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Back from Boston

Back from Boston and catching up. I gained new knowledge in several lectures and courses, visited with friends and family, and I met some of my classmates for the first time. More on OCON later—I know I’m still behind on posts—and other stuff. I did see a movie, which I recommend: Public Enemies. Not a great film, and it’s directed by Michael Mann, who tends to portray villains as heroes and vice versa, but it’s a solid gangster movie, not too graphic, and the Marion Cotillard character holds it together. Johnny Depp plays Chicago gangtser John Dillinger with a bit too much of an ‘Elvis‘ impersonation for my tastes and Christian Bale is fine but underdeveloped (he plays the good guy), though he does pull off the movie’s most emotional scene, in which his policeman character reclaims his own moral authority from an incompetent government agency.

The role of government continues to expand. President Obama’s at it again with another attempt to nationalize an American industry—this time, the medical profession. In six months, he has quasi-nationalized banks, insurance companies and the automotive industry and his health care reform, such as and whatever it is, will undoubtedly move the nation toward economic fascism. Having written about medical policy for 15 years and having been on the forefront of protecting individual rights in medicine, I see that legislation to control each American’s medical treatment is coming. The showdown is likely to be the most crucial political battle since slavery. And socialized medicine is exactly that, so this is urgent.

One of the nation’s least important—yet overhyped—battles is the Watergate dustup, which at least gave us a decent president, Gerald R. Ford. I recently read his off-the-record thoughts and memories in Write It When I’m Gone: Remarkable Off-the-Record Conversations with Gerald R. Ford by Thomas M. DeFrank. Covering the tense days before the former Michigan congressman became President of the United States when Richard M. Nixon resigned in August of 1974 through President Ford’s final days, DeFrank’s unique arrangement with the 38th president results in recollections and conversations that are often fascinating. President Ford was a pragmatist and he wasn’t around long enough to shape the direction of his Republican Party—which buckled to the religionist faction in 1978—or the nation. But, whether he was confronting Communists over the U.S.S. Mayaguez, refusing to bail out New York City, or granting a pardon to a disgraced former President Nixon, which was the unequivocally proper course of action, President Ford emerges as the best president of the late 20th century. Though he briefly served in the White House before narrowly losing to a “born-again” Christian fundamentalist named James Earl Carter, Jr., Jerry Ford was a great American and a good president. Write It When I’m Gone (he actually told DeFrank: “Write it when I’m dead”) shows an ambitious, deliberative and thoughtful man who generally understood the nation’s founding principles and government’s proper role. Jerry Ford’s razor-thin loss to Jimmy Carter in 1976 reminds us of the power of one’s political choices to shape history and our future.

Mixed Media

I’m pressed for time—I’m planning to attend this year’s Objectivist Conference (OCON) in Boston, which starts in a few days—and I know I’m backlogged on posts. I have to report that Fox’s third Ice Age installment is harmless and happily dialed down, so it’s suitable for smaller kids.

Sid the sloth has something of an identity crisis and thinks he’s a surrogate mother, so he’s off and wandering into a subterranean world of dinosaurs and, sparing the details, the regulars are back in action and re-bonding when one of them has a child. The series’ innocuous theme that a loving family is made, not born, comes through with fine results and an adventurous new character. Recommended for young families and those with low expectations. Again, it’s not disgusting and the 3D technology works very well. Scrat’s back in the picture, too, falling for a female equivalent and forgetting about the acorn for a while.

I will probably write a review of Warner Bros.’ My Sister’s Keeper, one of the best movies this year if you can stand its subject: a young girl dying of cancer. More on this picture by Nick Cassavetes later but the well-made movie is poignant, thoughtful, and honest. I also saw two movies at the Los Angeles Film Festival: The Stoning of Soraya M, an indictment of Iran’s Islamic fundamentalism, and an absolutely dreadful attack on a great American business, Dole Foods, called Bananas. I’m still thinking about Soraya M. But the anti-capitalist latter movie, thoroughly discredited by a judge’s ruling, is a disgrace to the L.A. Film Festival, which should have shown this trash the door.

I’m reading interesting new books and I am working on several writing projects that I am enjoying. For now, I’m off to OCON 2009 but not before I happily endorse my favorite new pop album this summer: Lionel Richie’s Just Go, a collection of 14 new tunes, mostly ballads. It’s an infectious batch of romantic piano songs, with strings, synthesizers, and softly manipulated vocals, and I’m finding it irresistible. The perfect summer album. I have more to say later—on the loss of Farrah, Michael Jackson and more—and look forward to posting.

Movie Review: ‘The Proposal’

This weekend, The Proposal starring Sandra Bullock offers a sorely needed respite from the worsening news of the nation.

The Disney comedy is defined by what it is not: it isn’t an endless stream of vulgar jokes. It isn’t an assault on the senses. It isn’t another asinine star vehicle. Though it also is decidedly not among the greatest movies made, The Proposal, featuring Craig T. Nelson (The Family Stone), Mary Steenburgen (What’s Eating Gilbert Grape) and Betty White (The Golden Girls), and co-starring a young actor named Ryan Reynolds, is a delight.

Miss Bullock portrays a hard-headed, Canadian-born businesswoman who, like most hardworking immigrants to America, is the victim of our arbitrary immigration system. She forces her secretary (Reynolds) to agree to marry her to avoid deportation, though she treats him (and everyone else) like dirt. The put-upon assistant to the boss from hell makes his own terms and conditions and the odd non-couple are off to his warm family home to keep up appearances and escape detection by a suspicious official. Yes, it’s sort of silly. But affable Ryan Reynolds balances his rising young New Yorker against her cold fish and his character’s disinterest in Miss Thing adds comic chemistry.

Their ridiculous arrangement juices the movie’s screwball sensibility and it’s good to see Sandra Bullock in a decent role again. After a week of Obama fatigue, with the President doing to a housefly what he’s doing to capitalism, do yourself a favor and say ‘yes’ to The Proposal.

Screen Shots: ‘Taking of Pelham 1 2 3’, ‘Imagine That’

If you can get past the overbearing opening credits, which go on and on with loud guitar riffs, The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3 is solid cops and robbers fare. The flawed movie works, thanks to Denzel Washington, who returns to acting, not the posing and strutting he’s been doing in recent film roles, as a city transit worker pushed to his limits by an extraordinary crime. John Travolta stars as a foul-mouthed thug who seizes a passenger-loaded subway train and demands $ 10 million in precisely one hour. Mr. Washington, in red-framed eyeglasses and an earring and bringing it home to a lovely wife (Aunjanue Ellis, last seen in Thomas Carter’s Gifted Hands), earns his way as a bureaucrat of dubious distinction, fumbling and stammering and joining John Turturro and James Gandolfini as a cocky cop and a groveling mayor in a New York City that no longer works. Based on the bestselling novel by John Godey, not exactly a remake of the taut 1974 movie of the same name (with Walter Matthau and Robert Shaw), this acceptable caper screeches to a satisfying conclusion that cashes in on what it has earned.

Eddie Murphy stars in a little dollop of sentimentality called Imagine That, which suits its pre-Father’s Day opening just fine. Packed with half the Beatles catalog in cover tunes, notched with the cutest little girl on screen (Yara Shahidi) and featuring a predictable but positive plotline about parenthood, Imagine That is pure, silly fun at no one’s expense. Murphy portrays a financial adviser who competes with a charlatan (Thomas Haden Church) named Whitefeather that uses Indian mumbo-jumbo to make his money picks seem like a communal rain dance, like CNBC’s anchors talking up another Obama “stimulus” package, leaving stuffed shirt Murphy’s character out of the loop. Martin Sheen’s big shot businessman comes along, as the Murphy character starts believing that his daughter’s imaginary friends are giving hot tips—and they do pay off—and it’s all pretty ridiculous pap until the whole thing crashes like a Ponzi scheme and daddy learns that making money and raising a happy child are not mutually exclusive. This Paramount movie must be the first since The Pursuit of Happyness not to depict businessmen as ogres, which these days is enough to put a movie studio in Herr Obama’s penalty box. Cute, harmless fun for the family—or an afternoon outing for dad and daughter.

Screen Shots: ‘The Hangover’, ‘Land of the Lost’

It will probably make tons of money, and be highly popular in today’s tasteless culture, which is steeped in South Park, The Simpsons and professional TV cynics who ramble and rant—Stewart, Colbert, Conan, O’Reilly-n-Olbermann—but The Hangover is pure trash. The heavily marketed crude comedy is bound to tickle at some point and that does not mean it is good humor.

The story of four uncivilized males going to Las Vegas for a bachelor party is the same old thing: like the subversively anti-abortion themed Knocked Up, the jaunt is a thinly disguised excuse to trot out traditionalism as man’s highest potential. Find a woman—and this movie is as anti-female as it is anti-male—for birthing babies, conform to society, and fit in with others while suppressing one’s baser instincts. In the meantime, since we’re all louses deep down, go ahead and make jokes about Nazi extermination of Jews, and the physical and sexual abuse of infants and children. Only Justin Bartha (National Treasure) fares well while an unkempt Seth Rogen/Jack Black type deadpans throughout the disgusting affair, which is so repulsive it’s sure to be praised as ingenious. Bradley Cooper plays the same lecherous guttersnipe character he did in He’s Just Not That Into You.

The Hangover is, as its title suggests, a snapshot of man at his lowest—urging us to believe this is the best a man can get. At one point, someone rationalizes the vulgarities with the line that “that’s what guys do.” Maybe, but it is not what men do. This is Beavis and Butthead with a bigger budget—strictly for the glazed over types that do not want to think. Also in that camp, and opening this Friday, Will Ferrell in Land of the Lost, an adaptation of an asinine Saturday morning TV show of the same name (it aired in the 1970s). As with everything Ferrell does, it is anti-conceptual. The absurdist comedy may appear harmlessly goofy on the surface, and the funniest bit is a joke on Cher, but Land of the Lost merely amounts to yet another example of human self-degradation. This weekend, stay away from the movies, and Tivo or Netflix real comedy—anything with Cary Grant, Doris Day, the Marx Brothers, Marilyn Monroe, Bob Hope, Mae West. At their worst, they put today’s crass cutups to shame.