"Everything is as it should be."

                                                                                  - Benjamin Purcell Morris

 

 

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Once Upon a Time...in Hollywood: A Review and Commentary WITH SPOILERS!

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****THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS!!! SPOILERS AHEAD!! YOU’VE BEEN WARNED!!****

My Rating: 4.5 stars out of 5

My Recommendation: SEE IT.

Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood, written and directed by Quentin Tarantino, is the fictional story of fading television star Rick Dalton and his stunt double Cliff Booth, as they navigate Hollywood during the turbulence of 1969. The film stars Leonardo DiCaprio as Dalton and Brad Pitt as Booth, with supporting turns from Margot Robbie, Bruce Dern, Kurt Russell and a cavalcade of other actors.

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is Tarantino’s 9th feature film and like all of his other movies it is a cultural event. With two of the biggest movie stars in the world on the marquee, and one of the most recognizable directing talents in the business at the helm, this movie was bound to stir up interest. Add in the fact that it is an unabashed homage to Hollywood history that also mixes in the toxically intriguing Manson family and you have a recipe for drawing a lot of attention. While I have loved some Tarantino films and loathed some others, I recognize his genius, and part of that genius is making movies that stir controversy and attract enormous amounts of both good and bad attention.

I went to see Once Upon a Time in Hollywood on the Friday morning of its official opening. The 10 AM screening was pretty full…full enough that I had to endure not one but two elderly couples sitting on either side of me talking throughout the movie like they were sitting in their own living rooms. Even after very politely and delicately asking them to please not talk, they continued anyway. As my buddy Steamroller Johnny astutely observed, “at some point old people think the rules of the world no longer apply to them”. Despite the incessant and idiotic yammering of these old fools, the likes of which included such gems as “remember Mannix? Oh yeah…I remember Mannix!” and “Where did Leo go? Why don’t they tell us where Leo went?”, I soldiered on to the end of the movie and much to my broke lawyer’s chagrin, never once smashed anyone’s head in.

images-6.jpeg

I must admit that my first impressions of Once Upon a Time in Hollywood were not overly positive. Besides the distracting moronity of the decrepit couples around me, I thought the film looked and sounded sub-par. The visuals were terribly imprecise and muddled, and the sound was atrociously bad, with Tarantino’s constant use of music suffocating the dialogue. The visual darkness and audio messiness made me feel I was watching the movie underwater. Even though I saw the movie in a high end art house theatre, I blamed the projector for the technical mess as the screening I attended used a digital projector which is how most movies are displayed nowadays. After leaving the theatre I shook my head at the sad state of film projection in America and what a crime it is to demean the art of cinema in such an egregious way.

Another first impression I had was that this movie was two hours and forty minutes long but ultimately did not do much considering it is historical fiction and could have done absolutely anything it wanted. I sort of felt like…is that all there is? Is that all you can come up with? it felt really…limited…at least in terms of the story.

Needless to say, while I didn’t hate the movie, I didn’t love it either, and felt it landed somewhere in the bottom half of the Tarantino canon, ahead of The Hateful Eight and behind Inglorious Basterds. Then, out of both frustration and curiosity, I decided to see the film again, except this time to see it in 35mm…as it was intended to be seen. 35mm screenings are pretty rare nowadays but Tarantino usually sets up special screenings where you can see his movies either in 35 or 70mm. It took some effort as I had to track down the theatres and special screening times for the 35mm print, but I did it and then went and saw it once again on Monday at noon.

Let me tell you…the difference between digital and 35mm is like night and day in every single way. In 35 the film is gorgeous to look at, the colors and contrast are distinct, and the visuals precise and specific. As much as the look of the film improved, the sound made an even more gargantuan leap. In 35mm the sound is astounding, as the music really pops and the mix is as clear as a bell…no more dialogue pulled under the tide of music.

The second viewing, much to my delight, also gave me a much clearer perception and understanding of the narrative and the sub-text. It certainly helped that I didn’t have to listen to elderly conversations about Mannix and could focus on the action on screen, but I was also aided by just being able to let the film wash over me as opposed to figure out what will happen next.

My second viewing changed my entire opinion of the film…and it quickly skyrocketed out of the bottom tier of Tarantino movies and into the upper echelon if not the Mount Rushmore of his canon.

Tarantino has always gotten great performances from his cast and Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is no exception. The entire cast is stellar, with Margaret Qualley (a 2017 Breakout Performance of the Year Mickey Award Winner!), Bruce Dern, Mike Moh, Al Pacino and Julia Butters doing terrific supporting work.

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As for the leads…Leonardo DiCaprio is at his very best in this movie. DiCaprio perfectly embodies the self-destructive, self-absorbed desperation that is epidemic in Tinseltown. His Rick Dalton is a star who is fading fast who represents an era and archetype that is under siege. DiCaprio’s Dalton is barely able to keep his mind and body in tact as he tries to navigate the minefield of semi-stardom in an entertainment business going through as much upheaval as the rest of the country in 1969….which is eerily similar to 2019.

DiCaprio gives Dalton a subtle but very effective stutter and stammer that reveals a mind deteriorating after years of alcohol abuse. Dalton’s stutter and stammer indicate he is no longer able to speak his mind and do it clearly. His stutter/stammer show a man second guessing himself and his entire life.

Dalton is also in a perpetual state of cough and spits up gallons of phlegm as he is metaphorically dying on the inside. Dalton smokes and drinks like a condemned man…which is what he really is. Dalton is the archetypal American Male…the Cowboy…and in 1969 that version of American Male was losing its standing and its balance, and in 2019 it is an outright villain. It isn’t until Dalton describes a novel he is reading about a cowboy who has outlived his usefulness and grows more and more useless as everyday passes, that his plight goes from being unconscious to conscious, and it devastates him.

DiCaprio has had moments of greatness in his acting career, most notably as a mentally challenged teen in What’s Eating Gilbert Grape and as a depraved slave owner in Django Unchained, but Rick Dalton is by far his most complex and frankly, greatest acting accomplishment, and he is deserving of not only a Best Actor nomination but a win.

Brad Pitt plays the stuntman Cliff Booth with all the movie star aplomb he can muster. Pitt’s work is much more straight forward than DiCaprio’s, but no less effective. Booth is an enigmatic character…at once cool but also combustible. Pitt’s charisma oozes off the screen and he and DiCaprio have an interestingly uneven chemistry that is compelling to watch. Booth seems like a combination of the cult 1970’s Native American action hero Billy Jack (one of my favorites) and Burt Reynolds character Lewis Medlock from Deliverance. He is, unlike DiCaprio’s Dalton, unambitious, but also unlike Dalton, he is the genuine article in terms of rugged, old school masculinity. Booth is no faux tough guy, he is an actual tough guy…the epitome of a real man in that he will kick the shit out of you if you deserve it, even if you’re Bruce Lee. And while Booth is a red-blooded man who is attracted to an alluring and eager teenage girl…his moral code won’t allow him to consummate such an ethically dubious act. And it is of note that the teen in question, named Pussycat, is at one point standing in front of a rainbow colored building, no doubt a strip club, named Pandora’s Box.

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Margot Robbie plays Sharon Tate and there has been much made about the paucity of her dialogue. The usual suspects are crying misogyny due to her role being “less than" her male co-stars. I find this sort of thinking to be so tiresome and vapid as to be absurd. As for Robbie’s actual performance…it is utterly spectacular. Robbie’s Tate is bursting with life for every second she appears on film. Robbie has filled her Tate with such a powerful and specific intentionality she is like a supernova of magnetism.

The Tate character is the embodiment of life, potential and the archetypal feminine. Tate is bursting with life, literally and figuratively, and her effervescence cannot be contained. When she walks down the street she seems to float or bounce, the earth barely able to grasp her ebullient spirit.

Tarantino’s decision to use actual footage of Tate in the film is a masterstroke, as he successfully pays homage to her and humanizes her at the same time. Tarantino takes Tate out of the clutches of not only the Manson gang but of the culture that has turned her into nothing but a headline and symbol. Sharon Tate was a person, a real person with hopes and dreams and aspirations and the Mansonites snuffed that out…and Tarantino reminds us of the depth of that loss without ever being heavy-handed or maudlin.

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The sub-text of the film is one of a battle between traditional masculinity and femininity and the assault upon them by “woke” culture. Tate and Dalton’s wife Francesca and Booth’s dog Brandy represent the traditional feminine archetype and Dalton and Booth are two halves of the traditional male archetype in the film…and the Manson family? They are representative of our new cultural wave…they are liberalism gone awry…they are “The Woke”. In a brilliant twist Tarantino makes this connection abundantly clear as he casts one of the most grating and loathed woke apostles, Lena Dunham, as one of the leaders of the Manson gang at Spahn ranch.

The gaggle of Manson women at Spahn Ranch are the neo-feminists of our age as they are little more than harpies who incessantly yap like neutered lap dogs in the presence of genuine masculinity (Booth). To quote Reservoir Dogs, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood asks modern day neo-feminists represented in the film as Manson women, “you gonna bark all day little doggie, or are you gonna bite?” Of course, these women do not bite when they first meet Booth…they sit and stay when told…and later when they do try to bite, the hounds of hell are released and these women serve as nothing but chum to the big dogs that do bite.

When the female Manson acolytes scream at Booth as he pulverizes a hippie dude at the Spahn ranch, they symbolize the nagging neo-feminists/woke brigade who say a lot but do nothing. They express their love for the weakling and cowardly Mansonite man getting the Booth treatment, but they don’t help him, they just touch their hearts empathetically and mouth their support. It is also worth noting that these woke women may softly proclaim their love for their hippy brethren, but they want to have actual sex with the real man…Cliff Booth. Ultimately when “the woke” women do trifle with Cliff Booth, he obliterates them. Booth and his faithful canine companion unleash a fury upon the woke and smash their heads into dust, no doubt because their heads are empty, as they are incapable of any thought…only regurgitation.

Speaking of dogs…maybe my favorite character in this entire film is Brandy the pit bull, who is Cliff Booth’s beloved pet. Brandy is occasionally a lap dog, but only because she wants affection, not protection. Brandy is a female…but unlike her Manson family/neo-feminist/woke counterparts, she is no bark and all bite. Brandy is the embodiment of loyalty and when unchained she opens the gates of hell upon anyone who would try to disrupt the order of her universe. Brandy may be subservient to Cliff, as he is the one who feeds her and directs her fury when necessary, but she also ferociously defends the traditional feminine in the form of Dalton’s young bride, Francesca.

At both of the screenings I attended, the audience cheered when the Mansonites get their comeuppance…and that is because it is so deliciously satisfying. In our culture The Woke are intolerant of intolerance but are totally intolerable. Tarantino is basically giving voice to people who are sick to death of the incessant woke posing in our culture by saying, “Hey assholes, you want equality…here it is…a can of dog food smashed in your fucking face”. The Woke are, in their own way, Nazis, and Tarantino treats them as such as he has Dalton torch them just like he does the Nazis in his hit World War II movie The Fourteen Fists of McCloskey, and just like Tarantino did in Inglorious Basterds.

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In a piece at The Ringer about Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, Alison Herman wrote “the Manson family aren’t Nazis, or slave owners, or even Bill (from Kill Bill); they were young, manipulated, drugged-out kids” and thus “…watching Rick take a flamethrower to one feels a lot less cathartic and a lot more uncomfortable”. One need look no further to find the vacuity of woke ideology than Ms. Herman’s quote. The young women and man (Tex Watson) getting their faces kicked in, bitten off and torched in the fantasy of Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, in reality brutally murdered Sharon Tate as she begged for the life of the child in her belly, as well as Abigail Folger, Jay Sebring and Wojciech Frykowski with the utmost cruelty, savagery and viciousness. They are not drugged up and confused girls anymore than the SS were noble patriots fighting for the German homeland. Ms. Herman’s woke inspired, insipid thinking is prevalent throughout our culture and is a leading cause of the epidemic of mental myopia verging on retardation in our nation. It is Ms. Herman’s thinking that Tarantino smashes in the face with a can of dog food, gets devoured by a pit bull and then gets lit up by a flamethrower…and deservedly so.

Tarantino also deftly plays with audience perception in Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood. The film is obviously a fairy tale and another bit of historical fiction/wish fulfillment from Tarantino, and it plays with this fact throughout. Tarantino subtly but continuously keeps asking the audience what is real? Is it a blind man who watches tv? Is it a man who claims he’s never been to prison yet says he was on a Houston chain gang for breaking a cop’s jaw? Or is it a man who allegedly killed his lusciously-bottomed, nagging wife or is that just rumor/lie/legend too? What about Dalton, who hates hippies but looks a lot like Manson in his Lancer costume when he gives his great performance…or Booth, who is adversarial with the hippies too but partakes of an acid laced cigarette he buys from a hippie girl?

At times the movie is a daydream within a fairy tale within a nightmare….and that makes it a hypnotically compelling film. Tarantino expertly captures the dream state that is Los Angeles…and Hollywood…a dream state that is so bright during the day as to be blinding, and so dark at night as to be deadly. Hollywood during the day is, like Sharon Tate, beautiful and full of potentialities. When night descends on Los Angeles it becomes a city of menace…the city of Charles Manson, mass murderers, serial killers, street gangs, violent lawless cops…a shadow city of predators and prey.

The ending of the movie is a combination of the dream/nightmare that leads up to it. After the “real men” Booth and Dalton save the day, greatly assisted by the traditional females in the house, Brandy and Dalton’s wife Francesca, the movie shifts to what should be a happy ending, but which feels extremely unsettling.

As Dalton stands at the end of his driveway, he is greeted by Jay Sebring, who seems like a ghostly apparition at the gates of heaven, asking what happened. Sebring is reminiscent of a ghost stuck in the place of his death, in this case Cielo Drive, who is unaware of what happened to them. Sebring and Dalton are then joined by the haunting and ghostly disembodied voice of Sharon Tate over the intercom. Tate invites Dalton up to the house for a drink…and the gates slowly open for him to enter. This is Rick Dalton walking into the gates of heaven (Tarantino’s version of heaven anyway). Dalton…the symbol of the 1950’s all-American cowboy archetype…is dead and he is going to mix and mingle with Sharon Tate and Jay Sebring and the others who did not survive the cataclysm of the 60’s.

Cliff Booth is technically alive at film’s end but physically injured (in the thigh…which in biblical stories/Jungian terms is symbolic of the genitals - which leaves Booth emasculated…just like Tex Watson who gets his balls chewed off by Brandy…and the hippie dude who Booth beats at the camp…who had no balls to begin with) and mentally altered from a hippie delivered acid laced cigarette. Although he avoided the moral trap of Pussycat, he ingested the poison cigarette willfully…like Adam eating the fruit from the tree of knowledge…for this sin he is banished from Eden. After Dalton declares his true friendship with Booth, Cliff is rushed away to a hospital…but in reality he too is gone…disappeared into the L.A. night never to be seen again.

The only ones left alive at the conclusion of the film are Francesca and Brandy…but they are sleeping in the bedroom, no doubt dreaming up the scenario played out over the preceding two and a half hours of Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, where real men/traditional masculinity saved the day and real women/traditional feminine got to appreciate them for it.

In conclusion, Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood is a staggeringly rich, layered and thoughtful film that is entertaining both as art and as popular cinema. I highly recommend you see it and even if it takes more effort…see it in 35 mm. Tarantino is a polarizing filmmaker, and this movie will no doubt receive a great deal of enmity from politically correct critics and their woke minions in our culture. The bottom line is this, Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood is a gigantic and well-deserved fuck you to The Woke, and that is what makes it so deliciously entertaining, but what makes the movie so poignant, insightful and exceedingly relevant is that it is aware that it is pure fantasy, and that in reality The Woke have won the culture war and cinema, and the rest of us, are all the worse for it.

©2019

Once Upon a Time...in Hollywood: A Spoiler Free Review

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

My Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

My Recommendation: SEE IT. A rich and compelling film that highlights Tarantino’s singular genius and boasts exquisite performances from Leo DiCaprio and Margot Robbie. Make the extra effort and see it in 35mm if you can! A must see movie!

Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood, written and directed by Quentin Tarantino, is the fictional story of fading television star Rick Dalton and his stunt double Cliff Booth, as they navigate Hollywood during the turbulence of 1969. The film stars Leonardo DiCaprio as Dalton and Brad Pitt as Booth, with supporting turns from Margot Robbie, Bruce Dern, Kurt Russell and a cavalcade of other actors.

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is Tarantino’s 9th feature film and like all of his other movies it is a cultural event. With two of the biggest movie stars in the world on the marquee, and one of the most recognizable directing talents in the business at the helm, this movie was bound to stir up interest. Add in the fact that it is an unabashed homage to Hollywood history that also mixes in the toxically intriguing Manson family and you have a recipe for drawing a lot of attention. While I have loved some Tarantino films and loathed some others, I recognize his genius, and part of that genius is making movies that stir controversy and attract enormous amounts of both good and bad attention.

I went to see Once Upon a Time in Hollywood on the Friday morning of its official opening. The 10 AM screening was pretty full…full enough that I had to endure not one but two elderly couples sitting on either side of me talking throughout the movie like they were sitting in their own living rooms. Even after very politely and delicately asking them to please not talk, they continued anyway. As my buddy Steamroller Johnny astutely observed, “at some point old people think the rules of the world no longer apply to them”. Despite the incessant and idiotic yammering of these old fools, the likes of which included such gems as “remember Mannix? Oh yeah…I remember Mannix!” and “Where did Leo go? Why don’t they tell us where Leo went?”, I soldiered on to the end of the movie and much to my broke lawyer’s chagrin, never once smashed anyone’s head in.

images-6.jpeg

I must admit that my first impressions of Once Upon a Time in Hollywood were not overly positive. Besides the distracting moronity of the decrepit couples around me, I thought the film looked and sounded sub-par. The visuals were terribly imprecise and muddled, and the sound was atrociously bad, with Tarantino’s constant use of music suffocating the dialogue. The visual darkness and audio messiness made me feel I was watching the movie underwater. Even though I saw the movie in a high end art house theatre, I blamed the projector for the technical mess as the screening I attended used a digital projector which is how most movies are displayed nowadays. After leaving the theatre I shook my head at the sad state of film projection in America and what a crime it is to demean the art of cinema in such an egregious way.

Another first impression I had was that this movie was two hours and forty minutes long but ultimately did not do much considering it is historical fiction and could have done absolutely anything it wanted. I sort of felt like…is that all there is? Is that all you can come up with? it felt really…limited…at least in terms of the story.

Needless to say, while I didn’t hate the movie, I didn’t love it either, and felt it landed somewhere in the bottom half of the Tarantino canon, ahead of The Hateful Eight and behind Inglorious Basterds. Then, out of both frustration and curiosity, I decided to see the film again, except this time to see it in 35mm…as it was intended to be seen. 35mm screenings are pretty rare nowadays but Tarantino usually sets up special screenings where you can see his movies either in 35 or 70mm. It took some effort as I had to track down the theatres and special screening times for the 35mm print, but I did it and then went and saw it once again on Monday at noon.

Let me tell you…the difference between digital and 35mm is like night and day in every single way. In 35 the film is gorgeous to look at, the colors and contrast are distinct, and the visuals precise and specific. As much as the look of the film improved, the sound made an even more gargantuan leap. In 35mm the sound is astounding, as the music really pops and the mix is as clear as a bell…no more dialogue pulled under the tide of music.

The second viewing, much to my delight, also gave me a much clearer perception and understanding of the narrative and the sub-text. It certainly helped that I didn’t have to listen to elderly conversations about Mannix and could focus on the action on screen, but I was also aided by just being able to let the film wash over me as opposed to figure out what will happen next.

My second viewing changed my entire opinion of the film…and it quickly skyrocketed out of the bottom tier of Tarantino movies and into the upper echelon if not the Mount Rushmore of his canon.

Tarantino has always gotten great performances from his cast and Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is no exception. The entire cast is stellar, with Margaret Qualley (a 2017 Breakout Performance of the Year Mickey Award Winner!), Bruce Dern, Mike Moh and Julia Butters doing terrific supporting work.

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As for the leads…Leonardo DiCaprio is at his very best in this movie. DiCaprio perfectly embodies the self-destructive, self-absorbed desperation that is epidemic in Tinseltown. His Rick Dalton is a star who is fading fast who represents an era and archetype that is under siege. DiCaprio’s Dalton is barely able to keep his mind and body in tact as he tries to navigate the minefield of semi-stardom in an entertainment business going through as much upheaval as the rest of the country in 1969….which is eerily similar to 2019.

DiCaprio gives Dalton a subtle but very effective stutter and stammer that reveals a mind deteriorating after years of alcohol abuse. Dalton’s stutter and stammer indicate he is no longer able to speak his mind and do it clearly. His stutter/stammer show a man second guessing himself and his entire life.

Dalton is also in a perpetual state of cough and spits up gallons of phlegm as he is metaphorically dying on the inside. Dalton smokes and drinks like a condemned man…which is what he really is. Dalton is the archetypal American Male…the Cowboy…and in 1969 that version of American Male was losing its standing and its balance, and in 2019 it is an outright villain.

DiCaprio has had moments of greatness in his acting career, most notably as a mentally challenged teen in What’s Eating Gilbert Grape and as a depraved slave owner in Django Unchained, but Rick Dalton is by far his most complex and frankly, greatest acting accomplishment. DiCaprio will definitely be nominated for a Best Actor Oscar and would be very deserving of the win.

Brad Pitt plays the stuntman Cliff Booth with all the movie star aplomb he can muster. Pitt’s work is much more straight forward than DiCaprio’s, but no less effective. Booth is an enigmatic character…at once cool but also combustible. Pitt’s charisma oozes off the screen and he and DiCaprio have an interestingly uneven chemistry that is compelling to watch. Booth seems like a combination of the cult 1970’s Native American action hero Billy Jack (one of my favorites) and Burt Reynolds character Lewis Medlock from Deliverance. He is, unlike DiCaprio’s Dalton, unambitious, but also unlike Dalton, he is the genuine article in terms of rugged, old school masculinity. Booth is no faux tough guy, he is an actual tough guy…the epitome of a real man in that he will kick the shit out of you if you deserve it.

Unknown-1.jpeg

Margot Robbie plays Sharon Tate and there has been much made about the paucity of her dialogue. The usual suspects are crying misogyny due to her role being “less than" her male co-stars. I find this sort of thinking to be so tiresome and vapid as to be absurd. As for Robbie’s actual performance…it is utterly spectacular. Robbie’s Tate is bursting with life for every second she appears on film. Robbie has filled her Tate with such a powerful and specific intentionality she is like a supernova of magnetism.

The Tate character is the embodiment of life, potential and the archetypal feminine. Tate is bursting with life, literally and figuratively, and her effervescence cannot be contained. When she walks down the street she seems to float or bounce, the earth barely able to grasp her ebullient spirit.

Tarantino’s decision to use actual footage of Tate in the film is a masterstroke, as he successfully pays homage to her and humanizes her at the same time. Tarantino takes Tate out of the clutches of not only the Manson gang but of the culture that has turned her into nothing but a headline and symbol. Sharon Tate was a person, a real person with hopes and dreams and aspirations and the Mansonites snuffed that out…and Tarantino reminds us of the depth of that loss without ever being heavy-handed or maudlin.

images-5.jpeg

The sub-text of the film is one of a battle between traditional masculinity and femininity and their upheaval by “woke” culture. Tate represents the traditional feminine archetype and Dalton and Booth are two halves of the traditional male archetype in the film…and the Manson family? They are representative of our new cultural wave…they are liberalism gone awry…they are “The Woke”. In a brilliant twist Tarantino makes this connection abundantly clear as he casts one of the most grating and loathed woke apostles, Lena Dunham, as one of the leaders of the Manson gang at Spahn ranch.

Tarantino also deftly plays with audience perception in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. The film is obviously a fairy tale and another bit of historical fiction/wish fulfillment from Tarantino, and it plays with this fact throughout. Tarantino subtly but continuously keeps asking the audience what is real?

At times the movie is a daydream within a fairy tale within a nightmare….and that makes it a hypnotically compelling film. Tarantino expertly captures the dream state that is Los Angeles…and Hollywood…a dream state that is so bright during the day as to be blinding, and so dark at night as to be deadly. Hollywood during the day is, like Sharon Tate, beautiful and full of potentialities. When night descends on Los Angeles it becomes a city of menace…the city of Charles Manson, mass murderers, serial killers, street gangs, violent lawless cops…a shadow city of predators and prey.

In conclusion, Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood is a staggeringly rich, layered and thoughtful film that is entertaining both as art and as popular cinema. I highly recommend you see it and even if it takes more effort…see it in 35 mm. Tarantino is a polarizing filmmaker, and this movie will no doubt receive a great deal of enmity from politically correct critics and their woke minions in our culture. The bottom line is this, Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood is a gigantic and well-deserved fuck you to The Woke, and that is what makes it so deliciously entertaining, but what makes the movie so poignant, insightful and exceedingly relevant is that it is aware that it is pure fantasy, and that in reality The Woke have won the culture war and cinema, and the rest of us, are all the worse for it.

©2019

Mary, Queen of Scots: A Review

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

My Rating: 1 out of 5 stars

My Recommendation: SKIP IT. You would be better served getting your head chopped off than ever seeing this movie.

Mary, Queen of Scots, written by Beau Willimon and directed by Josie Rourke, is the story of Mary, the young Catholic Queen of Scotland in the 1500’s, and her struggle for power in her native land amidst her rivalry with England’s Queen Elizabeth. The film stars Saoirse Ronan as Mary and Margot Robbie as Elizabeth.

Recently, in the midst of a magnificent hurricane of my own cleverness, I came up with a stunning new maxim that feels decidely old when, after weeks of fasting and meditation in a cold and windowless room, I declared to myself that “Wokeness Kills Art”. For proof of the veracity of my maxim, one need look no further than Mary, Queen of Scots.

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As a first generation Scotsman (and an outspoken supporter of a Independent Scotland), a Catholic, and a classically trained actor, a period piece/historical drama about Mary, Queen of Scots starring Saiorse Ronan, who is one of my favorite actresses, and Margot Robbie, another top-notch actress, should be right up my alley. I was pretty excited to see Mary, Queen of Scots, so much so that I actually went and saw it the day the film opened in theatres. Once I actually saw the movie, my excitement was left dead-eyed, with its decapitated head rolling down the aisle of the theatre.

It is difficult to succinctly state how absurdly awful this movie is…but my best attempt would be to say that Mary, Queen of Scots is a narratively incoherent, cinematically obtuse and historically vapid piece of painfully progressive propaganda.

Director Josie Rourke, who comes from the London theatre world, is so cinematically illiterate I wouldn’t feel comfortable letting her watch a movie, nevermind make one. Ms. Rourke’s inability to even comprehend the most rudimentary aspects of storytelling in film is remarkable to behold.

Rourke’s take on Mary is that she is a symbol for social justice warriors everywhere due to her anti-patriarchy, pro-feminist, pro-gay, pro-trans and pro-diversity views. Ms. Rourke should have renamed the movie, Mary, Queen of Woke. This film has all the cinematic craftsmanship and political subtlety of a Dinesh D’Souza movie combined with the historical veracity of D.W. Griffith’s Birth of a Nation.

Lord Thomas Randolph

Lord Thomas Randolph

Adding to the tsunami of historically inane things thrown into this film to fit a modern liberal agenda, Ms. Rourke uses some bizarre and frankly, distractingly ridiculous color blind casting. So viewers are supposed to be woke enough not to notice that Adrien Lester, who is Black, is playing Lord Thomas Randolph, who was so pasty white in real life he bordered on transparent. Ms. Rourke doesn’t stop there, as she casts Asian actress Gemma Chan as Bess of Hardwick, again, a very, very, very White woman who was decidedly NOT Asian.

The guy playing Lord Thomas Randolph

The guy playing Lord Thomas Randolph

Color blind casting in a historical drama is more complicated because “people of color” back then had their own history and back stories. Seeing a Black man as Lord Randolph begs the question…how did a man of African or Caribbean descent, who back then was more likely to be a slave or a servant, rise to the upper echelons of the aristrocracy? The same is true of an Asian women playing Bess of Hardwick. Asian women existed in the 1500’s, obviously, but not in the Royal Court or in the halls of power or among the blue blood families of England. So when audiences see an Asian women or a Black man in such a prominent role in English society in the 1500’s, they have questions, and when the film never addresses or answers those questions, audiences feel deceived and betrayed.

In addition, Bess of Hardwick and Lord Thomas Randolph are real people from history and they were very White…why is it ok for them to be played by non-White actors? Would it be alright for a White actor to play Jesse Jackson in a film about MLK or Louis Farrakhan in a film about Malcolm X? Of course that Whitewashing wouldn’t be acceptable, so why should it be ok for the opposite to occur here? It seems with the Woke Brigade, diversity and inclusivity top authenticity and the evil of cultural appropriation is something of which only “other” people are guilty.

The rest of the cast is also littered with token “people of color”, “token” being the operative word, no doubt to fulfill some wondrous “inclusivity rider”, but that doesn’t make it any less distracting or any more palatable or even remotely believable.

I understand that color blind casting is more acceptable in theatre where the threshold of believability is considerably lower, and while I find it and the reasons behind it distasteful there as well, I accept it as an unfortunate reality. But film is not theatre and the dynamics between film audiences and screen, and theatre audiences and stage, are very dramatically different. Film audiences are much less inclined than theatre audiences to suspend their disbelief over such things as colorblind casting, no matter how well intentioned it is, especially in a historical drama.

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In film, audiences want to feel like they are watching the actual events as they take place, and they make a bargain with the movie maker, ‘you make it seem real and we’ll go along for the ride’. But when the Royal Courts of Scotland and England in 1500’s, which were obviously lily white, are populated with a cornucopia of minorities, then audiences just roll their eyes and tune out thinking the whole thing is little more than politically correct nonsense…which it is…because it doesn’t reflect the reality of the time.

Added to the absurdity of the film’s rainbow coalition in Royal Court, was the notion that Mary was a proud champion of gay and trans people. There is a scene where Mary forgives her gay/trans best friend for an act of stunning betrayal simply because she is so accepting of his homosexuality and thus excuses his awful act. This is so historically illiterate as to be absurd. The fact that Mary was a Catholic Queen in a Protestant land, and yet would not divorce or convert in order to save her skin or take the throne, is maybe a strong indicator that her religion IS PRETTY FUCKING IMPORTANT TO HER…and her religion at the time was quite clear in how they felt about “Sodomites”. But for Ms. Rourke, religion means nothing to Mary, it is her modern progressive values that really matter.

In keeping with the vacuous wokeness of the film, the overarching theme of the entire enterprise is that Mary and Elizabeth were feminist sisters, but it was those damn men who ruined everything. Of course, Ms. Rourke and her ilk are too ignorant to understand that taking the agency away from these two historically powerful women and reducing them to victims of the evil patriarchy doesn’t make them iconic, it makes them unconscionably weak…not exactly the girl power message the filmmaker intended.

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Ms. Rourke, and her equally abysmal screenwriting accomplice, Beau Willimon of the execrable House of Cards fame, go so far as to have Elizabeth claim that she is “now a man and not a woman”, therefore making sure that when Elizabeth does something bad…and anyone who knows history knows she does something bad to Mary…masculinity is to blame! See…even when women do something terrible to another women it isn’t their fault! Damn you patriarchy because women have no agency!

I went to the film with a decidedly bleeding heart social progressive, the Honourable Rev. Dr. Lady Pumpernickle - Dusseldorf Esquire, and even she thought the cavalcade of suffocating political correctness in the form of colorblind casting, pro-LGBTQ and anti-maleness on-screen was way too much, and to an eye-rollingly ridiculous degree.

As for the actual making of the movie, Ms. Rourke is terribly ill-equipped as a visual artist. With the luscious green Scotland as a backdrop, Ms. Rourke somehow manages to make a visually dull, flat and stale film. Ms. Rourke’s inability to even do the most basic of blocking for the camera, as opposed to the stage, makes for some very stodgy sequences, not the least of which is a poorly executed battle scene that is staggering in its incompetence.

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The aforementioned Beau Willimon’s script is equally inept. Willimon starts out trying to balance the Mary narrative with the Elizabeth narrative, but then just scraps that idea altogether and throws in a myriad of betrayals and counter-betrayals that end up only muddying the already murky historical waters. Willimon’s script is a key component in making the film such a garbled, incoherent mess, but it is Ms. Rourke’s weak direction that ultimately sinks the ship.

As for the acting, the majority of the cast is so poorly directed that they end up with lots of theatrical histrionics but very little genuine humanity. There is a lot of light but absolutely no heat from the cast that pushes too hard, too often to make something out of nothing.

Ms. Ronan is a compelling figure on-screen but her talents are entirely wasted on this disaster. It certainly would be a treat to see her play the role under the eye of a different, more competent, director though, as Ronan is very well equipped to play such a demanding and complicated character.

Margot Robbie is both out of place and under utilized as Queen Elizabeth. Robbie’s Elizabeth is such a listless and lifeless figure that she is no match for the dynamic Mary, which is maybe why they just, of the blue, stopped comparing and contrasting the two of them mid-way through the film.

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The climactic scene of the film, which is at best historically dubious, has Mary and Elizabeth facing off. This sequence is so poorly shot, blocked and executed it was stunning to behold. Rourke uses fabric hanging from the ceiling to build a maze that the two actress…and the camera, must navigate until they finally come face to face. I get what Rourke was trying to do there, using the fabric to symbolically show the layers of barriers between the two women that they must wade through in order to actually see one another, but this is just another example of a theatre director trying to make a movie. This sequence is so visually ineffective and cinematically impotent that it boggles the mind. While Ms. Rourke intended this sequence to be a metaphor speaking volumes about the world Mary and Elizabeth inhabit, what it really does is perfectly highlight Ms. Rourke’s filmmaking ineptitude.

On the brightside, some of the costumes look nice.

In conclusion, Mary, Queen of Scots is a bitter disappointment because it tries to turn this historical drama into a piece of woke propaganda. As a historical drama it fails miserably both as history and as drama. As propaganda it also fails miserably because of the heavy handed incompetence of director Josie Rourke. If I could go back in time and had a choice between having my head chopped off or having to sit through this movie, I would gladly go under the executioners axe than suffer through this cinematic abomination.

If you want to see an exquisitely crafted and highly entertaining period piece and historical drama, do yourself a favor and go see the deliciously sublime The Favourite and skip the putrid cinematic detritus of Mary, Queen of Woke.

©2018

I, Tonya: A Review

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

My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

My Recommendation: SEE IT. See it in the theatre or at the very least on Netflix/cable. 

I, Tonya, written by Steven Rogers and directed by Craig Gillespie, is the biographical story of infamous American Olympic figure-skater Tonya Harding. The film stars Margot Robbie as Harding with supporting turns from Allison Janney, Sebastian Stan and Juliette Nicholson. 

Bio-pics are notoriously hard to make with any sort of artistic originality. They usually fall into the same trap of simply showing the main events in the protagonists life so everyone can go, "oh yeah, I remember that", and then the movie is over and no one cares or learns anything they didn't already know. What is worse is that these films are usually a cinematic exercise in the dramatically mundane, with nary a daring or artistic vision to be found. 

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Well, if you are looking for a bio-pic with some cinematic flair, I, Tonya is the movie for you. I, Tonya avoids all of the well-worn traps of the bio-pic by utilizing multiple perspectives and shamelessly embracing the idea that not only is it impossible for all of the differing perspectives it tells to be true, it is most likely that none of them are. I, Tonya is an unabashed lie of a movie about liars telling THEIR truth…and that is what makes it so utterly fascinating and so relevant to our current age of subjective truth. 

In execution, I, Tonya isn't quite a great film, but it certainly is an entertaining one, and I truly admired the movie for its ambition. Director Craig Gillespie takes the tabloid saga of fallen white trash princess Tonya Harding and turns it into a scathing indictment of America and the illusion and delusion of the American dream. Gillespie successfully pulls the scab off of America's festering class wound and exposes the cancerous rot at the center of American capitalism that threatens to kill its host via class and cultural warfare. 

The entire cast does fantastic work, with lead actress Margot Robbie leading the charge. Robbie does solid and at times spectacular work as Harding. Robbie, for all of her obvious beauty, disappears into the rapacious inelegance of Harding with vivacious aplomb.

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Robbie's Harding is, like Donald Trump, a compulsive liar who confuses her truth with "the truth". Robbie imbues Harding with a deep-seeded yearning that is encased in a cover of defiance and petulance. In one of the more fascinating scenes in the film, Harding sits alone before a mirror and like Jake LaMotta in Scorsese's Raging Bull or Dirk Diggler in PT Anderson's Bogie Nights, this is when her true, tortured, disfigured self emerges from behind the mask, if only for a moment. This mirror scene is a subtle bit of brilliance, and is the best work of Robbie's young career and reveals an artistic depth that I hope she is able to thoroughly mine going forward.

Allison Janney plays Tonya's mother, the incomparable LaVona Fay Golden. Janney devours every scene she inhabits with the ferocity of a grizzly bear in a honey factory. When I originally saw the trailer for I, Tonya I was turned off because they made the film, and Janney's performance in particular, seem completely comedic and over the top. Thankfully, Janney's work in the film is subtler, more nuanced and much more genuinely human than it appears in the trailer. 

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Janney's work as Tonya's mother has been compared to her Oscar competitor Laurie Metcalf for her work in Lady Bird as the protagonist's difficult mother. I will tell you right now, there is no comparison between the two. Janney gives a far superior performance because she is able to fill her abrasive, peculiar character with a grounded inner life that is vibrant and humanizing. Janney's LaVona is definitely a monster, but there is a pained and tortured person buried within that monster, whereas Metcalf's distant, dead-eyed mother is a one-note performance that rings more and more hollow with her every appearance on screen. 

Sebastian Stan plays Tonya's husband Jeff Gillooly and does excellent work. Stan masterfully disappears into the nothingness that is Jeff Gillooly and at the center of his being places a primal scream that echoes throughout his inner void and reveals itself in Gillooly's impotent frustration. 

Paul Walter Hauser nearly steals the entire film with his portrayal of Shawn Eckhardt, one of Gillooly's friends and Tonya's "bodyguard". Hauser deadpans with such skill it is nearly miraculous. Eckhardt is a character that in lesser hands than Hauser's could have been an over-the-top buffoon, but Hauser turns him into a fascinating, compelling, hysterical and heartbreaking figure.

As I watched I, Tonya other films kept popping into my head. The first film I thought of was Goodfellas, not because I, Tonya is anywhere near as great a work of cinema as Scorsese's classic, it isn't, but because the film uses similar techniques to break the rather stale mold of the bio-pic, like breaking the fourth wall and showing multiple perspectives. If you look closely at the film poster above, you'll notice I am not the only one to have recognized the similarities between Goodfellas and I, Tonya

Another film that came to mind was The Post, which I had just reviewed a few days before seeing I, Tonya. The reason I thought of The Post is because that movie and seemingly every single critic and media person who writes or talks about it, always refers to The Post as "timely". In my review I pointed out how I felt The Post was rather untimely…but you know what is a "timely" film? I, Tonya. Unlike The Post which was shot in a hurry in June of 2017 in response to Trump's presidency, I, Tonya was conceived before Trump was even elected and began shooting before he was inaugurated…and yet, I, Tonya is considerably more prescient and insightful in terms of political relevance than Spielberg's flaccid ode to the establishment because it highlights class warfare and the elite versus working-class American divide. As opposed to The Post, and all of Spielberg and Hanks' films, which portray America as it wishes to see itself through the heavy gauze of its delusion, I, Tonya strips Trump's America bare and exposes the nation for what it TRULY is, not what it wants to be.

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The third film I thought of was this year's critical darling, Lady Bird. The reason I thought of Lady Bird is because it is a sort of Disney channel lite-version of I, Tonya. Lady Bird playfully attempts to show the struggle of a lower middle class/working class young woman yearning to break free of her creatively suffocating world whereas I, Tonya shows a creative young woman, Tonya Harding, whom Lady Bird would ridicule, fighting for her literal survival in a country full of liars who despise her for not telling them the truth they want to hear. Unlike Lady Bird, I, Tonya shows real American poverty and the accompanying hopelessness that is strangling our country and is the birth mother of Trumpism. The obstacles Lady Bird must overcome are all imaginary and are the result of her selfishness and sense of entitlement. In I, Tonya, the obstacles facing the generationally poor in America are revealed to be the result of systemic causes that are baked into the American cake that result in self-destructive impulses and idiocy that knows no bounds. Lady Bird is a movie by an elitist about the world she's glad to have escaped, whereas I, Tonya is a movie about the type of dead-end people Lady Bird left behind, or more accurately, doesn't even know exist.

The hopelessness of the left behind dead-enders is fertile ground not only for the desperation that gave us Trump, but for the desperation that has given us the Opioid epidemic. I, Tonya is a funny movie in many ways because it has to be, for if it played itself as a straight drama it would be far too depressing to bear, the proof of which is played out over large swaths of America where Opioid-addicted zombies roam the streets and the stench of death and Narcan fills the air over vast swaths of the country all because people cannot face the meaninglessness of their lives and the emptiness of their reality. 

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Another film that came to mind while watching I, Tonya, was The Florida Project, which I have seen but have yet to review. The Florida Project is about a little girl growing up in numbing poverty in the shadow of Disney World. The film is difficult to watch, not because it is poorly made, but because it tells such uncomfortable truths that I, and maybe most people, would rather forget or never know about in the first place. The protagonist in The Florida Project is basically a young Tonya Harding without the skating talent…which is a chilling thought for her, and America's, future. 

As for I, Tonya, the biggest drawback of the film for me was that it isn't shot particularly well. The film is a bit flat visually and lacks the cinematic vigor and camera panache of say, Goodfellas, but that hardly disqualifies it from being worth seeing. In some ways, the less than polished and professional feel of the film enhances the movie's working class appeal.

In conclusion, I, Tonya's ambition extends beyond its execution but in my eyes that it is a noble failing at worst. I encourage you to go spend your hard earned money and time to go see I, Tonya in the theatre because its courageous telling of the real story of class in America is not flattering, but it is revealing as to how we all ended up imprisoned in Trump's America. The real America, the America of I, Tonya and Trump, that Lady Bird and the rest of the elites want to pretend doesn't exist, is a Reality TV, celebrity obsessed, subjectively-truthy, Opioid-addicted, vapid, hopeless, white trash, fast-food nation. Trump is now King of I, Tonya's America, but twenty some-odd years ago, Tonya Harding was its Crown Princess, and she was a harbinger of the vacuous plague to come. I, Tonya is reminder of the warnings we have failed to heed, and the depth of the pit into which we have dug ourselves. 

©2017

Casting the Comey Affair

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Estimated Reading Time : 6 minutes 38 seconds

Due to a very, very serious, dare I say, life-threatening illness (a chest cold!), I have not been able to keep my not-so-adoring public up to date on my feelings regarding the goings on in Washington, Hollywood and the world these past few weeks. I was unable to cover the Comey hearing, the British election and now missed the Sessions hearing. Due to a truly heroic effort on my part, I was able to read a bit about all of those proceedings in my weakened state, and even saw some clips on the television. Of course, any insights I may have been able to provide are long past their used by date, once again proving I am a day late and many dollars short. 

That said, I am not completely without some relevant thoughts. For instance, the thing that instantly occurred to me as I watched the coverage of Comey's testimony was, "who is going to play him in the movie?". I promise you there are some Hollywood suits who are plotting a film or miniseries about all of these made-for-tv political events. So I put on my sleazy producer hat and started thinking right along with them. I came up with multiple casts for the film I have titled "The Comey Affair". 

Some are Oscar bait, some are box office beasts, some are desperate wannabes and some are quick money grabs, but all of them are being contemplated by some fat cat in an office here in Hollywood…I promise you that. So sit back, relax, and enjoy inhabiting the mind of a Hollywood power broker!!

Here are the films.

STAR EDITION : THE A-LIST

Directed by Steven Spielberg, and typical of his films, his "The Comey Affair" will have lots of flag waving and swelling music. The establishment media will lap it up and heap praise upon it no end, but in reality the movie will be as awful as Bridge of Spies or Lincoln…which is really, really, really awful. 

James Comey - Tom Hanks : Of course Tom Hanks plays Comey. Hanks is incapable of playing any other character but a condescendingly noble and morally and ethically impeccable man with a heart of gold, and so it is with his rendition of James Comey. Think Sully, Captain Philips and Bridge of Spies guy crossed with his Saving Private Ryan character. 

Donald Trump - Jack Nicholson : This is both Nicholson's comeback and swan song. A surefire nomination for Best Supporting Actor will follow Jack's peculiar and erratic performance. Nicholson's work as Trump will be sub-par, like much of his work over the last thirty years, but he'll be rewarded anyway because Hollywood likes their icons to go out on top. Jack's Trump will be a combination of his Whitey Bulger-esque character in The Departed and Nicholson himself.

Mike Pence - George Clooney : Clooney will co-produce along with Hanks and Spielberg, so he'll play Pence in order to boost box office. He will do his usual lackluster, smirky work but will be taken seriously for some mysterious reason. The media will fawn all over George as he recounts one of the myriad of impotent pranks he pulls on his adoring co-stars. Oh, George, you cad.

Jeff Sessions - Kevin Spacey : Spacey will do little more than reprise his House of Cards character Frank Underwood as Sessions with some Keyser Soze mixed in. Spacey will no doubt try and talk Spielberg into letting Sessions have a scene where he sings, hopefully he will be thwarted. Bottom line is that Spacey will chew scenery and try and upstage his esteemed colleagues…hell…maybe it'll work. 

Melania Trump - Julia Roberts : Roberts, like Nicholson, is using this role as a comeback of sorts. She wants to get back into the Oscar discussion, so she tarts herself up and turns Erin Brockovich into an aging Eastern European model. Her accent will be atrocious, but her push up bra will earn a Best Supporting nomination. Robert's work with Clooney on the media tour blitz will be vital in attracting the insufferably vacuous Clinton Cult Feminist audience. GIRL POWER!!

Ivanka Trump - Margot Robbie : Margot Robbie will struggle with the accent as well, namely losing her Austrailian one, but, as usual, she will no doubt do stellar, and under appreciated work as Ivanka. Robbie is a solid actress, and she will tell a story with her Ivanka that will be both appealing and unsettling. 

Jared Kushner - Leo DiCaprio : Leo will make Jared into a quiet, reserved, nearly mute young man in public, but a crazed and maniacal wild man in private. Think of Leo's Jared as a cross between his Jordan Belfort character in Wolf of Wall Street, his Howard Hughes from The Aviator and Frank Abignale from Catch Me If You Can.

 

OSCAR EDITION

Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson. Anderson brings an artists eye to the proceedings, making his "The Comey Affair" a mix of There Will Be Blood, The Master and Magnolia. A taut and tense story brought to life by a stellar and sublime cast.

James Comey - Daniel Day Lewis : Lewis, a master, is tall, which is needed to play Comey, who is a towering 6-8. He also brings the skill and versatility to give the goody two shoes Comey some much needed inner life and turmoil. Lewis' Comey will be a cross between his Bill The Butcher in Gangs of New York, his Abraham Lincoln in the aptly titled Lincoln, and his Daniel Plainview in There Will Be Blood, and will be much more interesting than Comey himself.

Donald Trump - Brendan Gleeson : Gleeson is an often over-looked great actor. His subtle work and physical pseudo resemblance to Trump will make his performance as the President Oscar worthy. Gleeson's artistic furnace burns hot, and when put into the container of Donald Trump, will be down right combustible. 

Mike Pence - Gary Oldman : Oldman, like Gleeson, is an under-appreciated genius, and his Pence will have the exterior of his George Smiley from Tinker, Tailor, Solider, Spy, and the toxic inner life of Oldman's electric Sid Vicious. Oldman's Pence will be a ferocious wolf in delicate sheep's clothing.

Jeff Sessions - Chris Cooper : Cooper never fails to flesh out his character in the most insightful of ways, and his Sessions will no doubt be reminiscent of his closeted American Beauty character. Defiance and vindictiveness wrapped in the sing-song charm of the Old South.

Melania Trump - Cate Blanchett :  Blanchett's Melania is the beauty and the brains behind The Donald. Always at least three steps ahead of everyone else, Blanchett's Melania is playing chess, while Donald plays checkers. She let's everyone think she is a prop, but the reality is that she is the only one who knows how to manage the man-child that is her husband. 

Ivanka Trump - Jennifer Lawrence : Lawrence dazzles as Trump's darling daughter, bringing her to life with a mixture of her Rosalyn Rosenfeld from American Hustle and Joy Mangano from the accurately titled Joy. The dynamics between Ivanka and Melania in this film are both toxic and combustible. 

Jared Kushner - Ryan Gosling : Gosling's Kushner is an amalgam of his Dan Dunne from Half Nelson, Dean from Blue Valentine and Jared Vennet from The Big Short, and gives Jared a depth that he undoubtedly lacks. Struggling to keep up with Ivanka, Gosling's Jared bites off more than he can chew, and gets in way over his head with the Russians.

 

STANDARD STUDIO VERSION

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Directed by Some Studio Hack, this film will get lots and lots of hype, but will be terribly uneven because it is little more than a reenactment of events rather than an artistic pursuit. It will make a ton of money though, and God knows that is all that matters. It will run almost continuously on HBO once it is out of the theaters.

James Comey - Ben Affleck : Affleck has dark hair…so he's perfect as Comey! Or so the thinking goes with the Einsteins running Hollywood. Affleck's Comey is, not surprisingly, a bit wooden, a bit dull and a bit one dimensional….not unlike the actor himself! I'm kidding, I like Ben Affleck, but his work as Comey is less like his Batman, which I enjoy, and more like his Nick Dunne from Gone Girl, which I do not enjoy. 

 

 

Donald Trump - Matthew McConnaghey : McConnaghey sinks his teeth into The Donald and conjures up an over-the-top, make-up ridden performance that he thinks is wonderful, yet rings as hollow as his work in those atrocious Buick commercials. McConnaghey's real value will be in drumming up business for the film on the media tour, something at which he is very good. Alright, alright, alright!

Mike Pence - Liev Schrieber : Schrieber's Pence is just as quiet as the real man, but considerably more menacing. I would enjoy an entire film devoted to Schrieber's portrayal of Pence, but sadly, he is a bit player in this Hollywood monstrosity. 

Jeff Sessions - Scott Glenn : Glenn gives Sessions a complicated humanity, which is a sign of his great skill as an actor, but completely at odds with reality. Underused in the film, Glenn's talents are squandered in favor of more generic characterizations.

Melania Trump - Nicole Kidman : Kidman goes all in and gives an Oscar worthy performance as Trump's conflicted trophy wife. Sadly, Kidman's great work is overshadowed by a shallow script and her co-star McConnaghey's Trumpian histrionics. Much like her marriage to Tom Cruise, Kidman deserves a much better fate.

Ivanka Trump - Brie Larson : Larson is out of place as Ivanka, and struggles to find any sense and rhythm with her performance, sort of like her work in Kong : Skull Island. But thankfully Larson is still able to let Casey Affleck know she disapproved of his winning an Oscar…a show of true courage…so there's that.

Jared Kushner - Emile Hirsch : Hirsch is an inconsistent actor, but he conjures up his best work as Kushner, combining his Christopher McCandless from Into The Wild and Johnny Truelove from Alpha Dog to create a luminous portrait of the enigmatic son-in-law.

 

BAD IDEA/STAR VERSION THAT MOST DEFINITELY MIGHT GET MADE

Directed by some low level guy desperate for a shot at the big time, but he…and it is always a HE…is hired for the sole purpose of being Tom Cruise's lackey. The film spends more than 100 times its budget on marketing…and the film reflects that. 

James Comey - Tom Cruise : Cruise is more than a foot shorter than Comey, but even when the sign says you must be this tall to ride, Cruise never lets that stop him (Jack Reacher). Cruise turns Comey into someone who runs a lot, he is either being chased, or chases after things a great deal, for no apparent reason, but Cruise likes to run in his movies so he demands it happen. More Border Collie than FBI director, Cruise's Comey is a cross between Brian Flanagan from Cocktail and Daniel Kaffee from A Few Good Men. As short as Cruise is, he seems even smaller playing Comey.

Donald Trump - Nic Cage : Cage envisions his Trump as his chance for a big comeback and goes all in. Covered in make-up, he gives a distractingly horrible performance, sort of a cross between…well…actually just like everything else he's ever done. Over-the-top and bombastic, with all the subtlety of an Elvis impersonator, Cage does the nearly impossible when he sinks even lower in the eyes of critics.

Mike Pence - Emilio Estevez : Estevez gives a nuanced, thoughtful and remarkably poignant performance as Mike Pence, and absolutely no one notices because he's Emilio Estevez and Tom Cruise and Nic Cage are on set. 

Jeff Sessions - Nathan Lane : Lane plays Sessions as almost identical to his character in The Birdcage, which delights liberals everywhere, and infuriates Trump and Sessions.  

Melania Trump - Emily Ratajkowski : Radakoski is much too young to play Melania, but no one cares because she does numerous nude scenes and everyone forgets about how awful this film is for a few, brief, glorious moments. 

Ivanka Trump - Emma Watson : Watson's Ivanka is Hermione without the wand...which is a pretty accurate portrayal of Trump's most favored off-spring.

Jared Kushner - Taylor Lautner : Lautner's Kushner takes his shirt off in nearly every scene, even the ones in the Oval Office. There is usually no rhyme or reason why he does it, he just does it, and it seems completely appropriate. Lautner, just like Kushner himself, is not allowed to speak in the film, only take his shirt off and do pull-ups. 

 

 

WILD CARDS

And now…some out of the box choices that could be very interesting if they were given the chance. Along with some interesting directors like Steve McQueen, Gus Van Sant, David Fincher or Darren Aronofsky, these make for some intriguing combinations. 
 

 

James Comey - Colin Firth : Firth doesn't look like Comey, but he is a master craftsmen as an actor, and he could flesh out the lanky G-man's  more conflicted and complex inner life as well as any actor out there.

Donald Trump - Sean Penn : Penn would have to wear a lot of make-up, but he could be phenomenal in the role. Penn's commitment and volatile energy would be mesmerizing to see as Trump. Especially opposite Daniel Day Lewis' Comey.

Donald Trump - Al Pacino : Pacino could capture the essence of Trump perfectly, the braggadocio, the bluster, the hollowness. Pacino at his best could even make Trump a sympathetic character, which would be a Herculean task, but a fascinating one to watch.

Melania Trump - Angelina Jolie : Angelina would be a brilliant choice, a powerful, beautiful and wise woman stuck being a trophy wife to a buffoon who is the most powerful man in the world. This role could spark Jolie's artistic renaissance.

Melania Trump - Amy Adams : Adams is able to portray an existential sadness and melancholy that is so captivating it mesmerizes, and Melania may be one of the saddest and most melancholy women walking the planet. A daring casting choice, but one that I think would pay off "Big League".

Mike Pence - Kenneth Branagh : Branagh could play Pence's false humility and stifled arrogance to perfection. Pence isn't so much King Henry V, but someone who thinks of themselves as Henry V.

Jeff Sessions - Mark Rylance : Rylance has a soft energy to him, but it conceals the fire breathing lion in his belly, which is just like Sessions, the southern gentlemen, who would eat his own young in order to gain power.

Ivanka Trump - Saoirse Ronan : Ronan is as good as it gets as an actress, and her Ivanka would no doubt be an intriguing and layered performance that would reveal more about Trump's iconic daughter than even Ivanka is aware.

Jared Kushner - Joaquin Phoenix : Phoenix would instantly make Jared a very complicated, troubled and captivating character to behold. Phoenix would make the Prince of Trumpdom one part Freddie Quell from The Master, and two parts Commodus from Gladiator. A daring, and original piece of casting that would elevate any film bold enough to undertake it.

DISASTERS IN WAITING

Here are some really bad ideas for casting this film, that are most certainly being considered by the morons running Hollywood. 

James Comey - Colin Farrell : The studio wants a star and no one else will sign on, so they go with Farrell because, just like Comey he has dark hair!! I like Colin Farrell, but this is a catastrophe waiting to happen. 

James Comey - Brad Garrett : Garrett is very tall, maybe even taller than Comey himself, so you know some studio dope thinks he is the "right fit" to play the part. Of course, Garrett is also the opposite of Comey in every single way and completely ill-prepared for the acting challenge portraying him would bring. That said, it would be wonderfully unintentionally funny.

Donald Trump - John Travolta : Travolta would think this is his ticket back to the big time so he would ham it up to the extreme, just like he did on the People v. OJ Simpson as Robert Shapiro. This would be just another opportunity for Travolta to embarrass himself…and I am sure he would take it.

Donald Trump - John Goodman : Goodman is adored by Hollywood for some weird reason, so he'll get a shot to audition for the role. And even if he's terrible, which he will be, they still might give him the gig because, hey…he's John Goodman!

Jeff Sessions - James Spader : Spader would bring his usual smugness to the role and little else, but damn, he is really good at smugness!!

Melania Trump - Sofia Vergara : Vergara has an accent and wears skimpy clothes, so she'd be perfect as Melania, or so the thinking goes. But the fact that she has a Latina accent and looks as Eastern European as Oprah Winfrey will not stop Hollywood from casting her.

Ivanka Trump - Juliana Hough : Finally, a role that will propel Hough to the stardom that Hollywood has been trying to create for her for years. The only problem is that Hough can't act and certainly couldn't bring Ivanka to life with any believability. 

Jared Kushner - Toby Maguire : Maguire's doe-eyed Kushner would be so underwhelming it might actually make the real Jared Kushner look vibrant and virile. 

BAD MADE-FOR-TV

And in conclusion…the cast of the made-for-TV version of The Comey Affair. This would most likely end up collecting dust on the Hallmark Channel.

James Comey - Josh Duhamel : Duhamel is tall…JUST LIKE COMEY!!! So he gets the part regardless of the fact that he is one of the most insipid actors walking the planet. 

Donald Trump - John Heard : Heard's work as Trump would make his dreadful performances in the Home Alone series look like Sir Laurence Olivier at his peak. To his credit, he has the physique for it. 

Mike Pence - William Peterson : Peterson has gray hair, so does Mike Pence! I actually am not sure if Peterson acts anymore as he is probably relaxing in his solid gold house and driving his rocket car…but if he wants the Pence part, it's his!

 

Jeff Sessions - Jim J. Bullock : Bullock has a southern accent…YOU'RE HIRED!!!

Melania Trump - Marg Helgenberger : Along with Peterson, this would be a nice reunion of the CSI gang, which might attract the older audience this tv version desires. 

Ivanka Trump - Kaley Cuoco : She stars on the number one sitcom in America!! Sign her up!!

Jared Kushner - Jim Parsons : Parson's Jared would actually be interesting to watch…of course it would be terribly written and shot so any worthwhile work he could muster would be drowned in a tidal wave of poop. 

Thus concludes my casting session for The Comey Affairbest case scenario...coming to a theatre near you Christmas Day 2017!!!! Or, worst case scenario, airing on the Hallmark channel Thanksgiving night!! 

Keep your feet on the ground and keep reaching for the stars America!! We'll see you at the movies!!

©2017

Suicide Squad : A Review

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

My Rating : 0.75 STARS OUT OF 5

My Recommendation : Skip it.

Suicide Squad, written and directed by David Ayer, is the third film in the recent DC comics cinematic universe (Man of Steel 2013, Batman v. Superman : Dawn of Justice 2016) which tells the story of a ragtag group of super-villains and anti-heroes who are thrown together to use their evil talents for good. The film stars Margot Robbie, Will Smith, Jared Leto and Viola Davis to name just a few.

Suicide Squad was released last week on the heels of last March's much maligned Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice. I was one of those rare breed of people who, thanks to very low expectations, actually liked Batman v. Superman. Granted, I didn't think it was Citizen Kane, but I did think it was better than the horrible press it had received. Within that context, I was tentatively excited to see Suicide Squad when it came out. After having seen the film, I must report that my excitement was terribly, terribly misguided.

To put it as succinctly as possible, Suicide Squad made me want to kill myself…or someone else, namely the people who made it. If writer/director David Ayer or any studio executives from Warner Brothers are found in a shallow grave out in the desert, or wash ashore on Venice beach, or are discovered crucified to a Suicide Squad billboard, you'll know who's behind it. I am not worried about openly admitting my future crime as I am sure I can O.J. my way out of a conviction simply by showing Suicide Squad to the jury. No doubt a "justifiable homicide" determination would quickly follow.

From its marketing and trailers, Suicide Squad appears to be an anarchy and mayhem fueled, wild-ride rebellion of a film, which is right up my twisted alley. Sadly, in reality it is a relentlessly conventional, dull and formulaic film. Watching Suicide Squad is like watching someone else play a video game for two hours. The film is so vacuous it is little more than a commercial for itself and the films that will no doubt follow it. It is so sluggish as to be suffocating and is totally devoid of any intrigue, originality or life. 

Even though the stars of this film are villains (Harley Quin, Joker, Deadshot et al), the film suffers from the lack of a credible and interesting foil to oppose these superstar anti-heroes. The enemy that the Suicide Squad faces is the "Enchantress", who is an ancient mystical being from deep in South America who has possessed the soul of a young archeologist named June Moon, remarkably poorly played by the wooden Cara Delevingne. The Enchantress' minions are the people she has taken control over and turned into what look like faceless asphalt people who have zero self preservation instincts. Doing battle with endless tidal waves of amorphous asphalt people is a good way to make a film feel like a video game, of which I am sure there will be one on the market in no time. In keeping with the rest of the film, the fight scenes are terribly monotonous, predictable and asinine. 

The film is so shallow and thoughtless that it repeats itself numerous times over with recurring shots, lines and sequences. If I had to see the asphalt people attack Special Forces soldier Rick Flag one more time, and the Suicide Squad want to let him die and then decide to save him with the line, "if he dies, WE die!" I was going to die…and take every poor bastard in the theatre with me. 

The script and story are absolutely incoherent and absurd. There are character changes of heart that come out of nowhere, such as the whole El Diablo character arc, and illogical and repetitive narrative choices that drive the story from one ditch to another. The feeling I get is that the original script was awful, then they brought in other writers to punch it up who made it even more awful, and then the studio heads put their two cents in and completed the mountain of poop for which they had just paid hundreds of millions of dollars. In the end it is just a giant stew of human, horse and dog shit haphazardly slapped together.

Were there any bright spots? Well…you have to look very very hard, but the unconscionably beautiful Margot Robbie does a great, if flawed job as Harley Quinn. Her accent comes and goes a bit, but she does develop an actual and intriguingly genuine character of depth. Jared Leto does an admirable job as the Joker even though he is terribly underused. Leto is following in the footsteps of the late Heath ledger's iconic performance as the Joker in The Dark Knight, so he has big, crazy shoes to fill. Leto's Joker is not a continuation of Ledger's (which is a mistake by the studio, but that is a story for another day), they are two totally separate entities from different DC universes, but Leto does the best he can with the very little what he's given. Leto's Joker is more ghetto gangster than Ledger's genius anarchist sociopath, but it works well enough. Truth is I think The Joker and Harley Quinn's story should have been it's own film. It is a pretty fascinating tale and both Robbie and Leto have the skill, talent and charisma to carry a film like that…especially if it is just a B story in a Batman v. Joker film, but obviously I am not as brilliant as the numb nuts running Warner Brothers so feel free to ignore my suggestions.

Another "good" part of Suicide Squad is actually very telling as to why the movie is so appalling, namely that Will Smith is one of the best things in it. I loathe Will Smith as an actor ( or 'rapper" for that matter). He is as contrived and manufactured as it gets. There is not a genuine bone or performance lurking anywhere in Will Smith's body. He does well in Suicide Squad though because he can pose and preen with just enough star power to make him seem at home on the big screen, which isn't always the case with all of the other actors, Robbie and Leto being the notable exceptions. Smith being a bright spot is a black spot for the film as it highlights the film's stultifying conventionalism. 

As for bad performances, there are many. Rick Flag is played by Joel Kinnaman and he is just atrociously dreadful. The only other thing I have seen him in is last seasons House of Cards, where he is equally dreadful, which makes me think Mr. Kinnaman is just a plain dreadful actor who has been the recipient of a charisma bypass. Did I mention how dreadfully dreadful his dreadful performance was? Speaking of dreadful, Viola Davis is unquestionably a great actress, she has been nominated for an Oscar and won an Emmy, this lady can act. But in Suicide Squad she is absolutely ghastly, just abominable. She is so wooden and lifeless I was worried she had suffered a major stroke during filming and was just being propped up in front of the camera and had special effects puppetry people moving her mouth for her. It was inconceivable to me prior to Suicide Squad that Viola Davis would be capable of being so appallingly bad in a role and so uncomfortable on screen, but sadly, Suicide Squad and director David Ayer brought Viola Davis to new lows.

The thing that I find so frustrating about Suicide Squad in particular, and the recent Warner Brothers - DC comics films in general, are that they really have the potential to be truly great. The source material is stellar, with the DC mythology being as psychologically rich and complex as any in modern storytelling. Yet Warner Brothers has stumbled all over itself on this recent spate of DC films. Why is that?

The biggest problem with the current crop of WB/DC films is that the studio has placed its trust in deeply flawed writers and directors like Zack Snyder and David Ayer. The earlier Dark Knight trilogy, which was so financially and critically successful, was directed by Christopher Nolan, an innovative and creative master. Snyder and Ayer are nowhere near the talent of a visionary like Christopher Nolan. In addition, the studio itself has meddled far too much with the films during every stage of production, creating a 'too many cooks in the kitchen' scenario. As limited as Snyder and Ayer are as filmmakers, and boy are they limited, it hamstrings them even more to have studio clowns sticking their fingers in every pie and adding salt to every soup. Nolan's films succeeded because they set out to tell a great story and make quality cinema. The recent DC films have failed because the studio has set out to make gobs of money while ignoring story, character and cinematic integrity.

What Suicide Squad and all the rest of the DC films need is a strong, ambitious and creative leader with a distinct visual and storytelling style at the helm to steer the ship. Watching Suicide Squad I couldn't help but think of David Fincher's iconic Fight Club, which is what Suicide Squad should have stylistically tried to emulate. Wrangling a top director like Fincher to sign on to direct or produce DC films would no doubt be a tough get, but something dramatic along those lines needs to be done in order to save this run of films, which is scheduled to go well into the next decade, from being a studio destroying debacle. Whoever the studio gets to try and right the ship, it is clear that Zack Snyder must go…and he needs to take David Ayer with him, but sadly, all signs point to Warner Brothers holding steady with Snyder and company running the show for the foreseeable future. 

The one positive that may come from this disastrous run of WB/DC films is that they may get so bad that a re-boot will be in order in our near future. Frankly, a re-boot is what they need. Get a top notch visionary to direct and/or produce the films and start over. Not all the errors of this Zack Snyder run can be corrected, such as the decision to not continue the story lines and universe of Nolan's Dark Knight trilogy and expanding from there, but many of them can be corrected. For instance, Suicide Squad should have been made much further down the road in the series of DC films Warner Brothers is making. You need to establish the characters who star in Suicide Squad as villains in other films before you lump them all together in a big group film. WB, not surprisingly, got all of that backwards, while the folks over at Disney/Marvel have done it perfectly. 

In the end, Suicide Squad is making a ton of money, but it is fools gold. The studio may think they have a golden goose in their DC properties, but audiences will only tolerate so much garbage before the whole house of cards collapses. Warner Brothers is headed for a harsh reckoning in regards to their DC films, and the corporate bloodbath that will unfold will be eminently more entertaining than the slop they are putting on screen to sell to the public now.

In conclusion, Suicide Squad is a terrible waste of a film. It is an incoherent, tedious and annoying mess of a movie. Don't waste your money by seeing it in the theaters, and don't waste your time seeing it anywhere else for free. You'd be better served, and more entertained sticking your head in an oven for two hours than sitting in front of this dog of a movie for single second. 

©2016

 

The Big Short : A Review, a Diagnosis and a Warning

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ESTIMATED READING TIME: TEN MINUTES

 

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

 

MY RATING: SEE IT IN THE THEATRE!

 

"IT AIN'T WHAT YOU DON'T KNOW THAT GETS YOU IN TROUBLE, IT'S WHAT YOU KNOW FOR SURE THAT JUST AIN'T SO." - MARK TWAIN

The Big Short, directed by Adam Mckay and written by McKay and Charles Randolph (based on the book The Big Short by Michael Lewis), is the story of a collection of men who foresaw the financial collapse of 2007/2008 and bet big against the housing bubble and Wall Street and won.

The Big Short is a truly remarkable film, without a doubt one of the very best of the year. It takes the difficult and complex subject of finance in general, and the collapse of 2007/2008 in particular, and not only breaks it down into understandable pieces, but does so in an extremely entertaining and insightful way.

When The Big Short ended and the credits rolled, I was curious as to who directed the film. I was stunned when I saw that Adam McKay, of all people, had directed it. Prior to The Big Short,  Adam McKay was better known as Will Ferrell's director, having been at the helm for the Ferrell films Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy, Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby, Stepbrothers, and Anchorman 2 : The Legend Continues. In my mind, directing a singular comedic talent like Will Ferrell amounts to turning on the cameras and getting out of the way. It was previously unthinkable that a director with Adam McKay's resume would have the skill to make a film as impeccably crafted as The Big Short. McKay's direction is nothing short of masterful. McKay is able to flawlessly weave together the multiple, complicated narratives of the film, all while never losing the mesmerizing pace of the story. He shows a tremendously deft touch even with the most minor of scenes and lets the visuals tell as much of the story as the dialogue. 

There is a subtlety and specificity to McKay's direction that speaks volumes to his talent and vision. Two sequences stand out in this respect. The first is when we see a brief daytime long shot of Las Vegas with a freeway in the foreground where a homeless man urinates in the shadows of the traffic. The man, with his shopping cart filled with his possessions by his side, is barely visible in the shot, but that is the point, because those obliviously driving by him on the freeway above are blind to his plight and the one that awaits them as well.

The second shot is of a man and his family, who we meet very briefly earlier in the film, evicted from their rental home because of a landlord who gets foreclosed upon. The family now live in their van parked at a convenience store. This scene, which is visuals accompanied by a voice-over not directly connected to the action, shows a little boy running away from the family van. The shot is maybe three seconds long, but it stops your heart it is so well done. This shot cinematically conveys to the viewer absolutely everything they need to know, and all without a word. It shows how vulnerable and dangerous life is for people on the margins in America. My reaction to that brief shot was visceral…how could it not be? The shot is so quick you can only react to it on a gut level, and at that level, you instantly fear that the little boy will run into traffic. That shot connects the bigger story of The Big Short, to the human story of those devastated by the housing collapse. That little boy is in danger and it is because of the shenanigans of the big banks. These two shots/sequences are the type of small details that make all the difference in a film, and they highlight Adam McKay's exquisite direction of The Big Short.

The acting in the film is solid across the board. Ryan Gosling easily does the best work of his career as Jared Vennett, a bond salesman at Deutsche bank. He gives a funny, dynamic and charismatic performance that is the engine driving the film forward. Steve Carrell does exhaustive work playing the unlikable but ultimately compelling Michael Baum, the manager of a hedge fund whom Vennett approaches to invest against the housing market. Christian Bale gives a layered and intricate performance as Dr. Michael Burry, the eccentrically awkward mastermind who uncovers the fraud at the heart of the housing bubble. Brad Pitt brings a surprising gravity and humanity to the film as former JP Morgan trader Ben Rickert, and acts as a counterbalance to Gosling's fast talking and ego-driven Vennet. The rest of the cast is superb as well, with Hamish Linklater, Rafe Spall, Jeremy Strong, Max Greenfield and Billy Magnussen among others who all do standout work.

"TRUTH IS LIKE POETRY, AND MOST PEOPLE HATE POETRY" - OVERHEARD AT A WASHINGTON, D.C. BAR

I saw The Big Short in the theatre on the same day that I saw Spotlight. This was just by coincidence, but in hindsight it is easy to see that the movies are actually companion pieces. They have a lot in common as both The Big Short and Spotlight are flawlessly crafted films. Both pictures are superbly written, acted, directed, shot and edited. In addition both The Big Short and Spotlight explore similar themes, namely institutional blindness, perverted forms of religion, and the moral and ethical rot at the center of American life. 

"TO SEE WHAT IS IN FRONT OF ONE'S NOSE NEEDS A CONSTANT STRUGGLE." - GEORGE ORWELL

The institutional blindness on display in The Big Short runs not only through Wall Street, but also the media and Washington. When you hear talking heads on television say that no one saw the financial collapse of 2007-2008 coming, realize that this is just one more form of that blindness. Hindsight is usually 20/20, but not when you are unable to admit you were catastrophically wrong in the first place. As the great American Prophet (or is it Profit?) Dr. Phil is fond of saying, "you can't change what you don't acknowledge"…you're god-damned right about that, good doctor. Besides the characters at the center of The Big Short, there were other people who saw the collapse coming too, but they were the "wrong" people, so no one listened to them. Hell, even a clueless dope like me saw it coming. Ask my poor clients who had to listen to me ramble on and on about it day after day. Of course, most of those clients, and most of my friends, just nodded politely at my ramblings and ignored them…and lost a ton of money. I, and a very tight circle of friends, ended up being right not because we were geniuses, God and you dear reader know that isn't true, but rather because we weren't infected by the mania brought on by the lure of easy money that had gripped, and still grips, the nation. One of the glaring symptoms of this mania is that it brings with it a greed-induced frenzy that makes it, to paraphrase Orwell, 'hard to see what is right in front of your nose'.

The institutional blindness at the core of American capitalism comes from years of uncritical thinking from the people inside its foundational institutions. No one at any level of the American capitalism food chain, from University economics and finance departments, to the media to government to Wall street, dare question the basic premise of American capitalism because it has become a most-holy, sacred religion. This religion deems insatiable greed not only healthy for the economy, but a "good" and worthy attribute for everyone. This new church of American capitalism found a cinematic saint in Gordon Gekko in Oliver Stone's 1987 film Wall Street, but St. Gordon was just preaching the gospel of the semi-non-fictional Saint Ronald Reagan from the early 1980's. Both St. Gordon and St. Ronnie were followed by free market saint and snake oil salesman extraordinaire, Bill Clinton in the 90's, who cleared the way for "unfettered, free-market capitalism" to take a giant shit on all of us.

"THE CAPITALIST WILL SELL YOU THE ROPE WITH WHICH YOU INTEND TO HANG HIM" - VLADIMIR LENNIN

Ask anyone with an advanced degree in economics or finance if during their long years of schooling they ever had to take a course on an alternative economic system to capitalism. The answer will be a resounding "no". That is not to say that socialism or communism or any other "ism" is better than American capitalism. But it is to say that when people are taught, or more accurately, conditioned, to NOT think critically about their economic system (or anything else for that matter), then that system stops being an economic one and starts being a religious one. Religion is based on faith and to its faithful adherents, is beyond reproach…see Spotlight as evidence of that. When something as profane as American capitalism becomes sanctified, corruption and collapse are sure to follow, just as it did with Soviet "socialism". With religion comes magical thinking, and so it is with American capitalism, which must contort reality in order to reinforce its faith based belief system. So we get deformed and distorted economic information from the powers that be because they must keep the house of cards standing at all cost. The Big Short humorously shows how while the underlying mortgages crumbled, the mortgage backed securities made up of those same bad mortgages actually went up. That is what happens in religion when reality doesn't conform to the sacred belief system, magical thinking kicks in and…MIRACLES OCCUR…up can become down, black can become white, or as those of us living in reality say…FRAUD HAPPENS. This charade of American capitalism can only last so long, as reality has a funny way of cutting through the bullshit of magical thinking and kicking you right in the nuts…just ask Lehman Brothers or Bear Stearns.

"TELL ME THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN STUPID AND ILLEGAL AND I'LL HAVE MY WIFE'S BROTHER ARRESTED" - JARED VENNET, THE BIG SHORT

See, in American capitalism, fraud is not a bug, but a feature, it is baked into the cake. Fraud and magical thinking are at the very heart of American capitalism. The fraud that runs rampant is easy to see.  We have all of the big banks rigging bids on municipal bonds and bilking every city in the nation for billions of dollars. Then we have Royal Bank of Scotland, HSBC, JP Morgan Chase, Barclays, Bank of America, UBS and Citigroup and the LIBOR scandal, where they manipulated the world's interest rates and in so doing a good portion of the world's economy. Then there is the fraud on display in The Big Short where big banks defrauded their customers in order to cover their asses as the mortgage market tumbled. This doesn't even touch upon the criminality of banks laundering money for drug cartels, or rate-rigging the currency rates

In all of these scandals, no one was sent to prison. No one was held criminally liable. The Banks simply paid a fine, sometimes in the billions of dollars, but never had to admit to wrong doing. This is the casino-gulag business model, banks make $10 billion in fraud and only pay $1 billion in fines. That is a pretty good deal if you can get it…and the big banks know how to get it.

I had a conversation recently with an older friend, very conservative, who told me that he was "sick and tired of all the big bank bashing" because Wall Street "creates a lot jobs and a lot of wealth". I nodded politely so as to not offend his religious belief in American capitalism. The reality is that Wall Street, like Las Vegas, "creates" nothing, but they do "engineer" more gambling opportunities where the house always wins, and the concept of "the common good" never has to rear its ugly head.

"THE IGNORANT MIND, WITH ITS INFINITE AFFLICTIONS, PASSIONS AND EVILS, IS ROOTED IN THE THREE POISONS. GREED, ANGER AND DELUSION." - BODHIDHARMA

This taps into the moral and ethical rot at the center of America. Wall Street and Main Street, both infected with an insatiable greed, no longer invest, they speculate. The myopic greed and lure of easy money that has infested America makes corporations and regular people cut off their nose to spite their face, all in the name of higher short-term earnings and to the detriment of the long term, the common good and common sense. This is no way to run a company, or a country…but it's what is happening all around us. We have CEO's who mine their company for short term profits, which often times includes profit through fraud, in order to appease shareholders and get their bonuses before moving on, all the while ignoring the long term health of their business. The same is true of government, where politicians ignore the long term health of the country in favor of the short term health of their political careers and the next election. Regular Jane's and Joe's did the same thing by "flipping" houses and trying to run with the wolves on Wall Street…but found out the hard way that it is a rigged game. Now, they do the same thing in a different way by going into debt just to pay their bills month to month. This myopic approach to finance, politics and life, can only last so long before the bill comes due. Robbing Peter to pay Paul only ends up, at best, with either Peter or Paul breaking your thumbs, or at worst, with the two of them burying you in a shallow grave out in the desert.

The Church of American Capitalism and the moral and ethical rot that comes with it, has also infected American Christianity in the form of the "Prosperity Gospel". This Prosperity Gospel is the perfect symbol for the lascivious and lecherous greed, that like a cancer, has metastasized through all walks of American life and bastardized Christianity into little more than Santa Claus for adults. Turning greed into spirituality and religion is the last straw in the fall of the moral underpinnings of any nation and its people. Gordon Gekko once said, "Greed is good", but the Prosperity Gospel of the Church of American Capitalism teaches , "Greed is God".

"WHENEVER I WATCH TV AND SEE THOSE POOR STARVING KIDS ALL OVER THE WORLD, I CAN'T HELP BUT CRY. I MEAN I'D LOVE TO BE SKINNY LIKE THAT, BUT NOT WITH ALL THOSE FLIES AND DEATH AND STUFF." - MARIAH CAREY

The other religion, besides the church of American capitalism and greed, so masterfully on display in The Big Short, is the uniquely American religion of Celebrity. Director McKay wisely uses famous people to talk directly to the audience and explain complicated financial terms and processes. This has a dual effect, one, it breaks down the complex language of finance which Wall Street uses to make people think only they can do this stuff, terms like Collateralized Debt Obligations (CDO), Mortgage Backed Security (MBS), and Credit Default Swap (CDS), into language the layman can understand. Two, it surreptitiously tweaks the audience for being so mindless as to only pay attention when a celebrity is talking. The celebrities involved, Margot Robbie, Selena Gomez and chef Anthony Bourdain, all get the point across both on the surface level of explaining the information, but also on the subversive level of proving the audience as suckers for the famous, a.k.a. high priests and priestesses of the Church of American Celebrity. If Collateralized Debt Obligations, Mortgage Backed Securities and Credit Default Swaps were explained by some dry academic, people would, as they've been trained to do, instantly tune out, but when it is done by Margot Robbie in a bubble bath…attention will most surely be paid. 

"WE FORGET THAT THE WATER CYCLE AND THE LIFE CYCLE ARE ONE." - JACQUE COUSTEAU

Speaking of bubble baths…at the end of the movie, there is an update on what the main characters are up to since their big short paid off. We are informed that Dr. Michael Burry, who closed his hedge fund right after the collapse of 2007/08, now focuses his investments on one commodity…water. This is pretty interesting because running throughout the film there is a very subtle subtext about water. If you watch the film again, pay attention when water is in a shot (like Ms. Robbie's bubble bath cameo), what characters drink it and when they drink it. There is one scene where Dr. Burry, while talking about shorting the housing market, chokes on a swig of water from a bottle, which, knowing the context of his later investing work, is very intriguing. Another scene involves a swimming pool with an unwanted reptilian guest lurking in it behind an abandoned Florida house. The house no doubt abandoned because of the "gully" (definition of a "gully" is "a water worn ravine") in the housing market. That scene is juxtaposed with a scene of a lavish swimming pool at Caesar's Palace, which is populated by investment bankers (from Goldman Sachs!!) and a woman from the SEC. Gators, bankers and feds…oh my!!! Water is the hidden secret within The Big Short, and the secret about water in today's world is that it will soon replace oil as the commodity over which we go to war.

"EVERYONE, DEEP IN THEIR HEARTS, IS WAITING FOR THE END OF THE WORLD TO COME." - HARUKI MURAKAMI

In conclusion, The Big Short is a phenomenal, must-see film, that shows us what went catastrophically wrong back in 2007/2008, and what is still wrong with our system. It is up to us to break free from the magical thinking brought on by the Church of American capitalism, and the distraction from thinking brought on by the Church of American Celebrity, and to see the truth that sits right in front of our nose…the American financial system is not only fundamentally and structurally flawed, it is irreparably broken and untenable. The house of cards is coming down whether we are ready for it or not…it isn't a matter of if…it is a matter of when. You can either prepare for the coming tsunami* or not, that is up to you…but what you cannot do this time around...is say that no one told you it was coming. 

*See what I did there? Tsunami…water? C'mon..pay attention!!!

©2016