The Hitman's Bodyguard

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

IMDB records this movie's genres as "Action,Comedy,Thriller". It's rated R due to (according to the MPAA) " strong violence and language throughout". Salma Hayek is in it, and if you want to hear Salma talk dirty, this is your go-to flick.

Ryan Reynolds plays a private bodyguard specializing in escorting threatened individuals to safer places. He's at the top of that game… until he isn't, as a crooked Japanese businessman is picked off by a sniper shooting through the window of a private jet.

After some time passes, Ryan is still in the dumps about that, but he gets a shot at redemption when his ex-girlfriend recruits him to escort Samuel L. Jackson (the titular hitman) from London to the Hague, where he is to bear witness against murderous dictator Gary Oldman. And of course, Gary has a veritable army of mercenary thugs to deploy against Ryan and Sam. And there's an Interpol mole (Joaquim de Almeida, who might as well be wearing a "MOLE" sign taped to his back).

There is a lot of impressive, inventive, action and violence that must have cost a lot of money to film. Also a lot of wisecracking, profane, banter between Ryan and Sam. Gary Oldman is the only cast member who can be accused of acting.

Apparently it was successful enough to spawn a sequel, out later this year, The Hitman's Wife's Bodyguard, with Ryan, Sam, and Salma returning.

Genius

[3.0 stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

So was the world really clamoring for a star-studded movie about the relationship between Scribner's editor Max Perkins and writer Thomas Wolfe? Apparently not, as this movie wasn't widely released in the US, and didn't make much money.

Colin Firth plays Perkins, which explains why we got it. Mrs. Salad loooves Colin Firth. Jude Law is Wolfe. Nicole Kidman is Wolfe's, um, girlfriend (she's married to someone else). And Laura Linney is Mrs. Perkins. Guy Pearce has a meaty supporting role as F. Scott Fitzgerald, and there's also Dominic West as Ernest Hemingway. Everybody's pretty good, although the script suffers from biography-revealed-in-dialogue disease. ("So you're a best-selling author now, Tom.")

And the movie apparently strays from the facts in important ways. Arguably, a more factual take could have made a better flick.

And yeah, Colin Firth really does wear a hat in every scene right up until the end, when he doffs it while reading Wolfe's last letter to him. Kept waiting for someone to tell him to take it off.

URLs du Jour

2020-01-07

  • At Reason, Jacob Sullum diverts from his usual drug beat and asks the musical query: Who Poses the Greater Threat to Peace: An Impetuous President or ‘Experienced Advisers’ Who Are Disastrously Wrong? He notes that the foreign policy noises made during the Trump, Obama, and Dubya campaigns were radically different from their actual behavior in office.

    Three men with little or no foreign policy experience entered an office where they were surrounded by experts, and they quickly shed their initial skepticism of military intervention. If you think that skepticism was naive, that was a welcome development. But the consequences suggest otherwise.

    "Top American military officials put the option of killing [Soleimani]—which they viewed as the most extreme response to recent Iranian-led violence in Iraq—on the menu they presented to President Trump," The New York Times reports. "They didn't think he would take it. In the wars waged since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, Pentagon officials have often offered improbable options to presidents to make other possibilities appear more palatable."

    The Times says those military officials were "flabbergasted" by Trump's choice and "immediately alarmed about the prospect of Iranian retaliatory strikes on American troops in the region." If so, the president's "experienced advisers," the ones Chris Murphy thinks should be restraining him, played a dangerous game that backfired on them.

    Also backfired upon Soleimani, but whatever.

    Q: What's the difference between this random blogger and "experienced advisers"?

    A: This random blogger both (a) knows what he doesn't know; (b) would nevertheless know better than to think Trump wouldn't pick the "improbable option".


  • The rebuttals keep coming to Tyler Cowen's "State Capacity Libertarianism". Up today is Max Gulker at AIER: Private Governance, Not State Capacity.

    In justifying State Capacity Libertarianism, Cowen has committed what I’ve equally awkwardly called “the nation-state fallacy.” Under this belief, taken for granted by even many libertarians, society-level issues are either for the government to address, or not to be addressed at all. Think about how many debates revolve around whether government, not society, should tackle a problem. Only when written on a page is its peculiarity revealed. 

    Max has an interesting story of his own intellectual odyssey from wishy-washy statism to libertarianism, and sets forth his advocacy of "private governance". Key supplemental quote:

    I don’t think climate change, education, and infrastructure aren’t important. They’re so important, in fact, that we can’t leave them up to a lumbering organization plagued by political incentives and lacking the information to implement anything all that helpful.

    … but, again, a world in which a majority believed that would be a world that probably wouldn't be mired in arguments about what kind of control the people need to be put under.


  • So this Wired article on Marc Benioff, the Salesforce billionaire who proclaimed "capitalism is dead" was an interesting skeptical look at his record: The Gospel of Wealth According to Marc Benioff. Unfortunately, it presents controversial, dubious, and false claims as fact, for example, on the 2017 tax cut legislation:

    Those new cuts, atop years of tax avoidance, cuts to estate taxes, and rising payroll taxes, meant that, for the first time ever recorded, the 400 richest Americans are now paying a lower overall tax rate than almost anyone else, according to a study by two UC Berkeley economists.

    The two economists are Saez and Zucman, and this call to class-warfare arms has been widely debunked. (See, for example, here; here; here.)

    Another howler, put in contrast to Benioff's net worth increase of $2.47 million/day:

    Meanwhile, recent Federal Reserve data revealed that tens of millions of Americans would be unable to cover a $400 emergency expense.

    Debunked here.

    That said, the article's author does manage to ferret out some of Benioff's bullshit, although you have to wade to the end to get to it:

    Does Salesforce lobby for tax breaks? You bet.

    Is Salesforce one of those eeevil corporations with high profits and yet pays zero taxes? Apparently so.

    Not that there's anything wrong with that.


  • [Amazon Link]
    Scientific American posts an opinion piece from psychologist Steve Taylor on the famed Libet experiment: How a Flawed Experiment "Proved" That Free Will Doesn't Exist.

    Many people believe that evidence for a lack of free will was found when, in the 1980s, scientist Benjamin Libet conducted experiments that seemed to show that the brain “registers” the decision to make movements before a person consciously decides to move. In Libet’s experiments, participants were asked to perform a simple task such as pressing a button or flexing their wrist. Sitting in front of a timer, they were asked to note the moment at which they were consciously aware of the decision to move, while EEG electrodes attached to their head monitored their brain activity.

    Libet showed consistently that there was unconscious brain activity associated with the action—a change in EEG signals that Libet called “readiness potential”—for an average of half a second before the participants were aware of the decision to move. This experiment appears to offer evidence of Wegner’s view that decisions are first made by the brain, and there is a delay before we become conscious of them—at which point we attribute our own conscious intention to the act.         

    Taylor says: not so fast. He's pushing a book giving his own views, Amazon link at right.

    I might check it out. If I use my free will to decide that it's worth the time.


  • And darned if the Google LFOD News Alert didn't ring for an article in the Henley Standard. Which, according to their page has been "Delivering the news from Henley on Thames and South Oxfordshire for over 100 years". Yes, that's in Old Blighty herself. And apparently they have comedians there too, including a guy named Geoff Norcott, who's appearing in Maidenhead in March. And: Comedian’s got a spring in his step ahead of tour extension.

    Geoff’s libertarianism calls to mind the official New Hampshire state motto of “Live Free or Die”. But which country in the world, if any, comes closest to his preferred political outlook?

    “It’s uncool to say it, but I love the States. I also like the fact their politics skew right to the point that I’d probably be a Democrat out there. I could hold all the same views but still be friends with Katy Perry.”

    Katy Perry? Well, apparently she's available. Maybe she and Geoff could get together, move to Dover or something.