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Monthly Archives: December 2012

Les Mis: Sentimental but Entertaining

December 30th, 2012 - 6:00 am

I went to see the new film version of the musical Les Miserables on a Boxing Day outing with family members of various ages and different degrees of familiarity with the show. One of us loved the musical so much she literally (and I do mean literally) had it memorized word for word. I’d never seen it and have always disliked the thumping music and standard, soppy lyrics — though (as you might guess) I’ve read the novel.

The results: the younger folks tended not to like the film because of the bad and auto-tuned singing and because of Tom Hooper’s ham-handed, close-up-heavy direction. My wife and I liked it. It’s sentimental and overblown but, as we both remarked, at least it deals with issues of importance: faith, grace, justice, the experience of God through love. Obviously, old Vic Hugo brought these themes — and the rollicking, compelling story — to the table, but the musical doesn’t sweep them aside and they are dealt with honestly and entertainingly throughout. Also, I confess I liked the songs much better when I saw them in context.

Acting-wise, Anne Hathaway steals it. She basically gives an acting class on how to deliver a screen performance of a stage part. I liked Russell Crowe, auto-tuned though he was — but a lot of our party hated him. We all agreed that Hugh Jackman, whom I generally like, was miscast and couldn’t handle the soft tenor singing. Samantha Barks, a third place finisher in some British music contest or other, was also a standout: good actress, adorable to look at and with a strong, pop voice.

In sum: a sentimental, entertaining old-fashioned movie musical that brings Hugo’s classic story to musical life.

 

Zero Dark Thirty: Smart and Gripping

December 29th, 2012 - 9:09 am

I watched Zero Dark Thirty with trepidation. Ordering Osama bin Laden’s death and playing golf are probably the only actions that Barack Obama has taken these last four years that haven’t made this country less free and less prosperous. I was worried the Oscar-winning team of director Kathryn Bigelow and writer Mark Boal would use the story of the hunt for bin Laden to hagiographize this mediocre and reactionary president. I was worried that that was why the picture was getting such good reviews.

But Bigelow and Boal turn out to be bigger than that and better. The two and a half hour film does contain one scene in which a White House official says, in effect, “The president is a thoughtful, analytical man who won’t pull the trigger quickly because he doesn’t want to make the same mistake George W. Bush made with the WMD in Iraq.” That’s the sort of political reading we expect from Hollywood, and Bigelow and Boal make sure to get it in.

But the rest of the movie is a deadpan tribute to the intelligence agents and Navy Seals who slow by slow tracked this bad man down and sent him to meet a Maker very unlike the one he was expecting. Indeed, some could see the overall film as a reprimand to a president who took so much credit for what was clearly the work of men and women laboring through two administrations. Plus the movie graphically depicts how that work involved interrogation techniques that Obama ultimately prohibited — a prohibition which clearly hobbled the search.

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Liberals and critics and pols — oh my!

Excellent thoughts from the likewise excellent Christian Toto over at Big Hollywood on how “brave Hollywood” suddenly reveals itself to be cowardly Hollywood when it comes to standing up against left wing attacks. I’ve always said that those artists who talk about “speaking truth to power” never speak truth to the power in their own lives — the producers, reviewers, and colleagues who have a say in their careers. They only speak “truth” to imaginary forces — all those slope-headed, bigoted, gun-toting, Bible-thumping fools in flyover country whom they’ve never met and who can’t do anything to endanger their work and wealth. Christian lays out the most recent example:

Hollywood actors use the word “brave” almost as loosely as the term “amazing” when describing their fellow artists. It’s brave to gain or lose weight for a role, to shave their head if a play demands it and tackle a subject from a perspective nine-tenths of their peers agree on wholeheartedly.

Yet today, with their industry being blasted by social critics and the government alike, artists are mostly silent.

Where is all that brave talk now?

Ha! Where indeed? Read the whole thing here.

Our Culture and Christ: A Blog for Christmas

December 23rd, 2012 - 4:00 am

All art — all storytelling, picture-making, music — is an attempt to record and communicate the experience of being human. There are no words for this experience. Only metaphor and imagery and music will do. All peoples leave these traces of themselves. It’s their way of saying not just “We were here,” but “We were here — and this is what it was like.”

In the west, especially in that part of the west formerly known as Christendom, the project of art has taken on a special significance. That significance accounts for western art’s unparalleled greatness, for the fact that European productions between the Renaissance and World War I represent the pinnacle of human cultural achievement thus far. No other painting, literature or music has ever been more beautiful or more deep — more generally successful in doing what it is art does.

The special significance of western art — its special urgency — derives from the fact that westerners have a unique belief that the experience of being human, while by definition subjective, is nonetheless a reflection of an objective truth:  moral truth.  We believe that a human life can embody the ideas of God.

We believe this because our minds, our outlook, our culture were all formed under the pervasive influence of Christianity — the pervasive influence of Jesus Christ.

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A Good Fracking Week for Ann and Phelim

December 20th, 2012 - 11:21 am

Working hard to get the truth out — no, really!

Hydraulic fracturing — fracking — is the wave of the present and the future. A means of releasing vast new amounts of American fuel, it will give this country more decades of wealth and energy, plus lead us to the energy independence we so desperately need. In their primitive superstitious terror of standard fuels — not to mention of business and the United States of America — reactionaries like Barack Obama, the EPA and various other luddite environmental groups are trying to hamper this technological miracle. I believe they will ultimately be seen as bugs on the windshield of progress. But in order to stop them from stopping us, their powerful media-approved disinformation campaigns have to be countered by truth-tellers.

Which brings me to my Irish filmmaker pals Ann McElhinney and Phelim McAleer of the eponymous Ann and Phelim Media. Their first documentary Not Evil Just Wrong made inconvenient mincemeat of Al Gore’s dishonest campaign to spread global warming hysteria. And now they’ve produced a new film in defense of fracking, FrackNation.

The great fracking news is that FrackNation has now been picked up by Mark Cuban’s cable network. Here’s the word from the Hollywood Reporter:

AXS TV, the cable network owned by Mark Cuban, Ryan Seacrest, CAA and AEG, has picked up rights to FrackNation, a right-wing answer to Gasland, a documentary that sought to show that hydraulic “fracking” is harmful to the environment. FrackNation makes the case that dangers associated with fracking, a technology for extracting energy from rock formations, are way overblown.

The debate, though, no doubt will expand beyond the relatively small audiences who view scientific documentaries, as fracking also is put front and center inPromised Land, a movie opening Jan. 4 that stars Matt Damon as a natural-gas salesman and John Krasinski as an environmentalist. Promised Land is one reason AXS wants FrackNation to air in January.

And speaking of Matt Damon’s film, Phelim’s work exposing the bogus narrative of the movie was quoted in this week’s excellent WSJ column by Holman W. Jenkins Jr. “Good Will Fracking: Hollywood wimps out and makes a formula film.”

If a screenplay leaked by the pro-fracking activist Phelim McAleer is accurate, art dies in Mr. Damon’s movie in an ironic way. In the real world, water-pollution fears put forward by fracking’s opponents have proved largely hokum. The movie deals with this inconvenient fact by turning its eco-activist protagonist into an agent provocateurof the oil company, whose job is to discredit the environmental opposition from within.

Which is very much like what ideological critics are saying about Mr. Damon’s “Promised Land”—that the film’s backers are an unholy alliance of green money and oil sheiks out to abort America’s fracking windfall.

The whole column is well worth reading.

So holiday congratulations to Ann and Phelim. We should all be grateful to them for working so hard to get the truth out.

 

Here’s a lovely picture that may have slipped by you: Silver Linings Playbook. You might have been put off by its subject matter (bipolar disorder) or scared away by its R-rating (for language mostly, I think) or just missed it because it’s on the small side. But it really is delightful — an uplifting Christmas romance of the old school, albeit dressed in modern dysfunction.

That modern-to-old-fashioned storytelling strategy seems to be something director David O. Russell developed for his last fine film, The Fighter. That one opened with half an hour of such realistically depicted familial cruelty that I nearly stopped watching — until a startling scene of grace and redemption about a third of the way through transformed the entire picture into a stand-up-and-cheer fight film of the first water.

Likewise here, Russell starts out depicting the travails of a man with bipolar disorder (played by Bradley Cooper) with searing honesty and humor — but then sets him in a love story with all the charm and style of a movie on TCM. Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence (of Hunger Games fame) play a couple of self-destructive misfits, deploying all their modern acting skills to get them right. But as their characters teach each other tolerance and kindness — and learn to take their medication — the actors unleash their inner movie stars and walk into a Christmas finale with all the self-assurance of Cary Grant and Katherine Hepburn.

It’s not just good storytelling, it’s smart movie making with a real understanding of how the medium works. Not something you see too often, I know.

Excellent supporting cast too: Robert De Niro’s great; Chris Tucker steals every scene he’s in — he had me in stitches.

If you’re going to grouse about the four-letter words and realism, don’t go. But if you like uplifting entertainment for adults, this is really good stuff. One of the better movies I’ve seen this year.

****

Cross-posted at PJ Lifestyle – visit for additional comments

The Face of the Enemy

December 16th, 2012 - 9:11 am

I avoided watching television this weekend. I didn’t think I’d be able to stand the stock phrases, the helpless tears, or the journalists losing track of themselves in order to grab useless interviews with traumatized 8 year olds. (I needn’t add “shame on them.” I suspect that, deep down, they’re already ashamed.)

Most of all, I couldn’t tolerate the politicians, celebrities and commentators using the slaughter of innocents to promote their pet causes. It’s not about guns: Connecticut has very tough gun laws. It’s not about the culture: Hitler enjoyed watching Disney’s Snow White. Put your ever-so-urgent issues back in your pockets and let the mourning bury their children.

When, prior to writing this, I checked on the commentators I respect, I found, with no surprise, that Charles Krauthammer, speaking on the Fox Special Report panel, had said best what little there is to say:

The first thing I think we have to say is: in trying to look at this or analyze this requires a huge amount of humility. The true factors that we do not know often — even after these events are analyzed and thought through, we really don’t know. This is the problem of evil and it’s been struggled with forever.

The problem of evil, right. Whenever my fellow Christians talk about Satan — the devil, the enemy, the adversary — I always get a little uncomfortable. Difficult enough for a cultural cove like myself to pierce the veil of sophistication in order to accept a personal God.  Much harder to think of evil as having a will and consciousness of its own. But as I’ve said before, whether or not the devil exists, the world behaves exactly as if he does. And I know of only one valid response to that:

Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself.

Without those two commandments — and unless we see all our scriptures, all our philosophies, all our actions in the light of those commandments — our religions are worthless, our politics are meaningless, our laws are helpless, our good will means nothing.

Without those two commandments, the world belongs to the enemy.

 

Can anyone tell me the difference between playing Angry Birds and getting hooked on methamphetamines?  Okay, I guess with Angry Birds you don’t lose your teeth. And you don’t have to sell your body to keep up the supply. In fact, after the nice Angry Bird people sell you the app for around five bucks, they periodically stock it with new levels for free. Try to get your meth supplier to give you a deal like that!

But has anyone besides me ever tried to give this thing up? It’s virtually impossible. Fortunately, however, playing teaches you a ton of conservative virtues. That’s what I tell my wife anyway. Because she thinks I’m just, you know, goofing off.

But here’s a few of the things you can learn flipping birds at pigs:

1. It’s not nice to steal what other people produce. The pigs are the villains because they take the birds’ eggs. Could the symbolism be any clearer? Pigs = Government. Eggs = The Productions of the Productive. Ayn Rand couldn’t have said it better — except maybe in her brilliant scene where a boomerang myna bird flies backwards into a beach ball.

2. When in doubt, turn to the wisdom of those who’ve gone before. If you want to score three stars on every level and pick up the golden eggs, sooner or later, you’re going to have to consult YouTube. It’s what we Angry Birders have instead of the Federalist Papers.

3. Doing the same thing over and over will produce the same results. In the immortal words of the exploding blackbird: “Don’t just keep hurling the same bird at the same spot. What doesn’t work doesn’t work. It’s exactly like socialism because… KA-BOOM!” The guy never finishes a sentence.

4. Destroy the foundation and everything else collapses. Clearly a veiled reference to the Obama administration’s repeated unconstitutional usurpations of power and its disregard for American practice and tradition. Also a good technique for getting a series of traffic cones to topple a wooden beam bringing down a stone castle.

5. The anchors of the network news media have degenerated into dishonorable liars.  I think this is obvious. Just stop playing Angry Birds for a few minutes and watch their shows.

Well, I could go on, but I have to get back to work. A group of pigs (government) has stolen the eggs (money) from some birds (productive citizens) and I have to start hurling bodies at them in order to bring down their elaborate but essentially useless structures and restore the land to liberty.

Once you start, you just can’t stop!

 

The Bible Trailer

December 12th, 2012 - 11:49 am

I know — Cee-Lo Green doesn’t always sing songs this edifying but I found this very moving, and the mini-series “The Bible,” slated for the History Channel in March, actually looks good.

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Fascist Union Thugs Attack Crowder

December 11th, 2012 - 4:43 pm

Watch this. In Michigan, where they just passed a right to work law, comedian and commentator Steven Crowder tries to find out what exactly is wrong with free people having the choice whether to join a union or not. The union members explain it to him like this:  ”The problem is we are fascist bullying lowlifes who will use violence to get what we want when logic and argument fail.” Okay, they don’t say that in so many words — but then I’m not sure these goons know that many words. But they sure enough make it clear. And by the way, if you’re wondering why Crowder doesn’t do what he’s fully capable of doing and lay one of these Nazis out, it’s because they would have mobbed him and killed him. Because that’s just the kind of dokes these union fellows are.

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You can wish Steven well at @scrowder.