The Big Short ***1/2

“The Big Short” is a wicked black comedy filled with some of the most bizarre and unforgettable characters I have come across. The story surrounds the housing market crisis that came min 2007 and a few select people who saw it coming and put financial bets in place to profit from it. These people had know idea how big it was going to be or the level of fraud that would surround it, they just knew that there was a substantial amount of money to be made from the impending crash.

Director Adam McKay makes a break from broad comedies always starring Will Ferrell and takes on some more serious subject matter while still retaining the laughs. The funny moments mostly come from the odd collection of people who saw this crisis coming. The cast includes Steve Carrell, Brad Pitt, Ryan Gosling and Christian Bale. Carrell and Bale in particular stood out to me.

Bale plays a financial advisor with a glass eye and a penchant for not wearing shoes to work who sticks to his guns when his clients believe he is about to lose tons of their money. Turns out he made a profit of 489% for them. I would love to see their follow up emails to him after some of them threatened to sue. Carrell plays a particularly fussy character who always says whats on his mind and always seems to be irritated, even when he is making money.

I still don’t fully understand what credit default swaps are or AAA ratings and I mostly likely never will. This film made it about as clear as it ever will be to me and I finally started to see why this all happened who was really to blame.

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Krampus ***

  

IMDB Synopsis: A boy who has a bad Christmas ends up accidentally summoning a Christmas demon to his family home.

“Krampus” is a film very much in the spirit of “Gremlins” and “Critters”. It is a bit of comedy and horror but suitable for more than just adults. Young teens and older might get a kick out of this and it is mostly a bloodless affair. It does have a lot of solid scares and jumpy moments don’t let kids too young watch this.

Myself I enjoyed the setting, the direction and the sense of fun from this film. I have a particular affection for films shot in the snow so right away I found this visually appealing. The director, Michael Dougherty, lets the snow pound down on his sets until it is a white out. I love how he focuses on the characters as they become unhinged by the situation. I also love how he is isn’t afraid to let it reach such a ridiculous climax involving the titular Krampus and his minions.

I hope this movie does well. It sure is coming out at a tough time of year to release a horror flick. Maybe the holiday selling will help it find an audience. Crossover genres are usually a hard sell so we will see.

The Good Dinosaur ***1/2

  

2015 is turning in to a real treat for animated films. Pixar has released two films. Of course it is after a two year hiatus from releasing anything at all so it is a deserved treat. “The Good Dinosaur” is another great entry in to their amazing catalogue of movies. It follows hot on the heels of “Inside Out” which came out this past June. This movie may not be their strongest effort story wise but it is absolutely jaw dropping visually.

The story takes place in an alternate universe where the dinosaurs never went extinct. They remained on the planet and became the dominant species.


Creed ***1/2

  

“Creed” is the latest installment in the “Rocky” franchise. To say it is a direct sequel wouldn’t be right. This is basically a spin off that focuses on the son of Apollo Creed, Rocky’s main opponent in the original film. Rocky is in the film but is wisely moved in to a supporting role to make way for a fresh and exciting story.

Michael B. Jordan plays Adonis Creed, the son of legendary boxer Apollo. He never met his father. He has had a rough upbringing to say the least. He feels that burning desire to become a boxer, against the wishes of his loved one. He seeks out Rocky, played again by Sylvester Stallone, to become a trainer and a mentor. Rocky is at first hesitant but eventually grows to love the kid and train him to his big fight.

Now all of the boxing cliches are all there. Adonis is an amatuer at first but with the guidance of Rocky he becomes an undiscovered talent. Eventually there is a match up with the champion of the world. All of this is routine yet done very well. What drew me in was the story of Adonis and the side story of Rocky. Both of them have demons to deal with, some of them they realize as we go through the story. Their relationship is the heart of this movie. Both actors turn in some of their best work.

Michael B. Jordan gives what I think is his best performance. Stallone you might think have a problem stepping out of the spotlight in a picture that features Rocky but he does not. He immerses himself in the role and reveals surprising depth. This is his best performance in years.

Ryan Coogler, the director of the excellent “Fruitvale Station”, makes these materials fresh and engaging. Even the traditional boxing matches are tense and brutal. All of these great players have made a movie that I think nobody expected could be good and have made it almost great.


The Night Before***1/2

  

IMDB Synopsis: the night in New York City looking for the Holy Grail of Christmas parties.

“The Night Before” is the latest collaboration between Joseph Gordon Levitt, Seth Rogan and Jonathan Levine. Their previous work was the underrated gem “50/50” from 2011. Joining them this time is Anthony Mackie, taking a break from his duties as the Falcon to join the fun. Here they take on Christmas with a movie that will become a staple of my holiday viewing for years to come.

“The Night Before” is an awesome blend of great comedy, performances, drama and story. I loved the characters and their own personal stories. I love that it is an R rated film aimed at adults during the holiday season. There are not enough to those! I love that it involves three best friends in search of a mythical Christmas party. It kind of reminded me of “The World’s End” in that way. Friends coming together to conquer a missed opportunity from their past.

I think my favourite part of this movie though was Michael Shannon’s character. He appears from time to time as a cryptic drug dealer who may or may not be something more.

I can’t for this to hit iTunes next year. You know it will be around the holidays when it is released. It should go good as a double feature with “Bad Santa”.

Spotlight ****

“Spotlight” is a terrific movie about old school journalists exposing a story that people truly need to know about. It is also a powerful drama about a scandal that was almost world wide in it’s impact as it destroyed the lives of many people and their families. “Spotlight” is also an old school type of drama where the actors are aloud to disappear in to their characters and the writers and director want to tell an engrossing story.

 

The director, Tom McCarthy, who also wrote the script with Josh Singer, has obviously done his research as the film is chock full of scenes where the Spotlight team digs and digs for the truth about the Catholic priest abuse scandal.

 

The team includes a great many terrific performers including Michael Keaton, Rachel McAdams, Mark Ruffalo and Stanley Tucci. All are amazing here as professionals in their respective fields.

 

The only mystery I cannot explain is how Tom McCarthy, the director, who also brought us the excellent 2008 film “The Visitor”, could make this movie and “The Cobbler” in the same calendar year? One is an awful Adam Sandler flick, the other is an engrossing drama.


The Last Witch Hunter

  

IMDB Synopsis: all that stands between humanity and the combined forces of the most horrifying witches in history.

“The Last Witch Hunter” is about as good as you expect it to be. The previews were selling a fast and furious style action, horror, fantasy hybrid with lots of CGI. Vin Diesel joins the scenery with his usual brooding and silent menacing. It is a flick that basically depends on sound and fury.

Was it a success you ask? I didn’t think it was too bad as far as these types of movies go. I feel like a broken record at this point but maybe more emphasis on story and less emphasis on costly CGI visual effects might of gotten me more interested. But this movie is not interested in subtle performances or an engaging screenplay. It exists to give its target audience a two hour thrill ride and at that it mostly succeeds.