"Everything is as it should be."

                                                                                  - Benjamin Purcell Morris

 

 

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

X-Men: Dark Phoenix - A Review

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

My Rating: 1.5 out of 5 stars

Popcorn Rating: 2 out of 5 stars

My Recommendation: SKIP IT. Absolutely no reason to ever see this derivative and dull snooze of a movie.

X-Men: Dark Phoenix, written and directed by Simon Kinberg, is the the story of Jean Grey as she comes to grips with her mutant powers and murky past. The film stars Sophie Turner as Grey, with the usual X-Men suspects James McAvoy, Jennifer Lawrence, Michael Fassbender and Nicholas Hoult along for the ride, as well as a supporting turn from Jessica Chastain. Dark Phoenix is the sequel to 2016’s X-Men: Apocalypse and is the seventh and final installment of the current main X-Men saga.

After I see a film I usually either sit in the theatre or go out to the lobby and write down my brief thoughts. After X-Men: Dark Phoenix I sat trying to think of something to write and was stumped. It wasn’t that I had no opinion about the movie, it is that I only had the most distant, passing and fading memory of what had just transpired on screen. Dark Phoenix is such a derivative, dull and middling movie that it proves to be instantly, and almost entirely, forgettable.

X-Men movies over the last 19 years have, in general, been aggressively mediocre, visually banal and dramatically mundane (the notable exception being 2017’s Logan). While some of the X-Men movies have been mildly entertaining and thematically intriguing, for the most part they have failed to live up to their extremely rich source material.

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20th Century Fox came into the superhero market with a great deal of fanfare by handing the creative keys of the franchise to at-the-time esteemed filmmaker Bryan Singer, who directed the first film, X-Men in 2000, and four of the seven main X-Men films in total. But nearly twenty years after the X-Men’s cinematic debut, Fox leaves the superhero arena with barely an audible whimper. Dark Phoenix is a continuation of the downward trajectory of X-Men movies that was undeniable with 2016’s abysmal Apocalypse. It seems as though Apocalypse and Dark Phoenix were in a race to the bottom of the X-Men filmography…Dark Phoenix wins that race by a surprisingly strong margin, and is only notable for the fact that it is indeed the very dregs of X-Men movies.

For Fox to end their X-Men run with Apocalypse and Dark Phoenix is a humiliation almost equal to everyone’s least favorite pederast Bryan Singer’s fall from grace. One can only hope that Disney, which purchased Fox and with it the X-Men, can reboot this wayward franchise with some fresh creative blood that can resurrect this moribund series.

As for the particulars of Dark Phoenix…where to begin? The movie is stultifyingly dull, thematically trite, lazily acted, dismally written, impotently directed and is as visually stale and flat as possible. Besides that how was the play Mrs. Lincoln? No doubt better than Dark Phoenix.

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What is striking is that Dark Phoenix boasts a cavalcade of really top notch actors but is riddled with insipid performances. Jennifer Lawrence is a great actress and one of my favorites, but in her turn as Raven she so lifelessly mouths her lines it feels as if she is working the graveyard shift at the 24-hour Arby’s in Podunk, Kentucky. She seems genuinely embarrassed to be in the movie and entirely disinterested in being there.

Jessica Chastain is another quality actress who sleepwalks through Dark Phoenix. You can almost see the money signs in Chastain’s eyes as she vacantly goes through the motions.

Michael Fassbender reprises his role as Magneto and try as he might he simply cannot muster any mettle/metal in his performance…pun intended.

James McAvoy suffers even worse humiliations than the rest of the cast as in one scene, that is so ridiculous it made me laugh out loud, his Professor X is forced to “walk” on his crippled legs, to hysterical affect. This scene was like a bad Saturday Night Live skit, although that is something out of the Department of Redundancy Department.

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Sophie Turner, last seen as Sansa Stark on Game of Thrones, is the film’s lead and she does not prove herself up to the task of carrying a feature film. Turner is a beautiful women but, sadly, as my life proves, beauty can only get you so far. Turner simply does not have the skill, charisma and magnetism to command audience’s attention for a feature length film. That doesn’t mean she will never be able to do that, it just means she cannot do it now.

The overwhelming feeling I had about the cast while watching this movie was that they were simply playing out the string and cashing in while they could. This is the last X-Men movie of this cycle, and these actors will most likely never play these roles again…so they need to get while the getting is good…and these performances felt more like a heist and a getaway than commitment to acting artistry. I suppose there is nothing wrong with that, the mortgage isn’t going to pay for itself after all, but it definitely leaves a sour taste in the mouth of fans as the movie’s stars grab the money and hustle to get out of Dodge as fast as they can.

Simon Kinberg wrote and directed Dark Phoenix, proving that he is not even remotely good at writing or directing. Kinberg’s script is abominable and his miserable direction is a major reason why such a stellar cast turned in such horrendous performances.

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Kinberg’s script is so shallow and empty that the biggest feeling I had at the end of the movie is…what is the point of it? Obviously the point is to make money, which it might, but on a more philosophical level the question truly is…what is the purpose and meaning behind this movie? What is the animating philosophical/psychological/spiritual principle of this movie? Yes, the film does have some of the usual Girl Power posing and preening, which has become de rigueur lately, sprinkled throughout. Lines like “since women are always saving the men around here you should change the name to X-Women"!” and “your mind has been poisoned by men with small minds” and “you’re not a little girl anymore” and my favorite exchange where the villain (a female) says to Jean Grey, “you’re emotions make you weak” and Jean replies, “no, my emotions make me strong!” give the impression of a philosophical foundation but are nothing more than vapid and vacuous bullshit meant to appease and patronize the neo-feminists in Hollywood and no one else. In reality the film has no philosophical, logical, dramatic or narrative foundation upon which to build itself, instead it is a soulless, paint by numbers exercise in vacant big budget franchise movie making and nothing else.

In conclusion, Dark Phoenix is a flaccid, unimaginative cinematic venture that is truly unsatisfying in every single way. Even if you are a super hero fanatic, there is absolutely no reason to see this movie in the theatres or anywhere else for that matter. Sadly, this Phoenix was engulfed in the flames of its awfulness and avarice but was never able to rise from the ashes of its own failings and should be condemned to remain forever alone in the Dark…where it truly belongs.

©2019

Undead Army of the Woke Will Make Sure Game of Thrones is the Last Show of Its Kind

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Estimated Reading Time: 4 minutes 04 seconds

****WARNING: This article contains some information about Game of Thrones and Avengers: Endgame that might be considered minor spoilers if you haven’t watched the series or seen the movie yet. You’ve been warned.****

The surge of political correctness in recent years all but assures that in the future, edgy shows like Game of Thrones will be strangled in their creative cradle.

In 2011, Game of Thrones premiered on HBO as an exceedingly well-acted and beautifully photographed fantasy-drama of swords and sex, chock full of palace intrigue, familial rivalry and violent conquest. The show flouted Hollywood storytelling conventions and quickly became a cultural phenomenon. Sadly, we will never be able to enjoy anything like Game of Thrones ever again.

The reason that we’ll never see anything like Game of Thrones again is because in the eight years since the television adaptation of George R.R. Martin’s fantasy novels first hit the small screen, much has changed, and not just in the mythical land of Westeros. In the real world, and the unreal one of social media, political correctness has taken the throne and vanquished all contenders, leaving the bloody head of rational thought on the end of a spike as a warning to anyone who dare speak up against the zeitgeist of neo-feminism, inclusivity and a coddling sensitivity.

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In the past few years, movements like #OscarsSoWhite and #MeToo have dramatically changed the landscape of Hollywood by weaponizing diversity and victimhood and using them to bludgeon opponents and silence dissent. The “woke”, whom Merriam-Websters defines as those being “aware of and actively attentive to…issues of racial and social justice”, have taken over the entertainment industry. Just like the Night King’s Army of the Dead broke through The Northern Wall to attempt to destroy all of humanity in Westeros, the Army of the Woke now march on our popular culture intent on obliterating all worthwhile entertainment.

A wonderful example of the vacuity of wokeness came in the form of a Game of Thrones outrage tweet from actress and high-priestess of political correctness, Jessica Chastain, where she slammed the show for the character Sansa’s claim that having survived a plethora of traumas, including rape, transformed her into a strong woman.

Chastain tweeted,

“Rape is not a tool to make a character stronger. A woman doesn’t need to be victimized in order to become a butterfly. The #littlebird was always a Phoenix. Her prevailing strength is solely because of her. And her alone.”

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Chastain’s tweet is not only an advertisement for her intellectual dwarfism, not to be confused with the intellect of a dwarf, which Tyrion proves can be formidable, but also an actual advertisement. “Phoenix” is a reference to Chastain’s new X-Men movie, Dark Phoenix, which also happens to star Sophie Turner who plays Sansa on Game of Thrones. It appears Jessica Chastain’s superpowers include self-promotion and shamelessness.

Like Chastain, the pc brigade turns everything, including popular entertainment, into a referendum on social justice issues and their own self-worth. The woke spend their time not enjoying arts and entertainment but rather policing them in search of offense or wrong-think in the hopes that they will get the joyous opportunity to vent their self-righteous rage.

Evidence of this is found in articles from major publications with headlines such as, “Game of Thrones Treatment of Women Will Tarnish Its Legacy”, “On Game of Thrones Daenerys Targaryen faces a sexist double bind – like so many women leaders”, “Game of Thrones Keeps Killing Off Entire Immigrant Populations, And It’s a Problem”, “’There are no black people on Game of Thrones’: why is fantasy TV so white?”, “Racist or just bad writing? What Game of Thrones latest shocking death says about the show”, “Game of Thrones: too much racism and sexism – so I stopped watching”, and finally “My Feminist Opinions Ruined Game of Thrones for My Boyfriend”. These stories are emblematic of the fact that the woke are social media Savanarolas perpetually in search of works of art or entertainment to throw onto their bonfire of the vanities. These people don’t just want their politically correct opinions to “ruin Game of Thrones for their boyfriend”, but to ruin all of popular culture for everybody.

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The feminist criticisms of Game of Thrones are particularly vapid because they are so demonstrably wrong, as women are the most pivotal and powerful characters on the show. The most formidable and effective rulers on Game of Thrones have been Queen Cersei and her nemesis Daenerys, Mother of Dragons. Arya Stark has gone from a little girl to the deadliest warrior in all of Westeros, who became a legend when she killed the Night King. Ser Brienne of Tarth, the first women to ever become a knight, is the most noble and honorable knight in all the Seven Kingdoms. And last but not least is Sansa Stark, who has suffered brutally but whose resilience has allowed her to become the ruler of the North and, who knows, maybe even sit on the Iron Throne when all is said and done.

All of these women have faced great difficulties and horrendous challenges, but they have prevailed not only in spite of them but because of them. In Game of Thrones as in life, what doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger, but the woke warriors either lack the interest or ability to interpret the show in any other way than to see women and minorities as victims.

If you want to see the future of popular entertainment in the wake of Game of Thrones, look no further than the corporate behemoth Disney and their Marvel and Star Wars franchises. The first phase of the twenty-two film Marvel Cinematic Universe just concluded with Avengers: Endgame, and the woke contingent’s victory is obvious with Captain America now a black man and Iron Man replaced as the center of the story by an all-powerful female character, Captain Marvel.

The Star Wars films too have devolved into a politically correct mess where diversity and inclusivity trump narrative cohesion and dramatic coherence. And if you publicly voice displeasure about the direction of Marvel or Star Wars…you are labeled a misogynist and racist troll.

Game of Thrones warned us for years that “Winter is Coming”…well, winter is now here, and hordes of woke zombies have descended upon us to suffocate all but the most sterile of entertainment. Just like Varys and The Unsullied were castrated on Game of Thrones, so our popular entertainment is being neutered, except this time with the dull blade of politically correct utopianism.

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A version of this article was originally published on May 17, 2019 at RT.com.

©2019

Raping Truth : Brando, Butter and Last Tango in Paris

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

©2016

Knight of Cups : A Review and Dispatches From the Great Malick Civil War

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

ESTIMATED READING TIME : 14 MINUTES

MY RATING: 4.75 out of 5 STARS - SEE IT IN THE THEATRE

*** REVIEW SUMMARY***: If you like Terrence Malick films you will really like Knight of Cups. As the third film in Malick's undeclared autobiographical trilogy, with The Tree of Life and To the Wonder being the first two films, it is much more accessible than To the Wonder and ever so slightly less accessible than The Tree of Life. Be forewarned, if your tastes run more conventional and mainstream, Knight of Cups, and any other Malick film for that matter, will not be for you.

Once the soul was perfect and had wings, and could soar into Heavenfind your way from darkness to light. Remember.

In 2011, I went to see the film The Tree of Life written and directed by Terence Malick. I was deeply moved by the film and genuinely loved it. The greatest attempt at describing my feelings for the film would be to say it was the film that I had unknowingly been waiting for my entire life.  Considering I am very reticent to engage in hyperbole in regards to any film (or any-thing for that matter), this was high praise indeed. 

When I was asked by people if I liked the film, I shared with them that same glowing endorsement, and I was received in one of two ways, either people warmly embraced me as a fellow traveler and soul-mate on this incredible journey of life, or I was assaulted like a stranger in a strange land with a level of vitriol unprecedented in the long, troubled history of mankind. 

It was clear, the battle lines had been drawn, pro-Malick people on one side, anti-Malick people on the other. The people who disliked The Tree of Life, REALLY, REALLY HATED it, and the people who liked the film, REALLY, REALLY LOVED it. The anti-Tree of Lifers said the film was incoherent, rambling and pretentious, while the pro-Tree of Lifers said it was intimate, personal and visionary. I wasn't entirely shocked by the negative reaction to the film by some people, during the showing I went to, three different audience members, at different times, got up and turned to face the rest of the crowd and held their arms out wide as if to say "what in the hell is this?" and then made a spectacle of themselves as they stormed out of the theatre in a loud huff, making sure everyone knew how much they hated the film.  And thus, with these 'walk-outs', the first shots in "The Great Malick Civil War", which had been simmering for decades, were fired, and the horrible, bloody war rages on to this day with Malick's latest release Knight of Cups.

At the conclusion of the showing of Knight of Cups (which is written and directed by Terrence Malick, stars Christian Bale, and is shot by Emmanuel Lubezki) which I attended, two blue-haried old biddies sitting near the front of the sparsely filled theatre made a show of dismissively laughing loudly the moment credits rolled. This was followed by an older man, sitting by himself on the other side of my row, who cupped his hands by his mouth and booed loudly, vomiting his negative opinion over every one in the theatre. My instinct was to walk over and pour my root beer over this geezer's head, and tell him that since he felt the need to share his feelings with me, I thought I'd share my feelings with him. Thankfully my better nature prevailed, or I might be writing this post on the lam, wanted for the murder, justifiable in my eyes, of three old people in a Los Angeles theatre. When it comes to this Great Malick Civil War, I am trying, God knows, to follow John Lennon's example of "giving peace a chance."

The Malick Civil War is one of those wars to which we've become so accustomed, the type of war which no one can win and which will last until the end of history. I can't end the war myself but I can try to help you understand it, it's origins and how to survive it, so that you can tell your children, grandchildren and great grandchildren about how we got into this senseless slaughter we know as "The Great Malick Civil War", with the hope that those future generations can bring an end to the carnage.

FOUR SCORE AND SEVEN MOVIES AGO

The Abraham Lincoln at the center of this civil war is enigmatic writer/director Terence Malick. Malick has directed and written seven feature films, which are, in chronological order, Badlands (1973), Days of Heaven (1978), The Thin Red Line (1998), The New World (2005), The Tree of Life (2011), To the Wonder (2012) and Knight of Cups (2016). In keeping with his somewhat eccentric image, after his second feature, Days of Heaven, Malick disappeared from movie-making and public life, only to resurface twenty years later with the film The Thin Red Line. Malick is a unique man, unlike most other directors, as evidenced by his rarely doing any press or interviews for his films, and not even allowing himself be photographed on the set of his movies.

Malick's last three films, The Tree of Life, To the Wonder and Knight of Cups, which seem to form a sort of personal and autobiographical trilogy, are films that are particularly challenging for some viewers, and down right off-putting to others. The biggest complaint about The Tree of Life, To the Wonder and Knight of Cups is the main complaint about many of Malick's films, namely people don't understand what the hell is happening in the story. In a Malick film, the narrative can be, at times, non-linear. Malick's films are like dreams...impressionistic, abstract and filled with symbolism.

"GIVE ME SIX HOURS TO CHOP DOWN A TREE AND I WILL SPEND THE FIRST FOUR SHARPENING THE AXE." - ABRAHAM LINCOLN

Unlike most other other filmmakers, Malick likes to shift perspective in his films. We often hear, in voice over, the inner thoughts and feelings of multiple characters throughout his films. It is a technique very similar in story telling structure to a novel or even a long form poem, and when done well, as it is in Malick's case, it helps create an intimacy and personal connection between the audience and the character.

Malick heightens this effect by often having these voice-overs be done in a barely audible whisper. Examples of this multiple-protagonist-narration technique can be found in The Thin Red Line, where the narration comes from as many as five characters, Private Witt, Sgt. Welsh, Captain Staros, Private Bell and Lt. Col. Tall, and the perspective jumps across multiple story lines, so we see the overarching narrative through these different protagonists perspectives, giving the film a depth and complexity it would otherwise be lacking with a more conventional storytelling technique.

The New World is also narrated by three different characters as well, Captain Smith, Pocahontas and John Rolfe, giving the story a much more well-rounded and deeper personal dimension than a standard filmmaking approach. This love triangle, which is a theme often explored in Malick's films, is brought to greater life and depth by understanding the inner thoughts and workings of all the participants. 

In The Tree of Life, the narration jumps between the mother (Jessica Chastain), the father (Brad Pitt) and the son as both a child (Hunter McCracken) and as an adult (Sean Penn), which gives the film a vibrant and exquisitely powerful intimacy. The use of multiple protagonist's narrations and perspectives is extremely unconventional in filmmaking, hell, just using a single narrator is a technique that many filmmakers vehemently disagree with, never mind using multiple narrators. In the hands of a less visionary director, the voice-over is a bandage used to cover their weak storytelling skill, but with a handful of directors, Malick and Scorsese in particular, voice-over narration is a weapon they wield expertly that elevates their storytelling to glorious heights. 

Malick hasn't always use multiple narrators in his films, for instance in Badlands and Days of Heaven, his first two films, he uses a singular narrator, both young woman/girls, to guide the viewer through the picture. In Badlands, the protagonist is Sissy Spacek's teenage character, Holly, who shows us the story, and her innocence makes the brutality and barbarity of Kit (Martin Sheen) and the other male characters more palatable for the viewer. In Days of Heaven, a young girl, Linda (Linda Manz), narrates the story of Bill (Richard Gere) and Abby (Brooke Adams) as they make their way from Chicago to the plains of the Midwest. This technique gives the viewer a distance from the main protagonists, but maintains Malick's signature intimacy (and the theme of femininity), in this case, through the eyes of an innocent child. As Malick has matured and found his voice and style as an artist and filmmaker, he has become more deft at the use of the multiple protagonists and narrations, and has used it to great effect in his last five films to give the viewer more complex perspectives.

"I WALK SLOWLY, BUT I NEVER WALK BACKWARDS" - ABRAHAM LINCOLN

Malick also has a distinct and unique visual style where he only uses natural lighting. In addition to the natural lighting, Malick also highlights this naturalism with his camera movement by letting the camera dance and float about. He sometimes let's the camera stop to focus on the wonders of the natural world and setting, holding on an animal, an insect or a tree. Malick never rushes his camera, and his deliberate pace and natural lighting, free moving camera and occasional focus on nature, all create a signature style that has a tangible and palpable feel to it. You don't just see through Malick's camera, you feel the world it inhabits. Whether it is the minuscule bumps on a soldiers helmet, the abrasive blades of grass in a field, the texture of a character's sweater, through Malick's use of natural light, these objects have greater definition and every contour of them is accentuated, giving the viewer the sense memory of similar items they have felt in their own lives. It is a remarkable accomplishment for Malick to be able to bring his visuals to such a heightened  and naturalistic state that viewers not only bask in their beauty but recall their own tactile memories.

There is a sequence in Knight of Cups where Christian Bale wears a bulky, wool sweater, and Cate Blanchett simply reaches out towards him and feels it. Malick's camera, with the guidance of one of the great cinematographers working today, Emmaneul Lubezki, picks up every single nook and cranny of this sweater, it is palpable on screen, and when Blanchett reaches out for it you feel that sweater right along with her, and also feel her character's longing to connect with Bale.

"I DESTROY MY ENEMIES WHEN I MAKE THEM MY FRIENDS." - ABRAHAM LINCOLN

Which brings us to acting in a Malick film. Of the many people with whom I have disagreed about Terrence Malick films, many of them are actors. A lot of actors I spoke with about The Tree of Life, absolutely hated the movie. I was shocked by this revelation as I would have assumed actors were a bit more cinematically sophisticated than the average Joe, but boy was I wrong. Actors may actually be even more culturally conditioned in their movie watching because they are so used to reading scripts and understanding the basics of how to tell a story. This does not suit the viewer of a Malick film, in fact it is poison.

Malick is very improvisational with his actors and his camera, which scares the living hell out of most actors. A lot of actors want to know what to do and when to do it. Being left out in front of a camera with no context and nothing to do but simply "be", is a form of torture for most actors. In addition, because Malick is able to bring us so intensely close to his subjects and into their internal world, the opportunities for a big external clash with the outer world are reduced. The brushes with the external are quickly integrated into the internal, so we don't have the explosive confrontation that actors love to embrace. Since Malick uses voice over so often, actors aren't allowed to talk their way through something, which a lot of actors desperately love to do. The actors are forced to be present in the moment and just "be alive" before the cameras. It is very improvisational and in some ways like watching an unrehearsed dance...kind of like…I don't know...life. Some actors hate it when they don't know what to do...am I mad here? Am I sad? Do I laugh? Do I cry? No, you just are here...alive and human. Once an actor can get comfortable with the "not knowing" of Malick's approach, then Malick can fill in the proper meaning and purpose he intends through voice over and editing.

Malick's style of filmmaking lays an actor bare. You can't bullshit, or rely on your good looks to charm your way through a Malick film. You need talent, skill and frankly, intelligence and gravitas to be able to thrive in a Malick film. There have been some extraordinary performances in Malick films, for instance, Cate Blanchett in Knight of Cups does simple yet stellar work, bringing her great craft to bear in a role that would have been invisible in the hands of a lesser actress. 

Blanchett being great is no surprise as she is one of the world's finest actresses, but Malick has been able to get great performances from some less expected places. In To the Wonder, Olga Kurylenko, who had previously been in little more than action films, gives a wondrous performance. Kurylenko, whose background is in dance and for whom English is a third language, is comfortable expressing herself through her body and movement, which means she is never stuck trying to figure out a scene, but rather is capable if just inhabiting it, a great quality for an actor to possess in a Malick film. Another surprising performance in a Malick film is Colin Farrell in The New World. Farrell's naturalism and tangible fear in front of Malick's camera made for a mesmerizing and unexpected  performance from the often-time uneven actor.

Other actors who have thrived in Malick films are Martin Sheen and Sissy Spacek in Badlands, with Sheen giving a Brando-esque level performance filled with charisma and power. Nick Nolte, Jim Cavezial, Sean Penn, Ben Chaplin and Elias Koteas all do very solid work in The Thin Red Line. Koteas and Nolte in particular do spectacularly specific work in very difficult roles. The aforementioned Colin Farrell, Christian Bale and Q'oriana Kilcher in The New World. Kilcher is simply amazing as Pocahontes, completely natural, charismatic and at ease as Malick's Native American muse. Sean Penn, Brad Pitt and Jessica Chastain all give detailed and vibrant performances in The Tree of Life, with Chastain really being the break out star. Chastain, like Blanchett, is one of the great actresses working today, and her work in The Tree of Life was so masterful and elegantly human that she was immediately catapulted into the upper echelon of highly respected actors.

Conversely, there have been actors who have been exposed in Malick films as being little more than a pretty face with an empty head. Richard Gere simply lacked the gravitas to carry Days of Heaven and the film suffered greatly for it. Gere was just unable too fill the screen and maintain the viewers interest mostly due to a lack of focus and grounding. Along the same lines, Ben Affleck is really dreadful in To the Wonder. Affleck was revealed to be a dullard with absolutely nothing going on behind the eyes. He is obviously a handsome guy, but he is unable to express much with his face, leaving him being awkward and uncomfortable in front of Malick's camera without anything to do but just be. Simliarly, Rachel McAdams also struggled mightily in To the Wonder, as both actors seemed lost and wandering throughout their screen time, especially in comparison to Olga Kurylenko's transcendent performance. 

The ability to be able to communicate non-verbally is paramount for an actor in a Malick film, which is why highly skilled actors, like Chastain, Blanchett, Penn and Sheen were able to shine, as were relative novices like Kilcher and Kurylenko who are grounded and comfortable in their bodies. 

In Knight of Cups, Christian Bale shows his great craft and skill by being able to carry the narrative of the film without saying a whole lot. He is an often underrated actor, but his work in Knight of Cups is testament to his mastery of craft and innate talent.

"ALL THAT I AM, OR HOPE TO BE, I OWE TO MY ANGEL MOTHER." - ABRAHAM LINCOLN

Malick often returns to the same themes in his films. One theme that runs through all of his films, and is the central focus of Knight of Cups, is the Anima, the feminine. Malick has always had a certain, very specific type of feminine archetype on display in his films. His central female characters have almost always worn flowing, light dresses, mostly in the style of the 1940's or so, and have also frequently gone barefoot, both symbolic of femininity and maternity. This particular female archetype, probably inspired by the director's own mother, is not a damsel in distress, or a vixen or a school marm, it is a femininity of strength and intrigue, like the goddess or the Virgin Mary. At once mystical, mysterious, powerful and enchanting. This archetype is vividly on display in The Tree of Life in the mother character portrayed by Jessica Chastain. The archetype also shows up in fleeting and tantalizing glimpses in The Thin Red Line, as Ben Chaplin's wife (Miranda Otto) who writes him at the front. 

In Knight of Cups, the entire film is an exploration of the Anima, and the director's relationship, in the form of Christian Bale, to her many faces. Even the interaction between male characters is entirely based upon their individual and unique relationship to the Anima. The different faces of the Anima, such as Cate Blanchett and Natalie Portman, are sign posts along the journey of the main character as his relationship to the feminine changes as he ages and matures.

Other themes running through all of Malick's films are philosophy and spirituality, usually in the form of a Gnostic Catholicism. Malick is one of the rare directors who even considers having characters who think about God in their life in his films. The big questions that Malick tackles, questions of life and death, love and loss, God, nature and the infinite, are almost never found in any other films. Malick is alone out in the wilderness in trying to understand the world in which he lives, both in its external and internal forms, and the universe he inhabits and the God who created it, be he merciful or not, or if he exists or not, and what that all means to the individual making his way in the world. 

In the Knight of Cups this Gnostic Catholicism is a major theme as well. Christian Bale's character is lost amid the decadence and debauchery of a modern day Babylon, and has forgotten his true self and that he is a divine Son of God. The spiritual seeking and struggle on display in Knight of Cups is a common and powerful theme running through all of Malick's films and it is part of what sets him apart from other directors.

HOW TO WATCH A MALICK MOVIE - A PRIMER

Malick's films, especially his later ones and the autobiographical trilogy, are less storytelling as they are meditations. Meditations on God, faith, nature, grace, annihilation, fatherhood, motherhood, childhood, the duality of man, the duality of God, and Malick's cinematic meditation can become meditative for viewers. The key to appreciating Malick's films are to understand that they are not something you actively try to figure out. You don't have to decide if the guy in the red hat is in internal affairs, or if the doctor is really a ghost or the ship's captain is a spy. Watching Malick is, in and of itself, an artistic meditation. A meditation on the internal life of his characters and the character's struggle, as it relates to our own struggle and to our own internal life. Viewers are not consumers of a Malick film, they are participants. The catch being, of course, is that viewers don't participate intellectually with Malick's films, but emotionally and spiritually.

The key to enjoying a Malick film is to stop trying to impose standard storytelling rules upon it, and trying to figure it out consciously. A Malick film is like going to an art exhibit, you don't mentally figure the art out, you just let it wash over you and go for the ride. You trust that the artist/auteur has something to say and that you'll understand it at some point in time. The artist may be working on an unconscious level, beyond the ability of the viewer to articulate how or why the piece moves them. With Malick, it may not even be when the film is over, it may be after you see it a second time, or third time that it resonates with the viewer. Or it may be when an event in the viewer's life changes their perspective and the film then makes more sense to them in retrospect.

Some people may not be ready to hear what Malick is saying. Maybe they have become a prisoner to formula and cultural conditioning. Maybe they've been taught to be a passive consumer and need their films to only be entertainment and can only tolerate their art when it's spoon-fed to them. Maybe Malick's philosophical and theological perspective are off-putting to many viewers who do not share his Catholicism or any belief in God at all. I mean Adam Sandler is a trillionaire and makes a couple of movies a year, and they've made TWO Sex in the City films for God's sake, but poor Terence Malick has only made seven films in the last forty years, so trust me when I tell you that I totally understand if people don't believe in God. The truth is, belief in God is not a requirement to enjoying a Malick film, but belief in art is.

Another requirement to enjoying a Malick film is that you must have lived a life in order to truly appreciate Malick's work. Malick's films are not for some twenty-something who is joyously jaunting through life with the world as their oyster. A Malick film is for those who have experienced the slings and arrows of life and have the scars to prove it, and those who have loved and lost or lost and loved. For example, The Tree of Life is entirely about loss. If you haven't lost a loved one, a dear friend, a child, then maybe the film is a jumbled mush of nonsense. But if you have, like me, lost someone, the film walks you through the questions, the thoughts, the meditations, the doubts, the hopes and the fears of what this life, and the ending of it, all mean. It has no answers, and therein lies the rub.

We have been culturally conditioned to want answers. We pay our $10 and if we are asked a question by a film, then by God that same film better give us answers. And if it doesn't, if we are left walking out of the theatre with questions, with doubt, with a humility before the vastness of the universe and all of time, with nothing more than an understanding of how miniscule and insignificant we are in the big picture of things and yet how meaningful and powerful we are in the lives of others in the same predicament as we are. Well...that causes some people to walk out before the film is over. Or to shut down and seethe while waiting for it to end and then unleashing their boos on anyone within earshot. Or to simply want to go back to sleep walking through life avoiding the only certainty that we are born with...that we will all die. Everyone we know, have known or will ever know, will die. Everything we know, have ever known or will ever know will disappear. And so will we. The clock is ticking.

This is why I love Terrence Malick films, because they feel as if they were made especially for me. Malick and I have lived very different lives, but his films, The Tree of Life, To the Wonder and Knight of Cups, in particular, are as close to my actual inner life and struggles as anything ever captured on film. Malick speaks my language, walks in my world and is able to cut me to the bone and reveal things about my inner being that I wasn't even aware of until he enlightened me. Malick asks me the same questions that I ask myself and struggles with the same answers, or lack of answers, that I struggle with. This is what makes Malick such a genius, and why I admire his work so much, and also why others may loathe his work. 

"MEDIOCRITIES EVERYWHEREI ABSOLVE YOUI ABSOLVE YOUI ABSOLVE YOU ALL." - SALIERI

"MOZART, MOZART, FORGIVE YOUR ASSASSIN!! I CONFESS I KILLED YOU" - SALIERI (AND THE REST OF US)

We live in a world of Salieri's, where mediocrity is rewarded and genius shunned. Some great examples of this are that Steven Spielberg has two Best Director Oscars and Terrence Malick has none. Spielberg is the ultimate Salieri to Malick's Mozart. A comparison of their two war films is proof of that. In 1997, after a twenty year absences from directing, Malick returned with his World War II film, The Thin Red Line, based on the James Jones book. Also that year, Steven Spielberg released his World War II film, Saving Private Ryan. The films could not have been more different and more glaring examples of the genius of one man, Malick, and the pandering mediocrity of the other, Spielberg. 

The juxtaposition of these two films is perfect for making the point about Malick as a singularly unique and original artistic voice and brilliant filmmaker. In Saving Private Ryan, a standard formulaic war film, we are shown the devastating effects of war upon the human body. Spielberg's gymnastic D-Day sequence shows the physical brutality of war in a very tense and riveting way. But after that sequence the film falls into the pattern of standard war film tropes. Malick's The Thin Red Line on the other hand, shows the impact of war not only on man's body, but upon his psyche, his spirit and his soul. Malick also has a vividly compelling war action sequence, where Marines must take a hill with Japanese machine gunners atop it, but Malick gives a more nuanced and human view of war beyond the physical carnage of it, by showing how it impacts not only the external life of the soldiers fighting, but the internal life. The torment of war upon the mind, the heart, the humanity and the spirituality of the men forced to fight it is front and center in The Thin Red Line, and completely missing from Saving Private Ryan. The Thin Red Line is the rarest of the rare, a multi-dimensional, deeply intimate war film that leaves us questioning war and our own righteousness, while Saving Private Ryan is simply another one-dimensional, standard war film that never forces us to question our virtue or morality. Saving Private Ryan shows us men surviving war, while The Thin Red Line teaches us that it is what men do to survive in war that does the most damage to them.

Spielberg won a Best Director Oscar for Saving Private Ryan. No one boos or walks out of a Spielberg film because he never questions his audience or makes them think or feel. He just mindlessly and soullessly entertains and leaves us on our way. Malick never let's his audience, or himself, off the hook. He challenges the audience, to surpass their cultural conditioning and to ask themselves the big questions that they don't want to think about. 

We are the guilty ones. We are all mini-Salieri's who reward the work of other more famous Salieris. Mediocrity has become King in America. Tom Hanks has won two Best Actor Oscars while Joaquin Phoenix has won none. A malignant mediocrity like Steven Spielberg has two Best Director Oscars, when two of the most rare cinematic geniuses, Terrence Malick and Stanley Kubrick have none. Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, poster children for mediocrity, currently lead our Presidential elections. We have sentenced ourselves to a life term of mediocrity and deceive ourselves by calling it greatness. We are the ones to blame for this, no one else.

It is interesting to me that the people who walked out of The Tree of Life when I saw it, and the people who were so dismayed at the Knight of Cups when I saw it, were older people. These are the people who should most be thinking about the questions of life and death that Terrence Malick raises, yet they were the ones who were the most resistant to these Malick films. Maybe the fact that the next big thing to happen in the life of these folks will be the ending of it, is why they do not want to think about death, and they would rather be mindlessly entertained rather than confronted with their mortality. Of course, their fear and cowardice speaks more to them and their failings than it does to the artistry of Terrence Malick.

The people who would walk out of a Malick film, or boo it upon its conclusion, are the same people who laughed at Van Gogh, Picasso, Jackson Pollack or Mozart. They are the Gatekeepers of Mediocrity, Salieri's all, who want to keep genius in a cage while they whistle by the graveyard of their own worthless lives. I don't hate people who boo Malick films, I pity them. These people are missing out on so much beauty and joy and wisdom. To their credit, they do make me think about what things might I be resistant to out there that may be so fantastically wonderful but which I am too afraid to experience or understand. There is a lot of art in the world which is beyond my limited intellect, but I would never be so presumptuous as to boo it and stamp it as worthless. While I may not intellectually understand Jackson Pollack's work, I can still marvel at its dynamism. The same can be said of Opera, or classical music. While those art forms are things I know very little about, I would not presume to belch my inadequacies upon them in order to not feel stupid. Rather I would try and learn more about them and see if I could find the ageless beauty and wisdom that resides within them. 

Malick is an incomparable filmmaker. No one even attempts to do what he is and has been doing in cinema for the last forty years. Terrence Malick is among a very small, handful of true cinematic geniuses the world has ever known. The reality is, if you stand up and walk out of a Malick film, or boo loudly at the completion of a Malick film, that is an indictment of you and your compulsively myopic artistic tastes. Not understanding the genius of a Malick film is not a Malick problem….it is a YOU problem.

The Great Malick Civil War still rages to this day (and obviously, I rage along with it!!), with neither side willing to give an inch, but only one thing is assured…this war will end, and years from now, the fools, the clowns and the idiots who laughed and booed at Malick will be long gone and completely forgotten, but Malick's films will stand as a monument to his genius for the ages to come. Knight of Cups will be among those films which history will revere.

©2016

The Martian : A Review

 

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

MY RATING: SKIP IT IN THE THEATRE, SEE IT ON CABLE OR NETFLIX

The Martian, directed by Ridley Scott and starring Matt Damon, is the story of Mark Watney (Matt Damon), an astronaut accidentally left behind on Mars when his fellow crew members think he has been killed in an accident. The film follows Watney's struggle to survive on the barren planet and NASA's attempts to rescue him. As my very clever friend The Magnificent Anderson said to me, "with Saving Private Ryan, Interstellar and The Martian, America has spent a ridiculous amount of money to rescue Matt Damon". I gotta be honest, after seeing The Martian, I don't think that money was very well spent.

I was excited to see Ridley Scott and Matt Damon paired off, as I am a big fan of both men and their work. Scott, much like his star Damon, is an often underrated talent. He has made some of the most iconic films of the last forty years. From Alien to Blade Runner to Gladiator to Thelma and Louise, Ridley Scott at his best is as good as anyone. Matt Damon is also often over shadowed by his more fame seeking contemporaries like Brad Pitt or Matthew McConnaghey, but Damon, with his work in Good Will Hunting, The Talented Mr. Ripley, The Departed and The Informant, has proven to be by far the more superior actor. 

"NOTHING EVER HAPPENS ON MARS.BORING! BORING! BORING!" - Waiting for Guffman

From Mission to Mars to Red Planet to Mars Needs Moms, the planet Mars is generally where movies go to die. With The Martian the result of the trip is not as horrible as the three previously mentioned films, but it certainly keeps the Mars cinematic jinx firmly in place. So what went wrong with The Martian? Let's take a look.

The Martian is a very strange film indeed. It is bursting with dramatic and cinematic potential, and yet, due to it's fundamental flaws, it is never able to break the bonds of its pedestrian atmosphere and soar to the great beyond of filmmaking achievement. The fundamental flaw I am speaking of is the film's incredibly poor narrative structure, which leaves the movie curiously devoid of tension and drama. The structural flaw of the film is pretty basic, instead of giving the viewer only Mark Watney's perspective, Ridley Scott chose to show the audience the God perspective, where they see everything that is happening. So the audience is able to see and know things that the film's protagonist Watney, does not see and know. Because of this choice, all of the drama of Watney's precarious situation on Mars is drained and we are left with a rather flaccid storytelling and dramatic endeavor.

If the viewer were only given Watney's perspective, this would have greatly heightened the drama in a few ways. The first is, the viewer would be entirely connected to the Watney character to a much greater degree than they already are. If we spent the first two thirds of the film trapped with Watney on Mars, like we were trapped on an island with Tom Hanks in Castaway for instance, then we would have had a more intimate and genuine connection to Watney. The second thing that would have happened is that the audience would be put through the emotional and mental anguish that Watney would have gone through when he doesn't know if anyone even knows he's alive, never mind trying to rescue him.  We would have, along with Watney, discovered what it's like to be the loneliest man in the universe. The decision to use the God perspective completely undermines these vital dramatic points by showing us that NASA knows he's alive and is trying to figure out how to save him, and Watney doesn't know it. If we were left in the dark along with Watney, then every other development in the story would take on greater significance and dramatic power. For instance, when Watney finally figures out that NASA knows he's alive, that would have been a tremendously thrilling moment, instead it is a rather mundane one since we knew that the whole time while Watney did not. All throughout the story there are significant moments that could have been greatly increased by the use of a  minimalist perspective, such as when Watney figures out how to increase his food supply, communicate with NASA, how to escape Mars, and then how to aid in his own rescue.  Instead the viewing experience is diminished because we are never truly able to project ourselves onto Watney since we have a grander view of things than he does. The energetic connection between viewer and protagonist is broken, and the film greatly suffers for it.

Damon's performance is also undercut by the perspective issue. While he is certainly able to give Watney a humanity through humor, he fails to portray a viable sense of impending doom and dread. Watney, the eternal optimist, never has his optimism truly challenged, and neither does the audience. Resiliance is a great trait to have, maybe the greatest, but dramatically it can ring hollow if the character is never fully allowed to hit rock bottom. Watney needs to be allowed to fall into despair, a deep existential despair, yet he and the audience are never allowed to because we KNOW that he isn't forgotten and alone on Mars. If we could have shared in Watney's desperation, this would make his achievements, his strength and his resilience all the more impactful for the viewer.  Instead we get a performance that is just like the film, neither hot nor cold, but mildly luke warm. Damon's performance is, like the entire film, relentlessly safe and middlebrow, which are two words that previously would have been unthinkable in regards to a Ridley Scott project.

HOUSTON WE HAVE A PROBLEM, AND THAT PROBLEM IS YOU

The other problem with showing us the God perspective is that we are forced to suffer through all of the scenes back on earth. These earth bound scenes are, at best, terribly generic, and at worst, cringeworthy. I would prefer to die cold and alone on Mars than watch one more actor melodramatically pause and raise their eyebrows to signify that they've just thought of something astonishingly brilliant while everyone else looks on perplexed. This happens again and again and again. The acting on earth is pretty atrocious, with Mackenzie Davis being the lone, notable exception. Davis actually seems like a down to earth (pardon the pun), genuine human being, not an actor trying to play a real human being.

There are also some pretty egregious casting decisions as well. Jeff Daniels is a fine actor, his work in The Squid and the Whale is testament to that. Yet he is terribly miscast in The Martian as the sometimes cut throat leader of NASA. We seem to be in the midst of a Jeff Daniels renaissance at the moment, which is good for him, but I cannot for the life of me figure out why he keeps being miscast. He was remarkably miscast in The Newsroom as well. Daniels is good at a lot of things, but he lacks the gravitas to play the head of NASA or a bombastic tv show host. One of the reasons he lacks gravitas is that his jaw is not very prominent or square, and he is not much of a physical presence. Secondly, his voice is slightly nasal and higher toned and his diction can veer into mush mouth, both of which undermine any power or gravitas that come with the characters he is cast to play. The result is we are left with performances from him that feel forced and ring hollow when he isn't in a role that suits his considerable strengths. An actor who would be perfectly suited to play the role of the head of NASA in The Martian would be Ed Harris.

A MILE WIDE AND AN INCH DEEP

The Martian is one of those movies that badly wants to be both taken seriously and liked by everyone, yet in my opinion it achieves neither. The film tries desperately for a scientific realism throughout, but that becomes less viable as the film goes on, finally spiraling into a sort of scientific farce during Watney's rescue. The highlight of which is when Watney goes full on "Iron Man" by puncturing his spacesuit and propelling himself into the waiting arms of his commanding officer Melissa Lewis, played by an under used Jessica Chastain. This sequence is supposed to be the dramatic crescendo of the story but it plays as contrived, underwhelming and frankly laughable.

The Martian is not a great film, in fact, I would argue that at it's very best it is surprisingly average. Comparisons to another recent astronaut film, Gravity, which won seven Oscars including Best Director, will do it no favors. Gravity was not a great film either, but it was visually pretty stunning. The Martian is neither visually nor dramatically compelling, and I found it frustrating because of the remarkable talents of Ridley Scott and Matt Damon being involved.

Which brings me to my final point. Ridley Scott is a master craftsman and artist. He knows what the hell he is doing. A look at his most recent films, the bafflingly inept Prometheus and the abhorrent Exodus: Gods and Kings, shows he may have lost his fastball, but maybe, just maybe, with The Martian he was up to something else. The errors in the most basic fundamentals of filmmaking and the tepid storytelling by such a creatively brilliant man as Scott, have left me wondering if he wasn't up to something else, something much deeper. I have been thinking about The Martian and mulling it over for a week now, wondering what the hell was really going on? What was Ridley Scott REALLY up to. Was there something much deeper and more meaningful hidden within the film that could redeem it? I've come up with a few ideas. 

SYMBOLISM, THE COMING ECONOMIC COLLAPSE AND REAGAN'S MORNING IN AMERICA

One idea I had is that The Martian is really about the coming economic tsunami. What economic tsunami you may ask? Ever since I left a job on Wall Street in the early 2000's, I was telling everyone who would listen that we were headed for an economic earthquake. The evidence was hiding in plain sight for anybody with eyes to see if they dared look. I wasn't writing back then so you will have to take my word for it. Most people thought I was a kook and ignored me. Then 2007/2008 happened, and I ended up being right, and those people ended up being wrong…and losing a lot of money. Well…it seems very apparent to me that another economic seismic event on the same scale or larger than 2007-2008 is coming. The economy, like The Martian, is fundamentally flawed, dare I say, fatally flawed. The reasons for this are much too complex to get into here, but rest assured, I am not the only person seeing this tsunami coming, not by a long shot. Lots of people who are a hell of a lot smarter than I am are seeing it coming too. Spend some time over at Zerohedge, Chris Martenson, Max Keiser, Peter Schiff or The Independent Report among others and you'll get some great analysis on what is coming our way. Of course the establishment media will continue to cheerlead for the economy like the band playing while the Titanic sinks, they always do. In my humble opinion, the time frame for this global economic tsunami is the only thing in question. I believe it will happen in the next 18 to 24 months. 

Now that I've told you the tsunami is coming, what the hell does any of that have to do with The Martian?  Here's my theory…from the very beginning of the film Matt Damon represents the regular working man. In one of the very first scenes, he is meticulously checking soil along a very small grid, inch by inch. As he tries to talk to his co-workers and superior officer, he is told to be quiet and then his communication is shut off. No one wants to hear what the lowly worker has to say. Then, AS A HUGE STORM UNEXPECTEDLY ROLLS IN (the economic storm that is coming), and everyone runs to the ship, Damon is impaled and thought to be killed by a communication dish. 

When Damon awakes and finds himself alone on a dead and barren planet, he must use his smarts in order to survive. He starts by surgically removing the communications wire stuck in him, symbolically severing the ties with establishment media. Then he uses his intellect, AND THE REMNANTS OF THE MISSIONS THAT CAME BEFORE HIM, to survive. 

Damon uses everyday items to transform his surroundings and to protect himself. He uses a simple tarp and duct tape to reinforce his shelter, and later his escape rocket. He digs up some left over radioactive material in order to stay warm, a symbolic move that we must get away from carbon based fuels, of which Mars has none, and use alternative fuel, such as nuclear and solar. 

Damon uses his skill as a botanist, an old school, nearly forgotten science, in order to double and triple his food supply. This is symbolic of our need to return to more locally sourced and organic farming techniques in order to overcome the coming shortages. He even uses his own and his crew member's shit in order to grow food. After the economic tsunami, there is going to be a big shit sandwich, and we are all going to have to take a bite. The idea of turning chicken shit into chicken salad will take on a whole new meaning. We will have to be lean and resourceful to survive.

Damon also figures out how to reconfigure an old way of communicating, a Mars rover, and uses it to start communicating with NASA anew. He also uses an old, scientific alphabet when he communicates, this being a metaphor for civilization looking backward to the basics in order to look forward for solutions and that the old way of talking about things must be discarded and replaced with a new one, even if it comes from an old one.

When the US is unable to successfully send a ship to save Damon, the Chinese step in with their advanced technology in order to help out. This is symbolic of how global the coming collapse will be and how the world will be multi-polar instead of uni-polar from here on out.

Even the rescue mission is symbolic of what it will take to overcome the difficulties that lie ahead. The NASA ship that is coming to save Damon must LOWER ITS TRAJECTORY AND SLOW IT'S SPEED, in order to get closer to Damon as he can only propel himself so high. The graph used to show that trajectory could be an economic graph, meaning that endless rates of high growth are unsustainable and we will have to lower expectations and slow down growth if we want to have any chance to for the earth and humanity to survive. Also the rescue ship must blow up and jettison a great deal of its excess rooms in order to facilitate the slowing of it's speed and it's trajectory, both symbolic of the need for excess and decadence to be eschewed in order to right the ship of our planet.

Finally, as Damon is falling short of the rescue ship, he punctures his space suit in order to propel himself to his saviors, just like people will have to puncture their own bubbles of expectations in order to find the courage and the final fuel to move them forward into the future. Chastain catches Damon and the two tumble and spiral together, getting wrapped in her tether, symbolizing the need for everyone, both rich and poor, to commit to stick together in order for humanity and civilization to survive.

Yes…I know this may be insane. But watching The Martian  through this lens makes it much, much more interesting than watching it as a straight up Mars movie. There are a lot of symbols throughout the film which lend themselves to this reading of the movie. For instance, there are constant references to the 1970's…Damon watches Happy Days and poses as Fonzie, he listens to Chastain's playlists which is nothing but 1970's disco. These could all be symbolic of another more political theme, namely that Damon is the eternal American optimist, Ronald Reagan, who is trying to escape and survive the economic and cultural malaise of the 1970's and bring us into the stratosphere of the 80's boom (which was more a mirage than a boom, but that's a discussion for another day). I fully admit that this might be a bridge too far…but there is some evidence that supports this theory as well.

CONCLUSION

In conclusion, if I am giving the benefit of the doubt to Ridley Scott, which I believe he has earned, then The Martian may be a metaphor for the the coming economic collapse and for how humanity and civilization must behave in order to survive it. Or it may be a metaphor for America which is stuck in a 1970's type of stagnation, both economically, politically and culturally, and that a Reagan-esque figure is needed to teach us to 'never give up' and to go back to our individualistic and resourceful roots in order to break free and survive. (by the way, just to be clear, I am not saying that is true, I am saying that the film may be saying that it's true)

Regardless of what you think of me, my economic predictions, or my theories, I recommend you keep them in mind when you watch the film. Trust me when I tell you it will make for a much more interesting viewing  experience. As for watching the film…there is no need to rush out and pay full price to see it in a theatre, you would be wiser to save your hard-earned money (and prepare for the coming economic tsunami!!). Plus you can always wait until The Martian is on cable or Netflix and watch it from the comfort of your own home while civilization crumbles all about you outside. 

UPDATE : I got a great email from reader Arthur H., who hails from the Land of 10,000 Lakes and 2 Coen Brothers, he writes in regard to The Martian…"I was greatly relieved to read your thoughtful, critical review because almost everyone I know who saw it, and so many movie reviewers, think it is a truly great film. After reading your comments, I feel much less nuts." Welcome to my life!! Just remember Arthur, in the Land of the Blind, the One-Eyed Man is King.

Arthur then gave a brief but very insightful review of his own, which with his permission I share with you here in full.

"The Martian is a "quintessential American" movie. Mark Watney, played by Matt Damon, is a classic mythological American white man who, in this incarnation, claims the entire planet of Mars because he grows potatoes in his own excrement. Thankfully, he did not have to murder millions of Martians in the process of claiming Mars as his property. The Martian is also an excruciatingly boring, completely and ridiculously implausible, intelligence insulting Hollywood B movie for the uncritical masses. Watney making a plastic tarp sealed with duct tape to cover a hole in the spacecraft that can withstand the tremendous speed in his lift off from Mars? The final scene where astronauts catch Watney flying by with rope and bring him safely aboard their space vehicle? One needs to suspend your disbelief to appreciate theatre. For The Martian, you would have to totally demolish it. Well, at least, even though we, your God view, knew from the first moment Watney would be saved, there still is a lot of dramatic tension building throughout the film. NOT, none, nada, zero. Like someone said, "By the end no one cared except on the screen, and they were all acting."

Well said, thank you Arthur!!

A Most Violent Year : A Review

****WARNING: THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS!! THIS IS YOUR OFFICIAL SPOILER REVIEW!!****

A Most Violent Year, written and directed by J.C. Chandor, is a story of corruption amidst the home heating oil business in and around New York City in 1981, one of the most violent years in the city's history. The protagonists for the film are Abel Morales (Oscar Isaac), an immigrant who has lived the American dream and built up a home heating oil company, and his wife Anna (Jessica Chastain), whose father sold Abel the home heating business he now owns, and who also had some shady organized crime connections.

Due to the great talents involved in the making of this film, with J.C. Chandor directing and Jessica Chastain and Oscar Isaac starring, I was really looking forward to seeing A Most Violent Year. Unfortunately, I was mightily disappointed once I saw it. The main problem with this film is not the acting, or the directing, but rather with the story itself. It is so devoid of any dramatic tension or interest that it feels like the film is perpetually just on the precipice of a dramatic breakthrough or an inciting incident, but that breakthrough or incident never occurs. So we are left just watching things unfold but with no real attachment to the characters or events. The film is dramatically vacant.

Another issue with this film, is that putting 'violent' in the title is so decidedly inaccurate that A Most Violent Year can now be considered one of the most misleading film titles of all time, right alongside The Never Ending Story. The film sets itself up and creates expectations with a title like that. The expectations for viewers are that this is going to be a film about the grittier, darker and nastier aspects of life in the home heating oil business in New York. That expectation is never met, not even in the sense of having Abel avoid the inferno of violence that blazes around him. There isn't really any violence at all, at least not of substance, not to or from Abel or anyone else. There isn't even the true threat of violence, only the possibility of an unspoken threat of a threat of violence.  I am certainly not someone who needs violence and brutality in a film to like it, but what I do need is some drama to drive the story, and violence as a dramatic vehicle was desperately needed here.

In terms of moral decisions and dramatic tension, at the end of the day, Abel is corrupt enough to use illegal money that Anna stole in order to continue his business, but not corrupt enough to use violence. That isn't exactly the most powerful of dramatic choices for a film, nor is it very insightful or informative in terms of giving the film a distinct perspective. This film feels like it is shot just out of range of a much more interesting and better film…like a Goodfellas for example. The film will inevitably, and unfavorably, be compared with Goodfellas. Goodfellas is set in the same time period, has a similar theme, style and relationships, but with a much more interesting story, and oddly enough, is inhabited by more believable people.  A Most Violent Year has compelling actors, and potentially compelling characters, but those characters aren't put into any situations that are remotely compelling.

In terms of the acting, Jessica Chastain is as good an actress as there is on the planet, and her work here is engaging and as always, of high quality, so much so that you ache for the film to be more about her than anyone else. Chastain brings with her a luminosity that radiates through her every moment on screen, as well as a vivid yet subtle skill and craft. The character of Anna seems to be the only character in the entire film who has any 'balls' whatsoever, whether she has to kill a deer or take care of business, she brings a very specific point of view, and makes sure the job gets done. Chastain's Anna is a driving and powerful force to be reckoned with, much like the actress herself and her substantial gifts.  

Oscar Isaac as Abel, doesn't fair quite as well as his co-star. I think one of the major problems with Isaac's performance is not with his obvious talent, but with the script itself. The character of Abel is sort of sold to us as being like Michael Corleone before he gets involved in the family business in The Godfather (Abel even wears a long camel hair coat reminiscent of the one Michael Corleone wears in The Godfather ). But that sort of internal conflict needs a big moment in order for a transformation to take place. A Most Violent Year lacks that dramatic transformation of Abel, he never chooses what life he will live. In order for a true dramatic transformation to occur, the stakes for Abel need to be much higher. It should have been very clear, either choose violence and maintain your business, family and standing in the world, or choose to be a good man and lose everything you worked so hard to get, including your wife and kids. That choice is never clearly proposed in the film and so we get middle of the road choices and lukewarm storytelling. The other thing that The Godfather's Michael Corleone had going for him was that Al Pacino was playing him. Oscar Isaac is a fine actor, but he is not even in the ballpark of an all-time great like Al Pacino. My one thought about Oscar Isaac as an actor, is that I think he isn't quite ready to carry a film like this just yet. That is not to say that he won't be able to at some point, just that he isn't able to do that now. He lacks a certain charisma and power on screen that a role like this demands. He, unlike Chastain (and Pacino), does not have an incandescent inferno raging within him that illuminates his being. He is certainly a very talented guy, no question, but he has an absence of gravitas, which is what a role like Abel so desperately needs. I have no doubt he has many great performances ahead of him, but this is one that was more considerable than he was able to manage at this point in his career. 

In conclusion, A Most Violent Year is a major disappointment, especially considering how much I loved J.C. Chandor's previous two films, All is Lost and and Margin Call. Obviously, I am a huge fan of Chastain's work and thought Isaac was very good in Inside Llewyn Davis. Sadly, in A Most Violent Year, these tremendously gifted pieces didn't come together to make a great, or even good film. With all of that said though, I would classify this film as a noble failure. Noble in that it attempts to be a serious and thoughtful drama, something that is in short supply in cinema these days, and a failure because it needed a much more compelling story and script to take full advantage of the ample talents brought together to make this film.

© 2015

FOR REVIEWS OF OTHER FILMS RELEASED DURING THE HOLIDAY SEASON, PLEASE CLICK ON THESE LINKS TO THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING , WHIPLASH , BIRDMAN OR (THE UNEXPECTED VIRTUE OF IGNORANCE) , FOXCATCHER , WILD , THE IMITATION GAME , AMERICAN SNIPER , NIGHTCRAWLER , STILL ALICE , INHERENT VICE , SELMA , MR. TURNER , CAKE .