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After further review, I have reconsidered my review of IRIS it is just too big a task for now. That said, I recently came across an HBO film “Too Big to Fail” (2011) its review was not too big for me to fail and neither did the film.

Andrew Ross Sorkin’s non-fiction book Too Big to Fail was turned into an HBO film that chronicles the 2008 financial meltdown and how the  (then) U.S. Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson (William Hurt) and his staff try to contain the avalanche of financial evils arising during the period between August 2008 to October 3, 2008.  These problems eventually lead to the massive Wall Street bail out (at the tax payers’ expense of course) known as TARP.  The TARP bailout gave one of my personal heroes, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, the opportunity to cross-examine Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner about where our 700 billion dollars went.  Her cross-examination was so effective that it caused Geithner to practically have an aneurysm in the hallways of Congress with some profanity to boot (you can see it on YouTube).

Anyways back to the film.  The first problem we see is Dick Fuld (James Woods), the CEO of Lehman Brothers, one of the oldest and established investment banks in the world, is desperately looking fresh capital, but he has no takers because Lehman is over exposed to “toxic” housing assets while the Treasury is opposed to offering any sort of bailout as they recently did for Bear Stearns.  As rumors of Lehman’s financial problems grow, Paulson attempts to arrange a private sector solution with both Bank of America and Barclay’s Bank of England looking at Lehman’s “good” assets.  Bank of America pulls back from the deal and instead chooses to purchase Merrill Lynch.  Barclay’s is prepared to accept the terms of the merger, but British banking regulators refuse to approve the deal.  Paulson directs the head of the Securities and Exchange Commission to tell Fuld to declare bankruptcy before the market opens in Asia the next day.  With that, many of the other banks stopped giving out loans to other banks fearing that they would not be able to pay them back.  This froze the credit markets.  No one was able to get capital for the fear of the economy collapsing.  The Lehman bankruptcy had more blowback than expected.

Paulson had a bigger problem that he was not aware of, AIG, the world’s largest insurer was going to run out of cash and begins to collapse.

Paulson’s team realizes that if AIG is allowed to fail, its entire insurance portfolio will default and the entire financial industry will suffer massive losses.  The Treasury takes over AIG.  Ben Bernanke (Paul Giamatti), Chairman of the Federal Reserve System, argues that the status quo is unsustainable and that the Congress must pass legislation to authorize any continued intervention by the Fed or the Treasury.

Paulson’s plan is to buy the “toxic” assets from the banks.  Direct capital injection is considered and rejected.  Timothy Geithner (Billy Crudup), President of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, realizes that the market cannot wait for Congressional action and attempts to arrange mergers between consumer banks and investment banks, but this proves flawed.  Paulson receives a call from Jeffrey Immelt (Tom Tammi) of General Electric who tells him that GE is unable to finance its daily operations.  Paulson then realizes the crisis has now spread to Main Street.  In real life, AIG had been struggling since the middle of 2007.  Paulson and Geithner of course had some inkling of the problems at the world’s largest insurer but they didn’t prepare for it.

Bernanke and Paulson lobby Congress, with Bernanke emphasizing that a lack of credit turned the Wall Street Crash of 1929 into the Great Depression, and that if Congress fails to act that the fallout will be far worse.  A stunned room full of elected officials begins to ask how this could happen.  Paulson’s response is that we can rewind the tape later, but we need this legislation now or there will be no economy to fix.  The legislation looks likely to pass, but is thwarted when John McCain suspends his campaign for president to join the negotiations.

Paulson, after being told by one of his staff several times, finally decides that the only way to get credit flowing again is direct capital injections into the banks.  Paulson gathers the CEO’s of the 9 largest banks into a room without telling them why.  He lays out the plan for the capital injections into the banks, but when he is met with resistance,   Paulson brings in Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation chair Sheila Bair and in no uncertain terms says that if they don’t agree “they will find out that they are not as well capitalized” as they thought they were clearly threatening FDIC audits.  Paulson informs the participating banks that they will be receiving mandatory capital injections and they must use this money to get credit moving again.  The banks agree, but Paulson balks at putting additional restrictions on how the funds are to be used.  Paulson’s Treasury deputy for public affairs (Cynthia Nixon) sums things up nicely when she states that the we can’t put more restrictions on the money we are giving to the very people who caused the crisis because then they may not take it.  Bernanke and Paulson grimly state that they hope the banks will use the funds as intended.

An epilogue reveals that although markets did stabilize and the banks repaid their Troubled Asset Relief Program funds, credit standards continued to tighten resulting in rising unemployment and foreclosures.  As bank mergers continued in the wake of the crisis, these banks became even larger and at the time of the film, 10 financial institutions held 77% of all U.S. banking assets and have been declared too big to fail.

Of course, this rings true because the government drove awful bargains.  In the aftermath of the greatest credit bubble in history, it protected creditors at almost every turn.  The government gave the banks money but didn’t get voting rights and didn’t prevent the banks from using the money to pay dividends or bonuses.  They wrote what was essentially a blank check.  In real life, Warren Buffett got much better terms when he invested in Goldman Sachs.

The cast of this film was filled with familiar faces, William Hurt, Matthew Modine, Cynthia Nixon, Tony Shalhoub, Bill Pullman and James Woods as well as others.  Hurt does an excellent job playing the Secretary of the Treasury.  Hurt embodied the theme of the movie; that is, the duality of being heroes and incompetent at the same time.  On the surface they seem to be showered with glorious accolades, but upon closer look you clearly see that they are getting credit for solving a crisis they helped create.  Anyone interest at all in finance or economics should take a look at this HBO film.  I know it is no Game of Thrones, but you will just have to deal with it.

 
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Posted by on May 21, 2013 in Movie Reviews

 

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I watched the Zero Effect with Dr. H a few days ago and came to the realization that the JPFmovies original review of this great (yet sleeper) film was piss-poor and the movie deserved better. So here we go.

To Sherlock Holmes, she is always the woman.  I have seldom heard him mention her under any other name.  In his eyes she eclipses and predominates the whole of her sex.  It was not that he felt any emotion akin to love for Irene Adler.  All emotions, and that one particularly, were abhorrent to his cold, precise but admirably balanced mind.  He was, I take it, the most perfect reasoning and observing machine that the world has seen, but as a lover he would have placed himself in a false position.  He never spoke of the softer passions, save with a gibe and a sneer.  They were admirable things for the observer—excellent for drawing the veil from men’s motives and actions.  But for the trained reasoner to admit such intrusions into his own delicate and finely adjusted temperament was to introduce a distracting factor which might throw a doubt upon all his mental results. —Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, “A Scandal In Bohemia

I watched the Zero Effect with Dr. H a few days ago and came to the realization that the JPFmovies original review of this great (yet sleeper) film was piss-poor and the movie deserved better.  So here we go.

The Zero Effect is one of my favorite movies probably because it is based on the great Sherlock Holmes short story A Scandal in Bohemia by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle as quoted above.  The film stars Bill Pullman as Daryl Zero (Sherlock Homes), a gifted but bizarre private detective who is socially awkward and inept when he is not on the job.  His “Dr. Watson” is portrayed as Steve Arlo (Ben Stiller) a lawyer.  Zero keeps himself locked in his apartment where, like Holmes and his violin, he composes dreadful songs on his guitar and subsists on a diet of tuna, Tab, and amphetamines (Holmes’ drug use included cocaine, morphine and other narcotics).

Put succinctly, the Zero Effect starts out as a case of a tycoon who lost his keys.  The keys turn up in the place where most lost keys are found in between the cushions of the couch.  From there, the story opens up into a tale of blackmail, family secrets and a decades-old murder for hire. 

The film continues to mimic A Scandal in Bohemia.  Zero is retained by Gregory Stark (Ryan O’Neal), a wealthy man who hires Zero to investigate who is blackmailing him.  Likewise, Holmes is retained by his Majesty the King of Bohemia to find some compromising documents involving the King and his indiscretion with “the woman.”  During the investigation, Zero ventures outside of his apartment encountering Gloria Sullivan (Kim Dickens) the film’s Irene Adler (Adler, as we know, was the only woman who had the wit to outdo Holmes, and he loved her for it).  Sullivan is the blackmailer (like Adler) and as the film progresses, they begin to fall in love.  While in the end of the film Zero bests his Adler, but because of his love and admiration for Sullivan, he lets her go with the blackmail money to hide from Stark who alludes to killing her.

There are even more detailed similarities between the ingredients of the Zero Effect and those of A Scandal in Bohemia, featuring the sole romantic imbroglio of Holmes’ career as one can see in the above passage—and a minimal one at that.  Likewise, Daryl Zero experiences the only romantic predicament of his career with Gloria Sullivan—though significantly more explicit which can be attributed to the passage of time between the two works. 

Additionally, both the film and the story use false fires to flush out the blackmailer.  In the story, Watson tells us that “at the signal I tossed my rocket into the room with a cry of “Fire!” The word was no sooner out of my mouth than the whole crowd of spectators, well dressed and ill–gentlemen, ostlers, and servant-maids–joined in a general shriek of “Fire!”  Thick clouds of smoke curled through the room and out at the open window. I caught a glimpse of rushing figures, and a moment later the voice of Holmes from within assuring them that it was a false alarm.”

Ryan O’Neal is instructed by the blackmailer (Sullivan) to pull the first fire alarm he sees after depositing the blackmail money at the drop point where Daryl Zero is waiting to see who emerges from the bathroom with the cash.

Written and directed by Jake Kasdan (son of the famed of Lawrence Kasdan whose career includes such works as Body Heat and Dreamcatcher) and considering the peculiar nature and tenor of the film, the Zero Effect should have a following akin to that of The Big Lebowski or Napoleon Dynamite.  Unfortunately, even though technology now allows film watcher to find virtually any movie with little or no effort thereby turning previously disregarded films into cult classics, fate seems to have passed over the Zero Effect.

 
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Posted by on May 16, 2012 in Movie Reviews

 

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Lake Placid–Oh Oliver I am sure this looked good on paper but . . .

Lake Placid–I am sure this looked like a good flick on paper: Bridget Fonda, Bill Pullman (Zero Effect & Space Balls et cetera) and of course Oliver Platt (who usually has better taste in his roles than this) all contending with big, almost prehistoric, creatures.  What happened?  Billing itself as a Horror/Comedy it is neither, instead it is one cliché after another and something that really gets my goat: it is 100% predictable.  After a mediocre start at best, this film fatally lost both pace and excitement.

The movie has a story that is truly paper thin.  Bridget Fonda played the all too annoying “fish out of water” scientist from the big city—wow that’s original—Pullman the strong silent type in charge of the guiding the fish out of water using predictable humor along the way and Oliver Platt appearing as the independently wealthy party-boy professor who is obsessed with crocodiles.  It is unfortunate that his antics are the highlight of the movie and the exchanges with the local sheriff was about the only thing that kept me in my seat from leaving.

Now in addition to the totally predictable ending, once again Hollywood feels the need to preach to us.  At the end, the viewer apparently is supposed to feel sympathy for the remaining crocodile which will be cared for and we should be delighted that the movie ended the way it did.  I don’t know, but it seems to me that if a giant creature was eating people alive, I don’t have a need to feel too sorry for it.

Unfortunately this movie has become (or will be) a cult classic.  But it is crap.

 
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Posted by on March 12, 2010 in Movie Reviews

 

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