“Hell or High Water”: a modern western without Coen-like humor

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Name: Hell or High Water
Director, writer:  David MacKenzie, Taylor Sheridan
Released:  2016/8
Format:  2.35:1
When and how viewed: 2016/8/30, AMC Shirlington, fair audience Tues. night
Length 102
Rating R
Companies: Lionsgate, CBS, Sidney Kimmel, Oddlot
Link: site

Hell or High Water”, by David MacKenzie (screenplay by Taylor Sheridan) sets itself up as a quasi-Coen-Brothers movie, without quite the edgy humor, but some pretty startling violence from a team of outlaw brothers you root for.

In West Texas, ex-con Tanner Howard (Ben Foster, playing villain “Mars” in the previous film) enlists his divorced and “better” (if divorcing) baby brother Toby (Chris Pine), to rob some banks of just enough money to pay off the debt on a ranch that the banks are trying to foreclose on. That seems just enough, like the banks get what the deserve in a post-2008-crash economy.  Oil has been discovered on the land, and the younger brother is sensible enough to realize that oil can save his family if he can get out of the crime spree.

As the film opens, a woman arrives at work in the morning, and is ambushed and temporarily abducted.  That’s frightening enough, until you realize later that the bro’s take only what they need.  We even learn that one of the bank managers suspects what is going on and encourages it (rather like encouraging the growing of marijuana during the 1980s to counter lower farm prices).

In the meantime, codger sheriff Marcus Hamilton (Jeff Bridges) is being forced to retire, but becomes determined to catch the duo for one last hurrah. All of this leads to some violent climaxes:  a major bank robbery shootout rivaling that of “Heat” (1995), and then another scene where the brothers (or Tanner, at least) shoot at approaching cars to force them to turn back.  It’s not too much of a spoiler to say that Toby does experience some redemption.

The film, shot in eastern New Mexico, seems like a modern western, as the plot line seems to come out of the 1880s.

Toby’s son, finishing high school and wanting something more from life than football, makes an impressive younger character (played by John-Paul Howard), to carry the family out of its catastrophic past.

Films for comparison could include “No Country for Old Men” (Coen Brothers, 2007) and even “Waltz Across Texas” (1981).

(Published: Tuesday, Aug. 30, 2016 at 11:15 PM)

 

“Hostage” turns a conventional and possibly political thriller into pure “gothic” horror

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Name: Hostage
Director, writer:  Florent Emilio Siri, novel by Robert Crais
Released:  2005
Format:  2.35:1
When and how viewed:  Netflix (limited availability), can buy from Amazon
Length 118
Rating R
Companies: Miramax, Stratus
Link: site

The crime film “Hostage” (2005), directed by (French) Florent Emilio Siri, based on the novel by Robert Crais, gets a curious commentary toward the end of Dean Hannote’s book “Century of Growth”, which I reviewed yesterday.  I checked Netflix and found it would be available there (from distributor Miramax) only through Sept. 1, 2016.  I don’t get the point of studios doing this;  the film is available for rent on Amazon cheaply.

Actually, it’s the villain “Mars” Marshall Krupcheck (Ben Foster) who gets the attention in the aforementioned book.  As the thriller proceeds from what starts as a political film, he indeed becomes a monster, who needs to burn, and he indeed does.

The story builds in layers, with a structure like that of some 1980s and 1990s crime films (“A Kiss Before Dying” and “Body Heat” come to my own mind immediately), with complexity that seems totally improbable.  Hero Bruce Willis plays hostage negotiator and Police Chief Jeff Tally.  After a traumatic event in Los Angeles where, in a domestic disturbance, a man takes his family hostage and kills them and himself, Tally moves to a quiet suburb in Ventura county.

It happens that a mob accountant and money launderer Walter Smith (Kevin Pollak) raises his family in a gated castle in the mountains, which sets up the setting for the rest of the movie, giving it an opportunity to turn into a mess of genres, ranging from Hitchcock (or even Truffaut) to horror.  Mars has enlisted two white trash punks (brothers) to assist him in raiding the castle;  the punks think it is an ordinary car theft and joyride, and their stupidity is actually a major part of the plot.  When Mars shoots a female police officer, Tally “resigns” from the case and wants to let the sheriff (and then FBI-ATF) handle everything.   But it turns out that mob elements really want an encrypted DVD in Smith’s castle, and invent an elaborate and somewhat preposterous plan to kidnap Tally’s own family, to get him back into the case.

While the movie (not terribly successful financially) builds according to conventions of formulaic screenwriting. It rather sidesteps the idea that being taken hostage is one of the gravest, most existential physical threats one can experience.  I’ve weighed in at other spots like here.

Actually, I could mention a couple other comparable movies: “Ransom” (1996, directed by Ron Howard, with Mel Gibson), the NBC series “Kidnapped” (by Jason Smilovic), and even Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic novel “Kidnapped”, which I read in junior high.  Also, recall Dennis Villeneuve’s “Prisoners” (2013) with Jake Gyllenhaal (the best of these). And there is also “Room” (2015) and “Captive” (2015). And most of all, “Rapt” (2009), by Lucas Belvaux about a business executive abduction in France.

(Published: Monday, April 29, 2016 at 3:15 PM EDT)

“Century of Growth”: New epistolary book from the Paul Rosenfels Community

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Authors: Dean Hannotte, Ann Agranoff
Title, Subtitle: Century of Growth: A Conversation Between Childhood Friends
publication date 2016
ISBN 978-1533-16387-5
Publication: Amazon Create Space, paper, 232 pages, indexed
Link: authors

Century of Growth: A Conversation Between Childhood Friends” is set up as dialogue of letters between two friends, unfolding two (actually three) life stories as if a novel, rather set up like an English epistolary novel.

The childhood friends are the letter authors Dean Hannotte and Ann Agranoff.  I know Dean, from my own days of involvement with the Ninth Street Center in the East Village in New York City in the 1970s, as I detail in Chapter 3 of my first “Do Ask, Do Tell” book.  Dean, at the time, was the partner of therapist and philosopher Paul Rofenfels, who had developed his theory of human polarities in a series of books and monographs, the best known of which is “Homosexuality: The Psychology of the Creative Process” (see blog Index).  I gave a thorough discussion of my own take on this concept in all three of my DADT books.

Ann, starting out with architecture, became an English professor at CUNY, active in meeting climate change, and, with her husband, wrote an iconoclastic book “Ice Palaces”  (1983).

Dean’s life narrative comes through the letters in the book.  The Center continued operating until about 1991 (I last visited it in 1986), but an informal group of people online remains as the Paul Rosenfels Community.

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There is an irony in this history of the NSC.  Despite its reputation as a place offering “a new way to be gay” back then, and despite Dean’s relationship with Paul at the time, Dean is and was largely heterosexual.  In fact, Dean says that when the Center opened it was expected that a lot of straight people would come, but in time it came to attract almost exclusively gay men (and not transgender).  I was never fully aware pf that history.  Sometime in the 80s or 90s, he met Rachel Bartlett, who had grown up in Communist East Germany (before the Wall fell in 1989).  Gradually they would develop a relationship.  From 2004-2008, the Rosenfels Community ran a monthly chat on Sunday afternoons that I sometimes participated in.  At the time, I can recall Bartlett’s saying that the unification of Germany under capitalism had not been a good thing (or I found that on her own blogs).  This book reports she had been quite militant in support of communism younger.  I remember meeting young women with this sort of outlook in the early 1970s at the “People’s Party of New Jersey”.

Dean goes on to relate some of his health problems, and Rachel’s support of him, probably extending his life.

But all this sets up the moral tone of the letters.  Dean describes himself as a “realist”, and skeptical of any philosophies that give automatic answers to questions.  He questions whether it is practical for an individual to concern himself or herself with the big issues of the outside world (as I do, and as Ann does too – and it seems that Ann and I have similar views about sustainability of our way of life – we can protect it if we take it seriously and “work smart” – and other know I’ve taken up the issue of the security of the power grids in a similar way. Ann is skeptical about libertarianism, as she feels it blames the unfortunate their poor station in life — but communism (especially Maoism) was determined to make “almost” everyone share proletarianism.

The letters refer to many other “good books” (Dean attended St. John’s College, right abreast of the Naval Academy – in Annapolis MD in youth to become a quiet-life scholar), and many other systems of psychological categorization, especially the Enneagram of Personality.  I would probably be a mixture of 3-4-5 on his chart, but I am viewed as a “subjective feminine” (unbalanced personality) in Paul’s system of polarities.  The letters often refer particularly to the writings of Ron Gold, whom I recall from the Center.

Ann, at one point, discusses the connections between polarity, gender, sexual orientation, and gender identity – all separate concepts – and offers that transgenderism is increasing in frequency because of pollution, processed foods, and similar concerns.  Dean seems to feel that biological gender just doesn’t matter all that much anyway – it is character specialization (polarity) that does.

The  book constantly prods on moral dilemmas, and brings them down from policy to individual actions.  On p. 109 Dean makes a particularly acute observation about a masculine’s being “good” and a feminine’s being “dutiful” as demanded by external society – noting that duty may become a moral imperative but doesn’t add to growth unless accompanied by genuine openness of feel and love in new ways – that is, love people who may seem unappealing to the outside world, even in stressful circumstances, like an infrastructure breakdown.  Dean also summarizes the polarity-typical behavior of some men at the Ninth Street Center in the 1970s, with masculines ordering feminines around who in turn tell the masculines to “shut up”.  But it’s the feminines who, after being barged in on with demands to get with somebody else’s program even if the “community” goals are imperfect, sometimes get to told so silence their own self-indulgent prattle or (to mention Ravel) “G Major clatter”.

Dean’s last letter, long and intricate, from July 2015, gets into interesting stuff, like the (cosmological) links between mind, brain, and individualized consciousness (amenable to polarity), ending with an odd reference to the evil villain in the film “Hostage” (to be reviewed soon).  Other films (and books) get mentioned along the way, like Woody Allen’s “Midnight in Paris” in a discussion of atavism.

On my legacy book reviews blog, I covered number of other books on growth, including Dean’s “It’s Simple” from 2012.   In 1990, Dean also published a set of essays “We Knew Paul”, and there is a reference to people who probably tried to use the Center (in the 1970s) for personal cherry-picking.  I was “guilty” of that.

(Posted: Sunday, Aug. 28, 2016 at 5 PM EDT)

“Citizen Lobbyist” documents 2004 transgender activism in Congress

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Citizen Lobbyist” (2005), by Timothy Watts. Is a 58-minute documentary tracing a few days of lobbying by members of the National Transgender Advocacy Coalition.  It’s all filmed in Washington, with a session in Senator Lugar’s office, on the Metro (in the days before Safe Track, about when “Five Lines” was filmed), and a closing section at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial near the Lincoln Memorial.

I often talk about “citizen journalists”, so it’s natural to ponder the role of the “citizen lobbyist”.

The main point of contention is that the regular “gay establishment”, especially HRC (Human Rights Campaign), doesn’t seem to have the backs of transgender people, at least in 2004.  HRC is viewed as willing to throw transgender under the bus to get ENDA and hate crimes bills passed for “normal” gay men and women.  The film maintains that over 50% of transgender people are unemployed.

The first lobbying session happens on April 30, 2004, which is ironically the day that I started substitute teaching.   These are the time just before gay marriage became legal in Massachusetts after the Goodridge decision . The lobbyist point out that anti-gay violence often increases after gay political victories, and anti-trans violence is out of proportion to other crimes.  Anti-gay violence is reported to have increased particularly after the Lawrence v. Texas ruling on the 21.06 Texas sodomy law in June 2003.  There is a narrative a murder of a trans person in Washington in 2002 where police didn’t even leave any tape to close off the crime scene. While the woman relates that story, a passage from what sounds like the Symphony #8 by Shostakovich plays in the background.

In the scene in Lugar’s office, a woman-to-man transgender man explains that he is heterosexual now, and he enumerates the possible mathematical combinations of sexual identity components. But a transgender woman frankly supports the “blurring of genders” and “gender queer” in public consciousness (a bordering on identity politics).

The section at the Vietnam memorial gives a number of transgender people talk about their issues wityh “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”, still in place at the time, and also some relate their experiences serving in Vietnam, or even as drill sergeants (even at Fort Jackson).

Let me come back to the difference between journalism (which demands objectivity) and lobbying (which demands loyalty to the constituent group and often must honor partisanship).  I value my own independent voice online as a “journalist”, and I would have to give that up to work publicly to support another group’s agenda or in various conflict-of-interest situations, which would force me kicking and screaming back to identity politics.  I don’t need to pay someone else to speak for me, but if I had to make a “real living” like most people as a huckster, I’d have to.

The film is posted by the Center for LGBT History and Archives.

(Posted Saturday, Aug. 27, 2016 at 11:45 PM EDT)

“Daniel Boone and the Westward Movement”: metaphor for Donald Trump’s nationalism today?

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I made a quasi-pilgrimage to Cumberland Gap, repeating a visit from 1990 when I had just started a new job, this time partly to drive the new tunnel on US 25E.  On the Kentucky (north) side of the tunnel, the National Park Service has a visitors’ center, and plays a documentary film in a curious upstairs theater with rocking chairs.

The film is “Daniel Boone and the Westward Movement” (2000, directed by Gary L. Foreman, with music score (sound rather Copland-like) by Arkenstone.  I didn’t have time to watch it and bought the DVD (Native Sun Productions) expecting a feature.  It turns out to run just the 23 minutes.

The film starts with the history of explorer Thomas Walker, who first found and crossed the gap in 1750.  The gap can be traversed by climbing a minimum of 400 feet, which does raise the question as to the necessity of the tunnel (which does allow returning the passing to its original condition as a trail)   But in the 18th Century the Gap was perceived as the easiest passage to the west in the mid-Atlantic to mid-Southern regions.  Today, the Park Service maintains a visitor’s road to the Pinnacle, which, although “only” 2440 feet at the summit, is very steep to drive, and offers spectacular views of the gap over the tunnel, covering  Kentucky, Tennessee, and Virginia just to the East.

But Daniel Boone would eventually lead the settling of the land with passages from 1769 through 1782, during the time of the American Revolution.  Boone would lose two sons in fighting with the native populations, especially along “Warrior Path”.  He would convince his progeny of the agricultural richness of the land.

The progressive settlement of lands west of the Eastern Continental Divide, which Daniel Boone’s expeditions catalyzed, has become seen as a metaphor for all of American nationalism — from “manifest destiny” to the ideology of Donald Trump today. It seems like it was predicated on expropriation of lands from the native Americans.  Does this parallel the West Bank of Israel today?

NBC sponsored a TV series “Daniel Boone” with Disney star Fess Parker in 1964.

(Published: Saturday, Aug. 27, 2016, 9:15 PM EDT)

“(Dis)Honesty: The Truth About Lies”: Duke Professor Ariety explores human nature and little white fibs, which get bigger on their own

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Name: (Dis)Honesty: The Truth About Lies
Director, writer:  Yael Melamede
Released:  2015
Format:  video TV
When and how viewed:  Netflix instant play 2016/8/23
Length 89
Rating PG-13?
Companies: CNBC, PBS, Bond 360
Link: PBS

 

(Dis)Honesty: The Truth about Lies” (2015) is a CNBC film by Yael Melamede featuring Duke University professor Dan Ariety presenting the topic of naturally human tendencies to gradually become more dishonest.

Ariety starts with his own story, of how he was severely burned in a fireworks accident in Israel, and how dealing with pain forced him to think about the way people like to avoid sudden discomfort.

People will wonder how far they can bend the rules and still be “good”.

There are several compelling stories.  An African-American woman in Ohio falsifies her residence so her son can go to a better school district, and winds up in jail.  A Wall Street trader is brought down by an undercover sting in an insider trade scam related ultimately to the 2008 collapse.  Bernie Madoff is mentioned.  An accountant for MCI in Georgia, finding it hard to collect from 900-call customers, gets involved in cooking the books with an offshore operation after the WorldComm takeover and winds up in jail.  An appealing young public relations executive manipulates “Tucker Max” with public sign defamation campaigns.

Ariety also goes into the issue of college honor codes, not quite getting to the subject of term paper plagiarism and academic integrity.

But when I was growing up, “cheating” on tests was one of the biggest sins – and they would say, “You are cheating yourself.”  Well, if you were a young man, you had to worry about the military draft.  I worked as an assistant instructor in graduate school and flunked one person whom I caught cheating, And he was worried about Vietnam.

(Published: Tuesday, Aug. 23, 2016, 7:15 PM EDT)

“The Grid”: Bakke’s account of the electric power grids doesn’t consider the worst that can happen

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Author: Grethchen Bakke
Title, Subtitle: The Grid: The Fraying Wires Between Americans and our Energy Future
publication date 2016
ISBN 978-1-60819-610-4
Publication: Bloomsburg, hardcover (also e-book), 349 pages, 30 roman pages, 9 Chapters
Link: author

The Grid: The Fraying Wires Between Americans and our Energy Future”, by Gretchen Bakke, promises to be a definitive account of the history, current state, and particularly future of the United States power grids (three of them).

Indeed, the early chapters give a detailed account of how free market forces starting in the late nineteenth century, first led to small local power companies which gradually would consolidate into today’s industry.  An important milestone was the “discovery” and quick engineering of alternating current.   The History Channel had covered some of this ground in a 2012 series “The Men Who Built America”.   An important concept is that electricity itself cannot be stored or redirected, although charge is stored as chemical energy in batteries.  Resistance, not distance, determines how current flows.

The book does cover the mentality of the “energy crisis” of the 1970s, which was launched by the Arab Oil Embargo of 1973 as political retaliation for the US alliance with Israel after the sudden Yom Kippur war.  Jimmy Carter’s fireside chats emphasized the permanence of the need for energy conservation, with sweaters or leggings in winter and 80 degree thermostat settings in summer (which Sun Computer systems bragged it honored).  It got worse with the Iran hostage crisis, but during the Reagan years energy turned around, as industry produced its way out of the jam.  I can remember when moving to Dallas in 1979 that even some people who worked for oil companies thought we would reach “peak oil”.  But by the late 80s, there was oversupply of oil, leading to the Texas real estate crash and savings and loan scandal (which she doesn’t cover but I know it well because I lived through it).

I also had oil stocks, which increased in value, and my parents had a lot of utility stocks, which is one reason why they were financially stable (it didn’t hurt that a relative on the mother’s side owned a gas well in Ohio).  And I had a few I.T. job interviews with oil companies and with Texas Energy (through a consulting firm).  One of the gigs might have had me working at the nuclear power plant near Glen Rose (which I actually visited in 1982).

A critical point in the history of utilities was the passage or PURPA, or Public Utilities Regulatory Policies Act, Section 210, which, while allowing utilities to remain local “monopolies”, denied their continued “monopsony”, of being the only customers.  The result would be more incentive for local production of power.

Bakke does cover failures of the grid, but incompletely.  She gives a detailed account of the Northeast Blackout of 2003 which developed as a cascading of events after a tree fell on a power line in Ohio.  A software bug called XA/21 led to the failure to parse line signals properly, leading them to “add up” and overload various other circuit breaks, forcing utilities all over the northeast (and into Canada) to shut down.  She says that the greatest enemies of power grid stability are overgrown vegetation and animals (especially squirrels).  But perverse economic incentives had led companies to neglect some kinds of maintenance and software testing.

The other big catastrophes, in her account, were the Great Gale of 2007 in the Pacific Northwest (starting December 1), and Hurricane Sandy in October 2012.  Lower Manhattan, below 34th Street, lost power for a week, mainly because much of Con Ed’s infrastructure was place too low to the ground; built on higher floors it would have survived.

Later she does discuss physical attacks on the grid, especially a major rifle assault in the Silicon Valley in California in April 2013, which might have had much worse consequences than it did, and maintains that small attacks (as well as “accidents”) are common.  But she never goes into the biggest threats – like a Carrington-level solar storm (which we may have barely averted in the summer of 2012), or an enemy-launched high altitude electromagnetic pulse attack.  That would naturally lead to a discussion about the inadequate transformer manufacturing and replacement capacity of the US utility industry.  She does mention cyber attacks, but only briefly.

She makes an interesting distinction between resilience (she spells it “resiliency”) and security, and says that utilities and consumers need to stress the former.  One way to achieve some resilience is decentralization (less reliance on power shared over hundreds of miles) and use of micro-grids, which many companies today (even some banks) have.   Small local grids can often effectively use wind or solar power, or natural gas generation which is usually much cleaner than coal or oil. There has been controversy over whether utilities must buy back from consumers who generate their own electricity, from renewable sources.

She looks to the future, mentioning fusion down the road, but not acknowledging the work of Taylor Wilson (Clines’s book “The Boy Who Played with Fusion”).  She does discuss the possibility of transmitting power wirelessly by magnetic resonance, an idea of Martin Soljacic at MIT, replacing earlier ideas of Tesla.

In her epilogue, she describes experiencing a blackout at home in winter.

It seems to me that most people assume that their background infrastructure (plugs and sockets) will always be there for them, and they can go about making money without thinking about it.  But what if we’re all wrong?

The author is a Ph.D. in cultural anthropology at the University of Chicago.

(Published: Monday, Aug. 22, 2016 at 9 PM EDT)

“Equity”: Wall Street soap opera indeed

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Name: “Equity”
Director, writer:  Meera Menon, Amy Fox, et. a;
Released:  2016/8
Format:  1.85:1
When and how viewed: Angelika Mosaic, Fairfax VA, 2016/8/21, late afternoon, light attendance
Length 100
Rating R
Companies: Sony Pictures Classics, Broad Street (no relation to Broad Green?)
Link: official 

Equity” (directed by Meera Menon, based on a story by Amy Fox, Sarah Megan Thomas and Alysia Reiner) is a nice little soap opera set in Wall Street, where women can have it all, and get into pretty much the same ethical and legal conflicts as the guy.

The boss lady is a macho Namoi Bishop, played by a burly Anna Gunn, as the somewhat defrocked head of a hedge fund.  She sees the chance to redeem herself by bringing a particular company, Cachet, to IPO.  The company claims to be a “privacy company that has set up a social network”.  There is some interesting jabber about NSA surveillance, Ed Snowden, secure socket layers, and defeating the “man in the middle attack”.

Other players are Naomi’s right hand (Sarah Megan Thomas), a probing and ambitious assistant district attorney Samanta (Alysia Reiner, whose mannerisms reminds me of the character “Kate” in the NBC soap “Days of our Lives”, mixed with an extinct character, Sami), a middle-aged boyfriend Michael (James Purefoy), and the whizbang programmer who built Cachet, a red-haired and hairy chested kid Ed (Samuel Roukin), who shows he knows how to be mean when a programmer has to be.

Needless to say, sexual politics and affairs ensue, and a bedroom is the best place to get by the best smartphone security.

The film happens largely indoors (a lot of it shot in Philadelphia), with some effective outdoor shots of Manhattan and Brooklyn, San Francisco, and, I think, Shanghai.

At the end, Samantha gets the last line, which says there is nothing wrong with women liking to make money for its own sake.

There is something complacent about all this, people who believe that this special sheltered financial world will be there forever.

The oblique reference to doing business in China is interesting.  In 2013, I got persistent emails about whether I intended to try to “brand” my “do ask do tell” site and books in China, and it’s very curiosu that I would get an inquiry like this.  And it wasn’t spam; it was legitimate when I checked it out.  How would they get past China’s firewalls and censors?

The pre-show included a 4-minute short “Waveform” by Stefan Nadelman, abstract and animated, about surfing (like “The Endless Summer” in 1966).

(Posted: Sunday, August 21, 2016 at 9:15 PM EDT)

“Lo and Behold, Reveries of the Connected World”, a meditation on the Internet by Werner Herzog with some definite warnings to the less human

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Name: Lo and Behold, Reveries of the Connected World
Director, writer:  Werner Herzog
Released:  2016
Format:  1.78:1
When and how viewed:  Landmark E Street, 2016/8/19
Length 98
Rating NA
Companies: Magnolia Pictures
Link: official

 

The last of the ten sections (“The Future”, which was itself the name of a 2011 film about a goofy couple seen through the eyes of a stray cat) of Werner Herzog’s new meditation, “Lo and Behold, Reveries of the Connected World” is the most prescient for me.  After examining artificial intelligence, it shows a man undergoing a brain MRI and predicts that soon we will be able to read each other’s thoughts and fantasies (maybe even sexual fetishes) through smart phones.  The film didn’t mention the new invention, DuoSkin, supported by Microsoft, which could destroy some fantasy life.

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That section also maintains modern Internet communication seems to be broadcast for all to hear, and doesn’t care a lot about the needs of a specific recipient. That sounds like a characterization of my own web development supporting my “Do Ask, Do Tell” books over the years.   The film speculates that future human beings may curiously not be as socially connected as in the past, the “Alone Together” (Sherry Turkle) syndrome.

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Earlier sections also get attention.  There is a section on “Internet Free Zones”, such as around the radio telescope at Green Bank, W Va, where there is no cell service for several miles in all directions because that would interfere with faint radio astronomic observations of distant worlds (maybe like finding extrasolar planets).  Several women with unusual wireless wave sensitivities talk about the pleasures of living there as real people, completely off the grid.  (I visited Green Bank in May 2013 and got several pictures but I don’t recall much discussion about the absence of cellular service.) The film then also mentions an Internet addiction clinic in Washington state  (see “Web Junkie”, July 2, about such a boot camp in China).

It also gets alarming predicting “The End of the Internet” by a solar storm, specifically recounting the history of the Carrington Event in 1859 (see book review Aug. 12).  The film didn’t mention our near miss with another one in July 2012 by the position of the Earth in orbit around the Sun.  Furthermore, other threats, like high altitude EMP blast, are possible.  The film does cover the fact that we have become dependent on technology and probably could not survive if a terrorist or enemy (or nature) pulled the plug suddenly.

There is a brief interview with Elon Musk about the progress in his plans to eventually colonize Mars — and provide the Internet to the scattered communities (a 15 minute delay from Earth for Facebook and Twitter for the speed of light).

The film opens by visiting a sacred altar room at UCLA, where the first Aparnet computer worked on Oct. 29, 1969.

There is also an early section about trolls and personal meanness on the web, particularly concerning the gratuitous circulation photos of a car crash victim.  Early designers of the Web didn’t anticipate users attacking one another. The architects had more faith in human nature than can be justified in a world where people are so “unequal” and disconnected that they see little point in following the rules or in civility.

(Published: Friday, Aug. 19, 2016 at 10:45 PM EDT)

“War Dogs”: indeed, lets go run some guns

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Name: War Dogs
Director, writer:  Todd Phillips
Released:  2016/8/19
Format:  2.35:1
When and how viewed:  2016/8/18, sneak, Alamo at Winchester VA
Length 114
Rating R
Companies: Warner Brothers
Link: official site

In Todd Phillips’s dramedy “War Dogs”, David Packouz, played by a most charismatic and muscular Miles Teller, tells (pun) his own story first person, and he seems a basically decent guy who will do what it takes to support his family, once his girl friend (wife?) is expecting.

Having bounced around and working as a straight masseur for old gay men in Miami Beach, he discovers his people skills and street smarts when junior high school buddy (why not middle school) Efraim Diveroli (a fat Jonah Hill, even more bloated than in “Moneyball”) gets him into the bottom-feeding arms running business.

This invitation to set up organized crime at the bottom feeder level comes about as the Pentagon opens up an “Ebay” for small contractors to bid for contracts in weapons procurement (a big business all the way back to the Vietnam war days, because I worked in this area when I was in the Army at Fort Eustis – and some of it is like this), so the little guys now get the spoils by lowballing the biggies.

So Ephraim comes up with schemes to cover up weapons transfers (barettas from Italy and AK47 ammo from China), winding up with two big trips in the movie to Jordan and then a gun run to Baghdad (shot in Morocco), and then later to Albania (shot in a dingy section of Bucharest). The second half of the movie invites a shady if handsome arms dealer on a terror watch list (Henry Girard, played by suave and manly Bradley Cooper) to set up the Albania sequence with a clandestine meeting in Las Vegas.

I’m constantly amazed how David can kindly manipulate people to sell them things just because he has a family to support. Ephraim does not; he just bosses people around because he learned how to do it to survive at all. One of the chapters of the movie has a cynical subtitle, to the effect that telling the truth doesn’t help real people in real life.  So much for the “eternal feminine”.

The film is based on the Rolling Stone article “Arms and the Dudes” by Guy Lawson. There is a very early scene where Ephraim (who has far less moral scruples than David) demonstrates the value of owning an assault weapon for self-defense, at least in Miami.  Too bad, there was no scene in the Marlins’s funky stadium.  Later, there’s a “You’re Fired” scene reminiscent of an “Apprentice” episode:  a new employee at “AEY” demonstrates his “nerdiness” by saying what the acronym for “IBM” means (it could be “I’ve been moved”), and Ephraim indeed plays Donald Trump in the Boardroom.  That reminds me of an episode where Trump chastised a particular “team leader” for what he called a “life-threatening” self-deprecating remark.

The film shows some stunning views of the high-rise skyline of Miami Beach, almost making it look like a construction right out of Star Trek; there is a sci-fi look to the “cityscape”, as if it were on some sort of rama thread in a space station.  The film (which presents pregnancy in Miami) was made there before anyone knew about Zika virus.

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I saw the film at the huge Alamo Drafthouse in Winchester, VA, “on the road” (one day before opening, sneak preview).  But back in 1996, I stopped at a theater in Anacortes, WA to see John Grisham’s “A Time to Kill” with Matthew McConnaughey.

Before the show, Drafthouse has Teller himself deliver the no texting warnings.  Why not include a warning about texting and driving (the movie takes place a little too soon for smart phones;  the cell phones in the movie are flip jobs.)

(Published: Thursday, Aug 18, 2016, 11:45 PM EDT)