The Big Short – Adam McKay

The Big Short starring Christian Bale, Steve Carell, Ryan Gosling, and Brad Pitt.

The Big Short starring Christian Bale, Steve Carell, Ryan Gosling, and Brad Pitt.
Photo Credit: Jaap Buitendijk / Paramount Pictures

Christian Bale, Steve Carell, Ryan Gosling, and Brad Pitt. Could you ask for a better cast? If the answer is yes, then add Marisa Tomei, Melissa Leo,  Hamish Linklater, and Jeremy Strong and you’ve got The Big Short.  Between six of the lead actors, there are 6 Oscars and 9 Oscar nominations, so it’s not surprising that this movie has already done very well. We’re well into awards season now, and although The Big Short did not walk away a winner, it was nominated for 4 Golden Globes in the two male acting categories, adapted screenplay, and best picture. It still has another chance in late February with its 5 Academy Award nominations (Editing, Screenplay, Actor, Directing, and Best Picture).

This movie takes a very complex topic – the 2008 financial crisis – and attempts to explain it in a way that the average adult can understand. There are so many moving parts and economics isn’t everyone’s strong suit, so it does it’s best (complete with various celebrities trying to dumb it down for us) and mostly succeeds.  Regardless of whether you understand all the intricacies and terminology or not, you’ll still walk away from it feeling sick and cheated – and that’s the whole point.

The movie is centralized around three different groups of men who notice something no one else did – that the U.S housing market was built on a bubble, and that bubble was going to burst. Michael Burry, the one guy who discovered it all is played by Christian Bale. His quick actions sparked the interest of the other teams, who quickly began doing their own investigations. These teams included FrontPoint Partners, lead by Mark Baum (an amazing performance by Steve Carell) and two young guys with a hedge fund start up. They all go about finding a way to make money off of the greed, corruption, and general stupidity of the banks – they bet against the housing market.

The Big Short is filmed in a bit of a quirky way that may annoy you in the first 10 minutes but you’ll quickly get over it and later recognize it for its brilliance. It’s like you’re watching real life unfold in front of you, except you know what’s going to happen. Quick flashes of real images and video serve as a reminder of how things changed so quickly. The script is nothing short of genius and the dialogue is quick-witted and blunt. The fourth wall is broken a number of times, but it works in every case and doesn’t affect the fluidity of the film, in fact, it makes it more real. Steve Carell outshines everyone else and it is likely one of the best performances of his career to date. Unfortunately his performance was not acknowledged by The Academy and Christian Bale was nominated for Best Actor instead. He won’t win, but it’s still a nice nod in his direction. Considering Adam McKay’s previous claims to fame included Anchorman and Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby, the Best Director nomination is a big step in the right direction for him.

It’s definitely worth a watch, but the target audience for this movie is likely 25+… make that 40+ in order to really identify with what the collapse of the U.S. housing market did to the world. The younger generations will find the fast dialogue amusing, the topic informative, and the forecast for the future slightly troubling, but they won’t have the same appreciation for the utter stupidity that ended up costing tons of people their jobs and their life savings.

The Big Short is still playing in some theatres but is mostly gone from the rotation. It still managed to pull in over $100M (worldwide) since its release in December 2015.

Watch the official trailer here:

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American Sniper – Clint Eastwood

American Sniper starring Bradley Cooper and Sienna Miller.

American Sniper starring Bradley Cooper and Sienna Miller.

Ignoring the memoir on which American Sniper was based, and ignoring the controversy surrounding Chris Kyle as a person, American Sniper is a decent war movie, but not much more than that. It follows the central character’s journey from his early life in Texas to becoming a U.S. Navy SEAL and finally to his multiple tours in Iraq where he earns the title “most lethal sniper in U.S. military history” with 160 confirmed kills. The action scenes are good and exciting but the rest feels a bit empty and, for lack of a better word, passionless.

Chris Kyle is portrayed as an unwavering American patriot who firmly believes in the war and never questions its objective to protect American citizens from the threat of the Taliban. Unfortunately for his wife and children, Chris becomes so attached to the war that he finds it hard to come home and even harder to stay home. American Sniper follows the man and his story, but unfortunately all the pieces to the story seem to be fragmentary and disconnected from each other. It’s bound to happen when a Director attempts to cover a man’s entire career in 132 minutes, even when that Director is the great Clint Eastwood. It is obvious that some liberties were taken with respect to the memoir in order to weave a better story and to meet the standards of a Hollywood biopic, but it still seems to lack the coherence necessary to make it truly resonate with the audience. That being said, the war scenes were all done very well and provide for some very tense and very raw moments that’ll surely have movie-goers holding their breath, but Clint Eastwood could have done more to explore the human element of a story like this.

Fortunately for Chris Kyle’s memory, the movie seems to distance itself from his more unlikeable traits and actions described in his book and also covered in the media. However, touching on at least some of Chris Kyle’s weaknesses and psyche would have made the movie a little less hollow. Instead, all you see is a soldier who identifies better with his comrades and his war persona (“The Legend”), than he does with his own family back home, but without much of an explanation other than pure patriotism. This is a notion that many soldiers from any country can identify with – the struggle to come home and live each day as if your fellow soldiers aren’t fighting for their lives or for the lives of others. Bradley Cooper is solid in his performance and certainly went through an intense ordeal to bulk up significantly for the role. There are a few key scenes that show his true range as emotions finally erupt from his character, but unfortunately this isn’t the role that will define his career from this point on. Sienna Miller, who plays Chris Kyle’s wife Taya, also puts in a good performance and channels Taya’s frustration and struggle to understand who her husband has become.

One thing in particular that stands out about American Sniper is the ending. It was executed with perfection and will leave those who don’t know what happens a bit stunned and those who do know will be satisfied. The end credits are also quite touching, to the point where it feels almost disrespectful to leave before they wrap up.

As a sniper, Chris Kyle’s skill and accomplishments cannot be disputed, but as an American hero who emulates everything we want our children to be, that is up for debate. A heated debate, it would seem.

The Theory of Everything – James Marsh

Theory-of-Everything-banner

The Theory of Everything starring Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones.

Those who recognize the name “Stephen Hawking” will likely know him for his unique robotic voice and as one of the world’s most brilliant minds who seems to know more about the workings of the universe than any other human being. All the things we don’t know are captured in the movie The Theory of Everything, which is loosely based on the memoir by Hawking’s first wife, Jane Hawking.

The movie focuses on Hawking as a graduate student at Cambridge and his blossoming relationship with Jane, a smart and ambitious woman who was also studying at Cambridge, as well as the progression of his disease and how it affected their lives. Stephen Hawking was diagnosed with motor neuron disease while he was still at Cambridge and has lived with the disease for over 50 years. Motor neuron disease is also referred to as Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) or Lou Gehrig’s Disease and is mostly considered fatal; in fact, Hawking was originally given about two years to live. Hawking is a physical and mental marvel and The Theory of Everything follows his extraordinary life from 1963 to 1989.

Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones star as Stephen and Jane Hawking and both deliver performances that deserve all the recognition and awards they have received. Redmayne’s portrayal is nothing short of Oscar-worthy and must have been very difficult physically and mentally. Jane Hawking has said that she felt as if Felicity Jones stole her identity as she plays her so flawlessly. It is absolutely devastating watching them struggle as the disease slowly takes away Hawking’s mobility and speech. We watch as he becomes completely dependent on Jane and is left with nothing but his own thoughts and no means by which to share them with the world; that is, until the computer comes along to help him.

At its core, The Theory of Everything is a touching and tragic love story but it also touches on the brilliance of Hawking’s theories in quantum mechanics and relativity. It is heavy on emotions and light on the mathematics, which makes the movie universally appealing, especially since the topics Hawking studied are far beyond the understanding of the average person, particularly those who have not read his best-selling book “A Brief History of Time”. The movie doesn’t hold back and the Hawkings’ struggle is shown as something real and not just Hollywood fluff.

Even though a movie’s soundtrack can sometimes go unnoticed by movie-goers, the score by Jóhann Jóhannsson is beautiful and compliments the story well, while stirring up emotions right through to the end credits.

With the success of the “ALS Ice Bucket Challenge” in 2014, one can only hope that all of those who donated but had no concept of the disease will watch this film and finally get a glimpse of what ALS does to people and their families, especially those who are not as lucky to live as long as Stephen Hawking has.

The Imitation Game – Morten Tyldum

The Imitation Game starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Kiera Knightley.

The Imitation Game starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Kiera Knightley.

Spectacular, simply spectacular. The Imitation Game exceeds expectations in every way and certainly deserves all the hype. If you aren’t already on the Benedict Cumberbatch bandwagon, then you will be after seeing this movie. His portrayal of Alan Turing, British mathematician and the father of computer science, is perfection. As with most geniuses, it would appear that Turing’s strength did not lie in his social skills or his ability to pick up on social cues and Cumberbatch captures the social awkwardness and egotism so well that one forgets that he just played “Khan” in Star Trek Into Darkness. It seems he can do no wrong these past couple years and he has earned a well-deserved Golden Globe nomination for his most recent performance. Kiera Knightley also stars as Joan Clarke, a close friend and fellow cryptanalyst who worked as a code-breaker at Bletchley Park with Turing.

The Imitation Game covers a lot of ground and touches upon various points of Turing’s life, including his homosexuality and how this secret affected his life, relationships, and his career. It also briefly touches upon sexism and ethical dilemmas but doesn’t overdo it in any way. The movie keeps you interested and in awe of what this man could do (and how his mind worked) in a time when radios ruled and television and computers were still just ideas waiting to be realized.

The various time jumps were flawlessly executed and never lost the audience as the story moved from the 1950’s to the 1930’s/1940’s and finally to the 1920’s when Alan Turing was just a boy at school struggling to fit in. We watch as Alan discovers his passion for codes with the help of a special school friend and eventually ends up helping to do the unimaginable – break the Enigma encryption. Most people have heard of Enigma machines, as they were a major player in World War II and used by the Germans as a means of encrypted communication, but Alan Turing’s story is an instrumental piece of history that was mostly unknown until the latter part of the 20th century. The Imitation Game is Hollywood’s first real attempt at bringing his story forward and to the rest of the world.

As it goes with movies of this type, there are a number of historical inaccuracies that have come to light and it would seem that Morten Tyldum as Director has taken some liberties for the sake of making a good Hollywood movie – but boy, did it ever work. If the historians in the audience can excuse this, then what is left is a great film about a great man whose contribution to the end of WWII cannot be ignored. Perhaps it will even get movie-goers to do their own research on the event that likely saved millions of lives, maybe even some loved ones who were fighting while the mathematicians were codebreaking.