Let’s take a break from the Halloween madness that’s been going on here on the blog and move towards adult films. No. Not, like, porn. Like, films with more mature themes than dumb slasher flicks. Okay, mature themes still sounds like porn, but I swear they aren’t porn. Just, screw it. I watched The Big Short a while ago and never wrote about it, and I saw Arrival in December.

The Big Short (2015)

The Big Short is a drama based on the true story of a small group of people in the financial industry who predicted the housing crisis of the mid-2000s and tried to play it to their advantage. It stars Christian Bale as Michael Burry (the most metal hedge fund manager ever), Steve Carell as Mark Baum (just serious Steve Carell), Ryan Gosling as Jared Vennett (a bit of a sleazey salesman, but still my bae), and Brad Pitt as Ben Rickert (an eccentric, retired trader).

I honestly really liked The Big Short. I’ve never found a subject like the housing crisis an interesting topic of conversation (let alone a movie), and the folks behind The Big Short understood that I sat in the majority  with that opinion. They managed to make a fun, lighthearted, and still effective drama about a couple of dudes who wanted to play the major banks and make a ton of money. While there was a cast of protagonists, there was still no clear cut “good guy” throughout the movie, but the writing was pretty heavy-handed when trying to establish the big name banks of the United States as the “bad guys”.

The constant celebrity cameos and fourth wall breaking were a nice touch to keep things speeding along pretty quickly despite a running time over two hours. My only complaint with the hyperstylized non-narrative bits (and the fact that this movie focuses mostly on high rolling business folk) felt very much like a carbon copy of Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street, which only came out two years prior.

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I also really enjoyed the ensemble cast of the film, particularly because their characters were all of different moral fibers and had different motivations throughout the film. A few of the characters actually never interact with each other, which is nice, because going in to this movie, I thought it would be a big financial superhero team up where a bunch of fund managers fight off the big banks. I also enjoyed how the film focused on these characters interacting and reacting to the plot of the housing crisis, and didn’t get muddled by becoming a personal drama. Once the results of the plot unfolded, the film ended. I’ve got to commend The Big Short for being  a tight little drama that stayed fun, engaging and interesting despite it’s heavy subject matter. This is definitely in my list of favorite movies from 2015, I would highly recommend it.

Arrival (2016)

Flipping 180 degrees from a realistic drama about one of the most crippling financial crises in Western history to a mind-bending sci-fi drama about aliens landing on Earth, Arrival stars Amy Adams and Jeremy Renner and was directed by Denis Villeneuve (Prisoners, Sicaro, Enemy), one of the best directors working today. Adams and Renner play linguist Louise Banks and physicist Ian Donnelly respectively, who are called to action by the U.S. military (Forest Whitaker plays Colonel Weber) after twelve mysterious space crafts have landed across the globe. Banks and Donnelly are in charge of developing and establishing communication with the aliens on board the ship to determine their motivations. They’re racing against the clock though, because not every nation is keen on making scientific inquiry with these visitors, and global tensions rise by the minute.

It’s so exciting to see really interesting, restrained sci-fi coming out. As much as I like space schlock, neat, coherent, intelligent sci-fi flicks always have a special place in my heart. While I would consider this a kind of alien invasion film, don’t get your hopes up for  Arrival to be Independence Day 3. A large portion of this film is dedicated to Louise and Ian learning to communicate with the aliens and learning their language. Only near the end do things start escalating quicker and quicker before the movie takes off with one of most interesting conclusions to a story arc I’ve seen in a long time.

The acting was superb in Arrival from everyone, and the great sets, effects, and score helped keep me immersed for the whole thing. I got lots of Under the Skin and 2001: A Space Odyssey vibes from the way certain scenes were shot, particularly the sequences inside the alien ship. The haunting and almost ambient music sounded almost like the film was scored by Sunn O))), and the monolithic design on the ship paired with the unexpected design of the aliens made for a pretty unsettling experience whenever it all came together.

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Similar to Enemy, Arrival is a little open ended in the way you can interpret it. It’s definitely a movie that benefits from repeat viewings, with lots of little, subtle hints in the script and screenplay that all work together like clockwork to help keep the movie as neat and clean, yet as deep as possible. One of the best sci-fi films I’ve seen in a long time, and one of my favorites from last year. Check it out as soon as you can.

-David