"Everything is as it should be."

                                                                                  - Benjamin Purcell Morris

 

 

© all material on this website is written by Michael McCaffrey, is copyrighted, and may not be republished without consent

Rojo: A Review

MV5BN2RkNDAwZDgtZDBhNC00ZTVkLTgzMWItMzhiOTJiMGM3Yzk5XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMTMxODk2OTU@._V1_.jpg

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

My Rating: 4.25 out of 5 stars

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

Language: Spanish with subtitles in English

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

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

Unknown-1.jpeg

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

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

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

Unknown-6.jpeg

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

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

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

Unknown-7.jpeg

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

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

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

©2019

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

justin-bieber-fans1-2b17trq1.jpg

Estimated Reading Time: 3 minutes 37 seconds

CELEBRITY-OBSESSED AMERICANS LOOK TO THE STARS FOR GUIDANCE

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

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

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

images-3.jpeg

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

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

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

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

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

images-5.jpeg

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

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

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

Unknown-6.jpeg

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

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

images-4.jpeg

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

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

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

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

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

This article was originally published at RT.com.

 

©2019

Angry Americans, Shark Attacks and Synchronicity II

shark-attack-stock.jpg

Estimated Reading Time: 5 minutes 29 seconds

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

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

51lt2ZKYEoL._SX382_BO1,204,203,200_.jpg

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

angry-middle-class.jpg

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

8575162887778affc4bf6bc7f60ca15d.1000x998x1.jpg

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

SYNCHRONICITY II

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

6305d84723e03bf6aaa4da809f770735.jpg

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

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

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

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

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

©2019

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

MV5BOTg4ZTNkZmUtMzNlZi00YmFjLTk1MmUtNWQwNTM0YjcyNTNkXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNjg2NjQwMDQ@-1._V1_UY1200_CR90,0,630,1200_AL_.jpg

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

My Rating: 4.5 stars out of 5

My Recommendation: SEE IT.

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

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

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

images-6.jpeg

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

images-4.jpeg

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

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

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

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

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

Unknown-1.jpeg

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

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

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

images-5.jpeg

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

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

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

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

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

images-3.jpeg

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

©2019

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

MV5BOTg4ZTNkZmUtMzNlZi00YmFjLTk1MmUtNWQwNTM0YjcyNTNkXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNjg2NjQwMDQ@-1._V1_UY1200_CR90,0,630,1200_AL_.jpg

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

My Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

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

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

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

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

images-6.jpeg

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

images-4.jpeg

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

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

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

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

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

Unknown-1.jpeg

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

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

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

images-5.jpeg

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

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

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

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

©2019

Quentin Tarantino Films Ranked Worst to First

MV5BMTgyMjI3ODA3Nl5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwNzY2MDYxOQ@@._V1_.jpg


Estimated Reading Time: 5 minutes 01 seconds

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Unknown-7.jpeg

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Unknown-9.jpeg

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

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

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

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

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

Unknown-12.jpeg

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

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

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

Unknown-13.jpeg

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

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

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

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

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

Unknown-14.jpeg

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

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

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

images-8.jpeg

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

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

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

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

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

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

©2019

Queen - The Forum: A Review

Queen-Lambert-2019.jpg

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

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

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

images-3.jpeg

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

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

images-4.jpeg

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

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

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

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

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

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

images-5.jpeg

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

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

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

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

images-6.jpeg

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

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

Unknown-6.jpeg

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

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

images-7.jpeg

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

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

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

SET LIST

Now I’m Here

Seven Seas of Rhye

Keep Yourself Alive

Hammer to Fall

Killer Queen

Don’t Stop Me Now

In the Lap of the Gods…Revisited

Somebody to Love

The Show Must Go On

I’m in Love With My Car

Bicycle Race

Fat Bottomed Girls

Machines (or Back to Humans)

I Want It All

Love of My Life

‘39

Happy Birthday

Doing All Right

Crazy Little Thing Called Love

Under Pressure

I Want to Break Free

You Take My Breath Away

Who Wants to Live Forever

Last Horizon

Guitar Solo

Tie Your Mother Down

Dragon Attack

Another One Bites the Dust

Radio Ga Ga

Bohemian Rhapsody

ENCORE

Ay-Oh

We Will Rock You

We Are the Champions

©2019

The Farewell: A Review

MV5BMWE3MjViNWUtY2VjYS00ZDBjLTllMzYtN2FkY2QwYmRiMDhjXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyODQzNTE3ODc@._V1_.jpg

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

My Rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars

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

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

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

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

images-8.jpeg

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

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

images-6.jpeg

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

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

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

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

Unknown-7.jpeg

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

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

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

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

©2019

Propaganda and the Delusion of Wokeness

serena-williams-1.jpg

Estimated Reading Time: 6-2, 6-2

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

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

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

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

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

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

images-5.jpeg

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

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

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

Unknown-6.jpeg

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

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

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

images-4.jpeg

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Unknown-1.jpeg

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

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

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

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

©2019

Midsommar: A Review

2f5f34f96656b43b287f55821b5f25f9-1.jpg

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

My Rating: 2.75 out of 5 stars

My Recommendation: SKIP IT/SEE IT. A flawed, but creepy and symbolically rich horror movie that is both deeply unsettling and mythologically satisfying. If you love horror movies then go see it in the theatre, but for everyone else watch it on Netflix or cable.

Midsommar, written and directed by Ari Aster, is the story of Dani, a young women in emotional turmoil who accompanies her lukewarm boyfriend on a trip to Harga, an isolated rural commune in Finland, for a once in every 90 years religious festival. The film stars Florence Pugh as Dani, with supporting turns from Jack Reynor, William Jackson Harper and Will Poulter.

Midsommar describes itself as a “folk horror film”, which is an intriguing twist on the horror formula. In general I am not a fan of horror movies, the ones I do enjoy, like The Shining, Rosemary’s Baby and The Exorcist, are more great movies of horror than they are great horror movies. Those movies deal with the occult and spiritual horror as opposed to just slasher or monster type movies, and that is probably why I appreciate them so much.

Midsommar is director Ari Aster’s second feature film, his first was last year’s Hereditary, another ambitious horror film. I liked Hereditary and even though it was flawed I thought Aster showed a great deal of potential as a filmmaker as he coaxed some terrific performances out of his leads Toni Collette and Alex Wolff and put together some really gripping sequences. Hereditary was also chock full of really rich symbolism and sub-text…so much so that I wrote an entire piece about it.

Hereditary’s biggest flaw was that Aster’s creative eyes were bigger than his directorial stomach…which is my way of saying that Aster is a better writer than a director as he was unable to entirely capture the entirety of his unique vision on film.

Unknown-8.jpeg

Midsommar is a worthy follow up to Hereditary, and is very similar in many ways as the film boasts a stellar female performance at its center and has a wildly creepy and unsettling story at its center. Midsommar is also bursting with insightful symbolism and sub-text that make it a very layered film. Hereditary and Midsommar are also twins in that they explore a dark occult underbelly to the rather benign settings of suburbia and a seemingly gentle Finnish commune respectively.

Sadly though, the similarities don’t end there as Midsommar also suffers from the same ailment that hampered Hereditary, namely that the narrative was too dramatically unwieldy for the director Aster to tame fully.

Unknown-10.jpeg

The very best thing about the film is the performance of Florence Pugh, who won a Breakout Performance of the Year Mickey Award in 2016 for the independent drama Lady MacBeth, and lives up to that promise in Midsommar. Pugh is so spot on in her characterization that it is at times uncomfortable to watch. Pugh’s Dani is deeply and specifically wounded and reeks of desperation, so much so that she relentlessly needs to accommodate others to an embarrassing degree. The camera adores Pugh as she is blessed with an exquisitely perfect face that is both stunningly gorgeous and approachable. Pugh’s magnetism and girl-next-door beauty are used to great affect as it makes Dani’s insecurity and low self-esteem a conflicting yet captivating mess.

Dani’s at best indifferent boyfriend, Christian, is played by Jack Reynor, who sort of looks like a slightly less douchebaggy version of Seth Rogan. Reynor’s Christian is a pitch perfect asshole, and he wisely never goes over the top with his asshole-ishness, but it is certainly a palpable presence. Reynor as an actor is a bit overwhelmed by Pugh though, as he currently seems to lack the charisma and skill to go toe to toe with his very formidable leading lady. That said, to Reynor’s great credit he proves is certainly game for anything and shows he has enough balls (literally and figuratively) to try and tackle a role that ends up being just a bit out of his reach.

Unknown-9.jpeg

Midsommar’s cinematographer, Pawel Pogorzelski, does fantastic work as he captures the pseudo-David Lynchian creepiness beneath the quaint facade of the commune. Pogorzelski uses the midnight sun of Finland effectively to create a disorienting visual experience that is subtly alarming. There are psychedelic sequences where Pogorzelski shows his talent in not overwhelming the viewer with obviousness but rather makes the delirious experience so seamless as to be unnerving. There are also some deliciously well-done shots using the reflections from a mirror or a television set that I thought were glorious. Pogorzelski worked on Hereditary as well and his style and skill definitely elevate both films.

The thing I liked the most about Midsommar was the symbolism and sub-text. This film, just like Hereditary, is bursting at the seams with political and social commentary that is hiding in plain sight. The commune at the center of the story is an alluring combination of old world folk religion, New Age spirituality, modern day social progressivism and extreme environmentalism. It is easy to imagine that the divergent anti-Trump resistance could come together to form the alleged utopia that is Harga.

Unknown-12.jpeg

The character arc of Dani is that of the modern women who has put her needs second to those around her and has made herself small so that others feel big. As Dani goes through the odyssey of the commune she is forced to choose between the way things are now with her as a pliant caretaker to others, or the way things could be with a women in charge. In this way the film is, much like Hereditary, a commentary on the Trump presidency and the fall of Hillary and the rise of neo-feminism. While those things are potentially over-analyzed subjects in our current political and cultural climate, Aster does a magnificent job of deftly addressing these issues in an unconventional way and subtly layering the film’s inventive perspective throughout the film.

To be clear, I truly did enjoy Midsommar, just as I did Hereditary, but as with Hereditary, Midsommar does go a bit off the rails about two thirds of the way through and the film loses dramatic momentum. I think Aster’s biggest issue, in both films, is that the major beats of the story are not well placed in the narrative arc, and so the film feels a bit off in the final act.

In conclusion, while I think Ari Aster has slightly missed the mark with both Hereditary and Midsommar, I am very glad for his ambition and that he is out there making movies. I think he is a very original voice and his expansive ideas on horror and the nature of evil are remarkably insightful about the world in which we currently reside. I hope Aster keeps exploring the depths of that unique darkness that he shared with viewers in both Hereditary and Midsommar.

While Midsommar is not worth shelling out big bucks to see in a theatre, I do think it is worth seeing on Netflix or cable for “free” for Pugh’s performance alone. The movie is also genuinely creepy and not of the instantly forgettable horror movie formula that has grown so tiresome. Midsommar is definitely a flawed film, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t worthwhile or that the message it sends isn’t right on the money. If, at some point, you have a chance to check it out I think you should…it will unsettle you…and we all need to be unsettled every now and again.

©2019

Women's Soccer, Pay Equality and Pandering

s111501722.jpg


Estimated Reading Time: 6 minutes 06 seconds

The U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team have been making headlines in recent weeks not only for their soccer dominance and winning the World Cup, but also for their call for “equal pay”. You see, the U.S. Women’s team is allegedly paid less than the much less successful U.S. Men’s team and are currently in a legal battle with the U.S. Soccer Federation over wage equality.

The U.S. Women’s on-field success has been translated into righteousness by the media in the wage equality discussion. The media, ESPN in particular, have uncritically accepted the premise that the Women’s team deserves to be paid the same as the men’s team. On every single ESPN “debate” show, such as Pardon the Interruption and Around the Horn, all of the media talking heads supported the women’s demand for equal pay, which did not make for much debate but did allow for a great deal of virtue signaling.

An example of the establishment media’s perspective on this issue was on full display in two Boston Globe op-eds printed this week. In one, written by Shirley Leung with a headline imploring US Soccer to “Get on the right side of history!”, she states, “Of course the women should be paid as much as the men. If anything they should get MORE.”

In another Boston Globe article, this one by Tara Sullivan titled After Winning the World Cup, How Can the US Women Be Denied Their Well-Deserved Due?, Sullivan writes, “That they emerged as victorious on the pitch while simultaneously carrying a torch for pay equity IN THE BOARDROOM only underscores what tough competitors they are…” (emphasis mine).

Both Leung and Sullivan and the cavalcade of sportswriters on ESPN’s debate shows, were not partaking in a serious journalistic examination of the issue of pay equality for women’s soccer players, rather they were simply doing what most public people do in our woke culture…pandering.

Unknown-1.jpeg

In our current age of political correctness no one on TV or writing in a major newspaper is going to declare that the US Women’s soccer team does not deserve equal pay. Nor will they argue that the Women’s team is actually getting paid equally because members of the women’s team get a guaranteed salary whereas the men’s team has a play to pay agreement. ESPN has become an HR department propaganda channel and pander parade with all of their painfully obvious woke posing and preening. Every single one of the guests on that network know that if they even hint at being against some woke initiative, they will lose their place at the network.

Now it is certainly possible to argue for equal pay without pandering, but what the ESPN people and the vast majority of mainstream writers did was not make a logical case for equal pay, but rather an emotional one. In Sullivan’s Globe piece she quotes Amory McAndrew, a lawyer who specializes in employment law at a “women-owned law firm” that specializes in employment law, who states “How could anyone now argue the US women’s soccer team is not performing equal work?” I know McAndrew seems like a stellar impartial voice (eye roll), but is it really inconceivable to think that the US women’s team is not doing equal work with the men’s team?

Let us first acknowledge that there are jobs where there is rightful pay inequality based on gender. Modeling is a perfect example of this as on average rank and file female models make 148% more money per year than male models. At the top end of the modeling business the contrast is even more striking as the highest paid female model, Gisele Bundchen made $47 million in 2014 while the top male model, Sean O’Pry made around $1.5 million. The reason that female models make so much more than men is because the majority of fashion advertising is geared towards women, thus female models have more value. That doesn’t mean male models have no value, just less value than female models.

In terms of the women’s soccer team issue what is really at stake is the value of female soccer players versus male soccer players. Supporters of the women’s team claim that the female players are of equal value to the male players.

In Leung’s article she claims the women deserve equal pay (in other words have equal value) because they “win more championships, sell more jerseys, and generate more revenue than the men’s squad.” This is a very deceptive argument as yes, they have won more championships, but winning in a World Cup in women’s soccer is considerably easier since the competition only began in 1991 and other nations do not have the female sport infrastructure that the U.S. does. In terms of jersey sales and revenue, it is true that the women’s team has brought in one million more dollars in revenue over the last three years…but only over the last three years, and that was when they were playing in a World Cup and the men were not.

images-4.jpeg

I would argue that comparing the pay for women’s and men’s soccer teams is like comparing male and female models, as they are very different and appeal to very different sized audiences. For example, the prize money in the Women’s World Cup of 2019 was $30 million with $4 million going to the winning team, whereas in the Men’s World Cup of 2018 the prize money was $400 million total with $38 million going to the winning team. This may seem like an obvious case of gender bias until you look at the bigger picture, which is that the revenue from the 2019 Women’s World Cup was $130 million and the revenue from the Men’s 2018 World Cup was $6 BILLION. Men’s soccer is without question the big money maker across the globe and to deny this is to deny reality. Another example to hit this point home is that over the course of the entire 2019 Women’s World Cup tournament, 1 billion viewers tuned in…whereas in the 2018 Men’s World Cup, 1 billion viewers tuned in JUST FOR THE FINAL GAME.

Sports is, in general, something marketed toward men, while fashion is something marketed toward women, and this is why female athletes make less than men and females models make more than male models. To be clear, this is not to say that women’s sports in general, or women’s soccer, in particular, have no value, only that they have less value than men’s sports.

Besides the insipid pandering, what really bothers me about the US Women’s soccer team and their cry for equal pay is that it undermines the argument for equal pay for women with “regular” jobs. To be clear, I believe that people doing the same jobs should be paid equally regardless of gender. Anyone who thinks that women should be paid less for doing the exact same work as men is obviously a hopeless neanderthal and troglodyte. That said, while the U.S. Women’s soccer team is certainly generating a great amount of attention for the wage equality cause, I think they are ultimately the worst case to represent the issue. The problem I have with the women’s soccer team and equal pay is that unlike the women working “regular” jobs in offices, like an accountant, lawyer, writer etc., who are being paid less even though they are just as intellectually able as their male counterparts doing the same work, women’s soccer players are not the equals of their male counterparts. Yes, I know that is a shocking thing to say, especially in our current media environment and woke culture, but it is true and it is a sign of our cultural and intellectual decay that speaking this truth is considered an irredeemable sin.

As Shirley Leung writes in the Boston Globe, “When women are paid less than men for doing what appear to be similar jobs, why do employers insist on changing the playing field instead of leveling it", the statement “appear to be similar jobs” is doing a lot of work in that sentence. Leung is, just like Sullivan and the rest of the media, conflating playing soccer with pursuits based on intellect…such as accounting, or legal work or any other office jobs. This is a fatal error by equal pay advocates, because when you conflate equality in the boardroom with equality on a soccer field, you are taking on two undefeated and undefeatable opponents…biology and reality. In a boardroom setting there is no scientific or biological reason for men to be superior to women…none. On a soccer field, there are dozens of reasons that women are inferior to men.

images-3.jpeg

Leung states in her piece that the US women’s struggle for equal pay reminds her of the case of Elizabeth Rowe, a principal flutist for the Boston Symphony Orchestra who sued the company in order to get paid as much as the principal oboist who was a man. The problem with this comparison is that, unlike the women and men’s soccer teams, the flutist and oboist play at the same time on the same stage…in other words they are equals. Another problem is that unlike in athletics, in music there is no scientific basis for male superiority compared to females. Leung even states that orchestras do blind auditions in order to halt any unconscious bias on the part of the auditors who are left only to judge on the music created not on the gender of the creator. This is a wonderful idea…but how does Ms. Leung think it would go if soccer could be judged the same way? I’ll tell her how it would go…not well for the women.

On the most basic level the painful reality is that men are vastly superior to women in sport. This is an obvious truth but apparently it needs repeating because no one seems to want to admit this uncomfortable fact in regards to the US women’s soccer team. How much more superior are men than women is sport? Well…according to a study, in terms of speed and endurance, the best male athletes are in general 10% better than female athletes. The study is pretty interesting as it shows over history how in track and field running events men’s records consistently go towards the mean for being 10% faster than women’s records.

To show the stark contrast between men and women in regards to speed, this past year a high school runner from Texas set the high school record in the 100m at 9.98 seconds. This 18 year old boy ran the 100 meters a full half second faster than the women’s world record of 10.49 which was set in 1988 by Florence Griffith-Joyner.

Speed is not the only place where men dominate women, as studies have shown that on average men have 40% more upper body strength and 33% more lower body strength. Men are also, on average, much bigger in terms of weight and height than women, but studies show that height and weight difference only account for half of the strength difference. Male strength can be attributed to a larger cross section in individual muscle-fibers. Men’s grip strength is so overwhelmingly superior to women’s that in one study 90% of the women scored lower than 95% of the men.

I recently saw a story that claimed that the US women’s soccer team lost to an FC Dallas Under 15 boys academy team 5-2 in 2017. Many have discounted this story and claim that the women weren’t trying in the game which was a scrimmage. While the story of a “loss” may be a bit dubious, that doesn’t change the fact that it is certainly possible for that to have happened when you consider the biological differences between men and women…see the Texas high school kid who crushed the women’s world record 100m time by half a second.

If the World Cup winning US women’s soccer team played any of the top 50 ranked boys high school or club teams in America they would lose handily. The same is true of the US Women’s Olympic basketball team which is an absolute juggernaut filled with the very best female players in the world. If they played any of the top 100 high school boys basketball teams in America they would lose (especially if they had to play with a boy’s basketball and not the girl’s ball which is smaller).

Unknown-7.jpeg

A few years ago Rhonda Rousey was all the rage as she dominated women’s mixed martial arts. Rousey was submitting her opponents in record time in match after match and the media quickly grabbed hold of the story and made claims that she could beat men. Even male fighters got into the pandering game and claimed they wouldn’t want to fight Rousey…she even appeared on an episode of Entoruage to beat up one of the douchebags on that awful show. But I knew this was all nonsense, I guarantee that if Rousey fought any of the top 1,000 male MMA fighters of her same weight she would not survive a single round. The reason is that even at the same weight, men would generate considerably more power with their punches due to bone density and muscle mass. Women who try and physically match up with men are in for a rude awakening…real life is not a Hollywood movie where Brie Larson kicks ass…real life hurts when someone 40% stronger than you, with astronomically greater grip strength, grabs you and punches you in the face. Of course, Rousey proved herself to be a paper tiger when she got her head kicked in by Holly Holm and was never the same, only fighting once more a year later and getting ko’d 48 seconds into the first round by Amanda Nunes.

A few years ago John McEnroe made the mistake of stating the obvious when he said that if Serena Williams played on the men’s tour she would be ranked around 700 or so. People freaked out and got really mad at McEnroe for his claim, but that is usually what happens when bubbles are burst by reality. In 1998 both Venus and Serena Williams took on the 203rd ranked player in the world, German Karsten Braasch, in an exhibition after they challenged him. Braasch drank beer and smoked cigarettes during the change overs and was described as “no longer looking the part of an athlete”, but that didn’t stop him from beating first Serena 6-1 and then Venus 6-2. Serena went on to win the U.S. Open the next year and Venus won Wimbledon and the US Open the year after that. If you take men’s speed, endurance and strength advantages into account, it would seem likely that Serena Williams, maybe the greatest female tennis player of all-time, would not win a single set from any of the top 300 players on tour and would not win a single match against the top 1000 men in the world.

What does male physical dominance, Serena Williams and Ronda Rousey have to do with pay equality? The same thing Women’s soccer has to do with pay equality…absolutely nothing. Men have no intellectual advantages over women, and so women deserve to be paid equally for equal work based on intellect. The US women’s soccer team are not equals to their male counterparts though…they are vastly inferior and that is why they make for terrible avatars in this pay equality debate.

If women athletes want to paid the same as male athletes, let them compete against the men. Of course, they won’t do that because they are smart enough to know they would get obliterated in every sport where speed, power and strength are vital for success. This fact is made clear in the cases of male to female transgender athletes competing in women’s or girl’s sports, where they dominate, much to the chagrin of the female athletes and their families.

The bottom line is this, that the women’s soccer team isn’t nearly as good as the men’s soccer team, nor is women’s soccer anywhere near as popular as men’s soccer, even in the U.S. where MLS ratings and attendance are gargantuan compared to the ratings/attendance for NWSL (the women’s pro league). To deny these things is to deny observable and biological reality, and denying reality never lasts long or ends well.

in conclusion, women undoubtedly deserve equal pay for equal work, but the women’s soccer team is not equal to the men’s soccer team, not even close. To say other wise is to either live in delusion and fantasy or to participate in the most insidious of woke pandering, neither of which is a healthy or productive choice. If women want pay equality they should highlight the jobs where their gender differences do not put them at a decided disadvantage against men. Women should be paid equally in the board room where they are equals, but not on the athletic field, where they are not now, and never will be, equals.

©2019

Movie Subscription Services and Box Office Booms and Busts

lego_failure_box_office_miles_ringer_illo.0.jpg

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.

Unknown-6.jpeg

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.

Unknown-7.jpeg

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.

Unknown-1.jpeg

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.

Unknown-8.jpeg

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

meathead1.jpg

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.

Unknown-1.jpeg

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. 

images-3.jpeg

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

cut.jpg

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.

Unknown-6.jpeg

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.

images-5.jpeg

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.

images-7.jpeg

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.

images-4.jpeg

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.

images-3.jpeg

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

TheLastBlackManInSanFranciscoPoster.jpg

****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.

Unknown-22.jpeg

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.

Unknown-23.jpeg

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.

images-7.jpeg

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.

Unknown-20.jpeg

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

QWAWE7NLTRCYTEDQEH6YZ473X4-1.jpg

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.

Unknown-12.jpeg

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.

Unknown-14.jpeg

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.

Unknown-13.jpeg

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.

images-4.jpeg

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.”

images-5.jpeg

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.

images-3.jpeg

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.

Unknown-15.jpeg

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

buffoon-1.jpg


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.

Unknown-1.jpeg

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.

Unknown-8.jpeg

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.

Unknown-7.jpeg

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

X-Men-Dark-Phoenix-New-Poster_1200_1777_81_s.jpg

****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.

Unknown-6.jpeg

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.

Unknown-1.jpeg

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.

images-5.jpeg

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.

images-3.jpeg

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

Screen-Shot-2019-05-24-at-14.27.14.png

****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).

Unknown-6.jpeg

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.

images-4.jpeg

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.

Unknown-1.jpeg

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

MV5BMTk2NjY3NDYzN15BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwOTUxNzg0NzM@._V1_.jpg

****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.

Unknown-1.jpeg

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.

Unknown-6.jpeg

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.

Unknown-7.jpeg

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