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Film Reviews: Dumb Money & Charlotte’s Castle

Arts Review2023-9-22By: Marc Glassman

 

Money and Property

Dumb Money & Charlotte’s Castle

By Marc Glassman

 

Dumb Money

Craig Gillespie, director

Lauren Schuker Blum and Rebecca Angelo, script based on “The Antisocial Network,” by Ben Mezrich

Starring: Paul Dano (Keith Gill), Pete Davidson (Kevin Gill), Vincent D’Onofrio (Steve Cohen), Shailene Woodley (Caroline Gill), Seth Rogen (Gabe Plotkin), America Ferrera (Jennifer Campbell), Nick Offerman (Kenneth C. Griffin), Anthony Ramos (Marcus), Sebastian Stan (Vlad Tenev), Myha’la Herrold (Riri), Talia Ryder (Harmony)

America has always loved rebels but Dumb Money offers us someone who is completely unexpected: a stock trader. We’ve come a long way from Paul Newman’s sexy chain gang worker (Cool Hand Luke) and Marlon Brando’s outrageous motorcycle gang leader (The Wild One) with Paul Dano’s Keith Gill. Here’s a guy who works 9 to 5 at an insurance company, comes home to his wife (an underused Shailene Woodley) and kid, has dinner and then, beer in hand, goes down to his chat room where he fashions himself Roaring Kitty and offers stock exchange advice to his audience. 

 

Keith is loose and crazily charming when he gets going on his predictions, one of which is investing in GameStop, an old-fashioned video-game outlet. Why he thinks GameStop is worthy of anyone’s time and money is imponderable—it’s simply something he loves. But here’s where the movie—and let’s not forget, this tale is based on a real story—hits high gear: thanks to Roaring Kitty and his online friends, a moribund company and potential bad investment suddenly took off like a rocket on the exchange. 

Working with an intelligent script by Lauren Schuker Blum and Rebecca Angelo, director Craig Gillespie (I, Tonya, Cruella, Pam and Tommy) has created an uneven satire on America’s obsession with winning against all odds. What started as a strange obsession by Roaring Kitty turned into a fiscal phenomenon as thousands of people invested in the GameStop stock, which  was despised by the “smart money” investors. In a panic environment caused by the unprecedented outlay, “dumb” investors suddenly made lots of money while the big boys—the smart ones—found themselves losing millions. 

Gillespie, who has a propensity for making outrageous comedy, gave himself license to create scenes with investors, both rich and poor, who are affected by Roaring Kitty’s whimsy. With his scriptwriters, and based to some extent on reality, we’re given a landscape of characters: the obscenely rich—Seth Rogen’s  Gabe Plotkin, Nick Offerman’s Kenneth C. Griffith and Vincent D’Onofrio’s Steve Cohen; the worthy poor–America Ferrera’s Jennifer Campbell, Myha’la Herrold’s Riri, Talia Ryder’s Harmony; and even the coolest GameStop employee Marcus (Anthony Ramos). It’s an amusing effort at looking at America through its various unacknowledged class structures, and it works especially well when Ferrara’s nurse offers righteous rage towards a system that is tilted against them but which she helps to upset, if only temporarily.

Not all of Dumb Money works. There’s an attempt to create a personal drama based on Paul Dano’s Keith’s (Roaring Kitty) relationship with his brother, Pete Davidson’s Kevin. Their acting styles don’t mesh, which doesn’t help that aspect of the film. And though it’s hardly necessary, I was disappointed that there were no funny sequences between Seth Rogen and Nick Offerman, as two of the big bad investors. Rather better and more persuasive are scenes with Myha’la Herrold’s Riri and Talia Ryder’s Harmony—at least they care about the same thing.

Much of the last part of the film revolves around whether the “little investors” should make millions or hold onto their stock in order to hurt the big boys further. In the real world, many lost their shirts while some made millions. Who were the winners? The film doesn’t tell us.

Dumb Money isn’t as sharp and funny as The Big Short. I’m not the first to say that the fiscal scenes would benefit from Margot Robbie in a bubble bath explaining how the stock market operates. But any comedy about greed and capitalism is great for us to see. It’s hardly perfect but I am sure you’ll enjoy Dumb Money. It’s about life and love and, above all else, money. And isn’t that reality today? 

 

Charlotte’s Castle 

(Canada, 86 min.)

Dir: Jamie Kastner

Feature documentary w/Charlotte Mickie, Bobbi Speck, Neil MacDonald, Louise Dennys, Ric Young, Rodolfo and Dandi Maestre

 

Even in Toronto’s real estate rich Annex, Spadina Gardens, which houses the apartments at numbers 41 and 45, is a spectacular structure, one filled with gravitas, beauty and history. The red brick building with high ceilings, impressive stained glass designs and sophisticatedly configured apartments is the oldest in Toronto with its original floor plans maintained. Built in the first decade of the 20th century at the corner of Spadina and Lowther, the four-story building confers a sense of prestige to an already beloved neighbourhood.

It turns out that not everyone believes that Spadina Gardens should simply be celebrated. In Jamie Kastner’s insightful documentary Charlotte’s Castle, a battle between conservationists and modernizers is played out in this, one of Toronto’s grandest buildings. Charlotte Mickie and Bobbi Speck, two long-standing residents of Spadina Gardens, are leading a fight to preserve their apartments and a building they love from a Dutch company, the new owners, who want to change its essential character.  

Kastner is careful to get the local representative from the Dutch landlords to express his philosophy, which matches that of his bosses. Their sensibility is that of contemporary condo developers and architects around the world: create clear clean surfaces with as few rooms and clutter as possible. Make everything lighter and brighter, eliminating unnecessary texture and complexity in interior design. Anyone who has been to a downtown Toronto high rise office or apartment understands what the modern look is all about: to some, it’s soulless; to others, it’s cool and totally functional. 

For Charlotte Mickie and Bobbi Speck and their compatriots in the fight to preserve the elegant past–curator/collector Neil MacDonald, former diplomat Rodolfo Maestre and his artist partner Dandi and others—the fight is to keep something beautiful and irreplaceable from going away. Kastner carefully sets the scene, taking us into the apartments, rich with art and books and precious objects, with rooms filled to the brim with artifacts of the past that are truly memorable. It’s a way of life that Charlotte and her friends are defending, one that is quickly seeping away. 

When the Dutch owners renovate apartments and the buildings’ stairwells, breaking down walls, eradicating floors and old fashioned pocket doors, removing ancient door handles, Charlotte can almost hear the screams of past residents. That may sound quirky but it’s mighty persuasive when you hear her tell it. Kastner takes us back into the past through old photographs and reminisces of past residents, backing up Mickie’s beliefs. 

Going back to the earliest days of Spadina Gardens, two of the ground floor apartments were occupied for a time by Sir Henry Pellatt and his wife; he was the original owner of Casa Loma and a man of rare vision in the city. Over the years, many artists and musicians lived there, most notably the great opera singer Maureen Forester, whose children—the acclaimed Kash family—recall for Kastner the fine times they spent at Spadina Gardens. The brilliant publisher Louise Dennys and her partner Ric Young, who lived there in the Eighties and Nineties, remember hosting such award-winning writers as Ian McEwan, Kazuo Ishiguro and Gabriel Garcia Marques at Spadina Gardens literary parties. But their most exciting reminisce is that they harboured Salman Rushdie at their apartment—with security guards surrounding the building–before he made one of his first public appearances after the Ayatollah’s fatwa at the Winter Garden where he was embraced by Premier Bob Rae. 

There’s no doubt that Spadina Garden has a place in Toronto’s artistic and architectural history. But should it continue to exist in its old form? Much of the latter part of Kastner’s film is taken up with the proceedings of Toronto’s Heritage Board and its decision regarding the maintenance of the structure of the building—inside and outside. Will Charlotte’s Castle retain its historic validity? Can our children expect to see Spadina Gardens’ apartments—and not just the exterior? Potential viewers should watch Jamie Kastner’s sprightly flavourful film to find out part of the answer.  

 

To my mind, Kastner had made a film well worth seeing. 

 

Mea Culpa! I know Charlotte Mickie, Jamie Kastner, Louise Dennys and Ric Young. And I’ve been in Spadina Gardens. I hope that hasn’t impaired my judgement of a film that reaches no conclusion about modernity versus conservation. It’s an on-going debate.

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