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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Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues

We hope everyone had a great Christmas and we want to wish everyone a Happy New Year. This week we’ll be tackling Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues, sequel to 2004’s Anchorman: Legend of Ron Burgundy. Directed by Adam McKay and starring Will Ferrell, Steve Carell, Paul Rudd, and Christina Applegate, it  is rated PG-13 for  sexual content, drug use, language and comic violence.

After leaving San Diego for New York, Ron Burgundy (Ferrell) and his wife, Veronica Corningstone (Applegate), lead great lives with their son Walter. However, when the boss (cameo by Harrison Ford) of the WBC decides to fire Ron and promote Veronica, Ron leaves his family and moves back to San Diego. He struggles for months on end until he is offered a job at the new 24 hours  a day news channel. After accepting the job and getting his news crew, Brian Fantanta (Rudd), Champ Kind (David Koechner), and Brick Tamland (Carell), back together, Ron changes broadcasting history forever, gaining immortal fame with this new job in New York. However, Ron encounters various problems he must overcome: his new rival Jack Lime (James Mardsen), a burning desire to beat Veronica, and his inability to connect with his son.

7 out of 10

Rating comedy movies such as this one is slightly different than rating a regular film. Judging it as a regular film is different than judging it as a comedy film. The rating I gave above is a rating of this film as a movie. However, in terms of a comedy, I would give this film a 9 or so. I did exactly what I wanted to do: laugh my ass off.

Whether or not you liked this movie may be heavily based on what you expected. If you expected a witty, smartly written movie, you may be slightly disappointed. If you were expecting a movie similar to the first one, you also may have been slightly disappointed. But if you just expected to laugh, then you’d definitely be pleased. Anchorman 2 is distinctly different than it’s predecessor. It is (somehow) more over the top, goofier, and stupider. It’s hard to hit it exactly the nose, but the tone felt different. The story and the characters  all had a different feel to them. This wasn’t a problem for me, but if you are someone who loved the first movie for that tone, then the change might be a bit of a bummer for you.

But as I said earlier, I laughed my ass off. This movie was so funny because of few things. 1) The acting and 2) The ridiculousness. You may ask how I can call this necessarily good acting, and that’s completely understandable. The cast won’t be winning any awards for their performances. Not to be cliched, but all these actors really become their character. Ferrell, Carell, Rudd, and Koechner really are a team and their actions and personalities are so whacky and really freaking hilarious.

The over-the-topness of it all also contributes to the hilarity of it all. The dialogue and the actions all tend to be… just weird, really. My favorite character is Brick Tamland, just because of how odd he is. The stuff that he says is so random, and so stupid, and as a result, it’s just so funny. I hope most of you remember “I love lamp” from the first film… Golden. Brick’s character is used even more prominently in this film, and it really works.

Another over the top, ridiculous scene is the fight scene towards the very end, when many A-List actors (Tina Fey, Sacha Baron Cohen, Liam Neeson) make cameos and at that point, it’s hard to figure out what is going on (but it’s still hilarious!!!). During this scene, I remembered asking myself what the hell I was watching. After digesting it, I’m still not sure, but all I know is that it was definitely one of the more entertaining films I’ve seen.

In the end, I’m giving it a 7 based on how it is as a film. It’s hardly a film that appeals to everyone, and it’s a style of comedy that you really have to be okay with in order to like the film. If you don’t like random humor, then this is not the film for you. Personally, I found it to be one of the funnier movies of the year and something that I really enjoyed watching.

8 out of 10

Comedy’s a pretty tough thing to do.

So far, I think this blog has really gone over drama and action. When making both of these types of these films, you’re usually playing one note (That’s certainly not terribly easy either). Comedy, however, has about a billion subtypes you can go into, each of which have their own fans and haters.

Anchorman, thankfully, played to a lot of those types. It’s a random, witty, and satirical masterpiece that eased its way from one-liner to one-liner thus weaving the entire movie into one ball of comedic quotables. In middle school, I couldn’t go a couple of months without hearing somebody, beaming with originality, saying “Stay classy ______” on the morning show. Aside from that, Anchorman doesn’t really have a plot. In fact, I don’t think I could give you a completely accurate summary whatsoever. And that’s what makes it so great.

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Comedy sequels, to say the least, do not have that hot of a track record. Typically, they turn out to be a re-tread of old jokes (That may have not been that funny in the first place) that the writers think are original just because more money was injected into them and they were “cranked up to eleven”.

Anchorman 2, however, takes a different direction than its predecessor in that it has a bit more of a plot (Emphasis on the “a bit” here) and it extentuates some of its characters. It sacrifices some of its talent with one-liners for some more broad and generally direct jokes (To be honest, I can’t quite quote that much off-hand).

But, to me, it was really worth it. It was an extremely satisfying tackle of 24-hour news (Without spoiling, Burgundy has some ideas which resemble the strategies of a few certain networks) coupled with a barrage of randomness and visual gags that I really appreciated.

If you are not into that type of humor in the first place (This seems like a poor choice for you then, doesn’t it?) then its going to be a long, tortuous ride for you. Thankfully, there may be enough zingers to keep you interested.

But whether you like it or you don’t, you must admire that it is trying something new. Anchorman barely references or echoes any of the jokes from the first and, if anything, that helps raise it to the level of the original. It had enough material from its predecessor that it could have Hangover 2’d this entire film but this was in no way lazy endeavor.

IMDB: 6.4
Metacritic: 61
Rotten Tomatoes: 75%