I’m a sucker for magic and especially for sleight-of-hand magic and it just so happens I’m friends with one of the greatest sleight-of-hand practitioners on the planet (no idle boast: they actually test these things and he keeps coming in at or near the top): Gregory Wilson. One of my very fond memories is of a dinner he and I once had during which he absolutely amazed me with nothing but a deck of cards. As we parted ways, he ended by correctly guessing the contents of my pockets (two tarantulas, a rocket launcher and thirty-seven cents). The guy really is brilliant and if you ever have a chance to catch his act, grab it.
Greg is part of a very cool SyFy show fronted by Penn and Teller (themselves no slouches in the magic department). It’s called Wizard Wars. It’s sort of American Idol for magicians. Its second season begins January 29th. If you love this stuff anywhere near as much as I do, set the DVR. Here’s the first season trailer:
Here’s more from the website.
And here’s more from Greg’s website.
I don’t know Anthony Gonzales-Clark, but he brought this Kickstarter crowd-funding project to my attention, and it genuinely looks cool and worth supporting. Gonzales-Clark wants to create a graphic novel called “City On A Hill,” about the history and ideas behind the American founding.
To have such a graphic novel produced by a guy who reads Thomas Sowell (featured prominently in the appeal) would be no small strike in the culture war, so if you have a couple of bucks, try to help Gonzales-Clark reach his 11K plus goal.
Holiday’s over. Back to the barricades.
For American artists, writers, thinkers, moms, dads, coaches, teachers, and other human beings, the work to create a counter-culture to end and replace the poisonous culture of the left continues. As our government and academies and entertainers try to sell us on slave values like Equality, we have to rebuild and promote the concept of Individual Liberty, the central value of free men and women. In place of the whining, manipulative Victim Power of feminists and race-baiters, we have to lift up the idea of Power through Personal Responsibility, the only path to dignity. And in place of the cushioned chains of government-sponsored safety Obama and his corrupt minions try to push on us day after day, we have to teach and defend the fearful glory of Independence.
And so we will have to offend people. A lot of people. A lot of the time.
I mention this because I notice the idea has grown up recently — especially among the young — that offending people is wrong per se. This idea — taught at universities and in entertainments and in the media — is wholly false. Rudeness and unkindness are very often unnecessary — much less necessary than many counter-cultural warriors suppose — but offending people is unavoidable. It is a natural outgrowth of telling the truth.
Here’s some books I read this year that are worth looking into.
For one reason or another, most relating to work projects, I did a lot of re-reading this year. Here are three good old good ones that stood out:
From Dawn to Decadence by Jacques Barzun is a book I found life-changing the first time out. It’s a look at modern western culture from the Reformation (the dawn) to the modern world (the decadence). Barzun was a genius of vast learning and this was his masterpiece, published when he was 93. The book is not easy, but to my mind it’s a must read for anyone who cares about where we came from and where we’re going.
I first read Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov decades ago. For me, it paled in comparison to Crime and Punishment which had utterly rocked my world when I was 19. But since then, I’ve read it again and again and each reading opens up new layers of emotion and meaning. In my life, it will never match C&P, which marked me indelibly, but it is clearly greater in scope and depth and — not to belabor the obvious but — a masterpiece of world literature. This is a wonderful new translation.
The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler also marked me for life. I read it as a boy and it made me want to write crime fiction. Returning to it now was a Proustian experience — if that’s not too big a literary stretch. Reading it on my e-reader, I could practically feel the old paperback in my hands. A brilliant piece of American writing about the weary business of being an honest man in a corrupt world. Again, it’s obvious, but must be said: the writing, the characters, the setting and the attitude make it a classic in the field beyond question. More of my take on Chandler is here.
See this as soon as you can. It’s getting an indie-style release — a limited release Christmas Day to put it in the Oscar running, then wide open January 16th — but that’s just nuts to me. In any sane America, this would be the hit of the year. It’s riveting, affecting, true, beautifully acted, moving — just terrific.
Bradley Cooper delivers on his promise to the late, great Navy SEAL Chris Kyle, the most lethal sniper in American history, to get it right. The movie is patriotic without being jingoistic, lauds military courage and honor without being militaristic, and shows the brutal Islamist enemy as it is without bigotry towards persons.
My guess: The only reason this is being treated as an indie project is because the leftist elite will slam it. To hell with them. This is a wonderful American motion picture about a great American hero.
I loved doing this interview with Rabbi Ari Abramowitz at the Voice of Israel. Rabbi-like, he skipped past the shallow stuff and asked the big questions: about my feelings toward Israel, my conversion from Judaism to Christianity and about my conversion from leftism to liberalism, also known as conservatism. If you’re interested in real talk about real stuff, too rare in American media, it’s worth listening to. You can hear it here.
Here’s a recent interview I did with the excellent Kent Covington for his show The World and Everything In It, updating my progress writing the script for the movie about abortionist serial killer (but I repeat myself) Kermit Gosnell:
Since this interview, I’ve actually completed the first draft. (As I point out in the interview, “first draft” is a term of art, meaning the first draft I turn in to the producers, usually about my fifth or sixth draft. But in any case, it’s done.)
How much easier can I make this for you people???
My friend Jeremy Boreing of Truth Revolt pointed me to “Actual Cannibal Shia LeBeouf” several weeks ago. It’s a greatly improved remake of an earlier cartoon version. At first, I simply found the new piece hilarious and silly (no small things). But it stuck with me. A grad student with too much time on his hands could write a paper about it as a meditation on the cannibalization of high culture by low celebrity culture — complete with the post-modern zinger of Shia himself in Citizen Kane mode, as if his degraded image were his own protege. Thank heavens grad students are too busy writing papers about more important things like “Gender and the Zombie Apocalypse.” Or vice versa. Anyway, if you’re not one of the nearly seven million people who’ve seen this already, take a look:
Man, I wanted to like this movie. And I didn’t dislike it exactly. There was plenty of talent in it. Great premise, great acting all around. And the look of the thing is wonderful. It isn’t often you see Los Angeles captured without romance, just the real feeling of it. It’s a fun film to watch for that alone.
The idea is that a sociopath becomes a stringer cameraman for local TV news. The excellent Jake Gyllenhaal plays the guy who builds a business out of selling blood soaked crime and accident footage to Rene Russo‘s if-it-bleeds-it-leads morning show. Gyllenhaal’s character is a soulless lunatic stoked on internet self-help advice. Which makes for some funny and more or less incisive commentary on local news sensibility in a corporate age.
But after the first act, it just all got a bit repetitive for me. If your lead mugs a man for his watch in the first scene, we pretty much know what he is — and he never changes, just gets to be more and more of the same. That may be commentary, but it’s not actually a story. The real story, I thought, was what happens to Rene Russo, how she goes from trying to do her job to being sucked into the sociopath’s imagined reality. That story, unfortunately, ended up on the cutting room floor.
That said, it’s not boring, and there’s plenty to watch and think about. I disliked it more for failing to be what it could have been than for being what it was. Too bad though: it could’ve been terrific.
The picture gets a 95/87 on Rotten Tomatoes, so obviously a lot of people felt differently. I’d love to hear comments from anyone who disagrees.
Dark Hearts: The Secret of Haunting Melissa, should be available for download from the iTunes store this Thursday, the 20th, tomorrow as I write. This is the sequel to the innovative ghost story in an iOS app, created by Neal Edelstein and scripted by me. I haven’t seen the whole thing yet, but I’ve seen a lot of it and I can say without reservation that it looks absolutely terrific. Neal did a fabulous job with the material and so did the cast from the beautiful Kassia Warshawski — Melissa — on down.
Take a look at the trailer below, then get the app. It’s free though there are in-app purchases. If you have an Android… dude, buy an iPhone.
Some of you were probably too busy voting Democrats out of office to notice that a terrific new trailer for the Haunting Melissa sequel came out on YouTube last week. HM was director Neal Edelstein’s innovative ghost-movie-in-an-app that climbed the App Store bestseller list in 2013. The script to that film was by your humble correspondent as is the script to the sequel, Dark Hearts: The Secret of Haunting Melissa, which is due out later this month:
Download the free app here.
Here’s a find for my fellow ghost story lovers, just in time for Halloween. Wandering aimlessly about the internet, I stumbled on a British site called The Fiction Desk. They apparently run an annual ghost story competition and then publish the winners as an anthology. So okay, for eight bucks I’m game. I downloaded last year’s book — New Ghost Stories — to see if there was anything worth reading.
And yes, I’m delighted to report there very much is! The ghost story is hard to do and I’m a connoisseur and very particular. A good ghost story doesn’t horrify but is marked by a shudder at the crisis point and a fine long chill afterward. M.R. James did it routinely; E.F. Benson and E. A. Poe both did it spectacularly a few times; Stephen King is a modern master when he puts his mind to it. There are many others less well known, but my point is, it takes real skill to pull it off.
All the stories in this anthology are skillful. All are well written. Most are pretty spooky. Some are very good. One — Chalklands by Richard Smyth — is downright excellent: beautifully written, wonderfully imagined, expertly constructed — and it delivers a genuine long-lasting eerie scare.
I’ve read a lot — a lot — of anthologies that include the most famous living names in the genre. This anthology can stand up with any of them. I realize eight dollars isn’t chump change, but these lesser known writers could all use support. So if you have the coin and enjoy a good ghost story, this is a solid anthology and good bedtime reading for the 31st.
There is precious little intelligent writing about ghost stories and horror but you know who’s doing some? My pal John J. Miller. I don’t just say this because he’s a friend, but because the last two pieces he did on the subject were absolutely terrific. The piece he wrote recently for the wonderful Claremont Review on H.P. Lovecraft — The Horror, The Horror — was so good I actually had to write the guy a fan letter. Sure, I knew he’d use it against me some day but what could I do? Reading his essay was like eating some kind of confection. Try this bit:
The biggest barrier to Lovecraft’s mainstream acceptance had been his status as a writer of horror fiction—a field of literature that suffers from the suspicion that its readers take a perverse delight in graphic descriptions of torture and murder. This is an unfortunate misunderstanding, brought on in part by the sad fact that some horror books and movies really are no better than this. In its practical application, however, the classification horror encompasses a wide range of creative expression, from lowbrow penny dreadfuls and shilling shockers to Henry James’s The Turn of the Screw. Much of the confusion is semantic. Strictly defined, horror is a blend of fear and disgust, the revulsion we feel in the face of cruelty and decay. Although Lovecraft certainly exploited this emotion—read the final paragraph of “The Rats in the Walls,” for instance—most of the time he aimed higher. The finest horror fiction is really about terror, which combines fear and awe in a powerful sensation that haunts rather than startles. Lovecraft sometimes used the term supernatural horror, but as a thoroughgoing materialist, he didn’t really believe in the supernatural. If a phenomenon appeared to violate the laws of nature, he argued, it was only because we didn’t understand the science of the laws. Much of Lovecraft’s work originally ran in a pulp magazine called Weird Tales, with weird meaning eerie or uncanny. Yet that promising word never really caught on as a label. So we’re stuck with calling it all horror, and cramming slasher flicks like Friday the 13th and its interminable sequels into the same broad category as the most refined ghost stories, such as Vladimir Nabokov’s “The Vane Sisters” and Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House.
Dude! That’s what good writing about genre fiction looks like when it’s at home. The rest is here.
While America suffers the wages of leftism in the political sphere — authoritarianism, censorship and sluggish economy at home; spreading violence and tyranny abroad — those who are in and on the right have been making a strong move into the all-important world of culture. At Britain’s socialist newspaper The Guardian, cranky lefty Ewan Morrison (h/t Instapundit and Reason) complains that most of the recent YA films — The Giver, Hunger Games, Divergent — honestly depict state oppression and champion libertarian freedom. As one leftist commenter cries, “The masses are increasingly right wing with an antagonism to politics and to the state. They need to be confronted.” To which Instapundit hilariously replies, “Confront away, Big Boy.”
And here’s more good news: there’s an excellent major new movie site that champions civilized values too. HollywoodinToto features a look at pop culture with “a Conservative Edge.” The edgy-guy in chief there is Christian Toto, who for a long time was one of the best culture writers at Big Hollywood. He knows movies and TV well, both from an aesthetic and political perspective.
The site is already rocking with cool, smart articles like “Sopranos vs. Breaking Bad: Why Walter White Wins,” and “The Sad, Unpredictable Fall of Russell Brand,” along with lots of reviews of films old and new.
Listen, I’m not against complaining about left wing culture — but I am against complaining and not supporting the true culture warriors of the right. Christian Toto is one of them — I mean, just look at his name! Check the site out. You’ll be glad.
Back in May, when I promoted Ann McElhinney and Phelim McAleer in their heroic effort to crowd fund a movie about abortionist/serial killer Kermit Gosnell, I did not expect that I was going to end up writing it! But according to what I read in The Hollywood Reporter, that’s how it has shaken out:
The TV movie or feature film about imprisoned abortion doctor Kermit Gosnell has hired as its writerAndrew Klavan, a bestselling novelist whose book True Crime was made into a movie starring and directed by Clint Eastwood.
Those behind the Gosnell project set a record at Indiegogo in May by raising more than $2.1 million via a crowdfunding campaign. Klavan is expected to use gruesome details from a grand jury report to craft the story of Gosnell, who was convicted of murder after killing live babies born at his Philadelphia abortion clinic.
“As I’ve begun to get into the research materials, it’s started to come home to me that we’ve all taken on a huge responsibility,” Klavan said. “The women who were brutalized by this Gosnell monster — they can tell their stories. But all his victims, all those babies — we’ve got to figure out a way to speak for them somehow.”
Klavan also wrote Don’t Say a Word, which was made into a movie starring Michael Douglas, and he authored a series of young-adult novels called The Homelanders. He also has written opinion articles for several newspapers, including a controversial piece in The Wall Street Journal that compared Batman as portrayed in The Dark Knight to President George W. Bush.
The producers of Gosnell, husband and wife Phelim McAleer and Ann McElhinney, along with Magdalena Segieda, have made their case that their independent movie is necessary because the mainstream media and traditional Hollywood has largely ignored Gosnell and his crimes, and Klavan agrees.
I do indeed, and I’m very excited to be part of this project. Phelim and Ann are top-notch filmmakers and people, and it’s a genuine pleasure to be working with them on a story of this importance.
Director Neal Edelstein has finished filming my script for the sequel of the bestselling and Appy-award-winning storytelling app Haunting Melissa. It’s called Haunting Melissa 2: Dark Hearts, and I have to say, it is looking unbelievably good. I had a chance to see some of the dailies as they were coming in, and then dropped in on Neal in the editing room the other day to watch some rough cut scenes. As spooky as the first story was, he is definitely taking the thing to a new level.
For those of you who didn’t get a chance to download the first Haunting Melissa app, it’s very innovative, very cool. It delivers filmed portions of a ghost story to your iPhone or iPad on its own schedule. You never know when your phone is suddenly going to whisper, “Melissssssa,” scaring the bejabbers out of you and announcing that a new chapter of the creepy tale has arrived.
The first film, also directed by Neal and written by me, told the story of Melissa Strogue, who begins hearing voices while staying alone in the farmhouse where her mother died. If you want to watch the story before the sequel comes out, it’s still available, though it’s exclusive to iOS devices and as far as I know, there are no plans to do an Android version any time soon.
Anyway, when you write for film but don’t direct, you never know how things are going to turn out, and I’m very excited to see the way this is going. Every scene I’ve watched so far has been well shot, well acted, emotional and scary. The beautiful Kassia Warshawski returns to play the title role, and the somewhat less beautiful but still talented Greg Lawson — who just recently had a part in the Fargo TV series — is back as her father.
It’s nice when you’re able to plug something you’ve worked on and do it with complete honesty. I think I can honestly recommend: if you like ghost stories, download Haunting Melissa and watch it now, because you’re definitely going to want to see the sequel.
Take a look at some of these reviews for the religious indie hit God’s Not Dead:
From Britain’s Socialist newspaper The Guardian: ”This warped evangelist item… veers from the suspect… to the outright hateful: by the jawdropping climax, wherein a preacher is effectively granted divine right to mow down non-believers, “doing God’s work” has become indistinguishable from Grand Theft Auto. Ban this sick filth.”
Here’s one from Movie Nation: ”It’s a movie where rare is the voice that is raised, but deep is the rage bubbling through its rabid anti-intellectualism. When a non-believer is considered to be better off dead, that’s not brimstone you’re smelling. It’s bile.”
And from my old employers The Village Voice: ”Judging by the ignorance and contempt with which the script treats nonbelievers, the real goal here is proving that non-Christians are worthless.”
I admit those reviews are the extreme ones. I disagreed with Claudia Puig’s negative review at USA Today but it was fair and honest and gave credit where credit was due. She and I saw the same flaws and strengths but came out with a different overall impression. Tastes differ.
My take? God’s Not Dead, is a pleasant and touching little entertainment, the core of which is an intelligent, succinct, well-reasoned and well-stated response to popular atheist arguments. There’s no Bible thumping, there are no threats of hellfire, there’s no attempt to “prove” God’s existence — the film admits it can’t be proved. But the script makes clear what I have thought for a long time: most atheist arguments, no matter how brilliant the scientist or philosopher who makes them, are just simply not very good judged on the merits.
What’s more, the movie is bracing in its vigor. It doesn’t hesitate to depict both the unkindness and the pain of a Muslim father when his daughter discovers Christ. His is a perfectly plausible reaction and we all know there are Muslim fathers who would do much worse. Nor does the movie fail to confront the fact of suffering and death that many non-believers find a dispositive argument against faith. I was happily surprised at how far the filmmakers were willing to go in making their case.
An excellent debate went on at The Week last week (h/t to director Jeremy Boreing for sending it to me). The issue was sex.
Welcome to sexual modernity — a world in which the dense web of moral judgments and expectations that used to surround and hem in our sex lives has been almost completely dissolved, replaced by a single moral judgment or consideration: individual consent. As long as everyone involved in a sexual act has chosen to take part in it — from teenagers fumbling through their first act of intercourse to a roomful of leather-clad men and women at a BDSM orgy — anything and everything goes.
All of our so-called cultural conflicts flow from this monumental shift — and the fact that some of our fellow citizens (religious traditionalists and other social conservatives) are terrified by the new dispensation.
Linker goes on to say that, while he feels comfortable with modern sexual liberty and appreciates its relief from “sexually inspired suffering, shame, humiliation, and self-loathing,” he has also come to appreciate that some traditionalist critiques of the situation are worth considering. The gains of the sexual revolution are clear: “It’s fun! It feels good!” But it may be that traditionalist fears that promiscuity threatens the stability of society and the welfare of children have merit.
You wouldn’t think it possible to say something profound about a movie starring The Rock — it seems almost an offense against reason! But over at the classics website The Forum — or as I like to call it “Young Klavan on Old Culture” — my son Spencer delivers a brilliant treatise on why taking the myth out of mythology gives us, not modern profundity, but emptiness and cynicism:
Back in the day, hero myths were how Ancient Greece told the stories that America now tells in superhero comics. An unstoppable renegade throwing a destructive hissy fit then going down in a blaze of glory for the good guys: that’s Phoenix from X-Men and Achilles from the Iliad. An ordinary guy turned extraordinary champion of justice to avenge a murdered father: that’s Batman and Theseus. And the long-lost son of super-parents in the sky, raised by humans to save earth with unheard-of strength and powers? That’s Superman. That’s Hercules.
But Dwayne Johnson’s Hercules is no Superman. In this movie, all that phony supernatural stuff is for suckers, a bedtime story that Hercules perpetuates to pump up his image. Scene after smug scene, the movie knowingly debunks its mythic origins. Son of Zeus? Let the saps believe that so they’ll fear me, says The Rock. Centaurs? Please. Just dudes on horses (from far away . . . before contact lenses). “I have seen too much reality to believe the legends,” says the canny queen, Ergenia, but “the people need a hero.”
In other words: Joe Schmo needs a pretty story so he can believe in “virtue” and “heroism.” The élites know better.
Yowsa! And he’s just getting started. Read the rest of it, really. It’s all good.
I know: with the Obama presidency unraveling in a disaster for America and the world, it seems absurd to waste a blog post on the death of actor James Garner. But bear with me. This is a blog on the culture. It was the culture, dominated by leftists, that helped make this catastrophic presidency possible. Garner’s death underscores part of what went wrong.
The star of the ’50s TV western Maverick and the ’70s private eye show The Rockford Files died at 86 over the weekend. He was a wonderfully charming and entertaining actor who made some fine movies (The Great Escape, The Americanization of Emily) but was only truly a star on the small screen. In this, he resembled two other favorites of mine, David Janssen, who starred in The Fugitive and Harry O and Darren McGavin, who starred in Mike Hammer, The Outsider, and The Night Stalker.
I’m not sure — no one’s really sure — what made an actor more suitable for the small screen rather than the movies back in the day, or why some could move comfortably between one and the other. Garner, Janssen and McGavin all had a limited range and a set number of out-sized mannerisms. But that was true of John Wayne and Clint Eastwood too, two of the biggest movie stars of all time. Maybe something about Garner and the others was just more recognizable and knowable and human than what we saw in movie stars when there actually were movie stars. Wayne, Eastwood — even more actorly stars like Brando and Pacino — all had something huge and iconic about them. No matter how well they played their parts, they were always more personae than persons. You could imagine hanging out with Garner. You could only dream about being John Wayne.