Tag Archives: movies

Ford V Ferrari speeds to the Oscars on the intensity of racing and its rivalries

Ford V Ferrari burned rubber screeched into 2020 major awards season, nominated for a slew of categories. One of those categories for the 92nd Academy Awards is Best Picture. While the movie is very good, and definitely ranks among the best racing films made within the last several decades, it’s nomination for Best Picture is a bit of a surprise.

The story centers around the Ford Motor Company’s attempt to resurrect its brand by showing it could compete with Ferrari, the world’s most advanced, high-performance car manufacturer. The prospect is remote, although the company’s boss, Henry Ford, II (Tracy Letts), seems committed. He retains legendary race car driver and personality Carroll Shelby (Matt Damon) to design and build the car. Unfortunately, a heart condition keeps Shelby out of the race car. In his place, Shelby coaxes the brilliant, caustic, and personally volatile Ken Miles (Christian Bale) to join forces with him. As Miles goes about alienating everyone he runs into, it’s up to Shelby to play the corporate politics and keep him on the team.

The setting for the ultimate showdown is the LeMans 24 hour race in France in 1966. The location is legendary in racing circles. The track is full of twists and turns. In other words, it’s an ideal setting for a slick, well edited movie like Ford V Ferrari.

The movie is well acted, anchored by authentic yeoman performances by Damon and Kelly. The supporting cast is also strong, ensuring that the film overall can showcase the talents of the two stars. Other characters don’t get the same latitude, defaulting into more two-dimensional roles. 

The plot is also predictable and straightforward. The story properly focuses on the dynamic between Shelby and Miles. While corporate politics plays an important role in the story, the script has little nuance or layer. The entire rivalry appears to be driven by the ego of Henry Ford as he responds to a personal insult thrown by Enzo Ferrari (Remo Girone). Shallow business types more interested in show and marketing glitz insert themselves at key points at predictable points to keep the story moving. Historically, this story line does a disservice to Henry Ford II, who is recognized as a strong innovation-focused business leader and critical to Ford’s economic rebound after World War II. The movie is reduced to a simple formula of Shelby, Miles, and Ford’s personal quest to win LeMans.

Nevertheless, Ford V Ferrari is a story of an authentic rivalry and actual conflicts between colorful real-world legends. As a movie about racing and personalities, Ford V. Ferrari delivers. While its nomination as Best Picture is a bit surprising given the strength of other contenders in the field, the intensity and polish of the racing scenes buoyed by strong acting by Damon and  Bale give it a real shot of taking home the Oscar statuette for film editing, sound editing, and sound mixing.  

Ford V Ferrari has been nominated in the following categories for the 92nd Annual Academy Awards:

  • Best Picture
  • Film Editing
  • Sound Editing
  • Sound Mixing

Contemporary Film and Economics is almost here!

Today, we officially revealed the cover for Contemporary 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

What “The Equalizer” film told me about character development

I often gauge a movie’s value by whether it stimulates my thinking as a writer and storyteller.  The Equalizer, the action film starring Denzel Washington, provided a welcome and unexpected opportunity to explore this. I’m a fan of the action/adventure genre anyway–all four of my novels fall into this genre, most recently St. Nic, Inc.–but I’ve become somewhat jaded by recent superhero (e.g., Superman, Wolverine, Lucy), super monster (e.g., Godzilla), and martial-arts action films (e.g., Ninja Assassin, 47 Ronin), that showcase special effects and gore over storytelling and character development. This is not the case with “The Equalizer.” Indeed, I saw just the opposite on the silver screen.

This movie, unlike other blockbusters, folds character development into the plot and at least tries to strike a balance between the two. (This is good because the plot–hero avenges injustice–is a bit tired.) But, for me, this film stood out for three reasons:

  1. The production values were very high. Sweeping vistas of Boston (one of my favorite cities), artistic camera work focused on characters and action, and the attention to the human aesthetic of the plot were top notch. This wasn’t all computer animated action. Time was spent to frame shots creatively and in ways that help tell the story. In fact, the opening sequence of shots itself does a fine job of providing important initial backstory to the lead character as an unassuming loner.
  2. Denzel Washington. Need I say more? Well, yes. A lesser actor would have made the lead character–Robert McCall–two dimensional and predictable. Even though we know how the movie will end, the character evolves at key points, and empathy is established early. Given the graphic gore level in the film, this is critical for keeping a good story flowing; we (as viewers) cannot be overwhelmed with the blood and mayhem or we lose site of the story.
  3. The producers and director. They didn’t let the genre or familiar cinematic tropes swamp character development and story structure to create suspense. They also made sure they didn’t waste the talents of Mr. Washington. While I still believe the gore was a bit too much, the bloody mayhem is important to understand McCall’s evolution as a character and how, in the end, he retains his humanity. The deaths of the bad guys have meaning, even if the gore seems gratuitous as times. We see how McCall’s own past changes the way he relates to the people he must eventually dispatch in pursuit of a higher good. This isn’t just a revenge flick, a familiar trope for these types of movies.

At the end of the movie, I found myself wanting to go back to Boston, one of my favorite cities, despite the blood and mayhem.

In the end, the producers and director recognized how the visually oriented medium of film could be used to convey character development. Audiences are brought into the story through character and then the plot is paced well enough to keep us involved.

Thus, “The Equalizer” is a rare example of a film that allowed me to think about my own approach to interweaving character development with plot can enrich the story and keep the pace moving quickly.

I think I see a new, distinctly American franchise in the future. We need a working class hero, with working class methods, a haunting and exotic past, and the maturity of someone who has seen and reflected on the world. Now, if Denzel just used more Akido, Judo and ninjutsu (or To-Shin Do), we’d also see why age isn’t as important in neutralizing threats as many people may think.

The Hunger Games and the power of movies in reaching audiences

Here’s a reality check for us book authors.

The Hunger Games movie took in $153 million during its opening weekend. That translates into about 19.5 million people seeing the film over over a three-day period (based on an average ticket price of $7.83).

Scholastic, the publisher of the blockbuster trilogy by Suzanne Collins, reports that 17.5 million copies of the first book are in print as of April 1, 2012. The first book was published in September 2008, two and a half years ago.

Thus, based on these back of the envelope calculations, more people saw The Hunger Games movie in the first movie’s opening weekend than read the fist book during its first two and half years. Let’s not discount the power of film and movies in popular culture. Movies, when crafted well with the right distribution, can be much more powerful in reaching into popular culture.

Quick observation: Appealing to a broader audience naturally means narrowing the focus of the story, reducing its complexity and nuance as a result.