"Everything is as it should be."

                                                                                  - Benjamin Purcell Morris

 

 

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The Amazing Jonathan Documentary: A Review

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

My Rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars

My Recommendation: SKIP IT/SEE IT. This film is mildly amusing but lack any and all insight into it’s subject.

The Amazing Jonathan Documentary, directed by Ben Berman, chronicles the difficulties of making a documentary about the moderately famous magician/prop comic, Amazing Jonathan, as he mounts a comeback while suffering from a terminal medical condition. The film is currently streaming on Hulu.

Jonathan Szeles, otherwise known as The Amazing Jonathan, is a third rate, c-level comedian who hit it big and became a Vegas mainstay with his relentless and hackneyed magic-comedy. From 2001 to 2014 he was a year-round headliner in the City of Sin and made a nice fortune for himself doing so. In 2014 he was diagnosed with a heart condition and given one year to live…so he retired from performing. Four years later he was still alive and so decided to head back out and do some more shows, and director Ben Berman decided to document it all.

The Amazing Jonathan Documentary is a film about desperation, the desperation of Jonathan to find meaning and purpose in the last years of his life, and the desperation of Ben Berman not only to find a story to tell when the truth is elusive, but to make a name for himself.

The Amazing Jonathan is an amusing persona, and getting a glimpse into this character’s supposed reality is often-times chuckle-inducing. Amazing Jonathan is, to put it mildly, detached from objective reality, and our brief jaunts through his subjective reality are certainly revealing of the oddity of his peculiar head space.

The problem though is that documentarian Ben Berman only gives us ever-so-brief glimpses into the persona of The Amazing Jonathan, but never breaks through the armor of that veneer and gives us the Jonathan Szeles living deep with in it. In this way the film is little more than a reality tv show that gives viewers canned and manipulated “performances’ and considers them to be “truth”.

In addition, Berman must deal with a series of absurdities regarding the actual film making process, and thus must scramble to adapt to new circumstances and try and cobble together a coherent narrative. Berman fails to overcome these obstacles for a variety of reasons, the most glaring is that instead of keeping the film focused on Jonathan, he makes the film about himself.

Berman switches mid-way through the film to using ham-fisted attempts at personal poignancy, psychological profundity and displays of artistic despair, in order to fill in the gaps of the story due to his inadequacies as a documentarian. These Berman performative sequences all ring hollow, manufactured and exploitative and radiate with an odious shamelessness. In short, Berman comes across as a very bad actor, and yet he tries to make himself the star of his movie because he thinks he is so interesting despite his obvious lack of charisma and likability.

Berman’s attempt at participatory documentary film making feels painfully self-serving and narcissisticly masturbatorial. In order to pull off this style of documentary film making, the director must be a unique yet pleasant character, think Michael Moore or Morgan Spurlock, not a nebbish desperate for attention, which is how Ben Berman, who is neither unique nor pleasant and is no Michael Moore or Morgan Suprlock, comes across. Berman goes to such great lengths to make a spectacle of himself in this film that when it isn’t painfully embarrassing it is plain annoying. The film devolves to become such a self-serving enterprise that Berman basically turns it into a blatant job interview.

The behind the scenes, movie making insider stuff, will no doubt resonate with anyone who has ever made a movie, particularly a documentary. Jonathan is an erratic nightmare of a subject, and Berman being stuck in his house of horrors does deliver some comedy, but that doesn’t make it even remotely insightful or worthwhile. Watching Jonathan torture Berman is satisfying on a sadistic level for the viewer and a masochistic level for Berman, but we came here to try and understand Jonathan, and none of that stuff gives us any deeper understanding of who he really is or what drives him.

What is so frustrating about The Amazing Jonathan Documentary is that Berman’s narcissistic focus distracts from Jonathan, and leaves his story, in essence, untold. I was left with a nagging feeling after watching this movie that, as difficult a nut as Jonathan is to crack, a more talented, more skilled, more dedicated and less vain film maker would have been able to break through and expose the actual truth about Jonathan. In essence this film is a documentation of Berman’s utter failure to do his job, which is to peel back the layers of The Amazing Jonathan and reveal the complexity and truth at the core of this strange and twisted man. Instead Berman gives us his reactions and responses to dealing with a difficult and temperamental performer…oooh…how groundbreaking….we’d get better insights watching The Bachelorette.

In conclusion, The Amazing Jonathan Documentary is an occasionally intriguing, but ultimately underwhelming documentary experience. Sadly, while the film is amusing in parts and absurd in others, it all feels a bit too self-serving and contrived to be of any genuine value. That said, if you work in the entertainment industry or on documentary films, you will probably appreciate the movie a bit more than the average Joe only because you will have had, at least once, similarly bizarre experiences with obliviously entitled talent.

©2019

American Factory: A Review and Commentary

****THIS REVIEW CONTAINS MINOR MOVIE INFORMATION/SPOILERS!! CONSIDER THIS YOUR OFFICIAL SPOILER ALERT!!****

My Rating: 3 out 5 stars

My Recommendation: SEE IT. See it just to see the depressing and fast-approaching future for all American workers…and to see the consequences of America’s pro-corporate/globalist policies over the last forty years.

American Factory directed by Steven Bognar and Julie Reichert, is a documentary that chronicles the trials and tribulations of a Chinese company, Fuyao, opening a factory in Dayton, Ohio. The film is the first to be distributed by Barack and Michelle Obama’s production company Higher Ground, and is currently streaming on Netflix.

American Factory is an infuriating film that will surely get your nativist hackles up and leave you red…white and blue with anger…I know it did with me. It is nearly impossible to watch this film and not walk away loathing the American working class for their self-sabotaging stupidity, the American ruling class for their avarice and corruption, and China and Chinese nationals for their arrogance, condescension and all-around disgusting deception.

The film starts with the closing of a GM plant outside of Dayton in 2008, allegedly due to the economic collapse. My biggest problem with this film is revealed in that simple assertion of blame because it is supposed to give context but is actually entirely, and deceptively, devoid of context. You cannot tell the story of American Factory and Fuyao’s move into Dayton without explaining the fertile ground upon which that story takes root. That fertile ground is the blood-soaked soil of post-organized labor America, and it began to take shape during the Reagan presidency when blue collar union workers voted for the flag-waving Republican former B-movie actor en-masse in 1980, and then Reagan swiftly turned around meticulously went about destroying organized labor in America.

The ground was further fertilized when Democrat Bill Clinton came to office in the 90’s and proceeded to do to America’s manufacturing base what Reagan did to organized labor…destroy it. Clinton signed the North American Free Trade Agreement which was a boon for the investor class and ruling elites but was like a nuclear bomb dropped on blue collar workers and the working class in America. Manufacturing jobs fled the U.S. and in their wake left former bustling cities and towns looking like Hiroshima and Nagasaki after World War II. The American worker has never recovered from the back to back Reagan-Clinton double devastation.

To add insult to injury Americans followed up the disaster of Clinton by deciding they had to suffer through the even more pro-globalist, pro-business, pro-investor class, pro-ruling elite administration of George W. Bush. The Bush regime’s tenure was such an economic holocaust that it not only left the working class and blue collar workers in a pile of steaming rubble, but obliterated the middle-class and once prosperous middle-class neighborhoods with the housing bubble and subsequent collapse, followed by prodigious corporate bail outs.

The final bit of context is that this film is distributed by Barrack Obama’s new production company Higher Ground…and he has some nerve attaching himself to this movie as it is the equivalent of O.J. Simpson’s production company Good Husband distributing the Oscar winning documentary O.J.: Made in America. Obama is just as responsible for the cataclysm that American workers face today as his despicable predecessors Reagan, Clinton and Bush II. It is astonishing that Obama is getting praise for distributing this documentary highlighting the plight of working class Americans, when…you know…he could’ve done something to actually help them during the eight years he was President of the United States but chose to side with Wall Street instead.

When Obama came into office the economy was in ruins and he had the greatest opportunity of any president since FDR to make significant and lasting structural changes…but instead he chose to double down on business as usual and backed the Bush TARP plan and appointed to his administration or took on as his advisors globalist, neo-liberal, free trade, deregulating Wall Street whores like Little Timmy Geithner, Larry Summers and Robert Rubin and his acolytes, the same pricks who were responsible for the economic collapse in the first place. Obama chose to bail out corporations and shareholders and as a result they got richer, and everyone else got a whole lot poorer, and he also chose not to go after the Wall Street criminals who created the whole mess (or the Bush war criminals…but that is a story for another day).

Obama proved with his handling of the economic crisis and healthcare that he is a really disgusting charlatan who ran on “hope and change” but ruled on “fuck the working people”, just like his predecessors. Liberals and Democrats desperately need to disabuse themselves of the notion that Obama is a “good guy” and was a good president. A good way to do that is to watch the Flint, Michigan section of Michael Moore’s film Fahrenheit 11/9, and to educate yourself on Obama’s pro-corporate/globalist economics and then watch American Factory.

Once you have the genuine context for American Factory in place, then you can understand and become enraged by the same man, Obama, who along with his fellow establishment errands boys Reagan, Clinton and Bush, caused this catastrophe, having the temerity to comment on the horror of it.

American Factory shows America being colonized by not only foreign money, but foreign workers and foreign work culture. The globalist/NAFTA induced exodus of American manufacturing jobs in the 90’s to the cheap labor havens in China and elsewhere, hollowed out America and now foreign investors are coming in like carrion to pick away at the corpse. The systematic de-unionization of the American worker is now being exploited by billionaires, in this case a Chinese one, who come to our country and openly and blatantly shit on American workers, American culture and America…and we not only let them, we give them titanic tax breaks to thank them for it.

The American workers at the Fuyao plant in Toledo reveal themselves to be just as cowardly as the men in government who put them in this situation. The Chinese nationals treat these American workers with such disrespect and disdain that it is both shocking and repugnant. The Chinese nationals do the same to American laws as they routinely ignore environmental and work place safety laws, putting American employees at great risk. And if someone gets hurt on the job? Fuck them…they are fired.

The workers are so scared, so frightened and so weak after forty years of Reagan/Clinton/Bush/Obama, that they are totally devoid of any backbone. These workers should be ashamed of themselves for rolling over like dogs to these repugnant and despicable Chinese invaders. The shots of American workers groveling as they shake hands with the piggish billionaire owner of Fuyao, the grotesque Cao Dewang, who fancies himself a modern-day capitalist version of Chairman Mao, is revolting. One of Dewang’s most illuminating moments of assholery comes when American workers ever so gently resist against his authoritarian rule and he blames it on their anti-Chinese racism…classic. How does no one take a wrench to this vile asshole’s head and crack it wide open? How do none of the American workers show their Chinese overlords what a good old American beating looks like? Yes, they would lose their jobs and maybe go to jail, but at least they’d send a message to their enemies that Americans still have some self-respect, dignity and balls…for as the saying goes, “it is better to die on your feet than to live on your knees.”

The most infuriating thing about this film is watching the American workers expose themselves for their staggering stupidity and weakness. How can anyone do anything so dumb as to trust any company, nevermind a Chinese one, to do the right and treat their employees well? How can anyone be so stupid…so mind-numbingly stupid, as to vote away their only chance at leverage and give away their only weapon?

I hate to say this but it needs to be said…if you are that stupid and that weak that you cannot stand up to your oppressors, cannot think strategically and tactically, not only don’t vote to empower yourself but vote to disarm and neuter yourself, and are so gullible as to put your trust into a corporation after watching corporations rape working people over the last forty years, then you deserve the shit sandwich you are being force-fed.

American Factory does a lot to reinforce negative stereotypes of both the Chinese and Americans, it does this by only giving viewers a shallow glimpse into the people living out this culture clash.

The Chinese workers are shown to be slavishly dedicated to their country and company over family, single-mindedly disciplined, and diabolically deceptive. The Chinese nationals are shown as two-faced rats, conspiring to destroy their American counterparts. The Chinese nationals are proud to take advantage of American hospitality by befriending American workers for the sole purpose of gaining disparaging information on them in order to ultimately fire them.

American workers fair no better in the film. The American workers who go to China do everything they can to reinforce the stereotype of the fat, lazy American, which the Chinese already whole-heartedly believe. For instance, when the American workers go to a corporate meeting in China they waddle in wearing sports and concert t-shirts and looking overall like a disheveled collection of complete and total unprofessional shlubs.

The American worker’s time in China is like a bad SNL skit come to life life. It is astounding that these embarrassments lack the intelligence and social grace to understand that maybe they should put their best foot forward and at least wear a button down shirt and try to carry themselves with some remote semblance of dignity.

Nothing is so cringe worthy as the fat, weepy American who gets emotional watching a bizarre group wedding during an event at corporate headquarters. This blubbering jackass ends up being consoled by a bunch of incredulous Chinese workers who look at him like he is some comic American mascot, like the Philly Fanatic or something, that has gone insane.

American Factory shows that America’s demise is undeniable. The workers in this film are symbolic of America, they prove themselves to be worthless and weak. God help us if we ever get into a shooting war with China because they will absolutely kick our fat, stupid asses. That is the thing that becomes crystal clear while watching American Factory, that we actually are at war with China right now, but only China seems to know and acknowledge this. The Chinese workers in America are soldiers on the front line for China, and they have knives sharpened and ready to plunge into American’s backs at the first chance they get, but the Americans are oblivious and have been softened by relentless conditioning to do nothing but repeat soft platitudes about how “ we are all one”.

I actually have great respect for these Chinese workers and their patriotism and devotion to China, as well as China’s commitment to its long term strategy to dismantle American economic and global hegemony, I just wish it didn’t come at the expense of my country. I also wish that the U.S. had the same level of dedication, discipline and forethought that China does, and instead of fighting against its working people, fought for them.

The most insidious of the Chinese nationals highlighted in American Factory is the new president of the Toledo operation, Jeff Liu, who has lived more than half of his life in America (and may actually be a citizen, it is unclear) but absolutely despises America and Americans. To be clear, Liu is an enemy of the American people in every way, shape and form, and deserves to be dragged out of his office and beaten senseless by an angry mob of Ohioans. Liu is a walking advertisement to severely restrict immigration, even legal immigration, into America. Our top colleges and universities are overflowing with students from China who come here to get an education only to then turn around and use it as a weapon for China to undermine this country. American Factory exposes this deadly deception and charade, it is like the Lenin maxim that “the capitalist will sell you the rope with which you intend to hang him” brought to life in Technicolor.

It isn’t just the Chinese nationals who are revealed to be duplicitous, as there are numerous American traitors in Fuyao management who sell their soul and side with the Chinese in their struggle against American workers. I would also be willing to bet that American elites and those on Wall Street and in the management/investor class will watch this movie and deeply empathize with Cao Dewang and his struggles to run a business and not with their fellow Americans and their desperate struggle simply to survive.

The war waged on American workers isn’t only being waged by the Chinese but across the board by all in management, the investor class and the ruling elite. As the end of the film shows, all workers are under siege and the race to make them obsolete and entirely expendable is well under way. The dream of management and the elite is to make the American worker an extinct species, and with the unions a perilously endangered species, extinction for all American workers is becoming more and more inevitable. The dream of the ruling class will be a nightmare for the rest of us.

In terms of the actual filmmaking on display, American Factory is a good…but not great, film. The film is nicely paced and does a good job of not interfering with the subject it is documenting, but the failure to adequately give proper context to the struggle playing out on screen undermines the film’s credibility and impact. The film also gives us glimpses into different peoples, both American and Chinese, and their lives around the factory, but these glimpses are much too short and shallow to give us any insight beyond caricature, and thus we are left with stereotypes and not insight.

In conclusion, this film is unintentionally an indictment of the establishment and the globalist, pro-business, pro-free trade, anti-union politicians and media elite who are responsible for the carnage that has devastated the American worker. I can’t imagine that anyone with half a brain in their head and a functioning heart in their chests could watch this film and not, at least once, throw something at their television screen. If you want to see the not-so-distant future of all America and the present day reality for blue collar workers and how Reagan, Clinton, Bush and Obama used free trade, unfettered immigration, both legal and illegal, and deregulation to turn first world America into a third world country…go watch American Factory (and the Flint section of Fahrenheit 11/9)…and remember the person who is distributing this film is complicit in the calamity documented within it.

©2019