Thursday, October 14, 2010

A Couple of Movies

Iron Man was far better than I was expecting.  In retrospect, it may only appeal to engineers like myself, because it is very nearly the ultimate engineer's fantasy:

1. Someone who loves designing cool stuff, and is fabulously rich from doing so. 

2. He has a spectacular house on the Malibu coast, with a garage full of exotic sports cars. 

3. He has a workshop with every piece of manufacturing equipment and software development technology that you could want (and a number of which are so cool that they do not yet exist, and probably won't ever exist). 

4. There are robotic assistants to help in the workshop--much better than cranky human ones that might object to the Howard Hughes-like working hours.

5. He is good looking, and being rich, means that he turns the heads of beautiful (but stupid) women whenever he goes anywhere.  (Alas, Dilbert is more accurate: what Dilbert calls the "ovoid" shape that is more typical of engineers who aren't spending enough time in the gym.)

6. He can build ground breaking technology in a few weeks, while locked in an underground cell by thinly disguised al-Qaeda.

7. He has a beautiful, intelligent, wise, and compassionate redhead who is always there for him.  (I've got that!)

8. And he has the time and the resources, once he figures out what is really important, to go and do it.

Of course, there are elements of this in Bruce Wayne in Batman Begins (which is a far more impressive film--and that's saying quite a bit).  The reason, of course, is that all of these are really exaggerations of Howard Hughes, the original rich, brilliant, eccentric, bipolar engineer.

Iron Man never takes itself too seriously.  It remembers it is based on a cartoon--but it also throws some mildly thoughtful questions about responsibility for our inventions into the mix--without turning this into a mindless America-hating movie.

Not anywhere near as good, but still fun in a silly, "don't examine it carefully because it won't stand it," way was Did You Hear About The Morgans? (2009)  You may recognize elements of the fish out of water/saves our marriage of For Richer, For Poorer (1997), but in some ways this is a bit more plausible.  (Not that it qualifies as plausible, at all.)

There are so many things about the witness protection program that, to my knowledge, this has exactly wrong, that it is obviously not intended to be taken seriously.  (In that sense, For Richer, For Poorer is more believable.)  Still, you just enjoy it for what it is--rather like not analyzing why the Professor on Gilligan's Island could build all sorts of amazing stuff, but not a short-wave telegraph transmitter.

I found myself at first a bit offended by The Morgans' portrayal of rural Wyoming.  It is stereotyped in ways that are falsely mean and excessively generous at the same time--but then I realized that our New York City couple is also a stereotype that exaggerates what are some real aspects to the point of being absurd.

To the credit of The Morgans, guns are both realistically depicted, and the PETA member/hoplophobe played by Jessica Sarah Parker, takes to the rifle effectively, and positively.  (Before you find this implausible: I remember some years ago going to an event at an American Society of Criminology conference.  There was a fairly liberal sociologist from Columbia University who had limited previous exposure to guns--and I was beginning to wonder if we were every going to get the full automatic rifle away from her.  She was just having way too much fun.)  Guns feature in the ending in a way that is relatively plausible for this genre of film, and positively. 

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