"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

You Were Never Really Here: A Review

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

My Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

My Recommendation: SEE IT - A terrific film but be forewarned, it is marketed as a more conventional action-thriller but it is art house cinema to the core. If your tastes run to the more mainstream, you will probably hate this movie. 

You Were Never Really Here, written and directed by Lynne Ramsay (based on the book of the same name by Jonathan Ames), is the story of Joe, a former military and law enforcement man who rescues girls who are being trafficked in the sex trade. The film stars Joaquin Phoenix as Joe, with supporting performances from Ekaterina Samsonov and Judith Roberts.

If Taxi Driver and Blue Velvet went on a date, the movie they'd go see would be Lynne Ramsay's You Were Never Really Here. While not being quite the cinematic masterpieces that are those two films, You Were Never Really Here is still the best movie I've seen so far this year due to the originality and skill of its director, Lynne Ramsay, and the otherworldly talent of its lead actor, Joaquin Phoenix. 

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You Were Never Really Here is a wonderfully ambitious, hypnotically tense, taut and dark art house character study. Director Ramsay has created a mesmerizing impressionist PTSD fever dream that is both unsettling and enlightening.

The film is fueled by Joaquin Phoenix's staggering performance as Joe, a tortured soul struggling to navigate the world as he spirals downward through it. Phoenix is the greatest actor working on the planet right now, and his Joe is a testament to his talent, mastery of craft and artistic commitment. Seen in conjunction with his powerful work in The Master, Phoenix's performance in You Were Never Really Here puts him onto the Mount Rushmore of actors. 

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Phoenix seamlessly morphs into the muscular Joe, a husky vigilante who inflicts his righteous violence upon the wicked with a ball-peen hammer. Phoenix's Joe has a plodding and heavy gait accompanied by thunderous footsteps, aided by the sound department, that land with a resounding thud. Joe walks heavy on the earth because of the burdensome cross he has to bear. Like a giant, twisted oak tree swaying in the wind, Joe yearns to break free from this world of pain and fly off to the stars, but his sentence is to be welded firmly to the ground and to suffer the most heinous slings and arrows that life can conjure. 

Joe is undoubtedly a fallen angel, and even has the scars where wings used to be to prove it, but like some cross between Chiron, Sisyphus and a hammer wielding Thor, he has turned his punishment into penance, and tries to redeem himself by saving others. 

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Phoenix's performance is that of an open nerve simultaneously screaming out in agony and trying to kill itself to deaden the pain. Intense, magnetic and menacing, Phoenix uses strategic stillness and silence mixed with a ferociously vivid inner life and intentionality to create a Joe that is ominously compelling.

Lynne Ramsay has directed some intrigueing films in the past, the most notable being the stellar Ratcatcher and We Need To Talk About Kevin. Never a slave to convention, Ramsay turns the vigilante genre on its head in You Were Never Really Here by throwing the audience into the twisted psyche of her protagonist, Joe. With the brief, unexplained and impressionist glimpses into Joe's past, Ramsay relies on her audience to put the pieces together. More conventional audiences, weened on Spielberg films, will no doubt recoil at such demands from a director who bravely asks questions as opposed to gives answers, but those who dare accept the challenge receive the gift of exquisite cinema.

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Ramsay and cinematographer Thomas Townend use different camera and film styles to create intimacy and tension within viewers. Townend's use of light and shadow and his subdued color palette give the film a gritty yet surreal visual aesthetic that perfectly matches the subtext of the movie. 

Even though You Were Never Here is certainly a violent film, the decision by Ramsay to, unlike Taxi Driver, not show an orgy of violence is an interesting one. I understand the thinking that could go into making that decision, and while I disagree with that aesthetic choice, I respect Ramsay's stylistic commitment. By not explicitly showing the violence, Ramsay never allows the audience to feel cathartic relief from the torture inflicted upon Joe's soul.

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I also admired Ramsay's deft use of music, which is very reminiscent of Blue Velvet, as is the theme of revealing the insidious rot just beneath the veneer of normalcy in America. Ramsay's use of camera movement and the setting of New York would seem to be tributes to Scorsese's Taxi Driver, and that too is thematically appropriate, as Joe could be Travis Bickle's nephew. 

You Were Never Really Here is in many ways an unconventional film and viewers should be aware of that going in. If you watch the film as just a straight forward exercise in storytelling, and nit-pick inconsistencies and demand more realistic unfolding of events, then you will be both frustrated and disappointed and miss the gem hiding just beneath the movies surface. But if you watch the film as if it were a PTSD inspired dream/nightmare of Joe, with all of the improbabilities and inconsistencies that go along with that scenario, then You Were Never Really Here is both an invigorating and satisfying cinematic experience. My recommendation to anyone who goes to see the film is to suspend your disbelief and watch it less as a narrative adventure and more as a character study that dives into the mind of a tortured soul. 

Keeping that advice in mind, I highly recommend any viewers who enjoy art house cinema to go see You Were Never Really Here as fast as you can…because a film like this may actually leave theaters so fast it will feel like it was never really here. For cinephiles it would be a sin to miss this movie and Joaquin Phoenix's truly magnificent performance. For less adventurous movie-goers, You Were Never Really Here might be an art house bridge too far, as it asks a lot of its audience and some people may be reluctant to abandon their familiar approach to watching films, but that will truly be their loss.

©2018

 

A VERY BRIEF COMMENTARY WITH SPOILERS

****WARNING: THIS SECTION CONTAINS BIG SPOILERS****

****SPOILERS AHEAD - YOUVE BEEN WARNED!!!****

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There is a storyline in You Were Never Really There where a pedophile ring that services very powerful men is involved. I know that some viewers will roll their eyes at this storyline thinking it is an absurd and improbable "conspiracy". I would caution against that response. 

If any readers are interested in the subject, there are a plethora of materials out there to check out, and they are all very disturbing but informative. 

My advice would be to go read up on Jeffrey Epstein and his "Lolita Express" airplane and his connection to Donald Trump, Bill Clinton and other powerful men including Alan Dershowitz. Epstein got busted for soliciting an underage girl for prostitution but got the deal of the century from the D.A. and barely spent any time in prison. I wonder why?

I recommend readers go check out the documentary Who Took Johnny? on Netflix as well. This is a very disturbing look into the disappearance of Johnny Gosch, the first milk carton kid, and the unseemly world hiding just beneath the surface of America. 

If you can find it, which is no easy task, I also recommend watching the documentary The Franklin Affair and reading up on that topic as well. The Franklin Affair is tied into the Johnny Gosch story as well. Considering we are currently being inundated with stories about how wonderful George HW Bush is, it might be enlightening for readers to come to know more about the darker sides of the man and how the Franklin Affair story got scuttled.  

And one final thing to keep in mind when trying to process the idea of powerful people abusing children with impunity…remember the extent of the Catholic church scandal, where not only the church, but police and courts protected abusers for decades and allowed them to continue to rape children.

Also remember just this past year when decades of abuse by the likes of Harvey Weinstein, Bill Cosby, Kevin Spacey, Brett Ratner and on and on came to light. You think Corey Feldman is crazy because he talks about high powered people in Hollywood preying on children? Well…Corey Feldman might be crazy…but he isn't wrong. Some of the most prominent and powerful people in Hollywood are monsters who devour children and they are hiding in plain sight. 

Jeffrey Epstein, Johnny Gosch, The Franklin Affair, The Church Scandal…these are all just the tip of the iceberg. Sadly, the reality is that the pedophile club in You Were Never Really Here is not as far fetched as we'd like to believe and is much more common than we'd like to think. Go read up on the subject and learn the uncomfortable truth. 

©2018

 

 

Ready Player One: A Review

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

My Rating: 2.75 out of 5 stars

My Recommendation: SEE IT/SKIP IT. If you like Spielbergian action movies, see it in the theater. If you are lukewarm or want some deeper meaning, there is no reason to see this movie even for free on cable or Netflix.

Ready Player One, directed by Steven Spielberg and written by Zak Penn and Ernest Cline (based upon Cline's book of the same name), is the science-fiction adventure story of 17 year-old orphan Wade West, a skilled gamer living in the slums of Columbus, Ohio who takes on a powerful technology company in a virtual reality game titled The Oasis. The film stars Tye Sheridan as Wade along with Olivia Cooke, Ben Mendelsohn, Mark Rylance and TJ Miller in supporting roles. 

I admit that I was less than enthused about going to see Ready Player One because I tend to find Steven Spielberg to be insufferable as a filmmaker. Spielberg's pedophiliac addiction to recreating child like wonder always feels contrived, formulaic and frankly, a bit creepy to me. It hasn't always been thus, as I think both Jaws and Close Encounters of the Third Kind are utter masterpieces, but as the 1970's receded so did Spielberg's balls along with his artistic and aesthetic originality. 

It was in this rather negative frame of mind that I went to see Ready Player One. When the film opened with the iconic keyboard introduction to Van Halen's 1984 mega-hit "Jump" off of their aptly titled album 1984, I have to admit, it got me. You see, as a teenager in the 80's I was a huge fan of Van Halen (and to be clear I was a fan of Van Halen, NOT Van Hagar…so do NOT bring any of that weak-ass Van Hagar shit in here…DO.NOT.DO IT.), so much so that my best friend Keith would routinely play the opening notes on his keyboard, which was my cue to find the nearest chair, couch or table from which I would do my flying split jumps David Lee Roth style. While this usually happened in the midst of a Jack Daniels induced haze, foggy memories remain and they are among the fondest of my young adulthood. 

The signature sound of Eddie Van Halen's keyboards was a striking synchronicity for me that did not just recall good times though, but also something much more existentially unsettling. The darkness recalled was the fact that this month, April (April 17 to be exact), is the 21st anniversary that my "Jump" playing friend Keith was killed. And so when I heard the start of that classic Van Halen song at the opening of Ready Player One, the overwhelming feeling that surged through me wasn't the giddy pulse of nostalgia that Spielberg anticipated, but a profound melancholy and emotional fragility. 

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It is somewhat ironic that I should be triggered to recount the crippling grief of losing a loved one at the beginning of a film where life is entirely disposable and when it is over just get a to hit a button and start over. The existential questions that boil up to the surface when attempting to contemplate the incomprehensible are ultimately unanswerable, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't ask them. Great artists and great art exists to ask those questions, and to let the silence of the eternal void be their answer. Ready Player One mimes asking big questions, but all it really does is provide easy answers, which renders it a sort of philosophical and artistic fool's gold wrapped in the shallow glitz of pop culture.  

As "Jump" played on, Eddie Van Halen's keyboard is supplemented by David Lee Roth's Spielbergian lyric which perfectly captures the 1980's ethos and quickly becomes the perfect anthem for Wade West, the protaganist of Ready Player One,

"I get up, and nothing gets me down, you've got it tough? I've seen the toughest soul around. And I know, baby just how you feel, you've got to roll with the punches, to get to what's real"

Spielberg's camera follows Wade as he makes his way through "the stacks", a maze of mobile homes piled on top of each other to create a ghetto of makeshift apartment buildings. This opening sequence is not a particularly skilled piece of filmmaking, in fact, it is pretty standard moviemaking, but it does effectively set the stage for the story, the myth and the subtext that lies ahead. 

The choice of Van Halen's "Jump" is not coincidental, and it reminded me of a quote that Joseph Campbell often used to repeat and which I have often repeated throughout my life. 

A bit of advice, given to a young Native American, at the time of his initiation: "As you go the way of life, you will see a great chasm. Jump. It is not as wide as you think."

The story of Ready Player One is that of Wade West and his Oasis alter ego Parzifal (paging Joseph Campbell and the Holy Grail!), finding the courage to "Jump". Wade West is being initiated from boyhood into manhood and he must pass the tests presented to him…sort of like in a video game…and in the case of Ready Player One…exactly like a video game. 

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Ready Player One is also an unabashed tribute mostly to the pop culture of the 80's (although other decades get slight nods as well), hence the use of Van Halen's "Jump", which is the quintessential 80's anthem from the quintessential 80's band. The movie is populated by, and littered with, the pop cultural remnants from that shoulder padded decade that gave us such cinematic signposts as Back to the Future, Ghostbusters and a cornucopia of John Hughes movies. Ready Player One is also Steven Spielberg's tribute to himself, as he was as much a shaper and creator of the pop-culture of the 1980's and beyond as anyone living or dead. 

Of course, Spielberg sees Ready Player One as an homage, but I see it more as an indictment, or to be even darker, a cinematic eulogy. Spielberg's overall impact on popular culture has been detrimental in deeply cataclysmic ways. As Spielberg ushered in the blockbuster era of moviemaking in the 1980's, he struck a death knell for the artistic renaissance of the Easy Rider-Raging Bull era of the 60's and 70's where auteurs flourished and quality cinema thrived. 

Spielberg's corporatized moviemaking was meant to reinforce the establishment, not rebel against it, as fellow filmmakers of his generation were often trying to do. Spielberg turned from a potential 1970's revolutionary artist to an 1980's establishment Praetorian Guard who churned out pop culture meant to embolden the status quo, appease those in power, anesthetize the masses and fatten his bank account. Spielberg has been a malignant force shaping popular culture for the last forty years, and because of that he is as much to blame as anyone for the artistic, intellectual and cultural decay that is besieging the American soul and which comes to life on screen in Ready Player One. Seen through this perspective, Spielberg's Ready Player One feels like a film about lung cancer made by The Marlboro Man. 

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As evidenced by my reaction to "Jump", I found Ready Player One's 80's nostalgia to be very manipulative, but as someone who grew up in that era, I can attest that it is at times very effectively deployed. But again, it is the end to which that nostalgic means is used with which I have an issue. Much like Trump's Make America Great Again was a nostalgic clarion call for the antisepticism of the 1950's, Spielberg's Ready Player One's nostalgia yearns for a decade just as suffocatingly conformist as the 1950's but even more toxic, the 1980's. 

Ready Player One's mythology, like the mythology of Reagan, Oprah and Spielberg's Baby-Boomer Corporate America where all life is commodified solely for profit, is one that contorts the human heart and psyche in order to make avarice and narcissism virtues and not vices. The form of cheap pop culture grace found in Ready Player One is meant to obfuscate our true humanity and maintain our delusional, money and celebrity centered society. 

Interestingly, Spielberg plays Van Halen's "Jump" for its entirety throughout the film's opening, which is rather striking as he is not a filmmaker, like Scorsese, known for utilizing pop or rock music to great effect. Spielberg's use of pop and rock music in Ready Player One though is done very well, and like the recent spate of television shows mining the 80's for music that can manipulate middle aged and younger generations simultaneously, Spielberg is wise to do so. 

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As much as watching Ready Player One is like watching someone else play a video game, the cavalcade of pop culture and musical references make it a much more palatable and intriguing experience than I imagined it could be. That is not to say that there aren't downfalls to watching a video game movie, there are, such as the characters looking weird and un-relatable and the action being way over the top. 

Like all Spielberg films, there are certainly moments that are so contrived and hackneyed as to be cringe-worthy. Spielberg has always struggled dealing with grounded, genuine human emotion and interaction, and so it is in Ready Player One, but he is aided in that dilemma by two charismatic and compelling performances from his leading actors, Tye Sheridan and Olivia Cooke. Both Sheridan and Cooke make lemonade out of the lemon of a script they are given that in the hands of lesser actors would have been disastrous. 

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TJ Miller and Mark Rylance both give quirky and interesting performances that I thoroughly enjoyed. Miller is an acquitted taste as an actor but I confess I have acquired it. Rylance is his usual, odd, enigmatic and intriguing self as James Halliday, the creator of The Oasis, and the film is better for it. Both actors are able to elevate the rather mundane material they are given. 

On the down side, Ben Mendelsohn plays corporate bad guy Nolan Sorrento and he never quite musters the focused energy and gravitas needed to play such a pivotal villain. Lena Waithe, Phillip Zhao and Win Morisaki are all pretty underwhelming as well in supporting roles that feel terribly under written and reek of tokenism. 

Another issue I had was that there are some scenes that are "flashbacks" but they use the same actors to play themselves younger and it doesn't work at all. The actors all look like old people dressed differently and pretending to be younger. For a film that is so heavily invested in technology, the inability to perfect the age in flashbacks is embarrassing. I know it is a hard thing to do, but it isn't like Spielberg doesn't have the money to get it right, an example of getting it right being Robert Downey Jr. in the "flashback" sequence in Captain America: Civil War

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And one final issue I had with the movie was that Spielberg uses a Stanley Kubrick film as a narrative device (So as not to spoil it I won't name which one). This is not a crime in and of itself, but when Spielberg "Spielberg-izes" Kubrick's work, like he did with the irritatingly inept A.I., he always ruins it. Spielberg does the same thing to Kubrick in Ready Player One, where he takes a great idea, tinkers with it, turns it into a theme-park ride, and instead of Kubrickian filet mignon all we are left with is a very fragrant Spielbergian shit sandwich. I found this sequence to be so very frustrating because all of the pieces were in place for a stunning and extremely clever cinematic success if Spielberg hadn't screwed it all up. 

But with all that said, as someone who is generally less than enamored with Steven Spielberg as a filmmaker, to his credit, my very low expectations going in to Ready Player One were exceeded. Ready Player One is not a great movie but it held my attention and entertained me for two hours and twenty minutes, and that ain't nothing.

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In conclusion, even though I find the very deep seeded spiritual, political, psychological and mythological message that underlies this entire film (and the majority of Spielberg's work) to be equally vacuous, insidious, nefarious and mendacious, I very tentatively admit that I was mildly entertained by it all. I think if you grew up in the 80's and a vapid, nostalgia laced Spielberg action movie intrigues you, then you should go see Ready Player One in the theaters, as it should be experienced on the big screen.

But be forewarned, as I found out the hard way, a nostalgic "Jump" to the past doesn't just conjure up pleasant memories, but can open old wounds as well. Ready Player One inadvertently opened up an existential wound in me that the movie and its filmmaker, Steven Spielberg, were metaphysically incapable of comprehending, never mind healing. This is why, unlike master filmmakers like Kubrick, Malick, Scorsese, P.T. Anderson and Kurosawa, Spielberg can only ever aspire to be a creature of style over substance and a purveyor of pop culture, as he is wholly incapable of ever being a transcendent artist due to the fact that he makes movies that give easy answers, but that never dare to ask the real question. 

©2018

 

Hollywood's Malicious Propaganda Dehumanizes All Russians

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Estimated Reading Time: 4 minutes 23 seconds

A closer inspection of America’s relentless Russo-phobic propaganda campaign reveals that it isn’t just the news media spreading hatred of Russia and Russians, but Hollywood as well.

America’s unrelenting propaganda assault on Russia began by demonizing Russian President Vladimir Putin. Putin is routinely blamed for every evil that occurs under the sun, and according to the establishment media, there is nothing too evil that the Bond super-villain Putin cannot accomplish.

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The U.S. likes to personalize their enemy into one caricature so that Americans have an effigy onto which they can project their fear and loathing. A brief glance at recent history shows this to be true as the U.S. used the same playbook with Bin Laden, Saddam Hussien, Muamar Gaddafi and Kim Jong-Il.

Sometimes, when an enemy lacks the requisite charismatically evil leader to fit the propaganda bill, the U.S. will demonize whole peoples, for example the Japanese in World War II. The dehumanizing of the Japanese is what convinced Americans to accept the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II and the use of nuclear weapons on Japan to end that war, this is in marked contrast to American’s attitudes towards German-Americans.

In the current propaganda war with Russia, the U.S. seems to be taking a unique hybrid approach. Putin is certainly held up as an icon of evil but Russians and people of Russian descent are also being demonized and in some very insidious and disturbing ways.

For instance, James Clapper, former Director of National Intelligence, recently told NBC in an interview, “…the Russians, who typically, are almost genetically driven to co-opt, penetrate, gain-favor, whatever...”

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Clapper’s statement maligns all Russians, even Russian-Americans, as genetically duplicitous and diabolical. Such repulsive xenophobia isn’t just good old-fashioned American Russia hating, it is fast becoming U.S. policy. 

For instance, the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence probe into alleged Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. Presidential election has deemed all people “of Russian descent or nationality” to be potential targets of their investigation. There are 3 million Russian-Americans in the U.S., and according to the Senate Intel Committee, they are now all suspect.

In the same vein, Senator Dianne Feinstein demanded that Facebook turn over to the Senate any data related to “Russia connected accounts”. Feinstein broadly defines Russia connected accounts as “a person or entity…that may be in some way connected to Russia, including by user language setting, user currency or other payment method.”

Feinstein and Clapper’s Russo-phobia and totalitarian instincts are chilling, and they will find little resistance from the American people who are being surreptitiously indoctrinated by Hollywood to believe that Russians are inherently devious miscreants.

It has been well established that Hollywood is the propaganda wing of the Pentagon and the intelligence community and has effectively indoctrinated Americans to whole-heartedly support America’s belligerent militarism and to see the U.S. as always the well-intentioned hero.

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So it is no surprise that Richard Stengel, former Managing Editor of Time magazine (2006-2013) and Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs under President Obama (2014-2016), saw the success of the Pentagon-Hollywood alliance in shaping public opinion and tried to emulate it. It was revealed in a trove of hacked Sony emails released by Wikileaks, that in 2014, while officially serving in the Obama administration, Stengel approached Hollywood studios asking for help in countering “Russian narratives”.

Stengel was wise to ask for Hollywood’s assistance, as entertainment is a much more insidious form of propaganda than “fake news”. It is designed to manipulate emotions and audiences have been conditioned to allow it to do so. Viewers willingly let their guard down and suspend their disbelief when they watch a film or television show, and therefore their critical thinking function is reduced and they become much more pliable and vulnerable to propaganda. 

It is in this state of vulnerability when their emotions are triggered and their conscious mind is bypassed, that the nefarious ideas of the propagandist are implanted in the viewer’s unconscious. This is why businesses pay so much money for “product placement” in films and why the Pentagon has embedded itself so deeply into the entertainment industry, because audiences are much more susceptible to subtle and unconscious propaganda messages when they watch entertainment. The Pentagon has long understood and benefitted from this and those who wish to foment anti-Russian sentiment understand it too and are currently using Hollywood to spread that vile message.

The extent to which Stengel’s conversations with Hollywood bigwigs convinced the studios to act is not yet fully known, but since he made his plea to the studios, Hollywood has churned out a steady stream of filmsthat has portrayed Russians as a deplorable people.

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Some of the most prominent of them were Child 44 (2015), the story about a Russian child killer starring Tom Hardy, Steven Spielberg’s Bridge of Spies (2015) starring Tim Hanks and Atomic Blonde (2017) starring Charlize Theron, both about nefarious Cold War Russian spies, and Bitter Harvest (2017), the story of famine induced by Josef Stalin upon Ukrainians in the 1930’s. These films, all set during the Cold War (except for Bitter Harvest), uniformly portray Russians as treacherous, vicious, malicious and merciless.

On television, there has been the recurring anti-Russian storyline on the hit Netflix show House of Cards, where a remorseless and repugnant Putin-esque Russian leader cynically destroys people’s lives.

Last month the newest batch of Russian themed films and television shows hit screens both big and small with the same theme of degrading and dehumanizing the Russian people as their propaganda predecessors.

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Red Sparrow is the story of a former ballerina turned Russian super spy trained in the sexual arts and stars the highest paid actress in the world, Jennifer Lawrence. The Death of Stalin is a dark comedy about the power struggle in the Soviet Union to fill the void after Stalin’s death. And the hit FX television show The Americans is about a couple living in Cold War America in the 1980’s who are actually deep undercover Soviet spies.

 

Red Sparrow is a prime example of Hollywood’s attempt to incite Americans to distrust and dislike the Russian people. The film is set in modern day Russia but feels decidedly Cold War in its depiction of the country as a bleak frozen tundra inhabited by the most paranoid and despicable of people.

Every Russian man in the film is a vicious murderer, pedophile, rapist or traitor…and in the case of the lead villain played by Matthias Schoenaerts, not coincidentally a Vladimir Putin look-a-like, all of the above.

Red Sparrow’s Russian women fare no better as they are all cold-blooded, conniving, manipulative whores who are only proficient at sex, ballet or both. Regardless of gender, all of the Russians in Red Sparrow are beasts never to be trusted.

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The Death of Stalin is a considerably better film than Red Sparrow, but that only means it is a more effective propaganda tool.

In the film, under a veneer of humor, all Russians are portrayed as deceitful, corrupt, unscrupulous monsters only interested in selling out their comrades, gaining power and then brutally abusing it.

In The Death of Stalin, as in Red Sparrow, the theme of Russian men as sexual degenerates, sadists, rapists or pedophiles, insidiously courses through the narrative.

The television show The Americans by its premise alone also ingrains in its audience the idea that Russians are not to be trusted because they are instinctively a deceptive and plotting people.

The trudging up of the Cold War is an easy propaganda device that triggers old anti-communist and anti-Soviet fears among Americans. It is striking to note that Hollywood is portraying Russians solely in terms of the Cold War but not in regards to World War II. That is because Russia’s role in defeating Hitler and ending the war in the Pacific is a heroic one and would undermine the foundation of Cold War enmity upon which the current Russo-phobic narrative is built.

As Hollywood and the news media indoctrinate Americans with an anti-Russian animus, U.S. audiences will become even more susceptible to stories, like the Skripal poisoning, that feed the anti-Russian narrative no matter how tenuous or divorced from the facts they may be.

The endgame of the current wave of anti-Russian propaganda is for Americans to be emotionally conditioned to believe that Russians are capable of anything, and thus, must be stopped by any means necessary.

The problem of Hollywood and America’s Russo-phobia will only get worse, and that is troubling for all of us, because in this current climate, a war with Russia seems not only possible, but likely, and that is a movie without a happy ending. 

A version of this article was originally published at RT.

©2018

Next Stop - Speculation Station: Syria and Scott Pruitt Edition

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Estimated Reading Time: 6 minutes 18 seconds

Warning: the following post contains rambling…SPECULATION (gasp!)so if speculation (gasp!) frightens or offends you, then your best bet is to stop reading now. If you have the courage to proceed, then for the sake of safety I highly recommend a tin foil hat and maybe even a dance belt.

Now that all that unpleasantness is out of the way...ALL ABOARD - NEXT STOP - SPECULATION STATION!

According to the establishment media, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad used chemical weapons on his own people in the city of Douma last week, killing men, women and children. What struck me about the coverage of this incident was that all of the disturbing video and photos were of young children either dead or suffering the effects of the chemical attack. 

When I saw all of these children in distress or dead, red flags went up for me regarding the veracity of the reports I was seeing and hearing. Children are a favorite prop in the propagandists tool bag, and have been used many times to manipulate leaders or peoples into taking action.

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Just a year ago the same storyline played out in Syria and the Orange Toddler King reacted just as his handlers expected him to…the end result of which was American Seamen shooting a barrage of missiles on Syria which triggered MSNBC anchor Brian Williams to shoot a barrage of semen from his war-induced missile onto his American audience. Brian Williams getting a battle boner on live television and then ejaculating his American Empire/Establishment seed all over himself was a perfect representation for our morally and intellectually corrupt media and what is supposed to pass as journalism. 

In looking more closely at this most recent alleged chemical weapons attack, it seems rather obvious to me that it is a "false flag" attack orchestrated by either the Saudis, Israelis, U.S. intelligence or all three, and executed by their proxies in the Syrian "resistance". Anyone who looks at this situation and sees it any other way is either a dupe or a dope or both. 

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And yes, I do realize that using the term "false flag" will probably get the Conspiracy Police out in full force, but how else can you describe what just happened in Syria? And if you look closer at last year's chemical weapons attack and earlier alleged chemical weapons attacks in Syria during this civil war, including the infamous "red line" attack of 2013, it becomes more and more clear that things are not even remotely what they appear to be.

For a great example of the manufactured bullshit out of Syria that our media elevate to gospel, look at the story of NBC reporter Richard Engel who was allegedly kidnapped by vicious pro-Assad forces in 2012. Engel came up with a huge cock and bull story about heroism, dead bodies, people being shot, and his being saved by pro-western, anti-Assad "rebels", but it was all a bunch of bullshit. Of course, the media conveniently ignores that story, and Engel for his part, dutifully plays the brave journalist when asked by sycophants like Little Bill Maher to talk about his harrowing experience being "kidnapped". The reality is that the only thing that got killed when Richard Engel was kidnapped was the truth…and the truth in that case was that Engel's "kidnapping" was…you guessed it, a false flag event…but you'd never hear anyone int he mainstream media dare mention that fact...just like they refuse to even contemplate it in regards to the recent spate of chemical weapons attacks.

Speaking of media bullshit, a dead give away that this entire episode is a concocted false flag is that the Establishment media never debate the veracity of the chemical weapons claims, only in how aggressively to respond to them. The question is never…who did this? Who prospers from doing this? What is the evidence? Instead the question is…how many missiles should we launch? Should we invade? 

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The reason that the establishment never questions the veracity of these allegations is because by simply using cold hard logic it becomes pretty clear that the Assad government is not behind them. Assad has nothing to gain and everything to lose by using chemical weapons, especially now. But that is the key to this whole situation…LOGIC NEED NOT APPLY. The Media does not want reason, logic and rational thought to be used when assessing the alleged chemical weapons attack, they want blinding emotion to be the guide…this is why you see pictures of dead and dying little kids on your television screen, because that is a sure fire way to tap into the emotions of any human being. Showing suffering or dead children is a cold and calculating way to get people to be hot and emotional about something. 

Of course, the argument you often hear is that Assad is a monster, and that is why he does things like this. To me that sort of assessment could only come from a propaganda addled mind. Assad may in fact be a beast, but like all leaders he is only interested in self-preservation, and irrationally using chemical weapons to satiate some evil impulse within him would lead to his ultimate demise, the one thing he is trying to avoid at all costs.. 

Another reason to think this chemical weapons attack is a false flag is because last month the Russians warned the world that the U.S. was planning this sort of operation. Sure, you can claim that the Russians knew in advance that Assad would use chemical weapons and so they concocted this story to cover for him, but again, that would require such a gargantuan suspension of logic as to be absurd. You may think the Russians are pure evil and want to see people suffer, but they, like every other nation on earth, only act in their own interest, and drawing the U.S. into the Syrian civil war that Assad/Russia is winning, is not in their best interest. 

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The bigger picture of this entire chemical weapons scenario is very disheartening. I think that the Saudis, Israelis and Americans are desperate to maintain the current world order where they are on top, and fear the rise of the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa) and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzebkistan, India and Pakistan), their ally Iran (and Shiite Muslims allied with Iran), and Syria is the canvas upon which that struggle is currently taking place.

In recent years the U.S. has been instrumental in setting the stage for a soft coup against a left-wing government in Brazil, which could lead to a less soft coup if things don't work out - also, with the rather fascinating and disturbing news out of Brazil recently, why hasn't John Oliver followed up on his Brazil piece…hmmm…I wonder. The U.S. has also aggressively tried to kneecap Russia on all fronts, from Ukraine and Georgia, to economics and propaganda including even in sport, and to a much lesser extent they have tried to maneuver against China. 

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The reason the U.S. and their allies in the current world order, Saudi Arabia and Israel, fear the BRICS/SCO and their allies the Iranians, is because they represent an alternative to U.S. dollar hegemony via the petro-dollar . The U.S. cannot tolerate any challenges to their financial dominance of the world through the use of the dollar as a reserve currency. Saudi Arabia and Israel do not want to see the U.S. taken down a notch because they have masterfully infiltrated the U.S. political system and control it, using the U.S. and its massive military to do their bidding. And as an aside, if you think Russia meddled in out election, they are pikers compared to the Israelis and Saudis when it comes to infiltrating and manipulating American politics. 

The BRICS/SCO are nowhere near the size, scope or scale of the U.S. financial and military machine and don't threaten to "overthrow" it per se, but only be an alternative to it, and in so doing they would expose the U.S., its economy and the Dollar for the house of cards and fraud that it is. Obviously, the U.S. cannot allow this to occur, and so we have the soft coup in Brazil, the coup in Ukraine, the civil war in Syria, the propaganda and economic war on Russia, the military maneuvering in regards to China, the South China Seas and North Korea, the failed uprisings in Iran which will no doubt be followed eventually by U.S. military action against Iran. This is the game, and it is life and death for the American Empire, which is why the cynical tactic of American proxies gassing some kids in Syria to maintain the current world order is not only possible but extremely likely. 

I also think that the recent "chemical weapons attack" in the U.K., also known as the Skripal poisoning, is also a false flag executed but a combination of the Saudis, Israelis and Americans and is just another volley in the war on Russia. A calm, rational inspection of the evidence and context of that case reveals that for all of the hype initially surrounding it, there is next to nothing backing up the claims of Theresa May and Boris Johnson laying the blame at Russia's door. (And even going back a little further, I think the odd sound wave attacks on U.S. embassy personal in Cuba were also false flag attacks - but that is a story for another day)

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The recent PR tour by Saudi Arabian leader Prince Mohammed Bin Salman, where he was fawned over by America's establishment media, including basically getting fellated by Thomas Friedman of the New York Times, was a prelude to this new phase in the war against the American Empire's enemies (and by extension, American Empire's owners and operators, the Saudis and Israelis). MBS is, along with Netanyahu in Israel, angling to have the U.S. take down the Iranian government. They do not care if, like in Iraq, chaos replaces the current government, they just want that government gone because they are an existential threat to Israel's dominance in the region and the survival of the Saudi royal family. 

Syria is a pivotal chess piece for both the Saudis and Israelis and by extension is therefore important for the U.S. Syria was a potential gateway for a Qatari (Sunni) gas pipeline into Europe that would've been a huge blow to Russia (and Iran) and their dominance of the gas market in Europe, but Assad decided to stick with the Russians. Russia being economically wounded by a Qatari pipeline would go a long way in thwarting the rise of the BRICS/SCO alternative, which is why Syria remains a pivotal piece in the war for American dominance. Assad's fall would also benefit the Israelis by knocking Iran down a peg and allowing Israel to continue to enjoy military supremacy in the region. 

There are forces, both inside and outside of the American establishment, working to manipulate not only the American people but our hapless and hopeless President into a war in Syria, Iran and by extension Russia. These establishmentarians who populate the halls of the mass media, intelligence community, the military industrial complex and the Saudi and Israeli lobby, have positioned Trump right where they want him. If he does nothing or next to nothing, he is soft on Russia and could face impeachment or worse. If he does commit to a wider war, he is trapped in a quagmire that he will only be able to escalate into a wider and ultimately more destructive war. Once again, if you think the Russians have Kompromat on Trump, it is nothing compared to the compromising information the Israelis and Saudis have on him. 

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The only thing regular people can do in the face of such a horrendous situation is to stay awake and to realize when you are being played. The media and our government (and that of Saudi Arabia and Israel as well) are playing their American audiences like virtuosos. Think of it this way…why is the establishment media so distraught over a bunch of dead Syrians…but doesn't even give the briefest of mentions about the slaughter of women and children in Yemen at the hands of the Saudis, or the butchery of Palestinians by the Israelis? The answer of course is that the atrocities in Yemen and Gaza are committed by MBS and Netanyahu, and they are America's puppet masters, and questioning them is an absolute non-starter in American media circles. 

And look, I am not arguing that Assad or Putin are some doe-eyed innocents and the Saudis, Israelis and Americans are mustache twirling villains. What I am saying is that anyone who thinks that America (Saudi Arabia/Israel) is the good guy and is incapable of doing the most heinous of things to maintain its power, is deluded. There are no good guys or bad guys…there is just a struggle for power and survival. We are no better than Russia, Syria, Iran, China or our allies the Israelis and Saudis. America holds no moral high ground, we are down in the pig sty with the rest of the world. All of these nations and their leaders are like worms in a pile of shit…blind and squirming in a desperate bid to stay alive no matter the cost. 

I certainly hope I completely wrong in all of my speculation and that peace breaks out soon and rainbows and puppy dogs rule the day, but that deafening cacophony I keep hearing emanating from cable news is the sound of the dogs of war barking. I pray they don't get the wider war for which they keep howling.

Update on Skripal and Syria: Some supplemental reading…on the Skripal case…LINK , LINKand False FlagsLINK

THE CABOOSE IS LOOSE

Finally, last Sunday I watched John Oliver's show Last Week Tonight. That show, and its host, are getting worse and worse by the minute, so I consider my watching it to be a form of penance for grievous sins in this and past lives. 

One thing that stood out to me on the show though was a story about EPA chief Scott Pruitt. The gist of the story is that Pruitt is a corrupt douchebag and is an awful human being. I knew that going in so none of it came as a surprise…except for one little tidbit. 

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Oliver told the story, and relentlessly mocked Pruitt over it, about Scott Pruitt being locked in a room in his D.C. rented home and his security detail trying to get in but being unable to. The story is a bit unclear but from what I understood, Pruitt didn't answer the door, and the security team had to break down that door, and then found him unconscious and unresponsive and called 9-11.

Paramedics were dispatched and Capitol Police were on the scene. What happened next is unclear but the Pruitt camp claims that it was all a hilarious misunderstanding as they say Pruitt was simply napping in the middle of the day and didn't hear all the commotion. No police report was filed and the incident, which occurred in 2017, went down the memory hole until last month when it became news due to the fact that it happened at a home he was renting from a lobbyist. 

What I found strange about Oliver's comedic take on the Pruitt nap is that he, for the most part, took the story at face value. The rest of the media  just described it as a "bizarre" incident, and Oliver maintained that approach. The whole Pruitt nap story sounds like complete bullshit to me, and since we are at Speculation Station, here is what I speculate.  

I think that Scott Pruitt is using opioids. I think his very erratic behavior while at the EPA is a strong indicator that he is not of sound mind. I believe that Pruitt overdosed on an opioid of some kind, and that is why he was unresponsive in the middle of the day when security officers were banging on his door and entered his room. 

I think that either the security officers, or the paramedics, gave Pruitt Naxolone/Narcan to revive him from his overdose. I think the security team and Pruitt's handlers convinced the Capitol police to keep this quiet and TO NOT WRITE A POLICE REPORT because Pruitt is the EPA chief and is a powerful guy.

The vital bit of information is that the Capitol police didn't write a police report, because if they did and lied on it, saying that Pruitt was napping and not overdosed, then they would be in legal jeopardy. But by not writing any report of the incident, they cover their ass in case the more nefarious story comes out, which it may since there were multiple people involved. 

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Now, you may think my speculation is absurd, that the idea of Scott Pruitt, the former Attorney General of Oklahoma and current Director of the EPA, using, never mind overdosing, on opioids ridiculous. Maybe you are right, but as someone with experience in dealing with opioid addicts, I can tell you that Pruitt's behavior in office, the various scandals from the travel issues to the rent story to giving his friends raises and all the rest, all signal to me a man in the throes of drug abuse. In the context of his erratic behavior as Director of the EPA, I think this "nap" story is more than just bizarre, it is, at least to me, obvious that it was an overdose event. 

Maybe I am wrong, it wouldn't be the first time. But ask yourself this, would you be shocked if Scott Pruitt resigns to "spend more time with his family" and then years later it comes out he went to rehab for opioid addiction? It wouldn't shock me…but maybe that is just because I am losing my mind waiting here for the next train out of Speculation Station!

©2018

The Death of Stalin: 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.

The Death of Stalin, written and directed by Armando Iannucci, is a dark comedy about the power struggle in the Soviet Union in the aftermath of Josef Stalin's death. The film boasts a cast that includes Steve Buscemi, Simon Russell Beale, Jeffrey Tambor, Andrea Riseborough, Rupert Friend, Michale Palin and Jason Isaacs.

2018 has thus far been a less than stellar year for cinema. Granted, it is only March and prior to my most recent jaunt to the theatre I had only seen three other films, Black Panther, Red Sparrow and Annihilation, all of which were entirely underwhelming. But ever the optimist, I picked myself up from the bootstraps of my disappointment and made the journey to the local art house to try and break out of the rut of banality that had been the hallmark of my recent trips to the cineplex. 

Thankfully, The Death of Stalin was just what the doctor ordered as it was a powerful antidote to my bout of cinema blues. The Death of Stalin is a comedically taut, deliciously funny and masterfully paced film riddled with exquisite performances from an impeccable cast.

I knew nothing about The Death of Stalin prior to seeing it, except that I assumed that it was a comedy about the death of Stalin…and unlike that great cinematic fraud The Never Ending Story, The Death of Stalin is indeed a case of honesty in advertising. After seeing the film I read a little bit about the director, Armando Iannucci, and discovered that he is the creator of the HBO series Veep, which makes sense because The Death of Stalin is sort of like a super-dark version of Veep set in Stalin's Soviet Union. If you like Veep, you will enjoy The Death of Stalin.

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The cast of The Death of Stalin is fantastic across the board, but Simon Russell Beale and Steve Buscemi are particularly good. Beale, who plays Beria, the Head of State Security, is a British actor whom I had the great fortune to see masterfully play Iago at the Royal National Theatre twenty years ago during my London days. Beale is a meticulous chameleon of an actor who, much like his equally gifted Shakespearean peer Mark Rylance, has been a master of the London stage for the majority of his career. I hope Beale gets the same level of recognition from a wider audience that Rylance has in his later career, as he is most deserving. Beale's Beria is a study in paranoid entitlement, bemused viciousness and the banality of evil that even at its most heightened never rings false.

Steve Buscemi plays Nikita Kruschev with his usual humorous flair and delivers an phenomenal performance. Alongside the comedy of Buscemi's Kruschev is a palpably frenetic desperation to save himself, and Russia, from falling out of the frying pan of Stalin and into the fire of some other brutal tyrant. Buscemi wraps Kruschev in a cloak of bitter cynicism that hides a rabidly patriotic soul. 

The supporting cast all give specific and technically precise performances filled with masterful comedic timing that they are an absolute joy to behold. 

Jeffrey Tambor, fresh off the abysmal atrocity that is/was Transparent, which was easily the worst and most repugnant television show I have seen, does a nuanced and hysterical turn as Malenkov, a member of Stalin's inner circle. Tambor is at his most insecure best as Malenkov, who is living proof that Stalin wanted to surround himself with only those considerably weaker than himself.

Andrea Riseborough is terrific as Stalin's daughter Svetlana who must navigate life without her powerful father, as warring factions try to use her as a pawn in their chess match. Svetlana is not as weak and delicate as she pretends to be, but she isn't nearly as strong and resilient as she thinks she is. Riseborough has the least flashy of all of the roles in the film but her comedic subtlety and dramatic chops make her Svetlana a vital part of the film's artistic success. 

Rupert Friend plays Stalin's drunken, hockey-team losing son Vasily with aplomb. Friend nearly steals the entire show with his volcanic drunken tirades that seem to have no end and no discernible beginning.

Jason Isaacs masterfully plays famed Soviet General Zhukov. Isaacs' Zhukov is a pitbull in a parade uniform and he has little time, and less tolerance for the political machinations of the backstabbing politburo. Isaacs brings a force and energy to the film that elevates the comedy and the drama to an even higher level. 

The rest of the cast, including Paddy Considine, Michael Palin, Olga Kurylenko and Adrian McLoughlin all do stupendous and seamless work that keep the film right on track. 

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An interesting note regarding the acting is that the entire cast never uses a "Russian" accent. Nor do they all use a coordinated "British" accent which some films use to signify a foreign language without alienating American audiences. Instead in The Death of Stalin all of the actors speak in their disparate native tongues, accents included. This is a very wise choice since comedy, and this type of specific verbal comedy in particular, is difficult enough in an actor's first language, adding any accent and most especially a Russian one, would make it nearly impossible. What is so interesting about this languid language/accent approach is that it comes across as so coherent, effortless and comedically harmonious as to be unnoticeable. 

Director Iannucci plays to his comedy strengths in The Death Of Stalin even more so than he does in his stellar HBO show Veep. Veep is a heightened comedy that refuses to acknowledge any connection to a real world or actual human behavior. In The Death of Stalin on the other hand, Iannucci has made a very funny comedy that is propelled by genuine human behavior. The Death of Stalin, as absurd as it can be, is still based on a solid realism despite its being so funny.

A very effective tactic by Iannucci is how he deftly handles the rather glaring issue of the brutality of Stalin's Great Terror by only giving the audience the perspective of those in Stalin's inner circle. Viewers are unconsciously connected to the protagonists like Beria and Kruschev in the inner circle and Iannucci never explicitly shows the violence and savagery for which these men are responsible. It isn't until we are fully on board and rooting for the good guys to win that we see what the good guys (and we) are capable of, and it isn't a pretty sight. 

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It is impossible to watch The Death of Stalin and not relate it to the politics of our day. For instance, the backstabbing paranoia and positioning of Stalin's inner circle before and after his death certainly resembles the daily drama emanating from the Trump White House. The Trump purges of cabinet members is less bloody than Stalin's, but the impulse behind them is the same. Trump instinctually surrounds himself with people that are intellectually, and even physically, smaller than he is because, like Stalin he wants to be The Big Man. Beria, Kruschev, Malenkov and the rest of Stalin's ass kissing brigade have counterparts right here at home in Trump's cabinet, and could easily pass as Bannon, McMaster and The Mooch. 

Even Stalin's kids are reminiscent of the Trump children. Svetlana, the doe-eyed beauty trying to manipulate her "royal" standing for all it is worth, is Ivanka plain and simple. And speaking of simple, Stalin's son Vasily is as if Don Jr. and Eric Trump were morphed together into one drunken ball of entitled moronity. 

The Death of Stalin is also relevant in the context of the headlines of today due to the plethora of anti-"Russia" news. Russia is currently the enemy du jour and is blamed for everything that could, did or will go wrong in the world. The Death of Stalin is, like the recent Red Sparrow, a rather shameless piece of anti-Russian reinforcement propaganda meant to buttress people's preconceived negative feelings about those conniving and brutal Russians.

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I cannot speak to the historical accuracy of The Death of Stalin, but the fact that Stalin and Russia were the subject of a film at all is indicative of the wave of anti-Russian resentment and hysteria fomented by a calculated Russo-phobic propaganda campaign. For instance, would this film have been made if it were about the machinations behind the scenes when Ariel Sharon was in a coma? Or about when FDR died? or Mao? or JFK? No…of course not. American audiences have been primed to accept that Russians are a particularly loathsome and untrustworthy bunch, so it is acceptable to laugh at them and highlight the worst of them when they are at their worst. 

That is why The Death of Stalin is in theaters now, because it buttresses and reinforces the anti-Russian madness by reminding people that Russia, at its core, is only Stalin's Soviet Union during the Great Terror, and nothing else. Nuance need not apply when it comes to the Russia of today, just tune in to MSNBC or read the Washington Post for proof of that. 

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You may be asking what difference does it make if there is anti-Russian propaganda? Well, the biggest issue is that it makes Americans gullible to any anti-Russian story thrown out there. The poisoning of a former Russian spy in the UK? Must be Russia, and no proof or evidence is needed to back up that claim. Same with the claims of Russian "hacking" of our elections, voting machines and even our power grids…all unsubstantiated but accepted as Gospel Truth by the opinion shapers in the establishment media. Unproven claims that Russia started a war by invading Ukraine, shot down MH17 and rigged elections in Crimea are treated the same way.

The propaganda campaign against Russia is not just dangerous because people are primed to believe any outrageous claim against that country, but because of where that belief will inevitably lead…a catastrophic war. The biggest problem with the anti-Russian hysteria and hatred that has become mainstream here in America, is that it is lead by the people who would usually be anti-war, liberals and Democrats. With incessant rhetoric being spouted by liberals about how Russia has "attacked America" or "committed an act of war", there will be no speed bumps on the road from a cold war with Russia to a hot one…and that will not end well for anyone. 

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The real lesson of The Death of Stalin is the corrupting influence of authoritarianism on the soul. With authoritarianism on the rise across the globe and in our collective consciousness, The Death of Stalin is now compulsory viewing. The important thing to remember is that authoritarianism isn't just on the rise in the form of Trump, Erdogan, Putin and Xi…but in the hearts and minds of regular people…even those who may share your ideological beliefs. For instance, there has been a spate of people silenced or exiled for daring to question Democratic or liberal orthodoxy. I know this because I am one of them. I was exiled by numerous friends who did not like what I wrote about the last election, and instead of talking to me about it, or God forbid debating it, they exiled me…and my family…from their circle. This is metaphorically just like Stalin's Great Terror where he eliminated those who dare think for themselves or speak truth to power. 

The great danger of our time is not so much Trump, who is a bumbling buffoon of a man and an even worse president, but rather our authoritarian response to him. #TheResistance has proven itself to be a hypocritical outlet for the authoritarian impulses of establishment Democrats. Watch these alleged liberals discard history down the memory hole and contort themselves in all sorts of illogical ways in order to embrace the intelligence community (CIA, NSA, John Brennan, Michael Hayden and John Clapper) and the FBI (and James Comey, Robert Mueller and Andrew McCabe) all in the hopes of destroying Trump and regaining power. With authoritarians, Truth and actual history have no meaning in the quest for power and revenge, and so it has become with establishment Democrats and certain sections of the left. If you can watch The Death of Stalin through the prism of liberal authoritarianism, it will be a very enlightening experience indeed, especially if you're a liberal who likes to banish people with opinions that challenge your own. 

In conclusion, even though The Death of Stalin is yet another piece of anti-Russian propaganda, it is a finely-crafted, exquisitely made piece of propaganda, and that is to the credit of its remarkable cast and director Armando Iannucci. I recommend you put in the effort to see The Death of Stalin in the theatre as it will most assuredly entertain you as it did me. And if you are able to look past the surface of the film and see it not just as another Russo-phobic hit piece, but as a clarion call against all forms of authoritarianism…especially the authoritarianism that lives inside your own heart…and mine, then it might just make you more than laugh, it might even make you think…and cry in despair.

©2018

I Told You So: Conor Lamb Edition

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Estimated Reading Time: 5 minutes 33 seconds

On March 13, 2018, Democrat Conor Lamb beat Republican Rick Saccone in the special election for Pennsylvania's 18th Congressional district. What made Lamb's victory in the 18th extraordinary was that just 16 months ago Donald Trump won the district by 20 points over Hillary Clinton. 

Watching Lamb win the congressional seat was gratifying to me because he followed the playbook I explicitly laid out in those dark days after Trump's presidential election in a piece titled Election Aftermath: A Practical Handbook to Survive and Thrive in the Age of Trump

I wrote that playbook in the shadow of my correct prediction that Trump would win the election. In fact, I not only predicted he would win but correctly predicted WHY he would win. Of course, this did not matter to many people as I was vilified by many for my prediction and later for my diagnosis in the form the of the handbook. I lost many good friends during this period of time as people back then were not interested in Truth, only in emotionalist horseshit that satiated their adolescent, and sometimes infantile, desires to lash out at anyone who dare not tow the company line. 

I was exiled into oblivion by many friends, some of them people that I thought were my best of friends, all because they didn't like what I had written. In my writing I had blasphemed against the Church of Identity Politics and therefore must be cast out of the Garden of Eden and shunned for the sin of telling the truth and being correct. 

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Watching Conor Lamb execute my playbook for electoral victory will not make my exilers wake up and realize that their emotionalism is not only pathetic but most importantly…ineffective. These close-minded simpletons would rather stick their fingers in their ears and stay locked into their intellectually myopic echo chamber that more resembles a circular firing squad than actually think rationally and act strategically. But if you believe that will stop me from breaking my arm patting myself on the back you don't know me very well. 

So I am going to take this opportunity to say to my detractors "I told you so"….because I did, indeed, tell them so.

In my strategic handbook one of the points I made was about how it was vital for Democrats to stop with their self-serving emotionalist rants (some of the more cringeworthy ones were videotaped and put on the internet!!) where they cried racism or misogyny at anyone and everyone who voted for Trump. The reason I wrote this is because doing that would alienate valuable potential allies in swing states that would hold the key to future victories. The people these rants would alienate would be what I call Springsteen voters…people who used to be Democrats that are progressive on economic issues and less so on cultural issues. These Springsteen voters went for Obama twice but voted for Trump over Hillary.

In my strategic handbook I wrote , "it is equally important to remember there are a pivotal and key group of Trump supporters who can be convinced to change their allegiance. Those are the 77,000 voters that you need for victory in Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Michigan. By lumping those 77,000 in with the other more rabid Trump voters, you are alienating crucial potential allies. Your empty-headed, emotionalist vitriol is forcing people away from your point of view and your candidates and towards Trump.

Another serious issue with these arrogantly self-serving tirades is the call for "unfriending" of anyone who dared disagree with the pompous ranter. Epistemic closure and living in a bubble is exactly how democrats got themselves into this whole mess in the first place. To demand even more epistemic rigidity and isolation is so mind-numbingly moronic as to be amazing. I understand that these ranters are irritated by people who disagree with them, but you just lost an election because your arguments were so remarkably flaccid. Shutting out any contrarian opinions now will only lead to more severe political and intellectual impotence. Arguments need to be forged in fire and strengthened by opposition. If you cannot sharpen your arguments against your enemies or even mildly oppositional forces, your arguments will atrophy and wither in the delusional comfort of your epistemic bubble. Calls for immediate removal of all oppositional opinions is literally sticking your head up your own ass. What is desperately needed now is not a tighter bubble, but the humility to admit you were wrong and to sharpen your arguments against the rock of those who oppose you. I totally understand why these ranters want to only shout and not to engage, life seems easier that way, but that is a one way ticket into further political and intellectual oblivion...these social media rants against Trump voters may feel good when you're doing them, but they are terribly counterproductive. Emotionalists want to feel good in the moment, strategists want to succeed in the long run."

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I think those paragraphs were very accurate and over a year later hold up well. Conor Lamb succeeded in Pennsylvania's 18th because he did not spit anti-Trump fire and brimstone at Springsteen voters, he treated them with respect and took their concerns seriously. Lamb did not tap into emotion to defeat Saccone and Trump, he appealed to the Springsteen voter's reason, not their emotion, and he did so by virtually ignoring Trump and instead focusing on Springsteen voters and their needs. What Lamb was really doing was playing to his strength and to Trump's weakness…as I wrote in my handbook in December 2016.

"It is vitally important to remember this, in the battle for power, emotion is Trump's weapon, not yours. If you take Trump on, on emotional grounds, he will destroy you. You must take him on rationally, using unemotional language and arguments. Trump is a narcissist who desperately needs an emotional foil in order to maintain his self image. By not engaging him emotionally, and not reacting to his tweets or what he says, you neuter him. Without a foil, Trump flails about like a frantically drowning man. Trump needs an enemy to emotionally invigorate and engage him, if you do not give that to him, he spins out of control, then withers and dies. Emotionalism is Trump's power source, cold rationalism is his Kryptonite.

So in order to weaken Trump you must ignore his tweets…all of them, no matter how infuriating they may be. Ignore every single word he says as well, no matter what. Ignore his neo-Nuremberg rallies and his playing to the crowd with his loaded language. You must understand that Trump's words are meaningless and are meant to make you react and not respond. Do not let him control you so easily. Instead, only respond, not react, to the things he actually does, never what he says... Let Trump react to what you do, not the other way around. And when Trump reacts to you, ignore his reaction and keep on calmly working to undermine and destroy him."

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Conor Lamb also used another tactic from my handbook to attain victory, he agreed with Trump on a key economic issue. In Lamb's case it was steel tariffs, that played very well in the 18th district in the heart of the former steel capital of the world outside of Pittsburgh. Some in the media speculated that Trump raised the tariff issue just as a way to try and win the district for Saccone, but Lamb out maneuvered him by using my strategy…to embrace Trump on economic issues where you can and it will incapacitate him. Trump won in 2016 by running to the left of democrats on economics, and Lamb outflanked him for his victory in the special election this year…Democrats would be wise to follow suit in the fall. 

Here is what I wrote in my strategic handbook in December of 2016...

"Which brings us to another key strategy to derail Trump which may seem counter-intuitive, but it is to embrace Trump on any and all economic issues you even remotely agree with him on.

 By embracing Trump on economics, it will force him to occasionally search for a different enemy and Trump's need to find a foil might land squarely on Paul Ryan and the Republicans. Trump always desperately needs an enemy and if you can make Paul Ryan and the establishment wing of the Republican party his enemy, you make them fight each other and they end up weaker and you get stronger. "

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Lamb also followed my advice by going against the current establishment Democratic and mainstream media opinion when he embraced the second amendment in his election. This issue is key to winning over Springsteen voters in the midwest and Democrats need to follow Lamb's lead and my advice on this issue. I wrote in my  December 2016 handbook...

"Another strategy that is very Machiavellian but would be vital to eroding Trump's support, would be to embrace guns and the second amendment.

What advantage would Democrats gain by embracing guns? Well, those 77,000 Spingsteen voters are from rural, hunting states and they live in the gun culture. Guns are a wedge issue used to make Springsteen voters occasionally vote against their economic interests. If you remove the wedge issue of guns, you have taken a very valuable weapon out of the hands of your enemies. It would be very wise to do so in order to weaken your opponents and strengthen yourself."

Lamb was also successful in the 18th because he avoided the trap of identity politics. Lamb avoided any of the usual talking points and rhetoric that surrounds issues of identity and hot button issues like immigration. Instead, Lamb ran a campaign on economics, not on identity. This is the road to victory for Democrats with Springsteen voters, if they can summon the courage and intelligence to follow it. Conor Lamb did so and won a district in which Trump absolutely routed Clinton in 2016…maybe Democrats would want to learn from that…maybe? Here is what I wrote in my December 2016 strategic handbook…and yes, be forewarned…it was written by a Straight, White, Male (GASP!!)...

"A final note about identity politics. In an article in the New York Times recently Cornell Belcher argues that focusing on the dying demographic of white working class people is foolish. Belcher claims we should disregard white, working class voters and instead focus on the Obama coalition and getting those younger, non-white voters to the polls. It is not surprising that Belcher was so terribly and arrogantly wrong about the last election and he is just as wrong about the next one as well. The most important thing about the Obama coalition is not the coalition of young, Black and Latino voters, the most important thing about the Obama coalition is Barrack Obama. Obama is a once in a generation or maybe lifetime political talent. If you think his coalition is coming together for anyone else, you are very mistaken. And I have bad news for you, Barrack Obama is not walking through that door. Going forward you are going to have to deal with second rate political hacks like Hillary Clinton, and she didn't get the Obama coalition to rock the vote. Someone ought to buy Cornell Belcher a calendar for Christmas, since he fails to understand that while white working class voters are a dying breed, they ain't nearly dead yet. Their projected year of death is 2050…another 34 years from now. 34 years is a long time to sit around waiting for the demographics to change so you can get another shot at the throne. "

Lamb's wisest move on the march to victory was that he ran against the corporate/Wall Street Democratic establishment. While Lamb was touting steel tariffs which establishment Democrats hate, these same hypocritical Democrats whores for Wall street, like Pelosi, Schumer and Kaine, voted in support of a bill that gutted Dodd-Frank that had placed restrictions on Wall Street banks meant to protect the American people from another catastrophe like the housing/credit collapse of 2007-2008. 

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Establishment Democrats have proven that they are the party of the investor class not the working class, as was highlighted with their support of the bill gutting Dodd-Frank, and they are obviously beholden to Wall Street not Main Street. Conor Lamb ran against these repugnant fat cats and succeeded, just as I said would happen in December 2016...

"I think that the wisest course forward is to build a broad based political coalition based on economics and class. Democrats must turn their backs on Wall Street, corporate interests, free trade and globalization and turn their focus back to working class people and the poor. Trump won by using an old school, Democratic, populist economic message. There is no doubt Trump will completely ignore that economic message as president, so Democrats must be there with a genuine form of populism in order to remove Trump from power. If they fail to embrace this economic populism and class warfare, the Democrats will be left in the dust."

Lamb also wisely ran specifically against Nancy Pelosi. Pelosi is a disaster area for Democrats and for progressive politics. She is an easy target and an albatross around the necks of any Democrats or progressives trying to bring Springsteen voters back into the fold. Why Democrats, who suffer from a perceived detachment from "regular Americans" aka  Springsteen voters, would want the optics of a 70-something year old from a rich coastal city to be the face of their party is beyond me. Republicans pay no penalty for attacking Pelosi like they would if say, someone from Pennsylvania, Michigan or Wisconsin were the Democratic leader instead. Lamb's decision to hang Pelosi out to dry was a masterful strategic move and one Democrats would be extremely wise to emulate as quickly as possible. As I wrote in my handbook...

"I do not expect the hapless Democrats to follow my handbook at all, and they are off to a really shitty start with the re-election of Nancy Peolosi as leader of the house Democrats. Pelosi's victory is a strong sign that Democrats would rather double down on the same insanity, with insanity being defined as doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results, that got them here rather than learn anything and adapt going forward. But hey, just like with the election, you can't say I didn't warn you."

As hard as I was on Democrats in the wake of Trump's victory and over the last year and a half, I must say that the Democrats in Congress did follow at least one portion of my advice and have had success because of it. I wrote in my handbook...

"Also, Trump's great strength is in form and appearance as he is the ultimate improvisational showman, and his great weakness is detail, structure and function. So attack Trump's weakness, detail and function, with your strength, bureaucracy. What I mean by that is you must make Trump have to slog through the muck and mire, the monotonous and grueling process of actually governing. You can tie Trump up in knots over the process of writing minutely detailed and specific legislation and actually passing it."

I do not agree with Conor Lamb on everything, but I was pleased to see him use my strategic handbook as a blueprint for his win in a Springsteen district. If the Democrats want to win the House and the Senate back in the fall, they had better wise up and read my handbook and start moving far to the left on economic issues as fast as they can. 

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My advice for the 2018 mid-term election is for Democrats to stop with the identity politics and run on progressive economics. Ignore the Russia story and all of the accompanying nonsense and run on blue-collar, bread and butter economics. They should run not just on Obamacare but Universal health coverage. They should embrace the steel tariffs and any other tariffs Trump wants to throw out there, and unabashedly run against "free trade" and Trump's tax cuts. They should run on a massive infrastructure bill, free college tuition and a guaranteed government job program. Democrats need to run on an proud progressive economic platform and toss Wall street and the Silicon valley uber-rich vampires overboard. 

Will Democrats heed my advice? I doubt it, but I admit I am less skeptical now than I was before Conor Lamb pulled off the upset victory in Pennsylvania's 18th. There could be light at the end of the tunnel for Democrats if they get smart, get strategic and you know… actually listen to me. If they listen to the usual suspects of Pelosi, Schumer, Clinton and the rest of the establishment Democratic hustlers, that light at the end of a tunnel will end up being a freight train. The Springsteen Express is barreling down the tracks, Democrats can either get on board, get out of the way or get run over. The choice is theirs.  

©2018

A Wrinkle in Time, Film Criticism and White Liberal Paternalism

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Estimated Reading Time: 5 minutes 58 seconds

The Disney film, A Wrinkle in Time, opened two weeks ago amid much media fawning because it is the first film with a budget of over $100 million to be directed by an African-American woman (Ava DuVernay). The film also stars a who's who of big time stars like Oprah, Reese Witherspoon, Mindy Kaling and Chris Pine along with a diverse group of fresh-faced young newcomers.

The film is based upon the classic children's book, A Wrinkle in Time written by Madeleine L'Engle. In the lead up to the release of the film, Disney put on a full court publicity blitz by Oprah and director DuVernay, touting how the film was a beacon of diversity in casting. The book A Wrinkle in Time is about a young White girl and is populated by White people, but Oprah and Duvernay's version stars a young African-American girl and actors of color are throughout the cast. Because of the diversity/inclusion casting and the symbolic politics of the movie, the media generated a lot of positive buzz leading up to A Wrinkle in Time's opening. 

Of the plethora of pre-release pieces of marketing, the one that stood out to me most was a softball interview/fluff info-adver-tainment piece by the New York Times with Ms. DuVernay. When I read the article, which was meant to be a completely and totally supportive bit of kiss-ass journalism by the esteemed paper of record, I was shocked at how unlikable Ms. DuVernay came across and how completely oblivious to it she and the Times both were. 

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After reading that article and Ms. DuVernay's accompanying tone-deafness and seeing the God-awful trailer, I was not surprised in the least that upon release A Wrinkle in Time absolutely bombed. Reviewers were gently negative but audiences disliked the film with a vigor. Watching the Rotten Tomato "Tomato Meter" of the movie over opening weekend, which started at a "really want to see it" 99, drop so precipitously, was like watching the stock market in late October of 1929. After the first weekend in theaters, A Wrinkle in Time had landed at 40 on the critic side and 34 on the audience side of the Tomato Meter, which gave the film a solidly "Rotten" rating, but all things considered, I was actually surprised it wasn't worse.

THE BIGOTRY OF LOW EXPECTATIONS

Since I never had any interest in seeing A Wrinkle in Time, I decided to read some reviews of the film so I went back to Rotten Tomatoes because it lists and links reviews from professional film critics. I went through and read a bunch of reviews from critics that gave the movie a "fresh" rating and what struck me is that they all gushed about everything surrounding the film, like its wonderful diversity and how "important" it was culturally that it was directed by an African-American woman, but once you got past that stuff the written reviews were actually very negative in regards to the storytelling and skill and craft on display in the movie. And yet, despite this, when it came time to rate the film with a letter grade or number of stars, the reviewers all elevated the film to a positive grade/stars which seemed at odds with what they had written about the actual movie in the body of their review. 

For example, Ann Hornaday of the Washington Post wrote, " “A Wrinkle in Time” is plagued by the same convoluted leaps and hurried lack of logic...in L’Engle’s original book. At a time when movies are almost uniformly too long, this is one film that could have benefited from a few more scenes to pump up Meg’s backstory, solidify the emotional stakes and smooth out transitions that are jagged at best, nonsensical at worst." Despite this rather clear-cut criticism Ms. Hornaday rated the film 3 out of 4 stars. 

Justin Chang of the Los Angeles Times wrote, "The sheer exuberance of this movie can provoke more than a few seemingly discordant reactions, sometimes in the same instance...I found myself wishing that this "Wrinkle" were more focused, more disciplined — that its ceaseless flow of fantastical images cohered into a revelatory new application of L'Engle's themes and insights, rather than an earnest, sometimes awkward reiteration of them." Mr. Chang gave the film a "Fresh" rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

David Fear's Rolling Stone review stated, "This Wrinkle in Time is undoubtedly flawed, wildly uneven, and apt to tie itself in narrative knots in a quest to wow you with sheer technicolor weirdness." In spite of Fear's obvious misgivings about the movie, he gave it 3 out of 4 stars anyway. He also tips his hand as to why he and other critics do so later in his review when he writes, "It's worth seeing just to bask in a film that does ask for inclusion on such a grand scale…"

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The question then becomes, why would reviewers bump up their grade for a film they thought wasn't very well made? I believe the reason they did it is that they want the film to succeed because it touts diversity/inclusion and for what it symbolizes politically and culturally in regards to race and gender. These reviewers increased their ratings for the film because they did not want A Wrinkle in Time to end up with a "Rotten" score on Rotten Tomatoes. They also did it because it was a cheap way to virtue signal and they were afraid they might be labelled a racist if they were critical of a pro-diversity/inclusion film directed by a Black woman. 

BLACK PANTHER AND RUNNING UP THE SCORE

This sort of critical liberal paternalism and its accompanying grading curve that reviewers used to give A Wrinkle in Time a boost, also seems to be in effect for another film directed by an African-American and starring African-American actors, Black Panther. Black Panther is by all accounts a significantly better film than A Wrinkle in Time, and yet it seems to have also benefited from the same politically/racially motivated grading curve.

Black Panther has been absolutely adored by critics, proof of this is that the film currently has an impressive 97 critical score on Rotten Tomatoes. Now, people can have different opinions of a film, so I don't chalk up critics liking Black Panther to solely a political agenda, but if you look at the Rotten Tomato statistics, it certainly seems that HOW MUCH critics liked Black Panther is a result of a political/racial agenda and the aforementioned grading curve. 

Evidence of this is that according to the Rotten Tomato critical score, Black Panther isn't just the highest rated film in the Marvel Cinematic canon, it is the highest rated superhero movie of all time. According to the critical score, Black Panther is even better than The Dark Knight (94 critical rating), which most cinematically literate people consider to be a super hero masterpiece, proof of which is that it is the film whose exclusion from the Oscar Best Picture nominations in 2008, led to the Academy Awards actually changing the nominating process and doubling the amount of films in the Best Picture category. 

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Where things get interesting in this discussion about Black Panther is when you look at the audience score. While critics have it rated as the greatest superhero film of all time at 97, audiences scored the film at a much more tepid, and frankly rational, 79. That 79 audience score places Black Panther in the bottom half of the films in the Marvel cinematic canon according to audiences, with only Iron Man 2 (72), Iron Man 3 (78), Incredible Hulk (71), Thor (76) and Thor: Dark World (77) rating lower. Of the 19 films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, 12 are ranked higher by audiences than Black Panther, and that is just Marvel. Wonder Woman (88), Logan (90), Deadpool (90), X-Men (83), X-Men 2: X-Men United (85), X-Men: First Class (87), X-Men: Days of Future Past (91) along with the entire Christopher Nolan Dark Knight trilogy (94,94,90 respectively) all have a higher audience score than Black Panther. Those Rotten Tomato statistics show that something is obviously askew when it comes to critics opinion of Black Panther versus audiences opinion in the context of the other Marvel  and other superhero films.

Another Rotten Tomato data point that is intriguing is that Black Panther has the widest margin between its critical score and its audience score of all the Marvel films and super hero films of recent years that were rated "Fresh".

Black Panther's critical score of 97, and audience score of 79, makes for a spread of -18. The next super hero film with the closest negative critical/audience score spread is Captain America: First Avenger with a -6. It is pretty striking that Black Panther's negative critical/audience spread is 3 x higher than the next superhero film with a negative spread. The average negative critical/audience score spread of the ten Marvel films eligible is -4.3.

Another intriguing tidbit is that among the eight Marvel films with a positive critic/audience spread (audience score is higher than the critical score), the average spread is +4.5, with the highest spreads being Thor: Dark World at +11 and Avengers: Age of Ultron at +8. 

In analyzing all of this data the thing that really sticks out is that Black Panther is a total outlier in terms of the spread between its critical and audience scores. Why is that?

My thesis regarding the Black Panther Rotten Tomato anomalies is the same as my thesis regarding A Wrinkle in Time's odd dichotomy between written reviews and the grade given…namely that critics scored these two films on a curve in order to elevate their Rotten Tomato scores due to the racial and/or gender politics associated with both films. In other words, critics graded these films not on their cinematic and artistic merits, but on their racial and gender politics.

Another factor may be that professional film critics are grading a film publicly, while amateur Rotten Tomato "reviewers" can share their opinion in relative obscurity and anonymity. When people can hide behind relative anonymity they are much freer to give more honest views in regards to a movie and have no need to virtue signal out of fear of being ostracized over racism charges.

It is difficult to come to any clear cut mathematical answer without diving into Rotten Tomatoes specific formula, but my best guess is that Black Panther received a rating boost equivalent to half a grade/star higher due to this racially motivated grading curve. I also believe that A Wrinkle in Time received a grading curve boost of at least a full star higher than it merited due to the same reasons.

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If Black Panther had not gotten the extra half a grade/star boost, it would fall from a 97 critical score to a critical score of about 83, which would leave it within the margin of an average spread between critical score and audience score for a typical Marvel film (-4.3). It is much more difficult to mathematically figure what A Wrinkle in Time's critical score would be without this grading curve because there are no films with which to compare it, but it seems likely that minus the full grade/star boost, A Wrinkle in Time would have received a much lower score, most likely in the range of 20 or even lower.

FAILING UPWARDS IN THE AGE OF IDENTITY POLITICS

A remarkable note about the failure of A Wrinkle in Time is that as the film has flopped, its director Ava DuVernay has been given the keys to another big-budget project, the Warner Brothers/DC film New Gods. What makes this all the more striking is that A Wrinkle in Time hasn't just flopped with critics (regardless of inflated ratings) or audiences, but financially. A Wrinkle in Time had a budget of over $100 million and when you add in marketing costs and account for theater's share of the cut, the film needs to break the $250 million barrier JUST TO BREAK EVEN. That goal seems like a very long shot at this point in time, which is why it is so bizarre that WB/DC would jump at the chance to work with Ms. DuVernay at this moment of her epic blockbuster failure. 

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Emblematic of the "leg up" program and the accompanying climate of political correctness swirling around A Wrinkle in Time and Ms. DuVernay like a cloud of protective, truth repelling dust, The Atlantic had an article by David Sims about New Gods and DuVernay's hiring that revealed an even greater amount of disingenuous spin than the inflated critical Rotten Tomato scores do. In the piece, Sims distorts reality and brazenly and shamelessly lies in order to make the signing of DuVernay to direct New Gods seem like a masterful coup for the brain trust of WB/DC. 

In the opening line of the piece Sims writes, "Last year, the critical and financial calamity of Justice League served as a bit of a wake up call...". Later in the piece Sims writes of DuVernay's A Wrinkle in Time, "That film debuted this month to mixed reviews and solid, but unspectacular box office; though hardly a catastrophe". 

Let's unravel Mr. Sims shameless spin shall we. He deems Justice League a "critical and financial calamity", but A Wrinkle in Time "hardly a catastrophe". The facts are that Justice League has a Rotten Tomato critical score of…40, the exact same critical score of the alleged "mixed reviews" of A Wrinkle in Time. In addition, A Wrinkle in Time has a Rotten Tomato audience score of only 34, while Justice League has a Rotten Tomato audience score of…76. So Justice League nearly doubles A Wrinkle in Time's audience score while sharing the same critical score and Sims deems it a "calamity" while dubbing A Wrinkle in Time's reviews "mixed" and the film overall as "not a catastrophe".

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Adding to the damning case proving Mr. Sims' sycophancy is his claim that Justice League was a "financial calamity" while A Wrinkle in Time was "not catastrophic" with a "solid, but unspectacular box office".  On Justice League's opening weekend in November 2017, it was the top grossing film, raking in $94 million domestically. By contrast, A Wrinkle in Time did not even win its opening weekend, coming in second place to Black Panther in its fourth week of release, and only took in a meager $33 million. After two weeks in theaters Justice League's box office take was $135 million domestically, while after A Wrinkle in Time's fourth place finish in week two, its box office now sits at an anemic $49 million. Justice League's final box office tally was $658 million worldwide, a number which A Wrinkle in Time won't even come close to sniffing. And yet, in Mr. Sims eyes, A Wrinkle in Time is not a "catastrophe" but Justice League is a "calamity". Is it me or does Mr. Sims have an agenda, and do the facts prove him to be torturing the truth and the English language in order to celebrate Ava DuVernay getting a job even in the midst of her big-budget film proving itself to be an absolute disaster. Mr. Sims is guilty of being full of shit, and his diminishing of Justice League and elevating A Wrinkle in Time, is proof of that.

Now, is Justice League a great film? No, it isn't. It was the least financially successful of all the current DC films and was poorly reviewed, but by every possible metric, including Rotten Tomato audience ratings and at the box office, it is far superior to A Wrinkle in Time. Mr. Sims is committing the same sin in his article that critics did in scoring A Wrinkle in Time, they are playing identity politics and embracing diversity and inclusion at the expense of talent, skill and integrity, and that should be to their great shame. 

DC hiring Ms. DuVernay to direct New Gods flies in the face of all rational business and artistic sense. Ms. DuVernay is a not an unknown, she is a known quality now and THE BIG BUDGET FILM SHE JUST DIRECTED IS AN UNMITIGATED DISASTER

Unlike DuVernay, Black Panther director Ryan Coogler has proven twice that he can direct financially successful franchise films, first with Creed and secondly with Black Panther, so handing him the keys to a big budget film is an absolute no brainer (as was the decision to let him direct Black Panther due to his success with Creed). Ms. DuVernay getting another shot at a big budget when she has so egregiously screwed up a potential big money maker, is absurd and portends Hollywood's irrational swing towards a more diverse but less talented and less deserving crop of filmmakers. 

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Think of it this way, Hollywood should be a bottom line business similar to the NBA, where it doesn't matter the race, religion or ethnicity of the people involved, only that they are the very best at what they do. Would we tolerate some NBA team adding less skilled or less talented players to their roster just to quench some thirst for diversity and inclusion? Of course not, so why are film critics pushing for it and why is Hollywood doing it? The end result will ultimately be a watering down of the quality of cinema and a thinning of box office receipts. Exhibit A - see A Wrinkle in Time.

BLACK WASHING AND CULTURAL APPROPRIATION

One final thought regarding A Wrinkle in Time, as previously stated the film makes changes to the the book by diversifying the cast and also removing the Christianity in favor of a New Age self-help viewpoint. What struck me regarding the inclusive casting was the silence from the media over the film not being true to the original source material. Over the last few years there has been a great deal of controversy when White actors were cast in roles that were minorities in the original source material or roles where White actors played minorities. This is called Whitewashing and the more infamous recent examples of it have been committed by Emma Stone in Aloha, Scarlett Johannsen in Ghost in the Machine, Ed Skrien In Hellboy and Tilda Swinton in Dr. Strange. Why wasn't there a similar outrage over A Wrinkle in Time "Blackwashing" roles that were originally White in the book? The hypocrisy over this issue is staggering but not the least bit surprising. 

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Another bit of hypocrisy is that there has been a lot of talk about "cultural appropriation" in recent years. It usually revolves around some dopey White guy with dreadlocks, but it also dives into wider and more substantial matters as well, but it is always a charge leveled against White people. But the fact is that Ms. DuVernay just "culturally appropriated" a book written by a White woman and populated by White characters and replaced the White people with people of color. Why is there not an outrage over that? Look, I understand that Ms. Duvernay wanted to make an inclusive film with a diverse cast and she has every right to do that and good for her, but if you want to make an uplifting, New Age, spiritual sci-fi film with a multi-cultural cast…THEN WRITE AN ORIGINAL STORY, don't alter a classic book just to satiate your diversity desires. 

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The source material for Black Panther and A Wrinkle in Time were both written in the same time frame, the 1960's. Would it be acceptable if a White director decided to make a version of Black Panther with a mostly White cast? No…people would freak out about that, and rightfully so. So why does that same standard not apply to A Wrinkle in Time and Ava DuVernay? Not only was that film not held to account for its Blackwashing, the media orgasmically celebrated it for doing so. 

I understand the counter argument that White people have dominated this culture since it began, and so they need to be held to account when they Whitewash or culturally appropriate…but those arguments hold no water when the rules do not apply to everyone across the board. If you try and demand a separate set of rules for different types of people, you will only end up scuttling your own argument upon the jagged rocks of hypocrisy. 

In conclusion, I think it is fairly obvious that film critics are soft pedaling their negative views of A Wrinkle in Time because it is directed by a Black woman and has an "important" message of diversity and inclusion. I also think it is obvious, and statistically provable, that positive reviews of Black Panther were padded because it was directed by an African-American man and had an overwhelmingly Black cast. Some people may think that this sort of behavior by critics, motivated by the dogma of identity politics, is acceptable or even noble, but I find it to be condescending and repugnant. I believe it is, in its own way, a form of insidiously paternalistic racism that will ultimately have negative consequences not only for the art of cinema, but for all filmmakers of color. 

UPDATE 3/24/18: An interesting article from Romesh Ranganathan in The Guardian that in a round about way, and probably unintentionally, buttresses my point about how when a film becomes about "diversity" (as opposed to being about its story) it clouds critical judgement and ultimately undermines the movie.

©2018

Irishness, Cultural Memory and The Curse of St. Patrick's Day

The following article is republished from St. Patrick's Day 2013

What does Irishness, cultural memory and the curse of St. Patrick's day have to do with acting? Well, let us begin with this statement: the key to great acting is specificity.  Be specific in action, intention and character and you can bring life to any part no matter how big or small. The converse is also true, generalities will suffocate any part in the crib, from Hamlet to the third extra on the right, leaving it lifeless and limp.  St. Patrick's Day is a celebration of the  generalities and dumbing down of what it means to be Irish,  and that is the 'Curse of St. Patrick's Day'.

Irish characters in film and television for decades consisted of little more than the kind hearted policeman, priest or nanny who loved to drink, sing or put up his/her dukes, all with a charmingly lovely Irish lilt to their sing song speech.  These characters had as much depth and complexity as an Irish Spring soap commercial.  This image of this rosy cheeked lad or lass has been the defining one of the Irish for the majority of time that film has existed.

St. Patrick's day celebrates this version of Irishness.  As the saying goes, "everyone is Irish on St. Paddy's day"...yeah...well, not so much.  Wearing a green Notre Dame shirt and drinking yourself silly doesn't make you Irish, no matter what the culture at large may think.  Irishness is not an idiot puking on their "Kiss me I'm Irish" pin in the gutter, trust me.

We, the Irish, are just as much to blame as anyone for our own misrepresentation. We Irish, and by 'Irish' I also mean Irish-Americans, embrace and celebrate our own self-destruction.  Drunkenness is not something to hang your hat on, especially when the Irish culture is rich in so many other ways. Yet we do celebrate drunkenness anyway with an uncanny pride. Have the drunken fools chugging their green beers ever read James Joyce?  George Bernard Shaw? Samuel Beckett? William Butler Yeats? Odds are they haven't, and would never associate Irishness with those writers, or with any intellectual endeavor.

Which brings us to the point, what is Irishness?  Irishness is deep, dark and complex. Hell, Freud once said of the Irish,  "This is one race of people for whom psychoanalysis is of no use whatsoever."  If you've stumped Freud you've got to be pretty complicated. So what makes the Irish so complex?  Well, Irishness is defined in part by over four hundred years of occupation by a foreign power and the helplessness, shame and anger that come with occupation. Irishness is massacres, famines, insurgencies, civil wars, sectarian violence, hunger strikes, brutal discrimination and segregation and near cultural extermination. In contrast, Irishness is also defined by staggeringly great works of art, intellect and spirituality.

Want to know true Irishness? Read the plays of J.M. Synge or Sean O'Casey, or read the novels of James Joyce or the poems of Yeats.  Read about the rich history of the place and it's people, from the Celts to St. Patrick and St. Brendan all the way to Michael Collins and Bobby Sands. Want to know the experience of Irishness in America?  Read or see any of Eugene O'Neill's plays, but check out Long Days Journey Into Night and Moon for the Misbegotten in particular. Or if you just don't want to read, watch a Jim Sheridan film, try In America or In the Name of the Father. Or watch Hunger by director Steve McQueen or Bloody Sunday by Paul Greengrass.  These will teach you more of what Irishness is than any St. Patrick's Day parade or crowded Irish pub.

This brings us back to acting and specificity.  What do we as actors do if we are in a position where we are playing an Irish character?  Well, if the writer and the director both understand what true Irishness is in all its complexity, then you'll be allowed to build a rich, complex character devoid of any stereotypes or generalities. But  what should an actor do if the writer and director just wants them to be a stereotypical Irish lad or lass straight from central casting?

This is what you do, you fill the general with the specific. You build an internal life which is as rich as the Irish and their culture and history. If you are told to play a smiling, rosy cheeked, kind hearted cop/priest/maid, use true Irishness and Irish cultural memory to make the motivation and inner life more vibrant. For instance, use the cultural memory of four hundred years of foreign occupation that has taught the Irish to keep their true thoughts and feelings to themselves while projecting a joyous exterior to the world in order to keep their occupiers at arms length. So the cheery cop/priest/maid with a heart of gold actually has a hidden and much more vibrant inner life with which to keep the actor and their actions alive and engaged.  If you are playing a stereotypical drunken, brawling Irishmen, tap into the fire within that character that makes the Irishmen fight to prove himself and his manhood in an attempt to break free of the cultural shame and humiliation of being a second class citizen in his own country. If you are asked to play the stereotypical kind hearted, fun loving, witty Irishmen(or women), then feed that choice by tapping into the insecurity and low self worth of a poor, hard working people with the burning and desperate need to be loved by everyone they meet. This will help you 'raise the stakes' of your actions and be a driving force through your creation of the character.

These are just a few suggestions to get an actor to realize that there is much more than meets the eye when you have to play a stereotype. Sadly, more often than not, that's exactly what we are asked to play, but it is up to us to give depth, meaning and complexity to these parts. The actors greatest challenge is to give specificity to generalized writing and direction. Using the cultural memory and rich history of a characters nationality, religion or race is a great way to engage our imaginations and tap into different textures and colors when bringing a character to life.

So, have a happy St. Patrick's Day, but instead of wearing green and getting drunk, shake off that curse of St. Patrick's Day and go read a book by a great Irish writer, or read about Ireland's history, or go watch a film by a great Irish director or with great Irish actors.

 Now go forth and celebrate the tradition of the Irish in all its wondrous complexities.

Slainte.

©2016

St. Patrick's Day : The Five Best Irish Films

The following article is republished from St. Patrick's Day 2015

Estimated Reading Time : 7 Minutes

I am Irish-American. Most of my best friends are Irish. Among the loveliest of the plethora of lovely ladies in my prodigious gaggle of gorgeous girlfriends are Irish. I love the Irish. I love being Irish. But...I do not love St. Patrick's Day. St. Patrick's Day is the day people of all types get to embody the most base and degrading stereotypes of the Irish. They dress in kelly green, wear "Kiss Me I'm Irish" pins, get roaring drunk and vomit all over themselves and anyone unfortunate enough to be within vomit radius. For some reason I can't quite understand, stereotyping of the Irish is permitted by our culture which is so quick to take offense when other groups or nationalities are stereotypically portrayed. Ironically, in attempting to celebrate Irishness, people end up being incredibly and disgustingly disrespectful to the Irish and what it means to be Irish.

Irishness, contrary to common beliefs, is not about leprechauns, shamrocks and pots o' gold. Nor does it entail wearing green, getting drunk and puking. Rather, Irishness is a complex combination of fierce defiance, intellectual curiosity, contemplative melancholy, and roguish charm that outwardly manifests itself in artistic, cultural and spiritual works of immense depth and genius.

So, as an actual tribute to the Irish, instead of drinking green beer and eating corn beef and cabbage today, I recommend you dive into the plethora of fantastic Irish works of art. Whether in the form of music, literature or film, true Irish culture is worth exploring in order to get a sense of who the Irish really, truly are, and what has made them that way. Go read the works of James Joyce, Sean O'Casey, W.B. Yeats, George Bernard Shaw or Seamus Heaney. Go listen to some traditional Irish music, or put on some Van Morrison, Rory Gallagher or U2. Or, since this is an acting coaching website...go and watch a great Irish film!

With that in mind, here are a list of my favorite Irish films which I thoroughly encourage you to watch. Instead of going to a crowded bar and being surrounded by idiotic jackass phony-Irish wannabes and taking the risk of getting covered in your own vomit,  or worse, someone else's, sit down and watch these films and come to understand the heart and soul of the greatest people on earth.

TOP FIVE IRISH FILMS

1. BLOODY SUNDAY directed by Paul Greengrass : 

Bloody Sunday (2002) is the true story of the 1972 shootings of innocent protestors in Derry in the occupied six counties, by British Army paratroopers. The film is masterfully directed by Paul Greengrass, who later went on to direct some of the Bourne films and United 93

Through the dynamic use of handheld camera, Greengrass creates an intimacy and immediacy that is riveting, and that impacts the viewer on a visceral level. In addition to Greengrass, lead actor James Nesbitt does spectacular work as Ivan Cooper, the organizer of the peaceful protest that ends is bloody slaughter. Nesbitt's performance is the centerpiece of an outstanding ensemble.

Bloody Sunday may be difficult to watch, but it is a truly great film that is must-see.

2. HUNGER directed by Steve McQueen :

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Hunger (2008), is the story of the 1981 hunger strike by Bobby Sands and other members of the I.R.A. at the H.M.S. Maze prison. This is Steve McQueen's first feature film, which he later followed with Shame and the Academy Award winning 12 Years a Slave.

McQueen proves right out of the gate that he is an artistic and creative master as a director with Hunger. The visuals of the film have such a unique grit and texture to them that they can, and often do, tell the story all by themselves. Along with McQueen's brilliant direction, Hunger boasts Michael Fassbenders tour-de-force portrayal of Bobby Sands, which elevates the film to a transcendent work of genius. Fassbender's performance in Hunger is as intricately crafted and delicately human as any captured on film in the last twenty years.

Again, Hunger is not for the feint of heart. It is a brutally unforgiving film. Yet, it is such a finely crafted film, that it takes its much deserved space in the pantheon of great Irish films.

3. JIM SHERIDAN FILMS - IN THE NAME OF THE FATHER (1993), IN AMERICA (2003), MY LEFT FOOT (1989), THE FIELD, (1990), THE BOXER (1997)

Jim Sheridan is the Grand Master of Irish filmmakers. No other director has been as consistently great as Sheridan. In fact, Sheridan's work is so superlative that I couldn't pick just one film to put in my top five, so I gave him a top five list all to his own.

  1. In the Name of the Father (1993): Based on the true story of the Guilford Four, four people wrongly convicted for the 1974 Guildford Pub bombing by the I.R.A. which killed five people. Daniel Day-Lewis stars as Gerry Conlon, a wayward Irish youth who gets blamed for the bombing, as does his father, family members and friends. Day-Lewis' gives a powerhouse performance that propels this film to the tops of the Sheridan list.
  2. In America (2003) : A semi-autobiographical film about the Sullivan family, husband Johnny, his wife Sarah, and their two daughters, Christy and Ariel who move to New York City from Ireland in 1982 in the wake of the death of their young son Frankie. Samantha Morton stars as Sarah and earned an Oscar nomination for her stellar performance, as did Djimon Hounsou in a supporting role as their HIV positive neighbor. The entire cast, particularly the two young actresses, Sarah and Emma Bolger, are outstanding. In America is a deeply moving, and insightful look into the struggle to find forgiveness and peace in a new land.
  3. My Left Foot (1989) : The film that put Sheridan on the map, is the story of Christy Brown, an Irishman born with cerebral palsy, who can only use his left foot. Brown overcomes his obstacles and becomes a writer and painter. Daniel Day-Lewis won his first Best Actor Oscar for his remarkable work in the lead, and Brenda Fricker won a Best Supporting Actor as Bridget Brown, Christy Brown's mother. An excellent film buoyed by sterling performances.
  4. The Field (1990) : The story of an old Irish farmer, Bull McCabe, trying to hold onto a strip of land, his family and tradition. McCabe is played by Richard Harris, who earned an Oscar nomination for his fine performance. Have you noticed a pattern? Actor's get Oscar nominations when they are directed by Jim Sheridan, which is why so many great actors want to keep working with him.
  5. The Boxer (1997) : The story of a boxer recently released from prison, who was a former member of the I.R.A. Once again Daniel Day-Lewis stars as Danny Flynn and is really incredible as the boxer trying reform his ways in the ever more complex world of "The Troubles". Emma Watson plays Maggie, Flynn's former girlfriend, and gives a subtly compelling performance. Day-Lewis' continuous commitment to realism in the portrayal of a boxer wins the day, as his seamless portrayal is as spot on as any in film history.

4. ONCE directed by John Carney

Once (2007), is an Irish musical film about the trials and tribulations of a Dublin singer/songwriter street musician as he tries to make a career in the music business. The "guy", played by Glen Hansard, meets and falls for a piano playing Czech immigrant "girl", played by Marketa Irglova. The two lead actors have a phenomenal chemistry and charm. The music is heartbreakingly good.  Once is joyously exhilarating in its artistic spirit, its musical power and its heart felt honesty. An absolute gem of a film.

5. THE WIND THAT SHAKES THE BARLEY directed by Ken Loach

The Wind That Shakes the Barley (2006), is the story of two brothers, Damien and Teddy O'Donovan who join the Irish Republican Army and fight in the Irish War of Independence (1919-1922) and the Irish Civil War (1922-1923). Cillian Murphy stars as Damien and gives the strongest performance of his fine career. The film excels due to Murphy's complex work and also because of director Loach's clear, detailed and specific dramatic explanation of the wars for Ireland and what caused them and why. Definitely worth your time if you enjoy Irish history. 

In the spirit of the day, I leave you now with the words of one of the great Irish poets.

Had I the heaven' embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half light,
I would spread the cloths under your feet:
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.
  - He Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven by W.B. Yeats
 

And thus concludes my St. Patrick's Day sermon.  Go forth, spread the word and try to remember what it actually means to be Irish today. Sláinte Mhaith!! 

© 2015

Annihilation: 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 in the theatre. SEE IT on Netflix or cable.

Annihilation, written and directed by Alex Garland and based upon the book of the same name by Jeff VanderMeer, is the story of Lena, a biologist who ventures into a mysterious and ominous anomaly dubbed "The Shimmer", in order to find out what happened to her husband. The film stars Natalie Portman as Lena, with supporting performances from Oscar Isaac, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Tessa Thompson and Gina Rodriguez.

Alex Garland, a Mickey™® Award-winning writer, is one of my favorite screenwriters and his directorial debut, Ex Machina, was simply stellar, so I was very excited to see his sophomore directing effort, Annihilation. Sadly, Annihilation pales in comparison to the science fiction masterpiece that is Ex Machina, and although it is a nobly ambitious film, Annihilation is ultimately unsatisfying because it is so terribly uneven. 

Garland is usually a masterful and original writer, but his script for Annihilation resorts to a lot of ungainly exposition, sci-fi/horror film tropes and central casting caricatures instead of complex characters. 

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There are some errors of logic in the film that are absolutely maddening as well, for instance, why set up a guard post on the ground at night, with a light on in it directed inward not outward (thus blinding the guard), when everyone else is safe in a tower inaccessible to any dangerous elements. Or why run after a comrade dragged away by something mysterious but not take your weapon with you? These logical errors make it difficult to get absorbed into the reality of the film and thus keep viewers at an arms distance when they should be getting pulled ever closer. 

The film also suffers because it is, at times, little more than a hodge-podge of the usual horror movie scare tactics, some taken directly from classics like Alien. There is also the rather lame and predictable war movie standard of giving brief background on each of the diverse women making up the group that heads into The Shimmer. There is the tough chick from Chicago, the nerdy physicist, the bitter and grizzled older woman and the wounded soul that everyone likes. You can see these same characters in their male form in any war or sci-fi film you can think of…from Saving Private Ryan to Predator

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The film also struggles with its pacing and never really hits its stride until well into its final third. That said, the third act is Alex Garland at his best. The themes and philosophical ideas tackled in the final act are fascinating, but the journey to get to them so conventional as to be frustrating. In many ways, it felt to me like the film should've have started at the beginning of the third act, as the ending of the movie could propel you into another intriguing drama entirely.

Natalie Portman does solid but unspectacular work as the protagonist Lena. Portman carries the narrative through its twists and turns with enough movie star magnetism to keep your attention but she never rises to any great acting heights, which is not a knock against her as her job here is to be solid and steady and she does that.

The rest of the cast though, does surprisingly sub-par work. Jennifer Jason Leigh is a terrific actress, but she feels disconnected from the material and oddly subdued. Oscar Isaac is particularly bad in his role as Kane, a Special Forces soldier. Isaac lacks the quiet gravitas and physically imposing but understated menace of a believable Special Forces operator. He also gives his character a southern accent, and does it so incredibly poorly that it further undermines his believability in the role. Not only does Isaac's accent slip in and out at random, but when he does focus on it, it is so over the top as to be laughable and absurd. Isaac is an actor I have been giving the benefit of the doubt to for some time now, but after an uninterrupted string of really poor performances, I am ready to declare that Oscar Isaac is in fact, not a good actor. All of the other performances in the supporting cast are rather forgettable due to their one-dimensionality.

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On the bright side, Rob Hardy's cinematography in Annihilation is truly outstanding. The film is beautifully shot and is a thoroughly proficient exercise in technical filmmaking as both the visuals and the sound are extremely well done. Hardy's framing in particular is superb and his use of vibrant color and crisp contrast turn "The Shimmer" portion of the film into a sumptuously magnificent Ayahuasca fever dream. This dazzling Shimmer effect is further enhanced by Hardy's subdued palette and tones in the "regular world" portions of the film. 

In conclusion, Annihilation is a visually beautiful, philosophically ambitious film that stumbles out of the gate and never quite reaches its stride until its fascinating third act, but by then it is too late. Thin character development, clunky dialogue and poor pacing scuttle what could have been a truly impressive film. If you are a connoisseur of cinematography, you may want to venture to the theaters to see Annihilation on the big screen, as it is gorgeous, but if you are more interested in the overall quality of a film, or in simply being entertained, I recommend you wait to see this film on Netflix or cable for free, and arm yourself with a hearty dose of low expectations.  

©2018

 

Red Sparrow: 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 movie. If you are mildly intrigued by the premise or by the opportunity to see Jennifer Lawrence in her birthday suit, then watch it on Netflix or cable, but arm yourself with very low expectations.

Red Sparrow, directed by Francis Lawrence and written by Justin Haythe (based on the book of the same name by Justin Matthews), is the story of Dominika Egorova, a former ballerina turned Russian intelligence officer who uses her seductive charms to try and uncover the identity of a mole. The film stars Jennifer Lawrence as Dominika, with supporting turns from Joel Edgerton, Mary Louise Parker, Charlotte Rampling, Jeremy Irons and Matthias Shoenaerts. 

When I first saw the trailer for Red Sparrow I was intrigued because I am a fan of Jennifer Lawrence and respect her work as an actress. In addition, I enjoy a good spy story (Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy is one of my sneaky favorite movies of the last bunch of years) and am a bit of a Russophile as well. My Russophilia mostly manifests itself in my choice of literature as I am a sucker for Dostoyevsky, Tolstoy, Gogol, Chekhov and the rest but I can also appreciate a good Russian narrative in film as well. 

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Days before I went to see Red Sparrow, a friend of mine, the venerable Spyder Le Frenchy, who is an incorrigible pervert, alerted me that he saw Jennifer Lawrence on 60 Minutes say that she appears naked in Red Sparrow. Spyder hasn't been to a movie in a decade, but with Ms. Lawrence's revealing revelation Red Sparrow became a must see movie event for him. I went to see the movie for reasons other than Ms. Lawrence's exposed flesh, but that being said, her nakedness was not something that would deter me from seeing the movie. 

Perversion aside, as a cinephile I found Red Sparrow to be mind-numbingly banal and completely underwhelming. In terms of perversion, I texted Spyder Le Frenchy after the movie and told him that if he is aroused by tedious, boring and incoherent things, then Red Sparrow is definitely the movie for him. 

I understood what Red Sparrow was trying to do, it was trying to be a sexy star vehicle for Jennifer Lawrence. Wrapped in a cloak of Hollywood celebrity (Ms. Lawrence) and allegedly timely drama, the film is also surreptitiously a piece of propaganda meant to reinforce the Russophobia of our age. The truth is, the pieces are all in place for Red Sparrow to be a smash hit, it has the highest paid actress in the world, a stellar cast, and a relevant and potentially compelling story based on a successful book, but in execution, Red Sparrow is a lifeless and stale mess of a movie. 

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Jennifer Lawrence is a terrific actress, dynamic screen presence and a luminous beauty, but she is so burdened by the guttural Russian accent she uses in Red Sparrow that her magnetism seems to evaporate right before your eyes. Ms. Lawrence's accent also occasionally goes in and out seemingly at random, so much so that there were moments where I wondered if her character were doing it intentionally for some secret spy reason…rest assured, she wasn't. 

Ms. Lawrence's performance is ultimately shallow, hollow and rings flat throughout. It felt to me like she was a movie star mailing it in the majority of the time. Ms. Lawrence is certainly a beautiful woman and the camera loves her, but for an actress playing a professional seductress, she struck me as the opposite of smoldering, in fact she came across as remarkably frigid and unsexy. All of the supposedly steamy romance in the film is suffocatingly dull, tedious and entirely devoid of allure, passion or eroticism. 

The cast of Red Sparrow is a group of acting heavy hitters, but every single one of them gives sub-par, entirely forgettable performances. Joel Edgerton, Jeremy Irons, Mary Louise Parker and Charlotte Rampling are, like Jenifer Lawrence, good actors who do bad work in this ice-cold clunker. 

Besides the cast's flaccid work, Red Sparrow's script is also a disaster area. Incoherent is the most pleasant way to describe the numerous twists and turns that all go nowhere at a monotonous snails pace. All of the characters are written as flat, one-dimensional stereotypes, and the narrative is a dull maze of standard spy movie tropes. 

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The film is also a pretty heavy-handed piece of anti-Russian propaganda. Russia is presented as a bitter, monolithic, Orwellian tundra populated by equally cold, conniving and vicious human beings. Every single Russian man in the film is an irredeemable degenerate. Some are rapists, or pedophiles, or killers, and some are all three, but all are reprehensible. Russian women don't fare much better in Red Sparrow. According to the movie, Russian women are uniformly lying, manipulative, cold-hearted vengeful whores devoid of genuine human emotion who are proficient only at sex, violence…and occasionally ballet.

The Russia of Red Sparrow is decidedly Cold War era even though the film is set in the present day. Vladimir Putin is never mentioned by name, although a "Russian President" looms over the film's proceedings like a chemical weapons cloud. Red Sparrow's "Russian President" is portrayed in conversation as a cross between Stalin, Sauron and Scrooge…sans the charm. 

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Interestingly enough, actor Matthias Shoenaerts plays a pivotal role in the film, and he is a dead ringer for Putin. Casting a Putin look-a-like in the film's most nefarious role did not happen by coincidence, that I can assure you. Shoenaerts is intentionally meant to represent Putin and his character's actions are meant to embarrass and humiliate him. 

The propaganda of Red Sparrow is what I would deem Reinforcement Propaganda, which means that it is not meant to instigate negative feelings toward Russia, but to reinforce and solidify previously planted negative feelings already in the collective. The most recent round of  Instigative Propaganda (not to be confused with Provocation Propaganda) against Russia started in the U.S. media in earnest in 2014 and has been relentless ever since.

Red Sparrow takes the foundation developed by this round of Instigative Propaganda (2014) and makes it manifest by simply dramatizing what the viewer has been taught to assume is true. That is the beauty of Reinforcement Propaganda, it builds upon Foundational and Instigative Propaganda and solidifies preconceived assumptions among the indoctrinated. In this case, the current coordinated propaganda war against Russia was built upon the much earlier Foundational Propaganda of the Cold War and anti-communist movements, which was heightened with the newest round of Instigation Propaganda started in 2014 (media coverage of the Sochi Olympics and Ukrainian Coup being notable examples). Now Red Sparrow is part of the Reinforcement Wave, that normalizes and buttresses the layers of disinformation that was preceded by normalizing it through entertainment. 

All of that said, just because a film is propaganda doesn't mean it is automatically bad. Some propaganda, the most effective kind, is encased in a superior film. To be clear, Red Sparrow is not a bad film because it is propaganda, it is a bad film because it is a bad film. 

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As for the specifics of why Red Sparrow is a bad film, I think it is because director Francis Lawrence lacks any vision whatsoever and…is not good at directing. A strong directorial hand may have been able to reign in this unruly film, but the clueless Mr. Lawrence is ill-equipped for such duty. A quality filmmaker of skill would've been able to, through mastery of craft, at least build tension and suspense with this story, but the cinematically impotent Mr. Lawrence is entirely incapable of such a task. Besides poor direction, the film also has no distinctive look to it and the cinematography of Jo Willems is so common as to be listless.  

In conclusion, Red Sparrow is little more than a poorly crafted, middle of the road, bland piece of Hollywood studio junk. Jennifer Lawrence may be a big movie star and the highest paid actress in the world, but even her star power is unable to keep this film's head artistically or financially above water. Red Sparrow could have been at least a halfway entertaining, if not a downright good movie, but due to weak direction and a horrendous script the film is ultimately a wasted opportunity, and a complete waste of your precious time. If you really want to see some creative and imaginative espionage drama involving Russians, my advice is to tune in to Rachel Maddow on MSNBC ( or any cable news talking empty-head) any night of the week, she'll have enough speculative, evidence-free, cloak and dagger Russo-phobic red meat to satiate all of your deepest xenophobic desires.

©2018

 

 

The Pentagon and Hollywood's Successful and Deadly Propaganda Alliance (Extended Edition)

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Estimated Reading Time: 5 minutes 48 seconds

The Pentagon aids Hollywood in making money, and in turn Hollywood churns out effective propaganda for the brutal American war machine.

The U.S. has the largest military budget in the world, spending over $611 billion, far larger than any other nation on earth. The U.S. military also has at their disposal the most successful propaganda apparatus the world has ever known…Hollywood.

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Since their collaboration on the first Best Picture winner Wings in 1927, the U.S. military has used Hollywood to manufacture and shape its public image in over 1,800 films and TV shows, and Hollywood has, in turn, used military hardware in their films and TV shows to make gobs and gobs of money. A plethora of movies like Lone Survivor, Captain Philips, and even blockbuster franchises like Transformers and Marvel, DC and X-Men super hero movies, have over the years agreed to cede creative control in exchange for use of U.S. military hardware.

In order to obtain cooperation from the Department of Defense (DOD), producers must sign contracts - Production Assistance Agreements - that guarantee a military approved version of the script makes it to the big screen. In return for signing away creative control, Hollywood producers save tens of millions of dollars from their budgets on military equipment, service members to operate the equipment, and expensive location fees.

Capt. Russell Coons, Director of Navy Office of Information West, told Al Jazeera what the military expects for their cooperation,

“We’re not going to support a program that disgraces a uniform or presents us in a compromising way.”

Phil Strub, the DOD chief Hollywood liaison, says the guidelines are clear,

“If the filmmakers are willing to negotiate with us to resolve our script concerns, usually we’ll reach an agreement. If not, filmmakers are free to press on without military assistance.”

In other words, the Department of Defense is using taxpayer money to pick favorites. The DOD has no interest in nuance, truth or, God-forbid, artistic expression, only in insidious jingoism that manipulates public opinion to their favor. This is chilling when you consider that the DOD is able to use its financial leverage to quash dissenting films it deems insufficiently pro-military or pro-American in any way.

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The danger of the DOD-Hollywood alliance is that Hollywood is incredibly skilled at making entertaining, pro-war propaganda. The DOD isn’t getting involved in films like Iron Man, X-Men, Transformers or Jurassic Park III for fun, they are doing so because it’s an effective way to psychologically program Americans, particularly young Americans, not just to adore the military, but to worship militarism. This ingrained love of militarism has devastating real-world effects.

 

Lawrence Suid, author of “Guts and Glory: The Making of the American Military Image in Film” told Al Jazeera,

“I was teaching the history of the Vietnam War, and I couldn’t explain how we got into Vietnam. I could give the facts, the dates, but I couldn’t explain why. And when I was getting my film degrees it suddenly occurred to me that the people in the U.S. had never seen the U.S. lose a war, and when President Johnson said we can go into Vietnam and win, they believed him because they’d seen 50 years of war movies that were positive.”

As Mr. Suid points out, generations of Americans had been raised watching John Wayne valiantly storm the beaches of Normandy in films like The Longest Day, and thus were primed to be easily manipulated into supporting any U.S. military adventure because they were conditioned to believe that the U.S. is always the benevolent hero and inoculated against doubt.

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This indoctrinated adoration of a belligerent militarism, conjured by Hollywood blockbusters, also resulted in Americans being willfully misled into supporting a farce like the 2003 Iraq war. The psychological conditioning for Iraq War support was built upon hugely successful films like Saving Private Ryan (1997), directed by Steven Spielberg, and Black Hawk Down (2001), produced by Jerry Bruckheimer, that emphasized altruistic American militarism. Spielberg and Bruckheimer are two Hollywood heavyweights, along with Paramount studios, considered by the DOD to be their most reliable collaborators.

Another example of the success of the DOD propaganda program was the pulse-pounding agitprop of the Tom Cruise blockbuster Top Gun (1986).

Top Gun, produced by Bruckheimer, was a turning point in the DOD-Hollywood relationship, as it came amidst a string of artistically successful, DOD-opposed, “anti-war” films, like Apocalypse Now, Platoon and Full Metal Jacket, which gave voice to America’s post-Vietnam crisis of confidence. Top Gun was the visual representation of Reagan’s flag-waving optimism, and was the Cold War cinematic antidote to the “Vietnam Syndrome”.

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Top Gun, which could not have been made without massive assistance from the DOD, was a slick two-hour recruiting commercial that coincided with a major leap in public approval ratings for the military. With a nadir of 50% in 1980, by the time the Gulf War started in 1991, public support for the military spiked to 85%.

Since Top Gun, the DOD propaganda machine has resulted in a current public approval for the military of 72%, with Congress at 12%, the media at 24% and even Churches at only 40%, the military is far and away the most popular institution in American life. Other institutions would no doubt have better approval ratings if they too could manage and control their image in the public sphere.

It isn’t just the DOD that uses the formidable Hollywood propaganda apparatus to its own end…the CIA does as well, working with films to enhance their reputation and distort history.

For example, as the War on Terror raged, the CIA deftly used Charlie Wilson’s War (2007) as a disinformation vehicle to revise their sordid history with the Mujahideen in Afghanistan and to portray them-selves as heroic and not nefarious.

The CIA also surreptitiously aided the film Zero Dark Thirty (2012), and used it as a propaganda tool to alter history and to convince Americans that torture works.

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The case for torture presented in Zero Dark Thirty was originally made from 2001 to 2010 on the hit TV show 24, which had support from the CIA as well. That pro-CIA and pro-torture narrative continued in 2011 with the Emmy-winning show Homeland, created by the same producers as 24, Howard Gordon and Alex Gansa.

 

A huge CIA-Hollywood success story was Best Picture winner Argo (2012), which ironically is the story of the CIA teaming up with Hollywood. The CIA collaborated with the makers of Argo, including alleged liberal Ben Affleck, in order to pervert the historical record and elevate their image.

The CIA being involved in manipulating the American public should come as no surprise, as they have always had their fingers in the propagandizing of the American people, even in the news media with Operation Mockingbird that used/uses CIA assets in newsrooms to control narratives. 

Just like the DOD-Hollywood propaganda machine has real-world consequences in the form of war, the CIA-Hollywood teaming has tangible results as well. 

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For example, in our current culture, the sins of the Intelligence community, from vast illegal surveillance to rendition to torture, are intentionally lost down the memory hole. People like former CIA director John Brennan, a torture supporter who spied on the U.S. Senate in order to undermine the torture investigation, or former head of the NSA James Clapper, who committed perjury when he lied to congress about warrantless surveillance, or former Director of National Intelligence Michael Hayden, who lied about and supported both surveillance and torture, are all held up by the liberal media, like MSNBC and even allegedly anti-authoritarian comedians like John Oliver and Bill Maher, as brave and honorable men who should be thanked for their noble service. 

The fact that this propaganda devil’s bargain between the DOD/CIA and Hollywood takes place in the self-declared Greatest Democracy on Earth™ is an irony seemingly lost on those in power who benefit from it, and also among those targeted to be indoctrinated by it, entertainment consumers, who are for the most part entirely oblivious to it.

If America is the Greatest Democracy in the World™ why are its military and intelligence agencies so intent on covertly misleading its citizens, stifling artistic dissent and obfuscating the truth? The answer is obvious…because in order to convince Americans that their country is The Greatest Democracy on Earth™, they must be misled, artistic dissent must be stifled and the truth must be obfuscated.

In the wake of the American defeat in the Vietnam war, cinema flourished by introspectively investigating the deeper uncomfortable truths of that fiasco in Oscar nominated films like Apocalypse Now, Coming Home, The Deer Hunter, Platoon, Full Metal Jacket and Born on the Fourth of July, all made without assistance from the DOD.

The stultifying bureaucracy of America’s jingoistic military agitprop machine is now becoming more successful at suffocating artistic endeavors in their crib though. With filmmaking becoming ever more corporatized, it is an uphill battle for directors to maintain their artistic integrity in the face of cost-cutting budgetary concerns from studios.

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In contrast to post-Vietnam cinema, after the unmitigated disaster of the U.S. invasion of Iraq and the continuing quagmire in Afghanistan, there has been no cinematic renaissance, only a steady diet of mendaciously patriotic, DOD-approved, pro-war drivel like American Sniper and Lone Survivor. Best Picture winner The Hurt Locker (2008), shot with no assistance from the DOD, was the lone exception that successfully dared to portray some of the ugly truths of America’s Mesopotamian misadventure.

President Eisenhower once warned Americans to “guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military industrial complex.”

Eisenhower’s prescient warning should have extended to the military industrial entertainment complex of the DOD/CIA- Hollywood alliance, which has succeeded in turning Americans into a group of uniformly incurious and militaristic zealots.

America is now stuck in a perpetual pro-war propaganda cycle, where the DOD/CIA and Hollywood conspire to indoctrinate Americans to be warmongers, and in turn, Americans now demand more militarism from their entertainment and government to satiate their bloodlust.

The DOD/CIA - Hollywood propaganda alliance guarantees Americans will blindly support more future failed wars and will be willing accomplices in the deaths of millions more people across the globe.

A version of this article was originally published on March 12, 2018 are RT.

©2018

4th Slip-Me-A-Mickey™® Awards

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Estimated Reading Time: 69 seconds

The Slip-Me-A-Mickey™® awards are a tribute to the absolute worst that film and entertainment has to offer for the year. Again, the qualifying rules are simple, I just had to have seen the film for it to be eligible. This means that at one point I had an interest in the film, and put the effort in to see it, which may explain why I am so angry about it being awful. So any vitriol I may spew during this awards presentation shouldn't be taken personally by the people mentioned, it is really anger at myself for getting duped into watching.

The prizes are also pretty simple. The winners/losers receive nothing but my temporary scorn. If you are a winner/loser don't fret, because this years Slip-Me-A-Mickey™®  loser/winner could always be next years Mickey™® winner!! Remember…you are only as good as your last film!! 

Now…onto the awards!

WORST FILM OF THE YEAR

Kong: Skull Island: King Kong is awesome, Kong: Skull Island is decidedly not. Riddled with a cavalcade of career lowlight performances from the likes of John Goodman, Samuel L. Jackson and Brie Larson, this movie is heart-stoppingly bad. Too bad those awful performances won't be career ending. Watching a gorilla eat his own poop at the zoo is infinitely more entertaining than this movie.

Detroit - An unmitigated shitshow of a motion picture, Detroit, or as I have become fond of calling it - Detritus, is so awful as to be stunning. Kathryn Bigelow's amateur-hour direction coupled with community theatre level performances from the cast, demean a vitally important story of race in America and turn it into a redundantly repetitive exercise in the repetitively redundant. 

Downsizing - Alexander Payne manages to take the interesting idea at the heart of Downsizing and reduces it, pun intended, to a politically flaccid, dramatically impotent and incoherent showcase for bad acting and directing. Matt Damon looks like he may have been in the midst of a raging bender during the shooting of this insipid loser…for his sake, I sure hope he was.

AND THE LOSER IS

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DETROIT I have only walked out of a film once in my adult life…and that was a free screening, but Detroit is so repulsively awful that I was ready to bolt out the door on numerous occasions. Multiple times during this movie I prayed aloud that a riot would break out and burn the theatre down with me in it. An excruciating abomination of a dramatic endeavor and a new low for cinema.

 

WORST PERFORMANCE OF THE YEAR

Brie Larson - Kong: Skull Island: Brie Larson won an Oscar a few years ago and has followed it up by consistently being a bad actress in every thing she's done. Larson hits new lows with her wooden acting in Kong: Skull Island. This is the most lifeless and charisma-free performance I have seen since my ill-fated jaunt into the world of Funeral Home Theatre. 

Seth McFarland - Logan Lucky: Seth McFarland wears a wig and has an accent in Logan Lucky, but that still doesn't cover this steaming bag of shit of a performance. For someone who has made mountains of money making comedies, McFarland seems to be allergic to being funny. I think it is safe to say that Seth McFarland is not a threat to become America's next great actor.

Carrie Fisher - Star Wars: The Last Jedi: Sadly, Carrie Fisher died before Star Wars: The Last Jedi premiered. After seeing her performance in the film, I am seriously wondering if she didn't die before, or at the very least during, the shooting of the film. 

AND THE LOSER IS...

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BRIE LARSON - Brie Larson has the uncanny ability to be able to say words in front of a camera with all the charisma of a used wet mattress left by the side of a road. When Ms. Larson's acting career is over, which can't happen soon enough for me, I think she may have a wonderful future ahead of her as a piece of furniture…or as a cigar store wooden Indian. 

 

MOST OVERRATED FILM OF THE YEAR

Call Me by Your NameOk…I will call you by your name…Poorly Made Self-Undulgent Pedophile Story.

Get Out: The critical love for this over-hyped film is baffling as it is a moderately entertaining popcorn movie. The highest praise I could give the film is that it is maybe a little bit clever. The writing, directing and acting are all fine but not the least bit remarkable. But to listen to critics speak of this film, you'd think it was a cross between Citizen Kane and The Godfather

Lady Bird: Another critical darling that was nothing more than an excruciatingly long 90 minute sitcom. A collection of comedy "bits" that never coalesces around a coherent dramatic narrative, Lady Bird is an insipid art house phony. Critics loved it because they are so enamored with their manic pixie dream girl Greta Gerwig…I am not so enamored.

The PostSpielberg's attempt to make another serious movie that falls flat on its mustached and side-burned face. This movie is a shockingly poorly made  piece of agit-prop for establishment democrats. Spielberg's direction is so inept that there are moments when I literally laughed out loud, and other moments when I groaned at the heavy-handedness of it all. 

AND THE LOSER IS...

TIE - GET OUT and LADY BIRD

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Get Out is not a terrible film, it is a mildly amusing episode of The Twilight Zone…but because it dealt with race and was written and directed by an African-American, Jordan Peele, critics made it out to be the greatest film ever made. The critical hype for Get Out was fueled by the politics of the moment which all have to do with identity and diversity/inclusion. It would be nice if critics could judge a film simply on its merits and not on its ability to satiate the identity politics du jour, but that is certainly wishful thinking on my part. 

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Lady Bird also benefitted from the politics of the moment, namely the #MeToo movement and the desperate desire of critics to celebrate a female director for making something of value. Director Greta Gerwig is every critic's art-house manic pixie dream girl and so she was chosen as the flag bearer for female excellence in film this year. The problem though is that Lady Bird, the movie she wrote and directed (which to be clear is NOT her directorial debut), is a flaccid John Hughes imitation (or as my friend Mo Danger astutely describes it - "a bad version of Napoleon Dynamite crossed with Little Miss Sunshine") without any cohesive narrative or dramatic infrastructure. More akin to a collection of high school sketch comedy skits than a feature film, Lady Bird is the poster-child for critical virtue signaling and the bigotry of low expectations. Shamelessly over-hyped, Lady Bird is nothing more than a second rate, conventional Hollywood sit-com masquerading as an art house darling. 

 

***SPECIAL ACHIEVEMENT IN CINEMATIC MALPRACTICE AWARD*** 

AND THE LOSER IS...

WORST DIRECTOR OF THE YEAR

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Kathryn Bigelow - DetroitKathryn Bigelow has a Best Director Oscar for her work on The Hurt Locker. Detroit is so poorly directed that she should be forced to give that Oscar back. A tone-deaf, ham-fisted shlock-fest of posing and preening that is so ineptly made it sets back moviemaking at least fifty years. Congratulations Ms. Bigelow, you've made the race drama equivalent of The Room

 

P.O.S. HALL OF FAME INDUCTEE

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Harvey Wienstein - Even if you put aside all of the raping, sexual assaulting and harassing, Harvey Weinstein is still a raging fuckface of a douchebag. Weinstein is notorious for strong arming filmmakers and taking a machete to their work…and not just any directors, but all-time greats like Martin Scorsese. He is also notorious for being an unconscionable bully who would threaten anyone who stood up to him. And when the threats didn't work, he would play the victim and cry anti-semitism. As top-notch reporting from this year shows, Weinstein is literally a limp-dick asshole.

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Weinstein would be a P.O.S. Hall of Famer even without the rape…but when you add in the rape he becomes an all-time, historically great, Ted Williams level P.O.S. My dream for Harvey is that he ends up like The Colonel in Paul Thomas Anderson's masterpiece Boogie Nights, his final scene being him crying on a prison cell floor with blood coming down his face as his over-sized cellmate yells at him to "shut up!". My other dream is that I get fifteen minutes in a room alone with Weinstein…and can make him pay accordingly for all the rapes…and his disrespect to Mr. Scorsese and his butchery of The Gangs of New York

P.O.S. ALL-STARS

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KEVIN SPACEY - Kevin Spacey has been overacting for nearly thirty years, but his worst performance of all was in trying to play a straight man all that time. Everyone I know in the acting world, myself included, knew Spacey was gay. I even heard some pretty sordid stories about him when I was living and auditioning in New York and he was on Broadway in the 90's. The word was Spacey would have "casting sessions" with young, beautiful men/boys in which he would, in a room by himself, "work with the actor". Yeah…right. 

When Spacey got into hot water this year when a collection of men came forward to report that he had groped or sexually assaulted them when they were teens or young men, Spacey pulled a truly All-Star Piece of Shit move by trying to make his response into a brave coming out of the closet story. Not surprisingly, the gay community said no thanks to Spacey's bid to join them, and the rest of us simply thanked our lucky stars we won't have to watch this psychopathic narcissist butcher any more movie or TV roles. 

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MATT LAUER - I try to never watch morning television…it seems like one of the worst circles of hell to me. Sadly, a few years ago, during the Rio Olympics, I was at a breakfast place and they had a big screen tv on with the sound blaring and it was the Today Show. I watched maybe ten minutes of the programming and had to leave because my colon was twinge-ing so bad from the false laughter and empty journalistic preening. Matt Lauer struck me then, and now, as an entirely self-serving, self-absorbed, talentless and dim-witted douchebag. I wasn't sure which shocked me more about Matt Lauer, that he was the highest paid person on morning television or that hadn't killed himself in man-scaping incident where he sliced off his own scrotum and bled to death. 

When news broke that Lauer was a serial sexual harasser I was not exactly shocked because he obviously thought of himself as quite an amazing guy and a remarkable catch, so in his mind he was doing these women a favor by whipping his little anchorman out for them to worship. With all of that said, I do think Matt Lauer has enough skill, charm and brains that he could do very well for himself as a parking garage attendant one day…and if he is smart he'll put this election to the P.O.S. All-Stars on his resume, at this point it couldn't hurt, right? 

And thus ends the fourth annual Slip-Me-A-Mickey™® Awards!!! To the winners/losers…don't take it personally…and God knows I hope I don't see you again next year!! To you dear reader…thanks for tuning in and we'll see you again next year!!

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©2018

4th Annual Mickey™® Awards: 2017 Edition

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Estimated Reading Time: 7 minutes in Heaven

The ultimate awards show is upon us…are you ready? The Mickeys™® are superior to every other award imaginable…be it the Oscar, the Emmy, the Tony, the Grammy or even the Nobel. The Mickey is the mountaintop of not just artistic but human achievement, which is why they always take place AFTER the Oscars!

This year has been an exceptional one for cinema with a multitude of outstanding films being eligible for a Mickey™® award. Actors, actresses, writers, cinematographers and directors are all sweating and squirming right now in anticipation of the Mickey™® nominations and winners. Remember, even a coveted Mickey™® nomination is a career and life changing event. 

Before we get to what everyone is here for…a quick rundown of the rules and regulations of The Mickeys™®…The Mickeys™® are selected by me. I am judge, jury and executioner. The only films eligible are films I have actually seen, be it in the theatre, via screener, cable, Netflix or VOD. I do not see every film because as we all know, the overwhelming majority of films are God-awful, and I am a working man so I must be pretty selective. So that means that just getting me to actually watch your movie is a tremendous  accomplishment in and of itself…never mind being nominated or winning!

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The Prizes!! The winners of The Mickey™® award will receive one acting coaching session with me FOR FREE!!! Yes…you read that right…FOR FREE!! Non-acting category winners receive a free lunch* with me at Fatburger (*lunch is considered one "sandwich" item, one order of small fries, you aren't actors so I know you can eat carbs, and one beverage….yes, your beverage can be a shake, you fat bastards). Actors who win and don't want an acting coaching session but would prefer the lunch…can still go straight to hell…but I am legally obligated to inform you that, yes, there WILL BE SUBSTITUTIONS allowed with The Mickey™® Awards prizes. If you want to go to lunch I will gladly pay for your meal…and the sterling conversation will be entirely free of charge.

Enough with the formalities…let's start the festivities!!

Is everybody in? Is everybody in? The ceremony is about to begin...

Ladies and gentlemen…welcome to the fourth annual Mickey™® Awards!!!

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY

The Shape of Water - Dan Laustsen : Laustsen uses a cinematic palette of red and green to sumptuously create the look and most importantly, the feel, of The Shape of Water. Laustsen's masterful use of color is exquisite and elevates The Shape of Water to the cinematically sublime.  

Phantom Thread - PT Anderson and Co. : Director Anderson allegedly doubled as his own DP because his usual cinematographer Robert Elswitt was unavailable. Anderson's framing is divine and he paints Phantom Thread with a lush and crisp cinematic brush.

Blade Runner 2049 - Roger Deakins : Deakins is an all-time great and his work in Blade Runner 2049 is magnificent. Deakins masterful use of shadow and moving light, in addition to his visual homage to A Clockwork Orange and Apocalypse Now, make Blade Runner 2049 a transcendent cinematic experience. 

War for the Planet of the Apes - Michael Seresin : Seresin's deft use of color and textural contrasts in War for the Planet of the Apes creates a dynamic and vibrant visual experience. Add in the complication of special effects and the cold weather and Seresin's degree of difficulty was off the charts, but he wildly  overcame these difficulties and succeeded in making a fantastically shot film. 

Song to Song - Emmanuel Lubezki : Lubezki, like fellow nominee Deakins, is a previous winner of a Mickey™® Award and is an acknowledged master of his craft. Teaming once again with Malick for Song to Song, Lubezki's camera dazzles as it dances and twirls through the natural light of the Austin sun.

Dunkirk - Hoyte van Hoytema : Astonishingly well shot, Hoytema gives Dunkirk such a specific and tangible texture that you can feel the film. A vivid and vibrant piece of work that had an exceedingly high rate of difficulty considering the subject matter. 

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AND THE MICKEY™® GOES TODUNKIRKHoyte van Hoytema - Hoytema beats out Deakins, Lubezki and Anderson in a close race. Hoytema's ability to create a visceral cinematic texture while showing both the vast and the intimate of war, puts him over the top in this prestigious category. 

 

BEST SCREENPLAY

War for the Planet of the Apes - Matt Reeves & Mark Bomback : Reeves and Bomback turn what could have been a paint by numbers action movie sequel into an exquisite, intricate, mythic and archetypal epic filled with more humanity than almost any other film I saw this year. Their choice to surreptitiously pay homage to Apocalypse Now was a master stroke. 

Wind River - Taylor Sheridan : Sheridan is a previous winner of a Mickey™®, so he is obviously a master of his craft. He continued to elevate his work this year with his pulsating yet poignant script for Wind River that insightfully diagnosis the disease of deformed masculinity.

Phantom Thread - PT Anderson : Anderson's script for Phantom Thread is so delicious it makes me delirious. Cutting, funny, insightful and mythically rich, Anderson's script is full of insightful and incisive dialogue that translates into a compelling and mesmerizing film.

The Killing of a Sacred Deer - Yorgis Lanthimos : Lanthimos, a Mickey™® nominee last year, is as original as we have working in film right now. The Killing of a Sacred Deer is a breathtakingly unique and mythically satisfying story that never fails to surprise. 

A Ghost Story - David Lowery : The most simple yet ambitious film I saw this year, A Ghost Story is a testament to the talent and skill of its writer/director David Lowery. Heartbreakingly original and devastatingly poignant, Lowery is able to reduce the expanse of time and space onto the head of pin, where it dances with all of those who have gone before, and after, us. A serious masterwork from a filmmaker to watch. 

Personal Shopper - Olivier Assayas : Assayas script for Personal Shopper tells both the story of a supernatural thriller and a deep spiritual seeking. Confidently paced and deftly layered, Assayas script is a powerful foundation for this ever intriguing film. 

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AND THE MICKEY™® GOES TOWAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES - Matt Reeves and Mark Bomback - Reeves and Bomback combine A Bridge Over the River Kwai, Apocalypse Now and The Great Escape with the Old and New Testaments and mix them with the Planet of the Apes mythology and they end up with an epic masterpiece that is deeply moving and highly entertaining. Their Mickey™® is earned by just edging out PT Anderson and Taylor Sheridan, and is just reward for their superlative work. 

 

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS

Lesley Manville - Phantom Thread : As an acting coach, the two things I have found that actor's struggle with the most, and yet need so desperately to master, are silence and stillness. Manville gives a masterclass in silence and stillness in Phantom Thread. Her every look and every movement are so filled with specificity of intention that she owns every scene she inhabits. A truly wondrous performance that devotees of the craft of acting should study and learn from. 

Allison Janney - I, Tonya : Janney's performance in I, Tonya is more than just the scene-stealing antics that have been highlighted in the film's trailer and commercials. Janney certainly is entertaining as LaVona, but what makes her work all the more impressive is the delicate undertone of genuine humanity which courses through characters inner life. 

Elizabeth Olsen - Wind River : Olsen plays a fish out of water FBI agent from Las Vegas stuck on an Indian reservation in the colds of Montana to perfection. Full of false bravado that covers a delicate core, Olsen convincingly embodies the feminine archetype trying to survive in a world where it is surrounded by characters at the mercy of their toxic and violent masculinity. 

Octavia Spencer - The Shape of Water : Octavia Spencer always brings a humanity to every character she plays, and her work in The Shape of Water is no exception. A woman trapped by her suffocating station in life, Spencer's character overcomes her fears and listens to her heart in trying to live the myth of her life. 

Karin Konoval - War for the Planet of the Apes : Konoval plays Maurice, an Orangutan who is the heart to Ceasar's spirit. Konoval imbues Maurice with such a deep humanity that it is palpable even though on screen she is a stunningly gorgeous CGI Orangutan. An exquisitely sublime piece of acting work that is criminally under-appreciated. 

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AND THE MICKEY™® GOES TO.LESLIE MANVILLE - PHANTOM THREADManville edges out Konoval by a nose in a tight competition. Manville's commanding performance is the type of acting work that the Mickeys™® simply adore.

 

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR

Paul Walter Hauser - I, Tonya : Hauser is so good as the dimwitted Shawn Eckart, that it is stunning. It is almost as if they used some of Eckart's DNA to replicate him just to use him in this movie. Hauser avoids the perilous pitfall of playing for laughs and makes his Ekchart stupid but not dumb. Both gut-bustingly funny and heartbreakingly human, Hauser's Eckart is a gem.

Richard Jenkins - The Shape of Water : Jenkins delivers a solid and thoroughly compelling performance as Giles, Elisa's gay neighbor. In the hands of a lesser actor, Giles would have been a maudlin and melancholy character of one dimension, but Jenkins makes his Giles a complex and conflicted man desperate for a deeper meaning and purpose to his life. 

Woody Harrelson - War for the Planet for the Apes : Harrelson had a hell of a year with his superb work in War for the Planet of the Apes along with his solid work in Three Billboards. Harrelson's Brando-esque Colonel McCollough is an ominous and magnetic presence throughout the film and makes for a formidable foil to Andy Serkis' Ceasar. Harrelson's last few scenes as McCollough are the best things he has ever done on film without question. 

Sam Rockwell - Three Billboards : Having just re-watched Three Billboards, I was even more impressed by Rockwell's performance than I was the first time I saw it. Rockwell's Dixon is a menacing fool at war with the world and himself. The character's greatest attribute, which is a testament to Rockwell's talent, is that he evolves from being an know-nothing who thinks he knows it all to being know nothing who knows he knows nothing. 

Steve Zahn - War for the Planet of the Apes : Zahn plays chimpanzee Bad Ape to perfection. As both comic relief and yet as a genuinely touching reminder of the cruelty of humanity, Bad Ape overtly embodies the fear that drives the violence at the heart of mankind. A truly remarkable and noteworthy performance from Zahn. 

Tom Hardy - Dunkirk : Hardy's face is covered for the overwhelming majority of his screen time in Dunkirk, and yet he is so magnetically compelling that you cannot take your eyes off of his eyes. A masterfully specific and detailed performance that few, if any, other actors would have been able to pull off. 

AND THE MICKEY™® GOES TOSTEVE ZAHN - WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APESZahn's skittish and war-weary Bad Ape is like a chimpanzee version of Dennis Hopper's photographer character in Apocalypse Now. Part comic relief and yet also the reminder of the savagery and brutality of war, Zahn's Bad Ape is a wonder and a joy to behold because it is such a beautifully crafted and vibrant piece of acting work. 

 

BREAKOUT PERFORMANCES OF THE YEAR

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Florence Pugh : Ms. Pugh brings a compelling charisma and smoldering sensuality to the terribly flawed Lady MacBeth. Pugh's talent and skill are undeniable s she is reminiscent of a young Kate Winslet. I look forward to seeing what the future holds for the intriguing Ms. Pugh.

 

 

 

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Margaret Qualley : Qualley's performance in  Noviate is considerably better than the film itself. She is a remarkably refined actress bursting with a subtle magnetism that accentuates her incandescent beauty. Ms. Qualley is a beguiling and formidable screen presence and I am optimistic that her future is bright. 

 

BEST ACTOR

Daniel Day-Lewis - Phantom Thread : Lewis is maybe the greatest actor of all-time, and Phantom Thread may very well be his greatest performance. In a performance bursting with specific and distinct internal intentions, Lewis' Woodcock is a powerful, magnetic and thoroughly dynamic force of nature. Watching him succumb to another force of nature is a wonder to behold. 

Gary Oldman - Darkest Hour : Oldman is one of my all-time favorite actors, and his career has ben filled with combustible performances for the ages. In Darkest Hour he confines his volcanic dynamism in the mythic figure of Winston Churchill. Oldman's Churchill is a character study in self-doubt and frantic self-preservation. Always on the verge of defeat to the impending storm clouds of not only Nazism but depression, Oldman's Churchill is always scanning every scene desperate find salvation. A truly terrific performance. 

Colin Farrell - Killing of a Sacred Deer : Farrell won a Mickey for his work director Lanthimos in last year's The Lobster. he is nominated again this year for his equally impressive and contained performance as a heart surgeon trying to come to terms with his sordid past. Farrell spends his entire time on screen at war with himself, trying to keep his deeper demons at bay while trying to appear to be as normal as possible to the outside world. Farrell has turned a corner in his once moribund career and found his artistic rhythm…and it is a joy to behold…hopefully he can keep it up. 

Andy Serkis - War for the Planet of the Apes : Serkis has carried all of the recent  Planet of the Apes movies as Ceasar, the central character in Apes mythology. In "War" Serkis saves his best and most complex work for last. At once a compelling movie star performance, but also a delicately nuanced piece of acting work, Serkis brings all of his formidable talents and skills to bear in the greatest performance of his unique and remarkable career. 

Hugh Jackman - Logan : Jackman, or as I call him "Jazz Hands", has never impressed me as an actor…until now. Jackman's work in Logan is so far superior to anything else he has ever done, including his multiple times playing the same character, Wolverine, that it is astounding. In Logan, Jackman's Wolverine is an aging and bitter superhero who has no interest in any of the usual superhero bullshit. Jackman is able to fill Wolverine with a physical and spiritual ache that is uncomfortably visceral. An impressive and stirring piece of work from Jackman, who I really hope keeps it up going forward. 

Jeremy Renner - Wind River : Renner gives an exquisitely nuanced, layered and intricate performance as Cory Lambert, a Fish and Wildlife Agent in Wyoming. As a symbol of wounded masculinity, Renner imbues Lambert with a deep wound and profound melancholy that pulsates through his every pore that he struggles to contain. A tremendously rich and subtle performance from Renner, easily the very best of his career.

Casey Affleck - A Ghost StoryAs crazy as this sounds, Casey Affleck is absolutely fantastic at acting with a sheet over his head. I know, it is insane, but like an extended mask exercise, Affleck in A Ghost Story is able to project and magnify not only his intentions but his emotions through a ghost sheet. If you understand the art and craft of acting, you understand who magnificent and amazing Affleck's work in A Ghost Story really is. 

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AND THE MICKEY™® GOES TO…DANIEL DAY-LEWIS - PHANTOM THREAD - Day-Lewis unleashes a performance of such refined and exquisite power in Phantom Thread that it is simply staggering. An overhwhelmingly charismatic and magnetic performance of such skill and craft as to be remarkable. If this is Day-Lewis' last performance, then he goes out on the very height of achievement, as this one Mickey™® award easily eclipses his three Oscars in the prestige category.

BEST ACTRESS

Vicky Krieps - Phantom Thread: A powerful premiere for Kreips on the big Hollywood stage, her work in Phantom Thread is absolutely stellar. An undeniable mark of her talent and skill is on display in a scene where she actually blushes on cue, which is such a hard thing to do it seems impossible. Adding to her impossible feats, she goes toe to toe with Daniel Day-Lewis, in her second language, and entirely holds her own. Alluring, magnetic and always compelling, Kreips is a wonder to behold

Rooney Mara - A Ghost Story/Song to Song : Rooney Mara had a hell of year, as both of her performances in Song to Song and A Ghost Story garnered Mickey™® Nominations. Mara gives tantalizingly intimate performances in both films that exude a powerful and rare delicate humanity. With the ability to at once compel viewers to lean in to her she simultaneously keeps them at an arms distance. Both magnetically charming and intoxicatingly skilled, Mara is one of the best actors in the world at the very top of her game. 

Kirsten Stewart - Personal Shopper : Kristen Stewart gives an unbelievably fantastic performance as the "psychic" at the heart of Oliver Assayas' fascinating supernatural horror-thriller. Awkwardly dynamic and skittishly erotic, Stewart owns every second of Personal Shopper. She masterfully crafts a conflicted, charismatic and sensually forceful character that carries the film through uncharted territory but never loses its way. 

Jennifer Lawrence - Mother! : Mother! is a failure of a film, but Jennifer Lawrence's performance is strikingly magnificent. I cannot think of another actress as skilled, talented and above all else, confident, enough to spend the majority of her time in close-up for a claustrophobic two hours and be able to pull it off. Lawrence's charms are undeniable, but her skill and mastery of craft are what I find so incredibly impressive. 

Sally Hawkins - The Shape of Water : Hawkins never utters a word in The Shape of Water, but she says more than most other actresses could with two hours of dialogue. Impressively expressive and vivaciously alive, Hawkins' Elisa is no woman-child, but rather a real, fully formed, honest too goodness woman who is driven not only by her heart, but by her sexual drive. A delightfully nuanced performance that in lesser hands would have been a down right disaster. 

Saoirse Ronan - Lady Bird : Ronan is a terrific actress, who at only 23 already has two Mickey nominations under her belt, and her stellar work in the sub-par Lady Bird is a testament to her undeniable talent and mastery of craft. An exquisitely dynamic performance that overcomes a trite script and lackluster direction. 

Meryl Streep - The Post : The Post is awful…Meryl Streep is not. As high as expectations are for Meryl every time she gets in front of a camera, she is still able to bring all of her powers to bear and deliver astonishingly specific performances like she does in The Post as Catherine Graham. never a false or pushed note, Streep contains Graham, giving her a soft power that turns steely when the time is right. Streep didn't become the Grand Dame of American acting by accident, and in The Post she proves why she holds the title, and that she is not relinquishing the crown anytime soon.  

Margot Robbie - I, Tonya : Robbie is spectacular as the trailer trash Olympic figure skater Tonya Harding. Robbie's performance is a sublime revelation that never fails to surprise or impress.

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AND THE MICKEY™® GOES TO…ROONEY MARA - A GHOST STORY/SONG TO SONGMara ekes out the narrowest of victories over the strong challenge by wondrous newcomer Vicky Krieps. Mara was aided by her being transcendently fantastic performances in not one but two top-notch films this year. An actress blessed with a mesmerizing grace and astounding level of skill, Mara is finally ushered into the most rarified of company with her first Mickey™® award.

BEST ENSEMBLE

Wind River : A superb cast across the board with standout performances from Jeremy Renner, Elizabeth Olsen, Gil Birmingham, Graham Greene and a short but particularly effective piece of work from Jon Bernthal. 

Dunkirk : While it may seem like a bunch of nondescript White guys struggling to survive Dunkirk, the cast is actually made up of terrific actors giving outstanding performances. Led by Tom Hardy and Mark Rylance, the film also boasts outstanding performances from Fionn Whitehead, Barry Keoghan, Kenneth Branagh and of all people Harry Styles. 

War for the Planet of the Apes : Cloaked in motion capture magic, this cast does some of the most stellar and sublime acting seen on screen this year. Andy Serkis, Steve Zahn, Karin Konoval and Michael Adamthwaite are among the many stand out actors. 

Phantom Thread : On the top of the bill is Daniel Day-Lewis who is absurdly great, and he is joined by the luminous Vicky Krieps and the intrepid Leslie Manville. A staggeringly supreme cast carry the day in this off beat romantic drama. 

The Shape of Water : With a ludicrously talented cast, from Sally Hawkins to Octavia Spencer to Richard Jenkins and Michael Shannon, The Shape of Water is buoyed by the unbelievably sublime work of its exquisite coterie of actors.

Song to Song : Rooney Mara, Michael Fassbender, Ryan Gosling and Natalie Portman along with the ever luminous Cate Blanchett give Malick's Song to Song its heart and soul and never miss a beat. 

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AND THE MICKEY™® GOES TO…THE SHAPE OF WATER - The Shape of Water just beats out Phantom Thread in squeaker. The Shape of Water was aided by the fact that there was a larger cast that across the board did spectacular work, whereas Phantom Thread had three, and only three, sublimely phenomenal performances. 

 

 

BEST DIRECTOR

Paul Thomas Anderson - Phantom Thread : Anderson is arguably the greatest director on the planet and his Phantom Thread is an exquisitely delectable piece of cinema as intricately woven as the fashion at the film's heart. 

Guillermo del Toro - The Shape of Water : Del Toro is a ravenous talent with an extraordinary imagination who always brings a visual originality and cinematic flair to his every endeavor. The Shape of Water is a worthy monument to his massive abilities. 

Christopher Nolan - Dunkirk : Nolan brings all of his formidable talents to bear in Dunkirk and he turns what could have been a typical war movie into a transcendent cinematic experience. A technical masterpiece the likes of which we have not seen in a long time. 

Matt Reeves - War for the Planet of the Apes : Reeves is a massive talent who not only reinvigorated the Planet of the Apes franchise after the calamity of Tim Burton taking a gigantic shit on it, he infused a high level of cinematic mastery into the Apes films, the likes of which we have never seen. 

Taylor Sheridan - Wind River : Wind River proves that Sheridan isn't just one of the best writers working today, he is also a directing talent to be reckoned with. A confident film that resonates with viewers because it accurately diagnosis what is wrong with our culture.

David Lowery - A Ghost Story : A staggeringly powerful film of incredible vision and insight. Painstakingly human and heartbreakingly effective, Lowery's cinematic ambition comes to fruition in an understood but spectacular way. 

Terence Malick - Song to Song : The esteemed Terence Malick already has a Mickey under his belt, but that hasn't deterred him from continuing to make daring, experimental, deeply personal, archetypal and mythically intriguing films that are cinematic pieces of pure gold. 

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AND THE MICKEY™® GOES TO...CHRISTOPHER NOLAN - DUNKIRKNolan wins this extremely close category, edging out Anderson, Sheridan and Reeves by mere percentage points because he masterfully turned the standard war picture on its head by messing with perspective and time while pulling off a masterpiece in cinematic technical precision. Nolan has never won an Oscar, but now that he has a Mickey™®, he can laugh at the lowly Oscars for ignoring his genius.

 

BEST PICTURE

10. Logan : The best superhero movie of the year, James Mangold's Logan was a gritty and grueling look into the decline of Wolverine and of America. Easily the best of all of the X-Men movies and it isn't even close. 

9. Killing of a Sacred Deer : Yorgos Lanthimos follows up his fantastic The Lobster, with another dark, off-beat film that is jarring to the psyche. As unsettling but mythically satisfying a film as you could hope to see. 

8. Personal Shopper : Olivier Assayas follows up his terrific Clouds of Sils Maria with another masterful and beguiling film. Who knew a supernatural horror-thriller could be so sensual, scary and spiritual all at once? 

7. The Shape of Water : Guillermo del Toro is a visionary artist and he brings all of his talent and skill to bear in the wondrous Shape of Water. A religious and political allegory that says so much but never raises its voice. 

6. A Ghost Story : a philosophical and cinematic gem that is so unique and original that it is hypnotically mesmerizing. Terrific performances and Lowery's wondrous direction make A Ghost Story a remarkable movie going experience. 

5. Song to Song : Terrence Malick continues to push and prod his audience into deeper and deeper religious, spiritual, philosophical, mythical and archetypal  cinematic waters with his avant-garde, autobiographical films. Enjoy Malick while he is making movies, for he is a true genius the likes of which we may never see again. 

4. Wind River : A gruesome look into the heart of darkness that resides in the soul of American men, Taylor Sheridan's Wyoming murder mystery is a taut, tense and heartbreaking glimpse of the world we'd just as soon not see, but cannot turn away from. 

3. Phantom Thread : PT Anderson's brilliant, demented love story is a masterpiece. World-class acting combined with gorgeous cinematography, set and costume design and exquisite direction, make for a glorious piece of cinema.

2. Dunkirk : Christopher Nolan's heart-pounding and magnificent war drama is a sublime and exquisite movie-going experience. It is as technically proficient a film as you will ever see and is a monument to the skill and talent of Nolan and his crew.

AND THE MICKEY™® GOES TO

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1. War for the Planet of the Apes : All Hail, Caesar!! Some people scoff at the idea of a Planet of the Apes movie being the best film of the year…but I am dead serious…War for the Planet of the Apes was a perfect saga that tied together not only the trilogy of recent Planet of the Apes films, but also the original set of films from the 60's and 70's, which is a remarkable achievement. "War" is biblical and mythic in scope and epic in scale, and yet, ironically, it never loses its humanity or its intimacy. War for the Planet of the Apes is a staggering achievement in both technical and popular moviemaking. A smart, insightful and deeply moving film that refuses to be contained into the big-budget, action movie sequel box. All Hail Caesar!!

MOST IMPORTANT FILM OF THE YEAR

TIE - Dunkirk, Darkest Hour, Wind River, Phantom Thread

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The reason that Dunkirk and Darkest Hour are so important is because they have the same archetype at their center…the Churchillian archetype. This archetype is one of stern but slavish resistance to…something, which when faced against a foe so clearly evil as the Nazi's is a blessing, but against a more nebulous one or against oneself, it is a curse. Churchill was great at grand pronouncements and inspiring others to fight on, but he was not so great at nuance or understanding the "other".

As evidenced by Dunkirk, Darkest Hour and The Crown, the times we live in are begging for the Churchillian archetype to not only be made conscious but be made actual. We are pleading for a Churchill to lead us out of the dark age which is descending upon us at a frightening pace. 

The problem though is that, as Wind River shows us, there is a disease of malformed and deformed masculinity that is ravaging men across the globe. When men are so distorted and twisted as to not recognize what true masculinity even is, then how can we expect the Churchillian archetype to manifest in anything but a malformed man? Thus, to some, Trump is seen as a Churchill…standing up to the elites. Russia has it's own Churchill…Vladimir Putin. The Phillipines their Churchill in Duterte, Turkey's Churchill is Erdogan, China's is Xi,  and so on and so on and so on. 

Men have been forced to grow in a toxic environment that distorts and demeans true masculinity while simultaneously our institutions have been proven to be fraudulent, thus we have no fertile ground from which the "good/light" Churchill can grow and prosper, and we are left with a vacuum from which only the "bad/dark" Churchill grows and prospers. (Godwin Law violation!...to state something obvious, the "light" Churchill had a shadow…that shadow was Hitler. And so what we have in our current culture is the rise of the Shadow Churchill…aka…Hitler.)

Shadow Churchill is the unrepentant colonialist and racist who was an agent of chaos around the world and in Great Britain. Shadow Churchill is the one who had something to prove and mistreated and abused the "other" to prove it. Shadow Churchill is currently alive and well and thriving across the globe. 

For whatever reason we are under the spell of the Churchill archetype at the moment, whether it be the light or shadow version makes no difference to us. Being under the spell of the Churchill archetype results in, even among those who oppose Trump, people being unable to think of anything or anyone else but Trump. The same with Putin, Erdogan, Duterte and Xi. The Churchill archetype captivates the minds of everyone, friend and foe alike, and by doing so, maintains its hold on power just as it maintains its hold on our imagination and psyches. 

Phantom Thread, the film by the greatest auteur of the bunch, may show us a way out of the Churchill shadow conundrum. In Phantom Thread, a domineering and abusive powerful man, is incapacitated and brought to his knees by a woman who refuses to be diminished. The woman also refuses to try and emasculate the man, she simply wants him to put down his armor and re-engage with the feminine occasionally. This woman also does not try to be a man, she does not try to emulate a man or usurp masculinity, she is entirely and completely feminine, and understands the power that comes with that. 

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Phantom Thread shows us that the road of say...Hillary Clinton and her parade of faux feminist supporters for instance, is a dead end, as these fools are spitting in the wind of the shadow Churchillian archetypal hurricane, and can and will never be truly victorious. The biggest problem with these women is that they are blind to the power of their own feminine energy, and instead try and corrupt, co-opt or minimize the masculine energy of their male opponents. This approach is doomed to fail in the face of the Churchillian archetype, be it light or shadow. 

Only the Anima, the wily and witchy woman, the uber-feminine, with all of her truly feminine power at her disposal, can become equals to the Churchill shadow beast, and thus bring him to heel. Once this beast is somewhat tamed (it can never be fully tamed), then there can be an age of relative peace and prosperity where anima and animus live momentarily under a truce. But we are a long, long way from that age. 

Dunkirk, Darkest Hour, Wind RIver and Phantom Thread are the most important films of the year because they reveal our collective truth when they accurately diagnose the psychological, mythological, archetypal, political and cultural disease that is killing us all. They also subtly but insightfully point the way out of the deep and perilous cave of the Churchill shadow in which we are currently stumbling around in the dark. I don't know if we will make it out of the throes of the Churchill shadow alive, but at least these films are a sliver of light that teach us there is, in fact, a way out, it is now up to us to find the wisdom and the courage to head for that light. 

And thus ends the 4th Annual Mickey™® Awards!! To all the winners I say congratulations and enjoy your immortality!! To all the nominees I say…see you at the after party!! And to all my readers I say…thanks for sticking around and for all the support!!

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©2018

 

Thoughts on the Academy Awards

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Estimated Reading Time: 3 minutes 02 seconds

Well the Oscars are finally over, thank the Good Lord, and I thought I would share some very brief thoughts on the big night. 

- The Oscar telecast was awful…but it is ALWAYS awful. The show is ALWAYS too long, montages are ALWAYS moronic, and the comedy bits are ALWAYS idiotic. The Oscars are almost a parody of themselves at this point, and so the only thing that matters are the awards. I think they should actually expand the number of awards and have more technical awards and more in-depth filmmaking stuff like that…but I love cinema so I am probably in the minority on that. 

- Most of the speeches were fine this year. I enjoyed Sam Rockwell's, Allison Janney's, Gary Oldman's and Guillermo del Toro's speeches, and the editors and costume guy were good too. I admire people who are composed, graceful and grateful when they are accepting awards, which to me doesn't seem like a whole lot to ask. 

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- I disliked Frances McDormand's speech a great deal. I thought McDormand came across as entirely graceless and ungrateful. I would tell Ms. McDormand to act like she's been there before because you know…she has been there before. Her demand that every female nominee stand up was playing to type and remarkably asinine and tiresome. The cry for people to demand "Inclusion Riders" was annoying as well. How about this, instead of demanding "inclusivity", "diversity" or "equality" in a cast and crew, why not demand straight up quality regardless of race or gender instead…what a novel idea!!

- Emma Stone's introduction of the Best Director category was equally graceless and repulsive. Stone said in effect, here are the four men and Greta Gerwig. It was a classless thing to do, especially considering the fact that she said it as an identity politics rallying cry but ignored the fact that Jordan Peele, one of only five African-American nominees ever in the category, and Guillermo del Toro, a Mexican immigrant, were among the male director nominees she insulted. Obviously, I find the identity politics horseshit to be so stupid and self-defeating as to be amazing, but the hypocrisy of people like Emma Stone is what makes it all even more daft. I wonder how Ms. Stone would've felt if last year at the Oscar's the presenter for her Best Actress award said, "Here are four White actresses and Ruth Negga". Probaby not so great. 

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- As I expected, Kobe Bryant won Best Animated Short for his shitty tribute to himself, Dear Basketball. He got a huge ovation from the Oscar crowd, which proves that the #MeToo and Times Up stuff is all a big self-serving show. Go read about Kobe and the details of his rape case in Colorado, and how there were more women than just the one who came forward. Then watch the standing ovation he got Oscar night. The fact that Casey Affleck couldn't even show his face at this year's awards but Kobe is celebrated is insane. Hollywood is full of lying, hypocritical scumbags…but "Inclusion Rider!!" Yay!!!

- Jimmy Kimmel is not my cup of tea, but he is proficient at hosting the awards, and that is to his credit. If he could stop with the bits where he takes celebrities to meet regular people, then he'd be a much better host. 

- I was extremely pleased that The Shape of Water won Best Picture over Get Out, which I thought would win due to identity politics. The Shape of Water is a considerably heftier film than many of its Oscar critics would allow, and Get Out is a considerably more flimsy film than its Oscar critics would ever dare admit. 

- I was very pleased that an overrated sitcom of a movie like Lady Turd…oops, I mean Lady Bird, was shut out. It is always satisfying when the undeserving get what they truly deserve. Greta Gerwig is a media darling, but the reality is that she is not a good writer or director. Ms. Gerwig can fool some of the people, some of the time, but she can't fool everybody, all of the time. Time caught up with Ms. Gerwig and her underwhelming movie. 

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- The ratings for the Oscars were apparently way down again this year, and in response there is a lot of talk of Black Panther getting nominated next year. This is absurd. If Black Panther is one of the ten best films of 2018…they should shut down Hollywood forever. And what these "Black Panther should be nominated" folks don't get is that the nature of watching the Oscars, like all tv watching, has changed. It has nothing to do with big blockbusters getting nominated, it has to do with the fact that most people can't sit still to watch a thirty minute sitcom, never mind a four hour industry homage to itself. In addition, for a variety of reasons there are no true movie stars anymore, so no one is going to tune in to see the big names like in the old days, when Jack Nicholson was ruling the earth. If you are going to nominate Black Panther in an attempt to get higher ratings, you might as well nominate all of the Kardashians as well, it would make as much sense, both artistically and business wise. 

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- My favorite story highlighting imbecility at the Oscars is the one about Emma Watson's "Times Up" tattoo. What makes the tattoo so amusing is that it lacks an apostrophe…it should say "Time's Up". What a wonderful representation of all the poseurs in corporate Hollywood pretending to be in some sort of fierce resistance. It is also faintly reminiscent of the Clinton campaign's slogan "Love Trumps Hate", which is totally different if you add an apostrophe…"Love Trump's Hate". Regardless, both Watson's tattoo and Clinton's slogan made me laugh because I think Watson's time may in fact be up…and Clinton supporters aren't even aware of it, but they actually do love Trump's hate. 

- I did much better on my Oscar picks this year than I did last year, but I still wasn't perfect. I won my Oscar pool of course, extending my record-setting, DiMaggio-esque streak. As I said, I was extremely pleased that The Shape of Water won Best Picture and not Get Out, even though that screwed my pick percentage, but that is a sacrifice I am willing to make.

 - Well, the Oscars are over but they are just a warm-up act for the biggest award of them all which are coming this week. This is the official notice that the Mickey™® Awards, THE most prestigious of all the awards on the entire planet, will be announced later this week!! Take a deep breath and try to contain your excitement…for the Mickeys™® are on the way!!

©2018

 

 

90th Academy Awards: The 2018 Oscars Prediction Post

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Estimated Reading Time: 6 minutes 66 seconds

As February has come and gone without the Academy Awards happening, March now roars in like a hungry Oscar lion. Due to the Winter Olympics monopolizing Sunday night television for the last two weeks, the Oscars were pushed back to the first week of March, and now our interminable wait for the most important night of the year is finally over. 

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The Oscars are the most Holy of all the High Holy Days here in the People's Republic of Hollywood and are the culmination of thousands and thousands of years of human evolution which will reach its apex this Sunday night. From the first time a million years ago when ape-men tossed their animal bone weapons into the sky in the shadow of giant black monolith, to Steve Guttenberg inventing movable type and printing the first bible in 1450 to Andy Kaufman being the first Man on the Moon, we have been hurtling towards the evolutionary perfection of Sunday night's Oscar ceremony.

The anticipation for this year's Oscar's is palpable, especially after last year's Moonlight - La La Land Best Picture fiasco, everyone is tingling with anticipation over what will happen this year. It is my duty as a card carrying member of the People's Party of Hollywood to express my thoughts, feelings and beliefs regarding this most glorious of events, the Oscars, so I have written my predictions for the awards below.

Last year I had an uncharacteristically bad time in predicting the awards. The reason for my off year was because last year was the first year of the "New Academy"…you see after the #OscarsSoWhite nonsense of 2016, the Academy exiled a plethora of older White members and brought in a cavalcade of younger members who were non-White and female. With no history and voting trend data for me to analyze and base my predictions upon, I struggled to keep up my usual stellar prediction standards (I have never lost an Oscar pool…ever, including last year…although I did tie with somebody once in the dark year of 1998). 

This year I have the benefit of one year New Academy data under my belt, so hopefully I won't be as dreadful as I was last year…but old habits die hard and I am no doubt prone to falling back into the ways of the traditionalist thinking of the Old Academy. We'll see. 

Back in the dark days of the Old Academy, the rule of thumb regarding categories that you had no idea about like best documentary, documentary short or short films was a cynical formula that everyone knew about but no one was comfortable saying out loud. The formula was basically this…if any film dealt with the Holocaust, pick it to win. If there were no Holocaust movie to choose, then the Oscar winners would be, in descending order of likelihood, films about gay issues, particularly the AIDS epidemic, or films dealing with civil rights/race issues.

In this current era of identity politics, the New Academy has a formula to its choices as well, the hard part is figuring out what it is. For instance, does the New Academy lean toward Black films and gay films over other issue movies, and therefore if you have a Black-gay film like Moonlight...you can win Best Picture?

Due to the powerful sway of identity politics in the New Academy, I have decided to make a new and somewhat uncomfortable addition to my Oscars predictions article, I will not only tell you who should win, and who will win, but also will handicap the "New Academy" and how they may see the Oscar race. Some may deem my blunt talk of the harsh reality of identity politics in the New Academy as insensitive or "racist" but I feel if I were to ignore this blatantly obvious issue I would be doing my readers a disservice. 

It is important to remember that these new Academy members who are mostly people of color and women (or women of color!!), were brought in to nip #OscarsSoWhite in the bud, and so last year they did just that by giving Best Picture to Moonlight and awarding two African-American actors statuettes. The New Academy people understand that the only reason they are in the Academy is to reward artists of color and women, and that is important to keep in mind when trying to guess how they will vote. My "Handicapping the New Academy" sections may seem terribly cynical, and they are, but that doesn't mean they aren't based on the reality of Hollywood in general and the New Academy in particular.

With all that said…it is time…are you ready? I hope so! I ask that you please sit back, relax…and remember that The Oscars are a Holy endeavor so no wagering please…now dive head first into the shitshow that are my blind guesses as to who will win the most coveted prize in the history of the universe…THE OSCAR!!

 

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS

Mary J. Blige - Mudbound: I have bad news for you…I haven't seen Mudbound. I think this may mean I am a racist, I'm not sure…but I hope not. I promise I will see it though…soon. You know who else probably hasn't seen Mudbound…Oscar voters. 

Allison Janney - I, Tonya : Allison Janney devours every scene she inhabits in I, Tonya. Her performance is not all flash and no bash though, as she crafts a genuine human being out of what could have been a caricature in lesser artistic hands.

Lesley Manville - Phantom Thread: Leslie Manville's work is simply stunning in Phantom Thread. Her mastery of stillness and specificity of intention is staggering and her performance a marvel to behold. Young actors would be wise to study Ms. Manville's Phantom Thread performance and steal as much of it as they can carry.

Laurie Metcalf - Lady Bird: Metcalf has received many accolades for her work as Lady Bird's mom, but I felt her performance was one note and rather shallow. A lot of the problems with the character are probably due to the script, but I felt Metcalf was a bit underwhleming in the role regardless.

Octavia Spencer - The Shape of Water: Octavia Spencer is as solid and reliable an actress as you'll find working these days. She has the innate ability to create genuine and grounded characters of multi-dimensions and deep humanity that never fail to enhance any film in which she appears.

WHO SHOULD WIN: Lesley Manville - I think Manville's work is technically superior to every other actress nominated. Manville's work is less showy, but more technically proficient and precise than any of the competition and it isn't even close. 

HANDICAPPING THE NEW ACADEMY: The New Academy would want to reward Mary J. Blige or Octavia Spencer, but Ms. Spencer has already won the award and Ms. Blige appears in a Netflix film, which is something even the New Academy hasn't figured out how to properly judge. 

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WHO WILL WIN: Allison Janney: Ms. Janney has won all the other awards leading up to the Oscars, and her performance is crowd pleasing…so I think she walks away with the easy win here. It also helps that Ms. Janney is very highly regarded and well liked out here in Hollywood. 

 

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR

Willem Dafoe - The Florida Project: I really like Dafoe as an actor, but I thought his role in The Florida Project was not Oscar worthy. It is not that he does a bad job, just that there isn't much for him to do in the movie. 

Woody Harrelson - Three Billboards: I thought Woody Harrelson was fantastic in Three Billboards, or as I keep calling it Three Dildos, creating a complex character of real depth. Harrelson has matured into a top-notch actor in his middle age and Three Dildos is proof of his undeniable skill and talent. That said, he was even better in War for the Planet of the Apes this year

Richard Jenkins - The Shape of Water: Jenkins is phenomenal in The Shape of Water, as he never falls into the trap of caricature or maudlin preening. Jenkins is always a terrific actor, and The Shape of Water may be the best work of his stellar career.

Christopher Plummer - All the Money in the World: I haven't seen All the Money in the World…I know, I know, I am a terrible person. Plummer is an old pro and he no doubt got this nomination simply because the Academy wanted to send a signal of disgust to Kevin Spacey who originally shot the role but was disappeared down the memory hole by director Ridley Scott. 

Sam Rockwell- Three Billboards: Rockwell makes lemonade out of the one dimensional lemons the script hands him. Rockwell plays his racist, dim bulb character with aplomb and is able to subtly turn a shallow potential caricature into more than just a punch line. 

WHO SHOULD WIN: Richard Jenkins - Jenkins work in The Shape of Water is simply superb and far and away the best in this category. 

HANDICAPPING THE NEW ACADEMY: This is a weird category as there are no minorities nominated, that said Jenkins does play a gay man, which in the Old Academy would have given him a leg up on the competition, but not now. Rockwell has gotten some heat because his character is an irredeemable racist, which could spell trouble for him even though he is the front runner. 

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WHO WILL WIN: Sam Rockwell - Rockwell has won all of the other awards leading up to the Oscars, and I think the campaign against him revolving around his character being a racist will ultimately fail. I think the biggest reason it will fail is because there are no minority actors who could potentially supplant him. 

 

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY

The Big Sick - I haven't seen the Big Sick…and yes, I am well-aware that makes me a really bad person. It is funny as I have gotten more marketing material in the mail from the Big Sick than any other film this past year, including a screener of the film, and still haven't watched it. Just more proof that I need to budget my time much better. 

Get Out - I finally saw Get Out about a month ago and was entirely and totally underwhelmed by it. The idea that this movie, script, director and lead actor are nominated for an Oscar is a joke. It is a moderately entertaining horror-comedy…like Scream…not exactly the stuff of Oscar gold. 

Lady Bird - Lady Bird is a poorly written film that is more akin to a CBS sitcom along the lines of The Big Bang Theory, than an Oscar worthy movie. But the Academy loves their manic pixie dream girl Greta Gerwig for some mysterious reason…so she has a real chance. Hell, Woody Allen has won numerous Oscars and he sucks…so Greta has a good chance. 

The Shape of Water - Del Toro's script is a masterfully layered piece of work that never diminishes it's characters by going down the road of the simple and easy. Del Toro also successfully weaves political and religious themes throughout his unconventional love story, proving his skill as a screenwriter.

Three Billboards - Three Dildos is a script that shows a foreigners distorted view of what they think America is, filled with caricatures and one dimensional, simplistic characters. It has all the nuance and subtlety of a Kid Rock song about France. 

WHO SHOULD WIN: The Shape of Water is the best script in the bunch and it isn't even close. 

HANDICAPPING THE NEW ACADEMY: In the old days, Three Dildos would be the favorite because it is written by a successful playwright and the Old Academy loved them some playwrights. But the new academy is either going to go with Jordan Peele for Get Out or Greta Gerwig for Lady Bird. The question becomes will gender trump race or race trump gender…hmmmm…it'll be a nail biter. 

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WHO WILL WIN: Get Out - I think Peele will get the trophy as a sort of condolence prize since they won't give him Best Director…but that said…don't be shocked if Gerwig gets the win because unlike Jordan Peele, she has been out beating the bushes and campaigning hard for votes.

 

 

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY

Call Me by Your Name - A dreadful movie and a dreadful script that is at the very least morally questionable…but Hollywood never considers morals in the moment, only in hindsight, i.e. #MeToo.

The Disaster Artist - Not a great script, and the fact that James Franco is on the #MeToo shitlist means that this movie is persona non grata on Oscar night. 

Logan - A terrific adaptation of a graphic novel. Logan was a terribly under appreciated last year but was one of the better films of the year and the script is the major reason why. A truly fantastic piece of writing.

Molly's Game - I haven't seen Molly's Game, but it is written and directed by Aaron Sorkin. Sorkin's writing is difficult to direct, and frankly, I am willing to bet that ironically, he is not a good enough director to master directing his own script.

Mudbound - I haven't seen Mudbound…yeah, yeah, I'm an incorrigible racist…but I do look forward to seeing it, so there's hope for me yet.

WHO SHOULD WIN: Logan - The best script of this bunch by a mile. Logan turned the moribund X-Men franchise on its head and created a dark, grounded and stunning world in which Wolverine becomes a fully fleshed out character and not just a simple super hero. 

HANDICAPPING THE NEW ACADEMY: Mudbound should appeal to the New Academy because the writer, Dee Rees, is an African-American lesbian woman, but the problem is that it is a Netflix film and even the New Academy is struggling to embrace the Netflix model. Call Me By Your Name is the next best option for the identity politics of the New Academy though, as it is a story of homosexual love written by an older gay man. 

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WHO WILL WIN: Call Me by Your Name - I think Call Me by Your Name ekes out a win over Mudbound here. I think the Netflix thing hurts Mudbound, and the fact that James Ivory has such a stellar resume filled with prestige films will put him over the top. 

 

 

BEST DIRECTOR

Christopher Nolan - Dunkirk: Nolan's Dunkirk is a master class in technical proficiency in the art of filmmaking. Dunkirk was inarguably the most difficult film to make of all the nominees and Nolan proved himself a brilliant craftsman. Sadly, I think Dunkirk will be overlooked in the more popular categories, but I think it will win multiple technical awards, most specifically the sound awards.

Jordan Peele - Get Out: This nomination is a complete mystery to me. Get Out is a decent if unremarkable directorial debut for Peele, but the film and his direction are so below the classic standard for Oscar material that it is absurd. 

Greta Gerwig - Lady Bird: Greta Gerwig's direction and writing on Lady Bird are the two worst things about the film…which is a pretty big deal. Manic Pixie Dream Girl Gerwig is adored by the New Academy though and so she is poised to potentially win big on Oscar night. Gerwig has won points with the New Academy by being so vocal against Woody Allen, which is ironic because she is a quirky, female version of Allen…and that is not a compliment.

Paul Thomas Anderson - Phantom Thread: Anderson is far and away the greatest auteur of his generation and the greatest filmmaker working today. Phantom Thread is a staggeringly fantastic piece of cinema. I fear though that PT Anderson, like fellow genius of cinema Stanley Kubrick, is destined to be one of the greatest filmmakers of all-time who will not win an Oscar.

Guillermo del Toro - The Shape of Water: Del Toro is a true visionary, and his work on The Shape of Water is a testament to his originality and his unique artistic vision. 

WHO SHOULD WIN: Anderson/Nolan- If either PT Anderson or Christopher Nolan won, it would be sweet justice, since neither of them have ever won an Oscar for directing, which is a crime. 

HANDICAPPING THE NEW ACADEMY: In the Old Academy, Nolan would be a slam dunk here because they loved them some intricate war movies. But the New Academy has zero interest in Nolan, or PT Anderson. Del Toro would, in theory, satiate the identity politics thirst of the New Academy, but oddly enough, Latino men winning the directing Oscar is something that is commonplace, they have won three of the last four awards, and that doesn't seem to quell the cries of Oscar favoritism to White men. Peele and Gerwig are not worthy of their nominations, but they are serious threats to win, Peele because he is African-American, and Gerwig because she is a woman. The fact that Gerwig has been very vocal about the #MeToo issue and has spoken out about Woody Allen, give her an advantage on Peele in this category. 

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WHO WILL WIN: Del Toro. I know I am being foolish, traditionalist and hopelessly optimistic, but I think that talent wins out and del Toro gets the win. There is a very good chance though that Peele and Gerwig split the Best Screenplay and Best Director awards…stranger things have happened, and with the New Academy, anything is possible. Do not be shocked though if Gerwig wins for, ironically, being a female Woody Allen. Yuck.

 

BEST ACTRESS

Sally Hawkins - The Shape of Water: Hawkins is stunning as the mute cleaning lady at the center of The Shape of Water. An intricate and detailed performance that us a testament to Hawkins talent. 

Frances McDormand - Three Billboards: I found McDormand's work in Three Dildos to be rather shallow, vapid and one-note. Her perpetual anger may resonate with women at the moment, but artistically it is a vacant and foolish performance. 

Margot Robbie - I, Tonya: Robbie crushes it as Tonya Harding in this unique bio-pic. Robbie proves she is much, much more than just a pretty face as she dives into the deep end of a character that in lesser hands would have been vacuous at best. 

Saoirse Ronan - Lady Bird: Saoirse Ronan is a good an actress as we have working in film at the moment. She is virtually the only thing worth watching in the otherwise mundane Lady Bird. Her work in the film is a monument to her extraordinary mastery of craft, skill and enormous talent. 

Meryl Streep - The Post: It is old hat that Meryl Streep is nominated for an Oscar, but the truth is that she is spectacularly good in Spielberg's limp, piece of crap movie about the Pentagon Papers. Streep is the one and only reason to see this movie at all because she proves herself to be the real deal and still one of the greatest actresses to have ever lived. 

WHO SHOULD WIN: Sally Hawkins - Hawkins should win as she carries The Shape of Water without ever speaking a single word, which is an amazing achievement. 

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HANDICAPPING THE NEW ACADEMY: Frances McDormand gets the leg up in the New Academy because she embodies the angry, fighting woman that the #MeToo movement in Hollywood perceives itself to be. 

WHO WILL WIN: Frances McDormand walks away with it…undeservingly so. 

 

BEST ACTOR

Timothee Chalamet - Call Me by Your Name: I have no idea why this kid is nominated. None. The film is awful, the performance unremarkable in every way. 

Daniel Day-Lewis - Phantom Thread: Daniel Day Lewis is allegedly retiring from acting and this is his final performance. What a way to leave the stage! Lewis is at his very best in PT Anderson's enigmatic film about fashion and love. Lewis imbues his character with a specific internal intentionality that radiates off the screen. An undeniable master gives a masterful performance. 

Daniel Kaluuya - Get Out: Another mystery nomination. Kaluuya isn't bad in Get Out, but he isn't noteworthy either. Kaluuya's nomination, along with the film's other nominations, is a testament to how low the New Academy has sunk in their quest for the holy grail of diversity in the age of identity politics. 

Gary Oldman - Darkest Hour: Oldman is one of the great actors we've had over the course of his career. Oldman defies stereotype and plays Churchill as a man plagued by self-doubt and ruled by fear. A truly terrific performance that is undermined by a rather lackluster film. 

Denzel Washington - Roman J. Israel, Esq. : I have not seen Roman J. Israel, Esq., but you can never go wrong with Denzel Washington, who is maybe the Best Actor/Movie Star we have had in Hollywood over the last thirty years or so. 

WHO SHOULD WIN: Daniel Day Lewis/Oldman- If either of these guys win then you cannot complain as they are great in these films but have also been great over the course of their esteemed careers. 

HANDICAPPING THE NEW ACADEMY: The New Academy is definitely leaning towards Kaluuya in this category. He is young, new blood and he is Black, all things they are desperate to reward. Kaluuya has a legit shot at winning, but I think the fact that he is a total newcomer may end up scuttling his attempt at Oscar gold. 

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WHO WILL WIN: Gary Oldman - I admit that I am falling into the trap of traditionalism again, just as I did with the Best Director category. I could be wrong here, but I think Oldman is rewarded not just for his work in Darkest Hour but also for his long and outstanding career. I think Kaluuya is a legitimate threat to take the crown though, but in the end the campaign against Oldman will fall short. 

 

BEST PICTURE

Cal Me by Your Name: A boring and morally questionable mess of a movie. If this were the Old Academy, it might have a chance…but no way, no how, this year. 

Darkest Hour: In the Old academy Darkest Hour would be a serious threat, but the film is simply not good enough or original enough to hold the interest of the New Academy. 

Dunkirk: A staggering achievement in filmmaking, that sadly has been forgotten this awards season because it has nothing to do with identity politics. 

Get Out: A beneficiary of the "Leg Up" program of the New Academy that judges on a curve when it comes to minority films. Get Out is a mildly entertaining popcorn movie that has no business being nominated for anything. The greatest irony of all is that Get Out is a movie about White Liberal Guilt and the film is only nominated for so many Oscars simply because of White Liberal Guilt. Pretty funny. 

Lady Bird: Another beneficiary of the "Leg Up" program, Lady Bird is simply not a good movie. As my friend, a famous Hollywood big shot filmmaker dubbed Mr. X said to me, "Lady Bird is a watered down Napolean Dynamite for women". Ouch! 

Phantom Thread: Another of PT Anderson's masterpieces. Phantom Thread is a remarkable film  that is a monument to the undeniable talent of its director. 

The Post: Spielberg's usual shitty "serious" movie that is more proof that Spielberg can't make a real movie unless there are aliens or dinosaurs in it. It is unbelievable how poorly made this movie is. 

The Shape of Water: A fantastic and original piece of art that is mesmerizing from start to finish. A complex and complicated religious and political metaphor that says more than most other films without ever opening its mouth. 

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri: If you want to see what foreigners think America is like, watch Three Dildos. It is inaccurate, cheap and one dimensional. A dark comedy that isn't funny, and a comedic drama that has no drama. 

WHO SHOULD WIN: Dunkirk, Phantom Thread - If either of these movies win it will be a miracle, but they richly deserve it as they are far superior to any of the other films except for maybe The Shape of Water

HANDICAPPING THE NEW ACADEMY: The Shape of Water in old times would runaway with it without question as its subtle politics are what would usually be embraced by the Old Academy. But the Old Academy is gone, and the New Academy is an unpredictable beast. I think in the New Academy it is a battle between Get Out (race) and Lady Bird (gender). In conversations out here in Hollywood all I ever hear people say is that they want Get Out to win and the film seems to have serious momentum. I think Get Out, because it is more overtly political than Lady Bird, is the favorite in the New Academy.

WHO WILL WIN: Get Out - The Shape of Water?

I have gone back and forth on this one over the last few days. Old habits are hard to break and so my traditionalist, Old Academy side keeps pulling me to The Shape of Water, while the clues from the New Academy/Identity politics crowd all seem to be pointing to Get Out. This reminds me of the lead up to the 2016 presidential election where Hillary was presumed to be the winner and yet I saw something completely different happening. I followed my instincts back then and was right. But that was just a stupid presidential election…THIS IS THE OSCARS!!

As much as I want The Shape of Water to win because it is a superior film and is much more deserving of the award than the fool's gold of Get Out, that doesn't mean The Shape of Water will win. As my father used to say, "wish in one hand and shit in the other and see which fills up faster".  Moonlight's upset win last year has to teach me something…and if I don't learn from it I will be no better than the Hillary Dead Enders who have learned nothing from Trump's win in 2016. 

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Therefore…as much as it pains me to say it…my pick for Best Picture is…The Shape of Water!!! No…no…no…I'm so sorry, I typed the wrong title…the actual winner is Get Out

I am not going to be happy when Get Out wins because I think it will diminish the meaning and prestige of the Oscars, as dumb as that sounds…but if, as some are predicting, Three Dildos wins, I might just chop my own head off and throw it in the Ocean.

And one final note regarding the New Academy and #MeToo and all the rest. The proof that the New Academy and Hollywood is full of shit is that in the Animated Short category, Kobe Bryant has a film that is a self-serving, homage to himself titled, Dear Basketball, which is going to win the award. Hollywood loves Kobe…Kobe can do no wrong. Apparently Kobe's rape of a woman in Colorado and his treatment of that woman and others by his legal team, doesn't count in the eyes of the #MeToo gang. I always found it intriguing that OJ is so universally hated out here in Hollywood, just utterly despised, but when Kobe was accused of rape everyone came to his defense. Kobe is OJ in training…and is further proof of the rank hypocrisy of Hollywood and the New Academy. That is the end of my rant. 

And thus concludes yet another glorious Oscar prediction piece. I think that for the second year in a row the New Academy will, for good or for ill, shake things up. Get Out doesn't deserve any Oscars, but I believe it could be primed to have a big night this Sunday. Maybe…or hopefully…I am wrong and The Shape of Water or Dunkirk or Phantom Thread has a big night…one can dream…this is Hollywood after all.

Just think, a year from now we'll be having this same argument over another shitty movie that is getting too many accolades just because it satiates the New Academy's thirst for identity politics…ladies and gentlemen your front runner for the 2019 Best Picture Oscar is…Black Panther! Yuck. 

 

UPDATE: 3/2/18

I got an email from a reader asking me to expand my Oscar picks into the technical and lesser known categories. Here are my very brief picks for other Oscar categories...

Foreign Language Film - A Fantastic Woman or UPSET PICK: The Square

Cinematography - Roger Deakins Blade Runner 2049

Animated Film -  Coco

Documentary - Icarus

Animated Short - Dear Basketball

Original Score - Phantom Thread

Sound Editing and Sound Mixing - Dunkirk

Hair and Makeup - Darkest Hour

Production Design - The Shape of Water

Costume Design - Phantom Thread

Editing - Dunkirk

Visual Effects - War for the Planet of the Apes

Those are my best guesses…good luck!!

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©2018

Black Panther: 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. Unless you are a superhero fanatic, there is no reason to see this movie. If you really want to see it, don't feed the Disney beast, wait and watch it on Netflix or cable for free. 

Black Panther, directed by Ryan Coogler and written by Coogler and Joe Robert Cole, is the story of T'Challa, a prince of the technologically superior African nation of Wakanda - who is also the superhero Black Panther, as he rises to the throne of his native land and struggles to keep his nation safe. The film stars Chadwick Boseman as T'Challa with supporting turns from Michael B. Jordan, Daniel Kaluuya, Lupita Nyong'o and Angela Bassett.

Black Panther is the eighteenth film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe which includes but is not limited to Iron Man, Captain America, Thor and all of the Avengers film. What makes Black Panther noteworthy among the rest of the myriad of Marvel properties is that Black Panther is the first of the Marvel films to have a Black lead actor and a Black director. 

As a White man, a member of the demographically dominant culture here in America, I am afforded the luxury of not caring about the race of a film's director or lead actor. The only thing I care about in regards to a film is its quality, not its diversity. I am mildly self-aware enough to understand that not everyone thinks like me or has the same perspective on the importance of quality in cinema. 

With all of that said, I understand that my experience as a cinephile watching Black Panther is going to be very different from, say, a young African-American boy's experience of watching Black Panther. An example of which was told to me recently by a friend (who is White) who recounted taking his 8 year-old African-American son to see the film and as they left the theatre his son said to him, "I didn't think superheroes could be Black!"

That anecdote highlights the fact that Black Panther is undoubtedly culturally important and is a remarkable achievement for African-Americans in film, but sadly, that doesn't make Black Panther even remotely close to being a decent film. And while social/political importance and relevance might trump cinematic quality for other viewers, it does not for me. 

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Black Panther is bursting at the seams with all sorts of dramatic and cinematic potential, but like most of the Marvel superhero films, it never lives up to its robust source material. Stan Lee created the character Black Panther back in 1966, and it is a fascinating myth. The idea of Wakanda, an African nation that was never touched by colonialism or slavery, is so brilliant as to be ingenious. And naming a Black superhero Black Panther, after the revolutionary and iconic civil rights activists The Black Panthers (Members of the Black Panther Party), was another stroke of genius. Black Panther is not a terrible film, but it definitely is a disappointing one mostly because it only briefly skims the surface of the rich archetypal material percolating beneath its feet. 

The biggest problem with Black Panther is also the reason that it is getting so much attention…namely that it is a Marvel/Disney movie. Marvel/Disney movies all make billions of dollars at the box office but they are also all pretty bland and derivative ventures in shameless self-promotion, and sadly, so is Black Panther.

Ryan Coogler is considered by some to be a great director, his Fruitvale Station is fantastic, but like every other director of a Marvel movie, he is handcuffed by the process and the system which churns out these movies from the money-hungry Disney assembly line. The bottom line is this, Black Panther is a pretty shoddy movie that fails because it is so suffocatingly claustrophobic and looks unconscionably cheap. To be fair to Black Panther, all Marvel movies are just as visually flat, dull and devoid of cinematic vibrancy as Black Panther. I don't know if the plethora of failings of Black Panther are entirely Ryan Coogler's fault or not, but I do know that if Ryan Coogler is a such a great filmmaker and artist, then why isn't he making movies that matter artistically and not swimming in the retread pool of Rocky films and Marvel movies.

The rich themes at the core of Black Panther, nationalism vs. neo-liberalism, the generational scars of colonialism and slavery, the psychological plight of African-Americans who live with a psychological/historical void, are only touched upon briefly and never with very much genuine insight. The debate over whether to fight for Black people across the globe, or to preserve the sanctity of Wakanda is the most fascinating and relevant discussion in the film in my opinion, but like all the other potentialities in the movie, it too gets short shrift. 

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The character that carries all the weight of these heavy issues is Killmonger, played by Michael B. Jordan. Killmonger is a potentially phenomenal character that is so ripe with archetypal and mythic meaning I was hoping we'd see much more of him in the film. The problem with Killmonger though, and why we probably see less of him than we should, is that Michael B. Jordan, for all of his acting capacity, is a huge disappointment because he is unable to harness the character's immense power. I remember the first time that I saw Michael B. Jordan, it was in an episode of Friday Night Lights, and I sat up and said, "who is that?" He reminded me of a young Denzel Washington back in the day when he was on the tv show St. Elsewhere. Jordan, like Denzel, oozed charisma and had an innate star quality about him that was undeniable. As the years have passed though, Jordan's growth as an actor seems to have been stunted and he has not evolved past being that charismatic but one-dimensional teenager. 

The problem with Jordan's performance in Black Panther is that his voice scuttles the work his ridiculously sculpted body is meant to be doing. Jordan's voice is that of a child in a man's body, which results in Killmonger's menace and gravitas, which are vital to the narrative, being undermined. Jordan should be a palpably charismatic screen presence, but he ends up being rather wispy and inconsequential because his voice is too high pitched and not grounded in his belly, where he could connect with the character's (and his) rage. Killmonger should speak in a guttural, nearly primal growl that reflects the torment and suffering of those stolen from and locked out of the Garden of Eden (Africa/Wakanda), not in the high pitched whine of a petulant teenager preening and posing for effect. 

Besides Jordan's voice being not grounded or connected, he also suffers mush mouth, which might be a result of the fake gold teeth he has to wear, that further disconnects Killmogner from his primal fury. Unlike most of the rest of the cast, Jordan is not confined by an African accent which can be emotionally limiting or stifling due to its vocal formality, but he is still unable to use this freedom to viscerally connect with the existential animosity that fuels Killmogner.

Jordan also fails to embue his character with a specific and detailed intentionality that would fill his silence and stillness, and focus his intensity. The result of Jordan's failure to create a vivid inner life for Killmonger is a dissipation of the character's volatile energy because it has nothing to contain it, which means it has nothing to enhance and increase it. 

It was also odd to me that Killmonger is such a highly educated man, he graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy and got graduate degrees from M.I.T., and yet Jordan has him speak in a watered down, ghettoized and not just casual but intentionally improper, American English that feels forced, posed and phony. At the end of the day, Killmonger is a character I wish could have been explored much more deeply and honestly, but due to Jordan's frivolous performance, it would need a different actor to play him, and a different movie in which to do it.

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Chadwick Boseman stars in the film as T'Challa/Black Panther, and he suffers from an egregious charisma deficit. Boseman is a decent actor, but in a Marvel movie you need more than a decent actor, you need somebody to carry a movie for two hours, or in this case two hours and twenty minutes. Boseman is no Robert Downey Jr. as Iron Man, and that is no crime as few actors are as skilled and charismatic as Downey…but Boseman isn't even as magnetic as that dead-eyed dope Chris Evans who plays Captain America…and that is a major problem.

I found Boseman to be intensely dull and devoid of any magnetism whosoever. In the story T'Challa and Lupita Nyong'o's character Nakia, are supposed to have a history and chemistry between them, but the scenes between them are so wooden and lifeless as to be comically stultifying. Boseman has a pleasant energy about him, of that there is no doubt, but he certainly doesn't have a compelling one. 

The rest of the cast are all fine but none of them stand out. Nyong'o's Nakia feels under developed to me, as does Danai Gurirra as Okoyo, T'Challa's bodyguard. Angela Basset is always a compelling screen presence, as is Forest Whitaker, but both of them are not exactly doing much heavy lifting in the film. 

Martin Freeman plays CIA officer Ross and feels entirely out of place. Were there no American actors available to play the American Ross? Because Freeman's butchered American accent is abysmal and is totally distracting. Not to mention the obvious, which is that a CIA officer being a "good guy" to any African peoples at anytime is such a fairy tale as to be absurd. 

The audience clapped at the end of the screening I attended, but it feels to me like this was an entirely manufactured cultural moment where people think they are supposed to love this movie, so they choke on their disappointment and, like with Black Panther's super suit, they use the kinetic energy of that disappointment and turn it into vocal support for the film.

As these philistines clapped I wondered, did they watch the same movie I did? Did they see the shoddy and lethargic fight choreography? Did they notice the poor cinematography, especially in the night shots which lacked any coherent contrast or texture? Or how in the day shots there was not any use of shadow or light to propel the story or tell deeper dramatic truths? Did they not notice how thin and cinematically tinny the climactic battle scenes were and how subpar the special effects? 

Reading headlines even before the film was released it was easy to see that the marketing machine at Marvel was already into hyper drive as Black Panther was declared not just a great super hero movie but one of the best movies of all time. Good grief…it reminded me of Wonder Woman last summer, which was held up as being akin to Citizen Kane because a woman directed it. I liked Wonder Woman but Citizen Kane it is not…that said, Wonder Woman is so vastly superior to Black Panther that in comparison it IS Citizen Kane. Neither Wonder Woman nor Black Panther are even in the same ballpark as Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight trilogy, which is a masterpiece, but they pale in comparison to last year's Logan, which is a terrific movie. 

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I was reminded of the most recent Star Wars movie, The Last Jedi, when I was finished watching Black Panther. The Last Jedi received the same sort of critical hype that Black Panther received before its release, all due to the fact that the film was a bastion of diversity. I attended a Christmas party this year and at the dinner table The Last Jedi came up and a woman asked me if I liked it and I said no, I thought it was junk. The woman was very distraught at my opinion which I voiced in front of many children, and so as to not make a scene in front of these impressionable youngsters she leaned in and sternly whispered to me in retort "yeah, but it had a really positive message". I bit my tongue, for what I wanted to say to her but didn't out of social delicacy was that I don't give a flying fuck if a movie has a "positive message". What I care about is cinema…that is it. I don't care who stars in a movie, or who wrote it or who directed it, I only care that it is at least good, if not great. 

If you like a movie, like Black Panther, simply because it conforms to your preconceived social or political views, that is fine, but don't confuse that with the film's quality and don't confuse it with film criticism. It would be nice if film critics were professional enough to be able to discern between those things as well. 

The woman who was horrified at my honest opinion of The Last Jedi, would no doubt be even more horrified by people who loved American Sniper because it had a "positive message" in their view. Me…I am going to tell you the truth about a movie…and the truth about The Last Jedi, and Black Panther and American Sniper for that matter, is that those movies are not good. You may "like" those movies because they conform to your belief system, but that STILL DOESN'T MAKE THEM GOOD

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The problem with film criticism today is that social/political views are overwhelming critic's judgment of cinema. This results in the "ground breaking" Black Panther benefitting from what I call the "leg up" program where cinematic standards are reduced in order to fulfill some sort of social/political requirement. This reduction in standards is how we end up with a mind-numbingly average popcorn movie like Get Out being considered an "Oscar worthy film" simply because it is written and directed by a Black man, Jordan Peele. If Get Out were written and directed by a White man, and were titled, oh…I don't know…Scream...would it be Oscar worthy? No, not in a millions years, because it simply is not that good…which is why it isn't an Oscar worthy film! 

Look, again, let me reiterate this...I do not care about an actor's, writer's or director's race, gender, color, religion, ethnicity or sexual orientation…I only care that they make a good movie. I am not sure, as I haven't spoken to anyone about the movie, but I think I may not be alone in my opinion of Black Panther, or The Last Jedi for that matter. I say that because I looked and saw that both films received incredibly high Rotten Tomato critical scores and a plethora of positive press, but when push came to shove, audiences seemed not to believe the hype and had much lower opinions of the movies than critics, which is odd as it is usually the other way around. For instance, Black Panther is currently at a 97% critical score at Rotten Tomatoes, but has a 77% audience score, which is an anomaly compared to any other film in the Marvel Universe. Other Marvel films all have critical scores and audience scores that are within just a few points of one another.

The Last Jedi is an even more telling example, as that film currently has a 91% critical rating but a dismal 48% audience score. It might be that people, unlike film critics, are judging these films critically for what they really are REGARDLESS of whether it conforms to their social/political beliefs, and the Rotten Tomatoes audience score reflects their disappointment at what is actually on the screen. 

Film critics may think they are helping African-American artists with their paternalistic benevolence when it comes to judging Black film, but they aren't. What they are doing is lowering the standard for quality for Black film which will only hasten to alienate audiences who are only interested in seeing something good, not seeing something "important" and then pretending it is good. 

Look, the reality is that Marvel movies in general are usually pretty awful, and Black Panther in particular is entirely underwhelming. Not only does Black Panther not live up to its enormous hype, it doesn't even live up to the low bar of Marvel movie standards, as I would place it in the bottom half of the films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, in the general vicinity of a film like Dr. Strange.

For me, the truth is I would rather watch a movie about the actual Black Panthers and how the FBI, which liberals have now grown to love, adore and trust, systematically infiltrated, decimated and assassinated the group and its revolutionary message into extinction. Unlike the actual Black Panthers, which were revolutionary in both thought and deed, Black Panther the movie may somewhere deep down be revolutionary in aspiration, but in deed is so mundane and banal as to be little more than a piece of distractionary establishment propaganda.

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There were three White, sixty-something year-old women sitting near me at Black Panther who clapped once the movie ended and then, and I am not shitting you here, they literally clapped through the end credits for any and all of the Black actors and actresses as their image and name appeared on the screen, but only the Black ones. The silence for the White actors like Andy Serkis and Martin Freeman was deafening and frankly, hysterically funny to me. These women, who no doubt have never seen a Marvel movie in their lives, were partaking in a form of cheap "woke" grace with their ovation for Black Panther, and honestly, I find it utterly appalling. (These same woman were probably among the throng of dopes who cheered at the end of the truly abysmal The Post because it pushed all the proper Establishment Democrat Party buttons.)

If these White women want to "do" something "woke", they shouldn't cheer at a shitty superhero movie because it has a Black cast and director…instead they should sift through the bullshit they are being continuously fed on a daily basis by the mainstream media and understand how they are being manipulated into seeing oppressive entities, like the FBI for example, as American heroes. Instead of virtue signaling their "wokeness" to strangers in a theatre, why not go educate themselves about genuine American heroes like Angela Davis and Huey P. Newton, or the Black Panther Party free breakfast program that J. Edgar Hoover once described as "the greatest threat to the internal security of the nation". Or go read about the charismatic young Black Panther Fred Hampton who was assassinated in Chicago by the Chicago police, the assault led by Sgt. Daniel Groth, who admitted under oath that his team of heavily armed cops executed their attack on Hampton at the behest of the FBI. (and as an aside go read about Groth's connection with the curious case of Thomas Arthur Vallee, a heavily armed, disgruntled former Marine who had previously been stationed at a U2 base in Japan (just like another three named disgruntled former Marine, Lee Harvey Oswald) who was living in Chicago and who worked at a factory that overlooked the motorcade route that JFK was supposed to take in Chicago just weeks before he was killed in Dallas…it is a fascinating tale that James W. Douglass' touches upon in his great book JFK and the Unspeakable

Regardless of whether you look into the real Black Panthers or not, what you shouldn't do is waste your money going to see Disney's Black Panther, and then post on Facebook about how #woke you are. The Mickey Mouse corporate monster ain't "woke", and he ain't going hungry and he sure as shit doesn't doesn't need your hard earned money, so trust me when I tell you that this movie is definitely not worth your time and effort. But if you do go and see it, all I ask of you is that you try to honestly judge the film for what it actually is, and not for the movie that you desperately want and hope it to be. 

©2017

American Bloodlust: Projecting the Shadow and the Hunter Myth Cycle

ESTIMATED READING TIME : 7 minutes 14 seconds

In continuing to try to make sense of the senseless massacre at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida yesterday (February 14, 2018), I thought I would re-post portions of an article I originally wrote in September of 2016 titled Jason Bourne, Projecting the Shadow and the Technological Hunter: A Review and Commentary. That article was a review for the film Jason Bourne starring Matt Damon but after reviewing the film, I veered into the topic of our violent and bloodthirsty culture and the Hunter Myth Cycle. I am re-posting the article but have edited out the sections that death solely with reviewing the Bourne film. I believe the ideas expressed in this edited version are very salient to the discussion of violence in America in the wake of our most recent tragedy and speak to the cultural and archetypal forces at work in our violent nation. 

THE HUNTER MYTH CYCLE

Coincidentally enough, right after seeing Jason Bourne I read the book, Projecting the Shadow : The Cyborg Hero in American Film by Janice Hocker Rushing and Thomas S. Frentz. The book is wonderful and I highly recommend it to anyone who is interested in cinema, myth and Jungian psychology. In the book, the authors examine from a Jungian perspective, six films and their relationship to the evolution of the archetypal hunter myth, from The Indian Hunter to The Frontier Hunter to The Technological Hunter as seen through the modernist, post-modernist and "trans-modernist" view. The six films they look at are JawsThe Deer HunterThe Manchurian CandidateBlade RunnerTerminator and Terminator 2. The book was published in 1995 so the Bourne films weren't "born" just yet, but I couldn't help but think of them in terms of the authors intriguing premise. 

According to Hocker and Frentz, there are three types of hunter myths, the Indian Hunter, the Frontier Hunter and the Technological Hunter. The Hunter Myth Cycle is seen as circular in that it evolves from one myth (I.E. Indian myth) to another myth (I.E. Frontier myth) to another myth (I.E. Technological myth) and then back to where it started (Indian myth). It is interesting to examine the character Jason Bourne in relation to this hunter myth cycle. The Bourne character is a weapon used by men in suits in offices back in the Pentagon and C.I.A., so he is a no different than a drone, or a smart bomb. He was created, much like the man/weapons of The Manchurian Candidate, to do the killing from which the post-modern man wants to consciously dissociate. The Bourne character is also similar to the Manchurian Candidate, in that he is a human but has had his true identity and memory, markers of his humanity, taken from him in order to make him a near perfect robotic killer.

Bourne's personal place on the archetypal Hunter Myth scale is that of The Frontier Hunter, yet he is also just a weapon of his C.I.A. overlords who are Technological Hunters, thus giving the film two myths in one. Rushing and Frentz describe the Frontier Hunter in part, "Since Indians as well as wild beasts occupy the land he wants, he slaughters both indiscriminately, gaining a decisive advantage over his human prey because of…his sophisticated weaponry, and his lack of spiritual restraint. Although his frontierism converts "savagery" to "civilization", the white hunter himself cannot reside in society without losing his individualistic heroic status and thus does not return from the hunt…". Things always get interesting in the Bourne films when Jason Bourne must fight against another one of the human weapons of the Technological Hunters in the C.I.A. in the form of an opposing Frontier Hunter. Two men/weapons with "sophisticated weaponry and lack of spiritual restraint" fighting each other is a key to the successful Bourne formula.

Rushing and Frentz describe the Technological Hunter Myth as follows, "…Because he is so good at making machines, he now uses his brains more than brawn, and he prefers to minimize his contact with nature, which can be uncomfortable and menacing. Thus he creates ever more complex tools to do his killing and other work for him. Having banished God as irrelevant to the task at hand, the hero decides he is God, and like the now obsolete power, creates beings 'in his own image'; this time, however, they are more perfect versions of himself - rational, strategic, and efficient. He may fashion his tools either by remaking a human being into a perfected machine or by making an artificial "human" from scratch. "

In cinematic terms the Bourne character falls somewhere between the dehumanized human weapons of The Manchurian Candidate, "remaking a human into a perfected machine", and the humanized robot-weapon "replicants" of Blade Runner, "making an artificial 'human' from scratch". The replicants in Blade Runner are tools and weapons for humans, just like Bourne, but they also yearn to be human, as does Bourne, who aches for a return to his long lost humanity while his Technological Hunter overlords yearn to make him ever more robotic, or more accurately, devoid of humanity. The problem with both the replicants and Bourne, is that their humanity, their need for love and connection, is their greatest weakness and their greatest strength.  Bourne and the Blade Runner replicants, yearn to Know Thyself, which is what drives them toward freedom from their makers and yet also makes them erratic and at times vulnerable weapons for the Technological Hunter. This inherent weakness of humanity, the need for love and connection, is removed entirely in the later films that Rushing and Frentz examine, Terminator and Terminator 2, where humans have created super weapons, cyborgs, that are completely inhuman, and of course as the story tells us, turn on their creators like Frankenstein's monster and try to hunt and torment mankind into oblivion.

In many ways, Bourne is the perfect post-modern hero in that he is so severely psychologically fragmented. He was intentionally made that way by the Technological Hunter Dr. Frankensteins at the C.I.A. because eliminating his humanity (past/memory/love and connection) is what makes him so effective as a weapon. Originally in the story, the people in power calling the shots back in Washington are using Bourne to clandestinely hunt their enemies. But now that Bourne is off the reservation and out on his own, he has become the archetypal Frontier hunter, searching for his soul/memory which was stolen by those D.C. Technological Hunters. This is the normal evolution in the hunter myth cycle…the weapon turns on its creator, as evidenced by both Blade Runner and the Terminator films, and now by the Bourne films.

LIVING IN THE AGE OF THE TECHNOLOGICAL HUNTER

What does this talk of post-modernism and the technological hunter have to do with anything? Well, in case you haven't noticed, we live in an age of the post-modern technological hunter. The films examined in Projecting the Shadow show us the road that may lay ahead for our culture. Our inherent weakness in being human, both physical and emotional, and our intellectual superiority has forced us to become technological hunters. From the first caveman to pick up an animal bone and use it to bash in another cave man's head (hat tip to Mr. Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey), to the drone pilot who sits in an air conditioned office in Nevada and kills people half a world away with the touch of a button, we have removed ourselves from the direct conscious responsibility for killing because it is too psychologically and emotionally traumatic for our fragile psyches. Or at least we think we have removed our psychological responsibility. Like consumers of meat who would rather not know where it comes from or how it is treated, we as a society have removed our direct conscious involvement in the killing done in our name by creating a cognitive dissonance (cognitive dissonance is defined as  a "psychological conflict resulting from incongruous beliefs and attitudes held simultaneously") and an emotional distance from it. Whether it be the drone pilot who goes home for lunch with his wife and kids after having killed dozens, or the politicians and citizens who cheer at the shock and awe of "smart bombs" and munitions dropped from miles overhead on defenseless human beings, we have become Technological Hunters all. Rushing and Frentz describe the Technological Hunter as one who…"prefers to minimize his contact with nature, which can be uncomfortable and menacing", that is us. The "nature" we want to minimize contact with is the killing we have done and our moral, ethical, psychological and spiritual responsibility for it. That is why we create "ever more complex tools to do our killing". We need those tools to give us an emotional, psychological, physical and spiritual distance from the the killing we do. 

The distance between thought, impulse and deed in regards to killing is shorter than ever for the technological hunter, it is just the push of a button away, but with our cognitive dissonance, we are able to consciously detach from the results of those actions and make them feel ever more remote. While they may feel consciously remote, the unconscious ramifications of those actions are felt deeply and personally in the psyche of the collective and the individual. The drone pilot may believe he is merely playing a realistic video game when he kills people half a world away, but his psyche and soul are being torn to shreds without his conscious knowledge of it, as is our collective psyche and national soul.

PROJECTING THE SHADOW

The U.S. soldiers and Marines, Frontier Hunters all, sent to the middle east to be the weapons of their Technological Hunter superiors in the Pentagon, continuously come back psychologically, spiritually and emotionally fragmented beyond recognition, perfect symbols of the post-modern age in which they fight. This psychological fragmentation brought about by the trauma of these wars leaves these soldiers and Marines wounded and maimed in invisible and intangible ways and often times leads to them killing themselves. The suicide rate of U.S. veterans of the Iraq and Afghan wars is that of 22 a day. This horrendous torment, and the desperate suicides attempting to get away from it, are the price paid for the cognitive dissonance we as a culture enable and embrace in regards to the killing of other people done in our name. Since we as a culture cannot embrace or acknowledge our killing, we stuff it into our collective shadow, or as I call it the "killing shadow", and force the less than 2% of the population who serve in our wars (and even fewer who kill in those wars) to carry our killing shadow for us. The psychological shadow in general and the killing shadow in particular, brings with it an enormous amount of powerful psychic energy, which is why it does such tremendous damage to those who bear its burden, and why it is imperative for us as a culture to reduce that burden on the soldiers and Marines carrying our killing shadow energy.

As our Technological Hunter culture evolves, in order to remove the psychological and emotional cost on the human beings sent to fight these wars, we won't decide to stop fighting future wars, but we will decide to stop using humans to fight them. No doubt at this very moment, somewhere in the Pentagon they are developing robotic, amoral, emotionless warriors who will do all our dirty work for us. The problem will arise of course, when that same amoral, emotionless warrior technology figures out that they are stronger, faster, bigger and better than us. And once they realize they can replicate themselves, we weak humans will become entirely unnecessary. This is the story told in the Terminator films. This will just be another form of our culture ignoring their killing shadow and projecting it onto another, in this case our cyborg weaponry. Except our shadow will not be ignored, and it will lash out at its deniers by any means necessary, in this case by using our technological weapons to strike out at us to force us to acknowledge our own killing shadow.

SHOCK AND AWE - MUST SEE TV

Until we can create these perfect, robotic killers though, we are left to wrestle with our own spiritual and psychological weaknesses, namely, our thirst to kill and our desire to not feel the emotional and spiritual turmoil that comes with killing. It is interesting to notice how in our time we fully embraces the technological hunter myth completely unconsciously. An example of this was the overwhelmingly giddy joy and exuberance shown for the first Gulf War in 1991 and its made-for-tv technological bombardment with smart bombs upon Iraq. Never before had war been brought into the living rooms of Americans as it was happening, and yet, here was the war in all its technicolor glory except without any conscious connection to our responsibility for the devastation and death that we were watching unfold.

The same occurred with the start of the second war in Iraq in 2003 when the U.S. unleashed the cleverly marketed "shock and awe" bombardment. The dizzying display of devastating munitions were a sight to behold, like the greatest fireworks display imaginable, but our conscious connection to the devastation being wrought was minimal. This is another example of our culture being unwittingly under the throes of the Technological Hunter Myth. In contrast, our cultural shock and visceral disgust with the terror attacks of 9-11, where barbarians used primitive box cutters to kill innocents and then turn our technology (airplanes) against us, were signs of our unconscious detachment from the Indian Hunter myth and more proof of our deep cultural connection to the Technological Hunter Myth.

Another example of our cultures post-modern Technological Hunter Myth is the fetish among the populace for Special Operations Forces (SEALs, Special Forces, Delta force, Army Rangers and Marine Force Recon). These Special Ops forces have become the favorite go to for any talking head on television or at the local bar or barbershop, to proclaim who we should get to handle any military issue. ISIS? Send in the SEALs!! Al Qaeda? Send in the Green Berets!! Not long ago I saw everyone's favorite tough guy Bill O'Reilly opining on his Fox news show that we should send in ten thousand Green Berets into Syria and Iraq to wipe out ISIS. I guess Bill isn't aware that there are only 11,000 Special Operators deployed around the globe at any moment in time, not to mention that most of those Special Operators are not Special Forces (Green Berets). This sort of thing happens all the time where people see a problem and say, 'well let's send in these Special Operations supermen to deal with it.' This is more proof of the Technological Hunter Myth in action, as Rushing and Frentz describe it, "...the hero (the technological hunter) decides he is God, and like the now obsolete power, creates beings "in his own image"; this time, however, they are more perfect versions of himself - rational, strategic, and efficient. He may fashion his tools...by remaking a human being into a perfected machine". We as a culture are Technological Hunters who have made these Special Operations forces in "our own image", but only better. The Special Operations forces are "more perfect versions" of ourselves, "rational, strategic, and efficient." We believe we have remade these ordinary men into "perfected machines" for killing, and then we have projected our killing shadow (our responsibility and hunger for killing) onto them.

In our current Technological Hunter Myth, these Special Operators are, like Jason Bourne, nothing more than extensions of ourselves in the form of weaponry, no different than the drone or smart bomb, or in the future the cyborg, and looked upon as just as mechanical. And we have no more genuine connection to them or their work or the massive psychological toll it will take for them to carry the burden of our shadow than we do that of the drone or the smart bomb or any other machines we created.

HERO OF THE DAY

When we examine our Technological Hunter Myth in the form of Special Operations forces, we can see why our culture is drawn to certain things and repulsed by others. For instance, the greatest hero and biggest symbol of our most recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the cultural militarism surrounding them has been Navy SEAL Chris Kyle. Kyle, who alleged to be the most lethal sniper in U.S. history, wrote a best selling book, "American Sniper" and the movie of the same name based on that book broke box office records. People went absolutely crazy for the story of Chris Kyle. In terms of the Hunter Myth Cycle, Chris Kyle was a weapon used by the Technological Hunter. And interestingly, he was a sniper, a man who kills his enemies from great distances. This is not to diminish the skill it takes to be a great sniper, or the utility of that skill, but it is to point out that a sniper being the heroic symbol of a post-modern war speaks volumes to where we are as a culture. The reason people could admire Chris Kyle is because on an unconscious level they could symbolically and mythologically relate to him. Chris Kyle, like the rest of the culture, killed people from a distance and removed the conscious emotional and psychological responsibility for those kills from himself and from the culture.

The act of looking through a scope mounted on a sniper rifle gives the shooter much needed psychological and emotional distance from his killing. In the case of the sniper, he is twice removed from his kill, once by the scope and once by the weapon itself. The psychological distance of the sniper with his scope is in some ways similar to the emotional distance and cognitive dissonance created when people sitting on their couches watching CNN see smart bomb after smart bomb eviscerate some Iraqi city. Whether it be the sniper scope or the television camera, seeing something through a lens or screen gives the viewer a detachment from what they see, and with that detachment comes the ability to maintain a cognitive dissonance from the horrors seen and any moral or psychological responsibility for them.

In thinking about our current age, and our evolution from the age of the Frontier Hunter Myth of World War II, where our soldiers fought the savagery of the Nazi's and the Imperial Japanese in order to preserve western civilization, to the post-modern, Technological Hunter Myth of today, it is easy to see why an accomplished sniper like Chris Kyle became such a celebrated symbol of the wars we are waging. In comparison to our current culture's example of "The Sniper", Chris Kyle, being the hero for the Iraq war, think of World War II and the hero and symbol of that war, Audie Murphy. Murphy became revered and beloved in his time just like Chris Kyle did in our time, and like Kyle, Murphy also had a successful film about his combat exploits. Murphy, though, fought and killed his enemies in close quarters, without the scope and distance of the sniper. Back then, Murphy was fighting under the predominant myth of the time, The Frontier Hunter Myth, while Chris Kyle fought under our current myth of the Technological Hunter Myth. This doesn't make Murphy better than Kyle or vice versa, it just shows how cultures unconsciously choose their hero's based on the myths they currently embrace.

Another point of note showing how we are currently under the spell of the Technological Hunter Myth, is that there are other warriors who could've become the cultural icons and symbols of our current wars, but didn't resonate quite as much with the public as much as sniper Chris Kyle did. The late Pat Tillman, the former NFL football player who became an Army Ranger, is one example of someone who easily could've become the iconic hero of the war on terror but didn't.  Marcus Luttrell, the Navy SEAL of the book and movie Lone Survivor fame is an even better example. Luttrell did became famous for his story, but, for some reason, he didn't resonate anywhere near as much with our culture as Chris Kyle did. I believe the reason for this is our cultural and collective unconscious attachment to the Technological Hunter Myth. Simply put, Luttrell and Tillman were just as worthy of adulation as Kyle, but they weren't snipers. The sniper is the perfect symbol of the emotional and psychological distance we as a culture like to keep from the people we are killing. The current cultural celebration of the sniper also enables us to maintain our cognitive dissonance with relative ease and keep any conscious psychological and emotional turmoil brought about by the killing we do at bay.

The need for psychological and emotional distance between the person wanting to kill and the actual killing is a signature of the Technological Hunter Myth. At the behest of his superiors in Washington, the drone pilot in Nevada pushes a button and kills dozens in Yemen or Pakistan. The drone pilot is, through his drone, twice removed from the actual killing, once by the button he pushes and once by the missile fired,  and is also detached from it by the screen he watches it on, thus giving him a conscious distance from the killing. His superior in Washington is thrice removed, once by his phone used to call the pilot, once by the pilot himself and once by the missile used. The B-2 pilot, who at the behest of those same Washington superiors drops his payload from a mile up, never sees the people he is obliterating, enjoys the same distance and assures himself of the same cognitive dissonance as the drone pilot. The Special Operations forces that are covertly sent to Pakistan to assassinate a terrorist leader under the dark of night and the cloak of secrecy are the closest yet to the actual killing, but even they are twice removed from their kill because of the weapon they shoot, and the night vision goggles they see through, creating that technological hunter myth distance for which western man yearns. The conscious distance from the killing through the use of technology is vital in creating and maintaining our cognitive dissonance and the illusion of conscious emotional and psychological well being.

In contrast, think of the terrorists in ISIS who behead their captives. They kill directly, no distance between them and their victims. The act of beheading, like the atrocity of 9-11, gives us in the west a visceral, guttural reaction, one of pure revulsion. There is something utterly barbaric, savage and repulsive about cutting a defenseless persons head off. Yet if innocents are decapitated by drone strikes or smart bombs we somehow aren't quite as repulsed by that. What this speaks to is our current enchantment with the Technological Hunter Myth. For in western culture, we have created technology which gives us a safe distance from the barbarity of the acts done in our name. Decapitation by smart bomb feels much less barbaric to us because our technology gives us a moral, emotional and psychological distance from that barbarity and aids us in maintaining our cognitive dissonance. 

I HAVE BECOME COMFORTABLY NUMB

In American foreign policy killing has become something other people, or things, do, and anyone who directly kills, like ISIS, are reprehensible savages. In our post-modern age and the Technological Hunter Myth which has come with it, the extensions of man are his weaponry in the form of machines (drones/smart bombs) and human machines (special operations forces). Either way, whether with a manufactured machine or a human one, our culture is able to consciously detach and distance itself from the violence it perpetrates, regardless of the righteousness of that violence, and this is a recipe for a cultural and psychological disaster as we numb ourselves to the damage we do others and our selves.

In bringing this back to Jason Bourne, the Bourne films have resonated with our culture to such a great extent because Bourne is the perfect human weapon in the age of the Technological Hunter Myth. Like we imagine our Special Operations Forces, Bourne is " made in our own image", but is a 'more perfect version of ourselves - rational, strategic, and efficient."

We can watch Bourne kick-ass in a world that is just like ours thanks to the franchise's trademark hyper-realism, and so we are able to project ourselves onto him and live vicariously through him. The Bourne character gives us one more lens, like the snipers scope, or the camera, or the television screen, through which we can see the horror of our world, that lens is the mind's eye…our imagination. This added lens of imagination means we can watch actual, real-life civil unrest in Athens on our television and not only detach ourselves from our responsibility for that unrest, but also create even more distance by imagining the drama going on underneath the surface of that unrest, and imagining how we would, like our "perfect version of ourselves" Bourne, thrive under those circumstances. This is the final stage of the Technological Hunter Myth, where the technological hunter is so far removed from the actual killing that he/she is forced to use their own imagination in order to envision how they themselves would really behave if they were actually in the scenario where the killing took place. The end stage of this type of evolution, or devolution as the case may be, would be The Matrix trilogy, where humanity is reduced to being prisoners of their own imagination and being used as little more than captive batteries to their shadow, the Technology they once created to fight for them. Once that Technology became self aware and understood that humans were intellectually and physically inferior, it simply conquered and enslaved humanity for its own benefit. 

CONCLUSION

In conclusion, at the current stage of the Technological Hunter Myth we find ourselves in, we have been so far removed from our primal instincts and detached from our collective psychological shadow, that the tide may turn and we may eventually begin to yearn for an acknowledgment of our most ancient and primitive psychological drives. The need not just to eat an animal, but to kill it, courses through the deepest trenches of our psyche. The need not just for our enemies to die, but for us to feel their last breath on our faces, is alive and well and living in our killing shadow. As counter-intuitive as it may seem, these type of instincts are the gateway to a return to a respect for the earth, respect for life, respect for our enemies and respect for killing in general.

Killing and war will never cease to be, they are eternally part of the human condition, but one can only hope that the anti-septic form of war/killing currently enjoyed by the west, where we shove our darker impulses and our unequivocal guilt and responsibility into our shadow, where it festers and grows as we ignore it, will be transformed back into the more simple, if equally brutal form of killing of the Indian Hunter Myth, where respect for prey, enemy and the act of killing return. What I am saying is that if we are to kill we must do it consciously, take full responsibility and be fully aware of what we have done. If we continue to psychologically fragment and cognitively dissociate from the killing we do, that impulse will become our killing shadow, unconscious and angry. When those impulses are cast into the shadow they do not disintegrate, they only disappear from consciousness and grow more and more powerful until they simply refuse to be ignored. When the killing impulse is ignored and forced into the shadow, it eventually will strike out with a vengeance, often destroying the fragmented and cognitively dissociated psyche which ignores it. Twenty-two veteran suicides a day is the damning proof of the consequences of our cognitive dissonance from the killing we do and our moral and ethical responsibility for it. 

Our only hope for the healing of our fragmented psyches, and the reclamation of our humanity is to make our killing impulses and acts conscious.  We must take full mental, emotional, psychological and spiritual responsibility for the killing that we do.  Sadly, with our culture thoroughly numbed through technology and medication, this seems terribly unlikely. The more likely scenario? Go watch the Terminator and Matrix films to see what happens when humanity is unable to carry and acknowledge its killing shadow. And if you really want to spend your time wisely, I highly recommend you go read Projecting the Shadow : The Cyborg Hero in American Film.

©2016

A Second Look - The Way of the Gun: Meditations on America and Guns

*** ESTIMATED READING TIME : 12 MINUTES***

In light of the horrific massacre at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida yesterday (February 14, 2018), I thought I would re-post this article The Way of the Gun: Meditations on America and Guns, which I wrote in December of 2015 in response to a previous mass shootings. I believe the thoughts, theories and opinions expressed in this article continue to speak directly to the forces in our culture and collective unconscious that are only increasing in power and will continue to unconsciously motivate more acts of senseless murder.

After the recent terror attack in San Bernadino, a friend of mine, a prominent financial writer who I will call The Dragon, emailed me a graph showing the U.S. gun ownership rate compared to other countries. In the email The Dragon wrote, "We are a gun-crazy country, yet I see this as more correlation than causation. I don’t know about Yemen, but there are lots of guns in Switzerland and Finland (though roughly half the number per capita as the US), and they don’t have anything remotely resembling the mass shooting problem we do in the US. Is there something in the water? There is definitely something wrong with our culture." 

Even though The Dragon and I are on opposite sides of the gun argument, I am a staunch second amendment supporter and he favors much stricter gun controls, I thought his question and comment on culture was a very interesting one and it got me to thinking…why is America so much more prone to gun violence than other countries? What makes the U.S. so unique in this regard?

After deep mediation and contemplation on the issue I have come up with a few theories about America's unique relationship with the gun. These theories range from the mythological to the musical, and everywhere in between. In no particular order, here are some of my thoughts on the topic.

EVERY MAN A KING

America : The First Culture/Nation of the New Post-Monarchist Age

For thousands of years, mankind lived within the culture of Monarchy. Kings or Emperors ruled the day for millennia. The King/Emperor was not just a ruler and head of state, but also a religious and sacred figure. Kings/Emperors were representatives of God on earth, mediators between the people and the divine. The "Divine Right of Kings", which states that the king derives their rule directly from the will of God and is not subject to any earthly authority, has been the overarching belief of cultures across the globe, from ancient Egypt and China to Rome and the British throne and everywhere in between.

While nations, such as the United Kingdom for example, changed their governmental and legal structures to diminish or disavow the ruling power of the monarch, the mythological power of the King, and the deference and reverence that came with it, still dominates the unconscious of the culture. The psyche of monarchist cultures remain imbued with respect for the sacred power and myth of the monarch even when the governing structures of the nation neuter their ruling power. This occurs even in countries/cultures where the monarchy is replaced with a seemingly polar opposite form of rule, take Russia post-monarchy which was ruled by singular heads of the communist party like Stalin, or even post-communist Russia with Vladimir Putin. China is another example, which over time replaced the leadership of an Emperor with that of Chairman Mao. In both the Russian and Chinese examples, the trappings of government and its ideology changed but the psychological dynamics of the culture did not.

Just like in Russia, China, or France, the country of the United States of America was born in rebellion against the King (of England), but unlike those nations, the culture of the United States of America was born in direct opposition to the cultural myth of the King. In American culture the Divine Right of Kings held no place, but every U.S. citizen was "endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights".  This is the birth of the new post-monarchist age, where Kings lose their divine right, and ordinary citizens gain theirs. In American culture, the first of its kind, there is no one king, but rather there is a nation full of kings. Everyman as his own king, with his own God given rights, was a brilliant idea upon which to build a nation, but a difficult one upon which to build a culture because it brings with it a dark side, namely, when everyman is a King there are considerably more opportunities for individual tyrants to raise their ugly head. 

Which brings us to the gun discussion. In this post-monarchist cultural myth, a person with a gun can be a benevolent king or a despotic one. The benevolent, gun carrying citizen-king keeps governmental tyranny from thriving, while the gun-toting, despot citizen-king imposes his tyranny upon those he perceives as weaker or not deferential enough to his divine right to rule what he believes should be his ever expanding kingdom.

Individuals swimming in the collective unconscious of the American culture can go adrift in seas of chaos without the moorings of the monarchist cultural myth and the psychological structures that accompany it. The monarchist cultural myth, while depriving the ordinary person of their rights by placing all of the power in one individual or royal family, brings with it an order and structure and even a connection with the divine that is totally lacking in the post-monarchist new age American culture. For those weak of mind or spirit, the evolution of this new age can go from 'everyman a king' to 'everyman a god', in the blink of a blood shot eye. The American culture brings with it no connection to the divine in the form of a ruler, only a deeper love of the self, and with that self love and belief in one's own 'divine right' comes with it the urge and instinct to get others to revere you as you revere yourself. In this new post monarchist culture and the mythological psychology that goes with it, the gun becomes a mystical tool that bestows to those that wield it the godly power to take lives with just the slightest movement of their finger.

In the United States of America, the first post-monarchist culture, the gun gives individuals the divine right of Kings, the power to make life and death decisions, once reserved for the lone ruler on the throne. This power, like all power, can be corrupting and disorientating. It is all too easy to be intoxicated with the power of the gun and kill when one sees the divine nowhere but in oneself. It is also all too easy under the spell of the power of the gun to forget that the 'other' is not an inferior to be ruled, but a person to be respected because they are divine in their own right.

There is a scene in Clint Eastwoood's western masterpiece, Unforgiven, where the character, English Bob, played by the inimitable Richard Harris, speaks of the point I am making about the difference between the monarchist culture and the post monarchist culture. In the scene, English Bob perfectly states the point about America being adrift without the stability and divinity of a King…or Queen. I'll leave it to the divine Richard Harris...

The best example of monarchist and post-monarchist cultures placed side by side would be to look at the difference between the culture of the United States and that of Canada. The U.S. grew out of rebellion to the King in a post-monarchist culture, and Canada grew in communion with the King in a monarchist culture. Canada is a much more demur, peaceful and less violent country and culture than the United States.

BLOOD BEGETS BLOOD

CULTURAL DNA, THE COLLECTIVE UNCONSCIOUS AND THE SINS OF THE NATION

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Every nation is born of violence. One group defeats and destroys another group and comes to power. This is how nations and cultures across across the planet have come to be. The United States is no different. America was created with the brutal genocide of Native Americans and on the backs of African slaves. The United States of America is soaked in the blood of its formation, and the current American culture reflects the sins of its birth. The violence of today is a direct reflection of the violence that accompanied the founding of this nation.

But if every country is born of violence, why is the United States the only nation where gun violence seems to be so rampant? One main difference between the United States and its sins, and the sins of other nations, is time. Other nations are built upon cultures established thousands of years ago, so just like in regards to the monarchist culture issue, those nations may have changed governing structure, but they didn't change their underlying culture or their cultural psyche. As previously stated, China has been ruled by the communist party for the last sixty five years, but it's overarching culture (a monarchist one in the form of an Emperor) extends back for nearly five thousand years. The same can be said of France, England, Russia and countless other countries and cultures. The same cannot be said of the American nation or culture. Our soil is still soaked with the blood tribute of the unfortunates sacrificed at America's founding, and it seeps into our everyday existence through the collective unconscious of the American culture.

Older cultures have had the benefit of vast amounts of time passing between their present situation and the sins of their founding. Time, the best salve of all, allows for incremental catharsis and the healing of the foundational wounds and horrors that inhabit the collective psyche of cultures across the globe.

Another difference between America and other cultures is that America was the first culture born at the end of a gun. Guns didn't exist at the formation of British, French, Russian, Chinese or Japanese culture, or any other culture for that matter. America was born by the gun, with the gun and of the gun. For good or for ill, the gun is the symbol of how America came to be and what it is now.

The gun was a crucial object in the ritual blood sacrifice of millions, in the form of Indians and slaves, to the Gods of America's founding upon the altar of the United States, and was vital in bringing the country to full term and fruition. Due to the guns integral part in conjuring the country into being, American culture worships the gun as a sacred talisman, instrumental for the nation's and the cultures birth, survival and continued success.  The mythic American Archetype is that of the cowboy with his six shooter...watch Clint Eastwood's Unforgiven for a fantastic mediation on American gunslinger archetype, guns and violence. Other nations have mythic archetypes as well, the Japanese and the Samurai with his sword, or the English with their knights in armor. The archetype of the gun-slinging cowboy lies at the heart of the American cultural psyche because he is the high priest of American individualism who wields the mystical gun in order to conjure up a new nation.

Through this prism of mythological cultural psychology, the scourge of gun violence which horrifies the people of America today can be seen as penance for the violent sins of our forefathers. The United States has flowered into one of the most wealthy and powerful countries to have ever existed in the history of mankind, but until we can fully come to terms with, and become conscious of, the innocent blood we spilled in order to fertilize the ground upon which this country has grown, we will never be able to escape the violence that continually haunts us. 

LOTTO CULTURE AND THE DENIGRATION OF SKILL

THE CURSE OF THE KARDASHIANS AND KANYE

Modern American culture has no respect for skill and craft. Take a look around at popular culture and you see little to no reverence for skill and craft. Arguably the biggest stars on the American scene are the Kardashians, a collection of half-wits with no discernible skill whatsoever besides self promotion. It hasn't always been this way. Prior to the curse of reality television, actors, who had mastered their craft through years of training and work in the theatre, were admired for their artistry in film and on television. Ordinary people could admire the expertise attained by great actors after years of dedication and hard work. Now with reality tv, from Real Housewives and Honey Boo-Boo to Ice Road Truckers and The Deadliest Catch, everyone can envision themselves as being worthy of having their own television show just by being themselves. The thinking goes like this, "Me, Marla and our friends are so zany working down at the nail salon, they should make a tv show about us and call it Tough as Nails!!" No hard work is required, no skill or craft need be obtained. Just turn on the cameras and be outrageous and you can be a cultural phenomenon. 

The same is the case with popular music. In this era, hip-hop rules the day and dominates American culture over every other musical form. What makes hip-hop so quintessentially American is that it is the first musical form to require no musical skill or craft whatsoever. The biggest stars in hip-hop, Jay-Z and Kanye West as prime examples, play no instruments and are unable to sing a single note. What difference does that make? Well, in terms of artistry, it makes a lot of difference. It used to be that musicians would spend years and years arduously honing their skills and mastering their craft, be it an instrument, their voice, or both. With the discipline required to reach a certain level of musical proficiency, comes a certain amount of artistic integrity, and respect for the art and the artist. With hip-hop, one need not spend years and years alone in their room learning how to play an instrument, one only need to master the art of self aggrandizement and marketing. With true musicianship, the artist masters their craft first, then uses that skill to create and then goes about selling their creation, with hip-hop, one creates the image first and foremost and then sells from there.  Hip Hop is less a musical art form, and more a symptom of the broader cultural disease of malignant narcissism, delusion and psychosis.

It is important to note here that I am not saying that hip-hop is culturally irrelevant. Hip-hop is extremely culturally relevant and has been for decades. What I am saying is that hip-hop is musically and artistically lazy and inferior. That is part of why it is has become so culturally relevant, because the broader American culture glorifies the cheap and easy path (the path of hip-hop and reality tv), and denigrates the hard path, namely that of acquired musicianship, artistry and skill. Think of it this way, if you take a Van Gogh painting and a Matisse painting and make a collage of them, it doesn't make you Van Gogh or Matisse, or even a painter, it only makes you a maker of collage. You may be great at making collage, but that doesn't mean you are an artist, it only means you excel at a fringe craft requiring little or no skill. You may call yourself an artist and may think of yourself as an artist and you may demand others call you an artist, but you are no artist. You don't have the skills of the artist, you don't have the discipline of the artist, you don't have the vision of the artist and you don't have the soul of the artist. You have the soul of the snake oil salesman and the carnival barker. 

It is also important to note here that hip-hop culture should not be conflated with black culture. While hip-hop was certainly born out of black culture, it is nowhere near the entirety of black culture. So by pointing out that hip-hop culture is artistically lazy and antithetical and disrespectful to skill and craft I am not calling black culture lazy and antithetical and disrespectful to skill and craft, but I am calling the overarching American culture lazy and antithetical and disrespectful to skill and craft. Quite to the contrary, black culture has created some of the most seminal music and musical forms (Jazz and the Blues to name just two of many) humanity has ever known. It has also given us some of the greatest and most influential musicians to have ever walked the earth. Jimi Hendrix, John Coltrane, Aretha Franklin, Marvin Gaye, Ray Charles, Thelonious Monk, Charles Mingus, Billie Holiday, B.B. King, Miles Davis, Sam Cooke, Art Tatum, Albert King, Freddie King, Prince, Michael Jackson and even Jay-Z's wife Beyonce, are just a small sample of the impeccable musicians who have worked their asses off to master their craft and hone their skills. These artists have won a hard-earned and well deserved respect with their dedication to craft and commitment to artistic mastery.

Whether it be reality tv or hip-hop culture, what is really being sold is not the old way of masterful artistry and the artist, but rather the new way, which I call the "Lotto Culture", which is that the watcher and listener can project themselves onto the tv or hip-hop star and envision themselves becoming rich and famous with minimal effort. The dream being sold is that one need not have talent or discipline or hard work or years of training, because it only takes the creation of an image and sheer force of will to succeed in hip-hop or reality tv. In terms of the "Lotto Culture", one must only sit back, buy a ticket and be lucky, and unimaginable wealth will be all yours. There is also a conflation in our culture between success in reality tv and hip-hop and the success of real actors and musicians. For instance, you can turn on your television and see Meryl Streep, and you can turn on your tv and see Kim Kardashian, but that does not mean that Kim Kardashian is the equal of Meryl Streep, even though our culture pushes that idea. In the same vein, Kanye West is on the radio but is not the equal of Same Cooke, or Jimi Hendrix, or Prince or…any other real musician. Kanye West, being both a hip-hop star and a Kardashian by marriage, is the perfect poster boy for this "Lotto Culture", and he behaves accordingly. 

So what in the world does reality television, hip-hop and the "Lotto Culture" have to do with gun violence? It all has to do with the disrespect and disregard of skill and discipline. To hurt or kill someone with your bare hands, or even with a knife, usually requires a certain amount of skill and frankly, courage. Martial artists study and train for years and decades in order to master their art and sharpen their skills. These years of training instill discipline, and with that discipline comes respect, both for yourself and for others. This discipline and respect is the key to unlocking the wisdom of when it is appropriate for the martial artist to unleash his skills. In opposition to this, the gun requires no discipline, no skill acquisition, no respect and no wisdom. The shooter may have great skill, but it certainly isn't a requirement nor is it necessary in order to kill someone. It is also worth mentioning that you can get into a fist fight and lose and not die or even have serious damage done to you. But losing a gun fight usually ends with someone in grave medical condition, and most-often dead.

A gun user also does not need courage. To kill someone with your hands or with a knife means you must get close to them in order to hurt them, that means they are close enough to you to hurt you. In a fight things happen. You can be the greatest trained fighter in the world but if you break your hand on a guys skull, or you blow out your knee, or the guys friends jump in, or he maces you or something like that, then all bets are off. A fist fight brings with it inherent risk for both fighters. The same is said for using a knife. Knowing where to attack on the body with a knife, and when, takes years of hard work and training to fully grasp. Killing with a knife also means you have to get right next to your opponent/victim, and when that happens things can go wrong. Your opponent may be unarmed, but when you are that close to them, they could disarm you and now you are the one who is at the disadvantage. In contrast, no courage is needed to kill with a gun.  You can kill someone with a gun and not even be within ear shot of them. You can shoot someone without even trying to hit them, which is not something you can do with a knife or your fists. Guns, like hip-hop and reality tv, provide a short cut to power. This "Lotto Culture" short cut is a form of cheap grace, which eliminates the development of discipline and the nurturing of respect for oneself and for others that come with it.

THE ONLY THING WE HAVE TO FEAR ISEVERYTHING!!

Fear is epidemic in America. It is ironic that we sing about ourselves by saying we are the "Home of the Brave" and yet we act completely the opposite of that. We are afraid of everything. We have been trained by politicians and the media to be afraid of everything. We used to be told to fear the God-less communists conspiring to get us and infiltrating our nation. Now we are told to fear the God fanatic terrorists who are conspiring to get us and are infiltrating our nation. Blacks are told to fear whites, and whites to fear blacks. Everyone is told to fear immigrants and immigrants are told to fear everyone. We are taught to fear the known and the unknown. Fear your neighbor, fear a stranger, fear the criminal, fear the cop, fear the rich, fear the poor. We are perpetually fed a steady and hearty diet of high fructose fear syrup.

We are so inundated and overwhelmed with fear that we become fatigued, and as any fighter will tell you, fatigue makes cowards of us all. Fear forces us to think emotionally and not rationally. Our fear and emotion leaves us paralyzed and cowering under our beds until we can take it no more and frantically scream for politicians to do SOMETHING to protect us and "our way of life" from whatever we are told is menacing us. That 'something' usually involves taking a chainsaw to the constitution and writing gigantic checks to the military industrial complex. The empty tough talk of these politicians manipulates us into not only accepting, but demanding, the reduction of our liberties, all in the name of security, or more accurately, the illusion of security.

It used to be that we weren't so afraid. "Our way of life" is something that you hear a lot in regards to security and the war on terror. "Our way of life" is actually a transient thing of little value. It means going to the mall, eating junk and watching football and Dancing with the Stars. People have not fought and died for this country in order to save "Our way of life". They fought and died to defend our constitution and the rights that constitution tells us were bestowed upon us by our Creator. When politicians say "Our way of life" it is code for the "Lotto Culture", meaning we don't have to actually do anything in order to maintain our creature comforts. It is why they told us we should all go shopping after 9/11, so that we would all go back to being fat, happy and asleep, while those in power gutted the constitution. It is why the powerful, from both parties, take the easy road of slashing our constitutional rights rather than asking us to change "Our way of life". We used to be the type of people who wouldn't sacrifice our liberties for "Our way of life", but rather sacrifice "Our way of life" for our liberties. That time is long gone. We are now a nation of frightened children, led around by our noses by those that use fear to manipulate and control us. They keep us fat, stupid and scared and keep the "Lotto Culture" of short cuts and cheap grace alive and well by promising us security in exchange for liberty. As Ben Franklin said, "He who would trade liberty for some temporary security deserves neither liberty nor security." So it is with the "War on Terror" and so it is with the Second Amendment and the "Gun Debate".

CONCLUSION

In conclusion, from the founding of American culture in a post-monarchist and gun centric age, to the modern era and it's denigration of skill in the form of vapid reality television and vacuous hip-hop music, combined with the incessant trumpeting of fear to the masses, we have created a perfect storm where gun violence prospers. As a nation we are so thoroughly manipulated and controlled by fear that we as a people have become emasculated and are forced to rely on the gun as both a mythic totem and a phallic symbol to desperately try and regain and reinvigorate our withered masculine energy. 

Far, far too many people have died in mass shootings here in America these past few years. I know I am not alone in hoping that we never see the horror of another mass shooting here again. But I also know that regardless of whatever legal or political maneuvers are undertaken to curb gun ownership and violence, the symbology, mythology and psychology of our unique American culture will insure that America will continue to be doomed to remain under the bloody spell of the Way of the Gun.

© 2015

Call Me by Your Name: A Review

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

My Rating: 1 out of 5 stars

My Recommendation: SKIP IT. There is no need to ever see this mess of an art house poseur. 

Call Me by Your Name, written by James Ivory (based on the book by Andre Aciman) and directed by Luca Guadagnino, is the story of 17 year old Elio as he comes of age in a northern Italian town in 1983 and deals with his attraction to Oliver, an American Grad student. The film stars Timothee Chalamet as Elio and Armie Hammer as Oliver and has garnered Academy Award nominations for Best Picture, Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Actor (Chalamet).

There are times when film critics, in a conscious or unconscious bit of virtue signaling, confirm their bias by endorsing a movie for what it represents culturally or politically rather than for what is actually there on the screen. Such is the case with Call Me by Your Name where many critics desperately yearn for the film to be an artistically poignant, deeply romantic, gay coming-of-age story and therefore declare it to be so (the film has a 96% Critical Rating on Rotten Tomatoes)…when the stark reality is that Call Me by Your Name is a mannered and pretentious art house charlatan that instead of being romantic is stultifyingly pedantic. It is also a breathtakingly dull, overly long, flaccid, trite and abysmal cinematic affair that fails on every single level. This film is only remarkable for being completely devoid of drama, substance or craft.

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In a story that should be chock full of external obstacles for the star-crossed lovers to overcome, all obstacles have been removed and with them go any hope for drama. An example of a missing obstacle is that there is absolutely no prejudice on display towards the gay lovers, only overflowing and unquestioned acceptance by everyone on-screen. The film should have opened with Mr. Roarke and Tattoo dressed all in white, welcoming Elio and Oliver to Fantasy Island, at least that would've made the fact that there are no threats from the old-school Italian town folk or from protective parents or jealous girlfriends at least somewhat believable.

What these obstacles would have provided the film were higher dramatic stakes. If the love between these two men is forbidden or dangerous, then every look, every gesture, every-thing between them requires more and more courage and every slight detail takes on greater and greater significance. With the removal of all obstacles between the two lovers, all we are left with is two guys pondering whether they should sleep together or not. The film attempts to make this back and forth sexual questioning a slow, sensual burn, but it ends up feeling more like a botched execution where everyone is wincing waiting for the condemned to stop twitching and hurry up and die already. 

A logical issue that arises with the absence of obstacles is why set the film in 1983 in the first place? The context back then was that the AIDS epidemic was starting to take off and coming out as gay was a bold, Herculean task of courage and being exposed as gay a perilous threat? If the filmmakers are just making a "hey...should we fuck?" movie about two gay men, why not just set it in 2013 instead of 1983 where those threats are greatly reduced to the point of being dramatically insubstantial just as they are in the film? 

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In terms of the story having no conventional drama due to a lack of external obstacles, I can be all in on an unconventional narrative or dramatic structure like that, for proof look at my reviews of Terrence Malick's films…but the difference between a Malick film and Call Me by Your Name is that Malick's films are exquisitely crafted and overtly carry a much deeper metaphorical and archetypal meaning than just the libidinous and romantic yearnings of a horny 17 year-old. Call Me by Your Name has no deeper meaning and is cinematically rather listlessly and shoddily patched together.

For instance, visually the film is as tepid and flaccid as the storytelling. Never has the northern Italian countryside looked so flat, muted and devoid of texture…which to the film's unintended credit, does match the drab drama and characters inhabiting the plot. Add the dismal cinematography to the cloying and insipid soundtrack and you have a rather unpleasant cinematic experience churned out by director Luca Guadagnino. 

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As for the acting, Timothee Chalamet plays Elio and does…fine. I didn't find his performance to be earth shaking or even very remotely noteworthy never mind Oscar nomination-worthy, but it certainly isn't terrible. Chalamet is comfortable on-screen and to his credit doesn't shy away from the sexual situations presented him in the film. The problem with Chalamet though is he is not exactly a commanding and powerful on-screen presence, and his lack of magnetism and dynamism makes him a tough sell to carry a movie with a run time of over two hours. In some ways Chalamet's Elio feels like the boy who wasn't there, like a ghost wandering through a movie set, which isn't actually a knock against him as an actor, only one against him as a leading dramatic figure who has to carry an entire film. To be fair, Chalamet is young and certainly holds the potential to grow into a more powerful and dynamic actor in the years ahead.

Armie Hammer plays the older grad student Oliver and never quite captures the essence of the role. Hammer's Hollywood history is interesting, at first they tried to make him into a movie star with The Lone Ranger and The Man From UNCLE…that failed miserably. Now they are trying to make him an "actor" with The Birth of a Nation and now Call Me by Your Name…and that is failing too. Hammer is certainly a movie-star handsome guy, but his biggest issue is that he either suffers from a charisma deficiency or he underwent a quadruple charisma bypass, either way…he has less charisma than a Cigar Store Wooden Indian. Hammer just never feels entirely at home on-screen in his films and that continues with Call Me by Your Name

Hammer has no doubt gotten numerous opportunities in the film business due to his family connection and his passing visual similarity to another blond haired idol, Robert Redford, but what Hammer desperately lacks is Redford's command and mastery of craft. Hammer is at a crossroads of his career, and if his performance in Call Me by Your Name is any indication, he has a long and bumpy road ahead of him. 

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Since I found the film to be so monotonous and dull, my mind wandered throughout the viewing. At one point I stopped to consider that in our current #MeToo moment with all of the accompanying sexual politics that go along with it, would this film be so well received by critics and Hollywood if Elio was a 17 year old girl having sex with Oliver the older man? I couldn't help but think there is some weird double standard in play here where a film celebrates what basically amounts to statutory rape of a teen boy just because it is a homosexual relationship. The fact that no characters in the film, or critics or people in Hollywood, felt that there was something at the very least morally questionable, if not downright disturbing, about a man who looks to be at least ten years older, having sex with a 17 year old, which in some jurisdictions is Statutory Rape, is pretty alarming. I can't help but think that if this story were between an older man and a 17 year old girl than it would have been attacked and shunned.

In conclusion, Call Me by Your Name is a film that suffers from comparisons to other gay-themed films like Brokeback Mountain and last years Academy Award Best Picture winner Moonlight. Both Brokeback Mountain and Moonlight are such vastly superior films it is ridiculous to even think of Call Me by Your Name in the same category, but the subject matter lends itself to comparisons. If you want to see extremely well-made films about homosexual love and desire, please skip Call Me by Your Name and go watch the masterful Brokeback Mountain or the flawed but compelling Moonlight.

And no matter what any other spineless, virtue signaling film critic says, trust me when I tell you that not liking Call Me by Your Name does not make you a homophobe, it makes you an honest connoisseur of film with impeccable taste. Call Me by Your Name is critical fools gold, and is a total waste of any true cinephile's time, money and energy. Not only should you skip this lethargic, lackluster, lifeless, listless and languid sack of apricot shit in the theatre, you should skip it on Netflix or cable as well. To Call Me by Your Name and the critics who adore it I simply say…"Later".

©2017