Let’s Talk About Avengers: Endgame (with spoilers)

Hey just remember, I said SPOILERS right in the title!

You’ve been warned.

In the movies, the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) is probably one of the greatest film creations in movie history.  With 21 interlocking movies, each adding to a larger story that culminates in Avengers: Endgame, there has really been anything like what Marvel Studios has accomplished, and it may be a feat never to be repeated. Certainly the rival DC Extended Universe (DCEU) has faltered and not even come close to competing with its Marvel rival.

In in that spirit, I feel (at least in this moment) that Avengers: Endgame is the greatest movie I’ve ever seen.  Not as a standalone movie by itself of course.  I imagine that if you were a casual movie goer, and had dropped in on Endgame without any familiarity with the previous MCU movies, it would be almost incomprehensible.  It’s a three hour densely packed film filled with various callbacks, easter eggs, and nods to previous films. It’s the sequel to the sequel to the sequel… Not to mention it’s the last chapter of a saga that began in 2008 with Iron Man.  Without having that background, the aforementioned casual movie goer would have walked out in disgust long before hitting the halfway mark of the three hour film.

And that’s the really amazing thing about it.  There have been plenty of movies with sequels and spin offs.  Some have been successful (think Terminator 2) and others have faltered (think Smokey and the Bandit 3), but they’re usually dependent on the viewer having seen the previous movie (or being fairly familiar with) to “get it.”  Endgame on the other hand, depends on the viewer probably having seen 15 or so of the previous 20 movies to appreciate the story arc.  That is an incredible ask of a movie goer, yet Avengers: Endgame did dare to ask and it paid off as one of the most successful films of all time.

I don’t see this particular feat being repeated in my lifetime, although I didn’t expect it the first time either, so whatever magic formula that Marvel Studios has bottled, keep it going.

The movie was jam packed, which probably explains why 3 hours didn’t seem like 3 hours, but it left so much left over to think about, that I’m still mulling some of the implications.

No redo for the “snap.”  There had been rumors for a year that Endgame would involve time travel of some sort, but I admit the actual way they used time travel took me surprise, with the consequences that they couldn’t go back in time and stop the decimation from actually happening.  It happened and couldn’t be changed.  That makes the MCU Earth radically different.  They dealt with half of Earth’s population vanishing in 2018 and returning in 2023.  That’s going to radically effect every single future MCU film since they will be living in a world where half the people in the world (and of course the universe) were, for all practical purposes, dead for 5 years, then suddenly came back.  It’s hard to quantify how that would change the world, and virtually all of the characters.  Not a single person would be unscathed by that.  Since the next MCU movie coming up is Spider-Man: Far from Home, that will be our first taste on how that’s handled.

Captain America’s Happy Ending.  The MCU time travel rules are that you can’t change the past, and going in time really means you are creating an alternate time line where anything goes, leaving your own “present” unchanged.  This really opens up a lot of fun opportunities because it’s time travel with no consequences, hence the fight between Captain America and the 2012 version of…Captain America. So at the end of the movie, when Cap goes back in time to return the infinity stones, he’s set to return 5 seconds later, however he doesn’t return.  Or rather he does, but as an old man sitting on a park bench.  Steve Rogers decided to get his happy ending by going back in time to the forties and marrying his best girl Peggy Carter.  But…we’ve had two seasons of Agent Carter, in which Rogers never returned so what happened?

The Russo Brothers, directors of the film, cleared that up in post movie premiere interviews.  Captain America didn’t change the timeline, he went back and created an alternate timeline in which he married Peggy Carter and…lived his life.  So there is a timeline where Captain America returned at the end of World War II, with all of the radical changes that would go along with that, but that didn’t change the MCU past.  In the MCU Prime Timeline, Carter married someone else, raised a family, and eventually died of old age. Left unexplained is how Steve Rogers got back to the main timeline to show up as an old man, but apparently there is an entire untold story as to how that happened.

A path to add X-Men & Mutants into the MCU.  With Disney’s purchase of Fox, all of the other Marvel characters can be brought under one roof, meaning characters such as the X-Men and the Fantastic Four can be brought into the MCU.  How can that be accomplished?  This is just an idea of mine, so I’ll toss it out there with no support at all, but Tony Stark, in designing his own Infinity Gauntlet into his Iron Man suit, must have given a little thought to what he might actually want to accomplish.  Some list of macro wishes might have been prepared ahead of time, such as that a tiny number of the people returned after the decimation might exhibit some powers…Mutant X-Men powers.  This isn’t the comic book version of the X-Men of course, but the MCU has been great at repurposing comic concepts and this would be version that would explain why we haven’t seen any mutants up to this point.

Tony Stark created them.

So my hat’s off to Marvel Studios for betting a lot of money on something that no movie studio had ever done before, and pulling it off.

Ilhan Omar and the Failure of Multiculturalism

For all of the entertainment value afforded by the three amigos of the Freshmen Democratic class; Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Rashida Talib, and Ilhan Omar; occasional nuggets of insight can be gleamed; particularly in the case of Ilhan Omar. Unlike AOC, whose gaffes are often hilariously dumb, Omar gaffes are of the Michael Kinsey variety; a politician unwittingly telling the truth.

Omar recently gave an interview in Vogue Arabia with this observation:

It’s a life lesson she has repeatedly turned to during her most challenging days – from being a refugee to being a black, Muslim, hijabi woman in the US. Her family fled the Somali civil war in 1991, staying in a refugee camp in Kenya for four years, before resettling in the US. Here, she was confronted with the differences between her and her new home. “It was the first time that all of the identities I carried and had pride in, became a source of tension,” she recalls. “When you’re a kid and you’re raised in an all-black, all- Muslim environment, nobody really talks to you about your identity. You just are. There is freedom in knowing that you are accepted as your full self. So the notion that there is a conflict with your identity in society was hard at the age of 12.”

There may be more than one way to read this, but it sounds as if she finds many qualities of a refugee camp favorable to living in the United States.  In a refugee camp, there wasn’t an issue of identity because everyone was a black Somali Muslim.  Here in the US on the other hand, you have infidels of all different shades, preventing you from being “accepted as your full self.”

So per Omar, if you can only be your “full self” within the confines of your own people, it almost sounds as if she is an alt-right nationalist (or tribalist). Well who’s kidding who?  There is no almost about it.  Omar is an ethno nationalist.  I wouldn’t really have a problem with that if she were in Somalia, but it bothers me a great deal that she’s essentially masquerading as an American legislator when she seems more comfortable being on the side of America’s enemies, as she did in her Black Hawk Down tweet.

One has to wonder why we even bother having a military when we allow the enemy a vote in the US Congress.

Quick Movie Reviews: Comedy Dictator Edition

The Death of Stalin

I came across this little gem on Showtime.  If it ever hit the movie theaters, I don’t have a memory of it, however this film has a great cast with some…interesting casting choices (Steve Buscemi as Nikita Khrushchev?).   Wikipedia called this a “political satire black comedy,” which is one way to describe it.  I would have called it an absurdist comedy, but in any case, the movie takes a real historical event and makes it absurd.

In 1953, Josef Stalin abruptly dies, throwing his coterie of yes men and toadies into a frenzied panic.  After years of being kept in an almost continuous state of terror in which one wrong slip could land one in prison or worse by the mercurial Stalin, they suddenly find themselves in a continuous state of terror by each other, as they maneuver to preserve and extend their power and keep their heads.  It’s no spoiler to say that Khrushchev eventually wins the power struggle, but the constant scheming and casual betrayals makes for some high comedy.

Of note is that the character of Lavrentiy Beria, played by British Actor Simon Russel Beale, is probably one of the most evil men of the 20th Century (Beria, not Beale of course).  However in this telling, he comes across as the most sympathetic, as he moves to undo some of the damage he caused under Stalin. Naturally, no good deed goes unpunished, and no; that’s not a spoiler, its history.  Educate yourselves (as any college freshman is happy to tell anyone twice as old with twice the formal education).

This is 1984 if done as a comedy, and if you look at it just the right way, totalitarianism, and its oppressive orthodoxies, are comedic.  As Stalin’s inner circle changes their opinions to fit the current party line, we can laugh at such an absurd society, and carefully delete what we just wrote on twitter, since what was an ordinary comment yesterday becomes a thought crime today. The bobbing, weaving and careful choosing of words among Stalin’s men might be reminiscent of a modern college social science class, making this a movie that is relevant in the current year.

Plus, this movie is banned in Russia!

 

My Netflix Review: Look Who’s Back

Finally, here is the story of a politician who is literally Hitler.

In the same way that the buffet at the Golden Corral is larger than my stomach, my list in Netflix is much larger than my available time to view the cornucopia of shows. However prompted by a friend’s recommendation, I pulled this one out of my list and into the “watching now” category. Look Who’s Back is a German language film that I still thought Germany wasn’t ready for.  How to deal with Hitler has been an annoying hangnail of German discourse for over seventy years, and this movie is an interesting take on Germany’s “Hitler Question.”

Instead of pulling the trigger in his Berlin bunker, Hitler finds himself hurled forward in time to the far future year of 2014. Found by recently fired TV producer, Fabian Sawatzki, Fabian plots to return to TV by filming a documentary on the person he perceives as a Hitler performance artist. So Hitler and Fabian go on a road trip across modern Germany to film German’s reaction to “Hitler.”  Hitler of course, sees this as the groundwork to return to power, and much of the film is devoted to laughing locals asking Hitler questions and Hitler responding.  In one scene, while talking with a married couple, Hitler asks for their vote.  When they laughing decline to vote for him; Hitler asks for their address for the first round of mass arrests.  They laugh again because that’s the bit; no one takes him seriously, it’s all a joke; a gag for television.

For Hitler, it’s not a joke.  And eventually, even Fabian starts to get suspicions that this “performance artist” may be a bit darker than he thought.  But it’s still all fun and games until finally, someone really recognizes him for who he is.

As an American, I’m not a fan of foreign films that are filmed in funny talk, or as most people know it, a foreign language.  I’m also suspicious of foreign comedy films since comedy is a shifting target across cultures and languages.  However this was a comedy that was actually funny, even across cultures and language.  In fact, it provided a couple of laugh out loud moments, which is becoming rarer in so called “comedy” movies.

So my advice is to go see both of these films.  The Party commands it.

 

 

Assange Indictment Sounds like BS to Me

Julian Assange, looking like a demented Santa Claus, was booted from the Ecuadorian Embassy in London on Thursday in preparation to be extradited to the United States. Ecuador; tired of his antics, finally let the other shoe drop and kicked him out. Of course this was bound to happen eventually, which makes me wonder how Assange thought that remaining a prisoner in the Ecuadorian Embassy for years was actually better than serving a prison sentence (for whatever real or imaginary crimes) and then getting out.

The internet comments on Assange’s arrest don’t line up in the usual left/right way you would expect.  Assange is an anti-American leftist and normally should expect support from…anti-American leftists.  Although that still seems true for the international set, the domestic anti-American leftists are split.  Most applaud his work in helping to severely damage US national security by releasing a treasure trove of classified information from the Manning leaks, but hurting Hillary and helping the Orange Man to win the Presidency?  Unforgivable!   On the right, the split is reversed.  Some applaud Wikileaks in preventing a Hillary-Apocalypse, but others hate the national security damage he helped cause.

And where do I come down?  I think he’s an anti-American leftist who hates the US and would do anything he can to bring it down.  However, that’s no different than the Publishers and editorial staff of The New York Times, Washington Post, and many if not most US newspapers and media outlets.  They also are anti-American leftists who hate the US and would do anything to bring it down.  And all of those newspapers and TV news outlets have published or reported on all matter of stolen classified information from Manning, Snowden, and innumerable leaks over the years; all damaging to the US.  And they are all, Assange included, protected by the First Amendment.

As a work around, the Department of Justice has made up a charge of conspiring to hack government computers, something I don’t recall ever being mentioned during Manning’s trial.  You can read the indictment here.

A few years ago, I would have just swallowed that story and accepted it, however the past few years have worn away any trust I might have had in the DoJ. Simply put, I just don’t believe it. Manning already had access to the SIPRNET, the Secret level government classified network, and apparently had so few, or no duties while deployed in Iraq that he could sit in front of his workstation for his entire shift, for weeks and months on end, copying files to a CD.  Manning didn’t need any extra passwords to unload a treasure trove of classified information.

If this case gets as far as discovery, I imagine his lawyers should demand some sort of evidence that the information was not already available on SIPRNET with the passwords and accesses that Manning already had.  I have a sneaking suspicion though that it will never get that far.

Tucker, Ben Shapiro, and John Adams

I came across this video over the weekend of Tucker Carlson and Ben Shapiro, engaged in a newish debate of populism versus traditional conservatism™.  You can easily guess who was taking what side.

Where those two differ, I’ve already decided which side of the line I’m on, but what caught my eye about this mini-debate occurred about five minutes in.

Shapiro: “…the John Adams formulation was that this constitution was only built for a moral and virtuous people, it wasn’t built for any other.  There are two ways to actually tackle that.  One is to say we are no longer moral and no longer virtuous, so we have to change-freedom, and the other is to say, well, if we want to maintain the freedom we have to become moral and virtuous again.”

Hmmm…that is the question isn’t it?

The John Adams quote…

…was considered a truism in an earlier age, particularly in the mass democracy distrusting founding fathers. Carlson and Shapiro never resolve the issue in the few minutes of the debate, but it’s a good question none the less.  A representative government is the trickiest and most difficult type of government to pull off, and requires several preconditions, including those mentioned here.  If you don’t have an ethical electorate, how are you going to have ethical electoral results?  Obviously you can’t, and although Shapiro seems to hold out some hope that the populace can be made virtuous again, I see no mechanism to do that.

This isn’t the first time I’ve tolled the bell for our system of government.  It’s been wobbly for a long time and shows no signs of righting itself.  Historically, aging democracies end in some sort of tyranny.  Is that where we are heading? I confess I don’t have any answers for this, but it’s important to at least be aware of the questions.

Election Interference and the Mueller Report

When first writing about the Russia! Russia! Russia! hysteria right after the Presidential election, I made mention of the fact that this wasn’t the first time that foreign powers had interfered with a US election, but in the two plus years since then, there has been barely a mention of that in the media, as if the Russian interference in the 2016 election was some sort of singular event, unprecedented in history.

Nope.

In 2012, both the Obama and Romney campaigns were under continuous cyber assault during election, with the National Republican Congressional Committee hardest hit.

CIA Director Mike Pompeo stated last year that Russians interfered in the 2012 elections as well as previous ones.

In 2008, China hacked the computer systems of both the Obama and McCain campaigns.

The Obama Administration was not exactly gung ho about doing anything to prevent Russian hacking. It rejected an attempt to “create an executive-branch task force to battle Russia’s covert information operations…”  But as I’ve noted, there has been a history of exactly this sort of interference, long before Trump made his live TV request to Russia, “Russia if you’re listening…”

Believe it or not, much of the Russia collusion conspiracy theory rests on this joke.

With that kind of history, one can only wonder why the Obama administration took such a lackadaisical approach to foreign powers “hacking” US elections, and why that’s Trump’s problem?

With the Mueller investigation rumored to be near its close, a healthy reminder is required of a few things I’ve previously mentioned:

No collusion.  As I’ve predicted for the past two years, I’m still sticking by my prediction that the Mueller Investigation will not show any collusion between Trump or the Trump campaign and Russia to “hack” the election.

However I don’t think that Mueller would actually wrap up the investigation unless he felt he had something that he could put in a report that would provide fodder for the original purpose of the investigation: Impeaching Trump. Based on the theory that a 70 plus year old billionaire is bound to have done something, there will probably be some slim reed the Democrats and never-Trumpers can grasp.  It probably wouldn’t be considered anything like an impeachable offense in an earlier age, but we’re still in the midst of hysteria so anything goes.

I would like to think that the Mueller investigation coming to a close would put to bed this nonsense conspiracy theory, but I suspect that the media will seamlessly move to a lot of other brand new phony conspiracy theories.

 

The Reparations Gambit

I have been waiting for this ball to drop for a long time.  I thought maybe that 2014 would be the year that the Democrats would pull the electoral ripcord on the reparations issue, but they seemed to drop the ball on it and suffered in the elections accordingly.  Then in 2016 I thought Hillary would pull reparations out of her purse (it was right beside the hot sauce) and close the enthusiasm gap among black voters.  But she was so confident that she couldn’t lose that she decided it could stay in her purse.  Like Trump was really going to beat her?  After all, once you pull the reparations card, it’s out for good.  You can’t change your mind and stick in back in your oversized purse.

But now the issue is out, and it looks like 2020 will be the first Presidential election year (and forever more) that reparations become a real political issue. According to The New York Times, Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris, and Julián Castro have all come out in support of some type of reparations.  They are rather vague on the details and price tag, but eh, it’s still early, and besides, those sorts of details are not very important or at least no more important than details and price tag for a “Green Deal.”

By the time we get to the nomination, some form of reparations will be part of the candidate’s agenda and part of the Democratic Party platform.  And it can join the other trillion dollar promises, like Medicare for all, Green Dreams, Universal Basic Income (UBI), Universal Daycare, Free College, and the hundreds of other spending fantasies.  However unlike the other high dollar promises, reparations promise to be eternally racially divisive.

Just what this country needs.

To be fair, slavery reparations do have the tug of moral authority to them.  In a perfect world, I would support them myself. A great evil was done and there should be some sort of compensation for it. However it’s 150 years later. There is no one alive that was a slave, and the practicalities of coming up with a fair and just system to compensate their descendants seem pretty daunting.  I’ve thought long and hard on this subject myself and have yet to figure out a way, or have read of any such plan, that would be workable and just.

Never has the devil been more in the details of a policy than in reparations.  If Abraham Lincoln’s Freedman’s Bureau had been allowed to continue its work, and the newly freed slaves had gotten their 40 acres and a mule, this issue would have been one and done.  But now, who do you compensate?  If, for example, you have theoretical reparations of a $50,000 credit, to be applied to either college or home down payment (the two gateways to the middle class), do you give it to the man, his, son, or his son (assuming all living)?  Should it be given to the oldest living relative in a family, or the youngest?  Or do you just give it to every descendant of slaves from now on?

Of course, that means Barrack Obama, Colin Powell, or Kamala Harris would be entitled to zero reparations since none of them are descendants of American slaves. What about Malia Obama, the President’s daughter?  Would she get half of reparations? And how would you determine eligibility?  There are probably a lot of African Americans who would have a great deal of difficulty laying their hands on all of the documentation necessary to prove ancestry from the slaves freed in 1865.  So would you just go by skin color? Self Identification? DNA?  Imagine, Rachel Dolezal being eligible for reparations. Or imagine the millions of white people with sub-Saharan ancestry thanks to DNA testing, who want their piece of the reparations pie.  If the one drop rule is good for the goose…

But in a way, the very difficulty in figuring out the right policy is a feature, not a bug.  It’s more useful as an issue than an actual policy. And with the added benefit of being racially divisive, it’s the perfect issue for Democrats to run on in 2020.

And every election thereafter.