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Klavan On The Culture

Another Great Season of “Justified.”

April 16th, 2014 - 6:05 am
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I’ve entered one of those periods when I’m so busy, I can only watch one TV show at a time. Pitiful, I know. Fortunately, for the last thirteen weeks, there’s been no difficulty deciding which show it would be. Graham Yost’s Justified remains one of the best crime shows ever, even in this era of unbelievably great crime shows like The Wire and The Shield.

I think the last two seasons have been the two best. As always, it’s the characters, dialogue and tough Elmore Leonardian attitudes that make the thing pop the way it does. But I do like a good story, and the plotting has grown better over the seasons and in these last two seasons, the stories were really superlative.

The actors are all great. Timothy Olyphant, Nick Searcy, Walton Goggins, Joelle Carter, the whole cast. The fact that none of them has won an Emmy for this show is a miscarriage of Emmy justice but (watch the funny Conan interview with Olyphant above) they seem to be surviving. Olyphant, I think, gets underrated because he’s a good-looking hero type who’s paid his dues in some second rate films, but you can tell he constructs his performances from the ground up. He even moves differently in different roles. I still haven’t forgotten Goggins’ performance in the last season of The Shield — the best acting I ever saw on a TV screen — and he continues excellent here. And this season, Joelle Carter finally got a really interesting storyline all to herself and pulled off a major character shift so subtle that the final jolt seemed unexpected and completely natural at the same time.

And, of course, this site can’t let the season pass without singing the praises of the mighty Nick Searcy, who expertly portrays the moral center of the show, Chief Deputy U.S. Marshall Art Mullen. Searcy should win some kind of award just for the fact that Mullen — the show’s one unabashedly decent and lovable character — was heard listening to Rush Limbaugh during a stake out! That’s no surprise to those of us who follow @yesnicksearcy on Twitter, the guy no loud mouthed lefty wants to meet in a dark Twitter alley (see his brilliant musical performance below.).

I understand next year will be Justified’s final season and I’ll miss it. But that’s all right. I think shows should end while they’re still terrific. This one is still as terrific as it can be. A crime show joy to behold.

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Black Lives, Democrat Lies

April 13th, 2014 - 3:16 pm

A fascinating article by Francis Wilkinson appeared in Bloomberg View last week (h/t Instapundit). Wilkinson detailed the fact that income inequality between whites and blacks is worse in leftist cities:

Minneapolis-St. Paul. San Francisco. Chicago. Even Madison, Wisconsin. If you are politically liberal and value relatively high levels of income equality, you might live in one of these quintessentially liberal U.S. cities. Yet all four lurk in the bottom half of the 2014 National Urban League’s State of Black America report on income inequality between blacks and whites. Among the many places where black-white income is less skewed are Phoenix, Arizona, Nashville, Tennessee and Columbia, South Carolina.

Nationally, blacks and Hispanics earn less than whites and generally have higher rates of unemployment. But there are significant regional variations. And looking at the Urban League rankings, I couldn’t help noticing how many northern liberal cities fared poorly on the racial equality index.

Now to someone like me — a former liberal who became a conservative, in part, because I saw the devastation wrought on poor black neighborhoods by leftist policies — this is no surprise, not even all that interesting. What I did find riveting though were the desperate attempts by presumably left-leaning social scientists to explain the discrepancy away.

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I’ve got a new series of bi-weekly satire videos coming out from our friends at Truth Revolt. It’s called The Revolting Truth. The first one launches today, entitled “ObamaCare – Lies? Or Crap?”  You decide!

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Phoenix Island: A Tough, Riveting YA Novel

April 9th, 2014 - 11:29 am

I haven’t seen the CBS-TV Show Intelligence — though Tripp Vinson, who produced the terrific Exorcism of Emily Rosehas a credit on it — but I just read the novel on which it’s based, John Dixon’s Phoenix Islandand it’s startling — startlingly tough, startlingly good. Young adult fiction is too often geared strictly to girls. Not a conspiracy, but more girls read and more women work as editors in the field. But this is the kind of hard, gritty man’s man story I really like. It’s uncompromising, exciting, well-written and smart.

By way of full disclosure, let me say that I only agreed to read it because I’ve met John and liked him…  and before I finished it, he sent me a blurb for my new YA series, MindWar. But my policy is: no matter who your friends are, the readers come first, and I don’t tell people to buy stuff unless I think it’s really worth the money.

This is. It’s very cool. John is a former Golden Gloves boxer (had I known this when we met, I would’ve been much nicer to him!) and his hero, Carl Freeman, is a boxer likewise. Carl has a bad habit of standing up for the little guy against bullies and so he keeps getting in trouble with the Zero Tolerance crowd, who coddle the evil doers and punish the heroes who fight back against them. After enough run-ins with the law, Carl gets sent to the youth facility on Phoenix Island: it’s outside U.S. waters so the military-style Drill Instructors can do anything they please. And it’s brutal.

That’s just the beginning though, and one of the things I liked best about this book is that John takes his time telling the story, building the characters, letting the situations play out to some very surprising twists. It reminded me of some of the classic adventure tales I love, and delivered some of the same kind of uplift and thrills.

Great action, strong characters, a hardboiled attitude and lots of excitement. Not the usual thing in YA Fiction. Good stuff. Buy it for your tough guy or girl here.

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The Great Debates We’re Not Having

April 7th, 2014 - 7:45 am

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One of the ways leftists turn themselves from idealistic naifs into fascistic McCarthyite thugs is by convincing themselves there is only one side to every argument. There is their opinion and everything else is “Hate.” The bullying brownshirts who engineered the ouster of Mozilla CEO Brendan Eich were probably perfectly decent people when they were three- or four-years-old. They became the jackbooted blacklisters they are today when they taught themselves to believe in their own impeccable virtue and the evil of the opposition.

For the instruction of these aspiring tyrants then and as an aid to our own memories, let’s remind ourselves for a moment of what we’re actually arguing about when we argue about social issues.

1. Abortion. The debate over abortion has nothing to do with women’s rights. There is no constituency in America (except maybe in parts of the Muslim community) that has any interest in limiting women’s rights. Think of a politician running on the platform “Less rights for women.” The number of votes he’d get would be vanishingly small. The debate over abortion is over one thing only: whether a fetus should be given protections as if it were a human life. If it should, a woman has no more “right” to kill it than she does anyone else. A debate on the complexities of this issue would be educational. Screaming about women’s rights, wars on women or pregnancies by rape and incest (about one percent of abortions) are simply means of deceiving oneself and others.

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My Great Idea for Radical Gay Hell

April 4th, 2014 - 11:04 am

My approach to gay rights is strictly libertarian: do what you want; don’t scare the horses. Gay people are among the nicest, most civilized and broad-minded folks I know. Plus, like Jews, being hated has sharpened their senses of humor. They make me laugh — which is what I’m here for.

Most of them, like any civilized person gay or straight, would be disgusted and horrified by the witch-burning of Mozilla co-founder Brendan Eich. The bullies and thugs who engineered his loss of a job over his donation to a traditional marriage cause — and I don’t give a rat’s whether he donated ten years ago or yesterday — should be forced to take How-To-Be-An-American re-education classes.

Or here’s an even better idea! You remember the Jean-Paul Sartre play No Exit? It’s an existential vision of hell:  three people stuck in a room together, perfectly chosen to get on each other’s nerves, attacking, blaming and seducing one another for all eternity. “Hell is other people.”

Well since Fred Phelps recently died…  and since he was the founder of Westboro Baptist Church…  and since they’re the clowns who go around disrupting the funerals of U.S. soldiers because they feel America is too nice to gay people (“God hates fags!” their signs declare.)…  how about they make a room in hell where Fred and the people who got Eich fired can, you know, hang out together? Forever. And also ever.

No wait, maybe that wouldn’t work. After they got past the whole gay thing, they’d probably find out they have way too much in common.

The Whole Idea of Noah is Wrong

April 1st, 2014 - 11:49 am

I’ve been on the road and haven’t had a chance to see Noah, the 130-million dollar Darren Aronofsky biblical blockbuster that opened well, but not brilliantly, at the box office last weekend. But while I can have nothing to say about the content of the movie, I’ve been interested to see three of my friends from three different faiths wrestle with the film — a film whose atheist director declared it would be “the least biblical film ever made.”

Ben Shapiro is a devout Jew, and I’ve heard him speak with real and revealing insight into Torah — something that’s not all that common. In a genuinely sharp essay at Truth Revolt, he took the film apart as a “perversely pagan mess” that replaced God with Gaia to deliver a muddled environmentalist message. You can read the whole excellent thing here, but one point struck me particularly:

It is one thing for a movie adaptation to stray from the source material. Adding characters or scenes, crafting details that vary from the strict text – all of it is in bounds when it comes to adaptations. Critics of Noah who have focused on the extra-Biblical magic of Methuselah or the lack of textual support for instantaneously-growing forests are off-base.

The far deeper problem is when an adaptation perverts the message of the source material. If the movie version of To Kill A Mockingbird had turned Tom Robinson into a villain and Mr. Ewell into a hero, that would rightly have been seen as an undermining of the original work. The same is true of the Biblical story of Noah and the movie version of that same story. It isn’t merely that Aronofsky gets the story wrong. That would be forgiveable. It’s that Aronofsky deliberately destroys the foundational principles undergirding the Bible, and uses Biblically-inspired story to do it.

The mighty John Nolte of Breitbart’s Big Hollywood, a Catholic, was much kinder to the movie itself — and in fact, feared that the film’s high quality as an entertainment made it an excellent vehicle for selling a wholly dishonest view of the Bible story:

My concern is that with “Noah,” Hollywood has cracked the code on how to undermine the Judeo/Christian faith while making a profit with the help of some duped Christian “thought leaders”: Use the awesome propaganda power of the motion picture to lead people away from God by telling them the Judeo-Christian faith is something it is not.

In the case of “Noah,” [because of strong box office] Satan is a happy camper… : Over the last ten days, throughout the world, millions have been told the dark lie that Christianity, or any religion based on the Old Testament, has a foundation seeped in environmental extremism and has nothing to do with leading a moral and charitable life as defined by the Ten Commandments and Christ’s 11th Commandment.

Finally, up-and-coming culture critic R.J. Moeller, an evangelical, took a man-of-reason approach over at Acculturated. Writing an open letter to Aronofsky, he expressed admiration for the filmmaker’s work both here and elsewhere.

What I’d like to say to you in closing is this: thank you for making this movie. Perhaps I’m being naïve, but I was encouraged to see your interpretation of the story of Noah and the existential themes and questions that emanate from it. Even if we disagree on the lessons we’re supposed to learn from Noah’s life and God’s actions, I appreciate your willingness to enter the “How can a good God allow bad things to happen?” debate.

Your film is going to facilitate important conversations among friends, family members and co-workers around the nation. I hope Hollywood takes note of the box office enthusiasm surrounding this movie. I also hope that those Christians who did not care for Noah are incentivized to be a part of the long-term solution (as far as the production of God-honoring, high-quality projects are concerned).

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Great Idea: A Film Project Worth Supporting

March 30th, 2014 - 8:51 am
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Those of you who have read my essay The Crisis in the Arts know how strongly I feel about the battle for the culture.  I think conservatives have been foolish to allow the left to seize control of the high ground of American art and entertainment. I feel — to paraphrase Andrew Breitbart — that GOP fund raisers and operatives work us up into a panic every couple of years by telling us the fate of the nation rests on the outcome of this or that congressional race. We pour our money into their campaigns — and, meanwhile, the left plays the long game of eroding the American way in novels, in music, on television and at the movies.

This may be starting to change, and I’ve tried to highlight projects that could make a difference. Here’s a big one — with a chance for the rest of us to get in on the ground floor and join the fight.

Filmmakers Phelim McAleer and Ann McElhinney have launched what they call the “biggest ever crowd funding campaign.” Their goal: to finance a TV film about abortionist and serial killer Kermit Gosnell. Gosnell was the worst serial killer in American history — but the media buried his story and mainstream Hollywood will never touch it. Why? You know why. Because Gosnell was an abortionist and in order to fully recognize the horrors of his crimes, you have to begin to think about the logic of abortion and the flimsy arguments that support it. Rather than let that happen, the mainstream media stayed away from one of the trials of the decade. Here’s a picture of the empty courtroom seats reserved for the press:

Like it says in the Bible: Jesus wept!

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I liked this post by writer Rob Fee on Haunting Melissa, Neal Edelstein’s innovative horror movie app with a script by your humble correspondent. Why not download the app for the weekend? The app is free and there’s a lot of free content, then hours of original entertainment for the price of a mocha latte half-caf cappuccino espresso frappe…  only, like, scary.

It was after midnight and all the lights were off, so I popped in my headphones and started the first chapter. While normally I would be distracted by my phone or iPad, “Haunting Melissa” uses the distraction as the medium and creates an extremely personal experience using handheld camera shots and sound effects that are just downright creepy.

At one point there was what seemed to be an older woman singing in a dark, empty room. It seriously felt like she was right behind me. What’s cool is that everyone’s experience will be slightly different because the next bits of videos are sent to everyone in different intervals and at different times.

Read the whole thing here.

Hollywood Leaves More Money on the Ground

March 25th, 2014 - 5:33 am

I’m on the east coast this week and just gave a talk at Cornell University sponsored by the Program on Freedom and Free Societies. I spoke at one point about how those who think that Hollywood only cares about money don’t really know anything about Hollywood. I pointed out that religious pictures like this week’s indie release God’s Not Dead are so routinely “surprise hits” that it’s hard to figure out where the surprise is coming from. I also had some fun discussing how puzzled the New York Times was at the “surprise hit” Lone SurvivorHow very odd, said the Times, or words to that effect. They couldn’t comprehend why audiences who had “stubbornly refused” to go to all the other movies about the war on terror turned up to make this one a hit. One wanted to explain patiently, as to a child: Well, dear, it’s because all the other movies showed America as the bad guys, and this one showed us as the good guys, and the audience doesn’t want to be insulted by elitist claptrap. But the Times is not yet mature enough for that kind of information.

Anyway, when my Cornell talk was done, a leftist in the audience termed it “naive” and “bizarre.” (I doubt I was naive. I do try to be as bizarre as possible!) He said Hollywood was just a whore chasing after money.

The man spoke so long and said so many things that were untrue, that I couldn’t really respond concisely. But there is one thing I really wish I had said, and that is this. Making movies that make money isn’t being a whore. It’s called being in the movie business. It’s what movies are supposed to do. When your movies make money it means that you did something someone else liked instead of just preening yourself on your skills and insight. When your movies make money, it means they succeeded in doing what movies are supposed to do: entertaining an audience. There is, of course, absolutely nothing at all wrong with making a smaller movie for a smaller audience that makes less money. But to assume that making profitable movies makes you a whore is elitist in the extreme. It presumes that you have some higher wisdom that should be served over and above the wisdom of the ticket buyers. But in real life… no, you don’t.

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