Category Archives: Book, Film, & TV Reviews

Posts about books you might find of interest!

James Bowman reviews Disney’s “Frozen”, & its frozen ideology

Summary:  James Bowman reviews Disney’s Frozen, looking beneath the animation to show how it reflects the changing nature of women in America. That makes the film even more interesting — to people interesting in the New America rising on the ashes of the America-that-once-was. Better or worse? You decide.

 

Film review of Frozen:
“Frozen in Ideological Time “

By James Bowman.

American Spectator in the
issue of 14 February 2014.

Posted with his generous permission.

 

…The very concept of “seriousness” as applied to the arts hardly has any meaning now, ever since — as the Times’s film critic A.O. Scott announced nearly a decade ago — “children’s entertainment has become the cornerstone of the American movie industry, not only commercially, but artistically as well.”

But cartoons and the cartoon-like dominate to the extent that they do not only because so much of the movie audience today is made up of juveniles but also because they are the means of re-mythologizing the culture along progressivist lines with the help of the sort of fantasy known as ideology. Star Wars was a big part of that effort, of course, as was Star Trek.

Thirty years ago when I was a teacher, I once assigned a class to do a presentation on someone each pupil regarded as a hero. One boy gave his talk on Captain James T. Kirk. I made him go away and re-do it on someone real, as I thought he was mocking the assignment; but I wonder now if, even then, he simply had no better idea of heroism. Certainly you would be surprised nowadays if any child didn’t assume that what was wanted was an account of his favorite superhero. Real heroes, being no longer politically correct and gaining no advantage from their mere reality, can no longer compete with the fantastical kind.

The job that has been done on girls, while less well-recognized has been no less thorough than that which has been done on boys. Princesses are to girls what superheroes are to boys: objects of admiration not in spite of but because of their unreality. Recently Harrod’s teamed up with Disney to introduce a Disney-world-style “Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique” to London — “a magical beauty salon,” according to Disney, “where any little girl can make her dream of becoming a princess come true.” That should tell you something about the Disney concept of truth. Tanya Gold of the London Sunday Times fulminated against the move as a politically retrograde step, but she must not have seen many Disney princesses of recent years. Now they don’t just look pretty until Prince Charming comes along. They’re more like “Princess” Leia of Star Wars, their faux-royalism mere camouflage as they doff their tiaras to lead the revolution.

The latest example comes with Frozen, which is similarly a tale of disenchantment masquerading as enchantment. Getting real would truly be a momentous step for Disney if real meant real, but of course it doesn’t; it means getting ideological.

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Learning from “Fort Apache”, recovering our past.

Summary: One reason we’ve become weak is our amnesia about American history, to an astonishing extent overlaid by myths and falsehoods. Some of our best classics can help us recover this lost knowledge. Oddly, these are often despised due to our indoctrination to believe they are all myth and propaganda. In today’s post, a retired philosopher reviews Fort Apache — one of the greatest westerns.

 

Review of “Fort Apache”

Directed by John Ford.
Staring Henry Fonda, John Wayne, and Shirley Temple.
RKO Pictures (1948).

By Kelley L. Ross, posted at Friesian.
Re-posted with his generous permission.

 

One expects John Ford’s classic western Fort Apache to exhibit the typical mindless racism of other western movies of its era. Indeed, the Turner Classic Movies version begins with an introduction that, among other things, warns the viewer that the image of American Indians presented in the movie is not “politically correct.” The host perhaps had not actually watched the movie, for Fort Apache is definitely not what one expects and, politically correct or not, the American Indians it presents to the viewer are not the sort that are typical in other movies.

The movie centers around Henry Fonda’s character of Lt. Col. Thursday. Thursday is a martinet, a bigot, and a fool–not the kind of character we usually see Henry Fonda playing. His assignment at Fort Apache, he makes clear, is beneath his abilities. He thinks he should be off fighting serious Indians, like the Sioux, and he totally ignores the warnings of Capt. York (John Wayne) that he should not underestimate the Apache warriors they may have to face in battle. Thursday doesn’t learn better until it is far too late.

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Recommendation: nine of the best American romantic films

Summary: Our world is whirlpool of hate and fear, driven by lust and greed. Films about love show us glimpses of a better world. Here are nine of my favorite romance films, most relatively recent (i.e., doesn’t include Casablanca). You might enjoy some of them, something different for your holiday entertainment.

Most romantic films

Passengers

Now in theaters.

Passengers

Director: Morten Tyldum.
Writer: Jon Spaihts.
Stars: Jennifer Lawrence, Chris Pratt, Michael Sheen.

Bien pensant critics went berserk over this, the most anti-feminist story since the Rape of the Sabine women — to which this is somewhat similar. It’s a powerful story in the science fiction tradition of putting people in extreme situations — and watching them make choices (most critics refused to accept the situation, despite its plausibility). The film is tightly plotted. It has good dialog, fine acting, and a strong ending. I recommend it as a modern love story.

Leap Year

Director: Anand Tucker.
Writer: Deborah Kaplan and Harry Elfont.
Stars: Amy Adams and Matthew Goode.

One of the best romantic films of this generation. Of course, the critics hated it. Amy Adams plays a young woman who values romance above worldly goods and the society of America’s elites — and who gambles much to get what she wants. She plays a free-thinking and independent women, free of the upwardly-mobile princess mentality of most American romance films. The critics reacted to it much as vampires do when force fed garlic.

The two leads have understated yet electric chemistry, with Goode providing a solid acting foundation for Adams’ usual superlative characterization.

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Review of “Sully”: an example of fake history in the making

Summary:  James Bowman describes a small but telling example of making fake news in the film Sully, showing how Hollywood turns an episode of skillful piloting into a fake morality tale about a heroic individual vs. an irrational bureaucracy. People watch films and learn not just about the specific incidents depicted, but also the larger lessons they show.

 

Film review: “Sully sullied?

By James Bowman.

American Spectator, 23 September 2016.

Posted with his generous permission.

Should we be troubled by the Clint Eastwood’s mild falsification of what actually happened after “the Miracle on the Hudson”?

Whatever else it does or doesn’t do, Clint Eastwood’s Sully makes an interesting case study for those of us who think a lot about the relationship between movies, or popular culture in general, and real life. Because the whole story of “the Miracle on the Hudson” on January 15, 2009 took only seconds to unfold, and because it was caused by Canada geese being sucked into a jet airliner’s engines and was therefore seemingly uncomplicated by any human drama behind the scenes, it must have been obvious to Mr. Eastwood from the start that some such drama had to be confected for the movie — if not quite ex nihilo then by way of exaggeration of what really happened.

He chose an inquiry by the National Transportation Safety Board which actually took place months after the plane’s “forced water landing” — as Captain Sullenberger (Tom Hanks) insists on calling it, as opposed to a “crash” — relocating the hearing to the days immediately after the event and showing his hero, still suffering from post-traumatic stress (we can watch his CGI nightmare of crashing the plane into Manhattan), being badgered by his bureaucratic inquisitors for taking an unnecessary risk with his passengers’ lives by ditching in the Hudson instead of making an emergency landing at one of the New York area airports. A computer simulation is said to have found he could have made such a landing. Sully, then, in the time-honored fashion of courtroom drama, gets to explain to his dunderheaded tormentors why the simulation is wrong.

It never happened in real life, but the story sort of fits with a familiar movie “narrative” of corrupt bureaucrats working against ordinary guys and gals who have behaved heroically and on behalf of corporate interests, in this case the airline (U.S. Airways, as it then was) and its unnamed insurers, who are supposed to be trying dishonestly to prove the hero no hero at all. There is also, slightly buried here, a man-vs.-machine drama — the computer simulation versus Captain Sully’s having “eyeballed it” — as well as just a hint of man-vs.-media as, for a brief moment at least, the TV reporters who are such a big part of the story scent scandal arising out of the NTSB inquiry.

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Review of Dr. Strange: a good film misunderstood by the critics

Summary:  This review will help both those wondering if they should see the Dr. Strange and those who have seen it, although in different ways. This gives a different perspective than you’ll get from the critics. No spoilers!

“A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man.”

— From Joseph Campbell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces (1949).

Dr. Strange

 

Review of Marvel’s “Dr. Strange”.

Great acting.
Some interesting cgi.
Adequate plot and dialog.
Questionable morality.

**** out of 5 stars.

Marvel’s latest film tells a story familiar to us all as another re-telling of the hero’s journey, as described by Joseph Campbell in his famous book. It’s also familiar to those of us who read the Dr. Strange comic books, which have run on and off since 1963. The film shows the power and weaknesses both of this iconic character and Marvel’s superhero films. The reviews show that many critics have difficulty understanding either.

The trailer introduces one of the great taglines for the series, almost as good positioning as that of the first X-men film (protecting those who fear and hate them):  “The Avengers protect the world from physical dangers. We safeguard it against more mystical threats.”

Let’s start the review with the most important aspect of modern Hollywood film-making, on which they lavish their time and talent: the CGI. Some of it is excellent. Much is a bore, repeating themes we have all seen countless times going back to 1968’s 2001: A Space Odyssey (Strange’s first magical trip copies 2001’s hyperspace journey). The key demonstrations of magic in the film are all in the trailers: sparkly space portals (clever), astral projection (well done), and space bending. The last is drawn more skillfully in Dr. Strange than in Inception, but used less skillfully. They use too much of it for too long, so it becomes boring.

The fight scenes display little imagination, mostly hand to hand combat with magic light sabers. Oddly they employ none of the imaginative tools used by Dr. Strange in the comics’ battles (e.g., Crimson Bands of Cyttorak, Images of Ikonn, Shields of the Seraphim, Winds of Watoomb, Flames of the Faltine, Hand of Hoggoth). The last third of the film is an extended fight scene, running so long I felt lost in time (but not as bad as The Lord of the Rings, where Peter Jackson gutted the plot to fit in orgies of gratuitous violence).

At the end I agree with the harsh verdict of James Verniere at the Boston Herald: the good spots were too few, so it was a “derivative, monotonous and repetitious display of CGI Cheez Whiz.

The film seldom shows the small uses of magic to demonstrate its power as often done in the comics (except for a humorous example in the first of the two codas in the credits). The writers seem to have exhausted their imagination on the large CGI set pieces, treating the rest as a paint-by-the-numbers exercise.

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Martin van Creveld shares a lifetime of insights

Summary: Martin van Creveld is one of our generation’s leading military historians, whose insights illuminate the some of the major trends of our time. His new book sums up a lifetime of observation and thought, especially about the use of history to understand the present and future.

Clio & Me

Available at Amazon as a Kindle ebook.

 

Martin van Creveld discusses his new book:
Clio & Me: An Intellectual Autobiography.
Now a Kindle ebook; hard copy soon.
Posted from his website with permission.

Relatives, friends, students, colleagues, and journalists have often asked me what I see in the study of history, particularly military history, and how I ever got into that esoteric field. I always answered as best I could, but never thought I would try to put my answer down in writing. In my family people only write their memoirs when they are very old and ready to go, which I am not (yet).

Years ago, my stepson and best friend, Jonathan Lewy, was bitten by the scholarship bug. As an undergraduate student of history at Hebrew University, he read Marc Bloch’s The Historian’s Craft, which, as he was not slow to point out, was written when Bloch was exactly as old as I was in 2003. Jonathan has often asked me why I did not try to produce a similar work, and I have often evaded the question even in my own mind.

Jonathan, who in the meantime earned his PhD and did a post-doc at Harvard, is nothing if not persistent. But I did not want to produce yet another volume on the philosophy of history and the technique of teaching it. Instead, I decided I would try to answer the above questions, and others like them, by writing an intellectual autobiography.

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Martin van Creveld explains why our armies are becoming pussycats

Summary: Martin van Creveld’s new book asks hard questions about America’s ability to defend itself as our society undergoes revolutionary changes (mostly undesired by its citizens). It’s provocative reading for those who like analysts that color outside politically correct lines.

“Proclaim this among the nations: Prepare for war! Rouse the warriors! Let all the fighting men draw near and attack. Beat your plowshares into swords and your pruning hooks into spears. Let the weakling say, ‘I am strong!’”
— Joel 3:9-10.

“{Since WWII}, almost the only time Western countries gained a clear military victory over their non-Western opponents was during the First Gulf War. …This episode apart, practically every time the West …fought the rest, it was defeated.”
— Martin van Creveld in “Pussycats”.

 

Disagreeing with Martin van Creveld’s predictions feels like arguing against tomorrow’s sunrise. His successful forecasts are legion. The Transformation of War: The Most Radical Reinterpretation of Armed Conflict Since Clausewitz (1991) reads like a future historian’s analysis of our misadventures in Afghanistan and Iraq. Around 1995 Martin van Creveld told the CIA that Mexico would become the greatest threat to America’s sovereignty. They thought this was delusional; I suspect events since then have changed their minds.

So his new book deserves close attention: Pussycats: Why the Rest Keeps Beating the West. It discusses issues of great importance and covers a wild field of vital questions.

Van Creveld warns that social changes are eroding away the West’s ability to defend itself — reducing its once powerful armies to pussycats. This is probably false as an explanation for the defeats of conventional armies since WWII when fighting non-trinitarian (aka 4GW) armies in foreign lands. It looks prescient as a warning about the future. Let’s examine both perspectives.

About past counterinsurgencies since WWII by foreign armies

The dynamics of war changed after Mao brought 4GW to maturity (details here). The resulting inability of foreign armies to defeat local insurgencies shaped the post-WWII world. It’s a lesson our military refuses to learn (it would reduce the need for their services). Van Creveld clearly explains this in The Changing Face of War (2006).

What is known, though, is that attempts by post-1945 armed forces to suppress guerrillas and terrorists have constituted a long, almost unbroken record of failure … {W}hat changed was the fact that, whereas previously it had been the main Western powers that failed, now the list included other countries as well. Portugal’s expulsion from Africa in 1975 was followed by the failure of the South Africans in Namibia, the Ethiopians in Eritrea, the Indians in Sri Lanka, the Americans in Somalia, and the Israelis in Lebanon. … Even in Denmark {during WWII}, “the model protectorate”, resistance increased as time went on.

Many of these nations used force up to the level of genocide in their failed attempts to defeat local insurgencies. Despite that, foreign forces have an almost uniform record of defeat. Such as the French-Algerian War, which the French waged until their government collapsed.

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