A weekly feature from from ctvnews.ca! The Crouse Review is a quick, hot take on the weekend’s biggest movies! This week Richard looks at Steven Spielberg’s virtual reality flick “Ready Player One,” the family drama “Mary Goes Round” and the financial documentary “The China Hustle.”
Richard joins CP24 anchor Nick Dixon to have a look at the weekend’s new movies including Steven Spielberg’s virtual reality flick “Ready Player One,” the family drama “Mary Goes Round” and the financial documentary “The China Hustle.”
“There are no good guys in this story,” says financial whistleblower Dan David. “Not even me.” That’s a grabby intro for a documentary that exposes greed on a level that would make Gordon Gekko blush. “The China Hustle,” from director Jed Rothstein, is a companion piece to “Inside Job” and “Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room,” movies about money manipulation that should send a chill down the back of anyone with an ATM card.
The story really begins after the 2008 stock market crash. Giant losses put companies in the position of having to generate large sums of cash quickly in the global market. David, like many others, looked to China. “If you want to be a criminal,” says one talking head, “it’s best to go somewhere with no cops. That was China.” China offered new markets, little oversight and he potential to print money. Cue a stock market feeding frenzy but because foreigners can’t invest directly in Chinese companies along came something called the reverse merger, a mix-and-match of American shell companies and foreign entities. It was a recipe for disaster, ripe with fraud and greed, kind of like investing your retirement money in lottery tickets.
Stories of financial malfeasance are so common that “The China Hustle” doesn’t seem like it will offer anything new. Regular folks put up their savings, lose everything while money managers and banks keep the fees. The story may be familiar but it is compelling. Greed and risk are compelling subjects and the kind of scam carefully detailed here is a prime example of extreme avarice. But why do people get sucked into these situations time and time again? It’s like the punch line of the old Wall Street joke says, “This time it is different.” And so it goes. The hope of easy money is irresistible.
You don’t need to be a trader to understand “The China Hustle.” It isn’t so much a lesson in economics as it is a film about due diligence and common sense. In the micro the film’s message can be boiled down to something everyone’s grandmother said, there’s no such thing as free money. The larger story is more complicated, like an economic detective story. It’s a timely one too. This isn’t a history lesson. The events from our recent past detailed here still reverberate and now as the Trump government seeks to deregulate banks even further, it is a story of abuse and lack of oversight that could easily repeat itself.
Just in time for Halloween comes the scariest movie of the year. The bad guy in “Inside Job” isn’t Freddy Krueger but a bigger villain named Freddie Mac. The ghouls and goblins of this piece are the creatures who feasted on the corpse of the American dream.
The story of the 2008 financial meltdown begins with a title card that says, simply, “This is how it happened.” There is nothing simple about this story of fiduciary irresponsibility but director Charles Ferguson and narrator Matt Damon carefully lay out the greed and systemic failure that brought America to the brink and beyond during the biggest bubble in history. With the collapse of the US economy so went many world markets. It’s a small world, one analyst says, “economies are all liked together.” It’s fascinating stuff, too complex to be recounted here, but Ferguson takes his time uncovering the intricacies of world finance without the kind of stunts that Michael Moore might have been inclined to include. It’s straightforward, kind of a big budget power point presentation, which allows the facts and figures to tell the story.
Many of the names will be familiar—Director of the White House National Economic Council Larry Summers, Richard Fuld, the former Chief Executive Officer of Lehman Brothers and Chairman of the United States Federal Reserve Ben Bernanke for instance—but the depth of the information will likely not be. Ferguson has assembled a varied and credible cast of characters to explain how we came to brink of a global financial collapse. Many key players declined to sit in front of his camera, but luckily archived CSPAN footage fills the missing gaps.
Despite the film’s steady tone, anchored by Damon’s matter-of-fact narration, Ferguson can’t seem to resist including a few “gotcha” moments. Occasionally the camera cuts away after difficult questions are asked without allowing the interviewee to respond. It’s a cheap trick to make the subject look guilty or uncooperative and the film would have been better without this obvious stylistic trick. Ditto the use of unflattering photos to subtly vilify people. More often than not Larry Summers is shown in unflattering close-up, his Hugo Boss suit spotted with dandruff. Again it shows a bias that the film doesn’t need to make its point.
“Inside Job” is occasionally a little too exhaustive. One of the least shocking revelations involves Wall Street a-type’s predilection for drugs and hookers and eats up more time than it should, but the film’s final point is probably the most chilling part of any movie this year. Like the bad guys who haunt Elm Street and Camp Crystal Lake the villains featured in “Inside Job” can’t seem to be killed. The film’s final cautionary note reminds us that many of the people who set us on this very destructive path are still in positions of financial power. Now that’s scary.