Wednesday, January 20, 2016

The Big Short (2015)

Movie-goers, cash in with The Big Short.

It's rare I get to the movies these days due to work and other commitments. DVDs keep me entertained at home. I'm glad I saw this American film while it's still in theatres.

Andy McKay's drama about what caused the 2008 economic meltdown in the United States is fascinating viewing.

Don't be discouraged by fears of being completely lost with all the business terms tossed around in this five-time Academy Award nominated film. Chances are you'll get enough of what's going on to follow the story. Hey, there's even folks such as pop singer Selena Gomez to help explain some of the financial products discussed.

Three different groups of investors, including hedge fund manager Michael Burry (Christian Bale), eager up-and-comers Charlie Geller (John Magaro) and Jamie Shipley (Finn Wittrock) and Mark Baum (Steve Carell), another money manager with a deep distrust of the big banks, all realize the same thing. There's a lot of rot in mortgages being given to American residents. A crash is not far off. They all decide to put money down betting the American housing market will fail. Their decision stuns others who are convinced the market is rock solid and their foolish quest will cost them millions. Easy to think a decade ago, but Burry's estimate of a second quarter correction in 2008 was spot on.

The Big Short is a beacon of hope for those who think outside the box. Burry faced vehement opposition from his main backer. Investors wanted out. Geller and Shipley wanted to make their mark and found, at a young age, what more experienced investment gurus were missing. With the help of Ben Rickert (Brad Pitt), an investor who has taken himself out of the investment game, they succeed. Baum is angry at a lot of things. How so many bad mortgages are being doled out by American banks astonishes him.

Watching The Big Short raises the big questions: How could this happen and why weren't more people punished?

The film gets a bit preachy at times, but that's a small caveat. See this film. Now, I want to read Michael Lewis' book (The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine) that serves as basis for this movie.

RATING: 9/10

FUN FACTS: The Big Short is up for five Oscars including best film, director and actor for Bale.

Soap opera fans may remember Finn Wittrock as Damon Miller in All My Children.

That's Marisa Tomei as Carell's wife.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Zodiac (2007)

The true story of a serial killer in the San Francisco area makes for compelling viewing in Zodiac.

Solid casting with Jake Gyllenhaal, Mark Ruffalo and Robert Downey, Jr., in the leads is a big plus in this solid 2007 thriller from director David Fincher (The Social Network, Panic Room).

The killer, Zodiac, kills his first two victims in 1969. More follow. There's threats of taking out a school bus filled with children. Hundreds of suspects are investigated.

A cartoonist with the San Francisco Chronicle, Robert Graysmith (Gyllenhaal), becomes obsessed with the investigation. He pinches garbage out of crime reporter Paul Avery's garbage. He's played by Downey, Jr.

Ruffalo is Insp. David Toschi, who along with partner Insp. William Armstrong, tries to find out who's responsible.

It's Graysmith who perseveres with the case, pouring over documents related to the investigation long after police have put the case on the back burner. That's because the search was still continuing in 1991. Graysmith's dedication puts his marriage to Melanie (Chloe Sevigny) on the rocks and threatens to fill his apartment with boxes of information about the murderer.

There's also a generous amount of humour in this film to balance the horror of brutal violence doled out to young couples and cabbies.

DVD of Zodiac I watched was just the film. No extras. There's a two-disc edition with interviews with Zodiac investigators. That sounds interesting.

RATING: 8/10

FUN FACTS: John Carroll Lynch, who appears as murder suspect Arthur Leigh Allen, made his film debut in Grumpy Old Men with Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

The Green Zone (2010)

Oh, no. Not again.

A few months ago I watched director Sydney Pollack's last film, The Interpreter, and was stunned with how badly the film ended. I noted how long it had been, mercifully, since I'd seen a movie fall apart so badly in the last few minutes. Up until the silly ending, The Interpreter wasn't half bad.

Green Zone is an even better movie for most of its running length, but here's another movie with another jaw-dropping finale. Folks, ending like these are frustrating given the previous entertainment value.

Here, Matt Damon is Chief Warrant Officer Miller. His job is to find the expected weapons of mass destruction in Iraq following the American government's overthrow of Saddam Hussein. But each time his men secure a site, they find nothing. Miller is dubious of the quality of intelligence being supplied to the American forces. Military brass don't take kindly to his suggestions that something isn't right.

This soldier is very idealistic. He wants to find the weapons that could kill many. Miller is being shut out from the work he's trying to do. He finds an ally in a CIA agent, Martin Brown (Brendan Gleeson), who is also skeptical of what the American army is suggesting re: WMD. American government official Clark Poundstone (Greg Kinnear), warns Miller not to ask too many questions.

So, we have the American government pulling one way for what it wants to see happen in Iraq with the CIA warning if Uncle Sam doesn't make nice with former Hussein military leader Al Rawi (Igal Naor), Iraq will slip further into chaos.

Damon is fine as the no-nonsense Miller. Gleeson and Kinnear offer solid support work. The action scenes are taut.

But the ending, yikes. The moralizing from Miller about America losing potential help in the future, too much. Miller's actions at the film's end, hard to believe.

Green Zone quickly goes from half-decent to pretty lousy. Too bad.

RATING: 5/10

FUN FACTS: The Green Zone is directed by Paul Greengrass, who directed Damon in The Bourne Ultimatum and The Bourne Supremacy.