Sunday, May 8, 2016

Hardcore Henry video review

I have several text reviews coming very soon, but am starting to occasionally experiment with video reviews on YouTube using movie clips and my own narration.  Here's the first one in the form of my thoughts on the recent first-person action film Hardcore Henry.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

'Zootopia' is well-crafted, intelligent, and entertaining

I'll admit that, when I first started hearing about Zootopia, my hopes weren't very high.  Disney making a film consisting entirely of anthropomorphized animals is not a new concept for them, and it's resulted in movies both good (Robin Hood) and bad (Chicken Little).  The advertising did little to sway me, with mostly unimpressive jokes being showcased and nothing indicating that there would be anything original or smart to the film.

This is a case where I was very happy that my expectations were wrong.  I walked out of Zootopia not just feeling entertained, but in some ways shocked.  This turned out to be one of the smartest major animated films I've seen in years, but doesn't do it in a way that will alienate the younger family members Disney cartoons typically draw.  There are still a few drawbacks that prevent it from being a straight-up classic in my book, but it was honestly delightful how much the movie impressed me.

The prologue quickly and humorously sets up the fictional animals-only world, establishing that all the individual species have evolved from their traditional wild behavior to be civilized and cooperative, with predators and prey alike living in peace.  Enthusiastic rabbit Judy Hopps (voiced by Ginnifer Goodwin) has grown up desiring nothing more than to make a difference in the world by becoming a cop, despite skepticism from everyone she knows who doubt a tiny bunny can be effective in law enforcement. 

Judy eventually defies the odds and lands a job in the titular city of Zootopia as the first officer of her species, but it's clear from the start that her grizzled ox chief (Idris Elba, getting to make use of his natural British accent) is dismissive of her, starting her off as a meter maid.  While on duty, she encounters Nick Wilde (Jason Bateman), a street smart fox who makes a living as a con artist.  While Judy is initially unable to get the best of Nick, she is later able to convince the chief to let her investigate the latest in a string of missing animal cases, and tricks Nick into helping her upon realizing he's linked to the victim.  From there, the two visit various distinct districts of the city, learn more about each other, and uncover a threat bigger than they ever expected.

One of the most interesting aspects of Zootopia is the genre classifications it falls into, some of which are uncommon in Disney and animation in general.  You certainly get a lot of expected jokes and plot points based on the unique characteristics of certain species, but Nick and Judy's partnership has echoes of a buddy cop film, and the ever-expanding mystery they're solving results in the closest thing to a cartoon noir since Who Framed Roger Rabbit.  It certainly helps that the leads are entertaining and play off each other great, with good voice acting, animation, and character growth to boot.

Let's get the big thing other reviews have stressed out of the way.  Perhaps the most surprising and impressive aspect of Zootopia's story is the racial subtext.  The film's prologue has characters stressing how the evolved animals have evolved and put their longtime fears and prejudices of certain species aside, but Judy is shunned by her superiors due to her being a smaller and weaker animal, and one of the key factors in Nick's past and present is how people view foxes as untrustworthy.  Even the main threat introduced in the second half goes against the friendly, anthropomorphized characters both conceptually and visually, complete with the villain's motivations driven by prejudice.

It's to the film's credit that this aspect never feels too preachy nor understated, and is executed in a way substantial enough to work for adults and accessible enough to work for kids.  The film does little to sugarcoat this aspect, too, with a flashback sequence showcasing just how nasty prejudices can get, and a general feeling that people will always have built-in views of others based on their race and background, but it's up to individuals to prove those thoughts wrong.  The only issue I ended up having from all this is that it made the absence of minority voice actors for the main cast (Outside of Elba and Shakira in a superfluous background role) all the more odd.

I've noticed that some of Disney's more recent films have had the prerogative of fessing up to the unrealistic plot beats and morals of their older work.  The Princess and the Frog took the wishing on a star cliche and firmly established that its heroine only fulfilled her dream by heavily committing to years of hard work, and Frozen had characters immediately calling out one of its princess leads for getting engaged to a man she barely knew.  Zootopia's overall tone in terms of how its characters view and treat each other is along the same lines, though it feels more like a huge reality check than Disney poking fun at itself (Though there's plenty of that when it comes to individual jokes, but I won't spoil those).

Outside of the core story, Zootopia has many other merits.  The animals are appealingly designed and animated, and the idea of the city being split into distinct districts, like a rainforest full of treehouses and a miniature town for mice where Judy looks gigantic, is great.  The pacing is also marvelous.  The movie reached a point where I assumed it was at least 2/3 through, but when I checked my watch, I realized it was only at the halfway point, yet there was no feeling of dragging at all.  It's nearly impossible for me to find a movie capable of that.

Now that I've listed my praises, it's time to be more critical, because there is a big thing that holds me back from considering this a pure classic, and that's the humor.  There are next to no jokes that fell flat for me, and I got many chuckles, but compared to other animated films, it's certainly lacking in the big laughs department.  The scene with the sloths at the DMV that's been all over the trailers and ads is indeed hysterical, but it's the exception to the rule, and many have already had some of the impact robbed by seeing it beforehand.  If Disney had been willing to commit to a more purely drama-driven film, this would have been a lesser issue, but as is, this aspect feels like one that wasn't a home run the way other parts were.

The climax to the film also feels unsatisfying.  Disney seems to have committed to not properly revealing the villain in their movies until the last act since Wreck-It Ralph and especially Frozen's infamous twist, but it's less shocking here as a result, especially considering that there weren't many characters who could be the villain as well as the culprit's relatively limited screen time beforehand.  I'm definitely ready for Disney to go back to the Jafar or Ursula template and give us a great villain from the start.

Also, without going into spoilers, the climax ends very abruptly.  There's a decent action scene that still feels like the best is being saved for what comes afterwards, then a moment with Nick and Judy trapped in a bad situation by the villain.  Most movies would have them figure a way out then have a big showdown, but the moment they have a solution to this predicament, things are wrapped up in an instant.  Frozen and Big Hero 6 had climaxes that offered good buildup, spectacle, and emotional resonance, and it's a shame that this couldn't follow suit.

Spending three paragraphs discussing my big problems of the film may sound very harsh, but considering that this is already one of my longer reviews and I've had nothing but praise otherwise, I think it's a fair assessment.  Zootopia is still a true achievement for Disney in terms of storytelling and both writing and art direction, with a timely subtext and some genre elements I haven't seen in mainstream animation for ages.  This is one of those animated films that truly can appeal to anyone.

Final score: A high 8 out of 10

Thursday, March 10, 2016

'Deadpool' is unashamedly dirty and clever comic book fun

Comic book movies have never been as prolific or numerous as this current Hollywood climate, and while we've definitely gotten many terrific titles out of it, a growing and certainly valid complaint is that it's becoming harder to find movies that feel truly unique and original, especially considering how much the Marvel Cinematic Universe collection of franchises generally stick to the same tone and style.

As a result, one of the biggest praises Deadpool has received is what a breath of fresh air it is in terms of presentation and tone.  It's raunchy, ridiculous, and unorthodox in many of its storytelling and presentation elements. Thankfully, the film handles these factors in a way that works to its favor, bolstered by great casting and faithfulness to the best aspects of its source material.  There are still some problems that prevent it from matching the best Marvel films in my book, but I still can't deny its enjoyment factor.

The story centers around Wade Wilson (Ryan Reynolds, who also served as one of the producers), a for-hire New York mercenary with good looks but few moral standards.  He falls for Vanessa Carlysle (Morena Baccarin of Homeland and Firefly fame), a gorgeous escort at his local bar who has a similarly dirty mentality, but on the day he finally decides to propose to her, he discovers that he's in the late stages of terminal cancer.

Desperate, Wilson volunteers for an experimental program headed by the shady Francis Freeman (Ed Skrein), as it claims to awaken superpowers in its test subjects as well as healing abilities.  Ultimately, Freeman and company have sinister intentions, and Wilson ends up an unwilling prisoner, resulting in his cancer being cured and him developing advanced healing capabilities, but at the expense of scars and disfiguring all over his body.  While he ultimately escapes, he's hesitant to return to Vanessa due to his appearance, and ultimately decides to focus on getting revenge on his captors under the alias of the masked fighter Deadpool.

The plot's execution is a bit more unorthodox than most action films, as the opening starts in medias res with Deadpool taking on Freeman's thugs, and chooses to alternate between the origin story and present day material throughout the first half. This approach was likely taken to get to the action faster and keep the film from feeling slow, but I found it jarring, especially considering the jokey and frenetic tone of the Deadpool portions and the moodier tone of the Wade Wilson story.  Considering how many other good superhero movies pull off linear origin stories just fine, I wish this film had taken that approach.

Still, Deadpool really nails the feel of pure fun it's clearly aiming for, due to a combination of various elements.  One of the key elements of the source material is that Deadpool is one of the only Marvel characters who's capable of breaking the fourth wall, as he's aware that he's a comic book character and addresses cliches of the medium and even the readers.  This carries over here, with Deadpool speaking to the audience both via narration and looking straight at the camera, even manually moving it offscreen when he considers what he's about to do to a villain too unpleasant to watch.  He also has a knack for pointing out cliches of the genre he's in - I think anyone who views this movie will consciously notice "superhero landings" from now on.

There's also the fact that, even though you root for Wilson, he never comes close to reforming into a genuinely good person.  His motivation is based purely on revenge, and he plays and talks dirty from beginning to end.  One of his earlier jokes has him state that while this is a superhero movie and he has superpowers, he's not a hero at all.  It's to the film crew's credit that I never encountered a spot where Deadpool veered into unlikable territory.

The film has an R rating that is well deserved, as Deadpool has a serious case of sailor mouth, blood flies freely in the action scenes, and the film's method of showing us Wilson and Vanessa bonding is providing a montage of them having sex during numerous holidays.  Other Marvel movies, while boasting PG-13 ratings, have generally been inoffensive and accessible for the 9-and-up crowd, but this is one that unassuming parents should seriously think twice about taking their kids to.

It's also worth noting that, as Fox made this and not Marvel Studios, this is apparently being considered a spinoff of the X-Men film franchise, complete with Colossus (Stefan Kapicic) playing a supporting role, a scene showing their home mansion, and nods to Wolverine and Professor X in some of the more meta jokes.  There are also some jabs at Reynolds' less successful comic book roles, including Green Lantern and a drastically altered version of Deadpool from X-Men Origins: Wolverine, sprinkled throughout.

Though I mentioned the plot shifts in the first half feeling jarring, the film's overall pace is solid, even during a spot two-thirds in when Deadpool has to recuperate for a bit before the final battle. I will say that, while the numerous gags sport few duds, I left wishing there had been more in the way of truly gut-busting and standout moments, rather than just consistent chuckles.  There are certainly some elements this does better than most other films (Without spoiling anything, this may have the best opening credits text I've ever seen), but this ends up being similar to films like The Revenant in that it feels consistently good with no huge peaks or valleys.

Fox definitely took a big risk with Deadpool, considering its focus on adults-only content in a genre loved by many age groups, but it's one that paid off, as the movie really runs with its insane nature and makes the most of it.  Both Ryan Reynolds and first-time director Tim Miller leave the impression that they wanted to make something unique and unashamed of itself, and it's to their credit that, for all the crassness and juvenile humor, the movie didn't feel excessive to me. A more conventional narrative structure and some truly outstanding individual moments would help elevate the already-confirmed sequel for me, but there's no denying that I had a great time with this film.

Final score: A high 7 out of 10

Monday, March 7, 2016

'Kung Fu Panda 3' is a fun trilogy capper

While we certainly have animated film franchises that have reached trilogy status, such as Shrek, Ice Age, and soon Despicable Me, the only one at this point that film critics generally agree was great all the way through is the Toy Story series.  Shrek and Ice Age lost a lot of goodwill with audiences due to lousy later entries, but from my point of view, Toy Story is a series that actually seemed to get better as it progressed, expanding on its characters and ideas in both funny and emotional ways.

Kung Fu Panda 3 may finally cement Dreamworks' popular series as the second animated trilogy where all three entries are genuinely good.  It still has some drawbacks that ultimately prevent it from completely reaching the standards of its predecessors, but it retains many of the series qualities in both its writing and direction, and feels like a genuine progression of the story rather than a rehash.

The titular panda Po (voiced by Jack Black) starts the film continuing to be both the heroic warrior and the excitable kid at heart audiences love him for, but is thrown for a loop when his longtime mentor Shifu (Dustin Hoffman) retires and appoints Po as the new teacher for his fellow warriors, hoping for him to learn the ins and outs of mentoring himself.

Things get even more complicated when Li Shan (Bryan Cranston), a visitor to the noodle shop of Po's longtime adoptive goose father Mr. Ping (James Hong) turns out to be Po's biological father, and he soon leaves his village to discover the hidden colony of pandas Li calls home, as well as learn more about his origins.  The fun is cut short, though, as the formidable ox warrior Kai (J.K. Simmons) has escaped from the afterlife and is bent on capturing the world's kung fu masters and creating an army from their chi, or spirit energy.  Po realizes he needs to learn more about chi if he wants to stand a chance, as well as figure out how to teach the village of clumsy pandas how to defend themselves.

The previous Kung Fu Panda films offered wonderful animation and art direction, and that tradition continues here, with smartly designed characters and environments, stylized angles and lighting at the right moments, and intricate fight scenes that take full advantage of the limitless camera opportunities 3D animation provides.  The film also does a good job of continuing to offer some witty and well-timed moments of humor (Though for some reason, the advertising for this series has always done a poor job of showcasing that aspect), especially in the first half.

However, there are some more noticeable flaws this time around.  The first two films did a great job with their villains, giving them tragic backstories that made them feel their actions were justified rather than being evil for no reason.  I was excited when I heard J.K. Simmons would be playing Kai, as anyone who saw Whiplash knows he's a great choice for intimidating villains, but the character barely registers here.  His backstory is flimsy, his personality is generic, and his screen time is limited.  The more supernatural approach he takes when fighting makes for some cool moments, but the character still feels like a missed opportunity.  The majority of the panda villagers are also mostly one-trick ponies, usually providing a recurring joke and little else.  Even ribbon dancer Mei Mei (Kate Hudson) doesn't develop or contribute much to the story, despite getting a lot of attention in promotional materials.

On the plus side, Li, the most important of the new characters, is handled great.  I went in assuming that, due to the casting of an actor best known for Walter White, he would be a no-nonsense and dull character, but he's lively, lovable, and plays off the leads wonderfully.  You can completely see Po being like him in a couple of decades, and it feels like Cranston had a ton of fun voicing the role.  I was also worried the film would make some bad decisions in terms of the relationship Po had with Mr. Ping with the discoveries here, but the growing relationship between the two fathers is handled well, and Ping actually ends up having his most prominent role in the series yet.

As far as the other big flaws go, while the first two films kept their momentum strong all the way through, I think the second half of this entry isn't as funny or clever as the first.  There's also a definite lack of hard-hitting emotional moments the prior entries were so good at (I'd cite Shifu's fight with Tai Lung in the first film and Po's flashback in the second film as the best examples of this), and the stakes don't feel as personal or important.  I will say that it's nice that the film found a way to bring back the long-departed character of Oogway in some scenes, and Shifu, my favorite character in the series, gets some more screen time here compared to the meager focus he received in the second entry.

These issues may make it sound like the film was a major disappointment for me, but I actually still ended up having a very good time.  Kids and families who don't prioritize these elements as much will have a wonderful time with Kung Fu Panda 3, those who love the effort put into animation will still have plenty to marvel at, and for all its flaws, the story feels like a genuine and natural progression rather than a retread.  I walked out of this far more satisfied than How to Train Your Dragon 2, which felt like it was just spinning its wheels for most of the story.

I will say that the series has been a case of diminishing returns for me at this point, as I loved the first, enjoyed the second slightly less, and this less than the second.  While the ending hardly does anything to wrap up the potential for more sequels, I do think it would be smart of Dreamworks to leave well enough alone at this point before things possibly get dire.  We don't need a modern-day Shrek the Third.

Final score: A high 7 out of 10

Saturday, February 13, 2016

'Norm of the North' is a dull and lazy animated effort

While the amount of animation studios putting out theatrical films feels larger than ever, it's still pretty common for people to feel that Disney and Pixar remain the kings in terms of overall quality.  Dreamworks seems to have dipped in overall quality and popularity in recent years, Blue Sky Studios has done a great job with The Peanuts Movie and little else, and while films like Minions certainly do well with the younger crowd and box office returns, films that reach the generation-crossing success of recent hits like Inside Out and Frozen are still few and far between.

Norm of the North does nothing to change this.  In fact, this is a case where I'm baffled a film ended up in wide theatrical release instead of simply going straight to video or digital outlets.  I always seem to see obscure and usually lousy-looking cartoons like this every time I visit a Redbox kiosk.  Ironically, I recall several of them boasting Rob Schneider as one of the main voice actors, and he voices the titular character here.  Then again, maybe it's not so ironic considering the movie's quality.

Norm is a polar bear who's spent his whole life in the Arctic, but has trouble fitting in due to sympathizing with the animals he tries to hunt.  Early on, Norm stumbles across a film crew attempting to shoot a promotional video for possible condos in the area, but with the rest of the animals doubting his warnings, he decides to sneak on the crew's ship back to New York City in hopes of convincing their boss Mr. Greene (Ken Jeong) to leave his home alone, as he conveniently has inherited the gift to speak to humans from his missing grandfather.

As it turns out, Greene and his assistant Vera (Heather Graham) are now interested in creating an ad campaign revolving around a polar bear after seeing Norm in some of their Arctic footage, and everyone who sees Norm conveniently believes he's a human actor in a very convincing bear suit.  Norm plays along with the idea and is able to convince Greene to hire him for the campaign with the hope of ultimately spreading his message of Arctic preservation when he's at his most prolific, thanks in part to a dance routine of his own creation called the Arctic Shake.

Summing up the plot to this film sounds less like the plot to a real movie and more like a fever dream.  The film never provides a good answer as to why Greene thinks anybody would want to live on an Arctic glacier, and when Norm later discovers that his employer has had his grandfather secretly locked up, the only explanation the grandfather gives is, "This is what happens when you try to deal with Wall Street fat cats!", and the movie leaves it at that.  The story also attempts to garner sympathy for Vera, repeatedly stating that her intelligent daughter Olympia (Maya Kay) can only get into a good school with Greene's approval.  Olympia isn't in the film enough to gather any audience attachment, and when Vera inevitably has a change of heart and goes against Greene's greedy wishes, the last scene lets us know that Olympia ended up in the school anyway because she was just that smart.  Good to know that plot thread meant nothing.

The other characters do nothing to grab audiences, either.  I'll admit that Schneider's voice is actually a good fit for Norm, but his wisecracks aren't funny, and he has little else to offer.  As Greene, Jeong mostly screeches and flails his way through the movie as the most one-dimensional villain imaginable.  The main source of comic relief comes from three lemmings who tag along with Norm, and they contribute nothing besides squeaking gibberish, lazy slapstick, and toilet humor.  In an early scene where Norm is in Greene's waiting room, the lemmings spot a fish tank, and take the opportunity to run up and relieve themselves.  The movie then essentially pauses for 20 seconds to show all the characters observing the peeing lemmings, then the movie continues as if nothing happened.

There are other moments like that that caused me to think, "What am I watching?" in sheer bewilderment, but they aren't frequent.  For the most part, the movie is just boring and lazy.  Everything in this has either been handled better in other animated films or is just a bad idea conceptually.  Even the overall look of the film feels half-baked.  The designs for Norm and other animals are serviceable, but the human characters are generally unpleasant to look at, and the amount of detail put into the models and environments feels closer to TV standards than a feature film.

When I saw this on opening night, there were only about 15 people in the theater.  Before it ended, 5 of them had walked out, including young kids, the only audience who could possibly find enjoyment in a movie like this.  There are many, many other terrible things about it that I didn't even mention, because pointing out everything wrong in Norm of the North would take an essay rather than a standard review.  I will attempt that there were two or three jokes that I found decent, and the film ultimately isn't going to go down as one of the biggest travesties ever in my book, but it's still probably the weakest theatrical animated film I've seen in ages, and with Kung Fu Panda 3 now in theaters, there is literally no reason to give it a moment of your time.

Final score: 4 out of 10

Saturday, January 30, 2016

'The Revenant' is an intricate and harsh survival story

Mexican film director Alejandro G. Inarritu garnered a lot of attention with his 2014 Oscar winner Birdman, and has not taken long to craft a wholly different type of movie with The Revenant. The film, based on the novel of the same name which was in turn inspired by true events, boasts two of Hollywood's biggest actors, some impressive filmmaking techniques, and a harsh, gritty story that has recently received several Oscar nominations.  The film's still received a decent amount of negative reviews, though, and as a result, I walked into it hoping for the best, but with no idea what I'd think.

Now that I've seen the movie and let it sink in for a few days, I can say that I definitely enjoyed it overall.  There are certainly aspects that I think could have been handled better or expanded on, but the movie still managed to never have a spot that didn't work for me.  It doesn't strive to be as witty as Birdman or to barrage you with constant action (Though when it does, it delivers), but it's still shot, performed, and paced in a way that makes it consistently engaging.

The story takes place in the Louisiana wilderness during the winter of 1823, and primarily focuses on Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio), part of a group of hunters for hire trying to gather and eventually sell animal pelts.  Tagging along is Hawk (Forrest Goodluck), his half-Native American son who he is close with.  Shortly after being forced to make an impromptu flee when a group of local Natives ambush their camp, Glass attempts to provide the remaining men directions back to their outpost, but is savagely attacked by a grizzly bear while alone, resulting in wounds so severe he can neither walk nor talk.

The group attempts to continue their journey with Glass in a stretcher, but it becomes obvious that keeping him mobile is slowing them down in a dangerous area.  Eventually, Hawk, the young Jim Bridger (Will Poulter), and the hotheaded hunter John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy) agree to stay behind and protect Glass for increased pay.  As it soon turns out, Fitzgerald has his own plans, and a series of events leads to Glass being betrayed and left for dead, with Fitzgerald and Poulter heading back claiming that he died while in their care.

Glass eventually forces himself to move and do his best to both recover and survive, and while the film still shows us what the rest of the group and even the natives are dealing with, the majority of the story revolves around Glass figuring out ways to traverse the wilderness and fend for himself in an effort to get back to his base and exact revenge.

It's interesting that this is the film that people are wanting DiCaprio to finally get an Oscar for, because outside of the first and last half hours, he actually says very little.  The movie feels like it relies more on his body language and the world around him than anything else, which may surprise some.  Thankfully, the world presented here is as beautiful as it is dangerous.  Inarritu both shot on location and made use of natural lighting, which must have been a nightmare to do, but pays off with a world that feels very real (Outside of animals, as the bear and a few other creatures are done via surprisingly subpar CG).

It certainly feels like more of a gritty survivalist tale than a character study, too.  Even when he speaks, Glass has no truly memorable characteristics, and while Hardy acts as well as you'd expect, Fitzgerald feels like someone who's perpetually nasty and little else.  And yet I still found myself engaged from beginning to end, something that even great movies can't always do for me.  I'll admit that the film doesn't have any moments that stand out to me as true highlights, but it also lacks moments I disliked.  It's simply good in a consistent and steady manner.

The movie has some more outlandish moments when we get inside Glass's head to see some dreams and visions, but they're either too short or too straightforward to really take you out of the movie, something I thought Shutter Island, another DiCaprio flick, was very guilty of when it took the same approach.  I will admit that the very end of the film unfortunately feels a little vague even after the main conflict is wrapped up, though.

The Revenant is one of those films that, despite getting a wide release, feels like a project the director wanted to do rather than one to appease mass audiences and executives.  This approach doesn't always work for me, but it generally paid off here.  The best way to sum it up is that it's ultimately less of a film that you watch and more one that you experience, and I'd definitely recommend seeing it in a theater for the atmosphere alone.  This certainly makes it a film that's not for everybody, but it's one that I enjoyed, and I think those who are the right audience will find a lot to like here.

Final score: A high 7 out of 10

Thursday, January 14, 2016

'The Big Short' is well-made, but not for everyone

I've never had a moviegoing experience quite like The Big Short.  I'm not referring to it being unbelievably great, unbeliveably bad, or surreal and nonsensical to the point that it's incomprehensible.  This is the first time I ever had watching a movie that I walked out feeling woefully uneducated about regarding its subject matter.  I can confirm that the film has good acting, writing, and pacing, but the final product may sound like a foreign film without subtitles to people with little knowledge of the event it chronicles.

Taking place from 2005 to 2008 and based on real people's stories, the film chronicles various characters who are among the first to predict the 2008 financial crisis and resulting recession. Michael Burry (Christian Bale), a quirky fund manager, is the first to figure things out upon analyzing various factors in the housing market, and decides to use the situation to his advantage by investing in bets against the then-booming industry.  Jared Vennett (Ryan Gosling), a keen trader, consequently hears about Burry's actions and decides to follow suit, teaming up with troubled financial manager Mark Baum (Steve Carrell) and his workers to also profit.

Baum is less easygoing about the situation, though, as he gradually finds out that numerous companies and employees are manipulating the industry and their customers for personal gain, which ends up being a key factor in the collapse.  Baum has a vendetta to try and make a difference in the world after suffering a personal tragedy, resulting in him being the most conflicted character when the inevitable begins to happen.  The other key characters, two upstart investors named Charlie Geller (John Magaro) and Jamie Shipley (Finn Wittrock), also pull a similar scheme with help from financial veteran Ben Rickert (Brad Pitt), and experience a similar ethical and emotional dilemma when the full weight of the situation hits them.

The first thing to get out of the way is that The Big Short has been billed as a comedy-drama hybrid, both in marketing and by other critics.  Its director, Adam McKay, has previously made nothing but broad comedies like Anchorman, lending credibility to this opinion.  Maybe I'm in the minority, but this movie came off to me as a straight drama with the occasional funny line.  McKay admittedly showed hints of an interest regarding its subject material with one of the plot points in 2010's The Other Guys, but here he fully embraces it.  I don't think he made the film wanting people to just laugh and have a good time, but to expose the underhanded behavior that causes catastrophes like the crash to happen.

The key element I hinted at earlier comes from the fact that, for people who aren't already fairly knowledgeable about the concepts this movie delves into, this is not the most accessible film.  The amount of insider terms thrown around that drive the plot forward is very heavy in volume, and even though there are moments dedicated to explaining some key concepts, I still couldn't wrap my head around most of this movie.  In terms of character focus, fans of Bale and Pitt should be aware that Bale's subplot gets the least amount of attention, and Pitt is in the movie for about 5 minutes total mostly talking through phones and laptops.

What's unfortunate is that I can tell The Big Short is pretty solid otherwise.  The dialog and acting are good and everything's well-shot.  There are some clever mechanics, like Gosling's character routinely breaking the fourth wall and narrating to the camera, as well as cutaways to familiar faces like Margot Robbie and Anthony Bourdain directly explaining concepts to the audience in self-contained scenes.  This is one of those occasions that I can still consider a film good despite not being able to enjoy it myself.

Even though I had a bad experience with The Big Short due to not being the right audience for its subject material, I still think many people would like it.  Teens who walk in because they laughed at Ron Burgundy's goofy antics in McKay's previous work will likely be bored to tears, but the director is clearly branching out with this effort, which I respect immensely.  It's ultimately a film for both older audiences and anyone who is interested and knowledgable about the industries involved in it, but I walked away feeling that it's one of the more niche films I've seen in recent memory despite its mainstream cast and presentation.

Final score: 6 out of 10