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The Art of Revenge

Wednesday, April 23rd, 2014 - by Allen Mitchum

If you prick us do we not bleed? If you tickle us do we not laugh? If you poison us do we not die? And if you wrong us shall we not revenge? – William Shakespeare

Revenge is a constant, ubiquitous theme in literature and film probably only behind love and war in volume. It’s been around as long as storytelling itself, from the divine retribution of the Greek god Nemesis to Ben Hur to Hamlet to The Count of Monte Cristo to A Time to Kill. Oscar winners for best picture routinely include revenge themed films: The Godfather, Gladiator, and Braveheart, to name a few. Revenge may come in different flavors, but it has one underlying feature: the desire to inflict punishment on someone for committing a wrong. And when done well, few stories are more appealing or engaging than those involving themes of revenge.

Everyone, at some point in their life, has been wronged by someone else. Sometimes it’s a business partner, other times a lover, even a complete stranger. The degree of the transgression may vary, but we’ve all experienced the feelings of anger, sadness and even the desire for accountability that results. That universal emotion is what makes stories or revenge appealing to almost every demographic.

Commercial stories, most recognizable in films, heavily focus on violent revenge. Good examples of that are Clint Eastwood’s classic western The Outlaw Josey Wales, Taken, Desperado or pretty much any Quentin Tarantino film. Violence is not the only revenge flavor though. Non-violent vengeance is as powerful and probably even more compelling and satisfactory. This is best represented by the classic The Count of Monte Cristo, where a man betrayed by a close friend and sent to prison to die escapes and systematically ruins the lives of his enemies. Or even the Eighties comedy Trading Places. To some, there’s more satisfaction in damaging the livelihood of your enemies than causing them physical harm or death. Occasionally, these flavors are blended, which is well represented by The Crow, where perpetrators are killed in manners that reflect their personalities.

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‘Hurricane’ Carter: Fact vs. Fiction

Monday, April 21st, 2014 - by Kathy Shaidle

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Believe me: If my mother-in-law didn’t live with us, the sights and sounds of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) would never pollute my home.

But for much of her life, there were only 13 channels, so she habitually switches to the state broadcaster when she can’t find anything else to watch.

That’s how I heard, on Easter Sunday morning, via various noises making their way from our living room television into my office, that Hurricane Carter had died.

Judging solely by the anchor’s somber tone, one would be forgiven for concluding that the deceased had been some great Canadian statesman or artist, not a notorious American boxer and ex-con.

For all their purported sophistication, the Canadian media is embarrassingly parochial. One particularly annoying manifestation of this inward-looking mindset is their habit of conveying “hono(u)rary Canadian” status to any celebrity foreigner with a friendly if tenuous connection to the country.

(Note that these same liberal media types happily mock the Mormon custom of baptizing dead “gentiles” — presuming they’re even aware of it.)

And so CBCNews duly informs us:

Rubin “Hurricane” Carter, the former professional boxer who became an advocate for the wrongly convicted after spending 19 years in prison for a triple murder he didn’t commit, died Sunday in Toronto. He was 76.

Carter’s struggle for freedom and exoneration was made famous in a number of books, a Bob Dylan song and a Hollywood film.

Although born in the U.S., Carter had a special connection to Canada, where he settled following his prison release, which came about with the help of a group of Canadians.

It’s a one-sided, anti-American message the CBC has been pushing for years (using my tax dollars), even on so-called “investigative” programs like The Fifth Estate, which is Canada’s answer to 60 Minutes:

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The 10 Best Movies to Watch to Understand the Cold War

Saturday, April 19th, 2014 - by James Jay Carafano

The last bobsled had barely finished its run when Vladimir Putin pounced in Ukraine, snatching Crimea and massing troops for his next move.  The Russian “reset” was dead, as even its author, former U.S. Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul, admitted.

Relations with Moscow look to get worse. That doesn’t necessarily mean that another Cold War will break out. But what if it does? Many Americans aren’t old enough to remember when the Iron Curtain was Moscow’s drapery of choice. It’s time for a refresher course.

Superpower rivalry started almost as soon as the “good” war, World War II, ended. Most Americans were indifferent, until the outbreak of the Korean War in 1950. That really brought the Cold War home to Main Street.

Americans were worried that the invasion of South Korea was just the first skirmish in another global conflict. Having just saved the world a few years earlier, they weren’t excited about having to do it again, particularly since this time both sides had the atomic bomb.

The U.S. also had Hollywood, and Tinsel Town cranked up the cameras and marched off to the Cold War. Here are the 10 movies that give a very good feel for what that war was all about.

10. Invasion U.S.A.

This 1952 Cold War classic (not to be confused with the 1985 Chuck Norris epic in which he karate chops his way through transnational terrorists threatening the homeland) was one of the first films from a major studio to exploit emergent war hysteria. Columnist Hedda Hopper declared, “It will scare the pants off you.” At the time, she was probably right. In retrospect, the film, which cuts-and-pastes a lot of stock military footage, is pretty laughable. A great drinking game would be just pointing out all the scenes that don’t make sense, like when “enemy” paratroopers descend on Washington, D.C., jumping out of what are obviously U.S. military planes. Still, the film made its point. Americans couldn’t be indifferent to the menace from Moscow.

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Is Heaven Is for Real… Real?

Wednesday, April 16th, 2014 - by Paula Bolyard

The much-anticipated movie ‘Heaven is for Real’ is set to open in movie theaters on Wednesday. The book tells the story of Colton Burpo, a little boy who claimed he visited heaven during a near-death experience.

“Heaven tourism” books have proliferated Christian best-seller lists in recent years, but are the accounts authentic, fictional, based on hallucinations, or something else? Moreover, do they comport with the Bible’s descriptions of heaven and the afterlife?

Pastor and author David Platt says no.

He describes ’Heaven is for Real’ as “A fanciful account of a four-year-old boy who talks about how he went to heaven and got a halo and wings, but he didn’t like them because they were too small. He claims that he sat on Jesus’ lap while angels sang to him,” Platt said. “He even met the Holy Spirit, whom he describes as ‘kind of blue.’

Platt said that “There is money to be made in peddling fiction about the afterlife as non-fiction in the Christian publishing world today” and “The whole premise behind every single one of these books is contrary to everything God’s word says about heaven,” including their “relentless self-focus.”

According to Platt, “Scripture definitely says that people do not go to heaven and come back. ‘Who has ascended to heaven and come down?’ (Proverbs 30:4). Answer: ‘No one has ascended into heaven except he who has descended from heaven — the Son of Man’” (John 3:13).

“Four biblical authors had visions about heaven and wrote about what they saw: Isaiah, Ezekiel, Paul and John,” Platt said. “All of them were prophetic visions, not near-death experiences. Not one person raised from dead in the Old Testament or the New Testament ever wrote down what he or she experienced in heaven, including Lazarus, who had a lot of time in a grave —  four days.”

But all of the biblical authors agree perfectly: “Their visions are all fixated on the glory of God which defines heaven and illuminates everything there. They are overwhelmed, chagrined, petrified, and put to silence by the sheer majesty of God’s holiness.” Platt said that notably missing from all the biblical accounts are “the frivolous features and juvenile attractions that seem to dominate every account of heaven currently on the bestseller list.”

He said we need to “minimize the thoughts of man and magnify, trust — let’s bank our lives and our understanding of the future on — the truth of God.” He said that rather than relying on traditions, we should depend on the word of God. “There’s too much at stake in our lives and others’ lives for that.”

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The 5 Most Overrated Sports Movies

Saturday, April 12th, 2014 - by Kyle Smith

5. Draft Day (2014)

It’s currently at 57 percent approval on Rotten Tomatoes, so it’s not highly rated. But it is highly amazing that anyone at all liked this football-illiterate soap about a Cleveland Browns general manager (a sullen-looking Kevin Costner) simultaneously having girlfriend problems (with Jennifer Garner, who plays his team’s salary-cap guru), dead-dad problems and personnel problems on the biggest day of year for general managers.

Sonny Weaver Jr. (Costner) trades three first-round draft picks at the annual NFL draft of top college prospects in order to move up six spots and select the hottest college quarterback in years. But then he worries he’s made the wrong decision because of a rumor that none of the jock’s teammates attended his twenty-first birthday party. Also he gets jittery because of a game in which the QB got sacked four times, though even a non-expert looking at the tape can see how the sacks were entirely the fault of poor blocking by the offensive line, not the quarterback.

In short, no one who knows anything about football can take this film seriously, and the romance between Costner’s character and Garner, is flat and tepid. Their arc? They’re having difficulties because he’s not very nice to her. But then he decides to be nice. The end.

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Jodorowsky’s Dune and the Joy of Creation

Thursday, April 10th, 2014 - by Clay Waters

Jodorowsky’s Dune is a paean to the joy of creation, disguised as a documentary of surrealist Chilean filmmaker Alejandro Jodorowsky’s doomed 1975 attempt to bring his outlandish vision of Frank Herbert’s classic science fiction novel to the screen. It could inspire you to dust off that story idea or pick up your drawing pencil again, because director Jodorowsky’s artistic enthusiasm is contagious.

Though he’s 84, the decades slough away when he’s discussing the work, and Jodorowsky is remarkably unembittered by the project’s ultimate failure; his eyes light up discussing the potentialities of the project. You get a creative contact high off his giddiness. And conservatives will appreciate his anecdote about dodging the Mexican film unions when he tried to make his first movie without their approval.

Describing his reinterpretation of the story (amusingly, no one involved had actually read the book beforehand), Jodorowsky…well, let him describe it: “I was raping Frank Herbert, but with love, with love.” Simply animated storyboards give tantalizing hints of what his Dune would have looked like, not to be confused with David Lynch’s critically-reviled 1984 movie, which Jodorowsky cheerfully admits to hating. But would Jodorowsky’s Dune been the life-changing spiritual experience he promised?

First-time director Frank Pavich doesn’t challenge Jodorowsky’s version of events, or his insistence that his Dune would have been world-changing. In Jodorowsky’s telling, the project comes together by happy accident and chance meetings. For a supposedly head-in-the-clouds, midnight-movie surrealist nut, best known for the midnight movie staple El Topo, he made some surprisingly shrewd choices for his team (“spiritual warriors,” he calls them). His outlandish casting ideas actually sound pitch-perfect: Mick Jagger, Orson Welles, David Carradine. And who else to play the Emperor of the Universe but Salvador Dali, whose insufferable pretensions and demands (a burning giraffe?) make Jodorowsky, no slouch in the ego department, look the modest craftsman in comparison.

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Happy #RexManningDay, Empire Records Shoppers

Tuesday, April 8th, 2014 - by Susan L.M. Goldberg

For those of you unfortunate enough to not have grown up Gen-X, today is #RexManningDay, the day in the fictional world of the film Empire Records during which pretty boy “pop star Rex Manning was scheduled to do a CD signing at Empire Records, one of the last vestiges of what has come to be known as “independent rock”.

Released in 1995, Empire Records celebrates the small independent music store, planting the seed for what would eventually become Record Store Day. A Breakfast Club-esque group of staffers celebrates alt rock and all things un-pop while ex-Hippie store manager Joe Reaves (Anthony LaPaglia) struggles to keep his uptight yuppie brother from selling out to a chain music store. All sorts of drama ensues as Liv Tyler and Renee Zellweger fight over guys, Robin Tunney dabbles with suicide, and Ethan Embry gets accidentally high to Gwar. A lot of great music is played, culminating in a rooftop concert that raises enough funds to keep the store open, proving there is a good side to community organizing after all.

Of course, there’s an official website for Rex Manning Day, but if you’d like to travel even further down memory lane, check out 13 Favorite Empire Records Memories, get 9 Fashion Lessons from the movie,  or read 5 Fun Facts about the film. Better yet, head on over to your local record store and celebrate the things that make America great: small business, independent music, and a healthy dose of snark.

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What Is Your Damage, Heathers?

Monday, April 7th, 2014 - by Kathy Shaidle

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“**** me gently with a chainsaw!”

I know I’m not the only one who reacted to the announcement of a musical version of Heathers — the bruise-black 1988 satire of teen angst — by uttering that line from the movie, one of the many memorable catchphrases in a film renowned for, among other things, its daring and original writing.

Heathers‘ many imitators, from the laudable Mean Girls to the forgettable Jawbreakers, can’t possibly recapture the sheer, shocking, radical newness of the original.

Meanwhile, within the sub-genre I’ll call the “Blow Up Your School” movie — which dates back to Vigo’s Zero de Conduit (1933) — Heathers ranks somewhere below that near-masterpiece …if (1968) but above its direct predecessor, Massacre at Central High (1976), which failed to live up to its terrific premise, and promise.

That Heathers musical is now playing off-Broadway, timed to coincide with the movie’s 25th anniversary.

The review I read of it left me doubly confused.

Not only did the critic not seem to (want to) understand the point of Heathers, but neither, apparently, did the team who staged the darn musical.

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The Director of The Goonies Never Says Die!

Sunday, April 6th, 2014 - by Chris Queen

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Here’s some news that will either make Gen Xers excited or appalled: apparently director Richard Donner is ready to make a sequel to the classic ’80s film The Goonies. TMZ has the scoop:

Corey Feldman just got awesome news – Richard Donner told us he’s making a sequel to “The Goonies” … and wants to bring back the entire cast.

Donner was signing autographs in Bev Hills when he dropped the bombshell  … genuinely surprising our photog.

What Donner didn’t say … whether he’ll recast the main characters and bring in Corey, Josh Brolin, Sean Astin and Data for cameos, or if these guys will actually play the same roles 28 years later.  A gnarly but interesting thought.

Goonies never say die!

But hold on before you go lining up to be the first to buy tickets. Donner has announced a Goonies sequel a number of times in the last decade. He said in 2010 that a sequel was a “definite thing,” while in 2007 and 2008 he mentioned a musical adaptation as an idea he was “fairly passionate” and “confident” about. Will this time be the charm for a sequel to The Goonies? We’ll just have to wait and see.

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5 Actors With Careers That Are Collapsing

Saturday, April 5th, 2014 - by John Boot

Editor’s Note: This article was first published in July of 2013 as “5 Movie Stars Whose Careers Are in Trouble.” It is being reprinted as part of a new weekend series at PJ Lifestyle collecting and organizing the top 50 best lists. Where will this great piece end up on the list? Reader feedback will be factored in when the PJ Lifestyle Top 50 List Collection is completed in a few months… Click here to see the top 40 so far and to advocate for your favorites in the comments.

Even in Hollywood, you have to deliver results if you want to remain employed. Every year stars fall off the A-list — ask circa 2009 Nicolas Cage about that — and find themselves in a shame spiral of B-movies, supporting roles, and eventually television (sorry, Robin Williams, who will be appearing in the CBS sitcom The Crazy Ones, and as the dad, no less). Who is about to fall off the top of the perch?

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1. Tom Cruise

The success of Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol less than two years ago gave his stock a bump, but apparently it was the stunts that were the star of that movie. In the three consecutive flops he’s made since — Rock of Ages, Jack Reacher and the aptly-named Oblivion – audiences didn’t even show up on opening weekend out of curiosity. Before Protocol, don’t forget, no one showed up for Knight and Day, Valkyrie or Lions for Lambs, either. Cruise is 51 years old, his boyish charm is finally gone, and he isn’t an action hero anymore. Audiences see him as their weird dad. He should give up on trying to rule the multiplex and start nosing around for more interesting roles like the one he had in Magnolia. Not that he’s fond of Paul Thomas Anderson anymore after Anderson made fun of scientology in The Master.

Next up: Fighting aliens next summer in All You Need Is Kill. Sure.

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4 Reasons Why You Should See Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Friday, April 4th, 2014 - by John Boot

Marvel’s Captain America was one of the best superhero movies of the last decade, featuring an engaging Chris Evans as the 98-pound weakling who is transformed into a WW II fighting machine and, at the end, wakes up from a long nap to discover himself in contemporary America. The second go-round, Captain America: The Winter Soldier is nearly as much fun as the original, with a delightfully tangled plot, plenty of well-staged action scenes and a superb cast given reams of smart dialogue. Here are four reasons to salute Cap again.

1. The complexity.

Comic-book movies sometimes leave the impression that the writers are in a huge hurry to get from one action scene to the next, without worrying too much about what comes in between. The Winter Soldier, though, has enough plot for three movies, with a complicated back story gradually emerging about a nefarious historical plot reminiscent of that of the League of Shadows in the Dark Knight movies.

A legendary figure called “the Winter Soldier” is blamed for a rash of mysterious assassinations occurring over a long period of time, and though Cap derides the tale as a ghost story, he learns that the truth has much to do with his own personal history, dating back decades. Meanwhile, Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) has a much bigger part to play than in any previous film, as does Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), yet there’s also room to launch a new hero, Falcon (Anthony Mackie, who has an easygoing, likeable-yet-confident vibe that recalls the young Will Smith).

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Frozen Continues To Break Records Worldwide

Thursday, April 3rd, 2014 - by Chris Queen

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Disney’s animated hit Frozen has turned into quite the phenomenon. The film, starring the voice talents of Idina Menzel and Kristen Bell, recently passed the billion dollar mark in worldwide box office. It has become the highest grossing animated movie of all time and entered the top ten among films overall.

The Walt Disney Studios’ seventh billion-dollar release, “Frozen” has earned an estimated $398.4 million at the domestic box office and $674 million internationally.

“Frozen” is the first billion-dollar film for Walt Disney Animation Studios and its first film to receive the Academy Award® for Best Animated Feature. “Frozen” opened wide domestically on November 27, 2013, posting the #1 all-time Thanksgiving debut ($93.6M five-day, $67.4M three-day) and Walt Disney Animation Studios’ biggest opening ever. It remained in the top 10 films at the domestic box office for 16 consecutive weeks, the longest run by any film since 2002.

Other records that Frozen has claimed include:

  • The biggest Thanksgiving debut weekend.
  • The biggest debut weekend for a Disney film.
  • The highest grossing Disney or Pixar film in 27 countries, including Russia, China, and Brazil.
  • The highest grossing foreign film in South Korea.
  • The highest grossing animated film in Venezuela and Denmark.
  • The fastest selling home video in digital format.

In its first day, Frozen sold 3.2 million DVDs and Blu-Rays. Additionally, the soundtrack has topped the Billboard 200 charts for seven nonconsecutive weeks, selling 1.6 million copies along with 5 million individual track downloads. The soundtrack has also approaching 110 million streams worldwide on Spotify. The movie’s hit song “Let It Go” won an Oscar for writers Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez. Menzel’s version of the song has reached #5 on Billboard‘s Hot 100 as of last week, selling 2.6 million copies and besting by far the “pop” version by Demi Lovato, which only reached #38. The video of the song’s sequence from the film has garnered over 166 million views on YouTube.

What other records are left to break? With a track record like this in just a few months, we can safely bet that Frozen will join the pantheon of Disney classics.

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The Whole Idea of Noah is Wrong

Wednesday, April 2nd, 2014 - by Andrew Klavan
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I’ve been on the road and haven’t had a chance to see Noah, the 130-million dollar Darren Aronofsky biblical blockbuster that opened well, but not brilliantly, at the box office last weekend. But while I can have nothing to say about the content of the movie, I’ve been interested to see three of my friends from three different faiths wrestle with the film — a film whose atheist director declared it would be “the least biblical film ever made.”

Ben Shapiro is a devout Jew, and I’ve heard him speak with real and revealing insight into Torah — something that’s not all that common. In a genuinely sharp essay at Truth Revolt, he took the film apart as a “perversely pagan mess” that replaced God with Gaia to deliver a muddled environmentalist message. You can read the whole excellent thing here, but one point struck me particularly:

It is one thing for a movie adaptation to stray from the source material. Adding characters or scenes, crafting details that vary from the strict text – all of it is in bounds when it comes to adaptations. Critics of Noah who have focused on the extra-Biblical magic of Methuselah or the lack of textual support for instantaneously-growing forests are off-base.

The far deeper problem is when an adaptation perverts the message of the source material. If the movie version of To Kill A Mockingbird had turned Tom Robinson into a villain and Mr. Ewell into a hero, that would rightly have been seen as an undermining of the original work. The same is true of the Biblical story of Noah and the movie version of that same story. It isn’t merely that Aronofsky gets the story wrong. That would be forgiveable. It’s that Aronofsky deliberately destroys the foundational principles undergirding the Bible, and uses Biblically-inspired story to do it.

The mighty John Nolte of Breitbart’s Big Hollywood, a Catholic, was much kinder to the movie itself — and in fact, feared that the film’s high quality as an entertainment made it an excellent vehicle for selling a wholly dishonest view of the Bible story:

My concern is that with “Noah,” Hollywood has cracked the code on how to undermine the Judeo/Christian faith while making a profit with the help of some duped Christian “thought leaders”: Use the awesome propaganda power of the motion picture to lead people away from God by telling them the Judeo-Christian faith is something it is not.

In the case of “Noah,” [because of strong box office] Satan is a happy camper… : Over the last ten days, throughout the world, millions have been told the dark lie that Christianity, or any religion based on the Old Testament, has a foundation seeped in environmental extremism and has nothing to do with leading a moral and charitable life as defined by the Ten Commandments and Christ’s 11th Commandment.

Finally, up-and-coming culture critic R.J. Moeller, an evangelical, took a man-of-reason approach over at Acculturated. Writing an open letter to Aronofsky, he expressed admiration for the filmmaker’s work both here and elsewhere.

What I’d like to say to you in closing is this: thank you for making this movie. Perhaps I’m being naïve, but I was encouraged to see your interpretation of the story of Noah and the existential themes and questions that emanate from it. Even if we disagree on the lessons we’re supposed to learn from Noah’s life and God’s actions, I appreciate your willingness to enter the “How can a good God allow bad things to happen?” debate.

Your film is going to facilitate important conversations among friends, family members and co-workers around the nation. I hope Hollywood takes note of the box office enthusiasm surrounding this movie. I also hope that those Christians who did not care for Noah are incentivized to be a part of the long-term solution (as far as the production of God-honoring, high-quality projects are concerned).

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Jar Jar Binks Confirmed for Episode VII

Tuesday, April 1st, 2014 - by Walter Hudson
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Return of the Chaos

Director J.J. Abrams promised a new hope for the Star Wars franchise when tapped to continue the saga in next year’s Episode VII. That hope may have just faded like the cryptic spirit of Obi-Wan Kenobi.

Producers today announced that wayward Gungan klutz Jar Jar Binks will return to the series, playing “a significant role” in the 2015 release. This from the official Star Wars website:

Disney and Lucasfilm are excited to announce that Star Wars: Episode VII, directed by J.J. Abrams, will welcome the return of children’s favorite Jar Jar Binks…

“We think there’s more story to tell,” said Abrams. “His arc was never fully resolved in [Revenge of the Sith]. Every other major character either died, went into exile, or otherwise positioned for their role in the original trilogy.”

Since Jar Jar did not appear in George Lucas’ original films, the creative team behind Episode VII felt that an opportunity presented to reprise the character in a new setting.

“We understand that for many older fans who experienced the prequels in adulthood, Jar Jar wasn’t the most popular character,” confessed executive producer Kathleen Kennedy. “But kids liked him. They really did. And these films have always been directed primarily at a younger audience.”

Screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan, who returns to the series with a pedigree penning The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, indicated that Jar Jar won’t be precisely the same Gungan we remember. “It’s been 50 years since last we saw him. Even a creature like Jar Jar matures in that amount of time. He has the same heart, but a little more grace and wisdom.”

So what do you think? Has the new trilogy just jumped the sarlacc?

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Noah: A Good Jewish Boy’s Cinematic Drash

Monday, March 31st, 2014 - by Susan L.M. Goldberg

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Darren Aronofsky’s take on the classic tale of Noah is the Jewish guy’s Bible movie. The narrative, which does remain true to the textual account of Genesis, is crafted in the style akin to a scholarly drash. In another lifetime you might imagine this story to have been generated by a minyan of Talmud scholars poring over the story in their classes. Perhaps that is why the Christian audience has reacted so poorly to the film; it is not, in the words of Walter Hudson, told “from a Christian theological standpoint.” The audience is treated to a wrestling, not recounting, of the text for two very good reasons: A four-chapter story would make for a very short film and Aronofsky, for however religious he may or may not be at the moment, is most definitely 100% a Jew.

Aronofsky’s Noah remains, first and foremost, a story of redemption as it was interpreted thousands of years ago when paired with Haftarah portions in Isaiah (42-43 and 54-55) for the weekly Torah reading. Like the patriarch Jacob, Noah wrestles with God: the battle is a question of original sin and free will. Redemption, Aronofsky illustrates, is a choice entered into by covenant with God. It is not simply a no-strings-attached gift granted to perfectly bad people by a perfectly good looking guy who tests well with focus groups.

Contrary to most Bible epics, a faceless, voiceless God communicates His redemptive plan to Noah through the Biblically prophetic device of a metaphoric dream. “You must trust that He speaks to you in a way you understand,” Noah’s grandfather Methuselah advises. Reminiscent of the Tanakh prophecy “your old men will see visions, your young men will dream dreams,” Aronofsky engages Noah with his aged, wise grandfather, who advises him of Enoch’s prophecy that God would, one day, annihilate the world by fire.

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A Jew’s Take on Jesus Movies

Sunday, March 30th, 2014 - by Susan L.M. Goldberg

BiblememeAcculturated‘s R.J. Moeller has penned an excellent commentary on faith-based films in light of the Christian controversy surrounding Noah:

…no one who doesn’t already believe in God will go see Son of God. And many who do believe in God and who do go see it are, like me, plopping down $14 or $15 purely from a sense of solidarity with the well-intentioned creators of such projects. There are other, better “Jesus movies.” A dramatic reading of some of the more risqué and exciting parts of the Bible by the likes of Morgan Freeman would interest me more than sitting through Son of God again.

And while neither option likely interests your secular, non-religious co-worker, neighbor, or relative, all of them will go see something like Darren Aronofsky’s Noah. This is why I, as a Christian, am infinitely more excited about Noah than any other “faith-based” film in a long time – regardless of the theology or worldview found in it. I can actually talk to my non-Christian friends about it because they will actually pay U.S. currency (or BitCoin) to go see it.

…what I am suggesting is that while we work to inspire and equip new generations of artists who share our values to boldly venture into the pop-culture fray, we must not miss opportunities to introduce our worldview into the cultural conversation. … Art has the power to transcend and speak to the soul. But it must be able to meet people on their level before pointing them upward.

Upon first read I knew Moeller went out on a limb with his commentary, precisely because what he says is the truth. And truth doesn’t always gel with religious dogma; I’m a Jew, I should know. One advantage I do have over my Christian brothers when it comes to faith is that my Jewish culture encourages — and is built on — wrestling with God’s word. These matches stray far from the polite scenarios common to gentile Christian faith. However, they have resulted in a similarity between us, in that they have developed and sustained a religious culture that reveres commentary as much as the actual Word of God.

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The 4 Big Lies That Ruined The X-Men Movie Franchise

Saturday, March 29th, 2014 - by John Boot

Editor’s Note: This article was first published in in July of 2013 as “How 4 Loony Leftist Lies Ruined the X-Men Movies.” It is being reprinted as part of a new weekend series at PJ Lifestyle collecting and organizing the top 50 best lists. Where will this great piece end up on the list? Reader feedback will be factored in when the PJ Lifestyle Top 50 List Collection is completed in a few months… Click here to see the top 25 so far and to advocate for your favorites in the comments.

Six movies into the X-Men series, it’s clear that this is the superhero franchise with the most overt and unapologetic leftist sympathies. As the series continues with The Wolverine, let’s review some of the most outrageously politicized elements of the saga. Here are the top four loony leftist lies that sneaked into the X-Men movies.

1. Animal rights trump human rights.

The Wolverine begins with the title figure (Hugh Jackman) living like a caveman in the lonely Yukon, where he can’t stop himself from fighting for justice and righting wrongs. He comes across a grizzly bear that’s been fatally wounded with what turns out to be a poison arrow. This kind of hunting may be poor sportsmanship and it may be illegal, but what Wolverine does is far worse: He finds the hunter in a bar, slaps him around and rams one of the man’s own poison arrows into the man’s hand, leaving him to die. Rough justice? No, that’s just murder. Sorry, X-Men, but hunters are not evil and a bear’s life and a man’s are not equivalents.

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No Man, No Cry

Friday, March 28th, 2014 - by Hannah Sternberg

In reading this Atlantic article on The Good Wife‘s big twist, this jumped out at me:

And television characters, especially women, often make decisions that keep them in the orbit of their love interests, even when it doesn’t make sense to what we know about them. For example, would a savvy political fixer like Olivia Pope on Scandal really risk her career to keep working on her lover Fitz’s presidential campaign? In the Veronica Mars movie, would Veronica—who spent three seasons of her show plotting how to escape her corrupt hometown of Neptune—really give up a stable life in New York City to return home and rekindle a romance with Logan? While “Olitz” and “LoVe” fans get to enjoy seeing their favorite couples together, it comes at the cost of diminishing Olivia and Veronica as believable characters.

I understand the bigger point that, in the context of these characters’ established desires and priorities, it’s jarring for them to change course for romance. Except that I’ve seen, first hand, the way that love can inspire people (male and female!) to dramatically revise their life plans. In that sense, the ability to adapt to a new emotional landscape (or simply shift priorities over time) is a realistic trait for a character.

While I agree with the article’s premise that TV needs more female characters whose lives don’t revolve solely around romance, I don’t think the answer is to gradually eliminate romance (or romantically-motivated life decisions) from female characters’ lives. Every time I see a debate about this, I heave a sigh and think wistfully of Joss Whedon’s two greatest creations, Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Firefly. Even their secondary female characters are complex and interesting women, while other shows often reduce secondary female characters to nothing but their romantic story lines (or role as best friend).

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7 Ways Noah Turns the Bible Upside Down

Friday, March 28th, 2014 - by Walter Hudson

I had no intention of seeing Darren Aronofsky’s Noah, a film releasing wider this weekend “inspired by the [biblical] story of Noah.” Though initial glimpses excited me, revelations regarding Aronofsky’s stark deviations from the biblical narrative blunted my interest. Word on the street was that Aronofsky sought to recast Noah in an environmentalist mold and completely abandon key biblical themes.

Thursday night, I found myself out and about with a couple of hours to kill and decided to catch an early screening. As it turns out, everything you’ve heard about the heresy in Noah proves true. Here are 7 ways Aronofsky’s Noah upends the Bible (major spoilers):

7. Return of the Ents

Yeah, you read that right. Ents, the giant walking trees from The Lord of the Rings. What, you don’t remember those in the Bible?

Okay, these aren’t ents precisely. They are “Watchers,” fallen angels who rebelled against “the creator” (God makes no appearance in the film) by descending to Earth to help mankind. They lumber about in clumsy stone bodies as punishment for their disobedience.

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Noah’s 5 Most Laugh-Out-Loud Qualities

Friday, March 28th, 2014 - by John Boot

In the beginning, there was a void. Not a single major full-length Hollywood film had ever told the story of Noah and the Ark. Into the void stepped a man with an ego as big as the Cosmos: Darren Aronofsky, the auteur behind films like Requiem for a Dream and Black Swan. What Aronofsky did with Noah, though, might be called an epic fail.

Here are the five most laughable aspects of the strange $150 million would-be blockbuster.

1. The surprisingly helpful giant rock monsters.

Yes, you read that right. The key to Noah getting the Ark built is the aid of servant angels called “Watchers.” These celestial beings have been punished by God by being turned into 40-foot monsters made of boulders — fantastical creatures seemingly straight out of The Lord of the Rings — but redeem themselves by helping Noah build the Ark. (You can kill them, by the way, and when they die they ascend gratefully to heaven in a beam of light.) No one in the movie, in which Russell Crowe plays Noah, Jennifer Connelly plays his wife and Emma Watson plays a stray girl named Ila who gets adopted into Noah’s family, seems to think it the least bit unusual that these magical beings spring up to fulfill a prophecy, given to Noah in a dream, of the world destroyed by water to wipe it clean of human wickedness.

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5 Destructive Ideas Matt Damon Devotes His Movies To Promoting

Sunday, March 23rd, 2014 - by John Boot

Editor’s Note: This article was first published in August of 2013 as “The 5 Most Destructive Political Ideas in Matt Damon’s Movies.”  It is being reprinted as part of a new weekend series at PJ Lifestyle collecting and organizing the top 50 best lists. Where will this great piece end up on the list? Reader feedback will be factored in when the PJ Lifestyle Top 50 List Collection is completed in a few months… Click here to see the top 25 so far and to advocate for your favorites in the comments.

This week Matt Damon hits theaters with the thinly veiled, pro-amnesty sci-fi parable Elysium. It’s a movie in which struggling Latinos stranded on a wrecked planet Earth 150 years from now plot ways to steal citizenship on a utopian space station called Elysium where the richest and whitest people have fled. This is all nothing new for Damon, who has pushed a liberal political agenda many times before. Here are the five worst political ideas that have been central to his films

5) The CIA is evil.

The 2006 film The Good Shepherd is loosely based on the early days of the OSS and the CIA, with Robert De Niro directing and playing a figure modeled on “Wild Bill” Donovan (the founder of the OSS, which became the CIA after World War II) and Damon starring as James Jesus Angleton, the CIA executive who befriended British turncoat Kim Philby.

The movie is a somber, depressing affair of a descent into darkness that amounts to a sort of Greatest Hits of anti-CIA liberals obsessed with such disappointments as the agency’s experiments with LSD and the failure of the Bay of Pigs invasion. Though few outside the liberal establishment can see the wisdom in letting the KGB go unanswered during the Cold War, the film portrays the CIA as fatally morally compromised — a kind of cancer on the whole idea of America.

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6 Kids Films Filled With Green Propaganda

Saturday, March 22nd, 2014 - by John Boot

Editor’s Note: This article was first published in September of 2013 as “6 Animated Kids Movies with Annoyingly Intrusive Political Messages.” It is being reprinted as part of a new weekend series at PJ Lifestyle collecting and organizing the top 50 best lists. Where will this great piece end up on the list? Reader feedback will be factored in when the PJ Lifestyle Top 50 List Collection is completed in a few months… Click here to see the top 25 so far and to advocate for your favorites in the comments.

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The animated children’s movie Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2 lands in theaters this week [it's now available on Blu Ray] with a strange anti-food processing message: The bad guy wants to take adorable anthropomorphic animal-foods and feed them into his giant food processor to make energy bars.

Surprisingly, this movie is actually less obnoxiously political than lots of other offerings being sold to your kids. Here are five especially egregious examples of kids’ movies with intrusive political messages.

1. Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs (2009).

The original film took a fun kids’ book and loaded it up with political freight: it’s set in a struggling island town that hits a windfall when a young inventor named Flint Lockwood invents a machine that can turn water into food.

Before you know it, it’s raining meat and produce. Sounds like a resource-management problem: If it rained gold, would we figure out a way to profit from it or scream that doomsday has arrived?

The movie turns into a lecture on materialism, inviting us to see the connection between consumer habits and extreme weather/global warming. See, if we don’t get out of our big comfy SUVs and stop craving so much food, the weather-gods will plague us forever. Hollywood’s neo-Puritanism is alive and well. 

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5 Movies Shamelessly Ripped Off by Divergent

Friday, March 21st, 2014 - by John Boot

This week’s derivative new dial-a-blockbuster is Divergent, which stars Shailene Woodley (George Clooney’s teen daughter in The Descendants) as a teen girl living in post-apocalyptic Chicago, where the remains of society have amicably organized into five factions in order to survive against an unseen enemy outside the walls of the city. Watching the movie, which is based on a novel that sold when its author Veronica Roth was 21, is like browsing the shelves at the video store, because almost everything in it seems like something you’ve seen done better elsewhere. Here’s a partial list of films that Divergent ripped off/was influenced by:

1. The Breakfast Club and teen movies in general.

Divergent (as you’d expect of such as young author) is firmly anchored in a high-school conception of society, which is divided into brains (called “Erudites”), student-government nerds (“Abnegation”), jocks (“Dauntless”), special-needs kids who play in the dirt (“Amity”) and chronic truth-tellers (“Candor”). In Roth’s conception, what matters most is finding a clique to belong to because the untouchables of her society are the lost souls wandering the perimeter who have no “faction” at all.

Question: Who thinks about cliques as anything but a dumb high-school thing, much less an organizing principle for humanity?

Divergent even gives each clique its own limited color palette, with the brainiacs using cool blues, the jockish Dauntless in tight, athletic black gear and the rustic, gentle Amity in autumnal hues suggesting harvest time.

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We’re No Better Than The Walking Dead In Dealing with the Mentally Ill

Thursday, March 20th, 2014 - by Bonnie Ramthun

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Love it or hate it, The AMC channel hit series The Walking Dead is a mirror of our culture. The show is nominally an apocalyptic zombie series but it is really about how people deal with a total societal collapse.

The answer is: Badly. Usually very badly.

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Episode #14 of season 4, “The Grove,” is a thoughtful and tragic examination of what a society should or can do with a psychopath. (Spoilers!) Set in the woodlands of the American south after a zombie apocalypse, in this episode a group of five refugees find a cabin to stop and rest for a few days. There, disturbed young Lizzie goes homicidal. She stabs another little girl to death. Her mother-figure, Carol, then asks her to “look at the flowers” while she prepares to execute her, the only solution possible in their terrible new world.

The clues were all there, laid out carefully in past episodes. The girl had an obsession with capturing and cutting up live rats. She had sudden outbreaks of violent rage and anger. She was fascinated with zombies and couldn’t distinguish between the living and the dead.

The clues are all here in the real world as well, and we are no better at preventing the slaughter when a mentally disturbed person decides to kill. The Sandy Hook killer, the Aurora theater killer, the murderer at Virginia Tech, the killers at Columbine High School, all exhibited distinct indicators of violence and psychosis. All of these killers were under psychiatric care and on medically prescribed drugs. Each of them showed signs like little Lizzie on The Walking Dead, and her path ended the same as theirs, in blood.

In “The Grove,” just as in America today, we wait until a disturbed person becomes a killer and only then do we do something about them. Only then do they receive the confines of a cell or a grave. We can do better than this. Unlike Carol on The Walking Dead, we have options.

In the heartbreaking and frightening essay “I am Adam Lanza’s Mother,” the mother of a mentally disturbed boy explains how she cannot find care for him. “With state-run treatment centers and hospitals shuttered, prison is now the last resort for the mentally ill.” This mother doesn’t want to put her innocent (but violent and disturbed) twelve-year-old boy in prison. Would you like to live in a world where people are jailed for crimes they might commit? Instead, we need to re-build our mental health care system in this country and that includes treatment centers and hospitals. If we don’t, we will continue to endure the slaughter of innocents at the hands of the mentally ill.

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