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Recent Movies: The Big Short; The Force Awakens; The Hateful Eight

February 7, 2016

Recent Movies

The Big Short

Mixing fact with fiction, the months that precede the financial disaster of 2008 is chronicled in a satirical way.  Various financial players who are able to foresee the outcome end up betting against the U.S. economy for their personal gain.  Some of them include an eccentric (Christian Bale), a bully (Ryan Gosling), and two others who have not fully lost their sense of morality (Steve Carell and Brad Pitt).

While this event affected (and continues to affect) many lives quite deeply, there remains a challenge in explaining the beastly details to average moviegoers with a minimal knowledge of economics.  For the most part, it helped to have players occasionally speaking to the camera to explain in laymen’s terms regarding what is happening.  This helps a great deal but the movie’s length does not.  There are many scenes of economic types in deep conversation.  Some of these scenes are great while others create and compound confusion.  This is unfortunate as the subject matter is important and worthy of being filmed.

There is also the challenge of dealing with an ending which the audience already knows is coming.  The movie does end well with a good commentary.  With fine acting and success at finding humour in tragedy (without being condescending), the film might have have had more impact with a shorter length.  It was still a worthy attempt.

RATING (out of four stars):   * * 1/2


Star Wars: The Force Awakens

In part seven of the universally famous series, outer space continues to have more battles between good and evil forces.  Some of the characters of the well-known middle trilogy are present (thirty years older) with some newer and younger characters as well.

The galaxy is busy once again with various battles and subplots.  Like other films, “The Force Awakens” can occasionally overwhelm with sci-fi jargon but only to a point.  The main story and battles are easy for average viewers to understand and, most of all, to enjoy.

The technical aspects of the film are, as expected, the grandest elements especially the visual effects.  The production set designs are to die for as well.  There are more than a few great moments of aerial shots that show how small the people appear within the great sets that surround them.

As the middle trilogy (1977 – 1983) is so familiar, it felt movingly sentimental to see the great likes of Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, and Mark Hamill reprising their renowned roles of Han Solo, Princess (now General) Leia, and Luke Skywalker respectively as well as the characters Chewbacca, C3PO, and R2D2.

There is a shocking conflict scene near the end that recalls a similar scene in “The Empire Strikes Back”.  And the brilliant final scene is surely Hollywood spectacle at its very best – goosebumps and all.

Director J.J. Abrams has made a great contribution to this series.  May the glorious force be with us again and again.

RATING:   * * *

OUTSTANDING ACHIEVEMENTS:   Production Design and Visual Effects


The Hateful Eight

In the wild west shortly after the U.S. Civil War, an oddball gang of characters end up sharing space in a stagecoach lodge during a wicked Wyoming blizzard.  They include bounty hunters, a wanted murderer, an alleged sheriff, an alleged hangman, a former Confederate general, and other mysterious guests who arise suspicion.  The movie is written and directed by Quentin Tarantino.

In regard to movie storytelling and execution, I have little doubt that Tarantino is a genius.  I also have little doubt that he is a sadist.

His films can end up with different results depending on how much the mean-spirited violence overwhelms his brilliance.  When the violence was minimal (that is, in Tarantino terms), the brilliance clearly won out with the creation of such great films as “Pulp Fiction”, “Inglorious Basterds”, and “Django Unchained”.

Then, there were the two movies in the “Kill Bill” series where the violence was often sickening and overwhelming.  This situation recurs in “The Hateful Eight”.

Firstly, the pluses of which there are many:

With the aid of music by Ennio Morricone and cinematography by Robert Richardson, Tarantino succeeds in evoking a hell-on-earth created by its inhabitants.

Storywise, there are many moments of mystery, plot twists, suspense, and extended moments of tense dialogue.  While Tarantino’s stories are always filled with violence, they are always engaging.  And most of all, compared to many other screenwriters, his stories are always understandable.  They can be complex without being confusing.

There are two frequents sources of criticism about this movie but I will actually come to the movie’s defense.  One is that the movie is too long especially in the middle.  I agree that it could have been shortened but the tension was always present in the middle scene leading the viewer to believe (rightly so) that this was only a build-up.

The other criticism was against the inclusion of a scene that is a flashback.  I felt this scene added to the film’s impact.  It helped solve the mystery of the backgrounds of some of the characters.  It also allowed us to see other characters who had previously been spoken of only in reference.  The best part of the scene is that it provided us with kind and friendly characters who interacted well with others.  This was a welcome respite from the uniformly vile characters that infested the movie’s first half.

And the acting is great.  Standout performances come from Samuel L. Jackson, Jennifer Jason Leigh, and Bruce Dern.

It’s in the end when things get overly brutal and mean-spirited especially the fate of one character who had already been subject to an excess of degradation.  The act itself and the image of its aftermath were hard to get out of my mind well after the movie’s end.  I guess it’s now time for a schlocky rom-com to rebalance my senses.

RATING:   * * *


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