Jim A.

Problem-solving in films

15 posts in this topic

I'd like to hear about any movies I've not seen yet that illustrate reason and logic being used to solve a problem. A good mystery, of course, would be an instance of this. And anyone who knows me knows I would name certain science-fiction movies as examples: The Andromeda Strain (1971), Village of the Damned (1960), X...the Unknown (1956), Fantastic Voyage (1966; more of a fantasy than a sci-fi, in my view. But it still shows rational minds logically solving problems when entering a known-of yet alien world--the human body). And there are medical-related movies, such as Awakenings (1990) and Lorenzo's Oil (1992) (and The Andromeda Strain!). There are films about real-life scientists, too; I think there was a film about Thomas Edison starring Spencer Tracy that was good. And regarding mysteries, I first think of are two versions of The Hound of the Baskervilles--the one from 1939 with Basil Rathbone as Sherlock Holmes and the Hammer Films production from 1959 with Peter Cushing as the scientific detective.

Anyway, anybody have any suggestions?

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I assume you mean films where logic is well-integrated with the character and the plot. Many films have components of logic to them, but are not necessarily the focus, such as A Beautiful Mind or Conceiving Ada (a horrid film). And of course all good films have internal logic, such as The Andromeda Strain, Rear Window and Dial M for Murder. If you want to include films such as these, I would even include films with good fight choreography in some action-thrillers.

Medicine Man - scientists solve a problem with their experimental method and though the anti-government grant stance is good, the ending and the "bad rainforest loggers" aspects are not so good

Dr. Ehrlich's Magic Bullet - Koch & Ehrlich

On DVD, Jeremy Brett and David Burke (not the Edward Hardwicke episodes) in the Granada Sherlock Holmes series. If tv episodes on DVD are also acceptable on your list, Numb3rs had some good episodes.

The Negotiator - excellent use of tactics and logic by two main characters in this thriller.

Romance of Three Kingdoms films in the parts that focus on Zhuge Liang's battle strategies and inventiveness in weaponry.

The Hand That Rocks The Cradle - the pathological and evil uses of a good character's poor logical thinking skills, and the use of logic by the good (a main character overcomes a tendency to be respond to everything emotionally) to destroy the bad.

Chess Fever, Hercule Poirot films

Hopefully the MacGyver movie to be released this year will be a good addition in response to your question.

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I'd like to hear about any movies I've not seen yet that illustrate reason and logic being used to solve a problem.

Would 12 Angry Men (1957) fit your criteria?

Amazon

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At the risk of sounding one-track-minded, you can see dramatic problem-solving at its finest in the 54-episode TV drama De Jang Geum (see thread on the subject). Jang Geum is phenomenally focused and the Korean writer & director have no problem showing that such problems demand thought and observation. The power of that show is that it celebrates the mind and free will in a context in which it is an act of extraordinary courage to exercise either beyond narrow socially-determined confines.

Also, The Usual Suspects, is a dark brain-teaser.

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Apollo 13 and The Dish.

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I have just watched again a movie that came out in 1971. "Murphy's War". The star is Peter O'Tool, and the setting is in South America in the last days of the war. A lurking German submarine sinks Murphy's ship, in a river inlet, and then machine-guns the survivors. Only Murphy survives and is taken in by the natives and helped to recover by a white female Dr.

The story then goes on to show Murphy's vengeful determination to destroy the submarine sheltering in the river. A good movie.

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The African Queen: Welding a damaged propeller and the manufacture of torpedos

in the middle of a jungle.

Twelve O'Clock High: Leadership problems for the commander of a demoralized bomb

group in WW2.

The Great Escape: Lots of problems.

The Train: How to decive the Germans regarding the progress of the train. There is an

interesting part where Bert Lancaster [Labiche] rebuilds a damaged bearing on the locomotive.

The Flight of the Phoenix: One major problem.

Operation Petticoat: Some "creative" solutions for supply problems on a submarine in WW2.

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Don't know what films you've seen and haven't seen, but here are some:

Medical procedure:

Something the Lord Made (2004)

Tough educational problem:

Miracle Worker (1962)

Getting back to earth from space:

Apollo 13 (1995)

Fighting a battle with a few against many:

Zulu (1964)

Crimes (from the point of view of the criminal pulling off the crime is the problem to be solved):

The Thomas Crown Affair (1999)

Deathtrap (1982)

A Kiss Before Dying (1991) (pretty gruesome)

The First Great Train Robbery (1979)

Crime solvers:

Laura (1944)

The Big Clock (1948)

The Lady Vanishes (1938)

My Cousin Vinny (1992)

Spellbound (1945)

Stronger than Desire (1939)

The Winslow Boy (1999)

Rear Window (1954)

The Third Man (1949)

Zero Effect (1998)

How to get rid of a ghost:

The Uninvited (1944)

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The Flight of the Phoenix: One major problem.

The old 50's version only. The later one is dreadful and not worth watching.

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Don't know what films you've seen and haven't seen, but here are some:

Medical procedure:

Something the Lord Made (2004)

Tough educational problem:

Miracle Worker (1962)

Getting back to earth from space:

Apollo 13 (1995)

Fighting a battle with a few against many:

Zulu (1964)

Crimes (from the point of view of the criminal pulling off the crime is the problem to be solved):

The Thomas Crown Affair (1999)

Deathtrap (1982)

A Kiss Before Dying (1991) (pretty gruesome)

The First Great Train Robbery (1979)

Crime solvers:

Laura (1944)

The Big Clock (1948)

The Lady Vanishes (1938)

My Cousin Vinny (1992)

Spellbound (1945)

Stronger than Desire (1939)

The Winslow Boy (1999)

Rear Window (1954)

The Third Man (1949)

Zero Effect (1998)

How to get rid of a ghost:

The Uninvited (1944)

Zulu ~ being Welsh, I love this movie. It's only fair to point out however that we did have guns, as opposed to spears, so it would have taken a special kind of genius to lose..

Isandlwana

However, we finally got our act together, realising that Gatling guns and artillery would be seriously useful against the massed infantry attack

Ulundi

And hence applied superior technology to achieve an annihilating victory, bringing the war to an end.

If only there was someone today who could take this advice...

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Battle Royale

Battle Royale

You have to get past the subtitles, but it details how different people approach the most serious challenge of all ~ their impending deaths. It is truly a sensational movie, and one to get if you've not seen it.

(Also, I took it as a metaphor for wider life, but from what I can see of it, this is a minority interpretation).

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The first one I thought of was Apollo 13, already recommended.

October Sky might also be what you're looking for, in that it depicts a group of boys in high school who decide to build small rockets, and thus have to figure out how to solve many problems. There's more to the movie than that, but speaking of using science and math to solve problems, one of the boys illustrates this particularly well.

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WARNING: The following may include spoilers for the films mentioned.

Apollo 13 and October Sky...I'd forgotten about those. But they definitely belong on the list. Thanks to the people who reminded me.

(Has anyone seen The Dam Busters (1955)? I haven't, but want to, and have heard good things about it.)

There are certain moments in "problem-solving films" that stay in my memory:

In X...the Unknown: Dr. Adam Royston (Dean Jagger) is trying to determine the nature of some creature that has come out from deep inside the earth and lives on radioactive material. When all the radium in a treatment room at a hospital is "stolen", the hospital staff is dumbfounded; other than the door, which stays closed when the room is unoccupied, there is only one other entry into the room--a vent in the wall covered by a grill. When Royston suggests that the creature had to have come in through the grill, a physician says that anything large enough to have taken out all the radium could not have been small enough to come in through the grill. Dr. Royston says: "Well, how small is ten thousand gallons of oil?" The creature, it turns out, is living, radioactive mud.

In Apollo 13: Gene Krantz (Ed Harris) at Mission Control, when the problem now is simply (ha-ha) getting the astronauts back to Earth, asks one of the specialists what the Lunar Module is capable of doing. He gets a detailed response describing what kinds of marvelous things the LM was created for, primarily landing on the Moon. Krantz responds by saying that he didn't ask what the LM was built to do, but what it can do.

In The Stranger (1946, with Edward G. Robinson, Orson Welles and Loretta Young): A Mr. Wilson (Robinson), an alleged "antique dealer" who is actually an agent for the Allied War Crimes Commission, is invited to dinner at a judge's house where the escaped Nazi war criminal he is searching for may be amongst the guests. Steering the conversation to the subject of Nazi Germany, and its post-war view of its intellectuals, living or dead, the name of Karl Marx comes up when someone says he'll always be remembered and respected. The suspect, who has taken on the alias "Charles Rankin" and a feigned anti-German stance, answers: "But Marx wasn't a German. Marx was a Jew." Wilson decides Rankin is above suspicion, he says his business in town is over and he's going home the next day. But in the middle of the night he suddenly springs up out of bed. He calls the Commission headquarters. When asked why he's now suspecting Rankin, he replies: "Well, who but a Nazi would deny that Marx was a German because he was a Jew. I think I'll stick around for awhile."

In The Hunt for Red October (1990): Jones (Courtney Vance), the Sonar Technician, is always listening for signs of a new Russian submarine that can travel almost silently, though there may be reactor noise. When he hears something that sounds like "magma displacement", he's not really sure. So he records it. Later, he plays it back for the Captain, but at ten times the speed. A distinct and regular rhythm is heard. "Now that's gotta be man-made, Captain," he says.

I love moments like these in movies. I think the real challenge now is for filmmakers/screenwriters to tell stories where the problems to be solved by reason are the problems faced on the deepest level by the soul.

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(Has anyone seen The Dam Busters (1955)? I haven't, but want to, and have heard good things about it.)

There are certain moments in "problem-solving films" that stay in my memory:

Saw it when it first came out in the fifties, B&W. (Time passes fast). It is a good movie and shows man in a heroic light. I never thought things would change, and that the world of my youth would not be the world I would live in. I am speaking of values here, not technology. The movie lacks the modern special effects, but that keeps the focus on the story. Unfortunately many modern movies substitute style for substance.

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