Cohen Media Group
Documentary Delineates Whistleblower’s Decade-Long Effort To Expose Ponzi Scheme
By the time Bernie Madoff was finally arrested in December of 2008, Harry Markopolos had already been trying to expose his investment firm as a billion-dollar Ponzi scheme for years. For, starting way back in the spring of 2000, the Boston-based securities analyst had first approached the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) with proof that the former NASDAQ Chairman was perpetrating a fraud.
It had taken mathematical brainiac Markopolos less than five minutes of statistical analysis to figure out that there was something fishy about Madoff’s astronomical performance charts. Yet, the Federal watchdog agency charged with protecting the public declined to investigate, ostensibly because Bernie was such a prominent and well-respected figure in the financial services industry.
Not one to be easily dissuaded, Markopolos reiterated his request at the SEC the following year, and again in 2003, with each inquiry only falling on deaf ears. Because the incriminating evidence he had provided essentially amounted to an open and shut case, he realized that the government might be deliberately looking the other way.
So, he decided to try to interest business-oriented media outlets like Forbes Magazine and The Wall Street Journal in taking a look at the file, but the incendiary story was killed in every case. Even hand delivering a copy to then NYS Attorney General Eliot Spitzer, a fearless, Wall Street white-collar crime-fighter, ultimately proved futile.
Meanwhile, Madoff was well aware that he had a formidable enemy in this lone whistleblower whose testimony, if believed, would bring down his illegal operation. Thus, it gradually dawned on an increasingly paranoid Markopolos that his life was in danger, since Bernie was likely in league with mobsters capable of carrying out a hit. Therefore, he purchased a pistol to protect himself and his family, instructing his wife to fire from the top of the stairs until the gun was empty, if an intruder should ever enter the house while she was home alone.
So unfolds Chasing Madoff, an eye-opening documentary exposing the SEC as an inept outfit, at best, and as thoroughly corrupt, at worst. Given that the lead attorney assigned the Madoff case left the regulatory agency to marry Bernie’s niece and that powerful cronies in high places were running interference for him every step of the way, it’s no surprise that his politically protected Ponzi scheme only crumbled when the unsustainable house of cards collapsed of its own weight.
A fascinating account of an unassuming hero’s harrowing ordeal during a decade-long effort to bring the truth about Bernie Madoff to light.
Excellent (4 stars).
Running time: 91 minutes.
Spy Kids: All the Time in the World in 4-D
Rated PG for mild action and rude humor.
Scratch-N-Sniff Sequel Features Disappointing “Aroma-Scope”
When a movie’s marketing campaign is built around a gimmick, that calling card had better live up to its billing, especially if the picture hopes to benefit from any positive word of mouth. In the case of Spy Kids 4-D, all the hype has to do with “Aroma-Scope,” a dubious feature that unfortunately proves to be pretty disappointing.
Dubbed “Odorama” when augmenting John Waters’ Polyester back in 1981, and revived most recently in Rugrats Go Wild in 2003, the scratch-n-sniff contrivance has never quite been able to capture the imagination of theatergoers. In this instance, the eight options on the Aroma-Scope card smell more like assorted scents of urinal cakes than odors matching the suggestions ranging from chocolate candy to baby poop.
If this represents state-of-the-art olfactory technology, the innovation still has a long way to go before it amounts to anything more than a novelty. Nonetheless, youngsters in the target demographic will probably enjoy the diversion for the audience participation aspect alone.
Written and directed as usual by creator Robert Rodriguez, Spy Kids 4-D looks pretty much like the last gasp of an expiring film franchise. The long-in-the-tooth protagonists of the prior installments, Carmen (Alexa Vega) and Juni Cortez (Daryl Sabara), have aged out of their lead roles in favor of precocious twins Rebecca (Rowan Blanchard) and Cecil Wilson (Mason Cook).
The plot is implausible ab initio, from the sight of the adolescents’ pregnant stepmom, Marissa (Jessica Alba), in hot pursuit of Danger D’Amo (Jeremy Piven), the proverbial diabolical villain bent on world domination. Despite contractions coming a couple minutes apart, the indomitable OSS Agent manages to apprehend the menace to society before arriving in the delivery room with just enough time to give birth to her little bundle of joy in the company of a hubby (Joel McHale) who thinks he’s married to an interior decorator.
However, this is not the last that Marissa will hear from her nefarious nemesis, since the creep is determined to get his hands on a powerful red-sapphire necklace capable of speeding up time to the point of planetary collapse. But when she falls into his clutches, leaving humanity on the brink of extinction, guess who springs into action to save the day equipped with lotsa cool gadgets?
Yet, of far more consequence than the improbable exploits of these pint-sized sleuths is Spy Kids 4-D’s profusion of bodily function fare, a concatenation of scatological humor designed to keep tykes in stitches while scratching-n-sniffing away. After all, what’s funnier to a ‘tweener than a fart joke you can smell, too?
Fair (1 star).
Running time: 89 minutes.
OPENING THIS WEEK
Weekly Previews That Make Choosing a Film Fun
For movies opening August 26, 2011
Columbiana (PG-13 for violence, sexuality, intense action sequences, disturbing images and brief profanity). Revenge thriller, set in Bogota, Colombia, about a young girl (Zoe Saldana) who grows up to be a cold-blooded assassin after witnessing the murder of her parents. With Michael Vartan, Cliff Curtis and Callum Blue.
Don’t Be Afraid Of The Dark (R for violence and terror). Remake of the 1973 made-for-TV horror flick about a 10-year-old girl (Bailee Madison) abandoned by her mother who moves in with her father (Guy Pearce) and his new girlfriend (Katie Holmes) only to discover that the spooky Gothic mansion they’re renovating is haunted by creepy creatures. Supporting cast includes Jack Thompson, Edwina Ritchard and Garry McDonald.
Our Idiot Brother (R for nudity, sexuality and pervasive profanity). Paul Rudd stars as the title character of this stoner comedy about an idealistic ex-con’s effort to readjust to civilian life with the help of his three sisters (Emily Mortimer, Zoe Deschanel and Elizabeth Banks) after serving time in prison for selling pot. With Rashida Jones, Adam Scott and Steve Coogan.
Brighton Rock (Unrated). Remake of the 1947 crime thriller based on Graham Greene’s classic novel about a ruthless hoodlum (Sam Riley) who romances the gullible waitress (Rose Riseborough) scheduled to testify after witnessing him murder a rival mobster (Sean Ellis). With Helen Mirren, John Hurt and Andy Serkis.
Circumstance (R for sexuality, profanity and drug use). Iranian coming-of-age drama, set in present-day Tehran, revolving around the sexual awakenings of a rebellious, 16-year-old lesbian (Nikohl Boosheri) over the objections of her disapproving parents (Soheil Parsa and Nasrin Pakkho) and her uptight, orthodox Muslim brother (Rezo Sixo Safal). With Sarah Kazemy, Sina Amedson and Keon Mohajeri. (In Persian with subtitles.)
The Family Tree (Unrated). Dysfunctional family drama about a philandering wife (Hope Davis) who turns a new leaf after developing amnesia when she hits her head while cheating on her husband (Dermot Mulroney) with their next-door neighbor (Chi McBride). Ensemble includes Jane Seymour, Keith Carradine, Bow Wow, Selma Blair, Rachael Leigh Cook, Max Thieriot, Britt Robertson and Evan Ross.
Higher Ground (Unrated). Vera Farmiga makes her directorial debut and stars in this adaptation of The Dark World, Carolyn Briggs’ memoir about a born again Christian who comes to question her faith while living in a tight-knit, evangelical community. With Donna Murphy, John Hawkes and Bill Irwin.
Iron Crows (Unrated). Eco-documentary chronicling the dangerous work of the 20,000 peasants who risk their lives daily to earn $2 a day scavenging ships from all over the world being dumped in a toxic naval graveyard located in the port city of Chittagong, Bangladesh.
Special Treatment (Unrated). Wry comedy illustrating the intriguing parallels between the nature of the services a miserably married shrink (Bouli Lanners) and a jaded call girl (Isabelle Huppert) offer their clients. Featuring Sabila Moussadek, Richard Debuisne and Valerie Dreville. (In French with subtitles.)
Swinging With The Finkels (Unrated). Midlife crisis comedy about a married couple (Mandy Moore and Martin Freeman) who decide to spice up their listless love life by swapping partners with their best friends (Melissa George and Jonathan Silverman) whose relationship is also in crisis. With Jerry Stiller, Elizabeth Tan and Graham Bohea.