Saving Mr. Banks is the movie version of how the (apparently awful) P.L. Travers gave Walt Disney and his writers holy hell before she would allow them to turn her Mary Poppins novels into a film. It’s a sentimental re-invention of the true story, but it works. Sweet, good-natured, gentle and uplifting, the movie basically makes the argument that all of life should be rewritten as a Disney musical. There’s some truth to this, and the film gets at it.
As with so many films this year, the performances are unbelievably great. Emma Thompson humanizes Travers — no small thing, given her character. Colin Farrell is touching as her disastrously alcoholic father. And Paul Giamatti is absolutely wonderful in the role of her lovable chauffeur.
But after watching this and Captain Phillips in short order, I have to say: Tom Hanks may be the greatest actor/movie star of his generation. He takes the role of Walt Disney and goes right to the heart of the American self-made man. Upbeat but hardboiled, generous but also relentless, Hanks’ Disney has a deep understanding of the sources of his own success and he uses that understanding to bring others to success as well. Optimistic without being blind, he can reflect on his pain at the same time he celebrates his achievement. It may be fair to say the Disney Corporation is hagiographizing its founder here — okay. But Hanks does something so deep with the character it becomes a comment on America itself — a comment that is positive without being sentimental or dishonest. It’s a case of an American treasure portraying an American treasure.
I won’t argue that this is a great film, but it’s good heartfelt entertainment with wonderful performances. Nice holiday- or even post-holiday viewing.
Director David O. Russell’s last two films were wonderful. Both The Fighter and Silver Linings Playbook gave us painfully exact depictions of family dysfunction, then magically transformed that dysfunction into old-fashioned movie-style happy endings. Cynical cranks could complain that that’s not the way it works in real life. But, in fact, they would be wrong. People do redeem their lives, even if they don’t do it with the neatness and glamour of the big screen. The style was pure Hollywood, but the underlying point remained honest and true.
What is not true is that corrupt politicians really care about the people they serve and are just taking that suitcase full of money to help the poor citizens of their communities. Lowlife pols have been pushing that line of garbage since before Caesar and it is now what it was then: self-justifying crap. Corruption bleeds a city, a state, a nation dry. A Boss Tweed may deliver a poor family a turkey on Christmas — and Barack Obama may give you a “free” phone or confiscate another citizen’s earnings to pay for your health care — but in the end, what these self-serving phonies do saps the polity of money, freedom and energy. Corruption benefits the corrupt — unless and until, for whatever reason, they get caught by the law.
American Hustle buys into the political liars’ lies with wide-eyed childlike innocence. As a result it’s a movie with no moral or emotional center. It’s well-directed and well-written, and it would be impossible for me to overpraise the performances of its wonderful cast. Amy Adams, Christian Bale, Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence and an almost unrecognizable Jeremy Renner are beyond brilliant. They are the closest thing this starless age has to stars.
But the thesis of the movie — loosely based on the 1970′s Abscam sting that busted several corrupt mostly Democrat politicians and was therefore deemed a questionable enterprise by the Democrat media — is this: the FBI are the over-ambitious bad guys for running down the pitiful, good-hearted pols who only want to help the poor, the black, the disenfranchised of their states and cities. Those pols never would have taken that money for themselves. Oh no! And even if they did, it was just because they let their egos lead them astray. The real bad guys, the real money guys, are getting away scot free! So we’re supposed to root for con men who steal from fools, and we’re supposed to boo and hiss the lawmen who bring them to justice.
Well, in a pig’s eye. The point is not that the FBI are saints. The point is they are doing what’s right here and the politicians are just what they seem: corrupt, connected, greedy skunks who should be in jail not in office. The emotional emptiness and flatness of the film come directly from its silly and skewed morality.
The movie gets a 96/98% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, so I guess Russell put one over on the audience. But despite his obvious talent — and the acting genius of a powerhouse cast — this is a bad film that distorts reality in a way his previous happy endings never did.
I don’t mean to make a profession out of commenting on the Pope, but since I put up a post about his first exhortation last week, it seems only fair to update it. In the previous post, I put forward the opinion that — notwithstanding a range of defenses from loyal Catholics, and some virulent attacks from conservative commentators — the new Big Hat Guy had been a bit unwise in his remarks. It was impossible to tell from the text whether he was attacking free markets or simply criticizing them, and given that free markets help the poor far more than Marxism, clarity is important. Well, since the Pope and I are like this, Francis immediately responded by clarifying his comments. This, I feel, is in keeping with the ancient church doctrine of Menschliness — which is to say, he did the right thing and good on him.
According to my friends at Truth Revolt, Francis responded to accusations he was a Marxist or some kind of South American Social Justice type by telling the Italian newspaper La Stampa, “Marxist ideology is wrong. But I have met many Marxists in my life who are good people, so I don’t feel offended.”
There is nothing in the Exhortation that cannot be found in the social Doctrine of the Church. I wasn’t speaking from a technical point of view, what I was trying to do was to give a picture of what is going on. The only specific quote I used was the one regarding the “trickle-down theories” which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and social inclusiveness in the world. The promise was that when the glass was full, it would overflow, benefitting the poor. But what happens instead, is that when the glass is full, it magically gets bigger nothing ever comes out for the poor. This was the only reference to a specific theory. I was not, I repeat, speaking from a technical point of view but according to the Church’s social doctrine. This does not mean being a Marxist.
This, in turn, means that Peggy Noonan — whose Pope column I criticized — pretty much got it right when she pointed out the Pope was not speaking as an economist.
Priests are like soldiers. I’ve never met a member of the military who cared much about taxing and spending. Their general view is that taxes should be high enough to allow a great nation to support a first-rate military to keep you safe, end of story… Priests tend to be like that, too… How high should taxes be? High enough for a first-rate country to help its citizens get the good things they need, end of story.
Having criticized Noonan, I (following the menschly papal path) have to give her props for “Coming Closest To Papal Intentions,” in her interpretation of the exhortation.
Mostly, I think, the story is a good reminder that you simply can’t see everything through a political or economic lens. For one thing, it makes you crabbed and angry all the time which isn’t good for you. And also, it distorts the points of view of people who are speaking from another perspective, like the Pope. If you read some of the comments under my previous post, you’ll see what I mean.
Finally, to all those who attacked me for criticizing Ayn Rand, I double checked my facts and I’m right and you’re wrong. Glad we could clear that up.
As a non-Catholic fan of the last two Popes — one a hero, one a genius — I’ve been following with interest the controversy over the new Pope’s first exhortation. Pope Francis’s Evangelii Gaudium sparked a firestorm with its criticism of free markets and “trickle down theories,” and its apparent call for the state to take action against them. The great Rush Limbaugh confessed himself “befuddled” by the message which sounded to him like “pure Marxism,” and Breitbart’s Big Peace site had a post headlined, “Pope Francis Attacks Capitalism, Calls for State Control.” In response, Peggy Noonan wrote what I thought was one of her weaker columns defending the Pope as a non-economist and saying, “I don’t think he’s saying be a leftist but something more revolutionary and fundamental: Be a saint. Be better, kinder, more serious and loving, and help create systems that reflect good, kind, loving people.” I much preferred the touchingly ferocious and loyal post from Rebecca Hamilton at Patheos, “If You’re Looking for Me, You’ll Find Me Standing With the Pope.” She lets go with both barrels at commentators on the left and right who try to tailor Catholicism to fit their political point of view:
These people have become so arrogant that they think they can talk to the Pope the way they talk to their toady political religious leaders that they’ve bought and own. Since they can’t even get an audience with the Pope, they are going directly to their cult-like following among their readers and listeners and are doing their best to get them riled up into a froth of Pope-hating.
Best of all, by my lights, was the scholarly Michael Novak’s piece “Agreeing With Pope Francis,” over at NRO. Novak points out that the original Spanish of the Pope’s message is more nuanced than the English translation, and that Francis’s South American experience might have given him a different view of capitalism than he would have gotten here in the states. Novak feels that what the Pope means is that capitalism alone won’t help the poor without restraints of both law and conscience.
A hilarious lead in Great Britain’s socialist newspaper The Guardian reads: ”It has picked up almost universally positive reviews and is being tipped for Oscars glory next year. Now Alfonso Cuaron’s Gravity has begun to pick up praise from a surprising source – Christian critics who say the 3D space spectacular celebrates the presence of God in the universe.”
What is hilarious about this is the word “surprising.” Who, after watching this picture, could fail to see that it celebrates the presence of God in the universe? Oh yeah! Socialists — who also can’t see that the universe celebrates the presence of God in the universe!
Life intervened and I didn’t get to see Gravity in a theater. And after being told that it could only be fully enjoyed in 3D, I was reluctant to watch the screener DVD. Ultimately, though, I felt I ought to know what was in such a popular flick, so I turned it on. And I thought it was terrific, 3D or 2: innovative, minimalist, sincere. A good old-fashioned adventure with heart. A two-handed play with special effects, its cast, characters and plot stripped to the bone. And it’s ironic that a film that depends so little on human presences onscreen should be one of the most humane movies of the year. But Gravity works because its filmmakers understand that in the vast emptiness of space the human heart is the only oasis, and in the vast emptiness of the human heart God is the only center of, you guessed it, gravity.
The plot’s so small, I won’t give anything away. But it’s also so outspoken in its point of view that it’s difficult to miss the point. Anyone who can’t see that this is a story about the Love that dies for us and returns to save us and give us abundant life is so blind… well, he should be working for The Guardian.
I watched this film over the Thanksgiving weekend and the more I think about it, the more I think its approach to its subject is kind of remarkable.
Kill Your Darlings is based on the true story of a murder that took place at the inception of the Beat literary movement. It stars former Harry Potter Daniel Radcliffe as the poet Allen Ginsberg and details how, as a student at Columbia University, Ginsberg came under the sway of his charismatic fellow student Lucien Carr, played by Dane DeHaan. With William S. Burroughs (Ben Foster) and Jack Kerouac (Jack Huston), the group conceived the idea of the New Vision, which ultimately produced Ginsberg’s famous neo-Whitmanesque poem Howl, Burroughs’ Naked Lunch and Kerouac’s On The Road.
But before all that happened, Carr stabbed then drowned his sometime lover David Kammerer (played by Dexter’s excellent Michael Hall), claiming Kammerer had attempted to sexually assault him. Because of a law that gave special dispensation to straight men under attack by homosexuals, Carr got off with a light sentence and went on to a long career with United Press International. I will refrain from making any comments about the kind of people who go into mainstream journalism. The facts speak for themselves — or would, if there weren’t mainstream journalists to cover them up!
My friend and City Journal colleague Myron Magnet has delivered an absolutely terrific new book for history buffs and lovers of America. It’s called The Founders at Home and it’s a wonderfully retold tale of the intellectual underpinnings of the nation’s founding, with a special eye toward what the founders’ houses had to say about their ideals.
I’ve been reading portions of this book as they were published in City Journal, but the book includes lots of new material. And, as I expect from Myron, the writing is graceful and the scholarship and thinking are profound:
A key reason the Revolution succeeded was its strictly limited scope. The Founders sought only liberty, not equality or fraternity. They aimed to make a political revolution, not a social or economic one, and they didn’t seethe with an Old-World intensity of social rancor or class rage. … Because democratic self-government requires a special kind of culture — one that fosters self-reliant selves — the Protestantism of the Founding Fathers also helped the Revolution succeed. Their Protestant worldview placed an intense value on the individual — his conscience, the state of his soul, his understanding of Scripture, his personal relation to God, his salvation. It was an easy step for them to assume that, as each man was endowed by his Creator with an immortal soul immediately related to God, so he was similarly endowed with rights that are “not the Donation of Law,” as Constitution signer William Livingston put it, but “prior to all political Institution,” and “resulting from the Nature of Man.”
You don’t need me to tell you that the work of these past giants is under threat from the intellectual pygmies who command the political heights today. A book like this isn’t just a delight, it’s also a bulwark against the ignorance and misinformation that leaders like Barack Obama encourage and on which they depend.
Great Christmas gift, truly. A 35 dollar list price, but only around 22 bucks from Amazon. It’s about 17 dollars on Kindle but, in my opinion, the beautifully produced hardcover is well worth the extra fin. This one you’ll want to keep on your shelf.
[If you have a moment, please watch the wonderful three minute movie scene above through to the end.]
It always annoys me when a church waxes mealy-mouthed in celebration of the military. They do this, I know, because the church leaders think such celebrations detract from their aura of Christly peace. “We pray for those serving in the armed forces around the world,” goes one Episcopalian formulation — which is twice mealy-mouthed because it not only fails to pray for the right people, it’s fashioned to make you think that you ARE praying for the right people. You can tell yourself you’re praying for those serving in OUR armed forces around the world, but you’re not. You’re praying for the soldiers of North Korea too — and, Lord, if you’re listening, as far as I’m concerned, you can feel free to smite those sons of bitches at any time. Don’t hold back any smiting on my account.
Jesus blessed the peacemakers. In this fallen world, that sometimes means good guys with guns. Just as neighborhoods are safer where homeowners go armed, so the world is more peaceful where free nations maintain a strong military. I am aware every day — every day — that I read, write, love, pray and simply walk down the street — because there are those who risk their lives to protect me from the armies of the bad guys. If you think that detracts from my aura of Christly peace, so be it. Personally, I think it gives the aura a fresh layer of realism and honesty.
Love is not love that will not stand and fight.
God bless our veterans and those serving today. Just like the Man said.
Today — November 5th — is the official publication date of my new young adult thriller — an adventure story and ghost story combined — Nightmare City. I seriously hope you’ll consider getting a copy or two to read secretly before giving them to the young adults in your life.
Meanwhile, here are some brief thoughts on writing stories for the youth market.
Edgar Allan Poe wrote a short story called The Imp of the Perverse. The imp was that demon inside all of us that pushes us to do the wrong thing, the thing that is certain to harm ourselves and others. You feel the imp inside you when you stand on a precipice and have the urge to throw yourself off. Maybe it’s just another name for the devil, or maybe it’s a personification of that sinful nature that, to paraphrase St. Paul, makes us do what we would not while being unable to do what we would.
Nowhere is the Imp of the Perverse more active today than in the stories and images we give to our young people. The imp is in the beckoning toward self-degradation and self-destruction that underlies so many songs and movies and books, in the blithe romanticization of promiscuity, drugs and foul language, in the strutting pride in transgression not of outdated social mores but of one’s own inner conviction of what is noble and good. There are plenty of wonderful songs and stories out there, but there really does seem an aggressive movement in parts of the entertainment industry to sell behavior to young people that, simply put, will make their lives not better but worse. I don’t have to name the garbage. You know what it is.
Criticize the selling of self-destructive behavior to the young and you’re “puritanical,” or “slut-shaming,” or being “unrealistic about the modern world.” But in fact, this effort to normalize the degraded is itself perverse in the extreme. It’s the incarnation of that imp within who urges us to do ill to what we love the best: ourselves and our children. The people who peddle this trash curse those who dare to criticize them so loudly precisely because they know they are doing wrong and can’t stop themselves. Believe me: the person who accuses you of “slut-shaming,” is herself deeply ashamed.
[CONTAINS SPOILERS TO THE FILM THE EAST.]
A cute new Ford commercial (echoing a cute old Coke commercial) promotes the superiority of AND over OR. Good horsepower AND good mileage is better than horsepower OR good mileage, just as hide AND seek is better than hide OR seek. And so on.
This is largely the way I feel about the arts. I have no desire to silence the cultural voices of people I sometimes disagree with. I only want to ensure that other voices aren’t gray listed, demonized, or stifled out of existence.
When I saw the film Prisoners the other day, it had moved from the mainstream theaters to one of the local art houses. As I waited for the show to begin, I wandered the lobby looking at the posters for upcoming shows. There were four: a movie about a gay Catholic priest who falls in love with a man; a movie about a lesbian love affair; a movie about a little Muslim girl who has to learn the Koran in order to win a bicycle; and a Yiddish film about a love affair during the Holocaust.
Now truly, I have no problem whatsoever with any of these films being made or distributed. A gay priest choosing between his religion and love is an inherently dramatic situation, as is a Jewish love affair during the Holocaust. The film about the little girl is by Saudi Arabia’s first female director and so should have some real insights into a world we rarely see. And when the lesbian film comes out on DVD, you’ll be able to skip ahead to the ten minute sex scenes. (Oh, all right, I’m joking…)
My problem, as always, is with the films that aren’t getting made. Like, say, the one about the not-gay Catholic priest who heroically tries to help sex slaves in Turkey until he’s assassinated by a man shouting “Allahu Akbar!” Or the one about Norman Borlaug, who led the green revolution credited with saving over one billion people from starvation, despite the attempts made to stop him… by environmentalists.
Speaking of environmentalists, the other day my wife and I sat down to watch an obscure thriller called The East, which I’d heard was good. It began with a terrorist attack on an oil executive by radical environmentalists. ”Don’t tell me the environmentalists are the bad guys,” said my wife, surprised. “No,” I said wearily. “The female agent will go undercover to stop the terrorists but will fall in love with their leader and discover that they’re actually the good guys and the oil companies she works for are evil.” To which my wife replied, “You know, it’s not always that much fun to watch movies with you.”
But it’s not me, really it’s not. When only one point of view is being told, the arts will by necessity become boring, predictable and solipsistic. It’s the sound of one hand patting itself on the back.
In an article called “Who Killed the Halloween Horror Movie?” USA Today recently noted the dearth of big budget horror films this Halloween, the Carrie remake being the exception. Don’t blame me for this, since I’ve done my little all to provide you with a Kreepy Klavan Holiday via my new young adult ghost story Nightmare City (now available to pre-order) and the reboot of Neal Edelstein’s ghost story app Haunting Melissa — script by me — now getting a shiny new 2.0 reboot.
And in fact, it’s not that there are fewer horror stories out there, it’s that there are so many that they can’t be confined to one time of year or to one medium. Horror has gone mainstream, and the zombie-like hunger for Halloween fare can be satisfied at any time and in any number of ways. The Conjuring was released in theaters in the summer, and is out on DVD for October. World War Z, The Evil Dead and Insidious 2 all broke this year and two out of three are available now. And whatever other spooky-dooky tale you want to experience on Halloween or any other time, you only have to stream it or DVR it or, for all I know, have it injected directly into your brain. Like the real world, the fictional world has no shortage of horror — none at all.
Does the mainstreaming and mainlining of eerie fare tell us anything about ourselves, I wonder. I’m always suspicious of such generalizations, but here’s something I’ve noticed for myself. After a career of realistic crime writing with only occasional forays into ghost stories, I’m finding it harder and harder to describe my vision of the world in fiction without resorting to the supernatural.
I guess it says something about the state of movie-making these days, that I sat watching Prisoners thinking, “Wow, this is so sharp, it could almost be a TV show!” The two and a half hour thriller about two girls who go missing in suburban Pennsylvania would have made a great three part drama on New Television but it holds up well on the big screen because of its cast and its theme.
There’s just about nothing I love more than good crime writing, and this is very good. Screenwriter Aaron Guzikowski’s excellent script languished for six years, and was even put on the famous Black List of the best unproduced scripts in the business. Hollywood doesn’t like bleak and likes children in danger even less. (It took ten years for my kidnapping novel Don’t Say A Word to get produced, and then it only happened because of a threatened strike.) I suspect it was the writing quality and the sheer number of good roles that finally got this to the screen. Guzikowski’s only other produced film is Contraband, an intelligent but flat remake of an Icelandic film. He has an original series coming up on the Sundance Channel, The Red Road, and I’ll watch for it after seeing this.
Look, you can pick at points of the Prisoners plot, but why would you? It’s intense, suspenseful, smart and the characters and actors are terrific. Hugh Jackman plays the troubled but devoted father who takes the law into his own hands in the ugliest possible way. And Jake Gyllenhaal plays a great cop, but one so disconnected from life that he can only mouth platitudes in the face of the parents’ emotional agony. It’s one of the script’s signal features that it makes you root for both these guys, even when they go over the line. Also, I should point out that while there are disturbing story elements, the gore and boo scares are kept to a minimum. The film earns its suspense through good ideas instead of cheap shots.
When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?”
On hearing this, Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”
– Matthew 9:11-13
Because pompous judgmentalism feels good and loving forgiveness is difficult, it’s no surprise that some Christians come to sound suspiciously like the Pharisees. The guys who criticized Jesus for having dinners with sinners are alive and well, leveling charges of moral relativism at anyone who repeats the Christly injunction to judge not and has the bad manners to mean it. One trick to achieving the Pharisaical mindset is to take those portions of Scripture that condemn stuff and read them as broadly as possible, then take the lines calling for forgiveness and read them as narrowly as possible. Thus if you can find a 6th century BC verse in Leviticus demanding the death penalty for homosexuals, then by gum Neil Patrick Harris must die! Whereas when Jesus said, “Turn the other cheek,” he only meant if you happened to get slapped by a Roman Centurion. “Love your neighbor but…” “Judge not but…” “Forgive your enemies but…” If such people would take their buts out of their heads, they would discover that the interior task assigned to Christians is so difficult that it leaves very little time for condemning other people. Damn it.
All of which I mention on the way to explaining why I so thoroughly enjoyed and admired the raunchy, drug-filled, scatological comedy This Is The End and why I wish openly Christian filmmakers made films more like it.
The plot: a group of raunchy comedy stars — Seth Rogan, Jay Baruchel, James Franco, Jonah Hill and so on — play themselves as shallow, backbiting, pot-smoking narcissists. They’re gathered at a party at Franco’s new mansion when the Apocalypse hits, complete with Rapture. At first, they can’t believe it because, if the good people are being taken up into Heaven, why would actors be left behind? They’re actors! They bring joy to people’s lives! But as things go from apocalyptic to worse, the sober truth begins to dawn.
“This means there’s a God,” says Rogan, in one of the movie’s best exchanges. “Who saw that coming?”
“Like… 95 percent of the world,” answers Baruchel.
Novelist Lars Walker — a friend of this blog and an insightful reviewer of some of my own novels — makes a trenchant comment in the Elizabeth Smart post below. I know it’s trenchant because I was about to make basically the same comment but Lars beat me to it! In the comment, he makes a delightfully concise reference to “the Osteenian view that suffering is always a sign of God’s displeasure.” This, of course, refers to popular preacher Joel Osteen, who has been promoting his new book at the Blaze and other places. He basically preaches that God wants wonderful things for your life and you only have to open yourself to God’s will in order to receive those blessings.
I stumbled on Osteen before he was famous. It was more than ten years ago, when I was wrestling with my own conversion to Christianity. I was struggling deeply with the fear that faith would limit my freedom of thought (it didn’t) and the idea that I might be betraying my Jewish heritage. Late one night, while channel surfing, I came upon one of Osteen’s half hour sermons on some religious channel. I (who generally dislike religious programming) was bowled over by him. He was brilliant at conveying God’s love for his human creation and I found his words very moving and comforting. I remember telling my wife about him over our morning coffee. I was well aware of the intellectual flaw in “the Osteenian view.” If God wants only good things to happen to us, and we have to “activate his blessings,” by our positive prayers and good actions, then indeed, as Lars says, suffering must always be a result of some failure on our part. Still, I found his optimism and generosity of heart compelling.
And there is some Biblical support for his point of view. “A righteous man may have many troubles, but the Lord delivers him from them all,” says the Psalmist, whereas “Evil will slay the wicked.” This attitude dominates both Psalms and Proverbs. But it is offset by Job and Ecclesiastes. The latter tells us: “Here is a pointless thing that happens on earth: A righteous man receives what happens to the wicked, and a wicked man receives what happens to the righteous.” And Jesus, who knew a thing or two, remarked that the sun shines on the evil as well as the good and the rain falls on the just and unjust alike.
Not surprisingly, the Bible is right on both counts. That is, of course, in general, a good life is likely to make you happier than a bad one, and good habits will probably make you healthier and more prosperous than bad ones. No good parent tells his child, “My son, go forth and treat yourself and others like garbage, it’ll be great.” There’s a reason the proverbs say what they say.
Elizabeth Smart is making the rounds, flogging her new book My Story (written with Congressman Chris Stewart). Smart is, of course, the beautiful Mormon girl who in 2002 at 14 years old was abducted for nine months by evil lunatic Brian David Mitchell and his wife. Then, miraculously, she was found and reunited with her family. Today, she’s married and says she “couldn’t be happier.” She does good work fighting human trafficking and speaking to sexual abuse survivors.
I’ve always been kind of fascinated with Smart (I’ll read the book and get back to you on it if it’s any good). Her kidnappers dragged her around the country, chaining her up like an animal and raping her daily. And the two questions everyone always asks her are 1) why didn’t you run/call for help and 2) how come you’re not, like, bats**t crazy?
The first question doesn’t mean much to me. Fourteen-year-old-girl, threatened, brutalized, terrified: in the movies, she’d have run away. Real life, not so much. I think anyone with half an imagination can figure that one out.
But that second question — that haunts me. It really does. Nine months of trauma, raped every day, mentally tortured by these demonic lowlifes with their threats and their sick religious delusions. Hell, I know women who’ve been assaulted once and have never gotten over it. I know people whose whole lives are defined by the cruel things that were done to them. I myself just have to hear Smart’s story and I start having angry fantasies about what I’d like to do to Mitchell (hint: it involves a ball-peen hammer and pliers). So how does she, who actually went through this stuff… how does she live her life without being consumed by rage every day all the time?
Don Jon — a romantic comedy about a bartender with a porn addiction — is not the sort of movie I usually go to. But my wife wanted to see it, and I’m extraordinarily fond of her, so here’s what I thought. Not bad at all really. Well-acted, well-written, with an interesting point to make — although once you understand what the point is (in about 20 minutes) you can pretty well write the rest of the picture yourself. Still, it held me for all 90 minutes and there were some laughs and some genuine feeling — so not bad at all.
The idea is that porn — and romantic comedies and promiscuous sex and even religion — can all become addictive ways of losing yourself in a fantasy in order to avoid connecting with other people, and maybe losing yourself in them. This is all true and very relevant in the connected but weirdly disconnected world we now live in.
I especially appreciated the comparison between porn — in which the women have perfect bodies and do all sorts of stuff that real girls aren’t always willing to do — and romantic comedies, in which men find salvation through apologizing to their girlfriends and subjugating themselves to feminine values. Both are equally one-sided visions of relationships — and the movie illustrates it through the simultaneously luscious and distasteful predator female played excellently by Scarlett Johansson.
The one wrong move in the movie comes at the end, when the film smacks Catholicism. I have nothing against smacking Catholicism now and then — the horrifying portrayal of a pedophile priest in the last episode of Showtime’s Ray Donovan struck me as right on the money. But it’s no fair attacking the church for something it doesn’t actually do. The idea that religion can separate us from reality is true enough — it can. But the portrait of what confession is like and how modern priests react to problems struck me as dated and unrealistic. I’m guessing a guy with a porn addiction could do much worse than going to his local priest.
But other than that, a good show, all in all. Joseph Gordon-Levitt wrote, directed and starred and did them all well.
My YA thriller Crazy Dangerous just went on sale for $3.99 in all ebook formats. This is the one about a preacher’s son who befriends a girl sinking into schizophrenia — then begins to suspect her hallucinations are actually prophecies of an oncoming disaster.
You can also still pre-order Nightmare City, likewise for $3.99 in all ebook formats. It’s the story of a young man who wakes up to find his hometown empty — except for the voices of the dead and strange shadows moving in the fog. That one is published in about a month.
Get em while they’re cheap!
Two articles that complimented one another caught my eye last week. One was in the Wall Street Journal‘s Friday “Houses of Worship” column. Ari N. Schulman pointed out (what many, including C.S. Lewis, have known) that arguing in favor of faith because prayer makes you healthier or happier is a fool’s game.
The faithful may be winning at the game of life, but they’re playing by rules that social scientists have written in essentially post-religious terms. While churches define the highest aims of life as salvation or enlightenment, social science research replaces these with health and wealth, well-being and satisfaction.
Once you accept happiness as an argument for faith, you will ultimately lose the argument entirely, because the result can be arrived at without the supposed cause.
This was driven home by the second column, this one in the New York Times by T.M. Luhrmann, the author of When God Talks Back. Luhrmann tells the story of Sigfried Gold, a man who cured his tobacco and food addictions with prayer while never believing in God at all. He was essentially tricking his brain into a healthier life without buying into the supernatural.
Well, sure, why shouldn’t he? The joy of faith is not proof of God and God is not required to produce the “joy of faith.” Hell, drugs will do that for you — you don’t even have to bother to pretend pray. There is a God, but not because it makes you happy to think so. (If you ever want to read a mind-crunching but wonderfully reasoned article on why proof-talk about God is always nonsensical, check out this brilliant Reason magazine piece by Mark Goldblatt.)
The larger point, of course, is that bad argument weakens the case for truth. Carrying this over to politics, it explains why leftist venues like the New York Times and NPR avoid highlighting conservative intellectuals like Jonah Goldberg, Victor Davis Hanson and Mark Steyn and instead give the conservative cause over to anyone they can find with a thick backcountry accent and a tendency to bloviation. They know they don’t have to win the argument. They just let some under-smart right-winger get it wrong.
The religion-politics parallel is a good one. As it is with faith, so freedom, too, makes people happy. But happiness is not an argument for freedom. Freedom, like faith, is a good in and of itself because the fact is no other human good makes sense without it.
Image courtesy shuttertock / Aprilphoto
Okay, I know I’m not the only person who had this experience. Watched the first season of The Killing. Loved the characters, the actors, the ambience. Got caught up in the story. Reached the last episode. Got so pissed off by the cheat that I vowed never to watch it again and to take the Mireille Enos mask off my inflatable companion… although maybe that’s too much information.
Enough people seemed to feel this way that AMC canceled the show after the second season — then they rethought that decision when Netflix and DirecTV threatened to put it on instead. So they put on a third season. And I thought, “Oh, okay, I’m a gentle, peace-loving, forgiving guy. I can’t hold a grudge forever.”
So I watched the third season. And I loved the characters, the actors, the ambience. Got caught up in the story. Reached the last episode…
You’re kidding me, right?
Let me say up front, there was a lot of good stuff all the way through. Strong writing. Great scenes. And I do think Enos is terrific as the troubled homicide detective. And beautiful, despite everything they do to try to make her look plain. And Joel Kinnaman, who plays her partner, turns in a performance of such depth and charm that he clearly deserves the same success here he had in his native Sweden. And kudos to Peter Sarsgaard for a powerful turn as a guy on death row.
That last episode though. Woof. Bad. Really bad. Contrived, unbelievable. It’s one thing when the killer is “the last person you’d suspect,” but another when it’s the last person you’d suspect because he/she just wouldn’t have done it! Also, it’s truly annoying when one of the very few believable female cops on television suddenly starts acting like a ditzy girl in a sitcom, all flustered and irrational and governed by emotion, not like a cop at all, just so the writers can maneuver her into a suspenseful position. Plus if you’re going to steal the end of a movie, try not to make it one of the most famous ends of a movie ever. The whole final episode felt like they’d written it in a hurry, not knowing the resolution until the last minute.
Look, it’s a season-long mystery. We’re watching to find out whodunnit. Great characters, great setting — all well and good — but you gotta deliver on that last show! I’m writing to AMC to ask that they return thirteen hours of my life. Not at the end either. I want them when I’m 27. It’s only fair. The Killing is killing me.
Cross-posted from Klavan on the Culture
As Instapundit Glenn Reynolds might say: asking the important questions!
The reason it comes up: a really interesting post from Erick Erickson at RedState.com. I like RedState and admire Erickson. He’s smart, fearless and he writes well. And I greatly enjoyed the July 30 essay titled “For Jesus. The World Against Me,” in which he rightly took liberal Christian Rachel Held Evans to task for stereotyping more conservative Christians as anti-science or too patriotic. Erickson writes:
I don’t know a Christian who is anti-science. Christians haven’t suddenly declared science anti-God, but the left has declared God and Christians anti-science. I don’t know a church that has declared allegiance to a political party or a single nation. But I know the left parodies evangelicals that way. In fact, through Rachel Held Evans’ entire list, what she is admitting is that she has embraced the secular left’s parody of evangelical churches to proclaim her own style and mode of worship and faith superior. She’s embraced the loud voices of a few and conflated them to the quiet voices of the many in the evangelical community committed to saving souls.
Just because the left and media attack evangelical churches for these things does not make them so. From Archbishop Chaput in the Catholic Church to Mark Driscoll to Franklin Graham to John Piper to Timothy Keller to Rich Warren to Andy Stanley to Lois Giglio to Al Mohler to my own preacher — they all preach Jesus. They don’t preach America because they’re just passing through it on the way to real life. But they do preach the Jesus who is, not the Jesus the world wishes for.
Great stuff, all true. And Erickson’s main point is also true: being “for Jesus” sometimes means standing against what the world deems good and wise, even when the world is ever-so-sure it’s right.
But then Erickson gives an example:
Christians stand for Jesus. When demanded by the world to look at a dude in a leather g-string, rainbow afro wig, and fairy wings glued to his back dancing down the street claiming he’s got pride and accept it as just another form of normal, well, yeah, we’re for Jesus so we’re against that. Rachel Held Evans, Rob Bell, Donald Miller, and the like want to accommodate that. Jesus wouldn’t. We shouldn’t.
I was pleased the other day to receive a copy of Rick Johnson’s new book in the mail: A Man in the Making: Strategies to Help Your Son Succeed in Life. I was also honored to find myself quoted in the book’s frontispiece — especially honored since my quote was there with two others, one from Socrates and one from John Wayne. Now I’ll go toe to toe with Socrates any day, but Wayne? That’s pretty impressive company. I’ve never had the pleasure of meeting Rick, but I emailed him to say I was so flattered that I was going to spend the next few days wearing a toga and a cowboy hat. Until, you know, the wife started to complain.
Rick is the founder of Better Dads, a program to teach fathering skills and advocate for more and stronger fathers in the home. He’s written a number of books, and travels through North America lecturing on manhood and its positive effects on the home. It’s an urgent subject, and a difficult one.
Manhood is a very tough thing to talk about because an essential part of manhood is not talking about it — but not talking about it leaves the field open to the rabid leftist feminists who all but monopolize the field of psychology. These often well-meaning clownettes take it as given that masculinity is a Bad Thing. Despite the massive amount of information showing the damaging effects on children of not having a strong father in the home, they continue to both preach and practice against the beneficent power of manhood and against the urgency of fatherhood. A man who sought individual or couples counseling from one of these Knucklehead Girls would, I believe, find them quite insidious and damaging.
Guys like Rick provide a needed voice of opposition — a needed voice for men. Rick’s point of view is a Christian one — something with which you may or may not disagree — but his main point about the desperate necessity of good, strong fathering is indisputable.
With everything going on in the news these days — I mean, didn’t Jennifer Aniston recently get a haircut or something? — this seems like a goofy thing to get annoyed about, but I have to confess it got to me. I saw this originally on Big Hollywood: Tom Cruise’s ex-wife Katie Holmes was walking with her 7-year-old daughter Suri and they were surrounded by paparazzi. And Suri both rightly and kind of cutely was telling these photog thugs to get out of her way and one of them — a grown man — started calling the child names! Another more human photographer tries to remonstrate with this lowlife — but the guy insists he’s in the right! Watch the video — I’m not making this up. The pap doubles down, explaining that no, the 7-year-old actually deserves to be catcalled and by golly he’s just the he-man to do the job! So help me, I’ll retire to Bedlam.
Hey, no one can accuse this blog of being soft on celebrities, but I’ve never subscribed to this idea that just because someone desires to win renown he therefore sacrifices every ounce of his privacy. I know we can’t really restrict the actions of photographers without compromising our First Amendment rights, but is it too much to ask we be allowed to tie them up in canvas sacks and toss them into the Hudson River? Or maybe with Eric Holder re-examining Stand Your Ground laws (for some reason), we might look into extending the meaning of self-defense to include confrontations between the rich and famous and these annoying lens-termites. We could even make special categories for those particularly afflicted. For instance, whereas someone like Tom Hanks — not usually hunted by swarms of paps — could only open fire on one when actually being hounded, someone like Angelina Jolie would be allowed to break into a photographer’s home, creep into his bedroom and smother him in his sleep without facing any legal consequences.
All right, I said it was silly. But really, how far do you have to sink before you start screaming insults at children? Yuck-o.
I’m off to New York for the International Thriller Writers ThrillerFest. My Young Adult novel If We Survive is nominated for best YA Thriller of the year. I won’t have time to post while I’m gone, so I’ll leave behind some mini-reviews:
Side Effects — watch this. It’s good. Steven Soderbergh returns to his semi-mockumentary Contagion mode to deliver what we only slowly realize is a thriller in the classic vein. The picture is wonderfully acted, most especially by Jude Law, who delivers a subtly flawless performance as a subtly flawed man. Law has been getting better and better and he’s just terrific in this. Rooney Mara, Channing Tatum and Catherine Zeta-Jones fill out a fine cast.
The story tells of a shrink (Law), who prescribes an anti-depressant for a troubled patient only to find it has some very dangerous side effects — to tell more would be to give the game away. But Law’s character is so well drawn that we’re not sure whether he’s the hero or the villain or something in between until a wonderfully low key moment in which his integrity is tested. In keeping with Soderbergh’s style, the moment passes virtually without comment. You have to be paying attention to realize what Law did and what it means about him. So pay attention.
But the whole picture’s like that. Quiet, intense, smart. And it happens to deal with a subject that’s a real pet peeve of mine: the over-prescription of anti-depressants. The way these things work: doctors discover that depression involves a certain action in the brain and that, in a small number of people, this action happens more or less without cause. That is, it’s an illness. They cure that illness with a drug then, slowly, begin expanding the drug’s use until it’s prescribed to just about anyone who’s every felt sad for twenty minutes in a row. It’s a disgusting and abusive practice and has reduced a large segment of the psychiatric profession to the level of street drug dealers. Again, I’m not saying the drugs have no appropriate uses; I’m saying they’re way, way, way overused.
The movie captures some of the machinations behind that, but most importantly, it tells a good story about interesting people. A very solid thriller. Really worth a look.
I’m off to New York for the International Thriller Writers ThrillerFest. My Young Adult novel If We Survive is nominated for best YA Thriller of the year. I won’t have time to post while I’m gone, so I’ll leave behind some mini-reviews:
World War Z – This is one of those films that gets reviewed as much for its budget (somewhere north of $200 million) as for its qualities, but basically it’s an enjoyable and suspenseful summer blockbuster type thing. I have a couple of friends who loved it, a couple who hated it — I just thought it was good enough. As I’m sure everyone knows, the world is taken over by zombies and Brad Pitt has to try to save it. He does a good job playing a likable and admirable hero, though his backstory is absurd. (He was a war crimes investigator for the U.N. so I guess he’s expert in arriving too late, taking bribes and then doing nothing.) I liked the fact that, for a zombie film, the disgust level is really, really low. Not a lot of splattering and brains and, strange to say, you don’t miss them at all. Also liked the fact that Mireille Enos of The Killing is in it. Man, they must work hard on that TV show to make her look so drab. She’s stunningly beautiful and appealing.
The most interesting thing to me (and this is a little bit of a spoiler, though not much) is that the last third takes place in an enclosed facility and mostly features three actors walking down dark hallways, carrying hand weapons… essentially a sequence that could have been on a cable TV show. So where did all those millions go, I wonder? But hey, it’s as suspenseful as the rest of it, so it shows you don’t need all that much dough to get things right.
My biggest criticism: there’s not really much of a human story. The hero is a good, resourceful guy in the beginning and he remains a good, resourceful guy. No one changes, no one learns anything, and there’s not much point. Life’s like that sometimes, but it doesn’t cost nine bucks to get in.
All in all: worth seeing for mindless, brain-eating fun. Based on the novel by Max Brooks, which I’ve heard is quite good.