The Epoch Times film critic sifts through the 70–80 film offerings of December 2015, and picks five. The choices are based on which movies will have the most visibility and potential to impact culture, especially (but not always) in a positive way, and collates some critique excerpts from fellow reviewers from other news publications.
R | Drama | Dec. 4, 2015 (USA)
An adaptation of Aristophanes’ “Lysistrata,” an ancient Greek play updated to tell the story of Chicago’s gang violence.
Kevin B. Lee
Writes for: TheWrap
Spike Lee’s “Chi-Raq” opens with a stark statistic: there have been more murders in Chicago over the last decade than U.S. soldiers lost in Iraq and Afghanistan combined. Most of these killings occur in the South Side among African American neighborhoods overrun by gang violence, and for Lee, this black-on-black violence masks a more pervasive and insidious war on the black community. “Chi-raq” is Lee’s counter-strike, deploying a vast arsenal of ideas in his most audacious and lyrical film in years.
Writes for: Chicago Sun-Times
This just in: Spike Lee’s “Chi-Raq” isn’t a broad comedy that makes light of the tragic levels of violence in Englewood, nor is it a gratuitous slam at our great city.
It’s a shattering, thunderous wake-up alarm, a call to lay down arms, a gutsy social satire and a highly stylized work of fiction that sometimes feels as accurate and sobering as the crime reporting you see on the front page of this newspaper.
From the opening sequence reminding us in the last 15 years, more Americans have been killed in Chicago than in Iraq and Afghanistan combined, with Nick Cannon’s blistering and electric “Pray 4 My City” pounding home the point, Lee makes it clear “Chi-raq” isn’t interested in polite discussion. This movie is in your face and reaching for your conscience.
‘The Big Short’
R | 130 min | Drama | Dec. 23, 2015 (USA)
“The Big Short” is about four outsiders in the high-finance world, who predicted the mid-2000s credit & housing bubble collapse, and how they took on the greedy big banks.
Writes for: Uproxx
We see it all the time with comedic actors: All of a sudden they’re starring in a drama, often in an attempt to gain some sort of perceived lack of respect. We don’t see it quite as often with comedic directors: The Farrelly brothers have yet to release a solemn meditation on death. Judd Apatow will touch on dramatic beats, but he hasn’t directed a movie about the NSA’s surveillance program.
And yet here’s Adam McKay, the former “Saturday Night Live” head writer—best known for directing two “Anchorman” movies, “Step Brothers,” and “The Other Guys”—directing a movie about one of the biggest financial collapses in history.
“With Adam, it was because he was obsessed with this,” Christian Bale told me, in a yet-to-publish interview (which will run closer to the film’s December 11 release). “In a very positive manner: Just absolutely obsessed, disgusted with it.” This seems like a good reason to do a movie. Much better than, “I just wanted to try something different.” As it turns out, Adam McKay, the director of “Talladega Nights: The Legend of Ricky Bobby,” is the perfect person to lead us through the always confusing world of financial collapse and “The Big Short” is one of the best films of the year.
Writes for: Variety
But there’s an unmistakable, scathing sense of outrage behind the whole endeavor, and it’s impossible not to admire McKay’s reckless willingness to do everything short of jumping through flaming hoops on a motorcycle while reading aloud from Keynes if that’s what it takes to get people to finally pay attention.
Adapted from Michael Lewis’ bestselling book “The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine,” McKay’s film traces the roots of the global market collapse through the eyes of those who saw it coming and figured out ways to profit from it. First out of the gate is Michael Burry (Christian Bale), a stock-picking shaman with a glass eye and an utter lack of social graces, who crunches numbers while pacing his office barefoot and blaring Mastodon. By actually bothering to go through the thousands of individual mortgages that make up the securities that underwrite so much of the banking industry, Burry realizes that a dangerous number of subprime home loans are on the verge of going south, and decides to plug more than a billion dollars of his investors’ money into credit default swaps, effectively betting against the housing market.
‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’
Will Smith plays pathologist Dr. Bennet Omalu, who reveals the truth about football player brain-damage, due to repeated concussions.
PG-13 | 123 min | Drama, Sport | Dec. 25, 2015 (USA)
Writes for: Los Angeles Daily News
“God did not intend for us to play football.”
With that grave pronouncement, “Concussion” challenges the fundamental notions of a large portion of what Americans hold dear. That’s risky, radical stuff for a major Hollywood movie starring Will Smith, the King of Like Me himself, to get behind.
But this NFL-embarrassing biopic about Dr. Bennet Omalu, who discovered chronic traumatic encephalopathy was driving pro players to madness and early graves, maintains that viewpoint pretty consistently.
Insert joke here about the highly educated Nigerian Omalu being one of those dang immigrants, and you’ve got enough to turn off at least one major political party’s core constituency. Would that “Concussion’s” screenwriter-director Peter Landesman had made the film’s presentation as subversive as its message. This movie is pure studio formula all the way.
Writes for: Cinemablend
When watching football, fans love to celebrate the big hits. After all, players hitting each other is a key part of the sport, and huge sacks and tackles can perfectly illustrate one team’s dominance over another. They’re replayed constantly during the game, often in slow motion, and there are shows that dedicate blocks of time to ranking the roughest takedowns of the week. This probably won’t change after the release of writer/director Peter Landesman’s “Concussion,” but what may is the way we think about it. More than just muscle and plastic armor brutally clashing together, it’s brains being throttled around an individual’s skull. It’s an impressive thing for any film to change a perspective like that, and while the movie does suffer from narrative flaws that are organic to the true story being told, it still comes together as a compelling drama anchored by a great lead performance.
Not yet rated | 113 min | Action, Crime, Thriller | Dec. 25, 2015 (USA)
A young FBI agent infiltrates a group of elite, extreme sports athletes he suspects of pulling off a bunch of highly sophisticated heists. Inspired by the classic 1991 hit.