Years ago, I wrote movie reviews for a website in which I was a partner, editor and writer, which I later sold to an Amazon.com subsidiary. One of them was a review of director Roland Emmerich’s environmentalist movie, The Day After Tomorrow, which I did not praise, let alone recommend. I titled the 2004 article, which was published prior to the film’s debut, “Ecozilla”. The article’s no longer available. Like much of my writing, it’s not included on my site’s archives.
An English professor in California found and read the review; she cites it in her book, Bad Environmentalism: Irony and Irreverence in the Ecological Age (University of Minnesota Press, 2018).
Yet the author Nicole Seymour, the associate professor at California State University, Fullerton, who also authored a book titled Strange Natures: Futurity, Empathy, and the Queer Ecological Imagination, falsely describes me in her book as a “conservative”. The author made no attempt to reach out to me in advance of publication, let alone attempt to confirm her assertion as fact. I do not claim to be and have never described myself as a conservative writer, journalist or thinker. In fact, most of what I’ve written about conservatives, including my commentary for newspapers such as the Arizona Republic, San Francisco Chronicle and Los Angeles Daily News and my blog post “Conservatives and the Tea Party”, which is publicly available, disavows conservatives.
Additionally, on the movie website the author references, most of my writing, including reviews, columns and other articles, explicitly criticizes conservatives, including President George W. Bush. My review of one of the religious movies released by Disney, and another article criticizing fundamentalist Catholic Mel Gibson, received some of the most threatening reader feedback of my career, including death threats.
Nevertheless, Professor Nicole Seymour writes that:
[a] conservative review of the 2004 climate change-themed blockbuster The Day After Tomorrow echoes liberal Jones, though much more sourly: “Prepare for more religious propaganda: [The Day After Tomorrow] is the New Left’s doomsday evangelism with ecology as its religion“ (Holleran 2004). A political conservative complaining about “religious propaganda” is, of course, an irony in itself though one a bit beyond the scope of this chapter.”
This distorts the truth, adding a deeper distortion by implying that this writer is also religious; indeed, it’s clear that the Cal State Fullerton scholar holds that every conservative is inherently religious (is Seymour unaware that one can be both secular and conservative, as one, such as Hillary Clinton or Pete Buttigieg, can be both religious and liberal?) Again, the author made no attempt to reach out to me in advance, during or after publication. The author simply prejudged me as a “political conservative” and as a religious conservative at that based on a negative review of an environmentalist movie. The California State University professor’s dishonesty provides an important example of an academic jumping to conclusions, not going by facts, not even attempting to go by facts, and distorting the truth with abandon.
As usual, and as is increasingly necessary, particularly with regard to claims by those promoting environmentalism, the reader should doubt and scrutinize what he reads. This is because, to paraphrase a terrific line, what you read ain’t necessarily so.
This fall, I’m focused on writing new fiction as often as possible while working with my existing customers. I am also researching topics in sports, history and the arts for new magazine assignments, so stay tuned. I recently interviewed literature scholar Shoshana Milgram about Victor Hugo for an article which is coming soon. Also, stand by for a link to an article about Pittsburgh and Ayn Rand in this winter’s edition of Pittsburgh Quarterly.
Meanwhile, I’ve added a couple of movie-themed article links to the site archives. My review of John Ford’s 1960 motion picture about a Negro soldier accused of raping a white woman, Sergeant Rutledge, which is truly heroic unlike the heavily hyped Black Panther, can be read here. This week, the World Series ended, so I’ve included my 70th anniversary review of The Stratton Story, starring June Allyson and James Stewart. This inspiring, romantic movie is a simple and heroic baseball tale; read my review here.
My recent viewing of Joker starring Joaquin Phoenix moved me to finally see Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver (1976). While I notice certain similarities, it’s the differences with that year’s Best Picture Oscar winner, Rocky, that really caught my attention. My analysis found both a flaw and much to appreciate. Look for a new review soon. Meanwhile, read my newest classic movie breakdown of another Academy Award-winning Best Picture, David Lean’s Lawrence of Arabia (1962), which I recently watched in Hollywood’s historic Cinerama Dome, on The New Romanticist here and Aurora’s classic movie site, Once Upon a Screen, here. My theme about this exceptional movie is that its value lies in its depiction of one man’s intransigent pursuit of a heroic life.
New movies I’m planning to see and may review include the new Kasi Lemmons (Eve’s Bayou, Black Nativity) picture about one of my earliest heroes, Harriet Tubman, Harriet, featuring her husband Vondie Curtis-Hall (Chicago Hope) and son as well as Janelle Monae (Moonlight, Hidden Figures). I’m also planning to see the new movie about Fred Rogers starring Tom Hanks, probably while I’m on assignment in Pittsburgh among fellow Pittsburghers who knew Mr. Rogers best. Time permitting, I also want to see The Current War, Judy and Motherless Brooklyn. Later this year, I plan to preview my writing for the new year, including my adult educational media and writing courses and other new writings. Wishing you a happy Halloween until then.
I added three movie reviews to the archives this week. The first, my review of 2018’s Avengers film, is timed for next month’s heavily-hyped new Avengers movie. In this article, posted elsewhere last year, I question making mass death and nihilism entertaining or ‘fun’, which is the 2018 film’s essence. I point out that these comics movies depict the superhero’s superpower in widening disproportion to the individual’s vanishing power, due to government control, over his life. I think it’s an interesting contrast.
Is it possible these preposterous movies are popular for this reason? Read my review of Avengers: Infinity Warhere.
Two analyses of movies by screenwriter and director Robert Benton, whom I interviewed last spring in Hollywood, also appear on the site archives. The movies had been selected by Turner Classic Movies for presentation during last year’s classic movies festival where I interviewed Mr. Benton. We discussed both movies in great detail during the interview. It was a rare opportunity to delve into the motion picture arts with a marvelous storyteller (I plan to make the interview available to a wider audience).
I wanted to see the two pictures again before conducting the interview, which took place at the site of the first Academy Awards. Fittingly, both films won prestigious Oscars. This is not my primary concern, however, and I think the movies’ merits stand apart from Oscar recognition, awards which are rapidly becoming less meaningful. That said, I wanted to write an extensive review analyzing both films before the interview was conducted and published. I’ve made them available here for the first time.
The first article takes a serious look at Robert Benton’s adaptation of Avery Corman’s novel, Kramer Vs. Kramer (1979). This is an outstanding motion picture and not just as a character study of the modern man. Incidentally, besides Robert Redford‘s adaptation of Judith Guest’s novel of Chicago’s suburban North Shore, Ordinary People, it’s probably one of the last heroic movies to win Oscar’s Best Picture award to depict a wholly fictional story with style, depth and artistry.
Forty years after its release, Kramer Vs. Kramer remains relevant and compelling. I’m still thinking about the movie as I write this. I saw it as a boy in the movie theater upon its release and I was astonished. Today, Kramer Vs. Kramer exists as a testament that movies can be great, large and wonderful about heroic beings without being loud, brash and sniveling like today’s onslaught of Marvel or death premise pictures. I doubt whether Kramer Vs. Kramer would get a hearing amid today’s Me, Too orthodoxy. I think it would be deemed too pro-man, too white or too male or not abiding today’s collectivism. Read my breakdown of Kramer Vs. Kramer.
Benton made Places in the Heart five years later. It’s a bleaker film than Kramer, though in a way it is more challenging, epic and universal. Gone are the parks, brownstones and hurry of New York City’s Upper East Side in Kramer. Here, come the fields, rooms and quiet of faraway Texas. Celebrating its 35th anniversary, the picture that won an Oscar for Sally Field shows real insight about a range of serious issues, including what it means to be marginalized or minimized by others, but especially what it means to make your own home, family and life without regard to blood, tribe and the irrational.
Robert Benton is religious. He comes from Texas. Places in the Heart reflects his faith and background, especially in its final frames. But it also depicts with serenity and clarity the hardship of being different in a world going bad and I think it offers a salve, a coolant and grace for forging one’s own way when nothing seems possible. I have seen and enjoyed most of Robert Benton’s movies, including those I’ve had the pleasure to interview him about, such as The Human Stain with its similar strains and Feast of Love with its blissful sense of life. Places in the Heart depicts that human strength begins with a commitment to care for yourself. This alone sets it far and above most movies now or upon its release. Read my review here.
This is my fifth year of delivering writing and media adult instruction in Southern California. I’m pleased to announce a new summer series in both Writing Boot Camp and Maximizing Social Media. I enjoy teaching the courses, which I created to foster practicing virtue in media and writing. Recently, I extended an offer to my ‘alumni’ to attend private networking mixers near Burbank’s movie studios. This week, I will share details of my recent literary agency representation.
Recent developments integrate the lessons from both courses; specifically, my thesis in Maximizing Social Media that one must commit, create and cash in using today’s media to advance one’s self-interest. Writing Boot Camp‘s thesis is the same idea in reverse; that the writer must devote himself to the writing process and to being explicitly social in disseminating his work.
Details of my discovery by a literary agent prove that both approaches yield results.
In the meantime, I’m happy to report that I recently interviewed one of my favorite filmmakers. Stand by for details on my exclusive interview with the director of Paramount Pictures’ Grease, Randal Kleiser, in Hollywood. We talked about his new virtual reality series, his stories for television, including episodes of The Rookies and Marcus Welby, M.D., as well as his movies The Blue Lagoon and Summer Lovers, a new book on Grease, his studies at the University of Southern California (USC) and working with the late Patrick Swayze. Mr. Kleiser is an amazing man of ability. What a privilege to meet and interview one of Hollywood’s best directors.
I’m currently writing articles about new books, events and old movies, including this season’s 10th annual Turner Classic Movies (TCM) Classic Film Festival in Hollywood. The annual festival celebrated the 25th anniversary of Turner Classic Movies with a visit from Cable News Network (CNN), TBS and TCM founder Ted Turner.
So, look for new analyses of Cecil B. DeMille’s Samson and Delilah (1949) and James Stewart in Winchester ’73 (1950) as well as a roundup of last week’s events. I also plan to write an analysis of the motion picture version of Margaret Mitchell’s 1936 novel, Gone With the Wind, starring Vivien Leigh, Clark Gable and Hattie McDaniel.
Seeing David O. Selznick’s production of Gone With the Wind (1939), directed by Victor Fleming, on screen at Grauman’s Chinese Theater for the first time, I found the movie simply brilliant and astonishing. The epic remains powerful, vibrant and penetrating. This time, watching with an appreciative audience of hundreds, I noticed new aspects. I discovered new insights. Seeing the remarkable four-hour movie again, this time inside the grand Chinese Theater, made me want to re-read the novel, which is better than the movie. That I saw the movie which initiated Turner Classic Movies 25 years to the day after the breakthrough channel’s debut was the ideal way to honor what TCM does, is and means at its best.
Comedienne Julia Sweeney’s back and I saw her new one-woman show, Older & Wider, last weekend in Westwood. I’ve always found her humor to be unique, relevant and compelling, so I was interested in seeing her return to show business after a break to be a wife and raise her daughter on Chicago’s suburban North Shore.
Happily, Older & Wider is topical, intelligent and hilarious. While I incessantly hear about “diversity and inclusion”, I rarely hear about demand for rare, intelligent artists of ability such as Julia Sweeney, who’s making the most of being an older woman in her new theatrical work. I am glad to know that she’s currently starring in a new show on Hulu. I’d love to see her get more work in Hollywood.
I’ve posted my review of Julia Sweeney: Older & Widerhere.
Also, read my new interview with screenwriter and director Robert Benton here. We met during Turner Classic Movies’ 2018 Classic Film Festival at the site of the first Academy Awards, the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel, on Hollywood Boulevard. I’ve met and interviewed Benton before and found him to be incredibly sharp, thoughtful and engaging.
This time was no exception. The subject was his Oscar-winning Best Picture, Kramer vs. Kramer, a groundbreaking movie about men, parenting and divorce which celebrates its 40th anniversary this year. We discussed his original choice for the crucial supporting role of Joanna Kramer, which eventually went to Meryl Streep, propelling her career. But Benton, who’s talked with me about working with Nicole Kidman, Morgan Freeman and Anthony Hopkins, also went into detail about working with Sally Field, who won an Oscar for her performance in what’s probably his most personal film, Places in the Heart.
Robert Benton, whose Texas-based Places turns 35 years old this year, has created, written or directed some of the most iconic movies of the modern age, from Bonnie and Clyde to Superman (1978) to Kramer vs. Kramer. I consider it a privilege to interview this former journalist again in the heart of supposedly “inclusive” Hollywood where this masterful storyteller should be invited to create more movies.
My newest classic movie review honors the 70th anniversary of a film about great baseball legend; the story of Chicago White Sox pitcher Monty Stratton, portrayed by James Stewart. Like Places in the Heart, the Academy Award-winning motion picture, The Stratton Story (directed by Sam Wood and released in the same year he was robbed and died) partly takes place in the Lone Star state and involves tragedy, overcoming adversity and a single act of gun violence.
The picture also stars Agnes Moorehead as Stratton’s tough-minded mother and June Allyson as his romantic partner. I don’t want to spoil the experience of the 1949 film about Monty Stratton, whom I’m afraid has sadly fallen into relative oblivion. But I found this movie about rising to one’s hardest challenges inspiring. It’s about baseball, of course. It’s also about what happens when the most hardworking type of person fails, falters or makes a potentially deadly mistake — and the character of one who chooses to recover — and the type of person who loves him.
But, like the best sports-themed movies, it’s also very much about living life; the daily hustle and grind of it in simple yet daunting steps. Read my review of The Stratton Storyhere.
I never know who’s going to sign up for my communications courses.
Last semester, I was pleasantly surprised when one of my former Los Angeles Times colleagues, an award-winning photojournalist, enrolled in my course on social media.
“I want to let you know that I’ve enjoyed the class tremendously, and I sure learned a lot…,” the student wrote to me after the course finished. “Thanks a million!” The pleasure was mine. In her case, connecting, re-connecting and deepening familial relations was a major goal for studying how to advance her grasp and mastery of social media. Others seek fulfillment of goals to make money, start a business or switch to a new career.
Helping each student reach a goal is its own reward.
Besides professional social media managers, screenwriters and entertainment industry executives, I’ve had doctors, engineers and lawyers enroll in the course, which now includes membership in my alumni network. We gather with my Writing Boot Camp students and alumni from time to time for social meeting, mixing and networking.
Young and old adults alike enroll in classes, which often include Hollywood cast, crew and, sometimes, those considered by some to be screen legends, including an Oscar-winning makeup artist and the actress who served as model for the animated character Tinkerbell in Walt Disney’s 1953 classic Peter Pan. This year marks five years since I created the course, which I made to show why one’s self-interest drives successful social media.
The social media courses run during a few months in wifi-ready classrooms on a campus near Bob Hope Airport. I coach writing, editing and marketing to students at Burbank Adult School, providing step-by-step instruction with my Writing Boot Camp, also in its fifth academic year.
My writing course features in-depth study of literary works, including poems, short stories and essays by Darwin, Rand, Kipling, Angelou and Bradbury and, of course, detailed analysis and feedback on student writing.