Blu-ray / DVD: Oscar winner ‘The Big Short’ and Guy Maddin’s ‘Forbidden Room’

Big ShortThe Big Short (Paramount, Blu-ray, DVD, VOD) – Adam McKay is not necessarily the guy you look to for dramatic outrage at the greed and failure behind the economic collapse of the last decade. He is, after all, the director who guided Will Ferrell through such comedies as Anchorman, Talladega Nights, and The Other Guys. Yet here he is, adapting Michael Lewis’ nonfiction book on the reasons behind the financial collapse and coming away with a hit movie, five Academy Award nominations, and an Oscar win for Best Adapted Screenplay (shared with Charles Randolph).

The Big Short is serious and angry. It’s also very funny, which is its secret weapon. What’s a subprime mortgage? Here’s Margot Robbie in a bubble bath to explain it to you. Need to explain what a CBO is without driving audiences away? How about Selena Gomez at a casino?

In the hands of McKay and his co-conspirators, the financial fraud of the 2000s is nothing short of a criminal farce with dire consequences. For us, that is, not the folks who perpetrated the crisis out of greed, criminal neglect, and reckless abandon. In this company of thieves and accomplices, the heroes of this story are a few men who saw through the façade and proceeded to bet against the house. They are, of course, outliers with idiosyncrasies.

Christian Bale is Dr. Michael Burry, a genius on the autism spectrum who doesn’t get sarcasm and fights anxiety with death metal. Steve Carell is Mark Baum, the outraged, angry head of a small investment team whose social skills are only slightly better than Burry’s. Brad Pitt is Ben Rickert, a disillusioned trader intrigued by the findings of two young guys (Finn Wittrock and John Magaro) with a private investment fund. These guys, independently of one another, figured out that the so-called Triple AAA mortgage bonds were built on a foundation of ready to collapse at the first tremor of panic.

Ryan Gosling is the junior Gordon Gekko who narrates the story and provides color commentary with a cynical wit. A slick suit with a feral bloodlust for money, he’s not like these outsiders who, to some degree or another, are appalled at the degree of corruption and lack of accountability they discover in their respective campaigns of due diligence. He’s just a man who smells profit and signs up for his share, but it also makes him an effective master of ceremonies. He’s got no illusions to be shattered, which makes his incredulity all the more effective.

BigShort

Let’s be clear: the characters of The Big Short are constructs with no dimension beyond their surface quirks and McKay, who has the chops for ensemble comedy and visual humor, hasn’t any idea how to stage or shoot a dramatic scene. This isn’t a film so much as an illustrated screenplay sustained by screen personalities and directorial momentum.

Given that, The Big Short is the film that we needed at this time. Its star power alone brings in folks who wouldn’t think of watching a documentary, and the jumpy pace and steady laughs are just the thing to pull viewers through the arcane details of the investment business to understand how it fell apart. At least in its broad strokes. You may not remember all the economic details once the film is over but you should come away with a sense of outrage, a checklist of those responsible, and a realization that the marketplace is not some pure self-correcting financial ecosystem but a free-for-all built on greed, faith, blind obedience, ignorance, and a disturbing lack of accountability. That the film has you laughing instead of crying is bonus.

The Blu-ray edition includes five featurettes and bonus copies of the film on DVD and Ultraviolet Digital HD.

ForbiddenRoomThe Forbidden Room (Kino Lorber, Blu-ray, DVD, Netflix) – Canadian iconoclast Guy Maddin has been making strange, surreal films that evoke the images and storytelling traditions of silent movies for decades. The Forbidden Room (2015), which he co-directed with his former student Evan Johnson, is like a compendium of his obsessions and cinematic fetishes. It opens on a mock-instructional film on “How to Take a Bath,” shifts to a submarine trapped at the bottom of the sea where a lumberjack (Roy Dupuis) inexplicably appears, shifts to his story of a feral forest adventure and a damsel in distress, who finds herself transported to an exotic nightclub out of an old Hollywood movie, and so on.

The film arose from a project called “Séances,” a museum installation at the Centre George Pompidou in Paris where he “remade” lost films and unfinished projects from the silent and early sound era. The Forbidden Room, partly shot concurrently with that project, is a collection of scenes and movie clichés reworked with campy exaggeration and absurd, cartoonish twists. Shot on a minimal budget, with a production design that favors ingenuity and creativity and a cast that includes such major European actors as Geraldine Chaplin, Mathieu Amalric, Udo Kier, and recent Oscar nominee Charlotte Rampling (some of them in multiple roles), it has a whimsical, absurdist sense of humor. The actors engage in the exaggerated performance style of silent movie melodramas and comedies and Maddin digitally “ages” his films with scuffs and scratches and cracks and even distorted frames as if they were from decaying nitrate prints from the 1920s. Those distortions are given a life of their own with his digital tools and even become cinematic devices of their own, morphing from one image to another as if released by the ghosts of early cinema.

The result is something that defies explanation, let alone description. Maddin make no effort to make sense of any of it, or even worry about any kind of dramatic closure. It’s all about the texture, the weirdness, the quality of the cinematic moment. This is not for audiences who demand story and character and narrative logic. But if you can put expectations aside and lose yourself in the ravishing dreamscapes and absurd situations that Maddin creates on his tiny stages with his mad collaborators, you’ll discover a cinematic experience like no other.

Blu-ray and DVD with filmmaker commentary, two featurettes, and a bonus short, plus a booklet.

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New Release: ‘Drive,’ He Said

Drive (Sony), the sleek pulp crime cool-meets-art-house​ style thriller starring Ryan Gosling as a taciturn getaway driver, was an Oscar favorite when it debuted in the fall. Directed by Nicolas Winding Refn (a veteran of gritty, brutal Danish underworld dramas) with a silky smoothness and a stylized cool that recalls “Le Samourai” and Walter Hill’s “The Driver,” and an eighties vibe and neon palette that channels such films as “To Live and Die in L.A.” and “Thief,” it’s a film that celebrates — one might say revels in — the pulp mythology of existential anti-heroes and criminal chivalry and street opera tragedy of American movies. But most of all, it is a movie that enjoys being a movie.

Gosling is the unnamed anti-hero (he’s just The Driver, a genre convention the film wears like a badge), introduced to us by way of his unfazed professionalism as the wheelman-for-hire successfully transporting his latest clients from a sloppy heist.  He’s a pro defined by talent, confidence and complete self-possession, living a simple life by rules he doesn’t break for anyone. Until, of course, he falls for a pretty young neighbor (Carey Mulligan) raising a son while her husband is in prison.

Refn, working from a stripped-down script by Hossein Amini, melds American and European sensibilities, offering a grim fairy tale for the small-time operators of the Los Angeles underworld and the innocents in the orbit, complete with Gosling as the enigmatic street prince whose chivalry is rekindled when he falls for a princess (Mulligan) and battles the underworld dragons (Albert Brooks and Ron Perlman).

Why it was left in the dust is something of a mystery, even with the critical backlash against its neon noir stylings and romanticized gangster movie tropes.

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‘The Ides of March’ – Videodrone’s New Release of the Week

George Clooney seems born to the mantle of presidential candidate in The Ides of March (Sony), a political drama loosely inspired by the Howard Dean presidential campaign and adapted from the play “Farrugut North” by Clooney (who also directs) and his producing partner Grant Heslov. He’s confident, cool, charming and looks every inch the telegenic veteran politician navigating the turbulent waters of the modern election cycle.

But while Clooney is the bedrock of the film, Ryan Gosling is the star as the passionate campaign operative who is as dedicated as he is savvy. This driven, clever young man is a brilliant electioneer who is also a true believer, which is also his weakness when he becomes disillusioned in his candidate and in the campaign process.

Unfortunately, the film’s portrait of a cynical political landscape and idealized political figures with all-too-human failings doesn’t tell us anything we haven’t seen play out in real life in even that past few months, and the dramatic revelations lack the weight of tragic flaws that drive Gosling’s character to takes such career-threatening risks. It’s ultimately less political thriller or election allegory than morality play in partisan dress.

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The Best of Ryan Gosling

2011 is shaping up to be Ryan Gosling’s year. He played yin to Steve Carrell’s yang in Crazy, Stupid, Love., a man whose quiet confidence fills any room he enters, and followed it with an even more taciturn performance as a 21st-century Steve McQueen in Drive. Still to come is The Ides of March, playing the political advisor willing to do anything for his candidate (George Clooney).

Not bad for a kid who got his start on The All New Mickey Mouse Club alongside the much showier talents of Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera and Justin Timberlake. Where they went big, Gosling went small. I’m not talking success, mind you, but style. Ryan Gosling is a minimalist, the person on screen doing the least amount of “acting” while commanding the most attention. This year, he’s finally getting the attention he deserves and it’s been a long time coming. Here’s our list of the defining roles that brought Gosling from bubblegum Mouseketeer to one of the most respected actors of his generation.

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“Blue Valentine” – Anatomy of an Unraveling Marriage

Love is blue

Blue Valentine (Anchor Bay)

Michelle Williams, passed over at Oscar nomination for Wendy and Lucy last year, finally got her deserving nomination for Best Actress for her emotionally naked performance in Blue Valentine, opposite an equally intense and committed Ryan Gosling as young marrieds in an unraveling relationship.

Director Derek Cianfrance, who extensively used improvisations to create a spontaneity, intercuts his anatomy of the end of a marriage with flashbacks to the excitement and anticipation and hope of the beginning of the relationship, and shoots it all with a handheld camera that, which is more distracting that immediate and “real.” But it does create a crucible for very powerful performances and a convincing relationship in all its contradictions.

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