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The 2008 financial collapse is put under a microscope (again) in the new satire The Big Short, a movie that candidly raises more questions than it answers. Most of its dialogue is dense economics jargon that will fly by most moviegoers but not alienate them. The plot is easy to navigate without fully understanding the fine print thanks to director and co-writer Adam McKay (Anchorman, Step Brothers) and his nose for quick wit. This is McKay's first dramatic turn after directing broad comedies like Anchorman, and The Other Guys, and he handles the change well, infusing the film with much needed levity when needed.
The new film Concussion centers on the real life expose of NFL head trauma, a condition so common and infuriating that it's surprising the information took as long as it did to leak to the public. It's an important subject that demands considerable attention yet director Peter Landesman only manages a serviceable film. Instead of being the NFL version of The Insider or All the President's Men, we get a version of the story that covers most of the bases but without any real depth or insight. Yet as it stands this lightweight indictment of the NFL is still enough to make audiences think twice before watching one of their favorite sports.
The strained marriage of an artistic couple is at the heart of By the Sea, the new directorial effort from Angelina Jolie Pitt. She and husband Brad Pitt star as the unhappy pair and while most will be quick to prejudge and deem this a vanity project the movie while not perfect is much deeper than its superficial exterior. By the Sea is a deliberate departure for the Hollywood power couple, the kind of movie that was commonplace in the 70s but can only be made now with the influence of these two megastars. Everything from the immaculate cinematography by Christian Berger (The White Ribbon) to the lush score by legendary composer Gabriel Yared (The Talented Mr. Ripley) evokes a forgotten era of filmmaking. An era Jolie Pitt is obviously very familiar with and despite a few bumps in the road manages to create in her own unique style.
The CBS News scandal in 2005 that ended anchorman Dan Rather's relationship with the network is put under a microscope in the film Truth, an adult drama that pulls no punches and is massively entertaining. Robert Redford plays the legendary newsman, and seeing him in the role will immediately bring back memories of All the President's Men. Truth never reaches the heights of that previous masterpiece but soars just fine on its own. In fact, writer-turned-director James Vanderbilt (Zodiac, The Amazing Spider-Man) doesn't even focus his film on Rather, he's a background player to the bigger story. Truth really centers on Mary Mapes, Rather's producer and trusted ally. She's played by Cate Blanchett and her performance is ferocious and unflinching, matching Redford's supporting role and Vanderbilt's screenplay beat for beat.
As a screenwriter, Charlie Kaufman has crafted some of the best and weirdest cinematic mind trips imaginable. Being John Malkovich, Adaptation and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind are among his best but his work in the director's chair has taken his writing to another level. Synecdoche, New York is a work of soul-searching genius and his latest Anomalisa continues to cement Charlie Kaufman's reputation as one of the greatest filmmakers working today. Originally conceived by Kaufman as a short play to debut in composer Carter Burwell's "Theater of a New Ear," the idea to translate the material to the screen quickly became an option but with a twist.
Ilya Naishuller's Hardcore (watch the trailer) is a movie so violent, loud and fun it's guaranteed to offend and entertain in equal numbers. It's also the first of its kind, a first-person action adventure that plays out like a cinematic video game. Think of it as a hybrid of Crank and Robocop and you'll start to get an idea of how unique and insane this movie truly is. Those looking for plot and structure in their cinematic diet will have to look elsewhere because Hardcore is visual fast food all the way. The movie opens from your POV as "Henry", a man with a disfigured body and no memory of how he got knocked out in the first place.
A punk rock concert goes horrible awry in the violent new suspense thriller Green Room, a movie filled with loud music, buckets of blood and white supremacists. The film has a cat-and-mouse structure for most of its running time but thankfully is smart and entertaining enough to have more tricks up its sleeve. The "Ain't Rights" are a punk band on the verge of breaking up for good. As they're introduced, they constantly bicker, continue to play dead-end gigs and as a result are ready to throw in the towel and go home. A last minute opportunity to play a final show in rural Oregon has them reconsider their plans and off they go.
Country music legend Hank Williams was a tortured man plagued by his own success and exuberance. Dying way too young and leaving behind a treasure trove of inspiration, many musicians still credit him to his day. These facts are given a very light touch in Marc Abraham's new biopic I Saw the Light, a movie that tries to encapsulate what made Williams so special but never digs deep enough to get any real answers. British actor Tom Hiddleston slips on a cowboy hat and gives it his all as Williams and the result is a surprising knockout. He is fully devoted to the part so it's a shame the rest of the film can't keep up with him.
The true story of transgender leader Lili Erbe has been watered down for the big screen in Tom Hooper's new film The Danish Girl. What should have been a pioneering story of change and acceptance instead plays it safe and wastes a golden opportunity. Hot off his Oscar win last year for The Theory of Everything, Eddie Redmayne tackles the difficult role of Einar Wegener, a 1920's Danish painter living with his artist wife Gerda (played by Alicia Vikander). In a moment of happenstance she asks him to step in for a model who is running late, the only catch is he's supposed to model women's clothes.
The glamour of 1960's London underworld is captured with varying degrees of success in Brian Helgeland's new film Legend, the story of notorious East end gangsters Ron and Reggie Kray. The fact that both twins are played via CGI by versatile actor Tom Hardy should sweeten the film's appeal were if not for the uneven craftsmanship behind the camera. Celebrated screenwriter Brian Helgeland (of L.A. Confidential, director of 42 and A Knight's Tale) wrote and directed Legend and although many of the tales told in the film have been covered before, his screenplay manages to make them fresh again. The 1990 film The Krays scratched the surface on the volatile brothers' past but Legend digs much deeper.
Caught in an ambiguous middle ground between a political drama and comedy, the new film Our Brand Is Crisis manages to balance itself adequately for most of its running time. Most of the film's charm and power however is due to actress Sandra Bullock, who is clearly gunning for her second Oscar. Bullock commands the lead role originally intended for male counterpart (and the film's producer) George Clooney as a tough-talking political strategist who has seen better days and is now staging an overdue comeback. Inspired by Rachel Boynton's documentary of the same name, Our Brand Is Crisis has all the story beats and rhythms of many underdog movies but the cast and direction are what set it apart from the clutter.
A privileged white collar worker literally decides to tear his old life apart in order to start a new one in Jean-Marc Vallee's Demolition, a movie whose agenda is muddled due to heavy-handed writing and an uneven style behind the camera. Jake Gyllenhaal continues his recent streak of great performances as Davis, a confused financial employee who is introduced at the beginning of the film getting into a head-on collision with his equally confused wife Julia (played by Heather Lind). He survives the crash but is left with little direction in terms of how to move forward. This is a man who at the center of his core refuses to mourn his wife's death and instead channels his grief in other areas.
Reporting from the Cannes Film Festival. The Sea of Trees is the latest from Gus Van Sant, a filmmaker with a very eclectic track record that proves he's not afraid to put himself out there and experiment. His movies may not always hit their mark but the passion and unique creative voice is always there. Despite early negative buzz at the festival, The Sea of Trees is far from the disaster Cannes audiences have made it out to be. The film is a bit long and flawed in some areas but extremely watchable. Cannes always needs a high-profile whipping boy and with its lush pedigree, this year Van Sant's The Sea of Trees fits the bill but in reality the opposite is true. This film is Gus Van Sant's best since Milk.
Reporting from the Cannes Film Festival. Quebecois director Denis Villeneuve is quickly becoming a crucial voice in cinema, crafting human stories of immense power and durability. His one-two-three punch of Incendies, Prisoners and Enemy has been enough to get him noticed in film-savvy circles, but his latest film Sicario may be his best work to date. It's a bleak drug-trade thriller on the surface but deep down it's really a dense character study with comments on the violence in this modern world. It's in the same ballpark as other modern commentaries like Traffic and Zero Dark Thirty but with its own unique flavor.