Monday, October 8, 2012

Movie Review: Taken 2

Directed by Olivier Megaton. 2012.

It is with great disappointment I report that Taken 2 does not work. At all. Yes, Liam Neeson thwacking and outmaneuvering hoodlum assassins provides a good deal of entertainment, but these scenes run few and are stitched together so routinely that they don't take on any importance. Worst of all, the stitches constitute the majority of the movie.

Taken 2 picks up where its predecessor left off with the family members of the criminals that Bryan (Liam Neeson) slew in pursuit of his daughter, seeking revenge. How will they find and take him? Well while they figure that out we sit and wait. And wait. For about a half hour we wait while the characters themselves wait to go somewhere something can happen. While we wait we watch Bryan console his ex-wife Leonore (Famke Janssen) whose new marriage is ending, and keep tabs on their daughter's driving lessons and new boyfriend. Hooray.

At last, by a swoosh of the pen, everyone is in Istanbul, where we wait. We wait as the assassins keep tabs on Bryan's family as they talk on the ferry and talk in the car and swim by the pool and please let something happen. As you can see the biggest problem with Taken 2 is that precious little of what happens in its 97 minutes is significant.

Finally the assassins make their move and I'll tell you for a movie titled Taken, the next few scenes spend an awful lot of time trying to prevent getting taken. This of course is necessary to some degree, Bryan can't be a pushover especially when his daughter had already been taken once before, but the scenes go on and on. The original Taken did not linger over the kidnapping and used its suddenness and the fact that Bryan couldn't prevent it to deliver a single blow. Taken held us in suspense by putting Bryan on a timetable and throwing obstacles in his path. This sequel seems to have ignored the problem that it can't add suspense by making us wonder whether someone will be taken, but only who will be taken.

spoilers hereafter

So it turns out that this time around Bryan and his wife are kidnapped and I would like to add that he was not entirely helpful in avoiding this situation. You see when Brian realizes their car is being followed he gives Leonore some instructions for getting to the U.S. Embassy. I tell you I couldn't follow his instructions and I was just sitting in the theater drinking my soda, unlike poor Leonore who was being chased through Istanbul.

After the slur of stock material that is the first hour, we have some potential for excitement. Unfortunately what we get is Bryan's daughter running over Istanbul rooftops setting off grenades so he can use the sounds of the explosions to calculate where he is held. Then she drives circles around a fleet of police cars, albeit with her father's help, before neatly plopping down in the middle of the embassy.

Absurdity aside, the pacing at this point is so unsure I assumed the movie had concluded and that Bryan would rescue his wife in the final installment. Reenforcing this sense were the subsequent shots, any of which could reasonably have ended the picture. This blunder of pacing and tone makes the finale seem a hasty, unnecessary coda. Worse still, the finale cuts so many times to shots of his wife looking potentially deceased and then turning out not to be, that any drop suspense dissipates straightaway.

The final confrontation between Bryan and the father organizing these vengeance kidnappings is competent, but not totally satisfying. While we admire Bryan for trusting the father at his word to end the violence, there is no discussion at all of motives, vengeance, justice, or any ideas which could lend significance to what we see. Likewise this sequel neither acknowledges nor develops the social and political dimensions of Bryan's confrontations in Taken and thus this scene doesn't resound any themes beyond the personal conflict.

Taken 2 concludes with an off-putting disconnect as Kim's lanky hipster boyfriend sits down across from Bryan, this loving father who did terrible violence for his family. The only way this scene could have worked would have been to strike the tone that Bryan was willing to protect him too. Unfortunately, Taken 2 is entirely indifferent to ideas and the scene is played for a laugh on the old theme of the father reluctantly accepting the boyfriend. Ha ha.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Top Ten: Libertarians I Would Like to See Debate the Candidates

The failures of the recent Presidential debate and the "Rumble in the Air-Conditioned Auditorium" got me thinking about just whom I would like to see debate the 2012 candidates. Here is my list of individuals I think would hold candidates' feet to the fire and articulate the philosophy of liberty.

10. John Ziegler
  • From 2004-2007 on his KFI radio show Ziegler demonstrated a powerful ability, part perspicacity and part research, to observe events over a long period of time, noting many overlooked details, and then stitch them together to nail an opponent. I think any debate with Ziegler would demonstrate the saying that a liar ought to have a good memory.
9. Richard Epstein
  • I would love to see Obama and Romney debate Epstein's breadth of legal understanding, seemingly instant recall of cases, and the sheer speed of his delivery.
8. TIE: Penn JilletteJohn Stossell
  • Jillette and Stossell are both today's great libertarian "everyman." No other well known libertarians can convey so purely the sentiments, "What more do you want from me?" and "Why can't you just leave me alone?" Against either Obama and Romney would look pushy and authoritarian. 
7. Peter Schiff
  • Neither Obama nor Romney could compete with how Schiff can quickly paint the result of a given course of action. 
6. Nick Gillespie
  • Gillespie is simply tops at demonstrating how the answer for some people is always, "more governmental power." His opponent would instantly become the "Moar Cowbell!" candidate

Review: Rumble in the Air-Conditioned Auditorium

I don't like Bill O' Reilly or Jon Stewart. I don't find them particularly wise or informed, or articulate or funny. Both have a talent for interviewing, Stewart teasing out inconsistencies and O' Reilly holding someone to a single point, yet neither can be considered an intellectual by any stretch of the imagination.

Furthermore it is this general ignorance of the law, history, economics, political science, and philosophy, coupled with an inability or unwillingness to think systematically, which wafts the odor of pandering from their million-dollar studios.

I don't intend to analyze every element of this debate, which was nonetheless entertaining and provoking despite the participants' intellectual shortfalls, but I would like to note their premises and their answers to the question, "What do you think is the biggest problem in America?" I hope in simply laying out their ideas one may see them for what they are, and are not.

I. Stewart's main thesis is that America is a social democracy and that from the times of the pilgrims Americans wanted stuff for free. Americans, he said, essentially wanted socialism so they created Social Security and Medicare et cetera, therefore wanting more socialism. He did not address the many logical, constitutional, or moral implications of this assertion. He specifically rejected the idea that a citizen has to agree with everything the government does, though he did not define this position as majoritarianism or discuss this principle's impact on individual sovereignty. He adopted the progressive notion articulated by Wilson that democracy and socialism are in essence the same (see Socialism and Democracy.)

Curiously, Stewart said that the biggest problem in America remains that our political dialogue is about socialism and capitalism, or freedom and tyranny. To Stewart, America has socialistic governmental institutions thus they're here to stay, and preferably grow. Aside from this being inconsistent with his aforementioned majoritarianism, it is also takes for granted that these institutions work or can be made to work. He wants not less government but efficient government, completely bypassing the fact that no monopoly of any kind is ever efficient.

Lastly, because according to Stewart America was, is, and by right ought to be socialist, President Obama's policies are not fundamentally transformative.

II. O'Reilly's premise seems to have been that America was not socialist and is not and ought not be and President Obama is therefore fundamentally transforming America. He refused, however, to admit that any American program is socialistic in principle and argued that only at some degree does a program become so. Stewart even pressed him as to why he thought the progressively taxed Social Security program was not socialism and O' Reilly did not have a satisfactory reply.

To the question of America's greatest problem O' Reilly answered that capitalism rewards the greed which drives people in the media to lash out and tear people down. There was no follow up about whether this was true or what one could or ought to do about this.

If in describing O' Reilly's ideas I am brief only because they seem so close to those of his opponent. Stewart wants unlimited socialism and O' Reilly wants to restrain it at some arbitrary point. They both adore Robert F. Kennedy Jr.

With respect to rhetorical prowess, I don't think either man debated well. Anyone trained in rhetoric and oratory would have cleaned their clocks. Stewart's comedic antics tired me and distracted from the issues as they usually do, as did O' Reilly's paternalistic finger wagging. Neither man had a firm command of the facts, especially historical, legal, or economic ones, although O' Reilly had clearly done some math homework.  Structurally, this was certainly more of a debate than the recent presidential one which, as has been pointed out, was more of a joint press conference. Stewart and O' Reilly truly and admirably engaged each other, and mostly in good spirit. Neither debate, however, was well-structured or competently moderated.

Overall what The Rumble lacked most was a discussion of first principles. Both men dealt in caricatures of the other's ideas, but neither seemed to have any first principles of his own to articulate. Thus the debate about domestic policy was debate over how much, not whether. The debate about the debt devolved into a blame game. The foreign policy discussion never approached questions of actual policy, only criticisms of particular actions. And so on. I don't believe any mention was made of the Constitution at all.

The Rumble is useful insofar as it provokes discussion, but it certainly doesn't recommend these men or their ideas. The two anchors ended on the note that neither man could imagine disagreeing so fiercely with someone that he couldn't engage him and discuss the ideas with him. A bright spot.