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 of #Metooism!

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.

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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.

Holiday Cheer for Trump Limited to Bronx Cheer!

 DATELINE: No Smocking Zone

Graham Demonstrates Technique Beat It!

There’s a smocking gun in Donald Trump’s pocket. And he’s glad to give Season’s Greetings to Stormy Daniels if she has $300,000 for him.

The National Enquirer apparently knows that “peanut stuff” can be elephantine for the fat cat president who happens to be the biggest bath tub filler since William Howard Big-Boy Taft was in the White House.

The writing is on the wall and the walls are closing in, which certainly describes a penthouse for Putin at Trump Tower.

Trump only has a vague recollection of doing business “somewhere in Russia.”  We suspect he was thinking of building gulags out in Siberia for his Fox and Friends.

We have come to realize that Mr. Trump does not know what the word “collusion” really means, which is not surprising for a self-styled genius with learning disabilities.

Next thing you know Trump will insist that payments to Stormy and friends were not champagne contributions. We’ll drink to that.

If you want to work in the White House, you have to be in line for Tom Sawyer’s whitewash fence job, according to an unimpeachable source named Tom Steyer.

Where there’s smock, for Trump, there may be a muumuu for prison garb. If the muumuu fits, it’s smocking hot.

If you want to work at the White House, you need an NDA, especially if you don’t have a big bank account on hold.

Hitler had his Big Lie, but Trump has a Bigger Denial.

The witch hunt Trump most enjoyed was when Samantha went looking her mother Endora on Bewitched.

Don, Jr., has gone missing this week. Reports have surfaced that he is Big Game Hunting for reindeer at the North Pole.

When you consider a $50million bribe to Putin to be “peanut stuff,” you have a Colossus of crime on your hands.

Napoleon was sent into political exile on a remote island for his crimes, but Trump will be sent to Gilligan’s Island for his antics.

Silence Patton: Victim of Assassins?

DATELINE:  General Nuisance?

Patton

As the supposed first casualty in the Cold War, General George S. Patton is the subject of a 2018 documentary that raises the theory that he was murdered in 1945. He was about to return to the States as a whistle-blower on the ineptitude of the war strategy. This intriguing documentary is called Silence Patton.

A military truck, driven by a drunken soldier, hit the limo with Patton in it, as he prepared to return to the United States. He was left in a state of paralysis and soon succumbed (some say poisoned) in a German hospital.

What are we to make of this? Patton himself, as he was pulled from the wreckage of the accident, insisted that no soldier be blamed. He called it an “accident’”. He seemed intent of leaving this verdict. It seems a bit peculiar.

Why would anyone want Patton killed? And why?

The film certainly finds no shortage of enemies for the officer who slapped a soldier for cowardice (one, it appears, of many, as he used this as a morale technique). Stalin and the Russians hated him for his virulent anti-communism, and perhaps they wanted him dead. He wanted to expose American weakness for allowing Stalin to run amok.

He was prepared to expose Gens. Eisenhower and Omar Bradley as incompetants who let the Stalin forces take over half of Europe in the waning days of the war. He was horrified that the Russian soldiers raped and killed large numbers of German women in a genocidal take-over.

Yes, there is plenty of unpleasant actions behind and around the death of the great, opinionated officer. He was boorish, brave, and outrageous. It was his guts, but someone else’s blood that he shed. Yet, he was a man of his soldiers. The meandering quality of the documentary is unforgivable.

A steady stream of Patton apologists feel he has been wronged by history and by his contemporaries. How much can be believed? It an age of fake media and a blustery president, there may be some revisionism here. Trump’s name is never mentioned in this film, but he seems to loom over the proceedings as a disciple of Patton.

 

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.

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.

 

 

 

 

 

Yes, It’s Over, Over There!

DATELINE: Do You See What We See?

Laird Cregar

For those who have trouble understanding the definitive moments of history, science, and world politics, you witnessed on a hot afternoon in Miami in December the Fall of the Roman Empire.

Lest our metaphors shock you with their doomsday scenario, we will say it more simply: the New England Patriots have met catastrophe. Humpty Dumpty has fallen off the great wall and the Patriots cannot put him together again. Atlantis just sank into the ocean.

There will be those who say it is merely one loss on a long road of successes.

The cognoscenti will recognize that Tom Brady’s career will never recover. The team on which he plays has imploded. Its vaunted brain-trust has just been eaten by viral amoebas. You have just seen someone cough up his lung and his guts. King Kong has fallen off the Empire State Building. Satan has been cast out of Heaven.

A game that might have been won anytime in the past 20 years by the Patriots, was lost.

It is the end of the story when Cinderella loses her glass slipper, and the clock strikes midnight. It is the time you see a small, insignificant man behind the curtain who resembles Belichick in whom all New England fans trust, and he says he is not the Wizard of Oz and to ignore him.

Robert Oppenheimer said it best when the bomb when off and the clock ticked away: “I am the Bringer of Death.” Bring on a new generation of football stars and dynasties.

You cannot exaggerate too much what has happened in the world. Sometimes matters are puzzling and frightful. Here they are as clear as you can ever hope to see. Donald Trump stole the election and now you know.

Ding Dong, the Witch is Dead. The New England Patriots just sang the Swan Song of Football.

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 6.3, 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.

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.

Adios & Adieu, Bronson & Delon

DATELINE: Farewell, Friend!

adios & adieu

Where has this 1960s crime caper movie been hiding for fifty years?  Charles Bronson is teamed with Alain Delon as a couple of ex-Foreign Legionnaires who plan to break into a major corporate vault.

They are both young and virile.

The film may have had a limited American release, known in circles as Adios, Amigo as well as Adieu, l’Ami.  The American title turns out to be Farewell, Friend.  It’s all the same.

The movie was made when Bronson was on the cusp of international stardom and started matching up with European stars. It came around the time of The Dirty Dozen.

Alain Delon was bigger and received top billing, but he wanted American recognition. His English here is quite good. He was known for critically-acclaimed arty films, and his American incursion was less art and more matter-of-fact.

These two misfits are not exactly well-matched, nor do they like each other. So, you can be fairly certain their amiable hostility will support the old aphorism there is no honor among thieves.

We had no illusions that there would be a good script, but that at least it would give the two stars enough space to play it to the hilt. Indeed, it does.

Even more surprising, the sets are stylish and modern. Not only that, Bronson and Delon are dressed in the finest tailored suits. They do not look like refugees from Haight-Ashbury, as do many stars in 1968 movies.

Bronson has the rough-edged thug role, and Delon is the more debonair scam artist. Their reasons for breaking into a French corporate payroll vault also puts them at loggerheads. Yet, without the usual mayhem and car chases, this turns out to be a quite intriguing and different film, probably dissatisfying to fans.

We loved it.

Man in the Iron Mask 20 Years Later

DATELINE:  Re-assessment

leon

Twenty years ago (was it really 1998?), we saw the TV movie version of The Man in the Iron Mask—and pronounced it the film in which a generation of venerated actors knelt down before the new god of acting. So we were reminded today by a little magpie.

It now seems a good time to re-assess the movie, now in HD and streaming.

Yes, the passing of the torch literally happened at the end of the film when the Three Musketeers (Jeremy Irons, Gerard Depardieu, and John Malkovitch) dropped to their knees before Leonardo di Caprio as if to pay homage to the new acting marvel. Yes, literally, not figuratively.

The young star was stunning, both in his performances in the dual roles of the man in the mask and his egregious brother.

And, on top of that, he was beautiful beyond words.

Over the years, he has morphed into a character actor and downplayed his looks. If you are not beautiful at 24, you never will be.

As for the film, as period pieces go, the production was quite impressive, with only one matte shot that seemed fake. The most shocking shot was Depardieu naked.

It was a rousing tale of the aging Musketeers, and their swan song too. Each of the principal actors (Gabriel Byrne was D’Artagnan) shone in his place—but all had to play second fiddle to the twice the  Di Caprio that you might expect as both the good boy and bad one.

The film’s actresses fared less well and were less known, as even the minor male stars turned out to be Peter Skarsgaard as Malkovich’s son (looking surprisingly alike) and in a throwaway role, Hugh Laurie, almost comical.

Twenty years did not dampen the film’s high-quality appeal.