Pass the Popcorn: Bearing New Images

September 2, 2014


(Guest post by Greg Forster)

Fans of Hayao Miyazaki (a previous PTP subject) might like to know about this fascinating essay on his critical view of Japanese culture and what he thinks it needs from its filmmakers. Over on Hang Together, I connect his thoughts to western debates about capitalism and the role of entrepreneurs in cultural regeneration:

Verily, freedom and economic development create opportunities for people to distort their desire. But to contract freedom and development would only deliver us into the hands of an elite formed by that cultural decay, locking in the distortion of desire, freezing in place the present decadence. The solution instead lies with those who not only make responsible use of their opportunities, but inspire others to follow them in doing so (“to spur audiences to seek and love the world”).

“Doesn’t God Believe in My Pursuit of Happiness?”

May 21, 2014

(Guest post by Greg Forster)

My nomination of Kickstarter for The Al didn’t get off the ground, but after watching this trailer, I already feel like I got full value for the $40 I chipped in to help Zack Braff make this movie without letting the idiots who seem to be in charge of Hollywood mess around with it. Enjoy!

McConaughey Hasn’t Been this Happy Since VY took it in on 4th and 5

March 3, 2014

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

Ellen’s best joke from the Oscar’s last night was that the nominees had 1,400 films between them and six years of college.  Two thirds of those years are held by last night’s Best Actor winner Matthew McConaughey, a graduate and unofficial roaming ambassador for the University of Texas at Austin.

So Jay and Greg, how long has it been since your eastern seaboard finishing schools for global technocrats graduates won a Best Actor Oscar?  That’s what I thought- SCOREBOARD! Don’t bother bringing up those Nobel Prizes because we all know those things are totally overrated.

McConaughey snapped this pick on his iPhone and whispered to himself “Eat your heart out Krugman!”

Matthew McConaughey has slowly but surely become a more accomplished Dean Martin of the early 21st Century. Whether he’s getting into minor incidents with the Austin police for playing a bongo or winning an Oscar, dude is having fun whether you are or not.  Keep it up MM and


Pass the Popcorn: Do You Want to Be Awesome, or Loved?

February 18, 2014

(Guest post by Greg Forster)

It’s a Pass the Popcorn so big, I couldn’t fit it onto JPGB. Head over to Hang Together for 3,300 words on The Lego Movie and Frozen, which offer the two great moral worldviews of our time.

If you haven’t seen The Lego Movie, go see it. It’s hilarious. The entertainment value is well worth your money. I expect that some of the pop culture gags in this movie will be referenced by nerds around their digital water coolers for some time to come. And the gags are almost all visual, so it’s going to be a lot funnier on the big screen than it will be in your living room.

Don’t go expecting deep wisdom, just go expecting a great time, and you’ll have one.

Now, to business. Do NOT read the rest of this article until after you’ve seen both The Lego Movie and Frozen (subject of my most recent Pass the Popcorn article over at JPGB). Major spoilers lie ahead…

The Lego Movie and Frozen are both examining what may well be the most important question facing our culture. They are not about the culture war as such, but they are about the core question of the meaning and purpose of human life that lies behind the culture war…

Your thoughts and feedback welcomed!

Pass the Popcorn: Frozen

February 13, 2014

(Guest post by Greg Forster)

While there’s still time, go see Frozen while it’s still in theaters. The Pixar conquest of Disney has been an uneven battle up to now, but this move is an unqualified victory and it may turn the tide of the war. It’s a profound movie on many levels.

The most obvious lesson of Frozen – the one that’s made explicit in the movie – is that love is not about how you feel. It’s about putting other people’s needs ahead of your own. This by itself would make Frozen a profound inversion of the old Disney culture by the Pixar invaders. But Frozen not only makes this point, it traces some wide-ranging consequences. Such as: people invest too much importance in romantic love relative to other kinds of love. The responsible grown-ups who tell you not to burn down everything else in your life for the sake of “true love” (quote unquote) are not your enemies, they’re your friends. They’re the people who really love you.

When Enchanted subverted these same fairy-tale conventions – e.g. getting engaged to someone you just met – it was just going for laughs. Don’t get me wrong, there are a lot of laughs in Frozen. It’s the funniest movie I’ve seen in years. But there are no laughs on this particular subject. Frozen is not subverting the Disney view of marriage for fun. Frozen is playing to win.

That alone would be enough to make Frozen an early contender for the most culturally regenerative movie of the year. But there’s more going on.

Under the surface, Frozen is dealing with two other subjects that are, if anything, even tougher for our culture. One is the corruption of human nature. It used to be that pretty much everyone agreed there was a systematic moral dysfunction in human nature. This is a teaching held by Christians in an especially strong form, of course, but it is by no means a peculiar Christian doctrine. Aristotle believed it, as did Kant. There is a whole song in Frozen about how nobody is what he ought to be: “Everybody’s a Bit of a Fixer-Upper.” While there are villains in Frozen who are willing to kill, the main threat to the heroine’s life comes from the selfish actions of a sympathetic character – someone who loves her. We are explicitly told at one point that the explanation is simple: everyone is like that.

This is, of course, related to the main message. It’s because other people are so disappointing that we prioritize our own feelings rather than other people’s needs. And it is because we are ourselves so disappointing that our lives fall apart when we prioritize our own feelings.

The other theme in Frozen, one buried even deeper, is the tension between social rules and individual freedom. Without giving too much away, I can say that Frozen is the movie Brave was trying to be, but couldn’t be. Brave was trying to deal with the fact that society needs rules, and individuals who are not well served by the rules need to learn to subordinate their own desires to the good of their neighbors as embodied in the rules; at the same time, social authorities need to recognize that the rules must accommodate the needs of individuals – including the needs of those unusual individuals who are not well served by the same rules that serve everyone else.

There was internal conflict over Brave at Disney, and it shows. Frozen pulls off the same angle brilliantly – better, perhaps, than Brave could have. Because in Frozen we are shown what happens to individuals who try to flee from society in order to escape its rules. They fall apart. Their lives become arbitrary and meaningless – and they learn to hate. “The cold never bothered me anyway” sings Queen Elsa as she builds an ice castle for herself at the top of a remote mountain, but she doesn’t realize how the cold is seeping into her heart.

We all need freedom, but we also need each other.

Pass the Popcorn: Much Ado About Nothing

July 29, 2013

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

So in April I wondered whether 2013 would offer up anything to challenge a random collection of old movie favorites I had recently seen on the big screen. It wasn’t looking good, but the Prescott Film Festival just scored, even if it was kind of cheating with a 2012 film.

The Prescott Film festival had what they advertised as the only Arizona screening of Josh Whedon’s Much Ado About Nothing this weekend (Phoenix is not just a physical desert) so I eagerly bought a ticket.  Actress Emma Bates, who played Ursula, was on hand for Q and A after the film.  Here’s the trailer:


So the back story on the film is that Whedon has had actors over to his house on Sundays for years to read Shakespeare. He had a short break between shooting and post-production for The Avengers and instead of going on a trip to celebrate his 20th wedding anniversary, Whedon’s wife talked him in to shooting Much Ado About Nothing.  Whedon summoned his friends, including veterans from Buffy, Angel, Firefly and the Avengers, assigned parts, and shot the entire film at his own house in 12 days.  Bates related that Whedon’s wife is an architect and that she had in fact designed their house with shooting Much Ado About Nothing in mind. When you see the flick, you won’t doubt it.

I generally have a bias against American film actors trying to pull off Shakespeare. I watched the old Julius Caesar recently, and while Heston made a pretty good Marc Anthony, enduring Jason Robards playing Brutus with a midwestern deadpan accent was, well, brutal. I don’t think there was a single Brit in the bunch for this Much Ado but it didn’t matter because these guys were rolling with it and having fun. Sean Maher in particular was very good:

But maybe it was because the last American actor I saw play his role was:

Whether you love Whedon or Shakespeare, this movie is well worth the watch.

Pass the Popcorn: Why the World Needs Bond

May 8, 2013


(Guest post by Greg Forster)

After blogging pretty extensively about James Bond back when Quantum of Solace came out, I was disappointed not to get the chance to see Skyfall in the theaters. When I finally saw it on video, I was devastated not to have seen it in theaters.

I needed a lot of words to say everything I had to say about QOS and James Bond in general back in 2008, and those are still some of my favorite posts. I can say what needs to be said about Skyfall in a lot fewer words. And spoiler free to boot, so if you haven’t seen it, I’ve given you no excuse not to.


This is the first ever deeply profound James Bond movie. I am not being in any way ironic. Several previous entries in the franchise have been deadly serious: From Russia with Love is the cold-hearted bastard of a movie that Casino Royale pretends to be but really isn’t; The Living Daylights has an intricate and deeply satisfying espionage plot (I proclaimed it one of the all-time greatest summer movies). But Skyfall has the soul of a Sophocles. Sam Mendes’s notorious American Beauty has many shortcomings, but in light of Skyfall I think I wasn’t wrong to like it in spite of its faults. Mendes has reached the level of maturity he lacked in 1999.

Skyfall is about why the 21st century needs James Bond. Here’s how I would summarize it:

  1. All your fancy modern technology and advanced civilization will not save you if you are not the right kind of person.
  2. If you have forgotten how to be the right kind of person, look to your elders and return to the place where you came from.
  3. Do not hesitate to use all your fancy modern technology to blow the place you came from to smithereens if that is what being the right kind of person requires.

The two great errors of our age are, on the one hand, to think that it doesn’t matter what kind of people we are (“dreaming of systems so perfect that no one will need to be good” – T.S. Eliot); and, on the other hand, to be so afraid we’ll stop being the right kind of people that we cling to the old and traditional even when it has stopped cultivating us in the right ways. To look both backward and forward – to carry the past into the future, not by preserving it, but by allowing it to form us into the right kind of people and then forming the future accordingly – that is the only hope.


I feel a need to locate this movie alongside The Dark Knight and the Avengers. I wrote before that while The Dark Knight is a movie for all times and places, the Avengers is “the movie for our time.” Skyfall is somewhere in between. On one level it speaks to a universal reality, a problem all civilizations must face: the struggle between the past and the future, between integrity and responsibility. On another level it speaks directly to our own time, because the advance of modern technology has heightened this struggle in unique ways. You could have told a story like this in ancient times – come to think of it, Sophocles did! But you could not have told just this story until today.

Special Bonus: Yesterday a coworker asked for my advice on which Bond film to watch first. I sat down and typed out a complete list of all 23 Bond movies. Hate to see it lost to posterity, so here it is for your amusement:


Casino Royale: Bond for the 21st century. The second best Bond ever made.

Goldfinger: The best ever, by all reckoning. It’s somewhat dated now (the pace of the story is slower, “lasers” are exotic and mysterious, etc.) but if you can look past that, this movie defined the franchise.


From Russia with Love: The second best of Sean Connery, after Goldfinger (which he would make next). A Cold War spy movie, more suspense and mystery than explosions and gadgets.

The Man with the Golden Gun: Roger Moore’s second film and his best work. The silliness of the 70s spoiled many of Moore’s movies, but not this one. Bond goes one on one with the world’s greatest assassin.

The Living Daylights: Tim Dalton’s first movie and his best work. They moved away from explosions, girls and gadgets to focus on a complex, highly satisfying espionage plot. Lots of people didn’t like it, but I think it’s fantastic.

GoldenEye: Pierce Brosnan’s first film and his best work. It’s the late 90s and summer blockbusters are starting to get campy, but if you take it in the right spirit, it’s a great time.

Skyfall: Daniel Craig’s second best, it’s actually a very profound movie about why the 21st century needs James Bond. But don’t watch it until you already love the Bond franchise.


Dr. No: This movie has not aged well at all – the pace and storytelling are a mess by our standards. Plus, shameless racism! But a lot of the key Bond elements are present and enjoyable in their embryonic forms.

You Only Live Twice: The formula is getting old, and they have to go further and further over the top to make an impression. Plus, shameless racism! But this movie introduced many of the most iconic Bond moments (e.g. villain’s lair in a volcano)

For Your Eyes Only: Serviceable espionage plot, pulls back from going over the top so it isn’t ruined by silliness.

A View to a Kill: Christopher Walken as a Bond villain. Nothing else to recommend it, but what else do you need?

Tomorrow Never Dies: Much, much better than it has any right to be. Clever dialogue and outstanding performances by very talented stars compensate for a dumb plot.

Quantum of Solace: Too clever by half. What would have been a great follow-up to Casino Royale is spoiled by an attempt to squeeze in other agendas and a really, really weak actor playing the villain.


Diamonds are Forever: Same problems as You Only Live Twice, but without the iconic moments.

Live and Let Die: Introducing a new James Bond (Moore) for the silly 70s! Plus, the franchise’s absolute height of shameless racism!

The Spy Who Loved Me: Same story as Diamonds are Forever.

Octopussy: Yeesh, the silliness. But if you can roll with it, it’s not too bad as a Cold War thriller.

The World Is Not Enough: Same stupidity as Tomorrow Never Dies, but lousy dialogue and worse performances.

DO NOT WATCH UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES (not even to save your loved ones’ lives)

Thunderball: At this point the studio has realized that people will go see Bond no matter how crappy the movie is, and made the movie accordingly.

On Her Majesty’s Secret Service: Dumb, lousy actor playing Bond, dumb, lousy Bond, dumb, dumb, dumb. Plus Telly Savalas pretends to be a villain!

Moonraker: Hey, Star Wars made millions, so now we have to send James Bond into space!

License to Kill: Holy smokes, they made a Bond movie worse than Thunderball!

Die Another Day: Holy smokes, they made a Bond movie worse than License to Kill!


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