Saturday, December 30, 2017

Further Notes On Molly’s Game


Excellent critique.  But I beg to differ. Molly’s fast pace speech is so entertaining   that it masks the film’s length and her depth does in fact shine when she chooses to risk a prison term rather than get back her $5 M as part of a deal to give up her “hard drive” because defending her“name”, her reputation, her integrity  was sacrosanct.


I got it about her big personal sacrifice. I did wonder if it’s true or was gussied up Hollywood style. That level of saintliness and sacrifice,—foregoing $5,000,000, really?—in someone like her is hard to believe. Not to say it couldn’t be true but I do wonder. As to the rapidity letting the 2 hours plus sail by, there’s something to that but otoh I’ve seen movies that length and longer that don’t need verbal pyrotechnics to keep me riveted. Take The Godfathers 1 and 2 for instances. But by all means let’s differ. It makes life worth living.


This obsession with keeping one’s “name” echoes in the voice of Theseus in Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream who said: “A poet gives to airy nothing a local habitation and a name.”


I get that too. At the level of pure fictional cinema, I don’t know if I was convinced by that scene. It worked, I’d finally judge. But I’m dying to know if in her life that’s really the unadorned sacrifice she made. If it were me, I’d be sitting on the 5,000,000 subject to tax liens. The movie put a halo on her but she was fairly scuzzy in real life, a degenerate among degenerates, an addict, a raker, appealing to among our most base instincts, which come out as more tolerable or even to some admirable because of all the glitz surrounding them bought by obscene amounts of money. The apotheosis of it all was Player X, in real life Tobey Maguire, saying he didn’t like poker that much: rather he loved destroying other players. And he financed conflicts of interest. As I say, degenerate.


Ah, yes but as a work of art it was that moment of inspiration that took us to imagine what could be.


But do you know what the real life deal actually was? I looked a little online but couldn’t find it. On the art thing opening up to the imagination high possibilities, sure, but here the art is based on a true story. It is in that in the nature of a doc. So had she, for the sake of argument, not actually displayed such integrity and sacrifice in real life in agreeing simply to plead guilty as the film has it, I’d argue it would mark a defect in the film, since, again, it doesn’t purport to be fiction.

Friday, December 29, 2017

A Few Notes On Molly’s Game


We saw Molly’s Game today. 

A few scattered thoughts.

It tells a well paced story. It’s over 2 hours long but is never boring. Jessica Chastain is strong as Molly. Idris Elba is good as her lawyer. And Kevin Costner may be ok as her father, but her father’s such an asshole I can’t help but visit my intense dislike of him onto Costner’s acting.

For all that’s good in it, I give it a 55. 


My problem with it is my general problem with Aaron Sorkin. 

I keep thinking he’s a precocious show off who’s never grown up, and is nervously anxious to flood us with his rat a tat cleverness. Chastain talks in rapid fire sentences, all grammatically perfect and impressively articulate. And she seems to know everything about everything.  

The trouble is no one, but no one, not even Ben ‘Machine Gun’ Shapiro, talks that way, though he comes closest of any public figure I can think of. And the further trouble is that all that rapid fire patter gets in the way of any real sense of the inner Molly. It’s a Tom Cruise thing, flashily impressive on the outside but on the deep inside not so much. So the talk is showy and glib. It’s verbal fireworks. Sizzle but not enough steak. 

When Molly her has her big dramatic scene with her father, Kevin Costner speaks in this glib, seemingly all-knowing-everything way too, though at a less breakneck speed. 

But the kicker is that it’s an awful scene. 

It’s loaded with an apparently magical 3’ analysis of the sources of Molly’s driven anger delivered by a self-described “high priced” “Dr. Of The Mind.” But that analysis is weighted down by banal and reductive insights that made me want intellectually to vomit they are so saccharine and trite. And to cap that off, at one point before saying what a high priced psychologist he is, Costner praises himself for raising such accomplished kids on a college prof’s salary. That’s what Hollywood calls a “lack of continuity.”

That lack is of a piece with the wretched fake emotion in Costner clutching Molly to him and tearfully swearing to get a guy to get the guy who beats her up and robs  her. If anyone believes this as authentically conveyed emotion I have some non melting ice to sell you. 

So voila within just a few minutes, years of a daughter’s father-hatred are resolved and Costner is now loving her as never before and is redeemed. In truth, this scene brings us no closer to the inner Molly; and it makes a maudlin hash of all that  has gone between them as the movie has it.

Matching Molly’s machine gun paced voiceover narration and speech are her whizzes-by-you-so-fast-you-can’t-take-it-in play by play descriptions of various poker hands. If you’re not a poker player, and I’m not, then you won’t really understand what she’s talking about. What’s the point of it? Why not slow things down just a little to provide some explanation? The rapidity of it all is dazzles us but for the uninitiated the dazzle quickly becomes a haze of incomprehension. And to no point that I can see. 

Mrs. Basman scores it at 70. She thinks I’m being too negative.

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

A Few Scattered Notes On The Godfather Part II

A Few Scattered Notes On  The Godfather Part II 

Question on Godfather 2: 

1...In it, Fanucci tells Vito that if his gang made $600.00 from their thievery, then he should get $200.00 with which to wet his beak. Fanucci tells him that if they didn’t get $600.00, he’ll take less, $100.00.

Am I right in thinking that Vito tells his two guys, Clemenza and Tessio, that Fanucci wants all $600.00 and the two of them argue that all three of them need to come up with $200.00 each with which to repay Fanucci? 

And am I right that after Vito kills Fanucci and gets back the $100.00 he just paid him, pocketing it, (and maybe some other money in Fanucci’s wallet), the source of which is $50.00 each from Tessio and Clemenza, there is no scene in which Vito pays his guys back their $50.00 each?

It’s the first time I think I’ve noticed these details though I may be confused about them or maybe I missed something.

If not, if I’m right, then is there some subtle shading in of a sinister side to Vito, apart from the him obviously  being a gangster?

2...Fanucci’s the exact opposite of Vito,  including being loud and flashy vs quiet, soft spoken and understated; hated and feared by the neighborhood vs feared and loved by the neighborhood; a scavenger of prey vs always “You do me a service and I’ll do you a service.”

3...My view: 1, while an incredible story of panoramic quality with great acting, had amidst the violence a certain rosiness and something approaching adulation—the  quite story book successful multiple murders at the end, for eg, even if juxtaposed with the baptism, it was Michael’s baptism too, in a way—about the material that took away from the realities of the violence and the thuggery; 2 while having all the great qualities of 1, had the reality of the corrupt, empty soullessness of power finally evident in Michael’s humanly empty, utterly ruthless, nihilistic quest for power fully and finally realized in the (needless from any point of view, principled or pragmatic) killing of his brother. 

4....A massive contrast in 2 as well, as I see it, is between Vito and Michael, whose stories are stitched together in the movie and further overlap in Vito being insinuated in every aspect of Michael’s rise to and holding his position of power. As we see Vito throughout 2, aren’t we, as in 1, drawn to him, admiring of him even as he’s a gangster? Part of the romance of 1 is in him, I think. But the story moves inexorably and predominately to Michael. And we grow increasingly estranged and alienated from him as he succeeds to more and more power. He grows jowly and dark and unlovely in that success, almost fanatical in his single minded devotion to business, an emperor in his own mind as he scares his children into obedient docility and demands his sister kiss his hand, which he first seems to offer to her in sympathetic understanding but then we see that that offer is only a prelude to his unspoken demand that she take his hand and kiss it in obedient reverence. You can see 2, and 1 and 2 together, as the movement from Vito to Michael, which is simultaneous of course with Michael’s ascendance, a movement the inner logic of which finds its culmination in the *fanatical*—a word I considered carefully here—murdering of Fredo.

In a nutshell, no romanticizing the reality in 2.

5...P.S. The only clinker in 2, to me, is Diane Keaton. She was ok as peripheral in 1 but is weak in 2. Her last big dramatic scene in 2, the “abortion” scene, wasn’t believable to me. She was trying too hard to act and it look forced. I couldn’t get past that in that scene.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

How Much Free Speech


When I studied some political philosophy while majoring in English, my prof, Robert Rowan, was a civil liberties activist, prominent in the B.C. Civil Liberties Union or Association (or whatever it was then called).

He once in debate aired on CBC radio punched the philosophic lights out of Herbert Marcuse. This was the sixties and theories of guys like Marcuse and Norman O Brown got a lot of play.

Rowan was a disciple of Joseph Tussman, of Obligation And The Body Politic, a Kantian in some respects. Tussman himself was a student of Alexander Mekllejohn, who wrote Education Between Two Worlds, the worlds before and after WW 2. It had a big impact on me, as callow as I was.

A big issue we took up, and Tussman was famous on it, was what limitation, if any, should be put on the 1st Am guarantee of free expression. 

It was Tussman’s (and Rowan’s) thesis, historically based as they argued at least, that it should be limited to political speech, or, more precisely, that speech that enures to a politically informed citizenry, that being the very engine of a well functioning liberal democracy. 

Commercial speech, for instance, doesn’t make the protected cut on this conception of the width of protected free speech. 

I’m making a short story long here because I just read an accessible article by Cass Sunstein on the work of a University of Richmond law prof, Judd Campbell. 

Sunstein calls Campbell’s work on the 1st Am extraordinarily illuminating. 

The argument in a nutshell is that the original meaning of the guarantee is quite restricted and relates in big part to what custom and convention deem to be conducive to good order, with some exceptions. So speaking hard against the national interest is seditious and hence not protected and is in fact criminal. 

This conception of restrictable expression is at odds with modern case law on the wide sway given to protected expression and poses interesting challenges for originalists, who to a man and woman tend to be strongly libertarian, as in “State do your minimum functions and otherwise get out of my hair.” 

But enough of me. 

Here’s the guy who really knows what he’s talking about and is a hell of a good writer to boot.

A Contrarian Note On Wedding Cake Case, The Baker Who Wouldn’t


Does this make sense?

I’ve had some vigorous exchanges with a few people here, there and everywhere on the wedding cake case.

While I’m totally for gay marriage and the grant to gay couples and individuals of all equal rights—“grant” may not be the right verb; “recognize” is better—I’m sympathetic to the argument based on compelled speech, assuming baking a fancy, symbolic and specified wedding cake can be legally likened to the expression inherent in artistry. 

Not otherwise.

The most troubling argument to me has been the question of what if the baker for religious reasons, sincerely but perversely held, is against interracial marriage.

I struggled with it and offered a few answers that didn’t sit well with me.

But I had last night a good conversation with my younger lawyer daughter, who gives and takes good arguments equally well. And it came to me.

I think.

No dancing around the application of strict scrutiny or hiving off racial issues for special consideration: no, I think the issue has to be met head on. And the answer I think—I stress “I think” because it’s only a thought—is that compelled speech must apply to the religiously based animus against interracial marriage it that’s what is sincerely and deeply believed. 

Compelled speech, which is as strong and embracing as the 1st Amendment itself, can’t be splintered into the convictions we can live with and the ones we can’t. If Nazis can march under their rights of assembly and unbridled expression, short of incitement, then bakers oughtn’t be compelled to create against their convictions, if they come within the ambit of artists who can’t be compelled to act against their convictions.

Nobody made that argument in oral argument before SCOTUS and I doubt it was briefed. But I do believe and think that it is the principled answer to the troubling question of what to do if race is at the bottom of the refusal to provide service.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

More On Mailer’s The Prisoner Of Sex: Halfway Through Part 2, The Acolyte


So some more on Norman Mailer’s The Prisoner Of Sex, as written to some friends, one of whom did his MA thesis on Mailer.

....Just to say in my on and off reading of this book, I’m in the middle of the second part, The Acolyte, some general thoughts are running  through my mind. He’s at the point of having finished with T-Grace Atkinson et al and is about to get down to brass tacks with Kate Millett.

One realization is that I’m falling nicely into the rhythm, pace and even longueurs of Mailer’s prose. I’m reading him easily as a matter of style and no longer find his writing frustrating. The obscure references and tropes that get by me have diminished though I still scratch my head over the odd one. 

I find all his talk about himself as a revolutionary and the need for revolution given his characterization of America as Moloch with its pollution, greed and machine like cannibalism of its citizens both overwrought and silly. 

OTOH, I like that he’s self derisive in questioning his status as a revolutionary owing to his growing into his creature comforts, middle age passivity and to the waning fervor of his energies, much of them sapped by his four failed marriages. (Not for nothing does PW stand for prisoner of war as well as prize winner.) 

That self deprecation reminds me of something purposefully self parodic I read by him about a writer going over all his bills, what he owes his ex wives, all the fancy dinners out, the vacations, the cost of a place on “the Vineyard,” and then finally he gets down to writing something called AMERIKA.

When Mailer gets off the revolutionary kick, I think he points to and expands wonderfully on a great theme about women as nature has them as child bearers and nurturers, that being connected to something mysterious beyond the ken of men, and how their nature works against them in wanting, for those that do, to be the ultimate equal of men in every way. That becomes for radical feminists, what critical theory calls, a “problematic.” 

Mailer is effective, I think, in skewering their fantasies about technology transforming their natures so as to obviate their need to bear children and in skewering the proposition that when liberated, including from their natures, they won’t be looked to as essential to giving birth to sustain the population. 

Yet while he does all that skewering he aptly, I feel, harkens to, and evinces, the sense of the mystery of creation that inheres In women (and not men), the beauty, the awesome naturalness and (metaphorically) the miraculousness of which contrast so profoundly with the dystopian science fiction fantasies of radical feminism. 

I remember from reading this book a half a century ago that the evincing of this sense of mystery in contrast to the mechanizing and technologizing of sex (and maybe other things) is at part of the heart of what I remember to be the marvelous literary criticism that is yet to come.    

Matching his ambiguity and self irony about his status as a revolutionary is Mailer’s contrast of the within-the-system policy reforms of Abzug and NOW with the off the wall wishes of radical feminism that even then sought to erase all biological differences between men and women, to erase all mores, conventions and taboos about sex, envisioning a kind utopia of free love, and that sought to overthrow capitalism and the class and power divides it engenders. 

The matching arises, as best as I can make it out, from Mailer lauding the policy reforms but, too, being attracted to, not the dystopian/utopian fantasies, but, rather, the more prosaic but radical feminist calls for political and social transformation of American society. 

If I’ve got the ambiguities here right, I don’t as yet know whether or how he resolves them.

On I’ll read though and in any event.

Sunday, December 3, 2017

More On Mailer’s The Prisoner Of Sex


As I recall, "wordy" had been a Mailer characteristic since about the late 50's (long, elaborate sentences with a lot of adjectives, i.e). 

So was "roundabout", which he'd developed as a coy defensive tactic, a way of hedging, hinting, not quite saying what you think he's saying. 

From time to time he'll call this "dialectical", though I never thought he meant much by that -- it was really just a way of being able to take provocative stances without being pinned down by them. 

And "self-obsessed" -- well, sure, that's Mailer, from the beginning, and overtly so, obviously, since "Advertisements for Myself". 

I think maybe the oddness stems from some earlier obsessions with viscera, bowels, and smells, which he'd developed in a confused search for some Big Idea that would identify him (previously that had been Time), but it does get at some notion of bodily essence that's probably relevant to his theme here. 

Finally, though, what makes it "not not engaging", to my mind at least, is that this is Mailer at the period where he encapsulates himself as his own protagonist, the Mailer-persona, part clown, part Aging Man of Letters, whose antics, verbal and physical, both amuse and, occasionally, stimulate. Or at least they did me, once upon a time. Don probably had a more appropriate response.


Thanks L. I’ll keep on with it. At least for a while. 

But even in the first part, The Prizewinner, he talks about:

...a colloquy between the liver’s passions and the justified claims of the spleen, the spirituality of the lungs in conflict with the wage demands of the muscles, all subjected at last to the logic of intestinal morality....

And I’m thinking wtf is he talking about? Is he serious? Is he just putting us on? And now given your good comment, I’m thinking, “Does he think he’s saying something meaningful but he wants it both ways by suggesting too that he’s just farting around because he probably knows it’s fanciful bullshit?” 

There’s a part in the first part where he’s courting the support of Bella Abzug and her group in his run for mayor. And she’s so plain spoken, like “Your ideas on women stink,” with her quintessential New York City bluntness. And I really appreciated that compared to his roundabout, at times obscure, long winded loquaciousness.

He’s prolix. 

Saturday, December 2, 2017

On Rereading Norman Mailer’s The Prisoner Of Sex, So Far Part 1

I just finished the first part of The Prisoner Of Sex, The Prizewinner. 

I first read the book about 50 years ago.

It came up again in an article by Judith Shulevitz on Kate Millett and her book Sexual Politics, which slags Mailer and which Mailer answers in his book. Shulevitz, whom I like,  gives her the nod over Mailer.

I remember particularly thinking Mailer’s literary criticism in in his book was superb. But I knew even less then than I do now. 

I  wanted to reread Prisoner Of Sex, which I thought was great when I read it way back when, to see if I still favoured it. 

So I just started it. 

I don’t know what to make of the first part. It confuses me. It’s way wordy, way self obsessed, roundabout, with some obscure expressions the meaning of which got by me, yet playful, and not not engaging—I use a double negative because the engagement, such as it is, co-exists with mild impatience and bits of not getting what he’s saying. Overall, so far, I’m sort of liking it, but I’m wondering what’s the point of all its oddness. 

I’ll read on.