Friday, February 28, 2014


Non Stop is brilliant. There's not really any other way to put it; the incredible power of Liam Neeson early in the year continues and this is the best one yet. This is one of the best suspense films ever created and almost certainly the best one involving a plane. The usual issue with a suspense film of this nature is that the plot is revealed too early or is too obvious; while you might be able to figure out parts of the final setup figuring out the entire thing is rather unlikely and it doesn't show its hand until the final 20 minutes.

The previews simultaneously show a lot from the film without really revealing much about it. The basic plot is that Liam Neeson is on a plane and needs to protect it from a potential hi-jacker who vows to kill someone every 20 minutes. I can't really say a ton more than that without spoiling parts of the plot, but suffice to say that the film handles essentially every component quite well. There is a veritable sea of red herrings in this movie and that just adds to the suspense; though you might correctly guess that everyone on the plane can't be a red herring.

Despite ample opportunities to do so the film never gets cheesy either; there's no easy thing to point out that's obviously wrong or silly about the movie; like wading through water in sub freezing temperatures in The Grey, or January Jones in Unknown, or the weird primary sub plot in Taken. The film just doesn't have any major flaws to speak of. Now, it doesn't have any tremendous monologues or things to put it on par with something like the Silence of the Lambs but I am quite comfortable saying this is easily going to wind up being a top 10 film for 2014.

Shea Whigham is in this movie, because he's been in like every good movie (and True Detective) in the past 12 months (either him or Paul Dano); and he's great... again. This is that guy from Bad Lieutenant... whoa. I mean he is certainly a talented actor it's just awesome to see him getting a lot of work/recognition. Something else this film does just perfectly is the casting, every damn person looks shady for some reason or another and there's always a shot of them looking so, except for one notable exception. The film has exemplary pacing, casting, acting, and even knows when it's getting close to being cheesy but throws in dialogue to eliminate that immediately. A damn good film.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Great Captains - Gustavus Adolphus

Gustaf Adolf II was King of Sweden from 1594-1632 and he was naturally a major player in the Thirty Years War of that time period. His reign is seen as a sterling example of how to "modernize" and greatly improve the efficiency of one's military in a short time period. In terms of training and strategic competence he is one of the foremost military leaders in history. Training is a very difficult thing to grasp, whether strict methodology and rigorous drills are the best method or more flexible procedures. The Non-Orthodox (loosely translated as "Guerilla," though any non traditional troop falls into this category) vs. Orthodox paradigm essentially; an ideal military utilizes both types of troops to their advantage. Hannibal is perhaps the foremost at integrating vastly different troop types into a seamless whole; but Gustavus may have been the best at simply training exceptional Orthodox troops (which dominated much of Europe for the next two centuries).

Gustavus is recognized by the vast majority of military historians as a commander on par with Napoleon (who also recognized him as such) or Frederick the Great; but his campaigns show no great tactical competence, though he definitely demonstrates the other elements of being a "Great Captain." The general consensus is that he died too young (in battle, at Breitenfeld) and in the midst of his zenith campaign. Sweden was certainly the most prosperous during his rule and retained much of its power for several generations thereafter; so his capabilities as a ruler are unquestioned. But typically you'd want someone who had demonstrated tactical acuity in addition to strategic and marshaling competence; ultimately it is not for me to say as he did die young.

So, what things can be learned from Gustavus? The most important thing is that what you start out with does not matter, you can have a mediocre military framework or even a particularly bad one and can still innovate and improve upon both your internal military strength and your external military reputation worldwide. Once power over the military is attained a truly competent leader can reform and refit his men into the finest fighting force in the entire world. His system was largely merit based, one's family did not play a role in his ability to be promoted and thus the military blossomed as they were aptly rewarded for competence. This is a fairly early example of such a process; and even most of today's militaries don't follow this procedure; nepotism is perhaps the first sign of decay in any organization and having a truly merit based system is the antithesis of that.

Still, Gustavus' lack of any exceptional battle to look back upon is worrisome and it is difficult to teach precisely what lessons you could learn from his administration. To be sure he had fairly competent leaders against him in both Tilly and Wallenstein, but neither had the sheer initiative that Gustavus had and I feel in time he could have summarily dismantled parts of the Holy Roman Empire. The Protestant faith itself would not be what it is today without Gustavus Adolphus protecting it, and this is perhaps why Dodge specifically recognized him. His pre-eminence was also the consensus of the thought period and may even be in the historical consciousness today (though said consciousness is quite static and in need of reform).

Thursday, February 6, 2014

What drives change?

Competence is a valued thing in rare situations throughout human history. For the rest of time it is desired that the worker or the "normal" person retain just the adequate degree of averageness. To not have this trait is an aberration, a horrifying prospect. The most average of men is the man of predominance; "The average man's average man" was a slogan describing American president Warren G. Harding. The same slogan could easily describe George W. Bush or Jimmy Carter or Gerald Ford; it is an asset to not possess any particularly extraordinary traits. Napoleon said "in Politics, stupidity is not a handicap;" well the same is true for every position in society whilst society decays. What causes they decay one might ask? Well unrivaled amounts of human incompetence of course; the promotion of mediocrity, the lack of pursuit of intellect. Usually it takes countries hundreds of years to fall from excellent heights, but this one perhaps only 70 or so; such is the remarkable nature of our incompetence.

Incompetence drives men to do incredible things, revolutions all derive from this universal source. A man can only be motivated by the pure unbridled stupidity of one's fellow man. Similarly incredible acts of horrifying violence exist solely because of incompetence; to know and understand this is to begin understanding human nature. The first King is magnificent in his splendor, the second King a worthy heir and only slightly less magnificent, the third King a fool, the fourth King, an average man, the fifth King a tyrant. But perhaps not a Tyrant by nature, but only by situation. Maybe the fifth King is a just and able ruler forced into a terrible situation given to him by his forebears. Maybe he actually is incompetent, maybe he is simply average. But he is most certainly a tyrant in the eyes of history. Such is the pattern throughout history, such is the pattern now.