Wednesday, January 18, 2017

“Gold”– Movie Review



This week, I attended a New York Times Film Club World Premiere of “Gold”, a new drama starring Matthew McConaughey and Bryce Dallas Howard. 


When a prospector discovers gold in a remote location, can he hold on to his fortune or will he be completely swindled out of his wealth?


In the late 1980’s, prospector Kenny Wells (McConaughey) is struggling to keep his generations-long family business, Washoe Mining, afloat.  During the seven years since his father’s death, Wells does not seem to have the same knack for this business as his ancestors.  After being forced to vacate his Reno, Nevada offices, his employees now work out of a local bar where they make cold calls to potential investors.  As if this isn’t bad enough, Wells also has to give up his home and move in with his long-time girlfriend Kay (Dallas Howard).  Researching new opportunities, Wells learns of the possibility of gold in the jungle mountains of Indonesia. 

Unable to pursue this on his own, Wells seeks venture capitalists to finance the operation, but comes up empty.  In order to enhance both his credibility and chances for success, he pursues Michael Acosta (Edgar Ramírez), a noted geologist, to work with him.  Once Wells is able to raise a small fraction of the funds he will need for this project, Acosta informs him they have just discovered gold right around the point when they’ve run out of money.  With this proof of concept complete, Wells and Acosta are now finding that investors with deep pockets are suddenly interested in joining them. 

Soon, Wells partners with an investment banking firm which underwrites Washoe Mining’s IPO on The New York Stock Exchange.  Later, when another, more experienced mining company tries to purchase a controlling interest in Washoe in order to see this project through to a successful completion, Wells rejects the deal, finding it insulting.  This proves to be a fateful decision as that company retaliates by using its connections with the Indonesian government to shut down Washoe’s mine.  Wells and Acosta counter by finagling a partnering deal with the prodigal son of the Indonesian president, which results in their mine being reopened.  As Washoe becomes increasingly successful with the discovery of large quantities of gold, the rug gets pulled out from under Wells when it is revealed that a scam has been perpetrated by trusted associates.  When Washoe collapses and Wells finds himself under investigation by the FBI, will he be able to prove his innocence to stay out of prison?



“Gold” tells a remarkable tale – only made more amazing by the fact that it is inspired by a true story.  There are so many twists and turns – crosses and double-crosses – that it would be difficult for even the most creative screenwriter to invent a fictional story such as this.  But therein lies part of the problem.  In addition, it is not helped by the fact that its protagonist is so flawed that it becomes difficult to root for him, save for the fact that he becomes victimized by so many people around him that the audience almost starts feeling sympathetically.  It is noteworthy, however, that much of his victimization is brought about by his own doing.

To begin with, the story gets difficult to follow between all of the intricate details and introduction of many characters.  It probably could have used a narrator – whether Wells himself or one of the FBI agents investigating the case or some other character.  The filmmakers might have been well served by taking in an additional viewing of Martin Scorsese’s “Goodfellas”, which handled this same challenge rather artfully by the use of a narrator (in that case, protagonist, Henry Hill).  “Goodfellas” also had many different turns to its story as well as quite a few characters coming and going throughout.  Can the use of a narrator be considered something of a cheat?  Yes, but it depends on the film, how the narration is used and other factors as well.

Another problem with “Gold” – equally lamentable – is the way its ending is handled.  Without giving away too much, Wells has been beaten up pretty badly by this point and is currently under FBI investigation, yet we are given to understand by the way the ending is presented that he manages to land on his feet and all is well in his world.  Given the circumstances of his investigation, this is difficult to comprehend. In addition to the movie missing a narrator, it might also be missing a rather valuable epilogue as well.  True, epilogues in films have become trite due to overuse (or misuse), but here, it would have been extremely helpful in order to clarify exactly how this true story resolved itself.  Audiences often recommend motion pictures based on how they feel coming out of the theater, and this is frequently dictated by how satisfying the ending may or may not be.  It is difficult to imagine audiences emerging from a screening of “Gold” without doing a considerable amount of head-scratching due to its ending. 

Gold (2016) on IMDb

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

“Our Revolution: A Future To Believe In”– Book Review


During this year’s winter vacation, I read the new book by the junior United States Senator from Vermont, Bernie Sanders, “Our Revolution:  A Future To Believe In”. 


Senator Bernie Sanders describes his personal and professional background, provides a diary of his presidential campaign and supplies fine points for each of his policies.


“Our Revolution” is made up of two parts:  Part One is “Running For President”, Part Two is “An Agenda For A New America:  How We Transform Our Country”.  Part One is the shorter of the two, containing the following six chapters:  “How Do We Turn Out The Way We Do?”, “My Political Life In Vermont”, “Thinking About Running”, “How Do You Run A Presidential Campaign?”, “The Campaign Begins”, and “On The Campaign Trail”. 

Following the introductory chapters on Sanders’ background and political résumé, the remainder of Part One is essentially a diary of his 2015-2016 Democratic Presidential Campaign.  After years as the lone House Representative from Vermont, Sanders won a vacant Senate seat, representing his state as an Independent.  In describing those early days in the Senate, Sanders talks about the hostility he encountered from Democrats when he started; initially wanting to caucus with the Democrats, he found many of them opposed to him doing so.  Leader of the Senate Democrats, Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, finally interceded on Sanders’ behalf; it wasn’t until that point that he was finally given committee assignments. 

Part Two’s 10 chapters are as follows:  “Defeating Oligarchy”, “The Decline Of The American Middle Class”, “Ending A Rigged Economy”, “Health Care For All”, “Making Higher Education Affordable”, “Combating Climate Change”, “Real Criminal Justice Reform”, “Immigration Reform Now”, “Protecting Our Most Vulnerable”, and “Corporate Media And The Threat To Our Democracy”.

The chapters in Part Two allow those unfamiliar with Sanders’ policies to glean an in-depth understanding of what they are and exactly why they are of importance to him – as well as why they should be important to the rest of us.  For people who have scoffed at his ideas of a “Medicare For All” system or free public college, here you have a detailed breakdown of how Sanders proposes to pay for these social programs.  The Senator maintains that giving greater access to higher education is crucial for young Americans if they are to effectively compete in what is now a global market.  In discussing climate change, Senator Sanders suggests that since coal will eventually be phased-out, companies that specialize in making solar panels should be incentivized to establish factories in former coal country locales such as Central Pennsylvania and West Virginia so as to put displaced coal miners back to work,  re-training them to manufacture and/or install solar panels.  This, he believes, might also work in Rust Belt states where the unemployed could find new careers in a burgeoning field.   


Those looking for a first-hand memoir by “The Man Himself” will be sorely disappointed.  His personal and professional history are glossed over without much detail.  The divorce from his first wife, the breakup with the woman who was the mother of his first son, Levi, and his subsequent marriage to Jane are just a few examples.  Sanders clearly wants to keep his private life private and who can blame him? 

Throughout “Our Revolution”, Sanders keeps referring to his movement as a “struggle”, which is uncomfortably reminiscent of “Mein Kampf”.  The Senator credits himself with single-handedly changing Hillary Rodham Clinton’s campaign as well as making the platform of the Democratic Party the most progressive it has ever had.  To some extent, this book is something of a victory lap of a losing campaign, much like Trump’s self-congratulatory “Thank You” tour.  “Our Revolution” is rather self-congratulatory in tone, Sanders patting himself on the back despite coming in second.  He lacks some degree of objectivity and will tell you gladly everything he did right during his campaign but won’t always admit to exactly what he did wrong.

The book is certainly no great piece of literature – it’s written in a very conversational style and as you read it, you can almost hear Sanders himself speaking it to you in his own form of Brooklynese.  It could have used an editor.  In addition to some occasional typos, one example is on page 175, where he almost seems to be suggesting that Alaska is not a state.  Perhaps its most unforgiveable sin is the fact that the book lacks an index, which is shameful – there is absolutely no excuse for that.

While “Our Revolution” cannot be recommended for its relatively flimsy Part One, it most definitely is worth reading for Part Two alone.  The considerably longer portion of the book, it is by far the more interesting read.  There, Sanders goes into  great detail spelling out not only what America’s objectives should be throughout the next four years but also why they are important and how to achieve them as well.  If anyone had any questions about Sanders’ thoughts on various policies, they will all be addressed and answered extensively throughout each chapter. 

In its conclusion, “Our Revolution” ends on an upbeat, inspirational note with the Senator’s coda for the book being, “Let’s get to work!”.   Yes, Senator Sanders, let’s indeed.