Tony Gilroy, 2009
#5, 2009 Skandies

Pretty standard who's-zoomin'-who con-man movie, chiefly notable for being set in the world of corporate rather than international espionage. So instead of nuclear secrets or rogue CIA plots, all the spy-vs.-spy stuff is about skin cream and frozen pizza. When it turns out that the macguffin is a shampoo that cures baldness, everyone treats it as if it were cold fusion or something. Which raises the question, how different are those two things?

After all, while it's amusing to see spies reduced from the world of global geopolitics to that of banal luxury items, a look at history shows that banal luxury items are the stuff of global geopolitics. Why did Europeans launch the age of discovery that led to their eventual subjugation of most of the rest of the world? To a great extent it was a quest for cheaper pepper: rich people wanted to add a little kick to their meat, and thus did continents fall. Why were millions of blacks enslaved in the U.S.? To grow cotton, used to make lightweight clothing, which in turn is worn chiefly because people are neurotic about their bodies. Millions of others were enslaved to cultivate sugar, which was used to sweeten tea, which was imported in exchange for opium — an awful lot of devastation just to add some flavor to hot water. Even today, we wage wars and pollute our waters in search of oil, which is used to make gasoline, which powers cars, which... are somewhat more comfortable than trolleys and trains. A pretty banal reason to rain death from above on people half a world away.

But the very fact that they are half a world away and safely out of sight makes it easy to continue enjoying those little luxuries. And speaking of being out of sight...

Enda Walsh and Steve McQueen, 2008
#6, 2009 Skandies

...the basic idea of this one is that you may have read in the newspaper about prisoners protesting their living conditions or about people dying after going on a hunger strike, but it's one thing to read about it and another thing entirely to actually see someone deliberately smearing shit all over the walls of his cell or slowly dwindling into a skeleton covered in festering sores. Good for giving me a sense of a moment in late 20th century British/Irish history, but didn't really work for me as a story so much.

A Serious Man
Joel Coen and Ethan Coen, 2009
#7, 2009 Skandies

And here we have a hundred minutes of a man to whom nothing but bad things happen and who is surrounded exclusively by very unpleasant people. Which makes for an unpleasant hundred minutes, despite the historical interest of seeing what the midwestern Jewish community of 1967 was like. Apparently this movie is supposed to be some kind of allegory for the Book of Job, which makes me wonder whether I should expand Pattern 17 to include the entirety of both the New and Old Testaments.

Return to the Calendar page!