Kurt Loder Movie Reviews

Movie Reviews: The Big Short and Joy

Capitalism and its discontents.

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The Big Short

Right now is a good time to take a capitalist to the movies. Most especially to see The Big Short, Adam McKay's rocking adaptation of Michael Lewis' nonfiction bestseller about the 2008 economic meltdown, in which Wall Street shysters vaporized some $5-trillion in savings and real-estate value, and left millions of Americans jobless and without homes. This is a story that can only leave you angry and disgusted—how could government overseers fail in their duty to stop such blatant fraud? But McKay, best known for directing Will Ferrell comedies like Talladega Nights and the Anchorman films, approaches the material with great satirical flair, and his charisma-heavy cast navigates its moral ambiguities with graceful precision. The picture leaves you feeling jazzed and happy… and yet still angry and disgusted.

The movie begins in 2005, at the height of a U.S. real-estate boom. The mortgage industry is luring low-income citizens to sign up for deluxe properties they can in no way afford—the lure being dubious low-interest mortgages designed to blow up in their faces. The big Wall Street investment banks—Goldman Sachs, Lehman Brothers, all those outfits—have packaged these dodgy mortgages into bonds of such inscrutable complexity that no one knows, or cares to know, exactly what's in them. The market credit-rating companies—Moody's, Standard & Poor's—are reliant on the banks for the fat fees that keep them in business, and they go along with the scam. Worse yet, the watchdog Securities and Exchange Commission can't be bothered to care. The money rolls in.

In California, an obsessive, one-eyed hedge-fund manager named Michael Burry (a magnetic Christian Bale) starts digging deep into these bonds and soon realizes that they're actually worthless. On behalf of his clients, he decides to short the market—to bet against the bonds by amassing credit-default insurance that will pay off richly when the bonds (and the U.S. economy, as it later turns out) collapse.

Back in New York, Burry's bold strategy comes to the attention of a Wall Street bond slickster named Jared Vennett (an awesomely smarmy Ryan Gosling). Vennett in turn brings it to the attention of hedge-fund manager Mark Baum (Steve Carell), who has serious anger-management issues and is outraged that the shady financial establishment is once again preying on ordinary Americans. Baum starts shorting the market, too.

At the same time, two neophyte Colorado fund managers named Charlie Geller (John Magaro) and Jamie Shipley (Finn Witrock) come to New York to get in on the action, and they have a secret weapon—Ben Rickert (laid-way-back Brad Pitt), a Boulder neighbor and onetime bond trader who quit the business in disgust. They, too, begin to bet against the dodgy bonds.

All of these characters are fully drawn, rich with foibles and failings, and the actors have a ball playing them. Bale's Michael Burry, in his baggy shorts and bare feet, is isolated by Asperger's syndrome; he holes up in his office blasting Metallica and communicating with the outside world only by email. And Carell's Mark Baum, tormented by his knowledge of what's really going on, can't stifle his disdain for the bond-market creeps he's forced to consort with. (His faceoff with one especially repellent bond trader, played by Byron Mann, is a master class in smoldering contempt.)

It's a considerable achievement that the movie is able to keep us engrossed in a story filled with bond-trade babble—CMOs, CDOs, credit default swaps. Co-writers McKay and Charles Randolph anticipate our confusion and at one point give Vennett a voiceover in which he says of all this insider terminology, "Does it make you feel bored, or stupid? Well, it's supposed to." And when one or another arcane concept simply has to be explained, McKay, in a clever move, brings in random celebrities—Anthony Bourdain, Selena Gomez, Margot Robbie (in a bubble bath) —to help out.

There's a dark moral tide running beneath all the laughs, of course. The men we see blowing the whistle on Wall Street by shorting the bonds are also making billions—billions! —of dollars by doing so. The human wreckage they begin to see piling up is partly their doing. On the other hand, if they hadn't acted, might the catastrophe, going on longer, have been worse? Baum is torn: "Average people are gonna be the ones who'll have to pay for all this," he says. "They always do." How right he is.

Joy

David O. Russell's Joy is a rare Hollywood offering—a snark-free celebration of entrepreneurial capitalism. Regrouping his Silver Linings Playbook stars Jennifer Lawrence, Bradley Cooper, and Robert De Niro, Russell—who rewrote Annie Mumolo's original script – tells the more-or-less true story of Joy Mangano, the struggling Long Island homemaker who invented the Miracle Mop and became a multi-millionaire.

Lawrence's Joy is a woman who's losing her mind tending a needy household that includes her two kids, her TV-addicted mother (Virginia Madsen), her salsa-singing ex-husband (Édgar Ramirez) and disapproving father (De Niro) —the latter two currently bunking together in her basement. Joy is a born inventor who put her dreams on hold after she invented a glow-in-the-dark dog collar as a teen and then watched a big pet-care company hijack it after she failed to patent the thing. Now here she is, with no money, no marriage, buried in housework.

Then one day she drops a glass of wine. Kneeling down to soak up the mess, she cuts her hands—and suddenly has an idea: a new kind of super-absorbent mop that can be squeezed dry mechanically. She constructs one of these herself and sets off to demonstrate it in a Kmart parking lot. But passersby keep passing by—no one cares.

The movie is narratively unbalanced: there are too many childhood flashbacks and fantasy soap-opera scenes (Joy's mom is really into the soaps), and a little too much in the way of family dynamics (there's also a bitterly jealous sister, played by a steely Elisabeth Röhm). Eventually, though, Joy connects with a man named Neil (Cooper), who runs a new kind of cable channel called QVC ("Quality, Value, Convenience"), which is dedicated to marketing all kinds of gadgets and fashions directly to home shoppers. Neill agrees to give Joy's mop a shot, and tells her to produce 50,000 of them. Joy borrows money from her dad's wealthy girlfriend (Isabella Rossellini) and takes out a second mortgage on her house to do so. But the QVC staffer chosen to demonstrate the mop on-air screws up—no one calls in to place an order.

Joy is bereft. But after an interlude of darkest heartbreak, she marches back to Neill and demands to be allowed to demonstrate the mop on-air herself. She turns out to be a natural, and in the space of 20 minutes 18,000 orders pour in through the studio switchboard.

This is a movie of moments. Lawrence exerts flawless control in a scene in which Joy takes on a sinister money man and beats him down without even raising her voice. The standout scene, though—and reason enough to see the movie—has Neil showing Joy around the QVC studio and explaining the channel's game-changing marketing approach. It's all about the hands, he tells her—the camera doesn't focus on the hosts' faces, but on their hands as they glide around the products in hypnotic rites of presentation. Neill's face seems to be lit up from within (Cooper's familiar warmth is at full radiance). He has a trail-blazer's fervor, and Joy slowly catches the glow. It's a transporting moment. You might call it capitalist poetry.

NEXT: The Season of Peace Requires Action, Not Songs

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  1. I saw Joy tonight and was disappointed that several things in the trailer were not in the movie at all. The biggest one being where she’s telling her daughter that “the world doesn’t owe you anything”. One of the mains reasons I went to see it was because of that very important message that needs to be said far more often then it is, especially in Hollywood. So sad that it got cut out of the movie. 🙁

    1. My last pay check was $9500 working 12 hours a week online. My sisters friend has been averaging 15k for months now and she works about 20 hours a week. I can’t believe how easy it was once I tried it out. This is what I do..

      Clik This Link inYour Browser….

      ? ? ? ? http://www.WorkPost30.Com

  2. The trailer is unusually un-representative. The scene where Joy’s firing a rifle and says “I’m Joy” isn’t in the movie either….

    1. Actually, she fires a shotgun, and it is in the movie.

  3. …how could government overseers fail in their duty to stop such blatant fraud?

    Why because we need more laws, rules, and regulations and a new Department to oversee all those new laws, rules, and regulations.

    1. The investors selling short weren’t defrauding anyone. The fraud came from the government regulations and programs that produced the housing bubble and propped up the grossly overvalued bonds the investors took advantage of.

    2. You fail to comprehend the nature of bureaucracy. Eliminating the problems is not in the bureau’s interest, the Bureaucrats are from the industry the oversee and political policy compliance trumps serving the governed.

      And, you demonstarte an ignorance about what fractional reserve banking is. Hint: it is, enacted into law in 1913, the ONLY legal economic policy and praxctice allowed in the united States of America. It is the scheme by which the entire (E N T I R E) America economic system is controlled, manipulated and monitored. Discover how it was created, what it does and its effects and you’ll know the source of all political corruption and the financial engine of communism and fascism; which are two sides of the same coin – socialism. Try this … it’s FREE: The Case Against the Fed” by Murray N. Rothbard –https://mises.org/library/case-against-fed-0

  4. Wanted to make the point that government control, so highly esteemed by statists, was already in place here — and failed utterly in its minimal mission of stopping blatant fraud.

    1. It’s not just a government failure at play here…the entire mess was a government made problem exacerbated by the typical government failure.

      1. There are other newer books on the topic … this one is FREE: The Case Against the Fed” by Murray N. Rothbard –https://mises.org/library/case-against-fed-0

  5. To determine if someone is an adherent of the regulatory fallacy ask this question: Do you believe that given the degree that the tax burden was shifted from the rich to the middle class, was there any type of regulatory policy which would have prevented the financial crisis and subsequent depression? If they answer yes, they are adherents to the regulatory fallacy.

    As with the regulatory fallacy, both left and right versions, there is a miniscule grain of truth to it. Financial innovations such as credit default swaps and regulatory changes like repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act slightly affected the exact timing of the onset of the depression. However, once the tax burden was shifted from the rich to the middle class it was just a matter of time before middle-class consumers became unable to absorb the increased production and service the debt that accompanied the overinvestment. Different regulatory policies might have shifted the bubble more towards commercial real estate rather than residential real estate or vice-versa but the outcome would have been similar.

    Blaming regulatory policies and financial innovation for the depression is like blaming the armaments manufacturers and soldiers for World War II. In order for the war to occur there had to some weapons made and some soldiers to fight. If those particular armaments manufacturers and soldiers were not available, others would have taken their place..”
    http://seekingalpha.com/article/1543642

    1. Better try than most, I’ll give you that. But, it was the FED manipulation of the interest rate that caused the 2007-2008 recession (every economic downturn since its creation in 1913). Try these reads; they’re FREE:

      The Case Against the Fed” by Murray N. Rothbard –https://mises.org/library/case-against-fed-0

      NOTE – In the URL address (NOT in the title) of the Ebellng booklet, ADD a hyphen between the words trade and cycle. This site limits words to 50 characters.
      “Austrian Theory of the Trade Cycle and Other Essays” by Richard Ebeling — https://mises.org/library/austrian-theory-trade cycle-and-other-essays

      Enjoy!

  6. Wall Street shysters vaporized some $5-trillion in savings and real-estate value, and left millions of Americans jobless and without homes.

    I searched this for some hidden irony and came up empty. I remember that Loder introduced Lisa Kennedy to Objectivist epistemology years ago, so it’s disappointing to see him passing over the Fed and HUD and a dozen other major contributors to the bubble to point fingers at Wall Street, who in spite of their evil shyster genius still managed to get crushed by the same bubble that the rest of the world did.

    Why this bubble was uniquely limited to mortgages is mysterious, of course. Presumably the mortgage market has a special appeal for evil Wall Street shysters that the cotton, widget, or tool-and-die markets do not.

    1. But Wall Street, for the most part, didn’t get crushed: Taxpayers were dragged in to pay for its malfeasance, and Wall Street executives still collected their multi-million-dollar bonuses. Your points about the Fed and HUD are of course correct, but would have required a lengthy left turn to deal with in a movie review…

      1. agree

  7. Regarding the 2008 economic meltdown: Bill Clinton thumped the first domino in the ’90s. Read “Reckless Endangerment” by Gretchen Morgenson.

  8. “The mortgage industry is luring low-income citizens to sign up for deluxe properties they can in no way afford?the lure being dubious low-interest mortgages designed to blow up in their faces.”

    Are we positive this is exactly how it went down?

    1. This is how it’s depicted in the movie….

    2. I don’t think that’s ^ exactly how it went down, but a lapse (or whatever you want to call it) on that point will not prevent me from enjoying an otherwise smart movie.

    3. Sometime around 2005 or 2006 or so my girlfriend and I went to be pre-approved for a mortgage. At the time the radio was filled with ads for “no doc, no income verification, zero down, interest-only” mortgages. Being from boring sensible stock, we had saved enough for the traditional down payments mortgages would demand.

      When we went in to see how we’d fared, the agent joked that he had to ask a co-worker, “Hey, I’ve got a couple looking for pre-approval for a 30-year fixed with 20% down and full tax returns. How do I write that up?”

      As the crash of 2008 showed and people found themselves upside-down in homes they’d walk away from rather than pay hundreds of thousands more than they were worth showed, yeah, that’s pretty much how it went down.

  9. i highly recommend both. happy 2016.

  10. Evil Wall Street does the government’s bidding (increasing home ownership, the American dream), fails, and everyone wonders why the government did do their jobs to check them.

    If lending institutions were limited to lending money to folks who has realistic chance of paying them back, colleges would lose 50% of their campus population. People love money they can’t have in America. I laugh inside at people who blast wall street but think education should be free.

  11. Im making over $9k a month working part time. I kept hearing other people tell me how much money they can make online so I decided to look into it. Well, it was all true and has totally changed my life. This is what I do,

    ———- http://www.onlinejobs100.com

  12. Does anyone remember when the Statists accused the banks of “Redlining”? The banks were vigorously threatened with lawsuits and fines if they did not start writing mortgages for anyone and everyone who applied. When the banks complained, Uncle Sam said not to worry, we will mop up the bad loans via Freddie and Fannie.
    Voila! – Mortgage crisis.
    Am I the only one who remembers this?

    1. Look up “community reinvestmant act”.
      That might help to jog your memory.

    2. Yeah, this con has gone on since Carter’s later days and it’s still going. Thanks Fannie and Freddie…..

      1. Typical of statist types….unintended consequences? Never heard of ’em.

      2. Typical of statist types….unintended consequences? Never heard of ’em.

  13. The collusion between the federal government and banks with the Federal Reserve, FDIC, FHA, HUD, Freddie Mac, Fannie Mae, Community Reinvestment Act and more is what led to the financial crisis.

    When government gets in bed with big business we get: ratings agencies rubber stamping investments, regulators looking the other way, banks giving liar loans, the government bailing out banks and taxpayers paying for everything.

    Abolish the Fed, FDIC, FHA, HUD, Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae. Repeal the Community Reinvestment Act.

  14. Yeah, yeah, yeah, it’s a film review. But it’s unfortunate not to see, from a critic who is supposed to know better, a little pushback against propaganda in the art they criticize. (For examples of how to do this, google Mencken, H.L.)

    Consider this quote from your review: “And when one or another arcane concept simply has to be explained, McKay, in a clever move, brings in random celebrities?Anthony Bourdain, Selena Gomez, Margot Robbie (in a bubble bath) ?to help out.”

    This is, in fact, a form of sandbagging. You trot out a spurious premise (the meltdown was caused by Wall Street greed, full stop), don’t mention the legal requirements on the banking industry of the CRA, or the intense lobbying since the mid-90’s of Fannie Mae executives, but give your work a patina of technical truthiness by defining terms for them onscreen.

    (See the films of Michael Moore for how this is done non-stop for hours on end.)

    So, nice review, glad you liked the movie, but you really only did half your job.

    1. Good point. I saw it yesterday and kept thinking I wasn’t getting the full picture. If we could draw a schematic of how we get from A to Z — from the initial home loan to an individual, all the way to shorting CDOs — we would see many actors, including government actors. How many of these actors are “to blame” for the housing bubble bursting? I don’t think the guys in the film (the ones who figured out how to short the market) are the ones responsible. There would be a bubble, and a bust, with or without their actions. The initial decision to lend and to borrow (two actors) in a situation where repayment is unlikely, is actually the most culpable. And those in government who “encouraged” or required that transaction, would also bear responsibility.

      1. Argh! I’ve read so many of these comments and even those that refer to the FED miss the boat. Government encouragement, bad policies/regulations/law and horrific lending and investment banking practices are symptoms … NOT the cause. It is the FED manipulation of the interest rate that is the culprit. Low rate signals large capital invetment with an expectation of end-users with money at the end of expansion .. NOT: builders, equipment and appliance mfgs crash and burn. Employees are laid off … all because the FED exists to inflate the currency and that is an impossible task always resuklting in a crash. The most crucial item in a free economy is honest prices and the FED controls the money and hence all prices are corrupted … no such thing as a free makt since the FED was created with a lie in 1913. Check it out, it’s FREE: “The Case Against the Fed” by Murray N. Rothbard –https://mises.org/library/case-against-fed-0

        In your scenario of a decision to lend and to borrow would be moot except for the FED lowering rates to virtually zero in the years before the Bubble Burst. Had rates reflected supply and demand for money … even the crayziest and most irresponsible loan would not be made with a rate at 45%. No bubble no burst. The FED hides behind blaming symptoms and capitalism which hasn’t existed since the FED became law and has been maniupulating the quality and quantity of the currency.

  15. TThe movie totally misses the cause of the recession – as does the reveiewer Loder and most commenting here.

    If you are a mfg of cars, boats, earth moving equipment, home appliances, homes, commercial/industrial buildings and you know that to expand requires a lot of money and a lot of time to build, do you expand when interest rates are high?No, of course not. You wait to expand when interest rates are low; foreseeably over a long period. Additonaly important is that low rates indicates that end-users will have funds available when expansion is complete to buy the increases production!!! Now, in a free market place, interest rates are determined by supply and demand. If consumers are deffering purchases, they save. And, if there is sufficient overall savings, rates are low. Conversley, if consumers are spending current and future (credit) income savings are depleted and interesterates are high. Now, interject the FED into the equation. The FED has caused every economic tragedy since its deceptive creation in 1913. It and only it caused the current mess. Just read this free booklet and learn something about the truth: “The Case Against the Fed” by Murray N. Rothbard –https://mises.org/library/case-against-fed-0

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