Saturday, July 12, 2014

Guillermo Del Toro on ‘The Strain’ and His Lifelong Obsession With Vampires

By Michael Salia
July 7, 2014
Guillermo Del Toro has been obsessed with vampires since he was a kid, when he started studying the mythology and biology of the supernatural bloodsuckers. His upcoming horror series for FX, “The Strain,” is the culmination of his ghoulish hobby.
Del Toro, who was raised in Mexico with a Catholic education, is widely acclaimed for directing elegant, Spanish-language supernatural tales such as “Pan’s Labyrinth” and “The Devil’s Backbone,” but he’s also known for pulpier, more outrageous entertainments such as “Pacific Rim” and the “Hellboy” movies. “The Strain,” with its buckets of gore and terrifying vampires, is definitely more of the latter, although Del Toro, along with series co-creator and novelist Chuck Hogan, invested it with themes of love, family and spirituality.
The filmmaker — who directed the pilot episode of “The Strain,” which will air July 13, and co-wrote the novels on which it’s based — shared his thoughts about making the series and the ideas behind it in an exclusive telephone interview with Speakeasy.
Between “The Strain,” “Cronos” and “Blade II,” you seem to have a thing for vampires. What keeps drawing you back to them?
I did a bunch of notes when I was a kid about vampiric biology. I was very much into the research into vampirism in all the countries … all the species of vampires through the ages, and through the different geographies. I found really interesting stuff about, for example, that the strigoi of Eastern Europe have a stinger under the tongue, Mexican vampires were hairless, you name it. The [Southeast Asian] penanggalan is a floating head with intestines underneath it that leaves the body behind. So reading the formidable mythology about the vampire, I made a lot of notes about how it would come about biologically as a kid. And I also made notes about social, religious connotations, what it meant to me. How, in Eastern Europe, for example, the myth is that the vampire returns to the center of the family first, and then it destroys that family, and then it goes on expanding destruction through the world. And I found it really eerie and creepy. (…) These are the roots of all my notes. Some notes made it into “Cronos,” a lot of notes made it into “Blade II,” and a lot more made it into the series. I think “The Strain” is the final time I’ve been able to bring all that mythology and research to fruition.
How did you and co-author and co-creator Chuck Hogan work to put all this this together in the novels?
It started with a little bible I wrote that was basically cracking the arc for the three books and what the characters would be, and Chuck and I set out to write the first novel. I took about half the chapters, and he took half the other chapters. For example, I said, “Let me write all the concentration camp flashbacks on my own, and let me write this or that character.” Then Chuck wrote, on the first level, Vasiliy Fet [played by Kevin Durand in "The Strain"] and his arc, on his own. We divided it like that, and what we did was we swapped chapters. We said, well, now you take my chapters and savage them, and I take your chapters and savage them. Then, at the end of the whole process, we ended up with a really great collaboration.
Cory Stoll as Ephraim Goodweather in ‘The Strain.’
Michael GIbson/FX
Why did “The Strain” become a TV series instead of a movie?
From the beginning it was pitched as a TV series. And then when we couldn’t do it, I knew I wouldn’t want to make a movie because I would have huge censorship problems with the fact that you are spending so much money that they wanted to make it a commercial and acceptable — even if it’s a horror movie — they tried to make it conform a lot to canons that could cripple the essence of the story, which is the painful loss and destruction of a family, one by one, and then the vampirization of society through the family nucleus. I went and re-wrote the three books, and we knew we didn’t want to sell the rights for film. The genesis of it all was when I started to fall in love with long-form TV in the early days with “Deadwood” and “The Wire” and “The Sopranos.” I was so enamored of being able to do a bottle episode, like, you know, when Christopher gets lost in the woods [in "The Sopranos"]. And I like the idea of doing a series that was as much procedural as it was horror, and hopefully as much melodrama as it was horror. We tried to do that with the books. What I said to Chuck when we started the books was to promise the audience — some of which were disappointed — that the three books were going to be very different from one another. The first book is going to be basically the scientific aspect of the plague, the second book is going to be the sociological aspect of the plague, and the final one is going to be the spiritual, religious, mythological aspect of the plague. We did just that with the books. The TV series is going to be a lot less clear-cut; we can combine and mix and match. We tried to make the books completely different from each other, which to some readers was joyful, to others it was frustrating.
How did you reconcile religious concepts you might not believe in personally with writing good, effective fiction?
I am not a member of any organized religion, but I’m a deeply spiritual guy. I am very concerned with the spiritual, and I have my own little mishmash of ideas of what makes my religious belief. My basic substance is Catholic. Not only Catholic, as a boy I was an altar boy, I was a spokesman for the Society of the Virgin Mary. All of my life I was in Jesuit school. (…) It was very much intertwined with the way I wrote the book. It is an incredibly powerful way of mythologizing about good and evil. Not to spoil it — the third book is probably the one that I am least happy with the style, the one you can see more of the Frankenstein aspect of Chuck and my styles being put together — but it is the one I’m happiest about in terms of the story. It’s the most controversial one, but I’m happiest with the fact that third book, I’m basically trying to tell the story about how — if we were to go to biblical times — sometimes the chosen guys, the prophets and the people that were to bring about momentous things into our lives, were people that were really, deeply imperfect. People that were full of doubt, people that were really not just spiritual superheroes that never had an iota of doubt. One of my favorite books, and one of the most mysterious books in the Bible, is the Book of Job. I thought it would be great for the character of [Ephraim Goodweather, played by Corey Stoll] to be sort of the chosen one, but to be taken apart by destiny, point by point, until he finds the voice of God in ways that are very subtle. I tried to bring that about in the book, where God is manifested in a tiny, tiny, little miracle at the end, that brings that spiritual aspect to the book.
Federico Luppi in Guillermo Del Toro’s first feature film, ‘Cronos’ (1993).
Ronald Grant Archive/Mary Evans/Everett Collection
How do you think “The Strain” will compare to other acclaimed horror TV series, such as “The Walking Dead” or “Hannibal”? What audiences do you think it’ll reach?
I’m not really objective, but I think the first season was all about finding our footing and seeing where we want to go, and what makes the show the show and not the book. So, we took out things I would like to bring back, we included things I would like to take out. My experience with every series that I’ve come to love is that you fall in love with the first season, you stay faithful to it for a while and see how it gains its footing and what changes. This is true of almost every show I’ve loved. I really think that, as a person that loves TV and watches a lot of TV, I can only gauge with me as the audience. I think that we have many things that makes us [appeal to audiences]. … It is my hope that people will connect. We tried to be very bold visually and to create a strong pattern for the color palette and the visuals of the series from the pilot on, and even then, the pilot has such a strong visual template that it took us a couple episodes to regain it again. I think now we’re in full swing. The only thing you know for sure in any business that is entertainment, is you’ll know if it connects when it comes out. It’s very hard to predict.
There are 13 episodes in the season, right?
Yes, 13 episodes. I’ve seen all the cuts, I’ve color timed all the way to episode eight so far. We are mixed, right now, all the way to episode five. We’re expecting episode seven next week. I’ve seen most of the bits and pieces, and I’m very happy with the whole first season.
Read part one of Speakeasy’s interview with Guillermo Del Toro.
Follow @Michael_Calia on Twitter, or write to him at

Television Review: 'The Strain'

FX’s ‘The Strain’: At last, some vampires who mean business

July 10, 2014
FX’s new creep-out drama “The Strain,” premiering Sunday night, reclaims vampirism from prissy romantics and lovelorn teens by creatively upending old ideas of the immortal dead. Someone had to. In recent years we got so hung up on sexy vampires who ached to assimilate into society that we forgot how to make them undesirable and frightening.
In “The Strain,” vampirism (or something like it) spreads like a virus, infiltrating our bodies through ramen-noodle-sized worms. At the same time, the show honors a traditionalist, Nosferatu-like notion of a moneyed Eastern European bloodsucker (he arrives in an ornate box filled with his native dirt and is too hideous for the camera to fully behold at this point). But to that, “The Strain” folds in a riff of sorts on zombie-style pandemics with an added dash of parasitic gestation to enliven the show’s goriest scenes.
The better parts of “The Strain” will unsettle viewers with this new species of monster, a threat that spreads in a novel way that isn’t easily explained. That’s also part of the show’s initial stumble — in establishing characters caught up in a contagion crisis, the creators and writers are also apparently still trying to figure out how a TV series works in 42-minute increments. The first couple of episodes seem as if they’ve been assembled from a kit that’s missing a few nuts and bolts; by the third and fourth episodes, however, a viewer gets a much better sense of “The Strain’s” style and bite.
Created by Guillermo del Toro (“Pan’s Labyrinth”) and Carlton Cuse (“Lost”) and based on a trilogy of novels by del Toro and Chuck Hogan, “The Strain” begins on an international flight that lands at JFK. From the outside, there are no signs of life on board; all the plane’s window shades are drawn. Authorities send in a “canary team” from the Centers for Disease Control to suit up and see what’s inside. The passengers and crew are all dead in their seats — peacefully, it seems.
While officials scramble to keep a lid on the details, lead investigator Eph Goodweather (Corey Stoll from “House of Cards”) and his colleague Nora Martinez (Mia Maestro) discover that not everyone is completely dead. There are four survivors, including the pilot, a goth rock star, a tenacious attorney and a little girl; soon enough, they are not quite themselves.
“The Strain” is notably different in tone and execution from the survivalist despair of AMC’s “The Walking Dead,” but it shares a similar intent to keep the thrills coming. There’s something refreshingly old-fashioned about “The Strain” when viewed merely as a lean horror show, free of metaphor or derivative camp or hidden meanings.
Any saga about the spread of a disease necessarily involves multitudes; I’ve seen worse and better attempts to launch a TV series with this many people caught up in so many tangents. Besides Eph and Nora, “The Strain” is centered on the monster and his aide, Thomas Eichorst (Richard Sammel), who’ve convinced an immortality-obsessed billionaire (Jonathan Hyde) to transport the monster to New York. Other stories involve an ex-con and gang member (Miguel Gomez) trying to make a better life in Spanish Harlem; a compromised CDC employee (Sean Astin); and, rather quickly, each vampire seems to come with his or her own story too, as does an elderly pawn shop owner (“Game of Thrones’s” David Bradley) who has tussled with these creatures before.
The most fascinating of these narrative tracks follows a city exterminator, Vasiliy Fet (Kevin Durand), as it dawns on him (and the sewer rats) that something awful is happening to Manhattan. The least interesting story involves Stoll’s character’s struggle to find a work-life balance, win shared custody of his son and cope with his ex-wife’s nagging disapproval.
Seriously? In the middle of a vampire epidemic? Daddy has to work.
The Strain (90 minutes) premieres Sunday at 10 p.m. on FX.

Tommy Ramone Dead at 65

Drummer was last surviving original member of the Ramones

July 12, 2014
Tommy Ramone, the original drummer for the Ramones and the band's last surviving original member, died on Friday at the age of 65. A spokesman for Ramone's family confirmed the news to Rolling Stone.
"Tom died yesterday, July 11, at 12:15 p.m. at his home in Ridgewood, Queens," Andy Schwartz, publisher of New York Rocker magazine, said on behalf of Ramone's family. "He was in hospice care following treatment for cancer of the bile duct." (Schwartz also confirmed Ramone's age as 65.)
Ramone was a founding member of the family of "brothers" who helped invent punk rock in New York's frenetic 1970s music scene. Harnessing a powerful combination of short, propulsive three-chord singalongs with playful lyrics on themes of adolescent angst, the Ramones created a durable sound in songs like "Beat on the Brat," "Blitzkrieg Bop" and "Sheena Is a Punk Rocker" that would go on to influence countless later bands. 
Born Erdelyi Tamas in Budapest in 1949, Ramone emigrated to America in 1957. He grew up in Forest Hills, Queens, where he began playing music with John Cummings (a.k.a. Johnny Ramone) while he was in high school. The two formed a garage band called the Tangerine Puppets before Tommy moved on to study recording engineering, finding work at the famed Record Plant studios.
In 1974, Erdelyi and Cummings joined together with two fellow Forest Hills compatriots, singer Jeffrey Hyman (Joey) and bassist Douglas Colvin (Dee Dee), and began playing simple, rapid-fire punk under a common surname. The band found a home and an audience at New York's CBGB and released their debut album, Ramones, in 1976. "Our music is an answer to the early Seventies when artsy people with big egos would do vocal harmonies and play long guitar, solos and get called geniuses," Tommy, who was the main writer on many of the band's early hits, told Rolling Stone in a feature on the Ramones that year. "That was bullshit. We play rock & roll. We don't do solos. Our only harmonics are in the overtones from the guitar chords." 
Tommy began his career in the Ramones as the band's manager, but soon took on drumming duty so Joey could concentrate on vocals. He played on the Ramones' first three studio albums, Ramones and 1977's Leave Home and Rocket to Russia, as well as the band's 1979 live record, It's Alive. 
Tommy left the Ramones in 1978 to concentrate on studio work. He had co-produced four albums for the band and would go on to co-produce their 1984 record Too Tough To Die. The following year, he produced the Replacements' major label debut album, Tim, and went on to work with L.A. punks Redd Kross. More recently, he formed the bluegrass and country band Uncle Monk with his longtime partner Claudia Tienan.
The Ramones officially disbanded in 1996 after releasing 21 studio, live and compilation albums. In 2001, Joey Ramone announced that he had been diagnosed with lymphoma and died later that year. Dee Dee followed him the following year with a drug overdose and Johnny Ramone died in 2004 of prostate cancer. 
"After Joey’s passing [in 2001], everything became just a shock," Tommy Ramone told Rolling Stone in 2009. "Dee Dee’s [in 2002] was totally unexpected. After that, I was numb. Johnny, once he started getting really sick, we started to anticipate it. [Johnny died in 2004.] It was a long mourning, really. I compartmentalized the whole situation."
In March of 2002, in the midst of those tumultuous times, the Ramones were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
"When we were inducted in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, it meant a lot to us," Ramone told Rolling Stone. "As contradictory as it may sound for a punk group to be getting an award like that, it mattered a lot to us because we knew we were good for the past 25 years or whatever. But it was hard to tell because we never got that much promotion and the records weren’t getting in the stores. We were kinda confused about how good we actually were. We thought we were good, but we could have been deluded. But the fact that we were inducted on the first ballot seemed to say, 'Oh, wow, it was real. We were as good as we thought we were.' It meant a lot to us. 'Wow, all that was worth it. We weren’t kidding ourselves.' It meant something in that way."
Additional reporting by David Browne.

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RIP Tommy Ramone: your band captured the sound in my head

The last of the original Ramones has died, and with him passes the band who, for this writer, opened the door of rock'n'roll at its most thrilling

Ramones: Johnny, Joey, Tommy and Dee Dee

And that's it; they're all gone. Joey, Johnny, Dee Dee and now Tommy. Even "the fifth Ramone", Arturo Vega, is no longer with us. It seems so unfair: not only did the Ramones never achieve the commercial rewards to match their staggering influence upon the trajectory of rock'n'roll, none of their principals was even granted a long life – at 62, Tommy was the Ramone who reached the greatest age.
He played drums on just three Ramones studio albums. The ones everyone, but everyone, knows are the three best: Ramones, Leave Home and Rocket to Russia. He's on the first live album, too, It's Alive, and between those four records you get the complete summation of why the Ramones mattered, and why they continue to matter. Over the 42 tracks on the three studio albums, lasting barely an hour and half, rock'n'roll is reduced to its undiluted essence: a count-in, a riff, a verse, a chorus. Very occasionally there's a middle eight. But anything unnecessary – anything that distracts from the rush of excitement – is excised. The aim of a Ramones song is not to make you admire the musicianship or the arrangement. It's to take you from a standing start to fever pitch in 120 seconds or less. And at the back of it all, playing the unfussiest drum patterns you'll ever hear – he made AC/DC's Phil Rudd sound like Keith Moon – was Tommy Ramone.
He wasn't meant to be the drummer. He was meant to be the manager. Joey was the drummer. "What happened was, they just kept playing faster and faster, and I couldn't keep up on the drums," Joey remembered in Legs McNeil and Gillian McCain's Please Kill Me. "Tommy Ramone, who was managing us, finally had to sit down behind the drums, because nobody else wanted to," Dee Dee told McNeil and McCain.
For a while, the Ramones were the most chaotic group in the world. "They counted off a song – 'ONE, TWO, THREE, FOUR!' – and we were hit with this blast of noise. You physically recoiled from the shock of it, like this huge wind, and before I could even get into it, they stopped," McNeil himself recalled. "Apparently they were all playing a different song. They were just so thoroughly disgusted with each other that they threw down their guitars and stomped off the stage."
They got better. Of course they got better. They got so much better that for me (and for others, not lots of others, but enough of us) the Ramones were the best group rock'n'roll ever produced. Not the most inventive, or the most versatile, or the most skilful, or the most emotionally resonant, or the most lyrical – but the best, because every time I put on one of the Ramones' best records, I was reminded of how I felt the first time I heard it. And the first time I heard it, I felt: this is the sound I've been hearing in my head and here it is on 12 inches of black vinyl; this is what I have been waiting for since the first single I ever bought. The Ramones were the sound of juvenile excitement, expressed with such breathtaking singlemindedness that nothing could kill the excitement.
And they were never as exciting without Tommy. Partly that was because those first three albums were such perfect statements of intent that there was very little left for the Ramones to say, and so each new album became another turn around the circuit rather than a manifesto. But partly because it was Tommy, as much as Joey, Johnny or Dee Dee, who made the band truly Ramonic. Marky, his replacement, was a more skilled drummer, perhaps, but the slight increase in sophistication meant the purity of the message – and the medium was the message, in the case of the Ramones – was compromised. Marky's successor, Richie, was simply too fast: in the tragic Ramones documentary End of the Century, he boasts about shaving several minutes off the set by playing everything with such velocity. With Richie on drums, Ramones shows were a blur of noise – you'd be recognising the song, finally, as it came to an end. When what you wanted was to wallow in those glorious harmonics.
But now that's it; they're all gone. Joey, Johnny, Dee Dee and now Tommy. The band that unlocked the door for me.

Today's Tune: Ramones - It's Alive (The Rainbow 1977)

Tommy Ramone: the last of my punk heroes

The sound and the fury: the Ramones (From left: Johnny, Tommy and Joey)

Hey ho, they’re gone. The last of the original Ramones, Tommy Erdelyi, has died aged 62, finally bringing to an end the saga of one of the most loved bands in rock and roll history, New York’s original cartoon punks.
Masquerading as inbred cretin siblings, singer Joey Ramone, guitarist Johnny Ramone, bassist Dee Dee Ramone and drummer Tommy Ramone emerged from the CBGB’s scuzzy art rock scene in 1976 with a sonic blast that reverberated around the world. They boiled rock down to its very essence: three chords and a beat. It was so fantastically dumb it could only be a work of genius.
The Ramones are one of the few groups of whom it can be said that they changed everything. They certainly changed me. At 16, the Ramones self-titled debut was the first punk album I purchased. When they played in Dublin, I was down the front, thrashing about in the throng. I formed a band at school, and the first song we learned was Glad To See You Go, track one, side one of their second album, Ramones Leave Home.
When we felt we had mastered that, we learned the rest of side one, flipped the record over, and moved on to side two To be fair, the Ramones were ideal start up material for a young band: their chord progressions were simple and arrangements essentially boiled down to everyone playing the same notes at the same time as fast and loud as possible, yet the overall effect was fantastically dynamic. It was a style completely at odds with the prevailing Seventies trend of floridly attired, quasi-operatic, lead-soloing, progressive rock.
The Ramones had an image of iconic purity: long hair, black leather jackets, T-shirts, ripped jeans and sneakers. They blasted out short songs over a non-stop, tom-tom dominated beat with basic melodies and repetitive lyrics, an approach developed to overcome technical deficiencies. Many of their songs were indistinguishable from each other, a fact not helped by Joey’s peculiar enunciation, in which words were strung together by syllables alone, consonants jettisoned in the frenzy. They did, however, print lyric sheets, allowing scholars to study such gems as Now I Wanna Sniff Some Glue, which contains the following four lines repeated as many times as possible in two minutes flat: “Now I wanna sniff some glue / Now I wanna have something to do / All the kids wanna sniff some glue / All the kids want something to do.” Debate and discuss.
I loved it all and love it still: Blitzkreig Bop, Beat On The Brat, Sheena Is A Punk Rocker, Teenage Lobotomy, Today Your Love, Tomorrow The World, songs with ridiculous couplets like, “There’s no stoppin’ / The cretins from hoppin’.
For me, Joey’s gulping, weeping voice could break your heart even when he was singing about murder and mental illness. I heard symphonies of electric sound in the overloaded chainsaw buzz of Johnny’s guitar. I was so enraptured by the whole Ramones’ oeuvre that I never even questioned their comical self-mythologising, taking it on trust that they were, indeed, the inbred geek spawn of some mutant family from the industrial wastes of New Jersey. I was devastated when I learned that the Ramones were not actually related.
Critics had a more intellectual appreciation. Essays were written about their grasp of sonic dynamics; use of melodic guitar distortion and the conceptual simplicity of a three beat drum break. The Ramones were heralded as brilliant musical minimalists. They served as catalysts and inspiration for hundreds of emerging bands. Wide-eyed future members of The Sex Pistols and The Clash were at the Ramones’ first London gigs. You can still hear the echo of their sound in rehearsal rooms around the world. Every time rock starts getting bloated and needs to reset its dial, the spirit of the Ramones is invariably invoked.
And therein lay their strength and their weakness. When you have condensed something to its purest form, how do you improve upon it? The Ramones are one of those groups who should probably have broken up at the height of their powers, or better still, spontaneously combusted on stage. Tommy departed after Rocket To Russia in 1977 to follow a career in production, already cognisant that the group really had nowhere to go. The Ramones tried to develop but each additional chord change betrayed their fundamental raison d’ĂȘtre. Johnny’s guitar solos demonstrated what a limited player he really was. Lyrics got longer without getting any better. They tried light and poppy and big and heavy. They embraced the emerging hardcore scene, with bassist Dee Dee ranting tunelessly over thrash-metal. And eventually they reverted to what they knew best, becoming the Status Quo of punk. They never really achieved the commercial and financial success their influence warranted until one by one they shuffled off the stage. Joey died in 2001 aged 49, Dee Dee in 2002 aged 50, Johnny in 2004 aged 55. For a band who perfectly encapsulated the dumb essence of rock’s eternal youth, perhaps old age was never an option. Tommy, the first to leave, was the last to go.
“Hey Johhny, hey Dee Dee, Little Tom and Joey ." They were fast. They were loud. And all the songs sounded the same. Those of us who emerged from the blank generation may never experience rock this pure, this sweet and this ridiculous again.

Hollywood, Islam and Political Correctness

By Oliver Williams
July 10, 2014

In March, the TV network ABC Family cancelled the show Alice in Arabia after a campaign by the Council on American-Islamic Relations [CAIR], a controversial group with links to extremism, and accusations of racism in the liberal media. The show was to be about a Muslim American teen that is taken to Saudi Arabia by her extended family after the death of her parents and never allowed to return. ABC Family were apparently taken aback by the opposition to the show. "The current conversation surrounding our pilot was not what we had envisioned," they said. They had seemingly set out to make an inoffensive program. Its writer, Brooke Elkmeier, said the show was pro-Arab and pro-tolerance and "meant to give Arabs and Muslims a voice on American TV." The protagonist was an Arab Muslim.

What were CAIR and the liberal media so outraged by? The plot is hardly far-fetched. According to a report by Human Rights Watch , women of all ages in Saudi Arabia "are forbidden from traveling, studying, or working without permission from their male guardians." Depicting the bigotry of Saudi society is itself seen as bigoted. Saudi Arabia is a country where women cannot drive; where veiling is mandatory; where adultery, apostasy and "blasphemy" are crimes punishable by death; where, under sharia law, a woman's testimony is worth half that of a man's; and where limbs are amputated for theft. In the politically correct attempt to avoid "stereotyping" and be safe from discomfort, have we been blocking out reality?

The big-budget star-studded film, Kingdom of Heaven, released by Ridley Scott in 2005 and set during the crusades, features a scene in which, after the sacking of Jerusalem, the Muslim Sultan Saladin walks through a smashed-up room, picks up a cross from the floor and respectfully returns it to its proper place on the table top.

Was this historically plausible? Scott had gone to the trouble of hiring Dr. Tom Asbridge, a scholar at Queen Mary University in London, as a historical advisor. As revealed in the latest issue of QMA, the university's alumni magazine, Asbridge told Scott "there is compelling first-person, Arabic testimony from an advisor to Saladin, that tells us in great detail about their entry to Jerusalem. And Saladin ordered the cross to be removed from the roof of the Dome of the Rock and smashed."

Scott reportedly reacted with annoyance. The scene stayed and Asbridge got his name taken off the credits. The PC untruth was more pleasant than reality. The film went on to depict a priest assuring Christians that "killing an infidel is not murder. It is the path to heaven."

Similarly, during production of the film 2012 the director Roland Emmerich had considered demolishing the Grand Mosque in Mecca on screen but was persuaded not to. In the film, which depicted a global apocalypse, the obliteration of the Sistine chapel and St Peter's Basilica in the Vatican and the Christ the Redeemer statue in Rio de Janeiro is vividly rendered while Middle Eastern landmarks are spared. Emmerich stated, "We have to all, in the western world, think about this. You can actually let Christian symbols fall apart, but if you would do this with [an] Arab symbol, you would have ... a fatwa... so I kind of left it out."

Emmerich went on to direct White House DownThe New Republic was accurate in saying it resembled 24 re-written by Noam Chomsky. Jamie Foxx played a souped-up action-man Obama about to bring peace to the world by pulling American troops out of the Middle East. Evil American patriots violently take over the White House in order to launch a nuclear strike against Iran.

Even the liberal Jonathan Chait, writing in New York Magazine, had to conclude that, "You don't have to be an especially devoted consumer of film or television to detect a pervasive, if not total, liberalism... We liberals owe not a small measure of our success to the propaganda campaign of a tiny, disproportionately influential cultural elite."

In Iron Man 3, Ben Kingsley plays an Osama bin Laden-esque baddie, Mandarin. The director, Shane Black, referred to the nefarious comic book version of the character as a "racist caricature." In the film, by contrast, he turns out to be a harmless actor named Trevor, hired by the real terrorist (a rich white guy) to deflect attention. Shane Black said of the decision "it offers up a way that you can sort of show how people are complicit in being frightened. They buy into things in the way that the audience for this movie buys into it."

Are people "buying into" a fear of Islamist terrorism? The director starts to sound like the demented conspiracy theorists who think 9/11 was an attack by the American government or Israel: "I think that's a message that's more interesting for the modern world because I think there's a lot of fear that's generated toward very available and obvious targets, which could perhaps be directed more intelligently at what's behind them."

Or take The Sum of All Fears. Tom Clancy's 1991 novel featured Palestinian terrorists detonating a nuclear device at the Super Bowl. The film's writer Dan Pyne, however, dismissed Islamic terrorism as a clichĂ©. Rather than aiming for political relevance and believability, Hollywood has been indulging in a sort of reverse racial profiling: cinematic terrorists could be anybody other than Muslims. "Before we had typed a word on paper," producer Mace Neufeld has said, "I was getting complaints."

The complaints came from CAIR. Director Phil Alden Robinson wrote to CAIR saying "I hope you will be reassured that I have no intention of promoting negative images of Muslims or Arabs, and I wish you the best in your continuing efforts to combat discrimination." The film switched Palestinians with neo-Nazis.
As Reihan Salam notes in his article, The Sum of All PC , "Movies have always relied on politically relevant villains, from Russian spies to South African apartheidniks to Serbian ethnic cleansers. Tom Clancy's much-loved Jack Ryan series is the gold standard. Based on Clancy's best-selling novels, the movies featured hero Jack Ryan tackling the decaying Soviet empire in The Hunt for Red October, Irish nationalists in Patriot Games, and Colombian drug lords in Clear and Present Danger."

But Muslim terrorists? As can be seen in the Liam Neeson movie Non-Stop, Hollywood would sooner cast the family members of 9/11 victims as potential terrorists than reflect that such a thing exists.
Oliver Williams, based in London, is currently working on a book about foreign policy and globalization.

LeBron: I'm coming back to Cleveland

July 11, 2014
Before anyone ever cared where I would play basketball, I was a kid from Northeast Ohio. It’s where I walked. It’s where I ran. It’s where I cried. It’s where I bled. It holds a special place in my heart. People there have seen me grow up. I sometimes feel like I’m their son. Their passion can be overwhelming. But it drives me. I want to give them hope when I can. I want to inspire them when I can. My relationship with Northeast Ohio is bigger than basketball. I didn’t realize that four years ago. I do now.
Remember when I was sitting up there at the Boys & Girls Club in 2010? I was thinking, This is really tough. I could feel it. I was leaving something I had spent a long time creating. If I had to do it all over again, I’d obviously do things differently, but I’d still have left. Miami, for me, has been almost like college for other kids. These past four years helped raise me into who I am. I became a better player and a better man. I learned from a franchise that had been where I wanted to go. I will always think of Miami as my second home. Without the experiences I had there, I wouldn’t be able to do what I’m doing today.
I went to Miami because of D-Wade and CB. We made sacrifices to keep UD. I loved becoming a big bro to Rio. I believed we could do something magical if we came together. And that’s exactly what we did! The hardest thing to leave is what I built with those guys. I’ve talked to some of them and will talk to others. Nothing will ever change what we accomplished. We are brothers for life.  I also want to thank Micky Arison and Pat Riley for giving me an amazing four years.
I’m doing this essay because I want an opportunity to explain myself uninterrupted. I don’t want anyone thinking: He and Erik Spoelstra didn’t get along. … He and Riles didn’t get along. … The Heat couldn’t put the right team together. That’s absolutely not true.
I’m not having a press conference or a party. After this, it’s time to get to work.
When I left Cleveland, I was on a mission. I was seeking championships, and we won two. But Miami already knew that feeling. Our city hasn’t had that feeling in a long, long, long time. My goal is still to win as many titles as possible, no question. But what’s most important for me is bringing one trophy back to Northeast Ohio.
I always believed that I’d return to Cleveland and finish my career there. I just didn’t know when. After the season, free agency wasn’t even a thought. But I have two boys and my wife, Savannah, is pregnant with a girl. I started thinking about what it would be like to raise my family in my hometown. I looked at other teams, but I wasn’t going to leave Miami for anywhere except Cleveland. The more time passed, the more it felt right. This is what makes me happy.
To make the move I needed the support of my wife and my mom, who can be very tough. The letter from Dan Gilbert, the booing of the Cleveland fans, the jerseys being burned -- seeing all that was hard for them. My emotions were more mixed. It was easy to say, “OK, I don’t want to deal with these people ever again.” But then you think about the other side. What if I were a kid who looked up to an athlete, and that athlete made me want to do better in my own life, and then he left? How would I react? I’ve met with Dan, face-to-face, man-to-man. We’ve talked it out. Everybody makes mistakes. I’ve made mistakes as well. Who am I to hold a grudge? 
I’m not promising a championship. I know how hard that is to deliver. We’re not ready right now. No way. Of course, I want to win next year, but I’m realistic. It will be a long process, much longer than it was in 2010. My patience will get tested. I know that. I’m going into a situation with a young team and a new coach. I will be the old head. But I get a thrill out of bringing a group together and helping them reach a place they didn’t know they could go. I see myself as a mentor now and I’m excited to lead some of these talented young guys. I think I can help Kyrie Irving become one of the best point guards in our league. I think I can help elevate Tristan Thompson and Dion Waiters. And I can’t wait to reunite with Anderson Varejao, one of my favorite teammates.
But this is not about the roster or the organization. I feel my calling here goes above basketball. I have a responsibility to lead, in more ways than one, and I take that very seriously. My presence can make a difference in Miami, but I think it can mean more where I’m from. I want kids in Northeast Ohio, like the hundreds of Akron third-graders I sponsor through my foundation, to realize that there’s no better place to grow up. Maybe some of them will come home after college and start a family or open a business. That would make me smile. Our community, which has struggled so much, needs all the talent it can get.
In Northeast Ohio, nothing is given. Everything is earned. You work for what you have.
I’m ready to accept the challenge. I’m coming home.

LeBron James comes home to make Cleveland the center of the basketball universe

July 11, 2014

CLEVELAND, Ohio -- LeBron James did the right thing.

Not just because he decided to come back to the Cavaliers.

Rather, he didn't allow any final doubts keep him away from a decision that he must have made several days ago -- that he was coming home.

To leave Northeast Ohio waiting this long -- and then return to Miami -- would have indeed been cruel and unusual punishment.

Now, he's one of the greatest sports stories in Cleveland history. It's one of the best stories of the last several years.

The best basketball player in the world went to four consecutive NBA Finals in Miami. He won two titles.

Yet, he picked Cleveland.

He picked to come home to the Akron area, because that's where he wants to raise his children.

As he wrote in Sports Illustrated making his announcement: "I was a kid from Northeast Ohio. It's where I walked. It's where I ran. It's where I cried. It's where I bled. It holds a special place in my heart."

That's really why he came back to the Cavaliers.

He just picked a rookie general manager (David Griffin) over the Heat's Pat Riley and all his championship rings.

He picked a rookie head coach (David Blatt) over the Heat's Erik Spoelstra, an established NBA winner.

He picked an owner (Dan Gilbert) who ripped him in a letter after leaving the Cavs in 2010 -- and delivered a lesson in forgiveness.

He picked Northeast Ohio over Miami.

As he wrote, "I sometimes feel like I'm their son."

And like most of us with children, we know they don't always make the best decisions. But we are thrilled when they come home and want to make things right.

Most Northeast Ohio basketball fans remember when they first saw James play.

For me, it was in the summer in a pickup game at St. Vincent-St. Mary. He talked to me afterwards. He was 15. He was giggling and eating Skittles. He was just a kid.

Now, he is a husband, soon to be a father of three. He already has two sons, a girl is on the way.

He made a family-based decision. His family loves it here. Like many from Northeast Ohio, they miss the area even more than they feared after moving away.

But you know what else just happened?

James has made the Cleveland Cavaliers the center of the basketball universe. It's shocking, especially to those who aren't from this area.

In his Sports Illustrated essay, James struck a humble tone. He didn't promise championships. He did not talk about taking "my talents" anywhere.

"I'm going into a new situation with a young team and a new coach," he wrote. "I will be the old head."

For some of us who remember James playing for Keith Dambrot as a 15-year-old in the old St. Vincent-St. Mary gym, that's hard to imagine. But his hair is thinning. He has been in the NBA for 11 seasons. His pro career is more than half over.

And he's coming home at just the right time, doing the right thing -- and doing it when it's not easy.

This isn't combining with Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade to form an instant All-Star team. It's wanting to lead Dion Waiters, Kyrie Irving, Tristan Thompson, Anthony Bennett and so many other young Cavs players who have no clue about winning.

And for that, Cavs fans should be very thankful.