Joy - Review

PG-13  |  124 min  |  Biography, Comedy, Drama
Review - Matt Mungle

**In theaters December 25th 2015**

SynopsisJoy is the story of a family across four generations and the woman who rises to become founder and matriarch of a powerful family business dynasty.

ReviewEveryone seems to be on the Biography Drama bandwagon. Adapting real life stories into Hollywood plot lines has pushed out any solidly crafted, inspirationally unique attempts at writing. Though the characters may be intriguing the movies do not always end up as such. Case in point, JOY. 

Joy Mangano's (Jennifer Lawrence) claim to fame and success was wrung out in a nifty household devise called the Miracle Mop. This struggling, single mother of two is drowning in a sea of family disfunction. Her father (Robert De Niro) and mother (Isabella Rossellini) are divorced and her ex-husband (Édgar Ramírez) is living in her basement. Her mother never leaves the bedroom and her dad is always dropping by with needs of his own. The only constant in her life is her Grandmother Mimi (Diane Ladd) who repeatedly reminds her she is destined for greatness. 

This film may have been sabotaged by expectations. It is written and directed by David O. Russell who along with three members of this esteemed cast brought us 2012's Silver Linings Playbook and 2013's American Hustle. Plus it is releasing on Christmas Day in the height of award season. So obviously hordes expected this to be memorable and powerful. But sadly it is forgettable and mediocre.

One main issue could be that even though Joy's journey is remarkable and we love to cheer an underdog success story there is simply not enough meat on the bone for a full length drama. And where there is some nice nuggets of intrigue they are lost in a myriad of family outbursts and repetitive dysfunction.  The viewer ends up seeing the devastating result of actions without every getting the benefit of seeing how it developed. 

The plot rides a roller coaster of ups and downs as we witness Joy make smart decisions followed up by bad advice taking. The two steps forward and one step back dance eventually trips and face plants in a "how did we end up here" finale. The antagonist is her family and how they manipulate and misguide her. But the dialogue between them all is choppy and lacks the flow of a well crafted drama. This takes away from many of the more impactful scenes. 

Bradley Cooper makes an appearance as Neil Walker the head of a new TV station that America soon knew of as The Home Shopping Network. Neil gives Joy the break she needs but sadly even this doesn't help her overcome her horrible business practices. It may have been a better movie if it dealt strictly with the mop side of the story and less with the family drama. Or make it about a young entrepreneur dealing with the ugly side of success. Regardless there is too much going on for nothing to really transpire. So we end up with a ho hum film that could easily show up on Lifetime or the Hallmark Channel. 

JOY is rated PG-13 for brief strong language. In a nutshell De Niro's character drops the F bomb once. Other than that this could easily run on prime-time family channels with little or no editing needed. In fact that is where I suggest watching it. And that is a sad statement considering who all is involved in this film. I admire them all and wanted so much more. I give it 2 out of 5 shards of broken glass. Best to throw out the script and mop up the rest as best you can. 


The Big Short - Review

R  |  130 min  |  Biography, Drama
Review - Matt Mungle

**In theaters December 23rd 2015**

SynopsisFour outsiders in the world of high-finance who predicted the credit and housing bubble collapse of the mid-2000s decide to take on the big banks for their lack of foresight and greed.

ReviewThe Golden Globes, Critics Choice, and many film groups have listed THE BIG SHORT as a movie to see. Whether it be for ensemble cast, individual performances, or the directing of Adam McKay there is much to applaud. Highlighting one of the most confusing and for many devastating events of the 2000's the story is fast paced and infuriating. 

Dr. Michael Burry (Christian Bale) saw it coming first. How? Other than a brilliant mind and sixth sense for finance, he just looked. He looked where no one else did. And what he saw was the ginormous housing bubble with billions of dollars riding on it. And he bet against it. Once word of this trickled out it reached the ears of other insurance and financial brokers who decided that he was either right or insane. But the more they started digging the scarier everything looked. And, good or bad, they all wanted a piece. 

Plot lines are woven through separate groups of people all connected by their interest in the banks that are holding all these mortgages. No one is as angry at the system and out for blood more than Mark Baum (Steve Carell) who rose to fame betting against subprime mortgages. Then there is Jared Vennett (Ryan Gosling) a mortgage trader for Deutsche Bank whose insight helped him to win big as well. And finally Ben Rickert (Brad Pitt), a reclusive and eccentric broker who along with Cornwall Capital walked away with close to eighty million in profit. Several of the names were changed. Some were not. But the facts remain as detailed in the book by Michael Lewis, The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine. 

The entire crisis of 2008 is almost impossible to understand. THE BIG SHORT does a decent job of making it clear and decipherable to the common man. McKay will take a break from the business jargon to have real celebrities define and interpret hard to grasp phrases using metaphors and smaller words. This is both clever and distracting. Though, yes, it does help, it also breaks the rhythm of the script. Having Selena Gomez talk to me about how the financial betting world works is a tad demoralizing. But I did learn something, so go figure. 

If you are looking for outstanding performances there are two in this one. Steve Carell and Christian Bale. Though they are never on screen together theirs are the characters to watch. Burry with his savant mind and Baum with his passionate zeal are fodder for explosive and high velocity characters. 

The bottom line and most thought provoking thing about the film is, who do you root for? You definitely can't root for the banks and the mortgage companies. These fat cats are making zillions off of hard working Americans. You can maybe look at those who took them on as heroes but in the end they made billions too. As always it is the middle and lower class that lost. And lost big. So there is no winner. No shining moment. No let's cheer for Captain Vengeance. If you are hoping for an "Erin Brockovich" this movie has none. But it is still incredibly insightful and at times mind-blowing. 

THE BIG SHORT is rated R for pervasive language and some sexuality/nudity. The sexuality/nudity is brief and most adults will be able to gloss over it with little objection. It is intended for thinking adults and those who, like me, love a chance to peak behind the scenes of some of our world's most prominent news headlines. The language is prominent but fits the frustration of the characters.  I give it 4 out of 5 dotted lines. It is a shocking story that will make you shake your head in bewilderment. It is also sobering to think that it could easily happen again. All of this topped off with fine dramatic performances.