"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

Can You Ever Forgive Me? : A Review

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

My Rating: 2 out of 5 stars

My Recommendation: SKIP IT. Even with two solid performances from Melissa McCarthy and Richard E. Grant, this movie is never rises to be worthy of seeing it in the theatre.

Can You Ever Forgive Me?, written by Nicole Holofcener and Jeff Whitty (based upon the memoir of the same name by Lee Israel) and directed by Marielle Heller, is the true story of Lee Israel, a down on her luck writer who turns to forging letters from past literary giants in order to make ends meet. The film stars Melissa McCarthy as Lee with supporting turns from Richard E. Grant and Dolly Wells.

Can You Ever Forgive Me? is one of those films that doesn’t really know what it is and doesn’t really know what it is doing, and ultimately ends up being a little bit of everything and a whole lot of nothing. Sadly, it is a fundamentally unsound and suffocatingly conventional film which could have flourished with a stronger and more artistically insightful director at the helm.

Let’s start with the good…Melissa McCarthy does some really terrific work as the emotionally stunted curmudgeon Lee Israel. McCarthy has made a name for herself as a top-notch comedic actress, but this film shows that she is more than capable of tackling dramatically diverse roles.

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McCarthy is still funny as Israel, but she isn’t playing funny, the comedy is grounded in the character, which is refreshing. McCarthy is likable even when Israel is unbearably unlikable, and that is a testament to the actress’s charisma.

McCarthy is able to make chicken salad out of the chicken shit of a script she is given, by giving her Lee a hidden but palpable wound that pulsates through her every action. To McCarthy’s credit she rises above the mundane script and creates a somewhat multi-dimensional character where a lesser actress would’ve just played for easy surface gags.

McCarthy is assisted in the acting department by her supporting star Richard E. Grant who plays gay ne’er do well and man about town Jack Hock. Grant’s Jack is a magnetic mess who can’t get out of his own or other people’s way.

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Grant’s performance is an understated tour de force, as his Jack is something like a cross between Ironweed and Birdcage. Grant, like McCarthy, is very likable even when Jack is extremely unlikable, which makes for a sort of dynamically terribly duo.

The direction of Marielle Heller leaves quite a lot to be desired. The film is visually flaccid and the storytelling so muddled and cluttered that the film, like its characters, never gets out of its own way.

The biggest problem is that the film tries to be both a straight forward narrative revolving around Israel’s crimes, but also a character study. I think the better and certainly more interesting approach would have been to do a straight character study and solely focus on the relationship between Lee and Jack, two emotionally broken people trying to survive in a hostile world.

Of course the problem is that the only reason people know who Lee Israel is, is because of her crimes, so the trap becomes that the crimes are the story and not the characters. And frankly, Heller as director simply does not possess the skill to do the delicate balancing act of combining the crime narrative with the character study, and so we are left with the bland, lukewarm film that we have.

At the end of the day, the crime story distracts from the solid character work done by both McCarthy and Grant, and ends up scuttling the entire cinematic ship of Can You Ever Forgive Me?, which is a shame.

I wanted to like Can You Ever Forgive Me?, and thought it could be an artistically inclined art house film, but instead was disappointed to find that it is some rather thin Hollywood gruel slopped onto the tasty steak that are the performances of McCarthy and Grant.

In conclusion, Can You Ever Forgive Me? simply is not worth the time, money and energy to see it in the theatre. If you stumble across it on cable or Netflix, feel free to watch it for free for the performances but have low expectations for the film. So to answer the question…”can you ever forgiver me?”, in regards to director Marielle Heller, who squandered two solid performances from Melissa McCarthy and Richard E. Grant, the answer is a resounding NO…that sin I simply cannot forgive.

©2018

Bohemian Rhapsody: A Review

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

My Rating: 2.25 out of 5 stars

My Recommendation: SKIP IT/SEE IT. If you are a cinephile looking for great cinema, look somewhere else, but if you are a Queen fan looking for some mindless fun, this is the movie for you.

Bohemian Rhapsody, written by Antony McCarten and (sort of) directed by Bryan Singer, is the story of Freddie Mercury, the iconic lead singer of the band Queen, and his rise to the top of the rock world and his struggles once he got there. The film stars Rami Malek as Mercury, with supporting turns from Lucy Boynton, Gwylim Lee and Ben Hardy.

This past Tuesday, after doing my civic duty and voting to Make America Great Again in the morning, I had my entire afternoon free, so I ventured down to the local cineplex to check out Bohemian Rhapsody, the Freddie Mercury bio-pic.

Mercury’s band Queen, is, in my not so humble opinion, not the greatest rock band of all-time, but it is in the neighborhood. They aren’t The Beatles, Stones or Led Zeppelin, but they are more The Doors, The Who and Pink Floyd adjacent. While I am not a Queen super fan, I do enjoy the band and consider Freddie Mercury to be the greatest singer in the history of rock and one of the most original front men to boot.

Mercury is a fascinating figure who took the androgynous pose of the likes of Jaggar, Bowie. and Plant and turned it up to 11, becoming a closeted but widely acknowledged gay rock star when being gay was not so warmly embraced as it is now.

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What made Mercury and Queen so appealing is that they simultaneously took themselves way too seriously but not seriously at all. Mercury was the consummate showman, and his flamboyant stage act, with his perilously short shorts or impossibly tight pants along his awkward movements made him a sort of court jester of rock and roll, but it was his extraordinary voice that also made him King (and Queen) of rock. Mercury’s vocal power and range is unmatched by every other rock singer who has ever pelvic thrusted across our collective consciousness.

Queen were one of the great bands because they were able to take the genre of arena rock and infuse it with a healthy serving of prog rock which resulted in the most anomalous, avant-garde, radio friendly anthems to ever come out of the genre. Brian May’s titanic guitar sound combined with Mercury’s sublime voice and Roger Taylor’s thunderous drums (and stellar backing vocals) added together to make a first rate and stunningly original band, the likes of which we will certainly never see again.

Which brings us to the film Bohemian Rhapsody, which is more a bio-pic of Mercury than of the band, but the two are forever intertwined. The problem with Bohemian Rhapsody is that for a story about an exquisitely unconventional band and man, it is a painstakingly conventional and standard film. Bohemian Rhapsody cuts a lot of corners and softens a lot of edges to spoon-feed a rather trite and contrived story, and personally, I think a phenomenal talent and complicated human being like Freddie Mercury deserves a hell of a lot better.

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Bio-pics are tough to make, particularly about music legends, and Bohemian Rhapsody falls into every single trap that lay before it. The film doesn’t tell you about the man Freddie Mercury, it simply recreates the myth. The myth is fun but it isn’t interesting because it isn’t real. Freddie Mercury (real name Farrokh Bulsara) was a real person and had all the baggage that goes along with that. The better movie is the movie that tells us the story of Farrokh, not the one that recounts the well-known exploits of Freddie.

An example of a bio-pic that succeeds in crossing the myth and man divide was Oliver Stone’s electric The Doors. Stone was able to dig deeper into the myth of Jim Morrison and find the lost man/little boy at its center.

A lot of people commented after seeing The Doors that Val Kilmer, who starred as Morrison in the film, “looks so much like Jim Morrison”, which is funny because if you actually look at the two men, Val Kilmer looks nothing like Jim Morrison. What made people think he did is that Kilmer is a terrific actor, who in the early 90’s was at the height of his powers. Kilmer created his own Morrison and audiences accepted it because his work was thorough, genuine and grounded. Kilmer played Morrison the man, and then wore the mask of the Morrison myth on top of that, which made for a compelling piece of screen acting.

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In contrast, Rami Malek, who plays Freddie Mercury, is hamstrung by a very limiting script that never allows him to fully flesh out Freddie Mercury/Farrokh Bulsara the man, and so he is left to play Freddie Mercury the myth. To Malek’s great credit, he does a stupendous job doing so, particularly during the musical performances. Malek brings Mercury to life on stage to such a degree that it is deliriously infectious. Like Kilmer, Malek has only a passing resemblance to Mercury in real life, but with his undeniable commitment to character, aided by some very effective fake teeth, Malek visually transforms into a remarkably believable version of Mercury (so much so in one particular scene that it is actually creepy, as Malek/Freddie lies in a blue bed and looks like a corpse) which is heightened with his exquisite recreation of Mercury’s stage presence and persona. (As a weird aside, speaking of Freddie Mercury look-a-likes, one of the doctors on my cracked medical team looks like he could be Freddie Mercury’s blond younger brother…seriously…and truth be told he could actually be related, I don’t know as I don’t know his backstory. Anyway, I find his Freddie look-a-like status distracting and oddly unnerving when trying to have a serious conversation with him. He is an extremely nice guy and very good doctor, I just wish “Fat Bottomed Girls” wouldn’t get stuck in my head every time I interact with him. Although to be fair, one of the other doctors on my cracked staff is quite an attractive woman with a decidedly voluptuous bottom, so maybe I shouldn’t blame all of my Queen ear worms on Freddie Mercury’s little brother.)

The supporting cast of Gwylim Lee, Ben Hardy and Joseph Mazzello all do solid work as well and look strikingly like their real-life band counterparts Brian May, Roger Taylor and John Deacon.

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The supporting actor who stood out the most though, and by a mile, is the luminous Lucy Boynton who plays Mercury’s girlfriend Mary Austin. Boynton is an alluring and captivating presence who jumps off the screen. Her role is pretty under-written but she is able, through sheer magnetism and artistic determination, to create a multi-dimensional character which would have been absent in lesser hands.

The only other film I have seen Boynton in was Sing Street, where she was equally beguiling. Boynton is blessed with being a charismatic yet approachable beauty with a deft and subtle acting touch. She certainly has the ability to be an actress of note and I look forward to seeing where her career takes her as the sky is the limit.

As for the directing of Bohemian Rhapsody, officially, everybody’s least favorite pedophile, Bryan Singer, is the director. But Singer was fired after two thirds of the shoot was completed when he simply vanished and didn’t return to set after the Thanksgiving break. Apparently Singer was dealing with personal some issues, I wonder if they were related to his insatiable (and illegal) sweet tooth when it comes to his sexual partners….hmmmm?

Dexter Fletcher was hired to complete the film and considering the mess this movie could have been with the hapless Singer at the helm followed by a substitute teacher trying to piece it all together, he does a passable job.

Bohemian Rhapsody is not a great movie, but to its credit it is a fun one. Fans of Queen will love the movie, they won’t learn anything new or gain any insights into Freddie Mercury/Farrokh Bulsara but they will get a sanitized ride along with the band through the ups and downs of their roller coaster to the top of the music business.

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As much as the first hour and 40 minutes of the movie is rather lackluster, thanks to Rami Malek and the music of Queen, the final 30 minutes pulsates with a vibrant life. The concert footage is not shot particularly well, and it isn’t a great piece of filmmaking by any stretch (as opposed to say, Oliver Stone’s dynamic direction of concert scenes in The Doors which is magnificent), but the music of Queen that erupts during the climactic concert footage is impossible to deny. At my screening there was a palpable sense of joy mixed with some melancholy at watching Freddie Mercury back from the grave to slay dragons from the Wembley stage once again. As underwhelmed as I was by the majority of the film, the final concert scenes had me leaving the theatre with a bounce in my step.

In conclusion, if you are a Queen fan, even in passing, you should grab the nearest Fat Bottomed Girl or Your Best Friend and Bicycle Race to see Bohemian Rhapsody, I mean why not? It is fun, it has Queen music, it has Rami Malek giving a solid performance and it boasts the incandescent Lucy Boynton. On the other hand, if you are not a Queen fan, or if you are a cinephile looking for serious cinema, Bohemian Rhapsody is not a Killer Queen, dynamite with a laser beam and certainly isn’t guaranteed to blow your mind, it is just a case of Another bio-pic Bites the Dust.

©2018
















2018 Mid-Terms: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

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Estimated Reading Time: 4 minutes 35 seconds

Well, the mid-term elections are in the rear-view mirror and fading fast in the public consciousness as the never ending and frantic news cycle moves on to other topics like Jeff Sessions’ firing and the horrific shooting in Thousand Oaks. Before the election results are permanently lost down the memory hole though, I thought it would be wise to revisit them and see where we are and where we are headed.

GOOD? BAD? UGLY?

I predicted there would be no “blue wave” and depending on with whom you talk I might have been right. That said, the Democrats in the House outperformed my prediction, I thought they would either lose or win the House by a nose, and they exceeded that.

Some in the media are calling this a “blue ripple” as opposed to a blue wave, that may be more accurate but it also strikes me that it might be a desperate attempt to find the bright side. This election was billed as a referendum on Trump, and the cold hard reality is that Trump was not repudiated. Yes, Trump lost the House, but historically speaking, he substantially outperformed his predecessors. For example, Obama lost 66 House seats in 2010 and Clinton lost 54 seats in 1994 in their first mid-terms compared to Trump losing 30 (or so, the final tally isn’t in yet) this year…and they both went on to win reelection. Add to that the fact that Trump expanded his majority in the Senate and it appears that while Trump is certainly more vulnerable with a Democratic House, Trumpism is, to quote The Simple Minds, “Alive and Kicking” here in the good old U.S. of A., which means that while my House prediction may have been too pessimistic, my prediction of very bad things to come in our future is going to be right on the nose.

BAD

The Democrats, with their chests puffed out after winning the House, have seemingly decided to take a gigantic shit all over themselves and keep Nancy Pelosi on as Speaker of the House. What a brilliant strategic move, making an elderly, rich, corporate whore, machine politician as the face of your party when populism pulsates throughout not just the critical rust belt states you so desperately need to flip in order to win back the White House, but the majority of the country as well. Power is there for the taking if only the Democrats would abandon Wall Street in favor of Main Street and tack far to the left economically. But we all know they won’t do that because, just like the Republicans, they are pigs at the trough, and regular folks are left with nothing but the foul stench of their excrement after the establishment hogs have gorged themselves.

GOOD AND BAD

I had a reader email me earlier in the year regarding Beto O’Rourke, this reader is a very smart and engaging guy and always has terrific insights to share. In one email he told me he was excited for Beto in Texas, and thought he could be a game changer. I replied to the reader and told him that I liked Beto a lot as well, but that Texas politics is like the movie Chinatown, and while Democrats keep insisting that it is going to flip blue, at the end of the day Democrats will only be left agog in the middle of the street as their partner tries to console them by saying, “forget it Jake, it’s Chinatown.”

I do admit though, that on election night as I saw the numbers come in I totally got sucked into the Beto magic and started thinking he might pull it off and be the next JFK and become president in 2020 and save the universe. But then the Beto love (played by Faye Dunaway) got shot and killed and the creepy Ted Cruz drove off with the election with incestuous lust in his eyes for his daughter/granddaughter and I was left muttering to myself, “forget it Mick, it’s Chinatown.”

GOOD

With all that said, Beto O’Rourke and Andrew Gillum in Florida are both cases that prove that genuinely economically progressive politicians will outperform the usual centrist drivel put forward by the Democrats. I keep hearing how O’Rourke was fool’s gold, same with Gillum, and that the lesson to be learned from their loss is that the Dems need to move to the center. This is beyond moronic. Both Beto and Gillum were supposed to lose because both Texas and Florida are Republican states, but they did extremely well and exceeded expectations because, one - they are top-notch political talents and two - they were selling a genuine progressive economic agenda that has proven to be extremely popular among the masses regardless of party. Hell…in Idaho, Nebraska and Utah, voters passed initiatives to expand Medicaid and in Arkansas and Missouri they voted to increase the minimum wage.

I believe that the lesson to be learned from Beto and Gillum is the same lesson to be learned from Jeremy Corbyn’s surprise showing in the last British election, which was met with the equally inane analysis of “but he didn’t win!”. In our myopic culture, one must look to the big picture and the long game in order to have a strategic advantage, for Corbyn, his “loss” was a “win” because he gained momentum and was positioned to win at the next election and would not be held accountable for the shit show that is the current Brexit negotiations. For Beto and Gillum, they “lost” but won because they can now spend their time positioning themselves and gearing up for future races which might be more advantageous than this latest one. Beto and Gillum are serious talents, they just have to find a way to maintain the magic and not sell out before the next election.

GOOD

On the bright-side, one of my least favorite politicians of all-time, Wisconsin governor Scott Walker, was defeated. Walker is a Koch brothers sycophant and an anti-Union hound, and I hope his next job is testing the strength of two by fours with his face.

BAD

Steve King of Iowa and Peter King of N.Y. are two more of my least favorite politicians. Being a native New Yorker, I find Peter to be the more deplorable of the two kings but it is close. Sadly, they both won re-election, and seem to be the type of politicians who will probably become Weekend at Bernie’s Congressman who continue in their jobs long after their death.

BAD

Speaking of awful people winning elections…in my home state of California, the repugnant Gavin Newsom won the Governorship and the repulsive and decrepit Dianne Feinstein won her fifth Senate race. Both Newsom and Feinstein are the poster children of Democratic fecklessness and corporate sluttery.

Newsom is one of the more phony and manufactured politicians you will ever come across, he makes Bill Clinton and Mitt Romney look like Robin Williams and Jonathon Winters. Newsom no doubt has his sights set on the White House, but the reality is that he doesn’t stand a chance. Trump would chew up and spit out a canned clown like Newsom and his corporate friendly economics with ease.

Dianne Feinstein, or DiFi as I like to call her, is a prostitute for the military and intelligence industrial complex. She loves the intelligence community and shamelessly kisses and licks their ass on her own volition and upon their request. Why liberal Californians love DiFi is a complete mystery since she is actually a closeted Republican, which makes sense since she is old enough to be Calvin Coolidge’s big sister.

THE WAY FORWARD

As for the next two years…as I stated in my prediction post, things are about to get really interesting. The Democrats seem to want to try and impeach Trump, which strikes me as a bad move strategically.

I am all for hearings and holding his feet to the fire, but I think it should be done in moderation and with surgical precision. Like Bill the Butcher in Gangs of New York the Democrats must stick the knife in where it will be fatal. Random investigations of petty offenses may actually be fruitful in the short term, but long term would only strengthen Trump across the country. Remember, a lot of people hate Trump, but a lot of people also hate grandstanding Democrats (see Cory Booker and his “I am Spartacus” buffoonery) and the media (see Jim Accosta). So the wise move is to do fewer hearings but to have them cut deeper and in fatal areas. My advice for the Democrats…and I have been saying this from the get go…DROP THE RUSSIA BULLSHIT. The Russia investigation is going nowhere…even if Russia is guilty of what everyone says they are (which I still do not believe since I have yet to see one iota of proof), no one but liberal partisans gives a flying fuck.

Want to get under Trump’s skin, forget Russia, forget Stormy, forget emoluments…go after his business. Trump will go nuts, he will flail and freak out because going after his business means going after his family. And going after his family may turn some people off, but unlike the Russia story, Trump’s business is ultimately a political winner for Democrats. Trump can be shown to be just another silver-spooned, Daddy’s little rich girl, corrupt business man who is cheating the little guy and breaking the law. Exposing Trump’s business does two things, it will show him to be criminal and most importantly it will show him to be a failure and that will resonate with regular people who do not care one bit about the Russia nonsense.

The other thing Democrats should do, is use their newfound leverage to actually make deals with Trump. Trump will want the wins, and Dems may not like letting him have them, but big picture, getting Trump, a Republican president, to sign off on Medicare for all, would be a huge win for Democrats and would shatter any Republican coalition. It would also show that Democrats are more than just Anti-Trump, and that they actually have a governing philosophy and want to get things done and that will play in the heartland.

The Democrats would also be wise to move closer to Trump on immigration and make a deal with him on it. Immigration is an issue that the Democrats are going to lose on, and so they must find a reasonably moderate solution to it before 2020. Trust me, open borders and shutting down ICE are not going to work as a position on immigration. The Democrats (as I have been saying for years), should make the immigration debate about economics, which would again, split the Republicans. The Chamber of Commerce Republicans want illegal immigration because it gives them cheap, non-union labor but “Springsteen voters” (working class who voted for Obama twice but switched to Trump) don’t want illegal immigration because it lowers their wages and dilutes the culture. Dems would be wise to placate the Springsteen voters because they are the ones who can give them Michigan, Wisconsin and Ohio…and thus the White House.

As I said in my prediction post, we are in a phase of destruction right now, which is a part of a natural historical cycle. Some readers have asked me what they should do with that information, many wondering if it won’t lead to apathy or depression. My response is simple, use that information to your strategic advantage. The system we have is collapsing, and understand that means you can stop trying to prop the old system up, but instead position yourself to prosper when the systemic collapse becomes glaring.

Trump understood, either consciously or more likely unconsciously, that the system was failing. He ran as someone outside the system who would replace the system. Clinton ran as part of the failing system who would fix that system. The collective unconscious knows the system is dying, and anyone trying to fix it by breathing life back into it will seem absurdly crazy to the collective. It is like performing CPR on a corpse, it is a fruitless and exhausting endeavor and will only end in fatigue and failure.

With this in mind, Jeremy Corbyn’s loss in the UK, or Beto’s loss in Texas or Gillum’s in Florida, seem less devastating, in fact, they seem downright invigorating. Centrist, globalist, neo-liberal economics and neo-conservative foreign policy are of the dying system, and Clinton’s loss in 2016 and the Democrats under-performing in 2018 are a death rattle for that ideology.

What liberals and leftists need to do is to keep their heads down and their nose to the grindstone. They need to be ready for when the system collapses entirely and that void sits at the center of our culture and state. Reaganism, Republicanism, Centrist Liberalism, Neo-Liberalism and Neo-Conservatism have all failed and will be rejected as akin to CPR on a corpse when the system dies. Liberals and leftists need a coherent and cogent substitute in order to step up when the time is right and make the case for what the New America will look like.

Bernie Sanders already planted the seed with his electric run in 2016. He has been followed in 2018 by numerous top-notch candidates as well as the Democratic Socialists of America who have a genuine alternative to the dying system, which gives them an edge going forward. No doubt we will see even more Democratic Socialists and Bernie backed candidates in 2020 and beyond.

Corbyn has done the same in the UK, and is poised to lead New Britain after Brexit…just as American liberals and leftists must themselves prepare to lead the New America after its inevitable collapse. Any liberals and leftists clinging to dreams that a Clinton-esque neo-liberal shift to the center will be the ticket to success in 2020 better disabuse themselves of that delusion because that will guarantee another four years of Trump and God knows what that will bring.



©2018

2018 Mid-Term Elections

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Ever since Trump was elected president in 2016, the media have declared that he would face a comeuppance in the form of vast Democrat victories, or as they call it, a “blue wave”, come the 2018 mid-term elections. While I would like to think that would happen…I don’t think that will happen.

As long time readers know, I was one of “those people” who, in the face of a cavalcade of opposite opinion in the media and in my social circles, accurately predicted Trump’s victory in 2016. As I said in my writing from that time, I didn’t want Trump to win (nor was I a Hillary supporter), I just thought he would. I ended up being right and we have all had to suffer through the never ending reality show that is Trump TV ever since.

The formula I used to predict Trump’s 2016 victory is my McCaffrey Wave Theory, which again, I am sure long-time readers are sick of hearing about…but what can you do? My wave theory uses, among other things, popular culture, most specifically, at least currently, film and television, as indicators of the mood in the collective unconscious. The formula of the McCaffrey Wave Theory is actually very complex and complicated, and takes into account numerous cultural and historical “waves” or “cycles” that are all simultaneously in motion.

Interpreting the data from these waves/cycles and measuring their relationship to one another is how the McCaffrey Wave Theory is able to “predict” certain turn of events. And to be clear, this is not about being Nostradamus and saying planes will fly into buildings on 9-11, but rather about understanding the ebbs and flows of the collective unconscious and knowing when both big and small shifts will occur when portions of the collective unconscious become conscious.

The key elements of the McCaffrey Wave Theory are the archetypes, narratives and sub-texts prominent in films/tv along with their color scheme and visual/cinematic tendencies. These data points are how my wave/cycle theory is able to discern which films and/or television shows are leading indicators and which are lagging indicators of the collective unconscious. Leading indicator films are the ones that express the unconscious desires/fears of the collective, while lagging indicator films are the ones that express conscious fears or desires of the collective.

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Some examples of leading indicator film and tv were pretty obvious in 2017 when HULU’s A Handmaid’s Tale (its narrative and vibrant red and green color scheme) and the DC film Wonder Woman (its narrative and red and blue color scheme) jumped to the fore of our culture in the early summer. These two successful projects accurately foretold of the coming feminist outcry and the rise of the #MeToo movement in the wake of the Weinstein revelations that came out in October of 2017.

A good example of a lagging indicator film was in 2017 as well, when Steven Spielberg rushed into production his thinly veiled anti-Trump/pro-Hillary film, The Post, that underwhelmed both at the box office and come awards time. The Post failed both artistically and financially because it was little more than wish fulfillment that attempted to give the audience what it wanted, not what the collective sub-conscious needed.

In the years leading up to the rise of Trump in 2016, there were numerous films and television shows that were ominous signs of a very dark impulse coming to the fore in American life and across the globe.

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Two glaring examples were HBO’s Game of Thrones with its marketing campaign which for years was warning us all with their ice-blue billboards proclaiming that “Winter is Coming”. The other was Amazon’s The Man in the High Castle, a show about what America would be like if the Nazi’s and Japanese won World War II, which hit the airwaves in 2015 accompanied by a prodigious marketing campaign which had the Nazi Eagle on the American flag and the Imperial Japanese flag plastered all over the New York subway and elsewhere. Both of those shows resonated within the culture because they accurately gave voice to what was lurking in our collective unconscious. On some level we knew what was coming…a horrible “winter” and the Nazi’s/Not Sees…and these shows knew it before we were even conscious of it. (and don’t kid yourself, the Nazi/Not See impulse is not solely of the right, the left has a strong Not See impulse too).

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In 2015 there were many films that were also giving us warning signs of big trouble ahead. The Martian, The Hateful Eight, The Revenant and Star Wars: The Force Awakens were all through their narratives, color schemes (Martian - Red, Hateful 8 - Blue, Revenant - Blue, Star Wars - Red and Blue) and cinematic visuals (shots of foreboding vast expanses) the equivalent of a flashing red sign that a gigantic storm was coming.

In 2016 things got even clearer, as the blockbusters Captain America: Civil War, X-Men: Apocalypse, Deadpool, Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story and even La La Land all revealed through their narratives (internecine warfare), sub-text and color schemes (all of them with vibrant clashes of red and blue) that our cultural train was headed off the track if not the cliff.

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As I have previously written, last year cinema gave us some signs of what to expect going forward. The big archetype of the year in 2017 was Winston Churchill…with the films Dunkirk, Darkest Hour and the Netflix show The Crown. The Churchill archetype can be interpreted in numerous ways, but when seen in conjunction with other wave/cycles, it strikes me that the Churchill archetype is manifesting in the Trump’s of the world…in other words…it is actually the Churchill shadow archetype that is taking center stage.

Which brings us to this year and the mid-terms. As I said, there has been incessant talk of a blue wave and in its jubilant wake the possibility of a Democratic House and maybe even Senate where, like a scene out of The Godfather where Michael settles all family business, liberals exact revenge by impeaching not only of Trump but Supreme Court Justice Kavanaugh. As entertaining as that liberal porn may be…I don’t think it is going to happen.

According to my wave theory, there will be no blue wave. Not only will the Democrats not win the Senate, I don’t think they will win the House either, and if they do it will be by the skin of their teeth. Now…before you stick your head in the oven…to be very, very clear…I could certainly be wrong about this, God knows it wouldn’t be the first time. For starters, I have never used my wave theory to predict a mid-term before, and it could be I am interpreting the data entirely incorrectly, this is a distinct possibility. But with that said, ever since last June, when I wrote a piece for CounterPunch on the topic, along with a follow up posting on this blog in July, I have thought that this blue wave was a mirage.

As I stated in my CounterPunch piece, the big warning signs for me were the prominence and success of both Deadpool 2 and Avengers: Infinity War, both of which had narratives, sub-text and color scheme that spoke clearly of the failure of the opposition to Trump to succeed in toppling him.

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Other films, such as A Quiet Place, Hereditary and even A Star is Born, that have all resonated deeply within the culture this year, are also leading indicators of a Democratic failure come the mid-terms because of their narratives and sub-text. Believe it or not, A Star is Born is remarkably insightful sub-textually and that sub-text very clearly (once you crack the code of it) states that if not Trump, then at least Trumpism, is here to stay as a replacement for the old paradigm, as indicated by the song in the film “Maybe it’s time we let the old ways die”. (I hope to have a full analysis of A Star is Born done soon).

Just as importantly, there are lagging indicator films that are, just like Spielberg’s The Post in 2017, falling flat, which highlight what isn’t resonating in the collective unconscious. Films with similar narratives, like the “aggrieved and under-appreciated genius wife/power behind the throne” stories of The Wife and Colette, or the “police shooting/racism” films The Hate U Give, Monsters and Men and Blindspotting, have all fallen flat in the broader culture. Even the colossal failure of the cinematic celebration of multi-culturalism and female empowerment, A Wrinkle in Time, is telling us what is going on in our collective unconscious, and it isn’t good news.

Now…maybe I am dead wrong about all this…maybe I am misreading and misinterpreting the data, that is a distinct possibility. Maybe the Democrats win a huge majority in the House and even get one in the Senate…but neither of those things will lead to a return to “normal”…only an escalation of the clash for civilization that is currently taking place.

Even if Democrats win, the intensity of the political turmoil here in America will not recede but proceed at an even quicker pace. Two more years of impeachment talk and congressional hearings will only heighten the tensions that are already near a boil. If you thought Trump was awful these last two years, wait until he faces an existential threat to his presidency from a Democratically controlled House and possibly Senate.

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On the other hand, if, as I have been predicting since June, there is not blue wave, don’t expect tensions to lessen. If Democrats fail to gain the House, Trump will turn his obnoxiousness up to 11 and liberals and the media will ratchet up the crazy to unseen heights. And on top of that, if Mueller ends his investigation with no bombshells or smoking gun of “Russian collusion”, the liberal and Democratic meltdown will make Chernobyl look like a cookout.

In other words…no matter the outcome on November 6th, the conflagration that is American politics will only grow bigger, hotter and much more dangerous.

The reality is that there is no stopping the collapse of the institutions of western civilizations. Trust me, we have a very, very bumpy road ahead. That means more authoritarianism across the globe (Bolsonaro will win in Brazil) and more shocks to the system, like economic earthquakes, natural disasters and war.

The good news is that this current wave/cycle of collapse and destruction will not last forever. Eventually, after maybe a decade or so (or God help us a decade or two), this collapse and destruction wave/cycle will transform into a more optimistic wave/cycle of growth, stability, relative peace and prosperity. Remember, destruction is the first act of creation, and we will create, hopefully, a more just, localized, thoughtful and sustainable civilization in the crater where this one once stood.

As for the bad news…we are still in the destruction phase…and come November 7th there are going to be a lot of really pissed off Democrats, liberals and anti-Trumpers, who will still have no power in Washington with which to vent their rage. And if you thought things have been bad the last two years, what ‘til you get a load of what comes next because you ain’t seen nothing yet.


©2018

First Man: A Review

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

My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

My Recommendation: SEE IT. An unorthodox take on a “space movie” that I found to be ultimately satisfying and moving…but your mileage may vary.

First Man, written by Josh Singer and directed by Damien Chazelle, is the story of Neil Armstrong and his long march to the moon. The film stars Ryan Gosling as Armstrong, with supporting turns from Claire Foy, Jason Clarke and Kyle Chandler.

First Man is a film that, for good or for ill, defies expectations. One would expect a film about Neil Armstrong and NASA to be a “space” movie in the vein of the expansive The Right Stuff or Apollo 13, but First Man is not a conventional space movie but rather a painstakingly intimate movie that uses space as metaphor.

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What makes Neil Armstrong such a compelling character not only in this film but in our culture, is that he was an exceedingly “normal” person. Armstrong was the everyman of the space program which turned him into a sort of empty vessel which the public could project upon whatever traits they wished. Armstrong was portrayed in the media as smart, strong, honorable, noble and patriotic, but what Chazelle does in First Man is make Armstrong less heroic and more human by showing him to be wounded.

Armstrong’s wound is so palpable and catastrophic that he must risk life and limb and travel 238,900 miles in an attempt to soothe it. Ultimately, Armstrong’s journey to the undiscovered country, from whose bourn no traveler returns, isn’t a running away from his wound, but a solemn yet desperate pilgrimage to it.

The moon in First Man is not a destination or ambition but a ghost, haunting Armstrong at every turn as he tries to take one small step for man through the fog of mourning in an attempt to regain his balance and find some semblance of normalcy once again.

By flouting “space movie” expectations, First Man can be a bit frustrating, but once you accept the premise and go along the dramatic journey, it becomes a remarkably satisfying and deeply moving experience. I readily admit that my own my own personal life experience made the film resonate with me and that others with a different life experience may not find it so worthwhile.

Emotional pull aside, director Damien Chazelle (Whiplash, La La Land) shows a deft and skilled hand at the helm of First Man. Chazelle’s film wonderfully mirrors Armstrong the man and the character in that it is strictly compartmentalized. Armstrong walls off his emotions and contains his pain and Chazelle uses magnificent framing to express this dramatic reality.

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Chazelle also pulls off shooting in very tight spaces, like in the cockpit of a space capsule, by embracing rather than shunning the claustrophobia of those places. Chazelle recreates the physically and emotionally suffocating experience of being compartmentalized to such a degree that you can’t even turn your head to look at the exit, never mind walk through it. Chazelle’s embrace of dramatic claustrophobia also pays off when the cinematic expanse of the moon is finally reached.

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Ryan Gosling’s work as Neil Armstrong is spot on, as he keeps with the theme of the film by keeping Armstrong entirely contained. The pain pulsating through Gosling’s Armstrong is tangible, but he keeps it tightly controlled, never letting the wound gush, only fester. The final scene of the film beautifully illustrates Armstrong’s dilemma, he is walled off and isolated, if not quarantined, from the world, and even from his wife, and he is at a loss for words, but still has the desperate human need to connect, even if he is unable to.

The long journey of Armstrong to Lunar catharsis is so potent because it is so deftly and subtly portrayed by Gosling, who with First Man proves once again that he is more an actor than a movie star.

Claire Foy’s work as Janet, Armstrong’s wife, is equally compelling. Foy’s Janet is much more combustible than Neil, but that just means it takes more effort for her to keep herself together. Foy and Chazelle imbue Janet with a percolating dynamism through a focused intensity and a mildly floating hand-held camera that gives Janet the feel of being ever so slightly unbalanced and teetering out of control, like a satellite knocked off its orbit. Janet has a volcanic magnetism that is a testament to Foy’s making the most out of what, in lesser hands, would have been just another astronaut wife character, at best an adoring moon, but Foy’s Janet is a planet unto herself, spinning in a wilder orbit around a dying Sun.

The rest of the supporting cast, which includes Jason Clarke, Kyle Chandler, Corey Stoll and Ciaran Hinds among many others, all do solid work in mostly underwritten roles. The supporting cast are most definitely very small pieces around the sun that is Ryan Gosling, who, along with Claire Foy, carry the emotional and dramatic weight of the picture.

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First Man is really a story about alchemy through fire and ice (recurring themes throughout the film) and the psychological transformation and evolution that comes about through the alchemical Grail quest. Neil Armstrong’s connection to the cause of his existential anguish gets further and further away with every passing second, and he single-mindedly chases it through the fire of earth and its atmosphere all the way to the cold silence of the moon to catch up to it one last time.

In conclusion, First Man is not what you’d expect it to be, but it is all the better for it. I definitely recommend you spend your hard earned dollars to see it in the theatre (IMAX if possible). Director Damien Chazelle and star Ryan Gosling create a worthwhile and serious film of dramatic heft that turns the gigantic evolutionary moment of a human expedition to the moon into an intense and intimate evolutionary moment for a single man. When Neil Armstrong said it was “one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind”, he would’ve been more accurate to say that it was “one small step for mankind, and one giant leap for his humanity”.

©2018

A Star is Born: A Review

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

My Rating: 2 out of 5 stars

My Recommendation: SKIP IT. No need to see this tired old horse be beaten once again.

A Star is Born, written by Bradley Cooper, Eric Roth and Will Fetters and directed by Bradley Cooper, is the fictional story of the tumultuous relationship between famous singer/songwriter Jackson Maine and the talented newcomer he discovers named Ally. The film stars Bradley Cooper as Maine and Lady Gaga as Ally, with supporting turns from Sam Elliot, Andrew Dice Clay and Dave Chappelle.

For months now there has been a tremendous amount of buzz swirling around A Star is Born, with industry insiders gushing about Bradley Cooper’s directorial debut and Lady Gaga’s feature film debut. To be completely honest, I really had no interest in seeing A Star is Born, but solely out of a duty to you, my dear readers, I braved the perfect weather out here in Los Angeles and ventured out to the local cineplex in order to find out what all the fuss was about.

I went to the first show of the day on a Tuesday and the theatre was pretty crowded. I had also heard reports from other, less film business oriented parts of the country, that screenings had regularly been sold out even during the day since A Star is Born premiered. It seems that this is one of those movies that people who usually don’t go to the movies go to the movies to see.

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As the lights dimmed and the film started I got distracted by an older couple entering my screening. This wasn’t just some old couple…this was the oldest couple. The man, or more accurately…the 2,000 year-old man, slowly but determinedly made his way up the stairs, with his wife, Methusala, close behind. It was hard to tell because of the darkness, but one of them was carrying a walker, which seemed strange to me that they would lug this thing all the way up the stairs. I would’ve done the chivalrous thing and helped them except I quickly deemed them enemies of my state for having arrived 15 minutes late for a movie, something that is irredeemably evil in my book.

Like the Sir Edmund Hillary of movie theaters, the 2,000 year old man climbed the stairs, then planted his flag and entered my row. He made a bee-line for the center of the row and I dutifully stood up to let him pass and stayed standing so his lagging sherpa of a wife could pass once she got to me. The thing to understand is this, I am an incredibly important and fancy person, so I only go to theatres that have assigned seats, and of course, being the law-abiding citizen that I am, I was sitting in my assigned seat.

The movie continued to play in the background as I watched the drama of the 2,000 year old man unfurl before me as he was trying to read his ticket number and the numbers on the seat in our very, very dark theatre. 2,000 year old man kept shuffling back and forth saying to himself, “fourteen and sixteen, fourteen and sixteen”. Little did 2,000 year old man know, but the even numbered seats were all the way over on the other side of the theatre, which would’ve been an Everest-esque climb to this guy who was as old as dirt. I was tempted to help 2,000 year old man out by picking him up and throwing him the 30 feet or so where his seats were, but I thought better of it…I didn’t want to get old people smell on me.

Methuselah then scurried by me and went from being a lagging wife to being a nagging wife when she decided to shout at her husband that she didn’t care where their seats numbers were, she was sitting down right where she was. She then told him to sit down too and shut up on top of it…and that is exactly what he did.

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I then turned my attention to the movie screen and there was Bradley Cooper pretending to rock out with his guitar and I thought to myself “these old people are going to HATE this movie!”. It reminded me of when I was a kid and this equally decrepit old couple I knew peripherally were complaining to my parents after having seen Neil Diamond in The Jazz Singer. No doubt these dusty people saw the original The Jazz Singer when they were young and thought they were getting some more Al Jolson this time around and were viciously disappointed to get Neil Diamond instead because as we all know…Neil Diamond is no Al Jolson God-Damn it!!

The 2,000 year old man and his bridezilla Methuselah were probably a retired married couple with grown children out of the house when the original A Star is Born came out in 1937, and made a pledge to one another to only trek out to these new-fangled movie theatres if and when A Star is Born remake hit the big screen. So, by my count, this was officially the third time since 1937 that 2,000 year old man and Methuselah have hit the cineplex, having seen the 1954 Judy Garland/James Mason version of A Star is Born, followed by the Barbra Streisand and Kris Kristofferson version in 1976…both of which I am sure were followed with a night of perfunctory yet ravenous lovemaking.

A glance at film history shows us that roughly every 20 years or so this old A Star is Born war horse is run out of the barn with a new saddle and new horseshoes and is dragged across the cultural consciousness. My math isn’t great but by my calculations that means that this new 2018 Bradley Cooper/Lady Gaga version was long overdue, coming more than 40 years after the last Streisand/Kristofferson dance. As they say, everything old is new again or as I say about the 2,000 year old man and Methuselah, everything old gets older…and so it is with cinema. I am sure that 2,000 year old man and Methuselah kept their lifelong pact and followed up their A Star is Born watching with an afternoon and evening of excruciatingly arduous and ancient sex….I hope they enjoyed that more than the movie.

In regards to this latest version of A Star is Born, I found it to be as cinematically vital and vibrant as watching 2,000 year old man and Methuselah’s afternoon delight…but before I dive into the shit pile, let’s try and focus on the positive for a moment.

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The good news is that Bradley Cooper does terrific work as Jackson Maine. Cooper has matured into a quality actor and his Maine is no cookie - cutter character, but a rather a layered and complex human being. Cooper makes the wise decision to wrap Maine up tight and keep his wounds hidden until they split open and bleed all over him. I am not a Bradley Cooper fan, but I must say my respect for him as an actor is expanding over time.

Sam Elliot also does admirable work in a rather underwritten role as Maine’s brother, and every time he is on-screen the movie is elevated just a tiny bit from its descent into the bowels of absurdity.

Now for the bad news…well...A Star is Born is really little more than a paper thin exercise in star fucking. A Star is Born is the perfect Hollywood blockbuster for the Trump Age, all surface and no soul. It is a shallow, vacuous and empty shell of a film, a movie about stars, made by stars and is the perfect embodiment of reality tv filmmaking.

This is not a good movie, it is an amateurish, melo-dramatic soap-opera. I am willing to bet regular folks like the movie, but I found it to be insipid, insidious, absurd and cinematically obtuse.

Lady Gaga is undoubtedly a very talented women, but acting is not one of the talents she possesses. Yes, she is a terrific piano player and a remarkable singer, but her acting leaves a whole helluva lot to be desired. Gaga’s acting works in music videos because they are all surface and no substance and last about 4 minutes, but in a two hour movie, her lack of skill becomes more and more glaring with every passing scene.

Gaga is joined by her on-screen father, Andrew Dice Clay, as being uncomfortably bad in the movie. Clay seems like he is auditioning for a community production of Guys and Dolls or something.

As for the script…well…this film asks its audience to take extreme leaps of logic and to suspend its disbelief to such a great degree that it is simply untenable. While the core of the story is sort of “Hollywood myth-making” believable, in execution it becomes bizarrely inane.

My biggest issues with the movie are the logical problems…like since Ally is such a great song writer and has come to prominence with Maine’s audience which is rock/country, why does she then turn into a bubble gum pop idol? It makes no sense at all. On top of that, Ally’s music is a steaming pile of shit, just atrociously and comically bad on every level…why do audiences love it so much and why does she even win critical acclaim for it as well?

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Now, their might be a way that does make sense, but only in the deep hidden meaning of the film, which I will get into in much more detail in a separate post. There is a deeper message in A Star is Born, and once you crack the code of it, which I think I have done, it becomes pretty interesting (and this message may be entirely unintentional and sub-conscious on Cooper’s part), but that hidden message is so obscured by the rudimentary surface of the movie that it will be totally invisible to most every viewer except the most extreme like me.

As for Bradley Cooper the director, there has been a lot of talk about an Oscar nomination for his directing, his acting and the film. I will say this, Hollywood loves its own, and I would not be surprised if Cooper gets nominated for all three categories and maybe even screenplay too…but he is not an Oscar worthy director…not even close…and is only remotely worthy of an acting nod, and even that is an incredible stretch.

Cooper’s direction is pretty lackluster. He has a distinct liking for using flattering close-ups and a whole lot of flaring light, but the aesthetic, like the story, falls rather flat. Cooper’s direction of actors isn’t much better, as many of the supporting roles (the aforementioned Clay and his limo driving cohorts) are painfully awful.

My biggest question regarding A Star is Born is why? Why make this movie? And why do people, critics included, love it? I don’t get it, I really don’t. I don’t understand why anyone would think this is worthwhile cinema. My one guess as to the commercial and critical success of the film is that in an Age of Turmoil people like their lies to be pretty and their catharsis to be easy and cheap.

In conclusion, as Bradley Cooper’s character Jackson Maine opines, an artist needs to have something to say, sadly, with A Star is Born, Bradley Cooper the director has nothing to say. A Star is Born is little more than old Hollywood nonsense that feeds America’s celebrity addiction.

As a cinematic venture, A Star is Born is all hype, it is a vapid enterprise that gives the pose of depth but is entirely devoid of soul. If you like mainstream manipulative melo-drama in a conventional Hollywood celebrity package, A Star is Born is for you. If, like me, you like your cinema to be more substance than style, you will recognize that this Star is most definitely still-born.

©2018





The Old Man and the Gun: A Review

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

My Rating: 2 out of 5 stars

My Recommendation: SKIP IT. No need to see this rather dull and insipid bit of psuedo-nostalgia in the theatre, but if you stumble across it on cable feel free to watch it if you want…it is entirely harmless and toothless…which is what is wrong with it in the first place.

The Old Man and the Gun, written and directed by David Lowery, is the ‘mostly’ true story of Forest Tucker, a career bank robber. The film stars Robert Redford as Forest, with supporting turns from Sissy Spacek, Casey Affleck, Danny Glover and Tom Waits.

I like David Lowery as a director, I don’t think he is Scorsese or Kubrick or Malick, but he is an interesting filmmaker. I found Lowery’s last venture, A Ghost Story, to be a really daring art house film which is one of the reasons why I was excited to see Lowery’s latest project The Old Man and the Gun. Even the graphics for the advertisements and trailer of the movie were intriguing to me, as they had the look and feel of a 1970’s Robert Redford movie, most of which were pretty darn good.

And so, I headed to the theatre hopeful that Lowery and Redford had recreated some of the movie star’s 1970’s magic in what could very well be his last film. Sadly, The Old Man and the Gun does not live up to its premise, its collection of talent or even its marketing.

The Old Man and the Gun is the flimsiest of nothing-burgers that is so devoid of substance and drama that it plays more like a 90 minute commercial for itself than an actual cinematic experience

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The Old Man and the Gun is a shockingly dull and derivative affair, and it is a remarkably mainstream enterprise considering the director’s last picture bent space and time while starring a ghost with a sheet over his head and was highlighted by a women compulsively eating a whole pie in a single take.

The Old Man and the Gun is, to put it as bluntly as I can, nothing more than an old person movie in every single way. Old people love seeing movies about old people…especially old people doing un-old people things like robbing banks (1979’s Goin’ in Style or the 2017 remake) or being astronauts (Space Cowboys) or something equally moronic. Old people will love this movie because it is a lot like them in that it has no teeth and moves real slow. Old people will like this movie because it is little more than an hour and a half of watching Robert Redford be charming…oh and Sissy Spacek be charming too..and, like prunes and Matlock, old people like that sort of thing.

The most damning thing I can say about this film, or any film really, is that there is not a single real or genuine moment in this entire movie. Everything in this maddeningly unsatisfying film is manufactured horseshit that feels more at home in a Lifetime movie or on the Hallmark channel.

Robert Redford is an often under-appreciated actor, and it wasn’t just his 1970’s heyday that highlighted his talents, as his work in 2013’s All Is Lost was also a reminder of his stellar ability. But in The Old Man and the Gun, Redford looks and feels every bit his 82 years and has most definitely lost a step. Redford matches the listless pace of the film and coasts through the movie on “charm autopilot” from start to finish.

While Redford is most definitely charming, his Forest Tucker character is not even remotely a real human being, even though he is based on a real person. The film never sheds any light into the real Forest, preferring to skim the surface and play things for cutesy shits and giggles.

Redford and Lowery had a chance to really create something special with Forest Tucker, to dig into the character and unearth his soul, but instead they chose to take the safe and easy route and make a entirely forgettable film.

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One of the foundational problems with the movie is that Lowery’s script, like his direction, is tepid and flaccid. There are numerous opportunities to explore deeply dramatic and relevant themes throughout the story, such as Casey Affleck’s character, Det. John Hunt and his interracial marriage in early 1980’s Texas, or the darker side of a sweet-talker like Forest Tucker who makes his living committing armed robberies, but Lowery ignores these things and instead chooses to make a stultifying elderly romance.

None of the talent assembled for this movie is able to overcome the insipid script or their under-written characters, as Casey Affleck, Danny Glover, Sissy Spacek and Tom Waits all give rather rote and lethargic performances.

The Old Man and the Gun is a dead-eyed failure of a film because it is only about the Old Man and not his Gun or his relationship with his Gun, and on top of that the Old Man has no scars, no wounds and ultimately no soul. The film suffers terribly because of its decision to focus on the vapid, the vacuous and the shallow.

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Towards the end of the film, Lowery gives us a montage of Forest Tucker and his history of breaking out of prison. It is the only remotely interesting thing in the entire movie and that is because that sequence is basically an homage to Robert Redford’s career and a tip of the cap to his monumental filmography.

If you really want to pay tribute to the great actor and movie star Robert Redford, go watch Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Jeremiah Johnson, The Candidate, Three Days of the Condor, All the President’s Men, The Natural or All Is Lost and stay aware from the insidiously vacant and nostalgically saccharine The Old Man and the Gun.

©2018




The Sisters Brothers: A Review

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

My Rating: 4.25 out of 5 stars

My Recommendation: SEE IT. An at times funny and also surprisingly moving French, art house “western” that boasts a career best performance from John C. Reilly and a very stellar cast.

The Sisters Brothers, written and directed by Jacque Audiard based upon the book of the same name by Thomas Bidegain, is the story of the Sisters brothers Eli and Charlie, assassins in 1850’s Oregon. The film stars John C. Reilly as Eli and Joaquin Phoenix as Charlie, with supporting turns from Jake Gyllenhaal and Riz Ahmed.

The Sisters Brothers is a strange film that American audiences, conditioned by Hollywood to expect certain things from certain genres, will probably find frustratingly obtuse. On the surface, The Sisters Brothers is a standard western, with all the revenge fueled shootouts and horse-ridden treks through wilderness you’d expect from that genre, but buried just beneath that veneer of conventionality is the gold of a rich and complex foreign art house film and biblical parable.

I had no idea what to expect from The Sisters Brothers, as far as I knew it could be a slapstick western in the vein of Jack Nicholson’s Goin’ South or something, so I just went along for the ride on which the film took me, and I am ever so glad that I did.

Director Jacques Audiard is a terrific filmmaker, having made three distinctive and at times fantastic French films, A Prophet, Rust and Bone and Dheepan. Audiard’s directing touch on The Sisters Brothers, his first English language film, is exquisitely deft, and his artistic vision and cinematic aesthetic are a perfect match to turn the western genre on its head.

The film is a comedy, of sorts, with the Sisters brothers Eli and Charlie acting like an old married couple, bitching and bickering with one another to much hilarity. But the film is also gripped with an existential and hereditary darkness that gives it a resonant dramatic power.

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The film is elevated by four outstanding acting performances. The best of them all is John C. Reilly, a remarkably versatile actor, who gives a nuanced and complex performance as Eli which is the very best of his stellar career. Eli is the more thoughtful of the Sisters brothers, who has a gentle heart and caring soul. Reilly imbues Eli with a palpable sensitivity that, like the character, evolves and reveals itself over the duration of the story. Reilly’s ability to make Eli a genuine human being, rather than a buffoonish caricature, gives The Sisters Brothers a dramatic grounding that is the heart and soul of the film.

Reilly’s Eli is the archetypal feminine in the movie, which is symbolized by his relationship to the spider. In Jungian psychology and in Shamanic traditions the spider is representative of the feminine and of the weaving of fate. Eli has a fateful and intimate encounter with a spider in the film and literally gives birth to spiders.

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Eli’s kindness extends not only to his troubled younger brother Charlie, but to his second rate horse, with whom he grows a deep bond that is quite moving. It is Eli’s feminine nature that is both his greatest strength and also his crippling weakness as it has led to his being usurped and passed by his more archetypally masculine brother for the position of leading brother in the family.

Joaquin Phoenix is one of the best actors on the planet, and he is in the midst of a terrific year in cinema. Thus far in 2018, Phoenix has given stellar performances in both You Were Never Really Here and Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far On Foot, and he keeps that streak alive as the combustible Charlie in The Sisters Brothers.

Phoenix is an actor that vibrates with a viscerally chaotic and unnerving unpredictability, and his Charlie is the perfect avatar to highlight that talent. Phoenix’s performance is one of understated brilliance as it is filled with some startling moments of primal anguish and pain.

Phoenix’s Charlie is a deeply wounded soul carrying a grievous original sin, but who has been elevated to the “right hand” of the Father not in spite of that sin, but because of it. Charlie’s great weakness is that he is so wounded he can never mature and evolve enough to survive in such an exalted position. In other words, crazy will only get you so far, but to be fair to Charlie, he comes by his crazy honestly.

What makes both Phoenix and Reilly shine is that they are blessed to have each other off of which to play. Eli ingests spider energy and is transformed, whereas Charlie slays a bear, a symbol of the power of the unconscious and the dawning of a personal spring. Eli’s encounter with the spider leads to transformation, whereas Charlie’s encounter with the bear is symbolic of his breaking of the connection with the unconscious and with it goes his chance at self-realization and transformation.

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Jake Gyllenhaal gives a solid performance as John Morris, a tracker and wannabe Thoreau who, like the Sister brothers, is trying to understand and deal with the affliction that his father passed on to him. John, Eli and Charlie are all victims of the archetypal father wound, and the malady they carry unconsciously guides them through their lives and propels the film forward. Gyllenhaal’s Morris is more aware of his ailments than the Sisters brothers, or at least becomes more aware of them, which leads him to question the entire purpose of his life.

Gyllenhaal is always at his best when he is understated, and his John Morris is a perfectly subdued and technically proficient performance. Gyllenhaal never pushes or prods with Morris, he simply let’s him be, and that decision makes for a solid contribution to the film.

Riz Ahmed plays Hermann Kermit Warm, a chemist who is hunted by the Sister brothers. Ahmed is absolutely fantastic in the role. Ahmed has a, pardon the pun, warmth about him as an actor that is captivating on screen and that trait serves him well in The Sisters Brothers. Ahmed’s Warm is a Christ-like figure, who radiates a near-defiantly fervent gentleness that is remarkably compelling.

Besides being a biblical and Jungian parable, the film is also a political, religious and economic parable. Mr. Warm is a pied piper for a socialist (and Christ-like, but not necessarily Christian) utopia which is alluring to the idealist and dreamer in all of us. In contrast, the uber-capitalist corporate town of Mayfield is held up as a bastion of deception and debauchery.

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The film also touches upon the need for a dismantling of a patriarchy that produces such twisted and tormented forms of masculinity as the Sisters brothers and much of the other violent men in the film. The patriarchy in its old form, namely the character the Commodore, needs to die for these men to ever have a chance to be free from their afflictions and to find the utopia that deep down they have yearned for their entire lives.

The religious aspects of the film are glaring for those with eyes to see them, for instance there is the brothers grooming of each other like apostles or the men anointing themselves with oil in a pseudo-baptismal ritual before they wade into the river among. There is also the connection between Mr. Warm and Eli’s horse…who are both, in their own way beasts of burden, and the viewer should keep a keen eye out for the similarity in the eyes of Warm and the horse at pivotal moments in the film.

The Sisters Brothers is a film with a multitude of layers, each one more interesting, revealing and insightful than the last. If you are planning to see the film, put aside your cultural conditioning and your expectations for a western, and instead watch the film as if it were a dream. Keep a vigilant eye out for spiders, bears, raccoons and the plethora of other signs and symbols that show the way to the film’s profound message.

The Sisters Brothers opens with a shout in the silent darkness of the Oregon night, but then there are flashes of light that splinter that darkness ever so quickly. That opening scene is the story of The Sisters Brothers, for it is a film about alchemy, where finding the gold in the darkness is an act of transformation which leads down the road to redemption. I never expected to be, but I was deeply, deeply moved by The Sisters Brothers, and found it be a profoundly satisfying cinematic experience. I wholly recommend you suspend your expectations and go see this film in the theatre, it is well worth the time, money and effort.

©2018

Blaze: A Review

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****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. Skip it in the theatre, as the film never rises to its ambitions, but see it on cable or Netflix to catch Ben Dickey’s charismatic performance.

Blaze, written by Ethan Hawke and Sybil Rosen (based on Roen’s book “Living in the Woods in a Tree: Remembering Blaze") and directed by Hawke, is the story of enigmatic musician Blaze Foley. The films stars Ben Dickey as Blaze Foley and Elia Shawkat as Sybil Rosen, along with supporting turns from Josh Hamilton, Charlie Sexton, Sam Rockwell and Steve Zahn.

Blaze director Ethan Hawke is an intriguing character, he has been the symbol of a sort of intellectual artist in the film business for nearly thirty years. Hawke’s attraction to the real-life Blaze Foley, a legendary but mysterious country music figure, is no doubt born out of his respect for Foley’s commitment to artistry over commerce.

Blaze is Hawke’s love letter to Foley and in a sense, a bit of projection, as Blaze Foley is what Hawke wishes he could more genuinely be…a tortured artist. While Hawke is certainly an artist, he is not a tortured artist. Hawke has, by every measure, had a very successful, dare I say, comfortable life, first as the poster boy for Gen X ennui then as the symbol of intellectual literacy in a film industry that can barely read.

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I was excited to see Blaze because, as I have gotten older, I have grown to appreciate and respect Ethan Hawke more and more as an actor and also as a presence in our culture. Hawke may be a bit pretentious (as am I) and may be a bit of a poseur (as am I), but at the very least his pretensions and his pose are attempting to fill the cavernous void in American culture, where stupidity is translated into relatability and intellectualism is maligned as elitism.

Sadly, Hawke’s Blaze misses the mark for a very surprising reason…it is suffocated by the orthodox conventions of the genre. Blaze is a standard bio-pic wearing an art house jacket. Hawke makes the unwise decision to hold to the traditional conventions of bio-pics, and thus neuters the story and the film of any and all cinematic vibrancy. For Blaze to have succeeded, Hawke needed to eschew the format of the bio-pic and commit to a pure arthouse venture.

Yes, Hawke does sprinkle in some artistic homages to Robert Altman, and gives his actors freedom in front of the camera, but ultimately he confines his own vision into the straight jacket of the bio-pic, and that vision loses its artistic mind struggling to break free of such a stultifying form.

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Bio-pics are, by nature, hagiographic, but the very best ones (Raging Bull, Malcolm X) at least give you a glimpse into the genuine person behind the myth. In Blaze, Blaze Foley is reduced to being a tall tale told for effect, not a quest for the truth at the center of the man. Blaze Foley is never revealed in this film, and by the end he is just as big a mystery, if not bigger, than he was when it began.

Blaze Foley is a mythical creature, like a guitar playing Sasquatch, and Hawke’s film of his life is a campfire story recounting that time someone saw a glimpse of a shadow in a dark forest and could swear it was Bigfoot.

There were some bright spots in the film, namely the magnetic performance from Ben Dickey as Blaze. Dickey has an ease and charm about him in front of the camera that is undeniable. He is also a magnetic screen presence with a palpable air of meloncholy and mischief about him, and because of that he lights up every single scene he inhabits.

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On the down side, Elia Shawkat, who plays Foley’s wife, Sybil Rosen, is just not up to the task. Shawkat, who comes across as younger than she ought to be, underwhelms in a pivotal role, and it undermines the film even further.

Charlie Sexton, who plays Blaze’s friend and musical compatriot Townes Van Zandt, is also problematic, and feels stilted and unnatural on screen. The interview scenes of Townes that pepper the film, bring any sort of narrative or creative momentum to a screeching halt every time they pop up.

While there are some solid scenes and some directorial flair, such as an Adam and Eve scene where Sybil convinces Blaze to pursue glory, even feeding him an apple in the process, or a scene where Kris Kristofferson, playing Blaze’s father who barely speaks, is visited by Blaze, the rest of the film is basically recounting things that happened, which never gives us insight into the man.

At the end of the day, Blaze is a bit of an indulgent and unfocused film that needed a stronger hand and a more coherent cinematic aesthetic from its director, Ethan Hawke. As the film reveals to us, Townes Van Zandt is a mannered, self-serving liar, and Blaze Foley is an unabashed truth-teller, Ethan Hawke the director, lies somewhere in-between.

©2018




Fahrenheit 11/9: A Review

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

My Rating: 3.9 out of 5 stars

My Recommendation: SEE IT. An insightful glimpse into America’s future and its not too distant past, that shows Trump is a tumor that grew out of the cancer that is the corporate controlled establishment political parties.


Fahrenheit 11/9, written and directed by Michael Moore, is a documentary that explores Donald Trump, the forces in America and American politics that made his presidency possible, and the repercussions of Republican and Democrat corporate rule upon regular Americans.

Michael Moore may not be the best documentarian of his time, but he is certainly the best known documentarian of his time. Moore is a polemicist and a provocateur, but to his credit he is a really good one.

Moore’s filmography is a testament not only to his liberal bona fides but his extraordinarily accurate instincts in regards to the American unconscious. His scathing Roger and Me swam against the Reaganite tide and exposed free-market, trickle-down economics for the charade that it is well before that was a popular notion.

His Oscar winning Bowling for Columbine exposed the deep psychological wounds inflicted upon generations of young people raised under a flag-waving dream of unabashed corporate militarism that led to the illusion shattering nightmare of Columbine.

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His most financially successful film, and the most financially successful documentary of all-time, Fahrenheit 9/11, pushed back against the establishment media’s War on Terror hagiography and exposed it for the fraud that it was. Fahrenheit 9/11 was a cultural phenomenon, a lightning rod both for liberal anger at the Bush administration and for conservative angst with liberal fifth columnists.

Moore’s films in recent years have not had the same cultural cache of Fahrenheit 9/11. Sicko was a smart and insightful film, as was Capitalism: A Love Story, but it sells out at the end by embracing Obama, who ended up being a poison pill for any real Wall Street or health care reform that would work for regular folks.

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Moore’s, Where To Invade Next, is a film that was widely overlooked and ignored, but which is a gem, and shows Moore to be at his most prophetic best. In the movie, Moore goes to various foreign countries to see what parts of their culture and government we should bring to America. This film was a precursor for the wave of progressive ideas that buoyed Bernie’s campaign and which have animated the progressive left to such a degree that even some centrist corporate Democrats are parroting the same lines.

Fahrenheit 11/9 is Moore’s best film since it’s pseudo-namesake, Fahrenheit 9/11. It isn’t a perfect film, but it is pulsating with an anger bordering on desperation that shows the iconic filmmaker taking on not only Trump and the Republicans but establishment Democrats as well.

Moore wisely doesn’t focus on Trump for the majority of the film, we know Trump and most everybody is sick of the guy, instead, Moore takes side trips to Flint, Michigan, to reveal what the rest of America is going to look like if the corptacracy of establishment Republicans and Democrats stays in place, then to West Virginia to show what the power of unionization and solidarity can accomplish in the face of government corruption, and finally to Parkland, Florida to show the younger generation as the key to breaking the logjam of bullshit that is American politics.

The opening sequence, an homage to Moore’s own Fahrenheit 9/11, is exquisitely funny in the darkest of ways. Watching the “I’m With Her” crowd of fools and the media, so sure of her ascension to the throne, have their hopes dashed upon the rocks of reality is hysterically funny, especially for me, since like Michael Moore, I actually told people before the election that Trump would win. I was ridiculed before the election for saying that, and was pilloried after the fact for having been right.

As Moore dives into the loathsome oddity that is Trump, he covers much well-trod ground. What was refreshing about this section is that Moore holds himself accountable for not having taken Trump to task when they were on a talk show together, and for how Moore’s own career has been bolstered by Trump lackeys Steve Bannon and the crown prince himself, Jared Kushner. Moore’s honesty is refreshing and no doubt will blunt counter-attacks to his movie.

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Trump is a pretty disgusting character and is a total conman, this we all know and Moore backs up his claims to this fact, but where Moore stumbles in this section is in his gravitating towards the salacious and the prurient by making the argument that Trump and Ivanka have or had a sexual relationship. I get what Moore is doing, he is exposing Trump for being a gross and lecherous fiend, but this part of the film feels cheap and much too placatingly easy for me. I think Trump is a lech and a fiend, but Moore leaves himself to easily open to charges of being more tabloid propagandist than documentarian with this particular part of the movie.

The best parts of the film are the Flint and West Virginia sections. The Flint section is breathtakingly depressing, as it lays bare the craven contempt that politicians (of both parties) hold not only for the truth but for their fellow citizens. Moore’s compelling thesis is that Flint is the future of America, where corporate interests override all humanity, and people are left to live in an environmentally toxic open air prison.

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Included in this indictment is the holiest of liberal holies, President Obama, who is shown to be a despicable shill for corporate interests and brazenly contemptuous of the working class and poor people of Flint. Adding to the case against Obama is the fact that not only did he aid and abet the poisoning of the population of Flint, he also terrorized them by using their city for target practice. Obama’s charlantanry, including his subservience to Wall Street (Goldman Sachs in particular), his callous drone program and his complicity in war crimes, is no shock to me, but I think the liberals I know will feel like this section of the film is an absolute gut punch. Fahrenheit 11/9 is a worthwhile film for no other reason than no liberal who watches this movie will ever feel the same way about Obama again.

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The West Virginia section of the movie is equally insightful as the Flint section, but much less depressing. As per Moore’s thesis, Flint is the future of America, but West Virginia is the model for how to fight back. Moore’s examination of the teacher’s strike and how unionization and solidarity are the the only way to stop the spread of government/corporate fascism that is destroying America, American cities and towns, and the American family, is so energized it makes you want to put a red bandana around your neck and go out and crack some skulls.

Moore makes an important point in both the Flint and West Virginia stories, namely that race and ethnicity is used by both Republicans AND Democrats to divide working class and poor people in order to maintain the corrupt and disastrous status quo. As a striking teacher says in the film, “class above all else”. This will no doubt be a slap in the face to the establishment corporate Democrats, the Hillary Hypocrites among them, but it is one, as Moore points out, that they so richly deserve.

Moore’s multiple story lines don’t all work, as I found the Parkland narrative to be especially vapid and frankly illogical. Moore’s anti-gun sentiments are well-known, but it is striking to see these young Parkland students, so traumatized by the shooting at their school, be held up as the ideal because they are so stridently anti-gun, in the context of a documentary arguing that Trump may literally be the next Hitler. The lack of self-awareness in this Parkland section is staggering, especially in the midst of the Trump and Flint sections, which lay bare the fact that regular Americans are under assault and it is only going to get worse.

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To watch earnest but misguided young people, so sure of their righteousness and rightness, vehemently argue for disarmament right after watching the U.S. military invade Flint and Trump contemplate being president for life, is breathtaking for its stupidity. Moore’s blind spot on this issue, like those of the teenagers he highlights, is due to being the victim of unabashed emotionalism. The young Parkland teens that Moore holds up as the paragon of virtue and the path forward, are not the solution to the problem Moore presents, but the problem itself. To see the effects of emotionalism laid so bare in the form of these Parkland teens is a remarkable thing.

An example of the illogic on display in the film is when Moore’s declares the danger of Trump as a potential Hitler, and then uses history professors from NYU and Yale to persuasively make the case that America is in peril but then transitions to the Parkland anti-gun crusaders, which completely undermines the intellectual and political seriousness of the thesis of the film. If Trump is Hitler, disarming is ridiculous if not absurd. The logical and rational response to the notion that Trump is a tyrant or Hitler is to go out and arm yourself, not disarm yourself and everyone else.

Despite the weakness of the Parkland section, Fahrenheit 11/9 pulses with a vitality and urgency because Moore, like many Americans, even Trump voters, feels America disintegrating before him. Moore is a polemicist, of that there is no doubt, but he is a damn fine documentarian and an even better political physician. In Fahrenheit 11/9 Michael Moore’s diagnosis of America is once again completely accurate, and his prescription is, for the most part, spot on as well. Moore makes the extraordinarily insightful case that the establishment Democrats are fighting for a return to the Pre-Trump America, but that Pre-Trump America is what got us to Trump. As Moore points out, the good old days before Trump weren’t so good and and the tumor of Trump grew out of the cancer of establishment Republicans and Democrats who beholden to corporate interests over the interests of the people.

America, and liberals in particular, had better wake up and start listening to Michael Moore, who, like me, accurately foretold of Trump’s presidency. If liberals ignore Moore’s prescription and turn back to the old centrist Clinton medicine to heal the Trumpism that ails them, the disease of Trump will spread and gain strength, and once again liberals will have no one to blame but themselves, but will lack the self-awareness to do so.

In conclusion, if you like Michael Moore, go see Fahrenheit 11/9, you’ll love it. If you are a sturdy centrist Democrat who cheered Hillary and loved Obama, go see Fahrenheit 11/9 to be disabused of the notion that those two people are anything but different faces on the same evil machine of exploitation, abuse and destruction. If you are a progressive or liberal looking for hope, go see Fahrenheit 11/9, and learn the lesson that I have been preaching for decades, that hope is insipid. If you are an American citizen, the bottom line is this, go see Fahrenheit 11/9, if for no other reason than to see what has been done to Flint, and what can be done by West Virginians.

©2018

A Curious Case of Mystery Attacks, Microwaves and Media Manipulation

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Estimated Reading Time: 6 minutes 47 seconds

The U.S. media’s lazy reporting of mystery attacks on American personnel in Cuba takes the predictable path of blaming Russia without evidence.

I came across a story recently in the New York Times that was intriguing. The story, headlined “Microwave Weapons are Prime Suspect in Ills of U.S. Embassy Workers”, was written by William J. Broad and was about mysterious “attacks” that started in 2016 on U.S. personnel stationed in Cuba who had suffered the equivalent of concussive brain trauma and the ensuing after effects, such as hearing loss, dizziness and diminished cognitive function, yet had not been visibly assaulted or struck in the head. The article posits the “attacks” were made by a microwave-type of weapon that would invisibly strike its targets.

In the Times article it never states outright but certainly gives the distinct impression, that the mystery is now solved and that the “attacks” were made by a microwave type of weapon that would invisibly strike its targets.

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The most striking thing about this story was the seemingly out of nowhere speculation that it was Russia that perpetrated these “attacks”. What was so odd about this assertion was that upon closer inspection it became clear the actual facts presented in the story indicate there is no consensus or actual evidence Russia was responsible for the attacks or that any attacks had even taken place.

The article begins by giving a brief history of microwave radiation as a weapon, stating in its opening sentence, “During the Cold War: Washington feared that Moscow was seeking to turn microwave radiation into covert weapons of mind control.”

For the next nine paragraphs, Broad never mentions Russia, but then with no background as to where his speculation comes from, he writes,

“The microwave idea teems with unanswered questions. Who fired the beams? The Russian government? The Cuban government? A rogue Cuban faction sympathetic to Moscow? And, if so, where did the attackers get the unconventional arms?”

In re-reading the opening paragraph, you will notice that there is no proof that Russia has ever had a microwave weapon, only decades-old “fears” it was “seeking” to develop one. It would seem the entire basis for the speculation blaming Russia in this article is nothing more than some old, fleeting sense of Soviet super-villainy, that this fact is hidden in plain sight reveals a deft but ultimately duplicitous hand writing the story.

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In fact, the only person quoted in the piece claiming Russia as the prime suspect is a scientist, biologist Allan H. Frey, who has vast experience with microwave technology. Mr. Frey is described as having “traveled widely and long served as a contractor and a consultant to a number of federal agencies.” That description of Mr. Frey is curiously, if not suspiciously, lacking in specifics.

The New York Times goes on to write in regards to Mr. Frey, “he speculated that Cubans aligned with Russia, the nation’s longtime ally, might have launched microwave strikes in attempts to undermine developing ties between Cuba and the United States.” Mr. Frey describes his own analysis as a “perfectly viable explanation.”

So the New York Times bases the underlying assumption of Russian guilt on the uninformed speculation of a biologist, who has no expertise or insight into the subject, and who also admits that his beliefs only rise to the rather tepid level of being a “viable” explanation.

Frey’s credibility and believability takes a serious hit later in the article when he recounts the story of how, after he made a name for himself in the early 60’s with numerous papers about the effects of microwave energy on the human body which brought him a lot of attention, so much so that these effects were given the name the “Frey effect”, he was invited to the Soviet Union to speak.

The New York Times writes, “The Soviets took notice. Not long after his initial discoveries, Mr. Frey said, he was invited to the Soviet Academy of Sciences to visit and lecture. Toward the end, in a surprise, he was taken outside of Moscow to a military base surrounded by armed guards and barbed wire fences.”They had me visiting the various labs and discussing problems”, including the neural impacts of microwaves, Mr. Frey recalled. “I got an inside look at their classified program.

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Now, just think about what Frey is claiming here. Frey is saying that at the very height of the Cold War, with the Cuban Missile Crisis fresh in everyone’s mind, he was invited to go to the Soviet Union and then WAS GIVEN AN INSIDE LOOK INTO THE SOVIET’S CLASSIFIED PROGRAM! In what universe is this even remotely plausible? This story has got to be at best embellishment and at worst a total fabrication. And yet, the New York Times prints it as if it isn’t a big deal and must unquestionably be true. Frey reveals himself to be a pretty dubious character with that statement, and yet the New York Times’ reporter, William J. Broad, still uses him as the backbone of his assertion that Russia was behind the “attacks”.

Another rather remarkable piece of news that appears towards the end of this article is some contradictory evidence to the notion that Russia is the culprit behind the attacks, namely that other alleged microwave attacks have happened to U.S. diplomats stationed in China.

What makes that fact all the more salient is that the article describes a list of states that may have the ability to make a microwave weapon.

“Russia, CHINA and many European states are seen as having the know-how to make basic microwave weapons that can debilitate, sow noise or even kill. Advanced powers, experts say, might accomplish more nuanced aims such as beaming spoken words into people’s heads.” (emphasis mine)

Obviously, if China is capable of making this sort of weapon and there have been “attacks” upon U.S. diplomats in China, wouldn’t China be a better suspect than Russia? And China also has deep connections to Cuba…so…why did the New York Times write so suspiciously of Russia and not China? It makes you wonder if an “advanced power” like the U.S. beamed this article into the head of reporter William J. Broad.

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Further proof of something being greatly amiss about this article and story is the paucity of actual evidence that an “attack” even took place. According to thew York Times’ own reporting, the most clear cut pronouncement of an attack was made by James C. Lin, a scientist and expert in the field who wrote in a paper that the effects felt by the U.S. diplomats could “plausibly arise” from microwave beams. “Plausibly arise” is an extremely low bar, so much so that it is absurd to base any conclusions on that statement at all. Of course, many other things could be “plausible explanations”, and Broad even admits that no one really knows or agrees on what happened.

“Scientists still disagree over what hit diplomats. Last month, JAMA (Journal of American Medical Association) ran four letters critical of the March study, some faulting the report for ruling out mass hysteria.”

Mass hysteria sounds like it could be not only a “plausible” explanation for this alleged Russian microwave attack in Cuba but also for the Times’ slanted article, as well as the spate of Russo-phobia infecting America’s establishment media.

The Times article glosses over the skepticism of scientists that actually claim they do not know what happened, and instead embraces speculation it was a “microwave attack”, and then despite a total lack of evidence and in the face of some contradictory evidence, confidently speculates that it was Russia that is the likely suspect.

Furthering this journalistic malpractice was NBC News, which followed up on the Times article ten days later with even more vapid reporting on the subject. The NBC News headline of September 11th reads “U.S. officials suspect Russia in mystery ‘attacks’ on diplomats in Cuba, China”.

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What is so amusing is that even the headline questions whether these events are attacks at all, putting quotation marks around the word. But that doesn’t stop NBC from devouring intel agency pablum hook, line and sinker. NBC relies entirely on anonymous sources for the story and never quotes anyone saying what the story so boldly asserts, which is that Russia is the main culprit in these “attacks”.

NBC News simply repeats unchallenged, the claims of anonymous intelligence officials that the suspicion of Russia is “backed up by evidence from communications intercepts”. The same paragraph making this assertion ends with this gem of a revealing statement, “The officials declined to elaborate on the nature of the intelligence”.

So NBC, which ran the story on as “Breaking News” and hyped it endlessly on MSNBC, simply repeats intelligence agency speculation without ever seeing any of the alleged corroborating evidence or challenging the voracity of that alleged evidence, and calls it news. That isn’t journalism that is stenography.

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The stenography charge against NBC shouldn’t come as a surprise since one of the reporters who “broke” the story is Ken Dilanian. Dilanian is a notorious intelligence agency shill, who was exposed by The Intercept as having shared his stories and outlines with the CIA before he submitted them while he was working as a national security reporter at the L.A. Times, a shockingly unprofessional journalistic practice. What is even more outrageous is that Dilanian’s lack of journalistic ethics never hampered him from getting a job at NBC as their lead national security reporter. And since he has gotten to NBC he has done nothing but regurgitate intelligence agency approved talking points and narratives non-stop.

NBC’s and the Times’ reporting on this issue is perniciously vacuous, insipidly shallow and riddled with an insidious anti-Russian bias. These articles are forms of malignant disinformation that alchemically transform speculation into fact and replace critical thinking with presumption, the final result of which is that these presumed “facts” will go unchallenged and become part of a wider and often nefarious narrative. An example of which is that last week cable news talking heads like Chris Matthews proclaimed “of course Russia did it!” and even comedian Bill Maher roared “Russia attacked us in Cuba!”

These incidents may very well be proven to be attacks, and Russia may ultimately be responsible for them, but we should wait for actual evidence and not accept whispered innuendo wrapped in a slavish deference to intelligence agency authority as proof.

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After the media’s complicity in deceiving the American public into war with Iraq, followed quickly by their acquiescence on torture, or as the Times preferred to call it “enhanced interrogation”, and then concealing Bush’s warrantless surveillance program, of which the Times was aware but refused to publish for more than a full year, we the people must condition ourselves to read all of the establishment media news with an acutely jaundiced eye.

Similar to the delirious fever for war in the lead up to Iraq, the media are currently suffering from a virulent hysteria, this time of the anti-Russian variety. Now more than ever it is imperative to maintain a healthy and vigilant skepticism whenever Russia is blamed for misdeeds but there is a dearth or absence of concrete evidence. If we succumb to the corporate media’s Siren’s call of compulsive Russia blaming, our new Cold war may just turn very hot, and that will be a catastrophe for all of us.

A version of this article was originally published at CounterPunch.

 

©2018

Serena Williams and her Basket of Deplorables

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Estimated Reading Time: 6 minutes 04 seconds

On Saturday, September 8th, Naomi Osaka won the Women’s U.S. Open Tennis Championship by trouncing Serena Williams in resounding fashion. Instead of the media and fans focusing on the sublime athletic brilliance that was Osaka, they instead focused on Serena Williams, which is just how Serena wanted it.

WHAT HAPPENED

The big show at the U.S. Women’s Open final wasn’t Naomi Osaka’s dismantling of the 23 time Grand Slam champion Serena Williams, it was Serena William’s rage-fueled meltdown and tirade against Chair Umpire Carlos Ramos.

What instigated Serena’s anger towards Ramos was that he had the temerity to actually hold Serena to the rules of tennis when he properly issued her a warning after Serena’s coach was caught coaching her in the first set, which is clearly against the established rules.

Serena claimed she wasn’t being coached and that Ramos was maligning her integrity by insinuating she was cheating, which infuriated her because as she was quick to point out, she “is a mother”…which I guess for some reason means she cannot cheat since mother’s are infallible and morally incorruptible

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Later in the match after losing another game, Serena slammed her racket on the ground in frustration, breaking her racket, which again, is explicitly against the rules in tennis, so Ramos did what he was obligated to do and called Serena on her violation. Due to the fact that it was her second violation of the match, the first being the coaching, Serena was docked a point to start the next game.

Serena then returned to arguing with Ramos about the coaching call and how unfair it was, but to no avail, the lost point stayed lost. As the match progressed from there and it became even more glaringly obvious that Serena was going to lose, she relentlessly berated Ramos at every turn and during a change over lit into him, threatening he would never be on one of “her courts” ever again. She then called him “a thief” for having stolen a point from her, and Ramos cited her for the third time for a violation, this time for verbal abuse, which according to the rules of tennis, the third violation results in a loss of an entire game.

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At that point Serena went into full victim mode and called for the tournament officials, who came out and listened to her argument that Ramos was being sexist and she was being punished simply because she was a woman. Serena said that men do much worse but never face sanctions. She claimed that Ramos was doing this to her because she was a woman. The Open officials seemed deferential to Serena, but never changed the ruling, and soon, amid a cavalcade of boos, the match re-started and Serena was finally beaten by Osaka and the tournament was over and Serena was the loser.

Sadly, things only got worse from there and it wasn’t just Serena being exposed as a deplorable human being. As the trophy ceremony went on, the crowd booed continuously, which caused Naomi Osaka to never break a smile and actually cry, not tears of joy, but tears of sadness, after having won the tournament fair and square.

DEMONSTRABLY WRONG

Serena’s wail of victimhood during the match and her argument that sexism was responsible for her being punished for violating the rules was repulsive, disgusting, shameless, contrived and manipulative…and also demonstrably wrong.

To start, Serena claimed she wasn’t being coached, but in the moment, during the live broadcast of the event, her coach admitted he was coaching her, which exposes Serena to charges of not only being a cheat but a liar. The coach’s defense was that “everybody does it”, which is a pretty weak argument.

In addition, umpire Carlos Ramos is notorious for being a stickler for the rules, a trait much needed in an umpire, and many of the top men’s players like Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer and Novak Djokavic have had run-ins with him over his strict adherence to the rules, but none of those men ever escalated their disagreements like Serena Williams did.

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More damning evidence against Serena came to light this past weekend when the New York Times released a study complied by officials at Grand Slam tournaments that shows that men are fined proportionally more often than the women. For instance, over the last twenty years (1998-2018) at Grand Slam events (Australian Open, French Open, Wimbledon, U.S. Open), men have been fined 646 times for racket abuse and 287 times for unsportsmanlike conduct while women have been fined for the same offenses 99 and 67 times respectively. In terms of verbal abuse, the violation that capped off Serena’s meltdown, men have been fined 62 times over the last twenty years and women 16 times.

While men do play more tennis in Grand Slam tournaments, with more qualifying spots and playing best of five set matches as opposed to the women’s best of three, the disparity in terms of fines for men is well beyond the greater percentage of tennis they play.

SERENA TRUMP

The reality of the situation is this, Serena Williams is an immature, spoiled brat, and when she was held to account for her misdeeds on the tennis court she had a tantrum. Does Ms. Williams behavior sound familiar? It should, because it is exactly what our President does on a daily basis.

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Ms. William’s imitation of Trump was spot on, as she acted entitled, petulant, petty, vindictive, dishonest, aggressively defensive and disrespectful of the “authority” that admonished her for breaking the rules that everyone is supposed to follow but which she believes do not apply to her. On top of that Serena masterfully played the victim in order to garner sympathy and distract from her failings which is quintessential Trump.

Serena’s behavior on the court and in the interview room afterwards was Trumpian from start to finish, and what was even more telling was that her fans, in the stadium, online and in the media, the overwhelming majority of which despise Trump, all joined in a Trumpian chorus to blindly defend her.

As the equally entitled and obnoxious fans in the stadium booed during the match and trophy ceremony, it was reminiscent of Trump’s rallies where his crowds who Hillary described as a “basket of deplorables” boo the media for “attacking” Trump with “fake news”. And just as Trump spurs on his followers to boo the media for fake news, Serena spurred on her fans to boo Ramos for having attacked her for “fake rules”.

MEDIA MENDACITY

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The media response to Serena’s petulant behavior was even worse. I watched ESPN on the following Monday and was astounded that of the six taking heads who chimed in with their hot takes during the network’s plethora of faux argument shows, only one, Frank Isola of the New York Daily News, had the intellectual integrity and testicular fortitude to take Serena to task for her aberrant behavior. The rest all agreed that Serena is the greatest female tennis player of of all-time (some even went so far as to proclaim Serena Williams the greatest athlete of all-time, which is so hysterical as to be absurd. Serena is certainly a great female tennis player, but if she played the top 100 male tennis players in the world, she wouldn’t even win a set, and if she played any of the the top 1,000 male tennis players she still wouldn’t win a match), that sexism and racism was at play in the situation, and that sexism and racism are a major problem in tennis, and to finish it off that even though Serena did violate the coaching rule it is a stupid rule and on and on and on.

In newspaper column after column Serena was hailed by female writers, particularly women of color, who proclaimed that Black women aren’t allowed to get angry in America, and Serena’s treatment at the hands of the official and the U.S. Open was an atrocious display of misogyny and racism. Other writers declared that Black women should follow Serena’s example and embrace their rage and let it out (horrendous advice).

This indulgent approach is what is wrong with America, the media and the #Resistance in particular and it is why we have Trump as president. To celebrate emotional incontinence and outrage for the sake of outrage is so counter-productive, self-defeating and foolish as to be astonishing.

The vast majority of writers and pundits pontificating on the subject have absolutely no knowledge of tennis, but would regurgitate some simple minded phrases they heard, such as, “McEnroe and Connors did much worse back in the day!” Of course, this is true, BUT THAT WAS THIRTY YEARS AGO! And on top of that, McEnroe and Connor’s horrendous behavior is why the rules that were applied to Serena were put in place in the first place in the late 80’s.

The mindless and shallow punditry continued throughout the week and the pro-Serena crowd were the vast majority in the media, at least in America, but certainly not across the globe, as British and particularly Australian writers were much more willing to hold Serena to account. The vapid pro-Serena punditry on ESPN and elsewhere reminded me of the vacuous pro-Trump nonsense that passes for news on Fox News.

The Social Justice Warrior/Identity Politics goosestepping done by the pundit class of the establishment is just as brazenly shameless and devoid of intellectual and moral integrity as anything you’ll see on Trump’s favorite show Fox and Friends.

A VOICE OF REASON - STOP YELLING AT YOUR KIDS!

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Thankfully, a true champion and one of the greatest female tennis players of all-time, Martina Navratilova, wrote an op-ed in the New York Times that was the opposite of Serena Williams because it was the epitome of thoughtfulness, integrity and class. Ms. Navratilova was respectful of Serena Williams and said that if women are being treated more harshly than men (which the study the other Times article proves is not true) than that injustice should change, yet proclaimed that Serena’s behavior was unacceptable and dishonored the sport of tennis regardless.

The same week Martina’s op-ed was published the New York Times ran an article that spoke to this issue even though it had nothing to do with sport or Serena Williams titled “ Why You Should Stop Yelling at your Kids”. The gist of the article is this, that yelling at your kids is a sign of weakness, not strength. I think Serena Williams, who is quick to point out she is a mother, and her basket of deplorable fans, should heed that sage advice, because embracing and venting your rage is not a sign of empowerment but of weakness. If you are raising a child and want that child to be successful in life, you will not teach them to display their rage and be ruled by their emotions. People who do those things are terrible people, and if you are teaching your child to behave that way, you are a terrible person too.

BEING SERENA TRUMP

Serena berating an official shows her to be a morally, mentally, emotionally and psychologically weak human being. Serena’s history of acting out when she is losing, such as her previous outbursts at the U.S. Open (in 2009 and 2011 Serena had similar meltdowns) reveals a bully mentality that is incapable of genuine reflection, introspection and taking of responsibility…again…she sounds just like Trump.

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Will Martina’s perspective and the release of the study showing Serena is dead wrong about disparity in punishment for male tennis players, change the mind of any of Serena’s fans, or any of the identity politics contingent that came to her defense knowing nothing about the situation or even the sport? No, of course not, because these people are immune to facts and immune to reason, and just like Serena and Trump they only have their hysterical emotions and rage to guide them. Serena is as shameless a liar and manipulator as Trump, and both of them are blessed to have fans who are gullible fools who lap up their bullshit like cold water on a hot Summer’s day.

Because Serena is a woman, and boldly played the sexism card, and because she is Black, and always deftly plays the racism card, the wealthy fans in Flushing Meadows and those in the media, will wave the flag of identity politics as high as they can and refuse to see their own hypocrisy and moronity. These fans and media members excuse Serena’s inexcusable misbehavior simply because of her gender and the color of her skin. These people do not believe in equality, they believe in a separate set of rules…one for them and the people they like, and a harsher one for everyone else.

These same fans and media members think Trump and Trumpers are hateful buffoons, but the reality is that Serena Williams and her entourage of sycophantic media personalities and fans are Trumpian in their cult-like resilience to facts, reason and logic and their addiction to identity above all else. Serena and her fans, like Trump and his supporters, are incapable of understanding objective reality, and instead cling to their subjective experience as the incontrovertible Truth.

Trump may lose the mid-term elections or his re-election campaign or be impeached or resign, but the truth is Trump has already won in the biggest way imaginable, as he has made his enemies into mirror images of himself. Like a scene out of a horrifying remake of Being John Malkovich, everywhere you turn in America there are Trumps acting out in all sorts of selfish and self-gratifying ways. Those filled with fear and loathing of Trump have become the monster they so despise. When Trump is long gone, the Trump infection will live on, in the hearts, minds and actions of those who pretend to be his antithesis.

The Trump virus is spreading and the abysmal display put on by Serena Williams and her acolytes in the media and stands is a stark reminder things are going to get much much worse here in America before they ever get better…and they might never get better.

©2018

We the Animals: A Review

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

My Rating: 2 out of 5 stars

My Recommendation: SKIP IT. A derivative childhood trauma drama that is a pale imitation of other better movies.

We the Animals, written by Jeremiah Zagar and Dan Kitrosser (based on the book of the same name by Justin Torres) and directed by Zagar, is the coming of age story of Jonah, a young boy growing up with his two brothers in a tumultuous family deep in the throes of working-class poverty. The film stars Evan Rosado as Jonah with supporting turns from Raul Castillo (Paps) and Sheila Vand (Ma).

We the Animals is another in a long line of recent films about the difficulty of growing up in modern America, particularly when poor. Just off the top of my head I can think of Beasts of the Southern Wild, Moonlight and The Florida Project. I am sure there are more I am forgetting, but probably because those other films are forgettable.

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We the Animals follows the same blueprint as Beasts of the Southern Wild, Moonlight and The Florida Project but also flirts with some of the same topics as this year's indy darling Eighth Grade. Like Beasts of the Southern Wild it tries to capture the magical imagination of a child under duress, and like Moonlight it tries to bring to life the struggles of one who is "different", and like The Florida Project, it eschews formal narrative structure in favor of a more free-wheeling story-telling that attempts to expose poverty as it really is, and like Eighth Grade it explores the minefield that is sex in pornified America.

If We the Animals had come out five years ago, it might be noteworthy because of its subject matter and style, but since it came out now after the aforementioned cavalcade of similar films, it feels decidedly derivative. There is nothing in We the Animals that we haven't seen already and done either slightly or distinctly better. 

Director Zagar uses an impressionistic style to convey the inner life of Jonah, and those parts of the film are easily the best. Zagar and his cinematographer Zak Mulligan's use of animation, a floating camera and dynamic framing make the film at times visually stunning. Mulligan's ability to uniquely frame the mundane and turn it into something of depth is exceptional, and he captures some exquisitely beautiful shots.

Sadly, the film is not entirely impressionistic, in fact, the majority of the film (about two-thirds) is more stylistically conventional, and this is where the film struggles, so much so that it scuttles the entire ship. Mulligan's intermittent Malick-esque camera work brings life to a script that is dead on arrival and that fact is only more accentuated when the film tries to actually tell a story.

The cast of newcomers and unknowns does their best, but the acting is pretty underwhelming. Lead actor Evan Rosado is a charismatic kid and he pops on camera, but he is very limited in range and what he is able to do as an actor at such a young age.

Raul Castilla and Sheila Vand fall flat as Paps and Ma, and needed to be much better than they were for the film to really take off. Both of their performances were too one-dimensional for my tastes, and lacked an inner life. To be fair they certainly weren't aided by the rather shallow script.

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We the Animals still could have pulled it off despite its cinematic imbalance but it makes a fatal error in its final act. There is a twist, hinted at throughout but which becomes explicit in the last quarter, that turns the film from an experimental-impressionist cinematic exploration into a rather banal piece of faux-edgy arthouse moviemaking. This plot revelation had significantly more artistic merit and integrity when left unstated, and by forcing the narrative to conform to such a conventional, 21st century after-school special theme, the weighty pretensions of profundity surrounding the film collapse and we are left with a movie that is resoundingly unsatisfying dramatically.

At the end of the day, because of the similarly themed and styled films that have preceded it, We the Animals feels trite, contrived, manufactured and manipulative to the point of exploitative. While director Jeremiah Zagar and cinematographer Zak Mulligan certainly show flashes of talent throughout, because of a weak script and cast, along with Zagar's uneven approach, the film never coalesces into a coherent and worthy piece of cinema. Sadly, We the Animals is not worth the time and effort to go see it in the theatre, but fret not, if you want to see a film about minority children growing up in poverty, you have a plethora of other options from which to choose.

©2018

Burt Reynolds and the End of the Movie Star

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Estimated Reading Time: 4 minutes 38 seconds

Burt Reynolds died on Thursday at the age of 82. A review of his career reveals a great deal about not only the man, but the current state of Hollywood.

Burt Reynolds was once the king of Hollywood. For a period of time in the late 70's and early 80's, Burt Reynolds was the biggest movie star on the planet. From 1978 to 1982 Burt was the top box office draw for every single year, a five year run that in the history of cinema is only matched by Bing Crosby's 5 year run in the late 1940's.

What makes Burt Reynolds magnificent box office run all the more a monument to his star power and charm is that the movies Burt churned out during this stretch were absolutely abysmal. Here are the films that Burt Reynolds sold to the public to become box office champ for a record five years straight.

1978 - The End, Hooper. 1979 - Starting Over. 1980 - Rough Cut, Smokey and the Bandit II. 1981 - The Cannonball Run, Paternity, Sharkey's Machine. 1982 - Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, Best Friends.

That is a Murderer's Row of completely forgettable, horrendously awful movies. But the cinematic atrocities that are those films only act as incontrovertible evidence of the tremendous mega-movie star Burt Reynolds really was. Audiences didn't show up at movie theaters to see these films for any other reason than to get to hang out with Burt for two hours.

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Burt's formula for success was simple...just be Burt, the fun lovin', handsome, good ole boy that he was, who guys wanted to be and women wanted to be with. Didn't matter the story or the character, as long as Burt was on camera people would pay money to see it. Burt was...well...Burt...sort of a one man Rat Pack, with Bacchanal Burt as the Pope of the Church of Shits and Giggles, which is why he was such a sought after guest on The Tonight Show or any other talk show.

Burt's films, particularly the mind-numbingly awful Cannonball Run movies, are reminiscent of Steven Soderbergh's Ocean's Eleven franchise, in that audiences are basically paying to watch famous, good-looking rich people have fun with each other. Ocean's Eleven, Twelve and Thirteen are a way for regular folks to get to hang out with George Clooney, Brad Pitt and Matt Damon for two hours and feel like part of the crew. Audiences get to watch these "stars" dress up, be witty and outsmart everyone and get to be in on the joke.

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Burt Reynolds film's are the same formula as Ocean's Eleven except Burt didn't need a bunch of other stars, he was big enough and bright enough to carry a movie all on his own. Sure, he'd have Mel Tillis or Dom DeLuise caddy for him, but Burt didn't need them, he was doing them a favor and kept them around because they made HIM laugh.

Burt was so big from '78 to '82 that if you melded George Clooney, Brad Pitt and Matt Damon at the height of their careers into one, you'd still have to add in Matthew McConnaghey in order to have it all add up to be even remotely close to peak Burt Reynolds. That is stunning for a variety of reasons, the least of which is that it shows how staggeringly magnetic Burt Reynolds was back in the day, but also the shocking dearth of movie stars walking the planet now.

Could any actor working today draw audiences with the cavalcade of crap that Burt Reynolds was churning out during his heyday?  Not a chance. Tom Cruise is the closest actor since Burt to capture the public's imagination in the same way, he has been a box office champ 7 times over three decades (80's, 90's, 00's), but Cruise never accomplished it in consecutive years never mind five years running. 

Unlike Burt, Cruise has benefited by starring in the big budget Mission Impossible franchise and in a few Spielberg extravaganzas. Even Cruise's earlier, more critically acclaimed work, was a result of his being secondary to his directors. Born on the Fourth of July is not a Tom Cruise film, it is an Oliver Stone film, and the same could be said of Eyes Wide Shut (Kubrick) or The Color of Money (Scorsese).

Burt Reynolds didn't work with big name directors, in fact, remarkably enough, Burt actually directed two of the film's in which he starred during his box office championship run, 1978's The End and 1982's Sharkey's Machine...that is absolutely insane.

When it comes to the "movie stars" of the current era the proof is in the pudding, and today's pudding shows us a paucity of stars so stunning that the cupboard is basically completely bare.

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Tom Cruise has a big box office hit this year with his latest Mission Impossible monstrosity, but without that franchise or a big name director, Cruise's ability to attract audiences on his own has diminished in striking ways over the last twenty years. Since 1996's Jerry Maguire, Cruise has been under performed on his own without the friendly confines of a big budget franchise or the assistance of name directors, like Spielberg and Kubrick, who overshadow him.

Many thought George Clooney was the heir apparent to the movie star throne, but he isn't ready for the crown as shown by the recent poor box office results of Tomorrowland and Monuments Men, and as the Ocean's Eleven films show, he needs not just one other star to help him over the finish line, but a cornucopia of stars.

Brad Pitt had his moment in the sun but was always more of a second rate Robert Redford than an imitation of Burt Reynolds, and has never had the box office impact of either man.

Matthew McConnaghey has churned out similarly awful films to Burt's sub-par canon, but he has never even remotely approached the star wattage or box office prowess of Burt.

Leonardo DiCaprio is often considered a movie star, but Leo is much more of an actor than a movie star, and his inability to open films on his own without the benefit of a big name director like Scorsese, Spielberg or Christopher Nolan is testament to that fact.

Studios have figured out that nowadays it is about teaming auteurs like Scorsese, PT Anderson, Inarritu or Tarantino, with name actors in order to generate profits. The auteurs alone, or the stars alone, just don't cut it anymore, so the studios combine them together.

The film industry has changed dramatically in other ways since Burt Reynolds ruled the roost, as studios have discovered it isn't the stars that make a movie, but the characters, and so studios have slowly transitioned from building movie star brands to creating big budget franchises. Boiled down to its essence, this approach is basically, It doesn't matter who plays Batman, people will see a Batman movie.

As a result, actors try and attach themselves to these franchises in order to become "movie stars"...but the truth is the actors are, like sports stars for people's favorite teams, just wearing the jersey. These sports stars could be traded to another team and wear another jersey next year, so the fans aren't really rooting for the players, they are rooting for the laundry.

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For example, Chris Pratt is a "big movie star" right now, and to his credit he can carry a movie, but no one is dropping $14 to go see Chris Pratt, but they will pay to see Chris Pratt in Jurassic World or Guardians of the Galaxy. Same is true of the other Chris's...Chris Helmsworth, Chris Pine and Chris Evans...otherwise known as Thor, Captain Kirk and Captain America. Those guys are decent enough actors, but no one rushes out to see them in anything unless they are playing their signature franchise roles.

What is staggering to consider is that Burt Reynolds could have been an even bigger star than he was. Burt notoriously turned down the role of Han Solo in the Star Wars franchise and John McClane in the Die Hard franchise, which if he had starred in those films only would have extended and expanded his box office dominance to such exorbitant heights as to be ridiculous, adding at least $4 billion more to his overall box office tally.

Besides making poor movie business decisions, Burt also made bad artistic decisions which hurt him in his attempt to score prestige points. For instance, besides turning down Han Solo and John McClane, Burt also turned down the role of Garrett Breedlove in Terms of Endearment, which won Jack Nicholson an Oscar and may have done the same for Burt.

Burt Reynolds as an actor, was, to be frank, pretty dreadful, mostly because he just didn't give a shit. Burt was more interested in having fun and feeling safe rather than pushing himself as an artist. Burt the actor liked to take the easy road, and for the artist, that road ultimately leads to nowhere.

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That said, Burt he did rise to the occasion twice in his career, in the two best films he ever made. In the 1972 classic Deliverance, Burt embodied archetypal masculinity to a tee and elevated the film to great artistic heights. Burt's performance as Lewis Medlock, the bow wielding alpha male on a river adventure in the backwoods of Georgia, gave audiences a glimpse of his acting potential. Sadly, it would take another 25 years before Burt ever even approached the same level of artistic achievement in PT Anderson's 1997 masterpiece, Boogie Nights, as porn impresario Jack Horner.

Burt's Jack Horner is an extension of Lewis Medlock, he is like Zeus, a great father to the panoply of gods and goddesses atop the Mount Olympus of porn. Horner is Medlock grown old, still the dominant alpha male but using his brain more and his phallus less.

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In one of the great displays of foolhardy hubris, Burt, who admitted that over his career he only took roles he thought were fun, hated the greatest film in which he ever appeared, Boogie Nights. Burt ranted that he didn't like the movie or the director, Paul Thomas Anderson. Burt's public distancing from the film no doubt led to his losing his only chance to win an Oscar, as he was nominated but refused to campaign and ended up losing to Robin Williams (Good Will Hunting), and ended up scuttling what could have been his acting renaissance.

If Burt didn't have such a pedestrian taste in film, such a voracious appetite for the inconsequential and such a artistically myopic outlook, he could have been not just the George Clooney + Brad Pitt + Matt Damon + Matthew McConnaghey of his day, but also the Harrison Ford and Bruce Willis of the 80's/90's and a multiple Oscar winner to boot...which would have made Burt Reynolds the biggest movie star of all-time. Instead what we got was bacchanalian Burt, boozing with buddies, chasing skirts and ultimately chasing his own tail.

In conclusion, even though Burt Reynolds was a mega-movie star for a period, the likes of which the film business has rarely ever seen, it is difficult not to lament Burt's career with a quote from the American Quaker poet John Greenleaf Whittier, "For all the sad words of tongue and pen, The Saddest are these, 'It might have been'."

©2018

 

 

 

In a Fit of Anti-Trump Pique, Liberals Shamelessly Embrace 'Deep State' Criminals

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Estimated Reading Time: 4 minutes 11 seconds

In their blind hatred for Trump, liberals have sunk to an all-time low by unabashedly cheering a war criminal.

On Friday August 24th, HBO’s Real Time with Bill Maher had former CIA director John Brennan on as an interview guest. Brennan has been in the news lately because he accused Trump of treason, or more precisely, "nothing short of treason", due to the President's weak-kneed, post summit news conference with Vladimir Putin.

In retaliation for Brennan's remarks Trump revoked his security clearance which has caused an uproar from establishment intelligence toadies and in a case of strange bedfellows, the allegedly liberal anti-Trump movement which has dubbed itself the #Resistance.

On the episode of Real Time, the usually acerbic Maher, or as I am fond of calling him due to his petulant demeanor and intellectual dwarfism, Little Bill, immodestly degraded himself by nearly fellating John Brennan before the former CIA chief ever got on stage by gushing that he was a “true American patriot”.

The nadir for the #Resistance occurred shortly thereafter as Brennan rumbled on stage and was greeted by the eruption of a raucous standing ovation by the liberal audience, with Little Bill calling it a "well-deserved standing ovation". Only in the bizarre universe where a silver-spooned, multi-bankrupted, reality television star is president does a former CIA director who has committed crimes and war crimes such as implementing and covering up Bush's rendition and torture regime, spying on the U.S. Senate and masterminding Obama's deadly drone program, get a delirious ovation from those on the left.

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As Little Bill sat across from Brennan his sycophancy swelled further when, like a pimply faced teenage boy on his first date, he rapturously declared, "I don't say this very often, but it is an honor to meet you and have you here." If this interview were taking place in the back seat of Little Bill’s parent’s station wagon the windows would've have been completely fogged by this point.

The interview was one rambling study in conformation bias, as Brennan bemoaned not having a security clearance for the first time in 38 years, and Maher stomped his feet and wailed "everyone with a brain is on your side!" Neither man was self-aware enough to realize the brazen level of entitlement that oozes from their belief that a security clearance for a former government official is a right, not a privilege.

Brennan then blamed Kentucky Senator Rand Paul for starting the whole mess and Maher breathlessly screeched, "Rand Paul is dead to me!" In the throes of his Brennan crush, Little Bill all but promised to fight Rand in the parking lot after school to defend the former CIA director's honor.

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Brennan then waxed poetic about how "national security is one of the most sacred and solemn professions in this government". I wonder which part of his national security work Brennan finds so sacred...was it the torture? The extraordinary rendition? The kill lists? The murdering by drone strike of innocent people, American citizen's included? The spying on the Senate in order to scuttle any impartial investigation into the torture program? The teaming with fascists in Ukraine to overthrow a democratically elected government? Or teaming with terrorists in an attempt to overthrow Assad in Syria?

Little Bill, no doubt hoping to get lucky on his dream date, did not ask any of those questions or raise any of these topics, he just pursed his lips and shook his head as he proclaimed his horror that Trump dared to call Brennan, the man who "defended our country after 9-11", a "low life".

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Maher's on screen love affair with Brennan is in keeping with his erotic profile, as his history shows he is most certainly aroused by high-ranking intelligence agency criminals. Maher has had similarly fawning, to the point of bootlicking, interviews with former head of the NSA and CIA, General Michael Hayden. Little Bill's modus operandi is to never speak ill of such mendacious intelligence officials as Hayden, Brennan and former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, all of whom have lied to the American public and committed numerous crimes and moral atrocities such as their culpability in the rendition, torture and surveillance programs, but he instead chooses to speak only in the most overly reverential tones about their bravery and patriotic work keeping America safe.

I find it very curious that both Little Bill and his fellow liberal HBO comedy comrade John Oliver of Last Week Tonight, are so enamored with the intelligence agencies. Oliver too is an unrepentant establishment shill and brownnoser who has routinely ignored intelligence agency misbehavior and parroted the pro-intel line at every opportunity, a perfect example being his softball interview of former NSA chief General Keith Alexander and his aggressive take down of NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden.

What is even more disheartening than two insipid cable television comedians being so obviously in the pocket of the intelligence agencies, is the total lack of intellectual and moral integrity on the part of the liberals in their audience.

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The buffoons in Maher's studio audience who gave Brennan a Pavlovian standing ovation on Real Time are probably the same fools who have donated money to the GoFundMe campaigns for fired FBI officials Andrew McCabe and Peter Strzok to the tune of more than a million dollars between them. Do these liberals not know who the FBI is and what they do? The FBI are the ones who wiretapped Martin Luther King Jr. and tried to blackmail him into killing himself. The FBI also infiltrated environmental, anti-war and civil rights movements in a concerted attempt to destroy them. According to Human Rights Watch, the FBI has gone above and beyond in subverting civil rights and due process in post-9/11 America by being "directly involved" in high profile terror plots in the U.S. where Muslims were entrapped and imprisoned for phony plots proposed or led by FBI agents or informants.

The liberal adoration of FBI flunkies and intelligence big wigs like Brennan, Clapper, Hayden and even the media anointed saint, former Director of the FBI and current Special Counsel Robert Mueller, who rounded up Muslims in the wake of 9/11, botched the anthrax investigation and lied about WMD’s in Iraq to the American public, is repugnant and will ultimately be counter productive if not downright self-defeating to any progressive movement.

I understand the liberal anger with the demagogue Trump, what I do not understand is why the left is so intent on embracing the most deplorable of war criminals and police state apparatchiks who have routinely flouted the constitution and flaunted their power, in order to try and bring down Trump, who progressives claim has flouted the constitution and flaunted his power.

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Towards the end of the interview Brennan received a cacophony of cheers when he described Trump to Little Bill as a man who is "dishonest, unethical, doesn't have principles...or integrity", but Brennan's description of Trump is a case of the former CIA official doth protest too much, methinks. When seen in the light of Brennan's own dishonesty regarding torture, his unethical spying on the Senate and his overall lack of principles and integrity throughout his career, this statement reeks of shameless hypocrisy. Brennan's condemnation of Trump would equally fit Brennan or any of his other media darling intelligence agency cohorts, along with the liberal lemmings who send them money, give them standing ovations and take their word for gospel.

In closing Brennan postulated that things will "get worse before they get better" and reminded viewers that this country "fought hard for the freedoms and liberties we have right now". I wholeheartedly agree with that assessment, which is why the #Resistance must jettison from their ranks all criminals like Brennan, Clapper and Hayden who have dedicated their careers to usurping the "hard fought freedoms and liberties we have right now".

The pied pipers in the media, including court jesters like Little Bill Maher and John Oliver, are leading liberals down a road to perdition by holding insidious intelligence officials and agencies up as paragons of nobility and truth. Brennan, Clapper, Hayden and their ilk are professional liars whose main priority is not to uphold and defend the constitution but rather to uphold and defend the corrupt establishment and the military industrial complex. 

In 2016 liberals lost the election, but since that time, as evidenced by their deification of Brennan and his intel cohorts, they have proceeded to lose not only their minds, but their souls as well. In the face of the Trump demon, liberals have conjoined themselves to truly despicable people who have perpetrated great evil at home and across the globe. In the long run, the #Resistance is going to learn the hard way that with friends like Brennan, Clapper and Hayden, who needs enemies?

A VERSION OF THIS ARTICLE WAS ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED AT RT.COM

©2018

The Existential Catholic Crisis

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Estimated Reading Time: 6 minutes 66 seconds

I was born and raised a Catholic. I am of that particular guilt-ridden strain of Catholicism known as Irish Catholicism. I wouldn't say I am a devout Catholic or even a good one, in fact, I am a pretty terrible Catholic...but I am still a Catholic. I have had a tumultuous and often-times tenuous relationship with the church throughout my adult life, an example of which is that I would often, in a futile attempt to be witty, tell people I was raised Catholic but that it was in remission.

In 2002, the revelations of priests buggering boys in Boston (my home parish at one point in time - I even met Cardinal Law once...he was a pompous ass and his breath smelled demonic...I am not kidding) erupted as a cataclysmic scandal, but having grown up in the church I knew for a long time something was seriously amiss, and thus that sex abuse scandal came not as a shock to me but as confirmation of my hunches.

SYMPTOMS

Why did I suspect that something was deeply wrong in the Catholic church? Well, for starters, nearly every priest I ever met was a horrible human being. I don't mean they were bad priests, which they were, but bad people.

An example, in my Catholic high school the lone priest there among the nuns was Father Hughes. Father Hughes was a flamboyantly gay man who obviously joined the priesthood in order to escape the perceived demon of his sexuality. How do I know Father Hughes was gay? Well...there were some dead giveaways...for one he was a walking stereotype to the point of caricature of a gay man most signified by his pronounced and audacious lisp and mannered style of speech. Another sign was that he often wore a satin black cape with a pink interior and described this signature fashion choice as being "understated elegance". Another solid clue was that he had a schoolboy crush on the star of the basketball team...so much so that he bought the young man, who was a very devout Catholic and a genuinely good guy, a car for graduation. Yes...you read that right...Father Hughes, who wasn't exactly rolling in dough as a priest at a Catholic high school, bought a male student a car for his graduation. Part of how I knew something was terribly amiss in the Catholic church is that no one, not a single person, said anything about this oddity at all. There were quizzical glances exchanged, but no one dare say aloud what they were really thinking if they even let themselves think it.

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The thing that really struck me most about Father Hughes was that he was a vicious and mean spirited man. As stated, it was obvious Hughes was gay, but he would go out of his way to torment and torture the boys in school who seemed effeminate. This was the late 80's, so no one was "out" as gay at my school, but there were plenty of kids who "seemed" gay and sure enough in later years came out as gay, but in high school they were just struggling to survive being different. Father Hughes would constantly and brutally belittle them and mock their masculinity. It was a glaring case of the pot calling the kettle black...but no one said or did anything...most especially the coterie of nuns, many of whom had their own glaring issues...like the principle of the school who took a vow of poverty but bought a new Cadillac, earning her the well-earned and accurate nickname of Sister Anna Cadillac.

After Father Hughes left my school he went to another parish and proceeded to either overspend or steal, depending on who you believe, to the tune of nearly a million dollars....like I said, a good guy. After Hughes was abruptly replaced, the Church claimed that there were no criminal acts committed in this financial debacle, but as we know the Church never likes to admit scandal when it can be swept under the rug.

Father Hughes wasn't alone though, as the vast majority of priests I have known have been total sons of bitches and not even remotely resembling good ambassadors of Christ here on earth. They were all petty, vindictive and arrogant bastards who were the antithesis of Christ's teachings. The exceptions are the ones who have stood out, men like Father Ken, Father LeRoy and Father Felipe, all kindhearted and genuinely decent men...the rest of the priests I have known have all carved out a special place in hell for themselves.

Besides being terrible people, the majority of priests I have met are also more than likely gay...now that doesn't mean they are terrible because they are gay, just that they are simultaneously terrible and gay. Which brings us back to the scandals. The thing that is often muddied in regards to the Catholic church sex abuse scandals is that the majority of the incidents are not pedophilia where priests are abusing little children. The majority of sex abuse has been perpetrated upon males (81%) and the overwhelming majority of those abused boys have been older (adolescent/pre-teen) boys. The fact that most victims of abuse are adolescent boys is a terribly uncomfortable one for more liberal Catholics (and liberal people in general) who are disposed to view any question of a priest's homosexuality as a homophobic attack and who reflexively defend gay people for instinctual identity/tribal reasons.

DISEASE

I consider myself a Thomas Merton/Dorothy Day/Anthony DeMello Catholic, and so for years I have been lumped in as a "liberal Catholic". But after years and years of these scandals from Boston to Baltimore to Ireland, Australia and Mexico and everywhere in between, I think that the labels liberal and conservative Catholic no longer apply...there are only Catholics who are brave enough to see the truth and do something about it, or there are Catholics who prefer the warm embrace of their own self-satisfying and often self-righteous echo chamber.

I greatly disliked Pope John Paul II and found his canonization to be a repugnant public relations move because he was, in fact, an accomplice to sex abuse when he turned a blind eye to it, just as he did with the sins of American capitalism. John Paul II's vehement anti-communism forced him to be blind to the spiritual cancer of American capitalism and also caused him to accept the atrocities committed at the behest of America (El Salvador/Nicaragua etc.) even against his own priests and nuns, in order to be stalwart against the Soviet Union.

I also disliked Pope Benedict, as I found him to be little more than a garish hypocrite as he, like Father Hughes, was obviously as gay as Liberace but was vehemently opposed to homosexuality in the world.

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I like Pope Francis, at least in theory. When Pope Francis came to the U.S. in 2015 and spoke at the Capitol building, he mentioned four people, two of which were Thomas Merton and Dorothy Day (the others were Lincoln and Martin Luther King Jr.), two people that some American Catholics consider at best unworthy and at worst heretics, but that I greatly admire. Pope Francis seemed to bring a new energy and light into the Vatican upon his arrival and I welcomed that breath of fresh air.

But now more revelations of sex abuse and scandal are coming into the light and Pope Francis's reaction to them and complicity in them is genuinely disheartening and demoralizing.

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The first story to break was the rampant, career long sexual abuse by Cardinal "Uncle Teddy" McCarrick, who sexually abused both adolescent boys and seminarians. McCarrick was eventually forced to resign, but since the Vatican has known about his shenanigans for decades, this was little salve for the wound. It has also come to light that Pope Francis went above and beyond to protect McCarrick even though he was well aware of his depravity.

The other story was the grand jury report in Pittsburgh which revealed rampant and systematic sexual abuse and cover-up by the Diocese for decades. Sadly, Pittsburgh, like Boston and Ireland and Australia and countless other places, was rife with sexual predators and Bishops who aided and abetted their predation. I am willing to bet that if you look hard enough at any Diocese in the world, you will find the same level of depravity as has been proven to exist in Boston and Pittsburgh.

The most disheartening part about the Pittsburgh revelations was that the Church in response basically said..."oh well". The Bishop who was integral to the Pittsburgh scandal is now Cardinal Wuertz, and sure enough he is still a Cardinal and will face no recriminations. Pope Francis has paid lip service by asking for forgiveness...but not demanding accountability or making genuine change.

Pope Francis seemed as though he may very well be the man to turn the church around and root out the abusers and enablers but with the McCarrick and Pittsburgh scandals has proven himself to be a feckless charlatan...which pains my heart to say. 

This current crop of scandals has hit me where I live as just this past spring, after much strenuous soul searching, I decided, in no small part because of my optimism regarding Pope Francis, to have my son baptized in the Catholic church. I realize that most readers will find this decision at best misguided and at worst insane, I understand the sentiment, but for me at this time, after going through the greatest battle of my life in which I found great solace, guidance and strength in prayer and was on the receiving end of some outright miracles (a word I don't use hyperbolically), I felt a great spiritual and religious renaissance in my spirit. I wanted to share with my son the same connection to the God who, through his infinite mercy, had given us the glorious life we now share.

As more and more of the cancer on the soul of the Church and on St. Peter's throne in the Vatican has been revealed in the last few weeks, I have grown to regret ever more deeply my decision to have my son baptized a Catholic. Even after all the scandals that is a difficult thing for me to admit to myself. As an Irish Catholic, my Catholicism isn't just religious but cultural. In my lifetime fellow Irishmen and women were murdered simply for being Catholic and breaking my solidarity with those Irish martyrs is gut-wrenching.

DIAGNOSIS

The reason the Church is in such decline amidst the turmoil is because it has lost touch with the masculine. Yes, I know most liberal Catholics will be angry with that statement, claiming the Church is in decline because of the Patriarchy...but I vehemently disagree. The Church has been overrun in its ranks by self-loathing gay men who are trying to hide from the truth of their sexuality. These gay men are more in touch with the feminine than the masculine, which certainly isn't a crime but it is the truth. The lack of true masculinity in the Church has led to a feminization of Catholicism that is speeding its decline. The closeted gay men who make up the vast majority of the priesthood are not able to speak to the masculine needs of the men in their flock and so men have stopped going to church.

These gay priests are also, it seems, less able to contain their sexuality than their heterosexual counterparts, or at least less able to contain them around adolescents. This is not only unfortunate in terms of the scandals it creates for the Church but also that it feeds into the stereotypes used for decades by homophobes to discriminate against and punish gay people. But with that said, as much as I dislike coming to this conclusion, the evidence certainly supports it. To be clear, I am not repeating the old homophobic trope that all gay men are predators, but what I am saying is that most of the predator priests are gay...or to be more precise...these predator priests are distorted, contorted and tortured versions of gay men. It pains me to come to this conclusion because frankly, I support gay rights and gay marriage and wish the reality of the Church sex abuse scandals isn't what it is...but it is what it is.

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There has long been talk of a Lavender Mafia within the Church and as the sex abuse scandals have come to light that belief has only strengthened as Bishops, Archbishops and Cardinals all sided with predatory priests over the children in the pews. One can only assume that these priests, Bishops, Archbishops and Cardinals were looking out for one another because they all had a secret that they believed to be so terrible that they couldn't come clean about anyone else for fear of their secret being revealed.

The conundrum for the Church is that their own teaching on homosexuality no doubt led to the scapegoating of homosexuals which in turn led some to want to hide their sexuality in the closet to try and escape the "wickedness" of their sexuality and found a way to do that by becoming celibate priests. Sadly, many of these closeted gay men were so emotionally, sexually and psychologically stunted that they were unable to abide by their vow of celibacy and instead have used their positions as priests to prey upon young men and boys.

There are those, like Father James Martin, who claim that the Church should modernize in regards to homosexuality and he blames the scandals on the Church's archaic view of homosexuality. I think Martin is blinded by his own plight (and sexuality) and therefore refuses to the see truth that is staring him in the face.

TREATMENT

As previously stated, I consider myself a Thomas Merton/Dorothy Day type of Catholic, which most would label as being a "liberal Catholic", but my response to the sex scandals will probably alienate both liberal Catholics and conservatives alike. If the Church is to survive in any relevant form, people must put aside the politics of religion and instead look for the Truth and solutions.

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Unlike my liberal Catholic cohorts, I do not think allowing women to be priests will help, as I believe that it is a lack of genuine masculinity that has caused this scandal in the first place.  I think women are vital to the Church's survival and success, but I think the role of nuns should be expanded rather than women being allowed to become priests. I can see my dearest friend Sheila cringing as she reads this...my apologies Sheila...but I think at this time the addition of female priests would end up being catastrophic to the church in the long run. I think the Church needs to do less watering down of masculinity and more bulking up.

The solution to the Catholic Church's existential crisis will not come about by liberals defeating conservatives or vice versa...both sides have legitimate grievances and insights. Here is a list of things that I think not only should happen but need to happen for the Catholic Church to have any chance to survive and maybe even be relevant again, in a post-Christian era.

1. All offending priests AND Bishops, Archbishops and Cardinals who aided and abetted them, should be held accountable and jailed either by the jurisdiction where the crimes took place or by the Vatican itself (yes, the Vatican has a jail, albeit a tiny one). At the end of their prison terms they should be at a minimum defrocked and at a maximum ex-communicated, depending on the level of their contrition and penance.

2. The U.S. government and/or any local communities, should use the RICO statute to prosecute sexual offenders and those in power who cover up for them. The use of RICO (the statue used against organized crime to bring down mafia dons) will be accompanied by threat of a loss of tax exempt status for the Church if their is not cooperation from the hierarchy up to and including The Vatican. If you want to make the Vatican jump, you threaten their tax exempt status and they'll do whatever you tell them to.

3. All new priest hires must be heterosexual. These new priests are eligible to marry and in fact the best route for the Church to take is to hire men who are already married. Doing this will expand the ranks of priesthood tremendously and will in short order revitalize the priesthood and seminaries. The moratorium on hiring gay priests will not be permanent, but is a necessary ill right now in order to bring more balance back into the priesthood/church in terms of masculinity. Eventually in the future openly gay priests will be hired but again they must swear to be celibate in order to keep with Catholic doctrine. Heterosexual priests not already married must remain celibate until marriage.

4. The Church must compel any active priests who are gay to come forward and be open about their sexuality. These priests will retain their positions and will not be discriminated against in anyway. By compelling gay priests to come forward, the Church will be taking a giant step toward minimizing the stigma of being gay in a Catholic community, which is what has led to the aberrant behavior by so many gay priests. The Church will still uphold its current teaching on homosexuality, but it will be recognizing, embracing and protecting the dignity of gay people. The Church will not allow gay priests to marry and will not allow gay parishioners to marry in keeping with Church doctrine. Gay priests will also have to take and keep a vow of celibacy.

5. Any violation of sexual oaths or vows by any priest, regardless of sexual orientation, will result in a review by a board of lay people not connected to that particular parish. The same will be true for Bishops and Cardinals, who if they are accused will be vigorously investigated by an outside panel of independent lay investigators who will have the Church equivalent of subpoena power.

6. The Catholic Church must clean out clericalism thoroughly or burn the place to the ground. The Church can still be salvaged but it requires a complete overhaul...it must both simultaneously modernize and yet embrace its traditionalism. Modernize by allowing heterosexual priests to marry and homosexual priests to be openly gay but celibate in keeping with church doctrine and dogma. Also...a return to the Traditional Latin Mass in all parishes on Sundays where half the masses should be in Latin. Why a partial return to the Latin Mass? Well, because it brings a cohesiveness to the Church across the globe, where you could walk into any Church anywhere in the world on any given Sunday and hear the Mass in the same language. Again, this is not a total return, but partial...maybe the 8 AM mass in Latin and the 11 in the native language of the parish. A return to the Latin Mass will also reconnect Catholicism with mystery and sacredness.

7. And finally...a return to a vigorous embrace of education of Catholic values and history. I was raised Catholic and went to Catholic high school and yet my religious education was abominable. The paucity of true Catholic religious teaching is a scandal in and of itself. The Church should embark on a rigorous campaign to educate not only children but ADULTS on the substance of Catholic teaching. Ironically the Church needs to make it harder rather than easier, which will give the Church and Catholic teaching back its value. If Catholicism asks its adherents to make a strenuous commitment to the faith, it will become a sanctuary from the world where easy choices sap the spiritual strength of more and more people everyday. The Church has become little more than another bit of soft white noise in a chaotic world. By making itself into an antidote to the world, being in it but not of it, the Church can once again find its sea legs and be a pillar upon which the suffering, the downtrodden, the frightened and the alone can find strength and community.

CONCLUSION

Sadly, it is highly unlikely that the Church will do even one never mind all of these things. The Church has grown fat and decadent, not unlike America, and just like America it too will crumble under the weight of its own hubris. Clericalism is devouring the Church as the Pharisees are alive and well and living in rectories in every parish in the world.

The Catholic Church must remove its satin cape with the pink interior, toss away its elegance, understated or otherwise, and get some men with chests among its ranks in order to save itself. If it doesn't do this the Church will fade into oblivion among the plethora of feel good capitalist, faux-Christian/New Age alternatives.

My hope is that after the purging and cleansing of the toxic elements in the church that a more Mertonesque and spiritually serious type of church can grow in its wake. A Church built on service not clericalism, humility not arrogance, for the poor and not the wealthy. The Catholic church needs to be a church of the gutter instead of being a Church with gutter values. The Catholic church at its best is a church of skid row, not wall street, in other words...a church that reflects Christ.

The Church will either drastically change or it will die. The church has alienated true masculinity, and if it doesn't change course, it will reap the whirlwind and collapse in upon itself into the void created by that lack of masculinity.

As for me, these recent scandals have me so furious I am tempted to go to all of my local parishes and pull a Jesus and toss the money changers and the asshole priests out of the temple. The truth is though that I have little hope or faith in the Catholic hierarchy to change things and do the right thing because the rot is so deep, but as I can attest, miracles do occur. You never know, maybe I will be named Pope Mickey in 2019, I've gotten some bumper stickers made up in English and Italian just in case an election takes place (fingers crossed!). But if my run for the Papacy falls through, I have found a Coptic church and an Orthodox church near where I live, and they are in very serious contention to be my new religious home.

©2018

The Wife: A Review

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

My Rating: 1.65 out of 5 stars

My Recommendation: SKIP IT. A Lifetime movie masquerading as serious cinema.

The Wife, written by Jane Anderson (based on the book of the same name by Meg Wolitzer) and directed by Biorn Runge, is the story of Joan Castleman, the long suffering wife who must live in the shadow of her acclaimed novelist husband, Joe Castleman. The film stars Glen Close as Joan and Jonathon Pryce as Joe, with supporting turns from Christian Slater and Max Irons.

I had some time to kill yesterday and was near a theatre, so I decided to see a movie. All of the films I had any interest in seeing did not fit into my schedule, so I was left to decide whether I would see The Wife, as that was the only movie that worked for me time wise, or go home and spend time with my wife. I made the obvious decision to avoid my wife and go with my girlfriend (shhhh!) to see The Wife...as always, deciding to spend some time with any wife, but especially The Wife, left me with nothing but a headache.

The Wife yearns to be an insightful and serious drama but instead is a trite, contrived, dramatically flaccid and pandering piece of neo-feminist melodrama that is more at home on the Lifetime network than in any serious Oscar discussion. The Wife is a paper-thin metaphor devoid of any and all dramatic nuance meant to assuage the anger and hurt feelings of Hillary supporters of a certain advanced age by cashing in on the era of #MeToo and Trumpism.

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The film is getting some Oscar buzz mostly because of Glen Close's performance as Joan. Ms. Close may in fact win an Oscar at this year's Diversity Olympics aka The Oscars, but not because her work is so transcendent but because it fulfills all the proper political and gender empowerment criteria. In truth, Ms. Close's performance is not noteworthy at all as it rings decidedly false and hollow. Unlike other notable actresses of her generation (Meryl Streep as just one example), Ms. Close never seems to be able to fill her character with a vivid inner life, but rather feels the need to indicate her intentions rather than organically expressing and releasing them. Ms. Close seems to want to show that she is acting, maybe in an attempt to win that ever elusive Oscar, but instead of showing, she should embrace being. Ms. Close's Joan is a one-dimensional, cardboard cutout of a character, and any praise of her performance should be taken as little more than "woke" charlatanry.

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Close's performance feels entirely manufactured and stilted, without a single whiff of genuine human expression and she is joined in her acting obtuseness by Jonathon Pryce, who plays her husband Joe, in the film. Pryce creates an entirely incoherent and inconsequential character that is as light and whispy as a snow flake falling in the cold, dark Helsinki night. Pryce never fully inhabits Joe, instead choosing to use a rather theatrical approach to cover the inadequacies of the script.

Christian Slater and Max Irons give painfully banal and one note performances that fall decidedly flat. Slater is supposed to be charming or something, but he is aggressively bland while Irons is stuck being a mope for two hours.

The bad acting even spread to the extras as they were atrocious. In the climactic scene of the film there is an extra so distractingly awful that it is riotously funny.

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To be fair to all the actors, it isn't entirely their fault. Director Bjorn Runge lacks any sort of visual or dramatic style and thus the actors are left at the mercy of the abomination that is the script. The dialogue is mannered and rings false throughout, and none of the characters even remotely seems like a real person. Runge's lack of a distinct cinematic aesthetic, combined with his inexperience directing English language actors (this appears to be his first time doing it) and Anderson's verbose and more stage friendly dialogue, lead to a suffocating and dramatically impotent affair.

My friend, the big shot Hollywood director Mr. X., once said to me that there is nothing worse than a bad stage play...well, with The Wife you get to see a bad stage play caught on camera, which is not a pleasing experience.

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The Wife is what I deem a "post-wave" movie, similar to last year's Spielberg film The Post, that is meant to give the audience wish fulfillment after the fact, as opposed to an artist intuiting where the collective is going next. In other words, The Wife shamelessly panders to the Hillary crowd who think the election was stolen from their saintly genius of a Queen by making Joan Castleman a Hillary proxy. The cheers and groans I heard from the audience at various moments led me to believe that it also confirms the belief among these Clinton cultists that Hillary was always the brains behind the Bill Clinton's political success...wish fulfillment indeed.

In conclusion, The Wife is a dramatically contrived, cinematically disingenuous, wretchedly constructed and inefficiently executed exercise in neo-feminist gender politics porn meant to titillate and satiate the bruised feelings of the "I'm With Her"/pussyhat wearing contingent. My recommendation is to divorce yourself from any idea of going to see The Wife, as it is not nearly worth your time and hard earned money...you'd be better served going over to your girlfriend's house and watching The Affair instead.

©2018

The Awful File - Oscars, Millennials, Brie Larson and More!

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Estimated Reading Time: 5 minutes 01 seconds

 

I keep a file on my computer that I call the "Awful File", in which I store all stories of awfulness upon which I stumble. As you can imagine...it is a big file. There is always a plethora of awful things going on in the world but writing about them all is a Sisyphean task. So instead of tackling the big awful issues, I thought today that I'd write about some of the more minor awful things floating around in my Awful File.

ACADEMY AWARDS NEW CATEGORY

To begin, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS) also known as The Academy, home of The Oscars, made a big decision last week to expand their awards. The geniuses over at the Academy decided to create the new category..."Outstanding Achievement in Popular Film"...or as I like to call it the "Award for Outstanding Achievement in Pandering" or the "Desperation Award".

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Some in Hollywood, like Mark Wahlberg, are pleased with the new category, of course Marky Mark is happy about the new award because it gives his sellout ass a shot to win an Oscar, but those with any semblance of artistic integrity are dismayed if not disgusted by the move. .

The biggest problem with the the "Achievement in Popular Film" award is that there is already a metric by which that talent is measured...it is called the box office...and the entire populace votes on it by either attending or not attending a movie.

The Oscars are supposed to be about excellence in cinema, not popularity, that may rub some rubes the wrong way, but that is the truth. The Oscars are meant to reward artists and craftsmen, not salesmen.

By creating this new populist award, AMPAS is pandering to the lowest common denominator and is diminishing the value of an Oscar. But this isn't the first time they've done that in recent years.

After the inane moronity of the #OscarsSoWhite nonsense a few years back, the Academy pandered to the outraged online mob by jettisoning older White members and bringing in a cavalcade of minorities and women. The Academy made it very clear that they wanted more Black actors and films nominated and winning awards regardless of their artistic merit...and sure enough we got more Black artists and films winning Oscars. To their great discredit the Academy managed to water down the prestige of the Oscars by making it based on identity and more a minority achievement award than one based on merit.  

The "Achievement in Popular Film" award is once again another attempt by the Academy to water down the awards and is a blatant attempt to make sure that the stultifyingly average Black Panther wins an Oscar, even though it is, at best, the third best comic book film of the year so far (behind Infinity War and Deadpool 2).

I bet dollars to donuts that the Academy will also prop up with nominations other identity-driven "popular" films like...God help us all...A Wrinkle in Time...in order to pad their "woke" bona fides. This is the shameless beast that has been unleashed by the Academy of dopes desperate to snag television ratings in an ever splintering television market.

Sadly, by watering down the prestige of the award, the Oscars are unwittingly creating a much larger pool of competition for viewers attention for themselves. Since the Oscars are no longer the gold standard of awards they have sullied themselves enough to be lumped in among the hoi polloi of other forgettable awards like the Golden Globes, People's Choice Awards and MTV movie awards and the like.

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By stooping to appease a non-existent audience yearning for blockbusters to be included in a prestigious industry insider event, the Academy Awards have cut off their nose to spite their face. It is a foolish, hapless and hopeless maneuver, and its level of delusion reminds me of Norma Desmond's famous line from Sunset Boulevard, "All right Mr. DeMille, I'm ready for my close-up!"

Rest assured, the Academy's attempts to be relevant will only hasten to make it all the more irrelevant.

MILLENNIALS

I read an article in The Guardian last week that claimed that there was a survey taken that asked Millennials what movies from the 2010's should be put in a time capsule. I will get to their answers in a moment, but let me first say that I have no idea what the survey question was, or who did the survey or any of the parameters of the survey because the hack who wrote this dreadful column, Stuart Heritage, never tells me or provides a link. Great work, Stuart. How this numbnuts can be employed as a writer at a major newspaper is beyond me.

Now...back to the list of films that millennials allegedly chose for the time capsule. Here it is...

1. Star Wars: The Force Awakens
2. Black Panther
3. Frozen
4. Wonder Woman
5. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part II
6. La La Land
7. Fifty Shades of Grey
8. Moana
9. Get Out
10. Coco
11. Moonlight
12. The Social Network
13. The Greatest Showman
14. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
15. Blade Runner 2049
16. Call Me By Your Name
17. The Post
18. Spotlight

Ummm...my initial reaction is this...what in the fuck is wrong with millennials? I mean, Holy Shit that list is an abomination.

Out of the top ten, only two films are even decent, Wonder Woman and La La Land, and only La La Land is cinematically noteworthy.

As for 10 through 18, The Social Network is the best choice on the entire list, as it perfectly encapsulates the cold, disconnected social media world in which we live. Even though I disagree with it, I can see why they'd choose Moonlight, it did win Best Picture after all, as did Spotlight, a choice with which I can agree. But The Post? Call Me By Your Name? The Greatest Showman? What in the hell is wrong with these people?

As for the problems with the top ten they seem so glaring as to be obvious...why in the world would anyone in their right mind have Star Wars: The Force Awakens, the seventh movie in a franchise that was iconic back in the 70's, as the number one choice for anything? Black Panther? Frozen? The eight and final film of the Harry Potter franchise? The steaming pile of cinematic excrement also known as Fifty Shades of Grey?

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What this list shows me is that millennials are corporatized and infantilized to such a degree that they are morally distorted beyond human recognition. For example, seven of the top ten films are franchise or Disney animated kid's films. This is contrasted by number sixteen, Call Me By Your Name, which is a pedophile love story and number seven, Fifty Shades of Grey, which is a degenerate story of sadism and masochism. So you have a generation emotionally and intellectually stunted who have been conditioned to enjoy childish entertainments and yearn to be sexually controlled or manipulated by a dominant elder. Yikes.

I am joking...about millennials...sort of. I actually coach a lot of millennials and have found them to be a decent bunch of human beings whose main failings are that they are addictively myopic to a self-destructive degree. That said, what concerns me most about them is their taste in film...which according to this survey is atrocious.

Here is a list, off the top of my head, for films that I nominate to put in the time capsule. This isn't the list of best films, but a mix of best, most relevant and most insightful about the decade. In no particular order...

Hell or High Water, Sicario, Phantom Thread, The Master, Dunkirk, Inception, Ex Machina, The Social Network, A Quiet Place, The Big Short, Whiplash, Nightcrawler, The Tree of Life, Django Unchained, Her, 12 Years a Slave, Deadpool, Logan, Thor: Ragnarok, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes and War for the Planet of the Apes.

BRIE LARSON

Back in June, according to Variety, Brie Larson said this at the heretofore unheard of Crystal and Lucy Awards show,

“Am I saying I hate white dudes? No, I’m not"...

But then she went on to say...

"I don’t want to hear what a white man has to say about ‘A Wrinkle in Time.’ I want to hear what a woman of color, a biracial woman has to say about the film. I want to hear what teenagers think about the film.”

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“If you make a movie that is a love letter to women of color, there is a chance that a woman of color does not have access to review and critique your film,” she said, while revealing plans to roll out an opt-in program that will provide studios with access to underrepresented journalists and critics. “Do not say the talent is not there, because it is.”

Ok. Well...let me preface this by saying, just like Brie Larson doesn't hate "White dudes", I don't hate White "chicks" or "chicks" of any color...BUT...that being said, I think Brie Larson may have huffed a little too much King Kong dung.

Let's embrace Ms. Larson's logic for a moment and see where that gets us. Fine...she doesn't want to hear what White "dudes" think of A Wrinkle in Time. Great...so then White dudes don't have to go see that piece of shit movie...thank you...that is a relief.

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According to Ms. Larson, that movie is a love letter to teens of color, I wonder if the director Ava DuVernay told Disney that before she got financing, that she was only interesting in teen girls and girls of color seeing the movie? Disney would have absolutely loved that idea since, as their history shows, they don't care about money at all. Also, Brilliant Brie might want to consider what it means for the box office if a film is meant to exclude White dudes, she might discover that White dudes not seeing a movie could possibly, maybe...oh, I don't know...hurt the film at the box office? Maybe Ms. Larson might reconsider that alienating "White dudes" might end up being not such a great deal for the filmmaker or the people at Disney.

And is A Wrinkle in Time really hill Ms. Larson wants to plant her flag on in trying to make the case for more diversity in film criticism? The film has a 40% critical score at Rotten Tomatoes, which Ms. Larson will no doubt blame on vicious White male critics, but the problem with that is the audience score, which is no doubt made from many women, women of color and teens, is a dismal 29. So instead of implying White male critics sabotaged A Wrinkle in Time's chances for success, maybe she should listen to all the female and minority amateur critics who are saying the movie sucks.

Ms. Larson's Identity-Based Critic Policy basically mirrors the argument heard from nerds she would deem hateful in regards to Gamergate and Star Wars movies and such. Nerd stuff is overwhelmingly guy stuff, and so if we follow Ms. Larson's own rules, women are no longer allowed to review stuff made for guys...you know...like Star Wars and Marvel movies...or Martin Scorsese, PT Anderson, Terence Malick or Christopher Nolan films. I am happy about that because, like how Ms. Larson doesn't hate "White dudes", I don't hate "chicks", and just like Ms. Larson doesn't "want to hear what white dudes think of A Wrinkle in Time" and wants their voices excluded regarding "chick flicks", I want all chick's voices regarding the aforementioned guy projects to be silenced.

Much like Ms. Larson's feelings regarding White male critics, I think the opinion of female critics taints the films they review and skews it towards a feminist perspective...so they all must go!! Leave guy stuff for guys and girls stuff for girls. I'll bask in the blockbuster entertainment of Star Wars and Marvel movies and basically all the best cinema on the planet while chicks get to have Ava DuVernay girlie junk like A Wrinkle in Time and the Sex and the City movies. Sweet deal!!

Does any of that sound rational at all? Of course not, it sounds hateful, bigoted, vicious and entirely counter productive. So maybe Ms. Larson should try and actually think before she speaks and takes actions against an entire group of people based on nothing but their race and gender.

And finally...Ms. Larson's demand that I not say that "there is no talent there"...is something I will completely ignore. There is no talent there...you know how I know that? Because if there were talent there, these allegedly ignored minority/female critics would write a review and someone would read it and like it. How do I know that? Because that is what I did and now I have people all over the world reading my reviews and I never had any special access to film festivals or studios or any special program to give me a leg up...hell, I never even used Facebook or Twitter...ever.

It is amazing that all you have to do to become a writer is to...you know...write something. In my case, I love cinema, I studied it as a young man and now I write about and some people read it...there is absolutely nothing stopping women or minorities from doing exactly the same thing...nothing.

And by the way Ms. Larson...there is plenty of access for writers to write film reviews...tons in fact...look at me...I review films on my blog...amazing...how did I think of something so ingenious? People can write reviews on Facebook or they can write reviews and leave them on Rotten Tomatoes if they like..lots and lots of people do!

So instead of bitching about lack of access or diversity or opportunity, why not encourage women and women of color to actually, you know, learn something about cinema and then actually write reviews of the movies they see. What an incredible idea!! But Brie Larson wouldn't go for that because all that matters to her and her ilk is a person's identity, not their ability.

RUBY ROSE - BATWOMAN

Speaking of the bat shit crazy world of identity politics, there is now the story of the outrage over Australian actress Ruby Rose being cast as Batwoman in the CW's "Arrowverse". Ms. Rose has quit Twitter (a healthy choice) and Instagram because of the vitriol she has received in response to her casting.

Now, Ms. Rose is not the first actor to face a backlash by fans after being cast to play a beloved character. The choice of Michael Keaton to play Batman in Tim Burton's original film and Heath Ledger being chosen as The Joker in The Dark Knight were both met with cries of despair and anger from the DC comic fan base.

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What makes the outcry over Ms. Rose's casting is that those creating the uproar are not "fanboys", but "fangirls" in general and lesbian and Jewish fangirls to be more precise. You see Batwoman, according to the DC comic book canon, is a Jewish lesbian and apparently Ms. Rose, who has been out as a lesbian since she was 12, has been deemed not "gay enough" for the lesbian contingent and she is not Jewish at all which offends some in the Jewish fanbase.

Obviously, this is identity politics run amok. Actors can play characters that are not exactly like them...gay actors can play straight characters and straight actors can play gay characters. This is what acting is...and if identity politics adherents in Hollywood want to really think about it, by holding such stringent requirements for actors that they can only play roles for which they already "identify" in their real lives, then it is minority actors who will suffer most.

For example, in a recent New York Times op-ed by Jennifer Finley Boylan (a transgender woman), Ms. Boylan wrote that she thought Scarlett Johannsson should not play a trangender character because she isn't trans. I get the feeling behind the thought, but taken to its logical conclusion that means that trans actors can only play trans characters...and gay actors can only play gay characters. Therefore, since LGBTQ people make up about 3.8% of the population, there will be a considerable disadvantage for LGBTQ actors to get work since there will be far fewer characters that identify as LGBTQ just because of the reality of their statistical insignificance in the general population.

I find the identity politics fury and the charges of "cultural appropriation" and things like that to be so devoid of substance as to be ridiculously absurd. My counter argument is that we should be judging actors, writers, filmmakers and other artists on the quality of their work not on whether or not they check the right identities on the racial, ethnic, sexual and gender boxes.

I would like to say that this storm of idiotic identity politics will pass...but I have a sinking feeling this is the way it is going to be from here on out, and the arts are going to suffer greatly because of it.

JOHN OLIVER

No discussion of awful things is complete without mentioning John Oliver.

This past Sunday John Oliver did a brief bit on Saudi Arabia being pissed at Canada during his God awful show Last Week Tonight. It was...as usual...the most flaccid and impotent of comedy imaginable. What made it egregiously insipid and insidious though was that Oliver never mentioned the U.S. involvement in the grotesque war and genocide in Yemen. It is like the war in Yemen barely exists and even if it does then America certainly has nothing to do with it. This whole segment is strong evidence in my case claiming Oliver is a shamelessly venal shill for American neo-liberalism and the establishment.

To Oliver's credit, he did mention, sort of, Saudi Arabia's involvement in 9-11, something he has failed to do in the past...but again never spoke of the oddity of the US supporting a brutal dictatorship that is not only committing war crimes and genocide in Yemen and being aided and abetted in those war crimes and atrocities by the U.S.)...but attacked the U.S. on 9-11 and killed 3,000 people.

Instead of spending his precious HBO time making liberals painfully aware of the atrocities in Yemen and America's complicity in that evil, Oliver instead did a lengthy piece on that most pressing of issues...astroturf (fake populist ads)...oooh...how daring! Oliver is such a dissembler and disinformation agent that it is staggering and frankly horrifically disheartening that so many liberals hang on his every word and take it for gospel truth.

The bottom line is this...John Oliver is a scumbag shill of the highest order. I think we should toss him in a sack and fucking airmail this useless douchebag back to whatever British shithole he crawled out of.

And thus ends a brief foray into my Awful File...sadly, it is still chock full of awfulness but I don't have the heart to keep going through it. But know this, there is always one thing you can count on...the Awful File will never run out of material.

©2018

 

BlacKkKlansman: A Review

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

My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

My Recommendation: SEE IT. A flawed but insightful, incisive and compelling film that speaks to the struggles of our time.

BlacKkKlansman, directed by Spike Lee and written by Lee and a coterie of others (based on the book Black Klansman by Ron Stallworth), is the true story of Ron Stallworth, a Black cop in Colorado Springs who infiltrates the Ku Klux Klan. The film stars John David Washington as Stallworth, with supporting turns from Adam Driver, Laura Harrier and Topher Grace.

At one time, in the late 1980's and early 1990's, Spike Lee was one of the most important filmmakers in cinema. His breakthrough film, 1989's Do the Right Thing, which featured Lee's signature aesthetic of humor, drama and cultural commentary was an explosive piece of cinema that catapulted Lee into the spotlight and into the hearts of cinephiles everywhere.

Lee followed up Do the Right Thing with two films that weren't quite as ground breaking but were noteworthy films nonetheless, Mo' Better Blues (1990) and Jungle Fever (1991). Following those two critical and commercial successes Lee then made his masterpiece, the phenomenal Malcolm X (1992), which is a staggering cinematic achievement.

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After reaching the summit with Malcolm X, the cinematic world seemed his for the taking, but then something strange happened to Spike Lee...he lost his fastball. I am not sure why it happened, whether it was a case of the muse abandoning him, his mojo shrinking, his spirit being broken or his just not giving a shit anymore, but I know it most certainly did happened. To be clear, he didn't lose it all at once...but there was a noticeable and precipitous decline in the quality and artistry of his work in the wake of Malcolm X.

The middling movies Crooklyn, Clockers, Get on the Bus, He Got Game and Summer of Sam are all painfully lackluster efforts, especially in the shadow of the murderers row of Do the Right Thing, Mo' Better Blues, Jungle Fever and the Babe Ruth of the canon Malcolm X. The precipitous decline in Lee's filmmaking ability was equaled by his fall from cinematic relevance.

Lee wasn't just losing his artistic and critical fastball, the box office had left him as well as none of those films even made back their production budgets, making this unfortunate streak a near death blow to Lee's career. Directors can churn out average and below average films for decades...but only if they make their investors money or at the very least do not lose their investors money...a perfect example is Ron Howard.

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The last Spike Lee film I saw in the theatre was also the first Spike Lee film to make any money since Malcom X, and that was 2002's 25th Hour. Three things stood out about this movie in regards to Lee's other films, the first is that it is a story about a White protagonist and stars a White cast. Secondly, it made more profit than all of the previous seven second tier Lee films (post Malcolm X) combined, and actually made more in net profit than even Malcolm X. And third, even though I thoroughly enjoyed 25th Hour, it was not a "Spike Lee film" as his signature aesthetic was noticeably absent. While I hoped 25th Hour signaled a new phase in Lee's career and began his long climb back into relevance...it didn't. Lee's descent into cinematic irrelevance only seemed to quicken its pace.

In 2006, Lee had a financial hit on his hands with the film Inside Man (which was originally supposed to be directed by...ironically, Ron Howard), but while the box office was stellar, the biggest of his career, Lee's artistry was lacking, and the movie was little more than a Denzel Washington star vehicle rather than a Spike Lee joint, and again, could have been directed by anyone. After Inside Man the wheels came off the cinematic wagon for Lee as he churned out a string of films, one more awful and irrelevant than the next.

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Which brings us to BlacKKKlansman. With BlacKKKlansman Spike Lee has done something extraordinary...he got his fastball back. Now, it isn't all the way back, not by a long shot. If Lee was throwing 98 MPH heat in his early 90's heyday, and in his post-Malcolm X phase dropped to an anemic 90 MPH, and in the last decade has been hurling up grotesque 84 MPH meatballs, with BlacKKKlansman he hits a solid and very respectable 92 to 94 MPH on the radar gun.

The story of BlacKKKlansman is the right story at the right time with the right filmmaker. BlacKkKlansman is right in Spike Lee's wheelhouse and shows him to be artistically and cinematically invigorated by the material because it allows him to highlight his best quality...namely his flair for mixing of humor, politics and cultural commentary. Though not as sharply crafted as his sterling early works, this movie is easily Lee's best effort in the last 25 years, hands down. It is vibrantly relevant, pulsatingly alive and at times gloriously infectious.

Lee's direction is energetic as he unfurls an insightful and incisive story that lays bare the perilously combustible nature of our time. Lee's politics, particularly his racial politics, have always been overt in his films, but in BlacKKKlansman he is not only able to get a blunt and brazen message across out in the open, but also covertly weaves a subtler, yet ultimately more nuanced, mature and impactful political message just beneath the emotionally furious surface of the film.

As much as some may take this film as an anti-White and pro-Black screed, they would be missing the deeper messages embedded in the movie. If you can leave your preconceived notions at the door and watch the film looking for Lee's masterful weaving together of the dynamics at play in the Black and White power struggle, you will be surprised, if not downright shocked, as to what the film is telling/teaching you. In my reading of the film Lee's vision is not so starkly black and white (pardon the pun) but he appears to be trying to find allies where he once saw enemies, and is trying to solve problems rather than exacerbate them.

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The film's star, John David Washington, gives a charismatic and magnetic performance as Ron Stallworth. Unbeknownst to me prior to seeing the movie, John David is Denzel Washington's son, and the apple doesn't fall far from the tree. John David is certainly not the skillful actor and master craftsman his father is...but that is an unfair bar to set...rather John David is his own actor, and to his benefit he isn't a look-alike of his father either. John David does have his father's undeniable charisma and charm though and he carries this film from start to finish with aplomb and ease. Funny, likeable and genuine, John David Washington's confidence never crosses the river into arrogance, and that is a quality that will serve him well in the future, which will hopefully be very bright.

Adam Driver is an actor I generally do not understand. I do no think he is very good and cannot for the life of me understand why other people do. That said, he does solid work in BlacKKKlansman and is an asset to the movie. Driver's character is a bit underwritten, but he makes the most of what he is given.

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The luminous Laura Harrier plays Patrice, the love interest of Ron, and she is excellent. Harrier is able to embue Patrice with not only a determined strength, but a nagging fragility that is compelling to behold. Harrier makes Patrice a complex character where a lesser actress would've made her a two-dimensional bore.

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Topher Grace is spectacular as Klan leader David Duke (yes, THAT David Duke). Topher's performance is so understated and comedically genius as to be sublime. Of course, Topher is aided by the fact that David Duke is such a repulsive and captivating character as to be amazing, but to Topher's credit, he does not make Duke a caricature but rather a very real and genuine human being. Topher's ability to seamlessly and subtly make the Duke character's emotional transitions elevates the film considerably.

It is also worth noting that two actors give terrific performances in very small parts. Alec Baldwin has a cameo as Dr. Kennebrew Beaureguard, and he crushes his minimal screen time, which was a treat since the last time I saw him he was embarrassing himself with his hackneyed performance in Mission Impossible. And Corey Hawkins has a small supporting role as Kwame Ture (Stokely Carmichael) that is electric. The scene where Ture gives a speech is one of the best in the film and Hawkins' performance (and Lee's direction) is dynamic.

As much as I liked BlacKKKlansman, it isn't a perfect film. I thought the Klansman characters were very poorly written, or underwritten as the case may be. The caricature of all Klansman as stupid and redneck is a cheap and easy way to make fun of them, but a bad way to make the case that racism is a prevalent and predominant evil in our society. The Klansmen in the movie lack a genuine desperation and fear which would make them much more complicated (and believable) characters instead of being the cartoon cutouts that are only motivated by sheer lack of I.Q./hate that the movie makes them out to be.

Lee may have some of his fastball back, but certainly not all of it. The final 1/3 or 1/4 of the film shows the cracks in Lee's skill level. As the story accelerates towards its climax Lee's direction gets messy if not downright sloppy. Lee's cinematic incoherence is matched by some dubious writing and plot twists that make for a muddled and mundane finale to an otherwise pretty riveting narrative.

Lee then adds a coda to the film that is completely extraneous, indulgent, logically absurd and frankly embarrassingly idiotic, that in many ways scuttles the exquisite cinematic experience of the movie. This coda is so amateurish and dreadfully awful it is truly amazing, so much so that I felt myself and my opinion of the movie deflating as the scene wore on. This scene feels like it is from a bad high school morality play rather than a quality piece of cinema. But then...Lee redeems himself with a second coda that ends the movie...which I will not spoil...only to say that it is dramatic and emotional dynamite and is extremely well-done and poignant.

In conclusion, BlacKKKlansman is easily Spike Lee's best film of the last 25 years. It is a relevant piece of cinema that speaks to the troubles of our time by equating it with the troubles in our past. Buoyed by a strong lead performance from John David Washington, BlacKKKlansman is a smart, often subtle and insightful film that packs a wallop, and is well-worth your time and money to go see in the theatre.

©2018

Thar He Blows: Charles Blow Has a Question...I Have an Answer

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Estimated Reading Time: 5 minutes 48 seconds

This past Friday, after a very long day, I sat down to try and unwind by watching some television. I then remembered that my work was not yet done as it was Friday and that meant Bill Maher's Real Time with Bill Maher was on and I would be obligated to watch that heinous show so that you dear readers wouldn't have to. So I turned on HBO, sat back and took in the vacuous shitshow.

After Maher's as-usual completely forgettable monologue, Little Bill fellated Intelligence agency charlatan Malcom Nance, including using Maher's signature pucker up line, "thank you for your service". One of the many downsides of having a con artist reality TV president is that dung beetles like Malcolm Nance crawl out from their pile of shit to inflate themselves and exploit the wishful thinking opposition in order to cash in on their 15 minutes of fame.

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After Maher wiped his chin of Nance's precious bodily fluids, this week's panel of mid-wits arrived, led by Steve Schmidt, the former Republican strategist. Schmidt, or as I affectionately call him Schmidty, in a glaring case of 'the lady doth protests too much, methinks", now is a rabid anti-Trumper and blames Trump for absolutely everything wrong with America and the Republican party. I think it is awesome how Schmidty and every liberal, Maher included, who have him on as a guest totally forgets that it was good ole Schmidty who thrust Alaska's genius hockey mom Sarah Palin onto the American people in 2008, thus unleashing the voracious beast of American Idiocy into the mainstream of politics. In keeping with the current media trend of revisionist history or outright ahistoricalism, Sarah Palin, or as I call her Poor Lady Trump, was never mentioned on Real Time.

The other two panelists were pollster Kristen Soltis Anderson, who seemed very out of place on the show because she is someone who bases her opinions on facts and numbers as opposed to emotions, and the aptly named Charles Blow, the resident hysteric and columnist at New York Times.

Reading Blow in the Times is one of the more uncomfortable things I have to do in my life...not because he reveals uncomfortable bold truths or anything, but because his writing is little more than masturbation meant to derive his own self-pleasure rather than illuminate or elucidate an issue or perspective.

Blow writes essentially the same column every single week where he ejaculates his self-serving emotionalist nonsense that only the most ardent true believers take seriously. Blow's formula begins by his proving to his liberal admirers that his panties are in a perpetual bunch and finishes with his bitching and moaning that Trump is a racist who must be stopped. Wash. Rinse. Repeat.

In keeping with Blow's signature irrational emotionalism, on Maher's show he vomited his standard holier-than-thou diatribes and was a bookend to the self-righteous and self-delusional pontificating done by Sarah Palin's enabler and accomplice Steve Schmidt.

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The most interesting guest was the final interview, Duke University professor Nancy MacLean. MacLean, author of the book "Democracy in Chains", was a rapid fire information machine as she spoke fast and furious in a bid to get all of her very relevant and insightful knowledge to a wider audience before Maher interrupted with his usual buffoonery. Watching the thoroughly informed and insightful MacLean I wished that she had a weekly show in HBO instead of Maher, granted she isn't a comedian but God knows neither is Little Bill.

As the show wore down MacLean made some vital points about liberals needing to stop being distracted by Trump and his tweets and instead to look at the long game and what the Koch brothers are doing. She also said that liberals should be more curious about the other side and read what they are writing and talking about. Maybe I liked Ms. MacLean so much because she sounded a hell of a lot like me.

Ms. MacLean finished her breathless dissertation by saying liberals need to be much more "strategic" in dealing with Trump voters...and that comment was what triggered Charles Blow to jump in. Blow rose up in his chair and asked Ms. MacLean accusatorily, "I'm curious about that argument, I keep hearing it...but...how do you meet a bigot halfway?"

Blow's comment was received with rapturous applause by the dopes and dullards in Little Bill's studio audience, and Blow responded as smugly as he could, like a toddler proud of the mess in his diaper.

Blow followed up by declaring "it was curious" that people keep asking how to make White people less anxious. Ms. MacLean never got a chance to respond to Blow's veiled accusation because both Schmidty and Little Bill chimed in with nonsensical comments of their own and then the show ended...thank the good Lord.

But since Mr. Blow opined..."how do you meet a bigot halfway?"...I thought I'd answer him. You meet a bigot halfway by finding common ground between you. For instance, like common economic issues such as de-unionization that adversely affect working class Black, White, Latino and Asian people who are routinely exploited and feel immense economic anxiety under the boot of American capitalism. Gee...meeting a bigot halfway by finding common ground wasn't so hard at all.

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Of course, the real question Blow is asking is not "how" you meet a bigot halfway...but "why" you would meet a bigot halfway. The answer to that is pretty clear too...you meet a bigot halfway because it is in your best interest to do so. How could working with bigots be in your best interest...oh...I don't know...by maybe being a strategically wise thing to do to advance your agenda and make allies where enemies once stood. So, to use our first example, Black, White, Latino and Asian working class people could see put aside their racial bigotry in order to come together (in a union maybe) and demand better pay, working conditions etc. In this example economic issues trump bigotry.

Blow, and most of #TheResistence, believe that anyone who voted Trump is a irredeemable racist. This conveniently ignores all the Trump voters who voted for Obama and then voted Trump in 2016 or who were fed up with business as usual in Washington and chose Trump to shake things up. You can call those people bigots if you like, but it is strategically unwise and as a matter of fact, difficult to prove based on previous actions, namely voting for a Black man for president twice, thus revealing that calling all Trump voters bigots is actually a form if ignorant bigotry.

In Blow's hypocrisy is glaring on the "meeting bigots halfway" issue, as in his own life he meets bigots halfway all the time. It is ironic that Blow would publicly ask "how do you meet a bigot halfway" the same week that the New York Times hired Sarah Jeong to their editorial board, as Ms. Jeong has been exposed as an anti-White bigot after it was revealed that she wrote numerous anti-White racist screeds on social media. So Charles Blow has met anti-White bigot Sarah Jeong halfway by ignoring her predicament in his weekly column and never mentioning it on Maher's show.

Blow has also previously proven himself capable of meeting bigots halfway in order to find common cause...like how he doesn't chastise and attack the Black community for their long and notorious history of bigotry against LGBTQ people...of which Mr. Blow is one.

Blow is able to meet his own community of African-Americans halfway even though there has been historic animosity towards people of Mr. Blow's sexual persuasion, and he is also able to meet Ms. Jeong halfway even though she is bigoted but he is unable to fathom why or how he could ever meet allegedly bigoted Trump voters halfway....I find that...to borrow a loaded accusational word from Mr. Blow himself..."curious".

As for Blow's "curiosity" regarding why people are interested in how to make White people comfortable...the answer is extraordinarily obvious too. White people are nearly 70% of the U.S. population. Making them feel comfortable is obviously important because besides being the overwhelming majority of the population, they are also the overwhelming majority of the electorate. Ignoring White people is electoral suicide.

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And just to make the math even more clear...White's are two-thirds of the population and Mr. Blow's racial group, African-Americans, make up roughly 14% of the population. So...it is pretty glaringly obvious why understanding the White voter is important if you want to succeed. I understand Blow's discomfort with the reality of his minority status, and I keep hearing that White's will soon become a "minority" in America...but I have bad news for Mr. Blow...that still doesn't mean that he will be able to ignore White people in the future. America will supposedly become a minority majority country by 2050, but White's will still be largest minority group and African-American's will, if historical trends hold, be an even smaller minority as their population will decline while Latino and Asian populations grow.

The bottom line is this, as much as it pains Blow to "meet bigots halfway" or to have to 'understand White people', if he wants to advance his agenda, it would be in his best interest to do both of those things.

The reality is that Blow claims he doesn't know how to "meet bigots haflway" because he is full of emotionalist shit. Blow is emblematic of the hysterical, effeminate and inept bunch of fools leading the alleged resistance against Trump. The problem is that Blow is the flip side of the same coin as Trump. Blow is downright Trumpian in the scope and scale of his embrace of victimhood and his naked tribalism and emotionalism. Just like Trump, Blow is self-righteously full of himself and is unquestioningly positive that he is totally 100% "right".

Blow's blindness to his own bigotry and the bigotry of his own side, which was brazenly on display even during his guest appearance on Maher's show, where Little Bill did a bunch of impotent gags making fun of Christians, is staggering. Just like Little Bill's tv show, Blow's commentary is shallow, vapid and vacuous commentary and should be an embarrassment to all thinking liberals.

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The truth is that yes, White people are bigots, but so are Black people, Asians, Latinos and any other "group" you want to mention. Even the liberal saint Charles Blow is a bigot, but he thinks bigotry for his own side is no bigotry at all. In the case of Charles Blow, bigotry is only something other people are guilty of, and if Blow were able to recognize his own bigotry and put aside his intellectual and political paralysis in the face of what he deems White bigotry, just like he is able to do at work and in the Black community, then he might be able to convince others to help  do what he claims is so imperative...namely to topple the "racist" Trump. But that isn't Charles Blow's, #TheResistance or the New York Times business model...they are more interesting in satiating their audience's desire to feel morally and intellectually superior...so that ain't gonna happen...thus proving that the establishment is not interested in actual change, just emotional catharsis through venting while maintaining the status quo.

As the mid-term elections fast approach, and right on their heels the 2020 presidential election, establishment Democrats like Blow better quickly come to understand that outrage isn't a strategy, fury isn't a plan and quenching your emotional needs will not solve the problem. Locking yourself in the self-gratifying Charles Blow echo chamber and ignoring reality will not defeat your enemy. If the threat of Trump is as grave as Democrats keep saying it is then they better start acting accordingly. Charles Blow is an establishment errand boy, a sheep in #Resistance wolf clothing. He is a pied piper of failure, follow him and mimic his thought process and liberals will end up in an even worse spot than they are now.

So to answer the question...how do you meet a bigot halfway, Charles Blow? You think and act strategically by keeping your eyes on the big picture prize and your myopic, self-righteous, self-serving and self-defeating diatribes in the closet.

©2018