Routledge has set the official publication date for my newest book, Contemporary Film and Economics, for July 19th. More information, including a table of contents, can be found here. Pre-orders using the 20% discount can still be purchased at the Routledge website:
I attempt to bridge the worlds of economics and film in this book, showing how economic thinking can illuminate plots and conflicts that directors and producers may not even be aware of themselves. As a movie reviewer and author of a feature-length screenplay (registered but as of yet unproduced), I thought I could also show how economics could deepen stories.
I appear to have hit the mark:
“Translating economic theories into stories that anyone can relate to is one of the more formidable challenges I face as a teacher of economics. Staley’s Contemporary Film and Economics accomplishes that feat in a way that is entertaining and subversively educational by showing us how some of our favorite films reflect the principles of economic theory, even if they don’t know it themselves.” — Jason Stephens, Associate Professor of Teaching at Columbia College of Chicago and Chair of the Board for Kartemquin Educational Films.
“Sam Staley brilliantly merges the lens of the director with the lens of economics to provide powerful insights to economic concepts and analysis. Contemporary Film and Economics starts in Hollywood and then digs deep into the world of economics. Covering important topics such as growth, development, entrepreneurship, and political decision making, the author moves the reader from the silver screen to the everyday choices that produce wealth and prosperity.” — Joseph Calhoun, Director, Stavros Center for Economic Education, Florida State University and co-author Common Sense Economics.
I am very excited to have this book out and in print!
Ocean’s Eight is the newest addition to the Ocean’s “heist film” series rebooted by Ocean’s Eleven in 2001. Ocean’s Eight focuses on an all-female heist crew, so it represents a somewhat revisioning of the franchise. The film also includes a bevvy of good actors. Unfortunately fine acting can’t lift Ocean’s Eight over what is a very predictable plot.
This is unfortunate. The movie as a whole is tightly written, the dialogue well written, and the characters well drawn. Few holes are left unfilled, so the story ties together well. The cinematography is visually excellent, and the setting–The Met museum in New York City–is elegant and appropriate for a big heist. The problem with the movie is its lack of suspense. Audiences will enjoy the ride, but they won’t be on the edge of their seat.
In Ocean’s Eight, Debbie Ocean (Sandra Bullock, The Blind Side, Gravity, Speed), the sister of series protagonist Danny Ocean, takes the lead and assembles an all female team with the help of biker girlfriend Lou (Cate Blanchett, Blue Jasmine, Carol, Lord of the Rings trilogy). Their relationship hints at being romantic, but unfolds more as deep intimacy. The romance never quite makes it onto the screen. Debbie, for example, is directed to her own room by Lou’s in her sprawling renovated warehouse apartment. Continue reading →
Solo: A Star Wars Story opened to less than enthusiastic audiences, but the numbers are likely to improve the longer the movie spends in commercial theaters. Director Ron Howard really shows his craftsmanship in putting the film together, making Solo a fun ride as a sci-fi action adventure. My full review with complete links can be found over at the Independent Institute’s blog here.
The movie was billed as an “origin” story for the iconic space pirate Han Solo from the original trilogy. Solo, however, is best viewed in a more conventional light rather than an integrated part of the Star Wars canon. Viewers don’t really get a lot of new information about the real origins of the character, and Solo is just not bitter enough at the end of this one to believe he is the cold-stoned smuggler he plays in A New Hope (Episode IV). Moreover, Harrison Ford owns the character.
Nevertheless, Alden Ehrenreich settles into the role well. The plot, which is grounded in his star-crossed love for Qi’ra is believable thanks to great acting by Emilia Clark of Game of Thrones fame. Audiences will empathize with most of the characters because the story gives each a soul. They just can’t be true to themselves because of the dark world in which they are forced survive. Continue reading →
The biggest issue with Avengers: Infinity War is its failure to resolve plot conflict. And the plot is pretty thin: The evil Thanos is on a quest to obtain six “infinity stones” that will allow him to rule the universe. It’s up to the Avengers–dozens of the them–to stop him. And they don’t, as one would expect in the first installment of a two movie series (and hopefully story arc). My full-length review is live over at the Independent Institute’s blog where I go into the nature of the conflict in much more depth. Essentially, Infinity War several hours of showing Avengers of various abilities can’t overcome Thanos and his super human and technology-advantaged thugs. (This also creates some pretty significant plot holes.)
Despite this flat story line, Infinity War is both surprisingly entertaining and fast paced. The action starts early and builds throughout the film. The special effects are stunning. And audiences can keep most of the superheroes straight even if they don’t self-identify as Marvel fans. As I write in my longer review, the screenwriters and directors have done a surprisingly good job of weaving together personalities, travel between galaxies, and story arcs from previous movies to create a very strong film. Continue reading →
Today, we officially revealed the cover forContemporary Film and Economics, my new book from Routledge. I think they did a fantastic job on the cover—it really “pops”. I am also really excited for its prospects of making economic theory more real and less abstract. I think it’s the only book on the market that blends the goals and aspirations of filmmakers with applied economics. We can hopefully appreciate movies more fully but also raise our expectations about what we can expect from the stories they tell at the same time.
I am excited to see how others respond to the content and the ambition implied in the book.
So far, the response has been very, very positive. Joe Calhoun, director of the Stavros Center for Economic Education at Florida State University says I “brilliantly merge the lends of film director with the lens of economics to provide powerful insights into economic concepts and analysis.” Continue reading →
The 2018 reboot of the Tomb Raider film franchise is a serviceable action film with an occasional flash of Indiana Jones inspired adventure, but falls short of the tight, well paced sequencing that made the Spielberg predecessors classics. This is unfortunate because Alicia Vikander (The Danish Girl, Ex Machina, Jason Bourne) turns in a worthy performance as a rising action hero in the role of Lara Croft. The movie is a reboot of the 2001 and 2003 films that launched Angelina Jolie into the A-list of bankable movie stars.
In this version, the twenty something Croft is making her way in the rough edges of central London as a bicycle courier and training, unsuccessfully, in a kickboxing gym. Several years earlier, her archaeologist and businessman father Lord Richard Croft (Dominic West, John Carter, Money Monster, The Square) disappeared on a quest to find the tomb of Himiko, the mythical Japanese Queen of Yamatai, who possessed dark powers to kill. When Lara is coaxed back to executive suite of Croft Holdings to sign legal papers declaring him dead, she discovers a message in a hidden research room of their family mansion instructing her to destroy his work in order to keep it out of the hands of the shadowy organization Trinity. Instead, Lara uses her father’s research to launch her search for him. Continue reading →
Source: International Movie Poster Awards, www.impawards.com
Guillermo del Toro delivers a tour de force with The Shape of Water, a film that is part fairy tale, part romance, and part social commentary. If the trailers hint at inspiration from the 1950s cult classic Creature from the Black Lagoon, that’s because there was. But the movie is modern in virtually every aspect of del Toro’s storytelling, direction, visualization, screenplay, and setting.
Set in the midst of the Cold War in 1962, an amphibious gilled-humanoid (Doug Jones, Mimic, Hellboy, Pan’s Labrynth) is discovered, trapped, and brought back to a secret scientific facility in Baltimore, Maryland. Colonel Richard Strickland (Michael Shannon, 99 Homes, Nocturnal Animals, 8 Mile) is the lead on a military team studying the creature and part of the so-called Space Race. (The U.S. effort to catch up to the Soviet Union in orbital and space technology.) Strickland’s methods are harsh and brutal, usually administered using an electrified nightstick (although the purposes of the experiments and role of the electronic prod are not clear). Strickland’s tactics disturb Bob Hoffstetler (Michael Stuhlbarg, The Post, Call Me By My Name, Dr. Strange), a scientist on the team who believes the creature is intelligent and capable of communication. Continue reading →
Everyone once in a while, I am reminded of how subjective our interpretations of movies can be. I recently reviewed Molly’s Game, a biopic of “Hollywood Poker Princess” Molly Bloom (see also here). I really enjoyed the movie. I thought Aaron Sorkin’s screenplay was snappy and engaging, Jessica Chastain well cast in the title role, and the directing was inspired.
My interpretation, however, is not universal. A friend saw the movie separately, but on the same weekend, and said:
“The movie was superficial for a mob movie with an angle from the parental psychologist character [Kevin Costner playing Larry Bloom, Molly’s father]. Molly’s Game lacked the cerebral subduction and emotional entrapment of mob interfacing movies like the Godfather, Sopranos, or Casino. Especially disappointing when so much of the subject matter revolved around world-class poker. The Molly’s Game script and movie’s execution went for low-hanging emotional fruit found in label dropping visuals, IQ scores, and quick successional facts and statistics about the institution of poker. The high point for me was when the author plugged poker as skill-based as opposed to roulette. I felt the author was disingenuous as well as the “moral” of the story… good guys finish 1st… or slick stories sell movie tickets. “
Molly’s Game is a just the kind of movie you would expect from Aaron Sorkin, the creative light behind TV series like The West Wing and movies like The Social Network. His fast-paced dialogue allows his characters to carry a lot of attitude into the movie and story, and Molly’s Game is no exception.
The movie stars Jessica Chastain as the title character, Molly Bloom, a former Olympic freestyle skier who ends up on another path after a career ending injury. She enters the world of high-stakes underground poker and becomes “Hollywood’s poker princess”–before the FBI takes her down. A key part of the film is Bloom’s tense relationship with her skeptical, high-profile attorney, Charlie Jaffey (Idris Elba). My full review is now live at the Independent Institute, but here’s a quick thumbnail summary:
As in most Sorkin scripts, Molly’s Game has many layers. He uses the unusual technique of having Molly narrate most of the movie. This useful device allows for the story to be told largely in flashback while creating tension with the no-nonsense Jaffey. Aside from the conflict between Bloom and Jaffey, the narration/flashback structure serves two other important roles. First, audiences see Molly evolve from a brash, arrogant, determined, Type-A athlete to a more humble and circumspect women who has been tamed by the cruel and violent world of underground gambling. She goes from bratty teenager to an adult with faults that are real and relatable. Second, audiences come to appreciate Molly’s personal journey through Jaffey’s skepticism, and then empathy. Just as Bloom appears to be at her lowest point, resolved to go to prison for decades because she won’t give up her clients, Jaffey is able to provide the support she needs because of his sincere belief in her innocence.
My complete review of The Postis live at the Independent Institute. Advertised as a political thriller, the movie is really an excellent “coming of age” story for the venerable newspaper The Washington Post and its publisher Katherine Graham.
Graham inherited the paper when her husband committed suicide in the early 1960’s. She didn’t know much about business or journalism. So, she had to learn on the job.
But Graham was reluctant to give up her high-society social life which involved close personal relationships with politicians and White House staff. When the Pentagon Papers were leaked to The New York Times, she had to make a big decision that could put her family’s paper in financial jeopardy.