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Dennis Perkins

Dennis Perkins is a freelance writer who lives in Auburn with his lovely wife, the writer Emily L. Stephens, and their cat, Cooper. When not watching all the movies ever made or digging up stories about the Maine film scene, he can be found writing for the AV Club and elsewhere. The rest of the time, he's worrying about the Red Sox.

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Posted: April 11, 2016

4 movies examine economic equality in America, just in time for a tax season lament

Written by: Dennis Perkins
"The Corporation"

“The Corporation” Courtesy photo

It’s tax day, people. Well, technically, we’ve all got until April 19 this year, since Maine and Massachusetts celebrate Patriots’ Day. So we’ve got that going for us. Which is nice. But still, the time is rapidly approaching where we last-minuters will have to pony up our hard-earned tax dollars. Unless you’re super-rich and evil and were named in the “Panama Papers,” in which case — you’re what’s wrong with America. Or so say these filmmakers, who’ve brought their case against economic inequality to some films guaranteed to angry up the blood, especially when it’s time to write that check.


In this puckishly ticked-off 2003 documentary, directors Jennifer Abbot and Mark Achbar deploy a clever strategy to strike at one of the basic tenets of capitalism. If, as has been affirmed by the courts and the 14th Amendment, corporations have the same legal rights as a person, then what happens if you psychoanalyze them? Ultimately, the filmmakers conclude that a corporation is, by its very nature, a sociopath — the pursuit of personal gain (profits) supersedes all considerations of citizenship, morality, or responsibility. It’s a unique course taken to undermine the concept of trickle-down economics, in that the most successful corporations are those who stop up the leaks completely.

"The Big Short"

Steve Carell and Ryan Gosling in “The Big Short.” Photo courtesy of Paramount Pictures


Known for his fruitful comic partnership with Will Ferrell (“Anchorman,” “Talladega Nights”), director Adam McKay seemed an unlikely source for this energetic (and funny) slice of cinematic outrage over the 2008 banking crisis. But McKay’s 2010 buddy-cop comedy “The Other Guys,” whose credits ran over an angry lesson about the banking scandal, and this dramatization of Michael Lewis’ excellent book on the lucrative but doomed-to-collapse mortgage market practices indicate that McKay’s talents mix well with indignation. Like “The Corporation,” “The Big Short” shows that capitalism rewards profit. All else is beside the point, even if it means the worst, most far-reaching economic crisis since the Great Depression.


“Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room” Courtesy photo


Alex Gibney’s 2005 documentary about the implosion of energy giant Enron is like the real-world manifestation of “The Corporation” thesis, with the company’s brazenly unethical stock manipulations playing out in jaw-dropping fashion. On “The Simpsons,” plutocrat C. Montgomery Burns was once admonished by his loyal assistant, Smithers, that his latest evil scheme had “crossed that line between everyday villainy and cartoonish supervillany,” and the Enron executives did the same. Pumping up their stock’s value through smoke and mirrors, they raked in billions, all the while knowing that, when the bubble inevitably burst, not only would it cost tens of thousands of jobs, but would have far-reaching consequences for the entire nation. (In the “too much even for fiction” department, execs rallied employees to pour their savings into the sinking company even as they themselves cashed out, literally padding their pockets with their employees’ retirement funds.)

"Atlas Shrugged II: The Strike"

Samantha Mathis as Dagny Taggart in “Atlas Shrugged II: The Strike.” Photo courtes of Byron J. Cohen/The Strike Productions


Of course, not everyone is convinced that the free market needs fixing. Like Ayn Rand, author of the novel on which this three-film adaptation is based, whose Objectivist philosophy maintains that those with the God-given superiority of intellect to make money have the absolute right to do so. Sadly for Rand fans, the marketplace did not embrace the expensively inert first installment of the mammoth adaptation, and producers eventually resorted to a Kickstarter campaign to complete the series. As movie critic Scott Tobias put it, “The irony of ‘Part II”s mere existence is rich enough: The free market is a religion for Rand acolytes, and it emphatically rejected ‘Part I.'”




Thursday: “From This Day Forward.” Filmmaker Sharon Shattuck’s moving portrait of her unconventional family examines how her loving parents navigated their relationship once Shattuck’s father came out as transgender. Followed by a video Q&A with Shattuck and her father, Trisha.


Friday: “Everybody Wants Some!!” Director Richard Linklater brings out a “spiritual sequel” to his classic last day of high school movie “Dazed and Confused.” This time, he looks in on a rambunctious group of college baseball players, and, like the previous film, gradually reveals the hidden soulfulness in the traditional coming-of-age story.

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