February 8, 2016

The Big Short

Adam McKay, 2015
Adam McKay’s The Big Short is a bunch of things. It's explanative, it’s sobering, and it’s thorough. But its also erratic and a bit messy as well. But it still works. Maybe it’s because Mckay, who is normally more focused on making more goofy comedic movies, is able to channel some of that silly energy into the film. Because it’s definitely a funny movie. Maybe its because of the ensemble cast - with really superb performances by Ryan Gosling, Christian Bale and Steve Carrell. Gosling brings an energy to his Jared Vennett character that reminds you of the cockiness of his Jacob character in Crazy Stupid Love. Jared is certainly a cocky guy, but also a funny cocky guy. His quick wit is able to draw laughter from people on the other side of the room who are feeling screwed over by him. Bale, who plays genius money manager / on-the-spectrum Michael Burry, is completely immersed in his role as usual. Something different for him, playing a guy who rarely wears shoes and locks himself in an office with heavy metal blaring. But he pulls it off, because he always seems to pull everything off. Carrel is someone who clearly is in a different chapter of his career. A chapter in which he wants to take more bold roles in more dramatic environments. The days of waxing his chest and screaming are behind him, as funny as those days were. He continues to show that he has a lot more to offer. His Mark Baum character is fueled by a manic myopic energy, a workaholic that is constantly pressing the gas pedal hard. He is grieving over the loss of his brother, attempting to right many wrong things on Wall Street - where there are many wrong things that may never be right.

McKay is doing a lot of interesting things with this film. The constant injection of clips of Americana. Music videos, news footage. It blends real life with grand fantasy, trying to blur the lines between the two. The real life vs. fantasy is something evident in the film. Lots of people taking advantage of a system with a real short-sight. Not really worried about the ramifications, or the domino effect that it may have. The ones that are truly aware of the effect it will have feel insulated from the consequences. Clearly the most frustrating aspect of the mortgage crisis to begin with, the fact that the higher-ups on Wall Street weren’t threatened that they would face any real prosecution. Worstly, they would be bailed out at the expense of the average American taxpayer. The Big Short is really similar to The Wolf of Wall Street in that sense. This sort of greedy carpe diem. The subconscious thought that at some point the party is going to come to an end. But who cares, everyone is making money today. That sort of mindset. Both stories play with themes of taking advantage of loopholes in a currently unregulated environment. When the one loophole is closed, another one will likely exist and be penetrated.

The American mortgage crisis was a complicated one, with a lot of trade-lingo and layers of confusion. The Big Short attempts to boil it down and succeeds in a lot of ways. It certainly puts you in the action, makes you a part of the conference room conversations, and revives an inner frustration that you haven’t felt since 2008.

February 3, 2016

The Lobster

Yorgos Lanthimos, 2015
Anyone who has seen Yorgos Lanthimos’ 2009 film Dogtooth is aware of his bizarre vision. He has a certain level of commitment to his work, while creating unusual stories in alternate dimensions. He doesn’t give up on them. The Lobster is another odd high-concept piece of work that is set in an alternate reality. In this reality single adults are given a window of time while they must find a lover. If they fail to find a lover within that timeframe, they will be transformed into an animal of their choice. A completely original and provocative premise for a film. Plenty of cinephiles were anxiously waiting for a release date on The Lobster. It was pushed up a bit and finally made it to screens in 2015.

There are certainly similarities to the aforementioned Dogtooth. The sense of confinement, a sort of forced etiquette, and obvious awkward tension. Just like Dogtooth, Lanthimos slowly serves pieces and pieces of the story. He builds and builds and builds. The layers of the onion are unpeeled. All while residing in this strange sense of reality, one that is rigid but also completely intriguing. The intermittent narration almost gives makes the film feel like a Wes Anderson piece on acid.

He decides to put most of the focus on main character David, played by Colin Farrell. David is a recently divorced man who has just arrived at the hotel looking for a mate. He’s a shy guy, a visibly tense guy. Honestly not a very likeable character. That’s one of the more troublesome aspects of the movie. Farrell is a difficult guy to get behind. He’s not necessarily the everyman. The everyman is more like John C. Reilly’s Lisping Man character. Actually, it feels like Farrell walked off filming the disappointing Season 2 of True Detective and didn’t get changed or even shower and just went right to work on the set of The Lobster. So that character becomes a bit draining, having to follow David for so long. And that is okay for the first ⅔ of the film, where you are getting served the constant exposition of this outlandish world. And when you venture into the lush forest (filmed in the breathtaking Dromore Woods in Ireland), it continues to be alluring. But when minutes in the forest becomes a more lengthy stay, the film falls into a tiring pace. Lanthimos tries to wrap up the film with an open-ended final scene just like he did with Dogtooth. But it fails to have that lingering effect, failing to keep that inner dialogue going. The Lobster is a very inventive piece of work Lanthimos that should certainly be seen, but it’s likely not to take a spot in your brain like Dogtooth did.