Saturday, January 11, 2020

Movie Review: 1917

During World War I, Lance Corporal Tom Blake (Dean-Charles Chapman) is told that his brother’s battalions is about to walk into a trap set by the Germans. They will be massacred. Because the phone lines are cut, he and his friend Lance Corporal Will Schofield (George MacKay) are ordered to cross no-man’s land to warn them.

The Germans have withdrawn as a way of setting the trap. The two friends set out, making their way through the gruesome and corpse-strewn no-man’s land, though other soldiers warn them they have no chance of surviving. Will it be safe to use the German trenches? How can two lone soldiers hope to make their way through enemy-occupied territory to warn the other battalion?

1917 is the most immersive war movie I have ever seen. We are right there with them with seemingly impossible close-ups as they make their way through mud, rats, water-filled craters, claustrophobic trenches, and mutilated corpses. At no point was I aware that anyone was acting. They simply were the soldiers going through hazard after hazard, thinking they will be shot at any moment. The film is done in a continuous style, so the movie gives the impression it was done in two or three shots—no shifting to other viewpoints or convenient scene cuts.

This goes right up there with Saving Private Ryan and We Were Soldiers as the most realistic war movies. Some of you have sat through the horrifying first twenty minutes or so of Saving Private Ryan, but I have to warn you, the state of the corpses shown makes Saving Private Ryan look like a coming-out party. Hours later, I still feel stunned.

As long as you know what you’re in for, I recommend 1917.

Monday, January 6, 2020


Did anyone else see the inexplicable teenage mob at Alderwood Mall this past Saturday? (It’s a large shopping mall in Lynnwood, a suburb of Seattle.) Here are excerpts from a journal entry I was doing that day, when I planned to sort out magazines and newsletters, some of them years old.

12:40 – 1:50 Drove to Alderwood Mall. I walked around the mall twice on the inside for exercise.

1:50 – 2:35 Sorted through old magazines and newsletters I had brought with me. I did this in the food court, near the windows. A massive amount of teenagers were in the entrance to the food court from the main part of the mall, and in the food court itself. This made it difficult to walk through, because they were standing around in clusters, the way teens usually do.

2:35 – 3:25 I decided to get some lunch. The teenagers in the food court had reached critical mass. The majority of them filled the center of the food court, which is quite large. They talked loudly to hear each other in their clusters, which caused the cascade effect of their talking even louder. I tried to walk through them, but they were so densely packed it became physically impossible without shoving them aside. I squeezed my way out and did a circuitous route to the Panda Express.
            I observed them while standing in line. They did not seem to be in the mall for any big event. They were all in their clusters, talking among themselves, but not to other teens in neighboring clusters. They were so densely packed, shoulder to shoulder and back to back, they formed one big mob. They were all talking excitedly, taking pictures of themselves, and doing normal teen things, but all in a mass. They didn’t seem self-conscious of this odd gathering.
            All I could figure is that one group of teens would observe others standing around, so they would go to the “happening” place. They ranged from middle school to high school, with mostly no sign of parents.
            So I got my bowl of noodles and one entrée from the Panda Express for $8.78. It cost $1.25 extra because I chose the honey walnut shrimp. (Historians get an idea of how much food cost because of journal entries like this.) It took a long time because they had to cook up a new batch of the shrimp entrée. In other words, the crowds of teenagers were there from at least 1:50, and they formed the big central mass sometime after that. They were still that way when I sat down to eat. I’ve never seen this many teenagers all together at a mall before.
            I sat down well away from them and continued to observe them as I ate. Occasionally, a girl in one of the clusters would give out a squeal of excitement, but the teens in the other clusters wouldn’t notice. So again, there was no one event going on that attracted them.
            A couple of teen girls walked towards the massive crowd so quickly, their breeze blew the napkin off my lap.
            Eventually, a couple of security people showed up and inched their way into the crowd. After a while, the crowd dispersed, as slow as molasses. That meant clusters of teens were now wandering around the food court. They were still loud.
            I went back to my car to get more magazines and newsletters.

2:35 – 4:10 I did more sorting. The teenagers were pretty much gone, so the food court was back to normal.

I was tempted to take pictures of what I hope was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. But I don’t tend to publish pictures of minors without their parents’ approval. So here’s a generic picture of some teens.

photo by Alagich Katya

Just multiply in a dense space, and add those jeans with pre-torn rents in the front that some girls wear.

Thursday, January 2, 2020

Book Review: Terminal Alliance

In a future where galactic civilization will be dominated by highly advanced aliens, humans are not advanced at all. In fact, Earth’s civilization has collapsed. So humans are only considered good enough to be two things: Infantry or janitors.

Lieutenant Mops Adamopoulos and her motley team are janitors on an alien ship. When the ship gets struck by a missile, they have to go clean up a cracked sewer line—because that’s what humans are good for. But they get attacked by their fellow humans who have gone feral—shambling dolts who want to eat other sentient beings. How did this happen? Will it spread to other humans? 

Click to enlarge
to see the spray bottles

Terminal Alliance by Jim C. Hines is a decent adventure story. Mops and her crew have individual personalities, and the odd way humans are viewed by the various alien species is amusing. A disadvantage in Hines’ writing style is too much detail at times: He will give a detailed description of a character who is never seen again in the story. Or he will give a detailed description of a distant scene, and the characters just walk past it.

Mops and her team go from one alien world to another, trying to solve the mystery of what is happening to the remnants of humanity. Their janitorial team boldly outsmarts aliens, shimmies though pipes, explores sewage lines for evidence, and gets in gun battles on a galactic scale, which seems kind of improbable, but that is in keeping with the comic undertone of the story. On my first pass through, I thought the story dragged after the first quarter of the book. However, something about it made me want to read it a second time. The book had just enough interactions among the characters, amusing incidents, and forward motion that made it worth a second look.

Saturday, December 14, 2019

Movie Review: Richard Jewell

Richard Jewell is named after the security guard who spotted a backpack bomb in Centennial Park during the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta. He saved an immense amount of lives by running around, warning the crowd to evacuate. The movie tells the true story of how he was falsely accused of being the bomber.

Jewell fit the profile of someone who would plant a bomb to then become a hero by finding it: He was white, male, and had a lifelong dream of becoming a police officer. The FBI distrusted such wannabe cops. The local paper managed to get a leak of the investigation, then ran with the story. Because of that, the FBI was under pressure to resolve things quickly, so they ramped up the pressure on him.

If my description of the movie seems simple, it’s because the movie tells his story in a plain, straight-forward manner. There are no plot gimmicks or forced melodrama. It simply shows what happened.

Paul Walter Hauser should get an Oscar nomination for his performance. Hauser completely becomes Richard Jewell, a working-class hero who has no idea how to grapple with the forces out to destroy him. And Kathy Bates as his longsuffering mother is amazing as she shows the anguish she went through.

Clint Eastwood produced and directed. He has complete credibility for this sort of movie. Those of you who are old enough will remember the saying, “It took Nixon to go to China.” That is, President Nixon was so thoroughly anti-Communist before and during his presidency, he could go and open relations with Communist China without the American people thinking he was betraying us. In the same way, Clint Eastwood as an actor is most famously known as his Dirty Harry character, who had to unflinchingly use lethal force to deal with the worst of street criminals. Obviously, Clint Eastwood is not anti-law enforcement. But he can show how horrible things can become when law enforcement goes out of control.

One of the FBI agents does say something interesting in the movie. A profile is just “a jumping-off point.” It’s just a start, but then they need evidence. Watch the movie and see if they ever have any.

Saturday, December 7, 2019

Pearl Harbor Day—A day that will live in . . . ignorance?

These were real conversations that took place years ago in a previous workplace on a December 7th. After all, the people I work with can’t be this ... Well, we’ll see. The conversations were so remarkable, I jotted them down at the time.

photo by Stan Shebs 

Worker: Do you know what the significance of December 7th is?
Co-Worker #1: No.

Worker: Think: What happened in December 7th?
Co-Worker #1: The stock market crashed.

Worker: You are kidding me! This is the day the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor.
Co-Worker #1: Well, that was before my era. That was your era.

Worker: Wait a minute! I wasn’t born in the 40’s.
Co-Worker #1: Well, we didn’t study about that in school. We studied things like World War II.

Worker: Pearl Harbor was a part of World War II!
Co-Worker #1: Well, we didn’t study that. We studied about the fighting and stuff.

Worker: That was part of the fighting! That was how we got into the war.
Co-Worker #1: Well, I know.

Then, maybe a minute later:

Worker: Can you tell me what day is today?
Co-Worker #2: Your birthday?

Worker: No, what happened today, December 7th?
Co-Worker #2: I know what happened on December 8th. John Lennon died.

Still later:

Worker: Can you tell me what happened today, December 7th, in history?
Co-Worker #3: I don’t know.

Worker: Do you know?
Co-Worker #3: VJ Day?

Worker: Well, you’re the closest

What’s remarkable about these conversations is the co-workers show a level of intelligence, using words like “era,” remembering the date of John Lennon’s death, making a guess about VJ Day. But these people were stunningly ignorant about the obvious.

These conversations occurred before smartphones were around, so they can’t be blamed for lowering the IQs of these people. (This was from a very old piece of paper I unearthed while sorting through old things. It proved very timely for today.)

It reminds me of a girl in high school who was authentically dumb. (If this offends you, start your own blog and describe dumb guys.) In our junior or senior year, a huge map of Europe had been displayed on the chalkboard for the entire semester of our history class. It had the word “Europe” in large, black letters, curving across the entire continent.

public domain
Something like this, but with the letters larger and
going in a graceful curve across the continent

For some reason, she was standing towards the front of the class and staring at the map. She stared, stared, stared, looking increasingly confused. Finally she asked the teacher, “Where’s America on this map?”

The teacher paused for a moment to collect herself, then said calmly, “That’s a map of Europe.”

Without any hint of embarrassment or self-reproach, she said, “Oh.” She continued to stare at the map.

To her credit, she seemed to be well-liked.

Friday, November 29, 2019

Amazon Lockers vs. The Porch Pirates

Just to be upfront, I prefer ordering books from Barnes & Noble. But I have to admit, the Amazon lockers can be a lifesaver. Here in the Seattle area, we have a bad case of the porch pirates: Scummy people who steal delivery boxes right off a person’s front porch. They’re just looking for electronics or other valuables. If it turns out to be a book or DVD, these creeps probably just toss it. With Amazon lockers nearby I can go there, put in a code I was sent, and access my package.

Before that, three deliveries were stolen from my doorstep. One was a DVD that isn’t being made anymore. Water, starring Michael Caine, was one of the funniest movies ever made.

Sure, I can buy the horribly expensive copies left on Amazon, or some cheaper version that will only play on a German DVD player.

A book I lost that really irks me is And the Beagles and the Bunnies Shall Lie Down Together. This was a collection of all the Peanuts comic strips that quoted the Bible.

Wait. I saw just now I can get it again on Amazon for not too big of a price. See ya.

Friday, November 22, 2019

Return of the 50-Foot Woman

Okay, that title was to catch the eye. But I like how the giant movie posters have returned to the Alderwood Mall 16 move theater. For months, the giant frames for posters have been empty. Now the posters have returned for the holiday season. The walkway with a railing below the posters lets you know how big they are.

click to enlarge

I think one movie is meant for men, and the other for women. But which is which?

Saturday, October 26, 2019

Zombie Flash Mob

Redmond, Washington is the home of Microsoft, berry picking, and zombies. I’ll let you guess which is the scariest.

For zombies, the Redmond Town Center had the annual Thrill the World Event today. Just like last year (see my post), I got there early. I suddenly realized this fellow was in the back seat of the car next to mine. I’m not kidding.

People were just dying to get in there.

So here’s the official banner.

Quite a crowd showed up.

click to enlarge any of these pictures

Notice the non-zombie people on the upper level watching. Redmond Town Center is a nice outdoor mall with a large Marriot inside. I noticed a couple people walking by dressed very professionally, and other people just come to visit the stores. I heard one man ask, “Why are there so many zombies?

Here’s a zombie nurse.

And here’s another one. I could say the shadow on her face is symbolic . . .

. . . but really, she was trying to get the sun out of her eyes. 

The chiropractor was in. 

Seriously. Chiropractor. 

Here are some of the winners for best zombie makeup.

And here’s a zombie family.

The kids were moving around, so the mother’s face was blocked.

Maleficent was also there.

I think the zombies would have been afraid of her.

Edward Scissorhands and Kim paid a visit.

Isn't it weird when Wonder Woman photobombs your picture? 

How was your day? 

For my review of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, click here
[Permission granted to use any photo on this post, so long as it is labeled “Photo by Mark Murata”]

Friday, October 18, 2019

Book Review: Sea of Glory

Sea of Glory: America’s Voyage of Discovery: The U.S. Exploring Expedition was penned by Nathaniel Philbrick, well-known for In the Heart of the Sea and Bunker Hill. This recounts the epic voyage of the U.S. Exploring Expedition, otherwise known as the Ex Ex. From 1838 to 1842, they explored Antarctica, then the Pacific—including Fiji and the Hawaiian Islands—and then Puget Sound and the Columbia River, going on land to explore what are now the states of Washington and Oregon.

The Ex Ex was potentially as significant as the Lewis and Clark expedition on land. But hardly anyone knows about it. And thereby hangs a tale.

I was astonished there was such an expedition, sailing from Virginia down to Antarctica—in wooden sailing ships! Then they went on to encounter Pacific Islanders, some friendly, some violent. Considering where I live, I had great interest in their exploration of the Columbia River. I had no idea the mouth of the Columbia is considered the third most dangerous river mouth to traverse in the world.

But why don’t more people know about this expedition? Lieutenant Charles Wilkes, who was in charge of the Ex Ex, was far too inexperienced a man to be in charge of such an epic voyage. By the end of the expedition, all his officers had turned against him. Wilkes was put on trial for his outrageous behavior. If any of his officers were more competent than he was, he would humiliate that officer in front of the men, give him reduced responsibilities, or put him off at a friendly port. By all accounts, he was an incompetent and a coward. Much of the expedition’s discoveries went unpublished.

If anyone thinks his side of the story should be told, by all means read Sea of Glory. But it seems to be the old story of the Navy taking a smart young man and unaccountably thrusting him into a position where he was in way over his head. For years. To Antarctica and back.

I have to say I found Sea of Glory depressing. A much more uplifting book is Erebus: One Ship, Two Epic Voyages, and the Greatest Naval Mystery of All Time by Michael Palin, which I reviewed here. This British expedition had competent commanders. There’s some sort of lesson here, don’t you think?


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