"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

Meryl Streep, Character and Moral Authority

Estimated Reading Time : 5 Minutes 08 Seconds

Last night after finishing up some work I sat down and turned on the television just in time to catch Meryl Streep's speech when she won her much deserved lifetime achievement award at the Golden Globes. In the speech, Streep spoke out against president-elect Trump but never mentioned him by name.  Here is the speech.

Streep's speech has received a great deal of attention, both good and bad, and everyone seems to have an opinion on it. Here is mine.

I love Meryl Streep. If she isn't the greatest actress of all time, she is most definitely in the discussion. Her talent and passion for her art are only surpassed by her mastery of craft and technique. In addition to being a tremendous artist, Streep has the reputation of being a wonderful human being, kind and generous to everyone with whom she comes into contact . With all of that said, I found myself getting very angry as I watched her speech last night. I wasn't angry because I disagreed with her, I didn't, I agreed with nearly everything she said. I was angry because I was wondering, where have you been for the last eight years Meryl?

If the things Meryl Streep talked about last night meant so much to her, why didn't she speak up for them during Obama's presidency? If she is so concerned about foreigners or immigrants being singled out, why didn't she speak up when Obama deported nearly three million of them, more than any other president? If she is so concerned with "bullying" of the weak and defenseless, why didn't she speak up when Obama ordered the extra-judicial murder of Americans including a 16 year old American and then had his spokesman say the teen "should have had a better father" as being the reason he was killed ? And why didn't she speak up when Obama failed to prosecute torturers and war criminals in the Bush administration? If Streep is so concerned about protecting the press, why didn't she speak up when Obama had twice as many prosecutions of whistleblowers, eight, as all of the other presidents combined? Why didn't Streep speak up for Chelsea Manning who sat in solitary confinement for nearly a year? Or Edward Snowden who sits in exile in Russia? or Julian Assange who has been imprisoned in the Ecuadorian embassy in London for over four years now? If Meryl Streep cares about those issues as much as she passionately displayed last night, why didn't she fight for them when Obama was president? Could it be that she is actually more interested in style over substance? Political party, power and ideology over Truth?

Sadly, Streep's speech will resonate with no one outside of those who already agree with her. She will change no minds and change no policies with her words from last night. The Obama presidency was the opportunity to change things for Streep and those like her. Streep could have spoken out vociferously for immigrants, foreigners and the weakest among us during the last eight years, if she had, she may have been able to change things. She may have, with her respected standing in the public eye, been able to have gotten Chelsea Manning pardoned, or Snowden, or Assange (or Leonard Peltier for that matter). She may have been able to hold Obama accountable for the extra-judicial drone killings of Americans and gotten that policy changed and saved innocent lives that Obama calls "collateral damage". She may have been able to speak out for poor and working class people who didn't get bailed out while Wall street did, but she didn't. She may have been able to force Obama to fight for single payer healthcare and not the corporate friendly Affordable Care Act, but she kept quiet. She was silent on all of these and a host of other issues she claims to hold dear, only speaking out now that Trump is soon to be president. 

The problem with Streep staying silent during the Obama years is that she has lost all moral authority to lecture anyone. She had her chance for eight years to fight for Truth and change things, and she blew it. She stayed quiet when speaking up could have cost her something in her liberal community, but also when her voice could have really made a difference. Streep's anger may be righteous, but she has lost all moral authority and standing because she failed to speak up at a time, during the Obama years, when her critical voice would not have been so warmly welcomed by her Golden Globe compatriots. That is the sin of the Obama years, liberals stayed quiet in order to stay in power, or to support the party or to not be seen as attacking the first Black president. Whatever the reason, it was a most egregious mistake and one that they will rue for decades to come. It is when your side is in power that your voice and dedication to principles must be loudest because that is when you can actually effect change, not when those who oppose you take the reins. Speaking up against Trump now was a safe move for Meryl Streep in the largely liberal world she inhabits, speaking up against Obama during his presidency would have taken real courage.

It is not only what you say or do when you are out of power that defines your character, but what you say and do when in power that reveals your character. The democrats and Obama supporters revealed their lack of character and cowardice by not being true to their supposed values and speaking out forcefully against Obama when he failed to uphold the constitution and fight for the people. When Obama sided with Wall street over Main street, democrats gave him a pass. When he sided with the insurance companies and big pharma over regular working folks, democrats sat on their hands. When Obama imprisoned whistleblowers and murdered Americans without trial, democrats kept their mouths shut. Democrats revealed their character during Obama's presidency with their silence, and they no longer have any moral authority to speak out against Trump. That doesn't mean they won't speak out, it just means no one will listen or believe them when they do. The Obama presidency was a lost opportunity for democrats to prove their character and their moral authority, and they failed miserably. It will take a long time for them to ever be able prove to people that they mean what they say or are worthy of trust.

The first step for Meryl Streep, and other like-minded people, is to come out and apologize for losing their way and failing to uphold their convictions and principles during the Obama years. If Streep came out and said she was wrong to blindly support Obama, and that she is now going to be loyal to Truth above all else, then maybe…just maybe…she can regain the moral authority that is needed to change hearts, minds and policies. Will she do that? Not likely, as self-righteousness is a warm blanket few refuse in favor of the cold, hard struggle of self-reflection. Which is a shame, as Meryl Streep is an important voice that needs too be heard, it just needed to be heard for the last eight years, and not just last night.

©2017

Through the Looking Glass : Truth and Lies in Week One of 2017

Estimated Reading Time : 8 Minutes 44 Seconds

Week one of 2017 is in the books and boy oh boy was it a doozy. This most bizarre week no doubt portends the strangeness of the year to come. We are only one week into this new year and we are already through the looking glass where up is down, left is right, lie is truth, good is bad and nothing seems to make any sense whatsoever. What am I talking about…well…let's recount the week and discover the ways our world has gone topsy turvy. 

The big news of the week was the "Russia Hacking" story. Director of National Intelligence James Clapper testified before congress and assured everyone that the Russian government in general, and Putin in particular, were indeed behind the hacking of the election against Hillary Clinton. DNI Clapper followed that up by releasing a "report" by the CIA, FBI and NSA that was meant to prove his case for Russian hacking. None of that is very weird, but what was weird was how many republicans were skeptical of the intelligence community claims and how many democrats unquestioningly embraced the intelligence community claims. 

I have read the intelligence report, have you? Did you notice anything funny about the CIA report on Russian hacking into the election? Maybe I am crazy, but there is absolutely zero evidence in that report of Russian hacking or tampering in the election at all. Nothing. It is like the book reports I used to turn in in high school when I didn't read the book…which was always, because reading is for nerds. What would happen is that I wouldn't read the book and then I'd get the Cliff Notes, but I wouldn't even read those, just give them a half-assed skimming over the night before the report was due. Then I would just scratch a bunch of bullshit together in homeroom and hope to sneak by without anyone noticing I had no idea what I was talking about….sort of like what the Intelligence community just did with their hacking report. DNI Clapper turned in one hell of a whopper of a book report the other day and boy is he hoping no one actually reads it with a critical eye. What the Intelligence community did was make a bunch of assumptions, toss in some innuendo, and then played it off as some shocking new information of official Russian guilt and then let the media, and democrats, run with it. The media, of course, excitedly exclaimed that not only is this report proof that Russia hacked the election for Trump, but that Putin himself was the one who ran the whole operation…Dr. Evil style!! This entire episode is utter madness. Anyone who believes that evidence-free report needs to have their head examined. The intelligence community has been deceiving, propagandizing and fooling the populace for decades and yet the democrats cling to their every word because it means they didn't really lose the election!! 

Democrats jumped at the chance to take Clapper at his word without any evidence because it means they aren't as huge a train-wreck of a party as they fear they may be. See it wasn't their shitty candidate, or their shitty campaign, or their vacuous ideas, or their myopic political vision, no it was Putin and the mustache-twirling Russians fault that they lost. I warned democrats against embracing this Russia hacking story because it was too good to be true, and I stand by that. And if democrats would actually read the declassified report, they might not be so enamored with the intelligence community and their conclusions as to who is an enemy of the state. Let's go through the report quickly to see what I am talking about. 

First off, as I already stated, there is zero evidence presented. This report is simply a piece of paper that is meant to make "official" the leaks, which are nothing more than innuendo, that have been published across the media for weeks. The media are treating it like it is manna from heaven, but it is really regurgitated nonsense that contains nothing new. In addition to presenting zero evidence, the "sources" the document provides for their background information are embarrassingly absurd. The report uses an open source document from the internet to make their case that Russia had intent to hack the election. I am not kidding, go look at it.  The "Annex A" section (starting on Page 6, ironically enough) spends the majority of its time attacking the television channel RT (Russia Today) and blaming it for being such an effective propaganda tool for Putin to destroy American democracy. The majority of the report, in fact, is analysis of RT, which takes up 7 of the 25 pages of the report, in contrast to the actual meat of the report which takes up 5 pages.

RT is a lightning rod for the establishment as they often report on things the mainstream media would just as soon ignore. Anytime the mainstream media mention RT, they always describe it as "Kremlin controlled RT" or "Kremlin financed RT" or "Kremlin backed RT", which is pretty funny. I wonder why they don't describe the BBC as "Westminster financed or backed or controlled", or the US networks as "Washington financed, backed or controlled" or the cable channels as "Wall Street financed, backed or controlled"? Any time you hear a talking head describe RT as "Kremlin backed" immediately dismiss them as they are shoveling propaganda. Another sure fire sign of a propagandist is if they describe Putin as "former head of the KGB Putin". Yes, Putin was formerly the head of the KGB, but George HW Bush was formerly the head of the CIA, and yet no one describes him as "former head of the CIA George HW Bush", and they do not describe his son as "son of the former head of the CIA George HW Bush".  It is a simple propaganda ploy to trigger fear and distrust in the viewer and taint the story.

Getting back to the report…if democrats or liberals who are supporting it haven't read it yet,  they really should. The report gives a variety of examples of how RT attacked and undermined America's beloved democracy, the funny thing is though that many of those examples are from 2012, not 2016. Here are some of the more entertaining ones. The report states that in the lead up to the 2012 election RT introduced a new show, "Breaking the Set", hosted by Abby Martin, which "overwhelmingly focused on criticism of US and western governments". See you cannot criticize the US or western governments, that is an attack on America and democracy. Another way to look at it is that Abby Martin committed the crime of journalism. Shame on her! The hysterical part of this whole "Breaking the Set" thing being put in a report about Russian interference in the 2016 election is that "Breaking the Set" stopped airing two years before the 2016 election. Someone please buy James Clapper a calendar…and a TV Guide.

The next section of "Annex A" tells us that RT, in the lead up to the 2012 election, not the 2016 election, had the temerity to report on "alleged US election fraud and voting machine vulnerabilities". Can you believe the gall of a news agency reporting on the possibility of election fraud and voting machine vulnerabilities in the lead up to an election? RT is out of control!! You know who else reported on voting machine vulnerabilities, except unlike RT it wasn't in relation to the 2012 election, but the 2016 election? CBS and PBS just to name two. I wonder if they are Russian spies too? Probably…commie bastards!!

In the next part of Annex A, the report tells us that RT, in an effort to "highlight a lack of democracy in the United States" had "broadcast, hosted and advertised third party candidate debates". What monsters!! The lesson here is that when you are through the looking glass, more candidates, more debate and more democracy actually is an attack on democracy. According to the intel community, war is peace, slavery is freedom and ignorance is strength!!

Another section of Annex A will come as quite a shock to liberals and democrats…but in the lead up to the 2012, again, to be clear, this is not the 2016 election but the 2012 election, RT aired a documentary on Occupy Wall Street that the report described like this…"RT framed the movement (Occupy Wall Street) as a fight against the ruling class and described the current US political system as corrupt and dominated by corporations". Is there any rational and un-compromised human being on the planet who would describe the US political system any other way?

Some other parts of the Annex A section of the report say that RT "alleges widespread infringements of civil liberties, police brutality and drone use" in America. Another part says that RT is attacking the US by criticizing "alleged Wall street greed." Let that one sink in for a minute. I hope liberals and democrats are starting to understand how this report, and the intelligence community that prepared it, are not your friends, not by a long shot. Neither are they friends of Truth. 

And finally, the report claims that RT is attacking US democracy by "running anti-fracking programming, highlighting environmental issues and the impacts of public health." That is just outrageous!! How many liberals or democrats have seen Josh Fox's excellent documentary "Gasland"? Probably a lot of them. Well, they should realize that the intelligence community that they are so enamored with right now, thinks JOSH FOX IS JOSEF STALIN!! In essence, the intel community thinks Josh Fox will kill you and eat your children!! HBO is a tool of Putin!!

So, according to this report on election interference by the Russians in the 2016 election, the intelligence community writes a report that cites a russian news channel's reporting FROM 2012, that is basically in line with liberal or left leaning political positions. And democrats and the media are falling all over themselves to praise this report for its thoroughness and seriousness and attack anyone, even Glenn Greenwald, who questions in it the least. Rachel Maddow was nearly orgasmic when the report was released this week, and interestingly enough she said you should go read it, but she curiously told her viewers to only read the meat of it, which is 5 pages, and skip the "sources and methods" section, because that is longer and boring and confusing. Annex A is the sources and methods section where they only talk about RT. In other words, there are no sources, and there are no methods, there is only old speculation and assumptions. The Intel community, just like me in high school, didn't read the book or even skim the Cliff Notes, and yet the media are determined to make you not notice that. Do democrats and liberals not know this stuff? Have they not read the report? Maybe they should read it before embracing it. Dear liberals, please go read the report. Know what you are signing on to when you endorse this report. What you are signing onto to is the criminalization of your own beliefs and your own eventual demise.

It isn't only Rachel Maddow's coverage of the report and Clapper's testimony that has been both breathless and despicable.  On MSNBC the consistently deplorable Joy Ried, who is such a vacuous dimwit that she has quickly shot up that hapless network's ladder in record time, asked some bumpkin republican congressman from Nowheresville, USA whether he believed the Director of National Intelligence James Clapper or Julian Assange in regard to the Russian hacking allegations. It was an obvious "gotcha" type of moment that cable tv lives for…and watching this dope squirm was what was intended. There is just one problem with Ms. Reid's question and premise…and that is that any rational, sane human being would believe Julian Assange over DNI Clapper in a heartbeat, you know why? Because Julian Assange has never lied to them. Never. You may dislike what he has done, but he has never lied. Clapper? Clapper can't open his mouth without a swarm of lies flying out. Clapper lied to congress, which is a felony, just a few years ago in relation to the Snowden material. Has everyone lost their minds and memory all at once? Apparently the answer is yes. Assange has, at great personal expense, exposed US war crimes, Clapper, at great personal reward, has covered up his own and other war crimes. And I know it is in style at the moment to dismiss and demean Assange due to personal distaste for him, but those sex crimes charges against him reek of Intelligence community handy work.  If you think the US intel community wouldn't try and frame someone  by any means necessary, that they see as a mortal threat, you are incredibly naive.

And then there is the highest ranking democrat in the country, the loathsome Senator from New York, Chuck Schumer. Schumer went on Rachel Maddow's show last week and said that Trump better be careful because the intelligence community has "six ways to sunday to get back at you if you cross them." Think about that statement for a second. Democrats are holding up the intelligence community as the bastion of professionalism and patriotism and in the same breath are claiming the Intel community will circumvent the constitution and extra-judicially "get back" at their political enemies. If I said that same statement people would call me a conspiracy theorist and dismiss me out of hand. The ranking democrat in the country, Chuck Schumer, just said that the intelligence community will exact revenge on President Trump if he challenges them and no one bats an eye. Want to know two presidents who got on the wrong side of the intelligence community? Kennedy and Nixon. Remember how their presidency's ended? Kennedy's brains were splattered all over Jackie's nice pink suit in Dealey Plaza, and tricky Dick ignominiously gave us the "v" for victory sign and then flew off into historical oblivion after resigning. Both Kennedy's assassination and Nixon's impeachment had intelligence agency fingerprints all over them, and even some of the same intelligence operative fingerprints (I'm looking at you E. Howard Hunt). But of course thinking that, never mind saying it out loud, gets you labelled a "conspiracy theorist" and taken off the "serious person" list. But now we have the ranking Democrat directly saying it out loud on national television as a threat to the president-elect of the United States. I do not know how exactly this will play out, but I guarantee you that it will not end well. 

Speaking of repugnant Senators, John McCain and his common-law wife,  Senator Lindsay Graham aka The Southern Dandy, of course are banging the war drums claiming Russia's alleged hacking is an act of war. McCain and Graham are hawks who have never meet a war they didn't love. Democrats and liberals are empowering the war party by embracing this evidence-free report. You want a war with Russia, keep on taking the intel community at their word and I promise you will get one. It is what they want and they have convinced you that is what you want too.

Fake news has also been a major talking point of the media and even the intel community in the last week. As with the Russian hacking story, the fake news story is most bizarre. The mainstream media has claimed that fake news is what lead to Trump beating Clinton, as voters were misinformed as to the real facts and stories. The media have used a plethora of polls that say that Trump voters were terribly misinformed about the election, for instance overwhelming numbers of Trump voters believe he won the popular vote. As we know, this is not true, and so the media have used this point to say that fake news tainted the well so to speak. Of course, the media fail to mention their own part in misinforming the populace and how that is reflected in the media. For instance, there are polls that show how Clinton voters now believe that Russia actually hacked voting machines and changed votes in Trump's favor. This is untrue, even by the flimsy intel report standards, but the media would never blame themselves for this mis-information. 

In addition, the main generator of fake news, is the mainstream media. Just in the last few weeks the Washington Post has published the fakey-ist of fake news stories which much fanfare, but only after time and attention has passed have they sent out little noticed retractions. The WaPo stories were about the alleged fake news generated by Russian propaganda sources about the US election. The  PropOrNot Russian propaganda website lists made by an unnamed and unchecked source, which the Post published without questioning, is total nonsense. The other story was about Russian hacking as well, this time about how the Rooskies hacked into the Vermont power grid!! The story was absurd on its face but that didn't stop everyone from re-tweeting it and spreading it and shouting form the mountain tops about it. Of course, when the story turned out to be untrue, the Post didn't hype that fact, they sheepishly put a small disclaimer on top of it. The damage was done already…which is how fake news works. It is all about manufacturing consensus, consent and content…which is exactly why the Russia hacking the election story is fake news as well. The lack of evidence and proof don't matter to people because the story tells them what they want to hear, and the damage is done. Truth has no meaning in an empire of lies, and we are the ruling empire at the moment.

Speaking of truth, there has also been a great deal of talk about how with Donald Trump as president we now live in a post-truth world, where Truth or facts don't matter.  That may be true, but it isn't entirely Trump's doing…as the Washington Post keeps proving over and over again. Even the aforementioned Joy Reid, a vociferous attack dog against fake news and post-truth Trump, is guilty of spreading fake news and not correcting to fact. Ms. Reid, and the ludicrous "Russia" expert, the sleepy-eyed, charlatan Malcolm Nance, spread the lie pre-election that the DNC emails were proven to have been tampered with and altered. This is factually untrue, but Ms. Reid and Mr. Nance have never retracted those statements. Just like Trump, they have little regard for Truth.

The bottom line is this regarding the intel report, fake news and our post-truth world, if you take anything at face value you are a fool. Only a dupe or a dope, or both, would believe a word the intel community tells them. A brief look at recent and not-so recent history shows us that the American intelligence community are professional liars who will do anything and everything to obscure and destroy the Truth. Remember Clapper lying about surveillance? Remember the Iraq War? Remember the torture report and all the dirty tricks surrounding it? Remember the Gulf War? Remember Iran-Contra? Remember Nicaragua? El Salvador? Venezuela? Brazil? Argentina? Cuba? Iran and the Shah? Vietnam? Laos? Cambodia? I mean, c'mon, how dumb do you have to be to fall for the intel community bullshit again?

And in terms of Russia and Putin, it is most certainly possible that they hacked the election. I have no illusions about Putin being some saint, but regardless of that, what I demand in relation to any news or charges is evidence. I have yet to see compelling evidence that Russia shot down MH-17, or invaded Ukraine or committed war crimes in Syria or hacked the US election. That doesn't mean they definitely didn't do those things, only that I have not seen compelling evidence that they did. And until I see evidence I will not believe those claims, and neither should you. 

This past week is a wonderful launching pad for the chaos, disorder and madness to be unleashed in 2017. The media is abysmal, do not trust a word they say. The intel community are professional liars…never believe them…ever. Trump is incapable of telling any truth, ignore everything he utters. Trust nothing and no one. If someone makes a claim demand to actually SEE the evidence, not some report that is meant to appease people who will never read it and is void of any proof. Demand to see actual, tangible evidence, or consider it a lie.

And finally, if you are dismayed about the post-truth world we now inhabit, make it a practice to be loyal to the Truth above all else. Be loyal to the Truth above ideology, political party and even country. The Truth shall set you free, so stop being a slave to the lies and disinformation coming from "official sources". We are through the looking glass here people, we need to cast off wishful thinking and anchor ourselves to Truth or all will be lost. The road ahead is going to be very disorienting, I mean just last week Sarah Palin wrote an apology to Julian Assange and told people to go see Oliver Stone's Snowden… we are most definitely through the looking glass. Maybe if we can hold onto the Truth for dear life, we might just be able to make it through all of this madness.

©2017

A Monster Calls : A Review

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

Estimated Reading Time : 5 Minutes 47 Seconds

My Rating : 3 out of 5 stars

My Recommendation : SEE IT. I recommend you see this film either in the theatre if you are a Jungian devotee, or on Netflix or Cable as it is interesting and original enough to be worth watching.

A Monster Calls, directed by J.A. Bayona and written by Patrick Ness based upon his book of the same name, is the story of Conor, a lonely, young boy in a small English town whose mother has cancer. The film stars Lewis MacDougall as Conor, with supporting turns from Felicity Jones as Conor's mother, Sigourney Weaver as his grandmother and Liam Neeson as the voice of the Monster that comes to visit him one night.

I had not heard about A Monster Calls before seeing it and knew nothing of the story. Obviously, I had not read the book it is based upon as well. I had time to kill and there was nothing else playing that fit into my time schedule, so, like a young Native American at the time of his initiation, I made the leap. I am very glad that I did.  A Monster Calls is not a perfect film, or even a great one, but it is an interesting film of deep meaning and that is extremely refreshing in the cookie-cutter cinematic culture of today.

The story of A Monster Calls is simple enough, it is a coming of age story where young Conor must go from being a boy to being a man. Conor, like all of us, must be wrenched from his mother's warm bosom (and bed), and thrown into the cold and cruel world to fend for himself. That journey from boy to man is a difficult one under the best of circumstances, but with a cancer-stricken mother as his only ally in the world, Conor's passage becomes a treacherous and desperately lonely one. This is where the Monster is awakened and comes to guide Conor on his path into, and out of, the dark wood of life. 

The Monster is really Conor's psychological shadow. Like all of our shadows, the Monster holds all of the scary, repulsive and ugly things and knowledge that Conor does not want to recognize or admit to himself. In A Monster Calls, Conor's Monster is also the only true father figure or genuine male presence to guide and teach young Conor on his perilous trek into masculinity and out of his pre-adolescence. Conor's actual father makes a brief appearance but is a rather sad excuse for a man and is a pretty worthless father, so Conor is forced to get his lessons in manhood from his own Shadow.

What is so interesting about A Monster Calls is that, while it may at times veer into familiar coming-of-age Hollywood rhythms, it never lets go of its overall darker theme. Without a "shadow"of a doubt, this is a shadow movie. There are no simple answers, no short cuts, no soft landings for Conor here, only the complex, layered and unrelentingly cold, dark and realist life lessons taught by the Monster/shadow. This is not a sunshine, rainbows and singing puppy dogs, Disney/Pixar type of film, if it were it would fail to adaquetly impart the lessons it sets out to teach. This film is a meditation on death, the death of our former selves, the death of our beliefs, of our religion, of our understanding of the world, of our hopes and of our dreams. A Monster Calls is a Jungian exploration of the power of the Monster/shadow that is born of death (both literal and symbolic), that lives within us all and how to release that power by integrating our own personal shadow elements. A great way to enjoy A Monster Calls is to watch it not as a straight forward narrative but rather as a Jungian analyst would analyze one of their own dreams, as the film is, like life, a dream within a dream within a dream. 

That said, this film may not be for everyone. It is rated PG-13 and I think it is on an individual basis that parents should judge whether their children should see it. I think thirteen is a good cutoff to even consider seeing it as kids younger than that may be overwhelmed with the darker themes of the film and may find it very disturbing. In addition, adults may not like it either. As I said, this is really a complex, Jungian, shadow-fairy tale about physical, emotional, mental and spiritual death and that isn't going to be everyones cup of tea. I enjoyed it but I am self-aware enough to know that others may not feel the same way. 

One of the reasons I enjoyed the film is that I have dealt with much death and darkness in my life and I appreciate a film grappling with the deeper meaning of those experiences. I view the world through a Jungian lens and enjoy explorations of the shadow, so this film was right up my alley. Your alley may be much more brightly lit than mine and that is okay, so just be forewarned before you head into see this picture. If the subject matter is something that is unappealing to you, that is okay too, but one thing to consider is that while symbolic death and the shadow may be a "dark" topic, it is also something that we all share together. Each one of us dies a thousand deaths before our final one, and each one of our psyches are inhabited by a thousand shadow Monsters. Our Monsters are what bind us and links us together through the ages from generation to generation. If we couldn't share our Monsters, we wouldn't share anything.

As I previously said, A Monster Calls is not a flaw-less film, for instance the performances are good enough but not particularly noteworthy with the exception of Lewis MacDougall, and there are some elements of the narrative that fall flat. On the other hand, cinematically, the film is fascinating to look at, particularly the dream/storytelling sequences which are visually dynamic and compelling. To its great credit the film does avoid the trap of sentimentality that these types of films so routinely fall into. Instead of cliches, A Monster Calls has an intriguing message and story that could, emphasis on could, resonate with all sorts of people if they are in the right frame of mind to be able to hear it.  

If you are looking for a dark, unique and original modern-day shadow-fairy tale, A Monster Calls is for you. This film contains lessons that each of us need to learn, whether we want to or not. The pilgrimage from boy to man, or for adults, from dusk to dawn during our dark night of the soul, can be a grueling and perilous one, so guidance from our shadow monsters familiar with the terrain of the darkness will be of critical assistance for anyone trying to survive that transition. While most of us would prefer to spend the entirety of our lives in the familiar warmth of the light, we all, at one time or another, will be compelled to make that journey into the cold, foreboding abyss of the mythical dark wood. It would be wise for each of us to familiarize ourselves with our own personal shadow monsters before we make this imperative and unavoidable expedition. As Conor learns in A Monster Calls, and as we all learn when we are forced to make our own similar odyssey, no one ever comes out of those dark woods the way they went in, best to prepare for that journey now while you can. If you don't, you will most certainly regret it when the time comes.

©2017

Nocturnal Animals : A Review

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

Estimated Reading Time : 5 Minutes 08 Seconds

Rating: 1 out of 5 stars

Recommendation : Skip it. No need to see this film in the theatre or on cable/Netflix as it is an unmitigated mess that never lives up to its grandiose pretensions.

Nocturnal Animals, or as I keep mistakenly keep calling it, Nocturnal Emissions, is definitely not a wet dream, it is more like a bone-dry nightmare. If David Lynch sustained a traumatic brain injury and then got blind drunk and directed an Armani commercial, that would be Nocturnal Animals. Actually as I think about it more deeply, the severe head injury-drunken-David Lynch-Armani ad would be considerably better than the limp and lackluster Nocturnal Animals.

Nocturnal Animals, written and directed by fashion designer Tom Ford and starring Amy Adams and Jake Gyllenhaal, is billed as a neo-noir, psychological thriller based on Austin Wright's 1993 novel Tony and Susan. Contrary to what the film thinks it is, Nocturnal Animals is not neo, not noir, not psychological nor is it a thriller, rather it is a steaming pile of stylized excrement.

The "story", and I use that term very loosely here, is about a chic, wealthy, Los Angeles art gallery owner, Susan Morrow (Amy Adams), who in the midst of her icy marriage to Hutton (Armie Hammer), receives a manuscript from her ex-husband, Edward (Jake Gyllenhaal). Edward, a long-time struggling writer, has finally written a novel and dedicated it to his estranged ex-wife Susan. Susan lays down in her impeccably stylish Los Angeles avant-garde mansion to read the book. The film then jumps between the "fictional" action in the novel and Susan's "real-life" reaction to it. And thus arrises the first of many major problems with Nocturnal Animals…the book Edward has written is the absolute worst sort of literary dreck imaginable. Edward's novel is so trite, insipid and derivative it makes Fifty Shades of Grey look like The Brothers Karamozov, but somehow, Susan, a gatekeeper of artistic snobbery, is enraptured by this appalling pile of garbage. 

The film jumps back and forth between this God-awful novel, which tells the story of a family of three, a husband and wife and their teenage daughter, who get harassed by a gang of local toughs on a highway in the dark of night in the barren wastelands of west Texas, and the perfectly polished Susan lounging on her silk sheeted bed in the Hollywood Hills reading said tedious novel. The film is terribly written, terribly directed and terribly acted.

Jake Gyllenhaal plays both Susan's real-life novelist ex-husband Edward and the fictional novel's lead character Tony Hastings, the father and husband of the family harassed by the local bad boys. Gyllenhaal can be an uneven actor on the best of days, sometimes he is great (Donnie Darko, Brokeback Mountain, Zodiac, Nightcrawler) sometimes…not so great (everything else). In Nocturnal Animals all of Gyllenhaal's most troubling artistic instincts come to the fore and he delivers an abysmally poor performance. Gyllenhaal vacillates between being a doe eyed, impotent moron and a raging, revenge-fueled maniac, but his performance is like watching an egregiously constipated man desperately struggling to evacuate his bowels, or an incontinent one trying to contain them.

Amy Adams is a fine actress, but she is so overwhelmed by the Ocean of Dullness that is Nocturnal Animals that she quickly gets pulled out by the currents of the vapid script to a sea of oblivion, never to be seen again. Adams is certainly a striking woman and she is as beautiful as ever in the hands of the fashion designer/director Tom Ford, but her performance flails about searching for meaning where none exist. The extent of Adam's character development seems to come from the decision to wear dark eye liner, not exactly the apex of artistic courage. 

Tom Ford directed 2009's A Single Man, which starred Colin Firth as a gay man on the last day of his life in 1962 Los Angeles. A Single Man was a tremendously ambitious and daring film that was a terrific achievement for the then first time director Ford. Sadly, Ford is out of his depth with Nocturnal Animals. The film is so structurally unsound it collapses under the weight of its own pretension. Neither the "real world" segments, nor the "fictional world" segments are fully developed enough to have any redeeming value whatsoever. And while Ford is trying to make the "fictional world" of the novel a metaphor for Susan and Edward's relationship, that story is so catastrophically dull and unimaginative, it leaves the entire enterprise insidiously mundane and predictable. 

The most pivotal scene in the film takes place through an incoherent maze of flashbacks as Susan reads Edward's novel. Susan has a flashback and recounts when she hurt Edward so deeply that he and their marriage could never recover, but the wound she inflicted spurred Edward to write the novel she now reads. If that sounds convoluted, it's because it is. This scene is the dramatic climax of the film and it completely lacks any storytelling context or cinematic impact. This scene is so flaccid that not even a splint made out of a handful of popsicle sticks and a roll of duck tape could render it dramatically erect, which is par for the course with Nocturnal Animals.

I understand what Tom Ford was trying to do with Nocturnal Animals, I truly do, but he fails miserably, and even his failure is spectacularly unremarkable. Nocturnal Animals is a desperately pedestrian film of little to no value whatsoever. Neither the "real" world nor the "fictional" one of Nocturnal Animals has the least bit of dramatic resonance to them. I highly recommend you skip Nocturnal Animals as it is not worth any of your time or hard earned money. I hope that one day soon, director Tom Ford can return to his 2009 form when he made the captivating A Single Man, and he leaves the disaster that is Nocturnal Animals in a dusty ditch by the side of the road in the barren wastelands of west Texas. 
 

©2016

 

Moonlight : A Review

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

My Rating : 3.75 out of 5 Stars

My Recommendation : SEE IT.

CHIRON - A WISE AND LEARNED CENTAUR FROM GREEK MYTHOLOGY KNOWN FOR HIS YOUTH-NURTURING NATURE AND HEALING ABILITIES. 

Moonlight, written and directed by Barry Jenkins, is the story of Chiron, a black child who is "different" from most of the other people living in the Liberty City section of Miami. The story is told in three acts, covering Chiron's life as a little boy, a teenager and a grown man. The script is based on the play In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue by Tarell Alvin McCraney.

Moonlight is one of those glorious films that allows you a glimpse into a world that you otherwise would never get to see. Barry Jenkins directing is solid across the board. He draws quality performances from his entire cast and also from his cinematographer James Laxton. Moonlight has a lush and vibrant visual style to it that enhances the surreal contradiction of a story set in a ghetto that is in the shadow of paradise. Jenkins has only made one other feature film, which I have not seen, but Moonlight is a powerful directorial calling card to much bigger things for a filmmaker with a deft storytelling touch.

Alex Hibbert as Chiron

Alex Hibbert as Chiron

The entire cast does very notable, if unspectacular and understated work in Moonlight. The acting is subordinate to the story and that is a great compliment to the cast. The actors who play Chiron, Alex Hibbert (child), Ashton Sanders (teen) and Trevante Rhodes (adult) give seamless performances that perfectly capture the turmoil and tension living within Chiron. I found Hibbert to be especially great as he weaves his way from being a sullen and down trodden little boy to being full of life and vigor when someone understands him. Sanders does intricate work as teen Chiron who is a boiling cauldron of conflicting emotions. Sanders imbues teen Chiron with a vivid internal life that is magnetic on screen. There is never a wasted moment in Sanders performance, every moment is filled with a combustible, inner fury that is both unpredictable and heartbreaking. I thought Trevante Rhodes adult Chiron was, without question, the weakest of the three, but that isn't necessarily his fault as the third act is the weakest act of the film. To Trevante's credit, he does yeoman's work in the third act, but the script and the film fail him. 

The supporting cast, including Mahershala Ali, Naomie Harris and Jannelle Monae all do very sturdy and subtle work that selflessly propels the narrative forward. The child and teen actors are all really good as well. No one stands out, but they all create a cohesive and believable backdrop for Chiron's story to be told. 

As previously stated, the third act of the film falls flat and the great dramatic anticipation created in the sublime first two acts is never fully realized. That is a shame as Moonlight was on track to be a really phenomenal film. It is still a good one, but it fails to deliver in the end and I found that to be disappointing. Part of the reason that the third act is so underwhelming is because the first two acts, which are an exquisite coming-of-age story, are so exceedingly well done, which is sort of a blessing and a curse for the film when taking the final act into consideration. 

Trevante Rhodes as Chiron

Trevante Rhodes as Chiron

The philosophical and psychological questions that were rattling through my head watching this film, but which were never directly addressed by it, revolved around the notion of black men in a hard-core, gangster culture who are on the "down low", in other words, secretly attracted to men. The idea that the uber-masculine black popular culture of today masks a gay impulse is one deserving of a more thorough dramatic and psychological investigation than Moonlight had time to explore. History shows us that Black men have been systematically emasculated in America from slavery onward, with literal castration during slavery to symbolic castration during Jim Crow and beyond, calling grown men "boy" for example. The hyper-masculinity in the current black culture may be a response to this systemic cultural emasculation wound passed down over generations. The hip-hop/gangster archetype, with its tough exterior and overt hyper-heterosexuality, may be the psychological shadow created by this emasculation wound. The compensation, or over-compenstation as the case may be, for the deep-seeded emasculation wound takes its form as the hip-hop/gangster archetype, a sort of uber-male who reclaims his stolen masculinity. This hip-hop/gangster uber-male archetype though brings with it its' own shadow, namely homosexual desire.

Mahershala Ali as Juan

Mahershala Ali as Juan

If you examine this idea even further it elevates the question of the cultural emasculation wound into some very interesting areas. Some of the questions that arise are, is this conscious attachment to the hyper-masculinity of the hip-hop/gangster archetype masking an unconscious attempt to heal a wound and fill a void created by centuries of systemic emasculation of black men? Is the hip-hop/gangster archetype's emasculation wound so generationally and psychologically ingrained that the archetype's sexuality embraces a shadow attraction to other men in order to fill itself with the male energy it unconsciously feels it lacks or was stolen from it? Is the hip-hop/gangster archetype a vehicle by which Black men unconsciously force themselves into an all-male environment, namely prison, where having sex with other men is an act of power and not an act of sexual expression, thus de-stigmatizing the homosexual act in their eyes and enabling them to heal their emasculation wound? These are the sort of questions that Moonlight raises, but only at the furthest of margins, and never fully engages. Maybe that is a story for another film entirely from Barry Jenkins, he certainly has the skill and career momentum to make it.

In conclusion, Moonlight is a flawed but very impressive piece of work. It is two-thirds of a great film, which is two-thirds better than most of the junk out there these days (I'm looking at you Nocturnal Animals!!). I recommend you see Moonlight in the theatre if for no other reason than to appreciate the visual artistry and dynamic color palette of cinematographer James Laxton. There are other reasons to see the film as well, namely the original and unique coming-of-age narrative which gives viewers a glimpse into an otherwise hidden world that is deserving of our focus for all of the human and dramatic gems it contains.

There is no doubt that Moonlight is a shoo-in for a bevy of Oscar nominations this year. The cynic in me knows that the Academy will embrace Moonlight for at least two reasons, the first is because it has an all black cast and they want to avoid the bad publicity of last years #OscarsSoWhite nonsense. The second is because it is a gay-themed film and the Academy generally likes films dealing with gay issues. While I think Moonlight is a good film, I think its flawed third act might make it a less-than Best Picture Oscar worthy film, but that is all relative and people of good faith can disagree on that and no doubt will. The best thing to do, and what I recommend, is that you go see Moonlight and decide for yourself.  Whether it is an Oscar-worthy film or not, it is definitely worthy of your hard earned dollars and your sparse free time.

©2016

 

Manchester by the Sea : A Review

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

Estimated Reading Time : 5 minutes 14 seconds

My Rating : 3 out of 5 stars

My Recommendation : See it on Netflix or Cable

Manchester by the Sea, written and directed by Kenneth Lonergan, is the the story of Lee Chandler, a janitor in Quincy, Massachusetts, who must return to his hometown of Manchester by the Sea, in order to take care of things after his older brother dies. The film stars Casey Affleck as Lee, with notable supporting turns from Michelle Williams and Lucas Hedges. 

Casey Affleck as Lee Chandler

Casey Affleck as Lee Chandler

At its heart, Manchester by the Sea is more a character study than a narrative driven film. As a character study it does well, but sadly as a compelling narrative it doesn't measure up. The best part of the film without question is the performances of Casey Affleck and Michele Williams. Affleck is an underrated actor who has turned in some remarkable performances in the past, most notably his exquisite portrayal of Robert Ford in The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. Affleck's work in Manchester by the Sea is contained, genuine and confident. Affleck allows silences to work for him and never pushes to hard for a pre-ordained result. 

The problem with Affleck's performance, and with the film as a whole, is that the character Lee Chandler, is not a unique or original one. Chandler is yet another emotionally repressed and remote Boston guy with a quick wit who express himself exclusively with his fists and only after he's had a few beers. I think with Manchester by the Sea we have officially hit Peak Boston. In addition to last years Oscar winner Spotlight, we've also had Black Mass, The Town, The Fighter, Ted, Gone Baby Gone, The Departed, Shutter Island, Mystic River, and Good Will Hunting just to name a few. I enjoyed many of those films a great deal, but enough already. Lee Chandler is just an extension of a thousand other Boston movie tough guys with limited emotional intelligence but who have wicked shahp tongues, hahts of gold and fists of fury. Affleck brings this all too often seen character to life with great skill, but that doesn't make it any less predictable and tiresome.

My Funky Bunch will get you!!

My Funky Bunch will get you!!

Having spent a great deal of time in Boston I can tell you that I have never met a real-life Lee Chandler (or the thousand other Boston movie tough guys), he might as well be a unicorn who poops rainbows. This Boston tough guy unicorn has dominated much of popular culture for the last twenty years or so, but that doesn't make it true. While everyone in Boston may think of themselves as tough guys, they sure as hell aren't. Yes, there are most definitely some tough guys in Boston, without a doubt, but certainly not more than anywhere else, and at this point I think there are more movies about tough guys from Boston than there are actual tough guys in Boston. What I think Boston has more than anywhere else are insecure guys with inferiority complexes who wish they were tough, so they write tough guy characters as wish fulfillment. Matt Damon, Ben Affleck and Mark Wahlberg have made careers out of playing the Boston tough guy unicorn. Good for them, they have done it well. Sandy Duncan made a career out of playing Peter Pan, but that doesn't make him real either.  

Tough guy Brothers!! Wahlbergs in da house!!

Tough guy Brothers!! Wahlbergs in da house!!

Think of it this way, New Englanders fanatically love their sports teams, and there are lots of sports commentators and writers that hail from Boston, hell most of ESPN is from Boston. You know what doesn't come from Boston, or all of New England for that matter? Professional athletes. New England produces lots of people who talk and write about sports, but not many who excel at them. The statistics are pretty amazing. If you take the populations of Massachusetts, Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire and Rhode Island and add them together it comes to 11,136,698, which makes New England the 8th most populous "state" in the U.S. If you look at the number of professional athletes that come out of New England, the region terribly underperforms compared to its population rate. For instance, there are currently 11 NFL players from New England which ranks them 34th out of 46 states(46 instead of 50 since you combine the New England states into one) which is well below their population rank of 8. There are 6 NBA players from New England, which ranks 21st out of 46 states, again well below their population rank. And there are 13 MLB players which ranks 12th, much better comparatively, but still below their population rank. And you can't blame the lack of athletes on the cold weather either, as a state like Minnesota which has about half the population of New England, at 5.5 million, outperforms New England in two of the three major sports (NFL 20, NBA 7, MLB 6). Why am I rambling on about professional sports and New England in a review of Manchester by the Sea? Well, because the same thing holds true for tough guys…Boston produces a lot of guys who talk and write about being tough guys, but not a lot of actual tough guys. Which is why, after all my time in Boston, I have never met a Lee Chandler…or a Will Hunting, or a whatever tough guy little Marky Mark Wahlberg is pretending to be this week.

Michelle Williams as Randi

Michelle Williams as Randi

You know who I have met? A Randi, Lee Chandler's wife played by Michelle Williams. William's portrayal is so great that she gets completely lost within it. Her accent is spot on and never forced or mannered. Her character is so well done that you feel like you know her personally. Williams is one of the best actresses working today and her work in Manchester by the Sea is a testament to her glorious talent and sublime skill. Her Randi is so real and so human that it hurts to watch her even as she luminously lights up the screen. Williams allows Randi to hide in plain sight, making her a marvel to behold.

Lucas Hedges does a good job as well as Lee's 16 year old nephew. Hedges plays the awkward coolness of adolescence with a bravado and innocence that suits the character and the story very well. I am not very familiar with Hedge's work, but am looking forward to seeing what else he does after his solid performance in Manchester by the Sea

Sadly, the entirety of the other supporting actors, including Kyle Chandler, Gretchen Mol and Matthew Broderick, as well as the smaller roles, are really not good at all, in fact, they are distractingly bad. The supporting actors try to hit the Boston accent just right, but they either hit it too hard or they hit the wrong note with it. Look, the Boston accent is a difficult one for non-natives to master, even two-time Oscar winner Tom Hanks has embarrassed himself on numerous occasions trying to do one, but that doesn't mean it isn't crucial to the film. Whenever you hear a bad accent it takes you out of the movie going experience. You are reminded once more that what you are watching is fake and your suspension of disbelief gets broken. Chandler and Mol are both very good actors, Chandler's work on Friday Night Lights and Mol's on Boardwalk Empire and in The Notorious Betty Page are monuments to that, but in Manchester by the Sea they are overwhelmed by the accent and are never able to ground their performances in any sort of truth. 

At the end of the day, Manchester but the Sea is a decent enough film, but not nearly as great as it thinks it is. The film has an air of art house hype and arrogance to it that it never lives up to. While Affleck's performance kept me captivated for two hours, and Michelle Williams kept me enthralled for the entirety of her brief screen time, the film itself lacks that sort of artistic charisma due to a shortage of originality. 

Casey Affleck and Luke Hedges

Casey Affleck and Luke Hedges

I recommend you see the film on Netflix or cable in order to witness firstly, Michelle Williams outstanding supporting acting and secondly Casey Affleck's layered lead performance. Another positive for the film is that it also has the scenery of the New England coastline as its background which is gorgeous to look at and is beautifully shot, and adds a picture post card setting to counter Affleck's inner demons, of that there is no doubt. While I didn't hate Manchester by the Sea, I also wasn't deeply moved or artistically impressed by it either. It is a middle of the road film buoyed by two strong performances. Unless you are itching for a night out, in my opinion you can wait for the film to show up on Netflix or cable before seeing it. 

And maybe, just maybe, since with Manchester by the Sea we have undoubtedly hit Peak Boston, the center of the cultural universe can now shift slightly further west to some other city with a deep seeded insecurity and inferiority complex…maybe to Philadelphia, although they had Rocky, or Baltimore, although they had The Wire, or Pittsburgh, or Cleveland or…Toledo…anywhere but Boston. Enough already with the Boston thing. With Manchester by the Sea we have officially reached market saturation of Boston-ness, it may have been fun while it lasted but I think it's time to move on. Goodbye Boston…hello Buffalo?

©2016

Election 2016 Aftermath : A Practical Handbook to Survive and Thrive in the Era of Trump

Estimated Reading Time : 15 minutes 37 seconds

"IN THE MIDST OF CHAOS, THERE IS ALSO OPPORTUNITY" - SUN TZU

A little over a month ago Donald Trump won the U.S. presidential election. I was in the minority as I was not one of those shocked by this outcome, but many people were and still are positively shocked and maybe even shell-shocked. Hillary supporters in particular were blindsided by the election and are very angry, hurt and upset about the result. Even though I am not a Democrat or a Clinton supporter (nor am I a Republican or Trump supporter), I truly understand how they feel and I even have empathy for them and their situation. That said, as I have witnessed Clinton supporters react to the election results over the last month on Facebook, Twitter, Blogs, in the media and elsewhere, I have been struck by how counter-productive their reactions have been. 

The biggest problem with the Clintonites reactions to the election are just that, they have been reactions and not responses. A reaction is emotion based and a response is reason based. That in a nutshell is not only what is wrong with the Clinton supporters post-election actions but also with the entire Clinton campaign. Emotionalism is the scourge of our time and the post election reaction by Clinton supporters proves this point almost as much as the emotionalist Trump campaign's victory. 

"THERE ARE TWO WAYS TO BE FOOLED. ONE IS TO BELIEVE WHAT ISN'T TRUE; THE OTHER IS TO REFUSE TO BELIEVE WHAT IS." - SOREN KEIRKEGAARD

"GET THEE TO A NUNNERY, GO. FAREWELL. OR IF THOU WILT NEEDS MARRY, MARRY A FOOL, FOR WISE MEN KNOW WELL ENOUGH WHAT MONSTERS YOU MAKE OF THEM" - HAMLET

A great example of this Clintonite reaction was from a reader of my post-election piece who wrote in response to it that because I was a "straight, white male" my opinion wasn't worth anything and should be ignored. This reader is an unemployed, middle-aged, white woman and a vociferous Clinton supporter. I understand her frustration and frankly her embarrassment at having been so catastrophically wrong about the election in every single way, so her emotionalism is to be expected, but that doesn't make it any less useful as an example or any less harmful to her alleged long term political interests. Her reaction to my piece was to, unintentionally no doubt, prove the point of it, namely that identity politics was what painted Clinton and the democrats into a corner from which she could not escape. So she reduced my argument to being nothing more than my identity. She then said that she could explain to me why I was so wrong but that she wouldn't because I "just wouldn't get it." This is a wonderful rhetorical device, refuse to actually engage an argument by blaming it on the stupidity of your opponent rather than your inability to articulate it. 

Sadly, this ill-informed woman is a perfect example of the failure of the Clinton campaign, she feels entitled to not have to actually make an argument to persuade people to her side. This foolish woman refused to acknowledge the obvious in our situation, namely that I, regardless of my sexual preference, race or gender was right about the election and she was spectacularly wrong, because that would undermine her perceived intellectual and moral superiority, which is essential for her to maintain her self-delusional identity in the world. What struck me most about this exchange was that it foreshadows the strategic and tactical ineffectiveness to come from democrats as they wander in the political wilderness for the next two years which, with this lack of thoughtfulness, will most likely turn into 8 or more years. 

"YOU CANNOT ESCAPE THE RESPONSIBILITY OF TOMORROW BY EVADING IT TODAY" - ABRAHAM LINCOLN

From what I have seen coming from democrats and Clinton supporters since the election, it is blatantly obvious that they have not only learned nothing from their failure, but they do not want to learn anything from it either. Hillary supporters have pointed their finger at the F.B.I., James Comey, Vladimir Putin, the Russians, fake news, the electoral college, racists, Nazis and misogynists in an attempt to cast blame on why they lost. This finger pointing and blaming is born out of an emotionalist arrogance and does nothing more than highlight and solidify the actual reason Clinton lost, her inability to be honest with herself and others and take responsibility. Clinton supporters can bemoan all sorts of external evils that conspired to take them down, but until they can muster the humility to actually look in the mirror and take full responsibility for their historical blindness, their lack of any coherent argument, their shocking tone-deafness, the atrocious campaign they ran and the dreadful candidate they put up, they will not learn anything and will not be able to mount a successful insurgency against Trump in the coming years.

This failure to learn anything or take any responsibility is not only bad news for democrats and Clinton supporters, but for our entire nation as well. If Clinton supporters truly believe Trump is as dangerous and tyrannical as they say he is, and he very well may be, then they would be most wise to stop thinking and acting emotionally and start thinking and acting strategically in order to stop him. Which is why I have written this little handbook on a strategic and tactical approach for the democrats to use in the coming years. 

I know, I know, why on earth would anyone want to read a handbook on how to get back into power written by the horrors of horrors…a straight, white male? Great question, sweetheart. (I'm kidding!!) The answer is that straight, white men, and some gay ones too, have conquered and ruled the planet for centuries. For good or for ill, and a whole hell of a lot of it has been for ill, that is the reality of the world in which we live. With that in mind, it might be a wise move to listen to a straight, white male when it comes to issues of power and conquest if you want to conquer and rule. If you want to sit on the throne, you might want to know how to think like the king. And it might be an even smarter move to listen to this straight, white male who just so happened to be right about the election when you were so fantastically and spectacularly  wrong. So, democrats and Clintonites, ignore this handbook at your own peril. Now onto the strategic and tactical guide.

"IT'S NOT PERSONAL, IT'S STRICTLY BUSINESS" - MICHAEL CORLEONE

Michael Corleone's point is critical to understand if you want to be successful in stopping the Trump agenda and his quest for a second term. The unemployed, middle-aged woman I referenced at the beginning of this piece was very heavily emotionally and psychologically invested in the Clinton campaign. This woman took the campaign, and Hillary's loss, very, very personally. I understand, I totally get it. Clinton was the first female candidate of a major political party and was thought to be a shoo-in for the presidency. Many women projected their struggles onto Hillary and took her success to be their success. This is a natural and normal thing to do especially when her opponent was such an obnoxious, misogynistic asshole. The problem though is that when Hillary supporters projected themselves onto her, it became all too easy for them to stop thinking logically and to start thinking emotionally. It is human nature when we take things personally to react emotionally, but reacting emotionally almost always makes things worse and not better. We have all been in the situation where we are pissed about something and we furiously write an email to the person who has angered us and then we send it and we escalate a situation that needn't be escalated and we create more drama and despair than we needed in our lives. The best course of action in cases like this is to wait 24 hours before sending the email. We all know this intellectually, but goodness knows we don't always act according to our intellect. Delaying the email gives us a chance to shift out of emotionalism and its myopic, limiting thought process and into rationalism which is much more cognitively expansive. It doesn't always work that way, as humans have the uncanny ability to stay pissed for a long time, or at least I do, but it usually works. Daybreak can bring with it a new perspective and a wiser decision that ceases our pain rather than exacerbates it. 

"I RANT, THEREFORE I AM" - DENNIS MILLER

"NEVER INTERRUPT YOUR ENEMY WHEN HE IS MAKING A MISTAKE" - NAPOLEON

"THE SUPREME ART OF WAR IS TO SUBDUE THE ENEMY WITHOUT FIGHTING" - SUN TZU

Unfortunately, due to taking the Clinton loss personally, and the emotionalism that comes with that, since the election there has been a spate of Facebook rants from Hillary supporters bemoaning the outcome and belittling the fools who voted for Trump. Some have even become so enamored with their diatribes that they have filmed themselves reading those same rants (and even though they wrote the rant, they chose not to memorize it, which is the height of laziness) and then posted that as well.  These rants usually involve calling all Trump voters racist, numerous mentions of the "KKK", charges of misogyny, xenophobia and stupidity along with the demand that anyone who voted for Trump or for a third party "unfriend" the ranter. Sadly, these breathless, yet heart felt rants, have the exact opposite effect of which the ranter intended, which is to strengthen their side and weaken the other side. I hate to be the one to tell these ranters, but what your rants actually do is strengthen your opponents and weaken you.

These ranter's opinions are as valid as anyone else's and they are entitled to them, but their arguments are vapid. These rants are not arguments at all so much as tantrums. They have all the intellectual heft and political sophistication of the backstage bitching at a child beauty pageant. These rants don't actually make any arguments, they only make accusations. And while these ranters obviously think they are brilliant and are exceedingly proud of their diatribes enough to film them and share those cringe-worthy bits of cinematic detritus, they are the equivalent of a toddler who throws their poop against the wall and is so proud of it because they think they have created art. Of course, it is only the poop throwing toddler alone who believes their mess is praiseworthy. While the poop wall may be vaguely reminiscent of a Pollock, it isn't going to hang in the Guggenheim, it will only be cleaned up and forgotten as quickly as possible. 

The truth is these rants aren't meant to change anyone's minds at all, only to buttress the beliefs of the like minded. There is nothing wrong with that except the problem is that these rants don't happen in a liberal vacuum, they are posted for the entire world to see. The world not only includes the potential allies of third party voters whom you want to "unfriend", but also includes those marginal Trump voters, all 77,000 of them in Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Michigan who flipped from voting Obama twice and now made the difference for Trump. 

While It is important to remember that there are an overwhelming majority of Trump voters who will never switch their allegiance, so trying to convince them is fruitless, it is equally important to remember there are a pivotal and key group of Trump supporters who can be convinced to change their allegiance. Those are the 77,000 voters that you need for victory in Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Michigan. By lumping those 77,000 in with the other more rabid Trump voters, you are alienating crucial potential allies. Your empty-headed, emotionalist vitriol is forcing people away from your point of view and your candidates and towards Trump. It is sort of like when Hillary won the nomination and her supporters, like those now ranting, decided it was still a good idea to keep attacking "Bernie Bros" and all of their "mansplainin'". How did that work out for you, Sugartits? (Again…I am kidding!!) In other words, these ranters are cutting off their nose to spite their face. I am sure their rant feels good now, but it won't feel so good at Trump's next election victory party in 2020.

Another serious issue with these arrogantly self-serving tirades is the call for "unfriending" of anyone who dared disagree with the pompous ranter. Epistemic closure and living in a bubble is exactly how democrats got themselves into this whole mess in the first place. To demand even more epistemic rigidity and isolation is so mind-numbingly moronic as to be amazing. I understand that these ranters are irritated by people who disagree with them, but you just lost an election because your arguments were so remarkably flaccid. Shutting out any contrarian opinions now will only lead to more severe political and intellectual impotence. Arguments need to be forged in fire and strengthened by opposition. If you cannot sharpen your arguments against your enemies or even mildly oppositional forces, your arguments will atrophy and wither in the delusional comfort of your epistemic bubble. Calls for immediate removal of all oppositional opinions is literally sticking your head up your own ass. What is desperately needed now is not a tighter bubble, but the humility to admit you were wrong and to sharpen your arguments against the rock of those who oppose you. I totally understand why these ranters want to only shout and not to engage, life seems easier that way, but that is a one way ticket into further political and intellectual oblivion. Being on the battlefield of ideas is scary, especially if, like these ranters, you are unarmed, so to those folks I say arm yourself and find some courage. And when I say arm yourself, I don't mean just regurgitate what you heard on Rachel Maddow or what you read on DailyKos, that is not strengthening your arguments or nurturing vibrant intellectual debate, that is just one more exercise in confirmation bias.

"I NEVER HAD A PROBLEM RESISTING SOMEBODY THAT I KNEW WAS GOING TO BREAK MY HEART" - JENNIFER GARNER

Both physically and psychologically, it is human instinct to become more rigid and resist when someone pushes you. This resistance instinct is a natural occurrence when someone calls you names, like racist or misogynist, and pretends to know what you feel deep in your heart. The form of resistance taken in the face of these charges is for those being called racists to simply join with those who are in opposition to their attacker. In recent weeks, things have ratcheted up to the point where there are even social media/video rants from Clintonites that demand that Trump voters PROVE to them that they aren't racist. This is just the most self-serving horseshit imaginable. These social media ranters build a straw man, that all Trump voters, including those who voted for Obama twice, are racists, and then demand that these voters PROVE to them that they aren't racist. These "prove it' challenges are absurd and are just the most self-righteous, self-satisfying and self-defeating tactic imaginable. The natural, normal, human response for any person exposed to a vapid challenge like that is to take the opposing position against those accusing you. This is what is happening when "Springsteen voters" see and hear these social media rants, they simply shake their heads and think they made the right decision not so much voting for Trump, but voting against Clinton and those holier-than-thou haranguing asshats.

"VICTORIOUS WARRIORS WIN FIRST AND THEN GO TO WAR, WHILE DEFEATED WARRIORS GO TO WAR FIRST AND THEN SEEK TO WIN." - SUN TZU

In addition, these jeremiads play into every single stereotype that hardcore Trump voters have of liberals and democrats, namely that they are entitled, arrogant, selfish, whiny, know-it-alls. Seeing these rants gives these hardcore Trumpists a tremendous amount of joy, pleasure and satisfaction. These diatribes give aid and comfort to the people you want to defeat and also no shortage of ammunition to be used to keep those 77,000 Springsteen voters in the fold and Trump in power. With this in mind, these rants look less like rallying the base to action and more about a form of self-aggrandizing masturbation.

While these screeds may be a way for the individual ranters, especially the desperately thirsty, fame-whoring ones inhabiting Los Angeles, to try and raise their public profile and maybe even save their moribund careers by getting a job on a political tv show (The Daily Show...fingers crossed!! Better yet…Full Frontal with Samantha Bee!!! Girl Power!!!), they certainly aren't a way to strategically stop Trump and his minions from destroying all the things these ranters claim to hold dear. So stop with the selfish, transparent and desperate rants. Stop with the weak kneed emotionalism. Grow a pair of balls (and yes, I am a misogynist for saying that only people with testicles are tough, I am an evil minion of the patriarchy, you caught me Buttercup…again, just kidding!!), get up off the canvas, brush yourself off and get back in the ring. Except this time go into that ring thinking strategically, not emotionally, and maybe you won't get knocked on your ass again. Which brings us to...

"NEVER LET ANYONE OUTSIDE THE FAMILY KNOW WHAT YOU'RE THINKING." - DON CORLEONE

"LET YOUR PLANS BE DARK AND IMPENETRABLE AS NIGHT, AND WHEN YOU MOVE FALL LIKE A THUNDERBOLT." - SUN TZU

Don Corleone said this to Sonny when he revealed to The Turk his surprise that the Tartaglias would guarantee the Corleone's investment in the drug trade. This seemingly minor error by Sonny led to the assassination attempt on Don Corleone, war amongst the five families, Sonny's death on the causeway, Michael's murder of the Turk and a police Captain, Michael's year in exile and the murder of his wife Appollonia, and eventually Michael settling all family business by killing all the family's enemies. In other words…if Sonny hadn't let someone outside the family know what he was thinking, then a whole lot of people wouldn't have been killed. The same applies to Clintonites and the election aftermath. 

As I stated previously, the social media rants against Trump voters may feel good when your doing them, but they are terribly counterproductive. Emotionalists want to feel good in the moment, strategists want to succeed in the long run. So stop with the rants already. That said…just because you shouldn't let anyone outside the family know what your thinking, doesn't mean you shouldn't think it. You can think every Trump voter is racist all you want, even though it is obviously not true. I am not telling you what to think, I am telling you what to do and how to succeed. I also don't give a flying fuck how you feel. If you want to get angry or be hurt or upset, or if you are afraid, go ahead, just don't let your enemies know that is how you feel. Tie your courage to to the sticking post. Be rational, be reasonable, be logical, and be calm in front of your enemies and then plot to eviscerate them when the time is right. 

In fact, I would tell you that instead of ranting on social media where everyone can see what you are thinking (or not-thinking as the case may be) or feeling and where you strengthen your enemies and weaken yourself…just set aside some time everyday to have a nice, private, little two minutes hate. If you have a friend with similar political leanings, call them once a day, or email them and only them, and rant for two minutes about how awful Trump or his voters are. Unleash all of your pent up hostility and rage during this two minutes. Spew forth all of the vitriol you can muster. That way you purge yourself of the emotionalism that cripples your arguments and you keep yourself sane and logical for the great fight ahead.

"THE WISE MUSICIANS ARE THOSE WHO PLAY WHAT THEY CAN MASTER." - DUKE ELLINGTON

"MOVE SWIFT AS THE WIND AND CLOSELY FORMED AS THE WOOD. ATTACK LIKE THE FIRE AND BE STILL AS THE MOUNTAIN." - SUN TZU

Another thing to strategically keep in mind regarding emotionalism is that emotion can be a valuable weapon in the hands of a master. The problem is that your opponent, Donald Trump, is a master of emotion. Trump is the archetypal trickster, and he can not only manipulate the emotions of his supporters to his benefit, but can manipulate his opponents emotions to his advantage as well. Trump masterfully plays democrats and the media to react the way he wants them to by pushing their emotional buttons. He tweets something outrageous in order to distract from a story he doesn't like (the flag burning nonsense), or he meets with Kanye West or something like that. Trump is constantly toying with democrats and the media like a cat with a mouse, and they become victims of their own emotionalism.

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

"ACTIONS SPEAK LOUDER THAN WORDS BUT NOT NEARLY AS OFTEN." - MARK TWAIN

So in order to weaken Trump you must ignore his tweets…all of them, no matter how infuriating they may be. Ignore every single word he says as well, no matter what. Ignore his neo-Nuremberg rallies and his playing to the crowd with his loaded language. You must understand that Trump's words are meaningless and are meant to make you react and not respond. Do not let him control you so easily. Instead, only respond, not react, to the things he actually does, never what he says. For instance, if Trump nominates people you dislike for cabinet positions, quietly plot to undermine them. Do not talk about them publicly, but conspire to dig up dirt on them and make their confirmation a living hell. Let Trump react to what you do, not the other way around. And when Trump reacts to you, ignore his reaction and keep on calmly working to undermine and destroy him.

"SO IN WAR, THE WAY IS TO AVOID WHAT IS STRONG, AND STRIKE AT WHAT IS WEAK." - SUN TZU

Also, Trump's great strength is in form and appearance as he is the penultimate improvisational showman, and his great weakness is detail, structure and function. So attack Trump's weakness, detail and function, with your strength, bureaucracy. What I mean by that is you must make Trump have to slog through the muck and mire, the monotonous and grueling process of actually governing. You can tie Trump up in knots over the process of writing minutely detailed and specific legislation and actually passing it. When you get outraged by his remarks, your distraction allows him to win on form instead of lose on function. If he says outrageous things, let them just float out there and let people make up their own minds. If the media asks a democrat what they think about the latest outrageous remark Trump has just made, they should respond, "I don't care what the President says, I care what he does." 

And, I understand how difficult this tactic can be, when you hear the things that Trump says it can be downright infuriating because he means to infuriate you, but it is vital that you remember that in order to stop Trump, you must make him fight you on your ground, not his. The media will be of little help in this endeavor as they proved in the campaign by covering Trump's every rally and every word. The media want Trump in the spotlight because he is outrageous and unpredictable and outrageousness and unpredictability means ratings. So my advice in order to stay sane and be effective in opposition to Trump, is to never read Trump's twitter feed, and to never watch any cable news. I know this is where many people get their news…but I have bad news…cable news isn't news, it is infotainment. So read the newspaper for your news…but do not read the editorials. And avoid cable news like the plague, because it is a plague. You literally get dumber every second you watch cable news, regardless of the channel. Those networks are meant to make you think emotionally, not rationally, so don't let them derail your opposition to Trump. If you simply cannot function without television news, watch the BBC…with the sound off.

"KEEP YOUR FRIENDS CLOSE AND YOUR ENEMIES CLOSER." - MICHAEL CORLEONE

"I'M WATCHING YOU AND FIDEL CASTRO IN THE SAND. ASSASSIN!!" - SISTER HAVANA BY URGE OVERKILL

As I stated earlier, it is a physical and psychological human instinct to resist when pushed. Many martial arts teach students to overcome this instinct in order to gain an advantage in combat. For example, Judo and Aikido teach that when pushed you should pull and when pulled you should push. The idea behind this technique is that when someone pushes you and you pull them towards you, you are using their force against them by adding a small amount of your strength to it and knocking you opponent off balance. An opponent who is off balance is one that is not an immediate threat to you and one that is also vulnerable to your attack.

Which brings us to another key strategy to derail Trump which may seem counter-intuitive, but it is to embrace Trump on any and all economic issues you even remotely agree with him on. Embracing Trump will knock him off balance and will also play to his vanity, for God knows flattery will get you somewhere with Trump. An example of what I am talking about would have been to embrace the Carrier deal Trump made to "save" American jobs. Yes, I know that the deal is a total charade, but in order to beat Trump long term you must embrace him short term. So, emphasize how great it is that those 800 people still have jobs due to this deal, but then emphasize how much better the deal could have been and go to great lengths to talk about the other workers who are now left behind because of this deal and how much they will suffer. This is crucial because it means you flatter Trump and do not alienate the people whose jobs he has "saved", but you also ally yourself with people he has screwed who will obviously be more open to vote against him. By embracing Trump on economics, it will force him to occasionally search for a different enemy and Trump's need to find a foil might land squarely on Paul Ryan and the republicans. Trump always desperately needs an enemy and if you can make Paul Ryan and the establishment wing of the republican party his enemy, you make them fight each other and they end up weaker and you get stronger. 

The union leader from Indiana who Trump attacked on twitter in the aftermath of the Carrier deal is a great example of how to handle Trump. This leader, Chuck Jones of the United Steelworkers, is a plain spoken, working class, midwestern guy…a Springsteen voter. When Trump personally attacked him on twitter he didn't get emotional, he just calmly stated his argument, which was correct by the way, and Trump was left with nothing to rage against. Trump backed down and shut up because Chuck Jones didn't get emotional, he got rational. This white working class guy gave an unintentional seminar on how to disarm and defeat Trump…I hope democrats were paying attention.

History and recent news have given us an example of how not embracing your enemies can be counterproductive. Last month Fidel Castro died in Havana. Whatever you think of Castro, it is pretty remarkable that he stayed in power for nearly sixty years while the greatest super power on the earth just 90 miles away actively tried to kill him. The reason Castro was able to stay in power was because he gained strength in resistance to the U.S. If they U.S. had been less adversarial with him, and had embraced him even a little bit, Castro would not have been able to maintain his grip on Cuba. Castro was strengthened by the unilateral opposition to him by the U.S. just like Trump will be strengthened by unilateral opposition by democrats.

"OPPORTUNITIES MULTIPLY AS THEY ARE SEIZED." - SUN TZU

Another strategy that is very Machiavellian but would be vital to eroding Trump's support, would be to embrace guns and the second amendment. I totally understand that most democrats dislike guns, I get it. But you need to think of two things in regards to guns and your political positions. The first is that Donald Trump, a man you fear and loathe, is President and has all the power of the federal government at his disposal. Many democrats and liberals are worried about people being rounded up and put in camps and all sorts of tyrannical things like that. Well, if you are afraid of President Trump and the unimaginable power he wields, it might be a good time to embrace the second amendment and arm yourself in case things get as scary as you imagine they might. If you look at it rationally, the second amendment was designed for people like you who fear the potential tyranny of President Trump. Secondly, as much as democrats dislike and oppose guns, the reality is that even after the atrocious massacre of children at Newtown/Sandy Hook, nothing has changed. Democrats have lost the argument and guns aren't going anywhere. The democrats would be wise to accept this fact and use it to their strategic advantage. 

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

"WHEN THE ENEMY IS RELAXED, MAKE THEM TOIL. WHEN FULL, STARVE THEM. WHEN SETTLED, MAKE THEM MOVE." - SUN TZU

Attacking Trump would seemingly be an easy task as he is a target rich environment, but the opposite is actually true. Effectively attacking Trump, and that is the key, to effectively attack him rather than just attack him, will take great skill and patience. Here are some basics traps to avoid. First off, do not attack Trump by calling him stupid. Just as Hillary supporters took her loss personally, so will Trump supporters take attacks on him personally, specifically the ones calling him dumb. Even those marginal Springsteen voters will be roused by attacks on Trump's intelligence because they already feel that democrats speak down to them, whereas Trump speaks their language. Attacks on Trump that call him stupid will have the reverse effect that the attacker intends, as it will strengthen Trump and weaken the attacker. 

Another thing to consider is that attacking Trump as dumb is more about shadow projection by liberals than it is about his actual intellect. If you look at the last forty years or so a pattern emerges where the attacks by each political party take on a psychological consistency. Liberals called Reagan, George W. Bush, Sarah Palin and now Trump, stupid. For liberals, intelligence is a highly regarded value, and obviously the shadow of intelligence is stupidity. So for liberals the fear of their being perceived as dumb lurks in their shadow, and they project that negative/shadow attribute onto their opponents. Republicans/conservatives do the same thing with their own shadow projections. Republicans value purity and strength and so their shadow values/fears are impurity and weakness. Both Bill Clinton and Barrack Obama were believed to be "unworthy" and illegitimate presidents by republicans, the most glaring example being the birther nonsense. Obama and Bill Clinton were also thought of as "weak" by republicans. Shadow projections are ineffective weapons of attack because they only ring true for those doing the projecting and not those without the same hierarchical values and  beliefs. So while it seems like a great line of attack, it is really more a sign of weakness than strength and will only harm the attacker.

Along the same lines it is essential that democrats never attack Trump voters. Hillary's "deplorables" comment played well with Trump's base but it also greatly offended those marginal Springsteen voters which was a fatal error. Attacking Trump is tricky business, but attacking his supporters is down right political suicide. As I said previously, you can think what you want about these people, but just don't think it out loud.

"APPEAR WEAK WHEN YOU ARE STRONG, AND STRONG WHEN YOU ARE WEAK." - SUN TZU

Another trap to avoid is the sirens call of victimhood and using it as a weapon against Trump. Trump will offend a lot of people with the things he says and there will be no shortage of victims of his thoughtlessness and bullying. That said, it is important to understand the historical wave and time we live in. This is the time of the archetypal "strong man". Across the globe strong men and nationalists are taking power. In order to stop them one must understand the archetypes that resonate in the collective at this time and be able to manipulate them to your advantage. 

The collective is attracted to "strength" at the moment. This sort of "strength" is not a physical, spiritual or even moral strength, rather it is the outward appearance of strength which masks the inner toxic combination of blindness, paranoia and insecurity. It hasn't always been this way and it won't always be this way, but it is this way now…which is how we got Trump (and Putin, and Erdogan and Duterte etc.). According to social scientist Jonathon Haidt, liberals are usually motivated by the moral values of care/fairness, which is often translated into equality, diversity and protecting the weakest members of society. In recent years this has morphed into a sort of elevation of status for the victim in liberal circles. So as victimhood has become status, power has been translated into the negative archetype of the bully. Well, the world and the collective unconscious has changed and the status of victimhood no longer resonates across the broader population, only among liberals. In order to effectively attack Trump and win over marginal voters (Springsteen voters), it is vital to not embrace victimhood but to embrace "strength". Chuck Jones of the United Steelworkers embraced strength in his confrontation with Trump. Those calling Trump a racist, misogynist, sexist or xenophobe are unconsciously embracing the archetype of the victim and victimhood. And I am not arguing Trump isn't a racist, misogynist, sexist, xenophobe, what I am arguing is that calling him those things is an ineffective way to attack him according to the present historical wave and the archetypes currently resonating in the collective. As Bin Laden once said, if you show a person a strong horse and a weak one, they will choose the strong one…and so it is in our time. This is also why it is vital not to share your hurt or anger or fear to Trump or his supporters, because showing those things is a sign of weakness, not strength, and now is the time of strength. 

"HE WHO IS PRUDENT AND LIES IN WAIT FOR AN ENEMY WHO IS NOT, WILL BE VICTORIOUS." - SUN TZU

This leads us to the discussion about identity politics which has come to the forefront lately. After my post-election piece, Mark Lilla wrote a similar, much talked about piece in the New York Times arguing the same thing I did. The identity politics argument seems to have veered off into a strange cul-de-sac of misunderstanding and emotion that does neither side any good. What I mean by that is both sides seem to be arguing past each other and neither seems to be making any ground. 

The issue that I need to make clear which I may not have in my previous piece is this, that if you stop making arguments about identity and start making them about class, that does not mean that you have abandoned minorities. My argument is that identity politics has come to exclude white, working class people whereas class politics includes not only those white, working class people but minorities of all kinds who fall under the "identity" politics umbrella. Black, White, Latino, Asian, Native-American, gay, straight, transgender and every other identity imaginable falls into the poor and working class denomination. Focusing on economic issues and not identity issues doesn't reduce your potential base, it expands it. 

Another reason to focus on economics and class as opposed to identity is that identity politics very often falls into the trap of victimhood politics. I am not saying the minorities of all types aren't victimized, but being victimized and embracing victimhood are two very different things. Once you understand the historical wave we are on, it is easy to see that the best way to protect the victimized regardless of their identity, is to embrace the politics of economics and strength. The politics of identity (which can morph into victimhood), has been successful in the past, but will fail at this time because of the historical wave we are on and the inability of Trump to feel shame. To be effective today, identity (and victimhood) must be jettisoned and economic class and strength must be championed. So if Trump attacks someone or some group of people, the most effective way to counter that is not to call him racist or homophobic or hater or whatever term may very well apply, but to not reveal any upset at all and to stay strong and focus on Trump's actions, not his words. This will make him look weak, and make you look strong. Make the rational, unemotional argument based on facts against Trump, ignore what he says and he will back down. Make a plea based on victimhood or weakness and he will double down and he will rally potential democratic allies to his side. Calling someone a racist or misogynist or whatever is meant to shame them, but shaming Trump is impossible because he is shameless. So you may feel righteous in calling Trump those names, but your attacks will not only be ineffective as he is immune to shame, but will also boomerang back upon you, making you weaker.

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

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

"THUS THE EXPERT IN BATTLE MOVES THE ENEMY, AND IS NOT MOVED BY HIM." - SUN TZU

One last thing that liberals must do going forward is both a defensive and an offensive move simultaneously, and that is to completely embrace the constitution. Rigidly embracing the constitution is a way to protect yourselves from the potential tyranny of a Trump presidency, and also a way to attack Trump and criminalize him and his actions. Embracing the constitution means that democrats must stop talking about fake news and ways to fix or stop it. Talk of shutting down conspiracy websites or fake news sites is detrimental to the long term strategy of stopping, or at least containing, Trump. Liberals need to embrace not only the first amendment without hesitation or qualifiers, but also Wikileaks, Edward Snowden, Chelsea/Bradley Manning and all of the other whistleblowers (and convince Obama to pardon them all including Snowden, Manning and Assange before he leaves office), for they will be pivotal weapons in the battle against Trump (a strong renunciation of Obama's war on whistleblowers is urgently needed now as well). The reality is that if you only want to embrace the first amendment some of the time, or when it is convenient to you, then it will not only be an ineffective tool against Trump but he will turn it around and use it as a weapon against you. As I already stated, embracing the second amendment is vital as well for not only self-protection but for political purposes. The constitution is all that stands between you and the darker instincts of President Donald Trump. The restraints the constitution can place on Trump will be the only thing that will stop him from exacting revenge on his domestic enemies…namely YOU...and he will most certainly try to do that. If you try and mess with any part of the constitution, whether it be the first, second, fourth, fifth, sixth, thirteenth, fourteenth, fifteenth or any other amendments, the rest of it will be useless in protecting you from Trump…including the twenty-second amendment which limits him to two terms in office. Ponder that for a moment.

The final point I will make to you is this...I know this story circulating lately about Russia interfering with the election in Trump's favor is tantalizing, but please do not embrace it. I am telling you, the more you want a story to be true the more skeptical you should be of it. This "Russia hacked our election" story, or the more recent version of it where Vladimir Putin himself is actually personally involved, is fools gold. These stories being breathlessly reported by the establishment media are all based on unnamed official sources. Please just wait until there is actual, tangible evidence put forth, and even then be very, very skeptical. This whole Russia hacking episode reeks of the wishful thinking that was going around (especially in establishment media circles) in the build up to the Iraq war.  There was no evidence then either, but people wanted those stories to be true so they gave them the benefit of the doubt. This Russia story is even less credible at the moment and even more dangerous. Russia is a nuclear power. The deep state and neo-cons are determined to have a war with Russia, we've actually been in a limited war (propaganda, economic, political war) with them for the last bunch of years. Do not fall for this Russia story trap. Don't do it, one way or another you will live to regret it. I promise you that. 

And thus concludes my not so brief handbook on how to survive the era of Trump. I realize that most of the people who already disliked me for my pre and post-election pieces will have already chalked this piece up to just one more bit of mansplainin' by a deplorable straight, white male, but these things happen. I do not expect the hapless democrats to follow my handbook at all, and they are off to a really shitty start with the re-election of Nancy Peolosi as leader of the house democrats. Pelosi's victory is a strong sign that democrats would rather double down on the same insanity, with insanity being defined as doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results, that got them here rather than learn anything and adapt going forward. But hey, just like with the election, you can't say I didn't warn you. 

"YOUR SPIRIT IS THE TRUE SHIELD." - MORIHEI UESHIBA, THE ART OF PEACE

©2016

 

Raping Truth : Brando, Butter and Last Tango in Paris

"A LIE WILL GO HALFWAY AROUND THE WORLD WHILE TRUTH IS PUTTING ITS BOOTS ON." - MARK TWAIN

Contrary to what is going around the media lately, Marlon Brando did not rape Maria Schneider while filming director Bernardo Bertolucci's Last Tango in ParisFULL STOP.  In addition, Bertolucci DID NOT admit in an interview that he and Brando conspired to rape Schneider on the film. Also, Maria Schneider herself DID NOT ever claim to be raped by Marlon Brando during the filming.

Now that we got that out of the way…I guess I should start at the beginning. Many of you may be wondering what the hell I am talking about? Well, this past weekend all hell broke loose when Elle magazine published an article with the headline, "Bertolucci Admits He Conspired to Shoot a Non-Consentual Rape Scene in 'Last Tango in Paris'. In the article Elle mis-reports that in 2013, Last Tango in Paris director Bernardo Bertolucci said in an interview that Maria Schneider never consented to the film's famous, butter-fueled, anal-rape scene. In response to that headline, and the poorly written and terribly misleading article below it, numerous celebrities like Jessica Chastain, Anna Kendrick, Chris Evans and Jenna Fischer have all tweeted their outrage about Marlon Brando and Bernardo Bertolucci actually raping Maria Schneider. In turn, numerous media outlets, from The Hollywood Reporter and Variety to, of all places, USA Today , have posted articles with similarly misleading headlines and equally poorly written articles with the same confusing content, except this time with the added spice of celebrity tweets. Thus, with those tweets about the original Elle article, and then follow up articles from other outlets about those tweets about the original article, a circular firing squad was formed, with the truth dead center in the middle. 

This story is a perfect example of the idiocy and feeble mindedness of our media and the gullibility of our populace. First Elle Magazine takes Bertolucci's quote entirely out of context and misunderstands the point he is making, then Jessica Chastain misreads the article and fails to think critically about the claims, and then Chris Evans and Anna Kendrick add their own lack of critical thinking with a sprinkle of moral preening and virtue signaling. Then the rest of the media sees celebrity tweets and scurries to add them to the already rancid shitstorm and clusterfuck of an excuse for journalism. This story is the epitome of the post-truth culture we live in that is governed by the king of Post-Truth, President-Elect Trump. Truth doesn't matter anymore, the only thing that matters are feelings and agendas. If a story is in line with how we feel or what we want to be true, then whether it is actually true or not is of no consequence.

Here is what actually, really, truly happened in regards to the rape scene in Last Tango in Paris. The scene was not in the original script, but was added later when Marlon Brando came up with it, which was not an unusual occurrence when Brando worked on a film. The scene was scripted and Bertolucci, Brando and Schneider talked about it before shooting. The most notable thing about the scene is the use of butter as a lubricant for anal sex. The use of butter was the only thing about the scene not revealed to Maria Schneider prior to shooting. In the 2013 interview referenced by Elle, that is what Bertolucci is referencing when he says that he wanted to keep Maria unaware of that element in order to get a real and genuine reaction from her. It is vital to understand this next part…Marlon Brando did not have actual sex with Maria Schneider during this scene. Marlon Brando did not penetrate Maria Schneider's anus or vagina with his fingers, penis or butter during this scene. At no point during this scene did Marlon Brando ever touch Maria Schneider's anus or vagina. It is also important to point out that Maria Schneider did indeed know ahead of time that this was an anal sex/rape scene and consented to shoot the scene. Maria Schneider obviously never consented to rape or sex of any kind, and no rape or sex of any kind took place during the filming of the scene. People claiming that Marlon Brando literally and physically raped Maria Schneider in this scene are wrong. People claiming that Marlon Brando literally and physically sexually assaulted Maria Schneider are wrong. All of the sex in the rape scene, and the rest of the entire film for that matter, is completely simulated, including the application of butter to Maria Schneider's anus. While Maria Schneider is shown naked in other parts of the film, in the rape scene there is only a glimpse of the upper and side part of her buttocks. Marlon Brando did not expose his penis in the rape scene and did not put his penis against Maria Schneider's flesh during the scene. These are the facts. Anyone claiming otherwise is either mistaken or lying. This media whirlwind and the accompanying outrage are the result of a terrible misunderstanding and nothing more. (Just this morning Bernardo Bertolucci came out and said exactly that. )

Now, to be fair, Maria Schneider, who died in 2011, did say in an interview in regards to shooting the butter-rape scene in Last Tango in Paris that she "felt humiliated and to be honest, I felt a little raped, both by Marlon and by Bertolucci."  What Maria wasn't saying was that she was literally, physically raped by Marlon Brando, what she was saying was that she felt emotionally raped by the experience and by Bertolucci's directing style. Why do I say that is what she meant? Because Marlon Brando said the same thing about his experience making the film. Bertolucci stripped away all pretenses and defenses from his actors in order to get as true a performance from them as he could. You can argue in good faith that Bertolucci's approach is emotionally or artistically harmful, or damaging or counter-productive, but what you cannot do is say that anyone was literally or physically raped.

"THE MOST OUTRAGEOUS LIE THAT CAN BE INVENTED WILL FIND BELIEVERS IF A MAN ONLY TELLS THEM WITH ALL HIS MIGHT." - MARK TWAIN

The articles about this story, across the board, are simply atrocious and abominable pieces of journalism, or non-journalism in this case. Read this Hollywood Reporter story, it is incomprehensible. Someone was actually paid money to write that article. Read the other articles, which are mostly made up of the tweet reaction to the original story. I felt like I was going mad as I read these stories because if you actually read the words and use logic, reason and intelligence, you can see what is happening and the misunderstanding taking place. Moral outrage supplants logic pretty quickly in situations like this. This story became a thing because it gave people what they wanted…a victim, a villain and a sense of moral superiority and a desecration of their delicate sensibilities. Just because a story has those elements, doesn't mean it is true…in fact, if a story has those elements it becomes even more important for journalists to dig and find the actual truth…not what the public wants to be true. ( As an example, read my Chris Kyle piece.)

An example of the sort of cognitive dissonance going on in the media around this story can be found in The Guardian newspaper, which had a news article about the claims in Elle magazine and used a similarly misleading headline, "Last Tango in Paris director suggests Maria Schneider 'butter-rape' scene not consensual", note the weasel word "suggests", yet in the article itself it clearly states that there was no sexual contact between Brando and Schneider during the infamous rape scene. That Guardian story also points out the fact that the scene was not sprung on Schneider, or improvised on set, but was scripted. While the scene wasn't in the ORIGINAL script, it was scripted and prepared ahead of time and Schneider had read it before shooting. The dissonance isn't only between The Guardian headlines and articles, but between news divisions and editorial, as columnists at the Guardian apparently don't read their own newspaper, as there were no less than three columnists who wrote about the Last Tango story as if an actual rape occurred, which is contradicted in the papers own reporting. All of the Guardian columnists used the Last Tango rape story to grind their own axes about things like "rape culture" or "male domination" or the "broken promise of the 70's sexual revolution". Those columns all ignored the actual facts of the story because those facts are inconvenient to the arguments they wanted to make.

"I LIKE SIMPLE PLEASURES, LIKE BUTTER IN MY ASS, LOLLIPOPS IN MY MOUTH." - FLOYD GONDOLLI, BOOGIE NIGHTS

Chris Evans, who is best known for his portrayal of Captain America, may very well be the dumbest person to have ever walked the earth. If he isn't the dumbest, he is certainly in the top ten….here is damning proof of that claim. Evan's tweet regarding the Last Tango controversy says "Wow. I will never look at this film, Bertolucci or Brando the same way again. This is beyond disgusting. I feel rage." If you close your eyes and sit still enough, you can hear with wind whistling through the empty caverns of Chris Evans skull. Chris then follows that tweet up by responding to Anna Kendrick's claims that this story is old news with, ""Had no idea. Would felt rage then too. They should be in jail." Poor Chris Evans. Besides this nitwit being completely erroneous regarding the facts of the situation, does anyone out there have the heart to break it to Chris Evans that Marlon Brando has been dead for well over a decade? Poor, stupid bastard. Reading his tweets make me think that Chris Evans was the kind of guy who ate a lot of paste in school. But at least he got to get his virtue signaling in and join the moral hysteria club.

In her tweet, Anna Kendrick gets to not only be morally superior but prophetically prescient because she knew about this scandal a long time ago and it was "dudes" who didn't believe her when she'd tell them. Here's the tweet, "Ms. Schneider stated this several years ago. I used to get eye-rolls when I brought it up to people (aka dudes)". Poor, dopey, little Anna, apparently she doesn't know that a prophet is not without honor except in his (or her) hometown. Hey Anna, maybe those "dudes" didn't believe your story because it was so idiotic and obviously not true. Maybe "dudes" wouldn't roll their eyes at you if you didn't tell them horseshit stories that even the most simple of simpletons could tell was nonsense. Please be careful removing your head from your ass…you might want to try butter to help with the transition.

Jenna Fischer tweeted, "All copies of this film should be destroyed immediately. It contains an actual rape and sexual assault." Jesus Fucking Christ, you raving ignoramus. We just hit DefCon 1 of Moral Panic!! Get a grip woman. Are you that easily taken in by the most base of ludicrous statements. Are you that unsophisticated that you cannot see a shocking headline and then actually gather information about the subject and discover the truth about it? Apparently you are as brainless as Mr. Evans and Ms. Kendrick, which means you are in very, very dopey company. 

Jessica Chastain is an undeniably terrific actress, the best of this sad bunch no doubt, but her reading comprehension and critical thinking abilities are woeful. Chastain's tweet shrieks, "To all the people that love this film - you're watching a 19 yr old get raped by a 48 yr old man. The director planned her attack. I feel sick." I feel sick too Jessica, although my sickness is because I am a great admirer of your work and yet have to come to terms with the fact that you are a reactionary imbecile. Does Jessica Chastain really believe that Maria Schneider is being raped in that scene? Really? Truly? Raped? Rape being define as "unlawful sexual intercourse or any other sexual penetration of the vagina, anus, or mouth of another person"?  Is Jessica Chastain that much of a dipshit or did she just really want to get into a moral frenzy about something and didn't want details to get in the way? With her tweet, Jessica Chastain proves she is, like her other misguided compatriots, either a fool, a liar or both.

I admit the last section was very unkind to Chastain, Evans, Kendrick and Fischer, but I only did that to try and hit home the point that a failure to think critically about any story in our media, be it about a rape forty years ago, or the case for war over a decade ago, or the claims of heroism by a Navy SEAL, is no longer just an error, but is an act of self-serving myopia and moral masturbation. It is imperative that people think critically about everything they are fed by media outlets, regardless of those outlets ideological proclivities. We must start thinking critically and stop thinking emotionally. This Last Tango rape story is powerful evidence of what happens when we think emotionally and react, instead of thinking critically and respond.

If history is any guide, one thing is for sure, none of these celebrities, or media outlets, are going to back down from this falsehood. They will most assuredly double down on the emotional thinking because that is human nature. Never admit error, only increase your cognitive dissonance to make those uncomfortable facts either go away or have no meaning. Even in the face of overwhelming contradictory evidence, Chastain, Evans, Kendrick and Fischer won't post apologies to Bertolucci or Brando. They won't say how foolish they were to believe such a rabid bit of foolhardy nonsense. No, these folks will prefer to rage against shadows dancing on the cave wall of their imaginations, or boogie men hiding under their beds. These people, Chastain, Evans, Kendrick, and Fischer and these media outlets, Variety, The Hollywood Reporter, ElleUSA Today to name but a few, are only interested in satiating their desire for outrage, and have zero desire for the Truth. It is they, and not Bernardo Bertolucci or Marlon Brando who should be ashamed of themselves and their behavior.

Actual, horrific rapes happen all the time, over a quarter of a million women are raped every year in the United States. Thousands upon thousands of woman go through the brutal trauma of being sexually assaulted and raped every year, we don't need to make up stories about phantom rapes occurring forty years ago. This hysteria and frenzy from the media and celebrities about Last Tango in Paris does rape survivors no service. When something so obviously dishonest and demonstrably false as the rape claims and accompanying witch hunt against Marlon Brando and Bernardo Bertolucci about the filming of Last Tango in Paris are used by people to advance an agenda, that agenda isn't strengthened by those lies but weakened. Woman who are actually raped or sexually assaulted, will not find solace in the faux courage shown by these nincompoops railing against Bertolucci and Brando, instead they will wonder why these people aren't fighting against real evils, not made up ones.

"MISTAKES ARE ALWAYS FORGIVABLE, IF ONE HAS THE COURAGE TO ADMIT THEM." - BRUCE LEE

If Chastain and co. are really interested in standing up against rape, why don't they speak out against Woody Allen? Or against Bryan Singer? Or stand up for Corey Feldman and encourage him to name names? Or encourage Thandie Newton to name her abuser? There is more actual evidence in those cases and against those men, including living people claiming to be their victims, than there is regarding the non-story of rape during filming of Last Tango in Paris. The reality is that Chastain et al won't make a stink about Allen or Singer or any other Hollywood heavy-hitter because it wouldn't be politically expedient or career enhancing to do so. Old man Bertolucci is irrelevant as a filmmaker now. Brando is long dead. They are innocent but they are easy targets for the mob of the indignant and uninformed. If you, Jessica Chastain, Chris Evans, Anna Kendrick or Jenna Fischer had any balls, you'd take a stand against people with real power who are hurting innocent people, some of them children, to this day. But we all know that would never happen. Courage is in short supply nowadays, no doubt replaced by the easy grace of public moral outrage.

Look at me, for instance. These famous actors are potential clients of mine, but I am calling them out on their bullshit because to me, Truth is more important than potentially advancing my career or padding my bank account. Do they have the same integrity as some lowly jackass like me? Maybe I am hopelessly naive, but I am hoping they do. As an act of good will I extend an offer to any of these actors, Jessica Chastain, Chris Evans, Anna Kendrick or Jenna Fischer, that if you publicly apologize to Bernardo Bertolucci and Marlon Brando, I will gladly give you two acting coaching sessions for free. That is a value of at least $250!! And that doesn't even include the cost of the butter!! I think that is a nice gesture on my part… a wee bit of goodwill toward the misguided. Now if only someone could read this article to Chris Evans, slowly, and explain the big words to him, we might be able to get the ball rolling on a magnificent working relationship. 

"GO ON, TELL METELL ME SOMETHING SWEET. SMILE AT ME AND SAY I JUST MISUNDERSTOOD. GO ON, TELL ME. YOU PIG-FUCKER….YOU GODDAMN , FUCKING, PIG-FUCKING LIAR." - PAUL (MARLON BRANDO), LAST TANGO IN PARIS

In all seriousness, the real crime here is not the non-existent rape of Maria Schneider, it is the fact that Last Tango in Paris is a tremendous film and that will now be lost on people with the hullabaloo surrounding this non-scandal. Marlon Brando is the Godfather of modern acting, no pun intended, and Last Tango in Paris is maybe his greatest performance. In Last Tango, Bertolucci was able to strip Marlon of all his surface performance and left him vulnerable, exposed, and authentic. Brando has never been as honest in a film as he was in Last Tango in Paris

Maria Schneider was an unknown before Last Tango and her performance is staggeringly good. Her artistic courage resonates through every scene she inhabits. It is a terrible shame that Schneider was unable to handle the scalding glare of fame when it came for her. It was fame that destroyed her, not Bertolucci. The same can be said of Brando as well. Fame is a beast, and it eventually ate both Brando and Schneider alive.

Hopefully, when this whole episode recedes into the background, people can return and watch Last Tango in Paris and see it for what it really is, a delicate, intimate and exquisite dance between two robust, voracious, yet fragile talents who have left this world much too soon…Maria Schneider and Marlon Brando.

For Marlon and Maria, who remained friends until Brando's death in 2004...

©2016

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