Film Review: The Big Short (2015)

Release Date: November 12th, 2015 (AFI Fest)
Directed by: Adam McKay
Written by: Charles Randolph, Adam McKay
Based on: The Big Short by Michael Lewis
Music by: Nicholas Britell
Cast: Christian Bale, Steve Carell, Ryan Gosling, Brad Pitt, John Magaro, Finn Wittrock, Hamish Linklater, Rafe Spall, Jeremy Strong, Marisa Tomei, Melissa Leo, Karen Gillan, Margot Robbie (cameo), Anthony Bourdain (cameo), Selena Gomez (cameo)

New Regency Productions, Plan B Entertainment, Paramount Pictures, 130 Minutes

Review:

“I don’t get it. Why are they confessing?” – Mark Baum, “They’re not confessing.” – Danny Moses, “They’re bragging.” – Porter Collins

I never saw The Big Short, even though I read the Michael Lewis book several years ago. I liked the book and thought that it did a good job of telling the stories about the real people who were important figures during the 2008 financial crisis caused by the housing bubble.

I guess I felt inspired to watch it because of the recent events surrounding WallStreetBets and their attempts at fucking over hedge funds. However, I’ve watched and reviewed several other finance industry movies over the last few months, so I figured I’d give this one a shot too. Plus, it has a stellar cast.

Oddly, I had no idea that this was directed by a guy that’s mostly just directed Will Ferrell comedies. The director, Adam McKay, did a pretty good job of transitioning to drama while also still having a bit of comedy added in. This is still a serious film, though, and it tackles the subject matter quite well.

My only real complaint about the film is the editing style and pacing. It often times felt sporadic and I felt like I was jolted around so much that I was losing my footing.

The acting is so good that I really wanted to focus on the performances, especially Steve Carell’s but the the quick, flashy edits often times pulled me out of the picture and the moment. I feel like it was hard to build the proper emotional connection to certain scenes because they kept overlapping scenes with one another.

Still, I did enjoy this and when you can actually zero in on specific performances, it was really entertaining, emotional and kind of impressive. Carell truly takes the cake in this, though, and I definitely felt closer to his character than any of the others, as he sort of represents what this film’s audience should feel about what these banksters were doing just to fatten their pockets at the expense of the average American.

I can’t see this as a classic like several of the other finance industry movies that I’ve recently reviewed but it’s still a good, enjoyable picture that maps out and explains the housing crisis well enough for the average Joe to understand while also entertaining its audience.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: other finance industry thrillers like the Wall Street films, The Wolf of Wall Street and Boiler Room.

Book Review: ‘Flash Boys: A Wall Street Revolt’ by Michael Lewis

I’ve read several of Michael Lewis’ books but it’s been awhile since I’ve picked one up. However, with all the WallStreetBets stuff that started kicking off at the end of January, I heard someone draw parallels to the events of this book and its primary subjects to the events of the GameStopocalypse.

Sure, there’s some similar beats but this is a different story about a different group of people that really tried to stick it to the villains on Wall Street.

I mostly liked this but it wasn’t as energetic or as compelling as some of Lewis’ other books. Liar’s Poker is still my favorite and while this serves as a sort of companion or unrelated sequel to it, it read kind of dry, if I’m being honest.

That doesn’t mean it’s bad, it was still informative and it told an interesting story. I felt like there may have just been way too much backstory on the subjects and not enough of the good stuff I was hoping for.

I really wanted more of the intelligent revolutionaries disrupting the status quo and while that does happen in this book, I feel like it was sacrificed by the author spending too much time setting the stage for the revolt.

Still, this was a fairly quick read and it’s a cool tale about seeing giants getting taken down a few pegs.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: other books by Michael Lewis, as well as other books about the finance industry.

TV Review: Wu-Tang Clan: Of Mics and Men (2019)

Original Run: May 10th, 2019 – May 31st, 2019
Created by: Sacha Jenkins
Directed by: Sacha Jenkins
Written by: Paul Greenhouse, Sacha Jenkins, Peter J. Scalettar
Music by: J. Ralph, Wu-Tang Clan
Cast: Wu-Tang Clan, various

Showtime, 4 Episodes, 58-59 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

I don’t know why I didn’t know about this documentary series until a few weeks ago. I’m a lifelong fan of Wu-Tang Clan and if I’m being honest, they’re one of the few music groups that actually had an effect on my life. They forever changed hip-hop music and culture and since that was something I was a part of in my younger years, it changed the way I was doing things and my creative approach to making my own music.

This was actually quite great and I enjoyed this immensely. It really goes through the history of Wu-Tang before they were even formed up until now.

With this, you get to have an intimate view into their lives, past and present, you meet their families and you get to hear their personal stories about their struggles and triumphs.

You also learn a lot about the group behind the scenes and how even with their differences over the years, they always find a way back home to each other.

For fans of the group, there are some sad, disheartening moments in this. However, by the time you get to the end, you really understand their bond and it’s actually really inspirational to see how they still come together and unify as a family. This sort of unity is unheard of in the music industry, especially when this group has now existed for three decades.

Rating: 9/10
Pairs well with: the Hulu drama series about Wu-Tang Clan’s lives, as well as other music documentaries.

Documentary Review: Lost Soul: The Doomed Journey of Richard Stanley’s Island of Dr. Moreau (2014)

Release Date: August 24th, 2014 (London FrightFest Film Festival premiere)
Directed by: David Gregory
Written by: David Gregory
Music by: Mark Raskin
Cast: Richard Stanley, Fairuza Balk, Rob Morrow, Robert Shaye, Hugh Dickson, Oli Dickson

Severin Films, 97 Minutes

Review:

I saw the mid-’90s Island of Dr. Moreau film in the theatre. But it was so bad that I barely remembered anything about it other than how damn weird and terrible it was. I also didn’t really know the story behind it until years later when I read articles about the problems on the set and the ousting of director, Richard Stanley.

This documentary does a pretty good job of covering the details and allowing several of the people involved in this fiasco to tell their stories from their points-of-view.

Most importantly, it let Stanley tell his side of the story while also cluing the viewer in on what he had planned. Frankly, his ideas and his vision for the picture sounded incredible, even if what he wanted to do was probably unachievable even before the producers started meddling with his plans.

It also didn’t help that two massive egomaniacs, Marlon Brando and Val Kilmer, were hired to star in the picture. With that, they developed a rivalry that truly derailed the production and caused even bigger problems.

Even knowing what I did going into this documentary, I still wasn’t prepared for the whole story and the dozens of additional details I never knew. Fairuza Balk’s stories about the experience were really interesting and allowed you see how this unfolded through the eyes of someone who was trapped in this production and pretty powerless to do anything about it.

All in all, this was informative and it shed a lot of light on one of the most troubled productions in motion picture history. It’s a compelling story and certainly deserving of having that story told.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: other documentaries about failed films, as well as all the Dr. Moreau film adaptations.

Documentary Review: Cryptopia: Bitcoin, Blockchains and the Future of the Internet (2020)

Release Date: January 14th, 2020 (Melbourne, Australia premiere)
Directed by: Torsten Hoffmann, Michael Watchulonis
Written by: Torsten Hoffmann
Music by: Joshua Keddie
Cast: various

3D Content Hub, 86 Minutes

Review:

Those that follow Talking Pulp are probably aware that I’ve watched and reviewed several documentaries on Bitcoin, crypto and blockchain over the last few months. Well, I’ve been kind of looking for the perfect one. The main reason being that I’ve been in the crypto space for awhile but I’d like to find something that I can point newbies towards.

That being said, this is one of the better ones.

This film is a sequel to Bitcoin: The End of Money as We Know It, which is also directed by Torsten Hoffmann and Michael Watchulonis. I saw that one a few years back and really liked it and I should probably rewatch and review it, as well.

I jumped on this one, though, because it came out in 2020 and it is the most up-to-date documentary on the subject.

I thought that the things explored and laid out in this were well done and it presented a lot of criticism and multiple sides to every topic covered. I felt like the filmmakers didn’t really try to lean one way or the other too much and the viewer is allowed to take what’s discussed here and form their own opinion.

One of the coolest things about this was that it showed the inside of a giant crypto vault buried in a mountain somewhere in Switzerland. What they could actually show was very limited but it was neat seeing how heavily secured the vault was.

This also just looks at crypto from a lot of different angles, all of which I found interesting and informative.

If you want something to watch on the subject to expand your knowledge, this is documentary might be a good start for you.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: other documentaries on cryptocurrency, blockchain or cypherpunk culture.

Documentary Review: Things That Go Bump In the Night: The Spooky Pinball Story (2017)

Release Date: March 24th, 2017 (Texas Pinball Festival)
Directed by: Joel Reeves
Cast: various

Reeves Media Group, 65 Minutes

Review:

This was a good, positive documentary that I’m glad I watched, as the world slips further and further into a seemingly darker and uncertain future.

Also, this is centered around pinball, which is something I’ve loved since the days where I first learned how to drop my parents’ quarters into a slot.

Things That Go Bump In the Night tells the story of a devoted family man that gave up his twenty year career to pursue his dream of becoming a pinball manufacturer.

With that, we meet the man, his family and see how his family became a part of his business and continues to encourage his work and his dream. Along the way we see all the wonderful creations he came up with, as well as the trials and tribulations associated with creating a small, niche business that is already in an industry that is shrinking but also really competitive.

This was lighthearted and inspiring and honestly, I hope the guy is still going strong after the events of the past year and how the pandemic has negatively effected the arcade game and pinball industry.

Rating: 6.5/10
Pairs well with: other documentaries on the video game/pinball industry.

Book Review: ‘The Creature From Jekyll Island’ by G. Edward Griffin

I first read this book about a dozen years ago but after reading Ron Paul’s ‘End the Fed’, this was naturally the next thing that I picked up on the subject of the Federal Reserve.

This book goes through its very seedy creation and outlines the ideas of why it was established by fierce finance industry competitors who wanted to build a monopoly on money and control the entire system for their infinite benefit.

The book is compelling and it does go through not just the Federal Reserve and its history but it also is an economics lesson, especially in regards to where these ideas came from and how monetary systems work.

Now the book is also written by a guy that has some conspiracy theory beliefs that I don’t agree with and with that, it’s hard to take certain parts of this story at face value. However, beyond the Hollywood-like first chapter of the book, this still gets right into the economics of everything in a pretty profound way.

This book has become somewhat of a cult classic for both libertarian thinking people and others opposed to the influence and power of the Federal Reserve.

While it can be pretty dry and a lot to absorb at certain points, it’s still a worthwhile read on those who want to better understand the economic policy of the United States since 1913.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: other books about the history, creation and practices of The Federal Reserve.

Film Review: Glengarry Glen Ross (1992)

Release Date: August 30th, 1992 (UK – Edinburgh International Film Festival)
Directed by: James Foley
Written by: David Mahmet
Based on: Glengarry Glen Ross by David Mahmet
Music by: James Newton Howard
Cast: Al Pacino, Jack Lemmon, Alec Baldwin, Ed Harris, Alan Arkin, Kevin Spacey, Jonathan Pryce, Bruce Altman, Jude Ciccolella

GGR, Zupnik Cinema Group II, New Line Cinema, 100 Minutes

Review:

“You never open your mouth until you know what the shot is.” – Rocky Roma

As much as I like finance and business thrillers, as well as everyone in this incredible cast, I had never seen Glengarry Glen Ross until now.

Granted, I have seen most of the iconic scenes from the movie for years, as people have referenced and quoted this movie for decades now. I’ve probably seen the Alec Baldwin speech a dozen times whether it was sent to me via YouTube or clipped into something else I’ve watched. I almost know it verbatim but there’s much more to this movie than its most iconic, most quotable scene.

Narratively and visually, I’d consider this to be a neo-noir picture, as well as just being a great business flick. It has backstabbing, conniving and a crime plot but brings some mystery into the second half of the picture.

The neo-noir aesthetic is pretty clear with this film’s cinematography, especially in regards to the scenes shot at night or in the bar. Visually, it reminded me of the cinematography style of Robby Müller. Specifically, his work in The American Friend, Repo Man and Paris, Texas. The night scenes are full of high contrast between dark shadows and vivid lighting. The daytime office scenes, however, feel muted and a lot less lively, as if the office is a sort of colorless, boring hell.

The film’s plot surrounds the worst real estate office in a large company and how the four salesmen are pitted against one another for survival. The two who do the worst, will lose their jobs. With that, we see the worst parts of these men’s characters rise up from their apathy, as paranoia and survival instinct sets in over the course of two days.

The acting in this is absolutely stellar and it is completely a film driven by the astounding dialogue and masterful acting.

Having never seen this in its entirety, I didn’t know the ending. By the time I arrived there, it was like a real punch to the gut and I didn’t see the twist coming.

While many that are into business thrillers and movies about sales and finance are very aware of this picture, I feel like it’s grossly underappreciated amongst normies and general film buffs.

Rating: 8.5/10
Pairs well with: other business and finance movies of the ’80s and ’90s.