The Big Money has an interesting — and thought-provoking — slide show suggesting that the roots of the financial crisis come from the lessons we learned as children playing board games. Just look at these directions from Monopoly:
Monopoly has taught us that financial institutions are invincible. The game’s banker cannot go bankrupt, according to the rules: “The Bank never ‘goes broke.’ If the Bank runs out of money, the Banker may issue as much as needed by writing on any ordinary paper.
“The Game of Life” and “Payday” encourage players to buy houses even without money and make deals with or without money and “Risk” encourages them to conquer the world. Fantasy? Well, so were the high-tech and subprime derivative bubbles. I know they are joking here, but it does make me wonder what kinds of games we should create to teach today’s children to be more careful?
Two movies are opening this week, both rated PG-13, but they are at opposite ends of that very broad spectrum that reaches from the suitable-for-grade-school PGs to the 17-and-up R rating. I will go into more detail in the reviews, but “The Proposal” is a romantic comedy with a few bad words, some sexual references, and nudity that does not reveal anything that would be covered by a (small) bathing suit. But “Year One” is a gross-out comedy with jokes about incest, castration, circumcision, orgies, and lots of bathroom jokes.
Parents should always be very cautious about PG-13 films, especially comedies, because it is impossible to predict, based on one film with that rating, what any other PG-13 will include.
I am a huge fan of advice columnist Dan Savage and his essays for “This American Life.” His recent commentary on the death of his mother brought me to tears. And I am very impressed with his thoughtful assessment of the Disney Channel series “The Suite Life of Zach and Cody.” As a gay man, he remembers the feeling of disconnection he had as a child who never saw on television characters who reflected his view of the world, how he felt, who he wanted to be. And now as a father, he sees his son watching the ostensibly wholesome “Suite Life” and finds it as disturbing a portrayal of heterosexuality as the over-the-top stereotypes of gays he saw when he was growing up. Ten-year-old Zach’s fascination with a pretty teenage girl, his advice about how to get “babes” by lying to them, his creepy come-ons, comments like “I’d better practice my kissing” — Savage says that his son has a “look of concentration” when he watches as though he is “filing things away for future reference.” Savage wants his son, a straight boy growing up with gay parents, to see positive models of heterosexual behavior in the media. But “stereotypes are patient,” says Savage. “They’ll wear you down.”
Inkheart is a best-selling novel by Cornelia Funke about the power of reading. There is something truly meta-magical about reading a book about reading a book, with a character who brings book characters to life. And no matter how creative the visuals, it is inevitably less magical when it leaves the world of words and imagination for the world of pixels and screens.
Brendan Fraser plays Mortimer, who is not just a book doctor (restorer of old tomes) but something of a book whisperer. At least, books seem to whisper to him. And he is a “silvertongue,” which means that when he reads a book aloud he has the power to call its characters into being. But he has no control of this power. He is as likely to bring to life a wicked character as a good one. And in order to maintain balance, when he brings a character out of a book, a real-life character gets swooshed into the book. When he was reading a book called Inkheart, characters named Dustfinger (Paul Bettany) and Capricorn (Andy Serkis) came out and Mortimer’s wife Resa (Sienna Guillory) went in. Now she is stuck there until he can find the book again and try to bring her back. So, he and his daughter Maggie (Eliza Hope Bennett) are constantly on the road, searching bookstores and trying to stay away from Dustfinger, who wants to be read back into his book so he can be with his family, and Capricorn, who wants more characters read out of the book so they can help him to enjoy life in our world (he is very fond of duct tape) and create all kinds of misery and oppression (he was written as a bad guy, after all).
The story shimmers with imaginative details. A stuttering silvertongue produces incomplete real-world characters with book text on their faces. Mortimer’s aunt Elinor (Oscar-winner Helen Mirren) has a fabulous library and vastly prefers books to people. She has a sign with “Don’t Even Think of Wasting My Time!” in three languages on her front gate. And when it is time to search for the author of the book “Inkheart” (played by James Broadbent), there are some lovely and subtle variations on the theme of reality vs. fantasy. Fraser is as always an appealing leading man and the trio of British stars bring wit and conviction to their off-beat characters — so much conviction, in fact, that they throw things a little out of balance. The story itself makes an uneasy transition to screen, the very books-and-words premise of the story in effect undercutting its translation to film. The story’s silvertongue may bring books to life but the director and screenwriter are less effective.