Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Book Review: ‘Alone’ is perfect complement to filmdom’s ‘Dunkirk’


By Jerry Harkavy, The Associated Press
September 18, 2017
Interest in the 1940 cross-channel evacuation of British soldiers amid the French collapse in World War II has sprung to life this summer, thanks to Christopher Nolan’s blockbuster movie “Dunkirk.” On its heels comes “Alone,” Michael Korda’s masterful account of that epic drama and its impact on his family.
Few of the soldiers, airmen and mariners whose heroism allowed Britain to carry on a singlehanded battle against Nazi Germany are alive today. Korda was only 6 years old at the time, living in London with his filmmaking family whose roots were in central Europe. But he was remarkably aware of events that propelled Europe into war.
Korda recounts how he and his family had to cut short their August vacation in France as war clouds thickened in the weeks prior to Adolf Hitler’s invasion of Poland. They were glued to the radio for Neville Chamberlain’s grim announcement that Britain was at war. The author recalls air raid sirens, the family’s temporary move to the countryside and his evacuation to a farm in Yorkshire followed by his stay at a boarding school on the Isle of Wight before his return to London.
Korda’s family was moviemaking royalty. His uncle, Alexander, was a renowned producer and director, married to actress Merle Oberon, and his father, Vincent, was a film art director. When war broke out, the family production company, London Films, was in the midst of one of its most ambitious projects, the Arabian fantasy movie “The Thief of Bagdad.”

“Alone” describes in detail the tense political drama that surrounded the emergence of Winston Churchill as prime minister just hours before Germany invaded France and the Low Countries. Alex was a longtime friend and supporter of Churchill, who gave his blessing to the producer’s decision to move his operation to Hollywood after wartime manpower demands made it impossible to finish his films in England.
The trans-Atlantic move had the British government’s clandestine blessing and financial support in hopes that Alex’s subsequent film “That Hamilton Woman,” about Admiral Horatio Nelson and his mistress, would build pro-British sentiment in the United States.
Family issues highlight some of the more fascinating dynamics in “Alone,” but the book is first and foremost a riveting account of the fate of the 300,000-man British Expeditionary Force during its retreat toward the English Channel as German tanks overran Belgium and set their sights on Paris in a blitzkrieg that left France demoralized and prey to a wave of defeatism and recriminations.
Illuminating profiles of key players include those of Vice Admiral Bertram Ramsay, architect of the evacuation plan dubbed Operation Dynamo; German tank warfare strategist Heinz Guderian; and a string of hapless French generals. On the political side, we meet the British appeasers whose lapses in judgment paved the way for Churchill — described by Korda as “that rarest of men, a well-functioning, even hyper-functioning alcoholic” — to rally his people to ultimate victory.
Perhaps the biggest question that Korda and other historians have struggled to address is why the Germans temporarily halted their race to the channel, a decision that allowed Britain to assemble a fleet that ranged from Royal Navy destroyers and commercial ferries to fishing boats and yachts, enabling its troops to survive and fight another day.
Some suggest that Hitler chose to spare the British army as a sign of his good intentions and encourage a peace settlement. For his part, Korda believes the three-day rest break was designed to prepare the panzer divisions for the decisive encounter with the French army while delaying an advance in the marshy terrain of Flanders.
“Alone” reaches its climax in the days depicted in Nolan’s film. The author’s descriptions of fire and smoke along with smells of burning rubber and unburied bodies evoke images as vivid as any to hit the screen. One writer quoted by Korda likens it to “a scene from Dante’s Inferno.”
Korda likens the evacuation to a big lottery. “Some people went to the beach, fell into the right line, were taken aboard a ship with a minimum of drama, and disembarked a few hours later at Dover.” Others were shelled while on the beach, machine-gunned by German aircraft or drowned when their ship was mined, bombed or torpedoed.
A total of 338,226 troops, including 139,921 French, made it to England, but it was only months later — after the Battle of Britain — that fears of invasion dissipated and the “spirit of Dunkirk” became cause for celebration. It was, according to Korda, “that rarest of historical events, a military defeat with a happy ending.”
It is rare and fortuitous that this spellbinding account came out within weeks of the release of Nolan’s film that struck box-office gold. One can only hope that many of those drawn to the movie will go on to read “Alone” to delve further into the details and context of that historic episode.
You saw the movie; now get the whole story of Dunkirk in Michael Korda;s 'Alone'

By David Walton
September 18, 2017

Image result for michael korda alone

Alone, Michael Korda's page-turning history of the British army's evacuation of Dunkirk in 1940, has the good fortune — or possibly misfortune — of appearing soon after Christopher Nolan's blockbuster film on the same subject.
Film may be a better medium for visual reproduction, for instance, in depicting the layout of Dunkirk harbor — a crucial feature that prevented a large-scale evacuation and created the imperative of a civilian rescue, thus rallying the resources and fighting spirit of the British people, and redirecting the course of the war. 
That's the story both film and history tell. But as readers of history know, every great event has its short version and its long, its concise legend and its more untidy set of truths. Why didn't the Germans take Dunkirk when they could have — surround the British, and massacre or imprison them as they did 2 million of the French? 
Nolan's two hours of screen time are a powerful re-enactment, but they cover only the final 100 of Korda's 400 pages.  Alone begins in September 1939, with the author's first memory, from the age of 7, of Britons fleeing the continent after war has been declared.
"It is curious with what clarity one remembers great events of the past," Korda recalls, as he pieces through the unfolding events of the next nine months. Uncle Alexander Korda, the family head, is Britain's leading filmmaker, commissioned by Churchill to advance Britain's cause by making high-quality pictures. His wife, "Auntie Merle," actress Merle Oberon, is fresh from her success in Wuthering Heights, and eager to return to Hollywood. Father Vincent is working on Thief of Baghdad, the film that will earn him an Academy Award for set design in 1940. 
From this privileged vantage point, the Kordas know more than most about the worsening situation on the Continent — news kept from the British public until the very last. 
This is a book you won't want to put down. Korda is a graceful and personable writer, well-informed, perceptive, always to the point. Step by step, he traces the long chain of blunders, misunderstandings, and entrenched prejudices that led to defeat on the battlefield. France and Britain had prepared for a defensive war, expecting to fight on fixed lines as in World War I. The Germans prepared for an aggressive mobile war, spearheaded by high-speed tanks that would cut defensive lines and keep advancing. 
Neither France nor Britain fully liked or trusted each other. It was rare, Korda remarks, for a British officer to speak French, and many British disdained the French soldiers' slovenliness and lack of discipline. 
France, in turn, felt dragged into the war by Britain, first into the Czech crisis, then in Poland. Repeatedly, Britain and especially Churchill overestimated France's ability and willingness to fight, while the French bitterly resented Britain's unwillingness to supply more troops and, in particular, to provide air cover — "a sensible decision," says Korda, that "would prove decisive during the Battle of Britain, which began two months later." 
Why did the Germans hold back? Again, the reasons are complicated. They feared their line was overextended, and they were in danger of being cut off, as happened at the Marne in World War I. And, following an old tradition of cavalry advances, they felt they needed to "rest" their mounts. 
Germany's early victories and rapid advance led, paradoxically, to doubt and caution. For Hitler and the German high command, France was the primary target, and neither Germany nor Britain fully gauged how disorganized and beaten the French were. 
At the same time, the German army "was not prepared for the stout resistance of a foe they thought had already been defeated." Hard-pressed British units mounted a fierce counterattack against Hitler's best troops at Arres, sending alarm up the German chain of command. For five crucial days, British fighters held a thin line of defense around Dunkirk that the Germans somehow never penetrated — "a remarkable feat of arms," Korda writes. 
The "Miracle of Dunkirk" he credits to "a natural element of naval professionalism" embodied in Vice Adm. Bertram Ramsay, commander of Dover operations. As a matter of routine, Ramsay began registering available craft and planning evacuation routes, even as British troops were setting out for the Continent. 
When the moment came, Ramsay assembled within three days a fleet of more than 800 vessels, and of the 400,000 stranded at Dunkirk, evacuated 338,226, of whom 139,921 were French. 
Alone is the compelling story, told in illuminating detail and without the Imax din, of how they got there, and how they got away. 
David Walton writes and teaches in Pittsburgh.

Higher Ed’s Latest Taboo Is ‘Bourgeois Norms’


An op-ed praising 1950s values provokes another campus meltdown— from the deans on down.


By Heather Mac Donald
September 18, 2017
Image result for amy wax alexander
Amy Wax and Larry Alexander
To the list of forbidden ideas on American college campuses, add “bourgeois norms”—hard work, self-discipline, marriage and respect for authority. Last month, two law professors published an op-ed in the Philadelphia Inquirer calling for a revival of the “cultural script” that prevailed in the 1950s and still does among affluent Americans: “Get married before you have children and strive to stay married for their sake. Get the education you need for gainful employment, work hard, and avoid idleness. . . . Eschew substance abuse and crime.” The weakening of these traditional norms has contributed to today’s low rates of workforce participation, lagging educational levels and widespread opioid abuse, the professors argued.
The op-ed triggered an immediate uproar at the University of Pennsylvania, where one of its authors, Amy Wax, teaches. The dean of the Penn law school, Ted Ruger, published an op-ed in the student newspaper noting the “contemporaneous occurrence” of the op-ed and a white-supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Va., and suggesting that Ms. Wax’s views were “divisive, even noxious.” Half of Ms. Wax’s law-faculty colleagues signed an open letter denouncing her piece and calling on students to report any “bias or stereotype” they encounter “at Penn Law ” (e.g., in Ms. Wax’s classroom). Student and alumni petitions poured forth accusing Ms. Wax of white supremacy, misogyny and homophobia and demanding that she be banned from teaching first-year law classes.
Ms. Wax’s co-author, Larry Alexander, teaches at the University of San Diego, a Catholic institution. USD seemed to be taking the piece in stride—until last week. The dean of USD’s law school, Stephen Ferruolo, issued a schoolwide memo repudiating Mr. Alexander’s article and pledging new measures to compensate “vulnerable, marginalized” students for the “racial discrimination and cultural subordination” they experience.
USD’s response is more significant than Penn’s, because it is more surprising. While USD has embraced a “social justice” mission in recent decades, the law school itself has been less politicized. It has one of the highest proportions of nonleftist professors in the country—about a quarter of the faculty. Mr. Ferruolo, a corporate lawyer with strong ties to the biotech industry, presented himself until recently as mildly conservative. If USD is willing to match Penn’s hysterical response to the Wax-Alexander op-ed, is there any educational institution remaining that will defend its faculty members against false accusations of racism should they dissent from orthodoxy?
Two aspects of the op-ed have generated the most outrage. Ms. Wax and Mr. Alexander observed that cultures are not all “equal in preparing people to be productive in an advanced economy.” Their critics pounced on this statement as a bigoted, hate-filled violation of the multicultural ethic. In his response, Penn’s Dean Ruger proclaimed that “as a scholar and educator I reject emphatically any claim that a single cultural tradition is better than all others.” But that wasn’t the claim the authors were making. Rather, they argued that bourgeois culture is better than underclass culture—specifically, “the single-parent, antisocial habits, prevalent among some working-class whites; the anti-‘acting white’ rap culture of inner-city blacks.” The authors’ criticism of white underclass behavior has been universally suppressed in the stampede to accuse them of “white supremacy.”
The op-ed’s other offense was extolling the 1950s for that decade’s embrace of bourgeois virtues. “Nostalgia for the 1950s breezes over the truth of inequality and exclusion,” five Penn faculty assert in yet anotherop-ed for the student newspaper. In fact, Mr. Alexander and Ms. Wax expressly acknowledged that era’s “racial discrimination, limited sex roles, and pockets of anti-Semitism.”
None of the professors’ high-placed critics have engaged with any of their arguments. Mr. Ferruolo’s schoolwide letter was one of the worst examples. The dean simply announced that Mr. Alexander’s “views” were not “representative of the views of our law school community” and suggested that they were insensitive to “many students” who feel “vulnerable, marginalized or fearful that they are not welcomed.” He did not raise any specific objections to Mr. Alexander’s arguments, or even reveal what the arguments were.
Instead, he promised more classes, speakers and workshops on racism; more training on racial sensitivity; and a new committee to devise further diversity measures. Stronger racial preferences will most certainly follow. The implication of this bureaucratic outpouring is that the law-school faculty is full of bigots. In reality, Mr. Alexander and his colleagues are among the most tolerant people in human history, and every University of San Diego law student is among the most privileged—simply by virtue of being at an institution with such unfettered intellectual resources. The failure of administrators like Mr. Ferruolo to answer delusional student narcissism with obvious truth is an abdication of their responsibility to lead students toward an adult understanding of reality.
What are university administrators and faculty so afraid of? The Wax-Alexander op-ed confronted important issues responsibly and with solid grounding in social-science research. Each of these administrative capitulations sends a message to professors not to challenge the reigning ideology. The result is an ever more monolithic intellectual environment on American campuses, where behavioral analyses of social problems may not even be whispered. What happens to America if those banned ideas turn out to be true?
Ms. Mac Donald is a fellow at the Manhattan Institute and author of “The War on Cops” (Encounter, 2016).

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Mass-Migration: The Tiniest Dose of Reality Hits

by Douglas Murray
https://www.gatestoneinstitute.org/
September 19, 2017

Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau takes part in a town hall with high school students in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, November 3, 2016. (Chris Wattie/Reuters)
Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau takes part in a town hall with high school students in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, November 3, 2016. (Chris Wattie/Reuters)

Bombings and other terrorist attacks are now a common feature of life in modern Europe. On just one day (September 15, 2017), an improvised explosive device was placed on a London Underground train, a man wielding a knife and shouting "Allah" attacked a soldier in Paris, and a man with a hammer shouting "Allahu Akbar" badly wounded two women in Lyon. As the former Prime Minister of France and the present Mayor of London have put it, perhaps this is all just a price we have to pay for living in big cities in Europe in the 21st century: we have traffic congestion, great restaurants and terrorist attacks.

Of course, the public are all the time worrying about other things -- not just whether all this is just a taste of something worse to come, but whether anything might be done to stop it. While our political leaders continue to view this as a narrow security-related question, the public can see that it is also a border-security and mass-immigration issue. Across the continent, poll after poll shows the European public continuously calling for migration into Europe to be slowed down. This plea is not due to some atavistic urge or distasteful racist instinct, but something that the public seems to intuit better than their politicians -- which is that if you do not have control of your borders, with a meaningful set of immigration laws and the right to keep people out of your country then you do not really have a country.

Since the upsurge in Europe's migration crisis in 2015, when Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel unilaterally decided to suspend normal border checks and turn an already existing flow of migrants into a tidal wave, politicians and the public have divided from each other over this issue. While the public want their representatives to control their borders, politicians seem to see only political capital in running the other way. In part this is because there appears to be some kind of "bonus" to be achieved by looking welcoming and kindly in contrast to the unwelcoming and mean things that borders now appear to represent.

Politicians such as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in Canada have used the opportunity of Europe's migration catastrophe to grandstand and present themselves as offering a different way. In the wake of Donald Trump's campaign rhetoric on building a wall along the US-Mexican border, Trudeau in particular has presented himself as the yin to Donald Trump's yang. In January, when President Trump was sworn into office, Trudeau sent out a Tweet reading, "To those fleeing persecution, terror and war, Canadians will welcome you, regardless of your faith. Diversity is our strength." To which he added the hashtag, #WelcomeToCanada. In March of this year, in another clear response to the US President, Trudeau tweeted, "Regardless of who you are or where you come from, there's always a place for you in Canada" -- a tall order, given the existence of 7.5 billion people on this earth, many of whom are not already Canadian.

The movement which the Canadian Prime Minister appears to be auditioning to lead is one which seeks (as protestors often put it) to "build bridges not walls". It is an attractive slogan, although anyone who utters it cannot have been to London recently where (after attacks on Westminster and London Bridge within just a few weeks) the city's bridges are covered in security walls and barricades. Which might suggest that the "walls and bridges issue" is not, after all, an either/or business, or even the central issue at all.

Yet, given this considerable grandstanding in the early part of the year, it would take a heart of stone not to laugh now at the situation in which Prime Minister Trudeau finds himself. In recent months, thousands of migrants, most of them from Haiti, have crossed the border -- illegally -- from the US into Canada. This influx -- tiny by European standards -- has already started to buckle the Canadian immigration system. Hundreds of migrants have had to be housed in emergency tent villages set up by the Canadian army and many have been temporarily housed at the old Olympic stadium in Montreal.

Unlike many of the migrants still daily moving into Europe, the migrants arriving in Canada are not fleeing war, persecution or poverty. They are simply people who are not keen to end up on the wrong side of America's immigration laws now that there is a president who may (though may just as likely not) enforce those laws. As a Washington Post report has put it, "Though they've been lazily framed as 'fleeing Trump,' most of the Haitians appear motivated by a desire to dodge American laws they don't care to obey."

By the end of August, it was estimated that almost 12,000 people had arrived in Canada through this route so far this year. It is a number that constitutes little more than an averagely busy week in Italy at any time over recent years. But even this comparatively tiny movement across an entire year has proven too much for Canada. At the end of last month Trudeau told reporters:
"For someone to successfully seek asylum it's not about economic migration. It's about vulnerability, exposure to torture or death, or being stateless people. If they are seeking asylum we'll evaluate them on the basis of what it is to be a refugee or asylum seeker. You will not be at an advantage if you choose to enter Canada irregularly. You must follow the rules and there are many."
Of course, this is a very different tune to the one he had been advantageously -- perhaps even opportunistically -- playing to date. When he was trying to present a clear alternative to European and American leaders at the start of 2017, there was no talk of "irregular" or "regular" entry, or of the "many" rules. Before he experienced his own tiny trickle of migration, Trudeau spoke only of there always being a "place" for everyone in the world who wanted to come to Canada. How things can change when even the tiniest dose of reality hits.

Douglas Murray, British author, commentator and public affairs analyst, is based in London, England. His latest book, an international best-seller, is "The Strange Death of Europe: Immigration, Identity, Islam."
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Saturday, September 16, 2017

Watching William Friedkin’s Documentary About Exorcism Can Make You Believe In God


September 15, 2017
William Friedkin with Father Amorth
William Friedkin, director of “The Exorcist,” is releasing a new documentary, “The Devil and Father Amorth,” detailing a real-life exorcism. Last year for Vanity Fair he wrote about filming it, in an article as frightening as it is intriguing.
Friedkin received special permission from the Vatican’s chief exorcist, Father Amorth, to film him performing an exorcism on a young Italian woman. It premiered at the Venice Film Festival in late August, and has yet to be widely released, but by all reports, the documentary is disturbing. Friedkin not only captures the demonic possession on film, but interviews leading psychiatrists, who find his footage to be inexplicable within given medical language.
The fact that such things happen regularly in the modern world jars our complacent sense of reality. While someone is binge-watching “The Unbreakable Kimmie Schmidt,” someone else is writhing on a couch, screaming in an inhuman register, “We are an army! Our name is legion!” I’ve known quite a few atheists who, while unmoved by the idea of God, seem to be afraid of the Devil and conscientiously avoid horror films.

Manifestations of Evil Illuminate the Supernatural

People with no belief in the supernatural are capable of being scared by demon-possessed teens, vengeful spirits from Native American burial grounds, sewer-dwelling evil clowns, and demonic puppets when they are presented on the screen or the page. Why? If these things are utterly outside the realm of plausibility, wouldn’t it make more sense to be afraid of beings that are found within nature (rattlesnakes, bears, Kim Jong Un, serial killers…) while laughing off this Satan business as completely ridiculous, otherworldly nonsense?
Despite what their intellects say, supposed skeptics still fall prey to a primal fear of something beyond mind and matter. The fear of cosmic evil—of evil that is more than just bad neural wiring in the brain of a murderer—is innate within us all. It is a healthy and sane emotion.
In the modern world, we are taught that the entirety of nature is mechanical, operating according to the laws of physics as neatly as a plastic “Mouse Trap” contraption. This leaves little room for authentic evil—or for authentic good. It is an idea we inherited from the Enlightenment: the world is simply a machine that God set up and put into motion, without interfering further in its operation.
Now, taking this a step further, secularists tend to see the world as a machine without an inventor. Even the human mind is just an amped-up calculator: “The mind is a computer,” declares Harvard’s Stephen Pinker, while philosopher Daniel Dennett claims to have explained consciousness entirely in physical terms (falsely, by the way—the chapter “Qualia Disqualified” in “Consciousness Explained” is a fiasco). Gone is the ancient sense that the universe is shot through with spiritual life, with symbolic meaning, on every level.

Things We Can’t Explain Or Ward Off

Nevertheless, the fear of real evil slips through the cracks in this self-satisfied and smartly shallow worldview. All it takes is a nip of “Rosemary’s Baby” or “The Omen.” One can dismiss someone like Charles Manson as a mere product of bad brain chemistry—on paper. But confronted with the real flesh-and-blood Manson, or with the spooky eyes of the suicide-cult leader Marshall Applewhite, one starts second-guessing one’s excessively comfortable convictions.
And one should second-guess. Perhaps that’s why Amorth let Friedkin film something that normally is (and ought to be) quite private: the camera intrudes on the exorcism, but the exorcism intrudes on us. It unsettles us and demands a response. We either need to call it humbug or we need to reconsider our assumptions.
If we reconsider our assumptions, we find that our lives have been enriched. Believing in genuine evil restores a sense of the romance of life. That is what is good about evil, in a way. It gives life a plot, as Stephen King observed in “Hearts in Atlantis.” It provides us with an antagonist and a protagonist, with enough friction between the two to make life, for once, compelling.
That may be why the “New Atheism” of the last decade has faded: people realized that New Atheists like Richard Dawkins were only substituting Twitter rants and perpetual irritability for the dynamic conflict between real Good and real Evil. Atheism is supremely boring.

If the Devil Did Exist

When college students find their minds numbed by facile gender studies classes, their genitals fatigued by Tinder, and their eyes blurred by the continual eerie glare of their smartphones, they are experiencing a perfect set of conditions for a genuine sense of evil to creep in. Out of sheer boredom, they may get the sense that there is something going on behind the scenes: a vast, dizzying abyss seethes behind the world—and within one’s own self.
You sense your potential for bottomless depravity and your potential for seeking the ultimate good. One of the principal tragedies of life is never to reach this point: never to look inside yourself and see both howling emptiness and the presence of spirit. Supernatural terror, whether encountered in a movie or in real life, can bring us to that point. As Quentin Tarantino observed, “‘The Exorcist’s’ biggest achievement isn’t convincing you that the Devil exists. ‘The Exorcist’s’ biggest achievement is convincing you that Catholicism could handle it if he did exist.”
George Clooney made another highly relevant observation in the stripper-vampire classic, “From Dusk Till Dawn,” speaking lines from a Tarantino-penned screenplay. As vampires try to drain his blood, Clooney’s character reverses his long-held agnosticism: “I changed my lifetime tune about 30 minutes ago, cause I know, without a doubt, what’s out there trying to get in here is pure evil straight from hell. And if there is a hell, and those monsters are from it, there’s got to be a heaven.”

Testifying to the Existence of God

The same thought is expressed at the end of M. Night Shyamalan’s screenplay for “Devil”: “If the Devil is real, then God must be real too.” Great minds think alike.

Easy for Clooney to say, the skeptic replies. He had the benefit of being attacked by stripper-vampires who rose up from a buried Aztec Temple. Who among us is likely to receive such direct evidence of the supernatural? But isn’t that why Friedkin made his documentary? The evidence is there for those who will look for it—not to satisfy lurid curiosity, but to deepen faith.

Thanks to movies like “The Exorcist,” “The Omen,” and even less overtly religious films like “It,” evil remains the most shocking and eye-catching advertisement for good. Evil is like Wile E. Coyote pursuing the Roadrunner: the coyote’s attempts to be clever lead to his inevitable failure while demonstrating the roadrunner’s speed and grace. That is the universe’s greatest irony, after all. No matter how hard evil tries, it merely ends up testifying to the existence of good. It must be frustrating.


Sam Buntz is a writer based in Connecticut. His work has appeared in The Federalist, The Washington Monthly, and Pop Matters. A graduate of Harvard Divinity School, his writing often focuses on the intersection of religion, politics, and pop culture.


Friday, September 15, 2017

'American Assassin' launches Minnesota's Mitch Rapp as a new film spy


By Colin Covert
September 14, 2017
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Tense, twisted spy novels — from John le Carré to Ian Fleming, Tom Clancy to Robert Ludlum — never seem to lose their audience appeal for film adaptations. That august group is now joined by the late Vince Flynn, the St. Paul author whose bestsellers about anti-terrorist lone wolf Mitch Rapp make their first appearance onscreen with “American Assassin.” It’s an origin story set up for a potential series, and it seems likely to make Rapp a recognizable character among moviegoers as well as page-turners.
Direct and economically structured, the film introduces us to Rapp (Dylan O’Brien, star of “The Maze Runner” franchise and TV’s “Teen Wolf”) during the best moments of his life. He and his lovely girlfriend move up to the fiancé level as he hands her an engagement ring in the gentle sea waves at a Caribbean resort.
Alas, as with James Bond and Jason Bourne, beauties who get close to Rapp are rarely brought back in long-running roles. A squad of ISIS-style terrorists hits the harbor, leaving scores of tourists dead and Rapp badly wounded.
Cut ahead 18 months and meet the new Mitch Rapp, transformed from charming romantic to stone-cold revenge engine. He has turned himself into an MMA fighter so savage that he’s banished from his gym. He has memorized the smallest details of the Qur’an and Hadith and mastered conversational Arabic to help him win the trust of the attack’s leader through internet contact. And he has become so skilled with bullets and blades that a Navy SEAL would groan with envy.
This cut-to-the chase opening moves fast, but like the film overall, it has a decent level of self-awareness. Rapp’s gunshot wounds have healed, but the film makes a nuanced case that wounds like that keep opening. Followed by CIA surveillance and recruited by the agency as a black ops agent, Rapp uses the position as a means to his personal end. But the same can be said for most of the members of Rapp’s ever-growing enemies list, from jihadist and political terrorists, Iranian interests and Ghost (Taylor Kitsch), a mercenary who wants to give the world a nuclear surprise package. Even Rapp’s hard-as-nails CIA instructor, Stan Hurley (Michael Keaton), has his own dog in the fight.
And fighting is what this film is about, with the special sauce of acting added as needed. This is good for the audience and for the star. O’Brien, moving from young adult territory, where films seem to be populated by models rather than actors, capably steps into his first mature role. He holds his own in one-on-one combat with the imposingly fit-looking Keaton as his CIA trainer, taking the pain so we can feel it. Sharing the screen with the actor who gave us “Beetlejuice,” “Batman,” “Birdman” and more is an equally daunting challenge, but he’s up to it.
The plot is typical potboiler fare, bounding from the United States to Lebanon to Italy as Rapp finds opportunities to retaliate ruthlessly for his loss. Supervising his first mission is Hurley, who essentially shouts: “You kill the people I tell you to kill when I tell you to kill them!”
How do you keep the tension always at the peak while piggybacking nearly nonstop close-quarters fighting? By changing the details, terminating this villain with a knifelike shard of broken glass, dropping another character with a long-distance rifle or a fast-moving car, waterboarding another in a filled bathtub, then making the next battle one between Rapp and three inflamed guard dogs.
Less thrilling are the driving stunts, with cars zipping around the streets of Rome in ways that are reasonably fast but hardly furious. I have seen better chase scenes in Honda commercials.
That said, the final sequence, putting a thermonuclear device at sea, is the kind of crash-smash doozy you would see in a Transformers movie, with a Navy aircraft carrier and several battleships being tossed here and there like carp jumping out of the water. Director Michael Cuesta (a TV veteran from “Dexter” and “Six Feet Under”) uses the main body of the film as a long fuse and delivers a mind-numbing boomfest at the climax. The film is an entertaining introduction to Rapp, whose final scene implies that he has a lot more retaliation to inflict. He could become a brand-name mainstay of the American superspy market for decades to come.

Here’s What Really Happened to Hillary


Voters found her unappealing, and they rejected Bernie’s ideology too.


By Kimberly A. Strassel
September 14, 2017
Image result for hillary bernie
Republicans have issues, but Democrats have them too. Witness the two individuals who dominated this week’s news—and who conveniently represent the left’s most crippling problems.
Hillary Clinton is again everywhere, touting her new memoir and adding to the list of who and what are to blame for her loss: Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, Barack Obama, James Comey, Jill Stein, Vladimir Putin, Julian Assange, Anthony Weiner, sexism, misogyny, the New York Times , lazy women, liberal activists and the “godforsaken Electoral College.” All she’s missing is climate change.
Hillary’s take on “What Happened” has unsurprisingly unleashed another round of analysis about her mistakes—Wisconsin, deplorables, email. These sorts of detailed postmortems of failed campaigns are popular, but they tend to obscure the bigger reasons for failure. In this case: The Democratic Party saddled itself with an ethically compromised and joyless candidate, because it had nobody else.
Hillary spent eight years planning her first presidential bid, and the next eight warning Democrats not to get in the way of her second. The Clinton Foundation was erected to serve as bank and Rolodex, and to enable the Clintons to retain their grip over the party. And that party was committed to a Clinton coronation, right up to Mr. Sanders’s cheeky assault.
Mr. Obama aided Mrs. Clinton’s ambitions by decimating his party. By the time Barack Obama finished his eight years in office, his party held 65 fewer House seats, 14 fewer governorships and controlled 30 fewer state legislatures. It had turned a once-filibuster-proof Senate majority into minority status. The big-tent Democratic coalition shriveled to a coastal, progressive minority, wiping out a generation of Democratic politicians and most of the party’s political diversity.
And so the party nominated perhaps the only Democrat in the country who could rival Donald Trump in unpopularity—and beat him in untrustworthiness. Mr. Sanders refused to go after Mrs. Clinton on her ethical baggage, even though it was her biggest weakness and despite how glaringly obvious was the risk that her foundation and server scandals would hobble a general-election campaign. The parties gave the country a choice between two unpopular people, and the country disliked her more. The real question is how Democrats rebuild a party whose senior leaders in the House boast an average age of 72 and which has almost no young, experienced up-and-comers.
Which brings us to Mr. Sanders, the symbol of Democrats’ other big problem. This week the senator, flanked by about one-third of Senate Democrats, released his “Medicare for All” proposal to nationalize health care. These are the ascendant voices in the party. Yet there are few of them, because their agenda is highly unpopular.
Mr. Sanders was an unexpected force in the primary, though mostly because he wasn’t Hillary. Sanders supporters resent this argument, and claim the only reason his agenda didn’t triumph is because the DNC robbed him of the election. If so, why did Bernie’s people and ideas fail spectacularly everywhere else on the ballot?
In Wisconsin Mr. Sanders campaigned for Russ Feingold, who promised a $15 federal minimum wage, an end to trade deals and free college. Mr. Feingold lost to Republican Sen. Ron Johnson. In upstate New York, in a white, working-class district, Mr. Sanders endorsed Zephyr Teachout, who railed against bankers and lobbyists, fought fracking and Citizens United, and opposed trade. Republican John Faso beat her for the open seat by eight percentage points, on a promise to kill Dodd-Frank. Democrats wouldn’t even vote for Tim Canova, the man who primaried Mr. Sanders’s archenemy, Debbie Wasserman Schultz.
An extraordinary 79% of Colorado voters said no to a ballot initiative for ColoradoCare, the state version of Mr. Sanders’s universal health-care proposal. This in a state that Hillary Clinton won. Liberal Vermont pulled its own single-payer plug in 2014. In California, Mr. Sanders endorsed and campaigned for Proposition 61, which was designed to impose prescription drug price controls. It went down to substantial defeat in a state Mrs. Clinton won by 30 points.
Progressives will argue that all they need to elect a Bernie or an Elizabeth is the right way of pitching their “populist” policies of free health care or price-controlled drugs to the white working class and independents. But so far they’ve been unable to sell them even to bright blue states. And this wishful thinking ignores that even if voters supported some of those provisions, they’d also have to swallow a progressive agenda that includes an energy crackdown, a retreat from the terror fight, and the culture of identity politics.
Republicans have failed to unite or govern or pass their biggest priorities. But the political analysts are setting themselves up for another surprise if they ignore the big reasons Democrats lost this election, and what comes next.
Write to kim@wsj.com.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Dylan O'Brien and Taylor Kitsch talk "American Assassin"

As ‘American Assassin’ hit screens, mulling Vince Flynn’s intriguing legacies

September 10, 2017
Image result for vince flynn
Vince Flynn in 2005. Credit Jim Mone/Associated Press
Vince Flynn was a man with a big personality, a big heart, and a big following. Beginning in the mid-1990s, he created a body of work featuring a counterterrorism agent named Mitch Rapp and plot lines so plausible he captured the interest of readers and government officials alike.
This month, “American Assassin,” the backstory behind the series, will make its box office debut, days after the release of the 16th book in the Rapp series, “Enemy of the State.”
It’s a bittersweet moment, for Vince succumbed to prostate cancer in 2013 before work began on the film. But Lysa Flynn is upbeat and excited, for she feels her late husband’s presence everywhere. And she believes he would share her satisfaction with the film that puts faces to his characters.
With the spotlight on his work, it seemed timely to contemplate the legacy of the Minnesotan who achieved international acclaim as a writer despite — or because of — his dyslexia.
The storyteller’s story is compelling because it’s about love and loyalty, tenacity and tragedy. And, like every good story, it prompts reflection and discussion, laughter and tears.
The fifth of seven children, Vince was a tall, handsome guy who loved good banter, red wine, cigars, his alma maters, his country, and, most of all, Lysa and their three kids.
Attending St. Thomas Academy was a family tradition so Vince entered STA in 1980 with confidence bordering on cockiness. Over the years, the competition and influences of the all-male, military, Catholic high school in Mendota Heights tempered his cockiness.
Though he had many friends, the bond he formed with Tom Tracy days into freshman year was dubbed a “bromance.” It spanned schools, careers, marriages, and kids. When Vince died in June 2013, Tracy delivered the eulogy to a packed Cathedral of St. Paul. He was one of several who spoke with me recently about Vince.
Sports allowed Vince to shine; academics presented challenges. Though he’d been diagnosed in grade school, Vince kept his dyslexia under the radar until college, when his subpar work on a paper prompted a professor to question whether he’d graduate.
Failure wasn’t an option. So the man who rarely cracked a book immersed himself in thrillers, finding ways to plod through them – and learn from them.
He graduated from the University of St. Thomas in 1988, then worked in food sales and commercial real estate. He applied to officer candidate school but his honesty tripped him up. The Marine Corps didn’t accept applicants with a history of concussions.
He decided to try his hand at a novel, writing by day and bartending by night. He discovered the dyslexia that plagued him as a reader helped him as a writer. He had a gift for seeing the big picture — and that was useful in developing complex plots.
Grammar and spelling stumped him. So he shuttled his first manuscript piecemeal to friends like Tracy, an English major. Tracy and his wife, Val, were among the first to read, critique, and mark up the manuscript Vince unsuccessfully pitched to more than 60 publishers.
Undeterred by the rejections, Vince secured financial backers and self-published “Term Limits” in 1997. Leveraging his large network and sales acumen, he sold the inventory housed in the trunk of his car.
He persuaded the Har Mar Barnes & Noble store manager to carry “Term Limits.” Brisk sales led to an agent who landed a book deal with Simon & Schuster. ­­
Each fall Vince returned to the Har Mar Barnes & Noble to introduce his latest work. He developed a large and loyal following as his books became New York Times bestsellers and made their way around the world. He accrued an online following driven by fans like “Ryan the Rappologist,” for whom the character is larger than life, like his creator.
Vince was working on his second book when he met the woman he married less than two years later. Beautiful and poised, Lysa is as reserved as Vince was outgoing.
Never involved with the books, Lysa has enjoyed being engaged with the film. She visited the set in London and Rome. She’ll attend the premier in Los Angeles this month. The film has her blessing.
Although his universe grew, Vince was most comfortable in the Twin Cities and at his Wisconsin lake home, where he spent summer days pounding out whatever story had percolated in his mind over the winter.
Always confident, he reached out to President Bill Clinton on a crowded New York City street corner, making an introduction that proved unnecessary, for the president was well acquainted with his work.
He met with President George W. Bush and the King of Jordan. He was a popular media guest, for he loved to debate and opine on his worldviews.
Vince was generous with time, attention, and money. Passionate about STA, he served on its board and dogged donors to support a capital campaign for much-needed updates. He argued STA must maintain its rigorous academic standards and accommodate the C students who would also benefit from the school culture.
He didn’t pull punches. “He could tell you what you needed to hear, whether it was good or bad, with a smile on his face and you’d walk away feeling just fine, thinking, he just insulted me but I feel good,” Lysa Flynn recalls.
He inspired nonreaders to open a book. He encouraged struggling students to “suck it up” and figure out a path to success. He reached out to other patients, like Patrick Deasey, a senior at STA who was waging his second cancer battle, encouraging him to keep the faith.
An affinity for the military led him to “Tee It Up for the Troops,” a nonprofit started in 2005 by a Minnesota soldier’s family. Vince became a donor, champion, and confidant of veterans he met at foundation events. When “American Assassin” opens in Inver Grove Heights veterans will see it as guests of Lysa Flynn.
Vince didn’t join the military but he served our country in his own way. He had the backs of those who serve and protect, like his brother Tim, a St. Paul Police Department SWAT team member.
He was masterful at engaging people in conversation and assembling bits of information. When members of an elite military team visited St. Paul in 2012, Tim Flynn watched typically taciturn tough guys share war stories with his brother.
Vince had a vision of his characters and dreamed of seeing them on the big screen. When the opportunity arose he sold the movie rights to CBS Films. Discussions ebbed and flowed for years, allowing producer Lorenzo di Bonaventura to discern Vince’s vision and priorities.
In 2010 it appeared the film was moving ahead. Vince was jazzed. Friends, family, and fans debated casting choices: who would play the taut, olive-skinned Mitch Rapp? Vince was more open to ideas than the filmmakers, suggesting Will Smith, a box-office favorite at the time.
But the film stalled.
Seven years passed before Lysa Flynn met Dylan O’Brien, the 26-year-old actor CBS Films cast as Mitch Rapp. She felt such peace with the choice it was as if Vince had a hand in choosing him.
She’d met Mitch Rapp.
Though he regrets they couldn’t complete the project while Vince was alive, di Bonaventura hopes they can fulfill Vince’s dream of perpetuating the Mitch Rapp franchise on the big screen.
But turning a successful book series into a film is tricky.
Mitch Rapp is a seasoned assassin in most of the books but the film introduces him as a freshly trained novice determined to avenge his fiancé’s death. “American Assassin” is set in the present, rather than years ago, as in the book. It was a practical calculation. Introducing Mitch Rapp as a young man in this timeframe affords the filmmakers greater latitude in developing the story over time.
Lysa Flynn applauds the approach and dismisses concerns about insignificant changes such as the ethnicity of character Irene Kennedy or whether Rapp is right- or left-handed. Vince was not attached to the details, she says. His goal was to tell the story of a young man who was drawn to right wrongs and put faces to the anonymous individuals who serve our country. And the film accomplishes that.
Tenacity and optimism have their limits. Though Vince assured others he would survive the treatments and the cancer, his health declined. In the spring of 2013 he tightened his inner circle, remaining connected by a ring rosary in one hand and cell phone in the other. When he died on June 19, 2013, family, friends, and business associates were completely unprepared.
His death presented a dilemma for Simon & Schuster. Continue the Mitch Rapp series or let it go? In a leap of faith, Kyle Mills, an accomplished creator of his own series, became the stepparent of the Rapp series.
His job is to write a book Vince would have written, rather than his own book featuring Vince’s characters. He’s bringing some much-needed humanity to the assassin. In “Enemy of the State” Mills lifts Rapp from his despair over losing his wife and introduces a new dimension to a singularly focused protagonist.
Though it’s been much debated, we’ll never know who Mitch Rapp was modeled after. But the woman who shared Vince’s life says the loyalty, integrity, tenacity, and snappy one-liners were definitely Vince.
And his legacy? His is a storyteller’s legacy.
“These books live on. His name is all over them. His words are in them,.” Lysa says. “And what’s better to leave behind than the written word? And…since he’s Mitch Rapp, he lives on.”
Caryn M. Sullivan, an attorney, inspirational speaker and author of an award-winning memoir, “Bitter or Better: Grappling With Life on the Op-Ed Page,” lives in Eagan. Her website is www.carynmsullivan.com