Archive for the ‘politics’ Category

*Note: This review was originally published during coverage of the 2016 Sundance Film Festival.

3000

It’s easy to imagine a parallel universe in which Anthony Weiner successfully repented of his sins (or never committed them in the first place) and won an unlikely victory in the race for mayor of New York City. In that universe, one can only speculate on what could have been in the embattled politician’s future.

The contrast between that once-bright vision and Weiner’s corresponding fall from grace, is made all the more Shakespearean in this searing, at-times-uncomfortably intimate documentary, which tracks the meteoric rise, fall, resurgence and crushing implosion of an American political career.

“Weiner,” the film, is shot with astounding access to Weiner, the man’s, inner circle. That access was no doubt expected to chronicle a much different, and much more positive, outcome, and it makes the inevitable trainwreck all the more daunting as it approaches.

But the film also succeeds at humanizing a man who became a national punchline. Weiner is shown here as passionate, energetic, sympathetic and deeply, deeply flawed. The film juggles the laugh-out-loud humor of a campaign in crisis with the profound sadness of watching a family and marriage nearly torn apart by scandal.

That no other politician would allow this level of exposure, combined with the singular drama of Weiner’s personal story, creates a documentary experience with few equals.

Grade: A

*Weiner opens in Salt Lake City on Friday, June 3.

Advertisements

Read Full Post »

hoc_key_013_h.jpg

*Note: While sensitive to spoilers, some plot details from Seasons 1-3 of House of Cards follow*

Season 2 of ‘House of Cards’ started with a major character being thrown in front of a train. It ended with another major character being left for dead in a forest after being bludgeoned by a rock.

‘House of Cards’ often gets dinged for it’s unlikely plot developments, which sees a House Majority Whip ascend to the Oval Office in 26 episodes through a serious of calculated and occasionally deadly maneuvers. Frank Underwood, the series’ anti-heroic protagonist is effectively invincible, gunning down his adversaries like the video games he enjoys and piercing space and time to gloat about his victories to the viewing audience at home.

It’s implausible political porn, but at least in seasons 1 and 2 it was deliciously implausible political porn.

In season 3, the action moves to the White House, the seat of American government, and abruptly grinds to a halt. Gone are the locomotive homicides, gone are the parliamentary machinations, gone are the clandestine rendezvous, and in their place we have President Francis Underwood, standing at a white board, explaining the budgetary quandaries of entitlement reform.

Because what happens when a Machiavellian caricature achieves what he wants? What happens when there is no one left in Frank Underwood’s way? As it turns out, we just get a president trying to up his approval ratings and push a jobs package through Congress. It’s like The West Wing, without the fourth wall.

And so Frank Underwood weeps (in episode 2) because there are no more worlds to conquer.

Having now finished the entirety of season 3, I’m left slightly befuddled. The series now bears so little resemblance to its earlier self that I’m honestly not sure what to think. What I do know is that the decision to forego politics and focus on relationship was wrongheaded.

That status of Claire and Frank Underwood, the series’ Lord and Lady Macbeth, takes up the bulk of the going’s on, but elsewhere we watch Remy pine for Jackie, Doug pine for Rachel, and most of the remaining cast neglected or forgotten. Never before have the expansive halls of the West Wing felt so claustrophobic.

It’s a shame, because an unpopular and unelected president fighting for his shot at a party nomination would have made for an interesting exercise in the world that Beau Willimon built. I suppose it’s possible that season 4 could shift in that direction, with the campaign just now in full swing and trouble at home for the Underwood’s, but I find myself painfully, disappointingly ambivalent.

As it stands now, I find myself wishing that the final shot of season 2, with Frank staring triumphant into the camera and pounding his ring on the Resolute Desk in anticipation of the tasks ahead, had been ‘House of Cards’ last.

Read Full Post »

 

With all the MPAA ratings hullabaloo that surrounded the release of “Bully” it’s easy to forget that before a movie needs to worry about reaching an audience, it needs to worry about being good. After a few weeks in larger markets the movie finally opened in a theater near me and I made my way down to see just what all the fuss was about.

The result was an emotionally satisfying yet somewhat underwhelming look into today’s public school system. Unlike other social-issue documentaries that say “Here is a problem, here is why it needs to be fixed, here is what people are doing to fix it” bully meanders somewhat disjointedly through a series of vignettes examining the lives of real-life victims. It makes some strides in diversity, giving us an outed gay student, a child born premature and never expected to survive and a few examples of what happens when kids are finally pushed to far, whether that be retaliation or suicide.

There is one glaring flaw, however, that my friend Emily pointed out more articulately than I was able to. Every story takes place in the bible-belt heartland, so even though they talk about the universal problem of bullying, the sub-text is that the issue is limited to simple, backwoods folk. City dwellers, it would appear, are immune to the humiliation and terror that their country peers are able to bestow.

The stories that are shown are heartbreaking, but after so much talk about the content of this movie I was, frankly, expecting to be more shocked. In one scene we see what could be described as the “main” character being punched, choked and stabbed and it is effective. Beyond that, however, we mostly walk through hallways or through fields as subject talk about their torment. Most of the horrors of bullying, then, are told to us instead of shown.

Obviously, showing is hard, and I do not mean to dismiss the efforts of the filmmakers in shining a light in dark corners. I only mean to say that for all the talk, you never arrive at a point where your eyes are opened. Yes, kids can be cruel. Yes, schools often do not do enough to punish bullies and sometimes turn a blind eye. But at that point, the difficult discussion between “boys will be boys” and “book ’em Dano” needs to take place yet it doesn’t. Should an elementary or Jr. High school student receive criminal aggravated assault charges? Should a victim who pulls a gun on her abusers in a schoolbus be charged with kidnapping? It’s fascinating because there is not a clear answer, and it is exactly that argument that needs to take place for change to occur and exactly where “Bully” falls short.

Do not mistake my meaning, this is a great film. Sadly, where much hype is given, much is required. For a movie, it is moving and shows an exceptional display of tone, mood, and sincerity. For a documentary, it is a commendable piece of art and deserves to be seen. For many viewers, I suspect it will start a conversation that would otherwise not take place. What is absent, however, are the framing issues that would guide that conversation and the destination that we, as a society can hope for. B+

Read Full Post »


I’ve been beating around this bush for weeks now, trying to figure out the intricacies of my argument before I spoke, but enough is enough. Simply put, Mitt Romney is an exceptional candidate, the only one in the current GOP crop (besides Jon Huntsman but, you know) who can even HOPE to compete with Barrack Obama on a national stage and the only one (again, you know) besides Ron Paul who wouldn’t make a complete embarrassment out of the Republican party if he were to be named the nominee.

Today’s GOP is quarrelsome, vitriolic, belligerent, close-minded and petty. We have, as a group, abandoned all hope of decorum, forward-thinking and reasonable problem solving. We have made ourselves distasteful to independents and a national punchline.

Mitt Romney represents what the Republican party should be, he is experienced, level-headed, good looking (don’t knock it, being “Presidential” still matters) and has a proven track record of problem solving in the public and private sector and has exercised an ability to make concessions for the greater good. The same reasons why my fellow Republicans are reticent to embrace his candidacy are the exact same reasons he should be our candidate. Here’s why.

“Flip Flopping”

Let me start with a personal story. If you go back into the archives of this very blog you will find a number of posts where I am staunchly opposed to extending the right to marry to gay couples. In time, after continued research and soul searching I have learned the error of that line of thinking and have reversed my position. I, Benjamin Charles Wood, have “flip flopped” on the issue of gay marriage, and I am proud of it.

What some people call “flip flopping” I call “Learning from Mistakes,” and I, for one, admire a politician who is brave enough to change his mind. There exists a number a real, lasting problems in this country that need fixing. Our economy is in tatters under an ever-increasing burden of debt. Each of us has deeply-held opinions and ideologies on what the best course of action is but our government will get nowhere (and has gotten nowhere) because of the selfish pride of cow-handed ideologues who refuse to budge on their “morals.” Mitt Romney will not watch this country sink in the name of his opinions. He will consider opposing views and, when presented with a better way, will admit his mistake, change his mind and get. stuff. done.

At some point in the recent era, “compromise” has become a dirty word. The founding fathers constructed a system of government that not only encouraged compromise, but REQUIRED it in order to function. Mitt Romney is capable of compromise, and I say good for him.

Romneycare”

Mitt Romney was the conservative governor of a liberal state with a liberal-controlled congress. Where other men would have faced a 4-year stalemate, Mitt Romney turned a deficit into a surpluss and succeeded in passing widespread reforms.

Remember, the legal argument against Obamacare is not that the individual mandate is “bad” but that it is un-constitutional. Whether or not it is right is a matter of opinion and, as we all know, opinions don’t hold much water. The U.S. Congress can not pass an individual mandate but you know who can? States. According to the U.S. Constitution, States can do anything except what is explicitly reserved for the federal government.

So, for a party that prides itself on the “original intent” of the Constitution, champions “state’s rights” and bemoans one-size-fits-all government programs, how dare we criticize Mitt Romney and the Massachusetts Congress for exercising their constitutional right to utilizing State Power to reform their individual state’s health care system? How. dare. we.

When Romney says he wants to return power to the states, you can take that to the bank because instead of saying nice things and waving a pocket constitution around, he has proven time and time again his belief in state’s rights. If you don’t like Romneycare, rest assured, he has no intention of expanding it nationwide. The opposite is true, he intends to repeal Obamacare and allow individual states to determine their own reform. Sounds pretty darn good (and conservative) to me.

Social Issues/Machiavellianism

Make no mistake, Romney is moderate on social issues. He’s had to toe the tea-party line to survive the primaries (a wretchedly awful system) but once he’s cleared that hurdle you will have a candidate who espouses the libertarian view of getting government out of the bedroom.

Some people would criticize this as “insincerity.” I would say the ability to do what needs to be done is EXACTLY what our government needs right now. I believe in cutting costs to reduce the debt as opposed to increasing taxes. BUT if you offered me a deal where I got $9 of cuts for every $1 of new revenue I WOULD SIGN THAT BILL SO FAST YOUR HEAD WOULD SPIN. And so would Mitt Romney. That’s why he’ll actually do something with the budget, while some head-in-the-sand Tea Party psycho will wave a yellow “Don’t Tread On Me” flag while the country burns.

Again, Mitt Romney is willing to look past his personal views and get. stuff. done.

Mormonism

If this is an issue for you, you’re a bigot. That’s all there is too it. Grow up, shut up and get over your backwoods ignorance.

With any luck, in a few months time Mitt Romney will be the GOP candidate for the presidency of the United States. Frankly, I don’t think he’ll beat Obama. I don’t think anyone can. But if the republican party is ever going to return to its former strength and if this country is ever going to heal the nasty divide that has sprouted in the political landscape, it’s men like Romney that need to be leading the way.

When it comes time for my state’s primary, I’ll be voting Mitt Romney.

Read Full Post »


I’m going to try and be less gloomy today so, while there’s still some light outside let’s put the nail in the political process coffin.

Saturday was the Utah Republican State Convention where we delegates bid a not-so-heartfelt adieu to 3-term Senator Bob Bennett. I had actually planned on voting for Bennett, not so much based on ideological support but more in a strategic desire to push Bennett and a challenger to a primary. Leading up to the convention, the polls showed that Bennett was behind amongst delegates, but favored in the general Utah populace. I think that the average voter should have a say in whether or not an incumbent is outed and I hoped to lend my vote to help that happen.

Then I started paying closer attention to Tim Bridgewater.

In my month of delegate onslaught I had been leaning towards Mike Lee. Sure he was a lawyer, but the guy waved a copy of the constitution like a pentecostal with a bible in his hand. I’m not one to simplistically nay-say the acts of congress, but the way I see it the current legislature makes no attempt to comply with the powers enumerated to them in the constitution.

Tim Bridgewater has a voice like a frog. It is raspy and guttural and upon first hearing kind of puts you on edge. At the convention he was in prime for answering questions from the crowd and taking names. Mike Lee was nearby with a wretched sound system creating more white noise than political awareness, and in classic politician form Lee paused mid-answer to say hello to a passer-by, a man who – as Lee made sure to tell us – was Lee’s former elder’s quorum present. Cheesy much?

Bennett was a ways off and while there was a large crowd around him, they were more interested in talking to Mitt Romney, whom Bennett had recruited for some name-dropping power. A chorus of “you’ve got my vote,” and “nice to meet you President” followed the Massachusetts governor everywhere he went. Republicans (and Mormon ones especially) are easily bought.

After a couple of hours of political hawking the speeches began. Bridgewater led the pack with an extremely poised delivery. Lee, despite his usual demeanor, was noticeably twitchy and rambled a bit. Bennett was old, and let Romney do most of the talking. Rounding out the bottom five was Cheralyn Eager, who sounded straight out of a General Relief Society Presidency talk; Leonard Fabiano, who used his 7-minutes to organize a seemingly impromptu grassroots political organization, One candidate was hardly coy about his religious views, speaking about inspiration and eternal perspective.

In the biggest disappointment of the day, “SuperDell” Schanze failed to make an appearance. I was immensely looking forward to his 7-minute slice of insanity. Instead a friend spoke on his behalf and bluntly admitted that SuperDell was a bit wacko and didn’t have a prayer for winning.

The day went on, speach after speach, and three rounds of voting. After the first vote Lee was in first place, after the third he had barely clung to a primary berth. Both candidates have a whole new round of convincing the masses, which no longer involves pandering to my every need. Today I checked my mail and besides my Entertainment Weekly and Netflix DVD’s there was nothing. No fliers, no pamphlets, and no invitation to a town hall meeting. I made sure on Saturday to load up on as much Swag as I could and now I’m cut off.

Read Full Post »

The Delegation

I’m going to tell you this upfront, being a delegate is kind of annoying.

I’m into politics, and I’m a republican. I don’t think either of those things is a surprise to anyone. When the Republican caucuses were held last month I attended, partly out of curiosity, and partly out of an altruistic sense of civic duty. While I wasn’t planning to pursue a delegacy (not a word) I was open to the idea that since I live in a student-heavy area of Logan I could easily get one.

After all the pomp and circumstance it was clear that no one of the dozen or so people present was interested in attending the state convention, so I put my hat in the ring and was selected. After that some pip-squeek home-school-ee decided that if I was going to adequately represent him I needed to know his views on tax breaks for private- and home-schoolers.

Sorry wack-job, get a job and go to school.

So there I was, Mr. Benjamin Wood-the Delegate. At first it was pretty cool, candidates calling me on the phone to discuss my opinion of “the issues” and being able to tell them what I was looking for in my candidate.

Then the senate race heated up.

Every single day I get 7 calls from automated messages via Mike Lee, Tim Bridgewater, Bob Bennett, and the ever-annoying Cheralyn Eager (I’m “Eager” to be your candidate, gag me). After that, I get about 3 daily calls from “breif” public opinion pollers. Yes, if the election were today I would vote for Bob Bennett. Yes, I disapprove of Obamacare. Yes, while it is completely unfathomable that Sarah Palin ever be a legitimate candidate for the presidency in 2012, I would probably vote for her over Capt. Barrack.

Day in, day out I am bombarded by “the issues.”

Last week I attended a meet the candidates debate and listened intently while some angry member of the audience drilled Mike Lee for 10 minutes about “automatic delegates.” For those of you who don’t know what those are, let me suffice it to say that NO ONE cares about automatic delegates, and a candidates particular stance on this issue will in no way sway the outcome of any election, EVER. Still, we wasted 10 minutes will Mr. Lee attempted to deliver a satisfactory answer to the banal idiocy of his questioner.

The convention is this Saturday. I’m most likely voting for Bennet unless Mike Lee somehow dazzles me. I don’t like Bridgewater, he sounds like a chain-smoking robot and his face seems to be frozen in place.

And don’t even get me started on Cheralyn Eager.

Read Full Post »

The Test

Last night I was with a female associate when the topic of politics came up. At some point or another my friend mentioned that she didn’t know what party she was. I suggested that she take the test.

There are a number of more professional forms out there, like this one at politicalcompass.org, but not having the time, nor the means I proceeded to ask my friend a few questions.

“How do you feel about our current involvement in Iraq,” I asked.

“Ummmmmmmmmmmmmmm…”

“Okay,” I said, “let’s start with easier ones.”
“Gay marriage?”
“No.”
“Abortion?”
“No.”
“Health care?”
“No.”
For this I needed clarification. “Do you mean ‘No’ to universal health care, or to eliminate all forms of health care in general?”
“Universal.”

Seeing the emerging pattern my friend voiced some concerns.
“I think we’re a little lax on gun control,” she said.
“No way,” I replied, “If I had it my way every man, woman, and child in America would be packing heat.”

It was at this time that her roommates, eavesdropping in the other room, began laughing at my wingnut psychosis. I proceeded to explain further, in more realistic terms, why I felt that way and the unseen roommates withdrew from our conversation and began to converse amongst themselves.

“I am definitely not a republican,” one said.
“Oh yeah, definitely not,” said the other about herself.
“I wouldn’t really consider myself a democrat either,” one said.
“Oh yeah, definitely not,” said the other about herself.
“But I’m definitely not a republican,” one said.
“Oh yeah, definitely not,” said the other about herself.

In my comings and goings I have encountered this phenomenon frequently. People, especially high-school to college age individuals (and frankly women more frequently than men) love to proclaim themselves above the labels of a particular party. They claim their “independence” with a triumphant air similar to Tom Cruise on Tropic Thunder stating “we do not negotiate with terrorists” to thundering applause. The movie is a comedy, you’re supposed to laugh at that scene and I did.

It’s a cop-out.

To say that you don’t belong to a particular party is synonymous with saying that you are an uninformed, non-contributing zero.

Regardless of whether you are a registered donkey/elephant or whether you participated in the last general election, you–as a human being–exist on one side or another of the political spectrum. The beauty of the U.S. electoral college is that in only allows for two parties to dominantly exist. Over time these two parties have grown to be “catch-alls” where instead of a clear set of ideological values, we have two giant umbrellas that face left and right along the imaginary scale.

Republican=conservative. Democrat=liberal. You ARE one of those things. There are other parties that frankly do a better job of establishing a coherent platform–i.e. libertarian, reform, constitution, green–but in the grand scheme they are lumped into one of the two larger categories…along with you and everyone you know.

You party does not define your beliefs, your beliefs define your party.

In all actuality, my friend’s roommates who are “definitely” not Republicans are most CERTAINLY conservatives–two LDS Utahns looking for a husband at USU.

My political preferences are known. That said, I have a respect and admiration for Democrats who are truly democrats, who ideologically believe in what they purport. My beef comes from the mindless masses of my peers that are merely liberal by association. They grew up in the anti-bush decade of Green Day, The Dixie Chicks and Russel Brand and being liberal is “the cool thing to do.” I urge them to take the test, if anything it will end their Swiss “armed neutrality” and they might be surprised with what they find.

Read Full Post »