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Hammerle on …'The Big Short,' 'Carol'

January 27, 2016

bob hammerle movie reviews“The Big Short”

“The Big Short” is a stunning film that serves as a window into the soul of the American free-enterprise system. Every politician should be required to see this movie before running for public office, as it provides a reminder of why our capitalistic system cannot overcome its weaknesses without appropriate government oversight.

Filled with exceptional performances from Christian Bale, Steve Carell and Ryan Gosling, the caustic script from Charles Randolph and Adam McKay, who also was the director, “The Big Short” frequently leaves you mesmerized. The soundtrack is at all times catchy and appropriate, and it helps to control your rising anger as you watch many firms on Wall Street engage in actions that resulted in the crash of 2008.

Millions of Americans lost their homes, savings and jobs in the Great Recession. Tragically, it becomes very evident that Wall Street conglomerates Goldman Sachs, Lehman Brothers and others knew exactly what was happening. Making billions in the process, they promoted a housing bubble based on a rigged mortgage market without the slightest concern.rating-big-short.gif

In “The Big Short,” we see characters played by the great actors named above discover the functional equivalent of the fate of the Titanic, and yet they are laughed at as the big boys enjoy their massive fortunes. Ironically, the movie demonstrates the central problem facing most Americans, namely that few people in this country understood the meaning of phrases like “credit default swaps.” Quite frankly, it is hard to understand them even as they are mocked on the screen.

The bottom line was that millions of mortgages were packed into bonds given Triple A ratings by Standard & Poor’s, and few noticed that the entire structure was built on economic quicksand. Wall Street sang a tune resembling “Don’t Worry, Be Happy,” and our governmental captains of the Titanic did nothing despite the fact that massive icebergs waited in the water ahead.

The film will leave most of you disgusted with the knowledge that our government was forced to use taxpayers’ money to bail out the large companies and banks that cheated the American public. It was almost as if they knew they were too big to fail, and who could let them sink when they would take millions of investors with them? What is even more appalling is to be reminded that no one was prosecuted for their crimes, and many of these firms that caused the problem now use their fortunes to hire lobbyists to make sure that government is not able to prevent them from doing the same thing today.

Though our free-enterprise system has great attributes that benefit our society in some magnificent ways, you can’t allow politicians to weaken government control in a meaningful way. As noted several times in the film, you have to be smart enough to reject politicians who blame immigrants and the poor for our economic problems while Wall Street tycoons resurrect the Roaring Twenties and imitate the lives seen in “The Great Gatsby” (2013).

“Carol”

No one embraces the holiday season more than me, but I am now left questioning my cinematic sanity. First I find David O. Russell’s “Joy” to be a rather lackluster film, and now I jump off the bandwagon concerning “Carol.” Nonetheless, it is an overly praised film that rests entirely on a spectacular performance from Cate Blanchett.

Look, I know that the Screen Actors Guild, the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, and the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences have fallen over one another to nominate director Todd Haynes’ film in multiple categories. Nonetheless, I can only say that they are dead wrong in attempting to honor a film that is profoundly disappointing in multiple ways.rating-carol.gif

The plot centers on a middle-age divorced woman in Manhattan in the early 1950s who finds herself attracted to a female clerk at a department store while Christmas shopping. Focusing on a lesbian relationship at a time it was condemned in our country, the film’s courage is lost as it focuses on characters who are both unappealing and a bit unlikeable.

To begin with, Cate Blanchett gives a ferocious performance as divorcee Carol Aird, who is attracted to Therese, the young store clerk played by Rooney Mara. The film beautifully recreates Manhattan in an all-but-forgotten age, and Blanchett is as beautiful as her blonde hair, red nails and gorgeous lips.

Unfortunately, she also is a wealthy, conceited woman who spends as little time with her young daughter as possible as she frequents restaurants and bars where there is always a cigarette and a martini in her hand. She appears to be little more than an arrogant, selfish New Yorker who seems to care about little else other than her own satisfaction.

Equally troubling is that every other character seems formalistic at best. To begin with, Therese, who soon becomes Carol’s lover, is a one-trick pony who does little more than express a sullen stare in every scene. Sure, she has the courage to play a character who is largely ignored on the big screen, but Mara’s performance is annoyingly one-dimensional.

Furthermore, it becomes profoundly tiresome watching our lovers traveling in a large GM vehicle where they are repeatedly filmed through windows that are strangely filthy. Given Carol’s dedication to wealth as reflected by the mansion she lives in, was Haynes suggesting she couldn’t afford to have her windows cleaned?

In the end, it is all but impossible to embrace a film when you can’t emotionally embrace the characters. While you want to stand up and cheer for a movie dealing with the subject matter, it is hard to do so when asked to cheer for a wealthy Manhattan socialite who closely resembles one of today’s Kardashian sisters. If you don’t care who wins and who loses, how can you care about the film?•

Robert Hammerle practices criminal law in Indianapolis at Pence Hensel LLC as of counsel. When he is not in the courtroom or the office, Bob can likely be found at one of his favorite movie theaters watching and preparing to review the latest films. To read more of his reviews, visit www.bigmouthbobs.com. The opinions expressed are those of the author.

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