Saturday, March 21, 2020

and some books and movies

Up early this morning, so out grocery shopping again, this time at a semi-boutique market I visit only occasionally, close to home and one of only two outlets they have. The first morning hours are seniors-only, and by their definition I count as a senior, although nobody had told any of this to the employee stationed at the front door with hand-sanitizer wipes (much less annoying than the liquid stuff).

Inside, very civilized. All the customers very polite and cautious, unlike the stories I've been reading about large markets elsewhere. Low on packaged dinners, few paper products, but plenty of produce. This store doesn't sell packaged fresh meat; everything is behind the butcher counter, and they had plenty of everything. Had to caution myself not to buy more than I could use before it would go bad.

(Excuse me: B has alerted me that I need to shoo Tybalt out of the bathroom cupboard.)

In amongst editing work (this is the line and copy and house-style editing I most enjoy), I've gotten a little other entertainment, like books:

A Necessary Evil: A History of American Distrust of Government by Garry Wills. No it isn't: not a history of distrust of government, I mean. It's a historically-organized set of polemics debunking all sorts of arguments for distrusting government. In brisk order, Wills dismisses Second Amendment wet dreams of the Revolutionary Era (few had guns, most were busted, few could fix them, and even the ones that worked were muskets that couldn't hit anything accurately), nullifiers, seceders, insurrections, vigilantes, Thoreau, and H.L. Mencken, about whom Wills is particularly bitter because he used to admire Mencken. Wills' idea of an admirable distruster of government is Dr. King, who didn't oppose government entire but only specific things that government did, and who justified civil disobedience with a set of moral principles, every one of which Thoreau violated, exposing Thoreau as a sanctimonious twit.

Cold Fire: Kennedy's Northern Frontier by John Boyko. I picked this up on my last trip to Canada. You wouldn't find it anywhere else. It's a history of the JFK administration's relations with Canada, detailed enough to show that things rarely ran smoothly. JFK just couldn't stand John Diefenbaker, Canadian prime minister for most of his term, especially after Diefenbaker made Kennedy plant a tree on his trip to Ottawa, wrenching out Kennedy's back. Boyko even goes so far as to blame Diefenbaker for Kennedy's assassination, because without the brace Kennedy had to wear after his back went out, he'd have slumped down after the first shot and wouldn't have been hit by the fatal one. Nevertheless, Diefenbaker is Boyko's hero, because at least he tried to maintain Canada's dignity even if all it did was annoy the Americans. After Diefenbaker was defeated in the April 1963 election, due (Boyko says) largely to Putinesque connivance by the Americans, his successor, Lester Pearson, is depicted as a spineless git who crumbled whenever he inadvertently did something the Americans didn't like. However, because Kennedy liked Pearson, he did give Canada more of the respect Diefenbaker had wanted. Unfortunately, Pearson and LBJ didn't get along.

and some movies:

The Mexican. Brad Pitt-Julia Roberts vehicle in which Pitt is a mostly useless but sometimes surprisingly ruthlessly effective mob flunky who's sent by his crime boss (Bob Balaban, who usually plays nebbishes but here is cold and nasty) to Mexico to fetch a particular antique gun (the Mexican of the title). Meanwhile Roberts, his on/off girlfriend with whom he has titanic arguments, is held hostage by a hit man (James Gandolfini, yes really) to ensure Pitt does the job. Cuts back and forth between the two until they're finally reunited a bit before the end. This movie got criticized for being tedious and overlong, but I found Pitt's misadventures (only some of the goofups are his fault) interesting. It's the developing friendship between Roberts and Gandolfini, which the reviewers liked, which I found getting tedious once she figures out he's gay and they start talking about relationships. When the oft-mentioned mob godfather finally shows up, he turns out to be played by Gene Hackman. Busy series of plot reversals with several deaths marks the ending.

Miss Sloane. Contemporary political thriller about a top Washington lobbyist played by Jessica Chastain. Asked to run a gun-rights campaign, she literally laughs it off and goes to work for the underfunded gun-control group instead, for the challenge of it. Though the incidents are all fictional, the arguments pro and anti are all real, and as the movie slowly sinks into the campaign, one realizes that despite the excellent, tightly-wound acting and crackerjack directing (by the guy who helmed Shakespeare in Love), the script isn't really very good. Eventually the battle becomes personal and the movie turns back into a thriller with a lot of twists in the ending. With Mark Strong (who's come a long way since he played Kate Beckinsale's Mr Knightley with ridiculous hair; now he has no hair at all), John Lithgow (who actually plays his character: good going John), and Alison Pill (whom you definitely should keep an eye on).

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