Film review: 13th (2016)

I recently watched the powerful Netflix documentary 13th that deals with the scandal of mass incarceration in America. Directed and co-written by Ava DuVernay (who also directed Selma), it is a searing indictment of the war on black people that has been conducted by the criminal justice system. The numbers are staggering. With just 5% of the world’s population, the US has 25% of the prison population. 2.3 million people are locked up and in addition another 3.5 million are either on probation or on parole, meaning that about 2.5% of the entire US population is on the wrong side of the law.
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Film review: Arrival (2016)

I just watched this critically acclaimed film and have to admit that I was highly disappointed. The central plot line is something that really appealed to me, as to how the world might react if spaceships were to suddenly arrive on Earth. What would the extra-terrestrials look like? What might their intentions be towards us? How could we communicate to find out? What science and technology do they have that enables them to overcome the massive barriers to interplanetary, let alone interstellar, travel that we face? This is a topic that is a staple of science-fiction writers, in classics like Arthur C. Clarke’s Childhood’s End.
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TV review: Mr. Robot

I have just finished watching season 2 of this gripping series that was initially shown on the USA Network but both seasons are now available on Netflix. It is the story of Elliot Alderson (Rami Malek), a young computer hacker, a total genius at it, who spends most of his spare time using his skills to routinely hack into the computers of people, either out of idle curiosity or a desire to help them. He also acts as a kind of vigilante, and in his hacking if he finds someone engaged in some kind of heinous crime, he will inform the authorities. He finds it hard to talk with others or reveal anything about himself, but lives in the rich world of his own mind where he analyzes things and shares his thoughts with you, the viewer, often by directly addressing you.

The series begins with him working for Allsafe, a company that provides computer security to companies and whose biggest client by far is the world’s biggest financial-industrial corporation known as E Corp. Because of his skills, he is recruited by a mysterious figure known as Mr. Robot, who is the leader of an anarchic group called fsociety who seek to destroy the capitalistic system by hacking into E Corp and erasing everyone’s debt records, thus throwing the world’s financial system into total chaos. Like the real-life group Anonymous, they use a mask in their videos to hide their faces and also create a brand identity. The series deals with this plot and the aftermath. The catch is that Elliot, the person who had the ability to pull off this major hack, woke up three days after it happened and cannot remember what he did during the three days when the hack took place and what the next stage that he supposedly set up was. He frequently finds himself unable to recall events that he was supposedly involved in.

Here’s the trailer for season 2.

WARNING SPOILERS AHEAD! Only those who have seen the series and want to discuss it or do not care about knowing some plot developments in advance should continue.
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Film special effects without computers

We are so used to computer-generated special effects in films that we have become blasé about them. While producing these effects takes a lot of skill and tedious hard work, there is something about it being done on a computer that makes it seem to be not as clever somehow, though that does an injustice to all the programmers and artists who work so hard to produce these magical effects. We also know that the actors are not in any real danger, that they are safely on some sound stage in front of a green screen and that the dangerous effects are being produced in a studio.
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TV Review: Discussion of Sherlock (spoilers galore so enter at your peril!)

I mentioned in my review of the last episode of Sherlock that there were some gaping plot holes in the storyline. For those of you who have seen the series and are as puzzled as I am about some of the decisions made by the writers, at the suggestion of Eric Riley, I decided to open up the discussion because sometimes there are subtle and fleeting references that address some of the issues that one misses on the first go-round. I picked up some of them when I watched some of the episodes the second time. I hope that those who have not seen the show yet will come back here later and join the discussion.
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TV Review: Sherlock: The Final Problem (no spoilers)

I watched this final episode of season 4 last night and frankly found it disappointing. You can see it online in the US here until January 29. Unfortunately, the writers have once again succumbed to the temptation to go in for surprise plot twists at the expense of plausibility, which was also the big problem with their Christmas special The Abominable Bride from a year ago.
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