Inside Job, The Fighter, Sharktopus!

April 11, 2011

Pick of the Week

Inside Job

Documentary; rated PG-13 for some drug and sex-related material; also available on Blu-ray

The Gist: A brilliantly assembled, high-energy crash course in the causes and effects of the recent global financial crisis.

The Lowdown: Enraging and fascinating, “Inside Job” won the 2011 Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature and is the latest in an unprecedented string of must-see docs over the last couple of years.

Directed by renaissance man Charles Ferguson – author, scholar, tech mogul and filmmaker – “Inside Job” is a smartly executed frontal assault on an insanely complex topic. Deploying all the tricks of the documentary film trade, Ferguson drills into the root causes of the Great Recession with admirable clarity.

His conclusion? The global financial crisis is a direct result of 30 years of gradual deregulation of the financial services industry, which spawned aggressive corruption on Wall Street and pretty much every other adjacent institution. Simply put, the crisis was precipitated by institutional and individual acts of criminal fraud. It was entirely avoidable, too, the film insists. Unfortunately, our government watchdogs were at best negligent, and at worst complicit.

Interviews with dozens of industry insiders and public officials are interspersed with textual and graphical elements that effectively parse all the complex jargon. Narrator Matt Damon keeps it all flowing, and reportedly was actively involved in shaping the film’s narrative structure.

Like all docs, of course, “Inside Job” has a deliberate point of view and a definite agenda. The film regularly indulges in righteous indignation, but that’s an indulgence we’re all entitled to, I think. As Ferguson pointed out in his Oscars acceptance speech, “Three years after our horrific financial crisis caused by financial fraud, not a single financial executive has gone to jail. And that’s wrong,”

The Extras: Commentary track by Ferguson and producer Audrey Marrs; a short making-of doc; some deleted scenes – Blu-ray adds another hour of outtakes

The Bottom Line: “Inside Job” won the documentary Oscar for a reason – this wasn’t the most artful doc of the year, but it was surely the most important.

Double Secret Bonus Tip: Get ready for more great docs – Durham’s Full Frame documentary film festival is coming up April 14-17. Scheduling will be announced next week – check for details.

The Fighter

Drama; Rated R for language throughout, drug content, some violence and sexuality; also available on Blu-ray

The Gist: Based on the true story, hard luck boxer “Irish” Micky Ward (Mark Wahlberg) and his crack-addicted brother-trainer Dicky (Christian Bale) overcome some seriously long odds en route to pro boxing glory.

The Lowdown: ‘Tis the season for Oscar-nominated films to cycle to DVD, and “The Fighter” is a solid underdog story amped up by memorable characters and a ferocious performance by the talented Mr. Bale.

Wahlberg famously trained as a boxer for four straight years while the script languished in development limbo, and he is convincing indeed in the brutal fight scenes. But the real fun is found in Micky’s family drama. Melissa Leo won the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her portrayal of the Ward clan’s crazy matriarch, who manages the brothers and the bizarro Greek chorus of their seven crazy sisters.

Director David O. Russell (“Three Kings”) gets maximum mileage out of the script’s inherent weirdness and drama, but the-kid’s-got-heart-athlete story is so worn down by now it’s tough to wring any newness out of it.

The Extras: Director’s commentary track; a 30-minute behind-the-scenes doc that is more comprehensive and interesting than most featurettes of this sort; a short doc featuring the real Micky, Dicky and other characters; a few deleted scenes with Bale

The Bottom Line: “The Fighter” easily goes into the pantheon of good boxing movies, and the DVD extras add some real home video value

Double Secret Bonus Tip: The Oscars keep piling up: Bale won Best Supporting Actor, and the film was nominated for Best Picture, Director, Screenplay and  Editing, with a bonus nom for Amy Adams as Micky’s girlfriend.


Quick Picks: The Syfy Channel has developed a little pocket industry of late with their in-house lineup of B-movie creature features and disaster films. I’m a sucker for these, and the new “Sharktopus” is a superior specimen. As you may have guessed, it involves a shark, an octopus, and genetic engineering. And Eric Roberts.


Also New This Week: Director Clint Eastwood’s metaphysical drama “Hereafter,” starring Matt Damon and Bryce Dallas Howard; “The Switch,” with Jennifer Aniston and Jason Bateman; the Brazilian documentary “Waste Land,” concerning the world’s largest garbage dump; and the Criterion Collection’s Blu-ray reissue of “Au Revoir Les Enfants.”


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