‘The Big Short’ is a must-see movie; ‘Joy’ in another great one

Jennifer Lawrence in “Joy.”
Jennifer Lawrence in “Joy.”

JOY ***1/2

Having graduated from her role as young Katniss Everdeen of “Hunger Games” fame, Jennifer Lawrence further proves her acting skills in “JOY,” a semi-biographical rags-to-riches film about Joy Mangano, the real-life inventor of The Miracle Mop. Set in the early 1990s the strong cast includes Bradley Cooper as Neil Walker, the young executive behind then start-up TV retailer, QVC, along with Robert De Niro as Mangano’s father, and Edgar Ramirez as Mangano’s ex-husband. Additional strong performances by Diane Ladd, Virginia Madsen, and Isabella Rossellini further support the inspiring basically true, partially fictionalized tale to its satisfying conclusion. Melissa Rivers plays a cameo role as Joan Rivers, who was a stand-out salesperson on the fledging QVC network. The film will tug at anyone who’s ever fought the system, ever invented a product, and whoever had the courage (or wish they had) to never give up.

The Big Short ****

Now that light sabers and Wookies are fading from movie news, a new film retelling the true story of the biggest worldwide economic disaster in history needs your attention. In “The Big Short,” a two-and-a-half-year journey (2006 – 2008) begins with rumblings around a couple of Wall Street water coolers, while bond salesman and fund managers begin to suspect that all is not well in the housing market. The clear markers were there indicating fraud perpetrated by big banks, rating institutions, and the U.S. government itself in their backing and bundling of bad mortgage loans. Based on the 2010 book of the same name, this film, directed by Adam McKay, bends a few movie-making rules with multiple characters breaking the invisible “fourth wall,” where a character talks directly to the audience by staring at the camera and speaking. The device is employed to great effect as the filmmakers attempt to explain the unexplainable: bonds, mortgage backed securities, the Securities and Exchange Commission, credit default swaps, collateralized debt obligations, and how a handful of really smart individuals hedged their bets by investing huge sums of money into their belief that the world’s economy would collapse under the weight of bad U.S. housing market loans as the bubble grew. Remarkable storytelling and near perfect superstar casting of Christian Bale, Steve Carrell, Ryan Gosling and Brad Pitt carry the 130-minute movie, which never drags. Though the filmmakers try their best to explain what led up to the crisis that shook nations around the globe, you may get lost a time or two within the financial complexities, but it won’t matter. The film builds in tension with jaw-dropping stats of trillions of dollars at risk, billions invested, earned, and lost that you’ll wonder how we survived it all, and why only one poor scapegoat went to jail. This is a “Must See” film that will leave you with a clearer picture of the not so far removed crisis that destroyed lives and at left millions financially devastated.

What do those stars mean?