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|Index||19 reviews in total|
26 out of 31 people found the following review useful:
Lukewarm at best, 14 January 2011
Author: FcPoliFan from Timisoara, Romania
I'll admit from the off that I was skeptical regarding this documentary
ever since I first heard it was in production. Having read the book, I
felt that what made it enjoyable could not really be transposed onto
film. Economics, being such a science of numbers, even in its
freakonomic form, does not really lend itself to being narrated to
Going beyond this limitation, I reckon the film could have still been better, had it found a unity of tone. Unfortunately, as several different teams were involved with making each of the four chapters, the final experience is heavily fragmented and unlike the book, which kept its pacing throughout, the film is all over the place.
The first part basically looks at whether there is some sort of correlation between a person's first name and the path one goes through life. A potentially amusing segment, it proves to be in search of a comic sense it never arrives at and the examples taken from the book appear wholly unrealistic and not fully integrated.
The second part is quite dark and brings forth a sort of investigation into the Sumo world and allegations of match-rigging. Contextualized in the sacrosanct culture that defines the sport, this exploration of truth, justice and fair-play toys around with big words and complex issues, its reach ultimately exceeding its grasp.
The third part references dear old Romania and our beloved dictator's policy of ruling abortions illegal - a subject matter dealt with artistically in the well-known "4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days". I'm not quite sure the parallel proves a point, because it tries to show how the opposite policy, legalizing abortion in the US following Roe v Wade, caused a sudden, steep reduction in crime in the early nineties. Ironically enough, the generation Ceausescu (the dictator referenced above) forcibly gave birth to, so to say, caused his downfall. Yet, I think this segment points out an interesting observation, even if one could get distracted by the overly dramatic narration.
The last part is an on-film experiment about trying to find an incentive to make kids get better grades in high-school by offering financial rewards. Unfortunately, the set-up lacks any authentic feel and implicitly does not help support the case that the authors tried to convey.
So overall it would seem that almost all segments have at least one fundamental issue that they don't tackle very well. At times the film livens due to the interesting nature of the facts being presented, but on the whole it's still shy of a successful venture. Even while reading the book I felt that the novelty seeped out of it before I had reached its end and this feeling was only exacerbated in the documentary.
I don't think this is the place to debate the correctness of the research Levitt and Dubner have done or their conclusions, because the film certainly does not offer a strong basis to work on. The book has a scientific feel to it, conferring at least a sense of objectivity and, more importantly, finding the levity to show that it does not assume to offer absolute answers. The documentary, on the other hand, loses sight of this and never manages to find its proper balance.
22 out of 30 people found the following review useful:
Poor Documentary, 21 January 2011
Author: angry127 from London, England
I never read the book, but know that it is very popular. The movie does
a bad job at selling the book.
Though, I would still be up for reading the book after having watched the movie. This is because the fault of the movie was only partially due to the content of the book. The movie tries to move along at quick pace at the beginning. It has a very catchy poppy kind of theme to it and talks about a real practical use of the study of economics.
After those 5 minutes, things seem to go terribly south. We get this long and fact lacking piece about sumo wrestling. There is an interesting statistic at the beginning of the segment about how sumo wrestlers will lose matches when there is no real loss to them in order to get payback in the future. The rest of it is exposition about how all the super smart economists are using these fancy numbers and statistics to give very good proof that sumo wrestlers are cheating. I would have liked to hear more about these statistics and the reasoning behind why its very likely that we're cheating. This smug movie instead insults our intelligence and passes by this thinking that we would be too stupid to understand it. The narrator goes on about assassinations of whistle blowers... blala yada yada. I started to lose interest at this point.
There was a part that had an interesting look at why abortion may be one of the key reasons of the drop in crime in the 90's. This really peaked my interest and some convincing figures where given. I liked this segment and am eager to read more about this.
After that is a boring long Good Morning America-esque expose on paying kids to get better grades in school. The kids are annoying, the concept is annoying, the results are paltry, and it all seems pretty meaningless by the time you get to the end of it. This was the segment that really killed the movie. It felt like it went on for an hour, although I'm sure it didn't. This reality show garbage really shouldn't be in any kind of movie that calls itself a documentary.
10 out of 13 people found the following review useful:
A Nutshell Review: Freakonomics, 29 January 2011
Author: DICK STEEL from Singapore
Based upon the bestselling book written by steven Levitt and Stephen
Dubner, Freakonomics the film is an omnibus of shorts, where different
filmmakers adapt a segment of the book for their respective sections,
and then putting them all together into a feature length documentary.
In some ways, it could have been directed by an invisible hand rather
than the "big name" documentarians of today and probably still come up
on tops, since the subject matter is rather contentious at best, and in
my opinion, a little bit too stretched.
For my limited understanding of basic economic principles from school, there's hardly any straightforward demand and supply theories that can be applied by anyone not too well versed with various theorems and hypotheses that Economics deal with, though you need not have intimate knowledge of the subject in order to view the film. I thought it was more of a sociology experiment, since there are many of topics here that deal with the basic human condition on social principles rather than an economic standpoint, and in many ways, through its touted in depth analysis, it's more akin to hammering a square peg into a round hole.
It adapts from chapters in the book such as discovering cheating as applied to teachers and delving deep into the closed community of sumo wrestlers, the patterns that emerge with the naming, or misnaming of children, and how bribery can be used as an incentive to succeed. You can imagine how economics can be applied to these, so perhaps it's quite apt that the concepts discussed are freakish to begin with. Economics theories and principles are filled with plenty of assumptions and "ceteris paribus"es, so in twisting some of these assumptions, what you get is the content as explained in Levitt and Dubner's book, which are adapted by the likes of Alex Gibney (Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room), Morgan Spurlock (Super Size Me and Where in the World is Osama Bin Laden), Eugene Jarecki (Why We Fight), Rachel Grady and Heldi Ewing (Jesus Camp), and put all together with various transitional, brief topics by Seth Gordon (The King of Kong).
Perhaps the only economics related idea here is how the lack of information and irrational choices by consumers have led to skewed markets, which goes to show the sneaky arsenal of tactics that real estate agents have up their sleeves to manipulate markets to their advantage. But while you shouldn't expect economics to fit into most of the subject matter discussed here, the concept that gets explained are incredibly sexy, and brought out through eye- catching methods, sometimes with the use of effective animation like a lubricant to force ideas down and eventually nailing that square peg into the round hole.
What's more important is the fact that we cannot deny the little things everyone does to get ahead, where the objective is to use whatever means possible to get a desired outcome. The teacher and results segment remind one about how school ranking pressures here become an obsession, with results to the detriment of those who somehow fall by the sidelines, and how an elite community help each other to stay afloat for various benefits and back-rubbing. It's human nature to seek out competitive advantage, and one constant in sitting through the various topics and scenarios presented, is how data mining (a term I got introduced to when in varsity) has that ability to present a wealth of information that can be used to analyze for gaining that upper hand. Businesses use it, and so does the many researchers of topics in Freakonomics.
You won't become an expert or a whiz after viewing this, but what it'll open your eyes and mind to, are the plenty of behind the scenes shenanigans that even the seemingly innocent industry or individual get up to, that indeed like the tagline of the film says everything has a hidden side to them. It's really more than meets the eye, and presented here in a very alluring manner.
3 out of 3 people found the following review useful:
When economics becomes freaky, 21 June 2012
Author: Spiked! spike-online.com from London, United Kingdom
Until 2005, the words 'economics' and 'fun' were unlikely to be found
in the same sentence. Economics was seen as a dry, technical,
mathematical discipline: the preserve of driven businessmen, greedy
bankers and staid Treasury officials. Fun was its opposite: spontaneous
enjoyment available to regular people.
The publication of Freakonomics in 2005 changed all that. Steven Levitt, a professor of economics at the University of Chicago, and Stephen Dubner, a New York Times journalist, somehow gave economics popular appeal. So far the book has sold over four million copies worldwide. Last year, a sequel, Superfreakonomics, was published and there is also a Freakonomics blog linked to the New York Times website.
Wherever there's an unexpected publishing hit, you can be sure that a bandwagon will soon follow. In 2007 alone we had Steven Landsburg's More Sex is Safer Sex, Tyler Cowen's Discover Your Inner Economist and Diane Coyle's The Soulful Science. Nor is the fun confined to the paperback stands. Earlier this month there was even an international academic symposium on 'economics made fun in the face of economic crisis' at Erasmus University in Rotterdam.
The film follows the structure of the book with chapters loosely linked by the broad approach of the authors. There is little sense of narrative beyond that. However, one innovation is that different chapters are made by different directors including Morgan Spurlock (Super Size Me), Alex Gibney (Taxi to the Dark Side) and Seth Gordon (The King of Kong).
Freakonomics the movie is worth watching for two reasons. As with any cultural phenomenon, whether it is The X-Factor or Strictly Come Dancing (aka Dancing with the Stars outside the UK), it is interesting to ask why it catches the popular imagination. This is particularly true when the subject matter is or at least was widely seen as incredibly dull.
Understanding the approach to economics taken in the film also helps reveal some deeper truths. It shows the limitations of contemporary economics and can even help viewers understand fashionable policy initiatives such as the attempt to 'nudge' people to behave in a particular way.
The first thing that viewers of the Freakonomics movie are likely to notice it that has little time for the traditional subject matter of the discipline. There is no room for discussion of business, supply-and- demand curves, and certainly no mathematics. Instead it covers such subjects as parenting, naming babies, cheating at exams, corruption among Sumo wrestlers and crime. If anything, such topics would normally be classified as sociology rather than economics.
From the authors' perspective, what makes their book economics is their approach to these subjects. Their concerns are unashamedly practical. They want to use economic tools to help improve human behaviour in all these areas.
Levitt and Dubner's mantra, and indeed that of contemporary market economics generally, is that 'humans respond to incentives'. Such incentives are often financial but they can also be moral and social. In each case the authors ask themselves what incentives would work best to improve outcomes:
Is bribing toddlers with M&Ms a good way to potty train them? Should pupils be paid to perform better at school? If so, at what age and exactly how? Does choosing a particular name for a baby improve its life chances? For example, through the choice of name alone, is a Brendan likely to do better than a Deshawn? Both the attractions and limitations of this form of economics should already have started to become clear. The subject matter of Freakonomics relates to everyday interests and concerns. It is about practical questions that confront individuals and parents as well as policymakers.
In many ways it is better seen as a form of self-help than economics in the traditional sense. It is an attempt to find better, supposedly more scientific, ways to improve the behaviour of errant individuals. It says little, if anything, about traditional key economic questions such as how to organise production, how to raise productivity or how to create a more prosperous society.
Although the Freakonomics approach is not entirely mainstream it is not marginal either. Gary Becker, also a professor of economics at the University of Chicago, won the Nobel Prize for economics in 1992 for work on similar questions to those raised in the film. Although his work was not aimed at the general public, his concerns were comparable to those of Levitt and Dubner's.
Even mainstream economics, although more concerned with business than Freakonomics, suffers from many of the same weaknesses. Its focus is largely on individual consumer behaviour, its approach is ahistorical and it has little to say about the process of production.
Freakonomics the film, like the book, is entertaining and sometimes thought-provoking. Although it is more self-help than traditional economics it shares many of the weaknesses of more serious works in the discipline.
Its focus on individual behaviour also lends itself to a preoccupation with manipulating individual choices. That is where Freakonomics becomes truly freaky.
6 out of 10 people found the following review useful:
Provocative but Poorly Executed, 20 March 2011
Author: piapaya from United States
I've read the book, which was indubitably very interesting, even if it
some claims seemed a tad far-fetched. The documentary, however, has
several problems. Firstly, each chapter of the book can EASILY--
actually, SHOULD-- be a documentary of its own. The data used to back
up the claims is fairly poor and weak, which is a shame, because some
of the ideas really are interesting to explore. But with so little time
devoted to them, they don't seem credible. The problem with this
documentary and the book is that it makes no effort to refute any
counterarguments-- and there are MANY possible ones. It is incredibly
easy to lie with statistics and spin numbers to work for you.
Even in terms of entertainment value, it was mediocre, at best. To be frank, I found Dubner and Levitt's commentary extremely annoying. I felt like they were lecturing first graders. The way information was presented in neat little elementary-school-like "what-we-learned- from-this" packages was another annoyance for me.
The main problem with a documentary that attempts to make an argument is that you have to do it in a way that does not make the viewers feel manipulated, which is very difficult (Michael Moore, for instance, sucks at it). And one such as this does not make a solid case for any of its claims and left me with a huge pile of questions. Even if what they say really is true, I can't buy it, because the evidence is presented in such a slapdash, half-baked kind of way.
2 out of 3 people found the following review useful:
Freakonomics (2010), 14 December 2011
Author: SnakesOnAnAfricanPlain from United Kingdom
Freakonomics is one of those films that tries to make a complex subject accessible to a mainstream audience. Here, there subject in question is economics, and how it is everywhere. Although trying to reach a wider audience in a fun way we can relate to is admirable, it can't avoid a patronizing tone. Still, there are lots of interesting parts to this documentary. It's split into a number of sections, with each section helmed by a familiar documentary filmmaker. This allows for a number of fun and interesting style to be put on display. As we delve into the world of economics, this all feels like a few great bits in an overambitious whole. Each segment has a fascinating topic, and one that could be explored at full length. Corruption and murder in sumo wrestling, how our names affect our lives, and how abortion may have helped to reduce the crime rate. All great subjects that are handled with kid gloves. It has inspired me to look into further detail about some things, but I wonder if the ideas and thoughts provoked will last a long time.
2 out of 4 people found the following review useful:
Interesting Documentary, 25 July 2011
A few of the issues addressed in the book are examined: cheating,
paying students, crime.
The crime segment was interesting as statistics were actually used. I didn't quite understand how the percentages were developed for why crime decreased. I do find it interesting that Roe v. Wade is used to explain the reduction of crime in the late 1980s.
I guess I didn't quite follow the sumo controversy too carefully. That a match that doesn't much matter is "thrown" doesn't bother me. When an NFL team has secured a spot in the playoffs, it often doesn't play its stars in a meaningless end of season regular game. I liken the sumo situation to that.
Freakonomics is thought provoking. For that, it is recommended. Treat yourself to an interesting flick.
3 out of 6 people found the following review useful:
Waste of time, 4 March 2012
Author: Shashank Sharma from India
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Well i'm not an American, nor Japanese
the examples given are too specific and might have nothing to do with many people in the rest of the world.
The example of ethnicity by names, and sumo wrestlers, they could have given better examples as i was expecting some real economics in this documentary..
too low to be called a documentary. There were some interesting parts of how crime rate reduced by legalizing abortions.
The incentives article made no sense, totally. Do they wanna show incentives work or not?
2 out of 5 people found the following review useful:
Insincerity is counterbalanced by a lack of dishonesty, 26 December 2011
Author: airship422 from Canada
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Freakonomics presents us with these two guys, an economist and a
journalist who try to summarize a popular book they authored of the
same name. I found it mostly trendy, quirky ways of looking at mostly
mundane realities of civilization. There is a lack of cohesion between
The first chapter is about how someones name might be proportional to their success in the economy. There is a chapter on cheating in sumo wrestling in Japan. There is a chapter trying to explain how legalized abortion was the major cause of a decrease in crime in the USA in the late 1980s and early 90s. Finally there is a chapter where the authors intervene at a middle school and offer "incentives" to students who meet a minimum grade. They offer 50 dollars to the students who can obtain a minimum passing grade every month. The incentives don't really prove anything. The authors decide they need to go to preschools, and get them while they are younger. At the end of the film, one of the authors after giving an opaque monologue explaining the themes of the film, then finishes off by saying, "that's total BS wasn't it". I think he pretty much sums it up. The authors insincerity is made up by their lack of dishonesty.
Where this film really shines is in its marketability. The use of trendy rock music, quirky characters, special graphic effects, and conclusions that are fairly uninteresting outside of the context of the film itself. I think this film would most appeal to middle of the road liberal minded people who are not specializing in any particular realm of knowledge.
0 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
Main theme song is a blatant rip-off., 26 February 2011
I had low expectations for this and I will admit that my expectations were met. My main gripe with this movie is the music. The music that plays in the beginning, end, and in-between segments is a blatant rip-off of Hans Zimmer's "You're So Cool", the pretty glockenspiel song from the "True Romance" soundtrack. Jim Carrey once said, "Imitation is the most sincere form of plagiarism". That is an appropriate quote in regards to this movie's soundtrack. The actual movie, ignoring the wanna-be music, is so-so. I don't want to be to be cruel to the work as a whole, but the music is what compelled me to write this review. I don't know the legalities of it, but it seems Hans Zimmer should sue.
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