“A Good American”: The story of Bill Binney, whose metadata analysis system at the NSA should have prevented 9/11

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.

Name:  “A Good American”
Director, writer:  Friedrich Moser
Released:  2015
Format:  2.35:1
When and how viewed:  Netflix Instant, 2017/11/7
Length:  100
Rating:  NA (PG-13)
Companies:  Gravitas Venturas
Link:  official

(Posted: Tuesday, November 11, 2017 at 4:15 PM EST)

“Only the Brave”: firefighting is like the military, and the horror of a firestorm is well noted

Only the Brave”, directed by Joseph Kosinski and based on the GQ article by Sean Flynn, is a rather frightening Imax dramatic account of the Granite Mountain Hot Shots, 19 of whom were trapped by Yarnell Hill fire in western Arizona on June 30, 2013, and roasted to death, despite being inside their fire bags.  The film release is timely given the recent destructive wildfires around Santa Rosa CA especially.

I presume the film has a lot of real footage of the fires, which explode and approach with shocking speed.

Much of the story concerns the group’s founder Eric Marsh (Josh Brolin), his wife (Jennifer Connelly), and one particular firefighter with a criminal record whom Eric hires and takes under his wing, Brendan McDonough, played by Miles Teller.  Now Teller often plays the charismatic young man who falls under the spell of an older mentor (as the jazz drummer in “Whiplash” (2014), so sometimes his roles seem self-contradictory.  His bod gets tested enough, first by P.T. (he vomits after finishing an uphill sprint the first time), and then by a desert rattler bite in the middle of the film, where Brendan does without the painkillers and anti-venom (and gets his bandages torn off his leg at a party rather unceremoniously). But once his daughter is born, he almost quits in order to be a better dad, before Eric talks that down.  Really, we’re too valuable to die only when we have kids?  Brendan is generous with radical hospitality, offering a teammate a room to stay in his apartment. Brendan, working as a “foreword observer” and apart from the unit, is the only member to survive.

In fact, the movie seems to convey a moral message about physical courage and risk sharing.  The Hot Shots are like a military unit, and individualistic men probably would not fit into it.  The rest of us depend on young men to sacrifice themselves, when life goes on for us.

The film twice gives us the image of a burning bear (grizzly), all its body hair on fire, fleeing the flames alive.

It’s noteworthy that women are not shown as members of the hot shots. There is old-fashioned unit cohesion among the men; sexuality (outside of Brendan’s daddyhood) and gender never come up in conversation.

Yarnell Hill Fire picture, Wiki.

Picture: brush in southern Nevada, my trip, 2012. Second picture: residual fire damage about Gatlinburg TN, six months after fire, my visit, July 10, 2017.

Name:  “Only the Brave”
Director, writer:  Joseph Kosinski
Released:  2017/10/20
Format:  2.39:1, Imax
When and how viewed:  AMC Tysons 2017/10/23, afternoon fair crowd
Length:  133
Rating: PG-13
Companies: Sony  Columbia Pictures, Black Label Media
Link:  official 

(Posted: Monday, Oct. 23, 2017 at 11:30 PM EDT)

“Happy Death Day”: The plot trick is hackneyed

The whole idea of waking up repeatedly to relive the day where you died has been tried before   The film “Source Code” (2011, Duncan Jones) had Jake Gyllenhaal lending his partial body and disembodied brain to possess other people, as a day is replayed repeatedly to prevent a nuclear terror attack on a Chicago commuter train.

The October horror comedy “Happy Death Day”, directed by Christopher Landon and written by Scott Lobdell, has no lofty intentions, although the movie took a lot of effort  and about $5 million to set up. Jessica Rothe plays sorority coed Tree Gelbam at a west coast “Bayview University”, that looks a lot like the campus in “Judas Kiss” (there is even a Harmon Hall, and in fact instant boyfriend Carter Davis (Israel Broussard) is a kindly person who seems like a straight version of “Danny”.  Tree wakes up in Carter’s dorm room after crashing, on her Monday, September 18 birthday, and lives out the day until she is murdered. She wakes up repeatedly out of the dream and gets repeated chances to save her own life, and may others, from a escaped serial killer who puts on a clown mask. (“IT” again.)  A jealous sorority sister fits into the rushed climax.

It may be that for some people death occurs as a nightmare you don’t waked up from.  Things stop working and making sense.  Time slows down (whereas in the film the episodes are telescoped).

“Downsizing”, moving out of an estate house into a smaller condo and parting with some things invokes the idea of entering a kind of epilogue of afterlife.  One of the junk removal people said a neighbor came by and asked if I had passed away.

Universal let its Valkyrie trademark stall twice as it announced the film. Bear McCreary’s orchestral score is scary at times and resembles Shostakovich at others.

Name: “Happy Death Day”
Director, writer:  Christopher Landon, Scott Lobdell
Released:  2017
Format:  2.35:1
When and how viewed: 2017/10/22, Alamo Drafthouse at One Loudoun, VA
Length:  96
Rating:  R
Companies:  Universal
Link:  official

(Posted: Sunday, October 22,2017 at 7:30 PM EDT)

“It Comes at Night”: Doomsday prepper thriller mixes horror with family morality play

It Comes at Night”, written and directed by Trey Edward Shults, puts it all together:  frightening horror in a suddenly primitive Catskills forest environment off the grid, family loyalty, radical hospitality, doomsday-prepper survivalism, and personal moral karma.  Even if the premise is different, I’m remembered of classics like “The Blair Witch Project” and “The Last Broadcast”.

The background premise is a little bit open to interpretation.  A horrible pandemic has suddenly stopped the civilized world, rather like the super-flu in Stephen King’s “The Stand”.  Symptoms include vomiting black blood (yellow fever).  But rather than multiple road trips, this film presents a home stand.  A former history teacher Paul (Joel Edgerton), open minded enough for an interracial family with wife Sarah (Carmen Ejogo) and teen son Travis (Kevin Harrison, Jr.) holes up in the woods in an ample house (a kind of “Cabin in the Woods“), hoping to become the next Noah.  One night a young man Will (Christopher Abbott) breaks into the house looking for food and water.  Paul keeps him bound and quarantined outside but eventually the men start to trust each other.  Each has a family, and that’s very important/ Paul drives Will back into the woods, escaping one ambush, and eventually brings Will’s wife and young son (Riley Keough and Griffin Faulkner) to the house.

They set up a little commune with house rules, rather like an intentional community (like a miniature Twin Oaks).  But when the dog detects a menace outside and disappears, the trust between the two families, who have to behave according to certain norms if they can get a mini-civilization restarted at all.

The presentation of the dank insides of the home in the film is quite chilling. The force intimacy within each family — including the family bed — is something I could never deal with. This leads to an eventual catastrophic confrontation between the two adult fathers. I could not function in this kind of world.  You have to be want just remain alive enough for your own genetic progeny to function this way, like a wild animal with just the remnant of civilization to restart.

The dog’s fate does pose a real question about where this threat came from.

Name: “It Comes at Night”
Director, writer:  Trey Edward Shults
Released: 2017
Format:  2.35:1
When and how viewed:  Regal Ballston Quarter, 2017/6/14, ample crowd on a weekday night
Length:  91
Rating:  R
Companies: A24
Link:  official

(Posted: Wednesday, June 14, 2017 at 11 PM EDT)

“LIFE”, a monster movie, hails from “Alien” and “The Thing”

LIFE”, directed by Daniel Espinosa and written by Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick, is a monster movie, maybe “The Monster Movie” (a wordmark claimed by “An American Werewolf in London” (1982)).  It reminds me not only of the “Alien” franchise (I missed Ripley), but even “The Thing” (1982, especially) and “The Blob”, maybe even “It Crawled out of the Woodwork“.  It is not “pro-life” in a narrower political sense.

“Life” also takes place in a confined volume, a space station, with its internal three dimensions and various vaults and locks (rather like a submarine).  People working in such an environment indeed need “unit cohesion” and have no privacy.  Sam Nunn would notice.   But I always wonder if you need Imax and a huge screen for a film that focuses on closeups, however gory.   I could have wondered the same thing for “Gravity” (2013).

The premise is simple enough.  The crew has custody of a same brought back from Mars.  Eventually were are told that this one life form may have destroyed all life there, so it wouldn’t be cool for it to show up on Terra.

Conveniently (for the storytelling), one of the crew starts feeding the sample.  What looks amorphous develops gray flaps, and then a mollusk-like structure with tentacles.  Then, like “Alien”, it gets arthropod-like mouths (successively enclosed).  The monster (like “The Thing”) can take on the appearance of what it has just eaten, or invaded.  There are a couple scenes where the tentacles embrace the victims, as if out of gay love, and then “f—“ the prey in both the mouth and rear end, consuming him from within.  There is even a follow up scene of vomiting blood in a weightless environment. In the past, a certain Dallas critics named Joe Bob would have said “check it out”.

Jake Gyllenhaal plays the pilot David Jordan, and continues a trend set in four of his last five movies, starting with “Nightcrawler” (2014), of having shaved his arms.  He hasn’t done a bicycle road racing or swimming movie yet (does he want to play Michael Phelps some day?)  The rest of the cast includes Ryan Reynolds, Hiroyuki Sanada,  Rebecca Ferguson, Olga Dihovichnaya, and Ariyon Bakare.

If you compare this film to “Alien” (especially the first one in 1979), it lacks the variety of showing landscapes on another planet. In “Alien” we got to see a cave with egg cases, and a mummy of life form that might have been partially silicon-based.  In “Alien 3” (1992), I remember that Ripley gets clippers for “private parts”.

In the end, there will be a Hobson’s choice, so to speak, of who returns to Earth.  And, unfortunately, it looks like there will be a sequel.  But I thought that for “The Thing”.

There weren’t many people in the auditorium when I saw it Saturday afternoon.  But Sunday afternoon, I happened to drive by a multiplex on Maryland Route 60 just north of Hagerstown and noticed a very full lot.  Very interesting.  And I recall a moment standing in line to see Alien in 1979 in north Dallas and seeing a young man who had been horribly burned.  The sight stayed in my memory.

Congratulations to Columbia Pictures (Sony) for playing its entire logo.

The music score by Jon Ekstrand opens with a triadic passage (was that G Major) that resembles “Thus Spake Zarathrustra” (Richard Strauss, as starting “2001: A Space Odyessy” (1968)), and the closing credits offer a complete, coherent orchestral tone poem  (ending on the same triadic motive, in triumph but then dying away) that deserves concert performance.  There are intervening dance-like episodes with a flavor resembling Shostakovich.

Name: “LIFE”
Director, writer:  Daniel Espinosa
Released:  2017
Format:  2.35:1, Imax available
When and how viewed:  Regal Ballston Quarter, 2017/3/25
Length:  111
Rating:  PG-13
Companies:  Sony-Columbia
Link:  official

Picture: Virginia Air and Space Museum, Hampton, VA, 2012

(Posted: Monday, March 27, 2107 at 12 noon EDT)

“Patriots Day” re-enacts the Boston Marathon terror attack in 2013

Patriots Day” (2016), directed by Peter Berg, is a studio (Lionsgate) dramatic reenactment of the Boston Marathon bombing and terror attack that started April 15, 2015 and concluded four days later.  The film would complement the studious documentary  “Marathon: The Patriots Day Bombing” (reviewed Oct. 18).

Marky Mark Wahlberg plays Boston cop Tommy Saunders, and gives a lot of attention to his bad knee.  John Goodman is police commissioner Ed Davis. A wrinkled Kevin Bacon plays FBI agent Richard DesLauriers.

But Themo Melikidze, the Georgian (former Soviet Union) born actor with model-like looks, comes across as absolutely chilling as Tamerlan Tsarnaev, as when he lectures Dun Meng (Jimmy Yang) on why American civilians are bargaining chips against Muslims and also claims that Martin Luther King was a fornicator. (We later learn that the brothers liked porn.)  Alex Wolff looks like Dzhokhar, who usually plays the part of baby brother, incredibly dependent on Tamerlan and summing up aggression like a robot.

The film explores the chilling diffidence of Katherine Russell (Melissa Benoist) when questioned, as well as the lax attitudes of Jahar’s pot-smoking roommates (story), who wound up with minor prosecutions.  The film could have done more with Jahar’s Twitter trail.

The explosions are overwhelming, and take longer to unfold than one expects. Later the shootout in Watertown streets plays out like a military battle.  The execution of MIT police officer Sean Collier (Jake Picking) and the kidnapping of Dun are chilling, making me wonder if I would even want to survive something like this.

The film is somewhat considerate on showing the horrific wounds and amputations, but one young couple is shown as pulling through, with a strong marriage.

Name:  “Patriot’s Day
Director, writer:  Peter Berg
Released: 2016
Format: 2.35:1
When and how viewed:  Angelika Mosaic 2017/1/13
Length: 133
Rating:  R
Companies:  Lionsgate, CBS Films
Link:  official

(Posted: Friday, January 13, 2017 at 8:45 PM EST)

“The Wailing”: dense Korean horror, with “stranger”, shaman, and a pandemic, and a lot of symbolism, but still dangerous parallels

The Wailing” (or “Goksung”), directed by Hong-jin Na, may strike many viewers as a long (156 minutes), repetitive and cult-like Asian horror film.  But the director goes for slow-space mystery, involving immediate neighborhood, local life, and family, to give what otherwise would seem like a zombie premise some sense of real menace.

In a mountain region in South Korea, in a small village, people start falling sick with a kind of rabies, behaving wildly with violence, then bleeding out and frothing and disintegrating into rigor mortis quickly. Policeman Jong-goo (Kwak Do-won) first buys the theory that the disease could be caused by unusual poisonous wild mushrooms.  But then he learns of a new Japanese “immigrant” or “stranger” in town, and a mystery “Woman in White” (like the classic film) literally called “No Name” (Chun woo-hee).  Then his own daughter (Kim Hwan) is sickened.

What follows may seem like a confined metaphor for AIDS (at least the visual horror of some early Kaposi’s sarcoma cases) , or perhaps a bio-terror event.  Films like “Outbreak” (1995, which I saw while working as a sub in a chemistry class) and “Quarantine” (2008), and even “The Andromeda Strain” may come to mind, but this film, for all the outdoor scenery (augmented by rain machines in filmmaking) still seems rather stagey in comparison. A few of the death scenes are on the edge of real-life horror (I recall Laurie Garrett’s book “Coming Plague”, which pretty much anticipates the real life horror in Liberia (brought home to the US for a few health care workers overseas) with Ebola in 2014.  (Note: the latest news is that the Ebola vaccine is going to work.)

The movie works in a shaman (Hwang jung-min), who presumably has been exalted by overcoming an existential trial and managing to keep people loving him.   But there is real question as to his connection to the stranger, and the stranger’s death.   Then there are the ritual dances and burnings, as well as the expected plot development over suspicion of outsiders – very relevant to our own political debates today.

The film uses a lot of symbolism that is apparently familiar in oriental religion and used in manga (maybe even in Japanese Danganronpa), and some specific notions about demons and devils.   For example, a worm provides an early metaphor with what will happen. Yet, western audiences may find plenty to compare with their own perils.

Most of all, there is a continual somber mood.

There are several YouTube videos with lengthy (spoiler) analyses of the symbolism in the film.

Name: “The Wailing”
Director, writer:  Na Hong-jin
Released:  2016/5
Format:  2.35:1
When and how viewed:  Netflix DVD; also Amazon instant available
Length:  156
Rating:  R(?)
Companies: Fox Searchlight International; Well Go USA
Link: official 

Wikipedia: garden pavilion in South Korea, link.

(Posted: Friday, December 30, 2016 at 11:45 PM EST)

“Marathon: The Patriot’s Day Bombing” from HBO does a sneak preview tonight in DC


Name: Marathon: The Patriot’s Day Bombing
Director, writer:  Ricki Stern, Anne Sundberg
Released:  2016
Format:  1.85:1
When and how viewed:  Sneak, AFI-Docs, free, Landmarl E St. 2016/10/18
Length :About 100
Rating PG-13?
Companies: HBO
Link: TBD

Tonight, AFI Docs held a special free sneak preview of the HBO documentary “Marathon: The Patriot’s Day Bombing”, directed by Ricki Stern and Anne Sundberg.  It will air on HBO in mid November and show in New York, Los Angeles and Boston.

The documentary recreates most of the events of that week in April 2013 as they happened, with high quality video.  This includes the two bombings twelve seconds apart, with explicit scenes of the carnage;  then video of the shooting at MIT Thursday night, of the call from a convenience store after the carjacking, the shootout in Watertown, and the capture of Jahar.  Video shows the Tsarnaev brothers just before the bombing. Jahar is shown in his jail cell later.


But, unlike “The Thread” (see Index), which focuses on how technology helped find the bombers, this film focuses on the hundreds injured, and the seventeen who lost limbs.


Several of these men and women were in the audience, with prosthetic limbs,two with service dogs, one of which sat very near me.

There is a scene where the police ask a novice cameraperson to respect the victims and not photograph them on the street.


The film focuses on the care these civilians get at Walter Reed (formerly Bethesda Naval Medical Center, across Wisconsin Ave. from NIH), from military surgeons.  It is normally very difficult for civilians injured by war-like injuries in terror attacks to get military care.  This observation would apply to the Pulse attacks.  The civilian patients bond with the military casualties, mostly from Iraq and Afghanistan, who have multiple amputations and incredible disfigurement.


The love story of one couple, both who lost limbs, was difficult to watch.  I don’t like to use the word “victims” when others influenced by foreign ideology go to war with us as if we were personal enemies.  I personally process this as “casualty”, but I did go through the Vietnam era draft, although I didn’t go into combat.    But the willingness of people to form and keep intimate and marital relationships when challenged by unforeseeable adversities is important to resilience against potential enemies.  This is a personal issue for me, but I’ll take that up soon elsewhere.

At the end, the film covers the death penalty deliberations and sentence handed to Dzhokkar Tsarnaev under federal law (in a state that does not have the death penalty).

The QA was followed by a 7-minute short film “Wicked Strong: A Walter Reed Story

QA 1:

QA 2: In response to my question about availability of military medicine to civilians after terror attack (I also mentioned Pulse); and on the importance that healthy young adults have health insurance because it can happen to anyone (the young man in Central Park July 3). Health insurance often covers basic prosthetics but not specialized limbs for running or water use (as in a scene in Florida).  Prosthetics last about eight years before needing replacement.

Wikipedia attribution link;  by Anna frodesiak CCSA 2.0

Wikipedia attribution link second map  CCSA 3.0?

(Posted: Tuesday: October 18, 2016 at   11:45 PM EDT)


“City 40” documents a “hidden” city processing nuclear weapons material in Russia; the US has one, too


Name: City 40
Director, writer:  Samira Goetschel
Released:  2016
Format:  HD
When and how viewed:  Netflix Instant Video
Length 72
Rating NA
Companies: D.I.G., Cinephil
Link: official site

City 40” is a compelling documentary (72 min) by Samira Goetschel, about the closed city of Ozersk (or Ozyorsk, in Chelyabinsk Oblast), Russia, in the southern Urals, housing people associated with the plutonium processing plant at Mayak.


The documentary starts by recounting the US’s own efforts to build close communities around its nuclear weapons program in the late 1940s, especially Richland WA near the Hanford reactor. There are the visual invocations about loose lips, long before the days of cyberwar.


Stalin responded by building a closed secret community for scientists called simply City 40.  He tried to make the place a paradise for the workers there, as very little travel was allowed and the city was not put on maps until after the fall of the USSR at the end of 1991.

The city sits on a large lake which has over time become polluted with radioactive waste.  There have been numerous accidents and deaths of workers and premature cancers of residents over the decades.

The film, near the end,  reviews the murder of Litvineko  (as in the 2013 film “Poisoned by Polonium”).  It also provides an unflattering portrait of the authoritarian leadership of Vladimir Putin.

The film could be compared to the short about the city Norilsk (Nickel plant), “My Deady, Beautiful City” or “The Hidden City”, reviewed here June 28.

The film seems relevant to documenting the worldwide risk from unretrieved nuclear waste, especially within Russia and the former Soviet Union.  I was under the impression that much more of this was scattered around the county, not just around this city.  Besides the NTI docudrama “The Last Best Chance”, a couple of relevant Russian films are “The Return” (set in NW Russia) and “How I Ended This Summer”, set at a monitoring point in NE Siberia.

Wikipedia attribution link for picture of the closed city of Mercury, NV, P.D.  located near Las Vegas, still with a residual population.   I was last in the area in 2000.

Wikipedia attribution link for picture of Richland WA in the early 1950s, P.D.I was most recently near there (Yakima) in 1996.  The film says that the Soviets built Ozersk in response to our Richland, and loose lips gave away we had the city.

By Sergey Nemanov – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link

(Posted: Tuesday, Oct. 11 at 10:30 AM EDT)

Update: March 23, 2017

I saw the film again at the DC Environmental Film Festival at the Carnegie Science Center, paired with shorts “Nuclear Winter” and “Triad”.

I thought it was interesting that so many of the nuclear pollutants spill into the Arctic Ocean.  There is a lake near Mayak that is six times as polluted as water near Chernobyl, and Mayak seems to have the highest concentration of nuclear waste in the world. In 1994, Russia (under Yeltsin) allowed mention of Ozersk and allowed the city to be named on new birth certificates, but would not allow old ones to be changed.  Putin’s government has persecuted dissidents for speaking out against the secret cities, of which there are about 40 all over Russia (three in former republics).


“The Lovers and the Despot”: How North Korea kidnapped a filmmaker and his actress wife to bolster its own propaganda machine


Name: The Lovers and the Despot
Director, writer:  Ross Adam and Robert Cannan
Released:  2016
Format:  1.85:1, much archival footage
When and how viewed:  Landmark E St, 2016/9/26. afternoon, small audience
Length 98
Rating PG-13
Companies: Magnolia
Link: link

First, the threat of North Korea is dead serious.  The DPRK does seem to have built a nuclear weapon that can be put on a missile.  It probably could nuke South Korea now, and maybe Japan.  In a few years, it might reach the Pacific Northwest of Canada and the US.  Great circle maps have the longest missiles capable of reaching northern Michigan. Hopefully NORAD (“War Games”) would be ready.

And Km Song-Un has made plenty of blustery threats. At worst, he could be capable of making the moral pronouncements of the doomsday prepper crowd relevant. An attack against “just” to South could have enormous ramifications for the markets and could happen at any time.

In fact, during the 1990s, when I wrote my first “Do Ask Do Tell” book, it seemed that Korea was the most serious military issue we had.  I wasn’t aware of the gravity of asymmetric terrorism yet,

So, yes, “The Lovers and the Despot”, by Ross Adam and Robert Cannan, is “another” documentary about the DPRK, a dicey thing ever since the country’s brazen bullying of Sony Pictures over “The Interview” at the end of 2014.

And the movie sets up an intriguing “story”, even if it is the politics that seems to matter now.  In early 1978 – while I was living my last year in NYC and a most interesting time for me personally – Hong Kong was still under British rule (until 1997) and did not have the glitz of today (with the Mira Hotel where Snowden stayed).   Filmmaker Shin and actress Choi have divorced, and during a stay in Hong Kong, Choi is lured to a “party” and kidnapped and taken to the DPTK.  Shin follows to Hong Kong and gets kidnapped himself, and both wind up imprisoned in North Korea   The kidnapping of Shin is not covered in as much detail.


Soon they learn that Kim Song Il (who has taken over from his father) wants the filmmakers to buff up the film industry of North Korea, which Shin would do.  Under supervision, the couple, reunited, would be allowed to travel.

The film then moves to 1986, where, with a caper-like sequence worthy of Hitchcock, the couple, visiting Vienna, escapes to the US embassy and asks for asylum, which the Reagan administration quickly grants.

As for North Korea’s propaganda film industry, I recall seeing a horrible film “Flower Girl” at the Washington Square Methodist Church in New York City in the fall of 1974, shortly after moving into the City.  A story about a girl getting medications for her mother, it was sing-song-y and boring, preachy, and endless.


Adam’s film mentions North Korea’s attempt to make a successor to “Titanic” long after Shin’s escape.  But DPRK’s films have never gotten distribution outside the country

Adam also shows some of the cruelty of the regime (as have many other films).  People are forced to weep in public at the passing of both leaders, in a parody of what I call “upward affiliation” (but then, again, Donald Trump provides another such parody).

But the most shocking idea is the kidnappings in a foreign, western-controlled country.  We’ve heard about China kidnapping booksellers and writers today in Hong Kong and even Thailand.  The couple in the film is from South Korea.  But could something like that happen to am “ordinary” American journalist or even blogger?  The conventional wisdom, is don’t visit authoritarian countries as a tourist unless you really know what you’re doing (the topic came up at a travel expo recently, writeup ).  But could you really be “taken” anyway?

Wikipedia attribution link for picture of Pyongyang by John Pavelka under CCSA 2.0

Second picture:  about 15 homeless people camped out at McPherson Square Metro in downtown DC last night.

(Posted: Tuesday, September 27, 2016 at 11 AM EDT)