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Around 1900, progressive dreamers wrote a series of Utopian novels, sharing their vision of a perfect Socialist future.

One thing that they all had in common is communal living. In the perfect future, they assumed, people would live together in large apartment complexes.

Communal living is just rudimentary common sense. It saves lumber, brick, and steel. It saves electricity. It saves fuel because people are close to town and closer to work. It saves heating oil.

Somewhere in the 20th Century, this efficient communal ideal was tossed in the garbage and was replaced by the ideal that a respectable American has to live in a house.

Nothing, it seems, can shake the ideal of the single-family home.

It has been proven that home ownership primarily benefits big banks, oil companies, IKEA, and Home Depot. It doesn’t make the people who live inside the houses happier – just more indebted.

But check out any commercial during the playoff games this weekend. Whether they are selling Fabreze, Fritos, or Pharmaceuticals, the smiling Americans in the ads are all living in spacious single-family houses. It’s as if apartment dwellers or people who share their houses with renters are too poor or too uncivilized to even show on television.


“Downsizing” shows us a 21st Century Utopia where almost everyone can afford to buy a house in cash.

In writer/director Alexander Payne’s imaginative new world, people have the choice to undergo an irreversible procedure that reduces their size by approximately 99%.

Living a new life at 5 inches tall is extremely appealing to two very different types of people: environmentalists who want to leave a smaller carbon footprint. And hedonists who want to enjoy all the finer things in life (diamonds, drugs, and mansions) for a fraction of the price of regular-sized people.

Alexander Payne’s point is that people are eager to buy any product that makes them feel like they are saving the planet or keeping up with the Joneses. But they aren’t willing to do the one thing that will actually lead to environmental conservation and happiness: stop wanting more things.

If Payne had nailed this point home and given us a few laughs along the way, “Downsizing” would have been an American classic. But he takes the film in a very different direction. “Downsizing” is full of surprises, but each surprise takes the story further off course.

Matt Damon’s lead character is so boring and bland that you never care whether he finds himself.

Matt Damon was once a great movie star with a cool sense of humor. Now he seems more and more like the dense marionette caricature version of him from “Team America: World Police.” When Damon isn’t educating us about the difference between butt slapping and sexual assault (wow, thanks Matt!), he is making lousy movies. What was his last decent film? 2006’s “The Departed” maybe?


“Downsizing” is an over-long, unfocused bummer of a film. I haven’t felt this ripped off since that time that I foolishly bought a house.


La La Land

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La La Land



A few weeks ago, the biggest stars in Hollywood gathered for an opulent black-tie anti-Trump political rally. It was called the Golden Globes.

I did some investigative reporting. It turns out that during this political rally, they also gave out some movie awards! “La La Land” was the big winner, capturing Best Picture (Musical or Comedy), Best Actor, Best Actress, and Best Director.

Wrong again, Hollywood.

I don’t know if Golden Globes voters like “La La Land” because it is set in Los Angeles. Or if they have a crush on Ryan Gosling. All I know is, to me “La La Land” is dull, sentimental trash.

The movie tells the story of Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) and Mia (Emma Stone): an aspiring jazz pianist and an aspiring actress. Together, they overcome extreme lack of character and charisma to make it in Hollywood by sheer force of good looks.

“La La Land” clocks in at more than two hours, but don’t let that fool you. It is a short, lightweight movie that is low on substance. The running time is bloated by the many boring musical numbers.

I suppose this is the main difference between me and the people who like “La La Land:” I was miserably bored during the songs. Every song is terrible. I would have walked out of theater early except for the fact that I was planning on writing this column.

The darndest thing was: I was expecting to like it. Writer/director Damien Chazelle’s last movie – “Whiplash” – is terrific. And the films are similar. They are both explorations of young musicians and how much they are willing to sacrifice in order to achieve their artistic ambitions.

Same theme, different result. “Whiplash” is intense, passionate, and gritty. “La La Land” is saccharine and shallow.

Rumor has it that Ryan Gosling is a talented actor. But I haven’t seen any sign of that. Someday, when he loses his youthful good looks, he could surprise me and start making great films like Leonardo DiCaprio and Matthew McConaughey. But I doubt it.

Sometimes Hollywood is just terribly out of touch with Middle America. And that can be a good thing. If they are as wrong about Trump as they are about “La La Land,” we could be in for a wonderful four years.






          There’s a memorable scene in “The Sopranos” where the boss of the New York family – Johnny Sack – is in prison and his wife and kids come to visit.

          Johnny Sack’s wife is obese. His eldest daughter is just as big. And his youngest daughter is rail thin. She angrily accuses her mom and sister of talking about nothing but food.

          This three-minute scene contains more honesty and insight about eating disorders than the entire documentary “Thin.”

          It seems like the socially appropriate, politically correct thing to say is that people with anorexia and bulimia are sick. The unpleasant truth, however, is that the society around them is sick.  

          Low self-esteem is the root cause. Unhealthy obsession with food is the problem. Compulsive overeating and reckless undereating are just two sides of the same coin.

          “Thin” is a troubling documentary about people who are earnestly trying to help young women with eating disorders but don’t seem to actually understand the problem at all.

          “Thin” takes us inside the Renfrew Eating Disorder Clinic in Florida for a few depressing weeks. We never hear from the doctors who founded the Clinic, but we certainly see their odd strategy for trying to cure anorexic women.

           The Clinic seems to be modeled after basic training. Or prison. There is an endless list of rules that the young women must follow; most of them appear to be arbitrary. And when one of the many rules is broken, the staff cruelly pressures the women to rat on their friends to expose who did it.

          Instead of helping the women transition from troubled childhood to healthy adulthood, the Clinic does the opposite. The Clinic works to infantilize the patients and makes them feel even more powerless and unable to tackle their self-improvement goals.

          “Thin” is interesting, but it is a lousy documentary. The filmmakers don’t make it clear whether they view the Renfrew Eating Disorder Clinic as a legitimate treatment center or as a counterproductive scam like I do.

          Now, I don’t claim to have the one cure to save all people with eating disorders. But I sincerely believe that I have a better plan than the Renfrew Clinic. I’d write a self-help pamphlet. And this is what it would say:

“You are very thin. I know that it doesn’t always feel that way when you look in the mirror, but I promise that it is true. You set a meaningful goal for yourself and you made it happen. Congratulations!

Now, I want you to take your proven talent for hard-work, discipline, and dedication and use it to get just as great at school. Or your career. Or your relationships with the people you love.

Before long, you will be thin AND successful. And happy. And then one day you’ll wake up and discover that you can eat without feeling so much shame and guilt. You really can do this. I believe in you.”


One thing I would not do in my motivational pamphlet is call the reader sick.

I honestly don’t think anorexic women are sick. They are just trying to make it in this crazy, food-obsessed society like everyone else.

The Revenant

The Revenant

Leonardo DiCaprio has pulled a complete McConaughey-180.
A McConaughey-180 is a term that I just made up for a celebrity who starts his career as a lightweight pretty boy known for doing chick flicks. Then, through a series of amazing performances (“Dallas Buyers Club,” “Bernie,” “True Detective”), he transforms himself into a respected actor.
Ten years ago Matthew McConaughey was universally loathed by every guy in America. Now he’s so cool that he makes me want to buy a Lincoln MKS.
Leonardo DiCaprio’s McConaughey-180 has been even more remarkable. At the turn of the century, Leo was known to guys as the blond kid who’s in the movies that your girlfriend makes you watch.
After 15 years working with the most talented directors in Hollywood, DiCaprio isn’t just well-respected – he’s the best. “Django Unchained” and “The Wolf of Wall Street” are my one and two favorite films of the decade. And if those movies aren’t your taste, maybe you love “The Departed” and “Inception.” Either way, it’s a known fact that the man makes great movies now.
I don’t think DiCaprio is the best actor, though. He does not have a ton of range. What he does really well, though, is play crazy. Leo’s characters are always outrageous enough to make things weird and interesting but not so insane that your mom refuses to watch.
In “The Revenant,” I think Leo might have taken his crazy-act a step too far.
I don’t recommend this movie to anyone, least of all my mom.
If you read “The Odyssey” and thought “this book is all right, but it would be nice if Odysseus really faced some hardships and wasn’t such a powder puff,” this movie is for you. If you thought “who wrote this book? Homer or Ghandi? I need a little more graphic violence in my revenge stories,” this movie is for you.
But it isn’t for me. “The Revenant” is just three hours of a hideously injured man grunting and crawling and suffering. Whether it’s good or bad is subjective. But I don’t think anyone is claiming that this is a fun night at the movies.
They say “The Revenant” is based on a true story of a wounded man fighting his way through the wilderness on the American frontier. But I’m pretty sure it is only loosely based.
One time as a kid I fell through the ice of the little pond at the foot of Hubbard Park. Only my lower legs were submerged and for only a minute. Still, I had to shuffle home and defrost in a warm bath for an hour before I could feel my feet. My point is: there is no darn way that DiCaprio’s character could have spent that much time wading around in icy water and lived to tell the tale.
But, hey, amazing actors make lousy movies from time to time. Even Matthew McConaughey. Did you see “Interstellar?”

Citizen Koch

Citizen Koch

In 2010, the US Supreme Court ruled in favor of Citizens United, arguing that the right to free speech extends to private companies as well as individuals.
Since the ruling, corporations have been allowed to spend as much as they want on political campaigns.
For the Koch brothers, this has meant an exponential increase in their influence. The brothers themselves are prohibited from giving more than $2500 to a candidate. But now they can have one of their companies donate $millions to a Super PAC that can fund a devastating barrage of attack ads on that candidate’s rivals.
I agree that anything that increases the ability for corporations to influence the political process is bad news. But I was hoping that “Citizen Koch” would demonstrate the harm that the Super PACs are doing and show me why the Koch brothers are the ultimate bogeymen in the eyes of liberals.
Instead, “Citizen Koch” is a boring, hopelessly partisan attack on Scott Walker.
It is true that Scott Walker was elected governor of Wisconsin in 2010 with the support of the Koch brothers and that Governor Walker worked to balance the state budget by limiting the collective bargaining power of public employees.
Walker is a strange enemy to choose, however. The Democrats have several core issues that are popular with the majority of Americans: gay marriage, women’s reproductive freedom, defense of entitlements. But left-wing documentarians Carl Deal and Tia Lessin don’t understand how terribly out of touch the Democratic Party is on the issue of unions.
On one hand, the Democrats steadfastly support the public sector unions that squander our tax money on salaries for bad teachers who can never be fired and on generous pensions for people who retired at age 55.
On the other hand, the Democratic Party hasn’t done anything to help underpaid private sector workers to unionize. Teachers don’t need more powerful unions; McDonald’s and WalMart employees desperately do. But Democrats only fight for the teachers unions because they donate big money to Democrats and WalMart workers making $9 an hour do not.
The film rightly asserts that the Republican Party is heavily influenced by big business. But I don’t see any sign that the Democrats aren’t. I can’t think of a single initiative introduced this century that seriously threatens the power or profits of multi-national corporations or Wall Street.
And it’s worth noting that the Republican base is actively rebelling against the big money establishment. Donald Trump is the GOP front-runner in part because of his rejection of the open borders and free trade that the multi-national corporations love so much.
Meanwhile, the Democratic front-runner is perhaps the most big money friendly candidate in the history of the United States. When it comes to supporting the economic status quo, President Clinton would give Harding and Coolidge a run for their money.
I was all fired up to write a scathing column about how the Koch brothers are destroying democracy with their money. But “Citizen Koch” is so bad that I don’t have the ammunition.


The Fight of the Century

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The Fight of the Century

It must be hard for young people to believe that boxing used to be one of the most popular sports in the United States during the 20th Century.
These days, nobody cares about boxing. It is a tiny fringe sport that is about as popular as roller derby and curling.
The Junior Welterweight title bout between Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao wasn’t just The Fight of the Century; for many American guys – like me – it was the first fight we watched this century.
My best friend and I split the $99.95 cost to watch the event on Pay Per View. I got duped but I don’t hold a grudge. I sincerely tip my cap to the promoters for successfully hyping the fight and turning it into a must-see cultural event.
The $100 that we spent pales in comparison to the $10,000s that celebrities paid to watch it in person at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas. Perhaps the most interesting part of the show was the hour where they showed the dozens of sports figures and movie stars in attendance. The crowd included Denzel Washington, Mike Tyson, Mark Wahlberg, Michael Jordan, Clint Eastwood, and Tom Brady with a visibly drunk Rob Gronkowski.
The broadcast was all hype and zero substance. We learned a lot about the background of the two fighters but no details about why they are considered great boxers.
The three knuckleheads who were paid to give pre-fight analysis sounded like they know nothing about the sport. “What’s Floyd Mayweather doing to prepare for the fight right now?” “He’s ready. He’s strong.” Seriously, dude, that’s all you’ve got? You know I paid $50 for this, right?
The only people who sounded knowledgeable about boxing were NBA legends Reggie Miller and Charles Barkley, who were interviewed as they were taking their ringside seats. Miller calmly observed that 36 year old Pacquiao doesn’t have juice to beat Mayweather’s masterful defense.
Miller was right on. Mayweather dominated.
In the fourth round, Pacquiao stunned the champ with a counter punch to the face and then followed it up with furious combination. The pro-Pacquiao crowd went wild and so did I.
Apart from those hope-inspiring thirty seconds, Mayweather was in complete control. He has the brilliant ability to slowly back up against the ropes and then slither his way to safety just as his opponent starts to attack.
Mayweather is a bad, boring fighter. And he’s a truly great boxer.
And that’s why nobody likes boxing anymore. And why this was the first – and probably the last – boxing match I will watch this century.

Exodus: Gods and Kings




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Exodus: Gods and Kings

I know that this isn’t news to anyone, but it really is striking how different Jesus is from God in the Old Testament.
Jesus had a clear, focused gameplan. In the course of a year, he taught us how to live righteously, he founded his earthly church, he died for our sins, and he defeated death by rising from the grave.
God in the Old Testament is never that efficient, comprehensible, or altruistic.
For example: God’s behavior in the Book of Exodus is inexplicable at best, cruel and capricious at worst. God tolerated the fact that the Hebrews were enslaved in Egypt for 400 years and then decided that it is unacceptable. What made Him suddenly go from passive on-looker to violent abolitionist? Who knows?
From scarring them with boils to killing their crops with locusts to murdering their first born sons, God seems to go unnecessarily hard on the Egyptian people. I mean, it’s not like they had the power to impeach the Pharaoh or vote “no” on a slavery referendum.
And when God was about to kill the first born son of every non-Hebrew, why on earth did he make the Jews slaughter a lamb to paint their doors with the blood? It seems like God could recognize his chosen people without the lamb blood. Did he send hit men to do the killings? And if so, couldn’t He have just told the hit men to spare the lives of anyone with a Woody Allen DVD and a book on investing on their coffee table?
In “Exodus: Gods and Kings,” God is played by an 11 year old boy. Seriously: an angry, petulant little boy.
It was a brave decision on the part of director Ridley Scott (“Gladiator”) to have the Lord portrayed as human and unlikable.
Unfortunately, that’s the only thing interesting about this movie. “Exodus” is overlong, humorless, and pointless.
Christian Bale is simply not believable as Moses – the legendary Hebrew holy man. And the decision to present Bale’s Moses as a sword-wielding warrior is a shameless excuse for adding 20 minutes of superfluous action sequences.
Australian actor Joel Edgerton is equally miscast as the infamous Ramses II. Pharaoh should be one of the most contemptible bad guys of history. He lets his own people suffer ghastly plagues rather than freeing God’s chosen people from bondage. But Edgerton plays him as a befuddled lightweight.
This is particularly disappointing in contrast to Emperor Commodus from Ridley Scott’s “Gladiator” – who is the best royal villain in cinema history.
“Exodus: Gods and Kings” is a dismal failure. I didn’t like it. And I’m guessing God didn’t like it. And not just because the movie paints Him as a nasty little child.

The Theory of Everything


The Theory of Everything

For most of human history, people imagined that the earth is at the center of the universe; or at least that the earth is a significant part of the universe.
The great astronomers and cosmologists of the 20th Century completely shattered humanity’s earth-centric view.
We already knew that our planet is dwarfed by the sun. The sun is about 1.3 million times larger than the earth. Like any other average – 5 billion year old – star, the sun is a fiery nuclear furnace that fuses hydrogen into helium to create massive amounts of light and heat.
Later we learned that the sun is just one of 200 to 300 billion stars in the Milky Way galaxy.
More recently, astronomers dropped an even bigger scientific bombshell. It turns out that the Milky Way is just one of at least 100 billion observable galaxies.
They are unimaginably far away.
The nearest star to our solar system – Alpha Centauri – is more than 25 trillion miles away. The chances that there is life elsewhere in the universe is close to 100%. But our chances of ever visiting one of the other planets with life is pretty much zero.
In other words: the notion that the earth is big, meaningful, and centrally located isn’t just incorrect; it is absurdly wrong. In the grand scheme of things, a human is no larger, longer living, or more important than an amoeba.
No living man has taught us more about the nature of faraway stars and galaxies than Stephen Hawking. He published a best selling book on cosmology. Even Albert Einstein never did that.
But Stephen Hawking is even better known for his illness. At age 21 – while earning his doctorate at Cambridge – Hawking was diagnosed with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS). Doctors told him that he would entirely lose the ability to walk, speak, and control his muscles and that he would be dead in two years. They were half right.
“The Theory of Everything” largely ignores Dr. Hawking’s uplifting contributions to science. Instead, it shows his depressing descent from healthy young man to wheelchair bound mute invalid and the awful effect it had on his marriage.
That’s a shame. Because while Dr. Hawking’s theories are interesting, his personal life really isn’t. This is like a biopic about Lou Gehrig that only has two scenes set at Yankee Stadium.
Viewers like me who are fascinated by astronomy and hoping for a science lesson will be terribly disappointed. “The Theory of Everything” taught me almost nothing.
All I learned is the cruel coincidence that the man who helped us understand the vast majesty of the universe knows all too well how fragile and finite a human body can be.