The Big Short (2015 Film)

Shouldn't all the arrows be facing down?

Shouldn’t all the arrows be facing down?

I wasn’t sure what to expect going into this film. As usual, I didn’t read the book, but I did have a rather up-close and personal experience with the real life fallout of both the financial and real estate market collapses depicted in the film. I have also enjoyed the previous works of both Director Adam McKay(Tim and Eric, Step Brothers), and the fantastic ensemble of actors including Christian Bale, Steve Carell, Ryan Gosling, Brad Pitt, and Marisa Tomei.

As I started watching the film on opening week, I couldn’t help but notice the theater was practically empty. I didn’t know whether to attribute this lackluster turnout to Star Wars : The Force Awakens drawing away customers, or just general lack of interest in such an intimidating and dry subject matter. It certainly wasn’t because this was a bad movie – it was actually pretty damn outstanding. It received a well-deserved 86 on Rotten Tomatoes. So, at least critics could vouch for the quality being served up.

This was a delicate tightrope to walk. Adam McKay made some rather bold choices in his quest to pull off explaining the intricate, yet imminently pertinent nuances of how this whole mess went down – while simultaneously not boring his audience to tears. He achieved this balance by interjecting sexy and interesting celebrities (Selena Gomez, Margot Robbie) into the middle of the film, and having them explain key technical details in laymen’s terms and palatable analogies. Although Selena’s cameo actually ended up backfiring on me, and proved to be one of the only scenes where I had an inexplicable temporary mental blackout.

Wha.... ww. what happened? Where am I?

Wha…. wwa… what … h… haa …happened?  ….    Where am I?

Adam also utilized the Zach Morris technique by having Ryan Gosling’s character (Jared Vennett) basically narrate and speak directly to the camera in the middle of scenes. This helped clarify exactly what the audience needed to understand a great deal, as Gosling had both the most entertaining character in Vennett, and best performance given in the film. These risky bets put forth by McKay proved to be the equivalent of buying a bunch of credit default swaps in late 2006 – massive ROI realized in due time.

Character development.

Character development.

Christian Bale playing Dr. Michael Burry was a nice vacation from his uncomfortably silly Batman voice, and a welcomed return to his character comfort zone of weirdo, pseudo-genius, headphone-wearing sociopaths. He made me glow with delight as I watched him dust off his subtly powerful acting chops. The supporting cast, Brat Pitt, and Steve Carell were all solid as well.  Alas, I don’t feel like exerting much effort in describing all that, so you’ll just have to take my word for it.

Double kicking the asses of his pussy ship-jumping investors.

Double kicking the asses of both his pussy, ship-jumping, investors and the cocky, myopic banks.

There is an important point addressed at the beginning of the film. Which is something to the effect of – the financial industry creates smokescreens and erects barriers to entry for common folks in the form of an aggressive, misogynist culture who use intimidating and convoluted language in order to never allow their customers to realize how little they actually do for them. And, more importantly, not allow anyone to discover how much criminal activity and unadulterated fleecing of the innocent is actually taking place behind those closed doors. This language and intimidation is also unfortunately a hurdle this film must clear in order to properly broadcast its important message : These banks are fucking balls-out scumbag criminals of the highest order. And since none of them got punished the first time, you can bet your pretty little house they are going to do it again. Oh wait, you probably did bet the preponderance of your net worth using  your house, 401k, and pension as collateral against this kind of thing ever happening again. Maybe spending $6.00 on a matinée will be the most sage investment you ever make.

Overall Rating :  8.9/10

 – JA

American Psycho (2000 film)

This looks like the cover of a 1992 Blockbuster Video bargain bin B-movie soft porn/horror.

The first time I saw “American Psycho”, it was in theaters back in 2000. I was moderately excited to see it. However, as the film progressed, I found myself becoming increasingly confused. Then eventually, I got quite frustrated trying to figure out exactly what the hell was going on. By the time the end credits rolled, I walked to my car with a clear verdict : I absolutely hated it. I felt lost and generally disappointed. But, 12 years later, and after about 24 viewings….. It has now earned its place as one of my favorite movies of all time. In retrospect, I now can diagnose what the problem was the first time I saw it : I just didn’t get it.

I’ve actually never read the Bret Easton Ellis novel this movie is based on, and I don’t think I ever will. Word on the street is the novel is significantly more graphic in its detail. Further, it’s just supposed to be a superior medium through which this story is told. I guess I’m just too lazy to read something more than 100 pages. That, or books are too challenging of a medium for me to handle. Or, maybe it’s because I’m not the type to go off and see if I can improve on a classic. To put it in laymen’s terms : I don’t fix what ain’t broke. And every frame of this movie is gold, Jerry, gold.

Before I proceed to dissect this film any further, I must take care of some unfortunate business. This film has achieved a cult status with scores of fans around the world. However, there is a crucial distinction to be made between two types of fans. Within this bold division that exists, I happen to fall on the minority side. Seemingly, the majority of people applaud this film for some pretty disturbing reasons. Of course, all art forms are open to interpretation from the viewer. I’m not saying you’re not allowed to like this movie just because you didn’t pick up on all the details that I get so much pleasure from. Instead, I’m speaking to the Scott Disicks of the world. Those who worship the Patrick Bateman character because they think he’s a super cool guy to look up to.

Please, just stop.

Holy christbucket, are they missing the substance and value of this movie. It’s like saying your favorite museum is the Louvre because you really adore the bathroom stalls. They exist only for function. This is all pretty hilarious to me because the movie’s purpose is not to paint any of these characters in a kind or sympathetic light. To come away from this film idolizing Bateman, would lead me to suggest that the viewer immediately consult a therapist.

This movie is a period piece. Mary Harron(director) does a fantastic job encapsulating the materialist, vapid, cut-throat culture of the 1980’s. With the lone possible exception of Bateman’s secretary Jean (Chole Sevigny), every character is a shell of a human being. Although, even Jean isn’t immune to the allure of Patrick’s status, so maybe she doesn’t really count either. All these characters, to quote Mr. Bateman : “simply, are not there”. Obsession with superficial conquests like getting a reservation at Dorsia, or obtaining a tanning bed at home, have become the equivalent of reaching self-actualization within their hierarchy of needs.

One of these people is in touch with humanity….

I was initially hung up on issues like whether he really blew up that cop just by shooting at it with a gun from 50 feet away. Or, where did that mess of bodies he stashed in that closet go, if he didn’t move them? But, I was simply missing the point. The point is, that it DOESN’T MATTER what happened. Nothing matters. In this insidious and sick world, nothing you do or say matters unless it concerns Ivana Trump being at the same restaurant as you. Or, you having a better view of Central Park from your apartment. Feeding a kitten to an ATM, or killing some “old faggot and his dog” at random, pale in comparison as actions of consequence to getting a slightly better haircut than your Pierce & Pierce co-worker. They are so concerned with mundane materialism that viciously murdering scores of people within this world can be something that goes easily unnoticed.

Try getting a reservation at Dorsia now, you stupid BASTARD!!

Throughout the film, characters can barely tell each other apart. Even the detective(Willem Dafoe), whose job is to figure out who is who and what they might be guilty of, fails miserably. When he interviews people, he ends up going in circles because no one can tell each other apart and, more importantly, no one even cares about what constitutes genuine reality. Yes, I totally missed all this stuff the first time through. So, I’ll cut the one-time viewers some slack. But, for the “fans” who have seen this film even half as many times as I have; no dice. My greatest eye-rolling moments are induced when this overarching theme continues to elude their grasp. “Wouldn’t that be so awesome to slaughter some whore with a chainsaw!?!” No, actually, it really wouldn’t be all that awesome. But, beauty is in the eye of the beholder I guess.

So, yes, yes, yes…. getting past all that silliness, there are so many amazing scenes that are brilliantly hilarious. I fear if I tried to dissect more than one, I’ll end up referencing every frame of the movie. So, I’ll stick to the best of the best. Bateman is breaking up with Evelyn Williams(Reese Witherspoon) and, after an amazing back and forth dialogue, he gets up in a huff and, after she asks where he is going, he delivers the all time classic response : “I have to return some videotapes”.

True fashion knows no boundaries.

I am such a fanboy, that in 2004 I actually had a bunch of custom t-shirts made up with just that line printed on it and no quotation marks. I wore that shirt for years, and only two people out of thousands who saw it actually knew what it was from. So, to answer your question, yes, I am that fucking cool. But, sarcasm aside, they were fun t-shirts to don, and they got me some unique reactions from people who seemed quite perplexed. If I ever make a new batch of shirts, I’m thinking either : “GREAT Sea Urchin Ceviche”(Jared Leto really didn’t get enough credit for this performance) or…  “Not if you want to keep your spleen”. And let’s be clear here : I’m not worshipping or trying to emulate any of the characters. I just really enjoy both the script and the delivery of the lines.

Christian Bale’s performance is so good, it’s a tad unnerving. He truly nails this character, and allows the spirit of this movie to fully drive it’s point home. Running the gamut from expressing half-subdued internal devastation(business card envy scene), all the way to his masterpiece four-minute meltdown soliloquy poured out to his attorney’s answering machine. I can’t imagine being able to deliver that kind of bizarre emotional explosion take after take. Especially, with no other actor to feed off of. Bale is just such a great talent.

“I….I even um…. oh, I ate some of their brains….I tried to cook a little….”

This film is a true classic and there is honestly no other film I’ve enjoyed more. Especially after watching it over, and over, and over ad nauseam. It just never gets old. If you only saw this once, and even if you say you liked it, I promise you didn’t fully appreciate it. Come on over and we can do a screening together, and I’ll give you the full tour of every piece in the museum. Complete with a breakdown of the genius nuances intricately woven through almost every scene. I find a new detail to appreciate from this gift that keeps on giving every time I watch it. Speaking of which, it might be time to go for number 25……

Overall Rating : 10/10

– JA