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

Looper (2012 film)

If you flip this poster upside-down, Bruce Willis gets the lead, and the movie is now titled : “Repool”. I’m pretty sure that doesn’t mean anything.

Time travel movies never make sense. No one has ever written anything that doesn’t have at least one big plot hole. “Looper” is no exception to this rule. However, Rian Johnson (writer/director) did a fine job in avoiding the vast majority of common pitfalls that come with incorporating time travel into a plot. If you aren’t careful, you can easily get mired down in sorting through the details of logical impossibilities, and subsequently, the movie falls apart quickly. By choosing to acknowledge the existence of these fallacies, and politely ask the audience to not dwell on them, Johnson succeeds in keeping the plot intact just enough to deliver a compelling storyline. There are two scenes where characters assume the voice of the writer, essentially speaking to the audience when they say : “Don’t try to understand time travel, it will only make your head hurt. So, just accept that it’s real, and enjoy the ride”. While not a terribly creative solution, it is nonetheless, an acceptable and effective one.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays young Joseph Simmons, while Bruce Willis plays old Joseph Simmons. The make-up was convincing enough to bridge the gap between the two actors who really don’t look much alike. Also, for this particular character, a natural, cutesy Gordon-Levitt baby face would not have looked tough or haggard enough for the part. In short, the make-up was a double win.

Jesus, don’t look too closely!

The acting in this movie was pretty excellent across the board. The biggest risk in a project with this kind of budget, is to cast an untested child actor in a central role. With Pierce Gagnon playing Cid(The Rainmaker), this gamble paid off big time. He was outstanding. With the wrong casting for this role, this movie could have easily drifted off into a sea of cheese. Pierce showed the full range – first, evoking some serious rage, and then squeezing out the waterworks. Pretty cool to watch.

Emily Blunt played the role of Sara(Cid’s Mother), and did well enough. For some reason, the scenes where she hacked away at a stump, stood out to me as unintentionally hilarious. If someone told me that I chopped wood “like a girl”, I imagine this is what it might look like. It seemed like it took every ounce of strength she had to swing a 6 pound axe.

Reenforcing female stereotypes one swing at a time.

Jeff Daniels plays “Abe”, the only character in the movie whose motivations made no sense. As a side note, I can’t seem to detach Daniels from his role as Harry Dunne in “Dumb and Dumber”. It’s much the same way I can’t separate Keanu Reeves from his “Ted” Theodore Logan character. I guess if you do a convincing enough job playing a dumbass, I can’t erase the echoes of that character from my memory – no matter how big of a departure you make. But, that’s my problem. The problem with the “Abe” character, is that it’s unclear why he would give a rat’s dick about following the orders of his future bosses. Why wouldn’t he simply go find the baby versions of his bosses and kill them? Or, if they weren’t born yet, go and kill their parents. I mean, he’s supposed to be a conniving, murderous criminal, right?? Or better yet, if you have knowledge of everything that will happen for the next thirty years, pull a “Biff” from “Back To The Future 2”, and basically take over the world by having more money than anyone else.

“Someone please explain to me why I don’t make any sense.”

I think they could have been a bit more thoughtful with that aspect of the story. But, whatever. I guess this is a minor point, and since the filmmakers were mindful enough to concede defeat, I’ll let it go. So if you go to see “Looper”, and you can find this forgiveness Rian Johnson so delicately asks of you, then there’s a good chance you’ll be able to thoroughly enjoy the rest of this uniquely crafted thrill ride.

Overall Rating :  8.4/10

– JA