Category Archives: white-collar

Weekend Outlook – Pirates of the Baywatch: Guardians of the Covenant

Happy Memorial Day weekend everybody! So after you get done with your barbecue (which is really just burgers and hotdogs, or maybe brats if you’re fancy), then what are you going to do?

Maybe you’ll go shopping. I hear there are some good deals meant to lure you away from the simplicity of always paying less for things by shopping online. Perhaps you are thinking about visiting a theme park, but that’s expensive and you run the risk of dehydration. I guess you could watch any of the mediocre sporting events which will be on all weekend, you’ve got the Indy 500, the NBA conference finals, a whole bunch of baseball, or the carbonated poison water 600. But those all sound long, boring, and better watched in short clips on YouTube as a last resort of entertainment.

Why not hang out at the multiplex and catch up on those early Summer blockbusters that you have missed because you have been so busy catching up on your assignments from procrastination class or cramming for that test that you no longer remember because of sleep deprivation? It has been a relatively slow start to the summer movie season, but this long weekend should be the perfect time to catch that movie that has been calling you. We’ve got 3 sequels and an R-rated comedy TV adaptation to examine so buckle up!

If you haven’t already seen Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, you might be a Mennonite (Note to self: find Mennonite comedian and pitch the idea of stealing Jeff Foxworthy’s signature bit). It has only been out since Cinco de Mayo and it has already made close to 3 quarters of a billion dollars worldwide! Guardians is a ton of fun and it is fairly kid friendly, so as long as your kid can dress themselves and no longer needs a high chair, they should be up for this adventure.

The premise is simple. We rejoin our lovable gang of space anti-heroes a little while after the first film ends (If you haven’t first Guardians of the Galaxy, then you should probably buy it on iTunes and catch up with the rest of civilization). Star Lord has daddy issues that he needs to work out and they do it in hilarious fashion. This is has more laughs per minute than the first film with more of the same character driven drama and amazing 80’s soundtrack. (I’m serious about the soundtrack! I literally just Googled “Brandy (You’re a Fine Girl) by Looking Glass. It will be stuck in your head for the rest of the week, just be prepared.) I’ll be honest, if you haven’t seen this one, and maybe even if you have, it is your best bet. The rest are likely going to be hit or miss.

I just saw Alien: Covenant last night and it was very good, but it kind of felt like it was struggling with what kind of movie it wanted to be. But what should we expect from the 3rd film from Ridley Scott in this franchise which he helped reboot back in 2012 with the prequel Prometheus. Covenant rides the line between the heady philosophical ramblings of Prometheus and the crap your pants scariness of Alien.

If Guardians was safe for kids that can ride a roller coaster then this one is only safe if you can drive a car (manual transmissions only, none of that wussy automatic garbage). I’m serious, there is blood everywhere in this, aliens bursting out of all kinds of cavities and orifices, not to mention the synthetic on synthetic porn that almost happens. I could hear the Fassboners rising in the theater. If you’re a fan of Ridley Scott and the franchise you won’t be disappointed, but it’s not his best work. I’m seriously hoping that Blade Runner 2049 is better.

I’ll be quite honest, the only thing that get’s me excited about Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales (Longest movie name since Don’t Be a Menace to South Central While Drinking Your Juice in the Hood) is the inclusion of Javier Bardem as the baddie. If you’ve seen Skyfall or No Country for Old Men you know that he can be extremely creepy and intimidating, and that’s before he’s been all zombified. Even though it looks creepy, this is Disney we are talking about and I’m sure if your emo kids are into pirates then they would be okay going to this one too.

I know that this is a total cash grab on Disney’s part. They want to revive the franchise that has brought in $3.7 billion since 2003. I get it, but even Orlando Bloom and Kiera Knightley were smart enough to get out after three films and here Johnny Depp is riding into his fifth. He is simply the worst pirate that I’ve ever heard of, but I have heard of him so I’ll be checking this one out on Saturday, so stay tuned for my thoughts.

Finally, we have the R-rated 90’s TV adaptation that literally no one has ever been clamoring for. Baywatch hits theaters this weekend and I can only hope that they at least got Hasselhoff for a cameo, I mean he’s in Guardians so it’s not like he wasn’t available for filming. If they missed out on the Hoff, at least they have the ghost of Pam Anderson’s boobs, a.k.a. Alexandra Daddario. It looks like they are trying to go down the comedy parody road with this one and that would be great. But they have had me worried in a couple of trailers that they might try and take this straight, and if it takes itself too seriously it will be garbage.

The critical consensus is already that it is garbage (18% on Rotten Tomatoes), but I’m hoping that this could at least be as good as Central Intelligence. I’ve never been much of a fan of Zac Ephron, but I’m willing to give him a shot. This one is for adults only, the red band trailers have been bad enough that I had to watch them after my kids went to bed. I’ll be seeing this one next Wednesday so you’ll have to wait a little bit longer for my full review.

The most important thing is for you to enjoy this weekend and remember those brave men and women who died so we can eat lots of expensive buttery popcorn and be entertained by the beautiful monkeys we pay to entertain us. Have a great weekend!

 

 

2010 Best Movie Bracket

There were a tremendous number of innovative and well crafted movies in 2010. This made it very hard for me to decide on my top movie for this year. A lot of the the critics that I really respect pick a ton of independent films that only 20% of film-goers have even really had the opportunity to see. I tend to watch more populist films or independent films that get a fair amount of press. As I have already expressed, I am only picking from movies that I have seen, so I had to pass over films like Never Let Me Go, or A Prophet.

Even without those films, and not counting the three that I finally chose, we still had Inception, Black SwanExit Through The Gift Shop, DogtoothTrue Grit, Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, Meek’s Cutoff, and Winter’s Bone. Yes, you heard that correctly, I am not including Inception in my top three. It is certainly a good film and I would consider it part of my top 10 of the year, but it had some big problems that I couldn’t get past. Christopher Nolan wants us to see this as his greatest achievement, and while it is gorgeous and very intricately crafted I wish he didn’t feel the need to explain everything so explicitly and the fact that we don’t get much character development.

As far as the box office for the year, it looks like this year is lining up to be very similar to 2010. Five of the top ten highest grossing films of the year were animated, six if you include Alice in Wonderland, and many of them were very good, but I think that as we march backwards through time we will see the chasm between a film’s financial success and visionary prowess shrink. So let’s see the three films that I put on the top of the heap.

3rd – The King’s Speech

Tom Hooper’s historical feature The King’s Speech was the big winner at the Oscars celebrating the films of 2010. It won 4 Oscars including Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Actor for Colin Firth who gave a fantastic central performance as a man with a crippling handicap who just happened to be Britain’s King George VI. The central relationship between Firth and Geoffrey Rush who plays his unorthodox speech therapist is filled with a wry and self-effacing sense of humor.

It’s a pleasure to watch Firth bring a heavy tension and frustration to his role as a man who cannot find his voice who has been thrust into the role of the voice of all of England. Firth begins the film by stepping up to a microphone as if he is stepping into a hangman’s noose. After a series of failed attempts with vocal coaches, his wife Elizabeth (Helena Bonham Carter) pairs him with the unconventional Rush who insists on calling the budding monarch “Bertie” and treating him as an equal. Eventually, Firth unbends under Rush’s calm, unforgiving style and unwavering good humor. Firth’s agony and this rich relationship makes this one a good candidate for the best of the year.

2nd – Toy Story 3

Toy Story 3 was the top grossing film of the year coming in almost $100 million above Alice in Wonderland. I often think about the reason why these animated films do so well at the box office. I think a huge part of it is because kids can’t go to the movies by themselves. So with every group of happy children there is at least one adult along for the ride. It is like a buy one get one deal in reverse where the theaters sell one ticket and get one more at full price for good measure. However, I think that with Toy Story 3, there may have been times when the kids were being dragged in by the parents who were hoping to catch a glimpse of the magic they saw years before.

In this third and what we thought would be final Toy Story movie, we see a bunch of toys desperately trying to force an 18-year-old to play with them the way he did a decade ago. Coming to the realization that he has moved on, they mourn and debate about their place as Andy’s toys. The Toy Story movies have always been about the joy of play, but never before has it seemed like such a drag to be a toy. The fate of most toys is probably a horror story if we think about it. Essentially, they are immortal beings whose only pleasure comes from entertaining fickle children who will quickly grow up to forget them, leaving them to be broken and discarded.

There were few grimmer movie moments in 2010 than the point where the toys face their deaths, and few more uplifting sequences than the film’s ending. It’s strange to speak of a kids’ film as challenging, moving, and heartfelt, but Pixar’s movies continue to be some of the most sophisticated and entertaining films that we see all year, bar none. They did it again this year with Finding Dory though maybe not to the extent of Toy Story 3.

1st – The Social Network

Writer Aaron Sorkin (West Wing, A Few Good Men) and director David Fincher (Se7en, Fight Club, Zodiac) make a movie about the contentious beginnings of Facebook, scored by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross from metal band Nine Inch Nails. While that certainly sounds interesting and potentially exciting, it also sounds like it could be a bit of a mess. I remember thinking when I heard about the plans for this film that it had everything it needed to be great it just had to find a way to put all those things into one box.

That is what makes this movie is so audaciously impressive. Sorkin is famous for his extremely verbal dialogue. How could that exist alongside the visual stylings of a guy like Fincher? And what business do these guys have working on a Facebook biopic since their specialties seemed to be government corruption and cover-ups, murder, scandal, and social unrest? They made it work to amazing effect. Using the deposition recordings of two separate lawsuits against Facebook head Mark Zuckerberg  as an ingenious framing device,The Social Network traces the site’s origin in all its agonizing complexity.

Speaking of Zuckerberg, if you have seen this movie, the picture that you get in your head probably looks a good bit more like actor Jesse Eisenberg than the actual founder. Eisenberg was able to capture the innovation and youthful energy of Zuckerberg while also detailing his all too human flaws. We completely forget that this is a movie about recent events in the unfolding of the technological world and we are enthralled in this compelling story of a genius who is often petty and puerile but is also driven pathologically by the same thing that drives the 500 billion users of Facebook… the need to belong.

What do you think? Did I get it right? I’m actually going to put an asterisk on this one because I would like to potentially come back and add Toy Story 3 if I don’t use my four ties before the end.

2015 – Best Movie Bracket

From start to finish, many of 2015’s biggest news stories were centered around violence and terror threats and they showed a general sense of fear. The year began with a targeted terror strike in Paris and closed out with another planned attack in San Bernandino, California, proving that threats around the globe remain an issue for all.

However, much of the world found a place of solace at the theater amidst the fear and violence. 2015 featured a variety of films that showed the triumph of the spirit in the face of adversity, bigotry, and evil. Movies like: Southpaw, The Good Dinosaur, Joy, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Room, Avengers: Age of Ultron, The Revenant, The Martian, Mad Max: Fury Road, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, and Inside Out.

As fun and epic as the continuations of Mad Max, Star Wars, and Avengers were, there was not enough to set them apart and leave a lasting legacy. Leonardo Dicaprio deserved an Oscar for what Innaritu put him through in The Revenant, but the movie itself though stark and piercing didn’t create the effect in viewers that you expect from the best. The Martian was alternatively hilarious and harrowing, and Room ripped my heart out and slowly put it back together again, but there were a lot of really good movies in 2015. I keep coming back to three films from the year that will have some staying power. Here are my top 3 films of the year. Continue reading 2015 – Best Movie Bracket

Political Movies

Like many Americans, I am watching the primary races with a keen eye. Unfortunately, that has taken much of my time that I would normally watch movies. I want to share some of my favorite political movies.

Immediately, I think of movies like V for Vendetta as well as The Last King of Scotland but if I am going to look at American politics, there are two movies that stand out head and shoulders above the rest.

pres31All the President’s Men – I referenced this movie just a few weeks ago when I looked at Spotlight because of the parallels that I saw in the two movies in terms of journalism. But All the President’s Men shows not only the journalistic side but also the political side of the Nixon Watergate scandal. It is seriously compelling and is well worth the time to watch it.

james-stewart-mr-smith-goes-to-washington-2Mr. Smith Goes to Washington – I’m surprised that Marco Rubio doesn’t use this film on his Campaign trail. If you are unfamiliar, it tells the story of a man who is set to be a senator by the spineless governor of his state. He is a naive and idealistic and he wants to change everything starting from the building of a camp for children but his plans promptly collide with political corruption and there the true fight starts.

I enjoyed this movie because it addresses what we all know but never want to believe or talk about. How political corruption influences all of us and our lives as politicians and leaders just want to earn more and more wealth and power. But, this movie also shows us the other side of the story: a decent man who believes in something, and fights for his beliefs until the end. I might just write Jefferson Smith on my ballot.

Tell me what you think. What is your favorite political movie and why?

The Big Short (2015)

When I think of the collapse of the housing market and the beginning of the Great Recession, I don’t immediately think of a comedy. Millions of hard working Americans losing their homes and pensions and having to bear the burden of a government sponsored bailout makes me think of a hard-hitting and moving drama. Well, The Big Short is both of those. It is more than a comedy, but it is also tremendously entertaining even while it made me really mad and sad.

Adam McKay took the directorial chair in this adaptation of Michael Lewis’ book. McKay has previously been known for a number of Will Ferrell comedies like Anchorman, The Other Guys and Step Brothers which kind of explains the tone of the film. Lewis has been responsible for writing a number of books that have made it to the big screen despite their traditionally dry subject matter, think Moneyball (another Brad Pitt Project) and to a lesser extent The Blind Side.  
The Big Short 2The Big Short
 is set in the years leading up to the financial meltdown of 2008 and tells the story of a handful of investors who saw it coming. Bitter humor (primarily delivered by an excellent narrator in Ryan Gosling) guides us through an educational journey that ultimately ends in tragedy (for everyone but our protagonists). The housing market is usually a rock-solid investment. But these guys read the signs and started suspecting that it was a skyscraper built on sand and it was getting ready to collapse. The “experts” of the day told them that it was impossible, That it couldn’t happen.

What was their argument? Because it never has. But they had no clue how blinded they had become by their own greed and self-interest. They continued giving loans to people, no matter if they’re qualified. And not just any loans but sub-prime adjustable rate mortgage loans. In some ways, it’s a horror story: We were all affected by the illegal and fraudulent activity that led to this downfall, and most of the culprits received no punishment (in fact many used the bailout money to give themselves substantial bonuses).

The most difficult subjects can be explained to the most slow witted man if he has not formed any idea of them already; but the simplest thing cannot be made clear to the most intelligent man if he is firmly persuaded that he knows already, without a shadow of doubt, what is laid before him. – Leo Tolstoy, 1897

Despite its ominous and (let’s be honest) boring subject matter. The film is so entertaining, I had to go back and see it a second time. It sports a star-studded cast (Brad Pitt, Steve Carell, Ryan Gosling, and Christian Bale) effortlessly operating at the top of their game. McKay uses a multitude of techniques to tell the story. There are plenty of fourth-wall breaking moments and monologues, my favorite being Anthony Bourdain using a cooking metaphor to explain the disgusting product that is a Collateralized Debt Obligation. The Big Short 1There are jump cuts, slow motion, foreshadowing and flash backs. The filmmakers use any and all tricks to explain a complicated mess of financial underhandedness in order to help the audience understand, because as our narrator tells us, “Mortgage backed securities, subprime loans, tranches… Pretty confusing right? Does it make you feel bored? Or stupid? Well, it’s supposed to. Wall Street loves to use confusing terms to make you think only they can do what they do. Or even better, for you to leave them the f*** alone.” The banks, mortgage brokers, the credit ratings agencies and the government manipulated people in the nation and world into investing in worthless packages of bonds, and it behooves the director and writer, Adam McKay, to use all cinematic tricks to explain and untangle the financial corruption. The miracle is that the film deciphers the economic melt-down well while entertaining its audience.

The Big Short 3It would probably be a good time to compare this film to two other recent films which addressed similar issues but in very different ways. First you have the over the top Martin Scorsese film, Wolf of Wall Street. That film became known for the number of F-bombs it dropped while attempting to make the world of investing look cool. Then there was the Oscar winning documentary by Charles Ferguson, Inside Job. It had a cool narrator in Matt Damon, but you almost needed a degree in Finance to follow along as they explained the crisis and spoke to experts. I feel like Adam McKay sought to walk a like between these too films, it is not over the top in an attempt to be cool, nor is it preachy and heavy handed. It reminds me of a heist movie in the vein of Ocean’s Eleven, the casino gets taken for all it’s worth, but in the end the house still wins.

The Big Short 4I’ll let you watch the movie for yourself to get to know the awesome characters that McKay develops for us. As a middle-class worker, I could not have less in common with these guys, but dang it if I didn’t feel myself rooting for and empathizing with them. We’ve got a socially backward fund manager who blasts death metal in his office. The two young guys who started on their own fund while they were still in college. Knowing that they are out of their league, they call in the investing giant turned reclusive doomsday-prepper. Then there’s the hedge-fund manager (and his team) with a bad attitude toward banks.

I already mentioned that our tour guide is played by Ryan Gosling, he is a subprime specialist at Deutsche Bank who is certain things will crash. He’s slicker than a used car salesman, but convincing and hilarious. It’s difficult to root for them when that means rooting against the economy and your own wallet. But McKay uses their formidable talents and personalities in such a way that makes it nearly impossible not to.