Movie/DVD Review – Inside Job

Like all good documentaries, Inside Job covers its material with a strong sense of narrative.  This helps make the material, in this case the causes of the Global Financial Crisis of 2008, more accessible to a general audience.

Starting out with the sorry tale of Iceland and its financial collapse, the film unfolds the layers of complexity of world financial markets carefully and skilfully, tracing the growth of new types of financial instruments developed off the back of massive brain and computer power from the 1980s onwards.  We see the unfettered influence of the creators of those money-making schemes over US politics over the last thirty years, and the resulting failure of the US and other Governments to develop a regulatory framework to support the orderly operation of these new markets.

Some have described it as a horror movie masquerading as a documentary, and there are plenty of villains to get the steam coming out of your ears.  Of course, some viewers might have steam coming out their ears at points where they think the film takes an unduly biased stance. Hey, feel free to make your owm film about it all.

Don’t be deterred by the subject matter – this is a film for everyone, beautifully made and carefully laid out. 

Those who want to read more deeply on the subject could try The Great Hangover (edited by Graydon Carter), a collection of articles from Vanity Fair.  This is also a good recent article on the broader issue by Australian journalist Ross Gittins: The Four Business Gangs that Run the US.

Movie/DVD Review – Enron The Smartest Guys in the Room

It has been said that the winners write the history.  Sometimes you wonder if Enron – The Smartest Guys in the Room is crossing the line in its editorial stance, but in the end, the strong narrative of what went on at Enron wins the day.  It is a chilling and enthrawling thriller of how a successful company dressed itself up to be even more successful using increasingly deceptive techniques. In 2001 it went from being the 6th largest corporation in the world, to bankrupcy.

The film is a fascinating human drama as well as a cautionary tale about capitalism at its worst – unbridled greed and moral bankrupcy at the individual level.

It’s hard to work out who comes off looking worse – anyone responsible for the accounting standards that enabled the Enron fraud, the guys who saw it early and jumped ship while their shares were still worth something, or the self deluded senior execs who stayed to the bitter end.

One of the most chilling scenes in the film is a video of senior leaders telling staff to keep their 401K pension fund investments in Enron shares.  Anyone who followed that advice not only lost their job but also their retirement savings.

It is one of several places where you might have to restrain yourself from yelling at the screen in frustration at the injustice and tragedy of what went on at the hands of greedy corporate leaders.

Slick, logical, essential viewing.

Recommended.

 

On a side note, this was the first film shown at the West Pymble Thinking Person’s Film Festival, and was followed by Margin Call, with Moneyball set to play next.

Movie/DVD Review – The Company Men

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Company Men opens with Bobby Walker (Ben Affleck), being sacked from his high-flying sales job, and getting about one-third of what he’d get if he was made redundant after twelve years of service in Australia. The plot is driven forward by his struggle with his own self perception as breadwinner and family man, as he and his family are forced to give up the trappings of his previous “success”, painfully, one by one.

Bobby eventually finds a sense of community with his fellow occupants of the soul-destroying cubicle farm at the outplacement agency as his job search grinds fruitlessly on. His prickly relationship with his builder brother-in-law (Kevin Costner) reaches a point of mutual appreciation towards the conclusion of the film, while steering clear of white collar versus blue collar class struggle cliches.

Bobby’s former boss (Tommy Lee Jones) is fighting the good fight for the voice of reason and compassion within the company as it lurches from one crisis to another, but ultimately he and other long time employees are let go by the man he co-founded the company with all those years ago.  The sense of bitterness and betrayal is palpable – Tommy Lee Jones gives a stand-out performance.

The film ends with some glimmers of hope emerging from the struggle and tragedy of the men who lost their jobs, but there is no neat comeuppance for the villain.

Less brutal that Margin Call, this is a well crafted story, focussing on the human stories, rather than financial ones, emerging from the financial crisis of 2008.

Recommended.

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The Whitehaven Hoax

So, what to do when you don’t like what a company is doing?  Go to the shareholder meeting and move a motion?  OR get something going quicker – hoax some bad news, and watch the share price fall $300m in a day.  Take that, nasty polluter! (miner, abuser, behemoth – insert your own target)

Whitehaven share price on day of hoax

It is going to be interesting to see how this pans out, with the alleged hoaxer facing big trouble with the corporate regulator over misinformation and market manipulation.

This is an example of the new vigilanteism that seems easy to initiate in the age of social media and a news cycle that runs faster than the scarce resources in most newsrooms can fact-check.  One of the articles below states “The hoax is the third time in six months that an ASX listed company has had its share price affected by hoaxes, after similar stunts affected retailer David Jones in July and MacMahon Holdings in October.”

The motives here seem straighforward, but imagine what could be achieved with some co-ordinated effort and a genuine attempt to conceal the source of the hoax.

Some background reading on this:

Environmentalist’s hoax triggers $314m Whitehaven share price fall

ASIC Seizes phone and laptop

There are a couple of fictional “attacks” like this perpetrated to achieve the specific objectives of the shadowy people behind Queenberry Foundation in The Queensberry Rule.  Check it out!

Margin Call 2

I recently saw Margin Call for the second time and if anything enjoyed it even more than the first time.  You can read my original review here.

Context is everything, and this time around I saw the film as part of what is known as The West Pymble Thinking Person’s Movie Festival.  It’s really just a bloke’s book club, except we don’t pretend that everyone (anyone?) will have time to read a book in the same month – so we eat, watch the film and talk about it.  Our first film was Enron – The Smartest Guys in the Room, adn the third is likely to be MoneyBall.  We’re planning to choose films about business and ‘or ethical issues, to stimulate discussion.

The quality of conversation, both film related and otherwise, has so far been top-notch.  The signs are that the Festival is going to evolve into a supportive and challenging event that will play its part in encouraging those present to be better dads, husbands and business people.

Try it yourself – we can’t recommend it highly enough.

 

 

 

Financial fiction, anyone?

It’s just about a year since I self-published my first work of fiction, Cracks in the Ceiling, and it’s a journey worth celebrating.

“Financial fiction” is not a well defined genre. Money is something well worth writing about, though, and the last five years have provided a fantastic (in the real and common usage senses) backdrop for fiction.  Crisis! Conflict! Tragedy! Skullduggery!  Collapse!

Cracks in the Ceiling is a collection of  short stories set in the turbulent times of the Global Financial Crisis.  I’ve put together a series of intriguing and at times twisted tales that delve behind the facades of modern life to uncover the real struggles, hopes and dreams of ordinary people.  The eleven stories are hopeful, insightful and at times humorous – something for everyone.

Cracks in the Ceiling is still available for kindle and kindle apps for iPad, iPhone, Android, Blackberry, Mac and PC at amazon and amazon uk.  $4.99 wisely spent!

What Readers Say

“Beautifully written, this is a book I would recommend highly.” The Kindle Book Review
“These stories really are brilliant and they are perfect for reading on the go or when you just want a quick relax.”
“Real characters and believable stories.”
“The iPod story alone is worth the $2.99.”
“I enjoyed the book and will read it again.”
“The characters were likeable and believable and I was frequently wishing the stories were longer.”

If you want to hear more about my work, especially the upcoming novel The Queensberry Rule, sign up to my email list.

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If you’re interested in more financial fiction, this site has some commentary and reviews – includng a review of Cracks in the Ceiling.

Movie Review – Margin Call

Margin Call

Director J C Chandor

Margin Call is set over a 24 hour period in the offices of a Wall Street merchant bank teetering on the crest of the wave that would break into the financial crisis 2008.  The merchant bank is fictitious, but it does seem to be modelled on Goldman Sachs, maybe with a little Lehmann Brothers thrown in.

The fuse is lit by a brutal day of retrenchments, where people are called from their  desks, given the bad news, and marched out the door.  One such evictee is the only person smart enough to work out that something is wrong – that the bank’s  sophisticated financial products are turning into toxic loss-makers that are about to bring the bank to it’s knees.

The cast is outstanding as they portray the conflicted characters who inhabit the food chain of the bank.  At the bottom are the ex-rocket scientist Peter Sullivan (Zachary Quinto) and his twitchy fellow analyst Seth Bregman (Penn Badgley), then their boss, the street-wise Will Emerson (Paul Bettany). His boss is the long-serving head of trading Sam Rogers (Kevin Spacey), then there is his young and illusive boss Jared Cohen (Simon Baker), and the person on whose watch things have gone bad,
risk chief Sarah Robertson (Demi Moore).  There is no doubt who is at the top of the food chain – chief executive John Tuld (Jeremy Irons) arrives to the pre-dawn emergency meeting in a helicopter.

The strength of the film is its effective portrayal of the real world ethical dilemmas facing the characters.  There is no right answer, there is no noble course of action – they have to choose how they are going to act, individually and together, without knowing how bad
the outcome is really going to be.   There are characters to love and to hate, but no-one is a clean-skin hero.

Spacey is a standout, and without giving it away, his role in the poignant and rather surprising end of the film is a highlight.

The screenplay was nominated for the Best Original Screenplay Oscar this year, and in this reviewer’s opinion, it’s hard to see how it didn’t win.

Grittier and more intense than Company Men, Margin Call is a slow-burn
thriller that should not intimidate non-financial types. 

Essential viewing.

 

Why write a collection of short stories?

One of the first ebooks I read on my kindle was A Land of Ash, edited by David Dalglish.  It is a collection of short stories written by a group of writers branching out from their usual sci-fi genre.

The context for the whole book is that the Yellowstone Caldera has “blown”,  the western part of the US is buried under metres of deadly ash, and a global calamity is unfolding.  Each of the short stories in the book is set in this time, but each is different – some are set close to the Caldera, and therefore oblivion is imminent – others are farther away.

This gave me the idea of writing a collection of stories set in the current time – in the context of the Global Recession, or Global Financial Crisis.  The stories are not about the GFC as such, but are set in its wake.

Each of the stories has its own perspective, reflecting the struggles and hopes of ordinary people as they cope with the circumstances that are dealt them: losing their jobs and homes, helping friends in trouble, making their own success, having to move across town or across the world to survive, having to go back to work after losing their retirement savings.

This unifying theme has allowed me to explore a range of issues, points of
view and writing styles while creating a coherent work that is hopeful, insightful and at times humorous.

Cracks in the Ceiling will be available soon on all good ebook platforms.