Month: October 2014

Boardwalk Empire Series Finale thoughts

I have always felt Boardwalk Empire teeter and totter between embracing and subverting cliches and neatness. And usually, to my disappointment, it fails to escape them. To my great disappointment, it failed to do so for its final scene last night. For the unexpected ending in Season 2, the bleak torment of the Season 4 conclusion, we have had invocations of the dead lesbians stereotype, self-flagellating pious man, repeated use of brother-betraying-brother retreading pre-existing ground, Gyp Rossetti, and in this season, adherence to the everyone-must-die-in-a-tragedy (almost) and history-must-repeat-itself in a way that is too clean.

It felt like the writers were set on making a few things happen, so that characters whose paths had seemed far more muddled and unsettled ended up being picked up and dropped onto wide, well-defined roads for the sake of having unresolved and unconfusing endings. I was very disappointed to see that Tommy Darmody was Tommy Darmody, and that Nucky Thompson gets shot in the same exact place that Nucky shot Jimmy in. Killed my suspense of disbelief, and soured my taste on what I thought was actually the best season so far, despite all the characters needing to be killed off and seeking death against the current of their character (only “earned” death I felt was for Michael Shannon’s Nelson Van Alden).

I prefer fiction closer to life, with ambiguous, uncertain endings. What fun lies in finality?

Impressions of Whiplash (film)

Saw Whiplash the other night. Awesome music — the music alone makes the film worth watching. Always love films where they figure out a way to get diagetic music to repeat and build. We only here the song that the film takes its name after, “Whiplash” in slight and stoccato spurts until the climax. The climax is a short film in and of itself, with four or five mini-acts built in.

So structurally, the film is really neat. Contrary to what you would expect from a film about jazz, I felt that there was no meandering. Highly economical. In fact, this film had lots of jazz, but did not feel jazzy at all in spirit, given the nature of the narrative. The director coaxes out some fantastic performances out of the two leads, Miles Teller and J.K. Simmons.

For me, the thematics of the film are neatly summarized by the twin notions of ducks staying calm above water while kicking hard like hell under the surface, the glorious parts of someone else’s job being only the 1% you see. What left a somewhat bitter taste in my mouth was that in the end, the director seems to end up embracing the Myth/Cult of Greatness, the old notion that you need to sacrifice everything, do the same thing over and over again to attain perfection. We see ample evidence now that there are many roads to success. Burnout and overtraining and true things. Balance in life can, in fact, help propel a person to extremes in achievement. And Greatness can be bestowed on someone after a snowball effect in which more and more people add a name to their pantheon without question because the name is in everybody else’s pantheon. Lingering belief in Cult of Greatness and Genius unifies acolytes of the arts, sciences, and Apple.

I am also a bit tired of the film mainstay that angry people have to show their out-of-control intensity by throwing things and breaking objects. Wish that more people would try to capture the seething, quiet, more understated but no less intimidating (perhaps more) anger. Harder to pull off, harder to see, but I’d like to see that in antagonists more often, since I feel like too many objects have been thrown since Talkies were invented. The Room unconsciously parodies this, I feel, when Tommy throws the TV.

Nonetheless, if I find myself bringing up what the director stands for and seems to advocate in the film, as opposed to technical complaints, I can already say that it was a good film worth watching in my books.

With Gone Girl and Whiplash out of the way, I am looking forward to Force Majeure, Birdman, Princess Kaguya, Nightcrawler, and Dear White People to round out this cinematically packed month.

Thoughts on Turkey, Kurdistan, Kobane, and Daesh

This was at least a step: “U.S. Troops to Use Bases in Turkey.” (from the NY Times)

I think it is against Turkey’s interest to have troops beginning a campaign against ISIS, when the US, who has forced this coalition together, and who has played a big role in originating this mess has not done the same. Reinforcing Kobane is not the logical move to make. I just want to see them do it as a gut desire.

Besides, the YPG have not asked for the Turkish military to join them in combat. They have asked for the opposite. What they want now is just for Turkey to make the border not one-sided, to allow PKK and YPG fighters on the other side of the fence come through with supplies in addition to allowing refugees to flee. I think that is a good compromise. Turkey gets to stay out militarily and delay a confrontation with ISIS for a little while longer. I use the word delay, because I think inevitably, ISIS will attack Turkey, even if Turkey has purchased ISIS oil, even if Turkey was extra-loose in allowing people to cross its border to join IS (with some proposing that they wanted to do this to weaken the YPG and PYD, though there is no concrete evidence of this conspiracy that I have come across).

This siege reminds me of the First Battle of Bull Run, in which spectators came to observe the battle. You have journos, Kurds, and Turkish military observing the battle, documenting it on Instagram, fighters posting from their phone to Youtube and Twitter during lulls in combat. The proximity of Kobane to the border, and the relative safety the border still affords because ISIS does not want to engage Turkey yet is something, for lack of a better word, fortunate for the YPG. Lots of other towns and villages are being overrun and destroyed, with no additional airstrikes there because of a lack of media attention. Anbar province is about to fall, opening a direct route to besieging Baghdad. The Islamic Front, relative moderates, in Aleppo are getting torn apart by simultaneous attacks from both the government and ISIS. As depicted in the Vice doc, “Ghosts of Aleppo,” they are using slingshot grenades as artillery. Some YPG soldiers in Kobane have complained about the airstrikes doing nothing. I find that to be a patently false and mistaken sentiment. Daesh had to change their tactics to protect their artillery and tanks. A few tanks have been destroyed. Those things are terrifying against light infantry (which the YPG are). They’ve called for reinforcements. Without airstrikes, Kobane would have likely fallen already. The airstrikes have at least delayed the fall of the city.


It’s fascinating starting to recognize some of the people being killed on Twitter. One day, a remark on someone’s courage, tenacity, shrewdness in combat. A couple days later, the same guy pops up, except with the bullet hole where his left eye once was. A couple years ago, Twitter was hailed as a great enabler of democracy in the Arab Spring. Now, it is demonized as an incredibly effective disperser of Daesh shock propaganda. History is funny, isn’t it?

A single Hellfire missile fired from a drone costs $58,000, evoking worn comparisons to college tuition. Wouldn’t it be funny if you could tell the U.S. government where your tax money could go to, like college donations?

“Give to area of greatest need.”