Margin Call

margin

Feeling inexplicably tired on this gloomy and rainy afternoon, I decided to pull out this 2011 DVD, hoping to be entertained by something “thrillingly intense” and at the same time learn something about the financial industry. What made me pick this out of the thousands on the library shelves on my last trip is the cast, including Kevin Spacey, Jeremy Irons, Demi Moore and Stanley Tucci.

The movie opens with Eric Dale (Tucci), head of the Risk Management department of a Wall Street Investment Bank being retrenched after 19 years on the job. He left a thumb drive to a much younger colleague Peter Sullivan (Zachary Quinto) saying, “Be careful”.

Sullivan has a PhD in engineering, and is actually a rocket scientist, but joined the firm two-and-a-half years ago because to him, it’s all about crunching numbers anyway, and hopes that he’ll earn more.

Other than understanding that Dale was retrenched partly because of a colleague named Sarah Robertson (Moore) who is seeking to take over the job as head of the department, and that Sam Rogers (Spacey) is a senior member with 34 years’ experience with the firm and Jeremy Irons as the CEO, I still do not know how information contained in the thumb drive could potentially cause the firm’s downfall and gave rise to so much decisions and complications to the lives of all involved.

I only understood two lines, both uttered by John Tuld the CEO: Money is just pieces of paper with pictures in it that  people can use to buy food so that they don’t kill each other, and There will always be winners and losers in this world.

I was not even able to appreciate the mostly original music composed and performed by Nathan Larson, or why Chopin’s Prelude Op 28 No 15 was used in one scene. Perhaps I’m really lacking in knowledge about the workings of the financial industry or I was simply too tired, both physically and mentally, to follow the plot.

Me Before You

mebeforeyou

Based on a novel by Jojo Moyes (who also wrote the screenplay), I expected this 2016 movie to be a joy to watch, although I’ve only read one of her earlier books which I didn’t like vey much.

Set in a lovely quaint English village, with music by Craig Armstrong, this movie tells a very simple story with very recognizable themes:

Louisa Clark (Emilia Clarke) is klutzy and wears ridiculous clothes, but has a sweet smile and a cheery disposition. Her newest career challenge is that of a caregiver and companion to a young man, Will Traynor (Sam Claflin) who is confined to a wheelchair because of an accident.

Will has all but given up, and Louisa is determined to show him that life is worth living to the fullest. They embark on a series of adventures, and both get more than they’ve bargained for. Their lives – and hearts – change; although in ways quite unexpected, and Will follows through with his wish all along – to have his parents (and now Louisa) take him to the Swiss Centre for Assisted Suicide six months later. (“That is what I promised them, and I’ll give them the six months.”)

I wasn’t moved to tears, but I got the message: You can’t change people. You love them. The movie is made better with the splendid view of the sprawling castle and countryside, and the 15 songs and the Wind Concerto by Mozart and the Canon by Pachelbal. I would not rush out to get hold of the book to read, though.

 

Last Night At Chateau Marmont

chateau

This is the last of Lauren Weisberger’s book I’ve read; I’ve enjoyed The Devil Wears Prada, Everyone Worth Knowing and Chasing Harry Winston so much that I wondered why Last Night At Chateau Marmont was always not on the library shelves. I expected this to be another good read; and it did not disappoint.

The story is set around a young couple in New York, Brooke and Julian, a nuitritionist working two jobs to support her struggling musician husband. When, after many years, Julian became an ‘overnight’ success with a debut No 4 on the Billboard, their life changes for ever.

Chauteau Marmont is the glitziest of the many restaurants, hotspots and exclusive clubs for the who’s who in the entertainment industry. Julian’s new-found fame and the hectic schedules of the couple causes tension, in particular the latest picture in an entertainment tabloid that means Brooke must stand up to the savage attentions of the ruthless paparazzi.

The last few pages are moving and I could feel tears welling up. I can envision this being adapted into a screenplay. Cameos (or stand-ins) of the famous musicians and movie stars mentioned would be a definite draw.

Every Time You Smile

The gentle breeze whispers

across my cheeks;

I close my eyes and think

of the love we shared.

The sun sets like your smiles –

nice but fleeting;

I looked into your eyes –

bright and shimmering.

There were tears and laughter,

dreams and promises –

Suddenly, all shattered

but heartache remains.

Alone, separated –

all is empty;

Finally, no more pain –

when the end is here.

Words

words

So many words –

gossips gone mad;

Some are sad

others are not.

There are stories

I wish are false;

All the tears

I can’t forget.

Let me believe

your heart is true;

I’m speechless

searching for truth.

Loneliness

You’ll never be alone

if you make new friends

if you join a hobbies club

if you visit a community centre

if you join a book club

if you contact people more often

if you talk to friends and relatives

if you are friendly with your neighbours

if you do voluntary work

but you may still be lonely.

 

You may be alone

if you keep a pet

if you use a computer

if you visit a library

if you read a book

but you’ll never be lonely.

 

Scent

“Smell the roses when you’re young,”

says researchers:

the sense of smell

deteriorates with age.

Test results show –

seniors find it hardest

to detect ‘rose’ smell

and easiest

to sniff out ‘onion’ scent.

Pungent odours indicate

something toxic –

a signal to stay away;

we don’t lose sensitivity

to pungent smells so

we don’t lose

that defense mechanism.

The Gambler

gambler

I did not watch this 2014 movie earlier because I have no interest in anything remotely resembling gambling but I just found out that Mark Wahlberg plays Jim Bennett, an associate professor in English at an university, so I caved in and watched the whole movie last night.

Just as I expected, I didn’t understand a thing about the cards (poker?) and other games played at a gambling establishment and found all those scenes boring. I was shocked that an English lecturer (teaching Shakespeare and the modern novel) could use four-letter “F” words, words like “bro” (when addressing students), comments like s*** and b***s*** liberally in class or just leave abruptly in the middle of a lecture.

I understand that the mood is dark and the protagonist here is not supposed to be likeable. Jim leads a secret double life as a high-stakes gambler and borrows money from a gangster which leaves him, his mother Roberta (Jessica Lange) and student Amy Phillips (Brie Larson) in mortal danger. He is punished and tortured, which is what, I felt, he deserves.

I did not appreciate the way the screeplay (based on a 1974 film) was presented; and I did not understand the use of the twenty-odd songs in the movie, although I enjoyed those I’m familiar with, like Sunny (by Bobby Hebb), I Get A Kick Out Of You (by Cole Porter) and Etude Op 10 No 3 (by Chopin).

I have never been more disappointed by Mark Wahlberg.

Hidden Figures

hidden

I’d been wanting to watch this movie even before the I read the newspaper preview (by the journalist who’s attending the Oscars this week) last week. I caught the first screening this morning and I hope it will win Best Adapted Screenplay, if not also Best Picture (too many contenders) and Best Supporting Actress for Octavia Spencer.

Adapted from a book by Margot Lee Shetterly, the story is based on true events that document the role of African-American women in the early days of NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration).

My attention was captured right from the Prologue, where in 1926, a 12-year-old girl (a sixth grader) was awarded a scholarship to university and her teacher told her parents, “In all my years of teaching, I’ve not seen a mind like your daughter’s. You have to go. You have to see what she becomes.”

When the opening credits rolled, I noted that the Chinese translation of the movie title is an unimaginative “Unsung Heroes of NASA”; I wondered if those who did not know the English language would be able to figure out the hidden meaning behind the ‘Hidden Figures’.

The opening scene shows three friends, brainy Katherine Johnson (Taraji P. Henson), down-to-earth Dorothy Vaughan (Spencer) and fiery Mary Jackson (Janelle Monae) being given a police escort to their workplace when their car broke down on the highway because the policeman was impressed by their work involving a great deal of calculations. (They are “coloured computers”.)

The women faced discrimination at work, of course, being female and black. But there’s nothing they can’t do if they put their minds to it. There’s more than one way to do things. There are separate scenes involving all three women that are so moving that I found myself sniffling and reaching for a tissue paper. (Like when Katherine’s boss – played by Kevin Costner – upon finding out that she has to take 40 minutes to dash across some 800 metres to use a toilet for coloured females, took it upon himself to abolish such segregation, declaring that ‘Here at NASA, we all pee the same colour’; Mary’s appeal in front of the judge to allow her to study for a degree only for whites and how Dorothy explained to her sons the difference between stealing and rightfully taking out a library book not found in the section for coloureds.)

Credit, besides accorded to the scriptwriter, must also be given to others like the sound editor and designer, the departments involved in the sound effects, visual effects and special effects, the stunt people, the prop makers, the recording engineers, the NASA consultants and mathematics consultants, the video researcher and those working with the archival footage well-juxtaposed in the movie.

Pharrell Williams – one of the producers of the movie and a 10-time Grammy-winning music producer, hip-hop recording artist and rapper – has about eight of his songs here, including Running which is played when Katherine has to make her round-trip to the bathroom, rain or shine, because she is not allowed to use the ones designated for whites in the main building. In addition, there are about two dozen other uplifting gospel, band and orchestral music by Hans Zimmer. I was pleasantly surprised to find that even jazz great Herbie Hancock is involved in the film, playing solo piano.

Broken and Betrayed

broken

This true story is written by Jayne Senior who fought to expose the Rotherham abuse scandal. For 14 years, she (and her colleagues at Risky Business) tried to help girls in CSE (Child Sexual Expoiltation) by listening, believing and never judging them.

The authorities failed to act perhaps because so many people do not understand the grooming process. The initial stages of grooming are not abuse; if they were, the abuser would never get to the next stage of his plan. The younger the girl is (say, 9 to 11), the more she is likely to be taken in by the grooming process – meeting men, travelling around in their fancy cars, being offered free drinks and soft drugs, being taken to McDonald’s and being treated to food. To them, they were living a life far removed from the day-to-day reality of school and home. If a child trusts you, they will tell you everything, and that’s how grooming works. Once the abused has this information, he has a great deal of power over his victim because he knows exactly what threats and actual acts of physical or psychological abuse will have the most impact.

Risky Business had both a steering group and a key playing group, attended by both senior police and social service representatives. CSE is a jigsaw that everyone involved in protecting a child has different pieces of information to share.

The ripple effect of CSE tears into families like the aftershock of a bomb going off. The authorities tried to silence her, but Jayne Senior risked arrest to make the truth known and stood up for the victims of the worst abuse scandal in Rotherham.