The Warren Conundrum

As 2019 rolls along and various Democratic candidates make their pitch in a crowded field, I keep being impressed by Elizabeth Warren. Before I go any further, I should make clear two things:

1) Every Democratic candidate has their flaws. There’s no such thing as a perfect candidate and looking for someone who passes a 100% purity test is a vainglorious exercise.

2) I will vote for whomever the Democratic nominee for President is. To vote for Trump, vote third party, or to not vote at all (which is basically a vote for Trump because he succeeds when voter turnout is depressed) is morally reprehensible. To not vote for the Democratic nominee is to say that there were good Nazis in Charlottesville and that throwing children in cages is okay. If that’s your morality, so be it, but don’t pretend to be something you’re not.

That being said, I think Elizabeth Warren has emerged as the only serious candidate among a crowded field. Biden has way too much crappy baggage. Sanders has big plans but doesn’t seem to really have a handle on the policy. Buttigieg doesn’t seem to recognize the shortcomings of his policies towards race, and scaling up from South Bend, Indiana to the U.S. could have serious consequences in a racially diversifying nation. I could go on and on, but I want to talk about why I like Warren.

Warren knows her shit. She recognizes the problems facing our country and comes up with good policies to help them. The Native American thing was a major unforced error, but if you think that was anywhere near as bad as anything Trump has done, you are a total fucking idiot and nothing I can say will ever change your mind.

My concern about Warren is that she’s too good, and the systemic misogyny and idiocy of our country won’t let her win. People say they care about policy, but that is a lie. Our Presidential race is a popularity contest, and the media needs it to be a horserace so you’ll keep watching. They can’t make Trump better, so they’ll just say Warren (or whomever the nominee is) is just as bad. What was Hillary Clinton’s cardinal sin in the reporting? She misused e-mail. This somehow became the basis for an entire narrative that she was untrustworthy so folks should just stay home or roll the dice on a guy who had to pay $25 million for his fake university, but was somehow less untrustworthy.

You can argue that Trump now has a record to defend, but Trump doesn’t operate in reality. He just lies and lies and lies and nothing touches him. People won’t hold him accountable just like they didn’t hold George W. Bush accountable for lying us into a war. Americans like incumbents because they don’t demand anything of us. Change is scary, and if you don’t have to force it, go with the devil you know. And if the media tells you one candidate is just as rotten as the other, then does it even really matter? May as well stay home and be content that you’re above such nonsense. Sure, people are suffering, but they’re not people you know. You’ll never meet an immigrant child who has been separated from their parents. You’ll never be near a white supremacist rally. As long as the economy is stable, your life is fine.

Maybe I’m being overly pessimistic, but I’m looking at the variables and I don’t see what changes the status quo. I think the problems Warren would face are similar to what others would face (again, compounded by misogyny) but it’s particularly infuriating because she’s showing she’s the real deal. And we’re going to let her pass us by because we’re too foolish to understand how doomed we are if we continue on this current course.

Wednesday, April 24th, 2019 politics No Comments

2019 Oscar Predictions

Best Picture

Will Win: Roma

Should Win: The Favourite

Best Director

Will Win: Alfonso Cuaron, Roma

Should Win: Alfonso Cuaron, Roma

Best Actor

Will Win: Rami Malek, Bohemian Rhapsody

Should Win: Christian Bale, Vice

Best Actress

Will Win: Glenn Close, The Wife

Should Win: Olivia Colman, The Favourite

Best Supporting Actor

Will Win: Mahershala Ali, Green Book

Should Win: Sam Elliott, A Star Is Born

Best Supporting Actress

Will Win: Regina King, If Beale Street Could Talk

Should Win: Regina King, If Beale Street Could Talk

Best Adapted Screenplay

Will Win: BlacKkKlansman

Should Win: BlacKkKlansman

Best Original Screenplay

Will Win: First Reformed

Should Win: First Reformed

Best Cinematography

Will Win: Roma

Should Win: Roma

Best Costumes Design

Will Win: Black Panther

Should Win: Black Panther

Best Editing

Will Win: Vice

Should Win: The Favourite

Best Makeup & Hairstyling

Will Win: Vice

Should Win: Vice

Best Score

Will Win: BlacKkKlansman

Should Win: If Beale Street Could Talk

Best Original Song

Will Win: “Shallow”, A Star Is Born

Should Win: “Shallow”, A Star Is Born

Best Production Design

Will Win: Black Panther

Should Win: Black Panther

Best Sound Editing

Will Win: Bohemian Rhapsody

Should Win: A Quiet Place

Best Sound Mixing

Will Win: Bohemian Rhapsody

Should Win: Roma

Best Visual Effects

Will Win: First Man

Should Win: First Man

Best Animated Film

Will Win: Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

Should Win: Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

Best Foreign Language Film

Will Win: Roma

Should Win: Roma

Best Documentary

Will Win: RBG

Should Win: Minding the Gap

Best Documentary Short

Will Win: Black Sheep

Best Animated Short

Will Win: Bao

Best Live-Action Short

Will Win: Marguerite

Friday, February 22nd, 2019 movies No Comments

My Best Features of 2018

I’m trying to learn how to push my own work, so apologies if this comes off as arrogant or self-centered. These were the articles I was most proud of in 2018:

In Defense of Physical Media: Why You Should Keep Buying Blu-rays and DVDs

Annihilation Explained: Unpacking Alex Garland’s Brilliant, Trippy Sci-Fi Horror Film

Good Movies Are Overrated

Love, Simon and the Necessary Death of the “Nice Guy”

‘God of War’ and Why Fans Don’t Always Know What’s Best

Why ‘Westworld’ Doesn’t Earn Its Cynical View of Humanity

‘The Fugitive’ at 25: Hollywood Doesn’t Make This Kind of Movie Anymore, and That’s a Shame

The Differences between the Four Versions of ‘A Star Is Born’, Explained

Netflix Should Push Kathryn Hahn for a Best Actress Oscar Nomination for ‘Private Life’

No, You Don’t “Need” to See ‘ROMA’ in a Theater

‘Green Book’ and the Importance of Feeling Bad

‘Green Book’, ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’, and Why It’s Important Who Tells Your Story

How ‘Mary Poppins Returns’ Misses the Spirit of the Original

The Mid-Credits Scene of ‘Vice’ Is the Film’s Raison D’être

 

Monday, December 31st, 2018 criticism, movies, television No Comments

Your Vote Isn’t Just About You

I was planning on writing this post for a while now, but since we’re only a week away from Election Day and NY Mag decided to go ahead and post this headache-inducing piece, I figured I’d take care of it now.

You can see from this piece, there are 12 young people who seem to think their vote is about them. It’s about their beliefs, their ailments, their motivations, and on the one hand, I can understand why they responded this way. They were asked, “Why aren’t you voting?” and so they took an individualistic approach to explain their personal motivations. But what’s revealing is that they think their personal motivations are what matters, and that’s the problem.

There seems to be an issue where people think their vote is solely about them. To some extent, that is true. You are a political actor, and a vote is a political choice. Your choices typically reflect your values, so your values are the ones that matter here. But that’s an extremely myopic way to view a vote, because a vote isn’t really just about you. You may vote to accomplish certain ends—voting for a candidate who opposes abortion because you oppose abortion, or voting for a candidate because they support gun control and you support gun control.

But these actions take place in a larger society, and at the end of the day, your vote is really about society, not your individual place within that society. If you’re a typical voter—i.e., not a big-money donor who can call up a politician because they have to take your call—then your vote should really be about doing the most amount of good for the most amount of people. When you take yourself out of that process, you create a harmful act by omission. You leave the responsibility to others because for whatever reason you won’t carry it yourself.

And that’s why these 12 young voters are so infuriating. They’re not thinking about the consequences of a vote; they’re thinking only about themselves. They can only see as far as their own place in society and not society as whole. I don’t know if they haven’t read a news story in the last two years, but voting clearly has consequences. I don’t know how a Hillary Clinton presidency would have turned out, but I can say with reasonable certainty that there wouldn’t be babies in cages and plans to strip trans citizens of their identity.

If your big takeaway from these things is, “I’m not a baby in a cage or a trans citizen,” then you have failed as a citizen. Go to the voting booth and think about how your vote affects others, not just yourself.

Tuesday, October 30th, 2018 politics No Comments

‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ Review: We Will Rock You (in a Safe, Sanitized Fashion)

For a movie that holds up Queen as innovators, Bohemian Rhapsody is remarkably generic and predictable. At one point in the movie, Queen, rebels that they are, are arguing with Ray Foster (Mike Myers, who keeps lapsing into his Fat Bastard voice), the head of EMI, over the release of “Bohemian Rhapsody”. As Queen celebrates their own masterpiece and touts the song as breaking the mold, Foster fires back, “I love formulas!” And the movie, which is credited to director Bryan Singer, but was finished by Dexter Fletcher after Singer was fired for disappearing from the set, is more than happy to abide by formulas. You won’t walk out of Bohemian Rhapsody with a greater understanding of Freddie Mercury (Rami Malek) or the artistry of Queen’s music. But Queen members Brian May (Gwilym Lee) and Roger Taylor (Ben Hardy), who served as producers on the film, get to craft their own mythology with Bohemian Rhapsody. They want you to know that they’re legends; they just never bother to explain how or why.

The film plays by the standard biopic rules, starting back at the formation of Queen in 1970 and tracking them through the ups and downs of their career with Mercury serving as the protagonist. It’s a film that understands that Mercury has to be front and center, just as he was with the band, but that May, Taylor, and bassist John Deacon (Joseph Mazzello) were also part of Queen and contributed to the band’s success. However, as Queen tries to navigate stardom, Freddie begins to fray, especially with the negative influence of Paul Prenter (Allen Leech). Thankfully, since this is a traditional rock band biopic that never takes any unexpected twists or turns, redemption is only a reunion and a concert away.

Bohemain Rhapsody always feels like a fan film made by Queen. It comes off as by the band, for the band, and that encases everything in a protective glass shell that ultimately weakens the picture. At best, you come away with a reminder of the Queen songs you enjoy, and maybe you’ll be tempted to buy the Greatest Hits album if you don’t own it already. But it’s a film that’s always comes off as being crafted from the outside, the kind of picture you would make after reading Queen’s Wikipedia page. That’s not going to help you understand their artistry or what made them unique or why Queen endures while other rock bands from the era have faded away. Bohemian Rhapsody is two hours of Queen appreciation, which means there’s really no room for nuance or anything remotely dangerous.

Where the film starts to get insulting is how it treats Mercury’s homosexuality. The film pulls as far away as possible from Mercury’s homosexuality while still acknowledging that he’s gay. His closest relationship is with his wife Mary Austin (Lucy Boynton) and he constantly professes her love for her even though there’s no specificity to their relationship and Malek and Boynton have no chemistry. The primary negative relationship in Mercury’s life is Prenter, and homosexuality, as it’s depicted in Bohemian Rhapsody, is a destructive force full of empty relationships, meaningless sex, and coarse manipulation. The film tries to tack on a positive gay relationship at the end, but it rings hollow because again, there’s no specificity to it.

For some, the film may succeed due to Malek’s performance, but while I’ll agree that Malek is a talented performer, he doesn’t seem to have a unique angle on Mercury, which isn’t really his fault because the script never gives him one. He’s got a strained relationship with his father, but that never becomes a thing. Freddie is depicted as being lonely, but the movie never builds on it. Because the driving force of Bohemian Rhapsody is “Queen is legendary”, there’s no room for anything authentic or uncomfortable. There are only the ebbs and flows that the genre demands, and no one involved in the filmmaking process made a point to question those genre tropes. That leaves an actor like Malek with not much to do except sing Mercury’s songs and rely heavily on giant fake teeth to complete the impression.

I’m sure Bohemian Rhapsody will win over some Queen fans, but that’s a trick. Liking Bohemian Rhapsody because you’re a Queen fan is akin to liking Batman & Robin because you’re a Batman fan. It’s possible to tell the story of Queen and do it justice, but no one seemed interested in telling that story. They wanted something pre-packaged, easily digestible, and laudatory. But great art isn’t supposed to be comforting, and Queen didn’t make waves by being a safe, predictable band. By unquestioningly celebrating Queen, Bohemian Rhapsody does both the band and Mercury a great disservice.

Rating: D+

Tuesday, October 23rd, 2018 movies No Comments

The Stupidity of Being a Sports Fan

The Falcons got crushed yesterday by the Steelers, and now sitting at 1-4, the Falcons’ season is effectively over. And that’s a huge bummer because I like watching my team do well and stay competitive. Instead, they fell off a cliff. And it’s not like I haven’t seen that happen to this team before. It happened in 2013 and 2014, but it still blows.

And it blows that I even care! I think pop culture fandom is riddled with its own issues, but at least you’re following and engaging with art. Sports is something that’s kind of random and you just have to ride the wave. But man does it feel dumb to care about it. Like my joy and my disappointment are equally unimportant. I can’t engage with a loss like I can with a disappointing movie or TV show. I just have to sit there and feel bad.

Anyway, today was definitely one of the worst losses I’ve ever seen as a Falcons fan, and the most I can do is write about it to get it out of my system. At least I can control my rage, whereas if I was writing about something important, like the GOP seating an accused sex offender on the Supreme Court, all that would come out would be a string of swear words for paragraphs on end.

Monday, October 8th, 2018 sports, stupid No Comments

The Unimpressive President

From time to time, I can’t help but marvel at how unimpressed I am with Trump as an individual. On the one hand, he should be impressive. He upended the political system, got elected President without ever holding public office before, and he controls every news cycle. And yet that never seems to be the product of ability as much as he was born rich and constantly needs attention. I don’t think shamelessness is a virtue, and to mistake it as such is to uphold vice. Shame has its place, and just because Trump can’t feel shame, that doesn’t mean he’s got some superpower.

But more often than not, I’m struck by how ordinary he is. Take away his wealth (which he inherited), and you have a dumpy Fox News couch potato. He’s abnormal, not extraordinary. Look at all his obsessions and all the information he consumes, and he’s no different than a racist grandpa spouting the latest conspiracy theory he heard that afternoon. Guys like Trump are a dime a dozen; it just happened that one of them became President.

And we’ve had unimpressive Presidents before. No one knows anything about Millard Fillmore or Zachary Taylor, and that’s fine. But I do get annoyed when Trump is hailed as some political genius for his accomplishments when he was just a con man with the audacity to run a giant scam he didn’t even think all the way through. Even Trump is miserable that’s President, and at least we can take some small comfort that deep down he knows he’s worthless and will never measure up to all the people he attacks on Twitter.

Friday, August 17th, 2018 politics, stupid No Comments

Why I Don’t Like ‘The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild’

Before I begin, let me be clear: I don’t think The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is a bad game. I can appreciate the care, effort, and most importantly, appeal it presents. But it also kind of clarified the kind of gamer I am and the kind of games I enjoy. I play games to unwind, and unwinding for me is not having to put a lot of thought into anything. It’s why I like building LEGO from the instruction manual. Here’s the manual, here are the steps, and it’s relaxing to just follow those steps and get a nice little set at the end.

Breath of the Wild is all about exploration and daunting challenges. It relishes in frustrating the player and then, for those willing to weather those frustrations, they’ll be rewarded. So if you fight through a lot of tough enemies, figure out how to get to the tower, fight even more enemies, survive the terrain, figure out how to climb to the tower, survive more enemies, and then finally climb the tower, you’ll be rewarded with climbing the tower. You set the goal, you choose the way to figure it out, and punishing as it may be along the way, you’re theoretically rewarded at the end.

For me, I just like more guidance in my games. I like knowing where to go next and a clear path to get there. I’m not opposed to challenge per say, but I do get frustrated with ridiculous levels of difficulty that require me to “work” at getting better (which is why I’ve never bothered to defeat the Valkyrie Queen in God of War). I don’t want to have to work to get good at a video game just like I don’t want to have to dump hours of my life figuring out how to climb a tower. I enjoy the simple pleasures of a game, and becoming invested in my character’s journey. But what Breath of the Wild is selling, I’m not buying. I can understand why it’s popular, but after spending time with the game, I can tell it’s not for me.

Friday, June 29th, 2018 criticism, videogames No Comments

2018 Oscar Predictions

Best Picture

Will Win: The Shape of Water

Should Win: Get Out

Best Director

Will Win: Guillermo del Toro, The Shape of Water

Should Win: Guillermo del Toro, The Shape of Water

Best Actor

Will Win: Gary Oldman, Darkest Hour

Should Win: Timothee Chalamet, Call Me by Your Name

Best Actress

Will Win: Frances McDormand, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Should Win: Frances McDormand, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Best Supporting Actor

Will Win: Sam Rockwell, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Should Win: Willem Dafoe, The Florida Project

Best Supporting Actress

Will Win: Allison Janney, I, Tonya

Should Win: Allison Janney, I, Tonya

Best Adapted Screenplay

Will Win: Call Me by Your Name

Should Win: Mudbound

Best Original Screenplay

Will Win: Get Out

Should Win: Get Out

Best Cinematography

Will Win: Blade Runner 2049

Should Win: Blade Runner 2049

Best Costumes Design

Will Win: Phantom Thread

Should Win: Phantom Thread

Best Editing

Will Win: Baby Driver

Should Win: Baby Driver

Best Makeup & Hairstyling

Will Win: Darkest Hour

Should Win: Darkest Hour

Best Score

Will Win: The Shape of Water

Should Win: Phantom Thread

Best Original Song

Will Win: “This Is Me”, The Greatest Showman

Should Win: “Remember Me”, Coco

Best Production Design

Will Win: Blade Runner 2049

Should Win: The Shape of Water

Best Sound Editing

Will Win: Dunkirk

Should Win: Baby Driver

Best Sound Mixing

Will Win: Baby Driver

Should Win: Baby Driver

Best Visual Effects

Will Win: Blade Runner 2049

Should Win: War for the Planet of the Apes

Best Animated Film

Will Win: Coco

Should Win: Coco

Best Foreign Language Film

Will Win: A Fantastic Woman

Best Documentary

Will Win: Icarus

Best Documentary Short

Will Win: Heroin(e)

Best Animated Short

Will Win: Dear Basketball

Best Live-Action Short

Will Win: DeKalb Elementary

Thursday, March 1st, 2018 movies No Comments

Democrats Aren’t Genies

Earlier this week, the government shutdown was short-lived. Naturally, the base called out Democrats for “caving” because the base has been conditioned to believe that Democrats will bail at the first sign of trouble. I’ve been going back and forth on this all week, and I’ve come to the conclusion that Democrats didn’t play their hand as well as they could, but at the same time, they’re in an impossible position.

Yes, being the minority party, they can use the shutdown to try and extract certain concessions, and a bipartisan agreement for DREAMers isn’t the biggest ask in the world. It’s not like in 2013 when Republicans shut down the government in order to defund the Affordable Care Act as if Obama was going to ruin his signature achievement. That had, as you can imagine, zero bipartisan support. So the terms were different, but at the end of the day there are some hard truths at the center of this shutdown.

1) Even if Democrats were better at messaging (and for a party that has the support of Hollywood, no one ever seems to be able to give Aaron Sorkin a call), this is still a fight about immigrants, and a large portion of Americans may claim to be sympathetic to immigrants, but they don’t want to sacrifice anything for them. Americans don’t look to their government for empathy; they look to their government as “What have you done for me lately?” If Democrats had been smarter, they could have framed the problem as, “It’s not good when 800,000 jobs disappear,” or “These people contribute $3.4 billion to our economy, so maybe we should find a way to keep them here.” Instead, they framed it as a moral issue, and while they’re on the right side of the issue, the politics don’t support the action because too many Americans are selfish.

2) Democrats don’t control anything. Let’s assume that Mitch McConnell had caved and agreed that Graham-Durbin agreement had to be tied to spending. Then it moves to the House, and they’re a bunch of yahoos who definitely don’t care about shutting down the government. They would rant and rave about the DACA bill being a poison pill and that spending agreements should be separate from immigration and meanwhile Americans would just be getting angrier and angrier. Some liberals may argue that the anger would be directed at the Republicans, but I think that’s too rosy of an estimation. I think it would be directed at congress in general. Democrats don’t have to worry about liberals turning out in November. Weakening Trump will accomplish that; Democrats are worried about those people in 2016 who think the whole government is broken and that no one should be elected. Those people don’t show up, the status quo remains the same, and Republicans keep the House because of gerrymandering and incumbency rates.

3) If you’re really upset with how Democrats behaved, then the long game is on you. You have to get out there and start backing candidates who can win. I think far too many liberals threw up their hands in November 2016, assumed Clinton would win, and that life would continue on as normal. Welcome to 2018 where you actually have to work to accomplish what you want.  That means knocking on doors, volunteering, and actually getting in the fight. Sorry, civil engagement is tough. Welcome to a democracy.

One final note: I believe that when it comes to politicans, they basically all (or mostly all) operate from a standpoint of self-preservation. It’s while they’ll take donations from anyone and avoid blame at all costs. You don’t get to keep your job for being noble. And if avoiding blame is half your job, then that means you have to pass the buck.

I think Schumer’s strategy here is to shift the blame to the House and Paul Ryan. Here’s how it works:

1) Immigration reform passes in the Senate.

2) It dies in the House because A) Paul Ryan wants to remain Speaker, so he won’t piss off the hardliners; B) White supremacist Steve King has a veto vote, so he can prevent the legislation from even coming to the floor.

3) Schumer is able to say, “See? If you care about these poor kids* then we can’t let the GOP maintain control of the House. The only way to help DREAMers is to elect Democrats.

In this way, Schumer had maximized his issue. First, he can’t be blamed if the bill gets out of the Senate and dies in the House (and it’s not like Mitch McConnell cares about the fortunes of Paul Ryan, especially since McConnell can read a poll and knows that the GOP will probably lose the House anyway), and if it dies in the House, then he has another way to campaign against the GOP.

The downside in all of this is that DREAMers get caught in the crossfire. It’s a position they never should have been in in the first place, but here we are. In an ideal world, we never would have had this problem to begin with because people would have voted for Clinton over a game show host, but so it goes. These are the cards we’ve been dealt, and while I would obviously love it if the Durbin-Graham bill, which isn’t ideal, but an acceptable compromise, passed, what we’re looking at here is a way for Democrats to reach the best outcome possible for the party because (and I hate to say this) with Trump in the White House, fascist Stephen Miller as a chief advisor, and a GOP majority in the House and Senate, saving DREAMers was a bit of a pipe dream. To act like a longer shutdown would have saved them is a nice thought, but I think it would be been more about posturing for the base than actually extracting concessions.

*They’re not kids; they’re in their mid-20s, but I’ll allow the rhetoric because it’s effective

Saturday, January 27th, 2018 politics No Comments
 

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