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The Big Short: Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD Review

The Big Short (2015) movie poster The Big Short

Theatrical Release: December 11, 2015 / Running Time: 130 Minutes / Rating: R

Director: Adam McKay / Writers: Charles Randolph, Adam McKay (screenplay); Michael Lewis (book The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine)

Cast: Christian Bale (Michael Burry), Steve Carell (Mark Baum), Ryan Gosling (Jared Vennett), Brad Pitt (Ben Rickert), Melissa Leo (Georgia Hale), Hamish Linklater (Porter Collins), John Magaro (Charlie Geller), Rafe Spall (Danny Moses), Jeremy Strong (Vinny Daniel), Finn Wittrock (Jamie Shipley), Marisa Tomei (Cynthia Baum), Tracy Letts (Lawrence Fields), Byron Mann (Mr. Chau), Adepero Oduye (Kathy Tao), Karen Gillian (Evie), Max Greenfield (Mortgage Broker), Billy Magnussen (Mortgage Broker), Margot Robbie (Herself), Selena Gomez (Herself), Anthony Bourdain (Himself), Richard Thaler (Himself)

Buy The Big Short from Amazon.com: Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD DVD Instant Video

Director Adam McKay made his disgust with the industry responsible for the 2008 financial crisis crystal clear in The Other Guys, a buddy action comedy that ended with a number of charts and figures bemoaning bankers' reckless, largely unregulated, entirely self-serving practices,
a topic that had some relevance to the film's timely plot. In The Big Short, McKay takes his interest and scorn even further.

McKay has long been known as Will Ferrell's creative partner, having followed the funnyman from "Saturday Night Live" to direct and co-write Anchorman, Talladega Nights, Step Brothers and more. The two have co-founded Funny or Die and lent their support to comics and concepts they believe in, producing everything from "Eastbound & Down" and "Drunk History" to Tim and Eric's Billion Dollar Movie and even Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters.

Big Short takes McKay in a new direction. It was classified as a comedy for the purposes of the Golden Globes, but there are fewer jokes than there were in The Wolf of Wall Street, a movie this evokes enough to categorize as a spiritual sequel or companion piece. McKay and Charles Randolph (Love & Other Drugs) adapt a 2010 book by Michael Lewis, whose non-fiction work was the basis for The Blind Side and Moneyball. Though humor is prevalent, the subject is no laughing matter for McKay or his distinguished cast, which includes four A-listers in Christian Bale, Steve Carell, Ryan Gosling, and Brad Pitt.

Ryan Gosling often breaks the fourth wall to address the camera directly as both the narrator and an integral participant in "The Big Short."

Gosling plays our narrator Jared Vennett, who occasionally features in the story and often directly addresses the camera. The movie almost has the feel of a documentary as it makes extensive use of news and pop culture images and video to identify time periods and to explain how these events came to be.
The plot deals extensively with complex financial practices and ideas, or at least practices and ideas that the industry would like you to think are too complex for you to understand with their unnatural terms and abbreviations.

The movie combats this issue not with a glossary of terms for you to read over beforehand but with three lessons dispatched by actress Margot Robbie in a bathtub, celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain in a kitchen, and Selena Gomez and some financial bigwig (the only one who requires an identifying caption) at a blackjack table. It's a witty approach which thankfully (and safely) assumes no prior knowledge of this world. To understand how this racket could play out as it did, you will need to pay attention to the movie's lessons. Even if you're not versed in finance and not well-equipped to gain knowledge from celebrity camera addresses as part of an amused audience, you should be able to follow along with the story, which is presented in an accessible fashion.

Michael Burry (Bale) forecasts the housing market crash years in advance. He is a socially awkward genius with a glass eye and a bad haircut who habitually listens to heavy metal, uses drumsticks, and goes around in a t-shirt, khaki shorts, and bare feet at work. Burry, who is constantly reminding people he is a doctor, is not someone whose word you take over Alan Greenspan and every other authority in the business. But Burry is just crazy enough to have the vision everyone else lacks. He devises a way to bet against the housing market, to buy subprime mortgages to sell short. Banks are happy to oblige his unprecedented proposals, which strike them as free money with minimal risk. His partners and investors are less excited at the prospect of eating dozens of millions of dollars in losses every year until his prediction comes true.

Burry is not the only one betting against the economy. Through a wrong number, Vennett takes the idea to a small hedge fund based out of Morgan Stanley. The fund's abrasive manager, Mark Baum (Carell), is just crazy like a fox enough to buy into Vennett's pitch, which presents the different grades of loans, from AAA to B, as a Jenga tower just waiting for a few low pieces to be pulled out before the entire thing topples over. Baum and his associates (Rafe Spall, Hamish Linklater, and perpetually gum-chewing Jeremy Strong) take a trip to Florida to get a feel for the housing situation and discover widespread fraud and braggadocious bros (brief but effective Max Greenfield and Billy Magnussen) boasting of their ability to get anyone a mortgage. With that, they become believers in a bubble and partner up with Vennett in anticipation of a windfall.

The film's third layer of interest involves a couple of ambitious young men (John Magaro and Finn Wittrock), who have built a multi-million dollar hedge fund out of $110,000 and a garage, but have been unable to use that success to get their feet in any of the big banks' doors. They contact Ben Rickert (Brad Pitt), a paranoid doomsdayer who has gotten out of banking but is willing to help them pursue their sound plan.

Danny Moses (Rafe Spall) and Mark Baum (Steve Carell) have different facial reactions to Jared Vennett's Jenga pitch.

The Big Short does not simplify the factors or attempt to turn the crisis into a morality play. No amount of levity and directorial flair can divert notice from how dense this material is. But the movie still succeeds, like Wolf, by putting human faces on this deliberately impenetrable, predominantly unpunishable white collar crime. One important distinction between this and Wolf is that our protagonists are not the villains here. They have recognized the industry's greed and corruption and are looking to profit off it. They may be getting rich of the world's misery, but they have more of our sympathy than the coke-snorting, yacht-owning predators of Martin Scorsese's three-hour epic ever did.

McKay's talents may largely have been underappreciated until now. His movies have made the masses laugh, but we largely credit the funny improvisations and chemistries of their casts. The director's skill has been there the whole time; it just hasn't been taken seriously attached to Ferrell comedies opening in 3,000 theaters in the summer. Produced not by McKay and Ferrell or their former collaborator Judd Apatow, The Big Short hails from Pitt's Plan B Entertainment, whose mostly prestigious 11-year filmography includes films like 12 Years a Slave, Selma, The Departed, Moneyball, and The Tree of Life. On paper with McKay and Carell attached, The Big Short might have sounded like something lighter and different than those Oscar nominees and winners. But back in September, Paramount Pictures, lacking any other horse in this year's race, announced a December opening following a premiere on the closing night of AFI Fest. Could this film be the awards contender that the previous two Michael Lewis adaptations and The Wolf of Wall Street were?

The Globes' Comedy or Musical designation, which seems almost as debatable as other recent inclusions and exclusions, guaranteed Big Short some awards presence. It was just the start, as the film went on to secure a number of Best Picture nominations and win the Producer's Guild of America's top prize (which has aligned with the Oscar's Best Picture on almost every recent year, since both organizations switched to a preferential ballot). After losing the Globes' Comedy or Musical honor to the hilarious space survival comedy The Martian, it went on to pick up five Academy Award nominations for Picture, Director, Adapted Screenplay, Editing, and Supporting Actor (Bale), winning Adapted Screenplay and being one of four conceivable outcomes for the highest honor that wound up going, to the surprise of some pundits, to Spotlight.

Christian Bale commands the screen in his Oscar-nominated turn as Michael Burry, a socially awkward genius who sees the housing market collapse coming before anyone else.

The Big Short fared very well with critics and better with general moviegoers than I anticipated. It's a funny film whose subject matter remains timely even a decade later. Carell, who in the last three years has shown a willingness to make better movie choices than he had been,
gets to create a character unlike any he's played. He is a schmuck but one whose manners are shaped by a tragedy he's still coping with. Carell is good, as are Gosling, who uncharacteristically sports a fake tan and black hair, Pitt, who is gray-bearded, and most of the sorta familiar character actors filling the supporting roles.

One actor is great: Christian Bale. It should surprise no one to see Bale throwing himself into another juicy part. But he's done it again, having traded in his American Hustle combover and beer belly for a glass eye and drumsticks. It's such an interesting and unusual performance. Burry's quiet moments are the film's best and make us wonder what Bale could have done with the title role of Steve Jobs had he not bowed out of Danny Boyle's biopic and been replaced by Michael Fassbender. Bale has flourished when embodying real life people the general public doesn't know, as in his two David O. Russell movies. Burry certainly doesn't have the baggage and expectations that Jobs does and that is probably liberating. One thing for certain is that the film is arresting in every scene that Bale features.

Having grossed $70 million domestic and $130 million worldwide on a production budget of just $28 M, The Big Short reaches stores this week, sixteen days after its Oscar win, in a DVD and the Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD combo pack reviewed here.

The Big Short: Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD combo pack cover art - click to buy from Amazon.com Blu-ray & DVD Details

2.40:1 Widescreen (DVD Anamorphic)
BD: 7.1 DTS-HD MA/DTS-X (English), DTS 2.0/Headphone-X (English), Dolby Digital 5.1 (French, Spanish, Portuguese, Descriptive Service)
DVD: Dolby Digital 5.1 (English, French, Spanish, Descriptive Video Service)
Subtitles: English, Spanish, French, Portuguese; BD movie-only: English SDH
DVD Closed Captioned; Extras Subtitled
Release Date: March 15, 2016
Suggested Retail Price: $39.99
Two single-sided, dual-layered discs (BD-50 & DVD-9)
Blue Eco-Friendly Keepcase in Cardboard Slipcover
Also available as standalone DVD ($29.99 SRP) and Amazon Instant Video

VIDEO and AUDIO

On paper, The Big Short does not sound like a movie with lots of potential flair, but it makes a pretty cinematic impression both visually and aurally via editing, camerawork, and sound design. The 2.40:1 transfer shows off the sharp, interesting filmic look, while sound is offered in both DTS X (7.1 DTS-HD master audio for those who can't support it) and in a DTS Headphone 2.0 mix. It is suitably lively, bursting with music and effects while always keeping dialogue crisp.

Adam McKay directs Christian Bale in a home drumming scene. Director Adam McKay discusses the challenges of his first prestige film.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS, PACKAGING and DESIGN

The Blu-ray's all-HD extras begin with "In the Tranches: Casting" (15:51), a featurette that moves through the principal characters in terms of the actors playing them and considering how some departed
from the real person (Gosling) while others embraced them (Bale).

"The Big Leap: Adam McKay" (11:31) details how the director/co-writer came to this from mainstream comedies and how he brought passion and strong ideas for making the dense, complex material accessible.

"Unlikely Heroes: The Characters of The Big Short" (11:28) allows the actors to talk about their roles and to consider the real people being portrayed or composited.

"The House of Cards: The Rise of the Fall" (14:01) takes a look at the housing industry and the issues that drove it to collapse.

"Getting Real: Recreating an Era" (11:13) doesn't just deal with the film's recent period setting, but with its look as established by cinematography, costume design, and that Oscar-nominated editing.

Michael Burry (Christian Bale) entertains himself with a tennis ball as he comes to terms with Asperger's self-diagnosis in this deleted rooftop scene. Marisa Tomei and Brad Pitt crash a Steve Carell moment on The Big Short's DVD main menu.

Finally, we get five deleted scenes (6:28), which include an appearance by the real-life version of Rafe Spall's character and more time with Michael Burry's family, including Asperger's diagnoses for both he and his son. It's interesting to see, but you're glad it didn't end up in the final film.

Par for a modern day Paramount combo pack, the DVD includes no bonus features. It's the same one sold separately on its own.

The Blu-ray opens by streaming the latest Paramount trailers. It nearly got through one for me. Not having that capability, meanwhile, the DVD will forever advertise Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation,
13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi, Anomalisa, and Star Trek: Beyond. The same four previews play from the DVD menu's "Previews" listing.

The tasteful, creative menu makes use of the arrow design of the poster and cover art in a short montage employing piano score. The Blu-ray supports bookmarks, but doesn't resume unfinished playback.

An insert supplying your Digital HD with UltraViolet code and directions and advertising the Michael Lewis book on which the film is based joins the plain blue Blu-ray and gray DVD in an eco-friendly keepcase that's topped by a glossy slipcover.

Ambitious young hedge fund managers Jamie Shipley (Finn Wittrock) and Charlie Geller (John Magaro) want to get in on the lucrative shorting action.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

Enlightening, passionate and offbeat, The Big Short achieves the unenviable task of turning the 2008 financial collapse into meaningful and entertaining cinema. Improving on repeat viewings, Adam McKay's sharply-acted ensemble tale stands as an improbably accessible and consistently compelling companion piece to Martin Scorsese's The Wolf of Wall Street.

With its first-rate feature presentation and solid assembly of bonus features, Paramount's Blu-ray combo pack is easy to recommend on the strengths of the film.

Buy The Big Short from Amazon.com: Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD / DVD / Instant Video

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Related Reviews:
New to Disc: 99 Homes Room Bridge of Spies Drunk History: Season 3 The Spoils of Babylon Steve Jobs
Directed by Adam McKay: The Other Guys Step Brothers Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy
Christian Bale: American Hustle The Fighter The Prestige | Steve Carell: Crazy, Stupid, Love. Foxcatcher The Way, Way Back
Ryan Gosling: The Ides of March Drive Only God Forgives Blue Valentine | Brad Pitt: Moneyball The Tree of Life
Rafe Spall: I Give It a Year | Finn Wittrock: My All American | John Magaro: Not Fade Away
The Wolf of Wall Street The Campaign The Hangover
Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar Winners: The Imitation Game Argo The Descendants No Country for Old Men

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Reviewed March 14, 2016.



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