Mary Queen of Scots

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Mary Queen of Scots

**1/2

 

“There’s only one difference between you and me.

When I look at myself all I can see.

I’m just another lady without a baby.”

-Jenny Lewis, “One of the Boys” (2014)

 

One of the convenient things about being a man is that there is no stigma about being childless.

When someone at work asks me why I’m 42 and have no kids, I can say it is because I’ve never wanted any and never will and that’s the end of the conversation. I’m confident that this makes me look like a decisive, independent-minded, somewhat self-centered guy; a regular dude with absolutely nothing to apologize for.

A woman in the same position faces more brazen, thoughtless questions (“are you SURE?” “do you think you’re going to regret it?). Nature forces a childless woman my age to wonder whether she has made a terrible mistake that may be too late to reverse. And society forces her to fear that her life will be a lonely meaningless failure if she never becomes a mother.

It took me a while to notice this pressure to reproduce. As far back I can remember, I viewed childlessness as the clearest, most objective evidence that an adult is winning at life. But I am certainly in the minority.

And according to the mediocre new movie “Mary Queen of Scots,” the existential pressure for women to have babies has been around for a long time.

Saoirse Ronan stars as the titular monarch, who returned from a long stay in France to rule her native Scotland from 1561 to 1567.

According to director Josie Rourke, Queen Mary was brave, proud, and intelligent. But she had two impossibly difficult issues to overcome.

The first was her religion. Mary returned from Catholic France to find that her faith made her a hated minority in Scotland.

Early on, Mary makes a speech about religious tolerance that she thinks will placate her Protestant cabinet. She is terribly mistaken.

There are a lot of villains in this story (virtually every man in Scotland, actually), but the real Dr. Evil is John Knox. The Calvinist reformer is portrayed as a hateful, blood-thirsty misogynist. Scotland is not large enough for Mary and Knox to co-exist.

Mary’s second problem caused her even more heartbreak. She had to deal with the impossible dilemma of having to produce a legitimate heir to the throne but knowing that any man who married her would only be doing so to usurp her power.

Mary’s reign is contrasted with that of her cousin: Elizabeth I of England (Margot Robbie). Elizabeth fully recognized that any man who married her would be driven to steal her throne and possibly kill her like her father Henry VIII. She remained the Virgin Queen out of necessary self-preservation.

Mary Queen of Scots is foolish enough to marry and even briefly fall in love. Her marriage to Lord Darnley is even more catastrophic than we are expecting. Predictably, he is hungry for power. Unfortunately, he is also hungry for young men and thirsty for booze.

However, Mary does manage to get the baby she yearned for.

This is where the film drops the ball. The troubling conclusion that director Josie Rourke draws is that Mary triumphs because she produced an heir. And Elizabeth is a non-feminine chump for being too cautious to take a risk on true womanhood.

Mary is portrayed as an awesomely tolerant 21st Century-style woman. She is cool with religious freedom, interracial love, and she even has a gay guy as one of her chambermaids. But Mary cruelly taunts Elizabeth as “barren” and we are supposed to look past it. I couldn’t. It was wrong then and it is wrong now.

What is true in the 16th Century is true today: life is tougher for a childless woman than a childless man. But if there are any 40-something childless women reading this, I want you know that there are people out there who are on your side. I think we are the ones who are winning.

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Fahrenheit 11/9

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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.

Pope Francis: A Man of His Word

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Pope Francis: A Man of His Word

**1/2

 

In this hyper-partisan era, people on both sides are way too eager to embrace a celebrity who seems to share their opinion about the President.

It was understandable that people on the Right wanted to watch the Rosanne reboot. It was the first time that a scripted TV show presented Trump supporters as regular, sympathetic Americans. But Conservatives made a mistake when they embraced Rosanne Barr as one of their own without doing any research.

This is the same Rosanne who proclaimed that 9/11 was an inside job masterminded by George W Bush. This is the same Rosanne who went a little too far in her anti-Chick-Fil-A hatred in 2012: “Anyone who eats at ****-Fil-A deserves to get the cancer that is sure to come from eating antibiotic filled tortured chickens 4Christ.” Whoops. You backed the wrong horse, Conservatives.

Hey, don’t laugh too hard, Leftist readers. You may be making the same mistake with Pope Francis.

In May, 2016, Pope Francis made a thinly veiled attack on candidate Trump when he said that we should be building “bridges, not walls.” On that day, The Resistance fell in love. And the love affair continues.

The Catholic Church couldn’t believe its good fortune. “Liberals around the world are embracing the old white guy patriarch of our extremely patriarchal old boys club?” Cardinals exclaimed. “Wow! I don’t get it, but let’s roll with it.”

Since then, the Catholic Church and the Media have worked together to shine a spotlight on Pope Francis’s most Progressive pronouncements while quietly sweeping his Conservative comments under the rug.

“Pope Francis: A Man of His Word” is an earnest new propaganda film that works to stoke the fire of liberal love for the current Pope. German documentarian Wim Wenders does an outstanding job.

Wenders proudly presents all of Pope Francis’s Progressive opinions, including the ones that contradict each other.

Pope Francis is explicitly anti-Capitalism. He calls it “terrorism against all humanity.” However, he also tells young unemployed Italians that they are being robbed of the human dignity that only steady work can bring.

I am definitely not defending everything about the world economy. I am with Pope Francis 100% when he criticizes our Throwaway Culture and urges us to consume less. But let’s be real: capitalism is what gave you and me a job and the free market is the best bet for those who don’t yet have one.

The people next to me in the theatre were nodding their heads vigorously when Pope Francis displayed his environmentalist cred and criticized us for ravaging Mother Earth.

But look closer, serious environmentalists: Pope Francis is not part of the solution. He actively denies that the exponential growth in human population is a problem. And he obstinately stands by the Church’s insane prohibition on birth control.

“Pope Francis: A Man of His Word” is not a biography, it’s a hagiography. And the Pope’s greatest miracle is convincing Democrats that he is on their side.

What the film doesn’t mention is that Pope Francis has put the clamp down on nuns looking for any added authority or recognition (never mind priesthood). He has called the movement for gay marriage “the envy of the Devil.” He compared arguments for transgender rights to a nuclear arms race.

Pope Francis argues against gay adoption in the same language as he condemns pedophiles. Because, in his eyes, gay adoption robs children of the right to live a normal life in a “suitable environment for the child’s development and emotional maturity.”

 

Conservatives have had their Whoops moment with Rosanne. Liberals: get ready. Pope Francis is not your ally. The louder you support him, the more embarrassed you’ll be when he is exposed.

Hostiles

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Hostiles

**1/2

 

When my parents were children, they were taught that cowboys and American lawmen were the good guys and Native Americans were savages to be defeated. Now, children are taught that the Natives were the virtuous victims and white men were the blood-thirsty villains.

There’s truth to both of those perspectives. But they are both outrageous oversimplifications. I suppose you have to keep stories short for children. I just hope that adults are sensible enough not to mistake either narrative for the truth.

The White Men Are Bad theory is based on the notion that Native Americans were here first. I have two problems with the “they were here first” justification.

One: “I was here first” is the argument that a 6-year-old uses when she’s angry that there are too many kids in the sandbox.

Two: “They were here first” wasn’t always true. It’s vastly more complicated than that.

For example, the Cherokees weren’t here first. Several hundred years ago, a group of Iroquois split off and formed their own tribe. They moved south, encountering an existing society of more primitive Mound Building Indians. The Cherokees massacred the natives and annihilated them from the earth and from the history books.

The victorious Cherokee tribe conquered and settled much of the mid-Atlantic region in the mid 17th Century. This was approximately fifty years after the English landed at Jamestown. And even a few years after the Swedes settled Wilmington, Delaware. The Swedes got along reasonably well with the Native tribes but got bullied back to Europe by the Dutch.

The theories of Whites vs Natives and They Were There First break down when confronted with the infinite complexities of real history.

 

“Hostiles” is an ultra-violent western that makes an effort to present American/Native American relations without oversimplification.

The story begins in 1892. Grizzled army captain Joseph Blocker (Christian Bale) is given one more dangerous mission before retirement. He must lead a cancer-stricken Cheyenne chief up to his ancestral home in Montana. Early in the journey, Blocker picks up a distraught woman (Rosamund Pike) whose entire family was just slaughtered by Comanches.

I’ll bet the Old West was violent. But I’m guessing it wasn’t quite as relentlessly violent as writer/director Scott Cooper makes it appear. And that’s fine by me because guys don’t watch westerns with the expectation that everyone is going to be smoking peace pipes for 90 minutes.

“Hostiles” does a splendid job of showing that a man’s people are the ones who he is traveling with and fighting next to, not the ones who share his skin color. Blocker and his multi-racial crew quickly band together as one in the face of mortal danger.

The film is perfectly entertaining, but I have two big problems with it.

Cooper wants to his movie to be sympathetic to Native Americans but he couldn’t bring himself to write any interesting Indian characters. The Cheyennes are nothing more than dull, bland one-dimensional stereotypes.

Even worse: there are no jokes in this movie. More than two hours and not a single laugh. Scott Cooper seems to think that comedy was invented in 1900. It was not. I’m pretty sure that on long trips out west, a cowboy would let a huge one rip and then blame it on his horse. And then all the other cowboys would laugh heartily, because there was nothing better to do.

 

There is no single story of the clash between Native Americans and Europeans. There are dozens of different peoples and a million different stories. The best you can do is tell one of those stories really well.

“Hostiles” doesn’t even do that. It’s a mediocre, humorless western. Take it or leave it.

The Shape of Water

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The Shape of Water

**1/2

 

“The Shape of Water” does a magnificent job of bringing us into its world.

The film takes place in an alternative version of early 1960s Baltimore: with huge apartments, secret military laboratories, kind-hearted Russian spies, and very few black people. Oh, and one magical sea creature.

Director Guillermo Del Toro is unquestionably a talented director. And he has a niche genre that’s all his own.

Del Toro makes fairy tale fantasy movies. The plots sound like they are for children. But children aren’t allowed to watch his films due to the extreme graphic violence, copious F-bombs, and full-frontal nudity.

Del Toro’s breakthrough hit, 2006’s “Pan’s Labyrinth,” is a 4-star classic. It’s the story of an imaginative little girl in 1930s Spain who creates a macabre alternative world. Del Toro’s point is that she is incapable of imagining anything as scary and terrible as her real life in the waning days of the Spanish Civil War.

“The Shape of Water” doesn’t have a clear point. And it’s not nearly as good as “Pan’s Labyrinth.”

“Water” tells the story of a mute lady named Elisa Esposito (Sally Hawkins) who takes a liking to the sea creature who is chained up in the military lab where she works. When Elisa sees him, it is love at first sight. That doesn’t make any darn sense, but it is convenient for the plot.

Unfortunately, military man Richard Strickland (Michael Shannon) hates the creature as much as Elisa loves him.

The rest of the movie is essentially a Loony Tunes cartoon as Elisa’s Bugs Bunny outsmarts and hurts Strickland’s Elmer Fudd. Only this time, Elmer Fudd’s wounds bleed and get ghastly infections.

The problem with fairy tales is that they don’t have good characters – only heroes and villains. “The Shape of Water” is no different.

The film is perfectly entertaining. But ultimately I didn’t care about the love story and didn’t root for the heroes because they are so perfectly likable and bland.

Guillermo Del Toro didn’t foresee the problem with having a pack of flawless heroes and a villain played the great Michael Shannon who possesses every human vice. Eventually, intelligent viewers are going to begin to empathize with Strickland.

Strickland’s last words to the sea creature “****. You are a god” is the film’s only moment of true magic and wonder.

In the end, though, this is not a great movie. “The Shape of Water” does a magnificent job of bringing us into its world. But a lousy job of relating it to our world.

Saving Capitalism

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Saving Capitalism

**1/2

 

The year was 1993. President Clinton nominated his old college pal Robert Reich as Labor Secretary.

Mr. Reich wasn’t just another juiced-in Friend of Bill with big pockets. Reich was a man of character and vision. He still is.

Secretary Reich understood the relationship between the government and the economy more clearly than his contemporaries.

At the time, Conservatives consistently clamored for less Federal intervention. They perceived government as the natural enemy of the free market. Liberals at the time, meanwhile, viewed government as the heroic police officer that stepped in and stopped rapacious businesses from getting their way.

Reich knew what we know now: both sides were preposterously wrong.

There is no free market. There is always government. Government sets the rules of capitalism in each country. But the rules aren’t always anti-business. Far from it. There are times when a government makes rules that are outrageously pro-business.

To Robert Reich, our economy is like an NFL game between two AFC powerhouses. There are always referees. You can’t have the game without them. But there is a serious problem when the referees rule that the go-ahead fourth quarter touchdown is an incomplete pass. Because then the refs have basically handed the game to one team. And now everyone is starting to lose faith in the sport.

The refs are the government. The New England Patriots are big corporations. And the Pittsburgh Steelers – the poor fools who had their winning touchdown stolen away in Week 15 – are the American workers.

For Secretary Reich, the solution was simple: next time there was a big rule change in Washington, he needed to make sure the new rule was NOT written by lobbyists for Bill Belichick.

Simple is not the same as easy. Reich completely failed. He resigned in quiet frustration in 1997.

Mr. Reich is too polite and loyal to explicitly say it, but he subtly admits the ugly truth: when it came to twisting the rules to give big business more power, Clinton was like Reagan on steroids. Corporate sponsored steroids.

“Saving Capitalism” – as the name suggests – doesn’t condemn capitalism at all. It states that the biggest threat to our glorious economic system is resentment caused by wealth inequality. And wealth inequality is caused by too much corporate money influencing Washington.

It’s a reasonable premise. Robert Reich is a reasonable man. I must warn you, my leftist readers, you may be horrified as he talks to Republican congressmen and lobbyists as if they are fellow human beings worthy of living. Indeed, you may faint when Reich chats with Trump voters and suggests that they are essentially on his side – the side of anti-Trust government action and populist reform.

His premise is reasonable. His dialogue with all sides is reasonable. His conclusion is idiotic.

Robert Reich concludes – quixotically – that if people get politically active we can turn the tide of history. We can boot big money out of Washington. We can change the rules and turn the Patriots into a .500 team again.

Reich is dead wrong. He was Secretary of Labor for a Democratic President with a Democrat-controlled Congress before Citizens United. And he accomplished nothing. Now he is suggesting that getting out the vote is going to solve our problems. Ha.

  The Truth About Alcohol

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The Truth About Alcohol

                                                    **1/2

    They say alcohol is a poison. And I suppose that’s technically true. But it isn’t that dangerous a poison.

    I know this because I have been to the UK a few times. And I can tell you from firsthand experience that there are, in fact, elderly people there.

    If some British people made it to old age, then it is a proven fact that booze isn’t all that deadly. For Americans, drinking hard is a choice. For the British, it is a cultural tradition.

    In England, it is not customary to tip the bartender when she serves you a pint. This custom began years ago when it was discovered that the hundred richest women in the UK were barmaids. I made that up. But I am not exaggerating about how much the British drink.

    In the event that heavy drinking is seriously hazardous to the body, it is inevitable that British doctors will be on the cutting edge of scientific discovery.

    “The Truth About Alcohol” is a breezy, light-hearted, occasionally informative BBC documentary by British ER doctor Javid Abdelmoneim. Dr. Javid was inspired to make this film when the British Health Service suddenly lowered the recommended healthy level of alcohol intake for men to 14 units per week.

   In the US, a nerdy health-obsessed doctor would simply be a non-drinker. Dr. Javid is British, though, so he attaches a sweat-monitor to his ankle to calculate exactly how much he drinks in a normal week.

   It turns out that the doctor consumes twice the recommended weekly quotient of booze, and he didn’t even drink on four of the seven nights.

   In other words, if you drink in any serious way, you drink way too much for your own good.

Dr. Javid spends most of the film performing experiments and studies with dubious scientific merit to answer some common questions about alcohol.

         Why does a woman tend to get tipsy quickly while a tall, fit man of the same weight can hold his liquor? Apparently, it is because blood-alcohol level is determined by how much water a person has in her body. And since muscle has much more water than fat, the man will feel less drunk from the same amount of drinking.

         It’s also possible that the man lined his stomach before starting to drink. Dr. Javid does a splendid job of explaining how the digestive enzymes in your stomach begin to break down alcohol before it even gets absorbed into your bloodstream. That’s why you can drink so much more after a hearty meal.

          That seems convincing, but some of the film’s anti-alcohol claims are ridiculous.

Dr. Javid argues that booze makes you sleep poorly. But his only evidence is a one-night sleep study – featuring Javid himself and a bottle of fine whiskey. He states that alcohol makes you eat more. But he bases this on a twenty-minute study at a pub with a group of college boys. “Colin ate more crisps than Nigel. We must alert the Oxford Journal of Medicine!”

I certainly don’t know how bad alcohol is for you. But I do know this: the British have been drinking steadily and heavily since at least as far back as they learned written language.

And during those millennia, the British built a remarkable, artistic, cultured, influential society. They even conquered 1/3 of the earth one time.

The British aren’t going to drink less. And I’m probably not going to either. I plan on spending my first Social Security check on a six pack.

Betting on Zero

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Betting on Zero

**1/2

“By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return.”

-Genesis 3:19

 

I am thankful for the wisdom of this bible verse.

Without it, life would be a lot harder and more complicated. There have been hundreds of Sunday nights during my adult life where I lost sleep. I was dreading the long, daunting work week ahead.

But no matter how much I’m dreading it, I always go to work on Monday. That’s because I don’t view it as a choice. Genesis makes it sparklingly clear: if I want to earn the right to live and eat, I must labor.

I will work until my boss gives me a gold watch or until I expire at my desk. Either way is cool. I never feel sorry for myself. I feel sorry for the unfortunate people who haven’t internalized Genesis 3:19.

Life will always be harder for the chumps who think that there is a realistic path to wealth that doesn’t involve a 9 to 5 job. There will always be a Scammer trying to lure them away from their money. It could be the lottery. It could be the casino. It could be Herbalife.

Herbalife, I learned from “Betting on Zero,” produces health products. The company sells shakes, pills, and stuff that supposedly helps you lose weight.

Documentarian Ted Braun doesn’t tell us whether he thinks the shakes actually make you healthier and thinner. It hardly matters. Herbalife doesn’t make money selling health products; Herbalife is a Pyramid Scheme.

“Betting on Zero” is a half hour too long, but it is totally convincing. Herbalife doesn’t market its shakes to consumers; it markets them to its independent distributors.

The heart and soul of Herbalife are its shameless salesmen who are able to convince dozens of patsies to invest their life savings into Herbalife products and convince other people to do the same. That top salesman gets a cash bonus and an Alpha Romeo. The middle distributors break even at best. All the dupes on the bottom of the Pyramid get are products they can’t sell and bills they can’t pay.

The hero of this story is Hedge Fund manager Bill Ackman (seriously). Ackman saw what Herbalife is doing to its workers and set out to destroy the company and make money in the process. In 2012, he shorted $1 billion in Herbalife stock. Shorting a stock means that you sell shares that you don’t have. When the stock drops as planned, you buy them back for less and make a profit.

The victims of this story are the undocumented immigrants who fell for the scam by the tens of thousands. Herbalife used Spanish-language advertisements to target illegals because they are less likely to go public with complaints about being ripped off.

I don’t feel quite as sorry for Herbalife salespeople as Ted Braun wants me to. If somebody says: “I have a job for you! Now give me some money,” you should know that it is a rip-off, not a job. If you give that guy your money, you are not a victim – you are a fool.

To be clear: I’m definitely not defending Herbalife. The company is awful and I hope that its stock price does go to zero. However, we don’t need government probes or Bill Ackman to make it happen.

Herbalife would shut its doors tomorrow if everyone just woke up and realized there are no shortcuts to success in this life. All you have to do is read Genesis 3:19, get up bright and early on Monday morning, and then go to your soul-sucking dead-end job like the rest of us.