Your Guide to On Screen Economics

March 25th, 2012 by Ran

The end of March is time for annual fiscal reports in many countries around the world. Companies and corporations submit (hopefully truthful) reports of losses or profits that will determine how much they will pay in taxes, or how many loopholes they will jump through. Their reports will also determine whether they will continue to receive loans from banks or other financial institutions. Incidentally, on this day in 1957 the European Economic Community was created, grouping Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg and Netherlands under one single umbrella economy, which was later expanded to the European Union in 1993. Today, 55 years later, the question about the future of this union is what everybody, and not just in Europe, is talking about (especially given Europe’s economic situation, and the world’s in general, after the 2008 financial crisis.) The economy sucks wherever you are, whether it’s in Europe, the US or Asia (in Africa, nothing’s changed, the situation has been, and still is, terrible). At the same time, capitalism is both the new religion, and a despicable one. If you’re feeling lost in all the mess and confusion that’s ruling the world of finance, you’re not alone. Even the experts are not bold (nor stupid) enough to predict what will happen to tomorrow’s stocks or gas prices. The globalization process has connected everyone to everything, and the relations of cause and effect are now ever more complex. Lucky for you, I have compiled a list of titles that will help you make sense of (or get mad at) the economic world. From informative and thought provoking via touching to exciting and entertaining, here they are:

1. The Corporation (2003) – This is the first of a trilogy of documentary films that I consider to be essential films, which could easily replace any macro-economics course. They explain how we got to where we are today. The premise is an 1886 Supreme court decision that gave corporations many of the rights people have. So the filmmakers set out to profile what type of a person a corporation would be. It’s sort of the reverse “what kind of animal are you?” game. The answer is pretty bleak and disturbing – a psychopath. Although it was made in 2003, the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling from 2010, that gave corporations and unions the right to spend unlimited political money (just like you and I would) makes it ever more relevant. It’s a pretty biased film (to the left, if you’re wondering), but one conclusion is unquestionable: Money in politics is bad.

2. Food, Inc. (2008) – This documentary will show you the effects of the industrial revolution and capitalism on the food industry. You will understand that making money and making food don’t really go together after this eye opening and very thorough documentary. The fact that health food is the province of the rich makes the saying “It’s better to be rich and healthy than poor and sick” ever so true and a bit less funny, but we do get a glimmer of hope towards the end.

3. Inside Job (2010) – Both chapters lead us to the grand finale – the 2008 financial meltdown. you will get mad, you’ll get depressed, you’ll feel helpless… all the things a good documentary should make you feel. The fact that no one really paid the price or acknowledges responsibility for the abuse of the financial system, and that everyone just wants to keep going like nothing happened, makes the first movie’s claims so very accurate (one of the traits of the psychopath is the inability to feel guilt).

4. Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room (2005) – This is a guide on how to go from being named “America’s Most Innovative Company” for six years in a row (1996-2001) to going bankrupt in 24 days. Many companies go bankrupt, few do it in such a dramatic fashion. All of this is thanks to the magic of deregulation. It’s a tale of corruption, greed, hubris and human nature. Thanks to filmmaker Alex Gibney, bankruptcy and economics never looked as exciting or as funny (in a sad and infuriating way). Maybe too funny and exciting, as 2008′s crisis proved the lesson wasn’t learned.

5. Client 9: The Rise and Fall of Eliot Spitzer (2010) – You might ask ‘Isn’t Eliot Spitzer the lawyer guy who resigned after admitting to frequenting prostitutes? How is that relevant to the economy?’ This precise question is answered in this clever documentary. This is a story of a meteoric rise to the top, and subsequent and painful downfall of one of the most promising politicians of this century (who exposed Enron’s corruption). His ambition ultimately did him in. He thought he was invincible, going after corporate crimes and Wall Street corruption. He was a relentless reformer, that got things done, but he flew too close to the sun. Exposing his sexual vice was enough to melt his wings… He is such a charismatic and complex character that you will be captivated throughout this film.

6. Margin Call (2011) – If the documentary genre is too much for you, here you will find a fictional account surrounding the 24 hours leading to the financial meltdown of 2008. It’s a thriller, and its goal is more to entertain than to inform, but the cast is very good (Kevin Spacey, Jeremy Irons and Zachary Quinto), and while you know pretty much what happens you’ll be on the edge of your seat.

7. Better Off Ted (2009 – 2010) – After I depressed the hell out of you with those documentaries, let’s look at the corporate world in a humorous way. Jay Harrington and Portia de Rossi headline this workplace sitcom about a the on-goings in a wacky corporation. It’s a great satire, and De Rossi steals the show by perfectly embodying the spirit (or lack thereof) of the modern corporation, with obvious lack of emotion or basic social skills. It’s a shame it was cancelled after only two seasons.

8. Mondays in the Sun (2002) – Set in Spain way before the EU crisis, this drama about unemployment couldn’t be more relevant today, as the unemployment rate has recently reached more than 22%. Spanish heavyweights Javier Bardem and Luis Tosar play struggling working class people in the port town if Vigo. It’s an intimate portrayal of the harsh reality of people dealing with their plight from pride, proving men to be helpless and useless, and it is dealt with great sincerity. You will not stay indifferent to this film. Today’s Spanish youth doesn’t even have the memories of the good old days to hold on to.

los lunes al sol

9. Battle in Seattle (2008) – History repeats itself. This movie depicts the 1999 chaotic protests against the World Trade Organization meetings that were scheduled there, accusing it of widening the gap between rich and poor. Sounds familiar? Today’s Occupy Wall Street movement’s claims are very similar, so things don’t really change (sigh). What was planned as a peaceful demonstration soon deteriorated into chaos and mayhem in the streets. The violent outburst undermined the activists’ agenda, just like every violent incident by protesters today hinders their message and effort.

10. V for Vendetta (2006) – If you’ve followed the news in the past year, chance is you’ve seen the mask of V. This anti-hero became one of the symbols of the Occupy Wall Street Movement, and many organizations claiming to fight the system. Although the movie does not really deal with the economy, the rebellious attitude has crossed over to the economic protest, proving without a doubts that the cliché is right: money does make the world… (go round, fight, unite, anything really).

v for vendetta

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Jinni Is a Nominee in Techcrunch’s The Europas

June 25th, 2009 by Ben


Please vote for Jinni here!

We’re proud to be a nominee in The Europas, Techcrunch’s technology innovation awards for European (EMEA) tech companies. The list is a testament to the impressive level of innovation in the EMEA region. The event is held on July 9 in London.

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Popularity: 3% [?]

5 links to stretch your movie knowledge

January 12th, 2009 by Ben

At Jinni, we aim to offer a new approach to choosing movies that’s richer and more meaningful than the usual genres and keywords. Of course we have other favorite sites that offer different perspectives or unexpected insights into the world of movies. Here’s a list of 5 interesting links to check out.

Are you good at recommending?
Video Store Clerk is an addictive game based on real Netflix data. Given a customer’s past ratings, guess how they rated a featured film. This is an effort at a “crowdsourcing” solution to the Netflix million dollar challenge to improve their recommendation algorithm. The idea is that these human predictions can be part of a better model than the purely algorithmic one being worked on by various teams competing for the prize.

What’s filming near you?
The Movie Map lets you search by title or location to see where your favorite films were shot – or what’s been filmed near you. Though the site is still missing a lot of photos and related links, it’s a fun way of bringing film closer to home.

Is your perspective international?
The world may be flat but aesthetics still vary widely among cultures. Seeing posters from around the world can open up new perspectives on the films you know – or offer a new and gratifying visual experience. This isn’t a single link but check out 50 incredible film posters from Poland or 50 stunning Asian movie posters.

Can you sum it up?
So many farfetched ideas, ridiculous dialogue lines… and pretentious filmmakers. The Editing Room takes it all down to size with hilariously abridged scripts that sum up several hours in a couple thousand well-chosen words. The scripts (and the writer) are sometimes to be found on Cracked as well.

What’s your movie taste?
Of course we have to mention Jinni. Powered by the Movie Genome, search, recommendations and a unique user taste model are based on cataloging each title by plot, mood, style, setting, and more. Take a closer look at your taste in movies with the Jinni Taste Test. Are you a Drama Addict, Escape Artist or Hero? Since most people like a variety of movie types – you might be more than one. You’ll need to quickly sign up here for Jinni to check it out.

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Popularity: 5% [?]

10 Tips for Hitting It Big from Scorsese plus

November 21st, 2008 by Barak

Martin Scorsese is one of the greatest directors ever. I wanted this post to be for his birthday, but then we launched Jinni in private beta and I missed the November 17 date. Still, I want to offer this list (hey, even genius directors get late birthday presents sometimes) of the top 10 movies with his favorite theme: rise and fall. Gangsters, athletes, tycoons, porn stars, and more. These guys got to the top but fell hard. If you want to learn how to stay at the top – read on…

10. Boogie Nights (1997)

Meet Eddie Adams (Mark Wahlberg), a young, well-endowed dishwasher in a L.A. nightclub. Spotted by an adult film director (Burt Reynolds) and hungry for fame, Eddie changes his name to Dirk Diggler and becomes the hottest star in the porn industry. Director Paul Thomas Anderson‘s breakthrough film is an exhilarating ride through the underbelly of the 70s. Inspired by the films of Robert Altman and Scorsese, it features colorful camera work, a dynamic soundtrack, and a stellar cast.
Why the fall?
Like others who rose to stardom, Dirk Diggler started doing cocaine, yelling at people for no good reason and alienating those who really cared for him.
What can we learn?
Don’t forget where you came from.

9. The Aviator (2004)

Scorsese’se lavish spectacle hearkening back to Hollywood’s Golden Era tells the story of Howard Hughes, one of the 20th-century’s most pioneering and influential figures. Starring Leonardo DiCaprio as the eccentric billionaire, this biopic concentrates on Hughes’ life between the 20s and 40s, when he made striking contributions to both the film and aviation industries.
Why the fall?
Obsession and mental illness overcame him.
What can we learn?
Don’t forget to take that daily pill.

8. Once Upon A Time In America (1984)

Sergio Leone directed this epic saga, a classic crime drama that runs to nearly four hours, starring Robert De Niro, James Woods and Joe Pesci. The story revolves around the lives of childhood friends who rose from the Jewish ghetto to the top of the NY crime world. Sadly, this great movie was the last one Sergio Leone directed before dying in 1989 at age 60 from a heart attack.
Why the fall?
Greed and ambition.
What can we learn?
Don’t mix friendship with business.

7. American Gangster (2007)

British director Ridley Scott adeptly helms a Scorsese-like American crime epic based on a true story in 1968 Harlem. Frank Lucas (Denzel Washington) is a driver for crime boss Bumpy Johnson. When Bumpy dies, Lucas takes over the empire and expands it with sales of a potent brand of heroin, supplied by corrupt Vietnam-based U.S. officers. Meanwhile, unpopular straight-shooting cop Richie Roberts (Russell Crowe) begins to investigate the New York drug world and fellow members of the corrupt narcotics squad.
Why the fall?
Lucas wore a chinchilla coat to a boxing match and drew way too much attention, including from the police.
What can we learn?
Save the animals! And don’t wear outlandish clothes.

6. Casino (1995)

Set in the 1970s and reveling in the minute details of how Las Vegas casinos operate, this Scorsese flick chronicles the rise and fall of casino manager Ace Rothstein. Regulars De Niro and Pesci are first-rate once again as mismatched companions, but Sharon Stone steals the show with a grueling, intense performance.
Why the fall?
Put two violent, ego-driven gangsters and one treacherous drug-abusing ex-prostitute in a single city. There was no way the three of them could all stay at the top.
What can we learn?
When you are successful and Sharon Stone is your woman, other men might get jealous.

5. Raging Bull (1980)

Scorsese’s personal approach to filmmaking reached a whole new level with Raging Bull, which also marked the first collaboration between De Niro and Pesci, to be followed by 5 more successful ones. The rise and fall of middleweight boxer Jake La Motta is played with incredible intensity and in an anti-Rocky style by Oscar winner De Niro (Scorsese’s longtime favorite, who got ditched for a younger Italian, DiCaprio…).
Why the fall?
It was the bad temper.
What can we learn?
Take a deep breath and count to ten before you punch anyone.

4. The Departed

A crime drama from Scorsese without De Niro and Pesci? Yes, there is such a thing and it even earned his much-deserved Oscar. It’s the story of a cop (Leonardo Di Caprio) going undercover as a mob member and a mob member (Matt Damon), infiltrating the police force. The strong supporting cast includes Jack Nicholson as the mob boss, Ray Winstone as his meat-headed muscle, Mark Wahlberg as a hot-headed police sergeant, and Vera Farmiga as a love interest for both Damon and DiCaprio.
Why the fall?
Costello (Jack Nicholson): “Rats. A legion of rats.”
What can we learn?
Think hard before you trust someone. And get a cat.

3. Scarface (1983)

Brian De Palma‘s gory saga of a Cuban deportee’s rise to the top of Miami’s cocaine business has become a cult classic, referenced in rap songs and later gangster movies and quoted by fans everywhere. The film’s brutal violence and lack of positive characters still make it controversial and disliked by certain critics.
Why the fall?
When Tony Montana (Al Pacino, the protagonist) bought two white tigers it was pretty obvious the success had gone to his head.
What can we learn?
Nobody needs two white tigers in their backyard. Remember, one is enough.

2. The Godfather (1972)

Francis Ford Coppola‘s masterpiece tells of Mafia life in the U.S. during the 1940s and 50s. This epic saga set a new screen standard for merging blood-soaked violence with intimate family drama.
Why the fall?
Sonny (James Caan) disagreed with his father (Marlon Brando) in the middle of a meeting with another crime family, making the family look weak and divided.
What can we learn?
Don’t interrupt your father while he’s speaking.

1. Goodfellas (1979)

A classic portrait of life in the mob, Scorsese’s wry, ultra-violent and exhilarating film tells the tale of neurotic Henry Hill (Ray Liotta), who is joined by cool know-it-all Jimmy Conway (De Niro) and psychotic Tommy DeVito (Oscar winning performance for Joe Pesci) in his journey from innocent boyhood to crime-driven adulthood. The film established one of the director’s trademarks: pop and rock music to infuse every scene with a breathtaking, invigorating rhythm.
Why the fall?
Boss of the crime family Paul Cicero (Paul Sorvino): “Don’t get into drugs! Promise me you won’t get into drugs.” Henry: “O.K, O.K, I promise, I won’t get into drugs.” He got into drugs.
What can we learn?
Don’t do drugs.

Want even more rise-and-fall stories? Search on Jinni.com for:
Rise and Fall * Gangsters * Blind Ambition * Life is a Bitch * Drug Abuse * Drug Dealing * Friendship * Masterpiece * Epic * Saga * Controversial * Gory * Mafia Life * Snitch * Undercover * Based on a true story * Greed * Loyalty * Betrayal * Prostitute * Jealousy * Rise to Stardom * (and any combination)

More rise-and-fall picks? Please add yours below!

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Why a bad economy is good for innovation

November 7th, 2008 by Ben

It’s hard to see why the bad economy is good news for anyone but successful hedgers and bankruptcy lawyers. And the financial fallout is likely to continue for a while, even with a new president. But I think artists and entrepreneurs have reason for hope. New ideas and small projects can sometimes edge in as convention falters and giants fail. So for all the creative and innovative types out there, here are 5 reasons culled from around the web to look on the bright side.

5. More chances for new TV
As an interesting article in the Hollywood Reporter observes, low-rated shows like Sarah Connor might have the economy to thank (at least in part) for their continuation. Notorious for cancelling well-loved shows that don’t rate high enough, networks are now choosing to play it safe, keeping the advertising they’ve managed to attract and limiting fresh production costs, rather than pulling the plug on struggling shows.

4. It’s time to travel
Seeing new places dislodges daily banality and inspires new ideas. And if you can afford it, hotels in Reykjavik (Iceland) have never been cheaper. See this New York Times article for more travel bargains.

3. Even Hollywood has fresh ideas
The Commies are dead (or at least slipping) and perhaps we’ve had enough of vaguely middle-eastern terrorists for now. Hollywood needs a new villain for a new crop of blockbusters – and Wall Street has provided one, with NBC developing Outrageous Behavior, and The Wolf of Wall Street on Warner Bros’ priority list – as Nikki Finke reports in her Deadline Hollywood Daily.

2. Think of Microsoft and Apple
Investments are drying up and pessimism about new ventures abounds (see e.g. Jason Calacanis’s much-talked about post on the lookout for startups) . But Microsoft and Apple both started up in the last really bad economic stretch, in the 70s, as Paul Graham points out. Tight times can benefit technical innovators who bring cost and time savings. As others have noted, budget slashes could boost the importance of social media of all kinds as a cost-conscious marketing approach – see for example this post by Blonde2.0.

1. Artists are supposed to suffer
It sounds facetious, but there’s truth to it. Artists take inspiration from life, and those who live through interesting times often have more to say. Just think of John Steinbeck and Charlie Chaplin. With the Great Depression came talented new actors like Spencer Tracy, Katharine Hepburn, Bette Davis, Shirley Temple, and timeless classics like Gone With the Wind.

More thoughts on the creative potential of troubled times? Please add below!

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