The Big Short: economics with humor. There were a few individuals who accurately predicted the 2007 economic collapse and this is their story. The film opens with the feel of a documentary but quickly morphs. Part of the film’s brilliance is using movie and television celebrities to explain the machinations of Wall Street. It starts with Anthony Bourdain, who uses an analogy involving three day old fish. He’s followed by Selena Gomez at a Black Jack table explaining lingo such as a CDO (collateralized debt obligation). The first person we meet who notices the housing bubble and realizes that it will crash is Michael Burry (Christian Bale), a hedge fund manager who was educated as a neurologist. In 2005, Dr. Burry correctly predicted that the bubble would burst during the second quarter of 2007. As he listens to heavy metal at full volume, Burry deciphers the signs and recognizes the economic fraud that is occurring. We then meet investor Jared Vennett (Ryan Gosling), who learns that Burry is creating a market to short the credit default swap investments. Through a misplaced phone call, Vennett connects with Wall Street trader Mark Baum (Steve Carell). It is at this point that the film takes off. Steve Carell deserves an Oscar nomination for his performance. Then two young investors, Jamie Shipley (John Magaro) and Charlie Geller (Finn Wittrock) appear on the scene. They find Vennett’s investment flyer and bring retired banker, Ben Rickert (Brad Pitt), to the table. Rickert has the capital to short credit default swaps. It is Pitt’s character who delivers the lines which remind us that while these few individuals were making millions upon millions, millions more ordinary folk lost their jobs and their homes due to the massive Wall Street fraud. The film is based on Michael Lewis’ book by the same name. This is the second time Pitt has successfully connected with a story by Lewis, the first one being Moneyball. Adam McKay, who co-wrote the screenplay and directed this masterpiece, should receive Oscar nominations for both jobs. I use the term “masterpiece” because while this film involves very technical discussions concerning Wall Street investment concepts and a plethora of technical terms, it never loses the audience. In fact, you will be laughing even as you learn of the full scope of the fraud. If only the reality was as enjoyable as this 130 minute film. This is a must see film for anyone who wants an entertaining education as to why there was a 2007 crash.
Saturday, December 12, 2015
Brooklyn: an Irish immigration story. When the film opens, we are introduced to a young Irish woman, Eilis Lacey, who lives in a small town in Ireland. We quickly learn that her older sister has arranged, through the Church, for Eilis to immigrate to America. Thus we meet a remarkable character played by Saoirse Ronan. The film’s storyline is direct; there are no flashbacks. Rather, the film progresses with Eilis leaving her mother and sister and Ireland, and traveling via boat to America. We later learn, when Lacey goes to a movie, Singing in the Rain, that the year is 1952. As the story moves forward, Ronan’s performance lures us into wondering more and more about Eilis fate. Brooklyn is based on a novel by Colm Toibin and, as such, the characters are complex and very real. The films offers a realistic presentation of the difficulties associated with relocating from one country to another, even when there is a common language. Dealing with homesickness and the challenges of building a new life in a foreign environment is presented in this film as Eilis maturing as a person. She meets an Italian plumber, Tony Fiorello (Emory Cohen), and watching that relationship develop is handled nicely by the film’s director, John Crowley. The story becomes more complex when Eilis returns to Ireland for a visit. To learn what happens next, you will need to see the film. What allows this 112 minute movie to work is the superb quality of the acting. Eilis’ supervisor at work, a minor character played by Jessica Pare, advances both the film and the primary character, and you are pleased when Pare’s character reappears. The dinner scenes at the boardinghouse where Eilis resides add just the right touch of comedy. This film has no special effects, just excellent acting and a story about an individual who touches your heart.