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Jehuda blogs at The Rhetorican.com.
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Bill Maher For Tolerance?

Thursday, March 22nd, 2012 - by Jehuda

Professor Jacobson, blogging at Legal Insurrection, has caught Bill Maher reaping what Media Matters has sown: “What goes around come around, and Bill Maher is feeling the heat.”

Media Matters, Think Progress, et al. obviously forgot about Alinsky Rule 4 when they went all out to target Rush; but that’s par for the course for the Leftie noise machine. I suppose it’s easy to do so when all you care about is silencing dissent.

That aside, it’s hard to tell how much heat Maher is actually feeling over all this. HBO experienced serious subscriber declines last year. Their situation improved soon after, adding 190,000 subscribers during the last quarter of 2011.

I don’t know what their current numbers look like. We probably won’t know till later this year. The economy has hit the pay TV industry hard, but I have the feeling the number of angry conservatives who used to be HBO subscribers has to amount to several thousands. And that can’t be good for HBO.

Given that HBO has become the non-news equivalent of MSNBC (and have they ever!) I can only see the ideology-fueled subscriber flight continuing. I mean, it’s not like HBO is done with programming that skewers conservatives…or Sarah Palin.

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The Most Nauseating Movie News of the Day

Wednesday, March 21st, 2012 - by Jehuda

Got an air sickness bag handy?  You may need one when you learn the details of who’s behind a film adaptation of George Orwell’s 1984 that may be coming soon to a theater near you:

George Orwell’s seminal literary work 1984 could be getting a new movie adaptation.

Imagine Entertainment, the production house run by Brian Grazer and Ron Howard, and LBI Entertainment, the banner run by Julie Yorn, are teaming up to develop a new take on the 20th century classic.

Shepard Fairey, the street artist perhaps best known for creating the Barack Obama “Hope” poster, was instrumental in bringing the project to Imagine and LBI and might take some sort of producer role once the deals shake out.

Imagine and Fairey were pursuing Orwell’s estate for the rights to 1984 and discovered that Yorn was simultaneously pursuing the rights. The two companies then decided to pair up.

That’s right: we may soon see in screens big and small a movie that could very well be advertised as “From the Dishonest Propagandist Who Brought You the Obama ‘Hope’ Poster.”

There’s something very fitting about a dishonest propagandist pushing for a whole new 1984 movie, but coming from Obama booster Ron Howard and Shepard Fairey, this project might amount to – if it’s ever produced – a version of 1984 that would make George Orwell spin in his grave.

Who knows?  Maybe Orwell, forward-thinking as he was, would do no more than shrug and say “They’re Obama supporters.  What did you expect?

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Bill Maher Finally Explains Himself

Thursday, March 15th, 2012 - by Jehuda

Breaking News: It’s Ok when Bill Maher is a misogynist. But I’ll let him explain:  Bill applies misogynist language to women who happen to be politicians, while Rush Limbaugh attacked a ‘civilian’*.

I had the feeling someone sooner or later would excuse Maher’s conduct towards female conservative politicians in this manner.  In fact, I’m surprised he didn’t do it himself earlier (I guess he’s starting to feel the heat of Alinsky Rule 4 now).

But this isn’t much of a defense or excuse, as far as such things go.  After all, what Maher is ultimately getting across here is that there are circumstances under which misogynist hate is perfectly acceptable (and – unfortunately and evidently – many a Leftie would agree).

Then again, that’s precisely what is implied by his conduct towards Sarah Palin and Michelle Bachmann – and by anyone who’s ever given Maher a pass for it: it’s ok to hate some women.

Contrast with the reaction to Rush and one can only conclude that all the Fluke vs. Rush brouhaha is not about respect.  It’s about silencing dissenting voices.

In other words, it’s not a double standard.  It’s the party line.

*I’ll leave the implications of distinguishing people in militaristic terms for others to ponder; but, if I remember well, Lefties frown on the use of violent imagery in political rhetoric…except when they don’t.

UPDATE: David Axelrod is also feeling the heat of Alinsky Rule 4.  The result is about as non-sensical and pathetic as Maher’s excuse.  You could say the ‘War On Women’ has jumped the shark…

Cross-posted at The Rhetorican.

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Farewell, Happy Warrior: Andrew Breitbart (1969-2012)

Thursday, March 1st, 2012 - by Jehuda

Andrew Breitbart has passed away.  May he rest in peace.

Here’s a brief In Memoriam from Andrew’s very own BigHollywood; and a longer piece from what is essentially one of Andrew’s hometown newspapers, The Hollywood Reporter.

I never met the man, but he was an inspiration.    The dextrosphere revolution Andrew helped kickstart just a few years ago has grown to become an established alternative to the Old Guard press and Leftie websites.  He was instrumental in its rise.  And for that many Americans owe him a debt of gratitude.

The dextrosphere will most certainly live on, but we shall never forget the feistiness; the strategic and tactical brilliance; and the leadership Andrew brought into it – and that he so generously shared with the Tea Party movement and all liberty-loving people across America.

Farewell, Happy Warrior!  Your warrior spirit will keep on fighting in all of us.

UPDATE: And make sure to read Roger Simon’s lovely eulogy, too.


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Appeasement, Hollywood-Style?

Wednesday, February 22nd, 2012 - by Jehuda

BREAKING: Sacha Baron Cohen Banned From Oscars 2012:

The Dictator is a spoof about the “heroic story of a Middle Eastern dictator who risks his life to ensure that democracy never comes to the country he so lovingly oppressed”. Whether the fact that the 84th Academy Awards will be beamed into 200 countries had anything to do with this ban is unclear. But an Oscars spokesperson acknowledged to Deadline yesterday: ”We would hope that every studio knows that this is a bad idea. The Red Carpet is not about stunting.” Oh really? then why did Trey Parker and Matt Stone of South Park crossdress down the Red Carpet as J-Lo and Gwyneth Paltrow in evening gowns in 2000? Or Ben Stiller appear as an Oscar presenter in full blue Avatar makeup and hair in 2010?

It’s about the right stunting.  Everybody knows the only political leaders you can mock at the Oscars have to be Republican.  And I bet you a trip to Los Angeles that the show’s script on Sunday will include at least one jab at the GOP primary contenders…or at least one mocking reference to tonight’s GOP debate…or both!

UPDATE: Academy denies.

LATEST (Feb. 23, 2012 at 5:26 PM MST): The matter is far from resolved, but it’s starting to be fun.

MORE: (Feb. 24, 2012 at 10:21am MST): General Alladeen addresses the Academy: “I Applaud The Academy For Taking Away My Free Speech”.

(Cross-posted at The Rhetorican)

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SOPA WAR: Dems & Hollywood vs. GOP & Web Users?

Thursday, February 2nd, 2012 - by Jehuda

Stewart Baker writes at The Hollywood Reporter about Why the GOP Turned on Piracy. (via John Nolte)

Democrats are beholden to Hollywood, while Hollywood isn’t finished trying to make SOPA a reality.  And if Nancy Pelosi really means it when she says that they are going to have to “get a compromise” on SOPA, you can be sure that what will be compromised will be Internet Freedom; and not Hollywood’s IP agenda.

For better or worse, if we want Internet Freedom, we must maintain a robust Republican presence on Capitol Hill.  The SOPA war isn’t over.  It’s just getting started.

Cross-posted at The Rhetorican.

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They’re Going to Need A Bigger ‘Media Matters’

Tuesday, January 31st, 2012 - by Jehuda

Fox News’ Winning Streak Hits 10 Years: “Fox News made it 10 years in a row as the top-rated cable news network, a streak that began after Rupert Murdoch and Roger Ailes’ operation first overtook CNN in total viewership in January 2002.”

Congratulations, FNC.  I don’t watch like I used to, but I still catch a little Greta after work – and Red Eye on my DVR every now and then.

As for the Media Matters snark, I can’t help to note – as I have in the past – that if Media Matters thinks Fox News is the reason why the Left can’t get its message out, the problem is probably the message.  The fact is Fox News is watched on average by  less than 2,000,000 people a month.  That’s less than 1% of the U.S. population.

(Cross-posted at The Rhetorican)

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Open Season On the Web?

Thursday, January 26th, 2012 - by Jehuda

Hawaii may keep track of all Web sites visited:

Hawaii’s legislature is weighing an unprecedented proposal to curb the privacy of Aloha State residents: requiring Internet providers to keep track of every Web site their customers visit.  Its House of Representatives has scheduled a hearing this morning on a new bill requiring the creation of virtual dossiers on state residents. The measure, H.B. 2288, says “Internet destination history information” and “subscriber’s information” such as name and address must be saved for two years.

Note also that Hawaii’s Senate majority whip – Democrat Jill Tokuda – had this to say: “I was asked to introduce the Senate companions on these Internet security related bills by Representative Kymberly Marcos Pine after her own personal experience in this area.”

Might Kymberly Pine’s “experience in this area” have anything to do with speech and political sentiments she’d like to monitor or outright curb?

SOPA, PIPA, and now this.  Will other states follow?  Never underestimate our elected officials when it comes to curtailing your freedom…

UPDATE: Incidentally, Pine is a Republican.  Her ardent accuser and web tormentor is not exactly popular.  Sounds like someone wants to perform a little surgery with a machete here.

(Cross-posted at Rhetorican.com)

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The George Lucas Project Hollywood Wouldn’t Touch

Thursday, January 12th, 2012 - by Jehuda

The website for TV network Reelz reports that George Lucas spent over 2 decades trying to bring the World War II adventure Red Tails to the big screen.

The movie tells the story of the African American pilots of the Tuskegee Airmen training program, who fought for their country over the skies of Europe.   And still, over the course of 23 years, Lucas could not find a single one of the Hollywood studios that would be interested in the project.  Did the studio gatekeepers deem the material not “marketable” enough?  Lucas certainly seems to think the studios saw the African American cast as a liability.

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Ultimately, the Wizard of Skywalker Ranch had to put his money where his mouth is, which – of course – he has done before.  But even after making the movie with his own cash, he still encountered studio rejection as he sought a studio partner that would help him bring the film to audiences:

I financed the movie myself and went to the studios to distribute it and nobody wanted it…They just didn’t feel there was enough of an audience out there for it… I said “Okay, put in more money and let’s do it ourselves.”

Hopefully the big studios don’t think that depicting African American men fighting against European fascism in World War II  simply makes for something incomprehensible.

Red Tails opens January 20.  It stars Cuba Gooding Jr. and Terrence Howard; and was directed by Anthony Hemingway.

UPDATE: This post seems to have aroused some controversy.  Some clarification is required:  I don’t think Lucas was alluding to racism at the studios.  And I’m not either.  Seems to me Lucas sincerely believes the studios think investing in a big budget movie with an African American cast is not worth it, because such a movie would be harder for them to market and sell effectively.

The international appeal of a movie like this may actually be very small (which Lucas spells out in his interview with Jon Stewart, linked above).  And it’s a fact most studio product today makes most of its money overseas.  There are no major stars in it, after all, which makes the marketing and selling that much harder – in any territory.

And when I use the term “not ‘marketable’ enough” – the way I do above – racism certainly has nothing to do with it, either.  You need to click the link to find out what I actually mean.  It leads to my blog, where I in turn link to an excellent essay I found on GQ almost a year ago.  The essay is – in part – about a studio marketing department prejudice that is adversely affecting the quality of studio movies: the belief that you cannot make money on a film unless it’s based on some product or character that is pre-sold (which has led to so many remakes, sequels, and adaptations being released.)

Maybe the movie is just plain awful (a tad too Lucasy, perhaps?  He didn’t write it, which is to the project’s overall advantage); and that’s why Lucas was turned down.  But when was the last time a studio didn’t greenlight an awful movie?  And for those who believe studios passed because the story had already been told in an earlier movie, that’s usually not an issue – not at all – nor indicative of a bad movie, necessarily, either.  But that still doesn’t make me think ‘racism’.  It makes me think that Hollywood hates war movies, unless the antagonists are American.

Controversy aside, if you’d like to help the National WWII Museum in New Orleans finish its Red Tail project, you can donate here.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Related thoughts on Lucas, race, and culture from Ed Driscoll.

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‘The Artist’ and the Beauty of Pure Cinema

Sunday, January 8th, 2012 - by Jehuda

After several missed opportunities and too long a wait, my wife and I finally saw The Artist last night – a lovely French movie (rated PG-13) about classic Hollywood that seems to be a shoo-in for an Academy Award in a number of important categories, and for good reason.  Academy politics aside, it’s beautiful and fun.  It’s also truly entertaining – and yet it asks for so little from the audience.

I had been waiting to see The Artist ever since it debuted at last year’s Cannes Film Festival.  Around that time, I found the trailer via a friend’s Facebook post.  It was captivating; but what really intrigued me about the movie wasn’t what the trailer hinted at, but what I knew for a fact was missing from the movie: The Artist is not only in black and white, but it’s also – for the most part – a silent movie.  This is not merely a clever gimmick concocted by writer/director Michel Hazanavicius, but a creative choice that – in his skilled hands – enhances the audience’s experience of the film.  For there is no easier way to enjoy a movie than to simply watch it: allowing the images to communicate the story to our retinas, which in turn transmit the story to our brain, without the additional step of interpreting dialogue interfering in the process: pure cinema.  All you have to do is watch.  And maybe listen to some incidental sound or an evocative film score.  It is a rare experience nowadays, when so many movies inform us with a voiceover or dialogue as to what is happening on the screen (something better suited for radio, I believe).

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It takes a lot of skill to be able to write and direct pure cinema, so it’s understandable that movie audiences experience it so rarely.  Even silent movies had to resort to the occasional title card to communicate dialogue back in the day (as does The Artist). But a recent example that comes to mind is Pixar’s Wall-E – its first act, if not the whole movie, is sparse on dialogue and lacks any voiceover narration whatsoever.

But technique aside, The Artist is entertaining.  It’s fun to watch, funny and charming – and sometimes heartbreaking, as we follow fictional silent movie superstar George Valentin (personified by the perfectly cast Jean Dujardin) struggle to find a place for himself in the all-new movie industry that emerges as talkies become the norm in late 1920′s Hollywood.

Dujardin’s co-star is Bérénice Bejo, also perfectly cast as Peppy Miller, the ingenue who arrives in Hollywood at the right place and the right time – and who in a way owes her first big break to Valentin.

But there is more than just a good story here.  At its heart, The Artist is a meditation on loyalty, a theme you see the director exploring constantly – and not just in the main character’s delightful give-and-take with his dog – even in the darkest implications of the most insidious of loyalties: the inflexible loyalty to oneself that is pride.

Don’t let all the awards season hype turn you off (it ain’t hype if it’s true).  The Artist is a movie you’ll love to watch – and which you will not soon forget, whether you like artsy movies or not; whether you are a movie history buff or not.  The movie’s artsy side is largely in its execution: everything about it is beautiful – from its attention to detail to how it tells its story.  It simply works.  John Goodman, James Cromwell, and Penelope Ann Miller appear in supporting roles.

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Thursday, December 29th, 2011 - by Jehuda

Not that anyone who omits Current TV from their regular TV viewing would notice (and that’s talking about most people), but word on the Old Media Street is that the love affair between Al Gore’s Current TV and their prized anchor Keith Olbermann may have soured – to the point of Olby becoming an on-air no-show during next month’s all-important primary election coverage:

Olbermann “is not scheduled to anchor Current’s coverage of the Iowa caucus or the New Hampshire primary in January;” the network has placed anchors Cenk Uygur and Jennifer Granholm in that position, along with the head of the network, Al Gore. And despite having been hired to be a part of special reports, as well, Olbermann has not been around. What’s more, Olbermann’s program will actually not run on Monday, January 2 and in its stead will be a two-hour Iowa caucus preview hosted by Uygur.

This should come as no surprise, given that Mr. Olbermann has done for Current TV’s audience numbers what the Black Death once did for Europe’s population ones.  But you could also say it’s hardly remarkable because it’s simply Olby being Olby.

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UPDATED: Trashy Treasures of the Silver Screen

Saturday, December 10th, 2011 - by Jehuda

God bless Roger Corman.  A legend in Hollywood among producers, he’s supposedly never lost money on a movie.  But his reputation goes beyond not being a loser.  He’s also known as a giver of opportunity and mentorship to notable filmmakers.  Scorsese, Bogdanovich, Coppola, and even Ron Howard cut their teeth as directors working for Corman – who’s been producing low-budget pictures since the 50′s.  And is still making movies to this day.

Indeed, Roger Corman has been giving people plenty to talk about for decades – and not just after catching one of his productions at the drive-in or on late night TV.  Ask anyone in the movie industry about Corman and you’re sure to get a reaction – one that will be in the context of awe, admiration, and respect almost every time.  Because in a business in which you get work in proportion to your prestige and success, Corman has been making B movies non-stop ever since he got started over 5 decades ago.  They’re not blockbusters.  They’re not artsy.  There are no big studios behind them.  They’re cheap movies in almost every sense of the word, but Corman gets them made.  And in Hollywood, believe it or not, that is truly a remarkable achievement for any producer, big time or not.

Fittingly, a new documentary – opening December 16 in selected markets – looks back and celebrates Roger Corman’s ouvre through the decades: Corman’s World: Exploits of a Hollywood Rebel, featuring interviews with many well known moviemakers and stars who got their start with Mr. Corman.

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And because one cinematic tribute to B-movies isn’t enough, next year we can expect Electric Boogaloo: The Wild Untold Story of Cannon Films.  If you were renting VHS titles in the 80′s you probably saw a good bunch of Cannon productions.  Or you might have even seen them in the theater: Missing In Action, Delta Force, and Breaking are only some of the dozens of movies Corman apprentice Menahem Golan and his cousin Yoram Globus released through their Cannon Films shingle in the early 80′s.

Life is too short to watch bad movies, but growing up we all go through that stage in which our tastes are – shall we say – not as refined as they will eventually become.  It is those young audiences for the most part who paid for tickets at the drive-in and the grindhouse to see Corman movies; who lined up at the multiplex outside the mall to see a Cannon picture – or rented it at the video store.  As such, these less prestigious titles fill a role in our culture, whether we like it or not.  A role that – sadly – the big Hollywood studio movies often fill today, with their constant focus on big-budget exploitation pictures.  There was a time when it took a Corman or a Golan to make those bubblegum movies.  Sadly, those days are gone.  The two documentaries above are not merely film buff fare; but reminders of a glory the mainstream movie industry once possessed and should seek to recapture.

UPDATE: Speaking of…

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UPDATED: The Political Debate as Entertainment

Friday, December 2nd, 2011 - by Jehuda

At least it’s not Kim Kardashian: Stop the blogging software!  Donald Trump will moderate the next GOP debate.

You read that right.  Is this part of an MSM conspiracy?  Not unless conservative magazine Newsmax is a front for Media Matters (and that would take some brilliance…unlike this — so scratch that theory).  It’s Newsmax itself which is sponsoring the event, which is to air on ION Television, formerly PAX TVNewsmax brass must have had a say in the matter.

Is it really such a bad idea?  The Donald is feisty and — let’s face it — entertaining.  Is that what this is all about?  “The real estate mogul carries weight with a certain element of the conservative base.  And that sway seems particularly strong with the Tea Party wing of the base,” says the NYT.  I don’t know how true that last sentence is, but what is clear is that Donald Trump is no Obama-fawning cable news talking head.  That has to be worth something.

ION‘s viewership is smaller, since it’s not available in all markets — and it’s absent from some important ones.  So this might this just be a smart business decision.  Such a high-profile moderator would deliver more viewers than a more regular newscaster type.

But Trump – unless I’m reading him wrong – also likes to be the center of attention.  And no political debate should be about the moderator.  So I hope the whole thing doesn’t backfire into a big fat mess of Trumposity.

UPDATE: Ron Paul and Jon Huntsman are not impressed.

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Redefining ‘Fascinating’ Down

Wednesday, November 30th, 2011 - by Jehuda

Barbara Walters must be fascinated by the banal and underwhelming:

When talking about the Kardashian family, a lot of adjectives come to mind, but fascinating is probably not high on the list. However, that is what Barbara Walters calls the E! stars, or as she brands them, “American Reality Royalty”. The semi-retired news interviewer features the Kardashians front-and-center on her list of the most fascinating people of 2011.  And they are not the only odd choices on the list, which will be showcased at the 19th annual Barbara Walters Presents the 10 Most Fascinating People TV special on ABC.

Odd is right: “Simon Cowell, whose return to American television with The X Factor fell way short of…expectations, and Derek Jeter, captain of the New York Yankees who were eliminated embarrassingly early this fall” are also on Walters’ list this year.

I don’t think I’ve ever watched a Barbara Walters special from beginning to end.  And I’m sure she’s had some great interview guests in the past.  But are the ranks of the fabulous and fascinating really that thin this year?  More names at the link.



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It’s A Conspiracy! (And Other Paranoid Thrills from the Movies)

Thursday, November 24th, 2011 - by Jehuda

Prompted by the 48th anniversary of the assassination of President Kennedy (which, incidentally, was carried out by an America-hating communist – and not by a Texan, Tea Party type), I thought I’d discuss some movies which I’ve enjoyed through the years that deal with secret plots and conspiracies.  There are a good bunch of them out there; and the best of them can be truly unforgettable.

I’ll start in the 60′s:  1962, the year before JFK was murdered, saw the release of the John Frankenheimer-directed film adaptation of The Manchurian Candidate.  Widely considered a classic of the political thriller genre, it features Frank Sinatra and Angela Lansbury (plus Psycho’s Janet Leigh!) in prominent roles, as cogs in a machine set in motion by Russian and Chinese spies to overthrow the U.S. government.  Acting, screenplay, and direction mesh together perfectly for truly spine-tingling results .  Skip the 2004 remake and watch the black and white original instead.  You know who’s the villain in the 2004 version?  A Halliburton-type corporation.  Yeah, in the 2004 version crony capitalism isn’t good enough.  Corporations have to carry out high-level assassinations to actually influence government.

Another paranoia great directed by John Frankenheimer is Seconds (1966), which is not just a thriller, but a morality tale of sorts.  The protagonist is an older, successful, middle class straight arrow who feels unfulfilled and frustrated with his station in life.  When he learns of a shadowy organization that can provide him with a new, exciting life as an accomplished artist with a younger body and identity, he approaches it – and is essentially given no choice but to accept its services.  But his new, glamorous, hedonistic existence is not quite the right fit.  Things quickly become more challenging as his regrets add up.  Creepy and heartbreaking at the same time, it stars Rock Hudson, whom we now know led a double life himself.  It’s another black and white title, but color would just ruin the entire atmosphere of the film.  This is a movie designed to make you uncomfortable as it entertains you.  It accomplishes that and more.

One of the go-to movies for paranoia in the 70′s has to be Three Days of the Condor (1975), starring Robert Redford and Faye Dunaway.  Redford plays a CIA analyst who — perhaps predictably — has analyzed more than he should have, though even he is not aware of what makes him so dangerous to the CIA agents who want him dead.  The jazz score by Dave Grusin alone is a delight, but the movie is just plain fun to watch.  Redford and Dunaway are great together; and you can’t help to root for them as they try to figure out who to trust, who to run away from, and ultimately where to turn for help.  Max Von Sydow plays a hitman who’s both elegant and menacing at the same time.

Moving on to the 80′s, for paranoid horror nothing beats The Thing (1982), directed by John Carpenter.  A sci-fi thriller through and through, and excellently executed — including its old school in-camera special effects (no CGI back then).  The minimalist Morricone score is a perfect fit for this story of a group of men stuck in an arctic outpost where there is really not much to do beyond looking at snow and feeling cold — until it becomes evident that some life-form which can mimic any other living creature 100% is making its way through the facility with fatal results.  Who to trust?  Who is really human and not the creature in disguise?  Kurt Russell stars.  And Wilford Brimley  has to be seen to be believed, literally.

Also in the sci-fi genre, 1991′s Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country is a great example of how science fiction can work with basically any storyline.  It’s a political thriller.  No, it’s a sci-fi adventure set in the Star Trek universe.  Wait: It’s a political thriller and a sci-fi adventure set in the Star Trek universe.  Much like the Soviet empire which collapsed two years before this movie was released, the Klingon Empire – perennial enemy of Starfleet — is no longer viable.  It’s a chance for peace, at long last.  But there are forces on both sides that cannot abide this potential ‘New Space Order’, including Captain Kirk himself.  There are patsies and there are plotters.  And the long-beloved veteran Enterprise crew is stuck in the middle.  I had only seen one Star Trek movie before I saw this one in the theater back in the day; and yet I enjoyed it tremendously.  If anything, check it out just so you can see Kim Catrall with pointy ears.  Also features Christopher Plummer…as a Klingon!

Moving into the first decade of the 21st century, I’m torn between a number of choices.  But it’d be too obvious for me to discuss Minority Report or Valkyrie (both of which coincidentally star Tom Cruise), two great titles which dwell in themes of conspiracy and paranoia.  So let me close by recommending the fifth installment of another beloved franchise: Harry Potter and The Order of the Phoenix.  One caveat: I believe it’s better if you watch all the prior movies in the Potter series before seeing this one, in order to really enjoy it.  But if you ever want to see a group of wizards organize a secret magi militia to defend their community because their government is too corrupt, co-opted, or inept to protect its citizens from an imminent existential threat, look no further.  Watch it with a liberal friend and then ask him if he was rooting for the protagonists.  Then sit back and laugh a little.

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Two Great POW Movies You Might Have Missed

Friday, November 11th, 2011 - by Jehuda

I have a very nasty head cold.  My laptop refuses to work (it’s time to dump it); and I’m blogging on an Android tablet with considerable difficulty.  But it’s Veterans Day (duly noted at my own blog, with deepest respect); and I wanted to comment for PJ Lifestyle on some favorite movies of mine that focus on servicemen.

For the life of me, only two POW movies come to mind.  I know the breadth of the veteran experience cannot possibly be reflected through POW stories alone, but such stories are rife with emotions in conflict; and that can make for some very good movies.  And assuming that you’ve already seen The Great Escape and The Bridge on the River Kwai, I thought I’d suggest a couple of titles with which you may not be as familiar – including a 1953 classic.  Strangely enough, neither movie was directed by an American, but the lead characters in both movies are American.  Both directors are legends in their own right, too.

The older movie is – well – a dramedy of sorts set in a WWII POW camp: Stalag 17, starring the inimitable William Holden with a very young Peter Graves (the original Jim Phelps from Mission: Impossible) - and even a young Donald Pleasance, (better known as Dr. Loomis on the original Halloween) William Holden went on to win an Oscar for his work on Stalag 17.  And it was well-deserved.

Stalag’s plot is very much about an escape plan and keeping that plan secret; but it does have several light moments and silly characters, plus incidental comedy resulting from the Allied prisoners plotting to fool their German captors (you’ll find more than one parallel with the 60′s TV series Hogan’s Heroes).  Director Billy Wilder, who was behind some of the most iconic American movies to come out of Hollywood despite hailing from an Austro-Hungarian town that now lies within Polish borders, co-wrote and produced.  You might have already seen several titles by Wilder.  Some Like It Hot, Sabrina, and even darker fare like Double Indemnity and Sunset Boulevard (also starring Holden) were all directed and written by Wilder.  The film is in black and white, but don’t let that deter you.  There’s not a thing about the movie that feels old.  And you’ll love the dialogue.  They don’t write them like they used to – and few people had an ear for American dialect like the immigrant Mr. Wilder.

The other POW movie I’d like to recommend is a more recent title by a director with a long career: Rescue Dawn, directed by German filmmaker Werner Herzog.  I must confess this is the only movie by Herzog I’ve ever seen, even though I’ve been reading about his production exploits for years.  But with films such as Fitzcarraldo (a true story about perhaps the most determined Irish entrepreneur in history) and the documentary Grizzly Man under his belt, I can only conclude that Herzog likes to make movies about people of great passion and commitment who are not easily deterred.  Rescue Dawn is precisely that kind of movie.  And it’s also based on a true story: the true adventures of German-American Vietnam vet and POW Dieter Dengler, who was shot down over Vietnam while flying a mission for the U.S. Navy in 1966.

Dengler is portrayed by Christian Bale with a humanity that blends the character’s vulnerability and love of freedom in a brilliant fashion.  You know that Dengler refuses to be a mere captive from the moment he gets shot down.  And you know he will do something about his capitivity, even if everyone around him dismisses his plans as impossible.  Will he succeed?  Even if he escapes, can he survive the jungle and be located by his U.S. Navy buddies?  Steve Zahn co-stars.  No Chuck Norris-led team of commandos shows up to help on this one.  These guys are on their own.

You might be wondering if you can trust a German director to tell an American POW tale, but Herzog knows the material.  He directed a documentary about Dieter Dengler about a decade before this movie was finally released in the states.

UPDATE: A couple of corrections: Donald Pleasance did not co-star in Stalag 17.  He was – however – part of the ensemble cast of The Great Escape.  Also, in my prior post on Blade Runner, I stated that the movie was based on the short story Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Phillip K. Dick.  The source material is actually a novel.  Thanks to the commenters who brought these inaccuracies to my attention.

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Ridley Scott Finally Talks New ‘Blade Runner’

Friday, November 4th, 2011 - by Jehuda

And it’s a “liable to be a sequel” according to Scott himself, who was recently interviewed by the Wall Street Journal‘s Speakeasy blog.

When I first heard about this project, back in the summer, it was unclear whether the movie would be a prequel or a sequel.  But saying I was intrigued would be falling short.  Blade Runner wasn’t much of a hit when it was released in theaters back in 1982, but I could never get my eyes off it — without fail — every single time I rented it (Yes.  On VHS).  And I rented it several times between the age of 14 and 19.  How many, I can’t recall.  Like Scott’s prior work Alien, I just can’t get it out of my mind.

I didn’t see Blade Runner on the big screen till 1990 or so (awfully scratched print).  And when the Director’s Cut was released in theaters in ’92, I actually drove 2 hours to see it (and it’s not that I’m a sci-fi geek.  I drove 3 hours to see Robert Altman’s The Player — I was living in a small Texas bordertown at the time).  In 2007, Warner Bros. celebrated Blade Runner‘s 25th Anniversary with another theatrical release (digitally remastered under Scott’s supervision as a so-called “Final Cut”).  I drove about 40 minutes to see that one on the big screen, mostly because of L.A. traffic.  That’s how much I enjoy the film.  And I know I’m not alone in this.  The truth is, it’s a strong film.  And despite it’s sci-fi/neo-Noir wrapping, I believe it has plenty to recommend it to mainstream audiences.

The visuals and sound design in Blade Runner are simply arresting.  And the narrative — based on a short story by the prolific Phillip K. Dick — ain’t bad either, focused as it is not only on a multiple manhunt (synthetic manhunt?) but also on the existential angst of the characters, grappling from their own particular points of view with the sadness of the human condition.  But not in that annoying French New Wave way.  This is an American movie.  A Hollywood movie.  It just happens to come across as artsy because it is beautiful to watch and hear.

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