“W.”: History Written by the Losers

Oliver Stone’s two hour lampoon of President George W. Bush failed to leave a lasting legacy.

Written by Stanly Weiser and directed by Oliver Stone, W. (2008) was meant as a final middle-finger to the outgoing Bush Administration; an attempt in film to solidify negative public perceptions surrounding President George W. Bush and the Iraq War. But years later, W. looks more like a relic of its time; a forgettable albeit slightly humorous political drama by filmmakers who accidentally made their subject a sympathetic figure.

W. intercuts between George W. Bush’s ne’er-do-well youth and his presidency, particularly the lead up to the Iraq War in 2003. Events surrounding the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks are glaringly absent. How can you make a film about George W. Bush’s tenure in the White House without mentioning September 11? Probably because he received the highest recorded presidential approval rating in history after the 9/11 attacks, and the filmmakers didn’t want to remind the audience about the tremendous crisis his administration had to face.

The film opens with a young-ish George W. Bush (Josh Brolin) getting hazed in a Yale fraternity. He jumps from job to job, to the great disappointment of his stern father, President George H.W. Bush (James Cromwell), until he meets his future wife, Laura (Elizabeth Banks). With the help of political strategist Karl Rove (Toby Jones), Bush becomes Governor of Texas, and later, President of the United States, where he uses his office to depose Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, something his father never achieved.

The filmmakers use real quotes and incidents to portray George W. Bush as a comedic figure, including one incident in which he almost died choking on a pretzel. In hindsight this comes across as mean spirited, since Josh Brolin’s Bush is sincere in his religious convictions, appears to genuinely believe Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction and wanted the public to be on board with the war, and is constantly frustrated by his disapproving father. As National Review’s Tom Hoopes pointed out, this had the unintended consequence of making Bush relatable and sympathetic to the audience.

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Was Queen Anne a Lesbian?

‘The Favourite’ indulges contemporary attitudes about sex at the expense of history.

Anne, Queen of England, Scotland and Ireland (1702-1707) and Great Britain (1707-1714).

The Favourite, a recently-released period film written by Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara and directed by Yorgos Lanthimos, starring Olivia Colman, Emma Stone, and Rachel Weisz, imagines an illicit sexual relationship between Queen Anne of Great Britain and two of her female confidants. But is that accurate, or anachronistic?

Queen Anne (played by Olivia Colman) ruled England, Scotland, and Ireland (and then Great Britain) from 1702 to 1714. The film takes place during the War of the Spanish Succession (1701-1714). John Churchill, 1st Duke of Marlborough, the husband of Queen Anne’s close friend, Sarah Churchill, Duchess of Marlborough, was commander of Allied forces in that conflict. Marlborough was caught between the two political parties in Britain: the Tories and Whigs. Queen Anne favored the Tories, who wanted peace, but the Whigs had gained considerable power alongside Sarah Churchill (played by Rachel Weisz), who had the Queen’s ear and advocated on their behalf.

Sarah Churchill was notoriously headstrong and spoke her mind freely and openly, which began to get on the Queen’s nerves. In 1711, Queen Anne dismissed the Duke of Marlborough from service over charges of embezzlement. John and Sarah Churchill went into exile a year later. Sarah’s break with the Queen was exacerbated by her rivalry with her cousin, Abigail (Hill) Masham (played by Emma Stone). Sarah tried to have Abigail removed from the Queen’s household, and when she could not, accused Abigail and the religiously conservative Queen of having a sexual relationship.

That’s where The Favourite comes in. The Favourite depicts Sarah as a jealous lover carrying on an illicit sexual affair with the Queen. It conspicuously omits Queen Anne’s great religious devotion and the fact she was married to Prince George of Denmark, though he died in 1708. The only evidence of a love affair comes from romantic letters written between the two and rumors spread by political rivals.

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Like its Protagonist, Vice Takes No Prisoners

Vice President Dick Cheney’s life is creatively recounted in this bullish political biopic.

Written and directed by Adam McKay, Vice (2018) is bolstered by incredible performances by its lead cast, but hindered by strange and often jarring film techniques that pull your attention away from the drama. Both Christian Bale and Amy Adams show once again why they are among the best actors of our time by saving what could have otherwise been another mediocre polemic against the Bush Administration.

As the film opens, Dick Cheney (Christian Bale) is a young man struggling to find his place in the world and teetering on the brink of alcoholism. His wife, Lynn (Amy Adams), gives him an ultimatum to clean up his act. Cheney gets a job as an intern in Washington, DC and is fatefully taken under the wing of Congressman Donald Rumsfeld (Steve Carell), who becomes the youngest Secretary of Defense in U.S. history under President Gerald Ford. For a time, the two men’s fortunes seem to go hand in hand.

After seemingly retiring from politics, Cheney is approached by presidential candidate George W. Bush (Sam Rockwell), to be his running mate. Cheney manipulates the gullible Bush into handing him unprecedented control in the executive branch. He uses his influence to fill various White House positions with loyalists, and virtually runs the administration from behind the scenes, when he’s not recovering from numerous heart attacks. There he pushes “unitary executive theory,” which seeks to hand greater control to the President, and by extension, himself.

Vice interweaves these political machinations with Cheney’s personal struggles. At home, he tries to juggle his deep love for his two daughters, Mary (Alison Pill) and Liz (Lily Rabe), while shielding them from the public eye. When Liz decides to enter politics, Cheney must decide between supporting her (and her position against same-sex marriage) and his longtime support for Mary, who is a lesbian. This more intimate look at Dick Cheney’s life almost translates into a sympathetic portrayal. At least, his motivations are more relatable.

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Did Lynne Cheney’s Dad Murder her Mom?

That’s the outrageous implication in Adam McKay’s new film, Vice.

Edit: this article has been updated to reflect paragraphs in Lynn Cheney’s autobiography.

Edna Lolita (Lybyer) Vincent, Lynne Cheney’s mother.

I watched Adam McKay’s unusual biopic of Vice President Dick Cheney a few days ago, and one scene in particular stood out. For all its focus on Cheney’s political machinations, Vice briefly touches on a personal tragedy for Cheney’s wife, Lynne, whose mother drowned at the age of 54. It is the second time Lynne’s parents are mentioned, the other being a brief interaction in the opening scene in which Lynne’s mother is portrayed as a doting and abused housewife.

Early in the film, Lynne Cheney (competently played by Amy Adams) receives a phone call with terrible news. Her mother, Edna, has drowned. Lynne openly wonders why she would be in the lake, knowing she can’t swim. Lynne, her husband Dick (Christian Bale), then Assistant Director of the Cost of Living Council for President Richard Nixon, and their two young daughters fly home to Wyoming to attend the funeral.

At the cemetery, Lynne’s father, Wayne Edwin Vincent (played by Shea Whigham), acts suspiciously and tries to ingratiate himself with his daughter. Dick Cheney interposes and warns him to never try to make contact with them again. It’s almost explicitly stated that Edna’s death wasn’t an accident, and the film wonders why it was never investigated. Then it just moves on as though this isn’t a least bit controversial depiction of events. “Is there more evidence for this than is presented in the movie, which is none?” National Review‘s Kyle Smith asks.

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US Joins Ranks of World’s Most Dangerous Places for Journalists After Falling Tree Kills Two

No, this isn’t an Onion headline. That’s the conclusion of Reporters Without Borders, who added the United States to its list of deadliest countries for reporters after six journalists died here in 2018. News outlets across the country seized on this data to malign the United States alongside Afghanistan, Syria, Mexico, Yemen, and India as a dangerous place for journalists.

But the facts behind these deaths call into question the rational behind the ranking. The worst incident was, of course, the murder of four journalists and a sales assistant at the Capitol Gazette in June. The shooting was not politically motivated: the gunman had a personal grievance with the newspaper. While horrific, the Committee to Protect Journalists concluded this was one of only two deadly attacks on journalists in the United States since 1992.

So what deadly incident put the United States into the top ranking for most dangerous countries for journalists in 2018? I’m not kidding you, it was the death of a reporter and his cameraman who were killed when a tree fell on them in a storm. How in the world does this random tragedy put the US in the same league as countries like Syria and Afghanistan when it comes to being a dangerous environment for journalists?

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The Mule: Best Film of 2018?

When 90-year-old Earl Stone loses everything he loves, can he use ill-gotten gains to win it back before the DEA, or the cartel, takes him down?

Written by Nick Schenk and directed by and starring Clint Eastwood, The Mule (2018) was inspired by a New York Times article “The Sinaloa Cartel’s 90-Year Old Drug Mule” by Sam Dolnick. The Mule uses true events to frame a much more compelling  story. Bucking the current trend of emotionally monochrome dramas, this film is a rich tapestry of triumph and tragedy, humor and sadness, and guilt and forgiveness.

Earl Stone (Clint Eastwood) is a successful horticulturalist in Peoria, Illinois but neglectful of his family. He finds himself estranged from his wife Mary (Dianne Wiest) and daughter Iris (Alison Eastwood), but is still admired by his granddaughter Ginny (Taissa Farmiga). Mary and he divorce, and after failing to embrace the digital age, Stone’s business falls on hard times. He takes a mysterious offer to deliver a package from Mexico to Chicago. With his newfound income, he rebuilds the local VFW after a fire and helps pay for his granddaughter’s cosmetology tuition. Meanwhile, he frustrates his cartel handler, Julio (Ignacio Serricchio) with his unpredictable behavior.

Things get complicated when DEA agent Colin Bates (Bradley Cooper) and his partner Trevino (Michael Peña) flip a cartel employee and he tips them off about a successful drug mule known as “Tata”, or grandfather. The unassuming elderly white man with a clean record was able to slip under law enforcement’s radar. At 90 years of age and with the DEA on his tail, Earl Stone is running out of time to reverse his fortunes and reconcile with his family.

The Mule is loosely based on the life of Leo Sharp, a WW2 veteran and Detroit-based horticulturalist and daylily farmer who began working as a drug mule for the Sinaloa cartel after his business fell on hard times. His life of crime made him a millionaire. Sharp was finally caught in 2011 at the age of 87, pled guilty to drug conspiracy, and served one year in prison before being let out due to his declining health. He died in December 2016.

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Red State Rebels: Smoke Without a Fire?

If Thomas Frank’s What’s the Matter with Kansas?  was fodder for a progressive movement desperate to explain their lack of electoral success in the American Heartland, Red State Rebels: Tales of Grassroots Resistance in the Heartland, edited by Joshua Frank and Jeffrey St. Clair, was its hopeful response. If you identify as an Antifa freegan living in rural Kentucky, this book will appeal to you. If you are, however, looking for a more well-rounded perspective, you will be sorely disappointed. Red State Rebels is far from a holistic account of “grassroots resistance in the heartland.”

When I opened this book, I expected a digest of radical activity from all sides of the political spectrum. It quickly became clear that, by “Red State Rebels,” Frank and St. Clair meant the progressive wing of the Democratic Party. This is a book about only one shade of rebels—pacifists, environmentalists, and anti war activists—fighting against their classic enemies.

Aside from a brief nod to Randy Weaver and various secession movements, nary a word is spent on the colorful variety of Middle American rebels. Constitutionalists, anti-abortion protestors, Alex Jones devotees, 9/11 truthers, militiamen, sovereign citizens, and others are conspicuously absent. Their absence is made even more conspicuous because in Frank and St. Clair’s introduction, they take great pains to portray their work as a non-partisan approach to the subject.

“Neither of us fit in the geo-ideological matrix contrived by the mainstream political establishment,” they write. “Neither do thousands of others, left, right and anarcho-libertarians, who reside in the forgotten midsection of the nation.” But including one essay on Randy Weaver does not help balance things out.

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