Tag Archives: Selena Gomez

In which I take a big s**t over the Big Short

26 Jan

 

the big short

The Big Short, starring Ryan Gosling, Steve Carell, Brad Pitt and Christian Bale

It’s not often I see a film that makes me angry, but hot new Oscar contender The Big Short managed it. Not because of any righteous rage engendered by its star-studded, faux-documentary-style expose of the banking crash of 2008 – my rage at that was righteous enough already – but because of the patronising, intelligence-insulting, comedic-didactic way it chose to tell the story.

Maybe there are people so incurious about the near-collapse of the global economy and Capitalism itself that they never bothered to read up on it, and to discover how the banks rolled sub-prime mortgages into a grab-bag of triple A-rated bonds with the connivance of lazy and/or corrupt regulators, and that the banks, when they realised the whole thing was going tits-up, then took out their own shorting positions, effectively betting against themselves and their own investors in order to protect themselves in the final weeks or days before the financial apocalypse. If so, they will find much here to enlighten them.

For the rest of us, it’s like having Russell Brand bellow “Wake Up, Sheeple!” into a megaphone for two hours, interrupted occasionally by L’Oreal Elvive’s Jennifer Aniston tossing her golden locks knowingly to camera as she warns, for the benefit of beauty-loving women who obviously therefore have no brain, “Here comes the science bit!”

Here’s how close the Aniston analogy actually is: near the beginning, there is an explanation of financial terms that the film-makers worry will make the viewer nod off, despite being illustrated with pictures of puppies in sunglasses, I kid you not. Here the film actually stops like a scratched record and says, in these exact words, “Are you getting bored? These terms are designed by Wall Street to give the impression that only they know how to understand them. So here’s Margot Robbie in a bubble bath to explain it.”

They actually do cut to Margot Robbie – the comely actress from The Wolf of Wall Street, playing herself, not a character in the movie – sipping Champagne in a bubble bath as she talks about how the crisis originated. [As another journalist has pointed out, this is far from the only sexist aspect to The Big Short: it also leaves out a key real-life female player, and “amusingly” tries to sugar-coat another load of financial exposition by setting it in a strip club.] Other such breakings of the fourth wall include “celebrity chef” Anthony Bourdain explaining bad bonds through the medium of fish stew, and Selena Gomez demonstrating CDO’s through a Vegas Blackjack table.

No doubt the critics, who have raved about the film, see all these devices as thrillingly post-modern. I think that kind of thing is becoming cliched, myself, but my real problem is with the film telling its audience, loudly and clearly: “You’re all celebrity-obsessed jackasses who won’t listen to anything unless it comes from a gorgeous star’s pouting lips or hits you over the head with a hammer, so here you go, you’re welcome.” Maybe some people are like that. But even so, you don’t usually convince someone of an argument by first insulting them, you patronising triple A-holes.

Sigh. All right: on the plus side, the cast are excellent, particularly Christian Bale, cast against type as a borderline autistic heavy-metal-loving maths whizz with a glass eye and poor social skills who staked hundreds of millions on betting against the supposedly infallible housing market – the “big short” of the title. I am also enormously glad that risky, brave, high-profile films with a social conscience are being made at all: kudos here to Brad Pitt, who is behind this one as producer, as he was behind 12 Years A Slave. And, as I said, many people like it: it’s had four-to-five star reviews and won the Producers’ Guild award for best film. In disliking it, I kind of feel like the people depicted in The Big Short: convinced of my rightness against the prevailing orthodoxy.

So let’s go for broke. In my last blog, I wrote how The Big Short had suddenly surged to become William Hill’s front runner for the Best Film Oscar. Call me crazy (you wouldn’t be the first), but I think Oscar is more discerning than that. So I’m going to contact William Hill and try to lay my own “short” – betting against it winning.

 

Spring Breakers and how I offended Harmony Korine

6 Apr
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The mental image that inspired Harmony Korine to make Spring Breakers

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A key image from Animal Charm, the featurette I co-wrote with Ben Charles Edwards

It’s weird seeing the posters for Spring Breakers: they are so much like the key image from the short film that I co-wrote with director Ben Charles Edwards, Animal Charm. Spring Breakers’ writer/director Harmony Korine has said that a single image was the seed for the whole feature: he saw girls in bikinis with guns and balaclavas over their faces, and wondered how they would get there.

I haven’t yet seen the film, in which formerly squeaky-clean teen idols Vanessa Hudgens, Selena Gomez and Ashley Benson (plus Korine’s young wife) fall under the spell of James Franco’s grill-toothed, arms-and-drugs-dealing rapper. But I did meet Harmony Korine once. I mortally offended him.

I’d put Kids on the cover of Time Out. This was a fictionalised exposé of underage drugs and sex, written by Korine while he was a teenager, which launched the careers of Chloe Sevigny and Rosario Dawson and introduced the term “virgin-surgeon”. We got a bunch of British schoolkids to watch it and comment on how true it was to their own lives. Which was tricky to arrange, as the film was an 18 cert. Great feature though.

In 1997 Korine directed his first movie, Gummo, a disconnected series of stories of alienated youth in smalltown 1970s America. I was invited to the launch party on a boat on the Thames. The producer introduced me to the young auteur, and I told him that I loved the film, and that it would make a great TV series. He looked as though I’d sprinkled salt on his cornflakes pretending it was sugar, turned on his heel, and walked off. I was thinking Twin Peaks, myself, and that I wanted to see much more of the characters in Gummo. And now that the best US TV is so much more interesting than film, he should be so lucky.

If you don’t know Korine’s films, check them out. Cookie-cutter eye-candy they are not. The one after, Julien Donkey-Boy (1999) is about a schizophrenic, made under the strict filming rules of Dogme 95. The next, Fight Harm, involved Korine provoking tough-looking strangers into fighting him, and filming the result with hidden cameras. His only rules were that they had to be bigger than him, and they had to throw the first punch. Sadly the project had to be abandoned when he was hospitalised after six fights.

Mister Lonely (2007) is about a Michael Jackson impersonator in Paris who falls in with a commune of other celebrity impersonators. It is without doubt the only film to star Charlie Chaplin, Marilyn Monroe, Madonna, the Pope, James Dean and the Queen. Trash Humpers (2009), described by a Guardian critic as ‘a home movie from hell’ (and that was a positive review), is an experimental, largely improvised, lo-fi movie shot and edited on VHS. The title, as Korine warned at the first screening, is meant literally.

More than any other film-maker save perhaps David Lynch, Korine is interested in the dark side of the American Dream, how with a slightly different perspective it can so easily seem a nightmare. I’m looking forward to Spring Breakers, which came out on Friday. The trailers make it look like an MTV wet dream, but you can be sure it’s a deal more subversive than that.