The Big Short

Reviewed by Larry Gleeson. Viewed during the AFI Filmfest 2015.

“The Big Short,”  directed by Adam McKay, based on the book by Michael Lewis, was adapted by McKay and Charles Randolph  and made its world premiere Thursday, November 12, 2015 at the historic TCL Grauman’s Chinese Theater as the closing night film for the latest edition of the American Film Institute’s AFI FEST film festival.

The film’s narrative is driven by four cynical, fringe Wall Street entities disgusted with the large banking institutions’ overriding greed for profits. They make the decision to capitalize on the ensuing housing market calamity and the financial meltdown of 2008 upon discovering the market frenzy is being driven by worthless “dog shit” collateral debt obligations.

McKay chooses to inject a significant dose of humor in the early scenes to condition the audience receptors for what they are about to experience. Utilizing the Martin Scorsese docu-drama style in a similar setting with “Wolf of Wall Street,” a strong narrative voice dominates particular moments. Several of these deliberately break the ‘Fourth Wall” in the style of “Wolfie,” Jordan Belfort,  as the characters, including a hilarious cameo by Selena Gomez, speak directly into the camera to explain the complexities of Wall Street financials. The overall effect adds additional humor and adds another layer in creating a sense of authenticity and truth about the film’s subject matter.

After a rather lengthy dizzying, yet delightful, character introduction, the film picks up pace as the drama begins to unfold. Dr. Michael Burry, an eccentric financial analyst, with complete autonomy of an investment fund, uncovers variables in his economic forecast indicating a massive housing market collapse.  He informs his higher up, Lawrence Fields, played convincingly by Tracy Letts, of his discovery and creates a financial prospectus. In essence, he creates a commodity of selling short on bundled mortgages.

The bankers laugh as they willingly sell Burry all the “insurance” he wants. Word quickly spreads of Burry’s perceived madness in a after-work cocktail scene. With interest piqued upon overhearing the Wall Street gossip of the day, Jarred Bennett, portrayed by Ryan Gosling, scoops up the essence of Burry’s move. Soon, he sells a group led by Steve Carell’s all-too-human, Mark Baum to buy in.

As the debacle is in full free-fall, Baum struggles with disbelief as he and his group have bet against their own umbrella entity, Morgan Stanley. The final team that has uncovered the impending financial crisis, made up of two Wall Street neophytes and veteran Ben Rickert, played by one of the film’s producers, Brad Pitt, also struggles with the imploding financial system caused by corporate greed and indifference.

With a mammoth cast, McKay draws on a plethora of talent in the likes of Hollywood A-listers including Brad Pitt, Ryan Gosling, Selena Gomez, Christian Bale, Karen Gillan Steve Carell, Marisa Tomei, Melissa Leo and Finn Wittrock. McKay and Randolph create characters with witty dialogue coupled with complementary cinematography provided by Barry Ackroyd. The soundtrack carries a similar tone of “Wolf of Wall Street,” with a compilation of classic rock anthems. Nicholas Britell widely recognized for his work on Steve McQueen’s “12 Years a Slave,” where Britell composed on set the on-screen violin performances, work songs, dances and spiritual songs rarely misses a beat this time out. Much like another AFI FEST 2015 film, “The Clan,” Argentina’s official entry to the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences Best Foreign Language Category for Oscar, “The Big Short,” musical score is often in juxtaposition to the the narrative and mise-en-scen adding a deeper visceral quality to the viewing experience.

In its most basic essence, “The Big Short,” builds on the visceral truth of Scorsese’s “Wolf of Wall Street.” It depicts a not-so-long-ago present where a noble ideal, making home ownership a reality for Americans, is bastardized by the indifferent market forces of capitalism. Probably not what Adam Smith had in mind when he penned his treatise, “The Wealth of Nations.” Warmly Recommended.


That’s A Wrap: AFI FEST 2015

AFI FEST Film Festival 2015 Wrap-up

by Larry Gleeson

Closing down this year’s American Film Institute Festival on Thursday, it’s hard not to imagine what might have been. The closing night film, The Big Short, drew an at-capacity crowd as Director Adam McKey took a few moments to introduce his star-studded cast. True to form, McKay bantered playfully with Ryan Gossling by saying how nice it was to finally meet him. Afterwards the audience was treated to a real big-screen viewing in the historic Hollywood TLC Grauman’s Chinese Theater.


The night before The Big Short, gala goers were treated to a Tribute to Brits, Charlotte Rampling and Tom Courtenay: followed by a screening of Andrew Haigh’s “45 Years.”


Award winners for this years AFI FEST include:
New Auteurs Grand Jury Award:  LAND AND SHADE (Director César Augusto Acevedo) for its visual eloquence and its observations of environmental degradation and economic exloitation.

Special Jury Mention for Screenplay: DESDE ALLÁ (Director/writer Lorenzo Vigas) for its keen insights into the alienation, social divides and overriding need for control that allows love to flourish and die.

World Cinema Audience Award: LANDFILL HARMONIC (Directors Brad Allgood, Graham Townsley, Juliana Penaranda-Loftus)

New Auteurs Audience Award: MUSTANG (Director Deniz Gamze Ergüven)

American Independents Audience Award: JAMES WHITE (Director Josh Mond)

Screen Shot 2015-11-16 at 10.31.37 PM
(Photo courtesy of AFI FEST 2015)

Other films I found interesting all came from the World Cinema category and included: “Dheepan,” a story of a Sri Lankan man who with an unknown woman and child, flees to France to start a new life. “Dheepan,” was directed by Jacques Audiard, known for his prison drama, “The Prophet,” and “Rust and Bone,” a melodrama; “The Clan,” an Argentinian film based on the real life events of the Puccio family during the early 1980’s is Argentina’s Official entry to The Academy’s Best Foreign Language Film category; and “The Gulls,” a cinematic treat from an otherwise barren region.

Until next time….I’ll see you at the movies!



Grace Tame with “45 Years” Charlotte Rampling


Grace Lauren Tame (pictured above) came out Wednesday evening, November 11, 2015 on the Red Carpet at TCL Grauman’s historic Hollywood Chinese Theater. Here is a live clip of Grace with lead actress Charlotte Rampling from the film “45 Years.” (Review) AFI FEST 2015 TRIBUTE: Grace Lauren Tame Live with Charlotte Rampling: 


Son Of Saul

(From right to left, Actor Geza Rohrig, Director Lazlo Nemes, and Santa Barbara International Film Festival Executive Director, Roger Durling immediately following the screening of Son of Saul, at the Riviera Theater in Santa Barbara, Calif. Photo by William Conlin. Courtesy of Santa Barbara International Film Festival)

After missing Son of Saul during the American Film Institute’s 2015 AFI FEST film festival, I viewed a screening with the Santa Barbara Cinema Society. Here is a clip from the American Film Institute with Son of Saul Director Lazlo Nemes and actor Geza Rohrig on the film:

New Kalmykia Cinema


I had the distinct pleasure to sit down with Ella Manzheeva, writer and director of the Kalmykic film, “Chaiki,” or as it is often referred to “The Gulls.” The film is the story of Elsa, played by the exquisite Evgeniya Mandzhieva, as a fisherman’s wife, in a seaside town in Kalmykia, a remote republic in Russia.

Interestingly, Kalmykia was settled four centuries ago as Mongolians began migrating due to civil strife. With a population around 150,000, according to Manzheeva, the region has a strong belief system steeped in the Buddhist tradition with a touch of local folklore. However, after the Stalin regime took hold of Russia, celebrating the traditions became stifled.

Unfortunately, this carries over to today. “Chaiki,” is a return to Kalmykia traditions and celebratory beliefs as they intertwine in everyday life. Drawing on personal experiences and her own encounters from living in Kalmykia, Manzheeva penned the story in a mere five days driven by her passion and love for her Kalmykia. Accordingly, one of Manzheeva’s hopes is to keep alive the unique customs and language system. She’s been on the festival circuit for over a year beginning with the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival in July of 2014 bringing her vision to the outside world.

Her message is finding an audience as Kalmykian ex-patriots are flocking to see “The Gulls,” to get a glimpse of the homeland. Cinemas in Russia have started screening the film. Critics have taken note as this once barren cinematic region has awakened, taken root and sprouted through the Russian consciousness.

Manzheeva couldn’t be happier and has a follow-up work in pre-production slated for the next Berlinale, Berlin’s International Film Festival. See my review of “Chaiki,” here on IMDB:

To learn more and/or for more information about this emerging regional cinema please contact:

Telesco Film at Mosfilm Film Studio

Moscow, Mosfilmovskaya 1
Phone: +7 (499) 143-94-8


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