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Posts Tagged ‘movie’

Last night, I re-watched The Untouchables, the 1987 action/crime drama about Eliot Ness and his handpicked police team who brought down Al Capone and his bootlegger gang. It’s a well-made and fast-paced movie, with good performances by Sean Connery, Kevin Costner and Robert de Niro. I had watched it in college a good 7 years back and remember liking it quite a bit.

But last night, I couldn’t get myself to enjoy it much.

To enjoy a movie like this, you have to root for the good guys, in this case the cops. But the cops are enforcing the prohibition law. It is impossible for me to forget that.

A case can be made, and indeed is made in the movie, that the cops are just doing their duty. They are not responsible for the framing of laws, good or bad. Yet we rightly condemn not just Hitler and the other top Nazis, but also those smaller agents who actually implemented the acts of incredible evil conceived or masterminded by the former. (At what point does moral culpability extend from the planners to the executors? When, despite the fact that you are just doing your sworn duty, can you no longer escape responsibility? These are interesting moral questions I have no comprehensive answers to.)

The prohibition law was not just a bad law. It was an evil law. It criminalized an acitivity that violates no one’s rights and gives a lot of people pleasure. It inevitably led to a vast underground trade in illicit liquor. The result was violence and death. When people were not dying at the hands of the cops or the liquor gangs, they were dying as a result of poisoning. To prevent bootleggers from using industrial ethyl alcohol to produce illegal beverages, the government ordered the poisoning of industrial alcohols. In response, bootleggers hired chemists who successfully renatured the alcohol to make it drinkable. The government ordered th poisoning of alcohol through more deadly means. As many as 10,000 people died from drinking denatured alcohol before Prohibition ended.

I see the raids by Ness on liquor manufacturers and I see an oppressive state violating the rights of its citizens. I see the deaths in the movie and I do not blame Capone; I blame the government. The government is the aggressor here, the initiator of the cycle of violence; Capone is merely giving people what they want. I see Ness killing a bad guy and avenging the murder of his dead partner, and I do not feel satisfaction; I cringe at this instance of abuse of power. And through it all, I think of modern times, where there are about a hundred raids every day as part of the war on drugs, a foolish, evil, violent policy that accounts for more lives lost or destroyed every year than abuse of drugs can ever achieve.

And I cannot forget it all just because it is a movie. Even though Ness and his crew are portrayed as hardworking honest cops, I cannot in my heart ignore that the law they are upholding is a terrible one. I guess that’s the main difference between the person I was then and am now. I know more and I cannot shut it off as easily.

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I know I haven’t posted in a fair while.

It’s been a busy time. I finished writing up my thesis and defended last Monday. Then there was a whirlwind trip to Zurich and Milan over the last four days. The next month I will be busy wrapping some things around here; also my mom will be here for my commencement.

Plans for the summer include plenty of reading and writing — I intend to write a series of posts on morality, rationality and political philosophy: in some sense it will be a long explanation of what I really mean when I say I am a libertarian. I might also go for a solo drive across the US, and stop over at campsites and cities, mountains and forests. From storm-chasing in Denver to hiking in Montana — let’s see!

Then, some time in August, I’ll cross the ocean and begin life in a new continent.

While on the flight back from Zurich on Friday I saw two movies — each for the second time — that I had copied on to my mp3/video player. They were Annie Hall and Before Sunset. I wanted to share this small passage from Before Sunset.

I mean, I always feel like a freak because I’m never able to move on like… this! You know, people just have an affair, or even entire relationships… they break up and they forget. They move on like they would have changed a brand of cereals.

I feel I was never able to forget anyone I’ve been with. Because each person have…you know, specific details. You can never replace anyone. What is lost is lost.

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I am always fascinated when the inclusion of a famous song or classical piece in a movie gets it absolutely right. By that I mean that it not only perfectly reflects the mood and meaning of that movie scene but enhances its emotional impact in almost preternatural manner.

Such is the case with Shostakovich’s “Waltz No. 2″ in Eyes Wide Shut. I simply can’t get it out my head however much I try. It is such a beautiful piece; flowery, passionate, romantic yet with that indelible tinge of mystery and haunting spookiness. As a theme music for that movie, Stanley Kubrick couldn’t have chosen any better. Enjoy:

What other well known music inclusions for movie soundtracks can you think of that gets it perfect? Off the top of my head, here are a few that give me the chills: “Johnny Came Marching Home” from Dr. Strangelove,  “Hello” from Bitter Moon, “Bang Bang” from Kill Bill, “Girl, You’ll be a Woman” from Pulp Fiction.

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I have always been a huge ABBA fan, and loved the Mamma Mia play. However, I wasn’t going to go see the new Mamma Mia movie, largely because I have always been disappointed in the past by movie versions of plays (or for that matter, books) I have loved.

After reading this very positive review by Randy Barnett, I am having second thoughts.

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I haven’t had time to watch Wall-E yet though I am sure it is fabulous; I absolutely loved Cars and Ratatouille, Pixar’s last two offerings. Anyway, the following quote by Andrew Sullivan is, I feel, an eloquent statement that applies to all great art, and worth repeating.

It’s odd that a movie that predicts ecological doom can in fact make one more certain that the human race will survive our current predicament. Any civilization that can produce something as technically and artistically sublime as Wall-E cannot be doomed.

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Watch twenty couples on twenty couches in a video response to the question “What’s the difference”?

I think the idea was great and the execution was beautiful. My major peeve: too many laptops.

(Link via Instapundit)

Update: The music in the video is growing on me. I wish there was a ringtone version of it.

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The Supreme Court of India has once again put its weight behind freedom of expression, overruling the ban on the film “Jodha Akbar” by three state governments.

It is a sad matter that in India people think they have a moral right to ban things they don’t like. And the ludicrous loopholes in our constitution (think “free-speech for everyone, except those who really need it”) do not help either.

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The soundtrack of Pan’s Labyrinth has an transcendent, almost eternal quality that I cannot adequately describe. Every time I hear it, I feel elevated. It makes me sad and happy at the same time. If Long, long time ago does not give you goose-bumps, I don’t know what will.

And the film itself is one for the ages – a haunting and beautiful masterpiece that stayed with me long after the viewing. If you haven’t watched it yet, do yourself a favour and grab the dvd. Or better still, watch it on a big screen.

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