Movie Review: “The Big Short”

Starring
Steve Carell, Ryan Gosling, Christian Bale, Brad Pitt, John Magaro, Finn Wittrock, Marisa Tomei
Director
Adam McKay

The housing market crash of 2008 was no joke, which is why it might come as somewhat of a surprise that “The Big Short” is directed by the same man responsible for goofball comedies like “Anchorman,” “Step Brothers” and “Talladega Nights.” Though Adam McKay isn’t the first person you’d think of to direct a (mostly) serious movie about the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, he’s clearly passionate about the material – both the real-life events and the book on which the film is based – because it shows in the final product. “The Big Short” isn’t quite as hard-hitting as J.C. Chandor’s “Margin Call,” the underseen 2011 drama that offers a different perspective of the same events, but it’s a nonetheless effective examination of a nationwide disaster so ridiculous that it’s difficult not to laugh.

Adapted from “Moneyball” author Michael Lewis’ bestselling book of the same name, “The Big Short” follows a group of investment bankers through the years 2005-2008 as they predicted what many thought was impossible – the always-sturdy housing market collapsing – and then did the unthinkable by betting against (or shorting) the big banks to profit off their greed. The first to make his move is financial guru Dr. Michael Burry (Christian Bale), a socially awkward hedge fund manager who discovers a worrying pattern in defaulted subprime mortgages (which make up the mortgage bonds that the banks trade on) and invests more than a billion dollars of his investors’ money into credit default swaps, i.e. insurance against the failure of those bonds, which didn’t even exist at the time.

Everyone on Wall Street thinks he’s crazy, except for hotshot Jared Vennett (Ryan Gosling), who sees a potential gold mine in Burry’s theory and convinces short-tempered, nihilistic hedge funder Mark Baum (Steve Carell) and his tight-knit team (Jeremy Strong, Rafe Spall and Hamish Linklater) to go into business with him, despite the fact that Mark hates everything that guys like Jared stand for. Word of Vennett’s proposal also reaches small-time investors Charles Geller (John Magaro) and Jamie Shipley (Finn Wittrock), who request help from their mentor, former banker Ben Rickert (Brad Pitt), in getting them a seat at the big boys table.

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Movie Review: “Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day”

Starring
Steve Carell, Jennifer Garner, Ed Oxenbould, Dylan Minnette, Kerris Dorsey, Bella Thorne, Megan Mullally
Director
Miguel Arteta

“Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good Very Bad Day” is not a good movie, but it’s a damn likable one. The dialogue is snappy, and the performances by the family members are spot-on (this movie does not work without Steve Carell), but the plotting is, well, bad. All characters outside of the family are gross stereotypes, seemingly because it’s easier to make an example of them that way. The pro-family vibe of the movie is so strong, though, that it makes the predictable storytelling easier to forgive.

Alexander Cooper (Ed Oxenbould) is about to turn 12, and per middle school protocol, he’s having an awful day. He wakes up with gum in his hair (sadly, one of only a few nods to the 1972 book on which the movie is based), and proceeds to get humiliated at a school-wide level via text bomb, and is crushed to discover that even his best friend is going to skip his birthday party the next day in order to attend the party of a much cooler kid. Alexander, convinced that he is all but invisible to his family and frustrated that they can’t relate to what he’s going through, wishes on a candle-lit cupcake at midnight on his birthday that they could know how it feels to be him for a day. From the moment they wake up the next morning, Alexander’s entire family experiences a “Liar Liar” form of karmic payback.

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Movie Review: “Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues”

Starring
Will Ferrell, Paul Rudd, Steve Carell, David Koechner, Christina Applegate, Kristen Wiig, Meagan Good, James Marsden
Director
Adam McKay

For years, Will Ferrell has resisted the urge to make a sequel to any of his films, but if there’s one character from his repertoire deserving of a second helping, it’s Ron Burgundy. Though a sequel had been rumored for years after the original attained cult status on DVD, it’s easy to see now why Paramount was so gunshy. The first “Anchorman” was lightning in a bottle; a comedy so goofy and over the top that it took people completely by surprise. And while the sequel aims to match (and exceeds) that level of silliness, it just doesn’t compare. “Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues” is at times funnier than its predecessor, but it’s also wildly inconsistent, bouncing aimlessly between gut-busting hilarity and entire sequences that miss their mark.

“The Legend Continues” picks up several years after the first film, with Ron (Ferrell) and Veronica Corningstone (Christina Applegate) now living with their son in New York City and co-anchoring on a national news station. But when Veronica is suddenly promoted and Ron is fired, the pair splits up and Ron heads back to San Diego. Six months later, he’s tracked down by producer Freddie Shapp (Dylan Baker) with an opportunity to return to NYC as part of the first-ever 24-hour news channel, GNN. After reassembling his former news team – Brian Fantana (Paul Rudd), Brick Tamland (Steve Carell) and Champ Kind (David Koechner) – in time for the official launch, Ron makes fast enemies with star anchorman Jack Lime (James Marsden), who’s been given the primetime slot. But despite getting saddled with the graveyard shift, Ron makes a bet with Jack that he’ll still get bigger ratings, leading him to take a vastly different approach to the news that changes the course of broadcast journalism forever.

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Movie Review: “The Way, Way Back”

Starring
Liam James, Sam Rockwell, Steve Carell, Toni Collette, AnnaSophia Robb, Allison Janney, Maya Rudolph
Directors
Nat Faxon & Jim Rash

Earlier this year, “The Way, Way Back” made waves at the Sundance Film Festival when Fox Searchlight bought the crowd favorite for a near-record $10 million, and though that may sound like a lot for a small indie movie, it was worth every penny. Of course, this isn’t the first time that the studio paid so much for a Sundance darling – in 2006, they won a heated bidding war to acquire the rights to “Little Miss Sunshine” – and the two movies are very similar in the way that they effortlessly transition between comedy and drama. “The Way, Way Back” doesn’t have enough emotional punch to be an awards contender, but in a summer filled with big budget blockbusters, leave it to a quaint coming-of-age comedy to stand out as the best of the season.

The title refers to that rear-facing backseat found in station wagons, and this is where we’re first introduced to introverted 14-year-old Duncan (Liam James), who’s being dragged by his mom (Toni Collette) to a Massachusetts beach home to spend the summer with her overbearing boyfriend Trent (Steve Carell) and his daughter (Zoe Levin). Trent is a bit of a dick, and he proves as much in the opening scene when, after asking Liam what he thinks of himself on a scale of 1-10, Trent suggests that he’s only a 3. But for some reason, Duncan’s mom likes him, and so while the adults party like they’re on spring break, he’s left to wallow around town on his own. Lacking the confidence to strike up a friendship with the cute girl next door (AnnaSophia Robb), Duncan finds solace at the local water park, Water Wizz, where he meets an unexpected friend and mentor in easygoing manager Owen (Sam Rockwell).

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Movie Review: “Despicable Me 2″

Starring
Steve Carell, Kristen Wiig, Russell Brand, Miranda Cosgrove, Ken Jeong, Steve Coogan, Benjamin Bratt
Directors
Pierre Coffin & Chris Renaud

When it comes to filmmaking, there are multiple types of chemistry. The one most often discussed is the chemistry between actors; when it’s good, it can make good movies great and even unwatchable movies tolerable (say, Jennifer Aniston and Adam Sandler in “Just Go with It”), but when it’s bad, it will consume all living things on the screen (Jennifer Aniston and every other co-star she’s had in the last 10 years in movies not named “Horrible Bosses”). The other, arguably more important bit of chemistry involves story lines. 2011’s “Despicable Me” was about 45% villain plot, 45% foster parent plot and 10% minions. Now, of course, the minions are stars, so they get more screen time in “Despicable Me 2.” And the movie suffers because of it.

That’s not the only reason the movie suffers, mind you; the villain story isn’t as compelling, they lean really hard on the bathroom jokes (the “dart” gun from the first movie makes multiple appearances here), and for a movie that is supposed to have a mystery angle to it, everyone hides in plain sight.

Gru (Steve Carell) has quit villainy in order to be a good father to adopted daughters Margo (Miranda Cosgrove), Edith (Dana Gaier) and Agnes (Elsie Kate Fisher), but he is soon recruited by the Anti-Villain League, due to his expertise as a bad guy, to track down a new super-villain who has stolen a serum that turns its subjects into indestructible monsters. The AVL tracks the serum to a local mall, and Gru, with the help of AVL agent Lucy Wilde (Kristen Wiig), go undercover to find out which merchant is hiding the serum. The girls, meanwhile, want a mom, and pressure Gru into dating, while Margo falls for a boy, something Gru is not remotely prepared to handle in a way that doesn’t involve the words “Freeze ray!”

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