An excellent article by John Stonestreet at Breakpoint led me to an excellent article by Philip G. Ryken at The Gospel Coalition. Ryken asked Christian artists how the church discouraged them and they gave him some very precise and, I thought, accurate answers. Here’s Stonestreet’s summary:
First, they said, treat the arts as window dressing for the truth rather than the window into reality it’s intended to be. Second, embrace bad art just because it’s “Christian.” Third, value artists only for their artistic gifts, but not for the other contributions they can make as thinkers and servants with a unique perspective. Fourth, demand that artists only give answers in their work, but never raise questions. Fifth, never pay artists for their work—take advantage of them in ways we would never do with plumbers or accountants. And finally, only validate art that has a direct salvation application.
These complaints seemed to be highlighted and exemplified by a well-intentioned but, to my mind, utterly wrong-headed essay by David Gibson of the Religion News Service entitled, “Can A Christian Watch Game of Thrones?” (which happens to be my favorite show at the moment):
Is there anything morally redeeming about “Game of Thrones”? Does the hit HBO series even have a moral vision…? The appeal of the series seems bound up in the senseless violence and amoral machinations – not to mention the free-wheeling sex – that the writers use to dramatize this brutish world of shifting alliances and dalliances.
I call this wrong-headed not for its description of the show, but for its inherent concept of Christians as delicate flowers who have to be protected from a vision of life as it is. Gibson says GOT may be “depicting how the world would look if Christ had never been born – or what it could look like if Christianity disappeared tomorrow.” But that’s just silly. Does he mean now that Christ has shown up, people live long and prosper in honesty and evil never thrives? Is he demanding to be lied to about the nature of this world?
The very power of Game of Thrones derives from the fact that the author of the source novels, George R. R. Martin (an atheist, I believe), treats his characters as harshly and heartlessly as the real world treats the rest of us. If Christians can’t look at that without losing their faith, they better not watch the news either, or look out their windows, or leave their rooms.
How can men speak honestly about relationships and fatherhood? Easy — don’t include women in the conversation. That way, laughable irrelevancies like fairness, equality, communication, and sharing housework can be left behind and you can get down to discussing what really matters and what really works.
That’s why I’ll be participating in a panel at “BOND’s Annual Conference on Fatherhood and Men,” which is open to all men 13 and older. BOND — “Rebuilding the family by rebuilding the man.” — is the organization run by the courageous preacher and frequent “Hannity” guest Jesse Lee Peterson. I once wrote of him in a City Journal profile:
Peterson decries the transformation of the civil rights movement from a principled appeal to the American creed to a politicized shakedown of guilt-ridden whites. He condemns the government subsidies of single motherhood that have helped set loose a plague of black illegitimacy and its attendant plagues of generational poverty and crime. And he bemoans the black culture of dependency on government support that even welfare workers privately call “welfare psychosis.”
But Peterson is no metropolitan academic. Despite his quiet demeanor and delivery, his message is charged with that old-time religion. Where [Shelby] Steele views the last 40 years of civil rights activism as a complex and poisonous blend of white guilt, black opportunism, and government incompetence and corruption, Peterson sees an intentional power grab by an anti-American Left, a self-interested attempt to destroy the nation by destroying manhood and marriage, part of the ongoing and eternal struggle between the forces of Good and Evil. “You cannot control a moral people,” he tells me. “You have to keep them immoral in order to control them.”
Hit the poster for more information on the conference. And look here for the rest of my profile of this brave and important man.
‘I Choose to Believe in God, But I Have Serious Doubts and I Refuse to Be Pinned Down’ – Stephen King
Stephen King is the Stephen King of horror writers. When he’s on his game, he really is so good at what he does there’s no one to compare him to but himself! Recently, what Christopher Hitchens used to disdainfully call “God-botherers” (ie. believers like myself) were interested to hear King give an interview to NPR in which he said he leaned toward faith in the creator, though he vacillated and was inconsistent.
I choose to believe it. … I mean, there’s no downside to that. If you say, “Well, OK, I don’t believe in God. There’s no evidence of God,” then you’re missing the stars in the sky and you’re missing the sunrises and sunsets and you’re missing the fact that bees pollinate all these crops and keep us alive and the way that everything seems to work together. Everything is sort of built in a way that to me suggests intelligent design. But, at the same time, there’s a lot of things in life where you say to yourself, “Well, if this is God’s plan, it’s very peculiar,” and you have to wonder about that guy’s personality — the big guy’s personality. And the thing is — I may have told you last time that I believe in God — what I’m saying now is I choose to believe in God, but I have serious doubts and I refuse to be pinned down to something that I said 10 or 12 years ago. I’m totally inconsistent.
But if you really want to see King exploring the idea of faith and the nature of God, the novel to read is Desperation — maybe because it was written in the mid 1990s during one of King’s periods of deeper faith. Anyway, if you’re a horror fan at all, it’s an insanely gripping read. The first 300 pages or so are almost unbelievably compelling. Then the narrative drive lags a bit, but mostly because King starts to use his story to explore God’s presence in the midst of horrifying events and to talk about what it might mean. It never gets boring and there’s one five or ten page chapter in the book’s second half that’s as scary as anything King — or anyone — has ever written. (It’s about a woman locked in a pitch black room. Terse, controlled, brilliant horror. The man is truly a master of the art.)
By the end, you really do get a sort of theology, which is delivered in a way that’s both humble and touching. I understand there’s a companion novel as well — The Regulators — by King’s alter ego, Richard Bachman. I haven’t read that one, but this one is dynamite. And don’t settle for the movie — it’s only so-so.
And yes, yes, I know King’s a liberal and against the Second Amendment. He’s still a great horror writer. What can I tell you? Talent is blind!
Here’s one of my favorite political jokes in honor of my wedding anniversary:
Barack Obama, John Boehner and Harry Reid are traveling on Air Force One when the jet crashes and they are all killed. Barack Obama is immediately whisked off to a plain of eternal fire. Demons tear at him with pitchforks; hellhounds rip his flesh; flames engulf him. And a mighty voice from on high thunders: “BARACK OBAMA! THIS IS YOUR DOOM!”
John Boehner finds himself in an endless waste of ice. Ice devils scratch at him; hailstones pound him; freezing cold lashes his body. And a mighty voice from on high thunders: “JOHN BOEHNER! THIS IS YOUR DOOM!”
Harry Reid opens his eyes and finds himself in a spacious penthouse apartment in the clouds. The furnishings are lavish. Beautiful music plays on an amazing sound system. A crystal of single malt scotch is waiting for him on the stand near his plush armchair. The door opens and in walks Kate Upton in the sheerest possible negligee. And as the gorgeous super model moves slowly toward him, a mighty voice from on high thunders: “KATE UPTON…!”
I have been married 33 years. During that time, my wife and I have had one argument and a million laughs. Without sentimentality or exaggeration, I can honestly say it has been a romance out of a fairy tale. For me, it has been a gift from God and a taste of paradise.
For my wife? Well, I can only hope she doesn’t feel like Kate Upton in the joke!
Cross-posted from Klavan on the Culture
It’s odd. Finding God in middle age brought more joy and peace into my life than I ever thought to expect, and yet listening to people talk about religion and reading modern writers on the subject often leaves me cold, alienated. I don’t care how brilliantly they refute the atheists. I don’t care whom they think God wants me to sleep with, or how they believe I should say my prayers. When they tell me I cannot call myself a Christian unless I condemn what they condemn and despise whom they despise, it makes me faintly nauseous. And though I’ve read many sentences that begin “If you only knew your Bible, you would see…” I’ve never reached the end of any of them.
What good religious discourse does — what good religious writing does — what they do for me, at least — is reorient my spirit toward its lodestar, which is Christ. For some reason, this is less likely to be achieved through flashy logic and pompous denunciations than through humble seeking and painfully honest self-examination. Go figure.
At any rate, here’s a lovely little book of really good religious writing: Strange Gods, by Elizabeth Scalia, who is also known by her blogging name The Anchoress. For reasons I’ll explain, it is an excellent corrective to our ferocious historical moment.
I was first led to the Anchoress by — who else? — Instapundit, (Him By Whom All Good Things are Linked!). I was taken with the gracefulness of her prose and the graciousness of her outlook and often found them an antidote to the fever of political confrontation. It’s not that she doesn’t have her opinions, she just usually manages to remain open-hearted toward her opposition while expressing them. No common thing these days and no mean trick either.
In Strange Gods, subtitled “Unmasking the Idols in Everyday Life,” she examines a few of the infinite ways in which she and all the rest of us break the first commandment. She speaks personally and movingly about how an excess of attention to ego, ideas, ideology, coolness, sex — even the films made from Jane Austen novels! — can position these false idols between ourselves and the source of all goodness.
Why do people allow their relationship with God to become disoriented? Sadly, the problem usually starts with love. The human heart craves attention and love — love is the common longing of our lives. We may search for a career, or wealth, or status, but the desire to be loved and valued is usually at the root of our strivings…. Sometimes, discouraged or impatient in our search, we chase illusions…
Haunting Melissa — the first-ever app movie — produced by Neal Edelstein and with a script by me — got a nice launch last week. The ghost story that pushes itself to your mobile i-device got coverage from ABC, Fox, Bloomberg and CNN, among dozens of other places. It was named Best App of the Day by the Best App of the Day namers. And has been climbing rapidly up the bestseller lists.
It’s a free download. Make sure to turn on the push notifications and to use a headset. And let me know what you think.
Crossposted from Klavan on the Culture
[There are updates at the end of this post.]
Well, look, when the left-wing media lands a punch, you got to take it, fair and square. Turns out one of the few open conservative activists in Hollywood has been hiding a past life as a Holocaust denier. He once recanted, but it was fake. He’s still mealy-mouthed on the subject. This is from the Guardian, a socialist newspaper in the UK:
To those who knew him, or thought they knew him, he was a cerebral, fun-loving gadfly who hosted boozy gatherings for Hollywood’s political conservatives. David Stein brought right-wing congressmen, celebrities, writers and entertainment industry figures together for shindigs, closed to outsiders, where they could scorn liberals and proclaim their true beliefs.
Over the past five years Stein’s organisation, Republican Party Animals, drew hundreds to regular events in and around Los Angeles, making him a darling of conservative blogs and talkshows. That he made respected documentaries on the Holocaust added intellectual cachet and Jewish support to Stein’s cocktail of politics, irreverence and rock and roll.
There was just one problem. Stein was not who he claimed. His real name can be revealed for the first time publicly – a close circle of confidants only found out the truth recently – as David Cole. And under that name he was once a reviled Holocaust revisionist who questioned the existence of Nazi gas chambers. He changed identities in January 1998.
Yuck-o. And bad for the cause of freedom too, because you know full well the media will try to tar us all with it. That’s how it works. Oliver Stone makes a documentary rationalizing a Soviet Union that slaughtered gazillions in the name of oppression; Sean Penn kisses the backsides of tyrants like Castro and Chavez — hey, no problem. They still work and win praise — and certainly no one tries to pin their foolishness on run-of-the-mill Hollywood Democrats, nor should they. But one creepoid on the right, and we’ll soon start to hear, “Well, that’s what they’re all like, deep down.” See if we don’t.
I’ll be traveling over Easter and don’t think I’ll have time to blog, so I’ll leave a few mini-reviews to unroll day by day for your holiday viewing pleasure — or not.
— Oh, man, I so wanted to like this. Liam Neeson killing evil Muslims to get his kidnapped wife back? It worked once, why not again? Plus the critics hated it while the public ate it up, so I was all ready to side with the public. But, really, no. The characters are terribly written, the action is poorly choreographed. Poor Neeson looks like he needs to be rescued more than his family. There’s one scene where he’s in a Mexican standoff — evil Muslims have him and his wife at gunpoint; he’s holding a gun on them — and, so help me, he pauses to make a phone call! I was hoping he was calling his agent: “Get me out of here!” No such luck. A few days after I saw this, I was on the elliptical and Taken 1 came on TV. I was struck again by its taut structure, its expert suspense. Take my advice: watch the first one twice and forget 2.
Why Do Only French Actresses Have the Ability to be Mind-Shatteringly Beautiful While Still Looking Like Real People?
Basically, this monster French hit is a Magic Negro movie: you know, a warm/wise/passionate person of color brings warmth/wisdom/passion into the lives of stuffy old white folk. But it’s elevated above its shudder-inducing genre by a vastly charming script and two performances of such brilliance they would have elevated the phone book. Francois Cluzet is so unbelievably good as a quadriplegic millionaire, he brings the guy completely to life from the first scene using nothing but the expressions on his face. Omar Sy is delightful as the street tough who gets hired to help him out. And Audrey Fleurot — why is it only French actresses have the ability to be mind-shatteringly beautiful while still looking like real people? No wonder French guys never want to do any work! Anyway, it’s definitely worth watching all the way and the scene at the opera is classic. I like opera, and it still had me in stitches. Based on a true story. A real pleasure.
Daniel Wattenberg, the arts and features editor of the conservative Washington Times, wrote a piece last week chiding Hollywood for being confounded by the ratings success of the History channel’s mini-series The Bible. ”Blockbuster ratings for a compilation of bible stories from a reality TV producer taking his first crack at drama? Can’t be,” Wattenberg writes in the persona of a studio exec. “If there was a market for biblical epics, then Hollywood wouldn’t have long ago abandoned the genre. … Makes no sense.”
No one can blame Wattenberg for taking a poke at Hollywood’s apparent reluctance to capitalize on the huge audience of the faithful. As I myself have joked repeatedly, if The Passion of the Christ had been about anything else, the Book of Acts would already be in the can.
But just for the record, no one in Hollywood is baffled by The Bible’s success. I think The Passion of the Christ blowout took them aback a little, but everyone gets it now: There’s a large audience of religious people who are tired of being mocked and put down by a small cadre of coastal sophisticates, but who will show up for solid, non-pandering faith-based entertainment. They’re not stupid; they’re not changing their minds; they’re not going away.
So why isn’t there more good work for the faithful? The problem is not Hollywood cluelessness, nor is it Hollywood evil. Conservatives tend to over-emphasize both.
When Benedict XVI was pope, the New York Times ran a scurrilous, distortion-infested campaign intended to link the former Joseph Ratzinger with the awful abuse scandals that have so harmed the Catholic Church. These pieces were manifestly dishonest and substance-free when you read them through. But the Times editors know most people don’t read the articles — they read the headlines and the first paragraph.
So this morning, the pseudo-journalists at the Times began their campaign of lies against the new pope, Francis, under the damning (and damnable) headline: “Starting a Papacy, Amid Echoes of a ‘Dirty War’”:
One Argentine priest is on trial in Tucumán Province on charges of working closely with torturers in a secret jail during the so-called Dirty War, urging prisoners to hand over information. Another priest was accused of taking a newborn from his mother….Another clergy member offered biblical justification for the military’s death flights, according to an account by one of the pilots anguished about dumping drugged prisoners out of aircraft and into the sea.
As he starts his papacy, Francis, until this month Jorge Mario Bergoglio, the archbishop of Buenos Aires, faces his own entanglement with the Dirty War, which unfolded from 1976 to 1983. As the leader of Argentina’s Jesuits for part of that time, he has repeatedly had to dispute claims that he allowed the kidnapping of two priests in his order in 1976, accusations the Vatican is calling a defamation campaign.
This is just despicable, isn’t it? Lead with examples of some priests who were wicked then segue into a paragraph about the pope to make it sound like he was one of them. Really — for shame.
Reading more deeply into the story — which I did so you don’t have to — we learn that the pope’s “entanglement,” involved hiding fugitives from the government bad guys, pleading for the release of two priests, and helping one guy who looked like him escape by lending him his papers and a priest get-up. Which last is actually pretty cool. Go, Pope.
This is funny — and kind of weird.
I watched the film Hitchcock on pay per view the other day: it’s the story of the making of Psycho based on the fascinating 1990 non-fiction book Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho by Stephen Rebello, which I read and enjoyed many years ago. The movie? It’s not bad. Its take on the Hitchcock marriage is rigged and sentimentalized. But the cast is amazing — Anthony Hopkins, Helen Mirren, Scarlett Johansson, Jessica Biel, Toni Collette — and the glimpses of the true story that survive are still very interesting. It’s a small, satisfying entertainment about the movie biz.
However… The movie is about ten times better than last year’s unfortunate HBO production The Girl, which starred Toby Jones as the Master of Suspense, and told Tippi Hedren’s version of their relationship during the making of The Birds. Hedren claims Hitchcock sexually harassed her, mistreated her, and ultimately destroyed her career — although my memory is that Hedren was an awful actress, which may have also had something to do with it.
It’ll be a pretty rich but not unexpected irony if the Oscars freeze out Zero Dark Thirty because it tells the truth about waterboarding, and reward Argo because it covers up the fatal incompetence of the Carter administration. Personally, though, I thought the charm of Silver Linings Playbook outweighed either of them and, if I had to choose among the movies I’ve seen, I’d pick Ang Lee’s Life of Pi.
Spoiler here: I’ll try not to give away the trick to Pi, but if you haven’t read the book or seen the film, you might want to move on.
I really enjoyed the Yann Martel novel but in the end, the whole Pi deal is really kind of spiritually twee — cute and dear, I mean. All religions are a path to God. Which explanation of life do you prefer? Really??? Who cares what you prefer? What about the truth? And what about the fact that the truth tends to be exclusive? That is, if one thing is true, frequently another, opposite thing cannot be true. The sky can’t both be red and blue at the same time. God is either there or not — and he either wants you to love your neighbor or slay the infidel, but probably not both. The theology of Pi is comforting nonsense when you get right down to it.
So while I enjoyed the story of the novel, and while I enjoyed the surprise ending, I couldn’t help but give a shrug when it was over. Yeah, yeah, yeah, I thought, and then pretty much forgot the whole thing.
Ang Lee’s movie version is different. That is, it’s exactly the same — same story, same trick, same twee approach to theology. But the feel is different. First of all, the thing is just freaking beautiful. Not beautiful in a heavy-handed way, but it actually captures a sense of the wonder and beauty and terror of nature. The special effects are beyond belief — and not like the special effects in a monster movie; they really mean something. And finally, the choice Lee makes about how to play the ending, which at first put me off, actually serves to give the film a sense of tragedy and depth and sorrow that the book simply doesn’t have. It’s really a hell of a film. I loved it. I think it’s the best by far of the ones I’ve seen.
And hey, speaking of the controversy that, they say, will cost Zero Dark Thirty the trophy, Lee’s Brokeback Mountain got similarly smoked in 2005 for showing gay cowboys. Instead they gave it to Crash, which stank. So even though they gave Lee the director statue, they owe him a best picture film.
Never mind. I’m a minority of one here judging by all the previous awards this season. I guess I’ll just skip the Oscars and let time prove me right.
More recent movie and book recommendations from Andrew Klavan at PJ Lifesytle:
What I guess is now the leading show business trade “publication” — Nikki Finke’s blog Deadline Hollywood — had a nice mention of a project of mine this week. And — cool! — this is my blog, so I get to link to it here:
Fox Hill Productions has optioned development and production rights to Andrew Klavan’s mystery trilogy Dynamite Road, Shotgun Alley and Damnation Street. Klavan has adapted the trilogy into a screenplay titled Damnation Street,described as a neo-noir thriller about a private detective and a serial killer in pursuit of the same mysterious woman. Producers on the project will be Samantha Lusk, Andrew Hyatt and Seth David Mitchell of Fox Hill (The Frozen, The Last Light and the upcoming The Stanleys).
Christian Toto at Big Hollywood picked up the piece and quoted me talking about how I’d condensed the trilogy into one story for the script, and how some of the approach of the book was derived from Clint Eastwood’s film Unforgiven:
“I always felt that was a great western that was also a movie about the western, an examination of the heart of those stories. Likewise the Weiss-Bishop books were meant to be top-flight detective stories that were also about detective stories, that held the genre up to the light so to speak.”
Anyway, an option is only one step on the long, long road to getting a film made, but it’s a good script and I hope it makes it to the screen.
More from Andrew Klavan at PJ Lifestyle:
If you missed the exciting LAPD film End of Watch in the theaters, it’s worth getting it on DVD. Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Pena play a couple of hot dog cruiser cops on L.A.’s mean streets. The film, written by Training Day guy David Ayer, is done “found footage” or documentary-style, which sometimes leads to some distracting moments when you’re thinking — “Wait, who’s holding the camera now?” But aside from that — a minor problem — it’s gritty, well-acted and moving. And it represents the cops fairly and well.
Being me, I especially liked the macho ethos of it all. Lots of good cop partner moments, and high respect for marriage and wives in the manner of real men. There’s a funny and touching wedding scene in which one cop’s wife explains to the newbie how she’s got to give it up without restraint if she wants to keep her husband from straying. Excellent advice. Plus, the bride was played by Anna Kendrick, who was the high point of the overrated George Clooney film Up in the Air. She’s a superb and extremely appealing actress. She ought to get a lead role soon.
Recently, I was blown away by Heather Mac Donald’s City Journal piece “Courts v. Cops.” It tells how the NYCLU and other self-appointed defenders of black rights are interfering with the NYPD and thus insuring more black people get murdered and victimized. Heather — one of the best reporters in the country — points out that the law-abiding black citizen who is grateful for the police “seemingly lies outside the conceptual universe of the advocates and their enablers in elite law firms and the media.” So it was nice to see a film in which the true guardians of the lives of the poor get some props.
Read the article, watch the movie.
Related at PJ Lifestyle on masculinity:
If you’re not watching the new season of Justified (Tuesdays at 10 on FX), you’re missing the best crime series on TV and what may be about to become one of the genuinely great crime series of all time. For me, most TV shows reach their highest level in the first year. Stories have a theme. The theme works itself out in the first year. Everything else is a sequel, second best. Sometimes by the fourth year a new theme is discovered and the show gets a second wind, but it’s still rarely as good as that first season. Dexter and The Wire, two great shows, come to mind as examples.
But while the first three seasons of Justified have been distinguished by terrific acting, spectacular dialogue, excellent characters and moments of violence that were terrifying without being unnecessarily disgusting (usually), the year-long arcs of the plots have not been as great as the rest of the package. The show is inspired by an Elmore Leonard short story, and while Leonard’s genius for dialogue and his hilarious and realistic approach to human corruption are what inform the show at its best, his satiric and sometimes rambling plotting doesn’t translate that well to TV. (Or maybe it’s just that he’s not writing the show — though the creator Graham Yost has channeled him wonderfully.)
In its first two episodes, however, this season looks to me to have moved to an even higher level. The yearlong plot, which involves the unearthing of a long-lost messenger bag, is inherently compelling and makes a great hook on which to hang the sub-plots. And the main characters seem to have found themselves in ways that give them fresh life. The appealing, out-of-his-time hero Raylan Givens (played with a pitch-perfect blend of irony and valor by Timothy Olyphant) is in a relationship with a barmaid that promises some really interesting complications, especially as his ex is about to give birth to their child. The small-town gangster Boyd Crowder (played by The Shield‘s Walton Goggins, one of the best actors on TV, if not the best) is now in a relationship with his widowed sister-in-law Ava (played by the excellent and heart-meltingly beautiful Joelle Carter) that is as genuinely affectionate and touching as it is murderous and corrupt. Nick Searcy’s perfectly played Chief, world-weary but compassionate, is struggling with retirement. And all the new characters — a tent preacher, a constable, the barmaid’s ex — look to be richly drawn and promising.
Really, watching the first two episodes was bliss.
The second golden age of American crime writing, which lived in the novel during the 80s and 90s, has moved to television. Justified is an excellent part of that excellent trend and just seems to be getting better.
More recent writings on TV at PJ Lifestyle:
Proof of Heaven is the sort of book I almost never read, but I’m glad I made an exception. I don’t really follow the whole Near Death Experience, is-there-or-isn’t-there-an-afterlife debate. I’ve come to believe there is more to life than life, but I don’t think about it much. Life itself seems a pretty urgent business and I want to pay attention to it before it’s gone. If there’s nothing afterwards, I’ll never know. If there is, I’ve got an excellent lawyer.
But a friend gave me the book for Christmas. I started it, and found it weirdly compelling. As you’ve probably heard, it’s Dr. Eben Alexander’s memoir of how he, a neurosurgeon, went into a coma and saw the next world. According to Alexander, who should know, he was so brain dead at the time it happened that it’s virtually impossible for this to have been any kind of a dream or hallucination. And as the experience went on for days, there is a lot of detail, including some stuff that struck me as convincing. Nothing he sees on the Other Side is particularly startling. It’s all in line with the instincts of the best sort of faith. We’re loved; we’re forgiven. Oh, and there are angels. I’ve never been so sure about angels, but apparently there they are. Dogs too. I’d be very disappointed if there were no dogs.
Now as one of my novel characters once remarked: There’s a reasonable explanation for everything and that’s the one some people choose to believe. One of the things I liked best about the book is that Alexander is honest enough to allow us into some of the darker places in his psychology. If you want to construct a psychological explanation for his Near Death Event you can. And he even gives several “scientific” explanations of greater or lesser plausibility — the best being that the whole experience was basically the dream he had when his brain was rebooting.
All the same, I found the book oddly believable. It’s not pious or treacly like so many books about faith experiences are. And even though the doc gets pretty new age and woo-woo by the time he’s finished, it wasn’t alienating if you kept an open mind. It stuck with me for several days after I finished it.
So while no one can offer you a guarantee, I would say this book constitutes a piece of circumstantial evidence for the defense of heaven. Which makes for an interesting read, even if you decide to dismiss it.
More perspectives on God and religion at PJ Lifestyle:
So last week, in what was perhaps a moment of madness, I posted a request on my Facebook page: Tell me your political predictions for the year. Among the more restrained answers: “Hyperinflation,” “Civil War,” “financial collapse,” “terribly awful things.”
Optimist though I am, I can’t help feeling there’s something to this downhearted consensus. After living through the most peaceful and prosperous half century that any nation has ever experienced in the history of humankind, it seems impossible to believe we would re-elect a mediocre reactionary out to “fundamentally transform” our success into failure. But we did, and that’s — well, let’s call it “less than cheering.”
On the other hand…
One of the central weaknesses of radicalism is that radicals seem to lose track of the causes and foundations of the things even they value. They don’t understand that peace is always and everywhere the end result of superior firepower, improved health the result of greater wealth, wealth the result of hard-headed and often greedy business dealing, and liberty deeply linked to a specific concept of man’s relationship to God. They never consider that it may at least be questionable whether the cornerstone can be removed without the structure toppling over.
Conversely, one of the central weaknesses of conservatism is that conservatives see all too clearly how every good thing we have is linked to everything else. They can trace in a moment how any change in the system might lead to disaster. Expand the definition of marriage and civilization falls. Raise taxes and end up in chains. Allow women to vote and government will become an all-embracing, over-protective mother state infantilizing the population. Okay, maybe that last one’s true, but you see what I’m getting at.
As everyone knows, the director’s cut of a film is never anywhere near as good as the cut released to theaters. You may think you know of an exception, but you’re in error. No shame; we all make mistakes. In some cases — Blade Runner comes to mind — the director’s cut can actually turn a great film into a crashing, solipsistic bore.
And this is not really surprising. Restrictions on art — whether it’s the rigors of the sonnet form or some idiot studio executive screaming, “Make it shorter or you’re fired!” — force artists to use all their skill to say what they can in the space and manner provided. There is a reason no one reads new poetry; a reason paintings, which once served to express the deepest levels of the human experience, can now do little more than decorate bank lobbies. No restrictions. Poems are free form; paintings are abstract. And they suck. Restrictions make artists better, more resourceful, more clever, more artistic. Without them, art becomes free — and dull and meaningless.
Which brings me to The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. When director Peter Jackson made the Lord of the Rings trilogy, I understand the studio forbid him to go over three hours on any one of the three films. The result is a nine hour masterpiece. Unfortunately the success of that film seems to have made Jackson more or less untouchable. Now every movie he makes is essentially a director’s cut. And they’ve suffered for it. Everybody hates Jackson’s King Kong, but watch it again: King Kong would be a terrific movie about manhood and femininity — if you cut twenty seconds to a minute out of every single scene… and then cut some of the scenes.
As for The Hobbit — well, the first seven hours are a little slow, but it picks up in the final third. I mean, really, it’s one book, make one film. Use some skill, make some choices. Be an artist.
That said, the picture, though endless, looks lovely. The final hour really is exciting. And Martin Freeman, who plays Bilbo, is so incredibly good he almost kept me awake through the opening hours. Or days. Or whatever.
Now what they should do is release “The Studio Cut.” Let some executives into the editing room to pare the thing down to the entertaining bits. One hour long and brilliant. Can’t wait.
image courtesy shutterstock / Willierossin
More perspectives on The Hobbit at PJ Lifestyle:
I went to see the new film version of the musical Les Miserables on a Boxing Day outing with family members of various ages and different degrees of familiarity with the show. One of us loved the musical so much she literally (and I do mean literally) had it memorized word for word. I’d never seen it and have always disliked the thumping music and standard, soppy lyrics — though (as you might guess) I’ve read the novel.
The results: the younger folks tended not to like the film because of the bad and auto-tuned singing and because of Tom Hooper’s ham-handed, close-up-heavy direction. My wife and I liked it. It’s sentimental and overblown but, as we both remarked, at least it deals with issues of importance: faith, grace, justice, the experience of God through love. Obviously, old Vic Hugo brought these themes — and the rollicking, compelling story — to the table, but the musical doesn’t sweep them aside and they are dealt with honestly and entertainingly throughout. Also, I confess I liked the songs much better when I saw them in context.
Acting-wise, Anne Hathaway steals it. She basically gives an acting class on how to deliver a screen performance of a stage part. I liked Russell Crowe, auto-tuned though he was — but a lot of our party hated him. We all agreed that Hugh Jackman, whom I generally like, was miscast and couldn’t handle the soft tenor singing. Samantha Barks, a third place finisher in some British music contest or other, was also a standout: good actress, adorable to look at and with a strong, pop voice.
In sum: a sentimental, entertaining old-fashioned movie musical that brings Hugo’s classic story to musical life.
Related at PJ Lifestyle, from John Boot:
Here’s a lovely picture that may have slipped by you: Silver Linings Playbook. You might have been put off by its subject matter (bipolar disorder) or scared away by its R-rating (for language mostly, I think) or just missed it because it’s on the small side. But it really is delightful — an uplifting Christmas romance of the old school, albeit dressed in modern dysfunction.
That modern-to-old-fashioned storytelling strategy seems to be something director David O. Russell developed for his last fine film, The Fighter. That one opened with half an hour of such realistically depicted familial cruelty that I nearly stopped watching — until a startling scene of grace and redemption about a third of the way through transformed the entire picture into a stand-up-and-cheer fight film of the first water.
Likewise here, Russell starts out depicting the travails of a man with bipolar disorder (played by Bradley Cooper) with searing honesty and humor — but then sets him in a love story with all the charm and style of a movie on TCM. Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence (of Hunger Games fame) play a couple of self-destructive misfits, deploying all their modern acting skills to get them right. But as their characters teach each other tolerance and kindness — and learn to take their medication — the actors unleash their inner movie stars and walk into a Christmas finale with all the self-assurance of Cary Grant and Katherine Hepburn.
It’s not just good storytelling, it’s smart movie making with a real understanding of how the medium works. Not something you see too often, I know.
Excellent supporting cast too: Robert De Niro’s great; Chris Tucker steals every scene he’s in — he had me in stitches.
If you’re going to grouse about the four-letter words and realism, don’t go. But if you like uplifting entertainment for adults, this is really good stuff. One of the better movies I’ve seen this year.
A contrary view at PJ Lifestyle from John Boot:
Can anyone tell me the difference between playing Angry Birds and getting hooked on methamphetamines? Okay, I guess with Angry Birds you don’t lose your teeth. And you don’t have to sell your body to keep up the supply. In fact, after the nice Angry Bird people sell you the app for around five bucks, they periodically stock it with new levels for free. Try to get your meth supplier to give you a deal like that!
But has anyone besides me ever tried to give this thing up? It’s virtually impossible. Fortunately, however, playing teaches you a ton of conservative virtues. That’s what I tell my wife anyway. Because she thinks I’m just, you know, goofing off.
But here’s a few of the things you can learn flipping birds at pigs:
1. It’s not nice to steal what other people produce. The pigs are the villains because they take the birds’ eggs. Could the symbolism be any clearer? Pigs = Government. Eggs = The Productions of the Productive. Ayn Rand couldn’t have said it better — except maybe in her brilliant scene where a boomerang myna bird flies backwards into a beach ball.
2. When in doubt, turn to the wisdom of those who’ve gone before. If you want to score three stars on every level and pick up the golden eggs, sooner or later, you’re going to have to consult YouTube. It’s what we Angry Birders have instead of the Federalist Papers.
One of the better movies I’ve seen this season is Argo, directed by and starring the talented and appealing Ben Affleck. The movie tells a fictionalized version of the true story of how a CIA operative helped six Americans escape from Iran during the hostage crisis of the Carter administration.
I, of course, had no problem with the filmmakers adding fictional dollops of drama, danger and adventure to the story. But I did object very strongly to the rewriting of history purely for purposes of pro-Democrat propaganda. The running gag in the movie concerns a make-believe sci-fi film called Argo that the CIA uses as a cover story. The battle cry of the good guys is, “Ar, go, f*** yourself.” But, as so often in Hollywood, it’s the political truth that gets f***ed.
Bad enough that the entire hostage crisis was subtly and not-so-subtly blamed on America in the movie. Even worse is the fact that the Democrat president’s idealistic incompetence in withdrawing American support for the Shah is completely passed over. It was this bone-headed Carter play that opened the floodgates of Islamo-fascism, allowing Ayatollah Khomeini to come to power — a bone-head move that Obama stupidly repeated when he withdrew support from Mubarak in Egypt and essentially handed the place over to the Muslim Brotherhood. As the Wall Street Journal’s Bret Stephens recently said, “In the middle east there are two kinds of regimes — those that could be worse, and those that couldn’t be worse.” Carter and Obama both opted to abandon the former and allow the latter.
Also smoothed over in the movie is the president’s fatal incompetence in allowing a poorly planned rescue operation. At one point in the film, Affleck’s CIA agent is told to ditch his mission because the White House is mounting a rescue of its own. This is a suspenseful moment because we know Carter’s Eagle Claw plan will be a fatal failure, leaving eight U.S. servicemen dead in the desert. But the disaster is never mentioned in the film. Why not? Guess.
Hey, I just noticed that if you sign up to PJTV, you get a free copy of Evan Sayet’s E-book The Kindergarden of Eden: How the Modern Liberal Thinks. This is a good deal — which I know because I’ve actually read The Kindergarden of Eden and it’s really good! Evan, of course, is a stand-up comic by trade, so not only does his work contain excellent insights into the state of the liberal’s mind, it’s genuinely funny — doubled me over with laughter more than once. The chapter on Bruce Springsteen would make Chris Christie weep… again!
Here’s a taste:
The retardation that comes from self-adulation was the very centerpiece of the True Believers’ Blueprint for Utopia, and for this reason they made self-love paramount and reinforced it on a near constant basis through incessant programs of wholly unmerited “self-esteem”-building. You were perfect just for being you, which meant that the only way not to be perfect (and perhaps even turn into one of those evil bigots and phobics) was to attempt to change (i.e. better) yourself in any way.
“Be yourself,” “do what feels good,” and “esteem nothing more than yourself” were the new pillars of society in the Modern Liberal era, and they were in every way the exact opposite of what had made Western Civilization great and the very antithesis of what was needed for a functioning, happy, healthy, prosperous and progressing society.
In fact, not only were these concepts not progressive, but they couldn’t possibly have been more regressive (just as the True Believer wished) as they made “feelings” — the same “feelings” that every child since the dawn of man was born with – into the arbiter of all truths; while they eliminated that which does progress with time – personal and collective wisdom.
Coming soon at PJ Lifestyle: David Swindle will review The Kindergarden of Eden and include it in a future edition of his ongoing collection of recommend books for Counterculture Conservatives.
Related at PJ Lifestyle: