Do You Trust This Computer?

DATELINE: Person of Interest?

Nolan Auteur Jonathan Nolan!

It’s a loaded question, perhaps more nefarious than asking whether you still belittle women in the ERA of #Metooism! (jk omitted in earlier version).

A documentary on the doomsday likelihood that artificial intelligence is already here may be a self-fulfilling prophecy. It does not stop the filmmaker from stacking the deck.

Do You Trust This Computer features a couple of the brainiest culture commentators—and a gaggle of AI experts from Sanford and MIT.

Elon Musk (of Mars colonization fame) and Jonathan Nolan (creator of Person of Interest and Westworld, two of the most intelligent computers on the tube) offer extraordinary insights.

Nolan is so handsome that it almost seems unfair that he is brilliant too.

If you need villains, you can find them on your devices: Facebook and Google, both of whom are working on super intelligent computers that may endanger humankind.

As one observer notes, psychometrics means that computer are already able to tell your intelligence, religion, sexual orientation, and politics, from facial recognition. In the hands of dictators, or even a Trump, this could prove frightful.

An expert notes that artificial intelligence is the true psychopath: no conscience or morality to stop it from fulfilling every mission.

Autonomous robots are already out there in killer drones. If you are the target, you are dead meat. War will make AI public enemy #1. Medical robots may decide who lives and dies, as humans begin to lose all skills that have been usurped by artificially intelligent creatures.

As people come to rely on these monsters, they will have fewer skills to combat the AI abuses. They are already winning at Jeopardy, chess, and other games, years ahead of schedule.

Androids will soon look like us and have no foibles.

Do you trust your computer? It’s already too late to be suspicious if we are to believe this documentary.

Advertisements

Gilligan’s Island Manifesto

DATELINE: Commie Plot on Deserted Isle

cast your fate

Never kid a kidder.

Well, this documentary takes the bizarre position that a moronic, if not sophomoric, TV series Gilligan’s Island was a communist plot to brainwash American children.

Of course, this could all be a case of mistaken identity, or Swiftian satire. File this Twilight Zone film under the heading The Gilligan Manifesto. It is nearly compelling and convincing that lessons of Karl Marx were open secrets of the plots. After all, the island is community property.

Creator Sherwood Schwartz admits that his original dramatic idea was to put a group of nuclear holocaust survivors on an island but found the comedic approach more agreeable.

When you combined a skipper without a boat, a professor without a college, a millionaire without a bank, and a movie star without celebrity, you had downgraded everyone to equal status. Add to the mix a worker from the proletariat, in the form of benighted Gilligan, and you have communist lesson plans.

You may wonder where and what Edgar Hoover was doing the years this series was top of the ratings after the Cuban Missile Crisis.

Episodes routinely satirized money, government, judicial systems, police, and religious values. Yes, the clips bear it out. Actress Dawn Wells, the last survivor, admits no one had a clue about this in the 1960s.

The film gives a background of nuclear horror: from Robert Oppenheimer’s ominous platitudes to a series of trailer clips from every 1950s movie that dealt with shipwrecked souls on islands and small bands of apocalyptic survivors trying to rebuild civilization. And, there were plenty of such movies.

The entire enterprise has a lip-smacking, tongue-in-cheek quality. The Gilligan Manifesto is pure Marx (Groucho, Harpo & Karl).

That’s Dah-veed to You, David!

DATELINE:  Bloody Marat!

David & Death of Maratmarat

 

Jacques-Louis David may be at the top of a short list of great French painters of an ilk.

Alas, this documentary pegs him all too accurately for the slime-ball he was, despite his fabulous technique. Be warned: this documentary is in French—which makes the sleaze sound all the more elegant.

David & the Death of Marat deals with the most famous painting of the French Revolution’s Reign of Terror. You know, the period where they chopped off heads with aplomb.

David was one of the ring-leaders, voting to kill King Louis and his wife Marie Antoinette. He was a political advocate of assassination—unless it hit too close to home.

It seems Jean Marat, the journalist agitator, was a friend of David. He was upset when a monarchist defender, Charlotte Corday, knifed the writer in his bath (he was soaking his rotting skin).

She was, of course, another historical victim to be handed her head.

David took a while for his propaganda to coalesce. Most painters wanted to depict the rotting corpse of the martyr Marat. David was smarter, and portrayed a man serene in his death, writing for the masses.

It was a brilliant work, leaving out the more sympathetic Corday and putting focus on dead Marat with his carotid artery spliced with a dagger.

Simplicity ruled, and the picture became famous, but David’s hypocrisy for the little people seemed misplaced. He became Napoleon’s court painter—and later hid his works among his aristocratic friends (the ones he did not vote to behead).

This extraordinary documentary shows contemporary French art experts delighted with the guillotine even today. Illuminating little hour.

Wyatt Earp: Brave, Courageous, and Bold?

DATELINE:  American Experience PBS

Not the Real Earp

The American Experience TV series on PBS did not delve into the hundreds of film portrayals of Wyatt Earp during their hour-long documentary. That might have extended the show to two hours. It is simply the life of Wyatt Earp.

There are no clips from the TV series, or the John Ford movies. The OK Corral stuff is covered, probably because it could not be avoided. It’s given no emblematic quality, nor meaningful symbolism, other than as a chaotic gunfight.

You might be more surprised at how often his name was misspelled over the years in print.

The biography features many, many photographs, many of which may never have been seen by fans of the Western hero.

He was one of those legends who walks on both sides of the law, and it may be hard to excuse his vindictive streak. He went after enemies with obsession.

Ultimately living until 1929 in Los Angeles, he wanted a movie to exculpate his reputation. These would arrive in spades, but only after he died a disappointed old man.

The final decades of his life were spent in endless travel—from Alaska to the middle-America, where he tried his hand at running saloons. That was not far from his youthful endeavors, when he was bouncer at a series of brothels and took up with an endless supply of prostitutes.

Handsome, taciturn, and a loner, he invariably had fallings-out with family, brothers, and even Doc Holliday. He was a hard man, exactly what you might expect from the epitome of a Western hero.

The documentary is not moving, nor special, with the usual

The Hard Way Made Easy

DATELINE: Little Known Classic

McGoohan & Van Cleef Old Stars Die Hard!

It comes across as a movie made for British TV, but The Hard Way is easily a thoughtful and careful drama.

The stars are the mainspring of this film:  you have a chance to see Lee Van Cleef play an American mobster with Irish ties, and his assassin Patrick McGoohan. What a treat to find these aging legends together in a taut character drama.

Since the film is set in and made in 1979, the two stars are about 15 years past their prime.

As a consequence, both stars look like extremely tired versions of their middle-aged selves. They are not quite old, but soon will be there. The film has long been unavailable in the United States, but now can be streamed from Prime.

As we all know, Patrick McGoohan made a career out of playing some kind of British secret agent with a license to kill, whether he was The Prisoner or Danger Man.  And, here he is not too far afield as Connor, a secret mob hitman.

Van Cleef was more at home on the range but seems not too far removed when he visits McGoohan’s bleak, spartan cottage in the rural wilds of Ireland. In seclusion, far from family, McGoohan’s noir hero stays alone, apart from close contacts for miles, but the depressing little house has electricity in some miraculous fashion.

Van Cleef will force his enforcer to kill again by some dint of personal loyalty. It is not a case of enthusiastic friendship, and their scenes together are fascinating in the politesse of criminal etiquette.

John Boorman produced this film, which was done in Ireland entirely as a modern film noir with redeeming moments of stunning silence. The sense of bleak coldness is palpable.

The film is a treat for aficionados, more akin to a LeCarre story.

Cursed Oak Island 6.5: Treading Water

DATELINE:  Hold Your Horses & Other Pauses

avast there, matey! Buried Treasure ?

We now interrupt this empty episode for more commercial messages on Curse of Oak Island for the fifth episode of the sixth season.

Yes, there is no golden banana under the drilling. The core samples seem to indicate that there are wooden beams over 100 feet down in two new segments for the drilling. No news is not bad news.

This is a no-show week, with progress reports on various angles of treasure hunting, including putting in a retaining wall at one of the coves. It is an eyesore for sure, but will allow excavation to learn if booby traps were placed at this point for a tunnel system throughout the island.

However, this week’s show is highly repetitive, with self-congratulations and fat middle-aged men in repeated hugs with each other. Don’t snack while watching this episode.

There is a preponderance of endorsements. A company donates “temporarily” a prefab house to serve as the repository of the donated papers of a recently deceased researcher. She has willed the materials to Rick Lagina who has a house converted to a library. No librarians, please.

Also, another author of Oak Island tales calls in to announce his new book will be forthcoming—and he will show up to give them an autographed copy (for free). The rest of us pay.

No wonder that Marty Lagina is mostly absent from this episode, phoning in his comments.

The sole true find of the week belongs, again, to Gary Drayton who locates what appears to be a hat insignia from a French dragoon who was on the island, oddly enough, in 1740s or so.

It was when a legendary soldier of fortune from France and the Templar mode brought treasures from the Holy Land. Is it true? You’ll have no answers this week.

 

Soylent Green Revisited

DATELINE: Ben-Hur Takes on The Rifleman?

soylent

In 1973 came a prophetic movie about greenhouse gas and environmental calamity in the ruse of a murder mystery. Its cast stuns:  Charlton Heston, Edward G. Robinson, Joseph Cotten, Chuck Connors, and a raft of familiar second bananas like Cyril Develanti and Whit Bissell.

Apart from the all-too-soon prediction, suggesting the calamity arose by 2022, the film is prescient. We think it may be the world of New York in 2073 when crowds teem the streets and heat and lack of supply dominate the lifestyle.

Only the rich have soap and beef. When Heston the cop goes investigating, he is awestruck by the luxury.

His roommate (perhaps college professor mentor of years past) is Edward G. Robinson in his final acting role.

Chuck Connors has a wig also as outrageous as that on Heston. You keep wondering why it never fell off during those crowd scenes.

From its opening montage of fossil fuel guzzlers and growing population, the film has several bravura sequences. Reminiscent of Nazi liquidation and final solution, there is a “home” base where people go to die.

Cue up the Tchaikovsky symphony “Pathetique,” used also in Howard Hughes’ movie called The Outlaw.

It remains a highly prized movie by aficionados of the genre, making it the second act of sci-fi flicks for Heston after his epic heroes like Moses and Ben-Hur. This one is less known than Planet of the Apes.

You don’t have to be clairvoyant to figure out the problem with soylent green, the new foodstuff. And, it all seems quaint in the age before computerization. An early computer game is played in 1973, a half-dozen years before the craze caught on.

 

 

 

 

 

Rupert, aka Xmas Wish

DATELINE: Two Orders of Ham.

durante

One of the most forgotten of low-budget Christmas movies is a strange concoction from 1950. It has been titled Rupert the Great, and when colorized in recent years in India, was re-christened, A Christmas Wish.

Whatever you call it, this is a bizarre film billed as “heart-warming,” but it is an odd duck about an odder squirrel.

Yes, Great Rupert is a Puppetoon squirrel in show biz (made from stop-action). He dances in kilts and is highly intelligent. The film comes from the mind and production of the great George Pal. Alas, Rupert is a mere second banana in a second-rate movie directed by Irving Pichel.

The star is non-stop action. It is the inimitable Jimmy Durante who pulls out all the stops.

Perhaps kids in 1950 were more easily entertained.

However, this does not prevent us from watching in utter fascination. Jimmy Durante pretends to be Danny Amendola, not the former Patriots player, but some kind of vaudeville comic. Don’t be fooled: it’s Jimmy Durante playing himself.

If you ever wondered why Durante never starred in more movies, this one reveals the amazing truth. He steals every scene, wipes out other performances, blows away any semblance of plot, and dominates every moment of the film.

Not even an animated squirrel can stand up to Jimmy. He is a happening, an event, a force of nature.

Terry Moore was supposed to star with top-billing, her major film role after Mighty Joe Young, another animated creature by George Pal’s protégé Ray Harryhausen. Miss Moore was too cute to worry about animals. Durante was another matter.

The film was re-tailored to allow Durante to do his usual patter and sing “Jingle Bells,” in one scene at the piano.

Even Rupert the Great never dared to show his rodent face when Durante was about. This is a weak Christmas film, but a work of stunning film history. Thus, we have rendered this year’s Xmas movie review moot.

 

Calling All Earthlings

 DATELINE: Post-Tesla Scientist

van tassel Integratron Shell

No, it’s not Ancient Aliens—which leads us to wonder how they could have failed to do a feature on George Van Tassel, the 1950s UFO-logist who held fabulous meetings out in the desert near Twenty-Nine Palms and Big Rock with 10,000 UFO followers.

California koo-koo birds have flocked to the deserts of California for decades. As the movie Calling All Earthlings indicates, many are still there.

Foremost was George Van Tassel, a US Defense Department weapons expert from Lockheed who also worked for Howard Hughes. He became disenchanted with nuclear warfare games—and moved his small family to an underground residence at Big Rock.

In the early 1950s, he began receiving messages and instructions on how to build a time machine, which he called the Integratron. It is still there, a marvel of creation that looks like a work from Frank Lloyd Wright. Made from the best lumber supplied by Howard Hughes.

How he built such an expensive, amazing structure can be explained by the folklore:  Howard Hughes flew in regularly with satchels of cash.

What Van tassel worked on was not a standard time machine. His was a walk-through that would cut 30% off your age.It was not recommended for those under 18. Even as a shell today, its acoustics are oddly perfect.

After 25 years of work, just as Van Tassel was about to start up, he allegedly suffered a major heart attack and died in a motel near Los Angeles. Some thought he was murdered. All his notes and research went missing—and his Integratron (always under FBI surveillance) was looted and rendered useless. Van Tassel wrote a few books, including I Rode in a Flying Saucer.

Director Jonathan Berman’s idiosyncratic documentary is nearly as weird as the inhabitants of Big Rock, but this makes for a fascinating exploration of a man after Tesla’s heart and Howard Hughes’ wallet.

Champ or Chump?

DATELINE:  Move Over, Nessie!

chump

The American version of Loch Ness Monster, or Nessie, is Champ of Lake Champlain on the Canada/US border, betwixt New York and Vermont.

The low budget documentary, wet with sincerity, is called On the Trail of Champ. We suspect it is hard to follow a trail in water. This might better be called in the wake of Champ.

However, we quibble. When you scratch the surface of this documentary, you hear that eyewitnesses are terribly unreliable. Then, follows about a dozen and a half eyewitness reports.

We also liked the fact that many observers forgot their camera that day, or it was out of focus, or they had to retrieve it and missed their chance to snap a picture. The excuses are legion.

We also hear that there were many hoaxes, often bragged about by the perps since the 19th century. We wonder how many modern witnesses are unwitting victims of hoax.

The other sad point of this well-intentioned and pleasant little film is that it is rife with bad animation.

Self-styled experts seem to have emerged thinking that crypto-zoology is a real field. Poor sods.

The sincerest and most dedicated of all the people chasing Champ is Katy Elizabeth, a pleasant woman who has committed her life to finding Champ and who even helped to push through a law in Vermont to prevent any hunting of Champ. Yet, residents wonder why the Champlain monster is less well-known than Nessie who does not have a minor league baseball team making it a mascot.

The documentary really has nowhere to go and doesn’t know how to conclude itself, and pulls out the environmental responsibility card.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Oak Island 6.4: A-Ha Moment or Not?

 DATELINE:  Curses, Foiled Again.

Alex Alex Lagina, just for Luck!

Once again, we bought into the Lagina Brothers’ claim that we are about to have that notorious “Aha!” moment.  Well, in Season 6, episode 4, that may be only partially true.

We felt more like a “Bah, humbug,” moment at this time of year.

Despite all that expensive seismic testing, they began to drill down to the usual 170 feet, and instead of finding a treasure or vault, or even a searcher tunnel, they hit bedrock.

Hit the snooze button.

Among other highlights, or depressing lowlights, one of the few women to be heard on the show, had passed away at age 88, but she left her research papers on the Knights Templar to Rick Lagina. He and his nephew Peter drove from Nova Scotia to Manhattan in a U-Haul truck to pick up the loot.

Despite throwing money around like crazed millionaires, they usually eschew flying and drive. Last week they drove a couple of thousand miles to Alberta. Penny-savings seem to be the way to go.

They also spent some time on last week’s big find by Gary Drayton:  that bolt shaft for a crossbow. They initially thought it was Medieval—and took it to one university for analysis that suggested it was iron with magnesium (older than suspected).

It was an antiquities dealer who shocked them with the news that they were 1000 years off. The bolt was dropped on Oak Island closer to 2000 years ago. It raised questions for sure.

We could be accused of saying, “Aha,” at this moment, but finding something doesn’t make it an artefact that was dropped by a Roman centurion as he buried the Silver Chalice of Jesus.

We’ll tune in again, whether you say “aha,” or not.

Oak Island 6.3, Not Exactly Revelations

DATELINE:  Not Unforgettable

arrow

We have been asked where is our Curse of Oak Island assessment for 6.3.  And, we feel like responding, let sleeping dogs lie. Some weeks it may be best to allow us to ignore the treasure hunters.

In the third episode of the sixth season, we begin to feel like chapter and verse is out of synchronization. Oak Island is beginning to feel like an enforced work camp.

The onerous tones of the narrator continue to insist that death is around the corner as payment for any discovery.

Seismic results show a bunch of oval shaped anomalies under the ground on colourful maps. We were unmoved. Some voids are only fifty feet down, above water level. Since they found key stuff last season at nearly 200 feet, it seems a tad odd to believe that significant finds are so shallow.

Yet, the explosive technology reveals caverns and voids, not so deep after all.

It appears the five elders of the Oak Island crew (minus 94 year old Dan Blankenship) drove 2000 miles to Calgary, Alberta, to receive this result. If so, this may well be the most revealing detail in five years. Do we have a fear of flying among our foibles?  Most of the younger guys are out to lunch here, as if the next generation has been frozen out of true discovery.

They have been eliminated from most of the episodes so far in season six.

In the meantime, Gary Drayton’s instant analysis on the rocky shore of the island, digs up a thin and deadly metal crossbow shaft. It is a small weapon that is meant to piece armor and chain-mail, not e-mail. He is utterly thrilled, believing it is Templar age.

In another revealing moment, it almost seems as if Rick Lagina’s enthusiasm at the discovery is muted, understated, and diminished. Has the search finally wore out his thrill of the expensive efforts? Or is he just a bad actor for these re-enactment scenes that are filmed for the show?

We are again and again puzzled by absences of regular cast members: the list seems to have expanded as to who’s no longer present and much of a factor in the show.

 

 

 

Looking for Noah’s Ark Again!

DATELINE: Spiritual Journey

Ararat excavation

If you didn’t hear on the Internet that Noah’s Ark has been discovered, then you have a fairly good idea of the results of another documentary about the trip to Mt. Ararat by another expedition of intrepid optimists.

Here is another documentary on the age-old quest.

Finding Noah is well-funded, beautifully photographed, and has many montages of historical searches to locate the Ark that survived the Great Flood of Biblical and geological fame.

First, let’s face it: there are few groups outside TV shows like Ancient Aliens or In Search of… that would fund such a mammoth and likely fruitless effort. If you make the movie, you live with the unsatisfying ending of reality.

So, if this attempt to dig up the Ark is a bunch of crazed Christians with ties to Liberty University, we cannot fault them. It takes a special breed of adventurer to have the obsession, time, and physical stamina to go into a war zone in Turkey.

Weather is just another adverse element here when a bunch of largely middle-aged explorers make the trek up a 17,000-foot mountain. Perhaps those are exactly the kinds of men who have always taken the risks. If you are not a fanatic, you aren’t going to attempt it.

Using ground-and-ice penetrating radar, they use chainsaws to dig 30 meters into the glacier in chunks. It is interesting how they conduct their search under a tent.

Of course, as they all admit toward the end, the real goal was a spiritual journey, not a discovery journey. It was God’s will that they try, but there was no promise of fame and fortune.

The praying moments are kept to a minimum and creationists do consult real academic scientists for information. So, this is not a religious crusade to prove the Bible’s literal truth. At least, not too obviously.

Only you can decide if you have wasted your time.

Two Great Directors Pass, & Hardly Anyone Notices…

DATELINE:  The Men Who Tango & Fall to Earth

Performance

For movie fans of a certain generation, this has been a watershed week.

Two famous names of the past, great directors from the 1960s and 1970s died within days of each other:  Nicholas Roeg and Bernardo Bertolucci.

We are not surprised at how many people will say, “Who in hell were they?”

If you did not write, direct, or produce a blockbuster cartoon like Superman, Batman, or one of the other Justice League jokers, you likely are not a household name in the 21st century.

In their day, these two men were considered thought-provoking filmmakers. Each started as an apprentice cinematographer under one of the titans of old Hollywood:

Nicholas Roeg worked with David Lean, notable for Lawrence of Arabia.

Bertolucci worked with one of the giants of Italian 60s cinema: Pier Paolo Pasolini.

They managed to step out of the shadows to their own highly recognized movies: Roeg took several music stars and transformed them into movie icons. We think of Mick Jagger in Performance, one of those weird mythic blurring of music and movies. He followed up with a science fiction think piece, The Man Who Fell to Earth with David Bowie, no less.

Bertolucci seemed to take sexual politics as his nest-egg. His biggest film was the notorious Marlon Brando movie, Last Tango in Paris.

How quickly these two directors seemed to fall from fashion. In recent years they might have been thought to be dead for decades, not days ago. They never sold out to Hollywood blockbusters or TV miniseries. And, that may be their anonymous curse in the summaries of their lives.

 

Johnny Cash Meets Nixon

DATELINE: Man in Black & Man with Black Heart

cash on the house

Likely inspired by the various documentaries and movies about Nixon and Elvis, there was in 1970 another significant meeting between Richard Nixon and a music star. Conservative, religious, patriotic Johnny Cash, sometime rebel, was invited to the White House to give a command performance.

A short documentary telegraphs its feelings with the title:  Tricky Dick & The Man in Black. Though the film gives some balance, it is primarily told through the Cash perspective with intensive interviews with Johnny’s son and sister.

Nixon was not a fan of country-western music as his taste ran more to pop classics, like Richard Rogers’ Victory at Sea music, or the show tunes from South Pacific. However, those handlers in the White House felt besieged by youthful protests against the war in Vietnam.

Nixon’s advisors—Haldeman, Pat Buchanan, primarily—felt they needed a antidote to the protests and drug users of Haight-Ashbury. Cash was their man. When he noted on his TV show that he wanted peace with honor in Vietnam, it won him an invitation to perform in the East Room of the White House in April of 1970.

Alas, Nixon’s men did not do their homework. Johnny Cash was not only an advocate for prison reform, but he had created a music album on behalf of Native Americans and visited Wounded Knee.

When the Nixon White House asked him to sing “Welfare Cadillac” to appeal to the redneck supporters, Cash was taken aback. It was not his song or his style. No one told him what to perform. And, he had just returned from visiting soldiers in Vietnam, turning him into a dove with claws (in his own words).

The performance made Nixon uncomfortable, as Cash made him passive-aggressive points. Two weeks later came the college massacres at Kent State, and only then did Cash release his famous song, “Man in Black.”

A highly worthy insight into Johnny Cash, it may surprise many non-fans.