Friday, December 02, 2016

Loving (2016)

Film: Loving (2016)
Stars: Joel Edgerton, Ruth Negga, Nick Kroll, Michael Shannon
Director: Jeff Nichols
Oscar History: Negga has a strong shot in Best Actress, though this is a bit understated for Oscar's tastes.
Snap Judgment Ranking: 3/5 stars (I didn't like it, but it's too well-constructed to be a two-star film)

Biopics have never been my cup-of-tea (I wonder how many reviews I've started out with those exact words), but when I do go to biopics, I actually prefer them to be about figures that history has forgotten.  It makes things more entertaining-you get to know the backstory of a figure that, perhaps, you have heard of in a textbook or People Magazine, but don't really know how they came to be other than a chance brush with fame.  I always think of Joy Mangano and Joy, a film that was problematic, but about the best example of someone you should make a biopic about, since she's famous but not well-known outside of her specific avenue of fame.  This is also something that feels right for (very unrelated, except in this facet) Richard and Mildred Loving, a couple that went all the way to the Supreme Court to ensure that they would have the right to marry.

(Spoilers Ahead) The film doesn't entirely go into biopic cliche, starting with a "how we met" situation that stretches half of the film, but instead smartly moves straight into the relationship of Richard (Edgerton) and Mildred (Negga).  The film follows them as they are jailed for getting married in DC, and we watch in horror as they are essentially banned from the Commonwealth of Virginia because they got married, which is illegal at the time for interracial couples.  The movie follows them as they live in DC, eventually starting a legal battle headed by their lawyer Bernie Cohen (Kroll), that goes all the way to the Supreme Court, overruling all interracial marriage bans (a ruling that decades later would lead to gay marriage being legal across the country).

The film has a number of smart touches, particularly in the way it lets the story unfold.  We see occasional marital strife, but by-and-large we aren't saddled with a modern interpretation of a 1960's marriage.  We don't see, for example, Richard, a man of limited words and education, becoming suddenly eloquent or specific in why he doesn't want to fight like his wife does.  We see a scene late in the film where he breaks down in tears, realizing the pain this has inflicted on him, and it's devastating precisely because you suspect this is the first time Mildred's ever seen her manual laborer husband cry.  The film also never questions their love with prolonged separations or sleeping on the couch-we don't have to sit through a side question of "what if they can't hold it together?" which makes it that much more powerful-these are people that deserved to get married not just because it should be a right afforded everyone, but because they genuinely loved each other.

This care makes up for the fact that the film itself is kind of boring.  It has what I call a "case of the handsomes" where everything feels like it's working, but there's no spark.  I believed the main two actors as a couple, but Edgerton is so reliant upon his character's gruffness that I felt like he wasn't feeling select scenes, trying to rely entirely upon his facial expressions to influence the scenes.  The same could be said for Negga, an actress of intrigue, but I wasn't sold on her in the starring role-her motives are even harder to suss out, particularly as she starts to give into fame in a way her husband doesn't.  As these two are the central players, it's hard to love the movie, even if it made a number of the right decisions in terms of approaching the biopic.

Those are my (in the minority, based on Rotten Tomatoes) thoughts-what about yours?  Are you with me that Loving should be a great film, but for some reason never feels like one?  What do you think of Edgerton and Negga (and their Oscar chances)?  And who is someone you'd like to see a biopic of?  Share in the comments!

Ranting On...Bernie Sanders

Sen. Bernie Sanders (D...wait, it's apparently I again-VT)
It's been almost a month since the election.  We are now in December, and in some ways things are getting back to normal, or at least we are now adjusting to the new reality (I suspect that normal is going to be a word that no one really utters for a while).  We have stopped talking about Hillary Clinton's emails (the most ridiculous story of 2016), and suddenly it seems like everyone predicted Donald Trump would win the White House, based on how certain they are about why Hillary Clinton lost.  We are now cowering in fear at every cabinet rumor (for the love of God, Heidi Heitkamp, resist the temptation), and are alternating between snark and terror at what happens next.  But I need to release a few demons still of the election, and one of them is related to a certain cantankerous junior senator from Vermont.  Bernie, we have beef, and I need to get it out before we are forced to be on the same side against Trump.

I did not #FeeltheBern earlier this year.  Like, at all.  I like some of the ideas of Bernie Sanders' campaign, don't get me wrong.  I do think that we should seriously examine how much power we give to large banking institutions, and that there is a clear disparity in wealth allocation in our country.  I don't agree, for the record, with some of his plans.  I don't think that college should be free.  I think that there shouldn't be student loans that you're saddled with for your entire life, and I agree with President Obama that there should be free community college (at least part of it), particularly for people who are looking to change career fields.  I feel this is a critical component, in fact, to a number of other issues that Sanders has espoused on the campaign trail, particularly in fighting climate change (easier and better access to community college for people in declining industries is the best solution, in my opinion, for getting climate change without having to be bogged down with the (very real and important) aspect that states like Kentucky, North Dakota, and Oklahoma rely upon fossil fuels for a critical part of their economy).  But I don't think that you get there in the ways that Sanders espoused, and felt that his economic policies were too quick to cast blame and too expensive to be practical.  I wanted to take portions of his platform (which was never going to make it through Congress), and his attitudes toward foreign policy, but I thought he was the wrong messenger and that it was impractical to expect the country to sign up for such a leftist agenda.

I, however, am an adult.  I understand how the world works, and was more than willing to move past that if Sanders was the nominee rather than my preferred candidate, Hillary Clinton.  I did this in 2004, because a love of Wesley Clark wasn't more important than beating George W. Bush.  I did it again in 2008, because President Obama's foreign policy inexperience wasn't worth putting Sarah Palin within a septuagenarian's aging heart's length of the nuclear codes.  I am someone who lives in the real world, where two politicians with polar opposite views of the country cannot remotely be considered the "same."  Those people are stupid.  I try to avoid being stupid.

Bernie Sanders may have campaigned for Hillary Clinton, but he acted like a spoiled, petulant toddler, in many ways mirroring Donald Trump, when the primary ended.  I'm sorry, but it's true.  He knew weeks before he actually conceded, at the convention, that he was simply damaging Hillary Clinton.  We in the party, who had been around long enough, knew that he was doing untold damage to those who were tepidly going to support Clinton, but might have become more enthusiastic with their leader intact.  I saw Jill Stein (whose 130k votes in Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania, were a larger margin than what Hillary needed to beat Trump, for the record), use Bernie Sanders as a tool to recruit jaded former supporters, claiming there was no difference between Clinton and Trump.  Sanders wasn't ready for this level of support, and it clearly went to his head, but his wavering mattered.  The fact that his supporters were booing major speakers like Madeline Albright and Leon Panetta at the DNC mattered.  When normally we were being told to suck-it-up and come together, Sanders decided that he needed another month of media and adoration.  That mattered in an election this close, where the margin of victory Clinton needed was essentially the population of Hammond, Indiana, and one where she won by as many as 2.5 million votes in the popular vote.

If you are one of those people, you cost us the election, and you elected Donald Trump.  If you couldn't bring yourself to vote for Hillary Clinton, and instead went third-party or voted for Bernie Sanders as a write-in, you are the reason that Mike Pence will get to torment gay people for the next four years.  You're the reason our first amendment rights are at risk, and that climate change is ignored.  You did this, and you can say oh so many excuses to try to recuse yourself from such an action, but unless you voted for Clinton, you voted for Trump.  There is no other way to interpret that action.  No state in the country has IRV, so you don't get to vote for Clinton over someone-it's either one or the other.

It is very, very hard for me to get into the foxhole with such people, to believe that they care about anything other than their own ego.  I will be forced to-I know that we need to add to the coalition, and these voters are probably going to be easier to gain back than hardcore Trump supporters.  But it's hard for me to fathom that level of ego and hubris and stupidity.  I can't believe that those people care about the issues they espouse, because they don't.  Only children have temper tantrums when things don't go exactly their way.  I understand if you wanted Bernie over Hillary, but that wasn't what the contest was-it was Hillary or Trump.  Any progressive or someone who believed in the issues Sanders' espoused on the campaign trail should have known that there is only one correct answer there.  Sanders himself understood that, though he took too long to get there.

And I don't want to hear Monday morning quarterbacking from the Sanders camp here, saying we should focus more on economics and less identity.  You think that would have won over LGBT voters, black voters, Latino voters?  You think that going further left somehow would have made moderates more susceptible in areas like Wisconsin or Michigan?  You think that Trump wouldn't have demonized Sanders with vitriol and bigotry?  If you do, you don't know politics, and you don't understand what just happened.  Hillary Clinton was the right messenger to take on Trump-she was experienced, accomplished, and someone who could sustain a ridiculous number of attacks from the media with fierceness.  She was also better than Trump.  If you didn't vote for her, you don't get to call yourself a progressive.  You can call yourself remorseful, obstinate, stupid-those are adjectives that fit.  But you aren't a progressive.  Progressives care about the issues more than they care about their burned pride.  You're petulant-you aren't a progressive.

Thursday, December 01, 2016

Arrival (2016)

Film: Arrival (2016)
Stars: Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, Forest Whitaker, Michael Stuhlbarg, Tzi Ma
Director: Denis Villeneuve
Oscar History: Likely to be a major contender, particularly with the visual aspects of the film.
Snap Judgment Ranking: 5/5 stars

The films of Denis Villeneuve have been a hodgepodge for me, and not necessarily in a bad way.  The first of his films that I saw I was enamored with, enough to give Incendies my OVP from that year.  The next two of his pictures I caught, however, I left less-than-impressed, but mostly frustrated because I found elements of them so good.  Villeneuve starts a conversation in his films-he isn't afraid of tackling tough subjects and of giving us heroes that are deeply flawed, but my problem with him always lies in the way he can't quite go there with the ending for his characters, always giving them some moral ways out of hairy, tough situations (he has yet to approach the nasty genius of Dan Gilroy's Nightcrawler, even if that feels like a movie he might have made).  With Arrival, he takes his style and directorial work into a different direction, and so my question was-can the genius he clearly has be grounded enough by looking in a different direction to finally have me unequivocally proclaim one of his English-language films a masterpiece?

(Spoilers Ahead) Arrival has that same level of frustration, but unlike Prisoners or Sicario, he actually sticks the landing, making this his best movie-to-date.  The film reads, on-paper, as somewhat traditional.  You have Louise Banks (Adams), a linguist with past experience with the CIA, telling two separate stories, one of her daughter, lost to a rare disease as a child, and one of an encounter with an alien species, and humans trying to find a way to peacefully communicate with the species, with different parts of the world coming together with differing viewpoints (war, peace, something in-between) on how to handle the aliens.

This is a pretty conventional story, and in a lesser director's hands, perhaps it would have stayed solely on that question of "are they good or are they bad?", but Villeneuve is too interesting in his approach to film to stay entirely on that question.  We see, relatively quickly in the film (for me, at least) that time is a bit loose; I was able to tell fairly early in the picture that the "flashbacks" to her daughter were actually her in the future, and that would mean that she would live past this encounter, and humanity would continue.  This may be the most frustrating aspect of the movie, in my opinion-waiting for a twist you know is going to come is agonizing in a lot of pictures (just ask anyone who's seen most of M. Night Shymalan's later work).

But Villeneuve actually finds a way to make this work for him, particularly aided by a mesmerizing performance from Adams in the central role.  He uses her passive voice and demeanor to instill in us a sense of calm, but also defeatedness.  Villeneuve's problem is penetrating an audience that is fearful of worldwide catastrophe at any moment, and finding a way to connect with them without getting an eyeroll from an increasingly jaded public.  He does that by making this hard-it's not an easy film, and very few answers are spelled out in front of us.  He trusts Adams in the central role as our ambassador to these creatures, and to trying to find a strength to be beyond ourselves, a struggle that is as difficult for an audience member as it is for Adams on the screen.  Adams smartly doesn't give you a lot of heart in her performance-she is someone who has based much of her life on a few core beliefs, and her job-but she still finds wonder through an introverted, closed-off human being.  It's a marvelous look at joy and pain, but more the former which is truly a unique way to approach a film that essentially boils down to, "would you be willing to have the worst moment of your life wiped away if it also took with you some of the best?"  The answer is of course what you'd expect from a movie (have the daughter you know will someday die), but the way that Villeneuve gets there, placidly, calmly, but with great thoughtfulness is beautiful.  Arrival is his Birdman-where all of his ticks as a director find exactly the right spot to come together, and as a result we get something illuminating.

4 Random Thoughts on Gilmore Girls: A Year in the LIfe

As some of you may know, Gilmore Girls has been a staple on this blog, and is one of my all-time favorite shows.  In fact, if you ever go to the back catalog of posts on this blog (before I reinvented it four years ago), the first post I ever did that wasn't a test to see if I knew how to post was about Gilmore Girls.  So I've had a long relationship with them, and was deeply vested in seeing where they ended up in Netflix's "final?" chapter with the women.  Here, as a longtime fan, is where I ended up with the show.

(MEGA SPOILERS ARE COMING IF YOU HAVEN'T WATCHED YET)

1. Amy Sherman-Palladino Clearly Had a Plan

Many times when it comes to an add-on to a series, it's something that the creators are doing out of popular demand from fans (more on that in a second).  You see something like Fuller House or Girl Meets World and it's largely reacting to a market need, and creates something that's basically just a reinvention of the first series.

Here, however, it's quite clear that Sherman-Palladino, the longtime creator of Gilmore Girls had a specific idea in mind when she ended up creating the series initially, and wasn't going to let certain aspects of the seventh season (namely the evolution Rory made from being stuck on her rich boyfriend to being a confident journalist willing to finally take risks away from home), which she didn't take part in, get in her way.

This makes the season, while still abbreviated and occasionally a bit out-of-place (there are moments where there's less emphasis put on the fact that these people have had seven years worth of life in-between now and then), feel more authentic, and vital to the series.  The reality is that while the original Gilmore Girls run had an ending that worked, it was nowhere near what you'd expect from the series.  It was a neatly-wrapped bow, with Lorelai and Luke together, Rory off to cover the fledgling Obama campaign, and Emily finally burying the hatchet with her daughter.  It didn't have the messiness that frequently accompanied the darker half of Gilmore Girls, and it didn't have proper swan songs or future stories for some of the side characters on the program.  Sherman-Palladino brought that here, and did it with her trademark GG panache (also missing from that dreadful Season 7).  As a fan, it's easy to pretend this is what accompanied that troubadour-filled finale in Season 6, and not the odiously-bad season that followed.

2. Actors Were More than Game

One of the nicest things about moments like this, when you see a fan favorite that got clawed down before it was supposed to, is seeing all of the actors that come back to join us one last time, regardless of their fame levels.  We saw that with Arrested Development, we saw that with Veronica Mars, and now we get it once again with Gilmore Girls.  Because for true Stars Hollow fans, it was a joy to see pretty much everyone came back for this one.

Yes, certain characters had more abbreviated scenes than others, and yes, they all did it for a paycheck, but come on-who didn't get misty-eyed, just moments from the ending, when Sookie and Dean both made brief appearances that filled us with a warm gooey center.  I would have personally loved it if Melissa McCarthy had kept the secret of her late appearance quiet since the rumor for a while was she couldn't show up, but Netflix couldn't possibly have managed to do something like that with such a major star (why would you not advertise such a moment?), and the rest of the cast was wonderfully willing to step back into their old characters.  Side characters like Babette, Miss Patty, Gypsy, Cesar, Francie-they all show up in random positions and occasionally gave us giant winks to storylines that we have memorized by heart (whose heart didn't skip with teenage glee over mention of "the Puffs").  By my estimation the only person who was a scrooge about coming back was Chad Michael Murray, whose two second part as Tristan was recast (though he didn't have lines, I suspect he would have if Murray had been free...honestly, what is he even up to now that One Tree Hill is off the air?).  All-in-all, though, this was a marvelous place to be.

3. About that Ending...

Okay, so the thing that everyone's focusing on, at least on my Twitter feed and in articles, is on how the ending of the miniseries frames itself against the backdrop of the entire series, and specifically what it means for Rory, whose journey we have seen most fully-fleshed throughout.  For those who haven't seen it (and apparently don't care about spoilers), Rory, in the last seconds of the series, announces to her mother that she's pregnant, without any indication of who the father is or what this means for her future.  Amy Sherman-Palladino has indicated that this is how she always intended to end the series, and that this is a way of pulling the show full-circle, but (appropriately) the show's most ardent fans have opinions, and I am included amongst them.

My first thought after seeing this, once the shock wore off, has remained the same: this is a brilliant idea.  And anyone who disagrees hasn't really paid attention to Rory's arch (minus Season 7).  Rory Gilmore was once a promising young student, brightest in her class, but as the series went on she exhibited a decidedly weak backbone for her life and for her ambitions.  Whereas her mother, who had simply the goal for herself of leaving her parents and the world she grew up in behind to strike it out on her own, was punished for her independence, Rory was kind of the inverse.  As the years went on she strove to please everyone around her, including her grandparents, her motley crew of boyfriends, and her out-of-the-picture father, and in the process she gave up on her dream of Harvard, ended up abandoning her relationship with her best friend (Lane was largely absent from her life as she got older), and even forcing deep strains with her mother over her need to live a more privileged, "Gilmore" lifestyle.  In the process, she became less the girl who studied and read books, and more the girl who used that past goodness as a crutch, an excuse, to make her present behavior which became increasingly vapid and spoiled, forgivable.

The final four installments of the series are not kind to Rory.  She lives her life mostly based on past reputation rather than focusing on future accomplishments.  She frequently talks about a famed New Yorker piece, but let's ego or lack of preparation allow her to think she's too good to write an article for GQ or prepare properly for a job interview with a company she sees as beneath her.  In fact, we see her spend more time working on finding a superficial outfit and jetting off to see her soon-to-be-married lover in London than preparing for these opportunities.  She eventually settles into the life of comfort that is afforded to her in Stars Hollow, with her mother's strong reputation and everyone still seeing her as a 16-year-old wunderkind, and her grandmother's money to back up every decision she makes.  It's a nasty commentary on the character, but it's also a reflection of your early thirties in some part.  The goals you once had for yourself slip away from you at that point, and you're left with what you were able to scrounge together in your twenties.  For Rory, who spent perhaps too much time being scared, that means that she has to let go of her career as an independent journalist, and instead will settle into being the editor of the Stars Hollow Gazette, perhaps writing a great book, perhaps abandoning that project as well.  Because for all of the similarities between Lorelai and Rory, one that never got passed down was nerve-Rory is very much Christopher, playing it safe, in that regard, and not Lorelai or even Emily in that way.  She will do what is safe and easiest and people-pleasing.

It also means we have a rough idea of where the next chapter of her life takes her-into one of her mother's.  We see her repeat the same patterns her mom did, having a baby with a wealthy man who loves her, but can never quite get it together enough to be with her (Logan is almost certainly meant to be the father, give or take a Wookie).  She'll live in Stars Hollow since it's easier to raise a child alone there in a sea of smiling, friendly faces, and will have a complicated relationship with her strong-willed mother, who will have opinions on how to raise her child that Rory will occasionally disagree with.   And it means, dear friends, that she will end up with Jess.  Yes, Jess shows up for a moment or two here, and shows that he still loves Rory (and that his arms are the same of my thighs-hot damn Rory's boyfriends aged well), and is destined to be the Luke in her life: loving her from a distance for a while, aiding her with her young child, and then eventually ending up the guy she should have chosen to begin with.  Sherman-Palladino wisely keeps the "which guy does Rory pick?" game that launched a thousand Buzzfeed articles to a minimum, but it's clear that Jess is the ultimate victor of that contest, and in the way she ends the series, that makes sense.

4. So What's Next?

Many people look at this cliffhanger and say, "so we need follow-up!"  Who is the father, what happens next for Rory?  These are questions that any passionate GG fan is going to debate internally (and to unfortunately-trapped cocktail party guests) outwardly for the next several years.  But for me, and really for you, this is where we want to end this chapter.  Because this is as close as we got to the ending we deserved nine years ago.

Honestly-I know the fashion here is to go back to products and tinker and change, but that ruins the endings that were crafted in the first place for those shows.  Look at Star Wars-we'll now never live in a world where we don't see that Han Solo is eventually killed by his son (shut up-it's been a year, you didn't need the spoiler alert).  Series are meant to have finality-they aren't meant to be stretched until we don't love them anymore.  It's why shows like Lost I wouldn't want to see back even if I have dozens of questions and don't have enough will power to resist seeing such an invention-it's because the way they ended gave us finality, but not closure.

The best series finales do just that.  They show not a world where everything is tied neatly in a ribbon (ie Sex and the City, Friends, Frasier), but instead give us complicated, interpretative endings that could go either way.  Think of Lost, think of The Sopranos, think of now Gilmore Girls.  These series don't tie things up neatly and as a result are mired in controversy, but they show that these characters move on, and as they did during the series, some have demons that aren't entirely gone because that's not plausible.  There's no happily-ever-after in real life-we just keep going until we don't.  Gilmore Girls did that here, and gave us a stopping place that felt appropriately definitive.  So no, I don't want to get back into the series again, even if I still love these characters.  We have enough answered questions, and as fans we can interact with the clues of what happens next (they're all there for the taking if you don't mind them being translucent instead of opaque).

Those are my thoughts on the series.  I could go on and on (and may pick up that baton of nostalgia being a double-edged sword in the future, but this feels like a stopping point.  If you've seen the series, please let me know your thoughts.  Are you satisfied, or wanting more?  Do you like the twist ending, or do you feel it was a bit too "mic drop?"  And were there any characters you were hoping would show up (Marty, Madeline & Louise, Max Medina) that didn't?  Share below!

Monday, November 28, 2016

Rules Don't Apply (2016)

Film: Rules Don't Apply (2016)
Stars: Warren Beatty, Lily Collins, Alden Ehrenreich, Annette Bening, Matthew Broderick, Alec Baldwin, Candice Bergen, Ed Harris
Director: Warren Beatty
Oscar History: I mean, it's Beatty, so you know he's schmoozing, but aside from a spare citation for Costume or Original Song (considering it's key placement in the film, not the worst idea), I don't think this is happening.
Snap Judgment Ranking: 1/5 stars

Heaven Can Wait.  Reds.  Dick Tracy.  Bullworth.  It's quite a collection of films that Warren Beatty-Director, has amassed.  Beatty is, by my count, the only actor to have been nominated for acting, directing, producing, and writing in the same year twice.  Even Clint Eastwood couldn't equal that, which is saying something as Clint hasn't taken annoyingly long breaks in his filmography (it's worth noting that this is his first directing bid in 18 years...also that 1998 was 18 years ago), and that it was his first time acting in fifteen (the enormous bomb Town & Country which stalled a number of careers at the time).  As a result, I couldn't miss this movie.  Reds remains one of the crowning achievements of the 1980's, and is one of my all-time favorite movies-I owe Warren Beatty indefinitely for it, not to mention multiple other roles that place him amongst my favorite actors.  The reviews were scary, but it couldn't be that bad, could it?

(Spoilers Ahead) Unfortunately, it was.  Rules Don't Apply may be one of the most-hyped movies of the year for me simply because Warren Beatty is finally billed in the credits again, but even if you'd maintained low expectations for the picture, it's unlikely this would have surpassed them.  The film is the story of Howard Hughes (Beatty) toward the end of his career, when he is still an icon in American print but his output, especially as a director, is pretty low.  He keeps a stable of women in luxurious houses around Los Angeles, being chauffeured by a series of drivers who rarely understand why they're driving around these women, and have limited contact with Mr. Hughes, one of which is Frank (Ehrenreich), who develops a crush on an aspiring actress Marla Mabrey (Collins), who in turn is also romantically involved (briefly) with Howard Hughes.  The love triangle is the center of the film, though it's sidetracked by bouts of crazy from Hughes, Marla's weird focus on her own chastity and religion, and a bevy of Beatty's longtime Hollywood friends coming out for what may well be his swan song (Candy Bergen making a rare film appearance, as well as Martin Sheen-it's a pity that Beatty couldn't get his best buddy Jack Nicholson in for one last hurrah-THAT would have been something to see).

The film's problems are all over the board, and probably too innumerable to list.  For starters, Beatty has no idea if this film is supposed to be funny or a drama, and it does not combine the two well (at all).  There are scenes that are hilarious on-paper (some of the older members of my audience chuckled), and then it's followed by a heartbreaking sequence that shows how tragic the love triangle is (no matter how it lands, almost no one is going to completely win here).  It would have been better had Beatty decided to do a straight drama or comedy (he can do either), but trying to be both doesn't work, and feels like a movie that's been in production too long.

The lead actors leave much to be desired.  Alden Ehrenreich is fascinating to look at, and was great in Hail, Caesar! earlier this year, but cannot sell this underwritten character at all.  I'm not sure which old star Beatty was picturing when he wrote this (Robert Redford, perhaps?), but man is it bland.  Ehrenreich is a talent if his naive cowboy is any indication, but here his best attribute is a fascinating, John Barrymore-like profile that is framed well onscreen.

His acting is not noteworthy at all, and he has no chemistry with leading-lady Lily Collins, who is by far the worst part of this movie.  Collins has no onscreen ability or charisma, and is hopelessly generic every time I've seen her in a movie.  Considering she was abysmal in Mirror Mirror, tanked The Mortal Instruments franchise, and has now proven she can't even find talent opposite someone like Warren Beatty, perhaps it's time to stop hiring her and forcing her onto unsuspecting audience members?  There are other actors who aren't very good in the film, but they can at least claim no one cares about them (Beatty seems only focused on his three leading characters and doesn't really want to do anything other than let the camera beam at his old pals in bit roles).  Lily Collins has no excuse-this is Razzy-worthy stuff.

Beatty at the center is fun to see onscreen, though even there I question whether or not it's an okay performance or simply seeing a thousand movie memories in his wide smile that makes me give him a pass.  It's likely that after two back-to-back (albeit separated by 15 years) flops Beatty might be done at the movies, certainly behind the screen, but one bad movie or a few doesn't ruin your career when you are also Clyde Barrow or John Reed or Dick Tracy.  But it does if you're simply Phil Collins' daughter, so Lily Collins-perhaps it's time to take an acting class or seven?

Ranting On...Jill Stein's Recount

Dr. Jill Stein (G-MA)
Jill Stein is not really a serious person.  Yes, some of the issues that she has championed in her career are serious issues, and I'm not saying I necessarily disagree with them, but she long ago forfeited any claim to being anything other than a "frequent candidate" for office, someone who hasn't been able to land any position in public life other than an agitator.  Some may compare her to Ralph Nader, and they're right in the sense that they both have served as spoilers in elections (don't give me that-if Stein and Gary Johnson hadn't run, we'd be talking about Hillary Clinton's "surprisingly close" win of the White House), but they're wrong in the sense of their impact.  Ralph Nader was once a very important voice in the American conversation, with Unsafe at Any Speed becoming a critical piece of investigative journalism that forever changed the way we look at safety in the automotive industry.  Nader, before he was a national pariah amongst progressives, was a hero to the cause; Jill Stein never had the same level of support before she sold out for anti-vax conspiracy theorists and those who celebrate dictators like Fidel Castro and Vladimir Putin.

So it makes sense that Stein, in the wake of her recount efforts, was called out by many progressive-minded thinkers and journalists, as a con-woman, someone out to exploit the Democratic Party.  Her message, that the election may have been tampered with, was indeed like saying to a dying man that there's a cure, but it's going to cost you (and the reality is that that cure isn't real).  Liberals and progressives have looked at the past few weeks with horror at what just a President-Elect Trump has meant for our causes.  Gone is the Supreme Court, perhaps with it Roe v. Wade.  Goodbye to a number of collective bargaining advocates, or Obamacare, or key transgender rights bills, or a national increase in the minimum wage.  Hell, Medicare and Social Security might become things of the past.  There's a bit of cosmic justice there considering how badly the Baby Boomers have trashed Millennials in recent weeks for not voting enough, even though they themselves actually elected Trump and are about to pay a huge price for it in terms of their retirements, but as I don't really like "misery loves company" I don't enjoy that enough to see a silver lining.  All-the-while, the President-Elect has seen repeated scandals, attacked the free press relentlessly, publicly denounced Hillary Clinton, and watched silently as white supremacists carry out acts of violence in his name against persons of color and LGBT citizens across the country.  Jill Stein coming in and demanding a recount, even one that is surely going to be impossible to succeed, is clearly exploiting the grieving.

But what those journalists don't understand is that we're just as mad at them as we are themselves, and they're "listen to us, we're the experts" attitude is a bit hard to grasp after what we just witnessed. I continue to come back to the "Keepin' it 1600" guys, all arrogant after two successful elections, not focusing nearly enough on creating a sense of urgency around Trump, making him in fact a joke, but one where the punchline could mean millions of people could have horrible lives for decades as a result of what he might do.  I think of the media who insisted that Hillary Clinton's emails were of equal importance to Trump's relationships with Vladimir Putin and Roger Ailes.  I think of the "journalists" who couldn't figure out a way to ask him probing, specific questions about policy and show what a dangerous, undereducated man this figure was who was one of only two people who could be our next president.  And yes, I think of the entertainment media who simply saw ratings and not their moral imperative in protecting the country from a madman (Lorne Micheals and Jimmy Fallon, you two specifically should be ashamed of yourselves for your role in electing a demagogue).

So if Jill Stein's recount doesn't make sense to you, it's perhaps because Trump doesn't really affect you in the way he affects other people.  It's perhaps because your sense of trust in your fellow man hasn't been shattered, that your trust in the news media and "data" and "experts" isn't lying on the floor.  It's perhaps because you didn't realize that before this election, the only people who actually still trusted the news as being a beacon of hope and light and truth were progressives and liberals and Democrats.  And perhaps it's because you don't realize the incredible impact your terrible approach to Trump has taken on your credibility and your profession.

For it makes no sense to me that I should listen to people who constantly exclaimed that Hillary Clinton was going to win tell me afterwards all the things she did wrong and why she lost.  If you were 100% wrong before, why should we believe you now?  There's no sense here at all.  The media hasn't quite realized this, but they were an endangered species before November 8th, and are now critically-endangered.  For before this, it was just the FOX News/Bretibart crowd that Trump adores who hated the media.  Now, while hate isn't the right word, trust is gone from institutions like The New York Times and network news channels; we know that when it comes down to it, they'd rather have false equivalence than get attacked by Republicans (who are always going to attack such institutions).  I don't believe you.  I'm smart enough to know the odds of the recount being overturned, but you don't get to mock us for stating that we should stop betting on unicorns.  We bet on you, and we lost.  Your snideness is only rubbing salt in the wound of trusting you, not being with her.  It's because of you that flim-flam artists like Jill Stein can prey on the weak with promises of grandeur.  I know this because you just elected a president who did exactly that.  It's easy to see why the media can't understand the appeal of Jill Stein when they can't admit they just helped elect Donald Trump.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Ranting On...Secretary of State Mitt Romney

Gov. Mitt Romney (R-MA)
One of the things that I've been thinking in the past few weeks in terms of Trump and, in particular, his cabinet selections is, what exactly is it I want to see here?  Democrats are still reeling, and in part we're in a position where we aren't going to be able to win.  Right now, with people like Steve Bannon as the President-Elect's Senior Advisor, we have an actual white nationalist in the White House, besmirching not only Trump but also the history of the country.  And Jeff Sessions, someone who was too racist to be picked as a federal judge in 1986 somehow has become less racist enough to now head the entire Justice Department, and is likely to be our next Attorney General.  But in the past few days we've started to hear names emerge that, well, appear to be relatively sane options for positions.  Forgetting, for a second, qualifications (and that's a big thing to forget here), we have Gov. Nikki Haley fast-emerging as the United Nations Ambassador (and the first woman to be rumored for a prominent position of power in Trump's administration) and former Rep. Harold Ford, Jr. being bandied about as Transportation Secretary, a bipartisan pick as Ford served as a Democratic congressman for five terms from Tennessee.  Largest amongst these is Mitt Romney, who was the Republican nominee in 2012 and was an ardent, vocal opponent of Trump on the campaign trail, to the point that he didn't even endorse him on Election Day, who is the frontrunner at this point to be Secretary of State.

The conundrum for Democrats here is that these people, while not specifically-qualified for these positions, aren't what you'd consider to be vile, odious Republicans that are going to have the base up in arms like Jeff Sessions, Newt Gingrich, or Rudy Giuliani.  These feel like the appointments of a traditional Republican administration.  Indeed, it's not hard to picture Jeb Bush going with these exact same three people, while he wouldn't allow Steve Bannon within a mile of the White House.

In a normal situation, we'd probably have calls to celebrate this.  While cabinet appointments don't mean as much as they used to do (during the Bush and Obama administrations, some of these have felt more ceremonial than others, with the real power existing in persons like Karl Rove or Valerie Jarrett, whose positions reflect more the likes of Bannon than a traditional cabinet secretary), but these aren't positions devoid of power or influence.  Romney's and Haley's, in particular, will have a significant eye to the world, and could go a long way in tacitly holding together our international alliances from the Trump administration until we have a more reputable and qualified person sitting in the Resolute Desk.

Admittedly, it says something about Romney that he'd be willing to do this (which I will state he has not yet accepted-it's just heavy speculation at this point), considering the hit it will have on his reputation.  Romney, at age 69 and with a Republican about to take the White House, will never be POTUS-that was decided definitively the second Donald Trump won Pennsylvania-so Secretary of State would be the biggest part of his legacy.  It will be (by far) the most important position he ever holds.  As a result, a man who has dominated the Republican Party for over a decade would be giving over all of his goodwill and reputation to a man that he detests, a man whose demeanor he finds abhorrent.

You can look at this two ways.  In one corner, you have Mitt Romney, someone who was described frequently in attacks in 2008 and 2012 as an empty suit, someone only out for himself and his wallet. Taking this position, a consolation prize but one that John Kerry and Hillary Clinton both also added to their Wikipedia page, would be a way to legitimize himself in a manner that he was never going to do if he couldn't win national office.  It's the only plum left on the tree for Romney, and he may be willing to throw his entire reputation out the window for one, last moment-of-glory.  It reeks of opportunism, perhaps it's even a bit pathetic.  It speaks to the worst aspects of Mitt Romney's critics.

In the other corner, though, there is the question of whether Mitt Romney is doing the right thing even if it costs him his reputation; whether he loses in the eyes of the current public but history is much kinder.  Here's where we return to the conundrum for the Democrats.  There is a difference between normalizing and ignoring the Trump administration, which is happening no matter how many articles you read about the electoral college revolting or misplaced ballots in Wisconsin.  Normalizing it means that we routinely, constantly make sure Trump and his administration do not have it easy for the next four years if they are doing the wrong thing, particularly when it comes to equality, the environment, and international diplomacy.  Democrats need to make sure that the persecuted minority doesn't become forgotten, as it was during the Reagan administration, otherwise we're stuck with 8-12 years of this.  But on the other hand, the Democrats have to face facts: Donald Trump will be commander-in-chief for the next four years.  We need good people surrounding him, people who are competent in positions and won't abuse their power.

Mitt Romney fits that description.  I disagree with him on virtually every major issue, but he's a patriotic American who has devoted his life to public service.  He's not going to let Trump start a nuclear war without threatening to resign in the process or publicly denouncing him.  He's going to make sure that Trump maintains at least a modicum of respect for critical alliances in the EU, Japan, and Israel.  He's going to be a voice of sanity in a White House where Steve Bannon has undue power.  It's hard to say it, but we may wish we'd had Mitt Romney in the White House a year or two down the road when Trump is facing myriad international and domestic crises and is petulantly angry at his portrayal on Saturday Night Live or a CNN panel denouncing his decisions nightly.  Quite frankly, we need a grownup in the room who isn't Mike Pence or Paul Ryan, both of whom have shown such hate for disenfranchised groups like LGBT citizens or the poor that they should strike the same level of fear in the hearts of Democrats everywhere.  Mitt Romney does that.  If he accepts, we should confirm because whomever comes next is going to be worse.  It's hard to stomach, but don't confuse reality with normalizing-we have to accept the former even if the latter is something we firmly cannot embrace.