The Big Short

ShortJust stop dancing.

“Everything changed after 9/11.” Is there a single phrase that was said more times more earnestly by smart people? In the aftermath of that event, the world was provided with a single, clear, and incredibly complicated lesson about the fragility of reality that Western imaginations had sanitized. The only thing that the 2008 financial meltdown shares with 9/11 is that it was a disaster that most people associate with the Financial District. The meltdown was wide-ranging, opaque, and we barely learned a thing. That is, until we saw The Big Short (2015), when the writer/director of Anchorman (2004), Step Brothers (2008), etc., Adam McKay read a book and decided to make something serious.  Well, the subject is serious, at least, and while Will Ferrell wasn’t in attendance, McKay musters all the available comedy to make this highly educational film not only palatable but suitably hilarious. Not since All the President’s Men (1976) has a film condensed something as complicated as this and that film, at best, gives only a glimmer of an impression whereas The Big Short explains the details.

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Gone Girl

Gone Girl posterWhat have we done to each other?

Some people won’t respond like I did.  Some people have the kind of quiet, unfussy mental health that keeps the dark and the weird at bay.  Enjoy your life and the calm.  Forgo the roaring chaos of ambiguity and compromise that surrounds most of humanity.  Me, I enjoy all the emotions.  Rage, jealousy, love, fear, adoration, joy, lust, sadness, and especially the mixed up ones in between…in the theater.  I like to keep all that crazy in a dark room away from outsiders.  Turn down the lights and, for a few hours, gorge on a world of emotion that others graciously provide.  Then, with every step to the subway, let it waft away, itch scratched.  I walked home from The Counselor (2013) with the vague but genuine fear that someone might kill me slowly, brutally, and for no reason.  I thought to myself, “Well, the movie wasn’t perfect–it might not have even been good–but it was effective.” Now I’m here, on the A Train, feeling that afterglow of a great piece of effective movie-making.

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Lucy

Lucy2Life was given to us a billion years ago.  What have we done with it?

Luc Besson is unique.  He is a French action film writer-director-producer.  His films are slick, tough, and thoroughly European.  He is also almost certainly the most prolific human in film.  In 1997, he wrote and directed The Fifth Element (1997).  Since then, he has written 36 scripts or stories, directed nine, and produced about 100 (though IMDb does include a lot of uncredited producer titles).  Not unlike Woody Allen, the break-neck speed of his production suggests there isn’t a lot of time for second drafts and it can show.  Then a movie like Lucy (2014) comes along and, while rough-hewn and requiring some limberness of credulity, shows the man at his apex.  And it’s wild.

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The Rover

RoverYou must really love that car, darling.

Well, if he doesn’t, then he must be very bored.  That said, there doesn’t seem to be much to do in Australia ten years after “the collapse”.  Everyone in The Rover (2014) from writer-director David Michôd, just seems to survive (until they don’t).  There’s money–America’s monetary supremacy survives the collapse, fear not–but nothing to spend it on out there in the boonies where the film takes place.  So, when a man (Guy Pearce) gets his car stolen by some bank robbers, he goes after them.  He wants his car back.  Then, when he loses track of these robbers, fate brings Rey (Robert Pattinson), brother of one of the thieves, into our hero’s hands.  I say hero.  When he shoots the fellow selling him a gun, even the term “protagonist” loses its aptitude.  Lesson #1: Don’t sell someone a gun with ammunition inside it.

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The Immigrant

The ImmigrantI am not nothing.

The story of America is an epic one. There is very little respite to the expansion of its borders and the dangerous struggle of its people against nature, its enemies, and each other. Movies take little slices out of that narrative and usually glorify it. The Immigrant (2014) takes a tiny sliver and tells the story of a young woman, just arrived from Poland, who is pulled into a harsh world of immoral earnings to protect her and her sister.  Glory is not the goal to this film.  It tells a hard story honestly, in a traditional, old-cinema style (or veneer).

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Devil in a Blue Dress

Devil in a Blue DressNow, usually when someone tells me ‘There’s nothin’ to worry about’, I look down to see if my fly is open.

As much as I prefer New York to Los Angeles, southern California somehow lends itself to film noir better than any other place.  The best examples like Chinatown (1974) and L.A. Confidential (1997), Double Indemnity (1944) and The Big Sleep (1946), are all set in L.A. in the 40s or 50s.  And these are all quintessential films noir.  Crime films with a less-than-angelic protagonist, led into disaster by a beautiful woman (preferably blonde), and enough wise cracks to piss off the antagonists and utterly seduce us.  Devil in a Blue Dress (1995), based on the novel by Walter Mosely, follows the formula quite closely with its unique feature being that Easy Rawlins (Denzel Washington), our hero, is black.  Set in postwar L.A., it looks and feels exactly the same–in a good way–as all those other films, but with its chosen milieu, the danger Easy faces seems all the more sinister and real because we know that arbitrary violence wasn’t just an element of crime fiction.

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25th Hour

25th HourBefore you leave, you should know.

There are always a few people who are well-regarded by critics or a group of fans and you can’t understand why.  Woody Allen will always be a mystery to certain audiences.  There are people like Tarantino or Zack Snyder where you know exactly why they’re well-regarded and you can’t understand the fans, but that’s another story.  Spike Lee is hard to get into if you aren’t on his wavelength.  There’s a lot of style there, but there’s a perspective he’s associated with that can push you away.  If you’ve never been able to get into Lee’s movies–other than Inside Man (2006)–see 25th Hour (2002) and think again.  If Lee is bombastic and aggressive, 25th Hour is quiet and thoughtful.  It’s a New York movie like no other.

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