The Big Short, book and film

My mother hates this movie so much. We watched it for the first time a year ago, and she decided to give up and go to bed half way through. A friend of her’s had a movie night recently, and this was the feature presentation, and god, she was not excited. How much she hates this movie is honestly hilarious, my mild mannered mother gathering up so much disgust for a film.

I love it. I think it’s brilliant. I tried to write about it right after we watched it, but didn’t know what to say. It’s taken some time and rematching to puzzle things out.

It does so many cool weird filmmaking. The way it plays around with music video style is so much fun. Lots of fast cuts, montages, what is basically a rap video thrown in, a couple of characters singing a Nirvana tune out of the blue. It’s brilliant, and I love it. The little asides where Margot Robbie and Anthony Bourdain explain boring bank things is a great choice to get in necessary information without being dull. It’s a really smart movie that assumes its audience is really smart.

There’s a lot of really good performances. Everyone is great. Everything is great.

I read the book right after watching the movie, and I liked it too. It was informative and well written. It didn’t have the same spark and pizzaz as the movie, limited by being a book, but it was still excellent. The housing crisis is important shit that we should know about. It’s awesome that it’s being presented in an accessible book and incredible movie. I love it.

The Taliban Shuffle, book by Kim Barker, and Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, movie staring Tina Fey

So, I read this book sometime last year, and decided not to post anything until I also saw the movie. Here is what I wrote about the book just after finishing it:

This is a memoir by a journalist who became a foreign correspondent after 9/11, and her adventures in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Barker is a clear writer, and good at presenting the tangled political situation that I think I understood. I learned a lot about the region, and what America was doing there, but what sets this book apart is the personal stories. Barker is covering this hugely important moments, but she’s also a woman with a life, trying to balance career and romance and family. My favorite thing is that she admits she didn’t know what she was walking into, that no one did. It’s obvious that there’s a massive lack of understanding on all levels. The government, the military, the news, all of these different organizations, are all stumbling around, trying to do something huge, but mostly failing.

Basically, it is an alright book, but not great. Having now seen the movie, I can say, it is an alright movie, but not great. The surprising thing is that book and movie had fairly different flaws. Normally weaknesses are consistent through adaptation, but here, not so much.

The weakness of the movie is that it’s sort of clueless, and tries but fails to do a love story. The weakness of the book is mostly that it isn’t very shiny. The movie is possibly too shiny? It is not specific enough. It doesn’t slow down to explain boring but important history or politics. But it also doesn’t go the other way into a more exaggerated world. It’s grounded in a very shallow reality, and that’s a shame. I can imagine a better movie. The book had the makings of a better movie, and the idea of adapting that book to star Tina Fey seemed like a good idea. But then it’s just this. Which is almost boring. Maybe it wouldn’t be if I didn’t know the plot, but I don’t think that’s the problem. I think it’s just sort of dull. Pleasant, but dull.

If you’re only going to do one, I’d pick up the book, but honestly, they’re both skippable unless something about the summary really stands out to you.

Six of Crows and Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo

A couple of weeks ago I picked up Six of Crows after hearing great things about it from friends. I flew through it, and then immediately had to pick up the sequel. It was an incredibly compelling fantasy adventure about plucky young thieves pulling a daring heist. I loved the characters SO MUCH, which my other complaints about the world building and plot even more frustrating. Characters this great deserve the best sorts of books to inhabit, and this wasn’t quite there.

To be blunt, the world building felt lazy. Identifying the inspiration for the different cities and cultures was too easy. If there’s going to be such obvious parallels, I want it to do something interesting with these relationships, lampshade it in someway that feels clever, instead of just using stand-ins. The mishmash of fantasy and steampunk had the possibility to be awesome, and it is cool, but it never really differentiates itself.

I was also frustrated by the muddled politics of the story. It’s possible that I’ve been reading too much China Mieville lately. Not every book is going to be built out of a strong underlying socialist ideology, nor should it be that way, but having something solid underneath helps. These books had some nice Robin Hood aspirations, and wanting to be damage the profits of those in power instead of the lives of ordinary people, but it’s never clearly articulated. It seemed like Bardugo was trying to make a larger point, but didn’t want to straight out say it, which is very valid, it’s generally not a great idea to have your characters talk about the moral of the story. But because of weak world building and an emphasis on characters the meaning got lost.

The three main ships were obvious from a quarter of the way through the first book, which isn’t a bad thing because I was rooting for all of them. But then only one of the relationships wound up being satisfying for me. I understood why Bardugo left them where she did, but I didn’t like it, and wouldn’t have done it myself. The strength of the book is the relationships, and it felt like they were shortchanged at the end. (Killing a character does not automatically make a story more sophisticated or deeper. I’ve seen this problem in YA before, and it bugs me so much).

The thing is, that despite these complaints, I loved reading both books. They were so much fun, and the characters were so compelling, and I wanted to see what happened next. It’s a very fun adventure to be in, even if some of the underlying mechanics were flawed. Also, I’m reading this as a twenty-four year old writer with an English degree. They’re YA books. If I was the intended audience I bet most of the things that bother me would not have been a problem. They’re very cool books, get them for the kids in your life to read before they grow up to be picky old grumps like me.

Hell or High Water

When I started reading reviews of this movie I knew I’d have to go see it with my dad, because my dad likes Westerns, and he likes Jeff Bridges, and all of the reviews said it was very good. It finally got to the cheap theater by our house, and we went and saw it, and it was everything I hoped for.

It’s modern, and very much set in this moment of financial crisis, but it still has the spirit you want from a Western. The landscape is there, and the music. It’s a compelling story that plays with traditional western tropes, but does enough to be different, and there are some very excellent performances. Highly recommended.

Rogue One

Friends, I loved this movie so much. So fucking much. I’ve seen it twice already, and will probably go again when it gets to the cheep theater. I love it.

I grew up with Star Wars, and I’m the age where I watched prequels as an uncritical child, and actually love them too. Star Wars movies don’t have to be good for me to love them, but Rogue One is. It’s really, really, really, good. It feels more like a war movie, but it’s still Star Wars, fully a part of that world. I love every single new character so much. The ending was devastating but also perfect.

The reason why I never wrote about The Force Awakens last year is because I didn’t have anything smart to say, I just loved it. I may love Rogue One even more? It’s more original, and has absolutely captured my heart. Star Wars, man. Nothing but Star Wars.

Fences

I don’t think I would have seen this as soon after it’s release, but my girlfriend and I decided to go to a movie to get away from our families on New Years Day, and seeing Rogue One three times would have felt silly. So I let her pick, and she loves Viola Davis, and this was great.

It’s based off an August Wilson play, and it definitely has that sort of heavy theater dialogue. The language is great, and it’s well staged, but the film could have done more to utilize the fact that it is a film and has those tools at its disposal. The real amazing part is the performances. Viola Davis and Denzel Washington are both as incredible as you’d expect them to be. All of the supporting characters were great as well. (The fact that Viola Davis is going to compete the supporting actress Oscar is hilarious category fraud, but she’s going to win, so good for her.)

It’s great acting, a well written story, well worth your time. Best of all, it was not playing a board game with my parents.

watch more movies

last year I didn’t go into the year with any media goals. I wound up reading almost 100 books, and while I would have liked to get the last six, eh. I got very close, and am going to be happy with that.

This year I am going to be more intentional! My new years resolution is to watch more movies! Which is a kind of sad goal, on some level, but oh well. This will be good for me. I like film, and I like talking about it, and thinking and writing about it, and I want to make it a larger part of my life.

“Watch more movies” is incredibly vague, and as such should be easy to satisfy, but also offers little guidance. So I’ve come up with some things to aim for:

  • I have a list of movies I want to watch. Right now there are 138 things on it. I would like to cross 1o0 things off that list, and to have it under 100 by 2018.
  • I’m going to try to see all of the films nominated for best picture before the Oscars happen, unless something I really really don’t want to see gets nominated.
  • When I was younger and video rental stores was a thing we used to pick an actor and watch everything available in a row. I miss this. So I picked one actor, and one actress, and I’m going to try to watch everything they’re in that looks interesting that I haven’t already seen. I feel silly telling you who, like I’m confiding super obvious crushes on famous talented people, which I am, but feeling silly is good. Also, they’re both beautiful and I love them? It’s Julianne Moore and Adam Driver, and I’m super excited for Todd Hanyes movies I haven’t seen yet, and Paterson.
  • Go see more stuff, because going to the movies is fun, especially at the Trylon or the Walker, because they have cool weird stuff.

We’ll see how this goes? Wish me luck.