Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania

[3.5 stars] [IMDB Link]

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On the third attempt, I finally made it through this whole movie without falling asleep. It's not that it's not good. It's good. On the high side of OK.

Scott Lang is coasting through life as a revered hero who saved the world from Thanos. He hangs out with girlfiend/superhero Hope/Wasp. Everybody likes him, and how could they not: he's played by Paul Rudd! But daughter Cassie has become a rebellious teen, taken to getting arrested in demonstrations. (And this is San Francisco, where they don't arrest anybody, so you know she has to be pretty obnoxious.) Cassie's also been experimenting with Hank Pym's shrink/grow technology, and checking out the Quantum Realm, where Hank's wife Janet was stranded for decades.

After getting Cassie out of jail, the whole gang (Scott, Cassie, Hank, Janet, and Hope) gather for pizza, and Cassie reveals her magic device for exploring the Quantum Realm. Janet, who's been keeping certain facets of her time in the Realm secret, realizes that the device puts them all in extreme danger… too late, they all get sucked down into the weird and fantastic, and extremely dangerous, world.

They have a heck of a time defeating the menace there and returning home.

I think my sleepiness problem was due to over-reliance on spectacular CGI. Close to everything in the Quantum Realm is CGId. Every so often a human face or form will pop up; otherwise it's difficult to care about the obviously fictitious goings-on with no connection to the Real World.

But it's clever, and funny in spots. It's a setup for another couple of Avengers movies… which I'll probably see, because … Avengers.

Last Modified 2024-01-13 5:03 AM EST

Liberalism and Its Discontents

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I confess, I've never read anything by Francis Fukuyama before. But I am interested in how "liberalism" has become a punching-bag ideology recently, derided by many on the left and right. Fukuyama does a halfway decent job of looking at that phenomenon. But just halfway.

It turns out that Fukuyama has his own bones to pick with liberalism. For example, he derides "neoliberalism", a label applied retroactively to ideas propounded by Milton Friedman, Hayek, von Mises, et al, implemented by not only Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher, but also (you may be surprised to hear) Bill Clinton and Tony Blair. Like "capitalism", it's a term invented by its opponents.

But, to Fukuyama, neoliberalism is "liberal ideas taken to extremes". (Amazon's "Look Inside the Book" search feature counts up 23 occurrences of various forms of "extreme" in this short book. Fukuyama doesn't like carrying things to extremes.)

He also dislikes the "consumer welfare standard" of antitrust litigation, first promulgated by Robert Bork. It is another example of how "neoliberalism has shifted the pendulum" too far.

Fukuyama also (somewhat surprisingly) takes potshots at John Rawls and his "veil of ignorance" justification of liberal policy. Rawls' "absolutization of autonomy, and the elevation of choice over all other human goods is "philosophically objectionable and has had "problematic" results.

Basically, Fukuyama seems to dislike arguing from principles. He's in favor of good results, though: dignity, prosperity, tolerance, pluralism, freedom of expression, individualism over identity politics, federalism. All good things, if not (once again) "taken to extremes".

An interesting discussion, and a worthwhile argument for non-dogmatism. I'm not sure how coherent it is in terms of resolving conflicts over deeply-held values. It seems that such things are irreducibly messy, and the best you can do is throw up your hands. Or, at best, engage in persuasion and evidence-based rational argument to sway people to your side.

Last Modified 2024-01-13 5:03 AM EST

Rock Me on the Water

1974-The Year Los Angeles Transformed Movies, Music, Television, and Politics

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A readable look at American culture, circa (see the subtitle) 1974, with focus on (again, see the subtitle) the denizens of Los Angeles. It has twelve chapters, conveniently titled January, February, …

But that turns out to be kind of misleading. Many of the events the author, Ronald Brownstein, describes slop into years both before and after 1974. And the monthly chapter titles are cute, but not really relevant.

Brownstein writes as an unabashed fan about the showbiz folks, musicians, and politicians he admires. On TV, he liked M*A*S*H, All in the Family, the Mary Tyler Moore Show, … Movies: Chinatown, Shampoo, Jaws, Nashville, … Musicians: Jackson Browne, the Eagles, Joni Mitchell, Linda Ronstadt, … Actors: Jack Nicholson, Warren Beatty, Jane Fonda, … Politicians? Just Jerry Brown, really. Tom Hayden, sort of.

The politics of the book are slanted left, reflecting the outlook of nearly all the subjects. Somewhat discordantly, since just about all those folks were propelled to fame and fortune by their active partnership with capitalist corporations, and their participation in the market economy. Nevertheless, Brownstein reserves his most fulsome praise for efforts that "expose" the corruption, racism, militarism, etc. of 70s America. He also describes (from his 21st century vantage) the overwhelmingly white-male control of 70s culture. (There's a side tour into the "blaxploitation" movie phenomenon, which caused me to stream the Pam Grier movie Coffy a few days ago.)

And cocaine. Lots of cocaine.

Brownstein details the "Icarus"-like career of Bert Schneider. He produced The Monkees! Also Five Easy Pieces, Easy Rider, The Last Picture Show. His anti-Vietnam War documentary Hearts and Minds won him an Oscar, and his acceptance speech at the 1975 ceremony cheered that "Vietnam is about to be liberated". Yes, by becoming a Communist dictatorship. He then proceeded to read a telegram from the head of the North Vietnamese delegation to the Paris peace talks. Before that, in 1974, he was deeply involved in a scheme to fly Huey Newton to Cuba, in order to avoid arrest and prosecution for shooting a 17-year-old prostitute in Oakland and assaulting a tailor fitting him for a suit.

Brownstein tut-tuts about Schneider's bad-boy behavior with sex and drugs, but can't seem to condemn his pro-Communist sympathies.

Brownstein really likes the adjective "brilliant": Amazon's "Look Inside the Book" search finds 30 occurrences. OK, we get it, Ron: you think they're brilliant.

Brownstein also gets a little too inside-baseball with his history. Do we really need to know about all these CBS vice chairmen and associate VPs?

One bit of sloppiness I noticed: on page 74, Linda Ronstadt is quoted as referring to "Jennifer Warren, who was a great singer." Boy, I'm 99.9% sure she was talking about Jennifer Warnes. (Don't know if the error was Linda's or Ron just mistranscribed the interview. As always, this is a warning flag about taking other details in the book with a grain of salt.

I was 23 years old in 1974, and (I confess) owned those musicians' albums, watched those movies and TV shows. I enjoyed reading the anecdotes Brownstein tells. His analysis of the era is simplistic and tendentious, but fortunately easy to ignore.

Last Modified 2024-01-13 5:03 AM EST