Monday, January 11, 2016

Sly's Unintentional Slight & The Big Short

Sylvester Stallone accepts his Golden Globe 
After last night's Golden Globe Awards, the film awards season officially kicks into high gear.

As I mentioned on the blog last Tuesday, actor Michael B. Jordan's performance in Creed is one of the reasons the latest installment in the Rocky franchise has been a financial success at the box office as well as a hit with critics who've lavished the film with accolades.

Including critic Chris Klimek who pronounced it the "Best Rocky Movie Since Rocky" .

The original Rocky earned ten Oscar nominations and beat out All the President's Men and Network to win Best Picture at the 1977 Oscars, where it also won Best Director for John G. Avildsen and Best Film Editing.

The glowing reviews for Creed were reflected in Sylvester Stallone winning Best Supporting Actor at the Golden Globes last night, but the actor quickly generated a backlash on mainstream and social media when he stepped up to the stage and thanked a bevy of film executives from MGM and Warner Brothers for green-lighting the original Rocky back in 1975 - but failed to even mention or thank director Ryan Coogler or his young costar Jordan.

Creed director Ryan Coogler
Coogler (who directed Fruitvale Station) is the African-American director who not only directed Stallone and Jordan in Creed, he's the one who conceived the idea and story for Creed and first approached Stallone about the project and persuaded him to do it.

Now Stallone is 69-years-old and was obviously emotional on stage as he received a standing ovation from his peers, so under such circumstances anyone might be expected to forget a few things.

But I think the point of the flack he's getting is based on the fact that he's been in the industry long enough to know that you thank the director and your costar who made your performance possible.

Especially before mentioning a long list of film executives from 41 years ago; taken in context of the film industry's efforts to recognize African-American talent from both in front of and behind the camera, it wasn't Stallone's best PR moment.

By all accounts Stallone formed pretty tight relationships with Coogler and Jordan during the shoot, and though he recognized his oversight at the Globes and went back on stage to thank them during a subsequent commercial break, in the merciless immediate-now of the Internet age the mere perception of a slight seen in the context of cultural insensitivity is a hard cat to put back in the bag.

Just ask Mel Gibson, who's infamous profanity-laced anti-semitic tirades against Jewish, African-American and Hispanic people have left him in Hollywood's doghouse for ten years.

I'm not comparing Stallone's oversight to Gibson's bigotry by any means, but Hollywood is under the spotlight for issues related to cultural sensitivity and someone of Sly's stature recognizing the creative achievements of people of color makes a huge difference to the industry - and he should know that.

Steve Carell and Ryan Gosling in The Big Short
Next up on the awards slate will be the Screen Actors Guild Awards which will be broadcast live on Saturday January 30th.

One of the cool benefits of being a member of SAG-AFTRA (as yours truly proudly is) is the opportunity to vote for the SAG Awards - which also means you get free screeners of films and television shows that are in contention for awards season.

So I was fortunate enough to get a DVD copy of The Big Short directed by former Saturday Night Live writer Adam McKay in the mail courtesy of Paramount.

The film is based on the 2010 non-fiction book 'The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine' by author Michael Lewis.

It examines the financial crisis that started in 2007 by looking at an eclectic group of Wall Street insiders who understood the deeper complexities behind the fragility of America's housing bubble and the inflated profiteering off of people's mortgages that was taking place and successfully used that information to reap huge financial profits by essentially placing bets on the implosion of the economy.

Adam McKay's adaptation of the book is an excellent film in the vein of movies like All The President's Men (which chronicled Watergate) and director Michael Mann's brilliant 1999 film The Insider starring Al Pacino, Russell Crowe and Christopher Plummer which chronicles former Brown & Williams VP of research Jeffrey Wigand's efforts to testify in court and on 60 Minutes about the tobacco industry's intentional manipulation of nicotine levels in cigarettes in order to purposefully make smokers more addicted so they'll buy more cigarettes.

Where All The President's Men and The Insider are characterized by a serious dramatic cinematic approach to the heavy subject matter, The Big Short brilliantly infuses dark comedy as a means to break down the complexity of the mortgage crisis to help help average folks better understand what actually sparked the Great Recession.

Matthew Broderick breaks the 4th Wall in Ferris Bueller's Day Off
For example, the movie breaks the unwritten "rule" of acting by breaking The Fourth Wall at various points throughout the script.

For you non-actors who might not know, as an actor standing on a stage faces an audience, he or she is surrounded by three walls; one behind, one to the left and one to the right.

The fourth wall is an invisible barrier between the front of the stage and the audience.

Remember Matthew Broderick's character Ferris Bueller speaking directly to the audience in the 1986 comedy Ferris Bueller's Day Off? That's breaking the Fourth Wall.

Actors are taught not to break the fourth wall, meaning you stay within the script and direct your attention and focus on the actors in the scene, or the set - as a stage actor, you do have to project out towards the audience; but you don't acknowledge them.

As a film or television actor, you never (or rarely) look directly at the camera - if it's not very specifically called for, like breaking the Fourth Wall, even a slight glance at the camera lens during a scene is considered a serious rookie mistake on set and it will ruin a take that must then be re-shot.

Some films (or plays), particularly comedy, sometimes break that rule and have actors directly address the audience; The Big Short uses that effectively.

Actress Margot Robbie in The Big Short
At one point actress Margot Robbie (pictured left) appears in a bubble bath as a butler serves her champagne while she explains how sketchy subprime lending practices created massive profits based on non-existent money by intentionally offering mortgages to people who couldn't pay them back.

The scene is a pretty funny poke at the greed and excess of the uber rich that finds an innovative and sexy way to explain predatory lending.

In another scene celebrity chef and 'Kitchen Confidential' author Anthony Bourdain cuts up old fish to throw in a fish stew to explain how banks and Wall Street firms took really risky sub-prime mortgages out of bad Collateralized Debt Obligations (CDO's) and mixed them in together with higher rated prime mortgages in other CDO's to hide them and sell them off to greedy investors who had no idea what they were buying.

CDO's are basically a bunch of assets pooled together to make a financial product which can be sold, in the case of the financial crisis, most of these CDO's were filled with people's mortgages. When the housing bubble collapsed and home prices fell and people began to default on their mortgages, the value of these CDO's plummeted.

The Big Short effectively explains how this massive financial crime happened and how some people made a lot of money by "shorting" the housing market - betting money that the housing market would collapse.

It's the kind of film that's as educational as it is entertaining and people need to see it.

Don't read too much into The Big Short being snubbed at the Golden Globe Awards last night.

The Globes are decided upon by the 83 members of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association which is largely made up of freelance journalists.

There are some really strong acting performances in this film and my sense is you'll see those recognized by the SAG Awards and the Oscars - which are voted upon respectively by the approximately 160,000 members of SAG-AFTRA; or in the case of the Oscars, the almost 7,000 members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

The Big Short is a film for the people with a meaning that transcends entertainment and deserves awards recognition - and as the most important part of the awards season unfolds, I think it will.

No comments: