How did the director of Anchorman and Step Brothers manage to pull off this remarkable achievement? Adam McKay achieves an improbable task here with The Big Short; turning the dauntingly impenetrable catalysts for the 2007-08 Global Financial Crisis (GFC), and the terrifying-to-consider effects, into a tremendously entertaining comedy-drama. He also never ignores the tragedy of the event and isn’t afraid to dig deep into the world of complex mortgage derivatives and use inventive approaches to make it accessible. The film is a damning indictment of Wall Street, from the angle of men who saw the crash coming and who begin to realise what their unexpected profit opportunity meant for the U.S financial system, and the rest of the world.
I watched a total of 29 films in November, with a third of them experienced in the cinema. As we near the end of the year publicity screenings start to increase rapidly, with distributors trying to show their December and January films before the Christmas break. December is going to be an equally busy month, and we can look forward to The Revenant, Star Wars and Carol amongst many more. In addition to these screenings, we attended the British Film Festival, which yielded the month’s top film. On home viewing, I have been enjoying working through all of James Bond films, inspired by the release of Spectre. With ten down (including what I understand to be Connery’s best and Brosnan’s worst), I should be able to complete them all before the end of the year. I also caught up with a few intriguing films that eluded me in cinemas (People, Places, Things and Far From Men) as well as a couple of upcoming indie releases The End of the Tour and Mississippi Grind. Aziz Ansari’s Master of None and Marvel’s Jessica Jones have taken up a chunk of my viewing time too – and are amongst my favourites shows of the year. I am only five episodes into the latter, but I’ll be adding completion to the December goals too.
Check out my thoughts on everything I watched in November after the jump:
In cinemas this week: Creed, By the Sea, The Program, Love the Coopers and Hotel Transylvania 2.
Creed – Adonis Johnson (Michael B. Jordan) never knew his famous father, world heavy weight champion Apollo Creed, who died before he was born. Still, there’s no denying that boxing is in his blood, so Adonis heads to Philadelphia, the site of Apollo Creed’s legendary match with a tough upstart named Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone). Rocky sees in Adonis the strength and determination he had known in Apollo – the fierce rival who became his closest friend. Keep an eye out for Johnson’s review of the film, I expect he liked it every bit as much as I. It is brash, modern and emotional filmmaking that wears its weathered nostalgia proudly. Most committed to observing Adonis develop his mental toughness, as he searches for his identity, but the bouts are astonishingly shot. Sly and Jordan are fantastic. Full of chilling, heart-wrenching moments, including a single-take for the ages.
By The Sea – A married couple takes a vacation in France in the 1970s and find that their time in a sleepy seaside town, complete with a unique array of locals, strengthens their bond and reaffirms their marriage. Interesting only for Angie and Brad sharing the screen together once again, but international reactions aren’t strong enough to kindle much desire to see it.
The Program – This is the true story of the meteoric rise and fall of one of the most celebrated and controversial men in recent history, Lance Armstrong (portrayed by Ben Foster). Armstrong fatigue? Do we need this?
Love the Coopers – When four generations of the Cooper family come together for their annual Christmas Eve celebration, a series of unexpected visitors and unlikely events turn the night upside down, leading them all towards a surprising rediscovery of family bonds and the spirit of Christmas. Christmas movies are a guilty pleasure so I have this on my watch-list, and with such a talented cast, we expect it will have just enough charming moments to balance out the questionable creative pedigree.
Hotel Transylvania 2 – Everything seems to be changing for the better at Hotel Transylvania… Dracula’s rigid monster-only hotel policy has finally relaxed, opening up its doors to human guests. But behind closed coffins, Drac is worried that his half-human, half-vampire grandson, Dennis, isn’t showing signs of being a vampire. He enlists his friends Frank, Murray, Wayne and Griffin to put Dennis through a “monster-in-training” boot camp. But little do they know that Drac’s grumpy and very old, old, old school dad Vlad is about to pay a family visit to the hotel. And when Vlad finds out that his great-grandson is not a pure blood – and humans are now welcome at Hotel Transylvania – things are going to get batty. The first one had its fair share of laughs, but I can’t imagine parents are going to be overjoyed with being dragged along to another one.
Weekly Recommendation: Creed. Whether you are a Rocky fan or not, this will not disappoint.
Francis Lawrence returns to direct the final cinematic adaptation of Suzanne Collins’ best-selling novel series. From literary phenomenon to enormously popular blockbuster series, The Hunger Games have become a staple of the cinematic calendar, just as enduring heroine Katniss Everdeen and lead actress Jennifer Lawrence have become household names. Once a face in the crowd, Katniss has become a liberator of a revolution and a wielder of enormous responsibility. Her strong will, integrity and selflessness when faced with life-threatening stakes has made her a source of inspiration for many. A refresh of the events in Part 1 are not supplied here – the story continues immediately – so it is recommended that you familiarise yourself before delving into the finale. Unfortunately, the over-attenuated Mockingjay Part 2 will likely serve as a satisfying resolution for die-hard fans of the novels, but for those who have enjoyed the films and are eagerly seeking closure, it possesses the same issues that plagued Part 1.
In cinemas this week: The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2, 99 Homes, The Secret in Their Eyes, Absolutely Anything, The Crow’s Egg.
The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2 – Realising the stakes are no longer just for survival, Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) teams up with her closest friends, including Peeta (Josh Hutcherson), Gale (Liam Hemsworth) and Finnick for the ultimate mission. Together, they leave District 13 to liberate the citizens of war-torn Panem and assassinate President Snow, who’s obsessed with destroying Katniss. What lies ahead are mortal traps, dangerous enemies and moral choices that will ultimately determine the future of millions. Part 1 wasn’t earth-shattering – it is half of a film, with no beginning and end – but unfortunately Part 2 suffers from similar cumbersome length and pacing woes despite a few excellent action sequences.
99 Homes – A desperate construction worker (Andrew Garfield) reluctantly accepts a job with the ruthless real-estate broker (Michael Shannon) who evicted him and his family from their home. Faultless performances from Shannon and Garfield anchor this timely drama that has an unnerving emotional intensity. Bahrani is a wonderful director, and aside from a few script hiccups, his direction is impeccable. I saw it at SFF, where it ended up being one of my favourites. Thoughts at the link.
The Secret in Their Eyes – Rising FBI investigators Ray (Chiwetel Ejiofor) and Jess (Julia Roberts), along with Claire (Nicole Kidman), their district-attorney supervisor, are suddenly torn apart following the brutal murder of Jess’ teenage daughter. Thirteen years later, after obsessively searching for the elusive killer, Ray uncovers a new lead that he is certain can permanently resolve the case and bring long-desired closure to the team. But no one is prepared for the shocking and unspeakable secret that follows. This is a re-make of the excellent Argentinian winner of the Best Foreign Language Oscar. Very skeptical about this – are they actually going to try and replicate ‘that’ scene?
Absolutely Anything – This film follows a disillusioned school teacher (Simon Pegg) who suddenly finds he has the ability to do anything he wishes, a challenge bestowed upon him by a group of power-crazed aliens, watching him from space. As he struggles to deal with these new found powers and the events that subsequently arise, he calls upon his loyal canine companion Dennis to help him along the way. Mishap after mishap finally leads him to the ultimate conundrum that all men dread and at which many have failed…should he choose the girl…or the dog…?
The Crow’s Egg mines the wide open territory between Tamil social realism and Bollywood escapism. Big Crow’s Egg and Little Crow’s Egg — the name comes from their favourite scavenged food — are two poor kids from the slums of Chennai. They have one burning ambition: to taste a slice of the wondrous new global consumer food, pizza, from the glossy new franchise in their neighborhood. Their enthusiasm is undiminished by the fact that a slice costs more than their family’s monthly income. This is a film that manages to have its heart and its head in the right place.
Weekly Recommendation: We were disappointed by the final Hunger Games instalment, so we recommend 99 Homes.
In cinemas this week: Spectre, Knight of Cups, He Named Me Malala and Station to Station.
Spectre – A cryptic message from Bond’s past sends him on a trail to uncover a sinister organisation. While M battles political forces to keep the secret service alive, Bond peels back the layers of deceit to reveal the terrible truth behind Spectre. The fourth entry in the Craig-era of the Bond franchise, and the reviews have been very very mixed. I understand that it is more reliant on classic 007 formulas than the more recent entries, and events follow on from Skyfall but bears little resemblance otherwise. We’re looking forward to seeing what DP Hoyte Van Hoytema and new Bond Girl Lea Seydoux bring to the franchise.
Knight of Cups – A man experiences an existential crisis after finding fame and fortune in Hollywood. We still don’t know what this is about, really, but it is directed by Terrence Malick and photographed by Emmanuel Lubezki. We have been looking forward to it since it was announced. It might not be a good film (but then everyone said that about To the Wonder, which was wonderful), but it is going to look stunning, and we wouldn’t miss it for the world.
He Named Me Malala – After the Taliban tries to kill her for speaking out on behalf of girls’ education, Pakistani teenager Malala Yousafzai emerges as a leading advocate for children’s rights and the youngest-ever Nobel Peace Prize Laureate.
Station to Station – The film explores creativity through a different artist, musician, place or perspective, ultimately revealing a larger sense of modern expression transcending the individual voices.
Weekly Recommendation: A tip that will likely fall on deaf ears, but go see Knight of Cups. We have both it and Spectre lined up this weekend and we’re confident it is going to be a very good one.
The End of the Tour is directed by the very talented American filmmaker James Ponsoldt (Smashed, The Spectacular Now and the upcoming adaptation of Dave Eggers’ The Circle) and written by Pulitzer-winning playwright Donald Margulies from David Lipsky’s best-selling memoir ‘Although of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself’. It is a film that brilliantly takes a snapshot of the existential-anxieties of the mid 90’s while still remaining poignant and relevant to the present, documenting a myth-busting of a giant of contemporary literature, and a breakdown of the pedestaled trappings we often associate with celebrities and ‘geniuses’.
In cinemas this week – Freeheld, Man Up, No Escape (a Lake Bell double feature, if you’re interested) and Now Add Honey. A quiet one to lead into the release of Bond.
Freeheld – The true love story of Laurel Hester and Stacie Andree and their fight for justice. A decorated New Jersey police detective, Laurel (Julianne Moore) is diagnosed with cancer and wants to leave her hard earned pension to her domestic partner, Stacie (Ellen Page). However the county officials, Freeholders, conspire to prevent Laurel from doing this. Hard-nosed detective Dane Wells, and activist Steven Goldstein, unite in Laurel and Stacie’s defence, rallying police officers and ordinary citizens to support their struggle for equality.
Man Up – Nancy (Lake Bell), is done with dating. 10 times bitten, 100 times shy, she’s exhausted by the circus. So when Jack (Simon Pegg) blindly mistakes her for his date, no one is more surprised than her when she does the unthinkable and just — goes with it. It’s going to take a night of pretending to be someone else for Nancy to finally man up and be her painfully honest, awesomely unconventional self… but will Jack also man up, and be able to get over her duplicity? Best just to let the evening unfold, roll with the consequences, and see if one crazy, unpredictable, complicated night can bring these two messy souls together.
An intense international thriller, No Escape centres on an American businessman (Own Wilson) as he and his family settle into their new home in Southeast Asia. Suddenly finding themselves in the middle of a violent political uprising, they must frantically look for a safe escape as rebels mercilessly attack the city. Directed by John Erick Dowdle and written together with his brother Drew, it also stars Pierce Brosnan and Lake Bell.
Weekly Recommendation – Freeheld possesses a terrific cast, and very good intentions, but reviews have matched our initial instincts – an earnest hallmark drama with a dedication to its message, but fails to ignite the emotion it so desperately targets. Man Up looks rather fun, but we’re content to wait for Bond next week…or go watch The Martian again.