“Murder on the Orient Express” remake: Why are all these specific diverse characters on the same train?

A couple Sundays after president Clinton took office in 1993 (as the debate over gays in the military heated up) I drove 30 miles East to Annapolis to attend a regular church service at the Naval Academy. The pastor was a female (who at the time was by definition supposed to be straight) and her sermon had an interesting title: “Come and see.  Why are you here?”

The second question was one that Chris Hansen would pose to hapless visitors caught in his TV sting about a decade later (“To Catch a Predator”).

But the star and rich-people assemblage in the remake of Agatha Christie’s “Murder on the Orient Express” posed the same kind of question.  Why were they on this particular train?  How probable is it, really, that every single passenger could be a reasonable suspect (or “person of interest”, at least) and possibly wind up complicit in the murder of an organized crime figure Edward Ratchett (Johnny Depp), after the train is stalled by an avalanche in the Carpathian mountains, or maybe it is the Alps.  (The word “orient” seems overused).  All this is in 1934, at the end of the Great Depression, before a lot of people see the Winds of War.

Kenneth Branagh, so proud of his work on Shakespeare in the past (along with the Mahler-ish score by Patrick Doyle) plays himself, so to speak, as the self-indulgent detective Hercule Poirot, who opens the movie obsessed with the symmetry of two boiled eggs at a continental breakfast. He politely refuses Ratchett’s job offer, and then that evening, after the train is derailed and stopped, we actually see a clown (Stephen King style, out of everybody’s sight line) racing away from Ratchett’s cabin.

There are better films set on trains.  First of all, how about Hitchcock’s own “Strangers on a Train” (1951).  I’ve seen Trans-Siberian, The Cassandra Crossing (1977, where a plague has to be contained on a train), Silver Streak, The Great Locomotive Chase (Disney, 1955), and, particularly, Snowpiercer (which was very political).

I remember one train ride a little like one of these movies. In the spring of 1999, I took a night train East from Berlin to Krakow, to visit Auschwitz the next day.  My novel “Angel’s Brother” starts with a meeting of two young men at the site, who had seen each other on the train, and wonder why they are both there.

I saw the 1974 film by Sidney Lumet shortly after I had moved into New York City.

Vinkovci, Croatia station (in the book), wiki.

Name:  “Murder on the Orient Express”
Director, writer:  Kenneth Branagh
Released:  2017/11/10
Format:  2.35:1   some backstories are in black and white
When and how viewed:  Regal Ballston Quarter, afternoon 2017/11/10, good crowd
Length:  115
Rating:  PG-13
Companies:  20th Century Fox
Link:  Fox

(Posted: Friday, Nov. 10, 2017 at 10:30 PM EST)

“The Mountain Between Us”: The wilderness airplane crash survival gets painful, but the love story is silly

The Mountain Between Us”, directed by Hany Abu-Assad (based on the novel by Charles Martin), is mostly a survivor-in-wilderness piece, like “Cast Away” (2000, by Robert Zemeckis with Tom Hanks as “Wilson:) and “127 Hours” (by Danny Boyle, where James Franco plays trapped hiker Aron Ralston amputating his own arm when trapped).  Remember also “The Life of Pi” (2012, by Ang Lee) where a teenage boy trains and tames tiger Richard Parker on a raft at see.  And there is Sean Penn’s tragic “Into the Wild” (2007) with Emile Hirsch (“just living”).  Maybe 85 of the 112 minutes are taken with this 2-person drama, which sounds like it could get tedious.

Ben (Idris Elba), a doctor,  and Alex (Kate Winslet), a photojournalist), suddenly decide to ride a private charter in the mountains when commercial flights are canceled. Alex has to get to her wedding in Denver. The pilot’s very smart dog accompanies them. When the pilot (Beau Bridges) has a stroke and dies, the plane crashes high in the mountains.

There follows the extended survival story, which moves along faster than one expect. While Ben is scouting, Alex survives an encounter with a cougar (which probably would not attack humans in real life) and they wind up roasting the cat as food. Eventually they get the courage to go down the mountain and find an abandoned cabin.  Despite both having serious injuries, they’re able to start a  and consummate a romance (interracial) , somewhat predictable.

The dog discovers a nearby logging camp.  Ben steps on a fur trap, but the dog leads Alex to the camp and they are rescued.  (in the movie “The Artist” a dog plays a similar role in one scene.)

The film has a twenty minute epilogue in London and New York about the romantic implications of the whole event, which seems rather silly, but it does explain the title of the film.

The novel appears on Amazon Create Space.

The film appeared in Toronto ad Venice film festivals,  Oddly, it was picked up by 20th Century Fox as a main brand release rather than Fox Searchlight, despite the indie feel of the film.

Panorama Mountain Village, British Columbia (wiki), actual filming location.

NBC Dateline ran an episode “Into the Wild” about the self-rescue of a female teenage pilot who crashes in the Big Horn Mountains in Wyoming, review here.

(Picture: High Sierras, CA, in 2012, my trip.)

Name:  “The Mountain Between Us”
Director, writer:  Hany Abu-Assad
Released:  2017
Format:  2.35:1
When and how viewed:  Regal Ballston Quarter, 2017/10/11, late, only 2 people in audience
Length:  112
Rating:  PG-13
Companies:  20th Century Fox, Fox 2000
Link:  official

(Posted: Thursday, Oct. 12, 2017 at 11:30 PM EDT)

“The Story of Ruth”: Fox 1960 CinemaScope spectacle plays up the issue of idol-worship in presenting a maternal ancestor of Jesus

In the 1950s, 20th Century Fox promoted the spectacle genre after it premiered Cinemascope in 1953 with Llyod C. Douglas’s “The Robe”.  I saw it at the old Jefferson in Falls Church, one of the first “neighborhoods” to be converted to wide screen, and, yes, I cried at the end.

The Story of Ruth”, directed by Henry Koster, appeared in 1960 and is somewhat lower keyed than earlier spectacles, yet the film, with very crisp cinematography, makes the ancient world of the Judges in the Bible look interesting.

Ruth, as we remember from Sunday school perhaps, was the humble woman who became an ancestor of David and therefore eventually Jesus Christ himself.

But the film adds a lot of material in the beginning to the Old Testament book “Ruth” which is complicated enough in all the migrations and family ties.  “The Story of the Bible” by Hendrik Willem Van Loon, 1936, a favorite of my late father (p. 143, Chapter 10), and Egermeier’s Bible Story Book, 1939,  Story 21, p. 196, “The Young Woman Who Forsook Idols to Serve God”, give the details with some variation.

The film starts with presenting Ruth (Elena Eden) as an idol worshipper, preparing a Moabitess girl Tebah (Daphna Einnhorn) to be sacrificed to the pagan god Chemosh.  Quickly the film presents the obvious dilemma:  idols can indeed have clay feet and break, and, well, and idol is only what you see;  beauty is only skin deep.

The complications of the story, as the film returns to the Biblical text, involve Ruth’s conversion to Judaism and worshipping the one god Jehovah, accepting poverty and returning to Judah out of family loyalty, and gleaning in the fields.  Accepting the charity of others becomes part of moral purification.  The film covers how easily inherited wealth can be lost, and also the idea that men were expected to marry widowed family members.  At the end, Ruth turns down a man she does not love, as a good man named Boaz (Stuart Whitman).

Back around 1952, public schools were allowed to have religious classes after school, and I can remember confessing “I have idols” in writing in a note to the teacher.

“Boaz” happens to be the last name of a prominent libertarian writer and officer at the Cato Institute in Washington DC.  In the film, the character seems to be the most respectful of all of the liberty of others.

There are several newer versions of the story, as one from Pure Flix.

Name:  “The Story of Ruth”
Director, writer:  Henry Koster
Released:  1960
Format:  CinemaScope (slightly wider than the usual anamorphic today)
When and how viewed:  Netflix DVD
Length:  123
Rating:  PG
Companies:  20th Century Fox
Link:  Pinterest

(Posted: Wednesday, June 7, 2017 at 1 PM EDT)

“Two Lovers and a Bear”: in northern Canada, a polar bear plays guardian angel to troubled lovers fleeing their pasts

Two Lovers and a Bear“, by Kim Nguyen, is a bizarre little film that pits desperation and the will to live against a harsh environment, and argues for befriending wild animals to boot.  The film touches the fringes of sci-fi and erotic mystery without going very far.

Roman, played by the charismatic and boyish Dane DeHaan, drives trucks and run errands in Iqaluit (actually, Apex) in Nanavut, formerly part of Northwest Territories, above Hudson Bay, Canada, well above the Arctic Circle. He has an off-on relationship with a more bookish girl friend Lucy (Tatania Maslany) who wants go to Montreal or Toronto to college and study pre-med. Both he and Lucy have issues with abusive pasts.   He also has the unusual talent of befriending wild animals, especially a particular polar bear, with whom he carries on conversations (voice of Gordeon Pinsent).  (It occurred to me that Reid Ewing could have played this role, given his history with dogs on social media.)   The film shows a few impressive shots of the polar bear alone, and gives us a moment to ponder whether climate change will endanger is magnificent and free animal, well up the scale in intelligence.

Roman resents her leaving and even kicks her out when she wants to make up, but then they do make up and go on a journey south together on a snowmobile, oblivious to a coming spring blizzard.  The bear has three conversations with Roman in the movie, and is obviously concerned for Roman’s life. The bear knows he can survive but humans can’t (again, ironic, given the climate change issue).  Dangers mount, as Roman falls into an crevasse but Lucy gets him out.  They then have an interesting sequence inside an abandoned military facility that they stumble into, but this doesn’t give them enough wisdom to avoid tragedy.  But the Bear seems to have the key to their entry into heaven.

The early scenes in the film make indoor life in the village look more prosperous than we expect.  There is a party scene in a home early in the movie.  Everything, including Internet, seems to work.

I’ve had a couple of encounters with wild animals.  In Maine in 1974 on a trail on Mt. Katahdin, I saw a black bear in the distance, but he didn’t pay attention to me.  A few years ago on the Appalachian Trail near Stoney Man in Virginia, I saw a mother bear with her cub. She saw me but did not act concerned. She calmly crossed the trail with her cub and ran down the mountain.  On the day of Hurricane Sandy (in the DC area, a long way from the area of major damage), a crow twice chased me back into my garage, as if to warn me of the storm.

There have been a couple of films from Russia about the far north with similar moodiness, such as “The Return” (2003) and “How I Ended This Summer” (2010) and “Leviathan” (2015).

Wikipedia picture, Iqaluit.

Wikipedia picture, Apex.

Name: “Two Lovers and a Polar Bear”
Director, writer: Kim Nguyen
Released: 2016
Format:  2.35:1
When and how viewed:  Netflix, Instant play, 2017/5/23
Length: 98
Rating: R
Companies:  2oth Century Fox (rather than Searchlight, unusual for Fox), Entertainment One, Netflix
Link:  official FB

(Posted: Wednesday, May 24, 2017 at 7 PM EDT)

“Alien: Covenant”: A synthetic man makes his (adopted) home planet a deadly honeypot for a colony space ship

Ridley Scott’s “Alien: Covenant” is said to be a prequel of the well-known “Alien” franchise but also a sequel to “Prometheus” (2013), which had shown the panspermia of man and then set up the series of space journeys that could set mankind in mortal danger.  The story for this movie is by Jack Paglan and Michael Green.  Titan books sells a “novelization” of the movie.

I was still living in Manhattan at the end of 1978 when I saw the movie posters for the upcoming first “Alien” movie. There was a picture of an egg and a laser flare beaming down on bodies, and I thought some wording like “a warning”.  I wondered then if the movie was about some kind of mass abduction (given my contacts then with Dan Fry and “Understanding”).  Indeed, a movie about what happens to those who are “raptured” (an inverse of “The Leftovers”) could be an interesting premise. That would not be the case.  I remember standing in line at the Medallion Theater in Dallas Memorial Day 1979 to buy a ticket, and seeing a young man who had been severely burned in line.  That’s one of the few time I remember seeing that.  And I remember the visual captivation of the first movie:  the cave with the devices combining man with machine, the egg cases, and then, back on the ship, the exploding bodies, and later the hidden robot.  Ripley, Sjjuourney Weaver, believer.  For the third film, they gave out clippers for private parts.

The new film starts with a shot of an eye, and then we’re on some mountain spa on another planet, as David (Michael Fassbender) learns he is an immortal android artifice created by his dad, who has learned how to connect consciousness to AI.  Then we’re on a colonization ship, the Covenant, with 2000 colonists and some embryos looking for a specific Earth 2 at the other side of the galaxy. The ship (where Fassbender plays another droid, Walter) passes through a “neutrino flare” and gets damaged.  When the ship is getting fixed, it gets a bizarre transmission indicating another earth-like paradise planet is much closer. The crew takes the bait, not suspecting it is a honeypot.

The surface is a damp, fjord country of southern New Zealand (“Aotearoa”).  When the crew makes its initial exploration, it quickly notices the silence, no birds or animals.  Soon the astronauts are getting infected by dust that can enter an ear lobe, and the bodies start to explode.  Some of the crew is led to the ruins of a former city, ruled by David.

It seems that ten years before, the survivors of “Prometheus” had been there, and David, after arriving with them, had thrown a hissy fit and destroyed the entire civilization, after breeding a virus that destroyed all other animal life except this one shape-shifting monster mutant.  (Did that virus come from the Prometheus planet?)

The flashback makes the ancient city look quite interesting.  There were two organic sabres or “ships” that commanded an open circle in the center of the City.  The rest of it looked like a typical place in the Middle East, despite the damp climate.

Davis, as a character, presents a dilemma.  If you’re immortal you don’t need to have children. But wouldn’t you care about the future if you knew you would be around forever, like a god?

There’s an interesting sequence where David learns to play a flute, to articulate the soaring music theme that had played in “Prometheus” (by Mark Stretenfeld). David also has a fixation with Wagner, the “Entrance of the Gods into Valhalla” and the movie (before credits) ends with the close of “Das Rheingold”.  The closing credits feature a Wagnerian symphonic poem by Jed Kurzel.

Wikipedia New Zealand scenery.

Wikipedia chart of extra-solar planets.

Name:  “Alien: Covenant
Director, writer:  Ridley Scott
Released: 2017
Format:  2.35:1
When and how viewed:  Regal Ballston Quarter, 2017/5/22, large auditorium, evening, small audience
Length:  122
Rating:  R
Companies:  20th Century Fox, TSG, ScottFree
Link:  official

(Posted: Tuesday, May 23, 2017 at 3:30 PM EDT)

“Logan” does his Run, in a comics film that, after the fact, pans the alt-right

After reading the (libertarian) Foundation for Economic Education op-ed “’Logan’ eviscerates War and Demographic Planning” by Dan Sanchez, I “gave in” and saw a late show of the Marvel film last night. Yes, even Anderson Cooper like the “X-men” franchise.

Sanchez summarizes the plot pretty well, and I’m not sure all of his parallels hold.  But it’s true, that the “corporate state” (Transigen) had created the mutants as weapons and now regards them as threats the way the all-right views both Hispanic and Muslim migrants.

Hugh Jackman(now 48) looks grizzled, and maybe ready to return from exile or retirement.  The plot of this 135-minute bash concerns Logan’s road trip to rescue his 12-year-old daughter Laura (Dafne Keen) with Wolverine-like powers.

Structurally, the film is a bit like my “Tribunal and Rapture” manuscript, a long road trip (finally leading to planetary evacuation on a spaceship) by a retired FBI agent, who finds he has some subtle powers of his own – I finally decided that this sort of story works better for me when told through the eyes of the younger heroes, whose “powers” aren’t usually obvious and whose appearance is wholesome (even if that idea betrays my own erotic prejudices).

The film journeys into Oklahoma, then sidetracks to Reno (I wanted to see Taylor Wilson make a cameo and pitch his plans to save the power grids), before getting to North Dakota, with some scenery that resembles the Teddy Roosevelt badlands – but actually a lot of the film is shot in New Mexico, with mountains in the background.  The mixture of old and new technologies is interesting (like the winch and pulley in the North Dakota scene.  The mutants, by blowing liquid nitrogen breath, can freeze opponents’ limbs and break then off.  So heads, arms and legs roll in this film. (In Dallas, Joe Bob would have said “check it out.”)

To appreciate the film, you have to know some of the pre-history, of characters like Trask, with their pre-occupation with the alt-right notion of “demographic winter” and the idea that “majority” people don’t have enough kids now.  (That’s why Vladimir Putin allows the persecution of gays.)  I’m reminded of Representative Steve King’s (T-IA) doubled-down comments that “we can’t restore our civilization with somebody else’s babies” (story).

Patrick Stewart seems to impersonate me (as he usually does) as Charles, and Boyd Holbrook is notable as Pierce.

I’m reminded of another escapist adventure, “Logan’s Run” (1976), set around the Zale Building on Stemmons Freeway in Dallas, a building in which I worked in the 1980s, where you wonder how the twenty year-olds know think they can eliminate the thirties without facing the same fate themselves soon.

I guess that “Logan”, directed by James Mangold with story by him, was largely developed before Donald Trump won the election, but it seems well conceived as a response to the growing appearance of the alt-right during the 2016 campaigns.  The distributor, Fox, is probably closer to Ayn Rand-style conservatism.

The show opens with a “short film” (“Deadpool: No Good Deed“) about a Logan-like man challenged by a nearby mugging and a telephone booth, in the City.  I’m reminded of Joel Schulmacher’s “Phone Booth” (2002), and even of Timo Descamps and his “Phone Call” or even “Like It Rough” videos.  the 20 Century Fix fanfare then follows, along with TSG and Marvel, before the “feature” starts.  This sort of reminds me also of Dimension Films’s “Grindhouse” in 2007 (embedded double feature and connecting short).  The two short stories in my “Do Ask Do Tell III” book (2014) could be presented this way in film.

Name:  “Logan
Director, writer: James Mangold
Released:  2017
Format:  2.35:1 and Imax
When and how viewed:  2017/3/14 Regal Ballston Quarter, late, low crowd after snowstorm
Length:  137 including short
Rating:  R
Companies:  20th Century Fox, Marvel, TSG
Link:  official

(Posted: Wednesday, March 15, 2017 at 11 AM)

“Deadline – U.S.A.” — 1952 classic tale about courage in journalism

The 1952 classic film “Deadline – U.S.A.”, directed by Richard Brooks, seems timely now, given the issue of journalistic integrity as challenged by the new administration of Donald Trump.

Humphrey Bogart plays Ed Hutcheson, the managing editor of a newspaper called “New York Day”, said to resemble the “New York Sun” which had folded in 1950.  One day Hutcheson is told that the newspaper’s owner, Margaret Garrison (Ethyl Barrymore) wants to sell the paper, apparently to a competitor who would put it out of business.

About the same time Hutcheson learns of a gangland murder, with connections that suggest that the real motive for the sale is to cover up an organized crime conspiracy.  Hutcheson pursues the story, and is even pressured not to publish by advertisers.  The script mentions ideas like “ignorance of facts”, libel, and makes an indirect reference to “the right to be forgotten.”  There are a couple of interesting courtroom scenes.  Finally, the mother of one of the victims provides and important clue, a diary. As the movie closes, Hutcheson publishes even as he is threatened.

The screenplay is terse and follows the pattern of maintaining urgency.

The music score by Cyril J. Mockridge and Sol Kaplan reminds me of the music of Arthur Bliss.

Name:  “Deadline – U.S.A.
Director, writer:  Richard Brooks
Released:  1952
Format:  1.37:1  (Black and white)
When and how viewed:  Netflix DVD  2017/2/28
Length:  87
Rating:  PG-13 probably
Companies:  20th Century Fox, Kino Lorber
Link:  n.a.

(Posted: Wednesday, March 1, 2017 at 8:15 AM)

“A Cure for Wellness”: a bloated road horror satire about health nuts

A Cure for Wellness” (directed and written by Gore Verbinski with Justin Haythe) is another road horror film, but also a rather bloated (146 minutes) black comedy-type satire, with just average looks.

The film opens in a brokerage room filled with screens at night, and a stock trader has a heart attack and keels over. He’ll be replaced, but he’s apparently the only really sick one in the movie.

The movie shifts a boardroom (Trump style) after young trader Lockhart (Dane DeHann) is called upstairs. He is threatened with an SEC investigation (with a joke I know comes from Milo Yiannopoulos), and I thought about a moment in R, Foster Winans’s book “Trading Secrets”. But then the Trump-like chairman offers him an out: to find his old boss, Pembroke (Harry Groener) vacationing at a mysterious spa in Switzerland.

Lockhart goes, and I have to say that for Gothic horror the sets in this movie are just average. The film is shot in normal aspect 1.85:1, allowing simpler setups of the indoor scenes. The geography of this mile-high resort is rather hard to figure out – even if you’re supposed to compare it to the hotel in Stephen King’s “The Shining”. Lockhart at first finds the staff protective, and odd; but when his driver hits a deer on an errand to town, Lockhart breaks a leg and winds up a patient in the spa.

It’s not clear why they are here, but in time the bowels of the place are gradually revealed, with people inside floatation pods like in the movie “Altered States”. The doctors also have raised a school of eels to torment the patients.

There’s a homoerotic scene about an hour in, where Lockhart gets the first flotation treatment. His body looks immature and smooth, the kind that David Skinner wrote about in 1999 in the essay “Notes on the Hairless Man” in National Review.  But Lockhart is charismatic, and hardly fodder for a rich person’s cult.

The music score has a lot of Mozart and Beethoven in the background (like the second movement of Beethoven’s Symphony 2).

Structurally, the story resembles “The Ocelot the Way He Is“, the last “chapter” of my DADT-III book, in which the protagonist is invited by a charismatic young friend to visit a mysterious ashram while a terror attack happens at home.

20th Century Fox did not use ifs Alfred Newman fanfare to open the movie, unusual to this studio usually very jealous of its trademark. Fox did a “fake news” campaign to advertise the movie (ABC story).

Name:  “A Cure for Wellness”
Director, writer:  Gore Verbinski
Released:  2017
Format:  1.85:1
When and how viewed:  Regal Ballston Quarter, 2017/2/19, afternoon, small audience
Length:  146
Rating:  R
Companies:  20th Century Fox, Regency, Baselberg (German production)
Link:  official

(Posted: Sunday, February 19, 2017 at 10:45 PM EST)

“Hidden Figures”: three women overcome racial and gender discrimination in NASA to help with the space program; the workplace issues were fascinating

Hidden Figures”, directed by Theodore Melfi, and written with Allison Schroeder, and based on the book by Margot Lee Shetterly, chronicles the contributions of three African-American female mathematician-engineers to the NASA space program from the mid 1950s until 1962, when one of the women’s calculations becomes crucial to John Glenn’s (Glen Powell) 3-orbit Project Mercury spaceflight.  These calculations involved certain specifics of orbital mechanics (elliptical and parabolic paths).

The women were Katherine G. Johnson (Taraji R. Henson), Dorothy Vaughan (Octavia Spencer), and Mary Jackson (Janelle Monae).  The movie starts in West Virginia in 1928 (black and white) where the women overcome racism to go to good colleges, and then shifts to the 1950s.

The time scale of the film is a little misleading.  Wikipedia biographies indicate that the women worked in the 1950s into the 60s.  The movie narrative focuses on 1961 and usually shows pictures of President Kennedy, but one or two scenes show Richard Nixon as a presidential candidate during the 1960 debates. The film works in Sputnik (1957) and the narratives of successful Soviet orbital space flights, pressuring the US to catch up and take the lead under Kennedy.

Kevin Costner plays Al Harrison, the tough-guy boss who gradually overcomes his own racism because he has to.  The engineers work together in a large open bay, solving problems by hand and with calculators.  The arrival of the “IBM” mainframe computer is a big deal.  The film shows what early mainframe computing was like (what computer rooms looked like then with the card readers and tape drives) pretty accurately.  One of the women becomes proficient in the “new” FORTRAN programming language.

The narrative is set up as happening at NASA in Hampton, Virginia, above Norfolk, in the Tidewater. The regimentation of the work is notable, as is the now shocking adherence to segregation, not only in bathrooms but even coffee machines.  The point is well made that Virginia was still segregated despite the Supreme Court 1954 Brown v. Board of Education.

I found myself fascinated by the parallels to my own early work career settings.  I worked as a “mathematician” for David Taylor Model Basin in the summers of 1965-1967, and then for NAVCOSSACT at the Washington Navy Yard from 1971-1972.  But my duties comprised mainly coding FORTRAN calculation subroutines on coding sheets, which would get keypunched and submitted in card decks. It is true that formulas and calculations were often developed manually, but this usually occurred at a much slower pace than shown in the film, and usually by people in offices with one or two people.

But during my time at NAVCOSSACT, a friend and coworker with a similar academic background had a mathematics paper published (I even pre-reviewed it). At an earlier “operations research” job at RCA Labs in Princeton, NJ, I helped develop equations for an assembly line model which was then coded into FORTRAN.  Later, at another job for Lewin in 1988-1989, hospital financial performance simulation models were coded in COBOL after the equations were developed by mathematicians.  That was one of the strangest jobs in my career.  A lot of this is covered in Chapter 4 of my DADT-III book.

It is a challenge, to be sure, to reproduce the workplace in a commercial entertainment film and make it entertaining.  The real truth is more subtle and drawn out than screenwriters can convey in two hours.  This film tries to make the solving of math problems on the board exciting.  I did that, as a substitute teacher, and even when giving a technical talk on my Master’s Thesis (“Minimax Rational Function Approximation“) for my first job at RCA.

When I was stationed at Fort Eustis, VA when in the Army, I had the MOS of “Mathematician”, or “01E20”.  But I recall doing very little math there.  In the Pentagon, I worked a bit on force development simulations, but there was no real equation development like in the film.  But I do remember a trip to Fort Belvoir where I did see this kind of math being used by the Corps of Engineers.  While at Fort Eustis, I knew an engineer who worked for NASA at Hampton, having met him in the Newport News chess club – and we were of almost exactly equal strength in chess, splitting the games.

The obvious comparison for this film will be “The Right Stuff” (1983) by Philip Kaufman, with Sam Shepard and Scott Glenn (Warner Brothers), which I saw at Northpark in Dallas that year.

Name: “Hidden Figures”
Director, writer:  Theodore Melfi, Margaret Lee Shetterley (book)
Released:  2016 end of year
Format:  2.35:1
When and how viewed: Regal Ballston Common, 2017/1/9, fair audience for a weekday afternoon
Length:  237
Rating:  PG-13
Companies:  20th Century Fox
Link:  official

Wikipedia picture of NASA at Hampton. Included picture is at NASA Kennedy in Titusville, FL, my trip, 2015.

(Posted: Monday, Jan. 9, 2017 at 7:30 PM EST)

“Assassin’s Creed”, based on the game franchise, seems genre-silly, but poses one interesting question

Assassin’s Creed”, directed by Justin Kurzel, is a genre sci-fi fantasy film based on the video game series, and the filmmaking style is perhaps reminiscent of comic book franchises.

After a prologue set in 1492 Spain, where there is a presentation of the idea that the disbanded Knights Templar was trying to unleash the “Apple of Eden” and end free will for mankind, justifying the need to assassinate its members, the film moves to present day, first in 1986 where Callum Lynch is growing up in Baja California and witnessing family violence, to 2016, where the adult Lynch (Michael Fassbender) is being executed by lethal injection in a grim chamber at the Huntsville, TX penitentiary.

But Lynch goes through an interesting NDE, and wakes up to a new existence in a laboratory in Madrid, run by Abstergo, where he will be fed the memories of his ancestors, and sent back to 1492 to rescue humanity.   The lead scientist is Sophia (Marion Cotillard).  The lab, which picks up Lynch with huge pincers and throws him around in a simulator, is rather hard to describe, and the depiction of 1492 Granada is standard video game stuff, not terribly interesting.  It’s also unclear often whose side the Abstergo minions are on.  The complicated plot (it’s on Wikipedia ) leads to a showdown in London where the Apple is presented and mankind must be saved from being changed into obedient surfs – envisioning a world that crosses between Donald Trump (a convenient coincidence) and Mr. Snow in Hunger Games.  Some autocrats or groups believe that it is their purpose to impose moral on the world (a “final solution”) and remain as combative as necessary to do so.

There’s a good question embedded in the movie:  how could someone experience the memories of another, after some sort of reincarnation?  Is the brain, with the neuronal microtubules  a receptacle for consciousness that already exists?  (link)  If so, is there some link to others through the DNA (through genes) of biological lineage?  That would actually have real significance for “family values”.

Name:  “Assassin’s Creed”
Director, writer:  Justin Kurzel (wr. Michael Leslie, et al)
Released:  2016/12/21
Format:  2.35:1, 3-D
When and how viewed:  Regal Ballston Common, 2016/12/28, late. small audence
Length:  115
Rating:  PG-13
Companies:  20th Century Fox, Regency
Link:  official, game

A comparison could be made to Paolo Barzman’s TV-mini series “The Last Templar”, January 2009 on NBC.  The Templar, of course, appear in Dan Brown’s novels and movies, especially “The Da Vinci Code” (2006).

Wikipedia panorama of Granada, Spain, link.

Wikiepdia picture of Huntsville, TX prison, link.

(Posted: Thursday, Dec. 29, 2016 at 11:30 AM EST)