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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.

******

Cross-posted from Klavan on the Culture

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Kill Your Darlings: A Startling Take on the Beats

Monday, December 2nd, 2013 - by Andrew Klavan

Man, I’m Beat!

I watched this film over the Thanksgiving weekend and the more I think about it, the more I think its approach to its subject is kind of remarkable.

Kill Your Darlings is based on the true story of a murder that took place at the inception of the Beat literary movement. It stars former Harry Potter Daniel Radcliffe as the poet Allen Ginsberg and details how, as a student at Columbia University, Ginsberg came under the sway of his charismatic fellow student Lucien Carr, played by Dane DeHaan. With William S. Burroughs (Ben Foster) and Jack Kerouac (Jack Huston), the group conceived the idea of the New Vision, which ultimately produced Ginsberg’s famous neo-Whitmanesque poem Howl, Burroughs’ Naked Lunch and Kerouac’s On The Road.

But before all that happened, Carr stabbed then drowned his sometime lover David Kammerer (played by Dexter’s excellent Michael Hall), claiming Kammerer had attempted to sexually assault him. Because of a law that gave special dispensation to straight men under attack by homosexuals, Carr got off with a light sentence and went on to a long career with United Press International. I will refrain from making any comments about the kind of people who go into mainstream journalism. The facts speak for themselves — or would, if there weren’t mainstream journalists to cover them up!

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5 Reasons Why Childish Liberals Love The Hunger Games

Friday, November 22nd, 2013 - by John Boot

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Why does the movie The Hunger Games: Catching Fire excite today’s kids so much? Maybe because it plays to their childish views, which in many cases are interwoven with the central thinking of liberalism. Here are five reasons why childish liberals love The Hunger Games.

1) By spoofing yet glamorizing the media, it pretends you can have your cake and eat it too.

The Hunger Games thinks it’s a vicious satire of media-obsessed culture, particularly reality TV shows such as Survivor, which the movies literalize by imagining kids from around the country being brought to the decadent Capitol City to fight each other to the death for the amusement of TV watchers. But that satire has to be lost on the audience, which is attracted to the films for such spectacles as heroine Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) riding a chariot into an arena filled with thousands of screaming fans in an amazing dress that lights on fire for extra wow. Media-saturated kids walk out of the film picturing themselves being treated as superstars for no reason except being randomly selected in a lottery.

What does all this have to do with politics? Liberals who, for instance, keep proposing minimum wage increases or tariffs to keep out foreign competition are forever blasting things that in reality they love and couldn’t live without, like cheap laborers to redo their fancy kitchens or mow their lawns.

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Does the New JFK Assassination Movie Parkland Disregard the Facts?

Friday, November 1st, 2013 - by Roger Stone

I went to see Parkland this past weekend because I was hopeful that director Tom Hanks and his account of the JFK assassination would become as powerful and influential as Oliver Stone’s. I wanted to see him rise up and speak the truth to the generations who did not live through this tragedy.

The film won me over as a well-made work of contemporary pop art; however, as a historical account, Parkland deeply upset me. The movie bends the facts and disposes of the evidence. The Warren Commission would be proud of Tom Hanks and this subtle, manipulative, fictional version of JFK’s assassination.

Now I have an ax to grind. I outline the truth in my book The Man Who Killed Kennedy: The Case Against LBJ, which concludes that JFK was killed by a conspiracy that included LBJ, the CIA, and their confederates in the mob as well as Texas Oil men. I name the shooter—and it isn’t Lee Harvey Oswald.

Now, let me elaborate on how Parkland disregards the facts.

At Parkland Hospital, the physicians who answered the initial emergency call when President Kennedy was wheeled into Trauma Room One saw a wound where a bullet had entered the President’s neck. Parkland doesn’t mention that it’s a entrance wound, meaning JFK was shot from the front, not just the back as the Warren Commission tells us.

Consider the words of Dr. Malcolm Perry (played in the film by Colin Hanks) at a recorded press conference hours after the assassination:

Q:                          Where was the entrance wound?

PERRY:              There was an entrance wound in the neck.

Q:                          Which way was the bullet coming in the neck wound? At him?

PERRY:              It appeared to be coming at him.

Now let’s circle back to Tom Hanks, who cared enough to capitalize on the 50th anniversary of the president’s death, but not enough to research what actually happened on Nov. 22, 1963. 

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5 Cool Things About Escape Plan

Friday, October 18th, 2013 - by John Boot

With its dinosaur stars Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger, the new action thriller Escape Plan looks like a standard semi-trashy ’80s throwback flick. Guess what? It is. But guess what again? It’s actually pretty good. Here are five reasons why.

1) A cool concept.

Stallone plays Ray Breslin, a master breakout artist who, along with his partner (Vincent D’Onofrio), runs a profitable business that sends him, incognito, into a series of prisons that he then promptly busts out of. The idea is to expose the flaws in the prisons’ security plans and earn the partners nice consulting fees.

That idea yields a fun prologue in which Ray, who appears to be an ordinary inmate, gets in a prison-yard fight, is sent to solitary confinement and yet devises a way out by using the full range of MacGyver-tastic tricks. Did you know the film from inside the wax coating of a half-pint of chocolate milk can be used to obtain the secret security code of a maximum-security cell? I didn’t either, and maybe it can’t, but the details of Ray’s breakout are plausible enough for an action movie.

I especially loved the way he makes a sextant out of a pair of eyeglasses.

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4 Reasons Why Captain Phillips Is One of the Year’s Best Thrillers…

Friday, October 11th, 2013 - by John Boot

With the true-life maritime thriller Captain Phillips Tom Hanks has his best movie since Catch Me If You Can 11 years ago. Here are the reasons it works so well — and the reason its leftist politics cause it to fall into a trap while reaching for social significance.

1. Paul Greengrass.

The director of the second and third Bourne movies and United 93 is perhaps the reigning master of tense, absorbing, completely credible you-are-there cinema.

Captain Phillips is very much in that vein of breathless suspense. Vermonter Captain Richard Phillips was piloting the Merchant Marine vessel the Maersk Alabama off the Gulf of Aden when Somali pirates using simple skiffs were lurking in the waters looking for a lone ship they could pick off and hold for millions in ransom. Phillips himself endured a five-day ordeal, harrowingly depicted with Greengrass’s trademark quasi-documentary style.

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Don Jon Lands Some Fair Punches and One Foul

Tuesday, October 8th, 2013 - by Andrew Klavan

Don Jon  — a romantic comedy about a bartender with a porn addiction — is not the sort of movie I usually go to. But my wife wanted to see it, and I’m extraordinarily fond of her, so here’s what I thought. Not bad at all really. Well-acted, well-written, with an interesting point to make — although once you understand what the point is (in about 20 minutes) you can pretty well write the rest of the picture yourself. Still, it held me for all 90 minutes and there were some laughs and some genuine feeling — so not bad at all.

The idea is that porn — and romantic comedies and promiscuous sex and even religion — can all become addictive ways of losing yourself in a fantasy in order to avoid connecting with other people, and maybe losing yourself in them. This is all true and very relevant in the connected but weirdly disconnected world we now live in.

I especially appreciated the comparison between porn — in which the women have perfect bodies and do all sorts of stuff that real girls aren’t always willing to do — and romantic comedies, in which men find salvation through apologizing to their girlfriends and subjugating themselves to feminine values. Both are equally one-sided visions of relationships — and the movie illustrates it through the simultaneously luscious and distasteful predator female played excellently by Scarlett Johansson.

The one wrong move in the movie comes at the end, when the film smacks Catholicism. I have nothing against smacking Catholicism now and then — the horrifying portrayal of a pedophile priest in the last episode of Showtime’s Ray Donovan struck me as right on the money. But it’s no fair attacking the church for something it doesn’t actually do. The idea that religion can separate us from reality is true enough — it can. But the portrait of what confession is like and how modern priests react to problems struck me as dated and unrealistic. I’m guessing a guy with a porn addiction could do much worse than going to his local priest.

But other than that, a good show, all in all. Joseph Gordon-Levitt wrote, directed and starred and did them all well.

****

Cross-posted from Klavan on the Culture

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4 Ways Gravity Lives Up to the Hype — and 1 Way It Doesn’t

Friday, October 4th, 2013 - by John Boot

1) It’s not so much a movie as an all-consuming, mindblowing cinematic experience.

Director Alfonso Cuaron’s cinematographer and visual and sound effects teams have created an immersive 3D spectacle with few parallels in the history of moviemaking. Sound like hyperbole? You’ll be hearing a lot more along the same lines, because no film has ever made you feel space in all its awesome, terrible majesty like Gravity.

When Sandra Bullock and George Clooney, playing U.S. astronauts, get caught up in a debris belt and separated from their spacecraft and from one another, you’ll be spellbound by the scale of what they’re up against. When sound effects can’t be deployed (there is no sound in space, although there is plenty of it inside the helmets of the characters and inside the pressurized chambers of the various spacecraft they visit), a magnificently evocative musical score takes over, providing an approximation of what the catastrophic events the astronauts are witnessing might sound like on Earth, or in the imaginations of the overwhelmed characters.

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The Movie That Should Have Been This Summer’s Blockbuster…

Friday, September 20th, 2013 - by Leslie Loftis

old familiar

Summer blockbuster season is over, thankfully. It was rather disappointing for fans. Man of Steel gave us two hours of CGI fighting smothering 15 minutes of an attempt at a story. Star Trek: Into Darkness was so full of naive and contradictory notions of human goodness that my husband almost made us leave the theater for my eye rolling and snorting. (I’ve never been a Trekkie, but that was ridiculous.) And those were the movies that were monetarily successful. The rest of the intended blockbusters failed decisively.

But as the summer movie season ended, it produced a little gem of a movie. Relatively few watched it. More should.

As movie buffs have noted time and time again, Hollywood tries to push themes too hard. They make morals of the story overt. Then the movie comes off as preachy. Conservatives making movies tend to make this mistake with vigor, figuring among other things that they have only one shot to get the idea across so they better feature it.

The World’s End avoids that mistake (probably because it didn’t come out of Hollywood). It hits themes of friendship, loneliness, despair, aging, the necessity of free will–all and more in a story about a pub crawl. Well, not just a pub crawl. It’s a Dusk ’till Dawn like pub crawl, only set in small town England with blue-blooded robots sent by interventionist aliens. Throw in some 80’s rock and Shakespearian speeches about beer, and I grant it isn’t for everyone.

But for those of you I had at Dusk ’till Dawn set in English pubs, see the movie tonight. If it has already stooped showing, watch for it on Netflix. I’m going to catch it again then because some of those speeches are worthy of memorization and inclusion into the pop culture canon.

“Good food. Fine Ales. Total annihilation.”

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