Escape Plan: The novelty of this is diminished a bit by the two stars having worked together in those awful Expendables movies (I’ve only seen the first, which is more than enough, especially since it’s transitioning into being a PG-13 action series in defiance of any conceivable logic). But I’m old enough to remember when Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone appearing in a two-hander action movie would seem impossible given the legendary egos of both stars. So I rented it out of curiosity, hoping for a fun, goofy ’80s throwback actioner, which seemed reasonable considering that nostalgia is what Stallone deals in these days. I was disappointed. The plot about Stallone’s prison security expert character who makes his living breaking out of them (the dumbness comes in early and often, considering that what we see him do could just as easily be done if he visited with a clipboard and presented a written report, but he does it that way because he feels guilty because he got someone wrongly put into jail and shit, it’s dumb). Anyway, for plot reasons so stupid that I don’t even want to discuss them, Stallone winds up getting kidnapped into a state of the art, private prison that was built according to all his work, thus making escape super-difficult, and he and Ahnuld have to work together to get out. There is some fun to be had here, thanks largely to Schwarzenegger, who seems game and lets his hair down just a bit, doing things (like ranting in German, underplaying jokes, using effective body language and eye movements in his acting) that we’re not used to seeing him doing in movies, and there’s not a trace of self-referentialness in this performance, which these days is a miracle. He just seems to be having fun. And a lot of the other elements are there too: interesting visuals, a creepy panopticon-style prison design, and Jim Caviezel’s sadistic warden is terrific, with the kind of understated sociopathy that made Bryan Cox’s Hannibal Lecter the best version of that character (Caviezel doesn’t pull off the dead eyes as well as Cox, though who could?).
But the real drag here is Stallone, who tanks the film by playing his role with what he imagines is gravitas but is in actually energy-sapped joyless grimness. He’s boring as shit, in other words, and it’s instructive. Schwarzenegger’s performance is refreshingly ego-free, he shows up to play a supporting character and does exactly what he needed to without trying to take it over, and seems to be having a blast just getting to act again after the disastrous political career, the bastard child, etc. Stallone’s seriousness suggests someone who is not at that place yet, someone who is still not at peace with not being able to open a movie anymore or to credibly be called A-list, someone who might, say, flood the zone with four shitty pictures in a year, or develop a franchise out of what initially seemed to be just a one-off joke about being old until it made some money, or get so much plastic surgery that Mickey Rourke’s career as the cautionary tale for plastic surgery is on the ropes (in all fairness, Schwarzenegger has the telltale shiny skin of botox, but otherwise looks okay). Stallone is boring in the way that Bruce Willis is boring, or Harrison Ford is boring, or Robert De Niro is boring, all these aging stars for whom the problem doesn’t seem to be money, but rather a self-concept based on being a huge star that leads them to make movies they don’t seem to care about, and don’t fully commit to, which leads to less excitement about their movies and less box office, which leads to more movies they don’t care about, etc. Stallone’s vintage ego, in other words, is completely intact.
Some short ones:
- The Cable Guy: Jim Carrey’s one non-hit from that stretch when he seemingly couldn’t not knock it out of the park, it has nevertheless aged better than the rest of that stretch of movies. And it’s obvious why: in Ace Ventura or The Mask, Carrey’s intensity, physicality and energy are presented to us as part of a character we’re supposed to like–no, love–for being a spastic, discomfiting man-child. In The Cable Guy, Carrey brings all that stuff, but in the service of playing a confused, disturbing, uncomfortable character, and it’s brilliant. This is like Adam Sandler’s performance in Punch-Drunk Love or Robin Williams’s turn in Insomnia, where the persona of a famous comic actor is suddenly put into a context where it makes total sense. Sandler’s comic persona makes sense as the manifestation of a very damaged person, and Carrey’s similarly makes sense as the manifestation of someone who has been driven crazy by television, as everything he does is theatrical and makes sense as what a TV character would do, but isn’t really capable of things like thinking, relating to people, or living a normal life. A great dark comedy.
- Her: Thoughtful science fiction movies can still be made, thank goodness. Taking place in a future Los Angeles with excellent transit, urban density and an appealing downtown (this movie is out there with some of its concepts), Her is about a man falling in love with an artificial intelligence. Lots of great echoes of classic sci-fi stories, but with its own original ideas and an emotionally moving story. The concept shouldn’t throw readers of science-fiction books, since stuff like this happens all the time there, but it’s a great movie too, with incredible visuals, great performances and an atmospheric score by Arcade Fire.
- A Most Wanted Man: Go see it! This can go right next to the other great Le Carre adaptions: The Spy Who Came In From The Cold, the two Tinker Tailor adaptations, and The Tailor of Panama. I will admit to a moment of sadness when Philip Seymour Hoffman’s character first appears on the screen, just thinking again about what a loss it was when he died. But that was only temporary, as the story entranced me right away. The movie pairs a writer who prefers to go slow with a director (Corbijn) who also prefers a slower pace, and the movie manages to build up considerable suspense as the characters try to figure out exactly what’s going on with a Chechen refugee and a German-Turkish philanthropist. I won’t spoil the story, though it should be no shock that Hoffman turns in a fantastic performance, world-weary but hanging in there. Not a bad note to go out on.
Now that alleged plagiarist John Walsh is out of the picture, the inevitable question is: does former Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer reverse course and jump into the race that he initially turned down? And then go on to win it?
My guess is yes and yes. Schweitzer declined to run for the Senate because he was clearly eyeing a presidential run, likely to avoid incurring any Washington baggage. However, that was last year. Since then, he’s destroyed his once-formidable levels of netroots support and admiration due to some poorly-advised comments about Dianne Feinstein and Eric Cantor, as well as other poorly phrased and excessive (though hardly wrong) criticisms of Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. Things have all been going in the wrong direction for a presidential run–he’s under contract to MSNBC but hasn’t been put on the air for months, for example. After all this, all he’d have to use against Hillary in 2016 would be some residual popularity in Montana. Which would buy him a couple of delegates, in the unlikely event his campaign even managed to last that long.
However, that this flap has come up when it has is almost a perfect attempt for Schweitzer to resurrect his political career. His super-high popularity in the state should make the race winnable, even with such a late start. He is never going to have a better opportunity, in fact, it’s an opportunity that seems almost tailor-made for the man. He gets to play the savior role in a race Democrats have been skeptical about for ages, and saving a key seat (and quite possibly the majority) for Democrats will wipe the slate clean, at least to some extent. He’d suddenly have a national platform for his bold views on the security state. He would have a chance to rebuild some of the bridges he burned, and maybe even to run some kind of presidential campaign, or at least to lead a caucus of like-minded senators to counteract the hawkish and neoliberal instincts that a Clinton Administration would undoubtedly bring to the fore (or, rather, would remain there). It’s a pretty good deal, and it’s the only one he’s going to get.
Again, this is really just a guess. But the advantages to Schweitzer would seem to be sky-high, so much so that it would be a little baffling if he said no.
Update: Well that was a nice thought, wasn’t it? Ugh. This guy might be the most selfish and unthinking man in politics.
I never read George Will because I have a hack aversion that transcends all partisan and ideological grounds, but courtesy of Dave Weigel, I see he had some recent wisdom to share on the California governor’s race:
The Democratic candidate, 76-year-old Gov. Jerry Brown, is “the old white guy.” Kashkari, the 40-year-old son of Indian immigrants, was born in 1973, the year before Brown was first elected governor … if California becomes a purple state and Democrats can no longer assume its 20 percent of 270 electoral votes, Republicans nationwide will be indebted to the immigrants’ son who plucked up Goldwater’s banner of conservatism with a Western libertarian flavor.
George Will has a lot of knowledge about some subjects, such as old-time baseball greats. California politics isn’t one of them. If you look at everyone who’s been elected governor in the past forty years–Jerry Brown, George Deukmeijan, Pete Wilson, Gray Davis, and Arnold Schwarzenegger, and then cut out Schwarzenegger given the crazy, gimmicky recall election that he won–the other four men all have pretty similar resumes. Prior statewide elected office. Strong regional bases. Political organization going back years if not decades. This state is so big and diverse (and so full of ambitious politicians with only so many posts to hold) that getting to the top requires a lot of skill and a lot of preparation. Kashkari has literally none of this, and his main accomplishment in public life was running one of the most reviled public programs of our time, the TARP. This is not someone who a party picks to seriously contend for the seat, this is someone they run when you know you’re going to lose and you want to lose well by at least getting some image points out of it. You know the drill: Michael Steel is another example of this, or future toxic person Geraldine Ferraro for the Democrats. And there are benefits to nominating a Steel or a Kashkari or a Wehby: people like Will, Peggy Noonan, and Kathleen Parker can continue to delude themselves into thinking this isn’t the party of Limbaugh and Cruz, that finally signs of their party are showing up. Finally! The last fifty times they didn’t materialize are suddenly forgotten. And they don’t think about the fact that any even marginally winnable race gets a hard-right conservative, even if it makes the job much harder. Like Iowa, a state Obama won twice by double-digits, but which features a Republican nominee who castrates hogs, supports impeaching Obama and Calhoun-style nullification.
But that’s not even the issue. My issue is with the weird fanfic that Will spools up here, in which Kashkari (a) actually wins, and (b) does such a great job that the state reverts to the ideological and partisan balance it possessed in 1984. Has this ever happened, a single officeholder completely turning around a state’s partisan and ideological balance? This is based not on any empirical reality or theory of politics, but rather is just a flight of fancy from Will. It’s such a baffling thing to read–Democrats’ fantasies about winning Texas never seem to come to pass, but at least they’re based on actual facts about demographics, minority voting patterns, and turnout strategies. Will’s is based on nothing and is thus completely worthless. Time to retire, George. As if we need a poor man’s William F. Buckley Jr., whose prominent usage of his middle initial I’m sure had nothing to do with your usage of the same initial.
I work in the private sector, and one of my basic opinions is that all this networking/making connections/flattery/business-friendship stuff is that it’s mostly a way for less competent people to get ahead. It’s also, unfortunately, often effective, and every once in a while you find someone who is utterly unskilled in their field but is so smooth and slick, knows everybody and is so good at working them, that they seem to keep getting booted up in spite of themselves. I submit that Carly Fiorina is the apotheosis of this tendency. Her disastrous reign of HP begat her equally disastrous work as a McCain operative in 2008, which reached its hilarious peak when she argued that Sarah Palin’s unemployability (according to Carly) in the corporate world was actually a good thing. That was true entertainment.
Then came her 2010 Senate bid, which was hilariously miscalculated, with such highlights as running as a staunch pro-lifer in a state where 75% of the electorate (and even half of Republicans) identify as pro-choice, and supporting the anti-Affordable Care Act lawsuits. Also worth noting that she spent $5 million of her own cash on a pointless, impossible campaign to get California to elect a hard-right Republican–not Meg Whitman money but her net worth is a fraction of Meg’s–and then stiffed her staff on getting paid for years. And while Whitman’s vacuous campaign and ad overkill destroyed her, she didn’t come off as nearly as charmless and unpleasant as Fiorina. Keep in mind that the latter had had experience stumping for John McCain and should have come off better. But in fact, it was quite the opposite.
After that came her gig as vice-chair of the Republican Senate Campaign Committee, in which Republicans shocked everyone by dropping two seats in 2012 in spite of an extremely favorable map, thanks partly to loony rape-philosophizing insurgents like Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock winning primaries, and partly because of shitty candidate selection (like Rick Berg of North Dakota, who lost an open seat in a very red state). Both of these phenomena can be blamed on the RSCC to some degree, for not reading the politics and allocating resources better. Admittedly, it’s unclear just how much she did, but given that most pundits began the cycle thinking that Republicans would win the Senate, I have to suspect that the endless fail of Fiorina was what really tanked them.
Unluckily, she’s no longer at the RSCC. Apparently she’s been one of the Republicans’ “Real War On Women” messengers, which might explain why that campaign has been so wimpy and ineffective. But I’m really so hoping that US News & World Report is onto something here:
But her recent moves in the first-in-the-nation primary state of New Hampshire have convinced some she’s eyeing a bigger prize come 2016.
Fiorina slipped into the Granite State last week to promote her new political group, dubbed UP for “Unlocking Potential.” Its mission is to engage women with new messages and combat the gaping gender gap that’s hobbling Republicans in races up and down the ballot. In addition to headlining a breakfast last Thursday for more than 200 GOP activists in the business and political spheres, Fiorina attended a GOP gala the night before honoring Joe McQuaid, the conservative publisher of the New Hampshire Union Leader, the state’s largest and most influential newspaper. [...]
Perhaps one of the most overlooked aspects of the emerging 2016 presidential campaign is that Republicans lack a top-tier female contender, a fact that’s even more significant if Hillary Clinton decides to try to smash the glass ceiling at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. for Democrats.
Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., has tantalizingly dropped her name as a possibility, but given the demise of her 2012 endeavor, that prospect seems unlikely. Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., did some of her own water testing in New Hampshire at a conservative rally in April. GOP Govs. Nikki Haley of South Carolina and Susana Martinez of New Mexico – two other oft-mentioned women with national potential – have re-election battles to contend with in their own states this year.
It’s Fiorina who appears to be doing more preparatory political groundwork than any other GOP woman on the radar. She’s a regular surrogate for Republicans on national news programs and serves as an adviser to the Center for Strategic and International Studies and as a board member of the American Conservative Union – two groups that allow her to foster relationships with separate but highly influential groups of conservatives.
I do think Republican elites will work hard to have a top-tier female contender for 2016. Martinez and Haley, however, both run unsavory state governments and would have to deal with corruption allegations, along with very checkered records of achievement. I don’t really see how a Republican who can barely win a majority in South Carolina plays nationally. And a House member is a bit too low down the totem pole. I would not be surprised if Sen. Kelly Ayotte decided not to go for the re-election she has not set herself up for at all in New Hampshire to give it a go nationally. But if not, Fiorina would be hilarious as a backup: I can’t think of another politician, Republican or Democrat, male or female, with her combination of entitlement, sheer unlikeability and just a general anti-Midas Touch (i.e. everything she touches turns to shit). I truly hopes she does it, I can only imagine the viral videos of her awkwardly interacting with families in Iowa and New Hampshire, and I would not want the internet to be deprived of them.
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