Weekend Reading: January 15, 2016

Screening Room: ‘The Big Short’

thebigshort1When the housing market bubble started to implode back in 2007 and 2008, precipitating the latest financial crisis, it came as a surprise to much of the world. Michael Lewis’s book The Big Short tells the story of the analysts who saw the implosion coming and discovered that nobody wanted to hear about it. Adam McKay’s film adaptation is an awesomely angry screwball satire of the apocalyptic and short-sighted stupidity that lead to the crisis.

Big-short-inside-the-doomsday-machineThe Big Short opens in limited release today, then everywhere Christmas week. My review is at PopMatters:

So who blew up the economy back in 2007? One answer that’s often shouted on talk radio and social media is a moralistic tale about how poor (minority) folks took out mortgages they couldn’t afford, which caused the financial collapse, after which sober-minded middle-class (white) taxpayers had to pay for all those bad mortgages by bailing out the banks. It’s the Ant and the Grasshopper fable re-engineered with Tea Party fury.

Adam McKay’s blistering, righteously funny The Big Short offers another answer…

Here’s the trailer:

New on DVD: ‘Life Itself’

The writer at rest: 'Life Itself' (Magnolia Pictures)
The writer at rest: ‘Life Itself’ (Magnolia Pictures)

One of the better documentaries that ever-so-briefly graced screens in 2014 was Life Itself. Directed by Steve James (Hoop Dreams) and based in part on Roger Ebert’s memoir, the film is a fascinating and curiously life-affirming story about ambition, creativity, and getting on with things.

lifeitself-posterLife Itself is available on DVD today; my review is at Film Racket:

James takes Ebert’s 2011 memoir as his source document. From there we get Ebert’s memories of growing up as a precociously verbal only child in downstate Illinois. (“My mother supported me like I was the local sports team.”) He describes himself as not just a born writer but a born journalist. This was not a kid who wanted to just write for high-brow publications. He wanted to be read and heard by as many people as possible. Thus the career that arced from working-class daily paper to syndicated TV show and appearances on Carson and Letterman. When called upon he could pen a learned piece for Film Comment (as he did in response to a Richard Corliss piece that called him out as an egregious “thumbs up/thumbs down” simplifier and bottom-racer). But as much as he admired the Pauline Kaels and Andrew Sarrises of the world, that was never going to be him…

Here’s the trailer:

Department of Shameless Self-Promotion: ‘Eyes Wide Open: 2014’

Eyes Wide Open coverFor the third year running, I’ve published an annual guide (sort of) to the year that was, cinematically speaking.

The 2014 Eyes Wide Open is collected like the last couple of editions, in that it starts off with pieces covering each of my 25 favorite movies of the year, then laying into the year’s 5 worst films, rounding it all off with some shorter honorable mention pieces, DVD reviews, and other ephemera.

It’s available as a paperback here and an ebook here.

Screening Room: Tom Hardy in ‘Locke’

Tom Hardy in 'Locke' (A24)
Tom Hardy in ‘Locke’ (A24)

In the summer of 2014, a little film named Locke came and went from a few cinemas in an eyeblink. It’s not hard on the surface to see why: The secretive trailer promises only a one-man show: Tom Hardy in a car for about an hour-and-a-half, grousing and pleading on the phone. Just as audiences failed to find it, the Golden Globes also ignored the film, as most likely the Oscars will too.

Do yourself a favor and check out Locke, which is available on DVD and VOD now. My review is at Short Ends and Leader:

The prospect of spending an hour and a half with an actor in a car while they sweet-talk and argue with people on the phone would normally be straight tedium … But when the actor is Tom Hardy, it’s a different story. In Steven Knight’s spellbinding Locke, Hardy darts through the tense screenplay with such graceful ease that his work feels more like something lived than performed. By the time this downbeat nail-biter is done, it feels justified to finally go ahead and say that Hardy is easily one of the greatest actors of his generation…

Here’s the trailer:

Department of Shameless Self-Promotion: ‘Eyes Wide Open 2013’

'Upstream Color': One of the year's best movies that didn't make it onto the Oscar shortlist
‘Upstream Color’: One of the year’s great movies that didn’t make it onto the Oscar shortlist

Just in time for the upcoming Academy Awards but way too late for the SAG Awards, Golden Globes, and just about every movie awards ceremony that means anything, here comes the newest iteration of my now-annual Best-Of and Worst-Of compilation: Eyes Wide Open 2013: The Year’s 25 Greatest Movies (and 5 Worst).

Eyes_Wide_Open_2013-_Cover_for_KindleThe title should be basically self-explanatory, but here’s the gist of it: I pulled together what I thought were the 25 best films from 2013—trying best as I could to cover the gamut from the awards magnets that actually deserved the accolades like 12 Years a Slave to lesser-seen fare like Stories We TellUpstream Color, and A Touch of Sin. I also threw in some other odds and ends like notable DVD reviews, shorter appreciations of great movies that didn’t get into the top 25, great quotes, and of course, the year’s 5 worst films.

2013 was a good year all in all, so the 25 best was much harder to compile than the 5 worst. A nice surprise, for once.

You can buy the book now either in handy-dandy ebook formats here and here. There’s also a paperback edition available here.