It’s long been obvious to any thinking person that the 2007 economic clusterfuck was the inevitable flowering of a diseased system. The Big Short makes excellent use of this organic metaphor, following a handful of American investors along the sub-prime food chain, delineating the mechanisms that allowed both the housing market to face-plant and those investors to bet on precisely that outcome. On paper the thing is one and a half hours of everything that bores and displeases me; bro ensembles, splainin, Ryan Gosling, coke weasel shit, forth-wall riffs and pube-twisting cameos. But McKay returns the human flesh to what so often seems like a skeletal, Meccano fiasco, using impeccable pacing to drag us up and down the focal plane from micro to macro understandings, in a quite sophisticated and even entertaining process. It’s definitely unsettling, being entertained by all these sludgy parasitic shenanigans, but I’ll cop to being sucked in. It really does squeeze those lemons into something tartly satisfying.
Christian Bale flirts with the idea of munching scenery as Michael Burry, hedge-fund weirdo, but ultimately restricts himself to nibbling the curtains. Everyone else is fine (even Gosling) with special mention going to Steve Carell as the kind of permanently-disgusted/morbidly curious playerhater that many of us can relate to. Brad Pitt nearly butterfingers the gravitas he was going for with a beardy mumblecore delivery, but oh well- when was the last time you watched something specifically for him? Shit, Kalifornia? Fight Club, maybe. He’s better at picking projects than he is at acting in the fucking things and The Big Short is another of Plan B’s finer moments.
Chris Brancato/Carlo Bernard/ Doug Miro
You’ve probably been swatting away the buzz around this Netflix series for a while now but don’t let that positive word of mouth put you off. Narcos tracks the rise of Pablo Escobar from shitkicking cash-n-carry pirate to head of the world’s premier blow cartel and the personal prerogatives that dragged Colombia to the brink of sociopolitical collapse using an unusually digestible blend of unvarnished fact and folkloric embellishment.
This sort of treatment can go so, so wrong and Boyd Holbrook’s DEA gringo voiceover, molester moustache and inert stylings were difficult to swallow for the first few episodes. Fortunately, Netflix offset his plomo with a deliciously apposite Pedro Pascal and a solid gold supporting cast- Paulina Gaitán and Stephanie Sigman are perfect as wife and mistress respectively and Wagner Moura’s Escobar is probably the kind of Pablo the latter aspired to. Awesome too was the decision to film almost everything in Spanish and in Colombia itself, the language and landscape delivering so much more nuance than any bullshit transcription could possibly have provided (we’re still walking around saying drogas and tranquilo at each other).
Casual voyeurs won’t get too much joy from Narcos but fans of addictive narrative, coherent visual style and total immersion should definitely inspect. Another two series are slated for production: muy impaciente.
As a New Zealander, I feel a particular edge to the criticisms of the Himalayan climbing industry’s exploitation of Nepal’s tribal porter contingent. Hillary's famous ascent of Everest, his lifelong commitment to charitable work in the region and the calamitous dismantling of New Zealand's own labour protections pertain directly to expedition companies replete with Kiwis. So it was chilling indeed to watch an expat rationalise his duplicitous treatment of Nepali labourers, given the price the latter have already paid to maintain their stake in what is effectively the only game in town.
Jennifer Peedom’s timely snapshot of the infamous 2014 Everest climbing season centres around Phurba Tashi, a veteran Sherpa facing tearful pressure from his family to quit the mountain despite their financial dependance on his paltry wages. After an avalanche cuts a fatal swathe through both climbers and porters Tashi and his fellow Sherpa down tools; what unfolds is a pretty unseemly summary of the imperiousness, entitlement, indifference and contempt that blight the modern industry. If you find pay-to-play climbing distasteful and exploitative, Sherpa will not disabuse you of those assumptions. Fabulous cinematography and the kind of unassuming inquiry that invites spoiled fuckwits to unload on camera are the icing on a sobering cake.
Random chick ends up in a dodgy survivalist’s basement as an intergalactic (you bloody well know it’s an alien scenario so don’t bother clutching any spoiler pearls) invasion begins, forcing her to choose between ducking fallout for a decade or busting her way back into whatever reality awaits.
Full disclosure- we weren’t expecting much from that dusty premise (JJ Abrams shit: the eyeroll is implied) and if we hadn’t been so hard up for a Friday night watch we would never have bothered. I wish we could somehow monetise that eerie prescience because 10 Cloverfield Lane didn’t deliver any more than a less stupidly entertaining iteration of the rather scrawny mechanics employed by its splashier predecessor, Cloverfield, which kept us quiet with wrathful tentacles and the promise of urban effacement. You know- running, jumping, darkness, the tenuousness of human association stuff blah blah? Budget redux time.
Imma do right by my Lovecraft people and tell you there’s not much Cthuloid DNA awaiting your patient indulgence of this subterranean fuckery and let’s face it- what else were we hoping for? I salute Mary Elizabeth Winstead’s earnest turn as the interred ingenue (she had fuck-all to work with) and slow-clap the discreet tenor of all those potentially gross interpersonal dynamics. John Gallagher Jr is actually pretty good as her unlikely consort and John Goodman does a great twitchy John Goodman impression but we already knew that. The rest is all join-the-dots kinetic resolution of a problem you won’t really give a shit about. Technically, 10 Cloverfield is well-executed, at least until the final sequence which looks like it was filmed inside a rhino's arse at midnight after ten production designers bolted in ten different directions rather than decide what the monsters were going to look like. We wanted explicit visual payoff, for fuck's sake. We got a wet fart in a shared raincoat.
It wasn’t spectacularly terrible. Just… less worthwhile than almost anything else we could have been doing.