Film Review Of Woody Allen’s CAFÉ SOCIETY (2016)

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Woody Allen's Cafe Society Jesse Eisenberg Kristen Stewart

Woody Allen’s Cafe Society. Image via StarTribune.

Woody Allen’s Café Society opened in New York City at Lincoln Plaza Cinemas 6, a tiny movie house off of 62nd and Broadway which dedicated just one screen and two show-times to the film on its first night. A week later, it’s getting three screens at once in order to accommodate ticket sales that, while snowballing, yes, seem to still be coming from the pockets of an older crowd. There are married couples, mostly, old friends, and five or six young people in a room at capacity. The laughs, from what I could tell, come strictly from the first two. Oh, the last smiles, sure, if so goaded by the others, but does not quite share the first group’s humor. One knows what to expect. The other, likely having heard of Woody’s brilliance, once, sees a disconnect between this information and what is now on screen. One group’s smiling, holding hands, as if on the same date they were on forty years ago…and perhaps in fact are. The other, however, has no past here; has, to be sure, only Now, and thus cannot personalize Woody; cannot judge this film on the strength of masterpieces gone. One shakes its head – rightly! – at the ignorance of the first. But the other- ah, but the other can’t quite believe how much the past discolors the future, even as they, themselves, will eventually do the same, and denounce those too distant, too late to share their own peculiar bias.

To be fair, Café Society is a solid work, with some good moments and overarching artistic decisions. Yet it suffers, overwhelmingly, from what most of Woody’s films have suffered in the last two decades: massive self-borrowings that, instead of offering some new angle, tone, or shading of an old idea, merely repeat the thing with slight cosmetic differences. There are many – too many – examples of this, but perhaps a mere sampling is enough. The film opens with Woody narrating in trite terms, a la Manhattan, what the city – in this case, Hollywood – is ‘really’ like. But while Manhattan used these clichés subversively, developing Isaac’s character in a way that exposed his superficiality, Café Society’s narration is to be taken at face value, even when (as with the lesser portions of Vicky Cristina Barcelona) it is needlessly recapitulative. Other borrowings include the archetype of Bobby’s (Jesse Eisenberg) thug brother, Ben (Corey Stoll), a dilution of Crimes And Misdemeanors and the lighter portions of Bullets Over Broadway. Another is with one of the film’s primary arcs, wherein Vonnie (Kristen Stewart) transforms into a person she’s always hated, a twist that’s right out of Celebrity, despite lacking Celebrity’s deeper comments re: happiness and wisdom, and how different the two really are. Yes, viewers might fill in the blanks, as they’re used to these concepts, but isn’t that a flaw: that an artist’s moves, techniques, … Continue reading →

The Freddie Gray Verdict: A Few Words Out Of Season

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freddie gray verdict

Image via DW.

A week ago, the first ‘true’ Freddie Gray verdict came back as expected: Not Guilty. The result? Three officers are now free. Three are still left, perhaps a touch emboldened. On some level, of course, it does not matter, since the acquittal of one – as history shows – is the acquittal of all. Yet the reverse is not true, for the guilt of someone in power is never (so it’s said) to be extrapolated to power itself: what it does, what it cannot do, and where the rest of the world must go when the thing’s exercised. There are, as far as I can tell, two reasonable narratives here, but in Freddie Gray’s case – as in all similar narratives – only one has really been discussed. It is truthful, yes, and quite damning of the forces involved, but also somehow less adamant. It is less whole. It is, in a word, less dangerous. And it goes thus:

A black Baltimorean with a string of drug offenses sees 2 cops riding their bikes, makes eye contact, and flees. Perhaps he was expecting this. Perhaps he has something illicit on him. Or maybe he’d already done it so much and without penalty that it is merely the ‘thing’ to do. At any rate, he is chased, arrested, and according to the police report, is “taken into custody without incident.” It is impossible to say why he ran, exactly, since only a pocketknife is found on him: a source of controversy given that Maryland law states Freddie Gray’s spring-assisted knife was legal, whereas Baltimore law says that it was not. Once inside the van, the trip to the police station involves 4 stops, including one which brings another suspect on board, while Gray – against official policy – is never buckled in. An hour later, he is in a coma with a severed spine and fractured vertebrae, and dies the following week.

Naturally, there are problems with the official narrative. First, it is odd for a seasoned drug dealer to run without provocation, especially at a time when he was simply visiting a friend rather than making a ‘business trip’. More likely there was some sort of altercation, or an unofficial policy of harassment targeting Gray and others. Yes, it’s possible he simply feared being searched, due to the knife, but that would only be to a non-consensual search which, given the circumstances, would have been illegal in the first place, a fact the cops would likely ignore, anyway, leading to a chain of events with a similar outcome. And while flight might have been a bad move on Gray’s part, the courts have always been ambiguous on whether the act of mere running from an officer is reasonable suspicion, while Baltimore’s police commissioner claims there is no explicit law against such to begin with. Moreover, the assertion that Gray was “taken into custody without incident” is a lie, and an important one, since … Continue reading →

Transfiguration At The Stalls: The Trans Bathroom “Fight”

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Trans Bathroom Stalls

The trans bathroom fight, via the God-awful ChristianExaminer.

A few weeks ago, North Carolina passed House Bill 2 seemingly out of nowhere. For those who don’t know, the law — soon to be overturned — now mandates that people use the bathroom of their assigned sex. Yet just a few months prior, Governor Pat McCrory wished to emphasize gender identity as “complex” and “best handled with reason and compassion at the local level” — a call, one might assume, to let things be hashed out on the micro-scale, as most things inevitably are. And given how much of a non-issue it’s generally been, it is odd, indeed, that a muffled sort of tolerance had to be re-codified into something else entirely. Odd, of course, unless you know the law’s true aim, which has nothing to do with the social issues that it purports to address, but offers lists, menus, deductions that few could ever support.

It is no surprise, then, that the first half of the law is garbled by both sides of the debate. Conservatives decry the way sex-neutral bathrooms indulge predators who’d merely pretend to be trans, thus mirroring an identical fault in the Liberal argument against gun ownership: namely, that violence occurs by way of access, and not by the fact of predation itself. For just as the vast majority of gun violence occurs with illegal guns, sexual violence — molestation, in particular — generally revolves around those closest to the victim, two things that by their nature are neither bound nor legislated. Liberals have pointed out that the Conservative argument is pure fear-mongering, and they’re right. Sure, that’s bad, but it also means that Conservatives have, from their own insecurity, ignored the far more obvious argument of human discomfort: that men and women simply do not want to share such spaces to begin with, turning, instead, to extremes that disqualify the position as a whole. The tacit admission is that their personal boundaries do not matter, that they should be sacrificed for the sake of others. Not that there’s anything wrong with self-sacrifice for some perceived good, but if it’s done unwillingly, the whole thing will collapse into resentment and backsliding.

Yet Liberals are victims of the same trap they’ve been falling into for decades: hypocrisy. In short, for all of the ‘toleration’ and ‘understanding’ they generally expect of others, it is clear that it’s reserved only for their pet causes and tokens — tokens that (lest they forget!) were at some point people, now long remodeled into a source of personal gratification in the narrows of ‘Identity’. Now, there are lots of examples of this, but perhaps one will suffice. In this video, the infamous Young Turks — whose viewpoints I generally agree with — make light of the fact that 150 high school students in Missouri protested a trans girl’s insistence on using the girls’ locker room, which included the showers, as well. Yet it isn’t enough to decry a … Continue reading →

Pundits On Drugs

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Pundits On Drugs

Pundits on drugs. Image via The Telegraph.

Politics is an idiot’s game. In fact, it’s been an idiot’s game ever since the first 2 ‘geniuses’ got together in an attempt to solve a very simple issue: how, at a time when things were a bit more, well, visceral, a couple of poltroons might scheme to overthrow their supposed betters. This is, of course, a good thing, for when aristocrats conk, people will be forced to cooperate. They’ll get smarter and better organized, until a new dilemma emerges. People, after all, still need to be led. People, who’ve improved, as a whole, are still and always will be a mob, ruled by intangibles few can ever hope to master. And people, whether they’ve got their heads in the clouds or their asses in the mud, are still aristocrats at heart, and forever part of this transaction.

So what now? Enter theatrics. Sure, ‘force’ may now be out of the question, but one of the reasons why force has worked so well is that it’s just so dazzling, and not entirely predictable. There’s a mystery both to retaliation as well as its aftermath that grips society and keeps it in check. In a way, then, force is also the politics of the amphitheater, and few things are as theatrical as moral indignation, whether it’s directed at music, unpopular opinions, or the final bogeyman: drugs. The last one is especially touchy, since control (of oneself, of others) is such a deep part of the human condition, to our survival instinct, and, in people’s seemingly never-ending well of insecurity, it is never quite enough to disapprove of something. This disapproval must be elevated to policy, and the policy, in turn, must transform back into a well-cherished value, as to not ‘merely’ be law. This is why drug policy is so backwards the world over, and why, when the police is under attack, drug regulation crumbling, and the old, misplaced, child-like, rococo ‘need’ to keep everything — including people’s bodies  — under one’s own thumb is no longer so obvious, the pundits try to dazzle us, instead.

Drugs, to me, are a very clear-cut thing. And, more than a thing, they are a decision — a mode of being, really — for the thinking behind an indulgence is far more important than the decision itself. Drug addicts are sick, and I don’t mean this in the silly, PC sense of ‘diseased,’ but that they have an existential crisis that’s overtaken them, and an immaturity that feeds upon every other aspect of their lives. For every drug addict, however, there’s a dozen (if not more) drug users, because, well, people want to feel nice, and a few bucks is easier to come by, now, than in any other point in human history. Yes, the consequences of such can be destructive, but 1) the same can be said of a million other things that good sense tells us not to regulate, many … Continue reading →

Donald Trump And The Paralytic Gaze

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Donald Trump Alex Sheremet Paralytic Gaze

Image via BGR.

It may have taken quite a while, but the Republican Party has finally been booed off stage…or at least close to it. There is, after all, one last Act before the curtain, even as most actors have effectively been reduced to audience. Let us observe:

A mediocre businessman who, like most politicians, does not much believe in his Party’s stated goals, has, unlike most politicians, ditched the serious stuff for a burlesque on the Republicans themselves. Day, night, for practically a year now, Donald Trump has run the sweep of Republican history: from the right-wing populism of small towns, to the surprising social liberalism that was once immaterial to ‘real’ issues, to racism, evangelism, alt-right, and the affinity for switching sides and picking and choosing one’s politics as from a koldtbord. The GOP has worn all of these identities at some point, for the GOP — like any conservative entity — is by its nature volatile. It must adapt to change, but rarely engenders it; must, despite its values, accommodate the new mainstream, if only to hold on to other values still. I suppose, then, that the Republicans once knew the value of being flexible, of being able to renege on minor things without suffering a blow to their identity. The issue now is that Trump, in his pantomime of things past, understands the value of being flexible, as well, even as both parties scratch their heads at him, forgetting that the only reason he was allowed on stage is because they, at some point, decided to take a seat.

To be sure, Donald Trump’s complaints are many: illegal immigration, Islam, America’s growing debt, the observation that as our day-to-day reality has hardened, all people — including poor people who tend to vote against their own interests — have hardened, as well, into a kind of stasis. Liberals can’t stand him, but fail to admit how much political correctness has encouraged Trump: how much in poor, dumb, white people’s denunciations of clear ills, they had searched for the inevitable target, and being poor, dumb, and white, believed they had found it in Others (black, religious, irreligious, foreign) rather than in the PC ideas that have so tokenized them as beneficiaries. Conservatives are shocked by his rise, writing silly articles that, for all their technical rightness, miss the entire reason why he has become popular in the first place. Indeed, it has taken a fraud to expose the fraud of the Republican Party, which ignorantly continues the paeans to decades of failure that’s most responsible for his ascent. And while the GOP hopes for a fall, a blunder, some weakness, anything, they fail to see that Trump’s inevitable demise will take them, too. Unless, of course, they grow, adapt; unless they see that the choice is either more pandering or a shift back to a Center that, no matter the dilution, creates an average from which some good ideas can emerge.

The issue, then, is Continue reading →