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Review – The Big Short (15) [2016]

The Big Short - title banner

Star Rating: 3/5

Director

  • Adam McKay – Step Brothers, The Other Guys, Anchorman I & II

Cast:

Music Composer:

  • Nicholas Britell – Gimme The Loot, The Seventh Fire, A Tale of Love And Darkness, Tramps

In 2007, a financial crisis rocked the world. Akin to the Wall Street Crash of October 1929, tens of thousands of people lost their jobs and homes. Additionally, Lehman Brothers imploded, and the US Congress and the UK Parliament bailed out the rest of the big banks to (allegedly) ensure that the crisis did not worsen. How did it all happen? The Big Short highlights some of the factors.

Dr Michael Burry (Christian Bale), in his office, listening to music whilst working out that the US property market would collapse in 2007.

Dr Michael Burry (Christian Bale), in his office, listening to music whilst working out that the US property market would collapse in 2007.

The Big Short is a dark comedy based on the book with the same title by Michael Lewis. The film follows three separate but parallel stories which reveal the duplicity and the fraud of US bankers and brokers with regard to the US property market; in particular, to the business of subprime mortgages, to the buying and selling of (junk) BB ratings, and to schemes like collateral debt obligations (CDOs). However the film also shows us that were some people who predicted the collapse of the US property market several years in advance, such as Dr Michael Burry (Christian Bale) and Jared Vennett (Ryan Gosling). The movie is as much about them trying to take on the big banks (and make billions in the process), as it is about the general fraud that was (is) taking place at every level of the financial sector.

The Big Short is an interesting film. It impressively explains in simplistic terms why the US property and financial markets imploded so spectacularly in 2007/08. The film captures the horror of the upcoming catastrophe by, chiefly, showing us the mind-set and attitude of the people working in Wall Street at the time (and at the present too) in a non-flashy and unglamorous way.

Nevertheless, as interesting as that is (and it is genuinely interesting), the overwhelming majority of the characters in The Big Short are just horrible, greedy and selfish individuals with few (if any) redeeming traits. Of all the people in the film, Steve Carrell’s Mark Baum is the most empathetic and likeable as he has a conscience. Carrell plays well, but his character’s hot-headedness comes across as cartoonish and silly (like it did in Bruce Almighty) when it is supposed to be funny at times and serious at others. Similarly, Christian Bale plays very well and deserves his OSCAR nomination. Yet, his character is weird and socially awkward. This makes him/Michael Burry difficult to root for. (And it does not help that Bale looks miscast in the role. With his huge biceps, one does not expect him to behave weirdly, but rather to don the Bat-gear again and beat every banker and broker to a pulp.)

Mark Baum (Steve Carrell, sitting down in the centre), contemplating the horror about to unravel, as his associates shout at Jared Vallett (Ryan Gosling, sitting down, right).

Mark Baum (Steve Carrell, sitting down in the centre), contemplating the horror about to unravel, as his associates shout at Jared Vallett (Ryan Gosling, sitting down, right).

As for the rest of the cast, their crassness guarantees that bankers and brokers are going to be hated for some time to come yet. Even if one can admire one or two of them for their foresight and intelligence, e.g. Jared Vallett and Charlie Geller (John Magaro), one is almost certainly going to be put off by their arrogance, rudeness and avarice. There is only so much one can endure of watching arseholes behaving so unscrupulously. One becomes bored by it and disinterested in the film’s subject matter; and 130 minutes of it is just too much. That one has seen deplorable bankers and brokers behaving in such an amoral manner before (Wall Street II: Money Never Sleeps, Margin Call and The Wolf of Wall Street) adds to the boredom and disinterest.

Yet, what is worse is the frustration one feels with The Big Short. The film has been billed as a satirical comedy, but to smile wryly only twice throughout the movie is not enough to justify such a billing. Plus, some of the movie’s (alleged) humour is just downright misogynistic. How is a cameo of Margot Robbie (as herself!) naked and in a bathtub explaining subprime mortgages funny? How is having a female stripper explaining the hazards of having loans on multiple houses, whilst lap-dancing, funny? Both just seem wrong in so many ways and not funny.

Charlie Geller (John Megaro, left) and Jamie Shipley (Finn Wittrock, right) speaking with Ben Rickert (Brad Pitt) about making investments.

Charlie Geller (John Megaro, left) and Jamie Shipley (Finn Wittrock, right) speaking with Ben Rickert (Brad Pitt) about making investments.

The sense that the film seems wrong is not just limited to its humour. The directing is extremely ill-disciplined. At certain points, the movie is linear; at other points, it is a music video; at others, the scenes change so suddenly and often, one can get a seizure; and, randomly, the film stops, so we can see a profile of a character or so that a character can face the audience and explain something. All of this makes for quirky viewing at best and ADD at worst. It also begs the question why Adam McKay has been nominated for an OSCAR in the Best Director category, considering that Ryan Coogler has not when the latter directed Creed so much better.

Over-all, The Big Short is a frustrating film. It is not particularly funny and it lacks focus in numerous ways. Yes, the movie successfully elucidates upon why the US property market and the world economy collapsed in 2007-08, which is no mean feat. But by The Big Short merely shouting at its viewers that it all happened because bankers and brokers are two-faced wankers is not only going down a well-trodden path, it also makes for repellent viewing.

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Review – Exodus: Gods And Kings (12a) [2014]

Exodus - title banner

Star Rating: 3/5

Director:

Cast:

  • Christian Bale – The Machinist, The Fighter, The Dark Knight I-III, American Hustle, The Big Short
  • Joel Edgerton – Smokin’ Aces, Warrior, Zero Dark Thirty, The Gift
  • John Turturro – Anger Management, Transformers I-III, The Taking of Pelham 123, Hands of Stone
  • Aaron Paul – Mission: Impossible III, The Last House On The Left, Breaking Bad, Need For Speed, Eye In The Sky
  • Sigourney Weaver – Alien I-V, Ghostbusters I & II, Paul, The Cabin In The Woods, A Monster Calls
  • Ben Mendelsohn – The New World, Killing Them Softly, The Dark Knight Rises, Mississippi Grind
  • María Valverde – Body Confusion, The Anarchist’s Wife, The Liberator, Broken Horses
  • Ben Kingsley – Schindler’s List, Prince of Persia: Sands of Time, Hugo, Iron Man III, The DictatorKnight of Cups
  • Indira Varma – Rome, Basic Instinct II, Silk, Game of Thrones, Caesar
  • Hiam Abbass – Munich, Lemon Tree, A Bottle In The Gaza Sea, Nothing Escapes My Eyes

Music Composer:

In my review of Prometheus in 2012, I wrote that since Gladiator came out in 2000 all of Ridley Scott’s films have not been good enough for a director who once made Alien, Blade Runner and Gladiator. Since 2000, Scott has consistently made disappointing films like Kingdom of Heaven, Robin Hood and Prometheus, while 2013’s The Counsellor was rotten to the core. So bearing in mind Scott’s portfolio over the last fourteen years, what could one expect with Exodus: Gods And Kings?

Pharaoh Rameses II (Joel Edgerton), the villain of the Exodus story, looking splendid and glorious.

Pharaoh Rameses II (Joel Edgerton), the villain of the Exodus story, looking splendid and glorious.

The film starts with (the anachronistic method) of a transcript, giving viewers the political context of the movie, as well as Moses’ position in Ancient Egypt. Subsequently, the film centres round Moses of the Torah and we follow him (Christian Bale) as a young adult living among the elites in Cairo; through his exile and marriage to Zipporah (María Valverde); to finally taking his place as the first leader of the enslaved Israelite/Jewish people and leading them out of Ancient Egypt via the Red Sea.

Exodus: Gods And Kings is a lively adaptation of the famous Biblical tale. The film is not absolutely historically accurate (especially if one swears by the Quran) and contains much artistic license. Some of the inaccuracies are avoidable, for example the number of years that the Israelites were enslaved for. But others inaccuracies are unavoidable and require the artistic license that Scott employs because there is no historical record of it; for example, where and what Moses did in exile.

If one can overcome these inaccuracies, one can appreciate many of the enjoyable elements of the movie. Scott impressively designs Ancient Egypt to give viewers a feel for how ancient Cairo and the slave city of Piton probably looked like; the battle at the start of the film is really good (although, strikingly similar to the battle in the opening scenes of Gladiator); the splitting of the Red Sea is refreshingly different from the conventional story (although, one recently saw a better example of what the film achieves in Interstellar); and the CGI plagues and godly miracles are emphatic and vividly memorable.

Moses (Christian Bale) speaking with Nun (Ben Kingsley), one of the enslaved leaders of the Jewish tribes in Piton, about the need to escape Egypt.

Moses (Christian Bale) speaking with Nun (Ben Kingsley), one of the enslaved leaders of the Jewish tribes in Piton, about the need to escape Egypt.

Furthermore, Exodus depicts Moses in an innovative and interesting way that is seldom discussed. This is important as Moses was a human being (who we know little about), so his (real or possible) flaws should be laid bare for us so we can assess what sort of a man he was. Exodus does this in a pseudo-intelligent manner and Scott should rightly be recognised for trying to do something different.

However, sadly, Scott undermines his idea of Moses, as well as the other key individuals from this period, with his poor choice of casting. Forget the racism issue (which Scott daftly fuelled with his lamentable responses); none of the actors in the main roles look their part. Christian Bale, Joel Edgerton, Ben Mendelsohn, Aaron Paul and Sigourney Weaver do not look like they are Ancient Egyptian or Mediterranean, and no amount of spray tan and make-up can change that. And, also, what was Scott thinking when he chose Christian Bale to be Moses? How can Batman be Moses? It just isn’t believable, and if viewers cannot believe in the characters, it is an uphill struggle for the cast to come across convincingly.

In fairness to the cast, they are handicapped by the wretchedly written script that relegates all, but Moses, to one-dimensional characters. The biggest victim of the script is the main villain: Pharaoh Rameses II, played by Joel Edgerton. If Scott’s intention had been to make Rameses be Exodus’s Commodus, Scott fails miserably. One may have loathed Commodus by the end of Gladiator, but that was only because Scott gave him/Joaquin Phoenix the chance to be loathed. Scott does not give Rameses/Edgerton such a chance, consigning Rameses to a pathetic, ranting idiot, who is unfit to rule. This is a shame (and gratingly frustrating) because it is a waste of a talent like Edgerton, because it is contrary to history, and most significantly because one feels nothing towards Rameses by the end.

The plague of hail. This is one of the ten plagues that rains down on Egypt after Rameses refuses Moses' request to let his people go.

The plague of hail. This is one of the ten plagues that rains down on Egypt after Rameses refuses Moses’ request to let his people go.

Speaking of the end, it takes an Earth’s turn to get there. One cares so little for the characters in Exodus that the movie’s 150-minutes running-time feels like double that. To think that Gladiator, at 155-minutes, was longer than Exodus, is surprising as it felt shorter. This speaks volumes for just how much of a masterpiece Gladiator was, and how far Scott’s stock has fallen as a director since 2000.

Overall, Exodus: Gods And Kings is not a terrible film. One may object to the historical inaccuracies within the film, yet this cannot be helped due to the limited amount of source material available on the subject. Instead, one should enjoy the aspects of the movie that have been done well. That is, if one can overcome Scott’s glaring casting errors and the poverty of the script that leaves even Christian Bale, one of the most talented actors of the current era, struggling for conviction. But, then again, what did one expect from Exodus? Another film of Gladiator’s quality? Don’t be ridiculous! Just be grateful that Exodus is not another Prometheus.

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Review – The Fighter (15) [2011]

Star Rating: 4.5/5

‘Why do we fall down, Bruce? So we can learn to pick ourselves up.’ Thomas Wayne may have asked his son this question in Batman Begins; yet, the question (and subsequent answer) is an equally valid motto for another excellent movie: The Fighter.

The Fighter is based on a true story. Mickey Ward (Mark Wahlberg – The Lovely Bones, The Italian Job, We Own The Night) comes from a deprived area in Lowell, Massachusetts. He is a street-sweeper by trade and an aspiring boxer on the side, struggling to make an honest buck. Mickey has been taught everything he knows by his older brother, Dickey (Christian Bale – The Machinist, The Dark Knight, 3:10 To Yuma), who is an ex-boxer that never quite made it big. In recent times, Dickey has become a crack-addict. As much as he is Mickey’s best aid, Dickey is also his brother’s greatest liability. Mickey’s mother and manager, Alice (Melissa Leo – Hide and Seek, Conviction, Red State), as well as the rest of this family (possibly minus his father), are not much better either.

Mickey does and, simultaneously, does not have the right kind of support. His confidence is low; he hasn’t done well in his previous fights. He’s struggling. It’s only after he meets Charlene (Amy Adams – Catch Me If You Can, Enchanted, The Master), a not unattractive college drop-out with little going for her; takes a battering against a boxer with twenty pounds more muscle on him; and after he recovers from a broken hand, that Mickey’s fortunes begin to change for the positive. But it does not come without an immense amount of hard work and sacrifice.

The plot may not move at breakneck speed, but it is still quite inspiring and entertaining. The quality of the acting by Mark Wahlberg, Amy Adams and Christian Bale is undoubtedly the best feature of the film. Due to Wahlberg’s performance, one has little difficulty empathising with Mickey. Wahlberg wonderfully captures the timidity of a humble person that suffers from low confidence and dejection, without being melodramatic. Likewise, Wahlberg maintains his character’s dignity admirably when he regains his self-assurance. This is no easy feat. Why Wahlberg was not nominated for an Oscar is a mystery.

One who was nominated for an Oscar is Amy Adams. Here, she plays the role of Mickey’s highly supportive girlfriend splendidly. Charlene has her issues as well, buttressing Adams’ performance because it makes her act more realistically. The only thing that works against Adams is that Charlene does not have an overly challenging personality. This may stop Adams from an Oscar triumph.

The same cannot be said for Christian Bale’s acting in The Fighter. In arguably his finest performance yet, Bale outshines his co-stars. When he’s not on-screen, one almost wishes him to return as he is that good. One could feasibly believe that Bale is a drug-addict from this movie, such is the intensity and energy he puts into the role. (And this is saying something for a man who has played many diverse roles extremely well throughout his career.) If he wins an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor, it will be fully justified.

The cast could not have acted so well without brilliant scripts. For this, credit must go to the script-writer, Scott Silver (8 Mile), and the director, David O. Russell (Three Kings). The scripts may not be as elegant and witty as that in The King’s Speech, or as intelligent as that in True Grit. Still, the dialogue between the characters in The Fighter is indicative of the environment from which Mickey, Dickey and Charlene come from, and, therefore, gives the movie a greater sense of realism.

Charlene (Amy Adams) at the bar where she meets Mickey.

If one were to be ruthless, one could argue that the choreography and the music in The Fighter were not as sublime as the above films. Some scenes did not flow as smoothly as they could have done; and, with regards to the feel-good factor, the music here was not as uplifting as the scores in The King’s Speech. Similarly, it is also a shame for the director that the cinematography could not have been as beautiful as in other films (for example The Way Back), since The Fighter is shot in depressing neighbourhoods. This should not, theoretically, take anything away from the film. Nevertheless, seeing miserable areas is not as aesthetically pleasing as picturesque landscapes. Again though, this is being very harsh (and semi-unfair) on the director.

All-in-all, The Fighter, despite some minor defects, is a fantastic film and has a cast worthy of their nominations; Bale particularly so. The movie also has plenty of moral messages. It illustrates how bad environments can hinder one’s progress and shows us the possible results of drug addiction. But most importantly of all, The Fighter emphasises that when one gets knocked down by life’s challenges, one has to learn how to stand up again and fight on.

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