Gold

(USA 2016)

“The taste of it on your tongue, the feel of it on your fingers—it’s like a drug.”

—Mike Acosta

Not everything gold glitters; such is the case with Stephen Gaghan’s Gold, his first film since the acclaimed Syriana over a decade ago. Matthew McConaughey is Kenny Wells, a redneck businessman running his collapsing mining company from a smoke-filled tavern in Reno, Nevada, in 1988. Acting on little more than gut and some pawn shop cash from hocking gifts he gave his girlfriend (Bryce Dallas Howard) in better days shown as the movie opens, he abruptly heads to Indonesia to track down geologist Mike Acosta (Édgar Ramírez) to find a gold mine.

Their first meeting doesn’t go well at all. Looking like he stepped out of Banana Republic when it was a safari store in the ’80s, Acosta is shrewd, rugged, and quite experienced. Balding and sweaty Wells, with his jagged teeth and paunch, is sloppy and desperate. He reads as broke. Unimpressed, Acosta passes when Wells suggests they partner up—until the latter raises $200,000 for the proposed venture. After a series of miscalculations and mishaps (including a bout with malaria), they hit the jackpot in the middle of a jungle. Suddenly, the same banks and big investors that turned up their nose at Wells before want in on the action.

Gold isn’t a bad movie, but it’s not the impressive work it wants to be. The pace is fine, but the plot twists are unsurprising if not downright predictable. The problem is that I’ve seen this story before, and recently: mainstream films like The Big Short (https://moviebloke.wordpress.com/2016/01/03/the-big-short/), The Wolf of Wall Street, and American Hustle deal with the same themes in a similar manner. I’ve seen McConaughey be the same character, too. The curious statement “inspired by a true story” after the opening credits is the cue to something I found disappointing: Gold is a fictionalized account of a true story, changed enough that I guess it can’t claim to be “based on” reality. I’m not sure where that line is drawn, but it turns out much of the story is made up (http://www.financialpost.com/m/search/blog.html?b=business.financialpost.com/news/mining/gold-the-movie-about-the-bre-x-mining-scandal-that-isnt-about-bre-x&q=Bre). Plus, it’s never a good sign when the music in a film—here, artists ranging from Orange Juice to New Order and Joy Division to the Pixies and a new song by Iggy Pop and Danger Mouse—elicits the most enthusiastic response from me. Overall, meh.

Also starring Corey Stoll, Toby Kebbell, Craig T. Nelson, Stacy Keach, Rachael Taylor, Joshua Harto, and Timothy Simons

Produced by Boies/Schiller Films, Black Bear Pictures, and Highway 61 Films

Distributed by TWC-Dimension

121 minutes
Rated R

(AMC River East) C

http://gold-film.com

 

The Big Short

(USA 2015)

I’m no economist, and, well…math is hard. I get that lax lending practices led to the housing market collapse in 2008, but I sure as hell don’t have a firm grasp on what else contributed to the financial meltdown. With The Big Short, writer and director Adam McKay takes on the courageous and potentially suicidal task of explaining it all, Schoolhouse Rock style—only hopped up on Adderall.

Based on the nonfiction exposé The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine by Michael Lewis, The Big Short follows the intertwined stories of Michael Burry (Christian Bale), a socially inept Metallica-blaring doctor-turned-hedge fund-manager with Asperger’s, a glass eye, and a cyst on his face that bummed me out every time I saw him; douchebag Wall Street trader Jared Vennett (Ryan Gosling), who doubles as narrator; cynical, boorish, and fictitious Chicken Little hedge fund manager Mark Baum (Steve Carell) and his team; newbie investors Charlie Geller (John Magaro) and Jamie Shipley (Finn Wittrock); and retired banker Ben Rickert (Brad Pitt), who’s got no love for the business. In one way or another, they all aim to profit from mass calamity—and they succeed. The standouts here easily are Gosling and Carell, who have a natural chemistry and seem to have fun with their parts. Pitt, who plays psychos and goofballs better than anyone (e.g., True Romance, 12 Monkeys, Fight Club, Snatch—need I say more?), has a secondary role, but he’s awesome; I didn’t recognize him right away. Bale, on the other hand, is a bit much—to the point of being a downer.

The story involves dry, technical, and boring financial concepts, usually abbreviations: credit default swaps (CDS), collateralized debt obligations (CDOs), NINJA loans—not the stuff that typically generates emotion or drama. McKay uses a number of offbeat but smart gimmicks to explain the basics: celebrity cameos (Selena Gomez and Anthony Bourdain, to name two), demonstrations (a la Jenga), breaking character, songs and graphics. His approach does the trick, and it’s entertaining. Very much so. However, it’s not perfect: the pacing, though not as frenetic as Wolves of Wall Street, still wore me out by the end. Some questions remain in my mind—like how you can bet against something like the economy. It’s also still unclear how it all happened. To quote the movie, though, “[t]he truth is like poetry, and most people fucking hate poetry;” I think that’s the essence. One thing is certain: McKay is outraged; by showing us that the nonsense continues, he wants us to be, too.

(AMC River East) B-

http://www.thebigshortmovie.com/