Inside Job (2010)

Rated: PG-13 for some drug and sex-related material
Length: 120 minutes
Grade: A,A,A,A=A
Rotten Tomatoes: 97% favorable, 8.2/10 average|
Budget: $2 million
Box Office: $8 million (4 U.S., 4 Intl.)

Written by: Chad Beck (First Script) and Adam Bolt (First Script)
Directed by: Charles Ferguson (No End in Sight)
Narrated by: Matt Damon
Featuring: William Ackman, Daniel Alpert, Jonathan Alpert, Ben Bernanke, Eliot Spitzer, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, and Paul Volker.

This is a documentary intended to both explain the reasons behind the economic events of the last five years and to disturb you by showing how much of the problem’s real sources not only haven’t changed but were somewhere between incompetent and sinister.

This movie will probably infuriate you, at least if you understand what it’s saying. And you’ll want to disagree with it if you’re a conservative because it’s going to feel like an assault on the free-market practices and deregulation of Reagan and Bush that you’ve come to admire. But rest assured that the point of the movie is that it doesn’t really matter who’s in office since the real problem is the revolving door between the moneygrubbers of high finance and the oversight and administrative positions in the US government. At least, that’s one real problem. The other problem is that there are not only far too few checking mechanisms to inhibit the kind of risky and deceptive practices which caused the collapse, but the culture of aggressive risk-taking is itself so thoroughly endemic to the banking/finance industry that there isn’t much hope of real change. Oh yeah, and it’s way more profitable to buy influence through lobbyists than to conduct the sort of practices that would be required if serving the citizens and the economy at large were the primary purpose of federal investment regulations.

Discussion Questions:
~What happens in the banking/finance industry when the biggest incentives are based on short-term results rather than long-term economic stability?
~Do you think it’s defensible to pay investment house CEOs $100 million or more in a single year for any reason whatsoever? Should this be possible even in years when their decisions were catastrophically bad?
~A basic rule of insurance is that you can only buy insurance on things in which you have a personal investment stake. Why does this rule exist? Why was the abandonment of this rule so important in creating the environment of the collapse?
~Why were derivatives and other such innovative products (like CDO and CDS markets) unregulated?
~What do you think of the analysis that the academic economists being sought for advice on economic policy have not properly disclosed their own financial incentives?
~What do you think of the practice of producing financial products which were rated AAA but were internally known to be far less reliable and were actively bet against with contrary derivatives?
~How are cocaine, call girls, and risk-taking in finance related? What do you think of the analysis that Elliot Spitzer was brought down but the same information which could have been used to pursue others was not used?
~Given that Dominique Strauss-Kahn was so vocal against the finance industry in this country and our government in this movie from just a year ago, does there seem to be a sinister coincidence in regards to his arrest recently? Who would stand to gain from him being removed from the World Bank? Does the fact that the movie didn’t have this information make the issue with his case (and by inference that of Spitzer) seem more sinister?
~What is your opinion of Presidents Reagan, Bush, Clinton, Bush 43, and Obama after watching this movie?
~What is your opinion of Henry Paulson, Alan Greenspan, and Ben Bernanke now?
~If you could do anything at all to fix any or all of these problems so they don’t happen again, what would you do? What do you think the makers of this movie want to see happen?

Overall Grade: A
The sort of movie every American ought to watch but that leaves more despair than hope in its wake, if only because the problem isn’t that the problems aren’t known. The problem is that the sources of the problem have so much vested in perpetuating this system that they have literally invested everything in keeping the system just the way that it is.

Rango (2011)

Rated: PG for rude humor, language, action and smoking
Length: 107 minutes
Grade: C,B,C,D=C
Rotten Tomatoes: 88% favorable, 7.6/10 average
Budget: $135 million
Box Office: $262 million (123 U.S., 119 Intl., 20 DVD)

Written and Directed by: Gore Verbinksi (Pirates of the Caribbean 1-3, The Ring, The Weather Man, The Mexican, and Mousehunt)
Also Written by: John Logan (Sweeney Todd, The Aviator, The Last Samurai, Star Trek Nemesis, The Time Machine, Gladiator, and Any Given Sunday) and James Ward Byrkit (First script)
Starring the voice of: Johnny Depp
With the voices of: Isla Fisher, Abigail Breslin, Ned Beatty, Alfred Molina, Stephen Root, Harry Dean Stanton, Timothy Olyphant, Ray Winstone, and Bill Nighy.

A domestic lizard finds himself embroiled in a film noir western as he tries to survive, prove his mettle, and save the day for a desert town of unusual and oppressed animals.

We had heard this was quite good, and I will at least say that it was quite different. It certainly had its moments, and there was something admirable merely in the fact that it was so continually willing to be unlike any other animated movie. That being said, sometimes it’s worth asking why something has never been done before. If Pixar is asking, it’s because no one has thought of it or had the skill to do it right. If anyone else is asking, it’s because it was a bad idea that someone else knew as such before investing tens of millions of dollars to prove the fact. As a piece of creativity, this is quite good, and although not nearly as dark as Tim Burton’s universe, something of that feel is what you get for originally here. But as entertainment or something coherent, it just doesn’t really add up. It’s queer. Really queer. And not just because Johnny Depp voiced the main character. And when we got all done, my wife and I just looked at each other with a mutually quizzical expression that asked, “Did you get that?” And no, we didn’t. Also, it’s got more than its fair share of strong language for a kids movie, particularly damn and hell, and some pretty creepy images for younger kids including hangings and an arrow stuck in one character’s eye. PG-10 I’d say.

Overall Grade: C
Despite it’s ridiculously high Rotten Tomatoes rating, this is a movie that is likely to appeal mostly only to film critics who are most satisfied with something unusual. But almost by definition, unusual is precisely what the majority of people don’t love.

Just Go WIth It (2011)

Rated: PG-13 for frequent crude and sexual content, partial nudity, brief drug references and language
Length: 117 minutes
Grade: A,B-,C,D=B+
Rotten Tomatoes: 18% favorable, 3.7/10 average
Budget: $80 million
Box Office: $228 million (103 U.S., 112 Intl., 13 DVD)

Written by: Allan Loeb (The Dilemma, The Switch, 21, and Things We Lost in the Fire) and Timothy Downing (Role Models)
Directed by: Dennis Dugan (Grown Ups, You Don’t Mess with the Zohan, I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry, Benchwarmers, National Security, Saving Silverman, Big Daddy, and Beverly Hills Ninja.)
Starring: Adam Sandler and Jennifer Aniston
With: Nicole Kidman, Nick Swarsdon, Brooklyn Decker, Bailee Madison, Griffin Gluck, Dave Matthews, and Kevin Nealon.

A plastic surgeon has perfect the art of pretending to be badly married as a way of picking up women winds up falling for a girl without the ruse who then thinks he is actually married. He decides to lie to her, pretending to be on the verge of divorce, but this lie leads to countless others and a spiral of comedic deception

Adam Sandler isn’t always a hit for comedy, and Aniston has an even more splotchy record recently, but this is spot-on as a comedy romance. We laughed pretty continuously throughout this film, despite the ultimate plot trajectory being relatively predictable. A good comedy romance isn’t necessarily one that’s terribly innovative. Rather it’s one whose adherence to convention you don’t mind so much because it’s funny enough for you to not begrudge its lack of great surprises. And in this case, not only are there plenty of good jokes, but the semi-cameos by Nicole Kidman, for instance, are outstanding.

Discussion Questions:
~At what point in this movie would you have preferred to see Sandler tell the truth? Would that have been as entertaining?
~Do you think a marriage is better off beginning as something passionate and physical or beginning as a deep other-knowing friendship?
~What characteristics of Aniston would make her a good wife for Sandler? Is the role of office assistant a Biblical paradigm for a good wife?

Overall Grade: B+
It’s funny, which is better than most “comedies” these days, and it’s only just barely PG-13 for a very few profanities and ongoing innuendo. We really enjoyed this.

Gnomeo and Juliet (2011)

Rated: G
Length: 84 minutes
Grade: D+,A-,B-,D=C-
Rotten Tomatoes: 55% favorable, 5.6/10 average
Budget: $36 million
Box Office: $209 million (100 U.S., 90 Intl., 19 DVD)

Written by: 9 different people.
Directed by: Kelly Asbury (Shrek 2 and Spirit)
Starring the voices of: James McAvoy and Emily Blunt
With the voices of: Ashley Jansen, Michael Caine, Matt Lucas, Jim Cummings, Maggie Smith, Jason Statham, Patrick Stewart, Stephen Merchant, Hulk Hogan, and Ozzy Osbourne.

Romeo and Juliet in the context of two warring gnome yards in England set to the music of Elton John without all the tragedy.

Entertainment Value: D+
The first four minutes are hilarious and I felt like I was about to see a movie that really fulfilled everything its basic concept promised to be. Unfortunately, the rest was about as flat as flat gets, almost like they hired one set of writers to do the opening but couldn’t afford to keep them, so they replaced them with some mediocre team that did their best, but their best really wasn’t all that good. The ongoing Shakespeare references are a bit fun, but mostly this is just a plot that makes little sense built around the absurdity of a $20,000 lawn mower (9,998 pounds) and concrete sculptures come to life with repeatedly silly consequences. Some movies are so chock full of content you have to watch them intently. Some you can watch casually. Some you can watch while reading a magazine. And some you can watch while cooking dinner in the other room. I made pork and beans for my boys.

Superficial Content: A-
Drugs/Alcohol A, Sex/Nudity A, Violence A-, Language A-
This certainly deserves the G rating. No one gets really hurt (by the end), and the only issue of concern would be some minor nod-to-the-parents type not-quite-vulgar jokes such as “Let’s go kick some grass.”

Significant Content: B
Revenge and feuds only wind up destroying everything. Sometimes catastrophic loss is the only thing to motivate us to avoid a self-destructive pattern. Love is colorblind.

Artistic/Thought Value: D
There were two weird parts of this movie’s overall composition. The first was the overuse of music (especially Elton John songs, who is one executive producer), which was noticeable only for it’s noticeability. The other was the very strange and uncomfortable sequence showing the disintegration of a family (the household of the pink flamingo) without words. It was almost like someone tried to imitate the brilliant opening sequence from Up, only it wound up being sad without being touching.

Discussion Questions:
~Romeo and Juliet (like most Shakespearean plays) is a tragedy whose power derives specifically from the awful poignancy of the final scene. Do you think it’s appropriate for someone to retell this story without honoring the power of that ending? What does it say about modern movies that we cannot endure a tragic ending? Do tragic endings teach us better by contrast than happy ones? What does it say about our artistic tastes that we want our stories to end well rather than being satisfied with bad literary endings motivating us to have our lives end well by learning from the lesson?
~Is revenge ever a legitimate motive for anything? What about retribution for a crime committed? Have you ever done anything in revenge and regretted it?

Overall Grade: C-
I kept wanting it to be much better than it was, a hope which the opening scenes only raised to be dashed by the mediocrity of most everything thereafter.