Monthly Archives: January 2017

The Founder- Ray Kroc builds McDonald’s by being a genius and a McPrick

The Founder is the fascinating story of McDonald’s. In 1954, McDonald’s consisted of 1 hamburger stand and Ray Kroc was a 52 year old milkshake-machine salesman. Today, McDonald’s has 36,615 locations and annual revenues of $24 billion.  Ray Kroc was the man who made that possible. He was a combination of genius, hustler, and smooth-talker. He was also a cold-blooded business shark ready to devour anything or anyone in his way.

Ray Kroc

Ray Kroc

In 1954, Ray Kroc (Michael Keaton) by chance eats at the only McDonald’s in the country. Mac and Dick McDonald (played by Nick Offerman & John Carroll Lynch) have invented something entirely new.  The idea of “fast food” seems very routine to us now, but in 1954 it was revolutionary. Before McDonald’s, there was no way to get a quick lunch. At restaurants and drive-ins of the day it took 20-30 minutes to get even the simplest meal.

Michael Keaton in The Founder

Michael Keaton in The Founder

Ray Kroc immediately understood the potential and was frustrated that the McDonald brothers did not realize what they had . Mac and Dick were perfectly happy running their successful little hamburger stand.  They finally let Ray Kroc talk them into the idea of franchising the system, mainly just to shut Ray up. They really didn’t think expansion would work.

John Carroll Lynch & Nick Offerman as the McDonald brothers

John Carroll Lynch & Nick Offerman as the McDonald brothers

The Founder is the story of how  Ray Kroc built the business and slowly pushed the McDonald brothers out. Ray Kroc wanted it all. The term “The Founder” is what Ray Kroc eventually put on his business cards, despite the fact that he obviously did not found McDonald’s.

B.J. Novak & Michael Keaton in The Founder

B.J. Novak & Michael Keaton in The Founder

Michael Keaton is perfect as Ray Kroc. He is the smiling wolf in sheep’s clothing. B.J. Novak plays Harry J. Sonneborn, the financial wiz-kid who comes up with a revolutionary idea of his own. He shows Kroc that the real money  to be made is from the real estate, not the hamburgers.  He devises a plan for Kroc to own all the land that the franchises are built on, and then making a fortune leasing the land back to the McDonald’s stores.

Kate Kneeland as June Martino

Kate Kneeland as June Martino

Kate Kneeland plays June Martino, who was the loyal assistant to Ray Kroc from the beginning. Her hard work and loyalty paid off  and she eventually became a hugely successful businesswoman, trading stock on the New York Stock Exchange.

Ray Kroc

Ray Kroc

So who was the real Ray Kroc? Was he an American icon who built an empire through hard work, or was he a nasty McPrick willing to take credit for other people’s ideas? The truth is he was both. He did push out the McDonald brothers from their own business and told the world he had invented it all. However, he also made Mac and Dick McDonald rich men. In addition, Ray Kroc provided opportunities for thousands of small entrepreneurs  who did very well buying McDonald franchises.

The Founder is an excellent movie. It is a fascinating look at what has become a worldwide institution. From its lowly beginnings, McDonald’s now feeds 1% of the world’s population every day.

Son of Kong – the classic 1933 bad sequel

If you think the Hollywood “bad sequel” phenomenon is something new, just take a look at the 1933 Son Of Kong. It is so ridiculously bad and cheaply made, it is fun to watch. The 1933 King Kong was such a blockbuster, that RKO rushed out the sequel Son Of Kong the same year.

Today, everyone in  Hollywood knows that  the “magic formula” to a successful sequel is “more sex”, “more violence” and “more spectacular special effects”. Apparently in 1933, RKO had not yet figured this out. Son Of Kong has less of all those elements than the original King Kong.

Helen Mack & Robert Armstrong in "Son Of Kong"

Helen Mack & Robert Armstrong in “Son Of Kong”

Everything about Son Of Kong screams quickly made sequel. For one thing, it is not even a full-length movie . At 1 hour and 10 minutes it is only about 1/2 as long as King Kong.  Despite its short length, Son Of Kong is very slow moving. The film is more than half over before Kong even appears. The special effects are terrible, even by 1933 standards. You never get the feeling that your are watching anything more than tiny models.

Terrible special effects "in Son Of Kong"

Terrible special effects “in Son Of Kong”

People (especially men) loved Fay Wray in the 1933 King Kong. In fact, many “moral authorities” considered Fay Wray’s portal of the damsel in distress just a little too sexy.

Robert Armstrong & Fay Wray in "King Kong" 1933

Robert Armstrong & Fay Wray in “King Kong” 1933

However, Fay Wray is not in Son Of Kong, even in a cameo. Robert Armstrong reprises his role as Carl Denham the promoter, and Frank Reicher returns as Captain Englehorn. So what happened to Fay Wray? Some people say RKO didn’t offer her the part since it did not want the revisit the controversy surrounding her revealing outfits. However, most movie buffs believe that Fay Wray was just too smart to damage her reputation by appearing in this bomb.

"Son Of Kong" - not exactly frightening compared to his father the King

“Son Of Kong” – not exactly frightening compared to his father the King

The biggest disappointment is the Son Of Kong himself. Instead of going for bigger and fiercer than King Kong, RKO went for smaller and clown-like The Son Of Kong is only 11 feet tall, and never attacks people at all. It is mostly like a big friendly dog. There is also no proof ever offered that this creature is in any way actually related to King Kong.

The 1933 Original, and still the best "King Kong"

The 1933 Original, and still the best “King Kong”

Sometimes we wish  there was a law that if a movie has a perfect ending, no one is ever allowed to make a sequel. The original 1933 King Kong had that perfect ending. Kong is shot off the Empire State Building by biplanes and Robert Armstrong says, “It wasn’t the airplanes. It was beauty killed the beast.”

Fay Wray

Fay Wray

So how does Son Of Kong end? Well, Skull Island sinks (that’s right sinks). Son Of Kong gets his foot stuck in a rock and drowns. Not exactly a great moment in film history.

So, if you have a hour to kill and want to have a little fun watching a really bad sequel, check out Son Of Kong. However we recommend you spend the full 2 hours sometime and watch the original King himself.

Patriots Day – a tribute to the people of Boston

Patriots Day was so moving, that when the film was over, a number of people in the theater were openly crying.  The final scenes in the film are interviews with the victims of the Boston Marathon bombing. Some of these people had lost limbs and others mourned the death of loved ones.  All of the victims spoke of hope and courage and love. Not a single one had a message of hatred or revenge.

Boston Marathon bombing - April 15, 2013

Boston Marathon bombing – April 15, 2013

We had not actually planned on seeing Patriots Day. We we going to watch another movie, but when we got to theater the projector showing our movie was broken. Patriots Day was the only other movie playing at the same time, so we got tickets for it.  The reason we did not plan on seeing Patriots Day was that we were afraid that it would  be too exploitative. After all, the Boston Marathon bombing was on April 15, 2013. It seemed too soon to make a movie about it. The wounds were perhaps too fresh to be reopened.

Boston Marathon bombers Tamerlan Tsarnaev (left) and Dzhokhar (right)

Boston Marathon bombers Tamerlan Tsarnaev (left) and his brother  Dzhokhar (right)

However, Patriots Day is not at all exploitative. It follows the events of the bombing and brings to life the tension,  terror and courage of the people of Boston. Like many Americans, we were aware of the basic facts, but did not know all of the details.

The courage of many individuals was amazing. There was Dun Meng (played by Jimmy O. Yang). He is a young  Chinese businessman living in Boston, who was car-jacked by the bombers at gunpoint. After being driven around and threatened repeatedly, he was able to escape from the car and call the police. Most people would have been paralyzed with fear, but somehow Dun Meng had the nerve to open the door and run, when six inches away sat a man with a gun.

Little Martin Richards (circled in blue) who was killed in the bomb blast. The man in the white hat is the bomber, and the bomb is seen lower right

Little Martin Richard (circled in blue) who was killed in the bomb blast. The man in the white hat is the bomber, and the bomb is seen lower right

Sean Collier (played by Jake Picking) was an MIT police officer killed by the bombers who were trying to get his gun. Despite being shot multiple times, he never gave up the gun and the bombers had to flee without it.

There was one very shocking act after the bombing. The younger bomber’s college roommates recognized his picture on T.V. Instead of immediately calling the police to say they knew the bomber, they hid items from his dorm room that would have implicated him in the crime. They later received between 3 and 6 years in prison for obstructing the investigation. That does not seem nearly a long enough punishment.

Marl Wahlberg in Patriots Day

Mark Wahlberg in Patriots Day

Patriots Day could have been improved slightly by focusing less on Mark Wahlberg.  He plays Tommy Saunders, a fictional  character who is a compilation of numerous  Boston Police officers. The problem with combining all those officers into one character is that it made him too much of a Superman.  In the movie, Tommy Saunders was at the finish line when the bombs went off. He also met with Dun Meng, and helped the FBI and was at two separate shootouts with the bombers.  The movie would have been better if the director had used a number of different actors, instead of making this such a star vehicle for Mark Wahlberg.

However, in total, Patriots Day is a great film. It is much too intense for children, and be warned that even many adults will find parts hard to watch.  The film intersperses actual news and surveillance camera footage into the movie, so at some points you feel as if you are watching the events in real time.

Patriots Day is a tribute to all the people of Boston, and they deserve it.

HBO’s “The Young Pope” is so bad it’s a sin

The Young Pope commits the worst sin any T.V. show can make. It is boring. The dullness beings with the opening credits of the first episode, which take 6 minutes to roll by while the New Pope walks in silent slow motion past scowling Cardinals and Nuns. After that, the “action” never really begins. It feels like the whole show is in slow motion, with one interminably long scene after another.

Jude Law as The Young Pope

Jude Law as The Young Pope

The basic concept of The Young Pope is good. The Cardinals select what they think will be a “telegenic puppet” as pope. The old guard at the Vatican thinks they will be able to maintain control of the Roman Catholic Church through this puppet. However, the young pope turns out to be completely uncontrollable, and moves the Church in unexpected directions.Sounds exciting doesn’t it? It should have been. However, the terrible writing and the monotone line delivery by Jude Law (the pope) make the show almost  unwatchable.

Silvio Orlando as Cardinal Voiello

Silvio Orlando as Cardinal Voiello

The bad guy in the series is Cardinal Voiello (Silvio Orlando) who tries unsuccessfully to control the pope. He is a ridiculous stereotype of an evil church figure. He has lustful thought about a naked statue in the pope’s chambers. He is ugly. The makeup people  gave this character an ugly facial mole that is so large it should be credited as it’s own character.  By making this Cardinal bad in every way, the writers have made him very uninteresting. The best bad guys are the most complex and multi-faceted.

The worst character is the Young Pope himself. For one thing, it is inconceivable that this person ever would have been elected pope under any circumstances.  He is supposed to be  47 year-old American Lenny Belardo. (Despite being played by English actor Jude law, who sounds very British in this role).

Lenny Belardo would never have risen in the ranks of the Catholic Church. He is rude to everyone around him, does not seem at all pious, hates being near the general public and has no political skills.

The Catholic Church is one of the world’s oldest and most complex  political institutions. To move up in the ranks takes tremendous skill.  You have to be able to smoothly work with everyone from local parishioners to Bishops to Archbishops and  Cardinals. You have to be able to impress everyone along the way with your skills without ever outwardly seeming ambitious. (Since church officials are supposed to be “humble”).  Lenny Belardo has  none of these abilities . He never would have made it to Monsignor, much less pope.

Rogue Heroes – a fascinating book about the SAS in World War II

Rogue Heroes by Ben MacIntyre is a fascinating story  of the British unit in World War II which created an entirely new way of fighting the Nazis. It reads more like an action novel than a history book, except that all the characters and action sequences really happened.

The SAS (Strategic Air Service) was the brainchild of David Sterling, a young British Lieutenant who was more known for his  parties, drinking  and lack of discipline than his military skills. He felt that the middle ranks of the British Army had no imagination whatsoever, and were still trying to use tactics from World War I.

Jock McDiarmid and his SAS team o a raid in the North African desert

Jock McDiarmid and his SAS team o a raid in the North African desert

Lieutenant Sterling envisioned a small group of highly trained soldiers which would  strike the German air bases in North Africa using hit-and-run guerrilla  tactics. This concept may seem common-place on today’s battlefields, but at the outset of World War II, this was a brand-new concept. At the time, commanders were still relying solely on full scale frontal assaults.  As a result, the traditional Army men were very hostel  to Sterling’s concepts.

Author Ben MacIntyre (left) & SAS founder David Stirling (right)

Author Ben MacIntyre (left) & SAS founder David Stirling (right)

In fact, Sterling probably never would have gotten a chance to try out his ideas, except for one thing. David Sterling came from a very upper class British family, and in those days, class was still  important- even in the Army. Sterling got invited to dinners with various high ranking officers, where he used the opportunity to present his plan to command generals. He was able to skip the middle-rank bureaucracy which normally would have prevented any general from seeing such a wild scheme.

The SAS in World War II

The SAS in World War II

At the time, the war was not going well for the British in North Africa. Rommel was beating back the British forces and it looked like the Germans would soon drive the British out entirely. The British generals sanctioned the SAS and gave Sterling men and equipment. The British high command did not really think the idea would work, but at this point they were willing to try anything that could possibly hurt Rommel. If the SAS  worked it would be great. If it did not, then the few men lost (killed) was very considered very minor.

The SAS did succeed beyond everyone’s wildest dreams.  The men worked in small teams that lived far out in the desert. The Germans were not expecting attacks to come from the desert since they did not think it was possible for any troops to stay in the desert for long periods of time.

With small teams of men, the SAS was able to sneak onto the German airfields and plant bombs on planes. Over the course of a few months, the SAS has destroyed hundreds of aircraft.

Rogue Heroes gives fascinating details. For example the very name “SAS” had started out as the name of a fictitious unit, long before there was an actual group. A British intelligence officer had been giving the task of creating false intelligence reports to confuse the Germans. He came up with the impressive sounding  name “Strategic Air Services”, and started rumors that this was a gigantic force which would be parachuting in to attack Rommel’s men. This larger than life fictitious unit existed long before there were any real soldiers to go along with it. Throughout the war British Intelligence continued to create false reports to make the SAS appear many times larger than it really was.

In fact,  the psychological impact of the SAS on the German troops was one of the main successes of the group.  The SAS hit and run tactics behind German lines made the German troops worry that they were never safe no matter where they were.

When the war in North Africa was won, the SAS moved to Europe and continued its work. This is where the war became even nastier.  They were so successful that Hitler himself had taken notice of them. He issued his infamous “Commando Order”. This directed that anyone found operating behind German front lines was to be immediately executed, even if in uniform and surrendering. In addition, the Gestapo carried out reprisal executions of French civilians every time there was an SAS raid.

There is one shameful period in SAS history that Ben MacIntyre left out of the book. In the 1970s-1980s the British used the SAS in Northern Ireland as murder squads to kill members of the IRA without trial. On the one hand, the British claimed that all people in Northern Ireland were British citizens. However, the SAS was given instructions to “shoot on sight” any leaders of the IRA even if they were unarmed. No capture or trial. On other occasions, the SAS did not do the killings itself, but provided intelligence to Ulster Loyalists who then carried out attacks on Catholic civilians. Even today, this period of SAS history has been conveniently swept under the rug.

Ben MacIntyre is an excellent writer, and makes history come alive. He focuses on the individual men of the SAS and we get to know these unique personalities on a first name basis.  Of course, this makes parts of Rogue Heroes very sad. War is not a game, and a high percentage of SAS men were killed due to the large amount of combat they were in.  Rogue Heroes is a real tribute to these men. It has the respect to treat these men not as superhuman, but as real people who made extraordinary sacrifices.

We highly recommend Rogue Heroes, and hope you enjoy it as much as we did.

Live By Night – Ben Affleck’s disappointing gangster film

Live By Night is a disjointed gangster film that is a lot of different movies all mashed together with no main plot. Elle Fanning is superb, but unfortunately her character is only in the movie for about 15 minutes.  Ben Affleck seems to think that just having a lot of Tommy-gun shootouts, car crashes and goons in fancy suits makes a good gangster film.  However, the audience also has to know enough about a character to care who gets killed.

It feels like Live by Night is a series of short movies that don’t really connect to each other. In this 2 hour film, there are at least  5 different plots. As a result, the movie does not spend enough time on any of them. As soon as the audience starts to get interested in one subject, Live By Night suddenly switches gears and goes in a different direction.  Just for fun, let’s list the plots in order of appearance.

  • Ben Affleck is Boston native Joe Coughlin, the son of the Assistant Police Commissioner.  Joe goes off the fight in World War I and comes home violent and disillusioned. He therefore turns to crime. The jaded WWI vet idea  has been done much better in other venues, most recently in the HBO series Boardwalk Empire.
Emma Gould & Ben Affleck looking bored in "Live By Night".

Emma Gould & Ben Affleck looking as  bored as the audience  in “Live By Night”.

  • Joe Coughlin becomes a Boston gangster. The Irish and Italian mobs are at war, and Joe is being recruited by both sides. At the same time, he is having an affair with the Irish mobster’s girlfriend Sienna (played by Emma Gould).  This is compete plagiarism of the plot of Miller’s Crossing.
Ben Affleck in one of his gangster suits in "Live By Night"

Ben Affleck in one of his gangster suits in “Live By Night”

  • Just when you get set to watch the rest of the Miller’s Crossing remake, Live By Night suddenly changes venues to Florida. It becomes a love story with Joe seducing the beautiful sister of the Cuban crime boss who controls the rum business. Zoe Saldana is Graciela, who says she has no interest in Joe, then immediately goes to bed with him.  Their love story is completely rushed and the two of them seem to have no on-screen chemistry.
Zoe Saldana & Ben Affleck in "Live by Night"

Zoe Saldana & Ben Affleck in “Live by Night”

  • Then, out of nowhere, the KKK shows up and Joe becomes a freedom fighter. He is no longer a murdering gangster, but actually a guy who is really just providing good jobs  for African and Cuban Americans. Apparently this is not a gangster film but actually a story about civil rights in the 1930s. Joe makes a number of pious speeches about giving hard working people a break.  However, these lectures  all fall flat when we know that he is a ruthless killer who has never felt a second of remorse for anyone he murdered.
Elle Fanning in "Live By Night"

Elle Fanning in “Live By Night”

  • The final and most interesting foe which Joe has to face is the young Evangelical preacher Loretta Figgis (Elle Fanning) . She is a “fallen woman” who has come back to Florida to fight the evils of Liquor, Drugs and Gambling. Of course, these are all the industries that make money for Joe Coughlin. He finds that she is much tougher than anyone he has fought before. If he simply kills Loretta it will only make her a martyr and the backlash will destroy his empire. Joe also likes and admires Loretta very much. Despite her past, there is a pure an innocent beauty about her. She is probably the only person Joe has ever met who is completely honest and who wants nothing for herself. She genuinely believes in her cause.

Live By Night should have skipped the other plot lines and focused entirely on the contest between the gangster and the beautiful evangelical preacher.  There is one wonderful scene in the movie where Joe Coughlin and Loretta meet by chance in a cafe, and Loretta honestly shares her deepest thoughts with Joe. He realizes that Loretta is something he has never known existed before. A genuinely good person.

However, we see Loretta for only a fraction of the film. The rest of Live by Night is filled up with car chases and exceedingly long gun battles. There is so much machine gun fire between guys wearing fancy suits that it quickly becomes impossible to tell who is who. They just become anonymous gangsters that we don’t care about.

We know that Ben Affleck can make a great movie. Unfortunately Live by Night is not one of them.

THE DOSSIER – a 1984 novel with an eerie similarity to Trump’s “dossier”

The Dossier is a 1984 novel where secrets about a major political figure are contained in a hidden dossier. Today there are reports that Trump’s secrets are tucked away in a dossier held by the Russians.  The Dossier was written by Pierre Salinger and Leonard Gross. Pierre Salinger was well-versed in political intrigue, having been President Kennedy’s press secretary.  The main character of The Dossier is Andre Kohl, the news chief of a U.S. T.V. network. Of course, Andre is a thinly disguised version of Salinger himself.

Street mural spoofing the Putin-Trump "Bromance"

Street mural spoofing the Putin-Trump “Bromance”

The Dossier explores the ethical dilemma  faced by any American  reporter who discovers information that might be damaging to Unites States interests.  How do you weigh the responsibility to show the truth against the potential damage that revealing the truth might cause?

In The Dossier, the French are about to finally elect a President who is very pro-U.S. It seems like he will win by a landslide. He is handsome, well spoken and a war hero. During World War II he was the leader of a French Resistance group.

The Dossier written in 1984

The Dossier written in 1984

However, through his contacts in the intelligence community, Andre begins to hear rumors that there may be a dossier about the French political candidate. Supposedly the dossier contains proof that the candidate was no war hero. In fact, he was actually a Nazi collaborator.

There is a secret war going on to find this dossier. The Soviets want to find and publish it so as to keep a pro-American Frenchman from being elected. The CIA wants to find and destroy all evidence of the dossier. Andre wants the dossier for news purposes, but is not sure what he will do if he actually finds it. Throughout all this, no one is really sure if this mythical dossier really exists.

John Kennedy and Pierre Salinger

John Kennedy and Pierre Salinger

The parallels to the current situation in the United States are amazing. It is rumored that Russia has a dossier containing devastating information about President-elect Trump and are going to use it to blackmail Trump  into favoring Russia in foreign policy. Trump and Russia deny the dossier’s existence. Reporters throughout the world are desperately trying to find the dossier.

The plot of The Dossier is interesting, although the writing is not particularly good.  It has way too many detective novel cliches, and the love story wedged into it is not very romantic or believable.

From a modern perspective, there is also one major flaw in the plot. It is assumed that the dossier has to actually be found to destroy the career of the political candidate. If recent  elections have shown us anything, it is that you do not actually need to have proof of anything  to destroy someone’s reputation.  You simply have to fuel a negative  rumor.

The Soviets could have destroyed the candidate by simply going public with the allegations that the French candidate had been a Nazi collaborator. They then could have truthfully demonstrated that intelligence agencies and news organizations throughout Europe were looking for the dossier.  Even if there was no dossier, the fact that everyone was looking for it would have wrecked the French politician’s career forever.

Perhaps the most interesting thing about The Dossier is that it demonstrates how much the press and politics have changed since 1984.  Everyone in the book just assumes that the dossier had to be found and verified as real before anything could be revealed to the general public.

In today’s world, no one would wait to find actual proof before releasing a “story”. The days of proof and verification are long  dead. Today the battles are fought with rumors, half-truths, and false news stories. If a real story happens to exist underneath, that is merely coincidence.

The Dossier is still  worth reading for the story and more so for the historical perspective it brings to current events.

Fences – a good play but a mediocre movie

Denzel Washington’s adaptation of Fences turned a good play into a mediocre movie. Ironically, the problem is that he did not change the play  enough. He simply “filmed a play”. Fences does not come across well on the big screen. A small set and extended soliloquies work well on a stage, where an audience feels it is  sharing an intimate moment with the actors. However, on a huge screen, extreme close-ups, long speeches and no movement makes the audience feel bored and claustrophobic. Movies work best when the audience is shown a story instead of just having actors tell a story.

Denzel Washington & Viola Davis in Fences

Denzel Washington & Viola Davis in Fences

Fences is set in  Pittsburgh in 1956 and is the story of Troy  (Denzel Washington), a middle-age garbage man who is bitter with the way his his life has turned out. Supposedly he was a great baseball player in the Negro League, but was too old to make the transition to the Major Leagues when they became desegregated. As the film progresses we learn that this is not exactly the whole truth.

Jovan Adepo as Cory in Fences

Jovan Adepo as Cory in Fences

Almost all of the movie takes place in the backyard. Troy is supposedly building a fence, but spends most of his time lecturing his family and friends about how hard he works and how they are not living their lives properly. The main target of Troy’s wrath is is his son Cory (Jovan Adepo) Cory has the chance to get a football scholarship to college, but Troy is against that.

Denzel Washington and Stephen Henderson in Fences

Denzel Washington and Stephen Henderson in Fences

Troy is not capable of accepting that things have changed for African-Americans. Troy wants Cory to forget about college and instead learn a trade. Throughout Fences, it is never really clear if Troy is just trying to give advice, or if he is jealous that Cory is being given opportunities that Troy never had. The basic plot is good and the acting is superb.  We learn about Troy’s history in bits and pieces, and the more we learn the more complex a character he becomes.

However, you never get over the feeling that you are just watching a videotape of a play. There are far too many long speeches, and it feels like the entire movie is about 15 minutes too long. Fences should have had  scenes showing us what was happening to Troy instead of having Troy talk about them after the fact.

Mykelti Williamson in Fences

Mykelti Williamson in Fences

For example, we hear that Troy complained to the union that all the men lifting up the trashcans were black and all the drivers of the garbage trucks were white. Troy  was then ordered  to come before the bosses of the company. Troy  thought he was going to get fired, but instead he was promoted to be a truck driver.  That would have been a powerful scene to see. However, we don’t see it. We just get Troy standing in the backyard telling us about it.

The movie also drops some plot lines for no reason. When Troy gets promoted to driver, Troy’s friend Jim (Stephen Henderson) asks Troy how he will be able to drive when Troy does not have  driver’s license and does not know how to read.  But Troy becomes a driver with no problem and the issue is never brought up again. So why was it even mentioned in the first place?

Viola Davis plays Troy’s long suffering wife Rose, who faces each day with intense dignity. Mykelti Williamson is Troy’s brain-damaged brother Gabriel and gives an award-worthy performance.

Overall Fences in an interesting film, but could could have been so much better. The writer of the play, August Wilson also did the movie script, but did not live to see the completed film.  Perhaps Denzel Washington felt it would be disrespectful to make too many changes. But film is a different medium than the stage, and requires a different technique for the audience to get the most out of the work.

Young Ones – Jake Paltrow’s powerful Sci-Fi film

Young Ones, written and directed by Jake Paltrow , is a vision of a drought-stricken future in  which water has become a precious commodity worth killing for.  There have been many sci-films of people struggling in a bleak future, but what makes Young Ones superior is the superb acting of the mostly young cast.

Elle Fanning in Young Ones

Elle Fanning in Young Ones

Elle Fanning is Mary Holm, miserably  stuck on the dust bowel farm her father refuses to leave. She and her brother Jerome (Kodi Smit-McPhee) lead a bleak existence in a desert that was once beautiful farmland. Their father Ernest (Michael Shannon) pig-headily believes that he will somehow be able to earn  enough money to get  irrigation to the property.

Elle Fanning & Nicholas Hoult in Young Ones

Elle Fanning & Nicholas Hoult in Young Ones

Mary dreams of running away with her boyfriend Flem (Nicholas Hoult). Mary hates her father so much that she is blind to the fact that Flem is really nothing more than a self-centered evil person.  Mary’s father sees right through Flem but, of course, Mary does not want to hear anything from her father. (Apparently even in the future young women still do not listen to their father’s advice when it comes to men).

Aimee Mulling & Kodi Smit-McPhee in Young Ones

Aimee Mullins & Kodi Smit-McPhee in Young Ones

One of the best performances in the Young Ones is from Aimee Mullins who plays the kids’ quadriplegic mother Katherine. She can only move with the help of machines, yet she provides the tenderness that is so desperately missing in the lives of her children. She can only speak in a whisper, yet you can see how much it pains her that she does not have the physical strength to help her children.

Aimee Mullins- fashion model, world class athlete & actor

Aimee Mullins- fashion model, world class athlete & actor

Of course, Aimee Mullins herself is no stranger to physical adversity. She was born with Fibular Hemifelia (missing fibula bones) and had both legs amputated below the knees at age one. Despite this, Aimee went on to athletic success, with specially designed running legs. Aimee also is a fashion model and an actress in many films.

Michael Shannon and robotic mule in Young Ones

Michael Shannon and robotic mule in Young Ones

Alex McGregor is “Sooz” a young mother who might have to make the ultimate sacrifice to sell her own baby just to get enough food and water to survive.

Alex McGregor & Elle Fanning on the set of Young Ones

Alex McGregor & Elle Fanning on the set of Young Ones

Kodi Smit-McPhee is Jerome, the youngest member of the family. Despite his young age and slight build, Jerome takes on the responsibility of becoming the tough leader. His character is heroic in the true sense of the word. Jerome’s only goal is to do what is needed for the family.

We recommend Young Ones, even for people who do not normally watch science fiction. Even in the future, after all, the character of the people and the choices they make  will still matter far more than the technology of the machines.

The Art Forger – book review

The Art Forger by B. A. Shapiro is a fascinating novel about a beautiful young artist in Boston who makes a Faustian deal  to create and sell a forgery of a world famous masterpiece by Degas. The Art Forger raises the question of what makes a painting valuable. If a forger can create a piece identical to the “masterpiece” then why is the original artist considered great and the forger a pariah?

B.A. Shapiro author of The Art Forger

B.A. Shapiro author of The Art Forger

The Art Forger’s plot has intertwining mysteries of the present and past. It is a great detective novel, and also ends up educating the reader about the intricacies of the legal and illegal art world. For example, we learn of the great Dutch forger Hans van Meegeren, who sold forged paintings to the Nazis during World War II.

After the war, van Meegeren was charged with treason, for selling stolen Dutch masterpieces to Nazis. To defend himself, he had to prove the paintings were  actually his forgeries, and the only people he had betrayed were the Nazis. To prove his innocence, he had to reveal his techniques in detail in open court.  For the art world, this may not have been a good thing. Hans van Meegeren’s testimony was like a training manual for up and coming art forgers throughout the world. His methods were so ingenious that they are still followed by all modern forgers.

Hans van Meegeren on trial for selling stolen paintings to Nazis

Hans van Meegeren on trial for selling stolen paintings to Nazis

Claire Roth is a struggling Boston artist who is given a proposition by the city’s leading gallery owner, Aiden Markel. If Claire will create a forgery of a Degas piece, Aiden will give her a large amount of money and an exclusive show at his gallery for her own works. He is offering her fortune and a high place in the rarefied art society world.  The fact that Claire and Aiden also have an immediate sexual attraction to each other makes the deal irresistible.

Claire creates a wonderful Degas, following Han van Meegeren’s techniques. B.A. Shaprio describes this in fascinating detail which is enjoyable to read, even for those of us who know nothing about art.  Of course, creating a forgery is one thing. Selling it without getting arrested or even killed is quite another.

one of Degas' After The Bath paintings

one of Degas’ After The Bath paintings

Claire soon discovers that when she crosses the line from artist to forger, she enters an environment for which she is completely unprepared. The police, FBI, high society and even some very violent people take a dim view of art forgers. She is, after all, just a poor young woman in Boston, with nothing to protect herself except her vast knowledge of art and her exceptional talent.

We do not want to give too much away, for fear of spoiling the book. Suffice it to say that, we highly recommend The Art Forger, and hope you enjoy it as much as we did.

6 reasons Channel Awesome Is Great

Channel Awesome is a low budget internet “network” with original shows like The Nostalgic Critic, Some Jerk With A Camera, The Angry Joe Show, The Cinema Snob. As the names indicate, these are not exactly high- budget Hollywood productions, or even independent “artistic”  films. For the most part, the shows on Channel Awesome are people talking into a video camera about things they like and don’t like. Despite that, here are the reasons we think Channel Awesome is great.

  • Channel Awesome directly challenges YouTube. For a long time,  people who  wanted to post videos online and try to make some money found that YouTube was the only game in town. Play by their rules or YouTube pulls your video.  YouTube is famous for taking down videos for “copyright infringement” of a movie, even though it is perfectly legal for a reviewer to show a short clip of a film. Rumors are that major movie studios secretly pay YouTube to delete videos that give bad reviews to a film.
Brad Jones - The Cinema Snob

Brad Jones – The Cinema Snob

  • The shows are so silly they are fun. For example, Brad Jones has a series where he reviews foods. However, Brad is not The Master Chef. Brad is not filming the latest creation in an upscale Soho restaurant.  Instead, Brad reviews foods like The Halloween Burger at Burger King, or the world’s spiciest potato chip.  A lot of his reviews are filmed in his car in the parking lot of whatever fast food place he is reviewing. The honesty of his food reviews  is refreshing. Let’s face it, most Americans eat a lot of their meals at fast food places, and often consume the food in the car. It’s about time we had a show reviewing the junk most of us regularly eat.
Lindsay Ellis- formerly The Nostalgia Chick

Lindsay Ellis- formerly The Nostalgia Chick

  • New Talent gets presented.  Talented, but unknown, actors get to appear in skits or movie spoofs and have their skills seen by thousands of viewers. For example, Malcolm Ray has a recurring  comedy role as the Devil on The Nostalgic Critic. He is joined by Tamara Chambers who has spoofed a number of characters including Wonder Woman.
Malcolm Ray - actor on Channel Awesome famous for playing The Devil

Malcolm Ray – actor on Channel Awesome famous for playing The Devil

  • Channel Awesome gives us all hope of becoming video stars. The shows are so low budget and sometimes so stupid that you just have to say, “Hell I could have done that!” In fact, after some episodes you will be tempted to run down to Best Buy and get your own video camera to start a show. Instead of sitting at a desk reviewing invoices, wouldn’t you like to make money filming yourself eating cheese fries and reviewing them online?
Tamara Chambers - actress on Channel Awesome

Tamara Chambers – actress on Channel Awesome

  • Channel Awesome is an American Success Story. It is great to see a new idea succeed. The three founders, Mike Michaud, Mike Ellis and Bhargav Dronamraju, started the company in  2008 when they all lost their jobs at Circuit City.  The demise of Circuit City turned out to be the push they needed to try doing something new. Creating success out of a failure is, after all, the classic Horatio Alger story. It is made even better by the fact that the internet vehicle  they created now allows many other people to try to succeed at their own dreams.
Doug Walker - The Nostalgia Critic - (formerly That Guy With Glasses)

Doug Walker – The Nostalgia Critic – (formerly That Guy With Glasses)

  • The viewers are a part of the shows. Channel Awesome is still in its infancy and we predict that in 10 years it may have morphed into a major power on the internet. But we love watching it now, when it is still low-budget and ridiculous. The fact that sometimes the people don’t actually know what they are doing  adds to the enjoyment. It makes the people on the shows seem more like our  friends than “celebrities” we are watching.  This must be how audiences felt  in the early days of Television.  Viewers can comment and get a personal response from the actor or show creator. Shows are changed due to viewer’s responses. Its like watching a minor league baseball team. They may not be the best athletes in the world but they are your team.

Editors note: This post was written in January 2017, before the recent allegations of sexual harassment and  unfair business practices at Channel Awesome came to light. While we have no direct knowledge of any of the charges, they are very troubling. It is quite possible that Channel Awesome itself might soon go the way of Weinstein Entertainment.

Is Amazon Echo’s Alexa Spying on You? – The police say “yes”.

Is Amazon Echo’s Alexa secretly recording everything that happens in your home and reporting it to Amazon? The police say “Yes”. They have subpoenaed  Amazon in a murder investigation for Echo’s data, and Amazon has refused to comply. What is Amazon afraid of?

James Bates whose Amazon Echo may send to prison

James Bates – his Amazon Echo may have recorded him committing murder.

Victor Collins was murdered in the hot tub of James Bates on the Night of November 22, 2015. Bentonville Arkansas police think that the Amazon Echo device in the home may have heard and recorded the event. Amazon refuses to confirm or deny the possibility.

Victor Collins - murdered in a hot tub in Bentonville Arkansas

Victor Collins – murdered in a hot tub in Bentonville Arkansas – “Alexa who killed him?”

That is a very strange assumption on the part of the police. The Amazon Echo is just supposed to answer your questions when you begin a sentence with the word “Alexa.” Something like “Alexa. What is the temperature?”.  Amazon has never mentioned anything about Echo keeping permanent records, or even doing anything unless the magic word “Alexa” is spoken.

So why doesn’t Amazon just say to the police, “We can’t help you. Our device does not record what happens in people’s homes and we don’t have any such records.” Instead, Amazon has refused answer any questions about Echo’s capability.

Search Warrant document related to Amazon Echo

Search Warrant document related to Amazon Echo

You do not have to be paranoid to wonder what Amazon is trying to hide. If, in fact, the Amazon Echo can help solve the murder, then that would mean that those friendly devices are actually recording everything in your home  24/7. It also means permanent records are being kept. In 1984, George Orwell thought the television set would be doing that job. It turns out instead, that a cute little cylinder nicknamed “Alexa” is doing the task.

Victor Collins and some other men spent the evening watching football at Bates’ home. Bates claimed that he went to bed early and Collins and the other guys stayed late. The next morning Collins was dead in the outdoor hot tub. At first, it was assumed he had been drunk and drowned. However, an autopsy showed that he had been strangled and forcefully held underwater until he died.  Forensics also showed that a hose had been used to wash blood off the deck near the hot tub.

Police have already been successful with some computer evidence in the murder. Victor Collins’ house was equipped with a “smart water meter”, which electronically records how much water is used and when. This smart meter showed that on the night of the murder a large amount of water was used in the middle of the night. This could be consistent with someone hosing blood off the deck around the hot tub.

Amazon is in the ultimate “lose-lose” scenario. If they admit they can help, then they are telling people world-wide that Amazon has been secretly recording every private moment in their homes. If Amazon continues to stonewall, they could be helping a murderer go free just to save their corporate bottom line.

Of course,  this could just be the opening of the floodgates. If Alexa can “testify” in a murder case, what about divorce proceedings or child custody hearings?  Will Brad Pitt subpoena the Amazon Echo in the home he used to share with Angelina Jolie? She says Brad was a bad parent.  Could he use the Amazon Echo recordings to show he was always nice and kind to the kids?

Orwell's advice that Amazon should take note of

Orwell’s advice that Amazon should take note of

We certainly do not mean to make light of this.  In all the theoretical discussions about what Amazon should do, the forgotten man is the murder victim Victor Collins. He suffered a terrible death with someone grabbing him by the neck and holding him under hot water until life left him. Amazon should help the suffering of his family by coming clean and telling the world what Alexa does or does not know.

So in 2017, the Sci-Fi future Orwell warned us about has fully arrived. If you have some deep secret you need to share, don’t mention it near your computerized friend. You can’t trust her.

Passengers- a terrific Sci-Fi movie but you may hate the ending and despise 1 character you are supposed to like

Passengers is a terrific Sci-Fi movie, but you may hate the ending and despise one character you are supposed to like. Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt are wonderful together, but the writer Jon Spaihts took the easy path at every turn.  As you can see, we are trying to review Passengers  without spoiling it, which is difficult to achieve. We liked Passengers, and it is definitely  worth seeing on the big screen to get the full impact of the scenes in outer space.

Chris Pratt & Jennifer Lawrence in Passengers

Chris Pratt & Jennifer Lawrence in Passengers

In Passengers, the spaceship Avalon is taking a  120 year journey to another world (Homestead II). There are 5,000 passengers and 250 crew members in suspended animation. After a malfunction, Chris Pratt (Jim) comes out of hibernation. Once year later Aurora (Jennifer Lawrence) is also awake.  There is no way to go back into suspended animation and the ship will not arrive that the new planet for another 80 years.

Michael Sheen as a bar-tending robot in Passengers

Michael Sheen as a bar-tending robot in Passengers

For the year that Chris is the only one awake on the huge space ship he spends half his time trying to figure out how to get back into hibernation and the rest of the time trying to keep busy to not go insane. His only companion is a bar-tending robot named Arthur (Michael Sheen) This part of the film has some very funny scenes, reminiscent of the T.V. show The Last Man On Earth, complete with Jim growing a ridiculous beard.

nnifer Lawrence in Passengers

Jennifer Lawrence in Passengers

When Aurora is awakened, Passengers becomes a sort of Adam and Eve love story.  Of course, it is very convenient that the only two people awake are probably the two best looking people on the entire ship.  Still, it does have romantic quality. Jim and Aurora take advantage of all the ship has to offer, from lavish meals served by robots, to spacewalks outside the ship.

Lawrence Fishburn in Passengers

Lawrence Fishburn in Passengers

However, the spaceship continues to deteriorate and a crew member also wakes up. Gus (Lawrence Fishburn) is a technical chief and diagnoses how quickly  the ship is dying and what must be done to save it.

This is where we must stop so as to not ruin the movie. Passengers does have many astoundingly good scenes the make it worth going to see.  At one point Aurora is swimming in a pool when the artificial gravity fails. She suddenly finds herself trapped and drowning in the center of a floating ball of water.

The acting is great and despite being a big budget Sci-Fi film, it really only has four characters. This allows for in depth character development.  There is also very obvious on-screen chemistry between Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence.  They are excellent as a couple in love.

However, there is a very disturbing moral choice made by one of the characters, and the ending is also unsatisfying. We wish that the writer, Jon Spaihts,  had taken more risks instead of going so “Hollywood” . The initial concept is great, but then he takes too many shortcuts.