I have been separated from my computer from 7:30 this morning until now — 11:00 at night. The only thing I’ve managed to get done today is a poster riffing off of a little joke I made in a post yesterday:
Boyhood, which opened in July 2014 and is currently slated as one of the top contenders for Best Picture, has earned that rarest of rare accolades: a 100% score on Metacritic. Critics just love the movie.
The most obvious thing they love about the movie is the movie’s gimmick, which is actually quite clever. The movie was filmed over the course of 12 years, with the same actors gathering together for a few days each year to shoot that year’s scenes. It’s seamlessly edited, so you see the children grow up and the parents grow old. In that way, it’s like watching a very well-produced montage of home movies. Small wonder that probably 75% of each of the reviews I read centers on this clever technique.
Gimmicks alone, however, are not enough to sustain a 100% score created by looking at 49 different critic reviews. The critics also really like the movie’s story arc and character development. [If you're planning on seeing the movie, you might want to stop right about now, because I'm going to go into SPOILER territory.]
Giving you time to think about whether you want to continue. . . .
Tick. . . .
A little more thinking time. . . .
Tock. . . .
Okay, last chance. After this sentence, a review filled with SPOILERS is about to begin. . . .
I’ve been working out on a stationary bike lately, because of ongoing sports injuries. I find this dull. I also find that I can alleviate the boredom by listening to books on my iPod. I’m working my way through some of the books that are available for free from my local library.
When I listen to audiobooks while biking– heck, whenever I listen to books — I have to make certain that the book is simple in both substantive content and written style. Otherwise, if I get distracted, I lose track of where I am.
Sadly, I get distracted a lot. While I have almost unbreakable focus when reading a book, listening to books seems to go through a different part of my brain, one with a pretty short attention span. Because I can’t just page back in an audiobook to find what I missed, it can take me forever to retrace my steps. The end product of this issue is that I go for simplistic audiobooks.
Last week, I found a doozy of a simplistic book: Scotty Bowers’ Full Service: My Adventures in Hollywood and the Secret Sex Lives of the Stars. The book’s basic outline is that Bowers was a simple Illinois farm boy who came to Hollywood after WWII and quickly became the town’s best-known bisexual prostitute, as well as an even better known procurer who would happily (and for no fee) bring people together for sexual hi-jinx. The lure of reading the book, of course, is to discover which classic Hollywood stars were gay or bisexual (and according to Bowers, that was just about everybody), and what kind of bizarre sexual practices some stars enjoyed (you really don’t want to know about Charles Laughton’s alleged fetish).
I found the book surprisingly interesting, although not for the obvious reasons. Bowers certainly isn’t shy about describing various sexual encounters (and he seems to have had thousands, with both women and men, famous and unknown), but he does so in such an upbeat, yet clinical, way that it has all the sexual thrills of listening to one of those loud, cheerful gym teachers we used to have in the 70s describing the facts of life to a room full of bored teenage girls. If you’re looking to be titillated, this book isn’t for you. (But if you’re under 18, or prefer to keep your mind out of the gutter, this book isn’t for you either. It’s too graphic.)
Last night, I finally watched last year’s 3-hour-long The Wolf of Wall Street, which purports to tell the true story of Jordan Belfort, a guy who got rich beyond his wildest dreams of avarice thanks to the empire he built by fraudulently selling worthless penny stocks. The film garnered a great deal of attention when it opened because it showed the debauchery of Jordan’s life, as well as the life his fellow get-rich-quick traders lived. There were beaches full of cocaine (apparently the actors sniffed up powered Vitamin B), mountains of Quaaludes, oceans of alcohol, and swarms of naked prostitutes, as well as few tossed dwarfs. It wasn’t titillating, it was mind-numbing.
As I commented to my husband, the movie was too much debauchery and too little plot. By the beginning of the third hour, I was desperate for the FBI to move in and just arrest the guy so that we could all be put out of our misery. Unless you are a glutton for punishment, I recommend that you skip the whole movie and just watch the first and last half hours, which will tell you everything you need to know about one crook’s rise and fall.
Also last night, my son saw Noah, a movie that has aroused the ire of traditional believers because of the way it turns God’s message and moral on its head. While my son couldn’t care less about whether the movie twisted the Bible, he does care about good entertainment. This was not, in his estimation, good entertainment. Or as he said, and I quote, “Noah was a terrible movie. It was really stupid and boring. It was the worst movie I’ve ever seen.”
When I pressed him for details, I got a garbled recital about Noah’s stupid belief that he had to kill all of humankind, about his plan to murder his grandchildren, about unbelievable bad guys and animated rocks, and generally about a frenetic, yet boring, mess of a movie. This was a two thumbs down and then some.
Just yesterday, I pointed you to Roger L. Simon’s post arguing that conservatives are making a terrible mistake when they bail on the movie industry. Our intensely media-driven age, means that increasingly hard-left Hollywood is a superb propagandist that often provides the only information people get on a subject. The beauty of Hollywood propaganda (if you’re a Leftist) is that it’s so subtle. Hollywood doesn’t do clunky Soviet-era posters; instead, as Ben Smith ably demonstrated, it wraps core Leftist messages in rip-roaring good humor, gauzy tear-jerkers, or uplifting homilies. Polemics put people off; entertainment sucks them in.
We’ve gotten used to the Leftist tilt in entertainment over the years. We whine about it to each other (as I have here, here, here, and here), but that’s about all that we do. We accept it as not a necessary evil but an inevitable evil. That attitude encourages a certain passivity.
Sometimes, though, it’s worth making a loud noise, and that’s the case with Hollywood’s newest action flick, Non-Stop. The film has a high-profile star (Liam Neeson), lots of interesting cameos and co-stars, a big budget, and a clever plot about a well-disguised terrorist on a plane who is killing a new victim every twenty-minutes. (Thinking about it, for all it’s flash and newness, the plot is simply a re-hash of Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None.)
Superficially, it sounds like a fun movie for those who, like me, enjoy a well-produced, fast-paced thriller/whodunnit. Indeed, John Boot, writing at the conservative PJ Media, says that it’s a fun movie, and enjoys the way the ending is unexpected. (He also noticed the Agatha Christie parallel.) It’s that surprise ending, though, that has stirred outrage across the conservative blogosphere. You see, it’s not merely a surprise, it’s a “jump the shark” kind of surprise.
(For the uninitiated, the phrase “jump the shark” originated with the last season of Happy Days, when the show had gotten irrevocably stale. In an effort to jazz things up, they put the Fonz on water skies and had him jump over a blatantly mechanical shark. If a show has to stoop so low, it should already have been put out to pasture. Since then, the phrase is used not only to describe shows that should long-since have been shark chum, but also to describe plot turns that are too stupid to exist even in the magical entertainment universe.)
SPOILER ALERT. NON-STOP’S PLOT DENOUEMENT WILL BE REVEALED BELOW. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED.
Judging by the movie’s review at Breitbart, John Boot is correct that Non-Stop’s creators managed to avoid having a predictable ending. They did so, however, only by pushing a hard-Left world view that is going to be swallowed whole by every uninformed adolescent and young person who sees the movie. That is, while one can appreciate that the ending makes for a good movie, it is so unreal — such a high jump over a such a hideous, faked shark — that it should be soundly castigated, rejected, and ruined.
As I mentioned above, the plot device is Agatha Christie on steroids: people trapped in an enclosed space with a hidden killer bumping them off. Today’s headlines say it ought to have been a Muslim, since they’re the ones using terrorism against the rest of the world. If you’re a filmmaker who wants to add a good twist to reality, you make sure your terrorist is a well-disguised Muslim, along the lines of the British, Christian-born Black Widow who headed the grotesquely violent attack against a Kenyan shopping mall.
Having that kind of ending, however, would have failed to advance the movie’s real purpose: propaganda. Breitbart explains precisely what agenda the movie is pushing (and this is your last warning that there are spoilers ahead that will make watching the movie forever unnecessary):
Counting pilots and crew, there are around 150 souls on board. Marks has 20 minutes to figure out which one is the bad guy. Red herrings abound. Is it one of the many actors whose faces we recognize but names we can’t remember? People start to die. Marks is fingered as the hijacker. Who’s doing this? Why are they doing this? What is their motive?
Here’s the answer:
It turns out that the villain is not a hijacker but a terrorist — someone who wants to murder everyone on the plane to further a political goal.
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.
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.
Non-Stop didn’t stop at just jumping the shark. Instead, it embraced it and then made mad, passionate love to it. The filmmakers weren’t going for an element of surprise; they were sending a message to those credulous, uninformed Americans churned out by America’s public school system: Americans are bad; Muslims are good. Ignore the headlines telling you otherwise.* Hollywood knows better.
So what can you do? Well, I don’t recommend giving out spoilers unless people ask for them. Otherwise, you will be deservedly hated. However, to the extent that word-of-mouth is the most powerful advertising any Hollywood movie has, start mouthing off. If someone you know, in real conversation or on social media, expresses an interest in it, you can honestly state something along the lines of “I heard it was stupid” or “It’s supposed to be really bad. I’d never pay $14 to see a really bad movie.”
As a sort of tag, given that the movie stars Liam Neeson, I can’t help but remember that in January 2012, Neeson expressed a serious interesting in converting to Islam. Maybe he’s done it already and this movie marks his coming out.
*The usual disclaimer: Not all Muslims are bad. Most Muslims aren’t bad, but to the extent that almost none of them take a stand against the terrorists in their midst, the silent majority are complicit in the Muslim-inspired terrorism taking place in North America, South America, Europe, Africa, Australia, Eurasia, the Middle East, and Asia.
I’ve made the same point before, but I still like to see it come from Daniel Hannan and Jonah Goldberg: Nazis came from the Left, not from the right. Incidentally, I still like the way I phrased it, which was that we should get rid of the archaic Left/Right or Fascist/Communist/Capitalist language and, instead, look at political systems in terms of Statist versus Individualist forms of government. The world’s most famous bad guys, no matter the name they gave themselves, land on the statist side. America, before Obama, was more individualists, as she was when she went around the world freeing people from statists calling themselves Communists, Fascists, Nazis, Military Juntas, Muslim Fundamentalists, etc.
One of the things that distinguished George Bush was that he was a good manager — proving that he got something useful out of his stint in Harvard Business School. He surrounded himself by efficient, knowledgeable people who reflected well on this country’s competence, even if one didn’t agree with its policies. The opposite is true for Obama. He is a terrible manager who surrounds himself with people who know as little as he does.
Obama’s conduct is typical for an insecure person. He needs to surround himself with ineffective sycophants who say nice things to him and who don’t threaten him with their greater talents and skills. Obama gave the game away a long time ago when he announced, “I think that I’m a better speechwriter than my speechwriters. I know more about policies on any particular issue than my policy directors. And I’ll tell you right now that I’m gonna think I’m a better political director than my political director.” Genuinely smart — and mentally healthy — people don’t actually say things like that.
One of the things that drives me crazy about the Left’s insistence on bypassing parents to give young girls access to the birth control pill is the fact that it’s not just about sex (and the Left uses sex to bribe girls away from the nuclear family). It’s also about how high risk pills are. California kids can’t get their ears pierced without permission, but girls can easily get pills that are associated with strokes, blood clots, breast cancer and, now, multiple sclerosis. The Pill is a very dangerous medicine, but it’s so wrapped up in Leftist feminist politics, no one is willing to say “no” simply on safety grounds. The fight about the Pill on moral grounds is a good fight. The fight about the Pill on health grounds should be a winning fight — but nobody’s doing battle there.
Two excellent views about Putin’s escapades: Terresa, at Noisy Room, harks back to the Nazi notion of Lebensraum. Paul Rahe, at Ricochet, thinks Putin is a fool, trying to relive the glory days of the Cold War but, in fact, reaching far beyond Russia’s actual, very limited, economic abilities, not to mention exposing Russia to the very real risk of a Chinese takeover. Fool or madman, the one thing we know with certainty is that Putin’s policies will destroy many lives, both inside and outside of Russia.
My sister lives in Oregon. After the millions it spent on its Obamacare exchange, she ended up signing up the old-fashioned way: by paper. The only question is how long the media can keep the prestidigitation going, so that people don’t realize that they’re on the losing end of a shell game.
Colleges across America: “Due process? We ain’t got no due process. We don’t need no due process! I don’t have to show you any stinkin’ due process!”
Jonah Goldberg nicely analyzes something that we’ve been talking about here, which is the speed with which the gay marriage debate has gone from the fringe to “you’d better accept it or else.” As many famous people have learned to their cost, one of the most effective techniques for moving the debate forward without regard to the merits is the GLAAD & Friends tactic of “nice little place/career/life you’ve got here. . . . Shame if something happened to it.”
Roger L. Simon issues a call to arms: Take back Hollywood. It drives culture and, to the extent conservatives jumped off the entertainment bus, we’ve left the lunatics in the driver’s seat.
The IRS scandal continues unabated. Those who think it’s been addressed and repaired have been flim-flammed yet again. Moreover, if you follow the money to public servant corruption, that may go a long way to explaining why our bureaucracy, which is supposed to be studiously apolitical, has thrown its immense power to the Democrats, the political party owned by the government workers’ unions.
I really, really like Allen West. Here he is with a vivid, but emotion-free, summation about both Common Core’s academic weaknesses and the madness of Obamacare mathematics.
My bet without doing any research is that, if you studied political identity in the military, you’d see that the military is still more conservative than the population as a whole. What you’d also see, though, is that every subsequent new batch of enlistees is more liberal than the one that came before. Remember, the new enlistees are young and Democrats have marketed themselves successfully to the young.
We know that young people in the general population are souring on Obama as job prospects dim. Military enlistees have a job, but there’s still the possibility that they too will sour. To the extent that Senate Democrats refused to increase veteran’s benefits, the very minimal chatter I’ve seen amongst the few young enlistees who are Facebook friends is that they are feeling hostile to the Dems right about now.
The WaPo’s Richard Cohen wants you to know that 12 Years A Slave is an extremely important movie because it gives Americans a surprising new message that they need to hear: Slavery is bad.
I don’t know under what rock Cohen has been living, but the last major American movie to suggest that slaves didn’t have it all bad was Gone With The Wind, which came out in 1939. Cohen was born in 1948, nine years after Gone With The Wind hit movie theaters. He presumably graduated from high school in about 1965, by which time the Civil Rights movement had changed America’s racial paradigm. His education, moreover, didn’t take place in Ole Miss, or some other bastion of Southern-ness. Instead, he was educated in New York all the way.
Since leaving college (Hunter College, New York University, and Columbia, none of which are known for their KKK sensibilities), Cohen has lived enveloped in a liberal bubble. He first worked for UPI and has, for a long time, been affiliated with the Washington Post.
Somehow, though, up until he recently saw 12 Years A Slave, Cohen always believed that slavery was a good thing for American blacks. No, I’m not kidding. Yes, that’s what he really said:
I sometimes think I have spent years unlearning what I learned earlier in my life. For instance, it was not George A. Custer who was attacked at the Little Bighorn. It was Custer — in a bad career move — who attacked the Indians.
Much more importantly, slavery was not a benign institution in which mostly benevolent whites owned innocent and grateful blacks. Slavery was a lifetime’s condemnation to an often violent hell in which people were deprived of life, liberty and, too often, their own children. Happiness could not be pursued after that.
Steve McQueen’s stunning movie “12 Years a Slave” is one of those unlearning experiences. I had to wonder why I could not recall another time when I was so shockingly confronted by the sheer barbarity of American slavery.
Instead, beginning with school, I got a gauzy version. I learned that slavery was wrong, yes, that it was evil, no doubt, but really, that many blacks were sort of content.
Slave owners were mostly nice people — fellow Americans, after all — and the sadistic Simon Legree was the concoction of that demented propagandist, Harriet Beecher Stowe.
Her “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” was a lie and she never — and this I remember clearly being told — had ventured south to see slavery for herself. I felt some relief at that because it meant that Tom had not been flogged to death. But in the novel, he had.
I have no idea whether 12 Years A Slave is a good movie or a bad movie. Aside from the fact that I almost never set foot in movie theaters, going only when I need to chaperone children or when friends want a Mom’s night out, I have sworn off most movies, especially Hollywood history movies.
Sure Hollywood occasionally gets history right. Mostly, though, Hollywood gets it wrong, with the wrongness ranging from Oliver Stone’s delusional JFK, to the old-time biopics that had Cole Porter as a nice straight guy (Night and Day), to the saccharine anti-war stuff of Tom Hank’s war movie Band of Brothers. Hollywood is never interested in truth and never has been. It’s selling entertainment with an undercurrent of propaganda. In the old days, it sold entertainment with a wholesome, moralistic twist. Since the 1960s, Hollywood’s entertaining versions of history simply hate America, and that’s true whether Hollywood expresses that hatred in booming Technicolor or small nuances in Indy pictures.
Without having seen 12 Years A Slave, I willingly concede that slavery is a bad thing. It was a bad thing when Pharaoh enslaved the Jews and it was a bad thing when the British and, later, the Americans enslaved the blacks. It’s still a bad thing throughout the Muslim world where devout Qu’ran followers enslave Filipinos, Christians, blacks, and anyone else unlucky enough to end up in their clutches.
But unlike Cohen, I’ve actually paid attention, not just in school, but in subsequent years, so I don’t need to have Hollywood preach the obvious to me.
David Denby is a New Yorker movie critic. He also fancies himself as a political commentator. To him, Hollywood is the real world, the template against which everything else is compared. Reading his reviews, it’s obvious that, like the yearning kid watching Fred & Ginger trip lightly across in the screen during the Depression-era 1930s, he wishes life could be like the movies. His dream movies are the ones where Republicans and corporations are vanquished, and people live in harmony in the loving arms of a properly Progressive big government.
I stopped reading Denby aeons ago, because he is neither fish nor fowl — neither a good movie reviewer nor an intelligent political commentator. I’ve always assumed that his sinecure at The New Yorker came about because he doesn’t show up Anthony Lane, who is a superb movie reviewer, and he makes the right political noises in his reviews.
So that you know I’m playing fair and not simply maligning Denby on principle, both because I dislike The New Yorker and because I dislike what he now has to say about Ted Cruz (more on that in a moment), here are excerpts from posts I wrote several years ago regarding Denby’s malicious politicism, which he worked into way too many movie reviews. The first excerpt is from a post I wrote in 2006, when I was still agnostic about global warming, but I could tell even then that Denby wasn’t a movie reviewer but was, instead, a propagandist. I’m quoting from the first post at length, both because it so perfectly exemplifies Denby’s world view and because, that, seven years after Al Gore’s movie thrilled the true believers, the facts on the ground (and in the ocean and in space and on the sun) prove how completely wrong he and the sycophantic Denby were:
Denby’s review of An Inconvenient Truth is even more political. Look at the very first paragraph:
Anyone in possession of a major truth that he can’t get others to accept begins to feel that he’s losing his mind. [That may explain so much about Al Gore's recent behavior. --ed.] The skepticism he meets turns him into a soreheaded obsessive. After a while, he becomes “pedantic,” and then, inevitably, “condescending” and “humorless.” [Thus, it's not that Gore is, in fact, pedantic, condescending and humorless. We, the skeptical public created this Frankenstein's monster. In the words of the old song, he's more to be pitied than censured." -- ed.] Al Gore has been in possession of a major truth about global warming for than than thirty years [Gore's prescience was impressive because the era more than 30 years ago was the global cooling fear phase, a phase that occurred when we didn't have the current measurements we do regarding global warming. -ed], and he has suffered the insults of political opponents, the boredom of ironists, and, perhaps, most grievously, the routine taunts of a media society which dictates that if you believe in anything too passionately there must be something wrong with you [The point being that there's obviously nothing wrong with Gore, it's just that the media doesn't understand him -- which really is strange, because I live with the idea that this same media has accepted entirely his view of global warming. --ed.]
Denby then goes on to describe a movie that, if it were about anything other than global warming, would get laughed off the screen. Even Denby acknowledges its faults:
[Gore] appears as the noble-browed warrior of englightenment, brooding over the ravaged earth and the weakness of man, once or twice too often. He mentions family tragedies, which were moving to me, but which strike some viewers as maudlin notes from a campaign biography.
Fear not, though, since “the faults of the movie, semi-excusable as self-vindicating ploys, are nothing compared with its strengths.” The strengths, though, make it sound like one of those appalling 8 mm films we slept through in high school in the 1970s:
For long stretches, Gore is photographed talking before an audience with the aid of slides and charts. There are side trips to fissured ice caps, disappearing glaciers — the snows of yesteryear — and expanses of newly parched and broken terrain. The science is detailed, deep-layered, vivid and terrifying. Every school, college, and church group, and everyone else beyond the sway of General Motors, ExxonMobil, and the White House should see this movie. [Get it? Evil corporations, evil oil, and the foul Texas Christian in the White House are incapable of understanding Gore's greatness or simple science. --ed.] [Bolded emphasis mine.]
Denby isn’t shy about calling the movie what it is: “It’s great propaganda.”
But in Denby’s mind, what’s really great about the movie is how it shows the human side of Al Gore (and you thought he didn’t have one). Thus, Gore “speaks in an intimate voice that we’ve never heard before.” When Gore talks about lying by a river, and keeps coming back to that image after global warming holocaust pictures, “it has a greater resonance.” Denby claims that Gore has learned to speak in a less annoying way. Listen to this and tell me whether you believe that. The rhythmic up and down of Gore’s speech — a rhythm that has nothing to do with emphasizing or deemphasizing actual content — is both soporific and bizarre.
But here’s the real kicker. Denby assures us that the movie demonstrates that Gore has been purified in the crucible of past experiences:
[O]ne has the impression of a complex personality that has gone through loss, humiliation, a cruel breaking down of the ego, and then has reintegrated itself at a higher level. In the movie he is merely excellent. But in person . . . he presents a combination of intellectual force, emotional vibrance, and moral urgency that has hardly been seen in American public life in recent years.
Watch out, Hillary. It’s Saint Al for President.
Every dog’s allowed one bite, and perhaps every movie critic should be allowed one polemic. But Denby isn’t just any movie critic. He’s a Progressive shill making sure that his movie reviews advance his political agenda. Also in 2006, he open-mindedly praised Oliver Stone’s World Trade Center, despite the fact that conservatives liked it. Honest. Here’s what he wrote:
“World Trade Center” is about courage and endurance as a function of family strength; it’s about suburban and small-town America trying to save the big city. Those are conservative themes, much praised for their appearance in this movie by the kind of right-wingers who have long hated Oliver Stone. Some of the euphoria—Cal Thomas, a columnist and a commentator at Fox News, calls the movie “one of the greatest pro-American, pro-family, pro-faith, pro-male, flag-waving God Bless America films you will ever see”—is not only inane, it’s enough to turn you off moviegoing [sic] altogether. Can “World Trade Center” really be that bad? No, the ideologues laying hands on the movie won’t sink it.
The last David Denby movie review I read was his slobbering, wide-eyed take on Spike Lee’s When The Levee Broke, about Hurricane Katrina. The view was less interesting for his boringly predictable Bush/conservative bashing, than it was for his starry-eyed fan-girl love for all of the most despicable characters on the Left. In my post on the subject, I quoted Denby directly, but added in hyperlinks giving actual facts about the Leftist “luminaries” that left him quivering with excitement:
Keeping his own voice largely absent and his presence invisible, he [Lee] finds the city’s tattered survivors. He also consults a variety of lawyers and local politicians, and such luminaries as Harry Belafonte and Al Sharpton; the musicians and New Orleans natives Wynton Marsalis and Terence Blanchard (the latter wrote much of the beautiful music for the film); the historian Douglas Brinkley, who makes impassioned critiques of Bush Administration officials and the Federal Emergency Management Agency; and the Mississippi man (a doctor) who publicly advised the Vice-President, when he visited the area long after the storm, to go fuck himself.
My take on that review was that Denby has set a goal for himself: He wanted to be the next Frank Rich. Rich, as you may recall, was the theater critic for the New York Times who proved to be so adept at anti-conservative rhetoric that he was given a permanent gig as a political opinion writer. His opinions were reliably fact-free, but Rich made up for that deficit with his splendid grasp of florid invective, all of it aimed at George Bush.
In his continued journey towards Frank Rich-ness, Denby has now penned an opinion piece that aims to be a dagger to Ted Cruz’s heart. Because no one in his right mind could call Cruz stupid, Denby has opted for describing him as the ugliest person since the elephant man. Moreover — and this is the important part — Cruz’s outer ugliness is the physical manifestation of his inner dishonesty. In this bootstrap argument, Denby doesn’t bother to give actual examples of Cruz’s dishonesty (because he can’t). For him, Cruz’s looks are proof enough:
When Ted Cruz lies, he appears to be praying. His lips narrow, almost disappearing into his face, and his eyebrows shift abruptly, rising like a drawbridge on his forehead into matching acute angles. He attains an appearance of supplication, an earnest desire that men and women need to listen, as God surely listens. Cruz has large ears; a straight nose with a fleshy tip, which shines in camera lights when he talks to reporters; straight black hair slicked back from his forehead like flattened licorice; thin lips; a long jaw with another knob of flesh at the base, also shiny in the lights. If, as Orwell said, everyone has the face he deserves at fifty, Cruz, who is only forty-two, has got a serious head start. For months, I sensed vaguely that he reminded me of someone but I couldn’t place who it was. Revelation has arrived: Ted Cruz resembles the Bill Murray of a quarter-century ago, when he played fishy, mock-sincere fakers. No one looked more untrustworthy than Bill Murray. The difference between the two men is that the actor was a satirist.
Not only is Cruz a liar, he’s also a demagogue, says Denby. You have to be Denby-clever, though, to figure this one out, because Cruz is too ugly to be your traditional demagogue:
Cruz is not as iconographically satisfying as other American demagogues—Oliver North, say, whose square-jawed, unblinking evocation of James Stewart, John Wayne, and other Hollywood actors conveyed resolution. Or Ronald Reagan—Cruz’s reedy, unresonant voice lacks the husky timbre of Reagan’s emotion-clouded instrument, with its mixture of truculence and maudlin appeal.
Not convinced yet that Cruz, despite his evil looks is a lying demogogue? Well, Denby has other arrows in his quiver. Cruz is also smart. He always has an answer. That proves what a lying liar he is:
Yet Cruz is amazingly sure-footed verbally. When confronted with a hostile question, he has his answer prepared well before the questioner stops talking. There are no unguarded moments, no slips or inadvertent admissions. He speaks swiftly, in the tones of sweet, sincere reason. How could anyone possibly disagree with him? His father is a Baptist, and Cruz himself has an evangelical cast to his language, but he’s an evangelical without consciousness of his own sins or vulnerability. He is conscious only of other people’s sins, which are boundless, and a threat to the republic; and of other people’s vulnerabilities and wounds, which he salts. If they have a shortage of vulnerabilities, he might make some up.
I won’t quote any more, both because of Fair Use principles and because I feel as if I’m sullying my site by doing so. (I’m sure it won’t surprise you that Denby drifts into comparing Cruz to Joe McCarthy.) Moreover, I think I’ve made the point, which is that Denby is a political opinionator who runs everything through old-time Hollywood central casting.
In the old movies, especially the silent movies, Hollywood had to rely on visual cliches as a shorthand to character development. The hero was square-jawed and often, in the Gary Cooper mode, silent (hence the “strong silent type” trope). Meanwhile, the villain was greasy-haired, shifting eyed, and quick-witted in an evil way. As The Incredibles proved to such wonderful comedic effect, villains “monologued.”
In Denby’s narrow, Progressive, Hollywood constrained world, Cruz is Snidely Whiplash brought to life, not because of anything specific that he says or does, but simply because, in Denby’s telling, Cruz fits the visual requirements for a stock Hollywood bad guy:
To the Left, Obama’s political purity is made manifest because of his brown skin and white smile. It should therefore come as no surprise that, to the looks-obsessed Leftists, Cruz, who cannot be denigrated as a mental lightweight, must be painted in the most brutal physical terms. I expect that the Left’s next step will be some 21st-century version of phrenology, with Progressive hacks sagely opining that the shape of Cruz’s head, or the bumps upon it (especially the ones that the Left assumes are there, hidden under his hair), prove his mental deviancy and unfitness for office.
Well, two can play at the looks game, so I’ve got a little rogue’s gallery of Progressives. While they’re not the stuff of nightmares, each could easily play a villain in old Hollywood’s central casting system. (I don’t know why my Picasa chose to include Clinton twice in this collage. I just rolled with it.):
One last thing. If physical beauty is Denby’s standard for ideological purity, let’s just say that Denby falls quite short of his own standards. However, if you called Central Casting and asked them to send over a bombastic, narrow-minded, supercilious, faux-academic, you might just see David Denby show up on your movie set:
Here’s the thing that the progressives in media and government want to hide from you: The federal government is America’s servant, not its master. This means that the National Park Service is a caretaker, not an owner. To the extent it is denying people access to outdoor monuments (including blocking the roadside vista points from which drivers can see Mt. Rushmore), it is grossly overstepping its bounds.
While the Mt. Rushmore barrycades are the most graphic example of the federal government’s failure to understand that it is the American people’s employee, the most disgusting example is the way the National Park Service has spent tens of thousands of dollars (during a shutdown) to barricade the World War II Memorial, an open air park, in Washington, D.C. The purpose is to prevent members of the World War II generation, sometimes called “the Greatest Generation,” from having access to a memorial honoring their courage and their dead during the battles across Europe, the Pacific, and the Mediterranean during World War II.
Those men and women from the Greatest Generation who are still living have overcome enormous physical, financial, and emotional challenges to visit their monument – a monument built to honor them and their comrades, and that sits on public land that the American people have allowed the federal government to care for. And what does the caretaker do? In a grotesque example of spite, it uses its power – the power we gave it – to block the veterans. No wonder the men who stormed Iwo Jima and fought the Battle of the Bulge, even though they’re in their 80s and 90s, thought nothing of storming Obama’s barrycades.
And speaking of the World War II memorial serving as an example of the federal government’s arrogant overreach and cruelty, HBO’s Bill Maher is the poster child for the arrogant viciousness behind that attitude:
The other thing that apparently was so important for the Republicans to keep open was the World War II Memorial in Washington. That was closed, so a bunch of the World War II vets knocked down the barriers and stormed it.
And then I loved this, they posed for pictures with Michele Bachmann who showed up. Michele Bachmann, one of the people most responsible for shutting the fucking thing down. They’re the greatest generation – nobody said they were the brightest generation.
This is not only cruel, but it’s a gross misstatement of what’s going on: Republicans in the House, exercising their constitutionally granted “power of the purse,” have offered repeatedly to fund every aspect of the federal government except for Obamacare. (Incidentally, Obamacare’s opening days have proven that it is not ready for prime time and may never be.) Democrats from Obama on down have responded by refusing to fund the government and by trying to bludgeon the American people into thinking that the House’s constitutional conduct is somehow “illegal.”
In a perfect world, people all across America would engage in massive civil disobedience by doing such radical things as viewing Mt. Rushmore, standing at the stone-carved feet of Lincoln and Jefferson as they sit in stately dignity in their memorials, touching the names carved into the Vietnam Wall, and walking onto through, around, and over the outdoor World War II Memorial. The Democrats running the federal government need to be reminded that this land is our land, it is not their land.
(This post first appeared in somewhat modifed form at Mr. Conservative.)
The online magazine IndieWire has noted something interesting: movies with gay leading characters aren’t doing big box office. In the 90s, movies such as The Birdcage (based on the audience tested La Cage aux Folles), Philadelphia (about the still-headlining catching scourge AIDS), and In & Out (with a pleasing Kevin Kline as a gay teacher trying to hide in the closet) were big sellers. In the first decade of the 21st century, the numbers went even higher with Brokeback Mountain (surely one of the most demoralizing movies about gays ever made), which grossed over $80 million in 2005. Other gay-themed movies didn’t do as well in that decade (topping out in the $60 million range with Sacha Baron Cohen’s gross-out Bruno), but they were still bringing at least $30 million each.
In the last few years, though, gay themed movies (that is, movies with the main protagonists being gay), have failed to bring in the big money. IndieWire assembles the numbers:
Top Grossing Films With Lead LGBT Character (2010-present)
1. The Kids Are All Right (2010) – $20,811,365
2. I Love You, Phillip Morris (2010) – $2,037,459
3. Farewell My Queen (2012) – $1,347,990
4. I’m So Excited (2013) – $1,216,168
5. La Mission (2010) – $1,062,941
Even the highest grossing of the bunch couldn’t match the lowest grossing gay-themed movie from a decade earlier, well the remaining ones couldn’t even get into the high single digits (when counting by millions). So what happened? IndieWire offers five theories, only the fifth of which I’ll quote in its entirety:
1. There’s just not as much of a need for these films anymore. [snip]
2. There are less LGBT films being made, so there will clearly be less of them grossing $1 million. [snip]
3. There are less marketable LGBT films being made. [snip]
4. All the good LGBT representation is on TV. [snip]
5. The market has simply changed. Here’s where the most significant answer lies, and it very much encompasses the last 4 explanations as well. The economic world of film is vastly different in 2013 than it was in 1993 or 2003. Back in the 1990s, studios were making the kind of mid-budget films in which “Philadelphia,” “In & Out, “The Birdcage” and “To Wong Foo” encompass. Then in the 2000s when studios all had started specialty divisions (like Universal’s Focus Features and Fox’s Fox Searchlight), LGBT content seemed to be delegated there with smaller budgets (like with “Brokeback Mountain,” “Kinsey,” “Milk,” and “Capote”). Nowadays, even those kind of $15-$20 million budgeted LGBT films are rare.
I think that the “market has changed” theory is on the right track, but it’s too narrow an analysis. The problem for blockbuster gay-themed movies isn’t just the “type” of movies being made (i.e., big budget versus small, art film versus action, etc.). It seems to me the audience just isn’t that interested anymore. Depending on which statistics you believe, a generous count is that the entire LGBT spectrum, from “L” all the way through “T” makes up at most 10% of the population. Straight women who want romances or rom-coms aren’t going to want to see gays or lesbians as the main characters. Straight men who want action movies aren’t going to be interested in anything but a macho lead, because the little boy part of each men still thinks that, under the right circumstances, he too can be that hero. Teen boys through to young men in their early 20s, who seem to be homophobic no matter how gay-friendly and supportive their community is, will watch gay stuff only in the context of gross-out sex and feces jokes, a la Bruno.
The gay-themed movies of the past had broad audience reach for reasons very specific to those movies: Some, like Philadelphia spoke to very big issues with which society was struggling. Others, like The Birdcage and In & Out, had brilliant (and, I might add, straight) comedic actors with great scripts that happened to tap into a time when audiences still got a sort of thrill from being hip enough to watch a gay-themed movie. Brokeback Mountain? Great acting and a serious plot about pathetic human beings. That’s got to appeal to the nation’s “elite” movie-goers. Also, it was a sufficiently serious movie that people who would normally only be willing to watch gays in a comedic context could contemplate the spectacle of watching R-rated gay sex in a movie theater without any laugh lines. (Incidentally, effeminate comic figures have been in Hollywood movies since the dawn of talkies; other than that, they stayed discretely locked away, both on screen and off.)
But now, for the majority of straight Americans, the thrill is gone. Gays are indeed ubiquitous on TV. They’re also pushing to the forefront of the media everywhere, in numbers disproportionate to their representation in the American population. The vast number of Americans are not homophobic, even if they don’t want the ancient institution of marriage extended to gays. And as for gay marriage, increasing numbers of Americans support that too.
We no longer see gays as stock comic figures. We no longer see gays as tragic martyrs to disease. We no longer see gays as closeted victims. We no longer see gay images in movies as titillating. And, assuming we’re heterosexual, we don’t see them as acceptable lead characters in romances, rom-cons, action movies, or teen flicks. That leaves a very, very small market for movies with gay leading characters.
In other words, now that straights have run out of reasons to see gay movies just because they’re gay, it turns out that gays might not be as interesting as they think they are. A gay movie has to offer entertainment on its on terms without preaching at audiences. And gays probably want to make movies that aren’t demeaning to them — which I think Bruno (staring the straight Baron Cohen) was, insofar as it presented gay sexual behaviors as grotesque, disgusting, and perverse.
Until a gay-charactered movie has crossover appeal, offering a solid product that appeals to Americans’ cravings for comedy, romance, action, or serious stuff (which, insofar as gays goes, has mostly been done), I supect gay-themed movies will continue to languish economically.
Someone gave us tickets to see a play called Black Watch, about the famed Scottish regiment in the British Army. The play premiered in 2006 in Edinburgh, at the height of anti-War fervor. It tells the story of a regiment that goes back 300 years, that bore the brunt of a bad attack in Iraq, and that was later folded into another regiment, to the distress of its members and many in Scotland. The genesis for the play was a series of news reports about returning vets getting into bar fights, etc. (Of course, when I heard that, I immediately wondered if these guys would have gotten into bar fights regardless, consistent with their working class Scottish demographic, and then made news solely because of their Black Watch affiliation.)
Here’s a YouTube promo that gives you an idea about the play. I got tired just watching it:
Although everybody on the Left who wrote it, produced it, acted in it, or reviewed it insists that it’s “even handed,” I have to admit to having my doubts. I’ll try to keep an open mind, though. It might indeed be a moving tribute to a long-standing regiment. (My Dad — who was in the RAF, but ended up in ANZAC, and then somehow served as an infantryman — fought aside the Black Watch in El Alamein. He carried with him memories of being piped into battle.)
The good thing is that the actors I’ll be watching are all actually Scottish, so they’ll have the accent right. The bad news — and the reason I have an icky feeling about the play, even if it is well-done and is even-handed — is that I’m absolutely certain that the majority of them are anti-War. I mean, think about it: young, Scottish, in the Arts — they’ve got to be Leftists. I certainly don’t have proof, but I have a reasonable hypothesis, right?
What this means is that those who are ostensibly paying respectful homage to generations of Black Watch soldiers in fact think of soldiers as sadistic baby killers. For such actors, every depiction of a good soldier is a parody, because there’s no such thing. And every depiction of a bad soldier — whether on the field or off — feels right because, after all, that’s what troops are . . . BAD.
This is why I hate modern war movies. It’s not just because I’m squeamish. It’s because I know that the actors, producers, and directors making those movies hate everything the troops stand for: their masculine culture (which is why the huge push for homosexuals generally and women on the front lines), their religion (which is why Obama’s Pentagon has hired a rabid Christian hater to work with it on “tolerance”), and their belief that war is the only way to solve some problems (“War, for the times when a ‘Coexist’ bumper sticker just won’t get the job done.”).
To me, it’s a cruel travesty to watch poncy Hollywood (or Scottish) actors bound around pretending to be masculine and brave. It’s not just that they’re scared little boys pretending; it’s that they’re scared little boys who despise the real thing.
All of this makes it very ironic that Steven Spielberg, he of the anti-War left, has signed on to make a Chris Kyle biopic. Chris Kyle wasn’t politically correct. He loved war when it was just, he loved fighting, he loved the manliness of his military environment, and he absolutely and completely hated the people against whom he fought: the savage barbarians of Islam. One can bet, though, that in Spielberg’s limp hands, Kyle will become an anguished figure, trying to come to terms with the havoc he’s wreaked upon the innocent people of Iraq.
Incidentally, one of the reasons WWII war films worked so well, and are still watchable, was because the people in them supported the war effort. Some enlisted, some served, some were in the Army Reserve since 1937 but couldn’t serve because of bad vision (that would be Ronald Reagan), and all believed that America needed to beat the Axis. Yes, a lot of the actors were scared little boys pretending, but they admired the real thing, rather than despising it.
After I’ve seen Black Watch, I’ll let you know what I think of it, and whether my fears were realized.