THE BIG SHORT (USA/15A/130mins) Directed by Adam McKay. Starring Ryan Gosling, Steve Carell, Christian Bale, Brad Pitt, Melissa Leo, Hamish Linklater, Rafe Spall, Marisa Tomei. THE PLOT: It’s 2005, and all is well in the world of finance. The property market, in particular, is booming. Really booming. It’s a fact that hasn’t gone unnoticed by hedge fund managers Mark Baum (Carell) and Michael Burry (Bale), as well as trader Jared Vennett (Gosling) and money-management operators Charlie Geller (Magaro) and Jamie Shipley (Wittrock), who each separately recognise that a hard rain is a-gonna fall. And with it, potentially, one humungous downpour of money.
And so it is that the five bet against the huge mortgages that have been repackaged into grossly overvalued financial products. Hmmm, wonder how they did…? THE VERDICT: Wall Street having long been synonymous with those who not only see a silver lining on a black cloud but know how to mine it, ‘The Big Short’ is a sharp, witty and cutting comic drama about a small gang of Bottom-Of-The-Ocean’s 11 traders and fund managers who made a mint by gambling on the economic collapse of 2008. Whereas Oliver Stone’s Wall Street outings and Scorsese’s more recent Wolf Of Wall Street portrayed hard-nosed, dick-waving financial sharks in full flight though, this true-life story finds our would-be Gekkos largely awkward, and highly unlikely to inspire any t-shirts amongst the next generation of financial whizzkids.
That McKay – some distance from his regular collaborations with buddy and production partner Will Ferrell – manages to make the world of subprime mortgages, credit default swaps and other such financial skulduggery digestible here is a credit to a tight script (co-written by McKay with Charles Randolph, and based on Michael Lewis’ 1989 book, Liar’s Poker). It’s a smart script that doesn’t shy away from the super-smart details.
Ultimately though, McKay tries a little too hard to entertain, a move that robs ‘The Big Short’ of some of its potential punch. Still, you walk away knowing that McKay’s heart – and his boot – were in the right place. RATING: 3/5 Review by Paul Byrne
OUR BRAND IS CRISIS (USA/15A/107mins) Directed by David Gordon Green. Starring Sandra Bullock, Zoe Kazan, Billy Bob Thornton, Joaquim de Almeida, Scoot McNairy. THE PLOT: After four electoral defeats and some personal issues ‘Calamity’ Jane Bodine (Sandra Bullock) retired from her job as a political consultant. Six years later she is drawn out of retirement by the offer of working with Pedro Castillo (Joaquim de Almeida), a candidate for the Bolivian Presidential Elections, and the hope of taking down her old opponent Pat Candy (Billy Bob Thornton). THE VERDICT: ‘Our Brand is Crisis’ is based on a true story, and a 2005 documentary by Rachel Boynton of the same name. The knowledge that this is based on a true story gives weight to the film as a whole, but also manages to make the last half hour or so of the story feel rather pointed and overly sweet.
Sandra Bullock leads the charge as Jane Bodine, and she is strong and forceful as this no-nonsense political consultant. Bullock does get the odd moment to show a softer side to her character, but these are fleeting until the last moments of the film when these come out in full force. Scoot McNairy, Zoe Kazan, Joaquim de Almeida and Ann Dowd don’t have a whole lot to do, but Billy Bob Thornton obviously has fun as the forceful and sleazy Pat Candy, and the scenes between him and Bullock are fun to watch.
Peter Straughan’s screenplay is based on the 2005 documentary of the same name, and focuses on the politics, making Jane a smart and savvy political consultant who works better when she is angry or has something personal to fight for. The rest of the story follows a pretty standard election movie template, and although Jane ends up conflicted over the work she has done, this is not clear until the closing moments of the film, and so feels rather like a move that is out of character.
‘Our Brand is Crisis’ is a change of direction for director David Gordon Green, who has done comedy – ‘The Sitter’, ‘Pineapple Express’ – the kooky – ‘Prince Avalanche’ – and the sad – ‘Manglehorn ‘– in the past, but this political drama is something new for the director, and it is something that he does not seem utterly comfortable with. It’s not that there is anything inherently wrong with ‘Our Brand is Crisis’, but there is not really anything here that we have not seen before. Bullock is fine, the story is fine, the direction is fine, but there is nothing here that feels new or special.
In all, ‘Our Brand is Crisis’ is made by the fact that it is based on a true story that was a documentary first, but it is perhaps the shadow of this well received documentary that bogs the film down in the end. Bullock carries the film ably, but other than being a curiosity piece, ‘Our Brand is Crisis’ is nothing that we have not seen before. RATING: 3/5 Review by Brogen Hayes
RIDE ALONG 2 (USA/12A/102mins) Directed by Tim Story. Starring Kevin Hart, Ice Cube, Olivia Munn, Tika Sumpter, Benjamin Bratt. THE PLOT: Brothers in law Ben (Kevin Hart) and James (Ice Cube) are reunited as they chase down a hacker in Miami. Little do they realise that this hacker has ties to a major corruption case going on in the city and once things kick off, it looks increasingly unlikely that Ben will make it back to Atlanta in time for his wedding. THE VERDICT: The first ‘Ride Along’ film – released in 2014 – made over $150 million at the worldwide box office, so it is not surprising that this odd couple cop pairing is back on our screens, but for all that the first film was not all that funny, this new outing is somehow even less entertaining.
Once again, Kevin hart screeches his way through the film and the character seems to have learned nothing from the danger he found himself in the first time he hit the road with his brother in law, but then the same can be said for Ice Cube as James, who is as surly, unyielding and unfunny as he was the first time out. It is obvious that the idea was to have Hart as the comedy and Ice Cube as the straight man, but since the comedy is not even a little comedic, this failsafe pairing falls apart almost immediately. The rest of the cast features Tika Sumpter, Benjamin Bratt, Ken Jeong and Olivia Munn.
Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi’s screenplay sees the characters living up to the charateristics of the annoying shouty one and the annoying quieter one, and neither one are given the chance to learn anything throughout the film. In fact, the shenanigans the two find themselves in, as well as being horribly unfunny, predictable and unentertaining, reinforce the notion that their behaviour is what gets the job done, and so never even gives the two a chance to learn or grow. Also, ‘Ride Along 2’ is just not funny. Did I mention that already? Well, it bears repeating.
Director Tim Story doesn’t go any way to direct his actors bar seeming one word descriptions – screechy, grumpy, more grumpy – leaving him free to direct the set pieces, for what they are, and make the party scenes are loud as they can be. Hart and Ice Cube seem to go along for the ride, but with such a weak script and seeming lack of desire to do anything funny or original, ‘Ride Along 2’ is doomed to fail as badly as the first one did.
In all, ‘Ride Along 2’ is a film that is not funny and populated with irritating characters who seem to learn nothing from their actions. Hart and Ice Cube do what they can but with a weak script and unclear direction, the film was doomed from the start. RATING: 1/5 Review by Brogen Hayes
THE 5TH WAVE (USA/12A/112mins) Directed by J Blakeson. Starring Chloë Grace Moretz, Ron Livingston, Maggie Siff, Nick Robinson, Tony Revolori, Liev Schrieber, Maria Bello, Alex Roe, Maika Monroe. THE PLOT: In the wake of an alien attack on Earth, Cassie (Chloe Grace Moretz) is left to care for her younger brother after their parents are killed. When the two are separated, Cassie is determined find her brother again but since there have been four waves of the attack on the planet, the people are bracing themselves for a fifth; one that could be the most deadly of all.
THE VERDICT: ‘The 5th Wave’ feels like the millionth young adult film, based on a novel and set in a dystopian world, to come out in the last five years. Based on a novel by Rick Yancey, the film is one of the few that is about the end of the world but not brought about by humans, but it is also a film that suffers from being predictable, obvious and way too familiar.
It is obvious that now Chloe Grace Moretz has hit the age of 18, she is trying to diversify her career, and there are worse things she could have done than ‘The 5th Wave’. The actress gets to run the gamut of human emotions, have a bit of a romance and kick some ass along the way. It’s just a shame that the story of the film is so utterly predictable the entire way through. The rest of the cast features Ron Livingston, Maggie Siff, Zackary Arthur, Maria Bello, Tony Revolori, Alex Roe, Maika Monroe and Liev Schrieber who all do relatively well with what they are given; the trouble is that they are not given very much.
The screenplay for ‘The 5th Wave’, written by Susannah Grant, Akiva Goldsman and Jeff Pinkner seems to have pared down an informative and engaging novel into its component parts, and stripped away any of the film’s mystery or twists and turns. Once the four preceding waves have been explained, and the audience knows what kind of danger humanity is in, it is incredibly obvious which way the film is going, and it does nothing to even try to throw us off track.
Director J Blakeson does well enough in the military scenes, but struggles more in the heartfelt scenes between Moretz and Roe. As well as this, fracturing the film’s narrative may have seemed like a good idea at the time, but this leaves the film messy as it jumps between a small story and a much bigger one.
In all, ‘The 5th Wave’ is enjoyable enough but utterly predictable in the end and it seems that many of the questions the novel raises are simply ignored here for the sake of shoehorning in a romance and a couple of set pieces. RATING: 2/5 Review by Brogen Hayes
THE ASSASSIN (Taiwan/China/Hong Kong/France/12A/105mins)
Directed by Hou Hsiao-Hsien. Starring Shu Qi, Chanc Chen, Tsumabuki Satoshi, Zhou Yun, Juan Chinc-tian, Lei Zhen-Yu, Hsieh Hsin-yinc, Sheu Fanc, Fang-yi Sheu..
THE PLOT: China, the 9th century, and female assassin Nie Yinniang (Qi), is returned to her family home by her aunt Jiaxin (Fang-yi) after completing her training. Given the task of killing her wayward cousin Lord Tian (Lei) – the two having once been betrothed to one another – Yinniang struggles to go through with her mission. Emotions had gotten in the way too when Yinniang abandoned the killing of a government official when she saw his infant son was present. To fail again in her task will result in dire consequences, but Yinniang is determined to find a way out… THE VERDICT: Goddamn, from that first glorious black’n’white frame, as a young woman is given her target to assassin under a small gathering of trees and nearby donkeys, the look of The Assassin is just stunning.It makes the leap to colour shortly afterwards all the more intoxicating.
Chosen by ‘Sight & Sound’ as their film of 2015, and the winner of a whole heap of awards, gongs and noms, Taiwanese director Hou Hsiao-hsien has said of his eight-years-in-the-making sombre martial arts drama that he wanted to steer clear of fantasy of your typical martial arts film and root this 9th century short story adaptation in reality. Taking merely the opening premise of Chinese writer Pei Xing’s celebrated story of a young assassin who is instructed to kill her wayward cousin, Hou then explores the tension between the central royal court and the warlords, having explored many historical documents chonicling that time.
That Hou took eight years to put this majestic film shows not only in the stunning beauty on display but also the dreamlike quality of the plotting. The man goes full Malick, as much is left unexplained; just as in real life. The narrative ambiguity takes more than a little concentration to follow on the viewer’s part, but such commitment pays dividends here, as the opulent beauty just keeps on blossoming before your eyes.
Oh, and the occasional burst of martial arts madness is sweetly handled too. RATING: 4/5
Review by Paul Byrne