Guest movie review

Now that I’ve gone over the major ideas, I’m going to space out the “programming without math” posts to a more infrequent schedule. As I implement things, I’ll post updates here so you can play with them for yourself.

Meanwhile, I wrote my first on-line guest movie review. How exciting!! I’m not sure that it’s exactly what they were looking for when they asked me to write a movie review, but it sure was fun to write. It appears as the December 17 post at

Oh, what the heck. I’ll just reprint it here:

I was in Europe because I had taken part in a forum on public policy, which started in Stockholm and then proceeded by train to Oslo so we could see the Nobel Peace Prize concert — the one that honored our president. I’m from New York, which is almost the same as being from the U.S. — one of the major differences being that we actually like this president, which I am told makes us more like Europeans.

The public forum in Stockholm was great because we got to hear all of the policy experts from the U.S. and Great Britain get up, one after another, and talk about what fabulous and perfect jobs they are doing. I can tell you that it was a great relief to hear that these people are all doing fabulous and perfect jobs, and I wanted to share that with you, in case you had been harboring any doubts.

The Nobel Peace Prize concert was fascinating, partly because Obama wasn’t, well, actually there, which made the whole thing really funny and surreal. Everyone was congratulating him, smiling like crazy and telling him what a great guy he was, whereas, in truth, Elvis had left the building — the birthday boy had flown back to Washington that morning, not even staying long enough for a nice lunch with the King.

This level of contradiction seemed to suit the occasion perfectly, since Barack Obama’s acceptance speech for having just won the Nobel Peace Prize was a forceful and rather intense declaration that the United States of America has the right to wage war on Afghanistan or any other darned country, if it thinks that’s the right thing to do. I’m not really sure how well any of that went down in Oslo, but I’ll bet it went over great in Nebraska. Although I’m not really sure anybody in Nebraska was listening.

All of which leads to “In the Loop”, which rather appropriately is about the people in the U.S. and British governments who set public policy about whether to go to war. I felt eminently qualified to enjoy this film, after all the inspirational talks I’d attended in Stockholm. Although, as it turned out, those talks really didn’t prepare me for this movie. But more on that later.

I was told by my friends Manuela and Gerald about this lovely tradition of Opera employees, or former Opera employees, or FOEs (friends of Opera employees), seeing an English language movie every Sunday evening, after which somebody gets volunteered to write a review about the experience. In this case that somebody turned out to be me. My fellow friends and FOEs took great pains to instruct me that the review doesn’t actually need to be just about the movie, and you can see that I have taken those instructions to heart.

Even before the movie started the stage had been set. We all met in a pub for a pre-film pint. When I first got there the only other person was a really nice chap from England. I asked him what were the good beers here. At which point the man’s face assumed an expression of exquisite sadness, and with a mournful air my new friend gently explained to me that there are only four types of beer in all of Norway. I took in the enormity of this statement, and in that moment we, the New Yorker and the man from London, formed a bond of common tragedy, a shared understanding of the infinitely sad absurdity of existence.

Which was a perfect lead in to the movie. For it turns out that if “In the Loop” bears any relationship to reality, then all of those nice policy wonks giving speeches in Stockholm had been lying through their teeth. Like just about any decent British comedy, this film presents such a dark and thoroughly dystopian view of the world, such a depth of pervasive cynicism and despair about all received truths and deeply cherished childhood ideals, that to sit through it is to watch your very faith in the world melt away like a chocolate easter bunny in hell.

Which is to say that it is a very, very funny movie. Brilliant writing, wonderful editing, fantastic level of ensemble acting across the board. As we sat there in the little Oslo theater, watching the realization of every most deeply held fear about the sheer incompetence and venality of the people who work in government and make life-or-death decisions about whether or not to go to war, we were laughing our heads off at one insanely clever line of dialog after another. By the end credits there wasn’t a dry seat in the house.

See it, it’s fun. You’ll have a nice time.

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