Stars among stars do not beget a great movie

My wife and I watched a couple of movies this weekend that had an abundance of stars. They even had relatively high Rotten Tomatoes’ scores. But, they were far from being great movies.

Last night, we watched a thriller/ comedy starring seven headline stars called “Burn after Reading.” George Clooney, Tilda Swinton, Francis McDormand, John Malkovich, Brad Pitt, Richard Jenkins and JK Simmons could not make this movie great. It was at best OK, maybe earning a C- letter grade. Yet, it was disappointing given our expectations.

Earlier we watched a movie with three stars called “Certain Women” about three determined (actually four) women who are trying to make a go in Wyoming. It starred Laura Dern, Kristen Stewart and Michelle Williams. It also starred a Native American actress named Lily Gladstone who has appeared in a number of movies and had equal screen time in this movie to the three stars.

Sadly, the movie was very tedious and longer than it needed to be. It was very undeserving of its high ratings. My wife and I debated turning it off on a couple of occasions, but had invested time in it by the second decision point, so we wanted to see the finish.

We were also surprised in a good way with a couple of movies this weekend. “Head full of Honey” starring Nick Nolte and his daughter Sophia Lane Nolte is very enjoyable and charming. In a movie of stars, the younger actor steals the movie playing the older Nolte’s granddaughter as she takes care of her Alzheimer’s ridden grandfather. The other is “Stronger” about a Boston Marathon bomb survivor and double leg amputee starring Jake Gyllenhaal and Tatiana Maslany as his on and off again girlfriend who was running in the race. The story moves beyond the heroic stage of his survival and deals with the real life angst of learning to live with his setback.

It seems we are better served in our search for movies in liking the story, an actor or two, and seeing reasonably high ratings using different measures. We do not mind foreign language films with subtitles and we do not limit English speaking movies to those made in the US. These sentiments open us up to a lot of great movies. For example, with a French mother, Kristen Scott Thomas has been in several excellent French speaking movies.

So, happy hunting. And, beware of too many stars. Note, the above are merely our opinions, so that and $3 will get you a cup of coffee.


A legend has passed – Tina Turner, may she RIP

Anna Mae Bullock, aka Tina Turner, has passed away at age 83. Someone whose active lifestyle and stage performance made her consistently look younger than she was has died after a long illness. When I have been asked who gave the best concert I have ever been to, the answer is Tina Turner, hands down.

She is one of the finest entertainers who gave it her all every minute of her performance and through numerous outfit changes. She made sure we were entertained. She was often accompanied by two or three younger dancers with whom she easily kept up with while singing! She had a long list of hits she could draw from. Yet, the song that always got the crowd going was saved for her encore, “What’s love got to do with it?” When she sang this one, she would ask the women, then men sing the chorus telling the men “it should be easy, you’ve been saying this all of your lives.”

Her story is well known and portrayed in the biopic movie starring Angela Bassett as Turner. She had a physically and mentally abusive husband (and manager) in Ike Turner staying with him longer than she should have because of their Ike and Tina Turner Revue. After leaving, she went out on her own and had even bigger success, but still had to contend with Ike who made threats.

Several songs stand out in addition to the above – “Private Dancer,” “The Best,” “You better be good to me,” “I can’t stand the rain,” “We don’t need another hero,” et al made after she went on her own, and the relentless “Proud Mary” and “Nutbush City Limits” made before. In fact, her version of Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Proud Mary” was her magnum opus until she went on her own. She even did a song with Phil Specter without Ike called “River deep, mountain high,” which brought her acclaim.

She was an icon, but she became a legend. And, she will be missed.

PFAS forever chemicals continue to show up around the country

This is a repeat of a post from last year about more forever chemicals showing up with prior knowledge of the polluter, this time in New Hampshire. As of this writing, there is an issue with older plants in the Cape Fear River basin near Wilmington, NC. And, not totally unrelated, the Marine Camp Lejeune about an hour away had been poisoning Marines and their families for several decades with chemical run off into the water supply. The piece from last year sadly still rings true.

Recently, I have written several posts about the poisoning in groundwater by companies who use these forever chemicals referred to by their acronym of PFAS. Dupont was highlighted in the movie “Dark Waters” about the true story surrounding their making of Teflon in a West Virginia plant, where they denied for years what they admitted knowing in their files. In short, PFAS (or per and polyfluorinated substances) “is a harmful manmade set of chemicals that don’t break down in the environment and can cause medical issues like some cancers if consumed enough.” See the fact sheet below from the CDC.

In an article in The Guardian yesterday by Tom Perkins called “‘They all knew’: textile company misled regulators about use of toxic PFAS, documents show,” we learned that Dupont was not the only company to hide the fact the making of and disposal of waste from their product was causing major health concerns in adults and children in the area. Here are a few paragraphs from the article that can be linked to below.

“A French industrial fabric producer that poisoned drinking water supplies with PFAS ‘forever chemicals’ across 65 sq miles (168 sq km) of southern New Hampshire misled regulators about the amount of toxic substance it used, a group of state lawmakers and public health advocates charge.

The company, Saint Gobain, now admits it used far more PFAS than regulators previously knew, and officials fear thousands more residents outside the contamination zone’s boundaries may be drinking tainted water in a region plagued by cancer clusters and other health problems thought to stem from PFAS pollution.

Saint Gobain in 2018 agreed to provide clean drinking water in the 65-sq-mile area as part of a consent agreement with New Hampshire regulators, and damning evidence suggesting it used more PFAS than previously admitted surfaced in a trove of documents released in a separate class-action lawsuit.

‘People are sick, there are really high cancer rates and people literally have died, so when you see what’s happening and the company acts like this – it’s really upsetting,’ said Mindi Messmer, a former state representative who analyzed the documents and sent them to the New Hampshire attorney general and state regulators.

Saint Gobain has denied wrongdoing. PFAS, or per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, are a class of about 12,000 chemicals used across dozens of industries to make products resist water, stains and heat. The highly toxic compounds don’t naturally break down, and are linked to cancer, thyroid disease, kidney problems, decreased immunity, birth defects and other serious health problems. They have been called ‘forever chemicals’ due to their longevity in the environment.

Saint Gobain Performance Plastics’ Merrimack, New Hampshire, plant had for decades treated its products with PFOA, one type of PFAS, to make them stronger. The company released PFOA from its smokestacks and the chemicals, once on the ground, moved through the soil and into aquifers. Hundreds of residential and municipal wells pull from the groundwater.

Please look through the CDC Fact Sheet below. If you have not seen “Dark Waters,” please watch it as it shows how Dupont knew and covered up their poisoning of others, then was shown verified causal data from the largest sampling of people in a scientific study and reneged on an offer to help and then lost successive lawsuits before they settled the remaining cases in a class action. I am sure there are some theatrics in the movie, but over all the movie will disgust you that leaders of a company could be so brazen. And, stop using Teflon cookware as their poison resides within many of us if we did.

Companies must be held to account. Leaders must be held to account. And, it cannot be so rarely done, that they make a movie out of the effort. Rob Bilott, the attorney who fought Dupont and Erin Brockovich cannot be the only folks recognized for fighting these battles.

What a leader should do

Many moons ago, I read that a key role of leader is to open up new markets for trade. In spite of Richard Nixon’s crimes as US president, he should get credit for opening up trade with China.

Before he left office, Barack Obama had made in-roads in establishing a Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) of eleven countries. Sadly, his successor took the US out of the deal, but the other ten countries moved ahead without the US. Later Donald Trump lamented about the inability to compete with China, which the TPP was designed to help with.

I use both ends of this latter example to show that the retrenching from markets and trade in agreements is the worst thing a leader could do. These folks who advocate pulling away from globalization are being harmful to our growth. Mutual commerce is not only the best way to grow, it helps to break through communication roadblocks based on other issues. If you have mutual commerce, parties will want to nurture and protect that. In so doing, it is also a way to lessen tensions. The European Union is a way to lessen military conflict across the continent. Sadly, “make our country great” promoters do not realize they are advocating less growth and putting people at risk.

Quite simply, you cannot shrink to greatness. The economist John Nash advocated this in his Nash Equilibrium for which he won a Nobel Prize in spite of his schizophrenia (watch “A Beautiful Mind” with Russell Crowe as Nash). In essence, if each party tries to maximize everyone’s revenue, the total pie will be larger than if everyone tries to maximize only their own.

The Millennium Trilogy movies – Swedish style

My wife and I gave the Swedish version of the movies about Stieg Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy* a viewing this past week. We came away extremely impressed and entertained. The movies and books are called:

“The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,”
“The Girl who played with Fire,” and
“The Girl who kicked the Hornet’s Nest.”

We watched the movies in Swedish with English subtitles. They star Noomi Rapace as the girl with the dragon tattoo, Lisbeth Salander, and Michael Nyqvist as the lead journalist (and publisher) named Mikael Blomkvist for the investigative Millennium news magazine. There are numerous actors that have large screen time based on the movie and plot. Lena Endre plays Erika Berger, the editor of the Millennium and past and sometimes present love interest of Mikael. Mikael’s sister Annika, played by Annika Hallin, is an attorney whose role is more pronounced in the final Hornet’s Nest movie.

There was an English version of the first movie starring Daniel Craig and Rooney Mara which did well, but I think the movies need to be seen in Swedish as the culture and language lend themselves to the plot. Plus the two leads, Lisbeth and Mikael are so well played by Rapace and Nyqvist. The physicality and stoicism of Rapace brings so much to Lisbeth who has seen (and does see) more trauma than anyone should ever have.

The plots are detailed, but fast moving. The physical action is present, but not like the CGI movies where it is constant. There is lot to unpack through the dialogue, which is good. Subtitles help greatly as you can rewind and read what was said. To me, the Swedish language lends itself to the dialogue as it is not as overdramatized as American English sometimes is in movies. In fact, some of the best scenes are where Lisbeth just stares back at people who are there to use her rather than give them any fuel to add to the fire. And, when she does speak, she disarms people with her intellect and memory.

Each movie is rated highly by Rotten Tomatoes as is the English version. A key reason is each story and screenplay has a captivating plot and intrigue. If you have not seen the movies, give them a look. If you have, let me know what you think? Also, if you read the books, let me know how close the movies follow the books.

*Note: Per Wikipedia,

“Millennium is a series of best-selling and award-winning Swedish crime novels, created by journalist Stieg Larsson. The two primary characters in the saga are Lisbeth Salander, an asocial computer hacker with a photographic memory, and Mikael Blomkvist, an investigative journalist and publisher of a magazine called Millennium.

Larsson planned the series as having 10 installments, but completed only three before his sudden death in 2004.[1][2] All three were published posthumously by Norstedts FörlagThe Girl with the Dragon Tattoo in 2005, The Girl Who Played with Fire in 2006, and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets’ Nest in 2007. Larsson’s novels were originally printed in Swedish, with English editions by Quercus in the United Kingdom and Alfred A. Knopf in the United States translated by Steven “Reg Keeland” T. Murray. The books have since been translated by many publishers in over 50 countries. By March 2015, 80 million copies of the first three books had been sold worldwide.”

Stepford Wives, Bladerunner, and ex-Machina are here now (a reprise)

I wrote this post five years ago, but we have gone further down the Yellow Brick Information Highway. It is worth a revisit in today’s context. Let me know your thoughts. Our Australian friend Amanda wrote a recent post about AI, which is worth a gander. A link to her post is below.

I have seen snippets about this, but my wife turned over to a Dr. Oz show today whose subject was about “sexbots.” If you have not seen these, they exist, look somewhat real, and have artificial intelligence. Yikes. Dr. Oz first interviewed psychologists, one who was alarmed, while the other who felt it was OK. The former noted those who would be missing out on real intimacy plus some who may have a tendency to act out more violent fantasies, while the latter noted that people need companionship even if electronic.

Then, he interviewed one of the inventors, who dutifully said it is like owners talking with pets, with the robot being more of a companion. The robots were programmed with favorite movies, books, etc. that could be espoused, if asked. He noted if the owner tried to treat the robot violently (sexual assault, rape), it would shut down. He added with such a high cost (about US$10,000), it would be bad for the owner to treat the robot poorly.

And, if that was not a bridge too far, he said some have made the robot look like a former wife who had passed away. The thought of “Stepford Wives” came to mind. As for the companionship, I was recalling the recent “Blade Runner 2049” movie which updated the earlier version made in the early 1980s. In both, the “replicants” included some that were built to be consorts to men (and I presume women), where few of the opposite sex were present. In the latter, one of the replicants had a holographic live-in girlfriend who offered the companionship. The theme of “Ex Machina” is about a talented AI programmer being asked to test a lifelike, attractive companion.

So, what about this? In the category of “to each his (or her) own,” I guess if this is what floats your boat and provides a solution to loneliness, so be it. I guess we each have fantasy lovers that we can dream about, so is this a natural evolution? Yet, it still gives me the willies. Plus, most movies about robots usually do not end well for humans. So, maybe this could lead to our extinction or replacement. Maybe it will lead to test tube babies as in “Brave New World.” Or, maybe we will become cyborgs like the group in “Star Trek Next Generation” called “The Borg” a collective intelligence embodied in former humanoids.

Tell me what you think? Is this a good thing or a horrible path to follow? I did think of a humorous use for women if they had their own sexbot. The robot would have to be adept at foreplay and cuddling, but would also take out the trash and do the dishes without being asked and could fix a clogged drain or install a dimmer switch. And, if it needed to ask directions, it would do so. But, that internal GPS would forego the need.

Roy Orbison – a few quick poignant stories

I was watching a biopic on the singer Roy Orbison who sang “Pretty woman”, “Crying”, “Only the lonely”, etc. the other night. Orbison influenced so many artists who grew up as teens listening to his great voice cover songs of loneliness, love, and lust.  Two examples that occurred in the 1980s reveal the respect others had for him.

First, several musicians like Bruce Springsteen, Elvis Costello, Bonnie Raitt, kd lang, and James Burton (one the best guitarist and collaborators you never heard of) did a concert with Orbison in small venue, recorded in black and white. It is well worth the watch.

Second, several names you will also recognize joined with Orbison to form The Traveling Wilburys – guys like George Harrison, Bob Dylan, Tom Petty and Jeff Lynne (founder and lead of ELO). The rag tag band had the number one album right in the middle of a totally different music era ranging from big hair bands to pop groups.

But, three stories from the documentary intrigued me, making me smile and tear-up at the same time. Let me start with the saddest one.

The song “Pretty woman” was written in one afternoon about his first wife Claudette, inspired by a friend who was sitting with Orbison as she walked out to go shopping. The line of “pretty woman walking down the street” led to the song. This would be his biggest hit, but sadly he and Claudette would later divorce, reconcile and divorce again before tragedy struck. She was killed in motorcycle crash leaving behind their two kids and a still distraught Orbison.

Apparently, he was quite funny and could do all the lines to Monty Python movies and would keep people like Petty, Dylan, Lynne and Harrison in stitches during studio sessions with The Traveling Wilbury’s. Ironically, Harrison produced a movie with one the Python guys called “Time Bandits” which makes you smile throughout. Having watched footage of Orbison over the years with his sad countenance and sad songs, I would have never had guessed he was considered funny.

Lastly, kismet exists. The movie “Blue Velvet” is a cult classic, one reason is the soundtrack including several Orbison songs. One of those is “In dreams,” the first stanza of which is as follows:

“I close my eyes then I drift away
Into the magic night, I softly say
A silent prayer like dreamers do
Then I fall asleep to dream my dreams of you.”

Bono of U2 told the story of how he was listening to the Blue Velvet soundtrack and dreamed that night of Orbison’s songs. He said he also dreamed of a song that seemed like an Orbison song, but wasn’t. It was one he had created. So, the next morning, he wrote down and played a song that later became “She’s a mystery to me” which he formulated with guitarist the Edge later that day.

That night after a performance in England, Bono got a knock on the door and his aide said Roy Orbison is here with his wife Barbara (his second) and he wanted to meet you. Orbison said his kids loved U2 and he wanted to hear what it was all about. Bono said he would love to work with Orbison, to which Orbison asked if he had any songs they could do. Bono said, in fact, he does and played “She’s a mystery to me” for Orbison which they recorded and released in 1989.

Sadly, they were working on an album called “Mystery girl”, when Orbison died at the age of only 52. He and Barbara were in Paris and needed to go to an event in England, but Orbison said he needed to fly home for some commitments and meet her there. Barbara said when they spoke on the phone after he landed in the US that was the last time they spoke.

I was floored by this last story and truly saddened by the first one. But, I am glad that the singer of songs was a funny man. When one of your greatest songs is “Crying” which we all have done at some point, it does your heart good to hear he liked to laugh and make others laugh as well. And, for Monty Python fans out there, to honor Orbison, think of the bit remembered as “It’s just a flesh wound.” My lads could recite this in its entirety with Orbison.



Hidden Figures – a reprise of a story about heroes who overcame

With February being Black History Month and March being Women’s History Month, there are few better stories than one that honors both as noted below. Here is a reprise of a post I wrote six years ago.

My family had the opportunity to see the movie “Hidden Figures” recently. It may be one of the finest movies I have seen in the past few years. From the online movie summary, it is about the “incredible untold story of Katherine G. Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson – brilliant African-American women working at NASA, who served as the brains behind one of the greatest operations in history: the launch of astronaut John Glenn into orbit….The visionary trio crossed all gender and race lines to inspire generations to dream big.”

The movie stars Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, and Janelle Monáe, with a key role for Kevin Costner. These three mathematicians helped plot a course into space, so that our astronauts could return safely. And, when computers were destined to replace them, one taught other African-American women in the computing department how to program in Fortran to save their jobs and supply capable talent to the NASA space effort, since so few folks knew Fortran.

We must value diversity for its own sake, but also from economic and development standpoints. If we limit where ideas can come from, we limit ideas. It gets no simpler than that math equation. As Johnson notes, math does not care what color you are. The other key point is the math to launch, orbit and return safely was breaking new ground, so innovative thinking was key. Johnson offered that kind of innovation, which married some old school math to solve the new problems.

Throughout history, ideas have come from those who understand and are in proximity to the problem. A gay man named Alan Turing saved over a million lives in World War II and shortened the war by two years per General Dwight Eisenhower by solving the Nazi Enigma communication code. Yet, he had to hide his homosexuality and was later imprisoned for it when discovered. This WWII hero died in jail. The 2014 movie “The Imitation Game” is about Turing’s efforts.

A black man named Vivien Thomas helped solve the Blue Baby death problem by restoring the full flow of blood from the heart through groundbreaking open heart surgery on a baby. Yet, like the NASA mathematicians, he had to battle racism which would not allow him in the operating room, at first. His story is told in the 2004 movie, “Something the Lord Made.”

Jesus said we should treat each other like we want to be treated. It is the right thing to do, but it is also the wise thing to do. Please remember this quote from an economist who advised Presidents Reagan and Clinton, “Innovation is portable.” And, where it occurs is where the jobs start. So, we need to let innovative ideas flourish regardless of their source.

Two movies about real heroes

Two historical movies caught our attention this past weekend about two different kinds of heroes. Or maybe I should say heroines, as both are women. The first is called “The Spy” and it is a recent movie about a Swedish and Norwegian film star named Sonja Wigert back in the 1930s who turned out to be a double agent working for the Swedes in World War II.

The second movie is called “Entertaining Angels: The Dorothy Day Story” which is about a human rights activist of that name who helped the impoverished throughout most of her life. The unusual title comes from a comment made by her sister-in-law who said her mother told her to be aware that you never know when you are entertaining an angel.

“The Spy” is in subtitles and stars Ingrid Bolsø Berdal. Wigert’s career was effectively ruined as she was seen as betraying her country’s needs in working with the Nazis, as she spoke German, Norwegian and English. Decades later, it was discovered that she was actually a spy working for her country and the allied effort, a fact she could not tell anyone, even after the war. Her efforts led to the capture of two Swedish nationals actually working on behalf of the Nazis and saving the life of a boyfriend who turned out to be a spy as well for an allied cause. In so doing, her boyfriend thought she was a Nazi spy, so he would not speak with her after that.

“The Dorothy Day Story” stars Moira Kelly with an added performance by Martin Sheen as a mentor. Day started out as a suffragette, but later evolved into helping the poor after seeing their plight through the eyes of nun played by Melinda Dillon (from “Close Encounters of the Third Kind”) and Sheen who played a street preacher. The movie starts and finishes with her consoling an inmate where she is serving a few days for being arrested for protesting, which happened often. But, her main cause was taken care of people giving them food, shelter and restoring their dignity. Her actions shamed the New York diocese of the Catholic Church into being better advocates, as she was often portrayed as too progressive for their purpose.

These movies are worth watching. Both women sacrificed a great deal for their causes, but took away the satisfaction of serving a greater good. If you cannot watch them, take a quick look at their Wikipedia profiles.

Friday follies – February 10, 2023 edition

It still amazes me as I type in 2023 on the date. It cannot mean I am getting any older, as I strive for the Benjamin Button strategy of getting younger with each passing year. Of course, I will not look like Brad Pitt as I look younger.

Someone once told me what the movie “Benjamin Button” is about saying it is like “Forrest Gump” in reverse. Too funny. It is not as entertaining as Mr. Gump’s movie, but it is still interesting. If Gump were run in reverse, Forrest would get his leg braces late in life and get worse after he took them off.

The comedian Larry the Cable Guy got some pushback from his fans when he used a pretty funny reference to congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene’s antics at the State of the Union address. Larry noted, “This pic reminds me of every comedians x girlfriend coming to their show and sitting in the back 6 days after the breakup.” It should be noted he said after the pushback he was not being critical of Greene herself. I will leave the interpretation in your hands.

Speaking of the State of the Union, Senator Mitt Romney was none too kind to the vast misrepresentation of the resume of incoming congressman George Santos. What amazes me is how such misrepresentation could have stood scrutiny of any vetting process. As of this writing, the Republican Party from his district is pursuing legal action to have him removed from office for gross misrepresentation and unreported wrongdoing. This is on top of his being looked at by the House Ethics committee.

Maybe we need folks like Forrest Gump and Larry the Cable Guy in Congress. They certainly could represent themselves better than these two congressional representatives and others who are top of mind. Maybe after an inane bill is proposed, we could hear Congressman Gump say “stupid is as stupid does” and watch it go down into defeat. Or, maybe Congressman Larry could bring the necessary bit of humor to lighten people up.

It should be noted that former comedian Al Franken was actually a very informed and credible Senator who did his homework. This was before his acting irresponsibly was caught on tape and led to his resignation. To his credit, he did resign, which is at least recognition he screwed up.

We could use fewer screw-ups, but more mea culpas would at least be a step in the right direction. It should be noted that long before he ran for president, Senator John McCain was censured for being too close to an unscrupulous banker and donor during the Savings & Loan crisis. So, there is a place for such scrutiny. McCain screwed up, paid a price but lived to serve another day.

We need our elected officials to be among our better angels not our worse demons. They at least should act with that purpose in mind. Truth, civility, diligence, accountability and responsibility are words that need to be remembered. Name calling, denigration, labelling are not admirable attributes.