Remember The Producers? Zero Mostel plays a small-time theatrical producer who realizes he can make a ton more money on Broadway with a flop than a hit. All he has to do is raise a few thousand percent of production costs from a bunch of small investors willing to be suckered into sinking their life savings into what they're told is a sure thing. As soon as the show folds on opening night with no profits to divide, investments are written off as a bad bet, investors get skunked, and the shyster perps walk away with all the dough.
This is essentially the same scenario by which the American financial services industry crashed the U.S. economy and fomented international financial collapse in September 2008, according to Charles Ferguson's cogent, clear-headed documentary Inside Job.
Sister fights to free imprisoned brother in moving 'Conviction'
A boy's best friend is his mother, as the old song goes, but don't ask Kenny Waters to hum a few bars. A real-life defendant in a Massachusetts murder trial, Waters was convicted in 1983 and sent to prison for life without possibility of parole. He'd be there still if not for the Herculean efforts of his "baby sister," Betty Anne Waters, a barmaid and high-school dropout who so believed in her brother's innocence, she devoted 16 years of her life—and put herself through law school—in hopes of navigating the legal system and getting his conviction overturned.
Ginsberg ushers in cultural revolution in uneven 'Howl'
In a San Francisco coffeehouse in 1955, a "29-year-old unpublished poet" and former advertising copywriter stood up and read a poem that ushered in the beat era and revolutionized the culture. His name was Allen Ginsberg, the poem was "Howl," and that historic reading—combined with the obscenity trial that followed, and the complex emotional journey Ginsberg took to write it—are all celebrated in the ambitious, but wildly uneven Howl.
Co-written and directed by Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman (the documentary filmmakers who made The Celluloid Closet and The Times of Harvey Milk), the film is blessed with a fascinating performance by James Franco as the young Ginsberg. Franco has done his homework, especially in capturing the familiar, somewhat nasally and flat, yet exultant voice in which the poet reads his poem; the film's best moments come from the pleasure of watching Franco's Ginsberg in the ecstatic grip of his muse.
Lennon's early life explored in evocative, irresistible 'Nowhere Boy'
rap your brain around this: had John Lennon lived, he would have been 70 years old last week. The world may have been cheated out of Lennon's third act, whatever it might have been, but we can celebrate the early life of this complex, driven, caustic and vital man with the ambitious biographical drama Nowhere Boy. Although it zeroes in on the brief span of time between teenage John's discovery of rock 'n' roll and the rise of his fledgling band on the local scene, this is in no way a Beatles musical. (Only a single charged, raucous chord of Beatles music is heard in the entire film—you'll know it when you hear it.) The focus here is not on the birth of an icon, but on the struggle of a conflicted teenage boy to become himself; emotionally as well as musically, the film hits all the right notes.
Davis Guggenheim's last documentary, An Inconvenient Truth, put the critical issue of climate change on the table for worldwide discussion (if not, sadly, much action). In his new film, Waiting For Superman, Guggenheim tackles a subject far less abstract and every bit as urgent: the education of America's children. Failure to arrest the ongoing decline in the quality of our school system in the last 30+ years could produce results as devastating as global warming, and far more tangible to the average American: dropouts, hopelessness, joblessness, increasing drug and crime rates, and overburdened judiciary and prison systems devouring tax dollars that would be much better spent on preventive education.