Monday, November 30, 2015

Spotlight (2015)

Film: Spotlight (2015)
Stars: Mark Ruffalo, Michael Keaton, Rachel McAdams, Liev Schreiber, John Slattery, Stanley Tucci
Director: Tom McCarthy
Oscar History: The film is making huge waves for the Oscars, and likely will land spots in acting, writing, and even Best Picture.
Snap Judgment Ranking: 3/5 stars

All right people, I'm the first to admit I've been a bit of a slacker in the past month.  I am aware that in November I have written less articles than I have any month this year, and while I am probably going to blame my personal life a bit for that (and I'll be the first to state that most of that personal life stuff has been a good thing, so I'm not going to be forgiveness here), I'll have to admit that I miss writing on the blog daily, and so I'm going to try and get back into that this week.  We won't be back to 12 articles this week like usual (maybe next week if I can get back into a groove a little bit), but we'll at least have one per day, and maybe a couple dual days, and if you like reviews, you're in luck, as that's going to be the focus as we move into December and the height of Oscar season.  I have a dozen movies I need to get reviews out for, and so we're going to start here, with the Best Picture frontrunner.

(Spoilers Ahead) Spotlight to me is a rather unconventional Best Picture frontrunner, but it's not due to the plot being particularly AMPAS-unfriendly.  The film is about the Boston Globe's Pulitzer Prize-winning coverage of the Catholic priest sex scandals, the sort of deeply serious film that the Oscars adore, and is filled with a slew of Academy-friendly names like Mark Ruffalo and Stanley Tucci.  All-in-all, the film's casting, director, and subject matter lend itself to the seriousness that you usually need to land Best Picture, but there's something strangely methodical in the film's approach that, while never bad, it is so clicking and sharp it feels very similar to a television movie rather than a major big-screen experience.

This isn't necessarily a bad thing.  There's rarely a scene where the movie tries and goes for one of those big, emotional reveals that always feel sort of uncomfortably exploitive of a recent tragedy (where one person feels belittled after having to give up a reporter's story, just to see the reporter gain from the anguish).  Instead, the movie is a series of calm revelations, slowly as the world onscreen starts to show the tragedies that have befallen not only Boston, but the world in watching one of its oldest institutions falter under the weight of unimaginable evil and criminal behavior.  In this way it feels like the sort of film that would gain more attention from critics, who admire the documentarian style it takes in the subject, instead sitting back and showing the process rather than the human side of the conflicts, which is what AMPAS always admires.  As a result, it's an interesting movie, but one that I wouldn't expect AMPAS to go for (with The Martian, Brooklyn, and Carol all making plays for Best Picture, we've still yet to see if Oscar does love Spotlight like the pundits anticipate).

As for me, I'm somewhere in-between.  I liked the more journalism-focused take on the story, as it gave a slightly new perspective to a news story everyone in the world knows about and read about over the past decade.  It's interesting to watch the story unfold, seeing the ways that the film finds facts, and how it basically becomes an advertisement for quality journalism in a landscape where you can't see a decent reporter to save your life on a cable news show, where most people get their daily reels now.  However, I do think that the film's recent story angle, where everyone in the country knows what will happen onscreen and has the benefit of hindsight (with dozens of archdioceses having been indicted in the molestation scandals, everyone in the audience wants to smack anyone upside-the-head who is covering for the Catholic Church, or even has a shred of doubt that they could be condoning such a thing since we all know the truth), occasionally makes their reporters seem clueless.  It's hard for us to remember that there was genuine surprise around the reveals of the Boston Globe, but cinematically it occasionally feels like this story is either too late or too early.  While the focus on journalism is interesting from this perspective and occasionally saves it (we see the hard work that goes into a story, and the consistent hunt for facts and clues), when it focuses on the "how could they cover this up?" for audience outrage, we were already there and it feels repetitive.

The cast itself is strange, which is weird as none of these actors feels out-of-place.  For a film that is clearly intended to be an actor's movie, it really isn't and is instead more of a writer's one.  The cast all has its moments, and with the exception of Mark Ruffalo is very subdued, but there aren't as many obvious standouts as you'd expect from what Oscar prognosticators are predicting (they may be correct, but these aren't your traditional nominees in the same sense that this isn't a traditional Best Picture frontrunner).  Michael Keaton's central role may be the best, if only because it's perhaps the only character we learn any sort of real backstory about, while Rachel McAdams (whom I predicted a few weeks ago could be an Oscar contender, but now I think she'll at best land a nomination) shows almost nothing in her character and really is just the only woman in a man's field (a good angle to get a nomination, but it wouldn't be worth wasting the spot in this year).  Mark Ruffalo gets the showiest role, and does get a few of the "great speeches" you'd expect here ("it could have been any of us!"), but it feels so out-of-place in the film that Ruffalo can't really sell the scenes and they come off as off-sync to the rest of the film.

So is this a good movie?  Yes, it is.  Is it a great one?  No, it's not, and I'm perplexed why so many people have decided to call in an All the President's Men for a new generation, as that film had considerably more intrigue than this one did, and quite frankly more memorable acting.  Maybe Spotlight will age well, with 10-15 years passing away and we see the last breaths of print journalism and what technology and lowest-denominator cable may have cost us in our quest for the truth.  Who knows, but in the meantime I will continue to be perplexed by this unusual film's dominance in Oscar conversation, and it's universal acclaim.

Those are my thoughts on Spotlight, a film I liked but couldn't really get into-what are yours?  Do you think the film will be a major contender at this year's Oscars (or will my review sound foolish in a few weeks)?  And if it is, which actors do you think will have a shot at a nomination?  Share your thoughts below!

Friday, November 27, 2015

Why We Should All Take Donald Trump Seriously

When Donald Trump first announced he might be running for president, I, like the rest of the world that doesn't live in a giant tower with my name emblazoned on it in gold, thought it was a bit of a joke.  Seriously-the guy on The Apprentice whose most noted public offerings were a late night-monologue inspired haircut and a ridiculous feud with Rosie O'Donnell?  He wants to be president?  It didn't make sense.  When the initial polls came out with Trump at the top, it felt similar to 2012 when people like Herman Cain and Michele Bachmann randomly made a run to the top of the polls, and I assumed it would subside just like those two did, eventually coming down to someone like Jeb Bush or Marco Rubio, as all other Republican presidential primaries flirt with the loud-mouthed conservative but eventually rest on the more electable candidate.

Donald Trump has been leading now, though, for over four months, and it's impossible not to take him seriously anymore.  The Iowa caucuses are just weeks away, and despite the fact that Trump has openly attacked the state, he is still leading there, New Hampshire, South Carolina-every early state in fact.  The GOP keeps scoffing, keeps hoping that Trump will disappear from the race, but at this rate it clearly has demonstrated that it doesn't know how to take down Trump, a critical issue in a race that, by many traditional metrics (presidential approval ratings, foreign policy shift, 8-year fatigue) they should be able to take in the general.  In many ways, in fact, the GOP should be able to clobber Hillary Clinton, but Donald Trump is a candidate that poses a lot of risks in that regard, which is why you're seeing a last-push effort to get Trump out of the race.  Having conservatives like John Kasich, candidates who at this point have nothing to lose, attacking him more so to help someone like Marco Rubio win the nomination than to help he himself do it, or having conservatives call Trump a fascist in the news media (though considering his recent comments about American Muslims, that shoe might actually fit).

The problem is that this isn't going to take down Trump-his constituency is the portion of America that doesn't trust the government or the media or really anything other than their own common sense.  These are the people who want to build a border fence because they think it will have an impact on their own job security or that the president has secretly been hiding his Kenyan birthplace from the world.  These are people where rationality and truth are all relative, and think you can't trust anyone.  Just look at Trump's rhetoric, which long ago passed from political maneuvering around questions to boldfaced, easily provable lies (and it's worth noting that this has had an effect on the campaign-look at Ben Carson's autobiographical details and Carly Fiorina's Planned Parenthood videos).  These people aren't going to respond to attacks against Trump-to use superhero parlance, "that just makes him stronger."  The reality is that these people might be winnable if a Rubio or a Bush or even at this point a Cruz ends up in the general election (presidential candidates want everyone's votes, and Republicans can't win without these Trump supporters who were more-than-likely grumbling Romney supporters in 2012, so don't think this just goes away come the convention), but they aren't going to get them to convert away from Trump.  If anything, with Ben Carson hemorrhaging support, Trump's gaining more voters in critical early-states like Iowa.

No, there are really only two ways to get at Trump at this point, and it's not going to be on-paper like the polls.  It's either going to be some party-sacrifice or it's going to be through a ground operation.  It's worth noting, even though Trump/Carson/Cruz dominate the polls, if you were to combine Rubio/Bush/Fiorina/Christie/Kasich into one voting count, it would roughly equal Trump's support, and would create a pretty interesting juggernaut.  Were the establishment able to convince these five candidates to get behind one person, that candidate would be extraordinarily formidable in the early primary states, and might even take New Hampshire and Nevada, giving them momentum enough to swamp Trump in the Super Tuesday primaries.  This plan is one that works on-paper, though, and not in theory, as it's hard to figure out a way for four extraordinarily ambitious candidates to get behind one other candidate when it's not entirely clear which candidate should drop out.  Sure, Marco Rubio is the obvious contender, but even if he had Cabinet or VP slots lined up for all of these candidates, it's hard to imagine Jeb Bush being satisfied with anything other than the Oval Office at this point.  Plus, there's no guarantee that the people backing Carly Fiorina are going to get behind Rubio to begin with, and this is assuming Trump's numbers don't continue to grow, which (if Ben Carson continues to hemorrhage his 20% support, they almost assuredly will do).  The point where the establishment could easily coalesce around a candidate ended most likely when Jeb Bush's reign did.  Marco Rubio (or even Bush) could sneak in at the last minute, but they aren't going to do it as a unity candidate before Iowa and New Hampshire.

No, the best hope for the GOP will be a unity candidate late in the game, combined with Trump under-performing expectations.  At this point it would be considered a loss if Trump were to lose either Iowa or New Hampshire (he seems likely to takr both), and if a candidate were to beat him or come close to beating him in these states, that person would be formidable and probably someone who could claim the Trump's opponent mantle.  Trump hasn't run a campaign before, and doesn't have the operatives that Marco Rubio and Jeb Bush have, and if either of them were to be second place I suspect they would be able to get pretty much all of the major donors and party bigwigs out for them.  However, it's worth noting that Trump's campaign has never really been attempted before-running almost entirely nationally rather than in early primary states, and this could be a better GOTV option than we anticipate.  It's also worth noting that Ted Cruz, not Marco Rubio nor Jeb Bush, is the candidate who also seems to have taken off, and if Trump doesn't win, it could be he and neither of the Floridians that makes the jump into the national media.  Cruz isn't the intense wild card that Trump is, but he's not much better for the GOP, particularly the Senate GOP who has grown to hate the man, and people like Kelly Ayotte and Rob Portman, not to mention their state party chairs who need to deliver swing state voters, aren't going to look kindly on the Texas senator calling them all RINO's.

All this is to be said that Democrats can laugh a little, but know that Hillary Clinton is hardly what you'd consider a sure-thing, even against Donald Trump.  Few candidates outside of Barack Obama elicit the same sort of hatred on the Right that Sec. Clinton does, and even some Democrats get a little bit antsy when the former First Lady is brought up.  Sure, it's easy to imagine a lot of Democrats, Independents, and even moderate Republicans holding their breath and voting for Clinton, knowing she's at least competent and they'd get a shot at beating her in four years, but we have very little evidence to back that theory (there is no recent open-seat election where neither of the two candidates were particularly popular so we don't really have an example), and it's not outside-the-realm-of-possibility to assume that Trump (who polls quite decently against Clinton) could work the same sort of magic on the general election.  This is all to say that Republicans are finally taking Donald Trump very, very seriously, and soon the entire political sphere could be doing the same thing.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Everybody's Linking for the Weekend

I had a bunch of family in town this past weekend, so I didn't get a lot of time to do much writing (though I had a marvelous time-planning your fun ahead of time makes for ease and relaxation, something I'll get into in a later post this week).  Anyway, here's a quick link roundup even though I should probably be working right now.

In Entertainment...

-The Hollywood Reporter got in front of the inevitable controversy that was bound to spring up out of their annual Actress Roundtable, a long-standing tradition where they assemble eight white women competing for the Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress Oscars this year, and while I truly wish I could shame the Hollywood Reporter for not including an actress of color this season, I just can't, as there are no women of color who are in serious contention for an Academy Award this season, at least for acting.  Names like Gugu Mbatha-Raw (Concussion), Phylicia Rashad (Creed), and Kitana Kiki Rodriguez (Tangerine) are all in movies that may be in the Oscar conversation, but you wouldn't dream of putting them even in the Top 10 most likely contenders, and they would stick out compared to women like Brie Larson, Jennifer Lawrence, and Kate Winslet as someone who clearly is being added just for tokenism as part of the Oscar conversation.  The reality is that this is on Hollywood, and in particular the film industry (television and Broadway have gotten the joke on this front), and they need to step it up for fear of being thought out-of-sync with the growing diversity of film audiences.

-Zayn Malik's continued push to condemn One Direction was all over the news this week, with Malik calling 1D's music "generic" and basically bashing his time in the band.  Here's the deal-Malik is still big news until his new album comes out at least, and I get the coverage and he was my favorite member of the band prior to their break-up too, but he's been kind of a tool lately.  He has every right to quit the band, but let's not pretend he didn't become wildly successful from this group, and I am sick-to-death of celebrities coming out and berating past success when they clearly were fine with it at the time.  The same thing happened a few months ago when Natalie Portman bemoaned her Oscar even while she was campaigning constantly for it when she was nominated.  Being too cool for something after it's made you millions of dollars isn't really genuine, so stop pretending.

-I am not going to weigh in on the Jenny McCarthy/Charlie Sheen feud that is raging right now in social media, as I can't really stand either of these two, and I am sick-to-death of the media giving McCarthy's views on medicine more publicity.  However, I was curious about Entertainment Weekly's surprisingly solid overview of where Charlie Sheen's career goes from here, because it was kind of tanked before he announced he was HIV+.  I think they are dead-on in terms of the two avenues he really has here, career-wise: tell-all memoir or reality show (or probably both).  Sheen's erratic behavior after a decades worth of success (yet another actor who made millions, or in Sheen's case tens of millions of dollars and then bemoaned the quality after cashing the checks) and essentially throwing away his wildly successful television career is not going to be forgotten anytime soon, and I suspect no one's going to work with him again, particularly after he turned down the ability to do a final scene in Two and a Half Men's finale.  The HIV announcement isn't going to change that.  However, it's impossible to deny that Sheen still demands public interest, and this week showed that, and either a reality show or a tell-all both would be places where Sheen's erratic behavior would be a benefit.  I suspect he does at least one, if not both.

In Politics...

-While my relatives were in town this weekend, and when we weren't soaking up the cultural highlights of the Twin Cities, we were discussing a wee bit of politics, and of course that meant Donald Trump (and the fact that like a lot of moderate, occasionally fair weather Democrats, Hillary Clinton is not eliciting much excitement with the Baby Boomer set on my family tree).  Trump has had a marvelous week the past week, even if it may be at the expense of common decency, and the New York Times points out how much trouble Republicans might be in soon, as Trump continues to dominate in New Hampshire, which is generally the voice of GOP reason to those much more caution-to-the-wind Iowans.  It's worth noting that Trump is still ahead by a country mile in both Iowa and New Hampshire, and the elections are getting closer and closer.  The last candidate to win the nomination of a major party without taking either of those two states was Bill Clinton, and in that case Iowa and New Hampshire still picked different candidates (Tom Harkin and Paul Tsongas, respectively).  The only time that a candidate won both of these two races and eventually lost the nomination is Edmund Muskie in 1972, and that race is an absolutely bizarre one where comparisons are hard to make (the campaign included a candidate who wasn't running but still got the most total votes, a candidate who survived an assassination attempt, and a forged document that was part of the other party's candidate's eventual downfall and resignation).  As a result, if Donald Trump wins both Iowa and New Hampshire, the Republicans are going to have to either push hard for the guy who got second place in those races (read: Ted Cruz) or potentially get "huge" (or grumble for four years of a Clinton administration).

-Rep. Jackie Speier, 37 years after the fact, recalls surviving the Jonestown Massacre, a really riveting read about the only confirmed assassination of a member of the United States House of Representatives, her then boss Leo Ryan.  It's a riveting read (I don't know if I've ever seen Speier, who ran for Ryan's seat and lost after the trip, but then many years later won a seat of her own in Congress, discuss the events so thoroughly).  It's a riveting read, particularly if you aren't familiar with this aspect of US History.

-Roll Call also had a conversation with the only two Muslim members of Congress (Reps. Andre Carson and Keith Ellison), discussing language and getting their thoughts on the rather racist and xenophobic lines of rhetoric from the Right that have come up in the wake of the Paris attacks.  I have to admit that I haven't written about the attacks at length yet (I still might-I need to give myself some time to give it a proper due and my day job has not allowed that lately), but I am alarmed by the rhetoric used by multiple people running for Congress, and in particular Donald Trump, John Kasich, and Ted Cruz, and I am frustrated by the number of governors who have denied refugees into their states (and yes, Maggie Hassan, that D behind your name doesn't excuse you from my disappointed glare).  I am not going to get more into this in a link roundup, but if I have time later this week I will probably devote an article to this conversation.

-Attorney General Kamala Harris, currently the frontrunner to take Sen. Barbara Boxer's seat in California, is apparently struggling on the campaign trail.  She's not fundraising the way she was expected to, and isn't great on the stump.  This doesn't actually surprise me-anyone who saw her DNC speech in 2012 will be aware that she's not the great speaker that President Obama is (the two are frequently compared for their seemingly meteoric rises to the top), nor does she have Barbara Boxer's retailing skills.  I am curious how this race goes if, as some have speculated, it will be both Harris and Rep. Loretta Sanchez in the general next November (Republican votes are splintered, and Democrats have only two real options, so it's possible that two Democrats will land in the general in California's odd new open primary system).  Without the risk of the seat exchanging hands, Harris vs. Sanchez could be a generally interesting debate, and it's hard to see organizations like the DSCC and Emily's List (which did technically go with Harris but has endorsed Sanchez in the past) spending any money on a seat the Democrats are guaranteed to win when other races in New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, and Ohio are actually going to win back the Senate, and both are progress elected officials with long ties to the national party.  If that's the case, Sanchez could gain as she seems to be doing extremely well amongst Hispanic voters, who may be moved to get a Latina elected statewide in California.  If the race is Harris v. Sanchez, though, the real winner would be the DCCC, as Hillary Clinton would surely be dominating statewide and with a vested reason for Democrats to get out in the Senate race and almost no reason for the Republicans to get out and cast a ballot, the DCCC could be able to pick up and hold even more House seats from disproportionate turnout.

Shameless Self-Promotion of the Week...

-I'm aware that I haven't discussed Louisiana-all in good time this week.  But know that I'm excited about the Democrats' new favorite silver lining, John Bel Edwards.

YouTube Video of the Week...

-Prank videos make me physically uncomfortable, but this is Smosh's tenth anniversary, and in this case it was Anthony and Ian getting pranked by none other than Oscar-winner Jennifer Lawrence, so I'm cool:

Just One More...

-My favorite story of the week from a makes-me-smile angle was surely my beloved Andy Murray's mid-match haircut, where he attempted to hold back Rafael Nadal (it didn't work at the ATP World Tour Finals) by cutting his hair mid-match, as he claimed it was in his eyes.  The link has a video of the event.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Clicking the Unsubscribe Button

I am currently in the process of streamlining my life, and it's a bit of a challenge.  Lately I've spent most days at work in a near constant state of busy-ness, even more so than usual, and then most evenings are spent trying to fight with every fiber of my being the urge to go to bed at 6 PM, and instead stay up longer, working through at least 1-2 projects that are on my To Do list before I inevitably give up the fight at 9 PM and go watching TV in bed.  One of my most recent tasks has been to sort through all of my closets, and just purging as I go, throwing out anything that I don't remotely need anymore and is just taking up space in my apartment.  After doing all three closets (and having a wildly large pile of clothes that need to make it to Goodwill in the next day or two), I decided I needed to start doing the same thing to my online life, getting rid of everything that was cluttering my internet world so I could focus solely on the things that are relevant (or, in some cases, mandatory).

This did not start, as one would assume, with dismissing all of the Facebook friends I don't actually like anymore.  Facebook for me at this point is one of those annoying things which I only use to reference someone I'm talking about, or to email someone I haven't talked to a while with a question.  In many ways, Facebook has become a combination of both an address book and a year-round Christmas letter, where people shamelessly brag about their lives in a way that would be insanely off-putting in real life, but since it's the internet you can get away with saying things like #blessed and talking about your family and spouse in ways that are deeply eye-rolling and would make anyone in real life never call you again.  No, what I decided to do was clean out my YouTube subscriptions page instead.

YouTube has not had a banner year, in my opinion, or at least my content creators haven't been up to the task, and I don't think it's just because I (and the content creators I enjoy) got older, as we were already well above the median age of the average YouTuber anyway.  No, I think it started when all of the YouTubers decided to write books.  This foray into print wasn't the worst idea, and in some ways it was a success.  After all, Grace Helbig's comic biography last year was an absolute delight, and Hannah Hart's hilarious cookbook was wonderfully offbeat, just like her channel.  Both were surprise hits, and as a result it seems every single YouTuber under the sun wrote a book.  The problem was that some YouTubers are not great at writing, or picking out solid ghostwriters, and so for every hilarious comic book like You Deserve a Drink, you got Miranda Sings doing a gigantic cash-grab with her oddly sketched together picture book.  By the time Tyler Oakley's Binge came out this year, I think I'd had enough and couldn't buy what would have been an easy purchase in March, and will probably just stick to the Holy Trinity's works later this year (and of course John Green).

The problem that erupted from this was not just that the YouTubers were creating shoddy product, but also that they had to sell it.  People like Alfie Deyes, whose Pointless Book is essentially just a children's activity book, were shilling these books constantly on their YouTube channels and social media, and this was in addition to the hodgepodge sorts of shilling they were already doing.  The British YouTubers (aka The Gleam Team) are sort of the most basic example of what went wrong with YouTube this year.  Like Deyes, many of them came out with rather tedious books, but they also spent at least half of their videos clearly trying to incorporate product placements into their content, and the other half are now focused on lifestyle sorts of blogs.  Whereas they used to make videos featuring challenges and seemed like a genuine insight into their world, they have now devolved into a series of adverts and highly-manufactured looks into the lifestyles of the rich and beautiful.  The voyeuristic style of their videos has vanished, and when they do attempt to be just "average Joes" they fail miserably, principally because they're in their mid-to-late twenties and yet act like they're thirteen.  This is fine when someone like Cameron Dallas or Nash Grier does this, but that's because they are actually still immature and not clearly pretending.  Watching a 26 or 27-year-old parade around with the silliness of someone at their junior prom is off-putting, and even their pushes at charity seem more highly-manufactured and yet another constant ask for money.

It's worth noting that almost every single YouTuber has fallen prey to this highly commercialized, everything seems to be for a buck sort of attitude in some capacity.  Even YouTubers I genuinely love like Grace Helbig and The Vlog Brothers seem to have a product placement nearly every single week this year.  This is the nature of the beast, of course, and in some ways I like the reminder (I want to know if there are new shirts and such online).  However, Grace and the Vlog Brothers still make it feel like you're included if you don't have the money (or in my case, also the time) to purchase their products, giving their less affluent fans a way into this fun little world.  And they haven't started phoning it in-my god, the phoning it in.  Every single fun, clever challenge is instantly copied by every other YouTuber known to man, and if something is successful it's mimed over-and-over until I just can't watch anymore.  Daily vlogging is not that interesting if you can't add something unique into the mix, and I can only watch someone eat strange candy so many times before it loses all of its appeal.  I think YouTubers haven't realized that in some ways they're competing with each other.  If I've watched Joe Sugg do the Speech Jammer challenge, I don't want to also watch Alfie, Marcus, Zoe, Niomi, Caspar, and Connor all do the same challenge as well.  This combination of being highly-manufactured and not giving any real insight into the world of these YouTubers has meant it's time to purge.  And as a result, I hit the unsubscribe button on almost half of my channels this past week.  I still will be seeing Grace, Hannah, Mamrie, John, Hank, and of course Pewds on my feed, as well as new loves this year like Rosanna Pansino, but the entire Gleam Team got cut except Caspar, Louise, and Joe (all of whom at least tend to start trends rather than just follow them).  Every vlogging channel got cut (though if Pewdiepie could continue doing vlogging that would be marvelous, as it felt like an actual insight into him as a character), but while I am frustrated with their repetition this year, people like Connor Franta, Shane Dawson, and Miranda Sings are still in the lineup if only because I occasionally have videos I admire of theirs.  Even the insanely handsome guys who brought me to YouTube culture, Jacksgap, managed to bite the big one, as I just couldn't get past Jack's attempt at depth when his perspective seems skewed toward the insanely affluent, limited worldview of someone who can afford to go to non-western countries and look at them only with a camera.  As a result, I am far more likely to click most of the links in my YouTube lineup, but sad that in many ways I'm abandoning a huge chunk of my connection to YouTube culture.  It's smart in the long run (better to remove the clutter and focus on the worthwhile in every aspect of life), but it's a bummer that so many creators got stamped out by trying to be more accessible and merchandised.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

The State of the Race: The Republican Primaries

One of these five men will be the GOP nominee-but which?
With just 76 days left until the Iowa Caucuses, no one is doubting the position of former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton to be the first woman ever to win a major party's nomination.  Clinton's resume, combined with weak opponents and big-name contenders like Joe Biden, Al Gore, and Elizabeth Warren all taking a pass on the race has left her in a position few non-incumbents have ever enjoyed.  Some Democrats may still be a little bit leery about her, but she's about to be their nominee so I suspect they're about to get-inline and vote Clinton for the third time next November.

The Republican primaries, on the other hand, continue to confound.  It's worth noting in the past that presidential primaries have been decided with overwhelming odds in the waning days of a campaign.  John Kerry, for example, was behind almost the entire race in 2004 until he emerged victorious in Iowa, and eventually successful candidates like John McCain, George HW Bush, Bill Clinton, and Ronald Reagan all came out with an "L" in at least one of their campaigns in Iowa.  So this race could well still be decided in New Hampshire, or even (if Bill Clinton is any indication) on Super Tuesday.  As a result, don't get too bogged down on the polls of today, and focus a bit on tea leaves still.  As a result, you'll notice that the man who has led the polling for months nationally has not managed to hit my number one spot still, though I'm definitely not discounting his ability to reach that position if he can continue to keep the sorts of dramatic polling margins he currently has.  Let's take a look at the list of the candidates most likely to make it to Cleveland next August, and perhaps even the White House.

Honorable Mentions: I'm cutting the list in half going forward, because it feels like it's about time to acknowledge ten people aren't seriously competing for the GOP nomination.  As a result, you won't see Gov. John Kasich, who is currently ahead of at least one of these men in New Hampshire, nor Gov. Chris Christie who seems to have rebounded a bit but doesn't have enough gas in the engine to make his campaign work better, nor the debate star Carly Fiorina whose position has clearly faded in the race.  All of these people will be highly-sought after endorsements, and if the Republicans win perhaps a cabinet secretary or high-ranking ambassador (or in Kasich's case, a Vice President), but none of them is #45, or the person that the Republicans will ultimately offer up to be #45.

5. Dr. Ben Carson

I personally can't get over Ben Carson's approval ratings, but they are there and only a fool would dismiss them out-of-hand.  Perhaps this is me living in a glass house, but I honestly have never seen anything like this, where a man with no past experience, who is by all accounts terrible on the stump and in debates, and doesn't have any sort of celebrity charisma manages to land atop many Republican wish lists in the polls.  At least Trump has Jesse Ventura, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Sarah Palin as past precedence for the nation's fascination in his celebrity.  Carson's grasp on foreign policy may be his undoing in the wake of the Paris attacks (though the events are doing nothing to Trump's numbers), but he still sits close to Trump in national polling, and until he starts to hit Fiorina numbers (or hell-Marco Rubio's numbers at this point), I'm not removing him from the lineup.

4. Gov. Jeb Bush

A few days ago I discussed the idea that perhaps Jeb Bush was this cycle's John Kerry, the man no one was really excited about but was the only candidate left standing after all of the other contenders had their turn and we figured out he was the the best of a bad situation.  That's really all Bush, with his terrible approval ratings and polling numbers, can hope for.  It's interesting that his standing in Iowa is considerably stronger than his position in New Hampshire even if that's where he's focusing his campaign right now (Iowa, it should be noted, seems more and more likely to deliver the first bell of the race for Trump at this point, so this might not be the worst decision).  It's worth noting before you totally write him off that in addition to his parallels to the Kerry campaign, Bush is the only option other than Rubio for the establishment.  If Rubio cannot catch fire soon, they may give Bush another look.  Considering the intense strength in the Trump/Carson/Cruz polling numbers, the establishment may not be able to afford having both of them in the race.

3. Donald Trump

I haven't moved Trump from third place for most of the past few months, even if the men surrounding him have moved, but don't mistake that for me not acknowledging that he has gained in this race because he has.  The recent poll numbers about his foreign policy acumen (he tests better than Kasich, Bush, and Rubio in terms of who would do best in terms of foreign policy, a jaw-dropping statistic) show that he has a position that may not be able to questioned until actual voters start to cast their ballots.  It remains to be seen whether or not Trump would be a complete and abject disaster in the general election (I would imagine moderate Republicans and right-leaning Independents, not to mention leery Democrats, faced with the prospect of Trump holding the nuclear codes, would be willing to put up with another Clinton for four years rather than having the Donald in charge), but Trump has defied every expectation so far this cycle and may entice new voters in the same way Jesse Ventura did in 1998.  And this list is for the Republican Primary, not the general election.  Put it this way-if Cruz, Rubio, or Bush had the sort of poll numbers Trump does right now, we'd have them locked in with the same sort of "of course" that we do Hillary Clinton.

2. Sen. Ted Cruz

Cruz has had a marvelous past month, making himself into (at least in the media's eyes) the man who will be challenging Marco Rubio, the assumed frontrunner, in the primaries.  He has run the best traditional campaign, with boots on the ground, money in his pocket, and a subtly strong push in the primaries.  Quite frankly, if you discount the Koch Brothers and Sheldon Adelson (a big distinction), Cruz may well have won the invisible primaries this cycle.  His biggest problem, aside from Rubio of course, is that he needs Carson's voters and Trump's voters to make this thing work.  Cruz has rightfully been reluctant to go after either man, who seem to be revered with the right and he runs the risk of being with the "establishment" if he does, but he's going to have to get more supporters soon if he doesn't want to risk being the Wesley Clark-style candidate that could-on-paper, but couldn't-in-reality.

1. Sen. Marco Rubio

If this were a traditional election, Marco Rubio would be the obvious option, and indeed he is the man I think ultimately makes it through the primaries and takes on Hillary Clinton, but he's a strange frontrunner.  He consistently polls behind both Carson and Trump nationally, as well as in Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina.  Quite frankly, even if he universally took Fiorina's, Kasich's, and Christie's support nationally (a steep task-some of that would splinter to other candidates almost certainly, and this would assume they all drop out), he would still be behind Trump and Carson according to polling averages.  I put him here because I have never seen a candidate like Trump or Carson actually win the nomination.  Pat Robertson, Pat Buchanan, Herman Cain-they get their moments in the spotlight, and they might even win a state or two, but at the end of the day the GOP establishment (and the Democratic establishment, for that matter) haven't gone with a candidate who is viewed as general election poison in decades.  As a result, Rubio will be here until he either craters or until actual voters prove forty years of history wrong.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Sullivan's Travels (1942)

Film: Sullivan's Travels (1942)
Stars: Joel McCrea, Veronica Lake
Director: Preston Sturges
Oscar History: No nominations
Snap Judgment Ranking: 4/5 stars

I've currently been on a bit of a kick to see as many of the remaining "classics" that I haven't seen yet, finishing up both the original and the tenth anniversary AFI 100 Years...100 Movies lists, which brought Sullivan's Travels, arguably one of the least known films on the list, onto my radar.  The movie, directed by comic legend Preston Sturges, who also created the charming and wonderful The Lady Eve and so I was excited to see what was in store for me here, even if I haven't been wild about Veronica Lake in the past.  Thankfully, while I left this film with no greater opinion of Lake, my strong thoughts on Sturges remain intact, as this is a funny if dated comedy about the ravages of poverty during the Great Depression.

(Spoilers Ahead) The film follows John Sullivan (McCrea), who wants to make a truly great, serious picture about the hardships of the world (in a wonderful twist, the film he intends to be made is entitled O Brother Where Art Thou? which the Coen Brothers would eventually make into an Oscar-nominated film starring George Clooney some six decades later).  Sullivan, however, has lived most of his life with a silver spoon in his mouth, at least according to producers who want to trick him into continually making comedies, but this backfires when Sullivan insists that he must go out into the world and learn what the "average Joe" lives like so he can make an authentic picture.  The film follows a relatively traditional pattern after that, admittedly with loads of laughs, as Sullivan has troubles adapting to life on the road (frequently ending up right back at his giant mansion), but alongside a girl (simply billed as The Girl, and played by Lake), he eventually finds himself enduring the hardships and inequalities of the poor after being jailed in a labor camp for six years, before finally realizing that it's comedies that the poor need, not dramas, and goes back to live with the Girl in his mansion, a little bit wiser.

The film's physical comedy is the source of much of its joy, and it's actually quite amusing.  There are bits such as when Joel McCrea is trapped in a boarding house by a randy older woman who is trying to seduce him that had me uproarious with laughter, and it's extremely amusing to watch McCrea continually fail at being poor, as his money and stature just keep creeping back into the picture.  The supporting players are all regulars from Sturges' company, and they know how to mine a laugh, and Sturges is smart enough to fill them with occasionally powerful bite.  Frequently throughout the film we see that, in fact, the people who make pictures about the poor and downtrodden can't possibly imagine their lifestyles, and it's actually a pretty cheeky jab at the rich and their ivory towers.

This sharpness, combined with the brilliant physical comedy, make up for the relatively eye-rolling ending, where McCrea's Sullivan decides the world needs laughter.  Today this wouldn't fly, and it shouldn't have really flown then as what the world actually needed was O Brother Where Art Thou, as people in power (like Sullivan) needed to realize that the poor were being treated horribly.  This ending was a bit of a downer and very high-minded (and considering Sturges worked almost exclusively in comedies, also back-scratching), but the film is too good in the preceding moments for this to derail the picture.  McCrea is also wonderfully hammy in his main role, while Veronica Lake is the little girl lost routine that she seems known for, which borders on the creepy in my opinion as she seems to have more of a father/daughter relationship with McCrea than the romantic one the script pushes.  Still, even with the ending and the questionable romance, this is a thumbs up from me, and I'm glad the AFI steered me in this direction.

Those are my thoughts on Sullivan's Travels, what are yours?  Is anyone a big fan of this, and where does it rank for you alongside Sturges other work?  If I don't love Veronica Lake here, is she a lost cause for me as an actress?  And what classic films are you hanging your head over never seeing?  Share in the comments!

Monday, November 16, 2015

Everybody's Linking for the Week

I know, it's Monday.  I'm bummed too.  Let's do this thing and hopefully feel a little better informed as we count the days until the next weekend, shall we?

In Entertainment...

-On Saturday the Governors Awards took place in Los Angeles, as the likes of Gena Rowlands, Spike Lee, and Debbie Reynolds won their long overdue Oscars.  Spike Lee urged Hollywood to embrace diversity, particularly from a business perspective, and AMPAS President Cheryl Boone Isaacs echoed these sentiments in her opening remarks.  Gena Rowlands was the major hit of the night, sharing a cute story about Bette Davis (it always pays to name-drop a Hollywood legend or two in a speech, particularly if you're a Hollywood legend yourself), while Debbie Reynolds was too ill to be able to attend, so her granddaughter Billie went in her place.  Congrats to all three, and here's to hoping both for a speedy recovery for Reynolds and for the three of them to be at the very least presenters (perhaps Best Picture?) at this year's Oscar ceremony.

-Due to the attacks in Paris, episodes of Supergirl and NCIS: Los Angeles that focused on terrorism-related plotlines were replaced by other episodes.  I do, of course, want to be sensitive to those directly affected by the tragedy but part of me becomes very uncomfortable when studios do something like this.  These episodes don't pose a security risk like the cancellation of live concerts and film premieres, but instead are just episodes of television, and as a result by not airing them aren't we giving the terrorists a victory?  I get that CBS doesn't want to suffer the backlash, but part of me wonders if a simple "we're not going to let terrorists dictate our freedom of expression" would be a better byline for the network.  In related news-should I be watching Supergirl?  I feel like it's a pretty populist hit, but no one I know is watching-is it any good, and what is it comparable to?

-Salon's Sophia McClennon wrecked Trevor Noah in an epic takedown, saying he can't hold a candle to Jon Stewart and points out that his approach will ruin The Daily Show's sharp position in the public debate and its place as a former of national opinion.  Clicking over to the link, it's easy to see her point-Noah is a voice of fresh air in the light night talk game, but more so because he's intensely handsome and has a wryness that lacks in comparison to the earnestness that dominates network late-night.  However, he hasn't really advocated for anything other than SNL level parodies, and that's SNL when it isn't acing it.  His show hasn't really done anything except cruelly malign Iowa (but not in a way that came across as anything other than regional stereotyping) and say Donald Trump was an African dictator (something that Stewart could have done in three jokes).  While McClennon is correct to point out that Stewart wasn't a great hit out-of-the-gate, in a media landscape where John Oliver is sharply gaining points and Jon Stewart is poised to be creating another show on HBO, Noah doesn't have that long to wait before he becomes old news.

In Politics...

-Politico, whose magazine may be the best thing on the web these days (their general site occasionally turns into a beltway gossip column), gives a remarkably thorough investigation into the months preceding the 9/11 attacks, particularly spelling out that (based on evidence provided by former CIA officials) President Bush had received numerous warnings about impending attacks from Al-Qaeda and hadn't heeded those warnings.  This is particularly timely both in comparison to how Bush was treated over 9/11 and how Sec. Clinton has been treated in regard to the attacks in Benghazi, as well as in the wake of the tragic events in Paris this past week.  I thoroughly recommend reading through the full article if you haven't yet.

-Speaking of Politico Magazine, Bill Scher raised yet another article wondering if Jeb Bush is still in the presidential game, but instead of calling back Sen. John McCain's triumphant return to the spotlight in 2008, he instead decided to compare him to a different comeback kid, John Kerry in 2004.  While the Bush camp would be loathe to compare themselves to the man who spent a year vilifying his brother, behind closed doors I suspect they are studying the Kerry campaign.  After all, like Bush Sen. Kerry was down in the mid-single digits before the Iowa caucuses (actually down less than a month by those kinds of numbers), and 2004 was more about a man who never had held office (Wesley Clark), a first-term senator who had become the establishment's new favorite (John Edwards), and someone from the fringe of the party that seemed to have inexplicably caught fire (Howard Dean) rather than longtime party stalwarts like Kerry, Dick Gephardt, and Joe Lieberman.  It's worth noting that Bush is actually mimicking in many ways the Kerry camp, not really succumbing to the urge to be outlandish or change his tune, but instead staying in and hoping that the others implode in a way similar to Kerry's challengers (when Dean, Clark, Edwards, Gephardt, and Lieberman, all of whom had a strong shot at the nomination throughout that campaign, ended up being unacceptable choices for a general and the establishment went to the longtime war-hero senator).  Some may mention that Kerry, of course, lost the White House (as did John McCain), but right now the goal is emerging victorious out of the primary-Bush doesn't care about Hillary Clinton until then.  He'd gladly settle for the hand that John Kerry got dealt at this point.

-While there were a number of retirements announced this past week from Congress (including Sam Farr, who is another close Nancy Pelosi ally who could be indicating that Pelosi will eventually resign from the next Congress should she lose out on the Speakership next November), perhaps no one set off a potential firestorm quite like Cynthia Lummis of Wyoming.  With Lummis, a relatively quiet Republican whom I thought would just bide her time until Mike Enzi retired in 2020, announcing a surprise retirement, we are likely to see the return of Liz Cheney, who last cycle ran an embarrassing and nasty campaign against Enzi, which she ended up withdrawing from in the wake of a 50-point voting deficit in the state.  Cheney is unlikely to have the field to herself, however, as more seasoned politicians in the state like State House Speaker Tim Stubson and House Majority Leader Rosie Berger are looking at the contest (openings in Wyoming don't come around every day, and whomever wins here will have right-of-first-refusal in 2020 when Enzi is expected to retire).  Considering the bad blood that Cheney had with the Wyoming State Republicans (as well as Lummis and Enzi, both still powerhouses in the state), and her father's still considerable profile in national politics, this could be one of the most intriguing primaries of the next House cycle.

Shameless Self-Promotion of the Week...

-I am loving the second season of The Leftovers (which, while lacking the wandering nature of the first season, still manages to take a look at the harshness of faith, tragedy, and dependance on others), but why do they have to make Matt so insanely stupid?  I won't share what he does (please be watching the show if you aren't-I can't lose this and Looking in the same year), but if you're watching sound off in the comments on Matt's story arch.

YouTube Video of the Week...

-The best video that Shane Dawson has done probably all year was his Fifi Fierce character (parodying the banal nature of YouTube beauty gurus), and thankfully she's back.  This is audibly NSFW, so keep the headphones on, but it's probably the sharpest satire Shane has done:

Just One More...

-HuffPo did a rundown of this past season's art auction highlights, which if you've been paying attention hasn't been particularly exciting outside of the insanity of Mondigliani's Nu Couche getting $170 million.  HuffPo is a little kinder to the auction houses than others in the art world have been, but it's definitely a worthwhile read if you're an art/museum lover and haven't been keeping up with the scene.