Mike Kueber's Blog

July 27, 2012

Chic-fil-A and Rahm Emanuel

Filed under: Business,Culture,Issues,Politics — Mike Kueber @ 1:07 pm
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The Chic-fil-A story reminds me of the Trayvon Martin story – i.e., it seemed unimportant, but wouldn’t go away.  I’m not sure what there is about these stories that gives them staying power, but as someone who distrusts the media, I suspect the liberals in the media believe these stories support their agenda and therefore want the stories to remain on the front page.

As with the Martin story, I came to the Chic-fil-A story late and needed to do some remedial study to learn the underlying facts.  Apparently, the president of Chic-fil-A, Dan Kathy, opposes gay marriage and “supports the traditional family.”  (Chic-fil-A is privately owned and Kathy is the son of the company’s founder.)  According to the liberal Huffington Post, “Cathy’s somewhat glib response: ‘Well, guilty as charged.’”   

Am I missing something here?  What is glib about that response?  More importantly, when did opposition to gay marriage become politically incorrect?  Has the media forgotten that the leading bastion of liberal philosophy, President Obama, opposed gay marriage during his last presidential run and only recently decided the flip his position.  Unlike small “l” liberals, however, the president in proclaiming his switch failed to acknowledge that people of principle can disagree.  Instead, he acted like any correct-thinking person must respect the right of gay couples to marry. 

Don Imus this morning acted like he was taking the enlightened approach to Chic-fil-A by stating that this is still a free country and that a business shouldn’t be boycotted just because its president is a Neanderthal.  Imus can perhaps be excused for calling Kathy a Neanderthal because Imus lives in Manhattan and has long favored gay marriage, but for the president and the media to act like Kathy’s position is extreme is inexcusable.

Other liberal politicians have jumped on the bandwagon, too, including the mayors of Boston, San Francisco, and Chicago.  According to the Chicago Sun-Times, its mayor, Rahm (Rambo) Emanuel, said the following:

  • Chick-fil-A’s values are not Chicago values. They’re not respectful of our residents, our neighbors and our family members. And if you’re gonna be part of the Chicago community, you should reflect Chicago values.  What the CEO has said as it relates to gay marriage and gay couples is not what I believe, but more importantly, it’s not what the people of Chicago believe. We just passed legislation as it relates to civil union and my goal and my hope … is that we now move on recognizing gay marriage. I do not believe that the CEO’s comments … reflects who we are as a city.”

Talk about chutzpah.  The mayor of Chicago declares that a business is not welcome in Chicago because its president (and founder’s son) has religious values regarding marriage that are consistent with the majority of Americans and consistent with existing law in Chicago and Illinois.  Emanuel takes intolerance and arrogance to a new level.

The incurable, incorrigible romantic – Waiting for Forever

Filed under: Movie reviews,Philosophy — Mike Kueber @ 1:52 am
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Earlier this week I was watching a Netflix-streaming movie called Waiting for Forever.  I have no idea how this film got in my queue, with a Rotten Tomato rating of 6% from its critics and not much better from its audience – 43%.  It certainly wasn’t because of its stars that I had never heard of, Rachel Bilson and Tom Sturrdige.  I suspect the movie was recommended to me by Netflix on the basis of its algorithm-based, eHarmony-inspired calculations.  Well, those algorithms apparently have some keen functionality because, even though eHarmony hasn’t sent me any keepers, Waiting for Forever certainly was worth watching. 

The critics didn’t like this 2011 romance because of its implausible storyline and, according to the NY Times, “gaseous sentimentality.”  And, although Bilson and Sturridge are warm and likeable, my son Jimmy, who was watching it with me, noted that Sturridge’s behavior verged on stalking.

Ultimately, though, I enjoyed the movie (and the tears flowed) because it explored a concept that I can’t get enough of – losing your soulmate.  Three of my all-time favorite movies are on the same subject:

  1. Casablanca, with Rick losing Ilsa to nerdy Victor;  
  2. The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, with Tom losing Hallie to nerdy Ransom; and
  3. Gone with the Wind, with Rhett losing Scarlett to nerdy Ashley. 

If the movies weren’t enough, two of my all-time favorite songs have the same theme:

  1. Austin,” by Blake Shelton.   The key lyrics in “Austin” are: “What kind of man would hang on that long?  What kind of love that must be?” 
  2. He Stopped Loving Her Today,” by George Jones.  The key lyrics in “He Stopped Loving Her Today” are: “He said I’ll love you ’til I die.  She told him you’ll forget in time.  As the years went slowly by, she still preyed upon his mind.  He kept her picture on his wall; went half-crazy now and then.  He still loved her through it all; hoping she’d come back again.”  In the end, he finally stopped loving her, but only when he died – “He stopped loving her today.  They placed a wreath upon his door, and soon they’ll carry him away.  He stopped loving her today.”

They say that time heals everything and that it is unhealthy or morbid to dwell on past love.  But some people believe in the concept of a soulmate as a lifetime partner, whether physically present or not – i.e., if you lose your soulmate, you won’t bother looking for a replacement.  Instead, you will live the remainder of your life with that person in your heart and no room for anyone else to take that person’s place.

I don’t know if that’s a sound life-philosophy, but it makes for a helluva enjoyable movie for me.  Saw another one just a couple of weeks ago – The Rebound.  Its audience score was only 48%, but I loved it.  Check it out.

July 26, 2012

The 2013 Super Bowl favorites, as of July 26, 2012

Filed under: Uncategorized — Mike Kueber @ 10:49 pm

The 2013 Super Bowl favorites as of July 26, 2012, according to Footballlocks.com and bankrollsports.com.   

  • Green Bay Packers – 11 to 2            5.25 to 1
  • New England Patriots – 5 to 1         6 to 1
  • San Francisco 49ers – 7 to 1           12 to 1
  • Philadelphia Eagles – 8 to 1             12 to 1
  • Houston Texans – 10 to 1                12 to 1
  • New Orleans Saints – 15 to 1           16 to 1
  • Pittsburg Steelers – 15 to 1              16.5 to 1
  • Baltimore Ravens – 15 to 1              17 to 1
  • New York Giants – 20 to 1               17.5 to 1
  • Chicago Bears – 18 to 1                      19 to 1
  • Denver Broncos – 18 to 1                  20 to 1
  • Dallas Cowboys – 20 to 1                  24 to 1
  • Detroit Lions – 20 to 1                       24 to 1
  • Atlanta Falcons – 25 to 1                  23 to 1
  • San Diego Chargers – 30 to 1          22 to 1
  • New York Jets   – 30 to 1                   28 to 1

Original aphorisms and Dilbert

Filed under: Aphorism — Mike Kueber @ 5:56 pm

I recently blogged about the aphorism, “He may be wrong, but he’s never in doubt.”    Because this expression is not commonly used, I wondered if I originated it.  A brief trip on Google today disabused me of that notion.  Google continually proves that there are few original thoughts or questions.  Imagine my surprise at Google directing me to other bloggers who wondered the same thing – i.e., had they originated the expression?  Google also referred me a song title (“Frequently wrong, never in doubt”) and a book title (“Often wrong, never in doubt”) that used the expression, but in a more artful manner.

More artful phrasing is what reminded me of my aphorism earlier today.  “Dilbert” is one of two comic strips that I read daily (the other is “Mallard Fillmore”), and today’s strip included a variation of the aphorism:

  • Boss: Tina, our database analyst quit, so I need you to take over that job.
  • Tina:  I’m curious…  How long do you think it takes to train a tech writer to be a database analyst?
  • Boss:  Forty-five minutes.
  • Tina:  I like how you punctuate ignorance with certainty.

I love great writing like that.  I also love Scott Adams’s Dilbert comic strips, and, before that, his books in the late 90s, of which I still have three in my library.  He has fascinating insights into, and pokes fun at, many dysfunctional aspects of modern corporate life.  

Getting back to original aphorisms, I still have a few, including:

  • The unexamined life is not worth living, but fun is important, too.
  • That guy would give you the shirt off his back, as long as his wife says OK.
  • She gives good briefing.

July 25, 2012

What do I know about political campaigns?

Filed under: Issues,Politics — Mike Kueber @ 6:53 pm

Jim Palmer, a Hall-of-Fame pitcher for the Baltimore Orioles in the late 60s to early 80s, gave his Hall-of-Fame manager, Earl Weaver, one of the classic put-downs of all time.  Although Weaver managed one of the all-time best rosters of starting pitchers in 1971, with four 20-game winners – Palmer, Quellar, Dobson, and McNally – Weaver had been only a mediocre batter in the minor leagues, and Palmer’s classic put-down was, “The only thing Earl knows about big-league pitching was that he couldn’t hit it.”

I think of that put-down whenever I have the urge to pontificate out how to run a political campaign.  My only experience at running a political campaign occurred in 2009-10, when I was the campaign manager for my Congressional campaign.  (That reminds me of the adage that a lawyer who represents himself has a fool for a client.)  My campaign was an abysmal failure, and I finished fourth in a five-person race, with only 6% of the vote. 

Because of my past electoral failure, I can’t credibly argue that candidates should shift away from their current odious, repellent three-prong strategy – name-identification through signs and billboards, negative ads to malign their opponents, and GOTV efforts (get out the vote).  During my campaign, I ignored these three prongs because they cost a lot of money and do little to inform the voters on substantive issues. Instead, I spent over 80% of my campaign budget mailing and hand-delivering informational brochures to the voters.  Result?  See above. 

It’s disheartening to see elections turn on non-substantive issues, and it’s doubly disheartening when the only people who are allowed to compete on the non-substantive issues are those who can raise a lot of money, usually by prostituting their votes.

It is axiomatic that voters get the politicians they deserve.  President Obama played on that axiom in 2008 (“We are the ones we’ve been waiting for….  We are the change we seek.”), but failed to deliver the promised change.  Instead idealists are left with Teddy Kennedy’s inspiring words in his concession speech in 1980, “For all those whose cares have been our concern, the work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives, and the dream shall never die.”

July 24, 2012

Did the NCAA and Penn State do the right thing today?

Filed under: Education,Sports — Mike Kueber @ 12:01 am

Full disclosure – I hate the NCAA because of its heavy-handed action against my alma mater’s mascot, The Fighting Sioux.

The NCAA hit Penn State about as hard as it could today.  Much of the talk on ESPN throughout the day was whether the NCAA sanctions were worse than the Death Penalty, and more than a few pundits thought they were.  The sanctions are as follows:

  • Fine Penn State $60 million to support various programs dealing with the issue of sexual abuse of children.
  • Vacate all Penn State football wins between 1998 and 2011.
  • Free all Penn State athletes to immediately transfer to another program.
  • Ban Penn State from participating in bowl games for four years.
  • Take away 10 scholarships a year for four years.

The only football team to receive a Death Penalty was SMU in 1987-1988.  According to the pundits, the Penn State penalties may be worse than the SMU Death Penalty because SMU could start rebuilding after two years, while Penn State will have to endure four years of playing football with one hand tied behind its back.

According to news reports, the president of Penn State, Rodney Erickson, accepted the NCAA sanctions without any negotiations, and some people aren’t happy about that.  For example, an article in USA Today was titled, “Penn State trustee: School ‘rolled over and played dead’ to NCAA.”   

The Paterno family issued a statement that seems to agree with the “rolled over” characterization, but states it in a more dispassionate way:

  • “Sexual abuse is reprehensible, especially when it involves children, and no one starting with Joe Paterno condones or minimizes it. The horrific acts committed by Jerry Sandusky shock the conscience of every decent human being. How Sandusky was able to get away with his crimes for so long has yet to be fully understood, despite the claims and assertions of the Freeh report.
  • “The release of the Freeh report has triggered an avalanche of vitriol, condemnation and posthumous punishment on Joe Paterno. The NCAA has now become the latest party to accept the report as the final word on the Sandusky scandal. The sanctions announced by the NCAA today defame the legacy and contributions of a great coach and educator without any input from our family or those who knew him best.
  • “That the President, the Athletic Director and the Board of Trustees accepted this unprecedented action by the NCAA without requiring a full due process hearing before the Committee on Infractions is an abdication of their responsibilities and a breach of their fiduciary duties to the University and the 500,000 alumni. Punishing past, present and future students of the University because of Sandusky’s crimes does not serve justice. This is not a fair or thoughtful action; it is a panicked response to the public’s understandable revulsion at what Sandusky did.
  • “The point of due process is to protect against this sort of reflexive action. Joe Paterno was never interviewed by the University or the Freeh Group. His counsel has not been able to interview key witnesses as they are represented by counsel related to ongoing litigation. We have had no access to the records reviewed by the Freeh group. The NCAA never contacted our family or our legal counsel. And the fact that several parties have pending trials that could produce evidence and testimony relevant to this matter has been totally discounted.
  • “Unfortunately all of these facts have been ignored by the NCAA, the Freeh Group and the University.”

I have previously called this a rush to judgment without knowing all of the facts.  We know that Sandusky is guilty of sexual abuse of multiple children and that a grand jury investigating this matter, after getting testimony from Paterno, Schultz, Spanier, and Curley decided to indict only Schultz and Curley.  And we have Freeh’s report, which is essentially an indictment based on written records, but with no testimony from Schultz or Curley because they are subject to a criminal prosecution.

NCAA investigations provide for due process, but the NCAA decided that the exigencies of this case militated in favor of ignoring its standard processes in favor of NCAA president Mark Emmert playing God.  That sounds a lot like the charge against the Penn State president – i.e., he was playing God in accepting the NCAA sanctions instead of consulting with his Board of Trustees, who often have a lot more investment in their schools than do the mercenary presidents. 

Isn’t it ironic that the lynch mob is accusing Joe Paterno of playing God at Penn State for years, and then they string him up because he refused to play God when the Sandusky allegation for brought to him by McQueary?  Meanwhile Emmert and Erickson seem to have decided that due process needs to give way to their loftier objective of putting this ugliness behind them.  Why worry about justice.

Incidentally, Bobby Bowden, the new #1 major-college football coach and someone never known to be particularly reflective or eloquent, commented about his new status – “I am thankful, but I know how many (wins) I got and how many Joe got.” 

Incidentally, a former Penn State quarterback was interviewed on ESPN earlier today and he noted that the NCAA may take away all of their wins, but it can’t take away his double-major degree and all the other degrees that were earned by Joe’s student-athletes while playing winning football.

July 23, 2012

A primer on the Right to Bear Arms and gun control

Filed under: Culture,Issues,Politics — Mike Kueber @ 10:15 pm
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It all started with strange wording of the Second Amendment:

  • A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

Despite the supposed literacy of our Founding Fathers, the construction of that passage is shabby and its meaning is almost incoherent.  Fortunately, because the Amendment did not have much practical effect for hundreds of years, the Supreme Court was not called upon to explain what it meant.

That all changed after the attempted assassination of President Reagan in 1981, after which there was an unprecedented push for gun control.  The Brady Law, named for Reagan’s press secretary who was injured in the assassination attempt, was enacted by Congress in 1993 and provided for background checks on purchasers of guns.  In 1994, Congress followed up by enacting a 10-year Federal Assault Weapons Ban (AWB), which prohibited the manufacture of semi-automatic weapons – i.e., capable of firing more than ten shots.  Many local governments, including Washington, D.C., NYC and Chicago, went further than Congress by banning all handguns.

Gradually, however, the tide of public opinion shifted.  According to a Gallup poll in 1990, 78% of Americans wanted stricter gun control, but by 2009 that percentage had dropped to 44%.  By contrast 55% of Americans were satisfied with the current laws (43%) or wanted less strict laws (12%).   A different Gallup poll reveals that 60% of Americans in 1959 wanted to ban handguns, but by 2011 that percentage had dropped to a record-low 26%.    When the 10-year AWB came up for renewal in 2004, Congress declined and it went out of effect.     

In 2008, the Supreme Court considered the District of Columbia’s handgun ban and decided that it was unconstitutional.  In dicta, however, the Court (Scalia) noted, “Like most rights, the right secured by the Second Amendment is not unlimited. From Blackstone through the 19th-century cases, commentators and courts routinely explained that the right was not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose.” 

The massacre in Colorado has revived talk of a federal law banning assault weapons.  Based on the dicta in Scalia’s opinion, it is unclear whether the Constitution would allow such a ban.  A federal appellate court panel in D.C. considered this issue in 2011 (District of Columbia v. Heller), and ruled 2-1 that the District of Columbia’s Assault Weapon ban did not violate the Constitution.    

Even if an Assault Weapon ban is constitutional, the question is whether it is a good idea.  As David Frum recently pointed out in his blog – “At the same time as Americans have become more enthusiastic about gun rights, fewer and fewer Americans actually want to own a gun themselves.”  But that really doesn’t answer the question of whether the availability of assault weapons is a good thing. 

From a cost-benefits perspective, I don’t see any benefit that is achieved by having assault weapons (more than ten shots) available to the public.  When I googled the question, Google gave me nothing responsive.  If you can think of a good reason for having an assault weapon, please let me know.

July 22, 2012

The Joe Paterno statue comes down

Filed under: Sports — Mike Kueber @ 2:10 pm
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Early this morning, the Joe Paterno statue that has been standing outside Beaver Stadium since 2001 was taken down on the orders of Penn State president Rod Erickson.  According to Erickson, the statue “has become a source of division and an obstacle to healing.

My initial reaction – this action is another example of a rush to judgment by a lynch mob.  Freeh’s report was a one-sided prosecutorial-style indictment, and to take action based on that report, without waiting for the defense side to present its version, is rash and unjustified.  (There are reports that the Erickson was taking a hard line against Paterno in order to avert an NCAA death penalty against Penn State football.) 

My second reaction – I understand the argument that the statue has become divisive instead of unifying, and thus is no longer serving its purpose.  But I question whether the underlying facts of the argument are true.  Although the media is up-in-arms about Paterno, I wonder if the Penn State fans are.  If Erickson has misjudged the sentiments of the Penn State faithful (something that college presidents are wont to do), his tenure as Penn State will be brief.

My final reaction is that governmental entities should stop commissioning statues and naming things after people, especially those who are still alive.  Of course, such a proscription shouldn’t apply to the Earl Campbell statue at DKR stadium.

July 21, 2012

Retirement and “Death of a Salesman”

Filed under: Movie reviews,Retirement — Mike Kueber @ 9:15 pm
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I recently watched the 1985 movie adaptation of Arthur Miller’s play Death of a Salesman, having been prompted by seeing Miller in the movie My Week with Marilyn (he was Marilyn’s husband at the time).  In the movie, I saw Miller’s intellectualism in stark contrast to Monroe’s ditziness; others might characterize the couple as the beauty and the beast.    

Miller wrote Death of a Salesman before he met Monroe, and it was a great success on Broadway in 1949 with Lee J. Cobb playing the aging salesman, Willy Loman.  The play has been back to Broadway four times since – George C. Scott in 1975, Dustin Hoffman in 1984, Brian Dennehy in 1999, and Phillip Seymour Hoffman in 2012. 

There have been four major movie adaptations of the play, with Fredric March starring as Willy in the first one, followed by Cobb (1966), Hoffman (1985), and Dennehy (2000) reprising their stage roles.  I decided to watch the Hoffman adaptation because the Rotten Tomato critics gave it 100% (albeit only eight reviews) and the audience gave it 74%.

Hoffman’s Willy Loman is a pathetic, pitiful, tragic man whose middling career as a salesman is coming to an inglorious end without anything to show for it – he has saved no money for retirement and his two grown boys are disappointing under-achievers.  And to make matters worse, Willy seems to be experiencing early-onset Alzheimer’s.

Although Hoffman’s Loman is irritable, narcissistic, and a self-described zero, he is also sympathetic.  And he is all too real.  From a financial perspective, people like Willy are why America needs Social Security and Medicare to provide a safety net for old people.  From a psychological perspective, people like Willy think they are special, but eventually they have to come to terms with their failure to achieve.  Often they respond by shifting their dreams to their children, who also fail to achieve, and the result is bitterness and cynicism. 

People in the 21st century have a lot of advantages over the Willy Lomans of the late 40s.  Yes, learning to deal with disappointment and lack of success will always be difficult, but the modern safety net (Medicare and an improved Social Security) would have alleviated much of Loman’s stress.  And most importantly, people today have benefited from all sorts of guidance, information, and insights to help them prepare mentally, physically, financially, emotionally, and spiritually for the transition to retirement.

In spite of this preparation, I have found two aspects of retirement especially perplexing.  The first is the need to be productive.  In hindsight, I admit that I have previously read about this issue, but I failed to appreciate its power.  I suspect that I was hit particularly hard because, having grown up on a farm, there are few qualities as important to a farmboy as being productive.  Plus, I took early retirement at the age of 55, so I probably had more energy than the typical retiree.  As I mentioned in this blog early in the year, I have concluded that I will be unable to flourish personally until I get more productive, so that is now on my to-do list.

The second aspect of retirement that is perplexing is shifting from a life as a saver to a life as a spender.  Because we have been educated so thoroughly on the need to save for retirement, especially toward the end of our careers, it is not easy for our minds to suddenly shift to saving nothing.  I have many friends who either brag or admit that they haven’t touched their 401k although they have been retired for several years. 

One of my friends who took early retirement is considering returning to work for financial reasons.  When I pointed out to him that he doesn’t have any financial reasons for returning to work, he admitted that he doesn’t need the money, but the money is nice and the work isn’t bad. 

That makes sense.  There is no right or wrong answer for everyone; individuals need to decide what is best for themselves.  I told my friend that, contrary to prevailing corporate wisdom, there is nothing wrong or unhealthy with wanting to work no matter how old you are.  If he would rather work than not work, go for it.  But there is a problem with wanting more money than you reasonably need (or being unable to spend the money you have saved).  That suggests to me an unhealthy love of money.  I’m not criticizing such people, but I think they would benefit from thinking deeply about whether that is a characteristic they should attempt to jettison.

Saturday Night at the Movies #38 – Do the Right Thing, The Rebound, Ayn Rand: In her own Words, My Week with Marylyn, Antares, Atonement, and The Grey

Filed under: Uncategorized — Mike Kueber @ 12:21 am

Watching movies took an ugly turn earlier today with the Aurora shooting, but the show goes on:

Do The Right Thing is a wonderful 1989 Spike Lee movie about an Italian family trying to maintain its pizzeria in the middle of a black part (Bed-Stuy) of Brooklyn.  The characters make the movie special, primarily Danny Aiello as the gruff owner of the pizzeria, John Turturro as his bigoted son, and Spike Lee as the pizzeria’s deliveryman.  Other Spike Lee-movie regulars include Ozzie Davis, Ruby Dee, and Samuel L. Jackson.  Martin Lawrence and Rosie Perez make their movie debuts, but Lawrence’s performance is only memorable because of his weird face while Perez’s grating personality is in full force.  Rotten Tomatoes critics scored it 96% and its audience gave it 85%.  I love getting to know NYC neighborhoods/people and give it four stars out of four.

The Rebound is another movie that I liked (loved) a lot more than most other people, just like Last Night, which I recently reviewed.  Rotten Tomato critics scored The Rebound at 42% and its audience wasn’t much better at 48%, very similar to the scores for Last Night.  Guess I’m a sucker for romance, but I thought both movies were exceptionally believable. 

The Rebound is a 2009 movie starring Catherine Zeta-Jones and Justin Bartha (The Hangover) that was never released in the U.S. and went directly to DVD earlier this year.  It involves a recently divorced 40-year-old Zeta-Jones moving to NYC with her two kids and taking up with a childish 25-year-old neighbor.  The movie is categorized as a romantic comedy, but there is not much comedy; it is pure romance.  Soulmates.  Four stars out of four.   

Ayn Rand: In Her Own Words is a 2011 biographical documentary that explores the life of one of my intellectual heroes.  There’s a joke that naturalized Texans tell about not being born in Texas, but they got here as quickly as they could.  Well, Ayn Rand (Ayn rhymes with wine) wasn’t born in America – she grew up in totalitarian Russia – but she got here as soon as she could, and to her dying breath she spoke of her love of this country, with its freedom, capitalism, and individualism.

Rand was controversial because she thought that a person’s life should be controlled by reason, not emotion, altruism, or “mysticism” – i.e., religion.  A person should pursue happiness, which flows from personal achievement, not from sacrificing yourself to the tyranny of the state.

As the title suggests, most of the documentary is in Rand’s own spoken words, accompanied by a plethora of photographs.  But there are also clips from several fascinating interviews she conducted late in her life – one with Mike Wallace, another with Phil Donohue, and finally one with Tom Snyder.  These guys threw hardball questions, and Rand knocked them out of the ballpark.

This documentary is an excellent primer on Rand’s philosophy of objectivism, and it also provides some context for her two classic novels – Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged.  The Rotten Tomatoes critics have not yet weighed in on the documentary, but 76% of its audience liked it.  I did, too, and give it three and a half stars out of four.

My Week with Marilyn is a 2011 drama based on the real-life experience of a 23-year-old Brit who became Marilyn Monroe’s friend for a week during the filming of a movie in Britain.  The kid, Colin Clark, was an assistant to the movie’s director and co-star, Sir Lawrence Olivier.  Michelle Williams earned an Academy nomination for his portrayal of Monroe.  Eddie Redmayne does a good job of playing an innocent, warm kid who was just what Monroe needed to deal with the pressures of working with the intimidating Olivier, played by Kenneth Branagh.  Unfortunately, neither Williams nor Branagh can hold candle next to Monroe or Olivier.  Scarlett Johansson and Ralph Fiennes, who were considered for the parts, would have been better. Julia Ormond, however, is fine as Olivier’s wife, Vivien Leigh, as is Emma Watson as Clark’s girlfriend.  Rotten Tomato critics gave the movie an excellent 83% and the audience liked it almost as much at 73%.  I’m not quite as impressed and give it only two and a half stars out of four because, although the kid seems likeable enough, Marilyn comes off as a flaky, erratic misfit with charisma that is talked about but never revealed.  The most memorable line in the movie occurs when Marilyn asked Clark whose side he is on, and he responded, “yours.”  I am so accustomed to hearing the response, “I’m not on anybody’s side,” that it was both refreshing and jarring to hear someone take sides.  It was satisfying to know the director must have felt the same way because he repeated the line at the end of the movie.

Antares is a 2004 Austrian film that was that country’s Academy submission, but it didn’t receive a nomination.  Although the Rotten Tomato critics gave it a 0% (only five reviews), its audience gave it 63%.  The critics got it right.  The character study and explicit romantic escapades of several households in a slummy high-rise apartment building are boring.  I give it only one star out of four.

Atonement is a 2007 British war-based romance that, in addition to receiving an Academy nomination for Best Picture, was approved by 83% of the Rotten Tomato critics and 79% of its audience.  Early on, I didn’t enjoy the movie because it involved the British aristocracy, a subject that doesn’t interest me much.  But as the story developed, I came to like the stars, James McAvoy and Keira Knightley, and in the end I came to sympathize with Knightley’s younger melodramatic, narcissistic sister who was tormented by an act as a child that sabotaged the McAvoy/Knightley romance.  I give it three stars out of four.     

The Grey is a 2012 so-called thriller about a group of men, led by Liam Neeson, who survive an arctic plane crash only to be stalked by a pack of wolves.  Despite Neeson’s ingenuity, the wolves seem to have the upper hand.  Let me list the reasons I did not enjoy this movie:

  1. Act One fails to create any emotional connection with any of the men, who are continually picked off by the wolves.  The men didn’t even connect with each other.
  2. The men are implausibly unaffected by the ever-howling blizzard, even getting swept down a river without hypothermia setting in.  This reminded me of the early scenes in the water in Titanic.
  3. The climactic final scene comes after the credits and although a friend warned me about this unfortunate timing, I forgot and took out the Netflix DVD before viewing the scene.  Then later, after being reminded, I had to unseal the DVD and play the credits again.

The Rotten Tomato critics gave The Grey a rating of 79%; the audience not so much at 64%.  I think the audience was too generous because I give it only one star out of four.

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