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.
Had a chance to chat in depth with Paul Cook at CBS station KMOX NewsRadio 1120 out of St. Louis. The talk ran from writing fiction to politics to my new novel MindWar, the first in a trilogy of Sci-Fi adventure novels for young adults. First reviews for the book are starting to come in over at Amazon. I like this one from Wheelsms: “It reads like a cross between Tron, This Present Darkness, Ender’s Game, and The Matrix.” Not bad.
The story centers on Rick Dial, a one time star high school quarterback who retreats into obsessive gaming after his legs are shattered in a car crash. Turns out, his gaming skills combined with his quarterback reflexes and mentality, make him the perfect candidate to fight the MindWar and he’s injected into a video game-like atmosphere where the stakes are very real and very high.
You can buy it here, and you should!
I’ve had so much to say about so many things that I haven’t had a chance to put up a quick review of the TV version of Fargo recently on FX. I’m afraid a lot of people who would have loved this show might have missed it on the first go round. The problem was, the first episode was delightfully complex and murderous, a really good imitation of the tone and content of the original (great) Coen Brothers movie of the same name. But there was so much in the pilot that, almost by necessity, the second and third episodes felt as if they fell off a little. I know a few people who stopped watching at this point. A mistake, it turns out. The show climbed right back to the level of the first episode and then continued to get better and better until it was absolutely spectacular.
The show really managed to capture the Fargo tone of foul crime in the good-natured heartland. Great plotting, great dialogue, great characters played by great actors. Martin Freeman and Billy Bob Thornton were absolutely wonderful — their characters both so villainous in such different ways that their interaction became kind of a running meditation on the nature of evil. Not as much flash and dazzle as True Detective but far, far better on the crime story fundamentals. A really gripping ride.
A character in my novel Man And Wife points out that it’s difficult to talk about manhood because an essential part of manhood is not talking about it. But that didn’t stop me from joining a panel with my friends at BOND during their annual Father’s Day Conference on Fatherhood and Men. With the fearless and humorous preacher Jesse Lee Peterson leading the discussion, the 45-minutes or so absolutely zipped by. Here it is for your delectation and delight:
By the way, if you click on the Jesse Lee Peterson link, you’ll find my City Journal profile of him, the anti-Jesse Jackson. If you click on Man And Wife, you’ll have something absolutely great to read for the weekend! Is this blog a resource or what?
British artist and comedian Miriam Elia is in trouble with Penguin Books after publishing an explicit — but absolutely dead on and hilarious — spoof of modern art in the form of a Penguin’s children’s Ladybird book. Elia says Penguin’s been kind about it and has tried to negotiate but has to keep its trademark rights. I do understand that and I’m not blaming them, but it’s really too bad because the thing is great. It’s called We Go To The Gallery, and has little Peter and Jane being taken to someplace like the Tate Gallery by Mummy to learn all about modern art and its vision of the world. Here are a couple of panels – as I say, Not Suitable For Work:
I made the argument in this space a while back that this well-made micro-budget modern western takes an important step in breaking the left’s monopoly on our culture. No “mainstream” (i.e. leftist) filmmaker was going to tell this story — the story of a lone rancher who takes a stand against the sort of unbridled influx of illegals that’s happening even as I write, and against the sort of government incompetence, wickedness and wrong-headedness that makes the influx possible. It required both economic wit and creative talent to make this movie happen.
“As the fallout continues from Rep. Eric Cantor’s (R-VA) defeat in his primary at the hands of unknown economics professor David Brat over Cantor’s support for immigration reform, Boreing’s The Arroyo looks more timely than ever.”
True enough. In any case, there are a lot of good reasons for you to take a look at this picture. For me, the two that come immediately to mind: it’s entertaining and it tells the truth.
Oh hey, this is really nice. Haunting Melissa, the unique serial ghost story movie told through an iOS app, has won the 2014 Appy Award for best entertainment app of last year. I wrote the script to the film based on a story by me and Neal Edelstein. Neal designed the app and directed the film. It’s extremely cool stuff, very spooky. New installments pop up on your iOS device when the spirit moves them, so to speak, and you’re alerted by creepy whispers. Watch the film with a headset to get the full effect.
Here’s a trailer:
Got an iPhone or iPad? You can download the app here. It’s free, though there’s a cost for content as you go along. Not much though compared to a movie — and you get a lot more hours of entertainment.
I don’t have a lot of pet peeves — why would I keep a peeve as a pet? But since this is supposed to be a cultural blog, I’ll tell you a cultural phenomenon that really bugs me: songs with beautiful music that have crappy lyrics. Now remember those criteria… don’t come back on me and say, “Hey, that song is lovely.” I know it is. The music is. The music is lovely and catchy and lyrical… but that’s exactly what makes the crummy lyrics so, so annoying.
Remember this one? Sometimes When We Touch by Dan Hill:
Really pretty tune but come on!
“Sometimes when we touch, the honesty’s too much, and I have to close my eyes and hide. I want to hold you till I die, till we both break down and cry. I want to hold you till the fear in me subsides.”
I mean, gag me with a spoon! Dan! Danster! Are you a dude or a chick? “I want to hold you… till we both break down and cry?” Bleagh! Does a huggy-wuggy make you weepy-deepy? “I want to hold you till the fear in me subsides…” I’m sorry, check me on this, ladies. If a guy actually said that to you would you 1) laugh in his face and dump him or 2) well, wait, there is no 2…
[My wife says I'd like the song if the sexes were reversed. You know: holding a tremulous girl until her fear subsides... kind of sexy. But this is exactly why I make my wife live in the basement. Or would, if I had a basement. If she's going to start expecting me to make sense, our marriage is doomed!]
Anyway, later in the song, there’s this gender-non-specific stinker: “I’m just another writer, still trapped within his truth.” Hey, listen, I have that problem too. Mostly, it’s when a little piece of cloth gets stuck in the zipper. Just pull sharply.
Okay, here’s something off-beat — but then the weekend’s coming and so’s summer, so why not? Now and then, I sample some of the stuff that’s being e-published directly. For the most part, I’m not liking it. I’m especially put off by the genuinely crummy grammar and spelling in a lot of this self-published stuff. I’d expect as much if I were sampling randomly, but I usually get books that have been recommended and I’m really dismayed by how poorly some of them are written.
There’s some of that — poor grammar and the like — in Anecdotes in Ashes, but if you’re a horror fan, it’s still a pretty interesting read. It’s micro-fiction: one- and two-paragraph long stories, written by a loose band of online writers who call themselves The Assembly. The whole anthology is only about sixty pages long, but then I picked it up for a buck so that’s about right. It’s also available in paperback for more.
Most of the stories: they’re okay. A shock here and there but nothing memorable. But some of the stories in the first section of the book, “Encounters in The Dark,” actually deliver a nice, creepy little thrill. I particularly liked one called “Hanging,” by someone who goes by the handle Mucalling. It’s three paragraphs long and tells of a website that shows live video of “a dark room, being filmed in black and white, and five people suspended hanging upside down from the ceiling.”
There are other true creepers as well, enough to make this worth the price. It’s an interesting experiment, and if you like scary stuff, I’d take a look.
So the other day I was up late channel surfing, and I stumbled onto the The Incredible Burt Wonderstone, which I’d never seen. You remember this film: Steve Carell and Buscemi as two high school friends who become an old fashioned Siegfried and Roy-style team of Vegas magicians. They run into trouble when radical street magician Jim Carrey starts to steal their thunder. Olivia Wilde is the beautiful assistant who humanizes the arrogant Carell.
The film got mixed to harsh reviews and underperformed at the box office: both critics and humans rate it in the 30s on Rotten Tomatoes and it had one of the lowest openings of a film with Carell or Carrey.
And you know what? It’s good! Not a great movie by any stretch. But it’s charming, sweet-natured, entertaining and I laughed out loud — hard — three or four times. Which is approximately three or four times more than I laugh out loud at most film comedies. The scene with Buscemi bringing magic to the poor is wonderful.
Many of the reviews attacking the picture seemed grumpy about its mixed tone. As “The Brain Rapist,” Carrey’s over-the-top, self-mutilating magic is outrageous and occasionally hard to watch, whereas the story of Carell and Buscemi’s friendship and Carell and Wilde’s romance is more standard comedy fare. And yeah, that’s true, but the mix works really well. In fact, it actually has something to say about the difference between “radical art,” and actual entertainment… which is, I suspect, what got the highbrow critics so upset in the first place. It’s really a rebuke to their slavish admiration of the off-beat.
He was the worst serial killer in American history, but when he went on trial, the courtroom press section was all but empty. No Hollywood studio has stepped up to make the movie. Why? Because Dr. Kermit Gosnell was an abortionist, and facing the truth about his crimes means facing the truth about abortion itself.
My friends Ann McElhinney and Phelim McAleer are trying to tell the story. The two talented filmmakers have mounted the biggest ever crowd funding campaign, hoping to raise the $2.1 million they need. They are so close, but the days are dwindling down and they still need about $200,000 more or else everything they have so far will be lost.
They used Indiegogo because KickStarter kept refusing to host them — putting them off with a series of clearly bogus excuses. That’s how much pressure there is to keep this story from being told, to keep the truth from being known.
Watch the video above, in which Ann struggles to read part of the grand jury report. It’s not one of the grisly sections so you should be able to stand it — and you’ll know why Ann had to fight to control her emotions in order to get through it. It’s heartbreaking. No wonder the abortion industry wants this case buried in silence.
Hit the link. Chip in. This movie should be made.
If there were no God, the sex practices allegedly going on in Hollywood would be every bit as bad as what went on in the Catholic Church. Since there is a God, the church scandal is worse — it’s much worse to rape a child while serving as a priest. But just to show that the church abuses aren’t related to the theology, here’s a video of my interview with Sun News’ Brian Lilley on the similar charges against X-Men director Bryan Singer and three other Hollywood executives.
The money quote:
“If these [people accused of pedophilia] were conservatives, if these were priests, if they were religious people, this would be a huge story. But as it is, it’s gonna get swept under the rug unless more people come forward.
See if it’s not!
The Reverend Jesse Lee Peterson may be the single most fearless person I’ve ever met — morally fearless, I mean; willing to say whatever he believes to be the truth. Plus he has a deadpan sense of humor that cracks me up.
Here I am on one of his recent radio shows, talking about how Conservatives can get their game back. After you listen, check out my City Journal profile of Jesse Lee, A Man Alone.
And you can listen to the Jesse Lee Peterson show here.
I’ve entered one of those periods when I’m so busy, I can only watch one TV show at a time. Pitiful, I know. Fortunately, for the last thirteen weeks, there’s been no difficulty deciding which show it would be. Graham Yost’s Justified remains one of the best crime shows ever, even in this era of unbelievably great crime shows like The Wire and The Shield.
I think the last two seasons have been the two best. As always, it’s the characters, dialogue and tough Elmore Leonardian attitudes that make the thing pop the way it does. But I do like a good story, and the plotting has grown better over the seasons and in these last two seasons, the stories were really superlative.
The actors are all great. Timothy Olyphant, Nick Searcy, Walton Goggins, Joelle Carter, the whole cast. The fact that none of them has won an Emmy for this show is a miscarriage of Emmy justice but (watch the funny Conan interview with Olyphant above) they seem to be surviving. Olyphant, I think, gets underrated because he’s a good-looking hero type who’s paid his dues in some second rate films, but you can tell he constructs his performances from the ground up. He even moves differently in different roles. I still haven’t forgotten Goggins’ performance in the last season of The Shield — the best acting I ever saw on a TV screen — and he continues excellent here. And this season, Joelle Carter finally got a really interesting storyline all to herself and pulled off a major character shift so subtle that the final jolt seemed unexpected and completely natural at the same time.
And, of course, this site can’t let the season pass without singing the praises of the mighty Nick Searcy, who expertly portrays the moral center of the show, Chief Deputy U.S. Marshall Art Mullen. Searcy should win some kind of award just for the fact that Mullen — the show’s one unabashedly decent and lovable character — was heard listening to Rush Limbaugh during a stake out! That’s no surprise to those of us who follow @yesnicksearcy on Twitter, the guy no loud mouthed lefty wants to meet in a dark Twitter alley (see his brilliant musical performance below.).
I understand next year will be Justified’s final season and I’ll miss it. But that’s all right. I think shows should end while they’re still terrific. This one is still as terrific as it can be. A crime show joy to behold.
I’ve been on the road and haven’t had a chance to see Noah, the 130-million dollar Darren Aronofsky biblical blockbuster that opened well, but not brilliantly, at the box office last weekend. But while I can have nothing to say about the content of the movie, I’ve been interested to see three of my friends from three different faiths wrestle with the film — a film whose atheist director declared it would be “the least biblical film ever made.”
Ben Shapiro is a devout Jew, and I’ve heard him speak with real and revealing insight into Torah — something that’s not all that common. In a genuinely sharp essay at Truth Revolt, he took the film apart as a “perversely pagan mess” that replaced God with Gaia to deliver a muddled environmentalist message. You can read the whole excellent thing here, but one point struck me particularly:
It is one thing for a movie adaptation to stray from the source material. Adding characters or scenes, crafting details that vary from the strict text – all of it is in bounds when it comes to adaptations. Critics of Noah who have focused on the extra-Biblical magic of Methuselah or the lack of textual support for instantaneously-growing forests are off-base.
The far deeper problem is when an adaptation perverts the message of the source material. If the movie version of To Kill A Mockingbird had turned Tom Robinson into a villain and Mr. Ewell into a hero, that would rightly have been seen as an undermining of the original work. The same is true of the Biblical story of Noah and the movie version of that same story. It isn’t merely that Aronofsky gets the story wrong. That would be forgiveable. It’s that Aronofsky deliberately destroys the foundational principles undergirding the Bible, and uses Biblically-inspired story to do it.
The mighty John Nolte of Breitbart’s Big Hollywood, a Catholic, was much kinder to the movie itself — and in fact, feared that the film’s high quality as an entertainment made it an excellent vehicle for selling a wholly dishonest view of the Bible story:
My concern is that with “Noah,” Hollywood has cracked the code on how to undermine the Judeo/Christian faith while making a profit with the help of some duped Christian “thought leaders”: Use the awesome propaganda power of the motion picture to lead people away from God by telling them the Judeo-Christian faith is something it is not.
In the case of “Noah,” [because of strong box office] Satan is a happy camper… : Over the last ten days, throughout the world, millions have been told the dark lie that Christianity, or any religion based on the Old Testament, has a foundation seeped in environmental extremism and has nothing to do with leading a moral and charitable life as defined by the Ten Commandments and Christ’s 11th Commandment.
Finally, up-and-coming culture critic R.J. Moeller, an evangelical, took a man-of-reason approach over at Acculturated. Writing an open letter to Aronofsky, he expressed admiration for the filmmaker’s work both here and elsewhere.
What I’d like to say to you in closing is this: thank you for making this movie. Perhaps I’m being naïve, but I was encouraged to see your interpretation of the story of Noah and the existential themes and questions that emanate from it. Even if we disagree on the lessons we’re supposed to learn from Noah’s life and God’s actions, I appreciate your willingness to enter the “How can a good God allow bad things to happen?” debate.
Your film is going to facilitate important conversations among friends, family members and co-workers around the nation. I hope Hollywood takes note of the box office enthusiasm surrounding this movie. I also hope that those Christians who did not care for Noah are incentivized to be a part of the long-term solution (as far as the production of God-honoring, high-quality projects are concerned).
I’m on the east coast this week and just gave a talk at Cornell University sponsored by the Program on Freedom and Free Societies. I spoke at one point about how those who think that Hollywood only cares about money don’t really know anything about Hollywood. I pointed out that religious pictures like this week’s indie release God is Not Dead are so routinely “surprise hits,” that it’s hard to figure out where the surprise is coming from. I also had some fun discussing how puzzled the New York Times was at the “surprise hit” Lone Survivor. How very odd, said the Times, or words to that effect. They couldn’t comprehend why audiences who had “stubbornly refused” to go to all the other movies about the war on terror, turned up to make this one a hit. One wanted to explain patiently, as to a child: Well, dear, it’s because all the other movies showed America as the bad guys, and this one showed us as the good guys, and the audience doesn’t want to be insulted by elitist claptrap. But the Times is not yet mature enough for that kind of information.
Anyway, when my Cornell talk was done, a leftist in the audience termed it “naive” and “bizarre.” (I doubt I was naive. I do try to be as bizarre as possible!) He said Hollywood was just a whore chasing after money.
The man spoke so long and said so many things that were untrue, that I couldn’t really respond concisely. But there is one thing I really wish I had said, and that is this. Making movies that make money isn’t being a whore. It’s called being in the movie business. It’s what movies are supposed to do. When your movies make money it means that you did something someone else liked instead of just preening yourself on your skills and insight. When your movies make money, it means they succeeded in doing what movies are supposed to do: entertaining an audience. There is, of course, absolutely nothing at all wrong with making a smaller movie for a smaller audience that makes less money. But to assume that making profitable movies makes you a whore is elitist in the extreme. It presumes that you have some higher wisdom that should be served over and above the wisdom of the ticket buyers. But in real life… no, you don’t.
I think 300 is easily one of the best movies of the last twenty years, the only movie I’ve seen twice in a week since Hitchcock died, a film that will be re-watched and remembered long after most if not all of the prestige art films of our day are forgotten.
The tale of the Spartan battle against the Persians at Thermopylae was released in 2006, when Hollywood, entering its most shameful days, was beginning to churn out despicable anti-war on terror and anti-military propaganda even while American sons were actually on the battlefield in harm’s way. 300 was instead a stirring W-style call to defend the age-old values of the west against an oppressive and ignorant foreign invader.
But what made the film special — even brilliant — was the wild, confident imagination it brought to the screen from Frank Miller’s graphic novel. Though the story stayed very faithful to the history in Herodotus, it introduced fantastical beasts, over-the-top video game violence, outsized characters and even bulked up muscle suits to give the story a larger than life feel. It was as if the movie was saying to the Islamic-fascists who had attacked us: “You think we’re decadent because we sit around and play video games? Let us show you the sort of western courage that inspired those games, Islamo-schmuck!”
One of the sillier effusions of pop political correctness is the attempt to bully the idea of female beauty out of the culture. Ceaseless attacks on Barbie dolls for giving girls unrealistic expectations (though, strange to say, Superman doesn’t do that to boys), or virtuous but likely ineffective campaigns to sell underwear with overweight models, not to mention the endless feminist maundering on the subject — it all seems part of yet another wearisome leftist attempt to change basic reality through thuggery, censorship and noisy protest. Good luck with that.
Listen, I don’t complain that Ryan Gosling stole my part in The Notebook — I could’ve killed in that! I don’t waste a lot of bitterness on the fact that Kobe Bryant took my spot on the Lakers. Some people are born with natural gifts that others don’t have. Some girls are knockouts. Some are not. Why, I wonder, shouldn’t women have to live with the basic unfairness of life same as dudes?
I first noticed that this silliness was infecting show biz while watching the absolutely superb 1995 BBC adaptation of Pride and Prejudice. Man, that was good. But I found it very annoying and distracting to see that the older sister, Jane, (played by the quirkily appealing Susannah Harker) was nowhere near as beautiful as Lizzie, played by the then-stunning Jennifer Ehle (still attractive 20 years later and an excellent actress).
Readers of the great Jane Austen novel will know that sister Jane’s beauty and sweetness are an important part of the plot as they contrast with Lizzie’s wit and fire. And the show treated the Jane character as if she were as beautiful as the character in the book. It was confusing and didn’t make sense. I’m told that when questioned about this, a BBC executive replied defensively and pompously that, well, there are other kinds of beauty besides physical beauty, you know. And yes, there are. But Jane’s beauty happens to be physical. Why not play it that way? The answer, of course, is that the Beeb is a leftist organization and thus must kowtow to the whims of bossy feminists who don’t like the idea that female physical beauty has a power and social worth that are both real and non-negotiable.
I have (if I do say so myself) a rather amusing piece on House of Cards up at the wonderful City Journal magazine. You should read it if for no other reason than to discover what is one of the best conservative outlets anywhere. It begins:
House of Cards, the Netflix series about a lethally unscrupulous Washington politician, is a wonderful show, but it does sometimes stretch the limits of credulity. I have no trouble believing that a Democratic congressman would push a reporter in front of a train, but the idea that anyone in the press would try to expose him for it is flat-out ridiculous. After all, Barack Obama has been pushing reporters under the bus for six years and nobody’s said a word. Ah, well. If the show gives leftist politicos nightmares about being held accountable for their actions by American journalists, they can simply keep repeating, “It’s only a movie, it’s only a movie.”
House of Cards does pose a more realistic threat to leftists, however: their 40-year monopoly on artistic political statements—and their tacit blacklist of anyone who tries to make opposing statements—may finally be coming to an end. House of Cards is not, as left-wing activist Randy Shaw wrote in a blithering and inattentive pieceon Huffington Post, a “Republican fantasy world,” but it is not pure leftist cant, either. And that in itself makes it something of a New Thing on the show-business landscape.
You can experience the wonder of the whole thing here.
Here’s another of the “small, quality” films up for an Oscar that, like Her, is really not that great. Dallas Buyers Club has many things to admire, but I’m pretty sure its nomination and ecstatic reviews have more to do with its “worthiness” than its actual effectiveness as a motion picture.
The movie is based on the true story of Texas bad boy Ron Woodroof. According to the picture, Woodroof, a gambler, druggie and rodeo rider, contracted AIDS from his wild heterosexual lifestyle back in 1985, when the epidemic was just going public in a big way. Frustrated with government’s incompetence in dealing with the new health crisis, he became a smuggler of experimental drugs. Along the way, as Homer Simpson might say, he learned an important lesson about tolerating the gay people who were dying all around him. (There’s apparently some evidence Woodroof was actually bisexual and that the movie’s homophobe-to-gay-liker story is bogus, but I’m just writing about the movie I saw.)
Matthew McConaughey does his usual fine job with the lead. Jared Leto is nominated for a supporting Academy Award for playing a gay transvestite heroin addict and he deserves to win. I know this sort of role is meat and drink to actors (it’s a lot harder to play a vanilla accountant and make it sing) but Leto just kills it, winning your heart the second he comes on screen with the character’s kindness, intelligence and vulnerability.
What’s strange about the picture, though, is its overall lack of feeling. It’s cold and seems to be operating on autopilot — as if director Jean-Marc Vallée (who did a good job with The Young Victoria) expects the audience to do the work of feeling things he never takes the trouble to make them feel. McConaughey’s transition from gay-hating good ol’ boy to tolerant good ol’ boy is told rather than shown. The payoff delivers no punch whatsoever. The end of Leto’s character arc actually occurs offscreen, leaving you without much sense of resolution for the one really sympathetic guy in the story. I wanted to bring in my unshed tears for a refund! And McConaughey’s character never really achieves the level of AIDS Schindler because, while his fights with the idiots in government resonate, his crusades against AZT and “Big Pharma” seem misguided. Pharma was doing what it had to do, and the drug ultimately turned out to be helpful. It’s silly to make villains out of well-intentioned people swamped by crisis.
This is a film-worthy period. The AIDS epidemic at its height was a genuine historic event. Good people died — a lot of them — and attitudes — toward health, toward homosexuality, toward sex in general — were changed forever. It’s a good setting for a story. But this weirdly flat film just doesn’t bring it to life. It’s not a bad movie. It’s certainly watchable and the good cast delivers some entertaining moments. But strange as it may sound, it could’ve used a little more Hollywood, a little more hearts and flowers all around.
One of the reasons I don’t write many reviews in mainstream venues anymore is that I don’t like panning things. Books are hard to write, movies are hard to make. It’s easy, and often amusing, to sneer at the failures but I know the process of creation well and hurling slings and arrows at another man’s heart and soul is not as much fun as it looks. It especially bugs me when people attack an artist’s work because they don’t like his politics or off-screen antics. Jim Carrey may be a screaming idiot when it comes to the subject of guns but he’s made some very good movies and there aren’t many people who can say the same.
But a reviewer’s first responsibility isn’t to the artist, it’s to the audience, the folks who are going to spend their good money on the product. If you’re not willing to pan something, you shouldn’t agree to review it in the first place. So I turn down a lot of review assignments on the off-chance I’ll have to slaughter a colleague in the name of honesty. And even in a blog, more often than not I pass over the movies and books I don’t like in silence.
Her, however, has been nominated for an Academy Award so I feel compelled to at least say this: no freaking way. I understand the idea that some smaller movies that aren’t necessarily popular with the mainstream crowd might still be deserving of award attention. But Her is not one of those movies. It’s bad. Its plot — a guy falls in love with the artificial intelligence of a new computer operating system — is an already played-out and unoriginal version of Pygmalion. (See everything from 2001: A Space Odyssey to 2002′s Simone). Its characters are collections of ideas rather than actual personalities — even the wonderful Amy Adams has to struggle to make her cliched nothing of a part come to life. And, most importantly, its central performance is just brutally dull.
In a surprise to liberal media outlets and no one else, the film Lone Survivor is cleaning up at the box office. This is a surprise to media lefties because, as the New York Times put it with near radiant gormlessness, “Moviegoers have stubbornly refused to care about war movies set in Afghanistan.” It apparently never occurred to the Times that stubborn moviegoers just didn’t want to see war movies like Lions for Lambs in which America was falsely made out to be the villain!
But the folks are showing up for this baby, even despite the occasional Pajama Boy critic whining into his cocoa about having to watch American heroes being heroic in the battle against Islamist bad guys. Reality makes their tartan singlets itchy, I guess.
Even PJBs who, like the Times‘ A.O. Scott, made sure to hint in their reviews at their ever-so-nuanced disapproval of patriotism, heroism and fighting bad guys, have been forced to admit the movie’s central battle scene is powerful and effective. It’s a well-directed, gripping, intense tribute to the men who keep America safe for the movie critics who complain about them.
The picture, as you no doubt know, is director Peter Berg’s version of Navy SEAL Marcus Luttrell’s memoir of a good mission gone bad in Afghanistan. Luttrell and his fellow SEAL’s were sent out to kill a high-profile Islamist terrorist but were unfortunately spotted by two goatherds and a small boy. The Americans made the merciful but unwise decision to spare the civilians, who proceeded to betray their position to the Taliban. The title tells you what happened.
I love the Coen brothers when they tell stories. Fargo is one of my favorite crime films. Blood Simple was great. So were No Country for Old Men and the much-improved remake of True Grit. But when the Coens leave narrative behind and go all ironic and surrealistic on me, I got to admit: I don’t get it. I thought Barton Fink was a cool attitude in search of a movie. A Serious Man was soporific. And as for their new film, Inside Llewyn Davis — currently scoring a 93% positive rating on Rotten Tomatoes with critics, a 75% with human beings — my general reaction was: Hanh?
It’s the story of a good-but-not-great folk singer (played by Oscar Isaac) in the folk singing heyday of the early 60′s. He wanders around Greenwich Village and other parts of New York being kind of an SOB to the other not-very-interesting people around him. Then he makes a pseudo-epic journey to Chicago to audition for a folk song guru. Then more stuff happens and the movie ends.
I guess the theme has something to do with the late, great Jacques Barzun’s theory that genius requires a city-full of lesser lights to bring it to fruition. That is, according to Barzun, the genius is nourished by a community of non-genius artists who lift him to greatness. The Coens are taking a moment to consider the journey of one of those other artists, a performer who will soon be rendered irrelevant by the rise of Bob Dylan. Attention must be paid to such a man, they seem to be saying. Not sure why.
The movie’s not boring, but it’s not very compelling either. And as always with this sort of Coen movie, I can’t help feeling the bros are living off irony and attitude instead of going to work making the sort of film they’re capable of. Having said that, I should add that several people I respect thought this was a great picture. And I myself respect the Coens’ work enough to think that maybe I missed something.