Tag Archives: 2009

Way late review: Floored

After watching Floored, a documentary about old-school traders on Chicago’s exchange floors, I wonder (once again) if there is much difference between gambling and trading commodities.

One can’t help but notice the subjects of the film, struggling to adapt to the new ways of doing business (computer vs. in-person trades), resemble professional poker players. They wear odd clothes to distinguish themselves on the floor. They are driven by the thrill of making major money in a split second. They thrive in a high stress environment where reading faces and feeling the vibe of the room can be just as important as the math behind it all. Telling these men that their livelihoods is now going to a world dominated by computers is like telling a pro poker player all the money is in online poker. With that one revelation their worlds get flipped upside down. And that reality is the one that Floored examines in its last act. Along the way are fascinating characters, stories, and insights into a world that most of us never get to see, nor will we in the case of the manic days of trading on the floor.

Being a fan of Michael Lewis’ Liar’s Poker, where he tells his story of working at Salomon Brothers in the ’80s, made me particularly interested in watching Floored once I discovered it thanks to Netflix’s recommendation. I was not disappointed. A relatively short film (77 minutes), it wastes no time getting into the insanity of trading floors, including a brief but helpful explanation of what all those crazies yelling at each other in the middle of a pit do. Unbeknown to me, many of those in the pit put up their own money in the trades. That fact alone leads to some intense pressure.

Let there be no doubt, the love of money drives these guys. They are every bit materialistic as they are thrill seekers. Regrets are not expressed by the sadness of losing oneself in insatiable greed or the loss of fellow traders to suicide. No, regrets from these men are often about not staying ahead of the game, either by adapting to the change to computer trading or missing out on some great trades.

Stories of fights after trading hours breaking out include one where two traders take it out to the parking lot. After trading a few blows, one of the traders swings while the other ducks and the punch lands through the window of a car. The trader with a bloody, glass filled hand asks the other for a ride to the hospital. The request for a ride is refused. Mind you, the trader telling this story (the one who refused to give a ride) is eccentric to say the least. We meet him at his house where he shows off an endless display of taxidermy animals he’s killed over the years. Bonus points for putting some of them on wheels, including a giraffe. While giving a tour of the place, this former floor trader states that it’s not any fun if you can’t get killed. I think he was referring to hunting wild animals, but I think his motto applied to his approach to trading.

There is little sympathy in the end for those who find themselves on the way out as a new crew takes their place in the form of analysts, computer scientists, and mathematicians. The game is being played by better players. Too bad that same game is one where most of us are blindly invested.

 ★★★★★ 

This post is part of my Way late reviews. Read more reviews here.

YouTube Preview Image

Way late review: Best Worse Movie

Is it any less bold to claim that you’ve made the worst movie ever or that you’ve made the best? Both are relative claims and hold little validity either way. Troll 2, the focus of the documentary Best Worse Movie, is said to be the worst movie ever. The zero (or near zero) scores on Rotten Tomatoes and IMDB add credibility.

Michael Stephenson was one of the child stars in the film and he leads the direction of the documentary. His quest is to dig deeper into the how and why Troll 2 got made and the growing cult status of the film. In order to do all this he seeks out his fellow cast members and director. Stephenson latches onto George Hardy who played the father in the 1990 film. Hardy is a likeable guy from the first moment we meet him. His charisma jumps off the screen. Hardy is a dentist. He had dreams of once becoming a movie star which is the reason he ended up starring in Troll 2. We learn that Hardy has long since given up the acting dream and has replaced it with life as a dentist. He seems to enjoy the work and the people. He even goes out of his way to perform dental work free of charge for children in low income families. While Troll 2 is the theme of the doc, Hardy is its heart and soul.

Best Worse Movie spends quite a bit of time early on reveling in Troll 2’s notoriety. There is no shortage of interviews with rabid fans. Time spent around screenings. It’s as if the first act of the doc is to convince us that Troll 2 is so bad it’s good. The only time these screenings are interesting is when we get to see Troll 2’s director Claudio Fragasso react to the audience. He’s happy people like his film after all these years, but sours when he discovers that they like it because they think it’s terribly funny. Fragasso begs to differ. He knows the film has flaws but doesn’t take kindly to the label of it being the worst ever. One of the more awkward moments comes when Fragasso interrupts a cast Q&A to set the record straight. Walking through the audience, he says the actors don’t remember the facts. He then becomes more aggressive and calls at least one former cast member a bad actor. It plays for laughs from the audience but Fragasso isn’t laughing.

When the doc is at its best it’s focusing on the characters who starred in the film. Their current day lives and relation to the film after 15+ years is engaging and sometimes even simply bizarre. The moments with Fragasso acting out in great denial. Margo Prey, who played the mother opposite of George Hardy, is living in another world. Whether the scenes with Prey are meant for laughs or sadness it’s hard to tell. And then there is Hardy’s pursuit of basking in the fame of being in the worst movie ever. Instead of being embarrassed about it as some other cast members are, Hardy embraces it. He decides there are enough fans of the film out there that he should aggressively pursue opportunities to make appearances. We spend time with him at a number of festivals and events, all of which turn out to be duds. In these moments we get the sense that Hardy has been bitten by the bug of minor celebrity status. A once likeable guy turns into an oddly self-promotional tool, and all under the banner of being in the worst movie of all time.

There are moments in Best Worse Movie that are fantastic. The documentary as a whole never achieves the same success. There is a lack of focus that distracts and often strays into less interesting topics. Too much time is spent patting Troll 2 on the back for how bad it is and the cult like status that achievement has earned the film.

Not even close to the worst documentary ever, Best Worse Movie gives some interesting insights into the people who made Troll 2. Had it stuck more closely to those people, it could have been very good, maybe even great.

 ★★★☆☆ 

This post is part of my Way late reviews. Read more reviews here.

YouTube Preview Image