Archive for Movies


There is no chance that Edward de Vere, the Earl of Oxford, wrote the plays attributed to William Shakespeare.

That said, I found the movie Anonymous to be reasonably watchable, although I thought many of Vanessa Redgrave’s scenes as the older Queen Elizabeth were ridiculous. But since the movie claims (perhaps as a joke) to be seriously advocating the position that Oxford wrote the plays, I was surprised that they did such a poor job of supporting the theory.

Oxford was shown as being tutored at length on topics other than poetry. He traveled abroad, he intrigued at court. When would he have had time to write the plays and the sonnets? The movie essentially presents Oxford as being mysterious gifted by the ability to write; he speaks of continual voices in his head. That could happen to anybody, and perhaps describes the real Shakespeare–if anybody could have written Shakespeare’s plays, then why not Shakespeare himself?

Oxford is shown as using the plays to support his court intrigues. Is it possible to imagine Shakespeare, with his clear vision of humanity, thinking that he could achieve such ends through his plays? One of the strongest examples of that in the movie was the suggestion that it was odd that Shakespeare portrayed Richard III as a hunchback, but even I know that Richard III was popularly (and probably falsely) considered to be a hunchback long before Shakespeare’s time.

Of course it’s conceivable if unlikely that somebody else wrote Shakepeare’s plays. But the undercurrent of the Oxford theory has always been that a member of the nobility would be more likely as the playwright than a commoner. But this reverses reality. The nobility were highly trained from birth in their roles in society. They were busy people with lots to do. It was far less likely that an earl could write the plays than a member of the middle class. As far as I know only one member of the English nobility ever achieved any note as an author: Lord Dunsany, who lived much later.

The movie did have a couple of nice (non-Shakespearean) lines, one of which, by the Ben Jonson character, was simply the truth: the only reason future ages remember the people who lived then was because they were alive when Shakespeare was writing.


Voluntary Foreclosure

The otherwise completely forgettable movie Larry Crowne had one scene I found quite interesting. The eponymous protagonist, played by Tom Hanks in his blandest mode, is presented as an all-around good guy. He is gentlemanly, helpful, considerate, and in fact has no flaws except for the rather minor one which starts the little action there is in the movie: he did not go to college. In college he studies, among other things, economics, in a class taught by Lt. Sulu.

Studying economics leads Larry Crowne to the one interesting scene: he abandons his mortgage and returns his house to the bank. The bank representative warns him that this will hurt his credit, but he assures her that it is the right thing for him to do, and that he has the right to do it, provided he vacates the house in 30 days.

The U.S. is a country which famously agreed to pay all its debts when it was founded—the newly created federal government assumed the debts that the various states had accumulated during and before the War of Independence. In general American culture assumes that you are required to pay all your debts. Declaring bankruptcy is a sign of personal failure.

Apparently the financial crisis, and the stagnation of middle class income compared with the increasing price of housing, has now made it acceptable for a mainstream movie character to renege on his debt. This is of course a calculation that businesses make routinely, but not individuals. Admittedly voluntary foreclosure is not quite as bad as bankruptcy. After all, the bank does get the house, which is worth something although it is clearly understood that the bank does not want it.

Given the current main news story, I just have to hope that this acceptance of foreclosure does not carry over to thinking it is OK for the entire country to go into default.

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My expectations going to see the Thor movie were fairly low, so I was not disappointed by the result. The movie was not dumb, it was entirely watchable, it just could have been a lot better. My daughter was excited about the idea of a Thor movie because she thought it would be from the Norse myths she has heard over many years, and that could have been an interesting if perhaps somewhat depressing movie. She is not interested in the movie based on the comic book, in which they don’t even get Thor’s hair color right, nor Sif’s.

The comic book Thor is a hard character to make a good movie from. This movie does do a good job of showing Thor as he starts out: arrogant and thoughtless. His misbehaviour is believable, and so is Odin’s anger, and Thor’s banishment. That’s all from the original Lee and Kirby stories, albeit told out of order. But Lee always had a gift for making the core of the character make sense, at least in melodramatic terms. In the comics, Odin doesn’t just banish Thor to Midgard, he takes away his memory, puts him in the form of a man who is physically weak, and makes him a doctor, someone who often succeeds but also often inevitably fails to save his patients. It makes sense that that combination would teach humility. In the movie Thor is banished, but retains his memory and physical form if not his powers. It’s not clear why he learns anything from this. The key scene, which is meant to show that he is worthy of regaining his power, doesn’t show him as having learned anything. He is brave and self-sacrificing, but it’s easy to believe that he was that before his banishment. The movie wants to show that he has learned that people can get hurt, and that that matters, but there isn’t any clear reason why he should know that at the end of the movie when he didn’t know it at the start.

I was kind of disappointed by the vision of Asgard, too. The picture from afar was pretty but didn’t look like anything other than a picture. The rooms in the houses were huge and the actors playing gods tended to look lost in them. Having Kenneth Branagh direct was an interesting move but he was not in his element handling special effects.

Some short notes on other movies I’ve seen recently.

Sucker Punch. Very weak. If you’re going to try to hide your simple-minded story ideas behind good visuals, you need better visuals. And you need to make it more impressive as you go, not less. And if you’re going to dress your women like that, you need to do it with a sense of humor, something this movie completely lacked. It’s impossible to imagine Superman without a sense of humor, so I have to hope that rumors that Zack Snyder will direct the next Superman movie will turn out to be false.

The Adjustment Bureau. A solid movie all the way around.

Limitless. I liked this. They didn’t bother to fill in all the plot holes, but I thought that worked given the style of the movie and the protagonist.

Source Code. The title makes no sense but this is a coherent science fiction movie, a very rare thing indeed. And nicely acted by all. The second coherent science fiction movie by Duncan Jones, who directed (and, in that case, wrote) Moon.

Battle Los Angeles. Would have a been a nice movie if they hadn’t had to suddenly decide to wrap up the whole war.

Jane Eyre. A well done adaption, with a Jane who is both plausibly plain and plausible attractive to her Mr. Rochester.

Something Borrowed. All romantic comedies are inherently predictable, but this movie really stood out in its unrelenting predictability. Also it seems odd to make a movie in which the two main characters are so very ordinary and remarkably without interesting characteristics: just like real life, and very much unlike a movie. Still it had a few good moments.


8 1/2

My favorite movie has long been Fellini’s 8 1/2. It’s a movie which seems designed to appeal to a computer programmer: it’s self-referential and recursive, a movie about the making of itself. It’s also about the difficulties of the creative process, and that is where it resonates most strongly with me. The director in the movie, Guido, is struggling to create something beautiful, and is winding up with a mish-mash of scenes, some of which mostly succeed and some of which mostly fail. Fellini, the real director, is struggling with the same thing, with the same results.

It’s the same thing I feel when I write a computer program. I start out thinking that this program will be beautiful, will do what it needs to do cleanly and elegantly. In the end there are a few successes and many failures, and the whole thing is deeply compromised and unsatisfactory. I never really like revisiting my old programs, because although there is the occasional moment of appreciation for how smart I was for a short bit, there is mostly the recollection of how the whole thing never really pulled together the way I wanted.

Fellini, of course, does pull together 8 1/2 at the end, and the movie becomes something beautiful, if not perhaps quite what he or Guido set out to make. But then Fellini is a great artist, and I am not.

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Apologies for the long gap between postings. It’s been a busy month.

Like everybody else, a look back at some things worth noting in 2010.

The Gone-Away World, by Nick Harkaway. A surrealistic quasi-comedy masquerading as an SF novel. The writing style often reminded me of Neal Stephenson. Taking apocalyptic SF one step further, most of the world literally goes away. The novel goes into how and why and what happens after, but it’s mostly an examination of a person rather than of an idea. Plus there is lots of kung-fu.

Surface Detail, by Iain M. Banks. Banks get back to form with another Culture novel, building on what can happen when societies can simulate reality. Not ground breaking but I thought it was his best novel since The Algebraist.

Cryoburn by Lois McMaster Bujold. Basically a mildly entertaining Miles Vorkosigan novel, I thought the last few pages, which don’t have anything to do with the rest of the novel but have a lot to do with the ongoing story of Vorkosigan, were truly excellent writing.

John C. Wright has been around for a while but I first started reading him in 2010. His novels are slow-moving but packed with ideas and I would recommend them highly for the SF or fantasy fan. He wrote a sequel to Van Vogt’s Null-A novels which replicates the style of the originals precisely while being both more coherent and more strange.

The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss. Another book I first read in 2010. A truly excellent fantasy, writing at the level of Gene Wolfe. Unfortunately it’s written as the first of a trilogy, and the next book has been postponed several times.

Winter’s Bone, directed by Debra Granik. An incredible movie about poor families in the Ozarks. The teenage heroine faces a believable threat of violence from every male character, but interestingly all the actual violence is committed by women. Jennifer Lawrence gives an incredible performance.

The Town and The Fighter. Both good movies in general, but also both good Massachusetts movies. There is a strange small surge in Massachusetts movies these days.

Love and Other Drugs. Not a good movie, but interesting because it was almost soft-core pornography attached to a movie that was little better than disease-of-the-week with good actors. It seems like the easy access to pornography on the web is pushing movies toward being more explicit when it comes to showing sex.

On to 2011!


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