Film

*Exodus: Gods and Kings*

by on December 12, 2014 at 8:49 pm in Film, Religion | Permalink

Call me strange, but if I were casting for the character of Moses, I would not have selected Christian Bale.  He looks like an Idaho mountain man throughout.  This film manages to take from the Jews the one thing the Egyptians did not, namely their Judaism; the word “Hebrews” is muttered occasionally but the rest is swept under the carpet in favor of periodic Christian references.  The emotional tenor of Moses’ self-confidence is closer to the Koran than the Torah.  The movie itself offers gnosticism, namely that the ten-year old boy with a British accent is not God but rather a messenger or perhaps the demiurge, don’t forget the subtitle of the movie or Scott’s own comments in interviews.  Embedded in the narrative are visual references to the Holocaust, a critique of the military policies of the state of Israel, and a slam on Western (American?) bombing and firebombing techniques and the killing of children.  The city, visuals, water scenes, and sense of scale are spectacular and worth the price of admission.  María Valverde is beautiful as Zipporah.  But to enjoy it — which I did — you must go expecting dreck because that is what you get.

Restaurants, movies, you name it, it seems you so often see people in The Big Apple waiting in line.  In the spacious northern Virginia, in contrast, things are built larger and sellouts are uncommon.  You stroll right in and let them take your money.

It is not a priori that the net effect should work this way.  Manhattan has higher rents, but also a higher value of human capital, and thus possibly the losses from waiting time are higher.  But Manhattan also has higher inequality, which means those waiting are often the young rather than the wealthy.  The rich can queue-jump in separate spheres of activity, whether it be holding MOMA membership, being a regular at Le Bernardin, or getting a special invitation to the movie premiere on opening night and walking down a red carpet.

(If you are wondering “why don’t they just raise the price?”, raising the price changes the composition and quality mix of buyers, not always in desired ways for long-run profit maximization.  In the implicit model here, allowing queuing and building more capacity are two alternative substitutes for raising the price.)

Lately I have noticed a small but perhaps not insignificant increase in “waiting culture” in Washington, D.C.  What are ostensibly the town’s two best restaurants –  Little Serow and Rose’s Luxury — now both involve significant waits, as the places do not take reservations.

Income inequality is rising, and in select parts of this country, land rents are rising more rapidly than are returns to human capital for the marginal buyer/waiter.

Does that mean we can expect a culture of waiting to spread further throughout the bicoastal United States?

A Colorado man, from Fruitvale (I am not making this up), was arrested for pointing a banana at the police. What makes this actually scary is the language of the police report:

The officers wrote in the police report they feared for their safety despite observing the supposed weapon was yellow.

“I immediately ducked in my patrol car and accelerated continuing northbound, fearing that it was a weapon,” Officer Joshua Bunch wrote in the report, according to the newspaper. “Based on training and experience, I have seen handguns in many shapes and colors and perceived this to be a handgun.”

The man was fortunate that he was only arrested. Had he been wielding a pointed stick he would surely have been shot.

In Matt Dillon’s case, he would often look in the wrong direction. I would tell him that on the screen he would be looking in the right direction, even though it felt wrong when he was shooting it. Trying to explain this to a 14-year-old kid who was already suspicious about the whole thing wasn’t easy. So I’d put a $20 bill on my forehead, and I’d say, “Matt, if you look at this $20 bill, it’s yours when the shot is finished.” Over the course of the movie he made about $200.

There is more (too much more) here, and for the pointer I thank Hugo Lindgren.

The Bloomberg editorial staff says no:

Videos often lack critical context, and studies have repeatedly shown that jurors can be misled by variables such as a film’s angle or focus, which can unduly sway perceptions of guilt. That cuts both ways: Footage of a protester bumping into a cop, devoid of context, could make life much easier on a prosecutor.

Police cameras are also prone to intentional abuse. With mysterious frequency, they seem to accidentally get switched off or malfunction at critical moments. One obvious remedy is to require that cops always keep them on. But that can be counterproductive. Witnesses and victims may be less forthcoming on camera. Attracting competent officers could become harder if their every interaction is recorded. Crucially, officers may simply avoid engaging certain communities, or avoid areas where confrontations are likely, if they know they’re being filmed.

Finally, equipping police with cameras and audio recorders means that they’re constantly conducting surveillance on innocent civilians — and potentially storing it all. Police frequently enter private homes and encounter people in medical emergencies who may not want to be filmed. Some officers may be tempted to record people on the basis of race or religion. And some departments have asserted that the public has no right to see such footage.

In short, a policy intended to empower the public and monitor the police could have precisely the opposite effect.

There is more here, food for thought of course.  Via Adam Minter.

The best films of 2014

by on November 20, 2014 at 1:33 am in Film, Television | Permalink

I found this to be a diffuse year in movies, one where old-style mainline releases lost their grip on a lot of multiplexes and opened up the market for more quality and diversity than we have seen for a long time.  My cinematic self came away from the year quite happy, yet without a clear favorite or a definite sense of which movies will last the ages.  Here are the ones I very much enjoyed or otherwise found stimulating:

The Invisible Woman, the secret love life of Charles Dickens.

Particle Fever, reviewed by me here.

Le Weekend, brutal tale of a vacation and a marriage collapsing.

Under the Skin, Scarlet Johansson in Scotland, to say more would be spoilers.

The Lunchbox, resembles an old-style Hollywood movie about a correspondence romance, yet set among the Indian middle to lower middle class.

Viola, an Argentinean take on Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, condensed into 65 minutes.

A Touch of Sin, Chinese, brutal, it did not see mainstream release in most cities, I saw it in London.

Godzilla, Straussian review by me here.

Transformers 4, reviewed by me here.

Obvious Child (under the Straussian reading only)

Ilo, Ilo, a movie from Singapore about a Filipina immigrant.  And I had the best dark chocolate gelato I’ve had in America, right after watching it at the Angelika pop-up.

The One I Love, an excellent movie about mind games, love, and commitment.  This was perhaps the most clever movie of the year and also the most underrated.

Skeleton Twins

Lucy, the energy and style overcame the absurdity.  That gives Scarlett Johansson two for the year.

Fury, an old-style WWII movie with Brad Pitt, there is a good David Denby review here.

Interstellar, my review is here, here is one Straussian reading.

Of that whole list, for favorites I would pick Fury as #1, along with Touch of Sin.  Both of them need to be seen on a large screen.

For TV, the Modern Orthodox Jewish dating show Srugim was a clear first, this year I didn’t watch many movies on video but thought Terence Malick’s 2012 To the Wonder had been underrated.

From Chris Taylor’s new How Star Wars Conquered the Universe: The Past, Present, and Future of a Multibillion Dollar Franchise:

The comments section on the Marginal Revolution blog post about the Death Star calculation is a case in point.  Here, even now, sober economists [TC: is that what you people are?] hash out questions about the variables: Whether to factor in the slave labor of Wookiees (which was partly responsible for its construction, according to the novel Death Star). Or whether you could fund the whole thing from taxes on the population of Coruscant (which is said to have a trillion inhabitants, thus funding the Death Star at a cost of roughly $8,000 per person)  or whether a quality assurance engineer should have nixed a thermal exhaust port two meters wide that led to the main reactor shaft, and what effect this oversight might have had on the Empire’s chances of getting an insurance policy on its second Death Star.

The original MR post on the Death Star is here, and by the way the Taylor book is excellent for all those interested in the topic.

For the pointer I thank a Mr. Christopher Weber.

2015 Law and Literature reading list

by on November 18, 2014 at 1:26 am in Books, Education, Film, Law | Permalink

The New English Bible, Oxford Study Edition

The Law Code of Manu, Penguin edition

Njal’s Saga (on-line version is fine)

Lawyer Poets and that World Which We Call Law, edited by James Elkins

Glaspell’s Trifles, available on-line.

The Metamorphosis, In the Penal Colony, and Other Stories, by Franz Kafka, edited and translated by Joachim Neugroschel.

In the Belly of the Beast, by Jack Henry Abbott.

Conrad Black, A Matter of Principle.

Sherlock Holmes, The Complete Novels and Stories, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, volume 1.

I, Robot, by Isaac Asimov.

Moby Dick, by Hermann Melville, excerpts, chapters 89 and 90, available on-line.

Year’s Best SF 9, edited by David G. Hartwell and Kathryn Cramer.

Death and the Maiden, Ariel Dorfman.

The Pledge, Friedrich Durrenmatt.

E.M. Forster, A Passage to India.

Haruki Murakami, Underground.

Honore de Balzac, Colonel Chabert.

Toer, Pramoedya Ananta, House of Glass.

M.E. Thomas, Confessions of a Sociopath.

Films: A Separation, Memories of Murder, other.

Podcast: Serial

If you are eligible (economics graduate students have taken it in the past), do take my class, I am very happy to have you there.

*Interstellar*

by on November 10, 2014 at 2:23 am in Film | Permalink

A negative productivity shock hits the global economy, and various bad consequences ensue, including The Idea Trap.  Behavioral factors exacerbate the course of events.  Some degree of mean reversion ensues, to specify that degree would involve spoilers.  OLG models remain relevant, indeed more relevant than most others are willing to believe.  The rest is detail.

I am often skeptical of Christopher Nolan movies for lacking heart, but I enjoyed this one more than I expected to.  It would have been better, however, if no character had been allowed to articulate any propositions of physics.

What I’ve been reading

by on October 27, 2014 at 1:52 am in Books, Film | Permalink

1. Emmanuel Carrère, Limonov, The Outrageous Adventures of the Radical Soviet Poet Who Became a Bum in New York, A Sensation in France, and a Political Antihero in Russia.  Blends fiction, non-fiction, and occasional social science (was a non-corrupt transformation of the Soviet Union really possible?, Gaidar ultimately decided it wasn’t), but in terms of the subjective experience of the reader it is most like a novel.  Excellent and also entertaining.  I consider this a deep book about why liberalism will never quite win over human nature.  Here is an interesting Julian Barnes review, although in my opinion it is insufficiently appreciative.

2. Kenneth D. Durr, The Best Made Plans: Robert R. Nathan and 20th Century Liberalism.  I may be biased because I just gave a talk at the Nathan Foundation and received it as a gift copy.  I call this the “real history of economic thought.”  It’s a look at the career of a man who worked with Simon Kuznets to improve gdp statistics, helped lead the war effort in the 1940s, supported the civil rights movement, founded a major economic consulting firm, and supported the idea and practice of economic development, most of all for South Korea and Myanmar.  It’s a splendid look at twentieth century economics as it actually influenced the world, without centering the story on academia.  By the way, here is Diane Coyle on Walter Lippmann.

3. Marlon James, A Brief History of Seven Killings.  This account of 1970s Jamaica, centered on a plot to shoot Bob Marley, shows a remarkable amount of talent, as well as a mastery of plot construction and different novelistic voices, some of which are in Jamaican patois.  If you pick up this book you will be impressed and indeed many of the reviews are glowing.  Yet somehow never did I care, feel entertained, or wish to read further.  I stopped.  I remain interested in that era, but will instead recommend a viewing — or reviewing — of The Harder They Come or Marley.

4. John D. Mueller, Redeeming Economics: Rediscovering the Missing Element.  That element would be Providence, and this work looks at how Scholastic insights can serve as a foundation for economic thought.  Loyal MR readers will know that is not exactly my brew, but some of you will find this of interest.

A Real Life Milgram Experiment

by on October 23, 2014 at 7:30 am in Education, Film, Science | Permalink

This amazing video, introduced by Philip Zimbardo, discusses a real world Milgram “experiment” in which people obeyed an authority figure to an astounding degree, even when the authority figure was just on the telephone.

The video comes from the Heroic Imagination Project which hopes to use the results of social psychology to help people to take effective action in challenging situations. More videos on obedience to authority, including from Milgram’s experiment, can be found in the resource section along with other social psychology videos and other interesting materials.

Here is one more, this time a little lighter, an experiment in which people find themselves unexpectedly married:

From The Daily Beast:

Greg and Jill Henderson, founders of Hendo, have developed a real hoverboard. Yes, the flying skateboard that millions of moviegoers have wished were real since Back to the Future Part II premiered back in 1989 may become the must-have Christmas gift for 2015. Using “hover engines” that create frictionless magnetic fields, the hoverboard only appears to hover an inch or two off a metallic floor. It’s not exactly ready for, or usable on, concrete but everything has to start somewhere.

There is more here.  It needs something like a copper sheet below it.  There are different accounts here, with varying degrees of enthusiasm or lack thereof, I found this one useful.  Still, this is more progress than we were seeing a year ago.

Peer-to-peer file sharing of movies, television shows, music, books and other files over the Internet has grown rapidly worldwide as an alternative approach for people to get the digital content they want — often illicitly. But, unlike the users of Amazon, Netflix and other commercial providers, little is known about users of peer-to-peer (P2P) systems because data is lacking.

Now, armed with an unprecedented amount of data on users of BitTorrent, a popular file-sharing system, a Northwestern University research team has discovered two interesting behavior patterns: most BitTorrent users are content specialists — sharing music but not movies, for example; and users in countries with similar economies tend to download similar types of content — those living in poorer countries such as Lithuania and Spain, for example, download primarily large files, such as movies.

“Looking into this world of Internet traffic, we see a close interaction between computing systems and our everyday lives,” said Luís A. Nunes Amaral, a senior author of the study. “People in a given country display preferences for certain content — content that might not be readily available because of an authoritarian government or inferior communication infrastructure. This study can provide a great deal of insight into how things are working in a country.”

Amaral, a professor of chemical and biological engineering in the McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science, and Fabián E. Bustamante, professor of electrical engineering and computer science, also at McCormick, co-led the interdisciplinary research team with colleagues from Universitat Rovira i Virgili in Spain.

Their study, published this week by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences…reports BitTorrent users in countries with a small gross domestic product (GDP) per capita were more likely to share large files, such as high-definition movies, than users in countries with a large GDP per capita, where small files such as music were shared.

Also, more than 50 percent of users’ downloaded content fell into their top two downloaded content types, putting them in the content specialist, not generalist, category.

The full article is here, the paper and data are here, and for the pointer I thank Charles Klingman.  Can you explain the rich-poor, music vs. movies difference using economic theory?

My favorite cinematic things Hong Kong

by on October 6, 2014 at 1:36 am in Film | Permalink

Where to start?

1. John WooThe Killer holds up the best on repeated viewings, but Hard Boiled makes the biggest first impression, at least circa the early 1990s.  It is less shocking today, precisely because it has been so influential.  Bullet in the Head has some incredible peak moments, but I’ve never loved A Better Tomorrow as many people do, neither part I nor part II.   Once a Thiefthe true Hong Kong edition only — is a good dark horse pick, nimble and philosophical.  Of the American Woo movies, Windtalkers, about the Navajo code talkers during World War II, is much underrated, a fine work.

2. Ringo Lam. City on Fire, and also Prison on Fire.  I would like to know more of them.

3. Wong Kar-wai.  I love all of his movies up through 2000, after that I have mixed feelings at best.  Essential viewing, perhaps my favorite is Chungking Express, for capturing a certain era in Hong Kong, although I doubt that is the best one.

4. Tsui Hark. I am sorry, but I never have loved them, the less pretentious the better.  I did enjoy Chinese Ghost Story.

5. Jackie Chan. Drunken Master II is my favorite, for some U.S. releases this was retitled simply Drunken Master.  You’ll just have to figure it out.  I love the first thirty minutes or so of Armour of God, you can skip the rest.  I consider him one of the comic geniuses of recent times.

6. Bruce Lee. Enter the Dragon is a perennial favorite, plus there is the fight scene with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in Game of Death, and with Chuck Norris in Return of the Dragon.

The Infernal Affairs trilogy is quite good, as is Election.  Some of the early Shaw Kung Fu movies have entertaining moments, best seen is excerpts.  Chow-Yun Fat is perhaps my favorite movie actor.  There is plenty more I don’t know about.

The bottom line: People, you need to have seen all of these movies, now.  Just ask Scott Sumner.

1. Popular music: The Everly Brothers, I recommend this song.  There is also Loretta Lynn and Dwight Yoakum and Merle Travis, I like this video.  In jazz there is Lionel Hampton.

2. Visual artist: Edgar Tolson, that image is not fully safe for work.  John James Audobon worked in the state quite a bit.

3. Movie, set in: Goldfinger, though of course immobilizing that stock would not affect the world price of gold very much.  And keep in mind the nominal price of gold was pegged back then under Bretton Woods — should we really have expected a lot of goods and services deflation, just because some nutcase set off a bomb?  I don’t think so.

4. Monk: Thomas Merton.  He was an excellent writer, as a monk I cannot judge.

5. Author: Hmm…I don’t really like either Robert Penn Warren or Hunter S. Thompson.  So Thomas Merton wins a second category, try The Seven Storey Mountain.

6. NBA player: The incandescent Rex Chapman, recently arrested for shoplifting.  I liked Pervis Ellison too, believe it or not.

7. Movie director: I believe John Carpenter grew up there, he has several excellent films, including The Thing, Starman, Dark Star, and Escape from New York.  I don’t actually enjoy the D.W. Griffith movies.

8. Poet and impresario: Muhammad Ali.

For some inexplicable reason Victor Mature was one of my father’s favorite actors.  There is also Johnny Depp and George Clooney.  Economist Milton Kafoglis passed away not long ago.  How about the Kentucky Colonels?

The bottom line: If I had better taste in fiction, this list would be strong across the board.  I’m in Louisville for the day.