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Monthly Archives: July 2011

DVD: “Of Gods and Men”

July 29th, 2011 - 7:05 am

Boy oh boy, did this 2010 French film make me feel shallow!  Of Gods and Men, directed by Xavier Beauvois, was, after all, the winner of the Grand Prize, or possibly Prix, at the Cannes Film Festival.  The Wall Street Journal said it was “sublime.”  Time magazine said it was “a luminous tale of faith and heroism.”  Leonard Maltin said it was an oversight that it didn’t win the Oscar.

Tres lent.

And all of that is true.  The film is a beautifully acted, beautifully filmed, deeply intelligent evocation of the triumph of the human spirit over fear and hatred.

But it’s also really, really slow.  Really.  Slooooow.

After about an hour of it, I found myself thinking, “Wow, this is a luminous tale of faith and heroism.  I wish it were over now.”

Based on a true story, the movie tells of a community of Trappist monks who serve and love an impoverished Muslim village in the Algeria of the 1990′s.  Then there is an uprising of brutally murderous Islamists who, as we all know, can be almost as dangerous as right wing bloggers.  The monks have to decide whether to high-tail it out of there or stick to their post and face near certain death.  And they do decide.  Slowly.

There are some absolutely amazing scenes.  Amazing, slow scenes.  Like the one where the camera simply travels over the monks’ faces as they sit at dinner and we can read in each man’s expression the outcome of his struggle with fear and faith.  “Man,” I remember thinking, “that was a brilliant scene.  I wonder if Craig Ferguson is on.”

Okay.  I’m being shamelessly snarky.  And the reader should know that many people whose opinions I respect really liked this movie.  And I really admired and appreciated it and thought it very deep and richly textured.  But I would have enjoyed it a lot more if there’d been, like, a monk car chase or something.  Or anything.  Because – have I mentioned this? – it’s really slow.

 

The Facts of Life for Liberals

July 28th, 2011 - 8:14 am

Conservatives might want to put their fingers in their ears and whistle Dixie as PJTV’s Klavan on the Culture has “The Talk,” with America’s liberals.

Embarrassing visuals by Justin Folk.

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In the now immortal first installment of Stuff Conservatives Should Actually Like, I put forward the argument that perhaps some of us have been too harsh in our criticism of comedienne Tina Fey.  The resulting attacks on my intelligence, character, private life and dress sense left my ego so bruised I was forced to console myself by re-reading the lofty and insightful praise of my work that pours ceaselessly into my spam filter.  Just a couple of examples:

“All over the internet I am looking before I find a post so intelligent as yours!  Do you know the cure for erectile dysfunction?”

“Thanks for your post and luckly to comment in your site!  Have you at any time been on community revenue world-wide-web internet webpages and wondered how so a sizable size of males and females would probably possibly extremely appropriately be offering generally the extremely specific same performer?”

After weeks of such ego-healing balm, I am ready to return to the fray with my second offering:  Dexter, Showtime’s killer serial about a serial killer who tortures and dismembers his victims for good rather than for evil. All the following comments apply only to the first season, the only one I’ve watched. There’ll be no important spoilers.

Too many in the conservative community (you know who you are) experience a swelling sense of righteousness when they announce to the world, “With all the violence and sex and filth out there, I don’t watch TV or go to the movies or read books anymore.  I leave that to those queers and commies in Hollywood.  Making paper dolls out of old TV Guides is enough culture for me, and ought to be enough for any true American!”

Stop saying stuff like that. It makes you sound like an idiot. Violence, sex and all-around filth are part and parcel of art because they’re part and parcel of life and the very stuff of drama. King Lear – which is the Sistine Chapel of literature – includes a scene where a man’s eyes are put out onstage. The Sistine Chapel – which, coincidentally, is the King Lear of painting – is rife with male and female nudity.   And of course there’s the graphic rape scene in David Copperfield – okay, the magic act, not the novel, but still, you get the idea.

Dexter, then, is grotesquely violent—so much so that I turned it off twenty minutes into the first episode and did not return to it for months. I hate serial killer stories anyway and felt the brilliant novel Silence of the Lambs was pretty much the last one any of us needed.

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Just Words?

July 25th, 2011 - 7:00 am

In 2006, before joining fellow Democrats in a vote against raising the debt ceiling, then-Senator Barack Obama wrote:  “The fact that we are here today to debate raising America’s debt limit is a sign of leadership failure. It is a sign that the U.S. Government can’t pay its own bills. It is a sign that we now depend on ongoing financial assistance from foreign countries to finance our Government’s reckless fiscal policies.”

A few months ago, as the country approached the debt limit, President Obama said, “We will raise the debt limit. We always have. We will do it again,” lest we “plunge the world economy back into a recession.”

In his 2009 Inaugural Address, the president told the American people, “Those of us who manage the public’s dollars will be held to account, to spend wisely, reform bad habits, and do our business in the light of day.”

Over the next year and a half, he heaped more debt on the public than every president from George Washington to Ronald Reagan combined.

In February of 2011, President Obama issued a budget for fiscal year 2012 calling for a doubling of the debt over five years and a tripling of the debt over ten years.

Two months after that, the president offered a vague “framework” for debt reduction which seemed to ditch the budget he had just offered.  “Any serious plan to tackle our deficit will require us to put everything on the table, and take on excess spending wherever it exists in the budget,” he said, in the very same speech in which he refused to consider fundamental reform of the entitlement programs that cause most of the problem.

Over the past weeks of debt ceiling negotiations, the president has called for “balance,” while refusing to allow any cuts in any of his most expensive programs.  He has repeatedly said this was no time for political gamesmanship, while using one press conference after another to excoriate Republicans.  He has repeatedly said he will consider spending cuts, while not making a single specific cost-cutting proposal.

The president, in short, has a problem with his mouth:  words keep coming out of it that have nothing to do with the truth.  He doesn’t even speak plainly.  In matters that might be controversial or unpopular, he almost never calls anything by its proper name.  He talks about “cutting spending in the tax code” when he means raising taxes; about “making investments” when he means more government spending.  And the parts of what he says that can be clearly understood  almost never describe his true intentions or his ultimate actions.

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DVD: The Lincoln Lawyer

July 22nd, 2011 - 7:00 am

Good, solid, standard movie mysteries are hard to find these days.  Again and again, I find myself thinking I’d like to watch a film in which two cops stand over a murder victim and try to figure out what happened to him – and unless I turn on Turner Classics, there just aren’t any.  The reason, I think, is obvious.  TV has taken the genre over.  You can watch just that sequence of events on any of a dozen shows with only minor variations.  And they’re pretty well done too.  Nice, satisfying little mysteries solved by anything from quirky mediums to by-the-book cops.

That’s pretty much what you get with The Lincoln Lawyer, a Matthew McConaughey vehicle based on a bestselling novel by Michael Connelly.  It’s basically a long episode of the cancelled TV series Shark, but it’s still an entertaining couple of hours of viewing.  It’s the stuff from the novel, which I also read and enjoyed, that elevates the pic from an hour’s worth of entertainment to a feature-worthy tale.  Connelly knows how to make a character seem iconic, how to weave a plot, and how to deliver a satisfying conclusion.  He did all that in the book and screenwriter John Romano translated it deftly to the screen.

The plot:  a sleazy defense attorney gets a case bigger than his moral outlook when a young man is accused of assaulting a prostitute.  Again, nothing surprising or terribly original, but expert and fun if you’re in the mood for a mystery.

Me on Bill Maher

July 21st, 2011 - 3:00 pm

My latest piece from City Journal:

Maher, who is only just so funny and only just so bright and only just so popular, seems rather desperately to be turning himself into a moral Elephant Man in an attempt to draw the gawkers. The dignified reaction would be to walk on by, warning the children not to stare at the poor fellow because he has an affliction, God bless him.

Read the whole thing here.

Olivia Wilde’s Aunt Sarah

July 20th, 2011 - 7:00 am

This seems to be the year of Olivia Wilde.  The House actress will appear in as many as five films in 2011, including the aspiring blockbuster Cowboys & Aliens, due out July 29.

I first noticed Wilde in 2006′s underrated crime drama Alpha Dog.  She is not only talented and beautiful but radiates a kind of intelligence you don’t often see onscreen.  She comes by this intelligence naturally.  Though she borrowed her screen name from Oscar Wilde, she was born Olivia Jane Cockburn and comes from a family of famous left wing, not to say Communist, writers that includes Claud Cockburn and Alexander Cockburn.

The family also included Wilde’s late aunt, the Englishwoman Sarah Caudwell, who was one of my dearest friends.  Sarah was a crime writing colleague.  She produced a truly superior example of so-called “cozy” mystery writing with her first book Thus Was Adonis Murdered and wrestled through terrible writer’s block to produce three more fine books in that series before her death in 2000 at the age of 61.  She gave me one of my first blurbs when I became a crime writer, and when I moved to England in the early nineties, we became close.

Sarah was an eccentric of the first water.  She smoked a pipe, wore a cape, peered at the world through glasses as thick as Coke bottles and was so absent-minded she once attended a party in her honor with her dress on inside-out.  She had the barking, gravelly voice of a British army officer, which rendered her speech virtually incomprehensible.  I would pick up the phone and hear an explosive, “Drew!” and then a series of gruff, slurred bursts of noise that I would have to assume—usually correctly—was an invitation to drink away an afternoon at one of the tonier London clubs.

Her eccentricities so delighted me, I used many of them in creating the character of the ghost hunter Harper Albright in my novel The Uncanny.

“I’m making you a character in my new book,” I told her.

“I’ll sue!” she cried.

“But I’m making you the symbol of everything good in the world,” I said.

“I’ll sue!” she cried.

I have a million memories of my lost friend but the one that comes to the forefront is this.  Sarah, whose born name was Cockburn, was the daughter of Communist writer Claud Cockburn and Jean Ross, the woman who served as the inspiration for Sally Bowles—the entertainer immortalized by Liza Minelli in the musical Cabaret.  Because her late mother didn’t like the portrayal of Bowles, Sarah could never bring herself to see the musical, but when it was revived at London’s Donmar Warehouse, she decided it was time to go.  She couldn’t bear to face it alone, she said, so she asked my wife and me to accompany her.

The play was put on as if in a cabaret, and we sat at one of the tables on stage.   Whenever I glanced at Sarah during the performance, she was weeping quietly.  Afterward, she buttonholed the star, Jane Horrocks, and enthusiastically regaled her with memories of her mother.  Horrocks was exceptionally patient and kind with my loquacious and often incomprehensible friend.

Sarah drank hard and smoked incessantly, and as I was preparing to move back home, she contracted cancer of the esophagus.  I would visit her in the hospital where, so help me, she would light a pipe and offer me a drink from her well-stocked bar.  “One is told one shouldn’t, but one must!” she said.  After I came back to the States, I would call and talk to her on the phone for as long as her voice held out.

Lefty that she was, I doubt she believed she’d be enjoying her niece’s success from a better place than this.  But given her boundless kindness and generosity–and God’s equally boundless sense of humor–I’m absolutely certain that she is.

When we seek out the causes and culprits of our current economic crisis, there is one area in need of reform that should not be overlooked:  the mainstream news media.  It is not too much to say that the people in the NBC, ABC and CBS news operations were major contributing factors to the crash of 2008 and are helping to pave the way to future economic troubles now.

In the book Reckless Endangerment: How Outsized Ambition, Greed, and Corruption Led to Economic Armageddon, authors Gretchen Morgenson and Joshua Rosner tell how, in the early nineties, faulty or skewed studies by ACORN and other groups fed the idea that there was pervasive racial bias by mortgage lenders, with blacks and Hispanics being unfairly rejected for loans.  “The findings lit up the media, confirming many people’s suspicions about banks’ lending practices,” the authors write of one such study.  In fact, properly interpreted, the data suggested that banks were making their loans not on the basis of race but on the basis of credit-worthiness.  But as the misinformation confirmed left-wing ideas, the media pressure was on for a government fix.

To put it in simplified but not inaccurate terms, what happened as a result was this:  The Clinton administration essentially gave orders to lenders to give unwise loans to people based on their race.  Those orders required banks to adopt bad lending practices.  The dangerously easy credit made house prices rise.  And unscrupulous sharks on Wall Street and elsewhere rushed in to make a profit off the housing bubble by luring investors into funding the crummy mortgages.  Thus the poison of the government-mandated bad loans flooded the system.  When housing prices inevitably fell, the system collapsed.

At the center of all this were Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, dishonestly run lenders with government backing and a mandate to make housing somehow affordable to those who couldn’t afford it.  You can watch videos here and here to see Republicans, including George W. Bush and John McCain, warning of the coming disaster and calling for regulatory legislation to bring the madness at Fannie Mae under control.  The videos also show Democrats — most especially and most perfidiously Congressman Barney Frank of Massachusetts — repeatedly claiming nothing is wrong.

If our mainstream news media had not been so politically one-sided, all of this might have been prevented.  The reports that falsely claimed racial discrimination in lending could easily have been debunked.  The entire premise of giving loans to people who couldn’t afford them might have been questioned.  And the warnings of honorable men like Bush and McCain would have been given at least equal weight with the po-faced distortions of the awful Frank.  It was the left-wing assumptions of the news media that prevented proper reporting and created at least some of the pressure on politicians to act irresponsibly — and then provided them with the cover of silence when they did.

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PPV: Source Code

July 16th, 2011 - 11:00 am

Source Code, starring Jake Gyllenhaal, is basically Groundhog Day refashioned into a sci-fi thriller – which, it turns out, works pretty well.

Michelle Monaghan

The idea is this:  through an amazing technological breakthrough in modern screenwriting, an army chopper pilot gets sent back in time to a commuter train in the last eight minutes before a terrorist bomb kills everyone on board.  He has to keep reliving that eight minutes until he can find out who done it.

But that’s just the premise, and there are some very good surprises along the way.  It’s neatly plotted and imagined by writer Ben Ripley – and has a nice, tight running time of ninety minutes, exactly the right duration for something like this.  Gyllenhaal does a good job radiating decency and soldierly honor.  And the underused and radiantly sweet Michelle Monaghan makes it easy to believe a man could fall in love in eight minutes.

I should mention too that it’s nice to see our soldiers being represented as the heroes they are.  Even if Hollywood can’t swallow enough of its own stupidity to make some movies showing them and the US as the good guys in the fight against Islamo-fascism, at least it’s uplifting to have The Veteran return to films as a heroic character rather than a PTSD-deranged maniac.  It would also be nice if some of the people who made movies slandering these guys over the last few decades would come out and say publically that they were wrong and are sorry.  I’m holding my breath.

Anyway, this is ninety minutes of twisty fun.  I saw it on Pay Per View.  It’s due for DVD release July 26th.

KOC: Michele Bachmann Makes A Gaffe!!!

July 14th, 2011 - 2:39 pm

Hey, boys and girls!  Join the fun!  Our friends in the Mainstream Media have invited PJTV’s Klavan on the Culture to join them in waiting for Congresswoman Michele Bachmann to make a gaffe.  The way she is, it could happen any minute.  But you have to keep watching…  keeeep watching…

Justin Folk does the gaffe-free visuals.

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