“Biggest, Shortest, My Hat is Like a CDO,” or, The Big Short

bigshort

$$$!!!

The Big Short, director Adam McKay’s film based on author Michael Lewis’ book chronicling several outlying investors who were able to predict the 2007 financial crisis and profit from it, is truly next level. The screenplay, the directing, the acting, the editing, everything in the film fires on all cylinders. I had no intention of enjoying a movie that for all intents and purposes appears to be about a bunch of rich white guys shuffling money to and fro, but when a film is this well made you really don’t have a say in the matter

The Big Short is at varying points a gut-wrenching drama, a side-splitting comedy, something of a documentary and just a straight up economics lecture. It morphs seamlessly in and out of fiction and in and out of comedy due in no small part to the often breakneck editing that keeps the film moving forward at a brisk pace.

Further smoothing out what could have been an extremely disjointed movie are the performances. Ryan Gosling in particular is able to move from narrator to character to lecturer with ease. The standout performance, however, is Steve Carell, who serves as the film’s beating heart buried deep inside the sterile, artificial organs of finance. He’s the closest thing to an audience stand-in there is in a world packed full of jargon and doublespeak. Even when it’s difficult to understand the specifics of what is happening Carell’s acting is able to communicate the necessary information.

But even Carell, bleeding heart and all, is no hero. The Big Short is a movie about dudes making money off of an economic collapse brought on by greedy, ignorant people selling empty promises to folks who didn’t know any better.

There are no heroes in The Big Short. Arguably, there’s nothing but varying degrees of antagonism. And worse still, as you may know from being alive in the world, there is no resolution. No retribution or justice. In that sense The Big Short is something of a two act story: the set up of the inciting incident, the execution of the inciting indigent and that’s it.

There’s a question mark shaped hole where a protagonist should be, and that isn’t creative license.

The Big Short is hilarious and poignant and smart but above all else it is utterly disillusioning. It’ll make you feel hopeless and small and angry. But it’ll also help you understand the most devastating economic event of our time and, most importantly, it might just inspire you to look at the shit show of financial and economic authority with a healthy and well-earned distrust.

Foxcatcher Problems, or, The 2014 Channing Tatum Initiative Complete

This is my third attempt to discuss Foxcatcher, the recent true crime film that also happens to be my final stop on the 2014 Channing Tatum Initiative. My feelings on Foxcatcher are conflicted enough so as to make it nearly impossible for me to convey them without falling into a rambling pit. But hey, third time’s the charm, yeah?

foxcatcher

Foxcatcher is based on a true story. It recounts the events leading up to a murder. The film is well written, the cinematography is gripping and the performances, particularly those by Channing Tatum and Mark Ruffalo, are engaging. Foxcatcher is by no means a bad movie. I’m just not sure I understand why it’s a movie.

In my mind there’s something of an unspoken understanding between an audience and a filmmaker when it comes to films “based on a true story,” particularly when that true story is tragic in nature. The understanding being that the filmmaker is given permission to utilize or exploit (depending on just how cynical we want to get) a real life tragedy in order to put forward for consideration some potential truth. 12 Years a Slave used the story of Solomon Northrup’s enslavement to highlight a sickness in American history that is more and more often overlooked or downplayed. Captain Phillips used the hostage situation on the Maersk Alabama to highlight a glaring juxtaposition between the might and affluence of the Western World and the sheer desperation of the Third World. The recently released Imitation Game uses the life of Alan Turing to recount the life of Alan Turing, a scientist whose achievements and prosecution are both perhaps not as well-known as they should be.

With these examples in mind I again posit that I’m not sure I understand why the tragedy at the murder of Foxcatcher has been adapted into a film.

I’ve come up with a few answers on my own but they all feel like I’m reaching, assigning a reason for a works existence after it already exists, rather than discovering the reason why the work was brought into existence in the first place. Perhaps Foxcatcher is meant to highlight the disparity between rich and poor and how easily we overlook the former using the latter as playthings. Maybe it’s something of a cautionary tale regarding undiagnosed mental illness. One of the parties involved has stated that the story highlights the lengths to which American Olympians had to go to match the training regiments of Olympians in other countries. But the film doesn’t seem to lean in to any of those thesis statements.

As near as I can figure the events depicted in Foxcatcher were adapted to film because someone thought it’d make a good movie. And they’re not wrong. If I didn’t know Foxcatcher was based on a true story I’d more than likely be singing an entirely different tune. But Foxcatcher is based on a true story. It’s based on a murder. And while I’m not saying it specifically sets out to exploit a murder for entertainment or ruling out the distinct possibility that I’m just being difficult and don’t get it, I ultimately found the film conflicted and problematic at best.

The Rise of the American Workplace Utopia, or, The Office is Coming to TBS

This is the part where the piano plays at the end.

This is the part where the piano plays at the end.

The Office is ending! The Office is ending!

After 200 episodes, seven seasons and then two other seasons NBC’s workplace sitcom extravaganza is having last call tonight. The series finale, aptly titled “Finale,” is closing an epic saga of romances and hijinks and office supply jargon the likes of which the world has never seen and will likely never see again.

It’s pretty crazy to think that the Dunder Mifflin gang have been on television for nearly a decade, but when I think back on the life lessons and insights into the white collar American work force the show has given me over the years I’m surprised they were able to teach me so much in so little time.

When I started watching The Office I wasn’t old enough to drive and the pranks and shenanigans Jim and the ganged took part in were little more than hilarious fiction that went hand in hand with Mountain Dew fueled bouts of teenaged psychosis. Now I drive half an hour two times a day to a job where I sit at a desk in front of a computer with a dress shirt and tie and my appreciation for the show has without a doubt increased.

Sure the average work places doesn’t have the insanity of a Dwight or a Creed, or the absurdity of a Michael Scott, or the sexiness of a Toby or Stanley, but having watched The Office it’s hard not to see that the foundations and archetypes the cast is derived from are very real. Does your office have a guy with a beet farm that hides deadly weapons in nooks and crannies throughout the workplace? Probably not. But does your office have a guy who dresses a little off, acts a little off and takes himself a little bit too seriously? Full disclosure – if the answer is no than it’s you.

He could be you.

He could be you.

Through my short time in the workforce I can even begin to fathom how someone as preposterous as Michael Scott can come to exist. Workplaces are stressful. Job security isn’t always as secure as it could be and interoffice politics can irk to no end (I’m looking at you Stacy. I swear to God if you switch out your plain ass vanilla sugar-free yogurt for my chocolate/peanut butter swirl pudding cup one more godamn time I will end you. You didn’t think they were the same thing. You didn’t have a mix up. You ate my godamn pudding. Watch your back, harlot, or you won’t have a back to watch!). At some point somebody is bound to make a joke to ease the tension, and when people’s perceptions of you are entirely constructed from 5-10 minute chats around the office interspersed throughout the week it doesn’t take too many jokes to become a clown. And when you work at a paper company for twenty years it doesn’t stretch the imagination to much to see how a clown can become Michael Scott.

All the minute characteristics and quirks of a regular workplace are amped up to 10 in The Office and done so with great skill by a phenomenal ensemble cast that kept the show going (in my opinion successfully) even after its leading man moved on. After all these years at this point it’s hard not to feel like I know Dwight and Jim and Pam almost as well as they know each other, having watched them experience so much. Then I started working myself and had a horrifying realization: I don’t know shit about these people.

Unless your work is literally your entirely life, most of our lives our spent outside of work with our friends and families in our homes. Knowing someone personally and knowing someone professionally can be entirely different things. Am I a cocaine-snorting, cut-throat, devil-may-care shark from 9-5 at the stock exchange? Absolutely. But that’s hardly the attitude I bring to sitting on the couch at 5:30 free-basing off of my coffee table. And the same could probably be said for the folks on The Office.

But The Office also taught me that just because your work doesn’t define you doesn’t mean you shouldn’t seek to help define your workplace (see what I did there) and get the most out of your professional life. Dunder Mifflin is something of a professional utopia in that way. It’s a quirky fantasy of an American workplace that happily marries the best aspects of a successful company and a workplace family. Dunder Mifflin is an ideal workplaces can strive for. Kind of like Superman in the new Man of Steel trailer. Have you seen that thing? Holy shit. That part with Zod? Also that part with Costner. Holy shit.

Sure the professional perceptions The Office has instilled in me are romanticized and sappy but I’m young and I’m going to live forever, so I will ascribe to corny ideals all I want. And I’ll miss the wild and whacky characters that communicated those ideas to me over the course of nine hilarious seasons, hundreds of quotable lines and one giant bitch.

Am I right?

Never forget.

Never forget.

I’m sorry am I just supposed to forget about Pam destroying Jim at Casino Night in season two? Because I won’t. He loved her! He loved her and he told her and she broke his heart like it was nothing but an offering to a disinterested ice queen – which it essentially was! Yeah, yeah, she totally broke it off with Roy and then Jim hooked up with that other lady and then broke it off and then they got married and then they had a kid and then they had another kid and then they broke up or something but then they didn’t and then the end but is that really enough? Jim cried. And he’s a grown ass man. I had to watch a grown ass man cry on my television and as his tears hit the ground so too did all my teenage perceptions of love.

So thanks for that Pam. Really. Thanks.

I won’t give up on Jim and Karen yet.

Also, I love you Pam.