The Big Short (2015) (R)

Adam McKay's "The Big Short" is the movie that you're meant to see. It's about something that arguable effects you to this day and it's message is short and clear: you were and still are being fucked. It in no way tries to sugarcoat this; but maybe the flashy way the movie instructs its audience about the housing market and things like C.O.D.'s is a little glib for such a grim message, but I think that's where the movie excels the most: celebrate in your demise.
The housing bubble, as presented by Jared Venett (Ryan Gosling) was doomed to fail the moment its inception was made profitable. Although the movie does not exactly critique capitalism in general, we can hear echoes of Michael Douglas saying "Greed, for lack of a better word, is good" through every scene of the film.
Yet we know how this is going to end, but what's so very, very clever about the movie is how it makes us cheer for people, who in every other scenario would have been the villain. This isn't an "Ocean's Eleven" type of lovable thieves, no, we are actually cheering for people who made millions when thousands of people lost everything.
Michael Burry, (Christian Bale) is the first to notice that something isn't right. He hypothesizes, and math is on his side, that the housing "bubble" isn't impenetrable and so he does the daring: he bets against it. Since no one cares to hear his point of view and everyone is too concerned with the money the market brings them, they take his money and erase the fact that should he be right, they will be bankrupt and he'll be rich.
Then you have Mark Baum (Steve Carell), a man of emotional history who is approached by Jared Venett and told of the unstable market. And then another two guys Charlie and Jamie, who discover the same thing as they are trying to make it big in Wall Street.
So these three separate camps, who never meet each other, are all betting against the market with the knowledge that should it go, it will go big and hard.
Hence the name.
"The Big Short" plays like the most entertaining training video you have to watch for work. Gosling's Venett is keen on this idea as he constantly breaks the fourth wall and tells the audience to lighten up with things like "Margot Robbie in a bathtub" or "Selena Gomez and a Dr. in Vegas". This is a movie that not only attempts to play the narrative of the housing market collapse, but also attempts to educate the viewer as much as possible.
And the future is dire. The movie is flashy but this is much like "The Wolf of Wall Street", all that glitters will eventually fall down and kill you. So maybe you should be stuffing your money under your bed, or maybe you should be reconsidering your stocks.
Whatever you personally do, "The Big Short" is a movie that deserves to be seen not only because it tells an important story, but because it is made for consumption.
It's wickedly written, perfectly acted (Carell in particular is amazing), and entertaining through and through.

Score: ★★★½

Zootopia (2016) (PG)

There's always a weird song-and-dance you have to perform when you talk about children's movies. Certainly companies could try to market something towards adults as well as kids; but when you run against something that's not quite up to par and you say as much, it can seem heartless. After all, the target audience hasn't hit puberty yet.
Yet with a movie like "Zootopia", I think Disney is finally catching on to the idea that a movie can be complicated and nuanced and that's fine. It presents a highly progressive idea concerning prejudice and lets it play out. The ending hardly solves the problem but lets both the characters and the audience realize that it starts on the micro-level. And there's nothing much smaller than a bunny in a world of giants.
Judy Hopps (Ginnifer Goodwin) grows up in a small town after a treaty of some sorts. The evolutionary need for predators to eat prey has been done away with for a long time and now, the two live in peace, exemplified with their metropolis capital city that embodies the peace they have all come to acknowledge: Zootopia. Yet, as our heroine is about the find out, peace is an altruistic term that doesn't always manifest itself in the best ways.
From the first moment we see her, Judy wants to be a police officer, the first bunny to do so. Her parents are against the idea but with high ideals in mind, Judy determines that she can be anything she sets her mind to be. So she becomes a cop and moves to Zootopia where she is met with legal resistance from her chief, Bogo (Idris Elba). Determined to make the most of her situation, Judy goes above and beyond the call of duty and bumps into a friendly and charming fox named Nick (Jason Bateman).
It soon turns out that Nick may not be the fox he led Judy to believe he was; but Judy has bigger problems to deal with at the moment. Without detailing the plot too much, Judy finds herself in an investigation that may result in the loss of her job, or the loss of many other animal's lives.
"Zootopia" isn't a subtle movie when it wants us to make connections between how certain species are treated and how some people in American society view race. There is no question in my mind that the predators of the movie are supposed to be analogous of racial minorities. When Judy first meets Nick she tells him that he's very well-spoken 'for a fox' and though she doesn't automatically hate him, she still carries fox-repellent on her hip with an itchy trigger finger.
Well, that's daunting. It's hard for any movie to tackle the issue of racism and prejudice without seeming condescending or just wrong...let alone a children's movie that still has to maintain some sort of integrity with its plot.
At its core, "Zootopia" plays out like a buddy-cop movie and its cliches aren't quite so cliche. The movie is a wild ride, ferociously furry and colorful. This is a film that performs of a multiplicity of levels. The commentary is one, the characters are another, and the plot itself is the third. I do not know of any movie in recent history that managed to make something so complex look so effortless. "Zootopia" moves the plot along wickedly fast, but still takes time to let the consequences of actions (or dare I even say micro-aggressions?) sink in. It's pretty much a masterstroke of writing.
But let's not forget that it's fun. Yes, it's hilarious and thrilling.
I think I would have appreciated a little more subtlety with its commentary, but then again, the movie manages to make something completely unexpected from what could have been just a hot mess. Just see the movie, you won't regret it.

Score: ★★★★

The Hateful Eight (2015) (R)

Some directors and writers  have experience penning stage plays, and some do not. To my knowledge, which is incomplete as has been called to my attention multiple times, Quentin Tarantino has not written any. Yet, if anything, "The Hateful Eight" belongs on some ratty community theater's stage as an undiscovered but not completely satisfying gem that you watching with your ex some twenty years ago and not on the big screen.
Everything in the movie screams of love poetry to cinema. From the cliche crucifix that virtually opens the film (setting the tone for just how irreverent the movie will become) to the fog billowing from characters' mouths to the sets themselves—the movie was made by someone who loves film. I draw the distinction here between film and cinema because it is very clear in a world rapidly turning digital that Tarantaino is no fan of the revolution. This is a man who has said that he would rather stop making movies than shoot digitally. Okay, what does that have to do with the self-billed "Eighth film by Quentin Tarantino" should probably realize this from the credits when it lets the audience know it was filmed it Ultra Panavision 70.
For the most part, this adoration of the glory days of 'film' works. The movie looks absolutely fantastic. Robert Richardson's cinematography captures the desolation of a wintery Wyoming perfectly. Yet keep this distinction between Tarantino and what we might call "the block-buster" movie in mind as the movie continues.
The set up is both simple and elaborate. Simple because you only have a handful of characters confined in one place; but complex because with each scene our perspectives of these characters change. As they round out each other—which takes almost an hour—it seems like all of these men, and a woman, fulfill some aspect of 'justice' which Oswaldo Mobray (Tim Roth) explains somewhere in the middle of the convoluted plot.
I don't really care to track down the semantics of the plot, or really discuss anything about the characters themselves. Obviously, they are harsh, vibrant, stereotypical, and unexpected—we have come to expect nothing less of Tarantino. What interests me more is the rage that builds up in the film and the direction in which it is released, and I will attempt to do so with no spoilers.
I had the same problem with "Birdman" two years ago (has it really been two years?). There seems to be a disconnect between movies that are designed to make you entertained (read: the Marvelverse) and movies that are designed to make you think (see: Terrence Malick). Unlike most "high-art" directors, people like Tarantino seem desperate on fusing the two and horribly angry when it doesn't always work out the way they wanted it to.
Now, "The Hateful Eight" has had its fair share of drama regarding the release. The script was leaked and then Tarantino claimed he wasn't going to film the movie and then, no doubt from the hands of the Weinstein Company with cash in front of his nose, recanted and filmed it.
The figure to watch here is the one who is chained to Kurt Russell's portray of John Ruth's hand. The woman is named Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh) and she's a bad girl. Or, at least we're told this by all the cast. Yet this woman is one we never really know anything about besides voyeuristically shuddering when she, scene after scene, has the crap beaten out of her. Does she deserve this treatment? It's possible, but then again, what if this was all a critique on the criminal justice system?
Tarantino's want to be a pioneer for black people is oddly confused coming on the back of "Django Unchained" in this post-Civil War Wyoming. He presents Major Marquis Warren (Samuel L. Jackson once again proving that he can actually act) as a soldier for the North, riding out the vengeance of a racially unequal United States. So what happens isn't actually pro-active or productive in anyway. But maybe it wasn't meant to be, and maybe I'm reading to much into this.
By the end of the film, the novelty has worn off. I no longer cared for the heist-like Agatha Christie meets Wes Craven layout. The film builds to a rapid crescendo, ironic considering it's almost three hours long, and then collapses without so much as a whimper. In place of a coherent ending, Tarantino's rage a his own inadequacies becomes manifest as the voyeurism of brutality steps up once more and we end with a character saying "That's a nice touch." It's not a so subtle way of Tarantino patting himself on the back, and though I loved this same self-aggrandizing in "Inglourious Basterds", here, it doesn't feel worthy.
"The Hateful Eight" spins a clever tale for forty minutes inside a three hour movie. The rest is just flashy nonsense, gut-busting and washed up dreams of better movies.
That being said, off-kilter Tarantino is still pretty great.

Score: ★★½