DUMB MONEY: 3 ½ STARS
Despite the title, “Dumb Money,” a new ripped-from-the-headlines dramedy starring Paul Dano, now playing in theatres, is a smart take on how an on-line investment blogger led the French Revolution of Wall Street.
Dano is Keith Gill. By day he’s a financial trader, at night he’s Roaring Kitty, host of a quirky on-line show broadcast from his Brockton, Massachusetts basement. Wearing tie-dyed cat t-shirts, topped with a red headband, he offers up stock advice for a tiny audience, who respond with torrents of abuse. In early 2021 he makes waves when he goes all in, sinking his life’s savings, into an unorthodox hunch.
“Yo! What up everybody,” he says on the show. “Roaring Kitty here. I’m going to pick a stock and talk about why I think it is interesting, and that stock is GameStop.”
Wall Street hedge funders had been short selling the video game retailer’s stock, hoping to profit if the stock fails, but Gill thinks the stock is undervalued, that there is life left in the company. His passion for the GameStop slowly wins over his handful of viewers, who snap up the cheap stock. As more and more people buy, the stock rises, and soon rockets to upwards of US$500 a share.
The ”retail traders,” the students and restaurant workers who take Roaring Kitty’s advice, get rich while the billionaire hedge funders, in particular Gabe Plotkin (Seth Rogen) of Melvin Capital, begin to lose money, to the tune of US$1 billion a day.
Roaring Kitty becomes an internet sensation, an underdog David against Wall Street’s Goliath.
“A lot of people feel the system is broken,” he says. “The whole idea of the stock market is if you’re smart, and maybe with a little luck, you can make your fortune. Certainly not anymore. There’s no hope for the little guy. But maybe now there is.”
As the stock soars, the mainstream media takes notice, as does the White House and Congress.
“You got the rich dudes pissing their pants,” says Keith’s brother Kevin (Pete Davidson). “They’re coming after you.”
Once you get past the dense financial jargon about short selling, etc, “Dumb Money” is a fist-in-the-air crowd pleaser. It’s a very specific story, based on true events, but there is a Frank Capra-esque quality to the account of outsiders giving the middle finger to power, and, for the most part, winning.
Dano is nicely cast as Gill, an outsider who, as an agent of chaos, briefly fought against a rigged system and emerged victorious. In addition to bearing a remarkable resemblance to the real Gill, Dano brings forth the resolute nature of the character, a man who valued the power of the class movement he started more than the dollars that accumulated in his portfolio.
Stealing scenes is Davidson as Keith’s wild card younger brother Kevin. He is as brash as Keith is reserved, as impulsive as his brother is methodical, and provides a blast of energy every time he’s on screen.
“Dumb Money” doesn’t get too bogged down by the financial verbiage, although it may be worth a trip to the “short sell” Wikipedia page before buying a ticket. It’s a rousing, high energy story of leveling the playing field that captures the spirit of the time.
EXPEND4BLES: 2 ½ STARS
In the world of The Expendables it’s not enough to simply kill the enemy. In their boomtastic alternate reality every kill must be overkill and accompanied by a quip to punctuate the death.
“Expend4bles,” the all-star shoot ‘em up now playing in theatres, delivers quips and kills galore, but to paraphrase Tony Jaa’s character Decha, “The more people you kill, the less joy you have.”
In the new film, CIA agent Max Drummer (Andy García) rounds up the team of elite mercenaries—wizened warriors Barney Ross (Sylvester Stallone), Lee Christmas (Jason Statham), sniper Gunner Jensen (Dolph Lundgren), demolitions expert Toll Road (Randy Couture) and new recruits Easy Day (Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson), and Galan (Jacob Scipio)—to prevent terrorist Suarto Rahmat (Iko Uwais) from stealing nuclear bomb detonators from Muammar Gaddafi’s former old chemical weapons plant in Libya.
When things go sideways, Christmas becomes the expendable Expendable, kicked out of the group and replaced by his mercenary girlfriend Gina (Megan Fox) and her deadly colleague Lash (Levy Tran). As the new band of soldiers set off to curtail a conflict that could ignite World War III, Christmas does his part to bring peace on earth.
This 103-minute ode to murder, mayhem and manliness doesn’t waste any time getting to the money shot. The first blast of action in “Expend4bles” lights up the screen roughly one minute in, followed by lots of talky bits that come between the boomy bits.
The talky bits are mostly lines of dialogue that sound lifted from the “Action Movies for Dummies” guidebook—generic stuff like “This is gonna be fun,” as the bullets start to fly—with the odd nod to something deeper, like a settling of accounts for one’s past. When we first meet Decha, for instance, he’s a former warrior, a reformed man of violence. But his peaceful ways don’t last long, because in “The Expendables” if you’re not a killer, you’re just filler.
If you’ve seen the other movies in the franchise, you already know what to expect; lots of R-rated violence, some dodgy CGI and a body count that would make John Wick blush. But this instalment feels different, less an homage to the days when Stallone and Schwarzenegger (who sat out this chapter) were blockbuster action stars and more a collection of familiar faces cut loose in a Jason “man-on-a-mission” Statham video game. It’s the Statham Show, which dissipates the camaraderie that gave the first movies a cohesive vibe.
By the time the end credits roll, the thrill is gone. Despite its all-star cast, action sequences and kill ratio, “Expend4bles” proves Decha’s, “The more people you kill, the less joy you have” philosophy correct. On their fourth time out, the Expendables seems more expendable than ever.
STOP MAKING SENSE: 4 ½ STARS
The 4K restoration of the four-decade old concert movie “Stop Making Sense” is such an exercise in joyful exuberance it’s like time travelling back to the actual 1983 Talking Heads show.
Directed by Jonathan Demme, and shot over the course of three nights at the Hollywood Pantages Theatre at the culmination of the band’s “Speaking in Tongues” tour, the film begins on a bare stage as the camera follows David Byrne’s scuffed-up sneakers to centre stage. Placing a portable tape player at his feet, he says, “Hi, I got a tape I wanna play,” and launches into the jittery “Psycho Killer,” accompanied only by his acoustic guitar and boombox beats.
Next comes bassist Tina Weymouth for a beautiful, stripped-down version of “Heaven,” the band’s pokerfaced view of paradise, a “place where nothing ever happens.”
As the track list expands, so does the show. Piece by piece, member by member, equipment and musicians populate the stage, until the full band, Byrne, Weymouth, Jerry Harrison, Chris Frantz, Steve Scales, Lynn Mabry, Ednah Holt, Alex Weir and Bernie Worrell are in place, and playing as if making music was going to be declared illegal the next day.
From the exhilarating art-funk of “Burning Down the House” and “Life During Wartime” to the melancholic beauty of “This Must Be the Place (Naive Melody)” and the gospel tinged “Once in a Lifetime,” the band deliver one banger after another, fronted by Byrne’s athletic and arty dance moves. It’s a document of a band working at the top of their game, capturing the love of music and performance in a way few other concert films have.
And it’s got a good beat and you can dance to it.
The restoration is top notch, with a sharp image derived from the original 35-millimeter negatives, showcasing cinematographer Jordan Cronenweth’s inventive camera and lighting work, and crisp remixed digital sound that fills the air.
The picture and sound are improvements on the original, but the thing that hasn’t changed, the element that makes the movie special, is the performance. From Byrne’s iconic “Big Suit” to Weymouth’s crab-walk dance, it is, as Ed Sullivan would’ve said, a really big show, but it manages to feel intimate, even when blown up to IMAX supersize. The nonverbal communication between the players and the obvious love of the music, are highlighted, and add much to the overall experience.
“Stop Making Sense” has a loose narrative, from the opening number with a solo Byrne, to the “formation” of the band and their subsequent collaboration. By the time they sing “This Must Be the Place (Naive Melody),” it is clear this group of outsiders has found a place where they belong.
Not just a documentary, or an exercise in nostalgia, “Stop Making Sense” is a celebration, of music and of belonging. Watch it again for the first time.