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1.20.2016

The Big Short

The Big Short felt like a whole-hearted attempt to have a serious discussion while swimming in a pool of jello.  This movie is reminiscent of what T.S. Elliot bemoans in The Wasteland, or Tom Wolfe in Bonfire of the Vanities.  In fact, this entire movie--the substance and the movie itself--is one vain, gigantic bonfire.

Adam McKay directed The Big Short.  He's done some work with Saturday Night Live and it shows.  He did not refrain from deep sea diving in gouda to come up with some of the jokes in this movie.  Quite literally, he operates a penis humor level--in once scene a penis is drawn on the screen as a character discusses a health issue.  Towards the end of the movie, after showing pithy quotes from people like Mark Twain across the screen, he's loosened up a bit and writes; "'Truth is like poetry. And people fucking hate poetry' ~over heard in bar in Washington DC."

See what I mean?  Wince-inducing.

The movie breaks down the 4th wall.  A lot.  Several times in order to condescend to us, the idiotic viewers, and explain a 'complicated' and boring aspect of mortgages and bonds.  (At the beginning of the movie a narrator actually says "you don't really know what happened during the collapse.  Sure you have a sound bite that you recite to make it sound like you know what you're talking about, but some average idiot like yourself doesn't have a clue.") One such scene shows Margot Robbie in a bubble bath drinking champagne and explaining adjustable rate mortgages.

The Big Short essentially follows the investment decisions of 3-4 sets of people who discerned the mortgage bubble and went short on mortgage bonds around 2005-6 and then reaped lucratively when the bubble burst in 2008.

Bassy hip-hop music plays whenever anything gets shorted, sometimes cutting to scantily clad women dancing, I suppose to communicate just how bad ass these men really are. (And let's point out that every. character. in this movie is a man, even though Michael Lewis' book The Big Short, the inspiration for this movie, features investor Meredith Whitney who predicted the collapse.)

The move has lots of quick montage scenes/shots.  A very schizophrenic tone.  As though focusing on one image for longer than .5 seconds is, I don't know.....dull?

Very interesting to see hedge fund manager Marc Baum et al investigate the mortgages market, including traveling to Florida and interviewing mortgage salesmen, essentially to discover they were giving out mortgages to anyone who asked; NINJA loans, meaning no income, no job, no problem.  In once scene Baum's discussing mortgages with a stripper as she dances in front of him, while she informs him that she has five houses and a condo.  (Adam has really Holly-wooded the hell out of this story.  Reminds me of the Harvard party scenes in Social Network.)

Historically, it's interesting to see that the housing market began to crumble on April 2 of 2007 when New Century (which originated mortgage loans) filed for bankruptcy, since the collapse and bailout took place over a year later.

So yeah, for as bad as it was, as wince-inducing the humor, it had enough substance to rapt my attention for 2 + hours.

I found McKay's conveying the short investors as bad asses unsettling, since in reality they're taking hard earned money from people's 401K's, retirement funds, etc.  McKay addresses this point when the organic-as-hell-disillusioned-investor guy who's just traded the credit default swap delivers a gut punching line to his exuberant fellow investors; "You're celebrating because people are going to lose a home.  Every time the unemployment rate falls 1% 40,000 people die."

This is McKay's attempt to have us sober up.  But it feels about as grounded as a pool of jello because Brad Pitt's delivering the line.  (As The Comedy Film Nerds point out, as the producer, Pitt would give himself the role of the good guy.)  And anyway, he's expressing a road-to-hell-paved-with-good-intentions philosophy since at the end of the day this character still did work the system to make himself a shit load of money on other people's losses.

The entire story accentuates our enamorment with money--we find it titillating that while millions people lost the basic necessities for living, others were smart enough to gain.  I wonder if a story could be told about people who recognized the predicament and actually made efforts to preclude the collapse and not simply profit for themselves.

Appropriately, The Big Short included crass advertisements for Red Bull--including one scene of a convenience store clerk stacking cans with no other discernible point than to convince us to buy Red Bull.

And it's sick to make The Big Short a comedy, most overtly because people lost so much when banks failed and the economy collapsed (If I had lost my retirement when Lehman Brothers failed, I would have absolutely walked out of this movie).  But even more so, we the viewers--us, idiotic average little guys--are the victims of the corrupt system.  Basically, McKay talks down to us, tells us we're idiots, tells us that the corrupt bankers ruined things for us, and then makes us laugh about it.  And so many people in the theater were laughing!  

Christian Bale's been Nominated for Best Actor, and I bet he'll win.  One thing, though.  Do you think that his almost autistic-like mannerisms are exagerraged?  I wonder.  I bet that they are.  Consider this video of the actual Michael Burry.  I don't see someone so peculiar as Bale's character.  So he'll win an award for overacting the shit out of an actual person.



(Yes, I just have to say it)  In short, I'd liken this movie to watching a video of your house being broken into, then destroyed and all your belongings stolen, and being told to laugh about it.  And that's hardly an analogy.  It's exactly what happened for so many.

And now we're supposed to go home and have armchair discussions about how smart these short investors were, how great the acting was, and whether or not The Big Short deserves any Academy Awards.

Ah geez.  

London bridge is falling down falling down falling down........

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