Month: October 2016

The Big Short (2015)

The Big Short and Spotlight were two of the main frontrunners into last years Oscar season. I have watched The Big Short twice recently and I am still flabbergasted at the terminology and trying to wrap my head around the premise. The Big Short is based around the housing crisis that caused an economic meltdown in America.

I originally thought it was going to be Christian Bale, Steve Carell, Ryan Gosling and Brad Pitt working in unison to make money off the back of this crash. In short, it actually involves three different groups making their millions and billions through this crash.

With the nature of the story and this housing crisis being in quiet recent memory, the storyline was marketed quite freely with regards to the ending. Instead of focusing on this storyline and trying to make the film full of twists and turns, the film rather focuses on it’s leading cast throughout the 130 minute runtime and their execution of this disaster.

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Christian Bale’s Michael J. Burry first notices the unstable condition of the housing market in 2005 and begins the process of “credit-swapping” so in effect he’s ‘betting’ that the housing market is going to collapse. Michael begins this process and Jared Vennett (Ryan Gosling) catches wind and misplaces a call to a bank, which leads Mark Baum (Steve Carell) and his team to investigate whether there is any truth in this.

In the guise of breaking the fourth wall, Ryan Gosling’s tongue-in-cheek character of Jared Vennett, drives the narrative forward. Breaking the fourth wall is rife throughout this film to explain some of the terminology, using some rather strange techniques such as Margot Robbie explaining a ‘Subprimes’ in the bath whilst drinking champagne. The cameo appearances are really strange, in their tongue-in-cheek way, but could’ve worked all the same if the character did the cutaway themselves.

Adam McKay, who is associated with the comedic hits such as Step Brothers and Anchorman, has moved away from this framework, but it’s clear to see the smatterings of comedy throughout the film. Ryan Gosling’s Jared Vennett leads the comedy through the cutaways, but the also appearing in the forms of cameos.

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But McKay’s investigation into the housing crisis becomes interesting when Mark Baum’s team go to Florida and seek out property tenant who are 90 days delinquent. A human element comes into play, as we see people paying their bills to landlords that in turn aren’t paying for the houses. Mark upon this realisation exclaims that there is a ‘bubble’ in the housing market and expresses his distrust in the banking system. Brad Pitt’s Ben Rickert also states the very alarming fact that every 1% of the unemployment accounts for 40,000 deaths, as his partners do a happy jig after striking in lucky in their ‘bets’ against the market.

Mark even goes as far as to meet some of the people responsible for this ‘bubble’ and becomes increasingly frustrating when he realises that they are simply idiots. This repulsiveness extracts from the screen to the viewer, as I personally became flabbergasted as the blasé approach the bankers took to this impending doom.

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Whilst the acting on display is excellent with very interesting roles for Christian Bale and Steve Carell particularly, the cutaways to the random cameos to explain subprimes and CDOs is strange and sticks out like a sore thumb. It makes for entertaining viewing regardless of the terminology that goes right over my head. But it’s a strong outing on the casting (especially Carell in his angry, world-hating boss of a hedge fund) as they carry the film through the runtime and over the confusing terms.

It’s a strong, solid entertaining film. I imagine it would’ve been more interesting had I known more about the housing crisis in 2008 and understood terms, as I’m not the most savvy in this area. I really enjoyed Adam McKay’s comedic outings, but The Big Short has entertained me on a different level rather than laughing at inane comedy. Rickert’s stance on Wall Street and disgust for how it operates is really interesting, but the included humanisation of the story by McKay and actually seeing the implications on a couple of people added another level to this film.

Moon (2009)

There is something about films involving space that has always peaked my interest. One of my favourites is Danny Boyle’s space epic Sunshine and I have enjoyed the very peculiar Solaris, the whimsical adventure of The Martian and the mind-bendingness of Interstellar. So naturally, I am led to Duncan Jones’ directorial debut of Moon.

Funnily enough, Moon is set on the moon, but set in the future where mankind has figured out how to harvest the moon for a renewable energy source. This kind of work would surely take a massive workforce, right? Wrong. Sam Rockwell plays Sam Bell, the lonely operator for Lunar Enterprises aided with his robot pal, GERTY (Voiced by Kevin Spacey) that can display emotions through yellow faces. (See Below)

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What was really enjoyable about Sunshine was the immersive element created by Danny Boyle, but also the claustrophobic feeling of the Icarus spaceship. Moon adopts these elements, but also has the effects of isolation on Sam alone during his three-year contract with Lunar Enterprises. Sam is two weeks away from getting off that rock and being reunited with his wife and daughter.

The madness of isolation creeps up on Sam as he goes about his daily routine, talking to his plants and imagining fictitious relationships between them whilst watching television shows and building a model town. Sam sees a woman sitting in his chair and burns his hand in one instance, highlighting that maybe his mind is beginning to get the better of him.

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Sam Rockwell is brilliant in this role as he depicts perfectly this madness, but also for his performance in the rest of the film. (Which I cannot really speak of due to spoilers) But also Duncan Jones manages to negotiate both the vast landscape of the moon, but also the solitude of Sam, confined to the bunker.

As the film ticks over its 90-minute runtime – which was perfect for the film of this calibre – Sam discovers that everything is not right on the Lunar Enterprise base. He has a crash in the rover, whilst trying to mend one of the unmanned harvesters. After this crash, he overhears a conversation between GERTY and Lunar Enterprises, which sets off the alarm bells in Sam’s head. (Especially as the live satellite is meant to be bust)

Although the story isn’t that groundbreaking, it makes for interesting viewing all the same for how Sam Rockwell’s Sam Bell interacts with the story. But I think the importance of Moon is not the story, but rather the acting on show from Sam Rockwell and showing a range of emotions throughout the film.

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It’s worth noting that it’s clear to see Jones’ has taken influence from 2001: A Space Odyssey with the similarities between HAL 9000 and GERTY, and to some degree even sounding the same. And the inclusion of an orchestral piece near the beginning, before being moved into an array of bleeps and sonars integrated into the soundtrack.

Duncan Jones’ Moon is an interesting and enjoyable piece of filmmaking. With the likes of Sunshine, Interstellar and Solaris he has continued this trend of keeping me intrigued with films involving space and the very different ideas throughout the range of these films.

Although more depth could have been explored regarding Lunar Enterprises, Duncan Jones could’ve intentionally left their exploits open-ended for discussions. Regardless, the star of the show is Sam Rockwell by a mile, but Jones backed him every step with the claustrophobic bunker and the incredible effects of the Moon, including a crackin’ shot of the Earth.

The Fundamentals of Caring (2016)

As we all know, Netflix offers a wealth of original television shows, but occasionally they boast Netflix Original movies. The Fundamentals of Caring is a ‘Netflix Original’ that was released earlier this year in the summer, featuring the combination of Paul Rudd, Craig Roberts and Selena Gomez.

The quick wit on show from Paul Rudd and Craig Roberts is one of the real joys in this film, as they become instrumental in each other’s lives in a short space of time. Paul Rudd’s Ben becomes Craig Robert’s Trevor caregiver, after Ben pursues a career change from being a writer. Amid this career change for Ben, he is also being pressured by his anxious wife to sign their divorce papers. He meets Trevor and his mother Elsa (Jennifer Elhe) who continually stresses how hard it is to care for Trevor and reels off his medication for every day.

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Craig Roberts play Trevor excellently, a boy who was diagnosed with Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy at the age of three, but is still quick-witted and takes every chance to try and push Ben to the end of his tether, resulting in some hilarious verbal bouts.

Primarily The Fundamentals of Caring is surrounding by the relationship that is built between Ben and Trevor and them two bringing the best out of each other. I feel that Ben also is trying to show Trevor that even though he does suffer from Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy, it shouldn’t debilitate him from seeing the world. Which leads to the Ben and Trevor taking a road trip to see (according to Trevor) ‘America’s dumbest roadside attractions’ culminating in ‘The World’s Deepest Pit’.

Trevor has never been an hour away from his home, since his diagnosis and as the trip wears on, Trevor becomes more comfortable with being away from home and seeing new things for the first time. Paul Rudd’s Ben also goes on an interesting journey, from the cynical, life-hating man at the beginning to the selfless man as he picks up Dot and Peaches along the way on their road trip. (Selena Gomez and Megan Ferguson, respectively)

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These characters are in direct correlation with enjoyment as well, because they are believable but also genuine such as the genuine teenage performance from Craig Roberts. They seem to have fun on-screen as well, as the chemistry builds primarily between the two in this triumph of the human spirit tale.

As this film is primarily comedy, it does stand up to the comedic task put before it, because it doesn’t reach out for the crass, or vulgar stick, but prefers to use the wit and bluntness of Craig Roberts and Paul Rudd. Add in the situational use of Trevor’s wheelchair when Ben is trying to care for him and you’ve got even more chuckles. Of course, it doesn’t end there as Ben tries to take Trevor on an adventure of firsts, again culminating in laughs.

(the teeniest, tiny plot spoiler is ahead)

Trevor plays a clever game throughout The Fundamentals of Caring as he asks everyone he encounters to pick a number between 1 and 3,500. Rob Burnett included this cleverly, as Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy affects 1 in 3,500 people, which doesn’t become clear until close to the end, but was an excellent use of this number.

(no more plot spoilers – even though it was completely insignificant)

The Fundamentals of Caring was incredibly enjoyable for the perfect running time of 93 minutes as the chemistry oozes out of the film between Paul Rudd and Craig Roberts and their very genuine characters. Not only this, the comedy that emits from the screen, but also the undertaking of the journey of ‘firsts’ with Trevor is really enjoyable, from his first Slim Jim to his First Date with dot.

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I’m not a huge lover of Netflix Original movies because I simply love the feeling of going to the cinema, but The Fundamentals of Caring is a life-affirming film if I’ve ever seen one. This is probably down to the great performances from the leading males, but everything works from their ridiculous road trip to their seemingly infectious smiles throughout the trip.

You May Also Like:

I’m going to try something new, where I recommend a double-bill film that will work or contrast with the subsequent reviewed film here.

My first one for The Fundamentals of Caring is Untouchable, the French foreign language film that was simply outstanding and follows a similar story the one above. Although Untouchable is based on a true story, it doesn’t take anything away from the performances and the connection to the characters told by Omar Sy and Francois Cluzet. If you enjoyed The Fundamentals of Caring then chances are you’ll enjoy Untouchable tenfold.

Toy Soldiers (1991)

Years before Lord of the Rings, Sean Astin played quite the troublesome youth in Toy Soldiers, not to be confused with Small Soldiers (the one where the toys attack each other). Sporting a bad attitude and a rather loud haircut, Sean Astin leads a band of misfits in Regis High, a boarding school for expelled children of influential people in society.

Astin makes his presence known as the troublemaker as he crosses out ‘Regis’ and sprays ‘Rejects’ instead. Quickly the film is delved into a hostage story as the boys of the school are taking hostage by Luis Cali, a notorious terrorist. His motive? To kidnap the boy, whose father is presiding as judge over Enrique Cali’s (his father) trial.

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Having never really heard of this film, I was presently surprised what unfolded on screen, as it delivered quite an enjoyable viewing all round. I honestly thought the film was going to a low certificate and was bewildered when the body count rose on screen. This even included someone’s throat being slit.

Without Dean Parker’s (Louis Gossett Jr.) presence, and the terrorists methodically assuming command of Regis School, Billy Tepper (Sean Astin) takes command of the misfit clan and comes up with a devious plan to save Regis from the terrorists. Daniel Petrie Jr created some fantastically tense scenes, to effect that it was edge-of-the-seat stuff. Especially as Astin escapes the school’s compound and tries to get information to the guys on the other side about the terrorists, all within his lunch hour.

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Sean Astin, Will Wheaton and Louis Gossett Jr lead this rather youthful film, and all of it is simply enjoyable. Being just short of two hours, the film is refreshing and works well with what it sets out to do. Admittedly, I was surprised about the ever-rising body count throughout the film, but that comes with a fifteen-rated film (that I had to actually double check). This film luring you into a false sense of security with the whimsically academic music and the charm that oozes out of the film.

Although my favourite parts to this film is the tense parts, there is a downside to said sections of the film. The outcome is rather foreseeable and although you are wrapped up in the edge-of-your-seat feeling, it is replaced by the feeling that everything will be fine for the mischievous band of heroes.

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Admittedly, this film is in by no means perfect. But it’s different. It uses the framework for a film where children take the fight back to their captors, much like Ritchie Rich, but not so much to the same degree. Instead, it has a certain maturity that Ritchie Rich, didn’t have. Of course Toy Soldiers had more of a leeway as it was fifteen-rated film. The very youthful rogue Sean Astin – a far cry from The Lord of the Rings’ Samwise Gamgee – makes the film an enjoyable watch as he seems to be having fun on screen with his co-conspirators making 110 minutes melt away along with the charmingly whimsical score.

American History X (1998)

Sporting a shaved head and a proudly displaying a Swazstika on his chest, Edward Norton’s Derek Vinyard takes centre stage of American History X. However, Tony Kaye chooses not to have Derek Vinyard the mantlepiece of this film, but rather Derek’s ideals and their impact on the Vinyard family. This includes Edward Furlong’s Danny Vinyard and the manifestation of Neo-Nazism being a big part of his life.

American History X opens is a strange manner, with the beginnings of that infamous scene shot strikingly in black and white. Fast-forward to Danny sat outside of the principal’s office after submitting a paper on Mein Kampf. His principal Sweeney (Avery Brooks) tells him to resubmit his paper on his brother Derek and his incarcerations impact on his family.

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Tony Kaye chooses to drip feed the events of that fateful evening for Derek Vinyard throughout the film, always choosing to shoot these scenes in the similar black and white style. This very deliberate style depicts the differing views between Derek’s views in the past and the present, almost suggesting that the black and white scenes show an old-fashioned way of thinking.

Being set in Venice Beach, there is a wealth of cultures that are seen throughout the film, including a raid on a store that is ran by minorities and during the pick-up basketball court scene with the Crips. Obviously these minorities are deemed unjust by the white supremacists that take centre stage in this film.

Derek is the charismatic ringleader for these white supremacists, but he is seemingly a puppet that professes these ideals on behalf of the top dog Cameron Alexander (Stacy Keach). Cameron preys on Derek shortly after the death of his father, who is shot by a ‘gangbanger’ whilst putting out a house fire. Cameron preying on Derek and begins to nurture Derek’s thoughts, that are seen in the TV interview he has about his father. This event, with the help of Cameron’s propaganda, tears the Vinyard family apart as Derek adopts this idealism, eventually having Danny follow in his footsteps.

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Rather than having the film follow Derek and Danny profess their beliefs, its more about the changing of attitudes. This change is centralised through Derek as he tries to make Danny adapt to the same newfound belief, which is signified through the scenes in colour. Not only is it the changing of this attitude, but the maturing of Derek as he comes out of prison and disregarding his old lifestyle.

Tony Kaye has created a rather interesting film that bought with it an Oscar nomination for Edward Norton. Having the subject matter quite rife throughout the film, but not focusing on it, but rather the implications of this lifestyle on friends,
family and even schooling was a stroke of genius by Kaye. Instead of just showing the Derek’s previous lifestyle and glazing over it, he adopts this lifestyle and shows the comforting feel that Derek and Danny took away from the D.O.C (The Disciples of Christ – The Venice Beach faction of White Supremacists). Kaye typified this by having quite victorious music play over when they win the pick-up basketball game and shoo away the Crips.

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With American History X Kaye has created a film that is perfect for discussions after the viewing due to the hard-hitting messages throughout the film. His ability to navigate through the Neo-Nazi idealisms whilst showing both sides of the coin of Derek is interesting and really effective.

It’s worth saying that the man loves a good slow-motion shot too, as they are rife throughout this film, but they work. Kaye’s ability to make you like and loathe characters is interesting too considering the likeability of Danny and then you meet Seth (Ethan Suplee) who is simply despicable. This comes down the performances from the cast, who really get involved with their roles with Edward Norton of course stealing the show and going through his characters maturation.

Space Jam (1996)

For an ultimate childhood nostalgia trip, Space Jam is my go-to. As a younger child, I wasn’t into basketball, nor do I remember being the die-hard fan of the Looney Tunes, however, I vividly remember my enjoyment in front of the television wearing down my VHS copy of Space Jam. 

The film opens with the iconic Michael Jordan in his youth putting up shots in his back garden until his father quizzes him regarding the future. Cue a montage of his Airness himself killing it on court with the Chicago Bulls, before he announces his retirement from the game. Space Jam takes on a fabrication of what happens in between his first retirement and his second coming.

Michael Jordan is pulled into the Looney Tunes world due to a basketball game that has been issued for fates of the Looney Tunes themselves. Mr Swackhammer (Danny DeVito) the owner of the Amusement Park Moron Mountain notices a decline in the Park’s attendance. He sends his minions to kidnap the Looney Tunes and intends them to become the star attraction.

Bugs Bunny tricks the minions into playing a game of basketball thinking they’ll cream them easily, due to their size. That is until the minions steal other NBA superstars’ talent, including Charles Barkley and Patrick Ewing. They embody these stars talent, growing enormously and of course scaring the Looney Tunes into action. So they kidnap the greatest of all time, Michael Jordan.

Let’s be honest, it being a great feel-good children’s film, you know whats going to happen in the grand finale when The Tune Squad and the MonStars face off. So I won’t spoil the excellent, smile-inducing ending for you.

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Of course the acting throughout from the NBA stars is cheesy, but also hilarious with side jokes I never got as a child. Charles Barkley’s “I’ll never go out with Madonna again” or “I’ll never get another technical” are some of the best remarks.

The comedy doesn’t stop there though, in true Looney Tunes fashion they get up to a number of hijinks during the big game, including Acme explosives, enticing a bull with red paint and of course a man being literally flattened. This is all the while an absolute masterclass of a soundtrack is teased throughout full of 90s pop jams, including Steve Miller’s ‘Fly Like An Eagle’ and R Kelly’s ‘I Believe I Can Fly’.

Everything has to be taken with a pinch of salt of course as the animation is exactly seamless as it transitions from Michael Jordan to the Looney Tunes, but the enjoyment trumps it by far. This is also helped by the comedy and the appreciation of the NBA Stars taking on these roles over the 80-odd minute runtime. But time slips away from the pure enjoyment that comes from Space Jam, with it’s pop culture references, (including an ode to Pulp Fiction) and the stars taking digs at themselves throughout the picture.

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Now I may be a little bit bias when it comes to Space Jam because of the childhood ties to this, but I don’t think I’ll ever not enjoy this film. I have since started to enjoy watching the NBA, and the appreciation of watching these now NBA legends on screen is hilarious. I challenge anyone to watch this film and not enjoy it.

The Girl on the Train (2016)

From a jumbled, seemingly out-of-sync trailer, I wasn’t sure what to expect from The Girl on the Train. I had expected it to be driven through the titular ‘Girl’ on the train, which is Emily Blunt’s Rachel. Instead, it is centralised through three women whose lives are all intertwined.

Rachel commutes daily on the train to Manhattan and it goes by the idealistic Beckett Road. Rachel fantasies about the occupants of 15 Beckett Road, daydreaming that they lead the perfect life inside their home. This creates an incredibly murky picture of the aforementioned Rachel, especially when it pans two doors down and we see Rachel standing there.

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As Rachel catches the story up, she reveals that she used to live in that house with her ex-husband Tom (Justin Theroux) before he was found out cheating on Rachel with Anna (Rebecca Ferguson). Tom now lives with Anna in that house, with a child. We’re thrust back into reality when a passenger sits next to Rachel with a baby, she slurs compliments at the child, revealing she is in fact, drunk.

Rachel continues to commute to Manhattan and fantasises about Megan Hipwell (Haley Bennett) the aforementioned occupant of 15 Beckett Road, as she sees him cuddling with her husband Scott (Luke Evans). Until one morning, she sees Megan on the balcony with another man. This lights a raging fire within Rachel, that cannot be contained. The film then continues on a build-up to an event that sends everything in a downward spiral for the five involved.

That evening Megan goes missing, with Rachel seemingly the prime suspect as she stumbles off the train at the stop close to Megan’s house. She follows her to a tunnel where she witnesses the aforementioned event, which isn’t clear due to her level of intoxication. Rachel subsequently wakes up in the morning with no memory of the night before and blood caked over her face.

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The Girl on the Train does take a while to get going, but it is interesting in the way that it builds up to this event. It tells the story through not just Rachel, but Megan and Anna as well, giving a rounded perspective. It builds up in Gone Girl style with flashbacks of ‘6 months ago’ and ‘3 weeks ago’ etc, which works as it drip feeds the story giving it that mystery element, especially with Megan’s unrevealed past. Tate Taylor cleverly incorporated a ‘fuzzy’ filter over Rachel’s segments of the story to match her intoxication, giving the pictures a distorted feel constantly, which was really effective.

Megan probably has the most intriguing backstory, which is only touched upon briefly but alas, I did not care for her character, nor Anna and Rachel’s. Anna is seemingly hell-bent on painting Rachel as a terrible person and manipulating Tom’s (Who, remember, was Rachel’s ex) perception of her. That’s not to say the three women give great performances, as they were riveting as their respective characters, but I just did not like them, nor connect with them.

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Tate Taylor has incorporated some interesting elements into this film, unfortunately this isn’t enough to carry The Girl on the Train through the 112 minute runtime. The performances are captivating throughout the picture and Emily Blunt does steal the show alongside Rebecca Ferguson and Haley Bennett, and backed up by the supporting cast excellently. Also Tate Taylor’s incorporation of the effects to distort the picture was effective throughout.

However, I left feeling largely disappointed in The Girl on the Train, mainly due to the pretty simplistic storyline that doesn’t offer anything different to the Mystery/Thriller genre that wasn’t already exhibited by Gone Girl, a film of similar nature. As mentioned above, Blunt, Ferguson and Bennett help the film through the 112 minutes with some interesting themes throughout (which I won’t divulge due to plot spoilers) the picture. Quite frankly, the despicable characters, simplistic storyline and the disjointed way the film threads it way through the runtime is quite frustrating and made (for me) a disappointing viewing.