"Everything is as it should be."

                                                                                  - Benjamin Purcell Morris

 

 

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The Amazing Jonathan Documentary: A Review

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

My Rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars

My Recommendation: SKIP IT/SEE IT. This film is mildly amusing but lack any and all insight into it’s subject.

The Amazing Jonathan Documentary, directed by Ben Berman, chronicles the difficulties of making a documentary about the moderately famous magician/prop comic, Amazing Jonathan, as he mounts a comeback while suffering from a terminal medical condition. The film is currently streaming on Hulu.

Jonathan Szeles, otherwise known as The Amazing Jonathan, is a third rate, c-level comedian who hit it big and became a Vegas mainstay with his relentless and hackneyed magic-comedy. From 2001 to 2014 he was a year-round headliner in the City of Sin and made a nice fortune for himself doing so. In 2014 he was diagnosed with a heart condition and given one year to live…so he retired from performing. Four years later he was still alive and so decided to head back out and do some more shows, and director Ben Berman decided to document it all.

The Amazing Jonathan Documentary is a film about desperation, the desperation of Jonathan to find meaning and purpose in the last years of his life, and the desperation of Ben Berman not only to find a story to tell when the truth is elusive, but to make a name for himself.

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The Amazing Jonathan is an amusing persona, and getting a glimpse into this character’s supposed reality is often-times chuckle-inducing. Amazing Jonathan is, to put it mildly, detached from objective reality, and our brief jaunts through his subjective reality are certainly revealing of the oddity of his peculiar head space.

The problem though is that documentarian Ben Berman only gives us ever-so-brief glimpses into the persona of The Amazing Jonathan, but never breaks through the armor of that veneer and gives us the Jonathan Szeles living deep with in it. In this way the film is little more than a reality tv show that gives viewers canned and manipulated “performances’ and considers them to be “truth”.

In addition, Berman must deal with a series of absurdities regarding the actual film making process, and thus must scramble to adapt to new circumstances and try and cobble together a coherent narrative. Berman fails to overcome these obstacles for a variety of reasons, the most glaring is that instead of keeping the film focused on Jonathan, he makes the film about himself.

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Berman switches mid-way through the film to using ham-fisted attempts at personal poignancy, psychological profundity and displays of artistic despair, in order to fill in the gaps of the story due to his inadequacies as a documentarian. These Berman performative sequences all ring hollow, manufactured and exploitative and radiate with an odious shamelessness. In short, Berman comes across as a very bad actor, and yet he tries to make himself the star of his movie because he thinks he is so interesting despite his obvious lack of charisma and likability.

Berman’s attempt at participatory documentary film making feels painfully self-serving and narcissisticly masturbatorial. In order to pull off this style of documentary film making, the director must be a unique yet pleasant character, think Michael Moore or Morgan Spurlock, not a nebbish desperate for attention, which is how Ben Berman, who is neither unique nor pleasant and is no Michael Moore or Morgan Suprlock, comes across. Berman goes to such great lengths to make a spectacle of himself in this film that when it isn’t painfully embarrassing it is plain annoying. The film devolves to become such a self-serving enterprise that Berman basically turns it into a blatant job interview.

The behind the scenes, movie making insider stuff, will no doubt resonate with anyone who has ever made a movie, particularly a documentary. Jonathan is an erratic nightmare of a subject, and Berman being stuck in his house of horrors does deliver some comedy, but that doesn’t make it even remotely insightful or worthwhile. Watching Jonathan torture Berman is satisfying on a sadistic level for the viewer and a masochistic level for Berman, but we came here to try and understand Jonathan, and none of that stuff gives us any deeper understanding of who he really is or what drives him.

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What is so frustrating about The Amazing Jonathan Documentary is that Berman’s narcissistic focus distracts from Jonathan, and leaves his story, in essence, untold. I was left with a nagging feeling after watching this movie that, as difficult a nut as Jonathan is to crack, a more talented, more skilled, more dedicated and less vain film maker would have been able to break through and expose the actual truth about Jonathan. In essence this film is a documentation of Berman’s utter failure to do his job, which is to peel back the layers of The Amazing Jonathan and reveal the complexity and truth at the core of this strange and twisted man. Instead Berman gives us his reactions and responses to dealing with a difficult and temperamental performer…oooh…how groundbreaking….we’d get better insights watching The Bachelorette.

In conclusion, The Amazing Jonathan Documentary is an occasionally intriguing, but ultimately underwhelming documentary experience. Sadly, while the film is amusing in parts and absurd in others, it all feels a bit too self-serving and contrived to be of any genuine value. That said, if you work in the entertainment industry or on documentary films, you will probably appreciate the movie a bit more than the average Joe only because you will have had, at least once, similarly bizarre experiences with obliviously entitled talent.

©2019

American Factory: A Review and Commentary

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****THIS REVIEW CONTAINS MINOR MOVIE INFORMATION/SPOILERS!! CONSIDER THIS YOUR OFFICIAL SPOILER ALERT!!****

My Rating: 3 out 5 stars

My Recommendation: SEE IT. See it just to see the depressing and fast-approaching future for all American workers…and to see the consequences of America’s pro-corporate/globalist policies over the last forty years.

American Factory directed by Steven Bognar and Julie Reichert, is a documentary that chronicles the trials and tribulations of a Chinese company, Fuyao, opening a factory in Dayton, Ohio. The film is the first to be distributed by Barack and Michelle Obama’s production company Higher Ground, and is currently streaming on Netflix.

American Factory is an infuriating film that will surely get your nativist hackles up and leave you red…white and blue with anger…I know it did with me. It is nearly impossible to watch this film and not walk away loathing the American working class for their self-sabotaging stupidity, the American ruling class for their avarice and corruption, and China and Chinese nationals for their arrogance, condescension and all-around disgusting deception.

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The film starts with the closing of a GM plant outside of Dayton in 2008, allegedly due to the economic collapse. My biggest problem with this film is revealed in that simple assertion of blame because it is supposed to give context but is actually entirely, and deceptively, devoid of context. You cannot tell the story of American Factory and Fuyao’s move into Dayton without explaining the fertile ground upon which that story takes root. That fertile ground is the blood-soaked soil of post-organized labor America, and it began to take shape during the Reagan presidency when blue collar union workers voted for the flag-waving Republican former B-movie actor en-masse in 1980, and then Reagan swiftly turned around meticulously went about destroying organized labor in America.

The ground was further fertilized when Democrat Bill Clinton came to office in the 90’s and proceeded to do to America’s manufacturing base what Reagan did to organized labor…destroy it. Clinton signed the North American Free Trade Agreement which was a boon for the investor class and ruling elites but was like a nuclear bomb dropped on blue collar workers and the working class in America. Manufacturing jobs fled the U.S. and in their wake left former bustling cities and towns looking like Hiroshima and Nagasaki after World War II. The American worker has never recovered from the back to back Reagan-Clinton double devastation.

To add insult to injury Americans followed up the disaster of Clinton by deciding they had to suffer through the even more pro-globalist, pro-business, pro-investor class, pro-ruling elite administration of George W. Bush. The Bush regime’s tenure was such an economic holocaust that it not only left the working class and blue collar workers in a pile of steaming rubble, but obliterated the middle-class and once prosperous middle-class neighborhoods with the housing bubble and subsequent collapse, followed by prodigious corporate bail outs.

The final bit of context is that this film is distributed by Barrack Obama’s new production company Higher Ground…and he has some nerve attaching himself to this movie as it is the equivalent of O.J. Simpson’s production company Good Husband distributing the Oscar winning documentary O.J.: Made in America. Obama is just as responsible for the cataclysm that American workers face today as his despicable predecessors Reagan, Clinton and Bush II. It is astonishing that Obama is getting praise for distributing this documentary highlighting the plight of working class Americans, when…you know…he could’ve done something to actually help them during the eight years he was President of the United States but chose to side with Wall Street instead.

When Obama came into office the economy was in ruins and he had the greatest opportunity of any president since FDR to make significant and lasting structural changes…but instead he chose to double down on business as usual and backed the Bush TARP plan and appointed to his administration or took on as his advisors globalist, neo-liberal, free trade, deregulating Wall Street whores like Little Timmy Geithner, Larry Summers and Robert Rubin and his acolytes, the same pricks who were responsible for the economic collapse in the first place. Obama chose to bail out corporations and shareholders and as a result they got richer, and everyone else got a whole lot poorer, and he also chose not to go after the Wall Street criminals who created the whole mess (or the Bush war criminals…but that is a story for another day).

Obama is a fraud and a Wall Street shill…let’s all drink to that!

Obama is a fraud and a Wall Street shill…let’s all drink to that!

Obama proved with his handling of the economic crisis and healthcare that he is a really disgusting charlatan who ran on “hope and change” but ruled on “fuck the working people”, just like his predecessors. Liberals and Democrats desperately need to disabuse themselves of the notion that Obama is a “good guy” and was a good president. A good way to do that is to watch the Flint, Michigan section of Michael Moore’s film Fahrenheit 11/9, and to educate yourself on Obama’s pro-corporate/globalist economics and then watch American Factory.

Once you have the genuine context for American Factory in place, then you can understand and become enraged by the same man, Obama, who along with his fellow establishment errands boys Reagan, Clinton and Bush, caused this catastrophe, having the temerity to comment on the horror of it.

American Factory shows America being colonized by not only foreign money, but foreign workers and foreign work culture. The globalist/NAFTA induced exodus of American manufacturing jobs in the 90’s to the cheap labor havens in China and elsewhere, hollowed out America and now foreign investors are coming in like carrion to pick away at the corpse. The systematic de-unionization of the American worker is now being exploited by billionaires, in this case a Chinese one, who come to our country and openly and blatantly shit on American workers, American culture and America…and we not only let them, we give them titanic tax breaks to thank them for it.

The American workers at the Fuyao plant in Toledo reveal themselves to be just as cowardly as the men in government who put them in this situation. The Chinese nationals treat these American workers with such disrespect and disdain that it is both shocking and repugnant. The Chinese nationals do the same to American laws as they routinely ignore environmental and work place safety laws, putting American employees at great risk. And if someone gets hurt on the job? Fuck them…they are fired.

Cao Dewang - Number One Asshole.

Cao Dewang - Number One Asshole.

The workers are so scared, so frightened and so weak after forty years of Reagan/Clinton/Bush/Obama, that they are totally devoid of any backbone. These workers should be ashamed of themselves for rolling over like dogs to these repugnant and despicable Chinese invaders. The shots of American workers groveling as they shake hands with the piggish billionaire owner of Fuyao, the grotesque Cao Dewang, who fancies himself a modern-day capitalist version of Chairman Mao, is revolting. One of Dewang’s most illuminating moments of assholery comes when American workers ever so gently resist against his authoritarian rule and he blames it on their anti-Chinese racism…classic. How does no one take a wrench to this vile asshole’s head and crack it wide open? How do none of the American workers show their Chinese overlords what a good old American beating looks like? Yes, they would lose their jobs and maybe go to jail, but at least they’d send a message to their enemies that Americans still have some self-respect, dignity and balls…for as the saying goes, “it is better to die on your feet than to live on your knees.”

The most infuriating thing about this film is watching the American workers expose themselves for their staggering stupidity and weakness. How can anyone do anything so dumb as to trust any company, nevermind a Chinese one, to do the right and treat their employees well? How can anyone be so stupid…so mind-numbingly stupid, as to vote away their only chance at leverage and give away their only weapon?

I hate to say this but it needs to be said…if you are that stupid and that weak that you cannot stand up to your oppressors, cannot think strategically and tactically, not only don’t vote to empower yourself but vote to disarm and neuter yourself, and are so gullible as to put your trust into a corporation after watching corporations rape working people over the last forty years, then you deserve the shit sandwich you are being force-fed.

American Factory does a lot to reinforce negative stereotypes of both the Chinese and Americans, it does this by only giving viewers a shallow glimpse into the people living out this culture clash.

“Goggles won’t protect you or your job when I stab you in the back and steal your job and your wealth, my American friend.”

“Goggles won’t protect you or your job when I stab you in the back and steal your job and your wealth, my American friend.”

The Chinese workers are shown to be slavishly dedicated to their country and company over family, single-mindedly disciplined, and diabolically deceptive. The Chinese nationals are shown as two-faced rats, conspiring to destroy their American counterparts. The Chinese nationals are proud to take advantage of American hospitality by befriending American workers for the sole purpose of gaining disparaging information on them in order to ultimately fire them.

American workers fair no better in the film. The American workers who go to China do everything they can to reinforce the stereotype of the fat, lazy American, which the Chinese already whole-heartedly believe. For instance, when the American workers go to a corporate meeting in China they waddle in wearing sports and concert t-shirts and looking overall like a disheveled collection of complete and total unprofessional shlubs.

The American worker’s time in China is like a bad SNL skit come to life life. It is astounding that these embarrassments lack the intelligence and social grace to understand that maybe they should put their best foot forward and at least wear a button down shirt and try to carry themselves with some remote semblance of dignity.

Nothing is so cringe worthy as the fat, weepy American who gets emotional watching a bizarre group wedding during an event at corporate headquarters. This blubbering jackass ends up being consoled by a bunch of incredulous Chinese workers who look at him like he is some comic American mascot, like the Philly Fanatic or something, that has gone insane.

American Factory shows that America’s demise is undeniable. The workers in this film are symbolic of America, they prove themselves to be worthless and weak. God help us if we ever get into a shooting war with China because they will absolutely kick our fat, stupid asses. That is the thing that becomes crystal clear while watching American Factory, that we actually are at war with China right now, but only China seems to know and acknowledge this. The Chinese workers in America are soldiers on the front line for China, and they have knives sharpened and ready to plunge into American’s backs at the first chance they get, but the Americans are oblivious and have been softened by relentless conditioning to do nothing but repeat soft platitudes about how “ we are all one”.

I actually have great respect for these Chinese workers and their patriotism and devotion to China, as well as China’s commitment to its long term strategy to dismantle American economic and global hegemony, I just wish it didn’t come at the expense of my country. I also wish that the U.S. had the same level of dedication, discipline and forethought that China does, and instead of fighting against its working people, fought for them.

If you see this man Jeff Liu, give him a warm American welcome with your fists to his face.

If you see this man Jeff Liu, give him a warm American welcome with your fists to his face.

The most insidious of the Chinese nationals highlighted in American Factory is the new president of the Toledo operation, Jeff Liu, who has lived more than half of his life in America (and may actually be a citizen, it is unclear) but absolutely despises America and Americans. To be clear, Liu is an enemy of the American people in every way, shape and form, and deserves to be dragged out of his office and beaten senseless by an angry mob of Ohioans. Liu is a walking advertisement to severely restrict immigration, even legal immigration, into America. Our top colleges and universities are overflowing with students from China who come here to get an education only to then turn around and use it as a weapon for China to undermine this country. American Factory exposes this deadly deception and charade, it is like the Lenin maxim that “the capitalist will sell you the rope with which you intend to hang him” brought to life in Technicolor.

It isn’t just the Chinese nationals who are revealed to be duplicitous, as there are numerous American traitors in Fuyao management who sell their soul and side with the Chinese in their struggle against American workers. I would also be willing to bet that American elites and those on Wall Street and in the management/investor class will watch this movie and deeply empathize with Cao Dewang and his struggles to run a business and not with their fellow Americans and their desperate struggle simply to survive.

The war waged on American workers isn’t only being waged by the Chinese but across the board by all in management, the investor class and the ruling elite. As the end of the film shows, all workers are under siege and the race to make them obsolete and entirely expendable is well under way. The dream of management and the elite is to make the American worker an extinct species, and with the unions a perilously endangered species, extinction for all American workers is becoming more and more inevitable. The dream of the ruling class will be a nightmare for the rest of us.

In terms of the actual filmmaking on display, American Factory is a good…but not great, film. The film is nicely paced and does a good job of not interfering with the subject it is documenting, but the failure to adequately give proper context to the struggle playing out on screen undermines the film’s credibility and impact. The film also gives us glimpses into different peoples, both American and Chinese, and their lives around the factory, but these glimpses are much too short and shallow to give us any insight beyond caricature, and thus we are left with stereotypes and not insight.

In conclusion, this film is unintentionally an indictment of the establishment and the globalist, pro-business, pro-free trade, anti-union politicians and media elite who are responsible for the carnage that has devastated the American worker. I can’t imagine that anyone with half a brain in their head and a functioning heart in their chests could watch this film and not, at least once, throw something at their television screen. If you want to see the not-so-distant future of all America and the present day reality for blue collar workers and how Reagan, Clinton, Bush and Obama used free trade, unfettered immigration, both legal and illegal, and deregulation to turn first world America into a third world country…go watch American Factory (and the Flint section of Fahrenheit 11/9)…and remember the person who is distributing this film is complicit in the calamity documented within it.

©2019

The Inventor: Out for Blood in Silicon Valley - A Review

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****THIS REVIEW REVEALS SOME MINOR INFORMATION FROM THE DOCUMENTARY!! NOTHING MAJOR - BUT YOU’VE BEEN WARNED!!****

My Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

My Recommendation: SEE IT/SKIP IT. This documentary is mildly entertaining but lacks insight and depth. Not awful, but not transcendent either…if the subject matter intrigues you then check it out.

The Inventor: Out for Blood in Silicon Valley, directed and produced by Alex Gibney, is an HBO original documentary film that examines the meteoric rise of “inventor” Elizabeth Holmes and her health technology company Theranos.

There is nothing quite as enjoyable to me as a great documentary. I can watch truly great documentaries over and over as they feel like miniature master degrees in whatever subject they dissect. Film’s like Charles Ferguson’s Inside Job, Errol Morris’ The Fog of War or just about anything by Adam Curtis are films I revisit nearly every year and never regret it.

I was excited to see Academy Award and Emmy Award winning director Alex Gibney’s new documentary The Inventor, as he definitely has a knack for choosing fascinating topics. That said, Gibney, who won his Oscar for the profound Taxi to the Dark Side (2007) and multiple Emmys for the stunning Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God, can be an uneven filmmaker who often explores intriguing topics in his movies but at times fails to adequately document his subjects to a deep enough degree to satisfy beyond a passing and surface interest.

The Inventor is one of those type of Gibney films that tackles an interesting topic but fails to do so in an in-depth enough and compelling enough way. The Inventor reminded me a little bit of his highly praised (it won 3 Emmy awards) film about Scientology, Going Clear. I liked Going Clear and found it to be engaging to a certain degree, but ultimately it fell well short of being an earth-shattering revelation. Similar to Gibney’s film on Wikileaks and Julian Assange, We Steal Secrets, a pretty shameless and embarrassing hatchet job on Assange, with The Inventor Gibney seems to be seeing his subject through a biased lens. With We Steal Secrets, Gibney’s was decidedly against Assange, but inThe Inventor he is most definitely biased in favor of Elizabeth Holmes….but more on that in a bit.

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With The Inventor, Gibney once again dives into a riveting subject, but only swims in the shallow water of it and fails to give viewers much to sink their teeth into beyond the headlines. Elizabeth Holmes is a character for the ages, but Gibney barely scratch the surface of who she REALLY is in this film. On top of that Gibney never gets deep enough into the weeds of what exactly Holmes was trying to create at Theranos and how she planned to do it, to ever make viewers feel like anything more than just another mark for her con.

The film, while entertaining to a certain degree, is problematic for a variety of other reasons as well. The most glaring of which is the blind spot the filmmaker has in regards to his subject. Yes, Gibney exposes Holmes’ fraud, but he never exposes HER for being a fraud. Instead, what Gibney does is cloak Holmes in a protective blanket which imbues on her with only the best of intentions and the inability to be consciously or maliciously deceptive.

In this way Alex Gibney is recreating the same psychological, mental and emotional gymnastics that Elizabeth Holmes’ targets did when they fell under her spell. Holmes weilded her femininity like a martial art against the patriarchal system within she worked. Holmes’ juijitsu turned the unconscious sexism and paternalism of the men she targeted against them. The paternalism, sexism and soft misogyny of the powerful men she conned, who are a Murderer’s Row of Hall of Fame assholes that include men like Bill Clinton, General Mattis, David Boies, Henry Kissinger and George Shultz (who proves what a ass he is by siding with Holmes over his own grandson) among many others, caused them to fall for Holmes’ lies for two reasons. The first is that they overestimated her intellect and value because, ironically, they wanted to be seen supporting a women in order to quell their fear of being labelled sexist. The secondly, due to their paternalism and sexism, they underestimated Holmes’ ability for villainy, and she exploited the weakness of these men to her benefit.

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The irony of Holmes’ epic story is that these powerful men treated Holmes different and held her to a different standard BECAUSE she was a women. The reporters and writers who aided her rise to the status of media darling and science and business genius did the same thing, failing to adequately doubt and question her simply because they never considered she was capable of straight out lying to them. Even the reporters who spoke with her AFTER her scam became public, men like Sanjay Gupta and Jim Cramer, didn’t hold her feet to the fire like they would have with a man. Holmes was able to keep her scam alive for so long because these men treated her with kid gloves.

Interestingly enough, Holmes’s scam almost never got started because of a women, Professor Phyllis Gardner, her advisor at Stanford, who basically told Holmes her idea was scientifically impossible. Instead of trying to change her advisor’s mind, Holmes changed advisors…which is a perfect encapsulation of Elizabeth Holmes approach to life. In my eyes, at best, Holmes’ suffers from a the most acute case of cognitive dissonance on the planet, at worst she is a conniving and manipulative criminal mastermind. For director Gibney, who refuses to consider that Holmes was driven by greed for money, power and fame, Holmes is earnest in intent but misguided in execution. According to Gibney, Holmes’ greatest sin is being too much of a zealot for her noble cause.

The reality is that if Holmes were a man, the idea that she wasn’t anything but a greedy and evil con artist would never even remotely be considered…and rightfully so. Think of all the Wall Street snakes who scammed Americans out of their savings with the housing bubble, nobody thinks, “oh gee…they just wanted everyone to be able to own a home”…no…people think that those pricks were trying to get rich off the backs of working people…because that is exactly what they were doing.

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In the case of Alex Gibney’s film, he seems to suffer from an unconscious bias that makes him hold Holmes to a very different standard and lets her off the hook for her nefariousness activities. An example of this is that besides lowering Holmes intent and responsibility regarding fraud, he also lowers the standard for her regarding her sexual relationship at work. Holmes started dating Sunny Balwani, a tech entrepreneur twenty years her senior, when she was 19 and he was married to another woman. Balwani was a key advisor to Holmes in the early development of Theranos and after he got divorced from his wife, Holmes moved in with him. Balwani eventually became second in command to Holmes at Theranos but when the sham was exposed and things went bad for the company, she broke up with him and fired him. If a man had behaved the way Holmes did in her personal life, it would have been a much greater focus of the story of The Inventor, and would have been used to establish the lack of moral and ethical fiber of the person running the company. But in The Inventor, the fact of Holmes questionable conduct with Balwani is reduced to nothing more than a throw away line near the end of the film.

At the end of the day, Holmes captivates our imagination because she is so representative of the surreal age in which we live. Holmes is emblematic of our scam culture where style overwhelms substance, the subjective trumps the objective, where shortcuts are the only way to travel and truth is a punchline.

Holmes is similar to Trump in that her con is so obvious that it is stunning that anybody falls for it. Like Trump with his signature (and ridiculous) hair-do and his never buttoned blue suits with long ties, Holmes literally wore a costume, all black with a black turtleneck, a cheap imitation of her hero Steve Jobs.

Her use of story and language was also absurdly obvious as to her dishonesty as she simply regurgitated and repeated the same origin story over and over again and then used pseudo-scientific/tech marketing talk to cover her lack of any substance. Words like “inflection point” and “paradigm shift” or the use of “chemistry” as a verb were dead giveaways to her deceitful intent.

The most glaring giveaway though was her voice. Good Lord that voice. Her voice is so phony and put on it is remarkable no one did a spit-take in her face upon hearing it. But the voice gives away the game that she is an obvious fraud and walking lie…and those that fell for scam did so BECAUSE THEY WANTED TO FALL FOR IT. These people, and they were mostly men, wanted Holmes’ story to be true so they convinced themselves that it was.

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In this way Holmes is also the symbol for today’s neo-feminism, which alleges to want equality but only accepts the diminishing of standards and the lowering of bars for women. Neo-feminism loves to demand equal opportunity but also loves to shirk equal responsibility. That said, it is pretty amusing that Holmes used the patriarchy’s literal and symbolic desire for her and their shameless politically correct yearning to be seen as “allies” to women, to advance her scam and sucker investors and big names to support her fraudulent project.

None of these types of subjects, like Holmes as symbol for modern feminism, or the ingrained sexism of the men who fell for her, or the soft treatment she got because she was a women being integral to her scam flourishing, are ever broached by Gibney in his film. Instead Gibney sticks to a very straightforward and very forgiving narrative that never gets too deep or too insightful and the film suffers because of it.

According to Gibney’s movie, Holmes’ scam is just something that happened that is not indicative of anything else and is not symbolic of the age of fraud in which we live. The reality is very different, as one glance at the news will tell you that Elizabeth Holmes is the poster girl for our times. Our charlatan president, the Russiagate hysteria, the Fyre Festival nonsense, the college admission payola scam, Jussie Smollett’s shenanigans and on and on and on including our fraudulent economy and political system…are all hoaxes, scams and frauds. This is why Elizabeth Holmes is the poster girl for our times and it is a shame that Alex Gibney did not have the insight, self-knowledge and skill to bring that much deeper and more important story to light.

In conclusion, while The Inventor is entertaining on a certain gossipy level, it lacks the insight, depth of subject and profundity to be considered a great documentary. The film is currently airing on HBO, so if you want to spend two hours being mildly amused at the absurdity of it all, then you should check out The Inventor, just don’t expect transendance.

©2019

Leaving Neverland: A Review

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

My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

My Recommendation: SEE IT. See it to see and hear the truth regarding one of America’s most famous icons.

Leaving Neverland, produced and directed by Dan Reed, is a documentary that tells the story of Michael Jackson’s child sexual abuse of James Safechuk and Wade Robson from the late 80’s to the mid-90’s. The film is four hours long and is broken down into two, two-hour segments, which originally aired on HBO on March 3rd and 4th and are currently still available on that channel.

Leaving Neverland is one of those documentaries that takes a nebulous perception and turns it into an unavoidable reality. Michael Jackson, who settled a child sexual abuse lawsuit for a rumored $25 million in 1993 and was acquitted of child sex abuse involving another boy in a separate case in 2005, has long been assumed to be a pedophile…Leaving Neverland removes all doubt from that assumption.

The film is basically a collection of very long interviews with Safechuk and Robson where they describe in extremely explicit detail their sexual interactions with Jackson when they were minors, in Robson’s case as young as 7 years old. While the explicitness of their stories is uncomfortable to hear, it is very effective in shattering any illusions that might cloud the cold-hard reality of Jackson’s perverse sexual predilections. The explicitness of the language used is very beneficial, as terms like “molested” or “fondled” sound less damning and less evil than hearing the precise descriptions of what Jackson was doing to these little boys.

Director Reed wisely cuts back and forth between the explicit interviews of the grown men and footage of when they were young boys at the age when they were abused. This approach is highly effective in bringing home the point of Jackson’s disturbing depravity and the scope and scale of his evil.

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Safechuk and Robson come across as forthright and believable in the interviews. If they are lying about the nature of their relationship with Jackson then they are two of the greatest actors to have ever walked the earth. Robson is much more camera friendly and articulate than Safechuk, but Safechuk’s pure being, his posture, his energy, the look in his eye, is devastating testimony in and of itself, and is a searing indictment of Michael Jackson.

The film does not have any interviews from members of the Jackson family or any counter arguments to Safechuk and Robson, and some may see that as unfair, I do not agree. For thirty years we have heard the Jackson story while the children he abused have been silenced due to his wealth and power. We’ve heard enough from Jackson and company, and Leaving Neverland gives the side of the story we haven’t heard yet and that is what makes it so valuable.

What is so striking about the documentary is the news footage from the height of Jackson’s fame in the late 80’s and early 90’s. Jackson’s pedophilia was hiding in plain sight for all of us to see…in fact he was even flaunting it. The footage of Jackson gallivanting around the globe hand in hand with little boys is disgusting as he acts like a rock star parading around in public with a super model as arm candy and trophy girlfriend. And just like some rock star would want the status symbol of being seen in public with the latest and hottest Hollywood ingenue, Michael Jackson did the same thing with little boys, going public with his “friendship” with first Emmanuel Lewis (of Webster fame) and then later with Macaulay Culkin.

Jackson is just a despicable and deplorable human being, but his staff, family and enablers are equally repugnant for aiding and abetting his blatantly obvious sexual predation. As the documentary shows, Jackson’s staff members were actively recruiting boys to be Jackson’s companions and were complicit in keeping parents away while the abuse was happening.

Leaving Neverland is not just an indictment of Jackson, but of us all. His fans, the media and the public in general refused to see or believe what was right in front of our eyes because it was easier to ignore it, laugh about it or pretend it wasn’t happening. How Jackson did not get his head caved in by either a raging father of an abused child or by a security staffer with a conscience, is beyond me.

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The documentary is very effective in revealing how Jackson didn’t just seduce little boys but also their entire families. The interviews with Safechuk’s and Robson’s mothers are very enlightening and at times infuriating. These women, whose job was to protect their kids, fell for Jackson’s schtick hook, line and sinker and their boys paid the price for it. The mother’s, especially Ms. Robson, inability to take responsibility for their failure is mind-boggling, and the fact that Ms. Robson STILL doesn’t want to hear what happened to her son is astonishing. But this is what the allure of fame does to people, it distorts and compromises their soul, and they end up selling their son’s youth and innocence for a shot at the brass ring.

After the airing of the second part of the documentary, HBO aired a special interview with Oprah Winfrey and James Safechuk and Wade Robson. Considering Oprah herself has talked publicly about being sexually abused as a girl and the intracicies of that, you would think she’d be a good choice to host program…but you would be wrong.

Oprah is a terrible interviewer as she always makes everything about her and her opinion…but she is an even worse human being because she is so devoid of self-awareness yet is delusional enough to think that she is entirely self-aware. During the post-doc interview Oprah has the temerity to tell Safechuk that he hasn’t evolved as much as Robson, which if Oprah were half as “evolved” as she thinks she is she would understand is a really vicious thing to say to a survivor, especially one in such a vulnerable state as Safechuk.

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What was stunning to me is that Oprah spent the hour pontificating on how wise she is about abuse and how it is really seduction, but she fails to ever mention that she interviewed Michael Jackson in 1993…and it was a patty cake interview if there ever was one. During that interview Oprah never held Jackson to account or held his feet to the fire for his “bizarre” and curious behavior with boys. Oprah…like the rest of America and like Safechuk and Robson and countless other boys and their families…was seduced by Michael Jackson and the allure of his fame and power, which is saying quite a lot considering Oprah’s fame and power…and it would have been interesting for Oprah to talk about HER experience of that seduction and how she was either wittingly or unwittingly blind to Jackson’s depravity…instead of doing what she did and giving her opinion on other people’s experience of that.

The enormity of Michael Jackson’s fame and celebrity, especially back in the 80’s and early 90’s is difficult to fathom in this day and age of such a fractured and fragmented popular culture. Michael Jackson wasn’t just a superstar, he was a supernova. Jackson was the most famous and identifiable person on the planet back then and more people knew his name than any other person’s in the whole world.

When you look at Jackson’s discography and album sales it is unbelievable. Jackson was considered a performing prodigy and was a superstar with his family band The Jackson Five at the age of 11. After an awkward adolescent transition, Jackson returned to glory as a 21 year old with his 1979 hit album Off the Wall, which is a terrific album that sold 20 million copies.

The follow up to Off the Wall was Thriller, which sold an estimated 66 million copies and is the greatest selling album of all-time. Thriller undeniably made Jackson the biggest pop star in the world. No one has ever or will ever surpass Thriller’s sales numbers.

After Thriller Jackson could have sold 20 million copies of any piece of crap he threw out there, and that is kind of what he did with the awful Bad (1987) and the even more abysmal Dangerous (1991), which sold 35 and 32 million copies respectively.

The success of Off the Wall, Thriller, Bad and Dangerous gave Jackson enormous amounts of wealth and power and with that money and power Jackson could do whatever the hell he wanted…and sadly…what he wanted to do most of all was to have sex with young boys.

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After watching Leaving Neverland and the Oprah special I sat contemplating what I had just seen and I had two thoughts. The first thought was how striking it is to me that in the 1980’s, a decade of America’s alleged rebirth and renewal under Ronald Reagan, the biggest and most beloved music star was Michael Jackson and the biggest and most beloved television star was Bill Cosby. These two men were very similar in a lot of ways in that they were two Black men whose success crossed color lines, who cultivated personas that exuded a gentle kindness and moral purity, and who were sexual predators who preyed upon the defenseless, in Jackson’s case young children and in Cosby’s case drugged and unconscious women. I have no idea what that observation means in a broader sense, maybe something about masks and facades and how to succeed in America, I don’t know, I just thought it was very curious that these two men were so successful in their careers at that time period but also so successful at getting away with their sex crimes for so long.

The second thought I had was about Conrad Murray, Michael Jackson’s personal physician, who was found guilty of involuntary manslaughter in Jackson’s 2009 death from an overdose of propofol. Murray served two years in prison and was pilloried by the media for being responsible for “killing” Michael Jackson. After watching Leaving Neverland, I think Conrad Murray deserves a fucking medal.

In conclusion, Leaving Neverland is a difficult documentary to watch, but I highly recommend you do watch it because we must never look away from the truth, no matter how ugly it is or how uncomfortable it makes us.

©2019