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.
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.
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.
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.
I suspect that James Cameron borrowed from the katra ritual to some extent for the conclusion of Avatar.
Vulcan mysticism is very overtly pagan. I’d argue that it’s fundamentally Platonic.
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.
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.
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.
There is an unquestionable overabundance of woke agitprop coming from Hollywood these days, but between this and the 2018 “documentary” by Julie Cohen and Betsy West, the cinematic love letter to Notorious RBG has become its own subgenre. I went in expecting epic cringe and it didn’t disappoint. It is the veritable hymnal for the feminist catechism that I expected.
However, the film seems to be running at cross purposes with contemporary sensibilities. On one hand, it is refueling the feminist grievance industry by attempting to portray the world of 2020 as completely unchanged from the world of Harvard Law School in 1956 when RBG was one of six women in her class. As Sam Waterston’s Erwin Griswold confers with his team in preparation for the Charles Moritz case, Mimi Leder absolutely wants you find this cabal of white men who bloviate over the sanctity of the family loathsome and omnipresent. Down with the patriarchy! When Marty toasts Ruth’s new professorship after being turned down at law firms, you’re supposed to feel the revulsion and disappointment on Ruth’s visage as he refers to her as “mom”. Fuck motherhood man! Garbage collection gender equality NOW!
Yet, at the same time, there is something decidedly unwoke about this film. While the film centers around RBG’s quest for redress of Charles Moritz’ denial of a caregiver tax deduction, the film already feels out of step with the cutting edge of the feminist ideological vanguard. In her arguments to the 10th circuit judges, RBG says that sex is an immutable biological reality. Whoa! Ease up there, Hitler. DIDN’T YOU READ JUDITH BUTLER, RUTH?
But none of that matters. If anything, it’s proof that the progressive ruling class doesn’t take anything it says seriously. They’re all just different shards of ideological weaponry that can be deployed when necessary. As is usually the case with the best works of propaganda, it’s very clever about how the message is delivered. As a newly radicalized Jane Ginsburg tries to femsplain to her unwoke mom that Atticus Finch was a role model attorney, Ruth shoots her down by appealing to THE PENAL CODE as evidence of his unethical behavior. Ah, but why is Ruth Bader Ginsburg putting everything on the line for Charles Moritz? BECAUSE THE LAW IS WRONG. So the lesson is that the law is the ultimate authority until it’s politically inconvenient. Because every woman must have an equal opportunity to work street sanitation or fulfill her lifelong dream of working an oil derrick.
As Ruth and Marty arrive at the 10th circuit courtroom for the climactic trial, Mimi Leder hovers over the quote inscribed on the wall. It reads “Reason is the soul of the law”. Sounds great, right? Standard Enlightenment rhetoric. It’s the stuff of which the American Revolution was built. It’s supposed to be the kind of lofty ideal on which which every American can agree. But who really thinks America in 2020 can agree on what “reason” means? Or who possesses the capacity to exercise it properly? Let alone believes in the existence of a “soul” within the law. RBG is the ultimate progressive power fantasy because she embodies the You Can Have It All feminist dream. She has a devoted husband and she’s a game changing crusader for Womyn’s Rights. She’s a mother and an educated career oriented woman. But Mimi Leder isn’t interested in whether or not this is attainable or desirable for everyone. Like everyone else in the progressive ruling class, the fantasy of ideological purity is the overriding priority. This is just as much a slice of a decades long social engineering experiment carried out by the progressive establishment as it is the story of a pivotal case in RBG’s career. Academia and the ACLU are just as important to this story as RBG herself. When Kathy Bates’ Dorothy Kenyon admonishes Ruth to “change minds, then change the law”, this feels like a page from the ruling class playbook. As a footnote, there is also what appears to be a nod to the Pentagon’s role in the development of artificial intelligence in the judicial system; a job that would later be outsourced to Silicon Valley.
Just like the Cohen and West “documentary” from 2018, Mimi Leder also isn’t interested in looking back and taking stock of what the legacy of the feminist establishment has wrought. It’s painting RBG’s career as an unquestionably righteous neverending battle while simultaneously subtly denigrating marriage and motherhood. If equality is your highest ideal, then that necessarily entails that the hierarchy of values that once defined the social order will be equalized as well. When sex becomes recreational, then you shouldn’t be surprised or appalled by an entire generation of infantilized men or the dissolution of chivalry. And yet, that’s exactly the grift Leder and the progressive ruling class is attempting to pull off in this film. Just be sure to tweet SLAY KWEEN as you watch RBG do her slo-mo march up the SCOTUS staircase.
At least, those of us who’ve been written off by Kathleen Kennedy and her clone army of SJW shills as butthurt fanboys, bigots and Russian bots. We knew. We absolutely knew it would come down to this. As sure as the prophecy of The Chosen One.
We knew this film would be an unmitigated catastrophe. It was merely a question of magnitude.
We knew there was no way JJ Abrams was going to pull off a satisfying conclusion, let alone a coherent movie, out from the trash fire known as The Last Jedi.
We knew that this whole God forsaken sequel trilogy was a meandering hodgepodge of SJW talking points pretending to be a story.
We read all the leaks on Reddit and facepalmed at each revelation.
We knew that none of these characters had an ounce of real charisma, chemistry or charm.
We knew that both JJ Abrams and Rian Johnson ran roughshod over the canonical pillars of the Star Wars mythology for the express purpose of pandering to their imaginary legions of woke superfans.
We knew that there was no real story here at all.
We knew this was an unplanned and haphazard patchwork of half-baked ideas and malformed characters; an execrable and contemptuous spitball of a film directed squarely in the eye of every person who ever cared about this franchise.
We knew it, and yet, all we could do is watch from the sidelines as JJ Abrams, Rian Johnson and Kathleen Kennedy absolutely demolished one of pop culture’s most durable mythologies like a three-headed Admiral Holdo Cerberus running a kamikaze mission on First Order Star Destroyers. All while being insulted and attacked by Johnson and his media minions as trolls and bigots for daring to have a critical view of his shitty movie.
Young fools! Only now, at the end, do you understand!
So how bad is it?
Honestly, not that bad. Search your feelings. You know it to be true.
The Rise of Skywalker has earned the most dubious distinction in pop culture history. It is the most entertainingly brazen act of contempt, incompetence and indifference ever committed by a major entertainment company. When even the establishment media shills are openly conceding that JJ Abrams spends a good chunk of the film walking back Rian Johnson’s choices, you know there is no way this film can avoid being an epic calamity. And yet, somehow, against all the odds, that’s exactly what he did. Indeed, the Dark Side is a pathway to many abilities some consider to be… unnatural.
It feels redundant to point out its myriad flaws because the entire trilogy has been mismanaged from the start, and as expected, The Rise of Skywalker is loaded with them. It is filled with major abuses, missed opportunities, and earth shattering WTFs. However, to be perfectly fair, it has some honest successes. So let’s take a look at the Force miracles and missteps JJ Abrams has performed for this would-be epic finale to the Skywalker saga.
Rise of the Retcon
How the fuck is Palpatine even in this film? Seriously. The motherfucker gets thrown down a shaft and then survives the explosion of the Death Star? Really? Look, I can buy into the fact that Sith are never fully vanquished, but this was simultaneously the most blatant appeal to nostalgia and act of desperation ever committed. After Rian Johnson completely derailed this trilogy, I understand why this was necessary, but it doesn’t absolve JJ Abrams either. Apparently, theres’ a Sith homeworld called Exogol with genetic engineers, giant ass statues and legions of Sith acolytes who sit around doing incantations while Palpatine is kept alive with a midichlorian enriched IV drip. Somehow, no one ever knew about this homeworld nor suspected that the Palpatine zombie ghost was pulling all the strings the whole time, but whatever man. The most galling thing about this entire device is that it absolutely nullifies the triumphs of the original characters. Luke, Leia and Han put everything on the line to defeat Palpatine the first time, but HAHA IT’S ALL A RUSE YOU DUMB FANBOYS! GEORGE LUCAS WAS JUST TROLLING AND YOU NEEDED KATHLEEN KENNEDY AND JJ ABRAMS TO LIFT THE VEIL! I guess it’s something JJ Abrams pulled out of that mystery box he likes to talk about.
The retconning of Palpatine also necessitated the inclusion of the films two MacGuffins: the Sith dagger and the Wayfinder GPS system. Again, how the Wayfinder was intact after the destruction of the Endor Death Star absolutely beggars belief. But whatever man. Mystery box or something.
What? How? Why?
Why did it take three films for Kylo Ren to actually seem fearsome and imposing?
Why would he fear the re-emergence of Palpatine? Wouldn’t he be enthusiastic about the return of the most legendary Sith?
Why didn’t Kylo Ren just start blasting the shit out of Rey while he was in the TIE fighter? How did he survive that crash landing?
How the fuck did Palpatine build that fleet of Star Destroyers without conscripting or employing the services of several worlds and interplanetary defense contractors? Or anyone disccovering it?
Why didn’t General Pryde just tilt the Star Destoyer to the side and force the Riders of Endor to just fall off?
If Finn and Jannah broke the psychological conditioning of the First Order, why treat all stormtroopers as murderous goons? Doesn’t this make every stormtrooper a potential new ally?
Why weren’t the Knights of Ren introduced at the beginning of the trilogy so we could actually appreciate Ben Solo’s victory? Why were they presented as super badasses but ultimately killed and wasted like Phasma and Snoke?
How is Luke’s X-Wing still functional after being at the bottom of the ocean after all those years?
Why would you hire Keri Russell and keep her in a helmet for the entire film?
Why would Hux be a double agent for the Resistance just to spite Kylo Ren? Couldn’t he find another way to undermine him that didn’t involve exposing the First Order to their mortal enemies?
Suck on it, Rian Johnson
Thankfully, JJ Abrams did try to walk back some of Rian Johnson’s most egregious errors. While The Last Jedi did irreparable damage to the legacy of Luke Skywalker, JJ Abrams did his best to redeem him. Furthermore, the role of the annoying and pointless PETA activist, Rose Tico, was blessedly diminished. Her affection for Finn was set up to be a meaningful romantic connection, but that thread was jettisoned too. Given the ad hoc nature of the whole thing, it’s par for the course.
Best Jedi EVAR!
Fantasy and sci-fi properties which feature characters with fantastical powers only work when you have rules that govern the acquisition and usage of the powers. The way the Force was introduced in the OT was very effective because it was gradual. Most importantly, it carried dramatic weight because the ability to utilize its power was presented as something that required training and discipline regardless of whether you were on the Dark or Light side. Each film presented new aspects to the Force, but it worked because there was a sense of restraint. All of that restraint has been abandoned in The Rise of Skywalker.
It’s a problem that has plagued Rey since The Force Awakens, and The Rise of Skywalker only doubles down. Rey has been a Mary Sue throughout the trilogy and this film basically made her a Force Jesus. She can do a Force pull on entire ships. She can do Force Skyping and she can transport matter though the Force. She can summon Force lightning. And now, she can do Force healing! Hallelujah!
I was never afraid for Rey. There was never a moment that I was concerned for her welfare. Daisy Ridley does her best with what she’s been given, but the entire character is a giant panderfest. She’s a humorless and wooden caricature of female power. Characters are only interesting if they have real deficits, weaknesses and failures and her yearning to know her past isn’t enough to make her a compelling hero.
I actually didn’t mind the ReyLo moments and I think the whole thing should have been treated as a proper star crossed romance from the start. As in they actually fall in love with one another. The scene on the Endor Death Star wreckage was Rey’s most vulnerable moment and I actually kind of liked her for the first time. What people like Kathleen Kennedy, JJ Abrams and Rian Johnson are too ideologically possessed to recognize is that despite all of Leia’s tough chick qualities, she was also a bit of a raging cunt. This is why Han Solo’s wisecracks were funny. He diffused her imperious bitchiness and he made her more vulnerable by allowing her to be feminine. Feminists love to bitch about the Leia’s metal slave bikini, but that was something that added to her overall appeal. The Disney Lucasfilm cabal has gone so far out of their way to imbue Rey with every conceivable expertise and power that they’ve destroyed whatever natural female charisma she could have had. This is what made the final resolution so unsatisfying given the film’s emphasis on the necessity of friends and meaningful bonds.
The Rise of Skywalker?
This film is called The Rise of Skywalker and yet not a single member of the Skywalker clan is even alive. Rey can just appropriate the name cuz identity is a social construct or something. If Rey is the future of the Jedi, wouldn’t it make sense for her and Ben to raise a family and rebuild the Jedi order now that the Sith have been permanently vanquished and the Republic now bear the burden of governing? Nah! We’re too #WOKE for such sentimentality. A woman don’t need no man, amirite?
We’re supposed to believe that the victory over the First Order and the Sith is complete this time, and the restoration of the Republic will bring about another golden age of peace and security. I guess.
While JJ Abrams did pull off a miraculous feat, everything about this trilogy was so haphazard and random that it’s hard to care. The film is too rushed. The characters spend too much time yelling at each other. The jokes rarely land. The retcons and MacGuffins are dumb.
Yet somehow, I kind of did care. Just a little. The moment between Ben and Han was kind of sweet and heroic. It was nice to see Luke treated with a little respect. The climax felt like he was trying to outdo Avengers: Endgame and LOTR, but I found it somewhat rousing.
It’s not the best possible ending to the Skywalker saga, but I suppose it’s the one we deserve in 2020. Leave it to the Disney Corporation to hand the legacy of the Jedi to a Palpatine and sell it as the resolution to the Skywalker saga.
When Apocalypse Now was released, it was heralded as a scathing indictment of the amorality of the Vietnam War. The war that divided America and defined an entire generation of alleged revolutionaries had finally been seen through the unflinching gaze of one of cinema’s greatest artists. In the wake of the release of Apocalypse Now: The Final Cut, the cinematic auteur himself has come clean and said that he doesn’t see it as an antiwar film. This is precisely the feeling with which I was left upon reviewing the film. It reveals the hot war in Vietnam as the merely the overt flipside to the domestic psychological degradation and debasement of the American soul being perpetrated through the media and the culture. If anything, Apocalypse Now reveals the savagery, futility and moral vacuum of modern warfare as its own form of psychological propaganda. The decadence and hedonism that had been unleashed in the counterculture were the exact same tools that were used to keep the ground forces numb to their own pain, loneliness and guilt. Sex, drugs and rock and roll weren’t the signifiers of rebellion that gatekeepers of culture would lead us to believe. The narcotic nihilism of The Doors’ “The End” playing against the symphony of destruction in the film’s opening isn’t really a lament. It’s a psychedelic sedative that’s meant to inoculate you to the juggernaut of inhumanity to which you are about to be subjected. These were the new chains of enslavement deployed by social engineers who had built their careers perfecting the means by which to erode the foundations of a healthy society. The combat was simply the laboratory in which the ideas were tested and the means by which the process was hastened.
Apocalypse Now makes this abundantly clear throughout the film in several different ways. The most obvious of which is the scene that Coppola himself concedes is a glorification of aerial combat. Lt. Colonel Kilgore revels in the fact that the Vietnamese are terrified by the sound of Wagner blaring over the helicopter squadron’s loudspeakers as they mercilessly slaughter the terrified civilians. The combination of aural psyops and aerial bombardment feels less like a rebuke and more like a celebration of American military dominance. Hell, you can even find articles discussing the possibility of video game adaptations. The practice of musical psyops has been extended into the era of Middle Eastern warfare with the only significant difference being the switch to heavy metal instead of 19th century operatic pagan mysticism. Same idea, different expressions.
The role of the media in advancing the domestic propaganda effort receives emphasis as well. When Willard arrives at the beachhead where Kilgore’s division is stationed, he is immediately met by a television crew directed by Coppola himself. In a meta moment, he instructs Willard to look like he’s engaged in combat. It’s a brief but highly effective scene because Coppola is revealing that the footage that would eventually be culled by Ken Burns and repackaged as hard hitting documentary was arguably just as stage managed as the fictitious effort you are viewing.
Despite the prevalence of Domino Effect narratives promulgated by the political class and official histories, Coppola goes one better by suggesting that the Viet Cong were yet another enemy created by the US government in a century that would be defined by wars fought for the express purpose of taking down manufactured boogeymen in service of the expansion of the Pax Americana. When Willard visits with the French colonists, he is given a lecture on American proxy warfare by Gaston de Marais.
Gaston de Marais: You Americans. In 1945, yeah, after the Japanese war, your president Roosevelt didn’t want the French people to stay in Indochina. So, you Americans implant the Vietnam.
Willard: [to Hubert] What’s he mean?
Hubert: Yeah, that’s true. The Vietcong were invented by the Americans, sir.
Willard: The Americans?
Gaston de Marais: And now you take the French place. And the Vietnam fight you. And what can you do? Nothing. Absolutely nothing.
Later in the film, Kurtz’s sardonic reading of a Time magazine article suggests the naked and sanitized deception and the media were routinely peddling. The mention of Sir Robert Thompson’s affiliation with the neocons of the RAND Corporation simultaneously hints at the technocratic administration of the war effort while foreshadowing the eventual controlled release of the Pentagon Papers. As films like Wag the Dog and Network have so brilliantly illustrated, Hollywood has been completely forthright about the media’s rank mendacity and captured allegiance on numerous occasions. You need people as skillful as Steven Spielberg who can churn out agitprop like The Post to make the shills in the media seem heroic. This is ultimately what I believe Coppola was saying with Dennis Hopper’s drug addled photojournalist. Despite Kurtz’s murderous megalomania, Hopper remained enthralled by his poetic mystique. Hardly the behavior of an allegedly objective chronicler of America’s long term commitment in Vietnam.
Apocalypse Now offers what can now be seen as a fleeting moment in the ongoing politicization of sex. Once upon a time, liberals were actually promoting sexual liberation. They still do, but it’s been overshadowed by a lot of #MeToo moral grandstanding. Libidinous displays of female sexuality were simultaneously hailed as evidence of the liberated modern woman as well as a way to stick it to the conservative prudes. Coppola brings this to the forefront by portraying what amounts to a DOD sponsored strip show featuring Playboy playmates. Not only does it show how liberalism actively promotes sexual degeneracy, but it reveals Playboy as one of many forms of legal prostitution embedded within the entertainment complex.
If this seems like it’s a world away from the current cultural moment, it’s because liberals are a clever bunch. They carefully tend to the maintenance of both sides of the dialectic by deploying assets who can push the opposing perspective. They’ll happily peddle a former stripper like Cardi b in the mainstream while the entire feminist media complex will breathlessly extol the bravery of the #MeToo “movement”. Don’t believe me? Just ask feminist extraordinaire Gloria Steinem about her stint as a CIA asset and Playboy bunny.
Much like The Godfather, Apocalypse Now is a study in the real dynamics of American power. In one of many of Willard’s voice overs, he puzzles over the seemingly arbitrary decision to take Kurtz out. Kurtz was being groomed to take his place in the highest echelons of the American power structure. Because he had made the decision to step out of line and build his own cult of personality, he became a liability. His decorated status also made it necessary to make Kurtz’s retirement a black operation. It couldn’t be conducted through official channels because it would have been bad PR. It’s not about upholding any sacred honor or fixed morality. It’s about the preservation of the power structure at any cost.
Coppola also strongly suggests the link between the occult and the deep state. Kurtz had taken his considerable military training and transformed himself into a cult leader. I also believe that the appearances of Sir James George Frazer’s Golden Bough and Willard’s discovery of a newspaper article about Charles Manson were not accidents. Kurtz ended up being sacrificed at the altar of the death cult that bred him. His only transgression was carrying out his training without the sanction of his superiors.
In the paganistic final scene, Willard is immediately recognized as the new cult leader simply by virtue of slaughtering Kurtz. Three years after the release of Apocalypse Now, screenwriter John Milius directed a little sword and sorcery film called Conan the Barbarian starring a bodybuilder named Arnold Schwarzenegger. In the film, he seeks vengeance against a cult leader who murdered his family. The final scene of Conan is deeply reminiscent of the conclusion of Apocalypse Now. The exact same premise of the gritty Vietnam War drama is effortlessly transferred over to the pulp fantasy epic. Hollywood doesn’t have a lot of tricks up its sleeve. If they’re recycling the same idea in two major motion pictures, you can bet your bottom dollar it’s a message they’re deeply invested in promoting.
I suppose I have to give Jim Jarmusch some credit. I watched another one of his films, and I was so disarmed by its laconic detachment and deadpan humor, I almost forgot that it masked his utter hatred for middle America. Almost. Admittedly, it’s a skill every Hollywood filmmaker needs to master, but like Quentin Tarantino and Wes Anderson, Jarmusch’s skill is above average. Not perfect mind you, but certainly above average. Almost no one knows how to write real characters or craft real drama in a screenplay anymore. Subsequently, any director who can imitate the gestures of actual filmmakers gets considered an auteur and attracts a loyal following amongst Hollywood’s A-listers. His films have a distinct directorial POV, but he’s also one of those guys who has made the terms “indie” and “quirky” into pejoratives. That’s Jarmusch in a nutshell.
The Dead Don’t Die is a quintessentially postmodern zombie film. Similar to Tarantino, the whole thing is simply layers of meta-references to other films and pieces of pop culture which ultimately reveal a hollow core of contempt. Adam Driver’s Officer Ronnie Peterson foreshadows the ending by repeating the refrain “This is definitely going to end badly”. With this wink and nod, Jarmusch is signaling that there are no dramatic stakes whatsoever. He even wrangles a cheap laugh by using it as a device for breaking the fourth wall and making some self-congratulatory inside jokes. It’s the Waiting for Godot of zombie films. Whatever pleasure you derive from the film rests on your enjoyment of the deadpan banter between the characters.
The film is essentially a giant pisstake on small town Middle America. With the Cohen brothers, you at least get a kernel of residual affection. No such luck with Jarmusch. To him, these people are just contemptible hicks and hayseeds who deserve the zombie apocalypse that’s coming. Naturally, he engages in some standard Hollywood virtue signaling. The minority characters are all plucky, intelligent, and interesting. The white characters are slow witted, unsophisticated, and charmless. Steve Buscemi is bestowed with the dubious honor of perpetuating Hollywood’s deathless strawman of the provincial, racist MAGA dirtbag. He stoops to a Sarah Silverman-esque depth of hatred by giving him a hat which reads “Make America White Again” and naming his dog Rumsfeld. OMG! IT’S A REFERENCE TO DONALD RUMSFELD. AND IT’S HIS DOG! ISN’T THAT FUCKING HILARIOUS YOU GUYS! Fuck you, Jarmusch. It’s bad enough that no one in Hollywood knows or cares about anyone in middle America, but the fact that this lazy, royalist condescension is so commonplace is just beyond the pale.
On the positive side, the film can be read as subtle nod to the role of geoengineering’s effect on climate change. The zombie apocalypse is triggered by something called “polar fracking”. In the film, it messes with earth’s rotation. What it probably refers to is some kind of tech that manipulates the electromagnetic spectrum since it messes with everyone’s devices. Jarmusch undoubtedly wants it to be seen as comeuppance for middle America’s indifference to or skepticism of The Climate Crisis. Like the globalist elites they represent, if you just get past the smoke and mirrors, Hollywood is always tipping its hand.
I believe the title of the film reveals the establishment’s exasperation with middle America. After years and years of global trade polcy which has decimated rural America, a flood of opoids into the communities, agribusiness consolidation and a neverending onslaught of propaganda which consistently casts flyover country in the most negative light possible, the global elites cannot stand that middle America will not just roll over and capitulate to their progressive overlords. To them, they’re already dead. And yet, they won’t die. So let’s pile on one more insult by just portraying them as zombies that need to be culled by some righteous Malthusians who are just being responsible stewards of Mother Earth.
Bonus points for Chloe Sevigny giving one of the most honest portraits of a female cop since Tyne Daly in The Enforcer. But that’s all you get, Jarmusch.
On the surface, the deep enthusiasm for Downton Abbey seems inexplicable. In a cinematic year that has seen Captain Marvel, John Wick 3 and It: Chapter Two top the box office charts, a costume drama built around British aristocrats has inspired a level of devotion that should make even the Kathleen Kennedys of the world a little jealous. However, if you pause to think about it for a moment, it is perfectly sensible. When confronted by a world of anger, division and unrelenting gloom, the pageantry, dignity and simplicity of life at Downton is a welcome respite.
Indeed, Downton Abbey can be read as a reactionary celebration of an aristocratic social order, but I think that analysis sidesteps the show’s and the film’s overt yet subtle cheerleading for the rising tide of modernity. What I contend Julian Fellowes has achieved is a precarious yet successful tightrope walk which largely achieves its twin objectives of casting the twilight of the old world aristocracy in a favorable light while simultaneously heralding the advent of the new liberal world order.
This premise of the new film is astonishingly simple. The King and Queen of England are coming to Downton and the downstairs staff are getting sidelined by the Buckingham Palace traveling crew. The fact that Fellowes was able to easily extract two hours of rich entertainment from such a seemingly paltry storyline should be an object lesson in storytelling for at least 98% of contemporary Hollywood. Stated simply, Downton Abbey represents a world in which things like meaning, beauty, virtue, order, family, authority and faith carried actual weight. When these things matter, you can write stories that actually reach people’s emotions.
The characters of Downton Abbey are so lovingly drawn and the trials they endured through the series created such a firm bedrock that Fellowes didn’t need anything more from which to build a feature film. When Mary petitions Carson to return to Downton to manage the staff, your heart leaps because you already know the depth of his devotion to Mary, the Crawleys and the household. That’s just one scene. When the dramatic contours are that well sketched out, the only thing that needs to be done is to roll the camera.
It feels churlish to nitpick Downton Abbey, but I have some gripes. The main drama of the film is centered around a minor act of sedition mounted by the Downton staff. Because they’re treated so poorly by the Buckingham Palace team, they engineer a soft coup so they can serve the King and Queen themselves. After all, they’re patriots who want to show their devotion to the English monarchy as well as their provincial pride in being the staff who serve Downton Abbey. Subsequently, they manufacture an emergency in order to divert the Buckingham Palace team back to London. In essence, they mount a revolution which will enable the Downton staff to serve dinner to the King and Queen. Needless to say, we’re not talking about a Robespierre style Reign of Terror, but it feels like Fellowes had to genuflect to the orthodoxy of the revolutionary ethos. The show worked because you felt the Crawleys were inching towards modernity as opposed to diving headlong into the pool. Maybe Anna Bates had been catching up on Jean-Jacques Rousseau at that point, but Carson’s complicity in this gambit almost breaks his entire character arc.
Andy Parker’s sabotage of the water boiler is equally dubious. After being in a froth of jealousy over what he thought was Daisy’s affection for the local plumber, he breaks the mechanism all over again just to discharge his feelings. Instead of Daisy just saying “Bruh, why didn’t you just talk to me?”, she praises him for his willingness to commit an act of pointless vandalism. Men aren’t always adept at handling jealousy, but come on, Julian. This felt like a sop to Antifa garbage can stormtroopers.
I believe Downton Abbey makes the most sense as a story which serves as a proxy for how all the old world British aristocrats adapted to the democratic era. This is especially evident in Tom Branson’s entire growth arc. Tom begins as a fiery socialist revolutionary who wants economic and political equality, but eventually makes peace with the conservative values of his in-laws. In the film, Tom enjoys a nice moment of heroism which confirms his loyalty to the monarchy, but his republican sympathies are also upheld as heroic in another side story involving the Princess Mary. I believe that Tom finding peace among the aristocracy is representative of what socialism truly is: the orthodoxy of the elites masquerading as an ideology that lifts up the working classes. It’s also suggested in Edith’s run as a pro-suffrage publisher and Lord Talbot’s high end car dealership. Whether it was in the arts, publishing, academia, sports or entertainment, the socialist aristocracy simply found new ways of keeping the proles loyal to the democratic ethos. Right, Julian?
As if we didn’t need another reminder of how far down into the depths of Clown World we’ve descended, the idea of a virtuous old world aristocracy is regarded as a fanciful fiction in 2019. Albeit one that fills a gaping void in a world seemingly bereft of any larger purpose beyond consumption and mindless obedience to the orthodoxy of “progress”. When your de facto aristocrats are the Kardashians, a couple of hours fantasizing about having the Crawleys in their place is pretty damn appealing.
For many years, I couldn’t stomach a Victorian or Gilded Age drama because it required me to adopt a worldview that modernity had drummed out of my consciousness. Monarchy was just an antiquated relic that had been rightfully crushed by the enlightened dawn of Democracy. Needless to say, the fractious state of the democratic global imperium has forced me to reevaluate this assumption. It’s not a call to the return of monarchical social order that some in the media might lead you to believe, but its conservative bona fides are such a welcome relief from the seemingly neverending onslaught of wokeisms coming from Hollywood. Men and women fall in love and have children. Women look feminine and beautiful. The men are masculine and not portrayed as hapless and incompetent dolts. It feels weird to highlight these features of Downton Abbey as selling points, but it shows you how badly democratic modernity and its social engineers in Hollywood have downgraded the institutions that are upheld in the film and series. Hollywood is in such a hurry to normalize the idea that a man can fall in love with an AI that it forgets that a story which portrays family stability and continuity is exactly the kind of thing that most people want to see affirmed.
When you have a social order that is built around a hereditary monarchy, the family is sanctified as the building block of society. Society becomes oriented around the preservation of the social order. Art and architecture must also be trained towards the goal of creating timeless beauty so that generations to come will look upon their cultural inheritance with pride and a sense of duty. These notions are completely foreign to anyone who has grown up accepting the assumptions of post-Enlightenment liberalism as the pinnacle of human history. I believe this is why the Burkean model of conservatism has largely failed. Democratic capitalism was designed to uproot this old social order.
As citizens of the increasingly global democratic imperium, we’re supposed to scoff at the small minded and provincial outlook of the world portrayed in Downton Abbey. Sure, you can swoon over the beautiful costumes and elegance of Downton, but come on now. They couldn’t even handle people who are GAY! How backwards were these people, amirite?! Having to bow to a monarch is a indignity no one should have to endure, so thank goodness people have been liberated to shit in the streets without fear of reprisal from authorities. #PROGRESS.
Democracy didn’t abolish the monarchy. It simply obscured it and traded it in for a more crass and debauched version. The Rockefellers and Vanderbilts just got into media and philanthropy and you don’t even think twice about them because they’re funding things like NPR and the MOMA. Surely, they’re just as virtuous as the Crawleys, right? RIGHT?
I’m sure there were British nobles who were as likable and good hearted as the Crawleys. At the same time, when Hollywood or the BBC is trying to place your sympathies with a certain group of people, chances are better than good that they’re trying to divert your attention away from people in that group who are doing things that are unsavory. Perhaps even degenerate. I’m pretty sure Julian Fellowes isn’t terribly interested in discussing Prince Andrew’s connections to Jeffrey Epstein or Jimmy Savile’s proximity to the monarchy. But that’s okay, Julian. All of us lowly proles will never stop praising you for giving us one more opportunity to enjoy Violet’s tart ripostes. Because honestly, it’s the best entertainment you can buy in 2019.
When he’s at his best, Steven Spielberg’s filmmaking gifts are so impressive that you almost overlook the propaganda he smuggles into his movies. Even a blatant piece of agitprop like The Post still managed to sustain my interest. Ready Player One is not quite up to the level as his 80’s classics, but it’s a welcome return to his blockbuster sensibilities. Spielberg is calling upon a considerable reservoir of technical and cultural resources for Ready Player One because he’s trafficking a pretty dubious message in very appealing cinematic wrapper. Besides being positively overstuffed with pop culture meta references, the film is a glimpse into the digital slave state currently under construction. Spielberg needs to call on every dark power at his disposal because he is asking the viewer to sympathize with yet another multicultural collection of youthful rabble rousers who also happen to be brave revolutionaries fighting for the right live in a digital fantasyland. That’s right, folks. It’s not about smashing the oppressive control grid and restoring order and virtue. It’s about saving it so we can chill with our online homies in between cockroach burgers, DMT vape hits and energy drinks made from recycled sewage water.
The film contains so many different references to other films and properties, but I would argue that one of the primary templates is one of Spielberg’s own creations: Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. Instead of a quest for a literal Holy Grail, Tye Sheridan uses his virtual avatar, Parzival, to acquire a digital Grail in the form of three keys. The winner of the contest would gain control of the global virtual playground known as the Oasis. As the Hiram Abiff/Steve Jobs virtual temple builder, Mark Rylance’s James Halliday is the object of Wade Watts’ obsession. You see, folks. Halliday was just another misunderstood science nerd who had a hard time being in the real world. We should view his contribution to a society full of braindead, antisocial dopamine addled tech junkies as an admirable achievement.
In contrast to the corporate fascists at IOI Corporation, Wade’s obsession with Halliday is earnest! The goons at IOI don’t really give a shit about what made Atari’s Adventure so great. Ben Mendelsohn’s Nolan Sorrento doesn’t really play Robotron while chilling to Duran Duran. Wade gets it, man. Wade is the Charlie Bucket to Halliday’s Willy Wonka. The good hearted kid who rose above his broken upbringing and found real connections by playing the vidya.
The pop culture overload of Ready Player One is designed to be part of the appeal, but when Wade tries to bond with Artemis all he can do is regurgitate pop culture references. It shows you how pernicious it is because it feels both sad and contemptible. I enjoy pop culture just as much as anyone, but Ready Player One is essentially showing you that the synthetic reality of pop culture is the material of the cyberprison system that’s being constructed all around us. When Samantha/Artemis is captured, she is forced into a containment cube and electronically sealed into a VR helmet. Spielberg is telling you point blank that VR is the limitless utopia, but it’s also the means by which mental and neural enslavement is achieved. The thirst for being able have virtual sex in the Pandoran jungle will ultimately supersede any impulse to live in the real world. Because the real world just sucks, man!
Spielberg tries to have it both ways though. Thankfully, he does give you a rare and sweet romance between Wade and Samantha (heterosexuality?! GASP!), and you are led to believe he’s affirming life in the real world. But it’s a trick. Wade only shuts down the Oasis for two days out of the week.
Just as we witnessed in his seminal blockbusters, there is fairly overt Masonic and occult symbolism in Ready Player One. Isaac Weishaupt has identified the most prominent symbolism in the film, but I think there are two that warrant emphasis. The demonic image on Aech’s van can be read another signifier of the film’s Luciferian subtext. In this case, I propose that the meta reference is the key. The Face of the Great Green Devil contains a sphere of annihilation in Dungeons and Dragons lore. In other words, your character will be destroyed if you fall or climb in. I suggest that the entire Oasis is itself a giant sphere of annihilation. A digital Tomb of Horrors.
The real kicker is the entire reference to The Shining. In order to obtain one of the keys, the heroes enter a simulation of Kubrick’s Shining. The normies will read it as an homage, but I suggest that Jay Dyer’s analysis of the film is relevant here. In the original, we see the appearance of Jack Torrance’s image in a vintage photo at a party attended by elites. In Ready Player One, Torrance’s image is replaced with Halliday’s. Why is this significant? Assuming that Kubrick was revealing the occultist practices of the global elites, the inclusion of a tech mogul in Torrance’s place seems pretty consequential. Given that a connection between Bill Gates and Jeffrey Epstein has just been revealed in mainstream media outlets, it seems like confirmation.
The ending is meant to have the same triumphant feeling as Charlie Bucket’s acquisition of Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory, but Halliday’s final line feels more cynical than sweet. We’re meant to see Wade as the clever and principled extension of Halliday, but Wade is really a lab experiment. He’s not congratulating him for his ingenuity. He’s thanking him for willingly submitting to his global social engineering experiment. Spielberg is counting on the same thing from you.