2010s, actors, Film Spotlight, movies

DeNiro & Pfeiffer: Wizard of Lies

Watching the recent HBO movie, Wizard of Lies, familiarizing myself with the story of Bernie Madoff was like watching a modern twist on Christopher Marlowe’s tragedy, Doctor Faustus. Madoff’s hubris gets the better of him over a period of eighteen years after selling his soul to begin a hedge fund and fraudulent operation which over time grows into an insidious secret monster. In 2008, he told his sons, and they turned him. Thousands of investors suffered, families, including his own, were destroyed and now he rots in jail with his accusors hoping he suffers eternal damnation. Here’s a timeline of his history if you are interested from CNN, Bernard Madoff Time Line. 

The HBO film directed by Barry Levinson and written by Sam Levinson, Sam Baum, and John Burnham Schwartz, based on the non-fiction book of the same name by Diana B. Henriques focused on the relationships of his family and his wife of over 50 years, Ruth. Bernie and Ruth Madoff backstory.

DeNiro gives an impressive performance who manages to portray the human side of the man with varying emotions from bellicose barking to stone-faced resignation.  The strongest moments of the film are when he is interacting with his wife, Ruth, played perfectly by Michelle Pfeiffer. She simply nailed it. Her accent, her dependency on her “lifeguard”, their intrinsic life put her in a heart-breaking situation several times. In fact, if Pfeiffer had not starred in the film or had a sizable chunk of the narrative, it would have been another biopic; a mediocre, flash-back narrative that’s overdone and predictable. Rent this on Amazon for fine acting by DeNiro and Pfeiffer. 4/5. 

Was Madoff evil? A sociopath? When you are on top of the world, with all the power (he created NASDAQ), and are revered by contemporaries and more power than the President, how could one avoid the lure of manipulation and greed? At the very least, invincibility was his cloak and he became larger than life. Madoff said he thought, in the beginning, he could fix his problems, and then smooth over the bending of the rules. That was his downfall. He could not admit he was at fault. He was addicted to power. He was addicted to his Ponzi Scheme–regardless of the consequences.

What exactly, did he do wrong? For almost twenty years, Madoff convinced rich and poor clients they were buying into an elite private hedge fund. He funneled their money to other clients, who believed the payments to be deserved returns on shrewd financial planning. When his escapades were revealed in December 2008, 65 billion imaginary dollars evaporated. Elie Wiesel and Steven Spielberg were victims as well as thousands of “ordinary” folks. There’s a cool moment in the film where his victim’s faces make a montage of Bernie Madoff’s face. A nice touch.

According to the film, Madoff felt relief he went to jail–a self-imposed recovery institution that will last long after he naturally dies. They say money is the root of all evil; Madoff is the personification of the maxim.

actors, authors, books, culture, directors, documentary, Film Spotlight, history, movies

The Eccentric Eadweard Muybridge


Canadian actor Michael Eklund (The Call) gives an outstanding performance as bizarre Gilded Age photographer, Eadweard Muybridge. Featured last weekend at the Jerome Film Festival, I discovered an Indie pearl; it was a sensual and visually stunning film directed and co-written by neophyte Kyle Rideout with strong cinematography by Tony Mirza, and a solid supporting acting ensemble including Sara Canning as Muybridge’s wife. The focus is Muybridge and how he comes to see the world and his attempts to capture movement. The naked body fascinated him as a subject of motion. His contraptions for capturing freeze-frame imaging are ingenious. His methods were unorthodox, and his passionate, strange personality alienated the conventional world. His notoriety comes from murdering his wife’s lover. Whether Eadweard is found guilty or innocent of justifiable homicide, I’ll leave for you to find out. The haunting last shot is one of the best closings I’ve seen in ages. 7/10

Last summer, I read Edward Ball’s The Inventor and the Tycoon(2013). The nonfiction account chronicled the unlikely relationship between railroad entrepreneur Leland Stanford, Muybridge, and Thomas Edison who refused to collaborate with Muybridge who suggested they combine Edison’s phonograph with Muybridge’s invention of the projector. Muybridge was the first man to use celluloid in motion pictures. His invention of the zoopraxicscope, a prototype projector was revolutionary. Edison will steal Eadweard’s process, update his projector, and show it at the 1893 World’s Fair competing with Muybridge’s outdated zoopraxicscope. It will make Edison more famous and secure the patent while Eadweard Muybridge will become forgotten.


Check out The New York Times article from January 2013 by Candice Millard for an interesting full review of The Inventor and the Tycoon


An excellent way to learn about Eadweard Muybridge and his weird world is by watching the BBC hour-long documentary.

Eadweard Muybridge was foremost a photographer and considered by most as the “forefather of the cinema”. How freeze-frame photography and how motion pictures began is as interesting to me as the version we know today.

Have you read the book, seen the film, or watched the documentary? I recommend all three.