The Big Short comes up long on smarts and entertainment



Remember that teacher you had for the subject that was more than tad past your grasp but somehow, day after day, came up with a way to punctuate the classroom with enough street oomph to not only keep your head in the game but make you go home with a stake in the overall picture?

That’s The Big Short.

Director Adam McKay co-wrote the script with Chris Randolph from the pages of the non-fiction bestseller by Michael Lewis about how Wall Street and the banks hit Main Street America across the side of the head with a two-by-four with their 2005 mortgage shenanigans.

Of course, it was way more complicated than that, with terms that I won’t even get into here. But to the glory of director McKay, when it got too deep, he brought in famous folks to look at the camera as themselves — beautiful actress Margo Robbie in a bathtub, celebrity foodie/host/traveler Anthony Bourdain in a kitchen, pop singer Selena Gomez at a blackjack table — to outlandishly explain the concept in understandable bites.

And he painted the main characters — eccentric money-manager genius Dr. Michael Burry, prickly hedge fund group leader Mark Baum, cagey bank dealer Jared Vennett and runaway rich guy Ben Rickert — as full-range folks.

Oh, what a job the cast does playing them. Christian Bale is marvelous as the strange Burry, fidgeting always with his one-glass eye, the guy who discovered the scads of individual bad mortgages and was the first to predict the collapse of the mountains despite the scorn of the industry and money people for which he worked. Steve Carell is top-rate as Baum, the fraught crew leader in the renegade offshoot of giant Wall Street firm Morgan Stanley with a big mouth and the stirring conscience about what’s really going on beyond the dollars. Ryan Gosling is terrific as the banker terrifying all pushing for the big deal on the huge fall. Brad Pitt is understated as the yoga who returns to guide two eager young bucks — very nice supporting turns by Finn Wittrock and John Magaro — on how to get their skin in the big kill.

It’s all done with a biting edge of humor, too, to not only help the medicine go down but to remind us all again that, yes, friends, this really did happen, starting one decade ago.

And before my dear wife Karen and I were allowed to return to the Friday night Syracuse chill from the Regal Cinemas Shoppingtown Mall theater along with the rest of the fairly packed theater, we had to face a screen roll declaration.

Spoiler alert here.

There flashed a new and dizzying term, something the banks and Wall Street are selling together right this very second.

That, my friends, was not funny at all.

But it was illustrative educating.

What was your favorite subject that you didn’t think you’d like at all going into it, and why? What was your favorite movie that taught you something about a subject you didn’t know much about beforehand? In 2016, would you put your money behind the continued success of Christian Bale, Steve Carell, Ryan Gosling or Brad Pitt, and why?

27 thoughts on “The Big Short comes up long on smarts and entertainment

  1. Wow, that is a superb review of a movie that looked quite interesting. Now it’s definitely on the “Watch” list.

    And I’d say Econ was the subject I didn’t expect to enjoy (I was a bit of a nonconformist anti-establishment kiddo in high school) but loved the big-picture ideas and abstraction of it.


    • Econ class and this movie go hand-in-hand, Dave. Guns and Butter perked my ears in Econ 101, but the TA I had at U of Maryland was awful explaining even the simplest concepts in ways I could grasp it. Maybe it was me, not him.


  2. As for the question of school subjects, I was surprised that I enjoyed physics as much as I did. The teacher made it so fun and hilarious!

    As for the question of movies that teach, oh gosh, I barely watch any movies at all. But I’d have to say The Master was a very interesting glimpse into the alleged origins of Scientology. I thought the movie itself was rather dreadful — poorly paced, too eccentric, no resolution — but it certainly taught me a fair bit about Scientology!

    As for the last question, I don’t know who Christian Bale is. I’m only vaguely familiar with Ryan Gosling and Steve Carell. So I’ll vote on Brad Pitt having a successful 2016!


  3. Liked the film a LOT, and your review as well, Mark. Agree that the script was well-written and did a good job at making the audience feel we understood a decent amount of the machinations going on. Terrific acting!

    I was seriously disappointed at the, to me, obvious and painful sexism in the “clarifying” scenes you describe, where folks break the wall to explain the lesser-known financial terms and concepts. We heard from male professionals in their business attire, but from females dressed sexily or not at all. The supposed contradiction that such women could fluently spout expert knowledge about finance was milked.

    Not ONE business woman knowing her financial #ss from a hole in the ground?


    Liked by 1 person

    • I didn’t think that Selena Gomez was exploited that way, but I get your point, Babe. Well put. I thought they equally poked fun of Bourdain the food guy in the fish market, by the way, but I still know what you mean.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Saw it and thought it was really good and clever. And great performances by all. That last term was pretty dizzying, too. I had to look it up! Wow, you mean this could happen again? Yep. Now that’s the scary thing.


  5. i really have been wanting to see this and plan to do so very soon. reminds me of ‘wolf o w street’ from the trailers, a bit. wasn’t margo also in that one? i always learn things from movies and love them as a vehicle for both entertainment and education. i’m really impressed by steve c’s longevity and growth as an actor, reminds me of how bill murray really came into his own as an actor over time.


  6. With a stellar cast like that, you know it just had to be good. Looking forward to this one. I had a Calculus professor, very eccentric, who made it all plausible because of his excitement for math…it was contagious. ☺


  7. I’ve come up short being able to see this movie, yet. Your post inspires me to make the time for it, Mark. By the way, the author’s name is Michael Lewis, not Chris. I know because I’ve read other books by him and experienced him as just the kind of teacher you so perfectly described in your first paragraph.


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