Thursday, August 11, 2016

Indignation and Equity

                            Among the Unluckiest People in the World

                                                          Review by Ken Burke
 While the money over the past week has flowed mainly to the latest DC Comics/WB superhero (well, actually supervillain for a twist in this case, as deadly antagonists are recruited to be society’s savior) movie, Suicide Squad (David Ayer)—$133.7 million from U.S.-Canadian audiences (plus another $132 million from overseas sales)—its critical response has largely been what we from Texas eloquently call “piss-poor” (at Rotten Tomatoes it got 26% positive reviews, 40% at Metacritic [no further details here, although you’re welcome to look them up for yourself], but you want to read a counter-opinion check out Outtakes with Fiore Mastracci where you’ll find a highly positive response [it’s his August 4, 2016 review if you need to consult his archive later to find it]) so I went in a completely different direction from that and other current-big-money-makers such as Jason Bourne (Paul Greengrass) and Bad Moms (Jon Lucas, Scott Moore)—you can find plenty of reviews on all of those movies anyway if you want to know more about them—to explore a couple of sublime tales of the travails of our common human experience (with little box-office-clout to promote, as Indignation’s made only $560,512 after 2 weeks, Equity’s been in only 4 theaters during the same span), for those readers who aren’t already depressed enough about the current political situation or whose athletes aren’t yet triumphing at the Rio Olympics.  Please take my Spoiler Alert warning below seriously, though, because Equity is just now opening in my San Francisco area this weekend (August 12-14, 2016)—maybe yours too—so if you’d rather see it prior to reading my plot details I advise you to do so.

 However, I find enough thematic similarities in these serious films to do one of my occasional blended-reviews, pointing out those connections, so keep aware of when I move into Equity territory if you don’t want to know much yet, but in general the commentaries are separate within each review section so you can likely confine yourself to matters of Indignation (assuming you’re not indignant from having to look away from some of the following paragraphs, which may make you send the Suicide Squad after me).  With that in mind, feel free to read on, now or later.

Take care, curious readers, for plot spoilers gallop rampantly throughout the Two Guys’ insightful reviews.  Therefore, be warned, beware, and read on when you’re ready to be transported to … wherever we end up.  Please protect your eyes from the dazzling brilliance.
                                         Indignation (James Schamus)
In 1951 the son of working-class Jewish parents wants to break away from his upbringing so he accepts a scholarship to a small Ohio Christian college only to find that he doesn’t care much for his new roommates nor the insistence toward campus socialization put upon him by the Dean of Men, although he’s quite attracted to a classmate but she’s problematic as well.
                                                 Equity (Meera Menon)
A largely-successful woman in the upper-echelon of Wall Street needs to bury public perception about a recent underfunded IPO by making a huge splash with a high-tech-security-company, but she’s undermined on all sides by her broker lover, his hedge fund buddy, her own associate, and an old friend now working for the Justice Dept. trying to snare stock crooks.
What Happens: I’ll take these 2 films in the chronological order of their stories’ time-frames, beginning with the plot of Indignation in 1951 where Marcus Messner (Logan Lerman) feels suffocated in Newark, NJ where his pushy father, Max (Danny Burstein), a kosher butcher in their Jewish neighborhood, is suddenly becoming over-protective, possibly concerned for his son’s life in a time where one of Marcus’ friends has just been killed in the Korean War (shown in a brief nighttime combat scene, following a quiet opening where an old woman in a rest home is being given her daily medication).  As a means of breaking away from the pressures of living out the role of only child of overbearing parents, Marcus cashes in the benefits of his high-school-successes (outstanding grades, debate-team-captain, baseball star) with a scholarship to Winesburg College, a Christian campus in Ohio, to find a path free of such direct parental control (although his frequent pay-phone-calls home continue to feature an inquisition-attitude from Dad, anxious to know how his son's love life’s evolving).  Once in the new environment, though, he’s not overjoyed with what he’s finding, especially his 2 junior-class-roommates—Ron Foxman (Phillip Ettinger), a guy mostly concerned with the improvements he’s making to his prized Cadillac, and Bertram Flusser (Ben Rosenfield), a drama major with a flamboyant sense of life (along with the need to share his emotions with everyone via the small room’s record player)—the only other Jews on campus who don’t belong to their culture’s fraternity.  (The frat’s president, Sonny Cottler [Pico Alexander] makes a personal pitch to Marcus to join up but is rebuffed, from a combination of Marcus already being overwhelmed with his studies and part-time-library-job as well as his atheistic stance which gives him little connection to expected aspects of his heritage—this also doesn’t mesh well with the college’s requirement that each student must attend at least 40 of the weekly chapel sermons [they turn in verifying name cards upon exiting] during their 4 years in order to graduate, one of many aspects of his new life that Marcus didn’t seem to know about before committing to Winesburg.)  

 However, his attitude perks up with attraction to classmate Olivia Hutton (Sarah Gadon), but their 1st date become the epitome of Marcus’ voiceover narrations about how seemingly-insignificant-decisions can steer your life into directions you’d never imagined nor can recover from.  The ultimate message here seems to be that if fate doesn’t completely determine your destiny from birth that random occurrences over which you have little control—especially those you might misjudge the importance of—will then make their indelible mark on you, mocking the concept of free will.

 Olivia’s also quite intelligent, as well as quick-witted (much more so than Marcus at this point) but emotionally-fragile as she’s come to Winesburg (as a favor to her doctor/alum father) after a troubling start at Mt. Holyoke where she became an alcoholic, attempted suicide (the scar’s still on her left wrist), and did oral sex with a boy while drunk one night.  Since then she’s sobered up, tried to immerse herself in a world of normalcy (Winesburg’s an ideal location, stultifying so), but still wants to unleash some passion for life’s higher-callings with the rare soulmate she can truly admire, such as Marcus who’s brave enough to challenge some the professor’s assumptions in the class they share.  As a result of feeling affection for Marcus, as that date nears her curfew time she leads him (in Ron's borrowed car) to a quiet spot (a foreshadowing graveyard) where she willingly performs fellatio on him, which blows his mind even more than his groin leaving him too stunned to even walk her to her door afterward, then tells Ron all about it in an utter state of confusion; however, this leads to Olivia being called a slut by his roommates (as if they wouldn’t have taken such an offer themselves,* although Bertram gives clear implications that he’d prefer it from Marcus)—Ron's also concerned about his car’s “sullied” reputation—which leads to Marcus' angry request to move to another room (even though, through mutual letters, Olivia’s pushed him away, no longer trusting him to share her dark secrets).  He gets one by himself, in a less-desirable-location, which also requires a visit to Dean of Men Hawes Caudwell (Tracy Letts), a pompous inquisitor who badgers Marcus about various aspects of his application (including not stating a religious preference), along with his concern that the young man simply avoids problems rather than overcoming them (as a Winesburg alum himself, along with having been a star athlete, he’s also miffed that the kid’s not going out for baseball which Marcus rejects as knowing his limitations against a higher caliber of competition).  As their conversation grows more heated, Marcus finally vomits, collapsing as the result of appendicitis which results in hospital recuperation where he’s visited by re-interested-Olivia who’s in the process of giving him a hand-job when a shocked nurse walks in on them (Olivia assumes the nurse is too embarrassed to report anything; she’s wrong).

*In an interesting bit of dialogue, when Marcus returns from the date Ron begins the conversation with “How’d she ride?” referring to the suspension in his beloved-car, which he’d recently worked on with plans for further improvements, although you could easily pick up the implication (even in this straight-laced-era) of that question referring to Olivia, in every repressed male’s clandestine desire to know if anyone else was actually “getting some” somehow, even though the revelation that Marcus did have a conquest (of sorts) leads to a hypocritical reaction, even from these guys who’ve also been somewhat ostracized by their much-larger non-Jewish-surrounding-community (where, of course, we see nothing but cheery WASP faces in every corner of the campus).

 I’m not sure how long Marcus’ recuperation lasted (seems to have been quite a few days), but during this period Olivia moves closer to him again (plus Sonny, continuing his outreach), along with her hand continuing to help him find pleasure underneath the sheets, until such time as Mom Esther (Linda Emend) comes to visit with news that she’s decided to divorce Dad because of his growing anger which has ruined their relationship as well as their business as he’s now driving the regular customers away (she also notices Olivia’s scar, something not hidden from Marcus on that infamous date but which he was oblivious to while constantly drawn to her intriguing face).  Marcus convinces her to call off the divorce (he’s concerned that Dad couldn’t survive on his own) which she does but with the devil’s bargain that Marcus must stop seeing Olivia (Mom’s fearful for her son to be involved with someone she sees as mentally-unstable, not because she’s a Gentile).  He regretfully accepts Mom's demand, then starts hanging around the Jewish fraternity where he learns that others who share his distain for chapel simply hire someone to sign their attendance cards for them which he does with a guy who’s apparently done this for several others already.  This comes back to haunt Marcus, though, because his accomplice is caught (why, I’m not clear, given there’s a crowd turning in these cards so I don’t see how the supervisors would so quickly see that he’s not Marcus, but at this point in the story the concluding action has to move fast so we’re asked to just accept what we’re shown), proving to be one too many transgressions after yet another confrontation with Dean Caudwell about what Marcus had to do with Olivia leaving school as the result of a nervous breakdown; the Dean keeps probing about Marcus possibly getting her pregnant, which finally ends with a “fuck you” from the harassed young man (who’s impregnated no one), setting him up for dismissal when the chapel ruse is exposed (maybe that’s why the faculty auditors were looking so carefully for how his name card might show up).*

*I once applied for a teaching job at southern California’s Pepperdine U., where I was asked if weekly chapel attendance would be acceptable (I wasn’t interested in that but cheerfully said I’d go; it didn’t matter, as I wasn't hired), but it's all the more twisted to me that at fictional Winesburg, with their emphasis on a communal sense of shared moral values, that students have to prove their required chapel visits as if the administration has no faith they’d go on their own as requested.

 In a couple of short scenes that mirror how Indignation began, we soon see Marcus in uniform in Korea (now that his college-based-draft-deferment’s been cancelled upon his swift expulsion, thereby further dashing all of his parents’ dreams of success they’d once assumed for their talented son) where he shoots an attacker in yet another night-combat-confrontation but not before he’s fatefully bayonetted to death himself.  Then we return to that opening scene (it could easily be set in our present day, given the age of the woman being addressed by the home's attending nurse) where the pattern of a vase of red and white roses on the wallpaper this old woman is staring at reminds us of similar flowers in Marcus’ hospital room that Olivia spent a good bit of time rearranging (one review I read notes a passing similarity here to the “Rosebud” theme in my all-time-favorite-film, Citizen Kane [Orson Welles, 1941], but without even knowing if this is in the original book or is an invention of the filmmakers I’ll say for now I think that’s stretching a visual similarity a bit too much, although I guess you could make an argument about both films pondering what might have been for their lead characters had it not been for unexpected twists in their lives’ progress), letting us know that this woman is Olivia, possibly never having recovered from her traumatic youth.  This ending revelation about a woman not living up to her promise because of circumstances not fully under her control would also mark a useful transition to the content of Equity (easily understood as occurring in present day), so I’ve kept this comment with the Indignant material so as not to tip off a crucial bit of information for those still waiting to see this just-opening Wall Street feminist-drama.

 With Equity we find an unusual focus on women in another war zone, the world of high-stakes-stocks, but unusual only because the needed advancement options have been so few for females to compete at the highest levels of this high-pressure-world (see the So What? section below for some specific verification of this), the impetus for so many of them who’ve worked against such limitations to help finance this story, which is also written (Sarah Megan Thomas, Alysia Reiner, Amy Fox) and directed by women.  Here the bright-but-put-upon-protagonist is Naomi Bishop (Anna Gunn), a hard-driving senior investment banker in a Wall Street combine of finance and brokerage, with legal expectations that the 2 sides of the company must keep their business (and information) distinct from each other, despite Naomi’s romantic involvement with company broker Michael Connor (James Purefoy), who kids her about divulging information that’d be useful to him, all the while being secretly quite serious in that quest in order to provide the needed, expected favor of insider information to his friend, slimy hedge fund manager Benji Akers (Craig Bierko).  Naomi’s under pressure from the banking end of her mini-conglomerate also, as she’s just been passed over for an expected promotion because a recent deal she managed went somewhat sour at the IPO stage so there’s hesitancy on the street if she’s the one in charge of taking a company public, yet she’s prepared to counter that with the anticipated-mega-IPO of rising-tech-star Cachet, led by willing-but-cautious Ed (Samuel Roukin) who claims to have devised an un-hackable security system, likely the most valuable commodity anyone could desire in our cutthroat-world of corporate espionage (and its likewise political maneuverings such as WikiLeaks revelations about governmental and political operations, including the exposé of Democratic Party honchos’ tactics for favoring Hilary Clinton to take their nomination rather than Bernie Sanders, along with possible releases [?] of the long-delayed-public-look at Donald Trump's tax returns).

 However, there are potential cracks to be found everywhere in what Naomi’s valiantly trying to confidently project as her upcoming triumph, intended to calm Ed’s ongoing doubts and prove to her own boss that one mishap doesn’t undo a respected career earned through constant hard work by a talented, resourceful woman.  One problem is her immediate subordinate, pesky VP Erin Manning (Thomas, one of the scriptwriters noted above as well as one of the film’s main producers, along with co-scriptwriter Reiner), who also sees her future as needing to be much farther up the corporate ladder so while she works as an ally with Naomi she’s also looking out for her own betterment, including in a meeting with the Cachet team where she oversteps her bounds (from Naomi’s perspective) in offering answers to these not-fully-committed-clients.  Another problem comes from disgruntled Cachet coder Marin (Sophie von Haselberg), who’s unconvinced that their security protocols are as infallible as claimed to be, putting Naomi in the delicate position of pushing ahead with Ed’s supremo-confidence or further investigating Marin’s claims so as to not allow herself to lead another underperforming IPO, dashing her career ambitions chief among them being that “Money doesn’t have to be a dirty word” for herself or other women who desire to succeed in this male-dominated-industry.  Finally, there’s the interpersonal wrinkle of her old college friend from Michigan, Samantha Ryan (Reiner), now an investigator for the U.S. Justice Department who’s moved from busting drug gangs to high-finance-scams, with her sights set on Akers’ questionable dealings which might get exposed with some pressure on Connor given their known business relationship (this entanglement further troubles Naomi because of her ongoing attempts to keep business-based-pillowtalk with Michael to a minimum, as well as the unexplored tension between her and Samantha over how their diverging careers have led them to vast income differences).  

 Into this structure of ready-to-snap-treachery (where Naomi can’t yet promote upwardly-overdue-Erin, due to her own current restrictions, setting up another sense of anger and betrayal from a supposed friend/associate), all that’s needed is a catalyst for crisis, which soon comes about as both Erin and Michael try to gain advantage on Naomi, which they do in an illegal manner that starts the boulder rolling downhill, straight at their supposed colleague (as well as lover, in Michael’s case).

 By now, Marin’s been fired for the possible disruption she could make for this deal (which promises a huge return of investor cash for Ed and his guys) but she’s still determined not to be silenced so she contacts Naomi who calls Erin who is, through some chance circumstances, waiting at Naomi’s apartment for a later meeting with her; however, Michael’s there too trying to find Naomi so Erin, on her own, decides to completely violate procedure by secretly letting him listen in via speakerphone to Naomi's cautionary conversation, including passing on Marin’s phone number to Erin (as well as Michael) for a follow-up.  Sure enough, just before the IPO goes public a online stock journalist raises questions about Cachet’s foolproof-security-claims (having gotten his tip from Marin either through Michael or Benji), not because Michael’s trying to sabotage Naomi but rather he's helping drive down the stock price, benefitting Benji who waits until it’s fallen far below projections then buys up a bunch of it on the cheap which eventually pushes the price back up again, followed by investors shrugging off the security-flaw-concerns floated by Marin, Benji’s clients making a fortune on the deal, and Naomi—who too late figures out how all of this crisis came to pass—either fired or simply quitting in disgust (indignation?) with the whole rotten situation, even as Erin moves up into her former job; Samantha takes a new position as well, after a lucrative offer from another Wall Street bank, so her intense investigation of Michael and Benji is forgotten—despite having developed a solid opening into her case with pressure on Benji’s worried assistant—even as she ends the film with a talk to her new colleagues, repeating Naomi’s opening mantra that “Money doesn’t have to be a dirty word.”

So What? This adaptation of Indignation is based on a Philip Roth novel (2008; his 29th), which I admit I haven’t read (along with any of his other works, although for what it’s marginally worth, many years ago I did see the cinematic adaptions of Goodbye, Columbus [1959; film directed by Larry Peerce, 1969] and Portnoy’s Complaint [1969; film directed by Ernest Lehman, 1972]), with seemingly a good bit of this film’s dialogue and narration from Marcus taken straight from the book (based somewhat on Roth’s actual college experiences, although I have no idea how much creative license might have been taken with the characters of the parents nor whether someone such as Olivia Hutton even existed; however, I can say with certainty that Roth didn’t die in Korea in the early 1950s).  If the tone of the written work compares to this retelling of it, then it’s a marvelously-sly-mixture of a generally-serious-attitude that constantly focuses on the question of “Why do we end up the way we do?” contrasted with some hilariously funny bits such as Marcus’ roommates initially discussing the situation of his surprise blow-job or his rendition of how his father’s former assistant finally had a come-back for a woman customer who regularly insisted on smelling a dead chicken’s mouth and anus before committing to a purchase.  After seeing the film, I’m also curious how the print versions of Olivia and Dean Caudwell are presented because on screen they both come off as complex characters despite their dominant aspects: I’ll begin with Olivia, who’s a bit of a flirt trying to catch Marcus’ attention in the library late at night with her right leg dangling over the arm of her chair, later telling him in the hospital “Don’t take everything so seriously”—interesting advice from someone so close to the verge of mental-instability herself—yet she admires him for being sincere and intense; she also seems ambivalent about her drunkenness, as it led to her shame because of that 1st blow-job yet it’s also the reason she wasn’t able to be more efficiently-successful with her suicide attempt, leaving us with the impression that staying alive was not necessarily her desired choice.

 The Dean, on the other hand, shows no sense or ambiguity or remorse about anything as he keeps trying to convince Marcus (during their fiercely-stunning 16-min. discussion-deteriorating-into-argument verbal duel, providing us with a magnificent display of cinematic dialogue-interaction and editing) that he, as a steward of the college, is mainly concerned about this student’s tendency toward isolationism yet he keeps berating him (“Tolerance seems to be something of a problem for you, young man.”), refusing to accept any opposing viewpoints (in counter to Marcus’ admiration of philosopher/mathematician/writer Bertrand Russell’s* 1927 essay "Why I Am Not a Christian" as a foundation for his own atheism, Dean Caudwell simply dismisses Russell as an “immoralist,” whose opinions are presumably worthless despite his honor of the 1950 Nobel Prize in Literature).  Letts is marvelous in this role (as is Gadon in hers, with both of them powerfully-mesmerizing in every scene they’re in, forcing Lerman to “push himself across the pool” as if he were Michael Phelps determined to score yet another gold medal, despite sophisticated competition from his co-stars), constantly giving you reason to believe that he does have Marcus’ welfare in mind just as he then undermines any sense of sympathy with his seeming-hidden-agenda of either getting this likely-stellar-academic (and potential athlete) into the position of bringing glory to Winesburg or quickly getting rid of him before the school’s reputation is tarnished by this outlier.

*Russell's presented as a minor character (who could have been used to more-effective-advantage) in the docudrama about math prodigy Srinivasa Ramanujan, The Man Who Knew Infinity (Matthew Brown; review in our June 16, 2016 posting), but we learn more about him here in Indignation.

 In contrast to the action of Indignation, where there’s little of decency to be found in anyone except for the tragically-star-crossed-romantic-leads, one of the great strengths of Equity is that while pursuing its topical purpose of exposing the difficulties that women face in competing in the world of high-finance, including the shark-infested-waters of Wall Street, the film doesn’t make its primary female characters into crusading heroes; rather, they’re just as compromised as the men they’re competing with, although it’s clear that demanding working conditions require such deception on everyone's part.  (An aspect of Erin’s desire to get ahead fast is that she’s pregnant, a sure marker of delayed—if not stunted—career growth: "As Erin attempts in Equity, I hid my pregnancies as long as possible. We all did. I hid my house purchase in the suburbs to avoid speculation that it was a sign I was thinking of retiring.  But what I hid most, with all my power, was that for one brief year I was a pom pom girl in college. I lived in fear of the unending ridicule that revelation could cause. It was so critical to always be taken seriously as a woman when trying to play in the boys' sandbox."—Linda Zwack Munger, former Senior Institutional Bond Salesperson [among other places, she worked at Lehman Brothers], Equity Co-Producer; “The first time I traveled to Hong Kong on business at age 31, the Chairman of the bank at which I worked asked me if I lived at home in NYC with my parents. Not sure how many men he was asking that question!”—Audrey McNiff, former Goldman Sachs Partner, Equity Co-Producer.)  Still, Erin’s relationship (she has a loving partner, barely aware of what business decisions she’s making much of the time) and impending-motherhood status don’t prevent her from using every arrow in her quiver to keep Ed on track for the IPO including possibly having sex with him (although it’s not shown); an aspect of that tactic also is employed by Samantha in her seduction of Benji’s assistant (which gives her the needed entry for using him in various strategies of compromising his boss), but with her it’s all an act toward a desired result rather than going to the extreme Erin’s open to.

 Facts that support why the women in this film are forced to be so ruthless and/or manipulative are offered in the press notes* (sorry, they're in a format I can't share with you) which (slightly edited by me for flow) show “Women are underrepresented and undercompensated on Wall Street, in the U.S. banking and finance industry, and across the executive suites of corporate America: Wall Street: Percentage of women at the 22 largest U.S. Investment Banks/Financial firms—CEOs 0% (there has never been a female CEO at these 22 firms), Executive Level Officials 16.6%, First/Mid-Level Officials 30.9%; Standard and Poor’s 500: Percentage of women at the 89 firms in Finance—CEOs 2.1%, Executive Level Officials 29.3%, First/Mid-Level Managers 46.1%; Corporate America: Percentage of women at Standard and Poor’s 500 (all firms)— CEOs 4.0%, Executive Level Officials 25.1%, First/Mid-Level Managers 36.8% [I didn't see a source for Wall Street figures but the latter 2/3 of this is at Catalyst].”  Further, we find “Women in financial services face disparities based on gender in: Income—According to a 2015 survey that tracked M.B.A. graduates from 2007 to 2009, the women earned, six to eight years later, on average 20 percent less than the guy who sat next to 
them in class; even more tellingly, female graduates of Columbia’s business school, a significant proportion of whom land on Wall Street, earned nearly 40 percent less. [as cited in Bloomberg Businessweek]; [then, joining these others, there's the equally-depressing-category called] Advancement Opportunity—According to an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) data analysis, it is less than half as likely for a woman in financial services to progress from a middle to a senior level position as it is for a man. [Women in Financial Services, p.8, Exhibit 4]; Leadership—While no female executive has ever served as CEO of the 22 largest U.S. banks and investment firms, women have been close to the top of Wall Street firms before, only to get derailed. Some examples are: Zoe Cruz (president of Morgan Stanley) and Sallie Krawcheck (head of Citigroup Global Wealth Management) [as cited in]; Family Pay Penalty—Parenthood and marriage also impose a pay penalty on women while they award a bonus to men. In the United States, unmarried women earn 96 cents to an unmarried man’s dollar, but married women with at least one child earn 76 cents to the married father’s dollar [as cited in United Nations, Progress of the World's Women 2015-2016, p. 98]."

*I realize these extensive statistics are unusual inclusions in a film review, more like what you’d expect to find in the extensive footnotes of an scholarly journal article (a stylistic flair I was well-known for in my more-active-academic-days), but unlike such stock-market-based dramas as The Wolf of Wall Street (Martin Scorsese, 2013; review in our January 4, 2014 posting), The Big Short (Adam McKay; review in our January 7, 2016 posting) or Money Monster (Jodie Foster; review in our May 19. 2016 posting) where the setting is the high-rolling-financial-district of lower Manhattan but the action could just as easily be taking place in an espionage (Our Kind of Traitor [Susanna White; review in our July 7, 2016 posting]) or undercover crime-busters (The Infiltrator [Brad Furman; review in our July 20, 2016 posting]) context, Equity isn’t so much about the dirty dealings that go on in the shadows of the stock market as it an exposé of the ways in which women are held back in this lucrative industry unless they’re willing to devote their careers (i.e. lives) to the same kind of nefarious activities of their male counterparts, a story that needed telling so badly that at least 30** executive producers, co-producers, and investors—24 of those being women—were willing to put money into this project to see it shown to everyone up on the big screen.  So, if you
should happen to think that their complaints aren’t justified, I’ll just encourage you to read through those statistics (and much more in the links that support them) again, probably the most relevant information I could share about this important—and well-made—film, except for my encouragement for you to attend a screening of it.  If you need further impetus to do so, I’ll offer these thoughts from 3 of those Equity investors: “There are too few senior women on Wall Street and in Hollywood—but the ones there are making a real difference. That’s why I am proud to put my equity behind Equity!” Catherine Keating, President & Chief Executive Officer, Commonfund (who has been named as one of the most powerful women in banking and finance by American Banker magazine); "Saw the tension firsthand between earnings for shareholders and integrity of the markets. Saw fortunes made, victims fleeced, lives ruined, and confidence in our markets erode. All in all an exciting and interesting ride.” Cathy Fleming, Fleming Ruvoldt PLLC; “I got involved in this film because I felt it was a story within a story that needed to be told about professional women working to be successful in an industry, like many, that is overwhelmingly dominated by men. The story itself is a work of fiction, but the sub-story is real and it is one that we must have a discussion about.” Anonymous, male financial services executive.

** See this film’s IMDb credits for the names of 17 of them—you'll have to scroll down a bit for that list (I’ve already noted the 2 labeled as producer in the above review); the others are cited in the press notes.  (And give me a little credit along the way for being among the few film critics—if not the only one—to give you a footnote to a previous footnote within the context of this review.)

Bottom Line 
Final Comments: I understand that film criticism—as with any analysis of the works produced within all of the arts—is largely what we understand as the result of a personal subjective experience based on the attitudes and aesthetic sensibilities of whoever may be the involved reviewer (except in cases following the tenets of some theoretical stance, from early 20th-century Formalism to the more current variations on 
such positions as rigid Ideological or vague Postmodern approaches, where the template for exploration is set with the film being judged as to how well or poorly it matches the desired line of thought), but I’m still amazed sometimes with negative comments I see from other reviewers about works that I find to have great value.  For example, Kate Taylor (of Toronto’s The Globe and Mail) says of Indignation: “remove Roth’s prose from the equation and you don’t have much left. Writer and director James Schamus turns Indignation into a minor period piece, a precise but seemingly pointless evocation of the stultifying conventionalism of an American university campus in the 1950s” with the primary female characters as “caricatures […] the hot shiksa and the self-denying Jewish mother.”  Pointless!  Caricatures!  I guess Ms. Taylor sees no value in exploring the stultifying social mores that led to the wasted lives of 2 troubled-undergrads of a few generations ago, seemingly ordinary heterosexual youngsters of their era pushed into harm’s way by bigoted, hypocritical attitudes from roommates, parents, and college officers; but transpose this story to today, make the protagonists from the LGBT segments of society, then see if it still reads as “pointless”; fortunately, Taylor’s opinion is in the minority at Rotten Tomatoes where 81% of the reviews are of the positive variety, but then we have another of their Top Critics, Peter Howell (of the Toronto Star) also indignant about IndignationWhat’s missing is any real drama or purpose”—so maybe this film just doesn’t translate that well north of New York (or maybe eastern Canadians don’t care that much about what happened down in Ohio, but they’d better, given that it’s a vital battleground state in the upcoming U.S. Presidential election where there’s guaranteed to be a lot of “indignation” throughout our country afterwards no matter who wins in November).

 For that matter, the 71% composite score of the 19 reviews currently available for perusal at Metacrtiic about Equity (with details from both of these well-respected-review-accumulation-sites available farther below in my Related Links section) is based on only 2 mixed results (the Metacritic management somehow assigns a numerical value to each of their surveyed film's analyses, then takes an overall average) so it’s hard to know exactly how their arbitrary-numbers are calculated, but 1 of their very few mixed—not negativereviews, from Amy Rowe (of the New York Daily News), offers yet another astounding (to me) response: “The film does a good job of showcasing women's ambition and their right to pursue the same golden dream as men. But it does so in a pretty uninspired way […] ¶At the end of the day, and the end of this film, we're reminded that everyone's biggest motivator is money — regardless of gender. ¶“But what's the value in that obvious message?”  Well, Ms. Rowe, the value might be that even in the capitalistic society that we’re mired in (where “democratic socialist” principles sound fine to me, but I admit that’s not yet the culture we live in nor is it likely to be anytime soon, no matter how much attention is given in profit-driven-news-media to talk about trends toward "revolution"*), whether
that's old news or not, there’s still a useful story to be told about how in a society that constantly values success (and holds women—on Wall Street and Hollywood—more accountable for 1 failure as they attempt to pursue future endeavors than is the situation with men who often get plenty of 2nd, 3rd, etc. chances in the marketplace, the sports field, etc. despite their flops [the recently-deceased Michael Camino being a notable exception, becoming essentially a pariah following the United Artists studio demise as a result of his massive financial failure with Heaven’s Gate {1980} despite having previously achieved the pinnacle of Hollywood success with The Deer Hunter {1978}, winning 5 Oscars including for Best Picture and Best Director])—no matter how it’s achieved (despite all of the chatter about sinful-strategies in politics and the Olympics)—there’s plenty of value in Equity where the tilted-playing-field of gendered-high-finance, rarely seen in cinematic stories, is showcased at an appropriate time when successful women are moving upward from Paul Simon’s observation that “One man’s [or woman’s] ceiling is another man’s floor” (a foundation that females in many fields are still struggling to successfully build on, then upward from)—from his song of that name on the 1973 There Goes Rhymin’ Simon album (give a listen if you like).

*To quote John Lennon from his “Revolution”—on the 1968 recording, The Beatles (often called the “White Album”)—“You say you got a real solution Well, you know We’d all love to see the plan” (Want a listen to this energized tune?  OK, here you go; hey, Senator Sanders, this one’s for you).

 With all of these musical diversions that I’m eager to offer to you this time (following my serendipity muse, however far afield she may lead me), I guess it’s time to find some Musical Metaphor closure to all of these concerns about potent, vibrant lives rendered useless or at least compromised 
(I have every confidence that Naomi Bishop will somehow triumph in her endeavors, even if she has to find herself in a new variation on the arena she’s previously chosen to compete in) by arbitrary social forces that celebrate the success of those who’re allowed to compete in a certain manner (or with hidden aid that theoretically should disqualify their accomplishments but rarely does except when the rare corporate-manipulator or drug-fueled-athlete is caught, leading to some restrictions on further violations of this sort [often temporary or avoided with new strategies evolved to beat the intended cleanup]).  In that I’ve tried to note (without too many direct comparisons, for the benefit of readers who’d like to save my Equity comments for later exploration) the similarities in how the protagonists of these 2 worthy films are beaten down by forces for which they’ve yet to find counter-strategies, I think these filmic-folks could use the optimistic encouragement to yearn for a society where “People who need people Are the luckiest people in the world,” rather than having to further endure the more-bitter-world depicted in these films where we’re so often “letting our grown-up pride Hide all the need inside” so that we’re “Acting more like children Than children.”

 My marvelous wife, Nina, and I just saw Barbra Streisand sing this song (and many others, with her still “like buttah” voice, in a fabulous concert well worth our inflated, resold ticket prices), but Streisand admitted that she questioned composer Julie Styne and lyricist Bob Merrill about the lyrics, wondering why they shouldn’t say “People who don’t need people …,” arguing for more independence and individualism (as Marcus and Olivia surely would, in their constrained-circumstances, as Naomi has been conditioned to feel in the desperate world of constant survival where she competes).  Barbra, however, now says she agrees with the songwriters’ original sentiment (as do Nina and I) that “people who need people” are the ones who are more open to interaction, negotiation, mutual understanding, ultimately love in both its platonic and romantic varieties than those who are isolated (by choice or social rejection) aren’t so lucky—although they hopefully may find paths to better accommodate themselves to the isolation they’ve encountered—because they can transcend the “hunger and thirst” (whether literal or spiritual) that a demanding society thrusts upon all of us.  Marcus and Olivia at the very least needed each other but that was not to be because of how his mother and the dean needed for them to be only a certain kind of person for the benefit of these respective authority-figures ("half," not "whole"), Naomi needed people that truly cared about her needs, respected her struggles, but all she got were economic-mercenaries willing to act “more like children.”  I doubt that any of these antagonists would find their cold hearts warmed just by listening to this song (here at in a clip from Funny Girl [William Wyler, 1968, with an Oscar-winning-performance by Streisand]; you can also find it on the Funny Girl: Original Broadway Cast Recording album [1964], the Streisand People album [1964], and the movie's Funny Girl: Original Soundtrack [1968]), but it might be a start toward what these films (and their source materials, in novels and laws intended to better regulate powerful financial centers) are trying to get us to appreciate more so than what we see in the snarky (in)human choices being made in these sad-but-powerful-stories.*

*This positive message came clear to my dear Nina, though, along with everything else Streisand had to offer that night (including her own snarky swipes at Donald Trump, although she did thank the Republicans in the crowd who chose to attend—they may have been the ones on the ground floor paying even higher prices than we did way up in the balcony), as she finally got to see a live performance from a singer/actor/director that she’s greatly admired for over 50 years, giving some sense of uplift for me, just to see her so happy, balancing the disturbing warnings presented in these moving, insightful films, both of which I highly recommend despite their sorrowful aspects.

 As I’ve been doing of late, I’ll close out this posting by continuing to proudly brag about this blog’s increasing readership as long as the numbers from the previous month continue to climb, which they have again with a new all-time-high of 23,912 of unique hits, including last week’s part of that total finally seeing the U.S. return to the top spot with 662, followed by Russia 439, France 439, the United Arab Emirates 365, and Saudi Arabia 363 rounding out the top 5.  My great thanks to everyone who’s reading Film Reviews from Two Guys in the Dark, worldwide; it's much appreciated.
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Here’s more information about Indignation: (27:24 interview with director James Schamus and actor Logan Lerman, begins with the same trailer noted just above; audio’s a bit low, though, so you have to listen closely but you learn a lot, especially about the highly-effective extended scene with Lerman and Tracy Letts)

Here’s more information about Equity: (3:58 interview with actors/co-screenwriters Alysia Reiner and Sarah Megan Thomas; bad audio mix on this one also, with the interviewer mic’ed a lot louder than her interviewees) (based on only 33 reviews so far; you might want to check back after it’s opened wider to see if there are any changes) (results here as well are based on only 19 reviews so far; feel free to check back with this link later to see if the result has changed)

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If you’d rather contact Ken directly rather than leaving a comment here please use my new email at  Thanks.

By the way, if you’re ever at The Hotel California knock on my door—but you know what the check out policy is so be prepared to stay for awhile. Ken

P.S.  Just to show that I haven’t fully flushed Texas out of my system here’s an alternative destination for you, Home in a Texas Bar, with Gary P. Nunn and Jerry Jeff Walker.


  1. Thought Indignation was another excellent 2016 film set in 1951 PG America. My impression was Olivia may have been abused by her father based on ques throughout the script including her freezing when asked about him and the Dean's clearly articulated comments about closed door family issues. Overall a worthwhile production.

  2. Hi rj, Thanks as always for your comments; you've helped me remember aspects of Olivia's backstory that I didn't catch while viewing and reviewing, very likely true about the father abuse which adds further depth to this fine film. Ken