"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

Sicario: Day of the Soldado - A Review

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

My Rating: 2.25 out of 5 stars

My Recommendation: SKIP IT. No need to see this film in the theatres, just wait to see it on Netflix or cable if you are interested.

Sicario: Day of the Soldado, written by Taylor Sheridan and directed by Stefano Sollima, is the sequel to the highly acclaimed Sicario (2015) that tells the story of U.S. black operators fighting drug and human trafficking along the U.S.-Mexico border. The film stars Josh Brolin and Benicio del Toro, with supporting turns from Catherine Keener and Matthew Modine.

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When I went to see Sicario: Day of the Soldad in the theatre on the morning of its opening day, something odd happened. After an usher introduced the film and showed patrons where the exits were in case of emergency, sort of like a cinema flight attendant, a crotchety old man sitting by himself in one of the first few rows of the second section of the theatre barked to the female usher to "COME HERE". This boorish old man's antics greatly displeased many patrons, mostly for its rudeness but also because of the racial dynamics at play, as the attendant was a young Black woman and the old man was White. As voices of resistance spoke up against the old man he proclaimed very loudly to everyone in the theatre to "mind your own business".

The theatre attendant gave a dismissive laugh and walked over to see what the man wanted. He then said very loudly... and to my great amusement considering Sicario: Day of the Soldad is about Mexican drug dealers..."get me a Mexican Coke". This old guy was obviously an ultra-asshole, but his "Mexican Coke" demand was even more insulting and bizarre than his order of "come here"...are movie theatre ushers waitresses now too? The attendant gave the guy a cursory answer along the lines of "I have something else to do" and stormed off with a laugh...leaving the tension filled theatre in a hurry.

After this rather strange and unsettling incident, I sat back and tried to enjoy my popcorn and root beer which I had, like the grown man that I am, gotten all by myself at the concession stand. At the concession stand I was, coincidentally enough,  served by a fellow who worked crew on a film I shot years ago. We exchanged pleasantries and caught up with each other while he rang me up for my popcorn and root beer. In hindsight, I wish I had sternly told him to get me a fucking Mexican Coke...but sadly I didn't.

Needless to say my movie going experience up to and including the post-old man Mexican Coke incident had been a roller coaster ride, first the pleasantness of catching up with an old comrade followed up by the ugliness of an old man demanding Mexican Coke...and the feature presentation hadn't even started yet. I could not figure out if all of these strange happenings were good or bad omens for my seeing of Sicario: Day of the Soldad...then the movie started.

In my vast cinema experience I have learned that sometimes you go to the theatre and the popcorn is stale and the root beer is flat and it ruins the whole movie for you. Other times, you go the the theatre and the popcorn is fresh and the root beer fizzy, but it is the movie that is stale and flat. Sicario: Day of the Soldad falls into the latter category and is sadly the cinematic equivalent of stale popcorn and flat root beer and all of the accompanying disappointment that goes along with them.

Sicario: Day of the Soldado has some very big cinematic shoes to fill as its predecessor, Sicario, was one of the best films of recent years that boasted Mickey Award® wins for Best Actress - Emily Blunt, and Best Cinematography - Roger Deakins, and Mickey® nominations for Best Director - Denis Villeneuve, and Best Screenplay- Taylor Sheridan along with a Best Picture nomination.

Sicario: Day of the Soldado does not in any way live up to the high standards of Sicario. The reasons for this are numerous and obvious, the most glaring being the drop in talent among the filmmakers. Day of the Soldado is directed by Stefano Sollima, and he is certainly no Denis Villeneuve. The new film also replaces famed cinematographer Roger Deakins with Dariusz Wolski, and Wolski cannot hold a candle to the grand master Deakins. And finally the movie replaces Emily Blunt with...well...no one.

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Day of the Soldado's failure to replace Blunt isn't just a matter of star power or performance, it is a matter of structure. Sicario 2 has no main protagonist and therefore is so structurally unsound as to be useless, like a rudderless ship lost at sea. Blunt's performance in the original was exquisitely sublime, but even more importantly was the fact that the story was propelled forward by her character. Day of the Soldado has multiple narratives, one of an assassin out for revenge, another of a CIA agent who'll do anything to protect America, one about a teenage trafficker and finally one about a cartel princess, but none of them carry any dramatic or emotional resonance or are compelling enough to keep our interest. 

Taylor Sheridan is the best screenwriter working in Hollywood today, his scripts for Hell or High Water, Wind River and the original Sicario are truly fantastic and speak to the crisis of America and the American Male better than any films of the last quarter century. But Sheridan's screenplay for Day of the Soldado suffers from a stark lack of narrative focus and dramatic power, and is extremely poorly conceived and even more poorly executed. I was absolutely shocked at Sheridan for having written such a dilapidated script that lacks a coherent narrative, dramatic impact and cultural insight.

Director Sollima is simply ill-equipped to tackle the unwieldy beast that is Sheridan's script. Unlike his predecessor Villeneuve, Sollima seems more at home making a "cool" action type movie rather than a powerful drama. Day of the Soldado is littered with "cool guy" moments and one liners that feel more like something from a high-end Liam Neeson shoot-em up movie than an Oscar contender.

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Benicio del Toro does solid work in reprising his role of assassin Allejandro Gillick...but he too falls into the "cool guy" mode of acting to fit the improbable script he is given. Gillick has morphed into a sort of Mexican Dirty Harry or a Charles Bronson character or something. Del Toro is a captivating screen presence but in Day of the Soldado his invincible Gillick jumps the shark into the incredulous.

Josh Brolin also does solid but unspectacular work in reprising his role of CIA black operator Matt Graver. Brolin has grown into a substantial actor and is having a particularly fruitful year, having co-starred in both Deadpool 2 and Avengers: Infinity War. In Day of the Soldado, Brolin is hamstrung by Sheridan's limp script that gives his character an arc that is simply not dramatically believable.

Other actors in the cast do not fair as well as del Toro and Brolin. Catherine Keener is atrocious as government bureaucrat Cynthia Foards. Keener's lack of verbal rhythm combined with her scattered performance, are so clueless as to be uncomfortable to watch.

Matthew Modine plays Secretary of Defense James Riley and is laughably bad. Modine tries as hard as he can to convey gravitas but it is like getting blood from a stone.

Sicario: Day of the Soldad is littered with time and logical inconsistencies as well as a flaccid narrative. None of the motivations of the characters makes sense and none of the conclusions are dramatically satisfying.

Instead of being a taut and tightly wound drama like its predecessor, Sicario 2 is a limp, poorly paced, confusing dark action movie that falls decidedly flat. Even though it has all the trappings of a great movie, it lacks the artistic courage to actually be one, and seems more interested in building a franchise than in telling a compelling story.

In conclusion, I was greatly disappointed by Sicario: Day of the Soldado, and I think you will be too. There is no sense in paying to see this film in the theatres, but if you really want to see it, buy your own root beer (or Mexican coke), make your own popcorn and  watch it when it comes out on Netflix or cable.

©2018

 

 

 

Trump is Deadpool and We're All Doomed

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Estimated Reading Time: 4 minutes 04 seconds

WARNING: This article contains spoilers for Deadpool 2 and Avengers: Infinity War.

Deadpool 2 is currently resonating with audiences to the tune of $600 million at the box office, which does not bode well for Democrats in the 2018 mid-term elections.

What does Deadpool 2 have to do with the elections this fall? Well, popular culture, most notably film and television, can be a leading indicator of the sub-conscious mood of the collective.

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For instance, in the summer of 2017, the female empowerment narrative of Wonder Woman deeply connected audiences, raking in $821 million at the box office. Wonder Woman's success, combined with the cultural cache of Hulu's series The Handmaid's Tale and its dark themes of misogyny and ritualized sexual abuse which premiered in April of 2017, foreshadowed the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements that erupted in the wake of the Harvey Weinstein revelations.

Similarly, in 2016, there were bright warnings signs in the form of numerous superhero movies that dominated the box office whose narratives foretold the coming of the paradigm-shifting Trumpacolypse that was headed our way.

Two of the cinematic indicators in 2016 were the films Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, which was released in March and grossed $873 million worldwide and Captain America: Civil War, which hit theaters in May and hauled in $1.1 billion worldwide. 

Both films arrived at the Cineplex with strikingly similar narratives. In Captain America: Civil War, the globalists wing of the Avengers, led by Iron Man, faces off against the nationalist faction, led by Captain America. In Dawn of Justice, Superman, the ultimate international "elitist" Superman, battles the localist vigilante Batman.

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The color schemes of both Civil War and Dawn of Justice fed into the red state-blue state divide of our election as well, with Iron Man's dominant color being red and Captain America wearing his signature blue, along with Superman’s vibrant red cape opposite Batman’s dark blue Bat-suit. These clashing colors were emphasized in the film’s posters and billboards, which littered the American landscape in the spring of 2016 and registered in America’s psyche.

These films presciently mirrored the internecine political battles of the party primaries and also the bitter divisions in the general election, but there was another film that actually revealed who would win the presidency. That film was Deadpool, starring Ryan Reynolds, which hit theaters in February of 2016 and went on to gross $783 million worldwide.

Deadpool, whose mutant superpower is that he cannot die, is an irreverent, foul-mouthed and morally ambiguous character. Sound familiar? It is pretty obvious that Trump is to politics what Deadpool is to superheroes. Trump too is maliciously irreverent, shamelessly foul-mouthed and at best morally ambiguous and with his signature (too long) red tie, Trump even shares a color scheme with the red-clad Deadpool.

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Like Deadpool, who can be shot, beaten and blown up and still survive, Trump cannot be destroyed. Trump's messy public life is a testament to his indestructibility, having survived two tabloid divorces, three weddings, six bankruptcies and that was before he ever even ran for president. As candidate and president, Trump's invincibility is remarkably Deadpoolian as he has survived a cavalcade of scandals that would have obliterated any other "normal" politician.

When Trump said he could shoot someone in the face on Fifth Avenue and still not lose any voters, I thought of Deadpool, who Trump could actually shoot in the face on Fifth Avenue, and neither of them would suffer any long-term physical or political damage.

Moviegoers loved Deadpool because it mocked the superhero genre's tropes and conventions, but also effectively used them to entertainingly propel the film’s narrative. Similarly, to the delight of his supporters, Trump took a sledgehammer to American political "norms" yet also masterfully used his opponent’s respectful adherence to those norms as a weapon against them.

Just as Deadpool charmed audiences by being the anti-superhero superhero, Trump, the billionaire plutocrat who ran as a populist for the workingman (shades of Batman/Bruce Wayne), won the adoration of his fans posing as the anti-politician politician.

Which brings us to Deadpool 2, whose box office success is an ominous omen for Democrats in the up coming mid-term elections.

The uncomfortable symmetry of another Deadpool film, once again accompanied by a Marvel blockbuster, Avengers: Infinity War, being in theaters during an election year is only heightened by Infinity War’s unsettling story.

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In Infinity War, super-villain Thanos, played by Josh Brolin who coincidentally and promiscuously enough also stars as Cable in Deadpool 2, is an outsider who defeats the superhero establishment in the form of the Avengers and the Guardians of the Galaxy, and then executes half of all living beings in order to bring “balance” to the universe. This is the equivalent of Democrats and never-Trump Republicans joining forces and being completely decimated by Trump with extinction level consequences. 

People keep telling me to relax, that the Democratic juggernaut coming in November will take down the Republican congress, but Deadpool 2 has a specific storyline that bodes particularly ill for the Democratic dream of redemption in 2018.

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In the movie, an unstoppable mutant named, ironically enough, Juggernaut, breaks out of mutant prison and literally tears Deadpool in half. But in the film's climactic battle, the invincible Juggernaut is defeated, not by Deadpool, but by his associates, Colossus and Negasonic Teenage Warhead, who stop Juggernaut by opportunistically shoving a live wire up his ass and then throwing him in a pool, where he flails away in agony. My fear is that the Democratic juggernaut will suffer the same fate on election day. Is Mitch McConnell Colossus? Is Paul Ryan or Mike Pence Negasonic Teenage Warhead?

And even if Trump does get torn in two by the Democratic juggernaut in November, he'll no doubt just emulate Deadpool and grow a new bottom half in time to win re-election in 2020.

Speaking of 2020, rumor has it that Deadpool’s next film will be X-Force, which has a tentative release date of…2020…just in time for Trump's re-election bid!

I'm telling you, the signs are all there, Trump is Deadpool. Let's just hope he isn't Thanos too.

A version of this article was originally published at CounterPunch.

©2018

Deadpool 2: A Review

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****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. An entertaining anti-superhero movie superhero movie. 

Deadpool 2, directed by David Leitch and written by Rhett Reese, Paul Wernick and the film's star Ryan Reynolds, is the story of the foul-mouthed, snarky, former Special Forces soldier turned superhero immune from death, Deadpool. Ryan Reynolds stars as Deadpool with supporting turns from Josh Brolin, Morena Baccarin, Zazie Beetz, T.J. Miller and Julian Dennison. 

Deadpool 2 is the aptly titled sequel to 2016's surprise success Deadpool and is considered the eleventh film in the X-Men series but it really only has a very passing and peripheral connection to that cinematic universe. The first Deadpool came out of nowhere in 2016 to rake in $783 million at the box office.

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I have always liked Ryan Reynolds as an actor…well…not always…but I did used to like him. He looks and acts like my best friend who died twenty years ago, and so I always rooted for Reynolds to succeed. But then he churned out a cornucopia of shitty movies, with the apex, or nadir, being 2011's crap-tacular Green Lantern, which was so mind-numbingly awful as to be miraculous. 

Hollywood had been trying to turn the handsome, charming and affable Reynolds into a star for years and after repeated misfires he perpetually failed upwards. With Green Lantern, I finally washed my hands of the Ryan Reynolds experiment, and I thought Hollywood had done the same. Then in 2016 Deadpool came out with Reynolds in the lead and I thought, "what sort of compromising material does Reynolds have on studio big wigs that they keep giving him so many shots at the brass ring?" I had zero interest in seeing the film and so…I didn't. 

After a plethora of friends raved to me about Deadpool I still had no interest, and only ended up seeing it for free on cable. Seeing it was like witnessing the resurrection…of Ryan Reynolds moribund career. If ever there were a role perfectly suited for a specific actor, it was Deadpool and Ryan Reynolds. Reynolds' sharp wit and deadpan humor combined with his athletic physique made for the perfect match as Deadpool. 

The original Deadpool was a fantastic superhero movie for two reasons, the first is Reynolds and the second is that it had the perfect tone and original approach to the genre at exactly the right time. Deadpool was the antidote to the tsunami of Marvel and DC films over the preceding decade, and decades to come, that either took themselves too seriously or not seriously enough. 

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By breaking the fourth wall Deadpool broke conventions, and by winking at the audience Deadpool got to have his cake, making fun of superhero contrivances, and eat it too, using those same superhero contrivances to entertain. Deadpool was the most unique superhero film in recent memory and it succeeded both as an action movie and a comedy. 

Deadpool 2 is not as good as Deadpool, but how could it be? With the first film audiences had no expectations, but with the sequel expectations are definitely heightened. The weight of those expectations does drag down Deadpool 2 a bit as the comedy seems a little more forced and less free flowing than in the first film. But with that said, Deadpool 2 is still an excellent superhero movie and in parts is explosively funny. It even made me, someone who almost never laughs aloud at movies, actually laugh out loud, or as the young people say "LOL", multiple times. Even the post-credit scenes made me guffaw heartily.

In Deadpool 2 Reynolds is at his sarcastic best as Deadpool once again and carries the film from start to finish. A big key to Reynolds success in the role is that we usually see his face covered with a mask and if not, then it is scarred from the burns received during the characters origination. Reynolds detachment from his handsome boy face allows the actor to release a volcanic amount of energetic cynicism that makes Deadpool…well...Deadpool. Reynolds doesn't do any movie star preening, he just fully embodies the dynamic character and seems to be having a helluva lot of fun, which in the hands of a lesser talent would result in disaster, but here it becomes contagious with the audience. 

The supporting actors are good, and in the case of Josh Brolin's Cable, very good. Brolin does the impossible and never breaks while being on the opposing end of Reynolds relentless shenanigans. Brolin brings a palpable melancholy and gravitas to Cable along with a grounded physicality that translates well and is a worthy counterbalance to Deadpool.

Zazie Beetz is a revelation as Domino, whose super power is "luck". Beetz is a charming, magnetic and compelling actress who seems right at home on the big screen with Reynolds and Brolin. My guess is that Ms. Beetz has a very bright future ahead of her. 

Julian Dennison is the teenager "Firefist" and is definitely the weak link in the cast. Dennison's New Zealand accent leaves his speech a bit difficult to decipher and out of rhythm with the rest of the cast which undermines his performance. In addition he has the least fleshed out character and least interesting material with which to work. 

The action sequences in Deadpool 2 are pretty spectacular and never fail to deliver excitement and a lot of laughs. The "X-Force" sequence, from start to finish, is uproariously funny and boasts an A-list cameo for which to keep an eye out. 

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The Deadpool films are a breath of fresh air in the otherwise stiflingly homogenous superhero cinematic universe. Now that Deadpool has been unleashed in two films, the character will only bring diminishing returns as audiences become more and more accustomed to him and therefore more resistant to his charms. As the new car smell of Deadpool wanes, the danger Reynolds faces is that audience familiarity with his style will breed contempt. As the Deadpool films go forward, the bar gets ever higher for Reynolds to pull off the character with the same cheeky aplomb as he did in the original and first sequel, and that is no easy task. 

In conclusion, Deadpool 2 is a bit underwhelming in terms of the storytelling and coherent narrative, but in terms of pure entertainment value, it is definitely a success. If you want to be entertained for two hours, I recommend you go see Deadpool 2 in the theatre. If you enjoy comedy and superhero movies, this is the film for you. If you are lukewarm on superhero movies but want to laugh at them, this might also be the film for you. If you dislike raunchy humor, hate Ryan Reynolds and loathe superhero movies…then I recommend you go shove five Skittles down your dickhole and then play with yourself until you ejaculate a rainbow, because you are absolutely impossible to please. 

*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.

©2018

 

Avengers: Infinity War - A Review

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****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.

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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. 

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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. 

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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.

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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. 

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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. 

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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. 

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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). 

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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". 

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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. 

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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.

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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

Sicario : A Review and Reports From Down the Rabbit Hole of the Drug War

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

MY RATING : SEE IT IN THE THEATRE!!

Sicario, written by Taylor Sheridan and directed by Denis Villeneuve, is a taut and tense drama that tells the story of FBI Special Weapons and Tactics Team Agent Kate Macer and her descent into the murky world of the international Drug War. The film stars Emily Blunt as Agent Macer, with supporting turns by Benicio Del Toro and Josh Brolin.

As Sicario opens, we see Blunt's Macer in full tactical gear riding with her team to raid a house. The cookie cutter house is in the Arizona suburbs, but it could be any house, in any suburban neighborhood, in any state in America. The house, like the film, looks like one thing on the surface, but the deeper you look into it, the more shocking, complicated and dangerous realities it reveals. That house, symbolic of the American dream, reveals the violence, the corruption, the peril and the cancer that is the American Drug War. Sicario teaches us that not only won't Macer leave that house the way she went in, but America won't leave the Drug War the same way it went in either.

After the raid on the house, Macer is approached to be a part of a mysterious special task force headed by Matt Garver (Josh Brolin) who wants to find those responsible for the horrors found in that suburban Arizona home. Macer rightly senses that she doesn't know the whole story of the mission or who, exactly, this unkempt, flip-flop wearing Garber guy works for, but she agrees to work with him anyway. She then follows Garber, and his partner Alejandro Gillick (Benicio del Toro) down into the rabbit hole of the Drug War, where friend is foe and foe is friend, sometimes all at once.

Garber and Gillick lead Macer on a journey into the heart of darkness, with pit stops in Juarez, Tuscon and a honky-tonk bar. By the end of the journey, Macer will have been nearly choked to death, shot and betrayed by friend and enemy alike. Macer learns the hard way that nothing and no one is what they seem to be in the Drug War.

Along with Emily Blunt's very solid acting work, both Josh Brolin and Benicio del Toro give quality performances. Del Toro is particularly captivating as the enigmatic Gillick. Del Toro gives Gillick an internally vibrant wound that makes the character pulsate with a subtly menacing righteousness and magnetism. Brolin is terrific as the morally and ethically vacuous CIA agent who doesn't care who wins the drug war, just that there is one.

To go along with the quality acting in Sicario, director Denis Villeneuve, cinematographer Roger Deakins and composer Johan Johansson all do magnificent work. Villenueve deftly creates a heightened and palpable tension throughout the film that is mesmerizing. Even as the first opening credits roll, a faint yet ominously unsettling deep tone from composer Johan Johansson can be heard rumbling just beneath the surface. It sets the tone for the underlying danger that permeates the entire movie, adroitly heightened by Johannson's work. The only other film of director Villeneuve's I have seen is Prisoners which I found to be very disappointing. With Sicario, Villeneuve has made a quantum leap in his filmmaking, showing a depth and level of craft that is striking. 

While Sicario is a drama and not an action film, it's exhilarating action sequences are exquisitely directed and shot.  Master cinematographer Roger Deakins work, is, as always, glorious, and well worth the price of admission alone. From the opening house raid sequence to the later raid of a drug tunnel, Deakins cinematography is sublime. His ability to propel and add depth to the narrative all while creating a masterpiece with every frame, is unparalleled.

What I liked the most about Sicario is that it shows us the reality that the "War on Drugs" has morphed into the "Drug War". This war has nothing to do with the saving of America's soul from the scourge of drug use, instead it has to do with America selling it's soul in order to wage continual war. Like the War on Terror, the Drug War is a war with no end game. Perpetual war is good for business, if your business is the military industrial complex. And if you add the prison/law enforcement industrial complex in with the military industrial complex, you have a lot of people making a lot of money making sure the drug war continues to be waged and is never won…or never declared lost.

A brief glance at the history of America's intelligence services shows us that they have consistently used illicit drugs in order to raise money and weapons for various covert operations. Be it the CIA's opium growing and smuggling business during the Vietnam War, or their cocaine trafficking into U.S. cities from Central America in the 1980's in order to support and supply the Contras and other groups in Central America, or their operations to return opium production to Afghanistan after the 2001 invasion. The key to these CIA drug operations succeeding is that drugs must be kept illegal, so that intelligence services can prosper from their sale and keep the profits off the books and away from prying eyes of oversight committees and journalists. If legalization of all illicit drugs were to happen, the CIA would find itself in quite a bind in terms of paying for all of it's nefarious activities. (I strongly encourage you to read the book, "Whiteout: The CIA, Drugs and the Press" by Alexander Cockburn, for more on this topic)

The U.S. likes to think of itself as the good guys, always with noble intentions. That is the narrative that is sold to us and that we willingly buy and struggle to question. Yet the Drug War is glaring proof that things are not always what we want them to be, or what they seem.

In the 1980's, the CIA was running cocaine from South and Central America into the inner cities of the U.S., which, oddly enough, was when the crack cocaine epidemic started. As Nancy Reagan was telling us to "Just Say No!", her husband Ronald's administration was enabling drug trafficking into the U.S. in order to illegally raise money and arms for the Contras in Nicaragua in their fight against the Sandinistas. Remember the Iran-Contra scandal…well this is the dark shadow of that scandal that no "serious" person wants to talk about. Journalist Gary Webb wrote about it, and that didn't end well for him at all. He was publicly and professionally crucified by the "establishment media" and ended up with two bullet holes in his head for his trouble. In perfect Hegelian dialectic problem-reaction-solution fashion, the CIA was funneling drugs into the heart of the U.S. in order to destroy those inner cities with drugs, weapons and violence, all the while empowering domestic law enforcement with expanded powers and dismantling the Bill of Rights in order to keep the frightened populace "safe" and their political power intact. Then they sent that money to the Contras and right wing groups in El Salvador and Honduras, where they paid for death squads, torture and assassinations, all in the name of fighting "communism" so as to re-open Central America to American business interests. (I highly recommend Gary Webb's book "Dark Alliance: The CIA, the Contras and the Crack Cocaine Explosion", along with Nick Shou's book "Kill the Messenger" which tells the tale of what happened to Gary Webb for writing about the CIA-Contra-Cocaine connection.)

Afghanistan is another perfect example of the U.S. being at cross purposes with itself in the War on Drugs. Most everyone thinks that the Taliban are a horrendous group of people, and that our war on them was righteous. But the closer you look at it, the less clear that becomes. For instance, the reason we invaded was because Bin Laden had been hiding in Afghanistan allegedly under Taliban protection. Before the invasion the Taliban asked the U.S. to show evidence of Bin Laden's guilt in regards to 9-11 and they would turn him over. For some reason, the U.S. refused, and invaded anyway. No one cared much because the Taliban were such loathsome people due to their horrific treatment of woman. 

A closer look at the situation in Afghanistan reveals some surprising things that complicate the narrative we as a country tell ourselves. For instance, during the reign of the Taliban, the opium business which had, with the help of the CIA during the Afghan-Soviet war, once been thriving in the Afghanistan, was shut down entirely. Under the Taliban, Afghanistan was a no-go zone for opium growing. But then something strange happened after the U.S. invasion and occupation, the opium business not only came back, it grew to previously unseen heights. Opium production in Afghanistan is now at all time highs (pardon the pun). That is certainly a strange turn of events considering the country that invaded, the U.S., is the main force behind the War on Drugs across the globe. 

The war against Afghanistan, once thought so morally clear and simple, becomes even more complicated when you take into account the practice of "bacha bazi", which literally means, "boy play", in which powerful Afghan men keep pre-pubescent boys as sex slaves. The Taliban outlawed bacha bazi, and executed anyone who practiced it. Since the U.S. invaded, bacha bazi has come roaring back, and U.S. service members have been told by their commanders to not intervene if they come across the practice. There are even stories of young boys being raped on U.S. bases by Afghan warlords, and U.S. soldiers hearing it happen but not being allowed to stop it, and being court martialed if they do intervene. When one hears these sorts of things, the question becomes, what the hell are we doing over there? What sort of twisted moral compass are we working with in that war? (Please read this disturbing NY Times piece on Bacha bazi and the U.S. ignoring it.)

Which brings us back to another war with a twisted moral compass, the Drug War. The Drug War, by every measure, has been an absolute and utter failure. Billions, if not trillions, of dollars have been wasted, and millions of lives lost, in a war that serves no purpose but to assure it's own continuance. Heroin, once the scourge of the inner city, is now epidemic in the once thought safe suburbs of America (please read Sam Quinones book "Dreamland" for more on this topic). America isn't losing it's soul in the Drug War, it has already lost it. We imprison the poor and addicted and enrich and empower the tyrannical impulse at the heart of every police officer, district attorney and politician. We as a populace don't just allow, but demand the dismantling of the rights and liberties this country was founded on. We demand a militarized police force and their "no knock" raids in the middle of the night, illegal searches and seizures, asset forfeiture and mandatory minimums, all in the name of the "War on Drugs" and our own self proclaimed moral purity. This is no "War on Drugs", drugs aren't at war with us, we are at war with ourselves. Until we can be honest about what the Drug War really is, and the powerful people really behind it, playing both sides of it and prospering from it, people will continue to be senselessly killed and die in it's name. And America will continue to sell it's soul and spiral down deeper and deeper into more circles of hell, one more heinous than the next.

When Sicario began my first thoughts were that Emily Blunt may have been miscast as the FBI SWAT team agent. Blunt is an exceedingly beautiful, almost waif-ish actress, especially compared to the monstrous Delta Force brutes she is working alongside. It even looks as if her weapon may be too heavy for her to carry in the opening sequence of the movie. As the film went on though, I came to the realization that Emily Blunt was a superb choice to play Macer. Not only is she a terrific actress, and her work in Sicario is as good as she has ever been, but she is a wonderful representation of the vital yet fragile legal structures that once made America the land of the free. In other words, Emily Blunt's Macer is a representation of the United States Constitution, or to put it in more flowery terms, Macer is Lady Liberty. What Macer is put through in Sicario is the test our rule of law and liberties have gone through in the drug war. And as del Toro's Gillick says to Macer at the end of the film, "now is a time for wolves", and Macer/Lady Liberty is just not big or strong enough to run with the big, bad, lawless wolves, otherwise known as the dogs of war. Gillick finishes by telling her she should "move to a small town somewhere, where the rule of law still exists", but as that quaint suburban Arizona house that ends up being a house of horrors proves, there is no escaping the dogs of war once they are unleashed, even in small town America.

In the first part of Sicario, there is a hauntingly effective sequence where the camera lingers in a close up on the face of a dead person in a see-through plastic bag. We can't make out whether the person is a man or woman, or how they were killed, only that they are dead and are now an anonymous statistic in the Drug War. A few moments later in the film, Macer washes the blood and mire from the Arizona house raid off in her shower, then stands post-shower in front of a steamed up mirror where her face is obscured by the condensation. It is ominously reminiscent of the anonymous Drug War victim we saw only a few shots before and foreshadows what is to come for Macer, Lady Liberty, and the rest of us, at the end of her, and our, Drug War journey.

Do yourself a favor and go see Sicario in the theatre, it is well worth your time and hard-earned money. It is not only a truly terrific film, but it will also give you a much needed glimpse into the reality just below the surface of the Drug War that our nation continues to wage. You may not like what you see in Sicario, being honest with ourselves is seldom easy. But just remember, honesty is the first step on the long journey toward sobriety, and out of our heart of darkness.

©2015

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Inherent Vice : A Review?

****THIS IS A SPOILER FREE REVIEW!!! THERE ARE NO SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW!!!

Inherent Vice, directed  and written by Paul Thomas Anderson, is an adaptation of the Thomas Pynchon novel of the same name. The film stars Joaquin Phoenix and boasts supporting performances from Josh Brolin, Owen Wilson and Reese Witherspoon among many others.

At this point in writing a review I will usually give a brief synopsis of the film's story. As I hopelessly stare at this ever ravenous and judgmental computer screen, with it's incessant hunger for words, wisdom and insight, I realize I am intellectually barren on this topic, hollow at my core, devoid of even the most primitive capacity to explain the labyrinthine plot of Inherent Vice. I have scoured my brain, even put on the complete Pink Floyd collection in search of inspiration, but to no avail. To paraphrase Ned Flander's beatnik parents on The Simpsons, who didn't know how to discipline young Ned, "I've tried nothing and I'm all out of ideas!"

The revelation that has dawned on me is that this is not really a 'review', but would more accurately be described as a 'viewers guide'.  Inherent Vice is a mystery, wrapped in a riddle, surrounded by rolling papers. I have seen it twice already and it wasn't until well after the second viewing did things start to take shape for me in regards to figuring this film out. What I hope to do in writing this 'guide' is not explain the film to you, I think that is an impossibility, since my experience of the film will most assuredly be different from yours, but instead of explaining, I hope to help prepare you for your experience of the film. 

Inherent Vice is a film that is like a delicious Duncan Hines yellow cake with chocolate frosting, so dense and layered that it can be exquisitely delectable but at the same time down right overwhelming. The film is really three layers/films in one, if not many more. The key to watching Inherent Vice is to choose which version, or level, of the film you think you will most enjoy and gorge on it from there.  Here are the three scrumptious layers that are most apparent to me. Mmmmmmmm, yummy layers.

1. The Surface Level. On the surface level, Inherent Vice is a stoner mystery comedy. Think Cheech and Chong meet Chinatown. Personally, I don't get into stoner films, they just aren't my cup of tea, or drug of choice, or whatever metaphor you'd be more comfortable with. So I didn't appreciate the film on this level a great deal, although I admit it is pretty fun trying to figure out what is actually real and what is a just a hallucination in the mind of Joaquin Phoenix' character "Doc". A lot of people do dig stoner comedies though, and if you do, you may very well really like Inherent Vice just as an entertaining, fun movie and nothing more. If that is the case with you, then dive right in and enjoy. If not, then head to level two.

2. A Political/Social Commentary. Dig a little deeper with Inherent Vice and you will find a meditation on American corruption, fascism, and the exploitation of the individual and collective psyche by government and corporate interests through marketing and manipulation. On this level, it is all about the co-opting of the sixties liberation and freedom movements, both personal and political, by the establishment. As you watch, take note of how nothing is ever what it seems on the surface, like the dental conglomerate that is really an Asian drug cartel, or the drug-addled-hippie-musician who is really a spy for Nixon. Everything is something other than what it appears, every person and every group has a hidden nefarious motive at the core of their actions. So, don't have a freak out man!! Remember...paranoia is just a heightened sense of awareness!!

Level two is also riddled with political and social symbolism. As a prime example of level two symbolism, take note of one scene as an example,  in which Josh Brolin's "Bigfoot" character, the symbol of the establishment, kicks in Doc's door and then gobbles down marijuana by the handful as an intimidating show of power, which is really an allegory for the usurping of marijuana culture by the establishment in the form of legalization. Weed is now 'officially' integrated, and by being so legitimized, it loses it's mysterious power. Weed has now been neutered as a political statement and muted as a sacrament for the counter-culture and a symbol of their anti-authoritarianism and rebelliousness.

If you have four hours to kill (in one hour increments)… a really great primer on the exploitation of the individual and collective psyche by those in power, and how they manipulate through marketing, is a series of documentaries from the BBC titled, The Century of the Self. It is about Sigmund Freud's nephew, Edward Bernays and his creation of of the public relations industry. It is long, but it is a truly great documentary, and it really lays the groundwork for understanding the massive manipulation that unfolds on level two of Inherent Vice, and in our actual lives to this day.  Here is a link…Century of the Self. 

3. A Jungian Psychological Exploration. On level three the story of Inherent Vice is really the tale of the spiritual/psychological quest for wholeness and reunification with the Self by the bringing together of the opposites. Ok, this might be the least apparent and most inaccessible level of the three described, but I found it the most interesting. The way to understand this is to see all of the characters in the story as parts of Doc's psyche. Doc, the long haired, counter-culture hippie, and Josh Brolin's "Bigfoot", the flat-topped-square-establishmentarian, are symbolic opposites of the same coin, Doc's psyche. Shasta, Doc's ex-girlfriend, represents the Anima (feminine power) and Doc the Animus (male), with Doc trying to re-connect with the anima in order to be complete and whole. Also notice the other opposites that come together, Nazis and Jews, the Black Guerrilla Family and the Aryan Brotherhood, Nixonites and hippies, etc. Another thing to keep an eye out for are the religious/spiritual symbolism, including the Christs with Uzis (no, that is not a misprint), and the Buddhas, both gatekeepers and guardians that keep Owen Wilson's character, and Mickey "Wolfmann" mentally, emotionally and psychologically hostage.

The great symbol of wholeness in the film is hiding in plain sight. It is...of all things…pizza!! Trust me, when you see pizza or hear the word pizza, pay attention. Pizza is round and is the symbol of wholeness, so when Doc, or the other characters whom are symbolic parts of his psyche, are looking for, ordering, or eating pizza, they are really searching for wholeness and reunification with the Self. Thus the eating of pizza represents the integrating of wholeness and through this synthesis with wholeness, they, and the part of Doc's psyche they personify, are healed. This is the story of level three, Doc's quest for re-connection with Self and wholeness. 

Thus ends the 'viewers guide'. Those are just some of the ways you can choose to look at the film. You will probably find much more, as the film speaks to people in the language that they can hear. I never read the Thomas Pynchon book the film is based on, so readers of that book might have a greater understanding and appreciation for the film on every level. 

Just a few quick final notes on some of the specifics of the film. First the acting. Joaquin Phoenix plays the lead role of Doc, and he is his usual stellar self. Phoenix' work in the last few years, especially his previous work with P.T. Anderson in The Master, has been so ingeniously brilliant it is beyond description as merely the craft of 'acting'. Phoenix' artistry is so rare and original that I cannot compare him to any other actor we've ever seen, but rather to another revolutionary artist from another form, Pablo Picasso.  Phoenix is so far out there in terms of what he brings to a role, his authenticity, originality and inventiveness that he can only be described as some sort of Picasso-esque mad genius. But beyond his obvious transcendent talent, he also brings an immense understanding and mastery of his craft and a painstakingly meticulous specificity to the details of his work. Joaquin Phoenix is as unique a talent as we have in the acting world, and he is at the height of his powers. We should all consider ourselves blessed to get to watch his work.

Josh Brolin has a supporting role and is as good as he's ever been. Brolin devours the role of "Bigfoot" like his character "Bigfoot" devours that platter of weed, or his Japanese pancakes ("MOTO PANACAKU!!"...Oh wow man, I just realized, just now, that a pancake is another round food symbol of wholeness!! Bigfoot is demanding, in the language of the east, more servings of wholeness to integrate!! Wholeness prepared and delivered by a man of the East!! Whoa….). Brolin brings an unwavering focus and intensity to "Bigfoot", which plays as both frightening and funny. Brolin can be an underrated actor, but here he shows he is the real deal when in the right role, and his performance is a key part in making Inherent Vice work.

Robert Elswit is the cinematographer on Inherent Vice, and his work is dazzling. Elswit has worked on many of P.T. Anderson's films, and his work is always exquisite, and Inherent Vice is no exception. This is the second film of note for Elswit this year, his cinematography on Nightstalker is stunning as well. It is without question that Elswit deserves not only an Oscar nomination but an Oscar win for his work in either Nightstalker or Inherent Vice. Elswit, like Phoenix, is another artist at the top of his game.

And there you have some random, scattered thoughts on the enigmatic Inherent Vice.  I can honestly tell you that I am not sure which parts of this 'review/guide' were real, and which were simply entertaining hallucinations, but I guess you'll figure that all out when you see the movie for yourself. 

I do hope you find the viewer's guide useful, but remember, those are just some of the ways to watch the film. You will probably find much more, as the film speaks to people in the language with which they can hear it, and that is it's greatest strength and a tribute to the mastery of director Paul Thomas Anderson. Anderson is the great filmmaker of our time, and Inherent Vice is a tribute to his complexity and the intricacy of his work. I found the film to be fascinating, I think you may too.

© 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 , AMERICAN SNIPER , A MOST VIOLENT YEAR , THE IMITATION GAME , NIGHTCRAWLER , STILL ALICE , SELMA , MR. TURNER , CAKE .