Write what you know is a famous adage; one cinema has clearly taken to heart. As most of this week’s releases prove, adapting real-life situations into entertainment is not only a popular pastime, it’s also a potentially lucrative one. So settle in for financial and political misdeeds, mountain survival and Chinese wuxia epics.
As we approach a decade since the financial crisis broke, banker bashing remains as much in vogue as it did back then, but there was an awful lot of screwing up the economy to bash. The Big Short, based on the 2010 book of the same name, focusses on the housing market and credit bubble, and several key players in the creation of the financial instruments that caused the problems. A starry cast including Steve Carell, Christian Bale, Brad Pitt and Ryan Gosling mix drama and comedy in a film directed by Adam McKay of Achorman fame. Reviews are decent and it’s picked up a collection of big Oscar nominations, demonstrating the occasional good thing can come, albeit indirectly, from the world of finance.
Dropping the pace significantly comes The Assassin. A new film from Hou Hsiao-Hsien, one of the key figures in the Taiwanese New Wave cinema movement, is always worth paying attention to. This one is a wuxia epic with very little fighting and some of the most stunning cinematography and production design around. Set during the 8th Century Tang Dynasty, a female assassin is dispatched to eliminate corrupt government officials but ends up having to prove her loyalty after she develops unexpected compassion for a target. Unfolding slowly, it’s more about the feel than the plot, amply rewarding anyone willing to succumb to its charms. It would be foolish not to.
Our Brand is Crisis once looked like a key awards season player, but has since slipped into the margins. Starring Sandra Bullock, it follows American political strategists working on the 2002 Bolivian presidential election. Bullock, hired by one camp, ends up head-to-head with Billy Bob Thornton, her professional nemesis working for the opposition. Like The Big Short, it aims for a mix of comedy and drama, but both elements appear a little blunt in a film that crashed at the US box office amidst average reviews. However, while there are certainly better options out at the moment, the cast alone certainly warrant a look.
Out on home release there’s Everest, a survival/disaster film based on a doomed 1996 expedition that saw a group of climbers fighting the elements as a storm engulfed them around the summit. A number of big names appear including Jason Clarke, Josh Brolin, Robin Wright, Keira Knightley and Jake Gyllenhaal, most of them left with nothing to do. The real star is the mountain that seems an utterly terrifying prospect. As a drama it’s horribly undercooked, but the raw terror of mountain climbing stays with you after the end credits.
That’s all for now. See you next week when all is not well in Boston.