Safe Haven

Safe Haven – Lasse Hallstrom is a great,great director.  I could write for pages about Gilbert Grape, Cider House, Chocolat, Shipping News, An Unfinished Life, and Salmon Fishing in the Yemen.  But he seems to have a weakness for Nicholas Sparks.  Now he’s doubled down with Dear John and Safe Haven, both stories with great au current stars….first Tatum and Seyfried and now Duhamel and Hough.  I guess either Lasse is a softie who cried at The Notebook or really wants a big Sparks score ala Notebook.

This is Sleeping with the Enemy with a good looking guy to please the female audience (Julia Roberts just wasn’t enough to draw the date movie tear jerkers).  Hough runs to restart her life (how do such good looking girls go so wrong and with no safety net?). And she doesn’t have Julia’s fancy Cape Cod house….I guess Sparks really is a romantic sap.

This film is too sappy, too long, not suspenseful enough (even Kim didn’t jump and THAT is weak).  I found myself wondering howSparks has gotten so critically acclaimed.


NO -  This is a quirky foreign film that has won multiple awards at Telluride, NYC and Toronto film festivals.  It won’t appeal to everyone as you really do have to read subtitles very quickly (and I even speak some Spanish).  It is extremely interesting  to me for several reasons.  I studied Chile during college, which was during the Allende years and the Pinochet coup.  Then in the 1980′s when I ran Latin America at BT I did a lot of business in Chile and met many times with his Ministers and several times with the man himself (in his “brown suit” stage).  I was very impressed by his technocratic administrators like Hernan Buchi and all of what they did for the Chilean economy and the Chilean middle class.  And then Kim and I traveled to Chile in November and I was reminded of how successfully the Pinochet administration positioned Chile for the future.  It’s a wonderful country.

So this film was fascinating because it chronicles the vote campaign to remove Pinochet that was proposed by Pinochet himself.  While no one believed he would allow himself to lose, that’s exactly what happened.  The story is about the campaign struggles where Gael Garcia Bernal is the left-leaning, single parent, “madman” who designs the campaign, not like the leftists want it highlighting all the atrocities and breaches of civil liberties, but by designing a cute “soap commercial” and adding a jingle or two.

What is so great about this film is that it tells a serious story about a challenging time in a remarkable country….and it does so creatively with a very human story about bravery and effectiveness.

Chile is a model economy with a difficult and less than wonderful history.  Does the end justify the means?  Does economic stability and prosperity for a growing middle class of Chileans justify what was done to too many descamisados?  I am perplexed.

Identity Thief

Identity Thief is a new Jason Bateman / Melissa McCarthy comedy about one of our more annoying and increasingly ubiquitous crimes, identity theft.   This was written by Craig Mazin, who brought us some fun Scary Movies and then disappointed with Hangover II and directed by Seth Gordon of Horrible Bosses and Four Christmases.  The team seems to be favored by Jon Favreau, who cameos, but did not produce this film.

If you like Bateman and McCarthy you should like this film.  It’s an updated version of Planes, Trains and Automobiles or even the road trip of Tommy Boy with a similar dynamic of a slob and an uptight guy.  This is clearly a rich vein for comedy and then the rest flows somewhat from some funny lines in the script and some funny sight gags, primarily from the slob.  McCarthy does not disappoint with a ballet split (pretty amazing with her physique) and some dramatic prat fall stunts.

Naturally, what starts as disgust for the slob gradually turns to compassion and eventually strong friendship.  That’s the plot in a nutshell.  The rest is just comedy filler.  This may be formulaic, but if well executed, it works.  A good quant or managed futures strategy is not complex or even necessarily unique (hopefully unique enough not o suffer too much from trade overcrowding), but if well executed it can be a thing of beauty.  Just ask Ray Dalio about that.

Bullet to the Head

Bullet to the Head is another Stallone action film, only unlike Rocky or Rambo, Jimmy Bobo has no redeeming ethical standards.  And therein lies the problem with this film.  It’s great to see a 67 year old Stallone with his tattooed hard body and bulging arm veins and like all the ” old guy” films these days (and released this weekend), I love seeing him kick ass.  But who thought it was ok to suspend civil liberties, even for bad guys, and simply pursue revenge or its own sake?

Stallone is a paid assassin who the director, Walter Hill, makes sure to remind us is a career wrongdoer.  Even when we learn he is father to a much tattooed tattoo artist, Sarah Shahi, we find out he was an absentee father.  Basically, try as we might to like Bobo, we can’t.  Even his sidekick, Sung Kang, can’t abide by Stallone’s lawlessness.

Perhaps the best actor in this film is Jason Momoa, who plays Keegan, the mercenary assassin hired to kill the other assassins, including Stallone.  The climax of the film comes in a fight scene with fire axes right out of the Middle Ages or Viking Days.  I guess I’d rather watch Willis or Statham for pure action and Stallone and Schwarzenneger come in distant second.

It’s like a convertible arbitrage manager who can’t find the alpha in his space, wandering into activist investing brandishing all his normal weaponry, but with no sense of the subtlety or common sense necessary to be effective.

Stand Up Guys

Stand Up Guys is a film by Fisher Stevens with three stand up actors….Pacino, Walken and Arkin.  This won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but I really enjoy all three of these actors and while I sort of hate to see them playing this year’s version of Grumpy Old Men, I simply enjoyed this film.  With a Metascore of 42 I am once again in the minority.

The story is about Pacino getting out of a 28 year prison stretch during which he did not rat out either his friends or enemies.  Naturally, no good deed goes unpunished and the old gang boss has put out a contract on him.  He gets picked up at prison by Walken, who is his best friend, accomplice and destined murderer.  This is a classic “last night out” movie where Walken takes Pacino out to dinner,a bar and a brothel.  For his part Pacino overdoes everything including Viagra and ends up with priapism.

One of the things I really like about this movie is how easily and offhandedly these old guys pick locks, disconnect alarms and use both their fists and guns.  It has a very natural feel without ignoring that they themselves are pleased that they haven’t lost their skills.  In these tough markets every hedge fund manager needs to take heed and be sure to keep a few old skills in his back pocket.

Finally, after running into Julianna Margulies at the hospital, they go to the rest home to break out her dad and their old third, Alan Arkin.  Arkin was the wheel man and gets to ply his skills on a new stolen hot rocket.

Needless to say, the plan starts to fall apart during the night as events overtake them and memories of the strength of their bonds of friendship overtake any fears of the gang boss.


Parker is directed by veteran Taylor Hackford (Proof of Life, Ray) and is all about showcasing Jason Statham as……the tough guy.  Very few do tough guy better that Statham.  In the tough guy pantheon there is Clint, Bruce and Jason.  I think in a battle of the great tough guys, I might vote for Statham with that east end accent.  The toughest guy I know is Welsh, played Rugby, looks a bit like Statham and has the same evil smile while he’s kicking the shit out of someone….usually larger than him.

And then there is Jennifer Lopez of the big booty.  She plays a down-on-her-luck Palm Beach wannabe mansion broker in credit carded Tahari suits.  The great thing here is that she wants Statham, but looses out to sweet-talking Emma Booth.  You have to love that reversal.  Who but Statham could ignore the advances of JLo?

What you also have to love is that in the Capital of money culture, this story places the money way behind the righteousness.  It’s almost like Payback when Mel Gibson only wants his $60k and no more, much to everyone’s dismay.   Here Statham wants his $200k and not the $50 million of jewelry.  He even does a little Robin Hood for those who have helped him. Just what Palm Beach needs.

The other noteworthy performances were Patty Lupone as JLo’s very cool mom and Nick Nolte as Statham’s wizened mentor.  Lupone was refreshing and wonderful and Nolte should just watch reruns of Rich Man Poor Man and stay off the screen.  He is a walking ad for tea totaling and collar extenders for the man with the 25 inch neck.

Broken City

Broken City brings together Russell Crowe and Mark Wahlberg under the direction of Allen Hughes, who also directed The Book of Eli.  This is a bit of a formulaic film about a powerful man (in this case the mayor of NYC) with questionable ethics that forces an ex-cop to do things for him that are intended to frame him for wrongdoings of his own.  Why does Marky Mark get so often and easily duped (think Shooter)?  What?  Noooooo….for those of you who remember his corny performance in The Happening.  That is what amazes me about both actors.

Gladiator, A Good Year, A Beautiful Mind and Cinderella Man versus Master and Commander or Les Miserables.  Or Shooter, The Fighter or The Departed versus Ted, The Happening or Date Night.  What’s up with their representation who’s helping them pick projects?

There are a few good scenes but for the most part this film was another example of more beta and less alpha.   What I mean by that here is that when you get proven actors and a formulaic story you are in high market-driven territory.  This had none of the uniqueness and artistry that to my thinking is the alpha of filmmaking.  That could come from the script, the acting, the direction or the cinematography.  This analysis causes me to change  the title of my ratings…..

The Standbys

The Standbys is a film directed by Stephanie Riggs. Kim and I went to see this Indy film with Matthew Stuart since he is friends with one of the subjects (the only one of the three that was not in attendance) This is the story of the struggle that aspiring actors have about taking an understudy or standby or swing role rather that a regular on-stage part.  This documentary goes over all the pros and cons and shows a good well-rounded picture of this painful part of the life.

What I particularly liked was that they managed to show what I assume to be the three most common examples:

1. Merwin Ffoard- who has made a good career out of beings reliable standby

2. Alena Watters – the ingénue  who gets replaced and is mad as hell about it and now refuses standby roles, and

3. Ben Crawford (a.k.a. Shrek), who got a lead on Broadway by beings a standby and them lost out to the new standby for the touring company role….and isn’t at all bitter.

Give that Kim and I want to write a book on a related subject, this was fun and helpful to watch.

Struck by Lightning

Struck by Lightning is a small film written by Chris Colfer, its principal actor.  It is not a bad story, but it is a bit too much like that wonderful film, The O.C.  wherein the protagonist is a graduating high school senior who is smarter than his peers and wants to be a writer.  This time the aspiring writer is trying to go to Northwestern and wants to be a journalist rather than Stanford and a novelist.

The story is written with a few extra twists such as the absentee dad (Dermot Mulroney) trying to win back his son and keep his pregnant fiancé, and his mom (Alison Janney) trying to get her act together.  The script misses lots of opportunities like the Sweet Home Alabama play of the unsigned divorce papers.

The self-promotion writing/acting trick worked for Sly Stalone, Matt Damon and Ben Affleck,but I’m afraid chirps Colfer, while well-suited for Glee, is simply not ready or prime time big screen action.