Friday, September 4, 2015

3 Blondes: Transporter Refueled & Robbery

This is the first of the Transporter films I have seen, and it had great action, good car stunts and Ed Skrein who plays the Transporter Frank Martin Jr is well-cast and does a good job, in both his lines and action sequences; Ray Stevenson (Thor & Divergent) is most likeable as Frank Jr's father, Frank Sr. The poster is interesting for two reasons: first, the action sequence taking place "within" Frank Jr reveals that the action of racing and "being" the Transporter is what "being" Frank Jr is all about. The second feature is his partially turned face, giving us just over half a profile view, suggesting that there is a part of him we won't see in the film, but that he keeps hidden. 
"What's mine is mine,... and what's yours is mine," How would you feel if someone said that to you? That's what Transporter: Refueled is saying. While they attempt to make a case for wealth re-distribution based on "social justice," with a feminist bent, the narrative accidentally reveals the problems with its own position, and that position begins with the introduction to Frank, which is also the opening scene of this trailer, when some thugs attempt to steal the famed Audi S8:
The first problem is: there is no difference between what the thugs are trying to do to steal his car, then there is with Anna and her friends robbing Karasov. The second problem is, it's due to the brilliant technology in the car and his smartphone that Frank's car isn't stolen, and that technology comes from the free market, which the film is supposedly blasting. In the opening scene of the film, we see a Toulouse-Lautrec paining, in glass in a safe box, on a street corner in the French Riviera; why? Lautrec was painting a house of prostitution, which is what that street corner is, run by an all-black gang. A group of vehicles pulls up and shoots all the black pimps and announces that it's now the white pimps who are taking over prostitution, and that's when we meet Anna. This manner of introducing yourself into a new market isn't capitalist, and it certainly isn't good business; that's how socialists run a market: end all competition, whereas with capitalism, there is lots of competition. But this is just the beginning of the film's moral dilemmas.
This is, to me, the most damaging aspect of the film: the lack of individuality which socialists always embrace (they deny it when they are pressed about it, but they always go for everyone being as similar as possible). The three blondes from the Transporter: Refueled on top, can be compared to another pro-socialist film, In Time (Justin Timberlake, Amanda Seyfried) with a mother, wife and daughter on the bottom picture. Why do socialists not like individuality? This was explored in X-Men Days Of Future Past: individuals can be smart enough to overthrow the system, they can lead others to revolt, they demonstrate the terrible holes in socialism and why it will never work. It's not that everyone gets to be equal in socialism, it's that everyone has to be equal in socialism.
Frank Sr., Frank's father who is a retired,... "ambassador" of sorts (British spy,... who isn't capable of defending himself) is allotted only 791 Euros a month for his retirement, which he complains about. He's saved enough money to buy a boat for himself, but he believes he should be receiving more, then he goes out and buys a bottle of wine costing 900 Euros. Yes, that's right. It's the system's fault, he complains to his son, why he now has time to enjoy life, but no money to do it, and the system should be fixed. Enter Anna and her three friends who are going to fix the system the way they see fit.
When we first meet Frank Sr, he mentions that his wife, Frank Jr's mom, is dead, she was a good Catholic who was buried, but he had to get away from where they lived because it had become a cemetery to him: "Burn me up or dump me with the fishes," he tells his son, but don't bury him; why not? This is a further lack of respect for the individual, our bodies and our identities. One can argue that it's the soul which is important, not the body, and that's a viable argument on its own; when it's in the context of socialism, however, it means that we are just animals and no type of reverence should be shown to our memory because our bodies are not going to be raised again. One might argue, correctly, that Frank Sr works hard to save Maria when she's hit by a bullet, and he's genuinely upset when Gina dies; yea, sure, because socialists stick together and they believe they have the right to have feelings and possessions that others do not. Seriously. No one is as righteous as socialists, and they will never stop reminding us of that. Later, in the scene above, Frank Sr tries to make a cup of coffee using the little k-cup pods and he complains, "I need a woman around here," because socialists aren't really for women's equal rights, just when it's necessary to get feminist votes; it ends up, Frank Sr was putting the coffee pod in the juicer, not the coffee maker. 
Anna's "back story" is really important because it reveals the impoverished mind of the writers (there are several of them): Anna lived in an impoverished village, and she had to work in the factory when she was 12 years old; when she came home one day, her mother sold her for $500 dollars to Karasov her put her into prostitution, so she's going to get even with him.
What's wrong with this?
Why does the Transporter hate to be late? Do you remember Owen Shaw (Luke Evans) in Fast and Furious 6? His personal motto was "Precision," which is quite like not being late; how? It's the exact opposite of chaos theory, which means, things happen that we can't control (obviously a simplification, but acceptable for now) whereas never being late assumes that all events and occurrences can be controlled. The lack of respect for the human body and identity, clearly places the film on the side of  "Darwinism" (or what is left of it) and the idea that people are nothing but animals; unless you are a socialist, and then you practically view yourself as a god, but you're the only one, no one else. So, the idea of never being late is a terribly pretentious one because it assumes that all obstacles don't exist or won't exist and his will dominates reality.
Well, it's obviously wrong that this would happen to anyone, the problem is this happened in some third, fourth or fifth world country, but the film makers are trying to get you to believe that because it happened there, socialism and wealth redistribution should happen in first world countries like Britain and the US. This is typical of socialists: they are prostituting the people who are genuinely poor in the world--people who live in extreme poverty in reality--but offer NO SOLUTIONS to helping them, but demand that the 1% be stripped of everything they have and it be given to them, socialists, while nothing is still done about those living in extreme poverty elsewhere, so it's even more selfish, base and self-serving than those horrible 1%-ers the socialists target.
The beautiful woman in this shot, Maissa, was a prostitute and working for the black pimps when Karasova came in and shot of them up; he asked her if she wanted to work for him and she said yes, so she became his private whore (and never became very intelligent). During the film, I kept expecting that she would side with Anna and her friends at some point, but she didn't, she said firmly on the side of her sugar-daddy, which is an implication of employees. Basically, socialists view humanity in one of two camps: if you have a business, you are a vampire who sucks the blood of your hard-working employees; if you are an employee, you are virtuous beyond virtue and you should murder your boss and take over whatever he has for yourself. People like Maissa, above, are bourgeois pigs and should be killed just like the bosses and that's what happens to her. There were several close-up shots of Maissa's eyes, which had a lot of make-up on, and that was to suggest her materialism and artificiality; Anna and her friends, on the other hand, had very little make-up on. Maissa's outfit in this is interesting: the top straps across her breasts act as a standard of how low-cut the dress should be, whereas the actual hemline of the breasts is much lower, demonstrating that she's loose, whereas Anna and her friends are supposedly virtuous whores. On another note, when the four girls have put their plan into motion, they use the body of a woman who overdosed on heroine and put a necklace on her (the "dog tag" of Karasov's gang's mark) so she will be bait for their plan, and then they burn her body and two gangsters to ash. So, Anna has just treated someone else like trash (the woman who overdosed) because she had been treated like trash. There is no moral superiority in socialist/communist circles; they think they are, because all their arguments are the low-lying fruit kind, but there is no righteousness to these Machiavellian acts. On still another note, the last shot of the film leaves the viewer undecidable as to whether Anna deposits $10 million Euros into Frank Sr's and Frank Jr's accounts; does she transfer money to them? Yes, it's almost certain, that will probably come out in the next film, and she wants to see him again, even if he's going to be angry with her. She is buying friendship the way men have bought sex from her.
The last point I will make about this is the "slippery slope" of lawfulness and morality that occurs when one adopts this line of thinking. Before Frank Sr. is kidnapped the second time, he accuses Frank Jr. of not "doing the right thing" in helping the girls rob a Russian mob boss. When did "doing the right thing" become not following the law? The mob boss is a mob boss because he doesn't follow the law, so in order to bring justice to the mob boss, you break the law like he does? This is an imperative point because heroes like Batman (Christian Bale) and Superman (Henry Cavill) won't kill people who are bad (or at least try not to) because order and law must be preserved. With socialism, there is an automatic break-down of law for "wealth re-distribution" to take place, which leads us to the last point I'm going to make.
Even though her friends die, we see Anna depositing millions into the accounts of their family members so they have the funds the other girls would have had if they had lived: sure, that money is going to change their lives for ever, but it's also going to make them a target for people just like these film makers who want to take that money and give it to other people they decide are "more deserving," because that's what socialists do. Further, it demonstrates that Anna isn't really interested in helping someone--think of how many people all those millions would help?--because she's keeping her money all to herself; so it's okay to take what belongs to someone else when they have wronged you, but don't you dare take money that belongs to a socialist and re-distribute it to others.
The "rules" of using Frank Martin as a Transporter are designed, like never being late, to insure he's in control of everything all of the time. As in game theory, rules are designed to benefit the one making the rules, in this case, Frank Martin, and he doesn't allow for any play, that is, anything creative or unexpected, because that's a sign of intelligence (like when Frank drives his car through the airport, that's intelligence in him and what he's doing, but he doesn't allow for it in others). 
What about the poison the girls supposedly gave to Frank Sr? The girls threaten Frank Jr that, if he doesn't help them finish their plan, their dad will die from poison he drank mixed in with his beer, but it ends up that the poison was actually water, they just had to threaten Frank Jr somehow. That's an important slip, because that's basically what all socialists are doing: they are threatening us that capitalism is a poison and society is going to die if we don't do what they want us to do, which is to switch to a socialist/communist society, but as the film reveals, it's all a lie, because that's what they do to get their way.
The purpose of their thefts is to access the fingerprints of the bosses, then use their fingerprints to open their checking accounts and rob them. Why is this important? This is the kind of thing the government wants to do. Socialist governments don't believe you have any individuality (again) and your fingerprints are just something to be stolen and manipulated. Additionally from this scene is that the gas used to make everyone pass out could have been released and then the girls go into the club, instead, like in The Collection, we get a look at the decadence taking place within the club that the girls are participating in as two of them make out with each other. 
In conclusion, Transporter: Refueled had great action, good acting and great car stunts, it just has the typical moral black holes that all socialist theory suffers from, even though the narrative might have been a convincing one had the writers not introduced their half-thought out, greedy and self-serving political agendas. By the way, an Audi S8 starts at $115,000.
Eat Your Art Out,
The Fine Art Diner

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Surrender First: War Room & Smelly Feet

War Room follows a family going through the kind of spiritual crisis any of us might face in our daily lives but shows how we probably don't go about solving it. 
Let's be perfectly honest: Christina spiritual films rarely live up to the high standards of Hollywood blockbusters that we are used to seeing. Either because the Christian film can't get the financial backing of a big film to get the talent and equipment, the executives aren't interested in making "faith-based" films or the people making them love God, but don't have a deep wisdom for narrating a truly compelling story (or, all of the above), but when it comes to Christian films, too often they just aren't good, and sadly, because of this reputation, audiences to whom the films are directed don't won't to waste time and money on seeing films that aren't going to deliver.
This is Ms. Clara and her story is very simple: her husband, Leo, was a strategist during the Vietnam War, so he would analyze what the Viet Cong were doing, what they were trying to accomplish, and then create a response strategy to stop them. Ms. Clara narrates her story that she didn't do what Leo had been doing: she was fighting Leo instead of fighting the one using Leo against her, Satan. Again, this is one of the strengths of the film: it calls the devil by his name, it's not whitewashing in political correctness, or trying to blanket over concepts to make people feel more comfortable watching the film: it shows people failing, and doubting, and uses such instances to make its point: we all need a strategy to defeat the devil. Another strength of the film is that it doesn't try to make it look easier than what it is, and that will be discussed further when we discuss Elizabeth's feet. In the meantime, we see Ms. Clara in "her favorite room" of her house, her closet that she has cleared out and goes into when she prays. She has written a prayer for every part of her life, every person she holds up, and keeps a list of all the prayers God has answered so she doesn't get discouraged. This "inner-room" wherein God calls us to go so that we may pray is the inner-room of our hearts; why? Because our heart is where we hold our fears and pain, our dreams and our hopes, this makes it The Wilderness, as in, "the wilderness" the Israelite children wandered for forty years, waiting to be taken to the Promised Land. It is in the wilderness that the devil and his servants are best found, because when you are fasting from the world (in what ever manner: social media, food, comfort, talking, etc.) you are taking away the places of hiding where they can safely live, free from exposure. When you go "into the wilderness," or into the war room, you are making an act of fasting, doing what God wants of you instead of what you want to do, and this act of discipline makes the demons scream in pain. In the wilderness, too, however, you find God. In this inner-room of your heart, which was made by God for God, you find the Holy Spirit leading you in life by your dreams and your hopes, instead of being led by the devil by your fears and your scars. 
Case in point: Darren Aronofsky's Noah (Russell Crowe) was so bad on a number of levels, people didn't want to experience that with Ridley Scott's Exodus: Gods and Kings even though that was a first-class Christian film (not to mention some very damning and false reviews that got around to the conservatives about the film). So, when it happens that a film like Exodus doesn't do well, executives point to that and say, "See? They don't do well," and invest elsewhere. Fortunately, War Room has the quality, the talent and the story to make for a truly compelling narrative that never tries to out-do itself or convert people via guilt trips; the film speaks on its own terms, and it's moving audience members to greater faith and participation in their spiritual lives. There are a couple of key symbols the film utilizes and this develops the characters and their struggles, which also properly categorizing what the struggle ahead of them is: death.
On the left is Tony, Elizabeth's husband who has not been doing a good job lately; on the right is his friend, a paramedic. Michael, who realizes Tony is having problems but gets shut out by Tony. Something Michael realizes is how much effort Tony has put into getting ripped, and correctly deduces that Tony is doing it for someone other than his wife. The differences between Tony's mind and body is a simple, but effective metaphor for what we are willing to do in life: we put all our efforts into the world, but not the next world, into keeping physically healthy, but not spiritually healthy. The out fits the two men wear reveal their spiritual priorities. Gray is the color of the pilgrim or novice and usually denotes penance. Tony's gray shirt means he is a novice at prayer (the torso, which houses the vital organs, most importantly symbolizes the heart and our ability to live) and making priorities; Michael, however, because of how he speaks of marriage in the film, could be said to be doing penance by his gray shorts, which covers his sexual organs, suggesting that he has control over himself and his desires. This is emphasized by his gray tennis shoes: the shoes symbolize the will, because our feet take us in life where we want to go the way our will decides where it is we want to go and then directs our actions. But Michael's gray shoes, that of being a pilgrim and doing penance, have bright orange shoelaces; orange is the color of life and of vibrancy, so even though Michael is sacrificing and abstaining from things in life, this is exactly what helps him enjoy life (the orange shoelaces). Tony, on the other hand, wears red shorts, and red symbolizes the appetites, because we either have an appetite for love, or an appetite for wrath, and we can argue that Tony isn't really attracted to other women, however, he is made at Elizabeth and that anger is what is driving him to set himself up to cheat on her. Black is the color of death, and Tony's black shoes mean that his will is dead, and he's not leading a purposeful life, just getting by, which is why he started stealing the drugs from his company and selling them on the side. Michael's blue T-shirt means wisdom: he has suffered in life, and he knows sadness, but he has learned form his experiences and church and he is a better man for it. Later, when Tony reveals that Elizabeth cleaned out her closet and has been praying for him, Michael says, "I wish I had someone praying for me like that," because he realizes that Tony's bonuses and the affair he's passively starting isn't what life is about, rather, love is, and God is love, so those who truly love someone put them before God. Tony's arms are exposed in this shirt, meaning that Tony sees his strength in his own body, his own arms and personal strength, not in the strength that comes from a strong heart that has been cleansed of its sins and counts on God.
One of the first of these symbols we encounter is that of Elizabeth's smelly feet: her feet smell so bad, everyone comments upon them, and her shoes smell so bad, she has to take them outside. Feet, as we know, symbolize the will, and that Elizabeth's feet smell so bad means that her will is dead, like Lazarus rising from his tomb and stinking because he had been dead for three days. This would be a typical symbol and characterization which we could expect in a Christian film, however, the film makers let us know that, at the end of the film, in spite of God's help and Elizabeth's personal rejuvenation of her prayer and spiritual life, Elizabeth has only just begun and her will is still dead. This isn't a soft, warm and fuzzy kind of Christian film, this is reality.
So, Elizabeth clears out her closet and begins a "campaign of prayer." Elizabeth goes through a number of chairs so she can be comfortable in her room, and at one point, her daughter opens the door to find her sitting in there eating from a bag of chips. Why? That's exactly what we so in our spiritual lives, we want easy and fast food. Towards the end of the film, after Elizabeth has sold Ms. Clara's house, she goes to tell her and Ms. Clara says, "Wait, don't tell me, it's been bought by a preacher and his wife from Texas," and Elizabeth replies, "That's how I wish the Lord would talk to me!" and Ms. Clara responds, "The Lord didn't tell me, your daughter sent me a text message." That's what we want from God, a clear, easy-to-understand text message about what it is we want to know. But if that is what God did, we wouldn't grow. God does have a text message sent to Elizabeth, and we could say it does come from Him, but it's not what she wants to hear. While she's in her war room, a friend texts her that she sees Tony in Atlanta having lunch with a woman she doesn't recognize; Elizabeth has been afraid that Tony has been cheating on her, and this message is what Elizabeth needs to now get serious about prayer and trusting God. If you will notice, in this image, Elizabeth wears a purple shirt: purple is the color of suffering, and the color of royalty. At Lent, we often see the Cross draped in a purple cloth, because it denotes how Jesus' willingness suffer for us means that we should be willing to make Him our king and lord because of His love for us. Elizabeth is suffering for Tony and her family, and this begins the process of making her more like Christ so she can radiate His love to all.
At the end, Tony gives Elizabeth the ice cream sundae she has been craving, and a foot massage, but not until he first puts on a surgical mask before getting close to her feet. Her feet still smell bad, because all the trials that they have encountered and overcome, are a drop in the bucket to the spiritual exercises still required to make Tony, Elizabeth and Danielle fully alive in Christ; the surgical mask Tony wears invokes Christ as the Divine Physician who knows what the soul needs in order to remove the deadly sins, and that is still ahead in their future. The ice cream, however, serves as a metaphor of the consolation of the moment: when we need a rest, especially in the early days of our trials and struggles, God sends us consolations, ice cream, so to speak, and something to comfort our soul, but He removes those and sends us on more and more difficult trials so we continue in our progress, and the consolations (tend to) become fewer and fewer.
What about the jump rope?
The purpose of withdrawing consolations from us, and still sending us trials and struggles is so our will (symbolized by our feet) will become strong and automatically chose God in all things, not just easy ones. After her first meeting with Ms. Clara, Elizabeth sits on her couch, rubbing her stinking feet and looking at her Bible, but she doesn't pick her Bible up, she allows herself to become distracted by something else instead; this is a sign of a weak will. A sign that Elizabeth's will is getting stronger is when Tony tells her that he has been fired and instead of questioning him, nagging or worrying, she offers her help and reassurance to him; this is the first sign to Tony that something has changed with Elizabeth, and it has: she has begun strengthening her will so that she chooses God, not the world (in this case, worrying about the loss of income). The time she has spent exercising her will in prayer has paid off and she is able to will herself to turn to God, rather than indulge in the fears the rest of the world would plunge themselves into and get angry at Tony the way he expects her to. 
Jumping rope might not seem like a particularly strong metaphor of the spiritual life to use, however, it requires a plan, it requires team work, there is an element of timing, there's a rhythm and each jumper has to share; they are each being pushed to try something new and different. Above all, there is an element of trust, and all of these elements are virtues we can see being developed in our spiritual lives, individually and collectively. We mess up, others mess up, and then we just start again, and that's how life in Christ is: we forgive, we are forgiven, we sin, they sin, and we forgive again, then we ask for forgiveness again, and each time, it's on a deeper level, a level closer to the genuine mystery of our individuality and belonging to Christ.
I think this is the most moving scene in the film: Tony realizes Elizabeth and Danielle have both been praying for him and he's been willing to cheat on them. Tony is in Danielle's room, meaning, he has entered into the part of him that can still be a child before the Heavenly Father, and his heart is filled with shame and remorse over how he has acted. Earlier in the film, Tony had a nightmare that he heard Elizabeth crying out to him to help her and when he confronted the assailant threatening her, he turned around and it was Tony himself. In the spiritual life, we are often fighting ourselves, but it's our false self, the self the devil has created in world terms, an idol for others to talk to and go have fun with, not the real person God created us to be. The destruction of this idol is slow and has to be deliberate because we often can't tell the difference between the idol of ourselves and our real self. An example of this would be Bruce Jenner. He claims to be a Christian but has created this false idol of himself he, and everyone else, is calling, Caitlyn, but that's not who Bruce Jenner was created to become; instead of worshiping his creator, Bruce Jenner has sought to make himself a creator, and those around him who are playing into his lie are dragging him further and further away from God, but he's doing that to others as well by suggesting that he has made a "legitimate choice" in "becoming" a woman. But let me not be self-righteous: I do the same thing in my own life: when I don't tell my loved ones when I hurt so they can help me, when I don't chose to spread love, and I get angry at rude drivers and I let myself hold a grudge, I am also building a false idol; I tear down the devil's work when I ask for forgiveness and do penance, but I also have to actively work at revealing and understanding the mystery that is my own self which God created for His purpose, and you do, too.  
Elizabeth thanks Ms. Clara for helping her through her tough times, and then Ms. Clara tells Elizabeth that she was an answer to Ms. Clara's own prayers that God would send Ms. Clara someone she could teach her "war room" tactics to; this is an important point, because it shows how Grace--God's very own Life--flows through the most mundane parts of our lives, and how God's economy of salvation is always working; we can choose to be a part of it, or not, but that choice is ours and we will reap the rewards or suffer the consequences depending upon how we use our free will or abuse it.
Eat Your Art Out,
The Fine Art Diner

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

First Look At Luke Skywalker's Costume in Star Wars VII: The Force Awakens & the Importance of Beards

This is the first and only glimpse we know that we have had of Luke Skywalker in the upcoming Star Wars VII; we think that's his cyber-kinetic hand resting on R2D2's top in the trailers, but we aren't definitely sure. While we have seen the other major players, this is the first time for Luke who has rumored to be in hiding so that he doesn't unduly swing events in the universe with a negative use of the Force and put people, or himself, in jeopardy, which leads us to why this is such a massive reveal (discussed below). Please note, his beard is a "contractual obligation," which means it's an important part of his costume.
You know I adore costumes.
Since the very first rumors that another Star Wars film would be made, ultra-fans of the films and comics have speculated that Luke would be the ultimate baddie, having gone the way of the Dark Side like daddy-dearest. The first image of Luke released (above) has a massive, universal sigh going out that these rumors are (at least mostly) false, and it's the light color-scheme of his robes that have assuaged fans' fears.
Fans are noting that the light-color scheme is a sign that Luke hasn't gone over to the Dark Side since Jedi knights like Ben and Yoda wore light-colored robes like the one we see in the new image; does that mean that, since Luke isn't wearing black like Darth Vader that he isn't evil? Well, no, it's more complicated than that. For example, we know that white can mean death because a corpse turns white as it decomposes, and for a Jedi to go to the Dark Side means they have spiritually died and are alive to worldly ambitions and using the Force for their own gain, not the greater good of others. Brown, which there are several different shades of on the robes, refers to dirt, so either someone is as humble as the dirt and view themselves as being lowly, or this person is, literally, dirty and they are not to be trusted or respected. We also don't know at what point in the film Luke begins wearing this outfit: from the beginning, or not until the end? He wears a black cape/hood in the trailer when he puts his right hand on R2D2 (which you can watch here, look for 0:49), so he might start out on the Dark Side, but convert like his father at the end of Return Of the Jedi. Further, seeing that the robes of the old Luke (right) are the same color scheme as those of the young Luke (left), we could say that Luke has digressed into a childish phase that makes him selfish or short-sighted as he was before his destiny of meeting Leia, Luke and Ben. This is all possible, but I don't think it's probable, but we need to be flexible. The beard most likely is intended to signal to fans that Luke's self-imposed exile has been meant for him to gain wisdom so he can be the instrument of the Force, rather than use the Force as his instrument. The earth tones, then, signal that Luke has gained in humility because he has learned how great the Force is and it's not to be used lightly or without intellect and the color tones he wears from his youth indicate that the scars, passions and pains of his youth have been overcome and now he's balanced. There are two additional features of this costume we need to explore: the hood and his belt. The hood is going to function like a hat or a character's hair: it symbolizes the thoughts because our thoughts originate in our head and hair/hats are closest to the origin of our thoughts. Remember when Luke was young? He pretty much blurted out whatever came to his mind, we always knew what he was thinking; now, however, it appears that he will be keeping his thoughts mostly to himself, keeping them "under wraps" so to speak with the hood covering his head. What about the belt? The rest of his costume looks very simple, even like it could come from ancient days, from homespun or something simple like that, its natural fibers, not man-made or synthetic, etc., rather, fiber spun from some animal, domestic or alien. The belt, however, is man-made and clashes with his costume. Traditionally, belts symbolize chastity (which would make sense because he's in self-imposed exile, and exile with a bunch of prostitutes doesn't really make sense, does it?), or some vow that has been taken, and a belt (or something like it) is worn around the waist reminding the wearer of the vow taken (consider Dante and his rope belt in Inferno), and, since Luke's belt most likely holds his light saber (maybe some Jolly Ranchers or something, too) the belt reminds him of a vow he made regarding the Force (most likely to protect rather than to be aggressive). Most likely, this isn't going to come directly out in the story, however, Luke will most likely do something that violates his own vow/oath and that will be devastating to him. 
Let's discuss the beard.
Typically (and I don't mean to offend any of the male readers: this is about the strictly controlled context of art, not what you do or don't do in your morning routine, or your personal fashion statements) a man with an unshaven face will symbolize a man who is undisciplined, or has animal appetites; why? That's how the Romans distinguished themselves from the barbarians: Roman men shaved, the barbarians had beards, so Romans considered themselves civilized whereas the barbarians were men of appetites in all realms of their existence: sexual, spiritual (they weren't converts to Christianity), intellectual and even in terms of diplomacy and warfare. We know the mouth itself symbolizes the appetites (and again, this refers to just more than food, so a woman in an artistic context, for example, who wears bright red lipstick, could be interpreted as having very active appetites, from sexual to professional, depending upon the character).
So, what about Luke Skywalker?
In Man Of Steel, Clark Kent goes on a similar exile trying to discover who he is, and he has to learn discipline to be worthy of the role he hopes to fulfill for humanity.  The example of this is in the bar when Clark tries to keep one of the waitresses from being hit on, and the truck driver hitting on her dumps a drink all over Clark's head; Clark doesn't do anything in there, but when the trucker walks out, his truck has been wrapped around a telephone pole; Clark's emotions are still getting the better of him, and he has an "appetite" for revenge because of his pride. In the lower image, after Clark has discovered who he is, and what he's meant to do, his pride transcends itself and he can be humble enough to let go of petty instances like getting a drink poured over him and so his appetite for revenge is gone. In Man Of Steel, we get a traditional, straight-forward interpretation of facial hair and how it reflects a deeper level of struggle within this character.
We know also that, traditionally, a beard can be a man's status sign of wise/holy: in the ancient days, especially of Christianity, men would retire to the wilderness and the deserts, where they would renounce the world and do penance, pray and fast. Not keeping society, they wouldn't bother to shave, and this carried over into monasteries where "vanity" of shaving was shunned and men tended to grow beards, even long beards (at some early point the tonsure hair shaving was adapted because that was the mark of a slave in Roman society, so early Christian men marked themselves as the slaves of Christ in this manner of humility). So, is a beard a sign of the appetites or holiness?
Sir Malcolm Murray (Timothy Dalton) in Penny Dreadful, Season 1 above and Season 2 below. Typically, Sir Malcolm wears a beard, as in the image at the top; in Season 2, however, he begins courting Evelyn Poole/Madame Kali who is a witch and wants to use him to destroy Vanessa (Eva Green). To look younger, Sir Malcolm shaves his beard off and it works, he does look younger, he acts younger too. His beard symbolizes his hard-won wisdom that comes from experience, and--in effect--he's castrating himself so he can leave wisdom behind and do what he really wants to do (have sex with Mrs. Poole) even though the wiser Malcolm would refrain, knowing better from his experiences that this can only bring him trouble. In this case, the beard is the exact opposite of Man Of Steel, being a sign of wisdom rather than the appetites. Now, I would like to mention causally that it's also possible to interpret the beard as an appetite for wisdom, This is perfectly legitimate, however, wisdom is something which happens over a long, drawn-out period of time; "appetites' generally don't have patience about what it is they want, they want it and now. An example of this is Irinka Spalko (Cate Blanchett) in Indiana Jones 4 and the Kingdom Of the Crystal Skull. The Soviet commander has an appetite for unlimited knowledge, normally, that would be a good thing, however, it's an appetite for her because she's a villain and she wants to use knowledge as a weapon, so it's bad and she's punished with death for it. Indy (Harrison Ford) on the other hand, is more than intelligent, but he accumulates what comes to him through experience and doesn't use it as a weapon (yes, he occasionally wears a beard, but we aren't going to interpret that here). 
Typically, and there are exceptions, if there is a beard, it's meant to further develop the behavior patterns a character has all ready established: if a character is good, then the beard portrays his wisdom and lack of appetites; if the character is behaving according to worldly ambitions while showing no regard for others, then the beard acts as a sign of his lack of discipline and lack of wisdom. Yes, it's regrettable that it's not more iron clad, but it is one of those symbols we can rely upon to signal to us that there is more going on with a character and we need to ponder the totality of his actions.
Wes Bentley as Seneca Crane from The Hunger Games. This is an interesting concept as the beard is retained as a symbol of the appetites, but the design in the beard, which is unusual, further develops the symbol as being an appetite for certain, cultivated tastes, something of the unusual and decadent even. 
Does the first image of Luke Skywalker really tell us anything about his character? I think so. The thing about symbols is, as Carl Jung might say, they have to tap into the "collective unconscious" of the viewing audience to work, people have to be able to access the meaning of them so the characters make sense, even if it's not going to be verbally articulated by the audience at large. Whether Luke starts out still being on the side of the Force, or is there by the end of the film, the costume communicates to us that Luke has sought wisdom and limited himself on the use of the Force in trying to keep from becoming like his father; whether or not he has or will accomplish this is a huge portion of the narrative (I can't wait to see!).
Eat Your Art Out,
The Fine Art Diner
P.S.--I just saw The War Room and it was quite good! Working on getting that post up next!

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Mandelbrot Set Is In Motion: American Ultra & Max Goods

As you know, dear reader, when there is something in a film that reminds you of another film (or anything else in popular culture for that matter) it's being "quoted," the reference is intentional because the film makers want you to be thinking of that other film so the film you are watching can expand their visual vocabulary and reward you, as a viewer, for having seen films that the film makers themselves like. When a film quotes another film, it's not a lack of originality, as come erroneously attribute, rather a desire to join in on a cultural discussion the film makers see themselves as a part of. When we see a code word that is supposed to trigger Mike's agent-personality, we are supposed to be thinking of The Manchurian Candidate. When something reminds you of The Bourne Ultimatum (Matt Damon) or The Bourne Legacy (Jeremy Renner), it's because the makers of American Ultra want you to be thinking of those films so they are tied together in your mind; why? Partly because they want to remind you of how corrupt people in the government can be, and if you are wanting the government to be in charge, and to provide for you, then you had better think again, because those in these positions of power will not give you a second thought. When we see Mike chained to a table in a police interrogation room, we are supposed to think of another Jesse Eisenberg filmed when he was chained to a police table, Now You See Me, and how anti-socialist that film was. When we put these patterns of references together, like the Mandelbrot sets mentioned, then we will begin seeing the messages that are being sent to us.
Yes, it utterly bombed at the box office.
But at this blog, we aren't concerned about such things (well, not usually anyway, because when people really like a film, there is a reason for it; however, people don't always go and see a film they would have liked had they known they would have liked it, so just because something bombs doesn't mean I consider it to be a bad film). You might be wondering, however, exactly which movie is American Ultra? I didn't talk about it much because I wasn't sure which way it would go, but I am delighted that it was so pro-capitalist and so pro-America. Here's the trailer to refresh your memory:
Again, I am not a fan of Kristen Stewart, however, she managed a great performance in this film; Jesse Eisenberg? I think he can do anything now. He was perfect in every single scene, regardless of what it called for. As usual, there are spoilers throughout this post, so if you don't want to know what happens in the film, please, stop reading now. Now, what does "American Ultra" mean?
They both have terrible hair in this film; truly, really terrible, knotted, natty dry hair, until the end of the film. Why? Hair, as you will recall, symbolizes our thoughts, and for these two CIA agents turned pot heads, their hair perfectly symbolizes what has happened to their mental processes as they have been vegging out and not living up to their potential, which is what they are doing by the end of the film. If you will notice Phoebe's (Stewart) hair is red but has dark roots: the red coloring reveals that she is "covering" something up, specifically, that she, too, is CIA and not just some pothead girlfriend with a pothead boyfriend, and this leads us to an important issue for critics of the film which deserves addressing: the threshold of credibility. When we sit down to watch a film, we as individuals enter into a bargain with the film makers: tell us a story that will entertain us and, in exchange, we will willingly suspend our disbelief so we can enjoy your story. We don't ask if the Shire really exists, we just want to hear the story of Bilbo in The Hobbit; we don't question if vampires are real or can actually turn into bats, we just want the story and we will allow the creator any license they require to make that story appealing to us. At times, however, especially when a story seems more realistic (such as American Ultra which is set in Virginia and uses real people with real life possible scenarios) when that threshold of credibility is touched, it seems we the audience must rebel and question the methods of the film makers; it has been my experience, that we discredit the artists when we fail to be attentive audience members, that is, in other words, a perfectly good explanation for what has happened, we have just failed to explore what the story tellers wanted us to learn. For example, if Phoebe is also CIA, why did she think Mike would suddenly be able to leave town, even though he had been brainwashed so that he would get massive anxiety attacks whenever he did try to leave town, and trying to go to Hawaii was utterly pointless? Why didn't she realize at the very beginning when Mike told her he had killed two people that something was starting to sound suspicious? Why does Phoebe wait so long to tell Mike about their real relationship? We would go on, because--when Phoebe does reveal to Mike that she is CIA and his handler--like Mike, we hardly believe her, but that is because they have been smoking pot and doing drugs so much for so long! Their brains have been lulled to sleep and it's difficult to get them awake again. Proponents of drug use will deny this, stating that this doesn't happen with habitual marijuana use, and this is just a bad film; however, they are not the measures of intelligence. 
"American Ultra" probably refers to Project MK ULTRA which was conducted by the CIA and Department of Defense. Like the grotesque experiments on human subjects in Nazi concentration camps and in the Soviet Union (as we saw in The Chernobyl Diaries at the end) this marks the beginning stages of communism in America because, traditionally, America has held human life in respect, whereas the Left does not, only the government is to be held in respect. If you scroll down on the link just above to the "Film" section, American Ultra is listed as a popular reference of the program. So, where does this lead us?
Mandelbrot sets.
Veronica is truly a heroine in the film; why? She breaks rules so she can save the life of someone who wouldn't be able to protect himself otherwise because she knows Yates killing Mike is wrong, and she could lose everything for it, including her life. Veronica is an important image of power in the film, because what she did productively, Yates has done destructively; in other words, some people can handle power, others can't. There's another reason to have Veronica playing a dominant role in the film: feminists. I wouldn't necessarily call Veronica a feminist, however, she's smart and she's in a position of power, even after she has been demoted, and she takes matters into her hands. This is rather a message to women that, just because you are a woman, don't think the government is going to be super-nice to you, because they won't, and just because you are a woman, don't think you can't make it in a capitalist society, because you can.
Mandelbrot sets are a branch of mathematics which is also a branch of chaos theory. We could go into self-recognition and all kinds of things, however, we won't; suffice to say, the easiest way to remember what a Mandelbrot set is is by way of Russian Babushka dolls: the large doll contains a smaller doll with the same features as the large doll, but on a smaller scale, which contains a smaller doll within it with the same features, etc., and that is, essentially in the genre of art, what is meant by Mandelbrot sets, that there is a play within a play, there are "films within films" and patterns of micro-organization reflected by macro-organizations.
Why should you care?
Because that's the message of the film.
Yates, on the right, is undoubtedly the villain in the film; why? He decides, with no other authorization or committee, or any legality whatsoever, that Mike must die because he hasn't done anything in five years and he keeps trying to leave town. Yates, as Veronica points out to him, and Phoebe suggests when seeing him again, is an amateur who has made himself a dictator; is there another amateur in America today who is power-hungry and has made himself  a dictator and ruined towns because of his lawlessness? On another note, Yates has taken a group of mentally ill people, like Laughner on the left, and trained them to become CIA operatives and uses them as his personal hit squad;why? Dehumanization. Yates, and socialists/communists like him, fear the free will and decision-making processes of intelligent and free individuals, so employing someone who is sick and mentally inert gives the controller greater control especially because the controller thinks the ill subject will be free of any moral or ethical constraints to carry out their orders. Just as the title American Ultra refers to the MK ULTRA trials, so the testing and "training" of the criminally insane and mentally ill in the film harkens back to both the Soviet Union and the Nazis who did the same kind of things.  
"Mandelbrot set is in motion," Victoria tells Mike, meaning, the film has begun the construction of a set of patterns that we are to find, recognize and organize into a coherent message. At one point, Mike and Phoebe watch cops around a car that has wrecked into a tree, and feeling bad about not getting to go to Hawaii, Mike asks Phoebe if that is a metaphor for their situation: Mike being the tree and Phoebe the car; it is a metaphor, but that's not the way to read it. Mike is the tree, because he has been stuck in the same town for five years now, but the wrecked car is Yates, because Yates has decided to "take Mike out" just like the car wrecking into the tree, but the tree survives the wreck, the car doesn't. This is an example of the Mandelbrot sets in the film, and another one is Apollo Ape Man, Mike's cartoon character, who is a kind of self-portrait of Mike himself, because what happens to Apollo Ape Man also happens to Mike which the closing credits elaborates upon.  The encoded instructions unlocking Mike's mind are so he can protect himself from the dangers being unleashed upon him by Yates, and as viewers, we are interested in this because dangers are being unleashed upon us, the viewers, as well; what are those dangers?
They begin with the soup.
This is Peter, and we find him in an interesting position in the film. He used to be an assistant to Veronica, but when she was demoted, he was re-assigned but Veronica is able to get Peter to do a weapons drop for her along with the profiles of the "Toughmen" agents Yates has trained, which is how she discovers they are really patients from mental wards. Now, in this scene, Yates has discovered that Peter helped Veronica, and Yates is on the phone threatening Peter that, if he provides any help or interference to Veronica or Mike, he will be executed for treason; if you note, in Peter's left hand is a drink, which symbolizes that Peter is "drinking up" what it is that Yates tells him, in other words, Peter believes he will be executed. Later, Yates orders Peter do prepare a drone strike on Mike and Peter gets everything ready but, at the crucial moment, refuses to push the button that would have the drone fire on Mike and kill him; this should remind you of another film when an average guy also refused to carry out an order that was going to kill someone, like Captain America the Winter Soldier when Robert Redford's character orders a SHIELD computer tech to enter in the code and the technician refuses to do it, even if it will cost him his own life. There is another dimension to Peter: he's gay. Peter gets a text from his lover and their dog, and that's how we know he is homosexual; why is this important? Because the film, like Rock Of Ages, makes an appeal to the gay community that, just because they are gay, they should still do the right thing and not support a government that is going to kill people randomly and at will. It ends up that, because Peter did the right thing, he not only saves his life, he gets promoted. 
That soup--which some of us are more familiar with than are others--is probably not that healthy for him: you just add hot water and you have something that passes for something trying to pass as a meal. Mike has the right, and the freedom, to eat it if he so chooses. That's important. In the Michelle Obama world of dictating what school kids can and cannot have for lunch, and what parents can and cannot send with their kids for lunch, and New York City decides to ban drinks that are of a certain size, and certain ingredients, choosing what to eat is a big deal and act of freedom nowadays. Furthermore, that Mike works in a grocery store, and that the shelves are all stocked with food is a big deal; why?
It's an interesting poster and, for someone who doesn't pay attention closely, it could be misleading, but that isn't us, is it dear reader? No, banish the thought. In the two hands that are on top is the spoon and a hammer, both of which Mike had used in the film as weapons to defend himself with. In the lower hands are a joint and a bong, both of which Mike had used to get high in the film. Now, the "higher self" is the appetite for our right to decide, symbolized by the spoon that was used with the soup, and our ability to buy what we need, when we need it, symbolized by the hammer Mike used at Max Goods. The "lower self" is symbolized by the drugs Mike was using before his activation when he was getting high and being a total loser. This image isn't about having both lifestyles, rather, it's about making the decision to lead a "higher" lifestyle, communicated by Mike floating in the meditative stance. When the film first opens, Mike is immersed in the bathtub and he then sits up and blows out a lot of smoke. It's also important to note that Mike's code name is "Wiseman" which he was given.  Since Mike is the wise man in the film, this initial scene of Mike, in effect, being anointed and cleansed as he comes out of the water signals the viewer that he's a good guy (compared to Rose, who we will discuss below) and we should pay attention to what he does. The smoke Mike releases, however, almost acts as noise because it reveals that, even though we are going to watch the film, parts of it are going to be blurry to us, because we won't really be able to see it (Mike uses smoke bombs at Max Goods and steps backwards into a huge cloud of smoke to escape his killers) and detect the boundaries or what is underneath it. That's because the words of the wise often evaporate (like the smoke) before we can sufficiently ponder them and come to an understanding of what they are meant to impart, which is what happens on various levels throughout the film.
My Russian history professor would go to Russia every summer and do research and come back and tell us the stories about how oppressive it was. She said that any time, any time at all, you saw a line, you got into the line. You could ask people what they were in line for, but most of the time, they would have no idea. The line indicated that the place at the start of the line had something, and whatever that was, you would then be able to trade for whatever you needed: if the place was handing out wrenches, you got as many wrenches as you could and traded that for what you needed, like soap and toilet paper, because you didn't know when soap and toilet paper would be available, but you would have something you could trade for it; when there is no free market, there is the black market, and when the government plans how much toilet paper its "citizens" need for the month (because that is what central planning is), it inevitably under estimates severely to keep costs down; why does a communist country want to keep costs down? So Party members in the government can have more money and not worry about the shortages effecting everyone else on a day to day basis. So, that Mike works in a clean, stocked grocery store that has everything anyone would pretty much need to survive, is one of the many marvels of the capitalist universe. But how do I know Mike is battling a "communist" government in the film?
Rose, here with Mike, is Mike's drug dealer who has just delivered a stash of illegal fireworks for Mike to have on hand when he proposes to Phoebe later. Looking at Rose, which is the first time we meet him, he is "exposed" to us because he doesn't wear a shirt (at all in the film, actually) so Rose's character is completely revealed. His jacket has a photo of the Egyptian Sphinx on it, and he has a tattoo of puzzle pieces on his right pec, a gold necklace and gold watch. The riddles of life escape Rose, he doesn't question anything like the Spinx does, because he doesn't "see" anything because he wears "blinders," symbolized by the dark glasses. When the TV says that Victoria is wanted by the CIA because she in appropriately handled monkeys and spread a viral typhoid virus, Rose swallows the story completely because he lacks any intelligence to think critically, like most people who get into drugs. The puzzle pieces on his chest indicate that he's all there for us to see, there aren't any more "pieces to the puzzle" to find, this is his entire being right here. What's he wanting to do? "Let's drop some acid and go into the titty bar," he suggests, because, for him, that's basically all there is in life and that's how he responds in life and to life's challenges. Had Mike not volunteered to become a part of the program Veronica was heading up, this is how Mike would have ended up: a loser. Because Veronica gave Mike the chance to make something of himself, Mike did. You might be interested in the sign behind the two guys: "We fired the ugly one, come on in," demonstrates that even the pornography industry is capitalistic in organizing itself so that its customers have the best choice.
The whole reason this film is put into motion is NOT because Mike wants to take Phoebe to Hawaii, it's because Yates decides that Mike has been trying to leave town "too often" and so he needs to be taken out. Limited travel of citizens is a top priority for socialist/communist government because when citizens can move around at will, they can plot to overthrow the government; we just saw this in The Man From UNCLE: the Berlin Wall wasn't created to keep clamoring Westerners out of Berlin, it was built to keep despairing East Germans in. Mike not getting to go to Hawaii is an important theme in the film because, the way Yates first tries to take Mike out is by blowing up his car:
Why is the car important to target? Targeting the car means targeting Mike's ability to move and makes it easier to keep an eye on what he is doing and where he is going. This is a warning to Americans: when they (the government) starts messing with our cars, that's the time for us to whip out the spoons. Why does Mike kill one of the agents with a spoon? Because of the appetites it symbolizes. Mike stabs the assailant in the throat,... with the spoon; why? The throat symbolizes what it is we are "led by," it reveals what our leash is in life. In this act of self-defense (and when Mike and Phoebe are being interrogated, Phoebe makes sure the police know it was self-defense) Mike uses his appetites (in this case, the cheap cup-o-soup) as a defense against the encroaching attack of socialism/communism; then he takes away the gun the government agents have and uses it against them; why? The Second Amendment was created for the protection of citizens against their own government trying to kill them; that these agents are, in fact, using guns to try and kill Mike, validates Mike having a gun to defend himself with and disarm the government.
Pretty cool, huh?
What's special about this image of Mike in Max Goods? Mike's "above" the ones trying to kill him, but it also suggests that the "Wiseman" (Mike's code name) will also be above the events and look at the situation from a different perspective. Again, look at how beautiful all those full shelves of inventory are; there's the "BAKING" aisle, then there is an aisle for "HOME LIVING," and that's in one store; this is the beauty of the free market, where market forces determine how much to make and when, where competition creates better and cheaper products; trust me, nothing like this existed behind the Iron Curtain, unless it was possibly or Party Members, but not for the Workers, who the system was supposed to be serving. During this scene, Phoebe is able to get a paper clip and use it to unlock her handcuffs, providing yet another example of "handiness" and, simultaneously, demonstrating how, we don't just need paper clips to keep papers together (although paper clips do that very nicely and there was a need for that) but paperclips also provide us with the means of unshackling us from government tyranny because the drive to develop the very best possible model of the paper clip for widespread consumer use occupied more than fifty inventors, and that kind of creativity and problem-solving keeps the population intelligent so it's more difficult to control them, unlike people like Rose who will believe whatever is put on TV.
Just before going to the Max Goods store to accept Yates' "surrender," Mike puts on the red Hawaiian shirt he was going to wear on their trip, which leads us to our next point: the war at Max Goods. Um, yea, "war" really is a good phrase for the description of what happens, and it essentially defines Mike's style of protecting himself. Here is a clip of what happens in the Max Goods store; please pay attention to all the different objects Mike uses to defend himself with:
Again, he's wearing the Hawaiian shirt because they wouldn't let him go to Hawaii (and he had saved up his own money for this trip, so it's not like he wanted someone else to pay for it, his rights of movement have been severely restricted and this begins with the guys trying to blow up his car). What does Yates say? "Kill him, please," and one of his Toughmen go off to attempt to kill Mike; but they don't; why not? Because Mike "has the goods" on how to defend himself.
This brings us to an important point: in this image, we see the government (read: Communist Party) accepted hairstyles for men and women in North Korea (which is a communist country). These are the only ways you can wear your hair in that country. I will be the first to admit, there are plenty of hairstyles I don't like, especially the "mullet" hair style, however, I will defend the individual's right to wear it and express their individuality, because in North Korea, there is NO individuality there is only government control. In American Ultra, it's clear that Yates has no respect or consideration for Mike Howell's life, then Phoebe's life, then Peter's life, then the lives of everyone in the town. When Veronica initially confronts Yates about taking out "Wiseman," which is Mike's code name, Yates refers to him as Veronica's "still born baby," meaning two things: first, metaphorically, that because Mike hasn't done anything in five years, they can kill him off; this is part of socialist and communist practice, that those who don't work won't eat (this isn't like disability, or caring for those who have been born with problems, this is meant to be a terror tactic and it works: kill the old and the young and make everyone else scared for their lives). Secondly, if we were to take the statement literally, that Mike is, literally, a still born baby, then Yates fails to show any respect for a corpse, for the body that was once alive. This is like Planned Parenthood selling off the organs of aborted babies, and the Nazis bull dozing the bodies of murdered Jews into mass graves during World War II. 
Anthropologist Claude Levi-Strauss formulated a theory of "handiness": when we have a job to do, but we don't necessarily have the right tools to accomplish it, we will use whatever items we have that are "handy" in order to accomplish the task. An example is when, much to men's horror, a woman needs to open the lid on a can of paint and she uses a screwdriver to do it; the screwdriver isn't the proper tool, but it will accomplish what it is she needs done: opening the lid. This reveals a sign of intelligence in being capable of seeing objects with greater value (the ability to use them for more than just one task) than they were initially designed for.
I couldn't find an image of it, but you have seen it in the trailer, when Mike is on the floor, flips a frying pan into the air and ricochets a bullet off the skillet that hits and kills a guy. What's the point of this scene? Earlier in the film, after they left the airport because of Mike's anxiety attacks, Mike is trying to fry an omelet and, getting distracted, he burns it, so he can't even do that right and he's looking pretty hopeless, then, later, we see him bounce the bullet off that same frying pan; what's the point of this? To demonstrate that, not all of us are good at everything, in fact, an exceptionally rare number of people can do everything, but Mike at least found what he is exceptionally good at and that's an important moral for us all: to find what we do well, and then do it well.
Throughout the film, we see Mike doing this consistently, beginning with the cup-o-soup he flings in the face of the first assailant messing with his car, or even Sheriff Watts does a brilliant job when he uses a chair to attach handcuffs to the leg of one of the female CIA agents trying to kill Mike. Such practices don't just display intelligence, but creativity, and the root of creativity is individuality, which socialists/communists do not value at all. When we get to the last of the film, and Mike has been taken in by the Philipine gang and their leader says, "You're not even armed," but Mike glances around and sees a cooking pot, some cans and other kitchen equipment, he smiles, because he knows that, as long as there are "goods" in the area, he can protect himself.
Of all the things which could have been written in for Mike to use, the film makers chose fireworks; why? Fireworks, in the US, will nearly always symbolize freedom and independence, as they are used to celebrate the 4th Of July. Using the fireworks is a reminder to Yates/Obama that the US is a sovereign nation and our history of industrialism that liberals are trying to make us forget. The fireworks, like the smoke Mike exhales when he comes out of the bathtub, is meant as a cover for him, that through all the fire and smoke, there is something underneath that we are having difficulties seeing, but we need to try and see, in this case, that there won't be anymore fireworks (fireworks are being made illegal, as Rose mentions, because we as a country are becoming extinct) if people like Mike Howell don't fight for their rights and lives. 
In conclusion, American Ultra provides us with a cultural and political critique of what is happening in the country right now. Audience members identify with the main characters, and since Mike is a "sleeper agent," being attacked by his government, we have to say that the film makers want us to consider our own selves to be Mike's: maybe not all of us are soldiers, and we appear to be losers like Mike and Phoebe, but when we hear the right sequence of words and know our freedoms have been endangered, we will all break out like super secret agents and the government had better be aware,
Eat Your Art Out,
The Fine Art Diner

Friday, August 28, 2015

Captain America 3: Civil War & Who Is Fighting Who

One of the examples when an image is worth a thousand words: Captain America, Steve Rogers, and Iron Man, Tony Stark, are truly a part of each other: it's not just that Cap supplies the morals, honor and integrity, and that Tony is the money and cool factor, it's that both men inspire each other and a multitude of others. It's not just a "civil war," of two sides fighting each other, this is also an "internal war" when they are fighting themselves, within themselves. In putting the theme of the film into such a simple question, "Whose side are you on?" the film makers unleash, intentionally, the immense complexities that have been carefully placed to unravel over these past several years, so the violence of what we are going to witness will touch our hearts, but also our minds
So, on Iron Man's side is Black Panther, who will be portrayed by Chadwick Boseman, whom you may remember from 42, the Jackie Robinson story; Marvel is breaking its usual formula introducing him before he has had his own stand-alone film, and his character is significant enough to make the first real poster concept art that has been publicly displayed, so we will see what happens. Also with Iron Man is The Vision which we met in The Avengers 2 and Black Widow, with War Machine (Don Cheadle, Iron Patriot). Siding with Captain America is Bucky Barnes who we saw with Captain America in the mid-credits scene of Ant-Man, as well as Hawkeye, Falcon and Agent 13, Sharon Carter (you know, the "nurse" who lived down the hall from Cap in Captain America 2? She's rumored to be Peggy Carter's niece. If you look at Captain America's left shoulder, you will see Ant Man there as well. Now, in the upper-rightish corner, above Falcon's right wing, there is something else flyiing in the sky, and we will discuss that below. 
This is actually a big deal.
There are some potentially huge spoilers involving Peggy Carter and Steve Rogers in this post; if you don't want to have any idea of what is going to happen in the film, PLEASE STOP READING NOW.
Regardless of whether you love comic book films, are lukewarm to them or hope another is never made, Captain American: Civil War is a culturally important film because of the enormous political centerpiece of what rights the government has and what rights the individual has; if you aren't in the US currently, we are in a "civil war" regarding registration of fire arms and the rights of citizens to protect themselves; this issue will be examined in the upcoming film. I have to admit, there are some surprises in which side is teaming up with Iron Man, Tony Stark, who is in favor of the government registration accord, and Captain America, Steve Rogers, who opposes the accord. (And yes, we have seen something similar to this in trailer footage for Batman vs Superman, when Superman has to appear before a Senate panel and is held guilty for causing damage). Why are Captain America and Iron Man split?
Audience members are heavily invested in both characters: we love Steve Rogers because he is so good and noble, and we love Tony Stark because he is so rarely either of those things. What's the purpose of Civil War? There are at least two. First, in America, we are really experiencing a civil war culturally, and CA3 will tap into that and explore what is happening and why. Secondly, just as Thor will be going through Ragnarok in Thor 3, this is The Avengers' Ragnarok. Ragnarok is meant to completely destroy everything so it can be rebuilt better and stronger. The Avengers need to purge themselves because the greatest fight in the galaxy awaits them in Infinity Wars, and they will all have to be as strong as possible. 
Events from Iron Man 3 and The Avengers 2: Age Of Ultron have built up Tony's character to be remorseful over the amount of damage that occurs when they have to fight their enemies; knowing that Tony (likely with the help of Bruce Banner) built the Hulk Buster, which we saw in action in The Avengers 2 after Scarlet Witch got inside the "big guy's" head, Stark has a sense of responsibility that each of the heroes could go rogue at any time and will need to be taken down. Now, here are two "hypocritical" points that make Tony look bad. First, in Iron Man 2, the government wanted the Iron Man suit and Tony refused to give it to them, but now he's siding with the government? Secondly, in The Avengers 2, Tony built Ultron without telling anyone; suddenly, he's all for telling the government? Granted, Tony will probably have a moment of meditation and feel the burden of his past mistakes and feel he's getting on the proper road by agreeing to the accords, however, there is a considerable amount of baggage for Tony to deal with, which leads us to Captain America.
Hawkeye has "new threads" for CA3 and he looks pretty chummy with Ant-Man on his right shoulder. Why would the new costume design leave one of Hawkeye's arms exposed? Because Hawkeye himself has been exposed: as having a family, and so now he's incredibly vulnerable. It was possible that Hawkeye was going to take CA 3 off, but instead, he appears to be one of the leading characters, especially since his friendship with Natasha will be sorely tested as they take different sides. We know from The Avengers 2 that Clint Barton has a wife and three kids, as well as a home out in the country which is off the records of the government files, and he intends to keep it that way so hackers who would tap into the private lives of heroes won't be able to find his, which is an important reason why Cap and his friends are going to be against the accords: they want private lives, too. That's why they are willing to risk everything to save others, they know the joy of having a home to go to, raising a family and dwelling in peace and security and they won't permit that to be jeopardized in any way.
Why would Captain America NOT want to sign the accords? In Captain America: the First Avenger, who is he fighting? Hitler, and what was Hitler all about? Taking people's freedom away and putting the government in control of everything, so we basically have Captain America because we had Hitler, and because Captain America lived through Hitler, he knows "Hitler-style" accords meant to rob people of their freedom. Now, what about heroes that are missing from the poster above?
This is one of two possibly big spoilers in CA 3: the death of Peggy Carter. There would be several ways to interpret this, however, I am going to wait because I think the film will prefer to interpret it for us. The other possible big spoiler is the death of Captain America himself., Steve Rogers. We know Chris Evens is signed on through CA 3, but Stan Sebastian who plays Bucky Barnes is signed on for more films than is Evans, leading commentators to assume that, as in the comic books, Rogers dies and Bucky picks up the shield and carries on in his friend's place after he has come out of his brainwashing induced state (which appears to have happened at the end of Ant-Man). 
Thor is supposedly en route back to Asgard. Realizing that Loki has caused some kind of trouble after his vision in The Avengers 2, Thor is preparing for the total apocalypse that will destroy him, then resurrect him and make him even stronger so he's in prime shape for The Avengers 3 &4 The Infinity Wars.  Given how their romance is becoming more real, it's surprising that we don't yet see Bruce Banner and whether he sides with Black Widow or fights against her. All the actors have signed contracts giving them certain deals and a certain number of films; Banner may just not be in this one, as we left him possibly swimming towards Fiji at the end of The Avengers 2. What about Elizabeth Olsen's Scarlet Witch? She was set to go through Avenger-training with Captain America, will she side with him? There is also the possibility that Evangeline Lilly's Wasp will play a role, given the adjacent end credits with Captain America, Falcon and Bucky Barnes at the end of Ant-Man. We also have no idea who the new, high school-aged Spider Man will be teaming up with, but we know he is in the film and will have some major role. Even though they aren't heroes, Nick Fury and Maria Hill have been integral parts of the plots, and we would expect to see them in the film in some sort of capacity. There is also the rumor that Doctor Strange, played by Benedict Cumberbatch, may be getting an appearance into this film, but, again, IF he does, we don't know which side. This leads us to our last point,...
The official synopsis for the film is, that after a new villain has been revealed and significant damage caused (in the beginning of the film) world governments ban together to form a international oversight committee to track and authorize the heroes fighting villains because of all the damage that is being done. In the bottom image, between Cap and Falcon, in the sky, is a ship, and that maybe Nick Fury/what remains of all of SHIELD. Since Sharon Carter, Agent 13, on Cap's right, has sided with Cap, it's likely Fury and whatever remains of the organization will as well. We know that Daniel Bruhl (Rush), Martin Freeman (The Hobbit), William Hurt and Frank Grillo (as Crossbones from CA 2) are all in the film, however, their roles aren't being specified/played up, but they will be important in the actual plot.
Some of the "aligning of teams" may be more personal than political. It's not shocking to see The Vision aligned with Iron Man because Jarvis was Tony's AI system for so long, of course he would be loyal to Tony, but it is shocking, knowing the deep friendship between Natasha and Clint that Black Widow and Hawkeye will be pitted against each other. Why does the "personal" over the "political" matter? It's a theme Marvel will be exploring with the plot details, but it's basically an opposition of emotions vs. intellect. Captain America is against the accords because he knows what that can lead to; The Vision is probably siding with Tony because of loyalty to Stark as is War Machine. Iron Man's team is most likely going with the accords because of fear: fear of what they themselves as individuals may do, and fear of what the others can do; Cap's team is confidence in the hearts of themselves and the others to always do what is right, and the empirical evidence of the government doing what is wrong.
Benedict Cumberbatch is expected to make an appearance in CA3, even if briefly, as Stephen Strange, aka, Doctor Strange, before getting his own film next year, with a larger role reserved for him in the Infinity War films. Likewise, the cast of Guardians of the Galaxy will be involved in Infinity Wars as well as a group called The Inhumans, those who are meant to be basically Mutants in a universe where the word "Mutant" is owned by another company. It's being speculated that Peter Quill's (Chris Pratt) father is one of The Inhumans. The female character of Captain Marvel may be making a brief appearance in Infinity War Part 1 before her own movie, and then again in Infinity War Part 2. As far as Infinity War films are concerned, it's being speculated that The Avengers and company will be defeated and seriously down and trodden in the first episode, while they eventually pull themselves together and manage victory in the second chapter.  
So, Captain America: Civil War sees the return of the successful Russo brothers directing the film, and they will be directing Infinity Wars I and II, back-to-back, each film taking about 9 months to shoot and being released within just a year of each other. Likewise, to make Civil War as spectacular as possible, IMAX cameras, which are now lighter than previously, will be used throughout the entire filming process, rather than just specific action scenes, as is usually the case.

Captain America: Civil War May 6, 2016
Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) November 4, 2016
Guardians Of the Galaxy Vol. 2 May 5, 2017
Spider Man (Tom Holland) July 28, 2017
Thor 3: Ragnarok November 3, 2017
The Avengers 3: The Infinity Wars Part 1 May 4, 2018
Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman) July 6, 2018
Captain Marvel November 2, 2018
The Avengers 4: The Infinity Wars Part 2 May 3, 2019
The Inhumans July 12, 2019

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