So it has been a weird year for movies. Long stretches of nothing, the end of two vapid franchises owned by Disney, probably the last intelligent superhero film for another ten years (unless we get the Snyder Cut). As usual, most lists of top films have a long string of pretentious crap that is all style and no substance and which no human being will ever watch…here I look at real movies. Overall the horizon doesn’t bode well for the future as most studios are going more and more for simplistic films made by committee: But still, there were some stand out films.
Up first the honorable mentions.
Jojo rabbit —I’ll be honest this one might deserve more but I didn’t see it because the marketing made it look pretty indifferent to the evils of Nazism. That and Johansson is a terrible actress that seldom makes decent films. I have been told however that it is quite damning to Nazism and will see it when I’m sure the studio will be getting a far lower portion of the ticket…they should not be rewarded for such an inept marketing campaign.
Once Upon A Time in Hollywood—Quentin has one theme “violence is destructive to a sense of identity” so when for the first time I didn’t see that theme in this movie I was left a little rudderless in how to interpret it. The best I can say is he’s depicting the lie that Hollywood likes to tell itself about itself, but I’m not sure that’s what he was going for. I’m not sure about anything about that film other than the last 10 minutes were horrifyingly entertaining.
John Wick 3–Ugh. I’m not going to say that the series jumped the shark, but this was significantly below the last two. They might still pull out of this tailspin, but I’m withholding judgment.
Serenity—An under-appreciated film. Not as good as The Matrix, Dark City, or Revolver but still entertaining and hold a modicum of metaphysical depth.
Murder Mystery—A silly Netflix film and possibly only the third or fourth watchable Adam Sandler film, but still fun.
Happy Death Day 2U—You’d think this would have just been stupid, but it was rather touching.
Doctor Sleep—I would have preferred if they had ignored that godawful Kubrick film existed (but I am impressed with the production department being able to recreate the Overlook so perfectly), but it was still fun.
Last Christmas—Not the best Christmas film ever, but it was sweet and more in line with the meaning of the holidays than a lot of Christmas films.
Dumbo—Live-action remakes for Disney are hit and miss. But Dumbo built on the original film, dropped the weird psychedelic elephants and questionable crows, and built on some real human character development.
So let’s get to the top 10 (really 11 because we have a tie)
10 tie. Charlie’s Angel—I know this got bad reviews but clearly, only idiots reviewed the movie. It is far funnier than any of the previous films, with better character development and actual wit instead of dumb sight gags.
10 tie. Bombshell—Holy shit were things bad at Fox. And given that there do not seem to be any lawsuits against the movie that suggest it’s all essentially true (or at least true enough to avoid defamation)…which is horrifying. The FoxNews building probably needs to be burned to the down to get rid of that kind of evil.
9.Pokémon Detective Pikachu—PG Deadpool. Nothing more or less. The simple trick for all movies is to make sure Ryan Reynold is not encumbered by the laws of reality.
8.Aladdin—It’s better than the original. Smith’s genie is more relatable and his jokes will not age as poorly as Williams’ have. They fleshed out the character and surprisingly improved on the story. Yeah, Jasmine’s solo felt a little forced when all the other songs didn’t stop the action, but all it really did is make me wonder why we didn’t get “Home” for Beauty and the Beast. Regrettably, between a Mulan staring a communist shill for human rights abuses or A Little Mermaid directed by an inept hack, Aladdin is probably the last good live-action Disney film.
7.Jumanji: The Next Level—Somehow they managed to make the story seem fresh and not formulaic. And again we see that Jack Black is hideously underused an actor with range (who knew?)
6. The Good Liar—Okay, it’s pretty obvious by the previous picks that this has not been the best year for serious films, but this film is a winner. I can’t talk about it too much because this is one of the rare films where spoilers really do matter. But Mirren and McKellen do a fabulous superb job of playing each other.
5. Frozen II—I honestly feel this is the first Disney film that is clearly marketed someone other than children (I’m not counting Pixar films for the purposes of that statement), but with moments ridiculing the naiveté of youth, questions mortality the need for self-discovery, and the need to “Do the Next Right Thing” no matter how much you lose in life—especially when you have lost everything—was thematic material unquestionably not geared to young children. This had teens in mind, and I appreciate Disney venturing into deeper waters. (Maybe by the third film Disney executives will have the guts to admit that Elsa is gay.)
4.It: Chapter II—I’m not entirely thrilled they changed the ending, but I get why the Ritual of Chud would have been difficult to put on film. I would have preferred to see the spider and Bill save his wife (and there are rumors that a much longer directors cut is coming), but I can still say without hesitation that this is probably the best we’re ever going to get for this story being on film. All the actors, young and old, brought depth and humanity to their characters and didn’t let them become the stiff cardboard cutouts of that abysmal TV miniseries.
And then we get to the top 3 which I feel are more than just enjoyable but true art.
3. Knives Out—This is one of the best comedies and best mysteries in years. As if Agatha Christie wrote slapstick. Rian Johnson needs to stick to writing films like this and The Brothers Bloom because his talents are wasted on second rate sci-fi. Not only is Craig perfect as the Southern gentleman sleuth Benoit Blanc, but Chris Evans for the first time in a long time acted in his performance as the arrogant Ransom. Every actor was perfect in this movie, even typically second-tier actors like Don Johnson were great throughout. It is a mystery with a giant hole, like a doughnut, that has to be filled (and that bizarre statement will be hilarious after you’ve seen it). I am pleased that Johnson has already said he has a second Benoit Blanc film planned. Please let it come sooner rather than later.
2. Glass—Probably the last intelligent superhero film for the foreseeable future (unless we get the Snyder Cut), this film completed the Unbreakable Split Glass Trilogy and offered us a satisfying conclusion to both Bruce Willis’ hero and the evil of the Hoard from their respective films. Returning to M. Night’s core theme of finding one’s place in the world and its importance in being happy in life. Certainly, there were a lot of loose ends that I wouldn’t be sad if M. Night worked into a two or three-season show for Hulu or Prime…but the story of our three central characters and their respective character arcs were finished perfectly.
1.Motherless Brooklyn—Finally what is in my mind the unquestionable best film of the year. Best Actor. Best Director. Best Script. Best Picture. A story of a 40’s PI with Tourette’s Syndrome having to solve the murder of his mentor. It is both historically accurate in showing the corruption of government building in the post-war theory, and also wonderfully gives us a villain in the person of Alec Baldwin playing a corrupt New York developer turned politician who plays to nationalist, racist and populist themes…sound familiar but Baldwin’s character is actually quite intelligent, so it’s not entirely you know who (but Baldwin probably still deserves the award for best-supporting Actor). At every turn, it works to show some of the worst and best of humanity and offers hope even in terrible situations.
And I know I usually do the worst of the year. It’s Cats. We all know it. I can add nothing to the mountains of disdain already heaped on this monstrosity of a film. It should have never been made. I really wanted to put Star Wars or Avengers as the worst films of the year for Disney just vomiting out mindless drivel, cheap jokes, and explosions…but no, Cats is quite possibly the worst things Hollywood has ever created sans The Counselor.
Tag Archives: Movies
So it has been a weird year for movies. Long stretches of nothing, the end of two vapid franchises owned by Disney, probably the last intelligent superhero film for another ten years (unless we get the Snyder Cut). As usual, most lists of top films have a long string of pretentious crap that is all style and no substance and which no human being will ever watch…here I look at real movies. Overall the horizon doesn’t bode well for the future as most studios are going more and more for simplistic films made by committee: But still, there were some stand out films.
Despite the fact that I’ve already suggested the list of conservative movies and spiritual movies that Hollywood should make there is the simple fact that Hollywood is getting a little insane in coming up with no new ideas.
As this video shows:
Now I think the one problem with this video is the complaint that too many movies are based on books…that’s not quite accurate, it would be more fair to say that too many movies are based on poorly written teen novels that pander to the lowest of the lowest common denominator. There are good books out there that could make excellent movies, and along with a few new ideas let’s go through some other things Hollywood should make.
The Pendergast Novels. I’ll admit that Hollywood hasn’t completely ignored this series by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child–after all they made a barely passable version of the first book in the series The Relic–the problem being that they actually wrote out the main character, FBI Special Agent A.X.L. Pendergast (It’s a sin as gracious as trying to make the Bourne movies but writing out the villain, oh wait, Hollywood did exactly that*). This is a problem because while the characters of The Relic they decided to keep do make frequent appearances, it is Pendergast, the independent wealthy, intellectually accomplished, refined Southern gentleman of old money and his penchant for cases of bizarre and unusual natures that the books center around. And this isn’t the worst thing that Hollywood has ever done because you don’t even have to redo the The Relic to do justice to Pendergast. Just start a new franchise starting with The Cabinet of Curiosities and that would give you at least twelve tales of the FBI Special Agent taking on immortal serial killers, zombies, genetically engineered Nazis and a whole host of other foes. Really, there is no legitimate reason why they haven’t made these into movies other than the fact they botched it with The Relic.
Christopher Moore’s Vampire Trilogy. If you’re not familiar with Christopher Moore’s writing I feel very sorry for you. Lamb, The Lust Lizard of Melancholy Cove, The Stupidest Angel (A heartwarming tale of Christmas terror), Fool, all of these novels should be read as they will leave you gasping for air and crying from too much laughter…but probably none would make for better film adaptations than his trilogy of vampire novels: Bloodsucking Fiends, You Suck, and Bite Me tells the tale of Jody, a shop girl, who has recently been turned into a vampire who while learning to live with her new condition meets Tommy, a clueless wannabe writer. They of course fall in love. Along the way their story may also be vampire cats, mouse ninjas, Abby Normal: Mistress of the Dark, bronzed pet turtles, turkey bowling, and an elderly oriental grandmother who speaks mainly in profanity laced slang. I know that sounds insane, but trust me the actual story is far more bizarre…while being oddly tender. We’ve been subjected to far too many bad vampire romances over the last few years. Let’s have Hollywood redeem itself and give us a good one.
Freddy and Frederika. Okay, I could have put this one in the list of films conservatives should make as it is one of the most patriotic books ever written, but more than that, it is one of the best comedies ever. Dialogue that reads as a cross between the Marx Brothers, a Howards Hawks screwball comedy, and Monty Python covers every page of this novel, and it deserves to have the rapid fire delivery that all good comedy needs.
The Historian. I could see a point being made that there are too many vampire movies out there and I already have another one on this list already. Fair enough. But there is a lack of good film in that vein…and if you can manage to transfer the quality of this race through three periods of time all to track down the villainous Vlad Tepes and stop his plan for world domination.
Good Omens. It’s not so much that Hollywood needs this suggestion…production for this movie is in constant on again/off again mode. This movie is the funniest the apocalypse is ever going to be and it needs to be made into a movie. Hollywood, get this movie out of development hell and get it made.
The Great Good Thing. This book by Roderick Townley is a children’s novel about what book characters do when we’re not watching them. And in the middle of it all is Sylvie, a princess not content with her repetitive life of the same adventure over and over again. It is a story that would lend itself well to a CGI heavy children’s film (or just animate it) with a certain Wonderland feel.
Destiny’s Knights. Yeah I’m just going to slip my novel in here. It’s a good fantasy story, certainly better than other books which were heavily plagiarized (not going to name names).
Joss Whedon should make more Shakespeare movies. In fact since he has already done the key Shakespearian comedy (Much Ado About Nothing) he should now do the greatest of the tragedies: King Lear. Whedon alum Anthony Steward Head with a little makeup would now be old enough to play the role and if Whedon pulled some of his other long time favorites (Gellar, Hannigan, Carpenter) as his daughters could lead to an excellent cast that under Whedon could make the tragedy into the film that shows this as the most powerful of the tragedies that the slew of BBC and PBS attempts have so far failed at. Now if Whedon wanted to really do something fun, he would do King Lear and Christopher Moore’s Fool –which is just a comedy version of Lear–filming at the same time with the same cast showing the same story as both gut wrenching tragedy and side splitting comedy.
The Thin Man. Now, I’m not saying that the original films weren’t good, but they are a little weak on the mystery side. Now imagine Depp and Jolie as Nick and Nora. (I have no problem with the occasional reboot if there are generations between the original and the remake).
Mark Beamon novels by Kyle Mills. These books follow a slightly unorthodox FBI agent as he stumbles into one international incident after another. Eventually the books started getting weak, but the first four are strong enough to give this a chance at becoming a franchise.
True Lies 2: This was a great action film, certainly one of the top 10 action films of all time. And it probably should have had a sequel years ago. However you could still get a sequel. Now, I already hear the obvious complaint, Arnold is no longer entertaining, he’s no longer funny, and he’s actually kind of an ass. All true. Which is why the perfect True Lies sequel doesn’t really need Arnold all that much. Start the movie with Arnold’s character getting killed. Let the entire frustration over his waste of a governorship out and just give him the O.J. in a Naked Gun movie treatment. The rest of the movie is Tasker’s wife and daughter (now an agent in her own right) tracking down the killers. This works because Jamie Lee Curtis is still fiesty and funny…and as the original movie casted the daughter with Eliza Dushku (aka Faith the Vampire Slayer, and Echo of Dollhouse) you have a built in actress who you know can handle violence and wit equally well.
*You know I have no problem with changing books and characters when taking a book from print to screen…but that change should be justified either by the fact that it is necessary to make the story work on screen or be an actual improvement. Writing out the actually interesting central villain and turning the US intelligence from a somewhat bumbling ally to the central villain was not justified with the Bourne stories. They took a captivating story and turned it into trash. So I’d be more than happy to see the actual Bourne novels turned into movies (I would also add the character of Jason Bourne in the books would have ripped that wimp Damon played in half in a matter of seconds).
Okay so this is a more in depth look at Interstellar. If you want the spoiler light version of the review then go to my review on Elementary Politics.
Okay you’ve been warned, spoilers ahead.
So first off you should know you’re watching The Odyssey. Nolan’s movies are all based on a work of literature* and this one is no different. Cooper is Odysseus and he faces many of the same problems. He faces a tidal wave that blows him years off course, one of the crew is tempted by the lotus eaters promise to dream his life away (which is also an Inception reference)**, a fight against a two faced monster and a giant hole in the ground (between Scylla and Charybdis), betrayal (the cattle of Helios), constantly hearing the siren call of home, a trip to the underworld, and a return home only to set off on another adventure. And while everyone forgets this, a good portion of The Odyssey is Odysseus’ son Telamachus searching for his father, but Nolan didn’t forget this part, and has the second main part of this story being Cooper’s daughter, Murphy, in her search for the same answer Cooper is looking for: how to save humanity. There is also a little Heart of Darkness thrown in (and they’re not subtle about this as they use the phrase Heart of Darkness…granted it was technically used to describe a black hole, but it’s really just foreshadowing, which is something Nolan always revels in). The Heart of Darkness aspect comes into play with as Heart of Darkness is all about hearing how great a man Kurtz is for the entirety of the trip into the jungle only to find that he is a raving psychotic…in Interstellar we are inundated with hearing how great, how brave, how intelligent Dr. Mann is, only to find him to be a cowardly moron who doesn’t even know how to park a vehicle properly.
But enough about the literary origins of the story…let’s get to the thematic cores of the film.
This movie, as with all of Nolan’s films has a very strong theme of conservative values that glorifies the individual and abhors the mentality of collectivism.
“We used to look up at the sky and wonder at our place in the stars, now we just look down and worry about our place in the dirt.”
The story starts out sometime in the future (an elderly John Lithgow seems to remember the present as his childhood, so this puts it somewhere in the latter portion of the 21st century). The world has been overcome with “blight” a disease that has ravished wheat and other mainstays of food production leaving only corn alive–for now (a lesser director would have used global warming as a reason the Earth was dying, but Christopher Nolan is not a liberal hack). Humanity and innovation have come to a complete standstill and as farm land goes barren it leaves only dust storms to ravish the land. The parallels to the Dust Bowl of the Great Depression are unmistakable. And just as in previous depressions we see the progressive mentality to rewrite history to convince people that their lives are only there to serve the greater good (the invention of the 4 freedom in the Great Depression, the malaise speech telling us that collectivism is the only way to survive, the attitude of “you didn’t build that’…all lies designed to make people give up on the nobility of the human individual and their soul)…in Interstellar it is:
Cooper: You don’t believe we went to the Moon?
Ms. Kelly: I believe it was a brilliant piece of propaganda, that the Soviets bankrupted themselves pouring resources into rockets and other useless machines…
Cooper: Useless machines?
Ms. Kelly: And if we don’t want to repeat of the excess and wastefulness of the 20th Century then we need to teach our kids about this Planet, not tales of leaving it.
Cooper: You know, one of those useless machines they used to make was called a MRI, and if we have one of those left the doctors would have been able to see the cyst in my wife’s brain, before she died instead of afterwards, and then she had been the one sitting here, listening to this instead of me which’ld be a good thing because she was always the… a calmer one.
This little scene not only shows how the government is more than willing to lie to get what it wants out of people, but also that the best in humanity, our drive to push forward, to reach beyond the confines of what we know. Or to point to an earlier Nolan film, The Prestige, where Tesla points outs:
You’re familiar with the phrase “man’s reach exceeds his grasp”? It’s a lie: man’s grasp exceeds his nerve.
People, especially liberals, are afraid of the potential of humanity, and as both history and this film show, they will exploit any downturn to destroy the human need to be an individual and strive for greatness…after all “”You never let a serious crisis go to waste” is the liberal mantra.
But in this film it gets worse. In Interstellar it’s not just lying about the past, it’s lying about the future. It’s lying that there is hope for what they call Plan A, the idea they can get the human population off of Earth and into space. Of course this is a lie. There is no such plan…and in tune with the mentality of not looking for the potential of human nature they decided to give up and lie to keep people from panicking. They don’t look for another option, they try for another solution they just give up.
And this leads into the liberal ideology of what justifies this lying. As Caine’s Prof. Brand puts it “We must think not as individuals, but as a species” which are echoed later by Damon’s Dr.
KurtzMann. In fact Dr. Mann talks about sacrificing the people for a greater good and how empathy must be put aside…and all of this villainous talk sounds exactly like the environmentalist wacko’s who want to save the Earth by ending humanity…like Matt Damon. I wonder if Matt Damon realizes that he was effectively hired to play himself to show that his rhetoric is evil. Probably not. But back to theme. We see over and over again from the teachers, to Brand, Mann and even Cooper’s son the mixture of the idea that the individual is not enough, “We must confront the reality that nothing in our solar system can help us.” being coupled with the defeatist attitude that would allow for humanity’s extinction. The movie is quite clear; collectivism will lead to destruction (just as it did in The Dark Knight Rises and The Man of Steel, just in case you think I’m somehow making this up—Nolan puts a clear hatred of collectivism in his films).
“We’ve always defined ourselves by the ability to overcome the impossible. And we count these moments. These moments when we dare to aim higher, to break barriers, to reach for the stars, to make the unknown known. We count these moments as our proudest achievements. But we lost all that. Or perhaps we’ve just forgotten that we are still pioneers. And we’ve barely begun. And that our greatest accomplishments cannot be behind us, because our destiny lies above us.”
On the other hand we have the individual shown as the vehicle that will save humanity again and again. It is Cooper’s courage and ingenuity that is needed and repeatedly saves the mission. It is Amelia’s faith and hope that allows her to push through and start a new Earth somewhere out there in a far away galaxy without knowing that Cooper will soon be there to help her. And of course it is Murphy who is not only smart enough to figure out the riddle given to her by her father and what humanity will become…but it is very telling that even our future selves believe in the power of an individual, in the mind of a single woman to save humanity. Even while in the Tesseract TARS expresses doubt in the ability of one person to solve the problem, and Cooper very clearly points out that it is possible for a single person can solve the riddle…but Cooper echoing his belief in the potential, shows that an individual person as a bridge and an individual person as a scientist have the potential to save humanity. And this is especially poignant given that Murph was set by her school to be nothing but a farmer and by Prof. Brand to be nothing but a failure…or again in Nolan’s words from another work that apply quite well to Murph, “What if a child dreamed of becoming something other than what society had intended? What if a child aspired to something greater?” They can save everyone, as we see over and over again in Nolan’s films.
But what allows all of these individuals to be, is a strong connection to family. I have to say that Nolan is a rarity in literature of any kind, a writer whose main characters all have healthy relationships between parent and child (honestly, show me an author who has a good relations between a parent and child as those between Thomas and Bruce Wayne, Alfred Borden and his daughter, Clark Kent and all of his parents, Cobb and his children, and now Cooper and Murph. Most works are filled with angst and tension between parent and child, but refreshingly not Nolan). Now I point this out as a conservative theme because it does show the correct attitude to family that is so often lacking. Social “conservatives” (or as I like to call them Progressives for Jesus as they are not conservative in the least and would love to have a big government to enforce their own Christian of Sharia) have this perverted view that life, society, existence itself begins and ends with the family. The point of marriage, sex, society is only to have children, raise them, and repeat the cycle. You should notice that this hopelessly dull view of existence is basically the one shared by people like Prof. Brand who only is concerned with saving humanity in the sense of it’s genetic material…but we see in Interstellar a much more conservative view of the family not as something just designed to repeat a cycle but as a vehicle to achieving human happiness. Cooper is first and foremost concerned with his children developing as people, not just surviving but living. And this contrasts with his son’s myopic idiocy and Brand’s lying to his own daughter Amelia and his more or less adopted daughter Murph. The villains of the story are only concerned with keeping their family intact as if the status quo is the only thing to worry about, they have no concern for the quality of life, only the quantity—a typical liberal perspective.
And the bond that connect family is of course love.*** Love is at the heart of this film. While the individual is paramount for this story, it is the love between individuals that ties people together. Nolan never quite crosses into the realm of the spiritual in his films, but be it the nature of the dream in Inception or price of a soul in The Prestige, the spiritual is always hanging around the edges of his movies, gently influencing the theme (like hanging out behind a bookcase). And here it becomes even more present than in any other Nolan film. Love is seen to be like gravity in this film a force that transcends the laws of relativity and quantum mechanics (which is actually how thought seems to relate to physics…and to equate thought to love can’t just be a complete coincidence in a movie written by Nolan, a writer director/writer so careful with little details like this). Love is vindicated as had they made the choice from love that Amelia proposed they would have succeeded without losing anyone else. And love is the force that the future of humanity uses to save it’s own past (which suggests that unlike every sci-fi vision of an evolved humanity, we have not left love behind but rather come to a far greater understanding it…if that’s not a spiritual message, I don’t know what is).
And if that isn’t enough, there is of course the central theme of the greatness of America (the nation that puts the individual and family at the forefront). As always in a Nolan film America is shown for all its greatness…in this film it is no different. We see that the people we are supposed to hate are tearing down the greatest moment of American history, namely that we walked on the moon. We see the quintessential American pastime, baseball, being something loved by Cooper and Murph but also the sport that we take to space with us. And of course take a look at the last scene, a scene about hope and adventure, where Amelia has set up a second Earth and we are left to imagine the future that she and Cooper will create on this new world…the last scene is of Amelia’s recently set up camp with the America flag center of screen blowing in the wind.
A final question what is it with cornfields? Field of Dreams, Signs, Interstellar, Children of the Corn…Nothing ever comes out of a wheat or barley field…why is it always corn?
*Batman Begins is The Aeneid, The Prestige is Faust, The Dark Knight is Othello, Inception is the story of Theseus and Ariadne in the Labyrinth, The Dark Knight Rises is A Tale of Two Cities. Even Man of Steel which was written and produced by Nolan is at its core an attack on Plato’s Republic.
**On two viewings I have noticed references to Inception, The Dark Knight Rises, 2001, Stargate, and Star Wars. I’m fairly sure another viewing or two will reveal Star Trek and
***Just wait until I show that the central theme of each of the last seven Nolan movies has each movie tied directly to one of the four cardinal virtues or three theological virtues.
“Well, Clarice – have the lambs stopped screaming? “
Believe it or not Anthony Hopkins is in this 2 hour movie for only 16 minutes. Only 16 minutes of Dr. Hannibal “The Cannibal” Lecter. A slight bit over one eighth of the film. But he seems to be in every scene. And what makes him so creepy is how oddly polite he is, even when being horrifically evil his demeanor is always calm and somehow considerate. What is so frightening about Lecter is that he isn’t easily placed in a box. He isn’t the devil who is evil for the sake of evil, all the violence he commits in the film is directed with the goal of achieving freedom (not that this makes it forgivable, but it isn’t evil for evil’s sake). He’s not a psychopath (like the other serial killer in this film) who acts in an irrational manner he’s quite rational in everything he does. He’s not a sociopath as he seems to have great empathy for Clarice, wanting to help silence her inner demons (although he replaced the screaming of the lambs in her mind, so I’m not sure if that’s a step forward). As Clarice says “They don’t have a name for what he is” because something as self-contradictory as Lecter doesn’t, probably can’t exist, but the fact that we can’t wrap our minds around the layers of contradictions that define Lecter is what makes him so disturbing. (Harris did a great disservice to his character with the back-story that tried to explain Hannibal in “Hannibal Rising.” He was far more horrifying when we couldn’t understand him).
I remember seeing this movie when it first came to VHS (just spelling those letters seems so long ago) at the time it was the most disturbing thing I had ever seen…it’s sad that re-watching it now it comes off as tame compared to some of the movies that come out now (which is a sad statement about how Hollywood has degraded into just cheap thrills).
There are no more supernatural monsters in this list…why? Because the supernatural in many ways is comforting, it allows an excuse for the terrible things they do, they’re just that way…but human beings being that perverse…that’s so much more frightening. We may not ever see the likes of Hannibal the Cannibal in real life, but there are sadly just a few too many in the vein of Buffalo Bill for comfort and that’s what makes this movie so terrifying an evil we can’t understand and one we can understand all too well…
…and that’s also why we like Clarice she is willing to both stare in to the abyss, let it stare into her, and not become the monster she fights…
Up tomorrow…well, we all go a little mad sometimes… followed of course by the single greatest Halloween movie ever made. The one movie that no Halloween is complete without…
I could hardly choose a single line to put at the top of this–they’re almost all classics.
The great story of three men, who, after being booted out of the cushy world of academia and have to get real jobs which is a problem for some of them, “You’ve never worked in the private sector. They expect results.” So they do the only thing they can think of, they catch ghosts. Oh and destroy a lot of crap in the mean time…but they get paid well. Meanwhile a moldy Sumerian god is planning on returning and destroying the world. But, as I’m sure we all know the Ghostbusters have this covered. Honestly do I really have to summarize the plot…we’ve all seen it. We all know who to call.
Not exactly a lot of fear here, just a lot of great humor dressed up in the trappings of a horror flick. Something that has been lost in modern comedy, the understated visual gag. Egon moves to the other side of the elevator after turning on the proton pack and the comment about the unlicensed nuclear accelerator…no need to explain the punch line or even to have other characters mention it, just make the joke and move on expecting your audience to be bright enough to get it…and there are numerous examples of this. And then the dialogue is even better. I watch this movie every year and it never gets old. As I said I’m sure you’ve seen it so you know that rather than listening to me talk about the quality of the writing you should just go and watch it.
And of course on the greatest reason to love this movie, the EPA is the villain. That’s right the whole mass destruction is primarily caused because an arrogant, dickless (hey, I’m just quoting a fact listed in the movie, twice in fact), brainless, bureaucrat had to show that he had power. This movie understands that when it’s the federal government vs. small business, the federal government is on the side of the universe destroying evil. It’s a pity the bureaucrat only got covered in marshmallow and not something more painful and befitting the vicious crime of being a bureaucrat.
Of course the lasting impact of this movie can best be summed up with the following line from my favorite TV show:
“Who you gonna call? [awkward silence] God, that phrase is never gonna be usable again, is it?”–Spike
A true horror classic is an appellation that can be applied to just about every movie in the the Top 9 of this list, so I it could be argued I don’t need to say it with this one, but I will. The Lost Boys is a classic film of Halloween.
Again is this was from a day when vampires would rip your throat out as soon as look at you. And they have fun doing it. No qualms, no remorse, no brooding…just vicious destruction. This is the movie that originally introduced us to Kiefer Sutherland being a badass (although I think we’ll all agree Bauer was far more deadly).
We know the story. Biker teenage vampires lure an unsuspecting teenager into their lair and begin to turn him in an opening gambit to turn his entire family. Meanwhile his younger brother teams up with two socially dysfunctional wannabe vampire hunters who don’t know that you never invite a vampire into your house (which is one of those rules that everyone is supposed to know).
The movie plays, somewhat poorly I’ll admit, with a comparison between vampirism and teenage rebellion (the problem is that one is a phase and the other is by definition eternal), but the destructive, self-centered at the costs of others, you don’t know what I’m going through angles do hold. And it does hold the teenage desire and delusion to be young forever and never responsible for your actions.
It had been a few years since I had last seen this movie, so I had forgotten how bloody (very bloody) killing vampires was in this films, but it works.
As with a lot of the other movies I’ve discussed on this list we see the immortals heightened fear of death, and the overcoming of fear by our heroes…but this also offers us the fear of character Michael as he changes into the vampire and desperately tries to hold onto his humanity. It is this fear that the movie focuses on the most, and arguably tries to tie to that vampire/teenage rebellion theme.
The movie is unsteady at times but makes up for it with the fact that it keeps you guessing as to where the real power of the villains lies. Red herrings, subtle clues, and distractions all leading up to the final reveal by the vampire works for a nice surprise. Of course that leads into its own problems. If this movie has a single great flaw, it’s the random deus ex machina save at the end. If you’ve seen the movie, you know what I’m talking about, if not no need to spoil the ending. It was just a little too convenient.
It’s October and that means Halloween. And Halloween means I pull out all of my favorite horror movies, which means I am suddenly surrounded by vampire movies (well I am surrounded by vampires all year long, but Buffy is hardly pure horror). But this brings up why is society so overly inundated by the undead lately. Vampires and Zombies are everywhere. Walking Dead, True Blood, Vampire Diaries, Twilight, another Dracula, American Horror Story, World War Z, yet another Paranormal Activity, Resident Evil Part 8000: (subtitled: Jovovich really hopes someone will think she can act and give her a real job), Pride and Prejudice and Zombies…do I really need to continue? Be it TV, books, movies we are literally surrounded by the undead. And it seems like there are a lot more of the nosferatu now than there ever has been. I remember growing up with the Lost Boys, Fright Night, that Dracula with Gary Oldman, Interview with the Vampire, and of course who can ignore Buffy (and of course there were a lot of other films and books that were ignored) but you can’t deny there does seem to be a lot more vampires and zombies now than ever before…and they’re certainly making obscene amounts of money. Now it could be that Hollywood just has found a formula that makes money and are running it into the ground like they do with anything…but it still just seems like it’s more than just that. So the question becomes why are people so enthralled with the undead?
I think I may know what it is. Society’s obsession with death. Now I know I’ve brought this up before, but I feel it needs reiterating. More and more people seem to have a bizarre, infantile obsession with death and as Stephen King once pointed out horror is the genre that deals with the fear of death. They fear it more and more. And I don’t mean in a rational, life is certainly better than death, sort of way. I mean in a way where death becomes an obsession. You see it everywhere else. You see people grieving over the departed far longer than can possibly be healthy. You see them clamoring for healthcare as if it’s a right like they were dying of a terrible disease this minute. It’s irrational. And it’s being manifested in this obsession with the undead, those who have eluded death, no matter what the cost. It’s not a conscious desire to cheat death in such a fashion, but it the subconscious association with the idea of not dying….
So rather than go into my usual rant against the preposterous fear of death (do you know there is Buddhist meditation that asks you to daily imagine a new way you could die in as much depth as possible so you will be able to handle the transition without a shock?). Instead I’m going to take my love of film and go over my 30 favorite Halloween pieces of cinema (I say cinema because some of these will be TV shows) and discuss how they aren’t the usual vicious obsession with death that most horror does.
Why 30 because I did want to save one day in which I deal with why some of the movies that won’t be making the list.
Zombie movies: Philosophically possibly the worst thing I’ve ever seen (even worse when you consider that there has never been a zombie movie with even a half decent plot.) Zombies are more or less a metaphor for what people are like at our most basic level, an expression of pure violence and eating. (When actually if you want to see what people act like when their souls aren’t in control and just letting the body work on autopilot I would suggest you look at pop culture and OccupyWallStreet and certain political parties known for groupthink, yeah that one.). This is part of a large belief that we are all base animals at our core and I do not subscribe to that. On a side note, the only time I have ever seen the character of a zombie used well was in the TV shows Firefly and Dollhouse and the movie (Serenity) where the zombies (called Reavers and Butchers) were not the traditional zombies but described accurately as a perversion of humanity, not the thing we are all trying to keep at bay.
Old horror movies: They’re just too campy for me to respect. Yes, Lugosi and Karloff have their rightful place in history, but I just can’t take them seriously. (Especially since I know the books they’re based on and those movies butcher their source material).
Movies where vampires sparkle: Vampires have always been and are supposed to be metaphors for sexuality. There is just nothing sexy about a vampire who has been playing with glitter.
Slasher films: At their best they’re cheap morality plays which were best summarized by Seth Green in Scream. There is not much more to them than that. At their worst they’re just an obsession with gore and the worst in humanity. (There will be some notable exceptions to the list in the 30 movie countdown).
Shallow. Unmoving. Poor support of the point it was trying to make. Oh let me tell you how much I just loved Heaven is for Real.
In a world where there are thousands of Near Death Experiences where people who have been blind from birth can tell you what color the doctors in the OR were wearing while they had flat lined, where people come back with messages from dead loved ones with information that they could have no way of knowing beforehand, or where the person having the NDE goes completely brain dead so there is no way their brain could have just been hallucinating…we bring you a movie about a kid who never actually died and came back with information that any skeptic could tear holes in. Oh, then the movie just sucked on any standard of film making as well.
Let’s first deal with how bad the movie is.
The film follows a family, the Burpos, as they deal with the fact that their son nearly died and claims to have gone to Heaven. They deal with their own crises of faith and with being somewhat shunned by the community as others deal with their own crises of faith.
Well first off there are the numerous financial and personal problems the family in this film had to deal with (beside the kid almost dying). None of them get resolved
The entire film seems to be about everyone, the family, the parish, the community having a hard time accepting the concept of life after death—this does little more than to portray most Christians as shallow people who cling to the church out of fear, which I personally don’t think applies to all Christians, yeah we’ve all met some people like that…but it’s everybody in this film. It’s a little bizarre that this is what is being hyped as a faith based film given that it shows most church going folk to be hypocrites when you just scratch the surface. Yeah, real inspiring.
Also I felt that the writers didn’t even recognize their own hypocrisy in the final sermon in the film (which I’m guessing was supposed to offer some kind of catharsis, though I didn’t get any) among other things chided people for pride…even though it came from a guy who throughout much of the movie refused help from a friend even though he’s $20,000+ in debt and there was no resolution to this (except maybe the paycheck they got from writing the book but I’m trying not to confuse the movie with reality).
But the real problem is that none of it is all that moving. From the actors I recognized I have seen them all give better performances, and none of the crises of faith I see anyone go through in this film ever seems to fully make sense to me (I don’t get how all these people who are so active in a church can all be so full of doubts and disbelief…I understand individuals having a crisis of faith, I don’t understand a seemingly entire congregation becoming hostile to what should seemingly confirm their beliefs). No single character’s story ever seems to be dealt with in detail in the film and it just is all half-assed through the run time.
Oh and there’s some girl in Lithuania painting pictures…I never really got the point of this and could ponder for eons what possessed the director to put this random and pointless part in.
Now a lot of this could be due to the fact that as an NDE goes, this kid’s story isn’t what I’d call ironclad. He never died, his story isn’t particularly consistent, and none of the information he gives is beyond all doubt that he never heard it from other people. I believe in NDE’s the soul actually does touch the afterlife and see Heaven…but I also happen to know from research that there are cases that leave no logical explanation other than a person’s soul actually did leave their body and touch the other side. There is no such certainty here. I’m not saying the kid didn’t experience exactly what he describes (or at least as well as the movie relays it) but there are so many logical ways one could also be skeptical that the movie is only going to affect people who already believe (and in my case, not even that). I actually am a little annoyed as you can only get so many movies with a theme like this made and distrusted to a general audience…and if you really want to get people to believe in the truth that there is an afterlife, I would not put a movie with such weak backing. Also I’m just a tad annoyed that one of the most important facts about NDE’s: that everyone goes to Heaven, Christians, Jews, Pagans, Muslims, atheists, Hindus, Buddhists, everyone (because God doesn’t care about that sort of thing) seemed to get lost in a lot of talk of Jesus (I have no problem with Jesus or what he taught, but this film veered a little too much to the you only get into Heaven through Christianity bend for my tastes given that serious research into NDE’s shows exactly the opposite).
I have not read the book, and this movie certainly doesn’t convince me I should.
If you want a good movie that is actually moving about the life after death go watch Hereafter. If you want good well researched material about proof of life after this one I would suggest starting with Life before Life–Children’s Memories of Previous Lives or Evidence of the Afterlife.
Final Grade D-
So I didn’t think I was originally going to go to this one before it hit the dollar theater but on some word of mouth recommendations (and the fact it is getting as much buzz as it is) this little pagan thought he would see if this was more than the typically bad Christian film.* It wasn’t, I would go as far as to say this is the best I’ve seen from this genre. It certainly was the best performance I’ve seen from Kevin Sorbo. But that is not to say that it is not without its flaws.
The central plot revolves around a Christian student (Shane Harper) Josh Wheaton** who is forced to either say in class that there is no God or risk his grade for the class. And as there is no tradition of taqiyya in Christianity he feels he cannot lie about his faith. This, in what I have to say is the worst teaching method I have ever seen, leads the rather pompous professor (Kevin Sorbo) to try and humiliate him by making him defend the idea that God exists before the class. What follows is his defense of God and how it affects him and those in his class…and a lot of people not in his class, and some people only connected by the most tangential lines…honestly I think they tried to squeeze way to many subplots into this movie.
Now his argument in favor of God takes three main points:
- The traditional argument by cause…although Aquinas made the philosophical much better, and I’ve seen many others make the scientific argument much more clearly.
- The argument from design looking at life, specifically he looks at the rather shaky grounding for modern evolution being set on punctuated equilibrium…rather than the stronger attacks on the fact that life could not just spontaneous come into existence, nor could sentience. But I was quite happy that the writers took the much more intelligent tack that even if evolution is true it still demands a God to work the way it has rather than the ignorant creationist or simplistic intelligent design arguments.
- And finally rebutting the problem of evil and taking the Augustinian side that evil exists because of free will.
Regrettably the film didn’t actually use any of the names or terms I used above which would make it difficult for most people seeing this film to actually go and read the more fleshed out versions. So if the film wanted to convince people it may have whet their appetite for these ideas but it didn’t give them anything to work with from there. But overall the case presented by the student is one that is accurate if a bit over simplified.
Further I liked the point that behind every atheist is a very angry theist who is angry at God for some reason, which is more or less what I’ve witnessed in life…and what has at least been partially substantiated by research (it’s been shown they all fear him…and with following Yoda’s line of logic…) Although given the rather callous and shallow letter the professor’s character’s mother wrote to him before dying, I can kind of understand why he might have issues with God.
My biggest problem is this jump in logic the movie seems to make over and over again. If I show the arguments against God are wrong and show evidence that there is a God then it follows that a Protestant Christian interpretation of God exists. Over and over again this movie implicitly makes this assumption. Now to a New Ager like me this is where I have problems. If you destroy the opposition’s case and show that a God exists…that shows that a God exists. You still have a long way to go to prove that your particular interpretation of God exists. And this is the biggest problem I have both with atheists and Christians in this fight; they both seem to assume it’s either their side or the other side. It’s this one or the other. Atheists seem to feel that all Christians believe the exact same thing and can be lumped together and most Christians (or at least a very large portion of the more vocal ones) seem to feel that their interpretation of Christianity is obviously only the right one. As a non-Christian I look at this battle between these two groups with probably the same confusion that America looked at the side war between Finland and the USSR in the early 40’s: Guys you do know there is much bigger battle going on that doesn’t just involve your own petty differences? Right? Honestly as someone with many Thomist sympathies, I don’t think even Catholics would be particularly thrilled with the defense of Christianity in this film (but I could be wrong).
But I think this shows a larger problem that is not just specific to Christianity (nor do I think all Christians suffer from it). This film, which ostensibly should have been there to try and offer arguments for atheists and agnostics to give up their beliefs and accept God, does a poor job of it because it implies that if you believe in God you must be a Protestant. You would do a much better job by just proving that a God exists. Once that door has been opened philosophically then if you truly believe in your interpretation you should trust free will and faith (which was a central part of the argument in the movie) to bring people to the truth. By saying that if you have to accept everything or nothing you’re committing just as egregious a logical sin as atheists, and tactically making a very poor move. And I say this is a larger problem because you’re seeing the same problem in a larger political sense, where populists are currently demanding that all who are in the Republican party must be ideologically pure or we can not have them at all…and it is this attitude that drives voters away and keeps the party from winning time and time again…and if Christians* like the producers want to make a case for God they might do best to just try and prove the existence of a God by itself before they make the case for their interpretation of a God as making someone accept both at the same time might in many cases be a bridge too far.
One of the most jarring things of the whole film is that near the end one of the atheist characters in the film is confronted with death and makes a death bed conversion. Luckily there is a minister there to help guide this character back to the faith in their last minutes…and it’s not too subtle that God had a major hand in making sure the minister was there at that place in that time to help save that soul. Even as a pagan I didn’t have a problem with this because I do believe this is how God works…what I had a problem with was that between the writing and directing the scene comes off in a very cold and callous way. Immediately he begins preparing this character for death even though the correct thing for someone to do would have been CPR to save the character’s life. It comes off a little heartless. The fact the very next scene has the cast of Duck Dynasty insulting this character after they’ve already died is possibly one of the worst directing calls I have ever seen (honestly if you just flipped the order of the scenes it wouldn’t have been as bad) but apparently the director felt like insulting the dead.
On a final note I did appreciate the film showing that China is a repressive tyranny and the religion of peace is anything but.
If you’re a Protestant you’ll probably be able to overlook some of the glaring philosophical problems and downplay the bad writing and actually enjoy the film (again I’m not entirely sure how much the Protestant interpretation will grate for non Protestant Christians)…if you’re not a Christian that philosophical jump between God’s existence and Jesus died for you might be a bit much to overlook and ruin the enjoyment.
I give the whole thing a C-.
*That is not an insult to Christianity…that is an insult to the absolutely pathetic writing and production values faith based movies have had for the past couple of decades. Let’s be honest, Lifetime laughs at the production values of faith based films.
**I still am not sure if the fact that his name bears a great deal of resemblance to a very famous atheist is intentional or not.
***Again certainly not the entirety, but an awfully large number with access to mass media.
Somehow I would be remiss not to mention the movies based on Ayn Rand’s novels when discussing movies about economics. The problem here is that while the movies, like Rand herself, have a solid understanding of the broad strokes of economics (liberty, limited government, low taxes and regulation lead to innovation, adaptation and prosperity), they don’t seem to actually get why this actually works. Rand’s understanding of economics is a lot like most people’s understanding of how the CPU of a computer works (“uh…uh…there’s some ones and zeroes and, and, and it translates into ons and offs and…um…uh…it just works. Why do I need to know why it works it just works.”) And, granted, that could make Rand seem really ignorant…but keep in mind that there are people who don’t even get that it works. How stupid do they have to be? (Krugman, I mean you and your mentally challenged drivel.)
But for all of her flaws she does have some correct ideas.
Probably because they seem to be having one problem after another with Atlas Shrugged (I am holding out zero hopes for part three, so I hope I won’t be disappointed…) it might be best to turn to The Fountainhead. Where, though somewhat shorter than in the book, the case for intellectual property is made in very clear terms. (It’s particularly interesting that some modern libertarians seem to be against the very necessary protection of intellectual property rights.)
Howard Roark: Thousands of years ago the first man discovered how to make fire. He was probably burned at the stake he had taught his brothers to light, but he left them a gift they had not conceived of, and he lifted darkness off the earth. Throughout the centuries there were men who took first steps down new roads, armed with nothing but their own vision. The great creators, the thinkers, the artists, the scientists, the inventors, stood alone against the men of their time. Every new thought was opposed. Every new invention was denounced. But the men of unborrowed vision went ahead. They fought, they suffered, and they paid – but they won.
No creator was prompted by a desire to please his brothers. His brothers hated the gift he offered. His truth was his only motive. His work was his only goal. His work, not those who used it, his creation, not the benefits others derived from it. The creation which gave form to his truth. He held his truth above all things, and against all men. He went ahead whether others agreed with him or not. With his integrity as his only banner. He served nothing, and no one. He lived for himself. And only by living for himself was he able to achieve the things which are the glory of mankind. Such is the nature of achievement.
Man cannot survive except through his mind. He comes on earth unarmed. His brain is his only weapon. But the mind is an attribute of the individual, there is no such thing as a collective brain. The man who thinks must think and act on his own. The reasoning mind cannot work under any form of compulsion. It cannot not be subordinated to the needs, opinions, or wishes of others. It is not an object of sacrifice.
The creator stands on his own judgment. The parasite follows the opinions of others. The creator thinks, the parasite copies. The creator produces, the parasite loots. The creator’s concern is the conquest of nature – the parasite’s concern is the conquest of men. The creator requires independence, he neither serves nor rules. He deals with men by free exchange and voluntary choice. The parasite seeks power, he wants to bind all men together in common action and common slavery. He claims that man is only a tool for the use of others. That he must think as they think, act as they act, and live is selfless, joyless servitude to any need but his own. Look at history. Everything thing we have, every great achievement has come from the independent work of some independent mind. Every horror and destruction came from attempts to force men into a herd of brainless, soulless robots. Without personal rights, without personal ambition, without will, hope, or dignity. It is an ancient conflict. It has another name: the individual against the collective.
Our country, the noblest country in the history of men, was based on the principle of individualism. The principle of man’s inalienable rights. It was a country where a man was free to seek his own happiness, to gain and produce, not to give up and renounce. To prosper, not to starve. To achieve, not to plunder. To hold as his highest possession a sense of his personal value. And as his highest virtue, his self respect. Look at the results. That is what the collectivists are now asking you to destroy, as much of the earth has been destroyed.
I am an architect. I know what is to come by the principle on which it is built. We are approaching a world in which I cannot permit myself to live. My ideas are my property. They were taken from me by force, by breach of contract. No appeal was left to me. It was believed that my work belonged to others, to do with as they pleased. They had a claim upon me without my consent. That it was my duty to serve them without choice or reward. Now you know why I dynamited Cortlandt. I designed Cortlandt, I made it possible, I destroyed it. I agreed to design it for the purpose of seeing it built as I wished. That was the price I set for my work. I was not paid. My building was disfigured at the whim of others who took all the benefits of my work and gave me nothing in return. I came here to say that I do not recognize anyone’s right to one minute of my life. Nor to any part of my energy, nor to any achievement of mine. No matter who makes the claim. It had to be said. The world is perishing from an orgy of self-sacrificing. I came here to be heard. In the name of every man of independence still left in the world. I wanted to state my terms. I do not care to work or live on any others. My terms are a man’s right to exist for his own sake.
As I said she gets the broad strokes. That liberty, limited government and the human mind should be valued. But anything more detailed than:
My name is John Galt. I live in a place we call Atlantis, and I think you’d fit in there. It’s a place where heroes live; where those who want to be heroes live. The government we have there respects each of us as individuals and as producers. Actually, beyond a few courthouses there isn’t much government at all. Bottom line, Mr. Wyatt; if you’re weary of a government that refuses to limit its power over you, if you’re ready at this moment to claim the moral right to your own life, then we should leave, and I’ll take you there. I’ll take you to Atlantis.
And you’re really pushing it. She understood capitalism and individualism worked and any form of collectivism and socialism didn’t. And if you’re looking for a moral pick me up, her quotes can work quite well…if you’re looking for a technical answer as to why they work…you might want to dig into other economists and movies.
“Daybreak needs what I need, someone who believes that it can succeed. Trust me, I know you don’t have any reason to believe in me, but I work harder than anyone else. I’m in first, I’m out last. I know a shitload more about the news than someone whose daddy paid them to smoke bongs and talk semiotics at Harvard and I devote myself completely to my job. It’s what I do. It’s all I am. I… You can ask anyone.”
At this point I’m pretty sure you think I’m losing my mind (or that I am really desperate to find movies with economic premises)*–how is a silly comedy (that has a romantic subplot, but not enough of one to call it a romantic comedy) going demonstrate economics? Just trust me that I do know what I’m talking about. For those that don’t know the film, Rachel McAdams plays Becky Fuller an inexperienced executive producer who has been given the very undesirable job of bringing the worst morning news show in history up in the ratings…and her genius idea is to bring a veteran hard news anchor, played by Harrison Ford, who doesn’t want to be there, on to the very light news morning show. Hilarity and infighting ensues. But buried in this pure entertainment story are a few economic truths.
The first is the most basic of all economic principles at the heart of capitalism: adapt or die. The entire central plot is about brining up a failing TV show in the ratings. And the only way this happens is by throwing out old rules and changing the format of the show. This includes more sensationalism, making deals with celebrities that no other show would ever make, having the anchors bicker on air because it brings in more ratings. Adapt or die. Every company on earth (when they’re not being bailed out by morons who don’t understand capitalism) faces this basic principle. And it’s a good thing. As shown in the movie it forces the people on the TV show to adapt, to innovate, to come up with new things that work. It forces the show and the people, people who had previously given up, to come up with new ways of doing things, to be better and create things that work. Adapt or die, it is what turns $50,000+ worth of equipment in 1985 taking up probably half a ton of mass, into your smart phone that cost you $300 and about a pound of mass.
And this ties to the last two movies and the idea of creative destruction. As most companies try to avoid being the victim of creative destruction they have the choice to grow and not die. Which the show in this movie does. It is what drives a healthy economy, the need to survive forces us to grow and produce better and cheaper products.
And tied to this is this principle of adapt or die is the idea of being a leader. No organization or person can grow without being willing to make decisions.
One of the best descriptions on leadership goes as follows:
The difference between a good administrator and a bad one is about five heartbeats. Good administrators make immediate choices … [that] usually can be made to work. A bad administrator, on the other hand, hesitates, diddles around, asks for committees, for research and reports. Eventually, he acts in ways which create serious problems … A bad administrator is more concerned with reports than with decisions. He wants the hard record which he can display as an excuse for his errors … [Good administrators] depend on verbal orders. They never lie about what they’ve done if their verbal orders cause problems, and they surround themselves with people able to act wisely on the basis of verbal orders. Often, the most important piece of information is that something has gone wrong. Bad administrators hide their mistakes until it’s too late to make corrections … One of the hardest things to find is people who actually make decisions.—Frank Herbert, God Emperor of Dune
And the character of Becky Fuller displays this trait perfectly. Within minutes of taking her new job she is bombarded with not only a huge amount of choices but also a grossly inept employee…but rather than saying things like “I’ll get back to you” and consult others she makes choices right there based on her own judgment. And rather than deal with a clearly toxic and useless employee she just fires him because he is absolutely worthless. She makes judgment calls and works with the fallout rather than blaming others. No company, no organization, no individual can progress without this; making immediate choices and working with the fallout. No economy can survive or grow without such leaders. A shame we don’t have anything like that on Pennsylvania Avenue.
*both may be correct to one degree or another, but that doesn’t negate my point about this film.
The Terminal. Given the writers, director, or lead actor, it’s quite frankly a miracle that this movie understands even that money is used to buy things let alone the numerous economic principles it does seem to get. I’m chalking this up to one of those monkeys at typewriters moments.
But one of the clearest moments that this movie demonstrates economics is with the concepts of incentives, opportunity costs and comparative advantage. Yes I know your brain is probably already trying to run away…but stay with me for a second. In the film Victor Narvoski is held in the terminal of JFK airport because of a snafu in regulations. He has no money, but can’t leave. But he finds that there is a system in the airport whereby returning a cart for luggage to the dispensers where they originated will give a quarter for each cart. The quarters are offered as incentives to perform this mildly annoying task (the same reason your salary is an incentive to do all the parts of your job, even the parts you don’t like). However, to most of us, a quarter isn’t a big incentive, thus we have no reason to waste our time putting the thing back for just a quarter (this is opportunity cost, the idea we can use resources only once, in this case, time, and we will probably get more satisfaction out of reading, or sleeping or just resting than we will out of a quarter). However, Victor has a huge incentive to get quarters, because quarters mean food. Also, because he doesn’t have anything else to do, whereas most people in an airport do, he has a comparative advantage over them, he can spend time getting lots of carts and returning them, whereas other people do not. Incentives drive everything, if you don’t have the incentive to do something, it won’t get done…which is probably why Welfare shouldn’t offer about 45,000K a year in benefits…because if you do offer that much in benefits no one has any incentive to work if they can’t make more than that.
One of the things that The Terminal implicitly understands is the incredibly harmful nature of government, bureaucrats and arbitrary rules. The movie literally begins with a group of Chinese immigrants with fake passports being captured (why were they running…probably because China is a despotic hellhole, what will happen when they’re sent back? Well if they’re lucky, death. Real refugees are seldom so lucky from a nation that has actually crucified people in the last century.) This is what governments do, they hurt people. (Let’s not even talk about how ICE’s primary function seems to be keeping refugees and qualified workers out of the country while ensuring that welfare seeking illegals and cartels can get through.) Of course this whole movie is about one power hungry bureaucrat making a man’s life a living hell…because they can. And if you think such a mentality just exists in movies, ask the millions of people who are now without health insurance because one brainless bureaucrat believes she doesn’t work for the American people. What does this have to do with economics? Everything. Governments are needed for economies to maintain a civil and criminal court system; to catch, prosecute, and incarcerate criminals who violate the rights of others; to maintain contract laws; to ensure a bare minimum of regulation to ensure a functioning economy…but when bare minimum use of power needed to make the system work ceases to be the goal, and it switches to power for the sake of power (which is what every petty bureaucrat wants) then economies cease to work. Case in point back to the quarters for carts things…the idiot in charge of the system would rather pay someone (at New York City union rates, which is probably more than anyone who reads this earns) rather then let a man earn money for food.
The film is filled with examples or stories of people’s lives being ruined by bureaucrats. And it should be noted the general sense of fear that everyone has towards them. (Luckily there is also a scene that explains exactly what you should do to all bureaucrats.)
And this whole situation is caused by the fact that no one anywhere in this bureaucracy was willing to use common sense for an unusual situation.
One final point I would like to make about economics shown here is the seeming nature of chaos in an economy. Most people look at economics, at the flow of money, of stocks, of property, goods and investments…and see chaos. It’s much like the terminal of an airport. It seems like pure chaos. But the fact is everyone in that airport is going somewhere with a plan, a departure time, and a destination. It has the appearance of chaos but there is a very well defined order, it’s just that the normal limits of the human mind can’t see it. The same is true of economies…lots of people see economies and see only chaos and disorder and believe since it is so disordered there needs to be more control to make it run better. Let me ask has DHS and the TSA made an airport better? The same is true of economies—just because you can’t see the order doesn’t mean it is not there, and your attempting to control chaos that doesn’t exist will always, always, always backfire.
Elliot Richards: “This doesn’t prove anything. I could have done this myself. I even had to pay for it.”
The Devil: “There’s no such thing as a free lunch.”
Now unfortunately the nature of Hollywood and the fact that it exists on a different plane of reality (one where the economy is run by unicorns and movies that make 50 million above cost somehow were losses) a lot of the economic facts of this series are going to be more accidental truths stumbled upon by the writers and directors than intentional moves to show us how real economics works. However, I might be able to say that director Harold Ramis, who brought us Groundhog Day with its clear understanding of the idea that all skills can be learned with time and effort or what is really valuable in life, and Ghostbusters with its very insightful moments that the EPA is populated by dickless idiots and correct observations like, “You’ve never worked in the private sector, they expect results.” But who knows, maybe I’m reading intent where there was none…regardless, the movie Bedazzled, the story of a hapless loser who sells his soul for seven wishes from the Devil, does offer us some excellent economic lessons.
Anyone familiar with Robert Heinlein’s classic The Moon is a Harsh Mistress should find the acronym above very familiar. TANSTAAFL. There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch.
It’s one of the most basic lessons of economics. EVERYTHING has a price. Even if you don’t pay for it now or even ever…someone will pay for everything.
Our clueless hero, Elliot Richards, in Bedazzled learns the hard way that just wishing for things doesn’t work (despite the Devil warning him very clearly that there is no such thing as a free lunch).
Everything you want comes with a cost. And whether it is time, effort, blood and sweat…or just your soul…every cost will be paid. And I think this movie is very clear about this.
Richards: I don’t want another wish. […] I really don’t want it.
The Devil: What do you mean you don’t want it, you get seven wishes.
Richards: Well there are things that I want but nothing you can give me.
The Devil: What is that supposed to mean?
Richards: Well um last night when I was lying in jail I was talking to this guy. I realized that wishing just doesn’t work. All my life I’ve wished to be better looking, to be richer successful, talented, whatever. And I always thought wouldn’t it be great if someone could just wave a magic wand and make that happen. Well, I realized that it just doesn’t work by magic.
The Devil: I think I’m going to be sick.
Richards: I’ve been starting to think it isn’t really how far we go in life anyway, it’s how we get there that really matters.
Everything comes with a cost. And any time you think that there is something without a cost that you are getting something for free…be very worried because that is where the costs are the highest. Because it is often either being paid for by someone else…or it is taking something away from you that is more valuable (but less tangible) than just money or property. And, in the long run, the soul pays all debts.
Even with charity. Someone gave you a hundred dollars out of charity…it still costs them a hundred dollars and the loss of the opportunity to spend it on something else…now they may get paid back in the psychological happiness that comes from personal charity, but they will get paid back. And you will pay the cost of feeling either indebted to that person or to be worthy of the act of charity. (It’s why a welfare state is so dangerous, it strips the act of charity of all the psychological benefits and costs and merely costs the middle class their money to pay people who will not work for a living.) and thus will never “earn” anything or appreciate it and they will in the end be the bigger looser.
There Is No Such Thing As A Free Lunch.
2. Contract Law is Sacrosanct (and always read the contract)
Modern society and economics is based on contract law. Be it anywhere from the social contract to your cell phone contract. And, all pun intended, the Devil is in the details.
The Devil: “Let’s look at your contract.”
It is part of the joke that the contract for Elliot’s soul is a 2,000+ page legal document printed in small font legalese. (Pro tip…anytime any kind of legal document is 2000+ pages it is the work of the Devil and should not be signed or passed).
Contracts are so important that even the Devil has to abide by them, as there is an escape clause in Eliot’s contract, and as much as she hated it, she had to obey it. (Another pro tip: don’t trust anyone who fails to honor contracts; they will screw you any chance they can find.) That’s how important contract law is, even the Devil follows it. Modern economics are based on contract law and to all the anarchists out there who think you can run an economy without contract law necessary to enforce it, you’re beyond stupid. Anarchy at it’s best.
The other point here that the movie makes clear is that you should always read the contract. If you don’t read the contract and just wait to see what’s in it only after you have entered into it, you will always, always, always get burned….as Elliot finds out in how badly his wishes turn out…and as America is finding out right now.
3. Trade is only an exchange of value for value.
The Devil: Seven utterly fabulous wishes for one piddling, little soul?
Richards: […]“If it’s so useless then how come you want it so much?”
One thing to understand about modern economics is that in any legal, consensual exchange both people must receive what they consider an exchange of value for value (in fact an exchange only take place when both parties feel they are improving their situation). And if people want something, or are willing to give you something, then that means you are exchanging something of value.
True this is a variation on the free lunch principle, but it needs repeating.
If someone is willing to give you free phones or food or promises of healthcare you may want to ask why they’re giving you these things and what they want in return…and what the long term consequences of such an exchange are.
Movie ticket prices are high…as the Entertainment Editor of Elementary Politics I regrettably know this better than most having to pay money to go see movies I actually know will suck (Go and read some articles on Elementary Politics…if we get enough readers I can probably get a press pass into films).
But there appears to be some doom and gloom on the horizon. The first is that, as we all know the last few years have seen deeper and deeper slumps in box office turnout. It gets even worse when you look at supposedly important names like Spielberg and Lucas* telling us that we can soon expect $25 tickets. Now I think $25 may be little overblown (even with inflation under the Obama), and might be a little bit of Spielberg forgetting the studios might not want to fund him because his last six movies have all been terrible. Still the fact is movie prices are still going up. And this comes with the rather idiotic question what can the government do to stop that…yes I’ve actually heard people ask variants of this question, because there are some idiots who feel the government needs to fix all of their problems.
But rather than asking what can the government do, I’m going to ask the more important question what can the government stop doing to help reduce movie ticket prices? There are already a horde of policies and regulations in place that are helping to drive the price of your movie ticket up (along with the price of just about everything else) and if the government stopped doing these things you would have far more reasonable prices and far less inflation.
1. First and foremost we need to ignore Senator John McCain (who never met a line of the Constitution that he felt like defending) in his call to regulate cable TV even more. And after that we need not regulate anything else to do with the entertainment industry. I’m sure there are probably a few (very few) laws that should pertain to the entertainment industry, but right now I can also guarantee you we have dozens, possibly hundreds we don’t need and that need to be scrapped before we need any new laws. At this point new laws and regulations only create new headaches and roadblocks for business, industry, innovation and creation.
There is a minimum level of laws needed in society. We are nowhere near that level and need to take a machete, a chainsaw, and possibly a nuclear weapon to the stack of laws we do have at present.
2. End all public funding at all levels for all kinds of subsidies, tax breaks, or incentives. This might seem counter intuitive for why it would raise the price of your tickets. Subsidies only ever result in getting more of something people don’t want. Movies make money when they’re good…so if the only reason you’re going to make it is because you can get a tax break or a right-off or a subsidy in creating content that is sub-par and will in the end reduce the profitability of the market…which in turn has to be made back by charging higher prices for tickets. (Not to mention it creates crap like NPR and PBS which despite its claims of being educational actually make people dumber).
3. Conversely taxes should just be lowered in general. Be it the flat tax or the fair tax, it is irrelevant, but if taxes were just lower you would find more money to invest in films, better, cheaper technology to make films, and lower costs all around for production. Tax reform always benefits everyone, without question, without exception.
4. Another obvious one: Get rid of Obamacare. If you don’t think the production companies and the distribution companies and the theater chains don’t plan on passing their massive costs of Obamacare onto to you through ticket sales, you’re delusional. If prices do rise to $25 a ticket, then Obamacare will be to blame for at least a third of that rise.
5. Sue China for copyright infringement. China has committed billions, perhaps trillions of dollars of patent and copyright theft. Certainly they’re not the only foreign offender but they certainly are the biggest. (It’s ironic that it is very likely that all the money we have borrowed from China was only made by not paying us for use of patents and copyrights) and the entertainment industry takes billions of dollars in losses every year because of this (losses they pass off to you). Now while the Chinese government per se isn’t doing the actual pirating, they have created, fostered and in many ways encouraged the environment in which such violations run rampant and it needs to stop. While this is an issue that hardly affects only the entertainment industry, that is one of the most obvious ways it affects you and if they tightened up their system (and god forbid paid what they owe) you would see profits over here soar and prices drop in response.
6. Conversely America’s copyright laws are a little insane. In a push driven mostly by Disney, Congress extended copyright law to insane levels. Currently it’s life of the artist plus 70 years or 95 years from publication for works owned by corporations. That’s insane. I know Disney has a lot invested in keeping Mickey to themselves…but guys you have to let go at some point. Copyrights do help inspire creation…but when taken to an illogical extension they can also hurt innovation and creation (don’t believe me, go and read some of the insanity that has come about because of the copyrights surrounding Superman). Correcting this problem would mean that soon theaters could get their hands on good old movies at a very, very low cost and show them at almost pure profit, which means they don’t have to make the other ticket prices as high just to break even.
7. Get rid of minimum wage laws. Every usher and every person behind the counter at every theater is being paid at least $7.25 an hour. They’re not worth $7.25 an hour. Based on the service I usually get, they’re not worth $3 an hour. But regardless of what I think they’re worth, it is a simple fact of economics that minimum wage laws hurt the economy. They cause fewer people to be hired, they prevent people from getting experience, they lower service and they drive up costs.
If you got rid of minimum wage laws you would see lower ticket prices. You would also see a drop in the unemployment rate and a massive rise in the economy at all levels.
8. Get rid of ethanol. Ethanol is possibly one of the dumbest things we’ve ever done in this country. It takes 1.2 gallons of fuel to create one gallon of ethanol. So not only is it a waste that causes your gas bill to rise (and thus the cost of EVERYTHING else to rise including your movie ticket) but you’re also wasting tax dollars on this because not only is it a waste, but we subsidize it as well. You pay for it to be grown and then you pay to use it…and it’s worthless. Another fun fact about ethanol is that the heavy production of it has caused the worldwide cost of corn to go up, which not only exacerbates issues of global famine, but probably doesn’t help the price of the popcorn either.
9. While Congress really should get rid of all subsidies and trade barriers let’s look specifically at the ones dealing with sugar. We subsidize sugar production in the U.S. (causing the price to go up) and have stiff trade barriers that prevent cheaper sugar from getting in. This in turn leads to just about everything at concession stands costing vastly higher amounts than it otherwise would.
10. Finally let’s end the government protection of the teacher’s union. What does this have to do with the cost of your theater going experience? In terms of cost not so much, in terms of getting your money’s worth a lot. If we had an even halfway decent education system do you think movies like Grown ups 2, R.I.P.D. The Internship or White House Down would ever have been made? I doubt it, because there wouldn’t have been as much of a market for them…yes intelligent, educated people can enjoy movies like this, but an intelligent educated populace wouldn’t provide a market for as many pieces of crap to be made. And the simple fact is that there is probably no bigger threat to American education than the teacher’s union. End all of their bargaining power, disband the unions (because professionals don’t have unions), and as far as I’m concerned try the union leadership for treason and give them the maximum sentence, because they have done massive and unforgivable damage to this nation in protecting their hack union members who have no business whatsoever being in a classroom.
Now that’s what the government should stop doing…but to be fair there are some things Hollywood should do.
1. Release old movies. Why has there not been a re-release of The Princess Bride in the theaters? Or Casablanca? There is next to no overhead cost and you would sell tickets like crazy. Disney, you could re-release a movie every month from your vault (even if we changed the copyright laws) and it would still take years before you made a full cycle.
I think people would rather pay money to see something older and good than new and dumb.
2. Stop paying actors outrageous salaries and start paying your writers better. As the last few years have shown, people aren’t going to see movies because of their favorite actors. If actors aren’t drawing people in then they’re not good investments. Neither is CGI. In the end the most surefire way to get people in the seats is to tell a good story. Pay your writers better.
3. Hollywood, get some goddamn accountants! Real accountants, not the crazy people who have made Hollywood accounting seem more complex than the US tax code. Get some people who will pinch pennies and tell you no, that’s a bad investment, no, the actor can’t have this many riders in their contract, no, we don’t need this lavish a catering truck at the shoot, no, no, no.
4. Stop hiring directors who can’t make money. Guillermo del Toro and Paul Thomas Anderson do not make money (in fact while some of their films have made a profit I believe they are in the red for their overall careers). (I personally don’t get Scorsese, I don’t think he’s ever made a watchable film, but at least he brings in a profit, I just don’t understand how). But time and time again you see Hollywood give too much money to hacks because they’re ‘great directors.’ If you want to make vanity pieces fine, do it on your own dime; don’t do it so the studio takes the loss and passes that onto the theaters and then onto me.
5 Support a la carte purchasing in cable. It will reduce your competition and the number of channels you need to advertise on (and it’s actually the advertising budget of most films that makes them take a loss not the production costs).These are just a few of the things the government and Hollywood can do, but in the end it boils down to two things, government needs to get out of the way and Hollywood needs to be focused on giving us a higher quality product.
*I say supposedly because let’s be honest, these two schmucks have more a reputation for making good movies than an actual history of making good films. I’m sure someone will take offense to that but go look at all the movies Spielberg has actually directed and take an honest look at how some of the worst films in history are on that list.
“Should I be afraid?”
“Not a man like you.”
Meet Joe Black is a great movie for several reasons. A powerful love story. An insightful look at what life is about. And oddly enough a story about a businessman making sure his life work remains great. (Also the only time in history the IRS was even tangentially heroic…and not, you know, worthy of the treatment at the end of Braveheart).
Now some might think that the story about the businessman trying to keep hold of his business when he knows for certain he will die in the immediate future is really a secondary plot line—that the love story of Death (Joe Black) and Susan is far more important than Anthony Hopkins business tales. And people who edit movies for TV and in-flight movies would agree with those people. However the director Martin Brest thought that it so ruined the movie that he got the Director’s Guild to agree that his name could be removed from the cut without the business story line—the Director’s Guild receives hundreds, some years, thousands of requests to have directors names removed because the director was unhappy with the result…virtually all of them are denied.* So that this was granted tells you that this plot line involving Hopkins’ character of Bill Parish is absolutely important.
Why? Or as Death puts it:
Joe Black: Bill, why at this juncture are you letting yourself be so concerned by business matters?
William Parrish: I don’t want anybody buying up my life’s work! Turning it into something it wasn’t meant to be. A man wants to leave something behind. And he wants it left behind the way he made it. He wants it to be run the way he ran it, with a sense of honor, of dedication, of truth. Okay?
Because this film shows us that life isn’t just about love. It is about life. The big and the small things (like peanut butter). And this movie shows the depth of love, not just romantic love, but the love of parents and children, of friendship, of siblings, and of life itself. Love is one of those massively important things…but so is accomplishment. In fact, if you look at the needs of people’s accomplishments, achievements, the attainment of goals is, according to psychologist Abraham Maslow and his hierarchy of needs, is the next thing we need to achieve in our quest for Happiness.
Now the liberals out there are probably rolling their eyes when they hear attainment of goals or achievement, as they think that you attain goals you must do so by taking from others. They see a world of static wealth and prosperity, where if I am to be successful another must fail, where if I am to be wealthy another must be poor, where if I am to be happy another must be miserable. Which is why they must tear down the strong, the successful, the happy, because in their warped mind those people are taking strength, success and happiness from others. Reality tends to be quite different. Whereas historically most economic and political systems have done the liberal thing and only shifted money and resources around, or at best created wealth at an astoundingly slow rate…capitalism literally creates wealth where it did not exist before. It takes work, ideas, creativity, individual and cooperation, risk, and planning to create wealth…but capitalism is the only system that can sustain long term innovation to create wealth out of what was previously worthless. Wealth thus has no limit, so long as there is liberty and drive to keep creating it. It parallels the other thing we seek for constantly in life: love. Just because I love my spouse doesn’t mean I have to love my parents, my siblings, or my children, or my friends less…they may all be different kinds of love, but an increase in one does not diminish the others. And the movie is quite clear; we need love in our lives:
Bill Parish: Love is passion, obsession, someone you can’t live without. I say, fall head over heels. Find someone you can love like crazy and who will love you the same way back. How do you find him? Well, you forget your head, and you listen to your heart. And I’m not hearing any heart. Cause the truth is, honey, there’s no sense living your life without this.
To make the journey and not fall deeply in love, well, you haven’t lived a life at all. But you have to try, cause if you haven’t tried, you haven’t lived.
But again back to the Maslow’s hierarchy, life isn’t complete with just love, we also need accomplishment. And the character of Bill Parish certainly has accomplished as the founder and chairman and CEO of a multinational media empire. As he discusses his business he states:
See, I started in this business because this is what I wanted to do. I knew I wasn’t going to write the great American novel, but I also knew there was more to life than buying something for a dollar and selling it for two. I’d hoped to create something, something which could be held to the highest standards. And what I realized was I wanted to give the news to the world, and I wanted to give it unvarnished. The more we all know about each other, the greater the chance we will survive.
Sure, I want to make a profit. You can’t exist without one. But John Bontecou is all profit. Now if we give him license to absorb Parrish Communications, and he has his eye on a few others after us, in order to reach the world you will have to go through John Bontecou. And not only will you have to pay him to do this, far more important, you’ll have to agree with him.
He veers almost into the territory of an Atlas Shrugged hero there…Yes I love making money, but I love making my creation more and you could offer me all the money in the world to scrap what I have built and I would throw it in your face. He is a man of morals which are more important than just money. Which is something else that correct philosophers from Aristotle to Maslow understood, while there are charlatans that can make money, they often can’t keep it going and can’t create. Yeah there are terrible businessmen out there, but the majority of the rich, from the so called Robber Barons to Mitt Romney the rich who come to their money through work and achievement are among the most generous people in the world (Please see Who Really Cares by Arthur C. Brooks for further proof).
And it is this mixture of accomplishment and love and morality that makes the character of Bill Parish so admirable that even Death views him as someone to learn from.
The man from whose lips fall “rapture” and “passion” and “obsession”? All those admonitions about being “deliriously happy, that there is no sense in living your life without” all the sparks and energy you give off, the rosy advice you dispense in round pear shaped tones. […]It requires competence wisdom and experience, all those things they say about you in testimonials. And you’re the one.
And as we see through the course of the movie as he cares for his family and their happiness more than his business, and the achievements he has made more than just buying another day or two of his life, why when right before Death takes him he asks, “Should I be afraid?” The obvious reply to someone who has built and accomplished and loved the only answer can be, “Not a man like you.” Bill Parish stands out as a man who has excelled in every aspect of his life…and it’s amazing that Hollywood would show such a character as being.
*If you ever see a movie directed by Alan Smithee, there is no Alan Smithee. That’s the name the Director’s Guild puts on films they allow the real director to distance themselves from. Producers or a studio have to ruin beyond the telling of it a director’s film before this is ever granted.