Category Archives: Movies

Movie Review of “Life Itself”- The Life and Death of Roger Ebert

I recently watched the movie of film critic Roger Ebert’s illness and death, Life Itself. It is one of the most moving depictions of the end of a well-lived lives that I have ever watched.

I first encounted Ebert arguing about movies with his partner Gene Siskel in the 1970s. I enjoyed their sophisticated banter about movies. Ebert was a superb prose stylist who really loved literature. (I have written about him previously on this blog.)

A warning though. The movie is not for the faint of heart. Ebert wants us to know what death is really like. I was edified by watching the film.

Review of “Exile Nation: The Plastic People”

I have recently watched the documentary: Exile Nation: The Plastic People. It is about U.S. deportees in Tijuana who struggle to survive a cartel war zone, and who live in cardboard boxes and sewer pipes, in an ever-expanding underworld of exiles. Most of the deportees have lived in the US since childhood, have extended families in the US, have no relatives in Mexico, and speak no Spanish. Many have waited for citizenship for years but multiple roadblocks block that path. Many of these deportees do the migrant farm work without which Americans wouldn’t enjoy low prices for their food. Here is the trailer for “Exile Nation.”

I encourage my readers to watch this moving film and, if possible, work for solutions to human degradation in the US and elsewhere.

Politics and the Movie Fargo: For a Little Bit of Money

Today’s Republican party believes that tax cuts for the wealthy, despoiling of the environment, and the loss of health-care from millions is a sufficient reward for enabling the slow rot of constitutional government. They believe Presidential actions that would cause them to be apoplectic if done by a member of the opposing party–interfering with FBI investigations for example—are fine if done by a member of their clan. After all, tax cuts for the wealthy, incarceration of minorities, media based on conspiracy theories, gangsterism and nepotism at the highest levels, and so much more is profitable.

For modern-day Republicans: wealth is power; power is the bottom line; might makes right; and the ends justify the means—as the Greek Sophists, Machiavelli, and Nietzsche taught long ago. And no New York Times/Washington Post op-eds, or moral arguments will decrease their lust for power. At the moment their opponents aren’t relative power equals, so they will do what they want, however immoral, to impose their will.

All this got me to thinking about one of the final scenes in the Coen brothers movie, Fargo.

In the scene, a simple, kindhearted, woman speaks to a psychopath who has killed multiple people for money. (See video above.)

Now the politicians that undermine our political system do collect vast sums of money, and they increasingly have law enforcement under their control, but I wonder if it’s in their long-term interest to undermine a relatively stable social system in which they are the primary beneficiaries. Mob mentality, which increasingly has become their modus operandi, leaves everyone looking over their shoulder and invites more social unrest. Whose to say that the violence they unleash might not come back to haunt them? In the long run, I doubt this state of nature will be good for anyone. But many might have to suffer, as generations before had to do, before they realize this. On the other hand, we may all be in for immense suffering in the coming decades—even those in the world’s most powerful countries.

(For a bit more I suggest two recent op-eds. “The conservative mind has become diseased” by Michael Gerson of the Washington Post; and “Trump doesn’t understand how to be president. The Comey story shows why“, by E. J. Dionne of the Washington Post.)

Good luck America. And good luck to the rest of the world which lives in the shadow of our neurosis.

Review of Michael Moore’s: Where To Invade Next

Last night I watched, Where to Invade Next, a 2015 American documentary film written and directed by Michael Moore.[3][4] The film can be watched free with an amazon prime account, or rented for a few dollars here: Where to Invade Next; or purchased for a few more dollars here: Where To Invade Next.

The film received positive reviews from critics. Review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes reports that 78% of 169 reviews are positive, with an average rating of 6.7/10. The site’s consensus states: “Where to Invade Next finds documentarian Michael Moore approaching progressive politics with renewed — albeit unabashedly one-sided — vigor”.[15] On Metacritic, the film holds a 63/100 rating, based on 33 critics, indicating “generally favorable reviews”.[16]

I think it is Moore’s best film, managing to be solemn and humorous at the same time. My reaction was more somber. For me the film reveals, without explicitly saying it, how the toxic masculinity of American society, especially our propensity for violence and domination, leaves us bereft of community, compassion, and respect for human dignity. Social harmony and caring, juxtaposed with social dysfunction and aggressive competition, make the USA look horrific by comparison. Our cruelty and brutality are on full display and, compared with more civilized countries, American social policies are revealed for what they are—sheer madness.

In the film Moore visits (invades) various countries and claims some of their most successful ideas for the US. The idea is that rather than invade to destroy, we invade to learn how we could have a better and more just society.

Here are the countries he visits, and topics he considers, in order of appearance:

No one could watch the film objectively, assuming they realized that everything Moore is saying is true, and restate that stale line “America is the greatest country.” In fact, one should draw nearly the opposite conclusion. I highly recommend the film.

Command and Control: Damascus Titan Missile Explosion

Last night I viewed the new documentary film, Command and Control from director Robert Kenner. It was released January 10, 2017, and broadcast by PBS as part of its American Experience series. [11] The documentary is based on Eric Schlosser’s book, Command and Control: Nuclear Weapons, the Damascus Accident, and the Illusion of Safety. The book focused on the explosion, as well as other Broken Arrow incidents during the Cold War.[6][7] It was a finalist for the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for History.[10]

The Damascus Titan missile explosion refers to an incident where the liquid fuel in a LGM-25C Titan II intercontinental ballistic missile exploded at missile launch facility Launch Complex 374-7 in Van Buren County farmland just north of Damascus, Arkansas, on September 18–19, 1980. The initial explosion catapulted the 740-ton silo door away from the silo and ejected the second stage and warhead. Once clear of the silo, the second stage exploded. The W53 warhead landed about 100 feet (30 m) from the launch complex’s entry gate; its safety features operated correctly and prevented any loss of radioactive material.

However, we came frighteningly close to a nuclear catastrophe that night. Had the warhead detonated, millions of people would have either been killed outright or died shortly thereafter from the effects of the radioactive fallout.

The documentary is riveting, especially when your realize how many times we’ve had nuclear close calls, incidents that could start an unintended nuclear war, and nuclear accidents, incidents involving nuclear material that led to, or could have led to, events significant consequences to people, the environment or the facility. Examples include lethal effects to individuals, large radioactivity release to the environment, or reactor core melt.”[4] The Chernobyl nuclear accident would be a quintessential example.

The simple fact is that we have so far avoided more costly failures primarily because we’ve been lucky. It is also ironic how the having these weapons poses as much threat to those who have them as to those at whom they are aimed. It’s reminiscent of the idea that the more personal guns we have the safer we’ll be—which is self-evidently absurd and contradicted by all available evidence from societies around the world.

Of course superpowers with thousands of nuclear weapons find themselves in a version of the prisoner’s dilemma. Russia and the USA, who possess more than 90% of the world’s largest nuclear arsenals, find themselves in the following situation: If they both disarm they both do better, they can spend that money on their societies; if they both arm they both do worse, they must spend that money on nuclear weapons and face mutually assured destruction. But both fear that they will disarm and the other side won’t, which would allow the other side to dominate them.

In matrix form, where B = best; S = second best; T = third best; and W = worst; and the first outcome in each parenthesis is the USA outcome, and the second is Russia’s outcome, the situation looks like this:

Russia

Arm                 Disarm

Arm             (T, T)                  (B, W)

USA

Disarm        (W, B)                 (S, S)

It is easy to see here that both do better and neither does worse if they both disarm, but disarming without assurance that the other disarms risks being made a sucker. Still, if each can be assured that the other will comply with an agreement to disarm, both sides should. The alternative is the inevitable nuclear wars and accidents that will result.

All of this reminds me of reading Jonathan Schell’s The Fate of the Earth years ago, when he warned of the existential threat posed by nuclear weapons. Then, in today’s New York Times we read that ” Thanks to Trump, the Doomsday Clock Advances Toward Midnight.”

It is now two and one-half minutes to midnight. Our organization, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, is marking the 70th anniversary of its Doomsday Clock on Thursday by moving it 30 seconds closer to midnight. In 2016, the global security landscape darkened as the international community failed to come to grips with humanity’s most pressing threats: nuclear weapons and climate change.

There can be little doubt that humankind threatens their own existence. How things will turn out or whether there will be anyone left to read these or any other words is unknown. The chances for using these weapons, either on purpose or accidentally, is almost certain given sufficient time. And when you consider even more deadly technologies in the future, the situation is truly dire. As for me, I’m not optimistic.