Monday, January 28, 2013

Political update for January, 2013

So much for soaring rhetoric.  Read in a vacuum, that is, absent a political context, Obama's second inaugural sounds almost  moderate. But, placed in its political context -- and why would you read it otherwise -- the mask has slipped. Other than the hope for gays to be treated equally under the law, I found the president's inaugural speech unsurprisingly distressing, as I did the first one where he casually implied that spending was just peachy.  Obviously, he now feels he can afford to make his political intentions more plain, whereas the first speech was the first day of the second campaign. And with that came the greatest spending and most brash liberalism since the Great Society.

They are going for the brass ring here, and, their being victorious in a second election, some might see that as their due. And, there can be little doubt but by his conservative adversaries that more voting Americans seemed to agree with him than did otherwise.  Political parties rarely feel they need to remember that with public office is SUPPOSED to come duty and responsibility, not privilege or the right to usurp anyone's liberty, property or life without due process of law. In reality, it is always degraded into a quest for power coupled with the fear of losing it (“The real terrors of both Parties have all ways been, and now are, the fear that they shall loose the Elections and consequently the Loaves and Fishes; and that their Antagonists will obtain them." - John Adams).

Obama's  duties are the same under the Constitution now as they were before - to see to it that the laws are executed, not to change our culture or redistribute income. Yet along with the pop culture history lesson, this was the speech.  Of course, it would be disingenuous to suggest that he is the first president to shoot for more than to exercise his constitutional authority.  
Though it is either a parlor game or foolishness to predict what will happen in anyone's term as president, I suspect with little fear of embarrassment that Obama and Biden will continue to try to remake the country into one that looks more like Sweden and Belgium than it does Pennsylvania and Colorado in line with the Social Democratic philosophy that best describes their policies.  How they think this is even remotely possible when we also have by far the most expensive military in the world, I cannot imagine (although some think that is precisely the reason Chuck Hagel has been nominated for SecDef in order to scrunch it down - I doubt it).  But,  trying to do both is like trying to serve both God and Mammon or riding two donkeys with one ass (a phrase I learned in a wonderful pseudo-Western, Support Your Local Sheriff, starring James Garner, said by the mayor, played by Harry Morgan, to his daughter, Garner's love interest) or making an omelet without breaking some eggs.  Try as you may, you just can't do it.

While I do not for a second believe the hyperbole that President Obama is a Communist or Marxist as some like to suggest (you could make the argument that even modern conservatives are Marxists), and wants the government to control all production, I do believe he is an ardent, as opposed to reluctant, democratic-socialist who has the "fatal conceit" that he or others under him can manage our economic success despite every evidence that we have never been capable of it except to live fat while devaluing our currency.  
Central to his speech was the idea that there can be some kind of economic parity among all of us (I was going to quote from it, but there is too much else I want to get to and you can read it yourself online - but his use of the charged word "collective" is a little scary).  What this really means is that markets don't matter, the "invisible hand" does not matter so much, a person reaping the fruits of their labor or ingenuity does not matter so much either. That they can simply force people to give more and more of what they have for the benefit of those who do not have it to make up for some kind of group historical guilt for slavery and Jim Crow, male domination and other aspects of our history/culture, is a central tenet of liberal thinking. That this is the dreaded income redistribution cannot rationally be denied.  Though he does not go around using the phrase anymore, just prior to this past election a prior public statement in his belief in it surfaced, and the White House acknowledged it.  No one much paid attention or cared other than the conservative radio hosts and their fans because so many people agree with him, and not just the 47%.

These are not new ideas.  It has always been at the center of all socialistic, progressive, liberal agendas - money and property are at best on lend to people - it belongs to the government, and, the  economy can be manipulated by masters (the phrase Obama used early on was "the pointy heads").  This always fails, though it can occasionally made to look like solvent. Lloyd Bentsen, a former VP candidate in 1988, is famous for saying to opponent Dan Quayle in their debate - "Senator, you're no Jack Kennedy." But, the more important thing he said in the same debate that goes largely ignored these days by spenders on both sides was "You know, if you let me write $200 billion worth of hot checks every year, I could give you an illusion of prosperity, too."  We can only wish it was but $200 billion dollars. We would all be so happy if it was only $200 billion dollars. Just the interest on our debt alone was over $200 billion in 1988 but last year was nearly $360 billion. That's not even new debt. We spent about $664 billion on defense in 2011. Don't even start with entitlements, which are about three times are national security spending.
The notion that coercively equalizing incomes or assets among people, which I would have in my youth and ignorance thought the most worthwhile goal, is, it turns out, not only impossible, but terribly foolish.  Most of our technological wonders that give so much comfort and make our lives so much easier are around not just because they were invented, but because rich people got to use and enjoy them first or had the capital and ability to manufacture, market and distribute them at a price most people can afford.  This was explained to me best by Friedrich Hayek's The Constitution of Liberty -- one of those books I wish every president and every senator and congressperson would read before they took the oath, but know that can never be, because, frankly, it is not easy reading and they wouldn't do it.  I excerpt it below, but to make it more readable and cull the sense of what he wrote, I've cut and pasted, leaving out here all the asterisks and stars that I would need to separate the selections, as well as all the abundant notes that were included to back up his conclusions. In other words, I made a much shorter essay (long as it is) than what he wrote by cutting a lot of it out.  I put this in bold because I would not want anyone ever making an internet search on Hayek or this book to quote from it as if the paragraphs ran together this way in his book.

"If today in the United States or western Europe the relatively poor can have a car or a refrigerator, and airplane trip or a radio, at the cost of a reasonable part of their income, this was made possible because in the past others with larger incomes were able to spend on what was then a luxury. . . Many of the improvements would indeed never become a possibility for all if they had not long before been available to some. If all had to wait for better things until they could be provided for all, that day would in many instances never come. Even the poorest today owe their relative material well-being to the results of past inequality.
[A]s long as the graduation is more or less continuous and all the steps in the income pyramid are reasonably occupied, it can scarcely be denied that those lower down profit materially from the fact that the others are ahead.

In the long run, the existence of groups ahead of the rest is clearly an advantage to those who are behind, in the same way that , if we could suddenly draw on the more advanced knowledge which some other men on a previously unknown continent or on another planet had gained under more favorable conditions, we would all profit greatly.
There can be little doubt that the prospect of the poorer, “undeveloped” countries reaching the present level of the West is very much better than it would have been, had the West not pulled so far ahead.

That even countries or groups which do not possess freedom can profit from many of its fruits is one the reasons why the importance of freedom is not better understood.
Equality of the general  rules of law and conduct, however, is the only kind of equality conducive to liberty and the only equality which we can secure without destroying liberty. Not only has liberty nothing to do with any other sort of equality, bit it is even bound to produce inequality in many respects. This is the necessary result and part of the justification of individual liberty: if the result of individual liberty did not demonstrate that some manners of living are more successful than others, much of the case for it would vanish.

Modern advocates of a more far-reaching material equality usually deny that their demands are based on any assumption of the factual equality of all men. It is nevertheless still widely believed that this is the main justification for such demands. . . It is of the essence of the demand for equality before the law that people should be treated alike in spite of the fact that they are different.
From the fact that people are very different it follows that, if we treat them equally, the result must be inequality in their actual position, and that the only way to place them in an equal position would be treat them differently. Equality before the law and material equality are therefore not only different but are in conflict with each other; and we can achieve either the one or the other, but not both at the same time. . . Our argument will be that, though where the state must use coercion for other reasons, it should treat all people alike, the desire of making people more alike in their condition cannot be accepted in a free society as a justification for further and discriminatory coercion.

We do not object to equality as such. It merely happens to be the case that a demand for equality is the professed motive of most of those who desire to impose upon society a preconceived pattern of distribution. . . We shall indeed see that many of those who demand an extension of equality do not really demand equality but a distribution that conforms more closely to human conceptions of individual merit and that their desires are as irreconcilable with freedom as the more strictly egalitarian demands.
f one objects to the use of coercion in order to bring about a more even or a more just distribution, this does not mean that one does not regard these as desirable. But if we wish to preserve a free society, it is essential that we recognize that the desirability  of a particular object is not sufficient justification for the use of coercion.

There also seems no reason why these widely felt preferences should not guide policy in some respects. Wherever there is a legitimate need for government action and we have to choose between different methods of satisfying such a need, those that incidentally also reduce inequality may well be preferable.
Though either may greatly affect the value which an individual has for his fellows, no more credit belongs to him for having been born with desirable qualities than for having grown up under favorable circumstances. The distinction between the two is important only because the former advantages are due to circumstances clearly beyond human control, while the latter are due to factors which we might be able to alter. The important question is whether there is a case for so changing our institutions as to eliminate as much as possible those advantages due to environment. Are we to agree that “all inequalities that rest on birth and inherited property ought to be abolished and none remain unless it is an effect of superior talent and industry”?

The most important factors to be considered in this connection are the family, inheritance, and education, and it is against the inequality which they produce that criticism is mainly directed. They are, however, not the only important factors of environment. Geographic conditions such climate and landscape, not to speak of local and sectional differences in cultural and moral traditions, are scarcely less important. We can, however, consider here only the three factors whose effects are most commonly impugned.
So far as family is concerned, there exists a curious contrast between the esteem most people profess for the institution and their dislike of the fact that being born into a particular family should confer on a person special advantages. . . Yet it is difficult to see why the same useful quality which is welcomed when it is the result of a person’s natural endowment should be less valuable when it is the product of such circumstances as intelligent parents or a good home.

Though inheritance used to be the most widely criticized source of inequality, it is today probably no longer so. Egalitarian agitation now tends to concentrate on the unequal advantages due to differences in education.
For the present we shall only point out that enforced equality in this field can hardly avoid preventing some from getting the education they otherwise might. Whatever we might do, there is no way of preventing those advantages which only some can have, and which it is desirable that some should have, from going to people who neither individually merit them nor will make as good a use of them as some other person might have done. Such a problem cannot be satisfactorily solved by the exclusive and coercive powers of the state.

It is instructive at this point to glance briefly at the change that the ideal of equality has undergone in this field in modern times. A hundred years ago, at the height of the classical liberal movement, the demand was generally expressed by the phrase la carrière ouverte aux talents. It was a demand that all man-made obstacles to the rise of some should be removed, that all privileges of individuals should be abolished, and that what the state contributed to the chance of improving one’s conditions should be the same for all. That so long as people were different and grew up in different families this could not assure an equal start was fairly generally accepted. It was understood that the duty of government was not to ensure that everybody had the same prospect of reaching a given position but merely to make available to all on equal terms those facilities which in their nature depended on government action. That the results were bound to be different, not only because the individuals were different, but also because only a small part of the relevant circumstances depended on government action, was taken for granted.
The conception that all should be allowed to try has been largely replaced by the altogether different conception that all much be assured an equal start and the same prospects. This means little less than that the government, instead of providing the same circumstances for all, should aim at controlling all conditions relevant to a particular individual’s prospects and so adjust them to his capacities as to assure him of the same prospects as everybody else. Such deliberate adaptations of opportunities to individual aims and capacities would, of course, be the opposite of freedom. Nor could it be justified as a means of making the best use of all available knowledge except on the assumption that government knows best how individual capacities can be used.

When we inquire into the justification of these demands, we find that they rest on the discontent that the success of some people often produces in those that are less successful, or, to put it bluntly, on envy. The modern tendency to gratify this passion  and to disguise it in the respectable garment of social justice is developing into a serious threat to freedom. . . This would, of course, necessarily mean that it is the responsibility of government to see that nobody is healthier or possesses a happier temperament, a better-suited spouse or more prospering children, than anybody else. If really all unfulfilled desires have a claim on the community, individual responsibility is at an end. However human, envy is certainly not one of the sources of discontent that a free society can eliminate. It is probably one of the essential conditions for the preservation of such a society that we do not countenance envy, not sanction its demands by camouflaging it as social justice, but treat it, in the words of John Stuart Mill, as “that most anti-social and odious of all passions.”
While most of the strictly egalitarian demands are based on nothing better than envy, we must recognize that much that on the surface appears as a demand for greater equality is in fact a demand for a juster distribution of the good things of this world and springs therefore from much more creditable motives. . . The proper answer is that in a free society it is neither desirable nor practicable that material rewards should be made generally to correspond to what men recognize as merit and that it is an essential characteristic of a free society that an individual’s position should not necessarily depend on the views that his fellows hold about the merit he has acquired.

The difficulty in making the point clear is due to the fact that the term “merit,” which is the only one available to describe what I mean, is also used in a wider and vaguer sense. It will be used here exclusively to describe the attributes of conduct that make it deserving of praise, that is, the moral character of the action and not the value of the achievement.
There is little a man can do to alter the fact that his special talents are very common or exceedingly rare. A good mind or personality are in a large measure as independent of a person’s efforts as the opportunities or the experiences he has had. In all these instances the value which a person’s capacities or services have for us and for which he is recompensed has little relation to anything that we can call moral merit or deserts. Our problem is whether it is desirable that people should enjoy advantages in proportion to the benefits which their fellows derive from their activities or whether the distribution of these advantages should be based on other men’s views of their merits.

In conclusion we must briefly look at another argument on which the demands for a more equal distribution are frequently based, though it is rarely explicitly stated. This is the contention that membership in a particular community or nation entitles the individual to a particular material standard that is determined by the general wealth of the group to which he belongs. This demand is in curious conflict with the desire to base distribution on personal merit. There is clearly no merit in being born into a particular community, and no argument of justice can be based on the accident of a particular individual’s being born in one place rather than another. In a wealthy community the only justification its members can have for insisting on further advantages is that there is much private wealth that the government can confiscate and redistribute and that men who constantly see such wealth being enjoyed by others will have a stronger desire for it than those who know of it only abstractly, if at all."
I leave it off there.  What Hayek wrote about was not what I or many people I know were raised to believe, even if it was the tradition of our culture for a long time, and it took a long time for me to accede to his logical force.  Nor, of course, did Hayek start on square one (nor was right about everything), but stood on the shoulders of those he quotes in his work. I give him credit for making very difficult and sometimes counter-intuitive arguments extremely cogently, without trying to overly popularize it. Call me cynical, but I seriously doubt most people who claim to have read his celebrated The Road to Serfdom have actually read it. It's just so dry. But his disappointment that his Constitution did not become as well known as The Road to Serfdom is a little laughable, as the latter was at least relatively short and largely unadorned with notes, and the latter dense and filled with them. Hence, my distillation. There is much more I would like to include, especially Hayek's explanation of what government is capable of doing that it should do, and what it cannot and should not do.  But, I think you have a few other things to do today.

Nor, of course, is Hayek the only writer to dwell on these topics and it might be a post some day to discuss his influence on modern thinkers, like with his friend, Karl Popper, his influence being much deeper than his own popular recognition. But, below, just because these are the things I spend my time reading and thinking about, are a few quotes from others on the same topic.
The second biological lesson history is that life is selection. . . Since Nature (here meaning total reality and its processes) has not read very carefully the American Declaration of Independence or the French Revolutionary Declaration of the Rights of Man, we are all born unfree and unequal: subject to our physical and psychological heredity, and to the customs and traditions of our group; diversely endowed in health and strength, in mental capacity and qualities of character. Nature loves difference as the necessary material of selection and evolution; identical twins differ in a hundred ways, and no two peas are alike. - Will & Ariel Durant, The Lessons of History.

Inequality is not only natural and inborn, it grows with the complexity of civilization. - Alexander de Tocqueville, Democracy in America.
Nothing can enter the public treasury for the benefit of one citizen  of one citizen or one class unless other citizens and other classes have been forced to send it in. . . The law can be an instrument of equalization only as it takes from some persons and gives to other persons. When the law does this, it is an instrument of plunder.  - Frederick Bastiat, The Law.

Each of these parties has its chief, and these chiefs are, or will be, rivals. Religion will be both the object and the pretext of some; liberty, of others; submission and obedience of others; and levelling, downright levelling, of not a few.  - John Adams, Discourses on Davila.
Last, from Edmund Burke's Reflections on the French Revolution, with whom I must say, even more so than the others quoted, I often find myself in great disagreement, and scholars have a hell of a time deciding what to make of him. But, like the Devil, who may quote scripture for his purposes, so can I:

Believe me, Sir, those who attempt to level, never equalize. In all societies, consisting of various descriptions of citizens, some description must be uppermost. The levellers therefore only change and pervert the natural order of things; they load the edifice of society, by setting up in the air what the solidity of the structure requires to be on the ground. The associations of taylors and carpenters, of which the republic (of Paris, for instance) is composed, cannot be equal to the situation, into which, by the worst of usurpations, can usurpation on the prerogatives of nature, you attempt to force them.
None of any of the above is meant to suggest anything but that equal opportunity and equal rights under the law are of paramount importance, but the attempt to artificially eradicate the natural forces of capitalism, which includes that some will be better off than others, or to legislate the success of some to improve the economic lot of one or more groups -- even with the very best of intentions, will not only fail, but cause the society to fail.  Conservatism, so effective to combat the excesses of modern progressivism, is often fatally flawed by its holding on to a status quo or tradition of privilege beyond its cultural life for the comfort of some  (hence, Hayek's essay, Why I am not a Conservative at the end of The Constitution of Liberty). But as effective as liberalism has been in many pursuits to eradicate a rigid class and racial system and bring about more equality in the law in some regards (and it has succeeded in America in most of its goals) the extremes of its program utterly fail in its "fatal conceit" of economic planning and efforts to artificially level the playing field, making the law in fact less equal, with consequential economic disaster.

Monday, January 21, 2013


Yes, I haven't posted in about two weeks. I've been kind of busy but will pretend I have a scheduled vacation and that's the reason. Why not?

Back next weekend.


Sunday, January 06, 2013

Movie Review (2012)

I imagine hearing a great sigh of relief as I announce to trumpets that I will not, today at least, be writing the political update for January 2013. Not that I don't want to at all, and not because there is nothing to say and not even because I realized my political posts "suck" (quoting a renowned hot-tempered blog critic) but, because I do realize, now that the campaign is over and attention is at least temporarily moving on from the so-called fiscal cliff, that I have nothing new and/or original I want to say about the state of things. Everything I want to say, I've read elsewhere. But, because I cannot help myself, I will give one long, ungrammatical and possibly nonsensical sentence in which I will tell you what I think about the most recent state of affairs and leave it at that:

Long deep breath in aaaaaand go! -  The Democrats continue to win every federal battle since 2010 on every  front, including just adding some 4 trillion to the debt over the next 10 years (CBO) and if the Republicans, who could not defeat a weak and almost defeated president, want to rise again they have to resolve their schizophrenic party either by concentrating or splitting, amoeba-like into two entities, forming a single mass dedicated to stopping the unyielding Jacobism with which we are creeping our way to full out social/communism and economic disaster and, not just for Greece and Spain and Ireland, but for us and probably every country in the world, save a few lucky ones, and yes, it is as scary and possible as all that, because, whatever older white American males might think is good for the country and however they suppose that their values of competition and self-sufficiency and raising yourself up by your bootstraps works and dependency, confiscation and bribery do not, quite the opposite is the belief of too many progressives, women, minority and special interest groups, not to mention politicians (even some very beloved Republican governors)  who like, want, cherish the super-regulated nanny state which has gone so far beyond manageable plans to take care of the elderly, sick or infirm who cannot help themselves into a full blown, every man for himself, one government ever expanding like the blob to enter into every bit of your life with its tentacles or fist through one stratagem or another and this wave, beloved by many people, because at some time they are getting or hope to get "paid," and they see no alternative but to go along and survive or even thrive if they are the right people at the right time getting other people's else's money to work for them, and are so dedicated to the idea of equality that they have not for a long time seen it as about equal opportunity and law but equal results and equal merit even if they have to pretend, that frankly, the Republicans may not have much of a chance unless  they rally like never before, drop the anachronisms of anti-this or anti-that (usually gays, atheists or secularists) and focus on what really matters, the political and economic freedom Whigs and then Americans were talking about for so long, but can never seem to get right, because if they don't the force-multiplying power of modern technology and demographics will wash them all away like a boardwalk in the path of Hurricane Sandy, although it is quite possible that is what is going to have to happen, a complete failing and surrender, and then a wretched miserable reign of terror that follows the complete breakdown of society whether by fascists, Nazis, commies, Golden this or thatters, and then, only then, the slow remembrance of past and that awful slog to get us back to where we need to be -- at least part way, before it all starts again, by which time I will likely be dead and my desiccated heart will look much like the stuff you find in the bottom of the vacuum bag, if they still have them then.  At least, I think that is what might indeed happen.
But leaving all that aside, I will instead review the movies I liked from 2012. Keep in mind, I usually only like action movies, comedies or romantic comedies. So . . .

Act of Valor- I was really excited to see this movie, being still hopped up by the death of bin Laden. It is hard not to hero worship the Navy Seals, particularly if you are a boy, or were at one time, anyway.  I read a book on the Special Forces many years ago -- I see myself in my first bedroom, so probably during law school. As I went chapter by chapter and read about the training of each group, I kept thinking, yeah, I could have done that. I think most men do the same, even if it is a fantasy for most of us. But, when I got to the chapter on Seal training, I thought instead, how is that even possible?  I would have washed out the first week, possibly earlier if I spent any time thinking about it.  Anyway, this movie was terrific. I think it might be my favorite this year. It stars real Seals (so they say - I wouldn't know) and was made in a very realistic style, almost like a video. Looking back, I only vaguely remember the plot and a few scenes reminiscent of a NCIS plot, and as archetypical as that disaster of a film, Syriana. But I'd see A of V again in a Kabul minute. You just wanted to cheer through the whole movie and they managed to create some empathy for the choir boy characters (who seem much different than the Seals in Zero Dark Thirty, which as of yet I can glean only from commercials).

John Carter of Mars - This was a bit of a surprise. It's a Disney flick based on Edgar Rice Burroughs books about the title character.  They managed to weave in a fantasy story about the author too to sort of tie it all together.  Despite how bad it could have been (I feared), I really enjoyed it.  Everything worked for me, even the special effects I am often indifferent to.  I cared about the main character and enjoyed it more  than the very similar Avatar, which was based on the same late 19th century/early 20th century writing style and I thought a little over praised.
21 Jump Street - They took a tv show I never watched about cops going under cover in high school starring Johnny Depp and made it into a decent cop buddy comedy with Jonah Hill, one of those guys who is funny to just look at or listen to the way John Candy was, and Tatum Channing, who, though People's Sexiest Man Alive last year, is a really good actor who can play it straight or do comedy, dance, fight and, apparently, strip (prior career).  The plot is about two idiot cops who went to high school together (the great big idiotic bully and his much smarter but weaker victim) who become partners and friends. There are scenes like the one where they are at a party and all of a sudden Jonah Hill character asks - ". . . When did I get stabbed?" and you see a big knife in his back. Then he says with an insanely victorious grin - "That's awesome!" because getting stabbed can be laughed away in a movie.  I know, I know, it's dumb, but I liked it. I'd sure rather see that than something like Jeff who lives at home.

The Avengers - First, I admit, I am a geek. I grew up reading comic books, including The Avengers, loved some of the Marvel movies the past few years about the individual heroes in it (Iron Man, The Hulk), liked one of them (Captain America)  but would probably not see it again and did not like Thor at all - they just ruined it by making it too sci fi.  They have been setting up The Avengers movie through the appearance of Nick Fury of S.H.I.E.L.D. , played by Samuel Jackson, in the earlier films. The Avengers worked because it was funny and there was a controlled flow of bad guy kicking the good guys' teeth in, followed by acts of redemption and pay back.  Robert Downey makes the movie as Iron Man, but, Mark Ruffalo (who I am a fan of since he played the nice guy leading man in 13 Going on 30) made a pretty good Bruce Banner too. Of course, so much of the movie is special effects, but that was a given in the fight scenes.  I was a little disappointed by the appearance of Hawkeye, one of my favorite minor  heroes - he's Marvel's version of Green Arrow, though I suppose they'd say Green Arrow is D.C.'s version of Hawkeye -- not liking what they did with his character and the whole weird thing with Black Widow. You have no idea what I am talking about? That's probably because you find super heroes trite and childish. Fortunately for me, I am both.
However, just in case you think I just like super hero movies, I hate what Marvel did with the Spider Man reboot this year (The Amazing Spider-Man). They changed Peter Parker into a Twilight character. Skip it. 'Nuff said. I also thought the newest Batman entry that also came out this year, The Dark Knight Rises, was the weakest of that series. Not as bad as when George Clooney played Batman in an earlier incarnation, but not so good either.  

Looper - This was a Bruce Willis vehicle. I avoid most Bruce Willis vehicles like the plague, because they are a bit like the old routine from The Gary Shandling Show (not the HBO show he later made about late night tv, but his original and pretty funny sitcom) where a celebrity would knock on his door; Gary would open it and say - "Hey, everybody, it's Bruce Willis" or whoever was standing there.  But Looper was pretty good. It is a time travel movie, filled with all those pesky time travel paradoxes that make you realize that this is one thing there will probably never be (unless, in the future, they are reading this now and laughing).  There was a kid actor in it too, and he was actually pretty good, even when he had to carry on like a psychotic little brat. I almost liked the little fellow and felt purged at the end.  Jeff Daniels played the heavy and was there ever any part he could not hit out of the park?  Even made me laugh. Netflix it.
The Man with the Iron Fist - I know this is a Hong Kong kung fu take off and for a lot of people that just means - nooooo thank you.  They can be ridiculous AND THIS WAS ridiculous. But, here's my pitch. My gf and I went to the movies during Hurricane Sandy's aftermath and we wanted to see something else (well, not me, but she did). Then, thank you movie gods, she had to see this because it was the only movie that worked for us time wise. She didn't want to at all. But, you know what? She really liked it after all. The funny thing is, as ridiculous as a plot device it is to have the hero he end up with metal arms that can move like regular ones (via magic), they actually now have technological wonders that can do just that. And I think we all know in a few years, they will be better than our own. Look for a Six Million Dollar Man reboot.

Lincoln - Here's my review in a nutshell. Daniel Day-Lewis was awesome. He will win the Oscar. The movie was interesting, but I would not call it riveting. I liked it, but, I'll probably never watch it again.
I'll also take this opportunity to say, not for the first or last time, that Doris Goodwin's Team of Rivals was a very good book and I enjoyed it, but I didn't think it was a great one. I read histories pretty carefully and I don't think I really learned all that much I didn't know or had read elsewhere. Even a book about his cabinet, instead of him per se, wasn't completely original (how could it be?), though it hadn't been done in a long time to my knowledge.

Silver Linings Playbook - An unusual romantic comedy about two very damaged people and their damaged families. What made it different was that there were some scenes which were a little hard to bear, more so at the beginning, sort of the way Larry David makes us cringe in Curb Your Enthusiasm or George does in Seinfeld when he opens his mouth to try to charm someone into doing something there is no chance they are going to do. Perhaps the ending was a little Hollywood, but . . . Robert DeNiro was funny, pretty much playing the comic version of his one character (why I don't think he is all that great an actor). Possibly after Act of Valor and  Argo, this was my favorite.
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey - I don't know. I just don't know. With distance from the film, my happiness with it dims. Perhaps I need to see it again. The three Lord of the Ring movies were wonderful. I have watched all ten hours or whatever multiple times.  I suppose I should feel the same way about this, but I don't. I don't even mind that they made three movies out of one little book, because they are filling in things that we know happened from other Tolkien material that were vaguely mentioned but left out of the Hobbit. But, the dwarves did not look right to me. It looked as if they were wearing too much make up and they made too much of a human out of their leader, Thorin Oakenshield.  The action scenes lacked something of the great battle scenes, even the smaller ones, of LOTR.  There were no real memorable lines in it. There were no heart breaking scenes in it. The character who played Bilbo is a well known and enjoyable Brit actor, but, he just didn't work for me here.   The Troll scene was too childish (I know it was a kid's book, but still, they are making a prequel to an adult film) and for some reason they changed even that and made it worse. I hated them making more of a character out of the wizard Radagast than the book justifies, and, if they were going to, they shouldn't have made him a Star Wars or Disney-like character. I acknowledge high expectations have something to do with my review -- but it could have worked the opposite for it. I know I will watch this again when it is on tv and I still look forward to the next two, but perhaps they dropped the ball a little bit.

Django Unchained - The following movies make Tarantino one of the great directors and writers in the business -- ever. Pulp Fiction, Jackie Brown, From Dusk Till Dawn, True Romance, Reservoir Dogs, Kill Bill (he says it is really one movie) and Death Proof/Grindhouse. I never saw Natural Born Killers for which he wrote the story (as opposed, I believe, the screenplay), so I won't include it. After all those movies, I'd rank Django  only before Inglourious Basterds, which I liked, but didn't love.  I'm not knocking the Django.  It was entertaining.  I am also dismissive of any claims that this movie is disrespectful to blacks or exploits slavery.  As for his use of the N word, while I do get why it makes people (including me) so uncomfortable, I won't criticize Tarantino for using it unless I hear him call someone it and I doubt that is  going to happen. Samuel Jackson says we should get over it.  The use of rap music disturbed me, even if it fit fairly well. And, though it was an imitation spaghetti western, I thought the gun-fighting was workman like and just not super cool as in some of his older films. But, good movie.  However, don't go expecting Pulp Fiction level anything.
Skyfall - Take a great James Bond movie, say one with Sean Connery or Roger Moore. Keep the music, but not too much of it, and their patented opening theme number. Use a  brooding, muscular hero. Don't include a great villain like Goldfinger or a super-powerful henchman like Odd Job, or witty one liners; substitute great casting with politically correct casting (like Moneypenny) or casting changes that make no sense (Q is now a young man who seemed to have no real personality or reason to be in the movie). Ixnay on the great gadgets, the great chase scenes, any cutting edge special effects and a great theme song (Adele is a great singer, but have you heard anyone play Skyfall on the radio, like Goldfinger or The Spy Who Loved Me, etc.?)  You are left with a typical and not so bad spy story with a spy named James Bond in it with some nominal trappings -- but it's not a great James Bond movie. One of the least good, in fact. I know they wanted to go retro with it, but I think they overdid it and retro'd it all the way back to pre-Bond. And by the way, nothing against Daniel Craig. He's a good Bond.  But Roger Moore is crazy -- he is not the best Bond.

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter - This is a fun concept. It is also a good movie, but certainly not a great one. It ended after I wanted it to end and wasn't as cool as I thought it could be. It should have gone smaller and kept him as a young vampire fighter. Too sweeping and long. But, in its way, more entertaining than the serious Spielberg effort this year.
That's the list, but there were some other movies I did not see for which I am either sorry or glad.

Sorry I didn't see:
Zero Dark Thirty - Actually, I'm sure I will. I would have just called it Operation Kill bin Laden.

Killing them Softly - Brad Pitt. I actually think Brad Pitt is a pretty good actor, not that it is really all that hard. Something about a hit man. Looks good.
Solomon Kane - My buddy, Bear, and I use to think we might end up writers when we were teens. Neither did. But the one project I always remember him talking about was writing a screenplay for Solomon Kane,  a Robert E. Howard (Conan) character who was a swashbuckling Puritan leaving a trail of blood across Europe and Africa with his sword. I didn't even realize this movie came out earlier this year until last week and have heard nothing about whether it was any good. Hope they didn't blow it.

Snow White and the Huntsman - I wanted to see this for several reasons. First, let's face it, Charlize Theron is one of the prettiest and sexiest women on the planet (and no, they are not the same thing). The most unbelievable thing about the movie is not the supernatural nonsense we all accept if we are watching a fantasy.  It's that the magic mirror thought Kristin Stewart was prettier than Charlize Theron. Come on. What kind of stupid mirror is that?
Here Comes the Boom - Kevin James in another of his silly comedies. This has the markings of the Jack Black movie from a few years ago - Nacho Libre, in which he became a professional wrestler (here -- it is a mixed martial artist). Wait a minute?   Was Salma Hayek in Nacho Libre too? No, but a pretty good imitation of her was.  Anyway, Mr. James makes fun little movies, like Mall Cop, and despite my stoic seriousness, stiff upper lip and royal blood, I enjoy them.

Contraband - This was okay. Marky Mark, I mean Mark Wahlberg,  seems to be constantly busy (and IMDB bears this out) and I think I have similar taste to him in movies. Trying to think if he ever made anything except Ted (which I won't see) that I didn't like.  But, this isn't The Departed either.  But it wasn't  half bad, even if there was nothing surprising in it.  If you see it on tv, watch it.  But, you might rent a classic, like Payback, instead.
Glad I didn't see:

Cloud Atlas - I can't even figure out what it is about, but I am fairly certain I would hate it.
Seven Psychopaths - This looked so bad that I am sorry Christopher Walken was in it. The supposedly funny things that these tough guys would say in the commercials (and they always go with their best stuff there) - not so funny.

2016: Obama's America - No, I am not going to see a movie to tell me I don't want to vote for Obama or that he is out to destroy America . I was praying we'd get rid of him and I know that this stupid partisan movie would have made me almost want to vote for him instead. Bet it had that effect on a few people.
End of the movie review. That must be The New York Times on the line right now.

About Me

My photo
I started this blog in September, 2006. Mostly, it is where I can talk about things that interest me, which I otherwise don't get to do all that much, about some remarkable people who should not be forgotten, philosophy and theories (like Don Foster's on who wrote A Visit From St. Nicholas and my own on whether Santa is mostly derived from a Norse god) and analysis of issues that concern me. Often it is about books. I try to quote accurately and to say when I am paraphrasing (more and more). Sometimes I blow the first name of even very famous people, often entertainers. I'm much better at history, but once in a while I see I have written something I later learned was not true. Sometimes I fix them, sometimes not. My worst mistake was writing that Beethoven went blind, when he actually went deaf. Feel free to point out an error. I either leave in the mistake, or, if I clean it up, the comment pointing it out. From time to time I do clean up grammar in old posts as, over time I have become more conventional in my grammar, and I very often write these when I am falling asleep and just make dumb mistakes. It be nice to have an editor, but . . . .