“A Simple Plan”: An Ethics Movie

I watched the 1998 film “A Simple Plan” again last night, and as usual with movies I see several times, I noticed some details and themes that eluded me in previous viewing. This is an ethics film, and one that would support a seminar, yet virtually none of the reviews of “A Simple Plan” mention ethics at all. That is to be expected, since ethics isn’t on Hollywood’s radar or that of 99% of the participants in the film industry, including reviewers. Checking the archives, I discovered that I mentioned the movie in an ethical context three times, but never seriously examined the film itself.

“A Simple Plan,” based on a novel by the same name, stars Bill Paxton, Billy Bob Thornton as the very different Mitchell bothers in rural Minnesota, Hank (Paxton) and Jacob (Thornton) who, along with Jacob’s friend Lou discover a crashed private plane in a snowy field. Along with the dead pilot, the wreck contains over $4 million in cash.

The simple plan of the title is the three men’s decision to take the money, hold on to it until the plane is discovered, and then divide it up afterwards if nobody is looking for the cash. Hank, the only one of the three with firing neurons, initially wants to report the crash and the cash, obviously the legal, safe and ethical course, but allows his genial but dim-witted brother and his habitually drunk friend convince him to try the “plan.”

This illustrates at least nine vital ethics lessons right up front:

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Today’s Dumb Woke Hollywood Casting Question: “Why Does Hollywood Keep Using Fat Suits?” [Corrected]

The New York Times today decides to try a new frontier in the woke casting double standard adventure—you know, the incoherent theory that minority actors should be considered for all roles and all character types regardless of sex, race, size or physical characteristics, but it is unethical for white performers to play any character that they have to act and use make-up to evoke. You know, like good Hollywood liberal Tom Hanks claimed when he issued his recent  mea culpa for playing a gay, AIDS battling lawyer in “Philadelphia.”  So, using the same logic, Tom must have been equally hostile to “diversity, equity and inclusion” when he took a role away from some brilliant, unknown actor with a 75 IQ to play Forrest Gump, just as an autistic actor should have starred in “Rain Man” instead of Dustin Hoffman.

Suuuure. But I’m getting ahead of myself. The Great Stupid often has that effect on me. Sorry.

The Times’ query, in the headline to a column by Arts Section pundit , is “Why Does Hollywood Keep Using Fat Suits?” Gee, it’s a mystery! And come to think of it, why does Hollywood keep using make-up? Special effects? Fake blood?

Here’s a much tougher question: why does the New York Times let people who know nothing about performing, entertainment, business, audiences, comedy, and casting write columns like this? Continue reading

Ethics Villains: Documentary Maker Ken Burns And PBS

What, you well may ask, is a photograph of Dylann Roof doing in Ken Burns’ latest documentary, “The US and the Holocaust”? Good question.  The answer is, frankly, disgusting.

In the last of three parts in the film, shown tonight on PBS stations nationwide, the now familiar Burns historical story-telling is converted into a partisan, negative, political campaign ad, and not even a fair or respectable one compared to the ugliest attack ads you will see in the coming month. Apparently the tax-payer funded pubic broadcasting corporation decided that the perils facing of its patron Democratic Party in the upcoming election were dire enough to justify turning a legitimate and mostly admirable piece of documentary craft into supplementary material to Joe Biden’s indefensible attack on Republicans as fascists and “clear and present dangers” to democracy.

Burns, to his eternal shame—I will not watch any future Burns works—agreed to betray the trust of his viewers and the integrity of his art by using the last 10 minutes of “The US and the Holocaust” to draw an intellectually dishonest and virtually libelous analogy between the anti-Semites in Roosevelt’s State Department that blocked European Jews from escaping to the U.S. before Hitler sent them to the showers, the Nazis themselves, and those who oppose pro-illegal immigration policies in the U.S. today. Continue reading

We May Have A New Champion For Most Unethical (And Ridiculous) Member Of “The View”…

Yes, it’s Sunny Hostin, “The View’s” token lawyer. Admittedly, the title of most unethical and ridiculous member of “The View” is a tough competition, with  Dunning-Kruger victim Joy Behar displaying her ignorance and lack of critical thinking skills non-stop and Ana Navarro not far behind in the head-exploding gibberish category. But bear with me…

Hostin accused former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley of not using her “real name because she was attempting to hide being someone “of color.” “There were some of us that can be chameleons and decide not to embrace our ethnicity so that we can pass,” Hostin said. “I think if she leaned into being someone of color it [would] be different,” she noted earlier. I guess if you follow progressive cant like a Good German, you get to use whatever name you like. Continue reading

Ethics Hero (Maybe): Actor John Boyega

The British star of the third “Star Wars”  trilogy films “The Force Awakens” (2015), “The Last Jedi” (2017), and “The Rise of Skywalker” (2019) launched a social media tempest when he stated in an interview with GQ,

“I only date Black…then it’s about chemistry, personality, goals. Is there a synergy? Can I help you? Can you help me?”

He’s either very frank and courageous, or extremely naive. Naturally, the Right is pointing to him as an example of the Hollywood culture’s hypocrisy. “Imagine if a white celebrity said this the other way around,” asks the conservative “Gotcha!” site “Not The Bee.” ” If you’re putting skin color above things like chemistry and personality, however,” Holly Ash writes, “I might argue that you’re technically, per the definition of the term, a little racist.” Oh? I might argue that you are using a lousy definition. Racist means that one regards one race inferior to another, to the extent of regarding individuals of the race intrinsically inferior. What Boyega is describing as a bias, and biases are innate, natural, human, unavoidable, and yes, they make us stupid. It is our duty as ethical beings to try to recognize biases and their emotional, irrational nature, and, if possible, get past them. However, preferring the company of people more like yourself than not is a a very natural bias, especially when it comes to romantic and intimate relationships. A racial bias like Boyega’s has to be kept in its proper place, just like, say, a man’s preference for attractive women. That is his right as sexual creature, but the bias is unethical if he’s hiring a staff….unless he’s directing a “Charley’s Angels” movie, or something similar. Continue reading

Ethics Quiz: Public Art Ethics

“Ancestor,” a new sculpture by Bharti Kher,  has been chosen to reside at the Fifth Avenue and 60th Street entrance to Central Park in New York City for the next year. It’s 18 feet tall, has 24 heads (detail below)….

…and is made to look old and weathered, though it was cast in bronze and is fresh out of the oven, or whatever. The Times says,

“Ancestor” is, at its core, an Indian goddess form, the kind found in Hindu popular iconography, with hair that rises in a bun yet somehow also hangs in a braid. But protruding in clumps pell-mell from her upper body are 23 extra heads, each with its own expression, peering this way and that.

You can read about what the artist thinks this mess means here. I don’t even have a coherent quiz question to pose, just a group of puzzled queries that follow my immediate, “What the hell?” Continue reading

“The US And The Holocaust”: Perfect Timing, But View With Care

Has an eagerly-anticipated prestige television project ever been so perfectly timed as  PBS’s Ken Burns documentary, “The US and the Holocaust,” which began last night with “The Golden Door” (Beginnings-1938)? I can’t think of any. Burns is either lucky, diabolical, or psychic. He is also, like all documentary makers, political, and so is his work. Burns still deserves praise for restraint: though “The US and the Holocaust” can be accused of subtly (and occasionally blatantly) advancing Democratic Party and progressive talking points, it also can be used to support opposing positions as well.

The legitimacy of either exercise is debatable, and will be a great debate topic. True, history repeats itself, but context and details matter. As I watched the first episode of Burns’ opus last night, I felt myself being drowned in striking analogies, many of them seductive and likely to be abused. There is so much summarized history and and so many factoids in just the first episode of this epic that it’s impossible to know when one is getting the truth, sort of the truth, part of the truth, intentionally-manipulated facts, cherry-picked data, ideologically motivated propaganda, or objective, fair analysis. Checking the series would take any individual at least as long as the years it took Burns and his team to make it. I got chills a few times thinking about how completely the typical PBS Democrat would swallow everything that was said last night whole, responding with a hearty, “Yum yum!Continue reading

More Casting Ethics: “Hyde Park On Hudson”

Casting Bill Murray as President Franklin D. Roosevelt makes casting Halle Bailey as “The Little Mermaid” look like casting Orson Welles as Charles Foster Kane by comparison. I remember avoiding the pseudo-historical drama “Hyde Park On Hudson” when it was released in 2012 because the thought of Bill Murray as FDR offended me. Then I saw the film this week, and it really offended me.

The film is a wildly inaccurate account of the 1939 visit of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth (the late Queen’s mother) to Roosevelt’s country estate merged with the problems faced by the philandering Roosevelt when several of his women turn up in the same place at the same time. I would put the casting of Murray as Roosevelt in the “non-traditional casting” category,” but it really belongs in the greedy, insulting, stupid casting category.

There is no artistic or historical justification for having Murray play the iconic FDR. All I can hypothesize is that the producers knew that the movie would be a hard sell to anyone under the age of 80, so they decided, “Hey, Boomers love Bill Murray: they’ll pay to see him in anything!” The result is disrespectful to one of our most important leaders, ruinous to the movie (which has other problems), and the antithesis of artistic competence, integrity and responsibility. Continue reading

“Salt And Seltzer,” A True Life Ethics Spectacular!

I can’t believe I am just writing about this wonderful ethics saga from 2005 now, after it had been sitting in my files for all this time. The story has everything: fine art, cowboys, nasty tycoons, fraud, irony, lawsuits, unethical lawyers and condign justice.

In 1972, Steve Morton, heir to the Morton Salt fortune and a noted California art collector, bought the 21-by-27-inch watercolor above, “”Lassoing a Longhorn,”  from the Kennedy Galleries in New York for $38,000. The Kennedy Galleries had purchased it from the Amon Carter Museum of Fort Worth, Texas, which had acquired it from its founder, Amon Carter, a collector of western art. The painting was signed by Charles Russell, along with Frederic Remington recognized as the master of Wild West fine art.  Morton decided to sell the painting in 2001, as the value of Russell painting had ballooned.He arranged to have the Coeur d’Alene Art Auction in Reno, Nevada handle the sale, and as was their practice, the auction house had the painting appraised.

Before agreeing to sell the painting, the auction house contacted Western art expert Steve Seltzer to examine the work, and he announced that it wasn’t a genuine Russell at all. He concluded that it was forgery by a a lesser-known western artist who forged Russell’s signature on the painting. If anyone would know, Seltzer would: the forger was his own grandfather, O.C. Seltzer. Continue reading

More “Little Mermaid” Ethics: The White Ariel Version Of The Black Ariel Version Of The White Animated Ariel

In yesterday’s post, “Stop Making Me Defend Disney!,” Ethics Alarms looked at the controversy over Disney’s live-action version of its 1989 classic animated film “The Little Mermaid” that casts a black performer, Halle Bailey (not Halle Berry) as the Hans Christian Anderson heroine. Well, this one is moving fast.

One of the many fans who object to imposing “diversity, equity and inclusion” on “The Little Mermaid” announced via Twitter that technology was now available that could digitally transform Bailey into a white, red-haired mermaid just as Disney had transformed its original Ariel into a black one:

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