I briefly saw a headline on some newspaper's blog entitled something to the effect of "Will You Let Your Children Watch The Hunger Games?" I guess I can answer "yes." I went with my ten-year-old last week, and my twelve-year-old is going today (no school).
I presume that the question was based on the fact that the premise of the movie is disturbing. The movie is based on the first book of a trilogy set in a dystopian world governed by a totalitarian regime. (Pretty much every "YA" book that isn't about vampires is about dystopian, totalitarian future worlds. When I was a "YA", all our books were about your parents getting divorced, your mom getting cancer, or your having anorexia.) In this dystopian world, a revolution from all 13 "districts" was quashed by "the Capitol," but as punishment, every year the 12 remaining districts must select 2 teenagers to fight to the death on national TV -- a mash-up of The Lottery and Survivor. So, the premise itself is not very kid-friendly: 24 teenagers having to play a life-or-death game of survival.
However, the book and the movie present a moral that is anti-violence, so the movie has to walk a line between being suspenseful and not glorifying violence. This result is achieved by quick camera-work, cuta-aways, and a few off-camera deaths. But, as most moms can tell you, little kids are affected more by sadness than by violence, and mine got teared up when the youngest participant, Rue, died (aptly named, obviously), even though her death was not gory, just sad.
The movie has been enormously successful, due of course to the popularity of the books among YAs and adults alike. The story features Katniss, a teenage girl who fights to keep her mother and younger sister from starving after the death of her coal-miner father in the poorest, most remote district, District 12. She "volunteers" to be a "tribute" after her little sister gets picked in the lottery, and has fearsome resolve to not die, if not to kill. Her fellow District 12 tribute is Peeta, the doughy son of a baker, who has led a comparatively soft life. However, he is very personable and charismatic, making him at least popular on the TV show. He also concocts the story that he is in love with Katniss to gain viewer support for Katniss and himself, and the reader of the book is left guessing for awhile as to whether he is simply playing the game and whether Katniss is just playing along. Either way would be fine if Katniss' scrappy best friend Gale wasn't tuning in to watch. Besides the love triangle, the other tension is that only one tribute can be the victor, so which one will it be? I won't spoil the ending for the 6 or 7 people out there that haven't read the book.
Even if the movie is enjoyable on its own, true fans won't be satisfied unless the movie honors the book. The movie follows the happenings of the book, but it some challenges. First, much of the book is set in Katniss' mind, and only there do readers learn of the backstory of the politics of the districts, the revolution, and the post-revolution government control. So all this has to come out in other ways. I'm not sure if I hadn't read the books whether I would have gotten the full story. For one thing, the government-engineered "hybrid" animals are never explained and even cut out of the ending. However, the mockingjay is left in (the symbol of District 12 and the title of the second book/movie) without explanation, as are the trackerjackers (yellow jackets on steroids). Also, the movie didn't explain how some kids' names were in the lottery multiple times because they received government rations. We also don't get a good sense of how Katniss hunts to keep their family from starving; it almost look like she sneaks out to hunt with her really attractive friend for fun. Finally, I don't think that Katniss comes off as emotionally stunted and anti-social as she is in the book. In the first few scenes, she is shown being affectionate with Gale and her sister, and so it's then hard to picture her as a girl who has forced herself to become solely interested in survival of herself and her family.What the movie does do that books don't is depict the action behind the scenes of the Hunger Games -- President Snow wielding pressure on the Game Maker, the Game Maker and staff manipulating outcomes in the Games, Haymitch lobbying for sponsors, and the garish elite in the Capitol enjoying the violent Games from their position of safety and plenty. The books are told from Katniss' perspective, and all she sees is what the players see, even though she accurately suspects most of what is happening outside of the arena. So, did I like it? I didn't dislike it, but I have to admit that I couldn't get into it. I'm not sure why. It could be that the suspense of the book is the outcome of the Games, and once you know that, the steps to get there (which don't deviate from the book) are not that interesting. It could be that the characters were miscast, which a lot of people are saying. The actress who plays Katniss seems to be very good, but I never suspected any chemistry at all between her and the actor who plays Peeta. My son asked me if I was on "Team Peeta" or "Team Gale," and I have to say that at least after the first two books, I was totally on the "Team Peeta" side, but I can't say that after seeing the movie. Or, it could be that the premise of the movie (24 enter, 1 leaves) is just not that fun to watch. It's unpleasant, even when you know the ending. That being said, I'm sure we will be there when Mockingjay opens. At least in that book, the totalitarian regime starts to crack, and there is some hope!
Last Friday, our whole clan went to see The Lorax (yes, in 3D, which was noticeable and added some value). I'll have to say that it was a big hit.
We own the Dr. Seuss book, but I have to say that we never read it. It's not colorful. It's not catchy. And toddlers don't like dystopian fables, even about trees. According to this book review, The Lorax may be more complex than an attempt at environmental evangelicalism. It could be a parody of Malthusian ecologists (circa 1971) who don't convince anyone of anything with their rhetoric ("I speak for the trees" -- who talks like that?). Whether it's meant to convert children to environmentalism or not (and quite frankly, in this era of "reduce, reuse, recycle" that horse is out of the barn), the book itself turns off little readers. Just like the Lorax turned off the Once-ler.
But the film is different. The film wraps the story from the book with a different story -- the story of Ted, who wants to find out about trees to win the heart of an older girl, Audrey. Ted and Audrey live in a very colorful world, which we learn is completely artificial and without plant life. In fact, though their city (Thneedville) is pretty, the residents purchase air in big blue plastic bottles, much like we buy water. This is not a coincidence. Audrey dreams of seeing a Truffula tree, so Ted sets off to find the Once-ler on advice from his Grammy, who remembers the trees. Then we see that Ted's town is really in a bubble, and he must leave the bubble and cross a barren wasteland (like the icky pictures from the book) to find this old hermit. There, his conversations with the Once-ler follow the book, but the flashbacks to Mr. Once-ler inventing Thneeds and chopping down trees are also done in full color, interspliced with Ted's returning home to the city a couple of times to break up the serious part of the story.
The story within the story then is the story of Once-ler inventing the "thneed," a bizarre infinity scarf that seems to have no use. It is not a "need" you see, but something that marketing convinces people that they do need. But, it's made from the fluff of the Truffula tree, and Once-ler's horrible mother and family convince him that sustainable harvesting is too slow and that chopping down the trees will enable them to meet the demand. Of course, supply is then depleted and so is the land, forcing the brightly colored bears and fish to leave. The Lorax, of course, tries to warn Once-ler of this (played cleverly by Danny DaVito), but his warnings are not heeded. Soon, the bucolic countryside is barren wasteland and the factory town is only revitalized by Mr. O'Hare, who sees the need for bottled air and artificial scenery. The Once-ler, who had some definite Oedipal mother-issues, retreats as a hermit. (It is unclear as to whether the bottled air is actually necessary. Ted seems to be able to breathe just fine outside the bubble. There is some sense that just like bottled water, Mr. O'Hare has convinced people to buy something that was ample and free. However, the process of making the bottles is polluting the outside air even more, thereby ensuring the existence of the industry.)
So, back in the wrap-around story, Ted needs to fight off Mr. O'Hare and his spies, plant the Truffula seed and win the high school girl of his dreams. Perhaps the book ended ambiguously, but the film does not. Ted succeeds where the Once-ler did not due to true love and a really awesome mom and Grammy.
So, is the film anti-corporation? That's an interesting question. At the height of his Thneed empire, Once-ler (Ed Helms) sings a song called "How Bad Can I Be?" This song would be a great addition to a Law and Economics class on externalities. Our tragic hero is arguing that he is merely acting rationally -- he is homo economicus. But we can see that he is not externalizing all his costs. Now, of course, he meets his tragic downfall because he depletes his supply and goes bankrupt. But, a lot of the harm is heaped upon the landscape, the wildlife and the residents of Thneedville. So, one could argue that the Once-ler was not acting rationally because he did not have long-range planning, and if he had, then that would have minimized externalities. Or, you could argue that regulation should have stepped in and limited his deforestation when that was not in his self-interest. Could be interesting.
What did my four-year old think? He thought it was a really cool song.
We saw (sans kids) The Artist the day before the Academy Awards. A 90+ percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes and some gushing Facebook statuses pushed us to see a movie that didn't seem like a great bet. We had seen no trailers, it is a silent film, it's in black and white, and features no one I had ever heard of before (though familiar faces are in the background). But, we went.
And I think we were pleasantly surprised. The plot of The Artist is like a tragic version of Singin' in the Rain, without the Singin' part. Dashing Gene Kelly look-alike is a silent film star of heroic proportions; however, George Valentin is the original diva with a big splash of hubris. He mocks the "talkie" revolution and attempts to buck the trend, leading to his prideful downfall. The spunky dancing extra, Peppy Miller, who doesn't look much like Debbie Reynolds, ascends while George descends (often quite literally, on spiral staircases). She embraces the talkies, or at least they embrace her and make her a star. There is no Donald O'Connor, but there is a really cute dog who is light on his feet. (Get it, he's a hoofer. Ha.) and, of course, there is a redemptive, happy ending.
A lot of the talk in the reviews centers on the film being silent, and in b/w. Why does it need to be silent? Is this a gimmick? We actually enjoyed the silent nature (there are very few subtitles, actually). And I think we realized that silent movie actors have to be completely different kinds of actors. Silent movies that had a lot of action (swashbuckling, etc.) didn't need a lot of dialogue. But The Artist isn't an action picture. There is a lot of emotional information that has to be communicated without words. This is a romantic comedy, and all of that comes through without dialogue, which is very interesting. Particularly in the modern era of low-brow comedies that are entirely banter-driven. Even sophisticated comedies, like Midnight in Paris, could not possibly be done as silent films because Owen Wilson's external monologues were so key to driving the plot.
But, was it Oscar-worthy? I'm not sure what being "Oscar-worthy" means, given this list of the past winners. I can't say that I'm at home watching Gladiator or Chicago over and over. Once I heard on NPR a reviewer giving a rule of thumb for the top three awards. (I cannot find the name of the reviewer for proper attribution.) The Best Male Actor would go to the actor who played the most flawed male character. The Best Female Actor goes to the actor who plays the strongest female character. And, the Best Picture award goes to the film that captures the "angst" of the motion picture industry that year.
Here, our male acting award goes to Jean Dujardin, who played the tragic hero George Valentin; the female acting award goes to Meryl Streep who played Margaret Thatcher. That works. But what angst does The Artist capture? Maybe the angst of older actors not wanting to give way to younger actors and their moviemaking. Meryl Streep wins an Oscar after being nominated 17 times and not winning since the beginning of her career, 30 years ago. Christopher Plummer, 82, wins his first Oscar. Woody Allen wins best original screenplay, not Kristen Wiig. The Bridesmaids tell dirty jokes on stage, but they go home empty handed. And, the best adapted screenplay is about the rule against perpetuities.
I loved Big Miracle! OK, I stole the ending, but I wanted to get that out of the way. The boys and I went to see Big Miracle on Friday, and I have to say I'm a big fan. The four year-old got a little fidgety (OK, so he kept climbing over the railing for the stadium seating), but he did remind me that he did not leave early like We Bought a Zoo. The ten year-old was pretty into it, and I was really into it.
The movie is based on a true story, Operation Breakthrough, that apparently was a media sensation when I was in college, but I don't remember it at all. Of course, the fall of 1988 was my second year in college, and I missed a lot of current events during that time. So, the movie is set during the Bush v. Dukakis presidential campaign and tries to be a "period piece." (I still don't understand why Drew Barrymore's hair is an ombre mess with 6 inches of highlights grown out. Is there a message that in the 80s people didn't pay attention to their hair color maintenance? Perhaps working for Greenpeace, her character is so passionate about her causes that she has let her hair go? That's sort of 70s, not 80s.) The story is that in Barrow, AK, three whales are trapped under the ice and cannot get to the ocean where they are supposed to swim to Baja, CA for the winter. Without human intervention, the whales will die. Enter reporter Adam (John Krasinski), who would love to move to "the lower 48," and the whales begin to get national attention. Various groups decide how much attention to turn to the whales, and for what purposes.
The movie could be a centerpiece of a government class, with student groups representing the different special interests with their agendas: Greenpeace, an Alaskan oil company CEO, President Reagan, the Inuits, the National Guard, the media, the local business owners, and even the Soviets. What I liked about the movie was that none of these folks seemed one-dimensional, and all of them were portrayed as flawed to various extents. No one has an entirely pure motive, even the heroes.
The end, of course, is happy. (There is a nonhuman death, for the parents out there.) I teared up a little. Why? Because, as the movie tells us, everybody loves whales. We seem to empathize with whales and project our hopes and fears onto them. But, if you're coming to the movie because you love movies and want to see a lot of whale footage, be prepared. There's not much. (It's a $40 million movie, not a $100 million movie.) Most of the whale scenes are whales sticking their snouts out of a hole in the ice, with only a couple of good underwater scenes.
According to my Facebook page, a lot of people I know seem to really hate the Citizens United decision. On a daily basis. I'm not that fascinated by the thought of corporations making unlimited campaign funding expenditures because I just don't see how the results will be any different. (We can argue about it, but then I'll just get bored and try to change the subject.) But, I understand that many folks this election season do not like the thought of tainting democracy with corporate dollars.
But what about art? I love movies, and I see a lot of them, so I am usually at least somewhat interested in the Oscars. Back BC (before children), we used to have Oscar parties and actually watch the award show. Until the end. So, today I was a little intrigued by the announcement of the nominees. Here are the nine (yes, nine) nominees for Best Picture: The Artist, The Descendants, Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, The Help, Hugo, Midnight in Paris, Moneyball, The Tree of Life and War Horse. Other pictures picking up nominations in major categories are Beginners; A Better Life; Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy; Warrior; Bridesmaids; Albert Nobbs; The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo; and A Week with Marilyn.
I have seen half of them, which is pretty good for an Oscar list. (I actually haven't seen Hugo because none of my children wanted to go see it.) I think in many years, audience goers are a little disappointed that the list is mostly made up of artsy movies that have either had limited release by January or are critic's darlings just not their cup of tea. Blockbusters and comedies are often overlooked. I think that's ok -- this isn't the All-Stars, it's an industry competition between folks in the industry. If legal academics voted on Best Law Review Article (like business law professors do), then the result would probably be different than if the general public voted, or even the practicing bar.
But today's listings are even weirder. Some of these are pictures that neither critics nor audiences liked (Iron Lady; Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close) or pictures that were mixed (Tree of Life). It's almost as if a Republican who is polling third is suddenly named the nominee by the party. So, why do these movies get nominated? Maybe it's because their studios spent millions of dollars campaigning academy members to get them nominated. Here are a few stories on oscar campaigns, one calling for a "luxury tax" on studio spending and one chronicling a campaign that was fruitless.
In fact, the Academy instituted new rules this year on studio campaigning, which take effect today. After nominees are announced, the rules restrict appearances, panels, etc. where nominees might be able to sway academy members. So, we are in the movie analogue to "the quiet period."
OK, so I'm a little behind, so here's a twofer. Over the break, various members of my family went to see two family movies, Chipwrecked (the Alvin and the Chipmunks threequel) and We Bought a Zoo. I wasn't overjoyed with either, for different reasons, so I'm packing up all the negative into one review.
Chipwrecked. I know, why should I be shocked that this third chipmunk movie is a big dud? I go to see a lot of kids' movies, and my bar is fairly low. But I got pretty squirmy and restless in this one. The basic plot is that Alvin has become impossible to supervise -- he doesn't listen to Dave or think about others and every time he steps out of line (about every minute), he creates disorder, danger and chaos. His penchant for breaking the rules gets the six chipmunks (including the three Chipettes) cast overboard a cruise ship taking them to the international music awards. Dave has to then go overboard to save them, along with his old nemesis, Uncle Ian, who implausibly works as a costumed mascot on the ship. The rest of the movie is the two adults wandering around a small island (with Ian always in the duck suit) and the chipmunks on the other side of the island trying to find food and shelter. Eventually, as you might imagine, they find each other and are rescued in time for the award show. And, because this is not the 1970s, the moral of the story is that Dave should have given Alvin more room to be free and be himself. The moral is NOT that Alvin should get his act together.
The movie has a bizarre subplot that even I'm not sure I can summarize. The chipmunks meet a woman named Zoe, a UPS worker who Castaway-like, was shipwrecked there with a variety of sports balls she names Spalding, Calloway, Nerf, etc. She is very risk-seeking and manic, which seems to be the result of getting bitten by certain spiders once or twice a day. But then, Zoe pulls out a crude treasure map and mutters that others didn't believe her and thought she was crazy that there was treasure on the island. (Theodore has found the treasure behind a waterfall at this point.) So, I was unclear as to whether Zoe was indeed shipwrecked with others, who left her behind to search for treasure or if she had gone to the island of her own accord, or some other mishmash. Oh, yeah, and the the volcanic island blows. Blows is a good word here. To sum up, I passed the movie theater with my four year-old the other day and he asked incredulously, "Chipwrecked is still at the movie theater?"
We Bought a Zoo. My ten year-old and I wanted to see this movie based on the previews, which featured animal antics, including a capuchin monkey doing backward flips over and over on Matt Damon's desk. I thought this would be a fun family farce, like Doctor Doolittle. It's not. It is a drama. Perhaps it is a family drama, but it is not a kids' movie. The movie is a true story, has a lot of big names and is from Cameron Crowe, so I guess I should have known it wouldn't be all fun and games. Matt Damon is an international reporter who has to move on with his life after his wife and soulmate dies, leaving him with a surly teenage boy and a cute little girl. Much of the movie is about his journey to deal with her memory and to forge a relationship with his kids. Yes, he does buy a zoo, but the challenge of financing and opening the zoo is secondary to a lot of heartfelt conversations with his son and the rather attractive zoo manager. And there is very litle cute animal humor. At some point, my littlest one asked if we could leave because he just couldn't take the tension. At that point, Damon was having to make a decision to put down an older tiger who was suffering; just as he was having trouble letting go of his wife, he cannot let go of this tiger. (This was lost on our own Will Bear.) He and I sat in the lobby for the last twenty minutes of the movie, waiting for the rest of the family. They seemed to like the movie, and especially the ending. Maybe if I had gone to see it without a small child getting restless and bored, I would have appreciated it more. Oh, and the monkey never does flips in the movie.
If you read or heard my memorial to my colleague and friend Larry Ribstein, then you already know that I saw Sherlock Holmes 2 over the break. I actually saw it twice, once with my oldest child and the second with my middle child. I enjoyed it the second time as much as the first, and (if you've seen it, you'll understand) was glad for the opportunity to watch the ending again.
If you are not only a reader of the Glom but also have an amazing memory, you'll remember that I enjoyed the first movie, though was a little peeved with the deductive reasoning exploits that no audience member could have possibly followed. (E.g., Holmes sees two dots of ink behind Mary's ear and instantly knows that she is a governess and her student threw ink at her that she didn't wash off completely and that's why she has on such a fancy necklace, which the student's mother loaned her as consideration for her trouble.) I don't think that Guy Ritchie or the screenwriter is a reader of this blog, but I do think that those deductions from left field are minimized in the second movie. The machinations of Holmes' mind are much more visible, with his logic spelled out (usually through the mouth of Watson) so that the audience feels more a part of the mystery solving.
Like the first movie, however, this installment is great fun. Watson's fiancee, Mary, gets a much bigger part in this one, and Moriarty is an on-screen character. Rachel McAdams' character, Irene, does not get much screen time, however. Holmes' brother, Mycroft, appears and very nearly steals the show. But he does not because the real stars are Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law, who make the so-called "bromances" of modern film just seem silly. They are great together and the rest of the plot, etc. seems secondary.
I found this plot a little less convoluted than the first movie's plot, but according to those in my party who have read the original books, it is a mash-up of several famous Holmes' stories. This plot involves Moriarty's scheme to acquire interests in businesses that produce the tools of war and then push Europe into a multi-country clash. As a business law professor, what I loved, loved about the movie was that Moriarty acquires an interest in a German munitions factory owned and ran by (wait for it, wait for it) MEINHARD! Yes, the evil Moriarty is partners with Mr. Meinhard! And if we thought that Mr. Salmon was horrible to our NY Mr. Meinhard, then you should see what Moriarty does to the German Mr. Meinhard. After assasinating him, Moriarty takes control of the munitions factory (not sure why German law would bring about such a result -- possibly a buy-sell agreement or a buyout under the UPA, but these are details). Scholars point to Germany to show how more enlightened corporate governance is there, but this movie shows the rougher side!
My only disappointment was with the character of a Gypsy woman named Simza, played by Noomi Rapace, who potrayed Lisbeth Salander in the Swedish version of the Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. Rapace goes from playing one of the more interesting and challenging female characters of our time to playing basically "the girl." She has very few lines, but is on-camera a lot, usually drinking or eating. She has no interesting scenes and her character basically just tags along with Holmes and Watson to find her brother, who is mixed up in Moriarty's evil plan. Kind of a waste, but it doesn't take away from the movie.
Over the break, various combinations of family members went to almost every movie showing in the C-U area. On opening night, the adults met with other faculty colleagues to go see the U.S. version of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (or, as I like to call it, The Girl with Daniel Craig). We had seen the three Swedish versions of Steig Larsson's posthumously published books -- the Millenium Trilogy. I have to say that as excited as I was to see Daniel Craig, I was nervous that the Hollywood version of the Lisbeth Salander story was going to be embarassingly Americanized.
We were all pleasantly surprised. I was worried that the movie would be like other blockbusters: lots of special effects action with impossibly beautiful stars all around and set in Manhattan and upstate NY. However, Dragon Tattoo is very faithful both to the books and to the Swedish films. It is still set in Sweden, and the actors who are American at least try not to seem so. (I still don't get Robin Wright's intermittent accent, but whatever.) The focus of the film is still the haunting story of the disappeared Harriet Vanger from Hedestad. There, the two lead characters, journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Craig) and legally incompetent but extremely smart Salander (Rooney Mara),are thrown together in what appears to be the coldest place on Earth. Even though Mara is gorgeous and looks like Audrey Hepburn in her natural state, she appears here in full scary punk character. Blomkvist's long-time girlfriend Erika Berger is played by the age-appropriate actress Robin Wright, who is actually a tad bit older than Craig, a first in Hollywood history! (Neither actor is as old as the characters were probably written to be, but they are in the ballpark.)
Like the Swedish films, this version pulls no punches and depicts all the sadistic violence with the same graphic detail of the books. If marketers' predictions of demographics carries any weight, note that the previews before the movie were mostly for spectacularly violent movies I will never go see, like The Devil Inside. Of course, remember that the author's title for these books was originally "Men Who Hate Women." The two monsters of the first film are evil in ways that really can't be given justice without the details, but I shut my eyes anyway.
Because the books were published posthumously, they did not benefit from a good editor, who would have pruned away some of the side plots that Larsson enjoyed. The movies do a good job of cutting those away. I do think the new movie did a better job of moving the narrative of how that mystery is solved at a much quicker pace than the books or the Swedish version. This movie also made the ending not nearly as convoluted as the book did. Without giving away the ending, note that the main conclusion of the mystery is still the same, but no one has to go to Australia to confirm! I've read elsewhere a bit of snark because the movie radically tones down the love life of Blomkvist, who is a bit of a free-love guru in the books, temporarily mating with almost every woman he meets between the ages of 20 and 60. This modification serves several purposes -- it trims down the side plots and also makes Blomkvist more likeable to non-European sensibilities. Blomkvist also doesn't go to jail in the U.S. movie, saving plot time and avoiding having to explain why his Swedish jail seemed more like a meditation retreat. Finally, the relationship between Blomkvist and Salander ends on the same note, nearly identical to the books.
The one thing that will be interesting to see in the next two films is whether Blomkvist and Salander's friendship will have a happy Hollywood ending. All I know is that I will be there to see!
While others in our family chose to go see their alma mater's football team get crushed, a more fortunate crew went to go see The Muppets. We were definitely happier at the end than the other group. I think Winston Churchill said something like "If you don't like The Muppet Show when you are 10, you have no head. If you don't like it when you are 40, you have no heart."
A lot has changed since I watched The Muppet Movie over and over on HBO one summer in elementary school. First, the muppets are now owned by Disney, which is sort of jarring for those of us from the Sesame Street generation. But, this allows for everyday miracles to happen, like The Muppets being opened by a Toy Story short (Small Fry)! (This was very big for us, seeing as how we had just purchased the Cars2 DVD for the Toy Story Hawaiian Vacation short.) The Disneyfication of the muppets may also be jarring for those viewers sensitive to product placement throughout the movie. The second change is that Jim Henson isn't alive any more. If you really listen, Kermit doesn't sound like Kermit. And that was a little sad. Also, Frank Oz is alive, but he was not the voice of Fozzie the Bear or Miss Piggy. Miss Piggy sounded the same, but Fozzie did not. (There seems to be some controversy over Frank Oz not liking the new movie's script, but you can google that as well as I can.)
Not being a muppets purist, I thoroughly enjoyed the movie (and so did the kids with me, aged 3, 4, 7 and 12). But, my particular point of contention was that Disney had already made this movie. I am about one of only 28 people who have seen The Country Bears, so I'm sure that Disney thought this could go by unnoticed. Joseph Conrad told the same story a few times, so why can't Disney? But, as probably the only person who really loved The Country Bears, it stings. So, in TCB, Beary is a small animatronic bear living as the son of a decidedly human family. Accordingly, he always feels different and out of place. The only joy he has comes from the very popular band, The Country Bears, made up of large, animatronic bears. He is their biggest fan. But, the Bears broke up. When Beary runs away to take a tour of Country Bear Hall, he finds that it is going to be torn down by an evil banker, Christopher Walken, unless the Bears come up with $50,000 to save it. To come up with this money, the Bears have to "get the band back together" to play one last reunion concert, forcing two of the Bears to drive around in a bus with Beary to round up the other Bears, who have fallen on hard times (one is a roadie, the other is addicted to honey and one is a wedding singer). In the end, the Bears get back together, do a great concert, and save Country Bear Hall. In the meantime, Beary finds peace with his human family, including his human brother.
Now, take the preceding paragraph and replace "Beary" with "Walter" and "animatronic bear" with "muppet," and you have the plot of The Muppets. Walter is the muppet brother of Gary, a human. Walter has gotten through life by enjoying The Muppet Show. He and Gary (and Gary's girlfriend, Mary) head off to tour Muppet Studios, only to find out that the studios are about to be sold to an evil oil baron, Chris Cooper, unless Kermit comes up with $10 million. So, cue to montage of getting the muppets back together, putting on one last show, etc.
What makes The Muppets a little different, and probably more popular, is that it is hip. There are funny references to the '80s. There are funny pop culture references (Miss Piggy is a fashion editor a la Devil Wears Prada, complete with Emily Blount as her assistant). The cast repeatedly breaks through the "fourth wall" (when Kermit says they can never get the gang back together because they've all lost touch, Mary, played by Amy Adams, says, "this is going to be a short movie"). And, the movie is chock full of celebrity cameos, particularly of actors that you don't associate with kids' movies. Unfortunately, unlike in other muppets movies, Jason Segal and Amy Adams became more the center of the movie. Kermit was not the star. That just wasn't in the script.
All in all, it was an enjoyable afternoon and the kids really enjoyed the show. There are some really catchy songs (some not as catchy), and the mood is very light and happy. Very nice.
Last Saturday, we carted five children, ages 12, 11, 10, 9 and 4 to see Puss in Boots 3-D. I have to say, I was just going for the popcorn. The movie is a spin-off of the very successful Shrek franchise, but I tired of those movies by the third and fourth entry. I am all Shrek-ed out. For those of you who don't remember or aren't familiar, Puss in Boots is a fairy-tale character introduced in Shrek 2 (a fine movie) who becomes one of the most interesting of Shrek's posse. He is a cat with a Spanish accent (thanks to Antonio Banderas) and (yes) boots. He is quite dashing, resourceful and good with a sword. He is basically Zorro, if Zorro were a gato.
At the end, the 4 year-old said, "That was better than anything." I'm not sure that I would go that far, but it was a lot better than I thought it would be! First of all, there is no Shrek (or any other Shrek characters) in it, which is a feature for me, not a bug. Second, the plot is pretty interesting, as kids' movies go. Puss was wrongly accused of some crime, making him a wanted criminal in his home town. He has taken to a life of fairly Robin-Hood type crime in order to "pay back the debt" and clear his name. Along the way we learn that Puss' childhood friend at the orphanage, Humpty Dumpty, is the cause of his mistaken notoriety. However, Humpty Dumpty persuades Puss to team up with him to steal magic beans, which will lead them to the giant's castle in the clouds and the golden goose, in order to settle the debt to clear his name.
Humpty Dumpty is voiced by Zach Galifianakis, of The Hangover fame. I'm glad that I didn't know that while watching it, because Humpty is a bit like his Hangover character. Possibly good on the inside, but so seriously disturbed he makes very poor choices. And this is where the plot gets interesting.
All in all, it met the standards for an all-family movie: the plot was not too complex that little ones couldn't follow, but not so predictable that it was boring, not too many double-entendres or "in-jokes", likable characters, and a good lesson. And, fun (cat) dancing!
An article in today's Life section of USA Today titled Movies tap into anger at Wall Street describes how 3 movies in current release mirror public angst over economic inequalities and inequities: Tower Heist, In Time, and the already mentioned in 2 Glom blogs, Margin Call.
This autumn's documentary Chasing Madoff recounts Harry Markopolos’ multi-year crusade to expose the multi-billion dollar Ponzi scheme perpetrated by Bernie Madoff. Alleged victims of this massive fraud include the celebrity couple of Kyra Sedgwick (star of The Closer on TNT) and Kevin Bacon (of the original Footloose (1984) fame). The Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act included a broad set of whistleblower provisions under which the Securities and Exchange Commission adopted specific rules and procedures to incentivize potential whistleblowers by way of cash rewards and protection from retaliation.
There is also a 2009 documentary about the subprime mortgage fiasco, which is now available on DVD, American Casino. 2001 economics Nobel laureate Joseph Stigltiz described it as being "a powerful and shocking look at the subprime lending scandal. If you want to understand how the US financial system failed and how mortgage companies ripped off the poor, see this film."
This May, the HBO Films production of Too Big to Fail, based on the book of the same name with the subtitle of The Inside Story of How Wall Street and Washington Fought to Save the Financial System--and Themselves depicted the autumn 2008 U.S. financial crisis and the sequence of (less than intertemporally consistent) policy responses by the Treasury department, the Federal Reserve, and other financial regulators.
Last autumn's Inside Job made a compelling argument in five parts about how the American financial services industry systematically and systemically corrupted the United States government and in so doing brought about changes in banking practices and legal policies that led directly to the Great Recession.
Although the documentary Client 9: The Rise and Fall of Eliot Spitzer focused primarily on the interaction of ego, hubris, power, scandal, sex, and politics, it also touched upon Wall Street and efforts by Spitzer to reform its excesses.
Of course, no list of movies related to the recent financial crises would be complete without including documentary film-maker Michael Moore's 2009, Capitalism: A Love Story, which criticizes the current American economic system in particular and capitalism in general. At one point, it asks if capitalism is a sin and whether Jesus would be a capitalist, who wanted to maximize profits, deregulate banking, and have the sick pay out of pocket for pre-existing conditions via clips from Jesus of Nazareth. Moore asks if one could patent the sun and questions how the brightest American youth are drawn towards finance and not science. He proceeds to Wall Street asking for non-technical explanations of derivative securities in general and credit default swaps in particular. Both a former vice-president of Lehman Brothers and current Harvard University economics professor Kenneth Rogoff fail to clearly explain either term. Moore thus concludes that our complex economic system and its arcane terminology exist simply to confuse people and that Wall Street effectively has a crazy casino mentality.
Finally, the PBS Nova episode, Mind Over Money, which originally aired on April 26, 2010 asks whether markets can possibly be rational when people clearly are not. In other words, is there a version of the efficient markets hypothesis that can be true in a world populated by at least some boundedly rational actors? In posing this question, the show offers an entertaining, yet quite informative survey of elements of behavioral economics and finance. Its companion website provides additional resource materials concerning the role of emotions in financial decision-making. The debate which it depicts between the University of Chicago school of economics and the behavioral economics approach (including scenes of Dick Thaler playing pool) is a bit overdone and perhaps unintentionally comical, but it raises the question of whether it matters for law and policy how people make their financial judgments and decisions? Of course, the natural follow-ups of if so, then how and if not, then why not, are questions about which business law professors, Glom readers, and policy makers are likely to have perhaps quite strong and certainly divergent opinions.
A television program that has become quite popular is the USA network's original dramatic series White Collar, which is based upon the premise of an F.B.I. agent solving white collar crimes with the assistance of consultant who is a former (and current?) art thief and con man extraordinaire. Episodes have featured a black widow, baby selling, bank robbery, black market kidneys, bond theft, collusion, corporate espionage, derivatives, financial fraud by a Wall Street brokerage firm, identity theft, and political corruption.
It is reminiscent of the 1960's campy, classic, and tongue-in-cheek television series, It Takes A Thief.
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I want to echo Peter's praise of Margin Call, which you can on-demand, and which is the best movie about the financial crisis I've seen yet. It's nothing more than bankers desparately scheming how to save their investment bank over a 36 hour period once they realize, after firing the one risk manager who was working on the problem, that a volatile market has rendered them insolvent. As recognition of the immensity of their plight moves up the org chart (or maybe down to the next circle of hell), the junior risk manager hero, even-keeled Zachary Quinto, encounters ever more terrifying specimens of supervisor. Which is to say that it's a character movie, full of people talking, and that's about it. Kevin Spacey's excellent, but so is Simon Baker of TV's The Mentalist as a scarily insousciant empty suit. I wasn't crazy about Jeremy's Irons' scenery chewing man-at-the-top, or Penn Badgeley's change of heart at the bottom, but in a film about characters, I suppose you can't plan on liking every character. I predict it will be seen at business schools for many years to come.
What about law schools? It's a less obvious fit - there's a negligible lawyer character, played by Aasif Mandvi, but this film is about traders and risk (which it actually seems to understand, in contrast to some documentaries about the financial crisis I could name). Still, if you lawyered for a bank, or want to lawyer for one, Magin Call is worth your time.
I recently saw the movie, Margin Call, which is currently playing in theaters and is available on demand at Comcast. There are curretly 34 reviews of it by viewers at imdb, where it has a rating of 7.3 out of 10.
I also just finished reading this paper, Fear, Greed, and Financial Crisis: A Cognitive Neuroscience Perspective, prepared for a forthcoming handbook on systemic risk. This chapter is by finance professor Andrew Lo, who is the director of the MIT laboratory for financal engineering. He also wrote another excellent paper which Glom readers are likely to find of interest, namely Reading About the Financial Crisis: A 21-Book Review, that was prepared for the Journal of Economic Literature.
In the interests of full disclosure, I taught at Temple law school a seminar titled Law, Emotions, and Neuroscience and co-taught at Yale law school with professor Dan Kahan a seminar titled Neuroscience and the Law. The seminars covered some basic materials about affective,cognitive, and social neuroscience before analyzing the potential and limits of applications to business law, conflict resolution, criminal law, ethics, evidence, morality, paternalism, and social policy. Media coverage of neuroscience and law has a tendency to focus almost exclusively on such controversial issues as free will and responsibility in the criminal law context. Glom readers are more likely to focus on neuroeconomics and neurofinance, two nascent fields that ask how human brains engage in JDM (Judgment and Decision Making) in general and over time and under risk in particular.
Also, as cognitive neuroscientist Michael Gazzaniga recently stated: responsibility, like generosity, love, pettiness, and suspiciousness, is a strongly emergent property, which although being derived from biological mechanisms, has fundamentally distinct properties, just like the case of ice and water. The press and the public also seem to be fascinated with very colorful fMRI brain scans because they like the idea of being as the Wall Street Journal science writer, Sharon Begley, calls them: cognitive papparazi.
My system 1 believes in synchronicity, so this post, as evidenced by its title's homage to Lo's chapter, approaches the movie Margin Call from a cognitive neuroscience perspective informed by Lo's chapter. Lo provides a brief history of what we know about brains. He then explains how fear and the amygdala can exacerbate financial crises. He also demonstrates how the reward of money appears to share the same neural system and the release of the neuortransmitter dopamine into the nucleus accumbens as these rewards do: beauty, cocaine, food, music, love, and sex.
Lo proceeds to discuss a neurophysiological explanation for Kahneman and Tversky's experiment demonstrating people's aversion to sure loss. Lo proposes a neuroscientifically informed view of rationality that differs very much from an economic rational expectations conception, with the key difference being the role that emotion plays in JDM. Lo extends his analysis from individuals to groups by explaining the neurophysiology of mirror neurons, theories of mind, social interactions, and the efficient markets hypothesis. He concludes his neuroscience survey by describing the marvels and limits of the human prefrontal cortex, also known as the "executive brain." Of particular interest to Glom readers is decision fatigue, documented recently among judges rendering favorable parole decisions around 65% of the time at the start of and close to 0% by the end of each of 3 daily sessions that were separated by 2 food breaks (a late morning snack and lunch). This empirical finding that parole rates increased after food breaks is consistent with recent experimental research finding that glucose can reverse decision fatigue and the common adage to not make important decisions when tired.
Lo provides several practical and reasonable suggesions based upon cognitive neurosciences about how policymakers can engage in financial reform to deal with systemic risk. He concludes by advocating that financial economists utilize the great recession to re-conceptualize, rethink, and revamp neoclassical economics by forging a consilience between the neurosciences and financial economic theory. Building a deeper and better understanding of economic phenomena through improved economic models and intellectual frameworks can and should lead to a more appropriate financial regulatory infrastructure.
And now onto a few comments about the movie Margin Call. Without giving away the plot for those who may want to see it without any knowledge of its ending, this movie raises ethical and moral questions about individual versus social optimality, trading on the basis of private information, panic selling, professional codes or norms of behavior, and the costs a company may impose on society and pay to others to survive. There is certainly lots of fear and greed on display in this film. Set over the course of a day and sleepless night in NYC, the movie viscerally illustrates various forms of JDM and how individuals and groups of individuals can persevere under stress and time pressures. It is a movie that can and should provoke discussion about what could have been done differently by individuals, financial firms, and regulators. It is a film that I'm going to put on the list of movies at the start of the chapter about business law in the text, Law and Popular Culture: Text, Notes, and Questions (LexisNexis Matthew Bender, 2007) by David Ray Papke, Melissa Cole Essig, Christine Alice Corcos, Lenora P. Ledwon, Diane H. Mazur, Carrie Menkel-Meadow, Philip N. Meyer, Binny Miller, and myself that we are revising for a second edition.
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So, Columbus Day gave me two tweens with nothing to do. Looking at the movie showtimes, nothing struck me as particularly family-friendly. (I didn't recognize "Real Steel" as being the movie about the boxing robot, which would have been a good choice.) So, I sort of conned my kids into going to see Moneyball. This way, I could kind of justify the week day movie as research, seeing as how law schools eagerly embraced the strategies touted by Michael Lewis' book Moneyball. (See earlier Glom post by Bill Henderson here.)
As the movie began, by daughter whispers "Wait, is this a baseball movie?" I didn't have the heart to tell her it was really a statistics movie, so I just said "Yes." And I was actually correct. If you have followed the rocky path of this book to the movies, then you know that it has had at least three screenwriters and three directors, trying to figure out how to make a movie about quantitative analysis of baseball player performance data. The end result is that the movie is really a baseball movie, which is not a bad thing. And this steep compromise generally satisfied my baseball-loving fourth grade son, and well, my daughter knows enough to root for the young Yale economist over a room full of foul-mouthed old guys.
The movie follows the narrative arc of almost every sports movie you've ever seen. The Oakland A's are the underdogs. They have a teeny, tiny budget. Their best players have been picked off by competitors. They are the Bad News Bears with somewhat less cursing; Major League's Cleveland Indians without the big laughs; the 1980 U.S. Miracle hockey team without the heart. But, you are moved to pull for the A's because you side with coach Billy Beane, played by Brad Pitt, and his statistician Peter Brand, a fictional character played by Jonah Hill. Even if you know nothing about baseball, you instantly recognize that Beane's idea has promise and should be allowed a chance to succeed. The only twist is that the ending isn't a complete "Do you believe in miracles?" ending. The A's set a record for straight wins in a season, but don't go to the World Series. This would be like making a movie about the 1980 U.S. hockey team beating the USSR in the semifinals, but then losing in the finals. Not much of a movie. However, that's when you realize that the movie isn't really just a sports movie; it's a movie about Billy Beane, who overcomes his own background to claim career and family success.
Pitt is great as Beane, which is good because he's the whole movie. At some point, we'll have to get Robert Redford and Pitt in the same room so we can determine if they aren't the same person. I didn't particularly think Jonah Hill was all that great. He seemed to be channeling Jesse Eisenberg's near Aspberger-like flat affect portraying Mark Zuckerberg. It didn't seem to be working with the character and the lines he was given. Hill's character was necessary to guide, educate and support Beane, not be an enigma with ambiguous motivations. Like Jiminy Cricket. Jiminy Cricket has a lot of energy and warmth. Hill's character did not. And what about the statistics? Data was the main character of the book, but it is really off-stage in the movie. There are a few allusions to on-base percentage, but that's about it. And finally, Aaron Sorkin gets a co-write on the screenplay, but this is not a Sorkin product. Every once in awhile there is a glimpse of some fast-paced Sorkin banter, but then it's gone. This isn't to say it is not a good movie, but maybe the characters here are not as fast-talking, sarcastic and witty as Harvard undergrads, high-level speechwriters or sportswriters.
There's a lot of things I do in the 21st Century that I would have scoffed at in the last. Buying water in a bottle from a vending machine, for one. Paying to see a movie that I own in a theater is another. Now, if I were to tell the truth, my copy of The Lion King is on VHS, and we don't even have a VHS player, but I could have purchased the DVD for less than it took to take just two of my kids to see it in 3D. And, I had even paid to see The Lion King at the IMAX in January 2003 (I think, maybe 2002). I remember my brother-in-law saying once that George Lucas must be a genius because he had bought Episodes IV, V and IV in three different formats. So, was it worth the price of admission to see this Disney classic in the theater for the third time, but in 3D?
[As an aside, I do think LK is a classic. I just got back from Malawi, in East Africa, and not a day went by that some of my companions wouldn't remark that they could hear the opening song of the movie as they looked out upon the beautiful landscape. And every time we saw a warthog, we asked each other, "Is that Timon or Pumba?" ]
Back to the question at hand, I would say yes. When I went to see LK in 1994, it was a beautiful movie, even in hand-drawn 2D. The opening sequence seemed like 3D, and that sequence has become part of animation history. With the added 3D, which I'm usually not a big fan of, it was really spectacular. The price of admission was worth my 4 year-old whispering, "I almost touched it."
Because we don't have a VHS player, my 9 year-old had not seen the movie in his memory, and the youngest had never seen it. The older boy loved it and was very into it. ("into it" for Luke means talking back to the screen) Will was a little distracted because his birthday party was after the movie, and he knew that. He also could not put together that Little Simba (voiced by Jonathan Taylor Thomas) and Big Simba (voiced by Matthew Broderick) were the same lion. He was also not quite sure that Rafiki was "a good guy," even though I tried to assure him of this. Neither of the boys brought up any of the controversies I barely remember form 1994: Was Scar gay or just a dry Brit? Were the hyenas offensive caricatures of urban gangsta youths? Isn't Mufasa's explanation of the "circle of life" just a little simplistic and self-serving? These were not issues we focused on!
What hit me this viewing is that probably the catchiest song is one you're not supposed to agree with: Hakuna Matata. Hakuna matata is the mantra of the loser slacker animal who is content to live off the jungle equivalent of ramen noodles and junk food than work for a living. Responsibility is scoffed at. Simba has to repudiate this lifestyle to mature and come into his inheritance. Unlike in the real world, Simba seems to be able to take his slacker friends with him. This strange irony reminded me of that modern-era Disney classic High School Musical, in which one of the catchier tunes is "Stick to the Status Quo," which of course is not the moral of the tale, which celebrates a nerd and a jock branching out into musical theater. Is "Bare Necessities" from the Jungle Book ironic also, given that Mowgli eventually lives like a human?