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HBO’s Terror at the Mall: The Right Film at the Right Time

Tuesday, September 16th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson
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As the world’s attention is focused on ISIS, it’s easy for many to neglect the threat posed by their brethren in less-covered parts of the globe.

It’s also easy for many to dismiss the growth of al-Qaeda affiliates in North Africa as a regional threat, even as Americans in Uganda were warned by the U.S. Embassy to shelter in place over the weekend because of an imminent threat from Al-Shabaab. “We remain vigilant to the possibility that some of the attack cell could still be at large, but we believe that it is appropriate to rescind the guidance to shelter-in-place,” the Embassy said Sunday. “We urge, however, that all U.S. citizens maintain heightened security awareness and continue to monitor email and news outlets for any updates.”

It could also be easy for some to assume that Al-Shabaab is significantly degraded after a U.S. airstrike on Labor Day killed its leader Godane, instead of noting how quickly they moved new leadership into place and renewed their fidelity to al-Qaeda.

That’s why the HBO documentary Terror at the Mall, which premiered on the cable network Monday night, is so important.

The Westgate mall in Nairobi, with its patrons a truly globalized mix of races, creeds, nationalities, and ages, was a microcosm of the greater al-Qaeda target. On Sept. 21, 2013, Al-Shabaab moved in on their target. Sixty-seven people were killed and nearly 200 wounded.

British documentary producer and director Dan Reed has experience showing the brutality of terrorism: 2009′s Terror in Mumbai and 2003′s Terror in Moscow.

In Terror at the Mall, he painstakingly pieced together footage from more than 100 security cameras around Westgate as well as the still photos of renowned Reuters war photographer Goran Tomašević, who gives the story behind some of his famous photos from that day. We also see him, in full combat photography gear, drift through security camera footage with plainclothes police as the bullets fly.

Reed sits down with some of the survivors seen in the footage, including Niall Saville, who was eating lunch at a patio restaurant when the attack began. His wife, Moon Hee, is badly wounded and he drags her into the restaurant and behind the counter as a security camera looks on. A terrorist eventually discovers the pair and shoots Saville. The couple lay on the ground in a pool of blood, the husband trying to stay conscious as his wife dies.

In the large adjoining supermarket, Nakumatt, we see a heroic man get ripped by bullets for venturing out into the aisles to get a bottle of water for a wounded man. We hear from his savior, who admits he learned how to put life-saving pressure on the wounds from watching movies. We hear the stories of the mothers with children who went grocery shopping that day only to cower behind the meat counter in a last-ditch effort to stay alive. An Al-Shabaab terrorist comes by and sprays customers with bullets as they try to shield their children.

Katherine Walton, who hid her three children under a mall kiosk table, speaks of her immediate realization that as an American, as a Christian, she would be a prime target for the terrorists. Another survivor from the supermarket recounts that one of the Al-Shabaab members asked a Kenyan mother if she was Muslim or Christian; she replied she was Christian and was immediately shot to death.

Some of the terror was out of the reach of security cameras, like the massacre at a children’s cooking competition on the roof of the parking garage. A few of the hostages were released after telling the terrorists that they were Muslim, but Muslims were also among the dead. Radio host Ruhila Adatia-Sood was one of three pregnant women killed that day.

The film also highlights the people who came to help, including businessman Abdul Haji, who grabbed his gun and joined plainclothes policemen trying to rescue survivors in the mall (he admits he didn’t have many rounds that day, but stresses it’s accuracy that matters most). The disorganized response of Kenyan authorities, including soldiers accidentally shooting at survivors and killing Kenyan policemen, underscores the tragedy.

It concludes with Al-Shabaab’s “message to unbelievers”: “God willing, there will be more Westgates. We have hundreds more volunteers.”

Terror at theMall is stark, unflinching, bloody and terrifying. It also couldn’t be a more chilling reminder at a more important time. It’s not about pundit commentary and lets the footage speak for itself. It will stay with you for a long time. And in a terror fight that has seen its share of fair-weather commitment, that is needed.

“We don’t know each other, we all come from different communities,” recalled survivor Valentine Kadzo, who hid under the kiosk with Walton. “But at that time we were one.”

And that’s exactly the approach we need to take in confronting the growth of Boko Haram, al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, and Al-Shabaab.

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What the International Gendercide Crisis Must Teach America About Abortion

Monday, October 14th, 2013 - by Paul Cooper

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One month ago my wife and I did something that would be illegal in some parts of the world. We had our third child, and for the third time we had a girl.

It was one of the most joy-filled moments of our lives, but for millions of parents, having even a second or sometimes a first daughter is an impossibility. In China, India, and other parts of the world, girls are unwanted. They are viewed as having no value to the government and little value in society or even to their own families. The result has been widespread gendercide, the systematic and deliberate destruction of girls, typically through abortion. Sometimes through infanticide.

Some estimates say the world is missing over 200 million girls thanks to the practice of gendercide. Most of those come from China and India, where they eliminate more girls every year than America has births.

Since 1979, China has had a one-child policy, and boys are the preferred of the two choices for mostly economical reasons. The government penalizes families monetarily for having more than one child and also takes part in forced abortion and forced sterilizations if the women don’t take care of it themselves. This obviously has created an unbalanced male population, and some of the side effects have been increased child abuse and sex trafficking.

In India the government officially frowns on gendercide, yet they turn a blind eye to it. They outlawed using ultrasounds to determine gender because it led to so many abortions of girls. However, they ignore that the practice still goes on.

One study of 8000 abortions in India, for example, showed that 7999 of the aborted babies were girls.

In India, the problem is plain economics for families. Arranged marriages work in a way where the parents of the bride have to pay a large dowry to the parents of the groom. Having boys creates wealth, while having girls diminishes it. The girls who do manage to live often are born into a family that rejects them. In fact, one of the most common names for girls in this situation in India is a Hindi name that means “unwanted.”

The once ignored problem of gendercide is just starting to get attention in media, culture, and even among a few politicians. In fact, a new documentary was recently released called It’s a Girl! that looks at sex-selective abortions and infanticide of girls in depth. The movie is a heartbreaking expose, painfully declaring that the three most deadly words in the world are “it’s a girl.”

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The film is sparking a growing conversation in America. The filmmaker has even screened the film to feminist and pro-choice groups in hopes of getting everyone unified against gendercide. But we should take this conversation a step further: we should be asking if the elimination of female babies in other nations can teach us about abortion right here in America.

By asking questions about the commonalities gendercide shares with abortion in America, we might all learn something. Following are five thought-provoking questions, the answers to which require pro-choice Americans to question how they can support abortion in America while being against gendercide elsewhere.

You may find the first question and quote along with it a bit disturbing.

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Will Kevin Pollak’s Comedy Doc Meet Its Kickstarter Goal?

Thursday, September 19th, 2013 - by Kathy Shaidle

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Kevin Pollak has appeared in a bunch of classic movies, including The Usual Suspects.

He’s one of the best mimics alive.

Comedy Central voted him one of the top stand-up comedians ever.

Now Pollak wants to shoot a star-studded documentary exploring one of the great paradoxes of Western culture — the sad clown:

If you’re a fan of stand-up comedy, and those who perform it, you’re no doubt aware that a staggering percentage are truly miserable. We’ve lost number of great comedians to drugs, alcohol and suicide. How can they be so entertaining to strangers and so filled with sadness and/or rage with family and friends…? The main goal of this film is to shed extensive light on this bizarre dichotomy. … It’s gonna be a hoot!

Yes, all those drugs don’t help.

But before Lenny Bruce became the “Bird” of comedy and inspired too many stand-ups to shoot up, funny men had reputations as either twisted, self-destructive misanthropes or inconsolable Pagliaccii, too fragile and wounded to survive in a harsh, shallow world.

It’s a theme that runs through Always Leave Them Laughing (1949) and HBO’s Louie, and through The Comic (1969) to the Marc Maron “WTF” podcast.

The difference between those older pieces and contemporary ones is that, sometime in the 1960s, professional comedians no longer felt obligated to “turn their frowns upside down” when they went on stage, lest they disillusion their audiences.

That brand of artifice (and self-control) went out with the cheap tux and the Catskills.

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‘Good ol’ Freda’ Breaks Her Silence About the Beatles

Saturday, September 7th, 2013 - by Chris Queen

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Over the years we’ve heard so many stories about the Beatles and just when it seems we’d heard it all, one woman who was involved with the band throughout their entire career is speaking out for the first time.

Beatles manager Brian Epstein hired an unassuming teenage girl from Liverpool to serve as the secretary to his musical charges, and Freda Kelly filled that role for the band’s entire career and even for a year after their 1970 breakup. She’s going public in a new documentary.

A film, titled “Good ol’ Freda,” was financed through crowd funding site Kickstarter, which raised almost $60,000 from 660 backers. McCartney even gave his blessing to the project, approving the licensing of four original Beatles songs – something that seldom happens in film – and audiences are able to visually feast on never-before-seen photographs.

Kelly basically gave away all her memorabilia (likely worth millions now) to desperate and devastated fans in 1974. She went above and beyond during her time to ensure that fans were given the real deal. That involved sneaking threads from McCartney’s shirts, arranging for hair snippets and making sure Starr really did sleep on a pillowcase before returning it to an overjoyed fan – but apparently she drew the line at fulfilling requests to send along fingernail clippings. So intent on being honest, the secretary once let go of a whole crew of assistants who were exposed for trying to pass off a girl’s hair for that of a Beatle.

Kelly opens up on plenty of topics in the documentary, holding back about very little. She additionally helped take care of Ringo Starr’s parents, a part of her job she remembers with great fondness in the film.

And as candid as Kelly became throughout the filming process, there was still one topic in particular that was off-limits.

“I asked if she dated any of the Beatles,” [director Ryan] White said. “And she stared me down in her charming way.”

Kelly does, however, confess to zipping her lips about such things as Lennon’s wandering eyes while married to college sweetheart, Cynthia Powell. Yet she had no qualms about putting the boys’ in their place when the occasion called for it.

The public will hear many of the tales in Good ol’ Freda for the first time when it opens – Kelly’s own daughter admits to not knowing “95 percent” of her mother’s stories.

Good ol’ Freda opens in select theaters today, and will release simultaneously via video on demand and iTunes. Here’s the trailer:

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Meet The Least Likely Songwriter to Have A Top Ten Hit

Saturday, August 31st, 2013 - by Chris Queen

Fred Stobaugh

These days, most pop music consists of style over substance. Regardless of talent, today’s top stars like Katy Perry, Lady Gaga, and Justin Bieber are largely more concerned with dance moves and video poses than songwriting chops – which makes the appearance of a delicate ballad like “Oh Sweet Lorraine” by Green Shoe Studio featuring Jacob Colgan and Fred Stobaugh in the iTunes Top Ten (#10 as of this writing) a pleasant surprise.

What’s even more astounding is the story behind the song. Stobaugh, the songwriter, is a 96-year old Illinois man who wrote “Oh Sweet Lorraine” in memory of his wife of nearly 73 years who passed away in April.

On a whim, the widower entered a songwriting contest that he saw advertised in a local paper with a love song he’d written for his bride.

Green Shoe Studio, the company running the contest, couldn’t accept his handwritten entry (the competition was digital-only), but they were so touched by his story that they decided to produce his song — and a short documentary about it — anyway. That video, which was posted in July, recently went viral, and the exposure has sent “Oh Sweet Lorraine” soaring up the charts.

What sounds like a cute little consolation prize of a story turns out to be a touching tribute to lifelong love.

“After she passed away, I was just sitting in the front room one evening by myself, and it just came right to me,” he says of his song. “I just kept humming it and singing it. That’s how I came to write it. It just fit her.”

The resulting song is simple, but that’s the beauty of it. “Oh sweet Lorraine,” the chorus begins, “I wish we could do all the good times over again.” The song continues, “Life only goes around once, but never again.”

The resulting song is one of the sweetest, most beautiful songs you’ll ever hear. The folks at Green Shoe Studio deserve kudos for taking a chance on a lovely and deeply personal lyric, and Mr. Fred Stobaugh has every right to be proud of his song. No doubt Sweet Lorraine is smiling down from heaven at the tribute.

Here’s the documentary. (Warning: you’ll need a tissue or two.)

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Walt Disney’s ‘Boys’: Beautiful Music, Brotherly Disharmony

Thursday, August 15th, 2013 - by Chris Queen

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“It’s A Small World.” “Chim Chim Cher-ee.” “Let’s Get Together.” “Tall Paul.” “There’s A Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow.” If you’ve heard of any of these songs, you’re familiar with the extensive work of the great composers and songwriters Richard and Robert Sherman. The Sherman Brothers worked together for 50 years until Robert’s death last year. Though they did not work exclusively for Disney, their work for the Mouse is their most well-known.

I recently stumbled on a documentary that came out just a few years ago that dives into the history of Richard and Robert Sherman’s amazing work. The Boys: The Sherman Brothers’ Story brings the story of beautiful music and brotherly disharmony to the screen in an entertaining and poignant way.

The sons of noted Tin Pan Alley songwriter Al Sherman (in fact, Al paid the delivery costs for the birth of older son Robert with a royalty check that had arrived that day), Richard and Robert Sherman were born less than three years apart. Their family moved from New York City to Beverly Hills in 1937. Robert was an intellectual, studious boy, while Richard was more mischievous. Robert served and was injured in World War II, and the years of his combat stint meant that he and Richard entered college at the same time in New York.

Back in Los Angeles after college, Richard and Robert stumbled onto separate songwriting careers until a disagreement with a collaborator brought them together. An assignment to write a song for an Annette Funicello film led the brothers to Walt Disney:

Of course, the Sherman Brothers would work exclusively for Disney (both at the Studios and with Imagineering) for several years before working for other producers and studios – along with Disney – in later years.

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A Hollywood and Academic Rehab for Black Panther Revolutionaries and New Left Terrorists

Thursday, April 4th, 2013 - by Ron Radosh

This week, the rehabilitation of the most extreme of the New Left groups — the Weather Underground — entered a new stage.

Yesterday, the New York Post revealed that convicted felon Kathy Boudin — who was released from jail a decade ago after serving 22 years for her role as getaway driver in a deadly 1981 Brinks truck robbery — was given the position of adjunct professor at Columbia University’s School of Social Work.

At the same time, Boudin was also(!) given a position held concurrently at New York University, where she was appointed Sheinberg Scholar-in-Residence. She recently gave a lecture for that program on “the politics of parole and re-entry,” something which she obviously knows about.

There are, of course, many other candidates who could have been given both positions, and none of them were part of a leftist terrorist group whose action resulted in the death of the first African-American police officer in that area, and two other police officers. Two of the three had families; children grew up without their fathers.

Nine children.

When she was pulled over, Boudin shouted to the officers whose guns were drawn: “Put the gun back.” They put their revolvers in their holsters.

At that point — as the officers went to inspect the back of the van she was driving — her cohorts came out with weapons blazing, killing the two policemen and one other who had joined in pursuit.

Boudin was never repentant.

As David Horowitz points out today at NRO:

[Boudin is a] murderess who betted the cold-blooded massacre of three law-enforcement officers, including the first African-American on the Nyack police force; a woman whose actions left nine children fatherless and who has shown no genuine remorse for that.

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Why You Should Take the 2012 Apocalypse Seriously

Tuesday, December 11th, 2012 - by Walter Hudson

Seeking a Friend for the End of the World stands as one of the most creative scripts produced in 2012. Steve Carell and Keira Knightley play an odd couple united on a quest to reconnect with their respective pasts before a meteor destroys all life on Earth. Dramatically deviating from the clichés of the disaster genre, Seeking a Friend presents a doomed humanity that takes the apocalypse fairly well. While including requisite scenes of panic and riot, the film’s characters strive toward some sense of relationship in their final days.

We too seem to be taking the apocalypse pretty well. Our world hurls toward its scheduled end on December 21st according to predictions based on the ancient Mayan calendar. It’s something folks like Art Bell, George Noory, and their overnight talk radio guests have been warning us about for years. It serves as the subject of several books, a keyword of countless websites, the inspiration for a variety of B movies, and the premise behind Roland Emmerich’s consummate disaster film titled simply 2012. After years of hype, the date approaches. Yet there is a conspicuous lack of panic.

The smart money bets on the continued survival of both humanity and our planet. As my friend and PJ Media colleague Sunny Lohmann recently quipped on Twin Cities News Talk, the only thing sure to come beyond the winter solstice is more daylight. Predictions of Armageddon have an impressive failure rate.

Be that as it may, we should not completely dismiss the potential for a kind of apocalypse. No, I don’t mean the fiscal cliff, Obama’s second term, or an imminent economic meltdown. I’m talking about an apocalypse of the kind which has come many times before, a moment in history when a culture unravels under a development so overwhelming that established institutions pass into ruin. Think of the Aztecs and their encounter with Spanish conquistadors. They scurried about, minding their own business, when the white man arrived to unmake their world.

At a moment like that, two things happen. Newly introduced technology bowls over indigenous methods, and a new way of thinking transmits through that technical superiority. That kind of apocalypse, one which reforms our world and thus destroys our way of life, looms not only possible, but anticipated.

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‘Miserable Failure’: Michael Moore Admits His Plan to ‘Democratize’ Best Documentary Oscar Just Made Problem Worse

Monday, October 8th, 2012 - by PJ Lifestyle News

via Oscar “Disaster”: Controversy Erupts Over New Documentary Feature Rules As Michael Moore Calls For Changes – Deadline.com.

Those new rules, as first reported on Deadline at the time, changed the nomination voting process. Instead of several groups of small mysterious committees each watching a set number of films, the whole documentary branch now has the opportunity to see and vote on every eligible film. Then final voting is opened up to the entire Academy to be pick a winner — just as they do on Best Picture and other categories. The new rules also attempted to trim the number of entries, specifically targeting films not really meant for theatrical release by requiring a one-week run in New York and Los Angeles as well as a review in either the New York Times or Los Angeles Times. This was seen as a way to discourage TV documentaries or vanity projects from getting into a race designed for movies that are truly meant for theaters first. HBO was a culprit, and now others are jumping into the docu world including today’s announcement regarding a new documentary unit from CNN.

The new system hasn’t worked out the way its main architect, Oscar-winning documentarian and Academy Doc branch Governor Michael Moore, envisioned, and he is the first to agree at least part of it has been a disaster. “I told them (the Academy) to use that word”, he said. “It’s a miserable failure.” Moore, who serves with co-governors Rob Epstein and Michael Apted, said this after branch members, who had already received a steady but manageable stream of movies to view on DVD through the first 9 months of the year, suddenly had about 80 new titles dumped on their doorsteps with only a month to go before ballots for the first wave of voting are due. The list will be whittled to 15 semifinalists in November followed in early January by the final five nominees sent to the entire membership. Moore during the last week has floated some ideas of strengthening the rules, but after talking with Academy CEO Dawn Hudson and COO Ric Robertson this weekend, he is thinking the best idea may be to go back and not have any rules (other than the standard ones imposed by the Academy) and to put the special-needs documentary branch on even footing with other Academy branches.

He agrees something went terribly wrong with the process this time.

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Related at PJ Lifestyle:

Oscar’s Only Human: The 10 Biggest Academy Awards Blunders

Are Clint Eastwood’s Not-Trying-Too-Hard Movies Actually Better than His Oscar Films?

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