web analytics

I didn’t realize this, but apparently we somehow managed to cut spending and revenue lower than Paul Ryan himself proposed back in 2012. To be fair, the federal budget would undoubtedly be much uglier and more regressive if he had his way. But it simply did not have to be this way.

Lev filed this under: , ,  

The cast watches a rough cut of the film they’ve worked on. Renner directs an upward glance at the clock.

I’m a nut for heist films, the rigorous plotting and the execution going sideways, it works so often for me. Obviously it’s tough to top Kubrick’s The Killing, but I even found things to like in the Edward Burns film Confidence, which wasn’t exactly minting Oscar gold. So, naturally, I figured this Bahs-tahn crime caper would work just fine for my needs, but I’ve rarely seen a movie as ostentatiously mediocre as Ben Affleck’s The Town, which squanders a great start and winds up being intensely boring. And the reason it does this is, essentially, because the movie both clearly wants to be a morally-ambiguous, sympathetic antihero drama like we see all over cable television but also bends over backward to try to make you like its main character, to the point of compromising any semblance of drama. The end result is a character who, aside from his profession, has basically no flaws and is such a collected supergenius that he is never in real jeopardy. He’s Will Hunting minus the problems, essentially. At one point he insists he’s never killed anyone, and the movie tries to justify this by having like five-minute shootout scenes involving machine guns where the only things getting hit are police cars, which given the volume of bullets and ricochets, seems impossible. By the end of the movie it’s a miracle the Boston Police Department isn’t resorting to having to rent cars for their officers. That’s what we’re working with.

Anyway, the movie proceeds along a couple of different tracks. The main story is about Affleck’s character being torn between his new love, a the manager of a bank recently robbed courtesy of Affleck’s crew, and his best friend/literal partner in crime played by Jeremy Renner. Also in the mix are Jon Hamm’s steely FBI agent, and Blake Lively’s cocktail waitress/fuckbuddy to Ben Affleck. This all should in theory be fun and interesting, and sometimes it is, but the real problem is Affleck’s character: he’s simply too smart to ever be in any kind of real danger, or to be forced to compromise his code in order to survive. And then there’s the anticlimactic ending–I won’t spoil it but to give you a sense of what kind of drama we’re dealing with, just imagine the scene from Breaking Bad where Walt and Jesse are stuck in the RV while Hank is outside waiting for them. How do they get out of this one? Now, imagine that instead of the diabolical prank they played on him, that they just put on wigs and fake beards and just snuck out the back, after all that buildup. Not very satisfying, eh? One might expect Affleck to be put in a situation where he has to kill someone else in order to survive, or where he does it by accident and has to deal with it. But no, he keeps his hands clean throughout the entire film! So when he leaves the business at the end of the movie, it’s not motivated by any kind of moral revelation or character growth, so much as he wants to have the chance to hook up with Rebecca Hall. Because that’s how this type of plot ends it has to end there, even though it makes absolutely no sense.

The reek of compromise hangs over this movie. Affleck’s other two movies, Gone Baby Gone and Argo–both of which I quite like–are unafraid to move in relatively adventurous directions, while in The Town the film is stuck directly in the middle of the road, a movie seemingly designed for eternal showings on TNT to dads with divided attention. I don’t blame this on Affleck, who manages to inject some style and personality into the movie in multiple places. And the acting is fine across the board, with Renner (unsurprisingly) as the standout, who gives his character depth and tragedy that suggest the better movie this could have been. But in the process of sanding off any rough edges of Affleck’s character, we wind up with a character with no real flaws or weaknesses of any kind, and since there’s no chance he’ll even possibly screw up there’s no reason to care that he wins, because it is meaningless. Additionally, the Boston in which he lives is seemingly meant to be gritty, but it doesn’t look it at all, almost as if they wanted a gritty feel but still wanted to make the city look great. Yet another compromise that turns the whole thing into the filmic equivalent of plain oatmeal. Also worth noting that the premise of the movie–that there’s a section of Boston that has the highest proportion of bankrobbers in the country–is never paid off, as we never see different crews hobnobbing together, seeing whether that would be riven with rivalry or positive and friendly, or whatever. That seems like a cool idea, but for all it figures in it might as well not have even been brought up, since the only bankrobber characters are the ones we follow. It’s a metaphor for a movie that stakes out some interesting ground initially, then does nothing with it. There are interesting things around the edges, but this is as predictable as it gets. Let’s hope Affleck continues to make movies that are not like this.

Lev filed this under: , ,  

If only…

I just spent a moment re-reading the president’s speech on ISIS from a month ago. It’s well-constructed, although ultimately substanceless in terms of making the case to do this (guess having public opinion behind you for the moment obviates that task) and it’s worth noting that this is really the only argument he gives for involvement:

In a region that has known so much bloodshed, these terrorists are unique in their brutality [emphasis mine]. They execute captured prisoners. They kill children. They enslave, rape, and force women into marriage. They threatened a religious minority with genocide. In acts of barbarism, they took the lives of two American journalists — Jim Foley and Steven Sotloff.

So ISIL poses a threat to the people of Iraq and Syria, and the broader Middle East — including American citizens, personnel and facilities. If left unchecked, these terrorists could pose a growing threat beyond that region — including to the United States. While we have not yet detected specific plotting against our homeland, ISIL leaders have threatened America and our allies. Our intelligence community believes that thousands of foreigners — including Europeans and some Americans — have joined them in Syria and Iraq. Trained and battle-hardened, these fighters could try to return to their home countries and carry out deadly attacks.

I may have missed something, but does this argument actually wash? Is ISIS really that unique? The Taliban actually did commit genocide against a racial minority, after all, not just a threat. al-Qaeda has killed journalists–Daniel Pearl comes immediately to mind–not to mention 3,000 people in New York. Admittedly, we did actually wage war against those two specific groups, but they actually did kill off a lot of Americans before we did it. The rest are, unfortunately, not uncommon at all. So I have to wonder, is this really the logic of fighting a multi-year war sans Congressional approval? In essence, simply being bad people is now a sufficient cause for war, and an ill-defined, long-term war at that. A direct action to strike back at the people responsible would be merited. But destroying the entirety of ISIS? There is simply no logic here.

Now, I had no illusions that Obama would be a dove. I did not suspect that he’d be so willing to use force as often as he has, though the makeup of his staff and his long-time goal of cultivating “centrist” opinionmakers in Washington who happen to be reliable hawks were reliable indicators. Still, it’s still sort of shocking to me that this war seems to be based entirely on horror and disgust, which, while entirely understandable and merited, do not reliably tend to produce good foreign policy. Obama’s argument here makes no real logical sense, and the second part essentially concedes that it’s not necessary for national security, which means that there’s really no argument here whatever, so it has to be read as an indication of his emotional state. He simply hates these guys, which again, is the right response. But launching a war based on emotional reactions is eerily reminiscent of Bush, and a strategy of airstrikes and guiding allies to fight the bad guys is so similar to Vietnam so as to make no difference, only it’s even less likely to work without ground troops. Obama knows he loses the base if combat troops set foot in Iraq, but he went forward anyway. This has to be interpreted as, again, an emotional decision, not a logical one. Larison is right that simply calling the whole thing off would make the most sense, but given that the ISIS war isn’t about anything other than reaction, political ass-covering and emotion, I tend to doubt it.

Remember when everyone talked about how Obama was so cool-headed, strategic and logical? It’s been a while since I heard it too. Probably around the time his foreign policy approvals were in the positive zone.

Lev filed this under: , , ,  

I’ve not seen any of the Taken movies. I admit that revenge and vigilante films (including Payback-style “gimme back my son!” films which play on the same themes and emotions) generally don’t appeal to me, unless they’re making the point that this stuff is ugly and self-defeating like Taxi Driver. Not to mention that such films tend to be inherently conservative and exploitative, inasmuch as contemporary conservatism involves never engaging a part of the mind other than the id. But until watching this video review of Taken 2, I guess I wasn’t aware just how psychologically lazy the movie is, but also derivative it is of so many other recent action movies. Rooftop chases a la the recent Bond films, jittery Bourne-style fights, jumping from car to train, hero and villain tossing aside their loaded guns to fight hand to hand at the end…it’s amazing how little originality penetrates this movie. With just the slightest push it could be a Tango & Cash-style send-up of this decade’s most overused tropes:

Also particularly risible is the epilogue where, after a traumatic ordeal that would require years of therapy to even begin to deal with the PTSD, they’re all just sitting in a diner, sipping shakes, back to normal American hokum, as though terrifying, life-endangering stunts are merely an anodyne part of American life. There is something deeply, deeply upsetting about this. It’s almost as though the NRA underwrote the movie to make the point that violent killing–though admittedly justified in this case–has no negative side-effects, and that it’s just a costless act, maybe even the manly thing to do. This is only true of violent sociopaths.

Additionally, while they’ll probably make these until Liam Neeson is beating thugs with his walker, it’s worth noting that this series has the same problem as the Home Alone series, in that the more of them there are, the less it makes sense. Leaving Kevin McAllister home alone once is an accident, but if they keep doing it, it just means the parents suck at their job. But Home Alone was about the kid, and the kids watching it didn’t care about the parents. This is obvious dad-bait, so one would think that after a point the audience would lose sympathy for a shitty father who fails to take adequate security protections and keeps getting his damn family kidnapped.

Lev filed this under: ,  

This is hilarious. Arkansas Democrats may get a freebie in the Attorney General election because of some voting/registration shenanigans on the part of the GOP candidate. Considering the similar case of Charlie White, whose issues actually got him kicked out of office, I see no reason why Democrats shouldn’t get back up in Republicans’ face on voter fraud issues by saying that the most high-profile recent cases of this have involved Republican politicians. It’s also worth saying that this isn’t exactly hypocritical per se, as the party of Bush v. Gore is clearly not one very interested in ensuring maximal participation and accuracy in the voting process. These folks are merely exemplifying the contempt for fair and accurate voting that we’ve come to expect from today’s Republican Party, of which voter ID laws are but one component.

Lev filed this under:  

That’s not a thumbs-up, so much as a symbolic gesture on how he will attempt to crush workers who vote to unionize.

We need a new scale, people. Its purpose: for measuring the relative corruption, sleazy buckraking and amoral behavior of former Democratic officeholders, named after Dick Gephardt, who spent a couple decades in the House insisting he was the banner carrier of New Deal liberalism, before leaving and working on whatever anti-labor, anti-healthcare, evil corporate lobbying effort paid best (a brief list can of course be found here). Needless to say it’s possible to be a former Dem politico and make some scratch without turning fully to the dark side–Al Gore comes to mind as someone who could very easily have gone this way but, surprisingly, didn’t. So if a guy who’s political career brought him close connections with AIPAC, DLC corporate donors and all corners of Clintonworld can forgo doing bad things for money, there’s really no excuse. Let’s see how this goes in this initial series:

  1. John Breaux – former Senator (D-LA) – lobbying for Gazprom, the Russian banking/energy giant7 Gephardts out of 10.
  2. Roland Burris – former Senator (D-IL), infamous Rod Blagojevich appointee – illegal lobbyist for Robert Mugabe8 Gephardts out of 10.

I think we need to create a new maxim like Moore’s Law for the foreign policy arena. Let’s call it Villager’s Law:

(1) the Very Serious talking heads in the opinion columns and Sunday morning talk shows say you’re doing the right thing; and
(2) there is a bipartisan consensus in Congress that you’re doing the right thing; and, finally,
(3) the thing you’re doing involves bombing shit and killing lots of brown people in a foreign country…

then, most likely:
(A) you’re not doing the right thing; and
(B) you’re going to unleash negative externalities equal to or worse than the problem you’re trying to solve; and
(C) history is going to call you an asshole.