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Book Review: Keep Calm (2016)

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An exciting debut novel by filmmaker Mike Binder, Keep Calm, combines travel, politics and an act of war to serve a redemptive and cautionary theme about securing one’s country and family.

The action begins in London, with a female politician named Georgia Turnbull who immediately calls to mind one of Binder’s many strong movie characters for women.

Georgia’s tough-minded in a time of crisis, demonstrating the title’s directive after the United Kingdom is hit by an explosion at 10 Downing Street. With the British prime minister seriously wounded, Georgia, the chancellor of the exchequer, is basically propelled into running the country.

Propulsion is Binder’s top skill in this first novel, as the thrills originate with organic plot points, development and characterization. What happens stems from the story progression. Nothing is included to deceive, confuse or distract, though the reader may succumb to any of these thanks to Binder’s clever use of a timing device, as he reconfigures the bombing timeline to maximum effect, and deploys certain hints, lines and clues. Keep Calm, which is not without flaws, is always fresh and often surprising.

But it is never dull and the story, as with screenwriter and director Binder’s best motion pictures (The Upside of Anger, Indian Summer, Black or White), peels back peculiar yet discoverable characteristics, secrets and motivations. As the prime minister’s life teeters on expiration, and the prospect of a woman prime minister looms, Binder spins several characters into separately rotating orbits, each revolving around the mystery of Keep Calm: who attacked and why?

Chief among these are American Midwesterner Adam Tatum who’s traveling to London on business with his Brit wife and their kids, hotshot investigator Davina Steel and crony statist billionaire David Heaton. Subsidiary characters, such as a father-in-law, a male secretary and assorted Londoners, foreigners, policemen, policewomen and thugs figure into the plot, too, with shocking or thrilling results.

To say more is to say too much and I do not want to spoil the plot. I don’t want to be too vague or minimize plot, either, though, a more common problem in the favorable book review. A lot happens in Keep Calm, and it happens at a steady and purposeful pace with good characterization, dialogue and transition. There are flashbacks of a helicopter crash, subtle clues, shifting allegiance and, prominently, checkered Adam Tatum’s family on the run from both the British government and the culprits who may have set him up for implication in the attack.

Young detective Steel, under watchful orders from the British state, must rely on her judgment and everything from Islamic terrorism, sexual assault, addiction, detachment from the European Union (EU), power-lusting members of Parliament and lesbian eroticism comes into play.

Mike Binder is at his best with heart-thumping chases into London’s Underground, gunfights, nighttime dalliances, a kidnapping, a showdown in the country and a climactic compound siege and his London streets and landmark details are a treat for fans of that grand metropolis. The propulsive plot does come at the expense of the novel’s underdeveloped theme, which fades and leaves a hurried and unfinished resolution. Sometimes, character actions strain plausibility. A few plot loops close too neatly or dart too quickly into another subplot as London becomes the center of epic intrigue. I found one character’s violation to be gratuitous and thematically self-defeating.

As always, however, with this intelligently gripping literary debut, Binder—who’s already adapting Keep Calm as a movie—writes with purpose and passion. Binder’s theme that the government’s urge to keep calm, with its profound and eloquent place in Britain’s history, ought to be viewed with doubt and scrutiny, makes his first novel a promising start and enticing source for a major motion picture.

Book Review: A Time for Truth by Ted Cruz

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A Time for Truth: Reigniting the Promise of America by Texas Senator Ted Cruz is as generic as its main title, which is also the title of 1978’s A Time for Truth by former Secretary of the Treasury William E. Simon, a Republican like Cruz (Simon followed up in 1980 with A Time for Action). There’s also an interesting detail about the book’s title. More on that later.

Ted Cruz does give a general sense of himself and his ideas in this 2015 memoir. Though reading political memoirs is generally a slog and this one is no exception, the first-term senator comes across as generally authentic if calculated. As with Barack Obama’s Dreams from My Father, he writes in the spirit of guarded disclosure, as if he’s telling tales from the past in a way that’s designed to conceal and protect as much as to reveal and inform.

The approach is a compartmentalized, not really integrated, political career chronology more or less aligned with Cruz’s personal life. By now, most readers know his basic biography, the fact of his becoming a Christian, his father from Communist Cuba, his working mother, his wife and daughters, the Ivy League education and legal career before being elected U.S. senator from the Lone Star state. I do not get a strong sense of his character from the biographical writing. He does, however, express a particular view of the world.

Judging by A Time for Truth, Cruz seems primarily moved by a desire to become influential in some meaningful sense, and everything here indicates that he very much wants to become president of the United States. Whether he’s a zealot or an idealist is hard to tell, and in either case he writes like he’s a missionary. Certain positives and negatives emerge and the whole exercise of reading political memoir for scrutiny of a man’s true intentions and character is part of what makes it exhausting and tedious; the reader ought to be able to access and become acquainted with the presidential candidate’s character and views in the most naturally affirming and embracing way. All I can tell from this book is that he thinks he’s here to realize his mission, such as he defines it, and that, during his first elected term as a senator, he thinks he should be president. But so did Barack Obama.

I do appreciate that Sen. Cruz takes stock of President Obama’s basic value proposition back in 2008. Too many on the right dismiss those who considered voting for then-Sen. Obama as simple-minded because, they argue, it was obvious from the start that he was out to destroy America. Cruz rightly argues otherwise, writing that “[i]n 2006, Obama had declared that ‘increasing America’s debt weakens us domestically and internationally.’ [Obama] added at one point that ‘Washington is shifting the burden of bad choices today onto the backs of our children and grandchildren. America has a debt problem and a failure of leadership. Americans deserve better.’ This seemingly principled position changed dramatically when Obama won the presidency.”

Noting Obama’s early deception is important because it differentiates Cruz from Obama. Like Fidel Castro before he seized power in Cuba, Obama had defined himself in 2008 by platitudes. There was nothing clear and obvious about Obama’s plans to change, by which he meant destroy, America. Leonard Peikoff observed in late 2008 that Obama is dishonest, yet the full extent was not clear to most until he was elected. By then, damage was being done, leaving a lone outcry from the floor of Congress during an Obama speech: “He lies!”

Ted Cruz, on the other hand, gets right to naming his beliefs. Writing about his father’s conversion to Christianity, Cruz writes:

shortly after 11 p.m. on Tuesday, April 15, 1975, he dropped to his knees and surrendered his life to Jesus. That day changed his life, and mine as well. The following Sunday, he made a public profession of faith at Clay Road, a small church in the suburbs of Houston. And the next week, he went to the airport, bought a ticket, and flew back to Canada, returning to my mother and me. He asked my mom to forgive him, and for them to start over. Five years later, in 1979, I too asked Jesus to be my savior at Clay Road Baptist Church.”

Cruz’s profession of faith is, as I wrote a few years ago (“Ted Cruz and Praying for Time”), disturbing to any advocate for reason. Throughout A Time for Truth, it is clear that faith affects, impacts and contaminates Cruz’s ability to think. Cruz does not hide this fact. He relishes it, as one would expect. For example, he wrongly concludes that the United States is founded as a Judeo-Christian nation as he recalls a college professor who also influenced a fellow famous Texan in media:

I had wonderful professors in college, most notably Robby George, one of the leading conservative thinkers in the nation. Learning from Professor George was one of the best things about Princeton. The New York Times has called him the ‘country’s most influential conservative Christian thinker.’ As Glenn Beck has observed, George is ‘one of the biggest brains in America.’ From abortion to marriage to the natural rights of men and women, George is a sometimes lonely but always powerful voice within academia for the Judeo-Christian values on which this country was founded.”

For those concerned about the future of the Supreme Court, it’s worth noting that Cruz, who proposed having an elected Supreme Court, also admits to being “strongly influenced by Robert Bork’s 1978 classic, The Antitrust Paradox.” Like Ronald Reagan, whom he also admires, Ted Cruz expresses an American sense of life, observing that “[u]ntil the time of the American experiment, much of human existence had been, as Hobbes famously observed, ‘nasty, brutish and short.’ Now, with American free enterprise, the possibilities were endless—not guaranteed, but also not limited.” Quoting Reagan, he praises “individual freedom and the profit motive”.

But what constitutes freedom to Ted Cruz is always contradicted by his faith. For instance, he argues that “[t]he First Amendment was not adopted to create government hostility to religion; rather, the First Amendment exists to protect the religious liberty of every American.” This of course is not true. The freedom of speech is inalienable and it exists as recognition that man is free to express himself, not as a means to protecting liberty—let alone “religious liberty”, a confused, meaningless term—but as an example of liberty. Cruz is a typical conservative, too, arguing for anti-obscenity laws. He is not an advocate of freedom of speech, he totally fails to hold the Obama administration to account on this crucial issue and he concludes that the freedom of speech “can be prohibited.” It is good to know that Cruz opposes free speech and may as president, like Obama, seek to impose censorship.

In chapter after chapter of his memoir, Ted Cruz, who I think is tragically the best among the current field of major 2016 presidential candidates (as I wrote in “The Iowa Caucuses”) demonstrates a failure to grasp man’s rights and the nature of government. On ObamaCare, which he correctly denounces for “[d]enying individual choice and freedom”, he opposes the government takeover of the medical profession and insurance industry as “antithetical to the American way and our tradition of liberty.” But ObamaCare is a law, not a lifestyle choice, and it is important to know that this six-year-old law violates the rights of every American to choose, practice and contract for health care. Cruz, citing tradition and the American way, makes it sound like ObamaCare’s worst transgression is its newness. Liberty is the American birthright. Of course, this deficit in his understanding applies to his refusal to recognize a woman’s right to abortion. So, while he rightly derides ObamaCare as denying the individual’s free choice, he makes the same mistake.

Cruz’s flaws are serious. He pledges to “[p]reserve and reform our entitlements…”, supports a Constitutional amendment to force upon the country a balanced budget, a terrifying prospect for the future of freedom in what is now an entrenched welfare state, he wants to impose government term limits, which is also incompatible with liberty, and he proposes a “lifetime ban on former members of Congress ever lobbying”, which again raises questons about his inclination to censorship. Additionally, he wrongly labels Democrats as “the party of government”, failing to distinguish what he means by government and explain that Democrats are the party of big government, and he writes that he thinks government should “foster productivity”, which is also not the proper role for the state. State-sponsored fostering of productivity has led to countless American dangers and disasters, from the 1930s Depression and TARP, stimulus and bailouts to statist Donald Trump.

But Sen. Cruz, who was recently endorsed by economist Thomas Sowell, has also proven himself to be capable of bold, independent, rational thought and action. He opposes government subsidies for ethanol, yet he decisively won last month’s Iowa caucuses. He seeks to repeal ObamaCare, a monstrosity that deserves to have been abolished years ago. He pledges to take a measured, cautious approach to foreign policy, resisting the altruistic approach of Bush in Iraq, and vows to wipe out the Islamic jihad. And, most important in an election year with a Bush, a Bush wannabe, a Clinton, a socialist and a fascist, Cruz demonstrates a serious, scholarly grasp of the enormous challenges that lie ahead.

In A Time for Truth, for example, Cruz puts Obama’s presidency in perspective:

The [press], despite its overwhelming support for the president and his policies, has also been the target of harassment. Two years ago, without bothering even to reveal its reasons, the administration secretly collected two months of phone records from the staff of the Associated Press, which called the action ‘a massive and unprecedented intrusion into how news organizations gather news.’ That same year, they targeted James Rosen, a reporter at Fox News, by labeling him a possible ‘co-conspirator’ in a leak investigation. To quote the New York Times editorial board—not something I expect to make a habit of—the Obama administration, with its abuse of Rosen, ‘moved beyond protecting government secrets to threatening fundamental freedoms of the press to gather news.’

In our history presidents of both parties have at times abused their power and exceeded their constitutional authority. But in the past, members of the president’s own party—in Congress, in his cabinet, and among independent groups—have shown the courage and principle to stand up to him.

What is unprecedented is the remarkable silence of Democrats in the face of Barack Obama’s lawlessness and massive expansion of federal power. The sad fact is that for the Democrats in Washington—and for far too many in my own party as well—politics comes before principle. Electoral considerations come before country. And no offense perpetrated by a party’s leader is too outrageous for them to defend.

When President Bush exceeded his constitutional authority and attempted to order the state courts to obey the World Court, I was proud to go before the U.S. Supreme Court on behalf of Texas and defend the Constitution. The Court struck down his unconstitutional order, 6–3. Where are the Democrats willing to do the same to stop their party’s abuse of power?

An executive’s defiance of the rule of law ought to trouble every American—if only because Barack Obama will not be president forever. Even if you agree with Obama’s policies, if this president has the power to ignore the law, then so do his successors—including successors from the opposing party.

This is not what our Founders hoped for. This is not the vision for our country that millions of Americans share. And it does not have to be this way. The genius of the Constitution is that it protects our country from executive branch excesses through the system of checks and balances. The legislative and judicial branches can impose limits on the executive’s assertion of power—provided we as public officials have the political will to do it. With the proper leadership, we can restore the purpose and vision behind the American experiment.”

Notably, and disconcertingly, Ted Cruz’s A Time for Truth also neglects to mention the September 11, 2001 Islamic attack on America in a chapter on the Bush administration, for whom he once worked. Worse, Cruz writes that he thinks “God knew what He was doing in 2001.” This really calls his rationality into question. Today, Cruz agreed with the Obama administration forcing Apple to decode its own iPhone in the name of national security.

Whether President Cruz would be as good or as bad as his best and worst qualities suggest remains, as with pre-election Barack Obama, unknown. I know that his competition in the presidential contest is atrocious. I also know that some of his positions are excellent and some of his positions are terrible. After reading A Time for Truth and trying to take a measure of the man and his character, I think it’s a positive sign of self-awareness that he recalls excelling in the classroom, being too competitive and cocky and being lousy at sports. He also remembers pulling what he calls a teenage prank at Christmastime which involves taking lights from several houses and decorating another house with them, which strikes me as quite elaborate for a prank.

In preparation for this review, I came across an alternate and apparently rejected book cover art which replaced the book’s current subtitle, Reigniting the Promise of America, with the subtitle: Reigniting the Miracle of America. This may be a sign that Cruz either ditched or dodged his faith for a less mystical, more secular tone. Whatever the case, and whether Ted Cruz is nominated and elected the 45th president of the United States, A Time for Truth contains evidence of both.


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Movie Review: Carol

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A new movie about two women in love depicts with effortlessness the veiled, secret desire of lesbians in the 1950s. Carol (The Weinstein Company, directed by Todd Haynes) is interestingly, obsessively nostalgic about its period and its dramatic purpose—to show a forbidden couple in conflict—though it is also nearly plotless.

This imbues Carol, based on an erotic novel by the author of The Talented Mr. Ripley and Strangers on a Train, with a dreamlike quality that permits the female version of same-sex romanticism found in Ang Lee’s haunting Brokeback Mountain from ten years ago. In fact, Carol has a lot in common with that picture. Lead characters are left alone and apart for stretches, stressing the distance. They come together in rare, passionate silences amid winter landscapes. They look, long and grope for one another.

They are also both true to life, so in Carol the characters, unlike the unlucky, tortured and persecuted men of Brokeback Mountain, are more easily masked and concealed and the lesbians are able to hide their sexuality in plain sight. The ending wordlessly hits with impact. After Friday’s Islamic terrorist attack on Paris, Carol‘s timing is perfect. Every infidel and, more broadly, every joy-seeking individual, now must learn to brace or conceal his pursuit of happiness—dining out, attending a concert or sport—unless, by some miracle, our civilization chooses to defend itself from the siege of barbarism.

Carol provides an elegant lesson in the success of secrecy, beginning with an emblem of forbidden love’s long, unpredictable plight. The first sound is the rhythmic roll of a train, steady, punctuated and purposeful, and the first image is that of an interlacing pattern of design. This is the introductory sensory material to the story of these two unusual women, played by Cate Blanchett (Cinderella, Truth) and Rooney Mara (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo), who become an interlocking part of each other’s lives as they go barreling toward some common outcome.

Whether they end up like Ridley Scott’s Thelma and Louise is up to others, because it’s the 1950s, until and unless they make the matter up to them. Mara’s gamine shopgirl Terese only looks like Audrey Hepburn’s Holly Golightly in Breakfast at Tiffany’s; the style is similar but her substance is straighter, clearer and stronger. She knows what she likes and wants and is easygoing about paying the price of her ambition. She wears a uniform Christmas hat only after a stern spinster-type remands her to do so. She goes along with working in the doll department though she’d rather be working with train sets. Her boyishness is matter of fact.

Terese eyes Blanchett’s feline Carol one day over by the trains. She lets the glance across the space linger. She signals that she wants to play.

Carol’s been catting around enough to know when to pounce, so she stalks and makes her move. Terese is instantly drawn to the sensuality and, really in the most fundamental sense, she’s enchanted by Carol’s refusal to back down from getting what she wants. Terese is young and, with Mara’s doe-like eyes of innocence, she’s insatiable for a guide to getting what she wants in life. She has a boyfriend, she has a hobby—taking pictures—and she’s greedy. But Terese is also intelligent and she knows that she’s a work in progress. She knows that she does not know it all.

Enter the husky-voiced, lipsticked stranger who, when the two finally meet in semi-private, overenunciates her name with more drama than a Joan Crawford movie. All of this unfolds slowly, with bleak, hushed, moody colors, tones and details awash in Fifties sameness with the train as a gentle, clicking symbol that the furtive shadow dancing is coming to a climax. Their glances do the work of the homosexual flirtation toward sexual liberation. Their whispers do the work of what the words cannot say. Everything they suggest, mean and become to each other is in code.

Carol has a husband (Kyle Chandler) and a child and this complicates everything, too. The child is deeply loved by Carol, though the husband is not. That he knows this fact is the wispy plot’s central conflict. Sex stereotypes are reversed and the needy male— underrepresented in Hollywood movies—emerges as an ominous threat to Carol and her newfound union. Aiding and abetting Carol in the crime of lesbianism is her former lover, played by Sarah Paulson (Mud, 12 Years a Slave) in another knockout performance.

But Carol is not anti-male and, as she puts Terese in the Packard’s passenger seat and heads off on a frosty road trip, the wise, seasoned vamp must face and reconcile the consequences of making herself, a wife and mother, a forbidden object of desire for another woman. The secret gay union forges shortly after a stay in Chicago’s Drake Hotel, where Terese really starts to discover the world and the prospect of her place in it. Not surprisingly, reflecting today’s sexism against men, romantic same sex scenes are more revealing in Carol than those in Brokeback Mountain, allowing Terese and Carol fuller character development, which adds to the movie’s powerful conclusion.

You’ll probably hear a lot about this film’s perfect period detail—in record albums, dish patterns, make-up and costumes—and compliments are well deserved. But the nostalgia is not an end in itself; Carol‘s trains, designs and artifacts serve a subtle point in timelessness and director Haynes, with an adaptive screenplay by Phyllis Nagy, weaves it into the picture with intricacy and skill. The middle of the 20th century was an imprisoning time for the woman, straight or gay, as Carol demonstrates. But it also pegs a midpoint convergence of two types of women—the temptress using her feminine wiles and the working girl using her mind—and the emergence of courage and, really, fearlessness, required of the modern, liberated woman of the mind.

Add to that that these two happen to be gay and Carol pointedly if delicately dramatizes that gays have always been embedded among society. Given cultural mores, gay men were relegated to back rooms and dark corners and, to a large extent, they still are. Gay women have the play of the field. Witness the acceptance of DeGeneres, Foster and O’Donnell, a status that celebrity male homosexuals are rarely afforded without reduction. Women may couple up to dance and play at being lesbians at their discretion. Accordingly, and in sharp contrast to today’s near-total fetishization of the heterosexual woman as a macho archetype, Carol is a warm and evocative depiction of the discreet woman.

Its dreamy sense of timelessness underscores how changeable are the times in which we live. There’s an intriguing example of this in Carol, which places three American presidents in the picture in reverse chronological order: Dwight Eisenhower appears at first in a televised address about progress, hinting at the movie’s theme, then William McKinley makes an appearance in a room where the lovers first share an intimacy, and, finally, I think it’s Andrew Jackson who appears in a climactic scene in which one of the women chooses to break from society, at great cost to herself, in order to live an honest life.

The theme, newly relevant this week—I do not think this is the filmmakers’ intention—is that it is possible to pursue one’s happiness whether society is in regress or progress. In other words, accept the state of the world (in Carol’s case, certain conventions) and go after what makes you happy. Though there’s no guarantee that you’ll get what you want and there may be every reason to believe that the culture is very much against you, as Carol depicts with masterful detail, it is crucial to know that you must go after what you want—even in defiance of the entire world.

Movie Review: Steve Jobs

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Another contender for best movie in this year of fine movies is Universal’s version of Walter Isaacson’s biography, Steve Jobs. As a dramatic portrait of the creator who radically changed the world, it is magnificent. At last, writer Aaron Sorkin’s (Moneyball, The West Wing, The Social Network) breathless dialogue style is filtered and tethered by director Danny Boyle (127 Hours, Slumdog Millionaire), or by Sorkin. The outcome is a poetic depiction of a true American fountainhead. (Read my thoughts on Steve Jobs and my thoughts on Apple).

With an electronic score to match the time frame, which runs from the mid-1980s to the final months of the 20th century, Steve Jobs moves in talking pictures, marking the creative life of a genius in three acts of grand halls filled with crowds, featuring singularly distinctive machines made possible by Apple, the Silicon Valley, California company Steve Jobs founded with Steve Wozniak—arguably the world’s greatest, richest company—and the people in Jobs’s life.

A brilliantly visionary producer talking with people about making products starts the movie. The opening scene displays his insistence upon perfection in a new product, the Mac, at Apple’s Flint Center introduction of the Macintosh personal computer following the revolutionary Super Bowl advertisement based on George Orwell’s dystopian novel 1984. The film’s conflict pits Steve Jobs against the world. But it also purports to put Steve Jobs against the audience because it is apparent that the audience is supposed to detest, rather than try to understand, what Jobs says and does. In fact, modern society pushes the audience away from what Jobs wanted, sought and achieved: perfection in integrating form and function in each aspect of life through fostering man’s autonomy. Apple’s ethos is individualism.

Steve Jobs is the individualist.

However, Steve Jobs and Steve Jobs wants, gets and trades more, as Apple does, with a measured achievement in addition to perfection in one’s work—a meaningful, happy life as one’s proper purpose. The ethics of egoism is embedded here if you know how to look for it, though I don’t know if today’s audiences will expend the effort. The tale this simple and magical movie shows and tells, and it’s extremely verbal though not in that irritatingly smug Sorkin tone, is an elegantly rendered tale of a life lived large yet always in the moment. Michael Fassbender’s Steve Jobs is sharp and arrogant, not flip and smug, and he strives to be balanced and whole.

“Artists lead,” Jobs tells a colleague with whom he’s at odds, and one of the things I like about this movie is how skillfully it dramatizes that the greatest minds are usually in conflict with the whole world, “hacks ask for a show of hands.”

Jobs is not a martyr, as depicted here, and it’s worth noting that this is based on a book by the author chosen by Jobs after he read the writer’s biography of Albert Einstein. Jobs is not portrayed as tortured or monstrous. In dealings with people in his company and life—Apple CEO and mentor John Sculley (Jeff Daniels, The Martian), confidante Joanna Hoffman (Kate Winslet, Little Children), an ex-girlfriend (Katherine Waterston)—he is, like Walt Disney, driven, difficult and daring. Steve Jobs covers the essentials, in thinly drawn, clean and meaningful lines, winks, nods and links to the logo, the machines, the designs, and how Jobs lived; how he ate, listened, relaxed, celebrated, controlled and conducted—mostly, how he thought.

This is not a documentary of Jobs’s business history. There’s no Cube, eWorld or Pixar. Instead, it portrays life in certain, selective products and those moments which align with the launch of those products. So, the impending failure of NeXT at an opera house is placed in its proper context in the second act as lead-in to the iMac in the third and final act at Symphony Hall. Mac fans, Apple employees and evangelists and the press are never far from view, as is Lisa, his daughter, who represents the evidence of progression for a rebel who was adopted, defied laws and rules and dropped out of college. “It would be criminal not to enjoy this moment,” says a character who becomes a friend.

This is the theme of Steve Jobs.

His technology, accounted for and credited to proper sources, including the Apple II, exists merely to serve the moment, not the other way around. Think different, a screen with Apple’s motto says, in one of at least two crucial, dissolving transitions. Steve Jobs does, honoring truth even when it’s inappropriate, improper or hurtful. Among those affected include Wozniak (Seth Rogen, The Guilt Trip), who is as right as Jobs in a climactic encounter, Sculley and a longtime Apple principal (Michael Stuhlbarg) who demonstrates that those who most deserve to get close to the man of the mind are often driven the farthest away.

As Jobs, Fassbender (12 Years a Slave), who looks more like Sting from The Police than Steve Jobs, is as intense and engaging as ever. The actresses playing Lisa also shine and so do others in the cast, with Winslet getting the laugh lines. The audience is likely to be split, not between Mac faithful and those with contempt for Apple, but between those who revere both the perfect union of controlling one’s own life and work and the requisite for achieving it—absolute freedom—and those who seek to manage life and work or have it managed and controlled by others.

Steve Jobs is a passionate movie and not in a Hollywood way. The passion here comes from the art of thinking, the contemplation, the stretching, the using and the experimenting. Technology is not depicted as an end in itself to Steve Jobs—it is not his religion—it is a means of activating his best within and doing it here on earth. With inspiration from singer-songwriters, taking the audience and Jobs from imagination to full awareness of reality, the two-hour Steve Jobs—a rare Hollywood hymn to one Ayn Rand called the most persecuted minority, the individual, specifically the individual who creates to make money—zips by like childhood.

Like the life of Steve Jobs, it ends too soon and with genuine wonder at the world. (Go here to buy the DVD and here to buy the Blu-Ray edition).


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Book Review: The Girl on the Train

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The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins is an innocuous and plain potboiler. Promoted as a psychological thriller, it’s better described as light feminist fiction. It zips along like a good train ride.

Told in revolving voices by three women—conservative Anna, troubled Megan and the main character, alcoholic Rachel—the London-based novel pairs these salty ladies with different men at varying places and times, all of which ultimately converge.

Rachel moves the plot. Her messy affairs and wince-inducing choices hinge on enticing details. The poor woman (she’s a grown woman, not a girl) is obviously spiraling into despair while flailing to somehow stop herself, which makes her Rear Window-like observations and reckless exploits strangely absorbing. Don’t mind the underpinnings too closely, because the whole conflict and resolution are more than a tad flat; read for psychological musings but keep reading for humor amid the murderous mystery.

It’s not that the psychology is bad. Some of the best ideas for treatment are delivered by a delicately featured man who may be an Islamic psychologist who is also a suspect in whatever crime this woozy, nosy eyewitness may have seen from the train or its nearby underpassages. But women in The Girl on the Train are shallow by any stretch, which makes it easier for Hawkins to portray them as victims. That the women also victimize, imprison and impair themselves is a key theme, with clever diversions and sidetracks such as the doting kindness of Cathy the landlord, and the ladies’ self-talk in introspective log entries keeps thought and action balanced, enveloping and involving.

Each tale involves the woman, her deepest desire for a man, and, centrally, her burgeoning awareness of herself as a whole woman, including the ability to bear a child. This is a particular aspect which grants The Girl on the Train momentum toward a heart-pounding climax. As Rachel strains to clear her blurry vision and achieve clarity while serving as an amateur, unemployed sleuth (with a thing for gin and tonics), her ex-husband Tom, a muscular Mr. Right and a red-haired stranger on—or is it off?—the train come into focus with sudden and blaring urgency. Beware of men, Hawkins warns the reader, including the cop that never shows up, and be kinder to women. The Girl on the Train does not get deeper than that and it’s not hard to guess what happens. But this bestselling book about a humorously self-inflicted journey into darkness moves at a steady, sobering pace.