Review: Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice

This was a disappointment. The movie made me was sad on many levels.

I’m going to break this down in a few ways. First, I’m going to talk about what my friend, the comic book nerd, said; then our wives; then me; along with why it is important to get their take on it.

What my nerd friend said:

The nerdy friend is that guy who knows the comic books by their smell alone. He can quote every obscure reference and which page it appeared on. That said, these guys are demanding. If you aren’t true to the fan base and the following, the nerdy friend will tear you apart.

That sort of happened here. The problem was that the whole event was rushed. Everyone felt the need to compete with Marvel’s Avengers and that is what they were trying to do. The problem with that is that the Avengers have been in the works for literally over a decade. We are just too far behind to make a “Justice League” movie in time to compete with it.

Beyond that, many of the characters were not in keeping with their comic book traditions. Some were not congruent with in any retelling. People acted out of known character to fit the plot, backstories made no sense, if there was one at all, and others were just dreamed up out of nowhere, destroying the vital and awesome stories that were originally invented for these characters. While I wasn’t really impressed, my friend, the guy who knows all this backstory considers the movie an utter travesty. If that is you, you know you are going to see it, but don’t expect to enjoy it.

Look, if Deadpool taught us anything, it is that if a character is good enough to rate a movie then nobody cares about your stinking creative vision. These people became famous because people loved the character they were and grew to be. The movies should capture that, not try to reinvent them. That’s what Man of Steel did, and people liked it. A lot. When you have 70+ years of collective vision on beloved heroes, you don’t just go screwing with something millions of people already know and love… because your ego demands it.

What my wife said:

The wife’s opinion can be thought of like this. “I am so freaking tired of Superhero movies. I am only here because of my profound love of this nerd, but I just need something different to give a single crap about this movie.”

Mrs. Davis didn’t get that. Mrs. Davis was bored. The words, “Somewhere at the beginning I was thinking, ‘Oh man. This going to be such a horribly long movie.'” actually came out of her mouth tonight and that should just make the creators feel bad. They’ve created a story that can’t hold the attention of the people who may not be interested in comic book movies. You think that is impossible? Think again.

Jennie loved Deadpool. It was funny, it was fresh, it was hot. It kept her awake. Superman just didn’t. It was a snore to her, and if you snore the wives, you have lost the interest of millions of people who will do anything to avoid seeing the sequel… if there is one. Deadpool 2? Yeah, she’ll go see that even if I am not there, because it was legitimately entertaining to people who aren’t there to see their childhood fantasy realized on the big screen… which they are so freaking tired of.

What I think:

This one let me down because, from what I know of the comics, there was so much to draw from here that was just left so completely unused that the story came out horrible. Without spoilers, there were many very, very important characters to the DC Comics universe that were just thrown in here to add spectacle. Each and everyone of these people had so many legendary stories to draw from, that they could have made a movie, or several, all on their own.

Let’s take Wonder Woman for example. We have known she would be a part of this for a while. I’m not spoiling anything right now, because the movie tells us literally nothing about her. We have no idea where she came from, why she doesn’t age, what her powers are, anything, anything about her secret identity. She just sort of shows up. Out of the blue, there she is. It feels extremely forced to tie in so many of these characters for a big finale, but when the finale comes, you don’t care anything about them.

And that’s the problem, you just don’t love these people. You haven’t put in the time investment into seeing them grow and understanding them in this continuity. Just so that we remember, in my lifetime there have at least nine different people Batman in a major way. They all do it different and you have to ask, “Who did it best?” With characters like Wonder Woman , Lex Luthor, Doomsday, and even Aquaman, and the Flash you need a build up. You need to really love them, or really hate them. That takes time.

Instead you had a lot of characters who we got the impression the writing staff thought, “You know people know Batman. Let’s just skim over the whole ‘trauma’ thing. No one really cares anymore. Batman is Batman” and so they skimmed over that to fit in more plot. Wonder Woman? They never even said her name besides “Miss Prishhhh…”, I’m sorry I didn’t really hear that. What did you say? Prince? Fish? I mean, at the end of the movie we know literally nothing about her. It makes you feel like she was added for no other reason than to appeal to female audiences, which was fine… except to do that you have to actually make her an important character, as in a history, a motivation, a damn name for Pete’s sake! I mean, she is one of the big three. Give her some freaking screen time before the very end of the stinking movie. Honestly, feminists are going to pick up on this and it won’t be pretty. Then there was Flash, Aquaman, and the other barely mentions. I just want to say, I was really wanting to see more of these guys. I was excited when I found out that Jason Momoa was going to be playing that guy. I’ve loved him Stargate Atlantis. We see him for literally about six seconds in the film. It was just a massive letdown, though he does look cool.

Add to this that all the characters are acting in ways that are completely against their way for plot sake, which there is way too much of in not enough time and you just end up breaking what should have been the most awesome movie of the year. I can’t really fault too many of the actors. This really felt like direction without vision, but most of all, absolutely terrible writing.

As for the individual portrayals.

Supes…

Look, anyone who has ever read anything of mine on Superman knows that I think Henry Cavill’s portrayal of Superman is quite possibly the most beautiful thing ever put to film. I simply loved the first film. It makes me sad that it took a limey Brit to portray the ultimate American Superhero, but he did it. I mean look at him. That is a beautiful human being. I can’t say enough for how right his performance was, not only in Man of Steel, but also in Batman vs Superman. That said, even the strongest man in the universe is only so strong, and carrying a whole damn movie is just too much to ask.

Lex Luthor

Robert Frost really captured it pretty well a while back in What are your thoughts on Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice Trailer 2?

In January 2014, I answered What are people’s views on casting Jesse Eisenberg as Lex Luthor in the upcoming Batman-Superman movie? and in my answer included the following diagram.

After watching the latest trailer for Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, I feel obligated to revise the diagram as such:

In that earlier answer I wrote:

Eisenberg is also too young. He’s done the young cocky genius in The Social Network and Now You See Me. He came across as a petulant child in both. Lex Luthor is not a petulant child.

All I saw in the new trailer was petulant child.

Here’s the thing about Luthor, he’s crazy, but not “Joker” crazy, more Hannibal Lector Crazy. Calculating, sociopathic, cool even. Sometimes he gets too cocky when he starts to monologue his diabolical plans, but that is really the “craziest” he ever gets. Eisenberg comes off as just twitchy and weird. I don’t know if they picked him for his twitchy socially dysfunctional depiction of Mark Zuckerberg in the Social Network, but this was just not the Lex Luthor you know and fear.

There was one good scene, where you see his plan coming to fruition in a beautifully diabolical manner, one which negates all of Superman’s power with just cold hard manipulation. That was a really good scene for him. Everything else, no. It was just terrible. He honestly did come of as more deranged like the Joker than like the criminal mastermind we all know and hate.

What’s more, his backstory was terrible too. All we know about him in this continuity is that his father was was from Eastern Europe when Eastern Europe sucked, he made a big business for little Lexi and that he beat him. Is that it? You want to break the world because your dad hit you? Have some perspective.

Look, a villain is only great when it helps you bring out the beauty of the main character. He didn’t. He was written horribly. He was acted badly, or at least wrongly. And he was even directly terribly. There were actually times you can hear actors refer to him as “Luther”. That’s an issue. It’s LuthOR”, with an “O”. For the director not to have caught that tells me he really didn’t get it when directing for this character, or this role.

The other villain

Look, I am just going to spoil this a little, this is Doomsday. He’s freaking important and a walking spoiler if you know how important he is. That said, for all the significance of the character, he is visually underwhelming (kind of reminded me of the new Ninja Turtles) and his plot line was reduced to just being weird. I mean, he has the coolest background, but they nerfed it to fit into the story.

So fans of the old Doomsday as a force of pure destruction, prepare to be underwhelmed, all the way from ripping off the placenta to the somehow underwhelming defeat, and in spite of thing you already know is going to happen which is implied by his existence.

The Bat…

As I said before, wow. This was just terrible. Possibly the worst part of the movie was Batman. Yeah, Christopher Nolan sort of reset the standard, but this was bad. I won’t say Batnipples bad, but ungood. I wanted to say that, “Hey, nobody expected anything from Heath Ledger’s Joker, but damn.” In reality though, Affleck’s Batsy was just terrible. You didn’t really connect with the Batman, or Bruce Wayne, at all. There was no personality, just sneaking around, and being angsty with Alfred. Oh, and there was a girl in his bed. And he scowled a lot and looked sleepy all the time. There was nothing inspiring about him. He was just the bad guy. Batman is not a bad guy. He is the Dark Knight, the good guy who just operates in the shadows. Why are you trying to retconning this into a “bad guy who catches worse guys”? I mean, it was a completely forgettable performance. All I could think of was that joke from the Family Guy.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5Xy5C-0P0zs

I can’t really blame it all on Affleck though. This one too, came down to writing. Look, this story moved too fast. You have Batman, Wonder Woman, Lex Luthor, Doomsday, as well a host of other characters that were just forced to do stuff that doesn’t make sense for their characters just so that they can all be squeezed into the same place.

Spoiler:

Batman doesn’t kill people. He has this rule. We don’t kill people. He is also the smart one. Of all the Justice League, Bats is able to hang with people with actual superpowers because he has the overwhelming superpower of planning and intelligence. He also has tons of money, but mostly he wins because of his incredible intelligence, intuition, and foresight. He is never surprised. There was even an episode of the animated series where Bats is poisoned, only to come back in the end with the rational that he had been secretly taking small doses of it for years and was now immune. What luck, huh? No. He was just that prepared. Honestly, nothing stopped him because he carried every conceivable method for solving any possible problem in his cargo belt. If preparedness were a legit superpower, well… it’s Batman. He was also the undisputed champion of putting two and two together. With far, far less information than should be necessary to discover who done it, Batsy had the perp tracked to a warehouse on the docks and all mysteries solved. It was actually sad sometimes to see these demigods and masters of the universe all look to Batman every time and see him hold their hands like little kids watching Blues Clues. “Hmmm… do you see a clue?”, “Ooh! Ooh! It’s the moon!”, “That’s right Diana! Good for you.”

So what’s the story behind Batman.

  • Angsty
  • Doesn’t kill
  • Super smart

The new Batman? He’s not angsty, just grumpy. That’s all, just grumpy and looks like he recently took a melatonin. He just looks tired. Not sad or brooding. Just like he needs a nap. He also kills. He killed a lot of people. He even killed them with guns. What the? No guns. We don’t kill. We don’t use guns. We don’t kill with guns. I mean, this is crazy because Affleck is actually a really devout liberal, so to play a character who doesn’t use guns, but now uses guns because reasons just seems… I don’t know. I don’t understand the universe anymore. Then there is his real super power, smarts. He has none here. Seriously, he is played throughout the whole movie by people smarter than him. It’s embarrassing how stupid he is and how slow he is to figure out he has been manipulated throughout the whole movie into fighting Superman.

Oh, and back to don’t kill. I want to make it clear, he put a lot of effort, planning and detailed preparation into the act of murdering Superman. I mean when you watch it, it isn’t some sort of self defense thing. He is trying harder than anyone in the history of ever to murder Superman. But then what? It takes exactly 12 seconds of, “But wait! There is something else!” and just like that, he has completely abandoned his desire to murder the Man of Steel. I mean, you were wrong, but where is your guts? Honestly, I can’t think of a more unBatman than this Batman. This video sort of explains it all.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cwXfv25xJUw


Overall, it was pretty terrible, but it could have been awesome. They had a great cast that should have been able to pull this off, but writing destroyed the piece from the bottom up. Frankly, it was obvious that they tried to jump the gun on Captain America:Civil War, and it was a terrible idea. The pacing was all wrong. We just don’t love these people. We don’t connect them. We don’t understand what their motivations are in this movie. We don’t even know them. I mean seriously. Wonder Woman is an anomaly in this movie, just showing up in the end with both the other two like, “Who is this chick?” That’s really, really crappy setup.

Some of us love the characters from when we were kids, but the rest of the world was just lost and confused as the plot moved so fast from one person to the next with no real clue why anyone is doing anything. The background was there, there just needed to be more lead into it. Frankly, most of these people needed their own movies. We needed a standalone Batman movie to buy into this idea of Affleck as such an iconic role. We also could use a Wonder Woman movie. Why hasn’t that freaking happened yet. Look, the nerd world has girls now. Heck, even Lex could have rated his own film. Do all that and we get the movie this movie was meant to be, a real competition for Avengers, which it seriously could have been. Instead what does Warner Brothers do?

The suicide of Will Smith’s career.

Look, if Harley Quinn doesn’t carry the Suicide Squad, I don’t know what DC is going to do, because we are all a bit concerned about Leto and the Joker.

That said, there is so much that could have been done if Warner Brothers took the time to invest in the characters of Superman vs Batman (the correct order). Instead, it is diverting assets to films that shouldn’t be in existence, at least not until after the previously mentioned ones come around to bring the story up to the point where all this action has meaning and the relationships are established. The movie rushed it and that showed through. It was a terrible piece built on a foundation of so much good. The characters seemed forced. The plot is predictable. The ending was anticlimactic, and in the end, you are just mad that they would do this to the beautiful masterpiece that is Henry Cavill. Don’t worry you beautiful man. You’ll do fine. The rest of this franchise… I just don’t know after this.


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Does ISIS really stand a chance in the long run?

The group that exists today is probably doomed, but the ideas that they have propagated and evolved will live on, as will most of the individuals who are taking part in the atrocities.

The ideas that the Islamic State are building themselves around are not new. By some interpretations they can be sourced to Islamic leaders in the mid 1700’s in Saudi Arabia, but more recently in the contributions to these philosophies by others in from the Egypt, Kashmere, and others since the 1920’s. These ideas have spread throughout the Islamic world and are the root cause of Islamic Jihadism today. Until these ideas are segregated from the greater Islamic philosophy, villainized properly for the barbarity they eventually lead to, and purged by Muslims from their own practices, these ideas will continue to grow, prosper, spread, and evolve in places like Iraq and Syria (ISIS) , Afghanistan (Taliban), Mali, Nigeria, and Chad (Boko Haram), and Somalia (Al-Shabaab). Even if ISIS were to be completely routed and destroyed, (magic wand thinking), the ideology behind what brought it into existence will continue to grow even if the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant no longer exists.

Second, the people who fight for ISIS will continue to exist, as well. Most of the people who fight in jihadist wars don’t come from the land where they are fighting. Instead, they follow an international call to arms against a myriad of supposed threats. Below is an estimated map of where most of the international recruits to ISIS come from. The vast majority of are from Middle Eastern and North African nations. Still, a disturbing amount are coming from Islamic communities within Western Europe.

There are several problems with this beyond the sheer terror that it invokes. First that I will mention, is that if the core of ISIS were magically destroyed, all of these individuals would return home to their native countries. In places like France, this phenomenon has directly caused at least one massacre, as well as others in Spain and London, not to mention the rest of the Middle East. The fear that many international security agencies have had is that these individuals will go back home and bring terror with him, once again, independent of what is going on in actual war zones like Syria and Iraq. Charlie Hebdo provided proof of concept in this concern, dubbed “islamophobic” only a month ago.

Moving on from this is the international conflict it invokes. What happens if we were to be able to just capture all these individuals, not kill them, but not let them go back home? Well, they are still citizens of those foreign governments and now they are under US (or whoever’s) control. How would the Russian community respond to hearing of Russians being held by Western forces indefinitely for actions that took place overseas? What about the Chinese, or the French, or the Saudis? The United States doesn’t even understand the rationality behind it and will fight the very act of detaining known terrorists, so I have to ask about the strain this sort of event would have on international relations. Probably, in at least a few cases, important bonds would break down and geopolitical stability would be damaged.

Third, even if ISIS were to disappear, the Jihadi Wars will continue. As I have said, the land may be deprived of the jihadists, but their ideas will not go away, nor will the individuals disappear. They will continue to go on and spread their ideals and attempt to reform their home mosques to their own version of Islam. If we were to even hope to track all these people, it would require the creation of perhaps another separate CIA or an international intelligence task force with the sole purpose of tracking these individuals. It’s an almost impossible problem, let alone the philosophical and legal burdens that implies. This means that keeping track of them is a pipe dream. They will also take with them the connections: financing, weapons dealers, fanatical religious leaders, the media. These relationships will be able to grow, as well. So too will their will their tactics and the ideas which form the pillar of their fundamentalist agenda. All this will be happening as they reintegrate into their native homelands, unaware of the jihadist’s past.

Eventually, the call to arms will move somewhere else. It may be that the fight is called for Somalia, or West Africa. Perhaps it will be in the Kashmere region. It may just as easily move to places like Chechnya, Kazakhstan, Serbia, or even in Southwestern China or France. When that happens, the same mujahid fighting today will flock to the region, this time with their sons and their friends who they have converted to their perverted view of Islam. The rest of the world won’t make the connection between say, Chechnya in 2020 and ISIS today, but by the same connection, no one was tracing the link to Al Qaeda and the Islamic State, or between them and the Mujahideen of Afghanistan in the 1980’s or between all of them and some Saudi cleric three hundred years ago.

If we ever want to truly see the forces which caused the rise of the Islamic State to fail, we are going to have to support Muslim’s effort to purge the jihadists’ ideology from their own belief system. Their media outlets and outreach need to be secured and silenced and as many of them as possible need to be killed right now, before they go on to pollute the rest of Islam with their fanatical belief system.


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Review of American Sniper from Marine Iraq War Veteran

So far, I haven’t seen very many reviews of American Sniper from anyone who was present in Iraq during the time Kyle was there. My first base, Al Taqaddum was about thirty minutes from Fallujah , the location of much of the story. Some of the times we were there coincided, so I feel like I have a different view of the story than most movie goers or professional reviewers.

I really don’t like seeing war movies about Iraq because, like “The Hurt Locker” and “Brothers”, they are critically acclaimed by millions who never took part in the wars, but create ridiculously stereotypical caricatures of real people who deserve more respect, and are abysmal failures of research into the actual military methodology that deserves more understanding. To me, movies like these are just riding waves of war curiosity and civilian guilt while telling their over-sensationalized story, rather than any semblance of a real story – essentially, an insult to anyone who actually took part in the conflict while making millions for people who didn’t. I fully expected American Sniper to be much of the same, so I was probably just going to wait and rent the DVD. It wasn’t until my sixth grade students, some of which still in diapers when I went to war, started asking questions about what it is was like for me after seeing they saw the movie that I decided to watch so that I could give an answer based on their new context, rather than mine.

When I sat down for the movie I fully expecting all the nonsense and war porn that was The Hurt Locker. My only hope was that Clint Eastwood, whose work I have enjoyed in the past, would do better. The lights went down and the opening began to the Islamic call to prayer. Before even the first frame of actual film footage, I was shocked that I was immediately taken back to that other time and place. What the Adhan means, to me, is an immediate sense of anxiety and foreboding. I know that for billions of people, that is not the case, but when the first place you hear it is over hundreds of loudspeakers echoing from the village of Haditha below your base, it is more reminiscent of the people living there lobbing rockets at you every week than of any religion of peace. Eastwood starting the movie with that, I feel was intended as a spiritual call to arms for Iraq veterans and for me at least, it landed. What the opening first scene actually ended up being, locked me in for the rest of the movie.

Where this film shines, in my opinion, was in the degree of accuracy it had in its presentation. As I said before, movies like The Hurt Locker turned me off for military flicks for years. This one got details right that I have no idea how they could have known. I have no idea how they thought to even ask. My case in point, which no one reading this noticed, was a water bottle used to automatically close the wooden door in their plywood shelter on the first deployment. It is an almost meaningless detail of that war that we walked past every day, but that you would never think to see in a movie because it is just so mundane and inglorious. But there it was. It meant a lot to me that that detail made it in, among countless others which will go unheralded. Honestly, the whole living area was done perfectly. It felt exactly like what I would have expected to see in Iraq. In fact, it was too perfect. There was no dust and everything was at right angles so shelves didn’t look like they were made by a cross-eyed Lance Corporal who lost his glasses. But besides being too perfect, it was perfect. To be clear, this was a very researched and well done military movie. There were times where troops wore the wrong gear and other things, but overall, very well done in most regards.

Second, was the actual portrayal of military deployments. Every war movie I have ever seen shows you and your war buddies gearing up for “The Big One” and going off to war. Those who miraculously survive come home to ticker tape and beautiful women, the war forever just a memory. What the regular people don’t get is that we go to war, once, twice, four times, eight times… I commented to Jay Wacker‘s review to his point that, “The film dragged a little in the 3rd tour, which began to feel a bit same-same…” which shows a great deal of how good movies run counter to real life. There’s a reason that the film drug during the third tour. By the third 6-to-10 month combat tour, life is same-sameish. That said, the fact that Eastwood showed the transition – civilian home, killing insurgents, having a baby, seeing a child murdered, playing with the dog, seeing your friend killed, going to the mall, nearly dying, as a realistic sequence of events does far more to display life for those of us who really deployed and our families. Living in that perpetual state of transition was a a mind numbing experience, delivered of course, by the film’s leading actor, Bradley Cooper.

Cooper got it right in so many ways I can’t even describe how much I now respect this Hangover alumni. It wasn’t his general badassness in battle. Every war movie tries to make their hero a superhero. Whatever, boring. I’ve seen that before over, and over, and over… So to those who see this as just a real-life Iron Man or Captain America”, you missed so, so much.

The scene that meant the most to me when thinking about Cooper’s acting ability was one that most people were probably bored by, but for veterans, really drives the point home that they got it right. I’ll throw a spoiler because the plot point really doesn’t matter. It was the scene where Kyle and his family are having the tire on their car changed. A Marine recognizes Kyle and comes up to thank him with all the “You saved me in, blah, blah, blah…” and “A lot of guys didn’t come back, blah, blah, blah…” tropes that are in every war movie. What you probably didn’t notice about that scene was Cooper. To moviegoers he was boring, but what I saw was something I don’t understand how he got right.

In that scene, Cooper displays classic signs of a veteran who doesn’t enjoy being thanked. He immediately deeply retreats upon being recognized and becomes politely evasive. His speech breaks down into monosyllabic chirps of general acknowledgement, while not maintaining eye contact and attempting to not carry the conversation further. While I’ve never saved anybody, I’ve had this experience dozens of times when random strangers thank me for my service. You really can’t describe the feeling that follows, but last Veterans’ Day when my boss made a big deal about thanking me in front of all my students, a motive I am deeply appreciative of, I was overwhelmed with a feeling I can only describe as a profound and sudden sense of humiliation which I can’t begin to quite understand. I had to ask her to stop. Like seriously. All I can say is Cooper’s portrayal of this feeling was something I saw in his short chirps and expressionless awkward glances that communicated a level of detailed research, coaching, and acting, to say the least of getting to know real veterans that needs to be known and acknowledged.

What I didn’t like most was the wife, played by Sienna Miller. The character was too one-dimensional. The acting was fine, but the role was built to serve as a person who represented the state-side life of deployed military personnel and nothing else. For that reason, regardless of the real Taya Kyle’s persona, the character came off as deeply unsupportive and against the war or at least her husband’s participation in it. It lends to the idea that “normal” people wouldn’t be all right doing what he does. The only time you actually see her mention that she is proud of her husband’s achievements was when he retired from service, which left a very ambiguous taste in my mouth. What exactly was she proud of? This felt very unrealistic as the SEALs are pretty much the most gung-ho, hyper military individuals that Hollywood often paints them to be, but their families are just as gung-ho proud as they are. They suffer the deployments, sure, but “My husbands a SEAL, dammit!” In my experience, you don’t find successful military people who have a home life with someone that unsupportive of their efforts “over there”, particularly when they were in service prior to their romantic life. I can easily dismiss this because this character, in the movie, is a symbol meant to showcase the torn nature of Kyle’s character, and rounding her out would have taken away from the plot while adding time to an already very long movie, but it just didn’t land home with me. The brother’s extremely short feature in the late story also seemed remarkably unrealistic and more Hollywood than real life. I get that he may not have liked the war (who does?) but the day you go home is the happiest day of your life. You’re happy. Act happy.

There were other plot problems, as well. Specifically, on his first deployment he is pretty much looked at as some sort of key leadership role, which isn’t realistic. He’s a SEAL, not a God of Warfare. What it seemed to me to happened was that several key leaders, namely SEAL officers, were merged with Kyle’s character for story telling convenience. By his third or fourth tour he would have been an actual Chief (Chief Petty Officer) and had a leadership role, but not by the first deployment. Abandoning overwatch to go house to house was also a bit unforgivable, because I said so. “Let me show you a few things,” to the Marines, which were filmed as almost incompetent, was a bit annoying. Getting a phone call in the middle of a mission? Umm… no. The whole climax scene was also really over the top and highly fictionalized for the movie from several different events in the book at once.

The last thing I didn’t really enjoy seeing; all the PTSD and blown up troops. Honestly, the next time you see it, attempt to find me one single veteran who left the military and was not very much traumatized or horrifically maimed. If movies like this were the only evidence you had to go on, everyone would believe that all 2.5 million of us who went would to Iraq or Afghanistan are sporting a titanium leg. I’ve seen a dozen different reviews that speak about how they did a great job of showing what it’s like for returning troops mentally speaking, but they really didn’t. Don’t get me wrong, they did better than any other, but you don’t feel what having cancer is like by watching an actor play a person with cancer. You just feel sad for the character. You don’t understand it, though. I appreciate how very, very hard they obviously worked on showcasing the issue respectfully, but honestly I’m concerned that the fact that since every war movie must show returning veterans as irreparably broken and destroyed individuals, (Brothers anyone?) is just perpetuating the idea that we are creatures to be pitied in the best case scenario; that is, pitied but kept safely away from friends, children, dogs, your workplaces, or guns because we will probably murder you in a fit of PTSD rage. We have enough problems without dealing with the stereotypes that films about the war continually reinforce in a population that has no first hand experience with its actual military veterans.

These few major points and the numerous small inaccuracies were why it isn’t a five star movie for me. That said, I can dismiss these because I get that we need certain things in a movie to take place and be entertaining to movie-going audiences. Enough of the details and story were preserved and given their proper respect that I can deal with the hyped up sensationalization of much of the movie. I do want to end on a positive note.

Many have spoken to the fact no one says a word when the movie ends. It was the same for us. The ending was extremely powerful and brought to the surface many emotions that you just can’t go back to the real world immediately from. For my wife and I, it remained silent for most of the twenty minute car ride home, as well. I dealt with a lot of personal feelings that the movie dug up. I’m usually livid after movies like that, talking about how this was wrong, or that was wrong, but Eastwood’s film just reached me in a way that others who want to tie themselves to the trials of military personnel couldn’t. The film respectfully and as accurately as I could imagine, tells the story of one American warrior’s struggle in making terrible choices, fighting against terrible people, separated from his family and doing it again and again for something he believed was important. To many of us who were there, the story also helps in a small way to communicate parts of ourselves we simply failed to communicate before. I honestly don’t know if there will ever be an Iraq War movie that I would give five stars to, but I am deeply appreciative to the work that Clint Eastwood, Bradley Cooper, and the team that brought American Sniper have done to bring this story to the big screen.

In summary: Must See.


unnamedJon Davis is a US Marine Corps veteran writer, focusing on the topics of US veterans and international defense. His work has been featured in Newsweek, Forbes, Gizmodo and elsewhere. He is also a writer of military science fiction with his first book, The Next War, due out early this year. You can follow Jon Davis via his personal blog Jon’s Deep Thoughts, and can support his writing via the web donation service, Patreon.

Islamists attack French Newspaper Charlie Hebdo – 16 casualties

The French Paper Charlie Hebdo was attacked this morning, at about 1PM Paris time by gunmen. The two, possibly three gunmen, it has been reported, were shouting, “Allah Akbar”, the battle cry for Islamic fundamentalists worldwide when they attacked the Paris based newspaper.

The newspaper is familiar with terrorism, though not on this scale. In response to their 2011 November “Charia Hebdo” (a reference to Sharia law) issue, which featured a “guest-edit” by Muhammad the Prophet of Islam, and decried world wide by Islamist for its blasphemous images, the offices were firebombed and the website hacked.

So far, it appears that 12 people have been killed and four people wounded in the assassinations and shooting attacks. Included in this number are believed to be at least five members contributors to the paper, four of its founding cartoonists and an economist. At least one of the cartoonists was cited as being on Al-Qaeda’s most wanted list for his role as one of the editors of the “Charia Hebdo” issue of 2011. Also counted are two police officers who died in the line duty attempting to stop the attack.

One eye witness account, that of Corinne Rey, a designer known as Coco, has told L’Humanité said that she was forced to let the attackers into the Charlie Hebdo building. She said:

I had gone to pick up my daughter from daycare. Arriving at the door of the newspaper building, two hooded and armed men brutally threatened us.

They wanted to enter, go up. I typed the code. They shot Wolinski, Cabu … it lasted five minutes … I had taken refuge under a desk …
They spoke French perfectly … claiming to be Al-Qaida.

In a video of the incident, being shared on the Guardian two gunmen can be seen exiting a car presumably near the Charlie Hebdo building, as a news van can be seen near where the shooters brutally gunned down an unarmed bystander.

From what we can see plainly, the two shooters are well armed, both carrying what appear to be AK-47’s, as well as well armored with additional gear. The shooter nearest the camera concerns me, as a former Marine Corps marksmanship instructor, the most. He is wearing what appears to be either some form of load bearing vest, which the military uses to carry additional ammunition, or a bullet proof vest of desert coloring. The truth is, probably both.

More concerning than this is his tactical carry of the weapon. Both shooters seem to wield the Russian made AK-47 adeptly. These weapons are readily available by many avenues, and abundant in the Middle Eastern conflict, but the ability to fire it well is in less supply. The weapon is capable of automatic fire and fires a larger round than the US made M-16. This means that the weapon has extremely deadly potential, but also requires greater skill to use well in delivering accurate fire. The two assassins demonstrate a knowledge of the weapon’s use, obvious by the casualty count, but also displayed in their carry. Note how the nearer shooter holds his weapon with elbows inward pressed against his body. He also has his body firmly behind the weapon to absorb recoil and raises the weapon to eye level as he is sighted-in while searching around corners for his victim. This shows some degree of military style training and discipline in weapons use.

Moving on to speculation, it should be obvious that this attack shows a level of sophistication which was unmatched in recent “lone wolf” attacks such as the Australian hostage crisis last month. From the evidence we’ve seen so far, two, maybe more, shooters were able to carry out an orchestrated attack against specific predetermined targets, while leaving others so that they could gain entry into the facilities. Two have identified themselves, according to a witness, as Al-Qaeda operatives and have shown the ability to amass military style weapons, armament and training. Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, their plan was so complete, they have yet to be caught. The gunmen were seen escaping into a black vehicle and going the Paris suburbs where they abandoned their car and jumped into another. The whole event exists to spell out a very clear message to many: Islamic terrorists have the power to make an attack against Western and they could do it again.

The West should not be fooled into an apathetic naivety over the ramifications of this event. This was not the work of crazed gunmen. This event took time to plan including target profiles and escape routes, logistical supplies to be managed, and probably involved intelligence and administrative coordination with many others in the Islamic terrorist networks. It should also be noted that the attack takes place, seemingly in response to the unexpected boldness of French bombing offensives in Syria and Iraq over the last few months. It spells yet another dark day in the continuing battle against Islamic terrorism, one which almost will almost surely repeat itself again.

This attack also comes just days after German demonstrators in four cities, protesting against Islamic radicalism and its increasing roles in the West were shut down by local officials. The demonstrators have been called “radicals and racists” to the point that and counter demonstrators have compared the groups to Nazis of the past. During the largest of their gatherings this week, power was cut to demonstration areas, disrupting those who gathered. Cologne Cathedral provost Norbert Felfhoff has been said that the shutting down of the lights was an attempt to make the group’s demonstrators “think twice” about their protest. When various news outlets aren’t even mentioning that today’s attacks against a French news and satire outlet were the work of Islamic fundamentalists, but peaceful demonstrators are shut down for being “xenophobic” I have to honestly wonder who in the European community needs to be thinking twice.

As for myself and others, I can only say that Americans truly empathize with the pain felt by the French and my heart goes out to my French friends on Quora and elsewhere. We’ve both lost many people to the senseless violence that is brought by jihadists. We lament your losses dearly. Today, we all bleed red, white, and blue, or to be more precise, blue, white, and red.


unnamedJon Davis is a US Marine Corps veteran writer, focusing on the topics of US veterans and international defense. His work has been featured in Newsweek, Forbes, Gizmodo and elsewhere. He is also a writer of military science fiction with his first book, The Next War, due out early this year. You can follow Jon Davis via his personal blog Jon’s Deep Thoughts, and can support his writing via the web donation service, Patreon.

Kurdistan’s new secret weapon against ISIS jihadists – Humiliation

The Kurdish military is employing a new weapon in their fight against Islamic State jihadists in Iraq. The Kurdish forces, the Peshmerga, those who allied with the Americans during the War in Iraq in the hopes of finally receiving a homeland to call their own, have been fighting tooth and nail to ensure that their home stays their own. They have been literally on the front line of this war since Islamists poured over the border last summer and have since, constantly dueled for control of Northern Iraq and Syria. Their villages and cities face regular raids and bombings and the ISIS lines have even pushed to within an hour of the capital city of Kurdistan. They have more to fear from ISIS than any of us.

The Kurds, however, haven’t just taken this abuse idly. They have been the force most responsible for the direct losses against ISIS Insurgents in Iraq and Syria, filling the voids created by US and Allied bombs. In recent months, the Kurds have mounted a heroic comeback from a bleak outlook in the early fall. The Peshmerga successfully pushed back insurmountable odds in the Syrian city of Kobane, and are repelling a horde of Islamic warriors with aid from coalition bombings in Iraq. They’ve even managed to achieve this all on shoestring budgets that don’t even equal the transportation budget of many US states. Now, they are unleashing a new weapon, which, for this type of war, might be the most powerful yet.

Humiliation.

In perhaps the best display of propaganda since “Loose Lips Sink Ships”, Kurdish television networks have put out a video openly mocking fanatical jihadists. It’s worth a watch. The video made me, a political blogger and military writer, with time served in the contested regions of Iraq with the United States Marine Corps in 2005 and 2007, start thinking.

That the Kurds have become so strong in the endeavor to combat a massive force of fanatics, who themselves have the backing of ex-Saddam military officers, funding from wealthy oil barons of the Saudi Arabian peninsula, and a recruiting pool of virtually every hardened Islamic fundamentalist from the 1.2 billion people of the Islamic world, is a story unto itself. This is especially true, given that only a month ago, few would have imagined Kobane being a successful battle against ISIS. It was, however, and the Islamists know it. There is legitimacy to the Kurds mocking the terrorist regime because, deep down, the Islamic State knows that they have lost that battlefield, along with many others. They also know that every day that they fight there, they send more and more people to their doom.

More so than the fact that Kurds are able to broadcast this piece (free from ISIS or Allah having any ability to stop them) the humiliation campaign marks a quintessential attack on the jihadist’s theory. The message itself, mocks not just the individuals who participate in ISIS, but also attacks the very core beliefs around why many of the Islamic State fighters set off to join the Jihad in the first place. Why is a video like this, with its catchy melody, whimsical lyrics, and low budget possibly the single greatest strategy that the Kurds could be using right now? Answer this question honestly and see if you can figure it out:

“How could someone fight for a religious ideal around a God who would allow them to be humiliated so greatly? Why would God will for his warriors to lose this bad?


The Kurds are showing us how to fight wars against a determined jihadist enemy. Humiliate and demoralize them completely. Shatter their belief in the legitimacy of their cause. The recent military losses and, as much, the complete fearlessness of the Kurds’ belittlement of the Islamic State forces sends an international message of their impotence. Reports are coming in of ISIS troops surrendering on all fronts. Many, such as a group from England, wishing to flee back home and abandon their jihad ideal in Syria, are being executed for it. The constant stream of bombings from the US and European allies is withering them and stretching their lines thin. When followed by Kurdish Peshmerga assaults, their backs are broken for good. Finally, when all of this happens, with absolutely no divine intervention to stop it, and to face the additional slap in the face that is the Kurdish secret propaganda weapon, we see the ISIS worldview collapse. When that happens, their most valuable assets are diminished. First, the inflow of millions of dollars sponsored by Jihadist international backers wanting results is suddenly questioned. Second, thousands of zealous fanatics are no willing to join their ranks once they see the “glory” that awaits them in Iraq and Syria. Quite honestly, this may be the most important film no one is talking about.

I can’t say for sure when the threat of fanatical Jihadists like those operating in Iraq today will disappear forever, but what I can say is that this new weapon will be a vital part to bringing it down. When your enemy depends on their own sense of self-righteous, unquestionable perfection, poisoning the well may well be more powerful an assault than to die immediate to American bombs, but suffer the utterly demoralizing truth of realizing, “What if God really isn’t on our side?”


unnamedJon Davis is a US Marine Corps veteran writer, focusing on the topics of US veterans and international defense. His work has been featured in Newsweek, Forbes, Gizmodo and elsewhere. He is also a writer of military science fiction with his first book, The Next War, due out early this year. You can follow Jon Davis via his personal blog Jon’s Deep Thoughts, and can support his writing via the web donation service, Patreon.

Citizens of the Free World – In the Name of Freedom, Demand to See “The Interview”!

In a rare moment for me, I am getting into the entertainment industry. That’s because Seth Rogen and James Franco have created an unprecedented international incident by making a movie about killing the dictator of North Korea, Kim Jong-un.

I personally was looking forward to it, but it seems that is going to be much harder to do now. That is because of a string of events that began with what I imagine to be a very plump crew-cut dictator throwing the mother of all tantrums, and I now can’t see my movie.

Why this is important: The movie centers on the exploits of Rogen, who plays a journalist and his celebrity friend (Franko) being invited in a rare opportunity to North Korea. This mirrors some actual events such as the much publicized visits to the RPK by basketball superstar Dennis Rodman beginning in early 2013. Where it differs, is that this time, the hapless duo are tasked by the CIA to kill Mr. Jong-un.

Well that sounds hilarious, but what happened next wasn’t. Apparently, Sony Pictures was hacked by what now appears to be a group backed by the North Koreans (which reads more clearly as “Just Plain The North Koreans”.) These hackers have been rumored to have leaked the scripts to several movies yet to be released such as the new James Bond film, among others. That was kind of a dick move, but then they went so far as to threaten terrorist actions against Sony Pictures and various movie theaters if they went ahead with filming.

Well now that’s just rude. Actually, it is an international crime, but we’re splitting hairs. What we have is a direct threat by foreign agents to cause “terrorism”, which we can only assume means intentional acts intended to cause grievous harm to Americans and American property if demands are not met. This act has caused Sony Pictures to cancel their premiere of “The Interview” and Carmike Theaters, a company with over 200 theaters in the United States, has opted not to showcase the movie at all.

For that reason, more so than just threats, grievous harm has already been made against Americans. American companies now are being terrorized into capitulating to the whims of some impossibly immature, maniacal dictator. Forget for a moment that actual American lives were threatened and focus on the concrete damage that has been done. The North Koreans, (you’ll note I’m intentionally no longer still pretending it was some random hacker group who just so happens to absolutely adore Kim Jong-un) deliberately stole industry sensitive information that cost one American company, Sony Pictures, headquartered in California, perhaps hundreds of millions of dollars. It destroyed the premiere of one Hollywood picture and devalued many others. Thousands of people connected to the films industry are going to suffer because of this. If I haven’t been clear, this was a deliberate act of economic warfare, terrorism rather, from one sovereign nation to the United States.

And now those who regularly follow me see why I am interested. This attack demonstrates particular failures in the United States national defense strategy that must be addressed. The attack demonstrates the power that nationally backed hacking programs have to disrupt and damage American and allied country’s economic spheres. Showcasing the vulnerabilities of individual companies and individuals, the North Korean attack on Sony Pictures clearly demonstrates the ineffectiveness of the United States government’s response to attacks on its economic sector. Obviously, it is providing an inefficient level of defense for companies housed in the United States, because, as it seems, threats like the attack on Sony Pictures aren’t actually considered a threat to national security.

In case you think I going overboard, this isn’t even the first time Americans have been targeted like this, either. It has long been known that the Chinese have used commercial intelligence and espionage to silently break into the networks of American companies, steal their patented trade secrets and deliver them to Chinese owned corporations. Other nations even have entire departments and special third party agencies (like the one in question) dedicated to the endeavor of cyber-espionage and signal based attacks. Have you ever heard of Syrian Electronic Army? They are a group who does nothing but commit acts of cyber terrorism and espionage in the name of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Iran and the United States, among others have even been trading blows in a cyber pseudo-war for years. Lest we not forget my favorite subject, the group known throughout the world as ISIS. Their exploitation of social media has been used to target American Veterans and active service members at their homes, encouraging Islamic radicals to target them and their families.

The point here is that there is a major threat to American interests. Individual lives as well as the economic security and strategic corporate advantages of thousands of companies, the very lifeblood of United States national security itself, have been compromised. I am not someone who agrees with others that Sony failed by giving into the terrorists. If people were somehow attacked at a theater, it would be those executives blamed for the deaths, along with the North Koreans. Furthermore, a company, any company, like Sony Pictures have absolutely no defense against the ongoing threat of future revenge attacks like this, leaking all of their sensitive trade information, the secrets like unreleased scripts they need to keep their company going for years to come, given the enemy they are defending themselves is North Korea.

Do I honestly think that the RPK is going to bomb some movie theater because of a stupid movie, possibly starting a war that they will definitely lose? No, I don’t, but I do think that Sony Pictures Entertainment faces an existential threat by way of North Korea. Are we supposed to blame Sony Pictures because they can’t defend against a whole country? Switching gears, imagine if Providence Health and Services, a major healthcare company with hundreds of hospitals under its umbrella, were to face a similar cyber attack. Tens of thousands of people could have their sensitive health data, valuable information in itself, made public. Are we really going to blame Providence when the perpetrator of the attack was Iran? If all the lights went off in Santa Maria (just outside Vandenberg Air Force Base) is the city of just over one-hundred thousand people at fault, when the attack originated from inside Russia? No. How could every single company, agency, state, city, and individual in the United States be expected to protect itself, and by extension be responsible for the combined security of everyone else in the United States, against entire nations set to steal their valuable information, damage their property, or worse, end their lives?

What we need, in the lowly opinion of this former United States Marine Corps tactical data and networking communication specialist, is a deeper look into our signal defense architecture. More projects and agencies which specialize in SIGDEF need to be given priority in the coming years. Far more if even movie companies are more afraid of a dictator 5,600 miles away than they were of our own President. Frankly, the future of warfare is going to look very similar to events like the attack on Sony Pictures. Weak points in very large systems are going to be exploited with the few things that they are vulnerable to. Each time they are, the gears of industry are grind down just a little bit slower.

In the case of Sony Pictures, this attack was a direct hit on two fronts. The first is money. By threatening the movie maker, they lost the company millions, perhaps hundreds of millions of dollars. More so, many millions, perhaps billions more may have been lost now that valuable scripts have been made public. I don’t fault Sony Pictures though, for making the decision to pull the premiere. They showed their values there. They believed the threat of terrorism on American movie goers was true and for that reason, they chose not to risk lives of people at the cost of many millions of dollars. That decision, from my point of view, is admirable and the commitment to protecting innocent people over making money, should be recognized and commended. Perhaps they did it just because so many of the movie theaters decided to pull the movie too. I can’t honestly say for sure. All I know, is that I don’t blame them for the decision they finally were forced to make.

As for Americans though, I’d like for us to make it clear that we don’t give credence or credibility to the tyrannical tirades of any post-pubescent dictator. This isn’t something we need to call in the military, or spin up the missile batteries, though we have been at peace now for about two weeks, so it’s about that time again. All kidding aside, letting North Korea know simply how impotent we view them militarily by not putting our own troops in the front is the way to go. I mean honestly, what is the NPK going to do? Start a war over a friggin movie? Do you really think China would back you after bombing an American movie theater over something this petty? This whole scenario doesn’t even make sense. If they were though, I’m reminded of the line from 300 delivered ever so eloquently by  Gerald Butler:

No, the right move for Americans right now isn’t to force our military to take action. It isn’t to scold Hollywood either, for doing what they thought was the right thing to do to keep people safe.

For Americans, and the rest of the free world for that matter, the right thing to do is to march up to the box office and demand to see something that some North Korean dicktator threatened you not to see. We need to stand up in the roar of many voices and let it be known that we the people, will not capitulate, cower, or suffer the whims of tyrannical brats. We the people won’t be pressured, bullied, threatened, or crossed. We’re Americans dammit and we don’t get told what to do. We are Leviathan.

Thank you Sony Pictures for your concern, but I for one, am willing to risk the potential attack on US soil and would like to see your movie, if for nothing else than to give a big and hearty American one fingered salute to our friends over in Pyongyang.

(That’s not the salute I’m talking about, BTW.)


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What should America’s gun control policy look like?

Answer by Jon Davis:

I would advise licensing for gun ownership. This isn’t a license on the individual weapons themselves, but on the people who can own them. There would be different classes of licenses for different classes of weapons. You would need to work in the military or protective forces for certain classes of weapons and no one else should really need these.

I do think that there are some who should not have the right to weapons and should be filtered from the licensing process. I don’t believe that the right to own weapons should be a afforded to people who have been guilty of a violent crime and I don’t think that the mentally handicapped or emotionally disturbed should be afforded the privilege as well. There are already provisions like this, but obviously nothing so enforceable yet to stem any tides in the violence caused by gang members and the mentally unstable.

My licensing program would be directly comparable to what one must do to drive a car. Go through a training course on proper usage and safety. Have a sponsor and have timed hours like the process that people must go through with a learners permit. Then pass a test for safety and proper usage based on the highest class of weapon you want to carry. Ryan Lackey actually gives a good break down on what those classes might look like in the comments section. Ryan Lackey’s weapon’s licensing by class breakdown.

I will even go so far as to say that there should be a form of liability insurance associated with the registered weapons. This provides an economic disincentive to own, increased pressure to be safe and in the worst case, medical assistance for injuries sustained due to improper handling.

To be honest I think this is the best option to uphold the rights of law abiding users while preserving some key elements of 2nd amendment rights while ensuring that you have a well trained, well regulated, responsible gun owning population. I think that this is a much closer interpretation to what was intended by the founding fathers than what we have now. I think those rights are extremely important, but we have become lenient to the point that rampages, both in the inner city and quiet towns, are becoming too common and need to be resolved.

That said, I know there is a great deal of problems with even this. People still drive without a license and guns will still be in the hands of people who will hurt other people. That’s why I would suggest a large scale effort on a crackdown of people who have weapons they shouldn’t. In the same process that we bust for drugs, I would suggest we hunt down illegal users of weapons as well. To be honest, I think that putting a dent in illegal usage of guns would also help with the drug issue as well since often they are related. At the very least it might be an additional opportunity to catch some bad guys. Yes, there would be compromises. For one, there might need to be some space in the prisons, which means we might have to stop criminalizing some of the crimes that aren’t as much an issue as people shooting each other.

In closing though, I would like to leave on this point on the subject of legislation to correct human behavior…

View Answer on Quora