Sunday, October 8, 2023


I haven’t been to a cinema in over a year. Apparently, my last trip to one was on Sunday 25th September 2022 to watch “Moonage Daydream”, Brett Morgen’s documentary-collage about David Bowie. Any further thoughts of a visit were dismissed because screens were blocked by multiple showings of blockbuster franchises with long running times, or that films I wanted to see were screening at times that were personally inconvenient – I have only just seen Wes Anderson’s latest film “Asteroid City” following its release on Blu-ray.

On Saturday 7th October 2023, I returned to my local cinema, a Vue, which turned out to be in the middle of a refit, which was encouraging for its future in light of the last few years as other cinema chains, particularly Cineworld, still struggle following the (obligatory mention of the) pandemic. However, the cinema’s new recliner seats are slightly irritating: their new recliner seats are either too comfortable when fully deployed, or else sitting back in your chair forces your legs up anyway.

I was there to watch “Dumb Money”, a ripped-from-the-headlines comedy about the general Reddit-reading public’s mass buying of shares in the video game store Game Stop in 2021, in competition with hedge fund managers that were effectively betting on its demise. In the film, a character talks about their father losing their job and pension when their life-long employment in a grocery store is ended by a leveraged buyout that siphoned the worth of the business to the point of bankruptcy. Vue is owned by two Canadian pension funds, and it is in their pensioners’ interests that I returned. 

It was nice to see a mid-budget comedy-leaning film, aimed more at adults rather than children or families, in a cinema, although it is debatable as to whether $30 million is still “mid-budget” when a blockbuster can cost eight, nine, ten times as much. The mid-budget film can become a series on a streaming service more easily than a low -budget project or a blockbuster, and the story “Dumb Money” could easily have been told in a series of instalments, like the chapters in the book on which it is based, “The Antisocial Network”. While some reviews of the film have criticised the leaving out of detail in when or how certain events have happened, I preferred seeing the story in a 104-minute sweep than in a six- or eight-part series bogged down by explanation – if I need more detail, I will read the book.

I also liked that, in Paul Dano, we had a leading actor whose career had been built up by Hollywood without being in service to a franchise, his role as The Riddler in “The Batman” having been written with him in mind. Without advocating the building up of an old-style studio system to nurture actors of the stature in the Classical Hollywood era, more such casting should be encouraged: Alfred Hitchcock cast Cary Grant three times in his films, and James Stewart five times, because doing so saves twenty minutes of explaining who the character is, and while Dano is playing a real person, he effortlessly portrays their precarity throughout the film’s story of his financial situation. 

In the wake of the success in “Barbie” and “Oppenheimer” in bringing audiences back to cinemas following the Covid-19 pandemic, the release of “Dumb Money” was made more widespread in the United Stated than originally intended. MGM, initially involved with the film before moving on, is maintaining theatrical releases despite its being bought by Amazon in 2022, including through its subsidiaries Orion and American International Pictures. Martin Scorsese’s “Killers of the Flower Moon”, made for Apple’s streaming service, is receiving a full theatrical release first through Paramount Pictures. Taylor Swift’s upcoming concert film has already received $100 million in pre-release ticket sales, although that might also be because seeing the film in a cinema is cheaper than attending one of her concerts in person. The outlook feels good.

But what did I think of “Dumb Money”? It tells a finely wrought human story out of a very knotty financial event, and explains itself very well. Most importantly, it got me out of the house.

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