On Monday night, at a late hour (11:00 PM), giving me time to rewatch Shaun in a compelling episode of “The Good Doctor”, PBS POV aired the 2016 documentary “Do Not Resist”, by Craig Atkinson, concerning the gradual militarization of local police departments, despite the Posse Comitatus rule.
The film’s beginning and end shows up close the energetic and sometimes violent demonstrations in Ferguson MO, the second segment after prosecutors said that white police officer Darren Wilson would not be indicted for the shooting of Michael Brown. In the film’s middle, there is a live enactment of major police action in the rural black community in Richland County, S.C.
A major centerpiece of the film shows James Comey lecturing a meeting of the International Federation of Police Officers in Orlando, FL. At one point he says, “Violence is your tool, master it.” Dave Grossman also speaks, and police officers are expected to read his books on the psychology of violence.
Grossman at one point says that parents have to comfort their kids that monsters in the closet aren’t real. (This came up in the “Slender Man” trial, which ABC recently covered on 20-20, “Out of the Woods”). But “We’ve all lied. Monsters are real.” Rand Paul and Claire McCaskill also speak.
There is examination of the weapons police departments get. Why do they need bayonets? I remember “Fix bayonets” in drill and ceremony in my own Army Basic Combat Training at Fort Jackson, S.C.
And there are plenty of peaceful demonstration scenes. “Hands up, don’t shoot”.
There is also a sequence where a female police officer drives a patrol car in Marina Del Ray CA and show how facial recognition works. There was mention of the concept of pre-crime profiling, with mothers being told that their male sons had a 50% chance of becoming criminals. The film “Minority Report” (2002) comes to mind, but was not explicitly mentioned; but “Terminator” was named. “I’ll be back.”
After the 72 minute film, the director, who is quite handsome, did a brief QA.
Then PBS showed two short films:
One is “A Conversation with My Black Son” (5 min) by Geeta Gambhir and Blair Foster. The parents warn their small child not to question police officers when approached and indicate the color of his skin will matter.
The second is “Mother’s Day”, 7 min., going to visit mom in a Corona CA prison.
Clint Eastwood’s new film, “The 15:17 to Paris”, based on the collaborative autobiographical book by Anthony Sadler, Alek Skarlatos, Spencer Stone, and Jeffrey Stein, “The 15:17 to Paris: The True Story of a Terrorist, a Train, and Three American Heroes”, adopted for screen by Blyskal, tells the story of the 2015 Thalys Train Attack from the viewpoint of the three soldiers, who act in the film. This itself is remarkable. All three now are recognized as film professionals in Hollywood. Wikipedia documents Skarlatos as an Army National Guard soldier and Stone as a former airman. Stone was somewhat injured in the attack, but more seriously wounded in a civilian incident in California in 2015, but fully recovered from both.
The film starts by showing Ayoub El Khazzani (Ray Corasani) boarding the train due to leave Amsterdam station at 15:17 and preparing his weapon and soon the attack starts. The film then shifts to the backstories of the three friends who wrote the book and who played the most critical roles in stopping the attack. At first, I was not sure that this presentation style would be particularly effective, because the attack seemed to proceed so quickly. But the violent section, near the end of the film, depicts the time that it took the three young men (and a few other passengers from France and Britain, one badly wounded) to stop the attack runs about fifteen minutes, until the train reaches a station in northern France and the police arrive.
The three young men were boyhood friends in Sacramento, CA, in a Christian parochial school. The movie has a prescient scene where a history teacher asks everyone if they would know what to do in a real emergency. The film shows the practical problems of enforcing discipline for teachers and principal (something I had issues with when I worked as a substitute teacher in a public school system from 2004-2007). The film tends to emphasize the problems of Stone the most, raised by a divorced mom and he seems to have serious hyperactivity and ADHD. But he does a generous heart and likes to help and rescue people. The film skips ten years. He is shown overweight (Jeffrey would have had to regain the weight to make the film) and works out to shape up. He joins the Air Force with the idea of becoming the equivalent of a green beret, but “fails” some of the vision test. He winds up in medic training, and disturbs Air Force instructors with unusual reactions when there is a false alarm at an Air Force base in Houston. But, ironically, it turns out that his emphatic instincts may have saved everyone later on the train.
Skarlatos (who “restrained” the suspect) is shown serving in Afghanistan by Skype. He presents himself as an extremely stable person, and with probably the most impressive physical appearance of the three. I know a young man who looks (and behaves) a lot like him and is about 6-6 (“College Hunks” size) but who I believe is in grad school rather than playing pro sports (which is what you would expect from appearances). In the film, Sadler, the African-American, seems to be the geekiest, going past any stereotypes.
In August 2015 the friends get together and sightsee Italy, with impressive photography of the Coliseum in Rome and then of Venice. Then they go to Berlin and are shown the location of Hitler’s final bunker on a bicycle tour. Curiously, Berlin isn’t listed as a filming location (the indoor scenes were shot in Georgia) but some of the scenes looked like Berlin, which I visited in May 1999. They visit at least two bars. The first seems familiar from my visit (it might be in Amsterdam), and the second is a wild disco. In fact, in Berlin I visited two gay bars. One had a lounge where patrons were entertained by a friendly cat who would sit in their laps. The second was the Connection Disco, which had a mock concentration camp in the basement (which might seem in bad taste). I remember meeting a graduate student there who had grown up in East Germany.
The young men apparently traveled to Amsterdam from Berlin without incident (I’ve done that flight myself – when I went in 1999 and 2001 I effectively had air passes rather than Eurailpass, which offers first class). They then board the train in Amsterdam, and find the first class section. The film shows many shots of the Belgian or northern French countryside with windmills. Then the event happens.
One detail is that Ayoub’s rifle jammed as Stone charged him (at least as the film shows it). That seems incredibly lucky for Stone and all the passengers. Apparently Ayoub claims (as a defendant waiting trial in France) that he only intended to rob passengers and was not a terrorist, but if he didn’t pay, how did he sneak onto the train and get past the conductor.? Just hiding in the restroom?
In May, 2001, I took the Chunnel train (shown in Tom Cruise’s “Mission Impossible”, 1996) from Paris to London I remember we did have to go through security to get on that train (months before 9/11). At the time, I recall that foot and mouth disease was a big controversy. When I returned back to the Continent, I took a different Chunnel train to Brussels station (shown in the film) , and I recall clowns performing in the station. The Amsterdam station is interesting in that it is only about ten miles from the airport, and when you fly to Schiphol you take a double-decker orange and blue train to the station.
Again, it’s interesting that the three young men launched film careers after the incident. They would easily fit into casting of my screenplay “Epiphany” with material from my three DADT books, if it ever got “money” ($30 million would help – that’s what this film cost).
Today, I saw the Oscar Nominated Short Films, Live Action, for 2018 at Landmark E Street in downtown Washington DC. Official website is here. The set is distributed by Magnolia Pictures.
From my perspective, the most substantial film was the last, “Watu Wote” (“All of Us”, by Katja Benrath, sponsored in Germany, at the Hamburg Media School) filmed on location in Kenya and in Swahili and Somali with subtitles. The story is based on a real incident in December 2015.
In Nairobi, a Christian woman Ju (Adelyne Wairimu) boards a bus to a location near the Somali border to visit a sick relative. She asks if there is a police escort. There isn’t, and her worst fears come about when the bus is attacked in the open desert by terrorists from Al Shabaab. Some of the terrorists start testing passengers for the ability to quote memorized passages from the Koran and look for “infidels”, believing this gets them to Paradise. But most of the Muslims on the bus defend the Christian woman. The film (2.35:1) is shot on location and gives a stunning look at the desert scenery as well as village life. It is easy to imagine that it could have made as a feature.
The next most important film for me was “DeKalb Elementary” (shown first, directed by Reed Van Dyk, 21 min, USA), which could draw comparisons to “Newtown”. In a Georgia elementary school, a fat bearded young man (Bo Mitchell) shows up at the reception area of a grade school and pulls out a rifle, acting like he might be a white supremacist terrorist. But the African-American receptionist (Tara Riggs) shows Christian love and actually reinforces his worthiness when he admits his mental illness, and talks him into surrendering to police.
“My Nephew Emmett”, (shown third, 19 min) comes from NYU student filmmaker Kevin Wilson, Jr. The story is based on the murder of Emmett Till, 14, in August 1955, by white vigilantes who hunted him down at his great uncle’s (Mose Wright, played by L. B. Williams) home in rural Mississippi, for flirting with a white man’s wife. The home invasion occurs in the middle of the night and reminded me of “Blood Simple”. The boy is taken and shot, although this case would have fit well into the late Gode Davis’s incomplete “American Lynching”. One problem: it’s late summer, but the trees are shown bare.
“The Silent Child” (shown second, 21 min, UK. Directed Chris Overton.) shows a social worker (Rachel Shenton, who wrote the screenplay) assigned to help a deaf child Libby (Maisy Sly) about to enter school. She wants to emphasize sign language and lip reading, but the family objects to taking the time.
“The Eleven O’Clock”, shown fourth, 14 min, by Derin Seale (Australia) shows a psychiatric appointment where the doctor and patient argue about who is which. It spreads to the front office.
(Posted: Friday, February 9, 2018, at 8:30 PM EST)
Photo above: northern Mississippi, May 2014, my trip.
“In the Fade”, (“Aus dem Nichts”, directed by Fatih Akin, story by Mark Bohm), certainly makes a statement (with some facts at the end of the film in the rolling credits) that terrorism, especially in Germany, can be directed at Muslims, by neo-Nazis.
The film unfolds as a rather compelling three-part drama. Part 1, “Family” presents our heroine Katja Sekerci (Diane Kruger) getting married to a Kurdish immigrant Nuri (Numan Akar), and raising their son. We learn that Nuir has been in jail for drug offences, but seems now to have an accounting business helping other immigrants in the Turkish section of Hamburg. In fact, the very first shot in the film shows Katja protecting her son crossing the street from a speeding driver. She describes her husband as “agnostic” (raised as a Muslim), or, essentially, secular and now westernized or assimilated.
Suddenly, as she goes to meet her husband at the office, she learns that the office was bombed, and that the husband and son are gone, bodies burned beyond recognition. The police suspect it to be an organized crime hit, but the case takes a turn when a dad turns in a German neo-Nazi couple, the Moellers (Ulrich Brandhoff and Hanna Hilsdorf), based on bomb-making evidence in his farm.
Part 2, “Justice”, the middle of the film, presents the courtroom drama and trial. But the prosecution’s case is undermined by Katja’s own drug use, which undercuts the credibility of her testimony.
So Part 3, “Revenge”, has a vigilante Katja in Greece, tracking down the couple on the Mediterranean coast through gumshoeing the Greek Nazi party. Here the film makes a disturbing point: she can learn how to make a pressure cooker bomb from the Internet (just like the Tsarnaev brothers). At one point, an alert bird, sparrow-like but attractive, ironically spoils her plans. (Wild animals know a lot more than we think.) But it is not too much of a spoiler to say that the film’s conclusion is apocalyptic and shocking.
The film is distributed in the US by Magnolia, but had major studio distribution in Europe from Warner Brothers, with big production support from Studio Canal and The Match Factory.
I’ve been in Hamburg once, in 1972; it was my first stop on my first trip to Europe at age 29. I remember the Hotel Phoenix, almost on the waterfront.
The film won the Golden Globe for best foreign language film (German).
“12 Strong: The Declassified True Story of the Horse Soldiers”, based on the book “Horse Soldiers” by Doug Stanton, directed by Nicolai Fuglsig and produced by Jerry Bruckheimer, is a large historical war film, available in Imax, about the initial American intervention in Afghanistan right after 9/11.
The covert operation in eastern Afghanistan comprised some CIA operatives but mainly US Army Special Forces, Green Berets, Operational Detachment 595. It achieved a major victory against Al Qaeda in about three weeks, helping buttress the Northern Alliance, which Sebastian Junger’s subsequent books, articles and films would cover. The lead is Captain Mitch Nelson, played by Chris Hemsworth, with the laconic Michael Shannon playing CWO Cal Spencer. The main NO ally is Gen/ Abdul Rashid Dostum, played by Navid Negahban.
The film starts with the history trail of terror attacks, going back to the 1993 attack on the World Trade Center, followed by Kenya in 1998, the USS Cole in 2000, and then 9/11. The film shows 9/11 as seen from a special forces base in Kentucky (I thought it would have been Fort Bragg, NC). We see it only after both towers and the Pentagon have been hit. During the morning hours, many observers expected over 10,000 civilian dead in NYC.
The politics of the engagement seem to be the point of the film. All this happened before Bush addressed the nation on a Sunday afternoon in early October 2001. Dostum makes the point that once the Americans are there, they will be perceived as cowards if they leave, or enemies if they stay. Nelson has to deal with the reality of playing one warlord against another, when some warlords were more concerned about their competitors than they were about the Taliban, with its fanatical religious fundamentalism. Nelson, before the final battle scene, makes the point that the special op (at the time SCI Top Secret) is necessary to prevent more 9/11’s on the homeland. Yet if the Bush administration knew enough to put together this operation so quickly, why couldn’t it prevent 9/11?
The film was shot on location in New Mexico, apparently just north of Albuquerque. I visited the area, specifically the Lama Foundation north of Taos, in 1980 and 1984.
The film is a 2018 release, and apparently is not part of the 2017 awards season.
I still remember that in 1958, in ninth grade, when we studied the middle east in geography, I chose Afghanistan for my report. How prescient.
“A Good American”, directed by Friedrich Moser and based on his book, tells the story of (Bill) William Binney, a former technical director at the NSA, and of the metadata analysis tool he helped develop over several decades, which should have prevented 9/11.
The film opens with a woman calling her family from one of the hijacked planes, already knowing that other planes have been crashed. She may be on Flight 93. The film soon shows us the aftermath of the February 1993 truck bombing in the basement parking garage of the old World Trade Center, which had been intended to take out a load bearing abutment.
The film then gives us a retrospective biography of Binney, who enlisted in the Army into an intelligence program in 1965 to avoid drafting into combat. One of my chess playing friends at GWU enlisted for Army intelligence for four years in 1967, so I remember this. Binney spent some time in Turkey spying on the Soviet Union (near a base that had been surrendered) after the Cuban Missile Crisis.
Over time, Binney worked on tools that would enable the military to predict enemy events based strictly on metadata that did not require identifying people. It was possible to predict the Tet offensive in 1968, although the tool wasn’t used adequately. It was used better in predicting the Soviet action in Czechoslovakia.
The NSA did not do a particularly good job at first in shifting from analogue to digital intelligence (Edward Snowden would not appear for some time). But other terror events, like in 1998, and then the attack on the Cole in 2000, would have made it apparent just how determined Al Qaeda was to undermine secular American life.
During this time, there was a lot of internal politicking to get funds from Congress, and a revolving door of people who retired from the NSA and became contractors at SAIC. Financial gain compromised good judgment, as the metadata tools could have detected 9/11 if deployed properly. Important components of the system were Trailblazer Project and Thinthread.
Binney retired on Oct. 31, 2001, after 9/11 and a horrible sequence of anthrax attacks. But in 2007, the FBI raided his home, claiming he had compromised classified information as a whistleblower after he left.
William Binney has been active recently in retirement on the post-Trump-election and Russia-gate investigations, meeting with Pompeo, NBCNews story here. The details are likely to evolve quickly.
“Stronger”, directed by David Gordon Green and based on the autobiographical book by Jeff Bauman, with Bret Witter and Josh Haner, who lost both legs to a pressure cooker bomb placed by Tamerlan Tsarnaev (the first of two) at the Boston Marathon Bombings on Monday, April 15, 2013, is the fourth major film that I have seen on this terror attack. Bauman was waiting for his girlfriend Erin Hurley to finish the face. After a stormy and challenging relationship pictured in the film, but leading to a child, he would marry Erin and throw out the fist pitch for the Boston Red Sox season in 2014. Bauman’s description of Tamerlan helped narrow down the suspect list and lead to his eventually being cornered three days later, when Tamerlan died in a shootout with police. The fact that the bomb was placed so close to Bauman raises disturbing questions as to whether he or some other nearby person could have attracted Tamerlan’s sights as an individual target in the crowd. The film doesn’t show the physical carnage of the victims until a flashback near the very end.
I approached this film with a little personal moral trepidation, which I’ll come back to. But I can recall similar comments by other moviegoers before “128 Hours” came out, about the hiker who had to amputate his own arm to free himself.
Bauman is played by the versatile and peripatetic Jake Gyllenhaal. I have no idea how they managed to set up the scenes with the stumps for his thighs, and the eventual prosthetics. (An apt comparison could come from the 1993 film “Boxing Helena”.) The film is shot in full anamorphic wide screen, when a standard aspect might have contributed to making the closeups even more brutal to watch (Hitchcock’s theory). Gyllenhaal’s chest is shaved for scenes like the bathtub tantrums, but that might have happened from all the hospital gear. Gyllenhaal is unusually willing to loan his body to special effects, as I have noted here before. Erin is played by Tatiana Maslaney.
Bauman starts out the film as a working class “prole” working for Cosco. The company is later shown as fully behind supporting his health insurance needs and keeping his job, Wikipedia lists Bauman now as an “author” as if there will be more books. The early scenes show some stereotyped working class bar banter (including some mention of gay people and lesbianism).
The film also shows Bauman’s road to recovery as difficult and sometimes ugly. The film, admirably, avoids overplaying the idea of Bauman as a national hero to be pimped as a symbol of national resilience, the Red Sox notwithstanding. There is a scene near the end in a miniature Fenway Park, before the final home opener climax for “Boston Strong” with the Green Monster covered with an American flag. I guess it was removed for the actual game. I’ll add that I’ve had one serious injury my own life, an acetabular hip fracture from a convenience store fall in Minneapolis in 1998. I was back to work in three weeks. But I had a week in rehab, and I saw a man with a leg prosthesis (the loss was to bone cancer, I think) take his first steps on parallel bars in the gym rehab room, literally overlooking the Mississippi River.
Now I come to the more personal part. I’ve never seen victimhood as particularly honorable, and recovery from a violent or perpetrated by another, perhaps a politically motivated enemy (terrorist), starts with the “victim”. But the film stays with that viewpoint. I’ve been particularly sensitive sometimes about being expected to sell the idea of disability as somehow pretty. I have internally resisted the idea of continuing an intimate relationship with someone who become disfigured by a violent incident or illness – yet I know intellectually that family resilience depends on this openness (in the film, Erin is indeed open to sex and pregnancy, and Jeff’s attitude is transformed by prospective fatherhood). I can remember back in graduate school, before facing my own conscription, saying myself and hearing other students say they would not come back from a war maimed and disfigured, as if thet had a real choice. (The 2008 film “Fighting for Life” about war injuries from Iraq gets into this.) Right now, at age 74, it seems as thought that sort of event is pretty unlikely. I thought about the EKG I had a few days ago in a doctor’s office, when he put the pad on my leg, bald with age to the extent that wearing shorts seems indecent. Body shame has always been potentially important to me. But shame-retention can become a very personal target for terrorists.
I suppose this kind of film will come out of the Pulse attack in Orlando. And I could imagine working on making it. Would I ever do something like a special Olympics? I’ve never wanted to make something like that my own cause.
But there are many examples of people making athletic accomplishments after amputation, such as Andrew Montgomery in Las Vegas as in this CNN story. Another example is Oscar Pistorius in South Africa, an accomplished runner but convicted In a tragic shooting.
David Muchod’s political drama “War Machine”, based on the book by Michael Hastings, looks at the ethics of U.S. military policy and of career military officers. Most of it takes place indoors on base in Afghanistan (filmed in Abu Dhabi), or on international “will raising” trips to Berlin and Paris. Toward the end, it explodes into a brutal, personal battlefield scene in a village, worthy of being in “American Sniper”. Otherwise, it’s pure art.
Brad Pitt plays the lifer officer Gen. Glen McMahon, who has been tasked, around 2009, by “Obama’s War” (as Bob Woodward had called it on an NBC documentary) into pacifying and winning back some villages from the Taliban. Unlike his other movies (like “Babel”), this time he does not look or act like Brad Pitt, the role model. Pretty soon, the movie lunges into long discussions where show that a military career like McMahon’s, starting at West Point, needs to justify its own continuation by making up objectives. My summer in the Pentagon in 1968 after Army Basic at Fort Jackson, I used to hear this said; and the Pentagon brass probably didn’t like to hear this from the more privileged, sheltered and well-educated draftees (the “01E20” crowd). Maybe (besides security clearances for a latent homosexual, in the language of the time) that contributed to my own transfer to Fort Eustis.
McMahon spends a lot of time explaining “insurgency”. In one speech, he explains the math or the “group theory” where if you kill two of ten insurgents you suddenly have twenty. In one scene, a reporter in Germany quizzes him about all of this, whether it is indeed self-serving for his own career, Of course, “insurgency” had been a concept in Vietnam, during the time of my own service. There is also some discussion about how 9/11 probably changed military careers a lot more than it did normal life of Americans (although I could contest that idea). The film presents the idea that American occupation on its own may aggravate religious tensions.
McMahon also courts Hamid Karzai (Ben Kingsley), unconvincingly, about “nation building.” How self-serving. But think about what the same idea meant in Vietnam,
With Iraq, of course, it was Obama’s exist that left the power vacuum that allowed ISIS to overrun it, so it gets complicated.
The film comes to a head with the daylight patrol in the Afghan Village. I know someone (NG) deployed there now (really by Obama, not Trump) and I wondered if this is what he could face. It gets brutal. One soldier gets shot in the eye and is blinded. Another (Pico Alexander or Will Poulter) is saved by his steel pot. Then one more goes it alone.
“I, Olga Hepnarova”, directed by Tomas Weinrab and Petr Kazda, is brutal-to-watch account of a terror incident in Prague on July 10, 1973, which happens to be my 30th birthday.
Olga (Michalina Olszanska) is a 20-something woman who grew up in a “good home” in Communist Czechoslovakia, but was repeatedly bullied for non-conformity (not available to men). She wanders through psychiatric facilities and a dorm-based job before dropping out and plotting her revenge. The black-and-white film has two explicit lesbian scenes early and middle.
She writes a brief paper “manifesto” where she plans revenge. A little more than an hour into the film, she drives a truck onto a sidewalk, as the camera shows the people falling to the side. This anticipates several terror attacks that have happened in the past two years, not all of them Islamist (the one in Times Square was not). She asks for the death penalty and her hanging body, viewed, is shown at the end. She uses the German word Prugelknabs, for victims of bullying.
Her rhetoric hits on an existential point, that when a “random” civilian gets in the crosshairs of a terrorist, that person pays personally as there is no way to undo this. Imagine that idea in conjunction with Pulse in Orlando. Terrorists view all civilians as conscripted combatants, if as a result of karma.
This is an unpleasant film to watch. But some audiences will want to see documentary accounts of wha made someone like James Holmes go mad.
There is some discussion of mental illness and schizophrenia. In some ways, Olga reminds me of a couple of female patients at NIH during my stay there in the fall of 1962. There is an early scene where she tells a therapist that she doesn’t like people or find much value in ordinary interpersonal relations.
The “City of Ghosts” is Raqqa, Syria; this new film by Matthew Heineman is one of the most intense about up-close conflict ever made. It is tough to watch, even with a nearly sold-out audience, which applauded at the end. It reminded me of Kathryn Bigelow and “The Hurt Locker”.
It’s pretty much a truism, that when you throw out one repressive regime with a revolution, the replacement is even more despotic. It happened to Czarist Russia, and it happened to Iran. As the film starts, we see life in this desert city on the Euphrates, from Biblical times, a low-rise city of concrete, stucco and ovals, and Muslim colors – during the Arab Spring, fomented by US social media.
The residents hardly understood what had happened as the Islamic State, ISIL, moved in and took over.
A group of journalists, including a former math teacher, started photo journals. As soon as the pressure was on, they scattered to Turkey and Germany. At least one journalist had his father and brothers targeted and executed. In Germany, police approached that journalist about putting in some kind of witness protection. Eventually, some get refugee status in Germany.
The film covers the professional production values of ISIS recruiting meda, but it doesn’t really show why young Muslim men abroad, especially in Europe, are so easily fooled. It also doesn’t show daily life in Raqqa the way the CNN special “Blindsided” by Fareed Zakaria and Jurgen Todenhofer had.