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Movies: Past, present and future

Category: Kevin Spacey

Kevin Spacey is latest A-lister to take on role in Chinese film

May 10, 2012 |  8:30 am

Kevin Spacey in China

BEIJING -- Christian Bale did it in “The Flowers of War.” Hugh Jackman did it in “Snow Flower and the Secret Fan.” Now it’s Kevin Spacey’s turn to appear in a Chinese movie featuring dialogue in Mandarin and English.

The two-time Academy Award winner hit China’s big screens this past weekend in the off-beat dramedy “Inseparable,” directed by Beijing-based Dayyan Eng.  

“Inseparable” starts with an attempted suicide by a depressed man named Li Yue (played by the Hong Kong-American heartthrob Daniel Wu in his first major English-speaking role). Every day Li dons a suit and tie and heads to his suffocating office job at a prosthetic-limb company in an unnamed Chinese city. (The movie was filmed in Guangzhou.) 

Li’s boss is corrupt, his wife, Pang (an investigative television reporter played by Gong Beibi), is always away, and he is recovering from a past trauma. But just as Li is about to hang himself from his living room ceiling, he is interrupted by his brash American neighbor Chuck (Kevin Spacey).

Together, they head out into the city in homemade superhero outfits to right the wrongs in a country suffering from widespread fraud and corruption, a vast wealth gap and a frustrated, angry populace. The wise-cracking expat Chuck proves to be both Li’s savior and nemesis. 

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'Margin Call': Betsy Sharkey's film pick of the week

December 1, 2011 | 11:56 am

If you haven't yet, please make time to see “Margin Call,” before it slips out of theaters.

This terrific cerebral thriller, anchored by tightly wound performances from Kevin Spacey, Paul Bettany, Stanley Tucci, Penn Badgley and an exceptional Zachary Quinto, takes you inside the boardrooms and the backrooms of Wall Street in the first days of the financial meltdown that shaped our present woes.

That may sound like stuffy, depressing stuff -- and I'll grant you the depressing part. But it’s the human dynamics and moral dilemmas of suddenly discovering that you’re on a rapidly sinking ship that makes for such gripping drama. In writer-director J.C. Chandor's impressive feature debut, he takes us into the heart of darkness and exposes the darkest of hearts.

That “Margin Call” is able to humanize anyone involved in one of the most devastating cases of asset covering this country has seen is a measure of his considerable artistry. You won’t forgive them, but you will understand them -– at least marginally better.


'Like Crazy': Betsy Sharkey's film pick of the week

'Margin Call' approaching 250,000 video-on-demand rentals

Zachary Quinto rides a wave of personal, professional growth

-– Betsy Sharkey, Los Angeles Times film critic

'Margin Call': A movie for the Occupy Wall Street movement?

October 11, 2011 |  6:00 am


In 2009, when director J.C. Chandor and producers Zachary Quinto and Neal Dodson were trying to raise the financing for "Margin Call," their $3.4-million thriller about the 2008 financial crisis, the conventional wisdom in Hollywood was that audiences were likely to lose interest in Wall Street stories.

"The initial response from agents was, 'You know they’re making 'Wall Street 2,' right?'" said Dodson. Also in the works were other downturn-focused projects, such as "Company Men," "Inside Job," Michael Moore's "Capitalism: A Love Story" and HBO's "Too Big to Fail." "They’re like, 'Can the market hold another film about this subject?'"

Fast-forward two years and "Margin Call," which opens Oct. 21 and stars Quinto, Penn Badgley, Kevin Spacey and Paul Bettany as investment bank workers on the eve of the crisis, is starting to look perfectly timed as the Occupy Wall Street protests continue to grow.

The protest movement, now in its fourth week since launching in New York City's Zuccotti Park in mid-September, has grown from its downtown Manhattan roots to include several other cities, including Los Angeles and Washington, D.C. The chief complaint of the protesters — that government and financial sector policies contribute to income inequality — is addressed by "Margin Call," in which Quinto plays a financial analyst who makes a frightening discovery about his firm's overly optimistic economic projections.

"None of us could have anticipated the timing, with Occupy Wall Street happening right now and all of these people rising up to demand that this be looked at and dealt with," Quinto said in an interview at the Silver Lake offices of his production company, Before the Door, last week. "It’s incredibly vitalizing for me to have this upheaval and  all this attention being paid to this sector of the culture. I feel really energized by that."

Quinto was on his way to New York to promote the film, where his costar, Badgley, has already visited the Occupy Wall Street protests to take in the scene.

"I’m not opposed to going down there myself and seeing what the energy is like and talking to people," Quinto said. "I can just imagine myself handing out fliers for 'Margin Call,' like, 'If you’re unhappy… .' We’ll see. Hopefully they’ll find their own way to it. "

While "Margin Call" attempts to explain the human choices that helped create the current economic malaise, that doesn't necessarily mean that financially frustrated audiences will rush to see it.

"It’s a little nerve-racking," said Chandor, who wrote the script and whose father worked in the financial industry. "This is essentially a character piece. It’s trying to look into why people make the decisions that they do. In a lot of cases it’s not about pure greed. We hope there’s not fatigue, that people aren’t seeing so much mayhem in their real lives that they aren’t willing to see this movie."


Movie review: 'Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps'

TV review: 'Too Big to Fail'

-- Rebecca Keegan


Photo: Zachary Quinto, left, and Penn Badgley in "Margin Call." Credit: Walter Thomson.

Sundance 2011: Is Kevin Spacey's 'Margin Call' an indie 'Wall Street'?

January 21, 2011 |  5:36 pm

"Inside Job" explained the financial crisis, and  "Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps" dramatized it. But if there's a need for a character study about the panic felt by Wall Streeters up and down the food chain in the cataclysmic days of 2008, J.C. Chandor is here at the Sundance Film Festival to fill it.

The writer-director, whose father has worked at Merrill Lynch for nearly 40 years, struggled for years to get an independent feature made before hitting on the idea of writing a drama set during the worst hours of the financial collapse. As the crisis was raging in November 2008, he banged out a draft in less than a week.

The result of that feverish bout of productivity is "Margin Call," a star-laden movie about the night that executives at an unnamed bank realize that the world as they knew it is crumbling around them. (Some have speculated that financial institution in question is Lehman Bros., but the movie's intimation that the bank survived and even profited from the crisis suggests Goldman Sachs.)

The film features a top-level cast that, in order of their places on the corporate totem pole, includes Zachary Quinto, Stanley Tucci, Kevin Spacey, Paul Bettany, Simon Baker and Jeremy Irons.

Chandor unveiled the movie to members of the media and film industry on Friday morning, and it promptly drew comparisons to David Mamet's "Glengarry Glen Ross," which also chronicled would-be alpha males brought low in a collapsing business. While it begins like a thriller, Chandor's movie is more of an exploration of what happens when masters of the universe realize they don't control much of anything at all.

"There are people who, when we were trying to get it made, said it's not a thriller. And I said, you're right, it's not," said Chandor at a Park City, Utah, condo a few hours after after the screening. "The movies like that, 'Wall Street' and  some others, have been made. And they did what they needed to do. But that's not what I set out to do."

In fact, as he was seeking backing, studios and financiers pushed Chandor to include scenes like the obligatory man-in-handcuffs. But the filmmaker held fast.

"These aren't criminals. They're [and here Chandor made an anatomical reference]. We want them to be that. These guys are on the sword tip of capitalism," he said.

Even with all the star power, Chandor struggled to get the low-budget film made as independent financiers tightened their wallets in 2009 and 2010. "The irony of it all is that the script wouldn't have been written if not for the recession, and for a long time it couldn't be made because of the recession," he said. More from Chandor later.

--Steven Zeitchik


Photo: Kevin Spacey in "Margin Call." Credit: Sundance Film Festival


Toronto 2010: 'Casino Jack' director deals a new hand

September 14, 2010 |  7:00 am


EXCLUSIVE: George Hickenlooper, the multi-dimensional filmmaker whose Beltway drama "Casino Jack" is one of the sleepers here in Toronto, is taking his eclectic career in yet another direction.

Hickenlooper has signed on to direct "How to Make Love Like an Englishman," a drama about a Cambridge professor of Byronic poetry who himself lives a life of Byronic excess, until his advancing age forces him to reevaluate his priorities. Pierce Brosnan is set to star as said professor. (Michelle Pfeiffer had at one point been loosely attached to star as the female lead, but another actress is likely to take the role.)

There's a good pedigree to the film on the production side: Inferno Entertainment, the company behind summer sleeper "The Kids Are All Right," will produce the picture, which could shoot as early as the fall.  (Incidentally, the story of a successful man coping with the vicissitudes of age was on display with the Toronto selection "Barney's Version," in which Paul Giamatti also plays a man of indulgences who's thrown for a loop later in life.)

Hickenlooper, a self-described political junkie, has tackled myriad subjects. The filmmaker has now gone from the acclaimed 2003 documentary "Mayor of the Sunset Strip" to the Edie Sedgwick biopic "Factory Girl" (2006) to the political documentary "Hick Town" last year and, now, to the Kevin Spacey-toplined "Casino Jack."

Amid all the films hyped as Oscar contenders in Toronto, the dramatized story of lobbyist Jack Abramoff, which comes out in theaters this fall from Dave Matthews' ATO, is one of those gems hidden in plain sight.

The film traces, with colorful persuasiveness, the journey of a lobbyist who rises to the top of the K Street heap only to have an ugly and public fall from grace after an Indian casino influence-peddling scandal. (More on the movie from its principals shortly.) "Casino Jack," no relation to the Alex Gibney doc of the same subject and a similar name, includes an eerily convincing main character, whom Spacey incarnates as theatrical, duplicitous, complicated and sometimes even warm.

Those nuances are something Hickenlooper says he explicitly sought from the character.

"It's tough when you're a filmmaker and you go into a studio and they say, 'We have to like the character, or we have to sympathize with him.' " Hickenlooper said. "No you don't. Do you sympathize with Travis Bickle? No. But you do empathize with his loneliness. I've always been interested in antiheroes. Jack Abramoff is a great antihero."

-- Steven Zeitchik

Photo: Kevin Spacey, left, and Barry Pepper in "Casino Jack." Credit: ATO Pictures

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