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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American Hustle

We hope everyone enjoyed their New Year. So long to 2013, a fantastic year for movies. We will soon be releasing our favorite/least favorite movies of the year, but this week we take a look at Oscar contender American Hustle, directed by David O. Russell, starring Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Jennifer Lawrence, Bradley Cooper, and Jeremy Renner. It is rated R for language, sexual content, and brief violence.

American Hustle tells the story of two con artists, Irving Rosenfeld (Bale) and his partner, and lover, Sydney Prosser (Adams). Sydney poses as a British women, “Lady Edith Greensley” in order to attract investors, and to fuel their con. They are very successfully, despite the insecurity presented by Rosenfeld’s crazy wife Rosalyn (Lawrence), who Irving refuses to divorce due to the presence of their son.

Once the two are caught by the FBI, they are forced to work with federal agent Richie DiMaso (Cooper) in order to catch corrupt politicians and mafia members, including prominent New Jersey politician Carmine Polito (Renner). Between his romantic struggles with two women, disdain for DiMaso, and a budding fondness for Polito, Irving struggles to survive with these new challenges he must face.

6 out of 10

I was pretty hyped for American Hustle, and why shouldn’t I have been? Bale, Adams, Cooper, Lawrence, and Renner all in a move directed by the fantastic David O. Russell. The trailer dazzled me as well. Then critics praised it. I was excited. But after seeing the movie, I honestly couldn’t tell whether I was impressed or not.

Let me start off by saying this: the acting is fantastic, the direction is fantastic, and the cinematography, fantastic. Each of the 4 lead actors could easily get nominated for an Oscar, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see Lawrence or Adams win. The chemistry between the group is really good, and each of them is able to display the growth and development this movie aimed for.

In addition, the direction and the cinematography are beautiful. Russell does a great job of telling the story in a way that the audience is able to create their own perspective and their own point of view on what’s going on, in addition to understanding Christian Bale’s character’s, the narrator, point of view. The cinematography is dazzling as well. It really allows you to get a glimpse of what the time period is like but also doesn’t focus on that too much, and is still able to help with the characters and their emotions.

That being said, there are plenty of plot things about this movie that really concerned me. Being completely honest, I did not like the first hour and a half of this movie even though the characters are so good. The plot made no sense, I was so confused and I did not know where the movie was going. It had no point. I did not know what this movie was going to be about, even though the main conflict had been introduced. I was unable to stay captivated. I almost dozed off in the middle of it, it really dragged. The beginning couldn’t get me into it, in the middle still couldn’t get me into it.

They did manage to salvage the ending. I remember audibly gasping at what happened in the end – and I was laughing too, that’s something else about this movie that was really good. It featured really well written comedic moments that weren’t excessive. Anyhow, the ending finally provided the movie with the point. It wasn’t about the hustle, it wasn’t about the love triangle, it wasn’t about the plot. It was about the characters. Those characters had developed so much, and the emotions were so relevant, especially in Christian Bale’s character. By the end, I felt sympathy for Bale’s character. *Spoilers ahead* Even though he won the girl and he won the scam, he lost a friend and that’s what mattered to him. Those emotions were so prevalent, so raw, and it really helped punctuate the ending this movie. Did he win, or did he lose?

Christian Bale as Irving Rosenfeld

Christian Bale as Irving Rosenfeld

This is where I get confused. I liked a lot of aspects of the film… But i was bored for almost the entirety of the film. And this isn’t like Lincoln where I can expect to be bored. I wasn’t able to fully enjoy the movie because of it’s (very) poor story, something that was prevalent for a majority of the movie. The movie ended up being about the characters’ growth, which isn’t a problem in the slightest. Regardless, this still doesn’t take away from the disappointment of the plot, especially seeing how that was a focal point, whereas other movies clearly prioritize characters, and the plot isn’t as important. A 7 may seem kinda low after all the good things I said, but with all the hype, I was kind of let down. The mundane plot was just too much for me.

I guess I was the one hustled in the end.
~Vig

9 out of 10

If you think that the genre of criminal dramas must inherently involve dark situations, downward spirals, and seriously sociopathic characters then I highly suggest you check out American Hustle.

For Hustle is indisputable evidence that realism and emotional interaction with the audience do not necessarily warrant a barrage of dramatic moments and dark, dark, dark issues. Hustle tackles an array of the usual commentaries on greed and criminal power while some how being wildly funny, taking every advantage of its very talented cast (Of which Bradley Cooper stood out to me).

Adams (left), Cooper, Renner, Bale, Lawrence (right)

Adams (left), Cooper, Renner, Bale, Lawrence (right)

We’ll start with Cooper, in fact. Its universally agreeable that Bradley Cooper has grown immensely as an actor. Within three years, he effortlessly made the leap from passable films like Yes Man (You remember that? Good. Neither do I.) to remarkable showcases like Silver Linings Playbook. If his range was at all in question, then get ready for delivery after delivery to give an answer. Here, we see him play Richie, an FBI agent plagued with an insatiable desire to get himself in the headlines. Cooper, without spoiling too much, breathlessly bounces between a somewhat likable man to an utter (Entertaining to say the least) psycho. He blurs the lines between FBI agents and the people they chase all the while.

In fact, empathy for every character plays a huge part in what makes this movie the masterwork it is. Christian Bale, Jeremey Renner, Jennifer Lawrence and Amy Adams all evoke feelings that their character is trapped. The criminals may use humor (It’s their strongest tool after all!) as a coping mechanism but they’re ultimately stuck in the complex situations they’ve managed to drag themselves into. That’s not to contradict what I mentioned in the beginning of this review, as the film still manages to believably and appropriately

Yet what really ties the film together, even as it plods through some of its muddier scenes, is the beautifully done scenery and the somewhat kinetic directing. Scenery choice is one of the most underrated parts of filmmaking and boy does this film exemplify why it definitely shouldn’t be put on the back burner. The color palette and set pieces really wrap the viewer into the decade and give a sense of excess mixed with the unsettling anxiety a lot of the characters feel in their own tense situations.

Then there’s the camera movement. If you were to count, I don’t believe the camera will hold on any shot longer than three seconds without tightening, widening or switching perspectives all together. Usually, this wouldn’t give any leeway to absorb the scenery (Especially in a rich film like this) but it keeps the film moving even if there’s a sense that it is table setting for the plot or seemingly taking a break from its complex story. Even if does move fast, it does certainly give enough time for the average audience member to observe just not a terribly long amount.

Now, shall we address the impending Hollywood showdowns? American Hustle, in my view may sweep plenty of award shows with enough momentum but there is a certain bias against comedy and drawn-out plot payoffs as people are generally more impressed with something that can get them in suspense faster, even if it does feel somewhat cheap (We’ll delve into that if another movie that uses this comes up).

Overall, this is absolutely worth it. It can’t really be placed into one genre so just see it and attempt the impossible challenge of categorizing it yourself. It’ll most likely land in the “memorable” category no matter what.

By the way, was that Louis C.K.?
~Zach

IMDB: 7.3
Metacritic: 90
Rotten Tomatoes: 93%