Surrender 123: Movie Review: The Big Short

Tonight I watched Best Picture nominated movie number seven of eight, The Big Short, leaving the winner in this Academy Awards category for my final film next week. I deliberately saved tonight’s movie until almost last. Of all the Oscar contenders, I was least interested in this one. I’m a realtor. I’m familiar with the housing market crash of 2008, having experienced the crazy boon before and then seeing the aftermath. I didn’t think I’d enjoy watching a movie that told the bigger story. I was wrong. 

The Big Short stars Christian Bale, Steve Carell, Ryan Gosling, Brad Pitt, John Magaro, and Finn Wittrock. This biographical dark comedy, based on the book by Michael Lewis, was directed by Adam McKay. Rated R for pervasive strong language and brief nudity, the movie has a run time of 2 hours and 20 minutes. 

The Big Short was nominated in five categories including Best Director, Best Supporting Actor for Bale, Best Picture and Best Adapted Screenplay, for which it won an Oscar. 

Michael Burry (Bale), an eccentric former physician, is socially awkward. However as a Scion Capital hedge fund manager, he has a keen ability to see what others can’t. His scrutiny of thousands of mortgage loans reveals a housing bubble that is about to burst. Burry bets against the continued success of the housing market, meeting with the biggest banks and mortgage holders in the US. The banks are happy to accept his proposal, confident the housing market will never fail. After all, who doesn’t pay their mortgages? 

Jared Vennett (Gosling), with Deutsche Bank, hears of Burry’s plan and shares his beliefs. An errant phone call to the wrong institution connects him with a group of investment partners headed up by Mark Baum (Carell). Baum, who is an idealist disillusioned with the whole financial institution, agrees to join with Vennett. Their combined research further uncovers that most mortgages are overrated by bond agencies, with banks collating subprime loans into AAA packages. 

And lastly, a pair of startup investors working out of their garage reviews a prospectus of Vennett’s and want in on the action. Charlie (Magaro) and Jamie (Wittrock) aren’t big enough players on their own, so they enlist the financial perspective and aid of former investment banker Ben Rickert (Pitt). 

These three groups of investors work from the premise that the big banks are stupid and don’t see the impending collapse of the housing market. As the impossible begins to happen and the market shifts, these men discover how deep mortgage deception goes and how large the negative impact will be. Not only will millions lose jobs and homes when the housing bubble bursts, the economy of the world will be affected.

This was a fascinating movie to watch. I thought I wouldn’t like it because being a realtor I know what the crash of the housing market did. However, precisely because I’m in real estate, this true story had a great impact on me. I found myself exclaiming to the tv screen, as new information was revealed, as the depths of fraud and greed and deceit were uncovered. I can’t lie. Watching this movie made my heart race, in an agonizing way. 

The film was extremely well done, with outstanding performances, especially by Bale and Carell. The tone was quirky, and so were the characters based on real people. I liked how the technical jargon and concepts were humorously explained using well known celebrities who taught by way of concrete examples.

The Big Short amazed me, making me laugh, grimace, cheer and even tear up. I’d like to watch the movie again, to gain an even deeper  understanding of what happened in 2006-2008 in the housing industry. 

There’s a quote that appears on the screen that says, “The truth is like poetry. And most people f…ing hate poetry.”  The Big Short holds up the light of truth and uncovers the mess that deception tried to hide. At the end of the movie, more truths appear as words scroll across the screen. Recent truths. I’m carefully pondering those words, very much impacted by this great film. 

Surrender 72: The Martian

It’s time…post Academy Awards…to watch each of the Best Picture nominated films. There were eight movies up for this top award in the film industry. I haven’t seen any of them. With great anticipation, I selected The Martian as my first 2016 Best Picture nominated movie. 

The Martian stars Matt Damon, Sean Bean, Jessica Chastain, Jeff Daniels, Chiwetel Ejiofor, and Kristen Wiig. Ridley Scott directed this drama/adventure/sci-fi, which is based on the novel by the same name, by Andy Weir. The movie has a run time of 2 hours and 24 minutes and has a PG-13 rating for strong language, injury scenes and brief nudity. 

The Martian was nominated for seven Oscars, including Best Picture, Best Director and Best Actor in a Leading Role for Damon. It did not win in any category. 

During a severe storm on Mars, the crew aborts its mission, leaving behind astronaut Mark Watney (Damon), who is presumed dead.  Mission Commander Lewis (Chastain) is devastated by her decision to leave a crewman behind, but she must protect the rest of her crew. 

After the spacecraft Hermes has departed, Mark awakens, injured and abandoned, the sole inhabitant of the planet Mars. To survive, he must use all of the knowledge he has, plus ingenuity and strength of will. He is initially unable to communicate with Earth. He must come up with his own survival plan. 

Back on Earth, NASA realizes that Mark is alive, after studying satellite pictures that show the Mars Rover moved from its last known position. An international team comprised of Teddy Sanders (Daniels), Mitch Henderson (Bean), Annie Montrose (Wiig) and Vincent Kapoor (Ejiofor) must come up with a way to keep Watney alive until he can be rescued. 

From rationing supplies, to growing food on a hostile planet, to learning how to communicate, to running possible rescue scenarios, Watney and NASA discover that it takes a world united to bring a man home from Mars. 


This was a great, edge of my seat movie. The nerd within me loved all the science in the film. Watney is a botanist. And I enjoyed the use-the-resources-on-hand-to-survive plot that showcased brains and logic and creativity.  
Matt Damon gave an excellent performance as a man faced with impossible odds. The majority of his scenes were acted alone. He played the character with the right blend of seriousness over his situation, and humor in facing the inevitable and making the most of life anyway. Matt deserved his Best Actor nomination. 

Having had a year of firsts, I appreciated Watney’s remarks about how everything in his  Mars experience was a first. How true when you are the only person on an entire planet. True as well, for anyone who desires to move beyond his or her comfort zone and experience life in fresh ways. 

I also loved the reference to The Lord of the Rings, especially since Sean Bean, who played Boromir in the Fellowship of the Ring, was not only in this movie, but in the scene when it was mentioned. I tried to catch a smirk on his face. 

I have to admit that I was very on edge watching this movie. I deliberately avoided learning much about the storyline before viewing, and I didn’t know how it ended. I could see several possible outcomes. I really only wanted one. I won’t spoil the movie for those who have not seen it by revealing the ending. 

I can, however, highly recommend The Martian to anyone who enjoys a great mix of science and sci-fi or appreciates Matt Damon and the directorial skill of Ridley Scott.  Can they bring him home? Find out!