Saturday, 28 May 2016

The Big Short

I love this time of year. All of the recent award season films start dropping onto our shelves, and we can revisit some of the years’ finest. Out now on DVD & Blu-ray comes The Big Short - one of the best films of the year and, in my eyes, the film that was robbed of the Best Picture award by the rather overrated Spotlight.


When The Big Short first came onto the scene, I must admit I was sceptical. I was interested in the true story behind the film, but couldn’t get my head around one thing. The film is directed by Adam McKay – the man behind comedies like Anchorman, Step Brothers and Talladega Nights. Considering The Big Short takes place in the world of high-finance and follows the dark true story of the credit and housing bubble collapse of the mid-2000s that cost thousands of people their jobs and homes, I worried that this was quickly going to turn into a disrespectful Will Ferrell farce. Luckily, this was not the case.


The Big Short is, however, very tongue-in-cheek. While the story is delivered with respect for those affected, the film does hold a mirror up to the world of finance and laughs at how preposterous it can be. Our heroes (or anti-heroes, depending on how you look at them) are dirty, obnoxious people but they’re delivered as comedy characters – especially Ryan Gosling’s Jared Vennett, the greedy self-interested salesman who narrates the majority of the film. Christian Bale is brilliant as the neurologist turned hedge-fund manager Michael Burry MD, while Steve Carell puts in another brilliant drama performance (after Foxcatcher) as the conflicted banker Mark Baum. Oh, and Brad Pitt turns up with a rather meh performance as Ben Rickert, a pessimistic trader.

I know what you’re (probably) thinking, because it’s absolutely what I thought before I watched it – “I know nothing about the world of high-finance, credit/housing bubbles, hedge funds, subprime loans, adjustable-rate mortgages, collateralized debt obligations and AAA ratings – how will I ever understand this?”. As The Beach Boys sang, don’t worry baby. The Big Short takes this complicated tale and makes it an accessible, understandable and entertaining romp. This is where some of this tongue-in-cheek humour comes into play. In one example, Gosling’s character lays out a rather complicated point and acknowledges that we, the viewer, probably have no idea what he’s talking about. He says “Here’s Margot Robbie in a bathtub to explain”, at which point we’re thrust into a fantasy world where Robbie, playing herself, sits naked in a bathtub sipping champagne and explaining mortgage bonds simply. “Got it? Good. Now f*ck off” she concludes. The brilliant fast-paced editing style of the film allows for subtle humour throughout, aided by Gosling’s often fourth-wall-breaking narration.

The Big Short isn’t quite as humour-heavy as The Wolf of Wall Street, but it certainly has a strong comedic undertone that is lacking in similar films such as Wall Street and Margin Call. That being said, it still allows room for plenty of drama where those affected by this story are concerned, and this makes it all the more powerful. You’ll come away from this film hating all bankers – if there are any bankers reading this, I’m sorry, I’m sure you’re not all bad – but the film certainly makes pantomime villains out of them. Boooo, hissss!


The Big Short is an excellent film, and far more deserving of the Best Picture prize this year than Spotlight. It takes a dark, complicated story and makes it into a fun, entertaining and understandable 2 hours full of brilliant performances and some of the best editing I’ve seen in years. But despite the often humorous approach, it doesn’t make light of the dark time it portrays and even indicts those responsible with a public “f*ck you”. It’s a powerful, funny and memorable little film that truly deserves the accolades it has walked away with (including Best Adapted Screenplay at the Oscars), but it’s a crime it didn’t win more.

The Big Short is one of the best films of the year. 5/5.

★★★★★

Sam Love


The Big Short at CeX


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Friday, 27 May 2016

Brian Wilson & Friends

2016 marks the 50th anniversary of one of the greatest albums of all-time – The Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds. To celebrate this milestone, the man behind the album – Beach Boys co-founder Brian Wilson – is touring extensively across the world to perform the album in full, along with an array of hits from his illustrious career both with the Beach Boys and as a solo artist. But this isn’t the only interest the world has in the great Brian Wilson these days. 


In the last few years, Wilson has been working harder than ever before. With his latest solo album No Pier Pressure released in early 2015 and a phenomenal film about his life - Love & Mercy, to which he contributed a song - recently released, here is a man totally unwilling to stop. This is made all the more incredible and inspiring when you learn about the man’s deeply troubled and difficult life. But we’re not here to discuss that – although I do recommend you see Love & Mercy if you’re unfamiliar with his story. No, we’re here to talk about his new live concert film, Brian Wilson & Friends, which is out now in a DVD/CD combo-pack.


On December 12th 2014, Brian Wilson performed a selection of tracks from No Pier Pressure and his musical past at the Venetian Theatre in Las Vegas with help from original Beach Boy Al Jardine, 1970s-era Beach Boys Blondie Chaplin & Ricky Fataar, fresh recent talent Nate Ruess and Sebu Simonian, and legendary jazz trumpeter Mark Isham. This concert was filmed, cut down to 60 minutes, and broadcast as an episode of Soundstage on American television. But now, totally uncut, the concert arrives on CD & DVD.

With an extensive set-list spanning Brian’s career, there is something for everyone here. While his newer stuff occasionally gets a little too contemporary and pop-heavy – I’m looking at you, Runaway Dancer – the Beach Boys stuff performed in Brian Wilson & Friends sounds just as good as it ever has. Al Jardine, original Beach Boy most famous for his lead vocals on Help Me Rhonda, sounds incredible and, along with an endlessly charming stage presence, makes songs like Wouldn’t It Be Nice and the recent The Right Time feel like they were recorded back in the band’s heyday. He is just as much a legend as Wilson himself, and to see him performing alongside Brian rather than the dastardly Mike Love and his band of imitators (who, due to rights, own The Beach Boys name) feels right and puts a smile on my face. 

Due to a number of factors, Brian Wilson simply cannot take lead vocals on many songs – especially any with iconic high-notes. He’s more of an on-stage presence, presenting the music with a brilliant band to perform it. But when he does sing, he sounds wonderful. Some people say his voice is weak now and he shouldn’t sing, but these old and gentle vocals just makes that nostalgic and cheerful music sound all the more beautiful. And when he is singing some of his deeply personal pieces, this vocal vulnerability only lends to the power of the work. And on top of that, the fact he’s still able to get up there after years of troubles (including stage-fright) and share his music with us is nothing short of inspirational. Wilson seems genuinely touched by the audience’s gleeful applauds to his work, thanking them profusely after each song – but it is us who should be thanking him.

So who else makes up the ‘…& Friends’ of the title? The great Blondie Chaplin, a 1970s-era Beach Boy currently touring with Brian Wilson as part of the Pet Sounds anniversary celebrations, takes lead on a few tracks here including his trademark Sail On, Sailor. With a rock-n’-roll history that includes performing with The Rolling Stones, Chaplin oozes cool and charisma as he roars through his tracks. He is an immense talent and a great addition to the proceedings. Guest vocalists Nate Ruess and Sebu Simonian are clearly delighted to be there, each performing a new No Pier Pressure track along with a Beach Boys classic. Ruess in particular impresses on Hold On Dear Brother, a Chaplin and Fataar-penned piece from a 1972 Beach Boys album. Footage from a studio performance with Wilson being supported by She & Him (Zooey Deschanel) is also included in the film, with Deschanel performing a beautiful rendition of the iconic God Only Knows. On top of that, Brian has an exceptional band of musicians behind him who bring such passion and faithfulness to Brian’s work that they are truly integral to his current sound.


Other hits performed in the show include Good Vibrations, Sloop John B, Help Me Rhonda and Fun Fun Fun – to name a few. With over 20 songs performed, Brian Wilson & Friends is a superb career-spanning concert that will delight fans and newcomers of all ages. To see Brian Wilson still performing into his 70s with a life behind him full of such hardship, it’s truly one of the most inspiring and wonderful sights you can see. And hey, if you get a chance, try and get yourself to one of Brian’s tour dates this year. It’ll be one of the best shows you ever see.

Brian Wilson, you are a hero. God only knows what we’d be without you. Brian Wilson & Friends gets a well-deserved 5/5. Good vibrations indeed.


★★★★★



Sam Love


Brian Wilson & Friends at CeX


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