The Big Short

Up first on our countdown to the Oscars is The Big Short, directed by Adam KcKay and starring Steve Carell, Christian Bale, and Ryan Gosling. It is rated R for pervasive language and some sexuality/nudity.

From IMDB: Four denizens of the world of high-finance predict the credit and housing bubble collapse of the mid-2000s, and decide to take on the big banks for their greed and lack of foresight.

8 out of 10

Full disclaimer: I had a lot of trouble following what was going on in the movie. The dense terminology plus the complicated nature of finance completely lost me. But somehow, I still managed to really enjoyed The Big Short, probably because Adam McKay does an excellent job of recognizing that many regular people lack the ability to keep up and plays on it.

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For instance, cutting to Margot Robbie in a bubble bath explaining financial terms to simplify it is a genius move— it was a hilarious change of pace that allowed me to catch my breath (Though it probably would have been more helpful if Margot Robbie in a bubble bath hadn’t distracted me). McKay does this twice more, giving a movie that is essentially a documentary on finance some personality.

It also breaks the fourth wall a lot, furthering easing regular viewers into the new world of confusing finance terms. Gosling opens the movie by doing this, and it is continued throughout the movie by man different characters. I personally loved when one of the actors broke the fourth wall to recognize when something in the movie differed from the real life account. Recognizing and exposing the subtle lies of movies ‘based on true stories’… Brilliant.

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Of course, The Big Short would be nothing without its trio of male stars that play extremely unique men emerged in this crisis. Carrell continues to prove that he is more than capable in dramatic roles, following up last year’s Foxcatcher with a sparkling performance as the cynical, hardened Mark Baum. Gosling acts as the films narrator in a way, opening the film with narration that draws us in and keeps us there. But the best performance of the film is that of Christian Bale’s, playing socially awkward genius Michael Burry. Bale is known for his attention to detail and it is no different here, nailing every quirk that Burry has.

The most impressive part of the film had to be how te structure and style reflected its message. The main point is that none of the American public had any idea what was going on (ex. the strippers), but instead remained obsessed with pop culture, much like how a regular audience does not have the slightest idea of what is going on in the movie and only pay attentions to the glamorized scenes with celebrities. The problem with the financial crisis is that Americans had no idea what was going on, this theme reverberating throughout the film.

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That being said, I think there was a lot of fluff that contributed to the movie being rather slow towards the middle. I thought a lot of the scenes were repetitive in terms of structure; essentially, I felt a bit of deja vu while watching the film. This, paired with the density of the material, led to some pacing issues that lulled me to sleep at one point. 

For a film that is essentially Inside Job with a bit more flavor, it is extremely well crafted. With a unique style and compelling narration, The Big Short is successfully comedic but full of grim implications, making it one of the best movies of the year.
~Vig

 

9.5 out of 10

“Anyone can make something complicated. Creativity is making the complicated simple.”

(Have I used that epitaph in a review before? Of course I have! I can’t remember which but I’d imagine it was something that clunked around under its own weight like Interstellar.)

Here’s a shocker for you: economics is not exciting. It’s pencil pushing and number crunching. It’s some brokers shouting and squawking before some red and green arrows on Wall St. It’s those contracts you never read and those acronyms you never cared to understand. Finance. Ain’t. Fun.*

I’ve previously expressed though that the highest of movie magic is when a film transfigures something from enormously complex to accessible without losing any of the topic at hand’s weight (Think Moneyball’s treatment of the nitty-gritty of teambuilding or even how the recent spectacle Spotlight deliberately paces but one protracted piece of reporting). The jargon and prolonged process is all there to bolster the accuracy yet there’s enough style, talent and deft delivery to make it (What else?) digest-able.

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Damned if Big Short doesn’t fit that bill. Comedy champion Adam McKay’s latest feature is smart as it is succinct and humorous as it is horrifying. It’s a movie that fully embraces the confusing nature of its subject (The shady swaps that all but consumed the American economy in 2008) in the hopes that you will too (Trust me, with writing this sharp and scenes this self-aware, you’ll succumb to all the monetary mayhem). This masterwork is the better blend of Inside Job (2010) and Wolf of Wall Street.

We’ll start with the all-star cast, of course, which sits at the heart of this cinematic juggernaut: comedy veteran Steve Carell wows as the curiously capricious Mark Baum. Ryan Gosling kills it as swift salesman Jared Vennet who sees the crisis coming (and exploits the living hell out of it). Even seasoned dramatics Christian Bale and Brad Pitt command more than a few snickers as their characters (savant and cynic respectively) carve through the Wall St. B.S.. Are all these characters and their antics pulled from real life? Of course, mostly (The film will gladly tell you when it diverges from nonfiction though).

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The film also stylishly zips from proceeding to proceeding, taking full advantage of an early 2000’s-dominated soundtrack (I forgot how much I loved “Feel Good Inc.”) and making some (at first) pretty jarring pacing choices. Does it suffer from these timing decisions? It stumbles a little at first but either it found its groove or I just got more absorbed by it. I’m fine with either.

Yet despite all the laughs, I left this movie feeling utterly punched in the gut. Make no mistake, it’s a muckraker disguised as a comedy. God help you when you suddenly realize the sketchy skylarking playing out onscreen did happen and, even worse, the only victim at the end of the day is you (Or so the movie seems to conclude). And all the wisecracks and keenly crafted montages in the world can’t even seem to conceal the ugliness of Adam Smith’s system today.

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*What do you call a cross between a jet plane and an accountant? A Boring 747! (I desperately wanted to fit this in the review but I have to confine it to a footnote.
~Zac

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Thoughts on… Oscar Nominations 2016

Nominations for the 2016 Academy Awards were released this morning, which, per usual, came with snubs, controversies, and surprises. Here are our thoughts on this year’s Oscar noms.

Best Picture is Wide Open

For the first time in a few years, there are no clear cut favorites for Best Picture. Last year, we had Birdman and Boyhood, the year before that 12 Years a Slave, and earlier we had the juggernaut The Artist. Spotlight seemed to be the favorite a few weeks ago, but The Revenant’s surprise win at the Golden Globes made the race much murkier. Could The Big Short pull the upset? Aside from Spotlight, it’s the only one nominated for Best Ensemble at the SAGs, which has been a virtual requisite for Oscar Best Picture winners of late. Also here is The Martian, Bridge of Spies, Mad Max, Room, and Brooklyn. Noticeably not here is Carol, the top entry from Harvey Weinstein, who goes without a nominee for the first time in a decade.

Best Actor and Best Actress Aren’t

While Best Picture remains a question mark, the lead actor awards appear to be relatively decided already, a month out from the Oscar ceremony. Leonardo DiCaprio is the heavy favorite for his role in The Revenant, despite having a very limited number of lines. Eddie Redmayne, last year’s Oscar winner, is also nominated for The Danish Girl and Michael Fassbender for Steve Jobs. Room’s Brie Larson looks like a lock for Best Actress, although she’s joined by Academy darlings and potential spoilers Cate Blanchett and Jennifer Lawrence.

#OscarsSoWhite Resurfaces

Once again, the acting nominees lack diversity. Last year, people criticized the Academy for failing to recognize Selma in many major categories, and this year, it’s Straight Outta Compton. Many, myself included, thought Idris Elba would snag a nomination for supporting acting for his role in Beasts of No Nation, a Netflix original movie.

Sylvester Stallone Nominated as Rocky Over 25 Years Later

Stallone was nominated for Best Actor for his starring role in 1976’s sports drama and Best Picture winner Rocky, although he failed to win the statue. He is one of only five actors to be nominated for the same role twice, and he looks like the favorite to win this year following his win for Creed at the Golden Globes.

Star Wars Has Triumphant Return to the Oscars

The well-received recent entry in the Star Wars franchise has been well reviewed (although I personally disliked it) and the Academy has responded with five nominations, although all in technical and special effects categories. It was a long shot for Best Picture, although some thought it had a chance. Inside Out also mixed out. I think the Academy should have made room for it with those two potential extra Best Picture nominee slots.

And the Award for Biggest Snub Goes To:

Not Aaron Sorkin, who was snubbed in Adapted Screenplay for Steve Jobs, and not Carol, which was omitted from Best Picture contention, but Ridley Scott, who wasn’t nominated for his direction of The Martian. Many had him pegged as the likely winner, but he was cut out in favor of Room director Lenny Abrahamson.

Thoughts on… Golden Globes 2016

And here we are, post-Golden Globes, trying to digest the night. Ricky Gervais hosted again, and was “tastefully controversial’ as Zach put it and The Revenant stole the show. There’s a lot to talk about, so we’re just going to jump right into it.

Lady Gaga: Actor?

Yes, she is an actor, and apparently she is pretty good at it. I did not watch this season of American Horror Story (I stopped after the third season), but I personally find it pretty cool she was able to transition to the silver screen so faultlessly. Well done, Gaga.

The Martian: Mission Accomplished

Matt Damon won Best Actor, and the film won Best Picture: Musical or Comedy (though I don’t really agree with it being categorized as a comedy). Ridley Scott did not get Best Director, which would have only sweetened the pot, but regardless, fans of the film cannot help be anything but thrilled. You can check out our review of the film here.

Yo Adrian! I won a Golden Globe!

The surprise of the night for me was Sylvester Stallone winning Best Supporting Actor for Creed. Stallone keeps up the “tough guy” demeanor yet shines most when he flexes his character’s vulnerabilities, making this victory well deserved, but still surprising since I pegged Mark Rylance to win. This could make for a very interesting Oscar race.

Denzel wins the night

Denzel Washington was honored for his life long work with the prestigious Cecil B. DeMille Award. He’s won two Golden Globes and been nominated for seven, making this is award very well deserved. Denzel is a boss and don’t you forget it.

Jamie Foxx throws shade…

…when he announced Straight Out of Compton as the winner for Best Original Score (someone’s obviously mad it wasn’t nominated) and then apologized for pulling a Steve Harvey. Oof. It was pretty funny though.

The Revenant takes home the gold

Winning Best Actor, Best Director, and Best Picture: Drama, The Revenant absolutely dominated this year and deservedly so. It was a fantastic film, an absolutely visceral experience if you will. That being said, I was very surprised at what happened, largely due to…

The spotlight being stolen from Spotlight

This was the movie everyone was expecting to take control of the evening. I thought it would win Best Director (Tom McCarthy), Best Screenplay (McCarthy), and Best Picture, but ended up losing to Iñarritu, Aaron Sorkin for Jobs, and The Revenant, respectively. This was my favorite movie of the year, so hopefully it can pick up momentum going into the Oscars.

 

Sisters

We are happy to announce that today will be our good friend Jen Gouchoe’s debut, providing her take on the new Tina Fey-Amy Poehler comedy Sisters. Directed by Jason Moore and starring Fey, Poehler and Maya Rudolph, it is rated R for crude sexual content and language throughout, and for drug use.

From IMDB: Two sisters, Kate (Fey) and Maura Ellis (Poehler) decide to throw one last house party before their parents sell their family home.

7 out of 10

I won’t lie, I had low expectations for this movie. Of course, I wanted my two main gals, Tina and Amy, to hit a home-run, but the plot seemed a little tiresome. Two sisters with two completely different personalities learn from each other and find themselves — by partying! Blah, blah, blah… But I have to hand it to them; they managed to take a seemingly cliche plotline and turn it into a smash comedy (and one that doesn’t just appeal to females, I might add).

When Kate and Maura Ellis (Fey and Amy Poehler) find out their parents have sold their cherished childhood home, they decide to go out with a bang and throw one last “Ellis Island” party. What could go wrong?

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As I mentioned before, the plot was nothing to write home about. The subplot with Kate’s precocious teenage daughter was a bit boring, but I suppose they needed to throw in some friction so the movie didn’t seem like one giant party (which, it mostly was). But what made the movie so great was Tina and Amy’s banter. They are an unstoppable duo, and they manage to produce the wittiest one-liners on the spot. There’s something to be said for on-screen chemistry, and the two of them sure have it.

The main event of this movie was the epic party scene. It was mesmerizing. I’m pretty sure every teenager, myself included, dreams of having a party this nicely decorated. While this movie may not be highly commended for its cinematography, I was impressed by the lighting and overall camerawork. From the fluorescent stringed lights to the aerial shots of the pool, the movie beautifully illustrated a party jacked up on steroids (or maybe Flintstones gummy vitamins, in this case) before the inevitable mess is to come.

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You would think you would get tired of watching a bunch of middle-aged people party for over an hour, but it was surprisingly enthralling. From the awkward beginning, where they perfectly capture the painful accuracies of middle-aged life, to the eventual demise, Tina and Amy take you through a journey of love, loss, and many #relatable moments (having to be the “Party Mom” deeply resonated with me).

While the development of Kate and Maura was the main focus, the ancillary characters were the hidden gems of this film. It was an SNL reunion in disguise, and it couldn’t have been executed better. Bobby Moynihan played the cringe-worthy comedian who takes his “Stevia”-fueled antics a little too far. Kate McKinnon was dressed in bermuda jorts, leading her brigade of lesbians. And Maya Rudolph… Oh, Maya Rudolph. Just her facial expressions alone won me over.

Though I was disappointed when the party scene finally concluded and the movie continued with its corny plot-line, I wasn’t bored at all towards the end. Despite the lack of partying in the final scenes, I was still interested in seeing how Kate and Maura would work out their sister issues. Sure, it may have all wrapped up in a perfect, predictable little bow, but the dynamic duo’s humor overpowered the lackluster plot. I have not laughed out loud during a movie in a long time, so thank you, Tina and Amy. Keep up the good work, ladies.
~Jen

6.5 out of 10

I usually shy away from picking the funny films to review since I find dissecting comedy to be rather dicey business but (after a slight, six-month, post-Trainwreck respite) I was actually quite glad I sprung for the latest Fey-Poehler powerhour, Sisters.

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Is it comedic genius? Certainly not. If you’re looking for some classy comedy, steer clear from here (Just not towards Daddy’s Home) because Sisters is unadulterated raunchfest. If I’m being particularly honest with the Anton Ego in me, there were dozens of parts that pulled a giggle or two out of me that really shouldn’t have but, hey, sometimes you just have to unleash that immature twelve year old inside to have to have a little fun at the theatre.

Yes, the jokes in here are far from grown-up (and some are definitely aching to keep up with the times) but they more often than not hit bullseyes, boosted from the sheer, real chemistry between our two leads who can naturally inject comedy into any situation with some pitch-perfect pacing and awkward acting. In fact, all of the actors in this are well-chosen, with those on the sidelines carrying their smaller scenes with especial hilarity. For example, John Cena (Need I link you to this clip?) pops in this one as a drug dealer and justifies his dive into acting once again, flexing both his comedic chops and actual muscles, of course. Maya Rudolph shows as the film’s antagonist and pleasantly surprises as she actually steals the show with some solid delivery.

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This one also achieves that beat of mean comedy well. The party that rages through a third of the movie (which actually boasts a killer, booming soundtrack) and (minor spoilers) gets pretty out of hand takes off in a fun way similar movies like Project X or The Hangover sequels couldn’t quite pull off in their stories and the selfishness of some of the characters is played deftly for laughs. None of the out-of-hand antics feel too contrived or overstay their welcome. In short, they go too far enough.

Of course, there has to be an emotional subplot and we’re definitely not spared here. Some of the drama is pretty shoehorned and, yes, you’re just waiting for them to get back to the comedy the whole time, you do know where it’s all going as it unfolds. That being said though, it’s relatively brisk and our colorful characters are likable enough to carry it out.

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So, in between trillion-ton heavy features like Spotlight and Big Short, Sisters was just the immature breather I needed. It’s fresh, fast fun amidst the glut of Academy Award epics rolling out right now (Don’t worry, we’ll get to those in a few days.) even if it’s not the highest brow brand of humor. If you want a non-lightsaber-laden cinematic escape in the coming weeks, give Sisters a shot and rediscover how nice it is to see Poehler and Fey team up on the silver screen.
~Zach

Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens

For our first post of the New Year, we take a look at the highly anticipated new Star Wars film. Directed by J.J. Abrams and starring Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, and Harrison Ford, the film is rated PG-13 for sci-fi action violence

From IMDB: 30 years after the defeat of Darth Vader and the Empire, Rey (Ridley), a scavenger from the planet Jakku, finds a BB-8 droid that knows the whereabouts of the long lost Luke Skywalker. Rey, as well as a rogue stormtrooper and two smugglers, are thrown into the middle of a battle between the resistance and the daunting legions of the First Order.

9 out of 10

Star Wars Episode VII had the highest grossing domestic opening of all time, and has already broken 1.5 billion. It beat Jurassic World’s record of 13 days to reach a billion, which had the benefit of opening in China, the world’s largest country in terms of population. Star Wars doesn’t open there till January 9th. This movie is big. Really big.

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It is easily the most hyped movie I’ve been around for, shattering the excitement for Jurassic World, The Dark Knight Rises, and Avengers: Age of Ultron— some notoriously hyped movies of the past few years. Star Wars was going to be a major hit whether it was good or bad, which makes it so much sweeter when you realize that it is actually a great movie.

Admittedly, it has strikingly similar qualities to the original trilogy. From the trench run, to Adam Driver’s character (hint: he wears a mask), this film was either an excellent ode to the original or a carbon copy. I remember turning to Jenya in the theater and saying, “I think I’ve seen this before” at least 4 times. Regardless, it is still action-packed; there is hardly a single boring moment in the film. It is a fun, action packed two hours, if nothing else.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens teaser trailer

 

I loved the three new characters that look to be our new trio of heroes going forward. Finn, Rey, and Poe Dameron portrayed respectively by John Boyega, Daisy Ridley, and Oscar Isaac had great chemistry with each other (especially the first two) and are interesting characters that I am very excited to follow around in the next two films, wherever they may go. Boyega and Ridley, relative newcomers to the movie scene, were particularly excellent, doing an incredible job leading the film. Not to mention, the incorporation of older characters, namely Han and Leia, was done flawlessly. There were enough of them to make us nostalgic, but not enough to detract from the focus of the movie: Finn, Rey, and to a lesser intensity, Kylo Ren (played by Adam Driver), the primary antagonist.

JJ Abrams does an excellent job balancing CGI with practical effects. There’s nothing outrageous like CGI Yoda or CGI Order 66ing. The graphic effects are perfect in the sense that they look great, but more importantly they feel real. The lightsaber duels are not too special, but they’re engaging and fun. Abrams knows exactly what he is doing, and it’s really quite a shame that he’s not going to be directing Episode VIII or IX. Hopefully it won’t fall apart… fingers crossed… very tightly.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens Official Teaser #2

Best of all, the movie is able to have a complete and cohesive story arc but is still able to set up two more films. There are plenty of questions that we want answered, plenty of storylines ready to be carried out, and plenty of original trilogy references to be made. Is Rey a Skywalker? What happened to Luke? How will the Kylo Ren storyline end? Just a few (spoiler-free) questions I am looking forward to having answered.

If you are uncultured and haven’t seen the original Star Wars, you can still enjoy The Force Awakens, though every Easter Egg and nod to the original is all the better if you have. This is my favorite movie of the year, as it provides a fun, exhilarating ride from beginning to end. Disney can have all my money if they keep throwing out gems like this. If you have yet to see this film, then stop reading this review and go see it. It could even be nominated for Best Picture, ya never know.
~Vig

9 out of 10

As I’m writing this, Force Awakens continues its surge past the billion checkpoint. I love it when my commentary doesn’t really matter! Alright let’s get going…

Did you like the original Star Wars trilogy? Great, you’ll love Force Awakens. End of story. Thankfully, there’s no prequel-esque treachery, no disgustingly excessive CGI and actually human sounding dialogue.

It’s Star Wars movie to its marrow. It has everything a diehard fanboy could crave: colorful characters and planets (Brought to life by a welcome return to practical effects), enthralling actions (Including some of the better dogfights and duels of the whole saga), and a giant, hulking space station that blows crap to smithereens (Carefully study your Star Wars history and take a wild guess as to whether it explodes by the end or not).

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That’s right. It’s more of the same on a bigger scale and, quite frankly, that’s what everyone wanted. Director J.J. Abrams played it safe with this delicate franchise this round and prevailed with especial gusto. The callbacks are precisely placed and as giggle-inducing as expected and, of course, our veterans of the original trilogy who guest in this one make a triumphant return to the universe (Each of them get their own cute little entrances to boot).

But that’s certainly not to devalue the brand new stuff: without spoiling, Daisy Ridley and John Boyega neatly carve out their places in the franchise as the headstrong Rey and the reformed stormtrooper, Finn, respectively. They’re incredibly likable and boast a chemistry that matches, dare I say, the original cast of A New Hope. All the while, Adam Driver proves naysayers wrong as the capricious yet calculating Kylo Ren (Emo? A little but just the digestible amount, I promise). As far as the new worlds go, Abrams’s team does a fine job of painting a post-war galaxy with some great set pieces that only boost the creative action sequences.

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It’s admittedly hard for me to criticize this one as a fanboy (Okay, you got me, I went on opening night. May’ve saved a seat for two hours and all…) but I guess the most I can say is that I did know what was going to happen about five minutes before at a time (For example: a group of rebels trying to free a prisoner? What could possibly happen?). However, that’s simply a consequence of the film adhering to the standard Star Wars formula, which is both this movie’s blessing and curse. I will say too that the rewatch value on this flick is a little low after all the reveals have been, y’know, reveal but I’d advise any viewer to just take it as it is: a beautiful piece of fanservice, by a Star Wars nerd for Star Wars nerds.

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At long last, one of our favorite fictional universes has been done its justice with a film that injects new all new, thumping life into the world. If you aren’t one of the millions who’s done so already, strap in and see it. When it’s over, I assure you all previous Star Wars-related injustices will feel like they took place long ago in a galaxy far, far away.
~Zach