Florence Foster Jenkins

[4.0 stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

While watching Florence Foster Jenkins, I found myself wondering, of all things: in what genre does IMDB classify this? As it turns out: "Biography, Comedy, Drama". I suppose that's fair enough.

It's based on actual people, as they existed in 1944 New York City. Sometimes, after watching "real people" movies, I'll dig up one of those articles that describe how much artistic license is taken in putting a good story on the screen. I felt no desire whatsoever to do that in this case, because I really would rather think things happened just like this.

The titular Florence is played by Meryl Streep; she's an heiress, devoted to promoting musical performances in NYC during WW2. She's married to charming and debonair St Clair Bayfield (Hugh Grant). And her dream is to transcend her moneybag role and actually give a vocal performance in Carnegie Hall.

Problem is, she is a very bad singer. It's not that she has no talent; in fact, she's extremely talented at singing badly. You, or I, or 99 out of a hundred people picked off the street could do better. But she's blissfully unaware of this. So she arranges for lessons and a dedicated accompanist (Cosmé McMoon, played by Howard Wolowitz himself, Simon Helberg), and aims herself relentlessly at her goal.

To the movie's credit, this is not simply a laff riot. Florence may be deluded about her talent, but there are other things going on with her, and they come out gradually. Her relationship with her husband is, um, unconventional, and that complexity is tastefully revealed too.

Simon Helberg is a pleasant surprise, especially if you've only seen him on The Big Bang Theory. He's a pretty good actor! (Although I kind of knew it, because I was impressed with his small role in A Serious Man.) He's also a decent piano player; he and Ms. Streep performed all the music here.

Sign of the Unicorn

[Amazon Link]

Number three in Roger Zelazny's Amber series, and things are getting complicated. Avoid reading further if you haven't read one and two.

Series protagonist Prince Corwin has taken over in Amber, and a saner person would realize that maybe he should have just kicked back and enjoyed a long and healthy life on Shadow Earth (where you and I live) instead. One of those nasty only-sorta-human beasts from the first book has invaded Amber and offed one of Corwin's brothers—fortunately, he has a number of others—and maybe tried to frame Corwin for the deed. It appears that Amber is slated for destruction by forces unknown, and some of the Amberites might be, intentionally or unintentionally, in on that scheme. Key players are missing. Nobody trusts anyone else.

So what we have in this book is a detective story, as Corwin works with his brothers and sisters to unwind the mysteries presented in the first two books. Can a missing brother be retrieved? (Yes, but that rescue is almost thwarted by violent treachery.) Will Corwin himself be in danger? (You bet, and his escape is narrow, and to an unexpected place.)

Do I understand what's going on? Not really. Fantasy is not really my thing, and it is very easy to get lost in the intricacies of familial double- and triple-crossing even in the absence of magical complications. Still, it's a page turner.

URLs du Jour

2017-07-14

EAR OIL

Proverbs 23:17-18 has a rebuttal to Leo Durocher's famous quote (but something he only kinda said), "Nice guys finish last".

17 Do not let your heart envy sinners,
    but always be zealous for the fear of the Lord.
18 There is surely a future hope for you,
    and your hope will not be cut off.

Take that, Leo. The Lord is not on your side. I hope He had a chance to point this out to you Himself.

■ A Harvard faculty committee recently recommended that all "exclusive social clubs" for Harvard students be shut down. At the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), Harvard Prof Steven Pinker explains why that's a terrible idea. RTWT, of course, but here's one of his main points:

A university is an institution with circumscribed responsibilities which engages in a contract with its students. Its main responsibility is to provide them with an education. It is not an arbiter over their lives, 24/7. What they do on their own time is none of the university’s business.

Would it be too much to hope that administrators at our nation's institutions of higher education print that up and put it on a wall?

I know: yes, it's way too much to hope for.

■ David French has good advice for the media. Specifically, Media Beware: The Southern Poverty Law Center Has Become a Dangerous Joke.

I have a confession to make: I’m a hater lurking at a convention of haters. Our thoughtcrimes are clear and inexcusable. I’m at a meeting of Christians who believe the Bible is true, who believe that mankind is fallen and in need of a Savior, and who believe that we should live according to certain moral rules — including rules that govern sexual conduct. We believe that we should have the basic liberty to live according to that faith, and we also believe that other human beings should be able to live according to the different dictates of their consciences, so long as we all respect each other’s fundamental rights. To make matters even worse, I used to work for this hate group. I was a senior counsel, supervising a whole platoon of hateful litigators.

The "hate group" is the Alliance Defending Freedom, an organization that fights legal battles on behalf of religious liberty, and that despicable label was applied to them by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC). As French outlines, ABC and NBC uncritically stuck that label onto stories passed on to their (dwindling) viewers. And, in a time of deranged violence-prone leftists, that's irresponsible and dangerous.

As Mollie Hemingway points out at the Federalist:

And they’re not a fringe group either. They just weeks ago won their most recent Supreme Court victory — Trinity Lutheran v. Comer — 7-2. It was their fifth Supreme Court victory in seven years, during which time they’ve had no losses at the high court.

Maybe the SPLC will start labelling the Constitution as a "hate document"? That doesn't sound too farfetched.

I would only demur with the verb tense in French's headline. The SPLC has not just "become" a dangerous joke. Way back in 2010, UNH invited SPLC honcho Morris Dees to its upcoming Martin Luther King Day fiesta, and Pun Salad pointed out that Dees and the SPLC were in the business of "scarifying nonsense". They haven't improved since.

■ And finally, Chris Edwards of the Cato Institute presents the latest version of A Plan to Cut Federal Government Spending

Federal government spending is rising, deficits are chronic, and accumulated debt is reaching dangerous levels. Growing spending and debt are undermining economic growth and may push the nation into a financial crisis in coming years.

The solution to these problems is to downsize every federal department by cutting the most harmful programs. This study proposes specific cuts that would reduce federal spending by almost one-quarter and balance the budget in less than a decade.

The plan is full of excellent ideas, and I didn't see one that had a hope in hell of being enacted. But Edwards and Cato deserve our thanks anyway.