Monthly Archives: March 2020

Motherless Brooklyn (2019)

Ed Norton made a real movie. He really did. Yes, there’s some woke pandering, and we’ll get to that, but there is real cinematic achievement here and that warrants recognition.

A little bit Chinatown, a little bit The Fountainhead and a little bit Peter Gunn, Motherless Brooklyn is Ed Norton’s bid for an update on the old school hardboiled crime drama.

As Lionel Essrog, Ed Norton is a private detective trying to unravel the mystery of the murder of his employer. His investigation leads him to the heart of a massive gentrification effort led by a megalomaniacal developer named Moses Randolph. The effort is opposed by a progressive coalition of working class poor and minorities. Of course, the leaders of this woke coalition are two women; black and Jewish respectively. The film predictably places your sympathies with the woke underdogs and the Tourette’s afflicted gumshoe, but the characterizations, atmosphere, music and dialogue lift this effort above your average Hollywood panderfest.

Alec Baldwin’s Moses Randolph is undoubtedly supposed to be a composite of Trump and Howard Roark, but there’s a cursory attempt at making him somewhat sympathetic. When he waxes about his architectural achievements, you’re taken in by his quasi-Randian hubris. Norton probably wants you to just see Trump in Randolph, but he’s just as easily a proxy for progressive icons Harvey Weinstein and Bill Clinton.

Making him some kind of progressive caricature of #WHYTE #SUPREMACY was an unfortunate misstep, but I guess the Big White Boogeyman is unavoidable these days. The woke intelligentsia makes it seem as though whites are the only racial group that has any notions of superiority or supremacy. What about the Asian supremacists? Or better yet, the Jewish supremacists? Oh, that’s right. The European white man is the only one capable of true racism. My bad.

On the whole, the music is absolutely first rate. Not only is there a character who is undoubtedly a stand in for Miles Davis, but the noir jazz soundtrack is masterfully baked into the fabric of story.

Norton’s portrayal of Lionel’s Tourette’s is decent, but it does feel a little like pandering. Just as Asperger’s is being portrayed as some superpower, Norton is attempting to do the same for Tourette’s. It seems calculated to empower the ableism narrative.

All in all though, a very solid effort.

The Serpent’s Egg (1977)

Generally speaking, the artists who garner the praise of the cinematic establishment are those who stare into the barren soul of modern man and render its depravity in painstaking detail while hopefully, but not necessarily, offering a small glimmer of redemption in end. This is especially true of the films of Ingmar Bergman. This is a difficult tightrope to walk because the joke is that there is no real redemption in secular modernity. There is, at best, a competition of wills over some presumed “greater good”.

The praise that is accorded to Bergman is warranted for a few important reasons. First and foremost, his passion for the storytelling potential of cinema is genuine and awe inspiring. He appreciates the importance of crafting intimate and emotionally honest character portraits. The Serpent’s Egg meanders a bit, but for these reasons alone, Bergman commands your attention.

The Serpent’s Egg is a story of an American Jew living in Berlin in the twilight of the Weimar Republic. Most people will read this film as another spin on #NazisBad. Don’t believe them. Bergman has bigger fish to fry.

The fundamental delusion of the scientific materialist paradigm is the underlying belief that man’s moral defects can be quantified and stripped out through Pavlovian conditioning. The Serpent’s Egg may not be Bergman’s greatest film, but it is worth watching because it is the one film I’ve seen thus far which casts a bright light on the clinical and pathological architecture of this mindset.

Nowadays, we hear a constant drumbeat of feigned outrage and manufactured moral panic from the progressive establishment over the existential threat of a resurgent “fascist” sentiment in Europe and America. The shills who promulgate these concerns focus on bumper sticker moral transgressions like “racism” and “nationalism”, but anyone who has dedicated five minutes of genuine introspection over the real aims of the post-Enlightenment liberal project can easily see that Bergman is revealing something that is not limited to the national socialist mindset of pre-WWII Germany. When the behavior scientist Hans Vergerus confesses that the privately funded research in which he was engaged is destined to become global, it is among the most blood curdling lines ever uttered in cinema.

Star Trek 1-3 Roundup: Making Transhumanism, Game Theory, Geoengineering, and Neoplatonism Mainstream

Star Trek: The Motion Picture

I was not surprised to see that Star Trek: The Motion Picture was the lowest rated film on Letterboxd featuring the original cast, but that doesn’t mean I’m less certain that the consensus is wrong. Whether you’re a fan of Wrath of Khan, the TNG series, or the Abrams reboots, y’all can suck on it because this movie is fucking Star Trek. Period. No, I don’t care that it’s similar to “The Changeling”.  This is the quintessential Star Trek film. 

Yes, it’s basically 2001 rewritten for the Star Trek universe, and that’s exactly as it should be. It’s about a giant ass AI ship that’s headed for Earth, and the crew must use their wits to subvert the AI’s logic protocols and save humanity from being snuffed out. What is more Star Trek than that? 

Robert Wise was the perfect man to helm the director’s chair. People grouse about the pacing, but I feel he finally lent this franchise the gravitas for which it always strived in the first place. He takes his time introducing each character and you feel like you’re getting to know them for the first time while reveling in the special chemistry these actors shared in this setting. Of course, Scotty is stressed about the new design. Bones is a lovable crotchety grump about the new sick bay, but Kirk lays down the law and tells everyone to buckle up because humanity is at stake. Spock’s arrival aboard the Enterprise is easily one of best entrances ever. He’s bringing so much Vulcan stoicism that it approaches Eastwood levels of badass. 

Thematically, this is just a remix of 2001, and there’s nothing wrong with that. The V’Ger AI had amassed tremendous quantities of information, but it had no human consciousness. It was an AI facing a Nietzschean existential crisis. Subsequently, it saw humans as pathogens to be eliminated. It wanted to evolve by merging with an actual human. If 2001 went over your head, Roddenberry repackaged the same idea for a younger generation. Now, folks like Ben Goertzel and Elon Musk are discussing these ideas openly.

The irony is that Roddenberry was a secular liberal globalist who had largely skeptical view of religion. While the show always presented the combination of Kirk’s human intuition and Spock’s ruthlessly rigorous scientific mind as a harmonious and heroic dynamic, the worldview itself leads to the barren ennui of V’Ger. 

This is a minor gripe in what I consider the crown jewel of the Star Trek films featuring the original cast. Besides, you’re never going to see six full minutes of Kirk and Scotty just cruising through space dock taking in the glory of the USS Enterprise quite like this ever again.

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan

Besides being one of the best sequels in modern cinematic history, it’s also a clever reimagining of Moby Dick and Paradise Lost. Even if you aren’t familiar with the literary references, the entire film can be seen as an extended exploration of one the RAND Corporation’s biggest exports: game theory. Specifically, the no-win situation. 

The film opens with Kirstie Alley’s Lieutenant Saavik taking the now famous training simulation, the Kobayashi Maru. Rescue the Maru, and you violate the Neutral Zone treaty and precipitate hostilities with the Klingons. Ignore the signal and the crew dies. What’s a Starfleet cadet to do? 

This conundrum is emblematic of the paradigm of enlightened scientific rationalism that has always been Star Trek’s calling card. We see the world through the eyes of a military starship captain. The welfare of the collective is always measured in terms of maximizing some Benthamite calculus. “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few”. 

This is also an early and explicit example of geoengineering in film. Where Star Trek Into Darkness completely bypassed the moral implications of geoengineering by justifying it under the aegis of the Prime Directive, much of the drama of The Wrath of Khan comes from the fulfillment of David Marcus’s fear that the Genesis Project could be weaponized. Just as we saw in Avatar, we see an unholy alliance between the world of scientific innovation and the military-industrial complex. The movies always trick you by making you think there’s a bright line between the motivations of scientists and the military hierarchy overseeing them. 

David Marcus’s reconciliation with Kirk is very heartwarming, but his skepticism towards Starfleet and militarized science is not unfounded. Khan is himself the byproduct of genetic engineering gone awry. 

What’s truly remarkable is just how restrained the overall tempo and volume of The Wrath of Khan is. It’s a film that allows the tension to build organically. Especially in comparison to the Abrams reboots. Maybe attention spans have been permanently diminished, but one gets the impression that Abrams doesn’t grasp what made Star Trek tick in the first place. 

The ending still gets to me. My love for these original films is eternal. Absolutely classic.

Star Trek III: The Search for Spock

Star Trek has always glorified scientific utopianism, but anyone who doubts that it is deeply spiritual at its core needs to give this one a spin. Not only is it loaded with Biblical symbolism, but the Vulcan ritual at the end is as pagan as it gets.

Despite Star Trek’s overt sympathies for globalism and scientism, this film levels a scathing critique at scientific hubris. The Genesis project may have raised Spock from the dead, but besides being a failure, it was sought by the Klingons to be utilized as a superweapon.

I feel sorry for anyone who really thinks that the Abrams reboots truly represent Star Trek. If you want to understand the difference between then and now, just marvel at the way Nimoy managed to make the Enterprise’s escape from space dock dramatic. It’s the kind of patient filmmaking you’ll never get from a JJ Abrams.

  1. Aside from the very obvious Genesis/Lazarus symbolism, this film reveals that Star Trek is ultimately very concerned with spiritual questions but is packaging them in a veneer of scientific rationalism. Kirk undertook the mission because his soul was at stake. 
  2. I suspect that James Cameron borrowed from the katra ritual to some extent for the conclusion of Avatar
  3. Vulcan mysticism is very overtly pagan. I’d argue that it’s fundamentally Platonic.
  4. Star Trek glorifies the achievements of Starfleet and the Federation, but almost every one of Kirk’s great achievements requires him to buck the bureaucracy and disobey orders. 
  5. Despite the radical scientific advancement that the Genesis project represented, it was a failure and it was sought by the Klingons so it could be exploited as a superweapon. Once again, you have the veneration of scientific advancement (e.g. warp capabilities, transporter tech, terraforming, etc) while simultaneously showing how these technologies can be weaponized.

Gemini Man (2019)

Deep state assassin plays surrogate father for his deep fake GMO clone who’s trying to ruin his retirement.

I always feel a little bit dirty for being taken in by a film like this because you know that’s when its psychological toxins are taking root. Like Doctor Sleep, Gemini Man exceeded my minimal expectations. It is another piece of deep state chic about a super soldier assassin who is being targeted by his genetically engineered clone. The main gimmick here being the seamless integration of CGI effects on the Will Smith double.

When Henry and Junior finally meet, there is some genuinely compelling psychodrama as Henry tries to appeal to his conscience and his capacity for free will. It’s subject matter that has plenty of precedent in sci-fi, but it’s capably handled here. I was almost encouraged when Henry tries to dissuade Junior from pursuing the deep state assassin life and raise a family. But alas, I was let down in the final confrontation with Clay Verris, the bad surrogate father who raised Junior from the time he was just a test tube specimen.

Verris wanted to create an even better version of Henry. A soldier with all of his killer acumen and none of his defects, vulnerabilities, fears or doubts. This required filling the deficits of Henry’s single mother upbringing and being the father he never had. That means showing him…get this….love and affection. Scandalous. I think you can imagine what happens to Verris. I suppose it’s a form of cosmic justice since it wasn’t true, unconditional paternal love, but from a symbolism perspective, it’s another swing of the wrecking ball against the edifice of fatherhood.

Ramona Flowers turns in a likeable performance as another nu school archetype of feminine Wokegnosis. Academic smarts, combat capabilities, yet desexualized and semi-maternal all at once. All the checkboxes are filled out, but there’s just enough real humanity and vulnerability to make her engaging. Together, she and Henry form the kind of quasi-alchemical, artificial parenthood that the establishment hopes to normalize.

I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating. Every Hollywood film is a clever mixture of art and propaganda. Gemini Man is noteworthy because it is further proof that Hollywood is specifically propaganda for military black operations, espionage, mass surveillance and media, eugenics, artificial intelligence, and all manners of superweapons. It’s a big deal because the MSM narrative insists that the idea of a “deep state” is just a conservatard talking point. From a Hollywood perspective, it is normative to see portraits of espionage and black operations as heroic. Yet, they’re also telling you that these forces are the very first boots on the ground in any unstable region of the world deposing leaders, fomenting dissent and training death squads.

Not only does Gemini Man want you to believe that the black ops assassin is a great guy who is just doing his patriotic duty, it wants you to believe that he’s the guy who’s going to thwart the plans of people like Verris who take things a little too far. When Henry and his pals raise a glass, they toast to “the next war which is no war.” Don’t you want to believe it?

The film was shot at 60 fps as opposed to 24. While this was probably sold as a cutting edge effect, it is also probably includes the latest piece of hypnosis tech. This is also probably the test film for a new generation of deep fake technology. May God have mercy on our souls.

Christopher Caldwell: The Age of Entitlement

Growing up in the secular liberal paradigm requires you to take lots of assumptions both as a priori truth and unquestionable articles of faith.  First and foremost being an ironclad assumption that society must progress. There is an unswerving belief that we remain shackled by social values that are both antiquated and deeply ingrained. These attitudes are a consequence of ossified institutions which perpetuate outmoded ways of thinking underpinning a vast array of pernicious, omnipresent structures of “oppression”. The only way forward is to demand change and remake the system. Smash it and rebuild if you fancy yourself a radical. Following closely behind these beliefs are three corollary beliefs; true progressivism is the ideology of the underdog, the system is fearful of change, and that all progressive political advocacy is good, true, pure and right. Anyone who stands in the way is just motivated by hate, ignorance, fear or bigotry. Probably all of the above.  

In 2020, Progressivism is the ideology of the ruling class. Once effectively able to affect a pretense of working class legitimacy, the modern liberal establishment is unabashedly global, cosmopolitan, and aristocratic in temperament. Most importantly, they’ve gotten filthy rich. Once comprised of labor unions, blue collar workers, and various bleeding heart middle income urbanites who could convincingly exploit grievances against the 1%, the modern liberal establishment is clearly the plutocracy it once opposed. Comprised of pretentious academics, judicial activists, NGO’S, non-profit sector denizens, media elites, effete celebrities, sports tycoons and their overpaid, preening athletes, Silicon Valley moguls, hedge fund and private equity barons, Wall Street titans, intelligence professionals, bureaucrats who inhabit every level of power from the municipality up to the UN, IMF and World Bank, and legions of annoying professional activists in every corner of cultural influence, the progressive establishment is anything but an embattled underdog.  

Needless to say, if you subscribe to this worldview, you aren’t likely to question the success or failure of yesterday’s policy victory nor the underlying belief that today’s cause célèbre is anything less than a moral imperative. Christopher Caldwell’s new book, The Age of Entitlement, is a look back on the entire spectrum of legislative and cultural reforms of the 60s and the ways in which they ushered in an entirely new social compact and subverted constitutional precedent. What’s fascinating about his analysis is that he reveals that these changes were so sweeping, they continued their inexorable march through every power structure regardless of who occupied the White House or which party held a Congressional majority.  While conservatives may feel a sense of vindication and triumphalism by the Trump presidency, The Age of Entitlement should make anyone with traditional sensibilities deeply concerned. 

At the center of his critique is a sweeping indictment of the Civil Rights movement. Specifically, the Civil Rights Act of ’64 and its subsidiary revolutions, feminism and the so-called “counterculture“. While Caldwell isn’t the first to go after these sacred cows, he is taking a different tack than Thomas Sowell and Paul Gottfried did in their analyses. The Age of Entitlement is useful in the sense that it provides a serviceable narrative to describe the massive cultural and institutional transformation ushered in under the banner of civil rights. What’s less useful about the book is that it offers no remedy nor any refuge for anyone who claims the mantle of conservatism of any kind.

Not only does it shed a light on the origins of today’s demagoguery disguised as activism, it exposes these reforms as simultaneously the most sweeping in the history of the republic and the biggest failures in terms of creating a more harmonious relationship between blacks and whites and men and women. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 created a bureaucracy of judicial activists, academics, and compliance apparatchiks so vast, the net effect was nothing less than a complete disassembly of constitutional norms of free association in favor of a police state mentality which looked for bigotry and discrimination even if there was none to be found.

Even if Trump secures a second term, the Right must contend with the cultural reality that the outworking of the liberal worldview has wrought. As Seraphim Rose argues in Nihilism, the underlying presuppositions of liberalism have become unraveled and its hollow core is exposed as never before.  Caldwell argues that the new Civil Rights compact set the old constitutional norms in opposition to the new ones. It might be tempting to say that all that’s required is a reset of old fashioned constitutional principles, but who really believes that this is a tenable proposition at this juncture? 

The country would therefore become an economic part rather than an economic whole, rendering nonsensical, at least for a while, all kinds of inherited cultural and political beliefs about sovereignty, national independence, and social cohesion. 

p. 173

Political conservativism is built on the liberal operating system. It can only work for a while as long as the assumptions of the premodern mindset remain intact. In other words, it assumes that there are objective moral principles and that there are transcendent truths to which we and our leaders are bound through the nation state. However, at this point in time, nothing can be taken as a given nor can any inherited tradition be considered exempt from the bonfires of revolution. If a society can no longer agree on what is shared or held to be sacred, then you’ve got a social malady that extends far beyond the purview of any legislative remedy. Christopher Caldwell has done a fantastic job chronicling the unraveling of 20th century democratic capitalism, but it does not answer the question of where to place your ultimate faith in the tumultuous years that lie ahead. And I daresay that may require an appeal to a higher power.