Trump is Tommy DeVeto

Every time I watch Donald Trump give a speech, I’ve been reminded of someone, and trying to figure out who has been driving a little bit crazy. Was it Frank Pantengeli in Godfather 2? Was it one of the Three Stooges?

Then Trump appeared to throw a baby out of one of his speeches. It was astonishing:

Then, later, he claims he didn’t actually throw the baby out. It was a joke, he said, and a Washington Post reporter sitting nearby backed him up. Okay, fine. It didn’t play like a joke. Or if it did, it played like a mean one. What kind of man makes a joke about throwing a baby out of a rally. Well, a man like Donald Trump. But then something clicked in place. Another scene of a guy making a joke that no one could tell was a joke. Was he joking? Or was he serious? No one really knew, and that had life-or-death implications because this guy, well, he has impulse-control issues. Watch below (NSFW language).

And there it was. That association I’ve been searching for all year: Trump reminds me of Joe Pesci, playing Tommy DeVeto, the unhinged mobster who could be baited into violence at the drop of a hat.

This, like the revelation that Trump was only joking about the baby, is not really comforting.

What happened to the liberal media, part 2

Nothing like a one-sided report about one-sided congressional hearings. WVMetroNews – an operation that gives lie to the notion of some monolithic liberal media cabal – ran an article about yesterday’s EPA-bashing hearings in the U.S. House. Dutifully, WVMetroNews reported all the dire warnings from coal industry apologists about how the EPA’s recent enhanced scrutiny of coal mining permits threatened the very existence of the coal industry in West Virginia, including thousands of jobs.

Now, this was a terribly one-sided hearing. House Republicans didn’t invite any residents of Appalachia to testify about the impacts of mountaintop removal on their communities. No scientists were invited to testify about the extensive environmental damage caused by current mining practices. But, unlike the first hearing, this one did at least have someone from the EPA to defend the agency.

If your only information about the hearing came from WVMetroNews, you’d know that official was there, but you wouldn’t have a clue what she said. This is all the ink WVMetroNews gave her:

EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson was scheduled to be on hand to address the subcommittee, but did not show up.  Instead a second tier representative of her office was on hand.

I wrote about Nancy Stoner’s comments for a post on the Appalachian Center’s new blog. She defended the agency’s handling of coal permits and pointed out numerous scientific studies outlining the dangers to water quality and other environmental hazards associated with current mining practices that justify a stricter look at permits.

WVMetroNews readers wouldn’t know anything about that, unfortunately. It borders on journalistic malpractice.

He’ll be … back?

The former Governator wants to resurrect the Terminator.

The new film, loosely dubbed “Terminator 5,” is being shopped to studios. There is no script or screenwriter, but a person close to what Hollywood terms a film package, who asked not to be identified because of the early nature of the negotiations, confirmed that Creative Artists Agency has begun shopping the rights to make the movie, though with no plotline as yet. Schwarzenegger, the person said, would play a starring role as the title character in the science-fiction film, not a supporting role in which he passed the baton to a new hero. The movie would be directed by “Fast Five” director Justin Lin.

I certainly hope he’s been pumping a lot of iron since he left office – or the CGI experts are ramping up their game.

I liked the first two Terminator movies. The third was so-so. I had high hopes for Terminator: Salvation with Christian Bale starring as a post-Judgment Day John Connor, but it fell a little flat.

I’m not sure the world needs a Terminator 5 – and certainly not one with a 65-year-old Terminator.

Who is John Galt? A genocidal prick, according to Scalzi

Yeah, Kristen, this one’s for you.

In honor of today’s release of Atlas Shrugged: The Movie (Part I), I have to call attention to John Scalzi’s classic critique of the mammoth novel by Ayn Rand. I’ve already admitted Ihaven’t read the book – though it is on my book shelf – but I have my excuses. One – have you seen the book? The paperback is more than 1,000 pages of tiny type. I’m not afraid of long books. I’ve read the extended version of Stephen King’s The Stand more than once (more than twice, actually – but we’re talking about Ayn Rand here, not me). But – until I met my Kristen (my brother-in-law’s very significant other) – the only people who had ever recommended the novel to me were wild-eyed conservative true-believers – like the guy to the right, who was named for the author*. And, aside from such recommendations, all I’ve heard about it are critiques like this: “There are two novels that can change a bookish fourteen-year old’s life: The Lord of the Rings and Atlas Shrugged. One is a childish fantasy that often engenders a lifelong obsession with its unbelievable heroes, leading to an emotionally stunted, socially crippled adulthood, unable to deal with the real world. The other, of course, involves orcs.”

Which brings us to John Scalzi. I stumbled across his brilliant critique last year. Unlike me, he has read the book and says he enjoyed it, despite its literary flaws:

It has a propulsively potboilery pace so long as Ayn Rand’s not having one of her characters gout forth screeds in a sock-puppety fashion. Even when she does, after the first reading of the book, you can go, “oh, yeah, screed,” and then just sort of skim forward and get to the parts with the train rides and motor boats and the rough sex and the collapse of civilization as Ayn Rand imagines it, which is all good clean fun.

But for most fans – alas, he shrugged – the novel isn’t just a good read. It’s a political polemic to live by. That’s what Scalzi rips to shreds so effectively, by laying bear the truth about John Galt:

All of this is fine, if one recognizes that the idealized world Ayn Rand has created to facilitate her wishful theorizing has no more logical connection to our real one than a world in which an author has imagined humanity ruled by intelligent cups of yogurt. This is most obviously revealed by the fact that in Ayn Rand’s world, a man who self-righteously instigates the collapse of society, thereby inevitably killing millions if not billions of people, is portrayed as a messiah figure rather than as a genocidal prick, which is what he’d be anywhere else. Yes, he’s a genocidal prick with excellent engineering skills. Good for him. He’s still a genocidal prick. Indeed, if John Galt were portrayed as an intelligent cup of yogurt rather than poured into human form, this would be obvious. Oh my god, that cup of yogurt wants to kill most of humanity to make a philosophical point! Somebody eat him quick! And that would be that.

Maybe I’ll read the novel – or see the movie – just so I can appreciate Scalzi’s review even more. Oh, and to get Kristen – who got me a copy for Christmas – off my back.

* A friend informs me that, common belief aside, Rand Paul is not named after Ayn Rand. Rand is short for Randal.

P.J.O’Rourke reviews Atlas Shrugged: The Movie (Part 1)

P.J. O’Rourke is a fan of Ayn Rand:

The woman is a force.  But, let us not forget, she’s a force for good.  Millions of people have read “Atlas Shrugged” and been brought around to common sense, never mind that the author and her characters don’t exhibit much of it. Ayn Rand, perhaps better than anyone in the 20thcentury, understood that the individual self-seeking we call an evil actually stands in noble contrast to the real evil of self-seeking collectives.  (A rather Randian sentence.)

He appears to be not so much a fan of Atlas Shrugged, her seminal novel (which, I admit, I’ve never been able to bring myself to read – though it is on my bookshelf – thanks, Kristen). And he really hates “Atlas Shrugged – Part 1,” the new movie. He notes, for instance, that “the movie’s title carries the explicit threat of a sequel.”

I’ve always been a fan of good bad movies (Road House, anyone?), and this one might qualify. But I’m also a fan of good reviews of bad movies, and O’Rourke delivers just that here.

Upright railroad-heiress heroine Dagny Taggart and upright steel-magnate hero Hank Rearden are played with a great deal of uprightness (and one brief interlude of horizontality) by Taylor Schilling and Grant Bowler.  They indicate that everything they say is important by not using contractions. John Galt, the shadowy genius who’s convincing the people who carry the world on their shoulders to go out on strike, is played, as far as I can tell, by a raincoat.

The rest of the movie’s acting is borrowed from “Dallas,” although the absence of Larry Hagman’s skill at subtly underplaying villainous roles is to be regretted. Staging and action owe a debt to “Dynasty”—except, on “Dynasty,” there usually was action.

Mindful of the zealous nature of Randians, O’Rourke makes a half-hearted pretense of not criticizing the movie, but he’s not fooling anyone:

But I will not pan “Atlas Shrugged.” I don’t have the guts.  If you associate with Randians—and I do—saying anything critical about Ayn Rand is almost as scary as saying anything critical to Ayn Rand.  What’s more, given how protective Randians are of Rand, I’m not sure she’s dead.

The review is fun to read, but as is often the case with O’Rourke, there’s a serious point hiding in there:

An update is needed, and not just because train buffs, New Deal economics and the miracle of the Bessemer converter are inexplicable to people under 50, not to mention boring.  The anti-individualist enemies that Ayn Rand battled are still the enemy, but they’ve shifted their line of attack.  Political collectivists are no longer much interested in taking things away from the wealthy and creative. Even the most left-wing politicians worship wealth creation—as the political-action-committee collection plate is passed.  Partners at Goldman Sachs go forth with their billions.  Steve Jobs walks on water. Jay-Z and Beyoncé are rich enough to buy God. Progressive Robin Hoods have turned their attention to robbing ordinary individuals.  It’s the plain folks, not a Taggart/Rearden elite, whose prospects and opportunities are stolen by corrupt school systems, health-care rationing, public employee union extortions, carbon-emissions payola and deficit-debt burden graft.  Today’s collectivists are going after malefactors of moderate means.

I don’t agree with a lot of what O’Rourke says – here or elsewhere – but he sure has fun saying it.

As for the movie, it opens April 15. Be afraid. Be very afraid.

Yet another reboot of Batman?

The latest, enormously successful reincarnation of Batman isn’t even done – the third movie, The Dark Knight Rises is just starting production – and already Warner Brothers is talking about rebooting the franchise. I suppose that on top of the upcoming Spiderman and Superman reboots, this could be a sign that Hollywood is more desperate than ever for material, as well as acknowledgment that comic book movies are still a good bet.

But, really? Christian Bale redefined the Caped Crusader in Batman Begins, then director Chris Nolan took him to new dramatic and critically acclaimed heights in The Dark Knight and Warner Brothers is already eager to try to cash in again? That just seems crazy.

But it turns out there’s a decent reason for the strange strategy. The striking thing about Chris Nolan’s take on Batman was the hyper-realism. Far from the campy ’60s Batman or the surreal ’80s/’90s take on the comic book superhero, Nolan’s Batman lived in a world not all that different from our own. That was the key to the dramatic heft.

But it also makes integrating Batman into the planned Justice League movie a difficult artistic challenge. Nolan’s Batman doesn’t belong in the same world as Superman and Wonder Woman. But Batman has to be an integral part of Justice League – so, look for a “reinvented” Batman who will fit in better with the rest of the superheroes.

Let’s just hope the Wonder Twins don’t make the cut.

A brilliant review of an apparently horrible movie

When I worked at The Charleston Gazette, I wrote movie reviews in addition to editorials. The interesting thing about writing movie reviews is that it’s actually more fun to write a review of a bad movie than a good movie.

Whoever wrote this review of “Sucker Punch” had an awful lot of fun. I don’t know if the movie’s as bad as the reviewer lets on – it’s a movie I thought would be fun to see with a few guys after a few pitchers of margaritas. Not high art, certainly, but it looked like it might be entertaining. The movie is about a girl – Baby Doll – whose wicked stepfather sends her to an asylum to be lobotomized. She, and the movie, descend into multiple levels of fantasy scenarios that may or may not have anything to do with what’s actually going on in the asylum. It sounded intriguing. It’s directed by the guy who directed “300,” which was, if nothing else, visually stunning.

Then I read the headline of this review on a blog called Cave City Sink: “This Movie Made Me Feel Bad To Be Alive.” Wow. Here are a few choice excerpts from the review:

The first is its complete failure to create any sort of meaningful narrative. To be blunt: This movie is dumb and doesn’t make sense and appears to have been written by sleeping frogs.

The second is that it is nothing but the violent sexual exploitation of young women created solely for the profit of the makers and the entrainment of the idle audience and therefore is morally bankrupt beyond understanding. To be blunt: It must have been written by some very terrible and troubled frogs.

She finds herself in feudal Japan where Scott Glenn tells her some stuff about how to escape and a whole bunch of other horse crap that probably sounded good when it was being written in a hot tub while smoking hundred dollar bills.

(I haven’t mentioned that there is a voice-over at the beginning and end of the movie about how there are angels who help us and how we have find the tools to fight in ourselves, or something. I don’t really remember because I was dead at that point. I died of Dumb.)

Ok, this sounds like a seriously bad movie. Now the question I have to ask myself is this: Do I think it’s a good bad movie or a bad bad movie?


Going back to The Prestige

The first time I watched The Prestige several years ago, I ended up watching it two more times in the same week, each time teasing out additional insight into the central mystery of the film.

If you’ve seen the other mindbending movies by the Nolan brothers – Inception and Memento – you’ll be prepared for the plot twists and chronological turns The Prestige offers up in such abundance.

Hugh Jackman and Christian Bale star as up-and-coming magicians whose lives become entwined after an on-stage tragedy leads to an escalating antagonism and competition between them. Michael Caine plays Cutter, a designer of illusions and Scarlett Johansson and Rebecca Hall portray the women in their lives.

The Prestige is a meditation on obsession, compulsion, competition and love. Paying close attention – or multiple viewings – is necessary to truly comprehend the layers of the story.

The acting is sublime, especially considering the two leads are best known for their work in comic book adaptations. Hugh Jackman – best known as Wolverine in the X-Men movies – brings a darkness and drive to his role. Christian Bale – whose other work with the Nolans includes a couple of movies you may have heard of (Batman Begins and The Dark Knight) – brings smoldering intensity to his complex and layered performance.

The tag line on the movie poster here is right. You will want to watch it again as soon as the credits roll. And each time you watch it, you’ll pick up a new, subtle revelation. If you haven’t seen this masterpiece yet, I highly recommend it. If you have seen it, you know it’s worth watching again.