"Everything is as it should be."

                                                                                  - Benjamin Purcell Morris

 

 

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The Who - Hollywood Bowl: A Review

THE WHO - THE HOLLYWOOD BOWL - OCTOBER 13, 2019

I am currently in the midst of the home stretch of my year of living musically, as I am seeing my final three shows of the year in a ten day span. Last Sunday night I saw nouveau classic rockers Greta Van Fleet try and resuscitate the moribund rock genre, and this past Sunday night I trekked out to the Hollywood Bowl to catch the legendary rock act, The Who. My year long music odyssey will, barring any last minute concert opportunities, come to a close on Tuesday night with a walk down memory lane with The Waterboys.

The Who have been around for longer than I’ve been alive, and for the majority of my life I was indifferent to them. I never considered myself a fan and saw the band as sort of on the second level of elite classic rock bands….somewhere behind The Beatles and Stones but ahead of Queen.

When I came of age and became aware of their music, The Who were still major players but Keith Moon was dead, and they were turning out radio friendly, but seemingly vapid albums, especially compared to their earlier ground-breaking work (Tommy, Quadrophenia, Who’s Next). To be clear, I didn’t hate the band or its music, it is just when I started paying attention to them their music really wasn’t worth paying much attention to.

Then was around the time in 1979 when The Who made news due to a stampede at one of their concerts in Cincinnati that resulted in 11 people being killed. I was just a kid but this story was huge news and I think unconsciously created a negative association with the band. One thing I do remember clearly about the whole thing was a gloriously absurd “serious” episode of the sitcom WKRP in Cincinnati that dealt with The Who tragedy in a painfully 1970’s sort of way.

With this sort of ambivalent attitude toward The Who from an early age it should come as no surprise that I have never seen them live. It wasn’t until about ten years ago that I really got into the band and started listening to their earlier, more seminal works. I had heard about the rock opera Tommy for decades but had never actually sat down and listened to the whole thing…and when I finally did I got what all the hype was about. The same was true of Quadrophenia, their much maligned other rock opera, which I absolutely love. And of course, I always thought Who’s Next was a great album, and upon reexamining it concluded it was even greater than I remembered.

It was in this frame of mind that I bought Who tickets for their Sunday night show at The Hollywood Bowl, a venue I had never been to before. The Sunday show is the middle of three shows the band is playing at the Bowl in October, and I got pretty decent tickets for a reasonable price…reasonable for big market concert tickets that is.

Half of the original The Who members are dead, with iconic crazy man drummer Keith Moon dying in 1978 and genius bass player John Entwhistle passing away in 2002. The remaining original members are lead singer Roger Daltry and lead guitarist and all-around creative master force and maestro Pete Townshend.

Having never been to the Hollywood Bowl, I asked around about advice on getting there and parking and all that and the resounding response I got was to not drive there. So my date, Lady Pumpernickle Dusseldorf and I bought park and ride tickets and took a special bus to the venue. I don’t know how much time the bus saved on the trip to the Bowl, but it certainly reduced the hassle and stress of the commute and I highly recommend it.

On the bus trip and on our entering the venue, one thing became very clear regarding Who fans…they are overwhelmingly geriatric. The masses of decrepit elderly, limping and foot dragging Who fans struggling to make their way into the show looked like an invasion of the walking dead.

The Hollywood Bowl is a gorgeous venue and the sight lines and acoustics are fantastic. Our seats were in Section K, which is a little less than mid way from the stage to the back of the seating. The one issue with the Hollywood Bowl is that the seating is comprised of long benches, so that means some disruptions whenever someone not near the end of the bench has to go to the bathroom…and with a large collection of geriatric rock fans with leaky bladders, that means a lot of bathroom breaks.

The opening act was Liam Gallagher, formerly of the 1990’s Britpop band Oasis. The show was scheduled to start at 7 pm and, like old people at a buffet, Gallagher hit the stage promptly at 6:59 and was greeted with a smattering of acknowledgment.

Gallagher played a series of new material, or material new to me, with a bad attitude and even worse pitch, to a decidedly disinterested crowd. The more irritated Gallagher became the more disinterested the masses got, with each feeding off the other.

Liam Gallagher was the picture of petulance and entitlement on Sunday night as he bitched and moaned that no one was getting aroused about his flaccid performance. The reality is that the audience of fossils Gallagher was trying to excite had no clue who he was since they were in their 40’s and 50’s when his band was moderately successful in the mid-90’s. These dinosaurs would rather have been watching the watermelon smashing comedian Gallagher, rather than the off-pitch former Oasis front man Gallagher.

And speaking of Oasis, they are a band that are a total mystery to me. When their big album What’s the Story (Morning Glory) hit the states, my reaction to the hype around it was…what the fuck? I felt like a rock and roll Rip Van Winkle that woke up after a twenty year nap to discover this milquetoast Britpop band was, out of nowhere, all the rage. Their previous album, Definitely Maybe, which had the allure of being “mysterious and cool” because it was British, was actually monotonous and shitty. Their mega-hit follow up was supposed to be a cornerstone of the Britpop movement, but it was more a vanguard of a shit-pop movement, as it was a bland stew of arena anthem rock wrapped in the pose of independent, edgy coolness. It struck me that Oasis, and the entire Britpop phenomenon, were a manufactured reaction to the organic explosion of American grunge rock. Oasis and their Britpop contemporaries were trying to cash in on the desire to be a part of a “new wave”, similar to grunge but a poor, disingenuous and entirely manufactured facsimile. The problem with Britpop being the next-big-thing or alternative/replacement to grunge though is that Britpop was generic crap, and was only appealing to those who were either late to the grunge bandwagon and/or were desperate to stay on the cutting edge of cool and alternative pop culture.

At the end of the day, Oasis’ real skill was not music, God knows, but rather in drawing attention to themselves through self-serving boasts about non-existent talent and staging headline feuds between Liam and his band mate brother Noel, the founding members of the oft-bickering band.

In this way Oasis and the Gallagher brothers are really performance artists and not rock musicians. Liam kept the performance up on Sunday night by being a middle-aged enfant-terrible thoughout his lackluster performance. He chastised the crowd when he introduced one song by saying, “here’s another one you don’t know”. And when he played the one hit from Oasis the audience by chance might know, Wonderwall, but they didn’t sing along, he chastised them further by spewing out “I guess you don’t know the words”. No Liam, people don’t know the words to your derivative Britpop drivel, and they don’t give a shit about you being a bad boy or whatever you think you are. You are a poseur and a clown who deserves a swift boot to the teeth. Now go fuck off, ya feckin twat.

Gallagher played a crisp 25 minute set that felt like 225 minutes. But then he left and we waited for The Who to arrive. The crowd swelled but we were blessed with two empty seats next to us so we never felt pinched in and we were right next to the aisle so we didn’t have to worry about being trapped by the masses.

The Who hit the stage at 8:04 pm, and were greeted with robust cheers. The band, which consisted of old staples Daltry and Townshend, also included Townshend’s younger brother Simon (guitar, vocals), Zak Starkey - Ringo’s son, on drums, Loren Gold (keyboards, vocals) and Jon Button (bass, vocals). The Who were also accompanied by an orchestra which was highlighted by sexy first violinist Katy Jacoby.

The band started the show with an abridged version of Tommy, their iconic rock opera. The show began with a rich orchestrated version of the opera’s Overture, then blasted off with 1921, Amazing Journey, Sparks, Pinball Wizard and finally We’re Not Gonna Take It all in quick succession without the band or the audience stopping to catch their breath.

At this juncture the band shifted gears from Tommy material and belted out Who Are You, a song which I never liked as a kid and which has further been eroded by becoming the theme to the CSI franchise. I actively dislike this song, but to give you an indication of how good The Who are live, I thought it was spectacular on Sunday night.

Who Are You was followed by an exquisitely cool version of the much under rated 80’s song Eminence Front and then Imagine a Man off of The Who by Numbers. To end this first section of the show the band played a song off of their new album which is due out in December. The song, titled Hero Ground Zero, was not very good, and the audience used it as an opportunity to relieve their aching bladders en masse.

The Who are a fascinating band as they have virtually been a greatest hits band for the last 35 years, as they’ve only put out one new album, 2006’s Endless Wire, since 1982. The new album, of which I will be receiving two “free” copies on account of having bought concert tickets, will be interesting to assess. As evidenced by the band’s stellar musicianship and performance on Sunday night, The Who can still play…the question remains though as to whether they can still create at an elite level. Hero Ground Zero was not a promising sign, but the second song off the new record that they played later in the evening, Ball and Chain, showed much more promise.

The band broke the show into thirds, with the first section accompanied by the orchestra and dominated by Tommy material. The second section was sans orchestra and showcased the songs Substitute, I Can See For Miles, a surprisingly scorching You Better You Bet and a powerful Won’t Get Fooled Again that featured just Daltry and Townshend on acoustic guitar. Won’t Get Fooled Again was utterly spectacular and was a testament to Townshend’s thriving guitar prowess.

The third section, which once again featured orchestral accompaniment, brought the night to a close with such gargantuan rock songs as 5:15, The Rock, Love Reign O’er Me and finished with the classic rock anthem Baba O-Reilly. The show was a brisk 2 hours and 10 minutes, all under a glorious full moon.

My impressions of The Who are that they have rightfully earned their spot on the Mount Rushmore of rock. Townshend and Daltry still put on a tremendous and energetic show for the ages. These guys are absolute masters of their craft and proved it on Sunday night.

Daltry has always been a power singer, belting out songs with a rarely matched dynamic vocal muscularity. Daltry is not the most nuanced singer in the world and has a limited vocal range, which is why Townshend is often recruited to handle the more delicate vocals, but to Daltry’s great credit he has always known who he is and never strayed too far from his strong points. At 75, it is truly remarkable that Daltry still sings with such a volcanic vocal vigor. Yes, his voice is weakened a bit from his 1960’s and 1970’s heyday, but not nearly enough for the songs or his performance to suffer. Daltry may not move like he used to, but he certainly commands the microphone and The Who catalogue with powerful aplomb.

Pete Townshend was, at one point in the late 60’s and early 70’s, the most ambitious guitarist and songwriter in rock music. His rock operas Tommy, Quadrophenia and Lifehouse - which morphed into the album Who’s Next when the Lifehouse idea fell through, were some of the most original and ambitious albums of that era. Interestingly enough, I think that Townshend’s ambition and arm wheeling showmanship often overshadowed his pure guitar virtuosity. Townshend is a supreme guitar player, and if Sunday night is any indication, he is still near the top of his game. Townshend still cranks his arm with magnetic abandon and occasionally musters some fancy footwork, but his showmanship has now taken a backseat to his virtuoso musicianship, and it is impressive to behold.

The backing band, particularly Zak Starkey on drums, are phenomenal. According to Townshend, Starkey was the only student Keith Moon ever had, no doubt having a dad who was the Beatles drummer helped convince Moon to take on this endeavor. Starkey’s Moon apprenticeship shows as he plays the drums with a controlled abandon and volatility very similar to his esteemed drumming mentor.

In conclusion, The Who put on a spectacular show on Sunday night filled with an energy that belied their advanced age. I am thrilled I finally got to catch them live and witness them play such a stellar set at such an historical venue as The Hollywood Bowl. The Who are immortal, and Pete Townshend and Roger Daltry are rock behemoths who still walk the earth. If you get a chance to see them perform live, I highly recommend you take it while you still can…you won’t be disappointed.

SETLIST

Overture

1921

Amazing Journey

Sparks

Pinball Wizard

We’re Not Gonna Take it

Who Are You

Eminence Front

Imagine a Man

Hero Ground Zero

Substitute

I Can See For Miles

You Better You Bet

Won’t Get Fooled Again

Behind Blue Eyes

Ball and Chain

The Real Me

I’m One

5:15

The Rock

Love, Reign O’er Me

Baba O’Riley

©2019

Parasite: A Review

****THIS IS A SPOILER FREE REVIEW!! THIS REVIEW CONTAINS ZERO SPOILERS!!****

My Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

My Recommendation: SEE IT. A fantastically original film, gloriously directed and acted, that is both dramatically potent and politically insighftul.

Language: Korean with English subtitles

Parasite, directed and co-written by Bong Joon-Ho, is the story of the Kim family, who live at the bottom rung of Korean society and try to connive their way out of poverty. The film stars Song Kang-ho as father Ki-taek, Jang Hye-jin as mother Chung-sook, Choi Woo-shik as son Ki-woo and Park So-dam as daugher Ki-jong.

Parasite is an exquisitely crafted film that, although it is in Korean with English subtitles, speaks as eloquently and insighftully about the perils of American capitalism and the growing resentment and rage born out of astronomical wealth disparity, as any film in recent memory. In this way Parasite is reminiscent of last year’s Shoplifters and this year’s big movie Joker. All three of these movies tap into the pulsating dissatisfaction of the working poor who are being left further and further behind, and growing angrier and angrier about it, with every passing day.

Whenever certain themes recur in films that capture either the critical or commercial imagination (or both), my antenna stand on end because as my studies have shown, cinema can be prophecy, and these films are red flags as to what is percolating just beneath the surface in the collective sub-conscious. One look around America, and the world, gives credance to the theory that these films, all of which give voice to the emotional pull of populist uprisings, are trying to warn us of what lies ahead.

Parasite is a brilliant examination of the frustration and fury that accompanies being at the bottom of the social rung in a corrupt and rigged capitalist system. The only way to get ahead and get out of the prison of debt, and it is a prison, is to lie, scheme and cheat. If that means throwing other poor people under the bus, then so be it.

Director Bong Joon-ho has tapped into these ideas of class struggle before, most notably in his film Snowpiercer (which starred Chris Evans aka Captain America), which was a remarkably innovative and original film. Bong’s class consciousness in both Parasite and Snowpiercer is fueled by anger and fear… namely, fear for what will result when the anger from below is righteously unleashed upon those at the top when the house of cards crumbles. Bong, either consciously or unconsciously, understands that the current world order sits atop a super volcano that is growing more and more unstable and combustible, and his film’s reflect the emotional and political fragility of our time.

In Parasite, the poor are vermin, roaches, who are either being pissed on or drowned, as poverty is a deluge that imposes upon them indignity after indignity until it suffocates them. The poor are forced to stay in their place and warned not to “cross the line” into familiarity with the rich. The prison of poverty has walls, both real and imagined, that are impenetrable…even when you repeatedly bang your head against them…like Arthur Fleck does in Joker (wink).

The rich family in Parasite, the Parks, are the picture of decadence, detached from the ability to see the poor as even human. The Parks are repulsed by the poor, who they see as more akin to animals than people, as evidenced by their disgust at the literal smell of poverty. The Park’s revulsion at the poor does not stop them from fetishizing poverty, much like Americans fetishize Native Americans but make sure they stay on the reservation (wink)…just one more way for the rich to exploit the poor for their personal gain.

Parasite’s politics and psychology are as insightful as its drama is enrapturing. The film never shies from the difficult or the desperate, nor does it wallow in it. Instead Bong Joon-ho has made a socially relevant, dramatically explosive film that is deliriously entertaining in every single way.

Bong’s direction of Paradise is fantastic, as the film’s dramatic and physical geometry is spectacular. His use of straight lines, differing levels (symbolic of class status) and long journeys upward and downward (very similar to Joker, where Arthur Fleck makes those trudging journeys up the long flight of stairs, and the victorious dance down it) is proof of a master craftsman and artist at work.

Bong’s ability to meld together comedy, suspense, elements of thriller, as well as social commentary is extraordinary. I never knew what was coming next in Paradise and was always surprised, sometimes shocked and never disappointed.

The cast of Paradise are outstanding. Song Kang-ho in particular gives a dynamic performance that is consistently rich and layered. And both Choi Woo-shik and Park So-dam do stellar work that is both magnetic and subtle. Park in particular has a charm and presence about her that is intriguing and compelling.

Parasite is one of the very best film’s of the year and most certainly will garner an Oscar nomination for Best Foreign Picture, if not a win, and may even sneak in a Best Picture nod. The film is expertly made, wonderfully acted, politically prescient and dramatically potent, for these reasons, Parasite is required viewing for cinephiles and regular folk alike. My recommendation is to go as quickly as you can to the art house and see Parasite…it is that good. And after that, head to the cineplex to see Joker…again, and then when you get home watch Shoplifters (I see it is now available on the streaming service HULU)…because they are that good too. If you want to know what is coming for America and the world, and why, go watch those three movies. But make sure you go see Parasite as quickly as you can…it is truly a fantastic film and well worth you time and money.

©2019

Greta Van Fleet - Hollywood Palladium: A Review

GRETA VAN FLEET - HOLLYWOOD PALLADIUM - OCTOBER 6, 2019

Greta Van Fleet are a hard rock band from Michigan currently on tour in support of their album Anthem of the Peaceful Army. I ventured out solo on Sunday night to catch their second of two sold-out shows at the Hollywood Palladium.

Greta Van Fleet are comprised of the three Kiszka brothers, Josh (vocals), Jake (guitar) and Sam (bass/keyboards) along with Danny Wagner on drums. The band came to prominence by making some waves in the stagnant rock genre with the release of two popular EP’s in 2017, Black Smoke Rising and the double EP, From the Fires.

Greta Van Fleet has been both praised and maligned as being a Led Zeppelin clone. The main reason for the Led Zeppelin comparisons are that singer Josh Kiszka has a Robert Plant-esque, high pitched singing voice that often emulates Plant’s signature wail. That said, the comparisons to Zeppelin are entirely unfair to Greta Van Fleet because Zeppelin is one of the handful of all-time great rock bands ever to strut the earth. Greta Van Fleet are not Led Zeppelin and never will be, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be good in their own way. Of course, when expectations are set so high by Zeppelin comparisons, let downs or resentments are sure to follow, and sure enough Greta Van Fleet has, I think unfairly, been ridiculed by many.

I was alerted to Greta Van Fleet back in ‘17 by my friend Red Dragon, who is a music afficionado exrtraordinaire. I thought the band’s songs Black Smoke Rising and Highway Tune, which are featured on both of their EPs, stood out as quality songs and much-needed solid rock hits.

The band’s debut LP, Anthem of the Peaceful Army, came out in October of 2018, and was a top-selling album upon its release. I checked out Anthem and while I liked some of it, I didn’t enjoy it as much as I did their EPs. I got my first glance at Greta Van Fleet live when they played Saturday Night Live in January of 2019. I was excited to see them on tv, but their performance was…underwhelming…to say the least. I found singer Josh Kiszka’s vocals to be pretty grating live and his overall rock star presentation to be at best sorely lacking, and at worst embarrassing.

Despite my lukewarm feelings about the band’s SNL gig, when I saw they were playing the Hollywood Palladium I quickly snatched up a general admission ticket. The ticket was moderately priced, after all the fees and such I think I paid 60 something bucks for it, and in my opinion it is always best to err on the side of going to concerts than skipping them.

Since I was flying solo, I did not , much to my chagrin, have a pre-show Shake Shack meal. Instead I waited until pretty late before heading out to the venue. When I got to the Palladium at 7:15 for the 7:00 show, the line to get in was around the block. The line went quickly though and the general vibe from fans was one of good will. In fact, a young couple waiting in line in front of me didn’t even have tickets and were trying to buy them online when an older couple walked past asking if “anyone needed free tickets”. The young couple said yes and this older couple took a few minutes and actually texted them two free tickets. Apparently the older couple’s two kids didn’t want to go to the show so they just gave the tickets away. It was an incredibly kind act and the couple in front of me were giddy with karmic bliss for the rest of our wait together.

I had never been to the Palladium before and was interested to see the space. The first thing that stood out to me was that the Palladium staff were exceedingly polite and good-natured. Both the security staff who worked the metal detectors, and the guy checking tickets, were very pleasant and warmly told me to “enjoy the show”. This may not seem like much, but considering the treatment you usually get from staff at concerts, this was extraordinary.

It was a general admission show so I scanned the area inside the Palladium and then made my way to about the 12th row of bodies from stage left. People were pretty tightly packed in and it was very warm, but the atmosphere was easy going.

The opening act, Shannon and the Clams, went on at 8:05 and the crowd received them with a subdued applause. I had never heard of Shannon and the Clams and was curious as to what they were all about. The band is made up of Shannon Shaw (vocals/bass), Cody Blanchard (vocals/guitar), Will Sprott (keyboards) and Nate Mahan (drums). The band looked coolly disheveled, as the three men wear slightly mismatched, vintage suits, with Blanchard sporting a bow tie and Mahan sporting a cowboy hat and bolo tie. Shannon, a buxom, Rubenesque blond, wore a classic mini-skirt.

Shannon and the Clams played a crisp set for about 35 minutes. The set was a driving mix of original Buddy Holly-esque retro rock, rhythm and blues and garage punk all with beautiful and precise doo-wop backing vocals. Their songs were strong and the musicianship impressive, especially that of drummer Mahan who never let the band’s momentum lag.

Shannon may be the named headliner in the band, but the straw that stirs the drink is Cody Blanchard. Blanchard’s guitar playing is a mix between Buddy Holly and Dick Dale. His singing voice is higher than Shannon’s, who possesses a gritty, lower register growl, but it is superb. Blanchard also possesses an ease and welcoming confidence on stage that is very appealing. That said, he does boast what may be the worst haircut of recent memory, a sort of thinning bowl cut/mullet combo that could stop traffic with its hideousness.

Shannon Shaw is a solid bassist and has an earthy power and undeniable charm about her. Sadly, the sound mix at the Palladium was not quite as crisp as it should have been and so her lower pitched vocals often got lost. That said, the band ended their set with a truly fantastic cover of Jefferson Airplane’s White Rabbit with Shannon on lead vocals, and she just crushed it.

Shannon and the Clams made a new fan on Sunday night, and I look forward to getting to see them again.

After Shannon and the Clams left the stage, the road crew went to work and the crowd started to swell. As the crowd swelled, some tempers flared and a near scuffle broke out near me but quickly subsided with some drunken bro-hugs and high fives.

The crowd was a very eclectic mix in terms of age. There were a lot of middle aged and old people, but a substantial number of millennials. My rough estimate would be that the crowd broke down as 40% middle-age/old and 60% teens and twenties. I did see a few moms and dads with their pre-teen kids as well.

Greta Van Fleet hit the stage at about 9 with When the Curtain Falls and were greeted with raucous cheers. What is immediately apparent upon seeing Greta Van Fleet live is that the musicianship of Jake (guitar) and Sam(bass) Kiszka and Danny Wagner, is really impressive. They are a tight trio and Jake is an absolutely filthy guitar player who plays with a demonic intensity.

The second song of the night was Edge of Darkness, and this is where things started to get interesting. The song is a rather mundane bit of rock and roll, but the rendition of it on Sunday night turned into an absolute bombshell. Seemingly out of nowhere Jake just erupted with a dynamic guitar solo that went on a combustible and entertaining odyssey. The band barely stayed with him as he just torched the Palladium and left it in a smouldering pile. He then followed it up with even more explosive playing on their hit Black Smoke Rising. These two songs combined confirmed that Jake Kiszka is the sun around which the rest of the band orbit.

Equally impressive were the rhythm section of Sam Kiszka and Danny Wagner. These guys grabbed a hold of the tiger that is Jake’s guitar playing and held on for dear life as it rampaged across Los Angeles. The chemistry between the two Kiszkas and Wagner is terrific and they are musicians to take very seriously.

The stage set up for Greta Van Fleet was pretty basic and relied a great deal on an overused smoke machine and very poor light design. The band played an, at times, uneven 11 song set, ending on a high note with a quality rendition of Highway Song. They then took an extended break and returned with a two song encore.

If you’ll notice, I have not mentioned singer Josh Kiszka yet, which is a bit unusual in a concert review. The reason for my apprehension regarding Josh is that I really, really wanted Greta Van Fleet to be great. I really want a rock band to come along that will drag the genre kicking and screaming back into relevance. Sadly…Greta Van Fleet is not that band, and the reason for it is Josh Kiszka.

Josh does hit some very high notes with authority, but he is no Robert Plant. Hell, he isn’t even David Coverdale. The reason Josh fails as a singer, and he does fail, is that his voice is totally lacking in any texture and nuance. Josh sings at a very high pitch, but that is all he is able to do. He doesn’t so much sing songs as yelp them out. He is unable to tell a story, connect emotionally or just break up the monotony with his voice. It is all one thing all the time. This was never so apparent as when the band, in tribute to the late Ginger Baker, did a cover of White Room by Cream. Josh’s vocals on that song were actually painful to listen to they were so bad.

The other issue with Josh, and I wish it wasn’t an issue worth mentioning, but it is, is that he is painfully uncool. Josh’s style is atrociously awful and only accentuates his uncoolness. Josh is a diminutive guy who looks like a Hobbit wearing a Leo Sayer wig who raided his hippy grandmother’s closet and stole the clothes she meant to burn rather than donate to Goodwill.

Josh also lacks any and all stage presence. Every single time he came on stage, which was numerous as he often disappeared off-stage for some reason, he would return by walking out and waving both hands over his head. He looked like a second grader getting off a school bus desperate to be welcomed warmly by his parents at the bus stop.

Josh has no rock star energy about him at all. He is not physically connected and can’t move well, and therefore he wanders the stage like a kid lost at the mall. When brother Jake is off on one of his meteoric guitar solos, Josh grabs a tambourine and flamboyantly plays it totally out of rhythm and looking ridiculous as he awkwardly and aimlessly, but energetically, gallivants around.

Some people, like Jim Morrison for instance, are born with “it”, while others, like Mick Jagger, have to manufacture “it”. Whether you are born with “it” or manufacture “it” doesn’t matter, all that matters is that you possess “it”. Josh Kiszka does not possess “it”. What he possesses is an “anti-it”, which is a shame because his brothers Jake and Sam definitely have “it”. These two aren’t just great musicians, unlike their singing brother, they are great showmen.

Maybe the stars will align and with experience Josh will grow and gain some stage presence, a stronger persona and identity, get a better stylist and then learn the finer nuances of singing and the vocal instrument. I certainly hope that happens and that the band become a huge success and revitalize the moribund world of rock and roll….but I’m not optimistic.

Sadly, it feels right now like Greta Van Fleet will have minimal staying power with Josh Kiszka as their front man. They can certainly grow as a band, and no doubt will over the next two or three albums…but with Josh as their singer they have a very clear and limited ceiling. Of course, since the band are three brothers and another guy, and the problem with the band isn’t the other guy, they aren’t going to replace their brother. So it seems that the Greta Van Fleet problems of today could be set in stone sans major development by Josh.

In conclusion, Greta Van Fleet are not Led Zeppelin, and hopefully they aren’t even Greta Van Fleet yet. Despite the band’s sterling musicianship, the vocals and presentation of lead singer Josh Kiszka are an albatross around its neck. The bottom line is this, the lead singer of Greta Van Fleet needs to be cooler than Greta Van Susteren, and he isn’t. Maybe in another year or two Josh Kiszka and his voice will have matured and will blossom into the rock star we truly need right now. I was rooting for him to succeed on Sunday night, and I’ll be rooting for him to succeed going forward.

SET LIST

When the Curtain Falls

Edge of Darkness

Black Smoke Rising

The Music is You (John Denver cover)

You’re the One

Age of Man

Black Flag Exposition

White Room (Cream cover)

The Cold Wind

Mountain of the Sun

Highway Tune

ENCORE

Flower Power

Safari Song

©2019

Joker: A Review

****THIS IS A SPOILER FREE REVIEW!! THIS REVIEW CONTAINS ZERO SPOILERS!!****

My Rating: 4.75 out of 5 stars

My Recommendation: SEE. IT. NOW.

Joker, directed by Todd Phillips and written by Phillips and Scott Silver, is the story of Arthur Fleck, a mentally-ill, down on his luck clown-for-hire and stand up comedian, who transforms into Batman’s arch-nemesis, the super-villain Joker. The film stars Joaquin Phoenix as Fleck, with supporting turns from Robert DeNiro, Frances Conroy and Zazie Beetz.

Early Thursday night I put my life in my hands and made the dangerous trek to the local art house to see Joker in 70mm. Thankfully, no angry white incels were laying in wait for me, so I lived to tell the tale of my Joker cinematic experience…here it is.

I went to Joker with very high hopes, but paradoxically, because I had such high hopes, I assumed I’d be disappointed by the film. My bottom line regarding Joker is this…it is a brilliant film of remarkable depth and insight, a gritty masterpiece that is a total game-changer for the comic book genre, and a staggering cinematic achievement for director Todd Phillips and star Joaquin Phoenix.

Joker is the cinematic bastard son of Martin Scorsese’s masterpiece of 1970’s New Hollywood, Taxi Driver. Beyond being an homage, it is more an updated bookend to that classic, engineered for the corporatized Hollywood of the 21st century.

The film’s Taxi Driver lineage is hiding in plain sight, as it has similar music, shots, camera angles and even re-purposes the famed finger gun to the head move. Joker’s Gotham, is eerily reminiscent of Taxi Driver’s New York City of the 1970’s, which Travis Bickle aptly describes as “sick and venal”. I couldn’t help but think of my Los Angeles neighborhood when seeing Joker’s dilapidated Gotham, with its garbage piled high on every sidewalk and a layer of filth covering the city. In “sick and venal” Los Angeles, we are much too evolved to have garbage piled high on our sidewalks, no, out here in La La Land, even in million dollar neighborhoods, people are disposable and so we we have them piled high on the sidewalks instead, as homelessness is epidemic. Joker’s Gotham, Bickle’s New York and my Los Angeles also share a deep coating of grime as well as a thriving rat population that is disease-ridden and increasingly bold, both in and out of public office.

Joker’s depiction of Gotham as a Bickle-esque New York is fascinating bit of sub-text, as it is a throwback to a time before Manhattan was Disney-fied and Times Square turned from degenerate porn hub to hub of capitalism porn. Joker is also a throwback to a time before cinema was corporatized/Disney-fied, a pre-Heaven’s Gate age, when filmmakers like Scorsese could flourish and make movies like Taxi Driver, unhindered by suits blind to everything but the bottom line.

Joker ‘s genius is also because it is a “real movie”, a Taxi Driver/The King of Comedy covertly wrapped in the corporate cloak of superhero intellectual property. Unlike the sterile Marvel movie behemoths, which Scorsese himself recently described as “not cinema" and which are more akin to amusement park rides than movies, Joker is, at its heart, a down and dirty 1970’s dramatic character study, for this reason alone the film is brilliantly subversive and a stake into the heart of the Disney Goliath.

It is astonishing that Todd Phillips, whose previous films are the comedies Old School and The Hangover trilogies, was able to conceive of, and execute, Joker with such artistic precision and commitment. Phillip’s success with Joker is reminiscent of Adam McKay’s astounding direction of The Big Short (2015). Previous to The Big Short, McKay had basically been Will Ferrell’s caddie, making silly movies well, but they were still silly movies. McKay’s long term film making prowess is still in question, as is Phillip’s, but that does not diminish their mastery on The Big Short and Joker.

Phillip’s direction really is fantastic, but he is also greatly benefited by having the greatest actor working in cinema as his leading man. Joaquin Phoenix’s performance as Arthur Fleck/Joker is an astonishing feat. Phoenix famously (or infamously depending on your perspective) lost a great deal of weight to play the role, and his wiry, sinewy frame at times seems like a marionette possessed by a demon outcast from American bandstand or Soul Train. Fleck/Joker’s madness is seemingly chaotic, but Phoenix gives it an internal logic and order, that makes it emotionally coherent.

Phoenix is a master at connecting to a volatile emotionality within his characters, and of giving his character’s a distinct and very specific physicality. What is often overlooked with Phoenix is his level of meticulousness and superior craftsmanship in his work. Joker is no exception as his exquisite skill is on full display right alongside his compellingly volcanic unpredictability. Phoenix’s subtle use of breath, his hands, as well as his attention and focus are miraculous.

Phoenix is a revolutionary actor. He is so good, so skilled, so talented, that he is reinventing the art form. His work as Freddie Quell in Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master (2012) was a landmark in the art form, and his performance in Joker is equally earth shattering. If he does not win an Best Actor Oscar for Joker, whoever does win the award should be ashamed of themselves for stealing the statuette from its rightful recipient.

Contrary to establishment media critical opinion, Phoenix does not make Arthur a sympathetic character, but he does make him an empathetic one, and one with which we empathize. We don’t feel sorry for Arthur, we feel kinship with him as he struggles to maintain some semblance of dignity in a society allergic to compassion.

Joker was described by its detractors as being “dangerous”, and I can attest that the film is indeed dangerous, but not for the reasons laid out by its critics. Joker is dangerous because it dares to do something that corporate controlled art has long since deemed anathema…it tells the very ugly truth.

Joker has the artistic audacity to peel back the scab of modern America and reveal the maggot infested, infected wound pulsating in agony just beneath our civilized veneer. Joker’s chaotic madness is a perfect reflection of the sickness of our time. Think Joker is too “nihilistic” or “negative”? Turn on a television, read a newspaper or take a cross-country flight, and you’ll see that the nihilism and negativity of Joker are nothing compared to the madhouse in which we currently live.

Arthur Fleck is America, as the country, populated by narcissists, neanderthals and ne’er do wells, has devolved and self-destructed, rotting from the inside out after decades of decadence, delusion and depravity. America is rapidly degrading and devolving, and that devolution is mirrored by Arthur Fleck has he transforms into Joker.

Joker is unnerving to mainstream media critics because it shines the spotlight on the disaffected and dissatisfied in America, who are legion, growing in numbers and getting angrier by the hour. As I have witnessed in my own life, the rage, resentment and violent mental instability among the populace in America is like a hurricane out in the Atlantic, gaining more power and force as every day passes, and inevitably heading right toward landfall and a collision with highly populated urban centers that will inevitably result in a conflagration of epic proportions.

Joker, the consummate trickster, is devoid of politics and ideology and exists only to feed and satiate his own voracious madness. Fleck is an empty vessel and the Joker archetype co-opts and animates him. Fleck, born again as Joker, is adopted as a symbol for the struggles of the angry and the desperate, in other words, Joker is the archetype of our times, a Trumpian figure, who unintentionally inspires others, friend and foe alike, to release their inhibitions and unleash their inner demons. Joker is dangerous because he is an avatar for the rage, resentment and desperation of millions upon millions of Americans who have been forgotten and left behind and are utterly despised by the elite. Joker is both apolitical and all political. The populist Joker is both Antifa and the Alt-Right. Joker is everything and nothing to everyone and nobody all at once. The media in the movie, and in real life, make Joker into a monster, an icon and an iconic monster for the dispossessed, elevating him in the eyes of those desperately seeking a savior.

In a perverted and brilliant way, Phillips and Phoenix make Fleck into a Jesus figure, who as he transforms into Joker, becomes an unwitting Christ/anti-Christ. The line between messiah and madman is a thin one, and depends almost entirely on projection and perspective.

Arthur Fleck, like Jesus, is literally someone who is repeatedly kicked when he is down. Like Jesus, society ignores and despises him. Like Jesus he is berated, belittled and beaten…and yet all he wants to do is make people smile. Like Jesus, Fleck’s birth story is convoluted and lacks coherence.

What makes Phoenix’s portrayal so chilling is that his Fleck earnestly desires to bring joy to the world just like Jesus…and just as Jesus is actually a good magician/miracle worker, Fleck is actually a good clown, filled with energy and purpose. But Arthur soon realizes that there are two jokes at play in the universe…the one where he is the punchline, and the one in his head, of which he is self-aware enough to realize regular people “won’t get it”. Jesus makes the same sort of discovery during his temptations, he hears a “joke” in his head too, but it is the voice of God, and he comes to realize no one else will “get it” either. Fleck and Jesus are presented the same two paths, Jesus takes the one of self-sacrifice and becomes the Christ, and Fleck takes the road of human sacrifice, and becomes The Joker/Satan.

At its core Joker is a character study, and so there is not a lot of heavy lifting among the cast besides Joaquin Phoenix. That said, Frances Conroy, Robert DeNiro and Zazie Beets all do solid work with the material they have.

The film is shot with an exquisite grittiness by Lawrence Sher. Sher pays adoring homage to Taxi Driver by using certain specific camera shots and angles throughout the film. Sher also uses shadow and light really well to convey Fleck’s/Joker’s perspective and his tenuous grasp on reality. Sher, like Phillips, does not have a resume that would make you think he was capable of doing such substantial work, but in the case of these two men past was not prologue.

Joker is one of those movies that reminds you why cinema matters, as it uses the tired and worn comic book genre to draw viewers in, and then sticks the knife of brutal cultural commentary deep into their chests.

Joker has been at the center of of a cultural storm ever since it premiered to a raucous ovation at the Venice Film Festival in September. The film won the Golden Lion (Best Picture) at Venice and was quickly catapulted into the Oscar discussion, which created a fierce backlash against the film from certain American critics and woke twitter. The common refrain from those critics who saw it at Venice, and those who hadn’t, was that the film was “dangerous” because it would incite disaffected white men to become violent. In researching an article I recently wrote about the controversy, I came across a stunning number of articles with the imploring and weak-kneed headline, “Joker is Not the Movie We Need Right Now”. Of course, the converse is true because Joker is exactly the movie we need right now.

The critical opinion of Joker, especially among the critics at influential media outlets such as The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Boston Globe, The Guardian, The New Yorker and Time, is aggressively negative and dismissive, riddled with a belittling and condescending commentary. The criticisms leveled at the film from these effete establishment critics are obviously contrived, petty, personal, political and entirely predetermined. The amount of intentional obtuseness on display about Joker, its cinematic sophistication and its artistic merits, by these supposed important critics is stunning and revealing.

The critical malevolence toward Joker is undoubtedly fueled by a need to virtue signal and pander to woke culture, and is born out of personal contempt for the filmmaker (who dared defend himself against “woke culture”) and manufactured anger at the subject matter. The poor reviews of Joker by these American critics says considerably more about those critics, their dishonesty and lack of integrity, than it does about Joker. Make no mistake, Joker is a masterpiece in its own depraved way, and the critics who succumb to the myopic social pressure and cultural politics of the moment by reflexively trashing the movie as immoral and artistically and cinematically unworthy, will be judged extremely harshly by history.

In looking at the review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, Joker currently has a critical score of 69 and an audience score of 91. The disconnect between critics and audience on Joker is similar to the disconnect on display regarding Dave Chappelle’s recent Netflix stand up special Sticks and Stones. Chappelle’s show was pilloried by critics who were horrified by the comedian’s “unwoke” and decidedly politically incorrect take on the world, as the critical score is currently at 35, while the audience score is a resounding 99. It would seem that in our current age, bubble-dwelling, group-thinking critics in the mainstream media, are no longer interested in artistic merit, cinematic worthiness, skill, craftsmanship or talent, but rather in personal politics, woke ideology, political correctness and conformity, and are dishonest brokers when it comes to judging art and entertainment.

Joker is a watershed for the comic book genre. In the future film historians will look back on this time and say that there comic book films pre-Joker and comic book films post-Joker. There is no going back for the genre. That does not mean that Marvel will immediately crumble and fall into the sea, but it does mean that the genie is out of the bottle, and there is no getting it back in. Jason Concepcion and Sean Fennessy at The Ringer recently pondered if Joker is to the superhero genre what The Wild Bunch was to westerns back in 1969. They are not so sure, but I certainly think is as genre redefining or killing as The Wild Bunch. The Disney/Marvel model, post-Endgame and post-Joker, will only see diminishing cultural resonance and relevance, as well as financial returns, from this point forward. The superhero genre will not disappear overnight, but it has begun its long retreat from its apex, and God only knows what will eventually replace it.

In conclusion, Joker is a mirror, and it reflects the degeneracy, depravity and sheer madness that is engulfing America. Joker is an extremely dark film, but that is because America is an extremely dark place at the moment. Joker is unquestionably one of the very best films of the year and should be, but probably won’t be, an Oscar front-runner for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor and Best Screenplay. I highly recommend you go see Joker in theatres as soon as you possibly can, as it is must-see viewing for anyone interested in cinema, art or in understanding what is rapidly coming for America.

©2019

'Patron Saint of Incels'? Woke Outrage over Joker is a Bad Joke

Estimated Reading Time: 3 minutes 47 seconds

Critics and woke people are up in arms over Joker because they think “evil” white men will like it and be inspired to kill.

It used to be that it was right-wingers who would get outraged over movies they deemed “dangerous” because they offended their delicate sensibilities, Last Temptation of Christ and Brokeback Mountain being prime examples. Now it is left-wing scolds who reflexively denounce movies they find “problematic”, with the highly anticipated Joker having raised their self-righteous ire.

Joker opens on October 4th and is directed by Todd Phillips and stars Joaquin Phoenix. The highly anticipated movie is inspired by Martin Scorsese’s films Taxi Driver and The King of Comedy and is thought to be a breath of fresh air in the comic book genre and the antithesis of the corporate Marvel movies. Joker tells the story of Arthur Fleck, a disaffected white man who eventually becomes Batman’s nemesis, the super villain Joker.

Fleck being white has ignited a moral panic over Joker, because according to woke twitter, white men are inherently violent, and so Joker is dangerous as it will act as a pied piper leading lonely white men to commit Joker-esque mass shootings.

The criticisms of Joker on twitter are stunning for the shameless level of scorn and hatred brazenly heaped upon white men.

Tweets saying “I don’t want to be around any of the lonely white boys who relate to it”, and “Joker movie is starting to look like a sympathetic tale of a ‘wronged by society’ white dude and their entitlement to violence” and “in a time of increasing violence perpetrated by disaffected white men, is it really the best thing to keep making movies that portray disaffected white men doing violence as sympathetic?”, highlight the racial animus animating the Joker moral panic. It is inconceivable that such venom would be acceptable against any other racial group, such as African-Americans or Muslims.

The Joker panic has spread like a contagion from twitter to the real world, where police have vowed to increase their presence at theatres, and some cinemas are banning ticket holders who wear costumes.

The US Army and the FBI have issued a warning that some “incels” or involuntary celibates, may violently target screenings of Joker.

Family members of victims of the 2012 Aurora, Colorado movie theatre shooting, have even written a letter to Warner Brothers, conveying their concerns over Joker and imploring the studio to support anti-gun causes. This is puzzling as the Aurora tragedy was during a screening of The Dark Knight Rises, which didn’t feature the Joker, and while some early reports claimed the shooter dressed like the Joker and declared,  “I am the Joker”, those reports have been thoroughly debunked. This conflating of Joker with Aurora reveals the vacuity of the frenzy.

The hysteria around Joker has infected American film critics as well. When Joker premiered at the prestigious Venice Film Festival it received a twenty-minute ovation and won the coveted Golden Lion for best picture. The last two Golden Lion winners, Roma and The Shape of Water, went on to be nominated for twenty-three Oscars combined, winning seven. Joker’s reception at Venice would seem to be indicative of the film’s artistic bona fides, but American critics, who are more interested in pretentious pandering and virtue signaling, strongly disagree.

Stephanie Zacharek of Time, said of Joker, “the aggressive and possibly irresponsible idiocy of Joker is his (director Phillips) alone to answer for”.

Zacharek goes on to state that Arthur Fleck, “could easily be adopted as the patron saint of incels.”

Anthony Lane of The New Yorker opined, “I happen to dislike the film as heartily as anything I’ve seen in the past decade…”

David Edelstein of Vulture, described the film as “morally blech”, then went full on Godwin’s law in his review when he declared, “As Hannah Arendt saw banality in the supposed evil of Nazi Adolf Eichmann, I see in Joker an attempt to elevate nerdy revenge to the plane of myth.”

Film critics getting the vapors over a movie is nothing new, as cinema history is riddled with fraught hyperbole over “dangerous” movies.

In 1955 New York Times critic Bosley Crowther bemoaned Rebel Without a Cause because “it is a violent, brutal and disturbing picture.”

In 1971 esteemed critic Pauline Kael decried A Clockwork Orange, denouncing the film as “corrupt” and describing director Stanley Kubrick as “a pornographer”.

In 1989, Joe Klein, a critic for New York wrote an infamous piece on Spike Lee’s iconic film Do the Right Thing. Klein wrote, “If Lee does hook large black audiences, there’s a good chance the message they take from the film will increase racial tensions…if they react violently – which can’t be ruled out…”

Klein went on to write that the sole message black teens would take from the film was “The police are your enemy” and “White people are your enemy”.

In a great example of the intoxicating power of the Joker moral panic, Boston Globe film critic Ty Burr wrote an article about Joker where he references Klein’s historically embarrassing take on Do the Right Thing, but instead of using Klein’s egregiously myopic article as a cautionary tale, Burr instead embraces the reflexive emotionalism of the Joker moral panic.

Burr declares of Joker, ““Is it “reckless”? Honestly, in my opinion, yeah, and if that makes me this year’s Joe Klein, so be it. To release into this America at this time a power fantasy that celebrates — that’s right, Warner Bros., celebrates — a mocked loner turned locked-and-loaded avenging angel is an act of willful corporate naivete at best, complicity at worst, and blindness in the middle”

As Burr concedes in his article, there is no causal link between violent movies or video games and mass shootings, and yet because Burr “feels” uneasy, he deems Joker guilty of being “dangerous”.

The bottom line is this, there have been shootings before Joker, and unfortunately, there will certainly be shootings after Joker, but Joker will not “cause” anyone to kill people. Human beings will be violent not because of movies but because they are human beings. As Kubrick so eloquently showed us in 2001: A Space Odyssey, evolution has not removed our violent impulse, only given us better weapons.

The purpose of art is to, sometimes uncomfortably, examine humanity and reflect the world in which it exists, and by examining and reflecting, hopefully give the audience a deeper insight and understanding of themselves, their fellow humans and the world in which they inhabit. I have not seen Joker, so I don’t know if it does those things well, but from the plethora of negative reviews I’ve read from American critics, their problem with Joker is that it does those things all too well.

These critics, both professional and amateur, prefer not to examine the origins of the isolation, alienation and rage felt by disaffected white working class males who are inundated with messages from the media and the education system that stigmatize and/or criminalize whiteness and traditional masculinity.

They want to ignore or malign these men, particularly those in middle age, even though they are dying from deaths of despair (suicide, drug overdose or alcoholism) at alarming rates that have more than doubled over the last twenty years.

Joker is not a clarion call to white male violence, it is a desperate attempt at a diagnosis of the pandemic that is killing white men and will eventually kill America.

Joker’s effete and effeminate critics, the eunuchs sprawled on fainting couches at the thought of having to bear a cinematic meditation on the heart of darkness at the center of an iconic super villain, are a bad joke. Their insidiously overwrought outrage and moral panic over Joker exposes their egregious unworthiness as thinkers and critics, and frankly, the vapid unseriousness of our culture.

 A VERSION OF THIS ARTICLE WAS ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED ON OCTOBER 1, 2019 AT RT.

© 2019

Ad Astra: A Review

****THIS REVIEW CONTAINS ZERO SPOILERS!! THIS IS A SPOILER FREE REVIEW!!****

My Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

My Recommendation: SEE. IT. NOW. A profound meditation on masculinity that boasts an Oscar worthy Brad Pitt performance in one of the very best films of the year. But be forewarned…this film is more art house than blockbuster.

Ad Astra, directed by James Gray and written by Gray and Ethan Gross, is the story of Roy McBride, an astronaut who goes to space in search of his father. The film stars Brad Pitt as Roy, with supporting turns from Tommy Lee Jones, Ruth Negga, Donald Sutherland and Liv Tyler.

I have not been to the movies in quite a while, the reason being that there has been nothing playing that I considered worthy of paying $15 to see. Ad Astra was one film that I was aware of and which intrigued me so I thought I’d take the plunge. I did not have particularly high hopes for the movie because the director, James Gray, has consistently turned out beautiful misfires of movies. I have seen all of Gray’s movies, which include The Lost City of Z, The Immigrant, The Yards, Little Odessa, We Own the Night and Two Lovers, and he is certainly gifted at making moody, cinematically gorgeous films with solid performances that should be good but just never are. Gray’s films have consistently failed to resonate with me because the narratives are always so unfocused and his film’s structures so fundamentally unsound.

Ad Astra, which for some reason I keep inadvertently calling Ed Asner, actually means “through hardships to the stars” in Latin, and that is an apt description not only of the film’s story, but of Gray’s cinematic ambition and Pitt’s performance. The bottom line is this, Ad Astra is an intimately profound and profoundly intimate film that is absolutely stunning.

While Ad Astra is, like all of Gray’s films, deliberately paced, it is very well put together and flows seamlessly and effortlessly along its journey. The film never lags and has a forceful emotional and narrative momentum to it that makes it thoroughly compelling.

The film is set in the near future and the plot is about an astronaut going into space to track down his highly revered space exploring father. Ad Astra is similar to two other recent “space” films, First Man and High Life, that use space as a narrative device for the compartmentalization, isolation and emotional frigidity of manhood. I loved both First Man and High Life, and Ad Astra is a quality finale to this makeshift thematic trilogy.

At its core Ad Astra is a mediation on masculinity, its accompanying rage and the afflictions passed down from fathers to sons. I was deeply moved by this film because these themes have been the existential epicenter of my entire life. As a father, I am trying not to pass on the afflictions that were passed onto me by my father, down to my son. The tragedy of the masculine life though, and of my own life, is that men are often consumed by the flames of their afflictions, and no matter how hard they try, they fail in stopping the transmission of their wounds onto their male offspring. As Ad Astra tells us, “the son suffers the sins of the father”, and I know in my case I fail in the endeavor of sparing my son from my own affliction the overwhelming majority of the time. My only feint hope in redemption would seem to be my son being strong enough and resilient enough to eventually forgive me for my failings. I only hope I live long enough to see that happen…but there are no guarantees.

As I watched Ad Astra I couldn’t help but think of the 1997 Paul Schrader film Affliction, as that movie, which was set in the forbidding cold of New Hampshire which seems as isolating as the cold of space, was also about the madness of wounded masculinity being passed down from father to son like a genetic disease. Seeing Affliction for the first time rattled me to my bones, whereas Ad Astra moved me to my soul.

Ad Astra is also reminiscent of both 2001: A Space Odyssey and Apocalypse Now (there are a bunch of small clues paying homage to Apocalypse Now in this film…from Brad Pitt’s voice over to his answering a question by saying “that’s classified”, to a detour with a brief but distinctly surreal musical number…among many others), as the demanding evolutionary journey of the main character is not only outward but inward. McBride’s journey deeper into space is like Willard’s journey down the river in Apocalypse Now. The compulsion, bordering on madness, to make that journey, is akin to Hamlet’s musings on the “undiscovered country, from whose bourn, no traveller returns”. Put another way, you never go back up the river (if indeed you are even able to go back up the river), the same man you went down, and the same is true of space.

2019 is turning into the year of Brad Pitt. This past July, Pitt garnered raves and Oscar buzz for star turn in Quentin Tarantino’s blockbuster Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood. That movie, and Pitt’s charismatic performance in it, put Brad Pitt squarely back in the center of the cultural zeitgeist, with women swooning over his shirtless antenna repairs (a weird connection between Ad Astra and Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood, Brad Pitt repairing antennas! What does it mean?!?!?!) and men wanting to be cool like him.

Pitt has always been more a pretty face than an actor of any heft, but as he enters his late middle-age, he seems to have settled into himself and found a more grounded place from which to build his characters and to be genuine on screen, and that has never been more evident than in his powerful performance in Ad Astra.

Pitt’s work in Ad Astra is a thing of subtle beauty and genius, and is easily the greatest work of his long career. Pitt’s Roy McBride is a layered creature, wrapped tight enough to control the volcanic, primal rage that courses through his veins, and to regulate his own heart beat, but that control is a tenuous thing when McBride’s inner wound pulsates. Pitt’s once flawless face is now weathered, and his every wrinkle and every slight movement of his facial muscles in Ad Astra, tell epic stories of the emotional pain suffered and psychological crosses borne deep within McBride.

Pitt, the charismatic, eye-candy movie star, was on full display in Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood, and his star power carries Ad Astra from start to finish too, the difference here though is that Pitt also gives an exquisitely precise and detailed acting performance that gives his character, and the movie, depth and profound meaning.

The rest of Ad Astra’s cast all do splendid work, with Ruth Negga, Tommy Lee Jones and Donald Sutherland making the utmost of the rather small roles they inhabit.

The cinematography of Hoyte van Hoytema is simply gorgeous. Hoytema’s use of shadow and light is stunning as he creates a precise, austere yet visually vibrant background upon which the emotional journey of the film takes place. Hoytema, who won the prestigious Mickey©® award for his spectacular work in Christopher Nolan’s 2017 film Dunkirk, is among the best cinematographers working today, and Ad Astra is among his greatest work.

The entire aesthetic of the film is superb as the visual effects of the film look fantastic, as the near futuristic world in which the story takes place is entirely believable, and the script also enhances the authenticity of the film, as the minute details of the future world seem mundanely accurate, as does the science. The soundtrack, made by Max Richter, is brilliant as well, and helps to create an unnerving and ominous mood that flows through the film like a river, inevitable and occasionally swelling.

In conclusion, Ad Astra is the film where James Gray’s peculiar talents, aesthetic and style finally come together in a supernova of cinematic brilliance, and the result is a psychologically insightful and poignant film that speaks profound truths about the affliction and isolation of masculinity as it struggles to find its place in our cold, forbidding modern world.

As to whether I can recommend this film to people or not, I find myself in a conundrum. Ad Astra, which is definitely more art house than blockbuster, resonated so deeply and personally with me that I do not know if it will do the same with other people. I think women in particular might have a hard time connecting with the film, which has a paucity of female roles and minimal female dialogue, only because it is exclusively focused on the masculinity. That said…maybe women, who often bear the burden of the wounded masculinity of the men in their lives, will find solace and understanding in the film. I honestly do not know…all I know is that Ad Astra was one of the very best films I have seen this year, and spoke eloquently and astutely to the seemingly endless war that forever rages within me. If a war rages within you or within someone you love, maybe you should go see this movie, it might be a salve for wounds unseen, or better yet, an impetus for a much needed cease fire.

©2019

Anecdotal Observations on Elizabeth Warren

ESTIMATED READING TIME: 4 minutes 28 seconds

This past weekend a poll of Iowa voters came out and showed that Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren was leading the pack in Iowa, having jumped ahead of front runner Joe Biden. The poll has Warren at 22%, Biden at 20% and Bernie Sanders at 11%.

Warren has been climbing in nationwide polls as well and is currently perceived as having a great deal of momentum while Biden seems to be floundering and Bernie seems to be dropping.

I wrote a few weeks ago that I thought that Biden looked painfully doddering and dead eyed, and it seems that sentiment, while vociferously pilloried by the media, is gaining traction with some Democratic voters. In the last Democratic debate, Julian Castro got into a heated exchange with Biden and accused the former Vice President of not remembering what he had said just moments ago. In response, the media went apoplectic on Castro, calling the remark a cheap shot and ageist while they circled the establishment wagons around poor hapless Uncle Joe.

I did not watch the debate but saw the exchange later and I noticed something that I think other “regular” people saw that is at odds with the media reaction. What I saw is that Castro challenged Biden’s mental capacity, no doubt due to age, and then a dead-eyed Biden proved Castro’s point for him by turning to Bernie Sanders, who is actually two years older than the decrepit Biden, and asking “what did he say?” Biden looked like Grandpa Simpson in his underwear looking for his false teeth, which made Castro’s attack all the more effective, at least in wounding Biden. For this reason and others, Biden’s drop in the polls is no surprise.

As for Warren’s jump in the polls, I have no insightful explanation except to say that while she too is no spring chicken, she certainly has considerably more vim and vigor than “Retirement Home” Joe....or is it “Funeral Parlor” Joe?

The only insights I have regarding Elizabeth Warren are entirely anecdotal, and should be taken with the grain of salt that type of information deserves. Here they are…

While the last Democratic presidential debate raged, my 4 year old son and I entertained ourselves by watching Be Be Bears, a Russian produced cartoon about the misadventures of two bears, Bjorn and Bucky, on Netflix. Bjorn is a polar bear who has left his frozen home in the Arctic to venture a bit further south where he has befriended Bucky, a brown bear who is extremely confident in all things, most notably his inventing ability.

In the episode we watched, Bucky had invented a bunch of robots to clean his house, but the robots, like all robots, turned on him and imprisoned Bjorn and Bucky. Bjorn and Bucky’s female friend, Little Fox, came to their rescue and distracted the robots and assisted Bucky in unplugging them. It was a quality episode of Russian bear wholesomeness.

When Be Be Bears ended I turned off Netflix as it was bed time for my little bear. When Netflix went off, the regular tv came on and just so happened to be on the channel showing the debate, which at that moment featured Elizabeth Warren giving an impassioned speech about…something. My son never watches regular tv, and when I watch regular tv around him, it is always just some ballgame…so his seeing a political debate was a bit shocking to him. As I searched for the remote to turn off the tv, my son got up, walked over to the tv and pointed right at Elizabeth Warren and proclaimed, “I DON’T LIKE THAT LADY!” My wife and I looked at each other puzzled. He then said, “she looks like Granmo.” (Granmo is what he calls his grandmother).

This seemed contradictory as my son loves his Grandmother so I asked him, “Do you not like Granmo?”

He replied, “I love Granmo…but I don’t like that lady”, pointing at Elizabeth Warren’s enlarged face on the television screen.

I asked him why he didn’t like her and he said, “I just don’t like her at all”.

After my son went to bed I started thinking about this incident and wondering why my son had such a visceral negative reaction to Elizabeth Warren. I wondered, had the notoriously nefarious Russians been up to no good? Had they hacked my son using subliminal messages in their supposedly family friendly show about a white bear and brown bear living in harmony with each other and the environment in order to turn him against Senator Warren? I didn’t know the answer…but I was intrigued.

After mulling this over for a few days I decided to call a bunch of my friends and family to get their thoughts and feelings on Senator Warren. I narrowed my calls to my plethora of family and friends who either reside in Massachusetts or at one time resided in Massachusetts and still have deep roots there. These people, the majority of which are women, are across the political spectrum, with a few arch-conservatives, a few strident leftists, and a large number of middle of the road independents. Of all of these people in allegedly liberal Massachusetts, which number into the multiple dozens…not a single one told me they like their senator, Elizabeth Warren.

Anecdotal observations are not very noteworthy, as you can find anecdotes to support whatever thesis you so desire, but the reason I am sharing this anecdotal information is that it is striking due to the anti-Warren sentiment being completely unanimous across the political spectrum. Every single person I spoke with felt negatively about Senator Warren, with some of them vociferously despising her while the rest of them unabashedly disliking her.

The women I spoke with range in age from middle-age up to retirement age, are mostly highly educated, single and successful in their careers. The men I spoke with are middle-aged to retirement age, college educated and mostly married.

Much to my shock, to a person, the female loathing of Warren had little or nothing to do with her policies and everything to do with her personality and presentation. The words I kept hearing, over and over again from women about Warren was that she was “annoying” and “unlikable”, with many of the respondents openly saying they “knew they weren’t supposed to say” that she was “unlikable”, but that was how they felt anyway. A few of the women even went so far as to say that they “hated” Warren, and these women are not raging Republicans either.

Among the men, all of them disliked Warren’s presentation and personality as well, but with the men their dislike of her was also heavily laced with misgivings about her policies. The word I also heard most often from men in describing Warren was “annoying”.

I recently saw some talking head on the television pontificating that Warren will be a shoe-in in the New Hampshire primary, which comes right on the heels of the Iowa caucus, because New Hampshire is neighbors with Massachusetts. Well…what I gleaned in my conversations with Massachusetts people is that in regards to Elizabeth Warren, familiarity breeds contempt, and so NH might not be the slam dunk some think it will be.

If Warren loses NH, it may come as a shock to the media and thus alter the narrative of her inevitability, which will no doubt be climaxing post her presumed Iowa win and heading into an expected coronation on her supposed home turf of NH. If the apple cart of this media narrative gets overturned then lots of interesting things could happen in the Democratic nominating process…from a resurrection of the not-so-good-ship Biden, to Bernie seeing a surge and scaring the shit out of the political and media establishment, to another lower tier candidate gaining some unexpected momentum which could catapult them to the nomination.

With all of that said, it is also worth noting that just because the Massachusetts people I spoke with did not like Warren, that didn’t mean they liked Trump. Across the board people disliked Trump, although a few people, very few, did support him and his policies, with one man saying he likes Trump because he “gets things done”.

It is also worth noting that the same people I spoke with in regards to Warren this year, also felt similarly about Hillary in 2016.

So this means that if 2020 is Trump v Warren, it will be a pseudo-retread of 2016 in that it will be a showdown between two candidates that people find unlikable…and we know how that ends. Although in Warren’s favor, she is less of a known commodity/liability than Hillary, who had built up 30 years of animus by the time she was the Democratic nominee for president, and thus may not be quite as hamstrung by negative sentiment by the time election day rolls around as Hillary certainly was in 2016…but that is no guarantee.

If Warren gets the nomination Americans will have spent a full year inundated by her presence. Voters may have the same immediate visceral, negative gut reaction to Warren that my son had when first exposed to Warren, or those that don’t immediately feel that way may grow to dislike her more and more the more they see of her, as with the Massachusetts people with which I spoke.

The bottom line is this, the 2020 election looks to be another year long shit show. The kabuki theatre of American democracy in 2020 will once again feature a dog and pony show starring a dog we hate and pony we loathe…with the end result being, no matter who wins, the status quo remains unchanged and awful, or gets even worse than it is now.

In conclusion, after careful thought and consideration, I have finally chosen who I will be supporting in the next election. They are kind, loyal and resilient. Yes, they are Russian, but that is a fact I am willing to overlook due to their inherent decency and unwavering thoughtfulness. It is for these reasons and more that I am proud to announce that I fully endorse…BJORN AND BUCKY IN 2020!!

©2019

2019 TV Round Up

ESTIMATED READING TIME: 5 minutes 14 seconds

Once again the Emmy Awards are upon us, and once again no one cares. But since this Sunday night is supposed to be a celebration of the best of the best in tv, I thought I would briefly share my thoughts on the 2019 television fare I was able to catch.

I rarely write about television only because there is so much of it and I am so behind in watching everything that comes out. An example of which is that I literally just started watching 30 Rock for the first time a few months ago and that show went off the air in 2013.

The advent of binge watching, thank you Netflix, has changed the tv viewing experience so that audiences no longer simultaneously digest new material, but rather do it on their own time. I prefer this method of tv viewing, but it makes writing on the topic difficult and rather useless.

So, since I rarely if ever review television, I have decided to just throw together a cheat sheet of mini-reviews for the relevant shows I have watched this year. I have no idea if any of these shows are nominated for Emmy Awards because I, like every other normal human being on the planet, do not care about the Emmys, in fact my indifference is so great I refuse to even do a google search to see the list of nominees.

So with my laziness established, let’s begin our review of 2019 television!

GAME OF THRONES - HBO: 4 Stars

I watched Game of Thrones from the beginning and as a testament to my limited intellectual abilities I readily admit I didn’t what the hell was going on 90% of the time and had no clue who half the characters were, but the show had an above average amount of nudity and violence, my two favorite things, so I was on board.

Game of Thrones was one of the very few, in fact I think only, tv show I wrote about this year. As previously stated the show’s final season was a definite mixed bag and was not nearly as good as the seasons that preceded it. That said, watching King’s Landing get obliterated was as exhilarating a visual sequence as we have seen in the history of the medium.

The cast of Game of Thrones have always done solid, if not spectacular work. I think Emilia Clarke, Kit Harrington, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau and Peter Dinklage were among those who were the most spectacular.

THE BOYS - AMAZON: 4.5 stars

The Boys is an absolute gem of a show that is the best kept secret on tv. I seem to be the only person who has ever watched the program and have become a sort of evangelist in favor of it. I have told countless friends that they have to check this thing out.

The Boys beautifully deconstructs the corporate superhero mythology that is the dominant myth of our time. If you are sick of Marvel and Disney’s dominance of the superhero space…then watch The Boys. The show is an insightful and piercing commentary on the American corporatocracy, and it pulls no punches. It eviscerates the empty headed corporate flag waving of the media, Disney in particular, and tells more truth in its fiction than the establishment news has ever done in its reporting.

There is a sequence in the show, and I won’t give it away, but it deals with the Hegelian dialectic (problem - reaction - solution) and it is the absolute truth of our time and is brilliant.

The show stars Jack Quaid, who is the son of Meg Ryan and Dennis Quad. This is obvious but still kind of weird to see, but Jack is the perfect amalgam of his two famous parents. At times he looks exactly like his dad, and other times just like his mom…it is like he has his own weird famous parent morphing super power.

The rest of the cast, which includes Karl Urban, Antony Starr, Elisabeth Shue and Erin Moriarty, is top-notch and play their roles with aplomb.

The Boys is not perfect but it really is a fantastic show and a bolt of anarchist rebellious energy into the very stagnant super hero genre. This show actually made me yell in joy at one point at how subversive it is…I kid you not. Anyway, if you love super hero stuff, or are sick of superhero stuff…this is definitely the show for you.


MINDHUNTER - NETFLIX: 4.25 stars

Mindhunter is produced, and sometimes directed, by filmmaker David Fincher. One of my favorite Fincher films, and one of my favorite films period, is Zodiac. Zodiac is a rare Fincher film in that it sort of flew under the radar, in fact I didn’t even see it in the theatre. But after discovering the film a bunch of years ago, I cannot get enough of it…and even use scenes from it when I work with clients. I watch Zodiac so often it has become a running joke in my house…and probably with the FBI agents who are surveilling me.

Mindhunter is like an extended and expanded version of Zodiac, as it is set in relatively the same time frame, and shares the same visual and artistic aesthetic. Mindhunter is, not surprisingly since it is a Fincher project, beautifully shot and lit and looks great.

The acting in the show is solid and subtle, as the main cast maintain a tight lid on things. The guest stars, who play a panoply of serial killers, are creepily fantastic in bringing their famous killers to life.

Mindhunter is, at its core, an extremely well made “cop” show that is decidedly smart and mature. This show is Fincher at his best….moody, unnerving, menacing, unsafe. The show is so well- made I think it would be impossible to watch it and not end up double checking the locks own your windows and doors before going to bed at night and also not looking at the nearly invisible normal people who populate our surroundings and thinking, at least for a moment, that they might be, or are at least capable of being, super predators.

FLEABAG - Amazon: 4.5 stars

Fleabag is what feminist tv/film should be. It is not whiney and self serving with an axe to grind but aggressively funny and deeply reflective. Phoebe Waller-Bridge wrote and stars in the show and her performance is remarkable and her writing, scintillating.

The rest of the cast, which include Sian Clifford, Andrew Scott and the glorious Olivia Colman, give superb performances across the board.

What makes this show such an intrepid piece of feminist comedy is that the female lead has absolute agency, she is not a victim but an active participant in the mess that is her life. The plot of Fleabag is fueled by Waller-Bridge’s character’s actions, not by her responding to other people’s actions. If she is a victim it is of her own bad decisions, not of other people’s.

BLACK MIRROR - NETFLIX: 4 stars

Black Mirror really is a Twilight Zone for the 21st century. The show never fails to be unique, original, challenging and insightful and also never fails to surprise. Black Mirror boasts terrific writing, top notch direction and stellar casts.

What is great about Black Mirror is that all of the episodes are stand alone so you can watch them at your leisure. This season there are, at least so far, only three episodes and they are fantastic. The best of the bunch is “Striking Vipers” which is both shocking and funny.

I can’t remember being underwhelmed by any episodes of Black Mirror, but I can recall being completely freaked out by more than a few of them. (The one with the dog like hunting drones is stellar!)

THE HANDMAID’S TALE - HULU: 1.5 stars

The Handmaid’s Tale’s first season was an electric piece of television. The fact that the show was in production prior to Trump’s election but spoke so eloquently about women’s anxiety after he won, is a testament to the artistry and craftsmanship that went into making it. The problem though is that the show, which was so compelling in season 1, quickly jumped the shark in season 2, and in season 3 has gone full Evel Knevel on a tricycle over Jaws in a kiddie pool.

It is difficult to overstate what a heinous piece of crap this show has become. The only equivalent I can think of is the precipitous fall of House of Cards which was like a speeding train falling off a cliff after its first few seasons.

Just like House of Cards downfall, what saps The Handmaid’s Tale of drama is that there is no longer any genuine threat to the main character June. June has become an avatar for the girl power people in her audience and thus is given no genuine obstacles to overcome, just manufactured ones, by the fan servicing producers.

At one point while watching one of the episodes in season 3 I said out loud to no one in particular…”I hate this show”…and I really have grown to hate it, which is frustrating because the show in the first season, and Elizabeth Moss’ acting in that season, were just mesmerizing. But now the show really has devolved into a pointless, rambling, dramatically incoherent, self-reverential mess and Moss’ acting little more than her not blinking in order to cry and acting faux tough. The bottom line is this, if Gilead were as awful and authoritarian as it is supposed to be, then June would have been swinging from the wall a long time ago. At this point I watch the show praying she gets hung and puts us all out of our misery.

The show is just so…stupid and frustrating…and the characters equally stupid and frustrating. In season’s 2 and 3 The Handmaid’s Tale has abandoned any semblance of a coherent internal logic and now just seems to be winging it. It is safe to say I will not be returning to Gilead for season 4.

WHEN THEY SEE US - NETFLIX: 1 Star

This show, which is about the very relevant and important story of the Central Park Five, is produced by Oprah and directed by Ava DuVernay….and it shows. That is not a compliment. This mini-series is just God awful. It is embarrassingly maudlin, shmaltzy and unconscionably ham handed.

This show will no doubt win a bunch of Emmys, but that is only because it is the sort of anti-Trump, anti-racist screed that Hollywood dipshits gobble up like Xanax. But do not be deceived, this show is atrociously poorly made. The cast, most notably Jharrel Jerome, are abysmal. Jerome sets the craft of acting back decades, if not millennia, with his corny performance as Korey Wise, one of the Central Park Five.

What frustrated me so much about this mini-series was that it is based on what should be a dramatically potent true story, and a story that is so vital and relevant to our times. But in the hands of DuVernay, this story is sapped of any meaning, and instead turns out to be an emotionally manipulative piece of garbage better suited to the Lifetime channel than Netflix.

Sadly, this story of the Central Park Five is as true to life as the Central Perk Five of Ross, Rachel, Monica, Chandler, Joey and Phoebe. Yikes.

CHERNOBYL- HBO: 4 stars

This mini-series which recounts the 1989 nuclear disaster, starts out great but loses some dramatic momentum late as it staggers to the finish line. Chernobyl looks great from start to finish and is elevated by some great acting, most notably from Jared Harris.

The weak link with the show is the script, as it falls into the tired Boris and Natasha evil Soviet caricature too often. The historical accuracy of the show has been called into question as well, but that is somewhat excusable, but the tired cliches of Soviet inhumanity are not.

The first few episodes of the mini-series were as good as anything on television this year, but the finale was decidedly disappointing and underwhelming. That said, I enjoyed it for the great cast and for how well it was shot.

ESCAPE AT DONNEMARA - SHOWTIME: 2.5 stars

Escape At Donnemara, which was directed by Ben Stiller, is a wholly uneven enterprise. Just like Chernobyl it starts off strong, then there’s a lull and then a significant dramatic and artistic spike in the second to last episode…but then it finishes with a whimper.

Stiller certainly puts some artistic bows on the show, using music and sound and fading to black to nice effect, but ultimately the show only stays on the surface of things and there is never a sense that we are getting at any semblance of the truth.

One of the odd things about the show is that it can feel incredible slow, bordering on dull, and yet that leisurely pace pays no dramatic benefits because the narrative ultimately seems so rushed at the end of the day.

That said, I thought Paul Dano’s performance as Sweat was really phenomenal. Dano makes Sweat a real person, not some caricature. Dano’s Sweat is conflicted, with a vivid and pulsating inner life that is compelling to watch. The show would have been better served with more Paul Dano and not less.

Patricia Arquette’s performance is all show. Arquette’s Tilly is nothing more than a monotonous and endless droning on, and the acting never once reveals anything of use or honesty about Tilly.

Benicia del Toro gives what I would deem a rather lazy del Toro performance…we’ve seen this act before and it has grown tired.

Ultimately, this mini-series has its moments but ended up being unsatisfying.

VEEP - HBO: 4 Stars

Veep was good this season but not great. Of course, Veep had set the bar ridiculously high with its first six seasons, so topping it in the finale was always going to be a tough job.

Julia Louis-Dreyfus is one of the wonders of the world, and her performance as Selena Meyer was so great as to be iconic. The rest of the cast were their usual stellar selves as well.

That said, season 7 felt like the show had definitely run its course and in the age of Trump, where reality is much stranger than fiction, seemed a bit, dare I say it…tame.

I liked season 7, but I think it was the weakest of all the Veep seasons.

BARRY - HBO: 4.5 Stars

Barry is awesome. This show perfectly captures the absurdity of the Hollywood experience for any actor trying to scratch out an existence and chase a dream. The acting class scenes are spot on and poignantly painful for their depiction of the shit show that is acting class in Hollywood.

What is so great about Barry is that it wonderfully mixes shocking violence with exquisitely subtle comedy. Few shows are ever able to do one or the other, but Barry is able to do both and do them extraordinarily well.

The straw that stirs the drink of Barry, is Bill Hader, who is a god send as assassin turned wannabe actor, Barry. Hader’s comedic timing and energy are exquisite, but it is his transformation into the ruthless assassin that makes the show real enough to be worthwhile. Hader is not just a funny man, he is a genuinely gifted dramatic actor, and his versatility is a rare trait indeed.

The rest of the cast, particularly Henry Winkler, are gloriously good. Winkler’s scene stealing work as Gene Cousineau is a stake through the heart of the ghost of Fonzie (hey, second Fonzie reference of this article!). Winkler perfectly captures the insincerity, dishonesty and desperation of those unfortunate souls who become acting teachers…I would know.

Barry is appointment viewing in my household.

Thus concludes my brief foray into television criticism, I hope you found it useful. My top picks this year are The Boys, Mindhunter, Fleabag, Black Mirror and Barry. None of those shows are for the feint of heart, so know that going in. I have no idea if any of these shows are nominated or will win at The Emmys on Sunday night…and more importantly, I don’t care…and neither should you.

©2019

Thoughts and Musings: Featuring Fredo, Bed Bug, Lady Kicker and More!

Estimated Reading Time: 4 minutes 12 seconds

FREDO AND THE BED BUG

A story came out a few weeks ago that was my favorite story of the year, the millenium and maybe of all time. The story was really nothing more than a video…but my Lord that video was absolutely magnificent. The video is of CNN host Chris Cuomo, son of former NY Governor Mario Cuomo and brother to current NY Governor Andrew Cuomo, getting all chesty with some guy at a summer party because the guy called him “Fredo”. Sadly, the video, which is in my humble estimation the very best movie of 2019 so far, has been scrubbed from youtube….but here is a news report on it.

Cuomo was incensed at being labeled with the disparaging name Fredo, which refers to Fredo Corleone of the Godfather movies, who is the incompetent and weak Corleone son especially when compared to his brothers, Michael, Sonny, and Tom Hagan. Cuomo went so far as to say that Fredo is the equivalent of the “n-word” for Italians. Brilliant.

A couple things here…first…Cuomo is a silver-spooned, spoiled brat and recipient of the Lifetime Achievement in Nepotism award who may be the dumbest person to ever speak on television. Anytime I’ve ever seen Fredo Cuomo on television I am constantly distracted by the overwhelming sound of wind whistling through his empty fucking head. If Fredo Cuomo weren’t part of New York political royalty, my guess is he would have been diagnosed as being officially mentally retarded and sent to an institution where he could eat paste all day and play with his, and others, poop, rather than have gotten a job on television. Although to be fair, tv is a great place to put a mental defective and intellectual midget like Fredo Cuomo as he fits right in with the rest of the vacuous dipshits in that business.

In the video in question, Fredo Cuomo acts tough by telling the guy who called him “Fredo” to be a man and own up to what he said and also threatening to throw the guy down a flight of stairs. The guy in the confrontation is little more than an irritant and Fredo gets to do and say what he wants with impunity and only really tries to escalate things when he is being held back by his sycophantic posse.

Here is the thing…Chris “Fredo” Cuomo has lived the entirety of his life much like Donald Trump, in a protective bubble where he is immune from consequences. Well, if I ever have the pleasure of being in Chris Cuomo’s presence I vow I will call him Fredo over and over and over and over and over again, and I hope he tries to do something about it because I won’t put my tail between my legs…I will do the world a favor and smash his stupid, entitled fucking face in. There is a legitimate reason for people to call Chris Cuomo, “Fredo”, it is because he is, just like Fredo, stupid, worthless and weak. In fact, Chris Cuomo is way worse than Fredo…Fredo at least was banging cocktails waitresses two at a time out in Vegas, a bit of multi-tasking of which Chris “Fredo” Cuomo is no doubt incapable. Calling Chris Cuomo “Fredo” is not an insult to Cuomo…but an insult to Fredo.

My greatest hope going forward is that all Americans can put aside petty political and cultural squabbles and come together around this singular issue and make the unified commitment to always and every time call Chris Cuomo, “Fredo”, whenever within earshot of this vacant-eyed douchebag. Now, If you are so lucky as to be in Fredo’s presence but you think it is an inappropriate time to call him Fredo, if, say, he is visiting sick kids in a hospital or something…don’t let that bother you…it is always the PERFECT time to call him Fredo…BECAUSE THAT IS HIS FUCKING NAME FROM NOW ON!

To mimic our wondrous jackass of a president…I hereby declare that forthwith, Chris Cuomo is officially to be known as “Fredo”. Go forth Americans and make me proud and torture this needle-dicked clown by calling him Fredo to his face in perpetuity! And for extra credit call his brother Andrew...The Gimp.

There was another instance of supposed rude behavior in the public sphere this week when Dave Karpf, a professor at George Washington University, sent out a tweet that called NY Times columnist Bret Stephens a “bed bug”. Literally seven people read the tweet, but somehow word got to Stephens and he sent off an email to Karpf inviting him to his house to see if he would dare call him a bed bug after meeting his wife and family. The email is mildly threatening in a “say that to my face” kind of way, but nothing egregious. No, what makes Stephens actions in this case egregious are that he sent the email not only to the “offender” Karpf, but to Karpf's boss, the provost of GWU. Obviously Stephens was trying to get this guy fired for his snarky tweet.

What makes all of this even more repulsive is that Stephens is constantly calling out people to be more thick skinned and for snowflakes to grow a spine and all that jazz. Well…what is good for the goose apparently is not so good for the gander. Stephens is a repugnant little neo-con, chickenhawk character who is always willing to send other people to fight, especially for his beloved Israel, for whom he is a shameless shill. Stephens’ writing is nothing if not derivative, vapid and banal, and as recently as this past June I wrote about how he lied about the attacks on oil tankers in the Persian Gulf in order to drum up war against Iran for Israel.

In keeping with his character, Stephens went on MSNBC in the wake of Bedbug-gate and tried to play the Jewish victim card by saying authoritarians (read: Hitler!) often call people bugs in order to dehumanize them and claimed he didn’t email people at GWU and wasn’t trying to get the guy fired. Of course, after Stephens MSNBC appearance it came out he did email the provost at GWU…and was obviously trying to get the guy axed all for the sin of disrespecting the great Bret Stephens, defender of civility.

To his great credit, Stephens later in the day made the bold and courageous decision to quit…twitter. Wow…what courage.

How about this Mr. Bedbug…how about you make the invitation to come to your house and call you Bed Bug in front of your family to me…and then I gleefully beat you senseless, knock all your teeth out, blind you with a can of Raid, walk out to your garage, borrow your bow saw, come back in and cut your empty fucking head off and leave it on the front porch as a jerk-o-lantern as a reminder of what happens to neo-con, chickenhawk Bed Bugs? Sound good?

Seriously…what the fuck is wrong with people? I get hate mail ALL THE TIME! People say nasty shit to me day in and day out…shit they would never say to my face. You know what I do about it? Nothing. I may want to reply and tell someone to fuck off, but I don’t because it is counter-productive and totally a waste of time and energy. Why would I indulge in that sort of thing and why would I give my power away to complete strangers who I don’t know and don’t care about? I am an absolute nobody and I have the self-discipline not to engage in mindless internet battles with other nobodies…Bret Stephens writes for the New York Times…the New York Fucking Times…and he literally spent time not only searching for a tweet that disparages him, but then tracking down the tweeter’s email address and the address of his boss, then writing an email and sending it. What the fuck is wrong with this limp dick jackass? And as an aside…why in the world is anyone on Twitter? Or any social media for that matter? I do not understand the appeal of any of it.

My advice to Bret Stephens is to stop being a mealy mouthed twat and start being some semblance of a man. Oh…and my directive to every American and every person in the world…is to call Bret Stephens “Bed Bug” always and every time. Thank you for your cooperation.

One final thought while we wait for Bed Bug Bret Stephens and Fredo Cuomo’s testicles to drop…my now number one dream is that someone makes a buddy action comedy about Chris Cuomo and Bret Stephens and titles it “Fredo and the Bed Bug”. It could be a cross between Kafka’s Metmorphosis and Tango and Cash. You’re welcome Hollywood.

LADY KICKER

There was another video making the media rounds this week…this one of US Women’s soccer player Carli Lloyd kicking a 55 yard field goal during a Philadelphia Eagles practice. The video received enormous amounts of media and social media attention and stories swirled about whether Lloyd would kick in an NFL pre-season game. Lloyd got into the mix as well declaring that teams had reached out to her and she was seriously considering the offers. Over on ESPN, America’s Human Resources Sports channel, across the board all of the talking heads thought this was a terrific idea and that Lloyd “of course” could do it.

Take a look at the video.

Lloyd does hit a 55 yard field goal…this is true…but the story is utter nonsense. Watch it again and notice that Lloyd takes like seven steps running up to the ball and then faces no wall of 300 lb men impeding the ball’s progress. Carli Lloyd is a great female soccer player…she is not going to play in the NFL. Because we watch the game on television and it seems like a video game, we regular people are numb to the size, strength and speed of NFL players. The men playing in the NFL are as close to super-human as we have on the planet. These guys, who are most likely greatly aided in their physical and athletic development and performance by PED’s, are gigantic or lightning fast or both.

If Carli Lloyd were to try and kick a field goal like regular kickers have to…namely with a maximum of three steps to the ball and over a wall of giant men trying to block it, she would not fare very well. Lloyd has a strong leg…for a woman…but anyone who has the slightest grasp of biology understands that Lloyd’s leg is not as strong as the men she would compete against. Her leg is no doubt stronger than mine, and the vast majority of non-kickers in the world…but she wouldn’t be competing against me…she’d be up against the best of the best.

This story, just like the USWNT equal pay story, is manufactured nonsense and is a sign of the madness of our age and the delusional nature of wokeness. Carlie Lloyd is not as good a kicker as the men in the NFL just like the USWNT are not as good as even an elite boy’s high school team nevermind the USMNT. Enough with this woke posturing and posing and virtue signalling and pandering. Enough, enough, enough. Maybe we can put all this nonsense to rest if we let Ms. Lloyd kick in a real NFL game and then the kick is blocked and we have to watch her be absolutely and utterly obliterated by players scrambling to get the ball or block for someone returning the kick. That sight would be horrifying but also clarifying…which is maybe why we need to see it happen so all of these girl power clowns can understand that they are not physically equal to male athletes…and never will be.

GRANDPA BIDEN

My father was a true blue conservative who voted Republican almost always, and on the very rare occasion he didn’t vote Republican he voted third party and not Democrat because he really hated the Democrats. In 2016 my father faced a conundrum because he absolutely loathed Donald Trump, and had for the entirety of Trump’s public life, but he also had a searing hatred for Hillary Clinton. My father avoided having to make a decision in the 2016 election by dying, exactly three years ago today. In many ways his death felt more like a getaway than a passing, as I am sure on some level he was thrilled to not have to live in a country with either Trump or Hillary as President.

During a conversation with my father in his final months, I asked him if there was any Democrat he would vote for against Trump, and he said he would definitely vote for Joe Biden if he were the nominee. I have thought of that conversation often as the 2020 campaign has staggered to its start.

Biden is certainly the establishment and centrist favorite. His main selling point is that conservative people like my father, who was born the same year as Biden, would cross the aisle to vote for him. I wonder if my father would feel the same way about Biden now that he did three and a half years ago though?

Biden, to me, looks extremely feeble and frail. I know he leads in the polls and everything, but the fact is he looks really, really old and not entirely there mentally. Biden’s cognitive ability is reminiscent of a punch drunk boxer who has convinced himself he has one more great fight in him….think Ali taking on Larry Holmes (although Biden is no Ali…and Trump is no Larry Holmes...I guess it is more the equivalent of Gerry Cooney taking on Butterbean).

It isn’t just the gaffes with Biden that have raised red-flags for me, it is the far-away, cloudy look in his eye…he looks not all there, like a doddering old Grandpa haunting a holiday party. The standard pundit counter point on Biden’s age is to say that Trump is also in his 70’s, so age won’t be a factor. I despise Trump, but the cold, hard reality is that Trump may be crazy, but he sure doesn’t seem old and frail. In fact, Trump’s manic madness makes him seem, in a terrifying way, sort of vital, present and engaged. Sanders is older than Biden and Warren is also in her seventies, but neither of them seem frail or cognitively impaired in the slightest, in fact they are both full of piss and vinegar.

I was talking to my French-Canadian friend, “Spider” Geau-Geau, about this recently and he made a surprisingly astute observation about the cognitive difference between Trump and Biden…he pointed out that Trump not only doesn’t drink alcohol…but never has. I thought this was a very insightful point, especially from a raging alcoholic, and an alcohol induced rage-a-holic like Monsieur Geau-Geau. As someone who is sober for more than a quarter century, I can attest to both the dangers of alcohol to the brain and the remarkable mental and cognitive benefits of sobriety.

At the end of the day, I think Biden will absolutely wilt as the campaign goes on. If Biden makes it all the way to the general election as the nominee, I think he will completely wither under the demands of running for the presidency at his age and in his condition, and for this reason I think that Biden is, counter intuitively, a bad choice to take down Trump.

As of this moment I have Trump as the odds-on, hands-down favorite…but things could certainly change.

CHAPPELLE

I watched Dave Chappelle’s new stand up comedy special on Netflix last night and thought it was very good. I wouldn’t consider myself a Chappelle super fan, for instance, as remarkable as this is to say, I have never seen his iconic sketch comedy show Chapelle’s Show. When some people learn that fact about me they are stunned and startled because apparently the show is right up my alley. I didn’t skip the show during its run out of malice towards Chappelle, but because when the show was running I either did not have a tv, or I did not have cable (the show aired on Comedy Central). I have caught Chappelle’s last bunch of stand-up specials on Netflix over the years though, and I think he is very funny and I am notoriously difficult to please when it comes to comedy. What struck me about Chappelle’s most recent routine, and the reason why I am writing this, is that he and I seem to have very similar political and cultural opinions. In fact, a couple of times our opinions were so similar he even told jokes based on the same ideas I have tried to articulate in my writing over the years.

I am not saying that, like Little Bill Maher’s flaccid and impotent staff, Dave Chappelle is scouring my writing trying to poach my ideas and insights…all I am saying is that Chappelle and I share much in our world view. The only recognizable difference I can discern between us being that I think I casually say the “n-word’ considerably more than he does. (Relax…that is what the young people call a “joke”)

In all seriousness, I don’t know if Chappelle is a reader of my work, but…he certainly could be…and appears to be a fellow traveler…and that is enough for me. Anyway, if you get a chance to see Chappelle’s new Netflix special, and I do recommend it, you’ll get to hear some of my political and cultural views expressed in much more comedically satisfying ways.

Speaking of alleged plagiarism…I wrote a widely-read and well-received op-ed for RT last week titled “Celebriphilia epidemic sweeps US: Forget knowledge and wisdom, get guidance from the stars”. The piece was about America’s irrational adoration of celebrity…which I named as celebriphilia…and how people turning to celebrities for medical advice is asinine. My article ran on Monday, August 19th at RT…and the New York Times ran a remarkably similarly themed op-ed on Friday, August 23rd titled “Who Cares What Celebrities Think About Vaccines?” by Carolyn Lylstra. Once again it seems I am ahead of the New York Times, and the paper of record is reduced to simply putting the veneer of domestication onto my feral ideas. This is not the first time this has happened…and I am betting it won’t be the last. Readers should be extremely unnerved that a freelance dope like me is setting the agenda for the New York Times editorial page and thus the world media!

My advice to the New York Times, which I offer for free, is to fire that thin-skinned, neo-con, chickenhawk with the perpetually bunched panties, Bed Bug Bret Stephens, and hire me to infect the minds of Americans from the lofty perch of the most respected newspaper in the world. I won’t shill for Israel (which seems to be a requirement at the Times), won’t regurgitate the establishment line…ever, and will be a relentless thorn in the side, if not a fist in the face, to the nefarious people in power in this country…including those on the New York Times payroll…but on the bright side, I won’t get into twitter spats with people who call me mean names. My good friend Thomas Friedman has my contact information, so I look forward to hearing from you…or from Bed Bug Stephens who will no doubt be shocked and horrified by the uncivil nature presented in this column.

©2019

The Amazing Jonathan Documentary: A Review

****THIS IS A SPOILER FREE REVIEW!! THIS REVIEW CONTAINS ZERO SPOILERS!!****

My Rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars

My Recommendation: SKIP IT/SEE IT. This film is mildly amusing but lack any and all insight into it’s subject.

The Amazing Jonathan Documentary, directed by Ben Berman, chronicles the difficulties of making a documentary about the moderately famous magician/prop comic, Amazing Jonathan, as he mounts a comeback while suffering from a terminal medical condition. The film is currently streaming on Hulu.

Jonathan Szeles, otherwise known as The Amazing Jonathan, is a third rate, c-level comedian who hit it big and became a Vegas mainstay with his relentless and hackneyed magic-comedy. From 2001 to 2014 he was a year-round headliner in the City of Sin and made a nice fortune for himself doing so. In 2014 he was diagnosed with a heart condition and given one year to live…so he retired from performing. Four years later he was still alive and so decided to head back out and do some more shows, and director Ben Berman decided to document it all.

The Amazing Jonathan Documentary is a film about desperation, the desperation of Jonathan to find meaning and purpose in the last years of his life, and the desperation of Ben Berman not only to find a story to tell when the truth is elusive, but to make a name for himself.

The Amazing Jonathan is an amusing persona, and getting a glimpse into this character’s supposed reality is often-times chuckle-inducing. Amazing Jonathan is, to put it mildly, detached from objective reality, and our brief jaunts through his subjective reality are certainly revealing of the oddity of his peculiar head space.

The problem though is that documentarian Ben Berman only gives us ever-so-brief glimpses into the persona of The Amazing Jonathan, but never breaks through the armor of that veneer and gives us the Jonathan Szeles living deep with in it. In this way the film is little more than a reality tv show that gives viewers canned and manipulated “performances’ and considers them to be “truth”.

In addition, Berman must deal with a series of absurdities regarding the actual film making process, and thus must scramble to adapt to new circumstances and try and cobble together a coherent narrative. Berman fails to overcome these obstacles for a variety of reasons, the most glaring is that instead of keeping the film focused on Jonathan, he makes the film about himself.

Berman switches mid-way through the film to using ham-fisted attempts at personal poignancy, psychological profundity and displays of artistic despair, in order to fill in the gaps of the story due to his inadequacies as a documentarian. These Berman performative sequences all ring hollow, manufactured and exploitative and radiate with an odious shamelessness. In short, Berman comes across as a very bad actor, and yet he tries to make himself the star of his movie because he thinks he is so interesting despite his obvious lack of charisma and likability.

Berman’s attempt at participatory documentary film making feels painfully self-serving and narcissisticly masturbatorial. In order to pull off this style of documentary film making, the director must be a unique yet pleasant character, think Michael Moore or Morgan Spurlock, not a nebbish desperate for attention, which is how Ben Berman, who is neither unique nor pleasant and is no Michael Moore or Morgan Suprlock, comes across. Berman goes to such great lengths to make a spectacle of himself in this film that when it isn’t painfully embarrassing it is plain annoying. The film devolves to become such a self-serving enterprise that Berman basically turns it into a blatant job interview.

The behind the scenes, movie making insider stuff, will no doubt resonate with anyone who has ever made a movie, particularly a documentary. Jonathan is an erratic nightmare of a subject, and Berman being stuck in his house of horrors does deliver some comedy, but that doesn’t make it even remotely insightful or worthwhile. Watching Jonathan torture Berman is satisfying on a sadistic level for the viewer and a masochistic level for Berman, but we came here to try and understand Jonathan, and none of that stuff gives us any deeper understanding of who he really is or what drives him.

What is so frustrating about The Amazing Jonathan Documentary is that Berman’s narcissistic focus distracts from Jonathan, and leaves his story, in essence, untold. I was left with a nagging feeling after watching this movie that, as difficult a nut as Jonathan is to crack, a more talented, more skilled, more dedicated and less vain film maker would have been able to break through and expose the actual truth about Jonathan. In essence this film is a documentation of Berman’s utter failure to do his job, which is to peel back the layers of The Amazing Jonathan and reveal the complexity and truth at the core of this strange and twisted man. Instead Berman gives us his reactions and responses to dealing with a difficult and temperamental performer…oooh…how groundbreaking….we’d get better insights watching The Bachelorette.

In conclusion, The Amazing Jonathan Documentary is an occasionally intriguing, but ultimately underwhelming documentary experience. Sadly, while the film is amusing in parts and absurd in others, it all feels a bit too self-serving and contrived to be of any genuine value. That said, if you work in the entertainment industry or on documentary films, you will probably appreciate the movie a bit more than the average Joe only because you will have had, at least once, similarly bizarre experiences with obliviously entitled talent.

©2019

American Factory: A Review and Commentary

****THIS REVIEW CONTAINS MINOR MOVIE INFORMATION/SPOILERS!! CONSIDER THIS YOUR OFFICIAL SPOILER ALERT!!****

My Rating: 3 out 5 stars

My Recommendation: SEE IT. See it just to see the depressing and fast-approaching future for all American workers…and to see the consequences of America’s pro-corporate/globalist policies over the last forty years.

American Factory directed by Steven Bognar and Julie Reichert, is a documentary that chronicles the trials and tribulations of a Chinese company, Fuyao, opening a factory in Dayton, Ohio. The film is the first to be distributed by Barack and Michelle Obama’s production company Higher Ground, and is currently streaming on Netflix.

American Factory is an infuriating film that will surely get your nativist hackles up and leave you red…white and blue with anger…I know it did with me. It is nearly impossible to watch this film and not walk away loathing the American working class for their self-sabotaging stupidity, the American ruling class for their avarice and corruption, and China and Chinese nationals for their arrogance, condescension and all-around disgusting deception.

The film starts with the closing of a GM plant outside of Dayton in 2008, allegedly due to the economic collapse. My biggest problem with this film is revealed in that simple assertion of blame because it is supposed to give context but is actually entirely, and deceptively, devoid of context. You cannot tell the story of American Factory and Fuyao’s move into Dayton without explaining the fertile ground upon which that story takes root. That fertile ground is the blood-soaked soil of post-organized labor America, and it began to take shape during the Reagan presidency when blue collar union workers voted for the flag-waving Republican former B-movie actor en-masse in 1980, and then Reagan swiftly turned around meticulously went about destroying organized labor in America.

The ground was further fertilized when Democrat Bill Clinton came to office in the 90’s and proceeded to do to America’s manufacturing base what Reagan did to organized labor…destroy it. Clinton signed the North American Free Trade Agreement which was a boon for the investor class and ruling elites but was like a nuclear bomb dropped on blue collar workers and the working class in America. Manufacturing jobs fled the U.S. and in their wake left former bustling cities and towns looking like Hiroshima and Nagasaki after World War II. The American worker has never recovered from the back to back Reagan-Clinton double devastation.

To add insult to injury Americans followed up the disaster of Clinton by deciding they had to suffer through the even more pro-globalist, pro-business, pro-investor class, pro-ruling elite administration of George W. Bush. The Bush regime’s tenure was such an economic holocaust that it not only left the working class and blue collar workers in a pile of steaming rubble, but obliterated the middle-class and once prosperous middle-class neighborhoods with the housing bubble and subsequent collapse, followed by prodigious corporate bail outs.

The final bit of context is that this film is distributed by Barrack Obama’s new production company Higher Ground…and he has some nerve attaching himself to this movie as it is the equivalent of O.J. Simpson’s production company Good Husband distributing the Oscar winning documentary O.J.: Made in America. Obama is just as responsible for the cataclysm that American workers face today as his despicable predecessors Reagan, Clinton and Bush II. It is astonishing that Obama is getting praise for distributing this documentary highlighting the plight of working class Americans, when…you know…he could’ve done something to actually help them during the eight years he was President of the United States but chose to side with Wall Street instead.

When Obama came into office the economy was in ruins and he had the greatest opportunity of any president since FDR to make significant and lasting structural changes…but instead he chose to double down on business as usual and backed the Bush TARP plan and appointed to his administration or took on as his advisors globalist, neo-liberal, free trade, deregulating Wall Street whores like Little Timmy Geithner, Larry Summers and Robert Rubin and his acolytes, the same pricks who were responsible for the economic collapse in the first place. Obama chose to bail out corporations and shareholders and as a result they got richer, and everyone else got a whole lot poorer, and he also chose not to go after the Wall Street criminals who created the whole mess (or the Bush war criminals…but that is a story for another day).

Obama proved with his handling of the economic crisis and healthcare that he is a really disgusting charlatan who ran on “hope and change” but ruled on “fuck the working people”, just like his predecessors. Liberals and Democrats desperately need to disabuse themselves of the notion that Obama is a “good guy” and was a good president. A good way to do that is to watch the Flint, Michigan section of Michael Moore’s film Fahrenheit 11/9, and to educate yourself on Obama’s pro-corporate/globalist economics and then watch American Factory.

Once you have the genuine context for American Factory in place, then you can understand and become enraged by the same man, Obama, who along with his fellow establishment errands boys Reagan, Clinton and Bush, caused this catastrophe, having the temerity to comment on the horror of it.

American Factory shows America being colonized by not only foreign money, but foreign workers and foreign work culture. The globalist/NAFTA induced exodus of American manufacturing jobs in the 90’s to the cheap labor havens in China and elsewhere, hollowed out America and now foreign investors are coming in like carrion to pick away at the corpse. The systematic de-unionization of the American worker is now being exploited by billionaires, in this case a Chinese one, who come to our country and openly and blatantly shit on American workers, American culture and America…and we not only let them, we give them titanic tax breaks to thank them for it.

The American workers at the Fuyao plant in Toledo reveal themselves to be just as cowardly as the men in government who put them in this situation. The Chinese nationals treat these American workers with such disrespect and disdain that it is both shocking and repugnant. The Chinese nationals do the same to American laws as they routinely ignore environmental and work place safety laws, putting American employees at great risk. And if someone gets hurt on the job? Fuck them…they are fired.

The workers are so scared, so frightened and so weak after forty years of Reagan/Clinton/Bush/Obama, that they are totally devoid of any backbone. These workers should be ashamed of themselves for rolling over like dogs to these repugnant and despicable Chinese invaders. The shots of American workers groveling as they shake hands with the piggish billionaire owner of Fuyao, the grotesque Cao Dewang, who fancies himself a modern-day capitalist version of Chairman Mao, is revolting. One of Dewang’s most illuminating moments of assholery comes when American workers ever so gently resist against his authoritarian rule and he blames it on their anti-Chinese racism…classic. How does no one take a wrench to this vile asshole’s head and crack it wide open? How do none of the American workers show their Chinese overlords what a good old American beating looks like? Yes, they would lose their jobs and maybe go to jail, but at least they’d send a message to their enemies that Americans still have some self-respect, dignity and balls…for as the saying goes, “it is better to die on your feet than to live on your knees.”

The most infuriating thing about this film is watching the American workers expose themselves for their staggering stupidity and weakness. How can anyone do anything so dumb as to trust any company, nevermind a Chinese one, to do the right and treat their employees well? How can anyone be so stupid…so mind-numbingly stupid, as to vote away their only chance at leverage and give away their only weapon?

I hate to say this but it needs to be said…if you are that stupid and that weak that you cannot stand up to your oppressors, cannot think strategically and tactically, not only don’t vote to empower yourself but vote to disarm and neuter yourself, and are so gullible as to put your trust into a corporation after watching corporations rape working people over the last forty years, then you deserve the shit sandwich you are being force-fed.

American Factory does a lot to reinforce negative stereotypes of both the Chinese and Americans, it does this by only giving viewers a shallow glimpse into the people living out this culture clash.

The Chinese workers are shown to be slavishly dedicated to their country and company over family, single-mindedly disciplined, and diabolically deceptive. The Chinese nationals are shown as two-faced rats, conspiring to destroy their American counterparts. The Chinese nationals are proud to take advantage of American hospitality by befriending American workers for the sole purpose of gaining disparaging information on them in order to ultimately fire them.

American workers fair no better in the film. The American workers who go to China do everything they can to reinforce the stereotype of the fat, lazy American, which the Chinese already whole-heartedly believe. For instance, when the American workers go to a corporate meeting in China they waddle in wearing sports and concert t-shirts and looking overall like a disheveled collection of complete and total unprofessional shlubs.

The American worker’s time in China is like a bad SNL skit come to life life. It is astounding that these embarrassments lack the intelligence and social grace to understand that maybe they should put their best foot forward and at least wear a button down shirt and try to carry themselves with some remote semblance of dignity.

Nothing is so cringe worthy as the fat, weepy American who gets emotional watching a bizarre group wedding during an event at corporate headquarters. This blubbering jackass ends up being consoled by a bunch of incredulous Chinese workers who look at him like he is some comic American mascot, like the Philly Fanatic or something, that has gone insane.

American Factory shows that America’s demise is undeniable. The workers in this film are symbolic of America, they prove themselves to be worthless and weak. God help us if we ever get into a shooting war with China because they will absolutely kick our fat, stupid asses. That is the thing that becomes crystal clear while watching American Factory, that we actually are at war with China right now, but only China seems to know and acknowledge this. The Chinese workers in America are soldiers on the front line for China, and they have knives sharpened and ready to plunge into American’s backs at the first chance they get, but the Americans are oblivious and have been softened by relentless conditioning to do nothing but repeat soft platitudes about how “ we are all one”.

I actually have great respect for these Chinese workers and their patriotism and devotion to China, as well as China’s commitment to its long term strategy to dismantle American economic and global hegemony, I just wish it didn’t come at the expense of my country. I also wish that the U.S. had the same level of dedication, discipline and forethought that China does, and instead of fighting against its working people, fought for them.

The most insidious of the Chinese nationals highlighted in American Factory is the new president of the Toledo operation, Jeff Liu, who has lived more than half of his life in America (and may actually be a citizen, it is unclear) but absolutely despises America and Americans. To be clear, Liu is an enemy of the American people in every way, shape and form, and deserves to be dragged out of his office and beaten senseless by an angry mob of Ohioans. Liu is a walking advertisement to severely restrict immigration, even legal immigration, into America. Our top colleges and universities are overflowing with students from China who come here to get an education only to then turn around and use it as a weapon for China to undermine this country. American Factory exposes this deadly deception and charade, it is like the Lenin maxim that “the capitalist will sell you the rope with which you intend to hang him” brought to life in Technicolor.

It isn’t just the Chinese nationals who are revealed to be duplicitous, as there are numerous American traitors in Fuyao management who sell their soul and side with the Chinese in their struggle against American workers. I would also be willing to bet that American elites and those on Wall Street and in the management/investor class will watch this movie and deeply empathize with Cao Dewang and his struggles to run a business and not with their fellow Americans and their desperate struggle simply to survive.

The war waged on American workers isn’t only being waged by the Chinese but across the board by all in management, the investor class and the ruling elite. As the end of the film shows, all workers are under siege and the race to make them obsolete and entirely expendable is well under way. The dream of management and the elite is to make the American worker an extinct species, and with the unions a perilously endangered species, extinction for all American workers is becoming more and more inevitable. The dream of the ruling class will be a nightmare for the rest of us.

In terms of the actual filmmaking on display, American Factory is a good…but not great, film. The film is nicely paced and does a good job of not interfering with the subject it is documenting, but the failure to adequately give proper context to the struggle playing out on screen undermines the film’s credibility and impact. The film also gives us glimpses into different peoples, both American and Chinese, and their lives around the factory, but these glimpses are much too short and shallow to give us any insight beyond caricature, and thus we are left with stereotypes and not insight.

In conclusion, this film is unintentionally an indictment of the establishment and the globalist, pro-business, pro-free trade, anti-union politicians and media elite who are responsible for the carnage that has devastated the American worker. I can’t imagine that anyone with half a brain in their head and a functioning heart in their chests could watch this film and not, at least once, throw something at their television screen. If you want to see the not-so-distant future of all America and the present day reality for blue collar workers and how Reagan, Clinton, Bush and Obama used free trade, unfettered immigration, both legal and illegal, and deregulation to turn first world America into a third world country…go watch American Factory (and the Flint section of Fahrenheit 11/9)…and remember the person who is distributing this film is complicit in the calamity documented within it.

©2019

Rojo: A Review

****THIS IS A SPOILER FREE REVIEW!! THIS REVIEW CONTAINS ZERO SPOILERS!!****

My Rating: 4.25 out of 5 stars

My Recommendation: SEE IT. An exquisitely well-made and deliriously insightful film that, although set in Argentina in the 1970’s, tells an uncomfortable truth about our current time.

Language: Spanish with subtitles in English

Rojo, written and directed by Benjamin Naishtat, is the story of Claudio, a small-town lawyer navigating the moral and ethical maze of 1975 Argentina. The film stars Dario Grandinetti as Claudio, with supporting turns from Andrea Frigerio, Alfredo Castro and Diego Cremonesi.

I knew absolutely nothing about Rojo when I made the trek to the local art house to see it the same week I saw Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood. After suffering through the abysmal cinema of the first half of 2019, it was an absolute joy to stumble upon this hidden foreign gem the same week Tarantino’s surefire Oscar nominee hit big screens.

Rojo is an exquisite piece of cinema and art that boasts as impressive and compelling an opening scene as any film in recent memory. The movie sinks its teeth in early, but then wraps itself around you so slowly, and seductively, you won’t notice until it is too late and you are deep in its grip. Once captive to its unflinching exploration humanity, its subtly haunting sub-text, and off-beat charm, you are gifted a brilliant mix of psuedo-Lynchian oddities, and a plethora of unnerving personal, psychological and political insights.

What makes Rojo so exquisite is that it is most definitely THE film for our time. Set in the 1970’s in Argentina, the film tells the story of how fascism thrives in the moral and ethical vacuum in our hearts and souls. Even the most minute moral or ethical corruption can give authoritarianism a foothold in our hearts, from which it, like the film itself, wraps itself around us and squeezes not only the life, but humanity, out of us all. Rojo reveals that all of us are complicit, either explicitly or implicitly, with the brutality of authoritarianism, and are so easily seduced through selfishness or laziness to aid and abet in horrors we think we are incapable of committing.

Rojo beautifully uses symbolism to tell a much deeper story, such as the castration of a bull to show how primal masculinity must be isolated and neutered in order to eliminate true threats to any fascist movement, or a recurring theme of flies to show how authoritarianism treats an incessant but weak resistance…by tiring it out so that it is too exhausted to be a threat. Under authoritarianism, exhaustion is a major issue as we the people are reduced to nothing more than flies, buzzing from one instigation to another, and ultimately are left with nothing but a carcass or a pile of shit to feed upon.

Besides being a compelling and insightful story, the film is fascinating to look at. Cinematographer Pedro Sotero shoots the film so that it looks like grainy film stock from the 1970’s, which enhances the feel of authenticity. Sotero shows himself to be a master craftsman as he uses some delicious 70’s era zooms, camera movement and optical tricks (like my old friend the split diopter!) that create both a familiarity and an overall sense of uneasiness that permeates every shot in the film. .

The cast is spectacular, with lead actor Dario Grandinetti gives a nuanced, intricate, subtle, magnetic and thoroughly captivating performance. Grandinetti’s Claudio is at once arrogant and petulant but also insecure and fragile. Grandinetti’s ability to make Cluadio so painfully ordinary, yet unaware of his ordinariness, is a testament to the complexity of the character and the enormity of the actor’s talent. Grandinetti is a special actor and he is at his very best as Claudio.

As for the rest of the cast, Andrea Frigerio does solid work as Claudio’s wife, Susana, as does Diego Cremonisi who plays a mysterious stranger. The most interesting, bizarre and entertaining character though is Detective Sinclair, played by Alfredo Castro. Sinclair is like a cop from a David Lynch movie, and his unstoppable persistence and insistence is comically unsettling, as he is a wonderful representative of the rabid relentlessness of fascism.

With Rojo, writer/director Benjamin Naishtat proves himself to be a cinematic force with which to be reckoned. One of Naishtat’s greatest skills is his ability to create such a believable sense of place (he is greatly aided by his cinematographer, and his set and costume designers) as well as his thorough understanding of human nature and psychology. Naishtat uses cinema to tell greater and important truths not just about his characters and Argentina in the 1970’s, but about us and America today, and that is a rare and precious skill.

In conclusion, I was absolutely captivated by this somewhat off-beat, but entirely insightful foreign film that, even though it is set in Argentina in the 1970’s, spoke more clearly about America and the American people than most Hollywood movies could ever imagine.

I thoroughly encourage any and all cinephiles to make the effort to go see this film if they can find it. I also encourage non-cinephiles who have a bit of an adventurous mind, to seek out and give this movie a chance either on cable, Netflix or any other streaming service where you can find it. The reason I am imploring people to give this movie a chance is not only because I want more movies like it to be made, but also because this movie is a warning to all of us that we need to be ever vigilant to the growing menace of authoritarianism and fascism…not just in the world, but in the one place where it can do the most damage…in our own hearts.

©2019

Celebriphilia Epidemic Sweeps US: We Look Now To The Stars For Guidance

Estimated Reading Time: 3 minutes 37 seconds

CELEBRITY-OBSESSED AMERICANS LOOK TO THE STARS FOR GUIDANCE

Americans are blessed to have a plethora of benevolent celebrities who are willing to share their infinite knowledge and wisdom with them.

After a thorough examination by a team of top-notch doctors, I was recently given some very disturbing news…I was diagnosed with an acute case of stage 4 platonic celebriphilia. In case you don’t know, celebriphilia is a disease where the afflicted have an abnormal and overwhelming adoration of celebrity.

My medical team, which includes Dr. Phil, Dr. Drew and Dr. Oz, tells me that the symptoms of celebriphilia include feeling a false sense of familiarity and intimacy with celebrities which leads to the afflicted projecting an inordinate amount of inappropriate intelligence, wisdom and expertise upon celebrities.

My celebriphilia first manifested itself a few years ago when Academy Award winning actress Gwyneth Paltrow created her “lifestyle brand” Goop. Through Goop, Gwyneth sold new age, alternative therapies and devices at exorbitant prices, including “vaginal eggs” that were meant to be inserted into the vagina in order to aid “hormonal balance, and feminine energy”.

After re-mortgaging my home in order to finance the purchase, I bought a dozen vaginal eggs from Gwyneth. Now if you are wondering why I would buy vaginal eggs whose miracle powers were debunked in a lawsuit, especially since I don’t have a vagina, then you obviously do not have celebriphilia.

The way I see it is this, if I had a vagina, I would trust my friend Gwyneth to tell me (and sell me) the right wonder egg to stick into it in order to cure whatever ails me. If I’m going to trust anyone regarding my non-existent vagina, you can bet your bottom dollar it would be the woman who played Pepper Potts in the Iron Man movies…that alone makes her an authority in vaginacology.

The same is true of anti-vaccination proponent Jenny McCarthy. Jenny is a TV host and former Playboy model, which is the celebrity equivalent of being a Phd in immunology, which is why I faithfully obey her when she orders me not to vaccinate my kids because they could get autism.

Suzanne Somers starred on Three’s Company forty years ago, which is equal to getting a Master’s Degree in Bio-Genetic Engineering, and so when, contrary to mainstream medical opinion, she claims that “bio-identical hormone therapy” is the fountain of youth…I trust in Suzanne’s knowledge and wisdom.

You may think my Celebriphilia is so severe I need to take some medication to temper it…well…you’d be wrong. Kirstie Alley and her Scientology Lord and Savior, Tom Cruise, have informed me that psychiatry is a “quack” science and psychiatric drugs are dangerous. Kirstie was on Cheers, where everybody knows your name…and Tom Cruise is…well…TOM CRUISE!! So they definitely know what they’re talking about and I trust their expertise implicitly and will remain untreated, thank you very much.

My celebriphilia isn’t limited to just medical questions, the infection has spread to my thoughts on foreign policy and politics too. Thanks to celebriphilia I now blindly trust in Hollywood to tell me what to think. When Hollywood churns out star-studded, pro-war, pro-empire propaganda films and tv shows that have their scripts controlled by the Pentagon in exchange for military equipment, personnel, access and budgetary relief, I absorb the indoctrination unquestioningly.

We celebriphiliacs only get our news from rebellious comedians like John Oliver, Bill Maher and Stephen Colbert, and believe in every establishment talking point they sell us. I whole-heartedly put my faith in these second rate hack comedians desperate to stay in the good graces of their corporate overlords to tell me the unvarnished truth.

As a celebriphiliac I get all my insights regarding Russia from Rob Reiner, who is an expert because he played Meathead on the 1970’s sitcom All in the Family. When Meathead tells me that we are at war with Russia because they stole our election in 2016, I treat his anti-Russian proclamations with all the respect it deserves.

To get my political opinions I go to all the top experts…Robert DeNiro, Matt Damon, Bruce Willis, Brie Larson, Alec Baldwin, Tim Allen, Angelina Jolie, James Woods, Chris Evans and George Clooney. Sometimes these experts have conflicting opinions on political matters, like maybe Bruce Willis and Alec Baldwin disagree on tax policy, or Tim Allen and Chris Evans have opposing thoughts on immigration. In order to resolve these deeply troubling quagmires, I do the logical thing and choose what I believe by siding with the celebrity who has the most Twitter followers.

Luckily for me, I am not alone in being afflicted with celebriphilia, as it is a raging epidemic in America. Here in the U.S.A. we adore our celebrities so much we actually vote them into high office. In the last forty years alone we have elected a senile, bad B-movie actor, Ronald Reagan, and a silver-spooned, D-list reality tv con-man, Donald Trump, to the presidency.

In my state of California, the epicenter of the celebriphilia epidemic, we have elected a sex-abusing, steroid-injecting, son-of-a-Nazi, movie star, Arnold Schwarzenegger, to two terms in the Governor’s mansion, and the city of Carmel-by-the-Sea elected Dirty Harry himself, Clint Eastwood, to be mayor twenty-five years before he berated an empty chair at the RNC convention in 2012.

We American celebriphiliacs not only forgave these men for their shortcomings, we also imbued them with a wisdom, competency and expertise they did not possess, all because of their status as celebrity.

You may think that because I suffer from celebriphilia and treat celebrities like experts on things well outside their skill set, that I am insane. If the definition of insanity is “doing the same thing over and over again but expecting different results”, then considering the level of corruption, incompetence and malevolence on display by “real” establishment experts in government, Wall Street, Big Pharma and the media over the years, be it in regards to 9-11, WMD’s and the Iraq war, the housing bubble and ensuing 2008 economic collapse, the 2016 election, Russiagate and the opioid epidemic, then listening to, believing in, or trusting in these “official” experts is equally as insane as buying vaginal wonder eggs from Iron Man’s wife, Pepper Potts.

The bottom line is this, I am not a doctor, nor do I play one on tv, but I have seen other people play them on tv, and I am a certified celebriphiliac, which I think qualifies me to make a formal diagnosis of what ails celebrity obsessed, and expert-addled America. After careful study and deep thought I have come to this conclusion…contrary to popular opinion, America is not losing its mind…just like me, it has already lost it.

This article was originally published at RT.com.

 

©2019

Angry Americans, Shark Attacks and Synchronicity II

Estimated Reading Time: 5 minutes 29 seconds

I took a little vacation last week and headed out for some sun and fun on Cape Cod. The beach was great, and except for my one close call where I barely escaped/survived a harrowing shark attack*, my time on the Cape was thoroughly enjoyable.

What was not so enjoyable was getting to the Cape. Air travel has devolved from being a modern marvel of man’s ingenuity to being a crucible bordering on a crucifixion. The Passion of My Flight began at 4 am when I had to get up to get to LAX to run the gauntlet of both airport traffic and TSA security. My flight to Boston was delayed leaving LAX for 45 minutes because of traffic on the runway, but at least we were right on time to run into a “microburst” at Logan airport which forced us to divert to Bangor, Maine, of all God forsaken places. For three interminable hours my flight was held, Dog Day Afternoon/hijack-style, on the tarmac at Bangor while we waited to refuel and for Logan to recover from its “microbursting”.

To be fair, my stay in Bangor was not nearly as bad as it could have been. Part of what made it tolerable was that the passengers in my section all bonded over the misbehavior of two passengers who were kicked off in Bangor. I didn’t see what happened, but was informed by a gaggle of gossipy flight attendants, or as I condescendingly call them “stewardesses”, that once we landed in Bangor a guy in his 30’s or so, declared he was going to exit the plane to have a smoke. The stewardesses informed him that, no, he was not allowed to leave the plane and was not allowed to smoke. Joe Camel was having none of it and since the stewardesses had opened the cabin door in order to ventilate our plane, he forced his way off the craft and onto the tarmac to light up. The funniest part of this story, and a strong indicator of this guy’s extraordinary genius, is that he was trying to smoke right next to the fuel truck that was refueling our jet….what could possibly go wrong? To the flight crew’s credit, they put up with none of the Marlboro Man’s nonsense and called the police who quickly escorted this gentlemen to his barred Bangor accommodations for the evening (I can attest that I did actually see the Maine State troopers drive up to our plane).

To the further delight of our section of passengers, the stewardesses also informed us that Smoking Man was traveling with his mom, who was also kicked off the plane for her bad behavior, as she had berated the flight crew as they had her son arrested. The crew shared with us that this woman, who sounds lovely, had also cursed at them throughout the flight because they failed to point out the Grand Canyon to her when we flew over it. While I did not enjoy my brief time in Bangor, I can only imagine that this mother and son combo REALLY disliked their extended stay in Bangor.

My return flight was no walk in the park either, as it was delayed at Logan for 3 excruciating hours before we ever boarded, and this was after I got to the airport two hours early in order to once again, run the gauntlet of traffic and security. Frustrations were running high at the gate as passengers tried to gather information on when exactly we would be leaving. Not surprisingly, airline staff on the ground were not fountains of abundant knowledge.

As far as I know, there were no arrests on this flight but there was a very tense confrontation between a middle aged father and a younger mother sitting behind him. What started it all I have no idea, as I had earplugs in…but by the time I removed them the confrontation was close to becoming a conflagration.

The younger woman, who was maybe in her thirties, had a smaller child with her, around 5 or so, and she was cursing up a storm at the guy in front of her who was with his teenage son. The guy told her to watch her mouth and not curse out his son, and she continued to “motherfuck” the both of them. The middle aged guy raised his voice threateningly in response, and then the woman played shocked and appalled that a man would raise his voice to her, and then the stewardesses arrived and did nothing but watch the argument escalate. Like the “microburst” at Logan on my earlier flight, this storm revealed flashes of shocking intensity but then dissipated into an uneasy quiet.

From my very brief observations of these two people before, during and after their confrontation, I can say with some level of certitude that both of them seemed like pretty shitty, self-absorbed human beings. The guy struck me as a total douchebag, as I had a brief interaction with him before we boarded and sensed he rated high on the asshole scale. The woman was no ray of sunshine either, as she struck me as just as entitled and obnoxious as her male opponent. If a fist fight had broken out between the two I am certain that I would have intervened, but only to punch them both in the face and lock them in the aft lavatory.

So why do I share these stories with you? Am I morphing into a travelogue writer or something? No…I share them because I think these anecdotes reveal a great deal about the current state of America and the American psyche.

One of the first things that stood out on my travels was that our infrastructure is a disaster area. Traffic both to and from LAX and Logan was an utter catastrophe. There are too many cars and too many people and not enough space. And it isn’t just the roads that are too congested…the skies are as well as my plane hit traffic trying to take off from LAX which was just as bad as the traffic on the drive to the airport.

The fragility of our infrastructure was highlighted by my flight being diverted from Boston to Bangor due to a 15 minute storm. Yes, the storm was a very intense one, but it did only last 15 minutes, and yet I had to sit in Bangor for three hours. No doubt other Logan bound flights suffered the same fate in Portland, Hartford, Providence and other mid-major cities across the eastern seaboard. The diverted flights then put strains on their new airports in the form of parking spaces/fuel etc., and then air travel along the east coast would be delayed and backed up because Logan had to land and take off the flights that were diverted/delayed before they let other flights already scheduled leave/arrive.

When you think about our civilization and how tenuous it is…it is pretty chilling. I mean, if there was some sort of solar flare or some other catastrophe that hit the U.S. and knocked out power, we would devolve into Mad Max/Escape From New York/Planet of the Apes territory in a matter of days, if not hours. It would be nice to think that a disastrous event would bring people together and illuminate the angels of our better nature, but as some of the passengers on my flight proved, that is unlikely. Considering that my toddler son behaved markedly better than full blown adults on my flights who could not control themselves or their impulses, is a pretty strong indicator that chaos is just a heartbeat away at any given moment.

In regards to the passenger misbehavior on my flights, the thing that stood out to me is that there is a palpable anger coursing through the blood of Americans. People are just really, really pissed off right now. I cannot recall a time in my life where tensions have been this high in America. People are stressed and scared and completely on edge, and the underlying tension and anxiety creating American’s anger and fury is only gaining in intensity as it expands across the country.

The Smoking Man who refused to listen to the stewardesses and tried to smoke on the tarmac while the plane refueled is a wonderful symbol of the epidemic of narcissistic entitlement spreading across the country. This guy wanted what he wanted, when he wanted it, and was willing to risk potentially blowing up an airliner with 200 people on board just to satiate his desire/addiction.

The funny thing is that everyone stuck on that plane in Bangor was so irritated and aggravated by our situation (our delay/diversion), that I am sure that if Smoking Man had caused a big headache that encompassed all of the passengers in my section, we would have torn him limb from limb like a ravenous mob. I take no pride in saying I know I would have gleefully participated in, if not instigated, that riotous behavior towards any scapegoat stupid enough to present him/her/itself.

It seems to me that America is rapidly losing its mind. We have devolved into a combustible people looking for offense, slights, or excuses to vent the rage that boils just beneath the surface of our seemingly mundane and terrifyingly meaningless lives. This perpetual state of stress, tension and anger blinds us to reality and causes us to see only those things that reinforce our worst instincts and impulses about other people and feeds our sense of dissatisfaction and disenfranchisement.

As to why we are so angry and stressed…well…the causes are legion. As previously stated, our dilapidated infrastructure is a cause of stress as it creates irritants like traffic both on our streets and in the skies. Economic and financial pressure creates stress among millions who have to work longer and harder to make less and pay for more. Politics no doubt is a force multiplier of these stresses and anxieties as absolutely everything in our culture is politicized beyond recognition. Trump, love him or loathe him, is also a major contributor to American anxiety and tension as he is virtually everywhere. It is impossible to escape Trump, or talk of Trump, or opinions of Trump, no matter where you go or what you do. Social media is a toxic vehicle in and of itself, but in the age of Trump it has become a dealer of all things Trump 24/7, that keeps the addicted high on their own supply of Trump love/hate. The media, cable news in particular, are non-stop Trump and have devolved into reality television where Trump is the character they love to hate.

I also think Americans are suffering an existential crisis, where our lives have been stripped of purpose and we are left adrift in a vacuous sea of vapid consumerism devoid of any philosophical, religious or spiritual meaning. This emptiness used to manifest itself as a sort of listless malaise and ennui, but has now morphed into a volcanic rage and fury ready to erupt in order to release the pressure building deep inside its dissatisfied core.

It seems to me that we are on a very dangerous trajectory that is fraught with peril. As the events of the last week have shown, people of all persuasions (political and otherwise) are filled with anger and hatred and are a hair’s breath from snapping and hurting or killing lots of people. As much as I hate to say it, I fear that there is no turning back from the madness that is infecting us all…and when Trump is re-elected, and from my discussions with people on my travels I think he is going to be, this country is going to detonate and we will all be caught up in the conflagration.

America is a tinderbox and tense, anxious and stressed people are going to ignore the warning signs, throw caution to the wind, and try to satiate their selfish desires and addictions by lighting up next to a fuel truck which will cause this whole shithouse to go up in flames. Sadly we are no longer equipped with the personal or national infrastructure to be able to extinguish that inferno.

My observations of Americans during my recent journey made me think of the 1983 song "Synchronicity II” by The Police. The song is off of the band’s fifth, final and best studio album, Synchronicity. Sting’s insightful and prophetic lyrics speak to the meaninglessness of our modern lives and the primal darkness that lurks just beneath the surface of our civilized/middle-class veneer, and are accompanied by an edgy and grating guitar that haunts and pesters like an infectious bug crawling just beneath our skin. This song could be America’s new national anthem.

SYNCHRONICITY II

Another suburban family morning/ Grandmother screaming at the wall/We have to shout above the tin of our rice krispies/We can’t hear anything at all

Mother chants her litany of boredom and frustration/But we know all her suicides are fake/ Daddy only stares in to the distance/ There’s only so much more that he can take

Many miles away/ Something crawls from the slime/ At the bottom of a dark Scottish lake

Another industrial ugly morning/ The factory belches filth into the sky/ He walks unhindered through the picket lines today/ He doesn’t think to wonder why

Secretaries put and preen like cheap tarts at a red light street/ But all he ever thinks to do is watch/ And every single meeting with his so-called superiors/ Is a humiliating kick in the crotch

Many miles away/ Something crawls to the surface/ Of dark Scottish loch

Another working day has ended/ Only the rush hour hell to face/ Packed like lemmings into shiny metal boxes/ Contestants in a suicidal race

Daddy grips the wheel and stares alone into the distance/ He knows that something somewhere has to break/ He sees the family home now, looming in his headlights/ The pain upstairs that makes his eyeballs ache

There’s a shadow on the door/ Of a cottage on the shore/ Of a dark Scottish lake/ Many miles away/ Many miles away

Sting is right…and that primordial beast crawling out of an ancient Scottish loch is no longer slouching towards America…it is here, it is angry and there is no stopping or controlling it.

*Shark Attack - My shark attack story is this…there have been a plethora of shark sightings on the Cape this summer, so much so that the Boston Globe even had a front page story with the headline “Sharks on Cape Cod: Just how scared should we be?”. The Globe answers its own question with a resounding…”VERY SCARED!”. For this reason and because the absolute only thing in the entire world that I am afraid of is sharks, I was not going to go into the Atlantic during my vacation. I was assured by everyone I spoke with that the location of my Cape beach was on the Martha’s Vineyard sound, which would have no seals at all, and since it has no seals there would be no sharks. People were adamant that our beach was safe and that no seals had ever been spotted there and certainly no sharks. I admit I found this story to be at best dubious, but due to peer pressure I relented and trepidatiously ventured into the dark unknown of three feet of Atlantic ocean.

Except for the fact that there were dozens of shark sightings at other Cape locations, the vast majority of my Cape vacation went well…UNTIL…on my second to last day, I narrowly escaped death at the hands of a massive and ravenous Great White shark.

What happened is this…as I exited the water with my toddler son, I glanced east along the beach and saw…something. I stopped and focused my gaze to the spot where there was an anomaly in the water. There was a group of about ten kids playing on flotation devices in that exact spot and my mind raced back to the movie Jaws, where a little kid, Alex Kintner, gets eaten by the shark while riding on a flotation deviced, blood splattering everywhere. I could feel the camera zoom in on my face just like it had on Chief Brody when he saw the shark attack Alex Kintner on the flotation device…my mouth went agape as I saw…something!

Then the lifeguard blew their whistle and frantically yelled for everyone to get out of the water. I threw my son to my wife and ran down the beach towards the commotion. People were standing in my way so I courageously knocked them over and pushed them into the water in order to keep a barrier between me and the hungry shark. Then…the beast poked its massive head above the water, baring its razor sharp teeth…it was as clear as day…it was horrifying…it was a ferocious….SEAL!!!

To be clear…I’ve seen seals before…but this seal was absolutely massive. He deceptively rolled over onto his stomach in a playful manner and dove under and surfaced again, much to the delight of the crowds gathered at the beach but I wasn’t fooled. I knew that I had just come within inches of being mauled by a shark…because as everyone knows…where there are seals…there are sharks!

I was assured by the same liars and deniers who told me that a seal had never been spotted on this beach before that the seal I just saw was just “lost”. “Lost” my ass..that seal knew EXACTLY what it was doing. And regardless of whether this seal is “lost” or not...what is to stop a “lost” Great White from following this seal, coming to this beach and taking a giant bite out of my obviously delectable ass?

In conclusion…when I say I survived a shark attack what I mean is that I saw a seal playing about twenty feet from the shore at a part of the beach where I wasn’t swimming. This was a close call indeed.

©2019

Once Upon a Time...in Hollywood: A Review and Commentary WITH SPOILERS!

****THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS!!! SPOILERS AHEAD!! YOU’VE BEEN WARNED!!****

My Rating: 4.5 stars out of 5

My Recommendation: SEE IT.

Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood, written and directed by Quentin Tarantino, is the fictional story of fading television star Rick Dalton and his stunt double Cliff Booth, as they navigate Hollywood during the turbulence of 1969. The film stars Leonardo DiCaprio as Dalton and Brad Pitt as Booth, with supporting turns from Margot Robbie, Bruce Dern, Kurt Russell and a cavalcade of other actors.

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is Tarantino’s 9th feature film and like all of his other movies it is a cultural event. With two of the biggest movie stars in the world on the marquee, and one of the most recognizable directing talents in the business at the helm, this movie was bound to stir up interest. Add in the fact that it is an unabashed homage to Hollywood history that also mixes in the toxically intriguing Manson family and you have a recipe for drawing a lot of attention. While I have loved some Tarantino films and loathed some others, I recognize his genius, and part of that genius is making movies that stir controversy and attract enormous amounts of both good and bad attention.

I went to see Once Upon a Time in Hollywood on the Friday morning of its official opening. The 10 AM screening was pretty full…full enough that I had to endure not one but two elderly couples sitting on either side of me talking throughout the movie like they were sitting in their own living rooms. Even after very politely and delicately asking them to please not talk, they continued anyway. As my buddy Steamroller Johnny astutely observed, “at some point old people think the rules of the world no longer apply to them”. Despite the incessant and idiotic yammering of these old fools, the likes of which included such gems as “remember Mannix? Oh yeah…I remember Mannix!” and “Where did Leo go? Why don’t they tell us where Leo went?”, I soldiered on to the end of the movie and much to my broke lawyer’s chagrin, never once smashed anyone’s head in.

I must admit that my first impressions of Once Upon a Time in Hollywood were not overly positive. Besides the distracting moronity of the decrepit couples around me, I thought the film looked and sounded sub-par. The visuals were terribly imprecise and muddled, and the sound was atrociously bad, with Tarantino’s constant use of music suffocating the dialogue. The visual darkness and audio messiness made me feel I was watching the movie underwater. Even though I saw the movie in a high end art house theatre, I blamed the projector for the technical mess as the screening I attended used a digital projector which is how most movies are displayed nowadays. After leaving the theatre I shook my head at the sad state of film projection in America and what a crime it is to demean the art of cinema in such an egregious way.

Another first impression I had was that this movie was two hours and forty minutes long but ultimately did not do much considering it is historical fiction and could have done absolutely anything it wanted. I sort of felt like…is that all there is? Is that all you can come up with? it felt really…limited…at least in terms of the story.

Needless to say, while I didn’t hate the movie, I didn’t love it either, and felt it landed somewhere in the bottom half of the Tarantino canon, ahead of The Hateful Eight and behind Inglorious Basterds. Then, out of both frustration and curiosity, I decided to see the film again, except this time to see it in 35mm…as it was intended to be seen. 35mm screenings are pretty rare nowadays but Tarantino usually sets up special screenings where you can see his movies either in 35 or 70mm. It took some effort as I had to track down the theatres and special screening times for the 35mm print, but I did it and then went and saw it once again on Monday at noon.

Let me tell you…the difference between digital and 35mm is like night and day in every single way. In 35 the film is gorgeous to look at, the colors and contrast are distinct, and the visuals precise and specific. As much as the look of the film improved, the sound made an even more gargantuan leap. In 35mm the sound is astounding, as the music really pops and the mix is as clear as a bell…no more dialogue pulled under the tide of music.

The second viewing, much to my delight, also gave me a much clearer perception and understanding of the narrative and the sub-text. It certainly helped that I didn’t have to listen to elderly conversations about Mannix and could focus on the action on screen, but I was also aided by just being able to let the film wash over me as opposed to figure out what will happen next.

My second viewing changed my entire opinion of the film…and it quickly skyrocketed out of the bottom tier of Tarantino movies and into the upper echelon if not the Mount Rushmore of his canon.

Tarantino has always gotten great performances from his cast and Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is no exception. The entire cast is stellar, with Margaret Qualley (a 2017 Breakout Performance of the Year Mickey Award Winner!), Bruce Dern, Mike Moh, Al Pacino and Julia Butters doing terrific supporting work.

As for the leads…Leonardo DiCaprio is at his very best in this movie. DiCaprio perfectly embodies the self-destructive, self-absorbed desperation that is epidemic in Tinseltown. His Rick Dalton is a star who is fading fast who represents an era and archetype that is under siege. DiCaprio’s Dalton is barely able to keep his mind and body in tact as he tries to navigate the minefield of semi-stardom in an entertainment business going through as much upheaval as the rest of the country in 1969….which is eerily similar to 2019.

DiCaprio gives Dalton a subtle but very effective stutter and stammer that reveals a mind deteriorating after years of alcohol abuse. Dalton’s stutter and stammer indicate he is no longer able to speak his mind and do it clearly. His stutter/stammer show a man second guessing himself and his entire life.

Dalton is also in a perpetual state of cough and spits up gallons of phlegm as he is metaphorically dying on the inside. Dalton smokes and drinks like a condemned man…which is what he really is. Dalton is the archetypal American Male…the Cowboy…and in 1969 that version of American Male was losing its standing and its balance, and in 2019 it is an outright villain. It isn’t until Dalton describes a novel he is reading about a cowboy who has outlived his usefulness and grows more and more useless as everyday passes, that his plight goes from being unconscious to conscious, and it devastates him.

DiCaprio has had moments of greatness in his acting career, most notably as a mentally challenged teen in What’s Eating Gilbert Grape and as a depraved slave owner in Django Unchained, but Rick Dalton is by far his most complex and frankly, greatest acting accomplishment, and he is deserving of not only a Best Actor nomination but a win.

Brad Pitt plays the stuntman Cliff Booth with all the movie star aplomb he can muster. Pitt’s work is much more straight forward than DiCaprio’s, but no less effective. Booth is an enigmatic character…at once cool but also combustible. Pitt’s charisma oozes off the screen and he and DiCaprio have an interestingly uneven chemistry that is compelling to watch. Booth seems like a combination of the cult 1970’s Native American action hero Billy Jack (one of my favorites) and Burt Reynolds character Lewis Medlock from Deliverance. He is, unlike DiCaprio’s Dalton, unambitious, but also unlike Dalton, he is the genuine article in terms of rugged, old school masculinity. Booth is no faux tough guy, he is an actual tough guy…the epitome of a real man in that he will kick the shit out of you if you deserve it, even if you’re Bruce Lee. And while Booth is a red-blooded man who is attracted to an alluring and eager teenage girl…his moral code won’t allow him to consummate such an ethically dubious act. And it is of note that the teen in question, named Pussycat, is at one point standing in front of a rainbow colored building, no doubt a strip club, named Pandora’s Box.

Margot Robbie plays Sharon Tate and there has been much made about the paucity of her dialogue. The usual suspects are crying misogyny due to her role being “less than" her male co-stars. I find this sort of thinking to be so tiresome and vapid as to be absurd. As for Robbie’s actual performance…it is utterly spectacular. Robbie’s Tate is bursting with life for every second she appears on film. Robbie has filled her Tate with such a powerful and specific intentionality she is like a supernova of magnetism.

The Tate character is the embodiment of life, potential and the archetypal feminine. Tate is bursting with life, literally and figuratively, and her effervescence cannot be contained. When she walks down the street she seems to float or bounce, the earth barely able to grasp her ebullient spirit.

Tarantino’s decision to use actual footage of Tate in the film is a masterstroke, as he successfully pays homage to her and humanizes her at the same time. Tarantino takes Tate out of the clutches of not only the Manson gang but of the culture that has turned her into nothing but a headline and symbol. Sharon Tate was a person, a real person with hopes and dreams and aspirations and the Mansonites snuffed that out…and Tarantino reminds us of the depth of that loss without ever being heavy-handed or maudlin.

The sub-text of the film is one of a battle between traditional masculinity and femininity and the assault upon them by “woke” culture. Tate and Dalton’s wife Francesca and Booth’s dog Brandy represent the traditional feminine archetype and Dalton and Booth are two halves of the traditional male archetype in the film…and the Manson family? They are representative of our new cultural wave…they are liberalism gone awry…they are “The Woke”. In a brilliant twist Tarantino makes this connection abundantly clear as he casts one of the most grating and loathed woke apostles, Lena Dunham, as one of the leaders of the Manson gang at Spahn ranch.

The gaggle of Manson women at Spahn Ranch are the neo-feminists of our age as they are little more than harpies who incessantly yap like neutered lap dogs in the presence of genuine masculinity (Booth). To quote Reservoir Dogs, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood asks modern day neo-feminists represented in the film as Manson women, “you gonna bark all day little doggie, or are you gonna bite?” Of course, these women do not bite when they first meet Booth…they sit and stay when told…and later when they do try to bite, the hounds of hell are released and these women serve as nothing but chum to the big dogs that do bite.

When the female Manson acolytes scream at Booth as he pulverizes a hippie dude at the Spahn ranch, they symbolize the nagging neo-feminists/woke brigade who say a lot but do nothing. They express their love for the weakling and cowardly Mansonite man getting the Booth treatment, but they don’t help him, they just touch their hearts empathetically and mouth their support. It is also worth noting that these woke women may softly proclaim their love for their hippy brethren, but they want to have actual sex with the real man…Cliff Booth. Ultimately when “the woke” women do trifle with Cliff Booth, he obliterates them. Booth and his faithful canine companion unleash a fury upon the woke and smash their heads into dust, no doubt because their heads are empty, as they are incapable of any thought…only regurgitation.

Speaking of dogs…maybe my favorite character in this entire film is Brandy the pit bull, who is Cliff Booth’s beloved pet. Brandy is occasionally a lap dog, but only because she wants affection, not protection. Brandy is a female…but unlike her Manson family/neo-feminist/woke counterparts, she is no bark and all bite. Brandy is the embodiment of loyalty and when unchained she opens the gates of hell upon anyone who would try to disrupt the order of her universe. Brandy may be subservient to Cliff, as he is the one who feeds her and directs her fury when necessary, but she also ferociously defends the traditional feminine in the form of Dalton’s young bride, Francesca.

At both of the screenings I attended, the audience cheered when the Mansonites get their comeuppance…and that is because it is so deliciously satisfying. In our culture The Woke are intolerant of intolerance but are totally intolerable. Tarantino is basically giving voice to people who are sick to death of the incessant woke posing in our culture by saying, “Hey assholes, you want equality…here it is…a can of dog food smashed in your fucking face”. The Woke are, in their own way, Nazis, and Tarantino treats them as such as he has Dalton torch them just like he does the Nazis in his hit World War II movie The Fourteen Fists of McCloskey, and just like Tarantino did in Inglorious Basterds.

In a piece at The Ringer about Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, Alison Herman wrote “the Manson family aren’t Nazis, or slave owners, or even Bill (from Kill Bill); they were young, manipulated, drugged-out kids” and thus “…watching Rick take a flamethrower to one feels a lot less cathartic and a lot more uncomfortable”. One need look no further to find the vacuity of woke ideology than Ms. Herman’s quote. The young women and man (Tex Watson) getting their faces kicked in, bitten off and torched in the fantasy of Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, in reality brutally murdered Sharon Tate as she begged for the life of the child in her belly, as well as Abigail Folger, Jay Sebring and Wojciech Frykowski with the utmost cruelty, savagery and viciousness. They are not drugged up and confused girls anymore than the SS were noble patriots fighting for the German homeland. Ms. Herman’s woke inspired, insipid thinking is prevalent throughout our culture and is a leading cause of the epidemic of mental myopia verging on retardation in our nation. It is Ms. Herman’s thinking that Tarantino smashes in the face with a can of dog food, gets devoured by a pit bull and then gets lit up by a flamethrower…and deservedly so.

Tarantino also deftly plays with audience perception in Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood. The film is obviously a fairy tale and another bit of historical fiction/wish fulfillment from Tarantino, and it plays with this fact throughout. Tarantino subtly but continuously keeps asking the audience what is real? Is it a blind man who watches tv? Is it a man who claims he’s never been to prison yet says he was on a Houston chain gang for breaking a cop’s jaw? Or is it a man who allegedly killed his lusciously-bottomed, nagging wife or is that just rumor/lie/legend too? What about Dalton, who hates hippies but looks a lot like Manson in his Lancer costume when he gives his great performance…or Booth, who is adversarial with the hippies too but partakes of an acid laced cigarette he buys from a hippie girl?

At times the movie is a daydream within a fairy tale within a nightmare….and that makes it a hypnotically compelling film. Tarantino expertly captures the dream state that is Los Angeles…and Hollywood…a dream state that is so bright during the day as to be blinding, and so dark at night as to be deadly. Hollywood during the day is, like Sharon Tate, beautiful and full of potentialities. When night descends on Los Angeles it becomes a city of menace…the city of Charles Manson, mass murderers, serial killers, street gangs, violent lawless cops…a shadow city of predators and prey.

The ending of the movie is a combination of the dream/nightmare that leads up to it. After the “real men” Booth and Dalton save the day, greatly assisted by the traditional females in the house, Brandy and Dalton’s wife Francesca, the movie shifts to what should be a happy ending, but which feels extremely unsettling.

As Dalton stands at the end of his driveway, he is greeted by Jay Sebring, who seems like a ghostly apparition at the gates of heaven, asking what happened. Sebring is reminiscent of a ghost stuck in the place of his death, in this case Cielo Drive, who is unaware of what happened to them. Sebring and Dalton are then joined by the haunting and ghostly disembodied voice of Sharon Tate over the intercom. Tate invites Dalton up to the house for a drink…and the gates slowly open for him to enter. This is Rick Dalton walking into the gates of heaven (Tarantino’s version of heaven anyway). Dalton…the symbol of the 1950’s all-American cowboy archetype…is dead and he is going to mix and mingle with Sharon Tate and Jay Sebring and the others who did not survive the cataclysm of the 60’s.

Cliff Booth is technically alive at film’s end but physically injured (in the thigh…which in biblical stories/Jungian terms is symbolic of the genitals - which leaves Booth emasculated…just like Tex Watson who gets his balls chewed off by Brandy…and the hippie dude who Booth beats at the camp…who had no balls to begin with) and mentally altered from a hippie delivered acid laced cigarette. Although he avoided the moral trap of Pussycat, he ingested the poison cigarette willfully…like Adam eating the fruit from the tree of knowledge…for this sin he is banished from Eden. After Dalton declares his true friendship with Booth, Cliff is rushed away to a hospital…but in reality he too is gone…disappeared into the L.A. night never to be seen again.

The only ones left alive at the conclusion of the film are Francesca and Brandy…but they are sleeping in the bedroom, no doubt dreaming up the scenario played out over the preceding two and a half hours of Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, where real men/traditional masculinity saved the day and real women/traditional feminine got to appreciate them for it.

In conclusion, Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood is a staggeringly rich, layered and thoughtful film that is entertaining both as art and as popular cinema. I highly recommend you see it and even if it takes more effort…see it in 35 mm. Tarantino is a polarizing filmmaker, and this movie will no doubt receive a great deal of enmity from politically correct critics and their woke minions in our culture. The bottom line is this, Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood is a gigantic and well-deserved fuck you to The Woke, and that is what makes it so deliciously entertaining, but what makes the movie so poignant, insightful and exceedingly relevant is that it is aware that it is pure fantasy, and that in reality The Woke have won the culture war and cinema, and the rest of us, are all the worse for it.

©2019

Once Upon a Time...in Hollywood: A Spoiler Free Review

****THIS IS A SPOILER FREE REVIEW!! THIS REVIEW CONTAINS ZERO SPOILERS!!****

My Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

My Recommendation: SEE IT. A rich and compelling film that highlights Tarantino’s singular genius and boasts exquisite performances from Leo DiCaprio and Margot Robbie. Make the extra effort and see it in 35mm if you can! A must see movie!

Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood, written and directed by Quentin Tarantino, is the fictional story of fading television star Rick Dalton and his stunt double Cliff Booth, as they navigate Hollywood during the turbulence of 1969. The film stars Leonardo DiCaprio as Dalton and Brad Pitt as Booth, with supporting turns from Margot Robbie, Bruce Dern, Kurt Russell and a cavalcade of other actors.

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is Tarantino’s 9th feature film and like all of his other movies it is a cultural event. With two of the biggest movie stars in the world on the marquee, and one of the most recognizable directing talents in the business at the helm, this movie was bound to stir up interest. Add in the fact that it is an unabashed homage to Hollywood history that also mixes in the toxically intriguing Manson family and you have a recipe for drawing a lot of attention. While I have loved some Tarantino films and loathed some others, I recognize his genius, and part of that genius is making movies that stir controversy and attract enormous amounts of both good and bad attention.

I went to see Once Upon a Time in Hollywood on the Friday morning of its official opening. The 10 AM screening was pretty full…full enough that I had to endure not one but two elderly couples sitting on either side of me talking throughout the movie like they were sitting in their own living rooms. Even after very politely and delicately asking them to please not talk, they continued anyway. As my buddy Steamroller Johnny astutely observed, “at some point old people think the rules of the world no longer apply to them”. Despite the incessant and idiotic yammering of these old fools, the likes of which included such gems as “remember Mannix? Oh yeah…I remember Mannix!” and “Where did Leo go? Why don’t they tell us where Leo went?”, I soldiered on to the end of the movie and much to my broke lawyer’s chagrin, never once smashed anyone’s head in.

I must admit that my first impressions of Once Upon a Time in Hollywood were not overly positive. Besides the distracting moronity of the decrepit couples around me, I thought the film looked and sounded sub-par. The visuals were terribly imprecise and muddled, and the sound was atrociously bad, with Tarantino’s constant use of music suffocating the dialogue. The visual darkness and audio messiness made me feel I was watching the movie underwater. Even though I saw the movie in a high end art house theatre, I blamed the projector for the technical mess as the screening I attended used a digital projector which is how most movies are displayed nowadays. After leaving the theatre I shook my head at the sad state of film projection in America and what a crime it is to demean the art of cinema in such an egregious way.

Another first impression I had was that this movie was two hours and forty minutes long but ultimately did not do much considering it is historical fiction and could have done absolutely anything it wanted. I sort of felt like…is that all there is? Is that all you can come up with? it felt really…limited…at least in terms of the story.

Needless to say, while I didn’t hate the movie, I didn’t love it either, and felt it landed somewhere in the bottom half of the Tarantino canon, ahead of The Hateful Eight and behind Inglorious Basterds. Then, out of both frustration and curiosity, I decided to see the film again, except this time to see it in 35mm…as it was intended to be seen. 35mm screenings are pretty rare nowadays but Tarantino usually sets up special screenings where you can see his movies either in 35 or 70mm. It took some effort as I had to track down the theatres and special screening times for the 35mm print, but I did it and then went and saw it once again on Monday at noon.

Let me tell you…the difference between digital and 35mm is like night and day in every single way. In 35 the film is gorgeous to look at, the colors and contrast are distinct, and the visuals precise and specific. As much as the look of the film improved, the sound made an even more gargantuan leap. In 35mm the sound is astounding, as the music really pops and the mix is as clear as a bell…no more dialogue pulled under the tide of music.

The second viewing, much to my delight, also gave me a much clearer perception and understanding of the narrative and the sub-text. It certainly helped that I didn’t have to listen to elderly conversations about Mannix and could focus on the action on screen, but I was also aided by just being able to let the film wash over me as opposed to figure out what will happen next.

My second viewing changed my entire opinion of the film…and it quickly skyrocketed out of the bottom tier of Tarantino movies and into the upper echelon if not the Mount Rushmore of his canon.

Tarantino has always gotten great performances from his cast and Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is no exception. The entire cast is stellar, with Margaret Qualley (a 2017 Breakout Performance of the Year Mickey Award Winner!), Bruce Dern, Mike Moh and Julia Butters doing terrific supporting work.

As for the leads…Leonardo DiCaprio is at his very best in this movie. DiCaprio perfectly embodies the self-destructive, self-absorbed desperation that is epidemic in Tinseltown. His Rick Dalton is a star who is fading fast who represents an era and archetype that is under siege. DiCaprio’s Dalton is barely able to keep his mind and body in tact as he tries to navigate the minefield of semi-stardom in an entertainment business going through as much upheaval as the rest of the country in 1969….which is eerily similar to 2019.

DiCaprio gives Dalton a subtle but very effective stutter and stammer that reveals a mind deteriorating after years of alcohol abuse. Dalton’s stutter and stammer indicate he is no longer able to speak his mind and do it clearly. His stutter/stammer show a man second guessing himself and his entire life.

Dalton is also in a perpetual state of cough and spits up gallons of phlegm as he is metaphorically dying on the inside. Dalton smokes and drinks like a condemned man…which is what he really is. Dalton is the archetypal American Male…the Cowboy…and in 1969 that version of American Male was losing its standing and its balance, and in 2019 it is an outright villain.

DiCaprio has had moments of greatness in his acting career, most notably as a mentally challenged teen in What’s Eating Gilbert Grape and as a depraved slave owner in Django Unchained, but Rick Dalton is by far his most complex and frankly, greatest acting accomplishment. DiCaprio will definitely be nominated for a Best Actor Oscar and would be very deserving of the win.

Brad Pitt plays the stuntman Cliff Booth with all the movie star aplomb he can muster. Pitt’s work is much more straight forward than DiCaprio’s, but no less effective. Booth is an enigmatic character…at once cool but also combustible. Pitt’s charisma oozes off the screen and he and DiCaprio have an interestingly uneven chemistry that is compelling to watch. Booth seems like a combination of the cult 1970’s Native American action hero Billy Jack (one of my favorites) and Burt Reynolds character Lewis Medlock from Deliverance. He is, unlike DiCaprio’s Dalton, unambitious, but also unlike Dalton, he is the genuine article in terms of rugged, old school masculinity. Booth is no faux tough guy, he is an actual tough guy…the epitome of a real man in that he will kick the shit out of you if you deserve it.

Margot Robbie plays Sharon Tate and there has been much made about the paucity of her dialogue. The usual suspects are crying misogyny due to her role being “less than" her male co-stars. I find this sort of thinking to be so tiresome and vapid as to be absurd. As for Robbie’s actual performance…it is utterly spectacular. Robbie’s Tate is bursting with life for every second she appears on film. Robbie has filled her Tate with such a powerful and specific intentionality she is like a supernova of magnetism.

The Tate character is the embodiment of life, potential and the archetypal feminine. Tate is bursting with life, literally and figuratively, and her effervescence cannot be contained. When she walks down the street she seems to float or bounce, the earth barely able to grasp her ebullient spirit.

Tarantino’s decision to use actual footage of Tate in the film is a masterstroke, as he successfully pays homage to her and humanizes her at the same time. Tarantino takes Tate out of the clutches of not only the Manson gang but of the culture that has turned her into nothing but a headline and symbol. Sharon Tate was a person, a real person with hopes and dreams and aspirations and the Mansonites snuffed that out…and Tarantino reminds us of the depth of that loss without ever being heavy-handed or maudlin.

The sub-text of the film is one of a battle between traditional masculinity and femininity and their upheaval by “woke” culture. Tate represents the traditional feminine archetype and Dalton and Booth are two halves of the traditional male archetype in the film…and the Manson family? They are representative of our new cultural wave…they are liberalism gone awry…they are “The Woke”. In a brilliant twist Tarantino makes this connection abundantly clear as he casts one of the most grating and loathed woke apostles, Lena Dunham, as one of the leaders of the Manson gang at Spahn ranch.

Tarantino also deftly plays with audience perception in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. The film is obviously a fairy tale and another bit of historical fiction/wish fulfillment from Tarantino, and it plays with this fact throughout. Tarantino subtly but continuously keeps asking the audience what is real?

At times the movie is a daydream within a fairy tale within a nightmare….and that makes it a hypnotically compelling film. Tarantino expertly captures the dream state that is Los Angeles…and Hollywood…a dream state that is so bright during the day as to be blinding, and so dark at night as to be deadly. Hollywood during the day is, like Sharon Tate, beautiful and full of potentialities. When night descends on Los Angeles it becomes a city of menace…the city of Charles Manson, mass murderers, serial killers, street gangs, violent lawless cops…a shadow city of predators and prey.

In conclusion, Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood is a staggeringly rich, layered and thoughtful film that is entertaining both as art and as popular cinema. I highly recommend you see it and even if it takes more effort…see it in 35 mm. Tarantino is a polarizing filmmaker, and this movie will no doubt receive a great deal of enmity from politically correct critics and their woke minions in our culture. The bottom line is this, Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood is a gigantic and well-deserved fuck you to The Woke, and that is what makes it so deliciously entertaining, but what makes the movie so poignant, insightful and exceedingly relevant is that it is aware that it is pure fantasy, and that in reality The Woke have won the culture war and cinema, and the rest of us, are all the worse for it.

©2019

Quentin Tarantino Films Ranked Worst to First


Estimated Reading Time: 5 minutes 01 seconds

Quentin Tarantino is the most important filmmaker of his generation. That isn’t to say he is the best…just the most important. Tarantino’s distinctive aesthetic, a dialogue and violence driven stew of pop culture, spaghetti westerns, kung fu movies, film noir, pulp fiction, and satirical comedy, revolutionized movies.

Tarantino’s first film, Reservoir Dogs, hit theatres in 1992 at the height of the grunge rock revolution. Popular music was being turned upside down by the gritty, yet stylized, realism of grunge which was eviscerating the manufactured, corporate rock preening of the previous decade. Tarantino’s uber-confident brand of filmmaking was to Hollywood what Nirvana’s music was to the music industry, an artistic nuclear bomb obliterating business as usual.

Reservoir Dogs, like grunge, created a stylized, gritty realism that was fictional but seemed more true, and honest, than the fairy tale bullshit Hollywood and the music industry had been selling Generation X for the entirety of their lives.

If Reservoir Dogs was akin to Nirvana’s cult hit album Bleach, then Tarantino’s second feature, Pulp Fiction, was Nevermind. Pulp Fiction was the ultimate game changer as it was both populist entertainment, yet also an unorthodox arthouse movie, and it became an instant classic, a box office smash and a critical darling. With Pulp Fiction, Tarantino managed to resurrect not only John Travolta’s moribund career, but also give artistic credibility to Bruce Willis of all people, and catapulted both Samuel L. Jackson and Uma Thurman onto the A list.

Like Nirvana, Tarantino spawned a myriad of copycats who watered down his stylistic brand over the years that followed his breakthrough success. Like grunge, Tarantino went into a deep lull after his initial glorious burst of creativity as his follow up to Pulp Fiction, 1997’s Jackie Brown, fizzled both critically and commercially.

A new wave of independent minded auteurs hit the theatres in the mid to late 90’s, directors like Paul Thomas Anderson and Wes Anderson, and they were quickly putting Tarantino in the critical rear view mirror as the millennium closed. It would be six long years after Jackie Brown before another Tarantino film would hit the theatres, and during this time it certainly had felt like the Tarantino moment had passed.

During post-production there was a steady stream of bad press leaking out about Kill Bill, Tarantino’s Kung Fu movie. When word came out that Tarantino was going to split the film into two features to be released in back to back years (2003-2004), I thought that was a very, very bad sign. If the rumors were to be believed it seemed as though Tarantino’s ego was quickly becoming inversely proportionate to his directing ability. Then Kill Bill Vol. 1 came out…and not only was Tarantino not becoming irrelevant and obsolete…he was proving himself as the master of edgy populist arthouse American cinema. Kill Bill solidified his status of king of cool cinema who ruled over Hollywood, indie-land and the arthouse.

Kill Bill Vol. 1 & 2 saved Tarantino and Tarantino-ism, which long outlived its musical counterpart, grunge. For the next 15 years Tarantino has churned out big movies…they weren’t always great…but they were always cinematic events. No one makes movies like Quentin Tarantino, and as the years have passed people have even stopped making the type of movies Tarantino can make…big populist Hollywood movies that aren’t part of a franchise or comic book universe.

Tarantino’s career has not only survived but thrived despite his multitude of naysayers, and nowadays the naysayers include the cultural revolutionaries and revisionist historians of the woke brigade. If you read or listen to pc establishment film critics nowadays you hear them describe Tarantino the man, and his films, as “problematic”. He is accused of all sorts of things…like using too much violence and racially charged language in his films…and of filling his films with violence against women and “sex”. Even though I disagree with these criticisms, I will admit that some of these charges, such as the violence and racial language, can at least be made in good faith, but claims of violence against women and too much sex are absolutely absurd and reveal either a staggering ignorance of Tarantino’s work or a dubious and dishonest assessment of his intentions.

The point of all this is to say that, like him or not, Tarantino has cemented his place in our popular culture and in the history of cinema. To ignore this fact would be to ignore reality. With this in mind, and since Tarantino’s new film Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood, opens this weekend, I thought it would be wise to try and put together my rankings of Tarantino films.

Ranking Tarantino films is no easy task as my list is almost always in a state of flux. My top four Tarantino films are always the same, but their order can flip by the second. So this list is just capturing my thinking…and feeling…at this very moment. With that in mind…sit back…be like Fonzie and stay motherfuckin cool…and enjoy the list.

8. DEATH PROOF (2007) - Death Proof is a 2007 “exploitation horror film” starring Kurt Russell that pays homage to 1970’s slasher and muscle car movies. Death Proof is undeniable proof that paying homage to a shitty genre will result in a shitty movie. I have seen this exactly once and have zero interest in seeing it ever again. Death Proof is a bad idea made manifest which not surprisingly is a badly made, bad movie. Death Proof is what happens when you become a super successful director and no one has the balls to tell you no.

7. JACKIE BROWN (1997) - Something funny has happened in recent years where aging hipster douchebags (there is an important distinction to be made at this point…while I am aging, am a hipster, and am widely regarded as a douchebag, I am most definitely not the specific breed of monster known as an “aging hipster douchebag”) have decided that Jackie Brown, Tarantino’s homage to blaxploitation movies, is a great movie. In fact, some have gone so far as to claim that Jackie Brown is Tarantino’s greatest film. Let me be as clear as I can about this…Jackie Brown is an actively awful movie. The script is dreadful, the directing abysmal, the pacing lethargic and the acting comatose.

Jackie Brown was a Tarantino flex where he thought he could pull his Lazarus routine on some more actors just like he did with Travolta on Pulp Fiction. But this was where Tarantino’s ego got kicked in the nuts by cold hard reality. There is a reason Pam Grier and Robert Forster were, at the height of their careers, D-level movie actors…it is because they are not good actors. Building a film around such minimal talents ended with…not surprisingly…a really shitty and entirely forgettable movie. This movie was so highly anticipated and so fucking terrible it almost ended Tarantino’s career.

And if you are an aging, hipster douchebag who thinks this is Tarantino’s greatest film, I’m going to Tony Rocky Horror you’re ass and throw you out a four story window and then I’m gonna get medieval on your ass. Got it?

6. THE HATEFUL EIGHT (2015) - The Hateful Eight is a pseudo-western thriller that attempts to make grand statements on race in America all while trying to suss out a second rate Agatha Christie type of whodunnit. There are some good things in The Hateful Eight…like Robert Richardson’s stellar cinematography, particularly his glorious opening sequence. But overall…this is a terribly flawed film that suffocates under the weight of its unwieldy and impotent script.

Tarantino succumbs to his lesser instincts and ego in The Hateful Eight when he fatally undermines the archetypal, mythic and narrative structure of the film by making his “hero”, played by Sam Jackson, a male rapist. The film lacks cohesion and tension and devolves into a rather vacuous bloodbath that bores more than it repulses or titillates.

This film is a frustrating cinematic venture, sort of like being marched at gunpoint naked through a blizzard.

5. INGLORIOUS BASTERDS (2009) - This is where things start to get interesting on the list as Inglorious Basterds is at once a brilliant and yet also a troublesome film. This movie boasts the single greatest scene of any of Tarantino’s films and among the greatest in film history…the opening sequence where SS Officer Hans Landa question a French farmer, Monsieur LaPadite, in his farmhouse. The film also boasts the masterfully tense and taut “basement bar” scene which is a thing of cinematic beauty. In contrast it also has some awful scenes, like the Mike Myers scene and the climactic orgy of ridiculous Hitler slaughtering violence in the movie theatre.

On the bright side the movie boasts tremendous performances from Christoph Waltz (as the aforementioned Landa), Michael Fassbender and Brad Pitt but on the dark side it is saddled with the single worst performance ever in a Tarantino film…the utterly abysmal Eli Roth as The Bear Jew is excruciatingly awful and set the art and craft of acting back centuries.

The thing I disliked the most about Inglorious Basterds though was that it came out during a time when the torture of “enemy combatants” in the war on terror was being debated and it very surreptitiously acted as a piece of vociferous pro-torture propaganda. Anyone who couldn’t see the Manichean philosophical underpinnings of beating captured German soldiers to death with a baseball bat being equivalent to torturing Muslims in Guantanamo Bay or Bagram or Abu Ghraib is being willfully obtuse. And it should be noted here that the German soldiers in the Wermacht getting their skulls bashed in and being scalped by "The Basterds’ were not Nazis party members. Some may see this as a distinction without a difference, and Wermacht complicity and guilt is a contentious historical debate, but considering the context of the torture discussion when the film was released, I find this distinction of note.

Another thing that bothered me about the film was that it was, at its core, nothing but a Jewish revenge fantasy. of course, there is nothing wrong with a Jewish revenge fantasy, in particular a Jewish revenge fantasy against Hitler, who certainly deserves whatever horrors we can imagine for him, but what felt uncomfortable to me was that in Tarantino’s case his revenge fantasy felt manipulative and pandering. Context is important here, as Tarantino is not Jewish, but even though you are not allowed to say it, the majority of Academy members and studio heads are and it felt like Tarantino was trying to make a movie to shamelessly pander to them in order to win an elusive Best Picture and/or best Director Oscar.

Bottomline is this…as great as Inglorious Basterds can be, its failures make it an uneven cinematic experience. Of all my conflicting feelings over this movie, the most overwhelming one is my impulse to bash Eli Roth’s head in with a baseball bat after taunting him with a dreadful Boston accent.

4. DJANGO UNCHAINED (2012) - Some would argue that Django is, like Inglorious Basterds, just a revenge fantasy, except this time for African Americans against slavery. I think this point is terribly off the mark. Yes, there is a certain level of revenge fueling Django Unchained, but the archetype driving the film is not revenge but love, as Django Unchained is a mythic love story. Django is not fighting for any grandiose principles or objectives like freeing the slaves or to punish slave owners, he is just trying to get back to his wife and save her. In contrast, Inglorious Basterds is NOTHING BUT a revenge fantasy where love is nowhere to be found.

Django Unchained is, like the other films in the top four, a masterpiece in its own right. This movie is a thrilling and exhilarating ride that only suffers from one minor (although it felt major at the time) lull, and that is when Tarantino himself is on-screen as an Australian slave trader. As great a movie as this is, and it is great, Tarantino’s sloppy and narcissistic cameo nearly scuttles the entire enterprise.

That said, the film highlights exquisite and sterling performances from Jamie Foxx (easily the best work of his career), Christoph Waltz, Leonardo DiCaprio, Kerry Washington and Samuel L. Jackson. The film was pilloried for its use of violence and exploiting slavery for entertainment, but these criticism hold no water. The violence in the film is cartoonish…except when it involves slaves…then it is handled with brutal realism and gravity. Tarantino’s dance between the polar opposites of his entertaining, over-the-top violence and acknowledgement of the horrors of slavery is actually very well-done and shows a deft directing touch.

if you ask me on another day I may say that Django Unchained is Tarantino’s best film…but today I put it at #4. Even though I have it at #4, make no mistake, it is a first ballot hall of fame movie.

3. RESERVOIR DOGS (1992) - There are times where I have Reservoir Dogs as the top film in this list…and even more times when I have it ranked ahead of Pulp Fiction….but today isn’t one of those days. Like Django Unchained, Reservoir Dogs is a first ballot hall of famer.

This movie hit theatres like a hand grenade and launched Tarantino as a serious auteur. This staggeringly confident film is like a neo-noir stage play set in this well-defined but not overly explained universe where thugs, hitmen, cons and shady people all live and work. This world is not real but is so thoroughly put together it feels hyper-real.

The low budget for the film adds to its mystique and highlights Tarantino’s real talent as a writer and director. The rawness of the movie is part of its great appeal.

Harvey Keitel, Tim Roth, Steve Buscemi and Michael Madsen all give stellar performances and Tarantino’s script is explosively good. His use of music, camera movement, pop culture dialogue and violence make for a combustible and compelling feature film debut for Tarantino.

A truly great movie and an instant classic that launched Tarantino’s journey to the top of Hollywood’s Mount Olympus.

2. PULP FICTION (1994) - Pulp Fiction garnered Tarantino a Best Original Screenplay Oscar, and rightfully so. This script crackles with life and is a master class in world and character building. The terrific script is elevated even more by sublime performances from Uma Thurman, Samuel L. Jackson, Harvery Keitel, John Travolta, Christopher Walken and even that dullard Bruce Willis.

Tarantino’s ability to mess with narrative structure, to masterfully use music and pop culture as reference points and his exquisite ability to place multi-dimensional characters into a palpably real but entirely manufactured world, is what makes Pulp Fiction the iconic film that it is.

Pulp Fiction reinvented the Hollywood film, and for good or for ill, forever changed the movie industry. It is the type of film that if you stumble across it on cable, you will sit and watch it from any point in the story through to the end.

1. KILL BILL VOL. 1 & 2 (2003-2004) - I realize I am in the minority on this but I think Kill Bill Vol. 1 & 2 combined is the greatest Tarantino film….it is certainly my favorite.

Some have accused these films of exploiting and encouraging violence against women, this strikes me as a short cut to thinking. Uma Thurman is the lead in the movie, she is an action hero, she is beaten, shot, stabbed, you name it. Just because violence happens to a women doesn’t make it misogynist…and in this case the exact opposite is true. The weak kneed, mealy mouthed woke clowns who claim this film is misogynist should ask themselves…are the Lethal Weapon movies anti-male because Mel Gibson gets the crap kicked out him in every movie? No, of course not. Tarantino empowers his female lead, an astounding Uma Thurman as The Bride/Black Mamba, to be an action hero not despite of her gender…but because of it…and that is not misogyny.

Like Django, Kill Bill is on its surface a revenge story but in its soul is a love story. The love is that of a mother for her daughter. Thurman’s Black Mamba character is unconsciously tracking down her daughter while consciously slaying all who are impediments to her maternal bond.

The brilliance of Kill Bill is in the world and character building. Tarantino’s kung fu world is populated by ninja and samurai assassins with distinct and specific histories and motivations. A rich, textured, vivid and vibrant creation that is Tarantino at his very best.

In conclusion, while there are some misfires, like Death Proof , Jackie Brown and The Hateful Eight, Tarantino has over the span of his career been a must-see filmmaker who has heightened the craft of moviemaking while celebrating the art of cinema.

The bottom line in regards to Tarantino’s best movies is this…you simply can’t go wrong with Kill Bill, Pulp Fiction, Reservoir Dogs and Django Unchained in any order, as they are among the very best films of the last thirty years and are monuments to Tarantino’s unique vision and singular genius.

The question now becomes…where does Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood rank in Tarantino’s canon? My verdict will be in shortly, but in the mean time why not go re-watch Django unchained, Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction, Kill Bill or even Inglorious Basterds, as a primer before you see Tarantino’s newest offering. It will get you into the Tarantino spirit and you will not be disappointed.

©2019

Queen - The Forum: A Review

QUEEN WITH ADAM LAMBERT - THE FORUM - JULY 19, 2019

Last Friday, July 19th, I continued my year of living musically by diving into the nostalgia pool to see Queen with Adam Lambert at The Forum. Queen are rock royalty from the 1970’s and 80’s which are currently comprised of two pivotal members from their original lineup, guitarist Brian May and drummer Roger Taylor, as well as new editions Adam Lambert (lead vocals), Spike Edney (keyboards), Neil Fairclough (bass) and Tyler Warren (percussion).

Like most rock fans of my generation (Gen X), I grew up with Queen being in heavy rotation on the soundtrack of my life, but unlike many of my friends I never really got into them like I did other bands from the era. I certainly recognized their genius, and Freddie Mercury’s astounding vocal abilities, but I just never became a super fan. For instance, I have never bought a Queen album…and it wasn’t until about 5 years ago that I actually possessed a Queen album when I got their three greatest hits compilations for free.

As much as I liked Queen’s songs, and I did like them a lot, in my eyes Queen was sort of a second level band from the second wave of the British Invasion. To me Queen existed, along with everyone else in the 1970’s, in Led Zeppelin’s long and dark shadow. As my musician friend Steam Roller Johnny once aptly said of Queen, “listening to Queen is like eating an ice cream sundae, it is delicious but it isn’t something you can eat all the time”. Even though that assessment seems spot on, there really isn’t any good reason I can conjure that I haven’t been a bigger Queen fan in my teenage and adult years.

When I saw Bohemian Rhapsody in the movie theatre last year I thought the film was pretty average fare that shed no new light on Queen or Mercury. That said, the thing that jumped out to me was the final fifteen minutes of the movie that showed Queen playing Live Aid. That sequence was electrifying and it sent me to the internet to find more live Queen. After devouring what seemed like hours of footage, I was left in awe of the band’s power and live presence.

Coincidentally…or more likely not…shortly after Bohemian Rhapsody got attention in movie theatres and at the Academy Awards, Queen announced a tour. Freddie Mercury has been dead for nearly thirty years, but the Queen machine has not stopped touring over the decades and cashing in on rock fan’s nostalgic impulses. The problem for Queen has always been…how do you replace Freddie Mercury, one of the greatest singers in rock history? From 2004-2009 Queen successfully went with the substantial and formidable talents of former Bad Company frontman Paul Rodgers as their lead singer. Rodgers is a stellar blues/rock singer in his own right, and even though his vocals are markedly different in almost every way from Mercury’s, the merger could be deemed to have been fruitful.

In 2014 Queen did a world tour with American Idol alum Adam Lambert as Mercury’s stand in. I was dubious of Lambert’s ability to go from a cavity inducing pop-star wannabe to a front man of one of the handful of great rock bands in the history of the genre. I asked my buddy and all around musical encyclopedia, music aficionado and Queen fanatic Red Dragon, if Queen with Adam Lambert was worth seeing. Dragon has seen the band many times, the most recent being with Lambert at the helm a few years ago. Dragon gave two vociferous thumbs up on Queen with Adam Lambert. That was good enough for me…so I bought the tickets the day they went on sale.

I’ve been to The Forum a few times to see concerts and it is a really great venue. While the nosebleed seats can be problematic due to acoustic issues, everywhere else in the building is a pretty good seat. Our seats were mid-arena and gave us a solid view of the festivities.

The crowd was, not surprisingly, mostly middle-aged or older. There were some younger people, and even families with young kids, but all the place there were white-haired, beer-bellied fellas and heavily made-up, fat-bottomed aging ladies squeezed into age-inappropriate tart attire. As I made my way up the stairs to my seats, I got stuck behind not one, but two, older folks trying to navigate the stairs with their canes. A women in front of me apologized for her lethargic pace and said mournfully, “it sucks getting old”. While it seemed at the time that truer words were never spoken, I would bet Freddie Mercury might argue that getting old beats the alternative. I later saw three more older folks being assisted up the stairs, to their seats, one was equipped with a full walker….a truer metaphor for the state of rock and roll could not be found.

There was no opening act so, in accordance with the band’s instructions, we arrived promptly at 7:45 for what was supposed to be an 8:00 show. The band did not go on until 8:30 but no one seemed to be any worse for wear from the delay.

Queen hit the stage with all the grandiosity you’d expect from rock royalty and the crowd erupted as they played the aptly titled “Now I’m Here”. The thing that struck me from the get go was that the band and Adam Lambert are very keen to respect Freddie Mercury and his fans. For the first four songs it was guitarist Brian May who stood at center stage in the spotlight, not lead singer Lambert.

It wasn’t until there was a brief break in the action where Lambert addressed the audience that he took a more pronounced role. During this break Lambert spoke to the crowd and mentioned the “pink elephant” in the room…namely that he was here and Freddie wasn’t. He assured the audience that he wasn’t here to replace Freddie because no one could replace Freddie. He was, just like everyone in the crowd, here to honor Freddie and his legacy. The band then kicked into a scathing version of “Killer Queen” with Lambert taking over the spotlight.

Lambert graciously and wisely embraces his role as substitute and surrogate Freddie, and his gratitude and undeniable cheeky energy are contagious as the audience not only welcomes him into the role but actively roots for him to succeed. Lambert has landed the sweetest karaoke gig on the planet and he knows it. He plays his role with aplomb and even though he constantly defers to May and Taylor throughout the show, he is able to a cohesive and quality front man in his own right.

Lambert is a fantastic singer and his voice is well suited for Queen’s catalogue. There was a palpable sense throughout the arena of people being awed by Lambert’s vocal prowess and you could feel people being more and more impressed by his singing as the night wore on.

While Lambert has a remarkable voice…Freddie was a remarkable singer. For all of Mercury’s vocal gymnastics, what made him so amazing was that his voice’s foundational power was in the lower register…and from there his astounding range took off. Lambert’s vocal power is found in his higher register, which is pretty amazing to behold but does alter the songs a bit and turns a gutteral connection with the material into, dare I say, a Broadway-esque, performance of the songs. In comparing it to dance, Freddie Mercury was Gene Kelly, who hit the bottom of the note hard, while Adam Lambert is Fred Astaire hitting the top of the note loudly but gently.

The “pink elephant” Lambert refers to is not just Freddie’s absence but the thing that he and Lambert have in common…namely their homosexuality. Freddie Mercury was gay…but Adam Lambert is super gay. If Freddie Mercury were alive to watch Adam Lambert perform he’d say, “I’m gay…but wow…that guy is REALLY gay”. To Lambert’s great credit he is unapologetically gay and people love him for it. I couldn’t help but think about the middle-aged and older people in the crowd who were swooning with every prance and preen of Lambert’s, and that in their lifetime homosexuality has gone from being shamed and marginalized to being celebrated.

It was also a striking sign of the total victory in the culture wars that one of Lambert’s great weaknesses as a front man is that he is so painfully safe. Lambert’s campiness is more akin to Liberace than it is to Freddie Mercury. Freddie was, at his core, a freak…a freak vocalist, a freak songwriter, a freak character…Freddie was aggressively a freak…it is what made him so deliciously Freddie Mercury. Adam Lambert is a nice kid with a great voice who gets a little sassy sometimes.

Brian May proved himself to still be among the rock guitar gods with his performance on the 19th, which was his 72nd birthday. May’s playing was precise and crisp, chock full of power and bombast. His voice has held up quite well too, as he sang acoustic version of “Love of My Life” and “‘39”. it was during this quieter section of the show that the audience spontaneously serenaded the appreciative septuagenarian with a hearty ‘Happy Birthday”.

Roger Taylor’s voice has held up pretty well too as he belted out solid version of “I’m In Love With My Car” and the Bowie parts of “Under Pressure”. Taylor’s drumming is another subject altogether and he has definitely lost a step. To his credit he accepts this fact and is very well aided by a Tyler Warren, who is the second drummer who covers for any weak spots in his drumming game. The Warren is a whirling dervish who works his ass off in the shadows to keep the Queen machine rolling.

The highlights of the show were Killer Queen and Fat Bottomed Girls, the rendition of which really kicked the show into high gear, as well as exquisite back to back versions of “Crazy Little Thing Called Love” and “Under Pressure”. The crowd was in a state of orgasmic delirium for the show’s climax of “Another One Bites the Dust”, “Radio Ga Ga” and “Bohemian Rhapsody” (which features a vocal cameo by Freddie Mercury and younger Queen) which led into an encore that opened with a digital Freddie mercury playing “Ay-oh” with the crowd and then erupted into “We Will Rock You/We Are the Champions”.

Overall, the Queen with Adam Lambert experience was a contagiously joyful one from start to finish. From Queen’s terrific catalogue of songs to Brian May’s guitar virtuosity to Adam Lambert’s sterling vocals and welcoming presence, the entire night felt like a fitting tribute to Freddie Mercury in every single way, and I think would have made the original King of Queen very proud.

If you are a Queen fan then you really should go see them as they are worth every penny. If, like me you are a marginal fan (or a new fan), I highly recommend you pull the trigger and spend the money to see them when they come to your town because, while they made good on their promise of ‘we will rock you’, and proved that that they really are the champions, they are getting long in the tooth and there is no telling when another one will bite the dust.

SET LIST

Now I’m Here

Seven Seas of Rhye

Keep Yourself Alive

Hammer to Fall

Killer Queen

Don’t Stop Me Now

In the Lap of the Gods…Revisited

Somebody to Love

The Show Must Go On

I’m in Love With My Car

Bicycle Race

Fat Bottomed Girls

Machines (or Back to Humans)

I Want It All

Love of My Life

‘39

Happy Birthday

Doing All Right

Crazy Little Thing Called Love

Under Pressure

I Want to Break Free

You Take My Breath Away

Who Wants to Live Forever

Last Horizon

Guitar Solo

Tie Your Mother Down

Dragon Attack

Another One Bites the Dust

Radio Ga Ga

Bohemian Rhapsody

ENCORE

Ay-Oh

We Will Rock You

We Are the Champions

©2019

The Farewell: A Review

****THIS IS A SPOILER FREE REVIEW!! THIS REVIEW CONTAINS ZERO SPOILERS!!****

My Rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars

My Recommendation: SKIP IT/SEE IT. This art house pretender is a conventional film through and through and not good enough to see on the big screen. If you stumble upon it on Netflix or cable it is worth watching though.

The Farewell, written and directed by Lulu Wang, tells the story of Billi, a Chinese immigrant living in New York, who returns to China to visit her beloved grandmother Nai Nai, who is terminally ill but due to cultural and familial reasons is kept in the dark about her condition. The film stars Awkwafina as Billi with supporting turns from Zhao Shuzhen, Tzi Ma, Diana Lin and Chen Han.

In a clever little twist, the tagline for The Farewell is, “Based upon an actual lie”. When that flashed on the screen to open the film I chuckled, but by the end of the movie I realized this was not a joke but a confession. The Farewell isn’t just based upon an actual lie…it is a lie.

The Farewell has pretensions of profundity, but the movie ultimately ends up being rather trite and frivolous. The film certainly has art house ambitions but they never fully coalesce and sadly end up crashed against the rocks of a painful conventionality.

I was excited to see The Farewell, I thought the trailer was good and the premise struck a chord with me. The reason the premise resonated so deeply with me was because I went through a very similar situation with my own beloved grandmother when she was diagnosed with a terminal brain tumor. My family decided not to tell her about the diagnosis, and, like Billi, I disagreed with that decision. In my mind Truth is always the best way to go, and people have the right to know if they are going to die. I believe it is healthy, vital even, for terminal patients to go through the stages of grief, but in terms of the decision about not informing my grandmother, I didn’t have a vote in the process.

When I went, as did other extended family, to visit my grandmother to say goodbye, I did not break down and tell her she was dying. The truth is that once I saw her I totally understood why the choice was made not to tell her and I grudgingly agreed with it. I think my grandmother knew she was dying…but the fact that no one said it out loud, somehow made it all bearable for her and allowed her to bask in the glow of being surrounded by her entire family without falling into a maudlin well of despair. Instead, the visit with my grandmother was a joyous one, a celebration of life instead of an acknowledgement of death.

It was with all of this in mind that I went to see The Farewell. I was ready to get very invested in the characters and story but the film was never able to generate enough dramatic intensity or momentum to carry me along with it. I ended up being a bit frustrated as the movie touches upon some really interesting themes, but lacked the artistic and intellectual heft and commitment to say anything of worth about them. For instance, there is dinner table scene where Chinese national, cultural and ethnic identity mix with toxic familial politics, and the result is electric…but the film never truly returns to that topic in any satisfying way and it suffers because of it.

The film also tries to throw out some art house stylistic stuff…but then undermines it all by being horrifyingly Hollywood in its resolution. That to me was the biggest error in the film, the lack of a stylistic and a thematic focus combined with the lack of artistic courage, as the film repeatedly takes the “easy” road instead of the harder and more artistically fulfilling one.

I thought The Farewell was going to be a culturally interesting examination of grief and death but instead it turns into a a rather tired “family” movie with the requisite wedding and zany relatives and silliness that accompanies it. The deeper and darker themes are left behind as the Hollywood friendly fluff takes center stage. Granted, it is Hollywood friendly fluff wrapped in a “different than usual” culture, but it is fluff nonetheless. This seems to be the new Hollywood formula, take the same old garbage but set it and cast it with a new ethnicity/race/gender and bask in the glow of critical love. Crazy Rich Asians is an example of this, as it was really just another shitty rom-com…but with Asians! The Farewell is better than Crazy Rich Asians, but it still isn’t good or even remotely original…it is just a rehashing of a tired old formula…but with Asians!

I recently watched a fascinating documentary about the 1989 Tiananmen Square uprising and ensuing horrific massacre. The documentary was really interesting and it made me think the subject is ripe for a great feature film. Of course, a hard hitting film on that subject would never happen as Hollywood is scared to death of China and wants to curry favor with the totalitarian ruling regime in order to keep a critical and fertile market open so they can make hordes of cash by selling their shitty movies to Chinese audiences. In the current climate of the movie industry, if Hollywood ever were to make a Tiananmen Square film a successful pitch for it would most certainly be…imagine Schindler’s List...meets Friends…but with Asians!! No doubt Jackie Chan and Awkwafina would be tapped to star in it and the repressive government who committed the atrocity would have to be changed from China to Russia in order to ensure the film’s release and success in China. The film would be awful but critics would laud it for its “diversity and inclusivity” and it would end up with a 100% critical score at Rotten Tomatoes and a plethora of Oscar nominations. Sigh.

In terms of The Farewell, the very best thing about it is the character Nai Nai, wonderfully played by Zhao Shuzhen. Even though Nai Nai is Chinese, she not only reminded me of my wondrously Scottish grandmother, but actual somehow looks like her too. Shuzhen’s performance is extremely well-done, as she creates a multi-dimensional character where others would have gone for flat stereotype. I hope Zhao Shuzhen scores at least a Best Supporting Actress nomination this year because with her work in The Farewell certainly deserves it.

Awkwafina also does solid work in the film as the mopey lead. I am not really a fan of Awkwafina, the truth is I am not very familiar with her work, but I thought she did an exceptional job of manifesting her character’s emotional and cultural burden physically. Billi is a walking slouch, the cross on her back growing heavier and heavier with every step. Awkwafina really does have an undeniable, slightly off-beat charisma to her, and I hope she chooses to do more of these types of roles in the future.

Diana Lin and Tzi Ma play Billi’s mother and father respectively and they too do solid work. The couple have a palpable relationship fatigue about them that rings true. Lin’s sharp elbowed mother is a perfect foil for Ma’s down trodden father.

In conclusion, I felt like The Farewell was not just telling the story of a lie but telling a lie itself. it is not what it appears to be, and when the truth of it is revealed, its value greatly diminishes. I didn’t hate The Farewell, but I was disappointed in it, as it wasn’t what it pretended to be, and ultimately, thought it could have been so much more than it was. Unlike the family in The Farewell, I will not lie in order to spare feelings and so I say it as clearly as I can about this movie…it may not be dying…but it is definitely dead to me.

©2019

Propaganda and the Delusion of Wokeness

Estimated Reading Time: 6-2, 6-2

On the weekend of July 13th, as Serena Williams was being trounced in the Wimbledon Ladies Final by Simona Halep, a story about a YouGov poll that asked participants “Do you think if you were playing your best tennis, you could win a point off Serena Williams?”, was making the rounds. The poll was of 1742 adults in the U.K., and besides the poorly worded Serena question, asked some equally deep and thoughtful questions like, “do you think you look better naked or with clothes on?”. The inane poll was obviously meant to stir up trouble and publicity, which it promptly did because 7% of respondents had the temerity to say that they could score on Serena.

The big news from the poll, or at least the part that was most widely reported, was that 12% of men answered “yes" to the question. The internet and media went ballistic over the misogyny and delusion of 1 in 8 men thinking they could score on Serena, “the greatest female tennis player of all-time”. There was no mention of the delusional status of the 3% of women who responded “yes”…maybe they got a GrrlPower exemption from harsh judgement.

In the aftermath of the poll people went on twitter to claim that these guys were deluded and that they would shit themselves if they played Serena. Some men on twitter went the extra virtue signaling mile and declared that Serena would literally kill them with a tennis ball if they played her or they might be able to score on Serena only because she was laughing so hard them. As Dan Rather would say…”courage!"

When I googled “Serena YouGov poll” the top story that came up was from Stylist Magazine and the headline read, “Serena Williams: A message for the ‘deluded’ men who believe they could beat her at tennis”. Other headlines from outlets like Metro UK and The Cut declared “Men ridiculed after one in eight say they can beat Serena Williams” and “Poll Shows One in 8 Men Think They Can Beat Serena Williams”. What struck me about those headlines was that…not surprisingly…they were a total fabrication. The poll question never asked if people thought they could beat Serena, only “score a point against her while playing their best tennis", and those are two vastly different things.

In the Stylist piece, which was obviously written by someone who knows absolutely nothing about sports in general, or tennis in particular, states that Serena Williams is “one of the greatest athletes of all-time”. of course, what that statement should say is that Serena is “one of the greatest FEMALE athletes of all-time”, which is not a distinction without a difference.

Let’s be clear, not one of the people polled, unless they are one of the top 10,000 male tennis players in the world, or one of the top 100 women’s tennis players in the world, are going to beat Serena Williams at tennis. No way, no how. Serena is, unquestionably, one of the very best female tennis players to ever play the game and she is not going to lose one set, nevermind two, to someone who isn’t a professional level, quality player.

But once again the question in question, is not about beating Serena, it is about scoring a point on her when you play your best. If the match were played under the rules of women’s tennis, that would mean the winner would have to win two out of three sets. In reality that would mean just two sets of six games, because it is highly improbable that anyone off the street is stealing a game from Serena. Twelve games would encompass 48 points in total if Serena won all the points, which is what the geniuses at Style Magazine and on twitter were claiming. Twenty-four of those points would be on Serena’s serve…which would be very, very difficult for an amateur to handle.

That said, it is also possible, not likely, but possible, that Serena double-faults, which would be a point won by the amateur and thus a “yes” answer to the poll question. This is a vital point to make, that tennis is not just about you hitting a better shot than the other person, it is about the other person not making an error. So what the Style Magazine and twitter fools think is that Serena would be completely flawless in playing these polled amateurs…which is unlikely regardless of her opposition’s unworthiness.

If Serena just hit one ball too hard or didn’t bend her knees enough or slightly miss-hit a ball, then the amateur gets a point and the poll answer is “yes”. Watch tennis players warm up and you see even when their opponent is trying to give them balls to hit they will occasionally hit one into the net or long or wide. This is the nature of sport, humans are not robots, and even the greatest at certain sports are not perfect all the time.

Think of it this way, if I were in a shooting contest with Michael Jordan, best out of 48, Jordan would win that competition, but odds are he might miss at least one shot…which in terms of the poll means I would answer “yes” when relating it to Serena Williams. The same is true if I played one on one against LeBron James. He would destroy me, but if he took a pull-up jumper, or went up for a lay-up…it is not inconceivable he could miss…it would have nothing to do with me and my stellar defense (which really is stellar!), it would have to do with the imperfection of humans and the nature of sport. I would never beat Michael Jordan or LeBron James in a shooting contest or in one-on-one, but that doesn’t mean they would never miss, in fact, the odds that they would miss 1 shot out of 48 is pretty good.

It needs to be said that playing tennis against Serena would be infinitely easier than playing one-on-one against LeBron because his size, strength and speed advantage would be highlighted due to the fact that he would be physically imposing his will on me due to proximity, in basketball you are right next to each other, as opposed to tennis where your opponent is across the net and that distance can reduce the direct physical advantage.

Another thing about the twitter and media reaction to the poll is that everyone assumes that every person answering is a fat-slob, couch potato. While there are plenty of fat-slobs and couch potatoes in the U.K., I think it is safe to say that there are, at a bare minimum, 12% of men in the U.K. who have a life committed to fitness and health. I would say that 12% of U.K. men work out with a modicum of intensity on a regular basis. In fact, a Kantar UK study from 2018 claims that 17% of Britons are members of health clubs and 13% say they exercise regularly.

The numbers of the Serena poll aren’t clear, but let’s assume that half of the 1742 respondents are male, which gives us 871 men. Of those 871, a total of 104 answered yes to the question. Is it insane to think that 104 men out of 871 are fit and highly active and athletic and maybe even compete in sports on a regular basis? I saw a survey that said that there are nearly 840,000 people in the UK that play tennis at least twice a month. Another study says that 500,000 Brits play tennis twice a week. That seems like a lot of tennis players. Is it so absurd to think that these athletic and fit people, playing their very best tennis, could score a single point on Serena when scoring a point also includes her making an error of some sort? The answer is…OF COURSE NOT!

This poll and this story are absolutely idiotic…so why am I writing about it? I am writing about it because it is emblematic not of the “delusion” of the men responding yes to the question, but rather of woke propaganda meant to reinforce the delusional ideology and insipid woke cosmology that fuels the media and twitter mobs. Those doing their two minute hate routine over “delusional men”, make Serena Williams out to be some demi-god or superhero simply because she is a women and black, and they reflexively believe that anything or anyone that dare question her superiority is acting out of misogyny and racism.

The Stylist Magazine piece is a perfect example of propaganda as it distorts the reality of the poll by conflating scoring a point against Serena with beating her, and then says the men who think they can beat her are delusional but ignore the women who say could beat her.

Further proof of Stylist’s propaganda is when they state that “The fact that a significant number of men believe they could win a point against a female tennis legend speaks volumes about the patriarchy”. Is 12% a significant number? If 12% of the population supported Donald Trump would Stylist think that was a “significant” number of supporters?

Stylist continues by declaring “these guys have a delusional confidence that’s ignorant to a women’s talent, achievements and lifelong passion.” Or maybe, like I stated above, these men simply did the math and figured out it is not impossible to score a point on Serena if they are playing their best tennis. My favorite part of that Stylist sentence is “lifelong passions”…if I have a lifelong passion for classical music does that make me Yo-Yo Ma? What does “lifelong passions” have to do with anything?

In making the case of why Serena is so unbeatable, Stylist highlights not only her career accomplishments, which are extraordinarily impressive, but also that she is “an advocate of women’s rights, an influencer of fashion and an important voice in challenging stereotypes around women at work and sport”. What difference does that make? Does that mean that these “delusional men” couldn’t score a point in tennis against Gloria Steinem and Donatella Versace?

In our current cultural and political climate this type of propaganda, that distorts reality and conflates facts, is par for the course. This story is an example of what people do when they want to make a political point and then twist the facts to fit their ideology. The establishment media’s coverage of all things Russia is another glaring example of this tainted “journalistic” approach. Remember the “Russian Microwave Weapon Attack” story? Or the Russians hacking power grids story? Or the whole Russigate hoax fiasco?

The media distort facts just enough to appease the insatiable anger and outrage of those who already agree with them in order to feed the base the red meat they crave. In this case the media conflate scoring a point against Serena with beating her in order to reinforce the notion that men are “deluded” and irrationally confident which angers yet delights pussy hat wearing women and woke posing men who want to signal their virtue. The media does this same thing in regards to Russia, Iran and Syria all in an attempt to give the people what they want as opposed to tell them the truth. This level of deception and distortion is Trumpian in its insidiousness, and it exposes the complete lack of a rational and intellectual foundation to the majority of opinion and thought in this country. The foundation of most opinion in this country is emotion…not logic or reason…and the media stoke this empty headed emotionalism for their own means.

The woke and their acolytes in the mainstream media are, like the Trump cult, immune to logic and reason, and they live in a perpetual delusion and dark fantasy. These people have such a contorted and distorted perception of reality they are incapable of seeing that they are a vital part of the intractable evil they claim they want to destroy. They think men, white men in particular, are malevolent misogynists and destructively delusional…yet many, if not most, claiming this are mothers, daughters, sisters or wives to white men. The funniest part is that a great deal of the woke are white or male or both. The same men who self-flagellated themselves on twitter claiming they’d poop their pants if they played Serena, are no doubt the same mealy-mouthed twats who loudly proclaim that white people are the root of all evil even though they are white. Most of these allegedly woke self-loathing white people will vociferously proclaim their devout belief in diversity but then make sure their kids don’t go to the more “diverse” and more dangerous schools in their city, but rather send them to pricey private school or move to more upscale and whiter neighborhoods in order to avoid the diversity they supposedly so adore.

I have more bad news for hypocritical woke white people…when you condemn white men, you condemn your father, brother, sons and husbands. Since the woke, just like Trump, paint with the broad brush of stereotypes, the “good” white men don’t get a “good white guy” pass. When the shit hits the fan and people are judged by the paradigm the woke have embraced, namely judging people by the color of their skin and not the content of their character, they are going to find out that being an “ally" is a one-way street….and it leads right to the gallows. The reality is that these woke phonies already know this…which is why they send their kids to predominantly white schools in order to avoid the racial animus of minorities.

In conclusion, this poll and the stories about this poll are so ridiculous as to be absurd, and yet, here I am writing about it. The poll, the stories about the poll and my article about the stories about the poll are all prime evidence of how totally insane our world has become and how fucked we are as a society…and make no mistake…we are totally insane and totally fucked.

©2019