January 4th, 2021

The Midnight Sky: George Clooney has taken on this project recently released by Netflix. He stars in, directs and produces it. He has put together a very good cast with David Oyelowo, Felicity Jones, and others. Sadly the story isn’t that compelling for me. It is a mash up of the Gravity story, adding in a few bits from Interstellar and then an apocalyptic event with some human drama. A younger Clooney character believes that there is a liveable planet out there, in a Carl Sagan way, but proposes it is on a newly found moon near Jupiter. Fast forward a few years (2049) and there has been an Event. George is up near the Arctic Circle. Alone seemingly. Then add in a exploratory spacecraft coming back from Jupiter with a crew reminiscent of The Martian. Things happen in space with the craft much like as in Gravity, and it has much the same look and feel for it. I have to admit that I don’t fully understand what the Earth “event” was, but there is obviously a political undertone to the whole thing. In the end it didn’t really add up to much, and added very little to the movies that have already addressed the theme. I can’t recommend it. It may have given George the excuse and opportunity to grow a Duck Dynasty beard for his home life.

I have watched and re-watched a number of things over the Christmas holidays. I was unable to watch Kate Winslet Ammonite through the TIFF platform since they have security issues with every browser that isn’t Edge. It is frustrating, and rather than refunding me, they just talked to me slower in the hopes that I was the problem. I am not. It remains on the list of films to be seen.

I also re-watched The Big Short which remains interesting on the perils of Wall Street, self-regulation and those in power making money with complete disregard to the general public. Scarily there was never anyone sent to jail of note for the fraud and corruption perpetrated on the public. Because of this, there is every likelihood that it could be repeated. One doesn’t need to look much further than the current stock market (DOW over 30,000) to wonder how those lofty heights are supported during a pandemic. Other interesting documentaries include The Great Hack and The Social Dilemma which focus on the fact that if you aren’t paying for a product or service, that you ARE the product or service as with Facebook and other social media platforms. The point in both is how AI and tracking of your every movement in your online existence means that you are sent targeted ads to keep you engaged. These targeted ads, as well as news, shapes your thinking and attitudes, which led to results in elections around the globe, including the US 2016 Presidential election and Brexit. More to the point, it suggests that it isn’t even all people on the web, but rather those who are viewed as changeable. They are called Persuadable. I did review it on October 26, 2020, but it was a good thing to refresh. I also re-watched Coco from Pixar the other night and it was a story very well done. Good music, a well told story and a really good story with family and meeting idols.

October 26th, 2020

One of the things about growing numbers in COVID-19 cases, there is more time to be watching new things.

David Byrne: American Utopia: This was a film that was at TIFF, and was well received. David Byrne, for those who don’t know, was the lead singer of the Talking Heads and had a well received concert movie, Stop Making Sense, back in 1984 which I remember seeing at the theatre at Bloor and Avenue road. But I digress. Byrne has been busy with putting together a new band and performing on Broadway. Spike Lee saw the show and decided that it might be a good idea to put it on film. This was the result. It is more concert than Broadway production. The band is collectively outstanding, and they bring forth sounds like carried instruments that are quite remarkable. There are known songs to me, like Burning Down the House and This Must Be The Place, but many more that I didn’t know. Still it was enjoyable for me. If you like Byrne and his music, you will likely enjoy this. If you don’t, well then you’re best to stay away. I was glad I saw it, but I also was left thinking “is this it?” It was. Upon finishing, I was pleased I didn’t spend $25 on a TIFF ticket to watch it.

Corner Gas: The Movie: I did see this. It was mind candy, and Canadian mind candy at that. By this I mean as I spoke about when I talked about James vs His Future Self, that Canadian productions can often just look not as authentic. They are cheaper productions. The series, not previously watched by me, is about a small town in Saskatchewan and its inhabitants revolving around a corner gas station. The story goes on too long and quite honestly I cannot recommend it, unless you are a die-hard fan of the series.

The Great Hack: I was recommended to watch this by my eldest son. If you weren’t aware of the UK company Cambridge Analytica, then you will be well aware of it after you see this. If you weren’t aware of your own data, and personal information about yourself, that you may choose to post on social media platforms (predominantly Facebook in this story, but equally important are Google, Yahoo, Twitter, Instagram etc) then be prepared to have your eyes opened. The Social Dilemma touched on these issues, this is another tangent for them and explores the implications to democracy and the voting in elections. Primarily there is talk about the Trump Presidential election in 2016 and the Brexit vote also in 2016. What these two have in common in the analytics company who complied data from Facebook and would scrape it to find what they called “Persuadables”; those who are on the fence in how they are going to vote. The other key aspect is the State in which they live, whether it was a pivotal State like Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Florida. By obtaining 500+ data points on EACH VOTER, then they were able to target specific ads to the people that they wanted. The Trump campaign claimed to have run 5.9 million visual ads on Facebook, in contrast to Hillary Clinton’s 66,000. The real revelation for me was that each individual had a targeted news or ad feed. So I don’t see the same ads or news as someone from another area of the country. By having personalized, targeted news there isn’t any longer a collective understanding. This explains a lot. From a legal perspective, the idea that an UK based company, subject to stronger EU Privacy laws would refuse to disclose to an individual the data that they have about them was shocking. If you think that the data you share about yourself is yours, and you control it. You don’t. Another scary revelation was that within Facebook, if one of your friends decided to fill out some personality survey, then your information may also be used, just because they are your friend. You never consented to anything, or the sharing of your data, but it was sent. It is troubling to see just how far this goes. I have often said that I believe that the opening up US news stations to opinion and 24 hour news, was the turning point in the divisiveness that plagues the country. Turns out, the social media explosion also further widens the divide among the people. Long gone are the days of collectively people watched the 6PM News with Walter Cronkite (or Tom Brokaw or whomever). In thirty minutes everyone saw the news of the day. Now people aren’t reading newspapers. They watch news, but their own view on “news”. What they see are less facts and more opinion. A debate can be watched, but then switch to your favourite channel and the talking heads will spin their own opinion as to who won and why. If you have any interest in technology, or your rights to your data, or how your data has been used without your knowledge or consent, this is a program that is worth your time. The law always trails in discussions like this, but expect new legal battlegrounds as people decide just how much these powerful platforms that hold much of who you are decide what can be done with your information. Our democracy is at stake for voting and the ability to recognize hate mongers, demagogues and dictators. A week tomorrow is the Presidential election. We will see the ripple effects of another divisive election in the US. The world is watching.

North Country: my youngest in his Law class in high school was watching the 2005 movie with an excellent cast including Charlize Theron, Frances McDormand, Sissy Spacek, Jeremy Renner, Woody Harrelson and others. It focuses on the story in 1989 in a small northern Minnesota mining town where a young single Mom of two wants to work at the local mine. Women were granted the right to work at the mine in 1975, but by 1989 women were still outnumbered thirty to one at the site. The culture at the mine was one of overt hostility to the women, as it was felt that it was “man’s work” and that these women were taking a higher paying job from a man. The male employees were verbally, physically and indirectly harassing of these women. It is painful to watch. Ultimately the story deals with the class action lawsuit against the mine company for collective sexual harassment, actions and misconduct. In the movie Theron takes action but was alone, which put strains on her relationships with co-workers but also townspeople, her children and her parents. Dad is also a worker in the mine and has his own issues to grapple with. Useful aspects address how winning a lawsuit doesn’t necessarily win the day for you all around. You can see why women who had plenty to lose had often decided to just stay quiet. This is an interesting story from a legal and personal perspective. One can see how opposing counsel on such complaints of sexual harassment attack the female complainant, and how the rights to cross examine the accusers are not reciprocal. The #Metoo movement has assisted somewhat but it is still a daunting task to undertake. Check it out.