Sunday, January 22, 2017

The Big Short

Year 9, Day 22 - 1/22/17 - Movie #2,522

BEFORE: What a frustrating day yesterday was - I tagged along when my wife got her car's oil changed, out in Long Island, and the dealer also had to do an inspection, replace the air filter and fix a tire (I admit it, I'm just not a car guy...) and that all took about an hour longer than we expected, so we were starving for the BBQ lunch we had planned.  But then we found out that the nearby BBQ joint, Famous Dave's, had shut down about 6 months ago, so we had to settle for a Carraba's instead.  Italian food is fine, and the place was certainly a step above the Olive Garden, but when you've been thinking of BBQ for a couple days, sometimes that just doesn't cut it.  

Then I got home and started the process of setting up my new iMac, and transferring files over from my old computer to the new one.  But after copying all of my files over to an external hard drive, when I brought the drive over to the new computer, I realized that my drive was so old, it wasn't even using USB cables to connect, and the new iMac has ONLY USB ports.  So there seemed to be no way to hook the drive up, which made it feel like the process was doomed, even before it began.  I was so dejected I felt like throwing the whole brand-new computer out the window.  But at least I could back up my phone to it, and download photos from my phone, which I haven't been able to do for the last month.  

This morning, my wife came to the rescue with a cable that was USB on one side and something else on the other, which was probably better than my plan to connect the two computers with an ethernet cable, and definitely much better than my plan to throw the computer out the window.  I think I got all my photos and music carried over today, but I still have to re-create all of my iTunes playlists, and sync my phone with those. I've been buying music every week to replace my old cassettes, and then re-downloading what I can to my phone, but that doesn't help get the music that I've ripped off my CD collection on the phone. 

I realize I was overdue to update my computer, and I was very close to waiting TOO long - if I skipped over too many system updates, there was a chance that none of my programs would work, or my comic book database, or other things.  I'm sure there are going to be more problems, because I'm just starting to assess what will and won't work, but at least I got the process started.   

Brad Pitt carries over from "By the Sea" for the last time in this chain, and I'll follow a new link to some animated films tomorrow.

THE PLOT: Four denizens in the world of high-finance predict the credit and housing bubble collapse of the mid-2000s, and decide to take on the big banks for their greed and lack of foresight.

AFTER: On top of everything else frustrating about this weekend, I had meant to order this film via PPV, where it was on sale last week for just $1.99.  The plan had been in place for weeks, as I'd picked this film as a connector between two mini-chains, and there it was on my list - my list of films to ADD to the main list, which is an adjoining list.  But I must have waited a few days too long to order it, because it was no longer available on the DVR at that price - not even at ANY price.  Which usually means that it's about to premiere on the premium channels in a couple of weeks, but I can't wait that long, because I need the connection that I planned.  New computer to the rescue, now that I've upgraded I can finally watch HD films through iTunes.  (Only I didn't, I chose the SD version because it was a buck cheaper.  Hey, I'm not made of money, plus I just laid out money for the new computer...)

Yep, I blew a whopping $2.99 to watch the film about how a few people made millions in the market about a decade ago, because they correctly predicted that the U.S. housing market was going to fail, and take down a couple of banks with it.  Me, I'm no real-estate expert - in 2004 I was trying to sell one property, a condo in Brooklyn, so we could buy a house somewhere that had a driveway, more storage space for comic books, and preferably more than one bathroom.  Because priorities.  And it seemed like a fine time to sell a property, too, because the housing market had been going up in NYC for quite some time, and people were saying things like "The bubble's got to burst sometime."  So with the helpful advice of a real-estate agent, and the scent of some chocolate chip cookies at the open house, I sold the condo for ten times what I had paid for it, and we got a house for about the same price.  A couple years later, when the bubble did burst, we felt like real-estate geniuses, or at least as lucky as that guy who had a ticket for the Titanic, but overslept that day and missed the boat.  

But there's luck, and then there's skill.   The guys who crunched the numbers and figured out that too many sub-prime and adjustable-rate mortgages meant that the U.S. real estate market was nothing but a house of cards ready to crumble, or just a shell game of sorts, those were the real geniuses.  And they used their money to "short", or bet against, the housing market. Which you weren't really supposed to be able to do, except that they found enough banks that were willing to take their investments, collecting collateral payments all the while, until the housing market really DID collapse, and these guys collected on the short bets.  They created a credit-swap default market, and if it sounds shady, it's really nothing compared to what was going in the housing market itself, which involved tons of terrible mortgages that were lumped together into CDO investments, which the banks then paid the rating services to get high ratings, which made more people invest good money into bad mortgages, and then more people betting that THOSE investments would do well, and so on.  

Problem was, if enough people defaulted on their mortgages, and the rate of this had been steadily rising due to unemployment and other factors, then the CDOs would fail, and the ratings scam would be exposed, and the whole thing would fall apart - and these guys bet that it would happen, which in a way is like betting against America.  But they saw that everyone from the real-estate agents on up was just playing cash-and-grab, only interested in how much money they could make from refinancing bad mortgages, and not worrying about the consquences.  

I should point out there that I still only SORT of understand this whole thing, despite the movie's best attempts to explain it all in an interesting way.  They chose to do this kitschy stuff like "Now, here's a woman in a bubble bath to explain sub-prime mortgages..." and "Here's a stripper to explain why refinancing the same property five times over is a bad idea...".  I see what you did there, and I don't approve.  Well, OK, part of me approves, but the rest of me sees that as a cheat.  Did someone steal these ideas from "The Wolf of Wall Street", or what?  

It's all part of this "we know that you know this is a fictionalized version" self-awareness trick.  This film is part drama and part documentary (drama-mentary?), which SHOULD mean that it would fail at both of those things, but somehow it finds a cutesy way to succeed, with some characters breaking the fourth wall to tell the audience, "Oh, by the way, it didn't really happen this way."  Well, that raises the question, then, if you KNOW it didn't happen that way, movie, why don't you show me the way that it DID happen, and why are you messing with reality?   So yeah, I've got issues...

But it's an important subject matter, and it's timely as heck, because nobody really went to jail for any shady business practices, or for breaking the country.  The government bailed out the banks, as I seem to recall, even though a lot of people lost pension funds and their homes, and a few banks paid some fines, maybe.  But in some ways, aren't we right back there?  Wells Fargo got in trouble last year for opening a ton of fake bank accounts in their customers' names, and now I heard about these reverse mortgages, which buy back elderly people's homes a month at a time, but if the homeowner should die, they foreclose immediately, even if that means kicking that person's spouse out of the house.  Not cool.  

Sure, it's the responsibility of every person to read the fine print, and to know what they're getting themselves into, but come ON, you're talking about people kicking old widows out of their homes?  We keep getting offers to refinance, and every instinct I have tells me to throw the offers away, because I'm so cynical that I can't imagine a bank sending me an offer that's ultimately to my benefit and not theirs.  That's just not the way banks tend to work, they're more like casinos in that they eventually end up with your money, no matter what you do.  The only way to beat the house, I think, is to build up a little equity every month, for 30 years, and then cash out and walk away.  Any bank employee who tells you otherwise is probably, no definitely, lying.  

And I hate to bring this around to Trump again (no, wait, I actually enjoy doing that...) but the film is relevant because it shows what happens to a system that is built upon half-truths and scams, where everyone involved is only interested in what they can get out of the system.  My theory is that Trump isn't even a real person, he's just three scams standing on top of each other in a suit, like kids trying to sneak into an adult movie theater.  In addition to every scandal and scam that went before (Trump Steaks, Trump Air, Trump University, Trump Vodka for starters) just this week he held a press conference to display all the "paperwork" he signed to divest himself of his investments, and the news pointed out that all of the folders were unlabeled and looked like they were filled with empty paper.  As a magic trick, that's strictly amateur hour.  Then he sent out the photo of him "writing" his inauguration speech, and once again people noticed that he was using a Sharpie marker, on an unused legal pad, and was probably sitting at the receptionist's desk at his resort, so the entire photo was staged and phony.  

So this is where we are - plus he's got no concrete plan to replace the ACA, every cabinet nominee he appoints is worse than the last, and I can't imagine this administration sponsoring any coherent legislation, because he'll be too focused on "winning" and "making America great", which you have to admit, are just nebulous goals.  He's the ultimate example of "fake it till you make it", so now that the time for faking is over (or, has it just begun?) what will he make of it?  Stay tuned - when people finally realize that there's no THERE there, will the whole system similarly fall apart? 

Also starring Christian Bale (last seen in "Exodus: Gods and Kings"), Steve Carell (last heard in "Despicable Me 2"), Ryan Gosling (last seen in "Gangster Squad"), Hamish Linklater (last seen in "Magic in the Moonlight"), Melissa Leo (last seen in "The Equalizer"), Rafe Spall (last seen in "The World's End"), John Magaro, Jeremy Strong (last seen in "The Judge"), Finn Wittrock (last seen in "Winter's Tale"), Marisa Tomei (last seen in "Captain America: Civil War"), Tracy Letts (last seen in "August: Osage County"), Byron Mann, Adepero Oduye, Karen Gillan (last seen in "Guardians of the Galaxy"), Max Greenfield (last seen in "They Came Together"), Billy Magnussen, with cameos from Margot Robbie (last seen in "Focus"), Anthony Bourdain, Selena Gomez, and stock footage of Ludacris, Snoop Dogg and Pharrell Williams. 

RATING: 6 out of 10 Jenga pieces

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