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HBO and Netflix are out with two reality-based films that look at recent events, but unfortunately only one really works.

"The Wizard of Lies" is a terrific retelling of the Bernie Madoff story, focusing on how the enormously successful securities broker actually was running an enormous Ponzi scheme, bilking people, companies and even charitable organizations out of billions of dollars. (As a fan of the New York Mets, I take this very personally, since owner Fred Wilpon was one of his victims and it had a big impact on the club's finances. But I digress...)

There was an multi-part ABC drama earlier this year that featured an excellent Richard Dreyfuss as Madoff, and that took great pains to explain the mechanisms that Madoff used to create his elaborate fraud. The HBO version stars Robert De Niro, who is as good as he's been in years, given the opportunity to play a nuanced, fleshed-out character as opposed to some of the caricatures that he's been doing in the movies.

"The Wizard of Lies" focused more on the people than the Ponzi scheme, giving us real insight into not just Madoff but his wife (Michelle Pfeiffer, almost unrecognizable), sons and other family members. (Hank Azaria is great as Madoff's main co-conspirator.) In fact, my only complaint might be that there is so much focus on the Madoff side of the narrative ledger that there isn't enough on the victims.

The story is seen through Madoff's eyes, framed by an interview he gives in prison, and this gives De Niro (guided by director Barry Levinson) the opportunity to put shadings into behavior and line readings. In the end, "The Wizard of Lies" asks whether Madoff was a common criminal, or some sort of sociopath ... and I think the film makes clear its answer.

"War Machine," on Netflix, is an ambitious attempt at a fictionalized retelling of the story of Gen. Stanley McChrystal, who was sent by the Obama administration to Afghanistan ostensibly to win the war at the same time as the administration was planning to pull its troops out of the war-torn country where winning seemed like a pipe dream.

Brad Pitt plays Gen. Glen McMahon as a broad caricature in a way that actually undermines the story; there is a legitimate point to be made about how the war in Afghanistan was prosecuted, and "War Machine" takes solid aim at some of the decisions made by the Obama administration. But it struck me that Pitt's artistic choices take the story to a place where it seems more like broad comedy than satire, and that's too bad; there are times when he seems to be doing a bad imitation of George Clooney, enough so that I wondered if Clooney would've been better in the role.

There are some good performances here - especially a sly turn by Ben Kingsley as Hamid Karzai, and some lovely, understated work by Meg Tilly as McMahon's long-suffering wife - but the whole thing just doesn't work. It could've been something closer to the great Charlie Wilson's War, but instead it is a broad misfire.

I have a beer to recommend to you this week - Summer of Lager, from Cisco Brewers in Nantucket, which is a bright and refreshing beer perfect for a summer barbecue.

That's it for this week.

Have a great weekend.

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