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Beef on the Barbecue – July 4th weekend movies including "Magic Mike XXL," "Terminator Genisys," and "Results"

3 Jul
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What if Odysseus had been retarded?

Everyone and their mother is in Magic Mike XXL (edited but no longer directed by Steven Soderbergh).  Especially if their mother is a little overweight or a recent divorcee.

Elizabeth Banks is in it, and she is also in every other movie out right now, including Love and Mercy (which is a lot better than Magic Mike) and Pitch Perfect 2 (which is a teeny bit better).

If you want to get a heterosexual guy to go to Magic Mike XXL, you can truthfully tell him that for about a minute and a half, Elizabeth Banks and Jada Pinkett Smith make out, their characters having apparently been lovers years before the events in this movie (or those of the first Magic Mike).

Banks play a slightly trashier and much more countrified version of the contest maven she plays in the Pitch Perfect movies, it’s just that now she is organizing male exotic dancers instead of college acapella groups.  And MMXXL is about a third back story, filling in what went on in dancer Mike’s (Channing Tatum’s) life, before the first movie, including an affair he too had with the omnivorous Ms. Pinkett Smith.

One of the innovations of MMXXL over the original is just this multiculturalism:  there are now black people and gays.  Given the addition of black male dancers (ironically – or perhaps this is a marketing ploy to pull in TV viewers who otherwise would not see a dirty movie – daytime’s  Michael Strahan from the Kelly and Michael show aka Regis, and “Twitch” from Ellen) it is somewhat jarring that the odyssey Mike and friends take on their journey from Tampa to Myrtle Beach takes them through Charleston, South Carolina.

And it is almost literally an Odyssey, with many parallels.  The guys travel not from Mediterranean island to Mediterranean island, but from coastal beach town to coastal beach town.  Their ship, a frozen yogurt food truck, crashes.  They are rescued by an Athena-like Jada Pinkette Smith, who is a goddess of conniving, if not of wisdom (in one act the boys throw glitter on a poster, which sticks to invisible glue and then reads “The Goddess”).  At one point the boys end up in a drag bar and dance in a style to make themselves appear gay – Circe becomes a drag queen and they become not pigs but femmie faggots.  In another stop they visit a stripper club/brothel for a (mainly black) female clientele, where the owner, a beclawed Pinkette Smith, playing a slightly less homicidal version of her “Fish” character in TV’s Gotham, is like a Cyclops, ready to eat them – she makes Mike dance before the assembled clients to decide whether she will be his Cyclops or his Athena.  In a third stop they go to the home of a girl they met who gave Adam Rodriguez’s character her number, and her mother, played by Andie McDowall, is a wealthy divorcee, social queen in a McMansion with a court of wealthy girlfriends, all drinking wine to forget their sorrows; on one stop Odysseus visits Helen (of Troy) and her husband, who serve nepenthe, a psychopharmacological drink, to help them forget the Trojan War.

But these boys aren’t smart like Odysseus; they barely know any words that aren’t four letter words.  Their most elevated comments are when pretty Matt Bomer’s character launches into New Age flatulence about sexual and emotional healing.  So the first third of the movie is kind of awful.  Dirty looking boys with nice abs who aren’t that attractive, except for returning Joe Manganiello, who looks really good scruffy, and also turns out to be a better actor than the rest of them. (Manganiello, who starred in the HBO vampire show TrueBlood, at one point gets to make a joke about a rival group of contestants who have a stripper act where they are dressed as sexy vampires.)

But then the movie becomes a remake of Bring It On, with Tatum and Manganiello playing the Kirsten Dunst and Eliza Dushku characters, with the missing Matthew McConaughey being  the cheerleader flick’s “Big Red.”  They have to invent new choreography and win!  When these characters follow Laura Ingraham’s advice and shut up and sing (and dance) the movie improves.  Except it is still a sad world of stupid men who make unloved women, some morbidly obese and some distraught divorcees, happy with their gifts, which are almost exclusively physical.

There are other fun bits. Matt Bomer sings nicely, making you think, because he’s prettier, if he learned to tell a joke he might threaten Neil Patrick Harris for top Hollywood gay guy. Amber Heard is good in a small role, playing a blond version of a Winona Ryder type character.

Film: C+     Libertarian Quotient: 5

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Where Magic Mike XXL is Homer’s Odyssey, Terminator Genisys is Plato’s Republic.

The totalitarian artificial intelligence in all the previous entrants in the Terminator franchise was Skynet, an apocalyptic genocidal evil foisted on us by greedy corporations and militaristic governments, too shortsighted to worry about what an AI entity would do, just as they were too shortsighted to think the Pentagon maybe should be guarded by anti-aircraft weapons.

But in the new Terminator, Skynet uses time travel to continually evolve, or create alternate time streams, like founding new cities in Platonic thought experiments in the search for Justice.  And Skynet re-engineers time so that it instead enters history as a consumer product, Genisys (an evil Genie in a bottle?), that everyone must have, like the latest Apple product (in the film there are one billion pre-orders).  In the Republic the conversants actually found a simple, just, edenic city toward the beginning of Plato’s dialogue, kind of egalitarian, libertarian, and vegetarian.  But then one of them decides that in the perfect city, besides the simple, healthy food, there must also be relish, and away they go, until they end up in a weird totalitarian society where the ruling class steals your kids, but doesn’t know which of the communally raised children are its own children, and also has no property, as well as all sharing the same gym and bathroom facilities no matter what their gender or sexual orientation, where they are all required to exercise naked together.  Kind of like America today. In this movie, Skynet/Genisys must have been reading a digital library including Mary Wollstonecraft, Leo Strauss, and Leon Kass.  It creates a third model of Terminator, not the old Schwarzenegger model, nor the living liquid metal model, but a fused human/machine version.  In TG, the new AI entity offers to borg humanity with nanotechnology, improving it, along the lines of the Ilia character played by the (late) actress Persis Khambatta in Star Trek: The Motion Picture.

If you like all the other Terminator movies you will like this one too.  They do handle the time travel conundrums well, and they explain why when the human heroes jump to 2017 their Terminator guardian, played by Arnold Schwarzenegger, who has been waiting for them for 23 years, is now an old, gray haired, man.  But for syfy fans, I think the current CBS offerings, Halle Berry’s/Steven Speilberg’s EXTANT, Rachelle Lefevre’s/Stephen King’s Under the Dome, and James Patterson’s Zoo, all deliver more punch.

Film:  B-          Libertarian Quotient:  6

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Healthier beef, and more realistic servings, are provided by Guy Pearce in Results.  It’s a somewhat low budget movie set in Austin, Texas, tracking the lives and loves of a fitness center owner who is a personal trainer, his staff, and their clients.  Like Tatum or Schwarzenneger, Pearce is built.  Like Schwarzenegger he has played action villains (Iron Man 3), and like Tatum he has played to the gay audience (long ago, in The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert.)

This is a good date movie, especially for people who like indie films.  One of the remarkable features is Cobie Smulders, who looks strikingly like Jennifer Connelly, except with a very weirdly unattractive, though perhaps memorable, name.

Film: A-            Libertarian Quotient:  7


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Coming attractions

Jurasslick Park  – Scientists recreate neanderthal and cro-magnon humanoids so sex tourists can partake in inter-species orgies on a secluded island; starring Jeff Goldbloom, Ron Jeremy, Sharon Stone, and Lena Dunham as “Gurga.”  Directed by Bryan Singer.

Libertarian Women’s History Month: Ayn Rand, in memoriam

6 Mar
Ayn Rand (Alisa Zinov’yevna Rosenbaum) was born in St. Petersburg, Russia, on February 2, 1905, to a not particularly observant Jewish family. Her father was a pharmacist, as is one of the middle class Russian families being slowly ground into starvation in her first novel, We, The Living.  She passed away on March 6, 1982, thirty three years ago today.  Since her passing her influence has grown to a point that she is attacked daily by statist writers, and Congressmen, Senators, and Presidential candidates discuss her books.
At age six she taught herself to read and two years later discovered her first fictional hero in a French magazine for children, thus capturing the heroic vision which sustained her throughout her life. At the age of nine she decided to make fiction writing her career. Opposed to the mysticism and collectivism of Russian culture, she thought of herself as a European writer, especially after discovering Victor Hugo, the novelist she most admired.  Of her early life she wrote about enjoying European and American culture, including light opera and jazz.
While in high school, she was eyewitness to both the liberal Kerensky Revolution, which she supported, and then, the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution, which she denounced from the outset. To escape the fighting, her family went to the Crimea, where she finished high school. The final Communist victory brought the confiscation of her father’s pharmacy and periods of near-starvation. When introduced to American history in her last year of high school, she immediately took the United States as her model of what a nation of free people could be.
When her family returned from the Crimea, she entered the University of Petrograd to study philosophy and history, where she was supposed to have been a favorite of a famous Platonist who did not otherwise approve of female students.. Graduating in 1924, she experienced the disintegration of free inquiry and the takeover of the university by communist thugs. Amidst the increasingly gray life, her one great pleasure was Western films and plays. Long an admirer of cinema, she entered the State Institute for Cinema Arts in 1924 to study screenwriting.
In late 1925 she obtained permission to leave Soviet Russia for a visit to relatives in the United States. Although she told Soviet authorities that her visit would be short, she was determined never to return to Russia. She arrived in New York City in February 1926. She spent the next six months with her relatives in Chicago, obtained an extension to her visa, and then left for Hollywood to pursue a career as a screenwriter.  She never saw her family again until near the end of her life, when one of her surviving sisters came across a copy of one of Rand’s novels in a cultural exhibit in Moscow on Russians abroad, and was able to visit her in the U.S.
On Ayn Rand’s second day in Hollywood, Cecil B. DeMille saw her standing at the gate of his studio, offered her a ride to the set of his movie The King of Kings, and gave her a job, first as an extra, then as a script reader. During the next week at the studio, she met an actor, Frank O’Connor, whom she married in 1929; they were married until his death fifty years later.
After struggling for several years at various non-writing jobs, including one in the wardrobe department at the RKO Radio Pictures, Inc., she sold her first screenplay, “Red Pawn,” to Universal Pictures in 1932 and saw her first stage play, Night of January 16th, produced in Hollywood and then on Broadway. Her first novel, We the Living, was completed in 1934 but was rejected by numerous publishers, until The Macmillan Company in the United States and Cassells and Company in England published the book in 1936. The most autobiographical of her novels, it was based on her years under Soviet tyranny.
She began writing The Fountainhead in 1935. In the character of the architect Howard Roark, she presented for the first time the kind of hero whose depiction was the chief goal of her writing: the ideal man, man as “he could be and ought to be.” The Fountainhead was rejected by twelve publishers but finally accepted by the Bobbs-Merrill Company. When published in 1943, it made history by becoming a best seller through word of mouth two years later, and gained for its author lasting recognition as a champion of individualism.

The Fountainhead polarized critics and received mixed reviews upon its release. The New York Times review of the novel named Rand “a writer of great power” who writes “brilliantly, beautifully and bitterly,” and it stated that she had “written a hymn in praise of the individual… you will not be able to read this masterful book without thinking through some of the basic concepts of our time.” Benjamin DeCasseres, a columnist for the New York Journal-American, wrote of Roark as “an uncompromising individualist” and “one of the most inspiring characters in modern American literature.” Rand sent DeCasseres a letter thanking him for explaining the book’s individualistic themes when many other reviewers did not.There were other positive reviews, but Rand dismissed many of them as either not understanding her message or as being from unimportant publications. A number of negative reviews focused on the length of the novel, such as one that called it “a whale of a book” and another that said “anyone who is taken in by it deserves a stern lecture on paper-rationing.” 

The year 1943 also saw the publication of The God of the Machine by Isabel Paterson and The Discovery of Freedom by Rose Wilder Lane. Rand, Lane and Paterson have been referred to as the founding mothers of the American libertarian movement with the publication of these works.

Ayn Rand returned to Hollywood in late 1943 to write the screenplay for The Fountainhead, but wartime restrictions delayed production until 1948. Working part time as a screenwriter for Hal Wallis Productions, she began her major novel, Atlas Shrugged, in 1946. In 1951 she moved back to New York City and devoted herself full time to the completion of Atlas Shrugged.
Published in 1957, Atlas Shrugged was her greatest achievement and last work of fiction. In this novel she dramatized her unique philosophy in an intellectual mystery story that integrated ethics, metaphysics, epistemology, politics, economics and sex. Although she considered herself primarily a fiction writer, she realized that in order to create heroic fictional characters, she had to identify the philosophic principles which make such individuals possible.  Like her other novels, Atlas is full of very cinematic potential — panoramic views from skyscrapers and mountains, dramatic tensions between siblings, spouses, co-workers.  Her two major novels have been praised by actors like Anne Hathaway (The Devil Wears Prada, Les Miserables)  and Joe Mangienello (TrueBlood, Magic Mike) and Atlas was recently made into a trilogy generally viewed as being of at best of made-for-TV-movie quality, by a fan who would lose his rights to produce a film if he did not hurriedly produce one.
Thereafter, Ayn Rand wrote and lectured on her philosophy—Objectivism, which she characterized as “a philosophy for living on earth.” She published and edited her own periodicals from 1962 to 1976, her essays providing much of the material for six books on Objectivism and its application to the culture. Ayn Rand died on March 6, 1982, in her Manhattan apartment, after a long battle with lung cancer.

Rand is viewed variously as the foremother, midwife, or Alien style involuntary host of the libertarian movement.  Like most famous and successful people she attracted many admirers and fans, some younger and not as established, and they did not always see eye to eye, and often separated in anger over issues that to an outsider seem personal (and very human) but not purely about ideas.  Her associations with people who would go on to be active in the libertarian movement include: economist Murray Rothbard, with whom she had a diremption that was initially about either his wife’s (Joey Rothbard’s) refusal to give up Catholicism or his formulation of an individualist anarchist political philosophy; psychologist Nathaniel Branden and his ex-wife Barbara, who for a time ran a school devoted to popularizing Rand’s ideas; philosophy professor John Hospers, later to be the first presidential candidate of the Libertarian Party; and Joan Kennedy Taylor, one of the editors of the 70s-80s competitor to reason magazine, Libertarian Review.  Kennedy Taylor may be the most interesting of these (all now deceased), historically, for several reasons.  As an editor Taylor discovered Charles Murray and persuaded him to write Losing Ground and his other influential books.  Taylor also edited the Manhattan Young Republican Club’s magazine, Persuasion, in the 60s, and met with Rand, who told her the name for her politics, philosophical but only a political philosophy, not a complete philosophical world view like Objectivism, was “libertarianism.”  Rand later abjured the “L-word” and denounced libertarians for being hippies and anarchists, as Murray Rothbard’s competing vision gained popularity in the movement.*  


Today two competing groups promote her philosophy, the better funded and more apostolic Ayn Rand Institute (ARI), and the more libertarian friendly Atlas Society, which promotes what it calls “open Objectivism.”  Each group was founded by and has a number of philosophy (and other) PhDs, but to outsiders the differences seem somewhat attitudinal.  Both have summer conferences and publications and a presence in DC, but ARI scholars and activities are more numerous and include some new and exciting sub-projects, like that of Alex Epstein on industrial progress and the moral case for fossil fuels.




In addition, a major libertarian foundation, the Cato Institute, has a president, John Allison, who describes himself as an Objectivist, as does former New Mexico governor and sometime Libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson.   Though all of these people and groups promote her work, my suspicion is that, as with the success of The Fountainhead, her works being passed around by word of mouth among friends may be a greater force, pulling these groups along in its wake. 

Every book by Ayn Rand published in her lifetime is still in print, and hundreds of thousands of copies are sold each year, so far totaling more than twenty five million. Several new volumes have been published posthumously. Her vision of man and her philosophy for living on earth have changed the lives of thousands of readers and launched a philosophic movement with a growing impact on American culture.

Biographical Information on Ayn Rand