"Everything is as it should be."

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

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Estimated Reading Time: 5 minutes 48 seconds

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

©2018

Justice League: A Review

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

My Rating: 2.65 out of 5 stars

My Recommendation: SEE IT/SKIP IT: See it in the theatre if you are a comic book/superhero film fan, it is worth the effort. If you are lukewarm or ambivalent about comic book/superhero films then feel free to skip it in the theatre and see it on Netflix or cable. 

Justice League, written by Joss Whedon and Chris Terrio and directed by Zack Snyder (with re-shoots directed by Whedon), is the fifth film in the D.C. Extended Universe and is a sequel to Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice. The film is the completion of the origin story of the Justice League, which is a collection of superheroes who join together to fight evil. The film stars Ben Affleck, Gal Gadot, Jason Mamoa, Ezra Miller and Henry Cavill. 

My experience of Justice League was very similar to my experience of 2016's Batman v. Superman (BvS). I did not see Batman v. Superman until very late in its theatrical run, therefore even though I do not read reviews, I had seen enough headlines to understand that the film was not widely loved…or even mildly liked. With my expectations very low I went and saw Batman v. Superman and much to my shock and amazement I joined the rarest of groups, the handful of people who actually enjoyed Batman v Superman a great deal. It wasn't a perfect movie but it was certainly better than all of the negative buzz that was floating around about it.

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When Justice League came out last month on November 17th, I once again avoided reviews but was still exposed to a deluge of negative buzz surrounding the film before I saw it on December 19. And just like when I saw Batman v. Superman, the theatre for Justice League was deserted except for the three other people.  And…just like with Batman v. Superman, my expectations were in the gutter for Justice League and either in spite of or because of that, the movie was able to greatly exceed them leaving me most pleasantly surprised. 

Justice League is supposed to be DC's attempt (at Warner Brothers insistence) at "lightening things up" from the dark themes and tone of BvS and being more "audience friendly". While I am not a fan of "lightening things up" in general and was attracted to the darkness of Batman v. Superman, I was not turned off by the more approachable tone of Justice League. Would I have liked a much darker version? Most definitely…but Justice League held onto enough darkness that it maintained a certain superhero gravitas that I found compelling. 

It has been my experience that while the rest of the world adores the Marvel franchise, I am more temperamentally suited for the brooding DC universe. The DC films have on the whole been pretty uneven, with Batman v. Superman, Wonder Woman and Justice League being pretty good and Suicide Squad and Man of Steel being abysmally bad. What I liked about Batman v. Superman and Justice League are that they are both cloaked in a very heavy, existential angst that regular folk may find boring and impenetrable, but which I find very philosophically intriguing and creatively courageous. In contrast, I find the Marvel films to be much too light-hearted and frivolous and to be lacking in visual and narrative texture. Marvel films are made for kids while DC films, at least Batman v. Superman and Justice League, are made for tormented kids who've grown old. While Justice League is definitely not a great film, it is probably at best an average cinematic venture, but it is still considerably better than many of the Marvel/Avenger movies. 

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Justice League benefits greatly from Zack Snyder's visual style that gives the film a distinct look and feel that the flat and cinematically dull Marvel films lack entirely. Snyder's Justice League world looks like something out of a Hieronymus Bosch hellscape, which is only heightened by its being populated  by hordes of villains, para-demons, who may very well have flown out of a Bosch painting. Snyder has always thrived when it comes to giving a film a distinguishing and original look, and so it is with Justice League.

On the other hand, Snyder has always struggled with narrative clarity and cohesion and while he doesn't excel at that in Justice League, he doesn't entirely flounder either. Justice League is more coherently structured than Batman v. Superman and flows better, that comes at the expense of dumbing things down and settling for a standard and generic approach over a more complex and challenging one.

I had a chance to see the extended directors cut of Batman v Superman and thought it added a great deal to the film and I hope that Warner Brothers releases an extended Zack Snyder cut of Justice League as well at some point as I think that Snyder can be at his best when he is free of the restraints of running length and focus groups. 

Justice League is greatly enhanced by a top notch cast that all do solid if not spectacular work. I realize I am in the minority here but I think Ben Affleck does a terrific job as Batman. Affleck's caped crusader is a grizzled, aching and aging icon struggling to keep up with his more supernaturally endowed colleagues and keep the undefeated father time at bay. Affleck is not an actor whose work I have been impressed with over his career, but his brooding Batman is second only to Christian Bale, and it isn't a distant second either.

Gal Gadot is simply sublime as Wonder Woman for the second time this year. Gadot is such a charismatic, magnetic and dynamic power it is impossible to keep your eyes off of her when she is on screen. Gadot's commanding screen presence never feels forced or disingenuous, but always feels grounded, earthy and forceful.  

Jason Mamoa and Ezra Miller do solid supporting work as Aquaman and Flash. Their roles are used to good comedic effect in Justice League (they do most of the previously mentioned "lightening up") but they could have been greatly bungled in the hands of lesser actors. Both Mamoa and Miller never push too hard and they make specific choices for their characters while never settling for half measures when bringing them to life. I don't know if Aquaman or the Flash will be able to carry a film on their own, but we shall see soon enough. 

As for my biggest issues with Justice League…the first and most pressing issue was that the CGI seemed to be rather sub par. Steppenwolf was the arch villain in the film and instead of using a human actor, they made him entirely of CGI. The CGI simply did not look real or believable and so it felt like the members of the Justice League were fighting a really evil cartoon character. 

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Another example of bad CGI is such a remarkable tale it demands retelling. The opening scene of the film shows a flashback of Henry Cavill as Superman being interviewed on a video phone by some local kids. Cavill, who is impossibly handsome, looks very...weird in the scene. I couldn't place it at first, but there was something wrong with his face. As I looked closer I could see his mouth was deformed. I started wondering if Henry Cavill in real life had an accident or been sick and was left with some sort of facial paralysis or something. I noticed the same issue at other points in the film featuring Cavill as well and was completely distracted by it every time. When I got home I searched the internet and found out the story behind the bizarre look of Superman. 

The story goes that Cavill was signed on to shoot Mission Impossible 6 (God help us all) once he wrapped shooting Justice League. Justice League director Zack Snyder stepped away from the film in post-production due to the death of his daughter and Joss Whedon stepped in to replace him. The studio wanted Whedon to do a plethora of re-shoots to change the tone of the film which they feared was too dark like Batman v. Superman. Whedon complied and did a great deal of re-shoots to the sum of $25 million. Bringing back Cavill for Superman was tricky though because he was currently shooting MI6 and had grown a mustache for his role and was contractually obligated to not shave it off for the duration of that shoot. So Warner Brothers, the studio of Justice League, which had a budget of $300 million, was at the mercy of Paramount, the home studio of Mission Impossible, in regards to their star Superman. Paramount, not surprisingly since they are not in the business of making life easy for their competition, wouldn't let Cavill get rid of the mustache. So billion dollar company Warner Brothers, who was spending $300 million on Justice League, was not allowed to walk down to CVS and get a Bic razor for 99 cents in order to shave the face of the star of their movie. The movie business is completely and utterly insane. 

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Superman and Steppenwolf's faces aren't the only missteps in Justice League. The enormity of the plot was a bit burdensome as well. All of these superhero movies now revolve around end of the world cataclysms that seem to me to be overkill. Whether it is the Justice League or the Avengers or anyone else, the threat of global annihilation is so overplayed as to be ridiculously redundant. And as much as I think Steppenwolf in theory is an excellent villain (although as stated he didn't look right in the film) and his minions the para-demons are quality Miltonian/Boschean foils, the scenario presented by their assault on Earth felt much too similar to The Avengers plots with Loki or Ultron. In execution I think Justice League pulled that scenario off better than The Avengers, but that doesn't make their lack of originality any less of a creative sin. 

The political subtext of Justice League is pretty interesting. Steppenwolf is a Putin-esque, power hungry warlord who begins his quest for total world domination in what is alleged to be a small Russian town but looks an awful lot like Chernobyl in Ukraine. Justice League accurately captures the divided mess that is our current world as we stagger and stumble from a uni-polar world protected by Superman/U.S. to a multi-polar world reigned over by God knows who, that acts like a bi-polar world. 

The Justice League itself is obviously a metaphor for the United Nations or the defunct League of Nations, in which the good guys protect the globe from the bad guys. Of course, life is never as clearly defined as that, and in our world it is becoming more and more difficult to discover who is good and who is bad. To Justice League's credit, the good guys aren't always so good and they struggle to find their place in the world.

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After seeing Justice League I did something I rarely do, which is go read other reviews of the film. Critics have savaged the film with an unabashed glee and seem to have a pre-disposition against the movie. While it was never stated, I think that predisposition to critical displeasure with Justice League (and Batman V. Superman) may have to do with critics subconsciously comparing the film to the last "Batman" movies which were Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight trilogy which are a far, far superior collection of films. Any superhero films compared to the Dark Knight Trilogy will pale in comparison as Nolan has raised the superhero bar beyond anyone’s reach with those phenomenal films. To be extremely clear, Batman v. Superman and Justice League are not The Dark Knight series, not even remotely close, but that doesn't mean they are completely devoid of any redeeming value.

The mythic and archetypal energies at the core of all of these these superhero stories, be they DC or Marvel, is the same, it is just the window dressing that changes. The core archetypes at the heart of superhero stories are what resonate with our collective psyches. Just as the Greeks told stories of their Gods, we tell stories of our mythic gods…Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, Aquaman and Flash. These comic book characters and the Greek gods are the same archetypes but are only wearing different masks. 

In conclusion, I found Justice League to be a pleasant surprise of a movie that wasn't great, but was certainly better than its buzz would indicate. Justice League is a solid companion piece to Batman v Superman and in fact enhances that film a great deal in hindsight. If you love superhero films then I recommend you go see Justice League in the theatre while it is still there. If you are lukewarm or ambivalent about superhero films then you can definitely skip it in the theatre and catch it at your leisure on cable or Netflix. And finally, in this holiday season when we anticipate a bounty of gifts beneath the Christmas tree, let Justice League be a lesson to us all, that low expectations are the golden key to a happy existence. 

©2017

 

Harvey Weinstein is America

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Estimated Reading Time: 4 minutes 39 seconds

Harvey Weinstein’s sexual harassment scandal isn’t only an indictment of his twisted soul but of America’s as well.

The story of Harvey Weinstein, the uber-powerful film producer, co-founder of Miramax Films and major donor to Democratic politicians, who got fired from his job as co-Chairman of The Weinstein Company after the New York Times ran an article exposing his serial sexual harassment of female employees, is such a perfect storm of corruption, depravity and hypocrisy that it exquisitely encapsulates the moral decay of America.

The Times piece revealed that Weinstein has settled at least eight different sexual harassment lawsuits over the years. The Times article was just the tip of a really grotesque iceberg though, for in its wake a plethora of other claims have surfaced.

In a New Yorker article, written, ironically enough, by Ronan Farrow, son of accused pedophile Woody Allen, even more claims emerged of Weinstein’s predatory behavior. One of the many lowlights from that article include Italian actress/filmmaker Asia Argento and two other women claiming that Weinstein raped them.

The most famous women among the sea of those claiming harassment at the hands of the movie mogul are Gwyneth Paltrow, Angelina Jolie, Ashley Judd, Rose McGowan and Rosanna Arquette.

The odiousness of this Weinstein scandal is overwhelming, and nearly public person is going through the Kabuki theatre of denouncing Harvey and his lecherousness but this strikes me as disingenuous at best. All the movie stars, media members and politicians strongly reprimanding Weinstein now, displayed nothing but egregious cowardice during Harvey Weinstein’s grotesque reign of wanton terror.

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Many Hollywood heavyweights like Meryl Streep, George Clooney, Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lawrence, are feigning ignorance of Weinstein’s disgusting depravity, but the revelation of Weinstein’s repulsive misdeeds cannot possibly come as a surprise. Harvey, the rotund and repugnant Hollywood kingmaker, is notorious in the film industry for his petulant and imperious approach, which includes physically abusing underlings and being a lascivious beast to women. Tales of Weinstein’s bad behavior are so legion that even a complete nobody like me has heard them ad infinitum.

So how did Harvey get away with being such a gigantic creep for so long? The main reason is that he possessed the most rare talent that all of Hollywood covets, the ability to garner Oscar votes for his films. Weinstein produced films have been nominated for Best Picture 26 times in the last 28 years and have been nominated for over 300 Academy Awards overall. In other words, Harvey could make people rich and famous beyond their wildest dreams, which is why so many in Hollywood checked their humanity and ethics at the door and looked the other way when he was being such a troglodyte. To quote Upton Sinclair, “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it.”

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Blind ambition isn’t the only reason Hollywood looked the other way regarding Weinstein, political expediency played a part as well. Weinstein has been a long time supporter of Democratic candidates, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton in particular, and has donated a lot of money to their campaigns.  

A perfect example of someone making a devil’s bargain with Weinstein for political reasons is Lena Dunham. Dunham, a vociferous and vocal Clinton supporter and devout feminist, admitted that she knew of Weinstein’s predatory reputation in regards to women, but still shook his hand and performed at a fundraiser he held for Clinton’s campaign. Dunham said she betrayed her feminist values because “she so desperately wanted to support Clinton.” 

Hollywood liberals were quick to denounce Evangelical Christians for supporting Trump despite his moral turpitude and misogyny, calling them hypocrites. I agree that Evangelicals are hypocrites for supporting Trump, but so are Hollywood liberals for enabling Weinstein. Both sides, Trump supporters and Hollywood liberals, need to get off their high horse and read Matthew 7:5, “You hypocrite! First remove the beam out of your own eye, and then you can see clearly to remove the speck out of your brother’s eye.”

Speaking of enabling, the Weinstein scandal brought to my mind a line from a U2 song, “if you need someone to blame, throw a rock in the air, you’ll hit someone guilty.”  When I throw my rock it often lands on the media, and so it is with this case.

Ronan Farrow published his Weinstein story in the New Yorker magazine, but only because his employer NBC news refused to go with the story. NBC is in business with Weinstein on various film and television projects, and no doubt did not want to ruffle the feathers of such a powerful and litigious man like Harvey Weinstein, so they passed on it, which means this story says just as much about them as it does about Weinstein.

Even the New York Times, which broke the Weinstein story, came out smelling less like a rose and more like a manure pile after it became known that the newspaper spiked a similar story regarding Weinstein in 2004 after being pressured by the producer and his lawyers to do so.

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The New York Times dropping the ball on an important story in the early 2000’s should come as no surprise to anyone who followed the lead up to the Iraq war or Bush surveillance, but what was shocking was who helped to scuttle the 2004 Weinstein article. Matt Damon, yes, Matt Damon, Mr. Good Will Hunting and thought-to-be good guy, called the Times reporter to defend and vouch for Weinstein in an effort to stop the story. So did everyone’s favorite Gladiator Russell Crowe. I wonder how Damon and Crowe sleep at night knowing they were complicit in thirteen more years of Weinstein’s abusing women?

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It is uncomfortable to acknowledge, but another group of people who could have stopped Harvey Weinstein but did not were the more famous of his victims, like Gwyneth Paltrow, Angelina Jolie, Mira Sorvino and Ashley Judd. These women did not ask to be placed in this terrible position, but they could have stopped him cold if they came forward years ago. The reason I cite them and not the other victims is because they were uniquely positioned to be able to defend themselves and to take on Harvey Weinstein, where the other victims were not. What I mean by that is that Paltrow, Jolie, Sorvino and Judd all come from entertainment families that are well-known and liked in the industry. They were not powerless because they have strong allies and deep connections in the business. These women, sans Judd, also won Oscars, giving them even more credibility and visibility to make their claims. I do not “blame” these women for being harassed or assaulted by Weinstein, I only wish they overcame their ambition and saved others from that awful fate.

 The cavalcade of condemnation for Harvey Weinstein will continue unabated for the days and weeks to come, and deservedly so, but to see him only as a target of derision diminishes his impact as a cautionary tale. Harvey Weinstein is simply a symptom of the wider disease which I call “reality show America”, which sees human beings as disposable and transactional objects whose value is measured in terms of their usefulness for entertainment or pleasure.

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The true power of the Weinstein story is not about his personal failings, but that it is symbolic of the fact that “reality-show America”, which thrives across the political and cultural spectrum, is a collection of self-serving, amoral, hypocrites who are quick to attack the failings of their enemy but slow to embrace self-reflection.

Will the denizens of “reality-show America” in Hollywood, Washington and the news media ask themselves how they have contributed to the culture that bred a man like Harvey Weinstein? I sincerely doubt it since deflection, emotional myopia and historical amnesia are as American as apple pie.

The Weinstein scandal is an opportunity, not only to see Weinstein for who he really is but also to see America for what we have become…an ethically bankrupt and indecent collection of moral cowards allergic to self-reflection and truth.

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This “reality show America”, currently starring the Trumps and Kardashians (with special guest appearance by the Clintons!) and produced by Harvey Weinstein, shows that America has devolved to the point of shameless obscenity, and regardless of how self-righteous we as liberals, conservatives, Democrats or Republicans may feel, we no longer possess any moral authority because, just like Harvey Weinstein, Hollywood, Washington and Wall Street, we are incapable of being honest with ourselves.

It is difficult to admit, but if we mustered the courage to see ourselves as we truly are, we would recognize that Harvey Weinstein is America, and America is Harvey Weinstein. Both are bloated, entitled, corrupt, bombastic, blindly ambitious bullies, full of fear and loathing, that use their outsized power to exploit the defenseless in order to indulge their darker impulses and insatiable desires. The sooner we recognize that, the faster we can try to change it.

This article was originally published on Thursday, October 12, 2017 at RT.

©2017

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 are 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 expresses 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

Batman v. Superman : Dawn of Justice - A Review

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

MY RATING : 2.5  OUT OF 5 STARS

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

 

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

As a general rule I never read movie reviews before I see a film. In fact, I don't even like to see trailers because studios so often undermine the power of a film by giving away its content in trailers. When I see a film, I want to see it with as close to virgin eyes as possible. If I don't understand a film, I will take the time to actually see it again. I love film so I don't mind investing time into it in trying to understand the art and craft of it all.  I understand that I am an outlier in this area as most people look upon films as consumers looking upon a product they may potentially buy, so they want as much information as they can get before hand, not afterwards. This is why studios reveal so much (too much!!) in trailers, they want to give as much of the film as possible in a two minute movie because they believe that audiences want to know what they are getting.

In regards to Batman v. Superman : Dawn of Justice, I found it very difficult to keep my cinematic virginity oath by avoiding news and information about the movie before I saw it. One reason this was such a struggle was that I saw the film just this past week and it was released two months ago, so I am definitely way behind the times. Another reason is that for the last two months my internet homepage has been giving me headlines telling me how awful critics thought the movie, and Ben Affleck were. I never read the articles, but I certainly got the message from the headlines, Batman V. Superman was an epic failure and Ben Affleck was back to his old tricks of ruining movies. And thus…my low expectations were unconsciously inseminated, then gestated for two months and were consciously born this past week.

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

"DO YOU BLEED?" - BATMAN

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

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

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

HELLO DARKNESS MY OLD FRIEND

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

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

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

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

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

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

The myths of Batman and Superman, and the archetypes that they embody, are the reasons why these comic book stories resonate so deeply with wide swaths of the population. Batman v. Superman has gotten pretty poor reviews yet is on the cusp of making a billion dollars. Captain America : Civil War will no doubt do the same. These super hero stories can be fun to watch and entertaining, but they also speak to us on a deeply unconscious level. These stores also speak to us from our collective unconscious, telling us things we know but struggle to articulate.

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

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

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

©2016