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Monthly Archives: February 2013

“Sinister” Creepy

February 27th, 2013 - 8:30 am

Scott Derrickson is the talented writer/director who brought us The Exorcism of Emily Rose, a film that was marketed as horror but was in fact an intelligent and riveting courtroom drama about faith — well worth watching. He then went on to direct but not write the remake of The Day the Earth Stood Still, which was crap. I don’t know Derrickson’s personal story but let’s chalk that up to the fact that a man’s gotta make a living, and it probably looked like it was gonna be a big deal.

Anyway, last year Derrickson returned to directing and co-writing with a horror film called Sinister, starring Ethan Hawke. It just hit Netflix last week. It’s about a morally dodgy true crime writer who moves his family into a murder house to write the book about the killing that took place there.

My review: it’s very creepy. Very, very creepy. Well-written, well-acted — and did I mention creepy? It’s creepy. The first hour crawls up your spine like an ice spider. It had me pinned to the back of the couch. The subject is horrific — a series of awful killings caught on film — but Derrickson eschews the gore and just gets you with the idea of what’s going on. And the idea? It’s creepy.

The second hour — or fifty minutes, really — is not as good. Not bad, but the scares get a little lazy and by-the-book. You know the drill. Walking down the dark hallway. Boo. The writing and characterization remain good throughout, however, and these get you through to the predictable but nonetheless unsettling end. There’s a nicely observed marital argument and an absolutely wonderful scene between Hawke and TV actor James Ransone, who is just terrific as a dumb but maybe not so dumb deputy. There’s some good spooky kid stuff. And Fred Thompson’s in it! Gotta love you some Fred Thompson.

The reviews for this flick were, I think, unfair. Even the good ones sort of dismissed it as a pot-boiler. But it’s much better than that. If Derrickson had cut twenty minutes of creeping down dark corridors and stuff jumping out at you and stuck with the character scares, this would have been a great scary film. But as it is, it’s still good. And creepy.

Are We Not Men?

February 24th, 2013 - 10:12 am

The other day I had the interesting experience of finding myself in an exchange with friends that virtually reiterated an exchange from one of my novels — but in a sort of mirror image way. In my book The Identity Manan old fellow says to the young hero, “So help me, all it takes for the world to crumble to nothing is for women to lose their virtue and men their honor.” The young man smiles to himself and thinks, “It was the usual old man complaint: the world’s not what it used to be. It’s all going to hell. Back in the day, everything was better. Blah, blah, blah. As if there was ever much honor or virtue in the world.”

Fast forward to about a week ago when my young pal R.J. Moeller wrote an essay for the excellent pop culture site Acculturated. The essay was called “Modern Manliness and the Perpetual State of Low Expectations,” and it lamented the lack of manly virtues in today’s young men. An honest soul-searcher, R.J. even raked himself over the coals for being part of it:

We’ve been lowering expectations on young men for decades. The only reason we’re still calling it progress is because we lost the direction–the vision–of what manhood (and life itself) is really all about. Even the adjectives that the men in their twenties living half a century ago wanted associated with their name and character — sacrificial, honorable, resourceful, diligent — have been replaced with such lackluster descriptors as “progressive,” “open-minded,” or “stylish.”

The problem here is that these are not, broadly speaking, manly things. By this I mean that there are manly things. We just don’t seem to prize them anymore, and this is, in part, because they are not easy to obtain and require hard work to maintain.

I tweeted a link to the article — whereupon I received an email from an older friend. I don’t have permission to name him so I won’t but he’s a very smart writer for an intellectual journal and in his sixties. He said, basically: Hey, you know what? I knew those men in the old days and they weren’t so hot either!

In my novel, it’s the old guy who complains about the falling off of virtue and the young guy rolls his eyes. Here it was the young guy doing the complaining and the old guy rolling his eyes.

I sympathize with both. My older friend (and younger character) are surely right that people have never been paragons in any age. But I think the problem R.J.’s experiencing is that, whereas once men may have failed to live up to their values, today’s society no longer values what is actually valuable in them.

In any case, I think we should all go re-watch High Noon and remind ourselves that if you want to walk like a man, you have to learn to walk alone.

Minority of One: I’d Give the Oscar to Pi

February 22nd, 2013 - 7:24 am

It’ll be a pretty rich but not unexpected irony if the Oscars freeze out Zero Dark Thirty because it tells the truth about waterboarding, and reward Argo because it covers up the fatal incompetence of the Carter administration. Personally, though, I thought the charm of Silver Linings Playbook outweighed either of them, and if I had to choose among the movies I’ve seen, I’d pick Ang Lee’s Life of Pi.

Spoiler here: I’ll try not to give away the trick to Pi, but if you haven’t read the book or seen the film, you might want to move on.

I really enjoyed the Yann Martel novel, but in the end the whole Pi deal is really kind of spiritually twee — cute and dear, I mean. All religions are a path to God; which explanation of life do you prefer?

Really?

Who cares what you prefer? What about the truth? And what about the fact that the truth tends to be exclusive? That is, if one thing is true, frequently another, opposite thing cannot be true. The sky can’t both be red and blue at the same time. God is either there or not, and he either wants you to love your neighbor or to slay the infidel, but probably not both. The theology of Pi is comforting nonsense, when you get right down to it.

So while I enjoyed the story of the novel, and while I enjoyed the surprise ending, I couldn’t help but give a shrug when it was over. Yeah, yeah, yeah, I thought, and then pretty much forgot the whole thing.

Ang Lee’s movie version is different. That is, it’s exactly the same — same story, same trick, same twee approach to theology. But the feel is different. First of all, the thing is just freakin’ beautiful. Not beautiful in a heavy-handed way, but it actually captures a sense of the wonder and beauty and terror of nature. The special effects are beyond belief, and not like the special effects in a monster movie; they really mean something. And finally, the choice Lee makes about how to play the ending, which at first put me off, actually serves to give the film a sense of tragedy and depth and sorrow that the book simply doesn’t have. It’s really a hell of a film. I loved it. I think it’s the best by far of the ones I’ve seen.

And hey, speaking of the controversy that, they say, will cost Zero Dark Thirty the trophy, Lee’s Brokeback Mountain got similarly smoked in 2005 for showing gay cowboys. Instead they gave it to Crash, which stank. So even though they gave Lee the director statue, they owe him a best picture award.

Never mind. I’m a minority of one here, judging by all the previous awards this season. I guess I’ll just skip the Oscars and let time prove me right.

 Cross-posted at PJ Lifestyle. Visit for additional comments.

The Voices of Addiction

February 17th, 2013 - 9:52 am

President Barack Obama says the nation doesn’t have a spending problem. In related news, Lindsay Lohan says she doesn’t have a drinking problem. And Baby-8 Hernandez from that trailer park just outside of Fresno says he doesn’t have a meth problem, he’s just stocking up on sudafed in case he gets a really bad cold (that lasts for a very long time).

In a recent press conference, President Obama declared that Republicans who want to cut spending were trying to hold a gun to our heads and take the country hostage in order to demand a ransom.

Meanwhile, Mel Gibson said that the Jews were causing all the wars in the world, and Baby-8 Hernandez complained that federal agents were listening in on his thoughts through a device they’d secretly implanted in his eyeball.

President Obama has declared that he can refuse to enforce laws passed by Congress if he doesn’t agree with them, that he can implement energy law through the EPA overriding the decisions of the courts, and that he can break federal law to help save his campaign contributors money. He also feels he doesn’t have to negotiate with House Republicans on spending issues but expects to simply get everything he wants while offering nothing in return.

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The Return of the Killer Christian!

February 13th, 2013 - 10:13 am

Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine has brought out its second e-only anthology:  The Crooked Road Volume 2. The collection of short stories about “grifters, gangsters, hit men and other career crooks,” includes an edifying tale by yours truly. The Killer Christian is a delightful Christmas story about a hit man who is tricked into having a religious conversion with surprising and, of course, blood-drenched results. It appeared first, I think, in EQMM, then in the anthology Christmas at the Mysterious Bookshop. And I believe it’s slated for another reprint at the end of the year in a Big Book of Christmas Stories.

This one, however, is only $5.99 which, given a slate of authors including Ed McBain, Lawrence Block, Peter Lovesey and did I mention me, is a good deal and worth a download.

So long, you relativistic suckers!

I write this hesitantly because it’s way outside my areas of expertise (action movies and things that explode in the microwave). Plus I’m not even Catholic. But I think Joseph Ratzinger — aka Pope Benedict XVI — is one of the greatest men of the age — possibly the only great man of the age — and almost certainly the last great man Europe will produce. As far as I’m concerned, he should turn the continent’s lights out as he steps down at the end of the month.

B-16′s greatness doesn’t lie in his papacy. Or that is, if it does, I wouldn’t know. It’s his writing, his theology, his thought that elevate him in my mind. When I was but a youngish dude, pounding my way through the great works, it seemed to me that the wisdom of many of the great German thinkers of the 18th and 19th centuries had been thrown aside for no good reason. Kant and Hegel had philosophically rescued the essence of Christianity for the scientific age, and had been ultimately left behind by mainstream thinkers not because they were wrong, but because they were just sort of out of keeping with the atheistic spirit of the day.

As Nietzsche understood, that God-is-dead zeitgeist would perforce lead to moral relativism. And so it has. But Ratzinger, shrugging off the zeitgeist like the cheap suit it is, humbly went on tilling the Kantian and Hegelian fields, making his way back not just to the essentials of Christianity but to the sacred person of Christ himself.

This is a great act — an intellectual feat that shows the idols of the age — men like Derrida and Lacan and Foucault — to be the mental pygmies that they are. When they are forgotten (which will be around Thursday at 4PM), the writings of Ratzinger will be remembered and read and discussed for their radical divergence away from the wisdom of the age and toward the truth. Or make that Truth.

Anyway, I know the news media will be trying anything they can to make it sound as if B-16 was somehow responsible for the execrable child-molesting business. (As far as I can tell, he had no culpability there and even helped clean up the mess.) And I know they will be focusing their energies on trying to pressure the Vatican into electing a black lesbian midget next or whatever.

But I’d like to see someone more expert than I am in these matters talk about B-16′s role as a philosopher in the great German tradition. It was that tradition that gave us Kant and Hegel and Schopenhauer and Nietzsche. And I think Ratzinger was like one of those.

The Truth About Dorner: Leftism Is Violence

February 10th, 2013 - 4:09 pm

There’s nothing for me to add to the great work already done by SooperMexican, MediaiteMichelle Malkin, Sean Hannity and others critiquing the media coverage of alleged mad dog cop-killer Christopher Jordan Dorner. The media have been dishonest in trying to cover up Dorner’s left-wing views. They’ve been beyond hypocritical in drawing no link between Dorner’s acts and his politics — after they have repeatedly tried to link acts of violence to conservatism even when, as usual, there was no link to be made. Worst of all, as Big Government has shown, they are beginning to try to justify the slaughter.

Most of the conservative commentators listed above have been careful to point out that connections between a madman and his politics, whether right or left, should only be drawn with caution. And they all say that it’s irresponsible to blame political commentators, right or left, for the actions of a lunatic who may have taken inspiration from them.

I’m not so sure. Violence is inherent in left-wing philosophy, and the violence it inspires should be laid at its door.

Haven’t you noticed this? The American left is always waxing hysterical about right-wing violence and the true violence always comes from the American left. The American news media cry out in horror at peaceful Tea Party demonstrations and look the other way when Occupy Wall Streeters commit vandalism, rape, and even murder. The media try to pin any political assassination attempt on conservatives; yet almost all American political assassinations are committed by the left. If you want more examples as well as proof, read Demonic by Ann Coulter — who, unlike any left-wing pundit I can think of, needs a bodyguard whenever she speaks on college campuses!

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An Option on Damnation Street

February 8th, 2013 - 7:57 am

What I guess is now the leading show business trade “publication” — Nikki Finke’s blog Deadline Hollywood — had a nice mention of a project of mine this week. And — cool! — this is my blog, so I get to link to it here:

Fox Hill Productions has optioned development and production rights to Andrew Klavan’s mystery trilogy Dynamite RoadShotgun Alley and Damnation Street. Klavan has adapted the trilogy into a screenplay titled Damnation Street,described as a neo-noir thriller about a private detective and a serial killer in pursuit of the same mysterious woman. Producers on the project will be Samantha Lusk, Andrew Hyatt and Seth David Mitchell of Fox Hill (The FrozenThe Last Light and the upcoming The Stanleys).

Christian Toto at Big Hollywood picked up the piece and quoted me talking about how I’d condensed the trilogy into one story for the script, and how some of the approach of the book was derived from Clint Eastwood’s film Unforgiven:

“I always felt that was a great western that was also a movie about the western, an examination of the heart of those stories. Likewise the Weiss-Bishop books were meant to be top-flight detective stories that were also about detective stories, that held the genre up to the light so to speak.”

Anyway, an option is only one step on the long, long road to getting a film made, but it’s a good script and I hope it makes it to the screen.

Good Cop Film: End of Watch

February 6th, 2013 - 9:08 am

If you missed the exciting LAPD film End of Watch in the theaters, it’s worth getting it on DVD. Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Pena play a couple of hot dog cruiser cops on LA’s mean streets. The film, written by Training Day guy David Ayer, is done “found footage” or documentary-style, which sometimes leads to some distracting moments when you’re thinking — “Wait, who’s holding the camera now?” But aside from that — a minor problem — it’s gritty, well-acted and moving.  And it represents the cops fairly and well.

Being me, I especially liked the macho ethos of it all. Lots of good cop partner moments, and high respect for marriage and wives in the manner of real men. There’s a funny and touching wedding scene in which one cop’s wife explains to the newbie how she’s got to give it up without restraint if she wants to keep her husband from straying. Excellent advice. Plus, the bride was played by Anna Kendrick, who was the high point of the overrated George Clooney film Up in the AirShe’s a superb and extremely appealing actress. She ought to get a lead role soon.  [Update:  Oh wait, I forgot Kendrick was the lead in Pitch Perfect, a cute girl movie about an a capella singing group. She's such a good actress, she was totally different in that and I forgot it was her!]

Recently, I was blown away by Heather Mac Donald’s City Journal piece “Courts v. Cops.” It tells how the NYCLU and other self-appointed defenders of black rights are interfering with the NYPD and thus insuring more black people get murdered and victimized. Heather — one of the best reporters in the country — points out that the law-abiding black citizen who is grateful for the police “seemingly lies outside the conceptual universe of the advocates and their enablers in elite law firms and the media.” So it was nice to see a film in which the true guardians of the lives of the poor get some props.

Read the article, watch the movie.

 

Why I’m Canceling My SI Subscription

February 3rd, 2013 - 12:44 pm

Update: In response to suggestions made in the comments, I’ve sent a letter to the SI editors expressing my opinions and linking to this post. Thanks.

I am going to let my subscription to Sports Illustrated lapse when it runs out this year. I hope lots of other people will do the same. Like too many other publications, the magazine has become dishonest, dishonorable and even occasionally despicable in its conformist, lockstep left-wing bias. Republican politicians and conservative positions are routinely insulted in articles having nothing to do with either. Yawn-inducing left wing predictability is brought to the discussion of every issue. No SI writer is allowed to disagree with leftism ever. Despite its great photographs and occasionally good athlete profiles, the magazine has remade itself into crap in the name of political conformity.

For me, the Super Bowl issue with its smarmy and poorly reported article on religion in football was the last straw. The article was not an offense to God, it was an offense to journalism. Mark Oppenheimer, a left wing anti-religion writer for the left wing New York Times, among other left wing venues, does the left wing hit job on football players of faith. Not surprisingly, he is also the author of a hagiography of the Christian-bashing gay bully Dan Savage. (This blog has always supported gays and gay rights, but to my mind, Savage has no more place in serious debate than the Westboro Baptist gang.)

I could go through Oppenheimer’s lousy article “In the Fields of the Lord,” graph by graph to point out the unsupported conclusions, innuendoes, slanted use of quotes and flat-out untruths that would be unacceptable in any magazine attempting to report fairly, but I’d rather spend my time doing something more interesting, like twiddling my thumbs.

But here’s an example, chosen almost at random:

“It’s clear that for a substantial number of athletes and coaches, there is no tension between being a Christian and being an aggressive athlete. On the contrary, many of them argue that football builds character and thereby makes a man more of a Christian — a commingling of faith and football now accepted by fans.

But is that a mistake? Just 50 years ago such coziness between public Christianity and football would have seemed absurd. Athletes were nobody’s idea of good ambassadors for religion; they were more likely to be seen as dissolute drinkers and womanizers — more the roguish Joe Namath than the devout Roger Staubach.The aggressive, violent play preached by coaches of an earlier generation was accepted as natural precisely because sport was pagan, not Christian. Christianity was peaceful, charitable and pious. Sport was bloody, ruthless, impious.

In the 1950′s and 60′s that antagonism began to soften…”

Really? So 50 years ago — which would be 1963 — a cozy relationship between religion and football would’ve been “absurd,” but in the 1950s, more than sixty years ago, that began to change. Football used to be more about wild man Joe Namath, who played between ’65 and ’77, than pious Roger Staubach, who played roughly between ’69 and ’79.Uh, who says so? What made Namath more representative of football than Staubach? That he got more headlines? That says something about journalism, but not about religion. Sport was pagan? In what world? Gale Sayers’? Johnny Unitas’? Bear Bryant’s? Hogwash.

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