Movie Review: A Call to Spy (2019)

 

At the beginning of World War II, the British were desperate for information, and the traditional methods of espionage didn’t seem to work sufficiently.

In an age were women in war were not a common occurrence, Churchill requested that the spy agency, the SOE or Special Operations Executive, recruit women to work behind enemy lines and pass information back home via wireless Morse code transmitters.

Using those transmitters was a very dangerous activity. The units were bulky, the size of a suitcase, had to be set up in secret locations and could only be used for a short time. The problem was that they were easily traceable, so the users had to be on the move all the time. And if a “wireless operator” was intercepted by the enemy, the team that depended on him or her were left stranded without a connection home and had to operate “in the dark.”

Vera Atkins (Stana Katic) was the head of the spy department at the SOE. Among many other men and women, she recruited two very unusual candidates: Virginia Hall (Sarah Megan Thomas) was an American woman who had been turned down in her quest to become a diplomat because she had a wooden leg. She was very capable and ambitious, and took on the challenge. The other was a Muslim woman named Noor Inayat Khan (Radhika Atpe), a pacifist, but a soldier nonetheless, because she believed in defending her and her people’s rights. Noor was the wireless operator, and Virginia the relentless spy and operative.

Together they helped to undermine the Nazi regime in France. Albeit at a terrible cost, they left a powerful legacy in their wake.

A Call to Spy was inspired by true stories and the credits at the end listing the fates of the players left me inspired about the heroism of that generation and the tremendous sacrifices they made – so we all could live in this world we built for ourselves after the war.

Movie Review: Elvis (2022)

I was never an Elvis fan. I certainly didn’t know much of his life story other than the stereotypes we all know.

Watching this movie, I learned so much about the person behind the legend and the idol that I didn’t know before, so I really appreciated it. I had prejudices about Elvis, the star, and some of those got squashed as I watched how he grew up, obviously very talented, how he became an icon and a star, and how life caught up with him very quickly.

Of course, it’s a film about music, and the sound track is – as you’d expect – incredible.

Tom Hanks does an incredible job playing Elvis’ manager Colonel Tom Parker. I also never knew that Parker basically abused and exploited Elvis throughout his career.

My recommendation is simple: Watch the movie! You’ll like it.

Book Review: The Devil in the White City – by Erik Larsen

The Eiffel Tower was built for the World’s Fair in Paris in 1889. It was meant to be one the main attractions at the Fair,  and its focus was the vast constructions in iron and steel that were the great industrial advancement of that time. It took about two years to build and it inspired the world and became one of the most iconic architectural structures in the world. You cannot think of Paris today without the Eiffel tower.

After that, the architects in the United States and particularly in Chicago, the city that was vying to host the next World’s Fair in 1893, were challenged to come up with something greater than the Eiffel tower.

The result was “The White City” built out of swampland along Lake Michigan.

Why do I know all that now?

The Devil in the White City is not a novel. It’s a documentary about the building of the World’s Fair in Chicago. There is no dialog in this book, but narration and exposition of minute facts about the vision and the people who made that vision happen. Real-life characters who were associated with the fair included Buffalo Bill, Theodore Dreiser, Susan B. Anthony, Thomas Edison, Archduke Francis Ferdinand, whose assassination on June 28, 1914 provided the spark that ignited World War I, and many others. The father of Walt Disney was a carpenter at the fair. Walt probably learned a thing or two there. Finally, there  was a young engineer named Ferris, who had to try several times to propose his idea to build a giant wheel in an effort to out-Eiffel the genius in Paris and his tower. His name eventually also became a household name, as we have all been on a Ferris wheel.

And most of all, Daniel Hudson Burnham, the genius architect who went on and gave the world many buildings, both before and after the Fair, was the relentless driving force behind making the vision a reality. Beyond the White City, one of Burnham’s most recognizable buildings is the Flatiron Building in New York City.

There was also a notorious serial killer associated with the Fair. H. H. Holmes was a young, dashing medical doctor who moved to Chicago and started a spree of fraud and killing, all seemingly in plain sight. Holmes was obviously a psychopath, someone who cares about nobody and nothing but his own ego and satisfaction. To him, human beings, friends and enemies, were simple toys in the game of cat and mouse that kept him entertained. Humans were completely disposable. The book got me into the mind of the psychopath and I must honestly say that Holmes was the most evil person I have ever read about.

In The Devil in the White City, the author Erik Larson switches between telling the story of the Fair and the story of the killer, and it reads like a cliffhanger novel.

Seldom have I read a documentary that is so gripping, so life-like, and one that taught me so much about a time and a place in history that I really had not paid much attention to.

Living in a Safe Country

Today I went sailing in San Diego Bay with family and friends. In the car on the way home, the conversation went to “the good life” we’ve all been blessed with. How our lives are safe, we have intact homes, enough income to eat every day, and we don’t have to worry about anything seriously threatening our safety and well-being.

That made me think.

Say that a coup happened in the United States right now. A strongman took over our government by undermining its institutions, and by taking command of law enforcement and the military. It’s been done before in many other countries. If that happened, it would not take long before our way of life would collapse. Gangs would be marauding in our suburban neighborhoods, raping women, taking our food and valuables at will and threatening our lives.

Say you have a couple of small children, a six-month old baby and a three-year-old toddler. To keep them safe and give them a chance at a normal life, you pack up your SUV with the kids and a few belongings and you head up to Canada, where the government is still intact.

However, as you cross the border, you get arrested by the Canadian border authorities. They take away your baby and your toddler – who knows where to?  – and without obtaining any information about how to find you and reconnect you with your children, they send you back – without your children.

That is what our American government did in 2017, when they sent political refugees back to Honduras, Nicaragua and all the other countries people were fleeing – only after they took away their children with no plan to ever give them back.

Do we really live in a safe country?

New Artwork: Lath Art American Flag

I wanted to experiment with lath art, which is basically using strips of wood to make works of art. To “get my hands dirty” I set the goal of making an American flag out of wood. The materials are all simple and straight from Home Depot. Strips of wood, a plywood backing, and I cheated with the stars. I bought them in bulk precut from an Etsy site.

Once I had finished the “painting” I needed a frame, so I asked my friend Kevin in New York, who is an accomplished woodworker, to make me a frame. The frame arrived today. It’s a mahogany shadow box.

Now I still have to finish and glue the frame, varnish it, finish the flag itself and mount it. It’s meant to be outside, so I have to give it a good seal, for the frame and the piece, to keep it from drying out or absorbing moisture.

How To Extract Maximum Money from Citizens

Somehow I am on Trump’s list of patriots. I get an email every day outlining some award, or opportunity to win a dinner with Trump, or a photo opportunity, or a golf date, like this one.

I kid you not, they come up with something different every day.
They promise baubles and they pander to my vanities. They tell me I am special. But there is never any substance, other than their obvious goal of extracting a maximum amount of money from me.

There is no objective. Trump is not running for any office. There is no ideology. There is no purpose. Trump is just trying to extract the maximum amount of money from the citizenry.

For example, the section below is an email I recently received – verbatim:

 

EPIC TRUMP EXPERIENCE

Save America Donald Trump Jr.

Friend,

Are you READY for the most EPIC experience with PRESIDENT TRUMP?

My father’s Trump Golf Classic is coming up, and he wants YOU to come. The moment our team told him about this upcoming event, President Trump was adamant you have the opportunity to experience it ALL.

WE WILL COVER YOUR FLIGHT AND YOUR HOTEL.
WE WILL COVER YOUR ROUND OF GOLF
YOU WILL MEET PRESIDENT TRUMP AND TAKE A PHOTO TOGETHER.

This is an experience like no other, and my father wants to share it with you. 

You need to ENTER NOW because spots are quickly filling up.

Please contribute ANY AMOUNT IMMEDIATELY to enter to win a chance to play a round of golf and meet President Trump. >>

You have always been one of my father’s VERY best Patriots, Friend, so you deserve this exclusive experience. This may NEVER HAPPEN AGAIN, so you must HURRY. Contribute RIGHT NOW to enter for a chance to join my father on his FAVORITE golf course.

Thank you,

Donald Trump Jr. Signature Headshot
Donald Trump Jr.

**NO PURCHASE, PAYMENT, CONTRIBUTION, OR TEXT MESSAGE NECESSARY TO ENTER OR WIN.** Contributing or sending a text message will not improve your chances of winning. Void where prohibited. You may enter by contributing to Save America JFC by clicking here. Alternatively by clicking here or by texting “GOLF” to 88022 for one (1) entry. By sending a text message from your mobile phone, you are providing your written consent to receive calls and SMS/MMS messages, including autodialed and automated calls and texts, to that number from the Save America JFC. Text message and data rates may apply. Consent is not required as a condition of entry. Text STOP to 88022 to opt-out. Entries must be received between June 14, 2022, at 12:00 a.m. Eastern Time, and ends on June 22, 2022, at 11:59 p.m. Eastern Time. Odds of winning depend on the number of eligible entries received. One (1) winner will receive round-trip transportation and accommodations for two (2) collectively, the “Prize.” The Promotion is open only to U.S. citizens or lawful permanent U.S. residents who are legal residents (green card holders) of the 50 United States, Puerto Rico, and the District of Columbia and are at least 18 years of age (or the age of majority under applicable law). Winners must be 18 or older (or of majority under applicable law) and meet other requirements as described in the Official Rules. Promotion subject to Official Rules and additional restrictions on eligibility may apply.  Visit here for full details and Official Rules. Sponsor: Save America, PO Box 13570, Arlington, VA 22219. 

Contributions to Save America JFC are not deductible for federal income tax purposes.
Paid for by Save America JFC, a joint fundraising committee on behalf of Save America and the Make America Great Again PAC. Save America JFC, PO Box 13570, Arlington, VA 22219

Thank you for joining Team Trump. Thanks to your generous support, we’ll win BACK our Republican Majority in the House AND the Senate. To stay up-to-date on our latest efforts, President Trump needs you to sign up to become an Official Trump Text Member IMMEDIATELY.

TEXT TRUMP to 88022 to start receiving text messages from President Trump.

"We're going to take back the house. We're going to take back the senate. With your help, we are going to defeat the radical democrats" - President Donald J. Trump

We are emailing you at ***********@gmail.com to update you on critical information regarding President Trump’s efforts to SAVE AMERICA. President Trump is calling on YOU to take the next step and activate your Official 2022 Trump Gold Card. When you do, we’ll send you your own PERSONALIZED Gold Card. You can activate your membership by following this link.

Official Trump Gold Card >>>
ACTIVATE HERE >>

Please follow this link if you would like to opt out of essential campaign updates. If you would like to give feedback to the President, follow this link. Thank you again for your unwavering support.

Movie Review: Operation Mincemeat (2021)

In World War II, the British need to deceive the Germans that they are about to attack Greece, turning German attention away from Sicily, their actual target.

To do that, they float a corpse of a British officer in the ocean to be found by the Germans. The officer holds a briefcase of classified material, fabricated to support the story. The problem is, how to make it convincing and foolproof. The Germans are smart and the whole plot turns into a game of “do they know that we know that they know that we know?” Thousands of lives of the soldiers attacking Sicily on the fateful day depend on the Germans falling for the ruse. If they don’t, it will be a bloodbath on the beaches of Sicily.

Operation Mincemeat shows the shadow warriors behind the scenes, who do their work from desks. It’s a spy thriller, based on a true story.

Right Time, Right Place – but Wrong Man

Last week I was driving the rural roads of upstate New York, going from Albany west on Route 20. My destination was the Fenimore Art Museum in Cooperstown, which had a special exhibition of Wyeth family figure drawings that I wanted to see.

I was scheduled for a work meeting at noon local time, and I planned to be in town by then and catch it on my computer using my Verizon hot spot for network access. Once I entered town about 20 minutes before my call, I drove down the main street and got lucky: In the middle of town, busy with people and cars all around, I found an empty parking space on the right side of the road that I was able to parallel-park into.

I left my engine running, since it was really hot outside, and got set up for my meeting with my laptop leaning against the steering wheel.

Then I looked up and out my side window, and this is what I saw:

This is the main entrance to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York. People save their money to take their kids on vacation to come here as a destination. And here I was parked across the street from it for a prosaic business meeting.

I have to explain here that I do not know anything about baseball. I have been to exactly one game in my life and I was bored. I do not know any names of any baseball players, except Babe Ruth, oh, and maybe Joe DiMaggio – that was another baseball player, right? Oh, and I also have to add that in 1982, I once got a private tour of their home stadium and facilities by the chief financial officer of the Chicago White Sox; I was working on the season billing program for the White Sox when I was working for Ticketmaster.

I didn’t go into the Hall of Fame after my meeting. Rather, I tried to find some lunch down the street at a diner, but the diner was closed, so I stopped at the sushi place next door. I was reading and eating my myself. At the table next to me there were a couple of old Italian-looking guys in their late 70ies, one of them with a cane, having their lunch. While I am sitting there, a family man with his teenage son comes up to the old guy with the cane and asks him for an autograph for his son. They are chatting it up for a while, the boy awestruck, quiet and just smiling.

So I was at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and didn’t go in, and I sat next to an old legend whose name I don’t know.

I was definitely at the right time, at the right place – but I was the wrong man.

Book Review: Sea of Tranquility – by Emily St. John Mandel

Sea of Tranquility is a misleading title for this book. This is a book about a pandemic (which came out just in April of 2022) which is meaningful as we all have learned a thing or two about pandemics in the last few years. It’s a book about time travel with an unusual twist, and of course it was the time travel part that got my attention first. It has very little to do with what we associate with the Sea of Tranquility, the location of the Apollo 11 moon landing, other than there are several moon bases near that location by the year 2200, two of which play a major role in the plot.

It’s also about the idea or concept that our entire world is just a simulation, an elaborate video game that someone or something else is playing.

The story starts in 1912 with the hapless son of a British aristocrat who has been sent to exile in British Columbia, and plays in part in the late 20th century, and then again in early 2200 and 2400.

There really is not one single protagonist to follow. It’s a group of people and it takes some time for the tale’s threads to get woven together into a consistent tapestry, but in the end it all makes sense.

It made me marvel about what it would be like to live on the moon and it provides some good and descriptive passages. It’s a quick read, and I enjoyed the book.

 

Book Review – Kaiju Preservation Society – by John Scalzi

A co-worker suggested this book, so I picked it up. I had read several other books by John Scalzi which I had enjoyed. Even though the description of this one hadn’t drawn me in before, I went for it now.

It’s basically an alternate universe story, where, on another earth, evolution took a very different course, mammals never happened, and huge massive Godzilla like creatures ruled the earth. The creatures are the Kaiju. A group of scientists in an international foundation study them.

I found myself very disinterested in the story, not engaged by the characters, and the science just made no sense. By the time I was 20% into the book I noticed that I was only reading it so I would eventually get done with it and move on. This went on until 39%, when I could not stand it any more and I closed it – as another “book not finished reading.”

As is my policy, I do not rate books I don’t finish. I just explain what’s in it, and why I could not read it. Kaiju Preservation Society was just utterly uninteresting. When I don’t care about what happens next, I just can’t go on.

Book Review: Dylan and Me – by Louie Kemp

Louie Kemp was 11 years old when he was at summer camp in northern Wisconsin. There was another 12 year old boy with a guitar by the name of Bobby Zimmerman from Hibbing, Minnesota. Along with a third boy, Larry Kegan, the three became best friends, for life.

Louie Kemp had unparalleled access to Bob Dylan, starting in their youth when Bobby already knew that one day he’d be a rock ‘n roll star. They were best friends throughout their lives. Louie tells anecdotes from their childhood on through Bob Dylan’s early years that bring the musician’s elusive and almost reclusive life to light. Most of the substance of the book focuses on the years of the Rolling Thunder Review, which Louie produced for Dylan at his request. He tells some backstories of the makings of Blood on the Tracks and Desire. Much of the narrative focuses on the 1970ies, when Dylan did some of his best work, went through his Christian transformation and then back to his Jewish roots.

I have read other Dylan biographies over the years, but this one was the most enjoyable. It’s not a biography, it’s a best friend telling the story of his youth and younger years, providing insight into the formation of a music legend, and doing it simply by telling little stories and vignettes that shed some light on the person we all know as Bob Dylan, but just Bobby to Louie Kemp.

Movie Review: Where the Crawdads Sing (2022)

I read the book when it first came out in 2019 and I gave it four stars in my review.

Having read the book gave me a much better understanding of the movie, and I believe I benefitted from that. I don’t know how much a viewer would understand only from the content of the movie alone.

Kya is a little girl when the story starts in 1953. The family lives in a ramshackle house in the coastal swamps of North Carolina. The father is a drunk and he regularly beats his children and his wife for minor reasons. One morning, Kya’s mother walks out and never comes back. In the coming months, all her older siblings disappear, until only she is left living with her father. Then one day, he too does not return. Kya is left fending for herself. She avoids interaction with people, dodges Social Services and maintains herself by selling fresh mussels early in the morning to a friendly local storekeeper. She grows up illiterate, but has an intense love of nature and great artistic ability. She catalogues the ecosystem of the swamp world around her.

Two local boys attract her attention. Tate is a true friend, teaches her to read and write and eventually love. When Tate goes off to college, Chase, another boy from town, courts her. His motives are not as pure as Tate’s and soon Kya’s trust is broken.

Where the Crawdads sing is a wonderful movie that stays quite true to the book, but of course leaves out a lot of detail. As I said above, I think viewers who read the book first will get more out of the experience. The characters and the feeling of the location the movie portrays matched very closely those in my head and rounded out my view of the story.

Movie Review: Hustle (2022)

Stanley Sugerman (Adam Sandler) is a pro basketball scout for the Philadelphia 76ers. The life on the road for a scout is brutal. His daughter is a teenager, and he has missed all of her birthdays. While his family is loving and understanding, the stress on him is enormous. The owner of the team and his mentor suddenly dies, and when his son takes over the management, Stanley soon finds himself fired.

He goes on a scouting mission in Madrid, Spain and accidentally discovers Bo Cruz, an amateur player who plays hustle basketball on the streets for money. When he sees a possible superstar, the convinces Bo to let him coach and train him for the NBA.

There is a bit of Rocky in Hustle, and the training scenes, even though they are somewhat drawn out, are very reminiscent of Rocky Balboa running up the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the steps that have become known as the Rocky Steps. Bo also trains in the early morning hours in Philadelphia. Hustle is a predictable underdog movie. If you like pro basketball, you’ll enjoy some of the legends who appear and play themselves.

Movie Review: Hell or High Water (2016)

Toby Howard (Chris Pine) is an unemployed oil worker in Texas. After his mother passed away, he is about to lose the family ranch due to the foreclosure by the Texas Midland Bank. He is divorced and his two sons live with his ex-wife.

His brother Tanner Howard (Ben Foster) is released from prison. To get even with the bank, the two brothers start a string of bank robberies, always targeting Texas Midland Bank branches.

Texas Ranger Marcus Hamilton (Jeff Bridges) is just before retirement, when he is intrigued by this case and decides to solve it. He gets into the heads of the robbers, tries to find their motive and expect their next move.

Hell or High Water is a story about despair and hopelessness in rural Texas. It’s an adventure story where the heroes don’t have superpowers and gun shots kill. Jeff Bridges does a great job playing a crotchety old ranger with a lot of experience who uses his brain to outfox the thugs.