Casino Jack
Jack Abramoff

Today, a couple of recommendations on very different topics — political corruption and Karen Carpenter.

First, if you’re into politics you absolutely must watch Casino Jack and the United States of Money, an eye-popping wallow in the gutter of American politics.

The documentary, directed and written with feature film flair by Alex Gibney, follows the rise and fall of ubber-lobbyist Jack Abramoff, perhaps best known for the comically evil fedora and trench coat (left) he wore when he was finally sentenced for years of corrupt activities. Abramoff made millions as a lobbyist who, among other things, sold access to top Republican lawmakers during the peak of the right-wing revolution in the U.S. of A. He was particularly chummy with top dog Republican Tom Delay, one of those extraordinarily vile creatures that the American political  seems to churn out with depressing regularity. Delay was the majority leader in the House of Representatives, which made him one of the most powerful men in the United States, a position he was not afraid to use to his advantage. (He was forced to resign after being charged with money laundering and violating campaign finance laws. His mugshot, which looks like a generic campaign photo, is another classic image.) Also along for the ride was Ralph Reed, a holier-than-the-Pope Christian conservative who, while decrying gambling in all its forms, was secretly getting money from Indian casinos in the U.S.

I can’t do justice to the web of deceit and pure corruption depicted in this film. It is a tribute to Gibney’s skills as a writer and director that a very complex story is laid out so clearly and cleverly that even I could follow it, and I used to have a hard time following the plots of Hardy Boys mysteries. It’s nearly two hours in length, but, like any great movie, it zips right by. There’s a feature film, Casino Jack, starring Kevin Spacey as Abramoff, coming out in December. But I can’t imagine that it could be any better than the real thing. It’s available at the Edmonton Public Library, but get in line —  literally. Last I checked, there were 29 people in line for it, but with three copies in circulation, it shouldn’t take too long to get it.

And now… Karen Carpenter. How’s that for an incongruous segue?

Little Girl Blue, by Randy Schmidt is a new biography of Carpenter, the singing half of the colossally successful brother-sister act, The Carpenters, who ruled the airwaves in the 1970s.  In a tight 300 pages, Schmidt profiles the star, whose painful demise in 1983 at the age of 32 made the world familiar with the term anorexia nervosa.

Say what you like about The Carpenters — their body of work has been praised, derided, then appreciated anew since they first burst on the scene in the 1970s — but Karen on vocals and brother Richard doing everything else knew how to craft classic pop tunes.  There’s no doubt that Schmidt loves Karen Carpenter — there’s hardly  a discouraging word said about her, but plenty about her domineering mother and somewhat cold brother  Richard — but overall it’s a balanced portrait. It’s a painful one, too, as Karen literally starves herself to death in the book’s tragic final chapters.

It’s a good read, even if you found The Carpenters to be as palatable as syrup on a sugar cube. It’s also available at the EPL.

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