Posted by on February 25, 2013

This blog promises to comment on “Economics, Policy, Finance and General Culture”. There has been precious little of the latter and so now might be a good time to add some, particularly because my still flu-befuddled mind can focus far more easily on popular culture than it can on important matters of State. In fact, probably even without the effects of the flu, it is better suited for this purpose….

As my friends know, I have many obsessions, but none matches my love of movies. I have been traveling a great deal lately, which has contributed to my lamentable production of posts, but has given me plenty of time to catch up with in-flight entertainment. The results are described below.

(By the way, as a solution for the low production problem, I am trying to get the Administration to provide subsidies for additional post production, but this is not likely forthcoming. Instead I will just have to count on its traditional aid in the form of policy proposals and enactments that provide easy fodder. Here’s a good example: we have an economy suffering from insufficient employment, particularly of young and unskilled labour, so the logical response from President Obama in the State of the Union Address is to propose to raise the minimum wage by almost 25%. This makes perfect sense. Every businessman will tell you that, if you have a product that suffers from insufficient demand, then the obvious thing to do is raise its price.)

Back to the movies: The first one that I would like to commend to you is End of Watch, written and directed by David Ayer and starring Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Pena. (Please note that, with me, the writer of a film will always get top billing. Great movies are largely about great writing, and it’s amazing to me that this isn’t more broadly recognized and rewarded.) I was very surprised that this movie didn’t get any Oscar recognition. It is the oldest story in the world — two cop partners fighting the filth of the world while loving each other — but this one is superbly done, with great acting and real-world poetry for dialogue. Far too violent for my mother, and sometimes gratuitously so, but a strong recommendation for everyone else.

(Another reason to love this film: it points out the utter futility of the war on drugs. America has made a habit of fighting stupid wars lately, wars that cannot be won. The foreign adventures are at least highly visible and attract considerable public debate. The war on drugs, now over 40 years old and undoubtedly the most costly in lives and treasure, trundles on beneath the surface and out of the public eye. But this modern day prohibition is a disaster that requires a complete re-think, involving the legalization of at least some currently prohibited items. The movie also points out the tragedy of the idealistic youth, this time wearing blue and a badge, sent to fight and die in pursuit of unachievable objectives. More on this topic after I watch the documentary The House I Live In, which has just arrived in its Amazon box.)

The next one: Killing Them Softly, written and directed by Andrew Dominick (from a novel by George Higgens) and starring Brad Pitt. For personal reasons, I want to hate this movie. But I can’t. It’s just too good. This is the story of a mafia enforcer, played brilliantly by Pitt, acting on behalf of a shadowy, bureaucratic, incompetent and yet malicious organized crime gang — which reminds me of at least one of my former employers. The story is clever and there are great cameos from the Sopranos gang (James Gandolfini and James Curatola) and a Wiseguy (Ray Liotta). Worth watching just for the scene where Pitt approaches one of his intended victims in a bar and then, with great subtlety and controlled menace, slowly lets him know that this isn’t just a chance encounter with a new drinking buddy.

And then there is Django Unchained. As is often the case after the great early movies (Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction), I struggle with this Tarantino movie, although this one is a huge step up from Inglorious Basterds, which was sheer crap. Tarantino creates some great characters, this time in the form of a bounty-hunting German (played by the new Tarantino favourite, Christoph Waltz) who throws in with the main character in his epic quest to save his beloved Brunhilde. He also gets a great performance from Leonardo DiCaprio, who plays a sadistic southern slaver and promoter of “mandingo” fights to the death. But Tarantino badly needs to make the acquaintance of a good editor, as this movie is at least 45 minutes too long, and all of the excess is filled with repetition, mediocre dialogue and scenes that really don’t advance the story (or plausibility) and should have been left on the editing room floor.

Finally, there is one of my recent favourites, In Bruges, written and directed by Martin McDonagh and starring Colin Farrell, Ralph Fiennes and Brendan Gleeson . This is not a new movie, since it was released in 2008, but I feel justified in commenting on it now because McDonagh’s follow on film, Seven Psychopaths, has just finished its run in the cinemas. This blackest of comedies is the story of an Irish hitman (played by Farrell) who, while performing a job for his loony English paymaster (played by Fiennes), accidently kills a boy. Fiennes’ “principles” dictate that Farrell must die for this, but recognizing that it was an accident, he wants to treat Farrell to one last earthly pleasure: a vacation in the “fairy tale” city of Fiennes’ youth, Bruges, where Fiennes sends Farrell and Gleeson to lay low. Then the comedy begins, much of it centred on the fact that Bruges is not exactly city-boy Farrell’s idea of a good time. The dialogue is great (including with the authentically Irish ability to find constant uses for the “f” word), the acting is superb (Gleeson, little known outside of Ireland, is a wonder), and the ending is very clever. I can do without some of the middle – particularly the drug-fuelled orgy featuring Flemish prostitutes and a malevolent and racist dwarf; I kid you not – but in general this is a great movie. I haven’t seen Seven Psychopaths yet, but this will be a tough act to follow.

Roger Barris, Switzerland

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