4/26/11

Gov. Haley Barbour (MS) won't run for president in 2012

From the Chicago Tribune:

“I will not be a candidate for president next year,” Barbour said in a statement emailed to reporters. “This has been a difficult, personal decision, and I am very grateful to my family for their total support of my going forward, had that been what I decided.”

...

“A candidate for president today is embracing a ten-year commitment to an all-consuming effort, to the virtual exclusion of all else. His (or her) supporters expect and deserve no less than absolute fire in the belly from their candidate. I cannot offer that with certainty, and total certainty is required," Barbour stated.

Barbour will stay on as governor and said he will continue his work with the Republican Governors Assn. “and my efforts to elect a new Republican president in 2012, as the stakes for the nation require that effort to be successful.”


Barbour never had much chance, despite, as a Southern governor, having credentials which, on paper, would be the envy of many in the attenuated GOP presidential field for 2012. I think we can all agree that his not running is good for the nation. I have now removed Barbour from the GOP field page, and replaced his entry in this month's poll with "Other."

Alex
Choose Our President 2012

4/8/11

Review: Hanna (2011)

NO STARS

Joe Wright's Hanna is a severe case of the emperor's new clothes. There is literally nothing interesting, complex, dramatic or worthwhile to see here, perhaps with the exception of a few modestly effective scenes totally undercut by everything else in the movie. It's an action movie without rhythm, a story without weight, a completely fruitless exercise in terseness so closemouthed one is forced brutally to the conclusion that it has absolutely nothing to say for itself, about itself or about anything else.

Hanna stars the enormously effective young actress Saoirse Ronan as Hanna, a young girl growing up in the snowy Northlands with her father, Erik Heller (Eric Bana doing an Arnold Schwarzenegger impression, apparently because the filmmakers were not brave enough to animate a young Schwarzenegger themselves, à la Terminator Salvation). It makes perfect sense as we go along that he has trained her to fight and kill without pity, as news of her existence is set to prompt desperate and dedicated efforts against her survival. He allows her to decide the timing of the release of that news.

Period, end of sentence. Having now told you every intricacy of the plot, please be forewarned that this review may contain spoilers, such as they are. Continue reading at your own risk and/or pleasure. But again, I already told you the whole story with the set-up, perhaps saving lucky readers who understand how truly literal I can be 111 minutes.

Wright directed actress Ronan to an Oscar nomination for her role in his previous, outstanding feature, Atonement, based upon Ian McEwan's excellent novel. I haven't seen any of Wright's other movies or other works. I have seen three other Saoirse Ronan movies since, City of Ember and the very good The Lovely Bones and The Way Back. So based upon the strengths of these, and a pretty slick and intriguing trailer for Hanna, I was somewhat excited to see his version of an action movie featuring a young girl made by outside forces to defend her life and individual integrity using the same skills against her opponents as they would use against her.

Instead, Hanna is a desultory, boring version of "Snow White," "Red Riding Hood," Frankenstein, Ang Lee's Hulk (also starring Bana) or Stephen King's novels and stories about The Shop. If it's actually a spare and elemental criticism of black ops, MK-Ultra, undercover government-sponsored assassinations or anything, I must have missed it. I'm sure our public officials will feel dutifully chastised. It has plot similarities to my top film of last year, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, but a distinct lack of the mystery, originality and grander vision of that film.

I'm not opposed to the violence in the film, though it is not particularly well done intellectually or visually. Additionally, the film comes across as respectful of women at some baseline level of acceptability (at least in the context of a strangely, vaguely anti-woman screenplay), mostly simply from Ronan's screen presence combined with her character's predicament. Yet it feels almost random that this is so. Erik Heller tells Hanna to kill Cate Blanchett's Marissa Veigler, not because Veigler is a woman, or a woman he hates because she's a woman, but because he knows Veigler will try to kill Hanna, and keep the killing of Hanna "contained," meaning killing Veigler may be the only loose end necessary to tie up to save Hanna's life. Veigler is not evil because she's particularly anti-woman, nor because has a thirst for Hanna's blood, but because she's caught up in years of covert wrongdoing.

We see other women with different realities from Veigler and Hanna who are more complex and beautiful in their actions and emotions. On the whole, however, I found the film dismissive of women's points of view simply from the fact that the film is stupid, and runs right over any possibly interesting developments for its woman characters. So my main objection to Hanna is its deep and utter vapidity, lack of interest, surprise, drama, kinetic achievement, message. I won't stand against the metaphor that parents prepare their children for the world the best they can, and then must stand back, be optimistic and await any results. But when that's all that's presented, it's nothing more than a long-winded cookie fortune which will stick with the recipient about as long as such a cookie's bland aftertaste.

Tom Hollander plays Isaacs, Veigler's co-villain, a hitman and nightclub owner whom, I would guess, is the cousin of the orderly played by Oscar Isaacs in Sucker Punch. His character is supposed, I surmise, to be evil incarnate, maybe even threatening, but as the film goes he's a weak, pointless, drab and ineffectual nothing who whistles the weak, pointless, drab and ineffectual Chemical Brothers theme.

Hanna is a movie so bad that if it were to survive to some future time as the only complete representative example of the filmmaking art, historians would be forced to conclude that film was indeed a failed experiment overall. Some may insist on watching it, and I was in their place a few short days ago, so I do sympathize, and add my warning. You might not heed it, but I feel that at some point you may thank me for caring, and warning against it. This movie is walking around intellectually undressed in fact and kinetically and dramatically bankrupt. If the goal is to suck all the life, danger and energy out of a righteous and inevitable revenge story, here is Hanna.

Alex
The Magic of the Movies

4/6/11

Review: Insidious (2011)


James Wan's Insidious is a very minor referential horror artifact, reweaving Poltergeist, The Amityville Horror, the Paranormal Activity, Halloween and Nightmare on Elm Street movies, and above all, Psycho, into an entertaining, fascinating, silly, stylish Halloween haunted-house ride to heck and back.

Whew! I feel sort of like I'm reviewing Rango, or becoming possessed by Hayden Panettiere from the Scream 4 (Scre4m?) trailer. I haven't seen any of Wan's previous films, but just noticed he directed Saw (which I will never be seeing), which was also written by Insidious screenwriter Leigh Whannell.

Insidious stars Rose Byrne and Patrick Wilson (Watchmen) as Renai and Josh Lambert, a young couple with three children, older boys Dalton (Ty Simpkins) and Foster (Andrew Astor) and a baby daughter, Callie. Like the couple in Paranormal Activity or the family in Amityville, they've just moved in to a big new house when strange things start happening. Or do they? Are they just accidents or hallucinations?

I know, that sounds pretty clichéd, and, indeed it is pretty clichéd, but then again it works well here despite genre familiarity. Even though these developments are campy, and inspire about as much nervous or relieved laughter as scares, there's a genuine shivery eerieness to the proceedings which is hard to deny. I got extra shivers the second time I saw the film. That's not supposed to happen.

By the time our Lamberts have finally decided to move out of the new house, the haunting takes on new and unexpected (though still quite clichéd) dimensions. Insidious goes slow and mines its material for plenty of effective jump-scares and suspense. It actually becomes quite intriguing and involving for a good bit of the middle of the film.

It is good that the film keeps us guessing. Overall, however, by the end, it is bad that we are still guessing, in terms of the total impact and content of the mysteries eventually revealed. It's fun for a good while, then gets more predictable.

The music, by Joseph Bishara, also a performer in the film, is mostly an obvious ripoff/retread of Herrmann's classic Psycho score, which doesn't surprise much. What is surprising is that it mostly works, again, until the ending. Barbara Hershey and Lin Shaye as, respectively, Josh Lambert's mother and a mysterious friend of hers from their past, are without reservation quite wonderful here. Whannell and Angus Sampson add some humor while still allowing the film its more-deadpan scares. I wish there had been further flying, and in that case I might have had no trouble awarding four stars, but alas and alack. Instead there is further fog.

Insidious is great fun, and should certainly be on any camp-movie or camp/horror-movie fan's list to watch. If you're thinking of making your own horror movie one day, I think it would be quite instructive to see how all these movie parts are deconstructed and rearranged, not necessarily because it's totally successful, but because it's inventive, entertaining and could be the jumping-off point for a lot of better ideas.

I can't say it's excellent, but I must at least recommend it. I would add the silly caveat that I was disappointed there was no character "Sid." Aside from that, I was pleasantly surprised and diverted. Wan and Whannell mostly deliver. Maybe, eventually, I will watch Saw. Naw. But I kind of love Insidious.

Alex
The Magic of the Movies

4/5/11

President Obama announces run for reelection in 2012

From the Los Angeles Times:

Obama filed reelection papers Monday, slightly earlier in the year than the last two presidents did, an indication of both an aggressive approach and the magnitude of the task ahead. His campaign aides face the time-consuming job of reorganizing and reenergizing Obama's national grass-roots operation and filling a campaign bank account that could top $1 billion.

In an email to supporters, Obama said laying the groundwork for 2012 "must start today" — even as he maintained that he was staying "focused on the job you elected me to do."

Steve Murphy, a Democratic strategist, predicted that next year's vote would be "very close," more like the tightly contested 2000 and 2004 elections than the last, which Obama won easily. "It's not as much of an electoral walk for Barack Obama," he said. "But it's still a favorable electoral map for him."


Obama is currently running unopposed for reelection. That won't last very long, though the complete lack of serious opposition at this point can't be anything but good news for the President.

Alex
Choose Our President 2012

4/4/11

Christie leads 2012 GOP presidential nominee web poll results for March

Gov. Chris Christie (NJ) led March voting for who respondents thought would be the 2012 Republican presidential nominee. As usual, this is of self-selected voters of any party who found my website, so it is not scientific in any way. (This means you should not complain that it was not scientific because it's never going to be.) Voting is just for fun, please no wagering. Here are this month's results:

March 2011

#1 - Gov. Chris Christie (NJ) ... 18.5%
#2 - Gov. Haley Barbour (MS) ... 16.4%
#3 - Fmr. House Speaker Newt Gingrich (GA) ... 15.8%
#4 - Rep. Ron Paul, M.D. (TX) ... 13.7%
#5 - Fmr. Gov. Sarah Palin (AK) ... 11%
#6 - Other ... 6.2%
#7 - Gov. Tim Pawlenty (MN) ... 5.5%
#8 - Senate Min. Leader Mitch McConnell (KY) ... 4.1%
#9 - Gov. Sam Brownback (KS) ... 3.4%
#10 - Fmr. Gov. Tom Ridge (PA) ... 2.7%
#11 - Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (TX) ... 2.1%
#12 - Fmr. Gov. Mitt Romney (MI / UT / MA) ... .7%

146 total votes cast / Margin of error ±100%

You can vote for this month's new poll here, or click the vote button from any of the Choose Our President 2012 pages.

Alex
Choose Our President 2012