Apparently the Tribeca Film Festival will feature a documentary on the disgraced anti-vaccine doctor Andrew Wakefield. Unfortunately, the film is probably not discussing the history and facts on the vaccines & autism controversy. Instead, it’s likely a positive portrayal of Wakefield and similar doctors. Wakefield’s original paper asserting that vaccines increase the risk of autism was retracted several years ago after it was found that there were various ethical and methodological errors (including outright fraud), yet much of the anti-vaccine movement still doesn’t seem to have realized it yet. His supporters seem to now just be crackpots ranting about how his groundbreaking research is just being suppressed by the establishment. (If you have ever seen physics crackpots, this kind of thinking is one of the telltale signs that they have no interest in actually learning anything and only want to pontificate about their pet “theories”). Even among people who stop talking about autism, there seems to be significant fear that the vaccines are overwhelming children’s immune systems ( 1) ludicrous & 2) there is actually less exposure with more modern vaccines than with fewer earlier vaccines), among other concerns
The film festival already responded saying that their film choices are supposed to foster “dialogue and discussion.” This makes sense when there is a valid controversy. There is no known link between vaccines and autism, so there is basically one side that is doing research and showing that there doesn’t seem to be any problem, and another one that just asserts that the data is wrong. Similarly to the evolution/creation controversy, there is no academic controversy here. Worse, even if the vaccine opponents are right, it is almost certain that giving vaccines still does far more good than harm.
Now that 2014 is over, here are some brief thoughts on the movies of 2014 that I remember seeing. I’ve only seen the edited airline versions of some of these (like 300: Rise of an Empire and Godzilla), but I don’t think the unedited versions would change anything.
Overall, I would say that Boyhood is the best of the bunch in terms of film-making artistry, while Guardians of the Galaxy was the most enjoyable. There are still a few movies (mostly dramas) that have come out recently that I haven’t yet seen.
- Guardians of the Galaxy – Fun comic book/sci fi movie that is only tangentially related to the rest of the Marvel cinematic universe so you don’t need to watch another 10 movies to understand what’s going on.
- X-Men: Days of Future Past – Adaptation of what is apparently one of the most popular X-Men storylines (I’m not a big reader of comic books). Interesting concept, great cast, fixes many of the problems seen in some previous entries in the series (i.e. X-Men 3 and the first Wolverine movie). Focuses a lot more on the characters than on nonstop action
- Captain America: The Winter Soldier – Clearly this has been a banner year in comic book movies. This is another excellent example of the genre. It doubles as a political thriller and if you’ve been following the Marvel movies, introduces a number of big changes that should affect
- Edge of Tomorrow – Really interesting concept that is quite well done. Like a military sci-fi version of Groundhog Day
- Interstellar – Great visuals, most of the movie is quite good, but I (and most physicists I’ve talked to) aren’t really fans of the ending and some of the dialog toward the end is cringe-inducing
- Dawn of the Planet of the Apes – Pretty good movie, but not as good as the previous one. Certainly less cheesy than the original series. It’s definitely a middle movie in the series (not really a standalone film), so the third movie could make me reevaluate my thoughts of this one
- Noah – Decent movie and inventive telling of the Biblical flood story. Casting is somewhat questionable with too many big names. Not Aronofsky’s best but not bad either.
- Godzilla – Pretty forgettable Godzilla movie. A big upgrade from the 90s one with Matthew Broderick. Surprisingly doesn’t include enough Godzilla.
- Amazing Spider-Man 2 – Also pretty forgettable. The plot is a bit of a mess by trying to throw too much at us at once. Not as bad as Spiderman 3, which had some similar issues
- 300: Rise of an Empire – Too much like the first one: Lots of stylized violence but not enough plot. This one tells a fictionalized version of the Battle of Salamis (to be fair, Herodotus’ descriptions of the Greco-Persian wars are probably also somewhat fictionalized and definitely biased). As with the original film, doesn’t allow for any real nuance in its portrayal of the Greeks as the saviors of civilization and the Xerxes’ forces as irredeemably evil.
- Boyhood – Great movie by Richard Linklater that shows the story of a family over a decade (and was also filmed over a decade so everyone is actually aging). Like a lot of Linklater movies, it is more a series of vignettes rather than a unified story, so not necessarily for everyone.
- Grand Budapest Hotel – Another solid entry in Wes Anderson’s series of stylized comedies. (Others include Rushmore and The Royal Tenenbaums). This and Boyhood are probably the best films for film nerds that I saw in 2014 since they are both clearly imbued with the unique styles of their directors.
- Gone Girl – Pretty good crime thriller. Unlike most others in the genre, it reveals the twist fairly early so that it doesn’t ruin the movie on repeated viewings and can also spend more time on plot than just people running around trying to figure out what’s going on.
- Lego Movie – Excellent kids’ cartoon action movie with a lot going on for adults. There are references (Batman – who also sings in an emo band, Star Wars, lots of old and probably out of production Lego sets), a nice meta story that shows up toward the end. It can even be seen as a subversion of the Hero’s Journey trope popularized by Joseph Campbell.
- Big Hero 6 – Another excellent kids’ movie that is actually an adaptation of a Marvel comic but isn’t part of the broader Marvel cinematic universe as far as we know. The plot follows a pretty standard superhero origins story but is well done, and has some really good world building for future movies.