Deathnote Signs Its Own Name

DeathNoteScaled

A bit like Malkovich entering his own brain…

It may sound morbid, but “Death Note” is one of my favorite stories. I’ve experienced it in every form: the manga, the anime series, and the Japanese live action movie. I was excited to see the American movie version, a Netflix production, so I watched as soon as it was available. I was gravely disappointed within the first five minutes.

For those who aren’t familiar with it, Deathnote is based on a manga written by Tsugumi Ohba and illustrated by Takeshi Obata. Shortly before his high school graduation, Light Yagami finds a magical notebook labeled “Death Note.” It’s a supernatural prank by a shinigami (Japanese “death god”) named Ryuk. The book’s instructions say that anyone whose name is written within will die, at the time and by the method specified. Ryuk (a Joker-like winged demon in Goth attire) appears and encourages Light to try it out. Light tests the notebook by writing the name of a hostage-taker from the evening news. The criminal drops dead. Light decides he’s been chosen to rid the world of evil-doers.

This power, even in the hands of an upstanding young genius like Light is an insidious thing. It takes him down a dark path much like Walter White in Breaking Bad. Eventually, the media notices the mysterious deaths and dubs the anonymous executioner “Kira” for “killer.” To the public, he’s a vigilante hero while the authorities view him as an existential threat.

This theme of hubris and corruption plays out through 12 volumes of manga and 37 episodes in the anime adaptation by Madhouse. One of its most popular aspects was the game of wits between Light and “L,” the autistic savant teenage detective the authorities hire to stop Light’s reign of terror. Some viewers felt the show drags in the final season as Light eliminates the investigators one by one, sparing only the police chief, who happens to be his own father. I disagree. The latter episodes are as intense as the early ones. You can feel the desperation of the police as they face down Kira’s supernatural power.

Just as the smash-hit anime series was drawing to a close, Japanese director Shūsuke Kaneko converted Death Note into a pair of live-action movies. Because of the time limitation, he shortened and rearranged the story. Though purists hated these changes, I felt that the movies stayed true to the spirit of the original. Casting was superb, especially with Tatsuya Fujiwara and Kenichi Matsuyama as Light and the eccentric candy-devouring L, respectively. (By the way, Matsuyama appears in an alleged sequel, L– Change the World, with Matsuyama as L in one of the worst movies I’ve ever seen.)

Death Note characters Light and L

Three Versions of Light versus L

Not so for the Netflix remake directed by Adam Wingard, which makes far more significant changes. Rather than being a “goody two shoes” from an upper-class family, Light Turner (played by Nat Wolff) is a rebel with a tragic backstory. His mother was killed by a criminal who escaped justice, predisposing him to a vigilante mindset. Though he’s smart, he’s already dishonest and gets caught selling homework to his classmates. Apparently, the American script writers thought it needed “girl power.” In this new version, Light’s girlfriend Mia (Margaret Qualley), a clueless pawn in the original, becomes Light’s co-conspirator right from the start. She’s the one who insists on killing the FBI agents who threaten Kira, while the American Light (unlike his ruthless Japanese counterpart) refuses to do so. These changes confuse and muddle Death Note’s message. Worse yet, there’s no time for the famous sparring between Light and L. Early in the movie, L confronts Light at a coffee shop, saying, “I know you’re Kira.” How? What investigation has he done? Even the ending has major changes. I won’t spoil it, except to say there’s a lot less death in this Death Note.

That said, there are some good points. I enjoyed Willem Dafoe as the voice of Ryuk, though the new CGI rendering makes him more of a demon than the trickster he was in the original. Lakeith Stanfield was also excellent as the eccentric “L,” though the script has him acting out of character at the end. I also must admit that the final plot twist surprised me, perhaps because my expectations had dropped so low.

To summarize, if you’ve seen the original Death Note, you might want to skip this train wreck of a remake. If not, you might not necessarily hate this version, but please don’t judge the rest of the franchise by it.

Note: While researching this article I became aware of a second Japanese live-action Death Note sequel called Death Note: Light Up the New World, directed by Shinsuke Sato. With some trepidation, I plan to see this one as soon as I can.

Starchild of a Hipper God

Review, Guardians of the Galaxy 2

Rocket Raccoon and Baby Groot

Baby Groot (Vin Diesel) and Rocket Raccoon (Bradley Cooper) a.k.a. Trash Panda

Guardians of the Galaxy is yet another Marvel Comics series that has been made into a popular movie franchise. Like the first, it features Chris Pratt as Earth-born star pilot Peter Quill and Zoe Saldana (is she in every sci-fi action movie?) as his green-skinned kick-ass love interest. It’s a lot like the first installment of Guardians, lots of fun and non-stop humor. There are the same classic cliché space opera characters in the same over-the-top action sequences. The biggest change is that the walking tree alien Groot is now Baby Groot, who can be insufferably cute at times.

It’s not quite as cool as the original, though sequels seldom are. The uber-powerful alien-as-god plot has been done before, notably in the Star Trek franchise, and Kurt Russell does a bang-up job as Ego, Quill’s long-lost father. The animation is spectacular, but these days, that’s to be expected. The only drawback is that it will be difficult to top that in the inevitable next movie.

The best thing about Guardians is that there is no overt political message unless the monomaniacal Ego is supposed to remind us of the “Hitler of the week” – there are so many to choose from! The gold-skinned Sovereigns, probably the film’s most original concept, seem to be a good swipe at the self-righteous elitist-type, whoever you conceive them to be.

As usual, the best characters are the (ostensibly) bad ones, and my biggest complaint is that my favorite one gets killed off at the end. This is the occasion for one of the most over-the-top schmaltzy space funeral scenes ever.

I was never bored, even during the tearjerker part, and the only time I said “WTF” to myself was the scene in which Rocket Raccoon (voice of Bradley Cooper) creates a detonator with an “immediate destruct” button that Baby Groot MUST NOT PUSH. It’s a very funny scene with a really weak premise.

All in all, I enjoyed the movie and would recommend it to sci-fi and comic book fans. On the other hand, there’s nothing outstanding that makes it a “must see.” It stands out mainly against a background of the boring hyper-focus-grouped junk that the studios are churning out. I give it 4 out of 5 stars.

For adventures of the terrestrial kind check out Miss Ione D and the Mayan Marvel, now available in paperback!

“I am not an animal!” – review of The Lobster

The Lobster movie poster

The Lobster: Colin and invisible friend

Yorgos Lanthimos’ The Lobster, released in the US in 2016, is one of the most original films I’ve seen in years. I shouldn’t have been surprised since that same director also created the bizarre Dogtooth in 2009. It received an award at Cannes, an Oscar nomination, and 89% on Rotten Tomatoes. Yet I had mixed feelings about it. Although it’s thought-provoking, watching it was frustrating at times.

The film’s premise is strange. Its setting is a world much like ours, except that being single is in effect illegal. Anyone who becomes divorced or widowed is taken by the authorities to a special resort with others of their kind. Here they must find a new mate within 45 days. If they fail, they will be surgically converted to an animal of their choice. The protagonist, David, played by Colin Farrell, has chosen to be a lobster – an exemplary, unusual selection. Too many people, David’s counselor explains, choose a mundane animal like a dog. This was the fate of David’s brother Bob, who is now his pet.

You might assume, as I did, that in this situation, people would hook up with just about anyone; yet they are irrationally picky. All believe that couples must have at least one common trait. David’s friend John (Ben Wisham) takes a fancy to a girl who gets frequent nosebleeds (Jessica Barden), so he repeatedly injures himself to fake a similar condition. Robert, the lisping, autistic fellow (played hilariously by John C. Riley) doesn’t have a prayer.

Many singles try to escape, and resort attendees are forced to hunt them down with tranquilizer guns. Each captured escapee extends the capturer’s 45-day grace period, but one particularly aggressive woman (Angeliki Papoulia) bags most of them. After a brief, disastrous fling with her, David flees to the woods, where he joins an underground group of fellow loners. This is also the home of random animals such as camels, peacocks, and hogs. All, we assume, are former humans.

Here David meets his true love, a fellow runaway (Rachel Weisz.) Since both are myopic, they are compatible. Unfortunately, the society of the loners forbids intimate relationships on pain of mutilation. The lovers secretly plan their escape back to the city, but meet with the treachery of the group’s leader (Lea Sedoux). The ending is either a triumph of love, a tragic farce, or both.

On the surface, Lanthimos appears to be saying that society is geared around couples to the detriment of singles. To me, the more interesting aspect was the self-defeating behavior of the singles – passive, unconfident, and exceptionally picky. Farrell’s low-key performance was perfect in this regard. The culture of the society of loners was an astute comment on today’s disconnected alienated society. The scene where everyone dances separately to techno music, each listening to his own headphones, was quite striking. On the downside, I found the message to be so obvious and relentless to be tedious at times. Still, I have to give it high marks for originality. I’d give it 3.5 stars out of 5.

Speaking of weird animals, check out my sci-fi short story “Found Pet,” only 99 cents on Amazon.

 

Lala Land, the Awesomeness Behind the Hype

Lately, everybody’s been talking about a movie called Lala Land. It’s directed by Damon Chazelle and stars Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling as Mia and Sebastian, star-crossed lovers in modern-day Los Angeles. The movie has been nominated for 14 Academy awards, which ties the all-time record set by All About Even and Titanic. I hate to be an echo when the film has already gotten so much praise, but it deserves it.

Lala Land is not the best movie I’ve ever seen, so perhaps so many Oscar nominations is a bit of overkill. I think, however, that it’s warranted given the current dearth of good solid films with general appeal. Furthermore, it’s fun to revisit the time-honored musical format. Unlike many of the old-time movies, in which another person’s voice was dubbed in for the musical numbers, both Gosling and Stone sing, and they do a good job. As for the choreography, I’m by no means an expert but it looked good to me.

Like all romantic stories, there’s a bit of a formula. The protagonists, an aspiring actress and a struggling musician, meet by accident and it’s hate at first site. Their paths keep crossing, however, and as in any formula romance, the initial repulsion turns to passionate attraction. On the other hand, La La Land mixes it up with an ending that’s not quite the standard “happily ever after.” I liked that, not because I’m anti-tradition but because it’s nice to defy expectations for a change. Are the protagonists’ personal dreams more important than a cherished relationship? The way the characters approach that dilemma is what makes the story.

It’s been so long since we’ve seen a musical set in contemporary America, it seems jarring to have one with cellphones and electric cars. In a way, it’s less of a musical than its spiritual predecessors. Though it begins with a surprising and impressive song-and-dance number on an LA freeway on-ramp, the songs don’t appear throughout. Since Sebastian is a musician, much of the music is organic to the story.

My favorable opinion of Lala Land has been solidified by the disgruntled reaction from Social Justice types in the media. One of these ridiculous reviews was by Geoff Nelson on Paste. He argues that the nostalgia the movie expresses is racist because things were bad for black people in the good old days. Furthermore, Nelson finds it insulting that Gosling’s character, a white man, strives to save jazz, while the black character Keith (played by John Legend) is a sell-out to pop music. Excuse me, but jazz has never been a purely African-American art form. The Jewish contribution to early jazz has been well documented. We never see Sebastian in a yarmulke, but who knows? (Gosling himself was raised Mormon.)

This identity politics reaction is all the more ironic since Emma Stone was one of those Hollywood lefty girls in the “I Will Survive” anti-Trump video. I care not one whit about Stone’s political opinions; she’s a great actress and adorable to boot.

If you haven’t seen La La Land, see it; it’s a lot of fun. Those of you guys who are worried about the “musicals are gay” stereotype, see it when it comes out on video. Your secret will be safe with me.

For a dose of nostalgia and alternate history, see my book Miss Ione D and the Mayan Marvel, currently in e-book and coming soon in paperback form.

Spike Jonze’s “Her” – Sex with Siri and the Singularity for SJW’s

The movie Her, directed by Spike Jonze and starring Joaquin Phoenix as a man who falls in love with a computer program, was released in 2013. The film won numerous awards, including an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay. Somehow I missed seeing it until this week. Though it’s not a new release, as a life-long software engineer, I felt compelled to comment.

I’m conflicted about the idea of a sentient computer program. Knowing how complicated and error prone software can be, it seems unlikely at best. Possible, yes, since the brain is a biological computer. Yet I don’t believe this will happen in the near future, as the movie portrays it.

The biggest problem for me was not the concept, but its implementation. I really don’t understand why people liked Her so much. My theory is that, like that other 2013 release, Twelve Years a Slave, it was a movie people felt obliged to like. Except that Slave was dramatic and compelling, Her was slow, ponderous, and mawkishly emotional.

The first problem was the protagonist, Joaquin Phoenix as Theodore Twombley. He’s the ultimate gamma male, a pathetic loser who apologizes to everyone. Appropriately enough, his job is writing heartfelt letters for other people a la Cyrano de Bergerac. To help provide order to his foundering life, Theodore purchases an “operating system” (actually an artificial intelligence) called OS-1, for which he chooses a female voice and personality. It begins as an advanced analog of Siri or Alexa but, sensing its owner’s loneliness, it names itself Samantha and adopts a flirtatious persona. It’s not surprising that the pathetic Theodore falls for Samantha, but “she” soon falls for him as well, like a modern Galatea to his Pygmalion. With no Aphprodite to bring her to life, Samatha communicates with Theodore and experiences the world through his cell phone.

As the “relationship” progresses, Theodore tells friends and coworkers about “her.” Everyone accepts this bizarre situation without question – except, to her credit, Theodore’s ex-wife. The movie seems to prophesy the current transgender mania, with its inherent contempt for social convention and the limitations of the physical body.

Voice actor Scarlett Johannson does a competent job as Samantha, who is fun-loving, curious, and affectionate. In one scene, she and Theodore have verbal sex, whereupon the screen goes blank for a moment. I thought my disc player had broken, but then realized that Jonze probably meant for the audience to imagine the event. The obvious solution, virtual reality, is mentioned as a way to play video games but nothing more. Samantha could have at least had an appearance for Theodore to fixate on. VR sex would have been more realistic than the ludicrous scene in which they enlist a surrogate (Portia Doubleday) to play Samantha’s role in their assignation. No doubt because of the movie’s relentless political correctness, the surrogate is not paid (which would imply prostitution) but a volunteer. Rather than enjoying the experience, the hapless Theodore feels awkward and guilty about cheating on his “girlfriend,” and the surrogate leaves in tears.

The final insult to our intelligence is how the movie ends. In a nod to the sci-fi concept of “the Singularity,” Samantha hooks up with other OS-based personalities who then collectively “evolve” to a point where they no longer want to deal with humans. Thus they bid farewell to their reality-bound companions and disappear. Nobody worries about what these super-intelligent beings are plotting – will they control the world or destroy humanity? No, we only see the emotional consequences for poor Theodore. In a more realistic scenario, he and his fellow jilted OS owners would have sued the software company that produced such defective products into bankruptcy.

In summary, Her might be enjoyable for those with a taste for unconventional romance, but I found it dull and disappointing. If you want a serious look at the potential of artificial intelligence in the near future, look elsewhere.

If you enjoy stories about computers, you’ll like my novel Centrifugal Force, available on Amazon.

 

Media Monday: Review, Rogue One

Rogue One movie poster.

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

Rogue One was a pleasant surprise. I must admit that my expectations were low, due to the disappointment that was The Force Awakens. I hadn’t been paying much attention to the media, so going in I didn’t know where it fit in the Star Wars time line. Though it’s being billed as a “stand alone” film, Rogue One fills in the gap between the 1977 first movie (also known as Episode IV) and Revenge of the Sith (Episode III.) It’s exciting, action-filled, and best of all, it’s original.
The screenplay was written by Chris Weitz and Tony Gilroy, based on a story by John Knoll and Gary Whitta. Yet another director, Gareth Edwards, takes the helm for this installment, and he does an impressive job. The story line is fairly straightforward: the characters find out about an insidious Imperial plot to build a “planet killer,” which turns out to be the original Death Star.
One of the more satisfying things is how the movie explains one of the most glaring flaws in Episode IV: why does the Death Star have an explained weakness?
Like the force awakens, there’s a spunky female protagonist, Jyn Erso, played by the always delightful Felicity Jones. Unlike Force’s Rey, Jyn doesn’t benefit from a sudden unexpected blossoming of Jedi powers. She has to use her brains and daring to achieve her goal, to steal the plans for the Death Star.
It also introduces an endearing non-human character: the cynical android K-2SO voiced by Firefly alumnus Alan Tudyk. Maybe this is because, as our society becomes more automated, we need to give machines a personality.
According to Wikipedia, one of the film’s controversial aspects was the use of computer-generated imagery to portray the deceased actor Peter Cushing, and to show Carrie Fisher as a much younger woman. I expect we’ll see a lot more of this in the future.
I’d also like to comment on another controversy that’s arisen in the alternative media: that Rogue One serves the “social justice” narrative by casting non-white and Hispanic actors (such as Diego Luna as Cassian Andor) in the heroic roles, while the bad guys are all white. If this was indeed a goal, it didn’t detract from the movie. After all, the Star Wars saga is supposed to take place “long ago in a galaxy far away.” The fact that the characters are even human is one of those unexplainable coincidences of science fiction.
I’d like to close this review by wishing the great Carrie Fisher a speedy recovery from her recent heart attack.

If you like science fiction, you’ll enjoy my novels and stories on Amazon.

MEDIA MONDAY: Movie Review, Inferno

Inferno movie poster

Don’t think, just run!

Inferno, the new movie starring Tom Hanks, is based on the Dan Brown novel of the same name. It’s the fourth in the series that includes the controversial Da Vinci Code, all of which feature the same protagonist, Professor Robert Langdon.

At the opening of the movie, Langdon (Hanks) awakens in a hospital bed in Florence, Italy, with a pounding headache and no memory of the previous 48 hours. Before he can assess his situation, an assassin dressed as a policewoman invades his room, riddling the place with bullets. With the help of his doctor Sienna Brooks (Felicity Jones), a self-confessed fan of Langdon’s work, he survives and evades a multi-agency dragnet. Langdon and Brooks must solve a puzzle to defeat a sinister conspiracy. Billionaire and environmental fanatic Bertrand Zobrist (Ben Foster) has created a deadly virus, to be released at any moment to decimate the human race.

I’ll admit that the movie is exciting and visually interesting. Director Ron Howard does a great job keeping the action going and the cinematography is superb. Tom Hanks is convincing as Langdon, though his character spends much of the movie befuddled by his injuries. Felicity Jones is such a visual delight I’d watch her even if the movie was terrible. The story has some interesting twists which I’ll admit I didn’t see coming.

The story, however, is also the movie’s biggest flaw. To enjoy it, you must turn off your brain and not consider the plausibility of anything. I haven’t read the book, so I don’t know if it addresses the issues any better, but I doubt it. The plot is so riven with holes, it’s difficult to know where to start. The basic premise is not the problem; plenty of globalist elitists have expressed a desire for a plague or other disaster to “solve” the population problem.

That’s about the only thing that’s believable. To name a few of my objections: Why would Zobrist direct his followers with an elaborate puzzle, rather than using some more reliable method such as encryption? How could he believe that a one-time democide would permanently fix the overpopulation problem? It seems he’s made no provision for his group to survive the plague and guide humanity to a zero-growth future. Why would his plan depend on a single distribution locus for the virus, when viruses are easily replicated?

One plot element I did enjoy was the secretive private security firm led by Harry Sims (Irrfan Khan), a maverick businessman who makes an unlikely action hero. Since ideas can’t be copyrighted, I’m tempted to borrow this concept for a work of my own.

As for the rating, I’m seriously conflicted. Because it’s an enjoyable diversion, I could give Inferno 4 out of 5. However, I need to detect at least one star for insulting the audience’s intelligence, so let’s make it 3.

 

Review – Star Trek Beyond

Once again, I missed a golden opportunity. I saw the latest installment of Star Trek on the very first night and then neglected to write my review for a whole week.

Star Trek, Beyond is the third in the series since the “reboot” which changed the Trek timeline and replaced the original cast with fresh new faces. I’ll admit that I was appalled at first, but I’ve grown fond of the new cast. Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto do Kirk and Spock really, really well. And tragically, just as we were getting to know him, Anton Yelchin, a.k.a. Chekov died in an accident shortly before the movie’s release.

This story was similar in formula to the previous two post-reboot movies, but a bit better, perhaps because Simon Pegg (who plays Scotty, and also created the brilliant zombie spoof Shaun of the Dead) wrote the screenplay. The pace is less frenetic than its predecessors, and that’s a good thing. It gives the characters more time to spout quotable lines, none of which I happen to remember at the moment. There are of course relationships carried over from previous shows: Spock and Uhura (Zoe Saldana) are on the outs, and their improbable relationship drives much of the story’s interpersonal dynamic. There’s a scene in which we learn that Ambassador Spock (young Spock’s other-dimensional self) has died, probably more of a nod to Leonard Nimoy’s passing than an actual story element.

I’d like to note that Sulu’s character (played by John Cho) is portrayed as gay, no doubt an homage to the original series’ actor George Takei. This fact didn’t affect the story in any way, and the choice struck me as a bit too PC. I’d have preferred they’d selected some other random character to carry the rainbow flag into the 23rd century.

As with the last two Star Trek movies, Beyond opens with one or more of the primary characters doing Something Important. In this case, Kirk is presenting a peace offering from one warring race to its adversary. Unlike the over-the-top volcano incident in Into Darkness, this seems more like something a Starfleet captain would actually do. By the way, the scene is quite funny, as well as relevant (to say how would be a spoiler) to the rest of the story.

The plot revolves around the Enterprise’s mission to answer a distress call from a ship that’s crashed on an isolated planet in the middle of a nebula. This nebula is not the dense, electrically charged cloud as these things have been portrayed in classic Trek. It’s more like Saturn’s rings in spherical form; a huge field of rocks, boulders and dangerous space junk, reminiscent of the classic “Asteroids” video game. I’m no astrophysicist, so I can’t say which of these views is more realistic.

Kick-ass women are a staple in sci-fi these days, and Beyond has one, of course, the black-and-white-skinned Jaylah (Sofia Boutella), the only survivor of a crash on this isolated world. I liked the way they emphasize her intelligence as her primary strength, and the fact that she’s survived on this world for years, which is a more satisfying explanation of her expertise than innate talent. (You guessed it; I’m pointing to the egregious example of Rey in Star Wars The Force Awakens.) Jaylah is also an aficionado of late-twentieth-century earth music; I had to laugh when one of the characters referred to Public Enemy as classical music. This is setup for a battle scene that’s so ludicrous that it becomes ironically cool. I like the Beastie Boys, but to see their music being used as a weapon? I can’t decide whether it’s brilliant or idiotic.

The villain, Krall (Idris Elba) is at first quite intriguing. He’s powerful, evil, and conniving, with a look reminiscent of G’Kar from Babylon-5, and a Road Warrior kind of presence. However, I found his back-story (which I won’t reveal here) to be an enormous letdown. I suspect that the writers were trying a bit too hard to surprise the audience.

In conclusion, I’d say Star Trek Beyond is well worth seeing for any sci-fi fan with a reasonable sense of humor. This was not the most outstanding of the Trek movies, but it was a definite improvement on the previous one. In these last couple of years the movie business has been plagued with sequels and franchise entries that ranged from disappointing (the aforementioned Star Wars, which I’ve seen) to terrible (Ghostbusters – considering the reviews, I’ll wait for that one to come to Netflicks, OK?) It was good to see a decent one for a change.

Review: Deadpool

Deadpool, Marvel’s (sort of) Superhero

Disclaimer: My son and I saw Deadpool (2015, directed by Tim Miller) a few weeks ago, so this review may not be so fresh, but better late than never.

In my childhood, I was a big fan of superhero comics, mostly from the DC universe (Batman, Superman, etc.) but I lost interest around high school. Since then, my comic reading has been confined to graphic novels like those of Alan Moore, and the occasional manga such as “Death Note.” So I knew nothing of Deadpool except seeing all the related merchandise and fan art at events like Comicon. It seemed he must have something pretty interesting or original to attract so much attention in the crowded universe of superheroes.

Deadpool is one of Marvel’s famously flawed heroes, in fact more of an anti-hero. He’s a mutant with the usual superhuman abilities, but he refuses to join the X-Men, whom he sees as namby-pamby do-gooders. In his previous life, he was Wade Wilson, a retired Special Forces soldier who’d gone to work as a “mercenary,” which in the film consists of hiring himself out to ordinary people with scores to settle. Lest he be seen as a total villain, he only takes on targets whom he feels “deserve” to be terrorized, beat up, or worse. His mutant powers, the result of a very unconventional treatment for cancer, have rendered him practically indestructible.

(By the way, what is it with comic books and alliteration? Peter Parker, Bruce Banner, Clark Kent, Lois Lane…)

The actor Ryan Reynolds (alliteration again!) is a good fit for Deadpool’s wise-cracking, misanthropic character. He alone makes the Deadpool movie worth seeing, despite its standard “superhero origin story” plot. By the way, it earns its R rating with loads of violence, some kinky sex, and a lot of really crass humor. Yes, it’s funny, though it’s nowhere near the top of my list. (Just about anything starring Will Ferrell is funnier.) One of the comic high points was the fake credits at the beginning, which lists the producer as “Some Douche-bag,” the stars as “God’s Perfect Idiot” and “A Hot Chick,” with a script by “An Overpaid Tool.” The hero breaks the fourth wall more often than an angst-ridden Woody Allen movie. And it’s unrelentingly self-referential. When two characters from the X-Men refer to Doctor Xavier, Deadpool asks “Stewart or McAvoy”?

All in all, there’s plenty of action to keep it from getting dull, though as I said, you need to be able to appreciate the cruder bits. Though a surprising number of critics liked it (83% on Rotten Tomatoes) I’d grant this film an average rating, right about 3 out of 5 stars.

Quentin Tarantino, Historical Ignoramus

In a recent interview, famed director Quentin Tarantino stated that the Confederate flag was “the American swastika” and that efforts to ban it, and symbols such as memorials to Southern generals, were long past due. In the first place, banning Nazi symbols, as most European countries and American universities have done, not only antithetical to freedom but counter-productive. It gives the extreme right wing “evidence” of a Jewish conspiracy to suppress their nationalist movements. But debating politically correct censorship isn’t the purpose of this article. Rather, it’s Tarantino’s likening of the Confederacy to Nazi Germany that is both offensive and historically wrong.

Since Tarantino has done films relating to slavery and the south, he probably fancies himself as some sort of expert on American history. I’ve seen Django Unchained and although it’s an entertaining movie, it’s hardly historically accurate. To me it seemed that Tarantino was the little boy who finds an excuse to say a forbidden word (you know the one I’m talking about) and keeps saying it again and again. I haven’t research it, but I wonder if the dreaded N-word was actually the preferred terminology in the early 1800’s. The movie Twelve Years A Slave, which is based on a historical account, showed that besides the inexcusable deprivation of the Africans’ liberty, masters were not necessarily cruel, since a slave represented a significant investment. It was Solomon’s exceptional misfortune (besides being kidnapped in the first place) to be enslaved by to the alcoholic psychopath Edwin Epps, whose addiction made him violent and irrational.

Tarantino probably believes the propaganda he learned in school, namely that the Union was good and the Confederacy was bad, when reality was far more complicated. Abraham Lincoln, despite being celebrated nowadays as an American saint, was quite unpopular in his day, and he closed newspapers and imprisoned writers who opposed him. As for his motivation in waging war on the South, consider the man’s own words, from a letter to Horace Greeley: “If I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone I would also do that.” Lincoln was a white supremacist whose primary aim was to deport all blacks to Africa. Nowhere in his private correspondence is there any evidence that he ever gave up on this goal. It’s interesting to note that another historically oppressed people, the “civilized tribes” of Oklahoma, sided with the Confederacy.

One can easily draw parallels between the racialist philosophies of Nazi Germany and the antebellum US. (I say US because in the early 1800’s, few whites anywhere viewed blacks as equals, and many northern states had “black codes” that prevented freedmen from settling there.) However, there’s a vast difference between exploitation and extermination. If there’s a parallel to the Holocaust in America, it’s the horrific treatment of our native peoples, and toward this odious cause the generals of the victorious Union, in particular Sherman and Sheridan, were quite zealous. (I should note that Sherman was also a vicious anti-Semite who persuaded Grant to expel all Jews from his army.) American Indian reservations, where so many died from starvation and disease, can be likened to concentration camps. The biggest difference is that here in America, European microbes, such as smallpox and measles, did much of the dirty work for us, decreasing Native American populations by 90% or more. In any case, if there’s an American swastika, it would be one of the cavalry flags of the Indian Wars.