"Everything is as it should be."

                                                                                  - Benjamin Purcell Morris

 

 

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Songs of Experience in A Quiet Place

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Estimated Reading Time: 17 minutes 52 seconds 

"GET OUT OF YOUR OWN WAY" - Get Out of Your Own Way off of the album Songs of Experience by U2

"IT'S THE LITTLE THINGS THAT GIVE YOU AWAY/ THE WORDS YOU CANNOT SAY/ YOUR BIG MOUTH IN THE WAY" - The Little Things That Give You Away off of Songs of Experience by U2

THE SYNCHRONICITY STORM

For the last few weeks a recurring theme has kept rearing its head in my reading and movie watching. As this thematic synchronicity storm gathered strength I realized I could ignore the topic no longer.The recurring theme in question is the stultifying tribalism and accompanying intolerance for opinions different from our own that is rampant in our culture.

The subject first came up when I went to see A Quiet Place and discovered the underlying metaphor at the heart of the film, that in our current cultural climate anyone with a traditionalist opinion that may differ from liberal establishment orthodoxy needs to keep quiet and keep their head down or they will be "devoured" by the PC mobs and elitist watchdogs online and in the media. 

The day after seeing A Quiet Place I read two pieces touching upon the same subject, the first by Michelle Goldberg in the New York Times and the second by Andrew Sullivan of New York magazine.

Goldberg's piece from May 11th, titled "How the Online Left Fuels the Right" and Sullivan's from the same day titled "Kanye West and the Question of Freedom", both discuss the problem of tribalism across the political spectrum but also the issue of liberal intolerance of differing viewpoints, which echoed the foundational metaphor I found so intriguing about A Quiet Place.

Then a day later on May 12th, I read an op-ed in the New York Times by Gerard Alexander titled, "Liberals, You're Not as Smart as You Think". In the piece Alexander, like Goldberg and Sullivan before him, mentions the Kanye West-Trump conversion story where Kanye's divergence from racial political dogma has caused a furor resulting in his sanity being questioned by liberals and African-Americans, to highlight liberal intolerance of diverse opinions.  

"BLESSED ARE THE ARROGANT, FOR THEIRS IS THE KINGDOM OF THEIR OWN COMPANY" Get Out of Your Own Way off of the album Songs of Experience by U2

These three articles, written by a Democrat (Goldberg), a liberal conservative (Sullivan) and a Republican (Alexander) all touch upon an issue that I have recognized for quite some time and tried to warn against, namely that establishment liberalism is quick becoming a suffocatingly vacuous and emotionalist echo chamber of political correctness and victim idolatry where serious thinking goes to die. (This is not to say that Republican conservatism is chock full of vibrant philosophy, it isn't, it is at best a mausoleum, at worst a rancid carnival of Reagan-era capitalism).

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The argument that Goldberg, Alexander and Sullivan make is that liberal intolerance of diverse opinion and use of shame instead of debate is a direct cause of Trump's electoral victory, and may lead to his re-election. I made this same argument right after the 2016 election (link, link) (and right before the election- link), where I said that liberal arguments had grown flaccid because Democrats had replaced debate with moral condemnation, shaming and exiling of anyone who disagreed with them. As I have written many times, liberals no longer engage in debate, they simply cry racism, misogyny or some other emotionally fueled charge rather than actually thinking through a topic, forming an argument, engaging in debate/discussion and thus attempting to convince others of the rightness of their viewpoint. This sort of lazy, entitled, and emotionally driven form of anti-intellectual politics is currently at epidemic levels across America. 

The emotionalism at the heart of this tribalism and demand for intellectual conformity is a potent force and I have seen its devastating effects up close and personal in the liberal circles of my own life.

Andrew Sullivan eloquently wrote of the powerful emotion driving tribal politics and its consequences, "That’s an intense emotion, and it’s that intensity, it seems to me, that is corroding the norms of liberal democracy. It has been made far, far worse by this president, a figure whose election was both a symptom and a cause of this collective emotional unraveling, where the frontal cortex is so flooded by tribal signals that compromise feels like treason, opponents feel like enemies, and demagogues feel like saviors. Instead of a willingness to disagree and tolerate, there is an impulse to loathe and expel. And this is especially true with people we associate with our own side. Friendly dissidents are no longer interesting or quirky; as the stakes appear to rise, they come to seem dangerous, even contagious. And before we even know it, we live in an atmosphere closer and closer to that of The Crucible, where politics merges into a new kind of religious warfare, dissent becomes heresy, and the response to a blasphemer among us is a righteous, metaphorical burning at the stake."

"LOVE HURTS, NOW YOU'RE THE GIRL WHOSE LEFT WITH NO WORDS/ YOUR HEARTS A BALLOON BUT THEN IT BURSTS/ IT DOESN'T TAKE A CANNON JUST A PIN/ YOUR SKIN'S NO COVERING…" - Get Out of Your Own Way off of the album Songs of Experience by U2

MARY FROM DELAWARE

I was, synchronistically enough, reminded of this "impulse to loathe and expel" when a friend jokingly sent me a recent article written by a woman who used to be friends with my wife. This woman, let's call her Delaware Mary, is a vociferous Clinton supporter and a self-described feminist, and when my wife posted a link to an article I had written right after the 2016 election titled, "2016 Election Post-Mortem", Mary, who had been friends with my wife for over twenty years, responded just as Sullivan describes as from that point on she refused to talk or communicate with my wife in any way, instead choosing to unfriend and expel my wife entirely from her life. 

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Mary's reaction to my wife simply linking to my article (which I encourage you to read to judge for yourself the level of my crime) seemed bizarre to me, but it was a sign of the times as in the midst of the collective nervous breakdown among liberals in the wake of Trump's victory and Hillary's defeat, Mary had company in her shunning ways. Two other female friends of my wife and I, let's call them Lola and Lana, both of whom are also self-described feminists and Clinton supporters, took the same action and expelled me and my wife entirely from their lives as well after I wrote my post-election analysis. It seems Mary, Lola and Lana were like the creatures in A Quiet Place, and when they heard me speak up they not only eliminated me, but also anyone close to me…namely my wife. 

"YOU MUST BE AN ACROBAT/ TO TALK LIKE THIS AND ACT LIKE THAT" - Acrobat off of the album Achtung Baby by U2

There are a few noteworthy things about this episode worth pointing out…the first is that it was confirmed by multiple third parties that the reason these women banished my wife and I was solely because of my writing and my post-election piece in particular. 

Second is that my wife is the least political (and least confrontational) person I know and rarely if ever talks politics with her friends or on Facebook. It is also important to emphasize that my wife didn't post the text of my article, just a link to it. In addition, my wife doesn't necessarily believe the same things that I do, she just made the egregious error of posting a link to my article saying "my husband wrote this". 

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And to put this further into context, these three feminist Clinton supporters have exiled my wife not because I am a MAGA hat wearing Trump guy, I certainly am not, but because I challenged their Clinton neo-liberalism from a position further to their left. I am one of the "friendly dissidents" Andrew Sullivan wrote about in the quote above who was deemed a heretic and banished…along with my entirely innocent wife.  

One final bit of context is that Delaware Mary, Lola and Lana were adamant during the election that Hillary Clinton should not be held to account for the things her husband did while in office. These women claimed it was "sexist" and "misogynistic" to tar Hillary for the misdeeds of Bill. And yet…they were very comfortable holding my wife accountable for my apparent sin…how progressively feminist of them. 

The fact that these three women couldn't just passively ignore my writing, which would have been very easy to do since I rarely if ever had direct contact with them (and also because to avoid my writing they could simply NOT CLICK ON A LINK), but had to actively punish my wife for it, speaks volumes about where we are as a culture and does not bode well for where we are headed as a nation.

The hypocritical behavior on the part of Delaware Mary, Lola and Lana also speaks volumes and does not bode well for the future of feminism and is also a testament to their lack of personal character and integrity.

"BLESSED ARE THE BULLIES, FOR ONE DAY THEY'LL HAVE TO STAND UP TO THEMSELVES" - American Soul off of the album Songs of Experience by U2

"HAVING A SCAPEGOAT MEANS NOT KNOWING THAT WE HAVE ONE" - RENE GIRARD

"UNINTELLIGENT PEOPLE ALWAYS LOOK FOR A SCAPEGOAT" - ERNEST BEVIN

When Mary, Lola and Lana made the conscious decision to exorcise my wife and I from their lives they were exercising the ancient psychological tool of scapegoating. As author/philosopher Rene Girard tells us, scapegoating is when negative feelings and emotions, such as anger, failure, frustration or guilt are projected onto an innocent person/object, and then that person is punished, which provides psychological release and catharsis for the scapegoater.

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In this particular case, my wife was entirely innocent and did nothing wrong to Mary, Lola and Lana, but they projected onto her all of their negative feelings that arose as a result of Hillary's ignominious defeat, feelings such as impotence, helplessness, embarrassment, humiliation, frustration, anger and rage, and then punished my wife by exiling her. In a desperate search for catharsis in order to alleviate themselves of these painful and negative emotions, they needed to punish my wife and not just me, because exiling me would not make me suffer, but it would definitely hurt my wife, which in turn would punish me.

The suffering my wife experienced at the hands of their punishment is what was needed for Mary, Lola and Lana to cathartically release their own toxically negative feelings. Making my wife (and me) the villain upon which they could project their negative emotions, also allowed Mary, Lola and Lana to be the "hero" and gain powerful positive feelings like moral superiority, piousness and self-righteousness. 

Of course, as these women no doubt found out, the catharsis felt after exiling my wife and releasing their negative feelings over Hillary's election loss and the gaining of positive feelings, was only temporary, as the root cause of the negative feelings still existed, so they would, like addicts, have to find other scapegoats in order to sustain the temporary euphoria of releasing negative emotions and gaining positive ones. 

Delaware Mary in particular has become quite the expert at finding scapegoats and at proving both Sullivan's and my own point about the personal toxicity of tribalism repeatedly throughout the election and post-election period, as she has banished from her life not just my wife, but a cornucopia of other women, including her own mother, best friend and other friends.  

"BLESSED ARE THE LIARS FOR THE TRUTH CAN BE AWKWARD" - American Soul off of the album Songs of Experience by U2

"A COW'S HEAVEN IS A FLOWER'S IDEA OF HELL" - OLIVER GASPIRTZ

 Delaware Mary's scapegoats were probably singled out due to their failure to rigorously comply with her self-serving belief system, which more resembles a faith-based religion (with her as deity at the center) than a fact-based political philosophy, which is ironic since Delaware Mary is a nouveau-athiest who claims to despise religion. 

An example of Mary's vapid, vacuous and insipid thinking can be found in the article she wrote. In the piece, Mary wrote of women...

"When we speak our truths—the truth—we are rarely believed. We are gaslit by progressive men who tell us they care about women and people of color and the LGTBQ community but then dismiss fighting for our rights and our lives as identity politics."

This quote from Mary's piece is a perfect encapsulation of all that is wrong with establishment liberal orthodoxy and the neo-feminism of our day. Mary is entirely incapable of grasping that her subjective truth is not the Truth. She is also incapable of understanding that since her "truth" is subjective, it must therefore be measured against other people's subjective truths in order to come to a better understanding of the actual Truth. 

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Her use of the term "gaslight", which means "to manipulate someone by psychological means into questioning their own sanity", is pretty insightful as well (and also a desperate way for a middle-aged woman to try and seem "hip" to the "young people"). According to Mary's assertion, to even question her (or any other woman's or minority's) subjective experience can only be interpreted as a form of psychological assault meant to mentally harm her rather than an attempt to discover the Truth or the objective reality of a situation. In Delaware Mary's eyes, the only experience/truth that matters is hers…or barring that, then the subjective experience of any other member of a victim group she exalts such as women, LGBTQ people, or other minorities, and their subjective experience must be left unquestioned and accepted as fact too. 

Does Mary realize that conflating her subjective truth with fact is exactly what Donald Trump does on a daily basis that drives her batshit crazy? Does Mary ever even remotely consider that her subjective truth is not indeed a fact, that it is, just like everyone else's, distorted with all sorts of psychological, personal and historical filters? And that maybe her desperate yearning for victimhood and her rage toward other individuals (like the countless people she has banished) is a function of scapegoating through psychological projection and substitution? And could Mary ever grasp that some people she considers heretics to the Delaware Mary dogma may desire the same ultimate outcome that she does, but they believe different strategies and tactics will make attaining that goal much more likely? I doubt it, since in our culture the self, and therefore subjective experience, always trumps objective reality…hence we get a plethora of people, like Delaware Mary and her cohorts, who encourage people to speak their truth and not to seek THE Truth

INTERMISSION

Since this is a long article, here is a short video intermission which perfectly sums up Delaware Mary, Lola and Lana's approach to life. Enjoy.

 

"WHEN ALL YOU'VE LEFT IS LEAVING/ AND ALL YOU'VE GOT IS GRIEVING/ AND ALL YOU KNOW IS NEEDING" - 13 (There is a Light) off of the album Songs of Experience by U2

THE VICTIM PYRAMID OF TRUTH

The problem with Mary's thinking is pretty obvious, namely that even among women and minority groups in the inverted 'victim pyramid' of truth through which Mary sees the world, subjective experience differs greatly. So is Mary "gaslighting" people of color when she disagrees with Black women like Nina Turner, a Bernie Sanders supporter, or Candace Owens, a Trump supporter? Why are Ms. Turner's and Ms. Owen's subjective experience any less valid than Delaware Mary's? 

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And when Delaware Mary divides people based on their race, gender, sexual orientation and ethnicity, in other words by their identity, or more accurately - by how SHE identifies them, and then ranks them according to how victimized she perceives them to be, she creates a situation that can only devolve into a circular firing squad. Evidence of this is seen in an article in The Guardian by Ruby Hamad titled "How White Women Use Strategic Tears to Silence Women of Colour", where Ms. Hamad bemoans how progressive White women use tears to avoid being held accountable. Does Ms. Hamad's subjective truth of White women being instinctively manipulative overrule Mary's subjective truth that she is "woke" (as an aside... is there anything more cringe-worthy than a middle aged white woman describing themselves as "woke")?

What about men of color…where on Delaware Mary's holy scale of minority subjective experience impeccability is their truth? Is Bill Cosby an awful rapist as per his female victims experience or does his African-American subjective truth that he is the victim of a lynching trump their claims? What about some less Manichean and more complex cases? Where does Mary's loyalty lie…is it with women? People of color? LGBTQ people? Because Mary has made it clear it certainly isn't with the Truth only with her subjective truth.

BECCA AND REBA'S EXCELLENT ADVENTURE

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Michael Harriot accurately described White women like Mary and Lola in his 2017 article in The Root titled, "The 5 Types of 'Becky'". Harriot writes of White women he calls varying forms of the derogatory name Becky. Mary and Lola fall into two of the Becky categories, the first is the Becca category, which Harriot describes thus…"Becca wants to help…as long as it is convenient and comfortable. Even though Becca isn't racist, her idea of Black people is of a downtrodden underclass that just needs a little help from benevolent white people. Becca is pure of heart and holds no animosity towards anyone. She is willing to "do the work…" but not really."

Delaware Mary and Lola are a Becca combined with a Reba, which Harriot describes thus…"Reba is "woke"…Reba believes in a women's right to choose and wore a pink pussy hat to the Women's March….Reba cares about winning. She believes that white women deserve the gold medal in the oppression Olympics, and if there is a chance she isn't on the podium, Reba thinks you're not being fair. Reba talks about white privilege, but Reba doesn't understand that she is white privilege." 

"FREEDOM, THE SLAVES ARE LOOKING FOR SOMEONE TO LEAD THEM/ THE MASTER'S LOOKING FOR SOMEONE TO NEED HIM/ THE PROMISED LAND IS THERE FOR THOSE WHO NEED IT MOST/ AND LINCOLN'S GHOST SAID/ GET OUT OF YOUR OWN WAY" -Get Out of Your Own Way off of the album Songs of Experience by U2

Delaware Mary's fanaticism for identity politics is part of why she was so desperate to scapegoat and exile my wife and I. For women like Mary, Lola and Lana, identity politics isn't just about race, religion, ethnicity, gender or sexual orientation, it is actually about THEIR identity, meaning their ego/Self. 

According to iconic psychiatrist and founder of analytical psychology, C.G. Jung, there are countless types of archetypes that are available to us, from the Warrior to the Trickster to the Lover to the Actor and on and on. Jung's archetypes are all gender neutral so, for example, both men and women can be the Mother archetype or the Father archetype. The problem with Mary, Lola and Lana is that they are stuck in the archetypal cycle of Victim (Child) and Mother, with the Victim/Child archetype being the one who needs caring and the Mother archetype being the one who does the caring.

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Delaware Mary is so bloated with self-loathing she must justify it by embracing the Victim archetype, pawning her failures off on an "other" or "group of others" because it eases her psychological anguish to feel she has no agency and is a defenseless Victim. And then she projects Victimhood onto others she deems acceptable, like other women, people of color and other minorities, so that she can try to balance her psyche and alleviate her feelings of weakness, by infantilizing those she appoints as "Victims" (minorities)…thus ensuring that they stay disempowered Victims/Children in need of care and she takes on the archetype of Mother to care for them. This Mother role in this scenario is actually driven by an unconscious White supremacy and a desire to keep minorities in perpetual Victim/Child mode, thus stunting their growth so that Mother can remain empowered. 

Delaware Mary, Lola and Lana hated my post-election article and the ideas in it so much because it challenged their worldview, and to them, because their identity politics is their sole identity (Victim/Child-Mother archetypal cycle), a challenge to their worldview is a direct threat to their ego/Self, their psyche and thus to their entire existence. This is why Mary considers anyone questioning her subjective truth as "gaslight" assaulting her, it is because the entirety of her being is her ego, which is defined by her Victim/Mother identity. Without her identity politics belief system, Mary ceases to exist, as do Lola and Lana. If the world is not as they think it is, then their identities disintegrate and take the rest of their psyche with it. 

The existential threat of loss of identity and psychic annihilation is real and powerful, and can motivate people to do much worse things than just banish a friend of twenty years with whom you have suffered the slings and arrows of life including weddings, births, deaths and all the rest. Holding onto our identity/ego/Self is perceived by the psyche to be a matter of life and death, and it often forces us to react from our lizard brain rather than from the more rational parts of our mind.

"FIGHT BACK, DON'T TAKE IT LYING DOWN YOU'VE GOT TO BITE BACK/ THE FACE OF LIBERTY'S STARTING TO CRACK/ SHE HAD A PLAN UP UNTIL SHE GOT A SMACK IN THE MOUTH/ THEN IT ALL WENT SOUTH" - Get Out of Your Own Way off of the album Songs of Experience by U2

Another thing that I found striking regarding Delaware Mary and Co. banishing my wife and I was that none of these proud, self-described feminist, highly-edcuated women had the courage to challenge the things I wrote. None of these women have ever reached out to me at all regarding the entire situation, finding it easier to just "ghost" (as the kids say) my wife and I instead of engaging in a debate or discussion or even registering their dislike of my opinion. I can understand not wanting to engage with me in person, I have been told I am an intimidating presence, but to not at least reach out from the safety of email or the comment section seems to me an act of cowardice, and shunning my wife shows a stunning lack of intellectual integrity.  

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I am someone who does not have all the answers, hell, I don't even know most of the questions, so I consider myself open to persuasion. Maybe I am delusional, that could certainly be the case, but I try to be open to criticisms of my thinking and writing. For instance, I have received very insightful and thoughtful emails from readers who have vehemently disagreed with me and I have even gone so far as to post some of these emails in their entirety on my blog. For example, when I wrote a piece on "Whitewashing", a reader, Tiny Dancer, emailed me with her counter argument, and I posted an article containing that entire email. To me, this is how serious people and adults behave, and I wish these women had had the courage to reach out to me and at least tell me what pissed them off so much in that article so I could reexamine my opinion. 

Maybe these women thought I was not worth their time, and that my wife was for some reason tainted by her association with me, a case of the "contagion" Andrew Sullivan insightfully wrote about. But as Michelle Goldberg wrote in her New York Times piece, "Some might argue that respectfully debating ideas seen as racist or sexist legitimates them. There’s something to this, but refusing to debate carries a price as well — it conveys a message of weakness, a lack of faith in one’s own ideas. Ultimately, the side that’s frantically trying to shore up taboos is the side that’s losing. If there’s an Intellectual Dark Web, we should let the sun shine in."

Goldberg is correct in her strategic and tactical assessment. Delaware Mary and company feel entitled to not have their beliefs challenged, and so they frantically scapegoat all heretics and banish contrarians so that they never have to actually form an argument and strengthen it, but get to bask in the illusion of the unimpeachability of their subjective truth. This is an arrogant, fool-hardy and strategically inept approach to life and to politics as gorging yourself on a steady diet of mainstream neo-liberal identity theology will only lead to an intellectual constipation. It will also eventually leave you at the mercy of your opponents, who have hardened and honed their arguments in the fire of debate, and to the brutal and cruel force of objective reality. 

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By sealing their echo chamber ever tighter through the banishing of alternative and diverse opinions and anyone associated with them, Delaware Mary and Co. are creating a distorted version of reality where they encourage themselves and others to lose touch with objective reality in favor of a fever dream of subjective truth and moral superiority.

As Gerard Alexander writes in his Times piece, "Within just a few years, many liberals went from starting to talk about microaggressions to suggesting that it is racist even to question whether microaggressions are that important. “Gender identity disorder” was considered a form of mental illness until recently, but today anyone hesitant about transgender women using the ladies’ room is labeled a bigot. Liberals denounce “cultural appropriation” without, in many cases, doing the work of persuading people that there is anything wrong with, say, a teenager not of Chinese descent wearing a Chinese-style dress to prom or eating at a burrito cart run by two non-Latino women."

In Delaware Mary and Co.'s confirmation bias feedback loop where objective truth is scorned and subjective truth celebrated, the only way to maintain the illusion is to vigorously police the speech and actions of others. This is why it was imperative that I be exiled along with my Facebook linking accomplice wife, as we represented a potential shattering of the illusion within which these women exist. This controlling impulse is authoritarian in nature, and ironically enough, is exactly what Trump and other tyrants do to dissidents and heretics as well. 

As Alexander wrote in his Times essay, "Pressing a political view from the Oscar stage, declaring a conservative campus speaker unacceptable, flatly categorizing huge segments of the country as misguided — these reveal a tremendous intellectual and moral self-confidence that smacks of superiority. It’s one thing to police your own language and a very different one to police other people’s. The former can set an example. The latter is domineering." 

THE JOY OF COGNITIVE DISSONANCE

I wrote an article a few years back titled, "Truth, Justice and the Curious Case of Chris Kyle". In that widely read piece, I wrote of the psychological term cognitive dissonance, which means "psychological conflict resulting from incongruous beliefs and attitudes held simultaneously", in relation to the behavior of conservatives when the lies of Chris Kyle were brought to their attention. A brief glimpse at the comment section of that piece, which I wholly encourage you to go read in its entirety, proved my point more than anything I actually wrote in the article.

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Liberals suffer from cognitive dissonance too (as do all humans to varying degrees) and it has been epidemic in the last few years, Delaware Mary and Co. are living proof of that. When Mary, Lola and Lana were confronted with arguments and facts (like my being correct in predicting the election and the reasons why Trump would win) that were in opposition to their strongly held beliefs (their trust in conventional wisdom and institutions like the media, their perceived intellectual superiority and that Hillary would win) and suffered the ensuing psychological conflict, they did what most people suffering from cognitive dissonance do, they ignored the new information (and its carrier- me) and they removed it from their consciousness in order to maintain the sanctity of their previous held (faith-based) belief. 

A great example of liberals like Delaware Mary and company suffering from cognitive dissonance and behaving exactly the same as the conservatives they so loathe (and vice versa), came in recent months when MSNBC host Joy Reid was caught lying about some blog posts she had written a decade ago that some felt were homophobic. Instead of just owning up to the posts and apologizing as she had done in a similar situation a year ago, this time Reid doubled down and claimed to have been "hacked", and that the writing was not hers. Computer forensic experts investigated and found that she was full of it and that there was no hacking…but this did not stop Reid or her supporters one little bit. In a remarkable display of cognitive dissonance, Reid claimed she "didn't recognize herself as having written those things", and many liberals supported her and even wrote and tweeted things like "I don't care if she is lying…I SUPPORT JOY". The same exact type of thing was written by conservatives in the wake of my Chris Kyle piece, as many declared, "I don't care if he lied!" This is our political culture…whether it be liberal or conservative...Truth need not apply. 

"STATUES FALL/ DEMOCRACY IS FLAT ON ITS BACK, JACK/ WE HAD IT ALL, BUT WHAT WE HAD IS NOT COMING BACK, ZAC/ A BIG MOUTH, SAYS THE PEOPLE THEY DON'T WANT TO BE FREE FOR FREE/ THE BLACKOUT, IS THIS AN EXTINCTION EVENT WE SEE?" -The Blackout off of the album Songs of Experience by U2

A COMPLEX SIMPLICITY

Why is that? Why in the world do people just blindly support and put their faith in people like Chris Kyle or Joy Reid or Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton? And also why do people spend so much time and energy banishing dissenting opinions instead of using that time and energy to see what is in front of one's nose, which as Orwell teaches us, requires a constant struggle? The answer is a deep-seeded existential fear.

Delaware Mary and company are representative of our political culture in that they are consumed with fear. Fear is the driving and motivating force for their lives…and yet they are not even aware of it. What these people fear is not what they think they fear…some "other" (like me) out to destroy them and all that they hold dear. No, Delaware Mary and company's existential fear is not the "other", it is complexity, and the antidote to their fear of complexity is the simplicity for which they so desperately yearn. 

Simplicity is required because it maintains and enforces the status quo in people's psyche and also in the outer world. For individuals like Delaware Mary and friends, if they replace their simple black and white worldview where they have a scapegoated "other" upon which to project all negative attributes, and a sanctified Victim group (of which they are members), and replace that cosmology with a more nuanced and complex understanding of their world where their feelings are a useless guide to navigating the maze of modern life, then once again their Self/ego is threatened with obliteration. This is the existential threat to their identity/ego/Self that must be avoided by any means necessary.

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As Adam Curtis revealed in his brilliant documentary Hyper-Normalization, the same is true of our macro political culture, as our society is so complex that it is an unwieldy, uncontrollable beast, and thus the appearance of simplicity must always be maintained by the ruling class to keep the masses placid and compliant. Thus we get slogans and marketing campaigns to boil everything down to the most simplistic nugget…Make America Great Again, all Trump voters are racist, they hate us for our freedoms, freedom isn't free, Hillary lost because of racism!/misogyny! Saddam/Ghadaffi/Putin/Bin Laden/Kim Jong-Il is a pure evil madman etc. 

The establishment believes the facade of a simplistic Manichean status quo with its accompanying political order (where they are on top) must be maintained at all costs because the complexity that lies just underneath the surface of our civilization is a chaotic, barbaric and psychologically apocalyptic force that if unleashed could destroy their power structures.  

On a micro scale, Delaware Mary must not let the complexity of the world seep into her mind, she must not permit contrarian views to fester, because if she stops to actually think, instead of feel, about her subjective truth versus objective reality, and about the massive complexity hidden just beneath the surface or her own life, psyche and motivations, her ego/Self, which she has wrapped in the cloak of her identity in general and her Victim identity in particular, will be obliterated and she will cease to exist. That is terribly frightening for her, as it would be for anyone, and that is the fuel that propels the rocket of her spate of scapegoating and blindly vindictive behavior. 

"WALK THROUGH THE ROOM LIKE A BIRTHDAY CAKE/ WHEN I AM ALL LIT UP, CAN'T MAKE A MISTAKE/ AND THERE'S A LEVEL OF SHALLOW THAT YOU JUST CAN'T FAKE/ BUT YOU KNOW THAT I KNOW" - The Showman (Little More Better) off of the album Songs of Experience by U2

What needs to happen to Delaware Mary and company is what needs to happen to the wider culture as well, namely that they must, in a controlled and stable setting, ask themselves the question, "what if everything I know is wrong?" This question scares the hell out of people like Mary, and scares the establishment class even more, but it is vital if we want to survive as a functioning, relatively healthy human beings and as a civilization. 

Americans have been given lots of opportunities to ask this question of ourselves in recent years as they and the ruling establishment have been spectacularly wrong on so many things, such as the Iraq war, the financial collapse and Trump's election. Sadly, the ruling elite have repeatedly and effectively placated the masses in the face of these massive failures by conjuring a tantalizingly simple illusion which they use to distract from an ever more unruly and complex world. 

The same is true for Delaware Mary, who if she had the courage to actually do some introspection and self-reflection, might stop to notice that she perpetually kisses up and kicks down, and that she repeatedly only casts aside "friends" she cannot use to advance her career, which might lead her to realize that the life she leads which depresses her so, is a result of her own doing, and not because of the failings of others, or structural barriers restraining her. 

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What is so disheartening about this entire situation is that Delaware Mary, Lola and Lana think they are fighting for change and against the status quo, but they aren't, they are desperately and unconsciously struggling to maintain the status quo. Their feminism is a feminism which is built upon the Victim archetype and the foundational belief of female weakness and unworthiness. Ironically, the Victim archetype feminism these women adhere to not only requires but forces a Mother archetype to step forward to "care for" the Victim, and what steps into the Mother archetype are patriarchal males who want to protect the "weaker sex". In other words, Delaware Mary, Lola and Lana and their neo-feminist cohorts are unconsciously propping up the patriarchy they claim to so abhor. This along with their hypocritical behavior and vicious envy of other women speaks to Delaware Mary and friends as being fraudulent feminists. 

Their identity and racial politics too are built upon the Mother/Victim archetypal relationship, and carries with it their own unconscious belief in the inferiority of those groups of people for whom they claim to be fighting. This shows that Mary, Lola and Lana are symbolic of many mainstream liberals in that they claim to be #woke but are completely sound asleep #unconscious.

"IT IS WHAT IT IS BUT IT'S NOT WHAT IT SEEMS/ THIS SCREWED UP STUFF IS THE STUFF OF DREAMS/ I GOT JUST ENOUGH LOW SELF ESTEEM/ TO GET ME WHERE I WANT TO GO" - The Showman (Little More Better) off of the album Songs of Experience by U2

This begs the question...Why does any of this matter? Well the reason I was compelled to write on this subject in the first place is because it seems to represent the ever growing divide in American politics, where subjective truth rules the day and all politics is personal, that further exacerbates the issues that many people care about.

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I also think it matters as a warning about the infection gaining power and spreading throughout politics in general and liberal politics in particular. Delaware Mary is symbolic of this disease of identity and is a case study for the perils of embracing her type. For example, Delaware Mary has tried to resurrect her moribund writing career by rebranding and marketing herself as an activist writer for neo-feminist causes. As has been my experience, and the experience of the many women she has callously mistreated, Delaware Mary is a proven charlatan and fraud as a feminist, and by trying to make herself the voice or face of that movement, will guarantee that it ends in epic failure. Delaware Mary's noxiously malignant narcissism and intellectual vacuity is toxic to everyone and everything she touches.

If you care about any issue, it would wise to be on the look out for people like Delaware Mary. The signs of a Delaware Mary are that they are pied pipers without an original thought in their head, who only speak to their own side and only tell their audience what they want to hear, never what they need to hear.

Delaware Mary's are only interested in basking in the glory of their own voice. Their infatuation with the sound of their own voice is also why they never have a remotely original thought or idea, all they do is simply regurgitate mainstream neo-liberal pablum and think because they are the ones saying it, that it's now clever.

The Delaware Marys of the world are a danger to the people who are serious about finding actual solutions to difficult problems because they will exploit any and all issues to further their career, inflate their own ego and sense of self-worth, and then shit out their shadow emotions on all those they deem disposable because they no longer feed the narcissistic beast residing where their conscience used to be. 

"I'VE BEEN CRYING OUT/ HOW BAD CAN A GOOD TIME BE?/ SHOOTING OFF MY MOUTH/ THAT'S ANOTHER GREAT THING ABOUT ME" - You're the Best Thing About Me off of the album Songs of Experience by U2

Maybe I am wrong about all of this, it wouldn't be the first time. Just like Lola and Lana, I am certainly not perfect either, as I sure as hell have my own blind spots, confirmation and unconscious biases and suffer from my own cognitive dissonance. And the objective reality may be that I am just an incorrigible asshole and my wife is a vicious bitch and we have been rightfully punished by Delaware Mary, Lola and Lana. Maybe their anger towards me is righteous and their vengeance upon my wife deserved. Or maybe not. It is impossible to tell since for a year and a half none of these women have had the testicular fortitude to actually engage in a discussion about it. Maybe if they had summoned the gumption to do so they could have pointed out the errors in my thinking, and converted me to their faith/cosmology.

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Which brings us back to A Quiet Place and why the film resonated with me so much. The film dramatizes the struggle of our current age, which includes the battle over whether to allow people to speak freely even when they say something ugly or which offends you, and the authoritarian impulse to stifle that freedom of speech. While I and others have not been devoured by monsters or thrown in a gulag or concentration camp for reeducation…yet, we have been singled out, punished and ostracized for daring voice opinions that challenge conventional thinking and establishment orthodoxy. This belief that you have the right NOT to be offended combined with the compulsive need to surround yourself with only people that agree with you is ultimately a dangerous impulse that will only lead to further polarization that will fuel an ever hotter political conflagration between groups of extremists on both sides who refuse to see the humanity in the other.

I personally struggle to understand that sort of thinking, as I intentionally seek out writers who think differently than I do. My daily reading is an eclectic list that spans the political and philosophical spectrum. I actually enjoy reading writers with whom I disagree because it challenges me to think harder about what I actually do believe, and come up with a cogent defense of my opinions and a coherent counter-argument to those things with which I disagree. This seems to me to be a logical approach to life and learning and expanding one's knowledge base. 

For instance, just in this article alone I quote from Andrew Sullivan, Michelle Goldberg and Alexander, three people I vehemently disagree with from time to time. If I judged these writers only by what I perceive to be their errors, then I would stop reading them entirely and be disadvantaged because that would mean I'd stop learning from them as well. The same is true of Rene Girard and documentarian Adam Curtis whom I also reference, both are undeniably brilliant but not perfect. Should I cast all of their work away because I found some of it lacking or were offended by parts of it? That is foolishness and totally self-defeating. 

"I LIKE THE SOUND OF MY OWN VOICE/ I DIDN'T GIVE ANYONE ELSE A CHOICE" - All Because of You off of the album How to Dismantle and Atomic Bomb by U2

"I THOUGHT I HEARD THE CAPTAIN'S VOICE/ IT'S HARD TO LISTEN WHILE YOU PREACH" -Every Breaking Wave off of the Album Songs of Innocence by U2

The tactic of shaming those who dare to challenge our opinions, rather than debating them, or exorcising diversity of opinion instead of embracing it, will end in tragedy for those who fall under the spell of the echo chamber. Those that choose to be seduced by the warm song of the echo chamber will become like some perverse, masturbatorial version of Homer's Sirens, for they will be grounded upon the rocks by the hypnotically mesmerizing sound of their own voice. 

I think America is in the midst of a psychotic break and that liberals as a group have suffered a severe nervous breakdown after Trump won the election, and that Delaware Mary, Lola and Lana were swept up in that collective insanity. Obviously they won't ever read this because my writing/thinking is heresy to their neo-liberal dogma and for them to read it would result in eternal damnation, but I do hope that one day the collective insanity that has descended upon the American body politic subsides, and that people can actually engage in discussion once again. That said…I am not optimistic.

"DINOSAUR, WONDERS WHY IT STILL WALKS THE EARTH/ YEAH/ A METEOR, PROMISES IT'S NOT GONNA HURT, YEAH" - The Blackout off of the Album Songs of Experience by U2

"SOMETIMES/ THE END IS NOT COMING/ IT'S NOT COMING/ THE END IS HERE/ SOMETIMES" The Little Things That Give You Away off of Songs of Experience by U2

I think that Delaware Mary, Lola and Lana are symptoms of the disease of American culture. These women are poster children for the decadent, selfish, narcissistic, emotionalist, impulsive, vindictive and vacuous nation we have become. Unbeknownst to them, we are in the midst of a dramatic transition/transformation period in American and world history. Massive upheavals and changes are fast approaching…financial collapse, wars, civil wars, the fall of empires and a toppling of the world order. These women are symbolic of the collective in that, just like their willful blindness regarding Trump in the 2016 election, they prefer to keep their heads up their asses where they can enjoy the warm and dark embrace of the familiar no matter how much it stinks, rather than the cold hard reality of the world outside. Like smug dinosaurs before the meteor, they continue to bask in the arrogance of their ignorance, not knowing, and not wanting to know, the perilous fate that is hurtling towards them (and the rest of us) at breakneck speed.

"YOU'RE THE BEST THING ABOUT ME/ THE BEST THING THAT EVER HAPPENED A BOY/ YOU'RE THE BEST THING ABOUT ME/ I'M THE KIND OF TROUBLE THAT YOU ENJOY/ YOU'RE THE BEST THING ABOUT ME/ THE BEST THINGS ARE EASY TO DESTROY" - You're the Best Thing About Me off of the album Songs of Experience by U2

As for me, at the end of the day, all I can do and want to do is keep on trying to seek the Truth. I won't always succeed, and if history is any guide, I will fail considerably more than I succeed. But the attempt is an important one, especially in the kingdom of madness that is America. The best I can do now is to heed the advice of my good friend Bono, who told me the other night to go forth into this mad world with "Open eyes…open arms…open heart…and OPEN MIND". I wish Mary, Lola and Lana would take this sage advice as well, because then we might be able to mitigate the disaster that awaits us all by being the change we all desperately want to see in this insane world.

 

©2018

A Quiet Place: 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. NOW.

A Quiet Place, written by Bryan Woods and Scott Beck and directed by John Krasinski, is a horror/thriller about a family that must live in silence in order to avoid being killed by creatures that hunt exclusively by sound. The film stars Emily Blunt and John Krasinski with supporting turns from Millicent Simmonds and Noah Jupe. 

As a general rule, I am not a fan of horror/thriller films, they just aren't my thing and since I have to be judicious with my limited movie going time, I rarely if ever go see them in the theatre, instead I'll wait to see them on cable or Netflix. But since I just got MoviePass, and since MoviePass is probably going out of business very soon, I decided I better use it before I lose it, so I made my virgin MoviePass journey to go see a film I otherwise never would have seen in the theatre...A Quiet Place. Boy am I ever glad that I did.

A Quiet Place is an absolutely phenomenal motion picture. It is a perfect combination of independent movie aesthetics with conventional Hollywood horror structure. The film is a riveting and engrossing piece of work by first time director John Krasinski (aka Jim from The Office), and is highlighted by a staggering performance from Emily Blunt. 

Krasinski's direction borders on Hitchcockian in its sheer brilliance and deft use of craft. The film is, at times, reminiscent of (and pays tribute to) such great films as Ridley Scott's Alien, Spielberg's Jaws and Shyamalan's Signs, but yet remains a very unique and original vision. 

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Krasinski skillfully trims all the fat from A Quiet Place and what is left is a tense, taut and harrowing thriller of sinewy cinematic muscle and dramatic bone that is at times unnerving to experience. Krasinski so expertly raises the tension throughout the 90 minute movie that when it ended I surprised myself when I audibly exhaled a breath of air I wasn't even consciously aware that I was holding.

Krasinski masterfully uses good old fashioned fundamental filmmaking - camera movement, framing, lighting, sound and music (things often overlooked in special effects laden films) to build and heighten tension and drama throughout the movie, and yet he also expertly deploys top-notch Hollywood CGI creatures to further enhance the story. 

John Krasisnki also stars in the film as the father of the family and does very solid, subtle and sturdy work. Krasinski's character in A Quiet Place is a long way from his lovable incarnation as Jim on The Office, and this character's gravitas and complexity is a testament to Krasinski's versatility as an actor.

Emily Blunt is absolutely stunning as the wife/mother of the vulnerable brood that are desperate to stay silent and therefore stay alive. There is a sequence, which I won't give away, where Blunt is so remarkable in expressing yet containing her pain, fear and anguish that it is sublime and artistically transcendent. Blunt's performance is further buttressed by Krasinski's exquisite direction which makes the most of her truly dynamic talents. 

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Millicent Simmonds plays the pre-teen daughter of the family and does excellent work in the film. Simmonds brings a palpable and visceral isolation to her character that is a cornerstone of the film. Simmonds character is extremely well-written, and she brings all of its complexity to life with a compelling awkwardness and discomfort.

Cinematographer Charlotte Brus Christensen does exquisite work in A Quiet Place and her use of red light, bare lightbulbs and distant fires creates a sparse but effective visual aesthetic that is cinematically and dramatically effective in propelling the narrative and fleshing out the sub-text of the film.

The sound design and sound editors do remarkable work on the movie as well, and without their magnificent contributions this film would not succeed. The same with the special effects team that created the creatures, which are as unique as you could ever hope and put the movie over the top.

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A Quiet Place is a film that excels on multiple levels, it is an entertaining and compelling horror/thriller that will have you squirming on the edge of your seat, but it is also a film of much deeper meaning with a political/cultural sub-text pulsating just beneath its surface. In order to avoid spoilers, I will avoid speaking of the metaphor at the heart of A Quiet Place, but will do so below. Needless to say, I found the sub-text to be absolutely fascinating and have been thinking about it and the film non-stop since I left the theatre.

One word of caution though, if you are a person who is uncomfortable with "children in peril" types of narratives in a film, I recommend you skip A Quiet Place, as it is basically 90 minutes of children in peril. I usually dislike the use of children in peril as a narrative device myself, but I thought A Quiet Place did it very effectively and not in a cheap way, but that being said, as a father it was very, very difficult to watch.

In conclusion, as someone who was reticent to see the film due to its genre, I must say A Quiet Place handily won me over and impressed the hell out of me. I highly recommend A Quiet Place to anyone who wants to see a well-crafted and original film that happens to be a horror/thriller, it is well worth your time and effort to go see it in the theatre. Just remember...don't buy popcorn, as your loud munching will break the hypnotic silence of the film...and also draw the attention of the creatures…like me! So…BE QUIET! The life you save could be your own!!

 

FILM COMMENTARY - WITH SPOILERS

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****WARNING- THIS SECTION CONTAINS SPOILERS!!****

****THIS IS YOUR FINAL WARNING - SPOILERS AHEAD!!****

There is a lot to get to in terms of the deeper meaning, metaphor and sub-text of A Quiet Place. As the film ended I was overwhelmed with thoughts and was frantically jotting down as many notes as I could in order to remember. Here are some of those thoughts...

1. A Quiet Place is a metaphor for our current politics and culture. In the film, a White "traditional" family, who live on a farm in rural upstate New York, must stay silent in order to stay alive. If they speak up, if they raise their voices, the creatures will come and devour them.

Obviously, this speaks to the current climate of suffocating tribalism, political correctness and lack of diversity of thought in our culture. The rural "traditional" White family in the film represent not only the White majority in America who feel "under siege" by "cultural elites" who despise, belittle and chastise them at every turn, but also anyone who dare speak up and out against their own tribe's rigid dogma.

As America changes, the traditionalist Whites (even liberal ones) feel they cannot speak up for themselves, their country, their religion or their ethnicity or they will be brandished as racist, xenophobic or worse by the ever vigilant PC police in the media and online that attack anyone who dare challenge liberal establishment orthodoxy. A Quiet Place gives voice to this anxiety about the pitfalls of speaking freely. 

An emphasis on racial, ethnic and sexual diversity is bringing change (some believe much needed change) to America, and A Quiet Place speaks to the discomfort of White traditionalists with that change.

Even the casting of A Quiet Place speaks to the changing face of American culture, as it is startling that there are only White actors in the film, "diversity" and "inclusivity riders" need not apply here, and it actually felt refreshing and oddly subversive that no one felt the need to do any token casting of minorities in order to elevate liberal establishment sensibilities above storytelling.

It is even more oddly subversive that the family in A Quiet Place actually prays. It is only one brief scene, and there are no other overt displays of religiosity, but it is striking that this brief scene is in the film because prayer and religion is so rare in cinema nowadays (except of course in those God-awful - pun intended - super Christian movies that are so sugary they cause an intellectual cavity). 

The film's metaphor seen through the eyes of Christians in America (or the west) gives voice to their anxiety over the decline of Christianity in the west, hostility in the public square towards Christianity and the perceived threat of expansionist Islam. Christianity's fears and feelings of persecution may seem unreasonable to nonbelievers, but it is a genuine sentiment among many in the pews, and A Quiet Place is an effective tool metaphor for expressing it. 

2. Rockets symbolically play a key role in the film. To open the film a young boy draws a rocket on the floor and says "this is how we will escape". Another little boy reaches precariously for a toy space shuttle on a shelf and nearly falls over making a loud noise (which would lead to death at the hands of the creatures)...but is saved by his sister. The older son is told to go do "rockets" which is code for shooting fireworks in order to distract the creatures when they are attacking the family farm. 

What does this rocket symbology mean? Well...rocketry and space exploration are from an earlier time in our history, a time when the the traditional White majority ruled unabashedly…post WWII 1950's and early 1960's. Kennedy's call to go to the moon, and America's successful journey there, were the height of human achievement, and the height of traditional "White" American accomplishment.

Pride in that accomplishment, and pride in White American heritage, gets the youngest son killed when he smuggles the toy space shuttle out of the store and turns it on during his walk home. The toy makes a noise...and draws the attention of the creature...who quickly runs and kills the boy. In other words, any display of pride in what America used to be, or pride in White achievement or heritage, will get you devoured by the creature/PC mob.

The Space Shuttle is symbolic of Reagan's vision of America…which is has now become diminished to just a small toy on a dusty shelf in a nearly vacant store. The little boy is attracted to Reagan's appeal to traditional White America…an 80's version of MAGA, a throwback to the glory days of post WWII 1950's and early 60's. The boy is destroyed by the PC watchdogs because he dares to be attracted to and celebrate the Reagan/traditional White American legacy of his forefathers. 

In terms of the older son launching rockets/fireworks to save his mother, the family(traditional White America), the father in particular, thinks strategically and studies all he can about the creatures and their strengths and weaknesses, and thus is smart enough to learn/know how to distract the creature/PC attack dogs in order to buy time for the next generation to be born safely, so that they can have a chance to stem the tide of the anti-traditional, anti-White "outsiders".

The rocket/fireworks...think of the tradition of the Fourth of July, a brazen celebration of America...is like red meat to the PC attack dogs in that it drives them crazy and makes them react instinctively. The fact that this leads to a fall, fight and near death in a silo (missile silo - rocket symbology again), is representative of the same thing...America's former post WWII might and 1950' and 60's missile/rocket development. This silo is filled with corn, symbolic of the farmland/heartland of America and the roots of America's beginning, and this is where a battle is fought and important lessons learned in how to defeat the creatures. The two children almost drown in traditional White America's abundance, symbolized by a tidal wave of corn, but are able to work together to stave off the pc attack dog. 

Anytime you see or hear rockets in the movie, think of it as a giant American flag and being symbolic of the height of traditional White American power back in post WWII 1950's and early 60's.

3. The father in the film is symbolic of the traditional White male in America. He is smart, resilient, reliable and handy. He sacrifices himself so that his children can live and maybe win the war against the barbarian hordes who literally eat their enemies, children included. Unbeknownst to him, he actually develops in his basement lab the technology to defeat these vicious "outsiders"/PC attack dogs. The traditional White American male saves his family, his race and his country through his ingenuity, skill, brains and sacrifice. 

He passes along his knowledge to his son…not his daughter, who is not allowed into his lab. He takes his son, not his daughter, on a fishing trip and teaches him about being able to yell…raise your voice and say what you want behind a wall of water (water being symbolic of the unconscious and transitions). 

It is his daughter, who is deaf, whom he tries to help literally to hear (the Truth), and in so doing she is able, along with her mother's shotgun, to defeat the invading beasts who threaten to devour them all. 

The father, in truly traditionalist form, is tasked with defending and protecting his family by his wife/mother to his children. He does so when he sacrifices himself, in front of his wife's eyes, thus making himself a sort of a martyr for the traditionalist cause. She, witnessing her husbands sacred sacrifice, is then transformed, and she is able to use his male energy and power after he dies, just like his daughter is able to use his hearing aid invention in order to defeat the monsters. In the end it is women who must step up in the absence of men and win the final victory. 

4. Considering all the above, there is an obvious parallel to immigration in America and traditional White America's anxiety over it. Also the stifling of dissent (particularly by establishment Democrats), which is at epic proportions over the last bunch of years, and has resulted in many negative thoughts and ideas being suppressed into the collective unconscious, and from this suppressed shadow place, these thoughts have grown and strengthened until they finally came out in spectacular fashion in the form of the beast Donald Trump. 

Trump is undoubtedly the American Shadow incarnate in all its vainglory.  

I hope to write more in the coming weeks about A Quiet Place as I think it is an extraordinarily important film in revealing the sentiments swirling around in our collective consciousness. 

©2018

Avengers: Infinity War - A Review

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

My Rating: 3.9 out of 5 stars

My Recommendation: SEE IT. If you love or are even lukewarm for super hero movies, then definitely see Infinity War in the theatre. 

Avengers: Infinity War, written by Christopher Markus and Stephen Feely and directed by Anthony and Joe Russo, is the story of the famed superhero cooperative The Avengers, as they try and stop super-villian Thanos from taking control of the universe. The film stars…well...just about everybody, including, Chris Evans, Chris Pratt, Robert Downey Jr., Scarlett Johansson, Elizabeth Olsen, Don Cheadle, Chris Hemsworth, Benedict Cumberbatch, Chadwick Boseman, Tom Holland, Paul Bettany, Josh Brolin and Zoe Saldana, just to name a few. 

Like all red-blooded Americans, over the years I have paid my fare share of Disney taxes to our Mouse eared overlords presiding over us from their lair at the Happiest Place on Earth®. Just in the last year alone I have already paid hard earned cash to Mickey Mouse to see The Last JediSpider-Man: Homecoming, Black Panther and now Infinity War and will no doubt see Solo: A Star Wars Story when it comes out at the end of the month. I have usually been underwhelmed by Mickey's moviemaking prowess and at the end of the day have felt cheated by the Disney tax man. That trend was reversed with my journey to the theatre to see Infinity War.

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Infinity War is the nineteenth film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and the third of the Avenger films, and is the first of the bunch to not feel like a complete commercial for itself. Having sat through the majority, but not all, of the previous Marvel movies, I have to say that Infinity War is easily head and shoulders above all the rest, and is worlds better than the previous two Avenger films. 

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What I appreciated about Infinity War was that unlike all the other Marvel movies it had a villain, Thanos, who is a complex character that is not only worthy of The Avengers as an adversary, but of my attention. Thanos embodies an existential struggle that is much more complicated than just wanting the world to bend the knee to him, which is a refreshing change from previous Marvel ventures.

To the film's credit, Thanos may appear at first glance to be the embodiment of all evil, but upon closer inspection through the lens of Josh Brolin's CGI enhanced performance and the character's motivations, he is revealed to be less a villain of epic proportions than a misunderstood hero who has taken an unbearable burden upon his muscular shoulders out of noble if misguided intentions. 

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Unlike Iron Man, Captain America, Hulk, Thor, Spider-Man, Dr. Strange and the rest who reside in a Manichean world of black and white, Thanos must make hard decisions from the moral and ethical grey area in which our reality truly exists. Unlike his alleged "good" adversaries, Thanos does not get to cut corners or have happy endings, he is only left with the burden of his calling and the consequences of his choice which make him a multidimensional and pretty fascinating character. 

Infinity War also succeeds because it challenges our conditioning and embraces the notion that there are no easy Hollywood answers to be found, and I found that extremely refreshing after having sat through over a dozen predictable, world destroying, sense assaulting Marvel movies over the years. 

To be clear, I don't think Avengers: Infinity War is a great movie, but I do think it is a very good super hero movie. It, like all other super hero films, pales in comparison to Christopher Nolan's masterful Dark Knight Trilogy, but that is so high a bar I doubt anyone will ever reach it, never mind exceed it. 

The problems with Infinity War are less specific to this film than they are systemic to the genre, and they include too much cringe-worthy dialogue, too much snark, too much mindless destruction and in general…well…just too much.

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And yes, I know I am nitpicking here, but some of the performances in Infinity War are so bad as to be distracting. Mark Ruffalo may very well be the best actor in The Avenger movies but his performance in Infinity War is so abysmally wooden and out of sync as to be startling. I was actually embarrassed for Ruffalo watching him half ass his way through the movie, spewing out his dialogue with such vacuity he seemed more like an extra in a community theater production than an multiple Oscar nominee. 

Another issue I had with the film is an issue I have with all Marvel movies and that is that I find the cinematography to be pretty lackluster. These Marvel films all appear so flat and visually dull to me, and their failure to use of color or shadow to further propel the narrative or reinforce the sub-text is a cinema sin. Infinity War, like almost all big budget studio films, relies heavily upon CGI, which I feel is not quite where it needs to be in terms of visual quality and dramatic realism.

But besides Ruffalo, the hackneyed dialogue and my cinematography snobbery, Infinity War kept me captivated for the entire two hours and thirty minutes, which is no small accomplishment. It did so because the fight scenes were, for the most part, interesting, original and well-choreographed and the storyline was dramatically compelling due to a sense of the good guys being in genuine peril. 

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I also must say that even though the preceding Marvel movies were entirely underwhelming, you could not have made Infinity War without them. The rather boring, paint by numbers, eighteen pieces of manufactured Marvel cinematic junk preceding Infinity War did effectively introduce all of the relevant characters to the audience, and so since we know them, we have at least a minimal investment in them heading into Infinity War, which excels at dramatically exploiting our connection to its characters. 

It is no small achievement what Disney has pulled off with their Marvel money making machine. Infinity War has pulled in nearly a billion dollars in just its first week in theaters, which will add to the incredible $15 billion haul (on a $4 billion investment) thus far for the Marvel franchise films. For Disney to keep the franchise coherent, interwoven and so fantastically financially successful is an incredible Hollywood achievement (even if it may be killing the movie industry and cinema in the process…but that is a discussion for another day), especially when you compare it to the more mundane results of the DC Comics/Warner Brothers collaboration.

In conclusion, I was genuinely surprised how much I liked Infinity War, especially considering how much I disliked most of the previous Marvel movies. If you are even a lukewarm fan of super hero films, I recommend you definitely go see Infinity War in the theatre. If you despise super hero movies then it stands to reason that you'll despise Infinity War because it packs more super heroes per capita than any other movie of which I can think. 

One word of warning though for parents, I do not think Infinity War is suitable for kids. I would put the cutoff at maybe 12, but your mileage may vary. The reason being is that there are some pretty heavy themes presented and also there is some surprising cursing. As for adults who like acting like kids, go see Infinity War in the theatre, it is well worth the time and energy of super hero fans. 

 

FILM COMMENTARY

****WARNING: THIS SECTION CONTAINS MAJOR SPOILERS!!****

 

****THIS IS YOUR LAST WARNING…MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD!!****

 

In 2016 Captain America: Civil War came out and its themes and color palette made my take notice. The reason I was so intrigued by Civil War, was not because it was a good movie, I didn't really think it was, but because it was a remarkable piece of evidence in support of my Isaiah/McCaffrey Historical Wave Theory. 

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Civil War's poster was a vibrant battle of red versus blue, Iron Man versus Captain America. The theme of the film was that The Avengers were torn apart (due to an overseas misadventure) and divided into separate factions, globalists versus nationalists, and they went to war with one another. The film was obviously conceived, written and shot well before the 2016 election, but it was the perfect film to represent the struggle going on in America's, and the world's, collective consciousness. 

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Added to Civil War, was the fact that another big blockbuster superhero movie had similar themes and color palette…Batman V Superman. The posters for BvS were also a striking blue versus red, Batman (blue) versus Superman (red). While the words civil war were not in the title, civil war was the best way to describe the theme and sub-text of BvS

The third film of 2016 which resonated with the McCaffrey Wave Theory was X-Men: Apocalypse. That film also highlighted a civil war-esque level of infighting between different faction of mutants aka X-Men, although its poster and its box office made it much less relevant. 

When all three of these films came out in the same year as our very contentious presidential election, it was proof positive that the Isaiah/McCaffrey Wave Theory was an accurate way to measure the turmoil bubbling beneath the surface of the masses. (The Isaiah/McCaffrey Wave Theory accurately predicted in the face of much scorn Trump's and Brexit's victories in 2016). 

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The reason for this quick look back at super hero movies as they relate to my Wave Theory, is that watching Infinity War through the prism of my Wave Theory, was very unsettling. The themes present in the film are pretty obvious to any cinephile with the will to look, namely globalists, in the form of Iron Man and his crew, are able to convince the nationalists, Captain America and his crew, to fight an external enemy that is an existential threat to the status quo and the world order…Thanos. 

To see it another way is to see it as globalist capitalism (Avengers) versus a sort of nationalist post-capitalism (Thanos). Thanos wants to wipe out half the population of the universe because of dwindling resources, so that the other half can live and prosper in peace and harmony. Thanos is not choosing who lives or dies based on their race, creed, class, power or religion, it is totally random who is to be eliminated and who is to live. 

Iron Man and the rest of The Avengers see that as immoral, unethical and evil, and they fight with all they have to make sure that the status quo, where questions of resources, class and social power are never addressed, reign supreme. The sub-text of Infinity War is a sort of Sophie's Choice, with Thanos choosing and The Avengers refusing to choose, which ultimately is a moral and ethical conundrum due to the fact that, like iconic Canadian arena rockers Rush tell us, "if you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice". 

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Late stage gloablist capitalism is equivalent to a cancer upon the planet, devastating and exploiting natural resources and human populations as it spreads across our world. Like cancer, this form of capitalism can only survive if it is expanding, therefore stasis is death, and it must devour everything in its path, which eventually will include the planet we all live on. 

Iron Man is the face of multi-national corporate power (Stark Industries), and he must keep American capitalism alive at all costs, because if it dies, he dies. Captain America's nationalist impulses are very quickly co-opted and overridden in the face of a threat to the globalist capitalist order. Although it is never articulated that Iron Man and the globalists have defeated Captain America and the nationalists, it is very clear this is the case when Captain America and company come out of hiding to fight side by side with the globalists to defeat the establishment destroying power of Thanos. 

The fact that the "good guys" in a Disney film are fighting to save American "free market" capitalism is not the least bit shocking…especially when Disney is on the verge of acquiring 20th Century Fox which will give them a 40% market share of the domestic film market, which is astounding. Disney undoubtedly is the height of globalist corporate power in media, and in Infinity War they have recruited The Avengers to fight their ideological battle to the death. 

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Thanos on the other hand, may have a very bad solution indeed, mass exterminations, to the resource scarcity issue, but at least he is addressing it, which none of the The Avengers dare do. The Avengers only solution is for them to fight tooth and nail for the right to close their eyes and whistle past the graveyard, in other words to make sure that things stay the same, which is untenable and will eventually result in the death and destruction of the human race and the planet earth. When comparing those two solutions, Thanos versus The Avengers, as cruel as Thanos' solution is…the chilling reality is that it is the only one that is viable long term. And the even more complicated and unsettling thought is that as unconscionable as Thanos' solution is, it may be the most moral and ethical if the choices are do nothing and do something awful. 

Thanos is symbolic of the uncomfortable questions that America, and the world, desperately ignore, and they do so at their own peril. If Thanos were a presidential candidate, he certainly would not be a centrist Democrat or Republican (or in Euro terms, a Merkel or Macron) like Iron Man and Captain America, no, Thanos would not be part of the centrist establishment at all. Thanos would be a sort of "independent" (meaning he defines himself in opposition to the old establishment) authoritarian (for example- a sort of amalgam of Xi, Mao, Putin and Stalin), who would have harsh, cold-hearted and brutal answers to the questions of immigration, income inequality, global warming and empire that would come at a very high cost to humanity…but he would also bring a solution to the problem of terrorism, environmental degradation, resource scarcity and resource-fuled wars. 

In regards to the Wave Theory, Infinity War is what I consider a level 6 force on the Wave Scale because it is not as dynamic and distinctive visually in terms of color palette (for example, its poster is rather visually mundane without any dominant colors never mind something as obvious as red versus blue) as say Civil War or BvS (both level 9) and also because it not only has no other big budget film buttressing its theme as Civil War did with BvS, but DC's Justice League and Marvel's Black Panther have optimistic narratives that counter it a bit. That said, the reason Infinity War is intriguing is because it portends an ultimate end/destruction to the status quo, and that in and of itself is a staggering statement in a mainstream blockbuster, never mind the fact that so many iconic, archetypal characters vanish before our eyes in the film's final scenes.

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Much like The Empire Strikes Back, the best of the Star Wars films, hit theaters in 1980 and was a sign post for the rising American empire of the coming Reagan years whose laissez-faire, trickle down, Wall Street friendly economics has dominated the globe for the past 38 years, Infinity War is hinting at the end of that system, and the coming of a new one. What that system is, be it a Chinese style-authoritarian controlled capitalism, a neo-Marxism, an authoritarian nationalist socialism, or something else, I have no idea, but if history is any guide, it will be a fierce backlash to the greed fueled corporate globalism of the Reagan era (1981 to now). And if Infinity War, which is quickly eclipsing at the box office and in the cultural consciousness the thematic optimism of Black Panther (not to mention that Black Panther himself, and all he represents, is obliterated in Infinity War), is any guide, the transition to this new system will be tumultuous to say the least. 

Another similarity between Infinity War and The Empire Strikes Back is that main characters symbolizing "good" are "killed". In Infinity War there are a plethora of super heroes turned to dust, and in Empire, Han Solo is frozen. But just like Solo was unfrozen in the Return of the Jedi, I have no doubt that all of the now vaporized superheroes will return in the next Avengers movie (Disney ain't turning off the Marvel money machine just to maintain narrative integrity!). But just because the actions in Infinity War, just like those in Empire Strikes Back, are cinematically reversed, does not mean that they do not hold the secret to what lies ahead for our collective consciousness. The trying point genie is out of the bottle, and reviving a coterie of evaporated superheroes will not change that fact in the wider consciousness. 

Think of it this way…if, for example, there is another 2008 level meltdown in our economy, then the political and financial establishment are toast. Apres the unbridled corruption of Reagan era (Bush/Trump/Clinton etc.) American Capitalism, le deluge. The deluge is Thanos. Prepare accordingly while you can. 

©2018

The Farcical Fury Over the White House Correspondence Dinner

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Estimated Reading Time: 5 minutes 04 seconds

****WARNING: THERE ARE MEAN-SPIRITED JOKES IN THIS ARTICLE. YOU MAY BE OFFENDED BY THE JOKES. PLEASE READ AT YOUR OWN RISK.****

There has been much ado made about the White House Correspondence Dinner this past Saturday night. The scuttlebutt is about comedian Michelle Wolf's performance, which some deemed excessive and over the top. I for one want to unequivocally condemn Ms. Wolf's unseemly, mean-spirited, crass and vulgar attacks upon the assembled media and Trump administration officials who were her targets. Ms. Wolf incivility has diminished the press, the first amendment and our democracy and she should be ashamed. 

Just kidding. 

I think, if anything, Michelle Wolf went far too easy on the collection of sycophants and psychopaths sunning themselves on the radiance of their own self-importance at the D.C. Hilton. The fact that so many in the political and media establishment have their panties so tightly in a bunch over her performance is testament to Ms. Wolf's comedic success. Here is her performance in its entirety. 

According to the internets, D.C.'s elite were horrified at Wolf's verbal assault on White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders in particular. Members of the Press Corps have said that they were shocked and appalled that Wolf had the temerity to make fun of Sanders to her face…which says less about the character of Michelle Wolf and more about the character of the Press Corps. 

The consensus among the narcissistically flaccid news folk was that Sanders is just a lady doing her job and it is in bad taste to aggressively roast her. I wholeheartedly agree…but then again I would as I am one of those people who also gets irritated because every single documentary or film about World War II always makes Hitler out to be the bad guy*. 

Sarah Sanders is a grown woman who took a job protecting and defending Trump out of blind ambition. The Washington Press Corps routinely tells us that Trump is an unstable, Russia-colluding traitor who is a dangerous threat to our democracy…so why is it out of bounds to assail Sanders who's job is to prop Trump up? If Sanders wants the job of Trump's press secretary, than the price she should pay for that is unending scorn from the public (and press) that think he is a danger to the Republic. 

 Hugh Hewitt - Creepy

Hugh Hewitt - Creepy

Hugh Hewitt, a man who looks like he compulsively sodomizes ventriloquist dummies, wrote an op-ed in the Washington Post today defending Sanders where he declared Wolf's performance "a fail", which sort of describes his every attempt to smile while not appearing to be a pedophile*. 

  LET'S PLAY THE DOPPELGANGER GAME: David Lee Roth  and…

LET'S PLAY THE DOPPELGANGER GAME: David Lee Roth and…

 

Andrea Mitchell of NBC News, tweeted in defense of Sanders, "Apology is owed to Press. Sec. and others grossly insulted by Michelle Wolf".  I also think Andrea Mitchell owes America an apology for being a mendacious shill for Israel who reeks of formaldehyde from fucking Alan Greenspan with "irrational exuberance", just like he fucked our economy. With all of that said, I must admit that I do deeply respect Andrea Mitchell as a news woman, most especially for Neil Armstrong's historic landing on her face*.

 …Andrea Mitchell (NBC News)!

…Andrea Mitchell (NBC News)!

 

 

Another nitwit to speak up in defense of Sanders was lifetime nepotism award winner Mika Brzezinski, co-host of the dreadful Morning Joe on MSNBC. Brzezisnki wrote "watching a wife and mother be humiliated on national television for her looks is deplorable". Why is that so deplorable yet making fun of Trump's appearance on national television is alright? So much for treating women as equals. And why is it so much worse because she is a wife and mother, would it be cool if she were a post-menopausal, filthy whore* like…I don't know…Andrea Mitchell…or Mika Brzezinski? The real kicker in regards to Mika is that Wolf did not even make fun of Sanders for her looks…which is quite a show of comedic restraint since Sanders is such a target rich environment. 

  DOPPELGANGERS:  Trent Lott and...

DOPPELGANGERS: Trent Lott and...

The problem, of course, is not making fun of Trump and Sanders, the problem is selective outrage from that collection of entitled buffoons of the fourth estate. Andrea Mitchell, Mika Brzezinski and Hugh Hewitt had no problem with Dubya joking about not finding WMD's, or Obama joking about drones, both of which caused the deaths of actual, living, breathing human beings, some of whom were even…gasp…wives and mothers!

Andrea Mitchell, Mika Brzezinski and Hugh Hewitt aren't up in arms that their colleagues at NBC, Brian Williams and Joy Reid, both exposed as bald-faced liars, Reid as recently as just last week, are still employed and in good standing at their "news" organization. 

 …Kathleen Hall Jamieson (Annenberg - UPenn)

…Kathleen Hall Jamieson (Annenberg - UPenn)

Andrea, Mika and Hugh have never called out NBC News for hiring Ken Dilanian to be their head national security reporter even though he was proven to be a stenographer for the intelligence community who, while working for the LA Times, routinely emailed his articles to the CIA for them to read, edit and approve. 

Andrea, Mika and Hugh also never cried foul over NBC's obfuscation and outright manipulation of the story surrounding Richard Engel's "kidnapping" in Syria. Engel lied about the details of that story in order to heighten the drama, and NBC blatantly lied about the actuals facts of that story. 

  DOPPELGANGERS:  John Kerry and...

DOPPELGANGERS: John Kerry and...

And of course, the holy trinity of idiocy, Andrea, Mika and Hugh never decried the flag waving moronity of NBC News that blindly regurgitated the Bush administration line on Iraq, including Saint Tim Russert, who years after the invasion lamented that no one called him during the run-up to the war to tell him that the WMD story was bullshit.

Andrea, Mika and Hugh are non-plussed that NBC hired Nicole Wallace, who worked as White Hosue Communications Director for the Bush administration that shamelessly lied to start a war in Iraq, and used rendition and torture. NBC also routinely uses pundits, such as Bill Kristol, who were pivotal in arguing for the illegal war in Iraq and the war crimes of rendition and torture. 

 …Karen Tumulty (Washington Post)

…Karen Tumulty (Washington Post)

This trio also never cried foul over GE CEO Jack Welch demanding the NBC News division declare Bush the winner of the 2000 election on election night when the result was still in doubt, which quickly set the narrative that Bush was the legitimate winner in the public's mind.

 

It is ironic that Michelle Wolf made a joke about her working at Bear Stearns in 2008, because Andrea, Mika and Hugh also haven't demanded that the vacuous Jim Cramer of CNBC's Mad Money, who assured his audience that Bear Stearns was totally fine on March 11, 2008, and told people to not pull their money from the company, be fired. A week later Bear Stearns went under…sadly it didn't take Jim Cramer's career with it. 

Engel, Dilanian, Williams and Reid are all currently employed by NBC News and have suffered no major consequences to their careers for being opportunistic liars and journalistic frauds…but it is Michelle Wolf who has sullied the good name of American journalism by telling off-color jokes.

To be clear, I think Michelle Wolf did fine the other night, but don't confuse that with me thinking she is actually funny. The reason I don't think she is funny is that it has been scientifically proven that women are incapable of being funny*. I do think she was insightful though, which is also remarkably rare for a woman*. 

The National Press Corps have failed at their job, and they are angry at Michelle Wolf for calling them out on it. Wolf ended her remarks by declaring that the press created Trump and they actually love to hate him, which is entirely correct.

The media is pissed at Wolf because they have no interest in the truth, only in a "certain kind of truth". They also have no interest in really protecting the First Amendment, as evidenced by their unbridled glee at RT (and Al Jazeera could be next) being forced to register as an agent of a foreign power. 

The public knows the press is full of shit and is growing more and more fed up with it. The posturing and phony virtue signaling surrounding Michelle Wolf's performance only add fuel to the fire of the growing hatred of the mainstream media in this country….and I do not speak of hate lightly.

The mainstream press better wake up and soon because the only thing that Americans can agree on is that our media is malignantly awful. When the shit hits the fan, the blades will cut the media first, of that I can assure you. 

My piece of advice for the press corps is this…learn to take a joke…either that or prepare to take a punch. 

In conclusion, here is my glorious dream scenario for the next White House Correspondence Dinner…where that masturbatorial clusterfuck is turned into a bonfire of the elites! 

*denotes a joke….the jokes, including the Doppelgänger Game, were meant to show how being uncivil really looks, and that in comparison Michelle Wolf's material was rather tepid and tame.

*Also…If people are offended by those joke then my defense is the same as Joy Reid's, I simply do not believe I wrote all the hateful things contained in this article..so I cannot be held responsible for them. My best guess is that Russian hackers did it. 

©2018

Kanye Tweets He Loves Trump, Civilization on Brink

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Estimated Reading Time: 4 minutes 07 seconds

Sometimes a story comes along that perfectly encapsulates the flaming disaster area that is American culture and politics. This is that story.

“I don’t even listen to rap. My apartment is too nice to listen to rap in.” – Kanye West

I must confess that I am one of those strange people who likes my music to be made by musicians who can actually play instruments and/or sing, and who prefers the artistry of cinema to the banality of reality television, and admires the mastery of acting craft over the insipid vanity of celebrity. It is because of these feelings that I was so instinctively repulsed by a story that dominated the news this past week…and yet, to my great shame could not turn away from it.

The story in question came into being when the rancid concoction of a self-proclaimed rap messiah, his celebrity queen wife and a reality tv president, were all mixed together to create a supernova of self-promotion so powerfully vacuous and vapid that it may cause the universe to collapse in upon itself. 

The rap messiah is none other than Kanye West, also known as Yeezy, Yeezus, KanYeezy and Evel Kanyevel. The celebrity queen is his wife Kim Kardashian, and the reality tv President is Donald Trump.

“I told y’all I didn’t vote, right? But if I would’ve voted, I would’ve voted for Trump.” – Kanye West

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If you haven’t heard the story…and I am deeply envious of you if you haven’t…the details are thus…Kanye declared on twitter this week that he loves him some Donald Trump by posting a photo of an autographed Make America Great Again hat and another photo of him wearing said hat….THE HORROR!

Kanye’s Trump love was swiftly met by predictable liberal fury, as 10 million of his twitter followers jumped ship. Some in the media even went so far as to claim Kanye’s support of Trump was a sign that he is suffering from mental health issues.

Kanye’s wife, star of Keeping Up With the Kardashians, Kim Kardashian, came to her husband’s defense and tweeted,

“to the media trying to demonize my husband let me just say this…your commentary on Kanye being erratic and his tweets being disturbing is actually scary. So quick to label him as having mental health issues for just being himself when he has always been expressive is not fair”.

“I am Warhol. I am the Number One most impactful artist of our generation. I am Shakespeare in the flesh.”  - Kanye West

It seems clear that Yeezy’s admiration for Trump is more an exercise in self-serving sycophancy than in political expression. After all, how could Yeezus not be a Trump supporter? He and Trump are mirror images of one another, both narcissistic charlatans whose greatest talent is self-aggrandizement.

Kanye and Trump also both suffer from delusions of grandeur, as Kanye has favorably compared himself to Martin Luther King Jr., Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, William Shakespeare, Thomas Edison, Pablo Picasso and Jim Morrison while Trump has done the same with FDR, Lincoln, Reagan and Andrew Jackson.

“I’m living in the 21st century doin’ something mean to it/ Do it better than anybody you ever seen do it/ Screams from haters got a nice ring to it/ I guess every superhero need his theme music” –  Kanye West

That said, the outraged liberal response to Evel Kanyevel’s Trump admission is as mindless as it is hypocritical.

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Liberals have gone absolutely mad in the Trump era leaving them incapable of tolerating opinions that diverge from Democratic orthodoxy. The strictly enforced groupthink that permeates the establishment left in America is so intellectually stultifying and suffocating it resorts to shaming and exiling all independent thinkers.

Kanye’s public support of Trump wasn’t even the greatest challenge he made to the intellectual infrastructure of Democrats this week, that came in the form of his tweet in support of Candace Owens.

Owens is a conservative Black woman who criticizes the “victim mentality” of the modern African-American community and Black Lives Matter, among other controversial things. Owens said in response to Kanye’s support, “The left wants to strap Black people to this idea that they are victims…they don’t like to see Black people that are free thinkers and are independent…”. I would go Ms. Owens one step further and say that the establishment on both the left and the right are virulently opposed to free thinkers and independent thought.

“I’m like a fly Malcolm X/Buy any jeans necessary” – Kanye West

To be clear, it isn’t just Democrats who are failing to wrap themselves in glory with this Kanye story, Republicans are showing their true colors as well.

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If you will remember, in 2005 Kanye infamously said “President Bush doesn’t care about Black people” during a telethon for survivors of Hurricane Katrina. Bush later called Kanye’s statement “one of the most disgusting moments” of his presidency, which is further proof of the overwhelming power of Kanye as he tops 9-11, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, lying about WMD’s, Abu Ghraib, rendition, torture, Hurricane Katrina and the financial collapse of 2008 on Bush’s disgusting list…Kanye is very impressive!

Unsurprisingly, Democrats loved Kanye back when he bad-mouthed Bush, which only heightens their hypocrisy now. In that same vein, Republicans hated Kanye with a passion back when he assailed their man Dubya. They trotted out the usual idiotic attacks that they honed years earlier against the Dixie Chicks when that band failed to fall in line with Bush’s war in Iraq. “Shut up and sing” was the common refrain from conservatives who disliked it when musicians or other artists went public with their liberal political beliefs.

But now that Kanye wear’s a Make America Great Again hat, conservatives like Laura Ingraham, who actually wrote a book titled “Shut Up and Sing”, Tucker Carlson, and even Bill O’Reilly, who once called Kanye a “dopey little rapper” and said of him “we don’t care what he says”, are thrilled to hear him express his pro-Trump views and even defend him by calling liberals who denounce him “American Stalinists”.

“I feel like I am too busy writing history to read it.” – Kanye West

 This Kanye-Trump story is so striking because it is the quintessential American story revealing the decadent absurdity that is our culture and politics. This story revolves around a man who cannot play an instrument or sing but has made millions as a performer in the music business, who is married to a woman who built an empire as a tv star but who cannot act, who tweets support for a billionaire plutocrat who won the Presidency by posing as a populist fighting for the working man.

In addition, all three of these people, Kanye West, Kim Kardashian and Donald Trump, have made their fortunes the truly American Way…by being masterful self-promoters and cunning media manipulators.

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Obviously, I am not a fan of Kanye West, nor do I like Kim Kardashian or Donald Trump. But you know what I dislike even more? Shameless hypocrisy and the stifling of free thought. That is why I loathe both the Democrats for their gratuitous shunning of Kanye and Republicans for their unabashed embrace of him even more than I dislike Kanye himself.

 

And as much as I am loathe to admit it, when Kanye responded to liberals attacks on him by tweeting, “we have freedom of speech but not freedom of thought”, “self-victimization is a disease” and “You don’t have to agree with Trump…I don’t agree with everything anyone does. That’s what makes us individuals. And we have the right to independent thought”, he was absolutely, one hundred percent correct.

Americans have now devolved to the point where when we think, we only do so with a Manichean and binary point of view. The paradigm is ‘us against them’ and if you disagree or challenge orthodoxy, you are shouted down and cast out. This is not only unhealthy for people’s general wellbeing, but for American democracy in general.

 “I will go down as the voice of this generation, of this decade, I will be the loudest voice.” – Kanye West

 Kanye once claimed, to the amusement of many, he would run for president in 2020. He has since amended that declaration to set his sights on 2024.  To quote President Obama, Kanye is a “jackass”, which considering his predecessors, would make Kanye right at home in the Oval Office.  While I don’t think that Kanye deserves to be president, I do believe that we Americans, both sanctimonious Democrats and self-righteous Republicans alike, certainly deserve him as our president.

 Kanye’s great power is that, just like Trump, love him or loathe him, to our great detriment and shame we are unable to stop talking about him. At the end of the day, there are no winners in this bizarre and inane story…only losers, and considering the amount of time I spent this week following this story, I certainly count myself among the losers.

A version of this article was originally published at RT.

©2018

 

Morgan Freeman and the #MeToo Whispers

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Estimated Reading TIme: 3 minutes 11 seconds

"I HEAR A VERY GENTLE SOUND, VERY NEAR YET VERY FAR, VERY SOFT, YEAH, VERY CLEAR" - WHEN THE MUSIC'S OVER by THE DOORS

Since October of last year when the Harvey Weinstein sex abuse scandal hit the mainstream, the #MeToo movement has been dominating headlines as a cavalcade of famous men faced allegations of having sexually harassed or assaulted numerous people. Besides Weinstein, there was Bret Ratner, Matt Lauer, Kevin Spacey, Charlie Rose, James Toback, Dustin Hoffman, Jeremy Piven, Jeffrey Tambor, Al Franken, John Conyers and Roy Moore to name just a few. 

The #MeToo headlines have abated quite a bit in recent months, but while keeping my ear to the ground out here in Hollywood I have heard the whispers that there is a new target who is being lined up in the #MeToo crosshairs by some major news outlets. 

 Ironically, Morgan Freeman was awarded a Lifetime Achievement award at this years #MeToo themed SAG awards.

Ironically, Morgan Freeman was awarded a Lifetime Achievement award at this years #MeToo themed SAG awards.

According to my sources, the man who may be next up to the guillotine is none other than beloved Academy Award winning actor Morgan Freeman. I am not saying that Morgan Freeman has done anything wrong or is a sexual aggressor or anything of the sort, I have seen no proof of that and have only heard rumor and innuendo. What I am saying is that there are journalists actively investigating Morgan Freeman and claims of sexually inappropriate behavior on his part with co-workers and underlings. 

To be clear, I am not Woodward and Bernstein, nor am I Cindy Adams, I am just a guy who writes opinion pieces in a fruitless search for truth. That said, the rumblings out here in La La Land are loud enough that I was able to pick up on them, which means that something is afoot. 

While the media sharks are definitely in the water, that does not mean they will be able to conclusively verify any claims against Morgan Freeman. I have also heard that many women are hesitant to come forward for a variety of reasons, some of which include Freeman's respected standing in the industry, his "good guy" persona, and interestingly, his race. If the story about Freeman does indeed break, he would be the highest profile African-American man to have been named in the recent wave of #MeToo allegations, and would join Bill Cosby in infamy, which for some, complicates the situation.  

"I HEAR A VERY GENTLE SOUND, WITH YOUR EAR DOWN TO THE GROUND" - WHEN THE MUSIC'S OVER by THE DOORS

I have been contemplating writing about this topic for the last week, then synchronistically, today I woke up to an unrelated yet strange story about claims of an inappropriate sexual relationship in the past between Morgan Freeman and his step-grand daughter E'Dina Hines (by his first wife Jeannette Bradshaw).

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Ms. Hines was murdered in 2015 at the age of 33, allegedly by her boyfriend Lamar Davenport. Mr. Davenport's attorneys in his current murder trial have released a series of cryptic texts between Hines and Davenport that they say hint at a sexual relationship between Morgan Freeman and Ms. Hines that Davenport claims existed. When, where and Ms. Hines age when the relationship allegedly occurred are not revealed in the story. Freeman vehemently denies all allegations of a sexual relationship with Hines.

The Freeman-Hines relationship made news back in 2012 when some tabloids reported that Freeman was actually going to marry his then 27 year old step-granddaughter, with whom, they claimed, he had been in a relationship for a decade…meaning it began when she was 17 and he was 64.

I do wonder if this story of an alleged sexual relationship between Freeman and his step-granddaugther E'Dina Hines being back in the news will be the impetus for more women in Hollywood to come forward with claims Morgan Freeman harassed them, or will compel those already in contact with journalists to be more forth coming. 

Though I greatly admire Morgan Freeman as an actor and like him as a public entity, I do not know him nor have I ever met him. Hopefully I am misinformed about reporters digging into Freeman's sexual history in the workplace and the stories I've heard of his behavior are wildly overblown or entirely inaccurate, who knows? But from all I have been able to piece together so far, I have a sinking feeling that the whispers i am hearing combined with this bizarre step-granddaughter story I read this morning, are the tip of a very large iceberg, and Morgan Freeman's reputation/career is the Titanic heading straight for it. 

©2018

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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