MADOFF (2016)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 2 hours 45 minutes

Madoff poster

Starring: Richard Dreyfuss, Blythe Danner, Charles Grodin, Frank Whaley, Peter Scolari, Lyne Renee, Daniel Gerroll, Erin Cummings & Michael Rispoli

In December 2008, one of the biggest money-makers on Wall Street was revealed to be a lie. Bernie Madoff quickly became the most hated person in America, having robbed people around the world out of 50 billion dollars. As with any big history-making event, we all knew that a film would eventually be made about Bernie Madoff’s crimes. What’s surprising is that it took so long for this to come out and it arrived in the form of an ABC miniseries. One of two TV projects about Madoff’s massive Ponzi scheme (the second being HBO’s WIZARD OF LIES), MADOFF is an interesting, if overlong, retelling of Bernie Madoff’s downfall. Though it suffers from common TV movie tropes, this miniseries still makes for good binge watching.

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For decades, Bernard Madoff (Richard Dreyfuss) has built a big reputation on Wall Street. His company is exclusive to the rich and powerful, while always seeming to turn a profit…even in the worst of times. There’s a reason that Madoff’s business sounds too good to be true, because that’s exactly the case. Madoff is one of the biggest swindlers in the world and his victims are global. However, smarmy Bernie has nothing to worry about…until mathematician Harry Markopolis (Frank Whaley) discovers the truth, the FCC starts an investigation, and the country goes into a terrible recession. Madoff slowly begins to feel fear the very real possibility of being uncovered.

MICHAEL RISPOLI

Richard Dreyfuss headlines MADOFF as the title criminal. Using narration to put the viewer into Bernie’s frame of mind, Dreyfuss comes off as one of the most unlikable scumbags in the world. I was hooked into watching this smarmy real-life villain go through his day-to-day life. Don’t get me wrong. Bernie Madoff is a horrible person who should rot in prison for eternity, but Dreyfuss’s narration clues us into what Bernie was possibly thinking as he stole fortune after fortune (including from people in his own office). The way in which he rationalizes robbing a secretary of her newly acquired life insurance pay-out is sickening and would only make sense to a greedy sociopath…which is exactly what Bernie Madoff is.

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The rest of the cast isn’t quite up to the level of Dreyfuss, but there are notable stand-outs. The biggest one being Frank Whaley as Harry Markopolis. We watch as this frustrated individual tries and tries to get people to take Madoff down and keeps failing at every turn. His frustration is more than relatable towards the FCC’s incompetence and lack of resources. I wish more screen time had been devoted to Markopolis’s frequent attempts to uncover the truth and less to the Madoff family drama. Michael Rispoli is solid as Frank DiPascali, Bernie’s number two. This former SOPRANOS cast member doesn’t seem like the sort of guy who would fit into Wall Street crowd and that’s because he isn’t. Bernie Madoff was a criminal mastermind and this guy was his lackie who took care of forged paperwork and fake information.

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The tension that runs through MADOFF’s crime story is somewhat undercut by melodramatic family moments that frequently take the action away from the global Ponzi scheme. Blythe Danner is serviceable enough as Ruth Madoff, though I probably should have felt more sympathy for her character than the performance allowed (she’s mostly unlikable). Tom Lipinski and Danny Deferrari do solid jobs as Bernie’s naïve privileged sons, but their scenes occasionally feel like a soap opera. The worst performance of the miniseries comes in Peter Scolari as Peter Madoff. Scolari’s laughably bad emotional breakdown upon discovering Bernie’s lies feels less like genuine devastation and more like an alien trying to convey an emotional meltdown. It’s easily the worst scene in the entire miniseries.

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For all its faults, MADOFF kept me interested in the proceedings by having the feeling of a slowly tightening noose. We all know that Bernie will get caught (or else we wouldn’t have this movie and he’d still be wreaking havoc on Wall Street), but the slow breakdown of the character is sort of fun to watch. MADOFF never asks us to sympathize with this monster, nor does it do enough to glamorize Bernie’s billion-dollar lifestyle. What it does is put the viewer into the consciousness of a heartless criminal and shows us his slow (but sure) downfall, which is a fascinating (and frustrating) story by itself.

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Bernie Madoff’s story would have probably benefitted more from a big screen award-contender as opposed to a small screen miniseries. However, this three-hour TV movie is more than worth a watch simply to see America’s biggest case of financial fraud play out in a detailed way. Richard Dreyfuss was the perfect choice to play Bernie Madoff and I can’t imagine Robert De Niro topping him in the upcoming HBO film (though that remains to be seen). While MADOFF suffers from noticeable made-for-TV movie conventions (melodrama, some bad acting), it’s worth a watch all the same.

Grade: B

JAWS (1975)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 2 hours 4 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG

Jaws poster

Directed by: Steven Spielberg

Written by: Peter Benchley & Carl Gottlieb

(based on the novel JAWS by Peter Benchley)

Starring: Roy Scheider, Robert Shaw, Richard Dreyfuss, Lorraine Gary & Murray Hamilton

JAWS is the quintessential shark movie. It’s the ultimate killer animal flick. This is the sensation that kicked off the creation of the summer movie season. Based on Peter Benchley’s novel of the same name, JAWS is a movie bound to make anyone who watches it afraid of sharks. While sharks are already scary as hell in my opinion, Steven Spielberg and Peter Benchley capitalized on that with this thrilling adventure! There’s not exactly a lot I can say about JAWS that hasn’t already been said by thousands of other people, but I do feel the need to talk about this film…so I’ll post my thoughts in this review anyway. Because it’s my website and I can talk about whatever movie I want to. Don’t judge me…

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Amity Island is a peaceful little community that makes most of its profit off summer tourism. Plenty of vacationers go out of their way to visit the beautiful beaches for the Fourth of July every year. This Fourth of July celebration might not exactly go over that well as Police Chief Brody discovers that a killer shark has carved out a piece of territory alongside the island. This monster of a fish is eating unlucky folks (including skinny-dipping hippies, hapless sailors, and even a poor little kid). It’s a bad situation that’s made even worse when the reluctant mayor won’t let Brody close the beaches. Aided by Hooper (an oceanographer) and the crazed Quint (who hunts sharks for a living), Brody takes to the ocean to kill the shark before it devours anyone else.

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It would be crazy to say that a simple technical difficulty helped make JAWS the masterpiece that it is, but that’s sort of true. The mechanical shark (nicknamed Bruce) was constantly breaking down and Spielberg was unable to show the giant fish for almost the entire first half of the film. This led to a less-is-more approach where we are shown a simple fin in the water, a shadowy outline or iconic POV shots as the shark moves in for the kill. I’m sure JAWS would have been entertaining and fun even with the shark being shown constantly, but it’s made that much better because the big bad fish isn’t fully revealed until about halfway through the film. What’s even more surprising is this film’s PG rating (which meant something totally different at the time) as it’s graphically violent. The opening shark attack isn’t particularly gory, but it’s still terrifying to watch. We are shown a severed limb and a few bloody body parts as the film progresses. However, JAWS isn’t simply a slasher film with a shark…which it might have become in the wrong hands and JAWS 2 is an example of how badly this could have turned out. Instead, the movie sustains a constant suffocating tension that never grants the viewer any relief until the end credits have rolled.

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Tense feeling in the pit of my stomach be damned, the characters are a blast to watch. These are some of the most well-crafted people to ever grace the silver screen. We know everything we need to know about them through their actions and the way they speak to each other. Chief Brody is a likable protagonist played to perfection by Roy Scheider. Hooper is a kind (and rich) person obsessed with sharks and desperately wants to save the day with Brody. Richard Dreyfuss will always be Hooper to me, even if he’s been in many other movies since. The scene-stealer comes in Robert Shaw’s Quint. He’s a one-of-a-kind hermit-like crazy person. He can be fun in one moment, but unpredictably crazed during the next. It’s all part of who he is. One performance that doesn’t get as much light shone on it (and really should) is the insufferable mayor played by Murray Hamilton. Besides the shark, he feels like the primary antagonist and represents every awful quality in politics. He’s all about image, profit and doesn’t seem to give a damn about who gets hurt in the process until it starts hurting his image. There’s never a scene featuring him where you won’t be furious at this character and that’s exactly how he should have been played.

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With only three small movies behind him, Steven Spielberg constructed a masterpiece in JAWS. Every scene is a joy to watch and the constant atmosphere of terror is sure to be conjured up whenever anyone speaks the title. Everything about this film is perfect in my opinion and I don’t have a single complaint or negative thing to say about it. JAWS is an expertly crafted blockbuster that helped change the world of filmmaking and also give birth to the summer movie season. To say this is simply the best killer animal movie ever made would be doing the film a disservice as it’s one of the best movies ever made. Rest assured, after watching this, you’ll be afraid to go into the water!

Grade: A+

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