The Big Short. Money For Almost Nothing.

big short

Posters for The Big Short proclaim BALE, CARRELL, GOSLING, PITT in shouty, fist-pumping, hyperbolic capitals. Which makes us wonder what the atmosphere was like on set. We’re imagining the boys locker room to end all boys locker rooms.  BALE and GOSLING engaged in a pec-flexing battle of alpha males, silverback PITT sagely observing the young bucks jostling for his crown, whilst nerdy CARELL (does he really deserve the upper case?) has the sense to know his place and sits quietly picking at a scab on his knee. Yes, we came to The Big Short fearing a chest bumping testosterone overload. Were we right?

 

A ‘big short’ is a term for betting against the financial markets, specifically in this case the US housing market, for The Big Short examines how the recent US mortgage crisis and ensuing global economic crisis came to happen. For the purposes of illustration we follow Michael Burry (Christian Bale) an eccentric financial genius and hedge fund manager who spots that the US housing market is sitting on a bubble about to pop. Dismissed by most as a nutjob (mostly due to slobbing around his office in dirty t-shirts and bare feet) his predictions nonetheless attract the attention of several colleagues and fellow financiers who decide to bet against the housing market to make money and beat the banks at their own game.

 

This is not an easy subject. Terms like ‘credit default’ and ‘collateralized  debt’ normally only appear in the business sections everyone skips to get to the footy results. But that’s OK because we’re given lighthearted cameos of celebs appearing as themselves to explain the tricky bits. Although after Margot Robbie in a bathtub explained ‘sub-prime loans’ The Sloth was still confused, but we struggle with long division so that probably says more about us.

 

Filled with deliciously larger than life characters, many are indeed ludicrously macho but director Adam McKay was also responsible for the Anchorman films and his talent for satirical comedy definitely finds a place here, skewering the Wall Street egos. Most importantly, the whole thing rattles along at a riotous pace that is both marvelously entertaining and a distraction from the nagging feeling that you don’t quite understand what is going on. Which arguably is entirely the point.

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12 Years A Slave. The Oscars Start Here.

12 yearsWhat deathly sway does director Steve McQueen hold over his muse Michael Fassbender? For Hunger Michael dieted into losing 16 kilos. In Shame he cavorted naked with prostitutes. Now in 12 Years A Slave he’s evil incarnate. We’re thinking hypnosis. Paul McKenna on speed dial. How else do you explain it?

12 Years A Slave is based on a true story. Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor) was a respectable, educated black man living in New York in 1841. A talented musician, with a wife and children, he had money, a place in society and, crucially, was a free man. Until one day falling victim to two con artists he found himself drugged, kidnapped and headed to the Deep South to be sold into slavery.

Initially landing at the hands of kindly cotton plantation owner Ford (Benedict Cumberbatch), Solomon learnt keeping his head down and working hard led to tolerable living conditions. Sadly, this wasn’t to last. After an altercation with Tibeats (Paul Dano), a rogue employee of Ford, Solomon was sold on to Edwin Epps (Michael Fassebender). Actively, sadistically cruel, Edwin ruled his plantation with violence, beatings and terror. Pushed beyond points that would break most men, Solomon held his spirit until a chance encounter with Canadian liberal Bass (Brad Pitt) led to his liberation.

To date, being an inhabitant of the enlightened 21st century, historical slavery in the Deep South has seemed an impossibly alien world. But Solomon is an educated everyman like you and I, and watching him experience this unspeakably foul society makes it immediately, horribly real. It is very hard to watch in places. The violence and cruelty are absolutely brutal and the camera does not relent from showing you every detail in real time. Which is as it should be. It does its subject justice by portraying it as the abhorrent time in history that it was. An important and incredible film, visually stunning, beautifully directed and acted. Don’t miss it.

UK release 24 January 2014

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World War Z. Set Zombies To Warp Speed.

wwzThe Sloth’s mother invited Brad in for tea when he was filming World War Z outside her apartment. Mr Pitt put the kettle on himself, was “very handsome” and sent flowers afterwards. The Sloth’s partner DJ’d at the Snatch premiere party and Brad shook hands, asked for reggae and was “very good looking”. We can conclude three things: 1) Mr Pitt is a social tart; 2) EVERYONE fancies him, irrespective of age or sexual orientation; 3) it’s extremely unfair that The Sloth hasn’t met him.

But we digress.

In World War Z, Brad is an ex-UN special investigator, now a stay-at-home dad who makes pancakes and gets dumped with the washing up. Till one day Manhattan finally succumbs to grid lock with radio reports of an ‘outbreak of rabies’. It’s not rabies. Cue the zombies. Thousands of ‘em. Proper zombies, bug eyed, squirming and thrashing, tearing full pelt across the streets, chomping lumps out of the city’s inhabitants. No meandering trundle here. These are zombies in a hurry.

Brad bundles his family into a strangely unused camper van and flees the city. Then takes a call from his ex-boss at the UN, offering them sanctuary on a US warship.  But in exchange for harbouring his wife and kids, Brad must return to the investigative fold, initially as babysitter to a young, brilliant doctor headed to the source of the outbreak to find a cure. Except Doc freaks out on facing his first zombie and shoots himself in the head. Darn. Now Brad will have to save the world himself, passing through South Korea, Jerusalem and Cardiff (yes, really) en route.

It’s terrific fun, playing it straight despite the teeth clacking, salivating un-dead on screen. Our only wish would have been for proper, gory zombie deaths, not the PG-13 cutaways. Maybe we’re just a bit warped.

UK release 21 June

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