The Big Short – A Review

Adam McKay directs Steve Carell, Christian Bale, Ryan Gosling, Brad Pitt, and a whole host of talent in the 2008 sub-prime crisis based The Big Short based on Michael Lewis’ book.  It is taking every ounce of strength in my body to not type the entire review in ALL CAPS.  Because honestly that is the reaction I had to this movie

Sure we all know the talking points of the 2008 sub-prime crisis and there have been a few very good documentaries made on the subject as well – take the Inside Job for instance. Brilliant, factual and effective. But pass the story through the evil comedic genius mind of Adam McKay and you get that Saturday Night Live flavor to The Inside Job. So you have Margot Robbie in bath-tub sipping champagne explaining what is sub-prime, Anthony Bordain explaining CDO by means of using the bad fish in a fish stew, and Selena Gomez playing blackjack explain what a Synthetic CDO is.  It might sound patronizing but it is not. It is the opposite – it is to counter balance just how stupid the whole system is by easily breaking it down to layman terms.

The whole story starts from the point of view of Dr. Michael Burry played by Christian Bale. Burry is a glass-eyed socially awkward genius fund manager who spots a pattern in the way the mortgages are being sold and uses his fund’s 1.3 billion dollars to bet against the Housing Markets. Jared Vennett a sleazy Wall Street stereotype played by Ryan Gosling who tries to go against the grain and pitches these non—existent instruments to potential fund managers.  Step in angry at the world Steve Carell who runs a fund under Morgan Stanley. Also while Vennett is trying to sell his Swaps and meeting potential funds, one in particular turns him away from lobby where he leaves his promotional material behind which fall into the hands of garage-band fund managers Charlie and Jamie who consult with ex-Wall-Streeter Ben Rickert who is so disillusioned with the whole system that he has taken to growing his own fruits and vegetables using his piss as the fertilizer.  So you see what a crazy story McKay has woven? And know what’s crazier? Most of it is true (well except the part about Charlie and Jamie just finding a discarded promotion brochure).  Acting wise Carell and Bale are exceptional, Bale makes you uncomfortable to look at him and Carell is not the funny man he is known to be in Apatow movies. But it is easy to like them and to see how brilliant their performances are. But Ryan Gosling is perfection. His Jared Vennett is so sleazy, so wall-streety so perfectly greedy that at one point as he caresses his 47 million dollar bonus cheque he says into the camera “I never said I was the good guy”. The story could not have a better narrator than him.

The movie is interspersed with music you wouldn’t associate with what has turned out to be a serious Oscar contender. It has Gnarles Barkley’s Crazy, Kelis’ Milkshake, Metallica’s Master of Puppet, and Guns N Roses’ Sweet Child of Mine amongst many other iconic tracks. They are woven so seamlessly into the narrative that it all just works.

There are so many high points in this movie but the final one which comes when Steve Carell’s Mark Baum goes BOOM while debating Bruce Miller and the auditorium just evacuates as the figurative bomb drops on the Bear Stearns stock prices that Miller is recommending to buy. It feels cathartic.

 

This is an absurdist comedy, a dark twisted take on what was arguably one of biggest events in financial history, possibly comparable to the great depression of the 1920s but what is even more absurd is that after the great depression America went back to the basics. It didn’t cut government spending, got reforms in place and focused on job creation and built the infrastructure that lifted them out of the great depression. But here after the 2008 no arrests were made, no regulations and instead government handed over billions more of tax payers’ money to “ailing banks and institutions” which had basically self-inflicted these wounds upon themselves and didn’t even use the bailout for the intended purposes but instead gave their Managers a Golden Parachute in which to jump of a burning building while there are still countless’ other trapped inside. The movie ends on an ominous note of how in 2015 banks have started reissuing “Bespoke Tranche Opportunity” which as Baum put it sounds a lot like Dog Shit dressed as Cat Shit.

EVEN IF YOU THINK YOU KNOW EVERYTHING THERE IS TO KNOW ABOUT THE FINANCIAL CRISIS OF 2008 AND THE ENSUING AFTERMATH, EVEN IF YOU THINK ALL THESE MOVIES ARE DOOMSDAY PROPHECIES THAT NEVER EVER COME TRUE AND ARE BASICALLY BUZZKILLS YOU MUST SEE THIS MOVIE FOR IT IS A BRILLIANT PIECE OF CINEMA.

Now that I have gotten that out of my system, see this movie because Christian Bale is Brilliant.  He can do no wrong. He is one of the finest actors we have today. Steve Carell makes his transition from funny man to a serious actor with this movie; a move I was hoping would be achieved by the underwhelming Foxcatcher of last year.  Ryan Gosling as Oily and slimy as he appears to be he is a force of nature here.  Michael Lewis no holds barred book, Charles Randolph’s explosive screenplay and Adam McKay’s brilliant direction give the amazing actors a fertile ground to riff off of one another in what would be akin to a modern day Glengarry Glen Ross. BOOM!

 

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Foxcatcher – A Review

Bennett Miller directs Steve Carell, Channing Tatum and Mark Ruffalo in the psychological drama Foxcatcher. It is a story based on the life of mentally unstable heir to the Du Pont family fortune, John E. du Pont and his association with the Olympic wrestling heroes the Shultz brother.

Bennett Miller last took on the world of baseball in Moneyball and made a surprisingly entertaining movie from a story based on the dry world of player statistics and the mechanics of putting together a winning team. And with the Oscar winning Capote under his hat it was no surprise that my expectations were sky high from Foxcatcher, especially after the moody, creepy and intriguing trailers first hit the web. The end result unfortunately an indulgent and dull exercise at story telling.

If it took E Max Frye and Dan Futterman 8 years to put the script together it feels like the running time of the movie lasts just as long. I am all for moody methodical deconstruction of a character and the inherent drama involved. But with Foxcatcher the story telling is so staccato and the characters so two dimensional that it verges on being unbearable.

Steve Carell plays John E Du Pont the eccentric billionaire who offers Channing Tatum’s Mark Schultz a sponsorship and a place to come and live at the Foxcatcher ranch as he trains for the 1988 Seoul Olympics. Mark’s brother Dave is played by Mark Ruffalo who is the only character who makes sense in this travesty. The story seems to suggest sibling rivalry in the eyes of Mark as he feels he is always in Dave’s shadow while Dave loves his brother unconditionally. There have been suggestions of a homosexual undertone to Du Pont and how he felt about Mark but I failed to see any. Carell’s Du Pont is certainly creepy but there is no depth to it, the one scene that stands out for me though was when Du Pont puts on a show for his own mother by delivering a pep talk – that to me the essence of Du Pont’s eccentricities, he is still a boy trying to win the approval of his own mother. The spiralling out of control of Mark and his anger towards Du Pont when he invites Dave at Foxcatcher seems abrupt at best and unbelievable at worst. Sienna Miller plays Dave’s wife and is for most parts unrecognizable and an almost unnecessary character.

The movie is scored beautifully by Rob Simonsen with an almost atmospheric soundtrack that seems to be always present but entirely unobtrusive. And the wide shots of the Foxcatcher ranch in the different seasons by Greig Fraser are beautiful as well. There is huge potential in the story with all the underlyin tension between the brothers, the patron and the benefactor and the two men competing to play the father figure, but all of that potential is blown to bits by an uninspired screenplay and overlong quite moments when nothing happens and you fail to stifle a yawn of two. The reason why Moneyball was so good must have had something to do with Aaron Sorkin and Steve Zallian because here Miller is let down by the screenplay.

I saw this before the Oscar nominations were out and am posting the review after the fact. Seeing Bennett Miller nominated for best director seems unfair to me. Having seen and loved Nightcrawler and The theory of Everything I would happily swap him for Dan Gilroy or James Marsh in a heartbeat.

Despicable Me 2 – A Review

DownloadSteve Carell and Kristen Wigg lend their voices to the lead characters Gru and Lucy in the sequel to the 2010 Animated Fare Despicable Me. Directing duo Pierre Coffin and Cinco Paul return to tell the story of the now domesticated super villain Gru who once stole the moon.

The story sees Gru as the single father of 3 girls trying to play fairy godmother at a birthday party while trying to keep the nosy match-making neighbor at bay.  After retiring from Super Villainy Gru and his adorable yellow minions have now setup a jam and jelly factory with Dr. Nefario – voiced by Russell Brand leading the production line.

Dr Nefario tired of not doing evil quits and moves to another job and Gru is approached by AVL – Anti Villain League to identify and apprehend a master criminal who has stolen a secret formula which turns cute fluffy bunnies into giant purple monsters. Gru is assisted by the AVL’s own agent Lucy voiced by the multi-talented Kristen Wigg (SNL, Bridesmaid).

There has long been a Pixar vs. RestOfEmStudios debate that almost always results in the same outcome of the fact that Pixar movies have more heart and are in general better written , directed thought out movies than Others which rely too heavily on pop-culture gags which will lose relevance over time and not be as funny. Unless Pixar has a top-secret project coming out this year which no one knows of I think this year Pixar has been outdone whose latest Monster’s university was a bit of a bum note as compared to Despicable Me 2 which is genuinely funny and has plenty of heart to spare in the form of the 3 adorable daughters Margo, Edith and Agnes.

The story seems rushed in parts where they clearly are targeting 3 suspects and somehow they end up ignoring the third one completely by focusing on Floyd and Eduardo. The justification of why Gru wants Eduardo and his son arrested is done in the funniest way possible. Another thing which I did not get is the effect of the secret serum turns a bunny into a possibly-6ft tall monster but when applied to “others” it merely turns them purple with Diana Ross hair.

I laughed out loud several times and considering that the audiences did too at the same jokes validates the universality of the humor at play. Gru and the 3 girls are fantastic and so is Lucy, but the movie clearly belongs to the Minions and I cannot wait to watch an entire movie dedicated to the Minions which is slated to hit the screens in 2014. The last scene of the Minions singing is just priceless.

Watch this movie because everyone needs a good belly laugh every once in a while and this one does so by invoking fart gags only twice and that too quite effectively and it rather relies on cleverly written humor and one hell of a side-kick legion of the minions who are just insanely funny.