CNBCfix Movie of the Week

Our growing collection of movie observations posted occasionally — not always weekly, despite the label — on our CNBCfix Fast Money Review page.

Movie of the week:
‘Bonnie and Clyde,’ the anti-hero

"Bonnie and Clyde," the landmark film by Arthur Penn categorized as "New Hollywood," is famous for ushering in a new level of screen violence. Today, "Bonnie and Clyde" almost looks quaint, a few gunshots here and there, minimal nudity.

Like most works of art, it's more about the time it was made (1967) and not so much the time it depicts.

The cinematography is mesmerizing. The faces are some of the most legendary, Beatty, Hackman, Dunaway, at or near the beginning of their spectacular emergence. Beatty's Barrow is remarkably similar to later characters he will play in "McCabe & Mrs. Miller" and "Shampoo," a scatterbrained person of overwhelming charisma that nearly takes him far enough, but not quite.

Anti-heroes aren't restricted to youthful agitators. Dirty Harry, General Patton and Michael Douglas' William Foster (in "Falling Down") represent the other end of public frustration. "Bonnie and Clyde" came about in the late '60s, pegged to a younger demographic even though it would've been their parents who likely heard the real Bonnie & Clyde story firsthand. The critical reaction, at least initially, was not kind. Roger Ebert claims to be the only prominent reviewer to give it an "ecstatic" endorsement in its original release.

Even in independent cinema, there are decided boundaries. Pulling off the anti-hero requires conformity. The values have to bend the envelope, but not shatter it. Thus we have a criminal enterprise that murdered in the double-digits and stole massive amounts of ammunition depicted in a movie where they never intend to hurt anyone, essentially only shoot after the cops fire first, treat their captives, befriend the disadvantaged including an African-American sharecropper. They're even done in by their own generosity, freeing an officer who will later kill them. These are disenfranchised youth, not out to hurt people, just have a little fun, and if death occurs along the way, it's merely collateral damage.

That word, "fun," seems to be the values cushion. Shortly after "Bonnie and Clyde" came films like "The Thomas Crown Affair," "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid" and "The Getaway." Criminals ranging from brilliant to stupid, who do it for the thrill and nothing else, or "strictly business" in the case of Michael Corleone. The word "malicious" is missing from their description, preserving them as bankable if objectionable art.

By 1973, "The Brady Bunch" was teaching Bobby that Jesse James was no hero, and in 1974, Steve McQueen was playing a by-the-book courageous firefighter in "The Towering Inferno."

"Bonnie and Clyde" remains undeniably relevant. To this day, you will read about Barrow and Parker, on a first-name basis of course, in the lede sentence of an Associated Press story about a "grisly slaying." The movie though endures not only for its stars and cinematography but its proof that values are a matter of perception, that people presented with the same facts can draw different conclusions, explaining far more than just a 2-hour film but perhaps the strength of individuals such as Fidel Castro, Hugo Chavez and Yasser Arafat.

As Steven Slater reaffirms, there's always a healthy appetite for sticking it to the establishment.

Movie of the Week:
The Catch-22 of ‘Rain Man’

Oscar pundits like to say that the best ticket to an Academy Award is to play a character with disabilities. "Rain Man," by Barry Levinson, supports that notion, delivering a statue for Dustin Hoffman's portrayal of Raymond Babbitt as lead actor. That recognition overlooks the tour de force of Tom Cruise and, worse, shortchanges the meaning of the movie.

It's a story of Cruise's character. He thinks life is all about fast cars, fast women and fast money (lowercase; the show hadn't been invented yet). Through faults of his own and his parents', he fails to appreciate value in certain things and certain people and hasn't adequately learned what really matters. He changes. By the end, he gets it. As Hoffman is performing his schtick, Cruise masterfully controls several scenes, notably 2 in which he appears in the left corner watching Raymond, at the casino bar and at the psychiatrist's office.

However, the script, by Ronald Bass, perhaps unknowingly throws a moral curveball.

Much of Charlie's appreciation for Raymond stems from Raymond's ability to win just enough — coincidentally just enough — money to rescue Charlie's business and even get back his pawned watch. If they made no money in Vegas, and Charlie arrived in L.A. to a professional liquidation, bonding with Raymond would probably not seem so important, but in fact Bruner's check just might. A cynic could say, with justification, that "Rain Man" incredibly depicts the worst of human values, that a fellow human being's worth is essentially limited to whatever financial gains he/she can bring us.

That's the half-empty approach. The half-full view says that once Charlie began to accept Raymond, life started working for him again. Instead of his near-bankrupt existence, Charlie was actually going to make it as a human being, meaning whatever amount of money/support/luck he needs, he's going to get, somehow. You take care of the people around you, they'll take care of you.

And honestly, isn't that the way it really works?

Movie of the week:
Dating the prof’s daughter

John Houseman probably never would've been associated with Smith Barney had it not been for "The Paper Chase," the 1973 movie written and directed by James Bridges based on the 1970 John Jay Osborn novel. One curiosity of the film is that Harvard Law actually doesn't seem terribly difficult, provided you read the undoubtedly massive amounts of material. Another is that you don't wanna venture near Lindsay Wagner's pathetic character, no matter what she looks like.

It's at best a mediocre film. The success is in Houseman's Professor Charles Kingsfield, the type of mythical figure everyone assumes exists, the preeminent mind at Harvard, an austere, dominating fountain of wisdom with a noticeable sense of humor who to this day and probably a few decades beyond remains the public icon of tough professors.

But here's a question that maybe the HBS guys could think about...

What if Harvard were a corporation?

Surely it could have a field day maximizing profit. For starters, why turn away so many applicants? If there are 40,000 people willing to pay $40,000 a year to be clients of yours, why not let them?

Ah, but it's not a business. Its motto is "Truth." The mission statement of Harvard College, (not "University," which doesn't have one), is, "Harvard strives to create knowledge, to open the minds of students to that knowledge, and to enable students to take best advantage of their educational opportunities."

So its goal is not to maximize profit, but to educate. Thus there has to be a cutoff, for the purposes of class sizes, individual instruction and overall resources, so that a beacon of learning can adequately cater to a select few while spurning the undoubtedly extra profit that would result, on margin principles, by simply accepting a larger economy of scale.

Viewers of "The Paper Chase," as well as "Good Will Hunting" and probably every other movie about university life, will notice that all the characters in the classrooms are portrayed as paying students worried about grades and finals and papers. Schools constantly brag about demand for their product that they gladly won't or can't satisfy, even though presumably it would increase profitability. One wonders, then, what about education has to be so exclusive. If the goal is to educate people, then shouldn't Harvard courses be open to all? Why should such wisdom be constrained to only a small sample of people? We couldn't find any HLS lectures freely available on YouTube, even though HLS has its own YouTube channel with plenty of promotional pitches. We did a search at Harvard Law's own site for "audit," assuming that anyone might be able to freely audit courses to advance his own knowledge, and the meager results (most of them having to do with audit committee issues in accounting) suggest that doesn't happen except maybe in very limited cases.

If the goal is to educate people, then why do the Gateses and Grosses plow more money into an ancient bastion like Duke, instead of starting their own university so that there may be more elite, high-quality caliber educations available?

All of this seems to point to the conclusion that the goal of higher education isn't actually wisdom, but exclusivity. That the point isn't to spread knowledge, but restrict it, from those deemed less deserving than others. And so we have the world's leading institutions of knowledge not flooding the world with brilliance, but treating their prime commodity like a stock tip and practicing a business model that seems to work best when you're talking about a Cabbage Patch doll.

Your move, Kingsfield.

Movie of the week: ‘The Cooler’

Most movies depicting parent-child tension end with some kind of happy resolution. A few — "Monster's Ball," "Chinatown" — don't, but generally pin the blame on the parent; the youngster is at least going to grow up enlightened.

"The Cooler" defies that scenario. Cast to jaw-dropping perfection, including the staggering casino-boss portrayal by Alec Baldwin and adequate assessment of modern Vegas as DisneyLand, it is as powerful as it is heartbreaking. Bernie will stand up for his son when your mind is shouting "No!" but your heart reluctantly says "Yes." Like "Leaving Las Vegas," a cousin of sorts, "The Cooler" is about a man who gets much more than he bargained for from a woman who isn't supposed to care. The sorrow in knowing how Bernie must feel about his son is somehow trumped, by the realization that luck only exists if we allow it.

Movies of the week: ‘Giant’
& ‘There Will Be Blood’

Long before there was oil gushing from the bottom of the Gulf, there was a small little gusher on a tiny parcel of the Reata Ranch that proved to be big trouble.

"Giant," the 1956 epic about the emergence of the Texas petroleum economy based on the novel by Edna Ferber, compares old money with new money and introduces a dramatic wrinkle to the notion of greed.

The Benedicts are ranchers. That's what they do, that's what their land is for, even though they're sitting on something probably far more valuable. The story requires a leap of faith to believe Jett Rink, with a tiny allotment of property, could quickly turn himself into the state's oil kingpin, but that's artistic license. The crucial decision is made by Bick, who has to choose whether to mar the landscape with oil derricks and join Rink's new society, or steadfastly accept the limitations and consequences of the old economy. Life makes the decision for him.

Arguments as to the peak of Elizabeth Taylor's appearance would likely range from her 19-year-old depiction in "A Place in the Sun" to "Cleopatra," filmed nearly a decade later. "Giant" stands tall as Taylor's entry into that small collection of nominees of the greatest beauty the world has ever seen, though fleeting, as the character rapidly ages beyond Taylor's 24 years at the time.

"Giant," like "There Will Be Blood" of 50 years later, suggests that oil wealth is always going to be dubious and requires a hollowness to pursue. This is not a ranch economy sustained and strengthened over generations through renewable resources and family commitment. There is certainly enormous value in the mobility oil provides, but nothing permanent except the expectation of more, vaporizing upon use, thus requiring more and more drilling, deeper and deeper, further and further away, to sustain this critical economic catalyst. If there is a message, it's that we need it, but don't have to like it.

Movie of the week:
‘Return of the Jedi’

The original "Star Wars" (we think it's officially something like "Episode IV") remains perhaps the most glorious film ever made for a theater, even though Guy Adami claims to have never seen it. Its sequel, "The Empire Strikes Back," though lacking any kind of mission for its heroes, is a very good film.

Last weekend, the Spike channel put together a "Star Wars" marathon. On the small screen, these films are effective, but lose the magic, like Roy Hobbs swinging a regular bat instead of the Wonder Boy.

"Return of the Jedi" is one of history's more controversial films. That's unfortunate, given that the scene of Vader tossing the emperor over the railing should've gone down as one of the greatest in cinema. Unmistakable, however, is what appears to be the jump-the-shark moment of the franchise: When the heroes, who have successfully been battling Death Stars, emperors, sith lords, enormous monsters, nights outdoors in subzero weather, etc., are carried in, hog-tied, by cuddly little Ewoks, for a feast honoring the "god" C-3PO, and are supposedly on the verge of being nearly torched before Luke causes the chair of C-3PO to levitate and fully convince the Ewoks they must listen to him.

Movie of the week: ‘Rocky II,’
featuring ‘smeel mainly’

Jon Najarian, Steve Grasso and Melissa Lee revived the "Rocky" brand about a week ago on Fast Money.

"Rocky II," wrongly maligned by many, is notable for 2 reasons.

One is that it's the greatest workout video of all time, once Adrian tells Rock to "Win!" (Not the first "Win" that should've been cut, when she's recoiling and smiling, but the second "Win!" that she says with conviction.)

The other is that it possesses one of the most under-the-radar hilarious movie scenes in history, when Rocky tries to shoot a commercial with John Pleshette.

In all likelihood you've seen the film more than once and remember the scene, but never realized how side-splitting it actually is.

Rocky says, "In the morning, I splash it on, and it makes me smeel mainly-"

Pleshette interrupts, "Smeel mainly? Uh, cut. Smell manly. Can you read that Rock?"

It'd be easy, and correct, to just credit Pleshette for an unforgettable character, but Stallone, who has always been underrated, meets the very high bar in the way he bumbles and stumbles over every line of the ad during the series of takes, further revealing a certain pride that fuels his remarkable resiliency.

We found the clip on YouTube here.

Movie(s) of the week:
‘The Last Picture Show’
and ‘Friday Night Lights’

Contrary to the impression Hollywood often leaves, small towns are not bastions of depression.

If you don't like it, move. Surprisingly, that notion rarely crosses the minds of the characters in "The Last Picture Show" and "Friday Night Lights," two Texas stories told decades apart.

On the surface, each should be objectionable. The suggestion in "Show" is that the environment is the problem, it's bleak, rendering the characters incapable of thinking their way out of discontent and spurring them to foolhardy romantic liaisons. "Lights" would have you believe that people struggling to make a living are way too preoccupied with a silly game.

Both are masterworks. "Show," by Peter Bogdanovich, has a timeless, b&w sincerity to it that betrays no hint of being made in 1971. "Lights," by Peter Berg and Josh Tate, boasts Billy Bob Thornton in a role so spectacularly played, it might rightly be said that he belongs in the NFL, not on a prep sideline.

Characters in each film will strike many as pitiable. Meanwhile, the world's pre-eminent billionaire golfer is delivering apology after apology for having too much sex with women who could only be considered a step down from the gals in "Show." Human struggle with life's priorities and despair is universal. The people of "Show" and "Lights" are not disadvantaged, disenfranchised nor shortchanged. They require neither sympathy nor scorn to appreciate, just the acknowledgment we're all in this together.

Movie of the week:
‘She’s Out of My League’

To say "She's out of my league" in the CNBCfix world is to be virtually redundant. That phrase is so apropos around here, we almost made it the motto on the site's "about" page.

This under-the-radar comedy now in theaters has a little heart. It's not that funny. In movies there is good raunch and there is bad raunch. "League" is actually not that raunchy, but the raunch it has just isn't that good.

So, how did it creep onto this page ... because it has a crown jewel. That would be Alice Eve. She's 28. You've likely never heard of her. She's British. Young Christie Brinkley. Keep in mind her lingerie scene doesn't involve a body double. Not a 10, but a Ford (that would be a 13 or 14).

And oh yes, another crown jewel ... the notion that many of our limitations come not from others but our own way of thinking. Keep that in mind the next time you're eager to sell CLF up only 30%.

Movie of the week: ‘Con Air’

The great thing about a Web site is that one can sort of put on it whatever one wants.

So we're adding an occasional feature to this page: brief commentary on those cable TV movies that happen to cross our own little Prop Desk and keep us awake at night longer than necessary.

"Con Air" seemed like an easy skip in the '90s. But maybe that's selling it short. After considerable debate within the CNBCfix community, it happened to show up on cable this week almost as if on request. Grotesquely over the top, the latter half is fall-off-the-couch-potential humor.

Dreck — but hilarious dreck.

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