There's not one attractive person in the dramatis personae of Equity. Oh, there are people with well-coifed hair-dos and good manicures and personally-trained bodies, but not one of them has a heart under those pecs. Directed by Meera Menon from a script by Amy Fox, Equity braids three plots.

Foremost is the story of Naomi Bishop, a banker who's had a misstep in master-minding an IPO and doesn't want, dare not, do that again. She is sleeping with a man at the office; otherwise, she has only a beta fish to care for. She is tough as nails, assertive, aggressive, and assimilated into Wall Street culture.

Her assistant, Erin, wants to be Naomi. She's angry. She pushes for a raise, and she insinuates herself into negotiations, but she has to be careful.

Samantha is an old classmate of Naomi's, but now Sam works as a prosecuting attorney, hellbent to find the criminals in Naomi's firm, for there are bound to be some. She stops at nothing, including flirting with a loose-lipped hedge-fundy.

That Menon is able to keep the lines of the story going without befuddlement is a tribute to her direction. Equity is reminiscent of Billions in its multiple story lines and its attention to financial institutions, but Equity runs less than two hours, so Menon has to depend on camera angles, speed-ups, and fine, distinct characterizations.

Anna Gunn leads the troika of women. She never lets Naomi go. Sarah Megan Thomas, one of the story writers with Alysia Reiner, who plays Samantha, manages well the nuances of Erin's underdog character. Reiner as Sam adds complications to the character on the page. Nate Corddry, James Purefoy, and Craig Berko play lesser men.

Equity is a film by women, about women -- lesbian and straight -- and starring women. Take note.

 

 

 

A few rare stories are so astonishing that it would be difficult, if not impossible, to believe them were they not absolutely true. This is the case with Austrian co-writer/director Stefan Ruzowitzky's The Counterfeiters which chronicles the World War II account of Operation Bernhard, the largest counterfeiting operation ever undertaken. 

Begun in 1936, it was run by the Nazi SS with Jews from concentration camps as the expert forgers. Led by the best, he was a Russian Jew, Salomon Sorowitsch, called Sally, arrested first in prewar Berlin and later plucked from Mauthausen. Squared off against cooperative Sally is Adolf Burger, endangering everyone by antagonistically refusing to collaborate. The film begins in Monte Carlo and flashes back to the late 30s as Nazis plan to ruin the Allies' economies by flooding the market with fake British pounds and American dollars. Under duress from a tyrannical commandant, the prisoners race to create accepted fakes or their lives are over. Death is always near, within earshot. Meantime Adolf sabotages the counterfeiting efforts. 

Palpable suspense holds sway as events unfold while, on another heady level, the ethics of cooperating is brilliantly challenged with compelling arguments by Sally and Adolf, for survival and for idealism. The color palette is appropriately, metaphorically dominated by grays and dark, claustrophobic scenes.  

At Telluride, director Ruzowitzky said his family's Nazi connections and sympathy prompted him to make this powerful statement, especially needed now with Neo-Nazi activity. Every factual detail was carefully researched. Unexpected, powerful tango music, on a CD given to the director, adds the right mix of sadness, energy and passion, suggesting all Sally stands for. The breathtaking performances and superb style earned The Counterfeiters the 2008 Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film. In German and some Russian with English subtitles. 

It screens at Webster University's Winifred Moore auditorium one night only, Tuesday, September 13 at 7:30. For more information, you may call 314-968-7487 or visit the Webster Film Series website

 

Ben serves his family as father, teacher, tutor, surrogate mother, chauffeur, sergeant, guide, and cheerleader. His family comprises six bright children, whom he home schools while his wife, their mother, is away. They live in the wild, learn many languages, learn to survive and to have each other's backs.

They also learn Ben's motto: "Stick it to the man." They learn there's not a cavalry to come in to save them when they hurt. They should stick to their principles and have evidence to back up their thoughts. Regurgitation is not prized; original thought is. Ben is making his children philosopher kings.

He is not doing this with the support of his family or his wife. He is doing this because he thinks it's right, and he thinks that right up until the time he is challenged by evidence, by his children, by his wife's family. 

Captain Fantastic stands out as a film about being honest -- about mental illness, about religion and education, about politics and sex. The film continues this line: Ben stands fully frontally nude as he professes that all men have penises, that they're not a big deal. They are to most movie-makers, but Captain Fantastic does not back down on this point or many of the others, and the movie because a story of contrasts and compromises. It's brilliant.

So is Viggo Mortensen as Ben. He's firm whether leading or grieving; he's an exemplar. He is supported by a fine cast of young people, including George MacKay and Samantha Isler. Kathryn Hahn and Steve Zahn play aunt and uncle and Frank Langella and Ann Dowd play grandparents, standard-bearers of the monied and old-fashioned. Matt Ross, known for American Psycho, wrote and directed Captain Fantastic. He served as pater familias of this family story -- unlike many others in its cunning complexity.

 

 

 

Upon its 1981 release, director Steven Spielberg's Raiders of the Lost Ark absolutely captivated three eleven-year-old boys growing up in Ocean Springs, Mississippi. Not long after, in 1982, surrendering to their obsession, Eric Zala, Chris Strompolos and Jayson Lamb began a shot-by-shot remake of Raiders with a passionate and resourceful determination they pursued for the next seven years. 

The trio recreated and adapted every scene except the last one in which the airplane explodes. That defied their resources and cooperation. Now in their 40s, these three shoulder the Sisyphean task of finally, 35 years later, completing their Raiders of the Lost Ark: The Adaptation. This mind-boggling, challenging endeavor provides the anchor for directors Jeremy Coon and Tim Skousen's documentary Raiders!:The Story of the Greatest Fan Film Ever Made

As Eric, Chris and Jayson reminisce on their daunting undertaking, we see outtakes and 1980s footage, including some nearly disastrous accidents. We also hear details regarding the serious estrangement of Eric and Chris, the various families' divorces and domestic issues, and creative differences. The mothers weigh in along with many others, among them, John Rhys-Davies (Sallah in Spielberg's Raiders), producer/director Eli Roth, and Harry Jay Knowles, Founder of Ain't It Cool News. All comment at several junctures, expressing their astonishment at this herculean endeavor as weather intervenes and the shoot gets days behind. 

This is a remarkable story, certainly most entertaining for Raiders fans. Still, it's fascinating to watch the side-by-side shots from Spielberg's film and these boys' remake. They're not kidding when they boast that this is "The Story of the Greatest Fan Film Ever Made." It plus Raiders of the Lost Ark: The Adaptation, running 100 minutes, screen at Webster University's Winifred Moore auditorium Friday, August 26 through Sunday, August 28 and Friday, September 2 through Sunday, September 4 at 7:30 p.m. For more information, you may call 314-968-7487 or visit the Webster Film Series website

 

Two pairs of men on opposite sides of the law exhibit a fixation on their goals that sets them on a collision course. Brothers Toby and Tanner Howard resolve to save the family farm for which a West Texas bank has hoodwinked their now deceased mother into negotiating a reverse mortgage. Their plan: rob banks, small ones, dead easy takings. 

Their adversaries, Texas Ranger Marcus and his Native American/Mexican deputy Alberto are equally determined to stop them, tooling around dusty, small towns that the Howard brothers' target. It's that simple and it's brilliant. Credit for this magnificent tour de force goes to Taylor Sheridan's screenplay that wastes no time or energy on trivial matters. Every exchange comes with the feel of real life captured like lightning in a bottle. And all the actors--those in central or supporting roles--sink their teeth into the nuances, bringing vitality to every interaction.

Anchoring the cast is Jeff Bridges as Marcus, a lawman who has seen and experienced the depth and breadth of human foibles. His deputy Alberto, a flawless Gil Birmingham, responds to a string of insulting jabs about Mexicans and Indians, though it's clear Marcus values him. As the hot-headed brother Tanner, who's spent ten of his 39 years in jail, Ben Foster spirals out of control. As Toby, Chris Pine articulates the more thoughtful approach to this robbery business. He's done three tours in Iraq but, as he says, "There's no bailout for people like us." Dale Dickey delivers a fine performance as Toby's ex-wife Elsie, appropriately exhausted with coping. Graffiti on walls, signs on roadsides, a stop at a casino--Hell or High Water repeatedly connects with today's inequitable world. 

Director David Mackenzie and cinematographer Giles Nuttgens shot with Albuquerque and Clovis, New Mexico standing in for Texas. This month's American Cinematographer describes their decision to establish the brothers with energetic camera work and fast-paced editing contrasted with the lawmen's more sedate scenes. Nuttgens slightly overexposed images to communicate the heat and cadaverous farms that prompted desperate actions. Nick Cave's music is evocative, and watch for the great, short scene at the T-Bone Cafe that will become every bit as iconic as the one in Five Easy Pieces. Hell or High Water hits a very high water mark for filmmaking. It's already among the best films of the year. At several cinemas; check local listings.

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