Friday, July 29, 2016

“Equity”– Movie Review



This week, I attended a New York Times Film Club screening of the new drama “Equity”, starring Anna Gunn. 


When an investment banker tries to turn her career around by launching a major technology IPO, can she succeed or will her enemies conspire to defeat her?


By all accounts, Naomi (Gunn) is one of the more successful investment bankers on Wall Street.  Over time, she has built a great career and her company has won the right to underwrite some major Initial Public Offerings of many start-up companies around the country.  So why is she unhappy?  Naomi is also an ambitious person and despite her many successes, there have been some sizable disappointments along the way, too.  Recently, one company’s historic IPO was underwritten by one of Naomi’s competitors, which has resulted in her being passed-over for what she felt was a long overdue promotion. 

An opportunity for redemption becomes available when a San Francisco-based technology company is seeking their own IPO and meets with Naomi to see what kind of evaluation they can get in their opening stock price.  Soon, it becomes apparent that she will have to put in an extra effort in order to win them over; that’s where her assistant Erin (Sarah Megan Thomas) comes in.  The company’s CEO seems to have genuinely hit it off with Erin so Naomi does nothing to discourage this if it means they will win the account.  The only problem with this arrangement is Erin feels that Naomi has been intentionally holding her back in her career; now, this may be a chance for Erin to strike out on her own. 

Further complications develop when Naomi runs into Samantha (Alysia Reiner), an ex-schoolmate, who now works as a prosecutor in New York City.  When Samantha tries to re-connect, Naomi understandably believes that she’s interested in resuming their friendship; however, it soon becomes evident that Samantha has a different agenda – she’s trying to build a case against Michael (James Purefoy), Naomi’s boyfriend, whom she suspects of actively participating in various insider trading schemes.  Eventually, Naomi gets word that negative publicity about the company is being leaked by a disgruntled former employee.  Will this threaten the IPO and effectively ruin Naomi’s career or can something be done to somehow offset the misgivings investors may have?


It would be a facile review to describe “Equity” as a distaff version of “Wolf Of Wall Street”, especially because the two stories are so very different although they both center on the theme of Wall Street greed run rampant.  Also, “Equity” is in no way comedic and certainly doesn’t present Wall Street work as an enviable career choice.  What it does, however, is deftly deal with two themes simultaneously; not only is there the greed issue, but also the question about women’s role in it and exactly where and how they fit in the grand scheme. 

“Equity” is replete with good performances, led by Anna Gunn, whom “Breaking Bad” fans will delight in seeing this actress get her well-deserved time in the spotlight.  In a small but equally effective role is Lee Tergesen, whom “Oz” devotees will recall from that acclaimed HBO television show; here, Tergesen plays Naomi’s boss, who appears to be her nemesis, but is actually less her opponent than some other people who are much closer to her.  They effectively make the case that when you work in such a highly competitive environment, no one is your ally, not even your sisters. 

One criticism of “Equity” is its screenplay, which is a bit muddled; the direction also contributes to the confusion in the way its story is told.  Basically, the problem is that there are so many characters with so many subplots combined with different motivations for their actions, it can at times be difficult to follow why certain characters are doing what they are doing.  This results in one of those movies whose story you can only piece together once the film is concluded – not necessarily an insurmountable problem, but by doing so, the filmmakers are risking losing the audience well before the film’s conclusion. 

Equity (2016) on IMDb

Friday, July 22, 2016

“Absolutely Fabulous”– Movie Review



This week, I attended  New York Times Film Club screening of the new comedy, “Absolutely Fabulous”, starring Jennifer Saunders and Joanna Lumley.


When two women are accused of attempting to murder a top international model, can they prove their innocence or will they be forced to spend their lives as fugitives?


Finally, after all these years, both Edina and Patsy (Jennifer Saunders and Joanna Lumley) find themselves at the end of their respective ropes.  They are bereft of the necessities (e.g., champagne) and their munificent benefactor refuses to support their lifestyle.  Now, both women must figure out a way to live out the rest of their lives.  Edina has lost what little business credibility she may have had previously – a publisher has unceremoniously rejected her barely intelligible autobiography and she is leaking clients in her Public Relations company. 

But it always appears darkest before the dawn – Patsy informs Edina that internationally famous model Kate Moss has fired her Public Relations firm and is now looking for someone else to represent her.  Sensing an opportunity, Edina attends a celebrity-laden party held by Patsy’s fashion magazine so she can offer her services to Moss, who is scheduled to attend.  Unfortunately, Edina inadvertently knocks Moss into The Thames; Moss is presumed dead by the media when she is not immediately found.  Once Patsy is fired for inviting her guest, both she and Edina now find themselves on the run. 

With the police in hot pursuit, Edina and Patsy escape to The French Riviera where they stumble upon an elderly woman who’s incredibly wealthy and can offer them the financial support they need to live the extravagant lifestyle they both require – unfortunately, this requires Patsy to pose as a man so that she can hastily romance and marry this geriatric Baroness.  Ultimately, Patsy relents when she realizes the alternative – but even when she succeeds in her deceit, will she be able to convince this woman to support them both or will the police find them and arrest these women for the murder of a beloved fashion icon?


For the hardcore fans of the AbFab television show, the movie version might be a pleasant reminiscence.  If, however, you are relatively unfamiliar with the British TV version, you won’t entirely feel lost, but you won’t entirely feel entertained, either.  While it may be a fun experience for devotees of Edina and Patsy’s to catch up with the gals after an extended hiatus, the joy may indeed be short-lived.  For those who aren’t familiar with the show, this will likely not be a good choice as an introduction.  Many jokes just don’t go over well, if at all.

Although “Absolutely Fabulous” is only an hour and a half – arguably the perfect length for a comedy – it inexplicably seems to plod along to the end, especially in its second act.    There isn’t a sense of momentum propelling the story to its climax, which renders it somewhat anticlimactic.  It appears that when an actual joke couldn’t be conjured up, they just chose to insert a random celebrity for a quick laugh (perhaps the only true amusement in the film is identifying all of the celebrity cameos).  Just as some of the story alludes to Edina and Patsy being well past their time, perhaps “Absolutely Fabulous” is itself well past its time, too.         

Before the screening began, it appeared that the audience was replete with some of Edina and Patsy’s biggest fans.  At some point during (and especially after) the screening, it felt as though the gathering  had been disappointed; there was no applause at end of the movie, precious few audible laughs during it and a number of folks sprung to their feet and bolted the theater the moment the credits began to roll.  Perhaps the final disappointment is the movie’s conclusion, which is either a homage to Billy Wilder’s classic “Some Like It Hot” or a blatant steal.  Either way, its punchline is missing the punch from the line. 

 Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie (2016) on IMDb