Category Archives: film

Wonder Woman

After years in development, Wonder Woman has finally gotten her big budget Hollywood screen adaptation with a female director at the helm. Gal Gadot carries off the role with a sufficient level of likeability and physical prowess. One would not be unreasonable to ask “Have we finally reached peak cinematic feminism?” I mean, it’s 2017 fer chrissakes! The answer is most likely a resounding No, but I’ll be damned if Wonder Woman doesn’t set a new standard in feminist pandering and wish fulfillment. Don’t get me wrong. The film definitely has entertainment value, but you are well advised to brace yourself for some serious next level Hollywood-style proselytizing for the Church of Feminism.

In contrast to the annoying trend toward gender swapping revisionism and the near ubiquity of blockbuster heroines, the feminist editorial in Wonder Woman is expected because it was written into the character’s source code from the start. In fact, not only is the Wonder Woman character a pretty explicit piece of feminist mythology, this film is easily the most overt attempt to canonize feminism as a globalist secular religion. Though it eventually resolves with a respectful nod towards Wonder Woman’s origins, it is chock full of contemporary talking points, groan inducing PC orthodoxy and heavily loaded religious symbolism.  I’m not an expert on every aspect of Marston’s original vision, but I know enough to know that they made some pretty dubious revisions to the original mythology in order to cater to current political narratives. 

The film lays it on pretty thick right out of the gate. After delivering a voiceover in which Diana Prince confesses that her idealism had been blunted upon entering the world of mankind, a Wayne Industries armored carrier service delivers a package to our heroine working at what appears to be a cushy curator gig at the Louvre. Instead of an American patriot working from the inside of military intelligence, we have an aesthete working in a key EU member state at the world’s most renowned art museum. The package contains a WW1 photo of Wonder Woman and a note from Bruce Wayne indicating his desire to hear the story behind it. Cue the time warp back to Diana’s childhood in the matriarchal paradise of Themyscira. 

If you thought the Vuvalini in Mad Max: Fury Road was pandering to radfem matriarchal fantasies, you ain’t seen nothing until you’ve seen Themyscira. Presumably modeled after Marston’s vision, the Amazons of Themyscira live in a utopia of pure feminine bliss and order. The gigantic architecture resembles classical Greek design and was expertly carved from marble and stone. Young Diana is enthralled by the combat training exercises being carried out under the iron discipline of Robin Wright’s Antiope. Naturally, every Amazon possesses balletic, superhuman combat skills with and without perfectly crafted metal weapons. Young Diana pleads with her mother, Hippolyta, to begin combat training but she forbids it.  “Don’t you think she should learn to defend herself?”, asks Antiope. Absolutely not, says Hippolyta. After all, she is protected by Antiope’s Amazon army of super soldiers. Right away, we’re presented with a matriarchy in which there is perfectly crafted stone architecture, expertly wrought metal weaponry, abundant resources, peace, order, beauty, art, education, military might, cultural tradition, multiracial harmony, political equality and apparently, procreation. We aren’t privy to the details of the male eugenics program which weeds out male births, but it’s safe to assume it’s fully funded by taxpayers. Of course, all of these marvels are achieved without the aid of men. I realize this is superhero mythology, but this level of pandering seems geared towards appeasing the Julie Bindels and Laurie Pennys of the world. 

While putting her to bed, Hippolyta attempts to disabuse young Diana of her desire to learn combat.  I mean, it’s great that you’re breaking gender stereotypes and setting an example for young girls, but you need to get #WOKE to all this war stuff, Diana. Hippolyta busts out the Amazonian Bible and lays down the origins of civilization itself.  Zeus made man in his image and, at first, they lived together in peace and harmony.  Ares, the God of War and a white male, filled the hearts of men with fear and suspicion which put them in conflict one another. Ares killed all the gods, but was vanquished by Zeus and doomed to roam in the world of men. Zeus then created the Amazons to protect mankind from the scourge of Ares. The only way to stop Ares is by wielding the mythical God Killer sword; a sword whose phallic nature can be used to kill Greek and Christian gods alike. Step aside King Arthur and make way for Diana of Themyscira, PYGS! So to recap, a fucking white male poisons the hearts of mankind and fills the world with hatred and strife, but a peaceful civilization of women descended from Zeus lies in wait to redeem and defend the world from evil Ares.  In short, womyn are goddesses, saviors and redeemers, but m*n have only poisoned the world with war because of their toxic masculinity. Kneel before the Church of Feminism and repent! 

Naturally, gender studies are mandatory in Themyscira so Diana is completely unencumbered by harmful gender stereotypes and pursues combat training against Hippolyta’s wishes. Diana rises to the head of the class and not only can she kick everyone’s ass, she has magical bracelet powers and shit.  Clearly, Diana has a little more goddess mojo than her Amazonian counterparts. 

While contemplating her supernatural abilities by the beach, a fighter plane crashes into the ocean.  Its pilot is in danger, so she dives into the ocean to save this hapless dolt. Upon dragging his helpless ass on to the shore, she realizes why this mysterious being has fallen into a state of misfortune and requires the rescue of an Amazonian goddess.  “You’re a m*n”, realizes Diana. Chris Pine’s Steve Trevor exhibits his utter cluelessness to gender expression by saying, “Don’t I look like one?” And with this simple exchange, meme #hxstory was made.  

After fending off an invasion in which the Amazons’ balletic badassery is barely sufficient to repel m*n with g*ns, Diana realizes that Ares has plunged the world into a deadly conflagration that threatens to consume all of mankind. Under inducement of the magical Lasso of Hestia, Steve Trevor reveals that he is a spy who stole plans to a deadly bioweapon being developed by….wait for it…..THE GERMANS! Because there has apparently never been a country in the history of the world which has bred genocidal and totalitarian ambitions quite like Germany. Under the command of General Ludendorff and the evil Dr. Isabel Maru, the German army will wreak destruction on countless women and children. Maybe some men, too, but who cares about them, amirite? Knowing that the lives of women and children are at stake, Diana resolves to leave Themyscira with Trevor in order to kill Ares and vanquish evil from the hearts of men. Hippolyta is saddened, but resigns herself to accepting Diana’s choice by reinforcing the valuable lessons in gender supremacy and misandry that the Amazons have cultivated for so long.  “Be careful in the world of men, Diana. They do not deserve you. You have been my greatest love. Today, you are my greatest sorrow,” says a tearful Hippolyta. Determined to uphold the tenets of #SocialJustice, Diana sets out to check privilege, smash gender norms, and generally kick the patriarchy’s ass. “I will fight for those who cannot fight for themselves,” she promises. And just think. This was WAY before Tumblr. Watch out, fascists! 

Diana and Steve set sail for London to get Dr. Poison’s plans into the hands of British military commanders. While at sea, Steve reveals himself as the patriarchal piece of shit that he is with an antiquated bit of “chivalry”; he makes a comfortable bed for Diana while confining himself to a cramped edge of the deck. She invites him to join her, but he hesitates because it’s not proper to sleep with women outside of marriage. This is an admirable amount of restraint for a rapist who doesn’t understand consent, but Diana persists. Diana reveals that she doesn’t understand why men and women get married and commit their lives to one another if they don’t keep the promise. Steve is stumped, and quite frankly, so are we. Who wants children and families or any of that patriarchal enslavement?  I mean, gender scholars have pulled the veil from all this heteronormative bullshit. After raising Steve’s hopes of getting some Amazonian action, Diana leaves him blue balled by telling him that she’s read all of the works on sexuality written by Themysciran gender scholars. They concluded that m*n were necessary for reproduction but unnecessary for sexual gratification. Guess you’ll have to resort to self-service, Trevor.

Upon arriving in London, Diana is instantly appalled by rampant pollution, shitty architecture, catcalling, and m*n everywhere. In another nod to the Marston mythology, we meet Steve Trevor’s body positive secretary, Etta Candy.  Diana is puzzled by the phenomenon of a secretary and asks what that entails. “Oh, well, I do everything. I go where he tells me to go, I do what he tells me to do,” she says. “Well, where I’m from that’s called slavery,” retorts Diana. Oh snap! Burned again, shitlords! EMPLOYMENT is slavery! I mean, it’s not like Themyscira had a very strict military and government hierarchy or anything! It’s not like the cultivation of resources, development of military discipline, or the building of civilization requires some level of submission to leadership or anything. It’s ALL ARBITRARY PATRIARCHAL ENSLAVEMENT. 

Steve insists that Etta help Diana blend in by getting her some new clothes.  Cue the montage in which we’re treated to Gal Gadot sporting early 20th century British fashion while chuckling at the high hilarity of the many patriarchal restrictions it places on her Amazonian combat capabilities. There aren’t any free bleeding-friendly yoga pants which would raise awareness of period shaming, but Diana settles on a smart corporate business suit that comes with glasses. The glasses are essential in order to forestall sexist assumptions that she’s a clueless dumbass because that’s obviously the first thought a m*n thinks when seeing a woman. 

Steve scandalizes the British high command by daring to bring Diana, a woman, into their top secret meeting. They’re totally triggered because of their fragile masculinity, but they listen to his plea to take the bioweapon plans and destroy the secret lab. David Thewlis’ Sir Patrick assures him it’s unnecessary because they’re on the cusp of signing an armistice deal. Diana isn’t buying it. Because she’s been educated in Themyscira University with a degree in postmodern gender theory, she can read Babylonian cuneiform and shit. She tells these clueless dumbshits that they’re risking the lives of innocent women and children. Subsequently, they should send all the men to the front to save them because what good have men ever done in the world? The commanders are too triggered by the presence of such a #STRONG womyn, but Trevor resolves to keep his promise to bring her to the front. As the enthusiasm amongst American feminists for mandatory selective service indicates, women are CLAMORING to fill combat roles and reach the heights of military command positions.  

Before they undertake this dangerous mission, they need to assemble a diverse, multicultural team of men to bumble their way through the mission while marveling at Diana’s Amazonian voluptuousness. Among the mercenary heroes are an English drunkard marksman, an Arabic guy to school everyone on #RACISM, and of course, a Native American(?!?!) dude to remind everyone about the evils of colonialism perpetrated by the American white man.  

With the blessing and patronage of Sir Patrick, the heroes set out to the battlefront to kick some proto-Nazi ass. Upon reaching the front, Diana is unfazed by the bullets and ordnances flying around her and can’t understand why these cowards won’t just advance their position.  The lives of women and children are at stake! Steve tries to spell it out for her. 

Steve Trevor: This is no man’s land, Diana! It means no man can cross it, alright? This battalion has been here for nearly a year and they’ve barely gained an inch. All right? Because on the other side there are a bunch of Germans pointing machine g*ns at every square inch of this place. This is not something you can cross. It’s not possible.

Diana Prince: So… what? So we do nothing? 

Steve Trevor: No, we are doing something! We are! We just… we can’t save everyone in this war. This is not what we came here to do. 

Diana Prince: No. But it’s what I’m going to do.

Checkmate, shitlords.  Cue slow motion robe removal and step ladder climb on to the battlefield.  It’s cheesy as hell, but it works. 

In an unusual concession to patriarchal norms, Wonder Woman actually allows some romantic affection to develop between Diana and Steve.  After liberating a French village from occupation, the heroes enjoy a moment of peace and celebratory revelry. Marksman Charlie attempts to entertain the crowd with some sweet piano ballads and his crude but spirited singing voice.  In what is probably one of the more poignant commentaries on the true legacy of modern feminism, Steve Trevor reveals something remarkably honest about the state of manhood in 2017. It’s a confession that’s probably meant to be another indictment of the shallowness of men, but I suggest that it reveals the dearth of positive paternal examples for young men in general. 

Diana Prince: What do people do when there isn’t a war? 

Steve Trevor: They get a job, get married, have children. 

Diana Prince: What is that like? 

Steve Trevor: I… don’t know.

As much as I enjoyed Gal Gadot’s martial vision of Wonder Woman, I can’t help but think that it lacks the joyful cheeseball patriotism that Lynda Carter brought to the 70’s version of the character. Like Superman and Captain America, Wonder Woman was most definitely a patriotic superhero.  Even her Israeli accent makes her seem more Euro-cosmopolitan and less American. Instead of the bright primary colors of Lynda Carter’s Old Glory-inspired two-piece, Gal Gadot sports an armor-like combat skirt which mutes the traditional blue, gold and red with dull metallic overtones. It looks cool, but it definitely says Globalist Wonder Woman instead of America’s Wonder Woman. 

The film is entertaining enough, but I never felt that Wonder Woman was in danger at any point nor did I sense that she had any real weaknesses or flaws. Besides her bombshell good looks and physicality, Gadot alternates between adequate and bland on the charisma scale. Whether it’s that the role has been flattened by the necessity of fulfilling every item on the feminist checklist or that she’s not that great an actress in the first place, there’s an absence of any real personality. The responses to the film from feminist media have been predictably hilarious.  If it’s not the outrage of Wonder Woman’s shaved armpits, it’s the hope that one day Wonder Woman will be a fat, queer, non-binary WOC.  One gets the distinct impression that the more you pander to feminists, the more petty the complaints become. 

Above all else, Wonder Woman is a hymn to the twin religions of Globalism and Feminism. The one plot twist in the film could easily be seen as a slam on Nigel Farage, UKIP and #Brexit. As for the feminist proselytizing, Wonder Woman represents a new high water mark for religious symbolism. In one of the early battle scenes, Wonder Woman bounds through a church steeple to take out the German snipers endangering the civilians below.  After dispatching them handily, Wonder Woman emerges from the rubble of the Christian Church to bask in the glow of her devout and grateful flock. Symbolism doesn’t get more blatant than that.

The ending of the film is respectful towards the character legacy, but also rife with theological overtones.  Diana recognizes that she may never conquer the evil that lies in the hearts of humanity. As a goddess of love, they are always free to choose the salvation she provides if they just listen and believe. Praise Wonder Woman and get ready for Justice League, PYGS. 

Diana Prince: I used to want to save the world. To end war and bring peace to mankind. But then, I glimpsed the darkness that lives within their light. I learned that inside every one of them, there will always be both. The choice each must make for themselves – something no hero will ever defeat. And now I know… that only love can truly save the world. So I stay. I fight, and I give… for the world I know can be. This is my mission now. Forever.

Get Out

So you say you want to see The Stepford Wives repurposed to accommodate the latest #WOKE narratives around white privilege and white supremacy? Look no further, identity politics addicts! Get Out is here to confirm every current political narrative, every ideological bias, reinforce your racial self-loathing AND vicariously satisfy your murderous revenge fantasies! Idiotic, predictable, and supremely hateful, Get Out is one of the most vile examples of contemporary racial politics I’ve yet witnessed. Despite being the villains, the film is mostly geared for smug progressives who take Buzzfeed privilege quizzes seriously, retweet Tim Wise, think gender studies is a legitimate field of knowledge and have one or more #Blacklivesmatter merchandise items prominently displayed.  The type of p*rsxn who thinks microaggressions are a thing and genuinely gets zer panties in a twist over the usage of #AllLivesMatter. Based on some of the responses in #WOKE Twitter, it apparently served its purpose of stoking the racial animosity industry which doesn’t exist for blacks cuz white institutional power and shit. 

Black people can’t be racist. So STFU. Take some critical race theory, racist.

The premise is very straightforward and there’s not a single real surprise to be found. Daniel Kaluuya plays smart, handsome, upwardly mobile photographer, Chris Washington. As Rose Armitage, the utterly charmless, vapid and detestable Allison Williams is perfectly cast as his seemingly #WOKE, sensitive, totally-not-racist girlfriend who has taken every article from Everyday Feminism to heart. They’re presumably in love and getting ready to spend a weekend with her parents. UH OH! GUESS WHO’S COMING TO DINNER, AMIRITE? DO THEY KNOW???? “Oh, don’t worry,” assures Rose. “My dad would’ve voted for Obama for a third term.” GOT THAT, #RACISTS? THEY THINK THEY’RE TOTALLY NOT RACIST. BECAUSE THINKING YOU’RE NOT RACIST JUST PROVES THAT YOU’RE RACIST. IF YOU’RE WHITE, YOU’RE A RACIST, RACIST! With this current article of faith firmly established, it’s merely a matter of waiting to see which phantasmogoric manifestation of racial malevolence surfaces.  

Peak #WOKENESS?

When they arrive at the Armitage estate, Chris is taken aback by the presence of black servants whose behavior is strangely vacant. Bradley Whitford’s Dean Armitage tries to reassure Chris that he’s totally-not-racist by affirming his wish for a third Obama term just like Rose said. Dinner time brings some additional tension when Rose’s unhinged, nutbag brother asks a few too many uncomfortable questions and initiates an awkward invitation to wrestle. Chris’ unease heightens as as his attempts at conversation with the servants only reinforce his concern that something is deeply wrong here. The tension reaches a crescendo during an outdoor party in which all of the Armitage’s rich, effete liberal aristocrat friends are in attendance. Every performance is a cringey stereotype of shallow cosmopolitanism. Chris is relieved to find another black guest, but is taken aback yet again upon discovering that he exhibits the same vacant mannerisms as the servants. He attempts a parting fist bump, but OH SNAP THE DUDE GRABS HIS FIST INSTEAD. A REAL BROTHA WOULD HAVE RETURNED THE CULTURAL GESTURE. When Chris returns to his room, he bugs out completely when he discovers that the charger cord on his phone has been disconnected yet again. WILL CHRIS ESCAPE THIS #RACIST PRISON OF RICH, WHITE LIBERAL PROGRESSIVES?????

To be perfectly fair, there is some deeper subtext pertaining to the dissolution of the black family and the deleterious effect it’s had on black culture. Catherine Keener plays the matriarch of the Armitage family and possesses the ability to induce hypnosis on the black victims. While under hypnosis, Chris finds himself imprisoned in a psychic netherworld called The Sunken Place. She exploits Chris’ guilt over a childhood trauma he experienced losing his single mother. Naturally, we have another well adjusted black male who grew up with a single mother and no father. The Sunken Place could have been explored further as a metaphor for debased state of the black family. Now before you post that Mother Jones article preaching against spreading hate facts about single mothers, the data reveals overwhelmingly negative effects for black children growing up with single mothers. The Armitage family can be seen as an archetypal legacy of white progressive elites which stretches back to Margaret Sanger through Lyndon Johnson and up to Hillary Clinton who’ve wrought vast destruction on the black population. 

If there is a genuine criticism of institutional racism in the film, the entire legacy of progressive legislation from Jim Crow to the Great Society to the 1994 Crime Bill must be put on trial. Filmmaker Jordan Peele claims that the film was meant as a poke in the eye at white, middle-class liberal elites. Fair enough. That’s an admirable aim and a deserving target, but ultimately, I doubt that anyone came out of the theater thinking about anything other than the evil, racist white man. 

The film also does some particularly idiotic cheerleading for the TSA.  LilRel Howery plays Chris’ best friend, Rod Williams, and he brings his suspicions of foul play to the authorities. He lays out his concern that a rich, white family is responsible for the abduction of his best friend. They laugh off his allegations (HAHAHA! WHITE PRIVILEGE, AMIRITE?) and Rod is left to investigate his friend’s disappearance on his own. As TSA gropefests make the news on a regular basis, it’s as though the filmmakers were intentionally stoking the racial animosity so that they could sneak in sympathy for a frequently embarrassing and increasingly intrusive government agency

There is something deeply depressing, nihilistic and slightly malevolent about this film.  It’s a film which could have been so much more surgical about connecting racism to policy outcomes presumably aimed at improving life for the black community. It could have addressed the Left’s absolute refusal to discuss things like fatherlessness, values or IQ. Instead, it was content to take a worthy target and exploit the narrative du jour. It felt like the goal was just to have progressives walk out engaging in another circle jerk of postmodern smugness. OMG! SO GOOD AND SO TRUE! THE FACT THAT WE CAN CHEER A MOVIE PORTRAYING WHITES AS RACIST VILLAINS PROVES WE’RE NOT RACIST! AND NOW WE’RE GOING TO GO TO A DECOLONIZING WORKSHOP TO PURGE OURSELVES OF OUR TOXIC WHITENESS! Could you make this very same film in which you reversed the race of the two leads? Of course you couldn’t. The Left have abandoned any notion of holding people to equal standards. They’re hypocrites and cowards who only want to construct a cultural panopticon filled with recursive loops of confirmation bias designed for the sole purpose of engineering a self-reinforcing consensus of pure ideological conformity. Make no mistake, they are actively engaged in the business of reshaping language and culture. By dominating media and the entire education apparatus, they’re constructing one-sided cultural narratives that are impervious to scrutiny, debate or facts. Racism is EXCLUSIVELY a phenomenon of the white race through the postmodern magic of “historical and institutional power”. Get Out is just the latest escalation of the Left’s cultural hegemony of boundless nihilism and obnoxious cynicism. Naturally, the critical echo chamber is gushing with praise. They’re already pushing it on Academy voters. I’m sure it’ll be Best Picture at next year’s Oscars.

The Founder

A cynic might view John Lee Hooker’s portrait of Ray Kroc, The Founder, as an indictment of the American Dream itself. McDonald’s has come to signify everything illusory, toxic and and inhuman about American capitalism and idealism. Whether it’s Morgan Spurlock’s Supersize Me, Eric Schlosser’s Fast Food Nation, or any of the various #FightFor15 campaigns, the progressive Left has the fast food industry squarely in the crosshairs. Depending on the outrage du jour, the fast food industry is underpaying workers, poisoning the population with toxic food, contributing to the obesity epidemic, hastening the global warming crisis and propping up oversized agribusiness conglomerates. No other restaurant chain embodies all of this amoral rapacity, soulless industrialism, and ruthless expansionism more than McDonald’s. Of course, there is some truth to the charges leveled at McDonald’s and the fast food industry. However, as this film brilliantly illustrates, these qualities were features of Ray Kroc’s personality flaws and what he injected into the McDonald’s brand rather than design flaws in the fabric of American values or even the fast food industry.  

The Founder is a fairly straightforward historical biopic which, like its subject matter, succeeds on economical storytelling and tasty performances. It’s a fascinating story because it reveals how McDonald’s and fast food became synonymous with American values. More importantly, it shows how Ray Kroc deformed those values through his own ruthless ambition. 

Hollywood films often present their subjects through an ideological lens of progressive politics, and I suspect the filmmakers of The Founder had a similar aim. As long as you recognize that, the film presents some fairly decent lessons in market economics, industrial engineering of food production, contract law ethics, and brand building. The title of the film is very loaded because it draws up an assumption in your mind about its meaning. What Ray Kroc “founded” is not exactly what you might think.

Before McDonald’s, Ray Kroc was a mediocre traveling salesman trying to hock milkshake multimixers to the burgeoning fast food industry.  The drive in was the dominant model and it included features of the fast food experience that have been long consigned to the historical memory bin. Hamburgers and fries were served on washable dinnerware and delivered to your car by waitresses on roller skates. Ray Kroc had a mass market mentality, but no one in the middle American fast food business seemed to share it. His attempts to appeal to American ingenuity and Say’s Law fell on deaf ears.

Ray Kroc: But if ya had the Prince Castle, 5-spindle, multimixer… with patented direct-drive electric motor we’d greatly increase your ability to produce… delicious, frosty milkshakes, FAST. Mark my words. Dollars to donuts, you’ll be sellin’ more of those sons of bitches… then you can shake a stick at. You increase the supply, and the demand will follow… Increase supply, demand follows. Chicken, egg. Do you follow my logic? I know you do because you’re a bright, forward thinking guy who… knows a good idea when he hears one. So… What do you say? 

When Kroc receives an order for eight multimixers from a burger joint in San Bernardino, his hopes and curiosity intensify. Kroc arrives at McDonald’s and he is thunderstruck. He receives his order instantaneously, the wrappings are completely disposable, there’s no wait staff, and there’s a line of customers as far as the eye can see. However, all of this innovation came from the minds, sacrifices and work of Dick and Mac McDonald. Through a combination of ambition, courage, and Dick McDonald’s ruthless pursuit of cost savings and production efficiency, McDonald’s changed the fast food game for all time. Kroc is captivated and ingratiates himself with the McDonald brothers. 

Kroc pitches the McDonalds a national vision for the restaurant. The Golden Arches are more than just a visual brand; they are the symbolic glue between the Christian cross and the American flag. The McDonalds aren’t sold because they tried franchising the restaurant but couldn’t maintain quality control. Dick McDonald was a master of industrial food production and a capitalist through and through, but he didn’t want to lose control over the quality of the product. Being the more sentimental of the brothers, Mac sees a possibility for the kind of national success that eluded them and persuades his hard headed brother to sign a deal with Kroc.

Kroc returns to the Midwest with his sights set on complete domination. He makes appearances at Rotary clubs, churches and synagogues and begins recruiting families into the McDonald’s franchise with the fervor of an evangelist. Kroc may not have invented the food production system, but he did succeed in grafting the idea of McDonald’s to the psychological infrastructure of American ideals: family, opportunity, optimism. 

Despite his early success, his is unable to repay his business loans due to the small percentage allotted in his contract. He grows increasingly impatient with Dick McDonald’s insistence on quality control. Kroc really turns an ethical corner when he forms a real estate holding company at the advice of Harry Sonneborn.  By owning the land on which the franchises are built, he is guaranteed a larger revenue stream and capital base. Most importantly, it offers him leverage over the McDonalds. When he sees a possibility to cut costs with milkshake mix instead of real ice cream, Kroc sets himself on a collision course with the McDonalds. Kroc amasses enough power to buy his way out of his contract. Through the process, he kicks his wife of 39 years, Ethel Kroc, to the curb and courts the wife of franchisee, Rollie Smith. 

The film tips its partisan hand in a final scene which shows Kroc rehearsing a speech he’s preparing for an event in which Governor Ronald Reagan is scheduled to attend. Kroc is rehearsing all of the catch phrases and appeals to American ideals he perfected during McDonald’s ascent. When he finally approaches the part of the speech involving the first restaurant, he stammers and stumbles. Yes, we get it, folks. Republicans are shallow hypocrites who don’t uphold the ideals they espouse. But that’s a little too simplistic. Kroc won the McDonald’s enterprise, but he sacrificed its soul in the process. He took Dick McDonald’s industrial food production innovation and replaced it with a ruthless Benthamism. The McDonalds were the Jeffersonian capitalists who wanted to keep their idea regional and decentralized, but Kroc was the Hamiltonian who wanted a strong national identity for McDonald’s.

If you walk away from The Founder with the impression that American capitalism and idealism are false and hollow, you bought the cynicism that Hollywood is always selling. Fortunately, it’s a film that I believe has more meat on its bones than the average agitprop shit sandwich. Corruption, soulless industrialism, megalomaniacal ambition and hollow appeals to nationalism aren’t inextricably linked to capitalism. If that’s what the business is projecting into the world, that says more about the values of the individuals behind it. In the case of McDonald’s in its contemporary incarnation, the blame for these phenomena lies squarely at the feet of Ray Kroc. The McDonald brothers embodied American idealism without any grandiose speeches or national ambitions. Capitalism takes on the characteristics of the individuals behind it, and McDonald’s was ultimately hijacked by a particularly ruthless individual.  If there’s any overriding message of The Founder, that is surely it.  

Miss Sloane

Risible, idiotic, ludicrous, cartoonish, and deeply partisan are a few of words that come to mind in summarizing this utterly loathsome Jessica Chastain vehicle, Miss Sloane

As the titular character, Chastain portrays yet another progressive, feminist power fantasy packaged as an indictment of the lobbying industry. Both the film and the character can be best described as an attempt to fuse Annette Bening’s principled lobbyist, Sydney Ellen Wade, with the ruthlessness of Kevin Spacey’s Frank Underwood. Exhibiting a typically hyperbolic level of comic hysteria, would-be moral indignation and faux virtue that are standard features of Hollywood agitprop, the film presents Elizabeth Sloane as a lone, fearless crusader who dares to challenge the gun lobby, but pays a steep price. 

Like The Big Short, the film is trying to have it both ways. On the one hand, it presents the lobbying industry and the politicians they serve locked in a symbiotic Gordian Knot of compromised ethics. The lobbyists are unprincipled mercenaries who simply work for the highest bidder, and the politicians are equally craven, self-interested careerists who are driven by the vagaries of public sentiment. On the other, it is most definitely portraying one side of the political equation as ultimately principled.  Sloane enters this snake pit of moral relativism and plays the game on its own terms in order to fulfill one unassailable, unalloyed moral good: gun control.  

The film opens with Elizabeth Sloane being prepped for a congressional hearing which has been convened to investigate her possible violations of Senate Ethics Rules. Under heavy questioning from John Lithgow’s laughable caricature, Congressman Ron Sperling, our would-be Machiavellian heroine lays out her credo:

Lobbying is about foresight. About anticipating your opponent’s moves and devising counter measures. The winner plots one step ahead of the opposition. And plays her trump card just after they play theirs. It’s about making sure you surprise them. And they don’t surprise you.

The film flashes back to the meeting which took place seven months prior to this hearing which set the chain of events in motion. The senior partners of her firm set her up with the head of the most powerful gun rights organization in the country. They recognize the deficit in appeal their cause has with women. Since she never gets tired of winning, they want Elizabeth Sloane to Make Gun Ownership Great Again for the female electorate. Sloane may be a mercenary, but she has SOME PRINCIPLES, dammit! She’s not going to just take any paycheck. She laughs in his face, and defects to the competitor firm with her cadre of #WOKE, #DIVERSE junior associate millennials in tow. 

With steely resolve, Elizabeth orchestrates a strategy to win the passage of the Heaton-Harris Amendment which would mandate background checks for gun purchases. This eventually leads her to a televised debate with her former colleague arguing the merits of the bill. This is where the film cudgels you over the skull with its progressive editorial. The debate is a cringe inducing piece of propaganda which portrays Sloane carving her opposition to pieces, overwhelming him with seemingly airtight logic, and unequivocally holding the appearance of the moral high ground.  As Pat Connors, Michael Stuhlbarg has the dubious distinction of being this week’s hapless conservatard who manages to bypass every substantive argument with a facile variation on MUH CONSTITUTION. Chastain takes obvious pleasure in rebutting every claim with ever escalating moral indignation as her #WOKE team cheers on the brutal #PWNAGE she dispenses. 

The fact that the progressive Left are the true moral and constitutional relativists who want to criminalize gun ownership is not exactly a secret. Every single one of Sloane’s rebuttals reveals the calculating sophistry that the Left has used to erode the perception of inviolability the Bill of Rights was meant to convey. It’s just like getting a driver’s license, and no one thinks drivers license mandates have destroyed individual liberty!  It’s just like fugu chefs in Japan who have to train for seven years!  We’re living in a different world from the one in which the Founders lived!  Get #WOKE, conservatards!

The Bill of Rights was, in fact, meant to delineate the boundary of individual liberty over which the government may not trespass. The Second Amendment follows the First because it is an inherent recognition of the fragility of liberty. The 2A places the responsibility of upholding liberty in the hands of every citizen. It is a recognition that stewardship of liberty cannot even be fully entrusted to the nation state. It is not a license for homicide. No quantity of laws will ever deter the homicidal maniac from committing homicide. No quantity of bureaucratic oversight has ever prevented a single act of mass gun homicide. If laws make the purchase of firearms too onerous, it only makes a bigger black market for firearms. It also incentivizes the sociopaths to enter into government and law enforcement positions so they can enjoy the cover of legitimacy. Gun control simply consolidates gun ownership in the hands of the State layered over with a vain hope that it will affect moral choices. The Left’s entire case is a gigantic appeal to emotion, and none of this enters Stuhlbarg’s argument.  He just gets to be Sloane’s intellectual roadkill in order to serve the greater goal of confirming the bias of the audience.  

The film tries to add some complexity by showing the amphetamine popping Sloane going off script during the debate. In a heated moment, she likens the defense of the 2A to being analogous to Christian opposition to gay rights. The #WOKE millenials are left slackjawed when she reveals that her colleague, Esme Manucharian, was a survivor of a deadly school shooting without consulting her beforehand.  Once Esme is outed, she becomes the public face for gun control. The tables turn when her life is threatened by a paranoid gun nut, but she is saved by a civilian who was carrying a legal concealed firearm. Good guy with a gun stops bad guy with a gun. The film tries to present this citizen vigilante as a national hero who is showered with media coverage, BUT THIS NEVER HAPPENS IN THE REAL WORLD NO MATTER HOW OFTEN IT HAPPENS. 

Elizabeth Sloane can be added to the ever growing list of feminist fantasy stereotypes. She’s driven, but she’s ultimately propelled by a sense of moral certitude. Her moral relativism is justified because she’s striving to uphold a higher moral absolute. She’s willing to allow her hypocrisy to be exposed only so she can expose the hypocrisy of The System©. And of course, real female power reaches its true apotheosis by Reforming Democracy®.

It’s also another example of feminism’s supremacist tendencies by portraying her as better than all of the male characters at every level. Even if Elizabeth Sloane is morally compromised in some way, she’s still better and smarter than every man in the film. She’s can even detach the need for emotional fulfillment from sex! She doesn’t need no m*n! 

Miss Sloane is just the latest installment of Hollywood’s partisan political agenda and pathological desire to flatter progressive pretensions of moral and intellectual superiority.  It undoubtedly sees itself as a rebuke to The System©, but I doubt that anyone outside the media echo chamber and the target audience sees it that way. 

Hidden Figures

Picking up where The Imitation Game left off, Hidden Figures arrives to crank the Hollywood virtue signalling dial to 11. Instead of a gay, British computing genius who helps the government, we get three black female math geniuses who help the government. Or to use #WOKE parlance, “womxn of color”. By most media accounts, Hidden Figures is a factually accurate account of the lives of three of NASA’s Human Computers: Dorothy Vaughan (Octavia Spencer), Katherine Johnson (Taraji P. Henson) and Mary Jackson (Janelle Monáe). Even if it boasts historical accuracy, the screen adaptation reeks of social justice grandstanding and narrative building. 

On the one hand, it’s great that this story is being told and the world can appreciate the critical contributions these women made to the American success in the Space Race. On the other, it is intensely irritating to watch a film whose political agenda bludgeons you over the head with every scene. This is a film that desperately wants you to walk out of the theater determined to dismantle “white supremacy” and “smash the patriarchy”. This is a film that seems blatantly calculated reinforce the omnipresent feminist narrative that women are socialized to be excluded from math and science. This is a film whose every line of dialogue seems customized for HuffPo headlines and #WOKE Twitter. And of course, this is yet another film which portrays women as paragons of pure poise, unshakable composure, boundless intelligence, unassailable virtue, and competence in every facet of life. 

The film kicks off the #RACISM narrative right off the bat. Our three heroines are stranded on a rural road as Dorothy Vaughan repairs their stalled automobile. A police officer pulls up to inquire about their condition, and naturally, he’s a belligerent, racist oaf who treats them with suspicion and contempt. Setting up a behavioral pattern that will define virtually every interracial interaction for the remainder of the film, the police officer is disarmed and bewildered to discover that they’re NASA employees. And like mathematicians and engineers and shit! Check your privilege, RACIST!

The rest of the film seems designed to set up variations on this scene.  In other words, three #STRONG, #INTELLIGENT Womyn of Color suffer one racist indignity after another, but eventually get to show the dumb white supremacists what they’re made of. Dorothy Vaughan is passed over for a promotion despite doing the work of a supervisor in the West Campus computing pool. Mary Jackson is denied an opportunity to advance as an engineer because she can’t take continuing education classes at the segregated school. Katherine Johnson is treated like shit even after she’s assigned to the elite corps of mathematicians working on getting a manned spacecraft in orbit. 

Hidden Figures wants you to believe that it’s “smashing stereotypes with its fearless portrait of WOC”, but it only can do that by building new stereotypes and straw men of its own. With the exception of Kevin Costner’s Al Harrison and Mahershala Ali’s Jim Johnson, all of male characters are racist dolts, faceless functionaries or power hungry bureaucrats. Even John Glenn can’t catch a break from the ever vigilant feminists at Bustle who bust him for calling Johnson a “girl”. Kirsten Dunst fares no better as the utterly unsympathetic West Campus supervisor, Vivian Mitchell.  She has the thankless role of being the token white, female racist who has to repeatedly deny advancement to the heroines due to budget cuts or obscure rules. BUT WE REALLY KNOW WHY SHE’S SHUTTING THEM DOWN, DON’T WE? 

The bulk of the film centers around Taraji P. Henson’s Katherine Johnson and her ascent through the ranks of the mathematics team responsible for the Friendship 7 mission. Upon her arrival, the film sets up the predictable racial tension as she is greeted by a roomful of silent white, male stares. It doesn’t take much to anticipate the trajectory the film takes, and there’s barely a surprise throughout its length. With the predictability of the mathematical equations Johnson calculates, you can anticipate every single dramatic cadence. As Paul Stafford, Jim Parsons is yet another two dimensional cardboard cutout who’s only job in the film is to bark instructions, enforce bureaucratic protocols, and marvel at Johnson’s genius when she shows him up. Costner is mildly sympathetic as the gruff department head who places his trust in Johnson’s ability. Naturally, he also gets to be the White Knight who makes the “smash white supremacy” meme literal by destroying the segregated restroom sign with a crowbar. 

There are numerous points which require varying degrees of suspension of disbelief, but one of the biggest is Johnson’s relationship with her three daughters. Johnson is a widow for the first half of the film, and the only caregiver is her mother. Her daughters are extraordinarily well behaved, happy and show no signs of discontent being separated from their mother most of the time. Johnson’s male counterparts have to phone home to their wives with the bad news that the Soviet launch of Sputnik will require that NASA redouble their efforts, but the one person who’s consistenty burning the overtime candle is Johnson. SEE SEXISTS? ALL THAT NONSENSE ABOUT MEN WORKING LONGER HOURS THAN WOMEN IS HATE FILLED PROPAGANDA! WOMEN CAN SHOULDER EVERY BURDEN WITHOUT A MAN AND THERE ARE NO CONSEQUENCES. 

To the film’s credit, they emphasize the central role that religious life played for the black community during that time. Social graces, manners, respect for elders and being well dressed are values which are consistently upheld in religious circles. The events of the film predate the Great Society and the destruction of the black family it wrought. Henson’s character is courted by Ali’s Jim Johnson, so the film is actually willing to portray marriage as a positive virtue. 

I doubt there’s much discussion of it in #WOKE media, but the film touches a third rail of racial politics: the correlation between race and IQ. Charles Murray continues to be raked over the coals for The Bell Curve, but the film is portraying a phenomenon that is, in fact, pretty rare. You’ll find plenty of hand wringing in progressive publications and government websites over the shortage of African-Americans graduating with STEM degrees. The film clearly wants you to point the finger at the reliable boogeyman of #SYSTEMIC #RACISM, but the hard truth is that very few African-Americans are pursuing STEM degrees. The Hollywood and academic elite undoubtedly believe that putting forward nothing but positive stereotypes will bolster self-esteem in the black community. It may make for a great circle jerk of self congratulations, but reduces filmmaking to SJW propaganda. 

Sadly, the film is also a pretty obvious bit of government propaganda. Don’t get me wrong. I remain enthralled by the possibility of spaceflight, but one simply cannot underestimate the symbolism that NASA, and by extension, this film represents. Spaceflight is largely viewed as the last remaining frontier of human achievement which can only be realized through the infinite benevolence of the State.  The government wants to preserve a monopoly on this realm of endeavor because it needs to own every area of aspirational idealism in order to keep people distracted from all of the horrible shit it’s doing. If people continue to hold the belief that the government can be used to confer an endless array of Public Goods and reach the highest pinnacles of human achievement, then no one is happier than the politicians. 

One of the biggest ironies of the film is the disconnect that presently exists between the contemporary radical wing of racial justice activism and the film’s open celebration of the MLK Civil Rights legacy. While the film lionizes the breakdown of Jim Crow laws, the collegiate safe space crowd openly EXTOLS racial segregation as next level #SocialJustice. 

I wanted to like Hidden Figures, but Hollywood seems pretty intent on prioritizing political virtue signalling over making good drama lately. Everything about the film is expertly crafted, but it sinks under the weight of the agenda it’s carrying. Fences appears to be a film portraying the life the ordinary black father, but what are the chances Hollywood is going to make a version of this movie for hidden black men? I know which side of that bet I’m on.  

Dark City

Alex Proyas’ 1998 masterpiece, Dark City, may draw easy comparisons to The Matrix, but it deserves to be evaluated on its own terms. Both films deal with the idea that there is a deeper reality beyond material appearances as well as the possibility that there are malevolent forces actively shaping your perception. Both films also give you a protagonist who cracks the code of the reality with his own powers which threatens the controlled order of the world he inhabits. While The Matrix was ultimately a story of the Chosen One who liberates the huddled remains of humanity, Dark City is a story of a man who discovers that the essence of his humanity that could not be controlled made him stronger than his captors. 

Playing the role of John Murdoch, Rufus Sewell awakens in a bathtub suffering from amnesia. To his dismay, he discovers a woman brutally murdered lying on the floor of his bedroom. Fleeing the scene in a panic after receiving a phone call from a mysterious Doctor Schreber, he barely escapes discovery from a trio of ghoulish looking beings known as The Strangers.  When the clock strikes midnight, the entire city stops and all its inhabitants fall into a state of hypnosis except Murdoch. This state of hypnosis is induced by The Strangers using a psychokinetic power called “tuning” which allows them to reshape the city and the lives of its inhabitants. Pursued simultaneously by Inspector Frank Bumstead under suspicion of multiple murders, Murdoch is able to escape the clutches of The Strangers by tapping into his own ability to tune. Murdoch tries to recover his memories by reaching out to his torch singer wife, Emma. Murdoch’s ability to tune threatens the control The Strangers exert on the citizens of Dark City.  He seeks to return to Shell Beach, the beachside town he believes to be his home, and unravel the mystery of Dark City before The Strangers catch up with him. 

Dark City belongs to a venerable tradition of SF films which explores the essence of identity, free will versus determinism, the effect of time and memory, and the value of our connection to the past. Given the escalating tensions in neuroscience over the role of biological factors and the nature of consciousness itself, Dark City’s emphasis on the latter theme places it a notch above The Matrix. Through tuning, The Strangers possess the ability to shape time and space, but they imprint people with stolen memories in order to discover what makes humans tick. The Strangers’ mentality can be viewed as a classic representation of collectivist materialism. With Doctor Schreber’s coerced assistance, they distill human experience into chemical combinations. Despite their apparent superiority, The Strangers cling doggedly to the belief that by continuously reshaping the physical, social, and even biochemical conditions, they can mold humanity to fit their desired ends. 

The Strangers’ manipulations of reality also serve as a metaphor for the myriad ways in which globalists, social scientists, and technocrats have intervened in human affairs in the present world. Ultimately, the film is an affirmation of the existence of a sovereign individual consciousness and the ability to exercise free will, but it shows you how difficult it is to develop an awareness of Self. Not only does Murdoch struggle to recover his connection to his own past, he must work equally hard to rip away the veil of deception that has been carefully constructed all around him.

Dr. Schreber: I call them the Strangers. They abducted us and brought us here. This city, everyone in it… is their experiment. They mix and match our memories as they see fit, trying to divine what makes us unique. One day, a man might be an inspector. The next, someone entirely different. When they want to study a murderer, for instance, they simply imprint one of their citizens with a new personality. Arrange a family for him, friends, an entire history… even a lost wallet. Then they observe the results. Will a man, given the history of a killer, continue in that vein? Or are we, in fact, more than the sum of our memories?

The Strangers are one of the most chilling representations of an alien dictatorship I’ve seen on film. They share a collective consciousness, but they have no individuality. It is a society of abject servitude to the hive mind. They possess advanced scientific knowledge, but they’re so imprisoned by scientific thinking, they’re completely insensitive to the ways they’re destroying the lives of their subjects. Morality and ethics are absent from their existence. 

In contrast to the messianic nature of Neo and his quest in The Matrix, Murdoch’s heroism is purely the result of his desire to attain meaning and discover the truth of reality. By asserting his individuality and claiming ownership of his own thoughts, it had a ripple effect in the other characters. He instinctively knows that the love he shared with his wife and his connection to Shell Beach were the only things that gave his life meaning and purpose. 

Stylistically, Dark City is a visual tour de force. The film effortlessly updates Metropolis‘ German expressionism with a lush 90’s gothic film noir chic. The overall color palette is suffused with black and other dark tones, but it is not devoid of rich, vivid colors. Visual, stylistic, and thematic references to its forebears abound. Vertigo, Blade Runner, City of Lost Children, Total Recall, and The Crow can all be detected within Dark City’s DNA. 

Dark City is a film which borrows very liberally from other films, but stands alone on its own terms. We continue debate the acquisition of truth amidst a sea of self-interested media elites, the extent to which we’re influenced by our past positively or negatively, the consequences of the endless parade of would-be social scientists peddling postmodern abstraction as policy, what role neuroscience plays in shaping happiness, and what quantum mechanics suggests about human consciousness. Dark City’s themes speak to each of these issues, and its relevance has grown in proportion. Not only does it stand very tall in the SF cinematic canon, but in the annals of all film. 

La La Land

It’s not going to replace The Sound of Music in the pantheon of greatest musicals, but it’s a nice throwback to Old Hollywood with a modern sensibility.

La La Land is the kind of film that you thought was consigned to the scrap heap of Hollywood history.  In other words, it’s a boy-meets-girl love story with song and dance performed by two charismatic and attractive leads.  It’s colorful. It’s fun. It’s a film with a smile on its face that wants to entertain you. Ryan Gosling is the idealistic jazz musician, Sebastian, and Emma Stone is aspiring actress, Mia. Even with its bittersweet ending, the film is refreshing because of its unabashed old fashioned approach.

Besides the love story, La La Land deals with the question of what it means to be an artist and being true to your principles by finding your own voice. Sebastian is the quintessential jazz purist who wants to rescue jazz from cultural oblivion. He dreams of opening a club that features Honest Jazz, but bides his time playing lounges and 80’s cover bands. Mia is just another actress hunting for scraps in the Hollywood meat grinder until Sebastian encourages her to tell her own stories by developing her long abandoned writing.

More specifically, the film addresses the ideological divide in jazz between innovation and tradition, and which takes priority when it comes to attracting audiences. Is jazz a fixed tradition with specific, definable parameters or is it a blank slate which must incorporate modern technology and borrow from other idioms in order to innovate and attract audiences? In Sebastian’s case, his version of artistic radicalism was to return to jazz tradition despite being given an opportunity to play in John Legend’s globetrotting pop/R&B act.

In one scene, the film does an excellent job showing the chasm of misperception between the jazz aficionado and the casual consumer. Mia tries to explain that she finds Kenny G perfectly enjoyable and her parents would put on a smooth jazz station as background music. Instead of being an elitist snob, Sebastian draws her attention to the musical action happening on the combo performing in front of them.  The film clearly wants us to see the beauty in jazz that Sebastian sees and show what makes jazz such a dynamic and rich art form.

Where La La Land really shines is in the romance between Sebastian and Mia. How long has it been since Hollywood unironically presented the pursuit of love and companionship between a man and a woman as a virtue? Hollywood has been so far up its own ideological ass for so many years trying to fulfill every politically correct agenda that a scene with Sebastian and Mia holding hands in a theater while watching Rebel Without a Cause feels pretty radical. 

It’s multicultural, but it is blessedly free of hamfisted racial or identity politics. Sebastian’s sister marries a black man, but they didn’t insert some tortured narrative about racism. The jazz club scenes contained multiracial audiences and showed people getting along and having a great time enjoying an art form that has succeeded in building cultural bridges.  Since Hollywood seems so solidly intent on propping up politically divisive narratives by constantly emphasizing America’s sordid history in films like Race and Birth of a Nation, the absence of these tiresome themes in La La Land is noticeable and welcome.

The film is not just a candy coated sugar high though. The tradeoffs, compromises, self doubt and financial insecurities which come with the territory of being an artist create the emotional and dramatic tension between the characters. Artistic idealism is an admirable virtue, and one which resonates with me, but Damien Chazelle is correct to point out that absent clear communication, the pursuit of a stable family life and the artistic dream can easily become irreconcilable goals.  It’s great to see that the pursuit of artistic individualism is upheld as a heroic virtue, but it’s worth remembering that it is not an ironclad promise of financial remuneration or commercial recognition.

Needless to say, the SJW media factions and progressive Twitterati have predictably heaped condemnation on La La Land for the very reasons that it’s good.  Hopefully, studios will pay more attention to the positive acclaim and box office receipts, think twice about pushing ideological agendas, and remember that people enjoy being entertained and watching attractive people fall in love on screen.

Rogue One

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Before Rogue One, I had resigned myself to the reality that a new Star Wars film isn’t going to rock my world quite like it did in 1977.  How could any new entry possibly match that experience? Star Wars certainly wouldn’t have become the global phenomenon it is without having some thematic heft and adult appeal, but it has always aimed to pluck the heartstrings of youth.  To say that Star Wars transformed my youthful dreams and angst into a two hour symphony of pure cinematic magic which moved me to the core of my being at that time in my life is an understatement. Though my story is hardly unique in the vast universe of SW fandom, my love affair with the original series was indeed profound and deep.  When Luke stares into Tatooine’s twin sunset and the music swells to a crescendo, the yearning for something greater was palpable. When Luke tells Obi-Wan that he wants to go to Alderaan and learn the ways of the Force, I felt that shit. Anyone who doesn’t understand that these scenes all by themselves formed the core of Star Wars’ primal and transcendent appeal doesn’t really get Star Wars in the first place. Sure, the lightsaber duels, battles and starships were awesome, but at a very basic level, Luke’s quest was my quest. This seemingly effortless fusion of the universal and the personal was the truly great feat of cinematic sorcery that George Lucas conjured.

I’m never going to be that kid again, but that kid in me simply hoped that the new gatekeepers of the SW legacy are going to remember that for all of the cinematic and visual effect innovations that have been the hallmarks of the series, what really made these films tick is that they gave you characters in which you wanted to believe. Star Wars gave you friendships and bonds in which you were deeply invested.  It gave you characters whose motivations and foibles were sufficiently fleshed out that when the chips were down, you knew that each character was putting himself to the test and that made the ultimate triumphs all the more satisfying.

While the prequels failed miserably in this task, The Force Awakens also suffered from similar deficiencies in character development. It was enjoyable enough, but every character was paper thin. There was no real backstory to the characters and subsequently, no dramatic arc. These problems were only compounded by the stink of SJW agenda fulfillment permeating every frameFrom the could-be-gay bromance of Finn and Poe to the cartoonish emotional instability (translation: toxic masculinity/male fragility) of Kylo Ren to the impossible Mary Sue-like competence of Rey, The Force Awakens had the unmistakable aura of a PC feminist/SJW checklist.

Despite this string of disappointments, I still came to Rogue One with genuine optimism.  I didn’t care that Jyn Erso was very likely going to be another outrageous female power fantasy designed to flatter the egos of feminists and bolster a now deeply clichéd Girl Power/inverted stereotype hero narrative. I didn’t care that writers Chris Weitz and Gary Whitta were pandering to the SJW, multi-culti, Fight The Power progressive mindset when they tweeted out some moronic nonsense about the Empire being a “white supremacist organization.” I didn’t care that Disney demanded reshoots after Gareth Edwards presented his first cut of the film. Just give me some characters in which to believe and cheer.  Give me a little bit of human drama to complement Gareth Edwards’ epic vision.  I wasn’t worried about the eye candy or the mayhem. I just wanted to care about the people involved.  I just wanted to have a small taste of that yearning to go to Alderaan and learn the ways of the Force all over again, or in this case, root for the Rebel Alliance to dismantle the evil dominion of the Empire.  Surely, a new Star Wars film could deliver this modest goal to my adult self and I believed that Gareth Edwards was up to that task.

If this is also your new hope for Rogue One, I can firmly attest that this film is absolutely the droid you’re looking for. Rogue One is hands down the most successful Star Wars film since the Original Trilogy and the most genuinely satisfying Star Wars film I’ve seen since 1977. I still can’t believe how genuinely good this motherfucker is. It’s the Star Wars film you didn’t know you wanted, but now that it’s here, you can’t live without it. It also succeeds in achieving a goal that eluded The Force Awakens by referencing the original series and mythology while presenting something completely contemporary and fresh.

Rogue One is the story of a team of rebels who manage to abscond with the plans of the Death Star which find their way back into the hands of the Rebel Alliance and Princess Leia. What’s remarkable is how effectively the film builds a compelling story around what amounts to a couple sentences of opening crawl in Episode IV.  Since there’s no real Jedi quest, the film is able to be a full on war/espionage story set in the SW universe at the height of tensions between the Rebel Alliance and the Empire. It comes across like a lighter version of The Dirty Dozen with a post-Battlestar Galactica grit to it and to my great astonishment, it’s a mix that works brilliantly.  I believe it marks a distinct tonal shift away from the pop space opera vibe of the other canonical films, but this choice has given the series the new lease on life that has eluded every other post-OT installment.  It is indeed a war film and it packs a visceral punch that is unmatched in the series.

I was concerned about the character development in this film since this has been the great Achilles Heel of every new installment in the series up to this point. While you don’t necessarily know a whole lot about any one of them, you learn enough to be invested.  As Jyn Erso, I was pleasantly surprised by how much I believed in Felicity Jones’ transformation into a rebel leader and her bond with both her father Galen and the militant Rebel who raised her, Saw Gerrera. The scenes between her and Mads Mikkelsen’s Galen Erso are genuinely sweet and give the film the emotional core that made the original films sing. Once again, we’re presented with a SW protagonist who had been snatched away from her birth parents and raised by a surrogate who happened to be a radical extremist within the Rebel Alliance.  Subsequently, it’s not impossible to believe that she would be proficient with firearms and have the mental and physical fortitude necessary for combat.  The Strong Womyn archetype who’s smarter and stronger than her male counterparts has become very commonplace in action and SF films for many years, and I was concerned that we were going to be given another variation on Rey. Thankfully, everything about Jyn’s development and the proficiency she exhibits was consistent with what we were presented.  Although when it came to Jyn’s tepid attempt at channeling Henry V, I have to agree with CNET’s Ashlee Clark Thompson that it invoked “Girl, I guess so” more than it summoned the spine of steel one would need to face certain death at the hands of the Empire.

The remaining characters were surprisingly compelling despite how little we actually knew about them.  Diego Luna’s Cassian Andor draws you in through his confessions of the losses he faced at the hands of the Empire as well as the moral compromises he’s made in service of the Alliance. Nothing is really known about the origin of the friendship between Baze Malbus and Chirrut Îmwe, but their affection for one another is never in doubt and when they meet their tragic end, it has more emotional weight than expected. Bodhi Rook’s defection from the Empire roughly mirrors Finn’s from TFA, but is remarkably more interesting and believable because unlike Finn, he was merely a pilot for the Empire and one could imagine him being persuaded to the cause of the Alliance by Galen Erso.  The big standout of the film is actually Alan Tudyk’s voice characterization of Imperial droid, K-2SO. He brings some welcome comic counterpoint to the film’s grim tone and his lines are genuinely laugh out loud funny.

On the Imperial side, Ben Mendelsohn brings a sufficiently nasty sneering menace to his role as Director Orson Krennic.  And yes, Rogue One marks the welcome return of the greatest Sith of them all and one of the greatest cinematic villains of all time, Lord Vader. Vader’s appearance in the film is limited to two excellent scenes, and only serve to remind you that neither Kylo Ren or young, tortured Anakin has managed to scale the heights of sheer Dark Side terror that Vader can summon in one line of dialogue or just by entering a room.

Perhaps being unshackled by the weight of the Skywalker mythology really freed up some creative energies, but Gareth Edwards deserves a vigorous round of applause for the feat of world building he has pulled off here.  The film is filled with both new and old worlds that have that grimy, used future vibe of the OT as well as numerous classic vehicles and images.  Mostly, Gareth Edwards managed to convey a sense of scale that even surpasses Lucas’ original vision at certain times.  The Empire has never seemed more massive and imposing on screen as it does in Rogue One. The data storage facility at Scarif is what you’d imagine Qatar to be like had it been developed by the Empire.  Jedha and Jedha City are equally impressive with obvious connections to Arabic citadels and architecture. Edwards even gives us Vader’s palace at Mustafar as a dark monument to the disfigurement he suffered at the hands of his former Jedi mentor.

My biggest gripe with Rogue One is the facile message and the refusal to confront the inherently political content at its center in an honest and meaningful way. The entire message of the film can be summed up as Be Hopeful, Listen and Believe (especially if it’s a womyn), and Down with the Space Nazis. Sure, it’s a Disney property now, it’s unrealistic of me to expect them to make anyone think too hard and Lucas’ message was arguably just as superficial, but when Disney’s Bob Iger says there are “no political statements” in Rogue One, I’m calling bullshit.  Of course Star Wars is political!  It’s about fucking WAR fer chrissakes, people!  It’s about the struggle of liberty versus tyranny. There is nothing more inherently political than war or armed revolution. War is the business of the nation state. Revolutions organize themselves around a political philosophy. The Rebel Alliance were the just remnants of the Old Republic who want to preserve peace and justice by restoring “democracy”.  The films never spell out exactly what the Alliance’s political ideals or principles are beyond “democracy” or “hope”, but the Rebels do aspire to reclaim the seat of power in their own right.  Presumably, they’re just going to be better at it than the Empire.

The politics of Star Wars have long been a subject of debate throughout the geekosphere, but I suggest that’s because people want to be able to connect it more immediately into the world of the present and their own political worldview. Disney and Lucas undoubtedly tried to keep the political content as neutral as possible so that one could view the films though one’s own ideological lens, but it still leaves me wanting a bit more. The film presents a very easily digestible Manichean dichotomy: Rebels are Good and Imperials are Bad.  This simplistic dualism doesn’t allow you to wrap your mind around which mechanisms of political policy the Empire exploited or the propaganda they deployed in order to accumulate such massive centralized political power in the first place. Edwards’ world contained mountains of untapped thematic potential.  If there was an Imperial Labor Camp on Wobani, it stands to reason that this is where dissidents and thought criminals were sent, and subsequently, it was a missed opportunity to introduce the propagandists for the Alliance.  Furthermore, there had to be segments of the galaxy that were pro-Empire and totally pro-Death Star. It was fundamentally a government program and by extension, a boon for lots of industrial interests throughout the galaxy.

Unfortunately, the political content doesn’t really make a whole lot of sense when you inspect it closely, and more often than not, reaffirms a lot of dopey leftist clichés.  How did the Confederacy of Indepent Systems, essentially the UKIP of the Republic, get to be the bad guys simply for embracing secession and opposing the excessive taxation and bureaucratic palsy of the Republic? That sounds pretty American and like the real rebels to me. And why is the Galactic Empire called a fascist regime?  They weren’t promoting a racially pure ethno-state nor could they promote a unitary galactic identity.  If anything, they were Space Communists, not Nazis.

As good as it is, I can’t help but wonder what Gareth Edwards presented to Disney executives initially.  It’s a little ironic that a film franchise that cashes in on a sentiment of rebellion is ultimately subordinate to the aesthetic mandates of its corporate, Imperial overlords.

But don’t let any of this hyper-analysis deter you if you have even the slightest misgivings.  Rogue One is the best thing to happen to the franchise since Luke Skywalker first brandished a lightsaber.  Who knows if it is a harbinger of Episode VIII or if it remains a solitary bright light in a dying franchise?  Regardless, Gareth Edwards has given us something that all of us OT OG’s have long awaited: a Star Wars film that’s actually fucking good. Enjoy it while it’s here. 

Independence Day: Resurgence

If you garnered any enjoyment from the first Independence Day or if you’re in the mood for a state of the art alien invasion film with some really enjoyable performances, you could do a lot worse than Resurgence.  The film succeeds because it gives you exactly what it promises: a band of heroes who join together to save human civilization from another extraterrestrial threat of extermination. Of course, the threat is twice as bad as before.  

The story picks up 20 years after the events of the first film and rejoins us with most of the original characters. Several young characters are added to the mix in order to fill the void left by the absence of Will Smith. All of the countries have banded together to rebuild civilization after being nearly vaporized by aliens the first time around. Thanks to harvested alien technology, the United States have built a global super state with a futuristic, alien-grade military defense apparatus that extends from the earth to the moon.  

This film has been described in various reviews as an appeal to nationalism and patriotism, but it’s more than that. It’s really War of the Worlds repurposed as a multicultural, globalist fantasy and a Keynesian wet dream. This film is yet another variation on the fantasy of a gleaming, futuristic, techno-utopia that can be achieved through abject servitude to the State and cradle to grave militarism. The previous alien invasion may have nearly wiped out civilization, but it provided the ultimate opportunity to enact the biggest economic stimulus ever! It’s quite literally Paul Krugman’s prescription for economic prosperity writ large.  

Familial bonds are largely non-existent for the younger characters, but when they are introduced, they exist mostly within the hierarchy of the State. Vivica Fox returns as Jasmine Hiller who is both mother of Jessie Usher’s Dylan Hiller and some kind of high ranking government official.  She lasts long enough to convey maternal pride in her top gun military progeny and die a tragic death amidst the alien devastation.
The technology is so advanced, that one can only imagine that the Platonist social engineers were finally given free reign to build a society of super soldiers whose only devotion is to the State. Naturally, it’s a multicultural paradise with total gender equality.  Every race and culture gets along harmoniously, the women are every bit as capable as the men in every pursuit, and when the chips are down, humanity joins hands to fend off extinction one more time. Even the African communist militants seem like really cool guys. 

But enough of all this analysis.  What about the UFOs and worldwide demolition? Independence Day made its mark by giving us massive alien ships with devastating weapons, and just as one would hope, Resurgence doubles down on the massiveness.  The film wants to overwhelm you with its scale, and it more than delivers. The alien mothership is so big, it plants itself on the surface of the earth like a giant hubcap.  

When it comes to defeating the aliens, the film settles for yet another variation on what has become a completely shopworn cliché: destroy the leader and the minions lose their agency.  Sadly, the human alliance doesn’t differ from the aliens in this respect.  All of the forces rally and are emboldened to fight upon hearing President Whitmore’s grizzled but rousing call to arms.  

Though I doubt it was the filmmakers’ intention, I propose that this film was also a stealth commentary on modern feminism. Everyone will undoubtedly find it so empowering and progressive that Sela Ward plays the current president and gives the command to initiate the attack on the alien vessel, but that’s a side show. The alien civilization is essentially a matriarchy that resembles a highly advanced insect colony with a queen who controls and directs the worker soldiers. Once the queen is killed, all the subordinate aliens lose their will to fight. If an advanced civilization capable of enormous and highly coordinated feats of starship construction, weapons systems development, and intergalactic invasion and occupation is ruled by a woman and all of the subordinate workers are so emasculated that they’re forced to dedicate the entirety of their existence to a never-ending pursuit of intergalactic conquest, that doesn’t speak too highly of life under matriarchy.  

Ultimately, the film is supremely entertaining. It knows that its first job is to be a rousing blockbuster alien invasion movie and it succeeds wildly at this task. But every major Hollywood film exists to transmit progressive editorial of one form or another, and Independence Day: Resurgence is certainly no exception. 

Hardcore Henry


Hardcore Henry is one of those films that will immediately polarize the filmgoing audience. You already know whether or not this film is for you. The filmmakers knew exactly who they were appealing to when they made it, and it delivers in spades. It is nothing short of a tour de force and will likely be viewed as a benchmark against which future efforts of its kind will be measured. Conversely, it’s also the kind of film that is reviled and pilloried by easily offended triggerkin.  It’s unrepentantly ultraviolent, it promotes gender dimorphism, has lots of sexy chicks, and it’s filmed in the style of the first person shooter video game. In other words, the very kind of game that has drawn the ire of PC scolds and Puritans like Jonathan McIntosh and Anita Sarkeesian.  

Hardcore Henry has a plot, but it mostly serves to set up the scenes of expertly choreographed mayhem and the requisite showdown between the hero and the villain. There’s nothing whatsoever wrong with this approach. The filmmakers know what they’re selling and the plot, however meager and arbitrary it seems, is more than sufficient. The characters with which we’re presented are so colorful, it more than makes up for the wild leaps of the story. This is especially true of Sharlto Copley’s masterful turn in his many different iterations of Jimmy. Mr. Copley even called this film the most challenging of his acting career.

In the beginning of the film, Henry is awakened by Estelle (Haley Bennett) in a laboratory to discover he’s lost his arm, leg and voice.  He’s asked to remain calm while his cybernetic arm and leg are attached. Henry has no memory of his past self, but Estelle tries to remind him that they were formerly married. While awaiting a download for his vocal software, the laboratory is infiltrated by mercs.  The main bad guy, Akan, shows up, wreaks havoc with his telekinetic power, kills the lab technician and threatens to make an army of cyborgs using the technology implanted in Henry’s body.  Estelle and Henry manage to escape from what is apparently a laboratory dirigible, but land on a freeway only to have to fight off another set of goons who attempt to apprehend them. From there, the film basically steps on the accelerator pedal and simply does not let up.  

The action scenes are relentless, but exhilarating because they are just so physical and dangerous. This is one of those movies where you realize that the individuals who shot these performances are just made of different stuff than the rest of us. Perhaps slightly unhinged. There is an outrageous car/motorcycle chase (see link pasted above), a death defying parkour chase through the streets of Moscow, more gun fights than perhaps any other film I’ve ever seen, and some of the most insane hand to hand combat since The Raid.  

Another big plus is that it was made by Russians and filmed in Moscow. The individuals they hired to play some of mercs and goons looked every bit like they were straight out of the FSB and carried an above average aura of menace.  Perhaps I’m overstating, but the brothel full of scantily clad women is the kind of scene that rarely attempted by the increasingly PC mainstream Hollywood film. 

Hardcore Henry is a film that’s high on its own adrenaline rush.  The filmmakers know that you’re there to see next level action filmmaking and they’re more than happy to oblige.  Like The Green InfernoI was delighted that they simply did not give a single fuck about appeasing any PC sensibilities.  The film gleefully revels in its refusal to kowtow to the phony standards and diktats of would-be moralists, feminist killjoys, Bechdel testers, multiculturalists and racism cops. It’s not deep and has no redeeming social message, but it’s a fast, relentless shit ton of decadent fun. And sometimes, that can be a pretty bold statement all by itself.