Sunday, January 17, 2016

REVIEW: THE REVENANT

After cleaning up handsomely at the Golden Globes, and getting a whopping twelve nominations at the Academy Awards (with Mad Max: Fury Road coming in a close second place!), the casual moviegoer is probably becoming very intrigued with seeing Alejandro G. Innáritu's The Revenant. On paper it's maybe not such an easy sell: a man is left for dead by a greedy trapper and he has to fight is way back to exact revenge. That's it: a fairly simple plot. So is it worth your dollar?

Absolutely: if you don't mind a little blood. And by a little I mean one of the most violent movies I saw in the 2015 movie year, right behind The Hateful Eight but still well in front of Kingsman. It also has some shades of Angelina Jolie's Unbroken. If you hate Leonardo DiCaprio, see this movie, because you get to watch him suffer what regular people would break under: unendurable circumstances. When he's not almost mercy killed by his men he's getting buried alive. When he's not getting hurled through river rapids he's getting shot at. He is not assaulted by the Oscar-nominated (for special effects) bear named Judy, but it was one of the most intense sequences from last year's cinematic offerings. And if you like Leonardo DiCaprio, oh boy. This is one of his best roles to date.

With now six Oscar nominations under his belt, it's easy to see why we fan over DiCaprio like he's a movie god. He's not: is there such thing? But he's very selective (not Daniel Day-Lewis selective, but still) over his projects. Since the year 2000 he's worked with Eastwood, Tarantino, Scorsese, Nolan. You know why that's an impressive list? Those are all directors that you knew by just their last names. He can add another to that roster: Innáritu. Fresh off his triple-Oscar winning success of Birdman, AGI delivers another bonafide winner here. Again working with Emmanuel "Chivo" Lubezki on cinematography, the movie is one of the more beautifully filmed I've seen in a long time. Additionally, filmed only using natural light, it looks utterly realistic, and like Malcolm McDowell whose head was held inside a full bathtub for over a minute in A Clockwork Orange, you have to wonder how is it possible that DiCaprio was able to pull off these stunts. It's said the vegetarian actor ate a raw bison liver. Honestly, I believe it.

He is so utterly deserving of the Oscar he'll be receiving on February 28th. This isn't a lifetime achievement award like Christopher Plummer's for Beginners. This is merited. Though one of my strongest points is that we don't know a ton about Hugh Glass besides the fact that he can survive bear attacks and falling off cliffs and has Han Solo resourcefulness (think the Battle of Hoth), the physical acting in this film is indescribable. He is so convincing, so hateful and yet we get this great sensitive side to him: he truly loves his son. Countering him is the now finally Oscar-nominated Tom Hardy, playing the gruff, money-centric Fitzgerald, a key figure in the plan of leaving Glass for dead. With those eyes that can conjure up such soulless evil, Hardy uses his established movie star presence to not get us to totally despise Fitzgerald, and nearly gets us on his side before we realize how despicable he is. Domnhall Gleeson, who's been criminally overlooked this awards season for four stellar roles in three other Oscar contenders (Ex Machina, Brooklyn and The Force Awakens). He's never showy in any of these roles, but he's a welcome presence. Will Poulter is the last big name here, shedding his We're the Millers "aw shucks!" comedy persona. This kid and his eyebrows have a bright future ahead.

Like Unbroken however, I had to wonder whether all of DiCaprio's suffering was essential to the film. Some of it, of course. Nearly an hour and a half of it? Not really. I would've loved to know more about Glass and Fitzgerald. But these are mostly nitpicks. I couldn't be more excited for AGI's new movie, though he says after the production hell he went through for this film, he's not planning on another one anytime soon. The man dreams in huge scope. I also watched Babel over my winter break, and it's my favorite film of his. It looks like he's got another Best Picture winner on his hands, and while my hopes for Mad Max: Fury Road driving off with it (though Sunday's 9 Critic's Choice wins including Best Director for Miller fan my hopes) are unrealistic, what a worthy adversary to lose to. Here's to Judy, and Innáritu, and Leo's first Oscar, for making one of the most harrowing dramas of last year so investing.

Rating: 3/4 stars

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

OSCAR PREDICTIONS 2016

The Oscar nominations are coming right around the corner! After a surprising Golden Globes, where The Revenant had a near sweep of three of the night's biggest awards, really anything could happen! Interestingly enough, Revenant isn't even up for a Best Cast nomination at the SAGs. No movie since the SAG's inception in 1995 (Braveheart) has won without a  Best Cast ensemble. Then again, eccentric choices like The Birdcage and The Full Monty have won, so it's anyone's guess. My choices for Best Picture are equally eccentric: you have fantastical blockbusters like Fury Road and Martian here, along with solid indies (Carol and Brooklyn) and movies with big stars and small-ish budgets (Spotlight and The Big Short). I lost my bananas last year when The Lego Movie only got a sole nomination for "Everything is Awesome!!!" I won't be that surprised if Inside Out doesn't make it with the big dogs, but I will lose what is left of my faith in the Oscars if they don't give IO at least a best animation nod. Enough of my grudges and blathering. Here are my choices for the wannabe candidates!

BEST PICTURE: I largely underestimated the power of American Sniper last year, but I think this is a fairly air-tight choice for the nominees. The only wild card: how many there'll be. My guess is going to be 9. Or they could, you know, reward the brilliant movies of 2015 with all of their eligible slots, but that'd make too much sense, right? 
  • Inside Out
  • Carol
  • Spotlight
  • The Martian
  • The Revenant
  • Mad Max: Fury Road
  • Room
  • Brooklyn
  • Bridge of Spies
  • The Big Short
BEST ACTOR: After the Fruitvale Station snub, I wouldn't be surprised if the Academy doesn't recognize Michael B. Jordan in Creed. However, after Sly's standing O at the Globes the other night, he's my pick to win the whole thing in Supporting Actor. Don't be surprised if Whitey Bulger reincarnate Johnny Depp is able to win voters for his triumphant critically acclaimed turn in Black Mass.
  • Leonardo DiCaprio- The Revenant
  • Matt Damon- The Martian
  • Bryan Cranston- Trumbo
  • Eddie Redmayne- The Danish Girl
  • Michael Fassbender- Steve Jobs
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS: I was not expecting Kate Winslet to take the Globe for her turn in Steve Jobs, a movie that's still eluded me. All the critic's buzz has been aimed at Vikander. Speaking of the breakthrough actress, I think Danish Girl will prove to be too Oscar-baity to refuse, and though I'm 99.9% sure she's getting nominated for something, I don't think it'll be for her graceful turn in Ex Machina.
  • Helen Mirren- Trumbo
  • Alicia Vikander- The Danish Girl
  • Rooney Mara- Carol
  • Jennifer Jason Leigh-  The Hateful Eight
  • Kate Winslet- Steve Jobs
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR: This category is WIDE open. Any of the boys from Hateful 8 could pull a surprise nomination (namely Kurt Russell) and Paul Dano could be seeing his first nomination for Love and Mercy. But Oscar has been kind to Mark Ruffalo twice, and I think he'll get a second consecutive nomination in this category after last year's Foxcatcher. Including Elba is a bit of a gamble, but Shannon, Sly and Rylance are surefire nominees.
  • Mark Rylance- Bridge of Spies
  • Idris Elba- Beasts of No Nation
  • Mark Ruffalo- Spotlight
  • Michael Shannon- 99 Homes
  • Sylvester Stallone- Creed
BEST ACTRESS: I think the Academy is going to play nice and let Vikander and Mara be considered supporting actresses, leaving this field ready for Cate Blanchett to not have to compete against her co-star of Carol. No one's seen 45 Years, but it's a huge indie critical darling, and like last year with Marion Cotillard's French performance in Two Days, One Night, expect people all over Twitter to be hash-tagging #whoisthisoldwoman. Joy is a meh movie, but after her Globe win and the fact she's been nominated thrice before, I think J-Law's great role as Joy not-Mangano-Mangano will be enough to have her recognized. She's got no chance though: this is Brie Larson's year. Room, please come to Virginia!
  • Cate Blanchett- Carol
  • Brie Larson- Room
  • Saoirse Ronan- Brooklyn
  • Charlotte Rampling- 45 Years
  • Jennifer Lawrence- Joy
BEST DIRECTOR: The Director's Guild Awards just came out: George Miller is all but guaranteed a spot for Fury Road!!! My fanboy-ing aside, the only real threat here I see is Adam McKay for The Big Short. He was up for the BAFTA as well as the DGA, and I wouldn't be one bit sad. The Big Short had star power but it was his movie. Oscar likes to play it safe though, and Todd Haynes has been nominated before for writing Far from Heaven. Will Iñárritu pull a Tom Hanks and win back to back? If the Globes are any indication: maybe.
  • Alejandro González Iñárritu- The Revenant
  • Tom McCarthy- Spotlight
  • Todd Haynes- Carol
  • George Miller- Mad Max: Fury Road
  • Ridley Scott- The Martian
BEST ANIMATED FILM: Pixar's second offering of '15 The Good Dinosaur got good-not-great reviews, and Oscar for some reason loves to be weird with this category. Expect the left-field animated movie with a big voice cast The Prophet to pick up a weird nomination. The rest are in the bag.
  • The Peanuts Movie
  • Shaun the Sheep Movie
  • Inside Out
  • The Prophet
  • Anomalisa
BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY: Tarantino's script is wonderful, but it's just not his year again. This is either going to Spotlight or by some small chance Inside Out, just because of it's mind-twisting premise. Ex Machina won't get the volume of respect it deserves, but expect to see it represented here.
  • The Hateful Eight
  • Spotlight
  • Ex Machina
  • Bridge of Spies
  • Inside Out
BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY: Steve Jobs is fresh off its Globe win, and I think it's safe to say scribe Aaron Sorkin will be making his second trip up to the Oscar podium. But do not be surprised if The Big Short doesn't sneak up and take it. It was a huge undertaking: making this repellant financial jargon appealing to a general audience, and then adding all the fun, faux-documentary quirks that resulted in an extremely well-crafted film.
  • Room
  • The Martian
  • The Big Short
  • Carol
  • Steve Jobs

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

REVIEW: THE HATEFUL EIGHT

"I've never heard someone be called the N-word as much as I have in this movie." This is a quote from a friend of mine who saw The Hateful Eight, and boy is it accurate. Quentin Tarantino, along with, you know, changing the movie landscape and all that, is a fan of gratuitousness. His first two films (Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction) clock in, according to Wikipedia, at 534 f-words combine, and you can guess it's not "falafel." The first Kill Bill movie has Uma Thurman chopping off dozens of samurai limbs, and Django Unchained  had...everything. The lover of everything B-cinema loves to meld genres, tropes and character archetypes together to give you an X-rated smorgasbord for movie fans and casual watchers alike. It almost seems like a burden to have that much of a crammed imagination.

I've yet to see Jackie Brown and his Grindhouse collaboration with Robert Rodriguez, but otherwise I'm happy to report I've seen Tarantino's entire directorial filmography. I'm also here to report The Hateful Eight, at least in my opinion, is his most violent movie, and the first shot isn't even fired until halfway through. In fact this is one of the more violent films I've ever seen. But with all this blood comes a bloody good story. Before I proceed it's just nice to know that, in a cinematic world full of disappointments, you know Tarantino's got you. The man says he's only going to make 2 more movies because he knows he has such a good winning streak. So when the movie started I just had the satisfaction of knowing that I was in for a good time, and once Samuel L. Jackson's character Major Warren is able to climb aboard Kurt Russell's character John "The Hangman" Ruth's stagecoach, I was hooked. Though I have some problems with the film, like it's unnecessarily lengthy shots (I know it's an epic, but still!), the story still manages to shine through. Two Oscars don't lie!

And the story is nothing complicated, no Pulp Fiction web of interweaving tales. The Hangman is escorting Daisy Domergue (the rightly Golden Globe-nominated Jennifer Jason Leigh) to a town called Red Rock to be executed. Along with the aforementioned Maj. Warren, alleged sheriff Chris Mannix tags along, to the Hangman's reluctance. They travel to a log cabin called Minnie's Haberdashery, where an old Confederate general (Bruce Dern), a Mexican (Demián Bichir), a peppy British fellow (Tim Roth) and a scraggly cowpoke (Michael Madsen, making a triumphant Tarantino return to form) all await for the blizzard to blow over. Only the Hangman suspects that Daisy has a friend amidst the bunch...

This whodunit meets western meets stage play meets exploitation film captivated me the entire time. My last review, on the movie Joy, serves as an interesting sort of counterpart on what to do/what not to do when writing unlikable characters. That film featured one likable protagonist, and a gaggle of annoying supporting characters who virtually fought to drag her down. Here in Hateful 8, you kinda despise everyone. Jackson's Warren is the "main" character because he's on the longest and you sympathize with him the most (largely because of what my friend mentioned), but he's not the "hero." Nobody's the hero, here. 80% of what comes out of Daisy's mouth is vile. There are racists, misogynists, bounty hunters, soldiers, all under one roof that no one wants to be under. So how do you end up enjoying yourself amidst all of these creeps. I'm going to use my favorite character of the movie, Walton Goggins' Mannix. He's a Confederate soldier, with an irritatingly hick accent who openly spews racial epithets and calls it "talking politics." So why do we invest in him? Because, without giving much away, he experiences an arc. He's not a static character, and even though his past remains the same he changes. No one changes in Joy. Robert De Niro actually says "I shouldn't've given her the confidence to think...she could be more than a housewife." Father of the year right here.

When I say Tarantino can't make a bad movie, I don't mean the man is incapable of producing bad material. Anyone can. But even after the script of this movie leaked, and his controversial police comments provoking possible boycotts, he still saw the potential in this film and put forward his best foot. Is he in love with himself when he makes movies? Sure. Two Oscars and nonstop critical lauding will do that to you. But his movies are such safe bets, and take so long in-between that you know he's nurtured them until he feels ready to release to the public. With the cinematography, gorgeous spaghetti-western score by veteran Ennio Morricone, fantastic ensemble where you wouldn't be surprised if any of the titular eight got recognized, all melding together in one ultra violent cauldron, it's fairly easy to forgive the movie's flaws. I don't care if he only makes two more movies in his lifetime. Just keep makin' 'em.

Rating: 3/4 stars

Monday, January 4, 2016

MY TOP 5 FAVORITE FILMS OF 2015!

Holy smokes do I have a lot of reading to do. All of the biggest movies of 2016 are comic book films, from Valentine's Day's Deadpool, to March's Batman v. Superman and the summer's Captain America: Civil War. 2016 looks like an incredible year for the movies, but don't be afraid to get nostalgic about the year that's passed us! For someone who champions original filming, I can't believe two sequels rest in my top five list (and maybe a comic book movie is sneakily hiding somewhere in this post). Being in college ate up most of my time this year, but I was still able to watch 22 candidates for my top spot, including Mission: Impossible 5, Kingsman, Ant-Man and Crimson Peak. All (mostly action) movies I really enjoyed but couldn't find a place for. Maybe in a weaker year. Since I'm anal about only counting movies released in 2015 that I saw from 1/1/15-12/31/15, movies I missed like Room, Anomalisa, The Hateful Eight, The Revenant and the one I'm most upset about, The Martian (I only have 2 chapters left in the book!) will not be here. Instead expect to see them at the Oscars next month, which I'll be covering plentifully. And as always, keep in mind that these are simply my favorite films of 2015. Not the ones I think are made the best, but the ones I saw that captured my imagination, swept me away into science fiction worlds and reminded me of the darkness of today's world. Enjoy!

5. SPOTLIGHT
Yet another Keaton movie in my #5 spot that's destined towards Oscar glory. Even though this movie doesn't have the re-watchability of any of the other movies on this list, I'd go as far as to say it's probably the most well-made of any of these five. Following the Boston Globe's investigation into an enormous exposure of pedophile Catholic priests, Tom McCarthy films the movie like a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalism piece: with nothing but the facts. It's a straightforward procedural that'll anger you, and make you cheer, if only for a fleeting moment, and gets solid, earnest performances out of Mark Ruffalo and Michael Keaton.

4. EX MACHINA
Who would've thought a movie about two dudes and a robot would become the indie breakout hit of 2015? In the hands of brand new director Alex Garland, who also penned the highly original script, you get a dark, atmospheric cautionary tale about the dangers of technology becoming too real, and what it means to be human. Alicia Vikander is surely going to be up for Oscar gold, whether it's this or The Danish Girl. I'm hoping it's for her turn as Ava the A.I. For a fake person she sure does convey a wide spectrum of human emotions. And that pulsating electronic score is the finest I've heard since The Social Network. I just want to listen to it, taking a bath, away from all other technology.

3. STAR WARS: EPISODE VII- THE FORCE AWAKENS
Even after a second viewing (in 3-D!) this was the most fun I had in a theater all year. I'm not accounting for when people cheered at the iconic logo, the applause of Han and Chewie's entrance and the giddy laughter over a BB-8 sight gag. The movie was just a complete blast. Is it too much like A New Hope? Who cares?! If you're gonna steal, steal from the best! Introducing a new cast newbies and diehard Jedis alike can sink their teeth into and invest in, along with the old characters who made us fall in love with the franchise to begin with, J.J. Abrams and his practical effects and his breakthrough actress (the lovely Daisy Ridley) won (a lot of) the audience. He had a Herculean task on his back, and he pulled it off like gangbusters.

2. MAD MAX: FURY ROAD
With a little more insight on Max and maybe just a little better plot, this would've been easily the top movie of the year. After hearing it was a critical darling and seeing those mind-blowing trailers, my fingers were gripping my seat before the movie even started! I can best describe the movie as a visual assault on all fronts. I've never seen Tom Hardy in a bad role (that's because I've never seen This Means War) and he continues his winning streak as Mad Max. His Max is the quietest and most John Wayne-mysterious of the other three Mel Gibson movies, but we all know who this picture belongs to: Charlize Theron's Furiosa. She's been called the most exciting character of the year, a feminist icon, and a complete scene-stealer. All apply. In his 70's, George Miller shows a veracity and ferocious love of action movies filmmakers half his age should take note on. It's a gonzo ballet that's...essentially a car chase. Well, Fury Road is hard to put into the words. That's why it demands to be seen!

1. INSIDE OUT
So how did little Joy and her ragtag team of emotions trump the likes of Furiosa, Han Solo and Oscar Isaac's Ex Machina beard for the top spot on my year-end list? I'm not a teenage girl like our avatar Riley is. I won't even be a teenager for that long as of this post. But this movie spoke to my inner-child and my present-adult. It worked on every single level a movie should. Breathtaking animation (the worlds inside Riley's head were astonishing), hilarious voice work, deep psychological analysis of the pre-pubescent mi...wait what? This is Pixar right? And it is. Only they could pull off a movie of such startling depth. In fact this is their most adult picture yet. Putting aside the Bing-Bong-shaped hole in my heart, this is Pixar's best since Toy Story 3. It resonates with all of us, and the creative idea that emotions take turn piloting our heads takes a backseat to the idea that without all emotions at work we wouldn't be who we are. For a movie whose most sympathetic character is an anthropomorphic teardrop, Inside Out is surely one of the most human stories I saw all year, and my personal pick for 2015's finest.

Click on to see the movies that just teetered on making my list, and the others that left me tottering out of the theater disappointed!

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

REVIEW: JOY

It's hard to believe Jennifer Lawrence hasn't been in more movies, isn't it? Or rather, that she hasn't been around longer than she already has. Two massive franchises, an Oscar and...The Beaver? Did anyone see this movie about Mel Gibson and the beaver puppet? It was actually kinda cute. Anyway, IMDb lists Lawrence as being in 15 movies since she broke out in Winter's Bone. She's the it girl of Hollywood now and she was born in the 90's. What am I doing with my life? But this movie is important for one reason. The Hunger Games and X-Men were both series, franchises with fans (one of the book series, the other the previous films) built in. Silver Linings Playbook was her and Bradley Cooper's movie. She had a supporting role in American Hustle. Joy can be considered the first original movie that Lawrence has carried...pretty squarely on her shoulders, much like her titular character in this film. So is she effective?

My initial response is yes. I like this movie less the more I think about it, and the squandered potential her frequent collaborator David O. Russell put on the screen. But I'm happy to say the fault of this doesn't rest on Lawrence, who time after time has proven to us that she is the actress to be reckoned with. The fact that the rest of the movie just isn't as compelling is her is a little telling though. Her harried, desperate mother of two, with a tumultuous father coming to stay (it's Bobby De Niro!), an ex-husband living in her basement and a practically vegetable mother who's addicted to soaps, was still...well, enjoyable to watch. The movie's essentially not really about the life of Home Shopping Network staple Joy Mangano (I'll admit I have her hangers in my closet at home) but about Lawrence's Joy trying to sell her Miracle Mop to the masses.

Here's my first problem: why won't you just call her Joy Mangano? When she gets on TV, the character says her name is just "Joy." If you're going to have (minor cameo spoiler ahead) someone play real Joan Rivers and have Bradley Cooper play an executive at the real QVC shopping network, why can't you call her Joy Mangano!? Joy Mangano was an executive producer on this. That doesn't mean much really: Stan Lee is an executive producer on Marvel movies and he has zero control over any of the content. Speaking of cameos: Bradley Cooper. Russell, who directed Cooper to not one but two Academy Award recognized performances has failed his muse. The manic electricity is gone from Bradley's eyes. Russell just wanted his name on the poster so he and J-Law could "reunite" for another movie. Cooper's not bad in it at all, it's just that his role could've been played by anyone.

And then there's the problem of likability: why should I care about any of these characters? De Niro's Rudy is borderline abusive, Joy's mother (Virginia Madsen) is much too whiny for us to sympathize with her television addiction, and the sister. Ugggh. I've never seen Elisabeth Röhm in anything else, but I want to rent one of her movies so I can get the taste of her character (Joy's half-sister) out of my mouth. There isn't a single redeemable thing she says in the whole film, and I kind of hated her guts halfway through. In fact the most likable characters are Joy's ex-husband, who's still a mooch because he's living in her basement, and her kids, because they don't say much throughout the movie. But let's play devil's advocate here: perhaps it was Russell's intentions to make everyone so vile that all your support was shifted to Joy [INSERT LAST NAME HERE]. I suppose that's kind of how he got you to root for Mark Wahlberg's Micky Ward: surrounding him with a dysfunctional family so you're cheering for him in the ring. The difference here is that those characters are redeemed later on. This ensemble is not. They support Joy in her endeavors, but they're still rotten.

This movie isn't bad however. There was still a lot of effort put into this that is visible, like Lawrence and Cooper's back in forth when she freezes on TV for the first time. It's pretty adorable. The recurring device of the mother's soap opera characters is an inventive one, but it feels a little half-baked. But after it seems like Joy is finally able to get her life together, the movie shuffles its ending aside, giving us the bulleted PowerPoint accomplishments of the real life Mangano. The move still functions as a great vehicle for Lawrence (not sure if it justifies her $15 million paycheck though), but for a movie called Joy it sure does suffer from a lot of melancholy at times.

Rating: 2/4 stars

Friday, December 25, 2015

REVIEW: THE BIG SHORT

You won't understand The Big Short.

"Stop calling me Michael Scott!"
That is, unless you're an insider in the banking business. That's probably not even how you use that phrase. Banking industry? How about super villain headquarters? Yeah, I like that a little better. As we learned from The Wolf of Wall Street (and uh, common sense: how many articles talk about the nice guys of Wall Street?) there are plenty of bankers and investors willing and ready to make a profit at the risk of the 99%. Ryan Gosling's Jared Vennett certainly knows this. He's one of the insiders who saw the 2008 bubble pop, the housing and banking collapse that led to one of the largest recessions in U.S. history. Everyone in this movie is based on real people, based on Michael Lewis' nonfiction book of the same name. But this movie will tell you when it's fibbing on the truth a little: and that's the biggest thing it has going for it.

As I said, laymen to this business are going to have a hard time grappling with the insufferable financial jargon in this picture. I couldn't decipher 90% of what Christian Bale's character was saying, and his performance has stuck with me the most since I left the theater! But the wonderful thing is, (and why this movie probably got made it all because who would care about this subject matter?) is that director Adam McKay (that's right, Mr. Anchorman and Step Brothers himself) realizes this. He realized that making a Hollywood movie about a financial crisis wouldn't appeal to anyone. His product is one of the most meta-pieces of mainstream cinema I've seen in a while. The film is practically framed as a documentary with an extremely well acted film as its core.

And the thing is that none of these characters is particularly likable. Especially Ryan Gosling, who through the meta-narrative device is always talking to you the audience, and even admits near the end that he never was meant to be the "hero." There's no hero. All four of these people (oh there's Brad Pitt too, I'll get to him in a second) knew the bubble was going to burst and purposely profited off of it. Though they were smart, and none of them too cynical about it except for Gosling, their gain meant literally everyone else's loss. They didn't want to be right. Steve Carrell plays Mark Baum, a no-BS straight-shooter New Yorker working through demons of his own and juggling his growing bitterness towards the system he's so deep into. Carrell continues his Oscar-worthy transformative real life person film streak, coming off a haunting performance in Foxcatcher.

I've commented on Gosling's sleazy achievement. Bale probably has the showiest role as Dr. Burry, a manager at a hedge fund (whatever that means) who surely has Aspergers, blasting heavy rock and crunching numbers like Rain Man. While he has this vast intelligence, you feel for the man, who longingly looks at pictures of his family, who hasn't been able to connect with people at all in his life, who's mocked for investing nearly $2 billion for the eventual payoff from the Great Recession. And then there's Brad Pitt, who probably gave himself the part like he put himself in 12 Years a Slave, as a critical but not large role as Ben Rickert. He's got a great, sobering scene with Hamish Linklater and John Magaro, who play two up and comers who also get in on the plan, but I've been waiting since Benjamin Button to see Pitt wow me again.

McKay and Charles Randolph's script shines the brightest in all this talent, which is no easy feat considering the gargantuan star power. Crimson Peak was enjoyable, pre-Halloween fun at the cinemas, but The Big Short might be this year's most frightening horror movie. The narrators (and others who made the movie's surprises so much fun, but I'm not sure how much they'll hold up in the years to come) take turns dishing out the truth of this wicked corruption. And there's no signs of stopping. The film is quickly edited, charmingly intelligent and courteous to the audience it's serving, trying to break down these concepts that the movie says Wall Street makes complicated so we don't ask questions. Thank goodness there's a movie out that questions that authority. The content may have been too dense for me to fully comprehend, but if you even get the gist of what The Big Short is trying to tell you, you'll be furious with our current state of things and content with seeing one of the best acted movies this year.

Rating: 3/4 stars

Monday, December 21, 2015

REVIEW: BROOKLYN

Without its more racy bits, Brooklyn is a film that could have been made decades ago, even as far back as the '50's. It's got an absolutely timeless feel to it, which makes it the even more surprising that it was adapted from a moderately recent novel from 2009. So how does John Crowley's film make you feel like you're watching a story that could be updated today with little change besides clothes and era? It's its evergreen material of youth vs. love, and all the entanglements that eternal struggle weaves into its many victims' lives.

Saoirse (Sair-sha. It's Sair-sha! What a lovely Irish name, but I'm so desperate just to call you Sarah) Ronan carries this entire thing on her back, no matter how wonderful and strong the supporting cast around her is. It's not her fault, it's the nature of the story. We're not going to care who she picks romantically if we're not invested in her. We're not going to feel as sad if something devastating happens to her. Ms. Ronan had a monumental task here (she's also said that she felt like all of Ireland was watching her because of how significant the book was there) and accomplished so much. The movie dips into melodrama at times, and her motivation for something that had me sort of hating her for a few minutes went unexplained, but those are my only large beefs. Her Eilis (pronounced Aye-lish, this poor girl can't seem to move away from difficult names) is warm, sentimental and full of dignity and decision. Though technically she has to choose between two boys (I know I know, what movie doesn't?) what makes this different is that it doesn't define her. She's not like her other boarding room mates who go to the Irish dances in Brooklyn to find a man. She just wants to live life the best she can.

And the decision isn't clean cut. We open the film with her working mundanely at a bakery, with one of the year's most unpleasant, passive-agressive characters: Miss Kelly. She's a stuffy, rude old broad that represents everything Eilis can't stand about her present situation: more of the same, day in and out. Eilis' sister Rose arranges for her to immigrate to the United States. (*cue the Irish women shaming Eilis with guilt). There she meets Tony (Emory Cohen), genuinely one of the nicest characters I've seen in the movies in a long time. This doesn't mean he's a static, perfect character: he might have unrealistic dreams and too big heart. But he sure is a charming fellow. The movie, thanks to Nick Hornby's excellent screenplay that cuts so much fat out that could've been present in an epic-feeling tale like this, goes by in a jiffy, and in that jiffy you get to know so much about the characters, even if they aren't onscreen very long. Maybe that's why I was pushing for Eilis to end up with Tony. Her beau she meets in Ireland, Jim, is equally calm and nice to be around. It was great seeing the movie not giving you an easy choice, like making Jim a recovering alcoholic, or having Tony expose a little bit of a temper. They're just really nice guys. As Eilis' mother says, "they'd have to be if [she] chose them."

I just came out of a class where we read novels that tackled with the question of American identity. What does it mean to live in America...to call yourself American? Brooklyn balances those more obvious questions, but also asks you this: what does it mean to be in love? To support your family: what do you owe them vs, what do you owe yourself? Identity is surely Brooklyn's largest theme, and dissecting it and seeing this wonderful story unfold was such a blast in an era of movies where you have to have a big twist or special effects or big names to make you relevant. You just need a good story at the heart of it all, and Brooklyn won me over, making it one of 2015's best films.

Rating: 3.5/4 stars