The Big Short (2015)


A wildly entertaining film about the property crash that devastated most normal people in the western world? Surely you jest! Not at all. That’s precisely what comedy maestro Adam McKay – of all filmmakers! Not Ken Loach (whew…) – serves up here in a ruthlessly educational tell-all about how the sub-prime mortgage business in the US was built on NINJA loans (No Income No Job…), the unsustainable loans were bundled into bonds and sold all over the world (Ireland’s credit union movement’s entire investment was in one German bank that lost everything in Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and was bailed out secretly by the German government summer 2006 – not that anyone wants you to know…) and how a bunch of crazies foresaw the crash and made millions betting against the farm, as it were. Since I come from one of the PIGS countries destroyed not merely by the crash but by coverups by the banks and journalists (nobody’s gone to jail here either, dudes) and we’ve just been stuck (despite the election non-result) with the same Minister for Finance backing the bankers and investors and gamblers against the citizen-owners, this taps into a righteous anger that is still real and seething and has 75 home-owners in court every 2 weeks in every small town all over this country trying to save their homes from the rapacious devils. I digress. McKay and Charles Randolph adapted Michael Lewis’ book. You may remember it was his book Moneyball that Brad Pitt shepherded into production and Pitt is involved here, behind and onscreen, as a sort of guru to two young garage-based wannabe hedge funders (sorta like Apple geezers but for money products), while Christian Bale is the offbeat hedge fund manager Michael Burry, a one-eyed seer, Steve Carell is hedge fund manager Michael Baum, the moral overlord who gets the truth from a multiple-home-owning Florida stripper and Ryan Gosling is trader Jared Vennett, our narrator, whose pieces to camera are just one facet of the brilliant breaking the fourth wall digressions that punctuate the overwhelming horror story (helpfully explained in a bathtub, a casino and several typed-out definitions). Stop it already! You had me at CDO!!! Great lines aplenty but one of the best is Gosling’s reaction to the American Securitisation Companies meeting in Vegas, teeming with parasites backing a disaster, when he declares, It’s like someone had a pinyata for white people who suck at golf. We all know the result. But what an achievement this is. A film about an important subject that manages to make you laugh till your sides hurt? Wow. This is sensational.  And angry? You betcha. And this reminds us that the word banker begins with W. We should all read the newspapers’ financial pages – and learn to read between the li(n)es. Otherwise it’s business as usual.

Up To His Ears (1966)

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Belmondo and De Broca reunited for this slapstick adventure adapted more, or perhaps less, from a Jules Verne story. He’s a wealthy guy who’s hired hitmen to kill him but changes his mind and spends a long time in a lot of places evading their capture. It’s zany, funny stuff, filled with hair-raising stunts, Keatonesque slapstick and boasts the delectable Ursula Andress – even staging an homage to her Dr No role. It’s very dialogue-heavy however but Bebel’s drag striptease is worth the price of admission!

The Glass Bottom Boat (1966)

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The spy who came out of the water! The first of two slapstick spy comedies Day made with live-cartoon auteur Frank Tashlin, this is good lighthearted fun and sports a case of mistaken identity. Doris is PR at NASA where scientist Rod Taylor, reuniting the pair after Do Not Disturb, is developing a gravity simulator and an overzealous employee hears her making a phonecall to her lovely dog Vladimir – and he presumes she’s a Russian spy. Gorgeous scenery around Catalina, where Doris plays a mermaid for her dad Arthur Godfrey’s eponymous tourist business. Terrific slapstick scenes featuring Paul Lynde, Dick Martin and Dom DeLuise amid exquisitely rendered production design and Robert Vaughn’s cameo as Napoleon Solo is heralded with the theme from The Man from UNCLE. With cinematography by Leon Shamroy, music by Frank DeVol (excepting Doris and Dad singing Que Sera…!) and costumes by Ray Aghayan, the same production team would be back together a year later for Caprice, another amusement filled with mistaken identity, cross-dressing and espionage – and Godfrey makes a cameo appearance in a photo as Doris’ dad again. Lively, gag-filled entertainment.

Up Pompeii (1971)

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Just seeing Ned Sherrin’s name up as Producer in the titles sequence makes me long for Radio Four a decade ago. But lo! What have we here! Why it’s Frankie of Howerd giving it his lewdest as the upstart slave Lurcio finding himself in the household of Ludicrus Sextus. While preparing a guest list for an orgy he uncovers a list of assassins planning to kill Emperor Nero, due for a visit in the parish. The great and good of Brit acting of the era assemble, dissemble and undress for Carry On-type hi-jinks following the BBC series created by Talbot Rothwell for the genius that was Howerd and ran from 1969. Howerd had done A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum so he was a natural fit for this servile double-talking man slave. The series was repeated at some point in my childhood and indeed it works well even if you don’t get all the sexual innuendo (ooh er missus) – mind you the topless wonders are hard to miss. Then Vesuvius gets all excited and it’s explosive what have yous all over the shop! Howerd’s character was transported into two different eras in follow up films, an idea that bore fruit for a certain character called Blackadder. That’s another pot of poison.Written by Rothwell and Sid Colin, directed by Bob Kellett. Go on. You know you want to.

That Man From Rio (1964)

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Incredibly fast-moving and funny action adventure comedy that caused a sensation and started the trend for Bond send-ups, then and now, and was an acknowledged influence on Raiders of the Lost Ark.  It was nominated at the 37th Oscars for Best Writing, Story and Screenplay. The title sequence owes a little to Charade (as does the opening shot) while the score by the magnificent Georges Delerue is a perfect fit for the genre. It is clearly influenced by the Adventures of Tintin. Jean-Paul Belmondo is the airman home on leave to see girlfriend Francoise Dorleac immediately after her father’s colleague has been taken from the museum where he worked. She is then kidnapped by Indians who want to find the whereabouts of a valuable Amazon treasure as they believe she is the only person who has the information. Belmondo follows her to Brazil and things get crazier by the minute …  The second of 5 films writer/director Philippe de Broca and the charming Belmondo made together, this breathless (and saucy) action adventure (trains and boats and planes and automobiles AND parachutes!) was a spectacular international success. De Broca started in the industry making short films while serving in the French army in Algeria, an experience that made him want to just make other people laugh. He worked with Chabrol and Truffaut and Chabrol produced his first film, one of 4 with Jean-Pierre Cassel. Things happen so quickly that you don’t have time to care about logic. It’s as if they just made it up as they went along – a lesson in tone for all aspiring filmmakers. It’s brilliantly shot and performed and the locations – Paris, Rio, Brasilia, with all those futuristic buildings – are artfully used as character. Belmondo runs so much he must have been super fit. Dorleac is utterly beguiling as Agnes in another terrific performance which reminds us of the terrible loss to cinema her tragically early death was. Adolfo Celi is so good as the ostensible villain he was tapped for Thunderball the following year.When de Broca died in 2004, his gravestone was inscribed, J’ai assez ri (I have laughed enough). Fabulous.

Caprice (1967)

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Or, the spy who came in from the cold cream, as Day has it, in this spy spoof/pastiche set in the world of cosmetics and industrial espionage. Deemed a failure at the time, it’s a fun spin on that genre with more than one nod (setting and music score) to Charade, the great Hepburn/Grant/Donen comedy thriller from a few years earlier. Doris works for Edward Mulhare and tries to obtain the secret behind another company’s new hairspray developed by mad scientist Ray Walston that keeps wet hair dry.  It’s a product that would render all others obsolete. She has to figure out how to get past Richard Harris, her opposite number, with whom she teams up. There is lots to cherish – it starts with a James Bond sequence on a ski slope, the costume and production design is to die for (colour coordination you will not believe) and the cinematography is by Hollywood great Leon Shamroy, making one of the last two CinemaScope films. If the directing is a bit lame blame it on Frank Tashlin, that cartoon-bright auteur who isn’t in top form here – mainly because the script by the director and Jay Jayson from Jayson’s story with Martin Hale is quite complicated.  Day’s black eyebrow/white hair combo led to Judith Crist calling her a drag queen on national TV – despite the fact that her performance in a demanding seriocomic role is very good indeed. Harris said he learned more from working with her than he ever did at drama school. Day would only make two more films following that lousy lambasting which is a matter of eternal regret to her fans – including myself. Jack Kruschen makes another good supporting appearance following Lover Come Back. This may have looked dated when it was released  but strangely the mod stylings look very attractive now and the jokes still work.

Lover Come Back (1961)

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Rock Hudson and Doris Day made some fine movies but their work together has a special place in the heart of most cinephiles. This was their second teaming after Pillow Talk and they’re rival ad execs on Madison Avenue engaged in all sorts of down ‘n’ dirty ploys to get advantage for their agencies. Stanley Shapiro and Paul Henning got together and constructed another (Oscar-nominated) mistaken identity scenario replete with parodies of advertising, psychiatry and masculinity as well as the battle of the sexes, monitored by two middle aged men in awe of Rock’s success with the ladies. The dialogue is sharp, Doris is winning and Rock is basically the model for Don Draper minus the neurosis. Great fun and fabulous to look at. And Doris sings!

The Big Steal (1949)

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When is a film noir not a film noir? When it’s a fast and funny send-up shot in daylight by DoP Harry J. Wild on location in Mexico. The stars of Out of the Past/Build My Gallows High were reunited with that film’s writer Daniel Mainwaring (adapting from a story by Richard Wormser) and Don Siegel directed this with tongue firmly in cheek in and around Puebla. Mitchum is wrongly believed to be responsible for an army payroll robbery, he chases the culprit, while William Bendix chases him and Greer is the woman who becomes his sidekick. Ramon Navarro is the lazy local police chief and it all ends up in a noir-ish indoor shootout. Greer got the role after she rejected Howard Hughes in favour of marriage to someone else and it was originally thought to be a nothing role but she acquits herself sensationally. Both Jane Russell and Lizabeth Scott were removed as a result of Mitchum’s recent marijuana bust. Great fun, with some cracking lines and a keen sense of its own silliness. There were two more noir parodies, His Kind of  Woman, which also starred Mitchum in Mexico for RKO, and Beat the Devil, made by John Huston in Italy, but this is the original of the species. Step on it, Chiquita!

Impulse (1990)

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Two of my three favourite actresses (Natalie Wood, Romy Schneider) died aged 43 within 6 months of each other so I was glad Theresa Russell, the third in that triumvirate, made it through 2000 without a scratch. Most of her career to date is renowned for her collaborations with (now ex-) husband Nicolas Roeg, but she also carved out a more mainstream body of work in Hollywood, where she started aged just 17 in The Last Tycoon. Made between Physical Evidence and Whore, she’s Lottie, an undercover vice cop whose streetwalking role leads her into further trouble after a shooting episode and an issue of harassment involving her colleague George Dzundza – which means regular visits to a therapist. She’s falling for DA Jeff Fahey but while undercover trying to entrap a drug smuggler goes to the home of a mob boss who gets shot. She goes from investigator to suspect. Has she been set up? What a rarity this was in 1990 – a film about a woman cop, made by a woman (weirdly, Blue Steel was another one that year). The story by John DeMarco was turned into a screenplay with the action adventure specialist Leigh Chapman (one of those terrific women we hear so little of) and was the second outing as director by Sondra Locke whose longterm relationship with Clint Eastwood hit the skids during production. (Fahey and Dzundza also featured that year in Eastwood’s White Hunter Black Heart, released 6 months later). She and producer Albert S. Ruddy rewrote part of the script. Los Angeles is seen by night and shot by Dean Semler as a neo-noir, amplified in the piano-based score by Michel Colombier. There is notable costume design by Deborah Hopper who has since become Eastwood’s go-to collaborator.  It was practically buried by Warner Bros in their sleazy collusion with Eastwood to destroy Locke’s career. There were two resulting lawsuits  which became mandatory reading for students. You can learn more about that if you must in Patrick McGilligan’s biography of Eastwood but you’ll have to take a shower afterwards. Meanwhile, this is a necessary outing for Theresa completionists and never mind the naysayers.