The Big Short

The Big Short movie poster

Release: Wednesday, December 23, 2015

[Theater]

Written by: Adam McKay; Charles Randolph 

Directed by: Adam McKay

When it was announced Adam McKay would be putting his comedic muse Will Ferrell in time out so he could make a film not only steeped in but specifically commenting on the 2008 financial crisis (and the events that precipitated it), I knew there could only be two possible outcomes.

This was boom or bust. The Big Short was either going to be an exciting new direction for the guy who gave us a NASCAR driver with two first names and the Channel 4 News Team    . . . or it was going to be an unbearable misfire, proving the limitations of a director who likes to keep things casual.

It turns out I was wrong. There was actually a third option, a middle ground — the dreaded ‘it was just okay’ territory where you’re not sure whether what you’ve just watched is something you’re going to care about by the time you get to your car. But The Big Short lingers in the mind for at least that long because you just can’t shake the weirdness. It is a weird experience; I mean, really weird. Not in a Rocky Horror Picture Show or Guillermo Del Toro kind of way, where weirdness is beneficial, even a signature.

It’s a film in which weirdness is just off-putting. Events are rooted very much in dramatic realism but tonally McKay prefers going for that whole meta ‘breaking the fourth wall’ thing that made Scorsese’s commentary on the wealth of Wall Street a couple of years ago oh so much fun. He douses character dialogue and interaction with an arrogance that would make Ron Burgundy and Ricky Bobby proud. And, okay, even Jordan Belfort. Key players are more caricatures than characters and they’re this way because McKay doesn’t want to be lecturing audiences with characters who aren’t fun and in that way, relatable.

It’s a film where strippers lament having to pay multiple mortgages and Ryan Gosling can almost pull off the fake tan and hairstyle á la Bradley Cooper in American Hustle. Christian Bale doesn’t have the gut or the really bad wig this time around though.

Working from a script written by Charles Randolph and himself, one based upon Michael Lewis’ 2010 book of the same name, McKay zeroes in on three groups of finance geeks who predict the destabilization and eventual collapse of the national and global economy several years in advance, paying special attention to the precarious state of subprime mortgage loans. The borrowing of money was an issue further compounded by big banks’ frivolous selling of what are known as collateralized debt obligations (CDOs), ways of bundling together poor loans in a package those banks would sell to their investors as a way of transferring any responsibility of debt repayment.

Those key players probably could use some sort of introduction. There’s the eccentric Dr. Michael Burry (Bale) who is first seen in the film doing his homework on the health of the housing market in 2005. He’s the guy who realizes he too could profit immensely off of the blindness (or is it just ignorance?) of suits who don’t realize how faulty their investments actually are. He also doesn’t wear shoes in his office and blares loud music whenever he’s crunching numbers.

Sometime later a slithery, opportunistic investor named Jared Vennett (Gosling) catches wind of Burry’s idea and, realizing just how right he is, wants in. Vennett smells blood in the water and taps stock traders like Mark Baum (Steve Carell) to join in on the action. Carell colors Baum as a self-righteous, idealistic man who’s cynical so far beyond his years the question has to be asked: what are you still doing here on Wall Street? His wife Cynthia (Marisa Tomei) repeatedly tells him he shouldn’t try to fix every problem in the world. Baum experiences a crisis of conscience when he realizes how much money there is to be made off of the greedy bankers’ investments, and also realizing the parallels between that reality and the white collar crimes that have been perpetrated to create this entire mess.

There are also two young hot shots who discover the credit bubble and are eager to gain from it. Otherwise . . . it’s back to living at home with mom! Charlie Geller (John Magaro) and Jamie Shipley (Finn Wittrock) are seeking a way to establish their own names so they enlist the help of retired banker Ben Rickert (Brad Pitt) — this is the wizened old fool who has been sickened by corporate greed and has sworn off of the trade — to help them short up (a.k.a. buy bonds cheap now to sell them for profit later) several high profile accounts.

I know, doesn’t this movie sound like so much fun? It is a credit to McKay and his entire crew that The Big Short maintains any semblance of energy whatsoever, as the story becomes far more bogged down by industry jargon than by the emotions this still raw subject matter is liable to generate in viewers.

Setting aside the inherent complexities of the story, The Big Short is just too much. It’s information overload, and on top of that it’s a whole lot of opinion flying in from all directions. Gosling’s character is entirely condescending and annoying — even more so than the dictionary definitions we must read occasionally on screen (McKay knows most people would be lost without them). Carell is a nervous wreck who challenges his own Michael Scott for most grating characters he’s ever played. Performances are otherwise, for the most part, not all that notable.

Somewhere buried deep inside this hodgepodge of statistics, dramatic license and comedic interplay there is genius. McKay embraces a challenging story with confidence that can’t be ignored, but just as unavoidable is the fact his dramedy is about as strange a concoction as I had presumed it would be, what with a cast that it is essentially split 50-50 in terms of comedic and dramatic talent. If you want to talk about big bailouts, The Big Short definitely benefits from its high-profile personnel.

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Recommendation: An odd and mostly unsatisfying blend of comedy and dramatic realism, The Big Short could very well divide the Adam McKay faithful as it doesn’t quite offer the memorably quotable scripts from times past, but it does suggest the man can do more than just provide a couple of comedians a line-o-rama for 90-plus minutes. Fact-based story is ultimately bogged down by jargon and dizzying editing that makes the whole thing kind of a headache. Disappointing. 

Rated: R

Running Time: 130 mins.

Quoted: “Tell me the difference between stupid and illegal and I’ll have my wife’s brother arrested.”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is strictly prohibited. 

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com 

JCR Factor #3

The month of June brings you the third edition of the John C. Reilly Factor — Thomas J’s latest character study. To find more related material, visit the Features menu up top and search the sub-menu Actor Profiles.

Part of the fun of creating this feature is getting to prove the versatility of this particular performer. There’s a reason I went with JCR and today’s edition proves it. We leap from drama to comedy here. I hope you enjoy.

John C. Reilly as Dale Doback in Adam McKay’s Stepbrothers.

Role Type: Lead

Genre: Comedy

Character Profile: The dictionary definition of ‘man-child’ has a picture of Dale Doback beside it. Dale is in his forties and living at home with his father, refusing to accept growing up as a part of life. He’s immune to getting a job as well as a haircut or a girlfriend or anything resembling responsibility. His life is upturned when his man-child equal in Will Ferrell’s Brennan Huff moves into his home after both their parents marry.

If you lose JCR, the film loses: the comedic chemistry that gives the film a purpose. Will Ferrell is good but the film wouldn’t be as funny if he were paired with someone else. Stepbrothers isn’t a career highlight for a man who can move in and out of genres without effort, though it stands to reason John C. Reilly showed up on set and dedicated himself to Adam McKay and company, issuing forth a suitably ridiculous performance that champions the apathetic’s fantasy of floating through life aimlessly. Together, he and Ferrell make an adopted sibling duo that’s at once completely over-the-top and strangely realistic. When the going gets rough, the inane get going (at each other’s throats). McKay’s story is funny, sure, but it’s Reilly’s chemistry with Ferrell that makes Stepbrothers memorable at all.

That’s what he said: “Dad, we’re men. That means a few things. We like to shit with the door open; we talk about p*ssy; we go on riverboat gambling trips; we make our own beef jerky. That’s what we do, and now that is all wrecked!”

Rate the Performance (relative to his other work):


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Photo credits: http://www.pandawhale.com 

TBT: Step Brothers (2008)

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This back pain I’ve been experiencing recently is causing me to be lazier than usual. Because I’ve been very lazy today, I felt like choosing a movie to review where it wouldn’t be too much of a challenge to churn one out relatively quickly, and so I selected another comedy. And what less challenging material to go with than a Will Ferrell vehicle? I see some of you already heading towards the exit. (It’s okay, I’ll hopefully see you next week when I have a Will Ferrell-less TBT.) If it’s not yet obvious by some of the reviews of the past, I have this slight chink in my armor where I’ll be thoroughly entertained by the shallowest of comedies. The catch is, they pretty much either need to be a Will Ferrell movie or a Leslie Nielsen slapstick. I’m not comparing the two, but those are two of the best kinds of comedies I will watch when my brain has taken a siesta. So, hooray for Lazy Thursday! 

Today’s food for thought: Step Brothers

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Released: July 25, 2008

[DVD] 

What an adorable family portrait! Family photos are all the more fun when your children are fully grown 40-year-old men but still live at home. With that and the fact that mom and dad are 50-60-year-old newlyweds, how can these photos be anything less than precious? See how not awkward they all are in that photo?

Will Ferrell selects different clothes from his wardrobe again to get into character in this relentlessly silly premise about two manchilds (menchildren?) who have refused to leave the house, get a good job and not depend upon mommy (Mary Steenburgen) or daddy (Richard Jenkins). When Nancy Huff attends a lecture given by the esteemed Dr. Robert Doback, the two get together and eventually wed, bringing together Nancy’s awkward and stubborn son Brennan (Ferrell) and Robert’s lazy (and stubborn) son Dale (John C. Reilly).

Pairing up Reilly with Ferrell turns this dysfunctional family story into a functional comedy. Admittedly, it does nothing to stray the path of Will Ferrell’s typical schlock so those opposed likely won’t appreciate these two goofs pouring their hearts into making their first day together as a family the most painfully awkward experience possible. On the other side of the fence, those who do will find the stand-offish situation hilarious. Reilly and Ferrell are convincingly childish in this extended SNL bit about four fully-grown adults trying to cope with a new and rather tense reality. Given the chemistry between these two goobers, we demand to know an explanation as to how this happened — how did these two guys end up this way?

Herein lies the movie’s biggest flaw. Without including any history to the present-day narrative, neither Brennan nor Dale seem like people. They’re mere caricatures. If we had some backstory to these guys’ separate lives, the uniting of this. . .non-traditional. . .family would probably be a good deal funnier, and seem more real. What were these guys like as children, one wonders as the grown ups shuffle zombie-like through a dark kitchen, creating one glorious mess as they experience together their individual sleepwalking habits. When they finally do join forces together and become “best friends,” we can’t exactly say we didn’t see that coming from a mile away.

In spite of its elemental message and lazy construction, it’s a fun movie. Mr. Doback one day puts his foot down and provides the two muttonheads an ultimatum to find a job and grow up. Watching the pair “trying” to get their shit together identifies Step Brothers‘ strengths as another installment in the Ferrell canon. There is a great sequence in which the two go to each other’s interviews together and they fail to rise to each one of these occasions, much to Mr. Doback’s mounting frustration. And then they get their real inspiration: ‘Prestige Worldwide.’ Putting both their dimly-lit lightbulb ideas together, Brennan and Dale pitch a business opportunity one evening to Brennan’s obnoxious younger brother, Derek (Adam Scott). This moment indeed becomes another one to add to the growing list of ways in which these two have humiliated themselves.

In attempting to really sell themselves for once, the two concoct the genius idea to shoot a music/rap video on board Mr. Doback’s prized sailboat, and the video not only is mocked by the entire congregation, it ends in disaster when they take the boat into the rocky shore. The boat meant more to the man than his son even did, so naturally, the film takes a turn to negative town at this moment. A non-too-subtle wind of change beckons act three when we see Dale and Brennan now out on their own in the real world since, over time, things continued to fall apart personally between the Dobacks and the Huffs. An incident at Christmas one year proved to be the final nail in the coffee between Robert and Nancy, and since then the boys have had no choice but to move out. Plus, they’re not speaking to each other at this point. You know, the usual growing pains.

Step Brothers wraps up nicely, however. The Catalina Wine Mixer scene redeems a lot of the film’s relative lackluster bits and pieces. The last impressions of the film are not only shots of a beautiful location, they’re also quite funny and bring about a satisfactory, if not contrived, end to the whole affair. The scene is also responsible for the classic duet performed by Dale and Brennan on stage when the Mixer experiences technical difficulties with the music. As well, the reuniting of the Dobacks with the Huffs is not only comical and awkward, it’s more than expected. And necessary. The movie could end no other way.

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3-5Recommendation: Though Adam McKay has done better, the faithful have found this one a satisfactory tread-water comedy with his go-to-comedian Will Ferrell with the nice addition of John C. Reilly. Reilly might actually be the best thing about this, as his comedic appeal was never very obvious until this performance. He’s since shown an impressive range, with his capacity to be a goofball quite evident here. For anyone else who doesn’t buy into this brand of comedy, though, this script would probably make for great toilet paper.

Rated: R

Running Time: 98 mins.

Quoted: “Robert better not get in my face, ’cause I’ll drop that motherf**ker.”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited. 

Photo credits: http://www.imdb.com 

TBT: Talladega Nights – The Ballad of Ricky Bobby (2006)

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For installment numero trés in our ‘Movies that Really Move’ segment on TBT, let’s switch up the genres and go to comedy, having spent some time with some solid entries into drama last week with Speed, and the week before with Days of ThunderThis movie speaks for itself and needs very little introduction, but I will say this: today’s entry is probably my second or third favorite Will Ferrell film. Although he doesn’t do anything substantially different from his other goofy roles, what he chooses as his subject matter here is perfect. Making light of the NASCAR circuit is always a good time. (Leave it to Ferrell to find nothing at all sacred, I know.) Even still, I thought this to be a relatively intelligent film compared to some other ridiculous full-length-feature SNL skits that he’s put out for public consumption. It’s by no means an award-contender, but hey, if you ain’t first, you can be second, third; hell. . . .you can even be fifth, right? 

Today’s food for thought: Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby

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Release: August 4, 2006

[DVD]

DF-15134 Ð Will Ferrell stars in Columbia PicturesÕ comedy Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby. Photo Credit: Suzanne Hanover S.M.P.S.P. Copyright: (c) 2006 Columbia Pictures Industries, Inc. and GH One LLC. All rights reserved.

The above photo shows a visibly distressed Ricky Bobby, as he attempts to free himself of the medical limitations placed upon him and his job as a top NASCAR racer, after a scuffle in a bar resulted in him getting his arm broken. (This was upon his request, mind you.) He attempts to cut through the cast to prove he’s ready, both physically and mentally, to take on the challenge posed by the presence of a new driver on the track — a Formula One driver who has just made the transition to the sport of left-turns.

Ricky could have surrendered to this new threat peaceably and told the guy what he wanted to hear in that bar that fateful night (something about crêpes), but no; his ego was simply too huge, and instead he gets his arm broken over a pool table. This moment is one of a select few that epitomizes the selfishness of Ferrell’s rowdy southern driver personality.

Ricky Bobby is the best there is, and he knows it. A considerable portion of the first half of the film shows him touting the fact he’s untouchable. Bobby, along with long-time race partner and Wonderbread teammate Cal Naughton, Jr. (John C. Reilly), have it made in NASCAR. An unstoppable duo of talented racers, Ricky is that guy whose dad never allowed him to accept anything less than the No. 1 position. It is from his father (Gary Cole) he’s had this impression that in life “If you ain’t first, you’re last!” and hence, his seemingly perfect track record. As his partner, Cal sits by and quietly accepts taking second place to Ricky’s fame and fortunes, never wanting to cause disruption in the relationship.

It is when this newcomer, Jean Girard (Sacha Baron Cohen), puts his foot to the pedal that a rift begins to slowly form in Ricky and Cal’s friendship; a clash of the egos that escalates once Ricky gets involved in a bad crash during a race and loses his confidence. (One of my favorite moments is his psychotic breakdown in which he yells out for help from Tom Cruise — now, I’m wondering, is that a shout-out to Days of Thunder or just a random, funny throw-away line?) Ricky soon discovers his name is slowly being forgotten now that his teammate has suddenly got a chance at the limelight. Aaaaaaand cue the unsportsmanlike conduct.

Talladega Nights comfortably leans on the same Adam McKay-Will Ferrell formula that has propelled both careers since their days on Anchorman (McKay’s debut film, and arguably one of Ferrell’s most successful full-length feature adaptations of his SNL slapstick to date). However, Talladega Nights proves that the formula is working reasonably well. In order to enjoy said films or if you’re trying to figure out whether you’re going to enjoy a particular Ferrell film, the process is really quite simple.

Plug in the ridiculous cast of characters; a plot that first shows the lead roles to be some sort of supremely confident, talented individual, but as time goes on their unwillingness to change or adapt to new situations proves problematic; then sit back and watch as Ferrell’s character (and any other central character close to him) tries to figure out how to best adapt, while getting the girl at the same time. Time and again, these have all proven to be the nuts and bolts of the McKay-Ferrell comedy vehicle. Nothing out of the ordinary with Talladega Nights in this regard.

However, being bolstered by memorable supporting performances from an always-hilarious Gary Cole as Ricky’s awful father, and similarly the zany mother-figure in Jane Lynch’s Lucy Bobby, Talladega Nights is stronger competition than one might expect, especially given how ruthlessly self-centered Ricky Bobby first appears. The fierce spirit of competition readily invites Ferrell’s sense of humor, as well, and this helps fuel the film’s staying power just a tad.

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3-0Recommendation: For Ferrell fans, it’s a must. Though this film is more or less relegated to the crowd-pleasing versions of his shtick, there are many good laughs here and there and its all in the name of good, simple fun. And it’s probably the second most-quoted film of his, behind Anchorman, of course.

Rated: PG-13

Running Time: 110 mins.

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.dogomovies.com; http://www.imdb.com; http://www.quotesgram.com