Looking for a get-smart shortcut? The right mix of flicks will serve as a veritable Cinema U: You can really learn something by watching them. Here’s our brain-boosting lineup.
Where can you find a better blueprint for life than the movies? These days we look to cinematic fiction for answers to life’s most perplexing questions, such as, Where else can an over-the-hill fat dude like Jack Nicholson be paid zillions to parody himself again?
Ah, but we digress. Educationally speaking, the movies don’t just lecture you like a burned-out, tenured professor: They put you in the action. Plus the movies can out-multimedia just about any lecture class. Watch enough of the right flicks, and you may just qualify for a degree in business, politics, sociology -- even grifting. And think how far all that will go when time comes to make career choices, sound witty at social mixers and impress a worthy lady.
Yes, Cinema U is officially in session. These flicks are packed with smart bombs that’ll serve you well for the rest of your life. Watch and learn:
Check It out: September 4
John Cusack is a U.S. intelligence operative desperately trying to find his missing American buddy in Shanghai just days before the Japanese bomb Pearl Harbor. As he frantically tries to find his friend, the search is complicated by local gangsters, Japanese invaders, a Chinese chick (Gon Li) who runs sweet and sour on him, and the realization that he’s not sure he can trust his own government.
The Smart Bomb
Cusack’s undercover navigation of pre-war Shanghai reveals a fascinating, culturally rich -- but also slightly seamy -- melting-pot community we never knew existed. The film shows that pre-World War II Shanghai was an international community of refugees, artists, spies, and best of all, breathtakingly beautiful Gon Lis.
Creativity cannot be stifled. Shanghai’s international community was the birthplace of China’s thriving film industry, which was squashed by the Japanese occupation during the war. The industry clandestinely slipped out of what became Red China and off to Hong Kong to give birth to the careers of our favorite imports: Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan.
Check It out: September 11
Based on the wildly popular 1998 graphic novel, Whiteout is the story of the world’s hottest United States marshal (Kate Beckinsale), who is, um, hot on the trail of the first and only serial killer in the world’s coldest place, Antarctica. The problem? Winter is only three days away (so forget about seeing Kate slip into a bikini at the polar ice cap). Also, with winter come six months of darkness … in which she would be stuck with the Abominable Snowciopath.
The Smart Bomb
Geography meets criminal justice studies meets ice-onography. The story offers the eye-opening and groin-freezing scenario in which we see how U.S. marshals are the only law enforcement agency charged with protecting the world’s largest and least inviting continent. When Carrie Stetko (Beckinsale) is sent to the most isolated, barren and scariest landmass on earth to shut down a serial killer terrorizing a U.S. research base, she has to do it in temperatures that drop to 120 F below 0, winds that will rip your skin off at up to 200 mph and a serious absence of backup when the bodies begin to pile up -- all of which leads us to wonder who her high school career counselor was.
In the original graphic novel, Stetko was a little overweight and got a bit of help from a female U.N. investigator … with whom (it was implied) she melts a little ice. In the film, though, the investigator is a dude (actor Garbiel Macht). Maybe we should go back to using comics as reference books.
Check It out: September 18
Mark Whitacre (Matt Damon) was bored working at an Illinois food processing company. So, more to make himself feel important than to actually help anybody, Whitacre goes undercover for the FBI to uncover his company’s massive price-fixing scandal -- while he’s in the midst of stealing $9 million bucks himself. True story.
The Smart Bomb
Aside from focusing on Whitacre’s clueless efforts to be a hero, this story offers riveting detail about how the food industry holds not only your tummy hostage but also your wallet. In real life, Whitacre wore a wire for three years and helped record video footage of high-level meetings, where execs conspired with each other to set food additive prices well above market value so they could stuff their pockets as you stuff your face.
Elaborate FBI stings follow white-collar crime everywhere -- even in boring industries. That’s right: Somebody’s making dough by charging too much for, um, dough. So if you’re jacking up the sugar packets at your local 7-Eleven, watch your back, Jack. And if you’re going to be an informant, you may want to avoid being a thief while working for the man. Whitacre’s prison term was three times longer than that of the guys he helped nab.
Capitalism: A Love Story
Check It out: September 23
Michael Moore, that hefty dude with the baseball cap and suspicious nature, celebrates the 20th anniversary of his breakout film Roger & Me -- about the suspicious collapse of the auto industry -- with a new film about the suspicious collapse of the overall economy. The new flick takes a comical look at the corporate and political high jinks that culminated in what Moore has described as “the biggest robbery in the history of this country”: the massive transfer of U.S. taxpayer money to private financial institutions to bail out fat guys with billion-dollar bonuses.
The Smart Bomb
Forget smart bomb -- this one’s an all-out genius bomb: A study of economics, politics, business and thievery all in one! Were this one to translate to college credits, you could cash it in for a quadruple major.
As in his previous documentaries, Moore blindsides his targets when they least expect it. Here, he corners top corporate and banking executives as they fly to their private islands on personal jets that they bankrolled with bonuses they set aside for themselves -- despite managing funds that bankrupted investors. Then Moore gets them to not explain how they can live with themselves on our money.
Moore details how these guys siphoned funds, pensions, savings and more while the people who trusted them with their life savings went broke. So if you’re up to no good, you may want to stay on Moore’s good side.
More Than a Game
Check It out: October 2
This documentary follows five poor kids from Akron, Ohio, through their high school hoop careers. Not unusual, except when you consider that one, LeBron James, has gone on to become the world’s best player and that they wind up playing for the national championship.
The Smart Bomb
The kids are shown dealing with the pressures of poverty, publicity that comes with competing in the national media spotlight and the heat from that spotlight intensified 100 times because James has been earmarked by the media -- and NBA scouts -- as the best high school player in the cosmos. But despite everybody wanting to get their hands on James, nobody is able to pull these five guys apart. Even when James is banned from a game for allegedly accepting the gift of a car (a no-no he was later cleared of), the kids rely on the bond they formed in Akron to keep them together and help them achieve their individual goals -- as a team.
Be true and loyal to your friends, and teamwork will always win out. (Of course, it’s easy to win games with LeBron James on your team.)