Ant-Man‘s not bad at all! Marvel’s smallest super hero doesn’t exactly deliver an epic, but he manages to produce a smart, humorous, emotionally sound and exciting addition to the summer super-hero genre. Paul Rudd has mastered the art of being likable, and Michael Douglas has inherited Paul Newman’s mantle of onscreen class: the moment he walks on, everyone else just seems to be in a lesser league. (The coolest part of the film is the flashback to Douglas’s younger self. Some real CGI magic. Wish they could do it in real life!) Lost girl Evangeline Lilly should probably sue the producers for making that sweet face of hers look almost forbidding, but never mind, it’s a good part and she does it well. The smartest thing the filmmakers did is rely on the human interactions to make the story work. They let the theme of father-daughter relationships play out at length before getting down to the ant-sized action. The reason this is such a masterstroke is that Ant-Man just isn’t that interesting as a superhero. Watching a dude shout, “Come on, gang, let’s get em!” to a bunch of ants… just not that cool. The Thomas the Tank Engine train set chase is fun though. It’s all fun. A nice evening out, especially with kids. (They use the s-word twice. Normally I wouldn’t care, but I thought it unnecessary in a picture so otherwise suitable for 10-year-olds.)
Those who regularly read this blog will probably be able to guess my first reaction to the news of Jared Fogle’s arrest for sex crimes: “I’ll never feel quite the same about ordering a six inch at Subway again.” But the more I thought about it, the more the whole story seemed almost Biblical to me. One could imagine the Lord saying to this shmoe: “Jared, you have no discernible talent and you’re neither good looking nor terribly intelligent. So to prove my omnipotence to the nations, I am going to make you rich and famous. No need to thank me, just don’t have sex with any children.” And I hear there are some people who still don’t believe in original sin!
My reaction to the Ashley Madison hack was similarly detached. I actually had to search “Ashley Madison” to remind myself what it was. When the site came up, I was, like, “OMG, how do I erase this search before my wife finds it???” No, I’m joking. My wife knows I’m her love slave. It’s pitiful. But it keeps me off Ashley Madison!
My whole life I’ve felt indifferent to other people’s sex lives. It’s my nature. I just don’t care. When I was a little kid, I saw a gay couple at a grown up party. I asked my father about it. He told me — what was not bigotry then but the best wisdom of the time — that it was a sort of mental illness. I shrugged and said, “They’re not hurting anybody.” Which was not the wisdom of the time at all! The only exceptions to my laissez faire attitude are the condemnatory anger I feel at those who break up marriages with still-at-home children, and, of course, at those who rape, which includes the seduction of children and the use of animals, neither of whom have the wherewithal to give informed consent. In both cases, it’s not the sex per se that bothers me. It’s the destruction of something sacred and irreplaceable for the sake of sex: a child’s moral universe; a fellow creature’s self sovereignty.
Otherwise, judgementalism when it comes to sex is just plain bad for you. It’ll leave you pompous, frustrated and angry. Because the thing is, as a social system, sex doesn’t work. Women, as a rule, want affection and commitment; men want variety. Both genders are turned on by things that aren’t good for them. Both have fantasies that would be disastrous if played out in real life. In men, the drive is so urgent, we will sell out our most deeply held convictions for the briefest of empty pleasures. In women, the drive is so entangled with emotion they will follow an absolute schmuck into the fires of hell. And when it comes to sexual crime, every single one of us has the motive. Sure, a guy like me graced with a loving marriage can afford to feel pretty snazzy about himself. But don’t get smug. The urge remains Dionysian. Pass judgement on your fellow male or female today, tomorrow you may be the one to find yourself on the front page of the New York Post being led away in handcuffs with a jacket over your head.
Ben Shapiro and I are each launching a new video series this week and next. Ben comes out swinging first with the lead-off edition of HardWire. Watch with caution. Ben goes at Planned Parenthood with his usual take-no-prisoners honesty and the result ain’t exactly musical comedy.
My own video contribution, LiveWire, is due to start next week.
The mighty-yet-lovable Glenn Reynolds of Instapundit (and believe me, it’s no small trick being both mighty and lovable, as I well know!) frequently remarks about climate alarmists, “I’ll believe it’s a crisis when they start acting like it’s a crisis.” Which is to say, if these alarmist clowns really thought there was a globe-threatening disaster looming, they wouldn’t be flying around in private jets, buying energy-sucking mansions near the perilously rising sea, or selling their TV stations for big oil money.
Well, as far as I’m concerned, the same Insta-principle applies to conservatives. For the past six years, I’ve heard nothing from conservatives but despair and woe over the lawless perfidy of the Obama regime. The republic is falling — has fallen! The Constitution is in shreds! Liberty is a thing of the past! Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world! My alternative theory — that Obama is a hapless schmuck who can’t see his own slapstick failures because he (one) suffers from Narcissistic Personality Disorder and (b) is protected by a corrupt news media — has been repeatedly shouted down as way too rosy. I’m a fool to think the president is merely a Bozo who has created a terrible mess that will take at least a decade to clean up — so conservatives tell me — when it’s clear he’s actually an Alinskyite super-genius Islamist sleeper agent who has masterfully undermined the very fabric of our democracy.
So okay, answer me this: If our republic is in such crisis because of Obama and his fellow travelers, why are conservatives currently launching vicious personal attacks against… other conservatives??? For the past week or so, I’ve been seeing our pundits — people I know, respect and like — saying the ugliest things imaginable about one another and about some of the Republican candidates. This is not a matter of disagreeing. We’re freedom-loving Americans. We’re supposed to disagree and argue our sides without fear or favor. But this is dark-alley-knife-fight crap. Disgraceful, low insults I wouldn’t even hurl at… well, at a Democrat! I won’t be specific. I won’t call out these people I like and admire so much. But the folks who read PJM are politically savvy enough to know who and what I’m talking about — and so are the people slinging the mud.
“In any compromise between food and poison, it is only death that can win,” wrote Ayn Rand. And, with considerably more charm, Mark Steyn wrote, “It’s a good basic axiom that if you take a quart of ice-cream and a quart of dog feces and mix ’em together the result will taste more like the latter than the former.”
Nowhere are these axioms more true than in the field of science. Science — that process of hypothesis, observation and experimentation by which humans understand the workings of material things — mixed with just about anything becomes more of that other thing than itself. Mix science with theology, for instance, and you have theology. If you strip Richard Dawkins of his eloquence and undoubted scientific erudition, his argument against the existence of God can be restated like this: “Gawrsh, Mickey, it looks random to me, so I guess it’s random, uh-huh.”
Likewise, if you mix science with meddling overbearing government, you get meddling overbearing government. Note these recent stories about nutrition. The scientists who help compose the federal nutritional guidelines that govern what goes into subsidized school lunches have finally admitted that eating cholesterol — as in eggs, say — doesn’t actually increase your cholesterol, and skipping breakfast, well known to make people fat, doesn’t make people fat. At the same time, the researcher who once found important evidence for the existence of gluten sensitivity recently proved pretty much beyond a doubt that gluten sensitivity (barring celiac disease) doesn’t actually exist.
Put all these discoveries together and what you realize is that when a meddlesome overbearing government fronted by Michelle Obama mandates school lunches that are universally decried as “gross” by people who eat school lunches, that’s not science — it’s just meddling overbearing government.
Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation is virtually a handbook on how to make a big summer action picture. Everything that Mad Max: Fury Road got wrong, it gets right. Openly silly and fun, the fifth MI installment milks its superstar and attractive co-stars and deluxe locations for all they’re worth. It constructs a plot that somehow gets you to stop asking questions after the first ten minutes (the bad guys are doing… what again?). It delivers broad emotional arcs without ever taking itself seriously. And, maybe most impressively — and most unlike Mad Max — it provides a female action character you can believe in, albeit in the unbelievable world of the picture. (ProTip: the secret is in those long, long legs.)
Of course, none of this works if you don’t have a star of the magnitude of Tom Cruise, which means you have to have Tom Cruise because, at this point, there is no other star of his magnitude. The guy has been at the top of his game for over thirty years, which is more than three times the normal run. But he’s still likable and real even when, as in this, he’s completely unreal. They really don’t seem to make em like him anymore.
Kudos to Christopher McQuarrie, of Usual Suspects and Edge of Tomorrow fame, who wrote and directed with a story assist from Drew Pearce, who had a writing credit on Iron Man 3. It really is a master class in the genre. Great summer fun.
And now a word about the culture.
In the arts, success and quality are completely unrelated. That is to say, great works are sometimes hits, and sometimes failures and likewise trash. Great artists are sometimes hailed, sometimes ignored and likewise hacks. A reasonably well-educated person alive in England in 1819, say, when Wordsworth, Coleridge, Blake, Keats, Shelley and Byron were all alive and working, would probably have read only one of them with pleasure, and heard of three of them at most. Only time ultimately sorts the great from the good and bad.
So it is with today’s books and movies. There are popular and unpopular good ones and popular and unpopular bad ones — and no, it’s not just a matter of taste, I’m afraid; but that’s an argument for another day.
Today, I just want to point out one top notch talent currently working mainly in the crime genre. They know his name in the offices in Hollywood, but the general public hasn’t heard about him anywhere near enough.
Steven Knight is a screenwriter of the very first rank. His best work, so far, is Eastern Promises, a crime genre classic directed by David Cronenberg and starring Viggo Mortensen and Naomi Watts. And if you’re not watching his historical British gangster series Peaky Blinders on Netflix, you are missing one of the best things now on the small screen. Locke, starring the great Tom Hardy, is also good. It’s an experimental film that Knight both wrote and directed and it’s small — all you see for the entire movie is a man driving in a car talking on the phone! — but it’s riveting, a writing tour de force, and great fun to discuss afterwards.
Dirty Pretty Things, is a good and underrated film, directed by Stephen Frears. Redemption, a Jason Statham action flick, is a fine entry in the genre (most Statham action flicks are better than other action flicks). Closed Circuit didn’t quite hold together for me, but the writing was intelligent throughout.
In general, of course, screenwriters don’t get the credit they deserve and take more of the blame than they should (all right, I’m prejudiced). For a long time, even I kept referring to Steven Knight as “that guy with the name like a chess piece,” as in, “Yeah, I think that was written by that guy… you know… with the name like a chess piece… king… knight…” But now that I realize how good he is, I’ve been keeping an eye out for him and you should too.
If you haven’t seen Eastern Promises, see it. If you’re not watching Peaky Blinders, watch it. And if you have a spare 90 minutes, take a look at Locke. This guy really knows what he’s doing.
Last time I wrote about Donald Trump, I received comments that read to me like this:
“You’re an establishment elitist, Klavan! We’re angry, you hear? So we’re going to vote for a liberal RINO who’s sure to get Hillary Clinton elected! That’ll show em! Yeah!”
Fortunately, I managed to convince myself that such comments came from lefty trolls pretending to be conservatives because to believe for even a moment that some conservatives might actually be thinking at the level of lefty trolls pretending to be conservatives… well, that way madness lies.
And really, I’ve said everything I have to say about Trump and, more importantly, Jonah Goldberg and Kevin D. Williamson at National Review have said everything I have to say about Trump. But I do want to add one quick addendum to my previous comments.
Donald Trump’s candidacy is a creation of the mainstream news media in the same way that Godzilla is a creation of a reckless nuclear blast: it’s an unintended side effect of a destructive cloud. In this case, we’re talking about a news media cloud of lies, a cloud in which the president of the United States can corrupt both the IRS and the Justice Department, leave our people dead in Benghazi, effectively deal weapons to Iranian terrorists and repeatedly ignore the constitutional structures that keep us free, all without consequence… but if Marco Rubio takes a sip of water during a speech, CNN wonders if that’s a “career-ender”?
Just a couple of observations on the debate. Despite reporting from the Los Angeles Times and even the Wall Street Journal saying the debate was fractious and that Trump dominated, that isn’t what I saw. Conservative filmmaker Jeremy Boreing got it right in his excellent post-debate piece for the Hollywood Reporter:
Thursday night was — against all odds and the prevailing narrative in the media — a real victory for the Republican party.
What was framed in the lead-up as an embarrassing glut of meaningless candidates revealed itself to be, for the most part, a serious and diverse field both in terms of policy and demographics.
What many expected to be a fireworks show between a fractured and fractious party and its unlikely reality star frontrunner was actually a largely civil exchange of ideas. Finally, a party often criticized (especially by conservatives in Hollywood) as impossibly deficient in stagecraft and presentation managed to introduce nine articulate, polished and thoughtful candidates – and Donald Trump.
Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, Scott Walker, John Kasich and Mike Huckabee all helped themselves and looked good, I thought. Ben Carson ought to get out: It’s painful to watch a great man out of his element. Rand Paul ought to get out: He’s nuts. Chris Christie ought to get out: He hugged Obama and, no, I don’t forgive him either. I wish Jeb Bush would get out, but I’ll just have to wait.
A comment on Carly Fiorina. She did great not only in the pre-debate debate of the second tier but also in the spin room, where she gave Chris Matthews a much-deserved high heel to the eyeball. I’ve been reluctant to praise Fiorina because I thought she was sort of a no-show in her 2010 Senate run here in California. I met her briefly at the time and, while I had no negative impression of her, I didn’t have an overwhelmingly positive one either. But she wasn’t just great on Thursday. She’s been great ever since she started running. Honest, fearless, smart and politically wise. People keep saying condescendingly that she’s about to have a boomlet or become “flavor of the week.” Maybe. But I’m beginning to suspect she might be in it for the long haul, and could even end up on the ticket, if not in the lead position. I like her.
I’ll try to say more about Trump next week. For now, my previous comments stand.