Fasting

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Fasting

*1/2

 

People sure do enjoy talking about food. And when they’ve eaten too much food, they enjoy talking about the latest fad diet they are on.

But when I talk about my strategy for staying thin – skipping meals – people look at me with glassy eyes. It’s like that’s an alien topic that I am not supposed to mention. People look at me like it is a superhuman accomplishment. Or they say: “that’s not healthy.”

Well, I do not claim to know the secret to eternal health. But I actually do know the secret to eternal skinniness. For me, it is to eat as much as I can stomach from the time I get up until noon. Then nothing the rest of the day and night. Easy enough.

To be fair, I am open to eating dinner once a week or so with my wife when we go out on a date.

What I am not open to is eating three meals day, separated by approximately four hours, with dinner as the largest and most important meal. Not a chance. I do not understand the popularity of that lifestyle. It’s like you are eating or thinking of eating or preparing meals all the time. And, worst of all, you are eating the most when you need the least fuel.

The people who made “Fasting” actually agree with me! For that, I am grateful. “Fasting” is not a good documentary. It is over-long, repetitive, and preachy. But in my fight for fewer meals, I’ll take any allies I can find.

The movie argues that eating several times throughout the day is likely to make you fat and unhealthy. Your body’s natural circadian rhythm is to have approximately 12 hours each day with no food so it can focus on healing rather than digestion.

Apparently, there was a study where two groups of mice were fed the exact same amount of food each day. One group that had access to food all the time. The second group was restricted to eating only half the day. Group one gained weight and group two remained thin.

The movie goes from convincing to kooky when it starts claiming that fasting is the key to a robust and healthy life. One guy claims that intermittent fasting normalized his irregular heartbeat and allowed him to complete the Iron Man Triathlon.

The movie claims that fasting can cure hypertension, heart disease, diabetes, chronic headaches, and even lymphoma.

I enjoy food documentaries, but I don’t know why they feel the need to make idiotic health claims that only their most ignorant, gullible viewers will believe.

Why can’t they just stick to the one promise that they can back up: fasting helps you get thin and stay thin. That’s enough.

Thinness is the greatest gift I have ever given myself and skipping dinner is a ridiculously small price to pay. In fact, it’s not a price at all; I have more time and more money because I don’t waste it on a meal I don’t need.

The only question is why skipping meals is significantly less popular than the myriad fad diet plans that don’t work….Check that…there is no question at all. It’s because fasting doesn’t make any companies any money.

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The Unauthorized Bash Brothers Experience

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The Unauthorized Bash Brothers Experience

Comedy: ***

Human Decency: ****

 

Picture it: there’s a young stage actor with all the talent in the world.

He hasn’t reached his potential because he isn’t great at memorizing lines and he has trouble keeping his weight down.

One day, the actor starts taking amphetamines. Now, he has the mental focus to learn his lines quickly and the physical energy to get in good shape. Before long, he has reached his potential and he is winning Tony Awards and wowing audiences every night.

The drugs are clearly bad for the actor. He will be less healthy and his life will be shorter.

However, we don’t think the actor is a bad man, right? We don’t think he is a cheater who is ruining theater. We don’t think it is okay to boo him while he’s on stage entertaining us. We don’t think his pill-fueled brilliance is a personal insult to the memory of Laurence Olivier and Marlon Brando.

And yet, our society is vicious and unforgiving to baseball players who did steroids. Not me. I do not judge them, I do not hate them, and I do not think that they ruined the sport.

It makes some people so mad that Mark McGwire used steroids to beat Roger Maris’s single season home run record. I don’t see the problem. I do not care about the feelings of Roger Maris’s non-sentient spirit. I care about the feelings of the 10-year-old boy at the ballpark with his father. He doesn’t want to see a long fly ball caught on the warning track; he wants to see that ball go over the fence.

Baseball is entertainment. And juiced up jocks are entertaining.

The comedy trio Lonely Island (Akiva Schaffer, Andy Samberg, and Jorma Taccon) were those 10-year-old boys in the Bay Area in 1988 when Mark McGwire and Jose Canseco used their big bats and chemically enhanced muscles to create an exciting championship team.

“The Unauthorized Bash Brothers Experience” imagines that in addition to playing baseball, the duo also rapped like the Beastie Boys.

This sets the stage for a fun half-hour of songs about hitting, high-fiving, weight-lifting, and injecting illegal drugs.

Haters will say that the movie glorifies steroid use. They are wrong. Getting buff, smashing home runs, and winning pennants is objectively glorious.

All the movie does is tell the truth about steroids. Steroids made McGwire and Canseco better at their jobs. But the drugs were not good for their kidneys, their livers, their tempers, or their sex organs.

The Lonely Island aren’t the funniest people in showbiz anymore. But they are the most decent and non-judgmental, and that is more important. They always have fun; they never poke fun.

If Lonely Island makes a song with you or about you, you can be sure that your career and your self-esteem will improve. Just ask Michael Bolton.

Or ask Mr. Canseco himself, who watched the Netflix special and promptly tweeted about it:
@thelonelyisland
just watched The Unauthorized Bash Brothers video! I can’t stop laughing. Loved it.

And Lonely Island promptly tweeted back:

This tweet genuinely made our year. We love you. Thank you, sir!

It would have been easy to laugh at Jose Canseco. Instead, the Lonely Island guys made him laugh. And a country full of division just got a little closer.

Whether it’s an actor on Adderall or a right-fielder on anabolic steroids, there is no reason to hate and there’s no reason to judge. They are people like us. The Lonely Island proves that you can have a lot of fun without hurting anyone’s feelings. That’s why they are national treasures.

Yesterday

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Yesterday ***

 

“Phony Beatlemania has bitten the dust.”

-The Clash, “London Calling”

 

Imagine a world without the Beatles. It isn’t hard to do.

Every older person reading this column knows who Bing Crosby is. He was the most popular recording artist in America for more than a decade and a movie star to boot. Now, young people may know “White Christmas” but they may never have heard his name. All his other hits are forgotten.

No artist is so big that he won’t be swallowed by the dustbin of history.

In fact, the bigger they are, the more likely it is that their hits were a result of hype. And the music was secondary to the marketing.

Two hundred years from now, I predict that The Velvet Underground (1965 to 1970) will be listed next to Picasso, Dali, Andy Warhol, and Stanley Kubrick as the greatest artists of the 20th Century.

In the unlikely event that The Beatles are remembered at all, it will be as a boy band with some okay pop songs, not unlike the Monkees. It is clear to me the Fab Four don’t have a song as timelessly amazing as “Daydream Believer.” You probably disagree with me. I suppose history will show who’s right.

“Yesterday” is the perfect Beatles movie. It’s poppy, funny, charming and crowd-pleasing. And it’s overly self-important, sappy, and quite forgettable.

Jack Malik (Himesh Patel) is a failed singer/songwriter who is just about to give up trying. Then, suddenly, Jack is the only person who remembers cigarettes, Coca Cola, and The Beatles. Instead of smartly founding Phillip Morris, he decides to start playing Beatles tunes as if he was the one who wrote them.

The cover songs are not an immediate hit. In one of the film’s most delightful scenes, Jack plays “Let It Be” for his distracted parents and they can’t be bothered to focus for the entire song. And they chuckle in bemusement when Jack announces that they are failing to appreciate a masterpiece.

Jack never wins his parents over. They remain caring but unsupportive. Jack’s parents represent the 50% who never saw what the big Beatles fuss was about.

Eventually, the world catches on and Jack Malik becomes a sensation. The scene where he plays “Back in the USSR” to an adoring Russian audience was a highlight.

Universal Records is eager to release a double album of Jack’s seemingly original songs. Jack suggests that they name it The White Album. “The White Album?” a record exec scoffs. “There is a serious diversity problem.” “What diversity problem?!” asks Jack, who is ethnically Indian.

Veteran British director Danny Boyle mines maximum comedy from every situation. Kate McKinnon is a laugh a minute as Jack’s cynical Hollywood agent. Usually, music industry snakes lie with every breath. McKinnon does the exact opposite: she exposes the miserable, vain, exploitive nature of celebrity and expects Jack to go along with it, anyway.

But all Jack really wants is his childhood friend Ellie – the only person who believed in him before he became a secret Beatles cover band. “Yesterday”’s romantic comedy mooring keeps it from becoming a truly great film.

“Yesterday” is pretty darn enjoyable, though. I even enjoyed some of the music. It’s not Clash good. It’s not Monkees good. They will be as forgotten as Bing Crosby in a few decades. But the Beatles were okay, I guess.

The Third Man

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The Third Man (1949)

****

Austria, 1947: what an interesting place to begin a movie.

There was no way to make post-war Vienna look like a happy place even if they wanted to. Bombed-out buildings littered every street. The joy of young love was nowhere to be found because the German-speaking world had been almost wiped-clean of young men.

Vienna was awkwardly split into four districts, controlled by the UK, France, the US, and the Soviet Union. Money and material goods were in short supply, so the black market had become the city’s biggest industry.

“Third Man” takes place in a broken world where it feels like nothing good can happen. Then the film surprises you by being even darker than you were expecting.

Into this gloom steps American pulp fiction writer Holly Martins. His old buddy Harry Lime has offered him a job so here he is in Vienna to start a new life.

Unfortunately, Martins learns that Harry Lime just got run down by a car and killed.

Time to go home for poor Martins, right? Nope. Driven by idealism and naivete, the American becomes a detective – interviewing everyone Harry Lime knew to find out what happened.

Along the way, Martins learns that Harry Lime was a shockingly villainous black marketeer. And that the Soviets are about to deport Harry’s beautiful Hungarian girlfriend.

Thank goodness Holly Martins is there to save the day….or to march around Vienna like a bull in a china shop – making everything worse – depending on your point of view.

That’s the timeless genius of “The Third Man”: you can view Holly Martins as sincere good guy or you can view him as an arrogant busy body causing trouble on a continent where he doesn’t belong.

So we’ve got Russians bullying Eastern Europeans into submission. We’ve got Americans taking over local Western European markets. And we’ve got an American going around acting like the police even though he was never asked to do so. “This is not how I expected liberation to be,” mutters a put-upon old Austrian lady.

In other words, legendary author/screenwriter Graham Greene used “The Third Man” to tell the entire story of Cold War Europe even though it was still in its earliest stages. Who would have guessed that American troops would still be stationed in Germany seventy years later? Graham Greene.

“The Third Man” works as a film noir mystery. And it works as a subtle but brutal anti-American satire. It’s a four-star classic. That’s why they’re still showing it on Netflix.

Running With Beto

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Running With Beto

**1/2

 

Why the heck would a rich guy want to run for office?

You’ll be out on the road for months, begging for money from people who have way less than you. You’ll be immediately disliked by approximately half of your state.

“Running With Beto” showed me that a politician sacrifices even more than I had imagined when he chooses to go out on the campaign trail.

We see Beto O’Rourke tearing into his Deputy Campaign Manager for not preparing him for an event to his satisfaction. You can tell that Beto is a good-natured guy, but stress has overwhelmed him and the only one he can safely take it out on is this poor woman who works for him.

Even worse, we see Beto alone in a hotel room, recounting a story his wife told him. Earlier that day, their son had gone outside with a baseball and a glove. But he had to toss the ball up and down to himself because his father isn’t there to play catch. This incident hit home. For a reflective moment, Beto wonders what the heck he’s doing.

It would be different if Beto had some important issues that he’s passionate about. But he doesn’t.

According to the documentary, Beto focused on two core goals in his stump speeches: a ban on assault weapons and reversing the policy of separating undocumented immigrant families when they are arrested.

“But I agree with that wholeheartedly!” Thought every Democrat reading this. Of course you do. These are the safest positions a candidate can choose. They are non-economic issues that are universally popular with Democrats and changing them would do no harm to the globalist monied status quo.

The disingenuousness and cynicism of Beto’s pet issues was proven on June 20, 2018, when the President signed an executive order demanding that immigrant families must no longer be separated.

Did Beto rejoice and move on? Nope. He banked on the fact that his voters didn’t know what happened and kept making the same nakedly partisan anti-separation speeches.

It’s a wonder that O’Rourke thinks he can compete with politicians who honestly want to improve life for American workers like Sen. Warren and Sen. Sanders.

Documentarian David Montigliani tries to paint the 2018 Texas Senate race as a David vs Goliath story. I basically agree, except I think Rep. O’Rourke is Goliath in this analogy.

Beto is tall, good-looking, charming, and charismatic. He had the media and the entertainment industry on his side. He inherited $millions in real estate money and married a lovely woman with an even richer real estate inheritance. As loaded as he is, supporters willingly parted with $80 million of their own money to fund his campaign.

Poor Ted Cruz had less money and way less charisma. In contrast to Beto, Sen. Cruz is short, doughy, ugly, and socially awkward. Nobody likes him, even members of his own party. You have to feel for the guy as he holds desperate-sounding rallies, awkwardly trying to convince lukewarm Republican crowds to save him from losing.

Beto is a born showman who gets a rush from being the center of attention. You see his joy on stage, even when he’s giving his concession speech.

In the end, “Running with Beto” does help us understand why a guy like Beto O’Rourke wants to spend the best years of life running for office. He loves performing.

Good for him. Seriously. But not so good for his family. I’m sure glad my dad was there to play catch with me.

The Inventor: Out for Blood in Silicon Valley

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HBO Documentary

The Inventor: Out for Blood in Silicon Valley

**1/2

 

How does a $9 billion company become completely worthless in a few years? How does the CEO who graced the cover of Forbes and Fortune get blacklisted from American business? How can a highly connected woman who hob-nobbed with Obama in the Oval Office end up alone, fighting for her freedom?

“The Inventor” is a mediocre documentary about the most outrageous business story of the 21st Century.

It all started at Stanford in 2003. 19-year-old Elizabeth Holmes was doing more daydreaming than studying so she dropped out.

That very year, she founded Theranos. Holmes wanted to do for the blood test what Steve Jobs did for the telephone.

Labcorp and Qwest, she argued, took way too much money and way too much blood. Holmes promised to build a machine called Edison, which would take a single drop of blood and perform hundreds of tests for a fraction of the cost. Her magical machine would democratize medicine and allow people to diagnose serious illnesses without even going to the doctor.

It didn’t matter that the concept behind Edison was scientifically impossible. Holmes had something more powerful than the truth. She had amazing connections from her time at Stanford.

We see Elizabeth Holmes doing a Theranos press conference with Vice President Joe Biden by her side.

Documentarian Alex Gibney observes that Elizabeth Holmes had a knack for inspiring powerful older men to support her. Theranos’s board of directors included general James Mattis and former Secretaries of State George Schultz and Henry Kissinger.

With nothing more than her reputation, Holmes received fawning interviews on CNN and CNBC and landed a multi-billion dollar contract to do blood work for Walgreens.

Tellingly, Ms. Holmes gave a hefty pile of Theranos shares to notorious lawyer David Boies (he also represented Harvey Weinstein).

She needed a great and unscrupulous lawyer because the only way Theranos could stay in business was by enforcing the non-disclosure agreements that Holmes made all of her employees sign.

Naturally, the lab employees were the first to see that Theranos was built on lies. Holmes promised that the Walgreens blood samples were being tested using her space-aged Edison device.

What Theranos actually did was sneak the blood back to company headquarters and perform the tests on the same industry-standard machines that Qwest uses. Unfortunately, they didn’t have enough blood to properly run the tests, so the results were often inaccurate.

Elizabeth Holmes’s powerful Washington connections kept the FDA at bay. And David Boies’s threatening letters and menacing house visits kept whistle-blowers quiet for years.

Eventually, of course, we learned that the empress had no clothes and Theranos was shut down. But it’s frightening that the scam went on for so long.

Even more frighteningly, Alex Gibney doesn’t offer any lessons on how to avoid charlatans like Holmes in the future. “The Inventor” isn’t a powerful exploration of corporate villainy like his ground-breaking Enron doc. And it isn’t a powerful exploration of cult mentality like his amazing Scientology doc.
Gibney seems as enraptured by Elizabeth Holmes as everyone else. Gibney doesn’t have any insight as what was going on in Ms. Holmes’s head; all he gives us is a series of hypnotic, slow-motion shots of the CEO.

Being young and beautiful and wearing a Steve Jobs-esque turtleneck should not be enough to bamboozle Washington and Wall Street. But it was. And it will happen again.

The story of Theranos is super interesting. But it’s clearly not unique. How the heck are we supposed to know which companies are legitimate and which are scams? I have no idea.

 

Rocketman

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Rocketman

**1/2

I am a connoisseur of 1970s British rock.

If a British band was more popular in the UK than here, I was probably listening.  T.Rex, Mott the Hoople, Bowie, Brian Eno, Queen, Elvis Costello, Sex Pistols, Joy Division, The Clash, Wire, Gang of Four…

This was not a normal record collection for a Vermont kid coming of age in the 90s. In fact, if you’ve heard of all the bands above, I’m sad that we aren’t friends.

I am a music nerd, to be sure. But apparently I knew less about Elton John than the average person.

Walking into the movie, I knew exactly two Elton John songs. I knew of Tiny Dancer because it is featured in the movie “Almost Famous.” And I knew of Rocketman, but only because the President used it in a diplomatic Tweet.

If nothing else, “Rocketman” was an education for me. For example, I learned that Elton John was sent to Los Angeles by his record company before he even had a hit album. So Elton performed a reverse Jimmy Hendrix: achieving stardom across the Atlantic before becoming famous in his home country.

“Rocketman” takes us back to 1950s London. Reginald Dwight was an unhappy kid from a very unhappy family. Elton’s parents must be dead, because otherwise they would surely sue the movie studio for defamation of character. The film shows that Elton’s dad was emotionally distant. And his mom was selfishly sardonic.

But young Reginald Dwight was a music prodigy. Armed with killer piano skills, his buddy Bernie Taupin’s lyrics, and a new stage name, Elton John (played by Taron Egerton) became the world’s top-selling artist in the early 70s.

“Rocketman” has some inventive musical numbers. There’s a show-stopping scene where Elton goes from the bottom of a pool to an ambulance to the hospital and suddenly to the stage in Dodger Stadium all in one song. Director Dexter Fletcher presents the first decade of Elton John’s career as a drug-fueled fever dream.

Critics are comparing “Rocketman” favorably to “Bohemian Rhapsody.” The critics are wrong. “Rocketman” isn’t nearly as well-conceived, well-paced, emotionally satisfying, or sophisticated as last year’s Queen blockbuster.

“Bohemian Rhapsody” was a unique exploration of a 20th Century superstar who worked to be the exact opposite of a contemporary celebrity who shares every thought with his Instagram followers. Freddie Mercury hid his name and his sexuality and lied about his family and his disease. He was world famous and a total mystery.

“Bohemian Rhapsody” is a timeless ode to a man who triumphed over the pitfalls of celebrity and did it his way. “Rocketman” tells us that a boy with cold, miserable parents will grow up to be a miserable man. Sadly, we already knew that.

“Rocketman” rises above its mundane material because of Taron Egerton’s impressively human performance. He does a bang-up job of showing that flamboyant stage Elton was just a clownish persona. Egerton feels like a relatable, average Englishman, even as he snorts a line of cocaine in a stadium dressing room while wearing a literal fairy outfit with sparkly sequins.

“Rocketman” is a loving ode to Elton John’s music and a perfectly watchable musical biopic. But compared to “Bohemian Rhapsody,” it doesn’t hold a candle in the wind. Oh, I take it back: I guess I know THREE Elton John songs.

 

[Max’s wife’s counterpoint: This movie was better than Bohemian Rhapsody in every way.]

Booksmart

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Booksmart

****

When I talk to other people who grew up in the 20th Century, we are grateful.

We had the good fortune to grow up during a time of prosperity and relative unity and sanity.

It feels like young adults today are facing more nightmarish problems than we ever had to deal with.

It feels possible that the mass movement of people to different continents might lead to civil wars and wars of religion.

It feels possible that the stark divisions between coastal America and middle America might lead to the dissolution of the United States as we know it.

It feels possible that the technology that has already stolen their attention may also rob them of the dignity of employment and freedom of thought.

“Booksmart” is an energetic, optimistic counterpoint to my curmudgeonly predictions. It is a teen comedy that presents 21st Century America as a near utopia for the people young and brave enough to embrace it.

Molly and Amy are graduating high school in suburban Los Angeles. They have studied harder than everyone and joined all the right organizations. They have steadfastly avoided parties, drugs, and dating. They have been rewarded for their seriousness with admission to Yale and Columbia respectively.

Then it suddenly dawns on Molly: the other kids at school are headed off to good schools or awesome jobs in Silicon Valley, too. They got good grades AND had fun. Molly and Amy missed out.

So intrepid Molly convinces hesitant Amy to go out and make up for lost time with an epic night of partying.

They experience formulaic but funny R-Rated sex and drug hijinks. But they also learn about their classmates who they had dismissed as jocks and sluts and burnouts.

“Booksmart” is a happy spin on “The Breakfast Club.” Instead of learning that other teenagers have relatable problems and insecurities, Molly and Amy learn that their classmates are awesome, interesting, lovable, and eager to embrace them.

First-time director Olivia Wilde also surprised me with her subtle social and political commentary. She observes that California’s Generation Z is uniformly, unflinchingly Leftist. Molly and Amy worship a trio of goddesses: Michelle Obama, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and Malala Yousafzai.

But Molly and Amy aren’t actively anti-Republican. To them, a Christian Conservative would be an alien being speaking a different language. They’ve never seen one, except on television; and Gen Z doesn’t watch much TV.

The kids at school aren’t Woke, they were born and raised tolerant. Molly and Amy go to a diverse school, but race is never mentioned.

Amy came out of the closet as a sophomore. Because why not? The notion that anyone in her life wouldn’t be supportive never occurred to her.

In the end, “Booksmart” taught me how ridiculous I am to feel sorry for young people today. 21st Century America is their happy home, and it may be better than ever.