Film

“Let’s Play Two”

by on January 24, 2015 at 11:07 am in Film, Food and Drink, Sports, Uncategorized | Permalink

Very sadly Ernie Banks — the baseball player for you foreigners out there — has passed away.

Oddly, I have taken to quoting him lately.  If you are going out to eat with a small group, I recommend two stops.  No, don’t eat any more food than usual, but distribute your meal across two restaurants.  Have a few appetizers in one, and then leave and move on to another.  (This is easiest to do in Eden Center, with its wide selection of small-dish Vietnamese eateries, but other methods will work.)  Of course you must sequence your meals properly, the Greek eggplant must become before the Sichuan noodles, not vice versa.

This approach will improve the conversation at your table, if only by breaking up the original seating plan.  It also makes you more aware and more appreciative of what you are eating.

If you are going out to a movie, see two.  There is a fixed cost of attending, whether in terms of the traffic, the babysitter, or simply the will to spend time away from Facebook.  “Let’s Play Two.”

I have the impression that consumers “do fewer doubleheaders” than when I was growing up, I am not sure why.  Perhaps we have grown too impatient.

Banks’s obituary described him as “an unconquerable optimist whose sunny disposition never dimmed in 19 seasons with the perennially stumbling Chicago Cubs…”

Here are other quotations from Ernie Banks.  He said “The only way to prove you are a good sport is to lose.”

The Daily Beast, Business Insider and The Washington Post all argue that leaked information about Jennifer Lawrence’s pay on American Hustle indicates gender discrimination. Here’s the Washington Post:

If Jennifer Lawrence doesn’t get paid as much as her male colleagues for the same work, ordinary women don’t stand a chance.

Sony’s hacked e-mails have revealed a troubling truth — that even the wealthiest and most powerful women among us are burdened by the ever-present gender pay gap.

jennifer-lawrence-the-hunger-gamesThe picture these articles present is one of poor, little Jenny Lawrence being taken advantage of by powerful, male studio heads who are laughing all the way to the bank. Time for a reality check.

When it comes to business, Jennifer Lawrence isn’t a woman she is a multi-million dollar enterprise. Lawrence Enterprises is run not by Jennifer alone but also by a bevy of managers, agents, publicists and lawyers. If Lawrence is underpaid each of these people (quite a few of them men, by the way) are also underpaid. In particular, Lawrence is repped by CAA of which the WSJ recently wrote:

Within the entertainment industry, the glass-and-steel headquarters of Creative Artists Agency LLC is called the “Death Star,” a reference to its occupants’ reputation as cold-hearted Hollywood power brokers.

Do you think the cold-hearted Hollywood power brokers of CAA are leaving money on the table? No effing way. Which is one reason why Jennifer Lawrence is number 12 on Forbes Celebrity 100 list, coming in just below Steven Spielberg. By the way, 5 of the top 10 on the Celebrity 100 are women and number 1 on that list? Beyonce.

Scott Sumner asks a version of that question:

But here’s what I don’t get.  If America really is this weak and cowardly, then why can’t ISIS easily defeat us?  They could phone in threats against movie theaters just as easily as the North Koreans can.  And there must be 100 times as many Hollywood films that offend ISIS sensibilities as there are that offend Kim.  Recall that women get stoned to death in ISIS-controlled areas for things like wearing a miniskirt.  Then consider Hollywood films, which often show Arab terrorists as villains. So why doesn’t ISIS copy North Korea?  Why does ISIS let us insult them? I don’t get it.

There is more from the Scott on the question here.  This is hardly my area, but here are a few observations:

1. The United States will permit all kinds of mini-outrages against us, provided they are not seen as precedents.  If we were viewed as exploitable at this margin, our reaction, from both the government and private citizens, would be quite different.  In the meantime, pretending that North Korea is a fly to the American elephant may be an optimal response/non-response.  When Obama told Sony it made a mistake by pulling the film, that is exactly what he was doing, namely minimizing the significance of the event on purpose.  He wasn’t trying to scold Sony or even to defend free speech.

2. Often groups such as ISIS are much more offended by what “their own” women do than by what “outsiders” do.  They may even welcome the existence of a certain amount of Western and also Hollywood depravity, to aid product differentiation.  Additionally, don’t forget that some of the 9-11 terrorists seemed to enjoy strip clubs and the like.  Their motivations are not always strictly pious.

3. We don’t have a good understanding of why terrorists don’t attack more than they do.  Perhaps terror attacks can be viewed as belonging to two groups: a) the more or less replicable (Sri Lankan and Palestinian suicide bombings), which are allocated by some set of calculating authorities, and b) the “one-off,” which are governed by a kind of multiplicative formula, under which many things have to go the right way for an attack to happen at all.  9-11 is probably an example here, but without a fixed infrastructure for providing training and motivation and coordination, most terrorists aren’t actually that well organized and they can’t pull much off.  Read Diego Gambetta on 9-11.  Now that U.S. troops are (mostly) out of Iraq, the replicable attacks aren’t there any more either.

4. It remains possible that the U.S. still will retaliate against North Korea, or perhaps already has retaliated in a non-public manner.  It is also possible we have let news of such retaliation or pending retaliation leak to ISIS and other groups in some fashion.

And a final point: in the MR comments section Boonton wrote:

I think this illustrates a difference in perception between North Korea and, say, Al Qaeda. If Al Qaeda was offended by some movie (say the last Batman movie which featured some type of Middle Eastern prison that was nonetheless within walking distance of Gotham city), people would be up in arms about all theaters pulling the movie. Yet not so much North Korea, why?

Al Qaeda is recognized as having an actual agenda is is assumed to be a somewhat rational agent. Hence most of us will give credit to the anti-appeasement argument with them. If we pull one movie they will keep making demands.

North Korea, in contrast, is perceived as an irrational state lead by a child-man dictator. In other words, most in the west see it as essentially an entire nation that is literally mentally ill. We are willing to indulge them a bit because we are not quite sure how ill they really are and just like a deranged person may try to stab you over a napkin on the ground, this is the type of state that may start a nuclear war over a Seth Rogan movie.

Is this perception correct? Is North Korea not just mentally ill ‘on the ground’ but also at the top? Is the inner circle populated by cold rationalists cynically exploiting propaganda to control the masses or have they actually drunk the most Kool-Aid of the entire bunch?!

“Both” is a possible answer of course.

Sentences from Sony

by on December 22, 2014 at 8:32 am in Economics, Film | Permalink

We have learned in testing that moviegoers respond favorably to Kim Jong-Un when he is seen as more of a recluse who can be charming at times as opposed to a person who is simply a dangerous dictator.

There is more here, on possible commercial reactions to The Interview, interesting throughout.  The pointer is from Adam Minter.

There is a good interview with Paul Fischer, who has studied this and related topics, here is one bit:

The way Americans are shown is equally counterfactual. There’s a long-running film franchise in North Korea that Kim Jong-il started called — depending on how you translate — Unknown Heroes or Unsung Heroes. It’s all about undercover spies, and the villains in every single one of them are dastardly Americans with bad hair and plans to kill children or poison people with AIDS. So there’s a sense in which the anger about The Interview being offensive to North Koreans is a little bit of the pot calling the kettle black. One of the weird things about The Interview situation is that in real life Kim Jong-un is this short, fat young guy who’s running a failed, bankrupt irrelevant state. I haven’t seen The Interview, of course, but from the trailers they make Kim Jong-un look like this broad-shouldered, badass cigar-smoking leader of an awesomely dangerous state. It’s actually a flattering portrayal. But it’s like with any kind of bully: They don’t get the joke. The fact that the joke exists is threatening.

There is a video example  of Americans in North Korean film at the link.  This is interesting too:

The country found The Interview‘s portrayal of Kim Jong-un to be hugely offensive. Are the Kims ever portrayed by actors in North Korea?
I believe there’s one film biography of Kim Il-sung — called either The Sun of Korea or The Star of Korea — where he’s played by an actor. Allegedly, this was a guy who they brought in and gave plastic surgery to so that he looked like Kim Il-sung and then, when they were done with him, they sent him off to the concentration camps. That’s the only time, because the thinking was, How do you have a guy play god? How do you paint god? So, with the Interview, the idea that there was an American playing the great leader, and playing him for laughs, and getting killed at the end — that just couldn’t be allowed.

Here are the last few paragraphs from Global Times:

The US society stands on the upper stream of global competition of culture. It needs to show some good manners instead of being too aggressive. The American elites should not just speak like gentlemen, but behave like them.

The biggest motive for Sony Pictures may be the box office, by putting out a sensational story. However, if the movie really was shown on a large scale, it would further upset the already troubled US-North Korea ties.

Some people in the US have complained that China has been suppressing Hollywood’s freedom of creativity through economic power. Actually China should further stick to principles when dealing with Hollywood.

Apparently, it is easier to show them the economic consequences than trying to reason with them.

There is this bit too:

Americans always believe they can jab at other countries’ leaders just because they are free to criticize or make fun of their own state leaders. Actually the countries targeted in Hollywood movies are very selective, such as the Cold War era’s Soviet Union, North Korea and Iran.

China used to be also portrayed in a negative light occasionally. Now that the Chinese market has become a gold mine for US movies, Hollywood has begun to show an increasingly friendly face, just in order to attract more Chinese viewers.

The full analysis is here, interesting throughout, via the excellent Adam Minter.

*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.