Koch on Film


“Mao’s Last Dancer” (+)

The movie is based on Li Cunxin’s autobiography. It’s no blockbuster, but it is a pleasant, enjoyable and interesting film.

It opens in China in 1972 and introduces us to a peasant family. One of their sons, Li Cunxin, is plucked from abject poverty by a Communist talent team and sent to Beijing to be trained as a ballet dancer. Li Cunxin is a committed Communist being indoctrinated in the way every German child was in the Hitler Jugend. In 1981, he is sent to Texas to work with the Houston Ballet Company directed by Ben Stevenson (Bruce Greenwood). Li Cunxin is played as an 11-year-old boy by Huang Wenbin, as a teenager by Guo Chengwu, and as an adult by Chi Cao — who, of course, is a true ballet star in real life.

Ultimately, Li Cunxin is called back to China at his government’s request — which he resists using the legal services of immigration attorney Charles Foster (Kyle MacLachlan). The movie occasionally borders on a soap opera, but the excellent acting by the entire cast keeps it from falling overboard. I saw it at the Quad Cinema, located at 34 W. 13th St.

I went to China in 1979 when I was mayor. Visitors from the West were so rare that crowds followed me and members of my party along the streets. At that time, China was still overwhelmingly agricultural and poverty-stricken. Today, it is the second highest user of energy in the world, having replaced Japan — and its architecture and skyscrapers rival the best in the world. Gee, I’d like to return and visit once again.

Rated PG. Running time: 2 hours, 7 minutes.

“Inside Job” (+)

This documentary about the 2008 financial crisis is, in effect, a one-man operation. The man is Charles Ferguson — who collaborated on the script, directed the film and interrogated people in the New York financial industry who agreed to go on camera. For some others, he uses video clips. 

Ferguson interviews a host of Wall Streeters, asking how the Great Recession occurred. Many of those interviewed come across as caricatures and dumb ones at that. 

In my opinion, the officials responsible for the debacle are Robert Rubin and Larry Summers (Secretaries of the Treasury under President Clinton), Henry Paulson (Treasury Secretary under George W. Bush), and Timothy Geithner, (Treasury Secretary under President Obama).

Summers is the outgoing Director of the National Economic Council.  Equally guilty is Alan Greenspan, who served as Federal Reserve Chairman for 18 years under four presidents. He led the country into deregulation from the start of his term. Deregulation is the major cause of the debacle, as well as pathetically ineffective supervision by agencies, which did have regulatory authority.

Larry Summers is leaving his White House position as Director of the National Economic Council. When he was the president of Harvard University, he was attacked for raising a controversial issue concerning the proficiency of women in certain professional fields. At the time, I thought he was unfairly attacked as a misogynist, having been requested to pose a controversial question, which did not reflect his own views. I now believe his air of superiority contributed to the anger of women and that he too was one of the prime culprits in bringing on the Great Recession. Summers recently announced that he is leaving the Obama administration at the end of this year to return to Harvard to save his tenure.

Interestingly, Summers has been shown unfavorably in two recent movies.  Not only “Inside Job,” but he was portrayed in “The Social Network” as an arrogant stuffed shirt. You should see both films.

I believe President Obama has to be held responsible for bringing into his administration the very people, along with others, responsible for the fall of America’s economy: Summers and Geithner. In the opinion of many, President Barack Obama sold out America to the insurance companies and the prescription drug industry in the recently passed comprehensive health insurance legislation. Similarly, he and members of Congress have sold us out to Wall Street and continue to do so.

Humorously, in the film Ferguson interviews former New York State Governor Eliot Spitzer, who had to step down as governor because of a sex scandal. To his credit, Spitzer took on Wall Street’s excesses when he was New York’s Attorney General. Even more bizarre is Ferguson’s interview with the madam who provided Spitzer and others with prostitutes. She comments on how Wall Street firms used prostitutes in their business activities for the pleasure of their clients.  She is now on the ballot as a candidate for New York State governor.  

The picture powerfully sets forth statistic after statistic, fact after fact, on what occurred when the nation slipped into the Great Recession and needed huge federal bailouts to recover. That script should be made available in book form so that those statistics and facts remain readily available.

The most impacting aspect of this picture, as well as a similar treatment provided by Channel 13’s “Frontline” show on the same subject, is that few, if any, appear to have been subject to criminal liability. Even worse, for the most part, those responsible have kept their millions and billions of dollars and have become even wealthier since the recovery, while ordinary Americans continue to suffer.

I saw the film at the Lincoln Plaza Cinema, 1886 Broadway at 63rd Street.

Henry Stern said: “This is a fine movie which more people should see. It casts a baleful eye on Wall Street manipulation, fueled by false rumors, and Congressional deregulation, lubricated by massive lobbying. Unmentioned here is that what Bernie Madoff did was illegal under existing law. The Feds couldn’t catch him because they were inept. Dumb cops usually don’t catch smart robbers. I recommend this movie. It is as close to the inside as most of us will ever get.”

Rated PG-13. 1 hour, 48 minutes.