The Flop Sweat is Real: Hollywood’s Death March Continues

They’re gonna do a Fourth Matrix movie.

I predict it sucks so hard, it makes Revolutions look good.

Now that’s an easy prediction to make, because if I’m wrong, I’ll have something mildly decent to watch whenever it shows upon Amazon Prime. But odd are I’m right, because…

  1. No one cares about this series. It’s just a name that will put enough fanboys in the seats domestically and probably sell well in China. It’s going to be The Matrix Awakens, softly re-booting the story for nostalgia purposes. Story will be the last thing on anyone’s mind.
  2. The original series was a mess, but at least it finished. There’s nothing more to say or do in this universe. They danced around with a basic Messianic premise, loaded it up with Cyberpunk imagery and garbage sub-Baudrillard post-modernism, and tried to conflate confusion with depth. Going back to it will not accomplish anything of value.
  3. The Wachowskis are bad filmmakers. They had one good movie, tainted by its garbage sequels. Everything else they’ve done has been mediocre to astonishingly bad (Jupiter Ascending, anyone?). Compare them to the Cohen brothers, I dare you.

In short, there’s no reason to expect anything from this microwaved movie. Anyone who pays good money to see it in the theater is a sucker, and they will deserve the anger headaches that follow. Stop lining up for this swill.

Thoughts on Charles Manson

Quentin Tarantino has a new movie out, which has the Tate-LaBianca killings in its backdrop, and I both do and don’t want to see it. I want to see it because I’m a fan of Tarantino’s work and have been since I first saw Pulp Fiction as a college freshman. Then as now, no one makes movies like he does. For all the talk of how he is a style thief and wallows in campy excess, he is one of the few directors today who can genuinely surprise me. When I watch something he’s made, I never know what’s coming next. He’s a rare filmmaker whose work is both a household name – who mainstream audience will pay theater-ticket prices to see on his name recognition alone – and a reliable critical success. I don’t like everything he’s done: Death Proof was a bridge too far, and Django Unchained left me cold. But in today’s world where everything is an existing IP, or a remake, or a reboot, or a comic book movie, his work is a reminder that cinema is supposed to be art, and art for grown-ups. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is almost too appropriate a title in that framework.

That doesn’t mean you have to like his movies, and it especially means you don’t have to like him. But he’s a damn rare thing these days, and I predict we’re going to miss him when he’s gone, and talk about him in the tones that people speak of Hitchcock and Kubrick.

I don’t want to see it because, and there’s no two ways about this, enough with Charles Manson. I’ve written before about how uncomfortable I am with the pop-culture awareness of famous killers. Manson wasn’t exactly a serial killer, but in many ways he was something worse. Jack the Ripper didn’t harm anyone but the prostitutes he sliced up, but cultists like Manson drag otherwise good people into savagery, too. As with Jim Jones, or Adolf Hitler, or Lenin, Stalin, Castro and the rest of the Reds, spiritual degradation is their work, as much as anything else.

So below, I post an essay I wrote about Manson for my defunct medium.com account, at the time of his death. I stand by it.

Charles Manson Was No One

And he does not deserve our attention

“First they killed those pigs, then they ate dinner in the same room with them, then they even shoved a fork into the pig Tate’s stomach! Wild!”

-Bernadine Dohrn

Homo homini lupus est. (Man is wolf to man)

-Roman proverb

charles_manson_mugshot_fci_terminal_island_california_1956-05-02_3845-cal

Humans are apex predators. We are in fact the apex predator of apex predators. We hunt and kill apex predators. We kill lions. We kill sharks. We kill cobras. Not because we need to — at least, not all the time. Because we like to. There are humans who hunt for no other reason than hunting is in our DNA. It’s what makes us what we are.

And often, we hunt each other. Because being apex predators, we are threatened by the other apex predators, i.e., one another. So we kill each other for resources. We kill each other for mating prospects. We kill each other out of fear that the other will kill us first.

And sometimes, we kill just because.

Charles Manson is finally dead. Every few years, he would come up for parole, and every few years, he would be denied parole. It was a bureaucratic absurdity. He’d been condemned to die in prison long ago. He lived in prison. He was prison.

At the time he started his cult, Manson had spent most of his life in some correctional facility or other. He had never had a steady job. He had never completed a degree or diploma. He had never owned anything of value, and aside from getting a few women pregnant, had never contributed anything of value. He was, in short, a failure in every way that a man can fail. His existence was a hole where a human life should have been.

What does a human do when he’s consistently unable to function in human society? Very often, he reverts to default, to atavistic survivalism. He becomes a predator.

The insanity of the Tate-LaBianca murders of 1969, the horror-movie flavor of them, the sheer lack of a discernible purpose for them, have led people over the years to attribute to the mastermind of them some manner of demonic, dark-guru status. No less than four separate television interviews have tried to pry into the Mind of Manson, only to discover a howling void of nonsensical utterances.

look at yourself. You‘ve got to wear that, whether you like it or not. You‘ve got to do things. You‘ve got to get up and go through all kinds of changes; whether you want to or not doesn‘t matter. Your whole life is put in your paycheck. You couldn‘t pay me all the money in the world to do something I don‘t want to do.

If I‘m shoveling the barn, and you want me to go (INAUDIBLE) I say, no, no, no. I‘m doing something right here. I‘m helping this blind man. I feel better in doing what I want to do.

I did not break the law. Jesus Christ told you that 2,000 years ago. You don‘t understand me! That‘s your trouble, not my fault because you don‘t understand me. I don‘t understand you either, but I don‘t spend my whole life trying to put the blame over on you because my cigarette didn‘t light or because something didn‘t work right. What do you want to call me a murderer for? I‘ve never killed anyone. I don‘t need to kill anyone. I think it. I have it here.

I don‘t need to live in this physical realm. I walk around in the physical realm, and I put on the faces, and I talk, and I play (INAUDIBLE) it‘s just a big act, man. In the spiritual world is where I live. I exist in places you‘ve never even dreamed of. You talk about, you know, just the little physical realm you live in, guilty, and is he in sin? How‘s your courts guilty? How many people do you think you‘ve hung on the ventilators in the nut wards and forced medication on them?

You see what I‘m saying? You don‘t have any idea what the hell is going on.

-Charles Manson, MSNBC interview, September 2007

It is the human habit to seek patterns, to find cause and effect, to believe that if something exists, something is behind it. We want to listen to this man who speaks in prophetic cadences and hear what he has to say. If we pour over this quote, and analyze it, and search for meaning and truth, we will find none. And we cannot accept this, so we attribute to him some word that will cover it. Like “insane”. Like “evil”. But these are words indicating the lack of a something: the lack of reason, the lack of goodness. They do not attest to anything being there.

People have spoken of Manson’s odd charisma. And let us stipulate that he had it. But where did it come from? What does “charisma” mean other than people are fascinated by a person? And is it not plain that what fascinates us is nothing but what expresses something we have deep within?

The reason that the girls like me was — hey, now, hey, now, I‘m all around you, around you, hey, now, up on your heart I can sing through you. And I play, and I sing. And they‘d say, “Hey, man, you‘ve got — you‘ve got soul in that music.” And I said, “Yes, I play a little bit, you know? I like music.” “Man, you‘re really somebody.” I said, “Oh, I am? I just got out of jail. I don‘t know what somebody is.”

They like my music. They say, “Man, we want to get you over.” I said, “Get me over for what?” They said, “We take you down here to Beverly Hills, and we want to get you in because you‘re a star.”

-Charles Manson, MSNBC Interview, September 2007

Sometimes, we are attracted by what repulses us. In the extreme of horror is a fascination. In the brutal cruelty of the Third Reich, Germany created a monument to wickedness that our popular culture will not stop examining in books and film. The glamour of the Nazis and their evil were bound up in the same thing. By their refusal to abide by human obligations, they became something we feared, something we expended great effort to destroy, and something that haunts us still, 70 years later.

That’s why Bernadine Dohrn of the Weather Underground expressed such admiration in the killing of “those pigs”. Bernadine didn’t know those people, she was incapable of making any judgement upon them. They were “pigs” not because of some defect in their character but because that is how Bernadine chose to see them, as degraded beasts. This speaks to her moral degradation and nothing else. She was not seeing Sharon Tate. She was only seeing her own hatred of the society she grew up in. Any manner of hatred would have been acceptable to her. Manson had nothing to do with it. He had nothing to do with anything. That was his problem.

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Look at the eyes of Charles Manson on this album cover and tell me that the same howling void is not staring back at you. His eyes have all the seeming of a demon that is dreaming, as the poet put it. He looks like he’s not seeing you, or anything at all.

“…there is an idea of a Patrick Bateman, some kind of abstraction, but there is no real me, only an entity, something illusory, and though I can hide my cold gaze and you can shake my hand and feel flesh gripping yours and maybe you can even sense our lifestyles are probably comparable: I simply am not there.”

-Bret Easton Ellis, American Psycho

And at times that emptiness fascinates the Bernadine Dohrns and the associated hipsters who delight in the inversion of human relations so that they can celebrate themselves for celebrating the inversion. The call to cast aside obligation, and wallow in Id-sense, to spit upon one’s hands and hoist the black flag, calls out to many of us from time to time. But the one who does it is not a hero, nor is he a mystic. He is only hostis humani generis, the enemy of all mankind.

Quick Review: Ingrid Goes West

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Weird little quirk of a film that somehow manages to condemn the age we live in, and the Matrix that we detest and fear and and cannot bear to be apart from (there’s no paradox there, the second thing leads inevitably to the first).

Meet Ingrid. Ingrid is unhealthy. Ingrid obsesses with people she only knows on Instagram. Ingrid lives on her phone. She’s almost (not quite) incapable of forming normal human relationships, because her entire reality is external to herself. She doesn’t have a self. She has no dreams, no goals, no real personality to speak of. She is a void that cannot be filled.

After an incident with one of her InstaFriends lands her in the boobie hatch, she takes a pile of inheritance and crosses the country to form another emotional codependency with a brand new girl who’s InstaFamous. Hilarity and tragedy ensues.

It has a comic sensibility, without really trying to be funny. Such, of course, is how the younger generation speaks the truth, in sly, awkward self-mockery. So it’s really geared for them, but the yearning to live an artful life, a not-mundane life, a beautiful life, is not something that only Generations Y and Z know. The methodology for conceptualizing that life has changed, become more democratized, and way more addictive. Ingrid seems more healthy when she’s drinking a beer on her couch, or even doing a line of coke in a parking lot, than when she’s compulsively liking every photo on her InstaFriend’s feed.

Aubrey Plaza is so perfectly cast for this that’s almost too on-the-nose. O’Shea Jackson, Jr. takes a charismatic turn in a part that could have been nothing. He makes it something, because he’s got something. Everyone else is blonde, and almost part of the landscape. They don’t quite feel real, which is sort of the point, so I can’t fault the performances.

Literary sidebar: the movie focuses on Joan Didion novels as a hipster vintage passion of letters, and it did inspire me to google her and then grab a copy of Play it As it Lays at my library. I suspect Joan Didion got or is getting an uptick as a result of this. I wonder if authors hope for such things. Probably not.

Bottom Line: Skynet doesn’t need to blow us up. It has us by the brain already.

Quick Review: Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil, and Vile

extremely-wicked-shockingly-evil-and-vile-549dda557f5e5c9f5632a216886432b2 I detest serial killers. By which I mean, I detest the attention paid to them by popular culture. There is a sickness in being as aware of them as we are, something concupiscent in our fascination with twisted pyschopathy. That being said, I am hardly less guilty. I regard From Hell (the graphic novel, not the movie) as a work of art. I have rewatched Mindhunter (in fairness, this series is largely about the FBI’s early exploration with the phenomenon of the serial killer, and is as deeply ambivalent with the fascination with them as I am). And I watched this, despite never giving a damn about Ted Bundy. He was a beast in human flesh, and he got what was coming to him. More than that need not be said.

But this film, like Goodfellas and The Wolf of Wall Street, does an admirable job of explaining the fascination with the evil character that sits at the heart of it. The mafia was a way for immigrants to break the rules and get paid. Wall Street is a way to manufacture wealth out of nothing by selling people the promise of wealth. Extremely Wicked doesn’t have the ambition to explain why Ted Bundy murdered 30+ women in the 1970’s – what explanation, really, could there be? – but it does go a long way towards explaining why his case haunts us, forty years after he was finally caught.

Everyone says Zac Efron is great in this, and he is. The camera still loves him, and he makes every use of it. But what makes this film worth watching is its mis-en-scene. We don’t see Ted Bundy as a killer. We don’t see him cut a swath through innocent co-eds. We see a handsome fellow pulled over in his VW Beetle by a cop and arrested. We see him stand trial despite maintaining his innocence. We see him intimate to his longtime girlfriend that someone is out to get him. We see him withstand prison with stoic spirit and determination. And gradually we get wrapped up in his worldview, his frame, until we find ourselves perversely believing that he’s the protagonist, despite knowing full well that he’s everything the title says he is. It’s a marvelous exercise in structuring a film to drive home the real story, which is that this man was a handsome and charming shell, capable of pulling people into his orbit, and successfully hiding the demon underneath.

But only for a time. Reality will out, and eventually even Bundy is no longer able to maintain the pretense. The climax of the film is the moment where Bundy’s almost self-gaslighting persona cracks – not fully, not in the spittle-flecked Hollywood way – but enough to confirm for us that what we know to be true really is. And that’s both satisfying from a film point of view and deeply sickening from a human one. As with MacBeth, this film about a killer has a weird way of condemning all of us.

John C. Wright on Time Travel: An Absurdity Wrapped in a Non-Starter

It’s a longish post, but well worth your time.

In science fiction stories, there are a limited number of ways to explain the conundrum of how time travel can work in a world where there is both the appearance of free will and the appearance of cause and effect.

I doubt I can list all the various answers of the various imaginative authors who have attempted in an entertaining way to address the paradox. It makes for entertaining bull sessions by college students and philosophers, however.

But I can mention some basics:

In effect, the effort is to see how you can keep one or both of the appearances of cause and effect and of free will.

Wright mentions a number of methods (he calls them “options”) for dealing with the paradox:

  1. Free Will Doesn’t Exist (You can go back in time, but you will do exactly what you did, because that is what happened. This is the Slaughterhouse Five answer. “The Moment is Structured That Way” say the Tralfalmadorians).
  2. Cause and Effect Doesn’t Exist (You can go back in time, but in changing the past you only eliminate yourself).
  3. The Universe Doesn’t Like Things Changed (You can go back in time, and change the past, but the universe will order itself so that it gets the desired result in spite of your actions. This is the Tralfalmadorians-on-Steroids).
  4. Time Travel is Just a Scene-Change Device (Dr. Who, Quantum Leap, etc.)
  5. Multiple Time Lines Without Consequence (the easiest solution, in which no matter how much mucking about you do, the only changes will be cosmetic, and you can always go back and re-do it, and you will discover that you in fact, already have)
  6. Time is a Hard Drive Being Overwritten (By changing the past, you destroy the original timeline in which time travel was invented. So time-travel has the result of eliminating time-travel)

It’s great fun to consider, and I’ve always admired the Back the Future precisely because it makes Time Travel very difficult. You’ve got to have a Flux Capacitor and you’ve got to have 1.21 jiggiwatts of electricity and you’ve got to get that car up to 88 mph. Miss either one of these, and the time travel won’t happen.

I also especially enjoy the second movie because the plot takes it back inside the structure of the first movie, and revisits the exact same scenes without disturbing any of them, or indeed having anyone in those scenes notice that they’re being observed. It fascinates me. I’ve never seen a sequel deconstruct the first movie so entertainingly.

I Dislike Pynchon So I’m Reading More Pynchon

So I finally finished The Crying of Lot 49, and while I’d like to say the ending defied my expectations, it didn’t. My Goodreads review is as follows:

** spoiler alert ** A series of non-statements and mild suggestions and endless asides which we are supposed to forgive the author because he assigns his characters ridiculous names and makes his protagonist wander about having LSD-style revelations in longish semi-Faulknerian sentences. There’s a conspiracy to do something, and if you want to find out if any of its real, you’re going to have to decide for yourself, as the book merrily refuses to tell you. I guess you could call that a spoiler, but honestly there isn’t anything to spoil, and that’s the point. I want to punch the author for wasting my time.

But. This was an early work, and Pynchon has had a multi-decade career as a novelist. And really, what picqued my interest, as I said, was a viewing of the film for Inherent Vice. So I went to the library this weekend and picked it up.

So far, a chaper and change in, it doesn’t suck. The ridiculousness of the names are toned-down to something approaching verisimilitude, and the loose plot-logic is so far within the bounds of noir. I expect I’ll enjoy this one far more.

And that’s a good thing. It’s fun do damn a book, and even to condescend to an author from a great height, yet it’s also a shame.

Bonus: the Red Letter Media guys review the Inherent Vice movie:

Quick Review: The Outlaw King

outlaw-king

What the wags have called Braveheart 2 came out this week on Netflix, and being a medievalist nerd, I was all about it.

It is a more accurate film that Braveheart in several respects. For one, it gives us the real struggle Robert the Bruce had in claiming the throne of Scotland. None of this sudden Hollywood climax decision with a full army at his back for the Bruce: he had to claw his way to power, bearing a crown no one respected, hiding in the heather from his own countrymen for a number of years. For another, it’s depiction of Edward I of England is probably truer than the cartoon villain Braveheart gave us. If you loved Patrick McGoohan’s moustache-pulling (and who doesn’t? “The trouble with Scotland is that it’s full of Scots!” that’s A+ movie-villainry right there), you might not like the merely iron-fisted politician this film gives us. But Edward I of England wasn’t a cartoon, he was a real man, a puissant ruler and crusader, a man who struggled to restore royal authority after the turbulent reigns of his grandfather John and his father Henry III, and largely succeeded. Call out his excess in this if you like. Say that his cruelty to the Scots crosses the line into wickedness – I can’t refute it.  But he was a man, and not a devil, and this movie does him the courtesy of making that real. You may not recognize Stephen Dillane – Stannis Baratheon from Game of Thrones – in the part, but you will appreciate him.

However, when it comes to Edward II, I think the earlier film got it right:  the second of the Three Edwards (for a century, from 1277 to 1377, the King of England had the same name) seems to really have been a dilettante who had neither capacity nor wish to charge into battle at the head of an army. We see the younger Edward’s weakness in Braveheart, his terror of his father, and silent yearning to be utterly unlike him (a yearning that made him a poor ruler indeed). In this film, the younger Edward is just a bad chip off the old block.

The film doesn’t run the length of Braveheart, so it can’t spend the time building and enriching the emotional life of the characters. We don’t quite see Robert’s emotional motivation to rebel in the same way we saw William Wallace’s. Chris Pine holds more back than Gibson does, preferring to act with his eyes in something of a slow burn. How well he pulls that off is for the viewer to decide.

Bottom Line: it’s both less thrilling and less fanciful than Braveheart. It runs close to the truth, and is never boring. Worth a watch.