Why I'm skipping 'Avatar'

"Avatar" with its leftist plotline, where capitalism and America are villains, is amusingly debunked by Mike Rosen in his Denver Post column today. Reviews in National Review, Weekly Standard, and Commentary did likewise. I'll be skipping this overhyped dud. After posting the above on Twitter and Facebook a short time ago, I was informed by one Victoria Livingston on FB that: "Americans have had a history of being bullies; it started with overrunning the Indians before the 'settlers' were Americans." To which I then replied:

America a bully at times, Victoria? Of course, what did you expect? Strong nations, like strong individuals, may be tempted to use their strength irresponsibly. That's not confined to our country - it's the human condition, the tragic flaw, original sin, fallenness. But show me another country that has been half as earnest and noble as America in trying to atone for that irresponsibility in the past and to prevent its recurrence in the future.

With "Avatar," James Cameron - like so many others in entertainment and mass media - has bitten the hand that feeds him with liberty and opportunity, affluence and indulgence, privilege and prestige. Ingrates one and all. Fie upon them.

Old movies and unwelcome history

The moment the Japanese Empire bombed Pearl Harbor, the vast majority of Americans were committed heart and soul to winning the world war that the sneak attack abruptly brought our nation into. But as welcome as the ultimate victory was, World War II’s conclusion was, like most wars, a mixed blessing. For while the Nazis, fascists and warlords were thoroughly defeated, one of our principal allies, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (deceased, 1991) was in command of central Europe and portions of the Far East. No less pleased at the outcome as the western allies–the United States, Great Britain and France–the USSR nevertheless was a regime no less hateful than the ones defeated in war. In Europe, a divided continent entailed further divisions within defeated countries, specifically, Germany and Austria. In both countries, four zones of occupation were established at the Potsdam Conference, not only for these countries but for their capital cities, Berlin and Vienna. The division of Germany epitomized the tragic results of the "good war," as it came to be called, with crises in 1948 and 1961 that threatened another world war, and the remarkably peaceful outcome of 1989 with the fall of the Berlin Wall, erected in 1961. Austria was more fortunate, as the four-power occupation of the country and its capital ended with its official neutrality, agreed to at a summit conference in 1955.

But, of course, this was not the case in the immediate aftermath of the war, as painfully the true nature of our Soviet allies became clear. It was bad enough that Soviet troops remained from the Baltic republics to Bulgaria. But even those persons in Russia and its satellites who managed to flee ahead of those troops to the western democracies were relentlessly pursued by Soviet authorities.

Operation Keelhaul was the wrenching obligation of Western powers to deal with the Soviet refugee "problem." Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, the heroic Russian writer who took on the Communist colossus and ultimately won, denounced even the estimable Winston Churchill for consenting to this massive human tragedy. Because the operation mocked everything the victorious allies fought (and prosecuted German and Japanese leaders) for, it was given little publicity.

But movie makers in those days took note. "The Red Danube," an MGM production of 1949, (shown on TCM) zeroed in on the grisly work of Soviet repatriation with telling effect. Despite the British occupation forces’ determination to carry out their orders to deliver thousands of unhappy and unwilling refugees from Soviet tyranny to their horrible and undeserved fate, the truth obtrudes itself.

Here is a useful plot summary from IMDb (Internet Movie Database):

"Shortly after the end of World War II, British Colonel Michael 'Hooky' Nicobar (Walter Pidgeon) is assigned to a unit in the British Zone of Vienna. His duty is to aid the Soviet authorities to repatriate citizens of the Soviet Union, many of whom prefer not to return to their home country. Billeted in the convent run by Mother Auxilia (Ethel Barrymore), Nicobar, and his military aides Major John 'Twingo' McPhimister (Peter Lawford) and Audrey Quail (Angela Lansbury), become involved in the plight of a young ballerina (Janet Leigh) who is trying to avoid being returned to Moscow. Nicobar's sense of duty is tested as he sees first hand the plight of the people he is helping return to the Soviet Union; his lack of religious faith is also shaken by his contact with the Mother Superior."

I read several of these plot summaries, all of which equivocated in some way on the momentous issues involved. To say that "many" of the Soviet citizens "prefer[red] not to return to their home country" is a huge understatement. All were actively hostile to the idea, for it does not take a genius to figure out that a regime that deprives you of your liberty is to be avoided at all costs. Other summaries called the movie "propaganda" and "heavy handed." That’s how things appear to those who are either ignorant of political realities or wilfully blind for the sake of avoiding conflict.

But the summaries indicate that there are several threads in this movie. Front and center is the painful dilemma of the officers of a good regime being ordered to deliver unwilling people to an evil one. The film "humanizes" this weighty issue with a young officer’s passion for a beautiful victim of the massive roundup. (The officer’s aide is also in love with him.) So our hearts tug for the young couple’s fight to avoid her repatriation and hurt badly when events conspire against them.

Col. Nicobar’s sense of duty, reinforced at all levels of the British command, is not hard to admire, but our awareness of the evils it brings about forces us to stop and think. As determined as he is to carry out his orders, a combination of the true facts of the repatriation and his being prodded by the mother superior, produce a far different outcome. Looking back at the event, today’s reviewers reflect the influence of postwar revisionism that refuses to acknowledge that the Cold War was rooted in Soviet tyranny, and of "political correctness" that all too incorrectly seeks to banish religious issues from public discussion.

The good-hearted and honest colonel has difficulty reconciling the existence of massive evil in the world with the promise of love and peace that is the Christian message. He is not one to change his mind easily for, as John Adams long ago observed, "facts are stubborn things." Not only Nazi atrocities but, as he is painfully learning, Soviet atrocities shake the world, leaving men like him with the unending duty of opposing them by force. Religious sentiment, he believes, is no better than rank superstition in the face of these great evils.

Gently, but firmly, the mother superior reminds him, by her persistence in fighting for Maria’s release and even publicizing the whole repatriation issue with the Pope, as well as by her pointed observation that God did not do these wicked deeds but man, Nicobar sees a new and more compelling duty to risk his position and his sustenance by refusing to carry out any further cooperation with the Soviets’ nefarious project. The denouement will bring delight to every lover of liberty and freedom of conscience.

Momentous issues at mid century gave many people a sense of moral clarity than has seldom been seen since. We can be grateful to old Hollywood (and Turner Classic Movies) that it made films worthy of the best characters that humanity has put forth. May it plague the consciences of those who will not see the truth that is right in front of them.

“Born Yesterday” years out of date

TCM, the Turner Classic Movie channel, offers a steady stream of yesterday’s movies. Sometimes it offers a classic that provides more than nostalgia, with a window into the past that contrasts sharply with the present. "Born Yesterday (1950)," a popular comedy about both the virtues and the dangers of a little learning, ran this week, and made me lament the passing of the sort of education that can no longer be taken from granted. All I knew as a seven-year-old, besides the fact that bright theatre marquees displayed the movie’s title and stars in vivid letters, was that a beautiful but dumb woman, Emma "Billie" Dawn (played by Judy Holliday) was getting a lot of laughs for the ignorant, if not stupid things she consistently said. I heard something about the story being somewhat more complicated than that, but that’s about as far as my comprehension went. Now I know–and know of–many people who have been formally educated far beyond what Billie learned but possess far less understanding than she acquired.

Emma is the seven-year girl friend of Harry Brock (played by Broderick Crawford), a millionaire tycoon who thinks and acts more like a hoodlum than a businessman. (Unfortunately, this is the perennial Hollywood caricature of people in other businesses, or is it a self portrait?) He wants to get some results for his congressional bribes, so he must make the Washington D.C. scene. Unfortunately, he is burdened by a woman lacking in the social graces and incredibly ignorant, or so he thinks. In due course, he comes into contact with a polished journalist named Paul Verrall (played by William Holden) who, it occurs to Brock, can educate his "dumb broad" and not embarrass him around all the important people he must meet and/or win over. His scheme is to get a bill passed that, in ways that are not particularly clear, give him the edge over his domestic and foreign competitors in the junk business.

In any case, Brock thinks he is pretty smart to hit upon this idea, but events, to put it mildly, take a different turn. Billie, who goes blank when her tutor makes a reference to the Supreme Court, soon gets a pretty thorough tour of the nation’s capital and picks up a dizzying vocabulary along with a lot of pertinent information. Her life is transformed, not only by the accumulation of books, most notably a huge dictionary, but by her attraction to the polished, polite and attentive Paul, with whom she quickly falls in love. But as inevitable and even just as their pairing is, it is overshadowed by the education she receives in the nation’s founding (with a qualification to be explained below).

Billie visits the capitol building and becomes acquainted with the immortals commemorated there. She also goes to art museums, attends concerts and browses through multiple historic sites, but the most impressive turns out to be the Jefferson Memorial. There she finds written the third President’s powerful words: "I have sworn upon the altar of God eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man." Billie’s first gaze is mostly blank, but after she comes to know, through her education, that the man she’s been living with (and living comfortably) for so long is not merely annoying or difficult to deal with or understand, but is in fact a tyrant, Jefferson’s words take on considerably more meaning.

Of course, that is a lesson for us all, for tyrants are not merely ghastly men who rule countries outside our borders, but rise up among us, but restrained, for the most part, by laws, institutions and public opinion, and especially by the United States Constitution. Harry reasons with or otherwise deals politely with other people so long as they tell him or give him what he wants but flies into a rage at the slightest sign of disagreement or difficulty. Because Billie has (supposedly) read the works of Thomas Paine (but not of Abraham Lincoln), she has a pretty good idea of what a tyrant is, and her man fills the bill.

After years of complaisantly signing documents as if she were his wife, Billie decides she wants to read what they say. Harry’s shrewd advisor, Jim Devery (played by Howard St. John), pleads with Billie to sign but is unable to prevent the explosion that occurs when his boss finds out that the complaisance might be over. True to form, Harry beats Billie until she signs, although it is no surprise that she forms the intention then and there to leave him and never to sign onto any more of his opaque dealings.

When Billie finally resolves to bail out altogether, Harry can’t make up his mind whether he likes the idea or not, although it seems clear enough that he loves her, albeit in his own way, and would rather she stayed. But she is too educated for him now, for we learn as the movie progresses that Harry’s smarts are more often not pure bluster, which fools only those who are as ignorant as he is. The wise Paul hits upon a plan to thwart Harry once and for all.

"Born Yesterday," based on a Broadway play of the same name which opened in 1945, oversimplifies education, to be sure, in its own version of the Pygmalion story. (Compare "Never on Sunday" and "My Fair Lady.") But at least it is wholesome in holding out the prospect that an educated person can appreciate the virtues of our democratic form of government and the men who designed and implemented it. Yet not long after this, our university professors began to teach the opposite lesson, namely, that democracy is a sham and a delusion that enables the Harry Brocks of this world to rule in their own interest at the expense of a multitude of oppressed classes that run from the poor, to racial minorities, to women, to children, to homosexuals and lesbians, foreigners, and all of the "other" ad infinitum.

Education is no longer a source of hope and renewal but of cynicism and despair. Imagine if "Born Yesterday" had been produced with the assumptions of the professorial elite in our time. Billie would have learned that the problem is not Harry Brock so much as the United States of America. Rather than celebrating our form of government, the "educated" person concludes that it is rotten to the core and ought to be "transformed" into something entirely different.

There is a link, only somewhat tenuous, between Hollywood’s political thinking of 1945 and 2009. The enemy is fascism, then and now. There is no "enemy to the Left." Harry is labeled a fascist, not a communist, at least partly justified since the United States and its allies recently prevailed over the fascist dictators in Germany, Italy and Japan with the aid of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (never mind its complicity in starting the war). The evil of Josef Stalin and his totalitarian regime was not apparent to many, even if it should have been. In the glow of victory, this is an excusable error.

Too, liberals had convinced themselves, by virtue of their devotion to democracy, that they were the progeny of the founding fathers, also democrats. A clue to the film’s partisanship is in the very reliance on Thomas Jefferson who, unlike Lincoln, is remembered at the Democratic Party’s annual dinners. The Republicans completed the Lincoln Memorial in the 1920s and the Democrats countered with the Jefferson Memorial in the 1930s. Surely both will do for educating about tyrants, but the film’s choice of Jefferson puts it firmly in the Democratic camp.

Our problem today is that it is not so clear that liberals are as firmly in the democratic camp as they were at the close of the Second World War. Between leftist professors teaching students to scorn their country, their civilization and their religion, and Democrat politicians scoffing at any distinction between democratic and undemocratic regimes abroad, public opinion is being dumbed down at least as much as Billie was, if not more so. For if Billie did not appreciate her country’s virtues, at least she did not despise them. On the other hand, those "educated" people who openly malign the freest country on earth might just as well have been born yesterday.

Want to fireproof your marriage?

In the new movie "Fireproof," Caleb is a fire captain and Katherine is PR director for a hospital. Their marriage is crashing after seven years. Whose fault is it? Probably more his than hers, but it's not clear. He has an anger problem and a pornography problem. She's aloof, too perfect, and has a wandering eye at work. But when Kat asks for a divorce, it's Caleb who digs in to fight for their marriage, with encouragement from his dad, a new Christian. "The Love Dare," a 40-day rescue plan, is what slowly turns him, and the relationship, around.

Through plot twists we learn that the rescue plan has been found to work as well for a woman on the brink as for a man, and for couples a generation older than the young Holts. Caleb's lieutenant, a black guy named Michael, turns out to have it together a lot better both spiritually and maritally than his boss.

While the movie makes a direct but non-pushy evangelistic appeal, this isn't church or a revival meeting -- it's terrific entertainment. What could be a heavy couple of hours is deftly lightened by Kat and Caleb's funny coworkers at the hospital and the firehouse, as well as by the deadpan neighbor who is always outdoors at the wrong time.

"Fireproof" was shot on a shoestring budget and with few professional actors. It's the third feature film from Sherwood Baptist Church in Albany, Georgia, which previously shook up the cinema world with "Facing the Giants." At their website,, the "Love Dare" book is also for sale.

Donna and I loved this movie because, like most couples, we've had to learn a lot of lessons about marriage the hard way. We're encouraging all our friends to see it and talk it up. Its theater run won't be very wide or long, given the bias of Hollywood and big distributors toward a totally different ethic and message. Catch it while you can, or if necessary, get the DVD later on. This one's worth owning and seeing again!

Dare you to see 'American Carol'

No, it's not a dream. Hollywood really has released a feature film -- no mere documentary, an in-joke you'll appreciate after seeing this piece of work -- that hoses down with merciless ridicule such richly deserving targets as... Hollywood itself, the ACLU, leftist universities and their perpetually juvenile faculties, radical Islam, the anti-war movement, Obama's negotiation fetish, the demonizing of Christians, gun control, gay rights, Katrina guilt, Cuban health care, wimpy Democrats claiming to revere the macho JFK, slavery, handicapped kids (okay, maybe not all the targets are deserving, but this is a David Zucker movie after all), Michael Moore in love with himself, Rosie O'Donnell confronting Bill O'Reilly, and Leslie Nielsen as a dirty old man.

It's all jammed into, and spilling out around the edges of (like our favorite radical documentarian overflowing a theater seat), "An American Carol," now in theaters.

Watching the slovenly, America-hating Moore, or "Michael Malone" as the Kevin Farley character is called, get figuratively and literally slapped around for 110 minutes in this campy tribute to Dickens' "Christmas Carol" will do your heart good, especially amidst the headlines about Obama's soaring polls and Oliver Stone's propaganda slam against McCain's predecessor, "W."

There was no doubt Zucker has delivered slapstick as I lost count of the stinging red handprints on Farley's pudgy, stubbled cheek.

Granted, "American Carol" is not in the league with "Airplane!" as a truly zany and outrageous comedy trip from Nielsen and Zucker. This is no cinema jetliner -- it's more of a rubber-band-powered balsa wood job with more chuckles than belly laughs.

But to have Tinseltown heap mockery on liberalism, for once, is so amazing as to qualify with Dr. Johnson's comment about a dog walking on its hind legs: Never mind if it's really done well, you just marvel that it's done at all.

If you're on the right, see the movie and salve your soul. Ten bucks (including maybe a small popcorn, maybe not) were never better spent.

If you're on the left and man enough, take my dare and endure two hours in the George Patton (Kelsey Grammer) and George Washington (Jon Voight) reeducation camp for woolly-headed utopians.

If you're in the center, give "Carol" a try just for the fun of it. I promise you'll never waste time or money on another Michael Moore celluloid abomination.