“The Big Short” is an infuriating movie. Not because it’s poorly made but because it is so well made. It takes years of banking bafflegab and distils it down to the essence in what may be the funniest, smartest and most maddening look at why America’s housing market crashed in 2008.
The films opens with a famous Mark Twain quote, “I’t ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.” The quote is a bit of a Mobius strip but so is the story “The Big Short” is trying to tell.
Based on Michael Lewis‘ nonfiction best-seller of the same name, the film presents a cavalcade of facts and information formed into a story about how four investment-bankers—played by Christian Bale, Steve Carell, Finn Wittrock, John Magaro—saw the financial meltdown coming when no one else did. Taking on the arrogance of Wall Street’s old boy network, they bet against the American economy and, in the process, expose an unprecedented level of financial criminality.
“The Big Short” is a lighthearted look at a dire situation. Call it a dramedy. Director Adam McKay is best known for making movies like “Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues,” “The Other Guys,” “Step Brothers,” so he knows how to milk a laugh out of a scene. He also knows that the level of understanding the viewer needs to get why the housing bubble burst is above the level of most MBAs.
The movie explains that Wall Street likes to use confusing terms to make you think only they can understand what they do. “It’s like 2+2 = fish,” says one banker, expressing disbelief at the financial manipulations used by the big banks. To make the financial mumbo-jumbo sexy the McKay uses a variety of tricks, including cutting to Margot Robbie in a bubble bath explaining subprime loans in plain language. It’s a spoonful of sugar to help the expositional medicine go down. From the simple—one loan officer calls his clients “Ninjas, no income, no job.”—to the incredibly complex world of CDOs (collateralized debt obligations) “The Big Short” doesn’t shy away from tackling complex financial transactions but it never feels dry or forced. McKay is a showman, and layers the film with fourth-wall-breaking celebrity cameos and concise social commentary woven into the drama.
A great scene of Goldman Sachs executives laughing at Dr. Michael Burry’s (Christian Bale) $100 million investment is cut into a rap video celebrating excess. In one wordless scene McKay illustrates the arrogance of the bankers in the days before the rug was pulled out from underneath them.
Subtle it’s not, but the director’s use of pop culture images and music to set the scene goes a long way to establish a time, place and tone.
“The Big Short” features strong performances—Bale stretches in ways we haven’t seen from him before—but it is the film’s unflinching depiction of unbridled greed that will resonate.
Adam McKay is best known for directing broad comedies with Will Ferrell like Anchorman and Step Brothers. But his new film, The Big Short, is a different beast.
It’s the story of how four investment-bankers — played by Christian Bale, Steve Carell, Finn Wittrock and John Magaro — saw the devastating financial meltdown of 2007–10 coming when no one else did. It’s a lighthearted look at a dire situation. Call it a dramedy.
“When I read this book it did everything I wanted to see in a movie,” he says. “It was funny, it was tragic, and the characters were amazing. I think it was a case of running into one of the great books of the last 20 years that shows what is really going on in our modern world.”
McKay knows how to milk a laugh out of a scene but he also knows that the level of understanding the viewer needs to get why the housing bubble burst is above the level of most MBAs.
“It’s like 2 + 2 = fish,” says one banker, expressing disbelief at the financial manipulations used by the big banks. In the film he takes pains to explain how Wall Street likes to use confusing terms to make you think only they can understand what they do.
“We wanted to be the first Wall Street movie that took you behind the curtain, that really said, All these confusing terms you hear, all the ways the banks make you feel stupid or bored … it’s actually not that hard. If the guy who did Step Brothers can understand it you can too.
“We were trying to show that this thing that half of Wall Street doesn’t understand, these derivatives, mortgage backed securities, they’re actually pretty easy. They bundled a bunch of mortgages, they sold them, made a ton of money. Then they ran out of good mortgages so they put crappy mortgages in and coerced the ratings agencies to give them AAA. That’s it. That’s the whole story.”
McKay has an a-list cast but he didn’t want to make the movie all about the stars.
“It would have been very easy to just do this character story and just show these guys being affected by it but I wanted this thing to bridge a gap. I think there is too much stuff in our society where people just think, ‘Ahhh banking! It’s boring. Politics! Who cares?’ The truth is, this stuff is exciting, It’s the language of power. Once you get hooked on it, it gets addictive.”
The Big Short is a look at our recent past, but McKay warns this is not a historical drama or cautionary tale, rather it’s very much a going concern.
“All the effects of this collapse are still completely in play. All the same questions are still in play and they fixed a few things but they didn’t fix the main, weight bearing beam beams that caused this problem. So this is an active story right this second. That is one of the main reasons we made this movie, we want people to understand that. This isn’t over.”
Richard’s CP24 reviews about the big movies opening on Christmas Day: Brad Pitt and Ryan Gosling in the financial drama “The Big Short,” Quentin Tarantino’s neo-western “The Hateful Eight,” “Joy,” starring Jennifer Lawrence, Bradley Cooper and Robert De Niro and Will Smith in “Concussion.”
Richard and “Canada AM” guest host Melissa Grelo discuss the big movies opening on Christmas Day: Brad Pitt and Ryan Gosling in the financial drama “The Big Short,” Quentin Tarantino’s neo-western “The Hateful Eight,” “Joy,” starring Jennifer Lawrence, Bradley Cooper and Robert De Niro and Will Smith in “Concussion.”
Have a look at Richard’s “Canada AM” interview with “The Big Short” director Adam McKay!
“We wanted to be the first Wall Street movie that took you behind the curtain, that really said, All these confusing terms you hear, all the ways the banks make you feel stupid or bored… it’s actually not that hard. If the guy who did Step Brothers can understand it you can too.”
The Brady Bunch is pop culture’s most famous blended family.
The story of a “lovely lady who was bringing up three very lovely girls,” and a “man named Brady with three boys of his own,” who “would somehow form a family,” ran for fives seasons on TV, endlessly in reruns and even spawned two movies.
“The Brady Bunch is a live-action modern fairy tale of family,” says Christopher Knight who played Peter Brady on the original show. “In this context it’s less odd that it’s lasted for over 30 years; and why it may last in some respects as long as Mother Goose!”
He may be optimistic on the eternal appeal of his show, but he’s not wrong to imply that the idea of blended families could remain the subject of stories and movies for years to come.
This weekend “cinematic soulmates” Drew Barrymore and Adam Sandler reunite for a third time, following The Wedding Singer and 50 First Dates, for Blended, a romantic comedy about the mixing and mingling of two families.
Hollywood has been blending screen families for years. The grandfather of these blended family stories has to be Yours, Mine and Ours.
Based on the memoir Who Gets the Drumstick? by Helen Beardsley, this 1968 Lucille Ball, Henry Fonda film sees a widow with eight kids and a widower with 10 children (including Mike, played by Tim Matheson 10 years before he found fame in Animal House) become one big (almost) happy family.
The film was produced by Ball, who became so friendly with the Beardsleys she treated all 20 of them to a trip to Disneyland. ABC and Paramount Studios were so impressed with the film they gave the green light to the similarly themed The Brady Bunch show.
The same year, movie legend Doris Day made her final big-screen appearance in With Six You Get Egg Roll, a blended family story about a widow with three sons who marries a man with a daughter. The kids don’t see eye to eye, but soon figure out a way to live together. Released so soon after Yours, Mine and Ours, Eggroll got good reviews, but, as Roger Ebert wrote at the time, “would probably seem funnier if it didn’t suffer by comparison.”
Finally, Step Brothers is an R-rated look at extreme Peter Pan Syndrome. Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly play 40ish men who become bunkmates and reluctant stepbrothers when their parents (Mary Steenburgen and Richard Jenkins) marry. The familiar reprimand “Grow up and act your age” fell on deaf ears with these guys. It’s like watching two overweight, foul-mouthed 10-year-olds with thinning hair going at each other, but it is good vulgar fun.
Synopsis: Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues opened this week bringing confident but thick news anchor Ron Burgundy (Will Ferrell) back to the big screen after a nine year absence. The first film made catchphrases like, “I love scotch. Scotchy, scotch, scotch,” and the names Brick Tamland (Steve Carell), Brian Fantana (Paul Rudd) and Champion “Champ” Kind (David Koechner) household words. In celebration of the return of the team from San Diego’s KVWN Channel 4 the Reel Guys have a look back at the career of funnyman Will Ferrell.
Richard: Mark, I think Will Ferrell is one of the bravest comedic actors working today; someone willing to do anything for a laugh. Trouble is, I often don’t laugh. Anchorman is laugh-out-loud funny. Ditto Elf and Old School, but sometimes I feel he has to rein the manic energy in, do half as much and maybe be twice as funny. Having said that, the Shark Week jokes in Step Brothers really make me giggle.
Mark: Richard, I share your ambivalence toward Ferrell. He’s not my go-to guy for funny. Still, he’s done some great work. My favourite Will Ferrell movies are two indie films he’s starred in: Stranger Than Fiction and Everything Must Go. They’re the equivalent of Jim Carrey’s work in The Truman Show and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Maybe not huge crowd pleasers, but they show the true breadth of his talent.
RC: I agree. I think Stranger Than Fiction is worth a rental. It’s touching and funny, which for me is Ferrell’s sweet spot. A Night at the Roxbury is a silly comedy but Ferrell’s wide-eyed performance is the kind of thing I like from him. Outrageous, yes, but underneath the silly is a real guy. Sometimes I can’t see the real guy underneath his characters and those are his movies that don’t work for me. Except Zoolander. As fashion guru Mugatu he’s so strange he dares you not to laugh at him.
MB: Yes, he’s sometimes better in a supporting role in which his over-the-top zaniness doesn’t sink the whole picture. Mugatu for sure, but also the mattress salesman in The Internship or Franz in The Producers. But generally, I find his man-child jock character wearying. Which is why, I think, Anchorman is such a successful movie. It’s a Will Ferrell movie for people who don’t care for Will Ferrell movies. Did you enjoy the sequel, Richard?
RC: I did. I think there is a lot of life left in Ron Burgundy. It’s funny in an outrageous way. It’s a bit too long, (and don’t bother sitting through to the post credit scene unless you find the sight of Steve Carell eating cookies hilarious) but the buffoonery level is high in a season where serious drama seems to be the ticket.
In the last couple of weeks I have seen Ferrell, in character, sit in on some local newscasts and he fit right in. As long as there is media, egomaniac announcers and local news, there will be a place for Ron Burgundy.
MB: Yes, but let’s not forget he’s supported by a stellar cast of comic actors: Paul Rudd, Jim Carrey, Steve Carell, Vince Vaughn, Kristen Wiig. Even if Ferrell isn’t your cup of tea, it’s hard to believe this movie won’t work.
Step Brothers, the new R-rated comedy from the Judd Apatow sausage factory, is a look at extreme Peter Pan Syndrome. Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly, last seen together in Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby, play 40ish men who still live at home and become bunkmates and reluctant step brothers when their parents marry. The familiar reprimand “Grow up and act your age” fell on deaf ears with these guys.
Ferrell and Reilly play Brennan Huff, a thirty-nine-year-old who recently lost his part-time job at Pet Smart who lives with his mother, Nancy (Mary Steenburgen) and Dale Doback, an unemployed forty-year-old who still resides under his father Robert’s (Richard Jenkins) roof. When Nancy and Robert tie the knot Brennan and Dale are forced to share a room in Robert’s luxurious home. Sparks fly as the two immature men clash, arguing and beating one another with golf clubs.
Eventually their shared love of Star Wars and karate helps them find a bond and they become tight friends. Unfortunately as one big immature, lazy force they are twice as destructive as before. Their aggressive behavior prevents them from getting jobs and finally drives a wedge between Nancy and Robert. Will their parent’s impending divorce finally force these middle-aged slackers to grow up?
Step Brothers is essentially an 80s teen comedy with two 40 year olds in the roles that would have been played by young nerdy actors Anthony Michael Hall and Larry B. Scott in 1985. It’s got a meaner edge and certainly worse language than the classic teen comedies of twenty years ago, but the message of being true to yourself could have come straight from the pen of teen scribe guru John Hughes. Besides, any movie that uses a Dane Cook Pay-Per-View Special as a punch line is OK by me.
The chemistry between Ferrell and Reilly as the poster boys for arrested development saves this one-joke idea from becoming monotonous. They play off one another well and as their step-sibling-rivalry escalates so does their outrageously childish behavior. It’s like watching two overweight, foul mouthed ten year olds with thinning hair going at each other.
Step Brothers is silly R-rated summer moving-going fun.