Barack Obama’s history of the Crusades, Brian Williams’ war stories and the CBS Evening News are all well and good, but if you want REALLY gripping fiction, try the new Fox TV series Empire. I won’t tell you it’s Shakespeare — and I hate the phrase “guilty pleasure” (it’s not like I’ve got someone chained up in the basement!) — but let’s just call it an addictive entertainment.
How addictive? Consider this. I don’t really do binge watching. No time. I set this show on my DVR and it collected six episodes before I even had a chance to look at it. Since I didn’t seem to be interested, I decided to watch ten minutes of the pilot to get the feel of it and delete the rest. I ended up watching three episodes in a row — it was past midnight when I was done. Another day or two and there were none left. Watching this thing is like eating potato chips salted with crack cocaine.
It’s the story of Lucious Lyon — played by Terrence Howard — who parlayed a hip-hop recording career into a music empire. Lucious discovers he has ALS with only three years to live so he sets his three sons against each other to see who can take over the business. There’s Hakeem (Bryshere Y. Gray), the wannabe gangstah one; Andre (Trai Byers), the buttoned-down bi-polar one; and Jamal (Jussie Smollett), the high-minded gay one. Complicating the game is Lucious’s ex-wife, the boys’ mother, Cookie (Taraji P. Henson), who has just been sprung from prison and wants her cut of the business too.
So yeah, it’s Dallas with music and just about as much fun as it’s possible to have watching TV. The acting’s great (Howard has one of the best speaking voices in the business), the girls are beautiful (newcomers Grace Gealey and Serayah could cause a man to spontaneously combust), and the music is softened just enough to make it enjoyable even to an old Bach and Bing fan like myself — which, hey, I appreciate!
You can pick on the show for silliness at times. There are one too many scenes where Cookie sashays uninvited into a meal or meeting to disrupt things with her over-the-top street smarts. But there’s never a dull moment and, frankly, watching this kind of talent go all out to amuse the folks at home is a pleasure in and of itself. If you have a chance to catch this, I’d love to know what you think. Myself, I can’t stop, won’t stop, watching.
I finally watched The Interview the other night — the picture all the Sony Hacking fuss was about, now available on Netflix. A couple of laughs, mostly from self-mocking celebrities like Eminem, Rob Lowe and Katy Perry. Other than that, a big disappointment after the delightful This Is The End by the same gang. (But then This Is The End was all self-mocking celebrities, so maybe that tells us something!)
I couldn’t help but notice that this might be the first Hollywood movie in which the character of Barack Obama makes a veiled appearance. Remember how during the Bill Clinton years, the Hollywood left was always rewriting Clinton into the man they wished he was? Instead of the draft dodger of real life, Clinton became the former fighter pilot of Independence Day. Instead of a cheap and abusive adulterer, he was the misunderstood lover of American President. And so on. It was as if Hollywood was trying to auto-correct reality.
Well, this is sort of like that. James Franco plays Dave Skylark, a shallow and self-absorbed man who strikes a lot of pseudo-intellectual poses and, for some unknown reason, has a large public following. He is more interested in movie stars than real life, lives a life of luxury on other people’s dime and has no understanding whatsoever of the world situation he is tasked to deal with. Whenever he gets in trouble, he suggests that his friends sacrifice themselves in various ways to save him.
Sent to get rid of the tyrannical head of the North Korean slave state, Skylark abandons his mission when the tyrant easily cons him with fake shows of friendship. When Skylark attempts to confront the murderous thug with his crimes against humanity, the Dear Leader wrong-foots him by pointing out that America has a lot of people in prison. Hearing that, Skylark gets a frowny face because he’s shallow and stupid enough to think there’s some moral equivalence between the U.S. imprisoning its criminals and North Korea enslaving its entire citizenry!
It doesn’t take any great insight to see that Dave Skylark is based very closely on President Obama. The fantasy element comes in when Skylark rallies himself and saves the day.
But then, like Independence Day and American President, The Interview is only a movie. The left can dream, can’t it?
We had a good time over at my Facebook page and on my Twitter feed (@andrewklavan) this week, running a caption contest on this picture:
Much hilarity ensued, much of it involving pudding pops and Jeffrey Epstein.
But I have to admit, the whole Cosby business saddens me.
When I was a little boy, Cos was the great hero of my life. I had all his comedy records. I had his picture on my wall. I made plans to become a stand-up comedian and made up routines in his style. I got to see him perform live several times. My father even took me to California and arranged for me to shake my idol’s hand: Cosby was on a break from filming the hopscotch opening to his first television special. That same trip, I got to watch him filming an episode of I Spy. It was my favorite show, of course. I never missed an episode.
Cosby became my hero again in my adulthood, when he stood up against the race hustlers and thug excusers and called on black Americans to take responsibility for their own children and their own lives. It’s sad that it requires courage for a black man to do that simple, sensible and helpful thing, but it does. The left — which includes the media — has built its power by dividing us, holding up white men especially as the Emmanuel Goldstein of their four-decade-long Two Minute Hate. If blacks — and women — and gays — ever figure out who the friends of their freedom really are, the left is finished. So Cosby was viciously attacked for his honesty.
Did he drug women and rape them while they were unconscious? God, I hope not. I hope the accusations are part of some kind of leftist conspiracy meant to silence him or punish him for speaking the truth. But we’ll see. If he did it, it was a pretty sick thing to do. Hard for a sane man even to see the pleasure in it. But easy enough to see the pathological cruelty. One can only imagine the mental damage it would do to the victim.
I hope it’s all baloney. But if it is true, I won’t make excuses even for my childhood hero, not as the left did for Bill Clinton and Ted Kennedy. If it is true, there can be no excuse.
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.