A Star is Born

Image result for peyton manning torments brad paisley nationwide

A Star is Born

*1/2

 

“A Star is Born” is the runaway hit of the season. It is getting great reviews and it is going to be nominated for Best Picture.

I don’t get it, though. This isn’t a well-made movie. To me, “A Star is Born” is a sloppily made melodrama from a first-time director who yearns for the white male dominated world of the 20th Century.

Writer/director/star Bradley Cooper’s first misstep was to have the lead character be a drunken country-rock superstar who is hounded by adoring fans everywhere he goes.

In this America, there is no such thing as a guitar-strumming superstar with a cowboy hat. I can picture exactly one country singer: the guy who Peyton Manning torments in those Nationwide Insurance commercials. But I don’t know his name and I most certainly wouldn’t fawn over him if I saw him on the street.

Bradley Cooper’s Jackson Maine, however, is somehow so popular that he can’t walk into a gay bar on drag night without being ogled and drooled over. It is at this drag show that Jackson first lays eyes on Ally (Lady Ga Ga).

The first half of “A Star is Born” isn’t terrible. Jackson and Ally’s first date is pretty romantic. It’s also a little sexist, though. Jackson compliments Ally on her looks repeatedly, and creepily, throughout the date.

First off, it is simply bad form to repeatedly compliment a woman’s looks on a first date. Second, the movie is written so that Ally swoons every time Jackson suggests that she might be good-looking enough. Give me a break. A 30-something woman who looks like Ally has been called beautiful a hundred times by creepy dudes. Bradley Cooper treats her like a deformed charity case.

I guess there was a time in the mid-20th Century when it was novel to have an ethnic starlet who wasn’t blond and blue-eyed with a small nose. But that time is long gone. A key plot-point is that Jackson is the only man who believes Ally is acceptably presentable enough to be a star.

But that’s completely absurd. It is a known fact that a woman who looks JUST like Ally was the biggest pop princess in the world ten years ago.

It is no spoiler alert that Ally becomes a star. It is a minor [Spoiler Alert] that Jackson and Ally get married.

Ms. Ga Ga is being given rave reviews for her performance, but Cooper doesn’t give her a chance to play a realistic character. Ally is a rising superstar with a jealous junkie husband bringing her down. But Ally is always upbeat, good-natured, and forgiving.

Ally is an angelic caricature, not a real woman. In real life, juggling a career in music with a troubled husband is an unimaginably stressful experience (RIP Whitney). Ally never gets angry or overwhelmed.

In the end, “A Star Is Born” would have been an almost worthwhile movie experience if the music was any good. But it’s not. Jackson Maine’s ballad Maybe It’s Time is pretty. Ally’s first song on stage is good. But the rest of the music is boring.

All of Ally’s solo songs are bland. That’s a total disappointment, because we all know that Ms. Ga Ga is capable of making catchy pop hits. I get that it is part of the story that Ally’s songs are mediocre and soulless, but what this movie desperately needed was a little Lady Ga Ga. Instead, all we hear is Radio Blah Blah.

Hey, I’m happy that my mom and most moviegoers liked “A Star is Born.” I think it stinks, though. It feels like a relic from a time that I’m glad is gone.

 

 

 

Advertisements

Bohemian Rhapsody

Image result for queen best band

Bohemian Rhapsody

****

 

Queen is the greatest rock band of all time.

Everybody knows Freddie Mercury. But Queen had four guys, each with a knack for writing songs that are immediately catchy and magically timeless.

Another One Bites the Dust (1980) is a disco song. Bassist John Deacon had just discovered American black music and you can hear it in his funk-inspired bass riff. Legend has it that the band didn’t know they even had a hit on their hands until Michael Jackson urged them to release it as a single. Two generations later, Dust doesn’t seem like a disco song anymore; it is a timeless rock masterpiece.

We Will Rock You (1977) is an anti-rock song. Brian May was an immensely talented guitarist. But for his greatest composition, he tossed his Red Special aside and wrote a song with almost no music. The lyrics are obscure and pessimistic; it’s an anti-protest song about the futility of youthful passion. But his stomp-stomp-clap is one of the most recognizable hooks in the history of music. We Will Rock You doesn’t seem like an anti-rock song anymore; it is a timeless rock masterpiece.

Bohemian Rhapsody (1975) is in a class by itself. There’s no sense trying to analyze it; the song is a piece of art that is as sublime and timeless as the Michelangelo’s Sistine Ceiling or Andy Warhol’s Campbells Soup Can. It takes vision and bravery to release a pop single with the lyrics: “Scaramouche Scaramouche, can you do the fandango?”

Rhapsody was a hit in 1975. It was a hit again in 1992 after “Wayne’s World.” It is playing every hour on SiriusXM Hits 1 right now.

It is great enough to make “Bohemian Rhapsody” a must-see blockbuster.

 

The band had four talented guys, but “Bohemian Rhapsody” is all about Queen’s famous front man.

Farrokh Bulsara was an ethnically Persian immigrant from Zanzibar. And he wasn’t particularly handsome. He was not an obvious choice to become one of Britain’s biggest stars. Legally changing his name to Freddie Mercury was a wise first step.

This is not a rags to riches story. Queen were not in rags for long. Killer Queen (1974) was a bonafide hit in the UK. And Bohemian Rhapsody made them a beloved rock band world wide.

Director Bryan Singer made some unorthodox choices. “Bohemian Rhapsody” has several factual errors and the events are presented wildly out of order. But that’s all for a good cause because the story is entertaining and fast-moving. The 135 minutes absolutely flies by.

How do you make a feel-good movie about a guy who died of AIDS? Bryan Singer found a way. He ends the film abruptly and triumphantly six years before Mercury died. There is nothing obvious about that decision and it works splendidly.

At first I was disappointed when I heard that the Queen movie was going to be PG-13 and it would gloss over Mercury’s hedonism and debauchery. But I was wrong. This is not a documentary; it is a family movie that celebrates music. Thanks to the PG-13 rating, a new generation of young people are discovering Queen.

“Bohemian Rhapsody” isn’t an artful film. If the music was mediocre, the movie wouldn’t be great. But the music IS great. Timelessly great.

Tariffs are our Future. And our Past.

Image result for globalization political cartoon

Tariffs are our Future. And our Past.

 

“The media are a corporate monopoly. They have the same point of view. The two parties are two factions of the business party.”

-Noam Chomsky

 

Republicans and Democrats, Fox Business and CNN – they are all in agreement that Free Trade is good for the country.

They are all wrong. They know they are wrong. They are all being paid by the same billionaires to defend Free Trade and scare you about Tariffs.

The truth is transparently clear: Tariffs are good for the American worker. They have been since Day 1.

The Revolution was fought in part so Americans could control their own trade policy. Great Britain was dumping manufactured goods on the colonists and suppressing American industry.

The Tariff Act of 1789 – signed by President Washington – was the second bill signed by the US Congress. It placed a 5% tariff on imported goods. The miracle of American industrialization had begun.

As usual, tariffs worked their magic: protecting domestic industry, improving the job security of workers, and providing easy government funding without taxation. By 1820, tariffs on most imports was 40% and Washington DC was running on tariff revenue.

During the first 150 years of US history, protectionist tariffs helped create the largest and most self-sufficient industrial machine in the world. And it helped organized labor grab a share of power, too, since capitalists couldn’t just move their factories to the third world and export cheap goods back to us.

 

“Give us a protective tariff and we will have the greatest nation on earth,” Abraham Lincoln predicted. “The abandonment of the protective policy of the American government must produce want and ruin among our people.”

 

Mr. Lincoln was right. Twenty-five years ago, the leaders of both parties chose to abandon our history and the welfare their constituencies. Protectionism was tossed aside in favor of a bold new experiment in Free Trade.

Only Free Trade is just a clever propaganda term. There is nothing free or fair about it. Free Trade is intentionally stacked against the American worker.

Without sensible tariffs, other countries have a built-in advantage. Other countries pay their workers less, have lower corporate taxes, have fewer environmental standards to comply with, and have weaker currencies than the US dollar.

The movement of factories from the US to Asia and Mexico was not an honest mistake; it was the inevitable result of Free Trade agreements and the grand design of our globalist overlords. The only beneficiaries of these agreements were the stockholders and CEOs of multi-national companies.

Free Trade snuffed out the positive power of private sector unions. Free Trade left our once self-sufficient nation dangerously dependent on other countries for our basic material needs. Worst of all, Free Trade pushed millions of non-college-educated workers from the comfortable middle class into economic degradation and debt.

And what did blue collar America get in return? Dollar Stores full of Chinese junk, the TV show “Hoarders,” and piles of Amazon boxes full of empty dreams

The Free Trade experiment in globalist evil is nearly at an end. Free Trade remains popular with the leaders of both parties, but increasingly unpopular with the both the populist Left and the populist Right.

The billionaire oligarchs who run our country want an honest debate about pretty much any issue except Free Trade. That’s because they know that the truth about protectionism is unavoidable. It protects workers and hurts Wall Street.

Our past is tariffs. And our future is tariffs.

  Leave No Trace

Image result for consumerism
Leave No Trace
****

One of the saddest things about our society is our unquenchable obsession with wanting more.
If everyone were offered one free item from Amazon.com, most people would be delighted and take Bezos up on it. Very few people would say: “No, thank you. I don’t want to waste the earth’s resources on another material possession that won’t make me any happier.”
Most people have also been seduced by the notion that if they can afford a bigger house, it makes sense to upgrade. Not only do I not share that notion, I believe the exact opposite.
I used to live in a house and I look back on that part of my life with embarrassment. I make more money now, but I am proud to live in a cheap, efficient one-bedroom apartment with my family.
If someone gave me a free mansion, I would stay in my little apartment and sell the mansion. The truth about life is that money brings freedom. The material things that money can buy rob you of that freedom.
People are always accumulating more stuff. But the most successful people are the ones who are content with the least.
When we meet Will (Ben Foster) and his teenage daughter Tom (Thomasin McKenzie), they have virtually nothing. And they are quite content.
Will is a widower grappling with PTSD, and he has chosen to raise Tom in isolation in the woods in a state park just outside Portland, Oregon.
What kind of teenager would be happy living in a tent in the woods? The kind that never experienced anything different and never watched commercials that pressured her to want more. Tom is satisfied with a hug on Christmas under a real tree because no one ever got her addicted to a pile of presents under a fake one.
Everything changes when the police arrest Will and put Tom into a State facility.
Even after Will and Tom are reunited, their relationship is never quite the same. Will is still committed to life in the wilderness but Tom has gotten a taste of socialization and comfort and doesn’t mind it so much.
Writer/director Debra Granik has no agenda and she asks more questions than she answers. Her questions are all thought-provoking, though.
Why is a public park outside the most liberal city in America just there for yuppies to visit but not for poor citizens to inhabit? Why are self-proclaimed environmentalists in big houses so quick to dismiss Americans with the smallest carbon footprint as crazy dangerous homeless people?
I am not a veteran and I don’t claim to know a thing about their perspective. But “Leave No Trace” was recommended to me by my film-loving veteran brother in law, so I’m guessing that Debra Granik does a solid job of empathizing with veterans’ issues. Ms. Granik doesn’t have a clear anti-war agenda. But she subtly asks us: what the heck are we doing to all these guys?
You won’t see a more intelligent drama this year than “Leave No Trace.” It is a unique but believable coming of age story. And it quietly questions every basic value in our consumerist society. It is time to reconsider whether the Americans who have the least are bums or whether they are the biggest winners of all.

First Man

Image result for lili reinhart beauty

First Man

**

 

Ryan Gosling can’t act.

I don’t know how this guy keeps getting work. Well, I know he keeps getting work because he’s great looking and because his movies make money. But I really don’t understand how he bamboozles people into mistaking him for an actor.

Ryan Gosling’s most effective performance was as a cyborg in “Blade Runner 2049.” That’s because playing a non-human robot is what he does in every role.

Standing tall and looking beautiful in the face of adversity is modeling, not acting. I would expect a more expressive performance from Lindsay Lohan in “Sharknado 5: Great White Sharkclone” than Ryan Gosling in his next movie.

It may seem like I’m overreacting here. But I see a lot of movies and it would be awful for me if Ryan Gosling’s understated acting method became more common. It makes for boring cinema.

Some of the most ridiculous scenes in “First Man” are when Gosling’s Neil Armstrong learns that one of his friends and colleagues has died. “Oh” and “thanks,” he responds, completely stone-faced.

Darn it, Gosling, I know that there are strong silent-type men in this world. But every guy you play ends up being a strong silent-type. And characters who speak in complete sentences and laugh sometimes and have a range of emotion are more interesting.

So, I suppose I have to explain how “First Man” is getting glowing reviews and Oscar buzz.

Firstly, a solid 55% of viewers enjoy watching endless close-ups of Ryan Gosling’s face. Heck, I’ll bet if Lili Reinhart played Neil Armstrong, I’d have given the movie ***1/2.

Secondly, the action scenes in “First Man” are very well done.

Director Damien Chazelle proved that he is talented with his intense breakthrough indie hit “Whiplash.” Then he proved that he is ambitious with the extraordinarily bad and insufferable musical “La La Land.”

It turns out that Chazelle’s greatest talent is making realistic action scenes. I had assumed that the 1969 lunar mission involved one rocket ship flying to the moon and then flying home. Chazelle takes the time to explain the sophisticated truth about how men really got to the moon.

Apparently, a huge mega rocket ship took off from Florida. Once outside of the earth’s atmosphere, most of the rocket was discarded and a smaller space vessel drifted to the moon. Once near the moon, a smaller lunar module actually landed on the surface. Then a small piece of the lunar module flew back up to the moon’s orbit and docked with the main space vessel for the return flight to earth.

In other words, landing on the moon and bringing the astronauts back safely was a mind-blowing scientific achievement. The 1966 Gemini 8 scene where Neil Armstrong succeeds in docking one space craft to another for the first time is brilliantly shot and heart-pounding.

But every time an action scene fires up your interest, an awkward dramatic scene brings us back to tedium. Clare Foy has nothing to do but pout and glare as Neil Armstrong’s put-upon wife. We get it: Armstrong was a terrible, neglectful husband and father. It doesn’t make the movie any better to keep nailing that point home.

Corey Stoll (“House of Cards”) stands out like a diamond in the rough as the brutally honest Buzz Aldrin. Every time he says something funny and entertaining, the other characters look angry and confused. It’s like they don’t want to be reminded that the movie world they inhabit is so humorless and antiseptic.

At the end of “First Man,” we are left with a greater understanding and appreciation of the 1969 moon landing. But we have no insight into the motivations of the men who risked their lives to get there and we know little about Neil Armstrong. Thanks for nothing, Ryan Gosling; stick to playing cyborgs.

Anita Hill: Speaking Truth to Power

Image result for creepy man in the workplace

Anita Hill: Speaking Truth to Power

**

 

I loathe Political Correctness.

I admire people who speak their mind with eloquence, intelligence, and offensiveness. If I don’t offend at least one person with this article, I have become too boring and cowardly to deserve a column.

The PC police should get the heck out of our schools and college campuses. But they are welcome to stay in my place of employment.

In my office, we are not supposed to talk about politics, religion, race, sex, gender, and sexuality. There is no touching apart from fist bumps and any manager caught having a relationship with an underling is immediately fired.

I think all these rules are great. Instead of Mad Men-esque mad houses, 21st Century offices are comfortable and inclusive places to work.

“Boo hoo,” some people say. “Men are too afraid to even hug or flirt in the office now.” To me, that’s a very small price to pay for women to be able to have a career without being forced to negotiate a minefield of objectification and Sexual Harassment.

 

Back in 1991, I didn’t even know what Sexual Harassment is. I’ll bet I wasn’t alone. And that was a problem.

The problem of mass ignorance was solved in a big way when President Bush nominated Clarence Thomas to the Supreme Court.

University of Oklahoma Law Professor Anita Hill was expecting a call from the FBI and she was ready to tell the truth when it came. Hill reported that Judge Thomas had made her work life uncomfortable when he was her boss at the EEOC in 1981.

Anita Hill was called to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

“I didn’t anticipate any partisanship,” Hill recalls. “I was expecting that the Senators were going to ask me questions to help learn whether Clarence Thomas was qualified.” Come on..really, Professor Hill? I’m sorry: either she is lying or she was shamefully ignorant about the basic realities of politics in America. Especially for a law professor who worked for the government in DC for years.

Apart from that embarrassing quote, Anita Hill comes off as brave, poised, and downright heroic.

The first half of “Speaking Power to Truth” is terrific. Documentarian Freida Lee Mock shines a spotlight on the awful senators who cross-examined Anita Hill like she was a hostile witness. We cringe as the senators cruelly make her repeat the same humiliating details over and over again.

Ms. Hill never wavered as she exposed fundamental truths about men in power.

The second half of the documentary is useless. Frieda Lee Mock just follows present day (2014) Anita Hill around on as she earns a living as a public speaker. If you watch this movie, I urge you to turn it off after 45 minutes.

#MeToo is a great. Anita Hill is great. I agree with almost everything Frieda Lee Mock has to say. I have a fundamental disagreement, however, with her assertion that we can uncover the truth about past harassment incidents.

It’s one thing to believe a victim’s story, it’s another thing to believe you are capable of knowing the truth about an incident from ten years ago. Zero people know the absolute truth, not even the people who were involved.

Victims of Sexual Harassment have their memory tarnished by trauma and time. And perpetrators of Sexual Harassment will honestly remember themselves as acting less creepily than they actually did.

Sleezy men don’t think they are bad people or want to be bad people. For the most part, they are acting out creepy behavior that they learned from men growing up or foolishly mistaking the friendliness of their female co-worker as possible romantic interest.

That’s why I am passionately in favor of strict PC rules in the workplace. They don’t just make office life better for women, they clearly help men. They teach creepy men the rules of gentlemanly behavior that their fathers should have taught them.

More gentleman and fewer creeps makes my office – and America – a better place. Thank you, PC Police! (Get the heck out of the classroom, though. Seriously).

Fahrenheit 11/9

Image result for nafta betrayal

Fahrenheit 11/9

**1/2

 

When 22nd Century historians teach a lesson about the 2016 election, they’ll only need one primary source document. In the autumn leading up to the vote, Michael Moore wrote an essay entitled “5 Reasons Trump Will Win.”

Moore recognized that Donald Trump was the “Roger & Me” of presidential candidates. His message was music to the ears of forgotten Rust Belt workers who were fed up with globalization and the New World Order.

Trump criticized arrogant coastal elites for passing NAFTA, leading to the deindustrialization of the once vibrant American Midwest. He offered classical Progressive solutions: more worker-friendly trade deals and protectionist tariffs.

Michael Moore labeled the Trump revolution American Brexit. And he cited the four Obama states – Wisconsin, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Moore’s own Michigan – that the candidate was going to win on his way to earning the Presidency. The article is pure genius. You should read it.

“Fahrenheit 11/9” feels like the work of a different artist. The film is surprisingly overlong and unfocused.

Anti-Trump viewers will probably be disappointed. Yes, Moore accuses the President of simultaneously leading our country toward Nazism and nuclear war, but Trump is onscreen less than one quarter of the movie.

As much as anything, “Fahrenheit 11/9” is an angry takedown of the politicians who created and abetted the Flint, Michigan water crisis.

Moore accuses Michigan governor Rick Snyder of building an unnecessary new pipeline out of pure greed and leaving the impoverished citizens of Flint to drink poisonous, lead-filled muck.

And when he discovered that the dirty water was corroding parts at the GM plant, Gov. Snyder took immediate action and gave the company back its clean water. The people continued to drink swill.

Viewers will be surprised to learn that the ultimate villains of “Fahrenheit 11/9” aren’t the Trumpists; they are the leaders of the Democratic Party.

Moore condemns the DNC for stealing the 2016 nomination away from Bernie Sanders.

Moore eviscerates Bill Clinton, accusing the former President of selling out black citizens, blue collar workers, and private sector Unions. Moore concludes that after Clinton, the Democratic Party was just as corporatist and globalist as the Republicans.

Thank goodness for Obama, right? In the film’s only great scene, President Obama swoops into Flint on Air Force One. The teeming crowds cheer their beloved leader as he rushes through the town via limo to save them.

Barak Obama takes the podium. The crowd cheers and hoots. But the President has a cough…He asks for a glass of water to soothe his throat. Then he takes a sip – a tiny, tiny little sip – of tap water and declares that Flint water is safe.

The Flint audience gasps and so do we. This is easily the finest moment of this otherwise forgettable film.

 

Viewers are going to be disappointed that Moore doesn’t attack Trump with the same intellectual passion as Clinton and Obama.

“How the **** did this happen?” Moore asks us with a straight face. The problem is, he already answered this question – splendidly – two years ago.

“Fahrenheit 11/9” isn’t just unfocused, it is insulting to the viewer. It feels like Moore is saying that it’s okay for his functionally literate fans to know to the even-handed truth about the 2016 election. However, the movie-viewing masses can only handle information in dumbed-down, easy to swallow accusations, conspiracy theories, and comedy skits.

“Fahrenheit 11/9” made me laugh a lot. But Michael Moore can do better than this. Skip the movie and read “5 Reasons Trump Will Win” instead.

Hearts Beat Loud

Image result for ted danson hearts beat loud gif

Hearts Beat Loud

***1/2

 

It is not easy to maintain a relationship with your adult relatives.

First off, there are money issues.

If you lent your relative money and now you don’t like him so much and he is ducking you, that’s a bummer and things may never get better.

Second, you can easily grow apart.

If you don’t actively find interests and activities to share with your parents and children, your relationship can slowly disintegrate.

I have a better relationship with my father than my sister does. Is it because we love each other more? I don’t know. What I do know is that we talk about CBS’s Survivor, the stock market, or baseball together every day on the phone. And my sister doesn’t have anything to talk about or watch with him.

 

Frank (Nick Offerman) and Sam (Kiersey Clemons) are another father and daughter who have almost nothing in common.

Frank is an irresponsible, unambitious aging hipster. He runs a failing Brooklyn indie record store. (For my younger readers: a record is twelve iTunes downloads that have been imprinted onto a large, flat plastic disc that can easily be scratched and ruined).

Sam is 18 going on 30. It is the summer before college and she has no interest in going out or having fun with friends. She is studying hard so she can have an advantage over her classmates when she begins pre-med classes at UCLA in the fall.

Frank and Sam’s conversations are completely relatable and familiar. Frank buys Sam a gift and she chides him for spending money they don’t have. Sam already feels comfortable correcting her father’s grammar but she doesn’t want to tell him a thing about her love life.

Thank goodness they share one thing: music.

One evening, Frank forces Sam to put her books down and have a jam session with him. Despite herself, Sam gets into it and the father/daughter team produce an awesomely catchy pop-song entitled Hearts Beat Loud.

Are they are going to be a band? Frank says yes, Sam says no. At least the music is giving them something to do as father and daughter during their last few weeks together.

“Hearts Beat Loud” is never surprising and never brilliant. It gets by on charm and music.

The cast is delightful, especially Ted Danson as Frank’s eccentric stoner buddy.

The music is the real star. Hearts Beat Loud is a first-rate song. It plays several times throughout the movie. And like a good pop song, it gets more enjoyable each time.

Frank is into indie rock, naturally. And director Brett Haley tosses in hip but organic conversations about Mitski and Animal Collective songs that alt-rock fans know and love.

 

In the end, the film works because we are rooting for Frank and Sam to find common ground together. Because we have all been there.

Maintaining a relationship with even your closest family members isn’t easy. If you are estranged from your relative because of money, there is no cure. Money is a drug that has been poisoning relationships since the beginning of civilization.

If you are a stranger to your parent or child due to a lack of things in common, that’s on you. I’ll bet you can find something. Why don’t you watch a Red Sox playoff game together this weekend?