"Everything is as it should be."

                                                                                  - Benjamin Purcell Morris

 

 

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

2018 Mid-Term Elections

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


©2018

The Hateful Eight : A Review

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

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

*(unless you are an avid lover of lush cinematography, in that case go see it in anamorphic 70mm in the theatre)

The Hateful Eight is enigmatic writer and director Quentin Tarantino's eighth feature film. It is the story of eight seeming strangers seeking refuge from a blizzard in a stagecoach stopover in post-civil war Wyoming. The film boasts an all-star cast of Samuel L. Jackson, Kurt Russell, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Tim Roth, Michael Madsen, Damien Bashir, Walter Goggins and Bruce Dern.

The Hateful Eight has been distributed in two different versions, one version, the "general", runs 167 minutes and is shown in regular 35 mm. The other version is the "Roadshow" version, which has a running time of 187 minutes, and is shown in theaters specially equipped with anamorphic 70mm projectors, in order to show the film "as it was intended" by Tarantino, in 70mm, widescreen format. I saw the "Roadshow" version, which actually runs 210 minutes due to an overture to open the film and a twelve minute intermission. Like many of Tarantino's films, this story is told in chapters. There are six chapters, and the intermission came between chapters 3 and 4.

While I have loved some of his films, I am not one of those fan boys who worships Tarantino. I find his work to be at times brilliant and at other times appalling, sometimes within the same film. I loved Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction but thought Jackie Brown was one of the sloppiest and worst films I had seen in years. I was stunned by the audacious genius of the two masterful Kill Bill films. I was repulsed by the brazen pandering and artistic imbalance of Inglorious Basterds, even while being mesmerized by two scenes in it which were two of the best scenes I'd seen in recent memory. I thought Django Unchained was, minus a clumsy cameo by its director, a masterpiece. 

The Hateful Eight is a frustrating and sometimes infuriating film. The first half of the film, where we meet the eight characters, is well done and accentuates Tarantino's strength as a writer and a director. The first half wonderfully builds characters and a story that leave the viewer in a heightened state of anticipation as they walk out for intermission. Sadly, after the intermission, the film never lives up to its premise, promise and set-up. The second half of the film devolves into a tangled and uneven mess of Tarantino's worst, unfocused impulses.

Without getting into specifics or divulging any 'spoilers', the second half of the film feels lost and rushed, like Tarantino is attempting to cover the holes in his own storytelling. He uses a voice-over for the first time in the film right after the intermission to fill in the gaps of his narrative and it is jarring for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is that Tarantino does the voice over himself. The voice-over signals we are transitioning to not only a different (and lesser) film, but also a different type of film. The confidence, subtlety, and deft touch on display in the first half of the film vanish and we are left with a writer/director struggling and failing to come up with something interesting to say and do. The film flails around trying to be daring and bold but it only stumbles over it's own self-satisfying and delusional narcissism.

What the film is really about is not the intrigue of eight people stuck in a cabin to ride out a blizzard wondering who among them are the good guys and who the bad, but rather it is about race in America. This is a noble and complicated theme for any film maker to tackle, but in the hands of Tarantino this time out, it is like a gun in the hands of a toddler. The examination of race is shallow and sophomoric at best and repugnant at worst. The racial theme, like everything else in the script, seems to be a rushed add on used to fill in space and add the illusion of depth rather than a genuine topic of examination and exploration.

The Hateful Eight also contains some very basic storytelling and myth making errors. There is one monologue in particular, by Sam Jackson's character Major Marquis Warren, that is so repulsive it ends up working at cross purposes with the films narrative structure, which requires the audience to attach themselves to Major Warren and to root for him. This monologue is well done by Jackson the actor, but poorly done by Tarantino the writer and director, who intersperses visuals throughout Jackson's speech which end up undermining it, much like the speech itself undermines the viewers empathy with Major Warren. The monologue, like much of the script, feels like a first draft that was written by a freshman film student at a second rate community college.

A large part of Tarantino's filmmaking style is to pay tribute to other films and filmmakers in his own films. It is bizarre, but in The Hateful Eight it seems Tarantino is paying homage to himself and his own work. If Reservoir Dogs, Django Unchained and Inglorious Basterds had a prematurely born, bastard-child which only inherited the very worst traits of its' parents, then that enfent terrible would be The Hateful Eight.  The most obvious form of this homage is in the casting and in the characters. For instance, Samuel L. Jackson seems to be reprising his iconic Pulp Fiction character Jules Winnfield, only this time in a Union civil war uniform as bounty hunter Major Marquis Warren. Put a Jheri curl afro wig on Major Warren and he is Jules. In a convoluted way, Tim Roth does the same thing by reprising his Reservoir Dogs character Mr. Orange, this time as a British hangman named Oswaldo Mobray. The matching details between Mr. Orange and Mr. Mobray are uncanny. The problem with this sort of masturbatorial, self-referential naval gazing is that it borders on directorial self parody.

In terms of the performances, all of the actors do as well as they can. These are quality, top-notch actors and they all do solid and captivating work with the flawed script given them. 

Jennifer Jason-Leigh is a fabulous and terribly overlooked and under-appreciated actress, and she does the best with what she is given here as the prisoner Daisy Domergue, but when the story goes off the rails in the second half, any interest in her character goes right with it.

Michael Madsen is one of my favorite actors, but he seems like an add-on here in order to make the cast round out to the number eight (a tribute to Tarantino himself and the fact that this is his eight feature film, which is made very clear in the opening credits). Much like Madsen's under written and under used Joe Gage, Bruce Dern's General Sanford Smithers seems thrown in only for monologue convenience purposes. 

Kurt Russell plays John Ruth, a.k.a. The Hangman. Tarantino has occasionally tried to reignite once successful actor's careers by casting them in his films. He gave John Travolta a career renaissance by putting him in Pulp Fiction, and attempted to do the same with Pam Grier and Robert Forster in Jackie Brown, David Carradine in Kill Bill, Don Johnson in Django Unchained and now he does the same with Kurt Russell. Russell does a very good job in the role, so much so that one can't help but wish he wasn't more the focus of the story. Russell creates a brutal character but one with an intriguing internal life to him that draws the viewer in deeper and deeper the more you see of him. I have never been much of a Kurt Russell fan but there is no doubt that this film needed more Kurt Russell and not less. The Hateful Eight would have been much better served if the John Ruth character had the opportunity to be more fully fleshed out.

As underwhelming as The Hateful Eight was, it is not without some greatness. Robert Richardson's cinematography is sublime. The opening shot of the film is both visually and narratively exquisite in every way. Richardson takes full advantage of the beautiful natural setting and expanse in the Rockies and of the sharp contrasts of the blizzard raging around the story. If you are someone who loves great cinematography, then definitely see the film in the theaters and see it in anamorphic 70mm. It is well worth the time just as a piece of visual art.

Famed composer Ennio Morricone's(The Good, The Bad and The Ugly) soundtrack is pretty fantastic as well. When they told us that their would be an overture, I rolled my eyes, wanting to just get to the film, but the overture was glorious. And having an overture and an intermission was actually pretty cool and made going to the theatre seem like a grandiose event and a 'special', worthwhile experience. It is all too easy to see films in the comfort of our own homes instead of the theatre nowadays, so having a throw back overture takes the viewer out of the routine of movie watching and puts an element of grandeur and mysticism back into the experience.

In the final analysis, I think Quentin Tarantino shot a much much too early draft of the script with The Hateful Eight. I believe with many more rewrites the script could have given greater depth to the characters and themes explored, and given more clarity and precision to the narrative. I consider The Hateful Eight to have been a lost opportunity for Quentin Tarantino as all of the pieces were there for this film to have been great. A superb cast of terrific actors, the glorious cinematography of Robert Richardson, a world-class soundtrack from Ennio Morricone, and the blueprint for an interesting and intriguing story…but due to a script that wasn't done marinating or cooking, and was shot prematurely, all of these elements never had a chance to come together and achieve the cinematic greatness that could have been within reach. 

If you are a big fan of Tarantino, you will enjoy the film as it is a very "Tarantino" film, meaning it has a lot of violence and innumerable uses of the word "nigger". But if you are simply a lover of great cinema, this is not the film for you. At the end of the day, The Hateful Eight is in the bottom half of Quentin Tarantino's impressive filmography, probably just above Jackie Brown and just below or tied with Inglorious Basterds.

With that said, if you love transcendent cinematography, I would implore you to go see the film in the theatre in anamorphic 70mm. Robert Richardson is a master craftsman of the highest order and his visual artistry is well worth the price of admission if you are into that sort of thing.

 

****WARNING: THIS SECTION CONTAINS SPOILERS!! PLEASE SKIP IT IF YOU HAVEN'T SEEN THE FILM YET!!!***

 

Ok, just a brief little write up with a little more detail for those of you who have seen the film.

The Major Marquis/Sam Jackson monologue I wrote about above is the monologue that ends the first half of the film where he tells the story of how he mouth raped the confederate general's grown son. It is such an over the top speech that it breaks the spell that the film had so carefully cultivated in the lead up to it. Another point about it is that we are meant to root for Major Marquis, he is really the mythic hero of the film. While we can hear "bad" things about him from other characters, Sheriff Mannix telling the story of Marquis' burning of the prison for instance, it totally undermines the mythic and psychological power of the narrative if Major Marquis himself tells the story of mouth raping a desperate man for purely sadistic purposes. This is such an egregious act that Major Marquis can no longer be relied upon to carry the audience's positive projections. No one watching the film who sides with Major Marquis, namely people that consider themselves non-racist and would be against slavery and the confederacy (in other words, self-identifying "good" people), could ever imagine themselves wanting to rape another man just to make him suffer and degrade him.

Tarantino has used male on male rape and the threat of it before in his films, most notably in Pulp Fiction where Zed rapes Marsellus and tries to rape Butch. The difference there though is that Zed is, from the moment we meet him on screen, a loathsome character. He is a horrific obstacle to be overcome by Butch on his hero's journey. Zed represents the threat of Butch losing his manhood and masculinity. When Zed is finally overcome by Butch, Marsellus tells Butch to keep the knowledge of the rape to himself, as it is the most shameful thing that can happen to a man, and he also tells Butch that he is going to "get medieval" on Zed, administering divine justice and vengeance for this most heinous of acts.

So it is established in the world of Tarantino, and frankly, in the real world too, that a man raping another man, with all of the mythic and psychological power that goes along with it, is the most despicable thing a man can do to another man. And yet, we are supposed to empathize with Major Marquis after learning of this? We are supposed to root for him and project ourselves onto him? It is an impossibility for any viewer to do so. A rapist, whether they rape men or woman, is as deplorable and despicable a person as one can imagine. So it is absurd to expect audiences who have been set up by the first half of the story to empathize with Marquis, to not feel betrayed by the film and to tune out and turn away from the rest of the story. Simply put, an unrepentant, dare I say gloating rapist, can never be the hero in a story. And if they are the hero, no one will care whether they survive their journey or not. While Marquis gets "some" divine justice for his heinous act in the form of castration, he is never held to account for his deeds or made to repent, quite the opposite actually….he wins at the end.

The Major Marquis rape monologue is also mishandled by Tarantino when he keeps cutting away to show the viewer what Marquis is describing. Then Marquis asks the General "You're seeing pictures aren't you?" Why not have the confidence in the actor Sam Jackson to tell the story and carry the viewer through it. Jackson is as compelling an actor as you'll find, and his monologues are legendary. Cutting away from the monologue undermines it's power and its mystery…as we are left with no doubt that Marquis is telling the truth, since we've seen it ourselves. If we are left wondering if Marquis is lying just to get under the General's skin, then we can continue to root for him as the story goes forward. But we aren't, and we don't.

Another issue I have with the film is the finale is terribly bungled. Why not have the Sheriff turn on Marquis and take Domergue's offer? That is the more interesting choice. And then have him think he is home-free only to hear the rumble of horses coming up to the cabin, signifying that he made the wrong choice and that Domergue's gang will kill him. The ending is a shockingly weak one for a director who usually defies convention and the easy way out. Tarantino was trying to fit a nice ending into his racial exploration. It comes across as little more than wishful thinking. It is also a complete contradiction to the nature of the Sheriff's character to side with Marquis at the most important moment. Why side with a man who raped one of your compatriots? That is inconceivable. 

Also, we have no reason to feel that Daisy Domergue is a villain. We've not seen her do anything terrible. We've been told she is a criminal, but we're not shown it. We have only seen her be beaten and mistreated by John Ruth and Marquis. We actually like her much more than anyone else in the film. Yet the glee the men show at her hanging feels disproportionate to the evil we may or may not have seen her commit. This is just one more in a long line of storytelling mis-steps that emotionally and psychologically disconnect the viewer form the film. 

And finally, the idea that anyone had enough of a connection to the John Ruth character that they would make a huge, life and death decision, based on what John Ruth would have wanted, is ridiculous and unsupported by the entirety of the film. Doing something for John Ruth's sake is a very very cheap way to give an unrealistic motivation to the characters in order to find a way out of the story.

And in order to end on a more positive note…the opening shot where Richardson excruciatingly slowly pulls out and holds on the frozen crucifix, with it's painfully tortured and contorted snow-framed face, and then the stage coach comes into view in the distance, was a cinematically powerful way to not just open the film, but also start the story. That shot is so artistically impeccable and mythically precise that I could hardly contain myself. In hindsight, that transcendent shot set up an expectation that the rest of the film was unable to live up to…but that doesn't make it any less glorious.

That is all I have to say on the film for now. Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section. 

©2016