Downton Abbey – the film

We originally started watching Downton Abbey in box set form – and there are a lot of episodes. Great entertainment, but in the end, we stopped watching. Like any soap opera, the twists and turns in the plot seemed more to do with maintaining peak audiences rather than telling a story.

And then Downton Abbey the film appeared in our local cinema. Great. Watch the finale, and cut out the box sets. We had seen enough to know who the main characters were. We had followed the story of Lady Sybil and the romance with the chauffeur, Tom Branson and cried when she died. But we had stopped watching when the unending sage of Bates, and the rise and fall of his fortunes that stretched the bounds of credulity.

The film is a great feel good movie and ends with lots of happy ever afters and the promise of even more. The King and Queen are coming to Downton (Edward VII and Queen Mary) – just staying for the night. Apparently, you do not invite the monarch, the monarch invites themselves. And turns up with retinue, takes over the running of your house and the kitchens. But it is a great honour. And everyone bows and curtseys and melts into extreme sycophancy. Anyone for a republic?

The film is unlikely to be a candidate for the Oscars and possibly does nothing to promote the monarchy, but is quite entertaining, although the ending was just a little too drawn out in its syrupy sweetness.

The Wolf of Wall Street

The phone rings. I answer. On the other end of the line is a polite american voice  wishing to sell me some stocks in a company that I have never heard of. Alarm bells ring in my head – boiler room scam and I put the phone down, but not before I inform the caller that I do not want to deal with criminals….

On Friday we went to see “The Wolf of Wall Street” at our local cinema.

Two things stuck in my mind from the reviews that I had seen:

  1. It was an extremely long film
  2. It was morally ambivalent

Yes, on both accounts this was true. It was very long and I am sure it could have been edited to remove an hour or so. Was it necessary to have quite so many orgies? And the ending was unsatisfactory. The problem is that the film was based on a true story so the ending could not be edited too much. Jordan Belfort served 22 months in prison for fraud and money laundering and now he is running his own motivational speaking business. $2000 dollars for a set of 10 DVDs to learn how to sell. Part of the judgement against Belfort was that he had to make restitution to his victims, to the tune of an eye-watering $110 million (55,000 DVD sets).

The film covers Belfort’s rise and fall, beginnning in 1987. Belfort begins work with Rothschild Stock Brokers, and then Black Monday happens and the stock market crashes. The great storm of 1987 and the London Stock exchange is off line. Net effect as far as ths story is concerned is that Rothschild folds and the young Belford has to fend for himself. And he does in spectacular fashion, creating the brokerage firm Stratton Oakmont which at its peak employed over a 1,000 people. Stratton Oakmont’s core business was a “boiler room” scam, where worthless stocks were sold to unsuspecting customers. Eventually the justice system caught up with Belfort.

Belfort was deeply into drugs and sex. This is portrayed in the film, perhaps over portrayed. But there is something which is missing. Belfort claims that he had forgotten his ethics in the excesses of Stratton Oakmont. That may be so, but there is a gaping great hole in the centre of this narrative. Compassion for the victim. You are lef at teh end of the film with the distinct impression that as far as the Wolf of Wall Street was concerned, all he had done wrong was break a few rules and get caught. The victims never make it to the screen. The men and women who ploughed their life savings into Belfort’s “Make me rich” schemes. Belfort comes across as a charming sociopath unable to to empthise with people.

I found the film extremely disturbing, not because of the sex and drugs and profanities, but because it never shows the real human cost of Belfort’s actions.

If you want to discover the reason for the financial collapse in 2008, then this is your film. Greed, pure, unadulterated greed filtered through a drug-fuelled haze. Is there justice in the world? The answer from this film is “NO”. Have the financial players from the noughties learned their lesson? NO. Is the wealth of the USA based on a fiction? YES.

The film itself could quite easily be a stage play (and much shorter). A few years ago, we went to see the stage play “Enron”, which covered pretty much the same story – how greed and a total disdain for the regulatory process.



The victims:



The Life of Pi by Yann Martel (film)

We went to see this on New Years Day at the recently revamped cinema in Walton. Gone were the traditional cinema seats, and the cramped feel that all cinemas seem to have. Instead we were treated to a 2 seater sofa, masses of leg room and small tables on which to place your drinks. Very civilised.

We chose to see the 3D version of the film, which means that you have to wear some rather unflattering glasses (which do fit over your own spectacles). So armed with a cup of coffee and the 3d specs we settled down to see the film.

And the film. The 3D effects were great. Were they essential to the film? No, not really. Like any film, it is the story which is important.

The story covers the life of a boy called by Pi growing up in India. His parents ran a zoo

Martel asks important questions in this film. In the beginning, as Pi’s early life story is told, is the question of religion and the fragmentation of religion and religion’s relationship to the belief in God. At the end, another question is asked, which story do you prefer, the fantastic fable of a boy shipwrecked, in a lifeboat with only a tiger for companionship or a more realistic story of a boy alone in the lifeboat. As Pi points out, neither story answers the question “Why did the ship sink?”. So it is easy to miss the real questions that Martel is asking, questions to do with truth. How do we know what is true and what is not true. Sometimes we confuse the question of truth with what is real, or reality. However reality, when totally deconstructed is a bunch of sun atomic particles that sometime sexist and sometimes do not, sometimes they are here and sometimes somewhere else – with lots of space in between. Reality is not what I can see and feel and touch, for the particles that I can touch today may be somewhere else tomorrow and may even be part of the system that I call me. What is truth? Pi tells the Japanese investigators at the end of the book (and film) two stories. Can they both be true? The second story is unpalatable, for it deals with the rawness of survival and shatters the picture we have of Pi, a gentle and dreaming 17 year old boy, a boy who kills so that he will survive (and not be eaten). The stark facts of the second story do not necessarily contradict the first story. Are the two not different ways of telling the story of a boy who survives the destruction of his family and is cast adrift for 227 days alone in a small boat. And despite this, Pi survives, physically, psychologically and emotionally. And so it is with God. And a question of faith. Which story of creation do you prefer? The hard bald facts, or a creation story told by the world’s great religions. Are the great religions that Pi meets in India, Christianity, Islam and Hinduism not just different stories told about the same God?