I got published!

Thanks to the good people at LA Taco for giving me a chance. It’s about a local street vendor who sells Mexican wings. He’s part of the new wave of LA’s food underground. Check it out.

http://www.lataco.com/alitas-el-diablito-dreaming-big-in-compton-with-wings-flavored-in-mole-aguachile-a-la-diabla-sauces/

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diving board

The world stands still from this point
You look to your right
You see others ready
Ready for the task
The water looks still
Like a wavy glass
Daylight spills over the surface
You know what you have to do
You know what to do
You know that all that it would take
At least in theory, is to drop
Let the weight of you take you into life
The glass breaks as the first person enters
Soon others fall in
A syncopated rhythm
It's your turn
But you can’t move
You’re bolted to the scratchy surface of the board
The false start makes the board wobble
But you stay stationary
Those next to you continue the rhythm
You know what you have to do
You picture yourself doing it 
With ease
In your head you’re an expert
A gold medalist diver
But on top you haven’t moved
You know what you have to do
So what’s stopping you?

Incredibles 2 Review: How Pixar Does a Better Job at Explaining Fake News than the Media

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It is no secret that The Incredibles is in love with Ayn Rand, despite what director Brad Bird might say. Particularly the idea that might is right and those who are great should be allowed to be great. The first film was about the struggle of the exceptional, supers, not being allowed to be excellent. Instead they are brought down to the level of everyone else, after a casualty while the supers were saving the day. In other words grinding down the exceptional into a state of normalcy. The first Incredibles was a refutation of participation trophies, of no child left behind, of government standardization, and by the end of the film the audience sees the excellent being excellent. This is where the second installment comes in and focuses on the major political scandal of our age, fake news. Incredibles 2 is one of the best superheroes films to come out in years. In spite of the film being part of the Disney industrial complex, the film feels fresh and explores new issues that gives a deeper understanding of the family dynamic. The film sports a booming and lively jazz score and during the action sequences that score only heightens the anxiety of the scenes. The creative use of their powers is insanely fun to watch and only further cements Pixar’s dominance in creative animation. The biggest gripe I, and everyone else, had with the film was its predictability with the villain.

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The Incredibles 2 reflects on the major political scandal surrounding fake news. In recent time the Trump Administration has waged war on “fake news,” but is actually just veiled rhetoric. That is, news is only “fake” when it does not fit the narrative that Trump claims. Additionally, Facebook came under fire when they were accused of perpetuating  fake news because fake news articles were being circulated at an alarming rate. The real issue with “fake news” is that it presents a solution to the lack of sources; when you cannot find something to fit your story, the solution that fake news offers, is making your own evidence. Incredibles 2 takes inspiration from using fabricated news to fit your political agenda and how that becomes a vehicle to manifest those goals.

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The villain of Incredibles 2 uses fake news to sway the public to their political agenda. The Incredible family runs into more red tape when they save the day from an attack, as the government reprimands them from using their powers, which were previously banned. Then a wealthy family approaches them about making a concerted effort to change the law, gain the public favor to change the policy on supers. They suggest that Elastigirl would be the best fit to stop this attack, as Mr. Incredible makes too much of a mess. She succeeds in stopping the villainous acts of Screenslaver who uses screens to brainwash people to his will. This is perhaps the most overt nod to the current events, particularly the scandal surrounding social media, as seen with Facebook. Screenslaver’s power comes from anonymity and the use of hypnotized people to enact their will, which in this case is to show the perils of superheroes. In other words Screenslaver uses hypnotism, fake news, to achieve his goals. The significance of using hypnosis to get others to enact his will means it is a perfect crime, like fake news. The believers of fake news can’t be held accountable for believing a story that’s proven fake.

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Incredibles 2 does a better job of exploring what makes the Incredibles a family. Since Elastigirl gets a job, Mr. Incredible is tasked with taking care of the children. He has to interact with his children in ways that he never had to in the first film. Mr. Incredible was so concerned with chasing his glory days of being a hero that he did not truly know what it meant to be a father. Staying home with his children confronted him with how detached he was as a father. He might have been the world’s best superhero but that matters little when he needs to be a father. This results in many misunderstandings between him and his kids. Mr. Incredible eventually learns from his mistakes and learns to interact and relate to his children.

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Overall, Incredibles 2 was immensely fun to watch and has a powerful message about the current cultural climate. Incredibles 2 builds a stronger relationship with the family. The message of the film seems to be too bold for a children’s movie but it does not shy away from the scandal. It reflects the scandalous times that we currently live in without being preachy.

4.5/5

Reminder of Death

The hardest part of death is a reminder
The burden of loss is doubled
By the fact that it gets easier
That reminder fills you with guilt
A swollen guilt that bursts
With the prick of memory
The memory of death has infinite sharp weapons
A bee sting that is too far burrowed
A swollen splinter too far beneath flesh

The weight of life is measured in death
When the weight of that memory returns
Gravity is activated
It is heavier than you remember
But you’ve built strength
From time and familiarity
You become Sisyphus
Never forgetting the weight
Instead preoccupied by life
And that is the hardest part
Knowing that life continues
And the well of guilt swells
And the fire roars
Until it grows silent
Domesticated
Thus the cycle remains
But life continues
And that's the hardest part

Rest easy Tony Bourdain

Deadpool 2 Review

Warner Brothers may own Looney Tunes but the “adult” Bugs Bunny lives on through Deadpool. The second installment of Deadpool brings more of everything – laughs, silliness, gore, action, gags etc. The film doubles down on everything that worked in the first one but like most films that do this, it fails to capture that same spark. That is not to say that the film is not enjoyable, because it is silly dumb fun. The performance from Julian Dennison as Russell was fantastic. He brings some of the film’s most organic laughs with his quirky New Zealand humor that reflects his hilarious role in Hunt For the Wilderpeople. Josh Brolin continues to play complicated antagonists in Marvel movies and gives a grungy performance as Cable. The rising star Zazie Beetz, of Atlanta fame, as Domino is one of the most enjoyable characters to see on-screen. Nonetheless, what makes the film fun is also what makes it drag on. There were moments where the gags overstayed their welcome, so much so that it made the film’s runtime apparent. Additionally since Deadpool 2 takes nothing serious it is hard to read the more somber moments as sincere. Especially since Deadpool 2 has a bigger moralizing story about reformation.

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Thematically Deadpool 2 is concerned with finding purpose and the way that fatherhood provides a purpose. Deadpool (Wade) suffers a severe trauma which creates a crisis of identity. This leads Wade to chasing death but he cannot die because of his mutant abilities. He hits rock bottom because his trauma destroyed his raison d’etre so he finds new purpose in trying to be a father. Wade encounters Russell and sees that he is filled with anger and hell bent on vengeance. Deadpool finds new purpose in guiding Russell, hoping to change his fate. In many ways, Deadpool finds a new life, a new purpose, a new reason to live, in helping Russell. He becomes a proxy father to Russell rounding out his desire for family.

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Deadpool 2 holds nothing sacred. There is almost an entire arc of the film that is undercut by a gag. The absurdity of this scene should not work because of how ridiculous it is. But surprisingly it just shows how little Deadpool 2 holds sacred. This scene mirrors the wackiness of Looney Tunes, the only thing that was missing was the trademark pig in a blazer. The 4th wall breaks in Deadpool are more frequent. In the first film it worked well because it flirted with the absurd, but in Deadpool 2, absurdity is the driver. My conflict with 4th wall breaks that comment on what is being shown is that they rip the audience from the film. The audience gets whiplash from Deadpool’s several comments about the poor writing of the film. The problem with using a meta commentary is that the film is suggesting that since it knows that it is bad, it is better than bad films. The knowledge of knowing something is bad does not make it a better film. It’s just bad writing that tries to disguise itself as self-aware.

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Deadpool 2 will be a hit for the fans but it does not improve on the form. It doubles down on the absurdity of the first film in ways that work and don’t. The themes of finding purpose show an attempt by the film to get away from the silliness that dominates the franchise. Nonetheless the film is fun and dumb and fun and dumb. Throughout the film I was waiting for the moment where Deadpool brings out a carrot and says the popular refrain of a beloved rabbit.

3.8/5

Thoughts on “This is America”

There is little for me to say about this video that others have not said better than I could. What excites me about this video is the story of Donald Glover. He has come such a long way and he gives me hope. His story tells me that you don’t only have to be good at one thing, which is something I’ve always struggled with. He has done music, movies, tv, writing, comedy, and now (apparently) dancing. What’s particularly striking is that he’s entered a new stage of producing art. In the infancy of his career he did improv and comedy writing. Some of which still stand the test of time. He went on to be a writer on 30 Rock, which earned him an Emmy. Then he acted in Tv while dabbling in hip hop. In his music career he’s grown massively. He went from nerdcore to pop rap to r&b. His most recent project if Atlanta, auteur television centered around hip hop. Glover returns back home to tell an absurdist story about hip hop and Atlanta.

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“This is America” is a meditation on the current state of black bodies in America. Glover and his Atlanta directing partner Hiro Murai tell a hauntingly captivating story about violence. Glover covets a trap flow (or a triplet flow or sometimes called the Migos flow) that even peppers in ad libs (from 21 Savage and Migos). The choice to use a trap flow is both nod to the current state of music and his appreciation of it. Glover has never been someone who disliked trap as he gave Migos a huge shout out, which that resulted in more streams for their first album Culture. Glover wants the audience to know that he does not want to inhibit other parts of Hip Hop, as it can be reductionist. Instead of badmouthing trap rappers (see J Cole and Jay Z) he is cosigning their wave. Additionally we see Glover performing popular dances as a way to distract from the bedlam in the background but also to downplay the violence he committed. The dances show that the main character is not concerned with what is happening in the background he is removed. This suggests the remove that comes from being is a position of wealth. Blind to the realities of what America means to a black body. Blind to the world that exists outside of olympus. In a conversation with Kanye, T.I. revealed that Kanye didn’t know about the travel ban. This video could be Glover’s admission of guilt from removing himself from what is happening to America. “This is America” is a public reckoning that forces the audience to reconcile with the the destruction of black bodies.

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The construction of the video mirrors the current season of Atlanta, a show that showcases Glover’s past experience with writing and music. The complex writing of Atlanta informs the current mindstate that occupies Glover. In his previous album Because The Internet he committed to the narrative about depression. The themes of that album continued make appearances throughout Glover’s public appearances and social media. Glover fully commits to concepts. All this to say that Atlanta’s current season “Robbin’ season” bleeds into “This is America.” Glover has never been a stranger to race in his music. He always talked about his experience with being an outsider in the rap game because he spoke and dressed differently. The story behind “This is America” is Glover’s place in in hip hop and/or the entertainment industry. He has achieved a state where he can make challenging and complicated art and be successful. “This is America” is the culmination of all his work as an entertainer, as a writer, as a black man. Glover is telling the audience that this is what occupies his mind. This is what America is to him. He’s not saying that the American dream isn’t real. But rather that it is a nightmare to others, particularly those who have darker skin.

The Revolution as Seen on the Screen

The return of Westworld and its narrative about revolution is crystallized by current events. The massive unrest in Nicaragua shows the beginnings of a revolution, of which Nicaragua is no stranger (see Sandinista Revolution). Media tends to reflect the times through commentary, critique, or even as a form of escape. Several films and tv shows of the last year have played with the idea of revolution. The realities of living in the Trump era, even though it’s only the second year, has created a crisis of place for some in the U.S. Media understands this, and one of the narrative avenues that addresses this crisis is revolution. Revolution by proxy is seen where the oppressed groups aren’t human. Revolution in the digital age both reflects the times but also satirizes it. Revolution through personal acts of rebellion are seen in dystopias. Others pieces of media deconstruct the role of leaders in a revolution.

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Revolution by proxy suggests that current power structure needs to be dismantled and rebuilt.  Westworld and Blade Runner 2049 explore the disenfranchised android population and their attempts to disrupt the current power structure. That crisis of identity contributes to their respective revolution. The characters in Westworld and Blade Runner 2049 struggle with their personal identity and their place in the world. In the first season of Westworld, we see the way that the hosts (androids)  begin to question their station and reason for being. The source of revolution comes from their an awakening about their station in life. It wasn’t until they were given the faculties to think for themselves that they started to rebel. Westworld uses the Promethean narrative in the shape of giving androids consciousness and memory. Once the hosts know that they are ostensibly slaves that is when they rebel. Blade Runner 2049 continues the story of a society where androids are part of the disenfranchised class. Similarly Westworld, Blade Runner 2049 explores the idea of an awakening of consciousness. The replicant (android) assassin K struggles with a conflict about his profession which contributes to his efforts in the revolution. Both of these pieces of media are stories about a created underclass through technology, suggesting that ignoring issues within a system creates a cycle. Hence, Both Westworld and Blade Runner 2049 show that an android revolution is a revolution by proxy of the oppressed class.

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Most recently, Isle of Dogs explores the revolution of two warring parties, dog lovers and cat lovers. The two warring parties mirrors the current explosive fight against the left and the right. The long history of war between the two sides results in a big show of force. Isle of Dogs attempts to reach a compromise instead of a return to a dog dominated system. The film favors compromise as the solution for a revolution. This focus on compromise says that the current power structure still has some good qualities. On other hand, the android proxy revolution wants a complete restructure of the system.

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The digital revolution focuses on the branding in revolution and attempts to restructure access to information. Mr. Robot explores the way that a digital revolution is commodified in contemporary times. Revolution via in the digital era is a double edged sword. The Arab Spring shows the integral role of that social media played in aiding the revolution of Arab nations. Whereas the downsides come from the way that iconography of social organizing can be bastardized or misused. Groups that have a particular “brand” that represents their social movement run the risk of having shallow membership. This can be seen with group like Black Lives Matter where the group’s mission can be co-opted for a separate goal. Silicon Valley’s narrative focuses on creating a revolutionary, and seemingly agrarian, a decentralized internet. The current season’s narrative about decentralized internet rings familiar in the wake of the net neutrality spectacle of 2017. The Promethean goal of giving everyone a free internet mirrors the goals of allowing all access to information. Without the barrier of entry of paying a monthly service fee. Revolution through free information.

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Revolution in the micro gives a deep dive on how individual contribution becomes collective. In Handmaid’s Tale we see that the devaluation of women leads to a hierarchical patriarchy. The story follows Offred or June and personal struggle withing a male dominated regime. Her small gestures of resistance are revolutionary as she fights against the male power structure. One isolated act of revolution, resistance, contributes to the fight at large, therefore the personal become revolutionary. The new season looks to be a further step towards a revolution. Which is topical as the Me Too movement aims to restructure the patriarchal practices and structure of entertainment industry. I Am Not Your Negro chronicles the work of writer James Baldwin and his personal journey in the Civil Right Movement. Baldwin’s story and his personal rebellions contributed to the revolutionary acts of the Civil Right Movement. Both are stories about revolution under a microscope.

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The themes surrounding leadership deconstruct the role of a leader in a revolution. Black Panther explores the mindset of a revolutionary with Killmonger. That is not to say that Killmonger did not commit murder but his goals of helping black bodies around the world shows the foundation for a revolution. He wanted to use his position as leader of Wakanda to aid black bodies around the world, by any means necessary. War for The Planet of the Apes explores the role that leadership plays in a revolution. Caesar compromises the revolution when his family is hurt but other apes manage to accomplish their goals without his leadership. This shows that while leadership is important it is equally important to have a strong foundation for revolution.

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The narrative about revolution continues to dominate the stories in pop culture. All of these story present the various iterations that revolution can manifest. Revolution by proxy looks at attempts to completely restructure the power system; Isle of Dogs looks to fix the structures in place through compromise. Revolution is the digital age, Mr. Robot, satirizes the vital role of branding in a revolution and Silicon Valley looks to create easier access to information through a decentralized internet. Other works explore the way that the personal becomes revolutionary. Furthermore, Black Panther outlines the ideology of a leader in a would-be race revolution and War For the Planet of the Apes contends that the people are more important in revolution. Taken together, all of the mentioned pieces of media provides a wide spectrum revolution. The common refrain of “media reflects life,” will soon be tested and we will see if it is also vice-versa.

Avengers: Infinity War Review

The lesson of Avengers: Infinity War is that 10 years of filmmaking is enough time to learn from your mistakes. The massive success of the MCU is a testament to, in large part, their tried and tested formula. Avengers: Infinity War is an example of using the elements that work from those ten years. One of the things that works best for the film is the fact that the audience has grown to know and like these characters. In fact, it is one of the biggest assumptions that the film makes and it knows its audience. The time and care the MCU has taken to make the audience care about 10 years of characters culminates in an epic story. There really is no other way to describe the film as it mirrors a greek epic with cosmic powers and a booming orchestral score. Thanos has been teased for 6 years and we finally get to see what he’s all about – and he is the star of the show. Thanos is elevated from being a run of the mill big bad by the fantastic backstory and wonderful performance by Josh Brolin.

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The film juggles the huge cast of characters relatively well. There are dozens of characters in the Marvel universe and most appear in the film. Some of which get large narrative parts and others are criminally underused. The film works best when the juggling act is seamless and the characters interact fluidly. The benefits of 10 years of filmmaking, 10 years of character building, is that there are moments when it seems like the characters are running the show. There were moments in the film where it seems as though the directors said “just interact” and it works really well. The moments that don’t work are byproducts of the same elements that work. The massive cast means that even some big heroes are underused. Captain America’s relatively small part was a head scratcher, as well as Black Widow’s. There were also some imbalances of character development because the plot took the wheel. But overall the film felt like a tight and well constructed ensemble piece.

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The stakes of Avengers: Infinity War feel real in a way that the “end of the world” fare never does. The sneaking suspicion that something bigger was coming has been planted in the characters. Their normal hero antics does not measure to the threat of this film. The heroes of the film understand that the threat goes beyond Earth and has instead become cosmic calamity. That is where the fantastic character work of Thanos plays a big role.

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[Spoilers] The philosophy of Thanos centers around a self-appointed duty to provide balance to the universe. Embedded in his ideology is radical sustainable development. He claims that the universe only has finite resources and rampant consumption will lead to destruction. Thanos appoints himself the person to carry out the task of decreasing consumption. His goals are rooted in a vested interest to see the universe survive, by any means necessary. The object of desire he seeks is his avenue for securing a promising future for all. To see it another way, Thanos has appointed himself a god and destruction is the only way to bring balance to overconsumption. Surely, Thanos’ goals are utilitarian because he values the fate of the many but in the process devalues life. Thanos sees this price as a means to an end, a necessary evil, a casualty of progress. Since the story mirrors an epic, Thanos’ folly leads him to a sacrifice of his own. His sacrifice, in his eyes, makes him a martyr for the fate of the universe. But it also makes him a detached megalomaniac. In his fervor for creating a better future he loses his footing, so much so that he sacrifices the only thing he cares about to achieve his goal. Thanos positions himself as a christ figure as he sacrifices what he cares about for the betterment of the future.

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Avengers: Infinity War has subtext about two warring governing ways of life. Thanos favors a leader, himself, deciding the fate of others and The Avengers favor individual choice, personal freedom. Embedded in the subtext of the film is a critique of leaders who decide the fate of their constituents. The Avengers use their might to combat a leader who threatens their freedom. Thanos’ goals might seem beneficial in the cosmic sense but the Avengers believe that loss of life makes him a villain. This theme seems to be a karmic pendulum swing for the Avengers as they positioned themselves as autonomous (outside of the law) in previous films. The Avengers  have racked up their own casualties but when the government wanted to hold them responsible for the loss of life, some resisted. The return to this theme is a subversion of their experience with accountability only blown up to a cosmic scale. Thanos is their awakening to their own folly on Earth but now the bigger predator has come to threaten Marvel’s greatest heroes.

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Avengers: Infinity War is the big one, the Marvel movie that feels like a slam dunk. The movie captures the grandness of a superhero comic crossover event. It has powerful emotional punches. It has a killer score that no other Marvel movie has. It makes me excited to see what Marvel has in store. But I will admit that I hope that the events of this film are not cheapened by the events of the next. I hope that the grandness and positive reactions to the film aren’t undone by the next film. I hope that Marvel takes a stand and does not reverse the effects of this movie. Avengers: Infinity War is the culmination of 10 years of filmmaking and I hope the next one doesn’t destroy that experience. Because I have to say, as both a comic book nerd and a film fan, it is a hell of an experience.

4.5/5

Dunno.

I’m very drunk and I don’t know what to write. It is 15 minutes before I can submit this. Why do I feel so bad for some made up standard of writing? It’s the disconnect between knowing that a cultural standard isn’t applicable to everyone but it still dictates my writing habits. I’ve written enough to fit this superficial quota. But it still haunts me like a ghost of ambition. Of regret. Of guilt.

Conversation

The conversation was about our love
You asked me if I still loved you
I said no
I say we fell out of love
Rug pulled from under us
Left a puff a dust
The sound of my words like quiet noise in empty room
Echos bounce off the walls
Ghostly reminders
The air was still and your face wet
But my answer mattered little and you responded
With a no of your own
You were convinced that our love lived
And you would not let me give up on it

A year later you ask again
My silence answers for me
Your face angry and confused
You say, I know that you do
To avoid a battle I flash a limp smile

Every year without fail
The question knocks
My answer remains
My guilt builds

On the last year of our life together
You ask in routine
I answer that I am old
Love is such a fickle thing
I don’t know if I love you
But I do know that you are essential to my life
And that is the best I can offer you
You accept this answer
If only in tired reflex
The look of our children’s faces
Full of life and excitement
The pictures of familial love
All seem hollow without the promise of love.
But duty is love
As love is a duty.