The Big Short reviews

Mister Tee
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Re: The Big Short reviews

Postby Mister Tee » Fri Dec 11, 2015 9:59 pm

I pretty much loved this. Possibly because I've hovered closer to the financial world than many artsy folk -- or just because I've read Paul Krugman faithfully for the last 15 years -- I didn't have much trouble understanding the subject matter. And, anyway, I'm not sure it matters that much, since what the film is really about (much like Moneyball, another Michael Lewis-based movie) is The Guys Who Understand What Everyone Else is Too Thick to See. This film, though, has a melancholy subtext: for all the very funny, immensely clever stuff going on, in the end comes the sobering reality that all the wild chicanery led to financial devastation for millions who'd played no part in it. And, as is made clear, even our "heroes" -- the people through whom we follow the story -- don't have fully clean hands; Carell's final decision seems to break his heart. This is a movie about characters who triumph and feel like they lost.

I mentioned yesterday that the best director category seemed a little thin this year: that it lacked many candidates whose directorial hand was sufficiently visible. I think McKay would be a solid choice in that regard: the film is so imaginatively made, you can't help but feel his presence. His heretofore woeful resume won't help him much with the notoriously cliquish branch, but I'd like to salute him for making one of the best films I've seen by a guy I'd never thought capable of even a decent one.

Like Spotlight, this is primarily an ensemble piece (actually, it's like Spotlight in several ways, including its genera lack of female presence). But both Carell and Bale are impressive -- Carell channeling his persona into a serious character and pulling it off (I like him much more than I did in Foxcatcher), and Bale finding an off-center-of-gravity and running with it.

The Original BJ
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Re: The Big Short reviews

Postby The Original BJ » Thu Nov 26, 2015 12:57 pm

Apropos of the year in general, here's another movie that I feel like I have no idea how it will fare with awards, or with audiences, for that matter. Much of the film consists of very esoteric conversations about finance, with dialogue full of language that is going to feel very inside baseball to most people. My own knowledge of the subject matter is pretty limited -- the "Toxie" episode of This American Life is about the most in-depth my education goes, and even with that background, I found that there were plenty of terms bandied about here that I didn't entirely comprehend.

All of that being said, I still found much of the movie a pretty blissfully entertaining experience. The filmmakers seem to understand the liabilities of their subject matter, and spend the entire film trying to come up with inventive ways to give the material accessibility and energy. I found all of these elements -- characters speaking directly to the camera, stock footage used to convey cultural moments and feelings, over-the-top music cues, on-screen text, and, most amusingly, the various celebrity cameos used to explain arcane concepts -- worked pretty splendidly. There were certainly discussions I didn't always understand a hundred percent, but I always felt like the gist of what the characters were trying to accomplish in any given scene was crystal clear to me. Even making the movie a comedy is a huge asset, because the scenes play out in such a funny manner (grimly funny, in some cases), that the whole thing just rollicks along with a pleasing buoyancy that provides a real tonic to the horrors at the heart of the economic crisis the film depicts.

Everyone in the cast delivers solidly enough (though I was surprised to see just how small Marisa Tomei and Melissa Leo's parts were), and I don't know that anyone is a huge standout. But Steve Carell definitely shows the most range -- more than anyone, he gets to show off his dramatic chops in addition to comedic ones -- and if we're saying everyone is a supporting character in Spotlight, then I think you could very easily argue the same here, and in that more wide-open Supporting Actor category, I could see him getting some traction.

I don't think this will necessarily be a top Oscar/critics' candidate, but in a world where mainstream comedies for grown-ups are few and far between, I was perfectly happy to get this one.

Mister Tee
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The Big Short reviews

Postby Mister Tee » Wed Nov 18, 2015 12:02 am

I never got around to posting these over the weekend. Not as impressive as had been buzzed -- with a few harsh assessments -- but generally in a range that might compete this year.

Screen Daily
By Tim Grierson, Senior US Critic

Dir: Adam McKay. US. 2015. 129mins

For those still enraged that the financial institutions which orchestrated the 2008 economic collapse walked away without punishment, The Big Short plays like a cleansing blast of outrage and scorn. Based on the 2010 Michael Lewis nonfiction book that chronicled the few individuals who foresaw theUS housing market crash — and decided to make a profit off it — this wildly entertaining satire can be uneven or strident at times, but director and co-writer Adam McKay taps into society’s pent-up frustration and anger at Wall Street arrogance and lets it burst forth over two very engaging hours.

A fine cast led by Steve Carell, Ryan Gosling, Christian Bale and Brad Pitt guides this stupendously sour comedy-drama, as McKay manages to make dry economic terminology engrossing while sticking to a grimly prescient central thesis – that the crooks who nearly brought down capitalism are still among us.

Closing the AFI Fest, this Paramount release opens in the US on December 11, and while it may not be a major awards contender, strong buzz could make it a must-see amongst discriminating audiences. The Big Short certainly has plenty of star power, although McKay’s previous work as a director on Will Ferrell vehicles like Anchorman may only prove a slight selling point. (The Big Short is certainly comedic, but it’s easily the most serious of McKay’s movies.) Commercially, the film could land in a happy middle ground between the festive season’s mainstream offerings and its more sombre prestige pictures, proving to be both crowd-pleasing and artistically substantial. The struggle for Paramount will be convincing those on the fence that a movie about the root causes of the US recession is worth heading to the theatre for.

Spanning about three years, The Big Short cuts back and forth between different men who noticed, starting in 2005, that the usually reliable housing market was showing signs of weakness, the vulnerabilities egged on by risky subprime loans dreamed up by banks. Michael Burry (Bale), a brilliant hedge-fund manager who has Asperger’s, bets big on the bubble bursting, much to the consternation of his bosses and his clients.

Mark Baum (Carell), a money manager who despises the greed and unethical practices of Wall Street, meets Jared Vennett (Gosling), a trader who convinces him that they can make a fortune betting against (or shorting) the banks’ mortgage bonds. And Ben Rickert (Pitt), a retired trader, is coaxed by two up-and-coming investors (John Magaro and Finn Wittrock) to help them navigate tricky financial waters to take advantage of this potential economic collapse.

McKay’s 2010 buddy-cop comedy The Other Guys dealt with the recession, the damage it did to America and the fact that nobody was prosecuted for illegal actions. But where those topics lay in the background of The Other Guys, The Big Short brings them centre stage, and it’s a testament to the director’s skill that he mostly finds a welcome balance between seriousness and sarcasm in his treatment of this fact-based tale. There are very few heroes in this film, and even the ostensible good guys are deeply complicated — partly because, although someone like Baum wants to punish Wall Street for its avarice and lack of social responsibility, everybody involved in shorting the banks is doing it to make a lot of money.

Perhaps not surprisingly, McKay tells this story almost as if it was a heist picture, digging into the processes by which investments, bonds and riches are made, letting us share in the seductive excitement of trying to hit it big in the financial markets. On occasion, The Big Short will stop the plot cold to explain some arcane piece of financial jargon.

McKay may risk cutesiness from time to time, but on the whole he’s made an accessible movie about economic dishonesty that manages to be breezily informative without becoming patronising. And that’s important because, as The Big Short rolls along, our familiarity with the financial jargon is crucial for understanding precisely why these men become more and more shocked by the unscrupulous behaviour they uncover.

Several of the leads play larger-than-life individuals — some real people, some fictionalised from Lewis’s book — but the actors do a good job of keeping them three-dimensional. Carell is superb as Baum — who’s constantly furious and believes the world is basically rotten — emphasising the character’s moral centre and turning him into a lovably cranky champion for the little guy. (It’s through Baum’s satisfaction at proving smug Wall Street executives wrong about the health of the marketplace that we get to vicariously enjoy a little of their comeuppance.)

Bale leans heavily on Burry’s quirks — his penchant for loud heavy metal in his office, his lack of social graces — but McKay helps the Oscar-winner locate the soul of a man who has never felt comfortable in society and instead finds comfort in numbers, which becomes a risk when his bet against the banks starts to look like a spectacular failure.

Pitt is more on the periphery as the alarmist Rickert — he already thinks society is on the brink of collapse even before hearing about the subprime mess — but he uses his star-power gravitas to suggest a master trader who walked away because he lost his enthusiasm for a business he no longer respected. As for Gosling, even if Vennett is a little too generically slick, the actor revels in the guy’s cocky, macho charm.

McKay fills out his ensemble with fine actors in small but meaningful parts, including Marisa Tomei as Baum’s concerned wife and Melissa Leo as a morally blind employee at a credit rating agency. There’s a scrappy vitality to the performances that echoes McKay’s overall strategy of making a film that’s consistently rollicking while also subtly maddening. The Big Short means to infuriate its audience, but it’s smart enough to know that such an approach doesn’t preclude a film from being darkly, cathartically funny as well.

Hollywood Reporter
by Todd McCarthy

The Bottom Line
A one-note comic drama about finance high and low.

The world is divided between many fools and a few sharp crazies in The Big Short, a strenuously unfunny comic drama about a handful of foresightful, or maybe just lucky, Wall Street guys who made a mint by being right about the home loan mortgage crisis that led to the 2008 financial collapse.

While there is a certain undeniable fascination in watching the so-called experts go down while a few visionary mavericks escape on self-made lifeboats, you can never escape the thought that Paramount probably made this film only because of the success of The Wolf of Wall Street two years ago and then recall how much better made and more entertaining that was than what's onscreen here. A top cast and the prospect of indulging in some deep-dish schadenfreude will prove a commercial draw up to a point, but mainstream fans drawn by the big four cast toppers — Christian Bale, Steve Carell, Ryan Gosling and Brad Pitt — might not be so amused.

Director and co-writer Adam McKay switches gears considerably from his Anchorman and Talladega Nights heyday with a film in which one hundred per cent of the dialog is about finance, of which 98.6 percent will go over the heads of the general public. This is as much as admitted by an amusing conceit in which none other than Wolf co-star Margot Robbie is brought in fairly early on to take a bubble bath and drink champagne while jocularly explaining about sub-prime mortgages and other issues of relevance; Selena Gomez picks up the baton for similar purposes later on. Not that this, or anything else, does much good to clarify the financial shenanigans and buyer blindness that went into the calamity that hit seven years ago.

Based on an esteemed book by Michael Lewis, the script by Charles Randolph and McKay focuses on the handful of men in the field — most of whom seem at least half-bonkers — who bet against the conventional wisdom by not accepting the shibboleth that just because something hasn't happened before means it's never going to happen.

Read more How Adam McKay Managed to Write and Wrangle Stars for 'The Big Short' (Q&A)

In a world of almost constant weirdness, perhaps the weirdest sight of all is Scion Capital executive Michael Burry (Bale), he of one glass eye who demonstrates that one eye is better than two in spotting a calamity that awaits some distance down the road. How he holds down this job is less certain, however, since the man is so ungainly and antisocial that one might be forgiven for imagining him the village idiot. But he's quite sure he's called this one right.

Mark Baum (Steve Carell) is one of the rudest men alive, as he has an ill-advised habit of bursting into rooms, loudly imposing his opinions whether anyone's interested or not and generally behaving like a boor. Accused of being unhappy, he replies that, "I am happy when I'm unhappy."

Ryan Gosling's Jared Vennett is arrogantly self-assured in a more conventional manner, while Brad Pitt's bookish Ben Rickert has already retired to Colorado when called upon to lend his expertise to the maverick view that nothing is too big to fail.

With the action mostly set in New York offices and conference rooms, McKay serves up one scene after another in which the conventional wisdom of executives at various top-name financial institutions — some still in business, others merged or gone — is challenged by the outliers, whose gloom-and-doom prognostications are dismissed for years as anything from simply cracked to market "buzz-kill" to downright heretical. On their own, individual scenes are effective enough in semi-farcically portraying the ignorance, avoidance and/or downright denial by the practitioners of bad loans. Together, however, they are wearying in their repetitive nature (the mavericks uniformly prevail over the know-it-all establishment) and depressing given the awareness of how it all turned out.

In a manner that splits the difference between the jokey and the objectively serious, McKay tries to explain what all the arcane financial terms mean and ultimately comes down very hard on the selfish and larcenous executives who refused to confront the consequences of their practices before it was too late. And well he might. But both the behavior of the characters and the viewer responses sought are so repetitive and unchanging that it all becomes wearisome well before the far overlong feature wraps up.

The cast is game, to be sure, with everyone seeming to take enthusiastic pleasure in disappearing into the roles of societal misfits of one kind or another.

Andrew Barker
Senior Features Writer @barkerrant

Of all the current century’s most cataclysmic world-historical events, the 2008 financial crisis is probably among the most poorly understood. Filmmakers looking to rectify this have already approached the story from a number of angles, from sober-minded documentary (“Inside Job”) to operatic boiler-room drama (“Margin Call”), but the route taken by “The Big Short” is by far the most radical, turning a dense economics lecture into a hyper-caffeinated postmodern farce, a spinach smoothie skillfully disguised as junk food. Taking style cues from hip-hop videos, Funny or Die clips and “The Office,” Adam McKay’s film hits its share of sour notes; some important plot points are nearly impossible for laypeople to decipher even with cheeky, fourth-wall-obliterating tutorials, and the combination of eye-crossing subject matter and nontraditional structure makes it a risky bet at the box office. But there’s an unmistakable, scathing sense of outrage behind the whole endeavor, and it’s impossible not to admire McKay’s reckless willingness to do everything short of jumping through flaming hoops on a motorcycle while reading aloud from Keynes if that’s what it takes to get people to finally pay attention.

Adapted from Michael Lewis’ bestselling book “The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine,” McKay’s film traces the roots of the global market collapse through the eyes of those who saw it coming and figured out ways to profit from it. First out of the gate is Michael Burry (Christian Bale), a stock-picking shaman with a glass eye and an utter lack of social graces, who crunches numbers while pacing his office barefoot and blaring Mastodon. By actually bothering to go through the thousands of individual mortgages that make up the securities that underwrite so much of the banking industry, Burry realizes that a dangerous number of subprime home loans are on the verge of going south, and decides to plug more than a billion dollars of his investors’ money into credit default swaps, effectively betting against the housing market.

His seemingly insane investments create enough of a stir on Wall Street to attract the attention of alpha-douche banker Jared Vennett (Ryan Gosling, who also serves as the film’s foul-mouthed narrator). Thanks to a fortuitous wrong number, Vennett winds up going into the credit-default-swap business with Mark Baum (Steve Carell, playing a fictionally-named character), a self-hating hedge funder with a centimeter-long fuse. The potential windfall also interests the bumbling small-potatoes investment team of Charles Geller (John Magaro) and Jamie Shipley (Finn Wittrock), who loop in a former banker-gone-New Age (Brad Pitt) to help get them a spot at the grown-ups’ table.

Despite sturdy, energetic performances from all the actors mentioned above, only Carell’s Baum manages to register as a genuine, empathetic character; not coincidentally, he’s also the only one to express believable compunctions about getting rich off a looming fiscal catastrophe. Indeed, despite its satirical bent, “The Big Short” often seems a bit too eager to present these men as sympathetic, when all they really did was prove to be smarter than the average investor about a downturn that caused so much misery for so many innocent people.

Simply balancing this many characters (there are also significant roles for Marisa Tomei, Adepero Oduye, Hamish Linklater, Rafe Spall and Jeremy Strong) would be difficult enough, but McKay is also tasked with talking his audience through immensely — and at times intentionally — esoteric financial products and procedures. Sometimes he does this through onscreen text, and at others he’ll halt the narrative to have attractive celebrities spell out terms like “synthetic collateralized debt obligation.” Aware of how quickly viewers can tire of watching terrible men in suits screaming jargon at each other, the director also splices in lightning-fast montages of period appropriate pop culture and sometimes seemingly random imagery to keep up the pace. (Editor Hank Corwin more than earns his paycheck here with the sheer amount of visual information he’s managed to process, though the film could have done with a more low-key shooting approach than d.p. Barry Ackroyd’s somewhat exhausting camera movement.)

“The Big Short” is miles removed from McKay’s previous films like “Anchorman” and “Talladega Nights,” but a bit of their broadness remains, and his attempts at more subtle metaphorical commentary — an S&P analyst (Melissa Leo) with a vision condition, a drunken SEC agent (Karen Gillan) throwing herself at anyone with a Goldman Sachs business card — are way too on-the-nose. As it nears its final act, however, the film takes an effective turn for the serious, with even our cynical investor-heroes surprised to learn just how deep the institutional rot in the country’s financial systems really went.

And perhaps McKay’s hyperreal approach is exactly what this story needs, given how far removed from the reality-based community so many of the highest-paid financial gurus were at the time. (More than once, the film has to directly address the audience just to stress that, yes, the scene talking place actually did happen.) In the pic’s most viciously surreal sequence, Baum and company travel to Florida to see firsthand some of the mortgages that are threatening to go belly-up, finding cul-de-sacs full of abandoned houses, highly motivated McMansion sellers, and a pair of meatheaded mortgage consultants who chuckle over writing six-figure home loans for buyers with no income or down payment. Baum steps aside and consults with one of his agents. “Why are they confessing?” he asks, confused. “They’re not,” comes the reply. “They’re bragging.”

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