Civil War, by Alex Garland

I didn’t want to see this because in the preview Jesse Plemons, who I think is the most menacing actor we’ve had in a great long while, asks an obviously foreign born American citizen, “What kind of American?” I mistakenly thought the entire movie was going to be something akin to The Killing Fields, which I think upset me to a degree only matched later by Silence of The Lambs.

But I had to trust Kirsten Dunst who rarely picks a wrong script and is, coincidentally, married to Jesse Plemons. She has acted with her husband before, in The Power Of The Dog.

So I went and was pleasantly surprised. The premise is that a tyrant President (Nic Offerman, of Parks and Recreations fame) has refused to relinquish power and is now serving a third term. He calls himself the President of the United States but his alliance is actually the “Loyalist States,” and its not at all clear that these states which include most of the northeast and midwest are loyal. It’s also notable that Trump’s main concern from his underlings is their loyalty. The movie opens with a massive violent demonstration in Brooklyn and ultimately a suicide bomber, and some of the dialogue makes it clear that the president has used troops on U.S. citizens. There are other alliances: the New People’s Army (mostly northern states), The Florida Alliance which includes all of the old south except South Carolina, and the Western Alliance which is Texas and California. It’s the Western Alliance that this story is concerned with. Because while the president goes on television and repeatedly lies that the secessionist states are completely defeated, in fact the WA has come within miles of Washington D.C. and are about to make a final offensive to capture or kill the rogue president.

He’s smart enough not to make the president a Trump parody, and in fact, we hardly see him very much. But the story, instead, follows a conflict photographer Lee (Kirsten Dunst) and a war reporter Joel (Wagner Moura), who decide to get to the president before he’s captured or killed. They have to go on a long roundabout way to get to Washington because of some vaguely mentioned problems with the direct route from NY to D.C. This means the trip will be roughly 580 miles and, basically the story becomes a road show through various places of horrible conflict. This includes the scene with Jesse Plemons, who turns out to be a white supremacist and with some fellow white supremacists, is executing anyone that isn’t born in America. He’s the most nightmarish of all the characters and the most excruciating to watch. But the scene doesn’t last too long.

What was interesting to me about this encounter is how the professionals are able to read what is happening. When they first encounter this group, a whole bunch of bodies are being dumped into a mass grave. Lee asks, “Are they in uniform,” and when the answer is “no,” Sammy (Stephen McKinley Henderson), the oldest man in the group and the one with the most experience says, “We have to leave. They do not want to be discovered.” I would never have thought to think about the clothing the bodies were wearing. But someone with experience did. And because Jessie (Cailee Spaeny) is a neophyte war reporter, a lot of what this movie is about is experience, aging, and the perpetually haunted. As Lee explains at one point, their job is to go look at the stuff other people (except soldiers) can’t see, and bring it back, so that people stop doing it. But they don’t stop doing it and Lee, who gives off the sense that she is at the end of her ability to keep going, knows that her job is pointless but still necessary.

Ultimately this is a movie about reporters and war photographers — not the tension in America or the wish fantasies of so many right wingers that we get on with it and have another civil war. In Africa, safaris used to be about killing animals or discovering the source of the Nile, for example. Later, the guns were replaced with cameras, and the photograhic safari is now dominant. But it’s still a form of hunting. In this movie, the link between the soldiers with guns and the photographers with cameras or reporters with pens and tape recorders is made clear.

The only thing I really disliked was the end, where Jessie gets someone killed because of her stupidity and possibly youthfulness, and then photographs that person as they die, and seems to be without remorse, because she gets up and runs deeper into where the action is. At the beginning she was someone I didn’t care about, but by the end, she was someone I hated.

The soundtrack is absolutely horrible, but it is meant to be that way. It’s meant to make you feel discomfort. And the special effects sounds are sometimes so screechingly loud it makes you want to stuff your ears. This is also intentional.

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A Hitch In Time, by Christopher Hitchens

Of course everyone knows about Christopher Hitchens’ extraordinary intelligence, and it’s probably best to see him in action on Youtube. This, for example. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone take on the Catholic Church in such a fearless way, nor has anyone come close to defending sexually abused children as passionately.

These essays were mostly wonderful, but I did skip a few: the subjects were either dated or maybe not really in my orbit of concern.

I’m not sure I’d buy another book of his essays. There’s an awful lot to read, and an essay is very specifically about a moment in time. So this is, to a degree, a look back.

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One Life, by James Hawes

I wasn’t going to review this but The Times review, once again, proved that their reviewers are hacks and unqualified to review a high school musical.

My biggest complaint about this movie, which will not have a wide release or be seen by very many people, is that the preview for it gave away the entire story. Basically it was Schindler’s List with a non-German protagonist. In fact, one of the most interesting things about the story, is that Nicholas Wintin, the person whose life is being depicted, sought no recognition for what he accomplished.

The movie is, oddly, a reminder that everyone — especially England — tried to appease Hitler by not going to war with him and giving in to his demands. Why countries like Austria should be sacrificed and then the southern part of Czechoslovakia which was called the Sudetenland (sorry about the spellings if I’m wrong), is beyond me. But that is what happened. And then in the northern part of the country, the government was replaced with the German/Nazi government, so that Czechoslovakia became the 2nd country swallowed up by Germany, before its invasion of Poland.

In any case, it’s against this time frame and urgency that Nicholas Wintin and others began a kinder transport from Prague to London. At the London end, Wintin and his mother did most of the difficult work: finding people to foster the children, raising 50 pounds for their eventual return (the equivalent of about $4,000 in today’s money), and getting their visas. They managed to save 669 children, most of them Jewish. Another 250 were on the last train but it was prevented from leaving and of those 250, only 2 children survived the camps. Also in the way was Holland, which had banned Jews from entering their country. As they said in the movie, only 200 children survived the camps. He and the others in his group saved 3 times that many.

The Times critic complained about the present-day story, and said it was self-congratulatory which is as wrong headed as can be. Anthony Hopkins makes it very clear that he doesn’t want to think about the Holocaust or the children that he was not able to save. And when forced to, cries only in front of his wife. So it may not be a Times pick while The Tuba Thieves and Knox Goes Away and even Snack Shack are. But at the end of the movie, which was in one of the lower theatres at AMC Lincoln Square — theatres that are reserved for the not well attended — the entire audience burst into applause at the end. And I thought it was well deserved.

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Cabrini, by a bunch of conservative religious lunatics.

I wanted to see this, without having read the reviews or even seen any previews, because I was always a little curious about “Mother Cabrini,” or “Madre Cabrini,” as she’s referred to most of the time in this movie, and mainly because of the hospital that bore her name here in NY until it was closed and turned into condos. She’s also the first American saint which is defined as “beatified.” A saint in Guam, Diego Luis San Vitores, lived and worked in 1627 – 1672 and established the first Catholic church in Guam, but was not beatified until 1985 or thereabouts. They used to take their time. They don’t anymore.

Anyway, the theatre was packed and I had my seat on the aisle. I was slightly curious why it was so full and then they started to play the previews. If it wasn’t a cartoon made by Pixar, which I always turn out by closing my eyes and staring at the floor and waiting until it’s done assaulting me, it was a preview that gave a distinct smell of being about Jesus or faith. I couldn’t tell specifically, but the clips were often of these maudlin speeches or badly acted moments, and then Greg Kinnear appeared in one of the movies and I thought, “Oh God, this is one of those conservative Christian movies that have been making money hand over fist, by catering to people who want to reinforce their belief system.” The worst of these are scripts that try to “prove” the existence of God or Jesus by telling the story of the Bible, which they, like Moslems or Mormons, believe is a fact and not written by human hands. Or they’ll the story of someone who was briefly dead and “witnessed” heaven. Needless to say, you can’t quote yourself to prove something is true, nor can you quote someone who isn’t in the room to prove something is true. It’s called hearsay.

The worst that this group has made was about sex trafficking and the heinous part about that movie is that it repeated the lie that gays are harvesting children for some aspect of their blood that will keep them youthful. This is something the disgusting actor Jim Caviezel repeats over and over. It disqualifies the entire movie.

Cabrini, I had to watch, at times, half asleep because it gets into that badly written ham fisted speechifying that usually comes from the pulpit. But there was a slightly interesting and I think intentional twist to this movie. It emphasizes, (over emphasizes because of it’s bad writing and bad filmmaking) the fact that immigrants are important and should be treated with respect. And not only that, when Mother Cabrini, after being told by John Lithgow who plays the NYC mayor in this movie, that she would have been a great man, says, “No. A man couldn’t do what I did,” the women in the audience burst into cheers.

NM that she hadn’t done anything by that point and most of her achievements took place after this fictional moment. The movie undoes everything the Trump party is trying to do now: immigrants are important, not just an issue to be dealt with; and women have power.

The audience is asked, during the credits, to wait for a new song by Andrea Bocelli and his daughter, who he now tours with, but I didn’t stay. The movie sucks, as far as script, plot, writing, etc. We don’t get to know a single orphan or hospitalized patient. In fact the hospital doesn’t get built in this movie. All those accomplishments are summarized in text at the end. The men are cartoons of men — in the manor of Snydley Whiplash. John Lithgow does what he can, but even the mayor’s character is mostly a joke. I’d say the lead actress was good, especially with the preaching speeches she had to make. But the audience loved it. Any every one of them stayed to hear this beautiful new song. But even though I hated it, I do hope that Trump voters and others of that kind hear the message about immigrants and women. They probably won’t.

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High and Low: John Galliano

This is a short one and I’m not even going to look for a poster to go with it. It documents the fashion designer’s career rise at Givenchy and Dior, and then his nearly overnight collapse after he was filmed saying anti-Semitic garbage to some people who were near him. It opens with the film, probably one of the earlier cellphone videos, where he claimed to “love Hitler,” and then told one of the girls that he would have gassed all of them, including all their ancestors or “forebears,” as he puts it. He apparently did this two other times — occasions which were not filmed but have been documented. He lost his job right away and he went to trial for anti-semitic hate speech and got off with a 6,000 Euro fine.

The minute he came on the camera — and I imagine he’s around my age now — about 66 or so, because he started out in London in 1980 where the “new” designer movement began, I couldn’t look at him. He stares directly into the camera, mostly, which gives this intense and what I felt was a deeply dishonest stare. He reminded me of a teacher I had who could not, whether on purpose or not, maintain a proper distance when he spoke to you. That man was also a furious and demented liar. I was going to say “self-serving” but all lies are self serving.

I could never, in the whole 2 hours of the movie — when he was young in the 80s or older in 2021 — feel anything about him. And it was especially interesting when they contrasted him a few times with another designer who came from that London group: Alexander McQueen, who took the reins of Givenchy after Galliano moved to Dior. In the documentary about Alexander McQueen, which could be a companion piece to this one, it’s clear that McQueen was suicidal and that he was openly stating so. Why people didn’t see this is beyond me since he talked about it so much and even wanted to include his suicide in one of his shows, which he thought was be a wonderful ending. In that movie, there’s some humanity in McQueen and his suicide briefly intrudes into this movie about Galliano, when Galliano claims to be devastated by McQueen’s suicide. But that too seemed disingenuous. He probably didn’t give a shit.

There are a few tiny and welcome moments when we get a non-interested party point out the obvious — that the arrogance dripped from Galliano when he ended his show as if he was the final model, usually sashaying down the aisle and taking the longest to get there and back. And there was another comment I can’t even remember anymore — maybe the rabbi who had talked to him and learned that he knew absolutely nothing about the Holocaust. (How in the world is that possible?) But for the most part, this is a puff piece — a rehab piece that’s intended to show how he is able to come back and be his creative self again. But really, he should just shut up and retire. Do some scrap booking and blame the Jews for everything, and France’s strict hate speech laws. I can’t find the original video online anymore — it may have been removed — but this is a sorry/not sorry story in the same vein as Mel Gibson’s rant and Kanye West, Trump, and PewDiePie, who find themselves in need of rehabilitation but aren’t willing to either apologize or dig deep enough to even think about what they did, or why. They usually end up saying, “well it wasn’t so bad,” or “i didn’t mean it like that,” or, “Its taken out of context,” or in Galliano’s case, “I can’t believe I said that. It’s not me.”

It is he.

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American Midnight, by Adam Hochschild

I don’t know why I add my 2 cents to every book and movie I read or see, because there’s so many people out there doing the same and it’s sort of pointless.

But one things this book and author did which has been driving me crazy for about 100 years, is he made a very forceful distinction that what we used to call “race riots,” was just a way of making ourselves believe that it was black people who were rioting. He states clearly that almost all the riots that we refer to as race riots were “white race” riots.

And the very sad thing about this period: of 1917 to about 1922 is that that it has continued to infect this country, even to this day, as Trump, son of a Klansman and raised to hate blacks and women, tries to scuttle congressional negotiations on the border, in order to have an issue to run on.

In the very last pages of the book, he mentions Fred Trump’s arrest during his participation in a Ku Klux Klan rally in Queens, but anyone with even some slight memory of hearing about Hollywood and “naming names,” and Eugene McCarthy and even the movie Oppenheimer where they’re grilling everyone about being a member of a union or the communist party, knows that the crimes that started in World War I under the administration of Woodrow Wilson continued year after year, including the disenfranchisement of blacks in the south.

But I just read one of the most astute opinion essays the NY Times has ever published — and I’ll look for the link later — but the thrust of the article is how our institutions and in particular the Supreme Court — have blank-washed history to make the story of for example, native Americans and the white immigrants that came to this country, non-existent. She was using Killers of the Flower Moon as an example: the main character of that movie is basically killing, beating and even poisoning his wife, an Osage Indian with whom he has two children, in order to steal her money. The Robert DeNiro character is a horror: talking about the superior qualities of the Osage and his love of the Osage, all the while plotting to murder them so he can marry into their money and take it.

And then recently, I saw a brief clip of Bill Maher talking to Quentin Tarrentino about the movie 1917. I shut off the interview because I loathe Bill Maher and am just barely able to tolerate Quentin, but in the brief moment I heard Bill Maher say that they couldn’t make 1917 today because there are rules about minority representation and inclusion and, he said, “unfortunately there were no blacks in world war 1.” Well this is utterly false and a perfect symbol of the word I invented up there: “blank-washing.” More than 300,000 black men participated in World War I, mostly as ditch diggers and other menial tasks, and they were heavily segregated. (This is still the Woodrow Wilson era, who was probably one of the most racist presidents we have, up until the recent you know who.) In addition there were fighting troops, namely the Harlem Hellfighters, who suffered worse casualties than many of the white companies. And this book talks at length about their hope that they would be treated as Americans but were instead hounded out of prosperous cities like Tulsa by white rioters, and the white terrorism of lynching blacks continued for another 50 or 60 years, and sometimes still takes place. But as far as Bill Maher is concerned, no blacks served in World War I and because of the burden of having to include p.o.c. in movies, 1917 couldn’t have been made.

Anyway, this book is an eye opener and should become a standard text for understanding the last 120 years of American behavior and why, as Joseph Campbell put it, Woodrow Wilson joined America with England’s attempt to remake the world as a white one.

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Troilus and Cressida, by Shakespeare

I attended a fairly famous production of this play in the summer of 1981 but I can’t find any information about it online. It offended hordes of people because the director staged it like an S&M fever dream, with Achilles decked out in full leather gear and Patroclus wearing leather chaps and jock strap. There was a little homosexual kissing, and this and that. I was in London, enrolled in a class called Shakespeare In Performance, and a second class about Virginia Woolf and TS Eliot. We saw about 21 plays in 2 months.

Anyway many of the people in my class were horribly offended and couldn’t stop using the word faggot to describe the actors and the show itself.

Others were offended by the offended and told them to grow up. Basically I think the director was trying to show how Troy, in its 7th year, was simply devolving into decadence, in the same way that William Friedkin tried to show that every gay man in the world was turning to S&M sex in “Cruising,” which came out a few years before. That wasn’t true, of course, and despite what so many weirdo Christians think, Rome didn’t collapse because it was tolerant of homosexuals.

Anyway, every time someone tries to modernize Shakespeare it’s because they want to show the similarities between what he wrote then and what’s happening now. (Most of the time.) This one was good to read — although it was a tough read I must say — because of the fatigue of the war. The Trojan war was said to have lasted a decade and this takes place about the 7th year. Everyone’s forgotten why they are fighting and Helen, herself, doesn’t seem to understand that all these soldiers going and coming from war are fighting because of her. Everyone is corrupt — even to a certain extent the characters who give the play its title. It reminded me of how (as Maureen Dowd put it this morning) a monster is feasting on America. Everyone is exhausted.

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Rights. Immunity. By America and various other naive democracies.

There are no such things as rights. No one is born with rights. A baby doesn’t have a right to be born and an elder person doesn’t have a right to compassionate care. You don’t have the right to read, eat or pee or own a weapon, whether it be knife or a gun. Rights are invented and I think it was very important that our declaration of independence speaks of rights as being inalienable rather than God given. Most people tend to say, “It’s my God given right to… whatever.” No it’s not. “God,” if you will, aborts more babies than any medical abortion, through miscarriages. Those babies did not have a right to be born and even if somehow, the universe stated that they did have the right to be born, the biggest serial killer of all, defied that right through miscarriages.

Inalienable actually means that the right established as inalienable can’t be transferred to someone else, like a king, or taken away or removed by law. Luckily, or maybe not, the declaration only mentions three inalienable rights and they pertain to living humans: life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. It does not mention property, no matter how hard George Bush tries to insist that it does. These are purposely vague terms, but paired with the term inalienable they are powerful. It would take the bill of rights to get into the specifics.

Anyway, the point of this is that Trump, instead of suing for blanket immunity during his time as president — Richard Nixon was the last president to assert this but sort of acknowledged that it wasn’t going to play. Anyway, he should be thanking his lucky stars that there is no immunity for him because it is the rule of law that has allowed him to continue to thrive.

When you think about leaders who reach that stage of hubris where they can’t be touched — in other words — immune, the world reaches out and proves that you are exactly wrong. Nicolae Ceaucescu and his wife were marched into a courtyard and right up to the moment that were shot in the head, kept stating that “you can’t do this.” Mussolini, not to mention his boy toy Hitler, thought they were immune and eventually discovered they were not immune at all — Hitler taking the coward’s way of suicide in his bunker and Mussolini ending up hung upside down from a telephone line.

Other examples — unfortunately too numerous to go into much detail: Pol Pot, Pinochet, Stalin, Lenin, Franco, hundreds of African despots, the Guptas of South Africa and Jacob Zuma, King Msweti of eswatini (formerly Swaziland), and Robert Mugabe, Khaddafi and the current ruler of Turkey, Erdogan (who has not met his end yet) and Belarus’s Lukashenko and of course, Putin, who apparently plans to take his place among his former leaders. Some of these people just end up in ill health and die of disease. All of them, think or thought that they were immune.

In the United States, it is the peaceful transfer of power which prevents people rising up and killing their leaders (although Trump tried to create a coup against himself, technically, and felt his troops would kill the other people.) As so many people, frustrated by the naturally slow tendencies of the court system to get things right, have said, “Why isn’t he in jail?” Well it’s for the very reason that he is now trying to destroy. The law. Without the law he and his wife could be taken out and shot, all the while insisting that “they” can’t do that.

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Trust, a Game of Greed.

I wouldn’t normally write about something as stupid as a television show. I’m sympathetic to Elaine in Seinfeld who told Russell (the president of NBC) that he was “part of the problem.” But this show is so incredibly stupid and there’s something that sets it apart from something like Survivor or even Big Brother, which is that it is comprised mostly of millenials, or Gen Y. There are a few from other generations, but I think mostly these are people who are not much older than 40 — most in their late 20s and 30s — and they are… to be blunt… idiots.

How can they not see that 3 of the women have formed an alliance and decided, the first episode, to vote out one of the guys they didn’t like? They are so naive they still think, even after a second person was voted out, that they are one happy family. They talk about how some “deserve” to be there more than others, because they’ve had to suffer a lot more and work much harder to get where they are. They almost all of them think that they are successful people in the world. The woman from Nigeria who came onto the show talking about how she was all about Africa and being from Nigeria and that was her entire identity (and she was wearing the jewelry and clothing to prove the point) got upset when a white guy referred to her as an African queen. Instead of pointing out that that is her identity and that she pushes it on people and rarely stops talking about it (except when she is plotting with the other women of who to vote off), he apologized, assuming that to refer to her identity as an African person is akin to using the N word in the way Bill Mahr did. What’s even worse, she was charmed by his apology.

It’s a show I’ll probably watch with reluctance, and with the hope that the old woman gets kicked off as soon as possible.

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May December, by Todd Haynes

Many people don’t know this, but it is not legal or possible for an underage child to give consent. They can say they wanted the relationship. They can say they wanted the sex. But legally, they do not have the right to do so.

This is sort of the unspoken truth at the heart of May December — that Julianne Moore. as a 36 year old woman, seduced and fucked a 13 year old boy. Their sex resulted in a daughter which she had during her time in prison. Later, out of prison, she married him and they had twins. But in trying to do the math, it seems like he may have been 18 when she got pregnant with their twins and the older daughter was conceived when he was 13 — there seems to be about 4 or 5 years between the siblings. In any event, the boy, Joe Yoo, played by Chris Melton, is now 36 himself which makes Gracie (Moore) 59 or 60. He still insists it was what he wanted: that he wasn’t like other kids. But the intrusion of Natalie Portman, an actress named Elizabeth, is going to temporarily bring some of these unspoken truths to the surface. Elizabeth is there to study Gracie, but her presence brings doubt to Joe’s world, and doubt is what makes a story interesting. Gracie has no doubt — still — decades later — does not think she has done anything wrong. But if you look, like a jury might, she tells herself lies to keep this fantasy going. One, is that she says Joe was in charge (of the pet shop where they met). That he was in charge and he was the one who seduced her. It was already established that Gracie was working there and hired him to help out. Another clue – is that when Elizabeth starts filming a new movie about this scandal, she is shown seducing Joe (and the actor playing Joe for this scene looks nothing like a 13 year old.) Joe may have believed he wanted it, but in a powerful bedroom scene/fight, he says to her “What if I was too young..” (to make that decision.) That’s when her lies come out.

Scotty Bowers (of the Hollywood gas station), told in the documentary about him, that he lived across from a monastery, and as a 13 year old, walked across the street to get to know some of the monks and have sex with them. The interviewer said, “But that’s illegal,” and Scotty shot back, quite angrily, “It was what I wanted.” But this is what so many people don’t understand about the law and statutory rape. He was too young to give consent and the monks that he had sex with, even if he initiated it, were committing statutory rape.

Gracie, in her final line, says to Elizabeth, “I’m confident.” It’s a strange quirky line, and, in fact, we’ve seen many instances of her having extremely bizarre breakdowns — one about losing a cake client (she bakes cakes for a living, but basically has five customers who are just doing her a favor) that sends her into fits because she’s going to have a cake go to waste. And another where she irrationally complains that Joe smells like the barbecue grill. But I think that final line means, “I’m deluded and am going to stay that way.” This is quite sad because in the meantime, Joe has been questioning their whole relationship and I was quite convinced that he was going to have to leave. But that “I’m confident,” line ended it. It tells us that she still doesn’t believe she has done anything wrong, whatsoever.

Yet after viewing it twice (once in the theatre and once on the tv), it becomes even more clear that Joe has missed out on nearly everything that young people are meant to go through. He went from 13 to 36 with his abuser dictating the rules of their relationship — the main one being that they cannot talk about their relationship. Even Joe’s relationship to his children is so strained and awkward. The son can barely call him “dad,” and it’s only when they share a joint that Joe and his son make a small attempt to be a normal father and son. That moment, of course, is stifled by Gracie.

It’s a very interesting movie, but in thinking about it, I don’t think I’ve ever quite despised a lead character as much as this one. And Elizabeth, the actress who can’t possibly be very good, is just as despicable.

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