well, not really paying attention) when Madoff was exposed, so I wasn't intimately familiar with the amount of vitriol his family received. And while we will probably never know the objective "truth" about their involvement, this movie certainly moved my sympathies their way. It cannot be easy to be related to a notorious criminal of any kind and the toll it takes on you must be enormous. This movie does well to highlight those effects.

Much like the movie Game Change, HBO has a way of pulling back the curtain on a certain situation to make you view it differently. Here, they show Madoff as a controlling, all-powerful figure that doesn't allow his sons to ask questions about the business or gain any insight into how things are run. Should they, then, be treated as liable for the damage their father caused? Whether or not you walk away agreeing with the narrative, they've given you something to think about. 

This wasn't the most exciting or even the most well done HBO movie. But it was thought-provoking and interesting and certainly topical. Either way, I'd rather have studios gamble on movies like this than just churn out another superhero whatever.

Final word: A new take on a national scandal

P.S. I could not stop looking at the actor portraying Mark Madoff and thinking it was Beck Beckett from SNL. I'm convinced maybe it should have been Beck Beckett. 


April 3, 2018

Leap! (2016)

Elle Fanning, Dane DeHaan, Carly Rae Jepsen


Sometimes I get the feeling that people think movies for children don't need to be as good as movies for adults. How else can I explain The Penguins of Madagascar or Hop

This movie is like that. It's as if whoever created it wanted to make a ballet movie and didn't pay attention to literally anything else. Like costume design, or music, or plot, or casting...

So the ballet is entertaining. Though as I've admitted before, I will watch literally any movie about ballet. So maybe my opinion on that doesn't even count. And the animation is cute. Like, the kids are drawn to be cute. So that's something.

Everything else? Everything else is a train wreck.

Let's start with the setting, which is supposed to be France in 1879. Yet Felicie, our main character, wears rolled jean shorts over black leggings and chic boots. She's also always impeccably clean. Oh, did I mention she's supposed to be an orphan? Look, I get that it's supposed to be a feel-good story, but why does her male companion always look like a dirty little street boy in patched clothing and she look like she stepped directly out of an H&M catalogue? Even after escaping an orphanage on a dirty train for who knows how long? It's just one of those little details that eats away at you when the plot gives you too much time to analyze other things.

So we're in Paris. 1879. Yet, like The Book of Life, this movie thought: let's put contemporary American music in the score! Also, let's have non-French actors voice the characters! Better yet, let's cast a 30-year-old man to voice a pre-teen orphan boy! Oh, and while we're commanding "star power" at the sacrifice of authenticity, let's cast Carly Rae Jepsen! Because nothing says "STAR" like a one-hit wonder pop singer who doesn't even freaking sing in the movie. 

Clearly I have a lot of feelings about it.

But even those mistakes pale in comparison to the plot and character development. For one thing, the villain is so one-dimensional and overtly evil that even my four-year-old complained that no one could possibly be that mean. When a four-year-old starts pointing out character flaws in an animated movie, you know you've got problems. Usually they are just awed by the flashing colors. 

As a warning, I am going to post a spoiler. I don't usually, but this movie has gotten under my skin and since kids aren't reading my blog anyway, I feel like it's a safe space to vent. So, spoiler alert:
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The worst part of this whole damn thing is that we're supposed to believe little Felicie learns to dance perfect en pointe ballet in a matter of days--better than girls who have been training for a decade--simply because she has passion?? I'm all for inspirational stories, but that is both absurd and insulting to kids who actually train for stuff. Literally, she turns from a walking disaster to a show-worthy dancer in like, a week. Never mind that she literally cheated and lied to gain entry to her dream in the first place, but what kind of message are we sending kids when a movie tells them they can perfect something in short order if they want it really really badly? Oh, and practice for an entire week.

Added to that is the miraculous transformation of the villain's daughter, Camille. I know they're kids, but again, we're supposed to believe she does a complete 180 from being exactly as evil as her mother into someone who would concede the lead role to the girl who stole her identity? And we should cheer Felicie for just accepting that without skepticism? Maybe that's my cold, cynical adult heart speaking, but I would let that girl anywhere near me without first checking her hands for a knife. Seriously.
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Final word: I tried to like it. I really did. I just couldn't.