All posts by wankongyew

Elle (2016)

Yes, this is, intriguingly enough a French film by director Paul Verhoeven, the same director who is best known for Robocop, Basic Instinct and Showgirls. Verhoeven apparently first tried to make this film in the US but could not find a well known American actress willing to accept this risqué role. He then decided that an American film would be too conventional a thriller anyway and so made it in France, going to the extent of learning French to do so. Impressive dedication for a man in his mid-70s!

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The Love Witch (2016)

This was an interesting recommendation from, among other places, Vox. Vox is one of the leading sites nowadays that best represent liberal America so it’s very much pro-feminism. That’s interesting because this film has plenty of nudity, both male and female to be fair, but it’s easy to see that it draws viewers mostly through the sexy antics of its female lead Samantha Robinson. Still it contains a remarkably sophisticated discussion of how sexuality empowers women and its very studied throwback to the 1960s makes it impossible to dismiss it as crass commercial fare.

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Great Economists: Classical Economics and its Forerunners

Immediately after the Principles of Economics course from MRUniversity, I decided to do this one, figuring that it would provide a solid grounding for my understanding of classical economics. Unfortunately it harder to get into than I thought because it’s basically a summary of the famous classical economists including both what they were right about and what they were ultimately wrong about so a framework tying the whole thing together into a coherent whole it really is something of mostly historical interest. I’m also amused that something like half of it is all about Adam Smith and his Wealth of Nations.

This course covers a very wide range of topics beginning with how philosophers at least as far back as Galileo questioned why diamonds are considered more valuable than water when the former is mostly useless while the latter is essential for all life. It goes on to consider some fascinating questions, such as why economics seem to have developed so slowly compared to some other fields of knowledge, speculating that this might be because it touches on the lives of everyone yet its conclusions are so unintuitive. There is plenty of stuff about writers who aren’t usually thought of as economists such as David Hume but most of it are about the classical economists, arranged in chronological order and classified according to whether they were before Adam Smith or after him.

As noted the coverage of Smith is especially extensive with videos on his life and career and a summary of every chapter of The Wealth of Nations as Smith discusses everything from why markets work to how religious institutions should be funded. It’s all interesting and very instructive but I can’t say that it’s terribly exciting especially if you’ve already learned it all formally in another economics course. I must confess that I was most intrigued by the salacious parts, such as how Smith didn’t appear to practice what he preached when he worked at a customs house. The same contradictions are evident in John Stuart Mill’s career with the East India Company as his emphasized liberty extensively in his own writings yet never extended that to the Indian subcontinent.

The parts that I liked best are those that cleared up misunderstandings for me or introduced me to genuinely new material. I admit that being a longstanding subscriber to The Economist, I had always been confused by the publication’s beginnings due to the English Corn Laws. Now I realize that during that time, corn referred to all grains in general and not corn as we understand the term today. It was also shocking to me how slowly the Industrial Revolution led to a rise in living standards for most people, which helped me understand why Marxism was so seductive. Plus of course, as the course itself notes, debates about machinery and whether or not it would lead to poorer outcomes for labor started at around this time and are still very much relevant today as we discuss whether or not the rise of robots would lead to permanent increases in unemployment.

All told this is a decently interesting course but I found that I don’t really care all that much about the details of the lives of the great economists nor the historical processes that led to economics being the way that it is nowadays. I think I like it better when the course is about the economics topics of interest directly. However I am amused that in this course about the great economists, there is no coverage at all of Karl Marx though there are some mentions of Friedrich Engels. MRUniversity does cover all that in a separate course about the economic history of Russia but I interpret this to mean that Marx simply doesn’t amount to much in the history of classical economics as it is being currently taught.

How Green Was My Valley (1941)

As expected, this film is quite similar to director John Ford’s The Grapes of Wrath made only a year earlier. Both films concern themselves with the lives and times of a single family but while the former is about the travails of a sharecropping family who makes their way westwards during the Great Depression in the United States, How Green Was My Valley depicts the way of life in a Welsh mining village.

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The Road Home (1999)

Not so long ago I was griping about how the Chinese films by the so-called Fifth Generation of directors all exhibit the same kind of fatalism about the misery that the country has suffered over the course of the twentieth century. So I was pleasantly surprised to see that in The Road Home, Zhang Yimou has made an entirely different kind of film instead. Most of it takes place during approximately the same time period as the earlier films and political events like Anti-Rightist Movement hangs like a specter in the background but the focus here is completely different.

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The Invitation (2015)

I seem to have developed a real liking for these small American independent films. Since their budgets are tiny, they’re pushed to do more with what they have and are usually daring enough to try some new things. At the same time, they’re still mainstream enough that watching them isn’t too mentally taxing as few people are up for watching truly groundbreaking films all the time. This one was directed by Karyn Kusama who has actually made expensive big budget films before.

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