Movies and Books

THE PASSION OF AYN RAND (1999) stars Helen Mirren as the objectivist author and Eric Stolz as protégé Nathaniel Branden who tries convincing wife Julie Delpy that becoming Rand’s lover as well is entirely consistent with logical objectivist principles (reminding me of the graphic novel Logicomix in which Bertrand Russell likewise tries to organize his love life on logical grounds). Familiar material but well acted; interesting to see how much objectivism comes off like Marxism here (intense grilling on doctrinal accuracy, dissenters getting cast out) “I like Reagan, but in KING’S ROW, not in the White House.”
SALT OF THE EARTH (1953) is the indie drama of miners vs. bosses (made by blacklisted filmmakers) that now seems more notable for its feminism (the woman wind up participating in the strike over the protests of their menfolk) than for its labor issues, which aren’t that far removed from Black Lung (but considerably harsher on miners). Condemned at the time as Red Propaganda, it’s good despite the heavy themes; Will Geer as the sheriff is one of the few professionals in the cast. “So you want to go down fighting, is that it?”
COURAGE UNDER FIRE (1996) stars Denzel Washington as an officer crumbling under guilt over having ordered a friendly fire incident who gets assigned to the seemingly routine duty of confirming that deceased chopper captain Meg Ryan really deserves the Medal of Honor for her performance in Desert Storm. A very good drama (though departing from her usual rom-com mold was apparently a huge career setback for Ryan), with Michael Moriarty as Washington’s superior, Scott Glenn as a snoopy reporter, Bronson Pinchot as White House PR and Matt Damon and Lou Diamond Phillips as members of Ryan’s squad. “You don’t have to figure it all out——you just have to admit that you can’t.”
I caught GOOD LUCK CHUCK! (2007) simply because the idea of a guy whose sex partners all find True Love with the next guy is close to something I have in mind (but having seen it, I think we’re pretty far apart). Dane Cook plays Charlie, who first tries to exploit his curse, then begins to worry that it will make it impossible to keep klutzy new girl Jessica Alba (I kept wondering if her clumsiness would turn out to be another curse). Despite the concept, not notably different from numerous other sleaze-heavy romantic comedies. “Don’t look at me in that tone of voice!”

THE BARDS OF BONE PLAIN is one of Patricia McKillip’s weaker books, following the double stories of an ancient and modern bard both of whom find themselves playing against a mysterious immortal in a bardic contest. While McKillip’s often elliptical about what’s going on, this time it’s to the point I honestly have no idea what’s going on (who exactly was this immortal? What did Naird do in the Turning Tower that cursed him?) and even minor details feel like loose ends.
WINTER KING, SUMMER FOOL is Lisa Goldstein’s only “secondary world” fantasy novel (i.e., a world that isn’t ours), set around a corrupt, idle court and focusing on one aristocratic would-be poet who has mixed feelings about becoming a player in the intrigues around the throne——all of which takes second place to the realization a rift among the gods raises the threat of an eternal winter. Very good.

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