"Everything is as it should be."

                                                                                  - Benjamin Purcell Morris

 

 

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

The Long, Short Life of Yonatan Daniel Aguilar

Yonatan Daniel Aguilar

Yonatan Daniel Aguilar

ESTIMATED READING TIME: 7 Minutes

NOTE: I originally became aware of Yonatan Daniel Aguliar from this Los Angeles Times article.

Yonatan Daniel Aguilar died on August 22, 2016, in the Echo Park neighborhood of Los Angeles. Yonatan suffered from autism. He was 11 years old. He weighed 34 pounds. Yonatan was almost entirely bald. He had lived the final three years of his life locked in a closet by his mother, Veronica Aguliar.  His body was covered in pressure sores from the cold, tile floor he was forced to live and sleep upon.

CRUCIFIXION

Just feet from the closet where Yonatan lived and died two of his siblings slept in a comfortable, if not always clean, bed. A crucifix, more a symbol of superstition for Yonatan's mother than of any devout religious belief, hangs nailed to the bedroom wall just opposite Yonatan's closet cell above his siblings bed. The crucified Christ, his face twisted in pain, looking down upon Yonatan either to bear witness to, or mock, depending on your spiritual perspective, the little boy's brutal suffering. Christ's crucifixion, from arrest to torture to execution, lasted a mere three days. A long weekend. Yonatan's crucifixion lasted for three years, if not for over a decade.

Christ's crucifixion was put into motion when he was betrayed by his closest friend, Judas. Post-capture, Christ was denied by his one of his most stalwart apostles, Peter. As painful as the betrayal and denial were, Christ did get to live a life where he knew the gentle love and kindness of his mother and the guidance of his father. Yonatan, on the other hand, was viciously betrayed by his mother almost immediately, if not in utero, never knowing any love from the woman who bore him. He was also betrayed by an absent biological father and also by his older brother, a man of 18 when Yonatan died, who for years actively concealed his mother's brutal treatment of Yonatan to the outside world. When questioned by authorities Yonatan's eldest brother implied that he believed that Yonatan deserved the treatment he got because Yonatan was "smart" and "knew what he was doing" when autism caused him to act out. Yonatan was betrayed by his teachers, therapists, social workers and police and denied by them as well as all of the bureaucrats from the relevant agencies meant to protect Yonatan who scrambled to cover their backsides once his tragic death and horrible life were discovered.  

11 YEARS OLD

When I think of Yonatan locked away in that closet, I can't help but think back to when I was 11 years old. What did I dream about at that age…maybe Battlestar Galactica and The Planet of the Apes? Or of growing up to play pro football or basketball? Did Yonatan have dreams while he was locked away in that closet? If so, of what could he dream? Escape? Freedom? Love? Tenderness? Is it even possible to dream of things of which you have no experience?

Did Yonatan think back to better times? Were there better times? Maybe he thought of being on the playground at school watching the other children play, happy and free. Yonatan's autism forced him to always be on the outside of things while trapped inside himself. Those distant memories of the warm sun on his skin while watching other children play would be the closest he got to sunlight for the last three years of his life. Yonatan could only catch fleeting glimpses of daylight through the cracks between the closet and the cold, hard tile floor he lay upon, hour after hour, day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year.

I imagine the shame, pain and confusion Yonatan felt listening to life going on around the house while the family waited for him to die. The conversations he couldn't help but over hear where his name was never mentioned or his existence even acknowledged. Yonatan was dead to his family long before his body gave out, and that must have crushed his spirit and broken his bruised and battered heart every moment he drew breath. 

PRAYERS FOR THE DYING

Years ago a Holy man taught me a prayer to recite during times of great suffering. The prayer was "God, please teach me with gentleness, kindness, compassion, love and ease." As the suffering of the person praying becomes greater and their physical energy reduces, so does the prayer. At first you eliminate the calling of God's name and simply say "teach me with gentleness, kindness etc." God knows you are talking to him, he doesn't need to be addressed,  I was told. And finally, as you are at the zenith of your suffering and despair and your spirit is at its nadir, the prayer becomes a mantra to be said over and over…"gentleness, kindness, compassion, love and ease….gentleness, kindness, compassion, love and ease…" I taught that prayer to a friend as he was preparing to die years ago, to help him with the transition. I did the same with my own father just this past year, teaching him the prayer so that he could get over the mountain of physical suffering and emotional and mental despair that always accompany our leaving of this body and this world. Did Yonatan have anyone to teach him this prayer? I would like to think that maybe in a dream one of his ancient ancestors, one from the family line from well before the curse and the affliction came into it, taught him the prayer and assured him of his salvation from the nightmare of his life.

THE AFFLICTION

As I go over the details of Yonatan's death in my mind, imagining the horror and isolation that little boy felt, I imagine I can retroactively comfort him during his most dire moments, so I say the prayer for him, over and over…"gentleness, kindness, compassion, love and ease". Then I realize that sometimes magical thinking becomes the option of first resort when confronted with the type of unspeakable evil and inhumanity that Yonatan had to endure in his long, short life. My prayers feel like mere delusion to comfort my own troubled soul, not Yonatan's. My prayers also feel more impotent than empowering. The part of me that is empowered is not the light of compassion, but the darkness of revenge and the righteousness of anger.

When Yonatan's heart finally gave out and he died in that closet, court documents state that his mother Veronica said to his step-father, who allegedly knew nothing of the boy imprisoned in his closet, "I took care of the problem by ruining my life". Even with his death, Yonatan could not be the first thing on his mother's mind, he was not her child or her son but her "problem". The first thing Veronica thought of when discovering her little boy had finally died was how it would "ruin HER life".   

When I think of Veronica and her oldest son, who was her eyes, ears and muscle keeping Yonatan quiet and imprisoned when she wasn't around, the affliction that infects them gets hold of me too.  Even as my compassion for Yonatan and his suffering grows, with it comes a rage, a calculating savagery that grows deep in my heart. I want to have a few minutes with his mother Veronica in a room somewhere, just the two of us. I guarantee I could make her feel, to the depth of her being, the same helpless, hopeless, horrified feelings Yonatan felt those three years in that closet. I could make her know the absolute dread at being forgotten and abandoned and left to die.

I have the same urge with Yonatan's 18 year old brother. I could unleash upon him the most glorious righteous anger that burns within me when I think of every cell in Yonatan's little body screaming out for sustenance in that dark, cold closet. That older brother saying that Yonatan was "smart" and "knew what he was doing", the blind and selfish arrogance of that...I could exact a terrible price for his depraved indifference to his brother's torture. I know I should consider the life Yonatan's mother and brother have lived and how it formed them and created the darkness that inhabits them. And while I consciously know I should search for sympathy for them in my heart, I instead indulge darker thoughts. The feeling of pulverizing their face to a pulp, their image turned to mush under the powerful force of my fists. The sound of their bones cracking under each devastating blow, the gurgling as they choke on their own blood. 

Then I realize that this violent, barbaric urge I feel to punish these people, that is the affliction speaking. This dark urge is about ME and MY unease with the feelings Yonatan's story brings up in ME. ME, ME, ME. These fantasies of justice and revenge are not about Yonatan but about ME. They are selfish and self-serving, just like Yonatan's mother and brother, and they are the acorn from which the roots of the affliction grow and the tree of the affliction ultimately blossoms. This affliction infects everything that comes near it, heart, soul and mind included. In order to stay sane, and keep a grip on my humanity, I need to adjust my focus back on compassion for little Yonatan and not on bloodthirsty revenge for his murder.

THE WORLD WE LIVE IN

It trying to find some empathy or compassion for this mother, I think about the hypocritical world we live in. If Veronica were a tin pot dictator of some third world country she'd be paraded into an international criminal court and tried and convicted and hung by the neck until dead for her crimes against humanity. If she were a high ranking American official she would be lauded for her moral clarity and courage, maybe even given a medal for being brave enough to make tough decisions. Regardless, Veronica will go to prison, a fifteen years to life sentence most likely, which means she will probably be out in ten years or so. She will con the prison system telling them exactly what they want to hear, just like she conned the school system and the child protection system and law enforcement in order to imprison and kill Yonatan. Veronica will not have to suffer the indignities she forced Yonatan to suffer, dying alone, in the dark, cut-off from any human contact or tenderness.  No. Veronica won't be put in solitary confinement, or be beaten or starved of either food or affection. Veronica's greatest punishment is that she must live the rest of her life being Veronica. Wherever she goes, she will always be there, that is a true life sentence. 

The same cannot be said of the older brother. Mr. Eighteen-Year-Old is not charged with a crime even though he is an adult and was an accomplice to torture and murder. This older brother won't go to prison, at least not for this. And the troubling thing is this young man will no doubt in the next few years, find a young woman who is desperate to escape her own troubled home life, maybe she has an abusive father, and she will fall for his charms, choosing what she believes to be the lesser of two evils. Yonatan's older brother will then have a child or multiple children with this poor woman. The affliction that has infected the Aguliar family will now be passed to another generation. The affliction will be passed onto these children, and they will either suffer under it or perpetuate it, or both. No doubt this oldest brother will brutalize his hapless children like he assisted his mother in brutalizing his brother Yonatan. And no doubt he will justify his brutality by telling himself that those kids deserve what they get…they are "smart" and 'know what they are doing". This affliction will live on in Yonatan's other siblings as well who have been taught and conditioned to be indifferent to the suffering of others and to think of only themselves, their survival and their comfort. This family's bloodline will suffer with this affliction of depravity for thousands of generations to come, with infection going from father and mother to son and daughter. DCFS was not there to protect Yonatan when the affliction reared its head, will it be there for the children of Yonatan's older brother or the children of his other siblings? Will DCFS be there for the Aguliar grand-children? And their great grand-children? 

 IN OUR SKIN

I think back to my high school biology class and I vaguely remember being taught that the skin is the largest organ of the human body. I don't know if that is true, but it sounds familiar. Yonatan's body was covered with pressure sores from being forced to lie on a tile floor day and night for years on end. I remember being a little kid, probably around Yonatan's age, when I had a bike accident and my face got smashed in. While the injuries to my face were severe and traumatic, it was the minuscule cuts on my hand that hurt the most. These little cuts and scrapes felt like a thousand bee stings and somehow overshadowed the pain of my facial injuries. This makes me think that the open sores on Yonatan's body that seared with pain with every breath he took and every move he made, overshadowed the pain accompanying the decay of his organs and bones. Was Yonatan trying too scream out in agony from the wounds on his flesh but his failing innards prevented his being able to muster the energy to cry out? These are the thoughts that wake me in the middle of the night.

ECHO PARK IN THE CITY OF ANGELS

Yonatan died in Echo Park, and I hope his stifled screams echo through the souls of his mother and brother for all eternity. Echo Park is in Los Angeles, the city of Angels as they call it. I try to comfort myself with the thought that maybe Yonatan was comforted by an angel in his most dire and frightening moments. Again, magical thinking intercedes when my mind and heart cannot bear to face such monstrous inhumanity. The affliction rears its head again in me, Yonatan's tormenters still roam the earth, maybe I could be his avenging angel? Then I realize I cannot let the affliction take hold of me and spread to those that I love. I do not want to become the monster that devoured innocent Yonatan in order to slay the monster that devoured innocent Yonatan. This is the struggle that goes on in my heart…the battle to make sense of a world that makes no sense.

If you believe in God, then Yonatan Daniel Aguilar's death can be seen as an act of mercy where that little boy was released from the torture chamber of that closet, the prison of his broken, bruised and emaciated body, and the living hell that was this life into the warm, eternal embrace of God's healing love.

If you don't believe in God, Yonatan Daniel Aguilar's long, short life is powerful evidence in support of your atheist thesis. I am trying very hard to embrace the former vision, but in the face of Yonatan Daniel Aguilar's tortuous, love and affection-less life and lonely death, I feel myself being pulled, maybe irrevocably, toward the latter.

THANKSGIVING

There has been a lot of chatter about how this will be a difficult Thanksgiving for people as they will have to share their dinner table with people who think politically different than they do. No doubt politics at the holiday table will increase what for some is an already tense situation. But this year, as difficult as it may seem, when you are feeling your most uncomfortable and most stressed, try and think of Yonatan Daniel Aguilar. Try and remember that you have a belly full of warm food while he died starving. Try to remember that, if need be, you can get up and leave all those people at that dining room table, while Yonatan was imprisoned and alone. And remember that while these people whose political beliefs you so abhor may be the bane of your existence, at least you can feel their arms around you if you can muster the courage to hug them goodbye, unlike Yonatan who not only starved for food but for human touch and affection. Thanksgiving can be a trying time, but maybe if you can keep little Yonatan in the back of your mind, when things get bad for you, you will be able to recognize that they aren't as bad as they seem.

Little Yonatan was forgotten by everyone, his mother, father, brother and siblings, his teachers, social workers, cops, lawyers and judges. Yonatan died for their sins of selfishness, sloth and gullibility. He also died so that we could finally see him and those children like him still out in the world and still at risk. Please don't let Yonatan or his sacrifice be forgotten. If you could please donate in his name to one or both of these programs that work to protect children just like Yonatan. Even a donation of just $5 or $10 in his name would be enough to make sure the world never forgets the suffering of Yonatan Daniel Aguilar. Thank you for reading and have a Happy Thanksgiving.

ADVOKIDS 

https://www.classy.org/checkout/donation?eid=92634

Advokids was founded in 1993 by three San Francisco Bay Area child welfare attorneys and a child psychologist. They responded to the alarming number of children entering foster care, experiencing multiple placements, and lingering in temporary care, often for several years.

The founders brought their legal, psychological, and social work training and experience to Advokids. Their experience taught them that the early years of a child’s life set the stage for all that follows and hold the greatest danger for long-term damage and the greatest potential for successful intervention.

California had already adopted progressive laws requiring the courts to pay special attention to the permanency needs of children in foster care, but the laws were poorly implemented. Using the legislative mandates and the strong childhood mental health data that supported every child’s need for timely permanence, the co-founders set out to hold the foster care system accountable. They launched a free telephone hotline, created a legal educational website, and began conducting regular legal trainings for attorneys and child welfare professionals.

Since Advokids was founded, there has been an explosion of research on early childhood development. Current neuroscience research has confirmed the devastating effects that instability and placement disruptions have on the brain development of children. Advokids’ hotline, website, and legal trainings equip child advocates with the legal and scientific principles that they need so that they can more effectively advocate for the well-being of the child and encourage persistent judicial focus on every foster child’s need for safety, emotional security, and developmental health.

 

UCLA TIES FOR FAMILIES

https://www.uclahealth.org/mattel/ties-for-families/donate-to-ties-1019

UCLA TIES (Training, Intervention, Education and Services) for Families is an interdisciplinary program dedicated to optimizing the growth and development of foster/adoptive children from birth to age 21, and their families.

TIES for Families (formerly TIES for Adoption) was founded in 1995 by Sue Edelstein, LCSW, as a model demonstration project to support the successful adoption, growth, and development of foster/adoptive children. The program employs an innovative model of intervention to reduce barriers to the adoption of these children and support their successful transition into permanent homes with stable, nurturing families.

A key feature of the TIES for Families program is that services are offered as children are transitioned from foster care into adoptive homes, a vulnerable period for families that presents opportunities to promote attachment and prevent problems from escalating. The program works in close collaboration with the public child welfare and mental health systems.

Services are available free of charge in English and Spanish to foster/adoptive families of children who are placed and referred by the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services. TIES offers an innovative intervention model involving a nine hour program of preparation for foster/adoptive parents, assessment of individual children’s development, and pre-placement consultation with prospective adoptive parents by a multi-disciplinary team regarding the child’s mental health, medical, and educational needs. There is a comprehensive array of intervention services available to children and families, including adoption counseling for new families in transition, individual and family therapy, home-visiting, psychological testing, monthly parental and child support groups, skills training, infant mental health, mentoring for youth and parents, in-home and in-school therapeutic behavioral services, and educational, occupational, and speech and language consultation.

TIES for Families provides training at the local, state, and national level on the adoption of children with special needs and on the lessons learned from this innovative model of intervention. Training is offered to prospective and current adoptive parents, child social workers in public welfare, and professionals in the legal and mental health systems. Longitudinal research is being conducted on the effectiveness of the project and the developmental outcome of the children and their families.

©2016

Dr. Strange : A Review

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

My Rating : 2 out of 5 Stars

My Recommendation : Skip it in the theatre. See it on Cable or Netflix. If you are a superhero lover, you'll see the film anyway, so my recommendation is meaningless.

Dr. Strange, starring Benedict Cumberbatch in the title role, is the story of a genius, hot shot neuro-surgeon who falls on hard times after an accident and searches the world for a way to heal himself. Through a fortuitous path, the good Doctor finds himself in Kathmandu studying the mystical arts and being thrown into the world of superheroes, magic, multi-dimensions and the esoteric. 

Dr. Strange is the fourteenth film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, that is the one inhabited by Iron Man, Thor, Captian America, Hulk, Spider-man and The Avengers to name but a few. The film is directed and co-written by Scott Derrickson. It boasts an impressive cast of supporting actors including Rachel McAdams, Tilda Swinton, Mads Mikkelson, Chiwetel Ejiofor and Michael Stuhlberg.

I admittedly knew very little about the comic book character Dr. Strange before seeing the film. Marvel, and their parent company Disney, are well aware that Dr. Strange is a second level type of superhero. He isn't on par with his more famous compatriots like Spider-man, Hulk, Captain America or Iron Man. So the studio wisely uses this film to roll out not only a "new" property in their cinematic universe, but in doing so they also prepare the audience for multiple and changing versions of the cinematic universe they have already created. What I mean by that is Dr. Strange is not just a superhero, he is a mystical hero, who is part of a group that can cross over into other dimensions, mess with time, and generally warp all that we think we know for sure. It is a very savvy move for Marvel/Disney to roll Dr. Strange out now as it allows them to have a new money-making franchise and also gives them the flexibility to change and alter the current direction of Marvel films by giving themselves the ability to "change universes" through Dr. Strange's multi-dimensial time-line jumping. So they can make a film where Captain America is evil or the Hulk kills Spider-man, and then have Dr. Strange come along and either turn back time or jump to another universe in the multi-verse…pretty savvy.

Disney is on fire right now in terms of the moves they have made in recent years. In 2010 the studio bought Marvel comics and their cavalcade of superheroes, the only notable exception being the X-Men who are stuck over at the creative hell known as Fox. The purchasing price was 4 billion dollars which, sadly, was just out of my price range. That is a lot of money for any studio to invest, but the move has already paid for itself with multiple successful franchise films and spinoffs in the time since the purchase. Disney has pumped out twelve Marvel based films in the last six years, with many more to come. These twelve films have made in excess of 9 billion dollars. Add to that the shrewd move to purchase the Star Wars franchise from George Lucas for another 4 billion, which has already paid off handsomely as the first Star Wars film they made, The Force Awakens, made 2 billion worldwide last year. And that evil mastermind Mickey Mouse plans to release new Star Wars films every year for the next few years ensuring another huge payday for the studio. In other words, Disney earnings are going to be very healthy for the foreseeable future.

So why am I talking all this inside baseball about movie studios and franchises and box office? Well, Dr. Strange is both an example of why that strategy by the studio is good for business and simultaneously bad for movies. Dr. Strange is not a terrible movie comparatively speaking, not at all, but it also isn't a great one. But it could have been a hell of a lot better than it was in the hands of a more daring and confident director. But daring and confident directors are not going to get a chance to mess with the Mickey Mouse Marvel Money Machine. Instead the Marvel films are all going to be formulaic, rather predictable, self-consciously cutesy, and cinematically somewhat lacking, just like Dr. Strange

On the other hand, if a powerhouse like Disney didn't own the rights to Dr. Strange, and they hadn't been so successful with the other Marvel franchise films, this character would never see the light of day, and Dr. Strange is a truly great character worthy of a film. The great disappointment is that the film Dr. Strange never lives up to the compelling intrigue that its main character brings to the show.

Like many Marvel films, Dr. Strange is two-thirds of a good-enough movie, but loses its way in the final third of the film. And like most of the Marvel films, Dr. Strange lacks an exceptional villain that can compete with its main character. Yes, there are villains in the movie, one played by one of my favorite actors, Mads Mikkelson, but that character is never fully fleshed out or given much to do in a rather shallow script. The other villain is an enormous evil entity that is visually unremarkable in every way, thus undercutting the power he may possess for viewers.

The first two thirds of the film are pretty interesting because the character of Dr, Strange is a fascinating one, and also because Benedict Cumberbatch is an actor with an imperative charm to him. Cumberbatch has a weird magnetism to him that draws viewers in to his private world even as he keeps them an arms length away. Cumberbatch's work in Dr. Strange is all the more impressive because it is a star turn that requires great charisma and appeal to be able to pull off, and I didn't think he had the goods to be able to do it, but he does. 

The rest of the cast do fine enough work in underwritten and underwhelming roles. Chiwetel Ojiofor is a terrific actor but is terribly under used as Karl Mordo. Tilda Swinton does a good job as The Ancient One. Swinton is always an interesting actor and her solid work here is a tribute to her talent as it is much more complex and nuanced a performance than the script gives to her. The rest of the cast, Mikkelson as Kaecillius, Rachel McAdams as Christine Palmer and Michael Stuhlberg as Nicodemus West all do the best they can with the very little they are given.

Visually the film has some interesting sequences where we get to see the multi-verse and things of that nature, but all in all it is a rather stale bit of filmmaking. There are sequences that are reminiscent of Christopher Nolan's film Inception, which do Dr. Strange no favors because Scott Derrickson is certainly no Christopher Nolan, not in any way.

All that said, I did enjoy the film even though in total it is pretty sub-par. I think the reason I enjoyed it was that the character is so interesting, and that Cumberbatch does such a good job bringing him to life. I think another reason I enjoyed it was that I had very low expectations and was glad to just sit and turn off my brain after all the hullaballoo about the election. I have been very critical of the Marvel films of the past as they struck me as just the worst sort of mindless noise meant to separate idiots from their money…idiots like me. I think what has happened to me is that having sat through so many Marvel films, my brain has been softened to mush and I am now more pliable to the wishes of the evil wizard Mouse pulling all the strings back at Disney headquarters. Whatever the reason, I "enjoyed" Dr. Strange on a certain level, and while I wouldn't watch the film again, I will go out and read some of the comic books to learn more about the character. So that in and of itself says something positive about the film.

In conclusion, if you love super hero movies, you will see this film no matter what I say. If you are lukewarm on super hero films, you can skip this one and maybe catch it on cable or Netflix for free and at your leisure. I found Dr. Strange to be a fascinating character in a rather tepid film. I think you will feel the same way, which is why I recommend you skip seeing it in the theatre, and go read some Dr. Strange comics instead.

©2016

Hacksaw Ridge : A Review

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

ESTIMATED READING TIME: 5 Minutes 27 Seconds

My Rating : 1.35 out of 5 stars.

My Recommendation : Skip it.

Hacksaw Ridge is the story of Desmond Doss, a religious conscientious objector in world war two who enlisted in the army and became a medic. Doss served in the Pacific theatre and earned the Medal of Honor for saving scores of his wounded comrades at the battle of Okinawa. The film, directed by Academy Award winner Mel Gibson, stars Andrew Garfield as Doss, with supporting turns by Hugo Weaving, Rachel Griffiths, Teresa Palmer, Sam Worthington, Luke Bracey and Vince Vaughn.

Let's cut to the chase, shall we. The story of Desmond Doss is a fantastic story. Hacksaw Ridge is a bad film. I went to the theatre with high expectations for this movie, as the trailer and the background on Doss' story were pretty great. Sadly, Mel Gibson and his cast drop the ball in such a tremendous way that it is stunning how awful this film really is.

The problems with Hacksaw Ridge are numerous, so let's start at the beginning. The casting of this film is flawed right off the bat. The film is a joint Australian/American production, but the cast is almost entirely made up of either Australian or British actors. Aussie and British actors are a fine lot, of that there is certain no doubt, but when you cast them in the role of Americans the cracks start to show. Hugo Weaving is a great example. Weaving is a terrific Aussie actor, but in his role as Doss' father, he stumbles and staggers through the accent and the action like a newbie at the local community theatre. Weaving has one critical monologue and in it his accent goes in and out so often you think you are watching an exorcism. Sam Worthington is another glaring example of the lack of his acting dexterity. Worthington blusters and poses his way through his role and does little more than mimic what he thinks an American accent sounds like. Obviously his ear is as bad as his acting. The accents and language of the foreign actors playing Americans feels so stilted they cause the performances of the cast to ring false throughout. Were there no American actors available for these roles?

The star of the film is Andrew Garfield, a fine British actor. Unlike his cast mates Garfield handles his American/Virginia accent well enough, but he too struggles to be believable in the film. Garfield has the right energy and physique to play Doss, a sort of slight and delicate man, but there are times when I literally though Garfield's Doss seemed mentally handicapped. Garfield made Doss into a dopey, doe-eyed simpleton. I don't know if Garfield did this intentionally or if it is just a habit of his, but he lets his tongue stick out a little bit of his mouth when he is trying to be sincere. It looks like a deformity where his tongue is too big for his mouth. And especially when he has lovey-dovey stars in his eyes with his tongue sticking out, he actually looks mentally disabled. It is bizarre to say the least.

I am not singling out Aussie and British actors alone for their sub-par work in Hacksaw Ridge, as the biggest casting error is unquestionably putting Vince Vaughn in the role of the Sgt. Howell. Vaughn is so mis-cast, and so dreadful in the role that it physically hurt me to watch. I like Vince Vaughn a lot, he is a very talented guy, but he is just so awful as Howell that it beggars belief. Vaughn's biggest problem is that he lacks any sort of gravitas, menace, toughness or vocal prowess to be able to handle what should have been the easiest role to cast.  Vaughn also has a minor speech flaw where he swallows his "L's" which makes it difficult for him to project his voice with power. So vocally he is not grounded and instead gets his voice stuck up in his throat and upper chest cavity. This is why he has no gravitas to him in this role which desperately needed it. In comparison think of Lee Ermey in Kubrick's Vietnam masterpiece Full Metal Jacket. Ermey doesn't have to strain his voice to be domineering as his voice is grounded and resonates from deep in his belly (or, more specifically, his balls, if you want to get all Drill Sergeant about it).

The rest of the cast are all the usual war film stereotypes that we have seen a thousand times before. The scene where we are introduced to Doss' squad could have been taken from over a hundred other films about the same war or any other war for that matter.  There's the tough guy, the good looking guy, the funny, guy, the dopey guy…you name it. Central casting got a workout filling all of these one dimensional roles. Which leads us to another major issue with Hacksaw Ridge…the script.

As I previously mentioned, Desmond Doss' story is a remarkable and fascinating one. The problem with Hacksaw Ridge is that it sticks Doss' story into the conventional Hollywood War movie cliche machine and mangles it beyond recognition and strips it of all its value. The reason Doss is a conscientious objector is because of his faith. This should have been a film about a man and his faith and his unwavering commitment to that faith. Instead Gibson, no stranger to stories about faith, spends the first half of the film never even mentioning Doss' religious affiliation (Seventh Day Adventist) except in passing and instead makes the film a love story. This love story, in addition to being standard, boring filmmaking fare, ends up being a distraction to Doss' actual story, not the focus of it. In fact the love story basically vanishes in the second half of the film when Doss finds himself in the meat grinder that is Okinawa. 

There are references to Doss' religion in the second half of the film, in fact, his religion becomes paramount to understanding why he is doing what he is doing, but since that element of the story hasn't been properly established it lacks any impact on the viewer. It was shocking to me that Mel Gibson, the guy who made half a billion dollars telling the story for The Passion of the Christ, downplayed the religion of his main character, especially when it was so vital to the motivation of that character and the driving force of the entire story.

I was stunned as to how poorly this film was directed, written and acted. The first half of the film is so melodramatic and predictable that it was like watching a tele-novella on Spanish language tv…of course with actors who speak Spanish as a second or third language, instead of native speakers. The second half of the film when the film goes to war, is so unoriginal and cliche-ridden it felt like someone had spliced together second rate scenes from the cutting room floor of every war film made in the last 75 years. There are also flashbacks which do nothing to propel the story further or give any insight into Doss' character or beliefs. 

Visually the film is as flat and stale as the storytelling and acting. While the battle scenes have a certain intensity to them, it feels like you are watching someone else play a world war two video game over and over and over again. The fog of war and disarray of battle, mixed with a lack of a clear and specific geography, makes for battle scenes that are a more confusing experience than an exciting one. And Gibson's penchant for swelling music to trigger drama in his film and emotion in his audience, does little to lift the action, but rather makes it all feel manipulative and false.

Mel Gibson is well known for his embrace of violence in his films, and Hacksaw Ridge is no exception to that. There is a lot of human destruction and blood and guts in Hacksaw Ridge but because we have no genuine connection with any of the characters that carnage comes across as gratuitous. I certainly have no issue with extreme violence in a film, that is for sure, but in Hacksaw Ridge the violence is so cinematically dull and visually conventional that the it all rings as hollow as the rest of the film. 

I have never been a fan of Mel Gibson as an actor or as a filmmaker. My feelings about Gibson have nothing to do with his troubles a few years back where he got into all sorts of trouble for his personal life and beliefs. I am not judging the artist or his work on the struggles he has had as a man. Personally, I think The Passion of the Christ was very well done and is easily his best film as a director, but the rest of his directing, and acting work for that matter, always has a certain narcissistic, mawkish sensibility to them. As a first generation Scotsman and Irishman, I found his Academy Award winning film Braveheart to be mindless Hollywood shit and a prime example of the previously mentioned narcissistic mawkishness. Hacksaw Ridge is nowhere near the film Braveheart was, but like its Scottish counterpart, Hacksaw Ridge is also very poorly served by Mel Gibson's saccharine vision and maudlin instincts. 

In conclusion, my recommendation is to skip Hacksaw Ridge altogether. It certainly isn't worth seeing in the theatre, that is for damn sure. If you really want to see it then I tell you to wait to see it for free on cable of Netflix. It is a shame that a man like Desmond Doss, the type of man we need more of today, wasn't given a better platform from which to spread the word of his heroism and his commitment to his faith. Desmond Doss deserved much better than the dramatically cluttered, conventional and one dimensional film that Mel Gibson has made about him. I went into Hacksaw Ridge filled with anticipation, I left the film profoundly disappointed.

©2016

Election 2016 Post-Mortem : Crossing the Rubicon and Chickens Coming Home to Roost

ESTIMATED READING TIME : 9 MINUTES 11 SECONDS

I TOLD YOU SO

On the night of Tuesday, November 8th, I watched the 2016 U.S. presidential election unfold before me just as I predicted it would. I sat bemused flipping from one cable news channel to the next and heard all of the talking heads spouting out as if they suffered from Tourette's Syndrome, "no one saw this coming!" over and over. On MSNBC an apoplectic Chris Matthews incredulously asked his sullen panel of insiders, "did anyone see this coming?" I sat on my couch and raised my hand because unlike the collection of mopes at 30 Rock, I did see it coming. Mr. Matthews didn't see me raising my hand because, sadly for me since it would be fun to show these talking empty heads how I really feel about them, my tv isn't a two-way watching device, but he, and the rest of the political and media establishment, didn't see me and my election forecast because they couldn't be bothered to look. Regular people like me are invisible to the establishment. The political/media establishment myopia caused them to fail to heed my prescient warning, in addition it also caused them to failed to see all the "white working class" people who voted for Trump in Michigan, Wisconsin, Ohio and Pennsylvania, because like Narcissus, they were too busy being enamored with their own perceived brilliance reflected back to them in the pool of their own group think.

As I explained in my pre-election post, the warning signs of a Trump victory were all there flashing in neon, if people only had the will and vision to see them. The most obvious was Brexit…but there were more recent ones as well…the Pirate Party victory in Iceland, Duterte in the Philippines, hell…even the "Bundy ranchers" being acquitted in their recent trial in Oregon. The anti-establishment sentiments are just in the air right now, as I explained in my earlier post when I spoke of historical waves, and Trump floated to victory upon this one. But the political and media establishment were blind to the reality staring them in the face. I saw it, so why didn't they? George Orwell once said, "to see what is in front of one's nose needs a constant struggle." You're damn right, George!! It is even more difficult to see what is right in front of your nose when your livelihood depends on you not seeing it, hence no one working in the main stream media will ever go against the agreed upon group think orthodoxy, whatever that may be, whether it is the lead up to the Iraq War, the housing bubble, or Trumpism.

Not only is that the case in the media but also in the political class of America. No one in the establishment pundit/political class actually thinks for themselves, they only regurgitate the tired old talking points that keep discourse and debate confined in a very narrow ideological space. This makes me think of the late Tim Russert of NBC who when asked how he missed the glaring faults and lies in the Bush administrations case for the Iraq War said in effect he 'wished someone with information suggesting the nuclear claims were false would have picked up the phone and called him.' Mr. Russert wouldn't have taken my call back during the Iraq War debate, just like the rest of NBC news wouldn't take my calls in the lead up to Tuesdays election. And so the election of Donald Trump becomes the political equivalent of the Iraq War, a debacle for establishment institutions, the media in particular, that are incapable of thinking critically and avoiding the infection of group think.  And just like when the establishment was wrong about the Iraq war, no one who was wrong, be they in the media or in political life, will lose their job or their standing for their lack of insight and intelligence. Interestingly enough, as an outsider, I was able to see the reality of both the 2016 election and the Iraq war (not to mention the housing bubble…or Chris Kyle for that matter) better than anyone working in the establishment. And yet, I think it wise for me to not hold my breath waiting for their phone call.

POLITICAL MALPRACTICE

The Democrats got their asses handed to them on Tuesday night, and rightfully so. The party in general, and Hillary Clinton's campaign in particular, committed some of the most egregious acts of political malpractice in recent memory. Clinton's campaign was such an exercise in tone-deafness it was like a Britney Spears show without the auto-tune on.

Here are a few examples of their political malpractice…the first is the slogan "Love Trumps Hate". This is the most moronic and self-defeating slogan imaginable. Think about what that slogan says…"Love Trumps Hate". You can read it the way they intended which means that your "Love", love being a noun, will "Trumps", Trumps being a verb meaning overcomes, "Hate", Hate meaning the "hate" Donald Trump embodied. It can also be read another way, the way that we as a culture have been conditioned by years of advertising to read it… namely that we should "Love Trump's Hate"…in other words the campaign slogan is not so subliminally telling people to "Love", love being a verb, "Trump's", meaning the candidate Trump's, "Hate", meaning the hate that Trump is spewing. That slogan is literally telling us to love Hillary Clinton's opponent and his hate. And yes, I know there is an "S" in the Hillary poster and an "apostrophe S" is needed to make my point. In response to that I ask you to do a little exercise to make my point…stand up and shout "Love Trumps Hate" and then shout "Love Trump's Hate". Could you hear the apostrophe? 

How they could not see this is beyond me. Any dope with half a brain in their heads could see this…but not the Clinton campaign. We are a consumerist culture, we are conditioned to be told what to do by advertising, not what to think, hence lawn signs that say "Vote Obama" or billboards that say "Drink Coke". We are conditioned to be the passive consumer who is being told what to do by advertising. "Just Do It", "Think Different", you get the idea, these are advertisements that assume our passivity and encourage us to ACT. The Clinton campaign ignored this fact of our conditioning and put out a slogan that in essence was endorsing their opponent, Trump, and undermining the argument they made to people about why they shouldn't vote for him, because of his "Hate". What an incredible level of blindness and lack of self-awareness on the part of the campaign. In addition, the slogan "Love Trumps Hate" has their opponents name in it and not their own candidates name. This is like Pepsi having the slogan "don't DRINK COKE!!" 

Another thing Hillary did that was shocking to me as well and I think also rises to political malpractice, is that she refused to acknowledge the suffering of regular Americans. What do I mean by that? Well, whenever Trump would say he would "Make America Great Again", Clinton would respond by saying "America IS great!!". Well, there are millions of people suffering and feeling left out and disaffected in this country, and when you say "America IS great" it comes across as "Everything is fine!!" Everything isn't fine. This "America IS great" approach was shocking to me not only for its tone deafness but also because it was the same trap George HW Bush fell into when it was set in the 1992 election by Mrs. Clinton's husband Bill. Back in '92 Bill Clinton would talk about what was wrong with America and how people were suffering, "I feel your pain", and Bush countered with some Reagan-esque optimism in the form of "America Is Great!!", which fell flat for a nation that was stuck in neutral at the time. It is amazing to me that in 2016 the Clintons did not see the error of their ways considering they had so masterfully used this bit of political jiu jitsu to get into the White House in the first place back in 1992.

One final piece of political malpractice on behalf of the democrats was the act of nominating Hillary Clinton in the first place. As I said in my pre-election piece, Bernie Sanders would've beaten Trump silly. Trump defeated Hillary by outflanking her to the left on economic issues with an old school populist democratic economic message. Bernie would've cut him off at the pass. All those working class whites in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Wisconsin and Michigan who voted for Obama twice, would've voted for Bernie because he speaks their language. Clinton is a center right corporatist and her efforts to connect with working people rang hollow after a career of kissing Wall Street behinds and allowing unfettered free trade to decimate the manufacturing base in America.

A closer look at the democratic primary, and the Wikileaks emails, shows that the primary was essentially rigged for Clinton, it just was. If the Democrats had allowed the truly open primary election that the Republicans did, Bernie would've won, and then he would've gone on to trounce Trump. Bernie brought with him working class legitimacy and grass roots enthusiasm. Clinton brought with her working class skepticism and a dull sense of the inevitable, which ended up being not-so-inevitable. 

Both the democratic party and the Clinton campaign were mismanaged to such an outstanding degree it is amazing to think that there were professionals running the show. But then you think about the nepotism and corruption that has infected American politics and it becomes much more easy to imagine how all of this malpractice could have happened. 

RACE AND THE RACE

I have a simple observation when it comes to race relations in America…Once something becomes about race, it stops being about anything else. The establishment in America wants there to be ethnic and racial strife and distrust. The establishment knows that if things stop being about race and start being about class, then they are in very serious trouble. Race warfare strengthens the status quo whereas class warfare is an existential threat to the establishment. For example, Malcolm X was a lightning rod in the civil rights struggle for Blacks in the early sixties, but when he expanded his horizons beyond just race and recognized the importance of class in his struggle, he was assassinated.  The same can be said of Martin Luther King, who was very successful in the struggle for civil rights for Black Americans, but when his message went from being about race to being about economics, class and war, he too was assassinated. The Black Panthers were a group of Black activists who crossed racial lines and understood they were in a class struggle as opposed to simply a racial one. Their free breakfast program was open to under privileged children of all races, and FBI director J. Edgar Hoover called it the greatest threat to the internal security of the United States of America. Not surprisingly, The Black Panthers were systemically assassinated or imprisoned. 

If you make things about race you play into the hands of those that wish to and do oppress you. So when people say Black Lives Matter in relation to police brutality, they immediately lose potential allies in the White, Latino, Asian and other minority communities. Michael Brown was shot and killed in Missouri in 2014, on the same day an unarmed young White man, Dillon Taylor was shot in the back and killed by a Black cop in Utah. This was a tremendous opportunity to make the police brutality debate about government power and violence against the poor and working class, but instead it became about race. And once it became about race, that ensured that nothing would change. Look, I am not arguing that Blacks don't face very specific problems in regards to police violence, they do, but what I am saying is that when racial battle lines become drawn, potential allies are divided and thus a stalemate takes place where the status quo continues to reign supreme, just as the establishment likes it. 

Which brings us to the aftermath of the 2016 election. There have been many, if not most, democrats and liberals who have called Trump voters racist and have blamed Clinton's loss on racism. While there are certainly people in Trump's coalition who are blatantly racist, like the KKK for example, calling all Trump voters racist is not only factually incorrect though, it is extremely shortsighted, childish and counter productive. In addition, calling Trump voters racist is a short cut to thinking and intellectually lazy. In recent years liberals have fallen into the pattern of lazy debate when they simply label their opponents as racist. This tactic does nothing but shut down open discussion and stifle debate while antagonize potential allies. It is foolish beyond words. The "white working class" voters who went for Trump in Michigan, Wisconsin, Ohio and Pennsylvania this year actually voted for Obama in the two previous elections. Were they still racist in 2008 and 2012 when they voted for a Black man? And how do you think they feel when you call them stupid and racist because they voted for their perceived economic interests? They have suffered under the brilliance of the Clinton's free trade corporatism before, they would've been foolish to fall for it again. Instead they rolled the dice on Trump, which will probably not work out very well for them either, but in their eyes they have nothing to lose. Do you think these folks will be open to your arguments in the future after you've belittled and offended them by calling them stupid and racist just for voting in what they perceived to be their best economic interests?

The cry of "racism" post-election is just more proof of the emotionally driven "thinking" that permeates our politics. In my opinion, the racial divide in this election is a case of the chickens coming home to roost for the democrats. The party has made a point of using identity politics in order to gain an advantage with minority communities. They target Black and Latino voters and cater their message to them. Of course, the problem is, you can't use identity politics in regards to Black and Latino voters and then cry foul when White voters embrace identity as well. And while it is always amusing to hear some pundit tell me that in 2050 America will be a minority-majority country, I wonder if they don't own a calendar. It ain't 2050…its 2016…and it is easy to forget while living in an urban area, but white people aren't just the majority in America, they are the overwhelming majority in America. Which is why it is so egregiously foolish for the democrats to call White Trump voters racist now, as you may very well lose them for a generation, when the truth is you could easily sway them back to your side with a genuine populist message that cuts across all racial divides if you weren't insulting and offending them.

If democrats want to be successful in future elections they need to grow up and think rationally and not emotionally. So yes…there may certainly be "racist" people who voted for Trump, but that doesn't mean everyone who voted for him is racist. To democrats I will quote the great American philosopher Dr. Phil,  "do you want to be right or do you want to be happy?" And to working class people of all races I tell you that identity politics is a tool used by the establishment to separate people and make them weaker and more easily manipulated. They've been doing it forever and will continue to do so as long as you let them.

SPRINGSTEEN VOTERS

Speaking of those "white working class" voters from Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania, or as I call them, "Springsteen voters", who went for Trump this year but in years past have voted Obama, they have a pretty terrible track record when it comes to voting in their own interests. This year they went for Trump in order to try and get their manufacturing jobs back. If you look at their voting history, it is littered with bad decisions.  Let's take a quick look at their recent decisions and how awful they ended up being. 

1. In 1980 the "Reagan Democrats" were born when white working class union voters who usually went democrat voted for Reagan. They followed suit in 1984. Reagan even co-opted Bruce Spingsteen's "Born in the USA" to entice these folks, even though the song was actually about how white working class people were continually shit on in America…but no one noticed.  Reagan essentially broke the backs of unions in America when he fired all the striking air traffic controllers right after taking office. Private industry used his get tough model on their own workers and unions were devastated. But the reality of this time was that white working class voters were enticed and blinded to their own economic interests by a waving flag…not a good sign of a group's judgement.

2. in 1992 and again in 1996, Springsteen voters voted for Bill Clinton. The scales had fallen from their eyes after 12 years of Reaganomics so these folks rolled the dice on a slick southern boy who charmed them but good. Of course, Clinton then went on to govern as a corporatist from the center right and sold the North American free trade agreement to U.S. voters as a way to bolster trade and manufacturing in this country. Of course it had the exact opposite effect. NAFTA made the wealthy even wealthier, and made the working class even poorer. America hemorrhaged manufacturing jobs to third world nations that didn't have to worry about pesky workers rights or unions. Reagan broke union backs, but Clinton put the nail in their coffins with NAFTA.

3. After falling for "Slick Willie's" bullshit, Springsteen voters went for Bush in 2000. The thinking was, he was the type of guy you could have a beer with…which is ironic since Bush is a recovering alcoholic who doesn't drink beer….but lets not get caught up in details. Springsteen voters were in for a double whammy with Bush, he not only continued Reagan and Clinton's economic holocaust upon them, he added a meat-grinder of a war in the Middle East for good effect. It was Springsteen voters and their sons and daughters who, whether out of economic necessity or patriotism or both, went and fought and died and were physically and emotionally maimed over in the sands of Mesopotamia. And when those men and women came home from war they were met by communities that had been ravaged by twenty years of economic war and neglect. At the end of Bush's two terms he gave them a parting gift of the economic collapse of 2007 and 2008. So, whatever savings Springsteen voters could scrape together was lost and they were in great peril of losing their homes. Their neighborhoods went from decaying to being ghost towns.

4. In 2008 and 2012, after the disillusionment of the Bush years, Springsteen voters elected Obama. Springsteen voters bought into Obama's campaign message of "Hope and Change". After 8 years of Obama, these Springsteen voters are left with little hope after getting no change. Obama had the chance to change things, especially after the collapse of 2008, but instead he went center right and back to business as usual.  From day one he staffed his administration with the same people who had allowed the collapse of 2008 to happen under their watch and guidance. Instead of bailing out ordinary Americans, Obama bailed out the corporate class. Springsteen voters were left behind again, with no hope in sight. As a parting gift Obama came up with a new free trade agreement, the TPP…which Trump has vowed to demolish.

5. Which brings us to The Donald. Springsteen voters went for Donald Trump because he wasn't Hillary Clinton. Springsteen voters had seen the Clinton movie before and didn't like how it turned out. So they rolled the dice on Trump. No doubt Trump will fuck them six ways to Sunday, but these Springsteen voters are nothing if not persistent, and they will probably re-elect him in four years. Part of that has to do with "not changing horses mid-stream" and part of it has to do with being belittled and called racist by democrats. Trump will be a disaster for Springsteen voters, but in their eyes, at least he will be a new disaster.

In regard to Springsteen voters I keep hearing lots of pundits tell me that those manufacturing jobs that Springsteen voters have lost are "not coming back". That may very well be true…but you know what else isn't coming back? Trust in the institutions of American life. Which brings us to...

THE INFRASTRUCTURE OF TYRANNY

A lot of people are very afraid of a Trump administration. They fear that he is an unstable and vengeful man who can't be trusted with the ultimate power that presides in the presidency. Those fears are very legitimate, but the people to blame for the situation are not Trump voters who got conned by a con-man, but rather establishment Republicans and Democrats who spent the last 16 years building the infrastructure for tyranny which a demagogue could now exploit. It was establishment Republicans and Democrats who dismantled the constitutional restrictions placed upon the executive by our founders and instead turned to putting their faith in the men who hold the office. Our nation was built on laws, not on faith in men in power.

What do I mean by that? Well, it was the imperial presidency of George W. Bush that expanded the powers of the executive office far beyond what had been previously acceptable. Bush put in place the policies of preemptive war, torture and mass secret surveillance. Establishment Republicans and Democrats did nothing to stop him, in fact, they emboldened him. In regards to surveillance, when it came out that he was breaking the law, they simply voted to make it legal. And as for pre-emptive war, it was Republicans AND Democrats who voted in support of the war in Iraq.

Things only got worse when Obama came into office as he expanded secret surveillance and added to it drone strikes that killed American citizens without any due process. They even killed the 16 year old son of an alleged American terrorist, and their explanation was that "he should have had a more responsible father." Chilling. And no one, not the Republicans or the Democrats did anything to reign in the Obama administration and its expansionist view of presidential powers

So even before Donald Trump ever sets foot in the oval office, our nation has "normalized" the policies of preemptive war, torture, warrantless wiretapping, intrusive surveillance, extra-judicial killings of American citizens and maintaining a kill list of Americans. Think about that for a second. Now think about giving all of those expansive powers to Donald Trump. Donald Trump will now have those powers and will have no oversight, because Congress has abdicated its oversight responsibilities. The checks and balances of our government have been neutered and we are left with the imperial presidency, more emperor than president, who can kill, torture, spy and wage war without any obstruction from other branches of government. If you are a Democrat who is afraid of Trump's presidential power, guess who you have to protect you? The highest ranking democrat in America is Senator Chuck Schumer of New York. Feel better? I didn't think so. Schumer is as loathsome a creature as you'll find in politics and he will do nothing to curb Trump's imperial urges.  Remember brave Chuck Schumer is the guy who voted to abolish Glass-Steagall, voted for the Patriot Act and the Iraq War and supports uninhibited surveillance and torture. I am sure Senator Schumer will be a stalwart for freedom and the working man during the Trump presidency, just like he has been during his lifetime as a politician. 

And it isn't just the establishment Republicans and Democrats in government who are to blame, it is media establishment as well. The trust in the media has evaporated just as it has for congress, and rightfully so. The New York Times, the paper of record in America, which is an alleged liberal bastion, is the same outlet that was used as a propaganda mouthpiece for the invasion of Iraq. It is the same media outlet that when they discovered the Bush administration was illegally surveilling Americans, they held the story for over a year so as to not seem to be taking sides in an election. This is the same newspaper that refused to use the word "torture", and instead decided to torture the english language and logic by using the term preferred by the Bush administration, "enhanced interrogation". 

Of course, the Times wasn't alone, every other major media outlet was right with them being in step with the imperial presidency of Bush. And when Obama came into office, little if anything changed. Whether it be the Washington Post, NBC, Fox or CNN, the media has been nothing but lapdogs to power for the last 16 years. So it is doubtful they will be very effective, or believable when they dare to question Trump for exercising the same expansive executive powers that Bush and Obama used. And most importantly, they have lost all credibility in the eyes of the public because of their egregious behavior for the last 16 years.

Whether it be politicians, or the media or any other wing of the establishment, they have all lost their credibility. The Iraq War was the turning point for the establishment as it was so spectacularly wrong on all counts regarding the conflict. They were wrong about the reason for the war and the execution for the war. The establishment was eviscerated by its own arrogant, myopic group think. If we lived in a more just society, there would have been a lot of people in the establishment committing seppuku after Iraq. But we don't live in a just society, and these clowns are still roaming the halls of power and influence.

Speaking of justice, one of the most egregious forms of neglect that will have enabled Donald Trump in his power, was the failure of the Obama administration to hold the Bush administration accountable for war crimes. Obama wanted to "move on" and "look forward", but what he ended up doing was becoming an accomplice after the fact and enabling future presidents, maybe even Donald Trump, to commit even more heinous acts that the Bush administration did. Obama allowed Bush to be above the law, just like Ford did with Nixon. The pardon of Nixon by Ford is seen by many as being a way for the country to heal and move forward, but it was the exact opposite. The wound America suffered under Nixon was never healed because he was never held to account for his crimes. There can be no healing without forgiveness, and no forgiveness without repentance, and no repentance without justice. The power of truth, transparency and justice are disinfectants against tyranny. America's Nixon wound never healed but only festered, and the infection grew and spread through the Reagan and Bush 43 administrations in particular because many of the people who worked for Nixon also worked for Reagan and again for Bush 43. Cheney and Rumsfeld, two war criminals, learned their craft in the Nixon administration. They honed their trade during the Reagan/Bush years and became masters during the Bush 43 years. Obama may have had new faces in his administration, but the Nixon infection spread to them as well as they fully embraced the expansive executive powers that were conjured by Nixon's, Reagan's and Bush's minions. And now Donald Trump walks into the White house with the infrastructure of tyranny already in place for him. Republicans and Democrats who bemoan this fact have no one to blame but themselves. 

NOSTRADAMUS READS THE TEA LEAVES

I think Donald Trump will be a terrible president because he is a terrible person, and a terrible business man. But I also think Hillary Clinton would've been a terrible president.  No matter who got elected, according to my historical wave formula that correctly predicted the election results (not to mention the financial crisis of 2008), we in America are in for a very difficult stretch. What I think we have in store for us in the next four years is going to be very, very bad. According to my calculations, I think we are going to have a large economic earthquake at some point in the next two years that will be just as devastating as the 2008 collapse. I also think that we will have a major terror attack at some time over the next four years that will be as catastrophic as 9-11 in effect if not scale. I do not think Donald Trump is well equipped to deal with either of those impending calamities. I do think he will be re-elected in part though, because of them, as counter-intuitive as that may seem. 

Trump will become a war time president and all of his bombastic and bellicose instincts will be called to the forefront. And as "tough" as he will try to appear to our external enemies, he will actually be much tougher on what he perceives as his internal enemies. When Trump's vengeance is unleashed, his political opposition will face a scorched earth campaign against them that is unimaginable. This will only become even more heightened when any attempts to reign him in, impeach him or, God forbid, assassinate him takes place. I want to be really clear here so I don't get a knock on my door from the secret service, I am not calling for anyone to try and harm Donald Trump at all. My fear and my thought is, that someone may very well try to harm him and that someone could be a lone nut, a jihadi terrorist or an agent of the "deep state" who is defending deeply entrenched interests. These are dangerous and erratic times we live in, and when that danger becomes personal to Trump, whether it be from a foreign or domestic enemy, he will be at his most lethal. And when that happens the downward spiral of America will increase at a rate dramatically faster than its already solid and steady pace.

And to be clear I don't think that the coming economic collapse or terror attack is Trump's fault, I think that those events would happen regardless of who was in office. But what I do think is that Trump will react very poorly and destructively to these events, especially considering all of the constitutional constraints upon the presidency that have been removed over the last 16 years. And I think Trump's reaction to these and other world events will cause a further political and cultural splintering of America which will, eventually way on down the road, lead to an actual splintering of America…a Balkanization if you will. 

Ok…so now that is what I think will happen. Maybe I am wrong, I certainly hope I am wrong. But with that said, I think Trump's election is a crossing of the Rubicon for America. Caesar is on the throne and while business as usual may appear to go on for a while, things have changed irrevocably on a much deeper level. The American Empire is over, and Trump's election will hasten the crumbling of the world order with America on top. That isn't necessarily a bad thing, quite the opposite in the long run, but it will be a very dramatic and traumatic thing for Americans and people across the globe. Some empire's go quietly into that goodnight…and some don't. I don't think the American empire is going to go quietly at all. Buckle up…things are about to get even more interesting. We are down the rabbit hole here ladies and gentleman, expect the unexpected.

©2016

Election 2016 : Random Dispatches From the Shitshow

ESTIMATED READING TIME: 8 MINUTES 19 SECONDS

This election has broken my already diseased brain. So, instead of writing a coherent and intelligible article about it, I decided to go through my notes and write an incoherent and rambling post about it. I think these seemingly random ravings perfectly capture the madness that is the 2016 election. Enjoy!!

DISPATCH 666: MEET THE NEW BOSS, SAME AS THE OLD BOSS

On Tuesday, November 8th, 2016, the U.S. Presidential election will come to a merciful end (hopefully!!). In a country of over 320 million people, Americans are forced to choose between the repulsive Donald Trump and the repugnant Hillary Clinton. This is how low we have sunk as a nation, may God help us all.

It is difficult to wrap your head around how the alleged "Greatest Nation on Earth™" found two such odious people to run for the highest office in the land. If Nixon and Nero had a baby and its wet nurse was George W. Bush, that baby would be Donald Trump. If Nixon and Margaret Thatcher had a child that had Dick Cheney for a nanny, that child would be Hillary Clinton.

In my opinion, voting for Donald Trump is an irrational act born out of emotion, that emotion being anger. Voting for Hillary Clinton is an act of insanity, if you define insanity as doing the same thing over and over agin and expecting a different result. Either way, whether you are acting irrationally out of anger, or acting insane out of fear, you are making a really terrible decision. But that is what America has become, we only act out of emotion…be it fear or anger. This is who we are, an anti-intellectual, frightened and impotent nation of cowards. We can bitch about it all we want, but we have gotten the nominees we deserve.

The funny thing to me are the people who support either candidate so vociferously. To think that there is any difference between them is absurd. We do not get to choose between different ideologies in American elections, who only get to choose between different faces upon the same ideology. There are not two opposing parties in America, only one party that wears different colored jerseys for some occasional intramural scrimmages, usually revolving around abortion or guns, with the result always being a draw where nothing changes. No matter who is elected we will get a corporatist who worships Wall Street and a neo-con who fellates the military-intellegence-law enforcement-industrial complex. The only choice we are given is between different sides of the same coin. Whether Trump or Clinton is elected we will have another war, we will have more intrusive surveillance, we will have more economic instability and we will be forced to bail out more "too big to fail" institutions, and we will have more downward pressure on wages and more squeezing of working and middle class Americans. In other words, meet the new boss, same as the old boss. 

To see the mental gymnastics people put themselves through in order to support or oppose a candidate for reasons that are beyond their conscious, rational minds is pretty funny. So many Republicans absolutely hate Hillary Clinton…and yet you can never actually pin them down on the exact positions she holds that they hate, it is entirely personality based. She is a war-monger and a corporatist…a big supporter of the Iraq war and Wall Street banks, which are two things the Republicans celebrate, and yet Hillary is despised by them because of her "corruption" or her pantsuits or her shrill voice. Republicans, and many other Americans, have an emotional and visceral hatred of Hillary that is irrational and not based on her positions or policies. Me on the other hand, I hate her for her positions and policies, but thankfully I am neither a Republican or a Democrat. 

The same can be said of Trump as well since he will do in office exactly what Hillary will do. Many Democrats hate Trump for his style, not his substance, the same for Republicans and Hillary. Many people hate Trump because he is a loud mouthed braggart and a braggadocios buffoon. In America, whether we want to admit it or not or acknowledge it or not, we choose our presidents based solely on personality, look at Republicans and their hatred of Obama, as it was with Democrats and Bush. Next to nothing was different between Obama and Bush except for their personality and style. Democrats just don't like Trump as a person, and Republicans just don't like Hillary as a person. It is immaterial as they are both going to serve you the same steaming shit sandwich and we are all gonna have to take a big bite.

DISPATCH 327: AMERICAN IDOL-ATRY

At some point over the long, hot summer, I watched on tv as President Obama gave a speech to a raucous Democratic party crowd in some battleground state, where he said, in a not-so-veiled shot at Donald Trump, that the Presidential election "wasn't a reality show." Oh Obama, you silly little man, you couldn't be more wrong. This election is nothing but a reality show from start to finish. This is what happens when you have a dumbed down, uninformed, ill-informed or mis-informed, emotionally driven populace…you get the shit show that is election 2016. Speaking of shitshows…what follows are some of my observations and thoughts on this Presidential reality show that I lovingly call American Idolatry.

DISPATCH 47: AND THE WINNER IS….

I have thought all year that Donald Trump is going to win the election. I have been and probably still am in the minority on this thought, but as my readers know, I am used to being out on my own. I am not an expert on polls, so why do I think Trump will win? Because this is the time we live in. History has an ebb and flow to it with multiple actions and reactions shaping the course of events. The time we live in now is the time of the backlash against what is left of the establishment. You can see it across the globe, most noticeably in this years Brexit vote, but also in the recent Iceland elections, and in recent years with the rise of nationalist and independence parties of both the left and the right across Europe from Ireland (Sinn Fein) to France (Nationalist Front) to Britain (UKIP) to Scotland (SNP) to Spain (Catalans). For good or for ill, the establishment is crumbling and people want to throw off the yoke of globalism and internationalism and return to their nationalist roots. And so it is in the U.S. Since we don't have a parliamentary system, the route for these nationalist and independence parties is limited, but they have still taken hold of the collective unconscious (and conscious) to throw a monkey wrench into the "business as usual" plans of the establishment. This is why I thought it was such a tremendous error by the Democrats to select Hillary Clinton to be the nominee. She is the antithesis of this pushback against the establishment. She IS the establishment. Bernie Sanders, with his passionate populism, would've trounced Trump, cutting him off at his populist knees, but instead we will see Trump beat Clinton. The torches and pitchforks are out folks, and the Frankenstein's monster that is the political establishment is going to be attacked by the angry villagers. Moronically, the Democrats nominated the ultimate Frankenstein's monster in Hillary, and the Republicans got a con-man who sells pitchforks to rile up the locals. This is also why Trump is immune from the barrage of "attacks" on him by the media as the media are part of the establishment and the angry villagers justifiably hate them as much as they hate the rest of the establishment. So whenever the media "attacks" Trump whether it be by stating facts or with scandal, Trump only gets stronger, whereas Clinton is tied in knots over every single scandal and troubling story that gets thrown at her. 

Context is everything when evaluating the waves of history. Think of it this way, Obama never would have become President if it weren't for the disaster of 8 years of the George W. Bush administration preceding him. Obama was the polar opposite STYLISTICALLY of Bush, and style is the most important factor now in elections. People don't understand or care about the nuance of positions and policy, they just understand that they are casting the person they will have to see on tv almost everyday for the next 4 to 8 years…that is why the election is a reality tv show. So W. the rube was elected as a reaction to Bill Clinton (Slick Willie) the calculated politician. Then Obama, who was perceived as thoughtful and articulate is selected to replace W. who was perceived to be instinctively acting from his gut and a verbal stumbler. In keeping with this casting theme, Trump is the polar opposite of Obama, whereas Hillary Clinton is just a far inferior version of Obama, that is why the historical wave favors Trump.

When you add together the wave of nationalism and independence and anti-establishment sentiment sweeping the globe with the context of the reality tv casting couch, you get a President Trump. Trump is seen as going from his gut just like W. which is opposite of Obama, and when people think to themselves that he may not know what the hell he is talking about, they will calm themselves by saying that he will "surround himself with the best advisers", just like they told themselves with W. when they got cold feet because of how stupid he seemed. Of course, that worked out really well the last time and I am sure it'll go just as swimmingly this time around.

And just to be perfectly clear, just because I think Trump will win, doesn't mean I want Trump to win. And just because I don't want Trump to win doesn't mean I want Hillary to win, I sure as hell don't. What I want is for both of them to be stuck in an elevator together that is filled with raw sewage, then catches on fire, then explodes and is propelled into deep space, never to be seen or heard from again. That is my dream…this election is my nightmare. 

DISPATCH 411: THE UN-AFFORDABLE CARE ACT

Contrary to popular belief, it doesn't matter who you vote for, you are going to get the same thing no matter what.  Remember Obama's "Hope and Change" ? He sold a lot of hope, but not much changed. Why do I say that? Well…here is one piece of evidence…the Affordable Care Act…which is neither affordable nor does it provide care. Before the Affordable Care Act came to be, when Obama was rallying support to do something about health care, I knew that we the people would get royally screwed. And surprise, surprise, that is exactly what happened. Obama turned the creation of the health care bill over to…insurance companies. I find it is always a wise move to turn the solving of a problem over to the creators of the problem…in case you weren't sure I am being sarcastic. Now, you have a lot of liberals who defend Obamacare tooth and nail, this always makes me chuckle. The only reason they defend it is because it has Obama's name in it. The plan is a Republican plan, it is a corporatist plan. Liberals also tell me that Obama actually wanted a "government option" or a "single payer" plan but that he knew it would never pass. Of course, this is psychological projection as Obama never fought once to get a public option or single payer. Obama turned health care reform over to health insurers just like he turned Wall Street reform over to Wall Street, and it turned out going just as well for regular Americans. 

I am a healthy man in my forties. I have never been to the doctor for any other reason than to get a yearly check up. Never. I am healthy as a horse. I bought "catastrophic" health insurance the year before Obamacare came online just to make sure my family would be ok in case I got hit by a bus. That insurance cost me $107/month, with a deductible of $5,000 and an out-of pocket max of $8,000. That worked well for me as I never had any need to go to the doctor that whole year and, thankfully, I wasn't hit by a bus. Then Obamacare rolled into town, and don't you know it, my monthly rate jumped to $253/month. That is a jump of over 150%. Sweet!! The kicker is that my rate jumped astronomically for a plan that gave me worse health care coverage, with my deductible rising to $8,000 and my out-of pocket max going to $12,000. See this is what happens when the government forces you to buy an industry's product…that industry gauges the hell out of people because they can.

Things didn't exactly get better for me with Obamacare as the years rolled by, after my first year with this plan, the cheapest I could get by the way, my rates jumped again to $289/month. This was especially awesome because I never once used my insurance except for my yearly check up, which told me I was in great physical condition and completely healthy.

Things took a turn for the better the next year when my plan got slightly less expensive, which was a relief. My plan dropped down to $268/month..a savings of a whopping $21!!! This is how you condition people to eat shit, you raise their rates by $182/month over a few years and then a you cut prices by $21/a month and tout it as the plan working to save people money. Thanks Obama.

The kicker came just last month when I got a notice from my insurer that my rate would be going up from $268/month to $354/month in 2017. That is over a 300% increase from my original pre-Affordable Care Act of $107/month. Good times. So I am now forced to purchase this product, which is for no other reason than catastrophic coverage and which I have never used except for a yearly check up, for $4,200 a year. If I don't purchase it I will have to pay the penalty tax, so either I pay the money and get the plan or I pay the money and get no plan. I get no subsidies because I am eligible for my wife's health care plan through her work, but that plan would cost each of us $500/month. 

So here I am, a working-class man, who is busting his back by running three of my own small businesses where I am the only employee. I am hustling my ass off just to barely keep my head above water and now I am forced to purchase a shitty health care plan that does nothing for me that eats away at my already very narrow margins. I am not alone, and this is why Donald Trump, as loathsome as he is, and he is extremely loathsome, and as much of a charlatan as he is, and he is a yuuuuge charlatan, has garnered traction in this election with "regular" folks. Of course, the reality is that he will do nothing to fix the health care debacle and will only make things worse, but at least he isn't saying the Affordable Care Act is working. It isn't, and I am proof of that.

Speaking of health care, this past year my father, a true blue conservative, died after a brief illness. As sad as he was to be shuffling off this mortal coil, there was a part of him that was greatly relieved to sneak away without having to suffer through this nightmare of an election. My father had always been very interested in politics and was well read and followed the news religiously. Even though he was proudly registered as an independent, in the entire fifty years he was eligible to vote he had only voted for Republicans. My father is an interesting litmus test for this election, as he, like many Republican men of his generation, loathed Hillary Clinton. Interestingly enough, he also loathed Donald Trump with the power of a thousand suns. My father was a native New Yorker, so he knew of Trump's father Fred and had watched from the very beginning as his obnoxious spawn, The Donald, rose to prominence. My father thought Trump was "full of shit" and was a "self-serving asshole" and "scumbag". When I asked my father who he would vote for this year he said he might write in Paul Ryan or someone else like that as a protest, but he also said he was seriously considering moving out of the country. I laughed when he said that…he didn't laugh…because he was deadly serious. This election made my father despair, and while we didn't agree on much, I agreed with him in that.

Oddly enough, or not, my father, the deeply conservative, life-long Republican voting man, hated Obamacare as much as I did. And oddly enough considering his political disposition, he agreed with me on the only way to solve the problem…single payer health care. I can't emphasize how extraordinary this revelation is, that my father, whose hatred of government and bureaucracy knew no bounds, actually thought the only rational and fair way to make health care work in America was to have a single payer plan. I agree with him. I understand the arguments against it, as did he, but we are at the point where we have no other viable options. The fact that two people of such disparate views like my father and I both agreed on this and yet it is a total non-starter in the public debate, is damning evidence to the disconnect between Washington and Main Street.

As much as I am sure my father wishes he were alive today, in some ways I'm sure he is glad he didn't have to live to see the vacuous and repugnant Donald Trump become President of the country he held so dear. Sadly, the rest of us will have to bear witness to the clusterfuck that will be the Trump administration. And if I am wrong and Clinton wins, don't kid yourself, we are still in for one hell of a gigantic shitshow.

DISPATCH 911: DEATH RATTLE OF AN EMPIRE

Just as my father's body deteriorated and failed him, so it goes with America. This election is the death rattle of the American empire. Nominating Trump and Hillary is a sign of a nation mired deep in a self-destructive decadence that will destroy what is left of its power and prestige. The decay at the heart of America and American life has corroded the institutions that held up the nation. Those institutions are crumbling and the future of America is dying on the vine. There will be those that will tell you that this election is merely the end of the beginning of the fall of America, it isn't, this is the isn't even the beginning of the end of the fall of America, this is the death rattle of the rabid, diseased-ridden beast of American empire that flails about gasping for its final breath.

DISPATCH 69: WHO'S THE BOSS?

 

The other day I emailed a friend of mine, a well regarded financial writer who I call Red Dragon. I emailed Dragon an article form the LA Times which was about the working class people of Youngstown, Ohio who Bruce Springsteen has often written about in his songs. The article showed that these left behind blue collar workers of Youngstown are Trump's base, which is ironic since Bruce Springsteen is such a strong supporter of the Democratic party. It is an interesting article which you should check out here

Red Dragon's response was thus, " The frustration of these people, and millions more like them around the country, is understandable and palpable. However, that has led them to a state of delusion, in which they think an aristocratic, billionaire, plutocrat actually cares about them and their problems, and that he alone can “make American great again.” It reminds me of the 'hope and change' that so many Americans fell for in 2008. It’s all so transparent that it’s hard to believe that they fall for it. Desperation causes delusion, I guess." Red Dragon is a smart guy, and as usual he was spot on in his analysis. I could not agree more.

I had a conversation with another friend of mine, a successful radio and tv host who I will call Johnny Steamroller. When I asked Johnny what he thought of this election he said, "Hillary Clinton is what is wrong with American politics, and Donald Trump is what is wrong with America." It is good to have smart friends. Steamroller and Red Dragon are always insightful guys. I would describe Steamroller as a center-right conservative and Red Dragon as a center-left liberal. Their political views may at times be at odds, but one thing they agree on, they do not want to vote for either Trump or Clinton. Whether they do or do not only they know for sure, but I think they are not alone in their reticence to vote for either candidate.

Even though I live in Los Angeles, a liberal bastion, I have many friends across the political spectrum who live in different states across the country. Here is some anecdotal evidence about the election that I have observed, take them for what they are worth.

1. I have not spoken to a single person among my many conservative friends across the country, who said they would vote for Trump. Not one. That doesn't mean they won't vote for Trump, just that they wouldn't tell me they would.  

2. Of all the women in the same age bracket as Hillary Clinton who I have spoken to about the election, none of them like her and none of them would vote for her. In fact, all of the baby boomer woman I have spoken with, from the far right, to the right to the center to the left to the far left, absolutely despise Hillary Clinton. They have a visceral, deep-seated dislike of her. None of them said they were going to vote for her.

3. Being in Los Angeles I do know of a lot of people who will vote for Hillary, some even enthusiastically, but all of them are women under 45. I know of no man who is excited to vote for Hillary. The majority of women I know who are voting for her are voting for her just because she is a woman. In my opinion, if you want to vote for a woman, vote for Dr. Jill Stein, at least she is an honest and decent person you can trust and can be proud to have supported.

Speaking of excited…whenever I see either Trump or Clinton or their surrogates give a speech to a crowd on the campaign trail, I always wonder, who the fuck goes to a campaign event? Think about it, these people have to take time out of their day, and maybe take the day off from work, to drive to some event, find parking, wait in line, then stand waiting for the candidate to arrive, and then after the nonsensical speech they wait in line to leave, then sit in traffic, then drive home. There whole day is shot just to be in the same room while one of these asshats gives a vapid and vacuous speech about absolutely nothing. Who are these dipshits and assholes standing behind the candidate as they give the same canned, manufactured speech over and over again? I am sure these people think they are being civically and politically engaged…but they aren't. They are nothing but props on a reality tv show. They are not only dupes, but they are proud of being dupes. These people are the living, breathing, walking definition of "useful idiots." It doesn't matter the candidate, if you go to a rally or a speech of either one of these people, you are part of the problem, and you will get the shit sandwich you deserve.

DISPATCH 007: DIAGNOSIS AND CONCLUSION

 

A brief look into Donald Trump's history reveals a great deal about the "man", and I use that term very lightly. Trump is a charlatan, a silver-spooned, mealy-mouthed, spoiled brat of a douchebag who has never worked a day in his life. He is also a failure, an utter loser who has only managed to promote his family name, but never has been able to succeed in business or anything else. He is a punchline and a, pardon the language, "pussy". 

Trump is symptomatic of the disease that ravages America. His spiritual life consists of following Norman Vincent Peale, the power of positive thinking guy. Trump worships greed and self-delusion, which is right in line with the prosperity gospel and its new age counter part, The Secret. This selfish and myopic approach to life is not only morally and ethically untenable, it is politically and economically cancerous. This cancer has eaten away at our society and culture. It infects everything it touches, be it government, business, religion, family or society. Trump being President will be like treating terminal brain cancer with a cyanide tablet.

Hillary Clinton is a corrupt, manipulative and manufactured politician who has risen to power through nepotism. She should be everything liberals and Democrats rail against, and yet she is held up by them as someone to admire. The stench of the Clinton's and how they have conned the Democrats and liberals into selling their soul is repulsive. Clinton being President will be like treating terminal brain cancer with even more brain cancer.

Do I sound pessimistic? Trust me, I am not a pessimist, I am a realist. And history, and my eyes and ears tell me that we are in for a very bad stretch no matter who gets elected. The only thing you can hope for is that something better, something more local, something more sustainable, something more generous and thoughtful, rises from the ash heap of the American empire. Clinton or Trump? It doesn't matter. And if some bumper sticker sloganeer chastises you and tells you this is the most important election ever, tell them to stop moving deck chairs, put down the violin, and either make a run for a lifeboat or sit back and enjoy the up close view of history as the Titanic goes down and sucks us all down with it. It doesn't matter who we vote for on November 8th…the Iceberg is going to win. And it is going to be a landslide. 

What am I going to do? I am going to take the advice of the great, leather-clad American poet and prophet Jim Morrison…I am going to get my kicks before the whole shithouse goes up in flames. You in?

EMBRACE THE INEVITABLE!!!

VOTE ICEBERG/GODZILLA 2016!!

 

© 2016

The Birth of a Nation : A Review and Commentary

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

My Rating : 2 out of 5 Stars

My Recommendation : Skip It.

The Birth of a Nation is based on the true story of Nat Turner, a slave and preacher in 1831 who rallied free and enslaved blacks to rise up against the ruling white power structure of their Virginia county in a bid for freedom. The film is written, directed, produced and stars Nate Parker as Nat Turner.

The story of Nat Turner is an important one in the history of America and African-Americans. Turner's story should resonate with audiences of today as they try to come to terms with their nation's checkered history, the evil of slavery and the racial divisions of our time. Sadly, The Birth of a Nation does not live up to the audacious ambition of its writer/director/star Nate Parker. Instead the film is an unoriginal, one-dimensional, pedestrian and generic take on the scourge of slavery and the damage it has done.

"BLOOD WILL BE BORN IN THE BIRTH OF A NATION" - "PEACE FROG" BY THE DOORS  

The problems with The Birth of a Nation are multiple, so let's start at the beginning. The Birth of a Nation takes the same title as the iconic D.W. Griffth's film from 1915, which portrayed Blacks as savages and the Ku Klux Klan as the saviors of the white race from the scourge of Black barbarians set free post-civil war. Griffith's film was a monumental achievement in filmmaking of the time and was a blockbuster. Griffith's film was also, obviously, a piece of unabashed racist propaganda. Parker's 2016 The Birth of a Nation is propaganda as well, just from the other side of the spectrum, he basically said as much in an interview when he said, "so I wanted a film that people could watch and be affected - almost hold them hostage in the theater, where they have to see this images, and they have to see the parallels and the themes that are echoing right now in 2016." The problem is that  Parker's The Birth of a Nation isn't nearly as well made in relation to the current cinematic times as Griffith's film was in its day. 

Propaganda sets out to convince you of something, for instance Griffith convinced a lot of people that the Klan were the guardians of "real America" with his Birth of a Nation. As Ava DuVernay's wonderful documentary on Netflix The 13th (which I highly recommend) shows us, the Klan was nearly non-existent until Griffith's film came out and wowed audiences across the country. Not surprisingly, Griffith's well made propaganda shifted people's perspectives, that is what propaganda is supposed to do. The problem with Parker's The Birth of a Nation as propaganda is that in order to put Nat Turner in as positive and saintly a light as possible, Parker softens the rough edges, complexity and depth of his characters and situations, thus neutering a cavalcade of potential drama and insight. This blunting of the edges of Turner in order to sell him as a saint or messiah of a movement may not be the most wise move dramatically, but it could work in terms of propaganda, the problem is that Parker lacks the skill and vision as a writer/director to be able to pull it off. The film needs to be spectacularly well made in order for it to work as propaganda, but it just isn't. It is visually flat, cinematically stale, and the writing, directing, staging and acting are all painfully amateur.

"TO THINE OWN SELF BE TRUE." - POLONIUS, HAMLET BY WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE

Another issue with the film is that it doesn't entirely know what it wants to be. Is it a revenge film like Django Unchained? Or is it a horrors of slavery film like 12 Years a Slave? Is it trying to be both? It ends up being neither. Django was a delicious and entertaining bit of wish-fulfillment that was incredibly well made by Quentin Tarantino. 12 Years a Slave was a relentlessly intense journey into the brutal physical, emotional, mental and spiritual realities of slavery directed by one of the great directors of our time, Steve McQueen. Parker's The Birth of a Nation is a lukewarm, middle of the road rehash of every slave movie stereotype and trope. It is not bloodthirsty and action packed enough to be revenge entertainment like Django Unchained, and not thoughtful and meticulous enough to be high art like 12 Years a Slave.

"AMBITION BITES THE NAILS OF SUCCESS" - "THE FLY" BY U2

Writer/Director/Star Nate Parker is a solid, if unspectacular actor. Parker gives himself a handful of speeches that should have been rousing but instead feel rehearsed, not uncommon when a writer is reciting his own words. Parker's big speeches feel too performed and not vibrantly alive and immediate. That said, Parker does have an undeniable charisma that should serve him well in a quest for stardom, but artistically speaking his eyes are way too big for his stomach. Parker simply lacks the skill and talent as a writer and director to have taken on the task of telling this most vital of stories. Whether it was Parker's ego or blind ambition I don't know, but he does Nat Turner no justice by directing this film. 

There are no doubt many, creator Nate Parker included, who were hoping The Birth of a Nation would resonate with audiences and reviewers alike so that the film and its cast and crew would be among the Oscar contenders this year. Parker said in regards to making The Birth of a Nation, "…it's kind of like a battle cry from a filmmaking standpoint. Because yes, we need to deal with pervasive racism in Hollywood…", so obviously the whole "OscarsSoWhite"
meme was part of the impetus to make the film. The reality is that the OscarsSoWhite meme is untrue and that Black actors are not underrepresented by the Academy Awards, I have done the statistical analysis myself to prove it. Regardless, The Birth of a Nation is nowhere near Oscar worthy, and neither are any of the performances. 

"WHAT'S PAST IS PROLOGUE" - ANTONIO, THE TEMPEST BY WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE

Another issue with The Birth of a Nation is that it alters history in order to make a stronger argument as propaganda, but in doing so it removes some of the greatest dramatic material at its disposal. For instance, Parker's Turner is made to be a messiah of the anti-slavery movement, a man who sacrifices himself for the sins of a nation. This is not historically accurate. The slave uprising is also not historically accurate as it doesn't portray the murders of white women and children, which were a large number of the targets, and it also doesn't portray Turner's impotence when it comes to the act of killing. I understand why you would leave those things out in order to make Nat Turner a hero, but by making him an unquestionable action hero they have removed the nuance that makes him dramatically imperative.

For example, Turner's inability to kill could be used as tremendous symbol for the impotence of the Black male in modern America. Showing Turner and his rebels massacring women and children could highlight the moral depravity brought about by slavery upon all who come into contact with it. It would also be an interesting way to show how Turner's fervent religious beliefs could be skewed to make slaughtering woman and children not only necessary but righteous, a parallel to the terrorists of today who mask their murderous wars behind the righteousness of their cause and their God. The theme of religion being used to both support slavery and support the uprising against it, is briefly, but poorly, touched upon in the film, but it could have been mined for much more interesting material than Parker unearths.

"HE JESTS AT SCARS THAT NEVER FELT A WOUND." -ROMEO, ROMEO AND JULIET BY WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE

One final point about missed opportunities in The Birth of a Nation has to do with Nate Parker's personal history, which I read about after seeing the film. Seventeen years ago, when Nate Parker was in college, he and his roommate were charged with raping a white woman. Parker was acquitted and his roommate was convicted, but had his conviction dropped on a technicality a few years later. The woman who alleged she was raped committed suicide in 2012. What does this have to do with Parker's film? Well, I am not the type of person to judge a film by the moral character of it's maker, I try to judge a film on its merits, and I was unaware of the charges prior to seeing the film. But what struck me as odd in hindsight was that Parker added a rape to the narrative of Nat Turner that is not historically accurate. That he did this is not surprising given his limited ability as a writer, adding the rape is sort of a "propaganda 101" move on Parker's part. But when you put the film rape in to the context of Parker's actual history, it becomes a bit disturbing to say the least. And the irony of it all is that the most interesting part of the Nat Turner story in particular, and slavery in general, is how it feeds the shame and self-loathing of an entire race in our current culture. The shame of the victimization by slavery still marks Black culture today, both consciously and unconsciously. The self-destructive, uber-masculine Black culture of our time is a direct result of the emasculation of Black men in slavery and Jim Crow over the last 400 years. The reason Nat Turner is so important as a symbol to African-Americans is because he was not a victim, he was not without agency, he did not take his slavery lying down, he stood like a man and fought back. Turner may have lost, but instead of living on his knees he died on his feet.  The ironic thing in regards to Parker's personal life, is that his alleged rape victim suffered from a very similar shame as the descendants of slaves, the shame of victimhood and not having fought back hard enough. The shame carried by Parker's alleged victim led her to kill herself, much like the descendants of slaves today lead self-destructive lives over their historical shame. Parker's alleged rape victim had to carry the shame of her rape and her inability to stop it, just like Black culture of today has to carry the shame of slavery and their forefathers inability to stop it. This shame and victimhood felt by both Parker's victim and African-Americans is a consequence of trauma and is not rational, but that doesn't mean it isn't very real.

The emasculation of the Black man in the past has led to a deep seeded shame of today which rears its head in self-defeating riots, an embracing of criminality, generations of boys with absent fathers and endemic poverty. This shame is born of a lack of agency during slavery and creates a sub-conscious lack of agency in our current time. This is not to say that this slave shame is the entire reason for the aforementioned issues in Black culture, as those issues exist in other cultures as well, but it is to say that this historical victim shame is fertile soil for cultural self loathing from which these issues can grow and prosper. Until the deep seated shame of victimization by slavery and the emasculation that came with it, is taken head on and resolved, all other efforts to change things in the broader culture will fail. This doesn't mean that there isn't racism today or structural white supremacy or anything of the sort, it is to say that until Black culture can heal itself of this historical victim wound, the endless cycle of self-loathing and self-destruction will continue. It is also to say that until America can heal its palpable historical guilt over slavery, it will continue to suffer from its festering racial wound and the suffocating and calamitous hate and violence that accompanies it.

One bit of proof for this thesis is brought up in the previously mentioned Ava DuVernay film The 13th, where the idea of Black criminality is explored and its roots uncovered. While it was White men who criminalized the Black man to the broader culture, it wasn't just White culture that believed that story, Black culture believed it too. I believe Black culture wouldn't have believed such a denigrating and self-destructive myth if not for the shame of victimhood by slavery and the self-loathing that accompanies it that lives deep in a people's soul.

 

"BEING IRISH, HE HAD AN ABIDING SENSE OF TRAGEDY, WHICH SUSTAINED HIM THROUGH TEMPORARY PERIODS OF JOY." - WILLIAM BUTLER YEATS

Of course, the argument could, and most likely will, be made that I am a white man, so what the hell do I know. That might very well be a valid argument. In my defense I would say this, that being Irish, I know a little something about being the descendant of a people who were held captive and emasculated and having that cultural victim wound be passed down through generations. The Irish were under the thumb of the British, suffering genocides and indentured servitude along with other horrific indignities, for as long as Africans were enslaved in America. The Irish to this day carry the victim's shame, and the anger and self-destructive impulses that go along with it, as a result of their being under a brutal British rule. It might not be an exact parallel, but it is a parallel. Take my opinion and experience for whatever you judge it to be worth.

CONCLUSION

In conclusion, The Birth of a Nation should be a vital film for our time, but it isn't. The film is a terrible wasted opportunity as Nat Turner's story is such a rich, complex and fascinating one which could enlighten and entertain people of all races. Sadly, Nate Parker's The Birth of a Nation is a run of the mill, dramatically limp disappointment. The audacity of the film's star and creative force, Nate Parker, strangles the potential of the Nat Turner story in its cradle. The Birth of a Nation is not worth seeing in the theatre, or frankly anywhere else. If you stumble across it on cable, feel free to watch and see what you think, but appointment viewing it ain't. One can only hope that a few years down the road, a more talented director tells Nat Turner's story, as it is a story that is ripe with dramatic potential. It is also a story that, if told well, could bring about some much needed healing and change.

©2016

Shin Godzilla : A Review

****THIS REVIEW CONTAINS VERY MINOR SPOILERS!!! THIS IS NOT A SPOILER FREE REVIEW!!!****

My Rating : 4 out of 5 Stars

My Recommendation : See it in the Theatre.

OF GODS AND MONSTERS

Shin Godzilla (Godzilla Resurgence), written and directed by Hideaki Anno (co-directed by Shinji Higuchi), is Tokyo based Toho studios 29th Godzilla film and its third reboot of the franchise. The film tells the origin story of Godzilla as he emerges from Tokyo bay and ravages modern day Japan. The film stars Hiroki Hasegawa, Yutaka Takenouchi and Satomi Ishihara. 

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Being the good Irish Catholic boy that I am, I usually spend Sunday mornings at Mass, but this past Sunday morning I attended a different kind of sacred ritual. Instead of Mass I went to the Royal Laemmle Theatre in Santa Monica, a sort of Church of the Sacred Nerd, and waited in line for the chance to get to worship God...zilla. God-zilla be praised as my waiting was not in vain and I was able to see the film which is in very limited release here in the states. I know that many will find my worship of Godzilla blasphemous, but when you dig deeper you discover I am not blaspheming at all. As we are told in Shin Godzilla, the name "Godzilla" or "Gojira" as the Japanese call him, is literally translated to mean, "God Incarnate". The beauty of Shin Godzilla is that it recognizes the God encounter as a truly horrifying experience, not the new age, Mega-church, rainbow and puppy dog experience we Americans think it to be. The God encounter is undeniably terrifying, as God is capable of cataclysmic destruction without the least bit of effort. The Japanese have learned this lesson all to well over the years, from the annihilation of Hiroshima and Nagasaki by nuclear bombs, or the fire bombing of Tokyo in world war two, to the recent devastation wrought by the 2011 earthquake and tsunami and the resulting nuclear disaster at Fukushima, the Japanese have seen first hand the power and peril of the God encounter.

I realize that most people think of Godzilla movies as a joke, and this thinking is strongly based in fact, as evidenced by the two atrocious American Godzilla movies (1998 & 2014), and a string of less than decent Toho Godzilla movies over the years. But Shin Godzilla is different, it is an actual, honest to goodness movie. Shin Godzilla, unlike its American counterparts, is entirely structurally and mythologically sound in every way. Yes, the special effects are not quite up to snuff at times, and there is a little bit of campiness to be found if you're looking for it, but with that said, Shin Godzilla takes itself and its subject matter deadly serious. Similar to the original Japanese Godzilla (1954), not to be confused with the abomination that is the American version of that film starring Raymond Burr from 1956, Shin Godzilla skillfully uses the myth of Godzilla to tell a wider and more important story. Shin Godzilla uses the Godzilla monster to tell the story of the suffocating and debilitating bureaucracy that has paralyzed Japanese government and society. And while these scenes of government ineptitude and impotence are funny, they aren't a joke. Shin Godzilla is meant to hold up a mirror to Japan and hold it accountable for its less than stellar performance in the wake of the earthquake and tsunami of 2011, and also praise it for the resilience and ingenuity of its people when unshackled by that bureaucracy.

Shin Godzilla is also about American imperialism and colonialism. Even seventy years after the end of world war two, the Japanese are well aware that they are still under the thumb and beholden to the Americans, who bully and cajole the world into bending to its will. In the film, Japan must acquiesce to America's demands or rebuilding the country after Godzilla will not be nearly as easy (and it wasn't easy) as rebuilding after the destruction of world war two. This is one of the main themes of the film, the Japanese search for its soul and spirit in the aftermath of devastation.

MAKE JAPAN GREAT AGAIN!!

It takes a wildfire for a forest to grow stronger, and so it is with Japan in a post-Godzilla, and post-American, world. Once the ruling class with all of their bureaucrats, technocrats and yes-man are burned to the ground, the true heart of the Japanese people can be revealed, the heart of a people with the Samurai myth entrenched deep within their psyches. Shin Godzilla shows us that the Faustian bargain the Japanese made post-world war two with the U.S. has left the nation a flaccid shadow of its former self, and Japan must grow a pair of balls if it wants to survive in the new world of the 21st century.

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In the film we see that once Japan can get past its debilitatingly hierarchical political system and get back to the strength and greatness of its people, it will be be able to re-build from the ashes and rubble left in Godzilla's wake. Japan can become strong and independent once again and shake off the imperialism and colonialism of the west if they can only remove their self-serving and cowardly governing class. To put it in American terms, the Japanese need to "Make Japan Great Again!!", and Godzilla is their Donald Trump, who will burn down the establishment to make way for the Japanese to take back their country from its overlords and their self-induced malaise. The difference between Godzilla and Trump though is that Godzilla, being God Incarnate, is the unadulterated and terrifying Truth, whereas Donald Trump is the self-delusional lie, both the lie that he tells himself and the lie his followers tell themselves.

In Shin Godzilla, the options are clearly presented for the Japanese, they can fall under the rule of the U.S. and the U.N., or turn to other imperialist powers like Russia or China. Instead of following those paths the Japanese realize they must turn inward and conquer their fear and shame, and take their country back, not only from Godzilla, but from the west. This sort of self-determination and neo-nationalism unleashes a pride and self-sufficiency that can go one of two ways. It can either be turned into a confident and self-reliant patriotism, or it can become an arrogant and toxic imperialism hungry for conquest and control. The Japanese have known both forms of this pride, as has America. Shin Godzilla leaves me wondering where this national thought process will lead the current generation of Japanese who seem to be dying on the vine, a lost generation of sorts without even the will to reproduce or the imperative of the sexual drive.

"MAN IS WORSE THAN GODZILLA"

A female scientist in Shin Godzilla tells her compatriots that "Man is worse than Godzilla". This statement resonates with her co-workers who, even seventy years later, all hear the echo of the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki ringing in their collective ears. Godzilla was born of those atomic bombs, both literally and figuratively, and as he stomps across Tokyo he leaves a trail of fire and devastation that looks remarkably like the destruction left in the wake of the firebombing of Tokyo in world war two.

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Former U.S. Secretary of Defense has stated, "LeMay (U.S. Air Force General Curtis LeMay said, 'If we'd lost the war, we'd all have been prosecuted as war criminals.' And I think he's right. He, I'd say I, were behaving as war criminals. LeMay recognized that what he was doing would be thought immoral if his side lost. But what makes it immoral if you lose and not immoral if you win?" (The Fog of War). But to the victors of world war two went the spoils, and to the Japanese went the nightmare that still haunts them to this day.

The Japanese nightmare of world war two is embodied in Shin Godzilla by the "alternative" scientist who had discovered and studied Godzilla but whose work was covered up by the U.S., This scientist, Goro Maki, had lost his wife to radiation sickness from fallout of the Hiroshima attack. A tormented Maki commits suicide in Tokyo bay by presumably jumping into the water. From the exact spot where Maki jumped into the water, Godzilla rises. In other words, Godzilla is born of the national and personal wound of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki atomic attacks.

LEVIATHANS, ROUGH BEASTS AND THE SHADOW

As the film and Godzilla progress, his destruction looks disturbingly similar to that of the tsunami in 2011. Director Anno masterfully relates Godzilla to the most recent catastrophes in Japan, the tsunami and the Fukushima meltdown. It is easy for us in the west to forget, but over 18,000 people were killed by those events. That is six times the amount killed on 9-11. The Japanese psyche must be deeply scarred by that "God encounter" and the wrath and destruction it wrought. This is why Shin Godzilla is so effective, it uses those deeply ingrained scars and fears to reveal to the Japanese truths about themselves. Shin Godzilla teaches us that just as the God encounter at Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945 still reverberates in the collective consciousness of the Japanese today, so will the equally horrific God encounter of the tsunami and Fukushima in 2011 effect future generations.

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In Shin Godzilla, Godzilla is the long ignored psychological shadow of Japan. The beast is born out of Japan's anger, shame and guilt for its past hubris and both the sins it committed, the rape of Nanking for instance, and that were committed upon it, Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The psychological shadow contains a great deal of energy and power, and when the shadow contents are consciously integrated, which they yearn to be, then that energy and power can be released and used positively. When these shadow components are not consciously integrated, but rather unconsciously vent, the effects are devastating. The shadow contents desperately want to be made conscious, and when they are ignored or repressed, they lash out. Godzilla is the ignored shadow lashing out in order to be recognized, acknowledged and finally integrated. 

Godzilla's destructive power is heightened by his radioactive core. This radioactive core, just like the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, when unleashed leaves a trail of deadly fallout behind them. Godzilla and the atomic bombs not only kill in the moment, but for years and decades to come. This means that even when Godzilla is gone, he will not soon be forgotten. Like all powerful elements of the shadow, Godzilla forces the Japanese to acknowledge him consciously and to never be able to push him back into the bay, a symbol of the unconscious. 

Like the Behemoth or Leviathan of the Old Testament, Godzilla is a symbol of the terrifying power unleashed when we have a God Encounter. Shin Godzilla is like the Book of Job, with Japan being Job and Godzilla being God's psychological shadow. Godzilla is a reminder to the Japanese, and all of us, that while we may think we are in control, we aren't. Not even close. Godzilla is a symbol of the powers out of our control, and of the darkness that is rising in our world that will engulf us all sooner or later. Our collective shadow, and Godzilla, will not be ignored much longer. Like the reptilian beast that lurched out of a black pool in Orlando to snatch a little Nebraska boy a few months back, Godzilla is coming out of the depths to remind us of our place in the world and the universe. And we aren't going to be happy when we are forced to reckon with the fact that our rightful place is not at the top of that totem pole. 

CONCLUSION

In conclusion, Shin Godzilla is not only a terrific Godzilla film, it is a very good film. While it doesn't boast the high end special effects of the U.S. Godzilla films, it certainly outdoes its American counter parts with in-depth storytelling, acting and directing. While some non-Godzilla fans may not be able to get past the perceived silliness and campiness of a monster movie, those with the ability to suspend their disbelief and enjoy well done cinema will be left very satisfied by Shin Godzilla. The film is in very limited release in the U.S. so I recommend you see it in the theatre while you can!! 

©2016

 

Snowden : A Review and Commentary

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

ESTIMATED READING TIME : 12 MINUTES AND 39 SECONDS

MY RATING : 3 out of 5 Stars

MY RECOMMENDATION : If you saw and liked Citizenfour, see Snowden in the theatre. If you don't like Edward Snowden, or are indifferent, see it on Netflix or Cable.

Snowden, written and directed by three-time Oscar winner Oliver Stone, is the story of famed NSA whistelblower Edward Snowden. The screenplay is based upon the books The Snowden Files by Luke Harding and Time of the Octopus by Anatoly Kucherena. The films stars Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Edward Snowden, with Shailene Woodley, Zachary Quinto, Melissa Leo, Rhys Ifans and Nic Cage in supporting roles.

Director Oliver Stone, like Edward Snowden, is a controversial figure, despised and ridiculed by those in the establishment, which is a pretty good reason to like the guy. Stone has spent his career sticking his finger in the eye of those in power and their sycophants in the media. Stone and his films have been an important cultural counter weight to the prevailing winds of his time. During the height of conservative rule and thought in America during the 80's, when the nation was all too happy to forget its sullied not too distant past and corrupt present, Stone reminded America of its unresolved hubris with his Vietnam films (Platoon and Born on the Fourth of July) and his indictment of then U.S. foreign policy in Latin America with Salvador and the economic ruse of the times in Wall Street. In the early 90's, while the nation was still basking in the warm glow of sunlight from Reagan's "morning in America", Stone pulled back the veil and tore off the scab to reveal the rot at America's core underneath the flag waving veneer with his films JFK, Nixon and Natural Born Killers.  Stone's insistence that America look at and acknowledge its true self was never warmly welcomed by those who need to deceive in order to succeed, thus the Washington and media establishment have always loathed him. All the more reason to admire the man and his work, which certainly struck a raw nerve for those in power.

Edward Snowden is also quite a controversial figure to say the least. As the marketing of the film tells us, some people call him a traitor, like those in the establishment and media, others call him a hero. The film Snowden itself is probably a rorsharch test for viewers, with those who think Edward Snowden a hero liking it and those thinking he is a traitor hating it. The reality is that if you already think Snowden is a traitor, you probably aren't going to go see this film anyway. The people who believe Snowden is a hero are the most likely ones who will go and see this film.

With that context in mind, director Oliver Stone surprisingly pulls a lot of his punches in the film. In Snowden, Stone "bottles the acid", to quote Judge Haggerty from JFK,  and never goes in for the kill shot on the intelligence community, which is very out of character for the rebellious director. Considering Oliver Stone's past work, I found his indictment against the intelligence community in Snowden to be rather tame. That said, Stone certainly shows Edward Snowden in as positive a light as he can, and there is never any doubt as to Snowden's moral and ethical superiority throughout the story, but the scope, scale and magnitude of the evil being perpetrated by our intelligence community, and the impetus for Snowden to act, is under played and never fully fleshed out to satisfaction.

All that said, Snowden, while not a great film, it certainly is a good one. It is without question the best Oliver Stone film of the last twenty years or so since Nixon in 1995. The only other film of note from Stone during the second half of his career is 2008's W., which like Snowden, is also a rorsharch test to viewers and is a good but not great movie. Both Snowden and W. pale in comparison to Oliver Stone's genius work during the first half of his career, when he made a bevy of tremendous films such as, Platoon, Salvador, Born on the Fourth of July, Wall Street, JFK, Nixon, The Doors and Natural Born Killers. When I speak of the futility in the second half of Stone's filmmaking career I am not counting his documentaries which can be quite good. His Showtime series Oliver Stone's Untold History of the United States is extremely well done and should be mandatory viewing for any citizen.

As for Snowden, as much as I enjoyed the film, the greatest issue I had with it was that it failed to use Stone's signature visual and editing style (think JFK) to tell the complex and mammoth tale of the various surveillance programs that Ed Snowden uncovered and revealed. This is the crux of the story as it shows why Snowden risked so much in order to inform the public as to what was being done to them and in their name to others. Stone does try to personalize the snooping that the programs do, but while that sequence is effective it isn't quite enough. Stone also underuses actual news footage and cutting between it and the dramatic narrative of Snowden. Stone used that technique to great effect in JFK but fails to utilize it enough in Snowden, much to the detriment of the film. Stone's masterful work on JFK showed how to take an enormous and complex subject and wittle it down so that people could understand and digest it, he needed more of that approach in Snowden, not less. Oddly enough, Snowden almost feels like it was directed by someone other than Oliver Stone, as the film lacks his visual and storytelling trademarks.

As for the acting, Joseph Gordon-Levitt's performance is simply miraculous. Levitt's work is meticulous, detailed and vibrant. Levitt perfectly captures Snowden's unique vocal tendencies and looks strikingly like the man, so much so that in some shots I was wondering if that actually was Edward Snowden and not the actor. Snowden is not an easy character to take on, he is an enigmatic man, probably somewhere on the autism spectrum, who is both self conscious and self confident, sometimes all in the same moment. Levitt creates a genuine, complex human being with all of his intracies and inhabits him fully, never letting the character slip into caricature or imitation. Levitt's Snowden is multi-dimensional and is a truly remarkable piece of acting work, proving Levitt to be among the best actors of his generation. In comparing Levitt's performance as Snowden to other actors in previous Oliver Stone films, the thing that is strikingly obvious is that other actors in Oliver Stone films were actors in "Oliver Stone films". For instance, Born on the Fourth of July is an "Oliver Stone film", not a "Tom Cruise film", the same can be said for Charlie Sheen in Platoon or Kevin Costner in JFK or Anthony Hopkins in Nixon, these actors all did solid work but were overshadowed by the talent and vision of their director Oliver Stone, hence they were in "Oliver Stone films" and not in "Sheen/Costner/Hopkins films". The very high compliment I can pay Joseph Gordon-Levitt is that Snowden is, without question, a "Joseph Gordon Levitt film", and not an "Oliver Stone film". Levitt outshines his director, which is a tribute to him as an actor, and a recognition of some creative slippage on the part of Stone the director.

The supporting cast is hit and miss. Shailene Woodley does a solid job in the terribly underwritten role of Snowden's girlfriend Lindsay Mills. Woodley is a strong actress, approachable and artistically honest, who has an undeniable charisma that lights up the screen. On the other hand there is Nic Cage, who is simply a dreadful actor of epic proportions, and frankly, contrary to popular opinion, always has been. Cage is in some very crucial scenes but is so distractingly bad that those scenes and the highly critical information they convey, get scuttled, much to the detriment of the film. It feels like Cage is in one of those god-awful National Treasure films and not a serious Oliver Stone film.

Zachary Quinto, Melissa Leo and Tom Wilkinson all do solid work as the documentarians and reporters Glenn Greenwald, Laura Poitras and Ewen MacAskill. The scenes with Snowden and the reporters in the Hong Kong hotel room are surprisingly compelling since they are scenes we have already seen in the documentary Citizenfourthat is a credit to the actors.

Snowden reminds me of two films, one, Citizenfour is pretty obvious. Snowden is a very nice companion piece to Laura Poitras' Academy Award winning documentary Citizenfouras it dramatizes and expands on what was revealed in that excellent film.

The second film I was reminded of is much less obvious, at least on the surface. That film is American Sniper. Here is the round-a-bout way in which Snowden reminded me of American Sniper. As I walked out of the theatre post-Snowden, I was wondering if Oliver Stone has simply lost his fastball as a filmmaker and was not able to land his punches quite as crispy and effectively as he was twenty five years ago in films like JFK, Platoon, Wall Street etc. Then I wondered if maybe Stone had just grown weary of the cultural battle to which he has dedicated his life, which seems never ending and futile at best. I thought this because of Stone's surprisingly conventional storytelling in Snowden, punctuated by an upbeat ending that, in my opinion, defies the reality we find ourselves in, in regard to surveillance and what the intelligence community is up to. And then I wondered if…and this gives a big benefit of the doubt to Oliver Stone, who, frankly, with the stellar filmography of his earlier years has earned that benefit, Stone had made a truly subversive film with Snowden, but it was hidden beneath the surface of the rather tepid bio-pic it was buried under. It could be that Snowden is Oliver Stone's answer to American Sniper, right down to mimicking its flaws?

Here is my theory…that Oliver Stone intentionally made Snowden to undermine the propaganda of American Sniper and reduce its power on the American collective unconscious.  Snowden the film and the man, are counter-myths to Chris Kyle and American Sniper. Like American Sniper, Snowden is structured as a standard bio-pic, almost hitting the same exact beats and with the same exact rhythm as American Sniper. Also like American Sniper, Snowden ties the dramatic film to the actual, real-life man in it's final scenes, blurring the lines between what is dramatized and what is real. That said, one real life difference between the films is that unlike with the Kyle family and American Sniper, Edward Snowden had no say or final approval of the final script, and received no money for Snowden.

I don't think those structural and narrative similarities between American Sniper and Snowden are accidental. If Oliver Stone is anything, he is a true-blue subversive and it is a stroke of genius to make Snowden a parallel to American Sniper. Oliver Stone has spoken of his masterpiece JFK as being a counter-myth to the prevailing myth of the Warren report. The only difference between the Warren report and JFK is that JFK readily admits it is a myth, while the Warren report holds onto the illusion and delusion that it is factual. And so it is similar with Snowden and American Sniper, as Stone sets out to counter Clint Eastwood in his bootlicking, ass kissing, myth making, propaganda with a counter-myth meant to celebrate the thoughtful, rebellious, principled subversive in the form of Edward Snowden.

Why do I think Oliver Stone is intentionally taking shots at American Sniper in Snowden? I think that because Stone has cast the remarkably wooden actor Scott Eastwood, American Sniper director Clint Eastwood's look alike son, as Trevor James, an NSA middle management type who never questions, or thinks, about what he is tasked to do, or much of anything really. It was seeing Scott Eastwood in the film that made me connect American Sniper and Snowden, and I think that that was not an accident. Stone could have cast a million other actors in that role, but he didn't, he cast Clint Eastwood's kid. Scott Eastwood being cast is not because of his superior talent (God knows) and it isn't a business decision, it is a creative and symbolic decision, and it is deliciously stealthy bit of cinematic intrigue.

Stone subtly and surreptitiously shows that Trevor James is, just like his father's American Sniper muse Chris Kyle, an unquestioning and unthinking fool who fights for tyrants and tyranny, as opposed to Snowden, who selflessly risks his life for the truth, and nothing else. That is what stands out the most to me in Snowden as a contrast to American Sniper, namely that Edward Snowden is smart and insightful enough to recognize the true enemy of America is within in the form of Bush, Obama, Clinton, Petreaus, Hayden, Clapper, the intelligence/political and media establishment et al. Stone is showing that Chris Kyle, like Trevor James, is a dupe, a sucker and a fool, who gives his life as a pawn for the powerful to exploit the weak, the stupid and the gullible. If Chris Kyle were a real man and the true American hero he has been sold to us as, he would not have gone to Iraq to keep us safe from phantom enemies a world away, he would have used his substantial sniping skill on the only actual threat to America that exists, namely the same tyrants who were sending him to war for their own benefit. Of course, Oliver Stone would be excoriated if he came out and said what I just wrote, and it is hard enough to sell movie tickets to a film about Edward Snowden, the man our country and culture has labelled a traitor, already, considering we live in a nation of propagandized flag waving dupes, dopes and dipshits who don't have a single clue between them and are as happy as pigs in shit about it. So Stone made a subtle and ingenious dig at Clint Eastwood, Chris Kyle and American Sniper, that only those cinematically savvy enough would be able to catch and I, for one, give him great credit for that.

One other thing to keep in mind in regards to Snowden and some parallels with American Sniper, namely that both of them may very well be pieces from the same propaganda puzzle brought to us by our power and control hungry friends who operate in the shadows (and are unaware of their own shadow - psychologically speaking!!). There is a part of me, and there is substantial evidence to back this up, that believes that The Legend Chris Kyle was created as a propaganda tool out of whole cloth. His story and his rise into public consciousness is very suspect to say the least, as we've seen from the revelations about his less than truthful depiction of his life and military career. The other thing to keep in mind though is that Snowden, as much as I admire what he did, he may very well be just another piece of counter intelligence propaganda meant to spread disinformation and to manipulate the masses. The reason I say that is because while Snowden revealed a great deal of government illegality, yet no one has ever been held to account for these crimes, which is quite convenient. One result of Snowden's revelations are that the public has become numbed into a shoulder shrugging apathy in regards to government surveillance. So with Snowden's revelations, the intelligence community gets to have the cover of being forced to  "come clean", meanwhile they can continue surveillance without anyone noticing or more importantly, caring.

In keeping with the intelligence communities playbook, right after Snowden's revelations the media went into hyper-drive to destroy Snowden personally. The usual suspects at the Washington Post and New York Times and all the television outlets painted him as a self serving, smug, fame hungry man trying to harm his nation for his own advantage. Even ferret faced "comedian" John Oliver got into the act. So now, any other whistleblowers will be reticent to come forward, and any other revelations of government criminality will be ignored. The cavalcade of information that Snowden revealed has been masterfully manipulated into having the effect of creating apathy in the general public and giving immunity to the intelligence community from any crimes committed.  Snowden may not have been a part of the bigger propaganda and counter intel project, but he was certainly useful to it. Add to that that Snowden seemingly came out of nowhere…his life story reeks of someone who was snatched up by the intel community and groomed to be an asset. He never finished high school? Failed out of the Army Rangers? These are odd things for someone so obviously intelligent and highly functioning. To tie things back to Oliver Stone, Snowden may be a modern day Oswald, nothing more than a patsy. (Oswald too was a high school drop out and was seemingly much more intelligent than he seems at first glance, for example he allegedly taught himself to be fluent in Russian.)

The reality is that if I am to be suspect of Chris Kyle's story I need to be equally suspect of Edward Snowden's story, as both of them are littered with red flags, some waving higher than others. A giant red flag for both of them is that their stories were made into major motion pictures. Hollywood is a very useful tool to the intel community to shape culture and perception. The idea that Snowden is an intelligence asset meant to obfuscate the truth rather than reveal it may be a stretch to some people, but we must understand that nothing can be taken at face value. If you want to be a well informed human being, you have to be skeptical of everything you come across. Manipulation of the masses by the powers that be is as old as civilization, and one must always be vigilant against one's owns prejudices.  

The intel community could use Snowden's revelations to divert attention and distract us from what they are really up to, which is probably a hell of a lot more heinous than we can ever imagine. Maybe that is why Oliver Stone made such an un-Stone-like film. Maybe Stone had an inkling that not all was as it seemed in the Snowden story, and so he used the film as an opportunity to subtly undermine the military-industrial-propoganda complex by taking shots at American Sniper while telling a tepid version of the Snowden tale. Maybe…just maybe…Oliver Stone's Snowden is a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma. Or maybe my tinfoil hat is on too tight…who knows?

One final odd contradiction coming from people like Chris Kyle and his flag waving and ass kissing supporters, is that they are usually either republicans or conservatives, and often times both. They dislike and rail against government, determined to reduce it to a size where they can drown it in a bathtub, but they fail to realize that the military, the intelligence services and law enforcement are all part of the government. In fact, military/intelligence/law enforcement are often times the most expensive form of government and the most dangerous to the things that I, and alleged conservatives, say we hold dear, namely, the constitution and our individual, GOD-Given liberties. As republicans and conservatives like to tell us, and as I certainly believe, government didn't give us our liberties, God did. So why are conservatives in general, and republicans in particular, so infatuated with government power, violence and secrecy? It is odd. And don't get me wrong, the democrats are usually just as awful as republicans on these issues…look at the superstars who have been my Senators and representatives over the years, Jane Harman, Dianne Feinstein, Barbara Boxer, Chuck Schumer, Hillary Clinton…they are like a murderer's row for the military/Intelligence industrial complex and against civil liberties.

Which brings us to another point made in Snowden, albeit only in passing. Namely that all of these surveillance programs run by the intelligence community aren't meant to stop terrorists at all, they are meant for corporate and government espionage, and to scuttle civil unrest and protest. In the film, Nic Cage's character Hank Forrester describes to Snowden how he had developed a much better, much more accurate and much cheaper surveillance program than the one the CIA and NSA currently use, but they chose not to use it because they wanted to fill the coffers of the military industrial complex by using a bigger, less effective and more expensive by billions program. This sounds exactly like our trusted government in action. Even applying the most basic, luddite logic, one would understand that the more information you sweep up, the less usable information you will actually be able to focus on. When you expand the haystack, needles don't get easier to find, they get harder.

This is proven by the fact that the NSA and CIA have never used these surveillance programs to stop a terror attack. They have CLAIMED to have stopped terror attacks using these surveillance programs, but there is absolutely no proof whatsoever that is true. Like the overwhelming majority of police work, these surveillance programs, at best, give the intelligence services something to do AFTER an attack, but never before. So what are these programs really about? These surveillance programs aren't about security, they are all about power.

If the U.S. government were so interested in stopping terrorists, then why do they bend over backwards to protect the home and heart of terrorists, Saudi Arabia. Bush's bestest hand holding buddy Saudi Prince Bandar, has been proven to be an accomplice and paymaster to the 9-11 hijackers, as was his wife. And yet, Bush and his successor Obama have moved heaven and earth to protect the Saudi's at all costs and to protect that information from coming to light…why? The Saudi's have been proven to have supported the 9-11 hijackers…think about that. Saudi Arabia was complicit in 9-11, where three thousand Americans were killed. 9-11 has been used as the catalyst and excuse for all of the intrusive (and illegal) surveillance the government has undertaken, and yet, that same government has no interest in pursuing justice in regards to the Saudi's. In fact, not only are they not holding the Saudi's accountable, they are actively arming and protecting them. Any rational human being could, in the light of this information, see the War on Terror for the Kabuki theatre that it is.

Further strengthening the case against the alleged use of surveillance in the war on terror is the fact that the U.S. is also actively working with, arming and supporting terrorists in Syria. ISIS and Al Qaeda are being used by the U.S. as weapons in their war against the Assad regime and its Russian benefactor.  We are doing the same thing in Ukraine where we supply and arm jihadists in the war against Russian nationalists in eastern Ukraine. We play our little public game of charades and pretend to deplore terrorists but behind the scenes we do everything we can to arm and empower them in Syria, Ukraine and across the globe. Is this the act of a nation so desperate for security that they would trample the Constituation and our civil liberties in order to stamp out terror? 

In conclusion, I have an opinion of what Edward Snowden that is probably right in synch with Oliver Stone's, thus I enjoyed the film. I think it could have been much better, but in the final analysis I think it was good enough. I am sure people on the other side of the argument will loathe the film. I believe that if Edward Snowden is the man he says he is, this is the type of man we as a nation should celebrate and hold in the highest regard. It is a sign of our culture's decadence, intellectual indifference and moral and ethical decay that Edward Snowden has successfully been labelled a traitor and an enemy by those in the establishment. He may be an enemy of the state, but he is undoubtedly a hero for the people. If we plan on getting our country back from the oligarchs, aristocrats, corporatists and military industrialists who currently reign over us with their Eye of Sauron intelligence apparatus, the people will need to wake up and fight back. The film Snowden is not perfect, and seeing it will not be a cure-all for the fear, weakness and stupidity that cripple us as a people, that said, seeing it would be a small and positive step in the right direction. 

©2016

 

Jason Bourne, Projecting the Shadow and the Technological Hunter : A Review and Commentary

ESTIMATED READING TIME : 12 MINUTES 27 SECONDS

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

My Rating : 2 out of 5 Stars.

My Recommendation : Skip it in the theatre. See it on Cable or Netflix.

 

THE BOURNE REDUNDANCY

Jason Bourne, written and directed by Paul Greengrass, is the fifth film in the iconic Bourne franchise (The Bourne Identity 2002, The Bourne Supremacy 2004, The Bourne Ultimatum 2007 and The Bourne Legacy 2012) and the fourth starring Matt Damon in the lead role. Jason Bourne is the direct sequel to the 2007's The Bourne Ultimatum which was the most recent Matt Damon starring film in the franchise. Besides Matt Damon in the lead, Jason Bourne boasts Academy Award Winners Alicia Vikander and Tommy Lee Jones in major supporting roles.

The Bourne movies have always been the Rolls Royce of action films in large part because of quality work from Matt Damon and their wise choice of directors in Doug Liman (The Bourne Identity) and Paul Greengrass (The Bourne Supremacy, The Bourne Ultimatum and Jason Bourne). Bourne films are better than Bond, better than Mission Impossible and better than Fast and the Furious (God help us all). The franchise tried to spin off with another lead actor, Jeremy Renner, in 2012's underwhelming The Bourne Legacy helmed by Tony Gilroy, which was the most recent film in the Bourne series. Renner, a good actor, showed how great an actor Matt Damon really is by simply not being able to live up to the standard of Damon's work in the earlier Bourne movies. The studio made the decision to fork over the cash and switch back to Damon for Bourne film number 5,  Jason Bourne, in an attempt to salvage a big money making franchise.

While the move to Renner didn't work and the move away from him was wise, the return to Damon, while good, just isn't good enough in comparison to the first three Damon led films. One wonders if this franchise has simply run its course and run out of creative steam. For a variety of reasons, Jason Bourne feels like a bridge too far in terms of asking audiences to suspend their disbelief once again for Bourne to go through the same ordeal he always seems to be going through, namely searching for his lost/stolen past.

When the Bourne franchise began, Jason Bourne was a man without a memory. The main driving force for Bourne throughout the earlier films was to find out the truth about himself and who he really was and how he got into this business of being Bourne. Those questions maintain very little dramatic currency or urgency as we come to the fourth go around of trying to answer them, since for the most part they have been answered already. With the big Bourne questions having already been answered, what remains is little more than window dressing. The reality is that Bourne, and the audience, know enough about him that answering more questions about his murky past is not dramatically imperative, thus leaving this latest cinematic adventure to be little more than an echo of previous better ones.

What made the earlier Bourne films so good were that they had a stylistic hyper-realism to them. Every punch thrown and received is excruciatingly realistic, every fight a grueling battle, with magazines, pens and other everyday items given new life as weapons. Bourne exists in the real world and that is what made the character and the films so compelling. Bourne isn't a superhero, at his core Bourne is a man, just like us. There is a Bourne potentially lurking in every man and woman sitting in the audience, which is why it is easy to project ourselves onto him as we watch.  And in everyone's home or office there are everyday items, like those previously mentioned magazines and pens, which we may, deep down in our secretly Bourne trained psyche, already know how to use in order to kill our enemies! At least that is the fantasy that the Bourne films have successfully sold to us. 

Sadly, in Jason Bourne, the franchise veers a little too wayward into the realm of the fantastical and away from that trademark hyper-realism. It doesn't entirely go away from that realism, but it does venture far enough out into the neverland of Hollywood action film land to scuttle the franchise's signature core of hyper-realism. The main problem with Jason Bourne is in the second half of the film when the story goes to Las Vegas. The Vegas section of the film is pretty terrible. Lovers of big, Hollywood action movies will love it, but lovers of Bourne hyper-realism will cringe. Bourne lovers go to see Bourne films to get away from the mindless destruction of the average Hollywood blockbuster. Bourne is usually the thinking man's action movie, but not here. The Vegas fiasco could be taken from any run of the mill, shoot 'em up, Hollywood action flick, and Jason Bourne suffers greatly because of it. 

What makes the Vegas section of the film so disappointing is that the opening portion of the film, set during an outbreak of civil unrest in Athens, is so remarkably well done. Director Paul Greengrass' trademark frenetically intimate camerawork is on full display in the Athens section of the film, and it is glorious. The Athens scenes are riveting and breathtaking. This is the Bourne franchise at its best, using the real world, and real events, as the back drop for this story hidden beneath the surface that goes unseen by the masses. Bourne having a fight and chase in the midst of civil unrest in Athens doesn't just make for interesting cinema, it makes us watch the news differently. We become aware that a whole host of things could be going on behind the scenes of the stories we see and read, and we have no idea what the truth really is beyond the images on the news. That is what makes the Bourne series so much fun, it awakens our imagination and lets us bring it out of the theatre with us and into our everyday life. (To go back to an earlier point, we will never look at a rolled up magazine quite the same way after having watched Bourne beat somebody's ass with it.)

As good as the Athens section is, the Vegas section is equally bad. It feels like two different films spliced together, the first half a Bourne film, the second half a Fast and Furious film. Greengrass is a very talented director, his Bloody Sunday is an absolute masterpiece, but here he seems to have run out of ideas in the later portions of the movie and gone back to the old "Hollywood action movie playbook" to find an ending.

The acting in the film is uneven as well. Matt Damon does his usual solid work. Much has been made of the fact that Bourne speaks about twenty lines in the entire film, or something to that effect, meaning Damon was paid a million dollars a line. But to be frank, he is worth it since it has been proven that no one else could play the part better. Damon has a charisma and magnetism on camera that serve him incredibly well in these films. His comfort in not talking is a rarity for actors, and is an under valued and unappreciated great skill. 

A terrible disappointment in terms of the acting is Academy Award winner Alicia Vikander as Heather Lee, head of the CIA Cyber Ops division. Vikander is a very good actress, of that there is no doubt, but here she struggles mightily. The biggest issue with Vikander's performance is that she butchers her American accent. Vikander is Swedish and British, so speaking with an American accent is no easy task. Sadly, she falls into the trap that many foreign actors in general, and British actors in particular fall into, namely that they mimic what they think the Ameican accent is rather than actually understanding it from the inside out. What I mean is that learning an accent doesn't just require you to re-train your vocal instrument, the mouth, tongue, vocal chords etc., but it requires you to re-train your ears. In order to really do an accent well, you must be able to hear it properly. Most British actors hear American speech through British ears, which makes for a disjointed and poor imitation of an American accent. Vikander does exactly that in Jason Bourne and you can hear it very clearly because she makes the technical error of putting her voice too deeply into the back of her throat and speaking in too low a register. Firstly, this does the opposite of what I assume she was trying to do, it doesn't make her voice sound more grounded and powerful, it makes her voice sound muffled, flighty and weak. Secondly, and this happens a lot of the time with Brits, is that she loses the subtle rhythm of the American voice. The British accent is so wonderfully sing-song to the American ear, and it has a distinct rhythm to it that is easy to pick up. The American accent, on the other hand, sounds terribly flat, dry and dull to the British actor, and so they think it has no rhythm to it all. They are wrong, the rhythm is there it is just much more difficult to locate if you don't know how to listen for it. Thus the issue with hearing an accent in your native voice and trying to translate from there…you cannot do it, or better said, you cannot do it well. Vikander falls prey to this trap, which is a shame since she is such a wonderful presence on screen, but that is undermined here with her distractingly bad American accent.

THE HUNTER MYTH CYCLE

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

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

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

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

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

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

LIVING IN THE AGE OF THE TECHNOLOGICAL HUNTER

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

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

PROJECTING THE SHADOW

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

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

SHOCK AND AWE - MUST SEE TV

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

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

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

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

HERO OF THE DAY

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

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

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

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

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

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

I HAVE BECOME COMFORTABLY NUMB

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

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

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

CONCLUSION

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

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

Our only hope for the healing of our fragmented psyches, and the reclamation of our humanity is to make our killing impulses and acts conscious.  We must take full mental, emotional, psychological and spiritual responsibility for the killing that we do.  Sadly, with our culture thoroughly numbed through technology and medication, this seems terribly unlikely. The more likely scenario? Go watch the Terminator and Matrix films to see what happens when humanity is unable to carry and acknowledge its killing shadow. It will give you something to watch while you wait for Jason Bourne to come out on cable or Netflix, because you shouldn't spend a dime going to see it in the theatre. And if you really want to spend your time wisely, I highly recommend you go read Projecting the Shadow : The Cyborg Hero in American Film.

©2016

Hell or High Water : A Review

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

Estimated Reading Time : 5 Minutes 14 Seconds

My rating : 4.5 out of 5 stars

My Recommendation : See it in the Theatre!! Go See it Now!!

"THE DAYS WHEN YOU COULD ROB BANKS AND LIVE OFF THE MONEY ARE LONG GONE"

Hell or High Water, written by Taylor Sheridan and directed by David MacKenzie, is the story of Toby and Tanner Howard, two native sons of Texas who go on a bank robbing spree. The film stars Chris Pine and Ben Foster as the Tanner brothers and Academy Award winner Jeff Bridges as the Texas Ranger Marcus Hamilton who is hot on their trail.

The acting, the writing and the directing In Hell or High Water are impeccable. Taylor Sheridan who wrote the script, also wrote last years Sicario, and is quickly becoming a master storyteller. His dialogue is crisp and his action and storytelling vibrant and vivid. The very basic story of Hell or High Water is that of bank robbers, but Sheridan puts an original and unique twist onto that narrative and uses it to tell an intriguing story with deeper truths sprinkled throughout his multilayered script.

Director Mackenzie uses a deft touch to allow the film and his actors room to breath, and he uses the vast Texas landscape to enhance his visual storytelling. Mackenzie's pacing and fluid camera work add an extra dimension to the story that help it blossom. Mackenzie's other great achievement is his obvious insightful work with his actors. While Ben Foster, Chris Pine and Jeff Bridges are accomplished actors who may not need all that much direction, Mackenzie's work with the supporting and smaller roles is evident and excellent. There are local hires in this film, I am thinking of an older man in a diner, and an old waitress in another diner, who are so great in their scenes it filled me with a beaming joy. After having suffered through the atrocity of acting in Sully, seeing the exquisite work of the actors in smaller roles in Hell or High Water gave me faith once again in the craft and skill of not only acting but of directing. I thank Mr. Mackenzie for that and for his dedication to his job and the specificity of his work.

As for the main characters, all three actors are outstanding. Ben Foster is an often over looked actor, but he is among the best we have working today. Foster's Tanner vibrates with a palpable chaotic energy and unpredictability that is mesmerizing. Chris Pine's Toby is more subdued than his brother, but carries a cross of melancholy throughout life that permeates his every move. In my eyes, Pine was little more than a pretty boy movie star before this, but after seeing his work in Hell or High Water, I am excited to see where his career can go from here. And finally Jeff Bridges, who is one of the great actors of our time, turns in another stellar performance. Bridges' Texas Ranger is funny, bordering on cruel, a man desperate to connect and feel again but who is completely ill-equipped to do so. But when we see rare glimpses of Ranger Hamilton's true self and heart, they are utterly captivating. There is one heart breaking sequence where Bridges goes from a subdued guttural cry to a ferocious and fierce determination that could melt steel. Bridges is a joy to behold on screen, and his work in Hell or High Water is more proof of his professional and artistic mastery.

Finally, a special mention for Gil Birmingham who plays Bridges' Texas Ranger partner Alberto Parker. Birmingham takes a role that in the hands of a lesser actor could have been just a caricature, and creates a truly magnificent character of depth, life and feeling. Birmingham's Parker takes much abuse from his partner Hamilton, and while he wishes that abuse would roll off his back in all good fun, it doesn't. Birmingham creates a wall which Parker hides behind in order to function in the world of the Texas Rangers, and is smart enough to let the audience get glimpses of who Parker really is behind that wall which makes him a distinct and genuine character that lights up the screen.

"I'VE BEEN SITTING HERE LONG ENOUGH TO WATCH THAT BANK BEEN ROBBING ME FOR THIRTY YEARS GET ROBBED" - OLD MAN IN DINER

I had not heard much about Hell or High Water before seeing it. It is one of those films that sort of flies under the radar in our very cluttered popular culture. I went to see it because a friend of mine, Mr. Ben AKA The Oklahoma Kid, had recommended it to me. He is usually spot on when it comes to film, so on his advice I made the trek to the theatre to check it out. And boy, am I ever glad I did. Hell or High Water is an truly magnificent film, one of the best of the year. After seeing it I tried to describe my feelings for the film to a friend of mine, I told her that Hell or High Water is the type of film for which cinema was invented. The film tells its story on multiple, complex levels, and most importantly it also tells the truth. There is no Sully-esque fairy tale or wish fulfillment here. The lesson of Hell or High Water is that the American Dream is a lie. On top of that it makes the subtle yet effective argument that America itself was founded upon a lie and built upon the slaughter of native people and the theft of their land, and the karma of that theft reverberates to this day. Hell or High Water shows us that the exploitation that built this country has moved from the native population to the nativist population. Hell or High Water is damning evidence that American capitalism has now become a cancer that is devouring its host, and will continue to do so until its death. 

The Howard brothers learn quickly that the only way to succeed in the rigged game of American capitalism is to cheat. And if you have to hold a gun to somebody's head just to get a place at the table, then you do it….that is the true American way. The Howard brothers are like millions of Americans who have been sold a bill of goods and were and will be again, left holding the bag when the house of cards tumbles. The Howard brothers are the type of men who fight our wars overseas only to come back home to be "thanked for their service" by self-satisfying American sycophants but ignored for their true sacrifice and their desperate needs. The Howard's, like most Americans, live in a country where opportunity is for the few and despair for the many. The Howard's, unlike most Americans, are smart enough to realize that the real enemy is not outside our borders in Iraq, or Syria or Russia, but right here at home on Wall Street and in Washington.

"BOY, YOU'D THINK THERE WERE TEN OF ME" - TANNER HOWARD

The Howard's are also throwbacks to a time when real men existed in this country, not the faux men who roam our land now, with their big pick up trucks, belt buckles and cowboy hats, the Chris Kyle worshippers who carry weapons but lack the courage and wisdom to know who to use them against. These faux men are good government bullshitters who wave their flag and pledge their allegiance to the lie that is killing them. And when Tanner Howard walks down the middle of the street with guns a-blazin, these "real" men, who greatly outnumber him and out gun him, turn tail and run, because they know that in the face of a real man, of true masculinity, the American male of today stands no chance. 

Hell or High Water is about the loss of that true American masculinity. The Howard brothers are the last of the dinosaurs roaming the Texas plains. The outlaw, the true individualist, who would stand up to power, not be its slave, are long gone. America has become a nation of cowards because all the real men have been neutered…by government, by culture, by greed, by fear, by generational incompetence. The younger generations have grown up not knowing what a real man is, so they drive their lime green muscle cars and play their hip-hop and wave their pistols in an attempt to emulate what they think a real man is, all the while the real man rides his white stallion in the background without a sound and barely a notice, and uses his fists to beat the shit out of those posing at being real men.

"THESE BOYS IS ON THEIR OWN" - TEXAS RANGER MARCUS HAMILTON

There is a scene in Hell or High Water where a bunch of ranchers drive their cattle across the road to escape a brush fire. From atop his horse the rancher says to Bridges' Ranger, "My kids won't do this job!". As Bridges drives away he says to his partner, "These boys is on their own." They are on their own, for they are the last of their kind, driven to extinction by events beyond their control. The real men, like the Howards or that cattle driving cowboy, know that America's true enemy is from within, it is the banks that started that brushfire that will drive us off our lands, just like we drove the Comanche off of this same land a hundred and fifty years before. The flag waving dipshits, the Chris Kyles, the good government bullshitters, they are already dead and they are too stupid to even know it yet. These faux men, these impotent American males worship an idol, America, that cares not for them except to feed upon their naiveté and idiocy. That brushfire sweeping the Texas plain already destroyed the uber-masculine culture of the Comanche, and now it will grow and spread and leave behind it a scorched earth of American masculinity that will never grow back.

That's the real problem with guns in this country, not that guns are dangerous in and of themselves, but that there are no real men left to carry them. The men of this nation are simply children grown large who have had no true men to raise and guide them, and that is why there is so much gun violence today. The people with guns aren't man enough to know when, how and on whom to use them. That goes for the gang banger, the cowboy, the soldier and the cop alike, none of which are real men, that is why they shoot unarmed men and deer…because unarmed men and deer don't shoot back. That is why we fight wars against countries that can't fight back, and still can't win them. When Tanner Howard brazenly walks down the street and shoots back at the pick-up truck contingent, those cowards tuck tail and head for the hills as fast as they can, because Tanner is worth ten of those neutered half-men. 

I have a theory of masculinity that most film lovers will understand. It goes like this…most men of today think of themselves as one of the Corleone family from The Godfather. Of the Corleone brothers, Sonny, Fredo, Michael and Tom Hagan, most men think they are either Sonny or Michael. Sonny, the hot tempered tough guy and ladies man, or Michael, the cool, calm, unflappable leader. In Hell or High Water, Tanner is Sonny and Toby is Michael. In reality most men of today are delusional and are neither Sonny nor Michael. The one's who think they are Sonny are really Fredo, and the ones who think they are Michael are really Tom Hagan. And this is where we find ourselves at this time in the history of the American male, …we are a nation of Fredo's, incompetent cowards who are afraid of our own shadow…psychologically speaking I absolutely mean that literally. Occasionally we run into a Tom Hagan and confuse him as being a Michael because we haven't seen a real Michael in many decades. The man we think is a Michael isn't a Michael, he is a Tom, more an errand boy for those in power than real a man who should wield power. The days of the American male as Sonny and Michael are long gone, for now we live in the age of Fredo. What proof do I have of this? Look at our two Presidential nominees…who are you voting for? Fredo or Tom? You get what you pay for…and our bill has come due.

"ONLY ASSHOLES DRINK MR. PIBB" - TANNER HOWARD

Hell or High Water is the epitaph of the real American man. Go see it as it is a fantastic film. It is well worth your hard earned dollars and your sparse free time. Go see it and see the last of a dying breed, the Real American Man, because soon enough the only place you will be able to see one is on a movie screen.

©2016

 

Sully : A Review

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

Estimated Reading Time: 208 Seconds

My Rating : 2 out of 5 Stars

My Recommendation : Skip it in the theatre. If you are a fan of Eastwood and Hanks, see it for free on Cable or Netflix.

Sully, written by Todd Kormarnicki and directed by two-time Academy Award winner Clint Eastwood, is the story of US Airways pilot Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger who famously crash landed flight 1549 into the Hudson River in January of 2009. The film is based on Sullenberger's autobiography Highest Duty, and stars two-time Academy Award winner Tom Hanks in the lead role. 

Sully, like many of director Eastwoods films in recent years, has some good in it and a whole lotta bad. Let's start with the good. The plane sequences where we see flight 1549 crash into the Hudson river are very impactful and exceedingly well done. It is difficult to watch those sequences and not have a visceral reaction to them. It is every airline passenger's nightmare and darkest fear to go through what the passengers of flight 1549 went through, and when you add to that the fact that 8 years before Sully's aviation heroics, low flying planes over New York city didn't crash harmlessly into the Hudson river, they crashed violently into the World Trade Center resulting in thousands dead, it is easy to understand how those passengers, and viewers of this film, would be unnerved. This recipe of recent history and the magic of cinema make for some heart pounding scenes of flight 1549's two hundred and eight seconds in the air. It is when the film is on the ground (and water) that it wanders aimlessly and sputters hopelessly.

Besides the plane sequences, another bright spot in the film is Tom Hanks. Hanks is not the most daring actor in the world. In the last few decades he has fallen into a lazy pattern of repeatedly playing characters with an almost saintly dignity which often times borders on arrogance. He does the same thing in Sully, but to his credit he does it very, very well.  Hanks has spent a career refining this exact type of performance and his years of experience come to fruition as Sully. The Sully character is one part Captain Philips, one part Captain Miller from Saving Private Ryan and one part James Donovan from Bridge of Spies. If you've seen those films then you've already met Sully, now he is just wearing a different uniform. Hanks work in Sully is not a model of artistry or creative genius, but rather one of experience and comfort with craft.

Now on to the bad. First off, there is actually no dramatic story here at all. Sully is one of those films that isn't really about anything at all except justifying its own existence…and separating people, namely older audiences, from their hard earned money. It is like a headline with no actual story below it. In other words there is no there, there in Sully. It is a meatless sandwich. Eastwood tries to make the narrative about Sully battling the  evil, mustache twirling bureaucracy of the NTSB as they try to stifle and punish good old American individuality and heroism, but not surprisingly that storyline falls impotently flat.

Sully also tries to be about the relentlessness of the media and the difficulty of being caught in the public eye…but that too is a rather dramatically flaccid narrative. It seems an odd thing for Sully to complain about being in the public eye when he voluntarily goes on tv to be interviewed by Katie Couric and followed that up by going on Letterman. He didn't have a gun to his head when he did those interviews. A good strategy to avoid the harsh spotlight of the public eye is to keep your head down and stay off of television.  (As an aside…I have a very simple rule of thumb for any film. Namely…if a film has a scene where a gaggle of reporters and camera people hound the main character and he or she has to plow his way through those reporters and camera people on the way out of his or her home, office, hotel, or courtroom, then that film is a horrendous pile of steaming poop. Most any film that has that scene in it is a horrible film - I'm looking at you Gone Girlyou piece of crap!! Keep an eye out for those type of scenes next time you watch a movie, and 99 times out of 100, you'll see that I am right.)

The only real purpose of Sully is to show the dazzling effects of the plane crash, which stated before are excellent…and to drum up the primal American fear around 9-11. It is no accident the film was released on the weekend of the 15th anniversary of 9-11 and has multiple scenes of planes crashing into the New York skyline. Sully seems to be pining for that feeling of connection and 'we're all in this together' that allegedly permeated the country after the 9-11 attacks. The character of Sully, or should I say the caricature of Sully, is that of the perfect American, heroic, noble and selfless, who is hounded by the twin evils of government bureaucracy and the liberal media. Much like Eastwood's last film, American Sniper, this film would have been much better and much more interesting if it kept a distance from its subject (or in the case of Chris Kyle, his family) and instead made a film about the actual man, and not The Legend or The Hero created by, or built around that man. But Eastwood is not the director to make that kind of film, he lacks the nuance, the skill and the craft to make a truly complex and layered film that isn't a western.

Another really bad part of the film is the non-Hanks acting. As is the case in most of Clint Eastwood's films, the supporting and secondary actors give utterly heinous performances. Laura Linney plays Sully's wife, she is a truly terrific actress, yet here she is embarrassingly awful. Her work is shrill, shallow and devoid of purpose. Anna Gunn, who is also a usually solid actress, is so terrified and uncomfortable in front of Eastwood's camera as to be distracting.

The smaller roles, those of passengers, stewardesses and the like, are filled by actors who are just plain terrible. The airline stewardess' and a father and son who get on the plane last minute are particularly note worthy in their atrociousness. The always shitty Michael Rapaport makes a brief appearance as a bartender and continues to mystify the western world as to how a man so talentless and devoid of charisma can continue to have an acting career. Mr. Rapaport can rest easy though as the actors playing his fellow New York bar compatriots are equally shitty at acting.  

The problem with Clint Eastwood directing a film is that he doesn't actually direct his actors. He does very few takes of each scene and gives no direction or guidance to his actors, so the less experienced, and less talented actors are left to their own devices and often times flounder. Eastwood's hands off approach to directing actors results in a myriad of underwhelming and terribly uneven performances throughout, and his films most assuredly suffer greatly as a result of it. Go back and peruse the acting in the supporting and smaller roles in Eastwood's last decade of filmmaking. They are absolutely cringe worthy. Just as Bradley Cooper did great work in American Sniper but was surrounded by a troupe of actors that could have been dug up out of the Blaine, Missouri community theatre, so it is with Tom Hanks and his supporting cast in Sully.

Why does Eastwood leave his actors to their own devices? I think the biggest reason is that it actually takes time to direct actors. Eastwood is, first and foremost, concerned with getting his films done on time and on budget. He is no fool for he knows if he is on schedule and on budget they will let him keep making movies, this is how the business works. So Eastwood chooses to get things done on time, rather then to get things done RIGHT. Sometimes, like when he has a very experienced and talented cast, this approach works because his actors are up to the task. Eastwood's greatest film (and one of the greatest films of all time) Unforgiven, is a perfect example of this. When you have Morgan Freeman, Gene Hackman, Richard Harris and Eastwood himself in your cast, you don't have to waste much time working with the actors. But when you have considerably lesser talents and lesser experienced actors, you DO need to spend time working with them and helping them to gauge the size, scope and scale of their performance.

There are other issues with the film that are just egregious errors in filmmaking. After the plane crashes into the Hudson, there are not one but two instances where individual passengers are in peril, and Eastwood plays up this peril to a great degree, spending time and energy on it. Then he just walks away from the danger sequences and lets them resolve themselves without any explanation. It is bizarre, and frankly absurd. The people who were in peril weren't that interesting to begin with, so why even show them in danger in the first place? And then since you did show them in danger, why not play out that sequence to its conclusion? It is a strange, terribly sloppy and unconscionably lazy bit of filmmaking on Eastwood's part. It was one of those sequences that make me shudder to think that Eastwood has two Oscars for directing and Stanley Kubrick has none. Oh the humanity!!

In conclusion, Sully is a rather shallow and thin film that is definitely not worth spending your hard earned money to see in the theatre. While the plane sequences are captivating, the surrounding story and the majority of the acting are sub-par. If you are a fan of Eastwood or Hanks, or even Sully himself, then you can wait to see the film for free on cable or Netflix. If you want to watch a plane-crash survival oriented film while waiting for Sully to come out for free, go watch the much maligned Flight starring Denzel Washington. While the film is definitely flawed, Washington's performance is one of the best of his stellar career and is worth seeing. Or if you want to watch a 9-11 themed film, go watch Paul Greengrass' gut wrenching United 93. Both Flight and United 93 are considerably more worthy of your time than the rather tepid Sully.

©2016

 

Suicide Squad : A Review

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

My Rating : 0.75 STARS OUT OF 5

My Recommendation : Skip it.

Suicide Squad, written and directed by David Ayer, is the third film in the recent DC comics cinematic universe (Man of Steel 2013, Batman v. Superman : Dawn of Justice 2016) which tells the story of a ragtag group of super-villains and anti-heroes who are thrown together to use their evil talents for good. The film stars Margot Robbie, Will Smith, Jared Leto and Viola Davis to name just a few.

Suicide Squad was released last week on the heels of last March's much maligned Batman v. Superman : Dawn of Justice. I was one of those rare breed of people who, thanks to very low expectations, actually liked Batman v. Superman. Granted, I didn't think it was Citizen Kane, but I did think it was better than the horrible press it had received. Within that context, I was tentatively excited to see Suicide Squad when it came out. After having seen the film, I must report that my excitement was terribly, terribly misguided.

To put it as succinctly as possible, Suicide Squad made me want to kill myself…or someone else, namely the people who made it. If writer/director David Ayer or any studio executives from Warner Brothers are found in a shallow grave out in the desert, or wash ashore on Venice beach, or are discovered crucified to a Suicide Squad billboard, you'll know who's behind it. I am not worried about openly admitting my future crime as I am sure I can O.J. my way out of a conviction simply by showing Suicide Squad to the jury. No doubt a "justifiable homicide" determination would quickly follow.

From its marketing and trailers, Suicide Squad appears to be an anarchy and mayhem fueled, wild-ride rebellion of a film, which is right up my twisted alley. Sadly, in reality it is a relentlessly conventional, dull and formulaic film. Watching Suicide Squad is like watching someone else play a video game for two hours. The film is so vacuous it is little more than a commercial for itself and the films that will no doubt follow it. It is so sluggish as to be suffocating and is totally devoid of any intrigue, originality or life. 

Even though the stars of this film are villains (Harley Quin, Joker, Deadshot et al), the film suffers from the lack of a credible and interesting foil to oppose these superstar anti-heroes. The enemy that the Suicide Squad faces is the "Enchantress", who is an ancient mystical being from deep in South America who has possessed the soul of a young archeologist named June Moon, remarkably poorly played by the wooden Cara Delevingne. The Entrantress' minions are the people she has taken control over and turned into what look like faceless asphalt people who have zero self preservation instincts. Doing battle with endless tidal waves of amorphous asphalt people is a good way to make a film feel like a video game, of which I am sure there will be one on the market in no time. In keeping with the rest of the film, the fight scenes are terribly monotonous, predictable and asinine. 

The film is so shallow and thoughtless that it repeats itself numerous times over with recurring shots, lines and sequences. If I had to see the asphalt people attack Special Forces soldier Rick Flag one more time, and the Suicide Squad want to let him die and then decide to save him with the line, "if he dies, WE die!" I was going to die…and take every poor bastard in the theatre with me. 

The script and story are absolutely incoherent and absurd. There are character changes of heart that come out of nowhere, such as the whole El Diablo character arc, and illogical and repetitive narrative choices that drive the story from one ditch to another. The feeling I get is that the original script was awful, then they brought in other writers to punch it up who made it even more awful, and then the studio heads put their two cents in and completed the mountain of poop for which they had just paid hundreds of millions of dollars. In the end it is just a giant stew of human, horse and dog shit haphazardly slapped together.

Were there any bright spots? Well…you have to look very very hard, but the unconscionably beautiful Margot Robbie does a great, if flawed job as Harley Quinn. Her accent comes and goes a bit, but she does develop an actual and intriguingly genuine character of depth. Jared Leto does an admirable job as the Joker even though he is terribly underused. Leto is following in the footsteps of the late Heath ledger's iconic performance as the Joker in The Dark Knight, so he has big, crazy shoes to fill. Leto's Joker is not a continuation of Ledger's (which is a mistake by the studio, but that is a story for another day), they are two totally separate entities from different DC universes, but Leto does the best he can with the very little what he's given. Leto's Joker is more ghetto gangster than Ledger's genius anarchist sociopath, but it works well enough. Truth is I think The Joker and Harley Quinn's story should have been it's own film. It is a pretty fascinating tale and both Robbie and Leto have the skill, talent and charisma to carry a film like that…especially if it is just a B story in a Batman v. Joker film, but obviously I am not as brilliant as the numb nuts running Warner Brothers so feel free to ignore my suggestions.

Another "good" part of Suicide Squad is actually very telling as to why the movie is so appalling, namely that Will Smith is one of the best things in it. I loathe Will Smith as an actor ( or 'rapper" for that matter). He is as contrived and manufactured as it gets. There is not a genuine bone or performance lurking anywhere in Will Smith's body. He does well in Suicide Squad though because he can pose and preen with just enough star power to make him seem at home on the big screen, which isn't always the case with all of the other actors, Robbie and Leto being the notable exceptions. Smith being a bright spot is a black spot for the film as it highlights the film's stultifying conventionalism. 

As for bad performances, there are many. Rick Flag is played by Joel Kinnaman and he is just atrociously dreadful. The only other thing I have seen him in is last seasons House of Cards, where he is equally dreadful, which makes me think Mr. Kinnaman is just a plain dreadful actor who has been the recipient of a charisma bypass. Did I mention how dreadfully dreadful his dreadful performance was? Speaking of dreadful, Viola Davis is unquestionably a great actress, she has been nominated for an Oscar and won an Emmy, this lady can act. But in Suicide Squad she is absolutely ghastly, just abominable. She is so wooden and lifeless I was worried she had suffered a major stroke during filming and was just being propped up in front of the camera and had special effects puppetry people moving her mouth for her. It was inconceivable to me prior to Suicide Squad that Viola Davis would be capable of being so appallingly bad in a role and so uncomfortable on screen, but sadly, Suicide Squad and director David Ayer brought Viola Davis to new lows.

The thing that I find so frustrating about Suicide Squad in particular, and the recent Warner Brothers - DC comics films in general, are that they really have the potential to be truly great. The source material is stellar, with the DC mythology being as psychologically rich and complex as any in modern storytelling. Yet Warner Brothers has stumbled all over itself on this recent spate of DC films. Why is that?

The biggest problem with the current crop of WB/DC films is that the studio has placed its trust in deeply flawed writers and directors like Zack Snyder and David Ayer. The earlier Dark Knight trilogy, which was so financially and critically successful, was directed by Christopher Nolan, an innovative and creative master. Snyder and Ayer are nowhere near the talent of a visionary like Christopher Nolan. In addition, the studio itself has meddled far too much with the films during every stage of production, creating a 'too many cooks in the kitchen' scenario. As limited as Snyder and Ayer are as filmmakers, and boy are they limited, it hamstrings them even more to have studio clowns sticking their fingers in every pie and adding salt to every soup. Nolan's films succeeded because they set out to tell a great story and make quality cinema. The recent DC films have failed because the studio has set out to make gobs of money while ignoring story, character and cinematic integrity.

What Suicide Squad and all the rest of the DC films need is a strong, ambitious and creative leader with a distinct visual and storytelling style at the helm to steer the ship. Watching Suicide Squad I couldn't help but think of David Fincher's iconic Fight Club, which is what Suicide Squad should have stylistically tried to emulate. Wrangling a top director like Fincher to sign on to direct or produce DC films would no doubt be a tough get, but something dramatic along those lines needs to be done in order to save this run of films, which is scheduled to go well into the next decade, from being a studio destroying debacle. Whoever the studio gets to try and right the ship, it is clear that Zack Snyder must go…and he needs to take David Ayer with him, but sadly, all signs point to Warner Brothers holding steady with Snyder and company running the show for the foreseeable future. 

The one positive that may come from this disastrous run of WB/DC films is that they may get so bad that a re-boot will be in order in our near future. Frankly, a re-boot is what they need. Get a top notch visionary to direct and/or produce the films and start over. Not all the errors of this Zack Snyder run can be corrected, such as the decision to not continue the story lines and universe of Nolan's Dark Knight trilogy and expanding from there, but many of them can be corrected. For instance, Suicide Squad should have been made much further down the road in the series of DC films Warner Brothers is making. You need to establish the characters who star in Suicide Squad as villains in other films before you lump them all together in a big group film. WB, not surprisingly, got all of that backwards, while the folks over at Disney/Marvel have done it perfectly. 

In the end, Suicide Squad is making a ton of money, but it is fools gold. The studio may think they have a golden goose in their DC properties, but audiences will only tolerate so much garbage before the whole house of cards collapses. Warner Brothers is headed for a harsh reckoning in regards to their DC films, and the corporate bloodbath that will unfold will be eminently more entertaining than the slop they are putting on screen to sell to the public now.

In conclusion, Suicide Squad is a terrible waste of a film. It is an incoherent, tedious and annoying mess of a movie. Don't waste your money by seeing it in the theaters, and don't waste your time seeing it anywhere else for free. You'd be better served, and more entertained sticking your head in an oven for two hours than sitting in front of this dog of a movie for single second. 

©2016

 

The Lobster : A Review

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

MY RATING : 4.5 Stars out of 5.

RECOMMENDATION : SEE IT IN THE THEATRE

THE ABSURD - The conflict between (1) the human tendency to seek inherent value and meaning in life and (2) the human inability to find any.

The Lobster, directed and co-written by Yorgos Lanthimos, is an absurdist, existential drama* set in a near-future dysotpia. In this dystopian future, single people (those without a spouse) are sent to a hotel resort where they have 45 days to find a suitable partner or they will be turned into an animal of their choice. The film stars Colin Farrell, Rachel Weiss, Jessica Barden, Olivia Colman, Lea Seydoux, Ben Winshaw and John C. Reilly.

The Lobster was a tremendous surprise to me,  as it is a unique and original little gem of a film released during the usual summer tsunami of big, blockbuster garbage. The directing, writing and acting are impeccable. The film thrives because it has the cinematic courage to never comment on itself or revel in its own quirkiness, instead playing it as a straight, remarkably insightful and moving drama. 

At it's heart The Lobster is not a love story, but rather a story about love. It is a story about emotional autism, isolation, totalitarianism, the desperation of desperation and the idea of misery loving company. It is a story about the cruel world of relationships, lisps, limps, nosebleeds, the near-sighted and those black of heart. In short, it is a brilliant and ingenious film that shows the shadow lurking deep in our hearts, and just below the surface of our psyches. 

"I can't go on, I'll go on." - Samuel Beckett

Colin Farrell easily gives the best performance of his career as "David". Farrell disappears into the "everyman" role, even showing off an impressive, and all too familiar, regular guy gut. Farrell's physical transformation is matched by his emotional detachment in the role, and his droll, deadpan delivery. Farrell is an actor who has struggled with the demands of the industry and its push for stardom, and creatively he has never consistently lived up to his obvious ability. In The Lobster, Farrell finally brings all of his formidable talents to bear in a role I never would have guessed he could have managed. It is a credit to his integrity and commitment that Farrell took and embraced this role with such mastery.

The supporting cast is superb as well, with Rachel Weiss giving her best and most captivating performance in years. John C. Reilly does his usual solid work, as does Ben Winshaw as the "limping man". The standout supporting performance though belongs to Lea Seydoux, who plays a steely and determined revolutionary. Seydoux gives a powerfully magnetic performance that is blistering. Jessica Barden and Olivia Colman also make the most of their small roles by creating vivid and complex characters with very little screen time.

"Happiness and the absurd are two sons of the same earth. They are inseparable." Albert Camus

As much as I loved The Lobster, I readily acknowledge that it may be an acquired taste, as my good friend Chaz J. Chazzington saw the film and hated it beyond words, which is striking as he generally likes every piece of crap movie he goes to see. In fact, he literally hated The Lobster beyond words as he couldn't tell me exactly why he hated it, just that he did. I think, but do not know, that his dislike of the film may have to do with his expectations heading into it. The Lobster is billed as a "comedy", and after years of cultural conditioning, when people hear something is a comedy, they immediately project onto the film a bunch of softer and lighter qualities. For instance, when some people hear "comedy" they may instantly think of a Kevin Hart, Will Ferrell or Woody Allen type of  movie. The Lobster is not at all that type of film. In fact, I wouldn't even call it a comedy at all, which is why I described it as a drama in my opening paragraph. In my opinion, in order to fully enjoy The Lobster, one should look upon it as a drama that at times becomes funny. 

"We can regard our life as a uselessly disturbing episode in the blissful repose of nothingness." - Arthur Schopenhauer

I also think my Lobster hating friend may have been put off by the film because it is very dark in theme and tone. Not everyone is comfortable with their shadow, and material that delves into the darker aspects of human nature can trigger deep feelings of discomfort in some folks. Once again, this can come from cultural conditioning, as we are often taught that darker material is "bad", and so we make moral judgements on a film's themes or subject matter and are unable to judge the film on its merits. Integrating our shadow, and the shadow of the wider culture, is vital to psychological evolution and health, and ignoring or shunning the shadow is not only a fools errand, but is physically, mentally and emotionally harmful. When the shadow is presented in a relatively innocuous form, a film, it can then be ingested, digested, absorbed and integrated. Acknowledging the shadow in our own or in the collective psyche through something as ingenious as The Lobster, is a way to pay homage and respect to mankind's darker nature and bring it to consciousness, and thus release some of its power, without having to pay a very heavy price for it, only the cost of admission.

With all that said, The Lobster may be too dark or artistically inclined to be your cup of tea. It was right up my alley though, in fact, so much so, that I think it is one of the best films of the year thus far. I was captivated, entertained and intrigued for the entire two hours. I thoroughly loved the film and wholly encourage you to spend your hard earned money and go see it in the theatre, if for no other reason than to encourage studios to make more films like this one. If you do find yourself hating The Lobster, you can always leave the theatre and sneak into a showing of the movie Central Intelligence, it stars Kevin Hart and The Rock, two of the biggest stars in Hollywood today…if that isn't absurd, i don't know what is.

©2016

 

Orlando and The Rough Beast

Estimated Reading Time : 7 Minutes

On the night of Friday, June 10th, singer Christina Grimmie, a 22 year old former contestant on the NBC show The Voice, was shot and killed by a deranged fan after a performance in Orlando, Florida. The next night, June 11th, Omar Mateen, a 29 year old American man of Afghan descent, walked into the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida and shot over a hundred people, killing 49 of them, in the worst mass shooting in U.S. history. The following Tuesday, June 14, Lane Graves, a two year old boy visiting Disney World from Nebraska with his parents and four year old sister, was snatched and killed by an alligator while wading in shallow water in a lake in Orlando, Florida.

These three stories share much in common, violence, tragedy, grief, frustration, heartbreak and, oddly enough, geographic location. From a human perspective, these stories illicit a great deal of emotion, as we are all able to project ourselves or our loved ones into their horrific circumstances. From a mythological/psychological perspective, these stories reveal something much deeper and much darker about us, our collective unconscious, our time and what lies ahead for us all.

The Religion of Fame and Celebrity

The Jungian psychological symbolism of these three attacks are relatively obvious, and strikingly ominous, for anyone looking for them. The incident that kicked off this horrific four days in Orlando was the senseless murder of Christina Grimmie. Grimmie had obtained a modicum of fame being a contestant on the show The Voice. Grimmie is symbolic of one of the new and powerful American religions…the religion of fame and celebrity. The talented and ambitious Grimmie was trying to climb up the ladder of success to become one of those people who are the Greek gods (immortal myths) of our time…the famous. All religions sell and profess "the light", but that light brings with it the shadow.  That which is demonized by a culture or religion, becomes the shadow of that culture or religion. The shadow of the old religions, Christianity, Islam and Judaism, is usually sex. See the child sex abuse scandal in the Catholic church as a prime example of the repressed shadow asserting itself in distorted ways. The shadow of the new American religion of celebrity is desperation and delusions of grandeur.

The fan who shot and killed Christina Grimmie was the vehicle for the shadow of the religion of fame and celebrity to assert itself. He stalked and then killed Grimmie, and then himself, as a sacrifice to this new religion. Without that level of crazed fanaticism, which is a toxic combination of desperation and delusion, the new religion of celebrity would hold no psychological power over the masses. Good can only function in opposition to evil…the famous can only be famous if there are masses of anonymous people yearning to be just like them. The brighter the light, the darker the shadow, and in this case, the darker the shadow the brighter the light. Christina Grimmie was, like more and more people in our culture, consciously acting upon the siren call of fame and celebrity, her killer, like many of the unwashed and un-famous masses, was unconsciously acting upon the siren call of fame and celebrity's shadow. In terms of the new religion of fame and celebrity and its psychology…meet the new boss, same as the old boss.

The Old vs The New

Which brings us to Omar Mateen, the man who slaughtered 49 people at the gay nightclub Pulse on June 11. Mateen, like Grimmie's killer, was playing a part in a much wider mythological struggle than just his own psychological torment. Mateen, by all accounts a closeted homosexual, was a foot soldier in the battle between the old religion and the new. The old religion, in this case Islam, which like Christianity and Judaism before it has sex as its shadow, is not going quietly into the goodnight of its evolutionary oblivion. The religion it is battling was born of its own shadow, that religion is the religion of Libertinism. Mateen was a man torn between the new religion, Libertinism, and the old religion, Islam. Mateen's biology, sexuality and western culture pulled him to the church of Libertinism, and yet his family, tradition and heritage pulled him towards Islam. The poor people slaughtered in Orlando by Mateen are just collateral damage in the war raging between the new and old religions and in his own psyche. Mateen was unconsciously mugged by not only the shadow of one religion but two. The psychological shadow of Libertinism caused him to yearn for the clarity and moral purity being offered by the old religion of Islam, while the the shadow of Islam caused him to act out his repressed sexuality and deem it "deviant", which made him hate himself for his biological urges, and then project that hate on to others who seemingly had no internal struggle over their choice of Libertinism.

Mateen's psychological (and sexual) struggle is the same struggle as the entire culture and its old religions of Islam/Judaism/Christianity. The old religion of Islam/Judaism/Christianity is trying to hold back the tide of human biological urges as well as the new religion, Libertinism, which celebrates them. All the laws, violence and intimidation in the world cannot stop what has started, namely, the decay and collapse of the old order and its religions and the rise of the new order and its religions. There is no moral judgement to be made for or against either side, only the admission of this psychological reality.

The Leviathan

And then there is the horrific tragedy of Lane Graves, the little boy snatched by a gator and killed in a Disney resort lake. Graves is symbolic of the innocent, the pure and the good. The little boy joyously playing in shallow waters with his father and then a beast rises up from the depths to snuff out his life. 

An innocent little boy killed by a beast from the depths is symbolic of the entire series of killings in Orlando that week. From the depths of the collective unconscious and the individual unconscious of the killers, a Leviathan, like that shown to Job in a vision in the Book of Job, born of the shadow of God, rose up to snuff out innocent life in an attempt to make its unconscious aspects conscious. In Jungian psychology, water is symbolic of the unconscious, and this story is about more than the Graves family tragedy, but about the beast lurking in our collective unconscious that is desperate to be made conscious and which will kill as many innocents as it can in order to bring about that consciousness. This primal, primitive unconscious energy is fighting for its survival and will do anything to stay alive (become conscious).

As a friend of mine (and a Jungian analyst) The Big Falconer, said to me recently, "the unconscious, the Self, the dark side of the God-image, doesn't care how many millions of people or how much of life is killed in the quest to become conscious…." And the horrors of Orlando are proof of that.

The Happiest Place on Earth

The fact that this horrific drama played out in Orlando, the theme park capital of the world, otherwise known as "The Happiest Place on Earth" is also of great symbolic meaning. Disney is a religion unto itself. The religion of Disney, is a uniquely American religion that sells an eternal childhood and all the innocence that comes with it. This Disney religion is puritanical, and like its sister religion of Celebrity and Fame, is also delusional and grandiose. The Disney religion ignores the darker parts of reality, namely, the impulses and instincts toward sex, violence and death. Those things, sex, violence, and death, were what came out of the shadows and into the light that bloody weekend in Orlando. The shadow will not be denied. You ignore it at your own peril. As the saying goes, "Do you believe in the Devil? You should, he believes in you."

Like Disney, the American culture has turned into an adolescent theme park and maintains the delusion of being the "happiest place on earth". Disney is as American as it gets, and to have this bloodshed on its doorstep is no "coincidence". The veil of Disney (childhood)/American (adolescence) delusion and illusion is not just being pulled back, it is being violently shredded. The scales won't gently fall from our eyes, but will be forcibly torn away. An innocent little boy, a perfect symbol for the religion of Disney (childhood), was devoured by what that delusional and illusional religion ignores, namely death, which took the form of a primitive shadow beast (reptilian instincts/alligator).

"Many miles away something crawls from the slime, at the bottom of a dark, Scottish Lake" - The Police, lyrics from the song Synchronicity II, off of the album Synchronicity

The fact that the alligator, the symbol of the lizard/reptilian brain, the most archaic part of the psyche, the home of the unconscious drives of sex, violence and fear, was lurking just below the surface of the delusional Disney (childhood)/American (adolescence) waters is striking. This primal beast, this alligator/dragon/Grendel is lurking in the depths and the darkness of America and the world, and it is hungry. The beast's hunger is for life, for consciousness, for survival. It devoured an innocent little boy (childhood) that night, but it also slaughtered an aspiring singer and 49 other people (eternal adolescence) the previous two nights. This Leviathan has crawled out of the primordial ooze of our collective unconscious and is determined to make itself known and to be made wholly conscious. 

The news is currently filled with stories of the primitive, the primal and the wild lashing out at mankind. In Florida, Gators found with human bodies in their jaws, or taking bites out of unsuspecting people. Bears, awaking from their hibernation to devour humans in Japan or attack runners in New Mexico. Mountain lions attacking young children as they play in their back yard. While on the surface these stories reek of the vacuousness of our media, mythologically, psychologically and symbolically they are harbingers of the darkness, like a bear awoken from its slumber, that is dwelling in our collective unconscious, lurking just beneath the surface of our consciousness. These stories are reminiscent of the plethora of shark attack stories in the summer before the 9-11 attack. That summer was deemed the summer of the shark, and if anyone had been paying attention, those shark stories forewarned us not of more shark attacks, but of something much more sinister stalking humanity from the depths and the shadows of our collective unconscious.

The death and destruction played out over those four days on the stage of Orlando, the "Happiest Place on Earth", is like a mini-drama of all mankind and the collective unconscious. The attacks in the "Happiest Place on Earth" are the eyes and nostrils of a gator/dragon/Grendel just breaking above the surface waters of our consciousness, that portends an ominous and powerful  dark force just beneath the surface of our awareness, that is ascending from the depths to descend upon our world.

What Rough Beast?

As W.B. Yeats wrote in his poem "The Second Coming"...

Turning and turning in the widening gyre   
The falcon cannot hear the falconer; 
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold; 
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world, 
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere   
The ceremony of innocence is drowned; 
The best lack all conviction, while the worst   
Are full of passionate intensity.

"The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere", even, as we recently learned, at the "Happiest Place on Earth". "The Ceremony of innocence is drowned" like the innocent Lane Graves drowned underneath those blood dimmed tides of the Leviathan's lair. "The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity", does this line not speak prophetically to the time in which we live today?

The rest of Yeat's poem is as follows...

Surely some revelation is at hand; 
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.   
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out   
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert   
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,   
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,   
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it   
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.   
The darkness drops again; but now I know   
That twenty centuries of stony sleep 
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,   
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,   
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

Yeats asks the question, "what rough beast, it's hour come round at last, slouches toward Bethlehem to be born?" That rough Beast is now born, risen to life in the bloody waters of Orlando, and now, with its hour upon us, slouches its way to prominence and power in our world. This Leviathan is loosed upon us, and will gorge itself upon our ignorance and unconsciousness. There is a very dark age quickly descending upon us all and it will obliterate man's world and try men's souls. The Beast has been unchained…and it is desperate to feed, and we are all on the menu. This is just the beginning of the long descent into darkness…and we are not all going to survive to make it into the light.

Related Article - The Way of the Gun : Meditations on America and Guns

Recommended Reading for anyone interested in learning more about Jungian psychology and the Shadow -  Answer to Job by C.G. Jung, Archetype of the Apocalypse by Edward Edinger, Owning Your Own Shadow : Understanding the Dark Side of the Psyche by Robert A. Johnson.

 

©2016

 

FATHERS DAY : Top Five Film Fathers of All-Time

Fathers day, that day when we celebrate the men who perform the most important job in the world, fatherhood (with acting coach and any corporate position from middle management on up being the exceptions), is upon us. Fathers teach us how to make our way in a confusing world and how to go from being a boy to being a man. Sadly, shortly after my own birth, I was abandoned in a dumpster that was left in another, bigger dumpster, and was raised by nuns in an orphanage, so I had to find my father figures where I could…I found mine in the cinema.

And so, in tribute to those brave men who followed their biological instinct and impregnated some random woman who then later gave birth to a child, as is common among the species, I have compiled a list of the greatest fathers in film. These are the men who inspired me, and taught me how to be the truly and remarkably amazing man I am today. 

5. Vito Corleone The Godfather - Vito was a father to many, and Godfather to us all. Along with his four biological children, Vito took in Tom Hagan and raised him as his own.  Vito taught his children the value of family above all else, and even taught his nephew Johnny to "act like a man." Always the master negotiator, Vito made a lot of offers that people could not refuse. It is from Vito Corleone that I learned that spoiling and having a sentimental weakness for your children and not teaching them that they should never let anyone outside of the family know what your really thinking, as he did with Sonny, will get them murdered on the causeway. I also got my love of animals from Vito…especially horses.

4. Daniel Plainview There Will Be Blood - Daniel adopted the child of a co-worker killed in an accident and raised him as his own as a single father. Plainview kept his adopted son close by his side and taught him the ins and outs of his business. When his son went deaf due to a drilling accident, Plainview "abandons the child" to a school for the deaf very, very faraway so he doesn't have to deal with nuisance of a deaf kid. At the end of the film, Plainview and his son have a touching reunification, and Plainview makes amends to his son by doing what every good father must to prove his love, he beat a preacher to death with a bowling pin. If that doesn't say fatherly love, I don't know what does.

3. Darth Vader Star Wars Trilogy - Yes, there was the whole hunting his son down to kill him and the hand cutting off incident and the whole blowing up of his daughters planet thing…but deep down Darth Vader only did those things because he cared TOO much. Isn't that what fatherhood is all about? As a great man once said, it is better to ask for forgiveness than to ask for permission…Darth Vader lived that saying to the maximum…it is just too bad his moronic kids never learned that lesson and joined him on the dark side.

2. Humbert Humbert  Lolita - The only reason Humbert married his wife was so that he could be a father to her teen daughter, Lolita. Humbert was considerate enough to take his young, nubile and precocious teen step daughter under his wing and show her what true love was all about after her mother tragically died. Humbert, who is so nice they named him twice, was, like all good fathers, always willing to play a fun game with Lolita.  Humbert Humbert taught his step daughter Lolita that love means never having to say you're sorry….and never having to wait until the age of consent.

1. Jack Torrance The Shining - Jack taught his son Danny the most valuable lesson of all, the need for discipline and commitment. When Jack's job at the Overlook hotel is in jeopardy because of his idiotic wife and her meddling, Jack takes matters into his own hands. The touching scene at the end where Jack goes for a heartfelt stroll with his son Danny through the snow covered maze makes me choke up every single time I see it. The film ends with a shot of Jack's frozen body, which could be a statue titled, "Father of the Year".

There you have it…my five inspirational cinematic father figures. Thank you to all the dads out there!! I hope you have a joyous fathers day.

©2016

X-Men : Apocalypse - A Review

****THIS IS A SPOILER FREE REVIEW!!! THERE ARE ZERO SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW!!!****

RATING: 1.42 STARS OUT OF 5 STARS

RECOMMENDATION : SKIP IT. THERE IS REALLY NO REASON TO SEE THIS FILM UNLESS YOU ARE AN ABSOLUTE COMIC BOOK AND X-MEN FANATIC WITH A LOT OF TIME TO KILL.

ESTIMATED READING TIME : 5 MINUTES 4 SECONDS

I did it, I went and saw ANOTHER super hero movie. Last summer I was unable to go to the movies during blockbuster season, so I am making up for lost time by giving as much money as possible to those fine people at the movie studios for all of the selflessly great work that they do (God Bless Them!!!). I feel, deep down, that if I didn't make multiple pilgrimages to the theatre this summer and missed a second straight blockbuster season, I would be a bad American…and frankly…the terrorists just might win, and I simply cannot let that happen.

Before I begin my review in earnest I must make a Full Disclosure: during my teen years I attended and graduated from Charles Francis Xavier's (Professor X) "School for Gifted Youngsters" in upstate New York. I have struggled for years to say this but...I am officially a mutant. My mutation gives me two super powers, a Level 5 Contrarianism and the ability to smell bullshit from over a mile away. Granted these powers aren't exactly invisibility and flight but you take what you can get and do the best you can with what you've got..at least that's what they taught me at "XSGY" (Xavier's School for Gifted Youngsters) or "X School" as we alumni call it. I cherished my time at X School, where I excelled on the J.V. quidditch team and was voted "least likely to succeed" in the yearbook.

With all of that off my chest, let's get to the film X-Men: Apocalypse. The film is the ninth installment in the X-Men franchise and is the fourth X-Men film directed by Bryan Singer (X-Men, X2, X-Men: Days of Future Past and X-Men: Apocalypse). The film stars a cavalcade of top notch young actors, including Academy Award winner Jennifer Lawrence, Academy Award nominee Michael Fassbender, Rose Byrne, James McAvoy, and Oscar Isaac, to name but a few. 

The X-Men comic book mythology is nothing short of brilliant. Mutants are a fantastic metaphor for various modern issues, civil rights and gay rights to name but two, and are symbolic of archetypes both new and old. The X-Men source material is genius, the problem though is that the X-Men movies have never failed to be anything other than pedestrian even at their zenith. Even the top films in the series have been little more than second rate fare. I have never left an X-Men film without feeling underwhelmed and disappointed. It is too bad because it would be a glorious thing to have a truly great director, like a Christopher Nolan for example, take the complex and nuanced foundational material and do something really great with it, like he did with the Dark Knight trilogy. But instead we are stuck with Bryan Singer, a hack personified, driving these films into a ditch for over a decade now. And so it is with the latest installment, X-Men: Apocalypse.

The main problem with the film is that it lacks any dramatic cohesion and tension and is therefore rendered remarkably dull. That lack of dramatic cohesion and tension falls squarely on Mr. Singer, as does the films uninspired and flat visual style. The film feels shallow and rushed and frankly, devoid of any purpose. I should clarify that comment, the film is devoid of any artistic and creative purpose, but it has plenty of corporate purpose, not the least of which is Fox's contractual obligation to make X-Men films in a timely manner or lose the rights to the characters. Oh…and there is always the desire to fleece idiots like myself who will give our hard earned dollars to go see anything with super men and women in tights kicking bad guy ass. 

There is nothing original or even remotely interesting in X-Men: Apocalypse, only the same old tired tropes and cliches, which is not shocking considering it is the ninth cinematic go around for the X gang. I mean, the Fox cinematic X-Men horse has not only been beaten to death, but drawn and quartered and then beaten into dust. 

From the very beginning the X-Men films have boasted very serious and quality actors, such as Sir Patrick Stewart, Sir Ian McKellen and Halle Berry, who did the best they can with the little they were given, and so it is with the actors in this latest film. Michael Fassbender's Magneto is such a rich and fascinating character that he could easily carry a film about himself alone, but I would want that film to be directed by someone with a command of the power, craft and subtlety of filmmaking…in other words, not Bryan Singer. Fassbender salvages what he can from the scraps of a script he is given to work with, as does the always luminous Jennifer Lawrence and the solid and steady James McAvoy. Other actors don't fare quite as well. Oscar Isaac plays Apocalypse, and is given nothing of substance to work with at all. His costume and make-up are atrocious and undermine any sort of sense of power and menace the character might have been able to generate, and Isaac is left looking embarrassingly ridiculous. Olivia Munn, who has proven herself to be a very capable actress in other projects (HBO's The Newsroom for example), looks completely lost and terribly uncomfortable her entire time on screen. Her discomfort is palpable and distracting, and while Ms. Munn isn't entirely blameless for her poor performance, a good portion of the blame for her struggles falls once again on the ineptitude of Bryan Singer.

I enjoyed the last two X-Men films, X-Men: First Class and X-Men: Days of Future Past, they weren't great films or even very good films but they were at least clever and interesting. In both of those films the storyline jumped back in time and the films became period pieces. First Class was set from World War II up to the Cuban Missile Crisis, and Days of Future Past was set in the early seventies. Adding the element of time period to the films gave them a bit of a boost in terms of interesting material, costume and the intrigue of history. X-Men: Apocalypse tries to do the same thing by setting the time period in the eighties and it simply doesn't work. The third time around is not the charm in regards to time period, as this time it feels stale, forced and creatively bankrupt.

The time period element is a symptom of the greater disease afflicting the X-Men franchise, that disease is artistic insolvency. The creative team behind the X-Men franchise are simply destitute in regards to good ideas, and due to sub-par directing from the likes of Mr. Singer, they were never even able to make the most of the pittance of good ideas they had in the first place. This franchise is in dire need of new artistic blood. They brought in new acting blood, McAvoy for Stewart, Fassbender for McKellen etc, in the X-Men: First Class film and have rode that horse as far as it will take them. The new blood needed is not in front of the camera, but behind it. A new director, a whole new creative team, from writers on down through to cinematography, costume and set design are desperately needed to salvage the X-Men franchise and give the X-Men mythology the cinematic glory it so richly deserves. I doubt that will happen though, as Fox has made it clear that in regards to the X-Men franchise, quantity will always top quality.

In conclusion, X-Men: Apocalypse is another in a long line of missed opportunities in the X-Men film series. If you are a huge comic book and X-Men fan, you will have probably already seen and been disappointed in the film. But if you are even a slightly below fanatical consumer of comic book films and the X-Men, then skip this film. You will never have any need to see it in the theatre or on cable/Netflix. Now I think I can take a little rest from the theatre as my cinematic comic book calendar appears to be free until Suicide Squad comes out in August. I'll spend this long, hot summer honing my Level 5 Contrarianism and bullshit smelling powers for the fall, when I'll really need them, as it will be election time!!

©2016

WWAD? : What Would Ali Do?

ESTIMATED READING TIME : 7 MINUTES 28 SECONDS

On Friday, June 3, 2016, legendary boxer Muhammad Ali died in Scottsdale, Arizona at the age of 74. Since Ali's death, many writers, sportswriters and pundits have opined at length about the man and his amazing career, and rightfully so. I can add little to the cacophony of voices recounting Ali's exploits, greatness and cultural relevance. The one thing I can do though is share a little story of how Muhammad Ali, a man I've long admired but never met, recently taught me how to get up off the canvas and fight like a champion.

This past year has been a very challenging one for me due to a very difficult personal struggle I have been in, the details of which I cannot and will not get in to at the moment. To be clear this struggle is no greater or more difficult than anyone else's, and lots of people have gone through very similar struggles. The bottom line is that we all have our particular crosses to bear. I have seen lots of people very close to me go through much, much worse struggles than I ever have, believe me, but with that said, I have been going through my own, unique struggle this past year which has taken me on a roller coaster ride with lots of ups and downs and highs and lows. This past autumn was a particularly low point in my struggle. I was in the deep in the midst of this tough fight and it was draining my physical, mental and emotional energy. The resulting fatigue wreaked havoc on my spirit, for as a wise man once said, fatigue makes cowards of us all, and so it was with me. With my energy and spirits sinking I drifted about in a sea of depression which teetered perilously close to pulling me down into the dark abyss of despair. I have been in other struggles of similar magnitude before, my struggle to overcome addiction nearly a quarter century ago being a prime example, so I'm not afraid of or unfamiliar with a good fight, but this particular fight is unlike anything I have ever experienced. This fight is a complex and tough son of a bitch and making it all the more stressful is the fact that the stakes are the highest imaginable…and after months of fighting, this past fall I was on the ropes, if not flat on the canvas, my head spinning, my nose bloodied, my ribs aching, my legs quaking, my lungs burning. 

FROM GETHSEMANE TO GOLGOTHA

Being the good Irish-Catholic boy that I am, in my dark night of the soul, I, like so many before me, turned to the faith of my youth. I picked up the bible and started reading and frantically searching. I was desperately looking for answers, for solace, for guidance, for…something. I focused on the New Testament and found myself drawn over and over to the passion of the Christ. It was as if the needle were stuck on that section of Jesus' life from his fear and despair in Gethsemane, of which I could totally relate, to his torture and ultimate death at Golgotha. Gethsemane to Golgotha is a journey of dread and misery that leads to a gruesome defeat. Christ's victory, of course, comes with the resurrection, but for some reason I just stopped reading at the crucifixion. Maybe it is my dark, brooding Irish nature, or maybe it is my doubt riddled faith, but I could not get past Jesus and his human struggles and get to the redemption of Christ as God.

WHAT CAN BROWN, AND BOBA FETT DO FOR YOU?

So there I sat in my office with my bible on my lap, fear in my heart and turmoil in my soul. I was nearing the end of my rope, ready to throw in the towel or to let the ref count me out. And then there was a knock at the door. Frank, our good natured UPS guy, had a package for me, which was odd as I wasn't expecting anything. I brought the package back into my office, sat back in the same chair and opened it up. Inside was a book, sent from a friend who I will call "Boba Fett". I had not seen Boba in quite a while so this package certainly came out of the blue. Boba had left a note inside the book which basically said, innocuously enough, "hey, thought you might like this". Boba had no idea as to how low I had sunk or how beaten up and desperate I had become in my struggle. Boba was completely unaware that he was throwing me a seriously needed lifeline with this gift. The book Boba sent me was "King of the World" by David Remnick. It is the story of the young Muhammad Ali's (then Cassius Clay) rise from obscurity and his fight (and eventual rematch) with Heavyweight champion of the world Sonny Liston. It was in this book, and in the mythic figure of Muhammad Ali that I was able to find my salvation, my inspiration, my strategy and my tactics to get off the canvas and get back into my fight and maybe even win this thing.

THE SWEET SCIENCE

I have been recreationally boxing and training in the martial arts for more than twenty years. I used to work as a boxing instructor before I got into acting coaching/teaching. As an example of how much I love the sport of boxing, for my bachelor party I didn't have a party at a strip club, but rather my friends all gathered together, rented out a boxing gym, and each fought me for a round. Nothing marks a man's journey from bachelorhood to marriage like beating the hell out of his friends. This is the type of barbaric ritual that modern man desperately needs and sorely lacks and that my friends were more than happy to give me since they got to try and punch me in the face. Needless to say that after separately fighting ten different guys I was pretty exhausted, but I was more than prepared for my wedding.

My love of boxing started out when I was just a little kid. I don't come from a  boxing family, and my father was never fan, but for some reason I was drawn to watch the fights on Saturdays and Sundays when they aired on the networks. This was back when boxing was actually somewhat relevant, the fighters were very good and you could see it on free tv. Cable tv was just starting out, and my family never had it anyway, so it was lucky for me that the networks would cover the sport. Ali was well past his prime at this point, but you could still see his past great fights with Frazier, Foreman and Norton when they occasionally re-ran them when they were desperate for content. The lighter weights were where the great fighters of the day reigned…boxers like Ray Leonard, Marvin Hagler, Tommy Hearns, Roberto Duran, Alexis Arguello, Aaron Pryor, Ray Mancini are just a few of the guys I watched and admired over and over on the Saturdays and Sundays of my youth. In fact, there are a pair of boxing gloves given to me as a gift from my Irish friend "Liam The Lion", personally autographed by my second favorite fighter of all time, Sugar Ray Leonard, hanging on the wall right next to my office chair. Leonard is a distant second on my list of favorite fighters to Muhammed Ali, who is, in my eyes, unquestionably the greatest fighter of all time. Every fighter, and maybe every athlete, to have come along in the wake of Muhammad Ali's career has had to do so in the very long shadow of a giant for the ages.

What made Ali so great? Well, there are other writers who would be much more eloquent than I in describing Ali's boxing mastery, so I recommend you seek them out. But to me, Ali was an absolutely beautiful athlete, a big, strong man who moved with a magnificent grace and style, and he was also the first person to tell you that. Ali's obvious athletic prowess made him an elite and formidable boxer, but it was his mind and intangible qualities that made him a great fighter. The thing that always impressed me the most about Ali was not his rhetoric or his flashy fighting style, but rather his heart, his intelligence and most of all his unrelenting toughness. It was these intangible qualities that inspired me in my moment of need in my metaphorical Garden of Gethsemane.

THESE ARE THE TIMES THAT TRY MEN'S SOULS

Ali never backed down from a fight and he never dodged one either. He could also not just take a punch but take a beating, and still persevere and be victorious. Ali was relentless but he was also wise. He understood the teaching of Sun Tzu, that you need to win the fight before it ever starts. Ali's strategic and tactical mastery are what elevated him from remarkable athlete to undeniable champion. Ali's decision to "play crazy" in his pre-fight with Sonny Liston, then the unquestioned  baddest man on the planet, unnerved Liston so much that he was off-balance before the match ever started. Ali's use of the rope-a-dope in Zaire in his fight with George Foreman, who before he became the beloved grill pitchman of today was the most fearsome and baddest man on the planet of his time, tricked Foreman into punching himself out of the fight and the championship. 

"INSIDE OF A RING OR OUT, AIN'T NOTHING WRONG WITH GOING DOWN. IT'S STAYING DOWN THAT'S WRONG." - MUHAMMAD ALI

Ali's heart and toughness were highlighted the most when he faced his greatest tests. Ali's greatness was in his resilience. It was when he faced adversity that he dug deep and proved his worth. His fights with Joe Frazier formed an historic epic trilogy where both fighters gave all they had and had their hearts and souls put to the ultimate test. Both men unquestionably proved their mettle, but it was Ali who got up off his stool in the 15th and final round of the trilogy, and it was Frazier who stayed seated. It was also Ali who got back on his feet after being on the receiving end of a near perfect punch, a vicious and technically impeccable left hook from Frazier in the 15th round of the first fight between the two men. Ali lost that fight but proved his toughness nonetheless to all those lucky enough to bear witness.

Two years after Ali's loss to Frazier in the "Fight of the Century" in 1971, he lost to Ken Norton by decision after getting his jaw broken by the relentlessly hard hitting Norton. Ali proved his toughness by bouncing back from this loss to beat Norton in a rugged rematch just six months later. Ali then proved his resiliency and toughness again by fighting Frazier two more times, in 1974 and '75, winning both fights, including the legendary Thrilla in Manila. A year later, in 1976, Ali beat Norton in the rubber match of their own heavyweight trilogy. Notice a pattern here? Even when Ali lost a fight, he never allowed himself to be defeated, he got up off his ass and went out and beat the men whom he had lost to, not once, but twice, just to remove any doubt as to who was the greater fighter.

Ali's toughness and resilience were vividly on display just nine months after his first victory over Joe Frazier in January of '74, when he took devastating blow after devastating blow from the wrecking machine named George Foreman in October of that same year. Ali did what no other man was able, he took that hellacious beating from Foreman and never wilted. Ali took the best of what Foreman had to offer and then flipped the switch and dispatched Big George when he had run out of gas. Ali withstood Foreman's onslaught and was able to bounce back and have enough left to knock him out. What Ali's victory in the Rumble in the Jungle proved, was that he wasn't just a better boxer and better fighter than Foreman, he was physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually tougher than Foreman. Ali's skill and strategy served him well in that fight, but it was his heart and toughness that won it for him.

"HE WHO IS NOT COURAGEOUS ENOUGH TO TAKE RISKS WILL ACCOMPLISH NOTHING IN LIFE. " - MUHAMMAD ALI

While Ali was glorified in victory, it was in defeat that he was sanctified. His losses to Frazier and Norton forced him to sharpen his resolve that was first born in his three year battle of conscience with the U.S. government. Ali's patience and perseverance are the lessons that are of most value to me in my struggle right now. What are some of the answers you get when you ask What Would Ali Do? Well, Ali teaches us to keep fighting, no matter what. If you get knocked down, get up. If you get hit hard, roll with the punches. If you are losing right now, be patient, and be ready to strike when an opening occurs. If things seem dire at the moment, persevere and remember your principles and the big picture.

Another thing that Ali teaches us is that we mustn't judge our fear, but use it. Ali was not fearless, in fact he was scared shitless in the lead up to his fight with Liston, who was a very scary guy, but Ali used that fear to energize his pre-fight shenanigans that so befuddled Liston. And Ali was also not a man without doubts, as he seriously doubted his prospects in the Foreman fight. Ali teaches us that being afraid or being filled with self-doubt are not signs of weakness but of opportunity, for without fear and doubt, courage cannot be born or prosper. 

"I CAN SEE CLEARLY NOW THE RAIN IS GONE." - JOHNNY NASH

I knew all of these lessons from Ali before Boba Fett sent me the generous gift of that book, so why didn't I remember them on my own when I was in such acute need of assistance? The reality is that when we are in desperate situations and dire circumstances, a powerful myopia sets in, leaving us unable to see the big picture or to think clearly. That is why it is always a bad idea to make a decision out of fear, or anger, or any emotion, because you cannot see clearly, and the solution to your problem may be hiding in plain sight but you are not capable of seeing it. Depression does this to people as well, it shuts them down to the possibilities and makes them myopic to a paralyzing degree. This is what was happening to me until my dear friend Boba Fett, in an act of random kindness, awoke me to the possibilities and the power that already resided deep within me, but of which I had forgotten. That is why friends and loved ones are so vital to us all, for they, and we, when the opportunity presents itself, can be the catalyst to help someone we care about. They, and we, can be the cornermen who implore us to get up off the canvas and get back into the fight and to show us the answer hiding right in front of us by snapping us out of our myopia. Those random acts, the sending of a book, or a thoughtful email, or just letting someone know that we are thinking of them, can be enough to break the spell of that paralyzing myopia and catapult someone into the light of day. Cornermen cannot fight the fight for you, but they can be great places to catch your breath and find inspiration.

WHAT WOULD ALI DO?

And so, if you find yourself in a fight and are struggling, or have been knocked down or beaten up by life, ask yourself the question…What Would Ali Do? The answer will be to keep fighting hard and smart, to be resilient and to persevere no matter what. Ali showed us in the Liston fight that you can use your own fear as a valuable weapon to go from being a nobody to the being the heavyweight champion of the world. In the Frazier fights, Ali showed us how you can use your toughness and resilience to go from being down and out to becoming a legend for all-time. And in Ali's fight with the U.S. government, Ali teaches us how to be patient and to persevere, even if it takes thirty years, in order to go from being a loathed and reviled political, cultural and religious radical, to being a beloved symbol of a man who unflinchingly lived by his principles and convictions, even when those principles and convictions are terribly unpopular.  The bottom line is this…What Would Ali Do? He would win…even when he lost. Ali teaches us that our bodies can be beaten and our hearts broken, but we can never let them break our spirit, for that is where the ultimate victory resides.

Muhammad Ali has now shuffled off this mortal coil, but the lessons he taught us in the way he lived his glorious life will linger with us through the ages, and we should be eternally grateful for them and for him. Ali was a luminous light in an exceedingly dark world. A man courageous enough to speak truth to power, who not only was ahead of his time, but who shaped and changed his time. Yes, Muhammad Ali is gone, but he will never be forgotten by me because in my darkest moments, he taught me how to get up off the canvas and to get back into this fight. Hell…with Ali in my corner, I might even win this thing. So, a tip of my cap to the Greatest of All-Time. Thank you Champ, Rest in Peace, you've earned it.

©2016

THE JOHN OLIVER TWIST : Things Said and Unsaid.

This is the fifth article in our new series THE JOHN OLIVER TWIST, where we monitor tv's political comedians and hold them accountable. The original article, Court Jester as Propaganda Tool, can be found HERE. The second article, The Drumpf Affair and Little Bill Maher's Power Fetish, can be found HEREThe third article Waxing Brazilian and Waning Credibility can be found HERE, and the fourth, Out Trumping Trump on the Great Wall of Trump HERE.

ESTIMATED READING TIME : 7 MINUTES 12 SECONDS

A (relatively) brief post on the recent comings and goings of our favorite political comedian, Brave Sir John Oliver, and to a lesser extent, Little Bill Maher, over the last few months. Much has happened but I've been pressed for time so haven't been able to update you, dear reader, on the shenanigans these two faux truth tellers have been up to.

As I have tried to show in previous posts, John Oliver uses the Establishment Propaganda Model ™ to great effect to deceive and misinform his audience. Oliver is not the first comedian to use that model, but in recent years he has certainly been the most effective. Part of how you know he is such a good propagandist for the establishment is to see how the establishment has embraced his work. If Oliver were what he claimed to be, a rebel speaking truth to power, those in power would loathe or maybe even fear him, but they don't, they celebrate and embrace his every move. It seems every week following one of Oliver's shows the public is inundated with articles in the mainstream press about how Oliver's latest "takedown" or "evisceration" of one subject or another was so utterly brilliant. Even Oliver has poked fun at the embarrassing amount of gushing praise his work receives.

The thing about Oliver's "eviscerations" or "takedowns" are that they have absolutely no effect whatsoever on the subjects he takes on. Yes, they may raise some sort of momentary awareness, but that awareness evaporates almost as soon as the episode is over. The Atlantic magazine did a great piece on this recently where they exposed the reality that Oliver is all sound and fury signifying nothing. And that is part of the Establishment Propoganda Model™ as well. Feed the audience something to distract them and to give them the impression that they are well informed and making a difference, when in reality they are really being led down a cul-de-sac of self satisfaction with nothing at all changing in the long run. 

What has interested me the most in the last few months since my last John Oliver Twist post, has been the things that Oliver has left out of his segments, as opposed to what he has put in. This is a vital part of the Establishment Propaganda Model ™, focusing on certain, specific things, but leaving others out. For instance, on episode 10 of season 3, which aired on April 24, 2016, Oliver's opening segment was on Obama's trip to Saudi Arabia and how the Sauid's ignored him during his trip.

It was a cute bit, but if you watch it closely you realize that it entirely ignored the real reason the Saudi's were so angry with Obama. Saudi Arabia was furious with the U.S. over a bill that was up before congress that would allow victims of the 9-11 attacks to sue Saudi Arabia over their role in those attacks. That is kind of a huge thing to leave out of the story, don't you think? It's like talking about O.J.'s marriage to Nicole and leaving out the stabbing. The funniest part of the whole thing is that two episodes later, on episode 12 of season 3, which aired on May 15, 2016, Oliver opened his main segment, which happened to be on the 9-1-1 emergency phone system and it's problems, by stating "9-1-1, a number we work hard to remember". Apparently Brave Sir John doesn't work so hard to remember those numbers when they point to Saudi complicity in terror attacks referred to by those same three numbers, and Obama's ass-kissing of those same, complicit Saudi's. 

The Saudi/Obama kerfluffle and Oliver's choice to willfully ignore the reason behind it, 9-11, is both odd and telling. It is also telling that just a few weeks later, Oliver did a little bit on Chechnya's leader Ramzan Kadyrov, who had lost his cat. Kadyrov is a real piece of work, no doubt about it, but Oliver made a big point, in fact he mentioned it twice, that Kadyrov's wikipedia page has an entire section dedicated to his human rights violations, as if this was some sort of remarkable "gotcha" point. As I said, Kadyrov, a Sunni Muslim, is a real piece of work (or a real piece of something else more odorous), but that said, you know another group of Sunni Mulsims who have a less than stellar track record on human rights…that's right...the Saudi's! Oliver never mentioned that fact in his piece on Obama visiting the royal kingdom to try and quell the fears of financial liability of the royal family over their role in 9-11. In fact, Saudi Arabia has such a horrendous human rights record that, unlike Kadyrov, they don't just have a mention of it on their wikipedia page…they have a whole wikipedia page dedicated to it!!

This is how the Establishment Propaganda Model™ works, some things are said and others not said. The assumptions underlying the establishment propaganda are never to be challenged, only blindly accepted. A great example of this shows up on Oliver's most recent episode, episode 13 of season three, which aired May 22, 2016. Oliver opened the episode by doing a segment on the turmoil in Venezuela, and the protests that have broken out there. The very first thing he shows about the protests is a video clip from ABC News which clearly states the context of the protests, that "on one side (of the protests) are students and the middle class, and on the other, police and the military."

That quote may seem like a minor part of a bigger segment, but this clip and statement are incredibly crucial in setting up the context of the protests and the premise of Oliver's argument that follows. This statement of "students and the middle class being on one side, and the military on the other", does all the work Oliver needs in setting audience expectations for who the good guys are and who the bad guys are in the Venezuelan situation.  And I am not saying that Oliver is wrong here, as he skillfully shows with the rest of the segment, Venezuelan president Maduro is, like Kadyrov, a real piece of work. What actually intrigued me the most about Oliver's Venezuela piece and his setting of context in regards to the protests, was that in a very similar situation in Brazil (episode 6, season 3, air date March 20, 2016), he completely ignored the context of those protests because he was taking the side of the right wing, the lighter skinned, the powerful, the rich and the military, against the black lower and working classes. Why would Oliver highlight the context in one case and ignore it in the other? The answer is obvious, the context helps him in the Venezuela argument, and undermines him in the Brazil argument. The key in both cases is that Oliver, just like the American Establishment, and just as the Establishment Propoganda Model™ would predict, calls for the overthrow or removal of an elected, left-wing, South American government that is less than friendly with the U.S.. The Venezuela/Brazil protests segments are damning and incontrovertible evidence of Oliver as a propaganda tool. Every liberal watching his show immediately sided with the "students and middle class" against Maduro in Venezuela, just as they would have sided with the black, poor and working class protesting in support of the left-wing President Dilma Rousseff in Brazil, but Oliver intentionally never alerted them to the class warfare element of the Brazil situation.

This is how the Establishment Propaganda Model™ works, you manipulate the information you present in order to contort "reality" to your own ends. So, for instance, the mainstream media in the U.S. would ignore or treat as completely normal the U.S. military doing exercises on the Russian border, but would call Russian military exercises WITHIN THE BORDERS OF RUSSIA as provocative. An easy way to dissect this sort of propaganda is to simply turn it around and imagine what you would think if the media from another country…Russia say, did the same thing. Would you trust them, or believe them? Would you take them seriously? Of course not. If the Russians did a military exercise in Canada and the U.S. did a military exercise in North Dakota, who is the one being provocative? In this case, obviously the Russians. So this is one way you should watch and read the news and see through the propaganda model.

As previously stated, it is not always the things that are said that are revealing of the Establishment Propaganda Model™ at work, but what isn't said. For example, why does John Oliver choose the subjects he chooses? Why did he completely ignore 9-11 in regards to the Saudi/Obama situation when it was such a vital part of the story? Why hasn't he done a segment on the "28 pages" redacted from the 9-11 report which some believe implicate the Saudi's in the attack? Why hasn't he done a segment on the C.I.A. losing the torture report…talk about a situation ripe with comedy? Or better yet…why not do a bit on this press conference from last year by the State Department which talks about how the U.S. has  'long standing policy" to not support coups. it is relevant to both the Venezuela and Brazil situations…and come to think of it, the Ukrainian and Egyptian situations as well. This press conference is the height of comedy and should be right up Brave Sir John's alley…yet he ignored it. 

These are the types of questions viewers should be asking of Oliver and all of the other political comedians. These questions show that it isn't just what Brave Sir John says that proves he is a propaganda shill for the establishment, it is what he chooses NOT to say.

LITTLE BILL MAHER PUCKERS UP

As for Little Bill Maher…well…he has been up to his old ass-kissing tricks once again. Most of the episodes of Realtime with Bill Maher are dreadfully dull and inane. The only time my interest is piqued is when Bill bends over backwards (or just over) for an interview guest. On the 5th episode of season 10, which aired on February 12, 2016, Little Bill interviewed "journalist" Richard Engel. Engel was there to promote his book, and Maher was more than happy to let him "plug away".

What was so interesting in the interview was that Maher briefly mentioned Engel's being kidnapped in Syria. This kidnapping story is pretty amazing and is a twisting and turning tale of propaganda from start to finish. Engel was kidnapped by Syrian rebels who claimed to be Assad forces in an attempt to garner U.S. public support to invade Syria. Engel claimed that a group of Syrian rebels attacked his captors, killing many of them, and freed him. The purpose of the propaganda was to make Assad's troops out to be the bad guys, and the rebels to be the good guys. Except…there were no dead bodies…even though Engel claimed to have seen them. And the rebels didn't save Engel from Assad's forces, they saved him from themselves. It was all a ruse…one which, shock of shocks, NBC, the home of Brian Williams, gladly went along with. You know who else gladly went along with it? Little Bill Maher. The story had been quite clearly debunked and dissected by the time Engel made it the set of Realtime, but Little Bill Maher simply pretended that Engel's original story was the one that happened. In typical Maher fashion, he got on his knees, licked his lips and told Richard Engel that he was "so brave", much like his similar work with General Hayden this season.  This is a great example of the Establishment Propaganda Model™ in two respects…the first is what Maher (and Engel) didn't say, namely that the kidnapping was a ruse and propaganda ploy, and two, retelling the original story so that the truth of what actually happened goes down the memory hole, never to be seen or heard again.

Another hum dinger of an interview with Little Bill was on epsidoe 13, season 10, air date April 22, 2016. This time writer Lawrence Wright stopped by to discuss 9-11, Saudi Arabia and the 28 pages redacted front he 9-11 report. I was glad Little Bill was tackling this important issue…and then I saw the interview. This interview was a classic of the Establishment Propaganda Model™ in that it served no purpose but to obfuscate the truth, not reveal it. Take a look.

This interview is so incoherent as to be mind numbing…and that was its purpose. Wright speaks of Saudi complicity in the attacks due to a Saudi agent being in contact with the hijackers here in the U.S. He also spoke of Saudi government officials being involved by supporting the attack logistically. He also claimed that the U.S. intelligence community knew this as it was happening and were also in close watch over the hijackers their entire time in America. But then he says that the 28 pages aren't really worth much thought because all they will do is "embarrass" the C.I.A. Yes…"embarrass" is what he said. The idea that anything other than "embarrassment" is behind the nondisclosure of the 28 pages is never even mentioned or thought of. What an absurd idea!! How could it be anything other than fear of "embarrassment"? This ignores the fact that it isn't just 28 pages we haven't seen about 9-11 and the Saudi's, but 80,000 files. That's right, 80,000 files…not just 28 pages. That is a hell of a lot of "embarrassment" to cover up in an attempt to save face.

Later in the interview Wright goes on to "explain" that Saudi Arabia isn't responsible for any terrorism at all…only the ideology that creates terrorists. Got that? This comes just moments after he explains that Saudi Arabian officials were in direct contact and supported the hijackers on 9-11. If none of this makes any sense to you, then that makes two of us.

Of course those statements by Wright are in direct contradiction of one another. Maybe Wright was just drunk and rambling…not the craziest notion after watching the absurd interview, or maybe he was intentionally being obtuse and contradictory. Maybe that is his job, to muddy the waters, to obfuscate the truth, not to clarify it. And Little Bill Maher was all to happy to help Wright make a gigantic mess of things. Little Bill was giddy at the chance to be able to change the subject from 9-11 and Saudi and U.S. Intelligence "embarrassment" and make it about Pakistani child fuckers…seriously. Little Bill turned the redacted 28 pages of the 9-11 report into a story about Pakistani child fuckers. Pakistani child fuckers reinforces Little Bill's, and the establishment's, preferred worldview, and U.S. intelligence "embarrassment" and Saudi complicity in 9-11 do not. Concerned about Saudi Arabia, U.S. intelligence and terror attacks?Don't worry…Lawrence Wright and Bill Maher assure that there is nothing to see here.

Besides his interviews, Little Bill has been full of the usual idiocy in his comments over the last few months as well. A case in point is when he had a comedian on and talked about how he, Little Bill, doesn't tell his audience what they want to hear. He was very proud of this, wearing it as a badge of courage. Little Bill is a truth speaker who says the truth no matter what…consequences be damned!! In his next breath, Little Bill went out of his way to make a point blindly supporting Israel. Little Bill explained that Europe, who has always been adversarial with Israel, might now be more sympathetic to Israel since European countries are now being over run with Muslim immigrants from Syria. It was a staggeringly illiterate thing to say, historically speaking. In case Little Bill doesn't know, it was European Jews who immigrated into Palestine, not the other way around. And those European Jews brought with them a terrorist campaign against the locals which featured the invention of the car bomb!! Yes, Little Bill Maher doesn't tell his audience what they want to hear, unless that audience are his pay masters in the establishment, then he says exactly what they want to hear, especially about Israel, over and over again. Bravo Little Bill!! 

Also in keeping with the Establishment Propaganda Model™, Little Bill, just like Brave Sir John, hasn't mentioned on his show the C.I.A. losing it's torture report either. In addition, Little Bill keeps on banging home the idea of "liberals supporting liberal ideas" in regards to the Middle East and Islam. Either Bill is dumber than I think, or he is intentionally laying the foundation for more wars in the region against Islam. You see, you cannot argue for liberals to fight for liberal values in Middle Esatern countries, without also arguing for actual fighting in those countries. Little Bill is a neo-con in that he wants to reshape the middle east, and while he would say he is against another war there, his rhetoric betrays him. You can't tell people to fight for liberal values and then tell them not to actually fight.

In conclusion, both Brave Sir John and Little Bill Maher have been, as the Establishment Propaganda Model™ would predict, serving as useful tools to reinforce the establishment narrative, and not to attack it.  As much as I am loathe to do it, I will continue to watch these two dim-witted, establishment shill, asshats, week in and week out, all as a service to you, my dear reader. I hope you are grateful for this, the greatest of all sacrifices, that I willingly make for you. God help me!!

©2016

 

Batman v. Superman : Dawn of Justice - A Review

****WARNING: THIS REVIEW CONTAINS MINOR SPOILERS!! CONSIDER THIS YOUR OFFICIAL SPOILER ALERT!!****

MY RATING : 2.5  OUT OF 5 STARS

MY RECOMMENDATION: SEE IT IN THE THEATRE, ESPECIALLY IF YOU LIKE SUPER HERO FILMS. IF YOU ARE LUKEWARM ABOUT SUPER HERO FILMS, WATCH IT ON CABLE/NETFLIX.

 

"LOW EXPECTATIONS ARE THE KEY TO A HAPPY LIFE." - METO EVERY WOMAN I HAVE EVER DATED.

As a general rule I never read movie reviews before I see a film. In fact, I don't even like to see trailers for films because studios so often undermine the power of a film by giving away its content in trailers. When I see a film, I want to see it with as close to virgin eyes as possible. If I don't understand a film, I will take the time to actually see it again. I love film so I don't mind investing time into it in trying to understand the art and craft of it all.  I understand that I am an outlier in this area as most people look upon films as consumers looking upon a product they may potentially buy, so they want as much information as they can get before hand, not afterwards. This is why studios reveal so much (too much!!) in trailers, they want to give as much of the film as possible in a two minute movie because they believe that audiences want to know what they are getting. In regards to Batman v. Superman : Dawn of Justice, I found it very difficult to keep my cinematic virginity oath by avoiding news and information about the movie before I saw it. One reason this was such a struggle was that I saw the film just this past week and it was released two months ago, so I am definitely way behind the times. Another reason is that for the last two months my internet homepage has been giving me headlines telling me how awful critics thought the movie, and Ben Affleck were. I never read the articles, but I certainly got the message from the headlines, Batman V. Superman was an epic failure and Ben Affleck was back to his old tricks of ruining movies. And thus…my low expectations were unconsciously inseminated, then gestated for two months and were consciously born this past week.

When you have low expectations, anything good that happens is a pleasant surprise and you find yourself more grateful for things than if you had expected them. And so it was with my experience watching Batman v. Superman. I expected it to be really awful…and it just wasn't. Maybe it isn't as good as I thought it was, but it was certainly better than I ever thought it would be. And guess what…you know what made the film good…I hope you are sitting down for this…it was Ben Affleck's intricate, internally detailed and vibrant performance as Bruce Wayne/Batman. I know you think I am bullshitting you, but It's true, I promise, I am not in any way, shape or form, bullshitting you.

"DO YOU BLEED?" - BATMAN

When I heard that Affleck had taken the role of Batman I thought it was a very bad idea for both him and the film.  Affleck had worked so hard to rise up from being a punchline at the nadir of his acting career and reinvented himself as a respectable filmmaker and passable actor. I thought he was squandering all of the good will he had worked so hard to generate by chasing the "movie stardom" dream that had been the cause of his previous great downfall. Chasing stardom and money was what had scuttled Affleck's promising career once before, and I was sure it was going to do the same thing again. But, to his credit, Ben Affleck proved me a fool because he is damn good as Batman. I think it is his best performance…ever. Which, you know, isn't a very high bar, but he brings a brooding gravitas to the role of which I simply didn't believe he was capable.  Affleck's performance throughout is solid, but his inner rage and fury during his fight with Superman is absolutely dynamic. Affleck imbues Batman with such a tangible psychological wound that it gives him a visceral and volcanic rage, which erupts during this epic superhero brawl. Affleck's magnetic and potent performance is shocking considering his tepid work in most of his previous films. 

Sadly, the "Ben Affleck is dreadful" meme is out there in regards to his work as Batman. Prior to seeing the film, I saw headlines and videos mocking Affleck for having stepped in it again with Batman V. Superman. Maybe it was my exposure to this criticism which lowered my expectations for his work, which is why I was able to appreciate him so much in the role. Who knows? Regardless, if Ben Affleck keeps doing the strong work he did as Batman in future films, the critics will eventually quiet themselves. With all of that said…as much as I disagree with the sentiment, I found this video to be absolutely hysterical.

As much as I enjoyed the film, is Batman v. Superman perfect? Hell no. Director Zack Snyder can be pretty heavy handed at times, the abysmal Man of Steel being a perfect example, and he loses control of this film in the last quarter, but even with all his faults, he has a distinct visual style that works well here. Snyder also does a good job of keeping the storytelling coherent, which is no small accomplishment considering he is juggling multiple important narratives (Superman, Batman, Lois Lane, Lex Luthor, Wonder Woman etc.) that he must weave together. He does so, not seamlessly, but well enough for the film to make sense both internally and externally.

HELLO DARKNESS MY OLD FRIEND

Another key to the film's success is that it is dark…relentlessly dark. And it never wavers from that dark vision. It is a credit to the filmmaker that, unlike in the recent Captain America movie, Batman v. Superman sets its heavy tone and commits to it, taking its subject matter very seriously. The film is a dark psychological study, and I found it to be authentically compelling. There are no witty one liners to water down the mood, and no winks and nods to the audience that this is all in good fun. Batman v. Superman is not in good fun, it is deadly serious business, which to me is the film's great strength, but may also be its greatest weakness in the eyes of critics and a large part of its audience. 

On the downside, one of the glaring problems with the film is that in the final quarter of the picture, it sort of goes off the rails when the hybrid villain appears and we get a generic city destroying, knock down, drag out donnybrook. The hybrid monster is supposed to be a hybrid between General Zod and Lex Luthor, but it really looks more like a hybrid between the most recent Godzilla and the Hulk….and not in a good way. The whole fight sequence with the hybrid is dreadful, this is director Snyder at his worst, and should be cut because it feels as if it is from a very different, and very horrible film (like Man of Steel!!). The fight between Batman and Superman, which precedes the hybrid nonsense, feels epic and climactic and should have closed the movie. That said, even the Batman-Superman fight had a flaw, namely that there is a huge emotional turning point for Batman at the end of the struggle that felt rushed, watered down, and ignored, which was not because of Affleck's striking performance, but rather Snyder's weak grasp of dramatic storytelling. It is a shame because there could have been a truly powerful moment captured there, but Snyder was in too much of a rush to get to the hybrid battle to let the audience sit with Batman in the apex of the deep torment that Affleck had so finely crafted from the very beginning of the film. 

Another problem with the film is Jesse Eisenberg as Lex Luthor. Eisenberg is a good actor (see his work in The Squid and the Whale and The Social Network ), but he is distractingly bad as Luthor. The performance is shallow and showy, and Eisenberg feels small in the part. I understand what Eisenberg was trying to do, he was playing a wounded child, but he wildly misses the mark with his work. A more grounded and energetically focused performance, as opposed to the energetically frantic one he gave, would have given Lex a menace and power that were lacking and sorely needed. When you are walking among giants like Batman and Superman, you better bring a villain who can hold his own…Eisenberg's Lex Luthor fails to do so.

"MORTALS, BORN OF WOMAN, ARE FEW OF DAYS AND FULL OF TROUBLE." - THE BOOK OF JOB

The myths and archetypes on display in Batman v. Superman speak to all of us on some level. In some ways, at its core, Batman v. Superman is a comic book version of the Book of Job, with Batman taking the role of Satan (God's shadow), and Superman the all-powerful God (God's ego) duped into a battle with his darker self at the expense of mankind. 

From a psychological perspective, Batman, Superman and even Lex Luthor represents the various masculine wounds that men in our time carry with them and often pass down to their sons. Batman is the psychological shadow, a man, whose sense of self and masculinity is deeply wounded by the martyring (and thus absence) of the mother and father archetype in his life. Superman is the ego/messiah with a mother and father wound of his own, having been adopted by earth parents after his Kryptonian birth parents rejected him. Yes, his Kryptonian parents did it for his own good, but that disconnect with his home planet and parents dwells in Superman's psyche. Superman's struggle with the anima, the feminine, is also on display in the form of his relationship with his mother Martha and his girlfriend Lois Lane, as is Batman's in his absence of any genuine connection to a female in his life, including his late mother Martha. Even Lex Luthor, the tormented little boy, struggles with the masculine wound given to him by his own cruel father. These three men represent the different paths that can be taken when a boy is left to make the journey to manhood with the father archetype being absent because of martyrdom, paternal rejection or the father being wounded himself. All three men live in the shadow of their fathers, Batman/Bruce Wayne runs his father's company and tries to avenge his death, Superman wears an "S" on his chest, the symbol of his father's hope, and Lex Luthor tries to live up to the expectations placed upon him by his own wounded father. These men are all sides of the same multi-dimensional masculine wound coin, expressing their pain in different ways.

The myths of Batman and Superman, and the archetypes that they embody, are the reasons why these comic book stories resonate so deeply with wide swaths of the population. Batman v. Superman has gotten pretty poor reviews yet is on the cusp of making a billion dollars. Captain America : Civil War will no doubt do the same. These super hero stories can be fun to watch and entertaining, but they also speak to us on a deeply unconscious level. These stores also speak to us from our collective unconscious, telling us things we know but struggle to articulate. For instance, is it a coincidence that in an election year we have two superhero movies about internal conflict between superheroes? In Batman v. Superman we have iconic heroes Batman and Superman squaring off, and in Captain America : Civil War we have two groups of "good guy" heroes doing battle. And also notice that these heroes are divided by contrasting color, Batman is blue, Superman red...Captain America blue, Iron Man red. This is not coincidence…for we as a people are at war with ourselves. In the wider world, civilizations are clashing, see the struggle for Islam to come to terms with modernity as an example. And in the west itself, societies are turning on one another…look no further than the rise of nationalist movements and parties of both the right and left in Europe along with the fraying at the seams of the European Union. Here in the U.S. the rise of Donald Trump in the U.S. is an example of that same clashing impulse. These civilizational battles are what are unconsciously on display in this years crop of super hero films. These films are an expression of our collective unconscious, which is explored and discovered by artists (writers, filmmakers etc.), who become artists in the first place because they are inclined to spend so much time in and around the unconscious, both collective and personal. (I have much, much more to say on this topic…trust me...but that is a posting for another day). Regardless, as mindless as these super hero movies may appear to be, and some of them are really mindless, they do have deep mythical and psychological meaning to us, which is why I appreciate it so much when these type of films take their super hero subject matter seriously.

"FOR WE WERE BORN ONLY YESTERDAY AND KNOW NOTHING, AND OUR DAYS ON EARTH ARE BUT A SHADOW." - BOOK OF JOB

In conclusion, much to my surprise, I thoroughly enjoyed Batman v. Superman : Dawn of Justice. Call me crazy, but I thought that the film and Ben Affleck's performance were well worth the price of admission. I realize I am in the minority on this one, and as my email inbox constantly reminds me, whether the subject be Chris Kyle, John Oliver or Terence Malick, I am almost always in the minority. It doesn't bother me though, as I myself have unlocked  my own super power, a key to eternal happiness…The Power of Low Expectations! Hey, if The Power of Low Expectations can do the unthinkable and make me really like a Ben Affleck/Zack Snyder film, then it really is a super power to be reckoned with!! With a true magic elixir like The Power of Low Expectations, I could be capable of anything!! Or nothing at all!! Either way I'll be happy…and that's all that matters…right?

©2016

 

Captain America : Civil War - A Review

**** THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SOME SPOILERS!!! CONSIDER THIS YOUR OFFICIAL SPOILER ALERT!!!****

MY RATING : 2 OUT OF 5 STARS

SEE IT IN THE THEATRE IF YOU LOVE SUPER HERO MOVIES, IF YOU ARE LUKEWARM ABOUT SUPERHERO MOVIES, WAIT TO SEE IT ON CABLE.

My 2016 movie going has been pretty limited due to an insanely busy schedule, but with 'pilot season' fading quickly into the rear view mirror, I found some time to sneak off and see a movie this week. The last time I went to the theatre was when I ventured to the art house to catch Terence Malick's mesmerizing Knight of Cups. This time I decided to do my patriotic duty as a citizen of the United States of Disney and spend time in the dark with the great unwashed masses at the local cineplex and go see Captain America : Civil War.

Captain America : Civil War is the third Captain America film (Captain America : The First Avenger 2011, Captain America : Winters Soldier 2014) and the thirteenth film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The film is directed by brothers Anthony and Joe Russo and is written by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely. The film boasts an all-star cast which includes Chris Evans reprising his role as Captain America and Robert Downey Jr. doing the same as Iron Man, along with Scarlett Johansson, Don Cheadle, Jeremy Renner, Paul Bettany, Elizabeth Olsen and Paul Rudd, to name but a few.

Captain America : Civil War is a pretty strange movie. In some ways it is an interesting, dare I say noble and courageous attempt to examine the ethics and morality of U.S. foreign policy and military actions and the struggle of Empire to maintain a uni-polar world while under great pressure from without and within to create a multi-polar world where cooperation among nations rules the day. On the other hand it is a terribly uneven and long (it runs for two and half hours) exercise in propaganda and corporatism that is little more than an elaborate commercial for itself, American exceptionalism, future Marvel franchise films, and the auto maker Audi.

To the film's credit, it is much better than either of the recent Avengers films. The Avenger films were an unmitigated mess, more spectacle than storytelling. The problem with the Avengers is that it is near impossible to create any drama when it is difficult to imagine a villain that could match up with the murderer's row of super heroes which include Thor, Hulk, Captain America and Iron Man. Captain America : Civil War avoids that problem by having the "villains" as equally as powerful as the heroes, because the "villains" are superheroes. Iron Man is a match for Captain America and each super hero faction matches up pretty well against the other up and down the line.

Another reason that Captain America : Civil War is better than the Avengers movies is because  the fight sequences are toned down to be less universally and randomly destructive, there are no city-wide rampages that leave New York looking like Aleppo, but instead the fights are more personalized between equally matched super hero combatants. The side effect of this is that the violence is more targeted and meaningful, and less chaotic and random. It also means that the film is less loud and over bearing in its bombastic destruction, which is a plus for anyone who isn't an adolescent and has a brain rattling around in their head.

To the film's credit, it raises a rather complex issue for a super hero movie, the issue of "collateral damage", with the super heroes contemplating all the innocents that have died as a result of their epic battles with various super villains like Loki and Ultron in the previous Avenger films. Captain America and his team believe that, while tragic, these civilian deaths are the price you pay for stopping evil. If you live in the U.S. and watch, read, or listen to any mainstream media, that will sound awfully familiar to you. Although on the surface they clash, Iron Man actually agrees with Captain America in principle about the collateral damage issue but he disagrees with how to strategically handle the fallout over civilian deaths. Iron Man is the symbol of American ingenuity and capitalism, so he just wants to stay in business by any means necessary, and so he believes the Avengers should fall under U.N. control for the time being until this whole mess blows over. At the end of the day the disagreement over whether the Avengers will give up sovereignty to the U.N. gets pushed to the background as all agree that the Avengers are a universal good and are morally righteous having never intended to kill any innocents, so they are neither morally nor ethically culpable in any way. The disagreement which starts the Avenger civil war is really about how to handle the logistics going forward and Captain America's stubborn attachment to his principle on maintaining sovereignty.

As I watched Captain America talk about the specter of the U.N. having control over the Avenger's , I was reminded of the first time I ever heard of Americans being afraid of a tyrannical UN. I was driving through central Pennsylvania about 20 years ago with an incredibly sexy native Pennsylanian woman whom I will call The Amish Minx, and we saw two huge signs on trailers in someone's yard, one read "Keep the UN out of the US" and the other "Don't let the UN take our guns". The Amish Minx, who was born and raised in central Pennsylvania, had always told me the state was basically Pittsburgh and Philadelphia separated by Kentucky, and she used these signs as evidence backing up her thesis. She often referred to the state she loved as Pennsyl-tucky. I think Captain America's message of defiance against the U.N. will deeply resonate in the heart of Pennsyl-tucky and the rest of the American heartland….which is what it is meant to do. Captain America refusing to give up his freedom to decide which bad guys to kill to the meddling, feckless and corrupt U.N., is perfectly American, which makes sense since he is Captain America after all, and not Captain International Political Organization, while Iron Man, the international businessman, is willing to compromise by appeasing the U.N.…for now. As the story progresses though, it is revealed that the real beef between Captain America and Iron Man is, as these things always turn out to be, actually very personal, as Iron Man feels betrayed by Captain America over the death of Iron Man's parents many years ago.

Oddly enough, for a film trying to tackle the heavy consequences of innocents being killed during Avenger battles, the fight scenes between the warring Avenger factions have an incredibly light, fun and playful tone to them. This uneven tone does the film and its alleged serious intentions a terrible disservice. The fights are little more than one-liner battles of wittiness and super heroes trying to out-cool each other. The other drawback is that while the Avengers can feel a little bad about killing innocent people while fighting evil, they themselves never have to fear death because they are never in any peril whatsoever. The fights and the film would have been much better served if the fights between the super hero factions carried some real danger to them. If the teenage Spider-man gets killed by Captain America over a nebulous principle, we have a much more dramatic and interesting movie…but the studio is out billions of dollars in the form of, yet again, another whole new re-boot of the Spider Man franchise.

Another thing that detracts from the collateral damage issue is that when the Avenger factions square off they do so in an airport that has been evacuated, thus it is completely devoid of the danger of civilians being hurt, a central theme in the movie. This big airport fight would have been so much better, so much more impactful and so much more meaningful, if the warring Avenger factions had to not only fight each other but take into account the innocent civilians that could be harmed by their fighting. This would have kept the collateral damage debate front and center in the film and it also would have complicated the battle, giving it much more drama, depth and dimension.

In terms of the acting…well…this is a super hero movie so...there are actors in it. Actually, to be fair, the actors all do very solid work. Robert Downey Jr. in particular is, as usual, terrific as Iron Man. He is a skilled and talented guy, and his Iron Man has never failed to be lively, smart, energetic and compelling. Chris Evans as Captain America is not exactly Laurence Olivier, but he is well suited for the role in that he is an all-american, impossibly handsome guy and he is comfortable letting his biceps do all the heavy lifting and serious acting. Scarlet Johannsen and Elizabeth Olsen do some quality work with the garbage they've been given in the script. Everyone else is pretty forgettable, although to be fair, the entire film, while entertaining, is pretty forgettable, so they fit right in.

The B-level super heroes that Marvel has scraped off the bottom of the barrel for this one are pretty funny in that they are nowhere near being ready to be prime time players. Black Widow, Winter Soldier, Falcon, Hawkeye, Black Panther, Vision and Scarlet Witch aren't exactly the '27 Yankees…they are more like the 2016 Yankees. That said, A-lister Spider Man does make an appearance, and is spectacularly and incredibly annoying. As I said, previously, the film would be better if the young Spider Man is convinced to fight for Team Iron Man, and then like so many young men drawn into the glory of battle, dies too young for a worthless cause. Admittedly, that would be a pretty heavy thing to throw into a Captain America movie, but considering the civilian deaths/collateral damage theme the filmmakers bring up it would, in theory, have been appropriate. Of course, that would make this a real, genuine film and not just some summer, popcorn movie fun…but I would argue you can have both. Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight is the gold standard for comic book films, balancing dark material and Super Hero entertainment, and Captain America : Civil War is no The Dark Knight…but it is better than the previous Captain America and Avenger films.

Not surprisingly, since the Captain America comic was originally created back in 1941 as American propaganda during world war two, when you dig a little deeper into Captain America : Civil War, you realize that it is little more than updated and more sophisticated propaganda for American exceptionalism in the twenty first century. The film is designed to reinforce what Americans have been conditioned to believe for generations through education and the media…that we are a special people and nation, and that when we kill innocent people it is not immoral, only an unintentional accident. This is the "good intentions" argument that self promoting nitwit Sam Harris likes to parade arounduntil a real super hero, Noam Chomsky, goes all Hulk on him and smashes his vapid argument for all to see. (CHOMSKY SMASH!!!) This is also the same thinking that brings cries of "moral equivalency!!" anytime someone tries to hold the U.S. accountable for its evil deeds. While the film appears to be about the Uni-Polar v. Multi-Polar debate and the collateral damage issue, it is actually very deceptive, because at its core the film never questions the morality or righteousness of the American/Avenger cause. In cinematic terms, doing that would mean that Team Iron Man would have to have a true come to Jesus moment and realize that Team Captain America must be stopped no matter the price….but that is not going to happen in the Disney owned Marvel Universe or this coprorately owned one either.

It is easy to make the argument that the Avengers have always been good and acted properly by stopping Loki or Ultron from destroying the entire planet because Loki and Ultron are comic book villains who embody true evil, and the Avengers are comic book super heroes who embody pure goodness. The comic book world is comfortably Manichean which is why we love and crave it so much. The clarity and surety that comic books and their films give us is reassuringly simple, even when it appears to be complex, as in the case of Captain America : Civil War. The real world rarely gives us such Manichean clarity, and it is almost always much less clear cut in the real world who is good and who is evil. The shaded area of grey in which we all live, which can be so uncomfortable for its moral murkiness, will find no home in Disney's Marvel Universe. Sadly, that won't stop audience members from unquestioningly swallowing the obvious propogandic lesson of the film, that the US, just like the Avengers, is always and every time right, morally and ethically, even when it does wrong, and that the U.S., just like the Avengers, is always and every time morally superior in each and every way to his opponents/victims, no matter who they are. When people or a nation put themselves morally above others, it gives them free reign to do anything because no matter what they do, it is good because they are good. The most obvious example of this…***WARNING: Godwin's Law in full effect!!**… are the Nazi's, who didn't think they were evil, they thought they were good and right ("If God is with us, who could be against us?"). The German thinking was that invading Poland or slaughtering Jews, though ugly, was acceptable because it served the greater and higher good, which was Germany and all its mythic glory. The Avengers and the U.S. aren't the Nazi's, but they are compelled by the same sense of self-reverence and moral superiority, which is an uncomfortable, but important idea to contemplate.

Even though at its core, Captain America : Civil War is a piece of propaganda for American Exceptionalism and militarism, it is an entertaining piece of propaganda. I readily admit that I enjoyed the film. I thought it could have been a hell of a lot better, but for what it is, a summertime, popcorn, super hero movie, it is very entertaining. It keeps a solid pace and tempo, and never lulls or loses steam. Although it runs for over two and a half hours, I was never bored and never looked at my watch. It is for these reasons that I would say that if you like Super Hero films, you will definitely like Captain America : Civil War. If you are on the fence about these types of films, I would say, due to the issues of an uneven tone, save your money and wait to see it when it is on cable. Also, the film is not cinematically or visually vibrant enough or stylistically unique enough to demand that you see it in the theaters on the big screen. 

Whether you do what I did and venture out to the theatre to watch the film with the hoi polloi, or if you wait to see it on cable, my one piece of advice is to try to watch the film consciously, being aware of how you are being manipulated and how propaganda works on both the conscious and unconscious level. It is ok to enjoy a piece of propaganda, as propaganda can be well made and entertaining, as long as you don't become an unwitting victim of that propaganda, which will teach you to accept things without thinking and to never question the propagandists assumptions and basic premises. The only antidote to not thinking brought on by propaganda…is to think. So enjoy the film, stay conscious, and keep thinking and questioning.

©2016