Here's a look at the new movies I saw this week.
The Big Short
Starring: Ryan Gosling, Brad Pitt, Steve Carell, and Christian Bale
Synopsis: Most of us remember when the housing bubble burst. There was a crazy few days when banks looked like they were going to fail. The economy around the world was suffering. People were losing their jobs and their homes. And then the government stepped in. For many, that was probably the end of their experience of the “economic crisis.” Others may have watched some of the movies, such as the HBO biopic “Too Big to Fail” or sought to learn more. But a whole subculture of media was devoted to exploring the crisis, why it happened and who might have seen it coming. Michael Lewis, who chronicled true life stories in the books “Moneyball” and “The Blind Side,” was one of those who explored this topic further. In his book, “The Big Short,” he looked at those in the financial system who saw the crash coming and, better yet, profited from it. Now a new movie brings that exploration to life in a unique, comedic way. Adam McKay is best known for his partnership with Will Ferrell and his work directing films like “Anchorman,” “The Other Guys,” and “Step Brothers.” He probably wouldn’t be the first name to come to mind when thinking about bringing a story like this to the screen. But when you watch “The Big Short,” it’s clear he was the perfect choice. He interjects personality and humor into a dry subject, often winking at the camera and the audience as he tells this story. He has a talented cast, many of whom also have strong comedy chops, that helps make this a fun exploration of a serious and somewhat somber topic. That is an incredible achievement. “The Big Short” is one of the most interesting and most fun films I’ve seen this year. It’s nominated for a number of Golden Globes, and could be a player come Academy Award time. It’s a film that does its subject justice and has also connected with audiences, bringing an important subject into the mainstream. The cast does a great job with this film. Bale, a previous Academy Award winner, is great in his role, doing something unexpected and different with the role of Burry. Carell, who was nominated for his work in “Foxcatcher” last year, is great again in a very different role as Baum. The rest of the cast – including the deep supporting cast – is great here too. This film moves along at a good clip, holds your attention and brings this difficult period in our country’s history to life in an engaging way. You don’t go to a movie about the financial crisis expecting to laugh and be entertained, but that’s what you get in “The Big Short.” It’s a credit to its cast and McKay’s vision for the story.
Rating: R for pervasive language and some sexuality/nudity. Enter with caution.
Verdict: Four stars out of four.
The Hateful Eight
Starring: Samuel L. Jackson, Kurt Russell, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Walton Goggins, Bruce Dern, Michael Madsen, Demian Bichir, and Tim Roth
Synopsis: This is the eighth feature from writer/director Quentin Tarantino, and it's another western. This doesn't have the broad scope of some of his other films, but feels more contained, like "Reservoir Dogs." It essentially takes place in two locations, with just a handful of characters. This film has all the hallmarks of Tarantino films, including interesting dialogue, colorful characters, and plenty of violence. By now, most people should know what to expect and what they're getting from a Tarantino film. So it really comes down to how you engage with the story and characters. In this case, I thought this film was a bit of a let down from his other films. It was OK. It had some interesting moments and characters. His dedication to shooting in 70 mm gave it a different look. But ultimately I wasn't as taken with the story, which felt slow at points, or the third act, which was violent without a seeming purpose. There are some great individual performances -- Jackson, Leigh, and Goggins stand out for me -- but that isn't quite enough. I don't know what I was really expecting with this film, but it didn't engage me the way Tarantino did with "Inglorious Basterds" and "Django Unchained." It is a unique film, but not a great film.
Rating: R for strong bloody violence, a scene of violent sexual content, language and some graphic nudity. Enter with caution.
Verdict: Two stars out of four.
Friday, January 8 - "The Revenant," "The Forest"
Friday, January 15 - "Ride Along 2," "Norm of the North," "13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi"
Friday, January 22 - "The 5th Wave," "Dirty Grandpa," "The Boy"
Friday, January 29 - "Finest Hours," "Kung Fu Panda 3," "Fifty Shades of Black," "Jane's Got A Gun."