Will “Sicko” Be Boffo?

That, and other news, in today’s Political Panorama.

Michael Moore’s “Sicko” debuted to a rousing reception in Cannes, where many admitted that they were moved to tears over stories in his doc of the troubles that patients go through in the U.S. healthcare system. Variety called it an “affecting and entertaining film” that alternates “between comedy, poignancy and outrage.”

This can only be good publicity for Moore, who is under investigation by the U.S. government for taking some 9/11 workers to Cuba for medical treatment, an apparent violation of the trade and travel restrictions on Castro’s country. But the director, appearing at a press conference, said that “I’m the one who’s personally being investigated, and I’m the one who’s personally liable for potential fines or jail, so I don’t take it as lightly.” On the advice of lawyers, he has taken a master copy of the film outside the U.S, in case the government attempts to seize it.

The movie is bound to inspire some debate on the presidential campaign trail, as candidates have been prescribing their solutions to the health care system. But will it draw box office? Moore’s anti-Bush “Fahrenheit 9/11” had the advantage of coming in the midst of the 2004 election — when partisan lines had already been drawn. Health care is a much less sexy topic — and it has lingered as a serious problem in in the public consciousness for a generation. Critics suggest that this is a much different movie that Moore’s previous work, as he has kept himself scarce and has emphasized the storytelling aspects of some of his subjects.

DiCaprio’s Debut: Leonardo DiCaprio’s global warming pic “The 11th Hour” also debuted at Cannes. Variety’s Justin Chang says that the movie loads up on “depressing data” and “loads of hand-wringing about the woeful state of humanity” but does come up with some “fascinating” ideas for solutions, the biggest knock on Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth.” What is missing, however, is a personal touch, ala Gore.

Falwell and Flynt: Larry Flynt writes in the Los Angeles Times of his unlikely friendship with Jerry Falwell, who died last week. Back in the 1980s, Falwell sued Flynt for emotional distress after Hustler ran a parody ad in which the conservative preacher was talking about his “first time” having sex. Flynt took the case all the way to the Supreme Court, which delivered a landmark unanimous verdict in favor of Hustler, citing the First Amendment. Flash forward 10 years later and the two were paired up on Larry King’s show, and a friendship developed, even though Flynt says he disagreed with everything that Falwell said. Falwell visited Flynt every time he was in Los Angeles.

Flynt writes, “My mother always told me that no matter how repugnant you find a person, when you meet them face to face you will always find something about them to like. The more I got to know Falwell, the more I began to see that his public portrayals were caricatures of himself. There was a dichotomy between the real Falwell and the one he showed the public.

“He was definitely selling brimstone religion and would do anything to add another member to his mailing list. But in the end, I knew what he was selling, and he knew what I was selling, and we found a way to communicate.

“I always kicked his ass about his crazy ideas and the things he said. Every time I’d call him, I’d get put right through, and he’d let me berate him about his views. When he was getting blasted for his ridiculous homophobic comments after he wrote his “Tinky Winky” article cautioning parents that the purple Teletubby character was in fact gay, I called him in Florida and yelled at him to “leave the Tinky Winkies alone.”

Celebrity Cues: Interesting piece, also in the Times, from Theodore Dalrymple, who writes about the next step in celebrity worship: Taking cues about politics and world affairs from the likes of Bono and Rosie O’Donnell. The author of “Our Culture, What’s Left of It: The Mandarins and the Masses,” Dalrymple says that it’s gotten to the point where celebrity dictates foreign policy. He keys off Bono’s efforts to incite action in Africa.

He writes, “As it happens, Bono has boned up on his subject, even if his conclusions about what should be done to help Africa are eminently disputable and deeply hypocritical. His authority arises from his celebrity, not from his knowledge. An equally knowledgeable but otherwise totally obscure person would not be able to hector the leaders of France, Germany and Italy for falling behind on their promises of aid, as Bono did last week. When Bono speaks, they have to listen — he is more famous than they are.”

What isn’t covered is that, as much work and attention Bono has brought to Africa and other issues, there is also a backlash against celebrity activism.  They can just as easily be dismissed as publicity stunts — or even worse, hypocritical proselytizing. And when it comes to political campaigns, stars like George Clooney have said that they are well aware that their presence on the campaign trail can do more harm than good.

Presidential Barnstorming: New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson’s kickoff of his presidential candidacy on Monday has been shifted to the Biltmore Hotel in downtown Los Angeles from the Los Angeles Press Club in Hollywood. Meanwhile, Connecticut Sen. Chris Dodd is in Los Angeles for a series of fund-raisers over the next two days.

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