Bad Movie Wednesday

One of a continuing series

From 25 years ago, it’s a movie I never got to see before. Maybe it was because I was going to college about then and didn’t have time. The topic intrigued me. I was acquainted through trailers running on TV, and I had the idea there was a double meaning in the title. It’s Sneakers from 1992 and starring Robert Redford and also Ben Kingsley. It’s hard to imagine these two guys are 25 years older now. Then, so am I.

This is from Universal Studios. I caught it on Hulu. Details are from Wikipedia.

“Sneakers” is, or was, the term for people who used remote access to break into others’ computers for fun and mischief. I had the idea “sneakers” also alluded to the juvenile mentality of these people. Anyhow, back in 1969 we see two sneakers, Martin Brice (Redford) and a person named Cosmo (Kingsley) in a college dorm breaking into bank accounts and transferring large sums of money. Brice assures Cosmo there is no chance they will get caught and punished for this. Then he goes out for pizza.

His VW minivan won’t start (cold and snowy), and he watches in horror as police raid their dorm room and haul Cosmo off to  jail. Brice escapes and becomes Bishop.

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It’s maybe 23 years later, and Bishop now has his own company. What his company does is break into banks and steal money. Here he is closing out a fake account he has created for himself. $100,000 in bills go into his briefcase. He then dumps the money onto the table in the bank’s conference room and explains how it was all done and what the bank needs to do to  spruce up its security. He pockets a check for his services and goes back to his company’s digs, which appear to be in a warehouse of some kind. This is a shoestring operation.

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Two feds show up. They know Bishop is Brice, and they are not friendly. They are with the NSA and either he cooperates with them, or he goes to jail. They want him to steal a device from a mathematician who has developed it for nefarious purposes.

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Bishop enlists his employees, one of whom is a cashiered CIA snoop named Donald Creas and played by Sidney Poitier). Here we see Bishop sneaking past a hotel clerk while a co-worker distracts the clerk with a phony package delivery.

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They get the device, a “black box,” and the horror sets in. While the crew is celebrating their score and contemplating the big check they will receive at the hand off the next morning they discover the value of what they have stolen. It provides the user means to crack the most advanced encryption in use. They realize this is a prize many would kill for, and that turns out to be true. The two “NSA” types are not (currently) with the NSA, and they plan to kill Bishop and not make the payment. At the hand-over Crease, waiting in the getaway car discovers from a newspaper headline the mathematician has been murdered, and he summons Bishop back to the car before he can get the payoff check, which check was likely just an illusion.

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The box is gone, along with the two phony NSA spooks, and the crew is out the payoff. Then the group that obtained the box kills a Russian spook and his driver, and they kidnap Bishop, taking him to their headquarters and a room with a massive computer that has all the appearances of a period piece Cray supercomputer. Head of the operation is Cosmo, who did not die in prison as advertised. Cosmo warns Bishop off any future interference, and Bishop is dumped off on a deserted street.

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To cut to the chase, the crew figure out where Bishop was taken, and a massive sneaker escapade gets them the black box. No time to celebrate, though. The real NSA is onto them, and once again threats of prison are leveled at Bishop, by none other than James Earl Jones, here playing NSA Agent Bernard Abbott. Bishop’s crew agree to cough up the box in exchange for all the goodies they had expected to obtain with their expected payoff. An agreement is reached, and Bishop hands over the box.

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Ha! The joke’s on  the NSA. Bishop has retained the crucial circuit that does the decryption, and the movie ends with a TV announcer giving the sad news that the Republican Party treasury has been looted. On the bright side, on the same newscast, anonymous donors have made huge contributions to Amnesty International, Greenpeace, and the United Negro College Fund.

This plot is quaint on a number of points. About 1969 I was working with one of Seymour Cray‘s first computers, so I  was sort of aware of what the computer world was like back then. 1969 was too early for big banks to have their computer operations on-line and vulnerable to remote looting.

The encryption  cracking was developed by a mathematician named Dr. Gunter Janek (Donal Logue), and his process has been incorporated into an integrated circuit. This device would be truly amazing if it really had the ability to crack modern encryption, even back in 1992. That is definitely a bit of science fiction, as the difficulty of cracking these codes is well-studied mathematics. The cracking can be accomplished, in principle, but requiring massive, need I say “astronomical,” amounts of computation. The short answer is, no.

Bishop hands over the black box to the two phony NSA types. One of them reaches into  a briefcase, ostensibly to retrieve the payoff check, but suspected of about to pull a gun. No. There is no way, with this much at stake, the two were going to blow Bishop away in a public place. After shooting Bishop their next act would have to be quietly slipping away and hoping nobody noticed the gunshot and the dead body.

Anyhow, Cosmo has multiple opportunities to kill his former friend and former dorm mate, and he does not. Old college ties and all that. Cosmo is revealed as super altruistic—he’s doing all this to bring down major industries and the entire fabric of world economics. That will reduce humanity to a level playing field with everybody equally impoverished. And  to accomplish this in the name of world peace he has a Russian spook and his driver gunned down on a public street?

In the final encounter, Bishop’s crew has the black box, and they are back at their safe place, and in bursts the real NSA with real guns. And Bishop negotiates the handover of the box? If the NSA team was ready to negotiate, why the guns in the first place?

It was pleasant, in today’s political climate, seeing in the end the Republicans looted and all their money going to liberal causes. Who could have imagined 25 years ago?

I first caught Poitier in what may have been his breakthrough role. It was Blackboard Jungle in 1955, and it introduced film goers to rock and roll, with Bill Haley & His Comets playing Rock Around the Clock. Poitier was a high school tough, and Glenn Ford was a newby teacher at South Manual Trades high school in New York City.

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Poitier went on to garner an Oscar for his role in Lilies of the FieldShoot to Kill is the film I am waiting to see again, and I will do a review if it ever pops up on Hulu or Amazon Prime Video.

In 1991 Katie Hafner and John Markoff came out with their book, Cyberpunk. It detailed the exploits of Kevin Mitnick, Pengo and Project Equalizer, and Robert T. Morris. These were escapades that made headlines in the late 1980s and the early 1990s. These cases never came close to the level depicted in the movie, which plot seems to have presaged the level of criminal sophistication seen in modern cyber crime. Cliff Stoll’s book, The Cuckoo’s Egg is a detailed account, unmatched at the time,  of an extended computer crime escapade. It was published in 1989 and recounted Stoll’s encounter with Project Equalizer. At that early stage the protracted attack on American government computers never reached the level of  sophistication seen in the movie. That level appears to have been matched only years later.

A lot is made in the movie of cracking passwords. The truth is that fairly simple passwords, involving non-language combinations of letters and numbers, are beyond the ability of a computer to crack. Direct password attacks are routinely thwarted by the simple device of locking accounts after multiple log in failures and by notifying users of such attempts.

Successful intrusion is typically accomplished by:

  • Social engineering, convincing somebody to give out a password
  • Phishing, tricking a user into suppling a password in order to execute a bogus login
  • Security compromise, rogue or careless system  administrators [This was the approached used by Edward Snowden.]
  • Network snooping, intercepting network traffic and decrypting secure communications and stealing passwords sent in the clear

These approaches do not provide the drama and rapid development required of this movie plot.

A fact not reflected in most fictional tales of military espionage is that secret information is not kept on computers connected to outside lines. Thefts of classified government information have always involved somebody walking out of a secure facility with a copy of the stolen data. This is the approach used by Edward Snowden and Chelsea Manning.

Bad Movie Wednesday

One of a continuing series

A prize find from Amazon Prime Video. It’s an interesting and well-constructed crime, mystery yarn, well directed and photographed. The acting is passable, as well. It’s The Fake, which came out in 1953 from United Artists. It’s about dead sure I never saw this on the big screen as a kid. Details are from Wikipedia.

So, what’s it all about? What is the fake? We soon guess. The opening scene shows a ship unloading at a London dock. Various shadowy characters watch with interest. Several wooden crates are unloaded, marked “Tate Gallery.” The Tate is a famous London art gallery. We guess the crates hold paintings destined for the Tate.

One crate, in particular, draws special attention from the figures lurking in the shadows. One, marked number 11, gets the nod. An unruly character approaches the dockworker carting the crate to its destination. He deliberately starts a fight, which distracts everybody, well nearly everybody. During the distraction the number 11 crate is spirited off to a waiting lorry, and a substitute is put in its place. One of the shadowy figures, Paul Mitchell (Dennis O’Keefe),  observes this and gives chase. He has been hired to look after the security of the paintings. His intervention is intervened by another shadowy character, a Mr. Smith (Guy Middleton), special investigator for the insurance company carrying the load for the priceless shipment of paintings.

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Anyhow, matters get sorted out, and Mitchell shows up at the Tate with the real painting. It’s Leonardo da Vinci’s Madonna and Child, and Mitchell has figured it was scheduled for theft, so he had the ship’s captain bring it across from America in his safe. The real painting is placed in its rightful place in the museum, and the fake from the substitute crate is removed.

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There is a big reception at the museum, and all of the art swells of London show up. One guest, who arrives uninvited, is disgraced artist Henry Mason (John Laurie), let in the back way by his daughter Mary (Coleen Gray).

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Mitchell takes an immediate shine to the lovely Ms. Mason, but he is especially interested in the father. He suspects Henry Mason has been producing fake masterpieces, and he seeks to obtain a copy of Mason’s work to check out his hunch. To do this he commissions Henry to paint a portrait of the daughter, and, upon viewing it at the Mason home, he takes with him, instead, a smaller painting by Mason.

In the meantime, a master thief crashes the gallery and makes off with the real Madonna.

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The art expert at the museum confirms Mason’s work is identical to the fakes, and the finger points to Mary’s father. Mary is distraught, and the romance between Mary and Paul Mitchell begins to fall apart.

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But, Mitchell digs deeper and gets too close to the truth. The man behind the fakes and the theft of the Madonna, plus two additional da Vinci thefts from other museums, finds it expedient to have Henry Mason killed off, in a suicide fashion.

Mitchell is sure it is not suicide, and it is not. Villainous art buff, Sir Richard Aldingham (Hugh Williams), is behind the whole thing. He has ordered Mason’s killing, and he needs for Mary to be killed, as well. He directs his henchman, Weston, (Seymour Green) to make it look like a suicide. Weston, refuses, and Sir Richard murders him by putting poison in his drink.

Meanwhile, Mitchell and Smith tour the late Henry Mason’s workshop, and Mitchell spots a painting. He has seen the setting before. It’s Sir Richard’s study, only the painting shows the study with the stolen da Vincis in place on the wall. The paint on Mason’s final work is still wet. It’s a message from beyond the grave, fingering Sir Richard.

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Meanwhile, Sir Richard has taken Mary’s demise upon himself. On a pretext, he picks her up in his car and takes her back to his place. But Mitchell is already there. When the evil Sir Richard takes Mary back to his study for a final drink he turns on the lights and sees to his shock that the wooden panels covering the stolen paintings have been pulled back. Mitchell confronts Sir Richard with the hard evidence of his crime, and Sir Richard responds by pulling a pistol from a desk drawer.

Mitchell responds with a brilliant bluff. He holds up a vial of acid and threatens to destroy the Madonna. Besides, a missed shot will perforate the priceless work. Mary to the rescue. She knocks the gun away and foils Sir Richard’s evil intent.

Mitchell follows through with his threat and dashes acid on the painting. The paint dissolves and runs down the canvas. Mitchell has previously put the fake in place of the real Madonna.

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It’s the end of the line for Sir Richard. Later we see the real painting on  exhibit at the museum, and Paul Mitchell stops by to take Mary out the door, supposedly to matrimonial bliss. The strains of Moussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition wind down, as they have been playing off and on throughout the drama.

A few plot absurdities blind-side this production.

  • The theft of the fake painting at the dock is crude beyond what is required. The thieves think a longshoreman’s brawl is going to distract security enough to cover up the switching of the crates. No way. Any number of people present would have spotted the subterfuge. In fact, Mitchell does.
  • The murder of Weston is also an unbelievably clumsy affair. Slipping your henchman a poisined drink right there among your collection of stolen art, and then expecting him to walk away and die, which he does? No. Just no.
  • Mitchell figures out Sir Richard has the stolen works behind the panels in his study. He goes to the museum, gets the fake, takes it to Sir Richard’s house, replaces it for the real Madonna, and then waits for Sir Richard and Mary to arrive. Really? There was no indication Sir Richard would be coming home soon. Sir Richard has gone off to set in motion a sequence of events to end Mary’s life. He tells her he is taking her out of town. Apparently he takes her back to his study with the idea of slipping her a poisoned drink. Nobody else knew he would be taking this round about way. And Mitchell waits and waits for Sir Richard to arrive, and he never calls for backup. When Sir Richard becomes threatening, only sweet Mary is on hand to save his life. Unbelievable.

Bad Movie Wednesday

One of a continuing series

It was 10 months ago I signed up for Amazon Prime Video. Their business model seems to be to put out a set of select offerings for a period and then replace them with new offerings. Items available on DVD from Amazon and on Amazon video (rent or purchase) sometimes show up for free viewing. I waited for this one to pop up, and with the new year it did. It’s The Untouchables, from 1987 and starring Kevin CostnerRobert De Niro, and Sean Connery. It’s from Paramount Pictures. Details are from Wikipedia.

It’s based on the real-life characters Al Capone (De Niro), Chicago mob boss of the Prohibition Era, and Eliot Ness (Costner), head of a Treasury Department unit with the goal of bringing Capone and others down. The opening scene has Capone getting a shave, surrounded by what appear to be adoring newspaper reporters, hanging on his every word.

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Grim reality is quickly established. A store selling beer refuses to buy from Capone. A young girl is blown to bits by a bomb delivered by one of Capone’s enforcers.

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Ness arrives at the headquarters of the Chicago police to work with them.

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Working with the Chicago cops is like working in a fish bowl, as every move is telegraphed to the mobsters. Ness’ first raid on a supposed liquor warehouse is a bust, as the cargo turns out to be a load of parasols. Very embarrassing.

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A despondent Ness encounters foot cop Jimmy Malone (Connery), and later enlists him. He needs honest cops he can count on.

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Ness also picks up a recruit,Giuseppe Petri (Andy García), as yet untainted by department corruption. They stage a successful raid, putting them in Capone’s cross hairs. An addition to their team is Oscar Wallace (Charles Martin Smith), a mild mannered accountant with a flair for gunfighting.

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Malone has the inside to the Capone organization  through a corrupt police contact, and the Untouchables stage a raid on a cross-border liquor shipment. It’s all action.

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The raid nets them valuable documentation that can send Capone up for tax evasion. Capone retaliates by murdering their witness and also Malone and Wallace. Capone celebrates by bragging to reporters that the feds have no evidence that can convict him.

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Now look at this picture. This is De Niro as Capone. What American politician does this remind you of? How about we do a movie about Donald Trump and have De Niro play the title role?

It all comes to a head. The remaining Untouchables learn Capone’s gang is taking a potential witness out of town, with the real aim to kill him in an ambush at the train station (likely Union Station). Then comes one of the best orchestrated gunfights in American cinema, as Ness and Petri take out Capone’s shooters one by one and save the witness. A baby in a stroller, caught in the crossfire, is kept safe by Petri as he prepares to ice the last remaining shooter.

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Ness gets wind that Capone has bought off the jury for his tax evasion trial, and he kills Capone’s star hit man by tossing him off the roof of the courthouse building. Capone goes down screaming as he is dragged off to the slammer.

Yes, a lot of this is overly dramatized.

At the Canadian border the Untouchables work with the RCMP to ambush a liquor shipment at a border crossing. It’s a bridge, so this must be Minnesota. Why the Canadians get involved is not made clear, since Canada has no legal issue with distilling and selling liquor. When the gunfight starts prematurely, the feds mount horses and ride into battle, which battle seems to wind up back at the shack where the feds were waiting in the first place. In between  the feds out gun the gangsters, who are armed with Tommy guns and more.

Capone’s gang wants to eliminate their own guy, who can testify against him. How does he do it? He pretends he is going to spirit him out of town on a train, and then  sets up an ambush at the train station. Overly complicated?

While Ness and Petri wait at the train station for their quarry to arrive, the situation is made complicated by a woman trying to work a baby carriage (and baby) up a flight of steps. About the time Ness helps the woman get her load to the top of the steps the bad guys arrive, and the gunfight erupts. While guns blaze, the carriage (with baby) starts thumping its way down the steps. It’s a re-creation  of the baby carriage scene from Sergei Eisenstein’s Battleship Potemkin, but in this case the baby lives.

Eliot Ness was promoted within the Treasury Department following his success against Capone, but his life was generally downhill following. He died in 1957 at the age of 54.

Al Capone entered prison in 1932, at which time he was diagnosed with syphilis. He was released in 1939, but his health continued to decline, and he died in 1947.

The story of the Untouchables was made into a successful TV series that ran from 1959 to 1963.

Bad Movie Wednesday

One of a continuing series

Thanks to Hulu. Here’s one I was wanting (sort of) to  see. Now I have. It’s Gone in 60 Seconds, from 2000. It’s a Touchstone production from Walt Disney Studios, directed by Dominic Sena. Details are from Wikipedia.

Unless you’ve been  asleep, you know  this is about stealing cars. More specifically, this is a car movie. It’s all about cars, and it  starts this way. Nicolas Cage is Randall “Memphis” Raines, a master car thief who’s gone straight so his brother, Kip (Giovanni Ribisi) won’t get mixed up in the business. That doesn’t work. We see Kip and friend boosting a Porsche, from a dealer showroom no less. The heist is carried out to  precision, but the takeaway is amateurish, as Kip, driving, does everything you would want to do to attract the cops.

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That requires that Memphis Raines, now employed running a go-cart track out in Sticksville, be called to the rescue.

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It turns out that Kip has contracted with sadistic criminal  master mind Raymond Calitri (Christopher Eccleston) to steal 50 pieces of high-end street iron. With the cops breaking up Kip’s operation, Kip is on the hook to Calitri, and Calitri is not the one you want to disappoint. As an inducement for Memphis to step in and fill the order, Calitri handcuffs Kip into a car that is about to be crushed at a recycling plant.

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Memphis attempts to  refund Calitri’s down payment ($10,000), but Calitri demurs, figuring to blackmail Memphis into completing the order (all 50 cars) for $200,000 and Kip’s life.

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I’m not getting  into the plot, but Memphis pulls in some previously retired notables and completes the order. All except one. Memphis gives himself the job of cobbing a 1967 Ford Shelby GT500, which he names Eleanor. Big scene in the movie. Cops are after Memphis and the GT500, and he sees his chance to  escape, using a rescue vehicle’s ramp to  jump a massive traffic tie-up on a bridge.

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Memphis gets the GT500 to Calitri, but badly damaged and a few minutes past the deadline. Calitri figures that’s a good enough excuse to kill Memphis and keep the $200,000.

In the meantime, two cops, Detective Roland Castlebeck (Delroy Lindo) and Detective Drycoff (Timothy Olyphant) are hot on  the case, and they arrive in time to bust up Calitri’s party.

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Suffice it to say the sadistic Mr. Calitri comes to an untimely end, with Raines saving the life of Detective Castlebeck in the process. This gets Raines a pass on the 50 cars stolen, all being restored safely to their owners, even the GT500 (Raines’ crew are expert restorers). All the boost specialist go back into retirement.

So what’s wrong with this movie? Start with the basic plot.

Kip took $10,000 down and a contract to deliver a list of 50 cars. He failed and with distinction. Smooth operator Calitri plans  to  recoup how? He’s going to threaten the life of Kip and even  Memphis if they don’t fulfill the contract in 48 hours. That’s going to  work?

Attempting to fulfill the 50-car contract in 48 hours is a schedule for disaster, which is what makes this movie exciting. There are 50 ways this can go wrong, and only one way it can  go right. A better bet would be to  drop a dime on Calitri and let  the police, who are already onto Calitri for capital  murder, take care of the matter.

Besides, words are spoken, and the contract is sealed. Really? What kind of contract is that? There is no guarantee that Calitri will keep his end of the bargain after receiving the 50 cars on schedule. What’s to keep him from reneging, killing Memphis and/or Kip and keeping the $200,000? Which was likely his plan all along.

Yes, none of this washes. Add the incredible leap across the traffic jam on the bridge, and not much is believable here.

This was co-produced by Jerry Bruckheimer, famous for the CSI series,  Without a Trace, and Cold Case for TV. His film credits include Beverly Hills Cop, Flashdance, Top Gun, The Rock, Con Air, Armageddon, Bad Boys, Enemy of the State, Black Hawk Down, Pearl Harbor, and Pirates of the Caribbean.

You may also have seen Olyphant as Deputy U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens in Justified which ran from 2010 to 2015. I caught the series on Amazon Prime Video late in 2016. No plans for a review, however.

1984

Updated

Besides additional and notable idiosyncrasies, current President Donald Trump’s tendentious, and typically casual, relationship with the truth gets a lot of attention. Prime are his recent recent claims of massive voter fraud and the unrealized popularity of his swearing in ceremony. Continuing a thread that ran throughout his campaign, Trump’s campaign of deceit is leaving an indelible mark on his tenure. Not by accident, George Orwell‘s classic novel from  1949, titled 1984, last week topped Amazon’s sales list.

It will be worthwhile to revisit this iconic tale, made most famous by a movie of that title, that burst on the large screen in 1956. My acquaintance was through a feature in Life magazine that summarized, with illustrations from the movie. A more recent release came out in the title year and featured John Hurt (recently deceased) and Richard Burton, who died before the film hit the screen. The tie in with the current president is inescapable.

It’s the year 1984 in a dystopian world. It’s Nazi propagandist Joseph Goebbels gone wild on a planet beset by global and eternal war. The setting is London, but the country is now Oceania, and Oceania is ruled by an enigmatic and oppressive leader known only as Big Brother and seen only on wall-size view screens and prolific wall posters. Truth has ceased to exist. The following images are screen shots from the 1984 production.

There is no news, only propaganda, fed in a 24/7 stream. It’s purpose is absolute control, keeping the teaming masses in perpetual passion for their masters and against foes, real or imaginary. A five-minute hate session opens viewers to this world.

Suzanna Hamilton is Julia. Her passion, we eventually learn, is crafted. She has by some means discerned  the truth, that it is all a big lie. You cannot tell it from watching her scream, along with the others, at the images on the big screen.

Winston Smith (John Hurt) works in the Ministry of Truth. His job is to kill the truth. He rewrites history. Literally. He reviews publications that no longer reflect the party message, and he rewrites them to conform to the truth of the day. For example:

Winston’s job was to rectify the original figures by making them agree with the later ones. As for the third message, it referred to a very simple error which could be set right in a couple of minutes. As short a time ago as February, the Ministry of Plenty had issued a promise (a ‘categorical pledge’ were the official words) that there would be no reduction of the chocolate ration during 1984. Actually, as Winston was aware, the chocolate ration was to be reduced from thirty grammes to twenty at the end of the present week. All that was needed was to substitute for the original promise a warning that it would probably be necessary to reduce the ration at some time in April.

Orwell, George. 1984 (Kindle Locations 617-621). Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Kindle Edition.

Readers of the book, and present day observers who have previously read the book, will find the parallels with the current administration striking if not chilling.

Richard Burton is O’Brien, a party official who oversees Smith’s destruction. It is the job of the rulers to systematically eliminate subjects. The practice of entrapping visible personalities, exposing their offenses against the state, and rendering them unpersons, maintains the level of terror needed to preserve absolute control. Winston is being set up to take the fall for thoughtcrime. One word. Terms like this permeate 1984. It’s called newspeak.

And that hopefully concludes the parallel between 1984 and 2017. To round out the story, Julia contacts Winston and recruits him as her current lover. She has had many. Winston rents a room in a shadowy area in the proletarian section, where the proles live. Interestingly the proles are not subjected to the perpetual hazing inflicted on the bourgeois class.

Here Winston and Julia enjoy their bliss together, waiting for the day when their thoughtcrime will be discovered, and  they will  be rendered. Winston falsely projects that, when tortured—as tortured as he must eventually be—he will never betray Julia. He will always love her.

From a window in the rented room they observe a prole woman hanging out laundry on a clothes line and singing a tune that has been composed by a state factory. Here  is an example from the book:

It was only an ’opeless fancy,
It passed like an Ipril dye,
But a look an’ a word an’ the dreams they stirred
They ’ave stolen my ’eart awye!

Orwell, George. 1984 (Kindle Locations 1985-1987). Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Kindle Edition.

Their downfall comes precipitously and without warning. As they watch the woman hanging he laundry:

The birds sang, the proles sang, the Party did not sing. All round the world, in London and New York, in Africa and Brazil and in the mysterious, forbidden lands beyond the frontiers, in the streets of Paris and Berlin, in the villages of the endless Russian plain, in the bazaars of China and Japan— everywhere stood the same solid unconquerable figure, made monstrous by work and childbearing, toiling from birth to death and still singing. Out of those mighty loins a race of conscious beings must one day come. You were the dead; theirs was the future. But you could share in that future if you kept alive the mind as they kept alive the body, and passed on the secret doctrine that two plus two make four.

‘We are the dead,’ he said.

‘We are the dead,’ echoed Julia dutifully.

‘You are the dead,’ said an iron voice behind them.

They sprang apart. Winston’s entrails seemed to have turned into ice. He could see the white all round the irises of Julia’s eyes. Her face had turned a milky yellow. The smear of rouge that was still on each cheekbone stood out sharply, almost as though unconnected with the skin beneath.

‘You are the dead,’ repeated the iron voice.

‘It was behind the picture,’ breathed Julia.

‘It was behind the picture,’ said the voice. ‘Remain exactly where you are. Make no movement until you are ordered.’

Orwell, George. 1984 (Kindle Locations 3156-3167). Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Kindle Edition.

The hidden TV camera was behind the picture, which now comes crashing down to reveal the likeness of Big Brother, speaking to them.

Julia is struck down and carried nude from the room. Winston appears before O’Brien and undergoes his torture. Winston has claimed that two plus two must always be four. O’Brien disabuses him of that notion. He holds up four fingers. This was famously pictured in the Life magazine item 60 years ago. Under torture Winston wants so much for two plus two to equal five, as O’Brien insists, that he eventually comes to that belief.

Winston also betrays Julia. The government has obtained a copy of the journal he has been keeping, and they know his secret fear is rats. As a child he observed rats crawling of the body of his dead mother. When his torturers strap a cage containing hungry rats over his face and threaten to turn the loose on  him, to eat at his face, perhaps starting with his eyes:

‘Do it to Julia! Do it to Julia! Not me! Julia! I don’t care what you do to her. Tear her face off, strip her to the bones. Not me! Julia! Not me!’

Orwell, George. 1984 (Kindle Locations 4077-4078). Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Kindle Edition.

Winston’s destruction is complete. He is freed from prison to walk the streets as an unperson. He no longer exists. The Ministry of Truth has expunged all references of his existence. His recorded self-denunciation appears prominently on screens about Oceania. Eventually he will physically cease to exist. He will simply disappear unnoticed by anybody.

But before that:

He gazed up at the enormous face. Forty years it had taken him to learn what kind of smile was hidden beneath the dark moustache. O cruel, needless misunderstanding! O stubborn, self-willed exile from the loving breast! Two gin-scented tears trickled down the sides of his nose. But it was all right, everything was all right, the struggle was finished.

He had won the victory over himself. He loved Big Brother.

Orwell, George. 1984 (Kindle Locations 4230-4233). Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Kindle Edition.

Of course, this is only a work of fiction. Forget that master Nazi propagandist Joseph Goebbels made a stab at molding truth over 70 years ago. Forget that the Soviet Union pulled dissenter off the streets and published their self-denunciations. Remember it started with a few lies.

Bad Movie Wednesday

One of a continuing series

New to me. Came out in 2008. It’s Sharpshooter, on Hulu. Details are from Wikipedia. This stars James Remar as Dillon, a professional shooter for the CIA. It’s a low-budget production from RHI Entertainment and may have originally been meant for TV.

The opening scenes, as the titles roll, show Dillon setting up an ambush in the desert for some kidnappers. The bad guys have the money and the victim in one of two cars, making dust along an isolated stretch of road. Dillon has it all figured out. He has planted a land mine in the road, and at the right time he fires a shot. After a second or two traverse the round strikes its target, and the explosion tears into one of the cars. Dillon then proceeds to kill the reminder of the kidnappers and free the victim, giving him water to last until some approaching helicopters are due to arrive. Then Dillon hops on his desert bike and hightails it out. His work is finished here.

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Back in civilization in Los Angeles two assassins on motorcycles attempt to waylay Dillon on his cab ride from the airport. He kills them and makes it back  to his apartment. A phone call from  an old CIA buddy rouses him out of  his planned retirment. His buddy, Flick (Mario Van Peebles), wants Dillon to do one last job. You can tell this is not going to go well.

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The job involves taking out a ruthless weapons dealer named Richard Phillips (Al Sapienza). Phillips dwells in a resort home alongside a cozy lake somewhere in California. The plan is apparently to have Flick pose as the seller of a purloined missile guidance system and to set Phillips up for an extra-judicial take down. Dillon settles in at a motel in the resort town.

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At a local eatery he meets the Sheriff (Bruce Boxleitner) and his deputy and other local characters, including a writer named Amy (Catherine Mary Stewart), here to do a magazine piece.

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Dillon heads out to the lake on a pretend fishing jaunt. Meanwhile, Phillips leads the life of an upscale gun dealer, with hot and cold running bimbos. An associate shows up on this day and is greeted warmly. Then, straight out of The Untouchables, Phillips accuses the unfortunate of skimming from the operation and clubs him with a cue stick. As bimbos flee the carnage, Phillips drowns his victim in the pool.

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This scene is a steal from The Untouchables. Here Robert De Niro, as Al Capone, prepares to execute a misbehaving gang member with a baseball bat at a swanky gathering.

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Meanwhile, Dillon does what any smart operator would do when reconnoitering a highly-secure gangster’s hideout. He whips out binoculars and surveys the domicile.

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Dillon’s reconnoitering has made Phillips suspicious, and he plans to upset any double cross. Without warning, he changes the schedule for the exchange of the merchandise. Dillon, by now in bed with Amy, gets a frantic call from Flick and heads off to take out Phillips’ security force.

Phillips’ men, alert to a possible intrusion, capture Dillon and prepare to kill him. Then Flick’s two cohorts are mowed down while Phillips presses Flick for the guidance system security code. Dillon escapes his assassins and kills them. Then he heads to the big house to rescue Flick, killing more of Phillips’ men and chasing after the car, where Phillips and an accomplice are taking Flick to God knows where. The next is straight out of Raiders of the Lost Ark. Dillon jumps on top of the getaway car and succeeds in yanking Phillips’ accomplice out of the speeding vehicle. He then kills Phillips, as planned.

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Only, it’s a double cross. Flick had all along planned to scoop up the $1 million payment and abscond. When Dillon refuses to go along, he becomes a hunted man. Flick flashes his government credentials and enlists the local law to hunt and kill Dillon. Dillon plays it cool and only kills Flick and his remaining associate. He takes out two members of the posse with a crafty, and non lethal, tree branch trap.

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Out of ammunition and with Flick threatening to kill the sheriff, Dillon improvises a bow and arrow and puts one in Flick’s chest. He takes the money and heads to the getaway plane.

There he finds Amy waiting. She had been working with Flick, but Dillon will do. Dillon  gives up his straight-arrow ways and flies off with Amy and the money to parts unknown.

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This movie misses the Bad Movie of the Week due to being a nice adventure story that moves right along and is well photographed and decently acted. Beyond that, there is a lot about this plot that is screwball beyond all reason.

Take the opening scenes. The kidnappers have the money. And the victim. When did that ever happen? In no kidnapping for ransom is there ever a situation where the kidnappers have the money and the hostage in the car together.

Then there is the ambush in the desert. How does Dillon plan to stop the convoy? He plants a explosive in the road. Then he sets it off with a long shot, timing it just right so the car is in the right spot when the explosion goes off. That’s what I call a risky shot at best and an impossible shot in moments of sanity. More real, but less dramatic, would have been  a straight forward approach.

Two assassins on motorcycles attempt to gun down Dillon on Los Angeles streets. A fierce gun battle does not bring a swarm of cops on top of it in short order.

Phillips lives in a virtual fortress on the lake shore, with armed guards constantly on the lookout in the surrounding hills. And Dillon gets out in the lake in a boat and starts checking out the castle with a pair of binoculars? Who believes that?

Passing by some equally ridiculous plot devices, Dillon is being hunted in the woods by Flick and Flick’s partner in crime. Dillon kills the partner from ambush and later has to take out Flick with an arrow, because he is out of ammunition. He didn’t think to take the partner’s gun when he killed him, all alone in the woods?

Watch this one with with a big bowl of popcorn and a couple of beers. It’s action only and only (not counting the bimbos) a little sex.

Bad Movie Wednesday

One of a continuing series

Again, another I am viewing for the first time. It came out in 1990 and is based on Tom Clancy‘s first published novel of the same name. It’s The Hunt for Red October, and it stars  Alec Baldwin as CIA analyst Jack Ryan in the character’s premier appearance. This was distributed by Paramount Pictures. Details are from Wikipedia.

Opening scenes, as the titles roll, show a massive Soviet nuclear submarine, Red October, leaving the port of Murmansk and heading out on its maiden voyage. The captain is Marko Aleksandrovich Ramius (Sean Connery). The air is ominous.

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Meanwhile, Jack Ryan is in London, and he is poring over some drawings he has been given to analyze. He shortly says goodbye to his lovely wife and his daughter. He boards a plane for Washington, D.C., ignoring the stewardess’s advice to sleep on the flight. He is met at the airport and driven immediately to CIA headquarters. At the Patuxent River Naval Base he receives evidence that the new Soviet sub is powered by a magneto hydrodynamic propulsion “caterpillar” drive. Such a drive has no moving parts, allowing the submarine to move under water almost silently. It’s a major breakthrough.

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The Soviet plan is a surprise attack on the American East Coast, and Captain  Ramius’ plan is to circumvent this plan and defect, along with the sub and officers aboard. He starts by murdering the boat’s political officer, Ivan Putin (Peter Firth) after the two of them open the mission’s sealed orders.

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The captain  has previously left behind a note to his superior telling of his plan. When the note is delivered the Soviets immediately put into operation a mission to find and destroy Red October.

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Word comes through intelligence channels of the unfolding events, and Jack Ryan deduces the captain’s scheme. He has a Navy helicopter deliver him to the American SSN Dallas, which has been tracking the Red October. A crafty sonar operator aboard the Dallas has devised a means for tracking the silent Red October.

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Ramius’ scheme involves getting the enlisted crew off the boat without their knowing of the subterfuge. This he accomplishes through the ruse of a phony radiation leak. An American ship rescues the sailors while the officers remain aboard Red October to complete the defection. Jack and an American Navy captain board the Red October by means of a submersible rescue vehicle and negotiate the surrender. The plan is almost undone by a saboteur, who stays behind after the remainder of the sailors leave. A gunfight settles the matter, and the Soviet sub that is sent to destroy Red October, is destroyed by its own torpedo. The subterfuge is complete. Red October is apparently down in deep water with all its officers aboard. The disappearance of the soviet attack sub remains a mystery only to the Soviets.

Ryan and Ramius talk as Red October sails into hiding up the Penobscot River in Maine.

My own experience with anti-submarine warfare and sonar systems leaves me unable to make a critical assessment of the tactics involved in the plot. My first assignment as a software developer involved a system to automate (computers) the tracking of submarines with existing sonar gear (sonobuoys). That was in 1982, two years before Clancy’s book came out. Aboard the Dallas there is a master operator, Sonar Technician Second Class Ronald Jones (Courtney B. Vance), who has ears of gold. No computers are used to automate the tracking.

Red October defeats an attacking torpedo by heading directly down its path. This works because the torpedo strikes the nose of Red October before it reaches its arming distance. Clay Blair’s book Combat Patrol recounts tragic incidents from World War Two when American torpedoes ran wild and circled back toward the sub that fired them. An earnest assessment is that the Soviet torpedo should have armed long before striking Red October. It makes for good drama, however.

The destruction of the Soviet attack sub is unrealistic. The sub is hit by a lone torpedo and goes up in a cataclysmic explosion under water. No. That’s not what happens when a torpedo hits an underwater target. What should have happened was a significant underwater explosion from the torpedo warhead, followed by flooding of critical compartments aboard the sub, followed by rapid sinking and likely breakup of the boat on its way to the bottom. Not what viewers of the movie paid to see.

Alec Baldwin has since moved from impersonating CIA operative Jack Ryan to Saturday Night Live, where he is enjoying commercial success scewering President-elect Donald Trump.

Bad Movie Wednesday

One of a continuing series

Like most, this has been around for a while, and I am just now seeing it on Amazon Prime Video. It’s Tremors from 1990 out of Universal Pictures. It stars Kevin Bacon as Valentine “Val” McKee. Details are from Wikipedia.

The opening shot clued me that I was not to take this film seriously. We see a couple of 20th century cowboys embracing the morning in the Nevada desert. That cliff in the foreground is an obvious work of art by a studio spray gun operator, but it is ultimately to provide the solution to the drama.

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Val and his buddy Earl Basset (Fred Ward) are a couple of improvident day laborers, catching odd jobs at ranches and the fictitious settlement of Perfection.

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They are about to meet pretty geology student Rhonda LeBeck (Finn Carter). This is critical on  two points. First Val is keen on somehow getting laid, and his dream is a winsome, green-eyed lass with pale hair. Rhonda is going to look a lot better without the zinc oxide on her nose. For the second part, Rhonda is critical, because she is monitoring some seismograph sensors placed around the desert, and they are starting to show activity. Hence the name of the movie.

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Well, these tremors are caused by a fierce creature that lives beneath the desert floor. This is a takeoff on the sand worms from Dune and only slightly more believable. These creatures tunnel through the desert alluvial (that’s a geology term for dirt), but they can’t deal with solid rock, of which there is plenty (granite) throughout the region.

The monsters (Rhonda measures the existence of four) detect movement on the ground and head for it. They pop up suddenly and fearsomely, grabbing people and animals and dragging them underground to eat them alive. Frightening!

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After a number  of characters in the movie get devoured, the survivors go on the defensive. Burt and Heather Grummer (Michael Gross and Reba McEntire) are notorious local survivalists. They have prepared for a government takeover, but the subterranean attack catches them off guard, momentarily. They gather on their roof top and assess their arsenal.

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Attempting to escape to the safety of the mountains (granite), the survivors become stranded on a granite formation isolated on the desert floor. Here they devise a scheme to defeat the remainder of the beasts, using pipe bombs cooked up by Burt.

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Spoiler alert! In the end Val defeats the remaining monster by luring it to charge under ground to the cliff face, shown in the opening shot in the movie. The beast plunges to a gratifying end, and Rhonda shows her appreciation to Val in the best way possible.

If you can buy into sand worms that live underground undetected for ages or else suddenly appear in the biosphere as new species, then you can get through this movie. This is one of those movies that plays at being a comedy while people are being eaten alive by fearsome beasts.

The closing scene has Val and Rhonda in a furious smooch, and we know this has to lead to a bed somewhere. If you have no imagination what so ever, that is a happy ending. If you live in the real world you have to wonder how a woman about to obtain her Ph.D. in geology is going to have a life with a barely literate cowboy who makes plans five hours into the future. This is where Hollywood makes its money.

Bad Movie of the Week

One of a series

Amazon Prime Video to the rescue again. This week’s Bad Movie comes from the ever reliable Monogram Pictures, and it’s another Boris Karloff feature, with the British actor reprising his role of master Chinese crime detective James Lee Wong. Details are from Wikipedia.

The title is threatening on the surface, and the opening scenes show a ship on fire at sea. Next, newspaper headlines blare the tragedy of the Wentworth Castle fire with many lives lost. Suddenly it all falls in  place. The sea disaster is actual news footage of the Morro Castle, which made news with horrendous loss of life in 1934. The movie, which came out in  1940, is playing of the real time event, still fresh in the public mind at the time. The image below is from Wikipedia and not from the movie.

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In the end the threat of being doomed to die never materializes.

We next see a stricken Cyrus P. Wentworth (Melvin Lang), owner of the shipping company. He is straightening out his affairs, including finalizing his will, even though he has been absolved of blame in the disaster.

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Minutes later Cyrus Wentworth is dead of a gunshot wound, and his prospective son-in-law, Dick Fleming (William Stelling) is charged with the crime. Wentworth had been violently opposed to the marriage. However, Wentworth’s daughter, Cynthia Wentworth (Catherine Craig) is a close friend of girl reporter Roberta ‘Bobbie’ Logan (Marjorie Reynolds), and she, in turn, is a close friend of the amazing Mr. Wong. Also, Logan is sweet on Homicide Squad Captain William ‘Bill’ Street (Grant Withers), and she drags Mr. Wong into the case. Wong will demonstrate that young Fleming is not the killer.

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Take a look at the above image. It’s almost a re-stage of an opening  scene from The Fatal Hour, which came out just prior to this production and has been previously reviewed. See the following two screen shots from that flick:

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Anyhow, Wong uses his connections with local Chinese Tongs to gather intelligence and solve the case.

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And that’s all I’m going to tell about the movie. Remember, I watch these so you don’t have to. Having said that, I must remark the mystery plot is intriguing, though far fetched.

It all centers around young Fleming’s being in the office, supposedly alone, with Mr. Wentworth at the time of the shooting. Wong jumps through a series of hoops and demonstrates others were involved, all connected with a scheme by a Chinese smuggler to move a passel of bonds out of his country to escape the conflict (World War Two).

The matter of the bonds turns out to be the point on which the plot rotates. The story line attempts to connect the burning of the ship with the bonds, and this reasoning  borders on  absurdity. This and other transparent contrivances strip the plot bare of credibility.

Additional detractions include stiff dialog and wooden acting. But scintillating performances was not what was driving Americans to the theaters in those days.

Bad Movie Wednesday

One of a continuing series

This is Truman Burbank. And this is The Truman Show. The Truman Show is coming to you live on TV, 24/7, courtesy of Hulu movies on demand. This first appeared on the big screen in 1998, courtesy of Paramount Pictures and directed by Peter Weir. Details are from Wikipedia.

Truman Burbank is played by Jim Carrey, and Truman lives the perfect life in a perfect village on an island separated from the mainland by an artificial channel.

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What Truman does not realize is that everything about his life is artificial. The village, the island, even the weather, are managed by a television production company headed by Christof, played by Ed Harris. From the time of his birth Truman has been an unknowing prisoner of The Truman Show. Everybody else in the village, everybody else in Truman’s life, is an actor paid to play a role, many for the duration of Truman’s life in the village.

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Cameras are concealed all over the island. TV viewers, starved for the ultimate reality, watch religiously. Fast food workers staring at monitors on the wall.

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Families in foreign countries watching at home.

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The enterprise is supported completely by product placement. Here Truman’s pretty wife Meryl shows off one of the products to Truman, ensuring that all the TV viewers see it as well. Meryl is really actor Hannah Gill, who is played by Laura Linney. It does get complicated.

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Cameras in Truman’s car capture him as he drives to and from work. Truman is the only person in the world not in on the scam.

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Truman’s world comes, literally, crashing down one fine morning. A studio light falls, seemingly from the sky, but instead from the roof of the dome that encloses the television set. Picking up the light, Truman begins to wonder and to guess at the awful truth.

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All of Truman’s efforts to escape the island are thwarted by quick-action, directed by Christof. As Truman attempts to leave the village in his car with Meryl, a massive traffic jam materializes from side streets. He is forced to turn back.

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But Truman fools them. He reverses unexpectedly and makes his way to the causeway that separates the island from the mainland. He has been conditioned to fear traveling over water, but he shoves control of the car into Meryl’s hands and floors the gas.

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They make it to the mainland, but a phony pipeline explosion blocks their path. Truman sees through the ruse and plows on through. No good. Christof has prepared for such an eventuality, and a fake nuclear disaster provides the excuse for having Truman carpeted by men in hazmat suits and hauled back to the island.

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In the end Truman gets inventive and fools the ever-observant cameras, making it off the island in a sail bod. But only to run smack into the painted background at the perimeter of the television set, where stairs and a door give him the opportunity, if he chooses, to accept it, to exit The Truman Show. The movie ends not with a bang, but with a whimper.

There is a lot more to the movie, including a love interest denied to Truman because it was not in the script. And that’s all I’m going to tell about the plot.

What is so galling about this plot is what it shows of the depicted humanity. Millions of TV viewers spend hours of their days watching a prisoner squirm in captivity. People, this has got to be sick. It’s a good thing this was all make believe. Unless… Have you ever considered your own life might be a staged production being watched by millions of real people.

There is a science fiction short story I read years ago about a city that was encapsulated within a managed enclosure. It started as an actual city, but one day a man who worked in the city and commuted to the suburbs began to notice a transformation he experienced every time he left or returned to the city. The city was real, but people’s lives outside the city were simulated. The Truman Show is sort of the reverse of that. Much thanks to anybody who can supply me the name of that short story.