"Everything is as it should be."

                                                                                  - Benjamin Purcell Morris

 

 

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Avengers: Endgame - A Review

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

My Rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars

Popcorn Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

My Recommendation: SEE IT. If you like Marvel movies you’ll love this one. A satisfactory conclusion to the epic twenty-two film run of this phase of the Marvel Cinematic Unvierse.

Avengers: Endgame, written by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely and directed by Anthony and Joe Russo, is the story of the Marvel Avengers as they do battle with super villain Thanos. The film stars Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Mark Ruffalo, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner, Paul Rudd, Chris Hemsworth, Josh Brolin and a plethora of other movie stars.

Avengers: Endgame is the fourth Avengers film and is the direct sequel to last years smash hit Avengers: Infinity War. Endgame is also the twenty-second film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and marks the conclusion of this cycle of Marvel movies.

Just as super villain Thanos became a de facto god by acquiring the infinity stones, Disney, under the leadership of my dear friend Bob Iger, has turned into an all powerful entertainment industry god by acquiring over the years Pixar, Marvel and Lucasfilm. Now, with the additional purchase of Fox, Disney will hold an astonishing 40% market share of the box office.

The crown jewel, at least right now, in Disney’s empire is the aforementioned Marvel behemoth, which Disney bought in 2009 for $4 billion and which has brought in around $20 billion in box office gross alone over the last ten years. I have not always liked the Marvel movies, in fact, I’ve downright loathed a good number of them, but I readily admit that what Disney has pulled off with their Marvel Cinematic Universe is a stunning achievement in popular entertainment that will never be duplicated. To be able to roll out twenty-two different movies over a decade and weave all of the characters and story lines together into a coherent and cohesive whole that culminates in two gigantic movie events, Infinity War and Endgame, is a Hollywood miracle. One need look no further than the shitshow over at Warner Brothers and their inept handling of the DC Cinematic Universe (Batman, Superman etc.) post Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy to recognize how remarkable Disney’s efficiency and acumen regarding the Marvel properties has been. No doubt Disney will be further rewarded for their corporate diligence by Endgame’s box office which will break all sorts of records as it rockets past the two billion dollar mark in two weeks with ease.

As previously stated, I have disliked some of the Marvel movies, the first two Avenger movies in particular were quite dreadful. The Marvel movie formula has always been geared more toward adolescent boys…even the middle-aged ones, with lots of light-hearted action, noise and destruction all with some witty one-liners and comedic self-consciousness thrown in. The Marvel universe is decidedly fictional, a piece of escapist fantasy…whereas something like Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy for example, is more grounded in a recognizable, but very dark, “reality”. Marvel’s lack of grit has always irked me because their line up of characters is chock full of archetypal riches which are begging to explored in a psychologically and culturally serious way.

But with that said, I have also loved a few of Marvel’s formulaic films, with Infinity War and Thor: Ragnarok being prime examples. Infinity War is easily the best film in the MCU and that is because its narrative is the darkest and most consequential of all the movies. While Endgame has a certain darkness to it, is not as nearly as good as Infinity War, but it isn’t awful either.

Endgame is really more an event than a movie, a culmination of the franchise that is the perfect embodiment of everything good and bad in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. On the plus side it has fascinating archetypal characters and great moments of poignancy and levity, but on the downside it also has some narrative incoherence, sense-assaulting battle scenes that are relentlessly vapid, and a heavy dose of cringe worthy “wokeness” and political correctness that is shameless in its corporate human resources level pandering.

All of that said, Endgame succeeds because it ultimately satisfies on an emotional, psychological and narrative level as a conclusion to the twenty-two film Marvel epic that has dominated popular culture for the last decade. The story leaves no loose ends or arcs unfulfilled, and that is really all you can ask from a movie like this.

The sun at the center of this cinematic universe is Robert Downey Jr, whose skill, charisma and charm have propelled the MCU forward from day one. Without Downey Jr as Iron Man, none of this stuff works…none of it. Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, Chris Pratt, Mark Ruffalo and all the rest do solid work as their respective super heroes, but none of them could carry this franchise like Downey Jr. has. When Downey Jr. stops being Iron Man, and that day will eventually come, Marvel/Disney is going to take a big hit…I promise you that.

The ensemble of Endgame all do decent if unspectacular work with a few notable exceptions. On the plus side, Paul Rudd and Chris Hemsworth are fantastic, as both of them fully commit and have impeccable comedy chops (who would’ve thought that Thor would be the comedy gold in the Marvel universe?). As for the negative side…good lord…Brie Larson is just dreadful. Now to be fair, I have not seen Captain Marvel…so maybe she is great in that, but in Endgame you could’ve replaced her with a cigar store wooden Indian and it wouldn’t have made the slightest bit of difference. Larson is so dead-eyed it seems like she died on the table while undergoing a charisma bypass and we are left to watch her corpse be animatronically maneuvered throughout the movie.

There are also some issues with narrative incoherence in the film, mostly dealing with the topic of time travel. The lack of “time travel rules” clarity makes the whole enterprise pretty confusing and logically unstable if you try and follow it too closely. The best approach is to leave logic at home, where it is hopefully safe and sound, and just go with where the movie takes you. The logic/time travel issue though is a big reason that the film doesn’t soared like Infinity War did, which had a very clear and concise plot from which all of the action seamlessly flowed. In Endgame the plot feels more like a manufactured way for Disney to escape any commitment to what took place in Infinity War that could dare harm the corporate bottom line by taking away some cash cows.

While Endgame is the end of this phase of the MCU, Disney has a plethora of Marvel movies lined up for the next few years as they keep the assembly line going. As stated, the next phase is going to have a bumpy time of it as Disney is trying to transition to younger and more diverse stars to refill some roles. Disney is betting big that Brie Larson and Captain Marvel will be the female equivalent of Robert Downey Jr. and Iron Man, the new sun at the center of the Marvel universe. That is a bad bet, as Larson has big shoes to fill and very little feet with which to fill them.

Disney’s desire for more diverse Marvel movie characters, like a Black Captain America or a Latina Hulk, may (or may not) be a noble idea, but just as it did in comic book sales, it will negatively affect the bottom line at the box office. In my opinion it will also affect the artistic and cultural value of the films, for as I keep saying, “wokeness kills art”….but that is a painful discussion for another day.

In conclusion, Avengers: Endgame is a worthy finish to this phase of the Marvel Cinematic Universe franchise. The film has its ups and downs but ultimately is a satisfactory ending for the long journey we’ve all been on with these characters over the last decade. If your a fan of super hero movies, you should plunk down your Disney tax and help pad Bob Iger’s bank account by seeing the movie in the theatre. If you have just a passing interest in super hero movies, then wait for it to come out on cable or on Disney’s soon to be active streaming service, which will no doubt bring in even more gobs of money for Mickey Mouse. But Mickey should enjoy this ride while it lasts, because it won’t last forever. Just over the horizon there could be some some stormy weather waiting for Disney.

©2019

2018 Mid-Term Elections


Ever since Trump was elected president in 2016, the media have declared that he would face a comeuppance in the form of vast Democrat victories, or as they call it, a “blue wave”, come the 2018 mid-term elections. While I would like to think that would happen…I don’t think that will happen.

As long time readers know, I was one of “those people” who, in the face of a cavalcade of opposite opinion in the media and in my social circles, accurately predicted Trump’s victory in 2016. As I said in my writing from that time, I didn’t want Trump to win (nor was I a Hillary supporter), I just thought he would. I ended up being right and we have all had to suffer through the never ending reality show that is Trump TV ever since.

The formula I used to predict Trump’s 2016 victory is my McCaffrey Wave Theory, which again, I am sure long-time readers are sick of hearing about…but what can you do? My wave theory uses, among other things, popular culture, most specifically, at least currently, film and television, as indicators of the mood in the collective unconscious. The formula of the McCaffrey Wave Theory is actually very complex and complicated, and takes into account numerous cultural and historical “waves” or “cycles” that are all simultaneously in motion.

Interpreting the data from these waves/cycles and measuring their relationship to one another is how the McCaffrey Wave Theory is able to “predict” certain turn of events. And to be clear, this is not about being Nostradamus and saying planes will fly into buildings on 9-11, but rather about understanding the ebbs and flows of the collective unconscious and knowing when both big and small shifts will occur when portions of the collective unconscious become conscious.

The key elements of the McCaffrey Wave Theory are the archetypes, narratives and sub-texts prominent in films/tv along with their color scheme and visual/cinematic tendencies. These data points are how my wave/cycle theory is able to discern which films and/or television shows are leading indicators and which are lagging indicators of the collective unconscious. Leading indicator films are the ones that express the unconscious desires/fears of the collective, while lagging indicator films are the ones that express conscious fears or desires of the collective.

Some examples of leading indicator film and tv were pretty obvious in 2017 when HULU’s A Handmaid’s Tale (its narrative and vibrant red and green color scheme) and the DC film Wonder Woman (its narrative and red and blue color scheme) jumped to the fore of our culture in the early summer. These two successful projects accurately foretold of the coming feminist outcry and the rise of the #MeToo movement in the wake of the Weinstein revelations that came out in October of 2017.

A good example of a lagging indicator film was in 2017 as well, when Steven Spielberg rushed into production his thinly veiled anti-Trump/pro-Hillary film, The Post, that underwhelmed both at the box office and come awards time. The Post failed both artistically and financially because it was little more than wish fulfillment that attempted to give the audience what it wanted, not what the collective sub-conscious needed.

In the years leading up to the rise of Trump in 2016, there were numerous films and television shows that were ominous signs of a very dark impulse coming to the fore in American life and across the globe.

Two glaring examples were HBO’s Game of Thrones with its marketing campaign which for years was warning us all with their ice-blue billboards proclaiming that “Winter is Coming”. The other was Amazon’s The Man in the High Castle, a show about what America would be like if the Nazi’s and Japanese won World War II, which hit the airwaves in 2015 accompanied by a prodigious marketing campaign which had the Nazi Eagle on the American flag and the Imperial Japanese flag plastered all over the New York subway and elsewhere. Both of those shows resonated within the culture because they accurately gave voice to what was lurking in our collective unconscious. On some level we knew what was coming…a horrible “winter” and the Nazi’s/Not Sees…and these shows knew it before we were even conscious of it. (and don’t kid yourself, the Nazi/Not See impulse is not solely of the right, the left has a strong Not See impulse too).

In 2015 there were many films that were also giving us warning signs of big trouble ahead. The Martian, The Hateful Eight, The Revenant and Star Wars: The Force Awakens were all through their narratives, color schemes (Martian - Red, Hateful 8 - Blue, Revenant - Blue, Star Wars - Red and Blue) and cinematic visuals (shots of foreboding vast expanses) the equivalent of a flashing red sign that a gigantic storm was coming.

In 2016 things got even clearer, as the blockbusters Captain America: Civil War, X-Men: Apocalypse, Deadpool, Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story and even La La Land all revealed through their narratives (internecine warfare), sub-text and color schemes (all of them with vibrant clashes of red and blue) that our cultural train was headed off the track if not the cliff.

As I have previously written, last year cinema gave us some signs of what to expect going forward. The big archetype of the year in 2017 was Winston Churchill…with the films Dunkirk, Darkest Hour and the Netflix show The Crown. The Churchill archetype can be interpreted in numerous ways, but when seen in conjunction with other wave/cycles, it strikes me that the Churchill archetype is manifesting in the Trump’s of the world…in other words…it is actually the Churchill shadow archetype that is taking center stage.

Which brings us to this year and the mid-terms. As I said, there has been incessant talk of a blue wave and in its jubilant wake the possibility of a Democratic House and maybe even Senate where, like a scene out of The Godfather where Michael settles all family business, liberals exact revenge by impeaching not only of Trump but Supreme Court Justice Kavanaugh. As entertaining as that liberal porn may be…I don’t think it is going to happen.

According to my wave theory, there will be no blue wave. Not only will the Democrats not win the Senate, I don’t think they will win the House either, and if they do it will be by the skin of their teeth. Now…before you stick your head in the oven…to be very, very clear…I could certainly be wrong about this, God knows it wouldn’t be the first time. For starters, I have never used my wave theory to predict a mid-term before, and it could be I am interpreting the data entirely incorrectly, this is a distinct possibility. But with that said, ever since last June, when I wrote a piece for CounterPunch on the topic, along with a follow up posting on this blog in July, I have thought that this blue wave was a mirage.

As I stated in my CounterPunch piece, the big warning signs for me were the prominence and success of both Deadpool 2 and Avengers: Infinity War, both of which had narratives, sub-text and color scheme that spoke clearly of the failure of the opposition to Trump to succeed in toppling him.

Other films, such as A Quiet Place, Hereditary and even A Star is Born, that have all resonated deeply within the culture this year, are also leading indicators of a Democratic failure come the mid-terms because of their narratives and sub-text. Believe it or not, A Star is Born is remarkably insightful sub-textually and that sub-text very clearly (once you crack the code of it) states that if not Trump, then at least Trumpism, is here to stay as a replacement for the old paradigm, as indicated by the song in the film “Maybe it’s time we let the old ways die”. (I hope to have a full analysis of A Star is Born done soon).

Just as importantly, there are lagging indicator films that are, just like Spielberg’s The Post in 2017, falling flat, which highlight what isn’t resonating in the collective unconscious. Films with similar narratives, like the “aggrieved and under-appreciated genius wife/power behind the throne” stories of The Wife and Colette, or the “police shooting/racism” films The Hate U Give, Monsters and Men and Blindspotting, have all fallen flat in the broader culture. Even the colossal failure of the cinematic celebration of multi-culturalism and female empowerment, A Wrinkle in Time, is telling us what is going on in our collective unconscious, and it isn’t good news.

Now…maybe I am dead wrong about all this…maybe I am misreading and misinterpreting the data, that is a distinct possibility. Maybe the Democrats win a huge majority in the House and even get one in the Senate…but neither of those things will lead to a return to “normal”…only an escalation of the clash for civilization that is currently taking place.

Even if Democrats win, the intensity of the political turmoil here in America will not recede but proceed at an even quicker pace. Two more years of impeachment talk and congressional hearings will only heighten the tensions that are already near a boil. If you thought Trump was awful these last two years, wait until he faces an existential threat to his presidency from a Democratically controlled House and possibly Senate.

On the other hand, if, as I have been predicting since June, there is not blue wave, don’t expect tensions to lessen. If Democrats fail to gain the House, Trump will turn his obnoxiousness up to 11 and liberals and the media will ratchet up the crazy to unseen heights. And on top of that, if Mueller ends his investigation with no bombshells or smoking gun of “Russian collusion”, the liberal and Democratic meltdown will make Chernobyl look like a cookout.

In other words…no matter the outcome on November 6th, the conflagration that is American politics will only grow bigger, hotter and much more dangerous.

The reality is that there is no stopping the collapse of the institutions of western civilizations. Trust me, we have a very, very bumpy road ahead. That means more authoritarianism across the globe (Bolsonaro will win in Brazil) and more shocks to the system, like economic earthquakes, natural disasters and war.

The good news is that this current wave/cycle of collapse and destruction will not last forever. Eventually, after maybe a decade or so (or God help us a decade or two), this collapse and destruction wave/cycle will transform into a more optimistic wave/cycle of growth, stability, relative peace and prosperity. Remember, destruction is the first act of creation, and we will create, hopefully, a more just, localized, thoughtful and sustainable civilization in the crater where this one once stood.

As for the bad news…we are still in the destruction phase…and come November 7th there are going to be a lot of really pissed off Democrats, liberals and anti-Trumpers, who will still have no power in Washington with which to vent their rage. And if you thought things have been bad the last two years, what ‘til you get a load of what comes next because you ain’t seen nothing yet.


©2018

Captain America v Trump in Battle of the Useful Idiots

Estimated Reading Time: 4 minutes 38 seconds

President Trump’s summit and press conference with Vladimir Putin on Monday in Helsinki went so poorly that even superheroes and superhero wannabes went into hysterics over Trump’s alleged betrayal of the American intelligence community.

The reason for the media uproar in the wake of the Helsinki summit was that in reply to a reporter’s question Trump stated, or misstated depending on whom you listen to, that he believed Putin when the Russian leader claimed there was no Russian interference in the U.S. presidential election in 2016.

On CNN, that silver-spooned, silver-haired Silver Surfer clone Anderson Cooper, immediately responded to Trump’s performance by shrieking,

“You have been watching perhaps one of the most disgraceful performances by an American president at a summit in front of a Russian leader certainly that I’ve ever seen.”

Former head of the CIA John Brennan, who looks and acts frighteningly similar to Thing of the Fantastic Four, tweeted…

“Donald Trump’s press conference in Helsinki rises to & exceeds the threshold of “high crimes & misdemeanors.” It was nothing short of treasonous. Not only were Trump’s comments imbecilic, he is wholly in the pocket of Putin. Republican Patriots: Where are you???”

Former director of the CIA and NSA Michael Hayden went full Hulk when in response to Trump’s contradicting the Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, Hayden monosyllabically rage tweeted

“OMG. OMG. OMG”

Then a “real” superhero jumped into the fray. Chris Evans, the actor who plays Captain America in the Marvel franchise films who is the perfect representation of America because he is so boyishly handsome, ridiculously muscular, emotionally infantile and staggeringly empty-headed, tweeted of Trump…

“I don’t even know what to say. Today was a disgrace. @realDonaldTrump embarrassed America and should be ashamed of himself. Shame on anyone who chooses to ignore Russia’s interference in our democracy for the sake of Trump’s political well-being. I’m at a complete loss.”

I have a sneaking suspicion Mr. Evans is often at a complete loss…like when he comes upon a doorknob. Apparently the Captain’s twitter finger is even more powerful than his vibranium shield because he didn’t stop there…he followed up by tweeting

“This moron, puppet, coward sided with Putin over our own intelligence agencies! On a world stage!! BASED ON NOTHING MORE THAN PUTIN’S WORD! Why? Can ANYONE answer that?? What the hell is happening. Politics aside, this is 100% un-American. Where are you @GOP???”

Captain America’s logic is pristine…I mean how could anyone in their right mind dare to question America’s saintly intelligence community about their limited and still evidence free “assessment” that Russia interfered in the American election?

Sure, the American intelligence agencies were asleep at the wheel on 9-11, wrong about WMD’s in Iraq, ran a secret rendition and torture program, spied on American citizens, international allies and the U.S. congress, and then lied and perjured themselves about all of the above in order to cover their backsides…but when it comes to what happened in the 2016 election we should totally take their word for it!

Evans was joined in his twitter rampage shortly thereafter by fellow Marvel talent James Gunn, who in addition to writing and directing the Guardians of the Galaxy movies also produced this year’s smash hit Avengers: Infinity War movie. Gunn re-tweeted this…

In an ironic case of “he who liveth by Twitter, dieth by Twitter”, Gunn, who is notoriously quick on the draw when it comes to tweeting, transformed into an ex-Marvel talent later in the week when he got fired from directing Guardians of the Galaxy 3 after some entirely unrelated decade-old tweets of his surfaced in which he joked about rape and pedophilia. No doubt Gunn’s Twitter handle will now be holstered.

While Gunn’s re-tweeted Thanos meme is legitimately funny, equating Thanos, the villain in Infinity War who kills half of all beings in the universe in order to restore balance, to Putin, is hysterical…literally.

The mainstream media may claim otherwise, but the truth is Putin is not some omnipotent super-villain intent on universal or even global domination. Putin presides over a nation with only the 9th largest population, 11th largest economy (by projected GDP) and the 4th largest military budget (which is nearly ten times smaller than the U.S. military budget), that is not a Thanos level of super villainy…that doesn’t even rise to the level of Ultron, Loki or Lex Luthor for goodness sakes.

If Putin were truly a Thanos-level super-villain he would at least have the world’s largest economy, largest military budget, more foreign military bases than any other nation in human history, the largest prison population, a vast worldwide eavesdropping surveillance system along with extra-judicial kill lists and also have fomented coups and waged wars  in such far off and diverse lands as Ukraine, Libya, Egypt, Honduras, Yemen, Syria and Afghanistan. Of course in order to have all of those things Putin would have to be the President of the United States.

The reality is that Putin is nothing more than a Russian nationalist whose interest is in protecting Mother Russia and its people from existential threats, which historically for Russians are a much more pressing matter than for those of us living in the United States.

It is difficult for Americans like James Gunn and Chris Evans to grasp, but a little over 75 years ago the elite of the Nazi war machine were a stones throw from Moscow. Maybe if we Americans learned our history from somewhere other than Marvel movies we would know that it wasn’t Captain America that defeated the Nazis, it was the Soviets who broke the back of Hitler’s military monstrosity and who lost more than 26 million lives in the process.

Even in the last thirty years, Russians have had to survive the chaos and calamity that befell them when the Soviet Union collapsed, NATO encroached on their borders and America shamelessly meddled in their elections and economy.

The truth is that Anderson Cooper, John Brennan and Captain America Chris Evans, all inhabit different wings of the same American propaganda machine that has no interest in hearing differing or nuanced view points and has its heart set on demonizing and castrating Russia.

Cooper, a former intern at the CIA, cheerleads for American militarism and stokes the flames of Russo-phobia nightly on his CNN “news” show.

Brennan now plays a “serious” pundit on MSNBC, who routinely calls Vladimir Putin a “low-life thug”.

Since Brennan aided and abetted torture and treasonously spied on his own government while he was at the CIA, should he be considered a “high-life” thug because he is well paid as a member of the political and media establishment?

Chris Evans is also part of the American propaganda machine – the Hollywood wing. Is Evans aware that most of Hollywood, including Marvel and its parent company Disney, make movies in cooperation with the Pentagon? Does he know that in exchange for use of military equipment, personnel and expertise, the Pentagon gets creative control of those projects and eliminates any negative narratives that shed a bad light on the U.S. or its military to insure that those films will be coercive advertisements for American militarism?

Is Chris Evans aware and comfortable with the fact that America’s intelligence community also has a fruitful working relationship with Hollywood that has distorted history and whitewashed torture?

Does Chris Evans also support the cavalcade of anti-Russian films and television shows being churned out in recent years by Hollywood that brazenly dehumanize Russians and make Americans more susceptible to believe any negative story they hear about Russians in the mainstream media?

Maybe the vacuous gruel that is the Russiagate case will expand to become a sumptuous feast of evidence proving Putin’s guilt and Trump’s complicity. And maybe Trump is exactly what the media and Captain America claim he is…a useful idiot who is a “moron, puppet and coward”…but upon closer examination, the same could also be said of Evans who, wittingly or unwittingly, enables the Pentagon and Intelligence agencies’ militaristic and Russo-phobic propaganda campaigns to indoctrinate the American people to be gullible to the media, subservient to authority and aggressively belligerent toward Russians.

Add in the fact that liberals in Hollywood and the media are now so deeply in the throes of their virulent anti-Russian hysteria that they actually equate any alleged Russian election interference with the atrocities of 9-11 and Pearl Harbor, and you have a perfect recipe for a potential war…talk about useful idiots.

This article was originally published at RT.

©2018

 

 

 

Avengers: Infinity War - A Review

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

My Rating: 3 out of 5 stars                  

Popcorn Curve* Rating: 3.9 stars

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*The Popcorn Curve judges a film based on its entertainment merits as a franchise/blockbuster movie, as opposed to my regular rating which judges a film solely on its cinematic merits.

FILM COMMENTARY

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

©2018

Buzz Lightyear Claims Hollywood is Nazi Germany, Captain America to the Rescue?

Estimated Reading Time : 5 minutes 03 seconds

Last Week, conservative actor Tim Allen said that liberal Hollywood was akin to 1930’s Germany because of its intolerance of opposing political opinions. Does Buzz Lightyear have a point?

I am not a fan of Tim Allen, at all. I would rather light myself on fire than watch a single second of his work. I doubt Mr. Allen, the iconic voice of Buzz Lightyear and star of Home Improvement, as he sits in his solid gold mansion, cares one bit about what some nobody like me thinks.

That said, as a citizen of the People’s Republic of Hollywood, I took offense at Allen’s claim. What Allen said on Jimmy Kimmel’s show last Thursday was,“In this town, I’m not kidding, you gotta be real careful around here, you know, you can get beat up if you don’t believe what everybody believes. This is like ‘30’s Germany.” He was joking and hyperbolic for effect, but at the heart of every joke is a kernel of truth. So even though I reflexively disagreed with Buzz Lightyear’s statement, I thought I would take a closer to look to see if could find that truthful kernel.

First, it is accurate that Hollywood is liberal in that the majority of people vote democrat. But upon closer examination, Hollywood is not quite as “liberal” as most think. For instance, when Michael Moore gave his famous anti-Iraq war speech at the 2003 Oscars, the audience booed him robustly. I guess the Oscars crowd, like democrats in Congress, supported the ill-fated invasion too.

In addition, if you take a look at conservative actors it is easy to see they are not discriminated against because of their political beliefs. Unlike liberals during the 1940’s and 50’s McCarthy era blacklists, no conservatives have been banned from working in film or tv, quite the opposite.

Proof of that is easy to see, Tim Allen being a perfect example. If Hollywood were 1930’s Germany, Tim Allen would not be on his current show, the dreadful Last Man Standing (see, 1930’s Germany wasn’t ALL bad!). That show has, at best, middling ratings, and zero cultural cache, cancelling it over Allen’s conservatism would be an easy thing for Hollywood bigwigs to do.

Allen keeps his show for one reason, because he has made a lot of people in the business wealthy with his work, like Home Improvement, Toy Story and the Santa Clause films. That is the thing to remember when talking politics in Hollywood, deep down what matters most is not politics, but the revenue you generate.

Case in point, the list of republican movie stars is strikingly similar to the list of box office champions over the years. Clint Eastwood, Sly Stallone, Arnold Schwarzeneger, Mel Gibson, Bruce Willis, “The Rock” Dwayne Johnson and Adam Sandler, all of whom are openly conservative and none of whom have struggled to work in liberal Hollywood.

The same is true of tv stars Patricia Heaton and Kelsey Grammar, who along with Tom Selleck , Gary Sinise and Jon Voigt all espouse conservative beliefs but who have had consistently active acting careers.

While money is the prime force in Hollywood, many of these republican actors have also been chosen for awards, which are voted on by their liberal colleagues. Clint Eastwood, Mel Gibson, and Jon Voigt have won Oscars and Patricia Heaton, Gary Sinise, Bruce Willis and Kelsey Grammar have won Emmys. This is proof that liberal Hollywood has historically treated conservative artists considerably better than conservative America, with their blacklists of the 40’s and 50’s, treated liberal artists.

With that said, and as loath as I am to do it, upon reflection I admit that Tim Allen may have hit upon something with his jokes on Kimmel. Something has changed out here in Hollywood since the election of Donald Trump.

Actor Chris Evans, best known as Captain America, recently said in an interview with Esquire about Trump’s election, “I feel rage, I feel fury. It’s unbelievable.”

Evans is not alone in his rage and fury. Since Trump’s victory, anger towards opposing opinions in Hollywood has been ratcheted up to eleven. I am not a Trump supporter, truth is I have despised the man for thirty years and have been unabashed in my criticism of him, but because I have also written critically of democrats and Hillary Clinton, I have lost friends and been called everything from a Putin and Kremlin stooge to a “mansplainin” racist.

I do not doubt that Tim Allen is disliked for his beliefs, but dislike and discrimination are two very different things. Allen perceives this dislike as threatening, but that has more to do with his personal insecurities than it does with violent intent by his liberal co-workers. But his fear of being in the minority and his perception of menace on the part of his political opponents is not just a Hollywood thing, but an American thing.

I recently spent a week visiting family in central Pennsylvania, which the natives lovingly refer to as Pennsyl-tucky, because it is in Pennsylvania – but feels a lot like Kentucky. This is Red America, the heart of Trump country, and the contrast with Hollywood could not have been greater.

I had a conversation while there with an acquaintance of mine who is a life long resident of this rural Pennsylvania town, a white, working class guy who works on a factory floor and is no Trump supporter. He feels isolated, and frankly, just like Tim Allen, a bit afraid. He is trying to raise his amazing children to be kind, loving, and open-minded individuals and yet their classmates often wear confederate flag shirts to school. His neighbors fly the confederate flag at their homes or on their pick up trucks, which is ironic since the spot where Lincoln gave the Gettysburg address is not too far away. He told me he has heard the “n-word” at work more in the last three months than he had in the previous fifteen years. He also said that someone scratched a swastika onto an interior door at his factory. This working class guy is not an ethnic or religious minority, but he is a political one, and, like Tim Allen, he is terribly unsettled by the shift that has occurred since Trump’s election.

As I spoke with my friend and his wife, both told me that they were “unnerved”, and felt like “something hateful had been unleashed” since Trump’s victory, and that their neighbors and co-workers now felt “the gloves were off” and they were free to be “as vicious and nasty” as they wanted to be. They were deeply concerned for their kids and for the world they will inherit.

This Central Pennsylvania resident doesn’t live in a solid gold mansion or drive a diamond-studded rocket car like Tim Allen probably does, but he does share something in common with the Hollywood star, a deep seeded unease about the forces being unleashed in favor of, and in opposition to, Donald Trump.

Is Hollywood like 1930’s Germany? If you ask me, the whole damn country is starting to feel like 1930’s Germany. We have, on both the left and the right, devolved into a nation of feeble-minded mini-tyrants who define ourselves by what we hate rather than what we love. We quash debate, discussion or genuine inquiry because it is easier to scream and shout rather than listen and learn. Sadly, the reality has become that we are all Hitlers now.  

Chris Evans said something quite insightful in his Esquire interview when he said, “Some people say, ‘Don’t you see what’s happening? It’s time to yell,’ yeah, I see it, and it’s time for calm. Because not everyone who voted for Trump is going to be some horrible bigot. There are a lot of people in that middle; those are the people you can’t lose your credibility with. If you’re trying to change minds, by spewing too much rhetoric you can easily become white noise.”

The Captain America character was created in 1941 to be a super-soldier to fight against Hitler and the Nazi’s, the modern day Captain America, Chris Evans, has revealed to us the path for victory over the Nazi that lives inside us all. We must stay calm, overcome our rage and fury, engage in debate and discussion and not attack and vitriol.

Hopefully, both my Pennsylvania friend and Buzz Lightyear are wrong about their fears for what the future holds. The anecdotal evidence of our nation tearing itself apart is certainly compelling though. With any luck we will find, to quote the man most associated with Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, Abraham Lincoln, “the angels of our better nature” and come together to move forward.

I admit that things seem bleak and that we have a difficult road ahead, but I vow that whenever I witness Hollywood’s, our nation’s, or my own, inner Nazi percolating to life, I will let out a plaintive wail, “Save us, Captain America!!” I hope he will be listening.

©2017

Previously published on March 22, 2017 at RT.

Captain America : Civil War - A Review

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

MY RATING : 2 OUT OF 5 STARS

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

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

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

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

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

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

To the film's credit, it raises a rather complex issue for a super hero movie, the issue of "collateral damage", with the super heroes contemplating all the innocents that have died as a result of their epic battles with various super villains like Loki and Ultron in the previous Avenger films. Captain America and his team believe that, while tragic, these civilian deaths are the price you pay for stopping evil. If you live in the U.S. and watch, read, or listen to any mainstream media, that will sound awfully familiar to you. Although on the surface they clash, Iron Man actually agrees with Captain America in principle about the collateral damage issue but he disagrees with how to strategically handle the fallout over civilian deaths.

Iron Man is the symbol of American ingenuity and capitalism, so he just wants to stay in business by any means necessary, and so he believes the Avengers should fall under U.N. control for the time being until this whole mess blows over. At the end of the day the disagreement over whether the Avengers will give up sovereignty to the U.N. gets pushed to the background as all agree that the Avengers are a universal good and are morally righteous having never intended to kill any innocents, so they are neither morally nor ethically culpable in any way. The disagreement which starts the Avenger civil war is really about how to handle the logistics going forward and Captain America's stubborn attachment to his principle on maintaining sovereignty.

As I watched Captain America talk about the specter of the U.N. having control over the Avenger's , I was reminded of the first time I ever heard of Americans being afraid of a tyrannical UN. I was driving through central Pennsylvania about 20 years ago with an incredibly sexy native Pennsylanian woman whom I will call The Amish Minx, and we saw two huge signs on trailers in someone's yard, one read "Keep the UN out of the US" and the other "Don't let the UN take our guns". The Amish Minx, who was born and raised in central Pennsylvania, had always told me the state was basically Pittsburgh and Philadelphia separated by Kentucky, and she used these signs as evidence backing up her thesis. She often referred to the state she loved as Pennsyl-tucky.

I think Captain America's message of defiance against the U.N. will deeply resonate in the heart of Pennsyl-tucky and the rest of the American heartland….which is what it is meant to do. Captain America refusing to give up his freedom to decide which bad guys to kill to the meddling, feckless and corrupt U.N., is perfectly American, which makes sense since he is Captain America after all, and not Captain International Political Organization, while Iron Man, the international businessman, is willing to compromise by appeasing the U.N.…for now. As the story progresses though, it is revealed that the real beef between Captain America and Iron Man is, as these things always turn out to be, actually very personal, as Iron Man feels betrayed by Captain America over the death of Iron Man's parents many years ago.

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

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

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

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

Not surprisingly, since the Captain America comic was originally created back in 1941 as American propaganda during World War II, when you dig a little deeper into Captain America : Civil War, you realize that it is little more than updated and more sophisticated propaganda for American exceptionalism in the twenty first century. The film is designed to reinforce what Americans have been conditioned to believe for generations through education and the media…that we are a special people and nation, and that when we kill innocent people it is not immoral, only an unintentional accident. This is the "good intentions" argument that self promoting nitwit Sam Harris likes to parade arounduntil a real super hero, Noam Chomsky, goes all Hulk on him and smashes his vapid argument for all to see. (CHOMSKY SMASH!!!) This is also the same thinking that brings cries of "moral equivalency!!" anytime someone tries to hold the U.S. accountable for its evil deeds.

 While the film appears to be about the Uni-Polar v. Multi-Polar debate and the collateral damage issue, it is actually very deceptive, because at its core the film never questions the morality or righteousness of the American/Avenger cause. In cinematic terms, doing that would mean that Team Iron Man would have to have a true come to Jesus moment and realize that Team Captain America must be stopped no matter the price….but that is not going to happen in the Disney owned Marvel Universe or this coprorately owned one either.

It is easy to make the argument that the Avengers have always been good and acted properly by stopping Loki or Ultron from destroying the entire planet because Loki and Ultron are comic book villains who embody true evil, and the Avengers are comic book super heroes who embody pure goodness. The comic book world is comfortably Manichean which is why we love and crave it so much. The clarity and surety that comic books and their films give us is reassuringly simple, even when it appears to be complex, as in the case of Captain America : Civil War. The real world rarely gives us such Manichean clarity, and it is almost always much less clear cut in the real world who is good and who is evil. The shaded area of grey in which we all live, which can be so uncomfortable for its moral ambiguity, will find no home in Disney's Marvel Universe.

Sadly, that won't stop audience members from unquestioningly swallowing the obvious propogandic lesson of the film, that the US, just like the Avengers, is always and every time right, morally and ethically, even when it does wrong, and that the U.S., just like the Avengers, is always and every time morally superior in each and every way to his opponents/victims, no matter who they are. When people or a nation put themselves morally above others, it gives them free reign to do anything because no matter what they do, it is good because they are good. The most obvious example of this…**WARNING: Godwin's Law in full effect!!**… are the Nazi's, who didn't think they were evil, they thought they were good and right ("If God is with us, who could be against us?"). The German thinking was that invading Poland or slaughtering Jews, though ugly, was acceptable because it served the greater and higher good, which was Germany and all its mythic glory. The Avengers and the U.S. aren't the Nazi's, but they are compelled by the same sense of self-reverence and moral superiority, which is an uncomfortable, but important idea to contemplate.

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

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

©2016

Avengers : Age of Ultron - A Review

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

When you go see a comic book or superhero movie, you have a certain set of expectations. One might describe those expectations as 'lowered'. You certainly don't go into the theatre expecting to see Citizen Kane, but you do expect to see something entertaining and fun. When the stars align and a superhero film ends up being great, as in the case of The Dark Knight for instance, you are more than pleasantly surprised, you are downright thrilled. I didn't expect Avengers: Age of Ultron to be great, and the filmmakers certainly didn't disappoint on that count. Avengers is typical, sadly, of many recent films in the comic book genre (The Dark Knight series being the exception) in that it is big, loud, incomprehensible and incoherent. It will still make a billion dollars because kids of all ages will flock to to see it for the same reason that boogers are ingested at such an alarmingly high rate across the globe.

The key for a superhero film is not the superhero involved. Superheroes are great, everybody likes superheroes. What a superhero film needs though is tension. The key to creating tension is the villain. If you are going to make a great superhero movie, you need a villain that is equal or better than the superhero. There must be a balance in power and ability between the good guys and the bad guys. Avengers suffers from a lack of a clear cut and worthy opponent to take on its all-star team of superheroes. The first film suffered from the same malady. In contrast to the Avengers, the X-Men work because they have one group of super folk taking on another group of equally super folk. (That is not to say that X-Men movies are great, they aren't, they are just ok but could be great, the reason they aren't is singularly because of the truly poor directors at the helm of those films, not because they lack worthy villains). Professor X faces his shadow in Magneto for instance. The Dark Knight films worked so well because the Joker is as big a name and draw as is Batman. Bane may not be as famous as The Joker, but he was the physical better of Batman in every way and proved it in the final Dark Knight film (until he was dramatically and narratively undercut by an atrocious script twist in a horrendous breaking of the most basic of filmmaking rules!!). In the first Avengers film, Thor's trickster brother Loki was the villain. Loki is a a second rate character at best, and even on his best day struggles to challenge his more famous, and powerful brother Thor.  In Avengers: Age of Ultron a group of the most elite superheroes take on Ultron, an artificial intelligence hell bent on world domination. Ultron is nowhere near ready for prime time as a villain. The match-up between the Avengers, with Hulk, Captain America, Iron Man, Black Widow and Thor against Ultron is like the '27 Yankees against a little league team. Ultron and the actor voicing him, James Spader, both seem to possess the same singular super power, an overwhelming smugness. 

Due to a less than engaging villain, the film lacks any tension whatsoever. Avengers: Age of Ultron is about as interesting as watching kids playing with action figures in a sandbox. While it may be fun for the kids doing the playing, only an imbecile would be able to find watching them interesting for more than ten minutes at most.

The script makes no sense whatsoever. None. Zero. Trying to figure out what is happening and why would be a total waste of time, and the film assaults you so relentlessly that you are rendered completely incapable of critical thinking altogether, so you just sit back and let the spectacle overwhelm your senses. The film is much too long in terms of it being an enjoyable watching experience, but much too short in terms of it trying to explain itself.

There is not a single compelling or memorable scene, sequence or shot in the entire film. I saw it less than 24 hours ago and can barely remember anything about it. For a film that put so much money into production, it looks unconscionably cheap and flimsy. The CGI makes the film look flat and dull. The story, when not incoherent, is at best tedious, at worst entirely forgettable.

Avengers: Age of Ultron is another in a long line of recent films to have decided to focus on sheer volume and scale to overwhelm the viewer as opposed to winning them over with quality and worth. Like its obnoxiously loud and senseless predecessors Man of Steel, Transformers and Godzilla, Avengers turns the volume way up to 11, and it never met a building it didn't want to turn to rubble in the course of a poorly choreographed and cinematically flaccid and repetitious brawl.

On the bright side, the cast all do yeomen's work. In a film like this the job can be boiled down to this, look great, be charming and don't laugh out loud at your idiotic dialogue, or as George Clooney calls it, "Acting". The cast all succeed at the task before them. Robert Downey Jr. is really fantastic as Iron Man. His charisma, energy, pace and wit carry every scene he inhabits. Scarlett Johannson does admirable work as well, both seductive yet vulnerable, as Black Widow. She does a lot with the little given to her in bringing her role to life. Chris Evans (Captain America), Chris Hemsworth (Thor) and Mark Ruffalo (Hulk) all do solid work as well in pretty thankless roles.  The actors are definitely not the problem with Avengers: Age of Ultron. The problem with Avengers: Age of Ultron is the laborious script and the impotent direction.

The fact that the first Avengers film made a billion dollars, and Avengers: Age of Ultron is most assuredly on its way to a billion, is less an endorsement of those films than an indictment of the human race. I couldn't help but think that the film's villain Ultron is very right, when he says, and I'm paraphrasing here, that 'mankind is a disease worth eradicating from the earth', after seeing the first weekend gross that hovered near $200 million. Just because Avengers is a comic book movie doesn't mean it has to be stupid. What is wrong with people that they go out and spend their hard earned money on this poorly made, steaming pile of garbage? If people are this stupid as to go see this junk than they deserve to be obliterated by Ultron, Transformers or Godzilla, or whomever the movie studios decide to send to abuse us next. If you are dumb enough to waste your money on these films then YOU are the problem. YOU are the one who is slowly but surely destroying whatever little dignity we as a species have left. YOU are the one who is too stupid to realize that it is YOU who are the destroying the little civilization we have left with your gluttonous, narcissistic, corrosive and idiotic lifestyle. YOU are the one who should get off your fat ass and go and take a good, long look at yourself in the mirror so YOU can see the face of foolishness, selfishness, gullibility and self destruction. Take a good look at that face…wait…hold on… hold on...that face looks an awful lot like…ME! (GASP!!) Nooooooooo!!!! Noooooooooo!!!! Noooooooooo!!! I'M THE IDIOT WHO SPENT MY HARD EARNED MONEY TO SEE THIS CRAP!!!  I MAKE ME ANGRY!!! I NO LIKE WHEN MY JUDGING OTHERS BAD DECISIONS COMES BACK TO BITE ME IN BACKSIDE!!! I EMBARRASSED AND ASHAMED I SO STUPID TO PAY TO SEE THIS HUNK OF JUNK!!!! SHAME MAKE ME RAGE!!! HULK SMASH!!!!

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