At the Movies

Tag: At the Movies

The thing about the Cars movies is that they are geared to a specific audience and that audience does not include 12-year-old girls

Trending away from 110% approval

The generally “meh” critical response to the recent release, Monsters U, prompted The Atlantic to post a piece on the “sad decline” of the Pixar dynasty.  Using Rotten Tomatoes approval data,  Christopher Orr charts the trend toward mediocrity(though, in this market, mediocrity might be the best you can ask for). At any rate, Pixar generally produces “kids” movies, and the folks at took the novel approach of actually asking the kids what they thought

Shockingly, it turns out that kids and the critics don’t always see eye-to-eye on movie ratings. The biggest divergence seems to be with A Bug’s Life, a charming tale of a bug’s life featuring the voices of Dave Foley, Kevin Spacey, and Denis Leary (what kid doesn’t love Denis Leary?).  More than 90% of critics rated this one fresh, whilst the kids covered the screen with maters, with an approval rating in the mid-30s.  


In a similar vein, the critics fell all over themselves praising Finding Nemo, whereas kids were split down the middle in their approval of this mother-killing fish tale.

The critics were not thrilled with Cars (just over 70% approval), but kids loved it even less (just under 50%).   I’m not sure I believe those numbers, actually, given the pervasiveness of Cars stuff (though the little girl quoted in the post title does make a compelling point). I do believe the second set of numbers, however, regarding Cars 2.  The critics panned this hyper-violent Bond-esquey schlock (40%), whereas more than 70% of kids gave it a fresh rating (12-year old girls notwithstanding).  My boy walked out of the theater laughing about “all the guns”.   Huh.

When you add it all up, the approval trend is going quite the opposite for Pixar’s appeal to kids compared to its appeal to critics, which probably has a lot to do with its “sad demise”.

He’s a doctor, he’s a college professor [but] he’s also a sort of rough and tumble guy

No, that’s not me introducing Professor Galambos at a recent Economics Colloquium;  it’s George Lucas hashing out his initial vision of the Indiana Jones character with Steven Spielberg and Lawrence Kasden.

In what has to be one of our greatest “Bedtime Reading” finds ever, behold this remarkable 90-page transcript of the “spitballing” sessions available online.  The sessions are excerpted in a recent New Yorker piece.

If you have ever wanted to see creative genius at work in all its fits-and-starts, here you go.

Kasdan: Do you have a name for this person?”

Lucas: I do.

Spielberg: I hate this, but go ahead.

Lucas: Indiana Smith.

And, if you have 13 minutes and would like your mind completely blown, you might check this side-by-side out.

American Capitalism as A Delicious Milkshake

One of the greatest films you are ever likely to see about the intensity, competition and dynamism in American capitalism, There Will be Blood, is the midnight movie tonight in the Warch Campus Cinema.  As I watched the movie, I marveled at how all of those people and resources made their way into the middle of backwater nowhere within days of identifying a promising play. If you are a night owl type, I recommend you stroll over and see it.

As for the famous “milkshake” reference, that has to do with the “fugitive” nature of petroleum.  Indeed, as I tell my students, oil is more like buffalo, and gold is more like cows.  Gary Libecap has written extensively on oil field unitization as a solution to the “milkshake” problem.  Indeed, yours truly knows a thing or two about how this all played out.

Do You Expect Me to Talk?

The chips are made *where*?

Welcome to winter break.  One of the great things about returning home is that your family and friends can share not only in the new, colorful personal habits that you’ve picked up on campus, but also in the fruits of the valuable analytic skills that you have developed here at Lawrence.

And what better way to get that conversation jump started than to break down which Bond villains had plans that actually made economic sense?

Economist Jean-Jacques Dethier gets us started.  Here — right on schedule — is a taste of analysis of the evil scheme of one Christopher Walken in A View to a Kill:

Plot: Max Zorin (Christopher Walken) wants to secretly trigger a massive earthquake that will destroy Silicon Valley. This will then allow him and his investor allies to monopolize the microchip manufacturing market.

Plausibility: “As far as I know, microchips aren’t actually manufactured in Silicon Valley,” says Dethier. “They’re made all over the world, in China and other places, though the guys who commission the work may be in Silicon Valley.” Therefore, while taking out Silicon Valley would obviously be cataclysmic for the tech industry, he notes, it also wouldn’t entirely remove your competitors, and wouldn’t ultimately affect manufacturing that much.

Ah, pity Zorin didn’t commission a five-forces analysis.

Via the Cheap Talk blog.

UPDATE: Tyler Cowen has weighed in.

Econ Movie Night — Seeds, Lysine, and Audiotape

The Economics Department proudly presents The Informant Tuesday night at 9:30 in the Warch Campus Center Cinema.

The movie “comically” recreates the character of Archer Daniels Midlands (ADM) employee, Mark Whitacre, the principal informant in the notorious lysine price fixing scandal.  Lysine, as you probably know, is an essential amino acid used to fatten up hogs and broilers. If you mix it in with corn, you don’t have to spring for the relatively more expensive soymeal, or so I’m told. 

Well, I’ll let deRoos (2006) characterize the market for us:

deRoos (2006)

Lysine is an essential amino acid for the lean muscle development of hogs and poultry. Being a chemical compound, lysine is as close as we get to a homogeneous product. Farmers can obtain the required nutrients either through the use of soybeanmeal, or through the combination of corn and lysine… Industry experts suggest that there are no substantial costs involved in switching between these two nutrient sources. The shadow price of the alternative feed source (henceforth the “ceiling price”) can be approximated by a weighted average of corn and soybean meal prices. In the demand estimation results below, we will characterise demand as being relatively inelastic… Firms face capacity constraints. There is a great deal of heterogeneity in firm capacities, locations, and costs.

Through 1990 the market lysine market was dominated by three firms with prices (as you can see) somewhere north of $1 / lb.  However, in 1991 ADM opened a massive production facility in Decatur, Illinois, doubling world capacity and pushing the price below $1 toward its (probable) marginal cost of $0.66 / lb.

Whitacre subsequently orchestrated a coordinated effort to fix prices among the four dominant producers (a CR4 of 95-97%), though there is some dispute as to what exactly happened. Nonetheless, price fixing is a per se violation of federal antitrust laws, so ADM was in pretty serious hot water as soon as Whitacre turned informant.

On the other hand, Whitacre was absolutely crazy himself. And the movie does a good job portraying the frustration and insanity of everyone involved in the situation as the events unfolded. It seems the best defense for ADM was to simply let Whitacre unravel and leave the prosecutors to deal with him.

Meanwhile, the economics of the case spawned a rather, well, let’s call it a rather spirited debate in the academic literature over the length of the conspiracy and the damages done.  These are well documented in the sources below, particularly John Connor and Lawrence White, who trade body blows over the appropriate theoretical model, the appropriate choice of the conspiracy period, and the proverbial “but for” price (that is, the price that would have prevailed “but for” the conspiracy).  

A truly remarkable episode all around. 

Pop some corn and mix in three parts lysine. We’ll see you there.


For further reading:

John M .Connor (1997) “The Global Lysine Price-Fixing Conspiracy of 1992-1995,” Review of Agricultural Economics, 19 (Fall/Winter), 412-427.

Nicholas deRoos (2006) “Examining models of collusion: The market for lysine,” International Journal of Industrial Organization, 24(6): 1083-1107

Lawrence White (2001) “Lysine and Price Fixing: How Long? How SevereReview of Industrial Organization,18 (1):23-31


Prof. Brozek Screens Forbidden Planet, Tues at 9:30

Is there a bigger champion of the educational movie on campus than Professor Brozek?  I think the answer is decidedly not.   In the spirit (sort of) of last year’s international film series, this term he brings us Forbidden Planet to entertain and enlighten us in ways that only sci-fi movies from the 1950s can.

The movie screens Tuesday, September 21 at 9:30 p.m. in Warch Cinema.  Everyone in Freshman Studies (and beyond?) is invited.

For those of you who had a reasonably normal childhood, here’s the basic storyline:


Forbidden Planet is an adaptation of The Tempest set on the planet Altair IV in the year 2257 – Shakespeare in space suits, essentially. The parallels between the movie and the play are numerous – Dr. Morbius and his daughter, Altaira, are the only human inhabitants of the planet, although they have a faithful servant in Robby the Robot. When a mission from Earth comes to rescue Dr. Morbius, they discover threats (a machine that creates monsters in the crew’s subconscious) as well as romance (Altaira and a young Leslie Nielson as Commander Adams).

Part of the fun of Forbidden Planet – especially in the context of Freshman Studies – is picking out the parallels between the film and the play. It’s also interesting, though, to look at the spots where they diverge – SPOILER ALERT SPOILER ALERT I CAN’T BELIEVE HE SENT ME ALL THESE SPOILERS

If you’d like to read more, check out “Shakespeare in Outer Space: Forbidden Planet as Adaptation of The Tempest,” by Miguel Angel Gonzalez Campos at the University of Malaga.

The target audience is Freshman Studies students, but I don’t think we’re quite that picky.  See you there.