“Star Wars: The Last Jedi”: the Resistance has a parallel in today’s politics

I made the effort to get to a 12:45 show of “Star Wars: The Last Jedi”, which would be episode VIII, in IMAX-3D at AMC Tysons Corner today, through horrific traffic (one near-miss to an accident on a badly marked sudden lane change) and unexpected snow. The film is directed by Rian Johnson and written with George Lucas, for Disney, which had already taken over the franchise from 20th Century Fox.

This sort of film you have to see to stay in the reviewing business, and I’m normally not a fan of sequels and I’m not a guru on all the intricacies of the plots, space geography and characters of the series.  I view a film like this as a chance to experience what visiting an alien civilization (on Earth that’s China perhaps) would be like.   A lot of scenes with Skywalker seem to have been shot on the Irish coast and look appropriate for a Middle Ages spectacle, with slightly different creatures.

The film delivers that in the middle section, with a depiction of a city (like Yzordderrex) built on a shoreline hill with four-story condos leading up to a grand hotel and casino.  This may have been filmed in Croatia (Dubrovnik).  All the characters appear, and it’s wonderful, almost like the “gay bar” scene in Star Wars I (1977).

The title makes the main plot obvious. Mark Hamill plays a now grizzled Luke Skywalker, who survives a final battle confrontation on an icy plain (was this the salt flats in Bolivia? see “Salero” May 8, 2016) with “The Apprentice” Ren (Adam Driver). It seems Luke has made a doppelganger hologram copy of himself. This time, it’s enough for “The Resistance” to survive.

Now it’s rather obvious that the script plays on the idea of resisting Donald Trump. The Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis) may be concoction of Trump and Kim Jong Un, although he is made thin in order to appease Milo Yiannopoulos. One problem is that generally speaking nearly all of Trump’s winning candidates on his show were good people. So it is here, Adam Driver, as in all of his movies, plays someone you want to like.  He usually plays a kindly slightly autistic person like the poet in “Patterson” (Jan. 23).  I wonder if Driver could well have played ABC’s “The Good Doctor”.

The late Carrie Fisher gives a command performance as Leia, and Laura Dern is chilling as the Vice Admiral

Wikipedia picture, Irish coast.

Article on the locations of the film with photos.

One note about AMC at Tysons Corner, VA:  Now, it seems most sales clerks are eliminated and you have to buy your tickets on the kiosk if you don’t buy online first.

Name: Star Wars: The Last Jedi
Director, writer:  Rian Johnson, George Lucas
Released:  2017/12/14
Format:  2.35:1 Imax 3-D
When and how viewed:  AMC Tysons 2017/12/15 noon show, almost sold out
Length:  152
Rating:  PG-13
Companies:  Walt Disney Pictures, LucasFilm
Link:  official, Roger Ebert

(Posted: Friday, December 15, 2017 at 7:30 PM EST)

“A United Kingdom”: a lesser known history of a mixed-race marriage, affecting African colonial politics

A United Kingdom”, directed by Amma Asante, is a romantic historical drama that portrays a lesser known story of the social, political and legal aftermath of an interracial marriage.

In 1947, Sereste Khama (David Oyelowo), while heir to the throne of the tribal British protectorate Bechaunaland, marries a white woman Ruth Williams (Rosamund Pike) while studying in London.  His marriage causes tremendous and varied controversy when he returns.  Some of his people think he has betrayed their collective identity “as a people”, while others are persuaded by his progressive arguments about equality. But the British government fears his marriage will disrupt the apartheid society forming in South Africa (which gained independence in varying stages starting in 1910).  Further, Sereste discovers that the Brits and other Europeans want to continue exploitation of future diamond or copper mines, under colonialist or mercantilist trade policies. (Maybe that rings a little harder now with Trump in office.)

It gets mean, as Sereste is exiled, first for five years, and then for life, even by Winston Churchill.

The film has some spectacular on-location photography of Botswana (an aerial view of a savannah town from a hill), and the real house the couple lived in was used for the film.

The post romantic film score composed by Patrick Doyle (Kenneth Branagh’s “Hamlet”, “Henry V”) is effective.

Typical scene in Botswana today (Wikipedia).

The title of the film seems ironic given the likely results of Brexit – that Scotland could break off the UK.

Name:  “A United Kingdom
Director, writer:  Amma Asante
Released: 2017
Format: 2.35:1
When and how viewed:  AMC Shirlington, 2017/3/12, large audience (near sellout, afternoon, small auditorium)
Length:  111
Rating:  PG-13
Companies:  Fox Searchlight
Link:  official

(Posted: Sunday, March 12, 2017 at 7:30 PM EDT)

“Deepwater Horizon” treats the BP oil rig blowout in 2010 as another “Titanic”


Name: Deepwater Horizon
Director, writer:  Peter Berg
Released:  2016
Format:  2.35:1 Imax
When and how viewed:  2016/10/1 Regal Manassas VA, small audience
Length 107
Rating PG-13
Companies: Participant Media,
Link: official

Deepwater Horizon”, directed by Peter Berg, plays like a somewhat abbreviated “Titanic” (1997), or even “Poseidon” (2006, remake of 1974). The film creates the first hours of the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill in April 2010.   The oil rig, about 50 miles out into the Gulf of Mexico, was essentially like a ship.  The first half of the 107-minute film sets up the characters at hazard, with a great deal of attention to the “negative pressure test” explained by John Malkovich – it’s supposed to reassure the crew.  There’s a lot of street talk in the technical explanations and diagrams.  Then hoses leak and mud leaks, and over about twenty minutes of film the crisis escalated until there is a full explosion and fire.


The central character is rigger Mike Williams, played by a still youthful and “creative” Marky Mark Wahlberg. Remember those articles (predicated on body fascism) in the late 1990s that showed how you were supposed to mimic Mark Mark in building your own fan webpage?  The early scenes show the departure from his wife  and his driving his SUV across an impressive Louisiana swamp-scape (including Lake Pontchartrain). Life on the rig is a bit like being in the merchant marine, it seems  (I wonder if there was ever a ban on gays.)  It’s cozy and acerbic.

His wife has to find out about the emerging catastrophe when his Skype connection breaks.  She has to call the Coast Guard, which reluctantly tells her about the fire.

Later, there is a scene where Williams jumps into the water from the burning rig and forces a female coworker to join – parallel to a somewhat sacrificial scene with Di Caprio near the end of “Titanic”.

The film certainly gives plenty of hints as to how a complicated man-made machine broke down and failed despite all the safeguards.  In that sense, it shares some commons with “Command and Control” (Sept. 23).  And the consequences for others in the region (man and wildlife – oil-slicked birds are shown crashing the rig) are catastrophic.  The film does not present the environmental cleanup, however, and I suspect there could be a sequel from Lionsgate/Summit/Participant that will.

There has been some SLAPP litigation against other journalists that reported on the supposed inadequacies of the cleanup efforts, as ABC News documents.   I recall BP CEO Steve Hayward’s “I want my life back”.

I saw the film in a new Regal auditorium in Manassas VA with full IMAX (as opposed to RPX). The 2.35:1 aspect was preserved throughout (not the case with “Interstellar“, for example).

Wikipedia attribution link for Coast Guard picture of burning site in May 2010.

(Posted: Sunday, October 2, 2016 t 1:30 PM EDT)

“Marmato”: independent underground miners in Colombia fight off an international company planning mountaintop removal, for gold


Name: “Marmato”
Director, writer:  Mark Grieco, Stuart Reid
Released:  2014
Format:  standard
When and how viewed: Netflix instant play
Length 87:
Rating NA:
Companies: Netflix:
Link: site

Marmato” (2014), directed by Belgian Mark Grieco and written with Stuart Reid, is another documentary of an international company dealing with (and here bullying) local people to extract natural resoruces.

Marmato  is a town in Colombia, in the Andean foothills, on a mountainside underneath which there is potentially $20 billion in gold ore. Over the years, individual families  have owned small mines. One of these entrepreneurs is Conrado, who says “Money rules the world” and “Without economic power, no one survives,” as he is interviewed in 2006. How ironic.

A Canadian company, Medoro, makes a deal (a la Donald Trump, it seems) with the Colombian government to do a “mountaintop removal” on one side of the mountain and dig a huge open pit mine. The company’s plans include eventually creating a lake where once there had been a mountainside.

The Colombian government requires that the company hire at least 20% of the townspeople and compensate the individual owners for the property (for what seems like eminent domain), but the independent miners object, gradually forming rebel groups called “gaucheros”.  The company merges with others to form Gran Colombia Gold.  Confrontations with the miners increase.  Not allowed to buy dynamite on their own, they come up with subterfuges to make explosives to keep working.  In time they are called “terrorists”.

One of the men from the company, laying down the law while trying to change town “culture” to except big business, looks like a teenager.

At one point, there is an ideological argument, where the miners say they have ultimate property rights because they were “born here.”

The film marks the history of the takeover by burning a graph of the price of gold over the years on a wall or ore.   In time, price fluctuations make the takeover much more problematic anyway.

Wikipedia attribution link for scenery from Colombia similar to film, by Juantiago, under CCSA 4.0



“Blood Oil” by Leif Wenar proposes a “Clean Trade” policy


Author: Leif Wenar
Title, Subtitle: Blood Oil: Tyrants, Violence and the Rules that Run the World
publication date 2016
ISBN  ISBN 978-0-19-026292-1,
Publication: Oxford University Press, 494 pages, hardcover, indexed, references, endnotes, with a 53-page low roman “introduction”:
Link: author, Amazon


Leif Wenar’s “Blood Oil: Tyrants, Violence, and the Rules that Run the World” was being sold at the Cato Institute recentky, although it would be hard to say that the book fits nicely into modern libertarian thought.

In 53 roman-numeral pages of Introduction, foreword (“Need to know”) and summary, the author makes the point that citizens in a democratic society are on the moral hook if they buy products or services derived from natural resources stolen from poorer people around the world.

The main book is in five sections, whose titles (“The, v Them”, “Them v. Us vs US”, “The People’s Rights”, Clean Trade”, and “All United” track the logic of the book.


The grand conclusion is that countries (or their constituencies) should implement “Clean Trade”, which would mean that their governments won’t allow imports from countries that don’t meet certain minimal standards of accountabilities to their peoples.  The author even suggests that the money from imports be directed into the bank accounts of the people in the resource-origin countries.

The authors show how dictatorial leaders become “addicted” to natural resource income.  Equatorial Guinea is one particularly bad country, but the author does spend some space on Saudi Arabia, which, as Fareed Zakaria has often written, has fallen into sponsoring Islamist extremism around the Arab world in order to keep the royal monarchy in power. Saudi Arabia is a bit of a paradox as it looks like a rather livable, rich place, as if on another planet. Of course (and ironically) much of the unrest — exported as terrorism — seems to accompany lower oil prices.

The authors also trace the evolution of human rights, from the times of “Westphalia” when monarchs and royalty were the only people with “right” and common people were “subjects” to be taken care of like pets. The laws of war made conquest of another people and expropriation of private lands “legal” because it had been assumed that only royalty really had property. This led to the “might makes right” idea.

Of course, terrorism usually bases its strategy on the idea that ordinary civilians must bear the personal moral hazard for what their governments do, which may allow citizens “unjust” takings from other parts of the world.  We really heard this kind of thinking in the early 70s with the first oil embargo of 1973.

The author has an interesting view of communism, where he sees the Cold War against communism as like one long civil war within advanced civilization.

The author also talks about the legal foundation of property rights, noting that the legal systems of western countries do not hole individuals accountable if the resources or labor upon which the products they purchased “legally” had been “stolen” by dictators.

(Published: Tuesday, July 5, 2016 at 2:30 PM EDT)


Update: July 9

There is a company “Fairphone” claiming to be the “smart phone with social values.” Geoffrey A. Fowler asks “Is it possible to make smartphones ethically?” in the Wall Street Journal “Personal Journal” on July 7.


“When Two Worlds Collide”: In Bagua, Peru, indigenous peoples protest mining and logging, and government cracks down

Name: When Two Worlds Collide
Director, writer:  Heidi Brandenberg, Mathew Orzel
Released:  2016
Format:  1.66:1 video of varying quality (amateur to HD; some protest scenes of low quality)
When and how viewed:  AFI Docs, 2016/6/26 at Landmark E Street, sold out,  unusually enthusisastic audience
Length 103
Rating NA (PG-13?)
Companies: Yachaywasi, Cinereach,. Tribeca
Link: Tribeca

When Two Worlds Collide” (2015), directed by Heidi Brandenberg and Mathew Orzel, somewhat lengthy, gives us a lot of grainy video footage of the indigenous peoples’ 2009 protests against mining and logging companies in their area near Bagua, in the Amazon valley and mountain foothills of eastern Peru.

A number of policemen die in the protests, and then the Peruvian government launches aggressive prosecutions against the organizers of the protests.  One of the protest leaders actually gets asylum in Nicaragua for a while.  Bureaucrats in the government claim that 400,000 native people don’t have the right to stop progress and higher living standards for 30 million newcomers (in large part European).

Toward the end, the film shows a lot of high-definition footage of how the area looks today, with huge areas deforested into ugly logging camps, and various areas of strip-mined hills with lots of rogue toxic waste.  (But the environmental damage from open-pit mining gets worse higher in the Andes.)   The actual picture quality improves considerably (to normal film standards) in the late scenes, compare to the protest scenes, where apparently high definition was not available. The film has a slightly reduced aspect ratio.

Lima (usually in perpetual cloudiness) looks modern and prosperous compared to the rural Bagua region.

The film was shown in the largest auditorium at Landmark during the AFI-Docs, and was nearly sold out noon Sunday, with an engaged (partly Hispanic) audience, with lots of QA.

Clips from the QA:






Picture of Bagua scenery: By D. Raiser – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=772940

(Posted: Monday, June 27, 2016 at 11:45 AM EDT)

“Money Monster”: a finance entertainment show host is held hostage, with a twist


Name: Money Monster
Director, writer:  Jodie Foster
Released:  2016/5
Format:  2.35:1
When and how viewed:  Regal Ballston Common, afternoon, 2016/5/20 (Friday), light attendance
Companies: Sony Tri-Star, Smokehouse
Link: Official site

Money Monster” sounds like a takeoff on Jim Cramer’s “Mad Money”.  But what happens in the movie would be pretty much off the charts, even if tantalizing to people in bars all over NYC watching the hostage drama unfold.

Lee Gates (a charismatic George Clooney) is pulling out all the stops on his stock market show, when a young, irate investor Kyle Budwell (Jack O’Connell) sneaks onto the stage with two packages, and, at gunpoint, forces Gates to put on a suicide bomber vest.

At first, Kyle sounds like a nutcase.  True, he got shafted by one of Gates’s tips on a mining company, but it sounds like he and his pregnant girl friend had intended to get by with a “flipping houses” mentality we have seen on “Dr. Phil”.

But then, the film (maybe cheating on the “omniscient observer” idea) starts showing us clues:  programmers in South Korea, hackers in Iceland, and mining workers in South Africa.  It gets interesting how Gates and Burdwell start to bond (to the consternation of set director Patty Fenn – Julia Roberts) against a common enemy, rogue investor Walt Camby (Dominic West).  Without giving away too much, let’s say that the moral concept is akin to the movie “Blood Diamond” (or a new book “Blood Oil” by Leif Wenar, which I will read and review later).  Call it “blood platinum” if that makes sense.  (It reminds me if the lithium mines in the movie “Salero”, here May 10).  At the end, we regret a tragedy.

The film does not have the wry cynicism of Adam McKay’s “The Big Short” (2015).

(Published: Friday, May 20, 2016, 7 PM EDT)

Salero: a stunning journey to the salt flats and industry in the Bolivian Andes


Name: Salero
Director, writer:  Mike Plunkett
Released:  2016
Format:  M (1.85:1)
When and how viewed:  At Maryland Film Festival, Baltimore, 2016/5/7, at Single Carrot Theater, show sold out
Companies: Cinereach
Link: Site

The word “Salero” literally means “salt shaker”. The documentary by Mike Plunkett, in 76 minutes, gives us a visit to what looks like the surface of an alien planet.  That is, the salt plains among the Andes (part of the “Alteplano”) at 12000 feet in Bolivia.  The famous Lake Titicaca is a few hundred miles away.

The film traces the changes in life there through the eyes of Moises Chmabi Yucra and his family. Moises has worked the salt flats his entire life.  Salt, as an industry, is left over from the colonial Spaniards. But the discovery of lithium ore underneath the salt (and apparently in nearby mountains) will change everything.  This will be Bolivia’s own industry, making it a “Persian Gulf” for the whole worldwide tech industry for a few hundred years.  It will also affect how Moises earns a living (now his work has more to do with constructing new hotels and homes) in Uyuho or toward Cochabama), as well as his daughter’s future.  She will get to go to college and work in tech.


This film would have been a good candidate for Imax 3-D.  There are many shots of the plains, with the salt almost as white as snow, but chunkier and more textured.  The mountains are distant. In some shots, irrigation water (as land use changes to farming) mixes in to produce a surreal effect, truly alien in look.


The director said that the film crew had to wait out protestors to get to the filming site in one case.

Wikipedia attribution link for Travel and Stuff, under CCSA 2.0.  typical salt picture.

There was a QA at the Maryland Film Festival with the director Mike Plunkett.  A particularly interesting comment concerned the demonstrations which hindered getting to the site and filming for a while. A previous demonstration had taken 90 days.  It took 10 hours from La Paz by bus to get there, but now there is a small airport.

A few short QA clips (each < 1 min):

Clip 1

Clip 2

Clip 3

Clip 4

(Published: Sunday, May 7, 2016, at 12:30 PM EDT)