A high-rise Las Vegas hotel operates as a sort of "Garden of Eden” in Adam Mervis’s film of fake relationships and faker economics with real stakes, The Last Days of Capitalism. One could draw comparisons to the snake’s offer of a ripe apple from the forbidden tree, but this wouldn’t be entirely the point. In the movie, a man makes many a transaction with a woman (their various names are spouted about with childish abandon), with the understanding of sex and conversation - of which there are many of both - to occur over the course of one weekend. If there is an apple here, who is taking it and is doing so a sin at all? In this Vegas, things blur but can result in consequences. Long-lasting ones, even. Especially.
The title might be seen as a pretentious explainer and summation for what goes down and what is ultimately resolved through these two individuals, but this too is a mirage. A blur. Not real, but with things to lose and win anyway. I thought much about the stripping scene in Closer, where Clive Owen begs with cash to know Natalie Portman’s real name. To know something "true.” No answer could make him whole, as he’s merely just occupying his own space. And while money itself has questionable actual value, the pursuit of it is all too "honest.”
The Last Days of Capitalism tries to reach some startling revelation of this pursuit, but there’s only the same old message to be expressed by the end. What isn’t the same old would be in how the man and woman reached this end, and how their carnal business of push and shove concludes. Performed by actors Mike Faiola and Sarah Rose Harper, the film is a total showcase for debate and speech, and the two holding this tug of words are all game for the action, Harper being the standout (not that Faiola is a weak link). Dialogue centers on reality, fantasy, and indeed capitalism, and the complex cross-sections of the three. At times, the chatting is just a means of filling time for the characters, of running out a clock, or just keeping time moving. Time can be bought, but more time can’t be allotted, no matter how much wealth is around to spare.
This could be a confusion of mediums, meant more for the stage than film, but through some wonderfully moving camera motion and precise cutting, the story maintains its grasp on its chosen form. When the man and woman have a cocaine binge that ends in a rendition of “America the Beautiful,” the breath of the anxiety and the intense pulse of the scene is given true life with few edits and flowing concentration for composition. When the party ends and the man is vomiting, everything slows to a comforting crawl, this time with a trained eye and peaceful patience. It lets the actors act and just be.
If there is ever a time to let acting alone, it’s in the very personal. The Last Days of Capitalism is able to cut through any faux thematic depth by way of great performance and greater capture. Subtlety exists mostly with the actors here, who find meaning in the grand ideas the story thinks it has. They made the apple of Eden into something of a modern definition and found how to attach it to themselves and their views of one another the world around them and, boldly, the worlds they’ve made up. It’s a means to an end, and an end they created is better than the one written for them. That’s paradise. 3/5
Some Notes on Tango Shalom
I’m not particularly religious or even all that knowledgeable of the inner details of many practices of faith. Prior to this writing, I asked for advice from a good friend and colleague on the matter of Tango Shalom, of which she has strong thoughts. The characters in the film, as it is, would not, in reality, do any of what the protagonist Hassidic Rabbi does. This is, of course, important in understanding the contradictions and potentially ignorant fantasies of the movie.
The film is one of some idealistic and kind interfaith actions, for which I do wholeheartedly support. Stuck in some financial turmoil, a normally strict but well-meaning Rabbi is presented with a way to earn much-needed relief: to dance the Tango in a competition. However, touching another woman is absolutely prohibited by his community. Seeking counsel, he visits leaders of other area religions, looking for the answer he wants to hear - that it’s ok to do this performance.
Overly sentimental and too much of a feel-good story, Tango Shalom plays things loose and all too easy with building cultural bridges, no matter how lovely such things are and can be. It’s difficult for me to say if it’s right in its depiction, though I honestly have little opinion on the real-world applications. As a progressive, I’m alright with people branching out from boundaries, and highly respect those with strong codes of conduct. My friend finds that the movie is a misrepresentation of aspects of what she believes, and that must be taken into account when watching movies like this. I’m uncertain if people from this community participated in the making of Tango Shalom, but such a fact is mostly superficial to what’s done.
There are some smiles to be had though, credited to the length to which the Rabbi goes to Tango without breaching his morals and to the awkwardness that ensues, but unfortunately for Tango Shalom, there’s little else.
Still… I’d like to see more stories that try to explore connections within and between faiths of all kinds, and most genuinely. But when your sincerity is of one note, so is the effort clear, of which it is poor. 1/5