Here’s a recent interview I did with the excellent Kent Covington for his show The World and Everything In It, updating my progress writing the script for the movie about abortionist serial killer (but I repeat myself) Kermit Gosnell:
Since this interview, I’ve actually completed the first draft. (As I point out in the interview, “first draft” is a term of art, meaning the first draft I turn in to the producers, usually about my fifth or sixth draft. But in any case, it’s done.)
This holiday season, I know you’ve been wondering: what can I give the Southern culture lover on my gift list? Well, worry no more, because I, your intrepid Southern culture expert, have decided to swoop in like a Christmas miracle and save the day!
Here’s a list of 34 awesome gift choices that cover just about every area of the culture below the Mason-Dixon line. The best part: nearly everything on this list is eligible for Amazon Prime, for all you procrastinators. Enjoy!
5. Explore The Literary South
One of the greatest traditions in the South is storytelling, and a classic Southern story makes a wonderful gift for the bookworm on your list. Here are just a few recommendations.
William Faulkner is one of the best known and most respected authors in the South or anywhere. I’ve always had a difficult time keeping my concentration reading his novels, but I love his short stories. I highly recommend The Collected Stories of William Faulkner (also available for Kindle) as a sort of greatest hits collection and The Uncollected Stories of William Faulkner for deeper cuts (get it here for Kindle).
Georgia’s own Flannery O’Connor also made a name for herself in literary circles, and her short stories are some of the best in American literature as a whole. Check out The Complete Stories (also on Kindle) to experience her true genius in all its glory, but I also recommend the slim volume A Prayer Journal (also on Kindle) for some of the most beautiful, lyrical Christian prayers I’ve ever read.
Of course, there are plenty of great Southern novels to choose from, but here are some of my favorites. Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God delves into the lives of black people in rural Florida with a lyrical flair. In Ellen Foster, by Kaye Gibbons, a precocious orphan tells her own story. James Dickey’s Deliverance is the same harrowing story as the movie, but with greater depth. And Family Linen by Lee Smith is my all-time favorite novel — a twisty, darkly comic family tale.
You can’t go wrong with any of these choices for literature lovers.
Editor’s Note: This is an expansion of Kyle Smith’s list of the 10 best films of the 1990s published here in June. I’ve asked Kyle to expand his series as PJ Lifestyle begins offering more lists, articles, essays, and blog posts exploring culture, art, technology, and history by decade. Recently he expanded his ’80s list to a top 20 here, his ’70s list here, his ’60s list here, his ’50s list here, and his ’40s list here. Do you disagree with Kyle’s choices? Do you have your own ideas for lists of movies or other cultural subjects? Which years and what subjects would you most like to see covered at PJ Lifestyle? Email: DaveSwindlePJM [@] gmail.com. Also check out Kyle’s top 10 movie picks for the ‘30s and the ’00s before he expands them to top 20s. Click here to read “What Makes a Great Movie?,” Kyle’s essay explaining his criteria for these lists.
20. Braveheart (1995)
Mel Gibson’s stirring, vigorous historical epic about Scottish nationalists taking on the more powerful English is a throwback to ’50s filmmaking – big battles, yes, but also attentive to the love scenes and most of all to the sense that heroic individuals shape history, even if they lose, because they’re so inspiring to others long after they fall.
Republicans took back Congress by offering solid policy alternatives to the Obama administration’s catastrophic demagoguery. But to take back the culture, we conservatives ought to start telling more fart jokes. Ironically, I’m not kidding about that.
For a while now, I’ve been thinking and writing about dirty jokes from the ancient Greek stage and the modern movie theater. One thing I’ve noticed is that we haven’t come up with a lot of new material over the past 2500 years. Basically, awkward sex and uncontrollable bowel movements are what’s funny. Since literally the birth of Western civilization, audiences have lined up out the door to watch some poor goon crap his pants.
No surprises there.
My last post (“May the Farce Be With You“) drew 280 comments, most of them infuriated, and most of them ill-informed. By way of remedy, I repost below an April 4, 2007 review-essay on J.R.R. Tolkien’s novel The Children of Hurin. My literary friends point out that Tolkien’s style is turgid and his literary muse is lame. I don’t care. No writer in the English language did more to uplift popular culture. Star Wars, I observe, derives from Richard Wagner’s noxious Ring cycle by way of the odious Joseph Campbell, and had a corrupting effect on the culture. The contrast with Tolkien is instructive. Rather than remasticate the pagan idea of the hero, Tolkien created a pagan anti-hero (specifically, an anti-Beowulf and anti-Siegfried) in the tragic figure of Turin. Reconstructed from manuscripts by Tolkien’s son Christopher, the Turin story sheds light on the broader purpose of The Lord of the Rings, and illuminates the fraught relationship between the pagan and Christian worlds.
Many readers objected to the way I threw Harry Potter into the same kettle as Luke Skywalker. A qualification is in order: J.K. Rowling stole from Star Wars as well as from Tolkien (and of course from Thomas Hughes), so that one can read a variety of different standpoints into her work. They all are there, in unhappy cohabitation.
The Children of Hurin, by J R R Tolkien, edited by Christopher Tolkien
Reviewed by Spengler
J R R Tolkien was the most Christian of 20th-century writers, not because he produced Christian allegory and apologetics like his friend C S Lewis, but because he uniquely portrayed the tragic nature of what Christianity replaced. Thanks to the diligence of his son Christopher, who reconstructed the present volume from several manuscripts, we have before us a treasure that sheds light on the greater purpose of his The Lord of the Rings.
In The Children of Hurin, a tragedy set some 6,000 years before the tales recounted in The Lord of the Rings, we see clearly why it was that Tolkien sought to give the English-speaking peoples a new pre-Christian mythology. It is a commonplace of Tolkien scholarship that the writer, the leading Anglo-Saxon scholar of his generation, sought to restore to the English their lost mythology. In this respect the standard critical sources (for example Edmund Wainwright) mistake Tolkien’s profoundly Christian motive. In place of the heroes Siegfried and Beowulf, the exemplars of German and Anglo-Saxon pagan myth, we have the accursed warrior Turin, whose pride of blood and loyalty to tribe leave him vulnerable to manipulation by the forces of evil.
Tolkien’s popular Ring trilogy, I have attempted to show, sought to undermine and supplant Richard Wagner’s operatic Ring cycle, which had offered so much inspiration for Nazism.  With the reconstruction of the young Tolkien’s prehistory of Middle-earth, we discern a far broader purpose: to recast as tragedy the heroic myths of pre-Christian peoples, in which the tragic flaw is the pagan’s tribal identity. Tolkien saw his generation decimated, and his circle of friends exterminated, by the nationalist compulsions of World War I; he saw the cult of Siegfried replace the cult of Christ during World War II. His life’s work was to attack the pagan flaw at the foundation of the West.
It is too simple to consider Tolkien’s protagonist Turin as a conflation of Siegfried and Beowulf, but the defining moments in Turin’s bitter life refer clearly to the older myths, with a crucial difference: the same qualities that make Siegfried and Beowulf exemplars to the pagans instead make Turin a victim of dark forces, and a menace to all who love him. Tolkien was the anti-Wagner, and Turin is the anti-Siegfried, the anti-Beowulf. Tolkien reconstructed a mythology for the English not (as Wainwright and other suggest) because he thought it might make them proud of themselves, but rather because he believed that the actual pagan mythology was not good enough to be a predecessor to Christianity.
“Alone among 20th-century novelists, J R R Tolkien concerned himself with the mortality not of individuals but of peoples. The young soldier-scholar of World War I viewed the uncertain fate of European nations through the mirror of the Dark Ages, when the life of small peoples hung by a thread,” I wrote in an earlier essay.  Christianity demands of the Gentile that he reject his sinful flesh and be reborn into Israel; only through a new birth can the Gentile escape the death of his own body as well as the death of his hopes in the inevitable extinction of his people.
We’ve all seen it a few dozen times by now, the first teaser trailer for J.J. Abrams’ Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens. For the most part, it looks quite good. Disney’s acquisition of Lucasfilm and hiring of Abrams signaled a clear advancement of the franchise from the malaise of the prequels to something better resembling the original trilogy. Indeed, this trailer’s aesthetic looks a lot more like classic Star Wars than anything we saw in Episodes I through III.
There’s only one major hiccup, and it’s quite concerning. While the TIE fighters look like TIE fighters, the X-Wings look like X-Wings, and the Millennium Falcon looks better than ever, what’s up with that new lightsaber?
With Abrams’ direction setting the tone for the plethora of Star Wars films due in the next six years, his creative choices prove definitive and therefore important. We can look to his previous efforts in the Star Trek franchise for clues into how he will approach it.
One thing that seemed very clear from Abrams’ approach to Star Trek was that he wasn’t shy about drastically altering the aesthetic of the universe. Everything from the way phasers work to the look of warp drive to the Apple store-themed bridge of the Enterprise was a sharp deviation from the franchise’s established look and feel.
The new Star Wars teaser trailer for Episode VII: The Force Awakens was released yesterday. I see what they are trying to do: give people hints of the movie to whet their appetite. That’s what a teaser trailer is supposed to do, of course. But there are no hints of a story. None. The most notable element of the trailer is a new lightsaber, a lightbroadsword really. It has already inspired a meme.
— Dustin Sandoval (@DustinMSandoval) November 28, 2014
As the Twitterverse also noted, Star Wars has already been mocked for gadgety lightsabers. Phineas and Ferb got there this summer. Of course, that spoof aired on the Disney Channel so they might’ve planned it for maximum social media buzz for the trailer. So either they are uncoordinated and don’t realize they are walking into a trap of mockery other Disney teams designed or they are focusing on PR gimmicks. Neither option bodes well for the story.
— NAchow (@nachow) November 28, 2014
I admit there may be some pessimistic expectations at work. The weak storytelling of the prequels probably dampens most people’s hope for better movies this time, but the trailer does nothing to give us hope. The first trailer invoked a story with “a boy, a girl, and a universe.”
The trailer for The Phantom Menace was brilliant. The fact that the movie didn’t deliver doesn’t change the excellence of the trailer, which teased the visuals and the music with the story. I watched it hundreds of times. “Every saga has a beginning…”
Sometimes it takes an outsider to notice the confusion laced within a holiday message. When it comes to Christmas, the confusion is on overload. Somewhere along the way a religious message got smacked with a load of pop culture overtones to create a holiday lush with semiotic excess, too much for the brain or heart to process. So, allow me from my seat on the sidelines to create the How To guide so you can enjoy the perfect pop culture Christmas.
12. Shop early and shop often for things you’ll never need that are on sale at bargain basement prices.
Christmas really begins on Black Friday, or 6 p.m. on Thanksgiving, whichever you prefer. The holiday is about buying to your heart’s content and making sure everything you and your children have ever dreamed of is stacked up under that decorated tree. The bruises and broken limbs you get in pursuit of those awesome sale prices will be well worth it. Who needs teeth when they can have stuff?
You know who they are.
You’ve seen them in movies you really wanted to like only to have the film taken down a peg, maybe two, by those annoying, bothersome supporting characters who, for some reason, writers, producers, or some studio suit considered indispensable. Sometimes they’re sidekicks, sometimes comedy relief, sometimes they’re kids, and sometimes they’re just plain head scratchers. But in every case, they stick out like sore thumbs, dragging down the quality of otherwise decent pictures or films that could have been great but fell short due to bad casting.
We speak of the mysterious extra punch that movie makers throughout cinema history have at one time or another considered indispensable to the success of a film. Often such instincts have proven on the money (literally!) as endless numbers of Gene Autry and Roy Rogers films can attest! And in case modern audiences have become too smug in their belief that today’s filmmakers are way too sophisticated to fall back on such dubious casting, they’re asked to look no farther than the string of Star Wars movies, blockbusters all!
But even as we disparage their use, there has been a method to filmmakers’ madness in casting such annoying characters. Often they’re used to keep the stars from getting too full of themselves — taking the air out of their sails when it threatens to carry them away. Other times, it’s to inject some needed comedy relief in tense situations. In still others, it might be to inject some pearls of wisdom or unconscious bits of philosophical truth to the goings on. Sometimes they might be allowed to display certain kinds of emotions such as fright or sentimentality not allowed the hero lest he seem less heroic. Sometimes he might even play cupid, maneuvering the hero and his romantic interest into each other’s arms. Which is to say, under the proper circumstances, the supporting character can work, but when they don’t, movie buffs end up with Supporting Characters Who Spoiled Their Movies!
10) Alan Hale
Perhaps in love with the jovial nature he projected on film, producers in the golden age of Hollywood seemed to have high regard for Alan Hale, Sr., who appeared in countless films from the silent era until his death in 1950. Although Hale worked in many of his parts, his oft-repeated role as comedy relief for Errol Flynn managed to take such films as The Adventures of Robin Hood, Desperate Journey, and The Sea Hawk down a notch or two from perfection.
Editor’s Note: See James Jay Carafano’s article from yesterday for the opposite of the films on this list: 10 Tinseltown Turkeys That Make Real Men Choke.
10. Straw Dogs (1971)
Dustin Hoffman made his bones as a misfit Hollywood Holden Caulfield in The Graduate (1967). Who would have thought of him as an action hero? “Bloody Sam” Peckinpah, that’s who. The director of the Wild West’s wildest tough guy movie, The Wild Bunch (1969), followed up with a controversial film starring Hoffman as a meek math professor on sabbatical in rural Cornwall. When a bunch of rowdy locals storm his home, Hoffman goes all Rambo proving his “manhood” in an orgy of violence. Even Hoffman’s character can’t believe what happens. “Jesus, I got ‘em all,” he mumbles at the end of the movie. This film cemented Peckinpah’s place as the king of his generation’s tough guy moviemakers. For some unfathomable reason, the movie was remade in 2011. Stick to the original.
Let’s look back at 10 of the best money-losing movies over the last couple of decades.
1. The Hudsucker Proxy (1994)
Joel and Ethan Coen’s fond sendup of 1930s screwball comedies was an ingeniously plotted story of a neophyte businessman (Tim Robbins) charged with becoming the puppet leader of a corporation that wants to depress the stock price. Instead, he turns out to be an entrepreneurial visionary who invents the hula hoop. An irascible Paul Newman is hilarious as the scheming board member frustrated by the simple honesty of the Robbins character. The movie deserves the cult success that later attached to The Big Lebowski.
Looking for a movie to watch this holiday that’s at least somewhat relevant to the season? Perfect. We’ve got you covered.
These films aren’t necessarily about Thanksgiving, although a couple of them are. Regardless, they each have some connection to the holiday and provide a welcome escape. Here are 10 films set around Thanksgiving that you can stream tonight:
#10. Tower Heist
Capitalizing on real-life headlines regarding Wall Street graft and investment Ponzi schemes, Tower Heist imagines how the staff of a high-rise luxury apartment complex would react to the news that their most high-profile tenant had squandered their retirement savings. The comedy stars Ben Stiller, Eddie Murphy, Matthew Broderick, Casey Affleck, and Alan Alda.
When Alda’s Wall Street billionaire is arrested for scamming investors out of their money, Stiller’s building manager recruits Murphy’s petty thief to help the defrauded building staff steal their money back.
Thanksgiving Connection: The titular heist occurs during the annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.
Streaming options: Available to rent/buy on Amazon and Vudu.
Sometimes Hollywood serves up some pretty indigestible fare. Some films, such as Howard the Duck (1986), are impossible to swallow—so terrible they become synonymous with “bad cinema.” (Who can forget Gary Larson’s The Far Side cartoon depicting “Hell’s Video Store,” its shelves stocked solely with copies of Ishtar (1987)?)
But not every bomb reaches such heights of notoriety. Here’s a list of movies that are every bit as bad—and leave “real men” with extra heartburn. They degrade the genres that “real men” love best.
10. Plan 9 From Outer Space (1959)
All right, this utterly dreadful sci-fi schlock is, admittedly, no stranger to lists of worst movies ever. And justifiably so. Written, directed and produced by the world’s least talented filmmaker, Edward D. Wood, it’s a bijou of awfulness. What twists the knife in this celluloid sacrilege is the sight of Bela Lugosi, one of Hollywood’s greatest horror stars, shambling through what was to be his last appearance on the silver screen. Rather than try to sit through this sad excuse for a film, better to watch Tim Burton’s engaging biopic Ed Wood (1994), which tells the story behind the movie.
You may remember my experience last week where I received the strange basket of apples with a cryptic note from Valerie. I ate one of the apples and fell into a deep sleep, after which I received the strangest ideas for how to improve Walt Disney World. So I wrote them down, and my editor posted them here.
Well, I decided to try a second apple from the basket. One bite of this next apple, and I passed out again. I woke up with the inspiration to rank some of Disney’s best cartoons. Get ready, because I guarantee you that you’ve never seen Disney’s films in this light…
8. Wreck-It Ralph (2012)
Just picture it: a large, virile character roams the world, and though people see him as a bad guy, he’s really good inside, and in the end, he saves the day!
Am I talking about Wreck-It Ralph? Of course I am, but in reality I’m talking about the man whose life I’m convinced the movie is a metaphor for: our wonderful ally Vladimir Putin. Just think about it.
Above, you can view the new trailer for Disney’s live-action remake of Cinderella. The film marks the third such reimagining, following this year’s hugely successful Maleficent and 2010′s Tim Burton-directed Alice in Wonderland. If Cinderella proves successful, which seems to be a foregone conclusion, the question becomes: which other Disney classics might lend themselves to a live-action treatment?
Not every old Disney film stands as an ideal candidate. Many feature talking animals as their main characters and, if you were to try to translate them into CGI within a live-action setting, wouldn’t prove that much different than their animated originals.
Weeding those out, let’s rank what’s left. Here are 10 Disney classics which deserve a live-action remake.
Anyone who’s ever watched a Seth Rogen movie knows that great comedy can be long on laughs, short on plot. Try to recite the story of Pineapple Express from beginning to end in coherent English and you’ll see what I mean. But paper-thin plotting wasn’t invented in 2008. Ancient Greek comedies made about as much narrative sense as a James Brown interview. Add in 2500 years worth of cultural change, and you get scripts that read like a Japanese knock-off of a Will Ferrell film written by someone on ‘shrooms. Ranked from weirdly confusing to utterly incomprehensible, here are ten ancient plots that made more jokes than sense.
Warner Bros. recently announced an aggressive slate of films based upon DC Comics properties which will share a single cinematic universe, an answer to the successful franchise which Marvel Studios has built since 2008’s Iron Man. The DC slate opens with 2016’s Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, and will continue the same year with Suicide Squad, which director David Ayer recently described as “The Dirty Dozen with supervillains.”
In the comics, the Suicide Squad boasts DC’s B-list villains, characters like Deadshot and Captain Boomerang. However, if rumors now circulating prove true, the cinematic interpretation of Suicide Squad may boast A-list villains like Lex Luthor and the Joker. Reports claim that bombshell actress Margot Robbie has been cast as Harley Quinn, and that Oscar-winner Jared Leto is in talks to play Joker.
In any case, the roster of DC Comics villains portrayed in live-action film is about to explode. Before that happens, let’s consider where the existing rogues gallery ranks. Here are the top 10 cinematic portrayals of DC Comics villains.
#10. Cillian Murphy’s Scarecrow
When it was announced that Christopher Nolan would be rebooting the Batman franchise years after Joel Schumacher piloted it into the ground, no one could have predicted how definitive the result would become. Among the bold moves made in re-imagining the property was featuring lesser known villains, including the Scarecrow.
Actor Cillian Murphy took what could have easily been a camp character and grounded him in a believable reality. Dr. Jonathan Crane served a vital narrative purpose befitting his nature as a criminal psychologist obsessed with fear. Fear stood as the dominant theme in Batman Begins, as Bruce Wayne turned his fear against the criminals holding an unholy grip upon Gotham City.
They are veterans not victims. Every once in a while, Hollywood captures the nobility of the American veteran. Coming home may not always be easy, but those who have worn their country’s uniform have done much to nurture, shape, and enrich this nation. Here are 10 movies that tell their story.
1. The Searchers (1956)
This story of a complex and conflicted veteran “hero” fighting his personal demons and a savage frontier is widely regarded as one of the greatest American films ever made. It’s based on a novel by Alan Le May which draws from actual events that occurred in 1836. On film, the story is moved to after the Civil War. John Wayne plays one of the three million veterans who came home after the conflict. When his niece is abducted during an Indian raid, Wayne embarks on a violent 10-year search to find her. In the end, he rides off into the sunset, triumphing over both hatred and adversity.
Some of you were probably too busy voting Democrats out of office to notice that a terrific new trailer for the Haunting Melissa sequel came out on YouTube last week. HM was director Neal Edelstein’s innovative ghost-movie-in-an-app that climbed the App Store bestseller list in 2013. The script to that film was by your humble correspondent as is the script to the sequel, Dark Hearts: The Secret of Haunting Melissa, which is due out later this month:
Download the free app here.
Movie trailers released throughout October preview some huge titles coming to theaters in near weeks and months. Everything from quirky independent romance to blockbuster action adventure is represented here. Which trailer came out on top? You’ll be surprised.
#10. Life Partners
A narrative born of modern themes, to be sure, Life Partners follows the relationship between two female friends, one of whom happens to be gay. As each wind their way in and out of romantic entanglements with others, the relationship between them is tested and reevaluated.
It will be curious to see how sexual orientation is handled in this film. If these two friends end up together in spite of one of them being straight, which certainly seems to be the trajectory drawn in this trailer, doesn’t that kind of run up against the militant “born that way” narrative?
The Dark Knight director Christopher Nolan made his conservative leanings clear in that film and in The Dark Knight Rises, which earned the sobriquet of “reactionary vision” from the leftist newspaper The Guardian. Is Interstellar as unabashed in its conservatism? No, but there is a political subtext to the film that’s visible to the discerning. It may not be showy about being conservative, but it’s conservative just the same. Let’s look at five ways the film aligns with conservative philosophy and values.
1. Human beings are not just another animal.
Once this proposition would have been uncontroversial, but not anymore. Today liberals hasten to remind us that we’re just one among many species. “Human beings are no more special than a butterfly, a gazelle or a paramecium,” opined a onetime senior White House science policy analyst at the Huffington Post. “Our species is nothing but a normal consequence of natural selection, and certainly not the pinnacle of evolution. We are nothing special. God is just not that into us.” Nonsense, says Interstellar: the hero of the film, a pilot played by Matthew McConaughey, says humans have a special gift for adjusting and overcoming the sometimes dire circumstances of nature. Man is unique.
Editor’s Note: This is an expansion of Kyle Smith’s list of the 10 best films of the 1970s published here in June. I’ve asked Kyle to expand his series as PJ Lifestyle begins offering more lists, articles, essays, and blog posts exploring culture, art, technology, and history by decade. Recently he expanded his ’80s list to a top 20 here, his ’60s list here, his ’50s list here, and his ’40s list here. Do you disagree with Kyle’s choices? Do you have your own ideas for lists of movies or other cultural subjects? Which years and what subjects would you most like to see covered at PJ Lifestyle? Email: DaveSwindlePJM [@] gmail.com. Also check out Kyle’s top 10 movie picks for the ‘30s, ’90s, and the ’00s before he expands them to top 20s. Click here to read “What Makes a Great Movie?,” Kyle’s essay explaining his criteria for these lists.
20. The Way We Were (1973)
Mistakenly confused in the memory with the sentimental theme song, the film is actually a barbed character study that explores how politics can become a kind of obsession that in this case drives a wedge between a happy-go-lucky, apolitical screenwriter (Robert Redford) and his stridently leftist wife (Barbara Streisand) during the McCarthy period.
Most Hollywood science fiction isn’t really all that “out there.” Take the computers on the original Star Trek. They operated a lot more like creaky 1960s IBM mainframes than 21st century iPads. Nevertheless, Hollywood has often been the inspiration for how militaries think about future wars. Here are 10 films that impress by their ability to presage the next weapons of war.
1. The Fabulous World of Jules Verne (1961)
The 19th century novelist pretty much single-handedly invented science fiction—and in the process he forecast military weapons from submarines to super bombs. The single best effort to bring his imagination to the screen was a 1958 Czech film, later released in the U.S. and dubbed in English. What makes this film so engaging is a unique visual style called “Mystimation” which combined flats that looked like Victorian engravings with live actors.