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Road Hard: How Adam Carolla Circumvented Hollywood

Thursday, March 19th, 2015 - by Mark Ellis

Editor’s Note: Be sure and get caught up on the previous parts of the series before enjoying today’s conclusion:

January 21: Adam Carolla: The Quintessential Counterculture Conservative? 

February 6: President Me: Adam Carolla Vs. the Scourge of Narcissism

February 26: What Is the Future of Gen-X Manhood? Adam Carolla Vs Chuck Palahniuk?

It was a dark and stormy March night when Adam Carolla brought Road Hard to town, typical weather in these parts.

I’d been writing on assignment about Carolla since the beginning of the year, expositing at length in an exploration with a broader context—how does Carolla figure in the universe of countercultural conservatism, assuming such a place exists?

It’s no secret that the mass conundrum facing conservative counterculture is the progressive stranglehold on the means of production and distribution, specifically in the creative and influential realms of film, television, and the literary arts.

Actually, the rain on March 14th was atypical, at least for 2015. The Portland premiere of Carolla’s crowd-funded, romantically intertwined comedy brought the first steady downpours of what has been a record dry year-to-date.

I was probably a good choice for the Carolla assignment, because up until a few months ago, I’d had no real history with Mr. Carolla’s entertainment career.

Love Line? I prefer getting my sex advice from Dr. Ruth Westheimer.

Now my essay subject was in the Rose City. I knew there’d be a meet-and-greet, and it was natural that I’d want to meet him in the flesh.

I had no idea what Road Hard was about, but have always valued independent films produced on low budgets which become hits. Like The Blair Witch Project, a quirky little picture that spooked its way to obscene profitability in a horror landscape glutted with low-to-midrange-budget teen attrition flicks.

I refused to even consider looking at a Road Hard synopsis, because I wanted to go in cold. Neither a fan nor disgruntled former fan, I came to the story neutral, or, objective, as we used to say back in high school journalism classes.

And I certainly wasn’t a member of the leftist press.

Though Carolla’s embattled and self-depreciatory humor threads the narrative like a business-trip hangover, Road Hard actually reminds me of a typical Hollywood-style film, the kind I never see.

Carolla’s Bruce Madsen, a character facing the waning of the show business performance dream, is apparently spot-on autobiographical. His options are less than optimal, emotions are pulling him in other directions, and his next production is to figure out where to go from here.

Along the way, from Hollywood to the hinterlands, Madsen finds that there is no escape, either on the road or at home, from the life he has sown, and the madness of our times. In Road Hard’s world, touring becomes a means of perpetuating a lifestyle that seems to be crumbling around you. The promise of artistic fame and fortune has become a slog.

One interesting takeaway was the apparent difference between the offstage lives of touring rock stars and standup comedians on the road. I don’t know about Carolla, but when Bruce Madsen is hitting the sticks, he doesn’t come with an entourage. And the groupies don’t quite work out as one might hope.

It was also interesting to take stock of Carolla’s audience, a different sort from the conservative, khakis-with-collared-shirts brigades I’m used to covering.

Carolla’s crowd was pure Portlandia, with a libertarian edge. Patrons mingled dressed in the muted tones of politically correct raingear, drinking beer and acting civilized, as if they’d internalized Carolla’s anti-narcissism diatribe from President Me.

My sense was that not one ticketholder in attendance would be caught dead showing up on an airliner without shoes.

The bottom line on Road Hard? There are no witches, but bitches, pardon the vernacular, are well represented.

Carolla’s hangdog persistence and inchoate quest for meaningfulness save the film from becoming yet another manipulative Hollywood journey movie with a foxy, age-appropriate female soul mate as the ultimate prize.

Road Hard’s showcase wasn’t the only shoe dropping for Carolla on Saint Patty’s Day weekend. On Saturday, his home improvement sting operation, Catch a Contractor, was set to begin production of its third season, which will debut on Spike TV this summer.

It was that show–which I discovered in its second season–and Carolla’s appearances on The O’Reilly Factor–that put the Gen X comedian, author, and entertainment entrepreneur securely onto my radar.

After a brief Q&A at the film’s end, Carolla met with local supporters who had backed his project, and then came out for his meet-and-greet at the merch table.

I got the opportunity to meet Carolla, mention the PJ Media assignment, and get my copy of President Me signed. I also offered a special thanks for Catch a Contractor, the show I turn to when things get too professional and predictable on This Old House.

It was time to move along. There was a long line waiting behind me, and another line waiting outside in the pouring rain for the second showing at the Aladdin that night.

When last I saw Carolla, he was taking center stage in a forty-something couple’s celebrity selfie.

It was more than just a moment of Adam Carolla’s life imitating Bruce Madsen’s art. It was a glimpse at how artists do what is necessary to tell their stories when the implacable entertainment gatekeepers won’t let go of the green light.

****

Please join the discussion on Twitter. The essay above is the twenty-ninth in volume 2 of the cultural discussions between the writers of PJ Lifestyle and Liberty Island exploring the history of counter-cultures, the future of conservatism and the role of new, emerging counter-cultures in restoring American exceptionalism. Want to contribute? Check out the articles below, reach out, and lets brainstorm: @DaveSwindle

Volume II

  1. Frank J. Fleming on February 26, 2015: What Is the Future of Government? Why It Won’t Look Like Star Trek 
  2. Aaron C. Smith on February 26, 2015: What Is the Future of Superheroes? Why They Need To Start Killing Super-Villains
  3. Mark Ellis on February 26, 2016: What Is the Future of Gen-X Manhood? Adam Carolla Vs Chuck Palahniuk?
  4. David S. Bernstein on February 26, 2015: What is the Future of Fiction? You’ll Be Shocked Who’s Fighting the New Conservative Counter-Culture
  5. Aaron C. Smith on March 2, 2015: The House Loses: Why Season 3 of House of Cards Utterly Disappoints
  6. Michael Walsh on March 2: What the Left Doesn’t Get About Robert A. Heinlein
  7. Frank J. Fleming on March 3: 8 Frank Rules For How Not to Tweet
  8. Susan L.M. Goldberg on March 4: 7 Reasons Why Backstrom Is Perfect Counter-Culture Conservative TV
  9. Frank J. Fleming on March 5: What Is the Future of Religion?
  10. Aaron C. Smith on March 5: The Future of Religion: Why Judeo-Christian Values Are More Important Than Science
  11. Spencer Klavan on March 5: Not Religion’s Future: ISIS and the Art of Destruction
  12. Chris Queen on March 7: 5 Reasons Why Big Hero 6 Belongs Among The Pantheon Of Disney Classics
  13. Jon Bishop on March 8: Why I Am Catholic
  14. Frank J. Fleming on March 11: 6 Frank Tips For Being Funny On the Internet
  15. Becky Graebner on March 11: 5 Things I Learned In My First 6 Months As a Small Business Owner
  16. Frank J. Fleming on March 12: This Is Today’s Question: What Does It Mean To Be ‘Civilized’?
  17. Mark Ellis on March 12: The Future of Civilized Society: One World
  18. Aaron C. Smith on March 12: Why Civilization Is a Gift to Bullies
  19. David S. Bernstein on March 12: Nihilism & Feminism for Girls: Has Judd Apatow Let Lena Dunham Self-Destruct Intentionally?
  20. Susan L.M. Goldberg on March 15: Why I Am Jewish
  21. Chris Queen on March 15: Why I Am Non-Denominational Christian
  22. Allston on March 16: Counter-Culture Wars, Part 1: Why the Fellow Travelers Hijacked Folk Music
  23. Ronald R. Cherry on March 17: How To Untangle Orwellian Doublethink: 4 Secrets To Help You Spot BS
  24. Dave Swindle on March 18: Do Fairy Tales & Scary Stories Hide Secrets For Defeating Evil?
  25. Walter Hudson on March 18: The Case Against Freedom, Part I: What Are ‘Externalities’?
  26. Chris Queen on March 18: Can Conservatives & Libertarians Unify? A Review of The Conservatarian Manifesto
  27. Frank J. Fleming on March 19: Today’s Question: Are We All Sociopaths In Our Own Special Ways?
  28. Aaron C. Smith on March 19: Animals Kill. Humans Torture. Why?

See the first volume of articles from 2014 and January and February 2015 below:

2014 – Starting the Discussion…

  1. Sarah Hoyt, March 22 2014: Interview: Adam Bellow Unveils New Media Publishing Platform Liberty Island
  2. David S. Bernstein, June 20 2014: What Is Liberty Island?
  3. Adam Bellow at National Review, June 30 2014 kicking off the discussion: Let Your Right Brain Run Free
  4. Dave Swindle on September 7, 2014: Why Culture Warriors Should Understand the 10 Astounding Eras of Disney Animation’s Evolution
  5. Dave Swindle on September 9, 2014: The 50 Greatest Counter-Culture Films of All Time, Part I
  6. Dave Swindle on September 19, 2014: The 50 Greatest Counter-Culture Films of All Time, Part II
  7. David S. Bernstein on November 19, 2014: 5 Leaders of the New Conservative Counter-Culture
  8. Liberty Island on November 22nd, 2014: A Unique Team of 33 Creative Writers
  9. Dave Swindle on November 25, 2014: 7 Reasons Why Thanksgiving Will Be My Last Day on Facebook
  10. Kathy Shaidle on November 25, 2014: Is America Overdue for a Satanic Revival? (Part One)
  11. Dave Swindle on December 2, 2014: My Growing List of 65 Read-ALL-Their-Books Authors
  12. Kathy Shaidle on December 3, 2014: Is America Overdue for a Satanic Revival? (Part Two)
  13. Mark Elllis on December 9, 2014: Ozzy Osbourne and the Conservative Tent: Is He In?
  14. Aaron C. Smith on December 22, 2014: The Villains You Choose

January-February 2015 – Volume I

  1. Paula Bolyard on January 1, 2015: 7 New Year’s Resolutions for Conservatives
  2. Susan L.M. Goldberg on January 1, 2015: The Plan to Take Back Feminism in 2015
  3. Kathy Shaidle on January 4, 2015: Did the 1960s Really Happen? (Part One)
  4. Andrew Klavan on January 5, 2015: In 2015 The New Counter-Culture Needs to Be Offensive!
  5. Clay Waters on January 5, 2015: The Decline and Fall of Russell Brand
  6. Mark Ellis on January 5, 2015: How Conservatives Can Counter the Likable Liberal
  7. Audie Cockings on January 5, 2015: Entertainers Have Shorter Lifespans
  8. Aaron C. Smith on January 6, 2015: How Mario Cuomo Honestly Defined Zero-Sum Liberalism
  9. Stephen McDonald on January 10, 2015: Why the New Counter-Culture Should Make Strength Central to Its Identity
  10. Stephen McDonald on January 16, 2015: The Metaphorical War
  11. Kathy Shaidle on January 19, 2015: Did the 1960s Really Happen? (Part Two)
  12. Frank J. Fleming on January 20, 2015: What if Red Dawn Happened, But It Was Islamic Terrorists Instead of Communists?
  13. Mark Ellis on January 21, 2015: Adam Carolla: The Quintessential Counterculture Conservative?
  14. Aaron C. Smith on January 29, 2015: Objection! Why TV’s The Good Wife Isn’t Good Law
  15. David Solway on February 2, 2015: For a Song To Be Good, Must It Tell The Truth?
  16. Mark Ellis on February 6, 2015: President Me: Adam Carolla Vs. the Scourge of Narcissism
  17. David Solway on February 6, 2015: ‘Imagine’ a World Without the Brotherhood
  18. Kathy Shaidle on February 9, 2015: Was Rod McKuen the Secret Godfather of Punk Rock?
  19. Aaron C. Smith on February 10, 2015: Kick NBC While It’s Down: Use The Williams Scandal to Set the Terms of the 2016 Debates
  20. Spencer Klavan on February 12, 2015: How to Apologize for Your Thought Crimes
  21. Kathy Shaidle on February 16, 2015: David Byrne: Creepy Liberal Hypocrite
  22. David P. Goldman on February 18, 2015: Understanding This Bloody Truth About the Bible Will Save Your Life
  23. Lisa De Pasquale on February 20, 2015: Why American Sniper Is a Much Better Love Story Than Fifty Shades of Grey
  24. Spencer Klavan on February 24, 2015: How Bad Ideology Destroys Good TV: Why Glee Crashed and Burned

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Is James Franco Playing A Version of Barack Obama in The Interview?

Wednesday, February 4th, 2015 - by Andrew Klavan

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I finally watched The Interview the other night — the picture all the Sony Hacking fuss was about, now available on Netflix. A couple of laughs, mostly from self-mocking celebrities like Eminem, Rob Lowe and Katy Perry. Other than that, a big disappointment after the delightful This Is The End by the same gang. (But then This Is The End was all self-mocking celebrities, so maybe that tells us something!)

I couldn’t help but notice that this might be the first Hollywood movie in which the character of Barack Obama makes a veiled appearance. Remember how during the Bill Clinton years, the Hollywood left was always rewriting Clinton into the man they wished he was? Instead of the draft dodger of real life, Clinton became the former fighter pilot of Independence Day. Instead of a cheap and abusive adulterer, he was the misunderstood lover of American President. And so on. It was as if Hollywood was trying to auto-correct reality.

Well, this is sort of like that. James Franco plays Dave Skylark, a shallow and self-absorbed man who strikes a lot of pseudo-intellectual poses and, for some unknown reason, has a large public following. He is more interested in movie stars than real life, lives a life of luxury on other people’s dime and has no understanding whatsoever of the world situation he is tasked to deal with. Whenever he gets in trouble, he suggests that his friends sacrifice themselves in various ways to save him.

Sent to get rid of the tyrannical head of the North Korean slave state, Skylark abandons his mission when the tyrant easily cons him with fake shows of friendship. When Skylark attempts to confront the murderous thug with his crimes against humanity, the Dear Leader wrong-foots him by pointing out that America has a lot of people in prison. Hearing that, Skylark gets a frowny face because he’s shallow and stupid enough to think there’s some moral equivalence between the U.S. imprisoning its criminals and North Korea enslaving its entire citizenry!

It doesn’t take any great insight to see that Dave Skylark is based very closely on President Obama. The fantasy element comes in when Skylark rallies himself and saves the day.

As if!

But then, like Independence Day and American President, The Interview is only a movie. The left can dream, can’t it?

*******

Cross-posted from Klavan on the Culture

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VIDEO: The 3 Conversations About American Sniper We SHOULD Be Having

Monday, January 26th, 2015 - by Lt. Gen. (Ret.) Rick Lynch

Last week, I went to see American Sniper with my son-in-law. I wasn’t sure what to expect. My daughter is an actress, and I have spent a lot of time over the past decade working with folks in Hollywood. I was concerned that the movie would be a Hollywood rendition of operations in Iraq. That was not the case.

I found the movie to be an accurate reflection of what we went thru as we tried to give the people of Iraq the opportunity to pursue freedom from fear. There are over 16 million Iraqi people. They want what we want:  to be able to send their kids to school, have medical care, be able to provide for their Family, etc. We tried to provide that for them.

I want all of America to go see the movie. I am not interested in how much money the movie makes, but I am interested in ensuring the American public is aware of what happened over there. Less than 1% of the American public serve our Nation in uniform, but we all enjoy the freedoms provided by that select few.  76% of the American public say they have no idea what our Veterans are going thru. Seeing the movie will help with that.

I don’t consider the movie to be about a single individual, Chris Kyle. It is bigger than that. Folks are debating about the accuracy of the movie and comparing it to the book. Other folks are arguing about the role of snipers, and revisiting the idea that in their opinion we should never have been in Iraq in the first place. Let’s focus on more important issues, and determine what the movie could provide the American public.

1. The movie is about the horror of war in a counterinsurgency environment. It is about being in a situation where it is impossible to determine the good guys from the bad. We as a Nation sent American troops into Iraq. The movie shows those who sent us what it was like over there.

2. The movie is about the impact on the individual psyche of having to make life and death decisions to protect ourselves and our friends. Over 2.3 million Americans have volunteered to serve our Nation in uniform since 9/11. We have not had a draft since 1973. Those volunteers patrolled the streets of Iraq and Afghanistan. The normal day included oppressive heat, long patrols wearing 70 pounds of body armor, and constant fear. Where are the enemy snipers?  Who is the enemy?  Where is the roadside bomb?  Unfortunately, we as a Nation compensate those true American heroes an average of $1800 per month.

Since 9/11 over 50,000 American have returned from combat with visible wounds. In addition to that over 150,000 have come back with invisible wounds, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) or Traumatic Brain Injury (TB), or both. The movie give the viewer a sense as to why that is. I hope the viewer places himself in the situations depicted in the movie and tries to imagine what they would be like having experienced something like that.

3. The movie is about what our troops did in Iraq in that difficult situation. Snipers were important. They provided over watch on our operations and tried to stop the enemy from killing our troops. In many cases our snipers saved the lives of my Soldiers. But they were not any more important than the infantryman patrolling the streets and entering homes, the engineer clearing roadside bombs, the logistician ensuring needed parts and supplies were on hand. Everyone had a role.

The movie is also about the effects of multiple deployments on the trooper’s Family. The trooper marched to the sounds of the guns. In actuality, most of us would prefer to be back on the streets in Iraq supporting our friends rather than in the comfort of our own homes. That’s what we were trained to do.  That came across loud and clear in the movie. We must remember that the Families left behind are also sacrificing.  Marriages are strained. Kids are struggling in school.

I was concerned about the reaction of the crowd when I left the theater. I was emotionally drained, having spent the last 2 hours reliving some of my own experiences in Iraq. I expected there to be a moment of silence at the conclusion of the movie, especially when pictures of Chris Kyle and his Family were shown.  The audience applauded at the end of the movie. I am not sure why. I can only hope they were applauding the bravery of the American Soldier.

I am equally concerned about the silliness that is going on across the Nation now in reaction to the movie.  Where is the substantive conversation about what was portrayed in the movie?  Where is the detailed analysis of PTSD as a result of what was portrayed? Where is the commitment to help military Families?

So, go see the movie. After the movie, take some time to contemplate on what you saw, and then dedicate yourself to helping our troopers and their Families. We will be at war with terrorists, both foreign and domestic, for many years to come. They are going to need our help.

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The Secret Reason for American Sniper‘s Breakout Success

Friday, January 23rd, 2015 - by Kyle Smith

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American Sniper isn’t just a huge box office success. It’s in a category of its own. It’s set to be (at least) one of the three highest-grossing films released in 2014 (it opened on Christmas Day on four screens, before going nationwide on Jan. 16). It’s the only one that will make last year’s top 15 that isn’t a fantasy or a comedy. It’s on track to become perhaps the second highest-grossing R-rated film of all time and the second highest-grossing film about a real person. Number one in both those categories is The Passion of the Christ, meaning a Navy SEAL is giving Jesus a run for his money.

When comedian Seth Rogen in a tweet said American Sniper reminded him of a Nazi propaganda film, he showcased how utterly out of touch Hollywood is about the military. Not only did this thought occur to Rogen, which tells you a lot, but he actually thought it was innocuous enough to publish on Twitter. Instead it seems likely to cost him millions of ticket sales because Rogen, never previously identified as particularly anti-American, is now as popular in military-loving communities as he is in North Korea.

American Sniper is a hit for several reasons: It’s a great movie, with a riveting set of TV commercials. The audience-survey firm CinemaScore says it is getting a rare A+ rating from viewers. Clint Eastwood’s name on the marquee also means something — but Eastwood’s movies have never made huge amounts of money. His biggest-ever hit, Gran Torino, earned $148 million in North America. American Sniper will nearly double that.

What American Sniper has going for it is that it’s unabashedly patriotic and pro-military. That matters, because the military is by far the most beloved institution in American life.

I can hear Hollywood, the land where saying U.S. troops remind you of Nazis isn’t even considered controversial,  spitting out its arugula-and-endive salad at that. That can’t be. Can it?

For nearly half a century, American culture has been a story of gradual destruction of trust in everything. Banks, in a June Gallup survey, had a 26 percent trust rating. The presidency was at 29 percent. Newspaper journalists were at 22, with Internet and TV news lagging behind even that. Congress? Seven percent.

Confidence in the military, though, was at 74 percent. After decades of anti-military and antiwar propaganda from Hollywood, that’s astonishing. The only other institutions that commanded majority support were small business (62 percent) and the police (53). The trend is consistent: The military’s approval rating hasn’t dipped below 60 percent since 1988.

The American public is saying something very simple: We love our military. Give us more films that show our troops as heroes, and we’ll turn up for them.

Some liberal Hollywood types have been scratching their heads and saying, “Wait a minute, though. American Sniper is a very downbeat film. Its central figure is shown being tormented by survivor’s guilt and PTSD. It isn’t ‘rah-rah.’  So why do those rubes in the heartland love it so much?”

This is sheer projection, because it’s liberal sophisticates who have an amazingly simplistic, indeed kindergarten-level, view of war: Killing is wrong, so we should loathe all troops on an equal basis, regardless of whether they’re fighting for, say, the Fuehrer or liberal democracy. “The real American Sniper was a hate-filled killer,” ran the headline of an especially infantile piece in The Guardian, by American liberal Lindy West.

Was Chris Kyle supposed to be full of love as he shot to death cowards who disguised themselves as civilians as they planted deadly remote-controlled booby traps, or hurled grenades at Americans attempting to build a democracy? Was he supposed to feel benevolent toward jihadis trying to establish a medieval theocracy in which women would be stoned to death for adultery, and even belonging to the wrong sect of Islam would be a crime punishable by  death?

The patriots who are lining up to buy tickets to American Sniper are aware that war takes an enormous toll and can be agonizing even to those without visible wounds. That’s precisely the appeal of the film: By showing the price our troops pay to fight for our values, it reminds us just how much respect we owe them.

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Why American Sniper Is One of the Greatest War Movies Ever

Monday, January 19th, 2015 - by David Forsmark

With all due respect to Lone Survivor and Zero Dark Thirty (and I have paid mad respect to both), Clint Eastwood’s amazing American Sniper is the film for the war on terror.

But it’s more than that. It is a timeless American war movie that explores the necessity of having men who are–and bear the burden of being–really really good at killing bad guys.

In fact, this is easily one of the ten best American war movies of all time. (I won’t place it any higher than that until I’ve had the chance to see it again and let the initial emotional impact wear off; but right now, I can’t think of three I would rate above it.)

When I reviewed Chris Kyle’s book American Sniper, I called it the most unapologetic account of war since George S. Patton. But it’s not all swagger.

Eastwood both allows the character of Chris Kyle to speak to that unabashed pride in doing a necessary job — his warts-and-all honesty about how he neglected his family while letting the job consume him — and uses the tragic events that followed the publication of the book to show us how doing that job takes a toll.

The result is a shining example of material finding the perfect director. In many ways, Eastwood’s whole career has been leading up to this statement. It’s what Unforgiven couldn’t quite get to because it was merely about a previously vicious man sliding back into his old ways, even if his cause was just.

The film — like the book — opens as newly minted Navy SEAL sniper Chris Kyle takes a bead on a small Iraqi boy whose mother has just handed him a grenade and sent him running toward a squad of American Marines.

Then, while Kyle is waiting for that space between breaths, between heartbeats, that still moment of the trigger pull, we flash back to how he got there.

This is a perfectly executed and superbly made bio-pic. Despite the heroism it shows, it never lapses into hagiography or sappy preaching. Eastwood is clear-eyed throughout, and confident at letting his story tell itself.

American Sniper lives up to its title. This is an intensely American film. Everything about Chris Kyle’s background, from hunting with his father, to the little country church, to wanting to be a cowboy, is not just Texas, it’s America.

From Sergeant York, to Audie Murphy, to Dick Bong (WWII’s ace of aces who also left combat only to die serving on the home front), to Chris Kyle, small-town, do-for-yourself America has produced these men for whom taking up arms to protect their country just comes naturally (even, eventually, for the Quaker, York).

The motivation is summed up in a talk Chris Kyle’s father gives at the dinner table — a speech many American fathers have given their sons (and many more should), but rarely with this perfect an analogy.

Chris has had trouble in school for beating up the bully who was picking on his younger brother — but he is not in trouble at home. His father explains there are three kinds of people in the world: Sheep, who can’t protect themselves; wolves; and sheepdogs, who protect the sheep. He expects his son, who has the ability, to be a sheepdog  – and if he ever becomes a wolf, he will get an ass whooping he will never forget.

Later, when drinking away the memory of a cheating girlfriend and the Khobar Towers bombing news story comes up on television news, a hitherto aimless Chris Kyle knows exactly what he is supposed to do.

While American Sniper takes no firm position on the wisdom of the war in Iraq — various characters express varied opinions on that — it is very clear-eyed about the nature of the enemy, or, as Kyle refers to them as, “the f***ing savages.”

Not since The Deer Hunter has the enemy been as accurately portrayed in an American film as the bestial evil that they are, and without over-the-top Hollywood histrionics. The good guys have their flaws, but these bad guys have to be opposed — and killed in as large a number as possible.

There are four great battle-set pieces in American Sniper that are breathtakingly effective — and, thankfully, Eastwood knows how to give immediacy and a you-are-there feel to the scenes without the herky-jerky handheld camera gimmicks and incoherent quick-cut edits that lesser directors use to pull off a complicated scene.

At one point, Kyle’s sheepdog instincts take him off the rooftops — against orders — and down into the streets with the Marines. He knows his SEAL training has prepared him better for house-to-house combat and he can’t sit by without teaching them how to do it better.

Eastwood has been exploring these themes for years, imperfectly in Heartbreak Ridge, much better in The Outlaw Josey Wales, of course in Dirty Harry, and most recently (showing he understands the protective impulse of the American soldier) in Gran Torino, where this really was the under-explored theme.

The performances are all first rate (I’ll rave about Cooper in a minute) and it’s really about time that people realize the beautiful Sienna Miller is an actress of grit and grace.

So in the pantheon of great American war movies, where does American Sniper place? It’s more personal and emotionally shattering than even The Deer Hunter, because that great film spread its emotions around to the effect of the Vietnam War on a whole town.

It does an even better job of portraying the sacrifices and effects of war on the family of a warrior than We Were Soldiers.

And of course it is a more realistic look at a highly decorated soldier who performed at an almost superhuman level than either Sergeant York or To Hell and Back – and not just because of the allowances of modern filmmaking.

It’s hard to explain the greatness of Bradley Cooper’s performance, unless you have seen Chris Kyle’s interviews. But Cooper does not just inhabit his role, or give a great interpretation of a character — he disappears into it.

Sure, the muscle gain helps, because it keeps us from remembering this is svelte Bradley Cooper who has given so many memorable performances the last few years (and was the softer male character way back on TV’s Alias).

But watching American Sniper, you feel as though Chris Kyle was allowed to play himself — maybe better, since this is a more convincing portrayal than even Audie Murphy gave playing… Audie Murphy.

Which makes the tragic ending of this story all the more shattering. Eastwood’s choice at the end of American Sniper is almost as important as the one he makes at the beginning. At the screening I attended, there were gasps as a credit announced what happened to Kyle, muffled sobs during the real footage of his funeral that ran over the credits, and no one — and I mean no one — moved until the credits were done. As people filed out, it was as quiet and somber as if we had attended the funeral ourselves.

Seeing American Sniper is an American experience. Don’t miss it.

Also read: Feminist Mag Complains American Sniper Unfair …to Babies?

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How Can It Be That I Wept for Pharaoh at the End of Exodus: Gods and Kings?

Friday, January 2nd, 2015 - by Scott Ott

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When you watch the great Exodus story, the hero is usually the guy who leads his people out of slavery in Egypt by the mighty hand of God. Pharaoh is the antagonistic oppressor who refuses to grant liberty to the slaves.

So, how can it be that at the end of the new movie Exodus: Gods and Kings I wept for Pharaoh, and felt virtually nothing for Moses or “his people”?

Perhaps I should start by saying that it’s actually an entertaining movie with epic battle and chase scenes, convincing special effects and fine acting.

That said, my lovely bride reviewed it (perhaps damned it) in three words: “Better than Noah.”

Christian Bale does deliver a more nuanced and dynamic Moses than Russell Crowe’s ark-maker. It would be difficult to do otherwise.

I’m glad I saw the film, though, as usual, I’m hampered by my knowledge of the underlying historical account. I’ll confess, with pleasure, that Exodus takes fewer liberties with the Biblical text than Noah did. My faint praise will not show up in ads for the movie.

Cleaving closer to the Biblical text is not just better for Bible-believers like me, but for all audience members. The actual Biblical account is more compelling and believable than what most screenwriters can imagine. The Bible itself simply makes for a better movie, because it’s honest about both God and man, enhancing empathy and heightening dramatic tension. The mystery to me is why an adaptive screenwriter or director would squander such excellent source material and supplant it with inferior variations.

Exodus director Ridley Scott seems committed to letting the audience wonder who the villain is — often suggesting, through the mouth of Moses, that it may be God himself. It certainly isn’t Pharaoh Ramses — the loving father, gentle husband, and protective brother to Moses.

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Why The Interview Is a Deeper Film Than You Might Imagine

Friday, December 26th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson
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Randall Park as Kim Jong-un blubbers his way through The Interview as his daddy’s image hovers

The chairman of the Congressional Entertainment Industries Caucus, Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Calif.), suggested using satellite television under the control of the Broadcasting Board of Governors to beam a dubbed version of The Interview into North Korea.

On principle, I wholeheartedly agreed. After seeing the film, I now also agree in terms of content. North Koreans would get to see the on-screen version of North Koreans discovering what a blubbering idiot their supreme leader is, and how revolution ultimately comes from within.

It seems some outlets are eager to paint The Interview as nothing more than mindless lowbrow humor — Vox, for example, thinks a dictator explaining that he actually does pee and poo like a mere mortal is the worst thing that could happen to the silver screen — while sort of willfully ignoring the film’s core.

And that is simple: The North Korean regime is cruel and has no place in the modern world, and though James Franco’s character flirts with the idea that this is something the U.S. can comfortably ignore, it’s not.

After watching The Interview twice online, I’ll venture to say the comedy goes even deeper into “messaging” territory about the danger of the regime than the legendary “ronery” Kim Jong-il send-up in Team America: World Police.

Is it Oscar material? Of course not, but it’s well-paced and even funnier if you’re up on current events.

A few observations without spoilers:

  • John Kerry referenced as “that oak tree-looking f**k” — need I say more?
  • Eminem and Rob Lowe have very funny cameos
  • Randall Park as Kim Jong-un is at times more refined than we can ever imagine the young dictator, yet most of the time he’s as silly and off his rocker as we expect him to be. He was all bravado and bluster in one moment, and blubbering the next.
  • Concise foreign policy quote that sums up Kim well: “He says that he’s going to blow up the world just to prove that he’s the s**t”

The Interview may be full of fraternity humor, but that’s not exactly inappropriate considering North Korea is run by a 31-year-old who treats nuclear tests like a night at the beer bong. Yes, I can believe that Kim would say “nuke your mama” to a basketball opponent, insist on umbrellas in his margaritas, and display that well-documented impetuous temperament at will.

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Why Conservatives Should Make More Dumb Jokes

Saturday, December 6th, 2014 - by Spencer Klavan

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.

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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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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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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 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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300: Rise of an Empire: 3D Looks Great, But Where’s the Thrill?

Wednesday, March 19th, 2014 - by Andrew Klavan

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I think 300 is easily one of the best movies of the last twenty years, the only movie I’ve seen twice in a week since Hitchcock died, a film that will be re-watched and remembered long after most if not all of the prestige art films of our day are forgotten.

The tale of the Spartan battle against the Persians at Thermopylae was released in 2006, when Hollywood, entering its most shameful days, was beginning to churn out despicable anti-war on terror and anti-military propaganda even while American sons were actually on the battlefield in harm’s way. 300 was instead a stirring W-style call to defend the age-old values of the west against an oppressive and ignorant foreign invader.

But what made the film special — even brilliant — was the wild, confident imagination it brought to the screen from Frank Miller’s graphic novel. Though the story stayed very faithful to the history in Herodotus, it introduced fantastical beasts, over-the-top video game violence, outsized characters and even bulked up muscle suits to give the story a larger than life feel. It was as if the movie was saying to the Islamic-fascists who had attacked us: “You think we’re decadent because we sit around and play video games? Let us show you the sort of western courage that inspired those games, Islamo-schmuck!”

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Why the Non-Stop Punchline Shouldn’t Come as a Surprise

Tuesday, March 4th, 2014 - by Susan L.M. Goldberg

Mega spoiler alert regarding the new Liam Neeson flick Non-Stop via Breitbart. Stop reading now if you’d like to be surprised when you go to the theater to see Lady Mary on the big screen.

The hero of the movie about a plane being hijacked is an observant Muslim.

Wait, it gets better.

The terrorist is a 9/11 family member. Yes, you read that right; the terrorist is a 9/11 family-member who lost a loved-one in the World Trade Center on that terrible September morning.

It gets worse…

After 9/11,  this 9/11 family member-turned-terrorist then joined the military but found himself disillusioned by the pointless wars.

And now…

The 9/11 family member-turned-terrorist is upset because America hasn’t done enough to ensure there will never be another 9/11. And so he figures that if he can get an air marshal blamed for a terrorist attack, America will wake up and anally probe us before we’re allowed on a plane, or something.

It gets worse…

The villain’s sidekick is a member of the American military willing to murder 150 innocent people for a payday.

It gets worse…

The one passenger on the plane who is forever helpful, kind, reasonable, noble, and never under suspicion is a Muslim doctor dressed in traditional Muslim garb including a full beard.

Screw you, Hollywood.

Wikipedia’s summary of the film had a kinder, gentler, more bureaucratic approach to the biased plotline:

…as soldiers who were appalled by the lack of security at U.S. airports before 9/11, they hoped that framing [Neeson] as a terrorist will lead to drastically increased security.

Great. A propaganda film that uses the American military to advocate for the increased empowerment of the TSA. What next? A film featuring American soldiers deployed on the edge of the communist world spending their precious time dressing up in drag, defending  gay rights on base? (Cue musical number Springtime for Obama.)

As bizarre as it may seem, the plotline of Non Stop shouldn’t come as a surprise. Liam Neeson, the film’s star, has been contemplating converting to Islam since filming Taken 2 in Istanbul in 2012:

Movie star Liam Neeson has admitted he’s afraid to convert to Islam because of how locals in his home town would take it.

The Northern Irish actor thinks Islam “is the answer” after experiencing the Muslim call to prayer while filming Taken 2 in Istanbul.

But the 61-year-old doesn’t want to go all the way because people in Ballymena, Co Antrim, may be annoyed with his decision.

…“It wouldn’t go down very well in Ballymena.

“They would say to me, ‘You’re a Muslim? Are you a Catholic Muslim or a Protestant Muslim?’ ”

Perhaps he’ll be able to answer that question in Non Stop 2. Having edged out Son of God for top rating at the box office this weekend, it doesn’t look like the blatantly anti-American tone will disappear anytime soon, despite the lackluster ratings. Casting suggestion for the sequel: Katy Perry as the flight attendant demonstrating an appropriate use of a Muslim pendant as a non-blasphemous work-wardrobe accessory. It’d be nice to see her cover up for a change.

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The Monuments Men: Is Art Ever Worth a Human Life?

Saturday, February 15th, 2014 - by Leslie Loftis

Babysitters acquired, my husband and I went on a double date with his brother and our sister-in-law last weekend. We all wanted to see The Monuments Men. With a promising ensemble cast and a great story to tell—the Allied soldiers who rescued masterwork art from the Nazis at the end of World War II—it was our unanimous choice. In hindsight, we should have gone to the The Lego Movie.

I didn’t find The Monuments Men quite as disappointing as The Times of London review, but I agree with the specific complaints: the cast wasn’t challenged by the script and the story was off for tone and accuracy.

For me, the problem became clear when George Clooney’s character wrestled for the second, or perhaps third, time with the question of whether art was worth a life when they lost their first member in defense of Michelangelo’s Madonna of Bruges.

Clooney is not a talented enough actor to cause me to forget I’m watching George Clooney. Listening to him give a fundamentally conservative speech about preserving the knowledge of the past jarred me out of the story. It is also why I instantly picked out a detail. The dialogue referred to the artists, that if we didn’t preserve their works it would be as if the artist never existed.

But great artworks aren’t about the artist. Masterpieces grant to us knowledge or an example of master craftsmanship that inspires us to greater achievement ourselves. The masterworks are worth defending not because they tell us the master existed but because, as a whole, they represent history and knowledge that we could not replicate.

Given most of the stuff Hollywood churns out, it didn’t surprise me that they couldn’t see the distinction.

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Dallas Buyers Club Could’ve Used More Hollywood

Wednesday, January 29th, 2014 - by Andrew Klavan

Here’s another of the “small, quality” films up for an Oscar that, like Her, is really not that great. Dallas Buyers Club has many things to admire, but I’m pretty sure its nomination and ecstatic reviews have more to do with its “worthiness” than its actual effectiveness as a motion picture.

The movie is based on the true story of Texas bad boy Ron Woodroof. According to the picture, Woodroof, a gambler, druggie and rodeo rider, contracted AIDS from his wild heterosexual lifestyle back in 1985, when the epidemic was just going public in a big way. Frustrated with government’s incompetence in dealing with the new health crisis, he became a smuggler of experimental drugs. Along the way, as Homer Simpson might say, he learned an important lesson about tolerating the gay people who were dying all around him. (There’s apparently some evidence Woodroof was actually bisexual and that the movie’s homophobe-to-gay-liker story is bogus, but I’m just writing about the movie I saw.)

Matthew McConaughey does his usual fine job with the lead. Jared Leto is nominated for a supporting Academy Award for playing a gay transvestite heroin addict and he deserves to win. I know this sort of role is meat and drink to actors (it’s a lot harder to play a vanilla accountant and make it sing) but Leto just kills it, winning your heart the second he comes on screen with the character’s kindness, intelligence and vulnerability.

What’s strange about the picture, though, is its overall lack of feeling. It’s cold and seems to be operating on autopilot — as if director Jean-Marc Vallée (who did a good job with The Young Victoria) expects the audience to do the work of feeling things he never takes the trouble to make them feel. McConaughey’s transition from gay-hating good ol’ boy to tolerant good ol’ boy is told rather than shown. The payoff delivers no punch whatsoever. The end of Leto’s character arc actually occurs offscreen, leaving you without much sense of resolution for the one really sympathetic guy in the story. I wanted to bring in my unshed tears for a refund! And McConaughey’s character never really achieves the level of AIDS Schindler because, while his fights with the idiots in government resonate, his crusades against AZT and “Big Pharma” seem misguided. Pharma was doing what it had to do, and the drug ultimately turned out to be helpful. It’s silly to make villains out of well-intentioned people swamped by crisis.

This is a film-worthy period. The AIDS epidemic at its height was a genuine historic event. Good people died — a lot of them — and attitudes — toward health, toward homosexuality, toward sex in general — were changed forever. It’s a good setting for a story. But this weirdly flat film just doesn’t bring it to life. It’s not a bad movie. It’s certainly watchable and the good cast delivers some entertaining moments. But strange as it may sound, it could’ve used a little more Hollywood, a little more hearts and flowers all around.

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Why Disney’s Frozen Is More Than Just Another Animation

Friday, January 24th, 2014 - by Rhonda Robinson

Once upon a time Disney captured my heart. As an artistic little girl, Disney stirred my creative spirit. Sadly, Disney didn’t do that for my children. Then along came Pixar, and picked up the torch–now it’s time to give it back.

Disney has reclaimed my heart with their newest animation Frozen. It’s well on its way into the hearts of an entire generation.

Simply put, Frozen got it right.

Not because it’s nominated for 2 Oscars. In fact, its already scored 18 wins with a running total of 32 nominations. Honestly, that’s nice and I’m thrilled for the creatives behind it. They deserve the recognition. But for us parents, that really doesn’t matter in the least.

Frozen won a place in my family’s Hall of Fame because it does what fairy tales are supposed to do. It reveals real life truths to children through the safety and beauty of a well-crafted story. In Frozen, Disney goes one better by telling it in brilliant animation laced with innocent humor and perfect timing.

Here’s what Rotten Tomatoes will tell you about the film:

Featuring the voices of Kristen Bell and Idina Menzel, “Frozen” is the coolest comedy-adventure ever to hit the big screen. When a prophecy traps a kingdom in eternal winter, Anna, a fearless optimist, teams up with extreme mountain man Kristoff and his sidekick reindeer Sven on an epic journey to find Anna’s sister Elsa, the Snow Queen, and put an end to her icy spell. Encountering mystical trolls, a funny snowman named Olaf, Everest-like extremes and magic at every turn, Anna and Kristoff battle the elements in a race to save the kingdom from destruction. (c) Disney

Personally, had I read that summary, I most likely wouldn’t have given the film a chance. That description is not the story I saw. While that might be the official summary it looks like it was crafted by someone that only watched movie trailers.

Here’s what I saw.

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Does Her Deserve An Oscar?

Wednesday, January 22nd, 2014 - by Andrew Klavan

One of the reasons I don’t write many reviews in mainstream venues anymore is that I don’t like panning things. Books are hard to write, movies are hard to make. It’s easy, and often amusing, to sneer at the failures but I know the process of creation well and hurling slings and arrows at another man’s heart and soul is not as much fun as it looks. It especially bugs me when people attack an artist’s work because they don’t like his politics or off-screen antics. Jim Carrey may be a screaming idiot when it comes to the subject of guns but he’s made some very good movies and there aren’t many people who can say the same.

But a reviewer’s first responsibility isn’t to the artist, it’s to the audience, the folks who are going to spend their good money on the product. If you’re not willing to pan something, you shouldn’t agree to review it in the first place. So I turn down a lot of review assignments on the off-chance I’ll have to slaughter a colleague in the name of honesty. And even in a blog, more often than not I pass over the movies and books I don’t like in silence.

Her, however, has been nominated for an Academy Award so I feel compelled to at least say this: no freaking way. I understand the idea that some smaller movies that aren’t necessarily popular with the mainstream crowd might still be deserving of award attention. But Her is not one of those movies. It’s bad. Its plot — a guy falls in love with the artificial intelligence of a new computer operating system — is an already played-out and unoriginal version of Pygmalion. (See everything from 2001: A Space Odyssey to 2002′s Simone). Its characters are collections of ideas rather than actual personalities — even the wonderful Amy Adams has to struggle to make her cliched nothing of a part come to life. And, most importantly, its central performance is just brutally dull.

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5 Reasons Tom Clancy Might Be Smiling at the New Jack Ryan Reboot

Friday, January 17th, 2014 - by John Boot

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Tom Clancy died last fall at 66, just as marketing was getting started for the new relaunch Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit.  It’s a pity he didn’t get to see the new film, because it’s a strong followup to The Hunt for Red October, Patriot Games and Clear and Present Danger. Clancy was gruff bordering on insulting when it came to previous cinematic adaptations of his work, but the new film isn’t based on a Clancy novel — it’s an original story using Clancy’s agile hero. Here’s why the thriller author might have given the thumbs-up to how it turned out.

1. It honors patriotism and the military.

The new Jack Ryan, Star Trek star Chris Pine, plays a marine who joins the service in honor of the 9/11 attacks, which he watches on a TV set while studying at the London School of Economics. Hollywood can barely treat 9/11 with a straight face, but the scene in which the world changes for Jack, who remains respectfully silent as his resolution builds, is powerful in an understated way.

When Jack joins the Marines in response and gets badly wounded in Afghanistan, the director (Kenneth Branagh, who also plays the Russian villain) captures some of the feeling of dedication and courage that it takes to volunteer for combat, and also respects the agonizing rehabilitation process Ryan must undergo when he returns stateside.

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Lone Survivor Is Intense — But Read the Book!

Tuesday, January 14th, 2014 - by Andrew Klavan

In a surprise to liberal media outlets and no one else, the film Lone Survivor is cleaning up at the box office. This is a surprise to media lefties because, as the New York Times put it with near radiant gormlessness, “Moviegoers have stubbornly refused to care about war movies set in Afghanistan.” It apparently never occurred to the Times that stubborn moviegoers just didn’t want to see war movies like Lions for Lambs in which America was falsely made out to be the villain!

But the folks are showing up for this baby, even despite the occasional Pajama Boy critic whining into his cocoa about having to watch American heroes being heroic in the battle against Islamist bad guys. Reality makes their tartan singlets itchy, I guess.

Even PJBs who, like the Times‘ A.O. Scott, made sure to hint in their reviews at their ever-so-nuanced disapproval of patriotism, heroism and fighting bad guys, have been forced to admit the movie’s central battle scene is powerful and effective. It’s a well-directed, gripping, intense tribute to the men who keep America safe for the movie critics who complain about them.

The picture, as you no doubt know, is director Peter Berg’s version of Navy SEAL Marcus Luttrell’s memoir of a good mission gone bad in Afghanistan. Luttrell and his fellow SEAL’s were sent out to kill a high-profile Islamist terrorist but were unfortunately spotted by two goatherds and a small boy. The Americans made the merciful but unwise decision to spare the civilians, who proceeded to betray their position to the Taliban. The title tells you what happened.

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The Story You Shouldn’t Miss Inside Llewyn Davis

Tuesday, January 14th, 2014 - by Susan L.M. Goldberg

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In his review of Inside Llewyn Davis, Andrew Klavan asks, “What did I miss?” It is a question I fear many in my generation will be asking as they approach the new Coen Brothers film about a folksinger from Greenwich Village. Inside Llewyn Davis lacks the clever plot twists of early hits like Miller’s Crossing, the dark psyche of Barton Fink, and the enjoyable supporting characters of The Big Lebowski. But, no two Coen Brothers movies are ever alike; in fact, to appreciate them as auteurs one must have a predilection for the unique versus the familiar.

This is probably why the few folk singers who remain from those early Village days sound off like cranky seniors in a nursing home, demanding that the Coens’ film knows nothing about the way things really were, contrary to the first-hand memory of T. Bone Burnett who was consulted in the recreation of the infamous Manhattan neighborhood circa 1961. But, everyone’s memory is different, as are their motivations. Jim Glover, half of the real-life folk duo Jim and Jean, used local newspaper coverage to snort at the film before diving into various half-baked conspiracy theories regarding the Kennedy assassination, the NSA, and the insistence that the F.B.I. kept him under surveillance in the 1950s because his father was a “fellow traveler” (code term for Communist sympathizer).

While leftist politics were a definite influence on the Greenwich scene, folks looking for Reds on the big screen will be as disappointed as those believing the film to be nothing but a glorified biopic of “Mayor of MacDougal Street” Dave Van Ronk and his cohorts. Tongue-in-cheek commentary on the leftist class structure typical to the folk music scene does more to motivate plot and character development than dig into the movement’s intellectual and political underpinnings. In fact, it is Llewyn’s struggle with culture that feeds his musical genius; he is neither uptown intellectual nor downtown middle class. While he’s willing to thumb his way from New York to Chicago to meet an agent, he is unwilling to compromise his artistic vision for commercial success.

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It’s a Jolly Holiday with Mary

Wednesday, December 25th, 2013 - by Susan L.M. Goldberg

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Very few Mary Poppins fans would believe that her creator, P.L. Travers, was more anally retentive than Doc Martin. But, as Saving Mr. Banks reveals, Walt Disney took on an uphill battle when he promised his daughters he’d bring one of their favorite fictional characters onto the silver screen.

I walked into Saving Mr. Banks fearful that it would be dripping with the kind of cheery sappiness that grows less and less appealing as one makes the journey from childhood to full-fledged, reality-bound adulthood. Instead, I found myself surrounded by adults whose love for Mary Poppins still remained despite the stress of relentless responsibilities. Indeed, as the theater lights dimmed, one older man bearing a long white beard walked in wearing the longest Santa cap I’d ever seen. Apparently, even St. Nick longs to be a kid again.

The film is as much a biopic of the early life of P.L. Travers (real name: Pamela Goff) as it is a chronicle of the struggle to bring Mary Poppins to life on the screen. The daughter of a brilliant father, Travers Goff, who relied on alcohol to poorly negotiate his imagination with the boring reality of being a bank manager, Travers grew up in the Australian countryside in the early 1900s. The eldest of three daughters, Travers inherited her father’s creative spirit, admired him as a role model, and eventually would carry the guilt of his inevitable demise with her well into her adult life.

Unknowingly, the authors of the screenplay plan to portray Mr. Banks, the patriarch of the Mary Poppins tale, as the bad guy of the picture. It takes Mrs. Travers to explain to the Disney writers that Mary Poppins isn’t there to save the children; she is there to save Mr. Banks. And just when you think the screenplay will dive into sentimentality, with a warm and friendly hug from Mickey Mouse’s dad, it does not. In fact, it does just the opposite. As Disney struggles to relate to Travers, he relates stories of his own tough childhood. In doing so, he explains the freedom imagination can bring to a troubled soul.

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American Hustle: A Bad Movie Well Made

Wednesday, December 18th, 2013 - by Andrew Klavan
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Director David O. Russell’s last two films were wonderful. Both The Fighter and Silver Linings Playbook gave us painfully exact depictions of family dysfunction, then magically transformed that dysfunction into old-fashioned movie-style happy endings. Cynical cranks could complain that that’s not the way it works in real life. But, in fact, they would be wrong. People do redeem their lives, even if they don’t do it with the neatness and glamour of the big screen. The style was pure Hollywood, but the underlying point remained honest and true.

What is not true is that corrupt politicians really care about the people they serve and are just taking that suitcase full of money to help the poor citizens of their communities. Lowlife pols have been pushing that line of garbage since before Caesar and it is now what it was then: self-justifying crap. Corruption bleeds a city, a state, a nation dry. A Boss Tweed may deliver a poor family a turkey on Christmas — and Barack Obama may give you a “free” phone or confiscate another citizen’s earnings to pay for your health care — but in the end, what these self-serving phonies do saps the polity of money, freedom and energy. Corruption benefits the corrupt — unless and until, for whatever reason, they get caught by the law.

American Hustle buys into the political liars’ lies with wide-eyed childlike innocence. As a result it’s a movie with no moral or emotional center. It’s well-directed and well-written, and it would be impossible for me to overpraise the performances of its wonderful cast. Amy Adams, Christian Bale, Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence and an almost unrecognizable Jeremy Renner are beyond brilliant. They are the closest thing this starless age has to stars.

But the thesis of the movie — loosely based on the 1970′s Abscam sting that busted several corrupt mostly Democrat politicians and was therefore deemed a questionable enterprise by the Democrat media — is this: the FBI are the over-ambitious bad guys for running down the pitiful, good-hearted pols who only want to help the poor, the black, the disenfranchised of their states and cities. Those pols never would have taken that money for themselves. Oh no! And even if they did, it was just because they let their egos lead them astray. The real bad guys, the real money guys, are getting away scot free! So we’re supposed to root for con men who steal from fools, and we’re supposed to boo and hiss the lawmen who bring them to justice.

Well, in a pig’s eye. The point is not that the FBI are saints. The point is they are doing what’s right here and the politicians are just what they seem: corrupt, connected, greedy skunks who should be in jail not in office. The emotional emptiness and flatness of the film come directly from its silly and skewed morality.

The movie gets a 96/98% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, so I guess Russell put one over on the audience. But despite his obvious talent — and the acting genius of a powerhouse cast — this is a bad film that distorts reality in a way his previous happy endings never did.

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Cross-posted from Klavan on the Culture

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