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Friday 22 January 2016

The Big Short, Film (2015), directed by Adam MacKay starring Christian Bale, Steve Farrell, 9* out of 10

Don’t be put off by the title or the apparent technicality of its subject matter; thanks to great acting performances by Christian Bale and Steve Carell, The Big Short is above all an emotional roller-coaster ride with great insight about human nature and a wicked sense humour. It gets my vote for Hollywood Film of 2015.

The Big Short is a fictionalised account following five people who foresaw the great crash of 2007 long before it happened and acted on this insight. Among them is Michael Burry (Christian Bale) a medical doctor turned fund manager with an autistic streak.  Jared Vennet (Ryan Gosling) is a swaggering bond-salesman from Deutsche Bank New York. And then there is Mark Baum (Steve Carrel) head of a hedge-fund connected to Morgan Bank who thinks he loves his job, but has become resentful of everyone and everything else in his life except his loyal, loving wife. And finally, there are Charlie Geller (John Magaro) and Jamie Shipley (Finn Whitrock), two young investors from California, who started with ten-thousand Dollars of their savings and turned that initial pot into thirty million.

Except for Jared Vennett, who is outwardly as cool and superior as any of your average cocaine-consuming, Lamborghini-driving Wall Street trader, all of the characters are in some way “misfits” who are mentally or physically disconnected from Wall Street and its culture of greed. Far from being triumphant about seeing something the Wall Street “greats” did not, they end-up if not broken, so at least severely shaken and stirred by the emotional roller-coaster ride that The Big Short takes them (and us) on. On the way we get great insights about human nature and a healthful dose of a wicked sense of humour.

Turning a factual book, even one written by a talented bestseller trader turned journalist like Michael Lewis, into a riveting piece of “faction” with funny and moving moments is no mean feat. But the talented screenwriters (Charles Randolph, Adam McKay and Michael Lewis himself) and an excellent director (co-screenwriter Adam McKay) have managed very well; but what makes a very good film outstanding are the unforgettable performances by Christian Bale and Steve Carrell.

So even for those who do not understand the valiant and entertaining attempts to explain to the audience the causes of the 2007 financial crisis, the human interest and the fast-paced humour make this an entertaining, watchable and thought provoking film.

In a year where Hollywood has mainly lived off the enjoyable continuation of antediluvian franchises, The Big Short stands out as afresh high quality film that makes you think about the price you pay when you decide to swim against a very powerful stream – even when you are ultimately proved right on the substance of your argument. High quality, witty and entertaining this film should be required watching and discussion for any graduate class on business ethics. The Big Short gets my vote for Hollywood film of 2015.


Friday 1 January 2016

An, (Japan 2015), Film written and directed by Naomi Kawase, 7.5* out of 10

A moving tale of three outsiders, revealing a Japanese culinary speciality and an unknown chapter of a history of social exclusion. Actress Kirin Kiki shines in the main role. 

Sentaro (Masatoshi Nagase) is the grumpy manager of a small business specializing in red bean-paste cookies, called dorayakis.  Sentaro’s dorayakis are edible but not particularly tasty. His customers are mainly teenage-girls from the neighbourhood school. One of them is the solitary Wakana (Kyana Uchida) who finds Sentaro’s cookie restaurant a safe place to spend her afternoons. One day Tokue (Kirin Kiki), an elderly lady, appears and humbly yet persistently asks the reluctant Sentaro for a job. When she brings a sample of her home-made red-bean-paste the life of the three outsiders will become connected and impacted in unexpected ways.

The strength of Naomi Kawase’s film (adapted from a novel by Durian Sukegawa) lies in the substance of the story it tells, as it reveals an –at least in the West unknown aspect of Japan’s culinary offering and more importantly of its social history that still appears to impact people today. The slow pace in which she tells the story and reveals aspects of the character of the protagonists is another strength of this film. There area some flaws in the technique of the story telling particularly when there is an over-reliance on letters revealed in long voice over sequences. But the beauty of the photography, the sensitive performances by all the actors, with an outstanding one by Kirin Kiki, who in real life is Kyana Uchida’s (Wakana) grandmother, outweigh those weaknesses.

While other critics have been harsh with Kawase’s film, I believe that its inclusion in the 2015 Cannes Film Festival’s “Un Certain Regard”-section was justified. 

"An" is an unforgettable moving story told with delicacy and humour. It very much merits a visit to the cinema.