20160417: Comedy Review--The Big Short

Name: The Big Short (2015)
IMDb: link to The Big Short page

Genres: Biography, Comedy, Drama   Country of origin: USA.

Scion Capital: Christian Bale as Michael Burry, Dave Davis as Burry's assistant, Rudy Eisenzopf as Lewis Ranieri.

Deutsche Bank: Ryan Gosling as Jared Vennett, Jeffry Griffin as Chris (Jared's assistant).

FrontPoint Partners: Steve Carell as Mark Baum, Marisa Tomei as Cynthia Baum, Brad Pitt as Ben Rickert, Hamish Linklater as Porter Collins, Jeremy Strong as Vinnie Daniels, Adepero Oduya as Kathy Tao.

Directed by: Adam McKay.  Written by: Charles Randolph, Adam McKay (screenplay), Michael Lewis (book).
Deutschebank meets FrontPoint

The Three Acts:

The initial tableaux:
Michael Burry MD retired from medicine and became a hedge fund manager.  When joining Scion Capital, he negotiated to have strong control, no matter what, of his part of the hedge funds.  A bit over a year before the start of the the housing collapse in 2007/2008, Burry saw the writing on the wall, and managed to short (bet on failure) several housing securities that seemed bulletproof.  He was widely criticised and attacked from within his company.

Jared Vennett listens extensively to what's going on in the markets.  When he catches some of the Street's disdain for Burry's short bets, he takes a closer look, and decides that he too can profit from the coming recession.

While Jared was looking for allies in shorting housing securities, one of his calls is misplaced.  The 'other' FrontPoint Partners takes the call, and the small but talented group arranges a meeting with Jared.

Delineation of conflicts:
Michael Burry is at war with this company throughout most of the film.  Sticking to his position is not easy in the least.

Jared has a hard time convincing others of his position, which was derived from Burry's.  He also perseveres through some heavy flack from others.

Jared's presentations inspire Mark to do his own research.  Some of the delving into the absurdities of the housing bubble were hilarious; others, incredibly sad.  The uncovering of fraud leaves Mark outraged; others seem to think he is a stupid idealist.  Mark's group joins the small wave betting on failure in the artificial housing securities.  Mark resists wave after wave of pressure to sell off his bets.

Resolution: The dialectic of conflicts ends late in the film.  Stay tuned.

One line summary: Follows small group who bets against the housing market.


Cinematography: 4/10 Sucked.  Pointless bad camera work.

Sound: 7/10 I could hear the actors speak.  The music varied quite a bit, from irrelevant to too damned loud to right on target.

Acting: 10/10 Gosling, Carell, Bale, and Pitt were all brilliant in their parts.

Screenplay: 7/10 Too many threads, too many balls in the air simultaneously, not always enough context, way too many drops of the f-bomb.  After the first 20, the next 50 are of little effect.

On the other hand, the black humour is often so trenchant that one has to laugh, and I laughed many times.  The movie drives home the damage done by the widespread fraud and endless lies in the securities industry.

Final Rating: 8/10

20160417: YA Review--Scorch Trials

Name: The Scorch Trials (2015)
IMDb: link to Maze Runner 2: The Scorch Trials

Genres: YA, Adventure, SciFi   Country of origin: USA.

YA immune group: Dylan O'Brien as Thomas, Kaya Scodelario as Teresa, Thomas Brodie-Sangster as Newt, Ki Hong Lee as Minho, Dexter Darden as Frypan, Jacob Lofland as Aris Jones, Alexander Flores as Winston.

WICKED: Aidan Gillen as Janson, Patricia Clarkson as Ava Paige.

Scavenger outpost: Giancarlo Esposito as Jorge, Rosa Salazar as Brenda, Keith Jardine as Jim (guard).

Settlement with bar: Alan Tudyk as Blondie (Marcus), lots of extras.

Right Arm settlement: Barry Pepper as Vince, Lili Taylor as Mary, Jenny Gabrielle as Ponytail.

Directed by: Wes Ball.  Written by: T. S. Nowlin (screenplay), James Dashner (book).
image courtesy of TMDb

The Three Acts:

The initial tableaux:
The film starts where Maze Runner left off.  The YA group of immunes have broken out of the maze, only to be placed under the control of WICKED more directly.  They are in a WICKED lab.  After a bit, they find that WICKED is draining them of elements of their blood.  That means being in a permanent coma with tubes tied to their circulatory systems.  They take a shot at escape.

Delineation of conflicts:
WICKED wants the immunes for their blood chemistry.  The immunes want to be free human beings, not slaves being drained while in a permanent coma.  The immunes make new friends along the way, but WICKED will stop at nothing to get them back.

Resolution: There is a third film coming in 2017, but fortunately no fourth.  Little is resolved in this movie.

One line summary: YA group struggles to avoid enslavement


Cinematography: 9/10 Lots of good visuals.

Sound: 7/10 No problems, but nothing special either.

Acting: 7/10 The young actors were better than I expected.  Among the veterans, I liked Patricia Clarkson, Lili Taylor, and Giancarlo Esposito; Barry Pepper and Alan Tudyk, not so much.

Screenplay: 5/10 Oh, my.  There are so many bad cliches embraced in this film.  Zombies, for instance, were both unwelcome and boring.  Dystopia is all too common.  The presence of operating high tech laboratories with seemingly boundless resources is just ridiculous. Where could such wealth come from?  No where, that is where.

Final Rating: 6/10


20160404: Drama Review--Silver Linings Playbook

Name: Silver Linings Playbook (2012)
IMDb: link to Silver Linings Playbook

Genres: Drama   Country of origin: USA.

Cast: Jennifer Lawrence as Tiffany, Robert De Niro as Pat Solatano Sr, Jacki Weaver as Dolores Solatano, Chris Tucker as Danny, Julia Stiles as Veronica, Dash Mihok as Officer Keogh, John Ortiz as Ronnie, Anupam Kher as Dr Cliff Patel, Paul Herman as Randy, Shea Whigham as Jake.

Directed by: David O. Russell.  Written by: David O. Russell (screenplay), Matthew Quick (novel).
image courtesy of The Movie Database
The Three Acts:

The initial tableaux:
Narcissist Pat Jr is in a mental hospital.  His keepers are nagging him that it's time to go.  He keeps putting them off.  This pattern is repeated forever: Pat won't do as he's told, or requested, or cajoled, just for the sake of thumbing his nose at whoever is bothering him.  Pat's mother Dolores signs him out and takes him home.

Pat Jr's ex-wife Nikki has a restraining order against him, in part because he beat the hell out of Nikki's lover while she was still married to Pat Jr.  In Pat Jr's defense, the adulterer was in the shower with Nikki, in Pat Jr's house, and told Pat Jr to leave his own house so that he could continue with Nikki.

Delineation of conflicts:
Pat Jr wants Nikki to come back to him.  Nikki wants him to stay the hell away from her.  Pat Sr is also nuts (wails on other fans at sports contests), and Dolores has to put up with their endless nonsense.  Senior has OCD plus, and Junior is bipolar with severe mood swings.

Tiffany enters the scene and makes things worse.  She has her own issues and does not hesitate to dump on others, definitely including Pat Jr.

Pat Jr would like to get his old teaching job back.  The administrators of the school are hardly interested in that, given Pat's proven history.

Pat Sr and Randy, both bookies, end up with a big 'parlay' double bet just past Christmas.  First, the Eagles versus the Cowboys in football, plus a bet on the dance score that Tiffany and Pat Jr achieve.  Much of the last third of the film is about this.

Resolution: Does Pat Jr. find a durable silver lining?  Does he find a strategy to stay out of explosive interactions with other people?  Will Pat Sr's OCD get the better of him?

One line summary: Vastly overrated drivel.


Cinematography: 3/10 Washed out, at least early on.  Bad framing that smacked of shaky cam.

Sound: 6/10 I could hear the actors speaking the dialog.  Some of the music was quite good.

Acting: 4/10 Jennifer Lawrence won Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role (Oscar) in 2013 for her portrayal of Tiffany.  So I gave this a nonzero score.  This is a very forgettable film for DeNiro and Julia Stiles, two actors whom I usually like without reservation.  I did not care for the other performances at all.

Screenplay: 0/10 The characters, as written, are irritating without being interesting.  I identified with zero of them, empathised for none of them, and did not care in the least how the characters or relationships ended up.

Early on, Pat Jr intends to go out in public wearing a trash bag with holes cut through it.  It's only by luck that he's talked out of it, if only for a short time.  Is this meant to be important, or just a good sign to stop watching?

Final rating: 4/10  OK, barely. 

Pre-emptive considerations.
  1. Bradley Cooper's blatant asshole personality glares through from the beginning, just as it does in every other film the jerk is in.
  2. I could do without Chris Tucker.  Of course, I think that for every single film I have watched in which Chris Tucker appears.
  3. The property is loaded with sports metaphors and dialog, so I tuned out during much of the film.  If I wanted a sports show, there is plenty on HBO.
  4. The cinematography looks washed out and flat, perhaps from deliberate use of measured overexposure. I suppose that was used to reflect the high entropy existence of drug-addled mental patients.