“Arbitrage” —Power is the Best Alibi

 

The early scenes of Arbitrage have some of the same high-finance vertigo of Margin Call or Bonfire of the Vanities.  But here we have an overlay of another crime superimposed on financial fraud and wonder what, if any, consequences will follow.

In this implosive thriller Richard Gere plays investment mogul Robert Miller, the suave, arrogant superego, a “master of the universe” in the Gilded Age of arbitrage and hedge funds. He is the icon of the one-percent, a silver fox who charms, cheats, and gloats in his malfeasance. Until he can’t.

Wealth creates the rules and decides who gets to play the game.  And Robert Miller is at the top. Celebrating his 60th birthday with his beautiful and elegant wife (Susan Sarandon in a subtle but magnetic role), their two adult children and grandchildren, Miller has a secret life.  His wife longs for a closer relationship, not so focused on money.  In a digression from the Bernie Madoff model, it is the daughter Brooke (Brit Marling) –not the son– who is the wunderkind and heir-apparent to her father’s hedge-fund empire.  And she must struggle with her father’s legacy.

Living in a temple of luxury, the Miller family’s protective cocoon isolates them from a world outside and from each other.  Just as we’re settling in and squirming, watching the dynamic between financial pillage and spillage into family matters, the film takes another direction. Police become involved: one in particular–Michael Bryer (played impeccably by Tim Roth), an unassuming Columbo.  And the issues of race and class collide:  a trajectory moving precipitously to harm Jimmy Grant, a Harlem youth (the gifted Nate Parker) caught in a web of deceit.  We witness unrelenting evil and an underlying fear of capture, committed in the pursuit of money and glory in which no one is spared.

This is a morality tale–a tale of hell in a financial guise, well told, where morality and selfishness battle, never descending to bland and predictable.  Gere gives us a window into the soul of a man who has lost his way.  Sarandon knows the price she and her children have paid.  I am not a huge Richard Gere fan. But I have to admit that Gere is made to play this slime-ball role.  Think “Internal Affairs” or “The Hoax”.  No one can do it better…or almost no one.  His toxic appeal in “Arbitrage” is unnerving.

A directorial debut by the startlingly restrained Nicholas Jarecki (the son of two commodities traders), Jarecki captures the gleaming seduction of Wall Street.  He knows the territory.  This cinematic thriller is original and delectable to watch, for those of us who love the dark side!

Rarely Seen Contemporary Works on Paper–Art Institute of Chicago Saturday, July 28, 2012–Sunday, January 13, 2013

Devil [portion of work]

Devil

Recently I had the extraordinary opportunity to enjoy the visual imagery of the special exhibit, “Rarely Seen Contemporary Works on Paper” at the Art Institute of Chicago. What a visceral thrill!  The Art Institute of Chicago is a temple of art.

"Untitled (Months)"

Works on paper are extremely light sensitive, so this exhibit, which filled four rooms of predominantly 20th century and 21st century art, is housed in dark, temperature-controlled vaults.  Some of these works are being offered for the first time. While I was there, professors were leading their classes to individual works to explain techniques that have influenced generations.  Among the most popular works are Romare Bearden’s collages, Tanguy’s masterpieces and of course, Dubuffet and Picasso.

"Garden Drawing #87"

What I found most noteworthy, however, were the relatively obscure works by even the most famous–Picasso comes to mind–partly due to the ephemeral and decomposable materials of paste, cut papers, graphite, and pastel.  A delightful work by Picasso, “Devil (1952)”, is a black inked painting on brown corrugated paper so darkened that the visitor is compelled to press his or her face to the glass to get a close-up look.  What a surprise for a Picasso–and the three-dimensional piece could be turned upside down to see almost the same figure.   Multiple works by Carroll Dunham (“Untitled (Months)”, Matta (“Untitled:  Psychological Morphology, 1939), Brice Marden (“Second Letter –Zen Spring)”, and JuliaFish (“Garden Drawing #87”) are unforgettable masterpieces.  The list goes on and on:  Ed Ruscha’s whimsical “Bugs in Foil” and Susan Hettmansperger’s pieces need to be made accessible to more art lovers–on the Internet, in books, at visiting museum exhibits.  If you are in Chicago before January 13, make sure you have a chance to see this superb panorama of works on paper–one of the very best ever!

"Second Letter (Zen Spring)"

"Untitled (Psychological Morphology)"

 

 

 

“Hope Springs”…Eternal: Senior Sex Anyone?

Don’t be fooled by the trailers that depict this as a rom-com.  A  poignant portrayal of two  seniors who have drifted apart, not only as empty nesters, “Hope Springs” reveals  a hollowed-out existence between an aging husband and wife.

In the opening scenes, we see Kay (Meryl Streep) and Arnold (Tommy Lee Jones) getting ready to go to bed…in separate rooms.  Their sex life has virtually ended.  Rapidly growing moribund, their thirty-one year-old marriage needs professional help.

Arnold, the clueless accountant who has rigid habits his wife abhors, thinks there isn’t a problem. He uses his sleep apnea and back problem as excuses for no longer having sexual lives. However, Arnold’s co-worker suggests that he wishes he had done something to save his own marriage.  Scared, Arnold succumbs to the pressure and follows Kay begrudgingly to Maine for therapy.  In spite of resistance and dread at the thought of revealing their sexual failings to a stranger, Arnold does want to save his marriage. As he starts feeling his wife’s hurt, he becomes aware of his own.  He’s damaged and scared and you believe in him.

Enter the professional help–Dr. Feld (a surprising role superbly underplayed by Steve Carell). Kay confesses to Dr. Feld in therapy, as he listens compassionately and nonjudgmentally to her restrained pleas,and begins to understand the couple’s unhealed wounds.  We watch this couple from Omaha, Nebraska attempt to rejuvenate their marriage by healing: through intimacy “exercises” suggested by Dr. Feld. 

Kay and Arnold practice touching, kissing, and acting out their sexual fantasies.  What could be hilarious as well as comic relief–the banana-eating scene, for example, –is timidly glossed over. But there are some remarkable scenes that pinch the heart. “Hope Springs” floats over the understandable awkwardness of stepping out of one’s comfort zone, especially when discussing sex, hidden desires and raw emotions.

There are laughs too. Streep’s and Jones’ wonderfully uneasy and highly fumbling “love” scenes make their discomfort absolutely charming. Senior sex is bravely filmed without slapstick (there are a few cheap gags) or demeaning vulgularity. This in itself is a pioneering cinematic maneuver in a world where any parental sex, let alone senior sex, is a horrifying “eww” factor.  Like all good comedy, this movie goes for truth more often than laughs and makes you feel the pain that sets the laugh in motion.

In the hands of less stellar actors, “Hope Springs” could have been a  major cornball of a movie, but thankfully Streep and Jones tap into  something genuine, complex, and endearing in their characters’ quirks. The filmmakers vacillate between trusting their audience with this unusual theme and playing down to them.  When they are bravely exploring the theme of mature sexual issues and aging, this movie is elevated to a substantial and worthwhile film–to defining a moment for a demographic mostly ignored by the film industry.