Pretty Ponzied (Television Thoughts: The Wizard Of Lies, HBO)

large_Wizard-of-lies-posterBecause I spent a good chunk of time working in the finance  operations, I am very much fascinated by the Bernie Madoff story.  For the life of me, I cannot see how he was able to operate his ponzi scheme for almost thirty years. I have been meaning to read the book by Diana Henrique about this case, and as it turns out, the screenplay of this is based on her book, and she even plays herself as the reporter granted an interview by Madoff inside prison.

Robert De Niro is brilliant as Madoff – he captures the calm insanity of a man who was able to dupe hundreds of people by having them invest money through his fund. I consider De Niro one of the three greatest living actors of this day, along with Mery Streep and Nora Aunor, but he does occasionally get lazy, as evidenced by some recent performances. But I bet this character inspired him, because he is on fire here. I especially like him in the later scenes, where you can see the almost relief that Madoff felt when he finally turned himself in.  Michelle Pfeiffer is great, too, as a woman who had to choose between her children versus her husband. When Ruth loses everything she has towards the latter part of the film, the scream she utters is haunting.

I wish it had a little more detail about the case (I heard the ABC miniseries starring Richard Dreyfuss had more) but this film, directed by Barry Levinson, focuses more on how the family disintegrated after Madoff’s confession. I read that by now, most people with less than two million invested have gotten their money back, and the rest will get payout sixty five cents to their dollars. This movie shows some of the horror these people felt, but not enough.

Comedy Tonight (Film Thoughts: The Comedian)

comedianI first learned about ‘The Comedian’ from its New York Times bad review. And it steered me away from seeing it. But I was looking for something to watch, and chanced upon it, and maybe I shouldn’t have had Manohla Dargis sway my judgement.  ‘The Comedian’ may not be Citizen Kane, but I found it very enjoyable even as I see its faults.

In the film, the great Robert deNiro stars as Jackie Burke, an aging stand up comic who had a very successful sitcom years ago. So he carries with him the baggage of being Eddie, the character from said show. Burke is one of those insult comics, along the lines of Don Rickles, and nowadays, in this age of political correctness, that type of comedy isn’t as celebrated as it used to be. But De Niro infuses a lot of charm in Jackie, and I truly believed in him as the character. I actually thought about the idea. Does a great performance elevate a film ? Because there isn’t much story here, and the point being driven by the film somehow gets lost along the way, but darn if you can’t take your eyes away from DeNiro.  He whispers, he cackles, he punches, he even falls in love, and you are with Jackie Burke all the way. The last quarter of the film gets turned into schlock melodrama, but at that point you have truly gone to the character’s side.  I found myself enjoying this film, and I think a lot of people will, if only they discover it.

Reading Filth (Movie Thoughts: Dirty Grandpa)

Robert-De-Niro-Zac-Efron-Dirty-Grandpa-Movie-PosterI read a review the other wherein the reviewer said that “dirty Grandpa” is probably the worst film of Robert De Niro’s stellar career, so I set my bar very low when assessing this movie. And perhaps that reviewer is right, although I cannot say that I am very intimate with De Niro’s filmography. Make no mistake, “Dirty Grandpa” is bad – it is tasteless and gross, and you wonder how the mighty Raging Bull has fallen for himt o get involved with this project, which is directed bY Dan Mazar, a writer for Sasha Cohen. I found myself shakign my head a couple of times, asking myself how low can this movie go? But you know what, it’s not the worst thing in the world, and I bet it will catch on with its target market: young male audiences. It’s crass, for sure, the same way that ‘Borat’ was crass, but it never pretends to be anything else. And I do have to give De Niro credit for being very game here – he does every trick in the book for the material to come across. I mean, you don’t even for a second doubt his commitment. Talk about a consummate actor.

dgpAnd Zac Efron?  He holds his own. You see, I belong in that school of peopel who thinks that beneath his too-handsome exterior lies a very talented actor, though lately he has become more mannered. You see glimpses of his natural charm here, and he is certainly swoon worthy for most of the movie – just try and not be enthralled by him singing “Because You Loved Me” here. So did I have a bad time watching this movie? Not as horrid as one might think, I even chuckled a couple of times -just don’t alert the press. Believe me, I have seen much worse.