Tag: Matt Damon
I have been receiving lots of emails with information which will help to explain the present situation of Nobel Peace Prize winners Muhammad Yunus and the Grameen Bank. Supporters of Microfinance around the world stand in support of Dr. Yunus and are doing their best to help resolve this situation. Organizations such as Grameen Foundation, Grameen America, Accion, Women’s World Banking, The Microcredit Summit, Kiva, and others, have been working hard getting loans to those in need, which is what Dr Yunus has been working so very hard to do for most of his life.
As Dr Yunus always says, “I am not the hero, the women are the heroes” (continue reading…)
THE FIGHTER ($39.99 BluRay or $29.99 regular; Paramount) — I wish I liked The Fighter more than I do. It’s a passion project for Mark Wahlberg, a very good actor with good taste in scripts. It’s bursting with talent, including Oscar winners Melissa Leo as Wahlberg’s pushy mom and Christian Bale as his drug-using brother. And it gives the talented director David O (continue reading…)
Imagine that you’ve arrived at the local multiplex for a weekend flick. Popcorn in hand, you settle in to watch Matt Damon star in a new thriller as a young American soldier imprisoned by the government for blowing the whistle on crimes witnessed while serving in a foreign country.
INT. MILITARY PRISON CELL – DAY
(Calendar pages flip by indicating the passage of months. July (continue reading…)
It goes by many names: Kismet. Adrsta. Predestination. Determinism (continue reading…)
Weekend Box Office 030611 Two openers Rango and Adjustment Bureau win two openers Beastly Take Me Home Tonight lose
Paramount released its first non-Dreamworks cartoon in nearly five years this weekend. And indeed, the number one film by a long shot was Gore Verbinski’s Rango (teaser). The critically-acclaimed and nearly-existential Johnny Depp vehicle grossed $38 million over the three-day weekend. That’s the biggest opening for a Paramount animated feature not from Dreamworks, although it’s slightly behind in attendance compared to the $32 million opening of The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie back in November of 2004 (continue reading…)
Fate or free will? It’s an interesting question, the kind that stoned college sophomores contemplate while passing the bong in the dorm room.
Unfortunately, the deck is stacked in George Nolfi’s The Adjustment Bureau, an adaptation of a Philip K. Dick short story. Oh, the humanity.
Because, in a movie that takes only the concept but not the plot of Dick’s story, there seems to be no real threat or jeopardy. Only personal romance seems to be at stake – and it’s hard to get too worked up about that.
Matt Damon plays David Norris, an upstart from Brooklyn who’s a favorite to be elected to the U.S (continue reading…)
Charles Ferguson’s mind goes where others dare not travel. In 2007, when movies like Lions for Lambs and Home of the Brave were proving Iraq toxic at the box office, Ferguson released No End in Sight, an engrossing examination of the Bush administration’s post-invasion blunders. That film earned Ferguson an Oscar nomination for Best Documentary.
The director has been nominated again this year for his second film, Inside Job, an infuriating look at the cronyism that triggered the 2008 financial meltdown, which destroyed millions of jobs and torched trillions of dollars in worldwide capital.
With this second film, Ferguson cements his position as an essential voice in the documentary world, a filmmaker who tackles the same subjects as Michael Moore without the goofy theatrics or partisanship (continue reading…)
As much as I respect Emily Blunt and Matt Damon as actors, I find The Adjustment Bureau an unpleasant experience. We are asked to believe that there could be an organization such as The Adjustment Bureau that monitors each individual’s fate so that we stay on path. What path? To where? A metaphor for too much government control?
“We make things happen according to plan. We monitor the entire world, “Harry Mitchell (Anthony Mackie) says after David Norris (Matt Damon) is kidnapped, blindfolded and strapped in a stereotypical leather chair reminiscent of one that could be used to execute criminals (continue reading…)
It should come as no surprise that the Coen brothers, Joel and Ethan, have made a terrific western in True Grit. After all, they won the Oscar for a western, a modern one to be sure, with No Country for Old Men.
Now, with True Grit, they’ve done the whole boots-and-saddles thing, adapting a novel that previously had been known as the movie that won John Wayne his Oscar. That was 1969, when the words “revisionist western” had barely been coined by a critic somewhere.
The original film, directed by Henry Hathaway, was nobody’s idea of revisionism. It was good guys and bad buys, with joking references to central character Reuben “Rooster” Cogburn’s tendency to shoot first and ask questions later. But there was no doubt that Wayne’s Rooster was a traditional hero, despite his tendency to drink a little too much. Ain’t you never heard of comic relief?
The Coens, however, play it straighter. While both films are relatively faithful to Charles Portis’ novel, the Coens more closely capture the sense of rough justice, the sense that no good deed goes unpunished in the Old West – and that even heroes have feet of clay.
Hathaway’s film was a western of its era, a time when Hollywood still considered the western a viable commercial form, something that hasn’t been true for a long time (which is why journalists inevitably make such a big deal about it when someone actually makes one these days). Those westerns had horses and wagons and six-shooters and the like – but they always felt like they were shot on a backlot. They featured long-established towns that had been around for a while, instead of the kind of recently thrown-together settlements that were tents before someone got the money or equipment to make buildings out of wood.
But the Coens’ Fort Smith, Ark., where this story starts, has that sense of newness (which David Milch also captured in his Deadwood series) and impermanence. That’s the town young Mattie Ross steps into, after the murder of her father.
Played with a starchy impertinence (that occasionally breaks to reveal the little girl beneath the surface of this 14-year-old) by newcomer Hailee Steinfeld, Mattie arrives in Fort Smith to arrange for the shipment home of her father’s body, settle his business affairs and seek justice (“Retribution,” as the film’s posters proclaim) for his murder.
She settles on U.S. Marshal Reuben Cogburn (Jeff Bridges) as her agent of justice, because he has a reputation for being tough and relentless. Still, it takes some cold, hard cash to convince him to take on the mission into the Choctaw Indian territory (later Oklahoma) to track down Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin), the man who killed her father.
She finds she has competition for Chaney’s capture: a Texas Ranger named LaBoeuf (Matt Damon) which he pronounces la-Beef. He’s seeking Chaney under a different name for a murder in Texas. Eventually, LaBoeuf and Cogburn decide to partner up and go after Chaney alone – until the tenacious Mattie inserts herself into the hunting party.
Click here: This review continues on my website.
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A review of Inside Job, produced, written, and directed by Charles Ferguson, produced by Audry Marrs, 108 minutes, narrated by Matt Damon.
By Michael Shermer
In this disturbing and often infuriating look at the financial meltdown, the Academy Award-nominated (No End in Sight) documentary filmmaker Charles Ferguson promises viewers an inside look into the “inside job” (use intended to convey criminality) that he believes explains the financial meltdown and subsequent recession. Inside Job is a well produced, artfully edited, and dramatic reconstruction of the rise and fall (and rise) of the Wall Street financial industry. Most of us are painfully aware of what happened to the economy, so this film packs into less than two hours what took two years to unfold, and so the emotional impact is commensurate with the eye-blurring number of events tightly repackaged in cinematic gravitas.
With Inside Job I expected a Michael Moore-like liberal attack on all things free market, but that is not the case here. Instead, there is what is said and what is not said. In other words, there were no lies of commission, but there were some lies of omission. What is said in Inside Job (that I found to be accurate although Ferguson does not phrase it this way) is that, in fact, we do not practice free market capitalism because the government (both Bush and Obama administrations are indicted in the film) are in bed with Wall Street tycoons, reducing risk taking through the moral hazard of promised bailouts. The whole point of capitalism is to make a profit by taking risks. Low risk taking typically results in slow and steady growth, whereas high risk taking historically produces both high profits and steep losses. By entering the business of risk protection, the government is sending a clear signal to the market: don’t worry about taking big risks with your own and investors’ money; we’ll bail you out. In profits we’re capitalists, in losses we’re socialists. This is what Ralph Nader would call corporate welfare, and in the case of the financial meltdown and subsequent bailout he would be right.
What infuriates in particular in the film is just how much of an old-boys club Wall Street is (and what little chance any of us little guys have in competing fairly), and how much of the club roster includes prominent politicians and members of the Federal Reserve. It reminded me of my research on doping in sports, in which it has become abundantly clear that nearly everyone seems to turn a blind eye to the problem and former athletes are now running the sanctioning bodies and doping agencies are in the pay of said sanctioning bodies. When Ferguson reminds us that Obama left in place all the major players in the game–Bernanke, Geithner, Paulson, Sumners, et al.–it made me think of what would happen if Major League Baseball put Barry Bonds in charge of ending steroid use, or Marion Jones was the executive director of the World Anti-Doping Agency.
The greed of Wall Street bankers and financiers is the leitmotif throughout Inside Job, and there is certainly no shortage of it on Wall Street. As one trader noted, there is no point of going anywhere near that part of Manhattan if your primary goal is not to make a pile of money. But Wall Street greed is only half the story; the other half is Main Street greed. Those greedy bankers were giving questionable loans to greedy buyers, and everyone was hoping to cash in through escalating risk taking in financial and real estate markets.
Now, behavioral economists have demonstrated that humans are normally very risk averse. Specifically, the research shows that losses hurt twice as much as gains feel good. That is, in order to get someone to invest their hard-earned money you have to convince them that the potential gains are twice as much as the possible losses. So why weren’t all these Wall Street bankers and Main Street buyers risk averse? Two reasons: short term thinking and reduced risk signals. First, potential home buyers and investors mistakenly assumed that the increasing trend line in housing prices would continue unabated indefinitely. Two, loan officers and their financial institutions intentionally and deceptively reduced the normal risk signals sent to potential customers in hopes that the artificial bubble would not burst. It did, and here we are.
Since corporations and financial institutions are run by people, they should show the same risk aversion that individuals do when investing money and granting loans. Normally they do, but over the past decade something happened to remove or delay the risk. That something was a combination of government intervention into the financial marketplace and private repackaging and selling of loans to organizations too distant from the risk to feel averse to the potential loss. For example, in the spring of 1999 a pilot program was launched by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Recall that Fannie and Freddie are government-run organizations that do not make loans directly to customers–they buy loans from banks, which make those loans directly. So, here already the risk was removed a step from the brains of the risk assessors, but risk aversion was further attenuated by government interference with the pricing mechanism that normally adjusts for risk.
In that pilot program the nation’s largest underwriter of home mortgages came under pressure from the Clinton administration in its desire to achieve an “ownership society,” along with insistence from the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) that Fannie and Freddie increase their portfolio of loans made to lower and moderate-income borrowers from 44 percent to 50 percent by 2001. That meant granting loans to higher risk customers.
There’s nothing wrong with corporations and institutions taking higher risks, as long as they adjust for it by charging more. The higher price acts as a risk signal to both buyers and sellers, thereby dialing up their emotion of risk aversion. This is what Fannie Mae was already doing by only purchasing loans that banks made charging three to four percentage points higher than conventional loans. But under the new program implemented in 1999, higher-risk people with lower incomes, negligible savings, and poorer credit ratings could now qualify for a mortgage that was only one point above a conventional 30-year fixed rate mortgage (and that added point was dropped after two years of steady payments).
In other words, the normal risk signal sent to high risk customers–you can have the loan but it’s going to cost you a lot more–was removed. Lower the risk signal and you lower risk aversion.
None of this is part of Inside Job, and that’s a shame because it misses an opportunity for a deeper look into the well of human nature that can lead any of us down a greedy path of blind profit seeking through rent seeking–the term used by economists to describe actions of individuals or firms to seek profits through political manipulation instead of economic competition. The problem is not greed per se, since that is part of our nature that when channeled properly through clearly defined and strictly enforced rules can result in much human progress. The problem is the attenuation or elimination of risk signals that keep greed in check.
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For those of you that have been following my blog, you know that I have written several times on the importance of nutrition in meeting the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Since my first post (“A Better ROI for the World’s Poor at Davos”), which featured nutrition’s return on investment of $17 for every $1 spent, nutrition has slowly but steadily been raising its political profile amongst leading actors in development policy.
Nutrition in the spotlight at UN Summit
Nutrition experienced its biggest surge around the UN Millennium Development Goals Summit, during which the importance of nutrition was emphasized in the final assembly resolution. In a high-profile announcement at the Summit, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and Irish Foreign Minister Michael Martin launched the global nutrition movement 1,000 Days: Change a Life, Change a Future. The movement has brought together 60 different organizations active in combating hidden hunger (malnutrition) amongst the world’s poor.
Its focus is on the critical window of opportunity we have to change the future of a generation. The first 1,000 days of a child’s life determines her mental and physical development for life. Without proper nutrition, she will be more prone to infectious diseases, will struggle in school and will be less productive in her job.
Take a look at the video produced by 1,000 Days, narrated by Matt Damon, to see how nutrition can change a child’s life and her future.
To achieve this, The Road Map for Scaling-Up Nutrition (SUN) was launched at the Summit and has been endorsed by 1,000 Days, several governments, the United Nations, civil society organizations, development agencies, academia, philanthropic bodies, and the private sector. SUN is the result of the hard work of a Task Team and a number of Working Groups, which developed a Framework for Scaling-up Nutrition.
At the country level, the first ladies of nine African countries committed themselves to being “the champions of one of the most critical human development issues of the 21st century: the growing burden of malnutrition,” and acknowledged nutrition’s vital role in realizing the MDGs.
Working together to change the future
During the launch of 1,000 Days, I was pleased to hear Secretary Clinton’s recognition that tackling hidden hunger is a societal effort and that cannot be managed by any one government, donor, NGO or company, stating that: “undernutrition requires action from people and groups from every sector of society lending their expertise and reaching out to their constituencies.”
Collaboration between the public and private sector is a constant theme of mine and a goal I am committed to. My company, DSM, has been and continues to be involved in many partnerships, most notably with the UN World Food Programme. This week in New York, we increased our involvement by joining the Leadership Council of the New York Academy of Sciences’ Global Nutrition Science Research Initiative.
This is a landmark move that will bring together the best scientific research available in nutrition to address global hidden hunger in rich and poor countries alike. The World Health Organization will play a fundamental role in the Leadership Council by shaping the global research agenda on nutrition. The hope is that this body of research can be used to help donor countries, development organizations, and governments design and implement effective nutrition programs.
From Momentum to Movement
Now that nutrition has finally started to receive the attention it deserves, it is imperative that strong words translate into strong action. I am optimistic about the prospect of seeing major changes in the international development agenda.
I only hope that nutrition does not become just a development “trend”, when it should be a cornerstone of development policy.
If you have two minutes, I encourage you to watch this video from the World Food Programme to see why nutrition is so vital in realizing a brighter future for generations to come.
After a string of highly successful and critically acclaimed films by Clint Eastwood (Million Dollar Baby, Gran Torino, Invictus, Flags of Our Fathers, Letters from Iwo Jima, etc.), I fully expected his latest, Hereafter, to be so well written (screenplay by Peter Morgan–Frost/Nixon, The Queen) and so compelling that stories about near-death experiences would skyrocket and that I would be preoccupied for months dealing with media inquiries about “true stories” of the hereafter. Alas, and with some relief, this will not happen as Hereafter is possibly the worst film Eastwood has ever directed.
If the hereafter is anything like its filmic namesake, then it will turn out to be glacially slow, eternally boring, and pointless, with seemingly random plot lines aimlessly wandering about the ethereal landscape. I wanted to like this film, despite my skepticism on its subject, because I like Clint Eastwood productions and I’m a sucker for a well-produced story, able and willing to suspend disbelief long enough to get emotionally involved. I tried but failed to do so with this film. It’s a bomb. Don’t bother to see it in the theaters, and don’t even waste a couple of bucks on a Netflix rental.
The only redeeming part of the film was the striking opening scene of the tsunami in Southeast Asia that sets the background for the first plot line. An attractive French reporter leaves her lover in their hotel room to go shopping for his kids among the street vendors below. When he hears a disturbing sound and looks out the window he sees the ocean receding, followed by a massive body of water rushing back in to the shore and slamming into buildings and leveling everything in its path. From the woman’s street level view tucked in among buildings she can only see trees felling and chaos approaching with only enough time to realize that there is no time to do anything about it. She is swept up in the tsunami’s leading edge and slammed about cars, building debris, trees, and the like, until she is whacked on the head unconscious. Cut to minutes later when she is being given mouth-to-mouth resuscitation by rescuers, to no avail. They give up and move on to the next victim, whereupon she comes to life, after a brief encounter with the hereafter, with Eastwood portrays as a fuzzy, nebulous place with people walking about aimlessly. It’s a portent of things to come.
The second plot line is Matt Damon’s psychic character George, a former psychic who gave up fame and riches because his “gift” is also a curse. A cross between James Van Praagh and John Edward, George concedes to a reading for a client of his sleazy brother (Jay Mohr) and scores several hits. The brother encourages George to quit his job at a San Francisco dock and return to the psychic world, but he will have none of it as it’s just too emotionally traumatic to read people’s inner thoughts (that much I suspect is true, if any of it were true, which it isn’t). Matt Damon’s love interest is the beautiful Bryce Dallas Howard, whom he meets at a cooking class, but after nearly an hour’s worth of romantic buildup to some sort of coming together, she departs the film for good after George reads her and conveys the message that her deceased father is sorry for the naughty things he did to her as a young girl.
The third plot line develops around 12-year old twins named Marcus and Jason, who live with their drug-addicted mother in London, England. Jason is hit by a car and killed, leaving Marcus to wander about the city in search of a psychic who can connect him to his brother. Here at least Eastwood had the good sense to depict what most psychics are like–scammers and flimflam artists conning their marks out of a few bucks by talking twaddle with the dead through standard cold-reading techniques. Marcus is dismayed by the idiocy of these pretenders and finally returns to the foster home where he struggles to keep his sanity.
For an hour and forty-five minutes all three of these plot lines run parallel, leaving audience members to wonder when–oh please when?!–will they finally be brought together. Finally, after what feels like an interminable marathon of tedium, George quits his job and takes a vacation in London to visit the home of his favorite author, Charles Dickens. While there he notices a flyer for a lecture about Dickens at a book fair in London, where, per chance, the French reporter is doing a signing for her new book on life after death, which she was inspired to write after an hour and a half of futzing around with her mundane reporter’s job distracted by her experience with the hereafter in the tsunami. By chance, little Marcus finds himself drawn to the book fair where he recognizes George from his web page photos, and begs him for a reading, which he finally gets. Naturally, George is better than those phony psychics, and Marcus encourages George to seek out the French woman so that they may all connect to the dead. George and Marie find a love connection as well and the story ends happily ever after.
Never have I been so relieved for a movie to end. There was one memorable moment, however, and that was the opening line of the opening trailer before Hereafter even started. The trailer was for a January 2011 release called The Rite, staring Anthony Hopkins as an American priest who travels to Italy to study at an exorcism school. The line that rather caught my attention as I was settling into my seat, was, “You know the interesting thing about skeptics?” To which I blurted out “No, what?” The answer: “It’s that we’re always looking for proof. The question is, What on earth would we do with it if we found it?” I know what I do with proof when I find it. I publish it! Another character in the trailer then says “I believe people prefer to lie to themselves than face the truth.”
Here, then, in this trailer is the message for belief in the hereafter. If there were proof of it we would publish it to the high heavens, but since there isn’t most people prefer to lie to themselves about it rather than face the truth that it is what we do in this life that counts.
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First my eggs came in a carton with an expiration date stamped on one end. Then they stamped the eggs themselves with the expiration date. This was unsettling enough, since I don’t really like eating food with words on it. Even my fruit has the decency to use a sticker. Of course if you recycled all the stickers on all the pieces of fruit in all the supermarkets in the world you would probably have enough paper to staple a photocopied concert notice about an indie band to every telephone pole in America. And those stickers are only on the fruit in the first place so the cashiers will know what code to use to ring up your pluots. Maybe they should start stamping fruit, too, just to cut back on the need for further clear cutting. Of course then, when you eat an apple, you’d have to bite through the word “Jonagold” spelled out in non-toxic (yeah, right) food dye. At least with eggs you hard-boil off the letters, or crack the shell and toss the words out with it.
Getting back to the expiration date.
First, the eggs were stamped with the aforementioned, abbreviated as “Exp” with a date beside. I imagine it wasn’t too long before some second or third-generation descendent of the cast of Mad Men came to the insightful conclusion that letting a consumer know when a product “expires” could carry a negative connotation. Might even make the purchaser think about his or her own death. And we can’t have anyone realizing that he or she will one day die. It could lead to people realizing they don’t need to buy stuff. So, in short order came the “Use by” date. Ah, that’s better, yes. Make use of our food product. Use it in any number of innovative ways. None of those ways even have to involve a meal. We don’t want to know.
All too soon, though, another of Don Draper’s lineage chimed in. “We don’t want folks to simply use our eggs. “Use” is such an ugly word. Why do you think used cars became pre-owned? Then there’s the fact that people use each other. They show each other a good time and then they toss one another aside like a victim in a Hitchcock film. No, gentlemen, our eggs are better than “use by.”
Enter “Enjoy by”. Now I’m being ordered, and I don’t like it. But, these bastards know what they’re doing. Plant “enjoy” in our brain pans over a long enough period of time and, damn it, enjoy those freaking eggs is exactly what we’ll do. After all, which would you fork over more money for, something you used or something you enjoyed? (This is why power tools, and, for that matter, sex toys, do not need to screw around with terminology — they deliver on both the “use” and “enjoy” fronts.)
Primed as I was by my reflections on eggs, this week I see the trailer for Clint Eastwood’s new movie Hereafter, and it stars Matt Damon and everything, and so it gets to the part where they advertise the names and previous credits of the people involved in the project and up comes the legend “Academy Award winner Matt Damon.” Now, the fact that Matt Damon has won an Oscar is, of course, true, but he won it for Best Original Screenplay, not for acting. Don’t get me wrong; I have no intention of going on a rant about Matt Damon’s acting. I think he’s a superlative thespian. He may even get an Oscar nomination for Hereafter. What bugged me was that, indeed, he’s an actor in Hereafter. He didn’t write it. However, the designation of him as an Academy Award winner in a trailer for a film in which he is an actor creates an association in the mind: that the thing he is doing in this movie must be the thing for which he was given the Academy Award. If feels disingenuous. And manipulative.
Ah, well. Eggs and Matt Damon do not hold the patent on this stuff. It’s been around a long time and you can see it in everything from a “Hope” poster to a “Mission Accomplished” banner to the fact that people who work at Target are not merely employees, but team members. Maybe, in the end, we are all hard-wired to create pleasing associations about ourselves in the public’s mind. By doing so, we increase the odds of a favorable outcome for whatever it is we are putting out to the world. And I’m not just saying this as the award-winning (not for this blog) author of another post on the delightful (most would agree) Huffington Post, which I hope you will enjoy by 10/29/10.
James Napoli is an author and humorist. More of his comedy content for the Web can be
Photo by Representational Pictures, Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics
A new documentary that takes a deep dive into the events and people that caused the global financial collapse opens in Los Angeles this weekend. While it brought in about $42,000 in two theaters during its opening week in New York that may have something to do with its subject being about a home town industry — Wall Street. Will a film about finance resonate in the city of Angels?
After seeing screening of a new documentary, Inside Job, that uncovers how a group of “evil doers” tanked the system I think it’s a must see no matter where you live.
It’s a densely packed film that methodically lays out the, who, what, when and where of the ultimate bank job. “My first choice for a title was Bank Job, but that was taken,” said filmmaker, Charles Ferguson when we sat down to discuss his latest film.
Charles Ferguson, Director
Photo by Mariusz Cichon/Representational Pictures, Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics
Ferguson’s film is not peopled with a group of charming rogues like The Lavender Hill Mob or sexy, populist, anti-heroes like Dillinger who held up one bank at a time. His characters are the pillars of Wall Street, the banks, analysts, ratings agencies, the regulators, and their lackeys in Congress and academia who together tunneled into the banking system and made off with all the loot. The response to this calamity was to engineer a shake down of taxpayers and depositors in order to fill the banks back up so this gang can do it again.
So far only one of the big players has been charged, the former CEO of Countrywide Financial, Angelo Mozilla. “He’s only being charged with civil fraud not criminal fraud,” said Ferguson.
Ferguson believes the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) zeroed in on Mozilla because what he did was “so egregious and he’s not connected.” Mozilla spent most of his career independent of the large financial institutions and brokerage houses. “Anyone else would be able to apply pressure,” from powerful friends.
That’s not to say others shouldn’t be doing the perp walk. “Many people knew this (the financial boom) was going to end badly,” said Ferguson, “and their financial behavior suggests that.”
At the same time they touted the shares of their firms they weren’t investing their own money in the companies. “They took out hundreds of millions of dollars, much of it in cash,” said Ferguson. These actions constitute, “potentially both civil and criminal fraud.”
There’s nothing stopping the SEC from going after these guys but, “for anything else to happen would be due to public pressure,” said Ferguson.
Flag New York Stock Exchange
Photo by Representational Pictures, Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics
Right now the vocal pressure for reform, however misguided, is coming from the Tea Party whose members, the Republican Party hopes, will support its recently announced “Pledge to America.” This platform is what a friend used to call, “the same old sandwich,” a retread of the same policies that party stalwarts have championed for years — tax cuts, a spending freeze, rolling back health care reform, missile defense and a raid on Social Security as the prescription for what ails the country. There’s no mention in their manifesto of any financial regulatory reform let alone a call to lock up the malefactors who took down the system while lining their own pockets.
They also fail to point out that America’s financial system, once the world’s gold standard (no pun intended), is no longer trusted.
Wall Street news ticker
Photo by Representational Pictures, Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics
“If you talk to people in Europe, Asia and Latin America, they don’t take seriously what America’s bankers have to say,” said Ferguson.
These countries, all with vibrant, growing economies are looking for other places to put their money besides Wall Street.
“It will reduce the amount of investments and will have an enormous impact on America. America’s impact is declining,” warned Ferguson.
This wasn’t the first time an economy has melted down. The world has experienced numerous financial crashes over the last several centuries, according to Carmen Reinhart and Kenneth Rogoff who took the long view in their book, This Time Is Different: Eight Centuries of Financial Folly. What they found was as far back as the 1300′s elements like rapid deregulation and real estate bubbles coupled with arrogance and ignorance were the sparks that set fire to an economy.
Ferguson agrees with the authors who say that these calamities can be avoided if politicians and regulators step in. “If we don’t fix this it’s going to happen again.”
It’s up to us to apply the pressure. First step. Go see Inside Job. Bring your friends and better yet, bring someone who doesn’t agree with you. Then see it again and bring some more people.
Then let your legislators know that you don’t want any silly, faux fixes you want them to really put some teeth in regulations. Demand someone like Elizabeth Warren be appointed at the SEC and at Treasury and that the ratings agencies be held accountable. And while you’re working yourself up into high umbrage tell them to appoint a special prosecutor and put some of the financial system arsonists behind bars. Nothing like the threat of serious jail time to shake things up in the Hamptons. It’s not going happen without you. Ferguson’s done his job, now it’s up to the rest of us.
Inside Job, narrated by actor Matt Damon, it opened on October 8th in New York and as we said, is reported to have taken in about $ 42,000 in two theaters over the weekend.
The film will open this Friday, Oct 15th in Los Angeles. Then rolls out to additional cities — Chicago, Boston, San Francisco staring Oct 22nd.
To track the financial collapse, follow these links on the Sony Classics website:
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On September 15, 2008, one of the most venerable and storied financial institutions in the world, Lehman Brothers, declared bankruptcy. Charles Ferguson smelled a rat.
Like he had done with No End in Sight, his 2007 film about the failed U.S. war effort in Iraq, Ferguson set out, in his clear and unblinking manner, to document what actually caused the monumental financial collapse.
As was the case in Iraq, not everything was at it seemed during the financial crisis. Ferguson spoke to me about Inside Job, and what he thinks is in store for America, and New York City.
Inside Job features footage of the Goldman Sachs congressional testimony in April. CEO Lloyd Blankfein is questioned as to whether or not his firm behaved improperly. He replies, “In the context of market-making, no.” Can market-making be squared with morality?
Market-making can be, but what was deeply deceptive about his answer was Goldman weren’t just making markets. When you make a market, when you’re doing it properly, you create an arena where buyers and sellers can come together and transact on fair terms. That’s not what they were doing.
Goldman was taking one side of a transaction that they were themselves creating and structuring so that it would cause the other side of the transaction to fail. Then they could profit from their side of the transaction. That is not market-making. They were claiming that it was because they wanted to pull the wool over the public’s eyes, and more importantly, wanted to avoid criminal prosecution.
Inside Job doesn’t paint a pretty picture of post-crisis America. Will things change?
I am optimistic that the American people are going to respond to this. It’s going to be slower and more gradual than certainly I would like. I think we had an opportunity when President Obama was elected, and he had an opportunity and a mandate, in fact, to really do something transformative about this, and he blew it. And that’s a huge tragedy for this country.
He really did have an opportunity at a historically important moment and he had the power to do it, I think. Now that he has chosen not to, it’s going to have to be a much more gradual process of the American people becoming more informed and angry and activist and eventually forcing their leaders to act.
Is that what the Tea Party is?
So far I would not say so. So far I don’t think they are a very prodcutive reaction. But there are many people in the United States, including quite influential people, who are very distubed at all of this.
What’s your perspective on Obama?
He had an opportunity to behave very differently. It’s extremely disapointing that he didn’t. He said things that made a lot of people, including me, very hopeful. But it turned out to be more of the same. Why? I don’t really know, but I’ve been told a number of things that seem plausible.
One is that he had very little experience with these issues when he was elected. Very little training in economics or finance, never held a private sector job. He never had a significant personal fortune so he knew what management of assets was like. He hadn’t had much contact with the financial world. He comes into office in this huge crisis, and I am sure people told him that he needed to appoint people that Wall Street could deal with and respected because otherwise the markets would fall further, and we’d have an even worse crisis.
Some people have also said he just made a cold-blooded political calculation. If so, he made a mistake. I don’t think it was in his long-term political interest to behave this way. It’s going to show in the mid-term elections and I think it is going to show even more strikingly when he tries to run for reelection.
“Inside Job” opens Friday, October 1 in New York City.
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I recently got involved in the making of a documentary about celebrity culture called Teenage Paparazzo. It was directed by Adrian Grenier, the star of Entourage on HBO. Adrian is also featured in the movie, which shows in a very personal way what it has been like for him, becoming famous playing someone famous.
Teenage Paparazzo was a special entry at Sundance last winter and will be shown on HBO tomorrow, Monday, September 27, 9pm Eastern Time.
The story revolves around Adrian’s relationship with Austin Visschedyk, the teenage paparazzo he met on a rope line. The movie tracks the boy’s involvement in that world and goes on to explore the nature of our society’s fascination with celebrity. It includes interviews with other celebrities (Alec Baldwin, Matt Damon, Paris Hilton, Lindsay Lohan, Whoopi Goldberg) and some experts on media (yours truly, Henry Jenkins of MIT’s Media Lab, Jake Halpern).
What makes this film completely unique is that it is presented through the eyes of this teenager and his family. We see, from their point of view, the compelling attractions and insidious risks of celebrity culture, shown in a format that is experiential, not didactic. Celebrities tell us what their lives are really like and encounters with paparazzi and tabloid editors and writers show us how the celebrity factory packages their lives. I don’t think there is a document out there that gives a more insightful, sympathetic, and balanced account of that particular dynamic.
I co-wrote the narration with Adrian and my book was the source of some of the ideas that shaped the movie.
Wanna honor Labor Day but not work at it? Check out any of these pop culture expressions from the last year. Just in time for your nod to Labor Day, lets give props to those who have amplified workers’ voices in one form or another this year.
THE LIST (* indicates best in category)
Ice Road Truckers
America’s Toughest Jobs
Parks and Recreation
United States of Tara
Music (For Listening)
*”Even If Its So” – Q Tip
“Two Step Blues” – Little Brother
“21st Century Breakdown” – Green Day
“Hope” – Rahel
Music (For Rallying)
*”Fight Smash Win” – Street Sweeper Social Club
“Drop It (Like a Hot Muppet)” – Magic Drum Orchestra
*”Myth and Manpower” – Craft and Folk Art Museum, Los Angeles
“Closed Mondays” – grayDUCK Gallery, Austin
“Today I Made Nothing” – Elizabeth Dee Gallery, New York
“Small Trades (Irving Penn)” – Getty Center
*”Shopclass as Soulcraft” – Matthew Crawford
“Border Songs” – Jim Lynch
“Wherever There is a Fight” – Elaine Elinson
“The Legend of Colton Bryant” – Alexandra Fuller
*Up In the Air
*Yes Men Fix The World
Capitalism: A Love Story
The Philosopher Kings
Parking Lot Movie
For detailed commentary on each of these categories, check out the whole series of blogs on workers voices in arts and entertainment (all freshly posted in last two weeks) at http://www.huffingtonpost.com/wyatt-closs or click right here.
Special thanks to those who served on a loose-knit jury of artists, entertainment professionals, and economic justice activists to help make these selections.
Hopefully, this list inspires many in the arts, letters, and entertainment worlds to take on more stories and expressions about work, workers, and working family issues. As said at the outset of this series, there are so many rich stories out there about America’s workers and a tremendous market for those stories as well.
Maybe at some point we’ll get a Downtown LA hotel ballroom, a red carpet, the obligatory step-and-repeat wall, starlets pumping their fists in the air going “Woo, workers rock!” Yeah. Until then, there’s this.
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There’s a blog to be written about Greatest Films of All-Time about Workers and work themes but for now, lets look at those made or released in the last year. Whether set in a grocery store, amusement park or airplanes, there’s a DVD for everyone to watch this Labor Day weekend.
In terms of feature films, there are 5 standouts. They are The Maid, Humble Pie, Adventureland, Extract, and Up in the Air. Of these, Up in the Air is the best known given its star George Clooney and its box-office receipts and Oscar run. And it is arguably the best in this particularly specific category of Best Worker Voice Film, due in part to its uncanny timing connected to today’s economy. And its use of actual people who had been laid off playing people who had been laid off was original, poignant, and sad all at once.
But there’s more. While the Chilean film, The Maid centers on the story of a maid trying to hold on to her position after having served a family for 23 years, it also shows the level of dependence that family has relied on her “work” which goes much beyond daily domestic chores. You might say for Humble Pie, with the leading man at 400 pounds and set in a grocery store, that “if you like Little Miss Sunshine, Juno, and Napoleon Dynamite, you’ll love this” but only if you had a 30-second elevator pitch to make. Or in this case, a short blog. You could also try the same cheap trick about Adventureland by calling it a Judd Apatow-esque film set in an amusement park but that would undercut the originality of this story, the workers, and the unique workplace where they find themselves. And I don’t want Martin Starr to cringe.
If you like good, entertaining documentary, there are lots of good choices from the last year. Capitalism: A Love Story, Yes Men Fix the World, The Philospher Kings, Parking Lot Movie, and Floored all do a great job of either reflecting workers voices and experiences or channeling them with the equivalent of a 2-ton, 20,000 watt megaphone. Like Up in the Air, Michael Moore’s Capitalism: A Love Story was the heavyweight in this category, clearly the favorite of a loose-knit jury I polled, and worth seeing to get your juices flowing about the state we’re in and some idea about getting out of it.
But some space is needed to highlight Yes Men Fix the World. Not only is it entertaining and daring as the Yes Men go undercover, including on BBC, goofing on all manner of corporations. But they also manage to champion some genuine causes like Bhopal, post-Katrina New Orleans and more. And perhaps most importantly, they give its audience the sense that “maybe I could go do something like that too”. And what better inspiration for the masses of unemployed and stomped-on workers than that.
As a special mention, notice should be given to a film project that was not quite a film or a TV show: The People Speak. Based on the book by Howard Zinn, and eventually developed into a docu-mini series on the History Channel, it features a large and diverse number of actors from Matt Damon to Marisa Tomei, Kerry Washington, Josh Brolin and Danny Glover. With producer Chris Moore, I’ve tracked its development over the years into the product that aired back in January 2010 (now on DVD as well). The reading by Marisa Tomei of Harriet Hanson Robinson’s recound of the Lowell, MA factory strike is worth the price alone for thoughtful reflection about why we have Labor Day in the first place.
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