Saturday, June 10, 2017

Tom Cruise is Top Bomb in the New Mummy Movie.

Don't even watch the new mummy movie, because it is just a trailer for Mummy 2, and I'm not sure that is really going to happen.  The producers are so greedy they are already promoting it in the current Mummy movie which ought to be called Top Bomb.  They might be disappointed, as I predict people will stay away from this stale movie in droves.  Spoiler alert:  Normally I never give away elements of the plot, but in this case I actually give away a lot.  But the events are so stupid I'm confident you won't believe me unless you've actually seen the film. 

The Mummy Lady throws up in this movie.  I almost did too.  

Tom Cruise is almost old enough to remember when the pyramids were being built, but he's actually rather good as the lead actor.  Then Annabelle Wallis is fine as the incredibly-beautiful-for-no-reason government scientist, Sofia Boutella is the mummy (semi-sexy but not much), Jake Johnson is Tom's sidekick, and I have no idea what Russell Crowe is doing.  I think he showed up for the wrong movie. They were filming a remake of Dr Jekyl and Mr. Hyde next door and he went to the wrong studio and showed up in the Top Bomb movie by mistake.   Honest, that's what happened. 
Speaking of casting, I was happy with the performances, but once again, another movie fails to have an ethnically diverse cast.  It's basically a bunch of white guys messing around with evil Egyptian magic.  

The essence of the movie is about collecting the right sort mumbo jumbo needed to use ancient Egyptian magic to prolong life. It's complicated.  Let's see, you need to make friends with a bad Egyptian God so that they will give you an ancient magic curse.  Or maybe you need a spell to read, and a magic knife. No wait, you need a magic jewel too or it doesn't work.  Or maybe you can use modern chemistry to make a potion to skip all the worship-related stuff and that might work about as well.  

Then you have to decide who is going to stab who and whether or not stabbing is helpful or harmful to your desire to come back from the dead.  And if they do come back from the dead, will they be in a good mood when they come back?  
I give up.  I can't explain how the coming back from the dead thing workds.  I have no idea why, but some people die and come back in this movie and some don't.  It would be better if they had all stayed dead, frankly.  

Everyone wants to stab Tom Cruise and most of the time it's kind of a friendly, laid-back California style stabbing.  They just hope he is basically okay with it, and try to talk up the idea of being stabbed to death. It could be good for science! Good for religion!  It might save your girlfriend!   Whaddya say, Tom?  

Well, all the rules are very confusing, and sorting through the rules of immortality substitutes for a plot.  There is in fact no plot at all.  I still am not sure why some people become zombies and some don't.  Plus some retain most of their personality and other's don't.  

I also dislike the minor mummies and miscellaneous zombies, who are thrown into the movie in case someone wants to make a video game out of it (they won't).  Anyway these tiny mummies are about as dangerous as chipmunks, and just annoying.   

The movie does a good job of providing startling surprises, so if you like being scared it's okay to watch.   Don't let little kids see it though; I imagine a 10 year old might get really scared at certain points.  

Friday, June 9, 2017

What Did We Learn from James Comey?

It seems to me that former Director Comey is highly ethical and principled.  But he wouldn't participate in coverups for Secretary Clinton or President Trump, so of course everyone hates his guts.
     Yesterday's hearing of testimony from James Comey was illuminating on many issues, but still left me wondering about the investigation of American ties to Russia.  Senators Richard Burr and  Mark Warner are to be congratulated for carrying out a truly bipartisan hearing at a professional level. It's proof that it can be done.  But they needed more specificity.   

    First of all, let's drop the jailhouse rhetoric.  Nobody is sending James Comey to jail for leaking UNclassified information.   That's not illegal.   By the same token, you're not going to send the President to jail on Obstruction of Justice, when it is his constitutional duty to be the supervisor of the Director of the FBI.  Of course he has the right to fire him.  It might have been a bad decision, but you are not sending the President to jail for that (I refer you to Alan Dershowitz's analysis of that fantasy).   So let's drop the sensationalism for a minute and ask what was actually learned from the testimony.  

      The answers were seemingly very clear, but in reality some of the questions were way too broad, and didn't elicit much information.  For example, consider the following exchange below (Blue type used for the actual transcript, my comments are in black).

BURR: Do you have any doubt that Russia attempted to interfere in the 2016  elections?
COMEY: None.

Well, what do you mean by "Russia?" Does it mean President Putin actually ordered operatives to attempt to swing the election to Trump?  Or was it some agency of the Russian government?  Or are we talking about independent hackers?  And what does it mean to interfere?  The question isn't specific enough to understand Comey's true conclusions.  Some clarification appears below:

BURR: Do you have any doubt that the Russian government was behind the intrusions in the DNC and the DCCC systems, and the subsequent leaks of that information?
COMEY: No, no doubt.

I think this means that the Russian government agencies hacked email accounts in the Democratic National Committee and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Community.  Others may also have hacked them but Russian spy agencies were definitely involved in some way, in Comey's opinion.  According to legal sites on the web, "Hacking" can range from a misdemeanor to a Class B Felony punishable by 20 years in jail if you get caught. However, what I would like to know is whether the Russian SVR intelligence agency pulls these shenanigans as standard operating procedure, or did a high official (President Putin or SVR Director Sergey Naryshkin, for example) order up something special for the election?  Can we be sure that this sort of activity goes way beyond the norm, and that the US, for example, would never do this to Russia or some other sovereign government? 

BURR: Do you have any doubt that the Russian government was behind the cyber intrusion in the state voter files? COMEY: No.

Again, this is a hack and likely illegal in America.  In Russia, it's probably not illegal and in fact people are getting paid to carry out such activities.  So I want to know whether this is part of an ongoing cyber war (are we in a secret war with Russia, and nobody bothered to tell us??), or whether the SVR cooked up something special specifically for this election.  

BURR: Do you have any doubt that officials of the Russian government were fully aware of these activities?  COMEY: No doubt.

Senator Burr, what officials?!  Do you mean Putin?  The head of the SVR?  or some bureaucrat who is paid to make mischief?  "Fully aware"  suggests  explicit understanding and approval if not direction of the activities?   

I have another question that I haven't seen asked in the press.  I've heard that some of the most effective operations involved the use of social media.  In other words the maximum damage to the voting base was created via LEGAL means. For example, they are said to have infiltrated Facebook and social media, and to promote "fake news" about the candidate.     Maybe these damaging narratives were hatched in Moscow.  If so, it is terrible, damaging and alarming and also effective in turning votes.   But does it actually violate any US laws??   I believe it is legal to create fake accounts in Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. Making propaganda is also legal.  Lies about politicians are welcome in the American system, not criminal, not considered libel.    It may even be legal to ask for volunteer helpers from outside the US.  Unethical, yes. Tacky, yes.  But does it violate a US law?   I'm not a lawyer, but I don't see how.
     Turning it around, American politicians often express admiration or outright endorsement of foreign politicians.  That is legal, isn't it?  And what if Americans publish a slew of websites for some political party or another using fake identities.  What crime would they actually be charged with, and has anyone ever done time for it?
    In the internet age, it may be very hard to bring charges against a foreign person who wishes to deceive Americans about specific people or political parties.  

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Waiting for Gadot: Wonder Woman Arrives

Look out world, here comes Wonder Woman!

     Hello, DC, what kept you?  Wonder Woman is an awesome,  incredible movie finally breaking out of DC's terrible slump of repetitive boring movies.  
        We were introduced to Wonder Woman in the excruciating Batman versus Superman (my review of that pathetic film is linked here: Batman vs Superman review ), in which two plodding middle aged Superheros were upstaged by a Woman with 90% of Superman's abilities (glass ceiling you know), who swung a sword and grunted like a Pro Tennis player.  I guess they thought that was sexy.  I thought it was dopey and mainly showed that the creators had a fetish for tennis players.  
       I suspect that the last several DC movies have been overly dark and gloomy because the Joker was their best character, and he was a very dark, ominous figure. So DC decided "Gee, let's make everything dark and ominous!"  So we have had dark and ominous Batman, dark and ominous Superman, dark and ominous everyone.  Well, that doesn't work for everyone.  
       I'm happy to report that Director Patty Jenkins moved beyond that.  The backdrop of World War I provides a serious and grim tone for the film, but it is not limited to that.  
        The basic premise is that Wonder Woman comes from a race of Amazons who have been isolated from humanity for thousands of years.  But they learn about the Great War in the outside world, and conclude that humanity is being influenced by an evil cosmic power to descend into a state of perpetual warfare (I might add that 100 years hence, it is still not clear whether we ever made it out of that state).  Princess Diana must decide whether to intervene, and if so, how.  In a world at war, are there any good people left? 
        Wonder Woman avoids the stereotypic bad guys that have hitherto been characteristic of DC movies.   This movie explores the motives of evil at both the human level as well as the cosmic level.  Are the War Machines of Europe the source of evil in the world?  Or is there something beyond, and if so, how can it be discovered?
        Gal Gadot is magnificent as Wonder Woman. First of all, she looks the part, but more importantly she is totally believable.  On the one hand Wonder Woman is naive about humanity, but on the other hand she understands the mythological nature of the universe in a totally different way from her mortal contemporaries.  Gadot's Wonder Woman is sexy, but she is clearly a warrior and not a beauty pageant contestant.   
      I don't believe the movie industry has ever understood the value of the superhero franchises.   Batman vs Superman proved that people would see a movie based on its title alone, since it was one of the worst movies in its generation. Once word got out that it was a terrible movie, people stopped turning out for it, but it's opening weekend showed how intensely interested the public is. 
     Wonder Woman is the most compelling female character in the superhero universe, and yet no one realized that it would be worth making a movie about her until now. Fortunately this movie has much greater artistic merit, and so I predict it will continue to score at the box office rather than falling off a cliff like Batman vs Superman.  
     Now, some of the picayune details that I didn't understand.  First of all, it seems clear that Paradise Island is some kind of Greek Mediterranean island with perpetual warm weather.   But about 1/3 of the way through the movie I finally figured out that the movie actually places it in the North Sea, and it's actually rather easy to travel to Jolly Old England from Paradise Island.  Oh.  
         I mentioned previously my dissatisfaction with Wonder Woman's sword in Batman vs Superman, which was a throw-in because the creators had a thinly disguised fetish for the likes of Serena and Maria.  Well, ok, there is a role for the sword in this movie, but she may or may not need to use it again in the future.     
         Wonder Woman is also an ethnically bland film, with very few parts for persons who are not Caucasian.  I suppose you could blame that on World War I not being ethnically diverse, but they are going to have to do better in the future.  
        I'm also hoping that Wonder Woman will one day break through the glass ceiling imposed by comicdom, in which no female superheroine is allowed to be more than 90% as powerful as Superman.  No, a musclebound humanoid alien can not be more powerful than a Demi-Goddess.  Wonder Woman deserves to be the cleanup hitter in the DC movie universe.   Let her do some things that Superman can not.   WW is going to far out-gross Batman vs Supes, she's earned her spot. After the first billion dollars rolls in, the producers are going to ask, "duh.....why didn't we try this a bit earlier?"