All posts by Andrew

Critique: 5 Reasons why MAGA Never Made Any Sense

As I said in my most recent blog post over a month ago (ha), I intended to be much more active in getting my ideas in text. Off to a rough start as I’m minutes away from February already.

Today (actually yesterday now that it’s 1:35am) I stumbled on this op-ed by Paul Starr, titled “5 reasons Why MAGA Conservatism Has Never Made Any Sense”. Instead of doing a grand analysis of the piece as a whole, or even point by point, I’m doing it line by line. I’ve found that when trying to critique most pieces, you hit the big points but you gloss right over some of the smaller, jagged points. Little sub-textual cues, rhetorical wizardry, that most people consciously ignore but are subconsciously suggested by due to the sly nature of the wording itself. The only way to address this is to compartmentalize each point and address it one on one. Let’s start from the very beginning.

“MAGA hats have become a symbol of support not just for Donald Trump but for a return to a lost world of white privilege.”

Direct quote. We’re only one sentence into this piece at Mr. Starr has already revealed his hand, failing to resist the urge to conflate MAGA- Trump-what-have-you with white privilege, and by extension, racism. Not even MAGA, specifically MAGA hats. He says this as if it’s an objective fact, as if that’s simply what the hat means, as opposed to subjective interpretation – what the hat means to some people. Neither MAGA nor MAGA hats are a symbol of white privilege to me, and I’m Hispanic. I doubt most of the people who wear the hats themselves imbue them with that kind of symbolism. I doubt any of the non-white individuals in these photos think that’s what it means.

We’re only one sentence in… this is going to be a doozy.

Mr. Starr continues…

In the slogan “Make America Great Again,” the operative word is “again.” The slogan points vaguely to a time in the past when things were “great,” when white men were free to push black people, women, and immigrants around

My above argument applies here too, however I do want to expand on this, and it’s a point I have often thought about but never thought that it needed articulation as it always seemed so obvious to me. Speaking as a MAGA supporter myself, I never thought of one specific time or aspect of our country when things we’re all around better, that I wanted to capture again. When I think of making American great again, it’s more of a collage, a collection of various aspects of the America of old which I like, melded together. A little of this, a little of that. They need not be mutually exclusive, they need not even be political, or even on a national scale.

I’m from San Diego and I remember a time when even during rush hour you could zip to any part of town and your speed would never dip below 55 mph. Now, even on Tuesday at 1pm the freeways feel sluggish. My neighborhood was once peaceful, quaint, quiet, and clean. The past several years have brought an uptick in crime, litter, graffiti, loitering, cars blasting music at all hours, vehicles speeding through the neighborhood where they used to cruise at a respectful pace. Recollecting back, my community used to be great. Maybe less so now, and I’d like to make it great again. Halloweens used to be be a revolving door of kids yelling TRICK’R TREAT! and even in our early twenties my college roommates and I we’re happy to hand out candy to youngsters (given the 31st didn’t land on a Friday or Saturday night). Now, October 31st is a sad, pathetic affair. I want to make Halloween great again! We used to be able to drink on the beach in San Diego, and that was made illegal, I’d like to make summers great again! These aren’t things Trump can fix, but I want to illustrate how when people say MAGA, they aren’t talking about one thing, one time, that’d they’d like to wind the clocks back to and set it on Groundhog Day mode.

But, for the sake of argument, let’s admit the possibility of a more generous interpretation. In the wake of the Great Depression, many Americans during the mid-20th century—white Americans chiefly—experienced greater social mobility and economic security than at any time since. In the generous interpretation, “Make America Great Again” could mean let’s rebuild an America with that high level of opportunity and security. On its face, it could even mean let’s create those conditions for all Americans today.

But that generous view runs into a problem. The kinds of policies Trump and his party favor won’t bring back those conditions even for whites who are voting Republican, much less for everyone. 

… even when he’s being generous he just can’t help but take a jab at white people. This is truly going to be a grueling one. On to the meat and potatoes.

Here are five reasons why make-America-great conservatism has never made any sense on its own terms.
1. If we want to make America great, we need an updated understanding of the economy. The jobs of the future aren’t going to come from industries that belong to a fading past. Trump’s promises to revive coal and protect steel reflect an image of the economy and sources of employment that comes from a half-century ago. Coal is in the midst of an inexorable decline because of technological change, quite apart from environmental regulation

What I find particularly interesting is how Mr. Starr, and many others, seem to suggest that certain industries belong in the past. As if this is written in the stars somewhere and we’re all obliged to follow some prescribed blueprint for society. Who says certain industries belong in the past? I don’t know much about the coal industry, but is it still profitable? If so, I would argue that, as an industry, it very much belongs in the present. And if it declines because of natural market forces, then so be it, the end of the coal industry it is. No tears from me. But is it the role of third parties to dictate which industries should thrive, and which should fail?

The left does this with many things. He makes too much money. She isn’t paid enough. Starting ideas with everyone should… instead of I would prefer it if people did... These claims all revolve around the concept that they, and they alone hold the answers to all of life’s riddles, as opposed to simply having and being entitled to an opinion like everyone else.

slapping tariffs on imported steel raises the price of inputs for other manufacturers and makes their goods less competitive. As the minor modifications Trump negotiated in NAFTA show, he was never going to reverse America’s interdependent trade relationships and bring significant numbers of high-paying jobs back that way.

Except many of those jobs have indeed come back. Read this piece from Chuck DeVore, a contributor at Forbes that talks about the Trump manufacturing job boom.

All the false hopes he has aroused have mainly served as cover for the one major economic policy the Republicans have passed—the 2017 tax legislation, with its giveaways to the rich.

This barely merits a response. Allowing people to keep more of their own money is not giving away anything. By Mr. Starr’s logic, I have given away millions of dollars by not robbing banks.

2. If we want to make America great, we need to avoid a declining and aging population. Child-bearing in the United States has fallen below the replacement rate; in 26 states, there are more deaths than births among the white population. In that light, you’d think conservatives would recognize the need for policies to reduce the costs to families of raising children.

Reducing the cost of living for Americans is a good thing. I think that much Mr. Starr and I can agree on. What is unclear in this statement, and take note that Mr. Starr specifically didn’t touch on the issue, is whether or not he is arguing that reducing the costs of raising kids will incentivize Americans to have more kids, and therefore avoid a declining population, to use his words. Basically, does he think people will have more kids if they have more money? I’ll wager that he intentionally left this out, because the numbers say that no, more money doesn’t mean more kids. In fact, numbers suggest the opposite.

Birth rate in the United States in 2015, by household income

The movie Idiocracy brushed up on this concept in it’s introduction, where the less intelligent presumably economically under-performing Clevon spawned several litters, while the hyper intelligent, very well-to-do Carol and Trevor died childless and alone.

That would mean providing public support for child care and paid family leave; it would mean help for families with housing costs and college costs.

The jokes write themselves these days.

Who doesn’t have housing costs? Who are these lucky people? Conservatives actually do try to address this, and it’s a great place to start. For most Americans, especially those in Democrat strongholds where real estate prices are the highest, housing costs are a family’s single greatest expense. You can cut coupons, get energy saving light bulbs, and bike to work to lower your food, utility, and transportation expenses respectively, but rent/mortgage is inescapable. So it should be something we try to address, and we have, in efforts to curtail rent control, which actually has an adverse effect on many tenants. Yes, rent control inadvertently results in rents going up, or more correctly, transfers the cost of rent from one group of renters to another. In San Francisco, these groups were usually cost shifts from older renters to younger renters, or in other words, from people without kids and without colleges costs, to those more likely to have one, the other, or both. Read more about the study conducted by Stanford.

Their opposition to immigration compounds the danger. 

Yahtzee! There it is. I smelled this coming around the bend before I got to it. I’ll spoil the movie for you. “Americans, have more abortions, even late term abortions! What’s this? Americans aren’t breeding enough? It must be because of conservative policies. Lets import people!” Americans are reproducing. Left leaning people… not so much. I won’t bore you with the details, so read here, here, and here (2006). Considering 50% of conceived black children in New York (Democrat stronghold) are aborted, I think we have very confidently identified the solution to avoiding a declining and aging population. Democrats, stop killing your babies.

Deporting millions of undocumented here would create an immediate economic crisis; businesses would go bust, and whole towns would die off. The higher birth rate among immigrants is a blessing; it helps counteract the falling birth rate of the native born. 

Maybe deporting them all at once would hurt. But done so gradually, over say, the course of 5 years, I think would do this country wonders. Just a couple sentences ago Mr. Starr mentioned housing costs. Lets talk about the relationship between population size and rent rates in any given area, since the two are very closely tied together (learn, learn more). The San Diego Union Tribune reported that San Diego is home to 170,000 illegal immigrants as of 2014 – which roughly translates into 1 in 20 residents of the county, or 5% of the population. Imagine if these 170,000 people were no longer in the country, and all their housing units we’re freed up. For the sake of argument, lets pretend these are large families averaging 7 per household, that works out to about 24,285 housing units these people occupy. Imagine if these 24,000 houses/apartments were freed up. How would that affect rents in San Diego? For the 19/20 other San Diegans, it would be greatly reduced rents. Imagine 24,000 new homes built in San Diego, without the added traffic that normally accompanies it. Then factor in the impact on school crowding, traffic, infrastructure, health care and emergency services, and the benefits to legal Americans is great.

How would businesses go bust? After all, isn’t it illegal to hire illegal aliens? We know of course some businesses still do, and in the absence of sub-minimum wage workers, those businesses would be forced to hire legal Americans, and pay legal, higher wages. Leftists like Mr. Starr can’t argue that this would be bad for the economy, because this is the very argument they use in justification and defense of raising the minimum wage. Check mate. Oh, and Mr. Starr, since you mentioned earlier that reduced housing costs would help families with kids and college costs, you win twice brother!

MAGA supporters ought to recognize that they will need enough workers to pay into Social Security while they’re collecting it. So if for no other reason they should favor immigration reforms that legalize the status of the undocumented who have long been here and that welcome immigrants in the future.

Legalizing illegal activity incentivizes more illegal activity. Imagine if you robbed a store, and the government just decided to “legalize” the stolen property, everyone is square, it would motivate people to do it again realizing that eventually once the problem hit critical mass, there would be another round of legalization.

We’re finally to point 3!

3. If we want to make America great, we need to support science and the universities, not undermine them. The conservative antagonism to knowledge-producing institutions makes no sense from the standpoint even of people who will never set foot in them.

I’m going to use my crystal ball here and guess that this is a jab at climate change. Let’s set that to the side for a second and continue. I’m giddy with anticipation. Conservatives aren’t against “knowledge-producing institutions” but my concern is that many on the left seem to think that the only such places worth their while are liberal arts colleges. I went to such a college, San Diego State University, and got a Bachelors of Science. I’m not knocking college, but to act as though the options are college or jail, as Bernie Sanders put it, is a false dichotomy, and misguided advice that has resulted in millions of young Americans falling into the trap of student debt. I’ll try to dedicate a separate piece about why college is so expensive in the United States but let’s all just agree that for what ever reason, it is expensive. There are plenty of other careers paths towards financial security (and economic prosperity for the country) that don’t involve going to college. Vocational and technical schools, trade schools, military, firefighting, and law enforcement, to name a few. I know a good many realtors and loan officers who make six figures and then some without a college degree. I know many successful business owners with no degree, who also do very well for themselves. In hindsight I wonder if I had started my current career sooner in lieu of college, I may very well be retired by now at the ripe age of 32. The point I am trying to make is college is not the end all, be all of success. For many people, it has spelled financial ruin, and for others college has worked beautifully. As far as the antagonism goes, it probably doesn’t help when academics in their ivory towers choose to be condescending to those “who will never set foot in them”.

There is no economic alternative to investing in advanced research and education. That’s true not only for the familiar reason: new knowledge will be the basis for future growth. It’s true also because new knowledge is needed to regulate emerging technologies in the public interest.

I think I know what he’s trying to say here, but damn if that doesn’t wreak of Orwellian intent.

4. If we want to make America great, we have to face up to environmental realities. Denying climate change won’t stop it from happening, but it is blocking us from making necessary adjustments in our way of life and necessary investments to limit global warming and prepare for changes that can no longer be averted. 

This is another one of those things, where leading messaging is baked in. It assumes that we all really know that anthropogenic climate change is real, but some of us just pretend it isn’t. I used to be on the climate change train, and as I have read more I’ve become sort of agnostic on the issue, but to claim that people who are skeptical of something simply aren’t facing up to reality is a slap in the face. I won’t get into climate change here, but how exactly are MAGA hats “blocking us from making necessary adjustments in our way of life”? Want a Prius? Drive a Prius. Want to bike to work, do that. Telecommute, carpool, vanpool, hold e-meetings, use skype, install solar panels, insulate your attic, take shorter showers, buy used clothes, recycle. To the best of my knowledge all of these activities are still very much legal in spite of whatever opinions people hold. What Mr. Starr seems to be implying here is that if the government doesn’t do it, it can’t be done.


5. If we want to make America great, we need partners in the rest of the world. MAGA conservatism is not only backward-looking but inward-looking. It assumes that the United States was once great because it could push other countries around. But the real greatness came from alliances and cooperation. Globalism isn’t a conspiracy; it’s a necessity in a world with highly integrated economies, facing climate change, and trying to contain the risks from nuclear weapons and terrorism. 

MAGA conservatism isn’t anti alliances, or anti partner. It is about taking a second look at some of those alliances and partnerships to make sure that they are equitable, not lopsided. A line from the greatest rom-com Christmas movie ever, Love Actually, comes to mind. Prime Minister Hugh Grant said “I love that word “relationship”. Covers all manner of sins, doesn’t it? I fear that this has become a bad relationship. A relationship based on the President taking exactly what he wants and casually ignoring all those things that really matter to Britain. […] And a friend who bullies us is no longer a friend. And since bullies only respond to strength, from now onward, I will be prepared to be much stronger.”

In that line, Grant wasn’t saying that the U.S. and the U.K. we’re no longer allies, but was inferring that the relationship had soured, and that things needed to change in order to improve said alliance. It wasn’t introversion, it wasn’t escapism, or isolationism, but it was in the interest of self preservation. The notion that because someone is our friend, we must allow them to take advantage of us, is silly. Other nations cannot be faulted for doing what they can to get terms most desirable for it’s own people – that is exactly what a nation’s leaders are supposed to do – at our expense. In some areas, U.S. foreign policy and trade policy needed a little re-calibrating to bring things back to a level paying field, and that’s what MAGA conservatism is advocating.

I’ve met many MAGA enthusiasts from across the country, from all walks of life, races, religions, and all two genders. Their view of MAGA and Trump couldn’t be further from what the opposition and individuals like Mr. Starr think of it. The notes Trump hits resonates with a lot of people, and falls on deaf ears or even deafens others. I think a lot of that is due in part to the fact that there was a media blitz that started in 2015 and continues to this day to paint everything MAGA, everything Trump as sinister, backwards, and stupid. Trump’s style of communication admittedly isn’t for everyone. However I also think that some of these misgivings of MAGA conservatism, or conservatism in general can be alleviated by trying to have civil conversations with members of the MAGA crowd instead of instinctively writing them off as ugly, blind, inward-looking, backward-looking, conspiring, denying, beholden, antagonizing, undermining, fading, and nonsensical – all borrowed words from Mr. Starr’s writing.

The truth is, I don’t think most leftists, liberals, Democrats – pick your word – are evil, or racist, or stupid as I have been called before on many occasions simply for my political bend. I think they are people with their own experiences, who have been exposed to things and simply had a different take away from it. I also truly believe that if they picked the minds of people like myself, some of them might be persuaded that MAGA conservatism actually does make sense.

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Free Speech on Defense

It has been over 10 months since like my last post. I thought that 2018 was going to be the year that I ramped up my blog, and early on I intended to start a video blog or YouTube channel. This was due largely in part to the insanity I was witnessing in the world around me in real life and online with regards to politics, society, and culture. You can tell how that turned out. Here I am less than a week from Christmas and aside from this, I have written just a single post this year, a review of Black Panther. Hardly the outcome I wanted, but the outcome I deserve. So why now am I jumping back into the fray after such a long sabbatical?

Insanity has reached a boiling point in my book, a book that may eventually get censored, or banned, or burned! The boiling point that has been reached is that even in the westernized, modernized, freedom loving United Stated of America, free speech is officially playing defense.

I never thought that I would need to defend freedom of speech. For all my life this was the golden value that connected everyone even if they vehemently disagreed on the things the other was freely speaking – that noble gesture that I may not agree with what you have to say, but I will defend to death your right to say. That wasn’t a republican or conservative value, it wasn’t a democrat or liberal value, it was just an American value. Pearl clutchers from all sides have occasionally sprung up like weeds to try to censor this or that, but the overwhelming majority of Americans would be quick to mow right over that weed in defense of free speech.

LinkedIn (a service I am not particularly fond of) sent me an email today in which the subject line read “As an active contributor on LinkedIn, we want to hear what Big Ideas will define 2019” and while I normally send these types of things straight to the trash, I actually opened it up, out of curiosity. 2018 was a weird fucking year, what does 2019 hold in store? The list is quite long but if you skip to # 43 – We will ask ourselves hard questions about what free speech means – you’ll see what set me off.

Glenn Kelman, the CEO of Redfin, a real estate website that I use hourly, had this to say:

“This isn’t about the death of free speech on college campuses, which sometimes can’t find a hall to host a political provocateur on short notice. It’s about a deeper and more deeply fraught idea that has already been embraced by Twitter, YouTube and Facebook, that European-style censorship may be necessary. Maybe there are ideas so obnoxious, like the belief that the parents of students slain in a mass shooting are part of an anti-gun conspiracy, that we shouldn’t let them be amplified endlessly on the Internet.”

Fraught means a situation destined to result in something undesirable. This very succinctly sums up the ideas embraced by the aforementioned web presences of Twitter, YouTube (and parent company Alphabet), Facebook, and more. I wish that the list ended there, but it doesn’t. Apple, Amazon, PayPal, Patreon, and even Visa and banking institutions have jumped on board the censorship and deplatforming bandwagon. No, Mr. Kelman, there are not ideas so obnoxious that we should censor people.

For decades people have been allowed to claim the Jewish Holocaust didn’t happen, or the Armenian genocide at the hands of the Young Turks, or that 9/11 was an inside job, or even an online personality I like, Owen Benjamin, who thinks the moon landing never happened. The world has seven billion people, and the notion that on certain issues we need to get all them on board with groupthink to adhere to one side or else we need to censor them, is insanity and futility at it’s finest. The purpose of me writing this today is not to defend any issue, other than free speech itself.

One saving grace, or possibly a foot in the back door should he ever need to backpedal on what he say is this bit that immediately follows “Or maybe we should be uncomfortable that these censorship decisions are being made by a few tech leaders, who historically have had little interest in either the journalistic principles that have guided other media magnates, or the costs of paying human beings to gather and weigh facts.”

Part of the reason I think this is a foot in the door, and not a full-fledged commitment to free speech is because he doesn’t push all in. Anytime someone proposes “I believe in free speech, but” they don’t believe in free speech, and while he didn’t say but, it’s there in the subtext. Look at what he said and dissect it carefully. He didn’t say censorship was bad. He said this current bout of censorship makes him uncomfortable because of who is doing the censoring. What he said here was censoring people is fine so long as the people who are doing the censoring are 1) many, aka mob rule, 2) think in a way I deem appropriate. That’s what that was code for.

We shouldn’t be uncomfortable because these censorship decisions are being made by a few tech leaders, or a few assholes, or a few good people. We should be concerned they’re being made at all!

Here’s the icing on the cake. He concludes…

“It’s unclear to me how we quash or validate dangerous ideas except through vigorous, open debate, but even I have to admit that this hasn’t worked well recently.”

He talks about quashing ideas. But he doesn’t mean quashing ideas, he means, and specifically references quashing free speech. I can regurgitate the old rebukes and tropes… Sunlight is the best disinfectant, or the Streisand effect, or first they came for my neighbor, then they came for me, but I said nothing so blah blah blah.

What does that mean “this hasn’t worked well recently” ? The reason why we have free speech is because while each of us has our own asshole and opinion, none of knows for sure whether we are right or wrong, so we need to keep open the discussion, to keep the ideas flowing. For him to say this, means that he thinks he has it all figured, he has the right answer, and the fact that people are still propagating ideas he disagrees with, means that clearly the current system is faulty. These sheep still have views on issues that I don’t like, clearly we haven’t censored them enough.

The last sentence really ties it all together.

What we all know now is that the case for free speech is weaker now than it has been in 50 years.”

This is verbal hypnotism at it’s best, and if you didn’t catch it, you got hypnotized yourself.

What we all know, as if to assume that everyone agrees with what he’s about to say. We all agree, right? We all know, there’s no strong argument for free speech. We all know, this stance is right and the other stance is wrong. We all know the age of consent should be lowered to 11 so we can sodomize elementary school kids. Ya know what I mean? Right? Because I mean, come on, we all know.

No.

We don’t ‘all know’, because we don’t all agree that the case for free speech is weak.

The case for free speech is stronger now than it ever has been because for the first time in U.S. history, a country that historically leads the way in free speech, more people are starting to question it because the type of fuckery freely espoused by people like Mr. Kelman has made people yearn for the harness.

Consider my sabbatical over. I’m posting more often, and louder. I’m starting that damn YouTube channel. I’m getting off the sidelines and onto the field. Free speech is not on defense, it’s on offense, and its got one more person fighting in it’s corner.

Black Panther: Movie Review

Yesterday I was one of the first normies to see Marvel’s latest release, Black Panther, in movie theaters. By now, Americans are lining up at their local theaters to catch this year’s first real blockbuster.

There was a lot of hype building up to this movie. Despite being a standalone franchise not directly related to the Avengers, there was a lot of excitement leading up to this film. Much more than there was for say Doctor Stranger, or Ant-Man which fall into the same general category of the MCU as Blank Panther.

Ordinarily I wouldn’t even bring this up but the elephant in the room with this movie, and a lot of the hoopla leading up to this flick was the whole race issue. So I can’t not discuss it. I need to at least a little.

I think if this same movie had come out a decade ago, it would have been perceived as just another super hero movie where the hero just to happens to be black, such as the Blade Trilogy, Spawn, or Hancock. Movies that people seem to have forgotten even existed.

But even before the movie came out, there seemed to be the emphasis or willingness to make this movie about being black – where Blank Panther isn’t just a super hero who is black, he’s a black super hero. Like I said, that is what a lot of people thought the movie was going to be before it even released, when all we knew about it was a from viewing a handful of 90 second or shorter trailers.

The movie ended up surprising me in a lot of ways as I am sure it will surprise almost everyone. The biggest surprise was that the racial clamoring was wrong. This was just a super hero movie where the hero happened to be black. What surprised me even more is that it was the villain that was obsessed with racial identity and racial superiority – and that this villain…wait for it… was black.

Marvel went in a completely different direction with this movie than I thought they were going to, and Ryan Coogler of Creed fame walked the razors edge of making this a movie that acknowledges race, and racial issues, without rubbing it in your face or swan diving in it.

With that out of the way, the movie was very good. What made this movie particularly enjoyable is that I didn’t have a bar set for it. With movies like Guardians 2, or Avengers 2, we already had an idea of how good it was supposed to be. These were two massively successful movies and the sequel had to either live up to it’s predecessor or bust. Black Panther was a wild card. I didn’t go into the movie expecting it to suck, or to be the best movie in the world so I was able to actually enjoy the movie instead of holding my breath for 90 minutes waiting for the grand finale.

Ryan Coogler knocked this one out of the park. While not quite a good as Guardians 1 or Winter Soldier in my book, this movie gets a well deserved seat right next to Avengers 1, Iron Man 1, and Thor 3 at the big kids table.

The story is about T’Challa, a character that was first introduced to the MCU in 2016’s Captain America: Civil War. In Civil War, then Prince T’Challa of Wakanda seeks out to avenge the death of his father, who he thinks was murdered by the Winter Soldier. 2018’s Black Panther picks off where Civil War ended. Wakanda is a kingdom without a king, and the young Prince T’Challa must return home to assume the throne. But T’Challa’s rise to the throne is challenged, his legitimacy questioned, and his noble plans to run Wakanda undermined, all the while leaving the security and much prized privacy of Wakanda in peril. T’Challa must quickly fill his fathers shoes -er, vibranium suit – and navigate his way through war, geopolitics, globalism, and other temptations of the modern nation state’s leaders.

Yes, race is brought up in this movie, and there was a hint at between the lines politics, I would say that the movie was very even handed with regards to today’s political landscape. Isolationism, nationalism, immigration, refugees, capitalism, military industrial complexes, geopolitics were presented in some way or another, and not in the way I expected. This is not a stupid movie by any means. It’s intelligent, but most importantly it’s mature. Like Winter Soldier presented the moral dilemma of privacy vs. security, this movie makes the audience question whatever preconceived notions of how the world works that they brought with them into the theater. If you watch this movie and leave thinking “WOW, explosion!” you missed the point of this movie.

My absolute favorite part of this movie was the pace. Pacing is everything in a movie. You can have a great story that puts the audience to sleep with bad pacing. This movie hit the ground running and never looked back. So if you had a long week and you’re seeing this movie tonight, you won’t be taking any naps. It’s an interesting movie, with compelling characters, and a good, rhythmic pace. The score was incredible. I found myself tapping my feet almost the entire movie, even though I didn’t know any of the songs like I did with Guardians. Coogler’s use of music to set the pace and tone of the film and transition from scene to scene was brilliant.

Black Panther’s strong suit was character development and storytelling when the film is focused on a micro level, individual characters, and dialogue. As I’m writing this the movie reminds me a lot of another Disney movie set in Africa, The Lion King. If we assume T’Challa is Simba, his father is Mufasa, and well…. yeah, come to think of it. This movie is basically Disney’s Marvel’s Lion King. It has a lot of heart, it’s very touching, and is very character driven.

I love that the movie places such a huge emphasis on family. Lets not kid ourselves that this movie won’t be a tremendous hit with black America, a segment of the population that unfortunately has been struck with a bad run of single parent families and broken homes. Kids look up to heroes they can identify with, and hopefully T’Challa/Black Panther will be a positive, strong role model for kids of any color who otherwise wouldn’t have had one.

Black Panther has A LOT of CGI. We’re talking Avatar levels of CGI. But it was all done very tastefully, and it will come as a pleasant surprise rather than a shock to the senses. This does make for an interesting 3D experience. I’m not usually a fan of 3D movies but I would make an exception and see this movie again in 3D if the opportunity presented itself.

What about the action scenes? After all, this is a super hero movie, right? Oh yeah, action scenes. The one on one fight scenes, and tight knit fight scenes were excellent. Again, this movie really shines when the main characters are front and center. The choreography was incredible and the fighting styles were unlike anything we’d scene in any super hero movie, MCU or otherwise. The closest thing I could think of to compare the sparring sequences of Black Panther were those in Troy when Achilles fought Hector. There is a very tribal, very ancient fighting style portrayed in this movie that is very refreshing. The battle scenes on the other hand where you have dozens and dozens of people going at it were okay. Not horrible, but not Lord of the Rings quality, just okay. Coogler is very self aware and I think he knew this, because he kept these scenes to a minimum. We got a taste of Wakandan warfare, and I’m sure Marvel had some time to practice this for Wakanda’s role in this summer’s Infinity War.

We’ve become so used to the cinematic universe where every movie ties into every other movie in one way or another. Black Panther didn’t rely so heavily on the rest of the Marvel franchise. I think part of this is because the Wakanda angle is so interesting, they didn’t have to, but I also think that Disney realizes they need to start planting new seeds because eventually the Avengers tree will stop bearing fruit. Which means that we can expect more Black Panther in the future, wether that means more direct sequels, or more cross-franchise appearances like we saw with Civil War, or this year’s Infiniti War.

Finally, did this movie have the usual Marvel MCU Achilles heel? Did it suffer from having a mediocre villain? At long last I can tell you, no. It didn’t. This movie had not just one, but two great villains. As far as villains go I would say this movie makes it to the top four alongside Loki, Vulture, and Red Skull/HYDRA. The first villain was actually a throw back from 2015’s Age of Ultron; Ulysses Klaue, the black market arms and vibranium dealer portrayed by Andy Serkis. This guy is ruthless, determined, and hilarious. He steals every shot he’s in. The other big bad played by Michael B. Jordan is a bit of a mystery that I won’t spoil here, but you won’t be disappointed.

In the end, Black Panther is a thoroughly enjoyable film. I would definitely see it again in theaters, I will be buying it on Blu-Ray, and I am excited more now than I was yesterday to see Black Panther’s role in Infiniti War and any future films/sequels. What’s more impressive is how good of a movie it was for such a rookie director to be helming a ship as large as Marvel studios. This movie is strong in some areas than it is in others, but all things considered I give this movie a 8.75/10.

Wonder Woman: Movie Review

When Batman v. Superman was first being advertised I was probably more excited at the prospect of the movie than I was about any other comic book movie to date, with perhaps the exception of Captain America 2 and 3 (Winter Soldier and Civil War). Wonder Woman had been teased as a character that would be fighting alongside the Caped Crusader in some of the final trailers just before the films release. This raised my interest but still wasn’t my selling point for BvS. Then when I saw BvS in theaters for the first time I was so incredibly impressed with Gal Godot’s Wonder Woman that she was one of my favorite aspects of the movie. So much so that the then Wonder Woman movie which was still over a year out movie made it on to my must see list for 2017.

While I admit I still enjoyed Man of Steel, Batman v. Superman, and Suicide Squad, none of them were great movies like can be said for some of Marvel’s MCU offerings. The bad part of a movie setting the bar so high for a genre is that it’s almost impossible to reach. The bad part about setting a bar so low is that you can’t help but trip on it, and even when you manage to make a decent movie it’s easy to fall victim to the “well of course it’s a good movie, look what we’re comparing it to” attitude. I worried that would happen with Wonder Woman.

Lucky for me, that didn’t happen. Yesterday my fiancé and I saw Wonder Woman in theaters and I was impressed. I mean thoroughly impressed. DC finally spent some time on a movie and didn’t just rush it into theaters. This movie was thoughtfully put together with a good story, a good set of characters, solid plot, great acting, good pace, and above all else, good action.

I love the slew of comic book movies we’ve enjoyed over the past decade and a half but even I can admit that we run the risk of genre fatigue at the rate these movies are being popped out. Wonder Woman was a much needed breath a fresh air in a genre that was starting to become stagnant.

We can talk about what this movie is, but I think it would be a better idea to first talk about what this movie is not.

It’s not boring. Not even a little. Nor is it rushed. The movie has a great rhythm. They don’t spend too much time on the origin aspect, nor do they rush through it (I’m looking at your X-Men Origins Wolverine). This porridge is juuuuuust right.

It’s not a testosterone fest. I love me some action. Daredevil season 2 has some of the most badass fight scenes to ever grace the television set and that’s great if you want to watch two men kick the snot out of each other. But this movie is different and while Wonder Woman no doubt kicks ass her fighting style is more fluid than it is brutal. She’s quick, she’s graceful, she’s always on point, and she still hits like a ton of bricks. There’s no Civil War chest pumping, no Batman brooding.

It’s not a chick flick. Just because it’s got a female lead doesn’t make this movie a slouch, or make it a chick flick. Diana Prince brings a new perspective to what it means to be a hero. Yes, a more womanly based approach that we’re not used to seeing, but a valid one. Fellas, this is not a movie meant to trick you into seeing an action movie that ends up turning into a romantic comedy.

It’s not a SJW shit flick. This movie is not trying to shove some anti patriarchy, man hating, women rule boys drool propaganda down your throat. It’s not. Don’t worry that you’ll get dragged into this movie to be told how evil you are for having a dick.

It doesn’t look CGI heavy. I say look because there’s no doubt this movie used a ton of Hollywood magic but the movie still appears very clean. The CG is not in your face, it’s very subtle. Basically, this movie wasn’t Avatar. It wasn’t Transformers. It didn’t make your eyes bleed.

It’s hard to believe that the DCEU could make a legitimately good movie. While none of the other three films were commercial flops by any metric, they just weren’t great movies. The DCEU up to this point has been a hot mess, and considering that no movie studio, not even the successful Disney / Marvel studio has made a comic book movie with a female lead, it seemed like very dangerous territory for DC  to venture into. But it looks like a female lead and a female director we’re exactly what the doctor ordered for this studio and wow, did it work.

So here’s what we got. This movie had a good amount of action and it progresses with the movie as Diane comes into her own, with the realization of what she is, and what she’s capable of doing. There are many different types of action sequences with scenes so ranging they feel like they came out of Troy, Captain America Winter Soldier, and Saving Private Ryan.

The casting was great. The best of any DCEU movie so far. Gal Gadot is absolutely beautiful, I mean just stunning (and a much better pick than Ronda Rousey). She can pull off the warrior princess, but she can also pull the sophisticated, elegant Diana Prince. Whether she’s flaunting a dress, a pea coat, or a sword and shield, Gadot steals whatever scene she is in. Remember, this is her second debut as Wonder Woman in just over a year and I have high hopes for her third debut in November’s Justice League.

I heard Chris Pine’s character as being the ‘damsel in distress’ and that’s far from the truth. This wasn’t about one gender being helpless, and the other having to save them. This movie illustrated that men and women have different qualities that can augment the other. Chris Pine’s Steve Trevor struggles to find the balance between duty and conscience that most men do. At what point do you abandon orders and do what you know in your heart to be the right thing? Diana Prince helps him to see that morality and duty don’t have to be mutually exclusive. At the same time, Steve Trevor tries to teach Diana that things are not always as simple as black and white, and sometimes you must get your hands dirty to clean up a mess.

Robin Wright did a great job as Antiope. Wright is elegant, sexy, poised, and poisonous as Claire Underwood in House of Cards, but she is straight rugged in her role as a badass Amazon warrior. Her role was short lived, but certainly memorable.

David Thewlis as Ares, the god of war was a bit of a surprise to me, so it might be a bit of a spoiler to you. But IMBD has him listed in the role, so the cats already out of the bag.

Danny Huston does a good villain, and he performed as expected as General Ludendorff, the main protagonist of the first two acts of the movie. Fox Studios botched his role in X-Men Origins: Wolverine (as they did most of the entire movie) so it was nice to see him get a role suitable for his abilities.

Wonder Woman will not be a movie soon forgotten. This movie easily gets an 8/10 score from me, and will be the first movie from the DCEU that I care to own on Blu-Ray. Here’s hoping that Gal Godot is not acted out, and can pull off this character a third time in just a year and a half with this fall’s Justice League. I expect this movie will do commercial well. Just like children’s movies result in the parents having to buy a ticket, this movie will probably draw not just the usual male comic book movie crowd, but their wives and girlfriends (if those dorks have any). If you want an action and adventure movie to jump start your summer, I recommend this over Disney’s seafaring five-quel.

Go see Wonder Woman. And bring your wife and kids too.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2: Movie Review

Last night I saw an early screening of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 as part of a 3D double feature of GOG1 and GOG2 back to back. While I am not a huge fan of wearing the 3D glasses, watching both movies back to back certainly was fun and really added to the experience of the second movie. While the sequel certainly time skips a couple years or so, it doesn’t feel like. Right from the beginning you get that gangs all here vibe. Even with that annoying kid who kept kicking my seat, the movie just felt right.

Director James Gunn did a wonderful job with the sequel. That’s doesn’t sound like much but in the world of sequels, sequels of sequels, pre-quels, and side-quels, it’s really easy for a story to get run out. So the simple fact that this was a good sequel is actually a huge freaking deal. We’re so used to sequels and reboots that it’s easy to get jaded, and some Marvel titles are among the worst offenders. I’m looking at you Spider-Man. But fear not, this is a sequel that lives up to the hype of it’s predecessor.

It wasn’t a runaway better sequel like Dark Knight was to Batman Begins, or Winter Soldier was to Captain America 1, but GOG2 was at the very least on par with GOG1. And considering how good the original was, saying this movie was “good enough” is actually a huge complement.

There were a lot of similarities and a lot of differences in this movie, some of which are splitting hairs.

Family

Whereas Guardians was more about friendship, this movie was more about family. Everything from the way the group interacts as a whole and how individual members interact with one another, to how they perceive satellite characters and the world around them. Peter Quill and Gamora have an ‘unspoken’ burgeoning romance and assume a sort of paternal and maternal role in the group, which is hilariously referred to in the mid-credit scenes.

Everyone misses the family they lost, or never had to begin with. Quill’s heartbreak over his mom and his frustration with not knowing his father plays front and center most of the movie. It also focused a lot on his relationship with Yondu. Gamora tries to reconcile her relationship with her estranged and murderous sister, Nebula. Drax misses his wife and child. Rocket who has never had a real family struggles with learning how to embrace his new adoptive family. And Groot… well… ha… you’ll just have to see the movie for yourself.

We see the Guardians start to function as more of real team or family unit, as opposed to ‘a bunch of guys running around shooting guns’ to quote Steve Rogers. In Vol. 1 they were for the most part winging everything. Vol. 2 gives us a well-oiled albeit argumentative machine. The guardians have hit their stride and saving the world is all part of the routine.

Humor

Everyone knew this movie was going to be funny. If the original movie didn’t clue you off, the marketing campaign should have made it abundantly clear this movie was going to have you laughing, but the ads didn’t do the movie justice. This movie delivers the laughs. Chris Pratt needs no introduction to comedy. Bradley Cooper’s Rocket of course brings foul mouthed comedy and that was no shocker.

To my surprise, Dave Batista’s Drax the Destroyer stole the show in terms of pound for pound comedy. Drax had me about to cough up a lung I was laughing so hard.  But don’t worry, you’re beautiful on the inside.

The jokes and moments are too many to list, but if you want to laugh, go see Guardians 2, you won’t be disappointed.

Heart

What you probably didn’t expect was that this movie has some serious heart. More so than any other movie I’ve seen in a long time, and certainly more so than any other comic book movie. At one point in the movie I was borderline crying. Like seriously, about to cry.

This wasn’t some thrown together chemistry like that awkward ‘romance’ between Orlando Bloom and Kiera Knightley in Pirates. James Gunn very carefully laid the framework for real characters you could relate to, and real connections you can commiserate with, and the actors did an amazing job making this all believable. When the characters laugh, you laugh with them, and when they cry, you feel it too.

This is what makes GOG2 so much more than just ‘another comic book movie’. This isn’t just thrashing and shooting and blowing shit up, even though that does happen too. There’s a huge reservoir of emotion beneath the surface. The movie is galactic in scale but it doesn’t have to be. It wouldn’t make any difference if took place in Nebraska. GOG2 wasn’t using eye boggling graphics and CGI scenes as a crutch for good story telling like some other movies starring robots. Guardians stands firmly on two feet with the cast, story, and directing alone. The graphics are just a welcomed bonus.

Graphics

But yeah, about ‘dem graphics. Like I said before, I don’t like wearing those 3D glasses but if you can spare a couple bucks to see Volume 2 in 3D it’s certainly worth doing at least once. The graphics in this movie really are something else. Avatar was incredible when it came out for it’s vibrance and surrealism. Guardians 2 is incredible for it’s vibrance and realism. Despite the fact that I know none of this stuff is real, it actually feels real. One particular scene that takes place on the ‘planet’ Ego comes to mind, where Disney/Marvel literally made a planet in outer space and synthesized their own new alien vegetation just to film this scene. I’m pretty sure. Like 99% sure that was actually filmed on an alien planet….

I swear to God if you kick him one more time I’ll sue Disney.

Soundtrack

Everyone had to be looking forward to the soundtrack and movie score. The retro 80’s esque band poster and the amazing soundtrack of the first movie had me curious to see what the sequel had in store. It definitely had some nice tunes, specifically Fleetwood Mac, but sSadly this is the one aspect of the movie that was not as good as the original.

Summary

You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll cheer, you’ll get an adrenalize rush. This movie has everything you need. It had everything you liked about the first movie without feeling redundant. And it has a bunch of really cool new stuff without feeling avant-garde and forced. The cast as expected did an amazing job turning a ragtag bunch of Marvel’s bottom of the barrel characters and turning them into generations of memorable heroes and millions of dollars of brand merchandizing for Disney.

It might not sound like I’m singing praise for this movie because I keep likening it to the first movie. Because I don’t have to. Guardians of the Galaxy was, in my opinion, one of the best movies ever made, and this movie is equally good, if not just a tad better. So if you know how much I loved the original, that alone should tell you how great I thought Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 really was.

I give this movie a 10/10. Run, don’t walk, to see Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2.

Beauty and the Beast Live Action Movie Review

As a kid I really enjoyed the Beauty and the Beast Disney cartoon. Almost everything about the film was great, from the music, the animation, the amazing scenery and backdrops, and the incredible job Disney did with the ‘Tale As Old As Time’ ballroom scene which perfectly blended still frame and computer rendered animation and to this day still stands the test of time.

Character wise there was something for everyone. Lumiere was hilarious and charming and pushed the story along. Mrs. Potts was endearing and lovely. Chip was playful. Cogsworth was the Winney the Pooh Rabbit and kept things grounded. Lefou was comical relief, and Gaston in my opinion stole the show. I pretty much liked everything about the movie except the primary titular character – Belle.

This new live action version of Beauty and the Beast pretty exaggerated the few things I disliked about the animated movie, and ruined the things I enjoyed.

Belle was already a pretentious, stuck up, gold digging bitch in the original but at least she lived up to the name, and was amazingly beautiful (ya know, for a cartoon).

Emma Watson is lovely, pretty, and cute as a button but I wouldn’t define her as classically beautiful. And if you didn’t like Belle before, you’re not going to like her now. She’s ruder, more pretentious, and more stuck up than ever before except now she’s just a weensy bit less beautiful and doesn’t sing as well.

This movie really went out of its way to paint Gaston as a bad guy. You might be thinking, wasn’t Gaston already the villain of the first movie? And I would respond, no, no he wasn’t. Not convinced, read my blog from Jan 2015, The Cold Hard Truth About Beauty and The Beast. In the animated film, Gaston and the village legitimately thought that Belle’s father, Maurice, was insane and that’s why they had him committed to the asylum. In the live action movie, his motivation was changed entirely to extorting Belle to marry him. It’s as if Disney thought “the lead straight, white, male was villainy enough in the original, so we reaaaalllly need to drive the point home this time”.

There was also possibly some anti-gun sentiment injected into the movie. In the animated version Gaston used a bow and arrow when he confronted the Beast. In the live action this was changed to a pistol. Because, ya know, guns are bad mmmm’k.

The new film pretty much slaughtered the barroom ‘Gaston Song’ which was one of my favorites from the original. LeFou gave people in the bar money to convince them to sing along in praise of Gaston even though in the cartoon, everyone in town legitimately likes Gaston and doesn’t need to be bribed. And they got rid of Gaston’s awesome three-shot-musket scene!

The remake didn’t seem like a live action movie as much as it did a play that just so happened to be filmed. That might seem like the same thing to many people but there is a difference in that plays have more flare and drama. Everything from the impassioned inflections to the wardrobe to the action is intentionally dramaticized, and would seem awkward in a movie, especially a live action movie. There is a reason for this. In plays, not all the audience has the same view. However a 6 foot actor cannot be blown up for viewers in the back. To accommodate audience members in the far back, the characters have intentionally simple wardrobes with glaringly obvious colors, and disproportionately large props that will make them easier to discern from long distances. Since filmmakers can zoom in on a specific character when the scene calls for it, the overly simplified opera style wardrobe looks out of place, and almost cartoonish in live action films.

Basically, while the animated film was visually stunning, the live action film was visually unappealing. I disliked how the movie looked.

The pace of the new film was also very fast. There was hardly a moment to soak it all in before moving to the next scene. I think Disney felt they could get away with this because there isn’t much to think about if you’ve already seen the animated 1991 film. I didn’t like that Disney presumes you’ve seen the animated film. After all, that was close to 20 years ago and a huge part of the target audience probably wasn’t even alive when that movie was made. Even so, as someone who has seen the original countless times, I like for a movie to stand on its own two feet and not be dependent on another film when it’s not part of some greater franchise (ala Marvel’s MCU).

And not to be ‘that guy’ but it did seem a little weird that about 20% of the villagers/cast were black. The story takes place in 1700’s France, and not only that, 1700’s rural France. It just seemed forced. I won’t call it full blown historical correctionism because after all, this is a made up story about singing dishware but there is still a historical context, and just as you wouldn’t expect to see a 20% white populace in 1740’s Beijing, you wouldn’t expect to see that many black people in 1740’s Europe.

I don’t usually give bad reviews of movies and TV shows as you can see from my past reviews. I have what many would consider to be a low bar when it comes to cinema, but I really did not like this movie. It wasn’t fun. The songs you know and love weren’t as good. New songs you don’t know and won’t enjoy were introduced which no one is ever going to sing. The characters lacked that certain something, that je ne sais quoi from the animated film that made them so likeable. For a Disney movie this sure felt a lot like a B Studio production both in terms of final product and project foresight.

I give Beauty and the Beast (2017) a 3/5 and really don’t care to ever watch it again.

Step aside Belle. There’s a new best princess in town, and her name is Moana.

Valentine’s Day, the Extra Credit Holiday

Oh yes, one of these blogs again. Some hater hating their haterade on poor, defenseless Valentine’s Day.

Naw. I don’t actually hate Valentine’s day. But it’s become like so many other holidays where it started small and pure and manageable, and eventually bloated into this competition to see who can out V-Day the next.

I’m not going to pretend to know what the origin of Valentine’s day is, because I don’t care. And I’m actually too lazy to look it up on Wikipedia and regurgitate it in my owns words to pass it off like I always knew, just for the sake of this post.

We know the gist of it. Show affection for the one you love by making a nice gesture. If you’re a guy this means buying flowers. And if you’re a girl, this means….receiving flowers? And if your kid’s in elementary school this means going to the grocery store the day before and spending $20 on those pink, chalk flavored hearts and Disney, Batman or Barbie themed valentine’s day cards so they can give it to every other kid in the classroom, half of whom they don’t even like.

“Happy Valentine’s Day!….. you.”

But Valentine’s day likens itself a lot to one specific aspect of our childhood schooling days, which I will get in to.

Valentine’s day is the equivalent of the extra credit assignment your teacher would pull out of her ass in the last few weeks of the semester. The sole point of the exercise was to give the students who dicked around the whole semester a chance to get their grades up ever so slightly.

The assignment was always of ‘bullshit’ difficulty level, meaning that all you had to do was bullshit your way through the assignment, and voila, 10 extra points. Now little Billy has a C- instead of a D+. His parents will be so proud. The kids with good grades never needed to do the extra credit assignment, it wouldn’t make or break their grades, but they still felt compelled to do it because ‘it’s what everyone does’. In turn, everyone would sort of reluctantly drag their feet and do the damn assignment because of the chronic under-performers.

Sound familiar?

R.I.P. Gene Wilder

I never treated Valentine’s Day differently than any other day. If you’ve been a good romantic partner you shouldn’t need to celebrate Valentine’s day. If you’re already scoring a B+ or better, then you can sit this one out. But you can’t. Because of assholes. Those assholes who rarely buy their women flowers. Those assholes who rarely take them out anywhere nice for dinner. Who rarely compliment them. Who rarely help around the house. Who avoid their in-laws like the plague. Well this is the one day of the year those fuckers band together and act like semi decent human beings and do something ‘romantic’ and make their women hate their lives just a little bit less.

And men, your wife goes to work with the women of these assholes and see their flowers and ridiculous heart shaped balloons and she starts to feel bad if she didn’t get anything even if you’re already scoring a 98% in the good partner department. Because reasons. So just like in the 3rd grade, we good graders must cater to the lowest common denominator and do the extra credit assignment for fear of looking like a slouch. Never mind that you got her flowers just the week before.

“The only people who seemingly enjoy Valentine’s Day are those sad women in horrible relationships”

Do I hate Valentine’s day? No. Hate is a strong word, but I dislike it because of what it’s become, the beacon of under performers to give the under performance of their life time. I think most people dislike Valentine’s Day. Couples (in otherwise healthy relationships) dislike it because there’s this expectation to be unusually cheesy. Singles dislike it because they spend the entire holiday, holiday eve, and post holiday on suicide watch gaining 10 pounds feeling alone and miserable. The only people who seemingly enjoy Valentine’s Day are those sad women in horrible relationships that hope “Please God, Please, give me this one small sliver of hope! My man is such a fucking dick hole that his idea of dinner night is $2 taco Tuesday at that shitty dive bar we used to go to back in college.”

And for those women, I hope you get your consolation prize this, and every Valentine’s Day. You need it more than the rest of us.

My girl broke our tradition this year and got me a bad ass Valentine’s Day present, one of those free standing pull-up, chin-up, dip bar contraptions so I can get prison ripped. I get the message 😉 So baby, thank you so much! I love my present! Happy Valentine’s Day!

Guys, continue to do what we do. Take it on the chin and do something nice. We must continue to make the dick holes among us look horrible by comparison. It is your manly duty!