Friday, August 16, 2019

White Nationalism - Domestic Terrorism on the Rise

Domestic Terrorism on the Rise

Christian Identity and the internet's ability to unite fringe groups are giving a new rise to domestic terrorism in the United States. And I'll prove why in an essay that's totally unnecessary but I really enjoy writing this sort of thing. So here we are. 

The Department of Homeland Security defines a domestic terrorist this way:
"Domestic terrorists are individuals who commit violent criminal acts in furtherance of ideological goals stemming from domestic influences, such as racial bias and anti-government sentiment..." intended to intimidate or coerce a civilian population, influence the policy of a government, or affect the conduct of the government." 

" fact, there have been more arrests and deaths caused by domestic terrorists than international terrorists in recent years." 
(FBI Director's Statement before the House Homeland Security Committee on May 8, 2019)

You can see the increase in extremist's violence charted in this interactive map created by the Anti-defamation League: LINK
If you go back to 2014, 2015, you can see activity steadily sits in the double digits (2014 = 36 , 2015 = 63, and then a sharp rise in 2016 to quadruple digits = 1,321, then it doubles in 2017 to 2,482 and 2018 = 3,045.

And if you scroll down you can see details of the attacks that didn't quite make headlines. Even some funny ones. One Minnesota man made a pig pinata that said "Fuck the Police" with an explosive device inside of it. And the less funny ones, like the man who killed 11 people in a Synagogue in Pennsylvania.

And if you need a close-up 1 to 1 comparison. In 2017 you can see only 13 people died of domestic terrorism. While last weekend 31 people were killed in the two-pronged attack in El Paso and California. (LINK to 2017 data)

It's dismissive to say these are random crazy men who choose shoot up a place in isolation. Because these attacks, though seemingly random, have a common ideology, that has pervaded in America, and caused one Civil War already. That ideology is Christian Identity. This common ideology is present in multiple present-day groups that could congeal or unite under extreme circumstances. From racially motivated attackers like Dylan Roofe to border security guards who see immigrants as a deadly serious threat. You can see the pervasiveness of these thoughts in manifestos on 8chan, GAB and other forums where ideologically-motivated mass shooters are recruited and inspired to carry out their acts.

Proud Boys
Immigration Hardliners
Pro-Gun Advocates
White Supremecists
Hate groups (Neo-nazis, KKK)
Chrisitian Identity Advocates
Conspiracy Theorists (Alex Jones, Q Anon)
End of Day Preachers and believers
Anti-Government Extremists

Each of these groups has a core in the Christian Identity movement, which we'll get into in the history portion. The issue of domestic terrorism is not a specific problem arising from a single one of these groups. The danger is the radicalization of these common ideologies and the possibility of of these groups congealing under a united front. 

The danger, as Robert Evans posits in his 7 part series "It Could Happen Here": is that if any single one of these groups was able to disrupt the government enough to require military action. That retaliation from the government could propagate an "us vs them" mentality that could unite these groups. End of days, martyrdom, victimhood, persecution; for these reasons the groups would finally feel justified in violent extreme action against The State (and thereby The New World Order). 

This may sound alarmist, and it is a little bit, I know that. But I think it's something to keep an eye on, because it happens in other countries all the time. After all a civil war is just unchecked violent groups rising up to disrupt a country's infrastructure. And that's a slippery slope that can get very slippery very quick. And there are just enough pieces in this puzzle to keep an eye on it. For instance, did you know liberals are actually buying more guns in the US. And one of the reasons for that is linked to fear of far-right extremist attacks, as cited in this BBC (LINK).

A Brief History

To backtrack a bit, let's talk about the through-line that unites these groups. Christian Identity wasn't the spawn of fascism, racism and domestic terrorism, but it has been the quiet vehicle keeping them alive in America. You can see the sentiments of Christian Identity drawn up from this ideal in manifestos from marches against MLK to the Mosque shooting in New Zealand.

While I'm not going to go into the entire history, because that would have to be its own article. What's important is important are two main things: proud white christian heritage, and the idea of The New World Order persecuting white men. The idea that white people are the special chosen people of the earth and that they are being attacked by a cabal (of Jews and minorities). A cabal that is totally in charge of things from faking the Holocaust and Sandy Hook to owning the "liberal media" and Hollywood. Take a second if you would and look back up at the list. Some form or another of Christian Identity and The New World Order idea plays into the ideologies of every group on that list.

So how did this start? Well fears of blacks and minorities have always been a prevalent issue in America. White people have stood at the docks and thrown bricks at every type of immigrant from the Irish and Italians, to the present-day Mexicans. And a fear of black people has kept the KKK alive, even today, 140 years after the end of the Civil War. (Fun fact, the KKK regularly marched at our Christmas day parade in my home town in South Carolina.) The real fear isn't crime. The real fear arises as a trend when the white middle class feels threatened by a rising lower class, which isn't blamed on white lower class but on minorities swindling the system. (As illustrated in this beloved pop-song

All of this fear in America becomes very important in the 40's because a young man named George Wallace had a real big problem. See he was a Nazi and pro-fascist in the 1940s-50s, and despite his best efforts, he just couldn't figure out how to gain support in America after we pantsed the Germans in "that whole World War 2 thing." 

So his solution was to tone down the pro-nazi rhetoric and amp up the pro-white rhetoric. And a long line of this dialogue has propagated from Welsey Smith ad Christian Nationalistic Crusade in the 60's to present day Gavin McInnes and his violent group of Proud Boys who led the march in Charlottesville. 

The Funny Thing about Conspiracy Theories

In Testimony FBI Director Christopher Wray said. “conspiracy theory-driven domestic extremists are on the rise,” (like: Q-Anon, Youtube Theorists, Alex Jones)
also"...I will say that a majority of the domestic terrorism cases that we’ve investigated are motivated by some version of what you might call white supremacist violence.”

While not all conspiracy theories are deadly, those specifically identified in the FBI’s 15-page report have led to either attempted or successfully carried-out violent attacks. For example, the Pizzagate conspiracy. Where tweets by Q-Anon and rhetoric by Alex Jones led a 28-year-old man to invade a D.C. restaurant with his assault-style weapon.

Supporters who believe Pizzagate was real
Supporter who thought Pizzagate was real
While in the past, these fringe groups quietly festered in the dark corners of gun shows and basement Klan meetings. A new resurgence has populated the American dialogue. A massive recruiting via memes and message boards. If a single banner was erected for all the new recruits it would be Pepe the Frog.

this was the first result in the Google Search for Pepe

This is about the third.
Because a white nationalist can't recruit a young, disenfranchised 20-year-old by ranting about the great Jewish cabal. The young person would run away. But what our recruiter can do is make racist jokes and share offensive memes with a kid who wants to be edgy.

As this sort of dialogue becomes normalized, over time the Jewish Cabal idea can slowly pivot from being a joke, to being reality. And I know this sounds far fetched, but normalizing this sort of ideology can be traced to Boris Johnson, Hitler, and of course our commander and thief, Trump. Through humor, through dog whistling, and tongue and cheek speech.

A huge issue is how Trump thrives off of conspiracy theories. Not because he's a necessarily an idealist, but because it draws headlines. And headlines for Trump means free publicity. His Birther conspiracy about Obama kept him in the headlines for months and arguably set him up to be someone who looked to be on par with a president. And while not openly a Sandy-Hook denier or Q Anon advocate. He enjoys dancing around advocating these conspiracy theorists to draw headlines. This is why he won't shut the fuck up about The Clintons, because they've been a great foil for conspiracie; alleging that Hillary killed Seth Rich in 2016, the "lock her up" slogan, and using them as a shield against accusations of rape and as a pivot from Trump's relationship with Jeffery Epstien.

As I said, I don't think Trump is an idealist, I don't think he's a fascist or active White Nationalist. I think he knows that trolling the media by talking about these things keeps the attention on him. The unintended consequence is the normalizing of racist and extremist rhetoric. The issue is that this rhetoric from an authority figure validates people who are involved in violence and dehumanizing minorities. From the El Paso shooting, where the shooter mimed Trump's own "invasion" theory. To Cesar Sayoc, the terrorist who mailed bombs to ex presidents and members of the press.

And when Trump says "it isn't a bad thing to be called a nationalist, I'm a nationalist", that is normalizing a dark path toward fascism. Because as we talked about in The History, fascism is what started this movement. And if unchecked, that could very well be where it ends.

The Slippery Dragon

Here's a question, have you ever heard of a white church having surveillance put on it by the Department of Homeland Security? Or a white neighborhood having a curfew? Or laws that groups of a certain number of white men can't gather at a time? Probably not, because it doesn't happen in the United States. Despite the majority of serial killers, domestic extremists, and the continued presence of the KKK (the US's oldest domestic terrorist group) the government does not perceive white men as a threat.

These groups know this, and therefore government will also be slow to crack down on this kind of activity. And like a festering wound, it will get worse, because we are going to continue to ignore it.

Remember that militia that staged the armed take-over a federal building in Oregon? Aside from the leaders, most of the men were only sentenced to a few months of probation. And while one leader was shot while reaching for a firearm in a scuffle with police, I don't believe that could have happened to anyone but a group of affluent white people. Imagine how this might have played out differently if the group was say, black militants or a Hispanic "gang", or (and here's the ringer) Islamic militants.
Look at all these unharmed violent militants 

The issue is there is no difference. Violent young men drawn to a dogma provided by older men who seek power and prominence will always be the creators of violent militant groups, whether it's in America or South Africa. The problem America faces, is that we are letting them continue to get away with it. 

Robert Evans was a war correspondent in the Middle East and Syria. He spent a lot of time embedded with people fighting these militants in countries that used to be stable democracies. He outlines how militants in those countries rise to prominence, disrupt the government, and how (if unchecked) it could happen here

Thursday, March 14, 2019

REVIEW: The Verdict on Serial

I'm in my office screaming and cursing and confused. A coworker walks by with a look on her face. "Y'all alright in there?" she says.

"Yeah, Serial!" I said, but what she heard was "Cereal!" I live in the south, where NPR is held with as much regard as the Winter Olympics. She left looking more concerned than before, either believing I'm crazy or hungry or just mad hungry.

Serial just threw me through a window. It's been pingponging my brain between the verdict for the death of Hae Min Lee. I have dedicated my whiteboard to solving the mystery six episodes ago and now no one is EVER going to know the truth. The listeners will split up into camps and argue for or against Adnan, rarely convincing the other party off our circumstantial evidence. If you haven't listened to the Serial podcast through the final episode, this post is going to spoil a lot. So ye be warned. And double spoiler, I'm certain I have the answer, which I'm going to outline in the first section here.

Not knowing the verdict wasn't the only cause of my turmoil. It was what the whole series says about our legal system, about journalism, and how responsible any single citizen is to them both. And I feel like I just got tossed into a stranger, blurrier world than when I started listening to the podcast in October. Which really says a lot about how well this was made. I'm going to critique it a lot here, but I only to that with media I hold in the highest regard, I think Serial is the True Detective of Podcasts.

1. The Verdict on Adnon

A. That dude totally did it

The last episode makes two great points that turned me around about how I considered the verdict for Adnan. That said, I had the verdict pegged 5 episodes in and every episode after only confirmed my theory.

I want to preface my verdict by saying that Sarah Koenig's analysis of the proceedings and evidence provided by the state and the judge should not have upheld a guilty verdict. She makes a great point about that. The detectives had no physical evidence, a loose story on an inaccurate timeline, almost completely rooted on the confession of one young man whose story couldn't stop changing. Koenig is definitely right, the court should have acquitted Adnan, and if his defense attorney had done a better job, he might be free today.

The loose evidence and deep holes in the timeline are what gave Koenig trouble, even after over a year of in-depth research in reporting, it's hard to fathom that a jury could convict him in less than a week.

On the other hand Sarah is clearly sympathetic to Adnan, working to be objective, but lacking any clear evidence that he didn't do it, she spins his hand-fed narrative to the audience, and hey it works. I really like this guy and my heart's telling me that dude can't be a killer, that he might be the victim here. But on the other hand, he totally fucking did it.

I think the biggest pit for Koenig's verdict is that she talked to Adnan at all.  She is a great journalist, but in this case she was not 100% objective. I think she should have coached someone to interview him as she spent time doing the research, then put those two stories together, and acted more as a hammer for the truth between the evidence and his story and less like the cushion. Meaning, I think when we heard the facts and his story she usually would shrug her shoulders and say: you could see this story going either way, like:  "I really don't want to be the person who says this dude's guilty on air after all this time he let me interrogate him". I mean if she did, then who would ever let her interview them afterwards?

If she had not conducted the interviews herself I think she would have said what Dana said during the final episode. Dana's opinion was exactly what I thought by the 5th episode, and likely what judge, jury, and the detectives knew to be true as well. Simply, that there are too many coincidences for Adnan not to be the culprit.
- The phone being by Linkin Park that night
- The call to Shei
- Jay knowing where the car is and you know, going through this whole ordeal of blaming it on Adnan and going to court and risking jail time for one story. You know, Adnan, who just happened to loan him his own car and phone the same day.
- The fact that Don (Hae's new boyfriend) had made sure to remember that the instant he found out she'd gone missing while Adnan claims not to remember anything about that day.... oh except the morning, Stephanie's birthday, that he probably asked Hae for a ride, and gave Jay his phone and car on that day. But aside from that, clearly couldn't remember anything.

Dana's right. Yes there are huge holes in the detectives' timeline and sure they weighed the deck to support Jay's argument, but they had their culprit. Look I'm not a lawyer or a detective, I'm just a culture junkie who happens to love detective stories, from The Maltese Falcon to Brick. But I've been keeping rabid, fanatical details of the series from start to end, and while I can only speculate why Adnan murdered Hae, I can say for certain that dude fucking did it.

B. Never Listen to the culprit

Recently I picked up a friend from jail the day after he'd been arrested. It was later in the morning, he'd been in court and a cell all day.  The first thing my buddy did was call his boss to explain why my he was not at work. He apologetically tells his boss a detailed and emotionally riveting account about how he'd fought off a boyfriend abusing his girlfriend near my buddy's apartment. His boss is satisfied, I see his bandages, I'm satisfied.

When he hangs up he tells me the real story, and it has nothing to do with a relationship dispute. Now this friend is as far from an actor as a roughneck tower-climbing surfer can be, but he laid the story out with perfect ease and conviction as if it'd happen. He laid it out like Samuel L. Jackson in Resovoir Dogs had coached him. That was after one night sleeping off a hangover in a jail cell.

Adnan has had 15 years to work on every aspect of this story. 15 years.

Many of the questions Koenig had are things he'd probably figured out with his lawyer or in correspondence with friends and family long ago. He's definitely a smart guy, you put a smart guy in one place for 15 years I bet he could recite the Iliad from memory.

Now I'm not saying he's a liar or Koenig let herself get duped. What I am saying is that this fact makes him a totally unreliable source of information. My rule throughout the series has been not to listen to anything Adnon says as fact, that is to add it to the mix of other evidence.

How many times did Koenig describe Adnan's own accounts as convenient, just as Dana says.

C. Listen to Jay

I mean in the "really listen" the way some guardian wizard tells their portage to listen to the wind. The final fact presented on Serial as the only hard evidence they actually had is that Jay knew where Hae's car was. This works in two directions,
 1 - Jay had Adnon's car.
 - If Jay had Adnon's car and then picked up and hung out with Adnan (as several people testify to), exactly at what point in the night did he have time to:

  • Find Hae
  • kill Hae 
  • Be contacted by someone who had killed Hae on a cell phone he'd just borrowed that morning
  • help bury Hae
  • or bury her by himself
  • ditch Hae's car (b/c w/or without an accomplice, he knew where it was)
  • and if you believe (I think it was Katherine's? story) sneak the dirty shovels into Adnan's car 

 - If Hae is en-route from one school to another, where would a stranger (like the potential murderer they discussed) or Jay have somehow stopped her to kill her? Sure you can work out ways it could happen, elaborate or simple, but it would contradict multiple testimonies outside Jay and Adnans' own versions of the story.
     - and on that note, if it is this stranger, who alway assaults his victims and always robs them. If Hae was neither assaulted or robbed and the car was itself abandoned, then why pursue that path of thinking?

D. My Theory

When I first started listening to the podcast I had my finger pegged on Jay, he was shady, inconsistent, and you know, worked at a porn store. Adnan though, just seemed like a guy caught up with the wrong people and had the bad luck of being Hae's recent ex.

But by that fourth episode I was certain that wasn't the case, and if you listen again to the subsequent episodes, they support my theory. My theory is simple, that Jay knew of Adnan's plan ahead of time and completely collaborated with it. The reason his story changes is to protect himself, and his own involvement so he does not go to jail. I think Adnan said: "Hey man I'm going to kill that bitch" and Jay either believed he wasn't serious or he would chicken out.

Jay and the detectives that interviewed him both knew that he would go to jail for confessing in the collaboration. The detectives helped him elude confessing his own involvement before their tapes started recording and set him up with a lawyer for his cooperation in the case. The idea that they're all conspiring against Adnon at once to reign him in as the killer is hardly believable.

This still leaves the question of why Jay did it. That's speculation and heresay, but for my two-cents I think he agreed to help Adnon, didn't believe he'd actually do it, would chicken out or think better of it when he actually confronted Hae, until he actually arrived to see her body, by which time he was too late not to be an accomplice. Adnon had basically kidnapped Jay, Jay had no car and no cell phone and was standing next to a murderer. A murderer who had class with Jay's girlfriend the very next day, and who threatened that girlfriend.

ESSAY: How the Dark Knight Rewrote the book on Superhero Movies

When the Dark Knight was released I worked as a projectionist at Regal Cinemas. Every night I would save Dark Knight as the last movie I reeled so I could watch it.  I've probably seen it over a hundred times and today I am still able to re-watch it and enjoy it.

It's more than a superhero movie, it's a masterpiece in filmmaking. I know, I know, it sounds silly when talking about a superhero movie, but it is executed with such precision, simplicity and quality. It has that dope, unique Hans Zimmer soundtrack that includes the notable violin screech when the Joker appears.  The noise plays at the opening of the movie and you already know something bad is going to happen in that building before the window blows out. The acting was impeccable. From Aaron Eckhart's transformation, to Christian Bale's performance as the guy from American Psycho, and of course Heath Ledger's performance as a young Tom Waites (seriously have you seen this?  The editing is genius, seamlessly switching between action, like the Joker interrogating Harvey as Bruce saves the accountant. And also switching between the personal accounts to the big picture.

that it has inspired tropes in action movies as much as Sergio Leonne did with A Fistful of DollarsThe Dark Knight script has inspired action movie filmmakers and rewritten the book on how to make a helluva action movie. As the Joker says: "You've changed thing FOREVER"

1. The premise is realistic, dark and gritty. It is less cartoonish, as early Batman movies and superman movies were. Everything has to be justified and is made more plausable. From Harvey Dent becoming two-face to how Batman gets his awesome equipment.
      - EVERYONE very notably Man of Steel 
      - It should be said of course that The Expendables, Machete, and Scott Pilgrim chose to                 completely go the other direction, but I'd say it wouldn't have worked or been relevant to do         so without Dark Knight, and probably Sin City.

2. The villain intentionally being caught to further some convoluted plan.
      - Skyfall
     -  Star Trek: Into Darkness
     - Iron Man 2
     - The Avengers

3. Not being a Hero or a Vigilante.  Alfred says , Bruce Wayne always confirming through the first two movies that he is not a vigilante or a hero, but a legend, as Alfred perfectly puts it "He's not being a hero, he's being something more" Though in the examples, the hero doesn't become an idealist or icon, they become something else, but don't register as a hero.
     - Iron Man 2 and 3
     - The Avengers - They're what does Sammy L call them? Supersoldiers?
     - Thor - he's a god.

4. Having a villain that's more likable/intriguing than the hero
     - Loki, Thor, The Avengers
     - Kahn, Star Trek: Into Darkness
     - The hot chick from Man of Steel (in my opinion)

5. The main character/villain doesn't spend much time on screen. Of course Nolan didn't invent this technique, it's adapted from horror/monster movies, leaving the imagination to run free after a few glimpses of the monster. And making the audience want to see more of the monster/bad guy. Much like Jaws didn't make a full appearence until the last quarter of the film, Cloverfield, Godzilla, recently.

     - Dark Knight Rises - Ironically, don't see Batman too much until the fourth act.
     - The Iron Man Suit in Iron Man 3
     - Javier Bardem in Skyfall

6. Playing up that the suits, government/city also fighting the hero.
     Of course most movies do this to up the stakes but they used this to fuel the plot very well, in        them chasing down Batman and getting Harvey. And Batman beating up the Swat team.
     - Iron Man 2 and Iron Man 3
     - Man of Steel
     - Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol 

8. The terrifying low-budget viral tape.
 Yes of course it's been done a million times, with the villain broadcasting his threat across the world but it had become scarier and relevant with Bin Laden's threats after 9/11 and the campy cheesy effect it had in the 90's
     - Iron Man 3
     - Man of Steel

     - Iron Man 2
     - Skyfall

12. Not being able to tell what one of the main characters is saying
     - Bane, The Dark Knight Rises
     - The Asian Businessman, Inception
    on second thought, maybe it's just a Christopher Nolan thing.

14. Straying from the series' tropes. As when Bruce Wayne says: Sonar? Like a... and Morgan freeman says: submarine, though it would be fun to see A Submarine Man movie. Also not saying "I am Batman". Also Nanananananana Batman!!
     - Quantum of Solace - "Shaken not Stirred" - also James Bond doesn't have sex with the girl.
     - Iron Man 3 - Tony never says "I am Iron Man"

15. Not letting Ben Affleck play the hero.
     - Except Dare Devil and Batman/Superman

1. How to do the disappearance of a main character properly. Just because we see Tony Stark the whole movie doesn't mean we're going to enjoy not seeing him in the Iron Man suit.
2. The love interest dies. To be replaced with a bad girl. C'mon Pepper Pots out, Black Widow in. Louis Lane out, hot alien chick in, or maybe Wonder Woman.
3. Straying from the goal of world domination to someone who "just wants to watch the world burn."
4. The resignation of the right hand man/butler.
6. This moment

7. Awesomely subtle Foreshadowing.
     When Bruce asks Fox how his new suit will protect him against Dogs, Fox says "Should be fine against cats" words he totally eats when Catwoman hands Batman to Bane.
8. An upside-down Monologue.
9. Include Morgan Freeman. Though I guess RED learned
10. Not really having a happy ending. Though Breaking Bad killed it while Dexter flopped.
11. Thanking Elvis Presley in the credits.
12. Don't harp on the dead loved-one thing for the whole friggin movie.
13. Not using the Inception Horns sound.

The line: We need a hero with a face about Harvey Dent
I love that the joker doesn't hide by wearing a mask, but by not wearing one, when his make-up is off during the assassination of the mayor.

Friday, August 5, 2016

THEORY: Everyone Knows Bruce Wayne is Batman

*i'm making this into a video so it's written like one, so that's why it's written like it is

Hey, this is LastVCR, which stands for... You know what I'll save it for after the show. And today I'm going to give you irrefutable proof that everyone in the Dark Knight trilogy knows Bruce Wayne is Batman. Except apparently Commissioner Gordon, cus I mean it's not like he's a detective or like has access to police databases.

Yes, maybe you've heard this theory somewhere before. But I'm diving deep and providing more proof than I've seen in most outlets. And for these purposes I'm only focusing on the Dark Knight trilogy, or at least as much as is tolerable (shot of Bane and Batman Talking). WHAT?! (another) WHAT?!! (another) seriously this movie may as well have been in sign language.

Anyways, Let's get started

1  - This one's the most basic, so let's get it out of the way. Bruce Wayne, billionaire of the city, basically a Kennedy of Gotham. Reappears out of nowhere, makes headlines and then, what like 3 months later? Batman, a person with excessively expensive gadgets, also appears. Yeah the people of Gotham figured it out, like the first time both of them were in the headlines together. But you don't just go around embarrassing the Kennedys, especially when they're bankrolling the city like the Waynes have been doing. From building infrastructure, sheltering orphans, to molding elections. The city just keep their collective mouths closed. Who cares that your local billionaire has a leather fetish, cus yeah Gotham may be bad now, but imagine how much worse it'd be without all that great Wayne money.


 Morgan Freeman's line sums up this point. (clip: "...and you want to blackmail this person.) It's amazing script writing at its finest, but also, just literally what all of Gotham is thinking. That line isn't super clever to Luscious Fox, it's just common knowledge. Don't fuck with the guy who basically owns the town and knows karate. It's just that Kyle Reese doesn't have any friends, he thinks it's a big secret, cus he's a freelance accountant from out of town that no one has gotten around to telling about. 

I take back my first remarks about Jim Gordon. Jim Gordon knows, obviously, and he's just playing surrogate father to a boy he helped once. That whole "It's Mr. Wayne isn't it?" Yeah right Jim! I'm sorry or do you not remember giving Bobby Kennedy your jacket the night his very prolific parents were murdered on your beat. You disgusting liar. And his first response when Bruce hits a police vehicle isn't: oh hey we're going to need your insurance information, because you were just involved in a multi-car collision and I'm a cop, AND I AM A COP. NO! He sucks up to Bruce Wayne, letting him fulfill his little fantasy for a second, like a parent would a child. And tells him to go on his way. Also, and this has no bearing on anything, why is this emergency vehicle stopped at a red light? I mean they've all got their emergency lights on anyway. Just Keep Going!

 You know who's always honest? Assholes. Assholes and children. Oh I can't say that? Jerks, I mean jerks and children. And who are the jerks of this world? The "bad guys". And they all know Batman's secret identity. Let's go through the list super fast

1st- Raz Al Ghoul, self-explanitor, trained Batman
2nd - Scarecrow, I mean, cus he's an employee of Raz. I feel like that'd be pretty crucial information if Scarecrow's going to do his job well.
3rd - Joker, duh, he sees that the city is being held ransom by this like, rich asshole, just destroying infrastructure, murdering people, but the citizens and cops just keep sweeping it under the rug. So he's like, oh ok, you want to play this game for real? And he does (exploding hospital). The scene when he burns the money, that's a signal to the people of Gotham: "Hey stop letting money rule your life, I just literally killed every mobster from here to China, you can stop letting Brucebat pretend to be a... a whatever that is, I mean he doesn't actually look like a bat. I mean he's just got pointy ears. I mean he could be a pittbull terrier with those things. Anyways I mean The Joker goes to Bruce's apartment party hoping to find Batman, how could he not. He's like, oh Harvey and Batman will be there, now I have to go. I mean he could have easily found Harvey like, on the way to his car, lot less people there probably.
4 - Speaking of Harvey Dent aka Two Face aka Cigarettes are bad. probably exploits Bat Bruce more than anyone. When Bruceman brings up "the masked vigilante" at dinner. Harvey immediately jumps in and supports the Batman. Why? So he can get that sweet rooftop party money. Bruce leans in and is like hey I know I said Batman's crazy, but I like that you like Batman so let me give you like all the money. Harvey's transition to Two-face actually makes more sense that way. It makes more sense that Harvey would kill his way to find Bat Bruce, for dicking up his life in this weird charade.
5 - Catwoman - of course knows, I mean she's at his apartment, then a party, just like poking the bear, you know. Maybe her real mission was to see if Bruceman was really cripple so Bane could go on with his plan.
6 - Bane - well that's made pretty evident.
7 - Oh and Talia al'Ghoul... though it still doesn't make any sense that she slept with him. I've never figured that out, I mean I wouldn't sleep with the guy who killed my dad. Even if it was batman. (double check) Yeah, still not. Would not be ok with the killing...

in fact the whole trilogy can be explained this way

This scene here where Bane steals all Bruce's money.... somehow. There's no way that transaction would be legal, not in this world, not in no world, no how, ever. Bruce would just call the bank, be like hey, check your cameras, I wasn't even there. Some guy hijacked the place wearing an inhaler
that, charges his phone. (clip) Real Thing. And they or his bank, or insurance would return his money. They, the people of Gotham, are sick of BatWayne so they allow the transaction to go through, so that Batman will hopefully stop futzing around with their city. And they make a concerted effort to arrest him.

lightning round
- what's the joker's failsafe? Like if his whole thing is blackmailing people then why doesn't anyone just kill him and keep all this money? Like, hey this guy has a gun. Just shoot the Joker, wouldn't be that hard. I mean if this is what the Joker does with money, those henchmen aren't getting paid. So what's their motive? Did it start out as a fight club/project mayhem thing?

Oh and MP4, it's just the file format videographers use to export videos. In the future I'll say it means Movie Pessimist or Media Preservers or something. But you'll know it's just a little inside nothing joke.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

ESSAY: Snatch = Pulp Fiction

Snatch is a response to Pulp Fiction. It's not a copy, or a remake, or simply taking a similar tone, but a response, a compliment, the yellow to blue, the drum beat to the guitar, etcThere are similarities; snappy dialogue, a circus of violent yet enticing characters, and a whimsical sort of grit. I say compliment because it works intentionally to fill gaps that Pulp Fiction left blank and explores questions that Pulp Fiction asks. Here let me show you: 

In Pulp Fiction much of the main action occurs off screen. It plays up small moments like conversations and pooping leading up to the action but leaves out many large action scenes themselves (like Bruce Willis's boxing match or Marsellus Wallace throwing Samoan Joe off a balcony).  Snatch, almost beat for beat, makes a point of showing us that action. We see the big boss being a merciless killer, the boxing matches, gruesome torture. villains being villains, and trophies being hunted. It's like a conversation that Ritchie is having with Tarantino, like "hey I love your style, but what would we learn by doing this instead?"

1- The Characters
Let's start at the top of the food chain in both worlds. We have Marsellus Wallace in Pulp  and Brick Top in Snatch. Both of course play the role of the intimidating, incredibly violent mob bosses that everyone fears and works for. "Sure, but there aren't there tons of movies with crime bosses?" you might say, "well, none done quite like this".

Let's start with that gap we mentioned, the gap Tarantino leaves open and Ritchie fills in, what does Marsellus Wallace not do?

Throughout Pulp Fiction characters allude to the violent acts Marsellus Wallace has committed either himself (throwing Tony Rockyhorror out a 3 story window). Or violent acts he's getting others to do such as torturing Bruce Willis' manager or "taking a blowtorch and a pair of pliers to this motherfucker right here". All we ever really see of his brutality is him accidentally shooting some lady in the leg and very intentionally shooting Zed in the dick, both are pretty brief and neither incident seems to say: I'm a heartlessly brutal motherfucker. Wallace is a man wrapped around myth to the viewer, we imagine his acts the same way we imagine the monster in a slasher flick before finally getting a good look at it. Zed's imminent torture is more terrifying in our imaginations than we ever get shown. So Ritchie thinks to himself, "that's cool! But how do you show a heartless, brutal gangster and still make them intimidating?"
That's where we get Brick Top. The entire movie revolves around everyone tiptoeing around this scary and violent psychopath. But we witness all the terrible shit he does. Turkish's opening monologue about Brick Top feeding people to pigs? That's literally the next scene. And not only do we just see him feeding pigs but we see the reaction of these horrors in the faces of the two mammoth boxers witnessing the murder.

And every scene after Brick Top is more violent and ruthless than the last. In the commentary Guy Richie was talking to someone about how to make Brick Top as unlikable as possible and that person told him: people hate people that torture dogs more than anything. So that's exactly what we see. So that when he barbecues Brad Pitt's mom, we know for sure he did it. 

And the parallels continue with many characters, but like, I mean, there's a lot of characters, in both movies, so... moving on!

2 - The McGuffin 
Another instance of Ritchie's response is the rigged boxing matches that are undermined by the boxers. Bruce Willis in Pulp Fiction, Brad Pitt in Snatch. And you've probably figured out the theme here. Pulp Fiction boxing = completely off screen, we only hear details in a taxicab as Bruce reminisces with some French cabbie over cigarettes. While Snatch makes huge set pieces from the boxing matches, where we feel the tension in all characters involved.

And it goes on from there, from shootouts, to heists, chases, oh and the valuables everyone's chasing. 

3 - The Valuable 
The most memorable prop in Pulp Fiction of course is a light bulb inside a brief case. We, the audience, give the case value because the characters give it value. They murder people over it like, like all day. Quick aside, did you notice that we see Travolta and Jackson firing their weapons but we really don't see the bullets going into their victims except that Jerry Seinfeld looking mother fucker. 

In Snatch, on the other hand, the opening scene is all about attaining and introducing a giant-fuck-off-diamond, the EXTREMELY VISIBLE center-piece that will drive the plot of half the movie. And that people toss around, shoot each other over, chase, cut off limbs, you saw the movie, you get it. 

4 - Scenes and Pacing
You can compare this to more than just characters and plots. Whole scenes and themes are total throwbacks and comments on to Pulp Fiction. To test this I played the Pulp Fiction Soundtrack while watching Snatch on mute and a lot of scenes match up rather well. You start when Freddy Four Fingers whips out the guns, start up Misserlou, skip the dialogue parts in the Pulp Fiction soundtrack and it's pretty funny what lines up. I've outlined some examples that worked here:

1- Heist Scene / Robbery
2- Meet a likable duo with great dialogue back and forth as they set out to do a job that will inevitably bring about their final scene
3- Meet the Mob Boss (Wallace talking to Bruce Willis with an opening monologue and Brick Top talking having his employees suffocated)
4 - etc. - some parts match up some don't but the overall gist is really the flow of the movie.

The opening credits in both movies rolls in high-octane crazy music. But while Pulp Fiction has a blank screen with text on it, Snatch has a fun, wild cartoonish opening with hilarious violence. 

5  - The Car Crash
Shot by shot car crash including, drum roll -  the trunk shot. For my money this scene is Guy Ritchie's clearest wink to Tarantino.
1- the cars wreck, fade to black.
2- the characters come to
3- A bunch of people, no, not just people, a bunch of women, which have seriously been absent aside from Mia Wallace and Mickey's mom, are suddenly surrounding the parties involved in the wreck as they come to.
4- And most importantly is THE TRUNK SHOT (known as the Tarantino shot), which makes me think it is a direct and deliberate response to Pulp Fiction. The wink here is equally clever. In a Tarantino film we'd be expecting to see one of the gangsters looking down into the trunk. Instead, in Snatch, we see no one looking into the trunk, defying our expectation. And telling us that Boris has left the trunk.

6 - A Hero
We have archetypal heroes in both movies, and while they have scenes where they take center stage, the entirety of the movie does not hinge on their decisions. Butch is the archetype of the American hero, Butch is a strong, but struggling middle class, boxer descended from war veterans, who has what it takes to stick it to the man. Turkish is a well-informed, quick-witted Brit who always comes out on top in banter, even if he is losing the scene.

7 - Shepard the Weak
The weak are separated from the strong which seems like something you could say a lot of movies, but these do it in a very unique way. Each party in each situation has power, power that changes hands through the course of the scenes. In Pulp Fiction we see Jules (Samuel Jackson's character) go from neutral, exchanging rhetoric w/ John Travolta - to powerful when he commands the room where they shoot everyone - to being at the mercy of Jimmy (Tarantino's character) and Mr. Wolf (Harvey Keitel's character) when they try to get rid of the body - then back on top in the bar scene finale. And you can see this change of power with every character in Pulp Fiction from Mia Wallace to Marsellus Wallace. 

And Snatch has the same dynamics, especially as the diamond switches hands between the Americans, the Russians, and the Pawn Shop owners, wait is this some kind of Cold war- nevermind. In most typical Hollywood movies, sure the main character gets captured, or goes through some mediocre played out "trial" but in these movies the shift of power occurs between characters simply interacting. Show me a movie where Kurt Russel has to pander and beg a whiney asshole about some coffee or Stalone gets kidnapped in a pawn shop and - ahem.

And these movies make a point of weeding out the truly weak from the truly strong. At the beginning of Pulp Fiction we may think the restaurant robbers are cool and maybe even badass on first viewing but by the end we see they're nothing compared to real strong people like Jules. And in Snatch we see the same dynamics play out in a restaurant. In a what? A restaurant? HE SAID WHAT?! A FUCKING RESTAURANT. As we see Bullet Tooth Tony completely show up three dudes trying to rob him of his brief case as he casually sips his drink, holding his piece. OH SHNAP! 

Is that it? Yeah I think that covers it. If you have your own opinions or things you think shoulda made it on the list, I don't care, I mean I'll read them, but I'm gonna just say I don't care because... well I mean someone's gonna try to be hurtful, I just, I just know it. 

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

THEORY: Parks and Rec is in Ann Perkins' head


Parks and Rec is a heart-felt show inexplicably revolving around Politics in America, particularly one politician, Leslie Knope. Knope's rise through the ranks in American government is followed by her close friends and coworkers, whom she motivates to succeed along the way. Except for one person, Ann Perkins: beautiful, helpful, positive, confused Ann Perkins who never really does succeed or advance except in one aspect, that she becomes a happier, more stable person. Why is that? Because Ann is the only real person in this show and everyone else is totally imagined.  Let's inspect Ann's life, alone, away from the Parks and Rec squad. Ann is:
1- A lonely nurse in a small town who can't advance in her field and doesn't have the will to move to a larger city.
2- Ann can't land a date b/c she's awkward around people
3- When she does date she mimics her bf's behavior b/c she lacks self-respect or identity
4- She isn't respected by any of her peers except Leslie and Chris.
5- Finally, there's a whole episode where she throws a halloween party which fails miserably, and the kicker is that she knows it's going to fail before anyone even arrives.

Point being, Alone Ann would be a great character on Girls. And I believe she's a lonely, depressed woman who has created this show in her mind as a fiction to inspire her to be happier and more successful, with the figurehead being Leslie Knope.

So this whole idea started when I was thinking about April and Andy. April and Andy's personalities are clearly based on pets. Andy is a dog: unwaveringly loyal, energetically positive, and ridiculously impulsive. April is a cat: aloof, distant, independent, and just messes with your stuff for no reason. Both of their names start with "A, just like "Ann", which is exactly what a sad spinster might to do her pets. And guess who'd marry their pets? Oh old spinsters, because Andy and April get married before any other couple in the show despite being the youngest people there.

Now the step before you marry your pets is to start writing fiction to pass the time and fantasize about what life could have been if you weren't a depressed nurse cleaning peoples' butts for days on end. Leslie is Ann's alter ego, her Superwoman if Ann was a sad Clark Kent. Ann imagines stories of Leslie's rise to success to distract from own life as a lackey nurse tasked with cleaning bed pans and giving sponge baths.*

Ann imagines fun stories about Leslie, a spunky, strong, successful woman who'll eventually become president. Leslie's hilariously funny antics are distractions from Ann's own morose reality. Leslie even ends up taking Ann away from her post at the hospital and giving her a nice new job in city hall. A job Ann is clearly unqualified for. A job that allows Ann to be around the group of (fictional) friends she has been fantasizing about. Closing the loop of crazy by finally living and working with her imaginary friends.

Proof also lies in the only two people she's close to, Leslie and Chris, who are absurd optimists, even by absurdly optimistic peoples' standards. They constantly compliment Ann the way that a life coach or a much needed internal voice might do. Leslie constantly complimenting Ann's beauty and Chris' "Ann Perkins!", etc. constantly assure her that she's a wonderful human being as everyone else puts her down. These people are actually just the voices in Ann's head combating her own depression. When she's putting herself down or ending another toxic relationship she imagines Leslie or Chris showing up with a assuring words on how beautiful and smart Ann is.

I think the most interesting character in this scenario is Chris. Chris is what Ann imagines happy people are like, effortlessly joyful, healthy, and optimistic. It's a depressed person's view of "normal" people, people unburdened by the chronic sadness that a depressed person must struggle with every day.

Let's look at Chris and Ann's relationship arc. When Chris is first introduced he is perceived by her and the audience as a wonderful, positive person and she dates him. While dating Ann works on being healthier and happier briefly, the way someone might do for a new years resolution. Then Chris breaks up with her without her even realizing it. In this scenario the breakup is her subconsciously giving up on becoming the unachievably optimistic person she has been straining to be. After that Chris devolves into an ironically enthusiastic caricature, as she now sees optimism as a foreign, ridiculous culture to be mocked. "I mean happy people must be faking it, right? No one could be as happy as these people seem," she says to herself, sipping on $5 wine alone in the shower with her dog Andy.

Yet Chris lingers, despite the opportunity to be
sent away (in the episode where he is supposed to go back to Indianapolis). This is because Ann realizes this goal and character are silly but that she should strive to be happier anyways. Soon after Chris realizes that to become truly happy he needs to go to therapy. This is Ann's intervention with herself, when she gives in and begins going to therapy. Therapy is tough and uncovering a lot of deep emotions (as we see Chris is now always crying). It's rough, so to cope Ann makes Leslie's stories become even brighter. Leslie falls in love, gets a great house, gets married, even Lil' Sebastian comes back.

To complete Ann's arc, the rest of the series around the fifth season is about Ann accepting her own level of joy and her position in life. She explicitly says this in multiple episodes. She is finally ok with being herself and single, she doesn't need a man in her life to be happy or define her. She sells all her old boyfriend's stuff in her "phases" in the auction episode. She also gets closer to April and Ron, which I see as her finally making friends in real life like she's been trying to do for so long.

Oh and what happens next? When Chris finishes his therapy and bounces back from his depression Ann and him inexplicably move and leave the Parks and Rec squad behind. Ann leaves, all this time on the show and she just dip sets while doing what she wants for herself, arm in arm with her imaginary life coach. If we see this from Ann's perspective this is her happy ending, she leaves her fantasy and imaginary friends behind in search of a real, more fulfilling life in a new city. This is the equivalent of Ed Norton shooting himself to get rid of Tyler Durden in fight club.

I could go on about how Ron is her father figure, constantly supplying wisdom and tough love, but always disappointed and distant. Tom and Donna are her online presence, spunky, confident, up to date on culture but ultimately shallow. Tom always posing as more successful and happy than he actually is, while continually destroying his relationships once his partner realizes that his confidence is a facade (much like an online dating profile). And no one cares about Jerry Larry Terry Gurgich, he's probably just GIFs on Reddit that she sees of someone being lit on fire.

*I just want to take a second to say I think nurses should be paid more than politicians, they deal with us at our worst and spend more time with you than your doctor ever will. My nurse friends are some of the most giving and selfless people I've ever known. I'm writing this from the perspective of a depressed person who happens to be a nurse but is unsatisfied with her job.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

REVIEW: Jessica Jones


*Quick Preface: I am a white male. My comments on how well this show approaches women's experiences is completely from the point of view of a man assessing a story-telling technique and conversations with female friends. Any "*" is to note this


For those of us that aren't a lonely robot on Mars, you've noticed Marvel has been creating a giant universe of superheroes in film and TV. These heroes are made to be in crossovers until Marvel either earns enough money to become a sovereign nation or the interest in superhero movies peters out.

Jessica Jones was released on Netflix as a dark, gritty series that addresses topics that her movie counterparts can't, or won't, whichever. Netflix's medium has allowed Jessica Jones more freedom than to explore more hard-hitting realism like Orange is the New Black, etc. Most importantly Netflix has allowed the show to be confrontational about social issues in an time when movies are glib remakes with no conscious to advance social issues.

Overall I give Jessica Jones a 4.5 out of 5.

The show is solid, invigorating, nail biting and had very well-rounded characters while doing a good job balancing story lines. It starts out slow and sometimes flat. The first few episodes' side quests don't have much payoff but I advise you to stick it out until... well I'll just say after episode 5 b/c I don't want to spoil anything.  I thought of this as Girl with the Dragon Tattoo watered down for a PG-13 audience, but after (unnamed episode) I absolutely couldn't stop watching and it paid off in big ways.

Jessica Jones remains the hardest and most earnest attempt at a grounded, realistic hero that Marvel has come out with. She doesn't wear a cape, not even a mask, she wears her street clothes. Her power is her incredible strength, but really it's how she uses her wit and tenacity to use that strength effectively.

*The show discusses several issues women have to deal with in a mans' world while representing the women responsibly. Issues like crazy ex-boyfriends, violent assault, mixed feelings in relationships, etc. I say responsibly because I never got the sense the creator/writers were approaching any scenario with the intent evoke sympathy with our female protagonists. Rather the creators show the womens' internal struggle and their ability to find strength when they choose to act.

Those issues I discuss in the last paragraph of crazy ex as Killgrave stalking her, idealizing her, and harassing her, making it hard for her every day. *But of course he's not just a crazy ex, he's her rapist, and his invasive photographing of her seems like the voyeurism women deal with walking down the street from passing men. The repercussions of Killgrave's forced relationship on her I think speaks to the experience of rape. It makes it difficult to have future relationships, as Killgrave's actions directly interfere with her relationship with Luke Cage. As well as other analogies I saw in the show, but as I said, I'm not really in a position to postulate. I will say for the sake of discussion that I think Simpson was a character made to represent abusive relationships. He forces his way into her home after worming his way into her favor so many times. It seems fitting for the theme, as Jessica fights against her rapist, so Trish learns to fight against her abuser.

So that unnamed episode that hooked mewas episode eight. From there I was hooked, really hooked. The scenes were intensely suspenseful. Many scenes, especially the bar scene with Hope made me feel very real terror. The way they go about executing characters kept me on my toes throughout the show. I was so scared any time the junkie was in a scene that Killgrave was going to round a corner and kill him. And was so relieved he never did.

Episode eight is pretty far down the line though, I was pretty nonplus with much of the series until she got Killgrave to save those people and taste the idea of being a hero. But fifteen minutes later she poisons and imprisons him. While it was satisfying to see her finally get the upper hand, I really wish they had filled some of those first seven episodes with more stories of them being a heroic duo. I'd have liked longer time to try and sympathize with that monster, maybe even see him start to change for a bit, earn some redemption. Do that for like 3 episodes then boom she kidnaps him out of the blue. This could have  brought a new arc and personality to him, filled up duller episodes and really been rewarding and surprising when JJ kidnaps him.

I'm about to make the BEST/WORST list but one thing that I really wanted to address that was well done, but just on the cusp of making the show a 5 star was the acting. Both of the actors do a good job, but it isn't great. They excel in their characters' attributes, but both Krysten and David failed to really follow through and be visceral and vulnerable.

Krysten Ritter does a good job, she's quick, sassy, steadfast but conflicted. I fully believed her intelligence, her skills, her ire. That said, one thing that irked me though is she didn't seem to allow much vulnerability, any true emotions well up. She cries sometimes, she punches windows, but Krysten always aired on the side of cool. This is fine, like Blade Runner but even in Blade Runner you see Harrison Ford get truly scared, etc. Krysten's portrayal of JJ comes off as more having a chip on her shoulder than the poisoned, visceral person she could have been.

It's the same with David Tennant. Tennant portrays the wonderful copulation of a charismatic villain is also very frightening. But it seems neither actors felt like really delving into being someone vulnerably disturbed, one of the main tenants of a great actor/actress is vulnerability, but it seems they both play their roles too safely to be truly relatable, reviling, scared or brave.

- One of the best things is the show's intensity. The build up pays off and certain scenes are gripping in a very physical way.

- The Characters: This show really takes care to make great characters and you're never lacking when one or the other is on screen, even the most minor characters like the junkie or the crazy neighbor. Tertiary characters swing your opinions of them and influence the plot in huge ways while never placing judgement to if someone is truly good or truly evil. You even get a glimpse at sympathising with Killgrave, though short-lived.

 - The absolute greatest thing about the show is its subject matter and the way that it approaches social issues. The approach to this subject is so incredibly relevant and yet widely ignored that to see such clear metaphors about different aspects is encouraging. And for her to call him out as a rapist on TV I feel is a huge step in the progress for a public dialogue as so many women choose to keep their experiences secret.
Even Sergent Simpson seems to be a metaphor for women who endure domestic abuse. Simpson attacks Trish twice and she still accepts him back.

- The inclusion of gay characters without calling attention to it.

- Rosario Dawson tie in, nuf said

- Biggest one is the action. They have so many powerful characters from Jones to Cage to Simpson, yet none of the fight scenes feel powerful, yes people fly far and break walls but it doesn't feel powerful. The choreography seems lazy and the execution by the actors/stuntmen is flat, it looks closer to Shatner in Star Trek than to Dare Devil in a very bad way.

- In hand with the action are the visual effects, they just seem lazy, the same kind of blurry jumps and cuts we saw 10 years ago in Heroes. Any time Jones jumped high or Cage threw someone the effects were so bad it just took me right out of the reality of the show.

- The soundtrack. It's like there wasn't one. There was no theme music for Jessica or Killgrave or anything really. It was like they just bought a generic soundtrack somewhere and placed it around the show. And one of my problems with the action was how disconnected from the soundtrack it was. There were fight scenes with no soundtrack whatsoever, which works in film/tv when you earn it or fill the gap with visuals and soundeffects in an effective way, but this show did not do that.

- I actually believed the younger Jessica Jones than Krysten Ritters. Am I the only one?

I'd rather watch a TV show with gripping narrative, characters and relevant subject matter than any movie with great action while lacking in any of the aforementioned. The respectful way they portrayed the characters and subject matter is really what brought this from a 4 star to 4.5 when I was reflecting. It is definitely a must-see.