Thoughts on Mediocre Movies

by Frost on July 4, 2011

Want to feel depressed? Watch some high-grossing films, then reflect that you live at the mercy of governments elected by the fetid masses to whom they appeal. This past week, I watched three. Spoilers ahead, if such a thing can even exist.

Limitless starts from an interesting premise, and one that will be increasingly relevant in the coming decades: The development of nootropic drugs that radically enhance human intelligence. It gets silly and predictable pretty quickly after that.

To me though, the most interesting part of the movie was the ending. The protagonist eventually learns that the miracle drug is killing him, and much drama ensues. Then, in the final scene and with little explanation, we learn that he has used his magical intelligence to make the drug’s effects on his mind permanent – and safe. He turns on his one-time mentor, who has committed the unspeakable crime of working for a large corporation and regularly wearing a suit and thus is undeserving of our sympathy. Worse, in my opinion, he appears to be hoarding his newfound safe, effective wonder-drug for his own use, rather than share it with the world and usher in a new era of universal super-intelligence. Once again, I find myself siding with the bad guys and despising the heroes.

Halfway through the movie – while the protagonist is using his powers to get rich and laid with abandon – I predicted the writers were setting him up as a modern-day Icarus. Perhaps he would redeem himself – say, by overdosing on the drug for one final burst of brilliance to cure the lesser damage done by the one pill he encouraged his girlfriend to take? Instead, the film left him happy, brilliant, safe, and en route to world domination.

Hollywood primarily pushes mindless distraction, but it also sneaks in the myths and morals of our age. Limitless tells us that we can have it all, that there are no consequences to our impulsive, reality-defying ambitions. The humble and hardworking are punished, while the lazy, selfish, shortcut-seeking fools are rewarded. Welcome to America and her colonies, circa 2011.

*

The Company Men follows the lives of three corporate refugees, each cast off from the upper echelons of a downsizing shipping/transportation conglomerate.

Casualty #1 is Ben Affleck, sales manager, who must suffer indignities such as having to sell his Porsche and being thrown off a golf course for letting his club fees lapse. The irony of his angst is intended, and I credit the film for portraying successful businessmen as humans – but it’s telling that the writers and audiences take it for granted that once Affleck’s character loses his job, his family will struggle to meet their next month’s mortgage payment. With just a modicum of self-restraint, most western families could be completely financially secure. Instead, they spend themselves to the brink of bankruptcy regardless of their income. The result is going to be a massive and uncomfortable decline in real living standards when the debt-supported house of cards finally collapses, as it soon will. The Company Men, of course, doesn’t dwell on this uncomfortable truth, preferring to end on the unrealistically upbeat founding of a new shipping company by the laid-off workers. The producers cut out the epilogue, in which the fledgling company spent a decade jumping through EPA sustainability assessments, fought off multiple EEOC challenges, and was eventually bankrupted by strikes.

The film’s villain is, of course, the evil CEO. His crimes against humanity include firing redundant workers, shutting down unprofitable divisions, being vaguely sinister-looking, and not emoting sufficiently to express his sympathy for the laid-off workers. Because god forbid we should aspire to a dynamic, flexible economy in which some sectors grow while others contract. Also, in an ideal world, executives would all be reduced to blubbering incoherence for days at a time whenever someone’s contract expired and they couldn’t justify the business case for extending it.

*

Finally, Transformers 3 was a tragic disappointment, and the eight-year-old in me cries out for justice. I mean, the mighty Optimus Prime, thwarted for half the friggin movie because he got tangled in high-tensile wires? Come on. And am I missing something, or did Shia Labouef sell out the Autobots and humanity because his watch pinched him? Is Michael Bay a toddler? Speaking of which, I haven’t seen Fast Five, but I highly recommend this interview of the screenwriter by the Pulitzer-due producers of Today Now!  (Every day, I find it a little bit harder to tell the difference between The Onion and the real world. I wonder if the two will eventually merge.)

The moral of the story is: Consume pop culture at your own risk. If hangover and heat exhaustion forces it upon you, at least try to cast a critical eye and get a blog post out of it.

Freedom Twenty-Five Readers: What TV shows, movies, music, books and other assorted cultural errata cause you the most worry for the fate of our world?

{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

1lettuce July 6, 2011 at 4:50 pm

For current films, the only two I can think of right now would ‘True Grit’ and ‘The King’s Speech’. I’d say both are worth a watch.

Jokah Macpherson July 5, 2011 at 9:20 pm

Wait, you say this dude uses his high intelligence to get laid with abandon? What is wrong with this picture?

Frost July 6, 2011 at 10:57 am

Nothing. It’s actually the most realistic portrayal of what a man would do with the limitless drug. The protagonist’s flaw is that he abuses the drug, and believes he’s found a free lunch.

Jokah Macpherson July 6, 2011 at 7:15 pm

My comment may have been poorly worded, but I was referring to the suggestion that being smart would help him get laid with abandon. To the extent this correlation has been studied, all the evidence indicates becoming really smart would make it more difficult to get laid. Put in simple terms, it would make you start losing points on Roissy’s dating value quiz past an IQ of 130.

Of course, it’s no more fantastical than intelligence allowing you to predict financial markets with near-perfect accuracy.

Rob July 4, 2011 at 11:30 pm

Get rid of your TV. I don’t have one and I haven’t read the news in months. I am nearly as ignorant as possible about the coming and goings of pop culture and world affairs. If it weren’t for being subjected to Top 40 crap while I lift at the gym, I’d know almost nothing. I also refuse to read new books and openly mock those who love the authors on the bestsellers list. But I’m also not very popular so beware of my practices.

The shows are awful but I find the commercials to be the most debasing. I also am troubled by how “smart” people dignify the Harry Potter books by reading them.

Frost July 6, 2011 at 10:55 am

I generally agree with you, as I’ve written before. But I also think that it’s possible to be overly hostile to pop culture.

Your attitude is a justified reaction against the mainstream trend of sitcom-watching from 7-11pm, but can’t we also be interested in the trainwreck of 21st century western culture, as students of anthropology? I try and watch a few episodes of whatever the latest hot reality show is when I have time.

I also don’t think it’s the end of the world to genuinely appreciate aspects of pop culture without irony. I try to keep a season or two of a TV show ready to go on my laptop, and throw on an episode while I eat dinner. I waste a few hours on my brothers playstation from time to time. And when I’m hungover, exhausted and sunburnt after a long day and night… I watch some movies.

It’s important to fight against the conformity of mainstream culture, but sometimes you have to question the tenets of the anti-MSM counterculture as well.

Rob July 6, 2011 at 10:40 pm

I agree. I enjoy Breaking Bad and Justified. And I used to do the anthropological thing you mentioned so I understand its appeal and value. There was a time, back in the glory days (9/11-through Bush’s re-election), when I watched The O’Reilly Factory and Hannity and Combs nearly every night. Then there was the last reincarnation of Cross Fire, a real classic.

Jack Dublin July 4, 2011 at 6:15 pm

This post kinda points out the need for freedom 25 phd.
If the public at large can be this controlled on who to cheer and boo for in pop culture,with only a few cries of ‘bullshit!’, we are well and properly buggered.

Frost July 4, 2011 at 9:19 pm

Kind of fun, isn’t it? Albeit slowly, bloggers are creating an intellectual infrastructure to rival the mainstream.

b-nasty July 4, 2011 at 6:14 pm

I generally liked ‘Limitless’, finding it to be a tongue-in-cheek commercial for Adderall/ADD drugs. Slightly different take on the classic 6th grade ‘Flowers for Algernon’ novel. The alt ending, http://www.kotaku.com.au/2011/06/alternate-ending-to-limitless-is-bradley-cooper-heading-for-the-ultimate-hangover/ seems to imply the drug will have long-term damage.

Spot on with ‘The Company Men’ analysis. Even the title itself is anachronistic; being a ‘company man’ is a concept that died at least 2-3 decades ago. Any idiot that considers their job stable or themselves irreplaceable is a moron. As you mentioned, all it would’ve taken is buying a reasonable car (not a Porche on 100k/yr) and no country club. Divert the payments on those to a savings account, and he should’ve had the recommended 1 year emergency fund. To be one payment away from the repo man making 100k+ a year is irresponsible and dangerous to your families’ well-being.

Frost July 4, 2011 at 9:17 pm

Yup. People need to understand that a job is a job. Your company has no obligation to pay you more than you add to the bottom line. If you want loyalty, get a dog.

{ 2 trackbacks }

Previous post:

Next post: