"Everything is as it should be."

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Movie Subscription Services and Box Office Booms and Busts

Estimated Reading Time: 5 minutes 02 seconds


There has been a lot of consternation out here in La La Land about the state of the movie industry in 2019. I thought I would take this opportunity to address the situation in an attempt to either allay concerns or ring the alarm bell.

The biggest reason that the money-hungry corporate overlords of Hollywood are so concerned is that the box office is down 10% from last year. There have been a lot of think pieces that speculate as to why the industry is supposedly in a gully. The most common refrain in these articles from the entertainment media is that the box office dip is due to plague of low quality, unoriginal movies and “franchise fatigue”.

These theories, on their surface, appear to be somewhat accurate, as the vast majority of movies are pretty awful and you seemingly can’t walk ten feet in Hollywood without tripping over yet another franchise film or reboot. While those two things are true, they don’t necessarily explain why the box office is down 10% this year in particular as last year Hollywood churned out a plethora of terrible movies and a cornucopia of franchise films.

Last year and this year at the movie theatre are strikingly similar in a myriad of ways…2018 had some massive blockbusters in Black Panther and Avengers: Infinity War, while 2019 boasts box office smashes Captain Marvel and Avengers: Endgame. In addition, 2018 had an animated hit with Incredibles 2 and 2019 has Toy Story 4, 2018 had big box office results from secondary superhero movies, like Aquaman and Deadpool 2, while 2019 has Shazam and the soon to be released Spider Man: Far From Home. Even the sort of middle brow dramas are similar, with both years showcasing bio-pics of 1970’s rock icons, Queen in Bohemian Rhapsody (2018) and Elton John in Rocketman (2019), as are the horror/thriller films, where 2018 had A Quiet Place and 2019 has Us.

The sad reality is that, just from a quality perspective, movies from last year are just as bad as last year. The year before last, 2017, had a cavalcade of great movies, like Dunkirk, Phantom Thread and even quality big budget films like War for the Planet of the Apes. But last year and this year have both been pretty terrible for cinema. The lack of quality is certainly a big reason why the movie industry is in a creative “gully” so to speak, but it doesn’t explain why there is such a precipitous drop off in box office from last year to this.

“Franchise fatigue” is certainly something that exists…hell, I suffer from it…but that doesn’t mean it adequately explains the drop off in box office. If you look at the box office numbers, it would seem to indicate that the opposite is true. Both Captain Marvel and Avengers: Endgame did record breaking business this year and they are franchise films…and Black Panther and Infinity War did great last year as well. In my opinion there are most definitely storm clouds on the horizon for Marvel/Disney, but it ain’t raining yet and the sun shone upon Mickey Mouse and his Marvel compatriots brightly the last two years.

So if the studio executives and the entertainment media are wrong with their theories about the box office decline in 2019…then what is really going on with the movie industry and why? The problem with these Hollywood elites is that they don’t spend time on the ground in the battle for box office dollars. As someone who spends his time either on the ground or under it, I have some insights as to what is causing the trouble with 2019’s box office deflation.

To start, I contend that while the box office is down this year, it is a result of a few factors, one of the most glaring is that the box office from last year was artificially inflated, thus skewing the intensity of this year’s decline. Yes, there is a decline this year compared to last, but last year was not as financially robust as it appeared to be, in fact it was a bit of a bubble.

I also contend that there is a direct correlation between last year’s box office spike and this year’s box office deflation and the rise (2018) and fall (2019) of movie subscription services like MoviePass and Sinemia. In January of 2018 there were approximately 3 million subscribers to either MoviePass, Sinemia or both. Those subscription services charged a flat fee to customers, in MoviePass’s case $9.99 for unlimited films a month, and in Sinemia’s case $14.99 for 3 films a month, and then would pay full price to theaters/studios when their customers bought tickets. The business model was obviously flawed, but the psychology of it is similar to a gym membership, as these companies were hoping people would sign up but not actually use the service. That approach failed as both services went under in various forms this year because they went deeply into debt paying the movie studios full price for the tickets their members bought.

I had both a MoviePass and Sinemia membership in 2018 and used them constantly. For me, paying $25 total per month for both services meant that if I went to just two films a month I was actually saving money, as tickets in Los Angeles can run as high $16 per movie. Considering I suffer from a medical condition called Cousin Michael-itis where I have abnormally short arms and extraordinarily deep pockets, it should be no surprise that I took advantage of these services.

In 2018 I averaged between four and five movies a month, which was a significant spike in my movie going from the previous year when I had no subscription service memberships. Through these subscription services the price of a movie ticket for me essentially dropped to around $5 per film, which made going to the movies a much more palatable option.

For me, MoviePass and Sinemia allowed me to go see movies I would never have gone to see if I had to pay full price. For example, one of my favorite films from last year was A Quiet Place, which is a horror/thriller movie, a genre I usually entirely ignore. I took a chance on A Quiet Place because I wasn’t paying $16 to see it…so why not? I ended up loving the movie and saw it TWICE using MoviePass and Sinemia, and I got other people to go see it too through passionate word of mouth and my glowing review. Hereditary was another horror film I would normally never see but took a chance on in 2018 because of MoviePass.

It wasn’t just horror movies either, by my count there are in total 26 movies in 2018, from big budget blockbusters to indy art house films, that I went to see in theatres which I never would have seen if it weren’t for MoviePass and Sinemia. Movies such as American Animals, Jurassic World, Ready Player One, Red Sparrow, First Reformed, Hearts Beat Loud, Leave No Trace, Mission Impossible, Eighth Grade, The Wife, We the Animals, A Star is Born and on and on and on.

Now if all 3 million of these movie service’s former subscribers were like me then that means that 2018’s box office was inflated by at least 3 million full priced tickets sold on 25 films over the course of the year. (Considering the plethora of movies made last year and the subscription service's main customers being similar to me, big movie fans, it seems plausible that those extra tickets purchased could be spread over a large swath of different types of movies.) With the elimination of those extra 3 million tickets paid for by the subscription services, that would mean about a $1.125 billion difference in domestic box office gross from 2018 to 2019, and that doesn’t include peripheral gains from word of mouth marketing by subscription members (nor does it include the concessions bought by these customers at the theater which greatly enhanced theater owner profits).

The domestic box office from last year was $11.6 billion and is projected to drop 10% this year. 10% of 11.6 billion is….1.16 billion. If MoviePass and Sinemia subscribers used the service like I did in 2018, seeing an additional 25 movies that they otherwise would not have seen, that would account for an additional $1.125 billion in gross at the box office (3 million extra tickets bought for 25 films at $15 per ticket). Granted, this theory is based upon my anecdotal use of subscription services and projecting that use onto other members, but since MoviePass and Sinemia have not released the data on their users usage rates, all I can do is speculate. That said, my thesis does seem to line up pretty well with the known box office data.

The elimination of these subscription services and the billion dollars they injected into the movie industry which resulted in them basically subsidizing movie studios, seems to me to be an obvious reason for the drop in box office, yet the studios and the entertainment press, like Variety and The Hollywood Reporter (or the New York Times for that matter), never mention it as a factor, nevermind the main factor...why is that? The reason for Hollywood’s and the media’s ignorance on this issue is that while both studio executives and entertainment media consume a great deal of movies, hence their explanation being “franchise fatigue or low quality…they don’t have to pay to consume them, so ticket prices are overlooked.

Studio execs and entertainment media either get screeners (free dvd’s from studios) or they go to free screenings. Paying to see a movie is something they rarely if ever do, and considering how much money they make, they do not ever have to consider the cost of tickets into the equation of whether they’ll see a film. If, God forbid, these people ever had to pay for a movie ticket, the difference between $5 and $15 is negligible to them in the big picture, whereas for me, and most “regular” working people, that $10 is a big deal, especially over the course of a month/year if you see multiple films. The Hollywood and media elite are immune to issues like ticket prices, but here on the ground in the battle for customers, it is a major issue. This is why studios and entertainment media are totally ignorant to the impact of MoviePass and SInemia crumbling…they suffer from what I call “Cinema Privilege”. I define Cinema Privilege as being immune to cost when it comes to consuming movies.

When I had MoviePass and Sinemia I had Cinema Privilege too…but now that I don’t have them and I have to pay full price to see a movie it greatly alters my viewing habits and the frequency of my trips to the theatre. I do not make studio executive or even Hollywood Reporter money, I run my own business and margins are thin so I do not have the cash to spend to pay full price to roll the dice on a movie that may or may not be any good (especially if odds are it isn’t very good). I think I am not alone…and thus the current cratering of box office income, and conversely, the inflating of box office last year when there were 3 million extra consumers with Cinema Privilege.

There are three movies that are often brought up when referring to the box office drought of 2019 and they are Long Shot starring Charlize Theron and Seth Rogan, Late Night starring Mindy Kaling and Emma Thompson and Booksmart, a coming of age story directed by actress Olivia Wilde. These films are held up as examples of film’s that dramatically under-performed at the box office regardless of their glowing reviews. I have not seen any of these movies as they don’t greatly interest me, but I guarantee you that I would have seen them all if I had MoviePass and Sinemia. My interest in these films is best described as mild, which is not powerful enough to get me to pay $16 to see them, but it is strong enough to get me to pay $4 or $5 to see them.

There are other reasons for the overall decline in movie going, which include but are not limited to, a dramatic diminishing of the theatre-going experience due to the epidemic of narcissism and rudeness in our culture (in 2019 alone I have had to ask people to put away their cell phones during movies four times…they have all complied…but I shouldn’t have to ask them!), as well as the increase of the home viewing experience through studios like Netflix and Amazon as well as the improvement of tv technology. But both of these reasons are more compelling in explaining the bigger picture trend of movie theatre going decline rather than just the box office drop from last year to this.

In conclusion, I think that the collapse of movie subscription services is the main reason why the box office is down 10% in 2019. I also believe that this story is under-reported because the Hollywood studios and the entertainment media are so detached from “regular” people’s movie going experience and how the exorbitant price of tickets is turning away business. If Hollywood doesn’t wake up, this disconnect between Tinseltown and their regular customers is going to lead to a very nasty reckoning that will leave the movie industry a shadow of its former self, sort of like what happened to the music industry. Hollywood is going to learn that sooner or later, when you take your customers for granted, the bill always comes due…and MoviePass and Sinemia are no longer around to subsidize their shitty product.

©2019

Meathead Beats the Dead Horse of Collusion

Estimated Reading Time: 4 minutes 27 seconds

Hollywood is churning out all-star videos in order to try and convince Americans that Trump is guilty of “collusion”.

For the last three months there has been a bombshell story hiding in plain sight about an obscure government document that has been criminally under-reported by the establishment press. Thankfully Hollywood is here to save the day and shed some much needed light on this ever-elusive information.

The document I am referring to, of course, is The Mueller Report, which according to Academy Award nominated filmmaker and Hillary Clinton fanatic Rob Reiner, is an absolute mystery to ordinary (non-famous) Americans. In a patriotic act the equivalent of storming the beach on D-Day, Reiner has done a truly courageous and heroic thing to bring attention to this long ignored story…he made a five-minute video with his Hollywood friends.

On Thursday, June 20th, a group named Now This put out the video directed by Reiner, that features celebrities such as Robert DeNiro, Laurence Fishburne and even former president-on-tv Martin Sheen, highlighting what they believe to be the criminality of Trump exposed in the report.

Reiner has been in the vanguard of Hollywood’s pro-Hillary contingent and is a vociferous proponent of Trump and Russia’s collusion in the 2016 election. In 2017, he teamed with Bush administration war criminal David Frum to start a group called Committee to Investigate Russia. This group also put out a video, one that starred former president-in-the-movies, Morgan Freeman, and it boldly declared that “We Are At War” with Russia.

With that statement in mind it should come as no surprise that Rob Reiner came to fame in the 1970’s playing a character named Meathead on All in the Family. It is nice to know he is still living up to the moniker. Reiner is Hollywood royalty, being the son of comedy legend Carl Reiner, then a tv star in the aforementioned Meathead years, and then becoming one of Hollywood’s most successful filmmakers, having directed hits like This is Spinal Tap, The Princess Bride, When Harry Met Sally and A Few Good Men.

In his most recent work, the Now This - Mueller Report video, Reiner tries to use his moviemaking prowess to make the argument that Trump is guilty of “collusion” but that no one realizes this because they haven’t actually read the Mueller Report. The video starts off on very shaky logical ground when just 44 seconds in Rosie Perez emphatically declares, “virtually no one has read” the report. It pains me to point out to Meathead and Ms. Perez, which could be the title of a future buddy cop movie, that the Mueller Report has been published by three different publishing companies, and all three of those versions currently sit on the New York Times best seller list at #1,#5 and #12. 

Reiner’s claim also ignores the fact that the press has reported on “virtually” nothing but Mueller’s investigation for the last two and a half years. Considering the plethora of Mueller stories to the point of saturation in the media, the putting out of this video by Reiner is an act of animal cruelty worse than anything seen at Santa Anita racetrack because at least at the track they properly dispose of their dead horses instead of continuing to beat them.

In an amusing bit of irony, Reiner and his Hollywood cohorts who claim no one has read the report, prove themselves to either have not read it or not understood it when they repeatedly claim that Trump is proven guilt of “collusion” within its pages. The numerous references to “collusion” made me think of Reiner’s classic comedy The Princess Bride and the character Inigo Montoya who says in the film, “you keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”

“Collusion” is a nebulous word in the context of the Trump/Russia story and people who use it only do so to disinform and distract. As the Mueller Report states it did not use “collusion” in their assessment of potential criminality because “collusion is not a specific offense or theory of liability found in the United States code”.

Reiner and company intentionally say “collusion” instead of the more specific colloquial term ‘coordinated’, or the detailed legal term ‘conspiracy’, in order to mislead viewers about the contents of the Mueller Report. This obfuscation is proven by the report when it clearly states, “The investigation did not establish that members of the Trump Campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian Government in its election interference activities”.

In Reiner’s video Cliff Notes version of the report he also holds up Trump campaign officials Paul Manafort and Rick Gates meeting up with a “Russian agent” in a cigar bar in New York City in order to give him polling information as a sort of smoking gun. The video fails to mention the “Russian agent’s” name, which is Konstantin Kilimnik, maybe because he is also Ukrainian and clearly isn’t a “Russian Agent” because he was actually a “sensitive” intelligence asset for the U.S. State Department who would report to them on Ukrainian and Russian matters.

This insinuation of criminality is as equally obtuse as, and reminiscent of, the dim-witted band members from Reiner’s iconic rock and roll mockumentary, This is Spinal Tap, recalling the numerous deaths of their drummers through the years, such as the one who “died in a bizarre gardening accident” that authorities felt was “best left unsolved”, or the drummer who died when he “choked on vomit” but they didn’t know whose vomit it was because “you can’t really dust for vomit”.

The video also declares that Trump officials met with 200 Russian “operatives” and that this again is proof of “collusion”. In Reiner’s Cold War addled mind, every Russian is an “operative” or agent or asset, such as lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya, who is described in the video as a “Putin-connected Russian lawyer”, no doubt her “Putin-connection” comes from simply being Russian. 

The sort of Russophobic prejudice displayed by Reiner was best articulated by former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, when in 2017 he said, “…Russians, who typically, almost genetically driven to co-opt, penetrate, gain favor, whatever, which is a typical Russian technique.”

It is obvious that the gullible Reiner has fallen prey to the insidiously deceptive media narrative of Russiagate which is the equivalent of his film The Princess Bride, where liberals are Princess Buttercup and Robert Mueller is the hero Westley, who will save them from the evil Prince Humperdinck, who is Trump.

This current insipid Reiner video is a symptom of the delusional orgy of ecstatic Trump and Russia hating in which Democrats have indulged in recent years. Like in When Harry Met Sally when an older woman (played by Rob Reiner’s actual mother, Estelle) in a diner, who witnesses Sally demonstrate to Harry how she fakes an orgasm, masterfully deadpans the line “I’ll have what she’s having”, liberals watch Rachel Maddow’s orgasmic Russiagate coverage and declare, “I’ll have what she’s having”. The Democrat hysteria over Trump and Russia results in a dangerously distorted perception of reality, a perfect example is the perilous Reiner statement “We are at War” with Russia.

The reality is that because of the intensity of Reiner’s slavish, sycophantic worship of Hillary Clinton, no matter how many political videos he makes, he will convince no one of anything except the fact that he is a rabid political dog chasing his own tail who is close to collapsing onto the floor in a dizzied state of exhaustion and madness. That is the truth, and to quote Colonel Jessup from A Few Good Men, Rob Reiner simply “can’t handle the truth!

 A version of this article was originally published on June 27, 2019 at RT.com.

©2019

The Cult - The Greek Theatre: A Review

THE CULT - THE GREEK THEATRE LOS ANGELES - JUNE 15, 2019

Last Saturday night, June 15th, I continued my year of living musically when I went to see The Cult at the Greek Theatre here in Los Angeles. The Cult, a British band currently comprised of Ian Astbury (lead vocals), Billy Duffy (lead guitar), John Tempesta (drums), Damon Fox (bass) and Grant Fitzpatrick (keyboards), are playing shows to celebrate the 30th anniversary of their seminal 1989 album Sonic Temple, the most commercially successful record of their career.

I’ve been a Cult fan since 1985, which was when I first heard their breakthrough hit She Sells Sanctuary off of the Love (1985) album. That song, with its signature 12 string guitar riff, is the band’s most iconic hit and is one of the great rock songs of the 80’s.

The Cult have always been a bit of a strange band, an amalgam of different genres and types splattered together to make a whole that is not so easily definable. Their first album, Dreamtime, was a psuedo-psychedelic take on the alternative Manchester sound popular at the time. There second album, Love, was still in the alternative Manchester neighborhood but with a decidedly heavier sound. Their third album, Electric, which is my favorite album of theirs, is a balls to the wall, unapologetically raunchy and muscular hard rock blues album. Which brings us to Sonic Temple, the band’s fourth studio album.

Sonic Temple was the band’s biggest hit and definitely catapulted them into the upper echelons of radio air play. The album is a high octane concoction of fan friendly hard rock and is much more refined and musically “clean” than Electric, which is maybe why I comparatively don’t like it as much as its predecessor. Sonic Temple boasted four top-notch singles, Fire Woman, Edie (Ciao Baby), Sun King and Sweet Soul Sister, that dominated rock radio airplay in 1989 and 1990. After Sonic Temple the band, like many other hard rock bands from the 80’s, found itself overwhelmed by the cultural tsunami that was grunge and never recovered its commercial and artistic footing or relevance.

The Cult’s early career musical eclecticism made them difficult to define, but so did their inability to come up with a signature “look”. As much as we’d like to think that success is based on purely the music, the truth is that having a distinct style is just as important, especially back when MTV was in its heyday. The Cult were never able to make a music video that captured the imagination, and that hurt them in so far as it came to making the leap from rock stardom to rock superstardom. The Cult were always much more popular in Europe and the U.K. than they were in America, and I think that the lack of a standout video is a big reason why.

Another issue that may have held the band back was that its lead singer, Ian Astbury, who had all the prerequisites for rock stardom, a great voice, charisma and solid song writing, but never put together a coherent and discernible visual style that set him apart. In the Love years he looked like a Steven Tyler wannabe with bandanas hanging from his mic stand. In the following years he embraced a sort of Jim Morrison-esque manner and writing style but never found his footing as a true original…at least in terms of how he looked.

The band have put out 6 studio albums in the 30 years since Sonic Temple, and while some of them have been pretty good (1991’s Ceremony is excellent), they have never recaptured their pre-grunge swagger. Like many older bands, The Cult are now cashing on as a nostalgia act, touring on albums they made a quarter century or more earlier. In 2009 they went on the road and played the entirety of the Love album on the Love Live Tour. And in 2015 I caught them as they toured playing entirety of the Electric album. The reality is that this is how these guys have to make a living now a days, and while they won’t sell out stadiums anytime soon, they can certainly pack mid-size venues like The Greek Theatre.

I have never been to The Greek before, so I was excited to see the venue. I was surprised how easy it was to get there, and since I bought parking ahead of time, the logistics of getting to and from the place were made simple…always a big plus in Los Angeles.

The Greek is a gorgeous open air venue that makes the most of its Griffith Park setting. There is nothing quite so gorgeous as watching the sun set and the moon rise in a pristine outdoor space. The Greek is also very well run and maintained as it is impeccably clean, has expansive bathrooms, and offers a pricey but decent array of food and beverage choices.

Having not been there before, me and my companion, the irrepressible Lady Pumpernickle Dusseldorf, arrived early to the festivities. The show was schedules to “start” at 6:30, but had been moved up to 6 for some reason, and much to our shock we got there right after 6.

There were three opening acts, Vowws, Zola Jesus and Prayers. Vowws went on first and were a goth male/female duo. I knew nothing about them, and while they weren’t terrible, I do not feel compelled to learn more about them. They were good musicians and singers, but they lack any charisma or stage presence, and they weren’t aided by the fact that their moody music should be listened to in a dark room and not under the glare of an unforgiving sun. That said, the guitarist guy sounded like Depeche Mode when he sang and the female singer had a Siouxsie-esque voice. Bottom line is this...they were tolerable.

The second act up was Zola Jesus, of whom I had not heard. Zola Jesus is a female singer, and she was accompanied by a guitarist and a violinist. Zola Jesus walked onto the stage wearing a bizarre, body length gauze that obscured the audiences view of her. She looked like a cross between the bride of Frankenstein and a very poorly made Mummy. That said, she had a gorgeous voice and a confident and intriguing stage presence. I really enjoyed her performance and the fact that she incarnates this sort of stage entity that accentuates her really strong and lush voice.

The third and final warm up act was Prayers. Let me put this as succinctly as I can... Prayers is the worst band I have ever seen in my entire life. The band consists of one guy playing his computer, another guy odiously screeching out the lamest of lyrics, and a third guy who doesn’t wear a shirt and just stands there not moving at all. The band’s music is best described as cholo goth rap…and no that is not a typo. Prayers’ music was excruciatingly awful and their performance went on and on and on. Enduring this band’s set was like surviving both the Bataan Death March AND the Trail of Tears. At one point the lead singer, and I am using the term singer very loosely as his voice is aggressively repulsive, took out a knife from his pocket and was displaying it menacingly in some poseur-Satanic way and I began praying to the gods that he would either slit his own throat or throw the knife to me so I could slit mine…anything to end this musical holocaust. Finally, after what felt like hours, the root canal known as Prayers left and we were left with nothing but a beautiful night and the featured act.

The Cult did not go on until after 9, which was a bit frustrating as we’d been sitting there since 6. But when they did go on they hit the ground running. They opened with a rip roaring rendition of Sun King and the audience, that seemed pretty tired from the endless warm up acts, greeted them with boisterous cheers.

When I have seen The Cult in the past, Ian Astbury has always come across as an inconsistent, erratic and irritable stage presence. When I saw them in 2015 he admonished the crowd for not cheering loud enough while he gave what was a decidedly lackluster performance. While Astbury should have always been the center of attention at a Cult show, his uneven performances left him fading into the background. On the other hand, guitarist Billy Duffy, who is the picture of consistency and energy, never let me down. Of The Cult shows I have seen in the past, they always turned into Billy Duffy shows, with Duffy’s astonishing guitar prowess and showmanship taking center stage eclipsing Astbury and his uninspired effort and sullen demeanor.

I don’t know what it was at The Greek the other night, maybe it was the fact that the band had never played there before, but Astbury gave the best show that I have ever seen from him that night. Astbury was in jovial spirits, was engaging and energetic, even vivaciously dancing and prancing around the stage. This show was not a Billy Duffy Cult show, this show was, from start to finish, and without question, an Ian Astbury Cult show…and that was pretty cool to catch. Astbury even looked great, as he sported a new shorter hairstyle and a cool outfit and lean and trim as if he had lost a bit of weight.

While Astbury’s voice is weakened and cannot hit the higher notes of his youth, he seems to have come to grips with this limitation and lets the audience fill in the gaps where he can no longer tread. For instance, on the hit Sweet Soul Sister, Astbury no longer even tries to hit those difficult and athletic notes of the chorus, instead he lets the crowd carry the day, and it works well in building rapport with the audience…or at least it works better than admonishing them for not cheering loud enough.

While Astbury took and held center stage, Billy Duffy was his usual steady brilliant self. Duffy’s playing hasn’t slipped a bit since the glory days of thirty years ago. Duffy is also a premier showman as he masterfully works the crowd as well as his Gretsch White Falcon. Duffy is one of the most underrated and overlooked guitar players of his time, but anyone who sees him live will attest that his playing is exquisite.

The Cult roared through their set, which included raucous renditions of Sweet Soul Sister, American Horse, Fire Woman and a glorious back to back combo of American Gothic and Spiritwalker. The crescendo was the final song of the regular set which was She Sells Sanctuary. While I love the song, and the band plays it with aplomb, the 12 string is missing from the live version and that always is a bit of a let down…but Billy Duffy certainly makes the most of what he has and scorched his way through the song.

After a rudimentary walk off…the band returned for a three song encore, which began with an explosive Wild Flower, then transitioned to a less than stellar Rain ( a great song but which suffers because it has been reworked for live shows, no doubt due to Astbury’s vocal limitations) and finally ended with a delirious Love Removal Machine that was a perfect cap to a fantastic show.

My biggest complaint about the show was that it felt too short. The band played for about an hour and twenty minutes or so and it felt like an abbreviated set. That said, I can also understand that the reason why Astbury was in such high spirits and so energetic was maybe that he knew he only had to do his thing for an hour and half and then go back home (he and Duffy both now live in Los Angeles).

While the show could have been longer, I have no complaints about the quality. The Cult gave everything they had and it was certainly well worth the price of admission. Speaking of which, the tickets we had cost around $58 or so, and we had excellent seats on the lower end of the North Terrace. My recommendation is if you are a marginal Cult fan, they are definitely worth seeing live in a mid-sized venue. You will definitely see Billy Duffy in all his amazing guitar glory, and you might, like me at The Greek the other night, get to see the splendor of Ian Astbury - Rock Star.

SET LIST

Sun King

New York City

Automatic Blues

Sweet Soul Sister

American Horse

Soul Asylum

Edie (Ciao baby)

Fire Woman

Rise

American Gothic

Spiritwalker

The Phoenix

She Sells Sanctuary

ENCORE

Wild Flower

Rain

Love Removal Machine

©2019

The Last Black Man in San Francisco: 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. A unique and original film that is beautifully shot, dramatically compelling and painfully insightful.

The Last Black Man in San Francisco, based on a story by Jimmie Fails and written and directed by Joe Talbot, is the story of Jimmie, a black man trying to reclaim his childhood house, a beautiful Victorian built by his grandfather in the 1940’s, that sits in an upscale San Francisco neighborhood. The film stars Jimmie Fails as Jimmie, with supporting turns from Jonathan Majors, Danny Glover and Mike Epps.

Thus far, 2019 has been a pretty dismal year in terms of American film. Of the four lonely films I have recommended so far this year, all of them are foreign. Thankfully, The Last Black Man in San Francisco is like a tall, cool glass of cinematic water in the parched desert of American movies in 2019. The film, which is based upon a story created by its lead actor Jimmie Fails (who is black) and its director Joe Talbot (who is white), pulsates with a life, artistic vibrancy and intelligence that is an utter joy to behold.

On the surface the film examines gentrification in San Francisco and the consequences of it. What I really loved about the movie though is that it does not take the easy, emotionalist route in exploring this complicated issue. Although it is often lumped in as simply a racism issue, the changing face of a neighborhood is a result of a much more nuanced set of elements. For instance my white family (and extended family) were part of the white flight from Brooklyn in the 1970’s because the neighborhood was rapidly changing from Irish, Italian and Jewish to Haitian and Jamaican. It is easy to chalk this up as simply racism, but the reality is, regardless of race or ethnicity, people like to be around people who not only look like them, but have the same culture and relatively same belief system. This is why immigration is such a huge issue, it isn’t a function of racism but rather a function of cultural comfort. The same is true here in Los Angeles where black neighborhoods get really angry when white people move in because they feel the “essence” of the neighborhood is changing. That isn’t racism…it is human nature.

To the movie’s great credit it does not take the easy road in addressing this polarizing issue, but instead embraces the complexity and subtlety of it. Besides the maze that is gentrification, the film also dances through the minefield that is toxic black masculinity, black violence, myth and identity, the cancer of capitalism, self-deception, self-delusion and most especially…the importance of Truth.

Jimmie yearns to return to the house of his childhood, which has no doubt been sanitized in his own mind. His dream of a return is fueled by his tumultuous life since leaving the house and the myth that gives meaning to the structure, namely that his grandfather built the house from the ground up in a Japanese neighborhood. Unlike the greedy white people taking over San Francisco now and pushing out minorities, Jimmie’s black grandfather didn’t steal anyone’s house, he defied racial stereotypes and oppression and created one from scratch.

Jimmie’s journey is a fascinating one, and while the actor Jimmie Fails (playing a character with the same name) is not the greatest actor in the world, he is certainly likable and does Yoeman’s work as the protagonist. Fails succeeds at being a worthy host for his two-hour narrative journey.

The performance that I did find remarkable though was that of Jonathan Majors as Montgomery Allen, Jimmie’s best friend. Majors brings such a beautiful and delicate sense of humanity to Montgomery that it is mesmerizing. Montgomery is the consummate artist as he is a writer, director, actor, sketch artist, wardrobe…you name it, and because he is an artist he is motivated by only one thing…the Truth. Majors fills Allen with an off-beat but very specific and detailed intentionality that gives him an understated but undeniable charisma and power.

Danny Glover and Mike Epps have small roles in the film but do quality work in them and bring a certain level of professionalism to the cast. In general, the other supporting actors feel a little rough around the edges, but that aesthetic works well for the movie.

Director Talbot does a tremendous job of bringing what could have been a maudlin and middling story to life with a dazzling emotional and dramatic vitality. The movie is beautifully shot as Talbot and cinematographer Adam Newport-Berra do an outstanding job framing their shots and even throw in some delicious 70’s, throw-back, long shot zooms. I loved those shots as they not only gave the film a distinct look and feel but were also imbued with a much deeper, archetypal meaning.

Talbot’s direction reminded me a little bit, just a little, of Spike Lee, in that he masterfully uses music, particularly jazz and/or classical, to build both dramatic and narrative momentum. Also like Lee, he populates his story with eccentrics who never fall into stereotype or caricature, no easy feat. Unlike Lee, and to his credit, Talbot wholeheartedly embraces a narrative complexity and subtlety that forces introspection rather than accusation, and is not afraid to tell the Truth even when the Truth hurts.

Even though the director Joe Talbot is white, the story is told exclusively from a black man’s perspective. What I found intriguing about this is that Talbot establishes this fact from the opening shot and makes clear that white people are aliens…literally…as they look like astronauts walking on a distant planet. What is so refreshing about Talbot’s approach is that he keeps white people as “alien” throughout…they are, ultimately, truly unknowable to black people. Of course the reverse is true as well, but in this movie we only see the black perspective and it was refreshing because it forced all of the issues and responsibilities back onto black characters. There are no one dimensional, white villains to blame or scapegoat (unlike, for instance, in some of Spike Lee’s films, or in last year’s If Beale Street Could Talk).

In conclusion, The Last Black Man in San Francisco is a gorgeous film that never takes any short cuts and never fails to challenge, captivate and illuminate. This is a smart, original, unique and extremely well made film that I highly recommend you take the time and effort to go see in the theatre.

©2019

False Flags and Memory Holes

Estimated Reading Time: 5 minutes 27 seconds

On Thursday June 13th, 2019, there was an “attack” on two commercial tankers in the Gulf of Oman. This “attack” is the second on ships in the last two months, as four commercial ships were similarly targeted off of the Gulf of Oman on May 12th of this year. The U.S. claims that the “attacks” were perpetrated by Iranian forces, and say they have the evidence to “prove” it, resulting in tensions in the region ratcheting up considerably with rumors swirling of a U.S. strike against Iran in retaliation.

Of course, just because the U.S. claims it was Iran who committed these acts, doesn’t mean it actually was Iran. The evidence put forward, including a grainy video, thus far has been laughable at best and contradicted by eye witnesses such as the crew of one of the tankers. Pictures released by the U.S. alleging to show damage from Limpit mines have holes visible on the ships well above the water line, which indicates something besides a mine created them. Another oddity about the entire episode is that none of the ships that were attacked were American, but that hasn’t stopped the U.S. from blustering on about holding Iran accountable.

A false flag is defined as “a covert operation designed to deceive; the deception creates the appearance of a particular party, group, or nation being responsible for some activity, disguising the actual source of responsibility.” If one is even remotely historically literate and has a functioning mind complete with a critical thinking reflex, these recent attacks on ships in the Gulf of Oman seem to clearly be false flag attacks.

False flags have played a pivotal role in instigating many U.S. military actions over the years. Remember the Maine! That was the rallying cry of the media to drum up the Spanish-American War back in 1898 when the U.S.S. Maine sank in Havana harbor. The truth was that the Maine sank due to an accidental explosion, but the Hearst media empire turned it into a terrorist attack and thus pushed America into war.

As the Pentagon papers showed, The Gulf of Tonkin incident was a charade, a notorious false flag operation used to justify the U.S. fully committing to war in Vietnam. The Gulf of Tonkin was the inciting incident which directly led to the deaths of millions of people in the region, including over 58,000 U.S. servicemembers.

In Syria in 2012, rebel forces used a false flag kidnapping of NBC News reporter Richard Engel to drum up American media anger against Assad and support for the rebels. Later in the conflict these same forces used false flag chemical weapons attacks on Syrian civilians, aided in part by the duplicitous White Helmets, in order to goad the U.S. to commit more military forces to the war and later to launch missiles into the country.

Prefabricated lies have always been an essential tool to deceive the American populace into supporting a war. Consider the case of Iraq, where the U.S. not only concocted lies about babies dragged from incubators to start the 1991 Gulf War, but also the WMD lie just over a decade later to start the calamitous Iraq war in 2003.

All of these past false flags and manufactured lies have been disappeared, lost down our cultural memory hole, because they are evidence of a very inconvenient truth, but a truth none the less…and that truth is that not only are we often not the good guys, but most of the time we are actually the bad guys.

In the case of the attacks on ships in the Gulf of Oman, you might ask who would do such a thing? Well the answer is…the usual suspects. First on the suspect list is Israel and their American neo-con contingent that acts as a duplicitous fifth column in the U.S.. Israel, once again, wants the U.S. to fight its wars for it and so yearns for America to start military action with their regional nemesis Iran. A good indicator of this being the case is that the Israel-firsters in the media have jumped on these stories to pontificate in support of attacks on Iran. Bret Stephens of the New York Times is a perfect example of one of these types who is incapable of any complex thought or even contemplating other culprits besides Iran.

Stephens gives the deception game away in his op-ed titled, “The Pirates of Tehran”. Stephens opens the piece describing how in 1988 the U.S.S. Samuel B. Roberts hit an Iranian mine while sailing in the Persian Gulf. Stephens then proudly proclaims that ten days later the “U.S. Navy destroyed half of the Iranian fleet in a matter of hours. Iran did not molest the Navy or international shipping for many years thereafter.”

The revealing thing about Stephens jaunt down memory lane regarding America’s glorious smack down of Iran is that he completely ignores the most important part of the story. That part is that just a few months after the sinking of half of the Iranian fleet, the U.S.S. Vincennes shot down Iranian Air flight 655 in Iranian air space with a surface-to-air missile, killing 290 civilians, including 66 children. The U.S. never apologized for the incident and in fact gave medals to the crew of the Vincennes for their work. The senseless slaughter of innocent men, women and children is sort of a consequential detail to skip over when imploring the U.S. military to once again aggressively act against Iran.

Stephens second deceptive tell is a doozy, as he makes the case for Iranian guilt in regards to the most recent Gulf of Oman attacks. Stephens writes, “it would require a large dose of self-deception (or conspiracy theorizing) to pretend that Iran isn’t the likely culprit”.

Stephens reveals himself to be well-acquainted with self-deception when he writes about the authenticity of claims that Iran is responsible for the attacks, “Trump might be a liar, but the U.S. military isn’t.” Someone should buy Bret Stephens a pair of testicles and a history book, hopefully one with a robust section on the Gulf of Tonkin and the Pentagon Papers.

The thing that really stood out to me in Stephens’ piece though was the charge of “conspiracy theorizing”. See, according to Bret Stephens if you don’t accept the tenuous “official story” that Iran did it, then you are the most ludicrous thing a person can be…a conspiracy theorist! Of course Bret Stephens believes in conspiracy theories too, he is a Russian collusion Truther and accepts the official 9-11 story as fact, both of which are, in fact, theories of conspiracy, but for establishmentarians like Stephens, only other people are capable of being “conspiracy theorists”.

Is it an outlandish conspiracy theory notion that Israel would be behind false flag attacks? Not exactly. A conspiracy fact is that from 1979 to 1983 Israeli intelligence agencies carried out a massive false flag car bombing campaign in Lebanon that killed hundreds in order to sow chaos and to “push the PLO to use terrorism to provide Israel with the justification for an invasion of Lebanon”? Of course this may be an inconvenient truth for the anti-conspiracy theory crowd, but it is the truth.

The one good thing about the recent spate of accusations in the media against Iran regarding these ship attacks is that most people aren’t buying it. Yes, Bret Stephens and the Israel shills in the media are pushing Iranian guilt on the public, but the public is reticent to buy into it. Go read the comments accompanying Stephens New York Times piece to see the overwhelming skepticism on display.

Who knows how long the dam of skepticism will hold though as the anti-Iranian media pressure is relentless. A perfect example of which is how the media frames Iran’s decision to increase its uranium stockpile. The mainstream media declares that Iran by doing this Iran is breaking the Nuclear Deal…which is absurd as the U.S. BROKE THE IRAN NUCLEAR DEAL ALREADY BY WITHDRAWING FROM IT! There is no nuclear deal with Iran…it is null and void once the U.S. broke the agreement. But that didn’t stop the New York Times from stating in its headline, “Trump Adds Troops After Iran Says It Will Breach Nuclear Deal”. CNN’s deceptive headline reads, “Iran says it will break uranium stockpile under nuclear deal in 10 days”. To listen to the U.S. press, Iran is supposed to abide by an agreement from which the benevolent Americans “withdrew”. (notice how American’s “withdraw” from an agreement but nefarious Iranians “breach” a non-agreement…ridiculous.)

Reading the establishment press coverage on Iran is like seeing Chomsky’s thesis from Manufacturing Consent come to life before your eyes. I wholly encourage every single person on the planet to go read that book in order to see through the tsunami of horseshit that the establishment media constantly throws at us.

Israel is not the only suspect on the list….there is also Saudi Arabia. The Saudi’s are a loathsome lot and they would do anything to get the U.S. to take out their arch-rival the Iranians. The neo-cons, always a beacon of morality and ethics, are not only shills for Israel but for the tyrannical despots in the House of Saud too. Trump is enamored with both the Israelis and the Saudis, flattery and money will apparently get you everywhere when it comes to the Orange King of Queens.

The third suspect is the military industrial complex and its intelligence agency wing in the CIA, DIA and NSA. As Smedley Butler warned us, War is a Racket, and the U.S. profits mightily from that racket. By engaging in covert false flag attacks the U.S., or elements of the U.S. government and business community, can get a war with Iran that will make them trillions.

And the final suspect is an “all of the above” combination of the first three. It is very possible that the Israeli, Saudi and U.S. intelligence agencies are working together on these false flags and in stirring up trouble in the region. Considering the strangle hold the Israelis and Saudis have on our government and politics, and the vile miscreants populating our intel agencies, this scenario may be the most likely.

The bottom line in regards to Iran is this…we have no business going to war with Iran. War is a beast that once awakened, is uncontrollable. While the U.S. may think this will be a cakewalk comprised sinking of Iranian ships or missile strikes, things rarely, if ever, go as planned. In 1988, it was 290 Iranian civilians who paid the ultimate price for American aggression, maybe this time it will be American service members who needlessly die.

Iran is no Iraq, and the Iranian government won’t fall by U.S. military action…especially without invasion. And if invasion is on the table, that is absolutely insane because both Russia and China will gladly rush to covertly supply Iran’s military and irregular forces to turn the country into a quicksand which will become the American Empire’s, and maybe even America’s grave.

Hopefully tensions with diminish in the region and this fever breaks. I certainly hope that blowhards like Mike Pompeo and John Bolton and the Israel puppets in the media are overruled by the American people who are weary or war and leery of lies.

But with that said, I wouldn’t be surprised if we are on the precipice of the war with Iran of which the neo-cons, Israel and Saudi Arabia have long dreamt. If that dream becomes reality, it will be a nightmare for us all.

©2019

The Emotionalist Buffoonery of Charles Blow


Estimated Reading Time: 5 minutes 22 seconds

This past Friday night, New York Times columnist Charles Blow was a guest on Bill Maher’s insipid HBO show Real Time, where Blow made a strong case for his emotionalist buffoonery. Blow then followed that up on Monday morning when he solidified those findings with an op-ed in The New York Times.

The most glaring example of Mr. Blow’s aforementioned emotionalist buffonery occurred on Real Time during a discussion on abortion and the Hyde amendment, a 1976 law which prohibits government funds from being used on abortion. It was at this point that Mr. Blow indignantly got up on his high horse, which is no doubt named Mr. Tibbs, and proclaimed that the Hyde amendment was meant to specifically target black women.

Blow said, “they knew this was about poor women…particularly on Medicaid, and that most of those women are not white women. That this is black women who are poor. And that they were cutting off access for those women because those were the ones that they could cut it off for.”

Blow’s thesis can basically be boiled down to this…that an evil “they”, which he would no doubt label white supremacists or racists, including members of the Democratic party by the way, came together in 1976 to specifically target black women and collectively punish them by not funding their abortions through the Hyde amendment.

Even a cursory examination of Mr. Blow’s premise exposes the absurd illogic of it all, and anyone with half a brain in their head can easily discern that Blow has less than half of one in his. Blow reveals himself with this thesis to be either a liar, a moron, or both.

Let’s dissect Mr. Blow’s premise on the most basic level. If someone is a racist or a white supremacist, why would they want to limit abortions for black women which would result in more black children being born and not less? Wouldn’t the white supremacist be afraid that the more black children there are…the more whites will have to give their hard-earned money to “welfare queens” to feed and cloth these black children? Doesn’t the racist also believe that these black children will grow to become criminally inclined black adults who will either masterfully leach off of the welfare system or rape white women and rob and steal from white men? So wouldn’t a white supremacist or racist want there to be MORE abortions of black children in order to, in their mind, “cull the savage herd”, so to speak? Obviously Mr. Blow’s thinking is at odds with itself as it believes that Hyde amendment supporters hate black people so much that they want more of them.

Another major problem with Blow’s thesis is that it distorts facts in order to make its point. Blow’s claim that “this was about poor women, particularly on Medicaid, and that most of those women are not white women” is a painful contortion of statistical reality, if not an outright lie. According to a Kaiser Family study, of all non-elderly Medicaid recipients - these are the ones who would potentially be getting abortions, whites make up 43% and blacks 18%.

It is true that a greater percentage of the black population is on non-elderly Medicaid than the white population, as blacks make up 12% of the general population and 18 % of the non-elderly Medicaid recipients, while whites make up 70% of the general population and are 43% of non-elderly Medicaid users, but in terms of raw numbers, whites are by far the highest group of recipients as nearly 24 million whites receive non-elderly Medicaid, which is double the amount of blacks that do, which is 11.5 million. If the Hyde amendment is a racist weapon to hurt black women, it might be a boomerang because it hurts considerably more white women than its alleged intended target.

Another striking thing is that the foundation of Blow’s argument about the Hyde amendment is based on the idea that blacks receive far more Medicaid benefits than whites do. This assumption by Blow is contrary to the facts and is pretty blatantly “racist”, or at least Blow would think it was if a white person espoused it.

Of course, Maher’s audience, filled with sycophants and fools, cheered Blow from his opening statement solely because he used the magic word “equality”. Any lies or distortions of statistical reality that he made after that are irrelevant to these dullards and dopes who immediately shut off their critical thinking ability and mindlessly cheer every time they hear the words “equality”, “diversity” or “inclusion”.

As for Blow’s piece in the NY Times, “‘Help Us!’ The Panic at D.C. Pride”, it is a powerful display of charlatantry and psychosis in action. In the article, Blow describes how as he was getting dressed in his hotel room in Washington D.C. this past weekend, he heard a commotion in the hallway and then four young white women were banging on his door for help. The women were running away from the Gay Pride parade where a panic had ensued when there were thought to be gunshots.

In one of the unintentionally funnier moments in the article, Blow describes the situation thus, “they were panicked, so I figured that the best thing I could do for them was to be a calming presence.” The idea of Charles Blow, a professional hysteric, being a “calming presence” at any point in time shows you how self-deluded he really is. On top of that, can you imagine being the poor soul, running for your life and looking for someone to defend you and frantically knocking on random doors and then one opens and for a split second you think you are saved and then you realize it is Charles Blow looking back at you? How deflating must that be to think Charles Blow, the man whose panties are in a perpetual bunch, is supposed to protect and defend you from some impending danger?

The sit-com level ridiculousness of Blow helping four frightened lesbians aside, what is really striking about the article is that it is at once about a panic, yet is also an an exercise in creating and sustaining a panic.

What is most unintentionally illuminating about Blow’s article is the panic it describes is based upon a non-event, as there were no threats or guns pulled or shots fired at the Pride parade in Washington, D.C. that day. This panic was ignited by our cultural mania over “mass shootings”. Blow is blind to that irony as he writes, “Those women in my room had every right to fear for their lives. It was perfectly understandable that they could believe that a mass shooter could be anywhere…”. Blow is endorsing the notion here that the boogie man of a mass shooter could literally “be anywhere”. Under these Orwellian and broad parameters that means that there is literally nowhere where you are safe from an evil mass shooter. In theory that is true, I suppose, but it is also true of other media “boogie men” through the years, like Muslim terrorists or black gang members or Latino illegal immigrants.

The reality is that the media plants lots of fears in America’s cultural consciousness, but that doesn’t mean that they are rational. Throughout American history there have been similar panics to the current “mass shooting” panic that Charles Blow endorses. In the 1950’s there were panics over switchblades. In the 1970’s panics over crimes and drugs began and continue to this day. In the 1980’s there were panics over videogames, dungeons and dragons and AIDS, and the list goes on and on and on. Hell, the summer before 9-11 the media was in a full blown panic over shark attacks.

The panic at the Pride parade came about as a result of media conditioning people to be constantly afraid, and Mr. Blow does the same thing with his article on the subject. As Blow writes in his column, “Mass shooters have become our domestic terrorists, and the possibility of their presence and threat of their carnage is now an ambient dread in the American psyche.”

This type of conditioning is standard procedure for tyrants of every stripe, an example of which was the Bush administration’s heightening of the “ambient dread in the American psyche” over Muslims terrorists in the years after 9-11. The government and the media preyed upon people’s fear and used that fear-based compliance to eviscerate civil liberties and catastrophically invade Iraq.

Of course Muslim terrorists do exist, but fear of them is inversely proportional to the threat they represent, as over their lifetime Americans are more likely to die from from their tv falling on them than in at the hands of a foreign terrorist.

The “ambient dread” of being killed in a mass shooting is equally irrational as the lifetime odds of being killed in a mass shooting are about equal to the chance of dying by legal execution in America.

The truth is that the media and government stoke fears in order to frighten people and trigger them to act out of emotion and not reason. A perfect example of this are the four young women in Blow’s story who, even after knowing that there was no threat, still demanded that Blow escort them out of his hotel (This begs the question, what type of weak-kneed feminists are these lesbians that they need a man to defend them, and then even need him to hold their hand once the threat is gone?). When people are scared and emotional, they are easily controlled and manipulated because they are looking for someone to protect them. In the wake of 9-11 the American people acted no different than those four women in Blow’s hotel room when they embraced the Patriot Act and then the Iraq war.

The lesson that Charles Blow learns from the hysterical panic at the Pride parade is the exact opposite of what it should be. Even after time passed and the heat of the moment cooled, instead of acknowledging the over-reaction and trying to get his readers to stay calm and think logically, Blow doubled down on the mania with his article by insisting that the irrational hysteria on display at the Pride parade is deserving of dissemination and amplification.

For Charles Blow and his ilk, subjective feelings trump objective reality and emotion is more important than reason. Blow feels like the Hyde amendment is written by racists to punish black women, and won’t let facts or logic dissuade him from that subjective feeling which is very distorted from objective reality. These four women from the Pride parade were panicked and in an emotional state but Mr. Blow doesn’t try and “be a calming presence” by recognizing objective reality of the fact that there was no shooter, and there is a very slim statistical possibility of dying at the hands of a mass shooter, but instead embraces emotionalism, irrational fear and hysteria by cultivating the hysteria and stoking the flames of fear.

The conclusion I draw from Charles Blow’s work is that he is impossibly enthralled with his identity as a victim and that distorts his grasp and perception of reality. Blow is the proverbial black hammer who sees the whole world as a racist white nail. Blow’s addiction to his victim identity blinds him to the obvious gaping holes in his logic regarding racists and the Hyde amendment and the statistical reality of the impact of that amendment on white people. It also forces him to impulsively embrace an invigorating but deceptive emotionalism which leads him to be a compulsive hysteric forever on the search for his next high of indignation and outrage. This is evidenced in his writing, as his formula for his columns is one part righteous rage, one part victim hood mantra, combined with a total lack of nuance, introspection or commitment to Truth. Wash. Rinse. Repeat.

The bottom line is this, Charles Blow is a raging mediocrity as a writer and an insipidly and insidiously vapid and grotesque thinker, yet because he wears the mask of the noble and defiant victim he is a “useful idiot” to those in power and is thus given a prime spot in the esteemed New York Times. And from this lofty cultural perch he does what he was hired to do…dissemble, distort, distract and disinform his readers all in service to his own narcissistic psychological desires and the status quo, which keeps him thoroughly enslaved in a perpetual cycle of victim hood.

To be fair to Charles Blow though, he and his lack of testicular fortitude and intellectual integrity are just symptoms of the disease that is currently ravaging our culture and eating away at it from the inside out. This disease of narcissism, emotionalism and the exultation of victim hood, is like syphilis, if left untreated, it leads to insanity and then death. As evidenced by Charles Blow’s recent ramblings, we are obviously well into the insanity stage.

©2019

X-Men: Dark Phoenix - A Review

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

My Rating: 1.5 out of 5 stars

Popcorn Rating: 2 out of 5 stars

My Recommendation: SKIP IT. Absolutely no reason to ever see this derivative and dull snooze of a movie.

X-Men: Dark Phoenix, written and directed by Simon Kinberg, is the the story of Jean Grey as she comes to grips with her mutant powers and murky past. The film stars Sophie Turner as Grey, with the usual X-Men suspects James McAvoy, Jennifer Lawrence, Michael Fassbender and Nicholas Hoult along for the ride, as well as a supporting turn from Jessica Chastain. Dark Phoenix is the sequel to 2016’s X-Men: Apocalypse and is the seventh and final installment of the current main X-Men saga.

After I see a film I usually either sit in the theatre or go out to the lobby and write down my brief thoughts. After X-Men: Dark Phoenix I sat trying to think of something to write and was stumped. It wasn’t that I had no opinion about the movie, it is that I only had the most distant, passing and fading memory of what had just transpired on screen. Dark Phoenix is such a derivative, dull and middling movie that it proves to be instantly, and almost entirely, forgettable.

X-Men movies over the last 19 years have, in general, been aggressively mediocre, visually banal and dramatically mundane (the notable exception being 2017’s Logan). While some of the X-Men movies have been mildly entertaining and thematically intriguing, for the most part they have failed to live up to their extremely rich source material.

20th Century Fox came into the superhero market with a great deal of fanfare by handing the creative keys of the franchise to at-the-time esteemed filmmaker Bryan Singer, who directed the first film, X-Men in 2000, and four of the seven main X-Men films in total. But nearly twenty years after the X-Men’s cinematic debut, Fox leaves the superhero arena with barely an audible whimper. Dark Phoenix is a continuation of the downward trajectory of X-Men movies that was undeniable with 2016’s abysmal Apocalypse. It seems as though Apocalypse and Dark Phoenix were in a race to the bottom of the X-Men filmography…Dark Phoenix wins that race by a surprisingly strong margin, and is only notable for the fact that it is indeed the very dregs of X-Men movies.

For Fox to end their X-Men run with Apocalypse and Dark Phoenix is a humiliation almost equal to everyone’s least favorite pederast Bryan Singer’s fall from grace. One can only hope that Disney, which purchased Fox and with it the X-Men, can reboot this wayward franchise with some fresh creative blood that can resurrect this moribund series.

As for the particulars of Dark Phoenix…where to begin? The movie is stultifyingly dull, thematically trite, lazily acted, dismally written, impotently directed and is as visually stale and flat as possible. Besides that how was the play Mrs. Lincoln? No doubt better than Dark Phoenix.

What is striking is that Dark Phoenix boasts a cavalcade of really top notch actors but is riddled with insipid performances. Jennifer Lawrence is a great actress and one of my favorites, but in her turn as Raven she so lifelessly mouths her lines it feels as if she is working the graveyard shift at the 24-hour Arby’s in Podunk, Kentucky. She seems genuinely embarrassed to be in the movie and entirely disinterested in being there.

Jessica Chastain is another quality actress who sleepwalks through Dark Phoenix. You can almost see the money signs in Chastain’s eyes as she vacantly goes through the motions.

Michael Fassbender reprises his role as Magneto and try as he might he simply cannot muster any mettle/metal in his performance…pun intended.

James McAvoy suffers even worse humiliations than the rest of the cast as in one scene, that is so ridiculous it made me laugh out loud, his Professor X is forced to “walk” on his crippled legs, to hysterical affect. This scene was like a bad Saturday Night Live skit, although that is something out of the Department of Redundancy Department.

Sophie Turner, last seen as Sansa Stark on Game of Thrones, is the film’s lead and she does not prove herself up to the task of carrying a feature film. Turner is a beautiful women but, sadly, as my life proves, beauty can only get you so far. Turner simply does not have the skill, charisma and magnetism to command audience’s attention for a feature length film. That doesn’t mean she will never be able to do that, it just means she cannot do it now.

The overwhelming feeling I had about the cast while watching this movie was that they were simply playing out the string and cashing in while they could. This is the last X-Men movie of this cycle, and these actors will most likely never play these roles again…so they need to get while the getting is good…and these performances felt more like a heist and a getaway than commitment to acting artistry. I suppose there is nothing wrong with that, the mortgage isn’t going to pay for itself after all, but it definitely leaves a sour taste in the mouth of fans as the movie’s stars grab the money and hustle to get out of Dodge as fast as they can.

Simon Kinberg wrote and directed Dark Phoenix, proving that he is not even remotely good at writing or directing. Kinberg’s script is abominable and his miserable direction is a major reason why such a stellar cast turned in such horrendous performances.

Kinberg’s script is so shallow and empty that the biggest feeling I had at the end of the movie is…what is the point of it? Obviously the point is to make money, which it might, but on a more philosophical level the question truly is…what is the purpose and meaning behind this movie? What is the animating philosophical/psychological/spiritual principle of this movie? Yes, the film does have some of the usual Girl Power posing and preening, which has become de rigueur lately, sprinkled throughout. Lines like “since women are always saving the men around here you should change the name to X-Women"!” and “your mind has been poisoned by men with small minds” and “you’re not a little girl anymore” and my favorite exchange where the villain (a female) says to Jean Grey, “you’re emotions make you weak” and Jean replies, “no, my emotions make me strong!” give the impression of a philosophical foundation but are nothing more than vapid and vacuous bullshit meant to appease and patronize the neo-feminists in Hollywood and no one else. In reality the film has no philosophical, logical, dramatic or narrative foundation upon which to build itself, instead it is a soulless, paint by numbers exercise in vacant big budget franchise movie making and nothing else.

In conclusion, Dark Phoenix is a flaccid, unimaginative cinematic venture that is truly unsatisfying in every single way. Even if you are a super hero fanatic, there is absolutely no reason to see this movie in the theatres or anywhere else for that matter. Sadly, this Phoenix was engulfed in the flames of its awfulness and avarice but was never able to rise from the ashes of its own failings and should be condemned to remain forever alone in the Dark…where it truly belongs.

©2019

Godzilla: King of the Monsters - A Review

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

My Rating: 2 out of 5 stars

Popcorn Rating: 2.75 out of 5 stars

My Recommendation: SKIP IT. It isn’t awful, but unless you are an avid Godzilla and monster movie fan like me, there is really no need to make the effort to see this one in the theatre.

Godzilla: King of the Monsters, directed by Michael Dougherty and written by Dougherty and Zach Shields, is the story of the Russell family, Mark, Emma and Madison, as they come to grips with their grief and with famed monster Godzilla. The film stars Kyle Chandler, Vera Farmiga and Millie Bobby Brown as Mark, Emma and Madison respectively, with supporting turns from a cavalcade of actors such as Ziyi Zhang, Ken Watanabe, Charles Dance, Sally Hawkins, Bradley Whitford and O’Shea Jackson, to name just a few. Godzilla: King of the Monsters is the 35th film in the Godzilla franchise and is the third film in Legendary Entertainment’s Monsterverse (Godzilla 2014, Kong: Skull Island 2017).

As I have stated before, I am a confirmed Godzilla fan. As a kid growing up, as all the other kids were going crazy for Star Wars…I was obsessed with Godzilla and Planet of the Apes. During my childhood, if on a Saturday one of the local UHF channels just happened to be showing a Godzilla movie, it felt like Christmas. As a kid I also maintained a treasure trove of Godzilla toys and that compulsion has stayed with me well into adulthood. As a young and eligible bachelor living the high life in Brooklyn in the 90’s and 00’s, I had a circular table in my living room that was covered with Godzilla action figures which I proudly dubbed “Monster Island”. As you can imagine it was a huge attraction that brought many ladies into my lair and acted as a powerful aphrodisiac upon them. Nothing gets panties to drop quicker than a prominent display of Godzilla figurines.

It was during this time that Hollywood ventured into the Godzilla waters with Roland Emmerich’s accurately titled Godzilla (1998). Being the idiot fan that I am I rushed out to see this Godzilla reboot as fast as I could. The film, which I’ve since re-named Ferris Bueller’s Godzilla because it starred Matthew Broderick of all godforsaken people, was atrociously bad.

It took another 16 years, but Hollywood got back in the Godzilla business with 2014’s also aptly titled, Godzilla, directed by Gareth Edwards. Once again I rushed out to theatres to see my favorite monster and once again I left the theatre deflated after suffering through a truly terrible monster movie.

For further proof of my Godzilla nerd-dom bona fides, one need look no further than the fact that I actually wrote a very controversial and polarizing piece of Godzilla fan fiction and posted it to this website to coincide with the release of Godzilla (2014). This piece was so culturally radioactive it was met with an avalanche derision and scorn, up to and including death threats.

In 2016, much to my relief the Japanese studio and originator of the Godzilla franchise, Toho, released Shin Godzilla. I am such a fan of Godzilla (and Toho), that I actually waited in line early on a Sunday morning outside the Royal Laemmle Theatre to get tickets to see it. Thankfully, this was an enjoyable Godzilla movie experience.

In terms of the recent Hollywood Godzilla franchise, the 2014 Godzilla was the first film in Legendary Entertainment’s Monsterverse, and it definitely got that franchise off on the wrong foot. It was followed by Kong: Skull Island, starring the dead-eyed and empty-headed Brie Larson, which was so awful it made my teeth hurt. Kong: Skull Island was so bad it did the impossible, it made Godzilla (2014) look like Citizen Kane in comparison. Which brings us to the most recent film in the Legendary Monsterverse…Godzilla: King of the Monsters.

After my checkered Godzilla movie-going past, you might have thought I'd be hesitant to rush out and see Godzilla: King of the Monsters, well…you greatly over-estimate my intelligence. While I certainly did not have high expectations, in fact, my expectations were incredibly low, that didn’t stop me from going to see the very first showing of the film on opening day…which ended up being a 4 pm show on Thursday afternoon.

My basic takeaway from King of the Monsters is this…it isn’t good…but with that said I also must admit… it could have been a hell of a lot worse. The biggest problem with the Hollywood Godzilla movies is that they use Godzilla as a prop for human drama as opposed to using humans as a prop for Godzilla drama. These movies spend so much time trying to get us to care about stupid people doing stupid things instead of just giving us what we came to see…Godzilla. I mean, Godzilla’s name isn’t above the title…IT IS THE TITLE.

To King of the Monsters credit, it does give us much more Godzilla than its predecessor did…but that isn’t exactly a high bar as Godzilla (2014) had so little Godzilla it should have been titled Waiting for Godzilla. Why studios need to stick to the usual formula of spending time trying to get audiences attached to second rate actors like Kyle Chandler or Vera Formiga is beyond me. You can show them, and spend a wee bit of time developing them, but then just leave them to try and survive the ultimate god encounter…namely…Godzilla.

King of the Monsters goes through the motions of trying to be a real drama, and uses certain cliched narrative devices…over and over and over and over again…in an effort to give deeper meaning to the monster festivities, but this all rings monotonous and hollow. It is like the film gets stuck in a plot loop and can’t get out of it so it simply repeats the same dramatic pattern every half hour except with different characters.

The cast are all fine I guess. I mean, I totally get how difficult it is to act in such an absurd movie with such terrible dialogue, so I cut the cast excessive amounts of slack. That said…the ever-awful Bradley Whitford does his very best to ruin the movie all by himself. Whitford is so repellent a screen presence he needs to be thrown into a volcano and sacrificed to Rodan for the good of all humanity.

On the bright side, 15 year old Millie Bobbie Brown is a really good actress. Brown has hit it big after her captivating work on Netflix’s break out hit Stranger Things. Brown’s greatest asset is that she is alive on screen and pulsates with a palpable humanity. She is also very beautiful, and I have to admit I find myself very concerned for her well-being, as Hollywood is a tough town for anyone, nevermind young people, and it is riddled with predators who use their power to prey upon the young and the weak. It is disconcerting to see Brown being “sexxed-up” by the industry and her handlers, and I only hope she can keep her wits about her as success can be very disorienting at such a young age.

Another plus is seeing Ziyi Zhang in a prominent supporting role. Zhang, who you may remember from Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, is a beguiling beauty and formidable actress and it is a shame she has been missing from American cinema for so long.

As for the monsters…well…the results are mixed. Godzilla looks great, really great, and we do get to see more of him and his rampages than we did in Godzilla (2014), but not enough of him. The other monsters, King Ghidorah, Rodan and Mothra are all just ok. I actually thought Ghidorah was pretty underwhelming visually especially compared to the dragons on Game of Thrones, which surprised me as you’d expect a feature film to have better effects than a tv show. Rodan also felt a bit off visually and that was a disappointment as he has historically been a good foil for Godzilla.

Mothra makes an appearance and is also not the most captivating visual presence. To be fair though, I have never liked Mothra at all. I always thought it was moronic to have a moth be this powerful being…I mean…it is a fucking moth for goodness sake.

The visuals of King of the Monsters are, much like its predecessor, decidedly dark, although this time around there is a higher level of clarity and coherence with the cinematography. We do get to see some clear shots of Godzilla and have a better idea of what is happening during his big fights, but I could use a hell of a lot more of it.

There are a few notable shots in the movie as well…including the usual iconic posing from Godzilla himself. There is one gorgeous shot of Ghidorah that is bursting with symbolic and thematic power, where Ghidorah spreads his wings atop a mountain with a cross in the foreground, that is really well executed. But then the impact of that shot was diluted when the filmmakers made the curious decision to literally show it about four more times.

The plot of King of the Monsters is riddled with illogic and inconsistencies and makes little to no sense. The movie also has little sense of time and space which can make it somewhat dizzying affair. The reality is that the film needlessly tries to explain everything and by doing so just confuses things even more.

In conclusion, if you love Godzilla movies you will find this one to be passable but not particularly great. If you are lukewarm on Godzilla movies and are looking for some mindless fun…stay away from this one as it is a little too mindless and a little short on fun. At the end of the day, Godzilla: King of the Monsters isn’t good enough to do anything more than preach to the most adamant of the Kaiju faithful.

©2019

The Souvenir: A Review

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

My Rating: 1 out of 5 stars

My Recommendation: SKIP IT. No need to ever suffer through this meandering art house pretender.

The Souvenir, written and directed by Joanna Hogg, is the story of Julie, a film school student who falls into a relationship with Anthony, a mysterious older man. The film stars Honor Swinton Byrne as Julie and Tom Burke as Anthony, with a supporting turn from Tilda Swinton.

Joanna Hogg (no relation to Dukes of Hazzard’s Boss Hogg or Sir Denis Eton-Hogg of This is Spinal Tap) is a British filmmaker who in the last decade has made a bunch of fringe art house films that have occasionally garnered some mild critical attention. I have never seen any of Ms. Hogg’s previous work, and after seeing The Souvenir, I don’t feel obliged to.

The Souvenir is a narcissistically indulgent art house poseur of a film that has pretensions of profundity but ultimately is nothing more than an exercise in cinematic futility and philosophical frivolity.

Ms. Hogg’s film school training is noticeable as she is proficient in the technical aspects of filmmaking, some of her shots of wonderfully framed for example, but she is totally devoid of even the most minute storytelling or character developing instincts. The Souvenir’s characters, relationships and narrative are so poorly constructed the film has no foundation upon which to build any sort of dramatic momentum.

The characters have absolutely no arcs to them at all, they start in one place and end in exactly the same place. No one goes anywhere or learns anything…things just happen and time goes by and then, mercifully, the movie is over. The movie is so devoid of any dramatic pace or rhythm, the film’s meandering two hour run time drags on and on. It seems Ms. Hogg’s greatest skill as a filmmaker is the ability to make two hours feel like eight.

The film is a semi-autobiographical story about a relationship Ms. Hogg was in during her film school days, and it shows. Ms. Hogg takes for granted the character’s motivations and their connections because she has lived them, but she never does the work of conveying those things to the audience, so we are left with no connection to anything or anyone on the screen.

The film not only has no answers, it has no questions, but instead spins its wheels in the muck and mire of its own emptiness. Nothing makes sense, nothing means anything, and nothing matters. I sat watching this film wondering why on earth Julie would spend time with this dullard and dope of a man Anthony who brings nothing to the table…nothing…he is not charming, smart, funny, good-looking or charismatic.

Honor Swinton Byrne (Tilda Swinton’s daughter) is a pleasant screen presence as Julie but is not developed enough as an actress to be able to carry a film like this which, if made correctly, would need a complex performance at its center. Byrne may well grow and mature into a more formidable actress, but for now her charm and quirky, but undeniable, beauty can only carry her so far and do not make up for her lack of skill. That said, I do look forward to seeing where she goes from here.

Tom Burke as Anthony does as well as he can with the very little he is given. Anthony is a vacuous and vacant character, a cardboard cutout from Ms. Hogg’s perspective on her own history. Burke gives Anthony a distinct and precise manner but cannot give him any specific intentions because the character has none.

Tilda Swinton plays a small role as Julie’s mother and brings a noticeable amount of dramatic heft that is missing from the rest of the cast. Tilda Swinton elevates the proceedings a great deal but is not a miracle worker.

Seeing this film made me remember being in a play a few years ago. In the play I played a date rapist and had to simulate a rape on stage. My scene partner, who is one of the loveliest people I know, was also the writer and star of the production and she had written the play about her own personal experience. Obviously, rehearsing this scene was difficult because of the emotional minefield we were walking through. In one rehearsal I improvised by changing one small word in a line, and my scene partner/writer and her director friend got very upset. They said that I shouldn’t change the word, and when I told them that the way I changed it actually conveyed the emotional sentiments more clearly and with much more dramatic impact, they countered by saying with the utmost sincerity and earnesty, “but that isn’t what he said in real life”. Needless to say, I bit my tongue, I am not going to argue with that statement in that situation. But the reality was and is that it doesn’t matter how it happened “in real life”…what matters is how you convey it to the audience and how they perceive it. How does the audience receive and process the information you are giving them? By sticking to strictly “what really happened”, the essence of that rape scene, and its horror and emotional power, were diluted due to a sort of emotional narcissism more akin to psychotherapy than drama/art/entertainment. While that may benefit the actress/writer, it didn’t benefit the story or the characters and therefore the audience.

It struck me watching The Souvenir that Ms. Hogg seemed to be re-litigating an old relationship and using cinema as the vehicle for her therapy. While that may be good for her, that is not so good for us because her therapy is not dramatically sound, artistically worthy or even remotely compelling or engaging.

After seeing the film I thought to myself that, like her young star Honor Swinton Byrne, Ms. Hogg may well grow to be a formidable filmmaker as she matures and grows as an artist. Due to the film’s rather immature philosophical perspective and myopic artistic vision I assumed Ms. Hogg was a young woman in her twenties who was basically still trying to figure out who she is as an artist. Then I looked Ms. Hogg up and was dismayed to find that she is a 60 year old woman. If she doesn’t know who she is as an artist and a person or what she is doing as a director by now, she never will.

In conclusion, The Souvenir is a piece of art house fool’s gold that sells itself as a sort of artistic journey but is neither a piece of art nor does it go anywhere. Ultimately, the film is a frustrating, dare I say irritating, cinematic experience, and for this reason I contend that no one ever needs to see this film at any time or any place for any reason.

©2019

Final Thoughts on the Game of Thrones Finale - Alternative Ending Included

Estimated Reading Time: 4 minutes 02 seconds

Game of Thrones has come and gone and after eight seasons of turmoil has exited with a whimper and not a bang. The final episode, in keeping with the final two seasons, was underwhelming at best. The narrative felt rushed and the drama forced, and so, a show that was a powder keg of possibilities ended with a fizzle.

The finale was lackluster and the last season lacking, and I think it is important to understand why that is and how it happened. The biggest issue, and this seems to be a consensus, is that the last two seasons were rushed, with the narrative being sped up and therefore the drama not earned. It is counter intuitive, but oddly enough the dramatic momentum of the show slowed precipitously when the pace of the narrative increased over the last two seasons. Without the requisite time and space to let the characters and story marinate, simmer and then stew over a warm but not hot flame, the drama was both under done and over done at the same time. This left the story tough on the outside, which made it difficult to chew on, and cold on the inside, which made it hard to swallow, and left an unpleasant taste in your mouth and a queasy feeling in your belly when it was over.

In the recipe for drama, time is a key ingredient and it seemed to be the most lacking in the last few seasons of Game of Thrones. For example, much more time was needed for Dany to be turned into as mad a Queen as she needed to be for the resolution of the story to make dramatic sense.

By increasing the pace of the drama over the last two seasons, and this half season most especially, the show lost its focus and became more about hitting plot points necessary to end it, than in having characters make believable choices in the circumstances they found themselves. When logistics of the production are the main driving point for the arc of the narrative, then the story will crumble under the weight of its dramatic falsity.

Of course, lots of people have lots of opinions about the show and its finale. People like to bitch about things…myself included. But it is important not to let the less than stellar finale and final season undermine the enormity of what the makers of Game of Thrones achieved with this show. As I have written before, we will not see anything like this again…and so while it is fun to nit pick the negatives of the final season, we must also tip our cap to those that got so many people invested in the show in the first place.

With that said…here are my thoughts on what should have happened. Of course, the question arises, who the hell am I and why should anyone give a rat’s ass what I think should have happened to end Game of Thrones? The answer to that is that I am most definitely a nobody and will remain one until the day I die…but…I do spend my time and make my living as an acting coach scouring scripts in a desperate search for drama. I read a ton of scripts and I work with lots of actors trying to dredge up the worthwhile drama in them. My alternative take on the Game of Thrones finale is an exercise based entirely on storytelling where drama takes precedence. Maybe my ending makes no sense in terms of the books (which I have not read), or the budget (which I am not paying for), or the fan base (of which I am not a member)….but it does make dramatic sense…and for me that is all that matters.

So…here it is…my broad brush ending to Game of Thrones.

ALTERNATE ENDING

Main Themes: Duty and Honor

The sacking of King’s Landing should’ve been the first big battle of the last season….with the Battle of King’s Landing and the Battle of Winterfell exchanging places in the story order. In a six episode season (which should’ve been 12 episodes) the Battle of King’s Landing should happen in episode three at the latest, two if possible, and the Battle of Winterfell against the Night King should have happened in the penultimate episode (#5). In a 12 episode final season, which i would prefer, I would have the Battle of King’s Landing at Episode 8 and the Battle of Winterfell at episode 11.

The Battle/sacking of King’s Landing would play out the same way in my version as the show’s actual version, with Dany going all Dresden/Hiroshima on the general population. My one tweak would be that Cersei and Jaime die in each others arms but by dragon fire when Dany sees them trying to escape the Red Keep. Dany and Cersei would look into each others eyes and then Jaime and Cersei would have their conversations “this is all that matters”, and then Dany would torch them. This sequence gives Dany agency in Cersei’s death and also makes Cersei’s death a punishment for all of her evil.

The burning of King’s Landing sets Dany up as a morally questionable character due to her torching of innocents. It also means that every character becomes morally compromised by the atrocity because they still need Dany on their side in the fight against the Night King. The Night King is the greatest existential threat to all of mankind, and so it means that everyone…even the mad Queen who kills innocent people, must be kept on board. Every character, from Jon to Tyrion to Arya to Sansa and on and on must bend the knee to one evil, Dany, in order to defeat another greater evil, the Night King.

The Battle of Winterfell then proceeds after the armies march north to Winterfell to meet the Army of the Dead. On this march there are lots of conversations about Dany and what are we going to do? She is mad? etc., etc.

The Battle of Winterfell is shot more clearly and with more coherence and clarity in my version. While I didn’t really dig Arya killing the Night King or the way she did it in the original…I will acquiesce and keep that sequence the same. But in my Battle of Winterfell many more characters are lost. Brienne, Tormund, Greyworm as well as the ones killed in the original all die.

After the end of the Battle of Winterfell and the Night King’s death, Dany embraces an exhausted Jon and they weep and cheer their victory together. Dany then tells Jon that since the threat of the Night King is over, “their child can be born into a world of peace.” Uh-oh…Dany is pregnant…and Jon is the father…the stakes just got even higher in Westeros.

In my alternative finale…Jon is, as always, ready to serve his queen…but Tyrion, Sansa, and Arya all implore him that something must be done about the Mad Queen who is talking and acting like a tyrant.

Jon then has a similar conversation with Dany that he had in the actual finale, and they go back and forth about what is good and right…and Dany asks Jon to join her in making this new world. Jon kills her. Dany being pregnant with Jon’s child as well as being his Queen and love…makes the stakes much higher, the gravity of his decisions much heavier and much more fraught than in the original finale. By killing Dany, Jon is actually sacrificing not just his love and self-conceived notion of his honor and belief system…but his lineage, his child, his everything that he yearned for throughout the story. Jon commits this heinous (in his eyes) act because it is the “right” thing to do for the people, the kingdom and the Starks…and these added narrative obstacles make the weight of that decision much much greater than was in the original finale.

The Lords of the Seven kingdoms then declare Jon, who is the rightful heir, to be king of Westeros. Jon declines and instead exiles himself to the North, to wander among the Wildlings far north of the wall…and to never marry or have children or take lands. His punishment is self-imposed….this gives Jon agency and makes his exile a heroic act and thus he begins his arc of redemption. Jon starts as a bastard longing for acceptance and he ends as a self-imposed exile…forgoing all he yearns for in order to do the right thing.

The council, after much debate and hemming and hawing, all, out of various Machiavellian maneuvers…choose Gendry Baratheon to be king. Gendry is chosen by some because they think he is an peasant who can be easily manipulated to thwart Stark power. But those anti-Stark machination are upended when Arya Stark, who has discovered she is pregnant with Gendry’s baby and thus cannot explore what lies in the West, accepts Gendry’s proposal. Arya thus becomes the Queen of Westeros, and due to Gendry’s rather uneducated background, Arya is now the real ruler of the Seven Kingdoms and eventual mother to a King as well.

Arya marrying Gendry and becoming Queen of Westeros fulfills her character’s arc too as she has thrown off the childish urges for adventure and revenge and instead grows up to accept “DUTY” above all else. Just as her mother and father before her sacrificed for her, Arya now sacrifices her dream of personal freedom for her child and for her family and kingdom. Arya starts as a tomboy repulsed by the trappings of power…and ends as a Queen, ruling over the Seven Kingdoms.

Sansa, assuming she is backed by her sister, then declares that the North will not kneel…and must be independent. Other kingdoms tart contemplating the same thing. Gendry and Arya, with an assist from Bran, decide that in order to quell the “independence” talk, Sansa must consummate her marriage to Tyrion and bear an heir if the North is to be granted autonomy. Both Sansa and Tyrion are horrified and vehemently against the idea.

This is the highest of drama considering Sansa’s history and also considering that it is her sister and brother who are asking this of her. After much hemming and hawing…Sansa does what both Jon and Arya do…she chooses duty…and she accepts her fate and the conditions under which she will become Queen of the North. Sansa chooses to put duty to her people and family above all else and agrees to the pairing. (A shot, through a doorway - like the iconic ending of Godfather I with Michael in a room and Kay watching through a door- of Sansa standing in a bedroom alone. Tyrion enters, they exchange a glance, he kisses her hand, then Sansa walks over and slowly closes the door on the camera, implying they are about to have sex, would be terrific.)

In order to soften the blow upon Sansa…Tyrion is named the Hand and will live in Kings Landing after Sansa is impregnated, leaving Sansa to rule the North on her own. Arya tells Tyrion that she will watch him with a keen eye and have his head if he so much as thinks of betraying her or Gendry. Tyrion looks over and sees Bran, who nods. Tyrion understands that Bran knows everything and that he must be unquestionably loyal to Arya and Gendry.

Bran is now the Three Eyed Raven…and serves as a sort Grand Maester who is part historian, part prophet, part wizard. Bran works closely with Samwell and they become the keepers of history and knowledge. Bran also searches far and wide with his powers to find Drogon and maybe even bring him under the Stark wing with his warging powers.

The show could end with the same Stark montage as the original finale…except this time with Arya sitting on her throne next to Gendry…ruling the kingdom through her husband, with Sansa sitting alone on her throne in Winterfell with her hand on her belly contemplating her soon to be born child, and with Jon riding alone in the cold and snow of the North, feeling the bitter wind of his exile.

So…that is what I think should’ve happened. If the show had gone one more full season they may have been able to pull it off…but alas…we will never know. I guess I better get started writing my fantasy novel masterpiece because that is the only way these ideas will see the light. And thus concludes my speculative Game of Thrones pseudo-fan fiction!

©2019

Shadow: 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. A wonderfully made, visually stunning and dramatically and psychologically satisfying Chinese action film in the vein of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Hero.

Shadow, directed by iconic Chinese film maker Zhang Yimou, is the story of Jingzhou who is trained from a young age to be a double/shadow for military leader Ziyu. The film stars Deng Chao in a dual role as Jingzhou and Commander Ziyu, with supporting turns from Sun Li and Zheng Kai.

Shadow is best described as a Wuxia film, which is a genre of Chinese fantasy/fiction that revolves around “martial heroes” in a world of magical realism. Notable examples of Wuxia films are Ang Lee’s Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Hero and House of Flying Daggers by the same director as Shadow, Zhang Yimou.

Yimou, who is one of the great directors of his generation, has a flair for unique fight choreography and paints his films with a striking palette and dramatic visuals. In Shadow, Yimou and cinematographer Zhao Xiaoding use a muted grey, black and white as the dominant color scheme but the film’s visuals crackle with a stunning intensity. The film is beautifully shot, highlighted by Xiaoding’s gorgeous framing (just look at the poster above) and use of a crisp and clear contrast between the blacks and the whites, the shadow and the light. Yimou and Xiaoding’s masterful use of contrast creates a visual clarity and coherence that is a joy to behold.

Shadow is a psychologically and dramatically rich story that deeply mines the Jungian concepts of the shadow. The most obvious example of this is that Chao plays both Jing and Ziyi, who are essentially the same entity with two different elements of its psyche projected into the outer world, each vying for control. Jing “the shadow”, must be identical to Ziyi, and in a delicious bit of Jungian symbolism, must have the identical “wound” as Ziyi. Ziyi in turn must integrate his “shadow” in order to make himself whole again, or face the consequences of being overcome by his psychological shadow.

The shadow is a complex and dramatically potent psychological premise used to great effect by other film makers from the East, most notably Japanese master Akira Kurosawa in the terrific film Kagemusha (Shadow Warrior). Like Shadow, Kagemusha also effectively used a single actor (the great Tatsuya Nakadai) to play both the role of the man of power and his shadow. Yimou dives even deeper into Jungian shadow psychology than Kurosawa though by emphasizing the anima (the feminine) and the imperative to also integrate that feminine power in order to become whole.

The ying and yang and wholeness are dominant themes throughout the movie (again look at the poster above) and Yimou emphasizes that battle/balance between the opposites not only visually with the black versus white color scheme, but dramatically with opposing masculine roles and opposing feminine roles. Just as Ziyi has Jing as his literal shadow (and vice versa), Ziyi’s wife, Xiao Ai has a symbolic opposite/shadow in Princess Qingping. That sort of balance in the narrative makes the film dramatically and subconciously very satisfying even while it maintains a pronounced assault and challenge upon our storytelling expectations.

Wholeness is also represented in numerous ways in the film, most notably by the umbrella. A circle is the symbol for wholeness and in Shadow, Jing integrates his masculine and feminine sides by using a circle, an umbrella, as a weapon not only of defense but of offense. Jing’s learning the use of the umbrella is an integration dance between the masculine and the feminine. The use of the umbrella is not only psychologically resonant but is visually striking as well.

The cast all do solid work with Deng Chao in his dual role and Sun Li as Ziyi’s wife being the most notable. Chao is really remarkable as both men and it is easy to forget the same actor is playing both roles. Sun Li’s work is incredibly layered and she brings a palpable humanity and fragility to the role that profoundly accentuates the drama.

The fight sequences are all so unique, original and compelling that they are a wonder to behold. Since The Matrix and Crouching Tiger became such big hits twenty years ago, slow motion martial arts moves have become passe, but Yimou fantastically turns everything on its head in Shadow and creates vibrant and vivid fights that are gloriously choreographed and cinematically mesmerizing. Yimou also wisely uses water and rain to further visually enhance the fight sequences.

While Shadow can be a bit confusing at first, especially if you go in unaware of the plot, once it hits its stride it is truly fantastic. I loved the film because it is such a dramatically, psychologically and cinematically rich example of the magical realism of Wuxia in action. If you are a fan of Wuxia or Yimou, rush out and see this movie in the theatres immediately. If you are less a Wuxia enthusiast, but enjoyed Crouching Tiger, Shadow may be a little tougher to penetrate because it isn’t as easily digestible or romantically sweeping as Ang Lee’s epic, but it is equally beautiful to look at. But with all that said, even if you are on the fence about going to see Shadow, why not give it a shot….the shadow you save might just be your own.

©2019

Tedeschi Trucks Band - The Orpheum Theatre: A Review

TEDESCHI TRUCKS BAND - ORPHEUM THEATRE - THURSDAY, MAY 16TH, 2019

Last Thursday, May 16th, I continued my year of living musically when I ventured to downtown Los Angeles to see the Tedeschi Trucks Band play at the Orpheum Theatre. I was intrigued by the possibilities of this show as I had never seen Tedeschi Trucks play live before, nor had I ever been to the Orpheum.

The Grammy Award-winning Tedeschi Trucks Band are a blues jam band currently on tour in support of their fourth studio album, Signs, which was released on February 15 of this year. I discovered the band a few years ago through a client, who is a notable professional musician, and have been a fan ever since I explored their first album, Revelator(2011), and its scintillating follow up Made Up Mind(2013).

The band formed in 2010 when singer and guitarist Susan Tedeschi, a blues superstar in her own right, merged her band with her blues royalty/guitar prodigy husband Derek Trucks’ band, to form a sort of blues super group. Derek is the nephew of Butch Trucks, drummer for The Allman Brothers, and grew up playing with the band. By the time Derek was 13 he was already a professional touring musician who had played with such notables as the legendary Buddy Guy. Trucks became an official member of The Allman Brothers at the age of 20 and has recorded and toured with Eric Clapton as well and is widely considered one of the very best players of his generation.

The Tedeschi Trucks Band is enormous, like a traveling circus, boasting 12 members, who are…Susan Tedeschi (lead vocals, rhythm guitar), Derek Trucks (lead guitar), JJ Johnson and Tyler Greenwell (drums/percussion), Brandon Boone (bass), Gabe Dixon (keyboards), Kebbi Williams (sax), Ephraim Owens (trumpet), Elizabeth Lea (trombone), Mike Mattison/Mark Rivers/Alecia Chakour (harmony vocals).

I was flying solo on concert night so I did not have my usual pre-show dinner at Shake Shack even though there was one right next to The Orpheum. Instead I Ubered a little later than usual to the show in order to avoid L.A. traffic and got to the venue about 20 minutes before show time.

As I waded through the crowd on the sidewalk and just inside the theatre, I noticed that the average age of the audience was middle-aged or slightly above. Unless some of these people are going to live to be 130 years old, I don’t think it is accurate to describe them as “middle-aged”. The crowd was decidedly friendly and welcoming, no bad apples or attitudes among the multitudes.

I made my way to my seat, which was very good as it was located on the second row center of the mezzanine, and sat myself down to get a good look at my surroundings. The Orpheum is a truly gorgeous venue, at once opulent and luxurious but also lived in. The seats were very comfortable and there was plenty of leg room between rows and arms space between seats.

Sitting behind me were an older couple, probably in their 60’s, who started chatting me up. They told me they had seen Tedeschi Trucks numerous times before and never saw the same show twice. Another guy, a retiree from Minnesota, overheard the conversation and chimed in. He told me he follows the band around, going to all of their shows not just in Minnesota but in Iowa and to all of their shows in Chicago and at the Beacon Theatre in New York. He flew out to Los Angeles to stay with his nephew and attend both shows that the band were playing on back to back nights at the Orpheum. All of these people assured me that, as a Tedeschi Trucks virgin, I would be blown away by the band. These folks were very down to earth and I never would have pegged them as essentially the equivalent of Tedeschi Trucks Dead Heads.

The show was scheduled to start at 8 with no opening act. At about 8:15 the band haphazardly strolled onto the stage and after some brief discussion amongst themselves, began playing. The band opened with the rollicking “Do I Look Worried” off of Made Up Mind and in no time at all I understood why Tedeschi Trucks has such a loyal following.

Susan Tedeschi has a wondrous, bluesy voice that both soars but is grounded. She powers through her vocals with a steady aplomb that gives the music a rich and complex humanity. The rest of the band are exceedingly tight, highlighted by the double drum section of Johnson and Greenwell, who at times lead the band with drum duets and/or duels. The horn section and the backing vocals are terrific as well and always made the most of their opportunities to shine.

But with all that said, there is simply no doubt that Derek Trucks is the sun around which the other planets in the band orbit. Trucks is obviously the band leader and weaves the talents of his formidable band into a cohesive and magnificent whole.

Trucks’ guitar playing is beyond sublime, as I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone do anything as well as Derek Trucks played guitar the other night. Trucks’ guitar is like a long bow, and his notes arrows launched deep into the night sky. These arrows float elegantly through the air and then, concisely and precisely, strike the bullseye some miles away in the darkness with a resonant boom. Other arrows float through the night sky and then, once they reach their seeming apex, cluster together to form a rocket, then ignite, and blast off beyond the bounds of earth, scorching out of the Milky Way, exploring the deepest reaches of the universe, sometimes slowing, sometimes speeding up, but never losing their vibrancy, vitality and originality. These rockets then come full circle, turning into a ball of flames as they reenter the atmosphere, and morph once again into pristine arrows as they, with cunning exactness, come to land ever so gently back from the place they originated, in Derek Trucks’ quiver, just as he intended, entirely in tact and none the worse for wear, only wiser.

Trucks’ playing is spell-binding, so mesmerizing as to be hypnotic. He is so good he isn’t just the center of the band, but for two hours every night, the universe tilts on its axis because Derek Trucks’ and his guitar become the undeniable center of it.

Guitarists often describe their instrument as an axe, and it would be easy to think of Derek Trucks as some axe wielding dragon slayer. But as I watched Derek Trucks annihilate the Orpheum on Thursday night, I couldn’t help but think of Game of Thrones and the dragon Drogon obliterating Kings Landing. Derek Trucks is not the dragon slayer…Derek Trucks is the indestructible dragon..and his guitar wreaks a beautiful havoc and leaves those fortunate enough to witness its mastery and power, with mouths agape and minds blown.

The band played for a solid hour and then took a half hour intermission. My new friends, the older couple and the Minnesota man, quickly checked in on me to see what i thought, I was nearly speechless, and could only muster a “holy shit” in reply to their queries. They gave a knowing laugh, they too were once Tedeschi Trucks virgins.

After the intermission the band came out and picked up right where they left off with “I’m Gonna Be There” off of the new album Signs. Throughout the show various member of the band would took the spotlight, with back up singer Mike Mattison doing lead vocals on a few songs, as did Mark Rivers, both of them acquitting themselves extremely well. The horn section each got their solos, as did Brandon Boone on bass and Gabe Dixon on keyboards. The highlight feature though may have been JJ Johnson and Tyler Greenwell’s combined drum solo/duet/duel. These percussionists were masterful in playing off of and with each other and their skill is a driving force that keeps the band so tight.

After playing for another glorious hour and change, the band walked off to a raucous ovation, only to return for the requisite encore. Trucks’ then decisively tore into the distinct riff of “Made Up Mind” and the crowd erupted as the band tore through what may be their most signature song. Trucks and the horn section went back and forth with a volley of blues in a remarkable jam for a few delirious moments and then, with the audience spent, Tedeschi Trucks exited as they entered, with a slow saunter and an understated confidence.

The Tedeschi Trucks Band don’t put on a show, there is no posing and preening, no bells and whistles, instead the put on a master class in the blues. The musicianship on display at a Tedeschi Trucks show is the absolute height of artistry and craftsmanship. Even if you are not very familiar with the band, if you love music, go see Tedeschi Trucks…you will not be disappointed (you should also check out their albums, particularly Revelator and Made Up Mind). My ticket cost $105 (and came with a copy of their new album Signs) and my seats were very good and worth every penny and then some. I can tell you this, I now totally understand how middle-aged normies get sucked in by the band’s live music and end up following them around from city to city…as seeing Tedeschi Trucks is a truly transcendent experience. If you only see one concert a year, or every couple of years, do yourself a favor and make that concert Tedeschi Trucks.

SET LIST

Do I Look Worried

Part of Me

Don’t Drift Away

Somebody Pick Up My Pieces

High and Mighty

Down in the Flood

Loving You Is Sweeter Than Ever

The Sky is Crying

Idle Wind

INTERMISSION

I’m Gonna Be There

Signs, High Times

Lord Protect My Child

Don’t Keep Me Wonderin’

Shame

Midnight in Harlem

Get Out of My Life, Woman

Show Me

ENCORE

Made Up Mind

©2019

Brief Thoughts Before the End of Game of Thrones

Estimated Reading Time: 4 minutes 14 seconds

When Game of Thrones first appeared on HBO I admit I was skeptical. In general I don’t watch much television except for whatever sporting event that isn’t golf I happen to stumble upon, but I do usually make an exception for HBO.

I prefer to watch HBO because their shows are not suffocated within what I call the “Network Box”. The Network Box is why most network tv shows suck…they are stuck in a box of creative limitations in terms of what they can say and show, and monetary limitations in terms of how much money they must generate in order for the network to stick with them.

On network shows the language is censored, the violence muted and the nudity non-existent. Because of this it all feels so…manufactured and phony. And because the network’s demand so much ad revenue for each show, niche programs stand little chance of surviving their early years when they are building an audience and creative momentum. So why watch network TV when it is all garbage and anything worthwhile will be cancelled before there is any resolution to the story. And so…I generally give HBO shows a chance because they have more likelihood of being good and of not being cancelled if they aren’t blockbusters right away.

That said, I watched Game of Thrones originally more out of an obligation than out of interest for that first season. Then something completely miraculous happened…at the end of season one Ned Stark got his head chopped off. Stark, who was played by Sean Bean, the biggest star on the show, was the central character for season one, and when he found himself kneeling with the executioners axe poised over his neck, I watched with a bemused detachment.

As that scene unfolded I kept trying to figure out how Ned would be saved…who would swing in, or ride by, and in typical Hollywood fashion, somehow save the star. But then they actually cut Ned’s head off and I literally jumped up from my seat. I was startled, unnerved, exhilarated, agitated, excited and shocked. I was pacing my empty living room yelling aloud, “HOLY SHIT! HOLY SHIT!!”It was at that moment that Game of Thrones made its bones! Ned’s head was gone and it was on!

I never became a Game of Thrones superfan. I never read the books or delved into the maze of online fan sites and theories and such. I did watch every episode though, but if I am being honest, I rarely knew what the hell was happening or who half the people were, but that didn’t matter. The show as beautifully shot, wonderfully acted, well-written and was never miserly with violence or nudity. As I was fond of saying to friends about Game of Thrones, “come for the blood and guts, stay for the boobs and bush”…and that is exactly what I did.

One of the great not-so-secrets of Game of Thrones’ success was that it would take the most mundane scenes, filled with nothing but expository writing on the political machinations or history of Westeros, and turn it into interesting eye candy by setting the non-action in a brothel or bedroom with beautiful women, and occasionally men, cavorting in the background in all of their Medieval naked glory. Game of Thrones seemed to understand the most basic laws of human nature…which are, in no particular order…people like to look at beautiful people, people like to look at beautiful people naked, and people like to look at two or more beautiful people naked and simulating sex.

Besides the naked bodies and the consequence filled violence, the highlight of the show for me were the dragons. When Dany’s three fire-breathing, winged progeny grew up and took to the world, they were the most beautiful things I had ever seen on television. When the dragons were unleashed in battle, whether it be to save Dany from an assassination attempt, or to nearly kill Jaime, or to save Jon from the wights…they were glorious. When the undead ice dragon obliterated The Wall, it was simply stunning to behold. And when Dany went full Dresden and unchained Drogon to shock and awe in the battle of Kings Landing last week, it was absolutely spectacular. Remarkably well shot, with seamless special effects, the aerial destruction of Kings Landing was one of the greatest visual sequence ever seen on television.

In addition, when Drogon’s head came out of the darkness on the beach in last week’s episode to incinerate Varys…that was a truly delicious shot. It was also an example of creation through limitation…as the darkness wasn’t just visually striking…it saved money, as they only had to do a limited amount of CGI for the dragon head and not the whole body.

Which brings us to the budget issue. Game of Thrones has an enormous budget, the equivalent of a Hollywood blockbuster, but it isn’t unlimited. As I wrote earlier in regards to the Battle of Winterfell, that episode’s dark and muddy visuals which so many, myself included, found annoying, could very well be a result of penny-pinching and cutting corners in order to save money for the Battle of Kings Landing. Sure enough, last week’s Battle of Kings Landing was everything that this season’s earlier Battle of Winterfell was not. It was crystal clear, visually coherent and cinematically gorgeous.

Another complaint many have had, myself included, regarding the final two half seasons is that the narrative has seemed decidedly rushed, and thus less cohesive and coherent, especially in contrast with the pace of the earlier seasons. In my opinion, the story would have been better served had they done two full seasons instead of two half seasons, but again, the budget is probably the reason that didn’t happen.

If the producers had done two full seasons then the cast may have been up for significant pay raises and would have had a tremendous amount of leverage with which to get those pay raises. By doing two half seasons, the showrunners are only paying the cast for one full season, thus keeping them on their original “rookie” contracts and avoiding shelling out a big pay day.

The budget issue is a complex one and there are no doubt mitigating and complicating factors all the way around, including but not limited to people not wanting to be stuck working on this project any longer. Yes, Game of Thrones is undoubtedly the greatest thing most of these folks, be they actors, crew or producers, will ever be associated with, but working in TV is a grind, and working on a show in far off locales even more so. As successful as the Game of Thrones has been, I’m sure nearly everyone working on it is relieved it is over.

This is just my opinion…and I am not the one writing the checks…but I would have preferred not only two full seasons but also a flipping of the Battle of Winterfell and the Battle of Kings Landing. To me, I think it makes more narrative and creative sense, at least in hindsight, to have the beautiful Battle of Kings Landing first, and then the Battle of Winterfell in the penultimate episode. Of course, I would also want to spend more money and have the Battle of Winterfell shot entirely differently and even have a different ending, as the one they went with was way to Hollywood for my tastes and out of character for the show.

Also, I would still have Jaime and Cersei die at the Battle of Kings Landing in each other’s arms, which was very poetic, but just not by being buried under rumble, which was not visually satisfying. I would have had them try to escape, then see Dany on Drogon, and Dany see them, and she and Cersei make eye contact, then Cersei and Jaime have their final goodbye conversation and hug and then…DRACARYS…and the Lannister twin’s charred remains would be frozen in an eternal embrace. But again…this is just my opinion and I am sure others have differing ones that are just as valid.

As for what will happen in the finale…I have absolutely no idea mostly because I am still not even sure what the hell has already happened. As I wrote before, the bottom line is this, we should enjoy Game of Thrones and the Game of Thrones phenomenon while is lasts because we will see nothing like it ever again. Sure, people will try to copy its success, but cultural forces will limit what other series can do in Game of Thrones‘ wake, and will no doubt make little more than cheap, watered-down, politically correct and tokenly diverse imitations on the original rather than improvements.

You only get one shot at ending something as epic as Game of Thrones. As of right now, the show’s creators, D.B. Weiss and David Benioff, have definitely faltered coming down the abbreviated stretch. That said, it is not impossible, but certainly not likely, that Weiss and Benioff could right the ship in the show’s final eighty minutes. Whether they stick the Game of Thrones landing or not, Weiss and Benioff should be lauded for having gone as far as they have with this show and having been as successful as they have been with it. Game of Thrones is a monumental television achievement and regardless of whether it ends as well as it began, we should be grateful of that fact and shouldn’t lose sight of it.

©2019

Undead Army of the Woke Will Make Sure Game of Thrones is the Last Show of Its Kind

Estimated Reading Time: 4 minutes 04 seconds

****WARNING: This article contains some information about Game of Thrones and Avengers: Endgame that might be considered minor spoilers if you haven’t watched the series or seen the movie yet. You’ve been warned.****

The surge of political correctness in recent years all but assures that in the future, edgy shows like Game of Thrones will be strangled in their creative cradle.

In 2011, Game of Thrones premiered on HBO as an exceedingly well-acted and beautifully photographed fantasy-drama of swords and sex, chock full of palace intrigue, familial rivalry and violent conquest. The show flouted Hollywood storytelling conventions and quickly became a cultural phenomenon. Sadly, we will never be able to enjoy anything like Game of Thrones ever again.

The reason that we’ll never see anything like Game of Thrones again is because in the eight years since the television adaptation of George R.R. Martin’s fantasy novels first hit the small screen, much has changed, and not just in the mythical land of Westeros. In the real world, and the unreal one of social media, political correctness has taken the throne and vanquished all contenders, leaving the bloody head of rational thought on the end of a spike as a warning to anyone who dare speak up against the zeitgeist of neo-feminism, inclusivity and a coddling sensitivity.

In the past few years, movements like #OscarsSoWhite and #MeToo have dramatically changed the landscape of Hollywood by weaponizing diversity and victimhood and using them to bludgeon opponents and silence dissent. The “woke”, whom Merriam-Websters defines as those being “aware of and actively attentive to…issues of racial and social justice”, have taken over the entertainment industry. Just like the Night King’s Army of the Dead broke through The Northern Wall to attempt to destroy all of humanity in Westeros, the Army of the Woke now march on our popular culture intent on obliterating all worthwhile entertainment.

A wonderful example of the vacuity of wokeness came in the form of a Game of Thrones outrage tweet from actress and high-priestess of political correctness, Jessica Chastain, where she slammed the show for the character Sansa’s claim that having survived a plethora of traumas, including rape, transformed her into a strong woman.

Chastain tweeted,

“Rape is not a tool to make a character stronger. A woman doesn’t need to be victimized in order to become a butterfly. The #littlebird was always a Phoenix. Her prevailing strength is solely because of her. And her alone.”

Chastain’s tweet is not only an advertisement for her intellectual dwarfism, not to be confused with the intellect of a dwarf, which Tyrion proves can be formidable, but also an actual advertisement. “Phoenix” is a reference to Chastain’s new X-Men movie, Dark Phoenix, which also happens to star Sophie Turner who plays Sansa on Game of Thrones. It appears Jessica Chastain’s superpowers include self-promotion and shamelessness.

Like Chastain, the pc brigade turns everything, including popular entertainment, into a referendum on social justice issues and their own self-worth. The woke spend their time not enjoying arts and entertainment but rather policing them in search of offense or wrong-think in the hopes that they will get the joyous opportunity to vent their self-righteous rage.

Evidence of this is found in articles from major publications with headlines such as, “Game of Thrones Treatment of Women Will Tarnish Its Legacy”, “On Game of Thrones Daenerys Targaryen faces a sexist double bind – like so many women leaders”, “Game of Thrones Keeps Killing Off Entire Immigrant Populations, And It’s a Problem”, “’There are no black people on Game of Thrones’: why is fantasy TV so white?”, “Racist or just bad writing? What Game of Thrones latest shocking death says about the show”, “Game of Thrones: too much racism and sexism – so I stopped watching”, and finally “My Feminist Opinions Ruined Game of Thrones for My Boyfriend”. These stories are emblematic of the fact that the woke are social media Savanarolas perpetually in search of works of art or entertainment to throw onto their bonfire of the vanities. These people don’t just want their politically correct opinions to “ruin Game of Thrones for their boyfriend”, but to ruin all of popular culture for everybody.

The feminist criticisms of Game of Thrones are particularly vapid because they are so demonstrably wrong, as women are the most pivotal and powerful characters on the show. The most formidable and effective rulers on Game of Thrones have been Queen Cersei and her nemesis Daenerys, Mother of Dragons. Arya Stark has gone from a little girl to the deadliest warrior in all of Westeros, who became a legend when she killed the Night King. Ser Brienne of Tarth, the first women to ever become a knight, is the most noble and honorable knight in all the Seven Kingdoms. And last but not least is Sansa Stark, who has suffered brutally but whose resilience has allowed her to become the ruler of the North and, who knows, maybe even sit on the Iron Throne when all is said and done.

All of these women have faced great difficulties and horrendous challenges, but they have prevailed not only in spite of them but because of them. In Game of Thrones as in life, what doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger, but the woke warriors either lack the interest or ability to interpret the show in any other way than to see women and minorities as victims.

If you want to see the future of popular entertainment in the wake of Game of Thrones, look no further than the corporate behemoth Disney and their Marvel and Star Wars franchises. The first phase of the twenty-two film Marvel Cinematic Universe just concluded with Avengers: Endgame, and the woke contingent’s victory is obvious with Captain America now a black man and Iron Man replaced as the center of the story by an all-powerful female character, Captain Marvel.

The Star Wars films too have devolved into a politically correct mess where diversity and inclusivity trump narrative cohesion and dramatic coherence. And if you publicly voice displeasure about the direction of Marvel or Star Wars…you are labeled a misogynist and racist troll.

Game of Thrones warned us for years that “Winter is Coming”…well, winter is now here, and hordes of woke zombies have descended upon us to suffocate all but the most sterile of entertainment. Just like Varys and The Unsullied were castrated on Game of Thrones, so our popular entertainment is being neutered, except this time with the dull blade of politically correct utopianism.

A version of this article was originally published on May 17, 2019 at RT.com.

©2019

Rival Sons - The Fonda Theatre : A Review

RIVAL SONS - FONDA THEATRE - THURSDAY, MAY 9, 2019


This past Thursday, May 9th, my year of living musically continued with a jaunt to one of my favorite venues, The Fonda Theatre, to see a local band on the rise, Rival Sons.

Rival Sons are a hard rock/blues band from Long Beach, just south of Los Angeles, that is made up of Jay Buchanan (lead vocals), Scott Holiday (guitar), Mike Miley (drums), Dave Beste (bass) and touring member Todd Ogren (keyboards). The band are currently touring in support of their sixth and most recent album, Feral Roots, which was released on January 25th of this year.

Rival Sons formed in 2009 and even though they have put out a solid collection of rock albums into a rock starved world over the last decade, they have yet to “hit it big”. That all could be changing this year though, as the band performed on The Late Late Show with James Corden on the night before I saw them, are slated to co-headline a tour this summer and fall with Stone Temple Pilots and even have one of their earlier songs, Electric Man, featured on a Mountain Dew commercial. In the crazy, upside down, topsy-turvy world of modern rock music, being on Corden and in a Mountain Dew ad are signs of a band’s momentum.

I was turned on to Rival Sons a few years ago by my buddy Red Dragon, who is a walking encyclopedia of music past and present. Dragon sent me some links to a few songs off of the bands 2014 album Great Western Valkyrie, and I was hooked. From there I made the expedition through the band’s earlier work, which includes their self-titled EP as well as their first full length album, the self-released Before the Fire, both of which are outstanding. The band then signed with Earache and released Pressure and Time (2011), Head Down (2012), Great Western Valkyrie (2014) and Hollow Bones (2016) and toured extensively in support of those albums and as an opening act for bigger and more established acts like Aerosmith, Black Sabbath and Sammy Hagar. In 2018, Rival Sons left Earache and signed on with Low Country Sound, a division of Elektra Records…which brings us to today.

When I saw that Rival Sons were playing at The Fonda I snatched up two tickets ($40 each) the very first day they went on sale. I had long wanted to see the band live but had never had the opportunity until now so I didn’t want to miss it. It was a wise move to get my tickets as early as I did as the general admission show ended up selling out.

My evening of rock started out with my new beloved ritual of grabbing a burger from the Shake Shack across the street from The Fonda before the show. Shake Shack burgers are either God’s or the devil’s work, for they are much too delicious to be of this world. I also treated myself to a Root Beer, a treat which I have not indulged in for quite some time, and hoo-boy if that wasn’t a tasty beer of root. A Shake Shack burger and a root beer and the night was off to a good start.

M’lady, the incomparable Lady Pumpernickle Dusseldorf and I then headed to the venue to join the line that stretched down Hollywood Boulevard and around the corner. After a short wait we were let in through security and made our way to a good spot for the show.

The thing that stood out the most to me about the audience was that the vast majority of them were middle-aged men and women. I wasn’t sure what I was expecting but I wasn’t expecting that. It makes sense though as Rival Sons are a throwback, a sort of cross between Led Zeppelin and Bad Company, that would have been right at home in the world of 70’s rock. The graying crowd represents an under-served music market that is hungry for new rock and roll, and there are very few places where they can get it. Rival Sons, with their hard-driving, guitar driven sound, are an injection of high voltage energy into the genre, and they fill that “classic rock” void for those who were raised on that music before it was considered “classic”…to them it was just “rock”.

The opening act were The Sheepdogs, a Canadian band heavily influenced by The Allman Brothers and Creedance Clearwater Revival. I had never heard of The Sheepdogs, but as is often the case, seeing them play live turned me into a fan. The musicianship of lead singer/guitarist Ewan Currie and virtuoso lead guitarist Jimmy Bowskill, was jaw-droppingly impressive. Bowskill and Currie would often play in “guitar-mony” (guitar + harmony) with exquisite precision. While their songs were good, but not great, the showmanship, craftsmanship and vitality displayed by Bowskill was well worth the price of admission alone.

The Sheepdogs went on at 8 p.m. and played for about 45 minutes. After they departed the stage the roadies then broke down their equipment and set up for Rival Sons. At this point things got interesting, but not in a good way. The show was General Admission - no seats - so Lady Pumpernickle and I had been standing in the same spot, about five rows of people from the stage, for about an hour and change when two women, one in her 60’s but dressed like a teenager in a mini-skirt and halter top, and the other, her daughter, in her 20’s, came and stood right in front of Lady Pumpernickle. We rolled our eyes at the desperate attention-seeking slutty outfits and behavior of these hussies, and to avoid irritation Lady Pumpernickle simply moved over to the other side of me, using me as a wall between her and the harlots. Lady Pumpernickle could now see the show and not worry about getting crabs…well, at least not getting crabs from those two filthy tramps. But then the patriarch of the whore family, Senor Dicknose, came stumbling through the crowd, bumping into everyone yet miraculously keeping his two beers above his head. Senor Dicknose then made the potentially fatal error of nearly spilling the beer on m’lady…and tensions rose. Now…this guy was in his 60’s, and just like his whore wife, was dressed about four decades too inappropriately. His leather jacket and jeans looked freshly bought and, like his face, harshly creased, and his Ed Hardy t-shirt was like the waving flag of his home country of Douchebagia. This guy was such a gigantic twat it is difficult to fully and accurately describe him and his leathery, fake tanned, botoxed face and super-gelled hair. Think of it this way…if Donald Trump and Harvey Weinstein had a 60 year old baby, it would be this useless cunt.

I am a large mammal, and the best way to describe me is that I look like an unfrozen caveman and a Hells Angel had a baby that the Aryan Brotherhood tried to abort by leaving in the woods to die but who miraculously survived when it was adopted and raised by a pack of rabid wolves and a pod of Sasquatch. The bottom line is this, I sort of look like trouble and maybe even the type of person who carries a battle axe hidden on his person somewhere. Senor Dicknose caught my vibe very quickly because he looked like a geriatric member of Circue du Soleil contorting himself to get around me without ever coming into contact with me. Of course, I wasn’t afraid of him because as the old joke goes, I’ve been beat up by guys half his size…and certainly half his age, so I didn’t help him out at all by moving out of his way because…well…fuck that guy. I was so irritated by this turd with feet that Lady Pumpernickle tapped my shoulder and whispered in my ear, “he’s not worth getting arrested over”. As always, Lady Pumpernickle was right…but that didn’t stop me from trying to figure out ways I could elbow this shitbag in the face and shatter his nose while NOT getting arrested.

Thankfully…sort of…Senor Dicknose abruptly left the scene after some rude words towards his streetwalker wife, and I had to listen to her babble on to her floozy daughter about what a prick he is…I guess it runs in the family. Then just as the show was about to start, another couple, the Douche and Douchess of Assholestan, squirmed there way right in front of me. Once again I was itching to go full on Hulk and smash, but Lady Pumpernickle’s calm and cool nature intervened and she reminded me that life isn’t Goodfellas and you can’t go around kicking peoples’ face in and burying them in a shallow grave upstate without dire legal consequences. I hate it when she’s right.

Right before the show started, the old floozy and her apprentice whore daughter, started literally kicking a big fat guy standing next to me. He was an older guy, there by himself, sort of a sad fellow, and they were kicking his legs and talking shit to him. It was insane. What the hell is wrong with these people? Then Senor Dicknose returned and was nudging the older, fat guy. The guy then turned to me and said apologetically, “hey, if I bump into you it’s because they pushed me.” I could see he was really unnerved, so I told him, “it’s a rock show, don’t worry about it.” He then said that if they push him into me, that he wanted me to push him back into them. I assured him I wouldn’t push him at all and then he told me he really wanted me to push him if they started it. I tried to ease his anxiety and said that I knew the patriarch of the whore family was a real piece of work, and he replied by telling me the women were “absolute cunts”…which I thought would make for an interesting Absolute Vodka ad. It is always fun to make new friends.

Then, surrounded by the House of Needledicks, Tarts and Hussys and the Douche and Douchess of Assholestan, the lights went down and, thank the good Lord, Rival Sons finally hit the stage.

When Rival Sons perform they aren’t so much a rock band as they are a street gang, and the show they put on Thursday night was less a rock show and more a tenacious rock and roll rumble. I mean that in the very best sense. Rival Sons absolutely dropped the hammer on The Fonda Theatre with the power and authority of a Norse god, and it was glorious to behold.

They opened the show with the song Back in the Woods off of the new album and the Fonda erupted and things took off from there. Unlike say, Muse, a band I saw a few months ago who put on a great and big spectacle of a concert, Rival Sons put on a down and dirty, stripped down fistfight of a show. With Rival Sons it is just them, their music and their attitude…and it is impressively forceful.

Miley and Beste’s rhythm section were relentless throughout, keeping a steady and bone crunching beat that was an anchor keeping the band’s soaring music firmly grounded on Mother Earth.

Scott Holiday’s guitar playing was Jimmy Page-esque in its majesty and dynamism. Holiday is a phenomenal player and is without question the musical center of the band. Holliday looks the part of the guitar hero, with his leather and leopard print outfit and handlebar mustache he was the cool ice regulating the temperature of a volcanically hot show.

Lead singer Jay Buchanan is the fire to Holiday’s ice, and he is definitely the straw that stirs the drink of Rival Sons. Buchanan is a charismatic front man with a magnetic stage presence who demands and commands the attention of the entire audience. Buchanan looks and moves sort of like a poor man’s Jim Morrison/Michael Hutchence, but his voice is more reminiscent of Paul Rodgers. Buchanan’s bluesy voice has a Tom Jones sort of foundational power to it, that originates deep in his soul and growls out upon the audience like dragon’s fire. Buchanan’s voice, which is so strong he actually filled the theatre on numerous occasions without a microphone, is distinct with a surprising range and level of emotionality, which is accentuated by the accompaniment of some good old fashioned rock screams.

Buchanan and Holiday are a potent and dynamic rock duo that play the role of rock star with aplomb. The two of them carry the weight of the show and their on-stage chemistry is compelling.

After the initial rush of the opening song, Rival Sons refused to let up as they cranked out four more hard driving songs that kept the energy high at the Fonda. Songs four and five of the set were the back to back combination of Electric Man and Too Bad, which brought the crowd to a dizzying frenzy.

The band then shifted gears a bit and played the soulful Jordan, off of the Heads Down album. Buchanan introduced the song as being about grief, and that it was dedicated to the people who needed to hear it tonight. The song and its performance were reminiscent of Rod Stewart and Jeff Beck’s version of People Get Ready in its emotional depth and nuance and revealed an impressive level of musical dexterity.

The band then stayed in the blues bin for the next few songs, keeping things more subdued as they and the audience caught their breath. That all came to a close with the explosive Torture off of their early career EP, and they followed that up with the pulsating Open My Eyes. From then on Rival Sons kept their foot on the pedal and never let up for an instant.

The band finished up the set with Do Your Worst and then took a momentary break while the crowd chanted for an encore. The encore was interesting because once again the band sort of shifted gears. They brought out The Sheepdogs and had them sing background on the less explosive, more radio-friendly, anthem-esque song, Shooting Stars, off of the new album. It was surprising that they went with a song that is somewhat less energetic for an encore, but it worked and the audience knew the lyrics by heart and sang along with Buchanan’s encouragement. Shooting Stars is an emotionally resonant song that speaks to our turbulent times and it carried a startling gravitas at the Fonda Thursday night.

The hour and forty-five minute show ended with irrepressible Keep on Swinging, which is ironic since I made the decision to not start swinging earlier in the night. When the song ended the drummer threw a drum stick into the area near me and a twenty something guy and a sixty something guy fell on the floor wrestling to get it. The older guy’s wife was knocked to the ground in the melee. It was insane as her husband was so desperate to have the stupid drum stick he never stopped wrestling to see if his poor wife was alright. As the deeply chivalrous man that I am, I was going to help her up but was too busy going through her pocket book which had fallen at my feet in the scrum. I did get $12, a Costco card and a hard candy out of the whole incident though so…I felt pretty good about how things turned out (relax…I’m just kidding). But this incident was emblematic of the type of band that Rival Sons are…they are so intoxicating and persuasive that a sixty year old man would throw his long time wife aside just for the chance to fight for one of their drum sticks.

While there was the downside of some in the crowd being typical L.A.-holes, overall the night was a stirring success and felt like being transported back in time to the 60’s or 70’s to see early Led Zeppelin or Bad Company play at one of Bill Graham’s famous venues The Wonderland or the Fillmore. The reality is that we aren’t living in the 60’s or 70’s, but some in the crowd certainly are in their 60’s or 70’s. It seems to me that the older audience is emblematic of that fact that Rival Sons are a very bright spot in our very bleak rock universe.

In conclusion, Rival Sons are a fantastic band who play with a mesmerizing fury and ferocity rarely seen nowadays. The band’s musical power, stellar musicianship and dynamic yet natural showmanship puts them in the upper echelon of rock acts working today. If you like hard rock music, I wholly encourage you to give Rival Sons a listen and to make the effort to go see them live, especially while they are still playing smaller venues at cheaper prices. Due to the current nature of the music industry and rock’s ever fading spot in the culture, Rival Sons will most likely never become as big a success as their rock forefathers like Led Zeppelin, Bad Company, Aerosmith or The Cult…but let there be no doubt…they do deserve to be a very big success, and their show at The Fonda was undeniable proof of that.

SET LIST

Back in the Woods

Sugar on the Bone

Pressure and Time

Electric Man

Too Bad

Jordan

Face of Light

Feral Roots

Torture

Open My Eyes

All Directions

End of Forever

Do Your Worst

ENCORE

Shooting Stars

Keep on Swinging

©2019

Game of Thrones: The Battle of Winterfell and the Fog of War

****WARNING: THIS ARTICLE CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR GAME OF THRONES EPISODE THE LONG NIGHT (SEASON 8 EPISODE 3)****

Last Sunday night’s episode of Game of Thrones (Season 8 Episode 3), titled The Long Night, was the climactic battle between the the Starks and their allies against the Night King and his army of undead wights. The Battle of Winterfell, as it has been dubbed, is thought to be the penultimate clash on the iconic program, with only the fight between the Stark/Targaryen forces against Cersei Lannister and her army in Kings Landing remaining.

The Long Night was a strange episode as the Battle of Winterfell was built up for years as a cataclysmic clash between the forces of good and evil, literally life and death, but the show uncharacteristically deviated from its long standing thematic and narrative traditions by limiting the amount of carnage upon the main characters of the show.

Game of Thrones made its name by flouting Hollywood conventions and sacrificing its lead characters on the altar of great story telling. Ned Stark lost his head so that Game of Thrones could be taken seriously, and the Red Wedding solidified the shows commitment to leading character carnage…but in The Long Night, way too many characters survived the apocalyptic battle. There is no way that Lady Mormont, Jorah Mormont (bad night for House Mormont!), Beric and Theon Greyjoy should be the only notable characters to go down in the Battle of Winterfell.

How did Davos Seaworth, Brianne of Tarth, Tormund, Varys, Missandei, Grey Worm and Podrick not die? I understand why they’d want to save Jon Snow Daenerys, Tyrion, Jaime, Sansa, Arya and Bran…but I don’t get why secondary characters weren’t slaughtered en masse. And even the ones who did die went in very Hollywood ways, with Lady Mormont’s action hero death while killing a zombie giant the most dubious. And while we are at it, Arya’s killing of the Night King was cool and all, but not totally in keeping with the show’s grounding in its established reality. I mean, how did Arya jump over all these people to get to the Night King? And if Game of Thrones is going all Hollywood, why not have Arya die while killing the Night King, at least then it feels somewhat in keeping with the shows themes?

Narrative choices aside, the biggest issue people are having with The Long Night is the cinematography of Fabian Wagner and director Miguel Sapochik, with many complaints that the show was much too dark and too visually muddled. I happen to agree with those complaints and thought it would be a worthy topic to briefly examine.

Game of Thrones has done an exceptional job of filming “medieval” combat over the years and so I was surprised to see them flail about on The Long Night. The mistake that the creators made was to try and convey the “fog of war”, the confusion and disorientation that can accompany combat, by literally creating a white/blue snow fog to simply obfuscating visual clarity. This sort of approach is an error that many make and it never fails to fail.

To be fair, the episode did have some bright cinematographic moments though, the lighting of the Dothraki swords and their charge into the darkness being one of them. But then the visuals went down hill when the White Walkers conjured up a wind storm to conceal their movements and sow confusion. That is a great battle plan for the White Walkers to take Winterfell, but a bad one for tv viewers trying to watch the fight.

There may be two reason why Wagner and Sapochik may have made the decision to muddy the visual waters at Winterfell, the first being that they wanted viewers to experience the chaos and confusion of war, the second being that they wanted to save some money from their huge budgets by limiting the amount of special effects they had to use to cover the scope and scale of the enormous battle. Both reasons are legitimate but misguided. Regardles of why, the end result was that viewers didn’t feel like they were participants in the Battle of Winterfell, they felt like they were going blind.

It is a common mistake to conflate darkness with a lack of light, what darkness means in cinematic terms is a a sharp contrast between dark and light. In cinematic “darkness” viewers still have visual clarity but with a “lack of light”, contrast gets watered down and visual coherence evaporates.

Clear and clean contrast between dark and light make for clear and coherent images that convey both narrative and thematic information. For example, go watch The Favourite (2018), and notice the exquisite use of candles in the voids of darkness. Those images propel the story and the sub-text by using ‘illumination’ (literally and figuratively) that marks a clear delineation between the dark and the light. In The Long Night, light and dark wash into each other, colors are non existent and the action all becomes a visually muddled, grey mess.

Two films came out in 1998, Saving Private Ryan and The Thin Red Line, that showed visually interesting ways to convey the fog of war. Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan and its iconic Omaha Beach assault scene is a perfect example of how to maintain visual clarity while creating a sense of anxiety and confusion (the fog of war). Spielberg and his cinematographer Janusz Kaminski‘s camera dances amidst an understated and muted light from an amphibious vehicle, into the water, and up the zig-zag maze of the beach all while under assault from barely discernible machine gun nests. Kaminski’s camera picks up the textures of the muted colors and materials in each shot. Viewers are given a soldier’s eye view of the carnage of D-Day, and the camera movements and tangible textures help to convey the confusion of that assault, but the visuals were never unclear for more than a brief second or so. Kaminski’s camera shows us what is happening very precisely and distinctly and its handheld movements aided in creating tension and anxiety in viewers.

Later in the film Spielberg uses a character looking through a telescopic sight to watch a battle to convey the fog of war and confusion of what is happening. This sequence is interesting because unlike in the Omaha Beach scene where viewers are active participants in the action, in the telescopic sight scene the character becomes an audience member as he tries to watch the action and discern what is happening. To Spielberg’s credit, this was a great way to create psychological reciprocity between the audience and the character.

In The Thin Red Line, Terrence Malick and his cinematographer John Toll use crisp and clean visuals with dynamic and rich colors to convey the fog of war. In the sequence where the Marines must make their way up a lush, green hillside to find and eliminate a machine gun nest, Malick and Toll give viewers a clear look at the surroundings, and just like the Marines, no clear shot of the machine gun nest. The rolling green of the hills are like a never ending sea and the machine gun nest a crocodile that only pokes its eyes and nose above the water line. The beauty of Malick and Toll’s visuals is in stark contrast to the physical and psychological mayhem unleashed with them.

Malick also gives clear focus to the nature which surrounds the battle, with Toll’s camera lingering long on a flower or an insect crawling on a leave of grass. Malick and Toll’s use of natural light and their ability to crisply define the colors, textures and contrasts of the setting make his fog of war confusion breathtakingly beautiful and utterly horrifying. (watch The Thin Red Line and notice that Malick’s camera picks up every little bump on Marine’s helmets…it creates an intimacy through texture that is one of Malick’s signature, understated styles.)

The Long Night made the same error of visual incoherence that Clint Eastwood made in American Sniper, where Eastwood rolled in a sand storm in Iraq to convey the moral confusion of the Iraq war. That tactic did not visually work in American Sniper either as it created little more than a cloud of yellow dust just like The Long Night gave us a blueish white cloud of snow. In Eastwood’s case I can almost guarantee you that his creative decision to muddy things up was a result of budgetary concerns, as he is a notorious slave to budget. As for The Long Night’s decisions making…they do have large budgets, but hey also have at least one more big battle in this final season, so maybe they were cutting corners too.

Game of Thrones have made some of the greatest battle scenes in television history, as the Battle of the Bastards, The Spoils of War and Hardhome have shown, but with The Long Night they fell into more than just the fog of war trap, they failed to fully establish the geography of the scenes and battle ground and never established a coherent time line.

As the Battle of Winterfell raged on, the locations of characters was never clearly elucidated, and so the lack of visual clarity became ever more heightened. I understand not wanting to give the “god shot”, an overhead view of things to show who is where and what is happening, but by failing to make the geography clear, the battle felt redundant and circular, and lacked specifics which could have heightened dramatic tension to a greater degree.

The timeline was as muddied as the visuals, as Arya ran through the castle trying to escape wights in an extended sequence, the battle raged outside. But when the camera returned to the battle outside, nothing had changed, and because viewers had no central character upon which to focus, the battle seemed aimless and incoherent.

Maybe the focus should have been on Samwell, and we viewers could have seen the battle through his perspective at times (like the telescopic scene in Saving Private Ryan), or we could shift perspective through a series of characters in order to get clarity on different areas of the fight. Maybe have Jaime, Arya, Jon Snow, Danerys and Theon lead us through the battle and we see what they see…so when Lady Mormont gets killed it is through Jaime’s perspective…things like that.

Look, I thoroughly enjoy Game of Thrones, I admire the show for its integrity and quality, and I was disappointed in parts of the episode the Long Night. The bottom line is this, Game of Thrones has given us eight glorious seasons of thrills, chills, carnage, nudity, incest, murder, dragons, zombies and palace intrigue, I only hope they can right the ship for the final three episodes after their visual and thematic missteps in the much discussed Battle of Winterfell.

©2019




Avengers: Endgame - A Review

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

My Rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars

Popcorn Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

My Recommendation: SEE IT. If you like Marvel movies you’ll love this one. A satisfactory conclusion to the epic twenty-two film run of this phase of the Marvel Cinematic Unvierse.

Avengers: Endgame, written by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely and directed by Anthony and Joe Russo, is the story of the Marvel Avengers as they do battle with super villain Thanos. The film stars Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Mark Ruffalo, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner, Paul Rudd, Chris Hemsworth, Josh Brolin and a plethora of other movie stars.

Avengers: Endgame is the fourth Avengers film and is the direct sequel to last years smash hit Avengers: Infinity War. Endgame is also the twenty-second film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and marks the conclusion of this cycle of Marvel movies.

Just as super villain Thanos became a de facto god by acquiring the infinity stones, Disney, under the leadership of my dear friend Bob Iger, has turned into an all powerful entertainment industry god by acquiring over the years Pixar, Marvel and Lucasfilm. Now, with the additional purchase of Fox, Disney will hold an astonishing 40% market share of the box office.

The crown jewel, at least right now, in Disney’s empire is the aforementioned Marvel behemoth, which Disney bought in 2009 for $4 billion and which has brought in around $20 billion in box office gross alone over the last ten years. I have not always liked the Marvel movies, in fact, I’ve downright loathed a good number of them, but I readily admit that what Disney has pulled off with their Marvel Cinematic Universe is a stunning achievement in popular entertainment that will never be duplicated. To be able to roll out twenty-two different movies over a decade and weave all of the characters and story lines together into a coherent and cohesive whole that culminates in two gigantic movie events, Infinity War and Endgame, is a Hollywood miracle. One need look no further than the shitshow over at Warner Brothers and their inept handling of the DC Cinematic Universe (Batman, Superman etc.) post Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy to recognize how remarkable Disney’s efficiency and acumen regarding the Marvel properties has been. No doubt Disney will be further rewarded for their corporate diligence by Endgame’s box office which will break all sorts of records as it rockets past the two billion dollar mark in two weeks with ease.

As previously stated, I have disliked some of the Marvel movies, the first two Avenger movies in particular were quite dreadful. The Marvel movie formula has always been geared more toward adolescent boys…even the middle-aged ones, with lots of light-hearted action, noise and destruction all with some witty one-liners and comedic self-consciousness thrown in. The Marvel universe is decidedly fictional, a piece of escapist fantasy…whereas something like Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy for example, is more grounded in a recognizable, but very dark, “reality”. Marvel’s lack of grit has always irked me because their line up of characters is chock full of archetypal riches which are begging to explored in a psychologically and culturally serious way.

But with that said, I have also loved a few of Marvel’s formulaic films, with Infinity War and Thor: Ragnarok being prime examples. Infinity War is easily the best film in the MCU and that is because its narrative is the darkest and most consequential of all the movies. While Endgame has a certain darkness to it, is not as nearly as good as Infinity War, but it isn’t awful either.

Endgame is really more an event than a movie, a culmination of the franchise that is the perfect embodiment of everything good and bad in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. On the plus side it has fascinating archetypal characters and great moments of poignancy and levity, but on the downside it also has some narrative incoherence, sense-assaulting battle scenes that are relentlessly vapid, and a heavy dose of cringe worthy “wokeness” and political correctness that is shameless in its corporate human resources level pandering.

All of that said, Endgame succeeds because it ultimately satisfies on an emotional, psychological and narrative level as a conclusion to the twenty-two film Marvel epic that has dominated popular culture for the last decade. The story leaves no loose ends or arcs unfulfilled, and that is really all you can ask from a movie like this.

The sun at the center of this cinematic universe is Robert Downey Jr, whose skill, charisma and charm have propelled the MCU forward from day one. Without Downey Jr as Iron Man, none of this stuff works…none of it. Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, Chris Pratt, Mark Ruffalo and all the rest do solid work as their respective super heroes, but none of them could carry this franchise like Downey Jr. has. When Downey Jr. stops being Iron Man, and that day will eventually come, Marvel/Disney is going to take a big hit…I promise you that.

The ensemble of Endgame all do decent if unspectacular work with a few notable exceptions. On the plus side, Paul Rudd and Chris Hemsworth are fantastic, as both of them fully commit and have impeccable comedy chops (who would’ve thought that Thor would be the comedy gold in the Marvel universe?). As for the negative side…good lord…Brie Larson is just dreadful. Now to be fair, I have not seen Captain Marvel…so maybe she is great in that, but in Endgame you could’ve replaced her with a cigar store wooden Indian and it wouldn’t have made the slightest bit of difference. Larson is so dead-eyed it seems like she died on the table while undergoing a charisma bypass and we are left to watch her corpse be animatronically maneuvered throughout the movie.

There are also some issues with narrative incoherence in the film, mostly dealing with the topic of time travel. The lack of “time travel rules” clarity makes the whole enterprise pretty confusing and logically unstable if you try and follow it too closely. The best approach is to leave logic at home, where it is hopefully safe and sound, and just go with where the movie takes you. The logic/time travel issue though is a big reason that the film doesn’t soared like Infinity War did, which had a very clear and concise plot from which all of the action seamlessly flowed. In Endgame the plot feels more like a manufactured way for Disney to escape any commitment to what took place in Infinity War that could dare harm the corporate bottom line by taking away some cash cows.

While Endgame is the end of this phase of the MCU, Disney has a plethora of Marvel movies lined up for the next few years as they keep the assembly line going. As stated, the next phase is going to have a bumpy time of it as Disney is trying to transition to younger and more diverse stars to refill some roles. Disney is betting big that Brie Larson and Captain Marvel will be the female equivalent of Robert Downey Jr. and Iron Man, the new sun at the center of the Marvel universe. That is a bad bet, as Larson has big shoes to fill and very little feet with which to fill them.

Disney’s desire for more diverse Marvel movie characters, like a Black Captain America or a Latina Hulk, may (or may not) be a noble idea, but just as it did in comic book sales, it will negatively affect the bottom line at the box office. In my opinion it will also affect the artistic and cultural value of the films, for as I keep saying, “wokeness kills art”….but that is a painful discussion for another day.

In conclusion, Avengers: Endgame is a worthy finish to this phase of the Marvel Cinematic Universe franchise. The film has its ups and downs but ultimately is a satisfactory ending for the long journey we’ve all been on with these characters over the last decade. If your a fan of super hero movies, you should plunk down your Disney tax and help pad Bob Iger’s bank account by seeing the movie in the theatre. If you have just a passing interest in super hero movies, then wait for it to come out on cable or on Disney’s soon to be active streaming service, which will no doubt bring in even more gobs of money for Mickey Mouse. But Mickey should enjoy this ride while it lasts, because it won’t last forever. Just over the horizon there could be some some stormy weather waiting for Disney.

©2019

Peterloo: A Review

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

My Rating: 2 out of 5 stars

My Recommendation: SKIP IT. A noble failure of a film, but a failure nonetheless. The cinematography of the film is, for the most part, exquisite, and cinephiles into that sort of thing should go see the movie in theatres, but ultimately for most everybody else the film is a misfire.

Peterloo, written and directed by British auteur Mike Leigh, tells the story of the events that culminated in the Peterloo massacre of 1819 in Manchester, England. The film’s ensemble cast includes Rory Kinnear, Maxine Peake and Pearce Quigley among many others.

Mike Leigh is well-known as being a master of realist, character-driven, intimate dramas such as Vera Drake, Secrets and Lies, and Naked, whose use of prolonged rehearsal periods, which emphasize improvisation in order to develop character and narrative, is his signature directing style that often leads to stellar work from his actors. Peterloo is a bit of a different beast from his previous work though, as it is a historical drama that must accurately capture the grand sweep of history while accounting for the impact of that history upon regular folks.

While Peterloo is a politically profound story for our times, the film suffers from a lack of both narrative coherence and character cohesion, and ultimately is never as good as it needs to be. Leigh’s direction on Peterloo lacks vigor and specificity and thus the film’s deliberate pace leads to aimless wandering and pronounced lags for numerous periods of time. The biggest problem of all though may be the fact that the film’s climax is poorly crafted and dramatically underwhelming and instead of being a crescendo it feels more like stumble across the finish line.

On the bright side, the film’s cinematographer, Dick Pope (A Mickey Award winner for his work on Leigh’s Mr. Turner), does stellar work for the majority of the film. His interior shots are so exquisitely lit and framed they are as beautiful and texturally rich as any Vermeer or Rembrandt, and could hang in any museum in the world. Added to this are Pope’s expansive shots of nature that pop with a crisp and delicious color, most notably a lush green, that are spectacular to behold. Pope’s framing and use of color, shadow and light throughout the first three acts of the film is sublime, but in the climactic battle scenes, Pope’s and Leigh’s work falls flat and is shockingly second rate.

The staging and blocking of the actors and camera in the big climactic “riot” scene reveals both Dick Pope and Mike Leigh to be out of their element. These action sequences are clumsy, cluttered and so poorly executed that they sink any chances the film had to be worthwhile. It is asking a lot for a director and his cinematographer to be so versatile as to pull off such varying shots as intimate interiors and dynamic battle sequences, but this is what the story required and Leigh and Pope failed to fully deliver.

The cast of the film are all fine, but the film’s failure to generate any dramatic momentum leads to the cast’s work being lost in the shuffle. Rory Kinnear, who plays the rebel dandy Henry Hunt, gives his usual top-notch performance. Kinnear’s Hunt is both magnetic and narcissistic, and his complexities make the moral and political Manichaeism of the film more nuanced and compelling.

Maxine Peak also gives a solid performance as Nellie, the cynical and skeptical wife and mother whose working class family gets caught up in the protest. Peak’s weathered face tells a story all its own about the injustice and unfairness of life in England in the 1800’s.

What frustrated me the most about Peterloo’s cinematic and dramatic failure was that it is such a vital story for our time. Peterloo focuses on the systemic exploitation of working people by ruling aristocrats, who view “regular” people as nothing but serfs to be exploited for profit or as cannon fodder in war for empire and resources.

The same underlying structural problems of government, economic and social injustice highlighted in Peterloo are the same problems that torment us now. The modern-day ruling elite, just like the English elite in Peterloo’s time, still squeeze regular people for everything they’ve got and yet are perpetually immune from any consequences from their actions. And when the modern day proletariat push back or organize against the injustice of our system, the Aristocrats crush them now just as effectively as they did in Manchester in 1819.

The totalitarian, corporate police state in America is more subtle in its brutality than the one on display at the climax of Peterloo…but not by much…just ask the Yellow Vests in France who have lost eyes and fingers to the rubber bullets of the police. The same structural weapons used back in the 1800’s, debt, fear and intimidation are used today to keep the populace either paralyzed, placid or pliant. The brute force of government, in the form of the police, are used by the elite like a moat, to impose law and order upon the oppressed and to keep them at a distance. The law is the ruling class’s cudgel not to maintain order but rather to maintain “The order”…you know “The order”…the one where they are on top and the rest of us scrap and claw to eat their crumbs at the bottom. Any true challenges to “The order” result first in character assassination, followed by physical violence, prison or both if necessary. For an example of the Establishment’s playbook regarding threats see Assange, Julian.

The lesson of Peterloo is this, the system is rigged and the ruling class despise us, so we must decide to either live as their slaves by maintaining the status quo or arm ourselves and fight for our freedom. Sadly, the dramatically anemic Peterloo is not compelling enough to attract or maintain America audiences who desperately need to learn the vital lessons the movie teaches. At the end of the day, the cold, hard reality is that we are all Soma-addicted sheep being led to the slaughter and we have grown accustomed to authoritarian boots in our face.

In conclusion, Peterloo is a noble effort but a decided failure. Mike Leigh seems to have bitten off more than he can chew by trying to tackle this complex historical narrative. If you are a cinephile who has a distinct love for great cinematography, then I recommend you see Peterloo in the theatre, but everyone else should skip it because, sadly, it simply is not captivating enough to spend your hard earned money and sparse free time upon.

©2019

The Mustang: A Review

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

My Rating: 2 out of 5 stars

My Recommendation: SKIP IT. Really no need to see this uneven film which thoroughly misunderstands the true nature of American masculinity.

The Mustang, directed and co-written by Laure de Clermont Tonnerre, is the story of Roman Coleman, an anti-social prisoner in a Nevada State prison who gets put into a program where prisoners train captured wild mustang horses to be sold at auction. The film stars Matthias Schoenearts as Roman, with supporting turns from Bruce Dern, Connie Britton and Gideon Aldon.

I like horses…I don’t own one or anything, but I have been known to wager a few dollars on one at Santa Anita. I also think horses are actually a wonderful archetypal storytelling device and am down for giving most any movie about a man and his horse a try.

All I knew about The Mustang prior to seeing it was that it was about a horse and it starred Matthias Schoenearts, an actor I like. I had some expectations about what kind of movie The Mustang would be, but none about whether it was good or not. That said…I certainly wanted it to be good…but sadly, it isn’t.

The story of The Mustang is about broken men trying to break horses but at its essence the film is really about the current state of masculinity, particularly American masculinity, which is deeply in crisis. This narrative and sub-text is right up my alley as it is something I think and write about a great deal, especially being a man myself and a father to a young boy.

The problem with The Mustang though is that it is completely clueless about the true nature and experience of masculinity in general and American masculinity in particular. When the film ended and the credits rolled I quickly discovered why the film felt so foreign to me…the director was a French woman, Laure de Clermont Tonnerre. Now there is certainly nothing wrong with a French woman directing a film, hell, the last movie I saw prior to this was High Life directed by the fascinating auteur Claire Denis, a French women, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. The problem with Tonnerre though is that she is biting off way more than she can chew about a topic of which she has no comprehension. Tonnerre writing and directing this movie about American masculinity is the equivalent of me writing and directing a movie about the experience of women in a remote Amazon tribe…that isn’t to say that I couldn’t do it, but maybe that I shouldn’t do it.

Mustangs are singular American archetypes, symbols of powerful wildness being harnessed as the country moved into the vast expanse of the west. The Mustang is a quintessentially American story set in the west about American masculinity trying to find its way in the modern world. The fatal flaw of the film is that writer/director Tonnerre has a deep and profound misunderstanding about the true nature of not only America, but about masculinity. Tonnerre brings little but surface assumptions and presumptions to the story which make profundity on her themes an impossibility. Tonnerre is telling a story of American masculinity through the eyes of French femininity and that was bound to fail. It is the equivalent of a tourist trying to pontificate on the finer points of a complex local issue…it brings no light to the topic but only succeeds in accentuating the foreignness of the tourist.

Tonnerre is also never able to penetrate the subject of masculinity deep enough to discover what is in the DNA of the American male. It is no surprise that Tonnerre fails to grasp the intricacies of American masculinity, it is an unwieldy topic that most film makers, regardless of gender, fail to adequately understand.

Tonnerre also lacks any sort of understanding of the complexities and politics of the American prison system. Her ignorance of this very lethal form of brutal interpersonal politics undermines her story to a great extent. It seems like all Ms. Tonnerre knows about the American penal system is what she learned watching bad American television and old movies.

I couldn’t help but think of American screenwtiter and director Taylor Sheridan (Wind River, Hell or High Water, Sicario) as I watched The Mustang, as he is one of the rare writer/directors who could have successfully tackled the subject matter of this film. Sheridan understands masculinity, particularly American masculinity, on a primal level, and is able to explore the psyche of man as a resident, not a tourist.

On a film making level, the film’s narrative is structurally and rhythmically unsound and there are numerous plot lines that are unclear, unneeded or unfulfilled. The lack of clarity and storytelling cohesion wears thin as the movie meanders without any significant or satisfying dramatic payoff.

The movie does boast some decent acting, with Matthias Schoenearts giving a brooding and at times explosive performance as Roman, the combustible felon. Schoenearts certainly elevates the weak material he is given, but ultimately even his dark charisma is not enough to save the film.

Bruce Dern gives a quirky and engaging performance as Myles, the man in charge of the horse training. Dern is a compelling actor and he does his very oddball best in the role, but again, it isn’t enough to raise it from its depths.

The horse in the movie, Marcus, is a beautiful animal, but Tonnerre fails to adequately exploit the animal’s beauty with her middling camera work. Marcus’ natural power and grace are never captured enough to make the horse anything but a prop.

In conclusion, The Mustang was a disappointment because it tried to tackle a very important topic but did not have the requisite understanding of that topic to be able to conjure even the remotest amount of insight. The film feels like a terribly wasted opportunity to tell a profound story about the tortured state of American masculinity, which is a story that desperately needs to be told and understood. At the end of the day Ms. Tonnerre was unable to control The Mustang which, like the American Male, was just too powerful and wild a force to tame.

©2019

United Sheep of America: Assange, Fascism and Liberal Hypocrisy

Estimated reading Time: 3 minutes 48 seconds

LIBERALS BETRAYING ASSANGE EMPOWER FASCISM

 Establishment liberal’s loathing of Julian Assange has emboldened fascists across the globe.

Fascism, which the Oxford dictionary defines as “extreme authoritarian, oppressive, or intolerant views or practices”, is a relentless force that, whether it be out in the world or in our own hearts, is always on the march. The world is, as they say, full of little men (and women) in search of a balcony, and we are all iron-fisted, tiny tyrants-in-waiting.

Proof of that was easily observable this past Thursday, April 11th, 2019, which is a date that will live in infamy, as it is the one where any pretense of liberal resistance to fascism finally crumbled and chose to live on its knees rather than die on its feet.

On that date, the founder of Wikileaks, Julian Assange, was dragged out of the Ecuadorian embassy in London by British police after the U.S. unsealed an indictment for “conspiracy to commit computer intrusion” against him in the Eastern District of Virginia and sent an extradition request to the British government.

The vindictive actions of the authoritarian U.S., British and Ecuadorian governments are not what will taint this date in history though, as their behavior is entirely predictable in terms of its immoral and despotic nature, instead what will echo throughout history regarding Assange’s arrest will be the gleeful reaction by my fellow liberals to the thuggish behavior from their government.

The liberal cries of delight at the sight of Assange being manhandled by British police are a turning point in the war for America’s soul, just as symbolically significant and crucial as Winston Smith’s spirit being broken when he finally relented and declared that “2 + 2 = 5” in Orwell’s 1984.

The acquiescence of many liberals to the establishment narrative regarding Assange, that he is a rogue, narcissistic hacker, rapist and cyber-terrorist, is the death knell for any serious intellectual or political resistance to the powerful and brutish beast of American fascism, corporatism, oligarchy, plutocracy, aristocracy and the totalitarianism of the military and intelligence industrial complex.

You would think that the mainstream media, usually so adversarial toward Trump, would furiously condemn him for arresting Assange, but that is not the case. The majority of the corporate media are in lockstep agreement with Trump regarding the Assange indictment.

The New York Times stated, “The administration has begun well by charging Mr. Assange with an indisputable crime”.

The Grey Lady aided and abetted the Bush administration’s Iraq War lies as well as their surveillance and torture programs, so their support of Trump’s assault on the First Amendment via Assange is in keeping with their boot-licking character.

The Washington Post claimed, “Julian Assange is not a free-press hero. And he is long overdue for personal accountability.”

The Washington Post’s current position on Assange’s is curious since the underlying evidence in the case has not changed since Bradley Manning was court-martialed for espionage in 2013 and sentenced to 35 years in prison. In 2013, The Post reported the Obama administration considered indicting Assange for the Manning leak, but decided against it because,

“If the Justice Department indicted Assange, it would also have to prosecute the New York Times and other news organizations and writers who publish classified material, including the Washington Post…”

As former Bush Assistant Attorney General Jack Goldsmith opined in 2011 in The Post, “A conviction would also cause collateral damage to American media freedoms. It is difficult to distinguish Assange or Wikileaks from The Washington Post.”

It seems that time has not healed the corporate media’s old Assange wound but rather has made it fester, so much so that they would prefer to cut off their nose to spite their face.

The media and liberal reaction to Assange arrest proves that American fascism’s ruthless march to total victory won’t just be televised, it will be greeted with approval by those who claim to be fearless and tenacious opponents of it.

The liberals who responded to Assange’s arrest with the most craven and ignorant cheers are the same ones who decry Trump at every turn, frantically raising the alarm over press freedoms when he attacks the media and labels journalists the “enemy of the people”. These supposedly devout anti-fascists and anti-Trumpists love to compare Trump to Hitler and vociferously decry his assault on the press, yet they shriek with joy when their nemesis arrests Julian Assange, an actual, and extremely effective, journalist.

To further highlight the hypocrisy, the fact that with the Manning leak, Assange and Wikileaks exposed a cavalcade of war crimes committed by the U.S. military in Iraq and Afghanistan, which included the murder to two Reuter’s journalists, apparently holds no water with these charlatans, as it is never mentioned when they boldly assert that Assange “is not a journalist”.

Assange and Wikileaks have routinely pulled back the veil of respectability and revealed the duplicity and depravity of the American government, and yet, the damning truth is that the criminals they exposed walk free and Assange and Manning sit rotting in jail. Liberals who disgustingly celebrate this fact are entirely devoid of any moral authority whatsoever.

These liberal resistance ne’er-do-wells are so intellectually, politically, philosophically, spiritually, morally and ethically emaciated that their only animating principle is an outrage fueled emotionalism born of tribalism that blinds them to the fact that with their subservience regarding Assange’s (and Manning’s) persecution, they have handed Trump and their other enemies a powerful weapon which will certainly be used against them.

Anti-Trump resistance poseurs like to talk about “Russia-gate” and Trumpists being Putin’s “useful idiots”, well, there may be no more useful an idiot than the one who doesn’t sell you the rope with which you intend to hang them, but just gives it to you as a gift, like establishment liberals just did by supporting Trump’s prosecution of Assange.

These supposed stalwarts of liberal values in the anti-Trump resistance have repeatedly revealed their true nature by slavishly sanctifying and deifying insidious intelligence community criminals like John Brennan, James Clapper, Michael Hayden and Robert Mueller. Now, with Assange’s arrest, they once again align with the evil establishment against those who would expose the mendacity, criminality and corruption of those in power.

I would say that Assange’s arrest and the liberal reaction to it is a case of American fascism crossing the Rubicon, but the truth is the Rubicon is so far in the rear view mirror the next river crossed will be the Congo. We are now deep into the heart of darkness and Assange’s incarceration (and the liberal joy over it) is akin to the extinguishing of our last light source as the long, cold night of tyranny descends.

It is clear to see that these Assange-loathing liberals and resistance dilettantes are just as totalitarian and fascist as Trump. The cold, hard reality is that you cannot both cheer Assange’s arrest and also believe in transparency and accountability and you also cannot both advocate for Assange’s prosecution and also for a free press. Silencing Assange is the silencing of any true resistance, but obviously these self-anointed and self-reverential liberal “resistors” are not really interested in actually resisting authoritarianism, only in posing and preening.

Liberals who believe and propagate the establishment’s narrative about Assange are nothing but shills, dupes and dopes complicit in empowering fascism. Those that cheer Assange’s detainment are enemies of freedom and liberty and they will get the fascist, tyrannical, authoritarian government they have earned. And when that totalitarian beast comes for them like it did for Julian Assange, they will have no one to blame but themselves.

©2019