61 Hours

[Amazon Link]

Reacher's back, and continues in his dangerous habit of getting involved in massive, murderous conspiracies through pure chance and coincidence. It's as if God (in the person of author Lee Child) has it in for him.

In this outing, a lawyer in the service of a drug baron is driving erratically in a South Dakota snowstorm, just badly enough to cause a tourist bus filled with old people on a jaunt to Mount Rushmore to swerve off the highway.

Filled with old people, and also Reacher. Big mistake, lawyer.

The accident causes the bus passengers to be taken in by the decent citizens of Bolton, SD. Their town has recently been blessed with a massive nearby Federal high-security penitentiary. This provides local jobs, a steady traffic of sad people visiting prisoners, and (for some reason) a biker gang dealing high-quality crystal meth from a mysterious facility outside of town.

All this wangles Reacher into unravelling various mysteries and conspiracies, and also attempting to protect the life of a feisty old lady, who's promised to testify against one of the bikers who got nabbed. As always with Reacher: dry humor, sudden violence, lots of corpses.

Don't want to spoil anything, but the book has an unexpected ending, an unusual incentive to buy the next book in the series. Like, right now.

Nightcrawler

[3.5 stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

Let's see what genre IMDB puts this in… hm, "Crime, Thriller". OK, I guess. But it's also a pretty wicked, bleak satire on local TV news and MBA-speak. Those are pretty fat, cheap targets for folks in the movie business to disdain, but, OK, worked for me.

Jake Gyllenhaal plays Louis Bloom, a petty thief who yearns to better himself. And, as the movie demonstrates, he'll do just about anything to accomplish that. Problem: his existing "business associates" know that he's a thief, and who'd be stupid enough to hire a thief?

A chance encounter puts him on a possible career path: shooting freelance video for "if it bleeds, it leads" local TV news shows. (Yes, they actually say that at one point.) He finances his startup with a stolen high-end bicycle, gets a fast car, a video camera, and a police scanner. He deludes a stupid young kid into an "internship". And he develops a sordid, corrupt relationship with Nina (Rene Russo), a news producer who's devoted herself enthusiastically to broadcasting stories that appeal to the fear and ignorance of her viewers.

So eventually something happens: Louis gets to the scene of a mass homicide well before the cops do. Will he do his civic duty and help the cops promptly corral the bad guys? Hint: no, he does something entirely sociopathic and creepy.

The movie is not without amusement: in his spare time, Louis has used the Internet to immerse himself in the language of business ladder-climbing and hard-nosed negotiation. Combining this with his genuinely sleazy career and deranged personality… that can get darkly funny.

Le Chef

[3.5 stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

Possible alternate title: Who Knew Jean Reno Could Be Funny?.

M. Reno plays famous French chef Alexandre Lagarde, of the three-star restaurant Cargo Lagarde and a TV cooking show. He has problems: the restaurant has come under control of a young whippersnapper who wants to dump his old-fashioned cuisine for new-fangled molecular gastronomic offerings. And he's not exactly wrong: Lagarde has gotten into a rut, lazily holding onto the recipes that brought him to past glory, disdaining innovation.

Also, in an irrelevant subplot, he's neglecting his grad-student daughter.

Enter Jacky Bonnot (played by Michaël Youn), a youngster with a creative mind, a gifted palate, a seriously pregnant girlfriend, and an irritating manner of hectoring customers that prevents him from keeping any kind of cooking job longer than 90 minutes or so. Fate throws Jacky and Lagarde together, and they plot to save Lagarde's job, and Jacky's culinary career.

It's French, with English subtitles. It's also very sitcom-formulaic, but it worked for me. Probably its French pedigree fooled us into thinking it was more sophisticated than it actually was. Make it American, with (say) John Noble and Jim Parsons in the starring roles and it probably wouldn't work at all.

Or maybe it would, because those are two seriously talented guys.

The Phony Campaign

2015-03-22 Update

[phony baloney]

The punters at Betfair have shifted Bobby Jindal's odds of winning the Presidency down to 32, below our arbitary criterion (30) for inclusion in the phony standings:

Query String Hit Count Change Since
2015-03-15
"Jeb Bush" phony 891,000 +14,000
"Hillary Clinton" phony 416,000 -33,000
"Rand Paul" phony 168,000 +6,000
"Scott Walker" phony 149,000 +7,000
"Marco Rubio" phony 96,100 +10,400
"Elizabeth Warren" phony 92,600 +12,400

But there's still lots of phoniness to look at:

  • At Bloomberg, Will Leitch compares and contrasts Jeb Bush's NCAA tournament picks with President Obama's. And makes the point:

    Three years ago, typically, Mitt Romney wasn’t sporting enough to join the NCAA Bracket fun, but generally, politicians know the value of spending five minutes filling in names of schools with players you’ve never heard of. It’s always nice to briefly engage the country by participating in the same ritual they all are: It reminds them you used to be human. You can criticize a politician for being a phony sports fan by filling out a bracket when they don’t actually watch a lot of college basketball … but honestly, how much college basketball do watch, pal? Yet I bet you found a way to fill out a bracket regardless.

    Might be a bit of political strategizing going on, too: Jeb picked Iowa to beat Davidson (they did); Iowa State to beat UAB (they didn't, but it was a squeaker); and Northern Iowa to beat Wyoming (they did). Could he be tilting his picks to advance his political fortunes? Leitch pooh-poohs: "…if there is a caucusgoer who will vote for a candidate because, 10 months ago, they picked their team to advance in a tournament that has long been decided, I’m not sure they count as “statistically significant.”'

  • The WaPo's Jen Rubin makes fun of the "Hillary needs a rival" argument (we briefly looked at one example last month):

    The notion of getting a workout pony for Hillary Clinton is simultaneously patronizing — like saying she could use more exercise, but not anything too strenuous — and self-delusional. If only she had a competitor then . . . well, then what? Would she stop dissembling about her secret e-mail system? Would she tell us what she really thinks about an Iran deal that gives the mullahs thousands of centrifuges and a pathway to an industrial-size nuclear weapons program? Would she have any new domestic ideas? Would she lose the grating, phony laugh and give back the millions to Goldman Sachs and the oil kingdoms? The plea for a competitor assumes Hillary Clinton has some reservoir of creativity, ethics and candor, which can bubble up to the surface if only a competitor arrived.

    I admit that "workout pony" is a term with which I was unfamiliar. Googling doesn't help much, leading to pages like this. (Which is not unsafe for work in itself, but pages that may be are only a click away from there.)

  • Sign that Scott Walker is a Serious Candidate comes from Politico:

    The weekend before last, at an industry-sponsored agriculture summit in Iowa, Walker said he opposes the Renewable Fuel Standard philosophically and would like to phase it out “long-term” but that he would keep it in place indefinitely to help out farmers.

    I wish I could take credit for this rejoinder, but it's from "goldwaterconservative" at RedState:

    In other words, he is against it because it is bad but also for it because it is good.