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Countdown to Top Ten 2K11: “Margin Call”

Countdown to Top Ten 2K11: “Margin Call” (photo)

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Countdown to Top Ten 2K11 is a column with one simple goal: to help you decide what films you need to see before making your end of the year top ten list. Each installment features my thoughts on a critically acclaimed 2011 movie, a sampling of other critics’ reactions, the odds of the film making my own list, and the reasons why it might make yours.

This week, we’re covering one of the biggest hits on the festival circuit this year, the financial collapse drama “Margin Call.” Is it more entertaining than watching your retirement fund vanish in an afternoon? Let’s find out.

Movie: “Margin Call”

Director: J.C. Chandor
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 85%
Plot Synopsis: Twenty-four hours inside a powerful investment bank on the eve of the 2008 financial collapse. A young analyst (Zachary Quinto) stumbles onto a formula that forecasts doom for his firm, then watches as the news makes its way up the corporate ladder to the very top of the company. Did they catch disaster in time to prevent it? And if they did, will they even try?
What the Critics Said: “It’s a hell of a picture,” David Edelstein, New York
“Feels like the ‘Fail Safe’ of our time,” Scott Tobias, The AV Club
“The best Wall Street movie ever made,” David Denby, The New Yorker

Were They Right? I don’t know if it’s the best Wall Street movie ever made, but it is a hell of a film. It’s a hell of an unusual one too; I can’t recall the last time I watched a movie this engrossing in which, moment to moment, I had no earthly idea what anyone was saying. The characters in “Margin Call” talk like (and in some cases literally are) rocket scientists. Though some of their colleagues occasionally ask them to dumb their math talk down, they never really do. Most of the specifics pass over our heads. All we know is things are bad and they’re about to get much worse.

And that’s all we need to know. The 2008 financial collapse is a fait accompli from the second “Margin Call” begins with a bunch of people, including risk management analyst Eric Dale (Stanley Tucci), losing their jobs. As he’s escorted out of the building, Dale gives his former subordinate, Peter Sullivan (Quinto), a flash drive and a two-word warning: “Be careful.” Sullivan pops in the drive, crunches a few numbers, and realizes what we already know: the end is nigh.

The apocalyptic overtones would be hard to shake in any film set in this time and place, but writer/director J.C. Chandor really plays up parallels between his story and the Biblical end of the world. When Dale and three out of every seven people at the firm are all let go on the same morning, that’s the Rapture. Those left behind are initially relieved to still have jobs. But Sullivan’s discovery means those that got fired were lucky; the survivors now have to face Armageddon.

With meltdown a foregone conclusion, “Margin Call” is less of a thriller than an ethnographic study of what happens to people of a small, insular world as it crumbles around them. We can follow the story even if we can’t follow the math because the root of the problem goes deeper than a misguided algorithm; it’s the people and their uncontrollable urges toward self-enrichment and self-preservation that are truly to blame. In their tower high above Manhattan — Chandor repeatedly frames the players in this drama in front of enormous windows that overlook the serene, oblivious skyline — Sullivan’s bosses have found ways to divorce themselves from the moral implications of their work. “It’s just money. Made up. Pieces of paper of pictures on it so we don’t have to kill each other to get something to eat,” says Jeremy Irons‘ chairman of the board as he nonchalantly plots to destroy the an entire global economy just to save his own skin. The perverted ethics of this company are utterly believable and totally terrifying.

Chandor’s script occasionally goes overboard with heavy-handed metaphors; for a bunch of characters who communicate almost entirely in incomprehensible arithmegibberish, they’re weirdly prone to poetic observations. But his film is almost as ruthlessly effective as the executives it follows. My favorite scene comes in the third act; for several scenes, characters have pressured Kevin Spacey‘s character into acquiescing to Irons’ plan and encouraging his team to participate in a truly heinous act. We know he’s going to motivate his team to perform an unsavory task and we’re wondering how he’s going to do it. The answer, in or any world, is so simple: just offer them a shit-ton of money.

Could Get Oscar Nominated For: Best Supporting Actor, Kevin Spacey. Also if they gave an award for Best Screenplay That I Couldn’t Understand Half the Time, it’d be a mortal lock.
Chances of Making My Top Ten: Slim, but that says more about the overall caliber of movies this year than it does the caliber of this movie.
It Might Make Your Top Ten List If: you love character dramas with great ensembles; impenetrable financial jargon turns you on.

“Margin Call” is now playing in limited release. It is also available on VOD and iTunes. If you see it, tell us what you think; leave us a comment below or write to us on Facebook and Twitter.

Previously in Countdown to Top Ten 2K11
“Bill Cunningham New York,” directed by Richard Press
“Hanna,” directed by Joe Wright

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Bro and Tell

BFFs And Night Court For Sports

Bromance and Comeuppance On Two New Comedy Crib Series

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“Silicon Valley meets Girls meets black male educators with lots of unrealized potential.”

That’s how Carl Foreman Jr. and Anthony Gaskins categorize their new series Frank and Lamar which joins Joe Schiappa’s Sport Court in the latest wave of new series available now on IFC’s Comedy Crib. To better acquaint you with the newbies, we went right to the creators for their candid POVs. And they did not disappoint. Here are snippets of their interviews:

Frank and Lamar

via GIPHY

IFC: How would you describe Frank and Lamar to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?
Carl: Best bros from college live and work together teaching at a fancy Manhattan private school, valiantly trying to transition into a more mature phase of personal and professional life while clinging to their boyish ways.

IFC: And to a friend of a friend you met in a bar?
Carl: The same way, slightly less coherent.

Anthony: I’d probably speak about it with much louder volume, due to the bar which would probably be playing the new Kendrick Lamar album. I might also include additional jokes about Carl, or unrelated political tangents.

Carl: He really delights in randomly slandering me for no reason. I get him back though. Our rapport on the page, screen, and in real life, comes out of a lot of that back and forth.

IFC: In what way is Frank and Lamar a poignant series for this moment in time?
Carl: It tells a story I feel most people aren’t familiar with, having young black males teach in a very affluent white world, while never making it expressly about that either. Then in tackling their personal lives, we see these three-dimensional guys navigate a pivotal moment in time from a perspective I feel mainstream audiences tend not to see portrayed.

Anthony: I feel like Frank and Lamar continues to push the envelope within the genre by presenting interesting and non stereotypical content about people of color. The fact that this show brought together so many talented creative people, from the cast and crew to the producers, who believe in the project, makes the work that much more intentional and truthful. I also think it’s pretty incredible that we got to employ many of our friends!

Sport Court

Sport Court gavel

IFC: How would you describe Sport Court to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?
Joe: SPORT COURT follows Judge David Linda, a circuit court judge assigned to handle an ad hoc courtroom put together to prosecute rowdy fan behavior in the basement of the Hartford Ultradome. Think an updated Night Court.

IFC: How would you describe Sport Court to drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?
Joe: Remember when you put those firecrackers down that guy’s pants at the baseball game? It’s about a judge who works in a court in the stadium that puts you in jail right then and there. I know, you actually did spend the night in jail, but imagine you went to court right that second and didn’t have to get your brother to take off work from GameStop to take you to your hearing.

IFC: Is there a method to your madness when coming up with sports fan faux pas?
Joe: I just think of the worst things that would ruin a sporting event for everyone. Peeing in the slushy machine in open view of a crowd seemed like a good one.

IFC: Honestly now, how many of the fan transgressions are things you’ve done or thought about doing?
Joe: I’ve thought about ripping out a whole row of chairs at a theater or stadium, so I would have my own private space. I like to think of that really whenever I have to sit crammed next to lots of people. Imagine the leg room!

Check out the full seasons of Frank and Lamar and Sport Court now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

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Millennial Wisdom

Charles Speaks For Us All

Get to know Charles, the social media whiz of Brockmire.

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He may be an unlikely radio producer Brockmire, but Charles is #1 when it comes to delivering quips that tie a nice little bow on the absurdity of any given situation.

Charles also perfectly captures the jaded outlook of Millennials. Or at least Millennials as mythologized by marketers and news idiots. You know who you are.

Played superbly by Tyrel Jackson Williams, Charles’s quippy nuggets target just about any subject matter, from entry-level jobs in social media (“I plan on getting some experience here, then moving to New York to finally start my life.”) to the ramifications of fictional celebrity hookups (“Drake and Taylor Swift are dating! Albums y’all!”). But where he really nails the whole Millennial POV thing is when he comments on America’s second favorite past-time after type II diabetes: baseball.

Here are a few pearls.

On Baseball’s Lasting Cultural Relevance

“Baseball’s one of those old-timey things you don’t need anymore. Like cursive. Or email.”

On The Dramatic Value Of Double-Headers

“The only thing dumber than playing two boring-ass baseball games in one day is putting a two-hour delay between the boring-ass games.”

On Sartorial Tradition

“Is dressing badly just a thing for baseball, because that would explain his jacket.”

On Baseball, In A Nutshell

“Baseball is a f-cked up sport, and I want you to know it.”


Learn more about Charles in the behind-the-scenes video below.

And if you were born before the late ’80s and want to know what the kids think about Baseball, watch Brockmire Wednesdays at 10P on IFC.

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Crown Jules

Amanda Peet FTW on Brockmire

Amanda Peet brings it on Brockmire Wednesday at 10P on IFC.

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GIFS via Giphy

On Brockmire, Jules is the unexpected yin to Jim Brockmire’s yang. Which is saying a lot, because Brockmire’s yang is way out there. Played by Amanda Peet, Jules is hard-drinking, truth-spewing, baseball-loving…everything Brockmire is, and perhaps what he never expected to encounter in another human.

“We’re the same level of functional alcoholic.”


But Jules takes that commonality and transforms it into something special: a new beginning. A new beginning for failing minor league baseball team “The Frackers”, who suddenly about-face into a winning streak; and a new beginning for Brockmire, whose life gets a jumpstart when Jules lures him back to baseball. As for herself, her unexpected connection with Brockmire gives her own life a surprising and much needed goose.

“You’re a Goddamn Disaster and you’re starting To look good to me.”

This palpable dynamic adds depth and complexity to the narrative and pushes the series far beyond expected comedy. See for yourself in this behind-the-scenes video (and brace yourself for a unforgettable description of Brockmire’s genitals)…

Want more about Amanda Peet? She’s all over the place, and has even penned a recent self-reflective piece in the New York Times.

And of course you can watch the Jim-Jules relationship hysterically unfold in new episodes of Brockmire, every Wednesday at 10PM on IFC.

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